Friday, 1 October 2010

Ryan Reynolds is Hal Jordan

So I'm a huge Green Lantern fan and was very excited to hear about the (some might say inevitable) move tie-in. However, after seeing a fan trailer on YouTube I got 100% behind Nathan Fillion to wear the ring as the title character. Imagine my annoyance when current Hollywood darling Ryan Reynolds effortlessly picked up the role despite being completely unsuited for it and already having roles in two Marvel movies - Blade Trinity and Wolverine - with a Deadpool spin-off on the way.

Naturally I'm not going to boycott the film or anything ridiculous but what are your thoughts? Should filmmakers dilute the verisimilitude of the comic universe by casting actors in multiple roles? Is my friend right in saying that the costume looks like a green condom?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

When I picked up nextwave - yes, all lowercase - volume 1, it represented a first for me as a comic book reader. For the first time, I had purchased a book that I knew nothing whatsoever about, and was reading solely on the merits of the premise blurb and brief tantalising glimpses of the gorgeous artwork as I casually leafed through its pages. I was soon to discover that my curiosity had paid off: This Is What They Want is one of the most consistently enjoyable and sharply original books I have read to date.

As the story goes, a sinister corporation is researching and assembling UWMDs (that's Unsual Weapons of Mass Destruction, naturally) and in response, H.A.T.E. (the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) is founded under the command of Dirk Anger. The team itself is comprised of the following dazzling roster from the archives of lesser-known Marvel books:

Monica Rambeau/Pulsar - the de facto leader of the group who can convert her body mass into radiation and lasers. An ex-member of The Avengers: something which she likes to remind to everyone who will listen, and some who won't.
Tabitha Smith/Boomer - a somewhat ditzy pyromancer known for violent moodswings. Her catchphrase "tick, tick, boom" almost inevitably leads to someone or something being blown up in a very over-the-top manner.
Aaron Stack/Machine Man - taken from Earth into space by cyber-gods The Celestials, he was quickly returned after they deemed him "total shit". His body is essentially a huge swiss army knife, and is often shown with far too many gadgets than could possibly fit in his android frame.
Elsa Bloodstone - British monster hunter and daughter of the world-famous Ulysses Bloodstone. She carries her arsenal of guns in a guitar case, but also proficient in a lethal martial art that involves using a shovel as a weapon.
The Captain - the only member of the team not previously established in a Marvel continuity. Formerly known as Captain ****, where "****" is an unknown obscenity so offensive, Captain America beat him up and shoved soap in his mouth at the very mention of the word.

The theme and tone of the writing is extremely difficult to place; in that it is simultaneously a parody and celebration of comic book convention and classic characters with a sizeable injection of humour. I've heard the script style compared to a cartoon sitcom along the lines of Futurama, and I definitely agree. There's the same degree of dry wit, pop culture references and deliberately cheesy one-liners that make the panels leap out at the reader with a fantastic and feel-good energy. The action takes place in story arcs that strictly span two issues, meaning that there's little to no room for deep emotional development or dutiful lessons learnt by the characters. That's not to say that they fall flat: each character has a very distinctive voice and in most cases has had their old traits comically augmented to make them into something of characatures of themselves. The end result is a fast-paced, funny storyline loaded with hyperbolic characters and tons of violence and cinematic explosions.

Leading neatly on: the artwork featured in nextwave is truly a thing of beauty. Stuart Immonen's pencils are angular, confident, and most importantly, perfectly suited to the tone of the script. No line is wasted, and Immonen shows particular talent in displaying emotion through faces; while at the same time having no trouble crafting vast cinematic panels (of which there are many). However good the pencils are, the colours supplied by Wade Von Grawbadger are even better. The pages are literally washed with bright, bold shades that combine with the art style to create a pseudo-cell shade look that is both fresh and stimulating. The closest comparison in terms of design I can think of would be a mix between Samurai Jack and Team Fortress 2. The covers of the issues themselves are dazzlingly different and original; in particular issue 2, which is drawn in the style of a 1950s boxing poster to advertise the fight between the heroes and Fin Fang Foom. The aesthetics are without a doubt a strong highlight of the book and it's easy to see that both artists took a lot from Warren Ellis' script, with all three tying their work together into a slick, brightly-coloured package.

Long-time fans of Marvel comics will get even more out of nextwave, as there are countless jokes, parodies and references to characters and events. Dirk Anger himself, director of the nextwave unit, is an extremely aggressive and megalomaniacal take on S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury. In Anger's introductory monologue he bellows into the face of a rookie recruit:

"Every day I smoke two hundred cigarettes and one hundred cigars and drink a bottle of whisky and three bottles of wine with dinner. And dinner is meat. Raw meat. The cook serves me an entire animal and I fight it bare-handed and I tear off what I want and eat it and have the rest buried. In New Jersey!"

In addition, we get to see vintage characters - some better known than others - in a variety of deadpan and out-of-character moments, all for the sake of humour. To go into any detail would be giving away too much, but suffice it to say that the story picks a perfect balance between the central adventures of the nextwave team, and flashbacks and intermissions to wedge in some more jokes and references.

There's some extra material bundled with the This Is What They Want volume, including Warren Ellis' original pitch for the series - which is itself a very humourous read - and even lyrics and chords for the official nextwave theme song.

In closing, I can't think of enough good to say about this breath of fresh air in the comic book market. I could recommend it equally to new readers and Marvel veterans, although to be fair, those already possessing a knowledge of the universe will appreciate it a lot more. If you're in the mood for seeing the inside of Fin Fang Foom, the elite Pterodactyl Squadron diving into battle, broccoli-robot hybrids and a swarm of homicidal crabs, this is the book for you. Indeed, as the blurb declares: "if you like anything, you'll love nextwave". I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

OMNI - Minus The Bear

Far and away, my record of the year so far has been this masterpiece from Washington-based five-piece Minus The Bear. They've been around for quite a while now, so releasing a CD of this calibre after so many years of recording and touring is nothing short of astounding. Make no mistake, this blew me away when I first heard it and remains one of those rare albums that I can still listen to from start to finish and enjoy every second.

Immediately, lead track "My Time" gradually builds its tempo until the sudden delivery of a liquid rush of twinkling chords. Combining the guitar with the synths is done so flawlessly that, at times, it's almost impossible to differentiate the two sounds. It's common for me to instantly attach myself to the first track of any album and I have to admit that the same is true for "My Time". There's a foreign loveliness to the sound that develops itself as the song goes on and still leaves room for the rest of the album to find itself.

With "Summer Angel", the band craft a song about how deep love leads to passionate sex; doing so by shifting styles abruptly from a ballad-esque main riff to a much more sensual and warm bridge.

By far, my personal highlight of this CD lies in the one-two punch of "Into The Mirror" and "Animal Backwards", the former leading into the latter. To emphasise the transition, the two songs even share a melody with a slightly altered arrangement: the amount of technique that has gone into tying the album together into a cohesive whole is nothing short of astounding. "Into The Mirror" is a thing of beauty, painting a picture of a love affair that shouldn't be and yet is completely inevitable. It features gorgeous female vocals on the chorus and the end result is haunting and beautiful.

For fans of mellow yet technical rock I simply cannot recommend this album enough. The band has distanced itself sufficiently from its previous albums like Planet Of Ice while retaining their pure sound and the themes of their lyrics. As an ambitious and enjoyable album, there has not been one like it all year.