Category Archives: Reviews

Review: ‘Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities’ by Jason V Brock

"Schrödinger's Cat" illustration by Henry Chamberlain

“Schrödinger’s Cat” illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Schrödinger’s Cat makes some notable appearances in Jason V Brock‘s collection of short stories and poems entitled, “Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities,” published by Hippocampus Press. Whether dead or alive, or somewhere in between (a zombie cat?) the famous cat from the 1935 thought experiment has its place among a number of thought-provoking items to be found here. Now, the idea behind Schrödinger’s Cat is that a reality is not pinned down until the very act of it being observed. So, before it is observed, the famous cat in the box could be existing in more than one reality. It is the Observer Effect, once the box is opened, that locks in a reality. Or so it would seem.

Jason V Brock is a lover and writer of strange tales that incorporate Gothic lit, sci-fi, and horror. There are a number of very useful labels, including weird fiction and dark fantasy. Or as a dear mutual friend, writer George Clayton Johnson, simply called it, this is work with “a touch of strange.” What you will find in this collection is an ambitious vision that harks back to any number of writers: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, William F. Nolan, and John Collier, to name a few.

Consider the title story, “Simulacrum.” What I find appealing about this story is how well it fits in with work from the writers I’ve just mentioned and carries its own distinctive voice. Brock has a sensual vibe to his style that makes his characters all the more palpable. He takes the time to linger on key details to create a credible interior life. For a story so invested in matters of identity and questions on reality, Brock lays the essential groundwork to make us believe in our main character, Misty. We have gotten inside her head during an opening scene and we discover that we have only begun to delve into layers of mental terrain both real and imagined. Expect a visit by Schrödinger’s Cat. It is quite a story. In fact, I would not be surprised to see Brock develop it into a full length novel at some point.

"Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities" by Jason V Brock

“Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities” by Jason V Brock

Another story that greatly appeals to me is “Where Everything That Is Lost Goes.” Here too, Schrödinger’s Cat has a role to play. Again, we are confronted with matters of who we are and what our true purpose is. This story I could see remaining a short work in the spirit of the classic short stories by John Collier. If you’re not familiar with Collier, he is one of the masters of the fanciful story with a perfect twist at the end. What happens in Brock’s tale is a matter of a man confronting his past, present, and future, as embodied in a chance meeting with a friend he had lost touch with some forty years ago. The meeting takes place in an old restaurant. The main character looks across the room and sees his old friend, except his old friend has not aged a day since they last met, forty years ago. If that sounds like a story out of The Twilight Zone, rest assured that is not lost on Brock. The main character, after all, is named Rod, no doubt a nod to The Twilight Zone’s creator, Rod Serling. Yes, indeed, if there should be another revival of the classic television show, this story would fit right in.

“Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities” is a 248-page trade paperback published by Hippocampus Press. For more information, and to purchase, visit our friends at Hippocampus Press right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Hippocampus Press, Jason V. Brock, Reviews, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone

Easter Review: ‘God Is Disappointed in You’ by Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler


Can you take a joke? That is a good question. Well, what if a few jokes do some good? What if they actually educate you about the Bible?

Anytime is a good time to brush up on The Holy Bible. Today seems like an especially good day. And what better way than through the irreverent, and informative, “God Is Disappointed In You,” the hilarious guide to the holy tome, published by Top Shelf Productions.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Reviews, Shannon Wheeler, Top Shelf Productions

Amazon TV Lineup Reviews: MOZART IN THE JUNGLE Is Set To Be A Hit

Lola Kirke as Hailey in "Mozart in the Jungle"

Lola Kirke as Hailey in “Mozart in the Jungle”


If I could only pick one of the current crop of Amazon TV pilots, amid comedies and dramas, it would have to be “Mozart in the Jungle.” After having given it a try, along with the four other pilots, it stays with me the most. That’s not to say the other shows aren’t quality items. In fact, this whole roster has a lot to offer and I’ll say a little about them too. What I find to be most appealing about this particular show is that you have compelling conflict evenly distributed amongst compelling characters. You have the main character, Hailey, who is likable and someone to root for. Lola Kirke brings something of the appeal of “Girls” to the show and that’s not just because she’s the sister of one of its stars, Jemima Kirke. She does not seem to be an especially strong character but you get the sense that she’s growing and will strike when she needs to. Other characters already know how to strike all too well and it will be fun to see just how far they will go. This is the world of classical music but it’s a jungle too.

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Graphic Novel Review: JFK: SECRET OPS by Craig Frank


There is something very wrong about following a vengeful JFK in pursuit of his killers but Craig Frank is willing to go there in his graphic novel, “JFK: SECRET OPS.” It is dark humor to be sure. What makes it work is Frank’s unabashed commitment to stay the course. Okay then, giddy up, pardner, cause we’re on a bumpy conspiracy theory-laden crazy ride. Where do I find these unusual works? Well, it ain’t easy but it’s fun.

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Filed under Comics, Craig Frank, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, JFK, Kennedy Assassination, Reviews, Satire

Review: ‘Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin’ documentary; available on DVD and VOD 7/30

"In the Land of Retinal Delights," oil on canvas, 1968, by Robert Williams

“In the Land of Retinal Delights,” oil on canvas, 1968, by Robert Williams

ROBERT WILLIAMS MR. BITCHIN’ is now available on DVD and VOD. It is a unique documentary, distributed by Cinema Libre Studio, on Robert Williams, a significant artist that has done a lot to usher in the zeitgeist as the leader of the Lowbrow art, or Pop Surrealism, movement.

We take for granted today the mash-up of high and low culture. It is considered common knowledge that we do this mashing up. Everything is oh so “mashable.” Media empires rely upon it. How cute and comforting it all may sound now but there was a time when the lines between the art world establishment and the outsider were far more clearly drawn. Never mind the myth of such bad boy artists as Jackson Pollock or even Andy Warhol. It was the art world, taking its orders from a closely knit New York elite made up of a handful of blue chip galleries and high end art magazines that decided which bad boys, with the occasional bad girl thrown in, would go on to be crowned art royalty. It was something that artist Robert Williams could hardly not notice since, during his early career, his art was on the wrong side of the established line. As the years progressed, Mr. Williams would find the whole line not only switching in his favor but becoming blurred. This, in no small part, was due to him.

A new documentary, “Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin,” provides us insight into this process of becoming acknowledged as a professional fine artist as well as what it takes to make groundbreaking art, to really make art history. This is the highest achievement an artist can seek and that is what we see Mr. Williams set out to do and ultimately achieve. It is truly an inspiring story that clearly shows you how the mysterious art world climate can change despite itself. It is an argument that lead director Mary C. Reese and co-director/writer Nancye Ferguson are more than happy to make a case for with Mr. Williams as their prime example. And Mr. Williams, an amiable person, is quite adept at helping connect the dots to his own career.

The whole style of this documentary seems to suit its subject’s nonconformity well. It’s not a high end production, per se, and is ready to practice what it preaches as it presents a more casual shaggy dog presentation as opposed to your typical “art” documentary that can be restrained and clinical. There are no polished dramatic pauses, for instance. Design is pretty basic. But, at the same time, that is not really a problem at all. There is more of an honest blue collar approach that undercuts any need for too much in the way of heightened experience. The interviews, archival footage, and art speak for themselves quite nicely. And, where the budget allowed, you see some nice additional touches as in the multi-layered observation of the actual artwork.

You can tell that the filmmakers were going for a more familiar feel in many of the exchanges between Mr. Williams and the camera. At one point, he jokes that, as far as he understands from Werner Herzog, cinéma vérité is passé, implying he’s not so sure he wants to be followed too closely. The response behind the camera is a good-natured shrug and, “It’s Okay.” Mr. Williams shrugs back with a wink, “Okay.” In another scene, he sort of mocks concern over his interviewer’s lack of knowledge in anthropology. He is also quick to say he is more than happy to defer to his wife, Suzanne, and her expertise. This all adds up to showing Mr. Williams in a relaxed and trusting mood. We even see the couple riding unicycles.

Back to art history, the documentary does well with its facts and there are inspired moments as when we are swept away to the greener pastures of post-war Los Angeles. Everything cool, from Betty Page to hot rods, is happening out there. It was some pretty heady stuff decades ahead of its time, particularly for the East Coast establishment. This was the culture that Mr. Williams knew and loved. This is what Mr. Williams drew and painted. Along the way, he created iconic work, including naked women lounging on top of giant tacos, and inspired a new generation of artists.

We follow his career from his work with Big Daddy Roth through to his falling onto the general public’s radar with his painting, “Appetite for Destruction,” becoming the album art for the legendary rock band Guns N’ Roses. And onward to Mr. Williams’s answer to Art News and the like, his creation of the influential art magazine, Juxtapoz, and his own work being recognized by today’s art world establishment. “Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin'” proves to be the right mix of respectful tribute and irreverent fun.


Tuesday, July 30 – Screening at 7:30pm at The American Cinematheque (Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028). Q&A to follow with Robert Williams, Suzanne Williams and filmmakers Nancye Ferguson, Stephen Nemeth, Mary C. Reese, Doug Blake, Michael LaFetra and special guests! Details:

DVD and VOD street date – July 30th available at major retail outlets and digital platforms (Hulu, Amazon Instant and more!)

ABOUT CINEMA LIBRE: Cinema Libre Studio is a leader in distributing social-issue documentaries and features by passionate filmmakers. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the Cinema Libre team has released over one hundred films including the Sundance Audience Award‐Winning FUEL, THE END OF POVERTY?, Rachid Bouchareb’s LONDON RIVER and Oliver Stone’s SOUTH OF THE BORDER. The studio is developing John Perkins’ best‐selling memoirs, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN, into a major motion picture. For more information and updates, please visit: and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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Filed under Art, Lowbrow Art, Movie Reviews, movies, New Surrealism, pop culture, Pop Surrealism, Reviews, Robert Williams


“ANGEL AND FAITH” takes a definitive turn with the new arc, “Family Reunion.” There is a very animated feeling going in as Willow makes a surprise entrance which is such a game changer that, well, it totally changes everyone’s game! Willow knows what she wants but, alas, she can’t claim to know that she’s going to get it. She needs Angel’s help like it’s nobody’s business. But what would motivate him to help her in the first place? They aren’t exactly close.

It’s not long before it’s Willow vs. Angel! He’s had it trying to make sense of what Willow’s proposing. It’s too nutty and just plain too dangerous. Angel, ever the martyr, at first has a hard time making eye contact with Willow, given he and Buffy ended up wiping out magic in the world. But when Willow’s answer to that is to put Angel’s son, Connor, to work to bring back magic, that settles it. Willow would have Connor return to a form of hell so scary that even demons avoid it. Quor’toth was where Connor grew up and eventually escaped from. It is only through Quor’toth that Willow can proceed to other realms in her pursuit to restore magic. She will need to use Connor as a magic compass. Of course, Angel reacts badly to this and tells Willow that she is no better than he is for causing disaster. Willow turns around and slaps Angel. She brings him down a few pegs. When the dust settles, Angel is at her mercy, more or less. The compromise is that they will seek out Connor and let him decide if he wants to help!

Christos Gage, as fans already appreciate, is quite good with writing about family dynamics. Angel may have just given a half-hearted approval to Willow’s plans but he really doesn’t approve. Gage presents us with a very conflicted father. He deeply loves his son but, at the same time, he has concluded that he shouldn’t upset the balance and interfere with Connor’s life, especially now that Connor really has a well-put-togehter life. How can he step in now and possibly destroy any chance of happiness for Connor? Or is he mistaken?

Rebekah Isaacs does a beautiful job of teasing out all this angst. Her drawing goes beyond bringing the characters to life. Here we see poor Angel caught between doing his own thing, which is resurrecting Giles; leaving his son to do his own thing, which is majoring in social work; and allowing their paths to cross all thanks to Willow. Angel is wrung through the wringer. We see him go through more emotions, and facial expressions, than we’re used to.

And Willow makes a very good case – for those of a zealous bent. The way she sees it, she and Angel need each other. Angel can’t resurrect Giles without magic in the world (no matter how hard he tries) and Willow can’t restore magic to the world without working with Angel and Connor. Neither Angel nor Willow will ever admit that their own plans might be impossible to achieve. And that’s another reason why these two need each other.

“Angel and Faith #11” comes out June 27. Visit Dark Horse Comics.


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HELL ON WHEELS Season One Review

“HELL ON WHEELS” is a wild ride into the Wild West packed with surprises. It holds its own among the trend in high quality American television. Each character is gradually stripped of its armor and must bare their souls. Given the rough terrain, and the harsh reality of life, none of these people are going to reveal their secrets easily which is part of the fun of this show. Once the dust settles, we see who was meant to survive and move things forward. Two of the main players to prove their might are a mysterious outlaw, Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) and a former slave, Elam Ferguson (Common). With a hint of “Huckleberry Finn,” we have these two characters thrown together by fate with every reason to distrust the other but somehow finding reasons to do just the opposite. They don’t come right out and say much about it but these two need each other.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “Huckleberry Finn” lately. You can read my recent essay here. “Hell On Wheels” embraces that novel’s spirit in its unabashed look at America’s struggle to find itself. The story is set in 1865, immediately after the American Civil War. Much blood has been spilled and much more will be shed. Post-Civil War America is an open wound with great need of healing. The hope and dream is to mend America with the construction of the first transcontinental railroad but that proves, time and again, easier said than done. Such an undertaking is, after all, “hell on wheels,” which is also the name of the company town that sets camp at each work site along the way of construction of the Union Pacific leg of the project which is heading west to ultimately meet with the Central Pacific heading east.

Created by the brothers Joe and Tony Gayton, this series is larger-than-life and has a similar authentic vibe like another AMC hit, “The Walking Dead.” It’s hyperreal quality, in no small part due to its highend production, will blow you away. You might even expect a zombie to jump out but “Hell On Wheels” already has enough of its own gore and mayhem to deal with. It also has the magic ingredients of a stellar cast and excellent writing.

So what is “Hell On Wheels” all about? It’s about greed, corruption, lust, sex, revenge, violence, justice, history, race and a whole lot more. This is America at a turning point nearing breaking point. African Americans are no longer slaves but they don’t feel much different except for getting paid for their hard labor. It is the beginning of the end for Native American claims to their land and many will die in the process. And it’s a time when a former Confederate soldier by the name of Cullen Bohannon can just about get away with exacting revenge for the death of his wife by going on a demented killing spree. Like Clint Eastwood before him, Anson Mount has found a sweet spot where the audience will root for the misunderstood killer who really isn’t as bad as he may seem. Truth be told, this is a pretty honorable guy. And he’s capable enough to turn his psychosis into a carrer opportunity, more than once. He joins the “Hell On Wheels” crew with relative ease but he only does this because the crew leader is next on his list of his wife’s killers that he must now kill. All pretty grim except that the guy has a point and he’s got a certain charisma about him.

Meanwhile, and there are a number of meanwhiles in this series, there is Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) who is the mastermind behind this whole railroad venture. He must grease the right palms in Congress and manipulate, coerce and decieve all in the right measure to assure that his Union Pacific will maintain a pipeline of nearly unlimited government cash to keep things rolling. It doesn’t help matters, or maybe it does, that he must contend with an idealist beauty by the name of Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott). She holds the key, in more ways than one, to keeping Durant afloat.

You mention one character and you open up a whole new world. For instance, who is Lily Bell? She is the wife of the master surveyor who was killed during a raid by the natives. She got shot by an arrow in the hand and, by sheer force of will, was able to get the arrow out and thrust it into her husband’s killer’s throat. She may have an English aristocratic background but she keeps proving to be a tough enough. Then there’s “The Swede,” (Christopher Heyerdahl) an amoral accountant turned henchman. It’s this guy who is forever on the heels of Bohannon. He also gives the whole town a hard time by extorting money from all the vendors and they try to put an end to it by literally tarring and feathering him. There are numerous colorful and defining moments like this in the series.

The characters, to varying degrees, continue to intrigue all the way to the end of the season. There are three romances on a slow simmer. We’ve had time to feel sorry for Durant, the ruthless railroad tycoon while the town preacher proves to be far more complicated than first expected. There’s even a subplot about a young man caught between the world of the settlers and his native land.  And, in all this time, Bohannon has yet to kiss Lily Bell. At least that’s what we think should happen. The style of the show has been to paint in broad cinematic strokes while striving for storytelling substance. There’s been a bit of hit or miss here but, overall, the show is engaging.

The DVD and Blu-ray for the complete Season One of “Hell on Wheels” has just come out and this show has proven to be marathon viewing worthy. Now is the time to revisit it or dive in and get caught up before the second season on AMC later this year.

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It is Angel’s desire and duty to bring back from the dead, Rupert Giles, the Watcher. It hangs over everything Angel and Faith do. The new arc, “Women of a Certain Age,” introduces us to two sisters: one who can help; and one who can hinder the process!

Series writer Christos Gage teams up with guest artist Chris Samnee to create some work with a smilar noir vibe as in their colloboration in Vertigo’s “Area 10.” This creative team is wonderful in tackling this opening story which has its fair share of vintage glamour revolving around the two mysterious young women that have all but crash landed into Angel and Faith’s lives.

Here is Gage and Samnee working together on “Area 10.”

Now, compare that with their work in this issue of “Angel and Faith.”

Samnee is a master with light and dark. We see it from the first page on as he provides perfectly places spots of black where needed. He introduces us to the two mystery girls byway of two dark shadows with fresh bright red polish just applied to their nails. Ah, that’s the mood we’re looking for as this story is not exactly crime fiction. It’s more ’60s mod meets young romance comics. The two girls in questions are really Giles’s great aunts, Lavinia, the redhead, and Sophronia, the blonde. They’re a couple of hotties although each is well over a hundred-years-old. What’s their secret? Any chance they’ve had to use magic, it’s all gone into keeping their youthful glow. This obsession with youth has made them two shallow old crones who simply look fabulous. Oh, and they happen to owe an array of monsters and ghouls for providing magical fixes along the way to avoid those crow’s feet and the like. Angel and Faith spend a good long while defeating various baddies before they can get some answers from the girls.

What Lavinia and Sophronia provide is a look back to London in the ’60s and a particular tale involving Rupert Giles as a boy. This story is key to what follows so I won’t go too much into it except to say that it is connected to Angel’s quest to bring Giles back. It is also jolly good fun. It is a family affair involving the supernatural and might bring to mind, “Bell, Book and Candle” or episodes of “Bewitched.” All in a good way, mind you. The upshot to this story is pretty big. And, just as everyone is ready to turn in to bed, we get a last minute surprise guest that is sure to add much to the mix. All in all, a very colorful and enjoyable opening chapter.

Issue 10 is out May 30. Visit Dark Horse Comics.

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HUCKLEBERRY FINN Reeks Of The Past In A Most Glorious Way

“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” reeks of the past. It reeked of the past when it was first published in America in 1885. And it sure as hell reeks of the past today — but in a most glorious way. Mark Twain knew what we he was doing. He was fully engaged in the American scene, warts, bruises, gunshots and all. As I carry around an eReader with me, I am reading more of the books I’ve been meaning to read. This one has been high on my list. Today, being Memorial Day, seems a particularly appropriate time to consider this classic, although any day of the week will do as well.

Upon my reading, I come away with the conclusion that, despite the controversy, Mark Twain’s novel is indeed a landmark work of American fiction and, I’ll go one better, is essential. At this point, it’s hard to imagine it fading into obscurity and yet there are those who continue to try to see that happen. The arguement is that we, as a nation, have moved beyond such issues of race. But that’s really nothing more than an attempt to sweep things under the rug and isn’t the American rug already pretty lumpy from being swept under?

The biggest problem of all for “Huckleberry Finn” is the fact that it is a work of art. You see, a true work of art will always confound the literal-minded. As in life, and as in art, there are no neatly tied up resolutions. No, instead, ambiguity presides. The main character, Huck Finn, does not behave in a systematically heroic fashion. What he does is behave like a boy with a mind, heart and soul of his own. He makes numerous choices, not always the right ones. And, arguably, the other main character, Jim, the runaway slave who Huck has embarked upon a journey with, is not perfect either. Both are products of their time, America circa 1840, and both are individuals in search of freedom as they know it. Twain, the keen social observer, set up the perfect vehicle from which to comment on American life. He knew as well as anyone that the end of the American Civil War had not led to the freedom that African Americans had been promised. What it had led to was the dark era of Jim Crow, nearly a century of systematic racial discrimination from 1876 to 1965.

Mark Twain

Twain maintains an impressive balancing act throughout the novel. The story is told by a thirteen-year-old and yet manages to bring about older insights. It is a story very much of its time, using language of its time, while still transcending it. And he adroitly shifts from broad humor to more poetic passages. There are three main parts to the story. There is the most poignant first part where we find Huck at the hands of his abusive father and his subsequent dreamlike escape on a raft with Jim. Then, after a number of mishaps, we settle into a long burlesque section where Jim and Huck are at the mercy of two con artists. And, finally, the last part finds Huck reunited with Tom Sawyer in a surreal episode where they appear to make an utter mockery of Jim’s plight as a runaway slave complete with torturing him with rats, spiders, snakes and a series of humiliations. This is the part that makes Hemingway have to add a disclaimer to his decree that all American fiction begins with “Huck Finn.” He concludes that the last twelve chapters are not worth a damn — which is rather meaningless. The fact is, taken as a whole, the novel does a fine job of revealing a nation struggling with its own dysfunction.

If anyone was expecting Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to have a perfect epiphany and, without hesitation or distraction, welcome Jim to his rightful place among humanity, Twain is there to say the reader has another thing coming. If a nation can hardly come to grips with what it has wrought, don’t expect two boys to figure it out. What they will do is mirror their own environment. And, with any luck, maybe they will rise above it because they should before too long. That is Twain’s hope for the characters, for his country, and for his readers. In time, with any luck, maybe we will all rise above what has been wrought because we should before too long.

The fact is that the building of a nation is, and always will be, a wild and wooly affair. There are things that can never be lived down and yet we must carry on. We must carry on because we have no choice but to do so. But to forget, no, that is taking things too far. Just as Twain will not let the reader off the hook when it comes to how two boys will behave, he is not going to make it comfortable regarding how a nation behaves. It should be as clear as day that Huck’s beloved friend, Jim, is not a “nigger,” in any sense of that word and yet Twain uses the term repeatedly as the characters in the book refer to him and to any African American. The word is used by the high and the low, from the most ignorant yokel to the country doctor. Huck uses it matter-of-factly without giving it a second thought. And that’s a huge point in the book. The word stings, it hurts and humiliates. But, if all the grown-ups are using it, then why should Huck question it, right? But, despite the predominant feelings of the time, Huck does question Jim’s state as a slave.

The controversy rages on about whether or not to teach this book in high school. To that problem, I suggest another way of looking at it. What if no one had been around to capture on video the beating of Rodney King? Or any number of acts that have occurred since then? We should think of “Huckleberry Finn,” in one sense, as a master recording of those sort of things, the things we wish would just go away or had just never happened. Instead of attempting to ban Mr. Twain’s book, we should be praising Mr. Twain. For those who think we’re better off with easy answers and forgetting the past, “Huckleberry Finn” is just the sort of book you should consider. As much as this classic is speaking to the past, like any excellent work of art, it clearly speaks to the present and the future.

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Filed under Books, Fiction, Huckleberry Finn, Literature, Mark Twain, Reviews

THE AVENGERS Review: The Avengers Buffified

Is it the story that’s a little different from previous superhero movies? Loki, a god from another world, is bent on conquering Earth and it’s up to The Avengers, an unlikely mix of individuals with superpowers or super skills, to save the day. Nope, that is pretty much a standard-issue plot for superhero comics as well as movies. So, what is the twist to “The Avengers”? Wait for it….Joss Whedon!

There are a lot of Joss Whedon moments in this movie. Maybe they’re Whedon/Marvel moments but, still. I like the one where Stark momentarily has his hands on a ginormous alien ship resembling a spinal column. Just before he tosses it over to the Avengers gang to work over, he says, “I’m taking the party over to you.” Once the monster is in sight, Black Widow quips, “That doesn’t look like a party.” Or how about the moment when Captain America, at the height of the crisis, orders two of New York’s finest to secure a perimeter. One cop says, “Why should we take orders from you?” Captain America fights off like a dozen aliens before he can return his attention to the officer. The officer immediately turns on his heal and barks Cap’s orders to the rest of the police force. So, yeah, maybe you don’t want to say this exactly, but I will. The Avengers has been Buffified!

Marvel Comics was able to, one by one, create successful movies for a string of high profile superheroes that would lead to a team-up of these characters, just like in the comics. It is the talent of Joss Whedon that pulls this colossal venture together. As writer and director, Whedon has taken his quirky sensibility from his offbeat creations, like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” and managed to tweak the superhero genre in just the right places.  Okay, there was a misstep with the original “Hulk” but, in this latest Marvel flick, the Hulk steals some of the best scenes! Is that all thanks to Whedon? Well, here’s the thing, Marvel Comics has a long history of having a good sense of humor. They can be quirky in their own way. Whedon’s quirk and Marvel’s quirk found some common ground.

Yeah, in the end, it seems like a true blending of Whedon and Marvel. The Whedon touches are there, sprinkled throughout. You can find them in some of the more elaborate details to the basic plot. And you can definitely find them in the more irreverent attitude. You’d think Tony Stark had all the snarky lines covered already without the help of Whedon. But there are a few times when Robert Downey Jr. does get to kick around more hip humor as when he keeps warning a guy at the command center to stop playing Galaga at his post.

Whedon doesn’t deconstruct willy nilly. The story is very much something that easily gets the Marvel stamp of approval. You’ll find it mostly in the banter and one liners that come up at the right moments. You’ll find the Whedon vibe in the cocky way these guys fight. There’s one scene where one of the heroes is shooting in one direction and looking nonchalant in the opposite direction while still hitting his mark. There’s a hilarious scene that has the Hulk confronting the evil mastermind, Loki, who berates him for daring to take on a god. The Hulk simply bats him around like a ragdoll.

Marvel and Whedon are also very good about tackling the big themes and having characters talk out complex issues. Every evil genius always gets a chance to have their say. In Loki’s case, we get a credible look inside his head when he explains that he just wants to give humans what they really want: to be subjugated. Another example is a beautiful scene between Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. where Bruce Banner is explaining his inner turmoil. He had reached a point where he’d had enough. He took a gun and put it to his mouth and pulled the trigger. But “the other guy” stopped it in time. Stark tells Banner he should take that as a good sign. Banner appreciates the sentiment but asks what good can the Hulk have in store for him. Stark tells him to find out. He might even enjoy it.

What a lot of folks love about Marvel is its gritty realism. This is New York City under attack, not Gotham City. It adds another layer for the viewer to invest in. And there’s some clever plot twists that demand that realism which Whedon and Marvel make pay off. In the end, you couldn’t ask for a better mix of quirk and good old fashioned superhero action.

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