Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer Comicbook Block Busters: Marvel vs. DC

Fear Itself (main miniseries) #2
Every year there seems to be at least one sprawling event that impacts the majority of comic books from a particular company. Those particular companies are Marvel and DC. This year DC has gone forward with the Flashpoint storyline. This sprawling series will lead into the renumbering and tweaking of all their characters that has grabbed national and international headlines. Marvel's epic summer odyssey is entitled Fear Itself. This epic has not garnered anywhere near the same attention as DC's storyline, mainly because the story does not have the same kind of dramatic impact on future Marvel comics.

Cover to Flashpoint (main minseries) #1
Fear Itself off shoot miniseries
The structure of the summer time epic stories is pretty routine for both Marvel and DC. You have one miniseries that is written and drawn by an A-list talent. The main series features the core of the summer time story. Shooting off from this are the miniseries. These are a line of shorter stories that compliment the main miniseries. These stories are often written and drawn by virtual unknowns. I believe that the companies use these, almost throw-away stories, as a device to test these creators. If they do well on these short stories then they might come back to work on more permanent and important comics. A third aspect is the tie-in stories that are featured in the regular, on-going series such as Batman in DC and Avengers in Marvel. This brings in the regular readers from the company's flagship titles. It forces those regular readers to also read the main miniseries because they are left with little clue as to what is occurring in the comic they purchase monthly. Once the event is over there is usually some sort of fallout which all too recently entails a renumbering of the most affected regular series. This is why over the past few years (much to my chagrin) the Avengers has been rebooted to issue number 1 multiple times following each Marvel summertime story, and why DC is rebooting all of its books to issue 1 following the Flashpoint series.

Avengers #15 ties into Fear Itself
These summertime epic story lines are fun to read but recently have become too cumbersome to follow and have results that mean very little to the world of the publisher's characters. They are cumbersome because there are so many tie-in issues and while the main miniseries does tell the majority of the story there are still key concepts included only in the tie-ins and offshoot miniseries. The story lines have weak results because you know that after a year or two down the road the results will be washed away as in the case of Marvel's Civil War story line that resulted in the death of Captain America. A few years later the good Captain re-emerged, lessening the results of the Civil War story line.

Flashpoint off shoot miniseries
My point is that DC and Marvel need to tighten up their epic summertime stories and to make the results more impressive and lasting. By tightening up I refer to having fewer off shoot story lines and tie-in issues. It is unfair to the regular reader to be forced into purchasing a new series just to understand the story that they have been devoted to for years. It is also tiresome to see nonsensical stories such as the over usage of certain characters like Wolverine. In the Fear Itself story Wolverine appears in multiple comics and yet each comic features him in a completely separate story that occurs at the same time. DC's Flashpoint series is even more frustrating than the Fear Itself book for at least a reader can jump right into Fear Itself without needing to be caught up on some other book. The story truly begins in Fear Itself. Elements of the story that are the result of previous story lines are explained within Fear Itself, unlike Flashpoint. I was completely lost in Flashpoint because, unbeknownst to myself this story line was building off a year or more worth of story from the Flash comic that was not explained in the Flashpoint main miniseries. The summer time major stories should not require previous reading but in the end encourage additional reading. I think Marvel understands this concept much more than DC does.

Flashpoint (main miniseries) #3
Death of Cpt. America
The second point is that the results need to be more worthwhile. This would increase the collectibility of the comics and make them more attractive to read. If readers knew that what would occur in those pages would include actions written in stone, then the readers would recognize that this is truly a must read; eg. Captain America actually dies and never comes back. These books would become more collectible because the events would be told once, and only once while also having important contributions to future publications; eg. the story of Captain America's death told only once and have far reaching implications on all subsequent comics.

List of Flashpoint comics for the month of May & June
As a side note, it is becoming increasingly frustrating to see a renumbering of comics follow each summer time event. This renumbering never lasts, as Marvel has reverted their flagship titles back to their original numbering a few times in the past 5 or so years; eg. Spider-Man and more recently the Incredible Hulk. DC argues that such renumbering makes their titles more attractive to new readers because they offer a jumping on point where you know it will feature the beginning of a new story, not to mention a perception of value as you are purchasing the first of a series and not issue 500-something of an ongoing storyline. What the publishers don't realize is that these are all perceptions that can be overly indulged. If you continue to publish comics that are rebooted to issue 1 every few years then people will know that the appearance of the #1 means little to nothing.

Renumbering of books is pandering to an outside audience and is neglectful of the core audience, like myself and other fanboys that regularly purchase these comics. Similarly, Kevin Smith (at the Calgary Red State premier) pointed out the pitfalls of not pleasing your core audience and worrying too much about the outside audience. The people that pay you for your services every month, according to Smith, are the ones to care for. The people that have never bought your product may never buy your product and it is not worth altering your product to appease those that were never interested in it, which is an action that can easily alienate the people that have supported you over the years. It is great if new people purchase your product, but it is not worthwhile loosing your core group to do so. I wonder how much of that core group has been lost versus new purchasers showing up because of comic book renumbering?

Below are 5 #1 issues of the Avengers that have been released over the past 10 years, and this is only a sampling of their #1 issues!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kevin Smith's Red State

Kevin Smith has gone on tour showcasing his latest movie, Red State. For the tour he personally introduces the movie, sits at the back of the theater to watch alongside the audience, and then performs a Q&A. He admonishes that this is nothing new as movies such as Gone With the Wind were handled in a similar manner, although he is perhaps the only person in my lifetime to have done so.

Red State was not picked up by a movie studio. Instead of selling his movie for very little and having a third party represent it, Smith opted instead to showcase his movie in the same style that he has been providing his stand-up and Smodcast tours for the past 5+ years. At first Smith had toured extensively across the United States, leaving myself and others wondering if he would ever grace his audiences in Canada with the movie. Sure enough, on August 17th 2011 he did just that in the city of Calgary, Alberta.

I follow Kevin Smith's career with a level of regularity that fits somewhere between the obsessed and the curious. I love pretty much all of his movies equally and for that I am easily pleased with anything he produces. Not surprisingly I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It is not a laugh-a-minute movie like Clerks but more akin to Dogma with a little more dry humor and levity. The story revolves around a hard-lined biblical group in the United States that kidnap three teenagers and as a result the FDA are called out to end the situation, ala Waco. The acting is excellent, which is not surprising as Smith bring out the best in his actors. The storyline is for the most part quite original and engaging with some very memorable moments. The only downside I wish to point out is that (and this is not a spoiler) the preacher has a very lengthy sermon that needed to be edited down. At some point during the sermon I believe the audience was beginning to get lost, however, the sermon does add a great element of fear and trepidation for what would come next. A positive note is that this movie feels like an indy art-house flick, with frayed edges and a richness that can be studied and discussed ad nauseum.

Following the movie Smith entertained the audience with over 2 hours of great commentary on everything from what occurred while and following the filming this picture to events in his personal life, along with answering numerous questions from the audience. In the early phase of this tour Smith was sometime accompanied by actors in the movie, but in this case it was solo Smith. It is hard to not like Smith because he is incredibly personable and real. There is not a moment when you feel that he is up there only for the money or that what he is doing is an act. This is a rare quality that is a driving reason as to why Kevin Smith has become so popular over the past two decades. 

I wholeheartedly recomend anyone reading this blog to go see Kevin Smith on his tour or at the least watch his latest movie Red State once it becomes available on DVD sometime later this fall or early winter.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Star Wars Lego: Obi-Wan Aging through Lego

One of the attractive features to collecting Star Wars Lego minifigures is that you can see the changes in the characters through the movies. Sure, us geeks & nerds know what the characters look like as they change through the movies but there is another quirk added when Lego has a hand at depicting it. In this post I'll show the changes in Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Grievous Chase Kenobi.

Close up of Grievous.

In my collection I have 5 different Obi-Wans. These five come from Episdes I, II, III, and IV. The first comes from the Jedi Defense I set (7203), released in 2002 and comes with 2 destroyer droids. The second comes from the Bounty Hunter Pursuit set (7133), also released in 2002 and comes with an Annikan, the bounty hunter Zam Wessel, and two ships. The third comes from the Jedi Starfighter set (7143), released in 2002 and included Obi and his ship. The fourth comes from the General Grievous Chase set (7255), released in 2005 and includes General Grievous with his wheel bike and Obi-Wan with a creature called a Varactyle (named Boga) that he rode during the chase scene in the third movie. The final Obi-Wan is ironically the first Obi-Wan produced by Lego. This minifigure was included in the Land Speeder set (7110), released in 1999 and included Luke Skywalker, Obi-wan, and the Land Speeder they road to a place where "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy"; the Mos Eisley Cantina.

Starfighter Kenobi

Starfighter Kenobi.

For the most part the differences are readily apparent between the Obi-Wan Kenobis. However there are two important distinctions to remember. The first is that all but the General Grievous Chase Kenobi have silver handled light sabers. This Kenobi instead has a gray handled light saber. The second distinction is that the Bounty Hunter Pursuit and Jedi Starfighter Kenobi's are virtually identical except that a headset is printed on his head of the Starfieghter Kenobi. Besides these two distinctions just remember that capes are part of the Jedi Defense I and Pursuit Kenobi minifigures.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Romantic Movies

The other day I saw Friends with Benefits. The movie stars Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis. It is very predictable and the majority of the funniest moments had already been shared through the advertisements. However, there is a surprising depth to the movie in the unmasking of Timberlake's character's family. The comedic bits are also charming and as my wife pointed out were enchanting for they were real and not slapstick silly jokes. The majority of the scenes were grounded in reality, which made me the viewer more involved.

Following the movie I began thinking of other recent romantic comedies. The past decade has been quite strong for this genre, much like the quickly approaching over-saturation point for zombie flicks. Many of these flicks have received mixed reviews, if not booed off the stage all together. I think many of the films in this genre have been too harshly reviewed and some have not received the attention that they should have.

An example of what I am talking about is Killers, starring Ashton Kutcher as a retired hit-man who falls in love with Katherine Heigl. This again is a predictable movie, but what I believe the critics miss out on is that the movie is fun. It is not an Oscar caliber movie, but it is fun with entertaining action scenes that are buffered by corny and sometimes witty dialogue. A movie such as this would have swept in the 1980's, and in the past few years of doom and gloom international news a movie such as this should be devoured by the public who yearn for something light-hearted that can transport them away from. Movies with a slightly darker tone of humor have fared much better than Killer. These movies are predominantly of the Judd Apatow creation, such as Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I would never putt Apatow in the same class as John Hughes, but he has undoubtedly been the king of the field in romantic comedies over the past decade.

Perhaps my favorite romantic comedy of the past decade is 500 Days of Summers, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (in the top 5 best actors of the past 10 years) and Zooey Deschanel (huge potential and has a great voice in her popular folk band, She & Him). The movie reminds me of Annie Hall in that it is understated, filled with dry humor, has an epic scope, and features impeccable acting within an equally impeccable script. The movie is the dark horse of the past decade and one of my favorite romantic comedies ever, ranking up there with Annie Hall (of course) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. 500 is also a fantastic movie because it feels real. The plot direction is erratic at times and takes the viewer in directions that they don't always want to enter but know to be true and faithful to the characters. The movie was released in 2009 and received a healthy amount of attention but I feel it deserves more. This should become a seminal movie and I wonder if it will someday be added to the list of cult favorites like Annie Hall and 16 Candles.

Okay, that's the end of my rambling.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rebel Pilots & from Yellow to Peach Heads

I have a number of Rebel pilot Star Wars Lego minifigures, but no duplicates except for my Luke Skywalker pilots. What can be taken away from looking at these minifigures is understanding if they come from an X-Wing or Snow-Speeder vs. another craft like an A-Wing or B-Wing. Also, to note that the earlier minifigures had yellow heads that are similar to other Lego series mini-figures. As the Star Wars Lego series continued through the years they switched to peach heads, which I personally preferred them staying with the earlier yellow ones.  (Photo left (left to right):3 figures from X-Wing set, B-Wing pilot, A-Wing Pilot, 2 pilots from Snow-Speeder, & Twin-Pod Cloud Car pilot)
A-Wing Pilot
B-Wing Pilot
The pilots from the A-Wing (7134) and B-Wing (#7180) sets have yellow visors, which is not something found on any of the other Star Wars mini-figures I own. What readily sets these two figures apart is that the B-Wing pilot wears a red jumpsuit, and the A-Wing pilot a green one. Both of these sets were released in 2000 and feature yellow-headed figures.

Twin-Pod Cloud Car Pilot.
Back of Cloud Car Pilot
Yellow Headed Snow-Speeder pilots.
Continuing with yellow-headed figures, the Luke Skywalker and Dak Ralter from the Snow-Speeder set (4500) both have yellow heads. This set was released in 2004, but 2 years later with the release of the X-Wing #6212 set, Luke's head is now peach. Another yellow-headed minifigure pilot comes from the Twin-Pod Cloud Car set (7119), released in 2002. A cool feature of this figure is that the back of the head features the computer console that was sported by the associate of Lando in the Empire Strikes Back.

One final point is that the flight suits for the Snow-Speeder and X-Wing sets discussed here are identical. I would think there should've been some sort of difference, but apparently not. Just take note of the heads though.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Difference in R2-D2: Tricky!

The differences between the R2-D2's in my collection are tricky to spot! Two of the differences might be unintentional because they were perhaps produced by defects in the manufacturing process and hence may not be found on every minifigure. The other difference, which is between the earliest and later R2-D2s is not a manufacturing defect.

In my collection there are 3 R2-D2's. The earliest comes from the Droid Escape set #7106, released in 2001 and belongs to the New Hope series. Also belonging to the New Hope series is the second R2-D2 that came from the Limited Edition X-Wing Fighter set #6212, released in 2006. The third R2-D2 comes from Anakin's Jedi Starfighter set #7669, released in 2008 and belongs to the Clone Wars series.
R2-D2 & 3CP0 from 7106 set.
Backsides: 6212 R2-D2 (left) & 7106 R2-D2 (right)
 Differences: The earliest R2-D2 from the 7106 set has a circle instead of a dot on the back of it's dome head, which is sported on both the later versions. The circle is located within a small rectangle that is to the left of a black eye looking shape (see photo).

R2D2 & Anakin from 7669 set.

The Clone Wars (7669) R2-D2 differs from the X-Wing (6212) R2-D2 in that the 7669 minifigure has a blue print within the silver area on the dome, and has a small dot between two larger dots above the rectangle on the back of the dome (same rectangle discussed above). The small dot mentioned here on the 7669 R2-D2 may be unintentional and produced from a manufacturing glitch because the dot is quite small, however the difference in coloring is less likely to be a manufacturing glitch because it is a more
Backside of R2D2 from 7669 set.
noticeable difference; feel free to disagree with my logic on this one.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Darth Vader Star Wars Lego Mini-Figures

Like the previously posted Chewbacca Lego mini-figures, there are differences between the Darth Vader mini-figures that I have. I have two Vader mini-figures. One comes from the Final Duel I set (#7200) and the other from the 10 Year Anniversary Darth Vader's Tie Fighter set (#8017) (both sets pictured here). The Final Duel I set was released in 2002, and the Tie Fighter set was released in 2009 and belongs to the episode IV, A New Hope series.

Tie-Fighter Vader
Final Duel I Vader, with Emperor mini-fig.

Tie-fighter Vader on left, Final Duel Vader on right.
The differences between the two Vader mini-figures are readily apparent. There is detail that covers the entire chest on the Tie Fighter Vader, representing his flight suit. The chest of the duel Vader has a 1/2 oval design, covers less of the chest, and has less detail in general. The face of the Tie fighter Vader has two scars, one one the left and one on the right side of his face. The duel Vader has only one scar on the right side of hist face. Additionally, the duel Vader has black eye-brows instead of the grey ones on the tie fighter Vader.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Difference in Chewbacca Lego Figures

I have noticed some differences in the Lego Star Wars figures. This post points out the difference between the Chewbacca figures. 

I have two Chewbacca Lego figures in my collection. The earliest comes from the Imperial AT-ST set, released in 2001. The serial number for this set is 7127. The second Chewie figure comes from the Limited Edition X-Wing Fighter set, released in 2006.

AT-ST set 7127

X-Win set 6212

The difference between the two Chewbaccas is that the one from the 7127 set has a lighter, more milk chocolate brown color. The later Chewie is more glossy and has a red-brown color. Neither figure comes with any attachments (crossbow or whatnot). The head piece is attached to the front and back hair, so there is a total of three pieces to these figures.

Chewbaccas: 7127 set (right) & 6212 set (left)

So keep your eyes peeled fellow Lego Star Wars enthusiasts!

Star Wars Lego

I love Star Wars Lego. I enjoy the building and slowly seeing what it is you're building come together. I also love how Leog strips down a classic idea, like a space ship from Star Wars, and turns it into a blocky mass of simplified colors. The figures are another great feature to the Star Wars Lego line, with the classic shape of Lego people wrapped inside the equally classic Star Wars character designs!

OK, so enough gushing! I have quite a bit of Star Wars Lego and was going through a bunch of it the other night and realized that I have some duplicate figures. I began wondering if there was any differences between the figures that came out in earlier versus later Lego sets, and low-and-behold there were! Noting these differences is incredibly nerdy of me of course but it can also be helpful if you are buying figures at yard sales or conventions. Personally, it makes sense to pay more for an earlier version of a certain character than a later one, and so it is in your best interest to know exactly what you are paying for. In the next few posts I'll be discussing some differences between Lego characters that I noted from my collection. So hang on for a truly geeky trip through the next few posts!

Lego Star Wars Diorama.