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Guardians of the Galaxy

October 21st, 2014
New comics posted daily, Monday through Thursday!

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Josh Reviews The Drop

October 22nd, 2014

Written by Dennis Lehane (adapting his own short story), The Drop is an extraordinary crime story, one that is hugely compelling and brutally tough.  I loved it.

Tom Hardy plays Bob, the bartender at a small dive in Brooklyn called Cousin Marv’s.  Marv, played by James Gandolfini, doesn’t really own the bar — it’s owned by the mob, and the bar serves as a “drop” where money can be deposited to be laundered.  Marv was once a power player, but now he operates on the fringes.  Bob doesn’t seem to be involved much with any criminal activity, though he’s certainly aware of what happens at Cousin Marv’s bar.  One night two young punks rob the bar.  The mobsters who own the place put pressure on Cousin Marv and Bob to recover their money.  Meanwhile, Bob has begun a tentative relationship with a neighborhood girl, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), after he finds a beaten-up dog in her garbage can and the two start caring for the dog together.  But Nadia has a violent ex-boyfriend who isn’t happy about another man hanging out with the woman who he still considers to be his girl.

These might seem like familiar story tropes, but in the film they are fantastically compelling and unfold in original ways.  The film is an electrifying slow burn, with the tension slowly ratcheting up and up and up until it is nearly unbearable.  I watched the entire last half-hour or so of the film from the edge of my seat.  You spend the whole film knowing that things are going to turn ugly, and you also spend the whole film wondering just how these stories are going to connect.  When they do, it’s an incredible pay-off.

The cast is magnificent.  James Gandolfini is unforgettable in his final major role, playing a man past his prime who is desperate to recapture the moment, now long in the fast, when he was somebody.  Cousin Marv is not Tony Soprano, but he has ambitions to be.  Watching Mr. Gandolfini work in the film twists the knife of his tragic loss.  What a shame this phenomenal actor is gone.

Noomi Rapace has always had something of an otherworldly quality to her, and while I have enjoyed her work before this is the first role in which I really connected to her.  Nadia is as much an enigma to the audience as she is to Bob.  We don’t quite know, until the end, exactly what her play is or what secrets she may be hiding.  And yet, she is as irresistibly compelling to the audience as she is to Bob.  Ms. Rapace brings great humanity to the role, giving Nadia a rich inner life and … [continued]

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Catching Up on My Cartoons: Star Wars Rebels and a Return to The Simpsons

Well, the jury is still out on the over-all success or failure of Disney XD’s new Star Wars animated show, Rebels, but boy, including the droid Captain Rex from Star Tours in the second episode sure makes it hard for me to dislike the show!!  More on that in a moment.

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars ran for five seasons on Cartoon Network, but was cancelled when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney.  That show started out with a truly dreadful animated movie, but somewhat miraculously turned into a pretty great show.  The animated that started out clunky became gorgeous (this season 5 trailer is a great example) and the story-telling, while still designed for an all-ages feel, became much more sophisticated.  The series shifted into a multi-part format, with most stories running for three or four episodes by the show’s end.  Over the seasons, we got to really dig into the scope and breadth of the Star Wars universe and the galaxy-wide Clone Wars in a way that was far more satisfying than the taste of the Clone Wars that the prequel movies gave us.  Eight seasons were planned, which would have taken the show right up to the start of Episode III; it’s a huge disappointment to me that we’ll never get to see this story’s proper conclusion.

But many of the show’s key creative personnel moved right into a new Star Wars animated show for Disney.  This is Star Wars Rebels, which takes place about five years before A New Hope.  The show focuses on a motley band of friends on the run from the Empire.  So far I’ve seen two episodes, the double-length premiere, “Spark of Rebellion,” and a second episode, “Droids in Distress”.  I’ve read some rave reviews of the new show on-line, but I’m not there yet.  I enjoyed these first two episodes enough to keep watching, but I’m not in love with the show yet.  It’s fun, but whereas The Clone Wars felt like it was telling the important stories that the prequel movies skipped, Rebels feels fairly irrelevant, since we know the main story of the fall of the Empire was told in the Original Trilogy.  But I’m hoping that, like The Clone Wars, this series will richen as it ages, deepening the characters and telling more compelling stories.  I’m also hoping that this series will eventually pick up story and character threads left dangling by the never completed Clone Wars.  Obi-Wan Kenobi popped up in the premiere, and I was particularly delighted that Bail Organa appeared in “Droids in Distress.”  If this series eventually builds to tell the story of the formation of the Rebel Alliance, I’d be thrilled for … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part I: Seed of Destruction

October 17th, 2014
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I was a fan of Mike Mignola’s Marvel and DC work when, in 1994, he launched a new creator-owned comic for Dark Horse Comics with the four-issue mini-series Hellboy: Seed of Destruction.  I’m not sure what drove me to pick up that first issue.  Likely it was my previous enjoyment of Mr. Mignola’s mainstream super-hero work.  It probably also didn’t hurt that Hellboy’s actual first appearance wasn’t in Seed of Destruction #1, but in a cameo in John Byrne’s Next Men #21.  I was a monstrous fan of Mr. Byrne’s magnificent Next Men series, and that might have been what sealed the deal for me with regards to Hellboy.

I enjoyed the first mini-series, and eagerly followed Hellboy for many years that followed.  Mr. Mignola released about one mini-series a year, plus a variety of short stories and a few spin-offs.  After about a decade, Mr. Mignola’s productivity began to decrease (at least in terms of actual comic books published — he was still involved in a variety of projects) and new Hellboy stories became fewer and father between.  Around 2004 was an important turning point for the series.  Mr. Mignola brought in a small group of writers and artists to assist with some spin-off titles, most notably a series of B.P.R.D. mini-series (exploring the supporting cast at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) and, eventually, to draw the main Hellboy mini-series.  At first I was extremely worried, and not at all eager to see these other writers and artists dilute the quality of the Hellboy stories.  But something magical happened.  Bringing in these talented collaborators allowed Hellboy to flourish, and what had been a sporadic series of mini-series grew to become a whole line of books (albeit one that, thank goodness, has remained small and tightly-knit, avoiding the common mistake that comic-book companies and creators make of overexposing their characters and diluting what had once been a special, unique product).

Today, twenty years into the Hellboy saga, there are often two-to-four Hellboy-related books published every month, and they are all amazing.  Over the years, Mr. Mignola and his team have published a wealth of mini-series focusing on many different characters and corners of the Hellboy universe.  Mr. Mignola and his collaborators have created an extraordinary fantasy universe, and because we don’t have to wait for Mr. Mignola too write and draw every single thing himself, we’ve been treated to lots of different stories that have explored numerous facets of this universe and its characters, their past and present.  Mr. Mignola has kept a very close handle on things and has been centrally involved with all of the new comics, giving the many different mini-series an impressively cohesive … [continued]

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Ok, ready to lose the rest of your day?  You might recall that this past summer, FXX ran a marathon of every single Simpsons episode ever.  Well, apparently a bunch of the best writers for Hitfix.com decided to list their favorite episodes of each day of the marathon.  Five writers each picked their two favorite Simpsons episodes from that day, and wrote about them.  Click here and thank me later.  This is a staggeringly wonderful walk down Simpsons memory lane.  It’s been way too long since I have revisited some of these classic episodes.  Reading those articles makes me want to blow off work for the next week or two of work and just watch old Simpsons DVDs…

Click here for a terrific interview with Nicholas Meyer.  Mr. Meyer is pretty much single-handedly responsible for all of the very best Star Trek ever made.  He wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and wrote and directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and he wrote the vast majority of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  (He wrote everything that took place on present-day Earth, starting with the immortal Spock line: “Judging from the pollution content of the atmosphere, we have arrived in the latter part of the twentieth century,” all the way through to the escape with the whales.)  Nicholas Meyer is the reason for the odd numbered Star Trek curse (in which fans noticed that the even-numbered original Trek movies are far superior to the odd-numbered ones).  I had no idea he was involved in this Harry Houdini project for the History Channel, but now I am very interested in seeing it!  Mr. Meyer doesn’t work nearly enough to suit me.  It’s fascinating that the History Channel film is based on a biography of Houdini that Mr. Meyer’s father wrote.  The whole interview with Mr. Meyer is terrific, but I particularly loved his answer, at the very end, when asked his opinion of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films.  ”That’s changing the shape of the bottle.”  (Read Mr. Meyer’s comments to understand the context.)  That is very well-put, and I 100% agree.

StarWars.com has released animatics for four unmade episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  These are four full-length episodes, with complete voice performances and sound effects, it’s just that the rough blocky animatics were never taken to full animation.  These are great episodes, well-worth the time of any fans of the show.  Anakin and Obi-Wan investigate the death of a Jedi on Utapau (a key location in Episode III) and discover that General Grievous is about to acquire a terrible weapon with ties to the secret of the construction of Jedi … [continued]

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Re-reading Captain America: The Winter Soldier — Conclusion: Days Gone By

After having so thoroughly enjoyed the second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier (click here for my review), I have been re-reading Ed Brubaker’s lengthy run on the Captain America comic-book series that inspired the film.  Click here for part I of my re-read, click here for part 2, click here for part 3, and click here for part 4.

Steve Rogers is dead and Bucky Barnes has assumed the mantle of Captain America.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s troubles are over…

Time’s Arrow (Captain America #43-45) — following the dramatic conclusion to the eighteen-issue-long The Death of the Dream story-line (in Captain America #25-42), it’s not surprising that the next story-line felt like something of a letdown to me.  Having a fill-in artist (Luke Ross) didn’t help either, that seems like a poor choice.  When these issues were originally published I was very bored by them, though in hindsight they read much better.  I can also now recognize that Mr. Ross does fine work on the artwork.  He’s no Steve Epting, but his work feels very much of a fit with that of Mike Perkins & Butch Guice, the other two rotating artists on the book.

This story-line brings back classic Captain America bad-guy Batroc the Leaper, and while Mr. Brubaker & Mr. Ross try their best to take the character seriously, he’s still pretty silly.  More interesting is the mystery connected to an old Invaders caper from 1942, in which Bucky and the Torch saved a Chinese boy genius.  It seems that, years later, the Winter Soldier killed the man’s wife, and so the now-elderly genius is plotting vengeance on Bucky/Captain America.

At first this three-parter seems like a fairly inconsequential stand-alone story, but things change in the final pages of issue #45 as we see that Batroc’s employers have managed to acquire the remains of the original Human Torch, Cap & Bucky’s former ally in the Invaders during WWII.  This leads right into the next three-parter:

 Old Friends and Enemies (Captain America #46-48) — Steve Epting finally returns in issue #46, which caused me much rejoicing at the time that issue originally came out.  That, along with a kick-ass cover of Cap fighting Namor, made me much more excited about issue #46 when it was originally published than I’d been about the previous three issues.  (Though now I know that, sadly, issue #46 would be Mr. Epting’s final issue on the series.  I wish he had continued through issue #50, but that was not to be, though he would contribute covers up through issue #49.)

With the remains of the Original Human Torch in the hands of the … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Girls Season 3

October 8th, 2014
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Judd Apatow’s involvement piqued my attention in the first season of Girls.  My wife and I enjoyed that first season, and even though I read many critics who felt the show took a downturn in season two, my wife and I enjoyed that season as well.  We’ve had the third season sitting in our DVR for almost a year, but for whatever reason we kept putting off watching it until just a few weeks ago.

I seem to be somewhat in the minority in that while I enjoyed seasons one and two, I had a tough time getting through season three.  The season starts off strong and, thank goodness, ends strong.  But there is a rough stretch of episodes in the middle that I found very off-putting.  The central problem, for me, was just how unlikable I felt all four of the main girls became, and how little interest I found I had in any of their stories.  An unlikable character or characters can certainly anchor a series, but it’s tough for me to remain engaged if I have zero affection or empathy for any of the main characters.

It’s funny to look back, now, on the first season, in which I liked all four of the girls but thought that the show’s biggest weakness was how terribly the guys were all depicted.  The three main guys — Adam, Charlie, and Ray — were all such weirdos and morons that I felt it made the show a little too off-balance.  I’d have preferred to see the girls interacting with slightly more “normal” guys.

Cut to season three.  I’m amazed (and pleased!) at how the show has rehabilitated Adam, and Ray has become the most normal character on the show.  The four girls, on the other hand…

As I wrote above, the season started off strong.  The first three episodes were great, with the show funnier than it’s ever been.  I really enjoyed the new dynamic of Hannah and Adam as a relatively healthy couple.  I loved the road trip in the season premiere (watching Shoshanna and Adam interact was gold), and the third episode, “She Said Ok,” was one of the show’s best.  My biggest complaint about season two was how the four main girls spent most of the season separated and estranged, so it was great to see them all together at Hannah’s birthday party.  (The episode was filled with great moments, from Marnie’s crazy youtube video to Adam interacting with Hannah’s parents to David kicking Ray’s ass.)

But things turned sour for me with the fourth episode, “Dead Inside.”  In this episode I felt Hannah wasn’t just unlikable, she was sociopathic.  Her trying to get help on her … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Louie Season Two

October 3rd, 2014
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I am a huge fan of comedian Louis C.K.’s stand-up work.  I think his recent stand-up films: Hilarious, Live at the Beacon Theater, and Oh My God, are among the finest stand-up performances I have ever seen.  I really dug the first season of his FX show, Louie (click here for my review), but it took me a while to get to season two.

I can’t believe I waited so long, because season two is amazing, and my wife and I tore through it in just a few days.  (The season is just twelve short 21-ish-minute episodes, so it’s easy to watch very quickly.)

For season two, Louis C.K. has stuck with the show’s great opening credits sequence (the plotless sequence in which we see Louie walk through the streets of NY, scarf down some pizza, then head into the Comedy Cellar, all while the great song “Brother Louie” by Stories plays on the soundtrack) as well as the show’s basic structure.  Just like Seinfeld, the show is a mix of Louie’s raucous, ribald stand-up and a depiction of his day-to-day adventures as a working comedian.  But any similarities to Seinfeld end there (other than both shows being great).

Louie often lets his stand-up bits go on for far longer than ever happened on Seinfeld, when they’d be used more as zippy zingers.  Louie often lets us get far deeper into his bits.  And whereas Seinfeld was a very tightly-plotted show, with intricate inter-weaving story-lines, Louie is the exact opposite.  The show has a dreamy, almost stream-of-consciousness feel.  It’s boldly unconcerned about any sort of continuity, either between episodes (in one notable example, Louie has to take custody of his niece at the end of episode 12, “Niece,” but then the girl is never seen or heard from again) or even within an episode (in which the episode’s first half often has nothing whatsoever to do with the story of its second half).  I love this about the show.  It’s as if we stay with the stories for exactly as long as Louie felt they’d be interesting, and not a moment longer.  It’s like the “best parts” version of a TV show.

The show also has something of a fantasy feel, as if we’re watching Louie’s dreams more than his actual life.  Episode 5, “Country Drive.” really nails this point home, and shows the way the show can dig deeply into the minutiae of life that most shows would ignore, and then veer into the wildest of fantasies.  In that episode, Louie takes his two daughters on a long car-trip to meet his great aunt Ellen.  As the drive goes on, there is an amazing sequence in which … [continued]

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Re-reading Captain America: The Winter Soldier Part IV: The Death of the Dream

After having so thoroughly enjoyed the second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier (click here for my review), I have been re-reading Ed Brubaker’s lengthy run on the Captain America comic-book series that inspired the film.  Click here for part I of my re-read, click here for part 2, and click here for part 3.

Following the murder of Steve Rogers/Captain America in Captain America #25, the focus of Mr. Brubaker’s Captain America run shifted dramatically.  Cap #25 kicked off a long story-arc, The Death of the Dream, that was divided into three parts, each six-issues in length.

The Death of the Dream: Act 1 (Captain America #26-30) — Mr. Brubaker tries a new narrative device in these issues, one which I thought worked really well.  He subdivided each issue into chapters, each with its own title, and each following a different character.  In this way, each issue follows multiple different story-threads as we follow the chaos that reigned after Steve Rogers’ murder and the many different characters’ responses to that act.  We see Bucky Barnes, who blames Tony Stark for Steve’s death and sets out to kill him, even though Tony has now been named the new head of S.H.I.E.L.D.  We see Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, who finds herself working for Tony against Bucky, a man who, we learn, she once loved before Bucky’s life as the Winter Soldier tore them a apart.  We see Sam Wilson, the Falcon, mourn Steve’s death both publicly and with Cap’s former allies in the super-hero Civil War, now hiding underground and led by Luke Cage.  We see Nick Fury, still hiding from the world, attempting to unravel the mystery of Cap’s death and Aleksander Lukin’s plot.  We see Lukin/the Red Skull and their secret machinations, along with Dr. Faustus and Arnim Zola.  We see the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, wreaking havoc across America with her new Serpent Society.

It’s a great story, and I love the way Lukin/the Skull’s machinations have resulted in many heroic characters (Bucky, the Falcon, Sharon Carter, the Black Widow, Nick Fury, Tony Stark, etc.) all operating at cross-purposes.  It takes until the end of this six-issue story-line for our heroes to get any sort of clue as to what is going on, and to get onto the same page.  Even then, as usual for Mr. Brubaker’s story, they put together the pieces too late and, in the cliffhanger ending of issue #30, the still-brainwashed Sharon winds up taking out most of the good guys.

I love the idea of pairing Bucky and the Black Widow, and I loved the joint backstory that Mr. Brubaker created for the two of them … [continued]