Friday, March 20, 2015

In Real Life


Anda is a high schooler who is about to learn something about the real word after being introduced to an online game. No, this isn't a dark tale. It could have gone dark, but writer Cory Doctorow gives us a light tale about a girl who comes to realize that life, and especially the people in it, come in shades of grey. Artist Jen Wang adds a style that is amazing and perfectly compliments Doctorow's story of a girl trying to find her identity. It all starts with a special guest speaking in one of Anda's classes.

Liza, a gamer, speaks to the class about gaming and more specifically how girls view themselves. While plenty of the girls in the class are gamers, none of then play as female characters. The story also indirectly addresses the reality that women and girls face in gaming and nerd culture. Liza goes on to say that it's a tragedy that so few of their in game characters are women and how when she started, and even she couldn't be proud of who she was even though she is one of the best. Times are different, now, she explains, but things still aren't perfect. And this is the case in the real world. Events like Gamaergate are proof enough. But the odd territorial misogyny in gaming isn't exclusive to that world. Certain circles and individuals in comics and other nerd/geek branches have become hostile to women making their marks. But back to the story. Ada joins the fictional MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) Coarsgold, a World of Warcraft kind of game, and makes her character.


She also joins Liza's guild, Clan Fahrenheit, an all female group. As she progresses, she befriends a senior member of the guild, Sarge, who convinces Anda to go on side quests to eliminate gold farmers. Gold farming being the practice of acquiring currency in game and then selling it to other players. Gold farmers do the grunt work of making money by whatever means. It can be time consuming. Other players who either don't have the time or don't want to put in the time to make the in game money themselves use real money to buy the game money. It is a real practice that is banned by most games. And people do make a living doing this.


While some do it for personal profit, it is not uncommon for people in some countries to go to work doing this every day for an employer, for long hours, with low pay and no benefits. After going with Sarge to eliminate farmers a few times Anda meets Raymond, a gold farmer who explains that he isn't doing this to cheat the game. It's not a matter of cheating, for him it's a matter of real world living. Essentially he works in a real and virtual sweatshop to survive.


The story goes on to show how Anda comes to grips with how people in other parts of the world survive and how ethics and good and bad can be blurred. It doesn't help that Sarge is getting paid real money by other gamers to take care of the farmers.



Anda faces real and virtual consequences that help to define the person she wants to be. Games are supposed to just be about having fun right?


The book is the expanded version of Doctorow's short story, Anda's Game. It could have used a little more character development and it feels like some things could have gotten fleshed out a little more, but it's otherwise a great book that could have gotten heavy handed with the subject matter.It could have been dark, but the writing and amazing art keep this on the lighter side. It's also good to have a gamer themed story with a female hero. It's also written so that you don't have to be a gamer to follow and enjoy. And I enjoyed it a lot as a non-gamer. I first check this out from my local library and decided to add it to my collection. I recommend it for gamers and non-gamers young and old.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Chappie


Critics don't like it and not surprisingly a lot of people didn't go see it. Chappie earned $13.3 million in it's opening weekend. I honestly didn't expect it to be high up on the must watch list for people. Sci-fi doesn't get much love unless it's part of a major franchise or adapted from something high profile. But even then, I was surprised at the negative reaction. But I suppose the negative and lukewarm review are not that much of a surprise either. Writer/Director Neill Blomkkamp didn't get much praise for his last film, Elysium, either. I thought that film was good. And I think Chappie is another good film as well.

(some SPOILERS to follow)

Chappie is set in the near future in Johannesburg, South Africa. Crime is rising beyond the capacity of the police, and robots from the Tetravaal company are brought in. Tetraval is run by Michelle Bradlley (Sigourney Weaver).


These Scouts are designed to augment and support the police force. They perform everyday police duties and provide front line and fire support duties for the police firefights. The Scout's designer, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), wants to forward the project by designing sentient artificial intelligence for the robots, but that is not something Tetravaal is interested in.


Also in development at Tetravall is a larger robot dubbed MOOSE. Think Ed 209 from Robocop. The lead designer on that project is Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), an ex solder who is jealous of Deon and the success of the Scouts. Vincent wants the MOOSE out on the streets but can't understand why the police don't want something so expensive that is clearly designed for military purposes.


(Side note, Jackman is rocking a sweet short mullet with frosted tips. This is his actual hair.)

Chappie starts out as just another police Scout, number 22 to be exact. 22 is a robot who had a history of getting damaged. The maintenance staff are never surprised to see it. One day 22 takes an RPG to the chest and is deemed to damaged to repair. Deon seizes his opportunity and steals 22 to experiment with the new AI he just perfected. Enter Die Antwoord, the rave/rap group made up of Waddy Jones aka "Ninja" and Yo-Landi Vi$$er.


(Another side note. Ninja allegedly made several bad impressions with the cast and and crew and created a lot of tension. Coincidentally, Ten$ion is the name of a Die Antwoord album.)

To understand how these two managed to appear in and influence this story so much, you have to hear it from Blomkamp himself. “There was this really weird crossover that happened while I was writing Elysium—and  has a lot of robotics in it—at the same time I was listening to a lot of Die Antwoord’s tracks... All of a sudden I got this idea for this robot—like the Elysium robots, it was a kind of police/security machine—being hijacked by this band that I was listening to. I don’t know where the hell that idea came from, but that was the genesis for Chappie.” For the film, Die Antwoord play more off the wall/criminal versions of themselves. Ninja and Yo-Landi are street thugs who owe A LOT of money to a psychotic criminal. Along with their partner America (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a Latin gang banger who somehow got himself stuck in South Africa.


(Yet another side note. A Latin-American guy has to go to South Africa to get nicknamed America?)

The gang in desperate need of cash come up with the brilliant idea of finding a remote to shut down the Scouts so they can pull off a major heist. So why not kidnap the designer of the Scouts? They jump Deon on his way home with 22. There is no remote shutoff so the plan changes. They want Deon to rebuild 22 and reprogram him to follow their orders. Deon's AI of course isn't an instant thing. The robot has to learn, much like a child. This is where Chappie picks up his street language and mannerisms. Ninja and America teach Chappie to be a thug, albeit a thug who doesn't want to shoot people, and Yo-Landi takes on the role of... mommy.


(Last side note. I promise. Sharlto Copley did the motion capture and voice for Chappie. He's starred in District 9 and Elysium.)

Yes, absurd. But this lends to some funny moments. Think of a more ghetto Johnny 5. This odd arc in the story also give the movie it's heart believe it or not. While it is hard to find sympathy for thugs, in a weird way Chappie's innocence gives these people some redemption in the end. Yo-Landi becomes more of a mother and even Ninja (taking the role of the horrible"Daddy") finds a little redemption at the end. (I guess that makes America the cool uncle?) It takes to the absolute end of the film, but it's there. If you have seen the preview, then you know the eventual showdown between Chappie and the MOOSE happens. Vincent Moore takes every opportunity to derail the Scout program and makes some pretty insane decisions that throw the city into chaos.


 I will admit, it gets a little predictable and you have to suspend your disbelief to get over the gang bangers raise a robot thing. But it is a movie after all. No new territory is covered. The obvious inspirations from Short Circuit and Robocop are there. I would call this light sci-fi with the whole what defines a soul and is artificial life really life elements. It's not there to make you ask serious questions, it's just good entertainment. While some question the probability of a story like this happening, I see it as more of what can happen when you got a bunch of desperate people who don't take the time to think out their actions. There are stranger films out there that are hailed as good. It is flawed, it's not as deep as Blomkamp's previos films District 9 and Elysium, and it could have used some more character development, but I still recommend it. I enjoyed Chappie a lot.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Twelve


During World War II there were two kinds of heroes. Those with powers and those without. Those without were typically “tourists”, guys who put on the mask for fame and women. But when war broke out, they all joined the fight, powers or not. The most notable of course is Captain America. And while Steve Rogers was frozen and woke up in the modern world, there were other heroes who had a similar fate. These twelve heroes got grouped together by chance and were tasked with a secret mission. They were going to raid the Nazi SS headquarters in Berlin. They made it in but they never came out and faded into obscurity. In August of 2008 a construction crew working on the foundation for new apartments accidentally broke open a secret chamber. There they found The Twelve in stasis. Trapped by the S.S. they were to be experimented on after the Nazis took back Germany from the Allies. That never happened.


The Twelve lies somewhere between Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Chris Weston created this tale of twelve heroes out of time for Marvel Comics. Their history is even as interesting as their fictional lives on paper. These characters date back to when Marvel was Timely Comics. Straczynski and Weston brought them back for this miniseries. The Twelve are:

Master Mind Excello
Precognition and extreme perceptive powers. He has low level telepathy and can even sense broadcast waves. The modern world is so noisy he had to go into seclusion to literally clear his head.

Dynamic Man
Super strength, flight, invulnerability. His creator made him to be free of vice and a savior to humanity. But todays humanity is different from that of the 1940s.

Rockman
Super strength and near invulnerability. He claims to hail from an underground civilization, but it may be his mind covering up an emotional trauma.

Captain Wonder
Super strength, flight. An accident with an experimental drug gave him his powers. He joined the fight against the Nazis and now he lives in a world where everyone he loved is gone.

Black Widow
Technically the original Black Widow and also the first female hero in comics. In the modern version of her origin, she sold her soul to a demon in exchange for vengeance on her sisters murderer.

The Fiery Mask
Project and controlling fire and heat. His claims his powers come from a mad scientists failed attempt to kill him.

The Phantom Reporter
No powers, but skilled in fighting. He is a reporter who put on a mask to right the wrongs he reported on. He now reports on the world from the perspective of a man from the past.

Mister E.
Another tourist, he has no powers, but joined the fight against the Nazis. He now returns to find a son who resents him for abandoning the family and hiding his Jewish faith.

Laughing Mask
No powers but a will to punish criminals. This District Attorney became to fed up with the justice system and took the law into his own hands.

The Blue Blade
No powers buy he has... style. He is described as "Errol Flynn turned up to eleven." Kids, ask your parents... or grandparents. The modern world might give him what he wants most, a bigger spotlight and fame.

The Witness
A detective who accidentally shot an innocent man. He tries to kill himself after prison but a voice tells him it's not his time and gives him the ability to see a crime before it happens. He observes the victims and judges if they are worth saving.

Electro
A robot controlled by electronic telepathy. Cut off from it's creator, it no longer moves.

The Twelve wake into the world after Marvel's Civil War and have to register with the government. They are given an offer to become sanctioned government agents while they recover at a secret mansion. They don’t have to work for the government and they are free to stay as long as they want, but if they decide to leave they must make it on their own. In a new world they struggle to adjust and all their sins and baggage just become amplified. In this story there is no huge enemy at the gates. There is no great evil they are teaming up to conquer. This is more of a study on how people would react to a world they are out of touch with. Fans of Babylon 5 are familiar with Straczynski's ability to unfold a story and the lives of his characters. Their biggest threat is themselves and some don't survive to the end of the series. This is a stand alone story and even though it exists within the regular Marvel Universe, this is the only time these characters have made an appearance since their Timely Comics days.

The series premiered in 2007 and finished in 2008. I was fortunate enough to find a hardback collected addition at a used bookstore and took a chance. This is one of those great books whee you don't have to know the history of any characters to get into the story. Even thought they appeared in comics' Golden Age, this is very much a new origin story and even though the door was left open for future stories, but the story arc here was completed. It is an interesting and entertaining series definitely worth picking up for something a little different.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ms. Marvel Year One


A lot can happen in one year of a girl’s life. She might sneak out of the house for the first time and go to her first party, get enveloped by a mysterious mist and get superpowers (origin story, descended from alien/human hybrid species called Inhumans). She then might rescue someone for the first time (that popular girl who acts nice but really isn’t) and take her first steps as a superhero (epic fail, gets shot). Make another big superhero moment, this time with official costume (another fail, lots of tiny robots). Then get her first team-up with a legendary hero (Wolverine! ONLY #2 on her fantasy hero team-up bracket), get her first villain (hybrid clone of Thomas Edison and a cockatiel, but still counts), find out she is descended from aliens (she thought she might have been a mutant, so new info to her), get her first dog (that is huge and teleports, also an Inhuman), and even meet a queen (in this case an queen of the Inhumans, so technically her queen?). A lot can happen in one year of a girl’s life. (Realizing her best friend who happens to be a guy is in love with her not one of them) A lot can happen in one year of anyone’s life. But in this case, this is year one of Ms. Marvel.

This also happened. Meeting Agent Coulson in SHIELD #2

In my review of issue #1, I compared Kama Khan to Peter Parker. This comparison is still very much valid. Kamala lives in the real world. (The "real" comic book world where superheroes exist, but still) She has to sneak out to be heroic. She has to sneak back in to go to school in the morning and be completely unheroic. But before she was "special", Kamala wanted to be like the “normal” kids. Go to parties, with boys, eat the legendary infidel meat called bacon, etc. But being a racial and religious minority doesn’t help. More to the point, having conservative parents doesn't help. Being a fangirl nerd helps even less. But now Kamala has super powers. And even though she lacks Peter Parker’s science skills, she still has her good friend Bruno to fill in that gap in her superhero life. (If you haven't read the series, yes, Bruno is the friend secretly in love with her) However, there is still no super power that can defeat the teenage awkward phase. She is a real teenager.


The first ark in the series finds Ms. Marvel taking on the mystery of teens being kidnapped by The Inventor (the before mentioned bird/man). He has an army of small to super sized robots powered by the teenagers he seemingly kidnapped. (Think The Matrix. And "seemingly" because it's a tad more complicated than that) Along the way she is assisted by Bruno and her canine/Inhuman sidekick, Lockjaw. The tome is light and and entertaining. The writing and art is great. It's a solid series.


Creators G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona created a great series and character. And it is breakthrough in that Kamla Khan is the first Muslim character to headline a series. But the great thing about the series is that her religion is not a focus of the series. It's treated as just another detail that makes up the Kamala Khan character. She could have been a white, blond, christian girl and the story and humor would still work. With a few detail changes of course. But Ms. Marvel being a person of color and a non Christian is important. It is important to be able to see ourselves in the heroes we look up to. They don't necessarily have to look like us but it's nice when they all don't look the same. It helps us believe we can be like them.


I've also mentioned before that another great thing about the series is that it is a good entry point for fans. Ms. Marvel exists in the main Marvel Comics universe but you don’t need to catch up on decades of Marvel history to know what is going on. Yeah her powers came as a result of a big story in the Marvel Universe but the focus of her story is her local world of Jersey City. The bigger world will keep happening and Kamala Khan will occasionally experience some of the fallout.... kind of how she will face the end of the Marvel Universe in the upcoming Secret Wars event. Easrlier this month Marvel announced the Last Days story arc that Ms. Marvel (and other heroes/titles) will be experiencing. Although this isn't the end of the series or Kamala Khan. It's just a big end of the universe type thing Marvel is doing. Long story, these things happen in comics, but Kamala will be back. So... The goings on of the Marvel Universe will bleed over into the Ms. Marvel series. But I suspect it will be a while before Kamala Khan takes a major role in a major crossover event. The series is too much fun and too new to get into the complications of the bigger world. Hopefully Marvel will allow the character to grow and thrive before she gets called up to the big leagues. This has been a great first year for Ms. Marvel.  Now well see how her legend unfolds.


Friday, January 23, 2015

MCU Secret Wars


A while ago I posted my thoughts on how MARVEL, SONY, and FOX could theoretically cash in and form a single Marvel Cinematic Universe with all characters living in the same dimension at the same time. Fans have been craving this for years. You can read that article here: How Marvel Could Make Worlds Collide

I listed some ways the characters licensed to the three studios cold crossover into each others universe. But I neglected an idea that Marvel Comics is using to make a single comics universe. (Side note, Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios are separate entities living under one parent company) Marvel Comics will be relaunching Secret Wars. The original story was a limited crossover series which featured The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the X-Men being kidnapped by a being called The Beyonder, and forced to fight a select group of their villains on a planet called Battleworld. The planet was comprised of chunks of different planets that the Beyonder stole.


In the new Secret Wars story, Battleworld will be made up of the various Marvel Comics universes. For the uninitiated, there is the main Marvel universe where all our heroes live. There is also the Ultimate Universe where many of the characters were restarted. This was a way to give new fans a way to get into Marvel without having to study up on all (and there is A LOT) of back stories and events that exist in the regular Marvel Comics Universe. There is also the Marvel Zombies Universe (zombie virus infects heroes and villains) and other alternate timelines that have come about. All these universes will combine for Secret Wars. Now comes the fan theory.

Marvel (and DC Comics) have thrown these big "everything changes" kinds of events over the years. But I find the timing a little interesting. Again, Marvel Comics has no control over what happens at Marvel Studios. So my fanboy thinking is this... Is the comics arm of Marvel dropping hints to Sony and Fox? Marvel Studios has been trying to strike a deal to combine universes. Most recently, they were trying to work a deal with Sony to co-produce a Fantastic Four film that would take place in the MCU. This of course would blend the FF with the Avengers onscreen at some point. It would also seamlessly incorporate Galactus and the Silver Surfer into the MCU as well. Marvel would take over the bulk of the production and Sony would enjoy the financial benefits. Sony unfortunately decided to make their own FF film. I have not read anything on the X-Men at Fox, but that is a whole ot of mutants and stories that would have to be incorporated into the MCU. It would be fantastic. It's just more complicated than bringing in the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man from Sony.

But back to my point/theory. Marvel Studios plans things WAY OUT in advance. It almost feels to me like Marvel Comics is kind of hinting to Sony and Fox a story that could unite all these characters if not onscreen, then at least into the same world. When all these franchises run their course, could a Secret Wars multifilm event (think trilogy) bring all three studios together? There is a lot (A LOT) of money to be made. And fans (including myself) would eat it up.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Captain Marvel Casting



We won’t see Captain Marvel until the Summer of 2018. That is three and a half years away. It gives MARVEL Studios plenty of time to make their casting decision for Carol Danvers. Unfortunately for us, that gives us way to much time to wonder who will be Captain Marvel. Some lists of potentials have already been published. And without going into too many details, most of what I have seen have been okay. Some names are pretty obvious, but others… All I can say is, “Really?”
So, how do I put together my list? Firstly, there is plenty of time for an unknown or little known actress to have a breakout moment, or get noticed by the right people and make my and every other list irrelevant. Marvel has done well with its casting so you know whoever is chosen will be the right choice.
Now back to the list. In the comics Carol is Caucasian and blonde. So… most likely the actress who gets picked will be white. But outside of the comic reading culture, she is not very well known. So there is always the outside chance a person of color could be chosen. Another Captain Marvel who was not Carol Danvers and had different powers was an African American woman. So again, not impossible.
I’m also considering the average age for an Air Force Captain being 27. (Internet research but it sounds about right) So let’s say, late 20s to mid 30s. But the point is, Carol does not have to be in her twenties. Also, Danvers is Captain Marvel for the same reason Captain America is a Captain. She is actually a Captain, a commissioned Air Force officer. Anyway, in my mind that kinda makes anyone who looks like they just got out of high school not look quite right.

So... on with my picks.


Here is the obvious choice that is on every list and honestly, my first pick as well. Being Kara Thrace, (aka Starbuck) on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series is more then enough to qualify Katee Sackhoff. She also expressed an ongoing interest in the role and has been backed up by lots of fans for a while now.


I would say that she is the next best option. Arguably, Charlize Theron could be the best actress for the role considering her career and skills as a performer. To say she an be dedicated to a role is an understatement. Let's also not forget how willing she is to transform herself for roles.

It's hard not to mention Emily Blunt in this discussion. She nails her role in the sci-fi genera with her performance in Edge Of Tomorrow. Yeah, the Tom Cruise film that not a lot of people gave a try at the box office. Sadly, I'm one of the ones who took a pass on it. It's actually really good. REALLY GOOD. You should give it a chance now that it is out on video. On a side note, Blunt was the first choice to play the Black Widow in Iron Man II but has scheduling conflicts. She was also the front runner to play Peggy Carter but turned the role down. Marvel likes her.



Of everyone on this list, she has the most nerd cred besides Katee Sackhoff. And like Sackhoff's Starbuck, you could mold Torres' Zoe Washburn (Firefly, Serenity) into Carol Danvers very easily. Plus she is a skilled and seasoned actress. Let's also not forget the Joss Whedon connection here.
If Aisha Tyler she were Carol Danvers, I could really imagine her saying that she likes punching things and Star Wars convincingly. Actually, I'd find that convincing if she said that as herself. A hard core gamer and friend of the nerd/geek world, you can be certain Aisha Tyler would do her best to do Captain Marvel justice.


She's already been in one comic franchise. And maybe it's time she headlined her own. Maggie Gyllenhall has taken on some seriously good roles. Like her brother, a lot of them have been in indie flicks. But she has the caliber to do justice to a major comic book movie.
The Hunger Games has done a lot to showcase strong female leads. Jena Malone has plenty of experience. She can bring the attitude and humor to the Carol Danvers role.
You might be more familiar with Natalie Dormer  from her role as Margaery Martel on Game Of Thrones and most recently as Cressida in Mockingjay Part 1. Shes also been the subject of fan theories that Marvel has already locked her down for the role. I have not seen her in that many things myself, but I can see why she is a fan favorite for the role.


She is not a stranger to Whedon projects. And she technically has already played a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the mother of Sky in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But why not? Dollhouse proved she can handle various kinds of roles.

Have you seen Orphan Black? I think it is safe to say she could pull off almost any role. Tatiana might be a bit of a stretch being on the smaller side, size wise, compared to my other picks, but she has been really impressive in Orphan Black, playing multiple clones with different personalities.

There are no doubt other great choices out there. I just haven't seen everyone and everything so forgive me if I neglect anyone. If I were to bet any money, I'd say Sackhoff, Theron, and Blunt are the most likely. Of course MARVEL could always go will a lesser or unknown name. But we'll see.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated and encouraged. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Speed Racer



You could call this a guilty pleasure, but I don't think that would be a good term for it. I don't feel any guilt or shame for enjoying the 2008 film version of Speed Racer. Yes, it is cheesy. But would you really expect a serious film adaptation of the Speed Racer manga and cartoon? Maybe working against it are the names it's producers and directors, Lana and Andy Wachowski. The last two Matrix films didn't exactly do much for their names. And I'm still scratching my head over Cloud Atlas. But anyway...

Instead of trying to be experimental, with this film the Wachowskis kept things light and fun. The Racer family includes a chimpanzee after all. This is an origin story. We see where Speed makes his name and becomes a super star. I can't state enough the cheese factor in this movie, but for me it works. And it looks spectacular. I don't  know of any other movie that has colors this bright and vibrant outside of animation or dream sequences. And the details are amazing too. The cars are over the top and the tracks that they race on are even more so. Speaking of the cars,  the Mach 5 built for the movie is designed to be drivable. It was mainly used on green screen though.And all the cars, real and fake, look good. If you really want this film to jump out at you, see it in high definition.

There is the theme of corporate greed and corruption, but it's not heavy handed. The movie is meant for fun. There is also a stellar cast that seemed to enjoy not so serious roles. More known for his indie roles, Emile Hirsch is pretty comfortable playing Speed Racer. Trixie, Speeds helicopter pilot/highly skilled race car driver girlfriend, is played by Christina Ricca. Mom and Pops Racer are brought to screen by Susan Sarandon and John Goodman. The Mysterious Racer X is Matthew Fox. You might also notice a young preModern Family Ariel Winter as the young Trixie.

Not a lot of people seem to like this movie, but I think it is pretty well put together and a fun family film. It is not meant to be taken seriously. But I think it is a seriously good film that is way underrated.
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