R.I.P Ernie Colón: Comic artist

Was very sad this morning to find out that comic legend Ernie Colón had passed away.

Colón was born in Puerto Rico in July 1931, but lived in the US until his passing on the 8th August 2019.

Colón started as a letter for Harvey Comics working on Richie Rich before working as an artist for the same Company.

Throughout his career, he worked for Dc Comics, Marvel Comics, Warren Publishing, Eclipse, Atlas Comics and Valiant, on characters like Amethyst, Dreadstar, Damage Control, Red Sonja, Magnus Robot Fighter and many others.

Tragically, Colón passed away, aged 88 after a year of fighting cancer, but his legacy of over 60 years working in the comics field, not to mention painting, sculpting and other works, has left an indelible mark on the industry.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Colón.

All images (c) copyright their respective owners

Avengers (2012)

Avengers (2012)

Film: I started my horror and comic journey at about the same time.

As a kid, my dad, every Saturday, would take me to the local newsagency in Thirroul, NSW and when he grabbed his Sunday paper, he’d buy me either a comic, or an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. We moved away from that town, and the new place’s local newsagency only had comic, so for several years my monster love was reduced to either Godzilla films on Saturday afternoons, or the various horror comics from Marvel or DC (or their local reprinters like Newton Comics would do), or if I was lucky, a Vampirella.

Comics became my big bag until video stores emerged a few years later, and I loved them dearly. As a kid I was all about Aquaman or Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam!) with an occasional Hulk or Spiderman comic, and maybe an Archie or two, but in the 80s I became a full-tilt, no holds barred Marvel zombie, and the Fantastic Four, the X-men and the Avengers became everything I needed. I even entertained dreams of become a comic writer or artist one day.

I still have a gigantic comic ‘universe’ in my head that I’d like to do one day.

Anyway, the Avengers comics of that period were amazing, and I never believed we would ever see a movie based on them.

… and then the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off!

The MCU, as you should all know, is a juggernaut of a movies series starring all the Marvel heroes… well most of them except for the ones licensed to other companies(well except for Spiderman, but that’s another story), is what seems to be a bunch of individual movies, but in actual fact is the greatest, biggest budget soap operas in the history of entertainment.

This film, The Avengers, takes placed directly after 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, and was written and directed by Josh Whedon, from a story developed by himself and Zak Penn.

The Avengers is the culmination of the previous films and here, the heroes, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo and a HUGE team of CGI effects people) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) join together to fight against Thor’s brother, the charismatic and deceitful Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has stolen a powerful, seemingly mystical item known as the Tesseract, from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his agents of SHIELD, including Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders).

SO the battle to retrieve the item begins, but what the Avengers and SHIELD don’t realise is, is that Loki has an ally in the alien race known as the Chitauri, who wait in another dimension to create Hell on earth if they aren’t stopped…

That comic collecting kid in me loves this movie, even though it does, like most of the films, take a few liberties from the source material, like the absence of Ant Man and the Wasp (who were founding members), and the early joining of Captain America (who didn’t become an Avenger until issue 4 of the comic). They do however do some fun stuff that pays homage to the comics, like Hawkeye’s turn as a bad guy (he was originally an Iron Man villain of sorts) and dodgy and adversarial combination of characters, which the early Avengers comics played upon to be a contrast to the ‘family’ vibe of Marvel’s first group comic, the Fantastic Four.

I also liked Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/ The Hulk, so Ruffalo’s replacement of him came as a surprise, but Ruffalo’s a charismatic actor, so it was easily overlooked. What wasn’t easily overlooked was the continued employment of the terrible, B-movie soap actor made good, Chris Hemsworth, who doesn’t seem able to rise to the occasion when dealing with far greater actors and comes across as a pantomime version of the character he is supposed to be portraying. At least Downey Jr and Jackson are playing themselves as they basically always have, and they are such cinematic legends, they can get away with it.

My only other criticism is a criticism I have of most modern day superheroes, and that is that it’s apparently just fine to be a killer with no regard for human life, but that’s not a criticism of this film, just of comic films, and comics in general.

The film clicks along at a brilliant pace and is a visual spectacle, and the story is pure comic book, which is exactly what it requires to be successful. Whedon clearly loves his comics books and the respect he has for the characters is clear. His strength is also team dynamics, which is apparent from his previous experience with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.

This first Avengers movie is a fun rollicking adventure, which only relies on a couple of films worth of back story rather than the gigantic amount the later films suffer from, which become almost unwatchable by themselves as individual movies anymore.

Score: *****

Format: This release has the film in three formats: in 3D, a normal bluray and a digital copy. The film was reviewed on the regular bluray and was presented in a flawless 1.78:1 image with an epic Dolby Digital 7.1 audio.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc starts with an ad for an app called Marvel Avenger’s Alliance.

There are a bunch of cool extras on this disc:

Marvel One Shot: Item 47 is a short that Marvel used to do on their home video releases but unfortunately stopped. This is a cool one about a couple of thieves who have ended up with a Chitauri weapon and decide to use it for their own benefit… but don’t think SHIELD will be quite down with that. Much like one of the others focuses on Agent Coulson, this one gives Jasper Sitwell a go at being a hero… well before we find out the horrible truth about him in a later movie.

Gag Reel is just that, but back before they became contrived an unfunny, like they did on the later releases of other Marvel films.

Deleted Scenes has 8 deleted scenes, none of which are missed, but are interesting to see, particularly the Maria Hill interrogation stuff.

A Visual Journey is clearly the making of the film and only runs for 6 minutes. Shame, as I reckon a film this big deserves a little more than just a few minutes.

Score: ****

WISIA: It makes me cry with joy pretty much well every time I watch it, which is frequently.

Venom (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

Venom (2018)

Film: Yep, I was there at the start.

For me, the 80s were when the best Marvel comics were made: John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run, Mike Zeck’s Captain America run and easily some of the best Spiderman comics ever made, and in those pages, a great, monstrous character was born: Venom!

The character was a combination of an alien suit/ symbiotic organism that Spiderman had acquired on an alien planet during the so-called Secret Wars and a news photographer that had been exposed as a fraud. Together they were a deadly monster of the likes comics had never seen, but bringing the character to the screen accurately has been difficult due to the ‘ownership’ by Sony of the character in movie form.

Even though a deal was come to to put Spiderman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I assume slipping Venom into that series hasn’t been a priority. What do you do with a character like Venom if the rest of the Marvel Universe is such a important part of his origin?

Well you basically create a brand new character and start again!

Venom starts with a crash landing of a rocket ship that has 5 alien symbiotes on board, collected from a comet. The owner of the ship, millionaire entrepreneur and total dickweed Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) desperately tries to reclaim the creatures but only manages to find three… of the remaining two, one begins its own journey that is revisited later in the film. (The other? Well Venom 2 needs a plot, right?)

Meanwhile, knockabout badboy journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has an assignment where he is going to help Drake look good after the crashing of the ship… a puff piece, if you will… but Eddie has other plans as there are many rumours that Drake is a not a great guy and his pharmaceutical company experiments on live human subjects. He manages to find out this info by looking at private documents on his fiancé, Anne’s (Michelle Williams) computer, as she is a lawyer working for Drake’s firm.

He verbally attacks Drake during the interview and the aftermath of that is that his life goes south, as he loses his job and his girl when she is also sacked for revealing secrets.

Meanwhile Drake HAS been experimenting with the symbiotes on live humans and discovers most of them consume the host they acquire, but one of his scientists, Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate) doesn’t like this method, contacts Eddie and takes him into the research centre to photograph what has been going on.

This doesn’t go well for Eddie though, and he quickly finds himself attached to a symbiote who calls itself Venom, and the pair of them decide its time to take down Drake’s empire…

This ‘superhero’ film certainly sits apart from other superhero films. The initial concept, obviously needed to be different from the comic origin described earlier, is pure horror. I’d even go so far an to say that it takes its ideas from films like Lifeforce (aliens in a comet), The Blob (crashing to earth and ‘infecting’ people) and maybe more recently, a film like Life.

Tom Hardy wails as both pre and post infected Eddie Brock. As a human he’s just an average bloke, with a drop of dickishness, and as Venom he plays this crazy schizophrenia with an amazing and amusing fervour.

Riz Ahmed as the rich jerk nails his role. He hits all the right notes as charming at first, and when he starts acting out you aren’t sure you WANT to hate him. Michelle Williams, on the other hand, feels out of place here. Her character is fairly vanilla anyway but to make her appearance like a poor photocopy of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts from Iron Man makes her even more unmemorable.

I mostly enjoyed the flavour of the film, which was borderline 80s style horror/ comedy, but when it really slipped into the superhero genre, it fails.

It doesn’t fail because it does what it does badly, it fails because it copies the boring and now overused Marvel Cinematic Universal trope of having the ‘hero’ fight a bigger, badder version of himself, like in Black Panther, and Iron Man, and Ant Man, and Captain America… there’s heaps of villains in the Marvel Universe, Hollywood, you can do better!

Honesty I would have preferred a more gruesome film, especially when you consider the characters requirement of eating people, but what we got was ok.

Score: ***

Format: I reviewed this film using the Bluray included in the Australian 4K release of the film. It was presented in an impeccable 2.40:1 image with a cracking Dolby DTS-HD 5.1 audio.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc starts off with a trailer for Spider-man: Enter the Spider- verse, Alpha and Searching.

The first extra is a really cool thing called ‘Venom Mode’ which is like one of those old ‘pop-up’ video things, but in this case it is a cross between a commentary about the film, and a comic/ film comparison. It’s completely fact with no feeling and a little sporadic but has some interesting info.

The are three deleted/ extended scenes and as usual, they really didn’t add anything to the film.

The Anti-Hero is an all encompassing short that discusses the hero in the comic, in the film and Hardy’s portrayal of him.

The Lethal Protector in Action looks at the action scenes in the film, and the stunts.

Venom Vision is a look at what the idea behind a film version of Venom would be, and how the horror films of John Carpenter, and An American Werewolf in London were influences.

Designing Venom discusses the adaptation of Venom’s look from comic to the movie.

Symbiotic Secrets compares the film to the comics, and checks out some of the cheeky nods that comic fans should appreciate.

Select Scenes Pre-Vis compares initial pre-special effects ideas to the completed scene from 8 scenes from the film.

There are two music video clips on this disc as well. Venom by Eminem is a horrible cash-in rap like they used to do in the 80s but in Eminem’s inimitable style. Sunflower by Post Malone and Swae Lee, from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse also makes an appearance.

Speaking of which, there is also a sneak peek into Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse.

Score: *****

WISIA: I will watch this again for Hardy’s performance, but little else.

The To Watch Pile’s GoFund Me campaign

You may have heard, like Arnò above, that running a website isn’t free. I don’t mind that either as the To Watch Pile is a passion project and I enjoy doing it cost is something that can accompany ANY hobby.

I want to change things up a little though, and start a comic related podcast, and extend my YouTube stuff up a bit more, but need equipment to do so, and unfortunately I DON’T have the capitol for it.

So, I have started a GoFund Me Page to try and acquire better cameras, microphones and stuff so I can make more content for you to enjoy.

I can’t offer anything in return, but just a bit of spare change thrown towards the TWP will not just keep the doors open a bit longer, but also give me an opportunity to make more engaging content, maybe even with an occasional co-contributor!

The link for the page is right here: https://www.gofundme.com/keep-the-to-watch-pile-website-afloat?pc=ot_co_dashboard_a&rcid=e28632772b5242a08151aafce5b9b0a0

RIP Stan Lee

It was a very strange day for the To Watch Pile.

Yesterday, I found out that a friend of mine, whom I met through a fellow love of movies, records, comics and Doctor Who, had passed away and that led to a restless night, and I awoke to find out the comics legend Stan Lee had also passed away.

Stan Lee is known as the father of Marvel Comics and there is no doubt he was an innovator whose editorial and organisational skill was outstanding, and his collaborations with comic greats like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Buscema have become literary classics greater than comics fans of the 60s, 7os and 80s could ever have dreamed.

He had become so ingrained in the editorial voice of Marvel that comics fans all knew of Stan’s legend and recognisable image, but more recently he achieved more mainstream popularity from his appearances in the Marvel films, and stuff like Big Bang Theory.

You will be missed, Stan, thank you so much for co-creating such a layered playground for so many writers and artists to play in and entertain we, the fans.

First Look: PlayStation 4 Spider-Man

One from the to play pile…

First Look: PlayStation 4 Spider-Man

I love superhero video games, even more than horror-related ones. I think it’s because in general I find that horror games occasionally plod, and depend on jump-scares for their horror value, but that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it?

Games occasionally try to replicate the feelings one get when one is encountering another source of that genre. Horror games want to emulate a great horror film, but they can’t really as the greatest horror films tell a lot of story in their short timespan, and a horror game that does that doesn’t have much interaction, which defeats the purpose of it being a ‘game’.

Superhero games work perfectly as superhero comics are action surrounded by story, which means a LOT of interaction as part of the storytelling, as that is the nature of the genre.

When people talk about superhero games, DC usually gets discussed first as they have dominated video games with their brilliant Arkham Asylum games and the Injustice series, which combined the best of the DC Universe and Mortal Kombat… but Insomniac Games may have turned that around.

Now I have only had this game for a little over a day, but I’m in love with what it does. It’s true to the character and the design of everything is immaculate, from the Fisk security employees to the multiple Spidey costumes, which so far I have opened his original suit, the video game suit, a punk suit, the Scarlett Spider suit, the Iron Spider suit and it looks like heaps more are available.

It really feels like a Marvel comic set in New York as well. The city is magnificent and bloody huge! It’s obviously not as densely populated as one would expect to see as the real New York, but I imagine the processor of most systems would have trouble with that kind of population.

Our story isn’t a part of either the regular Marvel Universe or of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but is instead it’s own thing and starts about 8 years after Peter Parker first became Spider-man, and the arrest of Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin starts a series of events that will bring a new gang to light on New York, and will bring Spidey up against many of his old foes.

The action is fast and you get very quickly into the game as it tastes like a Marvel product, especially with Stan Lee making an appearance as Restauranteur Mick!

There is heaps of cool releases of this game, I grabbed the special edition which came with an art book (which contains spoilers) and a download code for some cosmetic extras. Also available was a ‘statue’ edition, which came with a statue of Spiderman, and a PS4 edition which came with a ‘Spiderman’ themed PS4.

There is heaps of cool other stuff available too. Funko have made Pops of the 4 main characters, and there is an amazing art book from Titan Books, which is totally worth it if you are into cosplay as the designs of EVERYTHING from this game feature within its pages.

So far I am having a blast with this game and am finding it a decent challenge with a fun skill tree to advance through. The last open-world game I played for a long time was Watchdogs 2, and I’m thinking that this game will take over from that with mindless fun can be had with bank-robbery styled side quests, and puzzles to expand your Spider-armoury.

All in all, if you have a PS4 or like Marvel characters, you need this game.

Black Panther (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

Black Panther (2018)

Film: Now even though this is technically a rewatched film, I’m going to label it a To Watch Piler… why? Well I received a free ticket to see this at the cinema, and unfortunately it was a Mum’s and Bubs session, which means the house lights were on the whole time, so any scene that takes place at night is almost unseeable, especially when the lead cast member is wearing all black!

Black Panther is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, which all join together in a story ten years in the making which will all be resolved in 2019’s sequel to Avengers: Infinity War. Black Panther has been an important character in the Marvel comics universe since his first appearance in Fantastic Four comics in 1966, and has been an important member of not just that team, but also the Avengers as well as having several impressive comics series’ himself.

The film was directed by Creed director Ryan Coogler from a script that he co-wrote with Amber Lake’s Joe Robert Cole, and what they created caused a massive bag of excitement for its positive role models.

Black Panther tells of the country of Wakanda’s new King T’challa (Chadwick Boseman), who has ascended to the throne after the death of his father (in the film Captain America: Civil War) but the road to his regency isn’t smooth.

First, whilst being watched by his people, including his mother Ramona (Angela Bassett), potential wife Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and sister Shuri (Letitia Wright – the real revelation of this film), he must prove his worth as a leader in battle, but all the while, machinations are happening outside of Wakanda that may still threaten his rule.

A man calling himself Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) has teamed up with arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) but what is there nefarious plan, and how does it effect the rule of the Black Panther.

This film initially reminds me of a superheroic version of a James Bond film, much like Captain America: The Winter Soldier did. It has exotic locations, improbable inventions and a wry sense of humour as Boseman performs his African James Bond alongside Wright’s ‘Q’ and Forrest Whitaker’s ‘M’ as they face off against an eccentric bad guy with a sidekick with a bizarre weapon, not to mention a bevy of women, all of whom are defined by their skill, brains and asskickery rather than their looks.

The design of the film is magnificent: quite possibly the best a Marvel film to date has to offer, and the colours jump from the screen and are a nice tribute to the beauty of many African cultures, but occasionally the CGI effects fail. Ok, they don’t actually fail, but there is a standard of effects that some blockbuster films seem to think is ok which occasionally don’t sit right, due to the physics of gravity or the extension limits the human body has. I get it’s a movie based on a comic, but if you are selling it as real, it shouldn’t look like a comic. Also, there is some CGI animals that just don’t look quite right.

Ultimately, the one thing I find about this film that doesn’t work is it’s just an introduction. The Black Panther storyline is reminiscent of the first Iron Man’s story of the rights of ascension in a technological world, and serves really as just frosting on the cake that is actually film that could be called Wakanda: A Prelude to Infinity War, as it sets up one of the battlefields for the next Avengers movie, just as the first Thor and Captain America films were really just a way of getting the punter ready for a more complete film experience with the first Avengers film.

In saying that though, I don’t want to discount the amazing work it did with having a sympathetic bad guy and a great set of role models for various groups that in pop culture don’t get as many as the white male population.

This film, even though it is a fun film, in 100% sticking to the Marvel formula so if you are expecting TOO much different from the stations that the hype train stopped at whilst this film was at the cinemas, you will be disappointed.

Score: ***

Format: This film is presented in an impeccable 16:9 image with a matching DTS-HDMA 7.1 audio which is absolutely amazing.

Score: *****

Extras: As one expects with Marvel films, they have a pack of extras ready to role, some about this film, and others to advertise other product, but why wouldn’t you do that with a captured audience?

There is a Featurettes section which contains 4 parts: Crowning a New King which looks at the character of Black Panther and his world, The Hidden Kingdom Revealed is an introduction to the fictional African nation of Wakanda and making it a ‘real’ place, The Warriors Within looks at the actors who play the various Wakandans throughout the film and finally, Wakanda Tevealed: Exploring the Technology looks at the cool toys in the film.

The usual Marvel Gag Reel is present which seem to get less and less funny each time, as the actors seem to almost be acting the gags.

There is four Deleted Scenes which, like the rest of the film, are quite charming, and honestly, whilst I normally think most deleted scenes are better off deleted, there are a couple of bits here that have some heart that would not have hurt the film at all.

From Page to Screen: A Roundtable Discussion is a really cool look at all the writers of the character, including not just the movie creators, but also comic writers like Don McGregor, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Christopher Priest.

Marvel Studios:The First Ten Years – Connecting The Universe is the first of the Marvel sales pitches on this disc of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is no doubt it is extraordinarily clever and it is pretty cool when any series of films have a linking world, like Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse and more importantly, Universal’s monster movies of the 40s that had multiple crossovers in the form of House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein. This is a fine albeit short celebration and for a moment, you look at all these separate movies as one big story, rather than a series of films with a, to date, continually unresolved plot device as it’s connective tissue.

Exclusive Sneak Peek at Antman and the Wasp is another one of those aforementioned self-promotional pieces that shows off the next attraction coming to the ci emas, in this case, Antman and the Wasp. The first movie was so charming that I actually am really looking more forward to this that either the sequel to Infinity War or my beloved Captain Marvel movie (in which I believe the main character has been miscast, but prove me wrong, Marvel).

There is also an Audio Commentary by writer/ director Coogler and production designer Hannah Beachler is fascinating as it doesn’t talk about the usual writer/ director stuff, it also explores the design of the entire world of Black Panther and Wakanda.

Score: *****

WISIA: As it is a part of the greater world of the Marvel movies, I will watch it again, but it’s not a top tier Marvel movie for me.

The Dead Pit (1989)

One from the re watch pile…

The Dead Pit (1989)

Film: I’m an unadulterated fan of Re-animator; in actual fact it’s my favourite movie of all time… not just my favourite HORROR movie, but my unbeatable number one film. This film made me a lifelong Lovecraft fan (even though it’s not very Lovecraft-y) and after I first saw it, it didn’t matter what the movie was, if someone, anyone claimed ‘this film reminded me of Re-animator’ or if a magazine made a similar claim, I was all over it like water on a Deep One.

Of course, From Beyond was one of those films and so was this one, The Dead Pit.

Written and directed by Brett Leonard, who also directed the Marvel movie Man-Thing, and The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity. It was co-written with Gimel Everett who produced this same films with Leonard.

The Dead Pit is a bizarre story, and runs along these lines…

20 years ago, a mad scientist, Dr Ramzi (Danny Gochnauer) was performing horrible experiments on the inmates at a mental asylum. He was found out and killed during the ensuing scuffle and his experiments hidden in a basement of an abandoned wing of the hospital.

Flash forward to today and we see a new inmate arrive at the hospital, named Jane Doe (Cheryl Lawson), suffering from amnesia and upon arriving at the asylum, starts suffering from nightmares and seizures, and keeps seeing a mysterious figure of a doctor with a bullet hole in his head.

As you would expect, a series of murders start at the hospital but what connection do they have with Cheryl and willRamzi’s experiments rise from the Dead Pit to create havoc?

Let’s hope so!!

The first thing you’ll notice about this film is how bad the acting is, real high-school theatre styled with heaps of over-exaggeration but the weird thing is, the soundtrack and the story are so melodramatic, it actually suits it.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the effects. The make up effects are fine, but some of the rubber heads and miniature effects are… well, really funny, which I’m not sure was the desired effect.

The highlight of the film is definitely Cheryl Lawson. She went on to become a Hollywood stuntwoman, but her performance in this is the most convincing, and her scene that combines a crazy nurse, a firehouse and a very loose white crop top t shirt may not hit the heights of Re-animators ‘head-giving-head’ sequence, but it tries.

Special mention should also go to the appearance of classic western actor Jeremy Slate, who unfortunately passed away just after this DVD was produced.

All in all, whilst this isn’t a patch on Re-animator, it is a fun ride through Mad Doctor territory, and features a nice bunch of angry zombies who will gladly dispatch all the bad over-acting stars.

Worth a spin.

Score: ****

Format: This review was performed with the Code Red uncut and uncensored, NTSC, Region 0 DVD and runs for approximately 102 minutes long. It is present is an occasional artefact-y 1.78:1 image with a clear it u spectacular Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track.

Score: ***

Extras: There’s a few pretty good extras on this disc.

Audio Commentary with Director Brett Leonard, Star Jeremy Slate and Producer/ Writer Gimel Everett is a pretty thorough commentary and is interesting throughout.

There a bunch of interviews with Leonard, Slate, Everett and star Cheryl Lawson. They are an interesting bunch of interviews with some great anecdotes and stories being shared. The only thing I found with these features was the aspect ratio was out so you might have to tweak it to get it right.

There is also the original trailer and a bunch of Code Red Trailers for Night Warning, Beyond the Door, The Unseen, The Farmer and Sole Survivor.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: Even though it’s a pretty dumb film, I still dig it, so it gets a yearly watch.

Comic Book Confidential (1988) Review

One from the re watch pile…
Comic Book Confidential (1988)

The Australian DVD cover


Film: I am and always will be a comic fan. Sure there have been periods of time where I haven’t collection, the post-Image world of the 90s for example (I’m sorry guys, I like the old artwork, and the anime/ graffiti styled artwork of those guys never rubbed me the right way… I want my superheroes to be done by the old masters like Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, John Buscema and their ilk) and recently I’ve become disappointed with the storylines which seem to be repetitive and basically made to sell the movies. I understand it’s a business but there seems to be a creative lull, which has happened before as the history of comics is circular and fad based. Something hot today will not even be published tomorrow.

Hell, as of this review we don’t even have the cornerstone of the Marvel universe, the Fantastic Four being published, and that was once taglined as ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’.

I do still however get collections of old stuff, and I’m fascinated by the history of the art form too, and my book collection has many ‘history of comics’ books amongst it.

William Gaines


This, however, is Ron Mann’s documentary of the history of comic books and it’s a pretty concise and interesting look at how they came about, but the best thing about this doco is the absolutely essential stories from some of the old men, and young guns, of the industry.

It’s pretty special to know the history of Bill Gaines, and then hear him tell stories himself, and to actually hear my hero, Jack Kirby’s voice, is amazing. 

This doesn’t just look at the history of the art of comics, it also takes a walk down the history of comics legacy, and how it was effected by, and how it effected society. There is some great archival footage of the Senatorial Commitee on Juvenile Delinquency and some disturbing stories about court cases where artists and writers were sued for things they wrote or drew.

There is some cool presentations of classic comic covers rarely seen, but occasionally that footage is spoilt by some poorly executed, amateurish animation of the covers which was unnecessary and detracts from the amazing original art.

Harvey Kurtzman


If you want a brief history of the industry, and one that is American centric as none of the great European or Asian artists really get a look in, this is your place to go, but there is so much more to many of the stories discussed in this doco. Honestly. This doco could do with a 1988 to now sequel!

Ron, are you listening?

Score: ****

The Australian DVD menu screen


Format: This documentary was reviewed with the Australian DVD release which runs for approximately 85 minutes. The film is presented in 4:3 and has a 2.0 audio track, both of which are of various degrees of quality due to the historical nature of some of the footage and audio. It doesn’t really detract from the enjoyment of the film though.

Score: ***

Extras: There is several extra on this disc though the first couple are a bit Kevin Smith indulgent. I guess if you pay someone to turn up you take advantage of the time.

The first note is that this doco from the 80s has a new introduction by Kevin Smith, where he basically points out that even ten years later when his introduction was done, it was still relevant.

A Conversation with Kevin Smith is more ‘ a justification for reading comics by Kevin Smith’ and whilst I get the heart of where it’s coming from I don’t get why I have to justify, or convince someone that adults can read comic, the same as a cricket fan does have to justify to me why he likes it. It doesn’t matter what you dig, just respect each other, and if you think you have to justify your passion to a friend, you need new friends.

Silent Bobs Speaks is a not very funny series of questions aimed at Smith’s ‘Silent Bob’ character. Lame.

There is also a trailer for the film.

The is an interview with director Ron Mann who talks about the making of this film and his career in general.

Last there are text biographies of some of the artists featured in the doco, including Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Jaime Hernandez, Shary Flenniken, Lynda Barry, Victor Moscow, Bill Griffith, Jack Kirby (of course), William M. Gaines, Francoise Molly, Al Feldstein, Art Spiegelman, Sue Coe, Gilbert Shelton, Dan O’Neill, Stan Lee, Harvey Kurtzman, Harvey Pekar, Spain, Charles Burns and Paul Mavrides. They are single paragraph bios so don’t expect an entire indepth history of each person.

Score: ***

WISIA: I have watched this many times and will probably continue to watch it many more times.

Robert Crumb

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Review

One from the re watch pile for Jack Kirby month…
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Australian Bluray cover


Film: Captain America has always been ‘my’ superhero. When I was a early teen, which is when I really started to collect comics properly (before that I just bought them at random, rather than collect a series consistently), and that first series that I couldn’t do without was Cap’s. I remember clearly that it was issue 262, drawn my Mike Zeck and it had Cap being held aloft by a giant version of himself known as ‘The Ameridroid’. I had a great friend in high school and the two of us were ‘the comic nerds’ though he was an Iron Man guy, whilst I was all about Cap.

He was my friend regardless of his bad taste in heroes.

My father one day took me to Comic Kingdom in Sydney, and bought for me a full second run of Jack Kirby’s Captain America from the 70s (and a full run of Jack Kirby’s The Demon from DC) and I was totally enamoured by how awesome Kirby’s art was and became a lifelong fan. I did have other Kirby comics in my collection, I quickly discovered, and they became the jewels in my comic crown.

So fast forward to about 30 years later, and I hear that a ‘proper’ Captain America film was being made that would be part of a greater collective of a Cinema version of the Marvel Universe, and am stoked that the guy who was cast as Johnny Storm in a substandard Fantastic Four movie previously.

More importantly, I heard it was going to be pretty true to the comic, and the lack of an Italian Red Skull made my heart flutter.

… and boy, was I not disappointed!

The Captain (Chris Evans) is somewhat disappointed in his way effort as an entertainer.


Captain America: The First Avenger tells of a young man Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) during the Second World War who, due to a lack of physical prowess, was rejected to join the army, though he is eventually accepted to join a test program to create the perfect ‘super soldier’. 

When he proves himself not in strength or skill, but in mind and heart, he is accepted into the experimental program, overseen by Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and scientist Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He finds that he is not the first to undergo such a procedure, and that a German soldie, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, who I still think would be an amazing Joker in a Batman film), went through an imperfect version of the process which caused him to become deformed with a red, skull-like visage.

Unfortunately, Dr. Erskine is killed by a German spy during the procedure and when Steve emerges as a muscular heroic figure and pursues him, he kills himself with a cyanide pill. With Erskine dead, Rogers is not used as a soldier, but instead a promoter of war bonds and a part of the war effort entertainment troupe, until he is caught up in a rescue mission which not only reunites him with his childhood friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) but puts him at odds with Schmidt, and his collaborator, Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).

Will Captain America survive his first mission, or will he end up in a plane crash and be frozen for 50 years…?

Achtung, Baby! It’s the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).


They nailed the entire creation of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s character in this film. The beauty of do a film set in the past is you don’t have to ‘update’ it like they did with Iron Man, who got his chest injuries differently in the comics (well, basically the same, but in a different war) so there is no part really where the comic fan might get a cringe… like the Joker killing Batman’s parents in Tim Burton’s Batman…

Sigh.

They do modernise Bucky though, as the concept of a young boy being sent to war to fight alongside men would have child endangerment groups livid, and let’s face it, the kid sidekick is a terrible idea (sorry Robin, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Aqualad, etc). Any ‘hero’ who puts kids in danger is no hero at all!

The amazing thing is that this film never really falls into the trappings of what could make it a bad movie. Captain America is seen as an icon of good, rather than a pro-America cheerleader, and that is something that could have very easily been mistakenly done. This is due to the excellent writing from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, which never talks down, nor does it feel comic-y: it’s a war movie with a superhero in it! The only time it goes into melodramatic areas is with the Red Skull, which it has to as he is an over-the-top supervillain!

The direction is really good too. Joe Johnson didn’t just set this film in the 40s, sometimes it even is filmed like a movie of that era, and I got bits and pieces of things like Raoul Walsh’s White Heat out of the occasional visual. He didn’t copy scenes, but there is an occasional stylistic emulation, which never becomes parody which is a nice touch.

Anyway, this is a great superhero movie and a pretty good war movie too, and throw in a brief cameo of Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman just to make the nerd in me jump up and take notice!

Score: ****

The Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: This Australian bluray copy of the film runs for approximately 124 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.35: 1 image with an astonishing Dolby DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Heaps of cool extras on this disc!

Commentary by Director Joe Johnson, Director Of Photography Shelley Johnson and Editor Jeffrey Ford which is a good one, insomuch as it’s informative and conversational.

Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer is, upon reflection, a tool to prepare us for Coulson’s character becoming a bigger part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s an entertaining short, in the vein of ‘bully gets his just deserts’ styled YouTube videos.

Next there is a bunch of really interesting featurettes:

Outfitting Cap looks at the entire design process and styling of Cap’s outfit and his shield.

Howling Commandos looks at the actors who played Cap’s platoon, the Howling Commandos, firmly placed in comic lore, though Nick Fury is absent (he was their sergeant in the comics).

Heightened Technology looks at the tech used in the film, which needed to look like ACTUAL WWII technology, but still have a scifi element to it.

The Transformation tells of the special effects needed to make ‘skinny Steve’, the pre-super soldiered Steve Rogers, on Chris Evans’ muscular body/

Behind the Skull explores the performance by Hugo Weaving and special effects of the Red Skull, Cap’s arch enemy.

Captain America’s Origin is a discussion with Captain America co-creator Joe Simon about his and Jack Kirby’s creation.

The Assembly Begins is, of course, a first look at what would become The Avengers.

Deleted Scenes has 4 deleted scenes which can be watched with a commentary by the previously mention members of the film commentary team (for some reason one doesn’t have the commentary, but you’ll have to deal with it).

There are four trailers: two for the film, one for the video game and one for the Avengers cartoon.

This version of the film also came with the film on DVD and a downloadable digital copy as well.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s Captain America; you bet I’ll watch it again… and again…. and again….

Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) takes aim…