Archive for August 6, 2014

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You know what they say, friends : if at first you don’t succeed —

Look, I don’t think it’s any great secret that Dynamite Entertainment’s first attempt to resuscitate Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers came up well short of being either a critical or commercial success (the same can also be said of Silver Star and Dragonsbane), but I give them points for both recognizing what was wrong, and taking steps to steer the course of the ship in the proper direction. The end result being, of course, yet another first issue for our titular Captain Victory along with Major Klavus, Orca, Mister Mind, Tarin, and their ilk — with the added advantage that this time, so far at least, they seem intent on doing right by this remarkable cast of characters by resisting the urge to rest on their laurels and simply “update” things.

Full disclosure : I don’t give a shit what anyone says, C.V. and his crew are among my absolute favorite of The King’s creations, and I think their original Pacific Comics outing is a remarkable run packed to the gills and beyond with more heart and imagination than any 20,30,40, or even 50 comics you’ll find on the racks these days. Yeah, sure, it was largely slagged off at the time of its release, but a dedicated few did seem to “get it,” and those numbers have grown in recent years thanks to insightful critical reappraisals popping up all over the internet (special nod here to James Romberger for leading that charge). In short, Jack’s Captain Victory is not just a good comic, but a great one, and if you don’t believe me, pick up the back issues — which are easy enough to obtain at reasonable prices — and find out for yourself.

When Dynamite first relaunched the book in the wake of their highly-successful Kirby : Genesis a couple years back, then, I was generally optimistic about the series’ prospects — but it quickly ran out of gas and devolved into pretty standard space-opera fare. Everyone’s heart seemed to be in the right place, but they were too busy walking on eggshells trying to “modernize” Jack’s work for a contemporary audience while being careful not to rock the boat too much and thus upset the old-timers. It was a no-win situation for all involved, and when the book disappeared after less than a year, it was no great loss. But some things are just too fucking awesome to remain on the sidelines forever.

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Enter Joe Casey, a guy whose work I generally find to be up-and-down,  quality-wise (for two recent cases in point I offer up the fact that I thoroughly enjoy Sex but found The Bounce to be an unfocused, nearly-unreadable mess), but who at least seems to understand that the real root of the Kirby ethos isn’t about fealty to the past, but about always pushing yourself in new directions, even if you sometimes fail. Jack was a consummate innovator to his last breath and in order to do right by the fruits of his boundless imagination, you have to be willing to keep pushing and prodding them in new and unexpected ways.

Without giving away too much, suffice to say that the story for the first issue of the new Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, which marks the opening salvo of a who-knows-how-may-part epic entitled “Fire Bomb Kill Dead,” does exactly that. It’s bold, brash, and big, in the best Kirby style, but apart from some fun dialogue-based cues and the like in the script and some nifty homages in the artwork, it’s all about breaking entirely new ground with these characters and concepts. It’s full-throttle from the word go, and while the action does, in fact, pick up precisely where the last C.V. series left off, no knowledge of that book is necessary to enjoy the proceedings here — just an ability to re-connect with your heart and mind to the child-like sense of wonder and awe that all of Jack’s works inspired (and still inspire).

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As far as the art goes, it’s a pleasing smorgasbord of contrasting styles from three different ,and equally talented, penciller/inkers recruited to the project by Casey himself. Nathan Fox handles the majority of interior pages and provides the cover, while a couple of shorter scenes with different story emphases are  handled by Jim Rugg and Ulises Farinas, respectively. All these artists have a decidedly “non-mainstream” approach and no apprehension whatsoever about bringing their boldly different visual stylings to a world that less ambitious folks would probably try to render in as uniform a manner as possible (see the previous series).  All in all, everyone involved with drawing this book seems to understand that the best way to honor Jack’s legacy is by being unafraid to be themselves. In other words, they know that imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery when it comes to The King — innovation is.

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This week was a rarity in the world of comics these days — there were actually a lot of good books released from all the major and minor “players” in the industry (yes, even Marvel, since this is the week that both Moon Knight and Superior Foes Of Spider-Man came out). Alan Moore has two comics on the racks (okay, yeah, one of ’em is a reprint, but so what?). The third issue of Howard Chaykin’s new Shadow hit the stands. Nightworld look like a fun homage to Kirby in its own right from Image. But this new take on Captain Victory is easily the best thing to come down the pipeline this week, and as long as Casey, Fox, and their other collaborators keep firing on all cylinders like this, I feel very confident in stating that will continue to be the case month in and month out for as long as this series is running — which will hoefully prove to be quite awhile. Hold on tight! This! Is! The! Big! One!

 

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Just when you think “found footage” horrors have shot their wad, along come the Canadians to prove us all wrong — that’s right, friends, for the second time in as many days we’re headed north of the border to check out an indie horror that’s more or less flown below the radar, but that is well worth your time to see.

Apart from some festival circuit play and a fairly limited theatrical release in its country of origin, writer/director Christopher MacBride’s 2012 offering The Conspiracy didn’t seem to create too much of a stir, but hopefully the fact that it’s now available on Netflix instant streaming (as well as on DVD and Blu-ray, but given that’s not how I saw it no technical specs relating to these versions will be included in this review) will change that, because while this Ontario-based production certainly has its flaws, it’s by and large a competently-executed, reasonably suspenseful little piece of business that — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — plenty of comparatively-more-expensive Hollywood efforts could learn a thing or two from.

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The premise here sounds a bit hackneyed, sure, but things actually play out pretty nicely : crackpot “conspiracy theorist” Ron (played by Ron Kennell) is the subject of a documentary-in-progress by film-making buddies Aaron (played by Aaron Poole) and Jim (played by — are we noticing a pattern here? — James Gilbert), and while ol’ Ron seems, at first glance, to fit every negative stereotype that gets layered upon his ilk — he’s older, unkempt, unwashed, obsessive to a fault, and has a dingy old apartment filled with newspaper clippings — it turns out that he’s actually quite likely onto something, because one day he just up and disappears. The hovel he’s been living has been ransacked, his “flow chart” diagramming the hidden pattern of world domination by unseen rulers is in tatters, and he’s straight-up nowhere to be found. Gone. Poof. Scarpered.

Smelling a rat — or, more than likely, several  rats — our intrepid young heroes quickly “re-purpose” the footage they’re assembling into a “Where’s Ron?” piece of amateur investigative journalism and quickly find themselves spiraling inexorably downward into a secret society known as the Tarsus Club that, whaddaya know, really does run the whole fucking world from behind the scenes.

Okay, fair enough, there’s nothing here that isn’t cribbed more or less fairly directly from dozens, if not hundreds, of different conspiracy-themed websites, and the Tarsus Club is a fairly obvious stand-in for the Bohemian Grove — errrmmm — “social club” (and a lot of the “mockumentary” footage here bears more than a passing resemblance to the actual clandestine footage shot in the Grove itself by Alex Jones some years ago), but it works — even if some of the twists and turns that result in our protagonists finding themselves ensconced within the group’s membership seem a little bit overly convenient at first glance.

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The most interesting wrinkle in the story — spoiler alert — comes with the revelation that the folks in Tarsus are a direct continuation of the ancient cult of Mithras, a Roman bull-slaying deity, and while Mithraism was actually known for being surprisingly non-dogmatic as far as religions go, MacBride does seem to have the basics of many aspects of its ritual fairly well-researched, even if he by and large blows off the obvious parallels the now-apparently-defunct sect had with a pesky little cult that came along several years later known as Christianity (Mithras was born on December 25th to a virgin, rose from the dead after three days, and both his story and the story of Jesus have ingredients obviously derived from good old-fashioned sun worship). So points to him for at least partially laying out the precepts and fundamentals of a fascinating faith that’s fallen by the wayside.

Fair warning should also be given, at this point, that many of the aforementioned plot contrivances that seem pretty goddamn convenient actually prove to be more than a little bit too convenient, so expect a nice amount of payoff/payback (depending on who you’re rooting for) come the film’s end. You won’t be shocked out of your socks or anything, but a semi-audible “oh yesssssssssssss” or “shit, I told’ja so” may find itself sneaking out of your mouth before all is said and done.

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So hey — let’s not put a fork in the “handheld horror” genre quite as quickly as we might find ourselves tempted to. There may not be an actual conspiracy to keep it going, but The Conspiracy shows there’s a surprising amount of hunt left in the old dog yet.