Wednesday 29 November 2017

My affliction is a result of a warped adulthood and an insatiable desire to be friendly

Hulu's Marvel's Runaways, based on the  teen superhero comic of the same name, has dropped three episodes.
One thing that the bafflingly-enduring but perpetually low-selling comic series did well in its original incarnation was its page-turn reveals, pre-title scenes and cliffhangers (yes I know this is three things shut up), but there's none of that in the show, nor does the show utilise archetypes as well as the original comics.  Also missing - aside from a synth score nicked from Stranger Things - is the original comics' ahead of it's time stripmining 1980s and 1990s popular culture for references and plots, which is incredibly common in tv shows right now, but back in the heady days of the early 2000s when the original comics landed, not so much.  I can only really think of Smallville as ploughing that furrow as determinedly and within the same genre as Runaways, though to be honest, when characters on that show were announcing that someone had "gone Thelma And Louise with the Creature From The Black Lagoon", it felt like maybe this trope was a bit over... and then it went on to become the media norm, showing how much I know.
The cast is mostly good, though the characters don't seem very interesting.  The parents are inevitably fleshed out with unnecessary backstories and rote interpersonal dramas, where the original comics painted the characters with an admirable focus and economy that amounted to "bad guys, but good parents" to the point I feel they worked better as archetypes, if only because the show's idea of elaborating on Japanese characters is to have them go out for sushi, or elaborating on black characters by exploring their guilt that they left "the hood" behind for the "white man's world" - and yes, I am quoting these terms directly from the show itself.
Of the kids, Karolina is duller than she is in the comics, and just to be clear what an un-achievement this is, Karolina Dean is one of the dullest characters in comics.  Molly Hayes has been aged upwards to a teenager from the original comics' tween so there isn't any distinction between her and any of the other kids anymore, while her parents have been written out of the story (two less characters keeps the cast salary lower, I guess), arguably making her entirely redundant as a character to the point there's a bit where she goes climbing out a window to escape someone she doesn't need to be escaping and all I could think of was that Seventh Doctor episode of the original Doctor Who where the end of the episode is getting near so he just climbs down a cliff for no reason and just dangles there while the credits kick in, like someone had said "right, put a cliffhanger at that bit" to the scriptwriter and had been taken entirely literally.  Alex looks like his comic book counterpart, but occasionally this just means he looks vaguely silly, while Nico looks nothing like her comics counterpart - by which I mean she looks Japanese HA HA I MADE A JOKE ABOUT ARTISTS NOT TAKING CARE TO ACCURATELY RENDER ETHNIC AND RACIAL IDENTITY.
Anyway, I was balls drunk for the first episode so I really liked the synth score and atmosphere of the piece, which reminded me of John Carpenter movies, but as the episodes progressed, it felt like they were slowing down, if that makes sense as an observation.  Where the original comics tore through their plots, the show doesn't feel like it's capitalising on the in-built acceptance in this kind of teen-friendly media for recycling pretty much anything from anywhere to pad out the running time, though this also gives it a feeling of commitment to being a standalone drama with its own identity rather than something which just stripmines the work of other creators and hangs a lampshade on its thievery like this excuses laziness and creative bankruptcy rather than simply being an extension of both.  The comics often failed to stay on the good side of creative recycling, but again, were fairly unique in their approach at the time, series creator Bryan K Vaughan being one of the first post-Mark Millar comics writers to really nail down the misanthropy/soundbites/cliffhangers approach to US comics writing that's since become ubiquitous.  That approach is entirely unremarkable in teen programming at the moment - The CW's slate of interchangeable cookie-cutter superhero shows being a prime example - but in the early 2000s was not really that common, so by reaching backwards towards when teen dramas were instead a bit more focused on their core themes and ideas, Runaways the tv show might find itself seeming similarly uncommon in 2017.  I suppose we shall see.

Sunday 19 November 2017

You and I need to be alone in the woods so I can download all this man knowledge

I really wish I'd seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets back when it was doing the rounds in the cinemas, as the last couple of weeks have kind of put a damper on the material.  Where - a mere four weeks ago - I might have chalked up the lead's aggressive overtures towards his female colleague as the actions of a letch with misplaced enthusiasm, these days Valerian can be viewed as nothing less than a persistent sex pest and serial molester.  A string of female co-workers is plastered along the walls of his and Laureline's starship seemingly as a joke about his womanising ways, but it's plain from the off that his mating patois is severely lacking and that when it fails him, he is quick to resort to physical aggression towards women, leading the mind to ponder on what kind of horrors have gone on in this isolated starship far from any witnesses, and why these countless women have disappeared from Valerian's workplace never to be seen again after he has "conquered" them.  I know there's a trend out there in that there social medias for dark takes on seemingly bright and colourful material, like, I dunno, "what if the computer in Jem And The Holograms is actually Jerrica Benton's dead mother trapped in a digital purgatory by Satan to tempt Jerrica into a rock 'n' roll life of sin while being doomed to dispassionately view her descent - or worse, to actively seek to cause it that she might bargain a way out of her own torment at the cost of her only child's immortal soul?" but trust me, there's not a lot of mental gymnastics involved in getting to the dark take here, Valerian is one creepy motherfucker right from the first moments we meet him, and through the lens of the film, we are supposed to see Valerian as he sees himself - heroic and determined, rather than seedy and unthinking.
The rest of the film isn't that great, either - some good setpieces, but a lot of the FX are surprisingly poor - well, as "poor" as they can be when they still clearly look like several million bucks' worth of effort - especially a blue blob-like alien that seems to be voiced and intermittently played by some American lady who I suspect I am supposed to recognise and who probably ends up with more screen time than any other character apart from the two leads despite... let us say "less acting ability than those who surround her" in a very even and non-judgmental manner, if only because I am now worried that she might be some sort of Make A Wish winner who got to star in the film as a last request.
I do recall trying out the Valerian and Laureline books a few years ago, and can't really say my memory of them aligns much with what I saw here, the pacing seems really slow for something so episodic and which covers so much ground, and it's flashy and bang-y and sees a welcome return to the fantasy end of the sci-fi spectrum, but ultimately, it's just an expensive-looking curiosity with the odd memorable moment and a wildly inconsistent tone.  Mainly, though, it's just hampered by how much of its creepy lead's behavior you may or may not be willing to look past in order to enjoy the rest of the film.

Monday 13 November 2017

There were plenty of other people who could have helped that guy back into his wheelchair

 The Dark Tower - Yeah, I don't know what that was.
It starts well by quoting the opening narration of the 1984 Masters Of The Universe movie - "there is a tower at the center of the universe" and so on - but then goes all meta by saying "the mind of a child can bring it down", which after watching the film I take to mean that The Dark Tower is so flimsy that even a child can poke holes in it until it collapses - which is exactly what happens over the course of the film, as kids are used to literally poke holes in The Dark Tower.
Is it fantasy?  Science fiction?  What is the motivation of the villain?  Why does it look so cheap?  He's a sorcerer but his big plan is a science laser?  Why doesn't he just use magic?  We clearly see him blowing chunks off the Tower, so why doesn't he just keep doing that until it falls down rather than looking for an extra powerful battery to make an even bigger laser bullet that will kill the tower in one shot?  Where is this science coming from?  We only ever see ruined post-civilised worlds, so where is he getting his technology and scientists?  None of this makes any sense.
It reminds me of Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and how it was repackaged as Robotech in America: SDFM had a McGuffin called "Protoculture", which was the concept of non-terrestrial civilisation predating humanity and which was cited as a conceptual barometer of the human species' capacity for higher technological and philosophical states (can we achieve the same level as protoculture?" type of thing), but in the rewritten US version of the show, Protoculture was a power source a bit like Energon Cubes that could be used to make lasers and "control the universe".  That kind of pigshit-thick interpretation of the source material is basically what I think I'm looking at in The Dark Tower, which is so remarkably lacking in any interesting characters or ideas that I am now convinced that the studio started the race-swapping debate about the casting of Dris as The Gunslinger just to obscure what a load of shite this film is - you know, like they did with the Ghostbusters remake, and Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Yes, all these race/gender-swapping furores around products from the same studio - that's a bit of a coincidence, isn't it?  And a studio we already know from an infamous hack to be institutionally racist and misogynistic at the highest levels, making their sudden turn as posterboys for multiculturalism and gender diversity more than a little unconvincing.
I'll credit them that baiting racists in order to use them as a pretext to dismiss criticism of a boring and glaringly flawed film was actually a clever marketing strategy and probably the best thing about The Dark Tower, but perhaps emboldening racists and further bringing racism back into the mainstream might not be something we should do.  Maybe instead of upping our deflecting criticism game we should make better art?  Just floating that out there, Sony.

Friday 3 November 2017

All our problems are solved apart from food, money, and somewhere to sleep

Welcome to what is apparently now my blog dedicated to posts about canceled comics from the 1980s, as today I am speaking about Marvel's Power Pack #63, a tie-in to whatever "Legacy" is - maybe it's a crossover, maybe it's a one-off event where Marvel drag their limbo properties out of the drawer to publish a copyright/trademark-affirming issue so they don't get sniped like Marvel sniped DC Comics on the Captain Marvel brand, who can really say?  I wasn't planning to buy this one as I've been repeatedly burned by the underwhelming modern appearances of the various characters, but my brother, bless his little cotton socks, took matters into his own hands and bought a copy for me, kind of like if an elderly relative hears you like Batman and buys you "that Hush comic", in that the sentiment is greatly appreciated regardless of the quality of the gift.
Power Pack, should you be unaware, are a kid superhero team pretty unique to Western comics in that they experienced largely straight-faced adventures in the dour and grimy Manhattan of the 1980s before Rudolf Guilliani cleaned the place up (not that this cleanup would stop the likes of Daredevil living in this specific time and place well into the 2000s), and weren't the bubbly, self-aware iconoclastic superhero youths we're more used to seeing in popular culture via the anime-inspired Teen Titans, the Franco-riffic Ladybug, or even other Marvel titles like Ms Marvel or Gwenpool: Power Pack were grim-faced poverty-line protagonists right out of a Steinbeck novel, though they were viewed with some bemusement by the comics-buying public of the time, who - unlike the tolerant, racially and gender-diverse open-minded metrosexual comic book readership of 2017 - were older straight white males who were a bit entitled about their hobby and didn't like characters who weren't straight white males, and preferably teenagers.  No, I don't understand that last bit, either.
Anyway, Power Pack weren't really a priority for a relaunch after their title folded with its 62nd issue, especially with their paltry hundred thousand readers (yes, I know), so apart from a miniseries in the early 2000s that was ignored by almost everyone (especially Marvel writers) they languished in comics limbo before the inevitable death blow for any comic book superteam: having the characters split off into co-starring/backing cast roles in other team books like New Warriors, Runaways, Loners, Fantastic Four, and Future Foundation.  This is a blow that comic book superteams can rarely recover from because now the characters are off acquiring continuity baggage that most editors and fans psychopathically resist disregarding, so if there's ever a reunion story down the line, all that baggage has to be incorporated or acknowledged and God help the poor comics writer who considers such things a trifling matter and not important in the greater scheme of telling an interesting or entertaining story - this is comics continuity, dammit and...
Ah, who am I kidding?  The dang thing has a big old #63 on the flipping cover, it's not like anyone can pretend continuity isn't an anchor dragging on this endevour and the story has any kind of mandate to hold up objectively AND YET... for some reason, the framing makes it clear that this is the doomed intention of writer Devin Greyson, here crafting an admittedly neat getaround for the continuity mess she's been saddled with by making the story an unreliable flashback related by Katie Power, one of the only characters from the original comic whose timeline isn't now a car crash of half-assed never-finished ideas and aimless sexual objectification.
As a fan of the comic, I of course realise that Katie is unreliable almost immediately through my encyclopedic knowledge of Power Pack, but mainly because a character in the story explicitly states she is an unreliable narrator.  Continuity-wise, she's unreliable because she seems to look up to her older brother Alex as a good superhero rather than one of the worst and most ineffective superheroes in the history of comics to the extent that his finest comics moment was when Doctor Doom backhand-slapped him until he bawled like a child, which was very, very funny to read, but, you know, probably not something you put in the scrapbook.
As an objective exercise in storytelling, I felt it suffered from none of the characters being distinctive, and even if you allow that this is because it's a tale told by a single character from their POV, we never actually establish what that narrator's character is.  What we get here is essentially an above-average inventory strip expanded to a full issue, and while there's plenty to recommend it between Marika Cresta's crisp art and Devin Greyson keeping things straight-faced and largely devoid of winks to the audience (though the aforementioned character talking about unreliable narrators briefly brings things into lampshade-hanging territory), I was ultimately disappointed in it as an addition to the characters' ongoing saga more than as a standalone.  In Greyson's defence, I totally rambled on about continuity for a few paragraphs for a reason: you need to have read a couple of dozen books just to have the full background on what's happening in this one ("Alex hasn't been seen since the reformation of the multiverse" is an actual line of exposition in this), and Marvel needed to have some confidence that someone with Greyson's experience could have told a tale worth reading that featured all the characters and could have springboarded the property into an ongoing series.
As it is, this feels like filler, and though if they ever get to a full reboot I am totally there, this has probably exhausted any lingering curiosity I might have had about where a contemporary take on the property might have gone.