Saturday, October 17, 2020

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #3 Review...


Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #3


Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Guido Guidi


Synopsis:  Counterpunch recalls how in Optimus Prime and Megatron's absence, Straxus swiftly worked to gain brutal dominance over the Autobots. Along with Thunderwing and Scorponok the three Decepticon warlords carve up Cybertron into their own fiefdoms. Straxus privately consults Counterpunch and asks him if he thinks will respect their pact (to stay in their own territories). He replies, no. Straxus plots to take the whole planet, then the cosmos itself! He orders Counterpunch to make Project Dreadnought happen, no matter what it takes. Punch goes to the interim Autobot leader, Ultra Magnus, and tells him they must stop Straxus' machinations. Ultra Magnus feels overwhelmed by his responsibilities but gets some reassurance from Impactor and Roadbuster. Both of them volunteer to join in on Punch's proposed "wrecking crew" to stop Straxus.
  On Earth, Grimlock has apparently defeated Shockwave and is headed back toward the Ark on "autopilot", still mentally distant after his infusion of pure energon the last issue. AUNTIE, the Ark's computer is damaged and can't recognize him as a friendly so it commissions some clones of the Autobots to intercept him. Grapple, Hoist, Smokescreen, Tracks and Skids are dispatched.
  Meanwhile, aboard the Nemesis, the three conehead jets (Ramjet, Thrust and Dirge) ave recovered from Shockwave's attack and decide to go down to the surface for some payback. They reach the Ark first and engage the Autobots. Grimlock passes through them unfazed so Auntie activates some Guardian robots to stop him instead.
  Back on Cybertron, Star Saber fights valiantly against overwhelming odds until Deathsaurus confronts him. He orders his forces to kill the Autobot but he manages to escape. Ultra Magnus then contacts him and tells him to return to Autobase. He needs him for a critical mission. At Autobase, Impactor introduces Punch to his newly formed unit--the Wreckers!
  On Earth, Grimlock makes short work of the Guardian bots and begins to regain his senses. But, just then, we discover AUNTIE has reactivated Megatron!

Thoughts:  Like with the previous two issues, a lot of this story feels boring. Like stuff we've all seen before. However, this issue veers in to slightly new territory so it's not quite as bad. I don't feel like this story is the definitive canon version of the G1 comic (I prefer the original, slightly more vague rendition). It will be interesting to see how this is all resolved next issue. As usual, the art is excellent.

Verdict:  Average.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Unintended Consequences...

    In life, it’s important to always have a plan. That helpful blueprint to guide us along the pathway we need to follow.
    Just like in life, it’s a good idea to have an actual story outline to help a writer know where they want to go with their tale. In my case, I like to plot a story out scene by scene (or chapter by chapter, scene by scene, as the case may be).
    Sometimes what you plan out doesn’t always come to pass for whatever reason. Perhaps in hindsight the scene or character interaction doesn’t make sense or becomes redundant. Maybe you just got bored with the idea when you went to actually write it out.
    This has happened to me a bit lately. For example, a story chapter I was working on felt boring so I changed the scene a bit. In doing so, I messed up the story progression and had to figure out a new way to work through the plot.
    Another time, a short story with what seemed like a straight forward enough premise went off the rails mid-way. I’m still trying to feel my way through that one.
    Writing is an art where one needs to plan things out ahead of time. To know where they’re going and how to get there. But when the unthinkable happens and things change, we also need to be able to think on our feet. Improvisation can be crucial.
    Consider how many things over the years that may have been affected by changes on the fly. The original Star Wars is a good example, with things changing constantly throughout production. Apocalypse Now!, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek, etc, etc. The list is endless.
    How many works of art have been improved upon by improvisatio
n? Some may have been made worse too, of course. Sometimes one over thinks an idea to the point it loses whatever poignancy it may have had in the first place. Or, by over-working it, they reveal the premise wasn’t so great in the first place (I think of countless bad movies that have been rewritten and re-edited into mediocrity).
    In the case of writing, this also demonstrates that one needs to have a very good understanding of storytelling in the first place. If it starts to fall apart or veer off in the wrong direction, a good writer must be able to realize that there’s a problem in the first place and then actively work to correct it.
    They also need to know how to fix whatever the problem is and get things back on track, even if that means discovering some new and innovative method to course-correct.
    Good writing skills are essential, yes, but so are good editing skills. Many a good editor has saved a story from becoming a dumpster fire over the years by being able to recognize issues as they crop up.
    I’m also a firm believer that where you start out in a story doesn’t always matter as long as the end-point is properly satisfying. If you stick the landing, as they say, you’ll leave with a much more satisfied audience then if you end on some bizarre note that leaves them scratching their heads. That’s not to say it has to always be a happy ending per se but an ending that makes sense given the overall context and theme of the story.
    Good organizational skills, a good imagination, improvisation and an ability to make it all make sense in the end. These are the true hallmarks of a good storyteller. Everything is just icing on the cake when it comes to what one brings to the table.

DKA

 

 

 


Friday, September 25, 2020

The Next Big Step...

 

 


    There are a lot of perennial concepts I’ve followed over the years. Stuff comes and goes and some ideas are better then others.
    This is the time of year where we celebrate the premiere of several Transformers cartoons, for example. The original cartoon, Beast Wars and Beast Machines all debuted in September (which is logical, given the new school year and the run up to Christmas, of course Hasbro wants to attract new kids–and now, adults too–to its newest product).
    It occurred to me that I haven’t really found any of the various Transformers cartoons of the last decade or so to be all that interesting. The last one I tried really watching was “Robots in Disguise” (the newer series from 2015).
    It was okay but it didn’t really blow me away. Granted, I’m not the target demographic any more (not by a long shot!) but usually the best series have something that can attract older fans too.
    I’ve also watched the Combiner Wars shorts (which were boring, imo. No time for characterization or much plot really beyond the superficial). Most recently, I watched the six part 2020 Siege series on Netflix. It was better paced (each episode was about 30 minutes) and had at least some characterization. Again, though, it felt like it could have been better in some regards.
    I think part of the problem is the heavy reliance on nostalgia. Nostalgia can be good but how many times do we need to re-hash the same elements from Generation One? Lately, we keep getting the same G1 characters as toys over and over again. Now, we’re even re-doing the war for Cybertron and the journey to Earth.
    I understand they can’t do one contiguous story for ten years, since it would make it extremely difficult to attract new kids to the concept, but why not at least try something different occasionally? Why not focus on a new unit of characters in a new setting somewhere? Or the same characters in a new setting? Something–anything–other then the same old thing!
    Beast Wars did this and was a smashing success. Beast Machines continued Beast Wars but went off into left field with its idea. The original Car Robots/Robots in Disguise was different. Transformers Animated was a bit out there too...
    The last really good, really memorable story Transformers series was Prime. It had the same general robots-crash-on-Earth set-up but managed to still find something interesting in the concept to try.        The current concept is “War for Cybertron” which is a multi-year concept. They start out on Cybertron during the War, travel to Earth and then something involving some Beast Wars ideas (aka “Kingdom”). Once that’s over though I hope Hasbro sits down and brainstorms something new and fresh to do with the concept. Don’t give us more regurgitated G1 stuff again (at least, not for a while anyway).
    They need to take it somewhere new and different. Get some decent writers and give us a new–and good–animated series. Get a comic series to try its on take on the idea. Make long-time fans like myself actually get interested and excited in the concept once again, instead of just going through the motions.
    (This totally ignores the whole “Cyberverse” line and shows, which are aimed at a younger audience and I’ve not bothered watching. Perhaps they’re trying something more interesting...?)
    Until then, I’ll just be over here with my G.I.JOES... 😃

DKA




Friday, August 28, 2020

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #2 Review...

 

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #2


Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Guido Guidi


Synopsis: Counterpunch continues his narration, recounting as the Autobots return the ruined Dynobots to the Ark’s storage bay. Ratchet copies their memory engrams into the computer for safe keeping. Elsewhere, Perceptor shows Ultra Magnus that they were blown off course intentionally but Shockwave’s world engine. In Polyhex, Counterpunch sets Straxus up with a new base, explaining that he will be important in helping establish the new order once Megatron is gone. Straxus launches an attack on the remaining Autobots at his urging, keeping them distracted from doing anything further about Shockwave’s machinations. Shockwave is on the Nemesis overseeing Megatron’s attack on the Ark when the other vessel crashes into the Earth with all aboard. He is confronted by Ramjet, Thrust and Dirge (stragglers left behind to keep any Autobots from escaping the attack) and forced to neutralize them with a weapon of his own devising. He then transforms and flies to the Earth to try and make certain Megatron and the others are permanently deactivated. The Ark’s computer detects his presence and rebuilds the Dynobots into their new dinosaur forms then sends them out to confront him. Shockwave realizes the Earth is abundant in energy and could easily help them re-energize Cybertron itself. The Dinobots arrive and attack him but are easily bested. Grimlock gets some raw Energon from Swoop and uses it to power himself up. He strikes Shockwave and moves in for the kill...

Thoughts: Pretty much the same as last time. This is competently written but I find the subject matter a bit dull. We’re just retreading history here, time and again. There is the new take on the Dinobots versus Shockwave but... meh. Perhaps things will be more exciting as we approach the eventual conclusion of this mini-series?

Again, Guidi’s art is nothing short of fantastic looking. Easily the best reason to pick up this series!

Verdict: Average.

The Second Cut...

 Continuing on from my previous blog, here’s a few selections of movies that have been re-edited and have some interesting changes from their original theatrical versions.


Aliens - James Cameron’s masterpiece has another fifteen or so minutes added back on DVD/Bluray. Addtions include a revelation that Ripley had a daughter, gunbot sentries, a deleted scene with Newt and her family finding the Xenomorphs and other little bits and pieces.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day - The Director’s Cut has the T-1000 getting damaged, allowing John to realize his mother is not really his mother in the end. Additionally, we get more backstory on Dyson, a dream sequence with Kyle and more.

Avatar - Contains a new opening sequence on Earth.

Daredevil - Re-edited with more footage that makes for a better overall movie. Matt and Elektra are soul-mates now instead of one-nighters. Also more legal intrigue.

Superman and Superman 2 - Superman has lots of cut footage, including more on Krypton, a young Lois on the train and so on. Superman 2 has an entirely different cut with more footage of Jor-El as well as a different opening and ending.

Star Wars
(all of them) - All of the Star Wars films have deleted footage. Some major (Luke and his friends on Tatooine. More footage with Anakin and Padme in AOTC, lost footage from ROTJ) as well as minor changes as well.

Star Trek II - The Director’s Cut has a bit more clarity in it overall, with slightly better editing in places. Additionally, there is lost footage from the old TV version where Saavik is half-Romulan.

Batman vs Superman - The Director’s Cut is a much better movie overall. While still not perfect, it helps clarifies details missing in the theatrical version.

X-Men: Days of Future’s Past (Rogue Cut)
- Re-edited to include Rogue back in the movie. It also helps justify the future storyline in the movie. Not necessarily a better movie but interesting in its differences.

Watchmen - There’s the theatrical cut, which was reasonably good but there’s also an extended Director’s Cut with more story and an Ultimate Cut, which has the Tales of the Black Freighter story incorporated into the film as well. 

Blade Runner - A film that has been re-edited at least three times. The Final Cut from a few years back attempted to fix numerous issues in the original story as well as some technical ones as well. Worth a look.

Apocalypse Now - A Director’s Cut of this added lots of footage back into the theatrical cut and did some edits as well. 




Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Final Cut...

    A few weeks back it was announced that the Snyder Cut of the 2017 Justice League movie was going to be finished finally and released exclusively on HBO Max in the United States next year. For some time fans online have been clamoring to see this version of the film, believing Snyder’s original vision for the film was vastly superior to the Joss Whedon version we got in theaters.
    I went and saw the Whedon movie back when it came out in the theater. I also own it on Blu-ray. It’s an okay film. Not terrible but certainly not great either.
    Even seeing it the first time it was obvious it was a mash-up between whatever Snyder wanted to do and what Whedon cobbled together from that and his own rewrites and reshoots.
    Will the Snyder Cut be worth the wait? Maybe. Maybe not. If nothing else, at least we’ll get one man’s vision for the story instead of the mish-mash we ended up with before.
    I’ve read that Snyder had ambitious plans to set up a trilogy with an involved story about Superman’s ultimate redemption and Darkseid’s invasion of Earth. Supposedly, the big-wigs at Warner Bros got cold feet over committing to such a potentially complicated and expensive venture and pulled the plug.
    What’s true? What’s not? It’s hard to know...
    One thing that is certain though is that trying to combine these two men’s very different visions failed. A story solely by Snyder or Whedon could have been very good. As it was, we got a mediocre film out of the deal and Marvel Studios certainly didn’t feel any pressure on their Avengers franchise when put up against DC’s Justice League. Even the weakest Avengers film is still miles ahead.
    Justice League’s relative failure and its new incarnation are interesting in another way though. Even in Whedon’s film we can see the differing tones and ideas at play. One can presently only imagine what else was originally envisioned (and soon enough, we’ll be able to see it for ourselves).
    Of course, this isn’t the first time a movie has been radically edited and/or reshot. It’s been going on for decades and the process is endlessly fascinating–especially to outsiders like ourselves.
    A simple cut here or there–or excising half of the film for new footage–can radically change the story’s intent and outcome. It’s also an interesting way to learn about editing, whether one is a novice or a practiced storyteller.
    No matter the format, editing is the lifeblood of storytelling. When the story runs too long, too short, a character does or doesn’t work, the ending needs fixing, the prose needs updating, etc. Many a countless hour has been spent pouring over the story, trying to get it just right.
    Editing can be the bane of many an aspiring writer. How many epics have been sidelined because the author decided the story just wasn’t “right”? How many tales will never see the light of day because of the author’s inability to get the story finished to their own satisfaction?
    Look at film. Both Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens have extended versions where something like fifteen minutes of footage has been added back to the story. In both cases, the films are considerably better with the extra content. Great films made even better with just a little bit more.
    Then, there’s movies like 2003's Daredevil. The theatrical cut of the film was a disappointment to many. The movie felt shallow and maybe even a bit sexist (Matt and Elektra’s relationship seemed nothing but physical yet contradictorly, he acted as if she was the love of his life).
    As it turns out, there was more footage and the Director’s Cut, which eventually made it out on DVD, was a considerable improvement. In it, Matt is unsatisfied with all his frivolous physical relationships with women and when Elektra happens along he finds an equal in spirit and fortitude. Also, there is a subplot about The Arranger being responsible for murdering a young woman and framing an innocent black man. The longer cut still doesn’t rank among the greatest superhero films I’ve ever seen yet it is a significant upgrade over what we initially got.
    There’s so many examples out there for re-edited movies to chose from. From major changes like Richard Donner’s Superman II and the fourth Exorcist film (Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) to smaller changes on countless films from every genre and era.
    It’s been said copious editing was what saved the original Star Wars film. George Lucas had hours of footage and thanks to the editing team (which included his then-wife Marsha) it was cut down to a brisk and entertaining film that became one of the most popular movies of all time. Without the two editors it might very well have turned out as a horrible failure.
    Editing works best when the Editor has a good command of storytelling techniques and understands how to make the story flow properly. Too much story (be it footage or prose) can be extraneous but too little can also rob the story of texture. Also, some times writers just put odd things in the story and it’s the job of the Editor to decide whether or not that stuff is relevant to the overall point of the story–be it the plot or characterization.
    Also, everyone is different. One creator might think something is just right for a story while another might scoff at the same notion. What if Luke Skywalker had a girlfriend in the original movie? How would that have affected his tale? Would he still have left Tatooine? Maybe. Perhaps it could’ve played into the overall plot. Perhaps it could have hindered it. One really has no way of knowing one way or the other and neither option is right or wrong. We just got the story we did and it works well as it is.
    One person’s edit may seem like genius to them while the next might find it absurd. I personally think Prometheus was over-edited (some crucial information was cut from the final version of the film and I feel it hindered it. Obviously the film’s editors felt otherwise).
    Movie studios can be even worse since a lot of their decisions are made by oft-clueless executives who only think in terms of dollars. How many rely on test audiences to try and gauge the success of a film? How often does that ever work out for the best?
    At the end of the day, editing is a necessary evil in storytelling. It simply cannot function without a judgmental eye. The trick is in trying to know what’s best for the story and following one’s experience and intuition in the spirit of communicating the best tale one can.

DKA

 

 

 

 


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #1 Review...


Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #1


Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Guido Guidi


Synopsis: In 2019, IDW released a single issue called “Transformers ‘84" that chronicled the classic Transformers back story that happened before the Ark launched into space to defend Cybertron from the asteroid field. This summer, that issue has been followed up with “Secret and Lies” which continues onward with the back story.
    While the original issue followed the Autobots story from Punch’s perspective, issue #1 of “Secrets and Lies” follows the Decepticon side of the story from Counterpunch’s perspective. Shockwave and his scientists labour over “Project Dreadnought”, a plan to create world engines (called “turbines” in the story) to power Cybertron through the cosmos. Starscream and Skyfire ruminate over Megatron’s obsession with destroying Optimus Prime instead of worrying about the greater plan. Counterpunch arrives and tells Shockwave that Megatron demands his presence immediately. Megatron tells Shockwave to plan to take Stanix next so they can take the entire western hemisphere. Ratbat argues they are overstretched already but Megatron dismisses him. Later, a massive explosion sends Cybertron hurdling in the direction of the Stellae Cimeterium–a graveyard of stars. Shockwave suggests they finish the planetary turbines to correct the planet’s trajectory. Megatron says they have time to wait and gauge the Autobots response instead. Later, Ratbat speaks with Shockwave, suggesting perhaps the explosion wasn’t an accident and implies Shockwave did it intentionally, a fact he denies (although it’s obvious to the reader he was behind the incident). The Decepticons watch as the Nemesis, their new battleship designed to combat the Autobot’s Ark, stands ready to launch. The Autobots (Perceptor and the Dynobots), via Counterpunch, discover Shockwave’s treachery and go to the area in question to investigate. Skyfire, Shockwave’s associate, intercepts them there but he is taken out by Grimlock. Shockwave arrives shortly after and stops them in return (except for Perceptor, who hides and escapes his attack). Shockwave is recalled by the Seekers (Thrust, Ramjet and Dirge) to go see Megatron off on the Nemesis. Perceptor signals for backup who come and retrieve his damaged comrades...


Thoughts: This is a competently written story. Having said that, I don’t really find it all that exciting. It feels like we’re just retreading history here without really exploring anything all that interesting. Does it really matter if the Constructicons and Jetfire existed on Cybertron before we first saw them in the Marvel comic? Also, the first issue proposed that Optimus Prime purposely drew Megatron and his warriors off Cybertron to try and give whoever was left a chance to save their homeworld. It’s a different spin on things but not one that I really care for. I prefer the original way instead (a mission to save Cybertron that went wrong). Again, we’re not really covering any new ground storywise here and I don’t find it all that exciting. (After reading the two issues in question I find I’m having trouble even recalling what happened in them. Not a good sign for the future).
    The artwork here is excellent. Guidi does a phenomenal job recapturing Andrew Wildman’s early TF style at its best. The comic is worth checking out for that alone, even if the story itself is not all the exciting.


Verdict: Average.