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Friday, May 27, 2016

'X-Men: Apocalypse' Is A Stealth Remake of 'X-Men: The Last Stand'




I don't think that X-Men: Apocalypse is a good movie. That said, this isn't a review of the film. Kyle did a very fine review of the film already and you can read that. But part of what makes X-Men: Apocalypse interesting, if not good, to me is that it seems to be trying to remake 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, the film that very nearly killed the entire franchise after Bryan Singer left the first time. But instead of improving upon Brett Ratner's deeply-flawed entry into the series, Singer fell into all the same holes Ratner did.

My case:

The Characters

Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand was full of cameos. The Morlocks played a small part in the film, particularly Psylocke and Callisto, a mutant who used, in part, the powers of another mutant named Caliban. In X-Men: Apocalypse, Caliban is here instead of Callisto, but Psylocke - a character never particularly associated with the Morlocks in the comics - remains as his ally. She doesn't have much to do in the movie, but her powers and her costume are both more comics-accurate, so she feels like she exists largely to set the record straight.

Angel, Warren Worthington III, doesn't really make any sense in the film's timeline. If he was a teenager in the third X-Men film, he would be... -9 years old in this one, most likely? In the previous film, he was a bit of a wimp, a soft-spoken rich kid who never really did much fighting. Here, he's a head-banging metal punk introduced as a cage-fighting bad-ass who is eventually given an even more bad-ass powers upgrade. Hilariously, though, he loses literally every fight we see him in, so while Singer knew he wanted to 'fix' the character, he clearly didn't know how.

Speaking of characters who are jammed in regardless of the timeline issues: Jubilee returns! Instead of having no lines, as she did in Ratner's film, she has two lines here. She looks more comics-accurate, as did Psylocke and Caliban and Angel... but that's really all there is to her. Partway through the film, she disappears from the story completely for no reason, never to be seen or mentioned again.

Finally, and this one is a big spoiler, sort of, so if you don't want to be spoiled, skip this paragraph, but... Jean Grey is back, as we all knew, and Singer has expressed an interest in doing the Dark Phoenix saga. Here, we get the first iterations of that, as Singer does his interpretation of the Phoenix, which Ratner ran with in X-Men: The Last Stand. There aren't that many other stories to tell with Jean Grey, honestly, so it's not surprising, but taken alongside the return of Angel, Jubilee, Psylocke, and the Morlocks, it certainly suggests a pattern.


The Reversals

But Singer doesn't just want to remake this old, little-loved movie - he wants to fix it. So, there are a number of plot elements that take moments from X-Men: The Last Stand and reverse them. This, obviously, will have heavy spoilers too, so, be forewarned. For instance...

The film has an X-traordinarily X-traneous Wolverine cameo, in which the X-Men who Singer likes - there's literally no other rationale for who gets taken - get kidnapped by Stryker - despite him being replaced by Mystique in Days of Future Past; no, Singer doesn't even try to make sense of this - and taken to the Weapon X facility. Nightcrawler, Jean, and Cyclops tag along, and go looking for a power source so they can cut off whatever is keeping the X-Men trapped. But once they find Wolverine (in a cage next to the power source for some reason), they decide to free him instead and let him kill literally everyone in the base.

The important part comes at the end of his rampage, however, when he first meets Jean Grey. Wolverine, half-feral, could attack them or anyone. Instead, Jean reaches out to him and psychically soothes him, giving him the gift of peace by restoring some of the fragments of his memory. This is a mirror to their climactic moments in X-Men: The Last Stand, when Jean's Phoenix is raging out of control, and the only one who can reach her is Wolverine. The two share a tender moment before Wolverine gives her peace by killing her gently. A first meeting and a last meeting.

It's not the only one. X-Men: The Last Stand ends with Storm as the newly minted leader of the X-Men. In X-Men: Apocalypse, the movie ends in the same place in a similar scene, but here, Storm is instead joining the X-Men for the first time (after trying to commit genocide with Apocalypse; everyone is chill about that). Again, leadership became apprenticeship.

Why was Storm leading the X-Men in The Last Stand? Because earlier in the film, Xavier was killed by Jean Grey when her powers got out of control. But, as anyone who stuck around for the post-credits sequence knew, Xavier wasn't dead, just gone - he had transferred his consciousness into the body of a brain dead, comatose man in Scotland. The villainous Apocalypse in the new X-Men movie apparently liked this plan, because the core of his evil scheme? You guessed it: To transfer his consciousness into Charles Xavier's body.

That would give Apocalypse power, but that wasn't 'enough' for the movie I guess. Apocalypse also had... like, forty different powers, really, but one core power was this: He could amplify the powers of any other mutants. Angel's wimpy wings became bad-ass sleek metallic ones capable of flinging feathers like daggers; Psylocke's psychic sword became... I don't know, a mildly more powerful psychic sword, I guess, she has two lines so it is hard to tell. Apocalypse wants to create a paradise for mutants, and part of that involves amplifying the powers of any mutants who swear loyalty to him, or who are around him for more than one scene. What was the evil plot in X-Men: The Last Stand? Someone had created a 'cure' for mutants, one that could seemingly-permanently suppress their powers and turn them mortal.

So...

There are, frankly, even more parallels we could draw between the two films, but overall, Singer's movie feels like an active critique of Ratner's. It's understandable - Singer built the franchise, and Ratner nearly tore it apart, so I get why Singer would want to set the record straight, as it were. But in doing so, he and his writers - including X-Men: The Last Stand writer Simon Kinberg - apparently forgot to actually include a story or character beats here. They were so concerned with mirroring the events of the previous film that X-Men: Apocalypse never really finds a strong identity of its own.
As another once-beloved nerd icon once said upon producing a very bad movie: "It's like poetry. It rhymes."
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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Captain America Isn't Real


So, something pretty huge happened in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 today. While this isn't a review and I won't be discussing the issue in much depth, I still can't really write this without spoiling the issue's big twist. So, if you care about preserving the twist, I recommend that you bookmark this now and come back to it after you've read the issue.

Good? 

Okay. So, in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, writer Nick Spencer and artist Jesus Saiz reveal that Steve Rogers - the great, gung-ho hero who has spearheaded three immensely successful modern blockbusters and means a lot to a lot of people - was recruited by longtime nemeses/Nazi allies Hydra as a child. The issue literally ends with him seemingly killing another hero and saying, "Hail Hydra."


The internet freaked the fuck out. Freaked waaaaaay out*. Which, okay, that's what the internet does on a pretty basic level, but over something like this...? As I read the issue and the response to the issue, I began to realize something: We've seen all this before.

We saw it when Thor was replaced by a woman. When Cap was replaced by Sam Wilson. When Batman was replaced by Dick Grayson. Whenever there's a new Robin, or an old Flash returns. Every single time, people get up in arms over the fact that something is ruining their character. They say this despite the fact that this is a cycle that happens over and over and over again in comics: Something big changes, the writer and artist use that to explore some facet of the character, then they build the character back up to his or her familiar status quo just in time for a new team to take over.

It's the illusion of change, not real change -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing. As I wrote in this extensive article back when Thor became a woman, many of your favorite runs of comics came about because of this illusion, because creative people came along who challenged the way we look at a character and what we take for granted about them. That illusion of change is, in the right hands, actually a cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction that allows us to experiment and keep characters fresh and modern. It's something that's happened for decades in comics, and will continue to happen for as long as the industry continues.

So, why are fans so upset by this? I'm beginning to think it has to do with something deeper about how they read and interact with these characters.

My argument: A lot of people can't separate fantasy from reality. I don't mean that in some preposterous, condescending way where they think Batman is really out there or they are really the star of their favorite video game. What I mean is, they want their fiction to be, for lack of a better term, invisibly fictional - to them Superman killed Zod in Man of Steel because he had to, not because the writer and director chose to make him. They want it to emulate real life as they see it. That's why things like narrative experimentation, perceived tonal inconsistencies, resurrections, etc... end up frustrating some readers. They highlight the fictional nature of the story. They make it clear that this isn't real.

And that's a problem, because a lot of comics culture - from gatekeeping to continuity porn - is built around the idea of what's real. After all, not all of Batman's stories can be 'real', there's too many of them, too many iterations of too many characters making too many different decisions. But if Batman speaks to me on a fundamental level, some of those iterations will be more 'real' than others, and if the comics dismiss that iteration... aren't they dismissing me?**

Of course not! But we build so much of ourselves around these characters - our weekly schedules, our regular online avatars, even some of our core values - that it feels personal. Is gatekeeping necessarily about racism and sexism, or is it about tribalism, about dismissing people whose 'real' Batman or Cap is different so that my identity can remain unchallenged? I have the gospel of my crew, and no one wants apocrypha infecting that gospel, because then I lose that shared language, that common, understood underpinning of the character's reality that allows me to channel my thoughts and feelings more smoothly.

It's not, again, that fans think that these characters are real. It's that the characters, or a specific iteration of them at least, feel real, and that feeling is incredibly powerful. The feeling of having this character with a decades-long legacy speak directly to you in a profound way... there's little else like it in the world.

The flip side of that, of course, are the people who are often being, well, gatekept. Queer readers, people of color, women - the people these stories traditionally were not written 'for'. They've created their own homes in the margins of the stories, with fan fiction culture***. There, subtext is far more important than text, because that's where they could recognize themselves, that's how the stories spoke to them. I rarely see this crowd flip out as much when the text deviates from their vision, since they are basically just repurposing the text anyway. Because they don't have a single core principle or unifying canon, the fanfic crowd can often be more comfortable being confronted with the fictionality of the story. There's less disconnect between something being fake but still feeling real.

We badly need to stop worrying about what's real and start worrying about what makes the best story right now. Because comics are not a single, decades-spanning saga. They are, for lack of a better phrase, short story collections. Those collections share characters, sure, but each story has different authors pulling from different influences and trying to say different things. None of them are concerned with how every other writer told their story, just the ones that are meaningful to the way they want to tell it.

And that's part of what's so beautiful about them. The fact that Batman: Year One is just as 'real' as "Batman - The Superman of Planet X!" and The Dark Knight is just as 'real' as Batman '66 means that there is something fundamentally powerful about the character, no matter how silly or serious the story. The fact that Captain America can stand for all that's good about America's self-image... and function as a savage critique of American nationalism, depending on who is writing him? That's not a bug, it's a feature. In a time when America is increasingly tempted by authoritarianism and xenophobia, aligning Captain America with a history of authoritarianism and xenophobia may very well be purposeful, particularly given Spencer's other politically-driven Cap book, Sam Wilson: Captain America.

I don't know what Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz will end up saying about Cap by aligning him with Hydra. Maybe it'll be insightful, maybe it'll be trite. Maybe it'll be retconned, maybe it's not what you think it is from this first issue. Maybe it'll be a powerful refutation of what Spencer and Saiz see as a creeping sickness, or maybe it'll accidentally help normalize a 'sympathetic' portrayal of Nazi ideology****. I legitimately don't know whether this will be any good.

What we can know is this: It's just another short story, and any change it foists upon the character will be temporary. To deride it as simply a 'publicity stunt' is to ignore the fact that this is a work by a writer who has been telling expressly political Captain America stories for some time, and you have no idea yet what he's trying to say with this. Remember: Captain America isn't in Hydra; a writer is telling a story about what it would mean if he were. It might not work - Spencer and Saiz have their flaws, and this topic is a minefield - but that doesn't mean it's a story that can't be told. And, more importantly, it doesn't reflect on who you are at all. The lessons you gleaned from Cap's books and films are still valid. Your Cap is still yours, and he'll be back for you again soon enough.

As a great writer once said shortly before 'killing' Superman and huge swaths of his supporting cast: "This is an imaginary story. Aren't they all?"

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*(edited to add)There are two distinct issues here: People who oppose major changes like this to a character because they feel it ruins them permanently, isn't true to the character, etc... and people who are concerned by the potential anti-Semitism. This article is aimed squarely at the first group, and is intended to address the separation between reality and 'realistic' fiction.

**For more on this idea, read Glen Weldon's The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, as he does a phenomenal job of illustrating how 'grim and gritty' Batman became the default to appease fans who felt that people laughing at Batman were really laughing at them.

***This idea was given to me by a brilliant friend of mine, who has opted to be identified only as 'some queer on Facebook'. He's a much better writer than I am, but, sadly, you're stuck with me.

****
It should - it doesn't in comic circles, but it should - go without saying that you always have a right not to read a comic you don't want to read, to feel uncomfortable by things that trip your warning signs or trigger you. I totally get that, but that's a different discussion entirely. I'm sympathetic to people who are uncomfortable by Nazis, period, and doubly so when the person tied to that ideology is a supposed hero. There's a very real discussion that's worth having about Marvel's obsession with or fetishization of Hydra, and the politics of using this twist on a hero created by World War II era Jewish kids. This article, however, is not about that, and that's not a discussion I necessarily think that I myself am qualified to lead.
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Monday, May 23, 2016

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 127

Aloha, Hawaiian Dick #2
by Sean K. Dove

When I was young, I spent a lot of time trawling through piles of used paperbacks in Half-Price Books and library book sales, and good, pulpy crime thrillers of a certain era... well, you could tell the second you looked at the cover. Sean K. Dove's cover for Aloha, Hawaiian Dick #2, a Pacific neo-noir, captures that feeling perfectly and adds a unique regional flair that tells me exactly what to expect -- and catches my eyes with its evocative colors.

Daredevil #8
by Bill Sienkiewicz 

Bill Sienkiewicz on Elektra is always going to catch my attention, at least for a moment, but I still think this cover stands out. The under-detailed helicopters and skyline give it a loose, surreal feeling, while the colors make it feel like the city is burning around our two leads as they embrace. It feels bleak, fatalistic, and just a little romantic - the perfect combo for a good Daredevil book. It loses points, however, because it looks awful once Marvel has slapped the giant logo and barcode and credits and corporate seal on it. This one needs to breathe.

 Divinity II #2
by Tula Lotay

Honestly, we could just have a standing Tula Lotay spot in these sections, because she kills it damn near every time. Look at these colors - the vibrant yellows and greens, a streak of bright red blood and lipstick undercutting it all. This doesn't tell me much about the book itself, but as an exercise in color and mood, this may be the week's most evocative.

Doctor Strange #8
by Chris Bachalo
  
As we established last week, I'm a sucker for minimalism. The chilly colors here are nicely offset by the brightly colored figure of Strange falling through the sky, and the cover's orientation to the side for its title and grounding makes it a surprisingly disorienting cover. Is disorienting good? I don't know, man, I just want to feel something. Anything.

Jem and the Holograms #15
by Sophie Campbell

This one is all color and attitude, the pink-and-green standing out against the stark black background. Campbell did a good job of giving the characters a dead-eyed look that makes them look genuinely eerie and threw some pink splotches on there to give it a playfully grimy feeling.

Monstress #6
by Sana Takeda

While I tend towards favoring minimalism, Sana Takeda's covers of Monstress often favor hyper-detailed, fantasy-inspired art with a muted color palette. It looks like nothing else on the shelves, and Takeda's talent for design-work helps her craft impeccably-built fantastical tableaus. The gate in the background, the eye falling in the 'N' of the title, the blood in the background, the corruption spreading up the unicorn - there's a thousand things going on here, but they work together very well.


Superman: Lois and Clark #8
by Lee Weeks

Obviously, there are a lot of covers that contrast the gritty urban crime thriller of Batman with the high-flying sci-fi optimism of Superman, so finding a novel approach to it can be tough. I think Lee Weeks did an excellent job, though, centering his cover on the alleys and smokestacks of gotham city, Superman only present as his shield offers a brief respite from the darkness. Batman himself looking up into the sky, rather than down into the city, is a nice little touch here, too.

Weirdworld #6
by Mike Del Mundo

Mike Del Mundo illustrated a phenomenal Elektra book for Marvel a couple years back, and ever since, he's an artist I keep an eye out for whenever I can. His cover for Weirdworld #6 shows why. The beige-and-blue color palette is uncommon, and notice the way Del Mundo captures the lone, wistful figure in the center in a series of progressively smaller frames - the cover, then the plants, then the planet, then the blue continent. Each one traps the figure a little bit more, as it gazes out beyond its limitations. Lovely work.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: Accept THE INVITATION


More than two years ago, a group of friends was shattered when one couple, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard), watched their child die from an accident at a birthday party. Will and Eden split up, each lost to grief in their own way. Eden met a man named David at her grief counseling sessions, and the two ran away together to Mexico; Will just kept muddling through his day-to-day life. But now Eden and David (Michiel Huisman) are back, and they've invited all their former friends to a dinner party in their villa in the hills near Los Angeles. Even Will and his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are invited. But Will is uncomfortable being in his old home, where his son died, and that discomfort only magnifies as the night gets more and more personal and the party begins to turn dark.

If Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin's electric 2011 film, used the tropes and expectations of horror filmmaking to craft a thriller about paranoia, Kusama uses a different set of horror tropes to explore the extremes of grief. But The Invitation is not, strictly speaking, a horror film, at least not by traditional body-count-and-breasts definition that seems to define the genre to many. Like Anti-Christ, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and other profoundly personal dramas, it's just so intense that it feels like a horror film. The lingering dread that suffuses the background of the movie makes every emotional outburst land like a slasher's machete.

Karyn Kusama (Jennifer's Body) is a director I have liked for some time who I felt never gets enough credit. Her work here should change that permanently. The Invitation is a difficult film, in part because it is two separate films. As we learn about Will, Kira, Eden, and the rest of the group, Kusama plays things as a darkly funny indie drama. The group play games, gossip, catch up, all while dancing around the tense-way-beyond-reason emotional core between Will and Eden. But slowly, Will's fear and paranoia amp up, flashes back to his tragic past in this house keeping us on edge even as it pushes him over. But The Invitation knows how to undercut its own feverish dread well; few movies I've seen are even half so effective with at teasing out the reality of the danger in a horror movie.

Because the film is fundamentally about a series of broken relationships, the cast is vital to selling the movie's delicate tone. The Invitation is full of indie-friendly faces, but unlike a lot of modern dramedies, Kusama's film is rigorously controlled. Eden's house looks open, with few closed doors and a lot of open air, but Kusama films close up on the actor's faces and cuts off our visuals to other rooms, making the place feel claustrophobic as hell. And those faces were well-chosen. Logan Marshall-Green looks like a broken man through much of the film, while Tammy Blanchard makes her flightiness feel like a retreat from reality rather than a quirky character trait. Perhaps my favorite bits of casting is John Carroll Lynch as Pruitt, who looks like a gentle giant but holds a deep weight inside. Much of the rest of the cast, like Michelle Krusiec and Jordi Vilasuso, do solid work as a group of friends desperately trying to keep things light and just get through the evening with their relationships intact.

Like the phenomenal The Witch and Green Room, The Invitation is a moody, atmospheric movie more interested in exploring its characters and situations fully than goosing you with cheap jump scares. It's a smart, mean emotional thriller that makes its home at the corner of grief and hopelessness, and the scariest thing about the movie is how plausible the intense emotions that drive these characters feel. In the film's opening scene, two characters accidentally hit a coyote with their car and, unwilling to let it suffer, are forced to bludgeon it to death. It's a mercy, but it's an emotionally fraught one that leaves the survivors shaken and drained. It's the perfect moment to sum up what you're about to see. 



The Invitation is out now in theaters in limited release, and is available On Demand from services like Amazon Instant or Google Play. Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi and directed by Karyn Kusama, The Invitation stars Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, and Michiel Huisman.
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Monday, May 16, 2016

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 126

Archangel #1
by Tula Lotay

So... we really like Tula Lotay in general here. All it takes is a look at just a few of her covers to see why. This cover for Archangel, for instance. Simple, evocative imagery - the shadowy projector, the beam of light - combine with surreal colors and a character with intense physical personality.

Citizen Jack #6
by Tommy Patterson & Dylan Todd 

I know nothing about Citizen Jack, but this cover, from Tommy Patterson and Dylan Todd, tells me everything I need to know. Evil, politics, and conspiracies, elegantly paired with an evocative American flag color palette.

 Judge Dredd #5
by Ulises Farinas

Normally, a 'character staring at me' cover doesn't grab me, but Ulises Farinas nails it here. The lighter, earthier colors, the fluffy animals, the gorgeous day, all surrounding Dredd's craggy face? It's not immediately eye-catching, but it's more of a grower than a shower.

 Old Man Logan #6
by Andrea Sorrentino

Oddly the first of three covers this week that share this basic format, but I think all three do it in a different way. Sorrentino puts the highlight on the red, cutting across the page like a streak of blood to the malevolent hand holding Logan aloft. It does lose some points, though, for not looking half as good when you add in the series' logo, credits, and barcode....

 Mirror #4
by Hwei Lim

Most of these covers - most covers, it seems - tend to heavily use warmer colors, or to rely on minimalism. Hwei Lim's cover for Mirror #4 relies on blues, purples, and pastels offset by white, creating a dreamy, fantastical look that highlights the immaculately-designed blue-and-white logo in the middle. Mirror #4 feels like an oasis on the shelves.

Rai #13
by David Mack

David Mack's take on the minimalist red-white-and-black cover uses the negative space flawlessly, making the red and black feel like calligraphy brushstrokes on a bare canvas. Very evocative of the title's Japanese setting, an eye-catchingly elegant cover.

 Scarlet #9
by Alex Maleev

Finally, we have Alex Maleev's cover for Scarlet, which takes the red-white-and-black minimalist look and decides to highlight the black, turning lead character Scarlet into target practice. But it also manages to anonymize her, stripping her of her personhood and turning her into a target for the police. Like a lot of great covers, it shows you what the book is about without telling you what the book is about. As with the Old Man Logan, cover, though... this one clearly wasn't designed with the title, barcode, and credits in mind.

Superman: American Alien #7
by Ryan Sook

I've seen a hundred variations on this sort of cover, but Superman: American Alien manages to find a novel take on it. The muted colors, relying on blues and purples,the S-shield on the lighting grid, the focus on the stars rather than the setting sun... it's a melancholy take on a classic cover.

Wonder Woman #52
by Yanick Paquette

Fresh off the gorgeous Wonder Woman: Earth One, Paquette brings us a cover that manages to combine the image of Atlas with gorgeous sun-god imagery. The yellows and oranges feel warmer, more supportive than the hostile reds that dominate the covers above. And Paquette's Wonder Woman looks strong, here, grit teeth and realistic muscles.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Review: DOCTOR FATE: THE BLOOD PRICE Needs Some Momentum


Khalid Nassour is a second-generation Egyptian-American, and his life is pretty good. He's got a smart, lovely girlfriend, two caring parents, and in just a couple days, he's starting medical school. But then the flood starts. A non-stop, torrential downpour begins to cover the earth, inciting mass flooding. But when Khalid is given a mysterious golden helmet, he begins to see the secret truths behind the world. The flood is not natural, but an attempt to wipe the slate clean by ancient Egyptian god Anubis, and only Khalid can stop him. But Khalid is thoroughly Americanized, with no real connection to his Egyptian ancestry. Can he discover his heritage in time to stop a mad god from remaking the world?

There's a lot of charm to Doctor Fate: The Blood Price, the collection of the first 7 issues of Paul Levitz and Sonny Liew's run with the character. Its cast is slim but growing, Sonny Liew and Lee Loughridge make an enormously compelling artistic team, and Paul Levitz has some really cool ideas for the book and Doctor Fate's ties to Egyptian mythology. But... okay, I kind of think we need to put a moratorium on Joseph Campbell and the monomyth. On all of it, sure, but specifically here on the 'Refusing the Call' section, which is what basically the entirety of this seven-issue story is. Damn near every issue features the same basic internal conflict over and over again: Khalid is shown something by the helmet, he doesn't believe or understand what he's shown, he fails to stop the flood. Because of this, the book reads less as a superheroic origin story or adventure more as a conflict between Bast and Anubis, with Khalid as a puppet being jerked between them.

And... well, that's really hard to make interesting. Rather than having Khalid feel like an everyman - what the book is going for - it makes him seem weak-willed and wishy-washy. Think about the great comic book characters. What do they have in common? They're proactive. They want to make a difference. The core conflict is the cost, both social and internal, of that decision. Kamala Khan wants to fight and be an Avenger and help people, but this comes into conflict with her faith and family responsibilities. Bruce Wayne wants to end crime, but butts up against the vastness of criminality and the depth of its origins. Peter Parker, the closest analog to what Levitz is trying to do with Khalid Nassour here, wants to live a normal life... but knows that he can't, and the conflict there is between the way he whole-heartedly throws himself into his responsibilities while secretly wishing he didn't have to.


But despite that conflict, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby understood that we wanted to see Spidey in action. His internal conflict represents a yearning, but he throws himself. That's how long he refused the call. Khalid does it for roughly 130 pages. It makes him seem dull and wishy-washy, makes the book feel interminably repetitive when we get the same, "This must be a dream/nightmare/drugs," speech from him every single issue. The supporting cast is the same way. Khalid's girlfriend Shaya keeps putting him off to go do other things, Akila keeps flirting with Khalid and then harumphing when he ignores her, Anubis keeps talking about the Maat and the blood price, but most of these characters don't really do anything until the final issue. They're static.

Still, as I said, Doctor Fate: The Blood Price is still worth a look for many readers. Levitz has the core of a lot of good ideas here even if the execution is lacking, and, as I said above, artist and colorist Sonny Liew and Lee Loughridge make a phenomenal team. Liew has a tendency to highlight the frailty of people, which helps make Khalid's danger seem genuine and his inexperience feel urgent. A midbook scene where he tries to stop three looters and has to run away from a couple gun shots highlights his youth and frailty well. Indeed, the character design in the book is routinely fantastic, and the book's greatest selling-point.

I'm a little less sold on his portrayal of the more large-scale action, which often features an explosion of color and then... a result. It's brief and difficult to follow, and I tend to strongly prefer clarity of space and movement in my action. That said... as with the rest of the book, the action is gorgeous. Loughridge handles the explosion of these otherworldly yellows and oranges wonderfully, contrasting them well with the more muted colors that dominate the background 'real' world. If you're the kind of reader who prizes clarity above all else, the action here may frustrate you, but readers who prefer aesthetics will find a ton to love.

Doctor Fate is one of the rash of modern magic-superhero books out now from Marvel and DC, alongside things like Constantine: The Hellblazer, Dr. Strange, Scarlet Witch, and more. And it shares many of the strengths and weaknesses of those books. Magic, it seems, is still tough to figure out. But while I have my issues with Doctor Fate: The Blood Price overall, it is nevertheless the kind of book I want to get lost in. There's a lot of room for improvement here, and I can't fault anyone who doesn't want to sit through quite this much meandering, but I do believe there's some promise here. In the collection's final issue, Khalid finally makes some genuine, lasting decisions and the story lurches forward rather suddenly. Here's to hoping the momentum continues going forward.


Doctor Fate: The Blood Price is the first volume of DC Comics' ongoing Doctor Fate series, collecting Doctor Fate #1 - 7. Written by Paul Levitz, illustrated by Sonny Liew, colored by Lee Loughridge and Sonny Liew, and lettered by Nick J. Napolitano and Steve Wands, Doctor Fate: The Blood Price has a list price of $14.99.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 123: Captain America: Civil War

This week we talk about the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR! We dig into what makes this such a step forward for the MCU and what we hope it means for the future. Plus: what's up with this spider guy?

Music Used in this Episode
Rage Against the Machine - "War Within a Breath"

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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