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Friday, July 31, 2015

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 97: All Of Our SDCC 2015 Interviews

In celebration of another successful San Diego Comic Con, here is the complete audio set of all our interviews from the show.

It's a huge set of interviews that we had to break up into four parts! Luckily, Harper did such a nice job of it, you can easily find the bits you're most interested in, which is hopefully all of it.

In Part 1, we interviewed the stars of DC Television like Grant Gustin, Tom Cavanagh, David Mazouz and Melissa Benoist.

In Part 2, we talked to the other side of the fence, interviewing Marvel actors like Hayley Atwell, James D'Arcy, Clark Gregg as well as some select cast and crew from Hannibal including Bryan Fuller and Hugh Dancy.

In Part 3, we focus on animation, talking with creators like Dan Harmon, Seth Meyers, Bruce Timm and Andrea Romano

And finally in Part 4, we talk comics with the talented folks behind some of DC and Archie's hottest series like Tom King and Tim Seeley, Brenden Fletcher, Jimmy Palmiotti, Mark Waid, Mark Russell, and more!

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Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

While my familiarity with the television series is admittedly meager, the consistently Tom Cruise-led Mission: Impossible film entries have played like minor American efforts at aping the formula that made James Bond a success. Generally, they lack the iconic imagery of 007's finest efforts, while never really being able to hit the same critical appeal of the Bourne series (the Matt Damon installments anyway). It's a set of films where I have a hard time remembering anything that happened in the previous installment, which is insane given the pedigree of filmmaker that's been behind the camera throughout. Brian De PalmaJohn WooJ.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird have all taken a turn at the adventures of Ethan Hunt and have produced, by most accounts, competent spy thrillers, with the Bird entry being the best of the lot. But I never find myself itching to want to pull out a Mission: Impossible film as pleasure viewing, something just never clicks with me.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation doesn't do a lot to change that mindset, but it's an impressively fun ride while you're watching it.

Instead of taking the auteur approach this time around, Cruise and the team behind the series enlisted screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, with whom Cruise collaborated with on the painfully bland Jack Reacher, for behind the camera duties. The end result leaves a lot of the stylistic flourishes at the door and trades them in for cleanly shot and exciting action set-pieces and straight-forward, if overly wordy, scheming/exposition sequences.
The plot on hand is what you expect for this kind of affair, the government, thanks to a witchhunt led by CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is at odds with the IMF due to what they see as a reckless set of actions in order to get results. Despite the best efforts of the ever resourceful William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), the department is decommissioned and Hunt is driven underground thanks to a newly minted CIA Most Wanted status. At the same time, Hunt is attempting to prove the existence of The Syndicate, an international criminal consortium of rogue agents and assassins led by the mysterious Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), whose aims are pitched somewhere around that of the real world ISIS, but without the religious fervor.

In order to save the day, Hunt secretly recruits his team from Ghost Protocol, including computer expert Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), the aforementioned Brandt, and Hunt's closest confidant Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). Sadly, Paula Patton's Jane Carter does not make the return trip, but she's effectively replaced by newcomer to the series, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a double-agent who functions as the film's co-lead.

There's always been a bit of a metafictional aspect to the series, with each entry having an eerie reflection of Cruise's own career status or personal life on display in some form. Rogue Nation is no different, with the driven underground Hunt somewhat functioning as a representation of the public perception of Cruise himself. Hunt's mission almost seems two-fold in that regard: take down the Syndicate on-screen and prove that Cruise "still has it" as an action star to audiences. Granted, those of us that saw last year's excellent Edge of Tomorrow already knew the latter part was true, but given how criminally underseen that film was, a repeat visit to this theme isn't unwarranted. Both missions are successes for the most part, with Cruise kicking ass and hanging off airplanes with the best of them. We often forget just how talented a performer he actually is, given his larger than life off-screen persona, but it's nice to get this reminder.

What Rogue Nation does best is pull together some really exciting action sequences. From a scene where Hunt has to hold his breath underwater for 3 minutes to a showstopping bit that takes place in the Vienna State Opera to a great motorcycle chase that you've probably seen in the onslaught of advertising for the film (think of Cruise in that awful red shiny button-up), McQuarrie knows just what audiences want with a film like this. He does a superb job roping Faust into the action as well, painting her as effective a physical threat as Hunt, but never coming so close as to pair them up romantically. Cruise and Ferguson don't really have the best chemistry anyway, so McQuarrie cleverly avoids that trap altogether, and in turn puts Ferguson in a position where this could be her major star-turn. In a year where there's been a lot of justified focus on representation of women in action franchises, it's telling that two of the better big budget offerings of the year (Mad Max: Fury Road and this one) present their female leads as fully-formed protagonists that share the spotlight with, but aren't dependent on, their male co-stars. It's a refreshing trend to see in practice finally.

Beyond the kicking, punching, and gunplay, the film's thrills evaporate a bit. Every other scene that acts as connective tissue between its better, pulse-pounding moments are just that, obligatory bits that explain away the plot but necessarily provide compelling enough personal stakes for anyone but the faithful to really care much. Again, given what this film is designed for, that's generally fine. To that end, I wouldn't have minded a somewhat more convincing reason for Hunt's obsessive search for Lane beyond the one that's given (it ends up being more "tell than show"). Lane is basically a "paper tiger", another in the long line of bad guys of this franchise that I will once again forget in about a weeks time. Additionally, if I said my eyes didn't glaze over a bit during scenes where various infiltration plans are explained and then re-explained, I'd be lying.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation works terrifically in what it's best at, a globe-trotting adventure that focuses on the hard-hitting (literally) aspects of spy play. When it strays from those elements, it becomes something much more ordinary and less interesting, luckily those instances are minimized as much as possible. It's a film that lacks the immaculate polish of something like Skyfall, but if ludicrously convincing face-masks and flute sniper rifles are what you're craving, you will not be disappointed, regardless of how fleeting its charms are.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Comic Spotlight Review: Dark Corridor #1

If you look up “Hardest Working Creator in Comics,” you’re likely to find a picture of Rich Tommaso. The guy has been steadily working for two decades, writing and drawing a variety of crime comics, including Clover Honey, celebrating its ten year anniversary, and running his own self-published imprint, Recoil Comics, where he has published numerous series of his own and has recently recruited creators like Sean Phillips and Eric Skillman. He’s also known for his coloring on the Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge archives put out by Fantagraphics, and has a history with providing English lettering for foreign translations–and yet to many the name might sound unfamiliar. That’s all about to change, as his new ongoing series, Dark Corridor, comes out from Image Comics on August 5th.

Issue #1 throws us right into the world of Red Circle, a town run by criminals and corrupt cops. Through several short intertwining vignettes, we get to see how various criminal parties interact and control things in Red Circle, but there’s something happening that they’re all not quite aware of: slowly but surely, the wrongdoers are being taken out by a gang of stylishly clad and mysterious female assassins.

At first glance, the most memorable thing about Dark Corridor is the art–Tommaso has an absolutely gorgeous style that is reminiscent of classic Daniel Clowes. It rides a fine line between indie cartooning and modern retro-ism, and it looks fantastic. Perhaps most visually striking is the color–it seems to pop out and really gives a lot of character to each scene.

Underneath that great art is a really fantastic story that is just getting started. My favorite thing about this first issue is the perspective and way the story is chopped up. Rather than give us a few pages with narration to introduce the world, we’re left to figure out the interrelationships and connections on our own, which lends itself to twisting our expectations–for one quick example, the story begins with a dog showing up at a man’s back door, covered in blood. At first, the man seems like a regular Joe who wants to find out what happened to this poor dog, but we soon learn that he’s not such a good guy after all. The fact that the story is told completely outside of the perspective of the red motorcycle riding vigilantes makes them all the more intriguing–and threatening–as we don’t quite know who we’ll be rooting for as the story grows. 
Dark Corridor #1 gives us a story that's unique to what's currently on the shelf, even within the sub genre of crime comics. It rides a fascinating line between having a slightly weird indie vibe in the look and feel and the brutally realistic aftermath of the violence wrought by the characters. This rich world and these characters are almost over-the-top intriguing, and I'm as interested in each of their individual stories as I am the overall plot, which gives a feminist twist to the classic crime tale. This is definitely a first issue to check out, and I know I'll be adding it to my subscription right away!

Dark Corridor #1 hits comic store shelves on Wednesday, August 5th, and is published by Image Comics.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Vacation

The Vacation series of films has long been a hit and miss affair, vacillating between brilliance (Christmas Vacation) and tedium (European Vacation). Its most recent entry, Vegas Vacation, was fine. It carried a few chuckle worthy moments, though the absence of long-time creative force, John Hughes, was keenly felt.

In the wake of We're The Millers surprise success just two years ago, the head-honchos at Warner Bros/New Line probably remembered that they also owned the rights to the Vacation franchise and thought a revival in that same mold would be a good idea. They even went so far as to cast the "easily confused for Jason Sudeikis" Ed Helms as new family patriarch Rusty Griswold, and the physical similarities between Jennifer Aniston and Christina Applegate these days are pretty apparent. The script even goes so far to paint its two leading ladies into very similar roles at the surface level. To say the studio is aiming for a repeat success using a proven formula seems obvious.

It's too bad this new west coast trip isn't very funny. At all.

Sure, there are a few cute gags sprinkled throughout, but I think I might have uttered a lone chuckle or two at the most for Rusty Griswold's revival of his family's 32 year old road-trip to the Wally World theme park. As a matter of fact, there are a number of call-backs to the original film, from the eyesore family vehicle, to the roadside flirtation between a family member and a fellow traveler, and an awkward hotel scene between the latter two objects of affection. The truth is, this is mostly a movie you've seen before and executed with greater verve and wit. Unless, of course, you find the idea of the Griswolds swimming around in fecal matter appealing. Or perhaps, you'd prefer scenes of Ms. Applegate projectile vomiting? And who can forget tried and true trucker rapist jokes?

What's appealing about the road-trip premise is that the situation constantly shifts from environment to environment, which indeed, keeps the tedium at a fairly short clip. I can say I was never bored, but I wasn't exactly entertained either. Which is a bit of a weird dichotomy, but with humor this strained, much of it just comes across as cringe-worthy or tired. Which in comedy is easily the worst place to be. Even the relatively reliable Chris Hemsworth falls a bit flat here, with an accent he can barely hold together and a bit of prosthetic upstaging. 

Let's not stand on ceremony here, this is a film that contains multiple Seal gags....multiple SEAL GAGS in 2015!

That is the kind of film you're signing up for with the new Vacation. Don't say I didn't warn you. Oh, and the guys behind it (John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein) are lined up to write the new Spider-Man reboot. Yikes. This is one time where I'm rooting for Marvel's corporate oversight.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 84

Mulan Revelations #2
by Micah Kaneshiro
 The color choice is really unique on this one, and I really dig that you have to examine it close up to find the form of the subject. Very ethereal and interesting!
Copperhead #9
by Scott Godlewski
The composition here is excellent, as well as the wonderful cartooning on the character's face. I love the way the cover moves from light to dark, giving a sense of action coming towards the viewer.
 T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents 50th Anniversary Special #1
by Andrew Pepoy
Readers will know I'm a sucker for classic retro covers, and this one is really wonderfully done in the style of the great Wally Wood. Love it!
 The Shrinking Man #1
by Mark Torres
The design on this one is really nice–it's got a modern touch, but definitely feels reminiscent of a classic science fiction novel.
 Grindhouse: Drive In, Bleed Out #7
by Francesco Francavilla
The color choice here is phenomenal, and the combination of sexploitation and retro sci-fi is great. And for lettering nerds–wow!
Superman #42
by Jorge Corona
This is just about as fun a way to portray Superman's varied history as any I've ever seen!
 Material #3
by Tom Muller
Mixed materials covers don't always work, but Muller's always do. This is so unique; part magazine, part photograph, all extremely intriguing.
 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #4
by Robert Hack
What a perfect homage! Is there anyone else that is ready to petition Hack to illustrate all horror movie posters from here on out?
 Star Wars #7
by Tony Moore
Man, I miss Tony Moore–what phenomenal cartooning, with fantastic detail and yet full of movement.

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Review: Felt

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A young person, having experienced great trauma, responds by creating a special suit, a costume that can shield her from reliving that violence - and allow her to fight back when she sees that evil in the world. I'm not talking about the newest blockbuster from Marvel or DC, of course - the feminine pronouns should have tipped you off there - but Felt, the new indie film from Toad Road director Jason Banker and artist Amy Everson. And while mainstream superhero movies are feeling increasingly samey (even to hardcore comics nuts like us), the fringes of indie films are borrowing their iconography and basic ideas in some fascinating ways.

In Felt, artist Amy Everson debuts as Amy, an artist who underwent an unspecified (but probably sexual) trauma in the semi-recent past, and who has retreated almost entirely into her art. Her friends find her new distance and dark sense of humor funny, at first, while guys find her cold and humorless. Her only retreat is a pair of suits she made that give her some control over her body. But then she meets Kenny (Kentucker Audley), a sensitive man with an interest in art and a willingness to take things slowly. Amy comes out of her shell, but is Kentucker all he's cracked up to be? And if he isn't, will the already-bent Amy be able to handle the heartbreak?

I want to say two things up front. First: I really liked this movie. Second: Even for me, Felt isn't wholly satisfying. I know a lot of people react almost viscerally against mumblecore aesthetics, which Felt has in spades, and while I'm not typically one of them, I still found some frustration with the sheer length it went to avoid conventional storytelling for much of its runtime. The often-abrupt edits and handheld camerawork, the meandering pace that finds the 'plot', as it is, failing to start until about 35 minutes in to an 80 minute movie - the hallmarks of the style are all there. And the ending is far too abrupt given the build-up, a powerful act that could have been played out in more interesting ways if Banker and Everson had as much patience with the bleakness as they did with the character work. They went for the sucker punch over a set piece, which is unfortunate, because I think the two of them could have said more with the conceit if they'd stuck with it. As-is, Felt is both short and, it sometimes feels, a bit draggy.

But Felt has an intimacy that borders on documentary, and co-writer/star Amy Everson, whose life and art inform much of the story, is responsible for an awful lot of that. Though this is her first professional acting role, she gives a nervy, jittery performance that alternated confidently between making me laugh and making me intensely uncomfortable. It's a portrait of a wounded soul struggling to find a way to make her outer life just a little bit less like the nightmares that consume her inner life, and when I look back at the film's slowest, most seemingly aimless moments, I remember them with fascination thanks to her work. I remember a bizarre line reading from Everson that imbued a casual line with off-kilter menace, or the gangly physicality she finds in her suits. It's subtle character work, both from Everson and from the film itself, and it doesn't just save the film; it transcends its problems.

Superheroes tend to be, quite nakedly, power fantasies. It's how they got their start, how they found popularity with kids, and how they exploded in our modern film culture. They can be thoughtful, artistic power fantasies, of course, and many are, but Felt feels unique in the way it ties gender dynamics and rape culture to those fantasies, the way it plays with the meaning of bodies. For all the issues I have with Felt, ultimately, its thoughtful script, haunting direction, and wounded central performance combine to make a memorable, engaging film.

It's meandering, sure. But it's disturbing and gorgeous, too, and it lingers somewhere deep in your gut long after its over. 

Felt made the film festival rounds earlier this year, and is currently available for download on iTunes or streaming on services like Amazon Instant. Written by Amy Everson and Jason Banker and directed by Jason Banker, Felt stars Amy Everson and Kentucker Audley.
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 96: SDCC and Ant-Man

This week is another great two-fer discussion, as the team has just returned from this year's San Diego Comic Con and we discuss some of our favorite moments.
In part two, Cal and Harper tell Kyle all about Ant-Man and give reviews on Marvel's latest big screen adventure.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Listen to the Grant Morrison Multiversity Panel from SDCC in Full!

In case you didn't make it, we've got you covered–hear the master of Multiversity himself talk in depth about the project, his thought process, as well as info about his upcoming Wonder Woman: Earth One, Batman: Black and White, and Multiversity Too projects!

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Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 83

Wolf #1
by Matt Taylor
The color in this cover is absolutely phenomenal, but there's a whole lot to love here. I like that the title is obstructed by buildings, and that the credits are in the center, which make it somehow ominous. The whole look here is pretty spectacular.

Prez #2
by Ben Caldwell

Caldwell continues to do some of the best work of his career here. The color contrast is nice, but even better is the contrast between her peace-signing entrance and the soldiers walking in front of her with sponsorship on their helmets.

 Stray Bullets #6
by David Lapham

I really like this one because I think it highlights one of the best things about this series: the weird mixture of adolescent fantasy and extremely brutal reality. The plan here looks like it was drawn by an eight-year-old, but the details ("buy coke," "knock out stripper") are ridiculously adult.

 Sons of the Devil #3
by Cliff Chiang

I really like the way the perspective gives the demon a body in the alleyway, but it's the scale and color here that really make this stand out.

 Weirdworld #2
by Mike del Mundo

Del Mundo has a wonderful way of meshing together a ton of elements, but making it feel organic and very fluid, and this cover perfectly embodies that talent!

 Spider-Woman #9
by Javier Rodriguez

I really love the idea and depth in this one: we've got Spider-Woman pulling the classic heroic pose in the center foreground, while in the background is just a silly squabble over directions.

 We Are Robin #2
by Lee Bermejo

Bermejo has created a really interesting stylistic template for these covers, with his signature super shaded style retouched with monotone color accents. I dig it!

 Archie vs. Predator #4
by Joe Quinones

This has got to be one of only a handful of covers that has ever made me laugh out loud. Exceptionally clever, and the execution is just perfect. Poster please!

 The Fly: Outbreak #4
by Robert Hack

Hack has got this thing going across multiple publishers now! Great illustration and design work, but what put me over was the quote at the top–too awesome. 

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

MOVIE SHOWDOWN: Inside Out vs. Minions

Two years ago, our own Hannah Lodge wrote an article detailing a competition between two closely released animated films: Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University.  Now, Illumination's Minions and Pixar's Inside Out are competing for the attention of families across America.  If Box Office is to be believed, Minions is the more popular choice.  But what if you want to see both films?  Which one do you choose?  Sounds like it's time for another MOVIE SHOWDOWN!  Which film has the better Characters, Plot, Voice Cast, Animation, and Humor?  Which should YOU choose?  Time to find out!

Round 1 - Characters

Minions has a pretty big advantage going into this round.  First appearing in 2010 in Despicable Me, everyone is pretty familiar with the Minions after three films.  Even if the particular Minions and other characters in this film are different, there is still a sense going in of what to expect from particular characters.  One could argue the same could go for Inside Out as the basic emotions which serve as our main characters are something we are all know well.  This round, then, has to be settled with not expectations, but which film simply has the more well-rounded, well-developed characters.  Kevin, Bob, and Stuart (particularly the first two) are developed quite well during the course of Minions, but everyone else is pretty one-dimensional.  While certain characters in Inside Out also face that problem, Riley, Joy, Sadness, and even Bing Bong are authentic, believable characters with arcs that succeed a lot more.

Winner: Inside Out

Round 2 - Plot

Pixar is known for its well thought out, typically original stories.  The ideas behind their films are usually what attract us to them before we even know anything about the characters, actors, or jokes.  Inside Out is classic Pixar in terms of idea and story for the fact that it's one of those movies with an idea so simple you wonder why no one else thought of it first.  The story of RIley and, by extension, Joy's realization that sadness is just as necessary an emotion as happiness is one which touches the hearts of viewers of all ages.  With Minions, expectations actually work against this film.  Though the journey of Kevin, Stuart, and Bob to find a new boss is a lot of fun to see unfold, there's nothing about this that feels as original.  Having the villain and acts of evil be the goal is unique, but this is now the third time we have seen such a plot from Illumination.  Not to mention more of Minions' story beats feel more predictable and overall expected than Inside Out.

Winner: Inside Out

Round 3 - Voice Cast

This is probably one of the closer categories of this entire battle.  Not an obvious clear winner when simply looking at the casts on paper.  Voice casting is obviously quite important for an animated film, and it is something both Inside Out and Minions accomplish very well.  With Minions, John Hamm is definitely the biggest stand out, providing an almost uncharacteristically goofy performance that stands toe-to-toe with the silly antics of the Minions.  While Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, and Allison Janney are also good, they feel a bit more like they are phoning it in than Hamm, who completely becomes a different character (read: actually acts).  The same can be said for Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling in Inside Out, as they are essentially only playing over-the-top extensions of themselves.  While Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith could also be lumped in that argument, their characters' receive so much more development that they get a bit more to do.  Kaityln Dias also does an excellent job playing the role of Riley and making it believable.  Since this round is so close, we're going to have to look at these casts as a whole.  So which one is the best ensemble?  That goes to...

Winner: Inside Out

Round 4 - Animation

Our only other super close category for this showdown.  It being 2015, a computer animated film really has no excuse to NOT have some pretty exceptional animation, especially one from such big studios as Pixar and Illumination.  Inside Out continues to impress with the way Pixar can animate something so deceptively easy as hair.  Each of Riley's emotions are bright and colorful, with these fascinating glowing bodies that are only semi-solid.  While Minions arguably has a duller color palate, the sheer variety of environments, settings, and clothing which are rendered in this film far exceeds that of Pixar's offering.  While Inside Out is exceptionally animated, Minions contains at least double the environments and characters which are just as exceptionally rendered, for that reason alone, those yellow creatures take away their first win.

Winner: Minions

Round 5 - Humor

This round is a bit more subjective.  While it's easy to find humor for both adults and children in both films, which one appeals to the target demographic more?  Inside Out has plenty of colorful imagery and sight gags that may delight younger viewers, but its humor is most definitely pointed at an older crowd.  Riley's imaginary boyfriends, the tiles of Facts and Opinions, the complex idea of a sub-conscious.  All of these and more are played up for laughs and, while adults and teens may love them, there's not a lot there for the under 10 crowd.  That is where Minions comes in with its biggest advantage.  While Pixar is not above a fart joke (see Finding Nemo), the already instilled charm of the Minions' childish humor at farts, silly words, and general buffoonery make for an experience that is perhaps far more joyful for the youngest of audiences.  Seeming to take some heavy inspiration from Looney Tunes, Minions is filled with a lot more physical comedy than Inside Out, only helping to add to the word play and humorous, musical throwbacks sung in "Minionese."  

Winner: Minions

Overall Winner: Inside Out 

While Minions is definitely the funnier film of the two in this showdown, and definitely the option to seek if you have children under 10, Inside Out provides the more complete movie-going experience.  Pixar knocks it out of the ballpark in easily one of the greatest films they have ever made.  The story of Riley's emotions is a simple concept, but it brings in huge ideas that adults can appreciate just as much as kids.  Inside Out's cast works together like the well-oiled machine we know Pixar to typically be, and it's hard to see this one not walking away with an Oscar come 2016.  With an engrossing story, fascinating characters, and beautiful visuals, Inside Out is the animated film you want to be sure to catch while it's in the theater.  While Minions is a lot of fun, it is an experience that can be safely saved for DVD/Blu-Ray.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 82

[Note: this week I've left the commentary out as I'm still in San Diego for Comic Con and don't have a ton of time to put this together! –Harper]

 Astronauts in Trouble #2
by Charlie Adlard

Book of Death #1
by Cary Nord 

Dr. Fate #2
by Sonny Liew 

The Fiction #2
by David Rubin 

Godzilla in Hell #1
by James Stokoe 

Planet Hulk #3
by Alex Maleev 

Roche Limit: Clandestiny #3
by Kyle Charles 

Island #1
by Brandon Graham 

Trees #11
by Jason Howard

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: Archie #1

Everyone knows who Archie Andrews is, right? And Betty, and Veronica, and Jughead, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and her aunts... but how many of us have read more than a single Archie comic in the last ten years? I mean, there's Afterlife with Archie and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a pair of fantastic horror comics that use the characters in shockingly bleak ways. But for most of us, when we think of Archie, we think of the teen drama, the love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica. They're some of the medium's most iconic characters, and many of us have never read their comics.

Now is the time to change that. Writer Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Daredevil) and artist Fiona Staples (Saga) have revamped Archie following his death in the pages of Life with Archie last year. The new Archie is back in high school, back to the very beginning, and surprisingly, sharp as hell.

Archie Andrews is a reasonably well-liked teen at Riverdale High. He's friendly, kind, but he doesn't really stand out in the crowd very well. Or, he didn't. The one thing he was known for was his long-running relationship with girl-next-door Betty Cooper - a relationship that has suddenly come to an end, and no one knows why. Now, Archie and Betty find themselves under the spotlight at school like never before, trying to figure out how to navigate a world where your best friend has suddenly become someone you can't talk to anymore.

Fiona Staples brings that slick sense of visual storytelling that helped make Saga the monster hit it is today. Staples gets a lot of credit for her inventive visuals on that Image sci-fi series, but what makes the series work - and what makes her irreplaceable on it - is actually her more subtle character work. I've talked before about my believe that empathy is the key to great storytelling, and Staples makes it easy to see these characters as real people with distinct physical personalities. Waid doesn't have to have Betty say a word for Staples to show us exactly how she's feeling, and you can tell the difference between how Jughead and Archie interact with the world just by watching them stand.

But the visual storytelling extends beyond that. Staples and her artistic collaborators - a very good Andrew Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn, who give the book a realistic color palette that grounds the cartoonish figures - work great with Waid's script. While too much of the issue is basically just Archie himself talking at us, particularly in the scene-setting opening pages, the issue actually has a lot going on. They're just good at compressing a ton of action into as few panels as possible and trusting that readers will follow the quicker visual cues. Take the panel below, for example:

Archie is clearly having a good time here - he's smiling, just saw a movie he apparently liked quite a bit. But he's also lonely in the midst of all these other couples, something anyone who goes the the theater alone will be familiar with, used to having company with whom he can discuss what they just saw. And, it's a great visual gag, following the row of couples down to establish the sequence's visual language and set up expectations before ending on what the popcorn thought of the movie. All without a single bit of dialogue, and in just one small panel on the page.

Archie #1 is a near-perfect all-ages comic, one that captures the spirit of classic Archie while giving new readers plenty to hang on to. Archie - standard-issue, no-supernatural-action Archie - is always going to be a tough sell in comic shops, but Archie #1 is a powerful argument in favor of more mundanity on the shelves. This kind of story is a staple in teen film and has been for generations at this point, which may make some of the beats the book hits feel overly familiar, though I'd argue it's the rare teen flick that hits them so well. But, as we've seen recently with The Walking Dead, sometimes comics can turn a familiar story on its head just by virtue of continuing well past the point where a self-contained story would have to stop, can find nuance or depth in the finest of details. Archie #1 is a smart, welcoming comic that revels in those details, and a promise of great things to come.

Archie #1 was written by Mark Waid, illustrated by Fiona Staples, colored by Andrew Szymanowicz with Jen Vaughn, and lettered by Jack Morelli. Published by Archie Comics, Archie #1 was released on July 8th, 2015.
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The 50 Best Comics of the Decade (So Far): 10-1

This is it: The Top 10. The final installment of GeekRex's Top 50 Comics of the 2010s. The 10 best comic books, by popular vote, of the 2010's to date. 

Remember to check out our previous installments before diving in here, and enjoy!


Boxers & Saints     (2013)
Gene Luen Yang - First Second Books

Gene Luen Yang's studied portrayal is not only the most engrossing YA graphic novel we've read, it's also perhaps the best graphic novel of its respective year. Tackling both angles of the Boxer Rebellion in China in books called respectively "Boxers" and "Saints", Yang crafts a heart-wrenching tale of, at least for western eyes, an unfortunately little studied conflict. The central thesis of the tale is based in how can religion divide us as a people but can also hold the potential to be the "great uniter". What's most fascinating about Yang's presentation here is that the Boxer's chapter is designed that a grand epic, while the Saints story is more muted in terms of color palette and a bit more representative of an independent film. Both books come together for one of the most emotional investing reads of the past few years. 


Sex Criminals     (2013 - )
Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, Becka Kinzie - Image Comics

Oh, to look back at the beginnings of Fraction moving away from Marvel and towards more and more of his excellent creator owned work. Some were skeptical about Sex Criminals when hearing the original pitch about a girl who is able to stop time with her orgasms; can this really go anywhere besides immature sex gags? While there is plenty of that–enough to make me laugh out loud reading pretty much every issue–this turned out to be something so, so much more. Fraction and Zdarsky, now a huge star in his own right after this series, have crafted something that is dramatic and real despite the fantastical concept. Sex Criminals has dealt with relationship issues, depression, and sex in a more adult way than any other comic on the shelf. Suzie and Jon are well rounded and fascinating characters, and while the world continues to grow, Fraction and Zdarsky continue to sort of mask this real exploration of sexuality with hysterical humor and the weirdest, most strangely therapeutic letters column in all of comics.


Hip Hop Family Tree      (2012 - )
Ed Piskor - BoingBoing/Fantagraphics

Graphic nonfiction is a genre that went sadly underrepresnted on our list, but there was one work that couldn't be ignored: Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree. A labor of love for classical hip hop nerd Piskor, the ongoing series - published online at BoingBoing and in gorgeous collected editions by Fantagraphics - tracks the origins of hip hop, from its earliest days on the streets and in the clubs to its organization and eventual mainstreaming. Piskor mostly keeps his distance, telling the story in one-page chunks revolving around an enormous cast of characters, but his passion for the material, and the passion of his subjects, shines through on every single page. A must-read for any music nerd, Hip Hop Family Tree captures the colorful history of a quintessential American art in loving detail.


Criminal: The Last of the Innocent     (2011)
Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips, Val Staples - Icon Comics

For much of its run, Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips used Criminal to tell hard-boiled stories of career criminals. This wasn't where you went for wrong-man thrillers, but for men and women who were born into crime, grew up surrounded by it, and were inevitably pulled into it. But for their 2011 return to the book, the four-issue mini-series Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, Brubaker and Philips changed things up. Riley Richards came from a small city called Brookview, and he's been a success by any definition since leaving. He's got a gorgeous wife, plenty of money - everything he dreamed about growing up. But as his memories of happier times overtake him even as the stresses from his gambling and whoring weigh him down, and he finds himself coming closer and closer to doing something truly horrifying to try and recreate a past that was never really there. A true masterpiece of crime comics.


Multiversity     (2014 - 2015)
Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Nei Ruffino, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Ben Oliver, Frank Quitely, Nathan Fairbairn, Cameron Stewart, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy - DC Comics

Brilliant. Ambitious. Absorbing. It's hard to discuss Multiversity, Grant Morrison's swan-song after a decade with DC Comics, without resorting to excessive superlatives, but if there's a series that's earned every single one of them and more, it's this one. A series of books taking place in a different alternate reality of the DC Universe, Morrison's series could leap comfortably from warm-hearted homage (Thunderworld) to spot-on criticism (Pax Americana) while still feeling like a coherent whole. The series brought together some of the finest artistic talent at DC, but moreso than most on this list, this was a writer-driven series: Multiversity serves as a powerful conclusion to a decade's worth of Morrison stories about the power of comics storytelling, the importance of superheroes, and the constant struggle between optimism and cynicism in our lives and our stories.


  Wonder Woman     (2011 - 2014)
Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Sonia Oback, Tony Akins, Goran Sudzuka, Matt Wilson, Kano - DC Comics

Much like Jason Aaron's work on Thor: God of Thunder, many of us here at Geek Rex never thought we would be reading a solo Wonder Woman book before the New 52.  While many were quick to join the hype train for titles like Justice League and Batman, Brian Azzarello's run on Wonder Woman went largely ignored by the masses.  Nevertheless, that did not stop the title from being perhaps the best of the entire New 52.  With amazing art from Cliff Chiang and others, Wonder Woman re-imagined the origins of the Amazon princess as well as many gods and goddesses from Greek mythology.  Some fantastic character work with even more stunning art, this run will likely go down as one of the forerunners for the recent trend to include more female protagonists/perspectives in superhero comics.


Hawkeye     (2012 - 2015)
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth, Javier Pulido, Annie Wu, Jordie Bellaire, Chris Eliopoulos, Francesco Francavilla - Marvel

Perhaps the mainstream comics phenomenon of the 2010s, Matt Fraction and David Aja's reinvention of Hawkeye took the comics world by storm almost immediately. Rave reviews met with formal daring in a career-making turn from Fraction, Aja, and Hollingsworth. The concept was simple - what Hawkeye does when he's not being an Avenger - but it, alongside Waid's Daredevil, helped completely change the face of Marvel comics in the years to follow. While ardor for the series cooled considerably as the book was plagued by delays, Hawkeye is a series that is going to leave an outsize hole in Marvel as it ends, and its reputation will live on untarnished once the delays are no longer a consideration.


She-Hulk     (2014 - 2015)
Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, Muntsa Vicente, Ronald Wimberly, Rico Renzi - Marvel

Charles Soule started making splashes with his episodic Swamp Thing run and Oni Press series Letter 44, but it was here that he entered the realm of the top ten. Soule is actually a lawyer himself, and so was able to bring to the long secondary character of Jennifer Walters into a sort of legal comedy series. The series borrows in tone a bit from things like Hawkeye and Superior Foes of Spider-Man, but balances its humor perfectly with an extremely strong sense of character and a smart look at a different side of the Marvel Universe. Perhaps the feature that puts it over the edge and so high up on our list is the insanely talented list of artists involved, with the stellar cartooning of Javier Pulido at the forefront. Throw in some of the best covers in recent years by the relative newcomer Kevin Wada, and you’ve got a damn good series, one that won several awards in our 2014 Rexies for Comics, including best series of the year.


Ms. Marvel     (2014 - )
G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Elmo Bondoc - Marvel

It sometimes seems like Ms. Marvel was ready to take the world by storm before the first issue even hit. Mainstream comics have been dying slowly from a lack of diversity, and under the pen of G. Willow Wilson, Kamala Khan, the Pakistani-American Muslim teen girl created in this book, became an instant icon. It helps that Wilson and a team of excellent artists have been seemingly channeling the lost spirit of classic 1960's Spider-Man, leading off with a stellar first arc and building Kamala's world out from there. Ms. Marvel has a warm, lived-in feeling so utterly different from many mainstream comics, thanks in part to Ian Herring's beautiful color palette and a series of artists who tend to soften the harsh, dynamic edges of typical superhero comics. It's not a book you want to read; it's a book you want to live in.


Saga     (2012 - )
Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples - Image Comics

Image comics is in the midst of a huge comeback over the past few years.  A recent surge of not only creator-owned titles, but titles tons of comic readers have embraced have ushered in a new era of creativity, inclusion, and excitement in comics that we simply were not getting for some time.  When the time comes to look back on this era at Image, Saga is going to be seen as the title that started it all.   Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' sci-fi series could best be described as a space soap opera.  From the very beginning, many of us here at Geek Rex and in the comics community abroad have found ourselves engrossed in the story of lovers Alana and Marko along with their daughter, Hazel.  We've laughed with this series, cried with this series, and often found ourselves utterly in awe of the places this story has gone, but none of it would work at all without Fiona Staples' art.  Staples' work on this series will not only go down as some of the best of her career, but is easily some of the best art in comics today (possibly ever).  Volume 1 of Saga is a perpetual best-seller, and, with a price tag of only $10, you have no excuse to avoid checking out why we find this series to be the best of the decade so far.


And with that, the list concludes! We here at Geek Rex want to thank all of you, our readers, for checking out our stuff every day, and we want to thank a few others. Not everyone who contributed to this list wanted to be thanked, but a few did.

Kyle (@kylepinion), Shane (@shandrick), Harper (@harperwharris), and Cal (@comicalibrarian), the GeekRex regulars,  want to thank Jessi (@jessidee), Jake, and all the other unnamed contributors who helped us put together the best possible list.
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