Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Adams Gallery!

Here in all their sumptuous glory are the Neal Adams covers featured over the course of the last month. It's a breathtaking way to end the year here at the Dojo.

See you next year.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Forming Bad Hobbits!

Well that took long enough.

Last week I went to see The Hobbit - The Battle of The Five Armies. It was a long and visually rich film experience, but alas not one that succeeds as it ought. For the first time, I saw one of these new-fangled 3-D movies and frankly while it's a neat curiosity the texture of the movie seemed more like the flatness often translated on video tape; the luster of film was lost and along with it some of the essence of movie magic.

Anyone curious enough to read this review will be familiar with the story and likely the film series which began a few years ago with The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey which re-introduced us to the realms of Middle Earth as first designed by J.R.R. Tolkien so many decades ago. We meet a youthful Bilbo Baggins who is drawn into a wild and weird adventure by the wizard Gandalf as he joins a company of dwarves who want to reclaim their lost kingdom from the deadly dragon Smaug.

In the second film The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug we finally get to the Misty Mountain and Bilbo meets the charming but deadly Smaug and the dwarves, led by the quixotic royal heir Thorin Oakenshield fight hard to reclaim their kingdom deep inside the mountain, but in the end they unleash the dragon who flies to destroy the nearby human settlement of Lake Town.

Spoilers below, so tread with care. 

The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies begins with the struggle to bring down Smaug. I'm not ruining too much by saying this happens before the credits have properly finished rolling and that of course points glaringly to the greatest deficiency in this film's just plain too long.

In a somewhat disdainful attempt to extract as much money from Tolkien fans as possible the decision was made rather late in the production to make the movie into three parts deviating from the original scheme to do only two movies. Given the source material, two seems ample and sadly if the original plan had been followed I don't doubt we'd have had two very tight films which resonated strongly in the imagination. Alas what we have now are three movies with a host of virtues but which tumble along with overlong and somewhat vapid action sequences which only serve to weary the viewer and and drain the characters of their verisimilitude. No dwarf and no human could survive the falls these characters take over the course of the three movies, and that's a pity in the sense we lose interest in their physical fates.

In my earlier reviews of the first two movies, I decried the tendency for the action sequences to have a video game feel and regrettably this third one has even more of that sense. One fatal flaw in this concoction is the utter failure in creating a villain with which the audience can have any connection. Azog is a cartoon from the get-go a creature right out of a superhero comic who feels out of place in Middle Earth and is rendered so heavily that we can hardly ever detect any real human behind the portrayal.

The core of this final film is the fate of Thorin Oakenshield, who has been set up as the Aragorn equivalent in this story. The fact his fate is far less rosy than that which falls to the former Strider is thoroughly expected, but the road there is less emotionally involving than I anticipated. The sequence where he throws off the maddening avarice which threatens his soul doesn't work at all for me and seems a bit too weird. Allowing the actor to showcase the changes on his face without the hindrance of fancy digital visions would've served the story much better.

And that seems to me to be the nut. For all the blather, most of it I'm sure exceedingly earnest, the director and his team do not trust the source material. In an effort to mostly recreate the highly successful Lord of the Rings trilogy nearly beat for beat they constantly overheat the story elements of The Hobbit to accommodate that understandable but ultimately self-defeating goal.

We are saddled with a forbidden romance between races which never reaches a boil, we are given a journey through the shadows of a dark goblin-infested realm which becomes a frenetic footrace against the enemy but almost never achieves any sense of true peril, we are given a finale which as promised in the title features five armies, but alas armies so vast and clearly digitized that they lack the ability to draw out our compassion.

The sub-plot involving Gol Guldur and the Necromancer and his minions searching for the rings makes perfect sense when the flick is seen as a precursor to the later LoTR, but within the immediate story needs of The Hobbit they become distractions, as spectacular as they are. 

Where the movies most often succeed is in those elements of the story which are demanded by the source material and cannot by and large be tampered with. The encounter by Bilbo with Gollum is tense and properly paced, and his later verbal joust with Smaug is the highlight of all three movies.

Sadly the Hobbit himself gets lost in this last movie, despite several attempts to glue him into the proceedings. But in that respect at least it remains true to the novel in which as I recall Bilbo likewise disappears from the narrative as the battles rage, though for a far shorter time.

So ultimately The Hobbit trilogy stands as a remarkable fantasy adventure, with some really fabulous sequences which properly invigorate the creation of Tolkien, but which sadly trade on those creations to do more than they are capable of and remain valid to the spirit of Tolkien.

I find I like these movies better on DVD than in the theater where the visual spectacle bewilders as I try to maintain focus on the story. Perhaps my inevitable encounter with the movie again in a few months will make me warm to it more. That has happened to some extent with its predecessors. 

It's a shame the movies weren't better, but they are fine and entertaining nonetheless. Maybe in a few years Jackson will re-cut the movies and make them into a super-tight two parter which will allow the story to shine even brighter.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Dynamite Pulp Specials!

The Shadow Special focuses on his associates. After his apparent death, the gang who usually follow his orders without question discover they must search for answers which they find in this globe-spanning adventure. The artwork is above average for Dynamite with some really powerful pages. With such a large cast of characters though, I'd have liked a bit more reader-friendly exposition in some places, but otherwise this is a pretty sturdy Shadow adventure.

The Avenger Special introduces us to the whole team of Justice Incorporated, a necessary since this story makes some special point about the nature of racism in American culture during the heyday of the pulps and of course the team is integrated. It's a proper full-blooded pulp adventure with the then high-tech invention the television playing a key role. This issue has more actual textual storytelling than I'm accustomed to in a Dynamite comic, a welcome change. The artwork is acceptable but alas tepid in almost all respects.

The Doc Savage Special focuses its keen attention on Pat Savage, or more particularly on certain parts of Pat Savage. The story itself is pretty sharp, with Pat giving Doc a hand with a young girl who turns out to be quite the target for some foreign devils who want to make things rough for Pat and anyone else who is helping out. Among those helpers are couple of cousins who being black become the focus of a subplot about racism in the era. If the artist, who otherwise rises above the average barely had been able to keep the reader from staring at Pat's cleavage through much of the fighting the story would've been better served.

Overall these are some interesting comics, better than I expected with some striking and memorable covers by Robert Hack. But judge them not by that, least ye be somewhat disappointed.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Same Bat-Channel! About Bat-Time!

One of the many splendid presents I received this holiday was the highly ballyhooed Batman - The Complete Television Series DVD collection. It's the thing this year I most wanted under the tree and thanks to my generous and wonderful daughters it made its way there.

The lack of these shows on first VHS and later DVD was doubtless the most glaring omission in the genre. I have the original Adventures of Superman series from the 50's, the Wonder Woman series from the 70's, and even The Flash series from the 90's, but always that stack felt incomplete without this iconic 60's show. This is the series that perhaps saved comics, its popularity giving struggling comic producers a vaunted shot in the arm when popular culture seemed poised to pass them by. To find out what took so long check this out.

Purists will bicker about the negative consequences of the success of this series, the overwhelming sense of the ridiculous nature of comic books that it communicated to a wide audience already prone to think of comics in a negative light. But the good that it did, the jolt to the profile of the medium, transforming it from the fountain of juvenile delinquency to the source of harmless if brash 60's pop culture was critical in moving us into a place where the form could survive in the coming harsh times of the 70's. I really believe that without this show's success comics might well have died out as a form, they nearly did anyway. It made comics seem silly and not dangerous, not an insignificant shift in emphasis to the watchdogs of society.

We may well hate it, but the cries of "Kapow!" and "Biff!" are better than the cries for censorship which dominated the previous decade. Not ideal by any means, but still an improvement.

It will take me quite a while to get through all the episodes as too much of this show can go a very long way. But like any potent beverage it is highly pleasurable when taken in proper doses. I'm looking forward to a very merry Bat-year indeed.

Now all we need is a DVD with these guys.

Maybe next Christmas!

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Hanging The Green #16 - New Packages!

These now classic Green Lantern and Green Arrow adventures have been collected many times right from the beginning. Here is some of the great artwork produced for the covers of some of those reprints.

And that wraps up this look at the classic Green Lantern and Green Arrow series which in many ways worked to redefine what comics were. Hope you enjoyed it.

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