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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Review: THE INFINITE LOOP #6 Blends Sci-Fi and LGBT Activism

IDW's The Infinite Loop is a comic book with a unique history. It started as a crowdfunded French-language graphic novel by writer Pierrick Colinet and artist Elsa Charretier. After being funded more than 2.5 times the asking amount, the comic also got picked up for a monthly English-language release by IDW. Having stellar variant covers by the likes of Stephanie Hans and Tim Sale certainly helped, but the book has not received quite as much attention as it deserves. With the last issue hitting shelves last week and the paperback releasing in early December, it seems as good a time as any to discuss the book and its unique choice to use science fiction concepts to explore persecution and self-image in the LGBT community.

The Infinite Loop starts as a basic time travel story, the kind of which has sprung up in a lot of places lately: Teddy is part of a team of time travellers that keep the time stream safe from anomalies. There is a group of evil-doers that aren't really dealt with often–one of the few minor flaws with the book–that are causing anachronisms to pop up across time, and Teddy and her comrades have to "dispose" of everything from antique cars to dinosaurs. The story takes a turn she comes across an anachronism in human form as Ano, the girl of Teddy's dreams, and the pair goes on the run as her organization tries to hunt them down.

The book increasingly takes an activist theme as it uses the infinite loop of time as a metaphor for the ongoing persecution of those who are deemed by society as different, in particular those who are not heterosexual or who identify themselves somewhere along the nontraditional gender spectrum. It's a brilliant concept that allows for both a fulfilling love story and a fiery call to arms to #breaktheloop. By the end, the story is dealing with an infinite number of Teddies and Anos across many parallel timelines working to not only live their lives freely without persecution, but fighting to fix the "loop" so that others won't have to hide their true selves either.

Issue six and the series as a whole has gorgeous art that makes it hard to believe that Charretier has only been at this for a couple years. Her art has a crisp, clean line not unlike Darwyn Cooke, and as her own colorist she makes the book even more lovely to look at with a bright, exciting palette full of oranges and sky blues. There's a very nice flow to the art as well, and as a team, Colinet and Charretier do a wonderful job using not just panel-to-panel storytelling techniques, but some interesting uses of flow charts and computer code to keep the story moving.

While the whole series has had overtones of activism and a powerful metaphor (not to mention the wonderful letters column that gives a voice to LGBT voices to tell their stories), the final issue allows this idea to take center stage. As Teddy dives into the time stream in an attempt to reset and break the loop that keeps people like her and Ano hiding, she flies through important moments in civil rights history, breezing by Susan B. Anthony, Malcolm X, and Patrick Henry as she weaves her way through a psychedelic whirlwind of time. Though this obviously ties in with the overall theme and purpose of the book, it does distract a bit from the story at hand, but the end that Colinet and Charretier have created for these characters is satisfying enough that the more overt thematic moments are easily forgiven.

Overall, The Infinite Loop is exciting, stylish, and smart as hell. Given that I was initially sold just on the time travelling heroine and fantastic art, it was a sublime surprise to discover that the story went so much farther than that. It's a sci-fi concept that future storytellers will no doubt be slapping their heads for how obvious it is, and the execution and unique styles of the creators involved make this one both a landmark and a must-read title!

The Infinite Loop #6 is on the shelves of your local comic book store now, and is also available on Comixology. The trade paperback collecting the full miniseries releases in your LCBS soon, and will be available in bookstores and on Amazon on December 3rd.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Warner Bros. Approaching Man With No Experience to Direct THE FLASH, Because I Guess Everyone Else Was Busy?

Seth Grahame-Smith, writer of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and screenwriter of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is currently in negotiations to write and direct The Flash for Warner Bros. 2018 superhero flick. Previously, the position was held by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the guys behind the massive success of The Lego Movie and 21/22 Jump Street, but they were recently stolen by Disney to take over their young Han Solo film. Warner Bros. knows that they want to do The Flash as a comedy, and so they're approaching the man currently writing their 2017 Lego Batman movie. Sure, he has no experience as a feature film director and the movie will almost certainly have a budget approaching if not exceeding two-hundred million dollars, but... you know, I guess they enjoy working with him.

Last year, I wrote an article about Paramount's decision to hire Roberto Orci, a man with no experience whatsoever directing films, to direct the new $200,000,000 Star Trek film. There is a very strong temptation to simply reprint that article here but with "Star Trek" crossed out and replaced with "The Flash." But, what the hell, it's my lunch break and that'd probably be unprofessional of me.

That said, it bears repeating, again and again and again until the studios fucking get it: When they do shit like this, they are quite literally saying that a white man with little-to-no experience is more qualified than literally any woman or a person of color.

Now, I suppose you could say that this is slightly less egregious than the Orci hiring. Grahame-Smith has at least directed something, anything, before - in this instance, two 2011 episodes of The Hard Times of RJ Berger, an MTV show about a dorky teen who has such a big dick that he suddenly becomes popular, which is definitely how the world works, probably. And that's true! Very, very, very mild experience is better than 'literally no experience at all,' technically. But the fact is, a jump like this is comparable to going from "assembling bicycles" to "Vice President of Sales at Ford," in a single promotion. This typically only happens through nepotism, so you can understand if I'm a bit cynical here.

This is where I could, I suppose, offer up a host of experienced women or people of color who are more qualified. But I already wrote that article, because, surprise, this issue just keeps coming up (but never, ever suggest it's a pattern or else you're a social justice warrior; it's just a series of completely isolated incidents in which the same thing keeps happening over and over). Sure, I think that Gina Prince-Bythewood, to name just one, could do what Thor failed to do and craft a truly great superhero romance, a genre that fits the various family-focused Flashes fairly well (he's literally the guy who cured the Anti-Life Equation with his love for his wife, after all). But the point isn't, "My pick didn't make it." Rather, the point is, "My pick, along with a hundred other women or people of color, have actual experience doing the job for which Grahame-Smith is being courted, which is 'directing a feature film'."

Look, I'm not at all opposed to Grahame-Smith branching out into directing. I don't particularly share his sense of humor, but, hey, I don't need to in order to hope that he has some interesting things to say as a director. The point is not, "Seth Grahame-Smith should never work again," but rather, "Seth Grahame-Smith has done nothing to earn this job except be a white dude in relative proximity to one of the execs." If he'd built up a body of work behind him, I'd get it - re: Marvel hiring Taika Waititi to direct Thor: Ragnarok off the success of his supernatural comedy What We Do In The Shadows - but he hasn't. He has two sitcom episodes from half a decade ago and scripts for Tim Burton's Dark Shadows and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

When it was Phil Lord and Chris Miller writing and directing, you'll notice I didn't complain. They were experienced, had worked with big budgets and big stars, and they had a reputation for being able to deal with tricky material, which The Flash will likely be given that by the time it comes out there will be 5 seasons of a TV show that has nothing to do with it competing for the public's attention. They had qualifications. I'm sure Grahame-Smith is a good guy, and his interviews make him seem like a fun, nerdy dude... but that is the one, vital thing he lacks.

Not, of course, that Warner Bros. seems to care. In some ways, this is the world's most predictable article. I wrote it last year about Paramount. I wrote it earlier this year about Marvel. A hundred other sites will make this point, and Warner Bros. will release a statement about Grahame-Smith's vision and being a team player, they'll wheel out Patty Jenkins because they've got their token woman and they even gave her the girl one, a month will pass, and I'll be writing this exact article about Universal or something. By the time 2017 hits, we'll all be getting excited by costume news, and there will be interviews about potential crossovers with the show or a brief appearance by Grant Gustin in the background. WB will announce that Wonder Woman will appear briefly in the film, stoking excitement further, and that Gorilla Grodd appearance is going to be hilarious. They'll approach the talented young Justin Simien for Cyborg, and everyone will politely applaud them for not giving that one film to a white dude with little-to-no experience. The Flash will come out, and it'll be fine; it'll look a little bland, sure - what blockbuster doesn't these days? - but the script will be funny and nerdy and a bit weird, and the Lord/Miller high-concept thing will catch some eyes. This article will lie forgotten with a thousand other overwritten #hottakes on the decision, and Grahame-Smith will be able to parlay the experience into another high budget thing, or into a profitable partnership with an exec that lets him make whatever he wants.

Score yet another one for the good ol' boys network.
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Review: WE ARE STILL HERE Tries Something New with Haunted House Story

Since the coming of Paranormal Activity, the last decade's horror films have been overrun with haunted house/home invasion stories. There have been a few gems in there, but most end up best forgotten, or remembered solely as "that movie with the creepy [insert doll, ventriloquist dummy, etc. here]." They tend to be unoriginal and chock full of jump scares with little or no substance underneath. In Ted Geoghegan's feature length directorial debut, We Are Still Here, he aims to correct this, attempting to blend in family drama and historical horror in a pretty ambitious way.

We Are Still Here takes place in the late '70s and primarily follows the Sacchettis, a couple whose college age son has recently died in a car crash. They move to a new house in wintry New England to escape bad memories, but find that strange things are happening in the house. Anne (Barbara Crampton) thinks it is the spirit of their son, but her husband (Andrew Sensenig) is skeptical about the supernatural. When the events start becoming violent, they invite family friends and supernatural enthusiasts May and Jacob (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden, respectively) to the house, but find that the creepy and hostile community into which they have moved is hiding a deadly secret.

One of the first things to notice about the film is it's odd pace; in the beginning it is a very quiet, patient story not unlike Ti West's best films, but it escalates into something much more violent and bloody very quickly. While it felt a bit strange at first, I realized that it actually made for some very shocking moments–they don't feel out of place, but they are wholly unexpected. It is a unique blend of quiet suspense and full volume horror, and it works more often than not in the film.

Another interesting thing that comes out of this style is that the gore is uniquely non-glorified. By the end, the film becomes quite bloody with a few spectacularly gory deaths, but unlike your average slasher, you won't cheer for these kills. Because we have become pretty intimate with these characters and because of the quiet nature of the first half of the film, these deaths feel genuinely horrifying and real. This is exceptionally rare and difficult to pull off–the last time I remember feeling real loss for a character might be The Descent–and it was refreshing to see.

Barbara Crampton, a bit of a legend for horror fans for her parts in Re-Animator and From Beyond, does a great job in the lead role as the tortured mother who wants so badly for this malevolent haunting to just be the spirit of her son. Additionally, Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden, both genre mainstays as well with the latter being a pretty accomplished director to boot, are quite good. At the climax of the film, there is a possession that happens that is pretty genuinely disturbing, and the talent of Marie and Fessenden is on full display there. Unfortunately, the film is tainted a bit by a very stiff performance by Sensenig as the skeptical husband, who often seems like he's reading off cue cards. Of the core group, he sticks out like a sore thumb, and his character often drew me out of the tension of the film.  

We Are Still Here is a film that is brimming with ambition; it attempts to build a world with a strong sense of history and community that is essential to the film, and blends the ideas of a family drama, a haunted house story, and a creepy community with dark secrets into a single story. However high it set its sights, it unfortunately falls a little short, partly due to the short 84 minute run time. It throws a lot of ideas–some very good ones–at the wall, but doesn't necessarily find a way to naturally work them all into a very small space. The result is a film that feels ripe with possibility and is in some ways very fresh, but doesn't quite nail it. All in all, We Are Still Here is a worthwhile watch despite its flaws, and Geoghegan is a new voice in horror that I'm sure will make a more consistent mark on the genre soon.

We Are Still Here comes out on Blu Ray and DVD tomorrow, 10/6/15, and is available on
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Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 94

This Damned Band #3
by Tony Parker

Parker nails the psychedelic album art style, from the perspective to the color to the design.

 Southern Bastards #11
by Jason Latour

Very cool perspective that lends more than a little creepiness to this cover.

 Action Comics #45
by Dave Johnson

Johnson did a fantastic job with the sci-fi monster homage here. Love the cartooning on the scared couple in particular!

 Codename Baboushka: The Conclave of Death #1
by Tula Lotay

Really excellent cover that really defines the tone and style of the book. The silhouette, overlays, title, and the matryoshka doll around the Image logo all add up to a really excellent design!

 Jughead #1
by Chip Zdarsky

What a fantastic way to play off of his own cover for Archie #1! It's stylish, but more importantly totally gets what this character is all about.

 Sherlock Holmes: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution #3
by Kelley Jones

The woodcut style here by the legendary Kelley Jones is really nice, and besides the great old novel design style, the cover works very well because it tells a story.

 The Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time #4
by Eric Powell

Minimal, but very impactful. Overall a fantastic design!

 Toil & Trouble #2
by Kyla Vanderklugt

It isn't often we get a cover in this sort of style. The thin line cartooning and shading are particularly nice.

 The X-Files: Season 11 #13
by Brian Miller

A very creepy look that's in the vein of Francavilla and Hacks best works.

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Saturday, October 3, 2015

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 101: DOCTOR WHO Premiere Two-Parter

It's a trio this week as Cal, Harper and Hannah discuss the first two episodes of Series 9 of Doctor Who. Have Peter Capaldi's sophomore set of episodes started off with a bang? Let's find out!

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Review: THE MARTIAN brings Ridley Scott home

The week of its release, and The Martian's science is already outdated by the recent discovery of water on Mars. Years from now, viewers will look back and shake their heads in disgust at the barren and dry depiction of the planet, along with the size and shape of cell phones, probably. Or the fact that we even had cell phones.

But we'll forgive The Martian for being so last week. Why? Because this movie gets most of the important things right. Because intelligence can be a superpower. Because it's really hard to be hopeful and optimistic without being cheesy. Because Matt Damon.

Above all else, The Martian is really a film about possibility. It's a glass-half-full look at humanity told from three points of view. The first and primary POV is that of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut/botanist who is mistakenly left for dead on Mars when his crew takes off in an emergency evacuation. Alone on a planet that is clearly uninhabitable, Watney puts his botany powers to use and decides to grow life on Mars (potato life, specifically). He also struggles to send signals of his survival back to Earth.

The second point of view is Watney's crew; the ones who've left him behind. The Martian has an enormous cast, and this is where we see about half of it, including Jessica Chastain as the ship's commander, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Michael Peña, and Alex Vogel.

And lastly, we have the folks at on the ground. As NASA begins to detect anomalies on Mars, they work to figure out what happened to Watney and what, if anything, they can do to help. Or even let him know they're there. Jeff Daniels plays the head of NASA, who you'd be right to confuse with his character from The Newsroom - they're played virtually identically - along with Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Sean Bean working at his side.

We've had one big space movie each year recently, with Interstellar being last year's big one, and Gravity the year before that. Comparisons to Gravity are apt, but what The Martian really feels like is Ridley Scott's homage to Ron Howard and Apollo 13. Armed with a solid script that Drew Goddard adapted from Andy Weir's novel and a perfect lead in Matt Damon, Scott pulls out one of his better films in recent years, managing to strike a tone that's humorous in spite of its bleakness. When Watney realizes how low his odds of survival are, rather than going for a single-tear-moment, he exclaims "I'm going to have to science the sh*t out of this."  It's that kind of movie.

It's hard to complain about any of the movie that takes place on Mars. Things on the ground are a little more mixed. Without giving away any spoilers, I'll say some of the film's better moments occur when we see how important Watney's mission becomes to everyone on the planet; here we get a reminder of how much potential humanity has, at its best. But it's also difficult to do a film like this one without massive amounts of exposition, and when scientists are using staplers and desk props to show the head of NASA how physics works, it all starts to feel a bit absurd. Donald Glover shows up at NASA briefly, in one of the many appearances that had me wondering why? Why is this a unique character in a movie with 30 characters? Can we consolidate just a bit here?

But the characters most short-changed by the overstuffed cast are those of Watney's crew members, in what is likely the least successful part of the film. I honestly couldn't tell you any of their names, including Chastain's character, and I'm not sure Sebastian Stan spoke more than a few lines in the entire film. Their inclusion is necessary to the plot, but it felt like a story that should have focused solely on a more fleshed out version of the captain and abandoned all hope for getting to know the rest of the crew.

Complaints of overstuffing aside, The Martian deserves recognition for managing to identify and strike the perfect tone to differentiate itself from other space-based films. While it's not likely to end up as an all-time favorite, it's an entertaining crowd-pleaser that's really hard to dislike, and one that provides hope: for space travel, for humanity, and of course most importantly, for an uptick in the quality of Ridley Scott's future films.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

A New Doctor Who Spin-Off Is Coming!

Doctor Who has had a few spin-offs since the show was relaunched in 2005. During the Russell T. Davies years, both Torchwood (a show aimed at adults) and The Sarah Jane Adventures (which was squarely focused on the kid-set) came and went. They both had something in common, in my eyes: they weren't very good.

Sure, we can go on and on about Miracle Day, which was admittedly the one time John Barrowman and company weren't absolutely cringe-inducing, but for the most part there wasn't much there to get excited about. The kid stuff was about as compelling as Power Rangers and the adult stuff was a laughable attempt to be taken seriously, or be a pale copy of Angel (which also wasn't so great either, but I digress..).

One of the benefits of the Steven Moffat-era for me was that there wasn't a spin-off to either distract its showrunner, or utterly dilute the brand. Well, never mind on that end as the BBC announced today that Doctor Who is getting a new spin-off entitled Class.

This new YA-focused program will be based around Coal Hill School, which made a big return appearance last series, during Peter Capaldi's debut. The new series will be written by author Patrick Ness, and marks his television debut. Presumably Ness will pen all eight of the 45-minute episodes, Steven Moffat will executive produce.

Perhaps going YA is the one direction that will allow this spin-off idea to work for this franchise. I'm not hopeful, but I like the idea of one person writing every episode. It will launch in 2016.
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