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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The GeekRex Comic Buyer's Guide (10/1/14)


We know walking into your local comic shop or browsing the new titles on Comixology can be harrowing, particularly with the rising prices of comics. The GeekRex team feels your pain, so that's why each week two members of our team will collaborate and highlight the "must-buys" of every Wednesday, and we'll make sure we keep the tab under 20 bucks. Props to MultiversityComics for coming up with the great idea–we hope you like our spin on it!

This Week's Team: Kyle and Harper






Wonder Woman #34 - $2.99

The penultimate issue of perhaps our favorite series of the entire New 52 is a definite pick. Azzarello and Chiang's epic story is coming to an epic close as Wonder Woman, now with the power of War, faces down in a final showdown with the insanely creepy First Born. What can I say–it's been awesome since the very beginning, so it's worth reading to the very end.
 







The Fade Out #2 - $3.50

Brubaker and Phillips have long been one of the juggernaut teams of comic books, perhaps undeniably the greatest crime comic creators, but with The Fade Out they've especially hit a vein for me. It combines a classic Hollywood with a nasty murder mystery setup and a cast of characters that all have something to hide–and that was just the first issue. Count me in for a super-engaging story with gorgeous art!




Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1 - $3.99

With Zero and Secret Avengers, Ales Kot has a lot of very interesting things to say about war and how it affects the human condition. Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier is what Kot calls the third part of his "war trilogy", mixing the absurdist elements of Secret Avengers with the hard-biting emotional anguish of Zero. In it, he takes the absurd "Watcher on the Wall" role that Bucky inherited in Original Sin and utilizes it to make a grand statement on a variety of topics including fluid gender, taoism, feminism, many worlds theory etc...and he does with Marco Rudy by his side. This may be the most interesting Marvel book to be released in years.








Gotham Academy #1 - $2.99

While some of us aren't happy about the conversion of even more of DC's output into Bat books, this one is a big exception. It's a book starring young girls at a Gotham City prep school, finally a book in the larger DCU that is deliberately aimed at a younger, more female audience. Not to mention the stellar team of Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan writing with Karl Kerschl on art!








Thor #1 - $3.99

Most of us were huge fans of Aaron and Ribic's epically metal run on Thor: God of Thunder, and most of that enthusiasm (as well as the writer) is carrying over to this new volume. That'd be good enough for me, but throw in a mysterious new female Thor and an Odinson that has strangely lost his worthiness and this is pretty high up on my list. Plus, who doesn't love saying Jarnbjorn?









Total Price: $17.46

 

Pick of the Week


Moon Knight: From the Dead by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd ever be into a Moon Knight comic. While Daredevil has constantly fended off criticism as being a second-rate Batman, Moon Knight was more or less designed to completely ape The Dark Knight's iconography; except it was a property that never really had the stories to back that ambition up. Not even comics superstar team of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, who so successfully reworked Daredevil back in the early 2000's, could do anything with the exploits of poor mentally ill Marc Spector. Enter Warren Ellis.

Ellis, long known for his masterpieces with DC's Vertigo and Wildstorm imprints, Transmetropolitan and Planetary, never really was one to do straight "work for hire" assignments within Marvel or DC. Sure, he'd done a few, but the same passion for storytelling never seemed quite as apparent as when he was writing the adventures of Elijah Snow or Jenny Sparks. The idea of his taking over Moon Knight was something altogether different. Akin to when Alan Moore revamped Supreme and Grant Morrison did the same for Doom Patrol, X-Men, and The Seven Soldiers of Victory, this is a creator rebuilding a concept from the ground up and doing so in a way that gave even Matt Fraction's Hawkeye a run for its money as Marvel's best monthly comic.

Pushing much of Marc Spector's mental illness issues into the background, making it more of a detail that informs the character rather than defining him; Ellis, artists Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire told a tight six issue set of stand-alone tales of the protector of those who travel by night, who dresses in white because he wants those he stalks to see him coming. Imagine the following tapestry told in these installments:  A mysterious sniper, a gang of ghost punks, a dream that afflicts the patients of one particular doctor, an abandoned building full of thugs holding a little girl hostage - with Moon Knight, Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire introduce us to the darkest corners of New York City, far grimier than anything I've seen this side of The Punisher (and certainly more to my taste). Even the simple and clean origin recap that populates the beginning of each issue gives you an idea of how "anything goes" this series was: 
Mercenary Marc Spector died in Egypt, under a statue of the ancient deity Khonshu. He returned to life in the shadow of the moon god, and wore his aspect to fight crime for his own redemption. He went completely insane, and disappeared. This is what happened next.
If you value reading truly great comics, pick up Moon Knight: From the Dead today (available in comic shops this Wednesday, in book stores 10/14), and just totally ignore the fact that Marvel decided to continue the series with a new writer and artist. The six issues presented here are all you need to gain a new love for a character that pretty much no one gave a second thought to previously. Once you fall in love with the work being done here, feel free to check out Ellis' new revamp of Supreme in Supreme: Blue Rose and his upcoming collaboration with Shalvey at Image: Injection.
Looking for something interesting to pick up that isn't quite brand new? Love finding a surprising treat on the trade paperback shelf at your local comic book shop? Here's our recommendation for this week's graphic novel selection: - See more at: http://www.geekrex.com/2014/07/the-geekrex-comic-buyers-guide-72314.html#sthash.3Asbd9oL.dpuf
Looking for something interesting to pick up that isn't quite brand new? Love finding a surprising treat on the trade paperback shelf at your local comic book shop? Here's our recommendation for this week's graphic novel selection: - See more at: http://www.geekrex.com/2014/07/the-geekrex-comic-buyers-guide-72314.html#sthash.3Asbd9oL.dpu
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The GeekRex Podcast Episode 67 - The Caretaker

We dig in deep into Gareth Roberts' third go-round in the Moffat era of Doctor Who: "The Caretaker", and discuss if these type of episodes have a place in the series, some of the intentional/unintentional undertones prevalent, and the question of our feelings on this darker incarnation of character.

All that and our abbreviated Pop Culture Picks of the Week

Music used in the episode:
Daft Punk - "Robot Rock"
Darren Korb - "Forecast" (Transistor OST)

You can listen to the latest episode of the GeekRex podcast on the player below, on iTunes, or on our Podomatic Page. And for you iTunes users, please rate and review us, it's a huge help!

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Monday, September 29, 2014

"You come at the king, you best not miss": What is The Successor to THE WIRE?


I don't think I'm saying anything particularly controversial when I call The Wire television's greatest drama. Yes, other shows have their partisans - The Sopranos, for its influence and sophistication; Deadwood, for its vulgopoetic mythmaking; Breaking Bad, for its relentless intensity - but The Wire typically appears to be frontrunner. But where The Sopranos' psychological exploration of bad, powerful men has been overexplored in the years since it aired (including by Breaking Bad, which is part Sopranos part The Shield) and Deadwood's strengths are so thoroughly tied to David Milch and the way he uses language and character, The Wire's strengths are both universal (narrative density, research, a strong point-of-view) and almost never even attempted by most popular shows. Indeed, there's only one show on right now that I think measures up to Simon's legacy.

The Wire ended in March of 2008, and became a sensation shortly after cancellation as people began to discover the show on DVD. In September of 2009, CBS began airing The Good Wife, a fairly boilerplate legal procedural about the wife of a politician forced to restart her career in law after her husband goes to jail in a prostitution scandal. While the show had strong characterization and a surprising eye for detail through its first season, it was largely undistinguished. It wasn't until the show's second season introduced a running political plot that The Good Wife really took off; as the series' sixth season gets underway, I feel comfortable calling it The Wire's most obvious (and most gifted) protege.

Now, The Good Wife lacks The Wire's social and narrative sophistication. Where The Wire used the structure of Greek tragedy to give its procedural aspects a terrible momentum, The Good Wife depends more heavily on case-of-the-week storytelling and relationship drama, leaning frequently in its first few seasons on a love triangle that finds our heroine coming to terms with two very corrupt men in her life. It's well handled, but still familiar. And it's also one of the whitest shows on television (though its 6th season is trying to rectify that), with only a single non-white character in its regular cast - Archie Panjabi's firm investigator, Kalinda Sharma. The Wire was about a fairly diverse cross-section of life as it examined how institutions fail those who need them most; The Good Wife is largely about society's most powerful and privileged, though when it does, it's a powerful counterpoint, examining why institutions fail.

But what it maintains is The Wire's procedural and character sophistication. The Good Wife comes in a comfortable package - a legal procedural, each week bringing in a new case - but that is largely to make itself palatable to notoriously conservative network television viewers. Look a little beneath the surface, and you'll find that a lot of those cases deal heavily with the way politics and money co-opt technology and innovation and even revolution, making them all part of a vast, entrenched power structure that invisibly dominates life in modern America.

The Good Wife gets away with it because it is very nearly as adept as The Wire in juggling multiple plots per episode. Typically speaking, each season has at least three running plots (a political one, a legal one, and Alicia's personal life) that will receive screen time in almost every episode. In addition, each episode features a new case, which itself is often broken down into either a legal aspect and an investigation, or into a legal aspect on both sides of the fence. Even a basic episode will typically have these five different stories running side-by-side, which makes for a busy show. And yet, like The Wire, it's a show that knows how and when to use silence and focus on the nitty-gritty of how things get done, rather than racing from shallow point to shallow point.

It is even, like The Wire, notoriously obsessed with accuracy and detail. While it often slips up when it comes to portraying things like conflict of interest, that is largely a matter of narrative necessity; few would watch a show that follows a hundred different lawyers at a dozen different firms. When it comes to dramatizing the law, however, The Good Wife is typically far more on than off. Even FindLaw, an online collection of legal resources meant to assist lawyers and civilians, maintains a blog discussing the show's attention to detail. It also gets good notes from tech sources for the way it treats modern technology, a much-abused subject on network television. Indeed, its unique interest in the intersection between technology and the law has made it one of the only shows to tackle the NSA wiretapping scandal without descending into ill-informed hysteria in an arc running through season 5, the show's strongest season and one of last year's finest overall.

When I say The Good Wife is the best successor to The Wire I've seen - and I'm not the first person to make this argument; Todd VanDerWerff made a similar one after the series' second season, and Alyssa Rosenberg beat me to the punch just three days ago - I don't mean in genre form. There are plenty of people who only watched The Wire because it was cool, because it was gritty, because Omar's comin', something that frustrated David Simon immensely. If you watch The Good Wife hoping that it will match the gritty tension of an urban police drama, you'll find my argument ridiculous.

But if you watched The Wire because of its rich thematic depth, because of its critical examination of power and politics, because of the way it used the comfortable tropes of a staid genre to immerse its viewers in a shockingly complex world... well, then, The Good Wife is the show for you. It isn't The Wire, but then, nothing is The Wire. It is an uncommonly intelligent show that defies and alters your expectations about what the genre can and should do. 

There will always be those who dismiss a show about a middle-aged woman, who dismiss procedural dramas on network TV, who dismiss a show that deals overtly with feminist themes. But as The Good Wife heads into its sixth (and possibly penultimate) season, I think it's important to start paying attention. Procedurals are never going away - they're too tailor-made for TV - but that doesn't mean we have to be stuck with them the way they are now. The Kings have turned a legal procedural into the smartest show currently on network TV, and in doing so, have crafted an unlikely successor to the most cable-y of the great cable dramas.


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Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 41

Wonder Woman #34
by Cliff Chiang

Let's get this one out of the way, you all knew this would be here, right? Stunning, this is definitely one of Chiang's best WW covers. Too bad it's one of his last!

Death of Wolverine #3
by Steve McNiven

A really clever concept that combines two parts of Wolverine's history into a really striking and clean cover.

 Hinterkind #12
by Marguerite Sauvage

Vertigo is having "Defy Covers" month, which means that the stories begin on the cover, an interesting idea that is reminiscent of classic silver age covers that suck you in with a story.
Grayson #3
by Mikel Janin

This is kind of a new classic, right? Some really great concepts here with excellent design and nice character work.

 Black Widow #11
by Phil Noto

One of Noto's best. A clever idea, beautiful shading, and a nice bit of menace in the background.

 Black Widow #11
by Annie Wu

I couldn't help but include this variant, done crazy authentically in the style of classic romance comics!

Dream Thief: Escape #4
by Greg Smallwood

Absolutely gorgeous colors here, with a great indie minimalist design. Love that the ground and sky have an alien feel despite the earthly setting.

Masterplasty One-Shot
by James Harvey

Love this sort of indie design, doesn't quite look like anything on the shelf.




Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1
by Marco Rudy

Been waiting on this one to come out for a while now–such a crazy concept that's executed so well!
Witchblade #179
by Laura Braga

And now for the two covers that start what will hopefully be an October full of great horror-themed covers! This one nails the 70's horror movie poster vibe.

 Edge of Spider-Verse #4
by Garry Brown
What a fun horror cover, with great typography and classic design. Featuring: Spiders!

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!  
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Comics Spotlight Review: Battling Boy - The Rise of Aurora West


2013's Battling Boy, by esteemed alt-comics pioneer Paul Pope, was the singularly best stand-alone graphic novel I read last year. It was a perfect mixture of Captain Marvel (the Shazam variety), Thor, Kirby-style big ideas, and Kamandi (of which the project originated as). The genre of Young Adult Graphic Novels have seen an immense surge of creative growth in the past two years with the explosion of this category's popularity. As such, creators have begun to stretch their legs in this area and expand the conceptual boundaries of what is generally considered acceptable for titles of this nature.

Paul Pope is one of these creators, never one to play it safe, even his take on Batman is an objectivist, anti-authoritarian nightmare far beyond the boundaries of what DC Comics would likely ever publish today. His other works, like his cyberpunk opuses 100% and Heavy Liquid, are equally gutsy turns that represent the kind of dynamic output that traditional superhero comics publishers used to produce with regularity. To have a creator of this nature turn to the Young Adult and Teen audience and create a graphic novel as inspired as Battling Boy, it's quite the watershed moment, as new innovators have begun to spring into this market with regularity.

With the release of The Rise of Aurora West, we see an expansion of this universe in a method akin to the work Mike Mignola has enacted on his own Hellboy mythos. The Rise of Aurora West is co-plotted by Pope and JT Petty with art by David Rubin. With this new story, Pope and Petty shift their focus from the God-like fantasy of Battling Boy into the pulpier realm of The West Family acting as a prequel to the original graphic novel. 

What makes Aurora West defy the age-old "prequel problem" that so often cripples projects of this nature is that there were a number of intentional blank spots left in Battling Boy itself. We were introduced to Aurora after the death of her father, Haggard West, the hero of Arcopolis that preceded Battling Boy's arrival, but much was left vague. Readers were only given limited background on Sadisto and how long his gang has held the city in a grip of terror, and if there might be other rival organizations jockeying for power. Additionally, background material on Aurora herself was fairly scarce, as she was an important but still secondary player in the machinations of Battling Boy. The Rise of Aurora West answers many of these questions by way of a crackling adventure tale.

When Aurora was a small girl, her mother was murdered by the same creatures that caused a city-wide panic of child kidnappings. These creatures conceivably did this in an attempt to gain revenge on Haggard, who had begun to put a stop to their plans as a part of his ongoing heroic duty to act on Arcopolis' behalf as its "Science Hero". Since then, Haggard has begun to train Aurora at his side as he enacts his vendetta of ending the scourge of monsters that have poured into the city. On one particularly harrowing patrol, Aurora notices a symbol that she recognizes from her childhood; one that specifically reminds her of (what she thought) was an imaginary friend, and the ramifications that this being's presence may have had on her life and the ongoing plague of monsters that drives her father's obsession.

The way in which Pope and Petty unravel the story is quite novel, as it uses a flashback structure, but only in a sparing way. The details of Aurora's childhood are continuously fed to readers as she furthers her investigation into the possible suspect in her mother's murder, and with every advancement, the more we begin to learn about her background. It's that wonderful "show, don't tell" style of storytelling that really hammers home just what a master of the comics form Pope is. Beyond that, Aurora becomes a character with significant agency. Superhero Comics have often struggled with being able to define its female protagonists (such as there are any) in a satisfactory way. Luckily no such problem exists here, as Aurora is a fully self-realized character that is actively easily to empathize with, and who determination makes for a hero that is on the rise despite the tragedy that has marked her life both in the past and in the "future".

The Rise of Aurora West also gives Haggard West significant definition as well. While in the preceding story, Haggard wasn't much more than an archetype of a yesteryear style hero, Pope and Petty give him a fairly stirring emotional arc of his own. Haggard is a man torn between the role of being a hero and being a father at the same time. He recognizes that his daughter is well suited to a sidekick role, but he also wants to protect her, particularly in a time when children have become targets and the subject of severe curfew laws. There's a fantastic sequence in the latter half of the book, when Haggard is faced with a father on the verge of committing suicide after his child had disappeared (and presumably was murdered), and after being faced with the facts as this bleary-eyed father saw them, our hero encourages him to jump for a resolution that is utterly character defining. This is heavy stuff to say the least.
This effusive praise only scratches the surface, and fails to mention the contribution of a rising talent like David Rubin. I was unfamiliar with his work going in, and to be the person who has to follow up Pope's illustrative skills is an unenviable task, but much to my delight, he does so with aplomb. Rubin makes much of Acropolis his own, designing new monsters like Croward and Medula, while also playing with the tone of the world as well. In a sequence that flashes back a young Haggard and his wife's tomb exploring days, Rubin channels a very 1930's serial approach that falls not far from the realm of Doc Savage, along with the obvious Flash Gordon and Rocketeer influences that are clearly at play in Haggard's design and characterization. Rubin is even able to find unique ways to differentiate Sadisto's gang of hood wearing thugs via strong characterization that comes through in his masterful designs. While some may find the black and white approach that is employed here might require a bit of a learning curve, particularly for such an action based graphic novel, it only takes a few pages before you're fully invested due to Rubin's line-work.

The beauty of The Rise of Aurora West is in how accessible the story is. One need not to have read Battling Boy to maintain an easy understanding of the story arc of this father- daughter pair in a city under siege. Though, for those who have, the inherent triumph and tragedy of Aurora West is enriched by a foreknowledge of what is to come, along with a realization: The world of Battling Boy isn't really just about its title character, it's also series about the rise, fall, and rise again of Arcopolis' West Family Legacy and Aurora's ascendancy to the "Science Hero" role occupied by her father. While I'm dreading the upcoming Fall of the House of West for the pain to come, I know that her redemption is going to prove awfully satisfying when it finally arrives. Pope, Petty and Rubin utterly have me in their grasp. All I can say is "don't let go". 

Battling Boy: The Rise of Aurora West is available in bookstores on September 30th, and can be ordered on Amazon.

For further info about this graphic novel, feel free to read our interview with artist David Rubin at The Beat.
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Review: Doctor Who, "The Caretaker"


For his first few years as a Doctor Who writer, Gareth Roberts largely focused on historical adventures featuring popular writers, and his earliest episodes ("The Shakespeare Code" and "The Unicorn and the Wasp") never quite cohered in a meaningful way. But with season 5's excellent "The Lodger," however, Roberts seems to have found a winning formula by essentially turning the ever-malleable show into a straight-up sitcom. He repeated the trick in the almost-as-good "Closing Time," and he's back a third time with "The Caretaker." And while it doesn't quite manage the quick wit that defined "The Lodger," he still manages a clever, character-driven story that treats its characters smartly.

Something is amiss at Coal Hill School (... again), where Clara and Danny Pink work as teachers, so the Doctor decides to go undercover as the school's janitor and investigate. In between bouts with a murderous robot trapped on Earth, the Doctor deals with an inquisitive student who wants to know what's in his police box, and, most frighteningly of all, Clara's love life.

Capaldi's Doctor, like Smith's, is... not very good at passing for human. Tennant was able to hold down a job as a teacher in "School Reunion," but Capaldi can barely go two minutes without giving the game away. But where Smith's Doctor was undone by his whimsy - fitting, given the frequent fairy-tale nature of Smith's run - Capaldi's darker Doctor is revealed by constantly underestimating the people around him. He doesn't dislike them, I think, or he couldn't have taken Courtney out to see the stars at the end of the episode, but he does see himself as innately above them, and he has little interest in hiding that fact.

Which is to say, there might just be something to Danny Pink's assessment of the Doctor, this Doctor, as being particularly aristocratic. He knows more than the people around him, he's better educated and has more resources at his disposal, but when push comes to shove, he needs people - Clara, Journey Blue, Sabra, and Psi - to get their hands dirty for him... and perhaps even die for him. The Doctor may hate soldiers, but as we've seen time and time again, he has a habit of turning his Companions into impromptu soldiers in his name, like it or not, and it takes someone who isn't terribly impressed with his power to point that out.

Which is to say, Samuel Anderson's Danny Pink finally gets a real showcase in "The Caretaker," and he does some very solid work. Danny Pink is a far more grounded character than either the Doctor or Clara, and Anderson's semi-mumbling line-readings turn him into a stabilizing presence on the TARDIS. But that's not all he does, thankfully, as Danny gets to show a little steel too when he finally comes face-to-face with the Doctor's true nature - and calls him confidently on his bullshit. Anderson comes alive there, a sleepy man roused when he sees something about the Doctor that he recognizes, something few others see.

"The Caretaker" mostly avoids the easy pitfalls in an episode like this, particularly in the way that Clara is never asked to 'choose' between Danny and the Doctor. That said, there were some uncomfortable moments, and a few things that just didn't quite work. I get that the Doctor is being prejudiced against soldiers by continually insisting that Danny is only qualified to teach physical education, but having an old white dude continually insist that a black guy couldn't possibly be smart enough to do basic math was still cringe-worthy at best. And I thought the pacing was a bit off, too. I get (and like) that the episode wasn't about the monster, too much of the episode's climax involved, well, an incredibly anti-climactic conclusion. Despite barely doing anything and having no real connection to the episode's emotional core, the episode still tried to force a rote showdown with the monster as the climax, and it just didn't work.

While "The Caretaker" doesn't quite match "The Lodger" for me, it does cement Roberts as one of my favorite writers of the Moffat era. His stories tend to be pleasantly low-key, which is a welcome change of pace for a show that can and often does get bombastic on a universal scale; despite ostensibly being a world-destroying threat, the Doctor barely pays any attention to the Skovox Blitzer here, focusing much of his energy arguing with Danny Pink and judging Clara for her relationship with him. And for a season that is heavily focused on defining who both Clara and the Doctor are, having a character-driven writer like Roberts makes a lot of sense. It lacks the creepy world-building of "Listen" or the high-concept sci-fi drama of "Into the Dalek" or "Time Heist," but that's one of my favorite things about Doctor Who. It can go anywhere in time and space, but it never forgets that sometime, the most interesting place in the universe is with your friends.

Notes & Quotes

Michele Gomez's Missy is back tonight in another mysterious stinger that posits her as a god looking on over various afterlives. There's not a ton to say here, since the show is deliberately playing coy with the character, except that the arc this year is staying pleasantly out of the way in the build-up to the season finale two-parter. The 6th season pushed its overarching plot way too hard, and its lackluster, confused finale hurts the rest of the season for me. The 7th season was just a mess, half pointless genre exercises and half confused, dull overarching plot. Thus far, this 8th season reminds me of nothing so much as Moffat's best, season 5. Even if the eventual reveal of Missy's true nature underwhelms, this is shaping up to be a solid season for me.


"Is this part of the surprise play?"

"There is no surprise play."
"Oh, it's just a rollercoaster with you tonight."
- The Doctor and Clara, illustrating why I think Danny Pink will be an invaluable addition; he cuts through the loopy half-logic that can sometimes distract the other two.

"No, it says 'Go Away Humans.'"
"So it does. Never lose your temper in the middle of a door sign."
- Courtney and the Doctor, whose new incarnation's relationship with humanity is well defined in a single sign.


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Review: The Boxtrolls


Horror fans like myself are often heard to complain about the state of horror cinema: it’s all sequels, they’re all the same, etc. etc. But I think there’s a sub-genre that’s nearly always overlooked, that of kid’s horror movies, or maybe more accurately, kid’s Halloween movies. 2012’s Paranorman really showed what can be done with that, and was a hilarious, gorgeous, and surprisingly touching and memorable movie. This weekend saw the release of The Boxtrolls, directed by Graham Annable (animation dept. on Paranorman) and Anthony Stacchi–does it capture the spirit and imagination of Halloween in the same way?

The Boxtrolls centers on Eggs, a boy who has been raised by Boxtrolls, harmless creatures who spend their days tinkering and inventing with the junk of the upper world. Of course, they are seen as a dangerous menace by the cheese and hat-loving lords above, and there is an extermination team led by Archibald Snatcher to rid the city of the goofy monsters. The daughter of a wealthy lord finds herself in the middle of this conflict and, along with Eggs, seeks to free the Boxtrolls and see Snatcher brought to justice.
 


 It almost goes without saying that the movie is totally gorgeous for fans of stop-motion animation. As you get a chance to see in the charming mid-credits scene, the scale of the animation is quite large, and that really makes the details of the character models and the textures really pop. There are some really nice character designs that are fluid and funny and provide lots of personality. There’s maybe only one chaotic scene when they go a bit overboard with the smoke effects and it’s difficult to tell what’s happening, but overall the movie is visually a joy to behold.

The acting is a bit hit or miss, but mostly hit. Ben Kingsley in particular shines as the vile Archibald Snatcher, whom he has given a uniquely drawn out snarl that makes him especially menacing and entertaining. Other traditional actors are given great roles as henchman (Nick Frost, Tracy Morgan, Richard Ayoade) and snooty lords (Jared Harris), and it’s always wonderful to hear the talents of seasoned voice actors like Steve Blum, Dee Bradley Baker, and James Urbaniak. Only one falls a bit flat, which unfortunately is the main character Eggs, played by Game of Thrones’ Isaac Hemptead Wright. He’s not bad, per se, but doesn’t have the same cartoonish charm as the others.



Maybe most important, though, is the story. While the setup is interesting and has a nice payoff, the flow is not terribly consistent or engaging at times. The first half of the movie is very slow as it has to use a lot of expository bits to explain the world, and a grown up Eggs doesn’t show up for quite a while, which makes it a little hard to pinpoint him as the protagonist. Although the action sequences are raucous and fun, the move from scene to scene seems somewhat unmotivated for the first half as the movie meanders around the story. The end brings things together in a very satisfying way that is reminiscent of Paranorman’s best qualities, in particular its questioning morality in which (almost) no one is perfectly good or evil, which is refreshing especially in a movie meant primarily for children. This idea is played up to great comedic effect by the henchman Mr. Pickles (Ayoade), who keeps getting less and less sure that he’s one of the good guys.

Although its got some narrative flow issues, The Boxtrolls is, on the whole, a very enjoyable flick. In an age when even most mainstream non-children’s movies can’t seem to create a moral grey area, it’s engaging to see a movie where the monsters and the heroes are subverted and played with in such an interesting way. It’s a great effort from its somewhat new directors, and I’ll be watching to see what their next film is. If you’re looking for a fun movie for both yourself and the kids that will get your Halloween season started off right, check it out!
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Review: The Zero Theorem




Terry Gilliam is certainly one of the more enigmatic directors of our time. He’s given us some of my favorite movies of all time in Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, and is always a beacon of hope (and sometimes tragedy) for independent filmmakers with a unique voice. While his recent endeavors didn’t quite capture my heart like some of his classics, Gilliam’s efforts never cease to be stunningly original–although not always from one another. Was this the case with his newest film, The Zero Theorem, which many have suggested reclaims the magic and thematic philosophy of Brazil?


The Zero Theorem follows Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a number cruncher for a giant corporation that aims to ‘Make sense of what’s good’ in a loud, shiny future. He is a deeply disturbed individual who always refers to himself in the plural (we, us) and who wants to work from home, so he won’t miss ‘the call’–a mythic phone call in which the person on the other end will tell him what his life’s purpose is. The Management at Mancorp, played with great ambiguity by Matt Damon, grants Qohen this wish, so long as he works on the Zero Theorem, a mathematical proof that, if solved, proves that the entire universe means nothing and will eventually collapse on itself. Along the way, he is aided (or distracted, depending on your perspective) by a beautiful call girl and Management’s prodigiously brilliant teenage son, both whom start to bring Qohen out of his zombie-like state and offer different reasons for his existence.

It’s a strange, complex film, to be sure, and Gilliam’s world-building is all over it. While the world is very technologically advanced, it has it’s fair share of visually arresting anachronisms: data is stored in glowing test tubes that are grabbed by mysterious hands upon completion, Qohen lives in a burnt out cathedral, and, of course, there are old-fashioned ducts that connect disparate parts of Mancorp’s supercomputer. While we only see the outside world a few times–unfortunately a sign more of budgetary constraints than of narrative ones–it is futuristic but obnoxiously familiar in its chaotic noisiness and aggressive advertising.



The Zero Theorem is full of big ideas, but explores them with almost too much subtlety. There’s the sense that Qohen is a religious man whose faith is being tested, and a rich irony that his purpose may be to prove that there is no purpose to anything, but beyond that he doesn’t have a whole lot of character. Of course, he is intentionally flat, but because he isn’t a whimsical dreamer like Brazil’s Sam Lowry and not the action star of Twelve Monkeys, the movie comes off as a little preachy in its philosophy. Not that it pushes one idea over another, but that there isn’t a whole lot to latch onto outside of those ideas. Narratively it plays somewhat dreamlike, which can make it at times seem unmotivated and a bit boring.



That said, the ideas presented here are quite interesting and worth repeated viewings. The most interesting themes are often introduced by the supporting cast, particularly in Bainsley, the call girl he meets at a work party. She develops an interesting relationship with Qohen, especially as they delve into an over-the-internet virtual reality, where Qohen suddenly is able to open up because ‘nothing matters’ there. Here he can eat what he wants, say what he wants, and have sex with a woman he is attracted to, and he almost manically begins to do so. Underplaying all of their conversations is the idea that she might be actually falling in love with him–or it might all be an act, a service used by Management to relax its most stressed employee. Nothing is certain here, just as Qohen’s Raison d'être is always up in the air, but more importantly: does a lack of purpose make life meaningless, or does it completely and utterly free us of all constraints?



A repeated musical theme used in The Zero Theorem is a jazzy cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, which plays each time Qohen enters Bainsley’s online reality. In many ways, this song sums up the ideas behind the movie: “I wish I was special,” “What the hell am I doing here?” and “I don’t belong here” all eloquently yet simply speak to the existential crisis faced by Qohen. I’m sure Gilliam’s latest will present a challenging viewing to many, as it is admittedly not his most entertaining film, but the themes here are as pertinent and cleverly molded into a story as his best. This falls neatly within the category of his last few films–somewhat lacking his fun personality in the characters, but bursting at the seams with scathing criticism and colossal concepts that are sure to provoke many a thought-provoking discussion.
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Friday, September 26, 2014

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 66 - Time Heist and The Changing Face of Comics

We open up this week's entry of the GeekRex Podcast with our standard Doctor Who talk as the whole team chats "Time Heist".
Then we delve into comics and discussing a few current issues including the Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover controversy and the changing demographics of comics fandom.
Music used in this episode:
Imogen Heap - "Daylight Robbery"
Groove Armada - "Edge Hill"
How to Destroy Angels - "Too Late, All Gone"
You can listen to the latest episode of the GeekRex podcast on the player below, on iTunes, or on our Podomatic page; and for you iTunes subscribers, please rate away!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - "Shadows"

Full disclosure, I hated the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

I found it poorly paced, remedially written and downright boring at its best. That initial season was overrun with a confused audience goal and a premise that was unable to stand on its own two feet. Additionally, its core cast was utterly uncompelling, particularly the supporting man turned lead Clark Gregg, whose bland persona is unsuited for starring duty.

Did the show improve as it went along? I'd say marginally. Certainly the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier injected some form of life into the season's back-quarter, but all of the interesting moments of that tie-in, like Ward switching sides to Hydra (the show's only genuinely shocking turn), were undercut by the series' on-going bargain bucket production values and a need to try and actively "sell" characters like Skye, Mike Peterson/Deathlok, and Melinda May on the audience. To say it vastly improved during this time is a gross exaggeration. This is a show that made Arrow look like The Wire by comparison.

With that said, I rather enjoyed this second season premiere. Sure, the series problems are still there in spades: it still looks terrible in spots, particularly anytime CGI is used. Ming Na as the above mentioned Melinda May is also a major weak link, and whenever Clark Gregg holds court with the camera, I find myself slipping into a coma. But, there are a few moments of promise that I think are worth pointing out:

An arc is already in place: The episode begins with a solid opening featuring Agent Peggy Carter and The Howling Commandos taking out a Hydra base commanded by Daniel Whitehall aka The Kraken. This scene does two things, it gets the audience re-familiarized with our favorite World War II era agent before her mid-season mini-series premiere and it also firmly nails down our central antagonist for this season. One of the biggest issues with last season was the lack of a bad guy to root against. Sure, Marvel Studios as a whole has an issue with villains (Loki-aside), but for much of last year, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was in terrible shape on this front. Finally, with Dr. Whitehall, we see a series that actively has direction from the outset, and if he reappears in Agent Carter, all the better!

New cast additions: While last year's additions like Patton Oswalt and Bill Paxton were momentary points of interest, this season's new members of the team are already head and shoulders above the core cast, particularly in terms of acting ability. Spoiler goggles on here if you haven't seen the premiere, but Lucy Lawless doesn't make it out alive. This is a shame as I was hoping she would become the team's veteran hard ass. Lawless' select scenes displayed a sense gravitas that Ming Na has utterly failed to muster. Additionally, Nick Blood's Lance Hunter already displays more personality than Brett Dalton and BJ Britt combined, and while we didn't get a great look at Henry Simmons' Mac McKenzie, I'm at least very happy that the core cast continues to get more diverse. With Adrianne Palicki's Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird debuting soon as well, with a possible connection to Lance, it's not hard to predict that the new cast will likely continue to eclipse the original team.

Fitz's state of mind: When we left the finale last year, Fitz was laid up from the underwater trauma that he and Simmons had undergone at John Garrett's hands. Now in our current status quo, Fitz is struggling to regain his ability to act as one half of the team's science gurus, unable to think of words and struggling with experiments, though he has Simmons at his side working him through everything and cheering him on; or so we thought. It turns out, she's been gone since the finale, having left S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fitz continues to imagine her presence as a way to cope. I was fooled, despite having seen this trick a few times and in places where it falls totally flat (Dexter), but Fitz's audience revelation was handled well and I appreciated that this wasn't something that was stretched out over the course of a half-season. For the first time, I think I'm able to applaud the restraint of the show's writers.

Skye is suddenly less revolting: I'm no fan of Chloe Bennett as a performer, and her character arc last season was one of its worst elements, but one episode into the new season and I'm at least starting to sorta buy her as a jocular S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Her on-going character dynamics with Ward are fairly predictable (and if a redemption arc for Ward is coming, that might be a "rage quit" moment for me), but this is really a gold star for the things they didn't do with her (such as make her, and her wonderful hacking abilities, the center of the entire show), and the upcoming arc with her father, played by Kyle MacLachlan. As of right now, I don't at least want to change the channel when she's on screen, so that's a big improvement already, though I reserve the right to change my mind at any point. With as terrible as she was last season, I think I've earned those permissions.

Crusher Creel: Yes! This is how you pull together an intimidating threat. Toss aside the "villain of the week" philosophy and have an enemy who actually inspires a little terror. Brian Patrick Wade's Crusher Creel/The Absorbing Man didn't say a lot, but his actions and abilities did all the talking for him. The fact that his actions killed one of the Agents, the biggest star on the roster no less, lends serious credibility to this particular henchman. I hope he sticks around for a while and doesn't immediately get dispatched in the next episode, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs this kind of threat in the background on a regular basis.

Was it stellar television? Absolutely not, like I said above, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still struggles with some of its core deficiencies from last year. Yet, its very possible that Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen learned a good deal from the copious amounts of criticism they received last year and have pivoted into making this series a bit more essential to the Marvel canon and watchable television in its own right. Or perhaps "Shadows" is just a fluke and I'm just reeling from how awful Gotham was by comparison. Either way, for the first time, I'm actually somewhat interested in seeing what happens next. That's a victory in of itself, I guess. 




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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The GeekRex Comic Buyer's Guide (9/24/14)


We know walking into your local comic shop or browsing the new titles on Comixology can be harrowing, particularly with the rising prices of comics. The GeekRex team feels your pain, so that's why each week two members of our team will collaborate and highlight the "must-buys" of every Wednesday, and we'll make sure we keep the tab under 20 bucks. Props to MultiversityComics for coming up with the great idea–we hope you like our spin on it!

This Week's Team: Cal and Harper






Aliens: Fire and Stone #1 - $3.50 - If you read our review of this issue last week, you know we loved it. It's a really interesting piece of the Prometheus/Alien timeline that hasn't yet been explored, and it's intensely scary. If you're looking for a comic set in the Alien universe but more on the horror side of things than the Prometheus comic that came out a couple weeks back, this first issue is a can't-miss!








Low #3 - $3.50 - Rick Remender appears to be in love with Image these days. Low joins his fantastic Deadly Class and his divisive Black Science as his third currently running Image title, this time working with Greg Tocchini. The first two issues were pretty scattered, but also absolutely gorgeous (thanks Greg!) and pleasantly ambitious. If Remender can make his twists feel a bit more organic, Low could end up being a blast, but even if he doesn't, it's worth trying for Tocchini's weird worlds.













Roche Limit #1 - $3.50 - Even just a few years ago, futuristic classic science fiction barely even existed in mainstream comics; Image has, however, brought it back into the mainstream. Roche Limit, a new Image title from Michael Moreci and Vic Malhotra, looks to keep pushing that forward, though (as with Low above) he's combining it with a more popular genre, crime, to help make it a bit more palatable. Still, crime and sci-fi tend to blend well together, and the basic concept allows for a lot of interesting world-building. And, let's be honest, these days almost any new Image debut is worth at least checking out.









Letter 44 #10 - $3.99 - The story of the new president dealing with unknown alien weaponry floating in outer space while a military/scientific crew try to discover it's purpose is one I can't put down. After last month's heartbreaking last page, this will be at the top of my stack to see where this world is going next!












Saga #23 - $2.99 - Saga continues to be the best $2.99 I spend every month. It's a different story than when it started, now more focused on the family drama than intergalactic outlaws, but Vaughan's tight, clever scripting and great dialogue plus Staples' consistently smooth and expressive art continue to make this one of the most engaging stories in comics today.








Total Price: $17.48

 

Pick of the Week
Astro City: Victory, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross


Kurt Busiek's long-running Astro City is one of my favorite comics - I still hold one of its earliest issues, "The Nearness of You," up as an example of some of the finest work the genre is capable of producing. After the dissolution of Wildstorm, I was worried that Busiek's influential series would be gone forever, but it was brought back last year as a Vertigo series, and it has run there ever since. Astro City: Victory is an interesting diversion from the typical Astro City formula - which deals heavily with man-on-the-street viewpoints on epic superhero struggles - delving for the first time into the life of Astro City's premiere heroine, Winged Victory. The story could not be more timely, with sexual predators targeting women like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson for daring to, uh, exist at all really, as it follows a series of attacks on the reputation of the Wonder Woman-esque heroine in an attempt to permanently shut down her mission to spread feminism across the globe. As ever, the adventure story is well constructed, and Busiek does a great job at getting to the core emotions behind the familiar superhero tropes we all know and presumably love. It doesn't quite hit the highs of many past collections, but I'm glad to see Busiek still fleshing out comics' most well-realized setting.

Jump in with Astro City: Victory today, or check out some of his older collections, like hardboiled epic The Tarnished Angel or Batman-esque mystery Confessions

Looking for something interesting to pick up that isn't quite brand new? Love finding a surprising treat on the trade paperback shelf at your local comic book shop? Here's our recommendation for this week's graphic novel selection: - See more at: http://www.geekrex.com/2014/07/the-geekrex-comic-buyers-guide-72314.html#sthash.3Asbd9oL.dpuf
Looking for something interesting to pick up that isn't quite brand new? Love finding a surprising treat on the trade paperback shelf at your local comic book shop? Here's our recommendation for this week's graphic novel selection: - See more at: http://www.geekrex.com/2014/07/the-geekrex-comic-buyers-guide-72314.html#sthash.3Asbd9oL.dpu
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10 Amazing Easter Eggs You Missed During 'Gotham'


So did everyone catch the premiere of Gotham on FOX last night?  If not, what's wrong with you?  Now, I know a lot of other superhero shows are coming on in the next month or so, but Gotham's pilot just may have been the greatest hour of television in comic book history!  Seriously!  Everything was so amazing and so amazingly well done.  Cheers to Bruno Heller and everyone involved in telling stories which have NEVER been told in the pages of comics!  I mean...I've only read a few Batman books in my day, but I'm pretty sure none of these origin stories have ever been told.  Weird that DC never thought to do that before.

Anyway, you may not have known this, but last night's premiere of Gotham has some amazingly subtle and well hidden Easter Eggs about a larger universe that exists in the world of this show.  Now I know some of you may think this is just DC trying to catch up with Marvel, but that's just stupid.  These Easter Eggs were incredibly well done, and, looking around the internet, I think I'm the only one who spotted them.  Below you'll find what I thought were the 10 best of these hidden gems in Gotham.  There were LOTS more, but you'll just have to find them yourself =].

1. Gotham City


Now, you may not have picked up on this, but Gotham gets its title from Gotham City.  That is the setting for this show, but it is only mentioned in an off-handed fashion by some of the characters (go back and re-watch it, though...it's there!).  In the DC Comics, Gotham City is a pretty bad place, but is mostly known for being where BATMAN hangs out! You guys think we might get to see him on this show?  Keep scrolling, because we may already have!


2. James Gordon


Ben McKenzie, pretty much my favorite actor ever after last night, is playing our main character of this series: James Gordon.  You probably know this, but did you know Gordon is a huge character in the comics?  Yep, the man becomes commissioner of the Gotham Police and works with Batman quite a bit!  So cool that that Easter Egg was nestled in this episode and that this origin story is finally being told.  Hopefully we get a good origin for his mustache and glasses.


3. Bruce Wayne


That little boy in that episode last night?  Bet you thought he was just a little kid and you wouldn't see him again, right? WRONG!  This may have been the best Easter Egg of the night.  Now, I don't want to ruin things for you, but SPOILER ALERT: Bruce Wayne becomes Batman.  Cool, right?!  I know what you're thinking: but he was just a little boy in last night's episode?  Well we are getting the origins for this character...something DC may have told only once (MAYBE twice).  But don't worry...I'm sure Batman is coming.


4. Bruce Wayne's Parents


Now, I thought it was pretty neat-o that we were getting Bruce Wayne's origins for the very first time, but Gotham had an amazing call back to Detective Comics #27 by showing Bruce Wayne's parents: Thomas and Martha Wayne!  These characters are rarely mentioned in the comics these days, so you really had to be a big comic book nerd to spot what Gotham was referencing here.  Hopefully this isn't the last time this show will mention these characters as we really don't know anything about them.


5. Alfred


That mean British guy in last night's episode?  That was Alfred Pennyworth, butler to the Wayne family.  I know from Twitter reaction that a lot of comic book fans were stoked to see this character show up as he hasn't been mentioned in the comics since the New 52 (aka the worst thing DC ever did ever) began.  He doesn't really do much...I'm not even sure he knows Bruce Wayne is going to become Batman, but maybe Gotham is bringing a lot of changes to him, which is super cool.


6. Gotham City Police Department


We had several scenes take place in a pretty big place where Bullock and Gordon work.  Did you notice what it was?  Don't worry, I was watching too!  It was the Gotham City Police Department!  Now they play a pretty big role in the comics, mostly because they end up having the Bat Signal on their roof!  I really hope we see just, like, a regular spotlight on their roof next week, I just think that would be a mind-blowing way to reference yet another origin story for this series.


7. The Riddler


Now this one was a serious blink and you'll miss it, but that nerdy guy with the bullet in the evidence bag?  He was actually one of Batman's most known foes: THE RIDDLER!  You may want to go back and watch it, but your clue was Bullock telling the guy (Edward Nygma) NOT to tell him any riddles.  Like he could do that!  Ha!  Such a great, quick cameo.

8. The Penguin


Okay, okay.  This one you probably spotted without my help.  I think they mentioned it maybe once in the entire episode that Oswald Cobblepot is like a penguin.  You know why that is?  Well, in the comics, he becomes Batman's villain...THE PENGUIN!  Crazy, right?  Such a cool nod!  I also really appreciated the further important nods to his comic book origins such as murdering homeless people for sandwiches.  Such random and savage brutality is a hallmark of this character.  


9. Catwoman


I'll admit it...this one took my quite a few re-watches to spot.  I was not sure AT ALL who this girl with goggles stealing milk was supposed to be at first.  I figured she must have been an original character for this series like Harvey Bullock, because there was no way she was someone from the comics.  How wrong I was!  Did you notice she gave her stolen milk to a cat?  I'm pretty sure this is supposed to mean she is Catwoman.  I'm not 100% on this just yet, but I'm pretty positive that was an Easter Egg.


10. Crime


Wow.  This Easter Egg may have shown up the most, but absolutely no one picked up on it!  Now that you know Gotham takes place in Gotham City, you should know that, in the comics, Gotham is run rampant with crime.  Raping, murdering, gambling...it doesn't really matter the crime; it happens in Gotham!  Such a nice nod to the comics that the Gotham of Gotham has crime just like the Gotham of the comics.


Well there you have it, folks!  My top 10 Easter Eggs from last nights episode of Gotham!  Hopefully you have the episode saved on your DVR, because you are going to have to go back and re-watch it several times just to catch half of these hidden gems I've discussed here.  Once you do, I'm sure you'll have an even greater appreciation for what could easily become the greatest television series to ever exist in the history of everything. 

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