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February 23rd, 2015
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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XV: The Reign of the Black Flame!

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning has entered the home stretch!

What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.  Click here for part fourteen, in which I discuss the beginning of the Abe Sapien ongoing series, as well as the great B.P.R.D. story The Lake of Fire.

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We’re getting close to the end of this Hellboy Re-Reading Project blog post!!  It’s exciting to be so close to the end of this massive re-read.  Onward!

Abe Sapien #6-7: The Shape of Things to Come (2013) – Abe heads to Arizona and meets a spirited woman, … [continued]

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50 Years of Star Trek: Josh’s Favorite Star Trek Music!

OK fellow nerds, buckle up for a deep dive into geekiness here.

Two weeks ago, I reviewed the wonderful Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage CD, a recording of the concert series celebrating 50 years of amazing Star Trek music.  That two-disc CD contained 30 tracks (15 on each CD) of Trek music from across 50 years of Star Trek history — all the various movies and TV shows (and even one track of music from a Trek video-game!).  I loved the CD set, and I’ve listened to it several times.  I had a lot of fun analyzing the track choices in my review, discussing which ones I loved and which ones’ inclusion surprised me.

Doing so got me to thinking: if I had been the one putting together this concert and CD set, what would my choices have been?  I gave myself several challenges.  First and foremost, not just to list my favorite tracks from all the Trek soundtracks over the years, but to assemble them together into a concert playlist whose ebb and flow would work.  I also tried to limit myself to the same number of tracks, 30 in total (15 in each half), as the Ultimate Voyage used.  (I failed, but only by a little bit.  I found that I just had to include 16 tracks in each half of my concert.)  I also debated whether to try to incorporate music from all the different Trek series, as the Ultimate Voyage concert did so effectively.  While that is one of my favorite aspects of the Ultimate Voyage concert CD set, I decided in the end not to attempt that myself, and instead to focus on the Trek music that was my very favorite, even if that wound up with a more limited selection from Trek history.

I had a lot of nerdy fun thinking about this over the past week.  And so, it is my pleasure to present to you:

Josh’s “Ultimate Voyage” Playlist: The Very Best of 50 Years of Star Trek Music:

Disc One:

1. “Overture” (Ilia’s Theme) from Star Trek: The Motion Picture I’ll begin my Trek concert with this overture music that also began Star Trek: The Motion Picture (playing before the opening credits).  I love this Star Trek love theme and I think it’s a beautiful, melodic way to open.

2. “Main Title” from Star Trek: Generations That love theme would be a lovely segue into this opening music from Star Trek: Generations, which begins quietly and then builds to a triumphant declaration of the classic Alexander Courage Star Trek theme.  The Ultimate Voyage concert also had this track as their number two track, and I am shamelessly … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Americans Season Four

While there are many shows that take a while to find themselves, The Americans was strong right out of the gate.  I was hooked very quickly in the first season, and the show has continued to develop and deepen.  The recently concluded fourth season was superb, very possibly the show’s strongest season ever!  (It’s hard to say for sure, because in this era of Peak TV — a term popularized by Hitfix’s amazing television critic Alan Sepinwall — there is so much great TV out there that it is incredibly rare that I have a chance to watch anything twice.  This makes it a lot harder for me to compare and contrast different seasons of shows, because without having an opportunity to re-watch things, it’s harder to remember the specific details of individual episodes or seasons.  Ahh, the curse of too much great TV!)

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For those of you looking to be kept completely spoiler-free, let me just say that this was a terrific season of a terrific show.  If you’re looking for a new dramatic series to watch, I highly recommend The Americans.  For everyone who is looking to dive into my analysis of The Americans season four: onward!

Last year’s terrific third season of The Americans focused on Paige and the question of when/how Philip and Elizabeth would reveal the truth to her about their identities, and if/when they did, whether they would permit the Centre to begin to develop her as an agent.  I expected that story — and the repercussions of the season three cliffhanger in which Paige spilled the beans to Pastor Tim — to be the main driving story-line of season four.  And so I was surprised — though very pleasantly so! — that, instead, the first half of season four focused on the endgame of Philip’s long relationship with Martha.

Back in season one, the Philip/Martha story-line was my least favorite aspect of the show, mainly because I felt it stretched the boundaries of my plausible belief in the show beyond what I was comfortable with.  I just didn’t understand why Philip and Elizabeth’s kids didn’t question why their dad didn’t come home for multiple nights every week.  As the show developed, and in particular as I was won over by Alison Wright’s tremendous work as poor Martha, I engaged more fully with this story and with Martha’s plight.  Back in season one, I had expected Martha to get killed off or written off fairly quickly, because how long could this story possibly sustain?  But by now, I had been lulled into believing that this status quo would continue until the show’s end.  That, plus the season three Pastor Tim cliffhanger (which made … [continued]

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Star Trek Lives! Josh Reviews Episode 6 of Star Trek Continues: “Come Not Between the Dragons”

I continue to be extremely impressed with Star Trek Continues, the fan-series spearheaded by Vic Mignogna.  As I have written about many times here on this site, Star Trek Continues is a fan-made series that has set out to create a fourth season of classic Star Trek, creating complete episodes depicting the further adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the crew of the original U.S.S. Enterprise (“no bloody A, B, C, or D”).  Not only do Mr. Mignogna and his team manage to create extraordinarily professional-looking efforts — if you saw one of their episodes on TV, you very well might believe you were watching an actual episode of the Original Series — but they’re also able to do so on a regular basis.  They are already on their sixth episode, and this latest installment, “Come Not Between the Dragons,” is terrific.

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As the episode opens, the Enterprise is struck by an object that manages to pierce the ship’s hull.  What at first was thought to be a meteor is quickly revealed to be something else, as the object begins to move through the ship of it’s own volition.  When it lands in the quarters of Ensign Eliza Taylor (played by Farscape’s Gigi Edgley), she realizes that the rocky object is a sentient being, and she attempts to learn who it is and what it’s purpose is on board the Enterprise.  The threat to the crew posed by the creature is soon dwarfed by another, much larger version of its kind, which as it approaches is able to send waves of anger and negative energy that infects Kirk and the Enterprise crew.  Can Kirk and his crewmates gain control of their emotions in time to solve the mystery of these creatures?

Written by Greg Dykstra and James Kerwin and Vic Mignogna, “Come Not Between the Dragons” is a fun, tightly-paced sci-fi mystery/adventure.  The episode manages to balance some nice character beats for almost every member of the Star Trek Continues ensemble with an exciting adventure story.  This feels very much like a classic Trek story, as the Enterprise crew investigate a strange, new life-form.

The Star Trek Continues folks have been able to nab some very high-profile guest-stars for their episodes (Lou Ferrigno was a particular delight as an Orion in the series’ second episode, “Lolani”), and featuring Farscape’s Gigi Edgley here is another fun surprise.  Ms. Edgley is a lot of fun as the sensitive Ensign Taylor, who quickly bonds with the strange rock-like life-form that has crashed into the ship.  (Though I do wish Ensign Talyor wasn’t quite so cowardly when the creature first smashed into her quarters — come on, you’re a Starfleet officer!)

If … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Two!

I adored the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and so of course I was hugely excited for the second season.  Thankfully it does not disappoint!

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The series was originally developed by Tina Fey for NBC, as a follow-up to her recently-completed show 30 Rock NBC however, demonstrating the great wisdom of broadcast networks, declined to air the show even after the first thirteen-episode season had been completed.  Fortunately Netflix came to the rescue, releasing the first season and commissioning a second.

For anyone not in the know, the series stars Ellie Kemper as Kimmy, a young woman who, at the start of the series, has just been rescued from 15 years of being held in captivity by a crazy Reverend.  Just as her unrelentingly positive attitude allowed her to survive for fifteen years as a “mole-woman,” Kimmy’s spirit drives her to move to New York to attempt to create a new life for herself.  There, she surrounds herself with a wonderful cadre of weirdos and wackos, all of whom at first find Kimmy’s naive positivity to be out of place in cynical New York, but who eventually find themselves touched and inspired by her good nature.

The show is a riot, a perfect continuation of the fast-paced, gag-a-second style that Ms. Fey and her team had developed on 30 Rock.  It’s a show that is willing to embrace actual character-based story-telling (this second season features a surprisingly in-depth examination of the psychological damage that even the eternally-positive Kimmy must have suffered during her captivity) while also being able to be very, very silly.  This balance of tone is why the show works, and it’s a testament to the incredible writing and the show’s tremendous cast.

Ms. Kemper continues to show that this is the part she was born to play.  She’s marvelous in the lead role, able to effortlessly show how Kimmy has become the center of gravity for all of her friends and acquaintances.  She brings such sweetness to Kimmy, and wow can she hit a joke out of the park.  Titus Burgess is equally as perfect and iconic as Titus Andromedon.  This is a character who could so easily be a one-note flamboyant gay joke, but Mr. Burgess plays the part with such sincerity that he’s able to give Titus tremendous depth and heart while continuing to behave terribly and, yes, to play up some very flamboyantly gay, somewhat stereotypical characteristics.  Possibly the best contribution that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has made to our society is it’s giving a regular platform to the great Carol Kane, who is so perfect and such endless fun as Kimmy and Titus’ brash, elderly landlady Lillian Kaushtupper.  Every moment Ms. Kane … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Jungle Book

When Jon Favreau shifted from directing smaller character-based films (like Made) to larger, more special-effects-driven films, he at first did so with a strong attachment to using traditional practical effects over CGI.  (I never saw 2005′s Zathura, but I well remember all of the pre-release interviews with Mr. Favreau in which he spoke of his love for the power of practical effects.)  Both Iron Man and Iron Man 2 featured some incredible CGI effects, but I think the effects in both films worked as well as they did because they were skillfully combined with many practical effects, thus creating an immersive illusion for the audience.  And so it’s fascinating now to see how Mr. Favreau approached the creation of The Jungle Book, a film that, other than the performance of one young boy, has been almost entirely created in the digital realm, including all the animal characters and all of the jungle settings.  This approach, overseen by Mr. Favreau and clearly involving the hard work of hundreds of artists and technicians, has resulted in an extraordinary achievement.

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Just like the Disney animated version, this new The Jungle Book tells the story of the young boy Mowgli.  As a baby, he is orphaned in the jungle, but the panther Bagheera saves him and brings him to be raised by a pack of wolves led by Akela and Raksha.  This “man cub” grows up in the jungle.  But when the vicious tiger Shere Khan threatens the wolves for protecting him, Mowgli decides to leave the jungle and allows Bagheera to escort him to the nearby man village.  But Shere Khan will not give up his vendetta so easily.

I don’t have any strong attachment to Disney’s animated The Jungle Book.  I remember liking it as a kid, but it’s not one of the Disney movies that I watched over and over, and it’s been well over twenty years since I have seen it last.  I remember the basic story and some of the songs and not much beyond that.  So while Disney studio’s modern desire to create live-action remakes of seemingly all of their classic animated films puzzles me, I was totally open to a new version of this story.

And to call this a live-action remake is somewhat disingenuous, because, as noted above, other than the real boy Neel Sethi as Mowgli, this is an almost entirely animated film.  It’s just that it has been animated using cutting-edge CGI techniques, rather than traditional hand-drawn animation.

The result is astounding.  Mr. Favreau and his team have crafted an almost perfectly photo-real creation.  You completely believe that you are in the jungles of India, not a studio in Hollywood.  And each and every … [continued]

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50 Years of Star Trek Music: Josh Enjoys Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage Concert Tour CD!

So, I love Star Trek, and I also love movie soundtracks.  That’s just the type of nerd I am.  So, of course, I really love Star Trek soundtracks.  I’ve written about quite a few here on the site.  I was excited when I read that, in honor of Trek’s 50th anniversary this year, there would be a concert tour in which music from the various Trek movies and TV shows would be performed.  That is right up my alley!  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to one of the concert performances.  But when I learned that a CD of the concert was being released, I snapped that right up!  (You can too, by clicking here.)

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Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage is a magnificent two-CD set in which the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Justin Freer, performs music from across the fifty year history of Star Trek.  I was very impressed by the track choices.  There are a few “musts” that of course were included (like Jerry Goldsmith’s Main Titles from Star Trek: The Motion Picture to the suite from “The Inner Light” from Star Trek: The Next Generation).  But beyond that, I was impressed by some of the very deep cuts made by the music selection.  (I was shocked and delighted that, for example, an exciting track from the Deep Space Nine final-season episode “The Changing Face of Evil” was included!)  If the track selection has one weakness it is perhaps an over-reliance in music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it’s hard to complain about so many wonderful selections from the master Jerry Goldsmith.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Disc One:

1.  “Main Title” from Star Trek: The Motion Picture An obvious and perfect choice to open the concert, we begin with Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent main theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  For many fans, this is THE definitive Star Trek music, even more so than Alexander Courage’s main theme from the Original Series.  (That this music was also used as the main theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation helped cement its importance.)  This is iconic music, instantly memorable, and among the very best movie theme music ever written.

2. “Main Title” from Star Trek: Generations Right away, I was impressed by the choices made by the makers of this concert, as this is an inspired choice to place here at the beginning of the concert.  This theme, by Dennis McCarthy, is a slow build to a triumphant declaration of Alexander Courage’s classic Star Trek fanfare (as the bottle of Chateau Picard wine smashes into the hull of the Enterprise B, christening the ship for launch).

3. “The [continued]

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Josh Reviews X-Men: Apocalypse

The X-Men film franchise began with such promise but it’s been a big mess for quite a while now.  Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men film launched the golden age of super-hero films that we’re still living in.  No one had ever before brought a super-hero team to life on screen.  Mr. Singer was able to distill the head-spinningly complicated X-Men mythology into a movie with adult, complex themes that still contained a boat-load of super-hero fun.  The near-perfect cast brought the X-Men characters, and their universe, to glorious life.  That film was quickly followed up by the 2003 sequel, X2.  That film hasn’t aged so well, but at the time many/most saw it as a brilliant expansion of the world of the first film.  With its fan-pleasing ending (depicting the death of Jean Grey and final-shot tease of her return/resurrection of the Phoenix), I thought we were on the verge of an epic, multi-film saga that would continue for years.  Sadly, that never was.  Bryan Singer left to do Superman Returns and Fox, unwilling to wait, hired Brett Ratner to helm the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand.  Rather than continuing with an ongoing series of X-Men films, Fox seemed unwilling or unable to see past that initial trilogy, and it quickly became clear that the studio had no idea what to do with the property.  There was talk for a while of a series of individual X-Men: Origins spin-off films, though the only one that actually got made was the dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine Years past, and eventually the planned X-Men Origins: Magneto film morphed into the prequel film X-Men: First Class.  I hate prequels and when announced this seemed to me like a bizarre step backwards for the franchise, but I was surprised by how great the film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, wound up being.  I would have been happy to follow this fun new cast through a new trilogy helmed by Mr. Vaughn, but once again the series changed tracks as Mr. Vaughn stepped away and Bryan Singer returned to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past.  While I would have loved to have seen a more-faithful adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic story — one of the defining X-Men stories — I loved the way that film was structured to combine Bryan Singer’s original X-Men cast with Matthew Vaughn’s First Class cast.  Days of Future Past was very solid, but what made me love the film was the final five minutes, in which we see that the events of the film have re-set the timeline of the X-Men films, giving a sweet happy ending to the cast and characters who had begun in 2000′s … [continued]