Archive | November 2012

The Boys

“Well, Where I come from, when somebody wants someone done over, they talk about sendin’ the boys round. ‘Harry’s turned into a right mouthy twat, I’m gonna send the boys round.’ Yeah?”
“Who’s They?”
“Whoever wants Harry’s legs broken.”
“Who are the boys?”
“Whoever they send to break ’em”

If you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, then this comic is one that you shouldn’t judge by its content. Cocraeted by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, it’s Ennis at his absolute best to include jokes involving menstrual blood or condoms to ultra-violent gore that would rival splatterhouse films. But that also means it includes surprisingly good characters that are developed and unique with moments that hit deeply and make you empathize with them all the better; And while they tell you Billy Butcher’s origins early enough, but it isn’t until you see the story unfold that you realize the full impact of what really happened. The story ends up as an interesting combination of a look at the world around us and a look at the world of comics seamlessly bundled together. It starts off gory and slapstick and then about a third of the way through it takes a sudden turn and reveals itself as the ridiculously tight and violent political thriller that it is. It’s a strong use of misdirection that pays off handsomely.

From left to right: Billy Butcher, Mother’s Milk, The Frenchman (“Frenchie”), The Female (of the Species), “Wee” Hughie Campbell, Terror

The story begins with Hughie and his girlfriend enjoying a day at the fair until she is inadvertently killed by a speedster superhero called A-Train. After being approached by some people in suits asking him to sign a waiver, he is approached by Billy Butcher who is intrigued by the fact that Hughie didn’t even mention money or recompense for his loss; he is quite simply that devastated.Billy recruits him to join The Boys: a black-ops team funded the CIA and charged with keeping superhero activity under check. Billy has reformed the group with the original members of the team sans the founder Captain Mallory. Each member has their own reasons for joining the team and many of them involve taking down the corporation Vought American who is responsible for the creation of many of the heroes with harrowing repercussions.

While the majority of the action takes place in the main comic, smaller side events filled with relevant information and clues are contained in the handful of mini-series that emerged at the same time as the main comic. Herogasm shows a superhero orgy/convention and the beginning of the Homelander’s plans, Highland Laddie is about Hughie’s pilgrimage home and the adventures he gets into there, and Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker details Billy’s past and his relationship with his father. Other characters are given their own centric comics where they flesh-out their backgrounds, though Frenchie’s is the least clear given his fantastical style of speech (which only makes his origin comic amongst the absolute funniest of the series).

At any rate, while this is may certainly not seem like a mature comic for mature readers such as yourselves, there is a strong story with fantastic characters that’s well-developed since the beginning. While it was originally published by Wildstorm, an imprint of DC comics, it was canceled after only 6 issues. Thankfully, they allowed Ennis and Robertson to retain the rights and have a different company, Dynamite Press, publish it. They even went so far as to allow Robertson to continue to illustrate it to completion despite having an exclusive contract with DC. And considering this article was written on Thanksgiving Day, this is something we can all be thankful for.

Or not:


Watchmen / Miracleman

I first read Watchmen before I had read Miracleman. Both were written by Alan Moore, both are deconstructions of the superhero genre, and both were written in the 80’s at latter ends of the decade. And while this may make them very similar in nature, they are vastly different creatures. While I would have to agree that Watchmen is the better comic book in that it set out to show to the world the exact things that a comic can accomplish that both a movie or a book could not. It can depict action and explosions wordlessly like movies, and it can give narrative and dialogue and more information the way books can, but it can also use both traits to greater effect. You can take your time to read a comic and notice all of those tiny recurring themes and motifs. You’re allowed to go back and flip between pages to see vital clues and other things you may have missed. It can use the illustrations as art such as issue 5 of Watchmen, purposefully titled Fearful Symmetry, where Moore and Gibbons designed the comic to reflect itself panel by panel using color and composition in order to draw out each moment as an exact mirror of their respective page all culminating up to a splash page that mirrors a large letter V.

Watchmen #5 – Fearful Symmetry

This single letter can be expounded upon in a multitude of ways: the character’s name is Adrian Veidt, it’s the fifth issue, it’s symmetrical and it comes in the exact center of the comic. This is not something easily achieved in a film or a book for that matter.

As I said earlier, Watchmen may have been the better comic but it is Miracleman that is the better deconstruction. Papers have been written and you could spend hours just poring over the detail of each and every panel in the way it is utilized in Watchmen. The story itself, however, is more focused on the time it was living through what with the escalating tension of the Cold War. Moore had sat down to pen a tale of what would happen if there really were costumed vigilantes running around our rooftops and punching bad guys in the jaw. Where Moore faltered is in adding a character that really did have superpowers, i.e. Dr. Manhattan. These are regular humans in costumes and they are powerless to save the world they live in. The only man capable of such wide-scale actions is the only one who doesn’t care enough to do so. Miracleman is what would happen if humans really were granted the power of supermen.

Miracleman is not Moore’s creation however. He began as a creation of Mick Anglo during the 1950s named Marvelman, very similar powers and abilities to Captain Marvel. There were kid sidekicks and they fought off alien invasions and the like all before going home to eat big bowls of strawberry ice cream and laughing before the comic closes out. His name was changed to avoid copyright issues and turned over to young upstart Alan Moore, who immediately began to experiment with the character. First, while all previous adventures of Miracleman were kept canon, they now occurred as nothing more than dreams that he experienced at the hands of the nefarious Dr. Gargunza while he experimented upon Moran and the other members of the Miracle family. Whereas Moran had spent a great deal of time unaware of his heroic past and abilities owing to a concussive injury from a bomb explosion, Kid Miracleman (Johnny Bates) survived the explosion, unbeknowest to Moran , and proceeded to continue to live out his life as his superpowered alter ego. Bates becomes corrupted by his power and becomes completely sociopathic. After the first brutal confrontation, he is tricked into saying the magic word that triggers his transformation and he is once more a scared and weak 13-year-old, innocent of the crimes he has committed but all too aware of them all the same. He’s left in a state home, where he is beaten and ridiculed constantly as he battles the mocking voice of his now wholly independent alter-ego.

Miracleman #12, pg 15

After the death of Dr. Gargunza at the hands of Miracleman and the extremely graphic depiction of the birth of his daughter Winter, Moran is left with a choice and bitterly leaves behind his life as a mortal and has dedicated himself to living out the rest of his life as Miracleman and helping the entire earth. It is at this point that young Johnny Bates can no longer withhold the mental onslaught of Kid Miracleman after the latest attack from a gang of bullies leaves him moments away from being raped, and Kid Miracleman resurfaces on the world. He decides to get Miracleman’s attention in the only way he knows how: wide-scale slaughter:

Miracleman #15, pg 20-21

MM is forced to defeat KM and when he has reverted back to Johnny, he has to make the final decision as to what to do with KM and prevent him from ever returning. That initial shock at seeing what Kid Miracleman does when he’s bored is mind-boggling and the attention to detail is both fascinating and grotesque.

Aliens and other sentient beings are introduced and the world is plunged into a technological and cultural boom. MM and his female counterpart Avril run the earth and offer all the humans of the planet the ability to switch between bodies and superbeings are being born, Winter being the first of them. It is at this point beginning with issue 17 that that other superb scribe, Neil Gaiman takes to the helm. Here he has divided the second half of the book into three arcs called the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Dark Age. In true Gaiman fashion, the Golden Age consists mainly of a view of this new world as told through the various people that inhabit it. Government spies that can’t leave their professions behind are kept in sanctuaries with other professionals, one of the robotic duplicates of Andy Warhol, and so on. A glimpse into this radically changed world and how it would relate to us. Only two issues of the Silver Age made it to print, with the reintroduction of Young Miracleman and ending at issue 24 with the beginnings of trouble arising in this idyllic paradise and issue 25 would have been the reintroduction of Kid Miracleman. However, the company that was then publishing the comic, Eclipse, collapsed and we shall never know how the story would have ended. A few pages of issue 25 have surfaced in various online resources and the companion book but otherwise the rest remains a mystery locked up in Gaiman’s head.

Although a lengthy and overly complicated legal battle ensued over the rights of the character, Marvel co. has purchased the rights to the original interpretation of the character from Mick Anglo, but it’s still anyone’s guess as to who owns the rights to the 1980’s version by Moore and Gaiman. Suffice to say, it’s sad that we will most likely never be able to see a finish to this great tale. Owing to the tangle of red tape surrounding it, unless you have hundreds of dollars to spend on tracking down used TPBs online the only way to experience this story is by hunting down scans online. While some of the writing and art show it’s age somewhat, I still find this to be a better deconstruction than Watchmen. Real humans with powers would not run around punching bad guys. They would either take over to set things as best as they can (MM) or else they’d become corrupted by their own power and hubris (KM). Then again, not all humans are alike and I leave with the last page of Moore’s run after Liz (Moran’s wife) turns down his offer of a ‘perfect super powered life’, and MM reflects on her parting words

“…and you’ve forgotten what you’re asking me to give up. “

[rec] trilogy

(Due to me reviewing all three films, spoilers are contained ahead though I’ve tried to keep them to a minimal)

I first saw [rec] in what would be the ideal horror movie atmosphere: it was Halloween, the room was pitch dark and it was midnight with me and a few friends, most of us still slightly buzzed and reeling from the festivities earlier. In a world rife with zombie movies of every type and the sudden pop culture explosion that’s occurred in recent years, it was refreshing to see a movie that did zombies right. The film starts off simply enough with a camera man and a reporter in the Spain equivalent of Insomniacs. They’re assigned to follow a detail of night shift firemen out on patrol on what is thought to be a routine domestic violence/disturbance call which of course doesn’t go as planned.

The entire film is shown through the recordings of the cameraman and the camcorder helmets the swat team uses. While this technique has been almost overused or done poorly ever since its emergence with the Blair Witch Project, here it is used to help create atmosphere and tension and actually gives the audience a valid reason for why a cameraman is still rolling film while hordes of vicious undead are attacking at every corner. When they wander in the darkened attic, it is only the cameraman with the use of his nightvision filter that can see what is going on and helps to direct the protagonists through the room. Bits here and there such as the dialogue and interaction between the different tenants of the apartment complex and the grandmother in the background of an interview scene who kept sweeping so she could show up in the film more were both funny and unintentional and bring a spot of levity to the film early on. This film is one of the few I have ever recalled actually managing to scare me and that I’ve been watching horror films since as young as 4 should to attest to how well crafted the atmosphere is. It’s exactly how a zombie apocalypse would go down in real life and despite our bravado, we will go down fairly easily.

Medeiros Girl

The zombies (or infected, in this case) are fast, aggressive and will not go down when shot. Short of complete decapitation, and even that is up for debate if the comic tie-in is to be considered canon, they will continue to go after you mercilessly and tirelessly. The old woman and child who started it all are amongst the most frightening and even with a decapitation I’d doubt they would have stayed down for long. And while it may start off a tad slow with a very believable TV show beginning, it quickly ramps up the pace once the infected begin to show and stays at that pace until the breakneck ending when the creepy and disturbing Medeiros girl appears, skulking and sniffing about whilst swinging a hammer with her unnaturally long limbs.

[rec] 2

The sequel, [rec] 2, occurs at the same time as the first film and depicts what happens to the S.W.A.T. team sent in to control the situation. They’re led by a specialist flow in from the CDC who in reality is a priest from the Vatican. It seems the plague is religious in nature. A demon had possessed the Medeiros girl and it is that which is causing the plague as that is how it manifests in our world. Rather than making the movie begin to seem ridiculous now that a whole exorcism spin is added to the film, it actually works rather well in its favor. It certainly explains why the zombies are so aggressive and impossible to stop and gives the victims a chance to defend themselves with the help of prayer and rosary beads to contain or ward off zombies momentarily. This also helps to add a creepy flair to the infected when they begin to speak in demon voices and add some of the other tricks of their trade to the already tense atmosphere. there’s also a side-story involving a trio of punk kids that sneak into the apartment complex by way of the sewers, but they serve only to distract halfway through the film even if they do serve as a plot-point later on.

And then there’s [rec] 3.

From the [rec] tie-in comic

While initially utilizing the shaky camera characteristic of the first two films, it quickly discards this in favor of the typical 3rd person camera shots and shows what happened to the veterinarian that was bit by the girl’s dog from the first film who is in fact the catalyst for the first two films. The vet is attending the wedding of his nephew and begins to turn during the festivities of the wedding party. chaos quickly ensues and while not as terrifying as its predecessors, it certainly doesn’t take itself as seriously and ends up becoming a very enjoyable and tongue-in-cheek fest complete with knight in shining armor. The groom and bride are separated at the beginning of the film and much of the actions entails the two of them trying to reunite through the mansion filled with infected relatives. Uncle Raffa manages to evade much of the madness thanks to him being too busy sexing up a french girl in one of the adjoining rooms breaking the rule that if you’re caught having sex in a horror film you are sure to be killed off mid-coitus. They’re quickly joined by Sponge John (a non-copyright infringing knock-off hired to entertain the kids during the party) and the priest hired to perform the services. While they’re reunited at the end, they are quickly shot-down by the S.W.A.T. team that has arrived to quarantine the area after the bride is found to have been bitten during the last 10 minutes of the film. Complete with loving embrace, this film was surprisingly funny even though I initially had reservations about it when I saw the premise and how they had turned so completely away from the themes of the first film. And you know, it really worked in its favor. Otherwise it could have easily become almost a rehash of the first films and too often is this done with sequels and causes the franchise to become stale (I’m looking at you Saw and Paranormal Activities). That it went and did its own thing and successfully enough ended up making this film its own.

With that I’d strongly recommend at the least the first [rec] film if nothing else, but the sequels are enjoyable in their own right and well worth a view if you enjoyed the first one at all.