Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ms. Marvel 2 and 3

It took me long enough to get back to the Ms. Marvel series. (REVIEW of #1 HERE) Long enough that issue #3 has been out for a little while already and #4 will be out soon. So to continue, the series is keeping up with the all promise and buzz from the first issue. Kamala if finding out that figuring out new super powers isn't so easy. SPOILERS ahead if you are not caught up.

#2 Kamala discovers that her shape shifting powers are not just a hallucination following the mysterious mist that covered a good portion of her hometown, Jersey City, which is a part of the Inhumanity crossover in Marvel comics. So basically, Kamala Khan is an Inhuman. Her origin as a masked hero, on the other hand, is still coming together. She is only beginning to take control of her powers. Kamala still finds herself defaulting to becoming the image of her hero, Carol Danvers, the first Ms. Marvel and current Captain Marvel. When she saves Zoe, her high school frenemy,  from drowning, Kamala takes on the image Carol Danvers' Ms. Marvel purely as a reflex. And of course, being that Kamala is not the kind of girl to sneak out, her first venture into rebellion goes bad on the normal level. Her parents are up, waiting for her. Being grounded is just one grand challenge many well-meaning young heroes have faced.

#3 The day after and she is beginning to realize being “special” isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. Especially is you are a teenager in high school. She can’t confide in her parents, or brother, or best friend. She especially can’t talk to her other friend who tipped off her parents that she snuck out. This friend who happens to be a boy, Bruno, did this unforgivable act because he was worried about Kamala... Because he likes her... But he won't say anything and she doesn't notice it. So…. Talking to him is not going to happen. And of course her faith isn’t throwing her any kind of bone at this point. Then, when another teenager decides to try and pull off a not all that well thought out crime, Kamala decides to embrace being a hero and proceeds to make a not all that well thought out attempt to fight said crime. It doesn't end well for either.
I don’t want to give things away too much. Kamala is still trying to figure out who she is. And that’s just as an American teenager. Now she has this shape shifting super power that is just turning up the awkward up to 11. She hasn't even discovered that she has powers because soewhere alond the line one of her ancestors was an alien. So what better power then shape shifting as a metaphor for not knowing who you are or what you want to be? Kamala still has not taken on the image of the hero on the covers of this new Ms. Marvel series. She hasn’t even thought of what to call her super alter ego. We are still watching the future new Ms. Marvel growing into herself. I wouldn’t expect her to get things exactly right once she gets her costume settled. But I would expect her venture into the hero world to be more complicated than her fan fiction would lead her to believe. I would also expect this isn’t going to be the first time she gets grounded. I can't stress the Peter Parker parallels enough.

Continuing with our co-reviews, you can read my wife's thoughts on her blog: Owl Allow It: My thoughts after reading Ms. Marvel issues 2 and 3

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Remembering the Dollhouse

Joss Whedon is best known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and now as the director of The Avengers. But it seems like a lot of attention flies over another of Whedon’s creations, Dollhouse. In a way, with Dollhouse having two seasons, was a more successful television series than Firefly, which has a huge fan following with only one season and a movie. Dollhouse might even be Joss’s most intelligent and relevant creations. Maybe it was too smart for TV. But the themes it covered are very relevant today.

The series follows Echo, a doll. She volunteered to have her mind wiped so that she can be programmed with personalities to suit the fantasies of high paying customers. Her contract is to serve as a doll for five years, at the end of which, whatever problem she was escaping will have been taken care of by the dollhouse’s parent company, Rossum, and she will be generously compensated with a trust fund that will take care of her for the rest of her life. It sounds like a nice deal, in a way. But as the series shows, the dolls volunteer in the sense that they consented to be dolls. The reality is that they were people in tough and desperate situations who were convinced that voluntary slavery, more often than not sexual slavery, is a great idea to escape their problems. They would not remember their time as dolls, but their bodies were rented to the rich and influential. They were property. And they were never really free even after their five year contract was over. The tech that allowed them to be programmed remained in their heads. And some never made it out. If they were a problematic or troublesome doll, they wee sent to "The Attic" to never be heard from again.

On the surface, the series was about Echo being somewhat of an anomaly. Somehow she was remembering the personalities she was programmed with and integrating those personalities. But it became more about a mega corporation that used the illusion of helping people so that it could influence people and government in a bid to make the world better for the chosen few. The chosen being the executives of the Rossum Corporation and it’s wealthy clients. As the founder of the company stated, the technology to change people’s minds was going to be out there, was Rossum going to be one of the destroyed or one of the destroyers? There was a lot of good acting. In addition to the great cast led by Eliza Dushku as Echo,  there were also some great cameos be Firefly alums. Alan Tudyk was a homicidal/serial kill former doll be the name of Alpha who was also pretty funny. Summer Glau appeared as Bennet, a brilliant tech genius and neuroscientist. And as this is a Joss Whedon series, other people he has worked with before show up here too.

This is a very intelligent series about technology gone wrong and the ethical lines that get blurred with technology that was meant to be beneficial to humanity. It is really a long essay about advancing technology and about how corporations can take over our lives. This series began airing in 2009 and I'm not sure even Joss knew how relevant to our world Dollhouse is. Well, maybe he did. Freedom has been a theme not just in this series. Not yet anyway. But think about how much of your life you sign over to companies online. People made a big issue of the NSA snooping on our calls, e-mails, and texts. But the general public gives out far more information to social media and internet companies with little thought about how all that information can be used. Look at it this way, in another Whedon series (Jed Whedon, Joss's brother), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the newly unmasked villain know as the Clairvoyant was able to fake psychic powers because he had access to the information people left in the digital world. So when the government collects information on us, it's spying. When a corporation does it, it's to tailor services to our needs. It's all well and good now. But what if someone with bad intentions had access to all the details of our lives? I'll get off my soapbox.

Dollhouse was not heavy handed with a message. It was just a really good series that had a lot of intelligent thought behind it. It asks what would we sacrifice our freedom for. Or more accurately, it shows how easily people will give up their freedom without really knowing it because someone gave them an easy solution to a difficult problem. In the real world we give up much more for a whole lot less and we don't always know we are doing it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Path to Ultron

With The Avengers: Age of Ultron, it's pretty obvious what the new threat/villain is. But the question is, how exactly will the story take shape and how will Ultron go bad? In the comics, Hank Pym (Ant Man) creates Ultron. Long story short, Ultron gains self awareness and comes to resent and hate his human creator and decides to become an enemy of humanity. If you have not heard already, the film version of Ultron will be created by Tony Stark. My guess is the past films, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier, have laid the ground work for Ultron's creation. Important note though, Age of Ultron will note be based on the story of the same name which played out in the comics. Don't look for any time travel.

With S.H.I.E.L.D now laid to waste and fractured with all of it's secrets gone, it seems likely that entities it kept in check will run wild, or idea of the threats that face the world without S.H.I.E.L.D will make governments go to extremes. As revealed in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D on ABC, HYDRA now controls some of S.H.I.E.L.D's major facilities around the world. I think Tony Stark will be asked to become Iron Man again to help police the brave new world ahead. But Stark gave up being Iron Man and might not want to be a hero again. So stark will take a play from a previous enemy and create drones. He'll either do this voluntarily or feel very pressured to do this by the U.S. Government and or multiple governments.

Now you may be asking, drones? Plural? Ultron is supposed to be one character. And it is one character. In the Age of Ultron comic book story, Ultron commands an army of machines which he uses to conquer the world. Ultron may be the command unit, much the way War Machine was supposed to be in Iron Man 2. It's a long shot to put out any theory this far away, but this seems the likely setup for Ultron. And having an Army of Ultron drones would be a big enough threat, and provide enough enemies to warrant an Avengers team on screen. Joss Whedon could just have a film with the Avengers fighting one Ultron, but that would be difficult to pull off on screen having everyone in one spot for minutes on end. Not that Whedon couldn't pull that off, because he could. But as brilliant as Stark is, could he build a machine that could take on all the Avengers by itself? Possibly, but for the sake of story we'll assume Ultron will not be alone. But how does Ultron go bad?

It could be similar to the original comic story and events could unfold Terminator style with a rise of the machines. It could be another HYDRA plot, but that was just done. There are also possibilities of external threats. As in not of this world. Thanos will be the threat for Phase 3 of Marvel's films, most likely being the villain of Avengers 3. Could he somehow be behind Ultron? Again, maybe. But probably not likely. If any hint of the Mad Titan is in Age of Ultron, it will be Thanos continuing to observe Earth and the humans. Again, any kind of speculation is just a long shot for now.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is currently in production. No matter what way the story unfolds, it looks like it will be good.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Obscure sci-fi of my youth

Well, maybe not completely obscure. Some of these are known more than the others. There are obvious choices that are more known, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. And there are the obvious cult classics like Highlander and Flash Gordon. These were movies that showed up at one time or another on either HBO or Showtime, whichever movie channel we had at the time one of the times we had cable. I watched these over and over again on VHS after my dad recorded them. It’s taken me a while but I have managed to collect most of these on DVD. There are still a few out there that I have yet to find. And there are a few that I am probably forgetting right now.

Rock & Rule

I have written about this one before. An interesting story about the mutant decedents of dogs cats and rats that now populate the Earth after nuclear war destroyed humanity. Basically it’s a rock & role saves the world kind of tale. It sounds kind of cheesy, and it is. But it is great old school animation with one of the best soundtracks you will ever hear. Cheap Trick, Blondie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Earth, Wind, and Fire contribute their music to this masterpiece of old school animation.

The Wraith

Possibly the most obscure film on this list is The Wraith. It is one of Charlie Sheen’s earliest roles and one of the least known. Fans of the Crow might find this interesting. It is a tale about a guy who is brutally murdered by a gang and come back as an avenging spirit who can find peace only after all of his murderers are killed. And the lease capable and comical member of this gang was named Skank. The difference in this film, other than it was made years before The Crow, was that the avenging spirit comes back with a futuristic car. This film also served as advertising for the Dodge Aries, Datona, and M4S concept.

Space Camp

There have been a lot of movies about kids stuck together in tough situation. This one involves the real NASA Space Camp and a group of campers who get launched into space by a well-meaning, yet na├»ve robot. It’s like many other youth ensemble cast, coming of age type story, just with NASA being the backdrop. It’s still a good film though. One I had to add to my collection.

Cloak & Dagger

To cope with the death of his mother, Davey becomes obsessed with an RPG spy game that is also an Atari video game. Davey constany fantasizes about being a spy to the point that he sees his favorite game character, Jack Flack, in real life. Jack Flack looks like his father, just more daring. Davey’s over active imagination causes him to stumble into the middle of real case of espionage with real spies.


A military experiment designed to make super soldiers creates a prototype, D.A.R.Y.L (Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform). Technically he is a cyborg. He is set free by a scientist trying to protect him and he ends up in the foster home of an unsuspecting couple. In one way it is a story about a kid who is different. In another way it is a story about where does the line between man and machine end. As one of the characters outs it. “… a machine becomes human… when you can’t tell the difference anymore.”

Enemy Mine

In a way, this is a story that could be adapted to any time period. It is essentially about two soldiers, from warring countries, who get stranded together on a desert island together and have to depend on each other to survive. Dennis Quaid plays a human and Louis Gossett Jr. is a Drak, a reptilian race. Both are fighter pilots in the future and crash land on an isolated planet after a dogfight. The enemies become close friends and learn about each other’s cultures after years in isolation. That is the very stripped down version of the story. It’s a good film that not too many have seen.