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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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BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 9 #9 Review

The second chapter to “Apart (Of Me)” teases out a little more of the tension between Spike and Buffy and gives us on eyeful as to what some people (Andrew) think is best for Buffy. If only Buffy, as a plucky mere mortal, could get it together and buy into the American Dream by getting a mortgage on a two-bedroom starter home stocked with IKEA furniture! That is Andrew’s dream for Buffy. And, ever since his amazing and disastrous “plan” to keep Buffy safe, he has managed to secure only part of it, “part” being the key word here. Buffy’s programmed body had been made secure in the suburbs, until it was kidnapped, while Buffy’s mind was encased in a bot! So, for the purposes of this review, “Buffy” is the one encased in a bot. And “the other Buffy” is Buffy’s body programmed to believe it has a personality. A bit confusing, no doubt, and a bit of a mystery as to how this was going to keep Buffy safe in the first place!

Buffy observes that the space in Buffy’s “dream home” that is designated as an office is in between a bedroom and a bathroom. Is it possible that the other Buffy might have plans for a nursery in the future? Spikes dismisses that as rubbish. But Buffy begs to differ. Indeed, there are two Buffys with their own ideas on what is real and what is rubbish.

And then, quite abruptly, Andrew reveals that he has placed a tracking device in the other Buffy’s necklace. That seems rather convenient but plausible. It’s an intimate chocker that she might like to keep close to her body indefinitley. Whatever the case, that’s what they’re working with.

Circumstances being what they are, it makes sense that things would have cooled down for Spike and Buffy. Buffy is simply not herself! However, there is a scene with Buffy trying to reach her friend, Dawn, on the phone and Spike casually asks if Dawn is aware that she is no longer going to become an aunt, at least, not yet. Yep, mark that as a tease for what my lie ahead for those two. Spike, for his part, remains protective of Buffy and has his own ideas to work through. That leads to a nice little dust up when Buffy pulls away from Spike and, given that she’s part robot, tells him she isn’t exactly all that vulnerable. But she may regret those words. Inexplicably, she takes things too far in the other direction and is barking orders! Andrew and Spike, feeling rather guilty, just follow along but maybe that’s not such a good idea. In what seems like a nod to Joss Whedon’s recent movie, “The Cabin in the Woods,” Buffy decides to split up the group as they zero in on the other Buffy and her captors. Andrew and Spike obey. And then Andrew thinks it over. Hasn’t Buffy seen enough horror movies? he asks himself. Doesn’t she know that splitting up the group is the last thing you should do?

“Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 9,” issue 9, arrives May 9. Visit Dark Horse Comics.

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Review: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

“THE CABIN IN THE WOODS” is great for all the added dimension it offers up as a horror movie. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard wrote the script and Goddard directs. These are the talents that brought you “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” which shares the same enlightened view of horror. And that is what you get from this movie, an enlightened view, with a determinedly droll sense of humor.

For true Whedon fans, there’s the added bonus of having two actors in this movie from perhaps Whedon’s most daring televison show, “Dollhouse.” That is Fran Kranz, as Marty, the stoner, a sort of Shaggy-like character in the movie. And Amy Acker who plays, Lin, a technician back at “headquarters.” And, yes, there is a headquarters! We do indeed have a detached monitoring of events going on. It’s in the trailers and it shouldn’t come as a surprise anyway. “Cabin” not only shares actors but it also shares a high concept style similar to “Dollhouse.”

The idea here is that the movie takes the tropes of horror and looks at them from a different angle. That’s where the “high concept” stuff comes in. Apart from that, any movie that brings life and character to the slasher/horror genre is going in the right direction. “Cabin” sets itself apart by not only taking apart the horror genre but by embracing the slower character-driven moments.

There’s an excellent moment, perhaps the most talked about one, when the Scooby gang stop at a rundown gas station in hopes of filling up their monster RV. It’s an excellent scene, with an edge to it and without an ounce of blood spilled. Everyone is prowling around when, out of the dust and cobwebs, emerges a ghoulish-looking old coot. This is Mordecai, played to perfection by Tim de Zarn. He can’t help himself from, within seconds, completely alienating the happy youth. And then he has to cross the line and call the sexy girl in the group a whore!

That’s it. The gang is really upset. The jock in the group can only offer up a threat. But it’s the stoner of the group that goes about putting the old loon in his place with one conscending remark after another. You want the scene to go on some more but it’s time for the gang to move on and disregard the crazy hater’s dire warnings of impending death that await them if they should choose to continue to their most unlikely “fun” destination, a secluded cabin said to be haunted and in great disrepair, in the middle of nowhere. Hey guys, that awful guy is trying to help you!

Another pretty amazing scene, if only for being such an outrageous non sequitur, is the love scene between the sexy girl, Jules, played by Anna Hutchison, and a stuffed wolf. The gang is playing “Truth or Dare.” On a dare to make out with the stuffed animal on the wall, Jules gives it all she has from acting out her first coy encounter to rolling her tongue up and down and all around inside the dust and fur that is taxidermy. It’s such a strange moment that is supposed to leave you feeling more uneasy than turned on. If you find that hot, it begs the question of whether or not you’ve seen too many horror movies. It also demonstrates that sex can be more threatening and disorienting for some viewers than depictions of murder and bloodshed. A little twisted sexuality never hurt anyone but, in your typical horror movie, it’s the free-spirited and promiscuous youth who must die!

If you’re already a Whedon fan, then “Cabin” will be just what the doctor ordered. And, if you’re new to Whedon, this movie is a fine introduction which you should follow up with the two seasons of  “Dollhouse” simply because you’ve probably seen enough “Buffy” for now and you need to see more of Fran Kranz.

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ANGEL AND FAITH #8 Review

“ANGEL AND FAITH,” Part Three of “Daddy Issues,” digs deeper into the psychology of Faith and her world. You can really feel the struggle that Faith is going through with her ne’er-do-well father suddenly turning up in her life. Faith wanted to believe in her father. But now, she has reason not to believe in him anymore. We readers know she’s right in more ways than one. And we also see where Faith is off. As a leader to her sister slayers, she does not always have all the answers. As we left off in the previous issue, Mr. Lehane is playing his daughter. He’s also dealing with forces that are way over his head. Faith may end up feeling sorry for him again but not now, maybe not ever.

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RAGEMOOR #1 Review

“RAGEMOOR” is a four-part story published by Dark Horse Comics that will surprise you with a fully stoked horror fest. Strangers arrive on a dark and stormy night to a mysterious castle but they need not focus on its inhabitants just yet. They should worry first about the castle itself!

This one is special, brought you by the team of writer Jan Strnad and artist Richard Corben. The following quote says it all:

“Richard Corben and Jan Strnad are like the Jack Kirby and Stan Lee of post-EC monster comics, responsible for classics like The Last Voyage of Sindbad and Mutant World. To see the two of them back together and a project like this is just exciting as hell.”  —Mike Mignola (Hellboy, B.P.R.D.)

A classic writing assignment is to write about an inanimate object as if it were alive, specifically a dwelling. This is supposed to help the writer better see the world and all its possibilities. It can go something like this: Go from general to specific: A city, then a street, then a building and then a room. In “Ragemoor,” we have a castle that very much fits this assignment with the very castle being alive. At night, it moans and cries. By the next morning, there’s been a change: a hallway is longer or a room is larger. And if the castle should feel threatened, well, it will have to deal with the threat decisively.

The art grabs you right away. With a castle as the lead character, “Ragemoor” is up to the challenge with inventive points of view and attention to detail and texture. A fellow artist would have a hard time attempting to swipe from these panels. The castle is quite a sight, especially as it juts out from a high cliff. But that’s due to the fact, of course, that it keeps growing! And then there’s the human characters who are nicely paced throughout.

The only two people we know for sure that live in the castle are Herbert and his butler, Bodrick. There may be other servants, but as Bodrick puts it, “they prefer to dwell in the shadows.” On this particular night, Herbert has allowed visitors to stay for dinner. They claim to be relations and Herbert has no reason to not believe them. He’s prone to distraction as it is. They claim to be his long lost uncle and a cousin. One is a portly bumbling old gent. The other is an attractive young woman who has no qualms about flirting with Herbert. For his part, Herbert simply wants to warn the two that they have no idea of what they’re letting themselves in for. He comes right out and tells them the fantastic history of the castle and we are transported back and see how it was literally created from blood, sweat and tears, especially blood. The visitors can even see for themselves numerous skeletons embedded within the walls. But they’re so tired from their journey. And then there’s that nasty storm outside. Alright, these two will have to spend the night–but they’ve been warned.

This is a great read. The first issue alone will reward you with multiple readings and provides a nice stand-alone chapter. This is a 32-page comic priced at $3.50 and arrives on March 21. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics.

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