Regarding NBC’s Constantine

I should say from the start that I am not a John Constantine die hard fan.  In fact, until Justice League Dark, I really wasn’t terribly familiar with the character.  I knew of him, but that was really about it.

When I heard NBC planned to air a show using the character, I got excited.  When the first photograph arrived featuring Matt Ryan bedecked in the brown trench coat, loose tie, and disheveled white shirt, I got even more excited.  It appeared as though NBC took this effort seriously.

I’ve watched the show from the start, and though I’ve had an opinion about it for a long time, I wanted to keep watching and keep watching before I voiced that opinion.  We’re now at January 28th, and I think the show has probably found its identity as much as it can for this first season.

I first want to say that Matt Ryan, in my opinion, is perfect.  He looks the part, he acts the part, and he sounds the part.  He’s got swagger, he’s got the hair, he’s got the thin frame – I think this is expert casting.  Furthermore, his face actually looks like it’s lived.  It’s got lines, it looks weathered, I believe this man has seen some serious stuff.  But it’s Ryan’s eyes that really make me believe he’s John Constantine.  When the camera pulls in tight on Ryan’s eyes, they shimmer like little beads and look both haunted, demented, and hopeful all at once.

I also appreciate the “look” of the show.  Each episode looks like a little movie.  The locations are always interesting and vivid.  Furthermore, the special effects are more than respectable, especially for being a weekly show on the small screen.

And while I watch Constantine and enjoy it, I won’t pretend it’s perfect.  The dialogue is sometimes downright awful.  The stories, supposedly based off of classic Hellblazer comics, don’t always translate well to mainstream television.  Some are better than others, and they’ve all entertained me, but none of them ever made me sit up in awe.

But the biggest problem in my mind is the acting.  Other than Matt Ryan, I don’t believe in any of the show’s characters, particularly Zed and Chas.  I realize bad dialogue can impact acting, but the actors playing Zed and Chas always feel a little off to me.  The timing is never quite right, the tone and inflection don’t ever quite fit, and, to be honest, even the body language is awkward at moments.  They may very well be wonderful actors, but I’m not connecting with their takes on Chas and Zed.

I would personally like to see Constantine take on greater scope.  “The Rising Darkness” is so generic and plot driven – I can’t really take it seriously.  I would really like to see Constantine dive into the dark side of the DC Universe.  I don’t know if NBC has rights to characters like Zatanna, Dr. Fate, Swamp Thing, Dr. Occult, The Demon, Tim Hunter, Dr. 13, and Deadman, but their inclusion would truly heighten interest in the show and juxtapose Constantine more powerfully than the sporadic evils he faces weekly.  The best we’ve gotten is Felix Faust, which speaks volumes.

I will keep watching Constantine.  I want it to succeed, I’m rooting for it to prevail and get a second season, yet, at the same moment, I must admit it’s not a show I feel comfortable recommending to friends.   I think the creators and actors are giving it their best effort, and I commend them for making something very watchable, but I don’t feel they’ve yet found an identity that amazes the audience with each episode.

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It’s Kind Of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini – A Book Review

I’ve seen It’s Kind Of a Funny Story on several must-read lists, especially those aimed at young adults.  I must admit that when I learned of the book’s plot, as well as the author’s unfortunate passing, well, it was with morbid fascination that I finally sat down to read it.

The premise is sadly common.  A teenage boy named Craig becomes overwhelmed by the demands of life, particularly his rigorous school, and decides to take his own life.  He finds his way into a psychiatric ward, and there he finally meets people with whom he can relate.  Though only required to stay for a short while, the fifteen year old recognizes his issues, has an epiphany on how to manage them, and leaves the ward on a happy note.

Of course, this is oversimplifying everything about the book.  The important thing to note is that Vizzini truly captures the essence of depression, he creates real characters, he expertly draws out various emotions, and, in the end, he provides hope to both Craig and the reading audience.

This book is sad, it is funny, it is uncomfortable, it is affirming, it is real, it is life.  No matter what your age, I highly recommend it.

 

Earth 2: The Dark Age by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott

If you’re unfamiliar with the DC Universe, Earth 2 is a parallel Earth, one similar to our own in many respects, but different in many others.  DC has employed this parallel universe concept for decades, currently claiming that their are 52 parallel Earths within the DC multiverse.

Once upon a time, Earth 2 existed during WWII and the original incarnations of modern day heroes, such as The Flash and Green Lantern, were still very much active.  From time to time, these heroes would travel to Earth 1, for all intents and purposes, our contemporary Earth.  It proved an opportunity to keep long revered versions of characters around while still focusing on modern incarnations – and it offered some great plot possibilities.  As a kid, I loved it when Earth 2’s Justice Society of America would crossover with Earth 1’s Justice League of America.

A few years ago, DC brought the Earth 2 concept back, but instead of it existing during WWII, it is a world where Darkseid invaded and destroyed much of the planet.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman died protecting that world, and now new heroes have emerged, heroes such as Jay Garrick and Alan Scott.  And though these were the original men to bear the mantles of The Flash and Green Lantern in the early 1940s, they have very much been updated and have little in common with their previous versions.  They are young, they are different, and they took some getting used to, but I have grown to appreciate them.

In this forth volume, The Dark Age, new series writer Tom Taylor pushes down on the accelerator and never lets up!  I picked this volume up at the library and meant to read a few pages before bed.  Before I knew it, I’d read the whole book (and stayed up later than intended).  It’s so good, I could not put it down.

For some reason, Superman, previously thought dead, is now in service to Darkseid and destroying anything and anyone getting in his way.  A new Batman has also arisen, more violent than his predecessor, but very much against the evils of Darkseid.  Dr. Fate, the Flash, Hawkgirl, and Sandman are still fighting hard, but now we’re introduced to a new Red Tornado, a queen of Atlantis, Jimmy Olson, and an alien that may turn the tide against the evil Superman.

The beautiful thing about Earth 2 is that it is not trapped in the endless cycle of its characters’ counterparts.  On Earth 2, anything goes, and Tom Taylor has taken full advantage of that fact.  Our heroes are pummeled throughout most of this book with nonstop action, yet Taylor still builds a captivating plot and introduces new mysteries.  Truly, this is one of the most exciting super hero books I’ve read in quite a while.

As always, Nicola Scott’s pencil’s are exquisite.  She uses clean lines, dynamic angles, and fluid pacing.  Furthermore, at one point Barry Kitson helps out with the pencils, and the transition is nearly seamless.  I’ve followed Kitson’s work since the mid-1990s, and he’s never been better!

One thing that drives me away from mainstream super hero comic books, especially those by DC or Marvel, is that no matter how much things change, they will always stay the same.  It’s a necessity to the serialized business.  Parallel universes give publishers and creators the chance to really cut loose and provide unpredictable stories.  Earth 2 is a prime example of how such stories can be successfully executed, and The Dark Age is my favorite installment to date.

 

 

Brain Power by (Not) Annie Proulx – A Book Review

I am an Annie Proulx fan.  I’ve read the majority of her books, including her nonfiction, and I plan to continue reading anything she releases.  When I saw Brain Power, released December of 2014, I assumed it must be some sort of parody project on her part.  She’s got a great sense of humor, and with the Homer Simpson cover and the fact that it’s self-published, I figured Proulx was simply having some fun and I wanted to experience it.

Let me say from the outset that this book is not by Annie Proulx.  I don’t know why her name is on the cover, but the interior pages list John Gerveso as the author.  Some quick research revealed that he’s published similar projects in the past through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

This book takes itself very seriously and seems to be a self-help book.  Why is Annie Proulx’s name on the cover?  I have no idea. Why is Homer Simpson on the cover?  No idea on that one, either.  I suspect permission was not granted on either account.

What I do know is that if you are an Annie Proulx fan, this book appears to be using her good name fraudulently and I advise you to avoid it at all cost.

I will return this book to Amazon.com immediately.

Please do inspect the pictures below as proof.

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Revival: You’re Among Friends by Seeley and Norton – A Book Review

Don’t call this a zombie book, because it’s not.  In Revival, a relatively small number of recently deceased people in a small Wisconsin town inexplicably return to life.  They can now recover from virtually any injury, and range from remaining exactly the same as when they lived in the conventional sense to, well, odd.

Right off the bat, Tim Seeley introduces us to several characters, each with a distinct personality and role to play.  Officer Dana Cypress appears to be the main character from that bunch, but her college sister, her sheriff father, a snow mobile riding punk exorcist, a CDC biologist, and an eccentric old man all demand our attention.  Furthermore there’s a cub reporter who broke the story as well as a celebrity who, at first glance, appears to be based off of Nancy Grace.  That’s a lot of characters in such a short collection, but Seeley paces them excellently and, more importantly, inserts their stories organically.

The revived themselves are a creepy bunch, and some are obviously dangerous as they tear the throats out of their loved ones.  Other are virtually comatose, and still others function as though nothing has happened.  Seeley reveals just enough to keep us reading, to garner our interest, but he also opens up several mysteries that demand our continued readership.  He walks that fine line of giving us important information while also teasing certain plot threads.

Mike Norton’s art is crisp, understated, and laid out very well with smooth sequencing.  I also appreciated the angles he chose to employ in several of his panels.  There’s nothing outlandish, but he’s just unusual enough to keep the eye stimulated.

I think it would be a tragedy to neglect the colorist, Mark Englert. This is a dark story with flashes of the grotesque as well as little moments of morbid humor.  His colors are tame and work well with the story, but they are still interesting and enhance Norton’s art.  Considering that there is snow in virtually every outdoor picture, I believe his talent is to be commended.

To be honest, I picked this book up at the library because Amazon kept recommending it to me and I thought I’d give it a try.  I truly didn’t think I’d like it as I’m a little burnt out on anything related to zombies, yet the original storytelling, interesting characters, and hints at future plot threads absolutely made me a fan. I can’t wait to read more … especially because of that white demon wandering the woods.  I have no idea where that one is going.

Lazarus: Family by Greg Rucka – A Book Review

I picked up Lazarus out of curiosity because Amazon kept suggesting I read it.  I’m familiar with Greg Rucka’s work, so I thought it would be worth my time.

The first volume of Lazarus, entitled Family, did not disappoint, though I must admit that I probably won’t follow the series.

The world is now owned by the very wealthiest of people, called Family, and everyone else is simply considered Waste.  Each of these Families has a protector, and they are called the Lazarus.  Family focuses on one particular Lazarus called Forever.  She believes she is among the adult children of the family Carlye, and while she is certainly the favorite, she is not what she believes.

Forever has the ability to mend from virtually any attack, so survive almost any encounter.  She seems to be an expert warrior, well-versed in any and all weaponry, and agile beyond compare.  However, the reader must wonder if she’s intended to have the morality she’s developing, especially as it becomes even more apparent this is not a conventional human being.

Family involves a lot of action, plenty of intrigue and deception, interesting political and societal implications, and stunning art, but it didn’t capture my imagination enough to keep me invested.  However, that doesn’t make it “bad.”  I think those readers who enjoy such stories will find it captivating.

Share My Passion

In 2011, I began an experiment called Dr. Nekros.  I’d created the character a few years prior, but it wasn’t until that time that I fully committed to telling his story.  Amazon Direct Publishing arrived on the scene, and I realized it provided the perfect platform to execute a form of storytelling I’d never experienced firsthand – the serial.

I knew I wanted Dr. Nekros’ odyssey to span eighteen episodes, and I knew I wanted three major story arcs that ultimately told a much grander tale.  When I started, I pretty much had the first six episodes mapped out. Beyond that, I can’t claim to have fully understood where the story would ultimately end.

Writing a serial proved a thrilling experience, especially because I figured much of it out as I went.  I hoped to release an episode every two months, and, for the most part, I stuck to that schedule.  Oddly enough, when I about hit the half way mark of the series I came down with a terrible case of the stomach flu.  My entire family suffered from it.  This thing lasted for days, and none of us could hardly get out of bed.  Since I had so much downtime, I took advantage of it to finally map out the end of the series.  Looking back, I think I may have been a bit delirious because Dr. Nekros takes a fairly surreal turn near the end.

Those years spent writing Dr. Nekros proved to be the busiest of my life thus far.  Just a few months before the serial started, my wife and I moved into a new house we built, I returned to my full-time high school teaching career, I started and finished my Master’s degree, and we had our second child.  Throughout it all, Dr. Nekros’ adventures unfolded.  In many ways, the not-so-good doctor kept me sane.  I am the sort of person who always needs a creative outlet, and in the midst of so many obligations, he gave me the opportunity to do things my way.  Of course, that’s not entirely true.  The serial very much took on a life of it’s own, and I, at times, felt as though I was merely the tool for this story to arrive.

If you have not yet read the Dr. Nekros serial, I do hope you’ll share my passion and give it a try.  It is an epic work, and I believe it has qualities appealing to most readers.  I found the entire process incredibly satisfying, and I am thankful to have experienced such creative passion.

Simply click the image to visit the works on Amazon.

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