Okay, I’ve had the weekend to mull over how I feel about the Season Three finale of The Legend of Korra and Season Three in general.

Here goes…

 

 WooHoo

 

OHMYGOD! That was amazing. Not only was the finale – a one hour block consisted of episodes 12, “Enter the Void”, and 13, “Venom of the Red Lotus” – one of the strongest, most action-packed, and gut-wrenching pieces of animation produced by the series creators and Studio Mir, it’s proof that Korra will indeed live up to her title, experiencing the trials and errors, and Pyrrhic victories of being a legend.legend-korra

For starters, a little background.

If I’m being honest, and I usually am, Book One: Air and Book Two: Spirits suffered from uneven storytelling, which happens on any series. Certainly Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t perfect either; highs and lows occurred throughout all three seasons. And while Air was a great introduction to Korra and the societal unrest of Republic City, Spirits meandered for the first half of the season as it tried to recover from the rushed ending and last-minute pickup from the network. Thankfully, Book Two recovered at mid-season, ending on Korra’s game-changing decision to keep the spirit portals open and reunite humans and spirits once again. The consequences of her decision, however, fueled all of Book Three, the aptly named Change.

By keeping the spirit portals open after Harmonic Convergence, the unintended byproduct was the creation of new airbenders. Committed to helping Tenzin rebuild the Air Nation, Korra and company travel to the Earth Kingdom to find other airbenders. Unfortunately, one of the new airbenders is Zaheer, leader of the Red Lotus. Imprisoned for trying to kidnap Korra as a child along with his three equally powerful cohorts, combustionbender P’Li, armless waterbender Ming-Hua, and lavabender Ghazan, the group escapes and sets about completing the plan they’d attempted thirteen years ago: kill the Avatar and restore the world to its natural order of chaos.

Okay, now for the awesome stuff!

The-Legend-of-Korra-Book-3-Team-AvatarThis has been one of the best uses of an ensemble cast since the first season. Even while we were introduced to new characters like the members of the Red Lotus, Lin Beifong’s half-sister Su, leader of the Metal Clan, and the return of an old friend in the elderly Lord Zuko, the season never felt overcrowded. Each character got a chance to shine in his or her own way, not just through their fighting styles and bending abilities, but as emotionally maturing people. As much as the show is focused on Korra, her friends and enemies are fully realized and there was never a moment where while watching one group I wished I was watching someone else. I especially loved how Team Korra became a stronger unit. Sure there was awkwardness because of Mako’s failed relationships with Asami and Korra, but the two girls showed great maturity by becoming friends, teaming up and kicking butt like they’d been at it forever. Yes, there was still squabbling, but it felt more like a family than petty in-fighting. Everyone was engaging and entertaining, showing the combined strength of the writers, directors, and animators to deliver a fantastic third season.

The villains, by far, are some of the best to come out of the world of Avatar. The members of the Red Lotus are charismatic, thoughtful, clever, funny, and none of them slack on the fighting. For crying out loud, Ming-Hua is an armless waterbender. An armless. Waterbender. How they show her utilizing her abilities is nothing short of brilliant. All of the Red Lotus are formidable on their own, but together they’re a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, the philosophical blueprint that Zaheer follows makes for a mature look at how a “villain” can perceive theirRed_Lotus own actions as heroic. He’s definitely the smartest opponent Korra’s faced and its that intelligence and skill that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. You want to like the villains this time around. Actually, you do like the villains and you understand their point-of-view. Like Zuko or Azula, a little part of you is rooting for the bad guys. Then you realize they wanted to poison and kill a four-year-old. Yeah…But, hey, they’re still awesome and I’m not even kidding when I say that Zaheer and P’Li’s romance was genuinely touching and tragic.

Lastly, the animation, all done by Studio Mir, is top-notch. It’s why something like Avatar and Korra can never be completely replicated in live action. The animated environment is more expansive, more fantastical, than anything that can be captured on film with actors backed by CGI. None of the fights felt wasted or superfluous. It wasn’t bending for the sake of bending, it was bending for the sake of storytelling. Lin and Su’s fight over their unresolved issues, the release of each member of the Red Lotus, and the training of the new airbenders all facilitated character development. And they definitely saved the best for last. The finale features the best fights of the season. Korra, with platinum cuffs on her wrists and ankles, still shows how skilled she is even while hindered. When her father shows up to help, it’s an effective team-up complete with leapfrog bending attacks. And the end fight between Zaheer and Korra in the poisoned Avatar State is unlike anything that’s been used in the series thus far and shows how much more sophisticated animation has become. The different perspectives achieved as Korra and Zaheer fly around and battle each other is breathtaking in its scope and scale. I can only imagine what’s cooking for next season.

 

Animation

 

And now for the analytical stuff!

From the beginning of Book Three there was a feeling of purpose and focus for Korra, the series and the character. After the battle with Vaatu and Unalaq in Book Two, Korra lost the connection to her past lives, making her the first Avatar since Wan to lack guidance from her predecessors. Instead, Korra had to draw from her own experiences – and the advice of her friends and mentors – to make decisions based on what she believed was something the Avatar would do. Understandably, making decisions as the Avatar comes with its own insecurities and worries about whether one is doing the right thing and, as the series has shown, Korra’s biggest fear is failure. This is a girl who, from the age of Strong Korrafour, had practically mastered bending water, fire, and earth. Her struggle to master airbending in Book One and her lack of a spiritual connection in Book Two exposed her fears of failing to live up to Aang’s legacy as well as the legacy of the Avatar. Her need to fulfill the primary of duty of restoring balance thematically ran through the entire season and, surprisingly, managed to incorporate the plots of the previous seasons in a way that actually feels organic.

In a very strange way, it looks as if everything really has been leading to this point. After giving herself up to Zaheer in order to save the airbenders from being wiped out, Korra is poisoned so she’ll go into the Avatar State as a means of protecting herself and give the Red Lotus the opportunity to end the Avatar cycle by killing her. As she fights off falling into the Avatar State, she begins to hallucinate Amon, Unalaq, and Vaatu. Her previous foes taunt her, repeatedly telling her that the world doesn’t need an Avatar and she should just “let go”. Thankfully this didn’t turn into another Frozen parody, but the writers tapped into Korra’s longest-running opponent: the very world she’s trying to bring balance to. All three seasons have, in some way, stressed that not only is the Avatar unnecessary but that Korra has failed every step of the way. And in Korra’s mind, yes, those failures are real. She barely managed to stop Amon, she lost her connection to the past Avatars, the President of Republic City kicked her out because she couldn’t stop the infiltrating spirits, Ba Sing Se is in chaos, and as far as she knows the airbenders and her father are all dead. Instead of rebuilding, her actions have created more problems.Tear

It’s why I feel that the ending of this season, when Korra sheds a single tear when Jinora is made an airbending master, is about Korra believing that, as the Avatar, she’s a failure. Korra has always prided herself on being strong, something she sees as a positive asset for the Avatar, but after facing off with the Red Lotus she’s left physically and spiritually depleted. It’s made even more obvious when she has to witness Jinora’s ceremony from a wheelchair. Though I imagine Korra is happy for Jinora, she’s essentially watching the young girl who has a stronger connection to the spirit world, who helped her find Raava when she thought the spirit of light had been lost to Vaatu, and showed tremendous bravery and leadership in saving Korra from Zaheer become a leader among her culture as Tenzin vows that the new Air Nation will help Korra by acting as surrogates to restore balance while she recovers. Though well intended, Tenzin’s commitment to helping the Avatar practically reinforces what Korra dreads – she’s not necessary or needed.

So what can we expect from Book Four? Well, as far as I’m concerned, they should call it Balance. Both Korra and the world are in disarray and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the next season showed Korra dealing with some sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other than that, I’m just looking forward to what they do next.

The only thing I want to know is: WHAT HAPPENED TO SOKKA AND SUKI?

Ghosted begins its latest arc by bringing back the past. Not only does Oliver King, the skeptic turned believer of the first arc return, but we also get the notorious white room last seen in the Trask Mansion, plus a new character with an unexpected connection to Jackson’s deceased friend. While this set-up seems all well and good for Ghosted, Jackson is the wildcard for ghosted_12the first time. His involvement in previous heists were either through coercion or…nope, pretty much everything after the Spirit Casino debacle has been about coercion. This time though, Jackson is all out of fucks to give as the government tries to recruit him for a new mission that further expands the supernatural world of Ghosted.

Starting almost immediately after the events with the Brotherhood of the Closed Book and the appearance of King with the FBI, Jackson and Nina Bloodcrow are released from prison so King can introduce them to Agent Creed. Jackson is of particular interest to Creed. He seems to know everything about him (including what happened in New Orleans, which I’m sure we’ll find out about in the future) and he wants to “offer him a job” going after the proliferation of ghosts and spirits that have come out of the woodwork for reasons that appear to be unexplained. Jackson, however, is having none of it. He could care less about what’s happening outside of his personal bubble of anger and guilt and the alternative options of prison or death sound better than helping the feds. It isn’t until Creed reveals the man who may be involved in the recent uptick in spiritual activity is the late Trick’s son and introduces Jackson to his “fan” that the con man is finally interested in what Creed has to say.

What continues to impress me about Ghosted are the many ways in which the supernatural is treated and interpreted. It’s like a check list of horror cliches only Joshua Williamson manages to make them feel fresh within the context of the world he’s created. Haunted mansion? Check. Cults and possession? Got it! Rednecks dealing in candles made of virgin blood? Ch – okay, that’s not on the list, but it oughta be! The success of these scenarios, however, is how they’re filtered through Jackson and his involvement. He’s the connecting thread but with the beginning of this new arc, we’re seeing him begin to unravel. Thematically, Ghosted has its roots in the idea of the past haunting us in ways we can’t expect. The bookends of this issue illustrate that perfectly. A woman’s stalker kills himself and while the woman is happy to move on with her life, the ghost of R2nDrEx-ghosted_12_3the stalker lingers, hovering around her and letting her know that she’s not as free of him as she thought. Jackson has a similar predicament, but his demons are less visible to the naked eye. Instead, he literally bears the scars of his haunted past, one that everyone wants to exploit to get him to do their dirty work. The loss of Trick, however, has affected Jackson tremendously. If he had even a tenuous hold on staying alive, Trick’s death has finally pushed Jackson to the breaking point. His previous attempts at goading people into killing him seem trivial compared to the anger-induced provocation of Creed when the man has a gun pointed at him. The only person keeping him somewhat anchored is Nina.

Once again, Davide Gianfelice’s art works so well within the world of Ghosted. The sketch-like quality of his art instills movement in scenes that could easily look static. Like the previous arc, Gianfelice handles the horror with a deft hand, making spirits and possessed people look grotesque yet intriguing at the same time. The ghost of the stalker is especially chilling due to the minimal dialogue as the young woman goes about her nightly routine all while the deceased hovers nearby, his blank expression made all the creepier by the gaping would in his skull. The colors from Miroslav Mrva present an interesting contrast between the living world and the dead. For most of the issue, the colors are brighter, even in the prison facility where Jackson and Nina are being held, but when a ghost is featured in a scene they’re marked by a noticeable color shift that draws the eye immediately. It’s a fantastic way of highlighting the combined efforts of writer, artist, and colorist.

Final Thoughts: New story + new characters = a very excited Sam!

Robin Williams

There are no words that I can muster to truly encapsulate how influential and inspiring Robin Williams was to me growing up. Like so many others I was shocked to learn of his passing today from an apparent suicide brought on by depression, which the actor had been suffering from most of his life. Williams was by no means a perfect human being, but he was a manic ball of light and energy, a performer who never seemed to have an off switch and we loved him for it.

Audiences first met Williams in the guest role of Mork from Ork, an alien bent on abducting Richie Cunningham, on Happy Days, which later produced a spinoff show, Mork and Mindy, that ran from 1979 to 1982. From there Williams went on to create a mosaic filmography that included such diverse movies like Popeye (1980), Cadillac Man (1990), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1991), Hook (1991), Dead Poet’s Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), Aladdin (1992), The Birdcage (1996), The Fisher King (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Good Will Hunting (1997), which won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Death to Smoochy (2002), and the Night at the Museum films. Williams understood that comedy and drama were not mutually exclusive and he took roles that allowed him to do both. In the process he produced a powerful body of work that has and will continue to influence movie lovers and comedians alike. The two movies that influenced me most were Dead Poet’s Society and Aladdin. They’re as different as any two movies can be, but in both films Williams displays the broad range of a gifted and talented actor. His Mr. Keating made us long for passionate teachers ready to challenge us with prose and the Genie proved that a being with PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS!!! could unite the magic of animation with the equally as powerful The Geniemagic of laughter.

Comedy truly was his forte. His legendary ad libbing prowess is one that few can replicate, nor can they seem to match the frenzy of his performances. Williams was a comedic Rumpelstiltskin, spinning gold from a brief turn of phrase or a simple prop and latching on to it until it was no longer useful. He was quotable, accessible, all while exuding a quiet humility and intelligence. Robin Williams loved comedy, he loved to play, and the only thing left to say is that he will forever remain the great spark of creativity and comedic brilliance that we and subsequent generations will look to in our darkest moments. Comedy saved my life and I wish it could have done the same for him.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. The pain of your absence will never go away.

In a quiet moment during the second act of An Evening with Groucho, Frank Ferrante, now in his 30th year portraying the great Groucho Marx, recounts the meeting between a woman and Groucho.groucho

“You’re him, aren’t you? Groucho,” she says. Putting her hand gently on his arm she then says the most powerful words a person can demand of a comedian: “Never die.”

Sadly, it’s been thirty-seven years since the passing of Groucho Marx, the leader and acerbically witty frontman of the Marx Brothers. But in his absence we have Frank Ferrante carrying on his spirit, acting as a living monument and comedic historian for one of the great comedy teams to come out of vaudeville and hit the silver screen. The one man show – technically a two-man show if you count musical accompanist Mark Rabe – is a celebration of the wit, physical dexterity, and hilarity of Groucho and his brothers Chico, Harpo, Gummo, and Zeppo, chronicling their early years (including the origin of their stage names, though Ferrante easily sidesteps a definitive answer for the eponymous Groucho) through their rise to fame in film and television. The struggles, the hardships, but more importantly, the laughs, are all present as Ferrante serves up Groucho’s somewhat linear body of work with an extra side of ham as is befitting of the man responsible for Captain Spaulding, Otis B. Driftwood, and Rufus T. Firefly.

Ferrante begins the show sans makeup, addressing the audience as a man who was forever changed as a child, a shy one at that, when he first saw the rambunctious, free-spirited Marx Brothers in movies like Horse Feathers, Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, A Day at the Races, Duck Soup, and A Night at the Opera. His love letter to Groucho truly begins when he transforms on stage, donning the universally recognized visage of Groucho Marx: grease paint mustache and eyebrows, cigar, glasses, and wild curly hair. It’s Groucho as he was in his prime, alive and breathing through Ferrante as he holds court over the audience.

Groucho_on_couchBut don’t expect Ferrante to remain tied to the stage. Oh no! Audience participation is highly encouraged. And by highly encouraged I mean mandatory. Ferrante leaps and bounds about the sparsely decorated yet homey stage, but it takes only a moment’s glance for him to descend the small staircase into the crowd. His laser focus and razor-sharp wit puts Ferrante at the advantage of improvising, almost effortlessly, with any audience member he singles out. It’s also a testament to Rabe’s abilities as a musician that he can follow Ferrante from song to improv and barely miss a note. He proved himself during the first official show of An Evening with Groucho‘s three-week stint at the ACT Theater in Seattle, Washington as Ferrante frequently broke in an out of song to poke fun at a woman slouching in her chair.

And while Ferrante showcases the jokes, puns, and overall wordplay that made Groucho the unflappable performer, he’s just as adept at singing some of Groucho’s famous songs including “Hooray for Captain Spaulding”, “Hello, I Must Be Going”, “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”, and “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”. But it’s through one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s songs from The Mikado, “Tit-willow”, a song the real Groucho sang when he performed as the Lord High Executioner in a production of the musical, that we see the softer, more contemplative Groucho. Here is Groucho the romantic, Groucho the intellectual. The man who regularly conversed with poet T.S. Eliot despite only having a sixth grade education. Ferrante presents a three-dimensional Groucho Marx, a man who was much more than his famous persona. And as each generation becomes more and more removed from the Marx Brothers, though interest in them ebbs and flows, An Evening with Groucho allows us to glimpse, for a brief ninety minutes, a man who was and always will be a comedic icon. Ferrante keeps him alive and vibrant, fully realizing the immortality of comedy and comedians through the passion and love of their fans.

Me and Groucho

To find where Frank will be performing An Evening with Groucho, you can go to his website, or check out his Facebook page and An Evening with Groucho‘s page for updates.

Meet-The-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

Even by comic book standards Guardians of the Galaxy is an obscure property. Not that Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America were household names like Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, but at least people were somewhat aware of the characters whether through comics, cartoons, or embarrassing early 90s movies. Hulk was probably the most well-known amongst the Avengers and even he suffered through two middling movies. Given the success of The Avengers, Marvel could’ve easily picked any number of heroes to launch within their Phase 2, so why Guardians of the Galaxy? Why take the risk on a group no one, not even some die-hard Marvel readers, was aware of with a cast of characters that included a gun-toting raccoon and a sentient tree with a limited vocabulary? I could give you a long explanation about how Guardians fits into the overall mega-event Marvel’s leading towards with Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet storyline from the comics, but in simplistic terms? They could, so they did.

Okay, yes, there’s more to it than that but from the get-go there’s been an attitude surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy, one of “Yeah, Guardians of the Galaxy. Trust us. We got this.” And as moviegoers, we collectively consented to the idea. Marvel had earned enough goodwill that we believed in their vision. The result is yet another blockbuster to keep Marvel on its unprecedented streak of solidly entertaining superhero movies. No two Marvel movies have been entirely alike save for a through line of tone and world building. Thor took us into the realm of fantasy, Captain America gave us a World War 2 era film as well as an action-packed spy thriller, and The Avengers gave us the ultimate team-up. Guardians, however, is straight sci-fi adventure that expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe across the galaxy. Director James Gunn infuses Guardians with his snarky, rebellious attitude coming out of his experience with indie and Troma films, but also rises to the challenge of delivering his first big budget, special effects laden homage to the sci-fi genre.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-posterPeter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, having spent most of his life in space after being abducted from Earth in 1988, unknowingly stumbles upon a highly valued orb that contains one of the infamous infinity stones. Seeking the orb is Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) who sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin), to retrieve the orb so that Ronan can get revenge on the planet Xandar despite a peace treaty between Xandar, home to the Nova Corps, and Ronan’s people, the Kree. Quill is also pursued by bounty hunters Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) after his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) puts a price on his head for going rogue. When the four end up in prison, they gain another ally in Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who seeks revenge on Ronan for the death of his family. Seeing that they share a common enemy, and a desire to continue living, the five band together to thwart Ronan and save the galaxy.

From the moment the first trailer dropped and the first poster circulated around the internet, the marketing campaign for Guardians was unabashedly cocky in its presentation of a team formed from a rag-tag group of outlaws, assassins, thieves, and thugs. It was a choice reflective not just of James Gunn’s style but also the journey towards heroism made by the team. The Guardians aren’t necessarily brought together through nobility of purpose. They’re outcasts, misfits, and loners. They’ve all suffered loss because of the hand dealt to them by the universe, but in finding each other they have a reason to care about something bigger than themselves. Gunn and his co-writer, Nicole Perlman, manage to get this across via cinematic tribute; starting the film with Star-Lord, alone on a planet, retrieving an artifact a la Raiders of the Lost Ark and progressing the narrative the through a visual spectacle invoking Star Wars until the team is truly formed in a shot straight-up lifted from The Right Stuff. Through it all the movie maintains a lighthearted tone, but isn’t afraid to go for the gut-wrenching darkness needed to delve into the backstories of the main characters. It’s the humor, however, that sustains the movie. That and a soundtrack that acts as a time capsule of 60s and 70s pop music sure to make even the surliest fanboy tap his feet. Hell, I’ve had just about every song stuck in my head for days after seeing the film.Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Rocket-Raccoon

For an ensemble piece like this you couldn’t ask for a better cast. Pratt truly solidifies his status as a leading man, channeling every roguish character imaginable into a ball of charm and overconfidence that would make Han Solo nod in approval. Saldana makes being a deadly assassin look easy; kicking ass and taking names without breaking a sweat, yet still managing to exude some of Gamora’s vulnerability despite the cold exterior. Bautista is surprisingly good as Drax. I don’t know anything about his career as a wrestler, but whatever limited acting skills he has never made it on-screen. Drax’s inability to understand metaphors actually worked to Bautista’s advantage, giving him some of the funnier lines in the film. And though they weren’t present for filming, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel turn in wonderfully nuanced performances as Rocket and Groot respectively. These were the two characters everyone worried about in terms of audience acceptance, but the special effects team knocked it out of the park with the two bounty hunters. They were textured and expressive, making us believe, from the moment we see them, that they belong in this world. Cooper’s Rocket is a damaged soul, the only one of his kind and his rage and sorrow are played straight during several unexpected moments. But he’s right up there going snark for snark with Quill. Rocket easily steals the movie with his one-liners and overall awesomeness. Oddly enough, Diesel delivers as Groot. He only has three words to work with, but Diesel manages to make each reading different, showing that inflection, spacing, and emotion can make three words seem like a paragraph.

Star-LordAs an ensemble, the Guardians are the epitome of a Marvel family. Their clashing personalities work off each other as they fight and bicker over just about everything. Scenes between just the five characters are the strongest in the film. The timing is perfect and Gunn seems to take great delight in throwing the typical clichés in our faces with a well placed one-liner. The main characters are bolstered by a strong supporting cast including Glenn Close, John C. Reilly , Peter Serafinowicz, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker, and cameos from Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, Seth Green, and Troma director/producer Lloyd Kaufman. Gunn even includes a nice little role for his brother, Sean Gunn, who was the body actor for Rocket during filming. It’s an amazing cadre of actors assembled and shows the pull Gunn and Marvel has for getting quality talent. Even the smallest roles could potentially lead to bigger things in the future.

So with all the praise I’ve been doling out, there are a few problems that most Marvel movie aficionados will see unfold. For one, Ronan the Accuser’s motivation is about as surface level as any Marvel villain. He wants to destroy Xandar because EVIL! and that’s as far as it really goes for him. His myopic goal ultimately aids the Guardians in stopping him because he does little else to prove himself as a formidable villain other than throw Drax around and yell at Thanos. Maybe if we’d seen him destroy a planet that wasn’t Xandar to show exactly how powerful he’s become with the infinity stone and the failed attempt to stop him by the Guardians. Their failure than motivates them to make sure Xandar doesn’t meet the same fate. Something like that. It doesn’t help that the complex backstories of each character only get brief enough mentionsRonan-the-Accuser-in-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy for the needs of exposition. Quill has the biggest arc of the movie in order to ground the audience, but it means Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot’s stories need to be put on the back burner. To the movie’s credit, though, they give us just enough background to give certain scenes the proper emotional weight. Rocket’s drunken outburst about being a monster feels genuine given what we’ve seen and know about him and Gamora’s anger at Thanos for being turned into an assassin is palpable.

Overall, the movie is well paced but there are times where it feels like scenes were inexplicably cut that were needed to make the transitions within the story smoother. Characters just happen to have vital information or show up at the right time out of plot convenience rather than a more organic flow. Yondu and the Ravagers happen to end up on Knowhere at the same time as things go awry with The Collector and Ronan shows up upon Drax’s drunken request because…reasons? It serves the purpose of making the stakes higher and giving us a kickass chase sequence, but how we arrive from point A to point B is a bit hazy. The fight between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan) also exemplifies the need for better characterization and editing. The whole sequence feels like it was supposed to be longer – the trailers at least indicated this was so – since Gamora and Nebula’s sibling rivalry drives the savagery of the fight. Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-GamoraUnfortunately the editing makes it much shorter, which could also be the result of underutilizing Nebula as a character. Though she appears badass and definitely carries plenty of attitude, Nebula becomes more of an obstacle for Gamora and their fight lacks the emotional impact it should between the “daughters” of Thanos. Hopefully there’s a director’s cut that will get released because I’d love to see what Gunn’s complete vision was for the movie.

The problems, however, shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing the film. Like I said, they’re typical of Marvel movies, but there’s definitely an opening for further characterization and storytelling now that the team/family has been formed. If anything, Guardians of the Galaxy shows how a team-up movie can be made without the building block process of individual films Marvel has relied upon in the past. Not only does this open up more possibilities for other Marvel movies, but shines a light of hope on certain other comic book team movies coming out in a couple of years.

Until then, go see Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m more than twelve percent certain you’ll enjoy it.

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I friggin’ can’t. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are slowly, but surely, tearing my heart out as I watch a train wreck happen right in front of me. It’s painful and yet I can’t look away. I’ve laughed at a lot of comics (because they were intentionally orsaga_21 unintentionally funny), I’ve gotten angry at comics, but this may be the first time that I’ve been depressed after reading an issue.

But, like I said, I still want more. Apparently I’m a masochist at heart.

Marko and Alana continue their slow slide towards the possible destruction of their family as Alana continues to take the drug Fadeaway while working in the Open Circuit and Marko finds that he may have a slight attraction to Hazel’s dance instructor, Ginny. Elsewhere, the Robot janitor who killed Princess Robot and stole her child makes his way towards a familiar planet and the memory-deficient Prince Robot IV finds out some devastating news.

Short, sweet, and simple right? If only Saga was like that. Sometimes I think the only thing that keeps me reading this arc is the off-chance that Vaughan and Staples will pull a one-eighty on me and completely turn the story around as they seem to do in order to get readers pumped for the next chapter. Unfortunately, this creative team have been brutally honest when it comes to the relationships depicted in their story. As Hazel wisely states, “From the moment it’s formed, a family is almost always under attack.” Of course there’s always a literal and figurative example of anything Hazel says. In the past, Marko and Alana would’ve been the primary example what with their fugitive status and all. Now it’s Prince Robot’s family. His wife’s been killed, his child stolen, and he’s only now recovered his memories after his battle at Heist’s lighthouse…more or less. Even though he’s been one of the primary antagonists for Marko and Alana, we’ve always known his motivations for going after them. Now that he’s been delivered the crushing blow of news, his war has become far more personal.

Marko and AlanaOn a more figurative level, Marko and Alana are facing internal attacks on their relationship that are entirely their own doing. The strain of Alana being at work all the time to support their family and Marko’s lonely house-husband routine have kept the two apart for most of the story; their coping skills aren’t exactly healthy either. This is perfectly illustrated when Marko surprises a still high Alana with candles and sexy times that turn out to be anything but sexy from the reader’s point of view. In fact, the whole scene is heartbreaking. Alana is still tripping after taking drugs to get through the day at work of product placement in lingerie (Vaughan continuing his jibes at media) and Marko is desperately trying to connect with his wife after Ginny shows some interest in him that’s a bit more than complaining about the trials of parenthood. What should be a romantic and/or erotic scene of two people who love each other coming together is juxtaposed by Hazel’s narration regarding how close and yet so far apart two people can be even if they love each other. Vaughan’s words and Staples’ beautiful art tell the same story in very different ways, neither of which make the reader feel good about the scene since we know what circumstances have spawned this “spontaneous” love-making. Though one has to wonder how long Marko was waiting in the shadows all naked-like before Alana entered the bedroom.

Final Thoughts: I would love an entire issue of Klara and Izabel interacting. Those two are definitely Saga’s Odd Couple!

Over the last week fans of the accordion-wielding, Polka-powered musical god of parody that isweird-al-yankovic-mandatory-fun-album-cover “Weird Al” Yankovic were treated to the release of eight new music videos, one video per day, in celebration of Yankovic’s 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun. The videos debuted on different outlets across the internet and showed that Weird Al is still the king of musical comedy as his parodies and pastiches invoke as much laughter as they do bits of social commentary.

The first video released was “Tacky“, a parody of Pharrell’s monster hit “Happy”, followed by “Word Crimes“, a parody of Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I.’s “Blurred Lines”, “Foil“, a parody of “Royals” by Lorde, “First World Problems“, a tribute to the Pixies, “Handy“, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, “Sports Song“, a parody of college fight songs, “Lame Claim to Fame“, a tribute to Southern Culture on the Skids, and “Mission Statement” a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and possibly Young.

In order to maintain the uniqueness of his songs, Weird Al made sure the videos were just as engaging, making more traditional music videos with the help of some celebrity guests and procuring the talents of animators for others. The animated videos specifically serve the purpose of bringing the songs to life in ways that live action would’ve faltered. For example, “Word Crimes”, an admonishment of the grammatical errors, syntax, and text speak that’s invaded our virtual lexicon, incorporates hilarious visual elements to point out just how lackadaisical we’ve gotten in our ability to write simple sentences while also incorporating the ridiculous flashing hashtags from Word Crimesthe source video. Even though “Blurred Lines” was released last year, Weird Al still manages to make the song relevent despite the gap between when the song was deemed a hit and the more current parodies on the album.

The inclusion of songs parodying hits like “Blurred Lines”, “Royals”, and “Radioactive”, though, shows the pitfalls of creating studio albums based in musical comedy. Now more than ever music and comedy have become mediums where relevancy is based in moments rather than the long-term. This is due in part to social media and our massive cultural Attention Deficit Disorder. A YouTube video or an article may get heavy rotation one day and, suddenly, the next day we’ve moved on to the next cat video or BuzzFeed quiz. We consume media as quickly as it’s produced and just as quickly discard it for the next shiny thing that comes our way. So one can imagine that crafting an entire album of parody songs is difficult when you have to pay attention to the Billboard charts for the hits you can work with as well as keep as up-to-date as possible. Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is the most current songweirdal referenced on Mandatory Fun, released in February of this year, and the inclusion of its comedic twin, “Handy”, on the album was more about having a song that was a current hit, which shows in comparison to the other eleven songs that were given more time and production value.

The album, however, doesn’t suffer when it comes to the timeliness of its songs. Yankovic, his band that still consists of Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, Steve Jay, and Jim West, as well as the marketing team behind Mandatory Fun were smart in utilizing social media to launch the album via the eight videos. Not only did the videos individually saturate the internet, but the combined efforts and instant visibility of eight videos in a row catapulted Mandatory Fun into the #1 spot on Billboard, the first time in Weird Al’s 30 year career that one of his albums has charted so high in its debut week. And while there is some level of nostalgia surrounding Weird Al, there’s also genuine love and interest for the man behind the accordion and which songs he’ll tackle next. What Mandatory Fun’s marketing shows is how essential social media has become to the music industry and Weird Al as an artist.

tackyMandatory Fun has been confirmed to be Weird Al’s last traditional studio album with RCA Records, which is probably for the best if Yankovic plans to stick around. On a recent episode of Comedy Bang Bang, Yankovic was very candid about the fact that he’d rather have the freedom to produce a parody video or song around the same time the hit comes out as opposed to waiting and compiling songs for an album that can take up to two years to produce and distribute. With his plans to go completely digital, Weird Al will be able to create and distribute his work instantaneously, similar to the South Park method of animation production.

What does this mean for the viewing and listening audience? Simply this: more Weird Al!

If I was the meteorologist of Palisade, I’d definitely start rethinking my career options. A rainstorm is one thing, but giant tentacled elder gods? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that isn’t in the job description. Or maybe it is; this is Palisade after all. More importantly, this is Rat Queens.RatQueens_07-1

After finding the missing Bernadette wandering the streets with her still scary as all hell eyes, Hannah takes her back to the Rat Queens’ home to figure out what happened to her despite the fact that she’s still a complete bitch and tried to have the Queens killed. At Casa de Rat Queens, Dee and her husband, Mezikiah, awkwardly catchup. Though he’s glad to see that she’s thriving in Palisade with her friends, there’s a measure of expectation from Kiah that Dee will figure things out and return to their religious community. Because it definitely isn’t a cult. It’s totally a cult. However, Kiah’s visit is two-fold. It seems as though their people were visited by Gerrig Lake who stole an important artifact, the Haruspex Requiem – a death mask containing all the knowledge of every high priest of Dee and Kiah’s people. His reasons for taking the mask? Revenge, of course. Revenge on Palisade and on Sawyer in particular.

The past, it seems, is creeping up on everyone in Rat Queens. Prior to reaching out a helping hand to Bernadette, Hannah and Tizzie get into a fairly heated argument that speaks to a darker past for the rockabilly mage; she’s the only one in Palisade capable of using darker magic, her parents are necromancers, and she’s still using Necrius as part of her spell-casting. We’ve already seen Hannah tap into her darker side during the battle with the trolls and Betty’s concern for how scary it was to see her so full of rage, so it’s very possible we could be seeing a heel-turn from Hannah if she goes completely to the Dark Side. Sawyer and Dee’s pasts tangentially cross paths through the involvement of Gerrig Lake, but only because Sawyer’s past as an assassin caused the death of Gerrig’s wife, the only bright spot in his life in Palisade.

Dee’s religious background, however, has become integral to the plot as all hell breaks loose. Kurtis J. Wiebe has repeatedly stated that Dee’s backstory reflects his own upbringing in a small, religious town and through Dee he explores the complicated relationship people have with religion. Dee left her home and family to find herself separate from the religious community. Kiah, in his own way, tempts her with letters from her mother, but he also points out that Dee wears the markings of their religion, which she didn’t have when she left. If Dee is so skeptical of the tenets of her people and the purpose of their religious practices, then why did she willingly take on the markings of N’Rygoth?

As a lapsed Catholic, I can say that I understand the contradictions inherent in separating yourself from religion yet still finding pieces of it to latch on to. When our lives, our families, are tied up in a specific belief system, and we break away, there’s still a part of us that remains attached. I may not go to church anymore, and I question A LOT of things about religion in general, but I still have my rosary, I remember the prayers, I have tattoos featuring crosses, and sometimes I even try to stick to things like Lent. Like it or not, my religious background isn’t something I can entirely separate myself from. Dee, as far as I know, is in a similar position, and she’s also quick to point out tumblr_n7qv3hNd381rz6qqno5_1280to Kiah that their religion is now being used to torture and maim. But Kiah counters with the fact that their gods are neutral and it’s the actions of mortals that manifests evil. In this case, evil literally manifests in the form of a tentacled creature from the abyss. We have our gods, they have theirs, but it’s nice to know that Wiebe doesn’t blame religion so much as he blames the people who corrupt and abuse it for their own purposes.

On the lighter side of things, Betty is high as fuck and it is glorious! Just that look in her eyes as she hallucinates her candy dream date is hilarious and it provides a welcome interlude in a pretty dark portion of the story, though I expect it to get darker. It’s one of the aspects of Rat Queens that I truly love. The characters and the story aren’t fighting each other. There’s equally as much time devoted to progressing the plot as there is making sure the characters react in their own way. Cracking jokes, eating candy people, it all fits regardless of the looming danger.

And because there’s no way to fit this into the flow of the review organically, just know that Lola’s fight scene is all kinds of awesome. Girl has some skills, I tell ya. Very nice, Roc Upchurch. Very nice!

Rating – 10/10

Final Thoughts: The forecast for Palisade is rain, wind, and a tentacled elder god bent on destruction. Remember to bring an umbrella.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I’m slightly obsessed with Rat Queens, the breakout comic from writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Roc Upchurch. I mean, it’s not like I’ve reviewed every issue or interviewed the creative team as well as Wiebe’s other collaborative partner, Tyler Jenkins, the artist for Peter Panzerfaust. Oh wait, I totally did.ratqueens

Anyway, I’m not alone in my love of the kickass, foul-mouthed, all female quest group operating out of the much beleaguered city of Palisade. Wiebe and Upchurch have crafted a fantasy world with a modern attitude that has drawn in plenty of fans, male and female, to form their own community of social clubs, burlesque shows, cosplay, fan art, and online hangouts. And it seems that the popularity of the book will now extend into television.

Announced by Variety back in June, Rat Queens will be adapted into a 30-minute animated show by Weta Workshop’s Pukeko Pictures and Heavy Metal under the purview of executive producers Martin Baynton and Adam Fratto from Pukeko and Heavy Metal’s co-CEO Jeff Krelitz. Heavy Metal is also producing the television adaptation of Peter Panzerfaust for BBC Worldwide, adding to the wide variety of properties and mediums they’ve expanded to since the magazine that supplies the company name was bought from previous owner, Kevin Eastman – co-creator of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book.

rat-queens-by-wiebe-upchurch-coming-in-septem-L-tcurExAs a producer, Krelitz is eager to bring the exploits of Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty to the small screen, saying:

Rat Queens is a standout in the marketplace as a diving rod for fangirls, a market as yet untouched by most comics publishers. It is not only perfect for the TV space, but much needed.

Krelitz isn’t wrong in his assessment of the television landscape when it comes to courting female viewers. While the “fairer sex” as an audience will watch everything their male counterparts do, Rat Queens presents an untapped well in animation with four female protagonists who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. They’re awesome characters who happen to be women and their sex is never called into question by their male peers. If anything, the Rat Queens can out drink, out curse, and out fight most of the men they interact with or face off against. It’s a chance for a more mature audience to see that being a girl is by no means detrimental to your ability to stab out a troll’s eyes.

I took the liberty of reaching out to Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch to get thoughts on this next step in the journey that is the Rat Queens phenomenon.ratqueensbetty

Wiebe: It’s exciting to have interest from the TV world on both of my projects. It’s the sort of thing you don’t ever expect to happen, and when it does it’s pretty surreal. It can be a slow process, as I’ve come to learn from the Peter Panzerfaust option, which is fine by me because my focus is, and always has been, the comics.

Upchurch: I can’t wait to see Rat Queens animated. I think this will be a great platform for it. And it’s in good hands with WETA and Heavy Metal. They won’t fuck it up.

I completely agree with Upchurch’s excitement for Rat Queens to be animated. The fantasy genre is where a property like Rat Queens thrives in animation rather than live action where the special effects can range from passable to Syfy channel, low-budget, green screen fiascos. In animation, the possibilities are similar to the comics from which they originate, limitless. I only hope the adaptation sticks to Upchurch’s art style. It’s a distinct universe with equally distinct characters. The Rat Queens are a diverse group in terms of races, religions, and sexual orientation, so I hope Pukeko and Heavy Metal stay true to what Wiebe and Upchurch have created.

2986638-sheakoshan-acomicminutepeterpanzerfaust1928Peter Panzerfaust will also need a deft hand to bring it to television. Unlike Rat Queens, Peter Panzerfaust is made for live action. And considering the track record with mini series and television shows produced by the BBC with an historical slant, adapting a book that meshes J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan with WWII sounds like a daunting, yet ultimately rewarding task. Luckily, the production already has some excellent writers on board.

For the time being, both properties are in the pre-production phase. Scripts are being written and Heavy Metal plans to produce a pilot to shop around. Fingers crossed that a network takes advantage of a growing market of female-driven properties and the fans that follow them. In the mean time, please enjoy this motion comic trailer for Peter Panzerfaust that was produced back in 2013.

 

 

Podcast Party

So while I have my own podcast over at Word of the Nerd called That Girl with the Curls (which I highly encourage you to check out), I was fortunate enough to get some screen time with Andy Suriano (Samurai Jack, Cosmic Scoundrels, Liberty Justice), Daniel Freedman and Sina Grace (Burn the Orphanage), Tyler Shainline (Liberty Justice, The Beef), and Image editor and accounts managers Branwyn Bigglestone. This was a special event, one that I hope you’ll watch and enjoy. We talk about all aspects of the comic book industry and I encourage you to check out their books and find them online!

And big thanks to Andy Suriano for getting us all together!