“Aquaman/Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” Review

        DC Comics’ Goldenboy Geoff Johns hasn’t exactly been knocking it out of the park on the publisher’s flagship title, Justice League, like we know he could be. When the title first launched back in 2011, Johns was paired with super star artist Jim Lee to  re-launch DC’s premiere super team to the forefront of the reading public’s consciousness. The result was a book that was loud and action packed, but little else. In fact, there were times where it was outright dumb, with the League members acting like a bunch of testosterone fueled frat boys (and one girl) who were too busy beating each other up to actually be the heroes they were meant to be.

While the book was not nearly as bad as some people made it out to be (internet hyperbole being what it is), the first two arcs left much to be desired. However, Jim Lee left the title starting with issue #13, which I reviewed back in October. This two part tale (continued in #14) reintroduced one of my favorite villains, Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis the Cheetah, with guest art by Tony Daniel. While it was slightly underwhelming, it was certainly a step up from what came before. And probably the best story Cheetah has had in a while, and oh God, how sad is that?

 

(I never forget, and I never forgive.)

Thankfully, Johns seems to be on the upswing, as this new multi-part crossover with his Aquaman book is probably the  best thing he’s written since the New 52 started. Running from Aquaman #14-16 and Justice League #15-17, the “Throne of Atlantis” crossover brought Aquaman and his mythos to the forefront in the most kickass story both books have featured thus far.

Yeah, you read that right. Aquaman is the star, and he is awesome. See, Johns has been rehabilitating the Aquaman franchise, much like his recent success with Green Lantern. Most comic fans know that Aquaman, the King of the Seven Seas, has always been badass, but his reputation outside of comics circles as a useless joke is much more widespread. Everyone makes Aquaman jokes, and I’m no exception. Hell, in a bit of not-so-subtle meta commentary (when has Johns ever been subtle?), several civilian characters in the book make fun of Arthur and his fishy powers, only to eat their words later.

 

            The main crux of the story is Johns doing what he does best: revamping old school villains whose names are not “Joker” or “Lex Luthor” and making people appreciate them. Thanks to him, many consider the Flash to have the second best Rogues Gallery of foes next to Batman. Green Lantern’s Sinestro is now one of the most well rounded and popular villains the company has. Cheetah is working her way up to the top where she belongs, and Aquaman’s own arch-nemesis, Black Manta, has never been cooler than he is now. Johns continues his particular focus on Arthur’s Rogues Gallery by bringing his #2 villain, the Ocean Master, to the forefront of this arc.

 

         A mysterious party has hacked into a U.S Submarine an launched missiles at Atlantis, prompting current ruler (and Aquaman’s half-brother) Orm a.k.a the Ocean Master, to launch a full scale counterattack. His first action is to nearly destroy the East Coast with massive tsunami waves, before sending Atlantis’s army to shore.

The conflict between the two brothers is really the heart of this thing. In previous versions, Orm was a purely villainous character who resented his half-brother for taking the throne from him. Here, however, Orm only sits on the throne because Arthur doesn’t want it, and actually has genuine love for his brother. The conflict emerges when Arthur defends the surface world, while Orm is only trying to avenge his people. The battle between them is complex and kind of heart breaking; it’s hard not to feel a little bad form Orm in the final issue, even though he deserves his fate. Needless to say, I’ve never cared for the character before, but I’m definitely noticing him now. Can’t wait to see him come back.

Moving on from the Aquaman elements, we get to see the League expand their ranks with several guest characters: Hawkman, Black Canary, Firestorm, Black Lightning, Vixen, Zatanna, Element Woman and the new Atom are all present to join the fight. I’m excited to see which of these guys will be sticking around following this arc. Hawkman will be in the other League book, and I sadly doubt that Canary and Zatanna will be around when they’re already on teams. The others I’m less certain about, but I’m interested in all of them.

      On the last page, we get some teasers for future storylines. Aquaman is now the King of Atlantis, shock surprise. While that storyline will be carried over into his own book (which I recommend you all get NOW), this one teases at a new Secret Society of Supervillains coming together. We get to see some head shots of the villains who will be featured:

–          the aforementioned Black Manta and Cheetah

–          Captain Cold

–          The Scarecrow

–          Felix Faust (?)

–          Grodd

–          Blockbuster

–          Poison Ivy

–          Copperhead (?)

–          Killer Frost

–          And someone who could either be Mirror Master or Dr. Poison

Looks like the Society is going to play a major role the upcoming Trinity War event. With the success of the last two arcs, Johns has won me back over, and I’ll be sticking around for the long haul.

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Neon Genesis Evangelion Analysis Episode 2: Unfamiliar Ceiling/the Beast

The title for the second episode begins a pattern that lasts for most of the series, that being that each episode has two titles. For some reason, episodes 1 and 10 don’t conform to this idea, something which I’ve never really understood. For this installment, “Unfamiliar Ceiling” refers to the first half of the episode, while “the Beast” is the title for the half that follows the commercial break.

     I’ll open this review by analyzing the mechanics of piloting the Eva, since my first review was long enough as it was. Unlike most giant robots in anime, Evangelions are piloted by synchronizing the child’s nervous system with the control system of the Eva. They think, and the Eva responds. The downside of this is that when the Eva is damaged, the child receives the mental feedback and feels like they are the ones being injured. This is shown early in this episode, where Sachiel breaks Eva-01’s arm and puncturing its eye, causing Shinji to black out from the pain.

The cockpit (actually a long, cylindrical device inserted directly into the Eva’s spinal column) or “Entry Plug,” is also flooded with an amber fluid called LCL. The LCL is completely breathable, and acts as a shock absorber for the pilot during battle, and aids in synchronization.

     As the battle is underway, Shinji blacks out and Misato screams his name in distress, when we suddenly cut to Shinji snapping awake in a hospital bed, looking at the titular “unfamiliar ceiling.”

     This jarring scene shift completely threw me off the first time I watched the series. Was Shinji dreaming the whole thing? What was the outcome of the battle if it was real? Anno cruelly leaves these answers until the end of the episode, but we are offered teasing glimpses throughout, such as Eva-01’s damaged head and a massive crater in the middle of the city. Seeing as how the rest of the city is still intact, and the supporting cast continue to appear, we know that the battle is won, we just don’t know how.

The next major scene in the episode is Commander Ikari taking part in a discussion with NERV’s financial backers, the Human Instrumentality Committee. The true purpose of the Committee is only hinted at here, but they seemingly have Ikari by the balls, which is quite impressive considering the badass presence he’s presented so far. Apparently, there is something larger at work behind the scenes than just the war with the Angels, but we won’t see much elaboration on that until the second half of the series.

Keel Lorenz

    It is here that the bizarre relationship between Shinji and Misato comes into focus. Hearing that Commander Ikari has arranged for Shinji to live on his own in an apartment, Misato instead arranged for Shinji to live with her. Not only is Shinji mystified by this unexpected extension of hospitality, but so is Ritsuko, who wonders if Misato may have ulterior motives. Misato jokingly says that she “wouldn’t put the moves on a kid,” but Ritsuko’s angry reaction to that statement seems to imply something darker beneath the surface.

Misato does her best to boost Shinji’s confidence in one of the more memorable scenes in the early part of the series. She takes him to a hillside where he can get a view full of the city as its futuristic buildings rise from the ground, where they descended during the Angel attack. Not only does this scene begin to establish what kind of city Tokyo-3 is, but really hammers home what was at stake when Shinji entered Eva-01.

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     Upon arriving at her apartment, Shinji awkwardly thanks Misato for having him, and she has to remind him that this is his home for the foreseeable future. And what a home it is, littered with empty liquor bottles, beer cans and snack food wrappers. We are introduced here to Shinji’s fastidious side as he is quietly shocked/disgusted at Misato’s way of life. We also see a bigger contrast between the Misato at home and the Misato we see at her job. It is amazing how this woman is so keenly focused and professional at NERV while acting like a careless college girl in other aspects of her life. She also questions herself as to the real reasons why she took Shinji in; it seems very obvious that it wasn’t entirely selfless on her part.

Oh, and she also has a pet penguin.

Pen²

     Meet Pen-Pen, Evangelion’s official animal mascot. In this universe, penguins have become practically extinct after whatever event heralded the Angels. Misato states Pen-Pen is genetically engineered to live in warmer climates, and the little guy is basically the main source of comic relief in the series. Enjoy him while you can folks, because that relief isn’t going to be around forever.

After a nice scene where Gendo and Ritsuko debate the ethics of using child soldiers (and which also provides us a glimpse of another one of our starring Mechas, Eva-00), we find Shinji staring at another “unfamiliar ceiling” while he lies in bed and listens to music. On an SDAT player. In the year 2015. Well, we have to remember this was made in 1995, but that SDAT player looks horribly dated in the day and age when the iPod reigns supreme.

Episode 02

     However, this is the first instance of many where Anno tells us a LOT about a character by connecting them to an inanimate object. Shinji constantly listens to music when he’s feeling withdrawn, using it to block out the rest of the world and be allowed to retreat into himself. He also is only shown listening to two tracks, 25 and 26, constantly going back and forth between them. This symbolizes his tendency to make progress with his issues, but never permanently; he is constantly going backwards.

And now, we are finally rewarded with the actual events of the previous battle via Shinji flavored flashback sequence. Just after Shinji blacked out, the NERV control room was completely cut off from all control just as Eva-01 reactivated. Letting out a human like howl, Eva-01 attacks the Angel with such savagery that it becomes readily apparent just who the titular “Beast” is.

File:02 C269 eva01-run.jpg

      We are introduced here to another piece of Angel lore, that of the A.T Field. This field manifests as an orange, hexagonal field of light that acts as a barrier to all conventional weapons. This is why the military was so ineffective against Sachiel, and all subsequent Angels manifest them to various degrees of intensity. Knowing this is all the more important when we see Eva-01 effortlessly tear through Sachiel’s Field shortly after regenerating its broken arm.

The next important piece of Angel biology is established as “the Core,” the red sphere located in Sachiel’s solar plexus. Destroying it means the Angel is destroyed, as Eva-01 demonstrates by pummeling it and then tearing off one of Sachiel’s own ribs and using it as a blunt instrument. But the seemingly automnous Angel shows signs of being more than a one dimensional monster when it latches onto Eva-01 and self destructs. With this action, the Angel’s personality shines through: it knows it’s screwed, but wants to take its foe down with it.

So now we know where that crater in the beginning of the episode came from. And the Misato and the other members of NERV watch in awe as Eva-01 strides out of the flames like a boss. Only Commander Ikari seems unphased by the proceedings.

But what happened to Shinji during all this? Immediately after the Angel’s destruction, Shinji awakens inside the Entry Plug, just in time to see Eva-01’s helmet fall off. And in the most chilling scene in the first half of the series, Shinji nervously glances at Eva-01’s reflection in a nearby building, and is greeted with this:

File:OP C073 big.jpg

“Hey.”

As Shinji lets out a terrified scream (the first of many as delivered by his awesome voice actress, the incomparable Megumi Ogata), we cut back to the present, where Shinji curls up into a fetal position. The same questions running through his mind are no doubt running through the minds of the viewers at this point. Just what the hell is the Eva?

The coda bring the episode to a solid close. Misato, standing in Shinji’s bedroom doorway, offers an awkward but sincere expression of gratitude to Shinji for his role in saving the day. But her words do little to console the troubled teen as he ponders just what he has gotten himself into.

“Goodnight, Shinji. Hang in there.”

*Most images taken from Evageeks.org

Neon Genesis Evangelion Analysis: Episode 1- Angel Attack

The opening of the first episodes cuts right to the chase, as we open on a black screen with white text simply saying “the Year is 2015.” It then jump cuts to the devastated and flooded remains of a city. Military tanks line up on the shoreline, while helicopters circle above.  In the distance, something is seen emerging from the water, but the scene cuts away before we can get a good glimpse of it.

In the city itself, there is no activity to be found save one car driving through the empty streets. Inside, a woman complains about the lousy timing of whatever is occurring, while the “camera” focuses on a picture near her lap, which shows a young school boy.

          It is here that we are introduced to said boy, our protagonist, 14 year old Shinji Ikari. Shinji waits by a pay phone with his bag of luggage, learning from the automated voice on the other end that a state of emergency has been declared. As Shinji contemplates what to do, his world is literally shaken due to the footsteps of the giant monster lumbering into the city, hotly pursued by military jets.

 Sachiel

         This is Shinji’s (and our) introduction to one of the main antagonistic factions of the series: the Angels. The Angels are a race of mysterious, eldritch abominations who are attacking the human race for unknown reasons. If you’re expecting some light to be shed on those reasons, well, you may be half disappointed. Everything surrounding the Angels remains mostly vague, as befitting a race of god-like beings so far beyond our ability to conceive. There are several clues hidden throughout the series as to their true origins and agenda, but none of it is explicitly spelled out. Some viewers may find this dissatisfying, but I find that it makes the Angels much more intriguing.

Although it isn’t revealed yet in this episode, this particular Angel is classified as the 3rd Angel, codenamed “Sachiel.” Each of the Angels are given names from the actual Bible, or related academic sources. The Biblical Sachiel was an angel of the Cherubim order, said to govern over water. The latter aspect is alluded to when we first see this creature swimming through the flooded ruins of old Tokyo. If you look closely enough, you can even see that it has some amphibious and fish like features, like these gills:

 

            Anyway, the Japanese military attempts their standard “shoot at the giant thing until it goes away” tactic that has never worked in the history of ever. Meanwhile, Shinji gets picked up by the woman that we saw driving earlier. This is Captain Misato Katsuragi, and she is perhaps the second lead character in the series, and my second favorite (we’ll be getting to my #1 a little further down the line). She was supposed to pick Shinji up earlier, but was delayed due to the state of emergency. She drives him out of the city as the JSDAF drops a weapon called an N^2 Mine (think a nuclear warhead without any radioactive fallout) on poor Sachiel, which completely wipes out the rest of the city. Unfortunately for the army (but fortunately for us!) the Angel sustains very minor damage, which it deals with in a rather creepy fashion.

    While they are driving to their destination, Shinji and the audience are provided a chance to catch their breaths while Misato provides a little exposition. This is a standard trait of a lot of Anno’s works, as well as Studio Gainax in general. The audience is often dropped in the middle of a fast paced story, and expected to pay attention to visual cues and stray bits of dialogue that will catch them up to speed. Usually, background is shared a few episodes later; episode 7 in this case.

With this scene, we learn that Shinji’s father, Gendo Ikari, is the leader of a clandestine organization called NERV, sanctioned by the U.N to defeat the Angel invasion. Shinji is estranged from his father for as yet unknown reasons, but he jumped when his father contacted him to come to meet him. Shinji has been living with a teacher (an old friend of Gendo’s) for the past few years.

Right away, we should be able to tell that Shinji isn’t the typical action series protagonist. He is shy, soft spoken, and indecisive. Misato herself even comments on this, saying that “for a boy,” he’s very withdrawn. The fact that he withdraws into himself when she teases him is also a telling sign. Misato herself sheds some information on herself as well: she didn’t exactly get along with her father either.

        As Shinji and Misato arrive at NERV Headquarters (a building within a massive underground cavern located beneath the city) we are introduced to another important support character, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, Chief Scientist of “Project E.” Don’t get used to the fanservice of Ritsuko in a bathing suit, because we don’t get much more of it after this.

Right away, Ritsuko seems like the polar opposite of Misato. Misato seems child-like and unprofessional, while Ritsuko is self assured and analytical. We will learn shortly that these masks they wear hide the whole truth. She brings Shinji to a section called the “UmbilicalBridge,” where Shinji meets the real star of this little show: Evangelion Test Type Model Unit-01.

     Realizing that this is what is father has been working on, Shinji is immediately greeted by his father, who coldly tells him to pilot the Eva and battle the Angel. Both terrified and disappointed that his father only wanted him as a tool, Shinji refuses. Misato attempts to find another way, but when Ritsuko informs her that they have no other options, Misato does a 180: she coldly tells Shinji to get inside. Here we get our first glimpse of Misato in “work mode.” She is carefree and outgoing when off the job, but she is head of the Tactical and Combat section for a reason. She is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent the Angels from destroying what’s left of humanity, even use child soldiers such as Shinji.

When Shinji still won’t budge, Gendo summons Rei Ayanami, another child Shinji’s age who has been has been in an Evangelion before. Just by looking at her, you can tell that it wasn’t a pleasant experience, and another attempt at piloting would most likely kill her.

     It is here that we see one of Shinji’s more positive traits come to bear. He sees this girl is suffering, and agrees to pilot in her place. He doesn’t even know Rei at this point, but he steels himself by saying “I mustn’t run away” over and over again. This line becomes Shinji’s recurring mantra over the course of the series, and proves that while Shinji isn’t a badass action hero, he isn’t completely a coward either.

    After a long, detailed scene depicting Shinji getting inside Eva-01’s cockpit, Eva-01 is launched to the surface, where the Angel is waiting. It is here that we reach out first cliffhanger, leaving us wondering if the (understandably) terrified Shinji is going to pull through this alive.

Since this is the first episode, the answer is “DUH.” But as you’ll see, Shinji’s inevitable victory isn’t as predictable as we are lead to believe.

Neon Genesis Evangelion Analysis: Introduction

        I’ve always been a little surprised whenever some of my friends refer to me as an “Anime fan.” The popular connotations that come to mind when hearing such a phrase is underage girls or creepy, middle aged men who have posters of naked cat-girls plastered all over their bedroom walls. I suppose it isn’t all that different than the stigma attached to adult comic book fans, a group that I most certainly do fall into. Both of those stigmas are true in some cases, but like most stereotypes, it is unfair to apply to every individual.

But what really gets to me is this: yes, there are a few anime that I LOVE, but that’s no different than the American media I consume on a regular basis. For example, most of my favorite films and TV shows are American, but that doesn’t mean I’m an “American media fan.” Much like all forms of entertainment, the Japanese animation output can be summed up as 90% crap/average, with 10% going above and beyond to being true art.

Eva-01

            That 10% can be attributed to such groundbreaking animation maestros such as Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kohn, Mamoru Oshii and several others. But the one I want to talk about here is the quirky individual named Hideaki Anno, and specifically, his most (in)famous work, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

As a co-founder and main creative force behind the animation studio Gainax, Mr. Anno soon made a name for himself directing some of the company’s more successful projects. Chief among them was the OVA series Aim for the Top! Gunbuster and the 1991 TV series Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water, both of which I highly recommend. However, shortly following Nadia’s completion, Mr. Anno entered into a deep, four year depression.

Shinji Ikari

            The causes of this depression are a source of some debate. Anno allegedly was dissatisfied with some parts of Nadia, as he didn’t  have as much creative control as he would have liked. Others speculate that he was rejected by a woman he sought a relationship with. He also became disillusioned with the so called “Otaku” culture (hardcore nerds), of which he was a part. He even went so far to claim that their tendency to retreat into the world of their obsessions was a form of autism. Whatever the case, Anno began to recover around 1995, during which Gainax itself was on the verge of bankruptcy. As a last ditch effort to shoot themselves back to the top, Anno and Gainax began work on their next ambitious project: the giant robot show to end all giant robot shows.

When Neon Genesis began, it started out as a fairly straightforward series about angsty teenagers battling against alien invaders using giant, humanoid robots. It paid homage to several classic Mecha shows, most obviously the original Mobile Suit Gundam and Space Runaway Ideon. And it appeared to catch the attention of the Otaku group obsessed with that particular genre.

 But halfway through production, Anno sprung his trap. The giant robot vs. giant monster trappings were used as a way to lure his audience in, before bombarding them with something they didn’t suspect. In his own words, Anno used Evangelion to “burn his thoughts and feelings onto film.” His four year battle with depression became his primary inspiration, turning the series into a bleak, psychological thriller that examined to neuroses of its main characters as the Apocalypse loomed in the background.

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            To say reactions to the series were mixed would be putting it lightly. Many fans who were attracted to the show for its myth arc with giant robots became disappointed when the show went off the rails towards the end. But on the flip side, many other viewers appreciated the artfulness of the series, and actually gained appreciation for it when it became more than just another action series aimed at young males. Despite mixed to low ratings during its initial broadcast, Neon Genesis became a cult classic when it aired at more adult oriented timeslots. In fact, despite only being 26 episodes and one theatrical film long, it is one of the most celebrated pieces of animation in Japan and maintains its popularity to this day. This is no mean feat, as animation has a childish stigma in Japan, much like it does in the West.

Objectively, I can’t say that Evangelion is superior to the works of the other Japanese creators I listed before. The individual works of Miyazaki and Kohn are perhaps more focused; the former has many films geared towards families, while the latter is all about psychological thrillers. Their animation quality is also leaps and bounds ahead of Evangelion’s, which was dealing with a limited budget from the word “go.”

But subjectively, it is my personal favorite anime series of all time. All the individual elements that come together just click for me in a way that few other series have. I love the complex mythology and world building, and I’ve loved giant robots and giant rampaging monsters since my early childhood. But the characters and the psychological elements in the latter half are just as much of a draw, if not more so. In fact, without those, I don’t think I would have stuck with Eva after my initial viewing. In short, any lover of sci-fi, film and/or animation should watch this series, regardless if they watch anime regularly.

 

            Over the next few weeks-months, I plan on analyzing all 26 episodes of original TV series, as well as the 1997 theatrical conclusion, the End of Evangelion. Following that, I will most likely be examining all four films in Anno’s new take on the franchise.

Justice League #14 Review

 

Justice League #14 - Comic Book Cover

Somebody better pick up that phone, because I f&$%ing called it.

 

This month’s issue of Justice League picks up where the last chapter left off, showcasing the League battling Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis, the Cheetah, in the Congo. With Superman now under her thrall, Cheetah appears to be winning before the timely intervention of the tribe that worships the Cheetah deity.

Yeah, I know people have been complaining about this story’s Geographical fail in regards to where cheetahs (the animal, not the super villain) live. They are more prone to flat, grassy plains where their speed is more suited, not in jungles densely populated by trees. But this is a story where Amazons fight cat-women, so I don’t know why everyone is so hung up on one detail.

 

Also, for once I thank God Cyborg is with the League, because otherwise we have an entirely Caucasian League interacting with the “uncivilized” black natives of the Congo. I know it’s part of the larger mythology here, but Africa is a developed continent people. It’s not all jungles and spears.

Anyway, the story goes on to detail that the Cheetah was actually a benevolent protector Goddess for this tribe, before the last host was killed by a hunter wielding some sort of mystical knife capable of killing deities. As we now know, the knife eventually fell into the hands of Barbara Minerva, who became the host for the Cheetah spirit that was somehow trapped inside the knife (because magic, I guess).

And here’s where we come to the part where my theory was correct: according to the tribal leader, Barbara Minerva’s innate evil corrupted the Cheetah, not the other way around. In fact, they want to kill her in order to save their Goddess. I’m glad to see that Minerva’s agency has not been sacrificed, and that she didn’t just go “I cut myself, herp derp.” She clearly planned to become this monster, and that’s perfectly in line with her previous characterizations.

But then we get some other interesting tidbits that I was not expecting. Throughout the character’s long history, there has been more than one woman to don the Cheetah identity. Barbara Minerva was created in the 1980’s, and has been the longest lasting, but the original Cheetah was Priscilla Rich, who battled Wonder Woman in the 1940’s. There have been a few others of less renown in between.

 

 

Geoff Johns has solved the multiple Cheetah problem by deftly combining them all into one character. Minerva is revealed to be a criminal with a long and checkered past, who has assumed numerous aliases: Priscilla Rich, Deborah Domaine and Sabrina Ballesteros. Barbara Minerva is most likely another alias, and her true name is unknown. I thought this was a pleasant surprise, and effectively gives each Cheetah (particularly the two major ones, Minerva and Rich) a place in the new canon.

 

We also get a hint towards a larger plot. While trapped inside her cell, Cheetah converses with an unknown person through a transceiver, revealing that her capture was planned. She says she will wait for Black Manta (Aquaman’s arch) to arrive.

 

Do I sense a Legion of Doom plot? One can only hope, particularly if it means giving potentially awesome villains like Cheetah and Manta the spotlight. Knowing Johns’ affinity for the Superfriends cartoon, we may be seeing another of Wonder Woman’s classic rogues, Giganta, get a much needed revamp as well.

So overall, I have to say I’m mostly happy with the new version of Cheetah, and Johns has hinted that we’ll be seeing much more of her. I hate that we didn’t actually get to see her “friendship” with Diana and her descent into villainy develop, but maybe a future writer can flesh out that backstory if Johns doesn’t do it himself. And her motivation needs some work, because as of now she’s mostly just evil for the sake of it, though there are some hints that her feelings for Diana aren’t entirely a ruse.

Still, she’s hasn’t been portrayed as this competent a threat in a LONG time. Let’s not forget that before the reboot, she got punched out by Batman, among other things like-

Wearing this stupid outfit:

 

And having sex with this:

 

I mean, there’s nowhere else for her to go but up, right?

Among the other subplots and interpersonal relationships between the League, we get some cool moments. Aquaman comes up with a plan to save the day; Batman shows great concern for Superman, because BROMANCE; and the Superman/Wonder Woman romance continues, and I continue to pray that it will end sometime soon.

Look, I love both characters, but I do not love them together. Particularly since Superman seems to be receiving the most focus out of the two. Hell, some news pieces discussing the pairing have referred to Wonder Woman as “Superman’s sexy new sidekick.” It’s really annoying that the only plotlines focused on Wonder Woman in this book revolve around her relationships with men.

At least I can rest in the knowledge that it most likely won’t last. Anyone who thinks Superman is going to permanently be with anyone besides Lois Lane is deluding themselves. Same holds true with Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman, to a lesser extent.

Seeing as how this solid (if somewhat bland) little two-parter reinvigorated one of my favorite villains, I may stick around for the upcoming “Throne of Atlantis” epic that will be crossing over with Aquaman.

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Season 1, Part 1 Review

So I was at Target the other day, browsing through the DVD section, when I came across this:

 

To say I had conflicting feelings is a bit of an understatement. Here it was, the show that had largely defined my childhood, finally getting a complete DVD release and sitting on a shelf in front of me with a very reasonable $15 price tag. Did I dare let nostalgia cloud my judgment and force me to buy it? Would the show be as good as I remembered it? Would it be worth it in the end?

The answers to those questions would be a guilty “yes,” a resounding “Hell no,” and a pleasantly surprised second “yes.”

 

For any kid who grew up in the 90’s, or any parents unlucky enough to have raised their kids while this show was on, I don’t have to remind you how this quirky little series took the country by storm. The faces of the six young stars were literally plastered everywhere, and action figures, costumes and video cassettes (remember those?) sold by the bucket loads.

Desperate parents literally trampled each other to get the toys their kids demanded, and the show proved to be one of (if not THE) most successful shows on the Fox Kids block. And looking at the show, it’s easy to see why. It combined colorful costumes, martial arts, giant robots and dinosaurs, all the ingredients necessary to get young children (particularly boys) eating out of the palm of your hand.

 

But like I said, the show does not hold up well at all unless you’re wearing nostalgia goggles. Watching it now as an adult, the show is cheesy beyond belief. For those not in the know, the show was created by taking footage from the Japanese show “Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger” and splicing in original footage of American actors. The footage of the Rangers were then dubbed over by the same actors, and while the illusion worked incredibly well when I was 5, it is painfully obvious now that I’m watching two different shows. The Japanese clips are more grainy than the American shots, and the dubbing for the villains (particularly Rita Repulsa) does not match up with the lip movements of the Japanese actors.

 Moving on to other elements, the main characters are not well developed, at least at first. In fact, they all fall into certain High School stereotypes. Jason, the Red Ranger and leader, is the typical All-American jock hero, while Billy (Blue) is passed off as the awkward nerd (despite being built like a tank).

Kimberly, the Pink Ranger and the first childhood crush for most of the boys (and some girls) in the audience, starts out the as the typical, shallow valley girl. But perhaps most offensive of all were the characters of Zack and Trini. Yes, the Black Ranger was played by an African American actor, and the Yellow Ranger a Vietnamese American actress. What’s more, their entire characters were based around those racial stereotypes. Zack enjoyed dancing and Hip Hop, and Trini often imparted little pearls of Asian wisdom to her white friends on many occasions, mostly revolving around martial arts.

Now, the creators of the show later admitted that they made a mistake, and didn’t even notice it until after they filmed 10 episodes or so.

Let that number sink in a little bit. Geez, how oblivious were these people?

 

What’s more, the Rangers don’t seem to have any discernible flaws. When not saving the world, they perform charity events, preaching about the dangers of pollution, bullying, the importance of teamwork, and all that saccharine crap. The villains don’t have much motivation either besides being evil for the sake of it, though they are quirky enough to be entertaining anyway.

 

But all these flaws, while always present, started to lessen upon the arrival of Tommy, the Green Ranger, in a five episode arc. There’s no denying that Tommy was quite the badass to us kids back then, and I can’t deny that he still is now (in an extremely narmy way). Watching his episodes again, I found that he was much less insufferable here than I remember him being later on. Once he became the White Ranger, he became the focus of EVERYTHING, but here, the creators seem to be adhering the “less is more” rule of entertainment.

In addition, things began to click for the series, such as it was, once the Green Ranger showed up. The characters began to develop more out of the stereotypes they started as, and the plots became a bit less stupid. It was still dumb, but not quite as much as before.

 

Overall, the series does not hold up well at all by today’s standards, but I still can’t help but love it. I think a part of me always will, especially with the original group. The show doesn’t have any pretensions about what it is, and never takes itself too seriously. In that way, it kind of bypasses the whole “so bad, it’s good” mentality and just ends up in the “weird/dumb” category.

 

But for $15, this DVD set isn’t a bad bargain for a trip down memory lane. I imagine it’s especially fun to watch with friends who were also fans of the series, and just laugh at all the things we thought were cool back when we were kids. I may even spring for the second half of season 1 when it comes out, albeit after the price get’s reduced a bit.

Now if I could just find a drinking game to go along with this, I’d be golden.

Comics You Should be Reading: Hack/Slash

In accordance with the annual celebration of everyone’s favorite nightmarish holiday, I decided to focus the first post of this type on a little comic series that has quickly climbed to the top of my list of favorites: Hack/Slash!

 Hack/Slash Inc

 

In every cheesy, exploitative horror movie focusing on grotesque killers butchering remarkably stupid teenagers, there is always one girl who survives until the end. This girl (most often a virgin) is the only person who has the chance of surviving the story and even vanquishing the monster.

But what if her journey didn’t end there? What if she didn’t just stop at killing that one monster (or, as the series labels them, “Slashers”)?

 

 

Meet Cassie Hack, the daughter of single mother and school lunch lady Delilah Hack. Cassie was often bullied at school, which eventually led to her mentally unstable mother killing said bullies and dicing them up to serve with the school lunch. When Cassie alerted the police, Delilah killed herself rather than be captured.

But Delilah didn’t stay dead, and instead rose from the grave as a ghoulish monster “Slasher” who continued to kill her daughter’s tormentors until Cassie was forced to kill her mother again. Traumatized by the experience (who wouldn’t be?), Cassie ran away from her new foster home and dedicated her life to saving other innocents from Slashers like her mother. Along the way, she met the monstrous but kind-hearted Vlad (think a benevolent version of Jason Voorhees), who became her constant companion in the fight against evil.

 

At first glance, the series appears to be as juvenile as the genre it is paying homage to. The majority of the covers depict Cassie in revealing outfits and saucy posses, usually accompanied by BUCKETS of blood and guts. But the old saying “never judge a book by its cover”definitely applies here. Yes, Cassie is used as an object of fanservice quite frequently, but a lot of the time that is only relegated to the covers. Inside, you’ll find plenty of female characters falling into a wide range of age, skin color and body types that you probably won’t see in anything published by the Big Two.

Writer Tim Seeley has come out and admitted that he’s “into some pretty weird shit,” but that passion mixed with his compelling writing is a match made in heaven. Cassie herself is a very complex character. She struggles with her inner rage, fearful of the possibility that she could become a Slasher just like her mother. What’s more, her being bullied during childhood has really crippled her self worth. In her own words, one of the reasons she’s still a virgin is because she foolishly believes no one will find her attractive.

 

Vlad, meanwhile, acts as her conscience, and is definitely the more innocent of the two, which is not something you would expect at first glance. Due to his physical condition, he was abandoned as a child, before being found and raised by an elderly butcher. When his surrogate father died, Vlad met up with Cassie and the two became life long companions, and their friendship is at the very heart of the series.

For the supporting cast, we have couple Lisa Eslten and Chris Krank; aspiring actress and stripper Margaret Crump a.k.a Georgia Peaches; slightly over the hill groupie Gertrude Hall; Samhain, a Slasher trying to do good; Cat Curio, one of Samhain’s former victims; and Pooch, a demon hound from another dimension who is creepy and loveable all at once.

Thanks to Seeley’s writing, all of these characters feel like real people who the readers can identify with. They are also significantly more progressive than a lot of the stuff we see in Marvel or DC at the moment. I mean, how often do you see a romance between a white woman and an Asian man, like with Lisa and Chris? And the title has formed a small LGBT following due to its respectful treatment of bisexual Cassie and her on-again/off-again relationship with Margaret.

 

But fans of the Slasher genre need not fear, because it isn’t all just romance and angst. Cassie and Vlad have an entire Rogues Gallery of villains, each one inspired by Tim Seeley’s (seemingly) limitless knowledge of trashy horror tropes. Bad seed turned dream killer Ashley Guthrie, catholic school girl sorceress Laura Lochs, the seductive, man hating Acid Angel, and the Hostel-inspired Dr. Gross are just the tip of the iceberg. And that’s not even counting the crossovers, where Cassie and Vlad have matched wits with classic horror icons such as Chucky, Evil Ernie, Michael Myers and even Ash from Evil Dead.

 

And the best part is, thanks their annoying tendency to always come back for a sequel, these villains never stay down no matter how bad Cassie messes them up. It’s certainly a refreshing alternative to another contrived escape from Arkham Asylum, isn’t it?

Overall, this series is definitely my favorite on-going being published right now. I recommend this title for everyone, whether you’re a fan of the horror genre or not. The characters here are very enjoyable, and the series is constantly running the gamut of emotions from hilarious, scary, tragic and heartwarming. It certainly fills the hole left behind since Buffy ended, and I can definitely see fans of that series loving this.

Now, could we possibly tempt Tim Seeley to do a Samhain spin off to give us a substitute for Angel?

 

 

Westfield News Part 1

So I’ve decided to upload some of my articles from my time at Westfield News, as my internship there really helped me to develop skills as a journalist and imparted the ethics I need to withhold should I pursue such a career.

The following article was published on March 1, 2012, and was focused on Westfield State University’s Geographical and Regional Planning Department. I interviewed my good friend, Jonathan DiRodi, who was one of the students involved in the program,  as well as a few of the professors who spearheaded it.

 

“GARP Department is University’s Best Kept Secret”

 

JOHN CUNNINGHAM

Intern

 

WESTFIELD- Ask anyone in Westfield State University’s Geography and Regional Planning Department what their planning for a career, chances are they will have an answer for you. Take WSU Senior Jonathan DiRodi, 21, for example. After deciding to join the major during his junior year, he already has a paid internship as a Security Analyst for the U. Mass Emergency Management Agency.

DiRodi began his college career as an Environmental Science major, studying meteorology and weather patterns. After becoming a Regional Planning major, he went on to apply his knowledge in areas that benefitted others. “I’ve always liked to make plans and seem them through,” DiRodi says, and he has found a way to make that talent work for him. And he is not the only one.

The GARP department has been a part of WSU for over 20 years, and focuses on both environmental and urban planning projects. One of the première goals of the program is to brainstorm and implement plans for communities that are less harmful and wasteful to the environment, while still being efficient.

WSU is unique in that it is the only public undergraduate college in New England to feature the program. Over the past 20 years, the department has proven lucrative for the interns and students that enroll in it. On average, 30 or so students graduate from this major per year, and with less competition in the field than other majors, they can often find jobs in urban areas.

“It’s not a very large program,” says Department Chair Robert Bristow, “but that helps with it being more hands-on and interactive for the students.” Classes in the major often focus on group projects that stretch for the entire semester, rather than individual class work.

Dr. Stephanie Kelly, another professor who is in charge of managing internships in the office, expressed much excitement with the role GARP plays in the students’ careers. “It gives you field and agency experience, and helps you set up networking. It teaches students certain ways to solve problems.”

It’s not just the students who benefit from the program. Of the eight professors in the department, four have taken part in the S.T.A.R.S program, which allows them to do research for a semester abroad. Currently, one professor is working in Guatemala, aiding in finding solutions for land usage. Professors can then apply the knowledge they’ve gained into their lesson plans and fields.

The fields of study within the program cover a wide area, including public transportation, economic development, and housing. It also deals with planning against natural disasters, such as the storm that hit New England in late October. Preventative measures are being taken to make sure the next storm is not as devastating.

But its not just immediate disasters that catch their attention. Locally, the department aids in various projects. According to Kelly, one such is helping Columbia Greenway build a bike path that runs through the town, and extends to Southwick and Easthampton. On campus, they are currently working on a tree inventory, identifying and grouping the various species of trees in the area.

In addition, they also make sure the new buildings on campus meet LEEP (Leading Environmental Energy Design) requirements, so that they are sustainable. Progressive ideas such as this ensure that WSU is thinking about the future, and always looking for new ways to improve themselves.

Both on campus and off, the GARP department are the unsung heroes of the city. Much of our everyday sustainability is due to their hard work, whether recognized or not. As DiRodi said in his closing statement, “wherever disaster strikes, I’ll be there to prevent it.” And we are all safer for it.

 

 

The Villains of B:TAS: Introduction

I think it goes without saying that Batman easily has one of, if not thebest collection of villains of any fictional character. Sure, Spider-Man* and the Flash can give him a run for his money, and I’m currently very interested in Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery for the potential they have.** But for me, and I imagine, a whole bunch of comic nerds everywhere, it all comes back to the villains of Gotham. From the Clown Princes himself, to the lesser known deviants like the Cavalier and Killer Moth, there is a wide variety of colorful gimmicks, personae and psychoses for fans to sink their teeth into.

But it needs to be pointed out that just because they are almost universally praised, it doesn’t mean that the Rogues can’t be featured in some crappy stories. After 70 years of Batman stories with countless writers, the law of averages dictate that there is going to be some inconsistency and all around crappy depictions mixed in with the good-to-great stories.

Hell, the revamped versions of the rogues in the New 52 have largely been met with this reaction from me:

But, as that gif no doubt tells you, I will always love the villains as they appeared in Batman: the Animated Series. In this series of posts, I will be examining each of them, starting with the Joker himself, and diving into just what made their characterization work so well, and where I think the current writers could take lessons from.

Keep an eye out for my first post, which should be appearing in a few days.

*I’m definitely thinking on doing a companion piece for this focusing on the Spider-Man villains as they appeared in the Spectacular Spider-Man. That cartoon was to Spidey what B:TAS was for Batman, and it was cut tragically short. Fortunately, we got some great stuff during its too short lifespan.

**And also a series looking at the Wonder Woman rogues and what could be done to update them. I could write a whole series of essays on just Cheetah, but Ares, Circe, Dr. Psycho and the rest warrant posts of their own.

Saga Volume 1 Review

So after what feels like an eternity, I have finally got my hands on the first trade of “Saga,” the new series written by comic author Brian K. Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples. It’s times like this where being a trade-waiter can be torture, as the MANY rave reviews this series has been getting have tempted me to start getting the monthlies.

Needless to say, it was worth the wait.

Considering his pedigree, any series with Vaughn’s name attached to it was going to be well received critically. His previous series for DC’s Vertigo imprint, “Y: the Last Man,” won a well deserved Eisner award for its tight, original storytelling and complex characters.

Much like his previous effort, Vaughn wastes no time establishing a world that practically jumps off the page with detail and nuance. The series is set up like a classic space opera, featuring a war between two races that has spread throughout an entire galaxy. Our two protagonists, Marko and his new wife Alana, are soldiers from opposites sides of the war who have defected and seek to escape the battlefield to raise their newborn daughter, Hazel.

Needless to say, their superiors (on both sides) view their union and offspring as a disgrace, and the couple finds themselves being hunted down by former allies and freelance mercenaries. The most notable of the latter being The Will and the arachnid type creature known as The Stalk.

Right from the onset, Vaughn (with the help of Staple’s stunning artwork) drops us right in the middle of this world, but it is never disorienting for the reader. That is an aspect that, in less capable hands, could spell doom for an ongoing series, but here the balance is executed beautifully.

And I personally feel that it works so well because, at its heart, this story is about one family against the world(s). All Marko and Alana want is what anyone wants: a small corner of the galaxy to themselves where they can raise their child in peace. Ideas such as this are essential in such sweeping, epic stories because it provides a solid foundation that gives everything else meaning.

In comparison, the majority of the titles being published by DC and Marvel at the moment have lost sight of that one simple rule. It doesn’t matter how many explosions or fight scenes you put in a story; no one will care unless they care about the characters involved. I will always love the characters and mythologies of DC/Marvel, but as of now, they are just too hollow.

This trade collects the first six issues, and the creative team has gone on a short break to give readers the chance to catch up. With #7 coming out next month, I may break my own rule and start buying this title on a monthly basis.

I recommend that you all do the same.