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View From The Brig(gs) Episode 7: JJ Hasn’t Named It Yet

Ave, Centurions!

Well, I’m slowly ramping-down on reading the pile of fiction books I have as shooting on PANZER 88 looms, transferring affections to my big pile of (mostly technical) movie books in rider to get me into the swing of things.

My producer, Gary Kurtz, and myself discovered this week that the terms of the European Union/New Zealand co-production pact seem to have changed a little bit in our favor, and for our movie “PANZER 88”, we can now hire an additional Third Country (American, Canadian, and the like) actor. We have one role we’ve been struggling with, and this opens the parameters and helps us a great deal.

All kinds of other stuff is happening behind the scenes, and I’m going to be very happy when we can finally announce our cast (one of whom is out doing publicity on their new movie right now!) and talk all about it.


BOUND DEAD WOOD
On a whim, I dipped into Joe Eszterhas’ career memoir, “Hollywood Animal”.  His movies have often been inexplicably popular, and (I feel personally) probably not due to the quality of his writing.

One of his biggest hits, “Basic Instinct”, succeeds because of charismatic actors, good cinematography, and flashy direction, but I still vividly remember sitting in the cinema aghast at the D-grade dialogue. Eszterhas himself from this book clearly feels that his work is something more, and back when studio executives would write you a 4 million dollar paycheck for a spec, the anecdotes on display here becomes even more reality-bending. The book is a pretty decent read, with the requisite amount of dirt dishing and gossip (yes, the director of “Showgirls” was supposedly doing the Hollywood Thing and sleeping with his star…in retrospect, I suppose one can only feel envy.)

I’d wondered what had happened to Eszterhas of late: his recent battle with throat cancer does add a softer edge to much of his other more questionable behaviour throughout, although like his movies you can’t help but feel as if you’ve been slightly queasily manipulated.

YOU OUGHTA BE IN MOVIES

I went to see Sam Raimi’s “Oz The Great And Powerful”, the prequel to (obviously) the 1939 Victor Fleming movie. I enjoyed the film a great deal, although I didn’t love it, and felt it was a very (unusually) respectful, tonally accurate prequel to “Wizard Of Oz”, which in no way stepped outside its remit. I have to give Raimi huge kudos for this; visually, it resembled Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (hardly surprising, given both are Disney movies), although I have to admit to liking that other film quite a bit more. All the actors are fine here, despite James Franco seeming to be acting in a whole other movie at times. Despite being (admirably) slavish to his source material, all those little Raimi eccentricities are there if you’re familiar with his work. There were moments where I couldn’t help but feel Raimi was delighting in basically remaking “Army Of Darkness”, only without the gore.

I’m going to deduct one star for Oz’ 3-D, though. I’m famously not a fan of 3-D (take a look at the header of my Twitter feed, https://twitter.com/peterbriggs, if you don’t believe me!), and it once again detracted from the movie and ticked me off. Watching complex visual effects reduced to multilayered jarring cardboard cutout elements is not my idea of a good time. I was especially annoyed with the 3-D in the cropped 4:3 black-and-white segments set in Kansas at movie’s beginning. Having the effects whizz outside the confines of the artificial frame edge, for me, negated the conceit of the cropping effect (seen, unless you’ve lived under a rock all your life, in the original movie.) 3-D genuinely annoys me. I recall watching “Captain America” and thinking how fake certain scenes looked because of the 3-D. Watching it again in 2-D afterwards, those same scenes looked seamless.

Similarly, the theater played the “Iron Man 3” trailer in 3-D before “Oz”, and I had a hard time with that also. I’ve enjoyed seeing all the trailers in 2-D online. If I can find a 2-D showing of that when it’s released, I will. I don’t want to go back to my friend Shane Black and tell him I didn’t enjoy his movie simply because I had commercially-inflicted distribution inflicted upon me.

I also saw the Vegas magician comedy, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”, which has somewhat underperformed. It’s a shame. While it’s uneven, it’s a sweet little film, with good performances. (There’s a lovely flashback opening, showing the characters getting their junior magician sets, and I wished the sequence hadn’t been cut short in its haste to get to present day.). The one thing that seemed jarring is the casting of Steve Carell.

I like Carell a lot, and he does his best here. The problem is, the character of Burt Wonderstone is such a pompous ass, and Carell is just too likable for the role. All the way through the movie I just kept seeing Will Ferell in his place, and wondering if the film would have performed better with him in his place. Olivia Wilde, Steve Buscemi, and Alan Arkin are all great. And you really have to see the incredibly buff and insane Jim Carrey in this movie.

MAX RENN LOVES THE CATHODE RAY TUBE
I seem to be talking a lot about the BBC. That’s a good thing, I guess, as it proves our beleagured British TV station continues to have relevance and supremely entertain.

Anyway, we’re now five episodes into their new comedy series “Bluestone 42”. Having the Answer To Life, The Universe, and Everything in its title, you know it better deliver the goods. Its premise being that of a British bomb disposal squad deployed in the Middle East, I kinda want to call it “Laugh Until It Hurts Locker”, but its tone of humor isn’t quite “Black Adder” enough to warrant that. It’s an odd bird alright; a sardonic black comedy without a laugh track, and somewhat in the vein of the 1970s “M.A.S.H.” TV show. There’s something a tiny bit empty and repetitive about it (the stripped-down roster of characters largely seem to exist in a vacuum, and much of the humor is fairly lowbrow), but the characters’ dilemma at least gives the show an intriguing freshness.

On a purely male-oriented level (apologies, feminists), I want to give a shout out to the ridiculously beautiful Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Scandinavia’s very own Jessica Biel, appearing in “Bluestone” fresh from the hit Danish crime show “Borgen”. In the third episode, she plays a nymphomaniac reporter with a mission that doesn’t involve journalism. I’m predicting you’ll see her in a movie before too long.

The BBC (yes, again!) have been running a documentary show called “Talking Pictures”, which is simply Auntie Beeb trawling their voluminous archives and gluing together a compilation based upon a given film star or subject. Episode 10 centered on director Orson Welles and there was a fascinating chunk from “The Orson Welles Sketchbook”, an old black and white show (with still surprisingly pristine picture clarity) that had Welles talking to camera. The lengthy BBC clip showed an earnest Welles speaking about the fallout of his infamous Mercury Radio Theater production of “War Of The Worlds”, which panicked listeners into believing Martians had actually landed in America. 

There were a number of anecdotes I hadn’t heard before, including U.S. radio celebrity Walter Winchell taking to the airwaves in the wake of the broadcast to implore the public everything was in fact okay; and of welfare workers in the Black Hills of Dakota some five weeks after the show’s airing trying to convince people hiding out up there to return to their homes, as nothing had really happened. (Welles also admitted one fascinating knock-on ramification of this I hadn’t heard before: that when the announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was announced, many people initially dismissed it for hours, thinking it was another hoax drama broadcast.)

And the BBC (do we tire of hearing about those guys?) finished its three episode miniseries run of their zombie miniseries “In The Flesh”. At the end of it, I was scratching my head a bit. I don’t think an awful lot of thought had been put into the plot development of this. In the first episode they set up the drug “Blue Oblivion” which gave “Partially Deceased” survivors the feeling of…well: we’re not sure, really, because they totally forgot about expanding that plot strand. The characters had resolutions, of a sort. I couldn’t figure out if this three episode arc was a try-out for a larger series. Anyway, it’s done.

If there are any zombie lovers out there still hungering for a slice of English televisual undead, I’d recommend another British Channel 4 show, “Dead Set”, from 2008. That posited a zombie outbreak as seen from the perspective of a group of egotistical nutjob contestants stuck inside the Big Brother gameshow house. Although there’s some black comedy in it, the show’s pretty much played straight, and it was a fantastic watch. Highly recommended.

“Doctor Who” is back! On, yes: the BBC. No, it’s not Groundhog Day…although, after viewing the opening episode of this second half of Season Seven, you might be forgiven for thinking that. Specifically, this inaugural episode suspiciously resembles the Tennant/Piper episode “The Idiot’s Lantern”. Let me see: the Doctor’s companion falls victim to an alien intelligence that sucks them into an electronic limbo on a screen, and the Doctor has to use his secret Tardis motorbike and get to a transmitter tower looming high above London. Oh dear.

Producer Stephen Moffat continues to pull out the same boring tropes he does every time thinking we haven’t cottoned onto his game yet: world in peril because everyone is assimilated into something nefarious…check. Human face embedded into technology…check. Moffat Patented Repetitive Catchphrase…check (“Are You My Mummy?” becomes “Who Turned Out The Lights?” becomes “I Don’t Know Where I Am!”)

The second episode, “The Rings Of Akhaten”, was considerably better than the first, but still nothing much to get excited about. New mystery still-deciding-if-she-wants-to-be-a-companion Clara gets involved with a little girl who is part of a quasi-religious celebration, singing a song to keep “A Dead God” in his slumber. There seemed to be virtually no plotting to this story. The little girl running around seemed designed to eat up 10 minutes of screen time; there was more than enough faintly-embarrassing singing (which I’m pretty sure we’ll hear a lot more of at the Royal Albert Hall Doctor Who Proms), and lots of a guy in a (pretty decent) rubber monster suit throwing itself at a glass prison. The planetary sized world devourer in slumber seemed faintly stolen from Cthulhu…and that was pretty much it. While I could just about accept the Doctor’s by-now rather tedious “I’m so wonderful” speech, I sat and scratched my head at the whole Clara’s leaf being super-wonderful thing, because…well. It didn’t make sense. “Look, devourer of worlds: don’t kill us, because this is the most powerful leaf in the universe, because…er…it’s full of promise…and…um…my dad said so.” As Tennant’s Timelord was won’t to say: “WHAT?!”

I’m a huge, huge, huge fan of this show: my first Doctor was Pertwee, and I’d hoped once the 2005 reboot found its feet a bit, we might start to get something a little bit more intelligent. For a programme whose scripts tiresomely abuse the word “clever”, I’m not seeing a lot of that. This show needs to change gears badly, because it’s been spinning its wheels for far too long.

Getting away from all things BBC, America bounced some horror revamps at us these past weeks. I was initially excited about A&E’s “Psycho” spinoff “Bates Motel”. Freddy Highmore is a really good Norman (a fine younger companion piece to James D’Arcy playing Perkins in the recent “Hitccock”), and the always-wonderful Vera Farmiga is inspired casting as Norma Bates. But that’s about it for me. With the addition of the superfluous brother character (who really wrecks the Oedipal undertones of the story’s basic psychology, and seems to be there for no other reason than to be bad-boy eye-candy for teen girl watchers), and a tiresomely teen-slanted attempt to shoehorn the “Psycho mythology into a “Stuff Happens In This Town” “Twin Peaks” setting, I’m just counting down for the inevitable cancellation. (As an aside, I’m always amused every time I hear the Channel name “A&E”, as in Britain that stands for “Accident And Emergency”, the version of our hospitals’ E.R. departments.)

Much better was NBC’s “Hannibal”, based on everybody’s favorite Fava-bean chomping cannibal. I admit I’m watching this show primarily for Mads Mikkelsen, who as far as I’m concerned can do no wrong. The show was well made and well written, and visually fairly nice (more reminiscent to me of Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” than any of the subsequent Thomas Harris’-based outings), and for my money Hugh Dancy’s slightly twitchy and greasy Graham beats both William Peterson’s 80s pretty-boy, and Ed Norton’s emo nerd.

I do wish that director David Slade had spent a bit more time with his cast, as there were a couple of abominable line readings. I wonder how long it’ll be be before everybody figures out that Mikkelsen seems to be stuck in a time warp from 1976 and is clearly the killer. A cautious big thumbs up from me on the basis of this first outing. I understand its ratings weren’t as strong as they couldn’t have been. That’s a little baffling, but maybe the Sunday Night slot was to blame.

“Game Of Thrones” is also back. I’m watching it, but I’m not really a huge fan. I’m more looking forward to the return of “The Borgias” next week.

PANEL GAMES
Now, last time on “Forces Of Geek”, a funny thing happened on the way to Episode 6. Namely, I forgot I had another pile of Marvel comics. And lo, there was much gnashing and wailing throughout the land, as the gliterati of paneldom cast their gaze to the skies and howled “Briggs: why has’t thou forsaken me?!”

Well, it was an easy mistake. Sorry, Marvel Guys. Massive facepalm from me. So, here’s a quicky recap of the additionally cool and missed titles from last time at the House Of Stan.

I’m not much seeing the point of Dennis Hopeless’ “Avengers Arena”. If you took the “Characters In One Place Who Have To Kill Each Other To Survive” elements from both “Hunger Games” and “Lord Of The Flies” and grafted them together, there’s not a great deal you have to add. A bunch of fledgling Avengers, who mostly don’t like each other very much, continue to act like the cast of “Beverly Hills 90210” and toss superpowers around while trapped on Murderworld. There’s little in the way of external forces this issue until the very last panel, and it’s a tribute to Kev Walker’s gloriously dynamic artwork (which reminds me of a very cool fusion between Kevin O’Neill and Dave Gibbons) that this title’s getting a mention here (albeit belatedly.) It was, however, very satisfying seeing the loutish Kid Briton get his comeuppance. Bally poor show, letting the Empire and us English chaps down with his bullying. Can’t countenance that kind of thing.

Bendis’ “Uncanny X-Men 3” (and remember, I don’t much care for X-Men) was, frankly, bloody brilliant. It started with a cute little “Why I Love Superhero X” flashback scene from a mutant’s schooldays, before cutting to present day Australia with the Avengers facing off against Scott Summers for the murder of Charles Xavier. Bendis’ writing (his character banter especially) is on top form here, bouncing back and forth. There’s one niggling exception: I found the mutual opposing viewpoints between Captain America and Summers about why the mutant should stand down and come in for questioning to be surprisingly weak. It was a small point, just a page of dialogue, but it knocked a star off my appreciation of the book. Chris Bachalo’s artwork is winning and adorable, and I love the new mutant character of Eva Bell.

Christopher Yost’s “Avenging Spider-Man 18” plays around with Spidey-Ock, and has a good time doing it. When the Avengers previously fought the Sinister Six, Thor hurled the pure-energy form of Electro off into space. Well, now he’s back, and he’s mad. Asking the Yellow Flat-Tops of A.I.M. for help might not be the smartest thing in the world to do, and converting yourself in a Quantum Chamber (presumably loaned from Ozymandias’ Antarctic Lair, over in the DC-Verse) into an anti-matter version of yourself is presumably a big no-no. Body-swapped Otto tries to intercede before Electro finds Thor, but the God Of Thunder is scornfully dismissive, and it’s down to Spidey to save the day.

I wish Marvel were paying greater attention to these titles: in some of the other Otto-Spidey books, Peter Parker’s residual personality’s persistently leaking through into Otto’s mind, but here in Yost’s comic there’s no trace of that. The artwork is gorgeous, but there’s one utterly ridiculous MacGyver moment when Otto-Peter transforms a pile of stole components into a giant ray projector that’s four times their mass, and I have to assume artist Marco Checchetto (who does lovely work here) was pulling our legs.

Okay. So that’s the Mystery Pile Void filled. Let’s go to more recent releases, and cross the street back to DC again.

Posehn and Duggan’s “Deadpool #007” was an absolute blast, and I enjoyed every single demented panel of it. I haven’t liked the whole “Dead Presidents” storyline in the past several issues, so this one came as a huge cleanser. In a nutshell, it’s a 1984 flashback episode (although why Tony Stark is watching “Howard The Duck” on TV, when that was an ’86 flick…) complete with deliberately wonderfully-terrible color retro-artwork. Deadpool has to grab the Iron Man armor from a maudlin Stark, get completely hammered with booze, and save the world. Yes: this is not what we would call responsible comic book writing…but this is Deadpool, and anything else would be a crime. Read this issue. It’s fun, and it will make you laugh. A lot.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy #1” begins its run with Peter “Starlord” Quill having an unexpected meeting with his Pop, Jason, who just happens to be the Emperor Of The Galaxy. Before me can say “Iron Man Cameo”, everybody’s attacking an alien spacecraft, which comes hurtling down into the Earth’s atmosphere. I’m a huge “Starlord” fan, but I will admit that I’m not especially enamored with the new grungy skateboard generation incarnation of Peter Quill. (When I was a kid, my Starlord was drawn by John Byrne and looked like Jon Hamm.) Despite that, you should check this out. Especially as Marvel’s movie is rumbling inexorably closer.

My interest in “Venom #33” waned a little from the previous strong issues, but the storyline is good enough to just squeeze in here…but only barely. Flash “Venom” Thompson goes up against the weird (so far unnamed) cool-looking biomechanical creature eating its way through his neighborhood, while Eddie “Toxin” Brock turns up to settle a score. That’s pretty much it, but there’s a B-Storyline that’s interesting, involving Flash attending an A-A meeting to feel better about his own drug-suppressed alien symbiote. Hope this title picks up the pace again next time around.

Like “Venom”, “Age Of Ultron #4” felt a little bit like filler this installment, but it’s still good stuff. In an annihilated world, the remaining Avengers discover Ultron is controlling the planet from the future via The Vision, but there’s a pocket of resistance based out of the Savage Lands in Antarctica. Not a lot of story movement this time, but worth an apocalyptic look-in.

“Superior Spider-Man #6AU” was an “Age Of Ultron” tie-in, using the Otto Octavius body-swapped Spidey. I’d wondered how “Age Of Ultron” was dealing with the “Superior Spidey” issue, so this is a fairly categorical statement. Otto goes up against Ultron’s fortress, ostensibly to defeat Ultron but really with the ulterior motive of stealing his tech to take over the world. I liked that he had a humbling experience in doing so: hell, I like everything about “Superior Spider-Man” so far.

On the subject of which, Dan Slott’s”Superior Spider-Man #7″ was just flat-out terrific. The story began with anti-hero Cardiac, a really interesting “villain” who plunders medical goods to help the needy. When Spidey-Ock comes across his path, the portion of Peter Parker’s ID (or Katra, or whatever the hell it is) still in Otto’s subconscious does its best to (literally) pull Otto’s punches. And then the Avengers bring Spidey to task for the unnecessary and out-of-character brutality he’s been exhibiting of-late…and Otto makes the big mistake of flipping Captain America. The next issue is going to be very interesting…

“Fantastic Four #5AU” also crossed into the “Age Of Ultron” universe.

Returning hurriedly to Earth from their space bound vacation after an SOS from Black Panther (while leaving their kids behind on their mothership) the Four discover to their horror the devastation caused by Ultron’s time-campaign attack on the Earth. FINALLY! A Fantastic Four issue I could enjoy again! Really, I’ve felt the Baxter Building’s Finest have been quite dull for the past several months, and I was glad to be liking them again. Matt Fraction tosses one particularly interesting little nugget in here that could conceivably change future stories in the Marvel Universe a tad: apparently, when Doom and Reed were at school together, Ben sneaked in one day and tampered with one of Doom’s experiments.

So, basically, after decades of hating Reed and partially blaming him for his woes, it now turns out that it may have been The Thing’s fault. Hmmm. What is Victor going to say when he discovers THAT…?

“Alpha: Big Time #2” was a decent read. The Peter Parker-created teen supersulker rushes the street hood he nearly killed at the end of the last issue to hospital, then spends an inordinate amount of time pouting and dealing with his guilt before tackling a tentacled energy monster. I noticed this time around that Alpha bears an extraordinary resemblance to mopey songster Justin Bieber. As Kirk might say: “Message, Spock…?”

Paul Cornell did a good job with “Wolverine #1”, which had Canada’s favorite adamantium mutant foiling a bank robbery involving an unusual father-and-son team, although I was a bit puzzled at Logan’s earnestness in wanting to save Kid Evil. Let’s see where Cornell takes that next time.

Cullen Bunn’s “Fearless Defenders #2” had a tactical squad takedown, and then a trio of snarky warrior chicks talking for most of it. If that sounds like a dismissal, it’s not. I enjoyed it. But it was pretty much a coffee-hour issue. That was also fairly much the way I felt about Kathryn Immonen’s “Journey Into Mystery #5”, which pleasantly and unspectacularly (and again, I don’t mean that as a put-down) finished her Sif-On Earth-In-Broxton storyline. It all tied-up neatly in an “It’s A Wonderful Life” ending, with everyone throwing snowballs at one another, and really could have been a Christmas issue. Valerio Schiti’s terrific art deserves mention.

Bendis’ “All-New X-Men #10” didn’t move much in terms of plot, but there was a lot of character and (good) dialogue as Scott Summers continues to try and entice students away from Xavier’s Academy.

“Avengers + X-Men #6” likewise is all about characterization, the two stories here (Wolverine/Captain Marvel and Gambit/Thing) both set around poker games. They’re both amusing in different ways, and I enjoyed them.

Waid’s “Indestructible Hulk #6” was a rollicking good read with a great surprise ending. It began with Banner’s team performing an experiment on a donated sliver of Thor’s Uru hammer Mjolnir, and then the team are off on a dimension jump to the realm of the ice giants. It seems to be a jump through not just space but time, when they encounter a previous retro classic version of Thor. And when the golden haired Asgardian is incapacitated…a Hulked-out Banner fulfill’s Mjolnir’s prophecy by actually lifting the hammer! Crazy, man! Looking or forward to tuning in on this one again next time.

For Hulks of a different Hue, Jeff Parker’s “Red She-Hulk 64” verged a little close into fantasyland for my tastes, with Betty and Machine Man taking a subterranean sightseeing excursion through the Mole Emperor’s kingdom, then once more getting to interrogate the Tesla-tech Terranometer device before being kicked out to a super-villained Mount Rushmore. Fun.

I had a strange sensation of Double Deja Vu reading James Aaron’s “Thor #6”, continuing the God Butcher arc and revealing the titular interstellar murderer’s backstory. The first half of the plot, featuring a wandering and starving alien tribe on a barren world that has some aliens abruptly turn up on their doorstep, felt like “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The second half, in which one of said tribesmen stole the alien’s tech and headed off-planet on a murderous rampage reminded me of the genocidal War Robots of Krikkit’s quest from Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy”. The art wasn’t as strong here as it has been previously, but I still like this story.

At least that backstory worked. I’m going to depart from the “Say Nice Things Only” formula on this page for a second, to address the subject of Marvel’s new “Thanos Rises #1” title. I was debating on my Facebook page recently the subject of “Who Was Cooler: Thanos Or Darkseid”. The case for both was interesting, and I personally came down on the side of Thanos, although Darkseid has his merits. Well, as of “The Avengers” movie coda, we now know that Thanos is about to be a key player in the Marvel Movie Universe’s future “Guardians Of The Galaxy” and “Avengers” cinematic forays, and as Marvel’s Comics division are now to some extent relegated to being Marvel’s public propaganda and indoctrination arm, in this title it falls to writer Jason Aaron to do that old chestnut: present for today’s audience Thanos’ birth and childhood in the underground city of the Eternals on Titans. And I kinda wish Marvel hadn’t done it.

At one point in the history of the British comic 2000 AD, John Wagner felt it would be a neat idea to explore the genesis of Judge Dredd’s parallel universe nemesis, Judge Death. Giving Death the name “Sidney”, and sticking all those tired mass-murderer tropes (killing his dog and his family) barely worked for that character, and really undercut the superfiend’s menace. But here in “Thanos Rises #1”, giving the Titan the typical Marvel “child rejected by his parents and picked on by schoolyard bullies” routine we’ve seen in numerous “X-Men” origins not only feels tired and done, but it absolutely undercuts and makes mundane Thanos, one of the prime lynchpin antagonist forces of the Marvel Universe.

Despite really lovely crisp artwork, I felt this issue was something of a cynical commercial sell-out, and I really didn’t care for it.

A fast sprint across to DC is appropriate, as featuring in “Dial H For Hero #11” was…The Flash! After their super-powered shagathon session at the end of issue #10, Nelson and Roxie wake up back as their usual selves the next morning, and a flummoxed Nelson unwisely uses her Hero Dial to randomly become The Scarlet Speedster. After a little high-speed detective work, Flash-Nelson discovers the real-world Flash is nowhere to be found, leading them both to the realization the Dials steal away superhero powers from elsewhere.

Like the Thing/Doom revelation over at Marvel this week, this tiny snippet has enormous ramifications for the DC Universe at large, suggesting that not only can we see high-profile cameos from the DC glitterati in this title, but that the Dials themselves could also now become potent weapons as plot-devices over in any of the other DC titles. Imagine Lex Luthor getting his hands on a Dial. This is great stuff, and China Mieville is just knocking this out of the ballpark every single time. Hugely highly recommended.
 
Also getting a big thumbs-up is “Animal Man #19”. I pored over every page of this carefully, as I was fairly convinced that after the giant DC Rotworld arc, Animal Man as a title would have a hard time moving forward. How wrong I was; at least, this time. This was a fantastic issue. With Cliff’s death, Buddy’s life is unravelling, and he goes out to plant a smackdown on The Red and tell them he’s through. Things don’t go exactly to plan, though. Great plotting, great writing, powerful scenes, and terrific artwork. This issue was one of the strongest titles this week, and the personal ramifications for Animal Man as a character are going to be interesting.

“Swamp Thing #19” was also a home-run, and a great cross-title character mash-up. Post-Rotworld, Swampy has been zipping around the planet putting-right anomalies in the vegetable kingdom.

This leads him to the botanical gardens in Metropolis, where the Scarecrow has coincidentally turned up to pilfer ingredients for his nerve agents. With a final promise of a Superman appearance next issue, I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Soule’s storytelling here.

I enjoyed Didio and DeMatteis’ “Phantom Stranger #7”, although it felt like the writers were struggling a little bit with the plotting on this one. This one has the Stranger basically setting up obnoxious TV anchorman Jack Ryder to get smooshed by a giant rampaging monster, while simultaneously filling out an awful lot of exposition between the Stranger and a tiny white Tintin dog avatar, in a “demonic” font that’s a bit hard on the eyes.

In the world of The Bat, Gregg Hurwitz continued “Batman The Dark Knight #18” with his excellent Mad Hatter story, as we discover a little more about Jervis Tetch and his childhood genesis. Yes, it pushes all the buttons you’d expect, but it does it with a great deal of detail. In this story, Bruce Wayne also reaches an unusual conclusion about his own life, and from the way the issue ends, you’ll probably be left with the feeling that Bad Things are looming on the horizon.

Peter Milligan give super-psycho Lantern Volthoom the chance to torture the hulking Red Lantern Atrocitus by showing him “what might have been” scenarios in “Red Lanterns #18”. This was a powerful issue with an interesting ending.

WHILE OUT IN THE COLD HARD WORLD…
Well, goddammit. This week has been stacking up some sour news for the fan community.  On a personal level, on March 29th I woke up to the really horrible news
that actor Richard Griffiths (most famous to the geek fraternity as the
loathsome Uncle in “Harry Potter”, and to cult filmgoers for another
Uncle: Monty, in “”Withnail And I”) had died.  This was an especially
lousy hit as, although I hadn’t seen him in a few years, Richard was a
friend of mine. 

I knew Richard through screenwriter Charles Wood (whose daughter I used to live with), and always looked forward to hanging out with Richard, who was hilariously funny and a splendid raconteur at dinner parties. (One of his favourite jokes was an off-colour ditty about a lady oyster’s theft of her pearls, and he relished doing all the voices.) I remember once at one of Charles’ birthday parties in Oxfordshire, the writer had fallen asleep at the head of his table outside on the lovely garden lawn, due to a warmish summer’s day and an elegant sufficiency of wine.  Richard was game to sneak back into the shot, and mirror replicate the pose. I got a great horizontal photograph of them both “sleeping” with a 30 foot table between.

Richard was a gleefully big kid. He was a video game junkie, and a massive sci-fi fan. He was also a bit good at croquet, which he totally thrashed me at in the garden of his big listed house in Stratford On Avon. He said to me once me that his ultimate job would to be in a “Star Wars” movie. Richard was a great bloke, and he always super-nice to me. His wife Heather must be distraught, as she doted on him. I’ll miss him.

And the hits kept coming this week.

American film critic Roger Ebert died aged 70 after a recurrence of the cancer that had plagued him for the past seven years. Being English, I came late to Ebert; the film critics of my youth and teens were the BBC’s Barry Norman, and print critics such as Alexander Walker; Derek Malcolm; and Dilys Powell. I saw the tail-end run of Ebert’s show with Siskel in some unholy syndicated graveyard slot in Britain in the early hours of the morning; really only discovering Ebert’s written work properly through first the sadly long defunct Microsoft “Cinemania” program, and then online via the dawn of the internet. Onscreen, I enjoyed his avuncular style. In writing, while I would never agree with all of his reviews, I always admired his loquaciousness for most of them. They were thorough pieces which intelligently posited an opinion worth listening to. And, hey: he gave “Hellboy” three-and-a-half stars, so I have to like that.

Farewell, Roger. There’s not many of your calibre left out there in the blogosphere.

Finally, Carmine Infantino died aged 87.

His name may not be familiar to many of you; the more learned comic-fans in my circle tell me he was an instrumental player in the DC camp, famous for the sleek current look of The Flash, and in giving Batman his “New Look” in 1964. His biggest coup was perhaps in luring Jack Kirby over to DC during his editor tenure there.

Apparently, he was also instrumental in shaping the early plot of Mario Puzo’s “Superman” movie script.

All I know is, as a kid, every Wednesday I would leave the house five minutes earlier in the morning so I could make the short detour to my local newsagents on Dragon Lane (yes, seriously) and pick up my copy of “Star Wars Weekly” by Marvel Comics, which I’d take into school and sneak peeks every moment I could. Infantino was the key artist on those early issues. I was fascinated with his artwork, with its weird mechanical sharp and spiky angles, and as a bush-league artist used to spend time trying to copy it. (Remember the water skimmers from that “Waterworld” story with the space pirates? I loved those things.)

He clearly spent a goodly amount of time with Joe Johnston’s “Star Wars Sketchbook”, incorporating Johnston’s hardware where he could into his issues. I remember when he did the Starlord story after John Byrne, where Ship turned into a sexy Australian chick with a big hat (well, she was Australian in my mind, anyway).

Infantino’s girls always seemed to have ridiculously perky boobs with perpetually pencil-eraser nipples.

Even Princess Leia. Which was fine, as I was a hormonal kid, and I had no complaints. I think in that respect he certainly had a lasting influence on my later non-comic adult life.

Oh. Margaret Thatcher passed away, also.  The former Prime Minister was famous in the geek fraternity for entertaining us in Britain on Sunday nights on the puppet satire show “Spitting Image”, often dressed in bondage outfits; and for debriefing 007 in “For Your Eyes Only” (okay, she was played by Janet Brown in that, but still.)

I hope in our next installment here, we can avoid any more Grim Reaper Celebrity Visits.

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