Xanadu’s X-Men Squadron

Don’t worry if that title doesn’t make sense. It will.

Madame Xanadu is a classic DC Comics character who has come back in to a sort of prominence in the last few years. She’s a powerful, blind sorceress, and now she has a new limited series written by Matt Wagner (creator of Mage and Grendel) and pencilled by the creator of the manga, Fool’s Gold, Amy Reeder Hadley. Hadley is a newcomer to mainstream comics like this, but her work as seen in this 6 page preview is absolutely luscious. She has that clean, wispy style reminiscent of Fables cover artists James Jean. The story is tailored towards mature readers and with the subject matter covering tarot reading and the like, it’s obviously not going to be for everyone. But that has always been DC’s strength over Marvel – their diversity, as seen in their Vertigo line of books that are an intriguing haven to readers who prefer to steer clear of all those crazy superheroes.

It’s no surprise that Wolverine is the most popular X-Man. He’s tough, has a great costume, mysterious past and a bad attitude. The short Canadian gets his own film soon, with the spinoff currently shooting with Hugh Jackman as the hairy anti-hero. Now it’s time for him to get animated. I fondly recall the X-Men’s cartoon series in the early 90s, trying to watch as much as I could before I had to leave for school, and a surprising number of people first became aware of Marvel’s mutant team through it, before the first film adaptation in 2000. The ‘toon was surprisingly faithful to the comics, often using direct plots from the most well loved stories, it was chock full of guest stars and had a catchy theme tune. The new series, entitled Wolverine and the X-Men won’t air until next year, but those hard core fans (such as myself!) who are going to the San Diego Comic-Con next month will see the three part premiere. For now, the new trailer will have to suffice. It looks action packed and has the usual faves such as Rogue, Colossus, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Iceman and even White Queen. With Professor X out of the picture, it’s up to Wolvie to lead the way. Go Wolvie!

And finally, the squadron part of the title. Writer/artist Howard Chaykin discusses the Squadron Supreme, Ultimate Nick Fury (that guy in the Iron Man film cameo!) and other stuff on Marvel’s latest podcast. It’s an interesting chat and at least now I know what Chaykin sounds like before I (hopefully) get to meet him this weekend at the Supanova convention in Perth.

Uncanny X-Men #500

500 is a number worth celebrating, especially in the comics world. Marvel have given us two sketch variants for this milestone, rather than risking a fire by trying to light 500 candles. One is from one of the best lady-pencillers in the biz, Terry Dodson. (Drool at his work here)

… and one is from prolific cover artist Michael Turner. (More drooling to be had here.)

And if that wasn’t enough Alex Ross and Greg Land also offer up wraparound covers. Now for the rest of the info: Featuring the debut of the series’ new writing team, Eisner-winner Ed Brubaker and Eisner-nominee Matt Fraction, and the series’ superstar art team, Greg Land and Dodson, this is the issue that no X-Fan can afford to miss as X-Men: Manifest Destiny begins! This extra-sized anniversary issue kicks off with a longer lead story as the X-Men adjust to their new home in San Francisco , but soon find a familiar face threatening their new beginning! How do the Sentinels, Magneto and Master Mold tie into all this? Find out in Uncanny X-Men #500!

The X-books often bring out the best in creators (as you can see above) and this historic issue may just be the place to get familiar with some ol’ mutant mates.

Definitely, Maybe-Certainly

I hate most rom-coms (um, romantic comedies-yeah) My house-mate loves them and put on Fool’s Gold recently. I gave it twenty minutes and could stomach no more. Most are bland, predictable and written for 11 year olds. The quirky cast of supporting characters, the lame physical comedy, the same upbeat strings on the soundtrack, the break-up, misunderstandings, new partners followed by jealousy, the dash for the airport. This genre is the most formulaic in all of Hollywood. The only films that can beat them for mindless entertainment would be anything starring a Van Damme or a Seagal. However, sometimes, we need good old fashioned mind numbing, don’t we? After a long day at work we can plonk ourselves in our fave chair, press play and expect happy endings and pretty people to wash over us for the next 90 minutes. I just try not to make a habit out of it. I will say though, I loved The Notebook (perhaps the only film that guys can admit they cried to) and adored Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset films. I didn’t expect much with this latest Ryan Reynolds vehicle, though he was in Blade: Trinity and was the forerunner for Wally West in The Flash film, so he’s got geek cred in my book.

The premise is this: Ryan is getting divorced from his daughter’s (Abigail Breslin) mother and tells her the story of the three most important romances in his life, leaving her to guess which one is her Mum, with the choices being Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks and my fellow Aussie, Isla Fisher. Well written and directed by Albert Brooks, the film gives you enough reasons to like each of the three female leads and also enough reason to want the final outcome to not be them. It’s a delicate balancing act with a few surprises thrown in. All the characters are fully developed, with intelligent engaging dialogue, rather than the usual fluff that spout forth from rom-com leads. Fisher is the highlight of the cast. She just can’t seem to turn off the cutesy charm no matter what role she’s in. The final scenes offer nice icing on the cake. I stayed through the whole film, so that’s high praise indeed. It only ventures toward typical territory of this genre in two early scenes involving slow clapping and rowdy singing, but it isn’t a comedy as such, more of a drama. The flashbacks will be a nice bonus for Gen Xers too, with familiar 90s staples such as brick mobile phones, Cobain and Clinton. Definitely, Maybe is a nice breath of fresh, minty air in a crowded shelf of feel-good movies.

Tropic Thunder Promo

This looks like it could be a funny film. Ben Stiller stars as action man Tug Speedman, Jack Black is the funny guy Jeff “Fats” Portnoy and an unrecognisable Robert Downey Jr portrays the award winning Aussie, Kirk Lazarus. From the names alone its obvious this film will be mocking blockbuster conventions.

The somewhat unique set-up is this; the three actors are making a Vietnam war film when their director (Steve Coogan) gets fed up with their antics and drops them off in a real war zone, without telling them.The “viral video” was shown at this year’s MTV Movie Awards. It goes for childish humour, but it works. Jack Black is always funny (apart from Nacho Libre) and Downey Jr continues to surprise us. It seems that there’s no genre he can’t be seen in. Stiller directs and co-writes the film and it’s due for release on August 15. There is also an R-rated “redband” trailer which looks quite bloody. Hopefully what we’ve seen thus far is just a promise of more laughs to come.

The (not-so) Incredible Hulk

Well, it was better than the first Hulk film in 2003, but that’s not saying much. Director Louis Leterrier’s re-boot is certainly closer to the comics version of the Green Goliath, but it is still lacking in key areas. The action has been ramped up, with lots of running, and some light humour, in the first few scenes. We find Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) working in a Brazilian bottling factory, trying to stay off the military’s radar as General Ross (William Hurt) becomes increasingly desperate in his attempts to reclaim the Hulk as a U.S weapon. Bruce can’t contain his inner beast for too long though, despite his love for Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and his various breathing exercises. When the military first strike, Banner loses control and the Hulk makes his fearsome presence known. Throwing around people and machinery with reckless abandonment it becomes clear that Banner’s alter ego is a monster uncaged. This introduction is repeated throughout the film, becoming blander each time it does. We see Banner attempting a new cure, we see the military find him, we see a chase, we see a fight between them, we see Banner find solace in Betty’s arms. And on it goes.

Star Norton had a much publicised re-write on this film from Zak Penn’s original screenplay, but I would have been intrigued to see the initial script. With all of the main characters whispering throughout the entirety of the film, and many long pauses, it seems the film makers couldn’t decide what kind of film they were making. Too bad this is released after Iron Man. That film has spoiled us rotten. We now expect more from our superheroic screen adventures and this one lets us down. No real characterisation to speak of and the acting is surprisingly dull, but it all looks good of course.

However, the film is not a total waste. It gets some things right, mainly the final fight scene between Hulk and Emil Blonsky AKA The Abomination (Tim Roth) It really is an epic encounter torn straight from the comics page, and Blonsky’s motivation as an old warhorse eager for new glory days is a good one. Comics fans like myself will also be pleased with numerous Marvel references, such as the spy organisation, S.H.I.E.L.D, Hulk’s sonic hand clap, the super soldier programme (which gives birth to Captain America), the Mr Blue sub-plot and the Hulk’s classic catch cry, “Hulk Smash!” (uttered by TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno). And as a special treat they’ve given us a final scene to warm our hearts – a Tony Stark AKA Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) cameo to begin tieing all Marvel’s films together for the Avengers film coming our way in 2011. The way is left clear for a sequel and further cameos. Marvel Studios are obviously confident that they will be making films for some time to come, and I hope they do. If another Hulk film does come our way I’d suggest ditching the brainless brute Hulk version and delving in to the comics archives for a look at writer Peter David’s excellent work. For this franchise to thrive, it needs a smart Hulk, one that can communicate beyond grunts and one that can surprise movie goers who are looking for more than yet another action flick.

Bourne’s Xbox Biffo

I thought I’d treat myself (for no discernible reason) and buy the latest official Oz Xbox mag this week. I only ever buy mags with demo discs attached. It’s quicker than downloading off Xbox Live and it’s a good way of seeing if the game may be purchase-worthy. Apart from a gloriously huge Gears of War 2 poster and the latest on the new Prince of Persia and Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe game (please God, let me play a DC game that isn’t a shocker) it also has a nice article on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed which will allow us to play as ol’ Vader himself. With this much destruction, it might be even more fun than the Lego game. Hurling stormtroopers around and using the Force in unexpected ways will bring no end of mischievous pleasure I’m sure.

The disc’s trailers aren’t that inspiring, nor is the Kung Fu Panda game. Army of Two may be worth closer inspection, but the highlight is the Bourne Conspiracy demo, with three frenetic levels. No Matt Damon to be seen here, but the game looks familiar to fans of the cinematic trilogy. All the biffo and chop socky is perty darn cool. You start off using your various appendages in a way I haven’t seen before; a combination of context sensitive button mashing, cut scenes and adrenaline meter filling which allows take downs of your opponent. The next level gives you guns. You are able to crouch, but it’s frustratingly limiting, unlike Gears of War where you can still move around cover while crouched. The final demo level reminded me of Midtown Madness 3 on the old school Xbox. Driving like a lunatic, but having fun while doing so. I might have to get this game, but I can wait till prices drop. I don’t know if I can say that when September brings Force Unleashed though. Perhaps an early Christmas treat to myself?

It had to be done

Well I guess it was only a matter of time. It’s not like the world needs yet another blog, especially one from a comic book junkie, but I could resist no longer! I used to be the Comics Editor for Infuze, a great little on-line pop culture mag, but that went belly up (not my fault!) It was a tremendous blessing and gave me the opportunity to let people in on the world’s best kept secret – comics rock! I now pull similar duties over at Sight magazine, but I crave more, so here we are, with me rambling, and you reading. Stay tuned.