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Monday, May 22, 2017

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 179

 Batman The Shadow #2
by Riley Rossmo

I love the purple-leaning color palette here, and the fluid action inside the bat symbol is very nicely done.

 Black Hammer #9
by David Rubín

This one is such a fantastic homage to the silly covers of "weird" silver age comics. It's funny, wonderfully colored with the bright primary colors contrasting the dingy robots reaching down, and perfectly captures the essence of the series.

 Die Kitty Die: Hollywood or Bust #1
by Dan Parent

Parent captures the sense of classic romance comics so perfectly as always, but it's the fantastic typographic work on this one that really pushes it over for me.

Jean Grey #2
by David Yardin

This cover so uniquely expresses the idea of the telephone game, and it really shows off Yardin's excellent character work with so many faces. A really fun cover!

Shaolin Cowboy: Who'll Stop the Reign #2
by Geoff Darrow

Darrow's use of scale and detail always create the most epic, absurd images in comics, and I can't get enough!

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Thursday, May 18, 2017

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 145: TV Update

This week we catch up on all things TV! From Catastrophe to Sense8, Handmaiden's Tale to Lucifer, we chat about our favorite shows, some disappointing seasons, and what we're looking forward to.

You can listen below, or subscribe on iTunes to never miss an episode! If you like the show, or have any comments or ideas, we'd love to hear them! Check us out on Facebook or Twitter. See you next week!

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Review: ALIEN: COVENANT has a Ripley problem

For many, Prometheus was a love-it-or-hate-it experience. For me, it was a disappointment because it felt like a movie of promising but unfulfilling half-measures: raising interesting questions but failing to deliver any logical answers, bringing in new characters heavily templated on old ones - Elizabeth Shaw as a sort of New Ripley and David as our New Ash. It had a lot of interesting ideas and some good moments, but was overstuffed and confusing, ultimately failing in execution.

So it wasn't a big surprise to see that Alien: Covenant shied away from the Prometheus angle in marketing and focused once again the human v. xenomorph factor instead. In fact, even though Michael Fassbender returned for the follow-up, I wasn't expecting there to be any connective tissue between Prometheus and this film at all. It turns out there is - sort of. But it's mostly misguided and unsatisfying, awkwardly fusing itself with a tepid remake of the original Alien film.

Alien: Covenant takes place shortly after Prometheus and focuses on a group of humans heading to a new colony in cryosleep. Something goes wrong and essential crew wake up mid-journey, where they happen to stumble upon a distress signal from a nearby planet with hospitable conditions. The crew consists of some archetypes, including your standard Alien issue "tough female protagonist," but unfortunately, if you're like me, you'll walk out of the movie without remembering anyone's name. Said group of humans decide to answer the distress signal and end up spending the rest of the movie running, screaming, and having creatures burst out of their bodies.

It's arguable that Ripley is one of science fiction's best-known characters, and she anchored the Alien films by providing true stake in the outcome of the humans. Noomi Rapace's portrayal of Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus obviously fell short of her inspirational Ripley archetype, but I liked her - and at least recognized her as a clear protagonist. The most serious flaw of Alien: Covenant is that it provides us with yet another Ripley-like-stand-in via Katherine Waterston's character, which at this point resembles an illegible copy of a copy of a copy. Waterston isn't at fault, but her character development is almost non-existent, relying wholly on the hope that you'll associate her enough with Ripley to forgive the fact that she was written primarily as a foil for David.

In the original Alien films there was also a thematic emphasis on the roles of mothers, both via Ripley and the aliens, while the latest films have shifted focus to of the father. This was badly pronounced by Charlize Theron's character in Prometheus, and we see more of it in Alien: Covenant, particularly with Michael Fassbender's David. And while Fassbender's performance and role in this film is basically the only part of it I enjoyed, that new paternal thematic weight doesn't really work when the film's protagonist has no connection to it.

In fact, there was almost no room for any of the human characters in Alien: Covenant. The real plot of this movie was entirely about androids and creation, a sort of Frankenstein take on the franchise. Removing the human element from the plot made the horror much less visceral. So instead of producing scares, Alien: Covenant felt more like a gory summer camp slasher film, full of paper-thin characters making dumb decisions that will get them killed, interspersed with moments of  theology lessons that dampen what little scares the CGI aliens manage to conjure.

I think the filmmakers rightfully seized on one of the MVPs from Prometheus in Michael Fassbender, but unfortunately building a whole film around him was ultimately damaging to the overall story of Alien: Covenant. I hope if Fassbender continues to be the face of the franchise going forward, they find a fresh way to tell the story, rather than relying on the classic Alien formula without the key ingredient: Ripley.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 178

Nick Fury #2
by Marco Rudy

This definitely has a classic Nick Fury Steranko vibe, but with an interesting modern style. I love how the design elements play with the action and character work.

 The Spirit: The Corpse-Makers #3
by Francesco Francavilla

I've long been a fan of Francavilla's style, and I love the simplicity and unique colors on this one. Nicely done!

Archie #20
by Greg Smallwood

The bold colors that blend with the title is a nice choice, and I love the composition and in-image sound effects on this one.

 God Country #5
by Geoff Shaw

The whole celestial god towering over a rural landscape thing is pretty cool to begin with, but I especially love the painterly  backgrounds and countryside.

Grrl Scouts: Magic Socks #1
by Jim Mahfood

This cover is bold, beautiful, and badass. I love Mahfood's style, and this one looks super fun!

The Wild Storm #4
by Jon Davis-Hunt

There's something about the title design, symmetry, and realistically detailed illustration that really make this one stand out for me.

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Monday, May 8, 2017

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 177

 Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1
by James Harvey

I absolutely love the character illustration and the 3d use of classic comic panels to create a really unique looking cover!

Shade the Changing Girl #8
by Becky Cloonan

I love the mood that Cloonan has created with these covers, and I especially like how the design elements have become a part of the image and seem to give it a sense of upward movement.

Sons of the Devil #12
by Toni Infante

I love the unique, bitter colors used here, and the interesting feathery design element that suggests a vague figure when viewed from far away.

Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel #1
by Chris Samnee and Matt Wilson

Chris Samnee is, without a doubt, one of the finest cartoonists working today. His character work and the brilliant coloring by Matt Wilson make this one pretty fun and exciting.

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Tuesday, May 2, 2017


In a cinematic landscape dominated by the likes of Pixar, Dreamworks, Disney, and Blue Sky, it can often feel like there's not a ton of room for experimentation with animation these days.  The same can be said for modern comics as well.  Sure, there are some indie works which cultivate their own fanbase, but nothing seems to crack the mold of the safe, solid money-makers.  But what if you combined the great things about an experimental indie comic with a wildly strange direction for an animated film?  It would probably look a lot like My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, a new film from indie comics writer/artist Dash Shaw.

Dash (Jason Schwartzman) is a high school sophomore and aspiring writer, who finds himself wanting to rise above his station while also dealing with his growing estrangement with best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts).  Typical high school drama gets interrupted, however, when an earthquake causes the entire school to begin sinking into the Pacific Ocean.  Dash, Assaf, and school newspaper editor Verti (Maya Rudolph) find themselves in a living William Golding novel as they attempt to make their way up each floor of their school, dodging sharks, broken elevators, and high school seniors in their bid for survival.

On its surface, My Entire High School sounds like an insane premise for a comic, even more so an animated film.  The above plot synopsis would probably not raise too many eyebrows, however, for those familiar with Dash Shaw's body of work.  With graphic novels like BodyWorld, Bottomless Belly Button, and the more recent Doctors, Shaw is pretty much known for crafting ludicrous plots occupied by down-to-Earth characters.  High School just may be Shaw's darkest work yet, and it is a story which deserved to be a film as the comics medium could not effectively portray some of the story's more pivotal scenes.  

Shaw is also known for his dark sense of humor, which is most assuredly present here.  Calling High School a black comedy would be the best bet, even if the film includes scenes of sharks tearing apart popular kids and quarterbacks being disemboweled on elevators.  If you're a fan of the dry wit of Wes Anderson, you'll probably find yourself chuckling all the way through High School, although that could just be because of the presence of Schwartzman.  That being said, while High School is definitely a comedy, its laughs are few and far between, with most of the gags getting a smile or a small chuckle.  In the moments where the film really embraces the hilarity of its premise, it gets so close to being the type of comedy you'd expect, but it often drops these moments to develop the characters in ways that are not only predictable, but make the plot stagnate for all too long periods of time.

Pacing seems to be the key issue with High School.  Though the film clocks in at a measly 75 minutes, it feels a good 45 minutes to an hour longer.  In fact, if it weren't for the fun plot, one really great character, and the occasional eye-popping visual, it would be so easy to just turn off this film 20 minutes in and never bother to finish.  Poor pacing is also coupled with characters that mostly feel like wet noodles as they meander through what should be an exciting concept.  Dash and Assaf are decent enough characters, but Shaw just doesn't do much to make them unique.  This is especially the case with Verti.  Verti's budding romance with Assaf leads to her only fascinating moments, making her a character that becomes almost downright insufferable when things get serious.  While the trio's desire to write a book about their experience, with Verti wanting to only edit it, makes for some fun character moments, the movie makes it so very hard to care by the end.  

Let's talk about the animation as this is probably where the film makes itself stand out even more than the plot.  High School is drawn in a style which would probably not appeal to a mass audience, but is perfectly in line with Dash Shaw's artwork in his comics.  The film at first feels like a fun blend of Daria and Tex Avery, especially when it introduces some of its side characters.  Live action shots are occasionally interspersed with the animation, making some of the effect of the school sinking pretty engaging.  At times the characters can be stagnant, making one feel like they're watching a motion comic over a film.  When movement is fully utilized, though, it is done quite well.  There is a fight scene in particular done in the style of side-scrolling fighting games that is not only a highlight from an animation standpoint, but is easily the funniest part of the entire movie.  If High School ever garners a cult following, it will be undoubtedly due to Dash Shaw's unique art style.  As a fan of his comics, it was fun to see in action, even if it did sometimes feel like it was not used to its full potential.

Looking at the cast for this film, one would think the performances end up being better than they are.  Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, and Maya Rudolph are all perfectly okay in their respective roles, but it's nothing to write home about.  Lena Dunham fairs a bit better as class president Mary, but it still feels like everyone binge-watched Daria beforehand and wanted to emulate that performance. Susan Sarandon utterly makes this film.  If it weren't for her impeccable performance as Lunch Lady Lorraine, it would be very hard to recommend this film to many.  While much of Lorraine's standout role as a character is probably due to Shaw's writing, it just doesn't feel like she would be as memorable if Sarandon wasn't there providing more subtlety and nuance than one would expect.  It would be so easy for Lorraine to be done in an over-the-top manner, but Sarandon strikes all the right notes, vocally.  It would be great to see her do more animated roles.

On its surface, no pun intended, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea seems like it would be a fun, quirky film.  There are genuine moments where the silly premise, unique animation, and decent voice work align perfectly.  Unfortunately, those moments just don't happen as much as one could hope, especially given the limited run time.  While High School doesn't make one feel like Dash Shaw should stick to comics, it does make one question if maybe he should only write any future animated endeavors.  If nothing else, the film at least attempts to stand out among the crowd in its genre.  This movie isn't going to be for everyone, but it will probably find an audience.  Hopefully they are able to stay awake through it all. 

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Review: Less is more in the character-driven GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Some of my favorite episodes of television are “bottle episodes”; where in order to save costs on its production budget, a series may employ a script that finds it core cast centralized onto a pre-existing set for an entire episode’s running time. One of my go-to examples is the early Doctor Who serial “The Edge of Destruction”, which in lieu of another time travel adventure and location, the producers used the occasion to build the personalities and relationships of its cast. In this brave new world of the ongoing serialization of cinema instead of the individual unit, it should come as no surprise that we’d find Marvel employing similar tactics.
Though don’t let that statement fool you into thinking the sequel to 2014’s smash-hit Guardians of the Galaxy is some sort of shoestring affair, there’s no way Disney and their assorted bean counters would ever let that stand. No, this self-styled Volume 2 is instead an even lusher feast than the first visually, with more inventive space battles, various alien races, and neons and fuchsias than you can handle. But where the sequel isn’t turning the volume up on its predecessor’s various strengths (or its AM radio dial), it’s instead trying to occupy a space that finds its characters somewhat stuck in stasis. Because the assorted Guardians can’t really do a lot within the confines of the Marvel megaplot until next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, where the big Thanos-shaped elephant in the room finally will make some noise again, director James Gunn instead has to pull on all of the inner conflicts that were bubbling under the surface in the first film, but were somewhat drowned by the machinations of the usual origin tale that this studio produces.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is all about intimacy, both of the physical kind, of which the film’s story centers on, and developing the relationships of various members of the team and their associates. Of the former, the sequel pries its eye toward something that really only played a small part of the film the preceded it, the paternal side of Peter Quill’s parentage. On the run from a (gold covered, how appropriate!) alien race called The Sovereign, of whom the Guardians have run afoul thanks to that scamp Rocket, our heroes are saved by a mysterious stranger waving from out in the vastness of space, riding on top of a rounded ship that looks like something right out of the animated Heavy Metal.
This is how they meet Ego, played by a bearded Kurt Russell, who comes in and injects some really intriguing energy into the proceedings – a spectacularly swaggering presence that livens the “where do we go from here?” core group and also shakes up quite a bit of our understanding about Peter. From that character connection, we’re able to have a better understanding of what makes Michael Rooker’s Yondu tick, and in turn how that impacts Rocket, turn the corner and you’ll also find a beautiful little examination of the dynamics that drive Gamora and Nebula, and if that isn’t enough, we even get to learn just a little bit more about Drax’s past by way of new cast addition Mantis, whose empathic abilities cut through that gray impenetrable shell just a tad.
From that description, it may sound like this film is effectively plotless, and to a point, it almost seems that way. This is basically the Marvel equivalent of hangout film, with the majority of its action taking place in very few locations with an overriding concern for the relationships of its characters above all else. It’s a movie about people talking, and caring for one another – filling each other’s respective emotional void – just as much as it is about laser guns and punching.
Eventually, the need for a big action set-piece overrides the third act (you can’t expect a tiger to change its stripes too much when there’s a billion dollars on the line), but up to that point, much of this sequel plays like a 2 hour epilogue to the previous film – even addressing a major element of that effort’s resolution that I personally hadn’t even thought twice about. It’s also just a much more enriching piece of moviemaking. I wasn’t the biggest supporter of the first, which I thought was fun, if fairly toothless and a little in love with itself, but this is the kind of sequel that’s so well put together, that you want to go back and look at the original and see what little moments you might have missed on first glance.
In terms of performances, you know just about what you’re going to get from each player. Star Lord remains the lovable rogue, Gamora the element of stability in an ever irreverent fraternity, Drax is still the funniest thing about this franchise, Rocket is actually tolerable this time around (I recognize I’m an outlier here), and of course, I cannot forget Baby Groot, whose adorableness thankfully isn’t used to death by Gunn and company. But, the biggest surprise has got to be Yondu, who displays so much more nuance than could have been expected, given the fairly one dimensional tough talking alien he was portrayed as a few years ago. I think if there’s a real MVP of the movie, it’s surely Rooker – a wonderful little showcase for a long underappreciated character actor.
Does it have some flaws? Certainly. Mantis, beyond giving Drax someone to talk to, doesn’t really seem to have much else to do, and James Gunn, exciting filmmaker that he is, still struggles to shoot clear action, making the moments where characters just sit to talk all the more welcome, especially since they make up 70% of the running time. But regardless of those minor quibbles, this is the rare Marvel Studios effort that bothers with a theme, centering on the ever universal struggle of “the family you choose vs. the one you don’t”. It’s not exactly Tolstoy, but one takes what they can get, especially in an ever increasingly risk-averse genre.
I’m very happy to say that Gunn takes advantage of the extra latitude he’s been granted, imprinting every bit of his personality onto this sequel, and hopefully this bodes well for Taika Waititi, Ryan Coogler, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck in their subsequent outings in this universe.
*Two other quick points, this has my favorite Marvel movie adversary since Loki, playing in a higher concept arena than I would have expected. And do keep your eyes peeled for lots of cameos, including some real surprises, one of which made me exclaim audibly in the theater.

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