Archives for posts with tag: comics

[Scott Pilgrim Preview Tickets]

Yesterday was Scott Pilgrim day for me. No only did Dre and I catch a sneak preview of the film (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), but, prior to that, I got to read the final chapter of the Scott Pilgrim comic (#6 aka Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour).

Short, spoiler free, recommendation:

Both rock. If you’re in your teens/twenties/thirties and part of the “video games, comics, music, arrested development ((The phenomena, not necessarily the excellent TV show which features at least two of the actors from this film.)) , culture industrial complex ” the film is a must see (in the theater, preferably one with a good sound system) and you should track down copies of the books.

On the Movie: The movie is a “valentine” to modern music, video games, and comics, and perhaps the best comic-to-movie translation yet (one that takes full advantage of the medium of film). The performances are great. Its biggest issue is that the secondary characters, in particularly the female ones, suffer from cuts made to tell the story in a single film (more on that below). But that shouldn’t keep you from seeing it.

On the Book: An excellent wrap up to a great series, adding depth an meaning to events that took place in the previous books. Also, it’s a surprisingly mature take on the move not just to adult relationships, but “adult” living (if you will). It really kicks things up a notch and then some.

Much longer, mostly spoiler free, reflection:

I came to Scott Pilgrim relatively late. I’d known about it for a while, but only started reading it around Book 4 (aka Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together). Up until that point the only “slice of magical, musical realism life” comic I had been following was Blue Monday, a comic I blogged about way back in 2002. Published by Oni Press, the same indy company that brings us Scott Pilgrim, Blue Monday was John Hughes 2.0 — focused on an impossible high school experience, heavily influenced by music, manga, and pop culture. While there was a sort of continuity to the comics, it was much more about the ride than the destination for both the readers and the characters in the book.

It was director of the film, Edgar Wright, that really got me interested in the property. While at the University of Chicago, I got to see a few bootleged episodes of Spaced, a BBC tele series he co-created with Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes ((Nick Frost was also involved)), and was completely blown away with how much it got, and more importantly translated, the experience of those of us caught between Gen X & Y. My interest in Wright was further peaked by Shaun of the Dead. So when I learned that he was developing/directing the Scott Pilgrim (SP from here on in) film, I knew it would be a must see for me as I knew what ever he produced would be engaging.

Up until that point, while I’d seen some SP pages online, I’d never actually read any of the books. My interest piqued by news of the film, I decided to dive into the comics. My reaction was: ok, so this is like Blue Monday, but with some added Canadian (it takes place in Toronto), video game, and comic references. The SP characters might have more “complete” development arcs, but it was seemed largely a quick-read, hipster coming of age story with more style than substance — perfect for adaptation to a film (especially with Edgar Wright at the helm). But that was about it.

And that was my opinion until yesterday, when I read the final issue of the comic.

I’m not suggesting that the final issue transforms the series into high literature. However, in tying up the loose ends of the story of a Canadian Rocker coming to terms with adulthood while fighting his new girlfriend’s seven evil ex’s, series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley reveals to the reader that a lot more has been going on in the books than the fun but superficial tale that it initially appears to be. There are no real twists – though at least one character turns out to have taken a very different (and much more satisfying) course of action that the reader is initially led to believe – or surprise endings. What is revealed is a metaphorical depth and maturity to the story that I had completely missed. What’s especially great about this is that it sparks a desire to revisit the previous books in order to see how much of this was in the story from the beginning (the answer, btw, is most of it was there from the beginning). This is all the more impressive considering it’s taken O’Malley more than six years to complete his story.

Bottom line: to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that, in the end, there was a lot more the SP the Comic than I gave it credit for. And that elevates it to a must read for those interested in this type of comic/story.

Then I saw the move, which delivered on being an “Epic of Epic Epicness.” And it was great. And it was and wasn’t the comic. And that was both good and less good.

Lemme ‘splain:

The good/great about the movie

First, it is a definite must see. Right from the start — literally starting with the “Universal Pictures” intro – it completely captures the vibe of the comics in a way that no adaptation that I’ve seen before has ever done. While Sin City (and other comic based movies) look just like the comic, but are emotionally empty, everything about SP full of life. A la Walter Benjamin, SP the film isn’t reproducing the comic on the screen, its extending it and finding new things within it. And everyone is having fun while doing it.

It nicely captures  the video game aesthetic, which, isn’t the biggest translation as video games are already a moving image (if not out-and-out cinematic) medium. Where it truly shines is in how it uses comic metaphors to represent sound. In fact, I think it’s a groundbreaking film when it comes to showing music.

A quick bit of semantics to explain that last point — where as the best concert films, like Stop Making Sense, are about showing the production of music, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is about showing the music itself (if I remember correctly, everyone is lip syncing/faking playing music recorded by other people). To accomplish this Wright takes the comic metaphor of the written sound effect and creates something amazingly visual and dynamic (the Bass battle that takes place in the middle of the film is perhaps the best example of this). His approach is also big – by that I mean cinematic, conceived and executed for a movie theater (as opposed to a home theater) sized screen. If O Brother, Where Art Thou? was the Cohen Brother’s valentine to bluegrass, then SP is Wright’s valentine to modern music.

And, across the board, the actors are all great. While many may be accused of playing themselves (Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman in particular), I think that critique misses the boat. While no one is stretching their acting range within the movie, what’s clear is that they all “get it” and are very intentionally delivering the performances needed to make the story work.

So with all this praise so far…

… What about the less good?

The movie and the comics are intentionally different. In part, that’s because the movie went into production before the final two books were completed. Wright worked with O’Malley to include ideas and themes from the later books, but things diverge quite a bit in the two stories after the encounter with The Clash at Demonhead((see the movie or read the books and then this reference makes sense)). The divergence isn’t by itself a bad thing. And a number of the changes are necessary, but what’s lost in the divergence is unfortunate.

Another reason for the differences is the length of the materials. The problem that Wright faced is that there was way too much material for a single film and not enough to justify multiple films (in alternate universe somewhere MTV bought the rights and opted to make SP into a miniseries and storywise, it worked a little better.). The movie is a little too long. So, pacing wise, the film ends just as its starting to drag.

And though the cuts and divergences work in terms of creating a satisfying film, they also hurt the characters that populate the story in two ways.

First is that the supporting characters all suffer. What makes this especially rough is that many of the supporting characters are well written women (something that set SP apart from most other comics). In particular, Kim Pine (one of Scott’s exes and a the drummer in his band) ends up getting flattened from a complex character in the comics to a generic “bitter bitch” role in the film. Also, to build to a concise climax in the film, Scotts two love interests (Knives Chau and Romona Flowers) also lose a lot of their characterization, and in many respects become weaker for it — in particular Romona. To go further into this would take me into the territory of major spoilers, something I want to avoid. Suffice to say, part of the strength of the comics were the female characters in it. Ultimately that isn’t as much the case with the film.

Which brings me to the second problem. To keep the story simple and the film length down, the movie becomes more of a “heroic love story” than a “growing up story.” While Scott still has to mature in terms of his relationships and gain some self knowledge in the movie, the comic (in particular the final book) handles this is a much truer way. The comic is as much about Romona maturing and changing as it is about Scott’s journey. That, just doesn’t play out as well in the film, again weaking the Romona character.

Bottom line about the film

These two critiques should not stop you from seeing the film. See it when it opens next week! And see it in a theater (preferably a filled one). It’s worth it!

Hopefully, the critiques will lead you to reading the books ((available in most comic shops and book stores)) in order to get an equally (if not more) satisfying take on the same characters.

  • Recognition
    Unlike most wiki’s that I’ve encountered, Marvel “credits” fan authors. At the bottom of each entry is a list of its contributors. This is an example of how individual authorship is celebrated in this particular Wiki (and not necessarily in others).
  • Hero Points
    Note that the Hero Points are on display at all times. Marvel’s putting your social “worth” front and center in the interface (note that as a new member, I’m a big 0).
    [hero points]
  • Editorial Guidelines
    They’ve done a great job writing editorial guidelines for posting. It lay down both basic rules (no citation of specific issues in the character histories or discussion of fan fiction) and also breaks down editorial style (“Never Send a Phrase to do a Noun’s Job” — ironically this is a rule that Stan Lee has never opted to follow). That plus the wanted and stub listings are example of how fan friendly they’re trying to make this.
  • Discussion & History
    They’ve opted to leave article discussions and histories available to the public. This is and area to watch. Considering how heated Wikipedia debates and edit histories can become, this may be the first feature to disappear. Marvel’s Wiki, and its evolution (as far as which features and available and which are not), will be an interesting testbed for other companies considering this type of fan collaboration strategy,
  • Interdiscursivity (or lack there of)
    Writers are instructed to “imagine that you are a commentator in the Marvel Universe, witnessing the events, the battles, and the drama first hand. By doing this, you’ll be creating an entry that will not only be exciting for others to read, but exciting for you to write.” I’m a bit surprised that they missed an opportunity to  reference their own Watcher characters, whose job is to observe and record events that happen around them (while never participating in the events themselves).

I have to say that right now is a great time to be a comic book fan. We’re in the midst of a creative renaissance where writing and art are quickly coming into balance. Lemme explain… I became addicted to paper crack in high school. At that time, the early 90s, all that mattered was the art: Artists dominated the industry (and tended to have monster egos). I even harbored dreams of getting into the biz (which lead to a great story and the worst interview of my life… I’ll share that story some day).

By the time I got into college comics started to loose their appeal. There were three main reasons:

  1. Alan Moore’s Watchmen started the process of ruining comics for me. On first read the art, provided by Dave Gibbons, wasn’t up the to “level” that I was used to (in retrospect I think it’s one of the best illustrated books ever). But the story blew my mind. It deconstructed every storytelling device I was used to and steamrolled all the industry stereotypes I knew. Watchmen was the first legitimate piece of graphic literature I read. (side note: To this day think that it’s sustentative enough to use in a high school or college English class. If you don’t think comics can transcend into literature, this is a must read). This discovery led me to the realization that:
  2. The majority of comic books were soap operas for boys (and poorly written ones at that). After Watchmen I realized that 99% of the famous artists who were writing books couldn’t script their way out of a paper bag (most of the writers couldn’t either). Comics might have been beautiful on the surface but few had any substance. I also was starting to get a little skeezed out by the portrayal of women in the books. Finally,
  3. My habit was bankrupting me. I was a po college student and could no longer afford a $40 a month habit.

So I stopped collecting (except for the odd one here or there). During my “down time” the industry went through a revolution. The bottom dropped out of the collecting for profit side of the industry (the weirdoes who think they can make millions on a polybagged, variant cover, signed issue #1). And the writing was getting staler and staler (the same plots and gimmicks rehashed time and time again).

But change was starting too. DC (home of Batman, Superman and others) began publishing alternative titles like The Sandman that explored new storytelling territory. New publishing technologies (like the internet and affordable low run printing) have allowed smaller companies and individuals to publish outside of the major Labels (Marvel and DC). That in turn has caused the larger companies to embrace indy creators and in turn improve their material. Suddenly writing was as, if not more important than art. All of that has led to a real strain on my budget as books are now worth buying again. Which leads me to this weekend. I made my weekly crack run to the comic store around the corner from me and made a discovery:

I bought Blue Monday: The Lovecats by Chynna Clugston-Major (published by Oni Press) on a whim. Chynna’s work, with its smooth anime style, caught my eye when featured in a Mavel book a few months ago. That, plus a Cure inspired title, was enough to make flip through the book in the shop. By the third page I was sold! The series take place in a small town high school in what seems to be the late 80/early 90’s. Chynna, who also writes the book, really captures the high school experience: fluid visuals, the right mix of angst and excitement, great dialog and the integration of music of the time (the Cure, the Kinks, Social Distortion are amoung the bands whose music factors heavily into the story). Plus, nary a person in spandex to be seen.

I know most folks reading this blog are not into comics, but if you’ve ever wanted to see what the medium is capable when you don’t have heros/gods/metabeings beating the crap outta each other check out this book.

in other news

New MP3 to your left. Last week’s, A Letter Elise (Unplugged), is still available as a link.

I’m making another trek to the top of Kodak Tower today to work on Birdcam. Thankfully I don’t think I’ll have to go outside (as its cold and snowy). The work out inventorying continues. Hopefully we’ll make the deadline.

Rehearsals went just about as well as I could expect last night. I’ll be leaving work early today to negotiate for the playing space. So by tonight we should have a theatre. Then the real work starts. T minus a months and a half.

Finally, I don’t know about you, but this kinda scares me. Every day I see more in more value is the teaching of philosophy and ethics in college. There really needs to be more open debate on things like artificial wombs.

Ok… I’m a fan boy. I admit it (that’s the first step right?). I watch cartoons. I read fantasy & sci-fi. I defend the validity of sequential art (i.e. comics) as a literary form. I can quote Monty Python. *Sigh* But I also have taste (I swear). So take all of that into consideration when I say: I really don’t like the Spiderman the movie trailer. As many folks may know Spiderman is being turned into a movie. And that’s cool. Especially because Sam Raimi is directing it. So like any fan boy I was excited at the prospect of seeing the trailer when it was released along with Final Fantasy. (This is a good opportunity to take a moment and check out the actual trailer)The trailer begins with a daring bank heist and a get away via copter. The crooks are eventually caught, snared in a giant web between the twin towers. Ok, this is a comic book movie, so suspending disbelief isn’t a problem. After you take that in Spidey pops up into the frame and then swings off to a techno beat with the usual coming soon interstitials. All good, right? So why was I disappoint when I finally saw it?

Well, let me break it down to a single point: it wasn’t fun. There are dark brooding superheroes and then there is Spiderman. He is a fun character. That doesn’t mean he’s lightweight. In fact this guy has been through tons of pain & guilt (considering that he is indirectly responsible for the death of his surrogate father and his first girlfriend). But his greatest strength is to meet all of it with a good attitude and an often-flip demeanor. And most importantly he’s a talker… no check that, he’s a wise-ass. It’s an endearing part of the character. It’s a core part of the character. Batman will slowly approach you and intimidate with silence. Spidey on the other hand will talk your ear off. He wields his wit like a weapon. There is no way that he wouldn’t throw off a on-liner, even a bad one, after that type of catch (i.e. “Thanks for dropping in”). It seems like a little thing, however it’s the small characterizations and details that really add reality to an artificial world. And it could have been pulled off without additional rendering. I only hope that this isn’t a sign of what is to come from the movie.

Also why techno? What is the obsession with Techno? It has a serious tone. We’ve just seen a helicopter trapped in a giant web and a man in pajamas swinging around New York City. The juxtaposition just doesn’t work for me. I understand that the creators want a certain amount of grit to their world. A great alternative would have been to use the Ramone’s cut of the famed Spiderman Saturday Morning Cartoon theme. It has edge but it maintains the level of fun at the same time.

In any case, in the tradition of The Phantom Edit, someone has recut the trailer. While I don’t care for the addition of the comic book beginning, the changes in music and new end editing makes the overall product much more enjoyable. Check it out HERE!