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.






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.

Monday, July 20, 2020

G.I.JOE Snake Eyes: Deadgame #1 Review...

G.I.JOE Snake Eyes: Deadgame #1

Story/Penciler: Rob Liefeld
Script/Dialogue: Chad Bowers
Addtional Inks: Adelso Corona

  Snake Eyes and some other Joes attack a remote installation in the Svalbard Islands after receiving a mysterious S.O.S signal from the site. Upon arriving, they find Joe Colton held prisoner and free him. He informs them his captors forced him to translate an ancient scroll that referenced “Deadgame”. Snake Eyes understands what he’s talking about and rushes out into the cold arctic to find a group of ninja huddled in a circle chanting. He attacks them and puts most of them down but not before they manage to resurrect the evil wizard Kirigun (the “Grave Master” apparently). Kirigun is apparently immortal, a man wrapped in red bandages. He asks the ninjas "where the sword is" but they tell him they do not have it... then Snake Eyes engages him in battle. He defeats Snake Eyes ultimately but is forced to retreat when Scarlett shows up with a shotgun. He retreats with his remaining ninja on a helicopter but warns Snake Eyes that when they meet again then he will possess the sword of the dead and there will be no question who will be the victor. The other Joes join Snake Eyes and Scarlett as they watch him leave and vow to stop him.

Thoughts:  Honestly, this story feels almost out of place for a G.I.JOE story. It veers very far into the fantastic and reminded me more of story that should’ve been told for a character like Wolverine or Deadpool. If you love Cobra-La types of storytelling in your Joe canon you might go for this. If you want even a scrap of realism this is not the book for you. Interestingly, it looks like Liefeld was too lazy to even script the story. He just came up with some overall conflict to make Snake Eyes look cool and let somebody else flesh it out (or it seems that way anyway). Other then having him conveniently in the story why is Joe Colton able to translate the ancient scroll? It makes little sense to me.
    Artwise, the comic moves between “good” and “awful”. We get some competent scenes and poses as well as a lot of super beefy men shots. Snake Eyes has always been muscular but also lithe to a degree and here he looks like he just works out 24/7. Roadblock suffers even worse–he looks ridiculous on the final splash of the comic. Liefeld needs to use his millions to take some damn art lessons! Or learn to tone down his worst instincts at any rate.
    This comic had 36 variant covers all told, btw. Crazy but clearly IDW was hoping to cash in on Liefeld’s name at all cost.
    I’ll likely pick up next issue but honestly I hold little hope this story will be worth bothering with.

Verdict:  Mediocre.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

My Ideal Joe...

    A long-time staple of Hasbro (the toy company) has been the G.I.JOE concept. First started in 1964 as 12" generic army men toys with various costume pack accessories. The initial line went until 1976.
    From 1982 onward, Joe returned as a new concept and size. 3.5 inch figures that were cheaper to produce and with a new special elite team versus the Cobra terrorist organization.
    I started buying the toys around 1986 with the Cobra Soldier (called “Cobra” at the time) being my first one. Over the years I had a lot of figures and vehicles. The line was a cool mixture of real world army vehicles and equipment alongside futuristic technology.
    I drifted in and out of the toyline until about 1994. I loved the evolution of the classic characters with new figures and ideas (not all of them were successes but overall it was cool to see updates).
    The ongoing Joe vs Cobra line died in 1994 and was replaced with the “Sgt. Savage” line for 1995 then the “G.I.JOE Extreme” concept after that. Despite the change in story focus, the demand for the standard Joe/Cobra figures remained strong enough for Hasbro to keep doing new figures and exclusive packs for years to come.
    In 2007, G.I.JOE celebrated 25 years of the Joe/Cobra concept with all-new characters based off the classic 80s figures in retro-style packaging. More toys continued over the coming years, keeping the concept strong.
    And then, 2016 happened.
    The last couple of years of G.I.JOE figures were either Toys R Us exclusives or Joe Collector Club exclusive releases. In 2016, the last batch of TRU toys didn’t seem to sell too well (and didn’t even come to Canada at all).
    Our Real American Hero was dead. At least as far as new action figures went anyway.
    Finally, after years of waiting, G.I.JOE has returned!
    2020 sees the release of an all-new 6" scale Joe line (called G.I.JOE Classified). This summer the first wave hits stores and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.
    Later this year, a new retro 3.5 line is apparently coming to Wal-Mart as an exclusive series. Also, a new G.I.JOE movie (Snake Eyes) is on the way as well. Once again, all is well in the world.
    Of course the fans are never happy! Several have complained about the look of the new figures. They don’t adhere slavishly to the classic look and therefore are unworthy. Even I admit some of them could be better (while others are just about perfect).
    My ideal toy line would likely carry on the 3.5" scale while adhering mostly to the classic look of the characters. Or at least the spirit of those looks. Snake Eyes needs to have a visor; Cobra Commander needs a mirrored mask or hood, etc. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
    I’d also try not to get too nuts with the futuristic vehicles. Stuff like the HAVOC or STUN were neat but the Cobra BUGG was dumb looking. Also, Cobra-La might have been too much as well.
    Storywise, I’ve always envisioned the Joe team being a small unit that works covertly. I always thought stories like the cartoon were stupid in the sense that there seems to be hundreds of Joes and everyone knows who they are and where their enormous base is. The only reason there’s hundreds of Joes and a ridiculous number of Cobra troop types is because Hasbro had to keep making up new figures year after year. But in-story I’d limit the team size (or break them up into smaller units we focus on at the very least).
    I’d also try not to get too carried away with stuff like the ninjas. They were cool at first but they were seriously overdoing it when we had “Ninja Force” and twenty characters running around. Also, when we were at the point where everyone was a ninja (Firefly comes to mind. And attempts to make the Baroness some sort of proto-ninja. Enough already!)
    I’d also avoid getting too gimmicky with stuff like the DEA sub-line, Eco-warriors, Sky Patrol, Python Patrol, etc. I found that stuff too much as a kid and I suspect I’m not the only one.
    All in all, I’m glad to see G.I.JOE back where it belongs in the toy aisle. I hope it’s latest run is a long and successful one.



Friday, June 19, 2020

There Is NO Conflict!

(Warning! Potential spoilers for Avengers: Endgame)

    I watched Avengers: Endgame when it came out in theaters. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous entry, Infinity War.
    While Infinity War had a compelling story, Endgame felt like they’d painted themselves into a corner and didn’t really know how to end off their story. Instead of finding a logical conclusion, the writers decided to resort to time-travel to magically fix the conflict they’d set up. Perhaps they thought they were being clever but it felt lazy and poorly thought out to me.
    For one thing, how they went about the time travel felt confusing. Everything that had happened up to the present time had happened–but it was also okay to change everything in that sequence of events as well and do new stuff that somehow didn’t unravel it. Captain America had to make certain to return the Infinity Stones to their proper time and place so history went about the proper sequence it had originally–but then we can also have Thanos and his warriors come to the present with no consequences. Gamora died in a sacrifice to get the Soul Stone but now she’s alive too. You can’t have it both ways!
    One grevious problem with Endgame is the fact that Captain America goes back in time and marries his long lost love, Peggy Carter. This invalidates the whole short-lived Agent Carter TV series (which may or may not have been in-continuity in the first place since Marvel seems to have changed its mind somewhere along the line). Regardless of continuity issues, there’s a bigger problem with that:
    Conflict is essential to storytelling.
    Every story conflict is defined in one of three ways. Man versus man, man versus nature or man versus himself.
    But what happens when you negate that conflict retroactively?
    Everybody loved Steve and Peggy as a couple but he was lost at the end of World War Two. His awakening in the present and not fitting in is the impetus for his story going forward. He needs to start anew, cope with his situation and move on with his life. Most of his old friends and comrades are dead. There’s no going back now (or there shouldn’t be).
    Granted, Steve’s story was over with the end of the movie and a new character is taking on the mantle of “Captain America” so it’s all cool, right?
    Not really.
    If we re-watch Winter Soldier, Avengers or any other movie up to that point involving Cap we know that his story arc is now rendered pointless. He’s a man out of time? Who cares! He goes back eventually anyway. His connections with Natasha or Sharon Carter are pointless because he’s going to end up going back in time to be with Peggy anyway.
    Imagine if Spider-Man goes back home at the end of the movie and now Uncle Ben is alive for some reason. Or Iron Man sacrifices himself to save everyone but he has a time duplicate survive and carry on like nothing’s changed. What if JJ Abrams had legitimately brought Darth Vader back from the dead for that matter?
    So, what should have happened to Steve Rogers then? I don’t know. But he could’ve died in battle against Thanos or maybe retired for some reason. Maybe he goes away for a while and gets recast (since Chris Evans was done with playing him)?
    I’m not against Steve getting a happy ending per se but to invalidate all the conflict that’s come before makes his ultimate fate feel hollow. It’s not earned by the previous movies. It feels tacked on at the end instead by writers who didn’t know what to do with the character.
    Also, if everything that we saw did happen, how did Peggy get married, have kids and grow old but we don’t see her husband (old Steve) or any sign of him at all when younger Steve was visiting her? Or was he hiding because he knew he had to? And if Peggy still passed away in Civil War does that mean old Steve is now a widower and living alone? How is that a happy ending? It doesn’t feel well thought out...
    This movie further illustrates how using time travel in any story is a potential cop-out. Don’t like how something turned out? Hand wave it away with magic basically. If you’re going to do something in a story, do it. Kill that character off. Destroy their world, etc. Don’t do it and then try to take it back later.
    Comics have been pulling that for years. But, to be fair, many of them have been running decades and need reboots or to undo story decisions ultimately to keep things going. The MCU, by contrast, has been going just over a decade and has plenty of flexibility to avoid that sort of scenario in the short-term. As I mentioned, some of the actors are done with the whole project now (Evans and Downey Jr) but they could die, go away and come back recast or something. Actors leaving is not necessarily a deal breaker that necessitates poor story decisions.
    Without meaningful, lasting conflict, we’re no better then animals! We need to create stories where the odds are against our protagonists and they must rise above them. Undoing the conflict ruins the story completely. The MCU is no different then other.