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Expectations, dear friend, are a fickle mistress indeed. They have the capacity to elevate something unseen to undeserved heights of wonder and amazement or, just as easily, to drag it down into the murky depths of awfulness. Especially these days, when everyone not only has an opinion but is sharing it online, once-innocuous phrases like “I thought this was pretty good” or “that just wasn’t my cup of tea” have become positively loaded and can trigger “flame wars” that rage for weeks.

Of course, one advantage to “taking a pass” on a film in theaters and waiting for it to hit Blu-ray/DVD/streaming services is that you can get a general consensus as to what most folks think about it before deciding whether or not to invest and/or waste your time on it. True, there are times when everybody —or at least damn near everybody — is wrong (shit, look at how many people plan on voting for Donald Trump), but more often than not when a lot of people whose opinions you generally trust tell you that something is good, it turns out to be exactly that.

And ya know what? Damn near everyone whose opinions I generally trust said that writer/director Robert Eggers’ 2015-lensed indie horror The Witch was very good indeed when it hit theaters in February of this year. Truth be told, I wanted to go catch it on the big screen myself and see what all the fuss was about, but a brutal-at-the-time work schedule prevented me from doing so. Now that it’s available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate (with a fairly nice package of extras including a “making-of” featurette, excepts from a Q&A session held at the film’s debut in Salem, Massachusetts, and a very involving full-length commentary track by Eggers) and I do have a bit more free time on my hands, though, there was no excuse for me to keep delaying the inevitable. So now the question is — were all those folks who loved it right?

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I’m going to answer that with a qualified “yes.” Certainly The Witch is a stylish and brooding piece of work that is gorgeous in its bleakness and elevates drabness to an art form by wringing every last drop out of its reported $3.5 million budget. Ostensibly set in New England (although it was filmed in Ontario) circa 1630 the costumes, dialogue, character mannerisms, and overall tone of the proceedings are all absolutely spot-on when it comes to recreating what was no doubt a very lousy time to be alive. In addition, Eggers gets one absolutely superb performance after another out of his largely-unknown cast, and you can tell from the word “go” that everyone both in front of and behind the camera is putting their all into this tale about a devoutly religious family that finds nothing but tragedy and hardship when they move off the plantation/colonial lands they had been helping to farm in order to make a go of it on their own on a plot of harsh acreage at the very edge of a dense and no doubt haunted forest. Their sense of isolation and desperation is palpable throughout, and the intensity of each rises in the wake every unlucky occurrence that befalls them, beginning with the disappearance of their infant son and culminating in — well, that would be telling. But as things go from bad to worse to even worse along the way, you certainly feel it right down to your bones.

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So, yeah, there’s plenty of dread and terror on offer here, if few traditional “scares.”  And when mid-teens daughter Thomasin (superbly portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy) becomes the scapegoat for her family’s woes a number of valid points about parental and societal fear of emerging female sexuality are made that definitely hit home — heck, when newly- pubescent brother  Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) begins to develop unasked-for (and thankfully never-acted-upon) feelings of arousal for her, you just know that, sooner or later, she’s gonna get blamed for everything that happens — never mind that the combination of isolated living and religious extremism can pretty much only end in insanity for one and all.

Speaking of insanity, the clan’s mother, Katherine (played by Kate Dickie) certainly bears all the visible hallmarks of that affliction, while father William (Ralph Ineson) spends most of the flick doing his level best to resist its siren call and younger twin siblings Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) — well, they’re either evil “bad seed”-types, or else perfectly innocent victims. Maybe even both? There’s and admirable amount of subtlety and nuance in all this film’s characters barring Katherine, and that certainly gives it a leg up on much of its competition in the horror genre right there.

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And yet — for all its visual flair and fine acting and historical authenticity, there are a few areas where Eggers’ film comes up short. There’s a decent amount of confusion as to which animal is acting as the “familiar” for the titular witch who may or may not really live in the woods (first it’s a rabbit, then it’s the goat named “Black Phillip” pictured above): the oppressive downward spiral of the story isn’t interspersed with any “hey, maybe there’s a way out of this” moments that would have served to make the ending both harrowing and tragic; and to a certain extent Thomasin’s final fate, while managing to be both shocking and entirely believable, wastes some of the sympathy we’d spent the previous 80 minutes developing for her character. In short, the story suffers from some bizarre and ill-considered tonal shifts where it doesn’t need them, and misses the boat on offering them where they are needed.

It’s nagging little details such as these that which prevent The Witch from being the modern horror masterpiece that many of its most enthusiastic partisans claim it to be, but it’s still a very interesting, evocative, at times haunting, and undeniably effective slice of genre filmmaking. If you go in with sky-high expectations you may feel slightly let down, sure — but if you go in with none, chances are you’ll walk away from it very impressed.

 

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Last month, a celebrated writer from outside the world of comics landed in our little four-color ghetto with a thud when Ta-Nehisi Coates debuted his much-ballyhooed new Black Panther series over at Marvel — first issue sales were strong, but the comic itself sucked (to put it mildly), and if the shelves at my LCS are any indication, there are going to be a lot of copies of issue 2 available in the bargain boxes sooner rather than later. It’s too bad, of course, because Coates is both an interesting and important literary figure — as well as one with an apparently long-standing love for this much-maligned medium — but when the history of comic books in the 21st century is written, Black Panther circa 2016 looks likely to go down as yet another missed opportunity to bring new readers into the fold.

Still, there’s gotta be hope, right? I mean, there has to be a successful novelist out there somewhere, with a strong fan base of his or her own, who both wants to work in comics (for whatever reason) and knows what they’re doing, doesn’t there? Enter William Gibson.

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If you’re a fan of speculative science fiction, Gibson’s name is one that needs no introduction — and truth be told it may not even if sci-fi isn’t  your cup of tea, simply because he hasn’t just “reached the mountaintop” of that genre, he is the mountaintop, and has been for a couple of decades now. How his latest project, the five-issue comics series Archangel, landed at the doorstep of IDW Publishing is anyone’s guess (although he alludes to its origins a bit in this first issue’s extensive backmatter), but I’m sure Ted Adams and company are very glad it did, because the first printing of issue one sold out nationwide in just a couple of days and they’re already headed back to press with it. So, hey, happy faces all around there — but will all those Gibson fans be back for more next month?

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If the debut installment of Archangel is anything to go by, I’d have to say the answer to that would be an unqualified “yes.” This opening salvo may not be anything like an “instant classic” by any means, but it does everything a good first issue needs to do by offering readers an intriguing premise (2016 Earth is an irradiated post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a father-son team of major-league assholes who have now perfected time travel and are seeking to re-write history to their specifications by going back in time and impersonating their ancestors), immediately-identifiable (if broadly-drawn) characters, stylish artwork, and plenty of engaging mysteries — particularly if you’re into Foo Fighters (not the band), Fireballs, and all that other “exotic” aerial weaponry the Nazis purportedly threw up into the sky at the tail end of WWII. In short, it’s a fun, interesting, well-paced, intelligent read.

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And my oh my is it ever a joy to look at! The art team of penciller Butch Guice and inker Tom Palmer would have been considered an “A-list” pairing in, say, 1986, but the illustrations in Archangel #1 show that not only have these two consummate pros not “lost a step,” they’re actually gotten better while no one was looking. Add in the superb color work of Diego Rodriguez and put all this gorgeousness under a breathtaking Tula Lotay cover and what you’ve got is a comic that combines the best of both the “old-school” and “new-school” artists in service of a script that plays to the strengths of everyone involved.

Now, as far as the script goes — actor/writer Michael St. John Smith is credited on the inside cover for “editing and story structure” (I know what the first means, but I’m a little less clear on the second), but in this issue’s already-referenced backmatter (which, in fairness, takes up half the book and its inclusion is a big reason, I’m sure, for the higher $4.99 cover price here — still, for a “process junkie” like me, I’m not complaining because I love seeing all the stages of a given page come to life in front of my eyes) Gibson refers to him as a full collaborator, and the two of them share the copyright on the material, so — I dunno, it could just be a case where one guy’s getting short shrift because the other guy’s name (which is in big bold letters right above the logo on the cover) sells copies, but I’ll say this much : they both deserve a ton of credit, apportioned in whatever percentage is most agreeable to both, for delivering a crackerjack story that doubles, frankly, as a fucking clinic on how to structure a first issue/episode/chapter/you name it. If subsequent installments are anywhere near this strong, we’re in for a very memorable ride indeed.

 

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Who’da thunk it? Meir Zarchi’s lurid-but-staggeringly-effective 1978 rape-revenge thriller I Spit On Your Grave (or Day Of The Woman, if you prefer) was panned as being prurient and offensive trash at the time of its release, but is now widely considered (and rightly, in my view) to be quite possibly the most overtly feminist horror film ever made. Time makes fools of us all, I suppose, and the critics who trashed Zarchi’s flick back in the day are definitely a prime example of this old adage. But the wholesale reconsideration of the original isn’t the surprising wrinkle I’m talking about here.

No, the reason I said “who’da thunk it?” is because nearly 40 years later, I Spit On Your Grave has become a veritable straight-to-video franchise. The 2010 remake had its flaws, to be sure, and the 2013 “thematic” sequel had even more of them (how, exactly, do you transport an unconscious individual from California to fucking Bulgaria without arousing anyone’s suspicion?), but hey, late 2015 saw the Blu-ray and DVD (both of which were issued by Anchor Bay sans extras) release of I Spit On Your Grave 3 : Vengeance Is Mine, a movie which promised to right the ship by bringing back Sarah Butler as Jennifer Hills and having her kick all kinds of rapist ass all over again.

Which, admittedly, she does. And in very creative and cringe-worthy ways. But it still sucks. In fact, it really sucks.

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Don’t get me wrong — getting back to the “main” story and pretending that part two never happened is a good call on the part of director R.D. Braunstein and his screenwriter, Daniel Gilboy. As is bringing the production back to the US (Los Angeles, to be specific). And Butler is a treat to watch as she dishes out the hurt. But those are about the only positives this celluloid shitpile has going for it, and they’re not nearly enough to sustain a 90-minute production, or to erase the bad taste its anti-female message will leave in your mouth.

To begin with, I Spit On Your Grave 3 isn’t a “rape-revenge” movie — it’s just a revenge movie. And when characters get their (obviously plastic) dicks bitten off and lead pipes shoved up their assholes, it helps to actually hate them for what they’ve done. And that’s kinda tough to do when the evils of their actions aren’t actually shown to us, only whispered about.

The basic plotline here is that Jennifer (now calling herself “Angela”) and her new friend, Marla (played by Jennifer Landon) have taken it upon themselves to exact a dose of good, old-fashioned “frontier justice” against the men who have violated the women in their rape survivors’ support group. That’s cool. What’s not cool is not showing us what assholes these guys are and why they have it coming. Sure, we’re told in excruciating detail about how these guys are molesting their stepdaughters and shit, but when it comes time to prove what creeps these mortals be, all Braunstein serves up are a few tepid scenes of them behaving like garden-variety sexist pigs. Heck, towards the end of the film Jennifer/Angela suffers some kind of mental break and starts to go after guys who really are nothing but garden-variety sexist pigs. But that’s a problem we’ll return to in a moment.

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Braunstein’s aversion to detailing the “rape” part of the “rape-revenge” equation is so pathological that when Marla ends up getting killed by her ex-boyfriend, he doesn’t even show her in danger, She just tells Jennifer good-bye after a meeting one night and isn’t there the next day. Some might say that this is a more respectful way of handling admittedly combustible subject matter, but I have to disagree. I have no desire to see violent rape portrayed in uber-realistic detail by any means, but then I also have no real desire to see guys get killed when I don’t have any concrete proof that they’ve got it coming. I Spit On Your Grave 3 misses its mark by a country fucking mile because it doesn’t get your blood boiling along with Jennifer’s, and as a result you start to wonder if maybe — just maybe — she isn’t taking things a little bit too far.

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And then, of course, she does. Look — guys who cat-call after and generally harass women on the streets are assholes who make anyone born with a cock look bad, it’s true, but does anyone other than Andrea Dworkin think they deserve summary execution? When Jennifer/Angela crosses that line, she goes from being a righteous tool of vengeance to being just another dime-a-dozen movie psycho, and the men she’s going after go from being lowlife scum who have it coming to being figures of (and this is the really sick part) sympathy. That’s the most inexcusable perversion of Zarchi’s original premise that I can imagine, to be honest, and when you add in the film’s dismissive and mocking anti-therapy and anti-support group tone a clear and disturbing message comes to the fore : people trying to help rape victims are duplicitous at best and evil at worst, women who retaliate against their attackers themselves are cold-blooded, man-hating killers, and sure, rapists are bad dudes and all, but they definitely don’t deserve anything like the punishment that Jennifer dishes out, and those fellas who sexually harass and physically intimidate women but don’t rape them? Well, they’re just guys having fun and are innocent victims when they find the tables turned on them.

So, yeah, I Spit On Your Grave 3 : Vengeance Is Mine is definitely an offensive flick, but not just on a moral and intellectual level : the lame “is she really doing it or is it all in her head?” subplot that Braunstein and Gilboy try to get going falls totally flat, most of the performances are either pretty bad (it’s a shame to see actresses of the stature of Harley Jane Kozak and Michelle Hurd reduced to lame supporting roles in a production like this) or downright laughable (I’m looking at you, Gabriel Hogan as the “cop who wants to help”), and the film’s production values are absolute shit, particularly the numerous and poorly-realized “empty alleys at night” that seem to spring up out of nowhere and exist in an alternate universe where screams and bludgeoning and murder can’t actually be heard. Oh yeah, and the ending — Christ almighty, that ending. Let’s just call it the final insult to Zarchi’s legacy and leave it at that.

And let’s sincerely hope that the “suits” at CineTel Films and Anchor Bay do the same for this entire franchise, because whatever point it may have once had clearly has been not just lost, but twisted beyond all recognition into something truly ugly. True, not a single woman is shown being raped or otherwise violated in this film — yet it’s hundreds of times more sickening than the original ever was.

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The comics and animation worlds are reeling today with the announcement of the loss of Darwyn Cooke. At only 54 years of age, it’s a good-bye far too soon, and represents something of a “double-whammy” coming just a day after news of his fight with a very aggressive form of cancer had gone public. In a world where the term “visionary talent” is criminally overused, Cooke was exactly that, and reading through the many tributes to the man posted on social media by various comics creators, it’s uncanny how much they resemble the tone and substance of what many musicians had to say in the wake of Prince’s still-shocking passing a couple of weeks ago, essentially : he was the best of us.

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Cooke’s first foray into the world of comics was a brief one, with his artist’s “by-line” adorning a short story in DC’s New Talent Showcase #19 in 1985. With a young family to feed, he couldn’t pursue his dreams on the printed page at that time, and worked as a graphic designer and art director in his native Canada for a number of years before giving comics another try in the early 1990s, finding no takers, and then being hired on by Bruce Timm as a storyboard artist on Superman : The Animated Series and Batman : The Animated Series before eventually working his way up to the position of lead animator on Batman Beyond in 1999.He also found time during this period to direct a number of episodes of Sony Animation’s Men In Black cartoon series.

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Still, he never gave up on his passion for comic books, and in 2000 DC finally “green-lit” a project he had submitted years earlier, the original graphic novel Batman:Ego . From there, the rest is history.

A few assignments at Marvel followed — most notably on X-Force and Spider-Man’s Tangled Web — but his revival of Catwoman beginning in 2001 with writer Ed Brubaker pushed him into the stratosphere of “top comics talents,” and his six-part 2004 mini-series DC : The New Frontier elevated his status to that of “living legend,” reminding us all of just why we love this medium so much along the way.

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After that, every project Cooke was involved with was a genuine event. Batman/The Spirit showed that he was the best Spirit artist since Eisner himself, Before Watchmen:Minutemen (a project he had initially passed on but later decided to accept knowing that DC would be going ahead with it anyway with or without him) proved to be the only series in that unholy mess of an initiative worth following, and his graphic adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels for IDW were a genuine feast for the eyes and a triumph of modern noir. His last comics work was the supernatural mystery series The Twilight Children for DC’s creator-owned Vertigo imprint, a collaboration with writer Gilbert Hernandez that allowed Cooke to infuse his sleek, “deco”-esque style with a distinctly Latin flair.

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And damn, I mean — it was all brilliant, wasn’t it? Sure, once could see dashes of Kirby, Toth, Rude, Timm and others in his work at times, but whatever he came up with was always his own. Nobody else “drew like Darwyn Cooke” — although in their private moments many a comic book freelancer certainly wished they could — and I don’t think anybody else ever will. A one-of-a-kind, revolutionary talent who was also, by all accounts, one heck of a fine human being, as well. This loss hurts — a lot.

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But Cooke’s work? That’ll live forever. And while plenty has been, and is being, said about his art, his skills as a writer deserve some mention, as well. May I present to you, then, my favorite Cooke-scripted sequence, from DC:The New Frontier, which shows without question that he was the first and only creator to really understand the character of Johnny Cloud, from The Losers, since a fella named Kirby worked on him in the early 1970s :

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Cooke’s work honored the past while looking firmly towards the future, and if somebody ever asks you “why do you like comic books, anyway?,” I can’t think of a better way to answer them than to show them a few pages from one of his books. Trust me, they’ll go from questioners to converts pronto.

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Darwyn and his wife, Marsha, ask any interested fans, by way of memorials, to give to either the Hero Initiative, at http://www.heroinitiative.org/ , or to the Canadian Cancer Society, at http://convio.cancer.ca/site/TR?px=6843246&fr_id=20868&pg=personal .

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Rest in peace, good sir. Your friends and colleagues are absolutely right — you were the very best of us.

 

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Writing reviews of these Marvel flicks really ought to be fairly easy at this point since they can more or less all be summed up with “if you like this sort of thing, then you’ll like this one, too” — and while that’s as true as ever in the case of the just-released Captain America : Civil War, there’s plenty on offer here worth commenting on in a bit more depth, much of which isn’t taking place on the screen at all. So let’s dive into that first, shall we?

Make no mistake — the latest entry into the so-called “MCU” had a big opening weekend and looks set to make its parent company plenty of money. But a number of box office websites projected it to do considerably more business right out of the gate, and keep in mind that those figures are usually adjusted downwards thanks to pressure from studio executives. As just one example, boxoffice.com was going with a projected figure of $214 million for opening weekend, and you can bet that means their initial, un-publicized projections were more in the neighborhood of $220 million. As receipts started to be tallied up, they revised that figure down to $185 million, then down to $181 million come Sunday evening. Final score once actuals were totaled up? $179 million, good enough for the fifth-best opening weekend of all time, but lower than both Avengers and Avengers : Age Of Ultron. This final figure is certainly nothing to sneeze at, of course, but frankly much more impressive is how the Disney PR machine immediately leapt into action, emphasizing that it was a 90% stronger opening than the previous entry in the series, Captain America : Winter Soldier (which opened on a Wednesday in fucking April), rather than comparing it to the opening numbers for the two Avengers films, which is what they were saying the first-weekend box office take for this one would be more in line with before it, ya know, actually opened.

So, the good news for Dis/Mar is that Captain America movies (although this is one in name only given that Cap is hardly anything like “THE” central character — he’s more “A” central character) keep on making more money every time — the bad news is that Avengers movies (which, they were right, is essentially what this is) keep on doing incrementally worse. To provide some recent context (that also shows the efficacy of Disney’s largely-unpaid internet “spin” legion): the March 25th weekend opening of Batman V. Superman took in only $13 million less than did Captain America : Civil War, and all the talk within X-amount of days was about how that “under-performed” compared to expectations — even though its $166 million take was well ahead of the $140 million-ish figure most of the box office sites were projecting. I know that six weeks is ancient history in today’s world, but the simple truth is that Batman V. Superman was considered a rousing success — for all of about a week. It wasn’t until it suffered a 71% decline in its second week thanks to negative word of mouth (some sincere, some orchestrated by Disney brass) that talk of what a “failure” it was began to be taken seriously. For the record, to date BvS has made almost $870 million worldwide, and while Civil War is currently sitting around $700 million after just two weeks of release (it opened in many European and Asian markets before the US/North America — go figure) and will almost certainly pass Zack Snyder’s blustery-but-stylish romp within a week or two given that its week-to-week dropoff will almost certainly be much smaller, chances still seem fairly good that it also may not make it to a billion during its theatrical run (in fact, I’m betting it tops out around $930-$940 million) — and given that BvS will probably squeak just past $900 million between the few weeks it’s got left at the first-run theaters and its inevitable follow-up stint at the discount houses, there’s a very real chance that less than $50 million will be all that separates the “amazingly successful” Civil War from the “disappointing” Batman V. Superman. Considering that both films had budgets reported to be in the $250 million range and that each studio is said to have shelled out somewhere around $200 million on publicity to hype their product, Disney is still going to come out ahead of Warners on their big-budget superhero mash-ups for 2016, but not by a whole lot. Still — it’s funny how the “spin game” works, is it not? Once again, a few free preview passes and a few empty promises about “potential future visits to the set of one of our movies!” aimed in the direction of the right “opinion-shapers” is all it takes to make one studio look like champs and the other look like chumps.

I’ll tell you what, though — I don’t care how they spin in, the $179 million opening weekend for Captain America : Civil War was a good $30-35 million less than the Disney “suits” had been both hoping for and expecting. They’re hedging their bets a bit by claiming that the Mother’s Day holiday put a little bit of a dent in their business, but funny — BvS opened the same weekend as a holiday, as well : it’s called Easter. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Not traditionally known for being a big day at the movies.

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Of course, Civil War‘s (weird as this may sound) “soft” opening shouldn’t be taken in any way as a reflection on the film itself. Plenty of great movies have absolutely tanked at the box office, while plenty of shit ones have made hundreds of millions — and in the final analysis (which I’m getting to, I promise), this one falls somewhere in between. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo seem to have a bit more free reign here, stylistically speaking, than previous MCU directors have been given, and the end result is a flick that doesn’t start to ape the “big-budget TV episode” look of, say, Joss Whedon’s Avengers flicks or Jon Favreau’s Iron Man flicks until — oh, I dunno — about halfway through its two-and-a-half-hour-plus runtime. Frankly — and hard-core Marvel fans are gonna slap me for saying this — given the keen eye they show for shot composition in the early going (and again during some parts of the movie’s purportedly “climactic” final battle), Civil War often looks more like a Zack Snyder film than it does a Marvel film, and that at least goes some way toward keeping a person’s eyes glued to the screen. The story, sadly, is somewhat less engaging, revolving as it does (in case you didn’t already know) around a bunch of heroes falling in line behind Captain America (played, as ever, with a reasonable amount square-jawed heart by Chris Evans) and another bunch falling in line behind Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) as they take opposite positions on a bill to sanction, approve, and essentially regulate all super-hero work being advanced by the US Secretary of State (portrayed by a gaunt and sickly-looking William Hurt). “Team Cap,” which is opposed to the new legislation,  consists of The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), while “Team Iron Man,” which is in favor of it, has The Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (the preposterously-un-Russian as ever Scarlett Johansson), and newcomers Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in its ranks. The battle lines are drawn, one character will definitely get the worst of it, the MCU will supposedly change forever — you know the drill.

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Of those just-mentioned newcomers, Holland’s Spidey is getting all the hype, but it’s Boseman’s Black Panther who is far and away the more impressive. He’s sleek, silent, calculating, and even-keeled, and his forthcoming solo movie might just be interesting (as opposed to his newly-relaunched comic series, which is off to a truly risible start). Holland, by contrast, seems a bit too youthful and, to be brutally honest, wet behind the ears to be an effective Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and his origin story looks like it’s going to be a rather revisionist, or “retconned,” one, with a lot of Stark Industries influence, and constant references to how “hot” his Aunt May ( played by Marisa Tomei — who, I’m sorry to sound like a pig, has certainly looked a lot better in other films than she does here) is. We’ll see how that goes, but his role here essentially boils down to being the first bit of  comic relief in a film that frankly has none until he shows up just past the halfway point (if you really want some fun, though, add up the number of critics online and in print who have said that BvS was too “dark” and “joyless,” then turned right around and extolled the virtues of Civil War‘s  “serious” and “mature” tone). To Holland’s credit, his character’s comic relief shtick at least works, which is more than you can say for the flat, forced “humor” on offer from Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man — the less said about which the better.

You already know the two sides won’t stay at each other’s throats forever, of course, and that they’ll team up to fight a bigger threat (a cliched non-twist that BvS  was, again, panned for but that Civil War is, also again, being praised for) before all is said and done — the problem is that said “bigger” threat here is, in the end, just a guy. Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo character (who bears precisely no resemblance to the Baron Zemo created by Jack Kirby) is certainly manipulative and all, but on the whole he’s a decidedly un-menacing bad guy. Granted, previous MCU films have set the bar for “villain quality” amazingly low, but this clown is small potatoes compared even to the bog-standard CGI alien invaders of The Avengers or the laughably incompetent Loki from the Thor flicks. In all honesty, Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier seems a more pressing danger than Zemo ever is, and we know from the outset that he’s being manipulated/impersonated and doesn’t really mean anyone any harm. I don’t know how an entire fucking commitee of screenwriters couldn’t manage to come up with a better “evil mastermind”-type character than the one we’re served up here — unless they weren’t really trying. The only thing that might be more lame than this is Cap’s wooden “romance” with Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) — who just so happens to be the niece of his first love from back in the 1940s. Nothing creepy about that.

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If you’re getting the impression that I found Captain America : Civil War to be something of a mixed bag on the whole, hey, you’d be exactly right — the plot has a bit more thematic depth to it than most MCU fare and it’s a more appealing package visually (until it gets all “point-and-shoot” later on), but it suffers from all the usual flaws these things do, as well, the largest being that it exists more for the purpose of selling audiences on the next two or three films in this “universe” than it does for creating a truly memorable and “game-changing” viewing experience this time around. The Russo Brothers seem to be getting a more effective “hang” on this whole “blockbuster thing,” which is a good sign given that they’ll be heading up the next two films in the Avengers series, but if current patterns hold — and at this point there’s no reason to believe that they won’t — even those “tent-pole” releases will continue to promise that the best, biggest, baddest, and coolest thing ever is just around the corner. It would be nice if, for once, it actually arrived — but Disney studio execs (and I’m sure the same will be true for their counterparts at Warners as the so-called “DCEU” progresses) have no real reason to give audiences the “steak” rather than the “sizzle” as long as these two-and-a-half-hour “teaser reels” for future films continue to make money — even if they’re starting to make less money than they used to.

 

 

 

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Let’s be brutally honest — there’s always been something kind of fucked up about Batman, hasn’t there?

Mind you,  I say this as someone who loves that character and still reads both major “Bat-books” religiously every month, but come on — here’s a guy with all the money in the world and a deep desire to right all of society’s wrongs, and what does he do? Goes after common street criminals, most of whom are probably both poor and desperate. Meanwhile, the rich are robbing us all blind to a degree most of us can’t even conceive of, and when we complain about it even just a little bit, the wusses at the top of the economic food chain — the ones who own the entire media, the entire political system, and frankly the entire world — these lily-livered, gutless scumbags in $5,000 suits or even more expensive cocktail dresses accuse us lowly serfs of engaging in “class warfare.”

Never mind the largely- unremarked-upon, but very successful, class war that they have been waging against us for the past few decades by looting our pension funds, stripping away our collective bargaining rights, raising the cost of our educations through the roof, kicking the poorest of us off welfare while sticking their fat, disgusting snouts into the public trough and hogging up all the “corporate welfare” they can get, cutting their own taxes down to the bone, jacking our health care premiums up exponentially so they can pocket the extra cash — their rapacious greed knows no limits, and frankly if Batman had any balls whatsoever he’d be going after his own kind, because these sons of bitches make even The Joker look small-time by comparison.

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Fortunately, Kaare Kyle Andrews and his new (dammit, I’ll say it) hero, Renato Jones, are here to finally bring down the real villains of the world by any means necessary. Indeed, the front cover for issue one of Image Comics’ Renato Jones : The One % openly states “The Super Rich Are Super F***ed,” and the minute I saw that, I knew this title was going straight onto my pull list. It’s nice to see there might be some justice in the world, I suppose, even if it’s only on the comic book page.

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These aren’t just any old pages, though, as the double-splash reproduced above shows — they’re gorgeous pages. Andrews’ most recent series, Marvel’s Iron Fist : The Living Weapon, certainly showed that he was willing to step up and claim the mantle of the industry’s leading heir to Jim Steranko’s artistic legacy, but fortunately his Steranko stylistic appropriations were more homage than direct swipe. That trend continues here, as you’d no doubt expect, but Andrews also incorporates a fair number of elements from one of Steranko’s earlier (if largely unacknowledged) admirers/unofficial pupils, Frank Miller. Indeed, the B&W pages interspersed throughout this debut issue are torn right from the Sin City playbook, but they’re included to add variety and nuance to the proceedings and are hardly the “backbone” of the book. No, that distinction belongs to awesome-looking shit like this : Renato-2

What’d I tell you (or try to, at any rate)? Despite wearing his influences on his sleeve, Andrews’ style is uniquely his own. And uniquely kick-ass. As is his new creator-owned character, who was born into wealth and privilege, narrowly escaped death at the hands of his money-grubbing aunt at age three, lived on the streets, learned to survive by his own wits and fight like a man possessed, came back to take his revenge, and now is out to bring his, in the words of Warren Ellis, “Punisher from Occupy”- brand of vigilantism to all the rich, sadistic, evil bastards who have it coming. If, ya know, he’s even Renato Jones at all. Which he might not be. And you should really read the book to understand exactly what that means.

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And hey, how about the fake ads scattered here and there in this comic? They’re flat-out awesome, too! And so is the depraved villain that Jones despatches in this story! And so is Andrews’ razor-sharp dialogue and pump-your-fist-at-how-spot-on-it-is “voice-over” narration! And so is, well — everything, really. Look, anyone who’s read my reviews for any length of time knows that I’m not the easiest guy to please, but seriously — there was nothing about the story or art here that I felt to be lacking, and each successive page just cemented my opinion that this is a comic  that I’ve been waiting a long time for, even if I didn’t know it. Of course, I did used to have this poster hanging in my apartment back when I was in my twenties :

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So, yeah, me and the class was, we go back a long ways. And the future is finally starting to look kinda bright between the rise of movements like the aforementioned Occupy and the Bernie Sanders campaign and the emergence of pop culture characters like Renato Jones. My one bone to pick with this book — and it’s a small one — is that Andrews (who really is a one-man show here writing, drawing, coloring, designing, creating and, crucially, owning the whole thing), after 30-some pages of taking it to the rich bastards (did I mention this was an extra-sized issue that gives you great value for it’s $3.99 cover price?), loaded up his first letters column with missives from — his wealthy and famous friends like Sean Astin and Tegan And Sara? Seems a bit curious to me, to say the least, but I’m not gonna let it dampen my enthusiasm for this project one little bit, nor should you. In fact, you should go read Renato Jones : The One % #1 right now — I’ll meet you in the street with a pitchfork and a torch afterwards and we’ll go pay a visit to those assholes in the mansions who live behind the gates.

 

Another new review I did for Graphic Policy website.

Graphic Policy

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So, here it is — several years (necessitated by several twists and turns in the development stages) after it was initially announced, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette‘s Wonder Woman : Earth One hardcover graphic novel is finally in our hands (or mine, at any rate — and maybe yours, too, but frankly I have no idea about that), and I guess the question on everyone’s minds is a pretty simple one : was it worth the wait?

Having just read the book yesterday you’d think I’d be able to provide a definitive answer to that, but the truth is I can’t (hey! What sort of a critic am I, anyway?) simply because, well — I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it yet, apart from harboring a vague sense that it marks something of a wasted opportunity .

Uncertainty isn’t an entirely atypical reaction for any Morrison-scripted…

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