Category Archives: Comics

X-Men: Apocalypse review

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I watched X-Men: Apocalypse last night. My first reaction was, “Well, that was a solid addition to the absolute mess that is the X-Men movie franchise.” Now before we get too far, let me say that I have been reading X-Men comics since I was twelve years old and have read literally every issue with ‘X-Men’ in the title that has come out since 1962. When it comes to the X-Men, I know what I am talking about. Also, from here on out, spoiler alert.

Of course the movies deviate substantially from the source material and I am not going to fault them for that too much. What I want to talk about here involves time travel and timelines and what appears to be a complete lack of understanding of these things on the part of the creators of the X-Men movies. In order to get into this properly I need to talk about all of the other X-Men movies before I start talking about X-Men: Apocalypse.

The first X-Men movie came out in the year 2000. The fact that it existed at all was impressive at the time. Growing up in the 1990s, an actual live action X-Men movie seemed impossible. X-Men began the franchise and while it had its faults, I liked it. X2 was even more to my liking. Wolverine finally got to cut loose and we learn about his time at Alkali Lake as a government experiment on the part of William Stryker.

Then came the disaster that was X-Men 3. Up until X-Men 3, Bryan Singer was the director. But Singer decided to go do Superman Returns and out of what appears to be sheer spite, the studio got Brett Ratner to replace him. Brett’s X-Men 3 was terrible. They killed a bunch of characters. They botched the introduction of new characters. They essentially ignored the idea of anyone being able to do a competent sequel by giving later creators nothing to work with.

It was no surprise that the next X-Men movie wasn’t even an X-Men movie. It was Wolverine: Origins which smartly decided to be a prequel to avoid the mess that was X-Men 3. Unfortunately this was the only thing they did that was smart. Wolverine: Origins was so bad it almost makes X-Men 3 look good. It also introduced all sorts of screwy continuity that has for the most part been entirely ignored by every X-Men movie before or since. They treat it like it doesn’t exist and really, you should too.

At this point it seemed that the X-Men movie series had gone the way of the Batman series after Batman & Robin. A once promising franchise that crashed and burned after a couple of terrible movies. This is why X-Men: First Class was such a breath of fresh air. Young Xavier and Magneto is incredibly compelling. It’s kind of weird that Marvel has never had a whole series about these two in their younger days. X-Men First Class shows us how the X-Men first formed and integrates their world into ours including a starring role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. We also get the briefest of cameos of Wolverine. By the end of the movie Xavier is in a wheelchair, Magneto is known as a bad guy, and the X-Men have been formed. As far as continuity is concerned, there were a few hiccups including the part where Xavier and Mystique had never previously behaved like lifelong friends in any of the other movies, but for the most part it worked.

There was another Wolverine movie called The Wolverine that took place after X-Men 3 and included flashbacks to WWII but for the most part didn’t really add anything except some more Wolverine stuff unless you count the post-credit scene where Magneto and Xavier show up asking for help.

And then we get to X-Men: Days of Future Past. This movie tries to take everything that has come before it and have it all make sense. Unfortunately it fails spectacularly and has created what I consider a fatal problem for the franchise. For starters, the part at the end of The Wolverine does not take place in the distant future but that’s where they need his help. But let’s just skip right by there. In Days of Future Past the X-Men from the distant future are being hunted to extinction by giant robots called Sentinels. So Kitty Pryde uses a power they never explain and she’s never had before to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to 1973 to stop an assassination that will lead to their terrible future. They succeed and Wolverine wakes up in the future and everything is fine and everyone is alive again and they aren’t being hunted. That is where X-Men: Days of Future Past leaves things with the exception of a post-credit sequence involving Apocalypse messing with pyramids.

However, there is a larger problem in Days of Future Past that is not immediately apparent. When Wolverine’s consciousness is sent back in time into his younger body he has to search out Xavier who it turns out is taking medication that allows him to walk but kills his mental powers. He’s also a drunk who is uninterested in saving himself let alone the world. The time traveling Wolverine literally shows up at his doorstep and changes all that. This is important. It is what allows Charles Xavier to become Professor X. The problem is that if Wolverine did this while time traveling, then how did Xavier ever get out of this funk in the original timeline? How did the X-Men form when Wolverine had not traveled back in time? How did Magneto escape his cell in the original since Quicksilver was only recruited after the time traveling Wolverine suggested it?

At the end of Days of the Future Past, Wolverine is badly injured and found by Mystique pretending to be William Stryker. The next time we see Wolverine he is at Alkali Lake under the supervision of the real William Stryker with no explanation at all as to how that happened. That’s all well and good except for the part where Days of Future Past changed the timeline. In the original timeline, Magneto didn’t put a stadium around the White House and fill Wolverine full of rebar before tossing him into the water and so Stryker/Mystique would not have found him there.

This brings us to X-Men: Apocalypse*. There is a lot to like this in this movie. Magneto’s story of trying to live a normal life and not being allowed to, finally watching Xavier fight a battle in his mind, and a near-perfect Wolverine cameo appearance immediately come to mind. But the problem that started in Days of Future Past and gets worse in Apocalypse. Since Magneto never did what he did in Days of Future Past in the original timeline, we do not know if Magneto ever tried to settle down before or if this is new. We also do not know if the X-Men fought Apocalypse in the 1980s in the original timeline. If they did, it could not have possibly happened the way it does in Apocalypse because both Magneto and Mystique are in very different places then they seem to be in 2000’s X-Men. Mystique was not known to the world in the original. Nightcrawler had never been to the X-Mansion in the original timeline. There are dozens of these kinds of problems that all make it very difficult to pay attention to the rest of the movie for me because the creators never bothered to make sure their continuity was solid. Instead the creators want to have their cake and eat it too, essentially allowing the new timeline to lead up to 2000’s X-Men with no explanation as to why or how that makes any sense.

One could argue that this timeline and the original timeline are one and the same and that Wolverine always traveled back in time, but the problem with this is the scene where Wolverine wakes up and everything is okay. If that’s what they’re leading up to, they’ve failed to do the groundwork.

I realize that for many, none of this matters. For many all they want is some reasonable special effects, a bunch of fighting, and a loose plot to hang that on. As a life-long fan of the X-Men and someone sees bad continuity as bad storytelling, it bugs the hell out of me.

That said, X-Men: Apocalypse is on par with the rest of the X-Men movies. Good characters. Decent acting. Some great sequences. But a fundamental flaw in their continuity and plotting.

– Jack Cameron

 

*Yes, I know that Deadpool is technically an X-Men movie and it’s a great movie but it does very little when it comes to overall X-Men continuity and so isn’t relevant for this article.

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Superman (1978) Movie Review

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Last night I decided to watch the 1978 Superman movie. This could arguably be considered the first serious superhero movie. At the time it was the most expensive movie that studio had ever made. They filled the movie with some of the biggest stars of Hollywood. They had Marlon Brando playing Jor-El. They had Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. They had Jackie Cooper as Perry White. The special effects were state of the art at the time. They had Mario Puzo, the writer of The Godfather writing the screenplay. And lastly they had Richard Donner directing. He had just done The Omen and would later go on to do Lethal Weapon and Goonies among others.  Superman went on to be the 6th top grossing movie of all time in 1978. It was a gigantic hit that spawned three sequels. (Four if you count Superman Returns.) But was it a good movie?

Superman takes a very linear approach to telling the story. It starts on Krypton with the sentencing of Zod and his two compatriots to the Phantom Zone followed by the Jor-El sending his infant son to Earth just before Krypton is destroyed. Ma and Pa Kent find the crashed ship and rescue the child who instantly shows that he’s not normal by lifting their truck. We then quickly move on to Clark Kent’s teenage years where we see that he keeps his abilities mostly to himself. Shortly after Pa Kent dies, Clark goes into the frozen wasteland with a mysterious crystal that builds his Fortress of Solitude. He stays here for at least twelve years and then emerges in Metropolis as reporter Clark Kent.

And this is when we first really see Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman. The first thing I noticed is how well Reeve embodied the Clark Kent character. He’s bumbling but friendly. He clearly wants to help wherever he can. When he meets Lois Lane and she doesn’t like him, he’s completely confused because the idea of being competitive just isn’t in him. We know all of these things because they were so clearly established earlier in his not playing sports though he knows he can win.

We get our first real look at Superman when he saves Lois from a helicopter crash on the roof of the Daily Planet. She falls. He catches her. And then he catches the helicopter when it falls. This particular sequence still looks great almost 40 years later. In fact it looked better than most films these days look because none of it is computer generated. The helicopter clearly has substance and weight. It’s just a weight Superman can handle. Here again the acting ability of Reeve helped sell this as he just does these things with the confidence of someone who is aware of his abilities. He’s specifically not showing off as that’s something Pa Kent would have never approved of.

There are problems with this movie. There’s a terrible song/poem recited by Lois Lane (played by Margot Kidder) while she’s being flown around by Superman. There’s also the absolutely ridiculous bit where Superman makes the world spin the opposite direction to turn back time. It’s so absurd that it totally takes me out of the movie. But while those issues are significant, the rest of the movie works wonderfully.

One of the things I couldn’t help but notice after watching both Superman movies from Zack Snyder is that not only is Richard Donner’s Superman in this first movie not lethal, he’s practically non-violent. He restrains himself over and over again throughout the movie. Even with dealing with Lex Luthor himself, Superman drops him off in the prison yard with hardly one mark on him. This Superman is about helping and protecting, not beating people to death. He’s….what’s the word I’m looking for? A hero.

Synder could also learn a thing or two about franchising from Donner’s 1978 Superman. This was a movie made at the same time as Superman II. We meet Zod and his companions in the opening scene. We see them flying through space in the Phantom Zone as infant Kal-El heads to Earth. And that’s it. There’s no 15 minute scene in the middle of the movie that makes no sense. There’s no one looking at pertinent files in the middle of the action to give upcoming clues to something. It’s just two very small scenes that establish who the baddies are for the next movie without obstructing this movie even a little bit.

This Superman movie had its faults, but it managed to feel like Superman throughout the entire movie and most of the movie still holds up today almost four decades later.

– Jack Cameron

Locked Up by Jack Cameron

I can’t draw. I love comic books. But I can’t draw. Over the years I’ve worked with a handful of artists but they’ve all disappeared. One was in a terrible snowmobile accident. Another just dropped off the face of the Earth. And another disappeared in a cloud of disturbing rumors. So I decided to try my hand at making a comic using images and Photoshop.

As the images are mostly from copyrighted material and then altered, I’m not sure on the legality of selling stuff like this and since this was basically just a ‘proof of concept’ for me, I figured the best thing to do would be to share it here.

Enjoy.

– Jack Cameron

How The X-Men And Matthew McConaughey Helped Me Accept My Mortality

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I’ve been an atheist for about five years. It didn’t happen all at once. I spent years being unsure. I spent many years searching, reading, researching, and thinking before I came to the conclusion that there is absolutely no evidence of an omnipotent God and plenty to contradict the existence or divinity of Jesus Christ. I won’t get into what all went into that because that’s not what this post is about. What I want to do with this post is give an answer to a question that has bugged me for most of my life:

If there is God and no afterlife, what comfort can be found in knowing that you and I only get 80 years of life (give or take a decode or three) no matter what?

I tried thinking that the best we can do is do good and be good to ourselves and others and enjoy what we have. That’s a nice thought, but it’s really not all that comforting. It’s like decorating tips for a house that’s on fire. I’m all for being good and doing good and being an all-around nice person to other people, but that’s not helping me get over this thing where one day I die and cease to exist. I like existing.

I tried thinking of technological answers to our mortality problem. Cryonics offers hope that they might be able to freeze you and bring you back in a cloned body. The problem with this is that it requires that your current body (or at least head) are in good enough shape when you die that cryonics is even an option and even assuming everything works right, you’re still trapped in a human body which can be destroyed any number of ways, many of which are simply unavoidable. One day you might be able to upload your consciousness into a computer, but is that really you or just an artificial intelligence that thinks it’s you? I’m thinking it’s the latter. If you uploaded your consciousness into a computer, but you were still walking around after that, you wouldn’t say that computer was you would you?

I was stuck. Without God, no theological answer was likely to help. Philosophy on being a good person wasn’t helping. Technology isn’t there yet for serious life extension and even when it is, it’s only life extension, not something more. For a while, I stopped searching and did my best to accept the words of Jackie Greene, “We walk through life and we live and die/We do our best to not ask why.” I listened to music. I read books and comic books. I watched television and movies. And recently, the confluence of my media consumption resulted in a slight epiphany.

Sam Harris is a noted atheist and one of the faces of the so-called ‘New Atheist Movement’, a term that even Harris dislikes. I’ve read most of his books and attended one of his lectures. I’ve written about his books on this site before. While The End of Faith helped inform my already atheist views, his books Free Will and Waking Up have had significant impact on my life and the way I think about some things.

In Free Will Harris argues that free will is an illusion. He argues that our every decision is a result of our genetics, our past experiences, and luck. I approached the book disagreeing with the premise, but the more I read, the more it made sense. And then there was the following passage from the book:

“Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime – by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?”

As a writer of fiction, this passage entirely freaked me out. When I’m creating a character for a screenplay or a novel, I figure out who she is by making up her family, her upbringing, and her past experiences. Each of these informs me as to what sort of character I’m working with and results in my often knowing what a given character is going to do simply because of who they are. The way he’s talking about how we humans operate is the same way three-dimensional characters operate. This was one piece of the puzzle.

I also recently watched the first season of the HBO crime drama, True Detective. One of the main characters played by Matthew McConaughey is a burned out detective with a penchant for nihilistic atheist monologues. Among many of the great scenes in the show is this:

In the above clip he talks about M-Theory, which I knew (and still know) almost nothing about. The important part for the purposes of this article is that while you and I experience reality as linear time, that’s not all there is to reality. What we experience as time is just one big thing if viewed from beyond our third dimension. This is a difficult thing to fully grasp, but it’s nearly impossible to comprehend if free will exists. How can it all be seen from another dimension if we all can choose to do anything we want? Without free will, this makes a bit more sense.

This was the second piece of the puzzle.

The latest piece was the Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar (also starring Matthew McConaughey). There is a lot that happens in Interstellar, but the relevant part for my purposes is that they attempt to show the universe outside the third dimension in one particular bedroom. It looked like this.

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The room had many books in it. So it’s not an accident that it looks like a bunch of books. I don’t know the reasoning behind this particular plot device, but it helped me visualize the concept of being outside of time and brought me back again to fictional storytelling.

With these pieces I added one final piece. I’ve been collecting Marvel Comics since I was twelve. I have thousands of comics starring the X-Men. I often reread them. From the perspective of the X-Men if they were real, they’d be experiencing time linearly. The X-Men of 1963 would have no knowledge that Magneto would one day be an ally. Of course, I can read their entire history at any point that I like. In this way I stand outside of time when it comes to the Marvel Universe. The X-Men are not dead or alive. They are both and neither because it depends on what point in time I choose to focus.

All of this led to a dream I had recently. In the dream, the technology to upload your consciousness into a computer had been achieved. Not only that, but when you upload your consciousness into the computer, the memories that are in your mind are hazy are crystal clear in the computer. In fact, they are so full of sensory input that accessing a memory would feel exactly like you were experiencing it. I awoke briefly wondering if that were exactly what was happening.

If there is God and no afterlife, what comfort can be found in knowing that you and I only get 80 years give or take a decade or three of life no matter what?

The comfort I’ve found is in knowing that everything I’ve done, everything I’m doing, and everything I will do is all happening at once and will always happen. Every loved one exists forever living, loving, and feeling every bit of life. The comfort is in knowing that we’re an eternal part of a picture that is reality.

– Jack Cameron

An Open Letter From Sekovia to Joss Whedon

Much has been made of Joss Whedon’s portrayal of Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but little has been said about the country where most of the film takes place. It’s almost as if people are pretending it doesn’t really exist.

– Jack Cameron

Here is an open letter from the Office of Public Affairs in Sekovia:
Sekovia

TRANSCRIPT:

From: Office of Public Affairs
Republic of Sekovia

To: Joss Whedon
Marvel
Disney

Dear Mr. Whedon,

The following is an open letter protesting the portrayal of our country and our countrymen in your American movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron. As you know, when we agreed to allow you to film in our beautiful country, we asked that you accurately show our culture, our heritage, and our people. Now that we’ve seen your film, we feel that we were duped.

Despite the long and hard fought history of Sekovia, you treat our nation as if it were some amalgamation of any given Eastern European country. Borat gave more character to Kazakhstan. The only time someone actually talks about our country in your film, she says, “It’s nowhere special but on the way to everywhere special.” Nowhere special? How can you say that about a country that boasts the eight tallest arch in Eastern Europe? Did we not repel invasions from nearby Latveria, not once, not twice, but three times? Does Sekovia not rival Madripoor in underground fighting syndicates? Nowhere special? Sekovia is very special indeed, Mr. Whedon.

It is clear that you made this film specifically to shame the Sekovian people. People will walk away from your film not knowing one true thing about Sekovia but thinking we harbor terrorists and possibly have a gigantic crater where one of our largest towns used to be.

We do not know why you have chosen to attack us in such a fashion, but rest assured that your slights against our country and our people will not be ignored.

I have spoken with our esteemed leader and he has instructed that no movie house in all of Sekovia will screen your movie. Furthermore any future film permits will not be granted.

Sincerely,

If You Watch The Movies But Don’t Read The Comics, You’re Missing Out

spider-man“Spider-Man isn’t a super-hero. He’s just a kid who got his powers in an accident on a field trip.”

“No. He’s earned his place as a super-hero. He’s saved lives. He fights crime. And he uses his powers to do it.”

“Still, I mean he shoots webs and swings around and that’s about it. He’d probably be dead without his spidey-sense. You know what  would make Spider-Man scary? If he shot spiders instead of webs out of his web shooters. Criminals wouldn’t fuck with that.”

The above conversation didn’t take place in a local comic book shop. The two people talking weren’t nerds. They were high school cheerleaders on the bus I was on yesterday. If I had a time machine and could talk to the me in high school and tell him that about twenty years from now the conversations you have with your comic book friends will be the conversations cheerleaders are having I would have called future me crazy and questioned the wisdom of the guy who played Chaplin being Iron Man.

People who haven’t been collecting comic books for the last twenty-five years might not be aware of this but up until this century, if you knew something about super-heroes, you weren’t likely to be a high school cheerleader. Also, if you wanted to watch a movie based on a Marvel Comic, they looked like this.

Comic book characters aren’t only cool, they’re cooler than they’ve ever been. And it’s not just a passing fad. Both Disney’s Marvel and Warner Brothers’ DC Comics have movies planned all the way through the year 2020 with top tier talent involved. This year’s top selling movie has almost made a billion dollars worldwide and it’s a movie with Rocket Raccoon and Groot the walking tree. We are in comic book geek nirvana right now.

Characters that originated in comic books have gone mainstream. Marvel’s series of movies are literally the most successful movie franchise in history. Millions of people are tuning in weekly to TV shows like Agents of SHIELD and Gotham. And yet, if I asked ten of these people what they think about the Red Onslaught or Future’s End, at least nine of them wouldn’t have the slightest clue what I was talking about.

Let me put it another way, while I’m absolutely as excited as anyone that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is talking about Infinity Gems and Thanos and making a lot of moves that look like there’s going to be some big battle between all of the heroes and Thanos on the big screen, I also already read The Infinity Gauntlet when I was in high school back in 1992.

Since then I’ve read hundreds of stories every bit as good as any Marvel film and a quite a few that are better than any superhero movie ever made.

The reason for this is that there’s a good amount of creative freedom when it comes to comic books. That’s because it doesn’t cost $200,000,000 to make a comic book so the Powers That Be aren’t so afraid you’ll screw something up since they can always fix it next issue if you do.

Maybe you’re not sure that you’d like comics or you don’t want to spend any money to find out. That’s fine. Take a moment and check out Astro City #1/2. It’s literally one of my all time favorite comics. It’s an eight-page story available on from Amazon. And it’s FREE.

Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Astro-City-1996-2000-Kurt-Busiek-ebook/dp/B00EKN0IMI

If you’re already sold on comics and want to know how to be part of the cool kids table and where to start, might I suggest Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run. It’s modern. The art is amazing. And when Netflix comes out with their Daredevil TV series next year, you can know what standards you’re expecting out of it.

In Comics When You’re Dead, You’re Dead….For A While

Death-of-Wolverine-McNiven-coverThis past week in Marvel Comics, the X-Man and Avenger Wolverine died. This happened in a four-issue miniseries called The Death of Wolverine. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise. The miniseries was much better than I expected it to be and his death was well handled.

From what I can tell the series has met with mixed reviews with virtually no one thinking that Wolverine’s death will be ‘permanent’. Cries of ‘He’s not really dead!’ can be found in any comments section on any website talking about it. Of course he’s not ‘really’ dead. He’s not real. He’s a fictional character often drawn and written by some of the best people in the comic book business and occasionally played on screen by Hugh Jackman. So no, he’s not really dead.

That’s not their point though. When it comes to comic book, death is a bit of a revolving door. Since 2007 Marvel has killed off prominent characters such as Captain America and Human Torch with mainstream publicity about each ‘death’. And both are back, alive and well. (Although recently Cap has become an old man resulting in his old buddy, Falcon taking his place and Human Torch has lost his powers, but no one expects those things to last long either.)   Heck, one of the Death of Wolverine epilogue books is about the response his old friend Nightcrawler has to his death. Nightcrawler himself was dead up until a few months ago.

Why is death so temporary in comics so often? Because it’s profitable. People buy issue where the character dies. People buy the issue where the character comes back. And some characters are just too dang popular to keep them dead.

Even in the Marvel Cinematic Universe both Agent Coulson and Bucky Barnes have been brought back from ‘death’.

For some fans the temporary aspect of death in comics cheapens the story and makes the comics less enjoyable. I understand their point. If you have a hero sacrificing her life knowing they’re going to come back, it’s not all that big of a sacrifice, is it?

As a long time comic book reader, I’ve found a way to reconcile this. Much in the same way that when I read a Marvel Comic I let myself believe a man can have a skeleton laced with the fictional metal of Adamantium, I allow myself to believe that when these characters die, they’re dead. It’s worth noting that when these characters die, none of them seem to be aware that they might come back. This is despite the fact that they’ve seen many of their friends and loved ones die and return to life. I just go along with their own belief that when they die, they die.

One time I tried to think of X-Men who have never thought dead in the 75 year history of Marvel Comics. I came up with Iceman, but I could be wrong about that.

So Wolverine is dead (and not actually for the first time). But this one may stick longer than most. Word on the Internet is that Marvel Comics is downplaying any characters they don’t have movie rights to such as Wolverine, but we’ll see.

– Jack Cameron