Monday, May 31, 2010

Warning: Geek Rant Ahead

Seriously: This is going to be nerdy, pointless, and probably offensive to some other geeks with deeply-held opinions about science-fiction movies. Depending on your feelings about "Blade Runner", you might want to turn back now.

OK, going to assume anyone who's still here either agrees with me, or at least won't take it personally when I say the following: Deckard is not, I repeat not a replicant. Because if he was a replicant, then "Blade Runner" would be entirely pointless and uninteresting instead of just being mostly pointless and uninteresting.

For one thing, "Deckard is a replicant" is the laziest, hackiest, dullest possible ending anyone could come up with given the basic set-up of the film. Seriously, it's the goddamned Tomato in the Mirror ending! "Dude...what if the guy who was hunting replicants...was a replicant himself? Whoa. I think I just sprained my brain." It's the sort of thing that you think of in the short story you wrote in eighth grade, not the ending you want to give your multi-million dollar budget sci-fi motion picture.

Also, it doesn't make a ton of sense. Yes, Rachel's example does show that you can make a replicant with false memories, one that believes itself to be human, but what about everyone Deckard interacts with? Are they all in on it, every single person in the movie, and pretending to have known Deckard for ages in order to provide verisimilitude for his memory implant so that he won't go rogue? (Except for his partner, who apparently knows he's a replicant but only tells him by leaving cryptic hints in the form of origami unicorns.) And would they really let a replicant wander around without his partner as much as he does, given that they're supposed to be so highly dangerous? (Speaking of, if you were going to make a replicant to hunt replicants, wouldn't you make one that isn't quite so likely to get his ass kicked on an almost-continual basis? If Deckard's a replicant, he's a candy-ass replicant.) And would they really, at the end, not be waiting at his apartment in force to retire him if he was actually a replicant? That's a lot of plot holes that get resolved simply by taking things at face value. Occam's Razor alone tells us Deckard was human.

But more importantly, it misses the whole point of the film, which is that all of the stated reasons society gives for needing to hunt down the replicants are entirely false, and the real reason that Blade Runners hunt down replicants was the same reason plantation owners hunted escaped slaves. Their entire society relies on replicants doing the dirty, nasty, ugly jobs out in space. It relies on disposable human labor. So they have to convince themselves that "replicants aren't like us." They're not humans. They're things. You can do whatever you want to things.

But what's the supposed difference between "replicants" and "people"? Replicants lack empathy. They don't care about anything but themselves. They can't feel for others. Simple, and apparently even testable. (Although gosh, you have to wonder how many entirely human sociopaths failed that test and died unmourned.) The people have feelings for each other, the replicants don't. It's how you know who to kill.

But that's what they tell each other in the movie. What do we see? We see replicants banding together against a strange, hostile world. We see them mourning each other, avenging each other's deaths...and most importantly, we see the last act of Roy Batty. He saves Deckard's life at the end, an act that has absolutely no explanation other than as an act of pure empathic kindness. He gains nothing from it: He's in the last minutes of his life, and saving Deckard or letting him die won't prolong it. He has no reason to care about Deckard--the man killed his lover just minutes ago. He saves him because he looks down, he sees Deckard struggling pathetically like an overturned turtle, and he feels something.

And on the flip side, we have Deckard. A man who's such a good Blade Runner that his own partner can't help but wonder if he's a replicant under some sort of deep cover, simply because Deckard has spent so many years gunning down things that look like people that he's had to shut down all his emotions just to keep from committing suicide. Deckard quit because he found out he was forgetting how to be a human being. How many Blade Runners could pass the Voight-Kampf test? How many of them have lost their empathy just to survive a job that involves killing people all day, every day?

That's the point of Blade Runner. It's about a replicant who acts like a man, saving a man who acts like a replicant. It's about the lie at the heart of the world Deckard lives in. Once Deckard has seen that lie first-hand, once he's learned that replicants can love others selflessly and truly, he can be with Rachel at last. He can start remembering how to be human again. (It's no coincidence that the Deckard in the book had a wife that was written out for the movie.)

It's still not a perfect movie. It's so bloodlessly subtextual that there's almost no text to it. It's a movie about slavery where nobody ever talks about slavery, a movie about a man who realizes that it's just as wrong to murder artificial humans as natural ones, but who never gets around to saying so. It's a movie that actually did need a voice-over, just not the one that we got. We needed to be inside Deckard's head; instead, we got something added in post-production by nervous execs.

But if it were really about Deckard being a replicant who doesn't know it? Then it would be utterly without redeeming value as a story. It'd be nothing but a bunch of pretty aesthetics, a decent performance from Rutger Hauer, and a Vangelis score that plays about three times louder than the dialogue. And the worst part is, sometimes I think that's what most Blade Runner fans actually want.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why LOST's Series Finale Disappointed

Because LOST was six seasons long. That's 121 episodes, or eighty-four hours and forty-two minutes of solid television. Think about that. If you decided to do nothing but watch LOST for eight hours a day, five days a week, it would take you more than two weeks to get through the whole thing. That's a lot of build-up to get to a one-hour payoff.

And of course, that's not even the full story. Because let's face it, the people who were really into the LOST finale had been watching the show since the beginning. Sure, it wasn't a continuous time commitment, but the really big LOST fans put six years of anticipation into the ending of the series. Six years of discussing, dissecting, examining and cross-examining in the firm and fervent belief that the series would reward that degree of enthusiasm. (Ironically, Penny Arcade got it more or less right from the start.)

And what did they get? A fairy-tale ending. The Island is a big magic power source guarded by an immortal, who is looking for a replacement. The guardian has an evil shapeshifting brother who covets the power and hates the guardian. There's a big fight. Good wins, but not without cost. It's a decent enough ending, fairly common and no better or worse than the people writing it, but the people who put six years and eighty-four hours of emotional investment into the show were never going to be satisfied with that.

Honestly? They were never going to be satisfied, period. You can't come up with an ending good enough to justify 121 episodes of build-up. That's the danger of series built around big mysteries, from LOST to BSG to Twin Peaks. The answer to "Who killed Laura Palmer?" is always just going to be, "Some person," and the longer you wait before revealing the answer, the more irritated people are going to be that they waited that long. Building a series around one big mystery is risky for that very reason. Sometimes it's better to have a show where every episode can stand alone. The pay-off may not be as big, but at least it won't fall flat.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Mythos Wall

Interesting question (well, I hope it is...) At what point does a series' mythos become an impenetrable barrier to attracting new viewers?

Obviously, I ask because of a certain television series that has just recently reached its conclusion. I'm pretty sure that it's a bit late now for me to start watching 'Lost', seeing as how it's not actually airing anymore; but even before last night's series finale, I was already getting the feeling that if I wanted to watch the show, I'd need to do it by buying DVDs and starting from Season One. There are plenty of other shows like that, as well: The X-Files, Babylon 5, even the Stargate serieses tend to get pretty deeply into their backstories by a few years in. (Doctor Who, a show that's in it for the long haul, tends to resolve everything and start over every five years or so, but it's the exception to the rule.)

So how long does it take for a show to become something that "you really have to start at the beginning" to watch? Is it a good thing, or a bad thing? And when did it start?

Taking the latter first; as a science-fiction trend, I'd say the push for longer and more involved story-arcs arrived alongside the home video market. Before that, we had soap operas, which obviously involved a lot of involved backstory...but we'll get back to that later...but really, the episodes of most sci-fi shows before Babylon 5 could be seen in any order without confusing the viewer too much. Occasionally, you'd find a new doctor on ST: TNG (or a new Doctor on Doctor Who) but for the most part, producers didn't think they could do stories with long, involved arcs, because they couldn't guarantee that people would see the episodes that set up the episode they were watching right now.

Home video changed all that. Even before DVD, series like B5 and Highlander were putting out big, chunky season sets that took up whole bookshelves. Sure in the knowledge that people would be able to follow their plotlines for only a minimal $100 investment, they could do longer, more involved storylines. DVD only accelerated the evolution of the trend.

But unsurprisingly, some people didn't necessarily want to shell out $50 (it got cheaper by the time DVD rolled around) to catch up on the show everyone was talking about. Or, for that matter, to invest thirty-two hours of viewing time, either. For those people, comments by the fans along the lines of "oh, you really need to watch it from the beginning to get the full effect" might as well have been saying, "Too late, buddy!"

Which is probably not what the producers wanted. Because let's face it, for all that shows like "Lost" have more involved backstories, it's still not like you're watching one long movie cut up into a couple hundred hour-long chunks. Fans tend to overestimate the impenetrability of their favorite shows and continuities, perhaps because it makes them feel a little more special to know that they're one of the Chosen Few who can understand everything that's going on in their favorite show. They love to start telling people that a show really rewards patient viewers as soon as the second episode, creating an almost self-fulfilling prophecy of confusion. But soap operas specialize in tangled plots that go on for years, and they've been able to consistently attract new viewers. Obviously, if what's going on that moment on screen is interesting, people will be willing to sit down and watch until they've picked up all the stuff they didn't understand.

Unless the series is, y'know, over. Then it probably is a bit too late.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Controversial Statement of the Day

There is no such thing as a "science-fiction" genre. Or, for that matter, a fantasy one. These are just labels applied to books with certain narrative elements by people who are deeply uncomfortable with made-up things, and want to be sure that they can avoid any work of fiction that they can't pretend is real.

The proof is this: You can find a "pure" horror story, one that crosses no genre boundaries and is plain and simple an attempt to scare the ever-loving crap out of someone. (Like, say, "Friday the 13th", or "The Collector".) You can find a "pure" comedy, a "pure" romance, a "pure" drama, a "pure" adventure...

But it's impossible to find a science-fiction story that isn't also part of another genre. "Star Wars" is sci-fi/adventure, "Alien" is sci-fi/horror, "Ghostbusters" is sci-fi/comedy, "Dark City" is sci-fi/mystery/horror/adventure/horror/back-to-the-mystery-for-a-bit/romance/'s no coincidence that science-fiction/fantasy tends to be a pioneer in genre-blending. How can it not? It has to steal other genres simply to exist.

"Science-fiction" is simply a collection of narrative elements, involving speculations based on what we know of science, applied to stories in other genres. "Fantasy" is similar, but involves speculations based on what we used to think was true in science but now know better. (Which means that Isaac Asimov's "Lucky Starr" books went from being a sci-fi adventure series to a fantasy adventure series over the course of sixty years.) Neither one is a genre.

I am, of course, open to contradictions on this. Anyone want to cite a "pure" sci-fi or fantasy story? (Keeping in mind, of course, that "satire" is a genre.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Handicapping Palin

And not in the Jeff Gilooly sense, either.

It does seem to be one of the big political questions out there. Will Sarah Palin run for President in 2012? Political pundits are divided; some see her as a serious, transformative candidate (her boosters imagine her as a populist revolutionary, her detractors as a willfully ignorant demagogue) while others believe her to be a slick-talking huckster who's left politics for the far more lucrative profession of entertainer/pundit. The key moment that will tell who's right is 2012. If she makes a serious bid for the Presidency, then she clearly hasn't given up her political ambitions. If she sits it out, she's another Glenn Beck. (Which would be two more Glenn Becks than we actually need.)

My feelings? I think that on the one hand, it's pretty clear that she likes being rich. (Hey, who doesn't?) She quit halfway through her only term of elected office in order to cash in on her celebrity status, something that she had to know might come back to haunt her later on. (More on this...) And notably, running a political campaign is not something that makes money, it costs money. Especially when she doesn't have the kind of fund-raising apparatus and insider connections needed to raise the big donations, the way Dubya did. If she runs, she's going to be hemorrhaging cash, something that she's been very averse to doing, and she won't get any potential payoff until 2016 at the earliest. Unless, of course, she becomes the first President to quit after two years to do speaking tours...

On the other hand, a Presidential bid, even a failed one, boosts her credibility as a political pundit and gives her another fifteen minutes of fame. Her fanbase is demanding it, and they're a fickle group; failure to run could seriously tarnish her status as a populist revolutionary in their eyes, while failure to win can only increase it. ("Sarah's too much of a maverick to break through the Washington establishment! At least, that's what she's saying at her latest rally! Let's all buy tickets!") And it's easy to throw your hat into the ring, at least at first; you can always drop out when it starts getting expensive.

But most importantly, Sarah Palin has a lot of weaknesses as a politician that she has so far managed to conceal because they haven't been exposed to much scrutiny--Alaska has a small population, and she was hand-picked to run for Vice-President. A Presidential bid is going to expose those weaknesses. She will not be able to avoid unscripted interviews with tough media figures the way she has for much of her political career--George W. Bush pulled it off, but he had a lot of family connections to experienced political operators who could arrange that kind of strategy. Sarah Palin does not trust and is not trusted by those same campaign experts.

And that's also worth mentioning all by itself--Sarah Palin does not have a staff, and she doesn't want one. She is fast becoming notorious for being slapdash, organizationally speaking...something that works fine when you're just co-ordinating your speaking appearances and media engagements, but not so much when you're running for President. She doesn't have the kind of apparatus in place that you need for a serious political campaign, and more importantly, her experiences with that kind of apparatus in 2008 have left her very wary of putting them into place. She's going to try to go it alone, if she goes.

And that might not work very well, because the campaigning process (especially on a national stage) is brutal. She's not going to be able to conduct her Presidential bid through Facebook, speaking rallies, and appearances on Fox News. She's going to have to get in there and face off against other candidates who will be happy to use her weaknesses against her--remember that "quit halfway through her term as governor" thing? You can bet Mitt Romney will remind you, if you forget. And if Palin has shown a single defining character trait through her time in the political spotlight, it's that she's thin-skinned and holds grudges easily. (Or is that two traits?)

Put it all together and my guess is that you get something like this: Palin will make a Presidential bid in 2012, but it won't last long. She'll last through a few primaries, then drop out, citing a desire to protect her family from the vicious, unmotivated attacks that her opponents have unfairly leveled at them. Experts will cite the fact that she was running out of money and didn't do well in those first few primaries, but Palin will have already retreated back to the world of entertainment, where she can create her own reality. And make good money doing it, too.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Insanometer: Doomsday

Every once in a while, I watch a movie that I'm not quite sure how to review it afterwards. It's certainly not good, but at the same time, there's a certain verve, a wonderfully strange vitality to it that prevents me from hating it even while I notice its flaws. A movie that I can only call insane. And how does one measure these films? With an insanometer, of course! So let's calibrate this thing by turning it on the 2008 film Doomsday.

Doomsday was director Neil Marshall's third flick, following his breakout hit Dog Soldiers and his well-received horror film The Descent. For this movie, he decided to pull out all the stops and most of the cliches for a semi-post-apocalyptic movie set in a semi-futuristic Great Britain. Well, most of Great Britain at any rate--as the film opens, we see that a deadly plague called the Reaper virus has infected Scotland. Naturally, the decision is made to build a big wall across Scotland, as this will stop the plague from getting across. No, really. That's actually what they do. Apparently, everyone in Scotland politely waits for them to finish building the big wall, and only then do they decide to charge the big door in the middle to try to escape. (Boats? Pffh. Everyone knows that Scotland is land-locked.)

Sure enough, the British close the big door, sealing up all the Scottish people inside, whether infected or not. Oh, except for a cute little girl. Because everyone knows plagues don't affect cute little girls. That cute little girl grows up to be Rhona Mitra, a bad-ass super-spy undercover future-cop with a cyborg eye that records everything she sees. (And there's certainly no way that this will become a plot point later.) She works for hard-boiled tough-but-loveable Bob Hoskins, who is good in every damn thing he's in and this is no exception. And after an obligatory action sequence to show her bad-assness and her rebellious "I don't do things by the book" streak, she gets an important assignment from Prime Minister Julian Bashir. (Yes, yes, I know, he's actually Alexander Siddig. He's also actually good in this too. He's still Doctor Bashir to me.)

See, it turns out that somehow, walling off Scotland didn't stop the plague after all. It's popped up in the heart of London. People are dying. But they've been watching Scotland with satellites, and it turns out that in fact, lots of people survived the plague. The assumption is that they're immune, and Rhona Mitra needs to go in there with a team of scientists to find whatever makes them immune and bring it back. Oh, and there's a scientist who was working on a cure in there. He's bound to be dead, of course, but he might have left research. And he certainly isn't still alive and played by Malcolm McDowell. (This is 90% of the reason this movie works, by the way. It's just got so damn many good actors who aren't afraid to give it their all in silly parts.)

So Rhona Mitra and her crew of redshirts go into Scotland, only to fall victim to a civil war among the plague survivors. See, Malcolm McDowell's scientist character has decided that the only way to survive in the devastated post-plague Scotland is to set up his very own Renaissance Festival in one of the abandoned castles, while his son Sol (played with absolutely berserk gusto by Craig Conway) feels strongly that it'd be better to do a touring production of "Mad Max: The Musical". Sol and his ragtag band of vicious cannibals survives in the post-apocalyptic wasteland with only their wits, their weapons, and an unlimited supply of hair gel and tattooing equipment. Oh, and cars and motorcycles and stuff that they still have gas for after twenty years. And metric tons of sheep.

Meanwhile, back in London, Prime Minister Bashir's second-in-command is saying, "Hey, you know, we've got a little bit of an overpopulation problem...and we've got an incurable plague ravaging Britain. Why don't we let these two things solve each other before we distribute any hypothetical cure Rhona Mitra might find?" The Prime Minister is receptive, until a crazed plague victim breaks in and infects him, forcing the rest of the government to quarantine him in his own office. With no cure, and a potentially agonizing death awaiting him, Bashir is forced to end the holodeck program, if you know what I mean.

Back in Scotland, Rhona Mitra finds out that Malcolm McDowell never bothered to cure the plague--he found out that a lot of people, himself included, are just naturally immune. (Does this actually work with any virus outside of a movie? I mean, do people just happen to naturally be immune to yellow fever or cholera? I always kind of thought that the people who didn't get sick were just lucky enough not to be infected.) He decides to kill Rhona and the two or three surviving redshirts in a trial by combat. Unfortunately for him, Rhona is a main character, and the giant evil guy with the armor and the spiked mace isn't. And in movies like this, that's more than enough to even the odds.

Rhona escapes with her last surviving redshirt and one of the locals. After a truly spectacularly bizarre chase sequence with the Road Warrior rejects that ends in the death of Sol, she makes it back to the border, and tells the new Prime Minister (the evil second-in-command) that the local's blood contains the immunity factor they need. He says, "Oh, goodie! But of course, we won't distribute it until all those icky poor people are dead. By the way, is your cyborg eye getting my good side? I'd really hate to have my vicious evil speech captured on tape with my mole showing."

Rhona passes the disc with the recording on it to Bob Hoskins, thus ensuring that gruff-but-lovable will triumph over evil. But she tells him that she wants to return to her roots and stay in Scotland, where she doesn't have to deal with all the corruption and politics. Then she goes and finds Sol's corpse, hacks his head off, and presents it to the tribe of cannibals. They say, "Oh, God, no! You killed our friend and leader! He was a wonderful man, once you got to know him, kind and generous! He had five kids! What are we going to tell his wife? You murderous, murderous monster! What kind of people do you think we are, savages?"

Nah, I kid. They cheer her on and elect her as their new chief. This is, I guess, good?

On the insanometer, this one ranks quite high. Star Trek actor in vastly out-of-Trek-character role? Check. Inexplicable, unworkable post-apocalyptic society, complete with hair gel and tattoos? Check. Said post-apocalyptic cannibals playing Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Two Tribes"? Believe it or not, check. Bad-ass hot woman as the hero? Check. (Said woman not played Milla Jovovitch? Happily enough, check.) Malcolm McDowell as a bad guy? That's a big check. Lots of scenes of people dying of hideous plague? Check. On the insanometer, I'm going to call this eight.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Breathless Anticipation

For those of you who are interested, rumor has it (spoilers for the upcoming season of Doctor Who, but ones that have already been reported extensively elsewhere) that the Silurians are going to be returning. (Yes, I know. It's not even "rumor" anymore, the BBC has confirmed it. Hush.) Having just watched "Warriors of the Deep", I'm absolutely thrilled to see these classic Doctor Who monsters return, and I'm certainly wondering if the new series will keep all the best elements of these classic monsters. To wit:

  • Will we see a return of the Sea Devils, and will they continue their proud warrior tradition of discussing all military matters using only ventriloquism?
  • Will the Myrka be back, and will it still be willing to use its stubby little arms for kung fu?
  • Will the Silurians keep their adorable sweater vests, or will they return to the nudist ways of the Third Doctor era?
  • Will the Silurians still blink their third eye rapidly in time with their conversation?
  • Do the Silurians still have that perky smile, even when things are at their worst? (The Myrka also seems to have a bit of a jaunty grin, too. I hope they'll retain that.)
And most importantly of all...

  • Will the Myrka have liposuction, or do Real Myrkas Have Curves?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bleak, Pessimistic, and Hopefully Wrong

I'm a bit worried about the future of Marvel's movie division. I don't think it even needs saying, at this point, that Marvel's track record at making movies of their characters is much better than DC's; even counting high-profile misfires like Elektra and Daredevil, they've had more and better films than DC--the latter has really only had two major franchises that they've managed to translate into movies, and those have both had long fallow periods (between Batman and Robin and Batman Begins, and between Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Superman Returns.)

Why? If you study the disastrous history of DC's film franchises, the answer becomes pretty obvious; as a subsidiary of Warner Brothers Entertainment, DC has not been in a position to exercise control over their intellectual properties. Despite a long and relatively successful track record of managing their characters well ("Identity Crisis" notwithstanding) they're forced to bow to the whims of studio executives who don't necessarily understand the appeal of the characters. Everyone has their own set of demands to impose on the next Superman movie, and there's nobody with a strong, singular vision behind the wheel to keep those demands from tearing the film apart in a mess of confusion and conflicts between fanboyish enthusiasm ("Dude, we've got to put in the Eradicator! It'll be an easter egg for the fans!") and outsider indifference ("Why do we really need to have Superman in costume, or flying? Seems kinda corny to me.")

But Marvel...they're the client, not the employee. They're the customer, and the customer is always right. By demanding script approval when they sell the property, they can ensure that the brand isn't diluted by incompetent or indifferent adaptations. They can make the movies a strong translation of their original stories, instead of a vague, generic, corporatized blockbuster (like, say, the GI Joe or Transformers movies.) That power is something that they should not surrender lightly, because it's a big part of what makes the movies work.

But, um...they did, didn't they? They're now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney. Marvel Studios is possibly redundant, and even if it survives, it'll be as part of a larger company. Admittedly, a company that's downright famous for being ferociously protective of its intellectual properties, but nonetheless a company that views Marvel as just one of its many projects. Marvel will no longer have the same leverage it once had when dealing with directors, producers and screenwriters, and I'm worried that this might translate into weaker films. I hope I'm wrong, of course. As I say, Disney is quite protective of its characters, and might at least be willing to listen to people who think like they do. But if Thor has a wacky, jive-talking robot as his sidekick, you know who's to blame.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Free Comic Book Day Post-Mortem

Yes, I know. It's probably a little bleak to use the term "post-mortem" to describe what's supposed to be the big, exciting, happy holiday that gets everyone into comics stores. But honestly, when I look at FCBD, I can't help but see one more botched marketing opportunity masquerading as a great idea. The problem with FCBD, as with pretty much every marketing opportunity everywhere in the comic book industry these days, is that it's targeted primarily at the people who are already walking into comic book stores...that is to say, the people who don't need to be told to go into comic book stores. If it was me running Marvel, I would make damn sure 'Iron Man 2' was contractually obligated to open April 30th, not May 7th, and that it was contractually obligated to carry an ad right before the start of the movie touting "Free Comic Book Day at your local comic store!"

Depending on your local comic store, of course. Of the two I visited, one had no free comics available at all. Admittedly, it's mostly a collectibles store that also sells comics, but still... Luckily, the other store had the freebies (and a nice sale going, but I'm keeping a close eye on the budget right now. Next year, for sure.) What did I grab?

DC Kids Sampler: On the one hand, it does lose a few points for being the beginnings to several stories. I don't really like being so overtly teased by a free comic; I'd rather get a self-contained story that makes me want to pick up the next issue than a "To Be Continued". That said, it gains loads and loads of points for being kid-friendly, entertaining, and having some top-flight talent working on it. Well done.

Del Rey Showcase: The "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" sample is worth picking up, the rest is sort of filler. Not bad, just sort of filler. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I was more of a Stephen King fanatic and less of a zombie lover, though.

Green Hornet: Wow. People really weren't exaggerating when they said that Kevin Smith's Green Hornet comic was utterly unreadable crap, were they? This was only six pages, and I found myself wishing it had stopped at one. Smith has an absolute tin ear for dialogue, making every single character sound like they stepped out of 'Clerks', and the section of plot we see couldn't be a more hackneyed and lazy introduction. The Matt Wagner Green Hornet: Year One section is much better, but I was already pretty soured on the concept by then. The rest of the comic feels almost too unfinished to grade...which might be part of the problem. Very much undercooked.

War of the Supermen: Why does it always seem to me when I read a DC comic published in the last decade that DC hates their own flagship character? They seem to have a vested interest in portraying him as an ineffectual, whiny, useless relic of an outdated moral code. I'm aware that this is meant to be a prologue to the actual story, and that this is meant to be the "darkest before the dawn" moment...but it seems like DC has played that card non-stop ever since "Identity Crisis", and it's tiresome. Not to mention, it's another "introductory comic" where nothing happens. I'm calling this one a failure.

Iron Man/Thor: I'm very much torn about this one. On the one hand, it reminds me of everything I've hated about Iron Man for the last four years, now; he doesn't ever seem to connect the bad things he does with the bad things that happen to him. "Huh. I designed a weather control machine capable of slaughtering tens of thousands of people in artificial catastrophes. Now someone is using a stolen weather control machine to slaughter tens of thousands of people in artificial catastrophes. How could I possibly have foreseen that outcome!?!" On the other hand, it does show Tony being genuinely heroic in dealing with said "unforeseen" outcome, there's plenty of good action, and there are some good bits of banter between him and Thor. And I liked the ending. "You're trespassing on private property!" "So take us to Moon Court."

Radical Comics Sampler: A random sampling of comics from a company I've never heard of, picked up on a whim. None of it really grabbed me, to be honest; Driver for the Dead seemed kind of interesting, but not enough to make me pick it up; Time Bomb was too short to detail its own elaborate concept; After Dark seemed bland and uninteresting; and The Rising felt like a by-the-numbers "human resistance" story. The art was nice, though.

Fractured Fables: This was very cute, and exactly how a sample comic should work. It was light and entertaining, self-contained, and showed off enough of the premise of the comic it's advertising to get you interested. I could very easily see myself picking up this collection when I have a little money.

Bongo Comics Free-For-All: Likewise, this is a good job at putting together a comic that showcases the output of the company, while still giving a good experience in and of itself. If you like The Simpsons enough to buy a Simpsons comic, this will probably convince you that they're doing a good job at Bongo Comics. (I don't think I'm quite that much of a Simpsons fan, but was entertained nonetheless.)

Overall, I'd say that there's still a major lesson to be learned by the Big Two. They need to remember that the hook for any series is the character, and it's important to give you something to root for...and to have things happen. Oh, and sell the event outside of comics stores. It's designed to get people through the doors, after all.