Superman: American Alien by Max Landis – A Book Review

You all know I struggle with Superman.  Many writers get the “super” right, but fail to truly capture the “man.”

Max Landis absolutely put the “man” before the “super” in this collection, and Superman is all the more “super” as a result.

The premise is short and sweet: Landis depicts key moments in Clark Kent’s life that define the hero he will one day become.  As a result, we get to see what is not often addressed: failure.  We see Clark as a child fearful of his own abilities.  We see Clark as a teenager reluctant to help out for fear of hurting someone.  We see Clark take a walk on the wild side with booze, boats, and women.  We see Clark get outsmarted and embarrassed by Lex Luthor.  We see Clark, for the first time in his life, have to truly fight to survive.

I love this collection because Clark is so normal.  He’s funny; he’s a jerk; he’s fearful; he’s clever; he’s heroic; he’s full of doubt.  In a word, he’s all of us at some point in our lives.

Landis also addresses some nagging issues about Clark’s childhood such as how in the world did he avoid doctors?  The answer may surprise you.  Also, with the way  kids talk, could he ever really keep his abilities a secret while in Smallville?  That answer may surprise you as well.

Furthermore, Landis does not shy away from the fact that Clark Kent lives in the DC Universe.  While this is not necessarily the mainstream Superman we enjoy from month to month, this world still offers us a glimpse at Oliver Queen, Batman, Dick Grayson, Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many others.   The brief appearance by Batman is especially relevant to this Superman’s mythology.

Each installment of this collection is a must-read in part because of the story line but also because Landis works with a different artist for each chapter.  I want to say that each artist perfectly embodies the tone of that specific issue, but each of these artists are so talented that they make everything look good.  You could assign any of them any of the installments and they would make it shine.

Next to All-Star Superman, this is my favorite Superman story ever.  I would love to read more of Landis’ take on the DC Universe.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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The Wild Storm: Volume I by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt – A Book Review

The Wild Storm is a title that appears to be taking classic WildStorm characters, especially those from WildC.A.Ts, and rebooting them in a modern day, sophisticated world.

WildStorm was under the umbrella of Image Comics back in the 1990s when Jim Lee and other industry luminaries decided to start their own publishing house.  Jim Lee’s characters were cool, but rather shallow and derivatives of DC and Marvel’s icons.  Clearly, though, they had great potential as famed writers like Alan Moore and James Robinson took a crack at them.

In The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis, one of the absolute BEST science fiction writers alive today, takes the most charismatic elements of characters like Void, Voodoo, Grifter, Deathblow, Zealot, and Engineer and strips away all of the excess.  All of these characters now exist within one book, one story line, and are under the control of one vision, who happens to be visionary.

I’m all in on this book.  It is remarkably familiar yet utterly fresh.  I know the characters, I know the names, but I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  Ellis is always completely unpredictable and it’s obvious he’s building a comprehensive world in this title, not a super team.

Jon Davis-Hunt creates cinematic, dynamic panels in this book.  Most of the characters are wearing regular clothes in normal environments, but he makes all of it look GREAT.  He adds all of these little touches that strike the reader subconsciously but may not be obvious at first glance.  Things like shells flying though the air, glass shattering, hair blowing in the wind, or debris falling — these minor things connote movement and lead the reader sequentially from one panel to the next.  The art is so smooth and fluid.  Perfect.

The Wild Storm is full of intrigue, action, violence, heroism, originality, and just enough nostalgia to charm.  It’s obvious there is a sprawling, epic tale unfolding, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

I haven’t been this excited about a title in quite some time.

Image result for the wild storm volume 1 cover

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire – A Book Review

A friend on GoodReads recommended this book to me, so I thought I’d give it a shot.  Honestly, I told him I wanted something really short that I could read quickly.

In that regard, Every Heart a Doorway is a raging success.

The concept of the book is fascinating.  We’ve all heard of those kids in stories who visit other realms, worlds, or dimensions.  This book deals with what happens when they come home … but want to go back.

It also delves into the fabric of each kind of world that exists beyond.  Because the story takes place at a school, there is some explanation as to the general laws and rules of each world the various children have visited.  Again, this is a very cool concept.

My only complaint is that the actual plot did not spark my interest all that much.  I adored the idea of dissatisfied travelers who want nothing more than to go back to their fantasy world.  I also love the idea of trying to categorize each world in an effort to force some semblance of sense upon them.

The story, though, is primarily about a series of grotesque murders occurring on the school grounds.  Something of a mystery ensues revolving around the fact that very specific parts of bodies are being taken from each victim.

Furthermore, there’s plenty of teenage angst in the dialogue.  Lots of feeling shunned and out of place.  During those moments, it became obvious I am not the target audience for this book.

However, I appreciated the quick pace, the vivid descriptions, and the very imaginative concepts.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Ready Player One – A Movie Review

You’ll remember when I heard Steven Spielberg intended to direct this movie, I instantly ran out and read the source material.  You can check out my review of the book HERE.

Let me say this about Spielberg’s film adaptation — I haven’t had a visual feast like Ready Player One since The Matrix.

I loved watching it.

It was just so fun.  If you love pop culture, especially 80s pop culture, this is the movie for you.  If you love gaming, this is the movie for you.  if you love seamless special effects, this is the movie for you.  If you love intricate, nuanced plot that is woven so taut that it’s airtight … maybe this isn’t for you.

Remember fun Spielberg movies?  E.T.?  Raiders Of the Lost ArkJurassic Park?  Yeah, he directed those.  What about these little ditties?  PoltergeistBack To the FutureThe GooniesGremlinsThe Money PitMen In Black?  He produced those.  Once upon a time, Spielberg made magical movies that influenced entire generations.  In my opinion, Ready Player One is a return to vintage Spielberg.

Is it a little simpler than the book?  Yeah, it’s fairly easily digestible if not always strictly logical.  But, it’s well-acted by very likable actors and actresses.  Ben Mendelsohn is always a charismatic bad guy who is hard to root against.  Tye Sheridan is so much better than when he played Cyclops in the latest X-Men movie.  I don’t know Olivia Cooke, but she was completely engaging.  TJ Miller is always hilarious.  Simon Pegg is, well, Simon Pegg, so he’s everyone’s favorite (obviously).  Lena Waithe steals every scene she’s in.  And Mark Rylance struck me as a guy who could influence an entire generation of gamers … Sound like someone you know?

But, the real star of this movie are the special effects.  The CGI in Ready Player One somehow managed to look CGI on purpose, but it otherwise looked totally real.  I’m not sure how to articulate this … You know how in some movies the CGI stands out against the rest of the scene?  That doesn’t happen in Ready Player One.  I know what you’re thinking — “Scott, the movie takes place in virtual reality, so … duh!”  I know, you’re right, that makes total sense, except it doesn’t.  When you see the avatars in the Oasis, they look so completely real … as digital avatars.  Just see the movie and let me know what you think, okay?

Let’s be honest — this movie is also a hit because of all the references.  I cannot WAIT to buy this thing on blu-ray so that I can hit pause every ten seconds and gawk at everything.  In the Oasis, you can choose your avatar and base it off of anything you want.  So, there are a ton of visual delights.  Not as many as the book, but still, more than I actually expected.

I have one concern … and only one.  I consider myself a pop culture junkie, and it concerns me that in TV, movies, comic books, even music, we’re getting a lot of referential story lines.  For example, before Ready Player One we saw previews for Overboard and Ocean’s 8 — both of which are remakes or derivative.  Tomb Raider was playing at our theater … you get the idea.  As great as Ready Player One is, it would not exist without riding the glorious nostalgia of the vastly more original works with which it plays.  Ready Player One even copies exact scenes from other movies.  Terminator 2 anyone?  While that’s totally fun, I do have to wonder if we’re producing anything new and original anymore …

Even with that being said, Ready Player One is magnificent.  I had so much fun watching it.  In fact, I can’t wait to go check it out in IMAX.  If you enjoy gaming, vintage Spielberg, or 80s pop culture, this is the movie for you.

 

Ready Player One (2018)

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Jessica Jones: Season 2 – A Netflix Review

I really enjoyed the first season of Jessica Jones.  The series had such a strong concept.  It definitely wasn’t a super hero show, yet it featured a character with super human strength … who didn’t necessarily want her powers.  She mostly just wanted to be left alone.  The series felt far more like a thriller than an action-adventure.  With David Tenant’s Kilgrave, the series also struck a deeply disturbing psychological note.  Krysten Ritter’s Jones wanted to forget about her past by drinking herself silly, wasn’t interested in being nice, and certainly wasn’t out to save the day.  I believe, overall, it may be the strongest of Netflix’s Marvel series due to excellent pacing, interesting characterization, a consistent tone, and a cohesive plot.

So, as you have probably guessed, I very much looked forward to the second season.  Unfortunately, I knew by the first episode that this season would be different.

At the risk of sounding too harsh, all thirteen episodes of season two disappointed me.

Jessica Jones: Season Two is cliched, boring, and a disservice to the first season.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but Jessica Jones herself has gone from being charmingly cranky to just annoying.  The huffs, the sighs, the eye rolls, the monotone vocal delivery — she’s become one-dimensional.  All of those things seemed appropriate in the first season.  Combine those things with the second season’s primary antagonist and she’s comes off as, well … a brat.

And that pretty much describes everyone in the second season.  Trish Walker, who was pretty interesting in the first season, is now a shadow of her former self and incredibly unlikable.  Malcom is all over the place — a doormat one minute, a boy toy the next, and then a ruthless businessman?  Wasn’t that Foggy’s character arc?  Hogarth, the heartless lawyer, actually turns out to be the most sympathetic of all, but in doing so utterly contradicts every other previous appearance of the character.  Luke Cage makes no appearance at all, which is a shame because Colter and Ritter had great chemistry and made season one very enjoyable.  Kilgrave appears for five minutes, and those five minutes were a delight.  Ritter and Tennant are amazing on screen together, which is partly why season one succeeded so well.

Season two lacks any plot in which the audience can invest.  Season one featured a real mystery and characters that were truly opposite of Jones that allowed her to shine all the more.  In season two, everyone is kind of like Jones, which is, frankly, depressing.  Everyone is damaged goods.  There is no character representing hope, or nobility, or morality.  When Jones is forced to be these things, it doesn’t work.  She’s not especially hopeful, or noble, or moral.  She’s fun when she gets to be the “bad cop” working off of others serving as her foil.  It’s not fun when an entire show drowns in hopelessness, immorality, and dreariness.

The show also falls prey to the worse of the genre’s cliches.  Unresolved family issues that create arrested development — check.  Evil version of protagonist with the same basic power set — check.  Clandestine corporate entity that creates protagonist and antagonist for murky reasons at best — check.  Misjudgment of audience’s interest in “origin story” — check.  Mommy issues — check.

In my opinion, the first season of Jessica Jones may be the best of all the Netflix Marvel shows.  The second season, unquestionably, is the worst.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

Black Panther – A Movie Review

This is NOT just another Marvel movie.

Black Panther gamely partakes in the Marvel Universe while largely operating as a standalone action movie striving to deliver a societal message of great relevance.

Let’s start with what I determine to be the most important aspect of Black Panther.  I am a forty-one year old white male.  My whole life, I’ve enjoyed white superheroes depicted in comic books, cartoons, toys, and movies.  Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, Toby Maguire, and Hugh Jackman are but a few.  Let’s not forget to mention the action stars that peppered my youth such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise–the list can go on an on.  It wasn’t until my own daughters were born that I realized women and people of color weren’t given characters who reflected their identity–not in the way that I always enjoyed.

So Black Panther ISN’T just another movie.

For many, Black Panther represents a cultural shift.  It signifies an important moment in our society, a moment that says those who were previously underrepresented will now be given time to shine.  And guess what?  Those who are typically underrepresented on film are letting the world know there exists an audience hungry for more.  It’s no accident that Wonder Woman financially overachieved.  It’s not happenstance that Black Panther DOUBLED the previous Thursday night ticket sales record for February.  The numbers say it all.

I’d like to quickly mention another interesting detail.  My friends and I regularly go to superhero movies on either its Thursday or Friday opening night.  I write this on Saturday morning, February 17th.  We attended the 9:00 p.m. Black Panther show on Friday night, February 16th.  As soon as we entered the theater, it became obvious this superhero movie was different.  There were more African American women, men, and children in the theater than I’ve ever seen before at a premier.  I instantly felt in the minority and a little out of place.  The irony was not lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.

Let’s talk about the actual movie.

First of all, they have created with Black Panther a world unto itself.  Wakanda, the African nation in which Black Panther rules, felt solid, real, and established.  This utopia drew me in completely.  Its glorious technology felt tenable, as did its ancient rituals.  The clothing, the environment, the language, the customs, the unique neighboring tribes–it all struck me as genuine.  The filmmakers successfully created a world that I hope will live on in the Marvel movies for decades to come.

I also loved that they introduced an entirely new technology concept to the Marvel Universe.  Yes, vibranium has been seen in Marvel movies before, but never to this extent.  The full potential of the metal is explored in Black Panther, and I imagine Tony Stark is going to be very jealous.  However, the filmmakers didn’t just use vibrainum as a means to an end.  It wasn’t just the reason they had a Black Panther suit or weaponry or ships.  It also served a cultural purpose to the Wakandan society.  They made it clear that vibranium influences their way of life, and has for generations.  This kind of storytelling and world building is greatly appreciated by those such as me.

The supporting cast in Black Panther also made the film radiant.  His mother, his sister, his general, his friends, his challengers, his mentor–they all had distinct personalities and they all utilized a charisma specific to their character.  No one wasted a moment on screen.

As for the story, I believe Black Panther broke new ground for Marvel movies.  Marvel always does action, humor, and general story pretty well.  They are very good at blending one movie into the next.  No one is denying that.  However, I don’t believe Marvel ever tried to say anything socially relevant … until now.  Black Panther challenges itself not just to deliver an action-packed feast full of visual splendor.  It also tries to say something–something specific not only to people of color, but to all races, all peoples, all creeds, all governments.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s definitely there.  Do they hit you over the head with it a little too blatantly at times?  Sure, but so did The Post, and it’s up for an Oscar.

When I saw the previews, I felt a little apprehensive about Michael B. Jordan’s villain–Killmonger.  I didn’t like that he also wore a Black Panther suit in the previews.  This is a tried and true mistake superhero movies make time and time again.  Hulk fought a version of himself.  Spider-Man has fought a version of himself.  Superman has fought a version of himself.  Iron Man has fought a version of himself.  The Flash regularly fights versions of himself on his TV show.  You get the idea.  I’m glad that they found a sensible reason to have Killmonger in the Black Panther suit that organically served the story well.  When you see the movie, it makes perfect sense.

Killmonger brings me to my only complaint about the film.  It bothered me that the only black American male character in the entire movie was depicted as angry and out for revenge.  I may be reading too much into it, but it seemed as though a subtext existed that black American males cannot save themselves–only outside benefactors such as Wakandans can come rescue them.  We know this is not true, especially in the Marvel Universe.  We’ve seen upright American men of color in the Marvel movie and TV universe before such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and War Machine.  And I realize that it would have been awkward to sandwich those characters in only to serve as a parallel to Killmonger, but it still bothered me a bit, especially because I’m positive that this is, for many people, their first Marvel movie.  They may not even know about those other African American characters.  In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only other major American male in the movie was Everett K. Ross, a white intelligence officer who helps save the day.  See what I’m saying?  Am I way off on this one?

Speaking of subtext, I loved the fact that Wakanda absolutely relied on its women to thrive.  From the military to the sciences, women were the driving force of order and progress in their society.  Black Panther may have been king, but the women ruled in every other way.

I believe Black Panther succeeded on all levels.  It kept the overarching Marvel story line moving forward while also delivering an epic standalone film that delivered relevant social commentary.  Even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie before, you can go into Black Panther and enjoy it as an entity unto itself.  In fact, I encourage you to do so.  Though plainly obvious by now, I highly recommend Black Panther.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Strange Weather by Joe Hill – A Book Review

Joe Hill first won me over with his graphic novel series entitled Locke & Key.  Since then, I’ve particularly enjoyed his books Horns and Heart-Shaped Box.  Without a doubt, though, the short story collection called 20th Century Ghosts is my absolute favorite work by the author.

Because he does shorts so well, I knew I had to read Strange Weather.  This book is a compilation of four brief novels–also called novellas.

I’ll briefly review each installment …

The first is titled Snapshot.  It’s about a man using a Polaroid camera that essentially steals memories.  The main character first encounters this man as a child, and he is horrified to learn the villain has been terrorizing his elderly neighbor.  He is eventually forced to confront the evil stranger.  This story is a simple yet brilliantly imaginative concept.  It takes such a universal idea but makes it feel fresh, inventive, and unique.  Hill provided very likable, identifiable characters in this tale, and he kept me turning the pages until the very end.  My only complaint is the “epilogue” of sorts.  I think Hill let this story linger a bit too long as he updated us on the main character’s adulthood and connected his experience as a child to modern day technology.  This connected felt forced to me.

The second story is called Loaded.  There’s nothing supernatural about this installment, and that makes it the most horrifying of all.  It’s about our nation’s sick fetish with guns, and how lives are routinely ruined due to the rampant misuse of them.  Loaded is consistently either discomforting or flat-out terrifying.  Hill does not let up and go easy on the reader in this story.  I think it’s perhaps his best work … ever.

Aloft is the next novella in this book.  There have been a few moments in my life when I blatantly got jealous of an author because he or she came up with an idea that I wish could have been mine.  I don’t want to give too much away with this one because it genuinely surprised me and I want you to have a similar experience.  I’ll tell you this much–a skydiver lands on a UFO before opening his parachute.  … I know!  Great idea, right?

Hill finally delivers Rain as his last offering.  A freak thunderstorm breaks out in Boulder, Colorado, but this is no ordinary rainstorm.  This storm rains nails.  Honeysuckle must watch her girlfriend die in a flurry of crystalline spikes during this storm, and she then takes it upon herself to walk to Denver in order to inform her girlfriend’s father.  She encounters awful, post-apocalyptic scenes as a result, but also witnesses humanity’s will to continue.  Honeysuckle is challenged by awful scenarios throughout the story, but nothing is more revolting than her own neighbors.  Like Snapshot, I think Hill took this one just a bit too far.  I feel he should have left a mystique regarding the spiked rainfall that eventually plagues the planet, but he instead reveals the cause.  The perpetrator of the vile deed struck me as too contrived, too coincidental, and too, well, manufactured.

Overall, Strange Weather proved an incredibly enjoyable experience.  Hill has a talent at creating imaginative plots and filling them with rounded, charismatic characters.  If you’ve ever wanted to try Joe Hill, I believe this book encapsulates the best of what he has to offer.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)