Podcast: Stories By Scott William Foley – Phasks

They say technology will one day tear us apart, but for some, it will bring us together, especially in the case of two young women traveling to a Jill Thompson fan club meeting. Set in the near future, this short story is optimistic, innovative, and humorous as it propels today’s technological trends to the next level.

Listen to “Phasks” at Podbean by clicking HERE.

Phasks

If you prefer to read it on your device, visit the links below …

Click “Kindle” To Download

Click “Nook” To Download

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Justice League – A Movie Review (Spoiler-Free)

I attended Justice League on Thursday night at 10:00 p.m.  As you may remember, I felt very excited and had very high hopes.

With great relief, I report to you that Justice League exceeded my expectations.

First of all, I will freely admit that I am incredibly bias.  I love these characters.  I’ve been reading them for thirty-seven years, and that’s not an exaggeration.  It has been a dream for a long, long time to see them together on the big screen.  Frankly, the movie would have to be a total failure to disappoint me.  I acknowledge that.

But it wasn’t a total failure.  It was a legitimate success.

Let us first address a pressing issue – this is a movie based on comic book characters.  The movie never had the potential to change my paradigm regarding the human condition.  I sought no enlightenment from this movie, I did not expect Oscar worthy performances, nor did I anticipate a terribly complex plot regarding characters undergoing significant change.  We had a little bit of those things, more than I expected, but those things aren’t really what this movie was supposed to address.

What I did expect, however, was to see my heroes working together to defeat a bad guy in an entertaining fashion.  Guess what?  I got it.

Let’s do this  …

The actors playing our heroes had great chemistry with each other.  I truly believed these heroes were, at their core, friends because I felt a warmth and camaraderie from the men and women playing the roles.  The Justice League is not a family, but the members are super friends.   It was fun to see these actors interact with one another.

I also appreciated that Justice League is essentially a direct sequel to Batman v Superman.  I don’t want to get too much into it, but it resolves some conflict from its predecessor, addresses some dangling plot threads, and fully embraces what came before it.

Justice League makes no apologies in that it is made for Justice League fans.  There is so much DC lore in this film, so many blatant nods to both the League’s history but also the shared universe’s past.  Amazons?  Check.  Atlantians?  Check.  References to the 4th World?  Yep.  Mother Boxes? You know it.  There’s much more, but I don’t want to spoil anything …

Best of all?  These are heroes.  I know things were a little murky in Batman v Superman, but that was all by design.  Batman had grown cynical.  After all, they depicted him as 20 years into his career.  You can imagine the pain and heartbreak he’d endured by that point, especially with a troubling hint concerning Robin.  And Superman?  I don’t feel he had quite established himself as a hero in Batman v Superman.  He struck me as on his way to becoming a beacon to the world, but not yet there.  Justice League addresses all of that, and lights the way for both of these men.

Furthermore, Aquaman, Cyborg, Flash, Wonder Woman – they are natural born heroes.  They do good deeds because it is their nature.  As dark as Batman v Superman was in terms of theme and tone, Justice League is the opposite.  Justice League is fun, hopeful, uplifting, and even, at times, funny.  Is it still visually dark?  Well, yeah.  That’s just Snyder’s style.

Can we talk about Batman?  I adore his depiction in Justice League.  This is an old man compared to everyone else.  He’s breaking down.  However, he’s also the group’s mentor.  He gives every hero in this movie a pep talk at some point, and this is totally consistent with his character.  Remember, it’s been established that he’s worked with a Robin in this cinematic universe.  He wants to teach, he wants to encourage.  There’s a great moment when the Flash is having doubts and Batman helps him find his way.  So great to see that Batman instead of the grizzled, pessimistic neurotic isolationist.  And, man, does he have some great character moments regarding Superman.

Wonder Woman is, of course, amazing.  She’s got some mesmerizing action scenes, some hilarious one-liners, and is obviously the glue of the group.  When Gal Gadot stands next to Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, she towers.  She is the icon.  What I appreciate most about this movie regarding her character is that she is a Justice League member.  She is no one’s mother, no one’s love interest, and no one’s caretaker.  She’s doing her thing just like every other teammate.  As well she should.  Her solo movie has received the most critical acclaim, after all.  They better never reduce her to someone’s “damsel in distress.”

After the movie, a friend and I were talking and he mentioned the guy playing Cyborg.  He said exactly what I was thinking – Ray Fisher was the best actor in the film.  The moment he appeared on screen, he had a weight to him, a gravitas.  His voice held almost a power.  It’s hard to explain, but Fisher’s got what I can only describe as presence.  That’s hard to achieve when only half of a face is showing.  I wasn’t excited about a Cyborg movie before, but I am definitely looking forward to one now.  Fisher won me over.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is the absolute bad-ass you’d expect.  Funny, charming, and tough, I think he’s going to convince a lot of people that Aquaman is no joke.  They also managed to pull off some really cool underwater scenes with him and Atlantis, by the way.  Honestly, I was a little worried they were going to make him like a surfer dude with all the “My man!” and “Yeah!” from the previews.  But those scenes were pretty infrequent.  He had some real moments to shine, and shine he did.  Like with Cyborg, I’m excited for a movie featuring Aquaman by himself (but I always have been).

Finally, we’ve got to talk about the Flash.  Ezra Miller brought much of the film’s lightheartedness, warmth, and fun.  Though a hero from the beginning, we got to watch him become a better hero throughout – a more confident hero.  Miller plays Flash with a bit of a twitch and a fun lack of common sense that makes you believe this guy is really just figuring it out as he goes due to his youth.  They avoid the melodrama of the CW show with this iteration of Flash, they just make him likable and a little awkward.  Seriously, Miller’s expressions are so much fun throughout the movie.  His eyes tell the audience everything they need to know in virtually every scene.

I’m going to avoid discussing Superman, because there’s no way to do so without spoiling things.  You obviously know he’s in it, so I’ll just say that I’m beginning to see Cavill portray a hero that could win the world’s heart.

I’m a total fan, as you can plainly see, but I did have a few things I took issue with.  The biggest was Steppenwolf.  While I don’t mind a warm-up from Apokolips before Darkseid arrives, I wish they could have made him appear a little less CGI.  He lacked a certain tangibility that really stood out to me.  I didn’t feel like he was actually filling any space, which took me out of the moment a few times.  But, he made a great villain for the League to team up against, which was really his only purpose from a storytelling standpoint.  I wouldn’t say he was as flat as Doomsday from Batman v Superman, but he wasn’t nearly as interesting as Heath Ledger’s Joker.  So, take that for what it’s worth.

Also, when the Flash ran, that also never quite looked right.  I should say, his legs never quite looked right to me.  Everything else looked perfect – the electricity, the blurring, the sheer speed, but his legs did not actually look to me like they were propelling him at nearly the speed of light.  Small complaint.

In the end, I highly recommend Justice League.  In my opinion, if you don’t like this movie, you just don’t like the Justice League.  I think if you’re a fan of the characters, though, this film will absolutely satisfy.  Personally, I found it a magical, breathtaking experience.  Like I said earlier, it exceeded my expectations.

Oh, and stay through the credits.  The mid-credits will have your inner-geek cheering out loud.  The after-credits will leave you with your jaw on the floor.

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

All In With Justice League

Tomorrow night the moment finally arrives.  The Justice League debuts.

I have literally loved these characters since the age of three.  I loved Super Friends, I loved the subsequent Super Powers, I loved all of the Batman, Superman, and Aquaman cartoons in-between.  I’ve followed their comic book stories from the Detroit era to the Bwa-ha-ha era to the Big Seven era all the way to modern day.  I have studied them, dove into their backstories from years long past, even researched the creative minds that spawned them.

I have longed to see these characters, together, on screen.  I am not joking when I tell you that this is a dream come true for me.  It seemed like such a simple thing, such a no-brainer, and even though it almost happened a while back, I feared this moment would never actually arrive.  Not an actual Justice League live-action, big-budget, Hollywood movie.  But it has.  It’s happening.

These heroes were with me in elementary school, junior high, high school, and college.  They were there when I started my career, when I married my wife, during the birth of both my children, and throughout my Master’s.  They have been with me as I made new friends, lost loved ones, experienced tremendous joy, as well as awful lows.  Though they are fictional characters, they have always existed within my imagination, and they have never stopped being my heroes.

When I soon see them bigger than life, it will not be as actors wearing costumes.  It will not be just a “comic book” movie to me.  I will not dissect every line of dialogue, nor will I critique the likely plot holes.  I will love this movie unconditionally, because I love these characters unconditionally, because, in my mind, they have always loved me unconditionally.  That may sound silly to some, but to others, you know exactly of what I speak.

This will be more than just a movie to me.  This will an experience.  This will be a realization.

I’m all in on Justice League–always have been, always will be.

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Wonder Woman – A Movie Review

You know I loved Batman v Superman, especially Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  You probably also remember that when the first preview Wonder Woman arrived, I got very excited.

Last night, the wait ended, and my wife and I got to see Wonder Woman in her first solo film.  It’s hard to articulate how much pressure I put on this movie.  I needed it to be a critical success, not just a financial one, because that’s the big knock against DC movies so far in their shared cinematic universe.  I also needed Gal Gadot to prove she could headline a movie and carry it for the entire duration, not just come in and steal a few scenes.  Furthermore, I needed Wonder Woman to take her place as the inarguable international cinematic icon we all know she is.  Finally, I needed a Wonder Woman movie I will one day be proud to sit and watch with my two young daughters.  (This is a PG-13 movie by the way, and there are a few moments deserving of that rating.  I won’t let my nine-year-old see it for another few years, so take that into account.)

For the most part, I’d say Wonder Woman excelled in almost every way.

That’s not to say it’s perfect — it’s not.  But it’s very, very good.  In fact, my wife said it’s the best action movie she’s ever seen.  (Keep in mind she doesn’t watch a lot of action movies.)  I’ll start with what I didn’t care for, and then I’ll spend the rest of the review gushing.

My biggest complaint is that, at times, the backgrounds looked really, really fake.  Strangely fake.  There are about three moments I can think of specifically that totally took me out of the movie because of the weird texture of the background.

I’m also so tired of the big bad guy fight at the end.  This seems to be an unavoidable cliché for all superhero movies.  I don’t know how they escape it, but it needs to be addressed.

Finally, this will come as no surprise, but we got a lot of the patented Zack Snyder slow motion fight scenes.  Now, to be fair, I’ve seen most of Zack Snyder’s films, so this is a thing for which I’m very familiar.  I don’t think my wife has seen any Snyder movie, and she absolutely loved those same slow motion fights.  To her, it was completely new and fresh.  (Yes, I know Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman, but Snyder definitely infused a bit of his sensibilities.)

Let’s talk about what I loved …

Gal Gadot.  She oozes charisma.  She is perfect as Wonder Woman.  Her eyes have such intelligence and passion.  She is incredibly graceful and athletic.  Her comedic timing is even pretty strong!  She had some lines in this movie that could have been woefully cheesy, but she somehow delivered them humbly and full of authenticity.  In other words, her magnetism in Batman v Superman was no fluke — she’s got what it takes to keep Wonder Woman going strong for a long, long time.

You know what else rocked in this movie?  Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira and its Amazonian inhabitants.  They were so cool, and Robin Wright quickly established herself as the coolest of the cool.  Her character is Antiope, and I won’t tell you anymore about her, but she was awesome.

I have to admit, Chris Pine even won me over in this film!  He plays Steve Trevor, a character that’s been associated with Wonder Woman since 1941.  Pine and Gadot have great chemistry together, and their banter is really fun.  It’s important that Trevor be a likable, complex charter, a character worthy of winning over the heart of Wonder Woman.  Just as Lois Lane most be pretty special to hold her own with Superman, Trevor must be equally formidable.  Pine is always a little hit or miss for me, but he definitely complimented Gadot very well.  They make a good team.

When there’s not a ton of special effects going on, director Patty Jenkins shot a gorgeous film.  Set during WWI, Jenkins provided a beautiful Paradise Island, a horrific battle-torn Europe, incredibly intricate costumes, and plenty of interesting angles and camera positions.  At the end of the day, other than a few strange backgrounds, this is an extremely well-made film.

Though it at times bordered on being almost preachy, I loved the fact that this Wonder Woman wants to be a hero.  She wants everyone to be a hero.  She is not afraid to call people out, to tell people when they are acting shamefully, and to ignore any complications that could get in the way of doing the right thing.  She does what she thinks is right, she says what she thinks is right.  She does not shy away from being a hero, and this movie does not shy away from trying to be heroic.  Thought DC movies were too dark and brooding up to this point?  Wonder Woman defies that trend.

My absolute favorite scene will go down as one of the most iconic in the character’s history.  You’ve seen bits of it in the previews.  Wonder Woman is crossing a battlefield … by herself.  Her reasons for doing so are inspiring.  The immediate effects will make you want to cheer.  It’s an amazing, wonderful moment in the film.

I absolutely recommend that you see Wonder Woman.  It’s not perfect, but it’s about as good as a major summer blockbuster can be.  My wife thoroughly enjoyed it, and she’s typically not one for superhero movies.  Of course, this isn’t just another superhero movie.  Wonder Woman lived up to all of my expectations, and it will live up to yours, too.

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

An Open, Encouraging Letter To Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck, the rumors are swirling that you want to give up playing Batman.  Please don’t.

The Internet can be a beautiful, wonderful place full of information, inspiration, and innovation.  Unfortunately, it can also be a putrid pit of negativity.  It certainly seems as though only those with vile complaints take the time to make their voices heard on the Web.

Well, Ben Affleck, it’s time to spread some positivity.

I’m a lifelong Bat-fan.  As a forty-year-old high school English teacher (and, yes, I am working on a novel—it’s mandatory), Batman has been a constant in my life since 1980.  For the English teachers out there, that’s thirty-seven years.

I’ve enjoyed Batman teaming up with Scooby-Doo, I loved the Super Friends, Adam West will always hold a special place in my heart, Michael Keaton and Tim Burton blew my mind, The Animated Series proved itself a masterpiece, Frank Miller scared me while aweing me, Val Kilmer didn’t scar me, George Clooney kinda did, and then Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan took Batman someplace both old and new in a way that felt important.

But you, Ben Affleck, you’re doing something that’s never been done before.  You are laying the groundwork for a cinematic Batman that must play with others.  No one else had the guts to do what you guys are doing.  No one else dared put Batman’s dark costume on the same screen as the Flash’s, Wonder Woman’s, or Superman’s only slighter less dark costume.  You dared take Batman back to his vigilante roots, and you are brave enough to depict his evolution not only into a team player, but the heart and soul of the Justice League.  Batman has endured a long and illustrious cinematic life, but you are truly breaking new ground.

I know the trolls have been really tough on you.  I understand you are sick and tired of fielding questions about a movie you haven’t even started filming yet.  I recognize that the expectations are impossible to meet.  In the here and now, you have a thankless job.  But please keep the big picture in mind.  You have a vision for where you want to take this character.  You see the end result, though it may be years away.  In time, people will appreciate you and your efforts.  You will win over the haters, trust me.

How do I know this, Ben Affleck?  I’m a diehard Batman fan, and you won me over immediately.  I am being totally honest when I say that I loved Batman v Superman.  I acknowledge it as the initial step in a marathon.   Of course Batman and Superman wouldn’t get along at first!  But, with his death, Batman realizes the great ally he’s lost, and with Superman’s eventual return, both men will recognize even further the good they can do.  In a way, Justice League will echo The Lego Batman Movie – Batman is ultimately a family man.   The orphan always builds his own family.  He has an army of Robins and a multiverse of teammates.  The aloof Dark Knight is nothing of the sort.  You are depicting the advancement of a brooding cynical man believing in heroes again and leading those heroes to a better tomorrow.  In the end, everyone will see that.

So, please, don’t step away.  Don’t interrupt the journey you’ve begun.  Anytime you’re feeling blue, get in touch and I’ll build you back up.  Want to know why you’re my third favorite Batman?  (Sorry, you’ve yet to top Adam West and Michael Keaton.  You’ve got to win over my inner child with those two guys and I just don’t know if that’s possible.)  First of all, you’re big, man.  I mean, you’re a really big dude.  Batman is also a big dude.  And, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you can deliver the smug, arrogant Batman/Bruce Wayne for which we’ve all been pining.  There’s an intelligence behind your eyes that make us believe this is the world’s greatest detective.  You ooze charm, both with the mask on and off.  You can look intimidating as hell one minute, and then project a heart-breaking inner turmoil the next.  You’re able to take every dimension of Batman that we love and combine it into your performance.  Furthermore, you’ve got great chemistry with Gal Gadot, and Batman must always have chemistry with Wonder Woman.  It’s geek law.

Ignore the hate, Ben Affleck. Persevere.  Know that you’ve really struck a chord with Bat-fans everywhere.  Sadly, as a society, we’re slow to heap praise.  Well, I’m heapin’, baby!  I believe in your vision, your performance, and your interpretation.  I believe, in the end, you will be the Batman for generations to come.

Of course, this could all just be a power play to gain leverage on the studio for some reason.  In which case, I wish you luck.  Whatever the case may be, my sentiments remain unchanged!

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Meet Me At Graham Crackers Comics On February 18th

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It is my distinct honor to appear at Graham Crackers Comics in Normal, IL, on Saturday, February 18th.  I’ll deliver a brief talk entitled “We Can Be Heroes!” followed by a reading from my science fiction novel, Andropia.

If you have not yet visited Graham Crackers, this is the perfect opportunity.  I am consistently impressed with the clean, friendly atmosphere and the incredibly helpful staff.  This will be a family friendly event, so bring the kids!

Hope to see you there, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Learn more about Graham Crackers Comics HERE.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson – A Book Review

I have to be honest, I’m a huge fan of Wonder Woman, but my interest in her derives from two very distinct sources.

Firstly, I have two young daughters, and as a lifelong comic book lover, I very much want them to have a super hero for whom they can both admire and aspire.  With her rich history, roots in Greek mythology, and general decency, Wonder Woman fits the bill.  Best of all?  She is not derivative of a male counterpart.  My girls love Batgirl and Supergirl as well, but I don’t want them subconsciously believing they have to copy a boy to be cool.  Wonder Woman shows them they can walk their own path and achieve heroism just fine.

Secondly, Brian Azzarello rocketed Wonder Woman up the ranks to become one of my favorite characters, and this happened well within the last six years with the advent of The New 52.  By reinventing the Greek Gods and plopping them right down into the world of both man and Wonder Woman, Azzarello brought a complexity to Wonder Woman that, for me, didn’t exist in any other title.  He somehow merged the world of super heroes, ancient Greek mythology, and modern day concerns into a monthly title that never failed to captivate my imagination.  As you can probably guess, I was disappointed when he moved on.

Grant Morrison recently released his version of Wonder Woman’s origin set within the Earth One imprint.  I’ve reviewed that title already, but in a nutshell, it seemed to rehash events and themes already well covered within the character’s multigenerational existence, albeit with wonderful Morrison flair.

When I discovered Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, I felt both intrigued and fatigued.  On the one hand, Jill Thompson is an amazing talent and the fact that she both wrote and illustrated this book makes it a must-buy.  On the other hand, I’ve experienced quite a bit of Wonder Woman’s origin within the last few years, so much so that I really didn’t want to go down that road yet again.

In the end, I’m glad I made the trip down said road, but I’d be lying if I said a few bumps did not jostle me from time to time.

Let’s first discuss the art.  I could pretty much summarize it with one word and be done: magnificent.  However, I’m not a one word kind of guy, so allow me to offer a bit more.

Thompson’s drawings and colors have an ethereal picture book quality, which is meant as a compliment.  As I read this book, I felt as though I’d entered a fairy tale, not in content, but rather in terms of atmosphere.  The material is fairly serious, as I’ll discuss later, and there are some imposing monsters and gruesome circumstances, yet Thompson manages to maintain an almost otherworldly quality that struck me as … well … magical.

Her Amazons are also incredibly interesting.  Thompson depicts them as strong, sometimes brutal women, but they never appear brutish or even physically menacing.  Their strength resonates though a certain grace Thompson bestows upon them.  They are athletic, but not hulking.  They are beautiful, but not sexualized.  They are lithe and light except when weighed down by armor.  Thompson conveys a race capable of winning wars but very much more interested in art and culture.

As for the story, I congratulate Thompson on taking a different approach, but I wish she had avoided the “origin” element of the tale.  In this version, Princess Diana is a gift to Hippolyta from the Gods, and the Amazons treat her as such.  As a result, Diana is spoiled, humored, and given chance after chance even when behaving badly.  That’s not to say she does not have the heart of Wonder Woman within.  She is still capable of great feats, and is, for the most part, a decent woman, and the book takes care to remind the reader as such, but the book also spends a lot of time displaying Diana’s flaws.

By this point, Thompson had me hooked.  I liked this new approach in that Wonder Woman did not always have a heart of gold.  Though born physically perfect, the Amazons’ influence ironically tainted her persona.  She exercised selfishness, lied, took advantage, and even treated others poorly.  Again, though, Thompson made a point to showcase her heroic tendencies as well.

I won’t spoil the ending of the book, but Wonder Woman’s impetus for travelling to the world of Man is given a major overhaul.  She now has an express reason for wearing her armor, bracelets, lasso, and golden girdle.  I especially love the tiara’s new concept and its implications upon her character.

Part of me, though, and again, I’ll try not to spoil too much, did not enjoy the significant change in motivation behind Wonder Woman’s mission to Man.  Thompson executed it well, but it does bring a certain level of darkness to the character that I’m not sure I wanted.  Does it make more sense than her original origin?  Yes, absolutely.  But, at the same time, we’ve seen this story unfold hundreds of times before with other characters, especially those within the comic book medium.  In a way, it lessens Wonder Woman’s originality even as the event itself is unique and new to the character.  I’m honestly conflicted about the issue.  Perhaps this is a good sign, though.  Thompson evoked a lot of thought from me concerning her iteration, which means that I didn’t close the book, set it aside, and move on.  It’s been days since I finished it, in fact, and yet here I am, still thinking about it and trying to revolve my feelings regarding it.

Speaking of lingering issues, Grant Morrison made his Amazons overtly homosexual in Earth One.  It makes perfect sense when you really think about it – an island paradise solely comprised of eternal women.  Thompson handles the matter far more deftly, with a far lighter touch, but proves even more provocative in doing so.  She hints at much, reveals nothing, and accomplishes the perfect tone as a result.  My pre-teen daughter could read this book and think nothing of Wonder Woman’s sexuality, whereas, as an adult, a few scenes led me to certain conclusions.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman fans need to read this book.  It is beautiful to behold and delivers a distinctive exploration of the character’s incentives.  Thompson takes a super hero trope and manages to make it feel fresh, especially in regards to Wonder Woman’s garb and tools.  I like that Thompson scuffed Wonder Woman’s personality up a little, making her not quite so pure hearted and good intentioned, but I’m not convinced of its necessity.  The True Amazon will leave you with much to think about, and that’s ultimately the sign of a successful work.

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