Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN

Finally, Wonder Woman gets her very own movie!

“Wonder Woman” is simply the movie to see rounding out its third weekend with U.S. sales at $275 million and $570 million worldwide. You may have noticed there are a lot of showings, including 3D and 4DX versions, and they sell out quickly. All of this is for very good reason. This Wonder Woman movie is very sharp and Gal Gadot in the main role commands the screen at all times, even more so, I dare say, than a Ben Affleck or a Henry Cavill. That had to be part of the thinking behind this first ever Wonder Woman major motion picture. The stumbling block all these decades was supposed to have something to do with whether or not a Wonder Woman movie could ever deliver the box office of a Superman or Batman movie. The answer is YES!

Yes, Wonder Woman can Kick Ass!

“Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is certainly one of those exceptional movie events. It comes out of that urgent need to get it right. The most brilliant step in getting it right was to set the story during World War I. When was the last time you saw a major motion picture set during WWI? Any young person walking in to see this movie would shrug. There have been a select few, including 2004’s “A Very Long Engagement,” starring Audrey Tautou. The original Wonder Woman comic book was inextricably linked to World War II since it came out during that era. But to rework that same terrain would have been dreadfully tiresome for many a fan. Setting things back to an entirely different epoch opens up different and more compelling options, bringing it all back to basics in a very intriguing way. What could be better than to have a young and idealistic goddess confront “the war to end all wars”? I can imagine that being the pitch to the story by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) that was fleshed out in the screenplay by Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy).

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 25: Actors Gal Gadot (L) and Lynda Carter attend the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Wonder Woman” at the Pantages Theatre on May 25, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

The beauty of “Wonder Woman” is how purposeful it is. Yes, we are dealing with the inevitable origin story. But that becomes a big plus as this is used to full advantage. The opening scenes set in Themyscira, the idyllic world that Wonder Woman comes from, have a refreshing vibe to them. There is a certain amount of dutiful explaining going on but, right from the start, we see quick and steady progress from our main character. We see Diana, the little girl, get the early training she demands. In no time, she has grown into a young woman more powerful than even she could imagine. And, all the while, this phase of Diana’s life, comes across not as merely backstory but as essential. Most importantly, there is a sense of urgency and suspense. In a different era, not too long ago (not exactly over with), this depiction of a female paradise could have easily fallen prey to titillation. More harmful than any supervillain, that would have been the worst sucker punch Wonder Woman could have endured.

Yes, a Wonder Woman can be VERY SUCCESSFUL and POPULAR!

So, let me jump to my big point. I went to see this movie with my 21-year-old daughter. She was not really all that aware of the Wonder Woman TV show, starring Lynda Carter. I tried to explain that it was part of its era, the ’70s, and less enlightened. It was too easy to make Wonder Woman a sex symbol for that show. And my daughter quickly picked up on that and said she appreciated how this new Wonder Woman was not sexualized in that way. I also mentioned that I have read more than one account, over the years, of women claiming to have been inspired as little girls by the spinning Lynda Carter did on the show to magically transform into a superhero. Girls would spin and spin and spin. Again, my daughter picked up on that. She said she was more interested in Gal Gadot’s impressive Taekwondo kicks. I am sure that Lynda Carter would understand.

“Wonder Woman” offers a whole new way for girls to be inspired. They no longer have to just spin and spin and spin. What a remarkable job this movie does in playing catch-up. Had a movie just like this come out in Lynda Carter’s heyday, it would have been hailed as nothing short of revolutionary. Superman and Batman movies have dominated the pop culture landscape for decades having left a Wonder Woman movie at a considerable disadvantage. How this movie overcomes that, with a genuinely inspiring main character, clearly demonstrates that there is a demand of strong and powerful female characters. In fact, the revolution continues and this movie manages to depict Wonder Woman as leading the way.

“Wonder Woman” is distributed by Warner Bros. Visit the official Wonder Woman movie site right here.

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Filed under Batman, Comics, DC Comics, Movie Reviews, movies, Superheroes, Superman, Warner Bros., Wonder Woman

Review: ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY is a comic book series that is a fine mix of action and intelligence. There are so many comics that I could review at any given time so the one question that helps guide me is “Why does this comic exist?” In the Forward to the new book collecting Issues #1-4, Tyler Weaver (Coming to Quest Country) describes a unique and contemporary take on the Robin Hood legend. And, yes, that is definitely the case. Matt Dursin’s script invites the reader into what drives his characters to seek justice–and what happens when they cross the line. It all adds up to a compelling read.

Taking from the rich to give to the poor via pizza delivery.

The divide between rich and poor is handled brilliantly in a plot that focuses on issues of life or death, namely healthcare. Set in the near future, only the rich can rely upon medicine when they need it. So, the tacit understanding in society is that some people are expendable. If that sounds creepily familiar, it certainly is meant to be. A band of vigilantes conclude that there is a way out of this nightmare: take from the rich and give to the poor. That way of thinking worked for Robin Hood but it gets more complicated in the 21st century.

Panel excerpt: Robin and John

What is exceptional about this comic is that everything is alive and lifts off the page in the way you would hope a good comic would do. It’s not easy to achieve that energy and sense of spontaneity. Many creators miss the mark simply because, for various reasons, they lose sight of what they’re doing. For some, the reason for the work to exist has been lost. You sense with this book that the whole creative team loves what they do and are intelligently engaged with it. I’m not saying that you worship your characters and treat them as if they’re real people. No, it’s a dedication to craft. If the time is put in, then you do end up with a vivid story and vivid characters.

Panel excerpt: John is threatened by The Sheriff

The artwork by Mark Louie Vuykankiat has a lean and energetic quality to it with a manga vibe. In the character design notes, he describes the characters as “somewhere between ramshackle and military.” That fits the bill. I have to say, this is one very action-packed story. At times, it feels like a video game. These boys have got their toys, including an air-burst grenade launcher! All in all, this is a smart and heart-felt work and fans of the Robin Hood legend will get a kick out of all the references to the original 1883 novel by Howard Pyle.

Rounding out the creative team is an impressive job of letters & colors by L. Jamal Walton; spectacular cover art by Ray Dillon; and spot on logo & production by Rachel Chernick.

“Robin Hood: Outlaw of the 21st Century,” issues #1 thru #4, are now available digitally and in print and are collected in a trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, go right here.

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Review: THE BATTLES OF TOLKIEN

THE BATTLES OF TOLKIEN

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic world includes not only elves and trolls but a whole civilization spanning some 37,000 years. Such a vast timeframe involves war and numerous battles. There have been atttempts to sort through these events but never before in a book filled with such a high level of artwork and commentary. Now, we have “The Battles of Tolkien,” by David David, published by Thunder Bay Press. It is both a beautiful and detailed book. It would make a wonder gift and certainly one to consider for Dad on Father’s Day.

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears

This collection of commentary, art, and maps will prove to be insightful and a delight to any Tolkien reader. Each battle has a map and various artist renditions. David Day’s commentary has a sense of authority and enthusiasm that will keep you reading on from battle to battle. By the end of the book, a Tolkien reader will have a greater understanding of the work and an invaluable keepsake.

Glaurung at the Battle of Sudden Flame

David Day is a poet and author who has published over 40 books of poetry, ecology, history, fantasy, mythology and fiction. David Day’s books, for both adults and children, have sold over 4 million copies worldwide and were translated into twenty languages. This work is unofficial and is not authorized by the Tolkien Estate or HarperCollins Publishers. Other Tolkien titles by David Day include “An Atlas of Tolkien,” “A Dictionary of Tolkien,” and “Heroes of Tolkien.”

The Elven City of Tirion

“The Battles of Tolkien” is a 256-page flexibound. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Thunder Bay Press right here.

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Review: THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

GUM LUCK is the second in the Gumazing Gum Girl series, published by Disney-Hyperion Books, and it is as irreverent and quirky as you may expect. Illustrated by Rhode Montijo, written by Montijo, with Luke Reynolds, this is a perfect book for young readers. This book is hilarious and there is method to all the madness too. Gabby Gomez has quite a conflict to deal with: bubblegum gives Gabby superpowers but her dentist dad is totally against bubblegum. Gabby feels compelled to confess her big gum secret but she can’t risk losing her powers.

Reading GUM GIRL

The script by Montijo and Reynolds provides a fun mix of kid reality and kid fantasy. For example, in one chapter, Gabby is alarmed to see a car skidding its way towards a collision. Instantly, Gabby sets loose her gum powers and brings the car to a sticky, but safe, stop. However, once Gabby arrives at school, she discovers her permission slip to go to the zoo is covered in bubblegum. Without a readable permission slip, Gabby is forced to stay behind in a classroom with other kids who can’t go to the zoo.

Pages from THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

Montijo’s bold artwork is a real treat and keeps the action moving along. Montijo has managed to channel is own take on the Power Puff Girls. Gabby Gomez and her family are easy to relate to while Gum Girl is whimsical and fun to follow along. Montijo offers up a very pleasant and animated style. It is spare and clear and will be especially appealing to a younger age group of ages 6-8. This book also happens to have a pleasing hint of bubblegum scent!

THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK is a 160-page color hardcover, available as of June 13th. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Review: GLISTER by Andi Watson

GLISTER by Andi Watson

I’ve kept up with Andi Watson‘s work in comics over the years and maybe you have too. It’s upbeat, quirky, and decidedly dry wit. Kate Beaton comes to mind. A number of British sitcoms come to mind too. Anthony Trollope. Yeah, he comes to mind as well. But let’s get back to Andi Watson. Dark Horse Comics has collected in a deluxe edition Watson’s GLISTER series. This book revolves around Glister Butterworth who stumbles upon quite a number of strange things.

Page from Andi Watson’s GLISTER

One of the strangest things is the family estate of Chilblain Hall. Glister and her dad live there, which is all well and fine. But they also have the occasional ghost. And the estate itself is a living entity. Glister is always trying to maintain an upbeat mood. She even encourages the family home. “But,” as Watson writes in one scene, “the doubt had already seeped into the hall’s timbers like cold in an old man’s bones on a winter’s night.” Here is where Glister must really lay on the charm and persuade the old mansion that being rustic is cool!

As a cartoonist, I greatly admire Watson’s direct line. I would not call it “deceptively simple” as is too often said of clean work. It has more to do with a clear purpose. And it’s very important to have a sense of clarity as you have a main character traipsing through a variety of rather arcane terrain. And I wouldn’t necessarily call this book aimed at only girls. Boys can, and need, to be sensitive. They don’t have to say they’re channeling their feminine side if they’re not ready to. Anyway, most boys know that all rough and tumble can get boring. At the end of the day, we are talking here about a certain sensibility. If you like droll humor, you’ll like this book. Come to think of it, doesn’t Harry Potter have a good dose of dry wit?

GLISTER collects four stories which include the arrival of a teapot haunted by a demanding ghost, a crop of new relatives blooming on the family tree, a stubborn house that walks off its land in a huff, and a trip to Faerieland to find Glister’s missing mother. Whimsical, indeed! A contrarian friend of mine egged me on the other day as to why it is that kids read so many comics. It can’t be good for them, right? With GLISTER fresh on my mind, I pointed out that kids get to enjoy a complex plot, playful use of language, and exercise their imagination. The grounding that will stand them in good stead when they go on to read the biting social satire of Anthony Trollope!

GLISTER is a 304-page trade with color tints. This whimsical collection will appeal to all ages, especially ages 8 to 12. It is available as of July 5. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Comey Testimony Brings to Mind King Trump

The Donald. cartoon by Henry Chamberlain

“Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”
–Henry II

There is an artful moment during the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey. Sen. Angus King, (I) Maine, asked if Trump saying he hoped the Flynn investigation would go away was a direction. And Comey quotes the famous line attributed to Henry II, and which floats within Shakespeare’s Richard II: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” The senator said he was thinking of the same quote.

King Henry II wished that a priest would go away. That was Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The next day, that priest was murdered, honoring the king’s wish. King Trump “hopes” for something, that the investigation of Michael Flynn would go away, an inappropriate suggestion, even for royalty.

That quote speaks volumes.

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Review: HERMAN BY TRADE

HERMAN BY TRADE by Chris W. Kim

The shapeshifter is one of the most misunderstood character archetypes. It is familiar while also shrouded in mystery. And you can find some in unexpected places. How about Kafka’s 1915 classic “The Metamorphosis”? In the novel, Gregor Samsa turns into a cockroach. That makes him a shapeshifter. Alright, I said it. Not a pretty sight. Not something out of Harry Potter. And yet, Kafka would have you look within and ask how close you are to the life of an insect. In Chris W. Kim’s new graphic novel, “Herman by Trade,” he takes a decidedly offbeat approach to shapeshifting. In the case of his main character, Herman, he emerges from a Kafka-like existence and is saved by his unique ability to shape shift.

The post-screening Q&A.

Kim begins with some spot on workplace satire that mirrors the bigger picture that lies ahead. Herman is part of a sanitation crew based at the city waterfront. Within the pecking order, Herman is viewed by his co-workers as a dowdy stay-at-home. But Herman has other plans when he goes to a special screening of a cult hit movie. He knows enough to go in costume. But he knows nothing about this celebrated film until he asks the girl at the ticket booth. She informs him that “Gare” is an intimate portrait of street performers. That’s good enough for Herman to join the die-hard fans in the crowded theater.

Art imitates life imitates art.

With a light and subtle touch, Kim reveals Herman’s journey. It all begins that night in that movie theater. MIO, the film’s director, announces to wild applause that she is going to film a sequel to “Gare” and she invites anyone in the city to come audition at the waterfront. Herman’s fate is sealed. He must be part of the excitement of this momentous event. And, as this graphic novel unfolds, one can’t help but be captivated by Kim’s ambitious vision. He has the backstory of the film and its sequel; the mileu of film buffs; and Herman emerging from his inner world to a much more complex inner world.

Reading HERMAN BY TRADE.

Herman’s goal to be cast in MIO’s new film turns out to be pretty daunting. How will Herman succeed while being so out of his element? In order to even survive, Herman must adapt and that involves shapshifting! Herman, despite all outward appearances, is no cockroach! Kim’s artwork is a marvelous mix of delicate and exuberant. He gently and slyly guides us. All the while, we are viewing not a roach, but a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon in order to triumphantly spread its butterfly wings.

Reading Chris W. Kim’s “Herman by Trade.”

HERMAN BY TRADE is a 120-page hardcover, published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. For more details, visit Abrams right here.

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SIFF Review: ‘The Reagan Show’

All Hail, the Gipper!

We’ve heard plenty about how the media helped to construct Donald Trump. We see how another White House and the media interacted in, “The Reagan Show,” a new documentary by filmmakers Pacho Velez (Manakamana) and Sierra Pettengill (Town Hall). Pacho Velez was on hand this weekend for a Q&A after the film’s showing at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Ronald Reagan is as much icon as enigma. He managed a life and career treading upon the surface. In their documentary, Velez and Pettengill work mostly from archival footage, made up of official White House video and network news segments, to revisit a man who was at his best as a flickering image just beyond reach. The Reagan administration made the big switch from documenting the president in video instead of the traditional, costly, and confining 16mm film. Video allowed for continuous unencumbered recording. It became known as White House TV, perfect for a former Hollywood actor. The documentary perfectly mines all the irony attached to our first reality TV president. What we get is not so much bloopers, or even anything substantial behind the scenes, but a better sense of a president who was painfully too old and woefully disengaged.

Growing up in the ’80s, I don’t recall that era as particularly quaint but the footage in this doc proves otherwise. One such moment could have come right out of the Eisenhower White House. To illustrate how in command the president was, Chief of Staff Howard Baker recites what is supposed to be a decisive moment between Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev. Just prior to a tough round of negotiation, Reagan asked Gorbachev if he would autograph his World Series baseball. This gesture supposedly disarmed Gorbachev and left Reagan with the advantage. It’s a nonsensical anecdote but it apparently disarmed the media just enough to look away and move on.

Pres. Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev

There is plenty of obliging on the part of the media to be found here. Some hard-hitting questioning too, especially by ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson. But the president’s charm is ever present. The only tarnish comes with the complex Iran Contra scandal. It is complex enough to allow Reagan something of a pass. For the most part, this doc focuses on the work between Reagan and Gorbachev. As Velez pointed out during the Q&A, Reagan is credited with ending the Cold War, whether or not that’s true. Overall, he achieved the status of an icon. In reality, as this doc makes clear, the Reagan administration did a lot of stumbling and had the unbelievably good luck of having Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin.

Under certain circumstances, the press, and various other power brokers, will always look away. There will always be exceptional circumstances (FDR, for example, was never photographed in a wheelchair). But when a president so flagrantly abuses his power, then that gentleman’s agreement is forced off the table. Ronald Reagan remained a gentleman. And, for that, he was saved by the establishment. The media asked tough questions but they were always open to being charmed. And Ronald Reagan could be relied upon to charm with the best of them.

While this documentary has its share of irony and self-awareness (Reagan’s plea to “Make America Great Again” is included), it cannot help but get caught up in the murk of Reagan “charm.” As Velez stated in the Q&A, he aimed for this documentary to follow a narrative of success with a happy ending. Sure, Velez did not want to demonize Reagan. Fair enough. But to allow Reagan off the hook with a story that closes with him achieving a nuclear arms treaty with the Soviets is pretty generous. You may as well end a story about Nixon with him opening relations between the US and China. To Reagan’s credit, Velez pointed out in the Q&A, he always seemed sincere. In comparison to today, that does count for a lot.

You can follow “The Reagan Show” on its Facebook page right here. The documentary will air this Labor Day on CNN. You can still catch it at SIFF this Wednesday, June 7th. Go to SIFF for details right here.

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Filed under Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, politics, Ronald Reagan, Russia, Seattle, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, Soviet Union

Advance Review: BANKSHOT #1 (of 5)

BANKSHOT #1

Alex de Campi (Archie vs. Predator, No Mercy) is a writer you can count on for something with some tooth to it. Her work in comics began with the political thriller, SMOKE, a 2005 mini-series with IDW. Her latest is BANKSHOT, a short series with Dark Horse that finds the reader right in the thick of our current tangled web around the world.

Our anti-hero is Marcus King and he seems to find himself in all the right and wrong places. The end result is that he has become both valuable to some and dangerous to others. King’s story goes back to a military action in the Middle East that put him face to face with the Dutchman, a sort of pirate king, set to plunder what he can during any ensuing chaos. Much more to come regarding this villain. Suffice it to say, Marcus King is a busy mercenary with more foes than friends.

Page #1

Art by ChrisCross (Convergence: Justice League of America) brings home the action as well as fine tunes our connections to characters. Colors by Snakebite Cortez pick up nicely on the atmospherics whether back at FBI HQ, some baked and desolate desert, or a round of heavy artillery blowing everything sky high.

We begin our story back in DC with a dapper secret agent refreshed after a much needed vacation. But agent Gault is in for quite a thrashing by his superiors when they demand to know why he authorized an operation involving the legendary Marcus King. He is strictly hands off! Gault is puzzled at first. He is then provided some very compelling details. Anyway, this is Marcus King we’re talking about. His name alone should give any agent pause. An opening scene brimming with that much intrigue is worthy of any reader’s attention.

Page #2

What you’ll find appealing in this thriller is just the right mix of fantasy and reality. Marcus King is a larger-than-life figure but you can easily imagine that he exists in lesser forms skulking about the dangerous parts of the world.

BANKSHOT #1 is on sale as of June 28th. The Final Order Cutoff for comic book shops is June 5th. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Review: ‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

Creating a biographical work in comics is a very distinct venture. It requires a fine agility as you’re balancing a myriad of facts, more than you will be able to neatly fit into one graphic novel. Any number of factors can add to the complexity, such as the writer figuring what to use if he has personally conducted interviews. David Kushner was one of the last journalists to interview D&D co-creator Gary Gygax prior to his death. He has now teamed up with award-winning illustrator Koren Shadmi on a nonfiction comic book chronicling Gary Gygax’s life and the creation of D&D: RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, recently published by Nation Books. It is an ambitious undertaking, the first of its kind, and well worth a read.

Dave Arneson, a true dreamer.

Kushner and Shadmi do a wonderful job of laying down a behind-the-scenes narrative to Dungeons & Dragons, a pop culture phenomena that we all know to some degree. You may have never seen yourself as a role-playing game enthusiast, but you can’t help but get caught up in the details and history of a bona fide subculture. This book succeeds in putting a face to what has become known the world over as Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, there are two prominent faces involved here: Gary Gygax, the original guy to tinker with new ideas for role-playing games (instead of always military themes, why not include wizards?); and Dave Arneson, the guy next in line who refined what Gygax set in motion (don’t get lost in the rules and keep it fun!). Gygax was a middle-aged man with a family and Arneson was a young security guard working his way through college.

For the love of the game.

The best moments in the book are once we get to observe Gygax and Arneson just being themselves, warts and all. Gygax turns out to be more motivated towards turning his innovations into a profitable business. Arneson is far more the dreamer, only interested in refining the game. Arneson is so caught up in his own D&D world that he is left out of the burgeoning D&D business venture by Gygax and his associates.

“One day, you catch a break that will change your life.”

Kushner’s script places the story in various first-person points of views. At times, the narrative boxes are quoting Gygax or Arneson or simply become omniscient. While this narrative shift can be disconcerting at times, it’s understandable given the many segments to cover. You have a broad canvas to fill with this person saying this and that other person doing that. And, given the interview source material, there are times that you want to do a flashback scene and other times that you want the person to speak in the present moment. Overall, Kushner and Shadmi do a commendable job of bringing this tale to life. One thing is for sure, you will never look at Dungeons & Dragons the same way again.

RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, published by Nation Books, is a 144-page black & white trade paperback. For more details, visit Nation Books. You can also purchase the book directly from Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, D&D, Dungeons & Dragons, Games, Geeks, Journalism, Koren Shadmi