Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
A Somewhat Spoiler-y Overview of the Court of Owls at Wikipedia
The Amazing Spiderman
That article in Wired on the whole "Danger Boy" thing
Recent Books of Interest
Batman: Court of Owls (vol. 1) by Scott Snyder (verbs and nouns) and Greg Capullo (lines and frames) (DC)
There's a father and son theme threading through this column, so I'll go with it, and review this
collection my son gave me as a Father's Day/birthday combo (yes, I am a year older now than I was
last month!). I hadn't read any of the "new" Batman yet (the "new new" Batman? Hard to keep track
of the iterations, sometimes), so was able to consume a bunch of Snyder's work on the latest version,
all at once. He adds some great new sinister (and vaguely Eyes Wide Shut-like, except with violence
substituting for sex) layer to Gotham lore, with the city's 1%ers here unleashed via a "star
chamber" of sorts -- which, we find, has existed for decades -- which pronounces death penalties
as it sees fit, around Gotham. When Batman falls into their clutches, there's a great sequence
of an imprisoned Bats dancing on the edge of sanity -- and going over (more so than usual, I
mean). There are also a couple of doubtless impossible-to-survive moments that the cowled one
of course survives, but some of the wounds he picks up would seem to prevent a fella from
just picking himself up off the floor and winning the day. Suspensions of disbelief aside, I
confess to wanting the book to continue: It ends just as the reckoning between Batman and
the Court is ratcheting up -- even more. Snyder knows how to serialize, and Capullo is at
his best when examining Bruce Wayne's derangement, rather than his pretty boy-ness. Bruce
and Bats seem to have shed some years here, but what's a reboot for, eh, if not also a
dip into the four-color fountains of youth?
Leo Geo by Jon Chad (Roaring Brook)
Having sons who have outgrown the picture book phase of their lives (for now, they
think -- eventually they'll rediscover them one way or another), I would have otherwise
missed Leo Geo, if it wasn't sent to me in a batch of comics and graphic novels (about which,
more in future columns). It's not quite a picture, as you'd normally conceive, though not
quite a comic. Let's just say that author/illustrator Chad's cartooning background is
definitely in evidence. What we have is a series of long, skinny splash pages, which we
rotate for the first half of the book so that our protagonist, the doughy-looking Leo Geo,
is moving down, down, down through the crust of the Earth. When he gets to the center, you
flip the book over, so he starts to work his way up, up, up. And yes, he emerges somewhere
in Asia. There's a lot of bona fide geology we can pick up along the way, and some fanciful
Verne-esque experiences in the Center of the Earth (and either side of that!) as well... It
reminded me of the Magic School Bus books that my sons' did read, back in the day (i.e., the
late 90s and early-turn-of-century), but with more fantasy elements blended in with the
science. A good tutorial on the rocky planet that sustains us, and how to use unorthodox
cartoon panels to keep events moving in your story. Share it with your picture book reader
fast, before they're off to college (he said wistfully).
The Amazing Rebooted Spiderman -- with spoilers
Copyright © 2012 Mark London Williams
Summer is one of those times when a lot of the topics I cover here are mandated by
cultural and media events. After all, of the three summer months, fully "one third" of
my monthly column filings cover Comic-Con alone! (I recognize that our climate-shifted
world may allow -- force? -- us to expand our definition of "summer...," however...)
Seasonally, the inevitable parade of summer tentpole films, more and more of them sourced
from comics, makes for additional fodder here. Sometimes those films can alarm people
(like Kick-Ass), or amuse and beguile them to the tunes of hundreds of millions
dollars (like The Avengers). When we're lucky, they can be rousing superhero
adventures and still gives us a filmmaker's view of the world (like we hope the next
Batman installment will do).
And sometimes, they're mostly just eye candy.
That -- alas? -- is how I felt watching The Amazing Spiderman, Columbia/Sony's reboot of
its Spidey franchise. I should warn you now that here there be spoilers, so if you haven't seen
the film before dialing us up here at SF Site, you might want to lay this column aside for a bit.
First, as summer escapist fare, it works -- the film looks, well, amazing, in terms of its F/X
work (overseen by VFX supervisor Jerome Chen). Director Marc Webb has said that a lot of the
stunts were done practically, by which I assume he means "actual stunt people in front of green
screens or in riggings on top of cars and such" rather than "digital people fighting each other."
The sheens and cityscapes are slick and even properly vertiginous when Spidey is leaping off
buildings -- and over their sides -- in a single bound, etc. In the Sam Raimi films, which I
still prefer, the digital Spiderman always looked just a bit... well, effects-y, when he was
swinging through the city. Here, the state of the art has progressed enough that the visuals
are pretty seamless.
Where I get stuck is with the story. I mean, you know the basic story. There's some retconning
here, and some changes (no wrestling match! No J. Jonah Jameson!) which my son, who went to the
screening with me, informs me is mostly taken from Marvel's "Ultimates" universe. But changes
to the "given givens," to quote a recent Defense secretary, of Spidey's "roots," as it were,
aren't the problem either.
It's the over-reliance on coincidence to move the plot along. Peter Parker hightails it over to
Oscorp to follow up on clues to his father's disappearance years earlier. Never mind that Gwen
Stacy happens to be leading a tour there that day -- no, Peter manages to bump into the one guy
holding a file with letterhead that, when spilled, provides an additional clue for him to follow up on!
When Peter is testing his newfound powers, slinging around sans mask, he skittles down the side
of an office building in Manhattan where no one is watching, and lands in a sidewalk cafe where
no one is eating, and manages to walk away, identity intact. It wasn't lit like 5 a.m. on a
Sunday, but who knows? And would the surrounding NY streets be that conveniently deserted even so?
Later, Oscorp is similarly conveniently depopulated when Parker confronts Dr. Curt Connors about
his lizard-ness and then once the lizard part takes over, Connors manages to have set up -- seemingly
within a day, and without help -- an additional lab in the NY sewers. Which has its own power supply!
When The Lizard is internally monologuing about what he's going to do to Spidey, we hear that
monologue in rather hoary 50s sci-fi voice-over style -- a convention neither established before,
nor used after, that one scene.
Earlier, when Peter is first on the trail of his father's disappearance, he does an online search
(via Bing, Microsoft having apparently paid for the product placement) on his father and Curt
Connors, and finds many easily available articles on them that require no hacking skills.
His parents have been gone for over ten years, he's a scientific whiz, and this is the first time
he's ever done a search for info on his parents?
These things kept taking me out of the picture, as it were, over and over again. In spite of this, I
still actually liked the cast (more than my Peter Parker-aged eldest son did): Andrew Garfield makes
a good late-teens Parker, alternately cocky and recriminating, and his chemistry with Emma Stone
is palpable, with her exhibiting a maximum degree of her wide-eyed, husky-voiced smart/flirty appeal
(this is probably something of a "male gaze" perspective, but there you have it). The other roles
are well-inhabited too: Martin Sheen's truly avuncular Uncle Ben, Sally Fields sporting union
t-shirts, in Norma Rae-mode, as Aunt May, Dennis Leary as stern ol' Captain Stacy, etc.
And Rhys Ifans' does good work in "civilian mode" as Dr. Connors, but there's no pronounced sense
of loss at the end, as there was with Alfred Molina's portrayal of Doc Ock in what remains my
favorite Spidey flick, the second installment of the Raimi trilogy.
Indeed, that film's larger-than-the-plot themes -- namely that you have to be "unmasked" to love and
be loved -- are kind of throwaways here (they're reduced mostly to a one-liner given by Leary), even
though this film shares a screenwriter, Alvin Sargent, with that installment. There are also two
other A-listy screen scribes credited, Steve "Harry Potter adaptation" Kloves
and James "RoboCop remake" Vanderbilt, who also gets story credit.
It's likely that the studio didn't start out to cut three expensive above-the-line checks in the
writer's category, and it would be interesting to know how the story -- and the vision of the
film -- changed in the various drafts.
In any case, what we're left with is an okay, but not great, Spiderman that looks really good,
but doesn't leave you with a particular "wow" sense when you leave the theater. Perhaps the
second installment in this new trilogy will be the keeper.
Now it's on to the next Dark Knight, and then, before we know it, the wisps of autumn will be in the air.
Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series,
and info on his work can be found at marklondonwilliams.com.
But they're working on an illustrated fable first.
Meanwhile, Danger Boy #1, "Ancient Fire," is still free eBook, and
the sooner you download the free, first one at Amazon and Smashwords, the sooner we
can release the fifth installment in the series, "Fortune's Fool."
On the other hand, he's trying to finish yet another book this summer anyway,
regardless of whether you remember or not.
Mark gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.