Showing posts with label comic books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comic books. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for Ninja

The first half of an argument that splits nerds down the middle (for the other half, check out my "P" post on Thursday), Ninjas are the black-clad, mask wearing, martial arts masters that spawned out of feudal Japan. Sometimes seen as vigilante crime-fighters, and sometimes ruthless killers, ninjas are stealthy, dark and dangerous. And almost as cool as pirates 

Andrew and Andy, this one's for you . . . 

N is for Ninja 

Raizo (Ninja Assassin) – Raised to become the most lethal ninja assassin in the world, and the next in line to lead the Ozunu Clan, Raizo is trained to brutal perfection. However, when Lord Ozunu's actions become too barbarous, Raizo rejects the clan that brought him in and seeks revenge for their dark deeds.  

Rocky, Colt and Tum Tum (3 Ninjas) – One of my favorite movies as a little girl, the Douglas brother protagonists of 3 Ninjas were taught martial arts and Jujitsu at the hands of their Japanese grandfather, Mori. Taking on both kidnappers and an organized crime ring, there's nothing these three ninja brothers can't handle. [And a note to my friends Kalina, Shannon and Becky – I'm still glad they brought the cute Rocky back for the third movie. Why they switched for the second I'll never understand.]

Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – The best ninjas ever created, the TMNT are the heroes of my childhood. These four brothers were once your garden variety reptiles, but after coming into contact with some toxic ooze, they were transformed into the spectacularly named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Raised in the sewers and taught ninjutsu by their rat sensei Splinter, these turtles love nothing more than pizza, color-coordinated accessories, and fighting crime. [My favorite, by the way, is a two-way tie between Donatello and Rafael.]

Elektra (Marvel Comics) – The only female to make my list, Elektra is a deadly as she is beautiful. Trained by the Hand, an order of evil mercenary ninjas, to become a deadly assassin,  she eventually broke away from the order, but not before they damaged her already darkened soul. One of the most beloved Marvel characters, Elektra is a violent and seductive ninja. 

Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (G. I. Joe) – Sword brothers, rivals . . . these two men are some of the most dangerous ninjas ever dreamed up. With a vow of silence and wearing head to toe black, Snake Eyes is my favorite of the Joes. And Storm Shadow, his white-clad foe. So conflicted, venturing back and forth between sides. But whether fighting with each other or against, these two frenemies kick some serious butt. 

And there you have it, my Top 5 favorite Ninjas. What are some of your favorites?
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2013. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is character types and tropes. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the other participants, simply click here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for Hero

I'm going to do something a little different for the letter "h". As soon as I started trying to pick out my five favorite heroes I recognized it as a an impossible task. There's simply too many incredible heroes to mention them all, not to mention too many different types of heroes to narrow it down. Therefore I've decided instead to list a few of my favorite heroic categories and my favorite example of each.

H is for Hero

Tragic Hero – A tragic hero is a great or virtuous character/hero with a tragic flaw that, combined with fate or external circumstances, is destined for downfall, suffering and defeat. 
Favorite Example: Severus Snape (Harry Potter series) 

Greek Hero – Greek heroes are a little different from our modern understanding of what a "hero" is. Rather than being immortalized for saving the lives of innocents, a Greek hero is a person, often of divine ancestry, endowed with great courage or strength, blessed by the gods and celebrated for their famed exploits.
Favorite Example: Odysseus (The Odyssey)

Superhero – A superhero is a fictional man or woman with superhuman powers, dedicated to protecting the innocent and bringing justice to the villainous. 
Favorite Example: Spiderman (Marvel comics). Oh, and Iron Man. And Batman! And . . . 

Action Hero – It's pretty simple actually; an action hero is the protagonist of an action (or adventure) film. 
Favorite Example: John McClane (Die Hard franchise) 

Byronic Hero – Named for the famed English poet, a Byronic hero is a passionate, but melancholy or brooding protagonist that often acts in socially reprehensible ways, with internal conflicts that are deeply romanticized. 
Favorite Example: Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights

Reluctant Hero – A reluctant hero is typically an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. They want nothing more than to return to their regular, unhampered lives but are forced to rise to heroism. 
Favorite Example: Sarah Connor (The Terminator)

Chosen Hero – The chosen hero is a seemingly ordinary man or woman told by prophesy or some other greater force that it's their destiny to save the world. 
Favorite Example: Harry Potter, Buffy Summers and Neo (To see the blog post I wrote on this topic last year, click here.)

And there you have it, my favorite Heroes. What are some of your favorites? 
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2013. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is character types and tropes. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the other participants, simply click here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Demon Hunter

I have to admit I've been waiting for the letter "D" ever since I came up with my A through Z theme a month ago. Why? Because I simply love demon hunters. Protectors from evil. Warriors fighting against the forces of darkness. They symbolically battle the monsters that plagues our nightmares, allowing little children – and fully grown writers with overactive imaginations – to sleep peacefully after the lights go out . . .

D is for Demon Hunters

Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – The hero of my adolescence, Buffy Summers is a five-foot two, blond bad-ass. Created by Joss Whedon as the antithesis of "the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror film", Buffy steps up as the Chosen One, protecting the world from demons and vampires alike. With the help of her "Scooby gang" and vampire-boyfriend that is. 

Ash Williams (Evil Dead series) – A sawed-off shotgun in one hand and a chainsaw strapped to the other, Ash is the formidable opponent of the evil dead and their Army of Darkness. He won't hesitate to kill his girlfriend or cut off his own possessed hand with a saw in the name of Deadite destruction. Now that 's dedication. 

John Constantine (Hellblazer comics and Constantine) – A character that could have easily made the Antiheroes list, Constantine is a chain-smoking sorcerer and occult detective. Unlike most demon hunters – who are quite happy to slash and burn – Constantine generally dislikes guns and weapons. With an army of magical tricks, cunning wit and mystical knowledge, Constantine mostly takes on his demon foe with brains rather than brawn. 

The Winchester Family (Supernatural) – A father and sons demon-hunting family, the Winchesters are definitely high on my list supernatural slayers. With their preference for classic rock, fast cars and lethal firearms, they are a force to be reckoned with. For demons that is. 

Solomon Kane ("Weird Tales" short stories, Solomon Kane comics and film) – A 17th century Puritan, Solomon Kane travels the world with the sole purpose of fighting evil. Carrying a rapier, pistols, a dirk and the mythical Staff of Solomon, Kane is more than equipped to take on vampires, ghosts and other demonic forces of evil. 

Here are a few honorable mentions, each for a specific demon category . . .

> Vampires – Blade (Blade comics and films)
> Zombies – Alice, the Redfields and Jill Valentine (Resident Evil movies and games) 
> Werewolves – Selene (Underworld series) 

And there you have it, my Top 5 favorite Demon Hunters. What are some of your favorites? 
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2013. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is character types and tropes. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the other participants, simply click here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for Antihero

April has finally arrived, and with it the Blogging from A to Z Challenge! Thanks again to all those amazing bloggers hosting this event, and in particular, everyone from Alex's Ninja Minions Team. Go writing ninjas!

As I mentioned in my last post, my theme for this year's challenge is character types and tropes. For each letter I'll discuss a different character stereotype, archetype or trope, and my Top Five favorite examples of each. I've got tons of terrific characters coming up, so stay tuned this April for some alphabetic awesomeness. Starting with . . .

A is for Antihero

An antihero is a protagonist that lacks in valorous characteristics and often acts as a representation of certain human flaws. They're basically heroes that aren't all that heroic. I've often found that these "antiheroes" are much more complex and interesting than their valiant counterparts. Here are a few of my favorite Antiheroes . . .

Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind) – She’s a strong, tough female in a society that raises women to be helpless and feminine, thus proving herself a true hero. But she’s also self-centered and selfish, out for her own aims no matter the cost. She’s far from the shining virtuous men and women we usually think of as the ideal protagonist.

Han Solo (Star Wars, episode IV-VI) – He's sarcastic, he's a materialist, and let's face it, he shot first. Well, at least in the original, pre-lunatic Lucas version. Han's got a roguish charm that's hard to resist, but he's definitely no chivalrousness knight in shining armor. And yet, beneath his mercenary attitude, he ultimately proves himself by risking his own life to save Luke and aid the rebel forces. He represents the emotional journey and redemption of the antihero. 

The Punisher (Marvel Comics) – Like many “superheroes”, The Punisher wages war on crime; however, he has no qualms with killing or torturing anyone who gets in his way, marking a clear departure from squeaky-clean superheroes like Captain America. Like Wolverine - another comic book antihero - the Punisher is aggressive and rough around the edges. He's part of a wave in the comic book industry (aka. The Bronze Age of Comic Books) where the heroes became much darker.

Dexter Morgan (Dexter) – Dexter Morgan is anything but your typical hero. He's a serial killer, taught to adhere to a strict moral code (the so-called "Code of Harry”), which allows him to unleash his sociopathic instinct on other murderers. Thus he protects the innocent from harm - be it from dangerous criminals or at the hand of his own demons. He kills crime  literally.

Leon (The Professional) – The last on my list and perhaps the least well known, Leon was a hitman for hire, ready to sell his talents to the highest bidder. And yet he's wonderfully humanized, caring for his potted plant with loving attention and grudgingly saving the life of young Mathilda, his twelve-year-old neighbor. He becomes her protector and mentor, eventually sacrificing his life to save her and proving that some killers really can redeem themselves. 

And there you have it, my Top 5 favorite Antiheroes. What are some of your favorites? 

P.S. A special shout-out goes to Arlee Bird over at Tossing It Out for starting the Blogging A Through Z Challenge. Thanks for making April so special!
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2013. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is character types and tropes. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the other participants, simply click here.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers

After this weekend’s big premier, the question floating around the nerd-o-sphere is . . . The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers?

You know the comparisons are coming. When Marvel and DC put out their two most anticipated movies in the same summer, everyone is going to have an opinion on which was better. And if there were ever two better movies to choose from, I certainly don’t know what they are. So here’s my opinion on the matter.

They cannot be compared.

The Avengers was epic, shot on a grand scale that wowed audiences worldwide. It had the perfect blend of Joss Whedon humor and deep, internal character struggle, with all the highs and lows in between to take the film beyond an “ordinary” action film. The action sequences were massive but meaningful, with characters that we’re invested in battling side by side, the fate of the whole world in the balance. It was a crowd pleaser. Fun, plain and simple.

The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, was anything but fun. It was dark and passionate. It brooded and despaired, making the audience feel ever moment of Bruce Wayne’s pain. (Spoilers ahead.) It brought the Christopher Nolan reboot full circle, ending where it began – with Ras al Ghul’s plan for wiping out Gotham city, and Batman’s struggle to save it. It was heart wrenching and the perfect end to an amazing trilogy.

I cannot say which of the two I liked better, because I simply cannot find a way to compare them. Apart from their comic book roots, these two movies are as different as night and day. What I can say is that this has been the most incredible summer of all time, one that comic book fans will not soon forget. These two movies proved without a shadow of a doubt that the age of the superhero is upon us. Comic books, and the movies based on them, are no longer seen as  men running around in tights, rescuing beautiful  albeit insipid  women. They’re epic tales of heroism, of good triumphing over evil no matter the cost. They’re here to remind us that for all humanity’s flaws, there’s something in us worth fighting for, and people who will step up to lead the fight.

For every child that ever tied a towel around their neck and imagined it a cape, this summer is dedicated to us.

Avengers assemble.

Dark Knight rise.

Comic book fans – applaud.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

All Hail Joss Whedon And The Avengers

Have you ever been in one of those situations where you've been waiting for a movie to come out for a long time . . . a movie you've followed from the moment the studio announced it was in pre-production, watching daily for sneak peeks, and reviews, director interviews, anything related to it . . . waiting for months on end for it to finally, FINALLY make its way into theaters. And then it does, and it SUCKS. Do you know that feeling?

Yeah, this was not one of those times.

I have to admit, as I arrived at the theater last weekend to see Marvel’s The Avengers, I was somewhat terrified. I’d been waiting to see this movie for years. I’d watched avidly as Marvel Cinematic Universe broke away from Marvel Studios to independently pursue a line of films leading up to The Avengers. It’s first release, Iron Man in 2008, far surpassed my expectations (which were somewhat low following the four preceding Marvel films, X-Men: The Last Stand, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer).

But this new Universe of films signified a fresh start Marvel superheroes. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, even a revision of The Incredible Hulk (which, thankfully, made up for the utterly terrible Eric Banna version) – one after the other, they were all amazing, and shared an intertextuality that promised a planned future endgame.

For two years following Iron Man’s release I waited and watched, internet stalked and speculated with my friends. Only to find out in April 2010 that my idol – Joss Whedon himself – was going to write and direct The Avengers feature film. Joss-friggin-Whedon.

Which makes sense of course. The man is no stranger to heroes and villains – Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog is chalk full of them. Not to mention Buffy, a superheroine if there ever was one. And of course, Firefly. Captain Mal Reynolds and his crew are, in their own words, “big damn heroes”. And the coup de gras, Whedon’s own experience writing for Marvel. He wrote several issues of The Astonishing X-Men, one of the most recognizable and beloved superhero teams. He was clearly the ideal choice for this project, already several years in the making.

So after yet another two years of agonizing anticipation, it was with trepidation that I took my seat and waited for the movie to begin. I went into The Avengers with the highest of expectations, trying to prepare myself for the likely possibility that it wouldn’t be able to hold up to four years of anticipation. And I came out with my mind BLOWN.

It was AMAZING. Beyond amazing. It was phenomenal.

First of all, let me praise the acting. This film had some huge names attached to it, but you just never know how all their acting styles, not to mention the diverse characters they portray, will mesh on screen. But with talent like this, I needn't have worried. These actors made a rag-tag team of superheroes come together in a very realistic way. They  managed to cover the whole spectrum of human emotion, from lost and out-of-time (Chris Evans), to sarcastic (Robert Downey, Jr.). Having been a big fan of Edward Norton's performance in The Incredible Hulk, I was adamantly opposed to recasting Bruce Banner for The Avengers, but I have to admit that Mark Ruffalo did a great job stepping into this titular role. And as the newcomer to the Marvel team, Jeremy Renner was spectacular as Hawkeye. So spectacular that I forgot his lack of superpowers at times (hint, hint: please make a Hawkeye solo film). Scarlet Johansson killed it as Black Widow (she's sort of my new idol), and Samuel L. Jackson – the key holding the entire team together – was, in his usual fashion, awesome. Though I personally felt that Robert Downey, Jr. stole the movie, he certainly didn't run away with it. The entire team pulled off one collectively incredible performance. 

While I cannot say enough about the acting talent, Joss Whedon's incredible script could have made the world's worst actor seem brilliant. With an undertaking this massive, it would be easy to get lost in the battle and sacrifice characterization for action. But Whedon manages to put the internal struggles all six heroes first, turning the movie into a human interest piece as well as an explosive action film. As is the Whedon way, he also finds the perfect balance between gravity and humor, something which we've seen time and time again in his work. There were sad moments of self loathing and doubt, broken up by hilarious one-liners that had me literally rolling with laughter. And amazingly, he manages to subvert some of the standard action film clich├ęs with a witty charm I can only describe as Whedon-esque. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the movie already, but for those of you who have, I’m referring of course, to the Hulk’s reaction to Loki’s attempt at a long, “I’m a god” speech. Hysterical.

At the end of the day, it was just a spectacular movie. And I cannot wait for the follow-ups. I know they're already getting started on Iron Man 3 (the first of Marvel's post-Avengers films), as well as Captain America 2 and Thor 2. I'd love to see Hawkeye and Black Widow in their own feature films (or even in one toegether), but I have my doubts as to whether that will ever come to fruition. But I'm already looking ahead to Avengers 2!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Z is for Zombies from A to Z

I'm sad to say that this is the end of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Though undoubtedly half the bloggers still participating will choose this exact same topic, I've decided to post on one of today's most popular subjects – zombies. But since this is the final post, and I have a few too many zombie-related favorites, I've decided to do something special.  Something . . . alphabetic.   So for the last and final time, z is for:

Zombies from A to Z

is for Apocalypse:
The Zombie Apocalypse. We all know it's coming. It's my hope that by studying all the following movies, books, TV shows, games and comic books, I'll be prepared. 

B is for Max Brooks:
Max Brooks is the author of two of my favorite zombie books - The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Stay tuned, because both are headed for the big screen.

C is for the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
On May 16, 2011, the Center for Disease Control blog issued a warning about zombie apocalypses, advocating preparedness. In reality, it was a clever way to promote readiness for any potential disasters including the upcoming hurricane season), but the post became an instant hit zombie fans nation-wide. CDC representative Dave Daigle reportedly announced, "If you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, you'll be prepared for any hazard." Congrats to the CDC for having their priorities straight. If you're worried that you aren't prepared, check out the the site here

D is for Dawn of the Dead:
Dawn of the Dead is the 1978 George A. Romero film featuring several survivors of a zombie pandemic who've barricaded themselves in an abandoned shopping mall. There was a 2004 Zack Snyder remake, also entitled Dawn of the Dead. It does not make my favorites list. 

E is for Eat Me!:
Eat Me! is an independent film released in 2009 about a band who unwittingly survives the world's transformation into a zombie apocalypse, and then must battle their way out of the city. I think the tag line really says it all: "Sometimes you get the munchies. Sometimes they get you."

F is for Frankenstein:
I've been told, repeatedly, that Frankenstein doesn't count as a zombie novel. But hey, it's about a reanimated corpse (or, uh, corpses), so I say it counts. Plus, I wanted to mention it for my "F" post and didn't get a chance. We'll just call this one zombie-adjacent. 

G is for Glee: 
Though I've stopped watching Glee (it got a bit to dramatic for my taste), I occasionally tune in to interesting-looking episodes. And the zombie episode following the 2011 Super Bowl was definitely interesting. Great costumes. Great music selection. If you haven't checked out their mash-up of "Thriller" and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Heads Will Role", I'd recommend it.

H is for Horde:
Geese come in gaggles, birds come in flocks, and zombies . . . come in hordes. And if you see one coming at you, RUN. 

I is for Inferi:
Harry Potter fans, this one's for you. Basically, the Inferi are corpses that have been re-animated by a dark witch or wizard to do their bidding. They are the zombie-esque creatures guarding Voldemort's locket horcrux in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The only defense against them is fire and/or light. 

J is for Milla Jovovich: 
Milla Jovovich famously portrays Alice, the zombie-hunting hero of the Resident Evil franchise. Though Alice isn't a member of the game series, she more than makes up for it in each of the four (soon to be five) films. 

K is for Stephen King:
One of my favorite titans of terror, Stephen King's "Home Delivery" was one the short stories featured in the 1989 anthology, Book of the Dead (said to be the very first zombie-related anothology). As usual, King delivers a tale dark and gory. 

L is for H. P. Lovecraft:
H. P. Lovecraft is another of my favorite horrors authors, and a master of the undead. His 1921 novelette, "Herbert West - Reanimator" is said to have defined zombies in popular culture. Inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (yet another reason her masterpiece made this list), Herbert West is a mad scientist who practices at reanimating dead bodies, unfortunately, into uncontrollable, violent beings

M is for Marvel Zombies: 
Marvel Zombies is a five-issue series of comic books published from 2005 to 2006. It features several famous Marvel superheroes, including Iron Man, The Fantastic Four and Captain America, who've all been turned into zombies. It's fantastic. Check out the cover:

N is for Night of the Living Dead: 
Night of the Living Dead is the 1968 film directed by George A. Romero. It is the mac daddy of zombie movies. The progenitor of it's kind, the founding father of the zombie horror film genre. It redefined the term "zombie" to its present day meaning, aka. reanimated, cannibalistic corpse. It lead to countless sequels and remakes, but none can ever touch this cult classic. 

O is for On Stranger Tides: 
The fourth installment in the Pirates if the Caribbean franchise, On Stranger Tides boasts a number of seafaring zombies, all brought to life by the infamous and terrifying Blackbeard. 

P is for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:
I'll admit it, I bought this book for the title alone. It combines two of my favorite things  Jane Austen and zombies. Who would have thought the Bennett sisters would make such a good zombie-killing team? I'm looking forward to the future film adaptation.

Q is for Quarantine:
Quarantine is the 2008 zombie film about a reporter and camera man trapped in a building that's been quarantined by the CDC. Not the best movie I've ever seen, but I did like the ending. 

R is for Resident Evil and the Redfields:
I already mentioned the Resident Evil film franchise under "J", but the game is, if possible, even better. And brother and sister team, Claire and Chris Redfield, are my favorite characters. 

S is for Shaun of the Dead:
Shaun of the Dead is one of the few light-hearted zombie films, as well as one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. You just gotta love Simon Pegg. 

T is for Thriller: 
Finally, we get to "T" and my personal favorite of this list. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video is one of the most recognizable and remembered music videos of all time. It's not only a terrific song, but comes with a great dance as well. Check it out: 

U is for the Umbrella Corporation:
The Umbrella Corporation is an international pharmaceutical company from Resident Evil, responsible for the development of the T-virus, a powerful drug responsible for the creation of a zombie epidemic. 

V is for Virus: 
There are many theories surrounding the creation of zombies. Magical interference, like the Inferi in Harry Potter, is one. Viruses are another. Like the T-Virus. Or the "Rage" virus from 28 Days Later. With modern biological experimentation, I vote virus. 

W is for The Walking Dead:
The Walking Dead is a comic book series created by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. It follows Rick Grimes and several other survivors of a zombie apocalypse as they make their way through a grim world populated by flesh-hungry zombies, and even more dangerous human beings. The comic books spawned an AMC television series of the same name. It's great, but seriously dark. 

X is for Xombies: 
Written by Walter Greatshell, the Xombies series centers around a world where the Agent X virus has turned most of the world into mindless zombies. I haven't read any of Greatshell's novels yet, but they're next up on my to-read list. 

Y is for Yikes! Zombies! Hide!:
I'd never heard of this game before I frantically began researching for something to put under the letter "Y". But I watched a few YouTube videos and it looks hilarious. From what I can tell, the basic premise involves digging in the ground to hide from zombies. Somehow . . . these zombies just don't seem so terrifying. Here, see what you think:

Z is for Zombieland:
Zombieland is possibly my favorite zombie film. It's comedic, a nerd who saves the day, and it has a zombie clown, which is doubly terrifying. Not to mention, the "rules". Forget the CDC's list.  These are the rules to live by if you want to survive a zombie apocalypse. Though it's not a complete list, here's what we've got:

1. Cardio
2. Double Tap
3. Beware of Bathrooms
4. Seatbelts 
6. Cast Iron Skillet
7. Travel Light
8. Get a kick-ass partner
12. Bounty Paper towles
15. Bowling ball
17. Don't be a hero
18. Limber up
21. Avoid strip clubs
22. When in doubt, know your way out
29. The buddy system
31. Check the back seat
32. Enjoy the little things
33. Swiss army knife
34. Clean socks
48. Hygiene 
49. Always have backup 

Well, that's all. I hope you enjoyed the A-Z of zombies. Thank you so much for all your interest and comments. This has been a great challenge and I can't wait to do it all over again next year. Happy A through Z blogging!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

X is for X-Men and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters

Well, this might not be the most original topic for “X”, but I simply couldn’t let this blogfest pass me by without talking about the X-Men at least once. And since I’m running out of steam a bit in this challenge, I decided to abandon my original idea for this post (in which I planned to give a long, drawn out – and probably pompous – speech on metaphorical mutant racism and its real life counterparts). Instead I thought I’d talk about something a little more personal.

To begin, the X-Men comics are my favorite comic book series, and have been since I first found my way to the superhero genre. I was immediately drawn to the concept of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, where Professor X taught teenage mutants to harness their powers and work together as a team. I always found the idea of young kids fighting evil exceptionally interesting, and more importantly, I love the idea of those same kids going through training, studying superherodom the way normal kids study to become an engineer or lawyer.

This concept stayed with me over the years, until the fall of 2011 when it – along with a few other books and movies – sparked the idea for my current novel. Unsurprisingly, the storyline involves three young high school students who are recruited into an elite, superhero team and taken through several months of intense training. While it doesn’t resemble X-Men too closely, my story certainly draws on Stan Lee’s for inspiration.

And for those of you who, like me, are X-Men enthusiasts, I wanted to mention a TV show called Alphas that friend Steven introduced it to me last year. Alphas is a SyFy channel series created by Zak Penn – better known as the writer X-Men 2, X-Men: The Last Stand, Elketra, The Incredible Hulk, and The Avengers (which he co-wrote with Joss Whedon). Here’s a quick synopsis:
The series follows five people with super abilities, known as "Alphas", led by noted neurologist and psychologist Dr. Lee Rosen as they investigate criminal cases involving other suspected Alphas. Rosen and his team of Alphas operate under the auspices of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the criminal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. While investigating these crimes, the team quickly discovers that a group known as "Red Flag", which was thought defeated and eliminated long ago, is using other Alphas to commit crimes.
If you haven’t seen it already, I’d highly recommend watching it. Season 2 begins this summer!
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Graphic Novels and Neil Gaiman

It took me almost 25 years to discover the world of graphic novels, but to this day I am ever thankful that I did. Graphic novels are very special – they’re the place where comic books and more traditional novels meet. They’re a melting pot of art and literature, a place where writers and storytellers of all different medium unite in collaboration.

Almost everyone who's ever read a graphic novel – and many who haven’t – have heard of legends Frank Miller and Alan Moore. They were the masterminds behind famous works such as Sin City, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and 300 (Miller), V for Vendetta and Watchmen (Moore).They are perhaps the most recognizable names in their field and are credited with popularizing the “graphic novel” as an distinct genre separate from comic books and print novels. Watchmen even made TIME magazine’s “100 Best Novels List”, the only graphic novel to do so.

However, Moore and Miller aren’t the only big names in the industry. Art Spiegelman’s World War II inspired Maus made a huge splash, not only in the graphic novel community, but with historians as well. In fact, the first time I read Maus was for my Holocaust history class in college. It is to date the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Since Maus, graphic novels have continued to cross boundaries between various medias. Television shows have increasingly turned to graphic novels in order to expand on their plots and characters. NBC’s Heroes for example, offered a graphic novel version to supplement the show. And Joss Whedon, already a member of the comic book-writing community, developed and wrote several graphic novels to accompany his hit show Firefly. The first, Those Left Behind, was written to bridge the gap between the end of Firefly and its companion film, Serenity. Another entitled The Shepherd’s Tale, expanded on Shepherd Book’s previously unknown, pre-Firefly history. Furthermore, many famous literary texts have been turned into graphic novels, from classics like Frankenstein and Fahrenheit 451, to modern children’s favorites Percy Jackson, The Looking Glass War and Artemis Fowl.

One of my personal favorite science fiction/fantasy writers – Neil Gaiman – jumped fields to write The Sandman, one of the most highly praised graphic novel series of all time. I’ve long been a fan of Gaiman’s work, having loved his novels Neverwhere, American Gods, Coraline and Stardust, but when a friend of mine found out I’d never heard of The Sandman, she immediately raced out and bought me the first installment (called Preludes and Nocturnes). 

When asked why he enjoyed writing graphic novels, Gaiman said, “One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground. It was virgin territory. When I was working on Sandman, I felt a lot of the time that I was actually picking up a machete and heading out into the jungle. I got to write in places and do things that nobody had ever done before. When I’m writing novels I’m painfully aware that I’m working in a medium that people have been writing absolutely jaw-droppingly brilliant things for, you know, three-four thousand years now . . . But with comics I felt like – I can do stuff nobody has ever done. I can do stuff nobody has ever thought of. And I could and it was enormously fun.”
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Guardian Project

A while back my friend (and comic book guru) Steven told me about a new collaboration between Marvel genius Stan Lee and the National Hockey League. Referred to as The Guardian Project, this collaboration was envisioned as a way to bridge the professional hockey league, declining rapidly in viewership, and a generation of young kids growing up in an increasingly digital world. And so Stan Lee put his brilliance to work creating a superhero and back story representing each of the NHL’s 30 teams. As both an athlete/sports enthusiast, and a comic book nerd, I have to say . . . WOW!

The guardian team is led by Mike Mason, a Peter Parker-esque sports fan. Obsessed with hockey and superheroes, as a child Mike created thirty different characters for the NHL teams, inventing their powers and alter-egos, and writing about their grand adventures. However, when the world is threatened, The Guardians are brought to life to defend their home cities against a series of villains controlled by the evil and malicious Deven Dark.

Check out a few of my favorite Guardians (chosen by alter ego and bios, not sports team) . . .

To see the rest of the Guardian bios, check out their website:

Unfortunately, as I understand it, The Guardian Project wasn't terribly successful as a marketing strategy. For one thing, many people never heard of it, despite efforts to draw people in via contests and social media advertising. And let's face it, on a Venn diagram, the intersection between comic book readers and hockey fans is a rather small one – though I’m of course living proof that they do exist. Still, I'd consider it one of the coolest advertising campaigns I've ever seen. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Insightful Ages of Comic Books

Though I always thought comic books were a bit of trivial fun, I’ve since realized that, like all good art and literature, they delve much deeper into human psychology. Comic books are a reflection and response to the political and social times they developed in. As society changes, their content changes. In order to best define and categorize the transformations in comic books over time, critics divide them into FOUR major “ages” (though some would argue it’s really seven). They are:

1.  The Golden Age of Comic Books:
The golden age lasted from 1938, with the first publication of Superman in Action Comics #1, until 1950. During this time writers and artists developed the very first superheroes. DC Comics flourished with publications like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash, while Timely Comics, Marvel's predecessor, responded with the Human Torch and Captain America.   

With World War II, comic books became extremely popular due to their cheap, entertaining tales depicting good triumphing over evil. But more than that, the war shaped the face of comics; they often reflected war-time themes and occasionally acted as war propaganda, with recognizable heroes battling Adolf Hitler or Japanese soldiers. During this time, the concept of the “superhero” became permanently defined and developed as the center of comic book story lines.  Larger than life, they became a symbol of virtue and morality for Americans desperate for something heroic to cling to during turbulent times.

2.  The Silver Age of Comic Books:
After the war finished, comic books suffered a decline in popularity. To stay in business, creators shifted focus from superheroes to tales of horror or romance. However, in 1954, renowned psychologist Dr. Fredric Werthham published Seduction of the Innocent, discussing links between teenage delinquencies and comic books. As a response, comic publishers executed the Comics Code Authority (CCA) to regulate subject matter.

With the creation of the CCA, as well as political movements like McCarthyism and the 1950’s focus on morality and ethics, comic book content altered greatly. During the Silver Age, which lasted from 1956 to 1970, subjects shifted away from the graphic horror scenes they covered post-war back to heroism and noble principles. Creators that remain household names today rose to the forefront, including Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Beginning with The Flash in DC’s Showcase #4 (1956), they modernized and revamped older heroes like Green Lantern, The Flash and Captain America, causing the second resurgence in superhero interest.

3.  The Bronze Age of Comic Books:
The Bronze Age lasted from 1970 to 1985 (though some debate surrounds the end date). During this time, comic books became much darker, beginning in 1971 when Stan Lee published an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in the direct face of CCA disapproval. Following his lead, other publishers opted to do the same. Plots turned darker and more mature, with heroes facing real-world issues like drug use and alcoholism.  

We can see how the darker comic book trends of the 70’s and 80’s reflect social cynicism following the Vietnam War, Cold War and the Nixon scandals. And with 1973 came the dawn a new type of hero – the ‘anti-hero’. Anti-heroes, like their earlier counterparts, perform valiant deeds and protect the public from dangerous criminals; however, their motives are anything but pure, their actions dangerous and questionable, and often motivated by vengeance rather than justice. Wolverine and The Punisher remain two of the most popular and recognizable anti-heroes.

4.  The Modern Age of Comic Books:
The Modern Age began in the mid-1980s and lasts all the way through present day. Like the Gold Age, it reflects changes in society both internally and externally. For example, on par with war themes from the 40’s, technological advancement makes its way into today’s comic books with both heroes and villains using the newest computers and electronics. But beyond that, just as WWII created a surge in comic book print media because of their cheap, easy production, now advances in computer graphics and technology allow heroes and villains to step off the page and into other media like movies, television, computer games, and digital or webcomics.

As traditional publishers Marvel and DC commercialized, independent publishers, like Dark Horse, rose up. With their boom in the film industry, comic books attracted new celebrity writers like Frank Miller, Joss Whedon, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Writers realized that comic books and superheroes are an excellent outlet for social commentary. In The Dark Knight, Batman fights corruption in the political systems. In Iron Man, Tony Stark battles corporate greed and experiments with alternative energy sources though his arc reactor. And the X-Men comics and movies show the problems we face with suppression of political rights for minority groups.

Additionally, characters developed even darker and more psychologically complex, with the anti-hero as the standard model. A shift towards emotional realism occurred where, rather than using their extraordinary abilities on a quest for good, heroes fought crime out of a deep psychological need to destroy criminals. Like their Bronze Age counterparts, these anti-heroes reflect a general disillusionment within society.

From the earliest paragons of heroism to modern anti-heroes, comic books reflect and highlight the social and political climates they’re produced in, and remain an excellent lens to view social changes and the American public state of mind. As both a history and English major, I find this a fascinating discovery and resolve to pay more attention to the surfeit of superhero movies releasing in the next two years.