Kingsman: The Secret Service is, hopefully, a watershed moment for spy action movies. Much in the way The Bourne Identity did in 2002, Kingsman has such a fresh new take on the genre that it begs to be the new standard these films are compared to. Kingsman could have so easily been the lazy bit of satire I feared it would be in the run up to the movie and it avoided nearly all of the pitfalls that could have felled it. It did step in to one big pit and while it put a bit of a crimp in my enjoyment of the movie it was at least a spectacular and bold piece of failure and I suppose tasteless and vexing is always better than boring.
Matthew Vaughn directs action sequences in Kingsman that are nothing short of brilliant. He shoots action with wider angles and without cuts like they’re musical numbers from back in the era when Hollywood stars could actually dance. He does this without sacrificing the complexity we’ve come to expect from a modern fight scene, something from the post-Tarantino, post-Yuen Woo-Ping era. Kingsman makes 54 year-old Colin Firth look like the baddest man alive at 54 years old. He looks like he would pick Liam Neeson out of his teeth. The fight sequences are exhilarating to watch and should be the new standard for any director looking to make something visually interesting but not too proud to crib an existing style. (I’m looking at you, 98% of directors working today.)
IF I STAY is the latest best selling fiction to hit the big screen, and it stars 17 years old Chloe Moretz who talks to us about why she chooses roles like this, CARRIE and even Hit Girl. Plus IDIOTEST is a new competition show on the Game Show Network and host Ben Gleib proves to me that it isn’t all that easy to win there.
Oh, I continue to monitor, and very discriminatingly partake, of the various expressions of Geek culture chronicled, dissected, and celebrated here and elsewhere. But I can’t seem to get as excited about any of it as do all the other too-numerous and overstimulated chatterers.
Something is missing.
Yeah, I know it’s supposed to be a big deal that John Romita, Jr. is maybe gonna draw Superman. And no one can figure out why Kick-Ass 2 was a box office disappointment. And people can’t wait to know what the Guardians of the Galaxy movie is gonna look like, or how Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who is gonna be different from Matt Smith’s. And on and on and on. But, for some reason that’s really starting to bug me, because I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, I can’t motivate myself to give a rat’s patoot about any of it.
From most of the comics and movies and video I sample, something is missing. For a long time I thought it was just that I was somehow managing to miss “the good stuff,” but now I’m not so sure.
It can’t possibly be Just Me. Not with the fistful of antidepressants I take every day. No, of course not. That can’t be it.
I suspect that what I’m really experiencing is a massive case of Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Get It. And what veterans of the comics biz like myself have always wished for was that comics – the genre, if you can call them that; the type of content, not the physical printed product – would became a mainstream entertainment phenomenon. And they have.
Thanks more to CGI and Hollywood than to their modest printed spawning-ground, comics and related pop culture are, of course Big Business now, and have been for so long that most readers of sites like this one can’t remember a time when they weren’t. Which means they can’t remember, either, a time when all this stuff wasn’t quite as mindlessly escapist, or – at the opposite end of a spectrum that seems not to have a mid-range – leadenly, pretentiously Serious Minded.
That condition obtains, perhaps, because mindlessness sells big-time, while Seriousness of Purpose wins Eisner Awards and fanboy cred (and the occasional crowdfunding bonanza), which freshly-minted capital is then expended by the mintee on being mindless for a much bigger payday.
But something, nevertheless, seems to me to be missing.
What first got me seriously wanting to write comics instead of just reading them were things like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’s original Green Lantern / Green Arrow series and Steve Gerber’s Howard The Duck. Titles that were a vibrant and perceptively critical commentary on the culture they arose from, but whose Creative always enveloped its core concerns with a sugar-coating of good, solid, old-fashioned fun. Fun as in slam-bang heroic-fantasy action or verbal jokes and sight gags – the stuff that allowed the less demanding readers to remain oblivious, if that was their wont, to the Big Ideas the writers of such comics were trying to explore. In so doing, these comics were hits among fans (as opposed to being successful by the casual-reader-at-newsstands-only distribution “metrics” of their day. But the industry learned, for a brief time in the ‘80s, that such content was solidly marketable in the direct-only environment.
The art of producing that kind of comic book entertainment seems to me almost lost. At least, I haven’t been able to find it – not for a few years now.
If that’s the something that’s missing, I want and need – need – to find it again. Or somehow become a force in reviving it, if not just making it more visible than it is now, if it’s even still out there. And that’s what seems to be preoccupying me this week, and will, I hope, be grist for this mill in weeks to come.
All this is why something else is missing this week: a column that tries to be itself entertaining, while “sugar-coating” with humor an observation or caution that I hope might prove thought-provoking or inspiring of debate.
Oh, well. Maybe next week.
At least I didn’t do what too many in the blogosphere are tempted to do, and write a column about how I couldn’t figure out what to write about.
Kick-Ass 2opened and I’m very psyched. Loved the comics. Loved the first movie. Even liked the Wanted movie, although it isn’t as sharp and funny as the book.
You see, I’m a big fan of Mark Millar. I’ve followed him ever since he wrote Swamp Thing with Grant Morrison, and, as DC’s Publicity Manager, I had to explain to people who he was. And while I haven’t read absolutely everything he’s written, nor have I loved absolutely everything I’ve read, he always engages me with his characters, entertains me and, in places, makes me laugh.
To be sure, I’m not surprised that there is a backlash against someone who is commercially successful in a popular art form. There are always those people, desperate to be cool, who affect disdain for anything popular. There is a subset of this group, who claim to have liked the person/band/actor/director’s work before, when they were unknown. I, myself, am capable of rambling on pretentiously about the first time I saw Talking Heads, when they were a trio.
That’s not what I’m talking about here. Instead, a (reasonably) well-respected magazine, The New Republic, did an overview of Mark’s work and didn’t like what they saw. They spoke with some people who defended Millar, and with some who criticized him. Mostly, the article focused on sex, violence and rape.
Of which there is a lot in Millar’s work. To quote from the article:
“Laura Hudson, the former editor-in-chief of the popular blog Comics Alliance and a senior editor at Wired, thought that scene was deplorable, but typical of Millar. ‘There’s one and only one reason that happens, and it’s to piss off the male character,” she said. “It’s using a trauma you don’t understand in a way whose implications you can’t understand, and then talking about it as though you’re doing the same thing as having someone’s head explode. You’re not. Those two things are not equivalent, and if you don’t understand, you shouldn’t be writing rape scenes.’”
Laura Hudson is someone I admire and respect. When I say I disagree with her, it is not my intention to dismiss her point of view (and I’m aware it can sound like that in print, when you can’t hear my tone of voice or see my evocative hand gestures). Having said that, I suspect we’re having a similar problem when we read the stories. I don’t pick up a tone in the work that celebrates actual violence or rape. I see those actions being used to define characters. Unlike Laura, I don’t think women in the stories are raped solely to motivate men. I think rape is used to show how awful the person is who commits it.
Is this a comic book problem? John Irving writes books that are full of raped characters and the men who love them. Most contemporary critics consider him to be a feminist, or at least an ally to feminists.
(And this will probably be the only time anyone ever discusses Mark Millar and John Irving in the same article.)
Writing about something – even illustrating something – is not the same as endorsing it. I’ve been involved in the non-violent movement for social justice for more than 45 years, yet I enjoyed these comics a lot. I’m tickled by the cartoon violence, in no small part because I know that no actual humans are involved. This may be because of the tone I infer from the stories, or because, as Scott McCloud describes, we each supply our own interpretation of what happens between the panels.
We bring our lives to comics in a way that’s different from other popular art forms. Maybe this is why we can differ so profoundly in our reactions to what we read. In my version, Mark Millar is sort of kind of related to Chuck Jones by way of Francis Ford Coppola.
Well. This might be the easiest review I’ve written.
If you liked the first Kick-Ass movie, you’ll like this one. If you would have liked the first film if it didn’t have Nicolas Cage in it, you’ll be even happier.
If you are a fan of the Mark Millar/John Romita Jr. comic book series, you’ll like this movie. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation of Kick-Ass 2 and the Hit-Girl prequel series, hitting most of the points and only making cosmetic changes (no final battle in Times Square, for example.)
If you are a fan of Chloe Grace Moritz, you’ll love this film. Even more fun this time around, yet still growing up. Between this and the upcoming Carrie remake, we have learned one very important lesson: Do. Not. Mess. With. Her.
If you think that the story is a decent examination and a snappy satirical commentary about trying to be a superhero in the real world, you are completely right. If you happen to think that the first film and/or the comic book is overwrought and overviolent and expect the sequel to be the same, you are completely right too.
If you think this is a way for comic book movies to keep things simple and get decent returns on their original investments by controlling costs instead of making R.I.P.D., you’re correct. If you think this is a cynical attempt to cash in on an easily extendable franchise, you’re right as well.
If you’re looking for surprises– well, there we have a problem. There really aren’t any if you’ve seen the first film, and especially if you’ve already read the source material. There are only two real areas for surprise here: will they keep all the levels of violence from the comics in the films, even the hyper-brutal and the completely ludicrous, and is it still going to be fun to watch knowing what’s coming next? The answer to both questions, BTW, is “yes”.
So go. Have fun, if this is the sort of thing you like. You know pretty much exactly what you’re going to get, and it’s going to be well-executed executions. It doesn’t quite live up to its title, it doesn’t quite kick ass too. But it’s not a bad way to spend an evening.
This year, the San Diego Comic Con celebrated 20 years of my company. Milestone Media. There was standing room only for the 20th Anniversary panel, the Milestone party was off the chain and to top off one of the best times of my life, Derek Dingle, Denys Cowan and I received Inkpot awards!
The biggest and the best pop culture event in the world thought enough of our work to honor us during the convention. That work focuses largely on Milestone’s mission to include more people of color in the media arts.
We’ve been very successful doing so in comics and television and there is more to come.
So, I’m feeling pretty damn good when I get back to my humble abode.
So good in fact I had a brainstorm, and I’m going to share that brainstorm here at ComicMix.
The Rise Of The Super Nigga
Based on a true story until the end.
Michael at 10 years old wanted to be an artist.
A cartoonist, to be exact. That was the good news; the bad news was Michael lived in what is now as was then one of the worst housing projects in New York City.
The years were tough but Michael somehow survived. Two members of his immediate family were murdered, as were two cousins. Michael survived being stabbed twice and having a gun placed to his forehead. The assailant pulled the trigger, the gun jammed.
Michael attended prestigious universities and became a professional artist. Then he co-founded a company that changed the way comic books are published. Then he became President & CEO of three entertainment companies, TV creator, mentor, writer, power broker, deal maker, all around very successful.
How successful? The Gordon Parks Academy named its auditorium after him.
One day Michael was thinking: “I’m a very formidable person with far reaching influence. What should I do now that I have all this power?”
All day Michael pondered that thought. Finally he drifted off to sleep…
Michael awoke with a start. What was that that? Silently he headed to the source of the disturbance. There on his floor was not just the cause of the commotion but the answer this intelligent, successful, influential black man had sort.
Somehow a bag of crack was tossed trough his window. Michael picked up the bag held it up and pronounced as loud as he could. “I will become a drug dealer!!”
“I am no longer Michael Davis PhD!” I am now Super Nigga!!!
Yeah, I know, that’s just stupid. Surviving the hood becoming a success then deciding out of the blue to become a drug dealer.
Besides a character named Super Nigga would never see print…unless you changed the name to Tyrone Cash and a hotshot writer named Mark Millar creates it.
Then… it’s all-good.
Tyrone Cash was a brilliant black scientist who gets the power of the Hulk yet retains his intellect. I’ll say that again – retains – his intellect. So what does this brilliant black man do with his new power?
He becomes a drug dealer.
A brilliant black scientist gets the power of the Hulk yet retains his intellect and then decides to become a goddamn drug dealer???
In my opinion that would be the textbook definition of a Super Nigga.
“Oh, no Michael! You don’t want to call out Mark Millar! He’s got to much clout!” That was the response from a concerned fan when I mentioned I was thinking of writing this article.
What the fuck can Mark Millar do to me? The streets are littered with the crushed dreams of motherfuckers who tried to fuck with me. You know why that is? Because I don’t give a fuck what bridge I burn, what’s right is right.
Here’s the kicker, I love this guys work. He’s written some of my favorite comics and Kick Ass is just brilliant, so that makes this even worst. When a talented guy with a HUGE fan base creates some shit like Tyrone Cash it has to be addressed or it becomes OK to do so.
All in all this makes me sad. Sad because Millar’s star is so bright, and rightfully so, sad because if just one black kid thinks Tyrone Cash is cool that that helps no one and if just one white kid thinks Tyrone Cash is accurate that hurts many.
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold Gets Real Small
THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil and The Seven Basic Plots
Forgive me, but I have to write about Man of Steel some more. Or, more specifically, the current marketing of Superman.
Last week, I wrote about how disappointed I was in the apparent shame felt by comics fans and Warner Bros. about Superman’s optimism.
But it’s not just that this kind of grim’n’gritty Superman is disturbing. There is also the character’s complete disregard for the welfare of the people of Earth. As a New Yorker who lives within a mile of the World Trade Center, I tend to get upset by such images of destruction. I don’t expect filmmakers to contort themselves to my memories. In fact, I can appreciate the opportunity for catharsis.
However, I would like to see some acknowledgement that there were humans living in a city that is ravaged by superhuman destruction, and these humans were affected by the smashing skyscrapers. Joss Whedon managed to do this very well in The Avengers. I am disappointed that we don’t see at least as much in Man of Steel.
New this week is DC choosing to emphasize the worst aspects of the Man of Steel Superman with this San Diego Comic-Con exclusive, a sculpture of Kal-El standing on top of a pile of skulls.
This image exists in the movie, in a nightmare. That’s the most I can say for it.
If you don’t like hopeful characters, then Superman is not for you. Don’t try to mutate Superman into something he is not, just to fit the fashion.
I’m not the only person who thought so, as you can see here and here. Even movie stars are questioning certain entertainment choices (although, for the record, I really enjoy Kick-Ass in all its iterations, and most of what Mark Millar does. YMMV).
Believe me, I understand. There is a time in the lives of most of us, usually when we are around 12 or so, when we understand that there is more to life than toys and candy, that death and destruction exist, and we strive to be mature adults who embrace reality. For me, this state lasted through college. Then, when I lived on my own and began to experience my personal share of tragedy, I grasped the value of balancing realism with optimism. I loved Jonathan Richman not only for his talent and charm, but for his fierce defense of joy.
So, if I needed to have a ceramic expression of my own aesthetic, I’d buy this instead of a Superman on skulls. There has been enough death in my life . It needs more joy.
Joy is worth fighting for. That’s why I love Superman.
September is shaping up to be a marvelous month for comics fans. Not only does the DC Universe reboot,ut while awaiting issues to be released, you can rewatch your favorite heroes on DVD. 20th Century Home Entertainment just announced X-Men: First Class is coming to disc on September 9 ( a rare Friday release) and on the following Tuesday, the 13th, Thor will arrive from Paramount Home Entertainment. Here are the details:
Before they were superheroes, the fate of humanity depended on an extraordinary group of youngsters who went on to become X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Based on the international bestselling Marvel Comics franchise, this box office hit bursts onto Blu-ray and DVD Friday, September 9 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. For the first time ever, “X-Men” fans will have the power to choose a side between Professor X and Magneto with two versions of premium collectible Blu-ray packaging. Also exclusively on Blu-ray, fans receive access to over two hours of special interactive features PLUS ten Marvel “X-Men” Digital Comics including a never-before-seen “X-Men: First Class” backstory— redeemable through each Blu-ray’s unique packaging code.
Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick Ass) tells the true origins of the multi-billion dollar film franchise, guiding exceptional performances by Golden Globe®-nominee James McAvoy (Atonement), Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds), and Golden Globe®-winner Kevin Bacon (“Taking Chance,” Mystic River). A “rare movie event that balances an intelligent story with solid performances, first-rate action and top-of-the-line special effects” (Ben Lyons, E!), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS has drawn an impressive $150 million at the domestic box office and nearly $350 million worldwide.
Marvel properties continue to dominate the media news with word out that Jane Goldman has been added to the writing staff of the 20th-Century Fox’s X-Men reboot, First Class. Last week, Matthew Vaughn signed to follow the delightful Kick-Ass with this fourth film in the mutant franchise. Writers Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz, who wrote Thor, were confirmed as being at work on the film, which has a relatively short production schedule.
Goldman’s involvement was announced via a tweet from husband Jonathan Ross. He posted, “Also, for those who need to know, my wife IS currently writing X men First Class. It’s just referred to as X men 4 around the house…”
Goldman and Vaughn have collaborated on several films in the past so having her on board is a natural step.
No casting has occurred but shooting is expected later this year.
In a release from Marvel Comics, just in time for tomorrow’s premier of the Kick-Ass movie:
Kick-Ass fever is sweeping the nation and now you can discover the hit series on your favorite mobile device! The complete Kick-Ass limited series is now available in single issue format for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users through the Comixology, Iverse and Panefly applications, while PSP users can download directly to their device!
“I have an ancient cell phone given to me by a relative that’s so old it can’t take pictures so this tech is so far away from me it might as well be science fiction,” said Kick-Ass writer and co-creator Mark Millar. “But I read about it on Comic Book Resources and Marvel.com– the guys seemed excited so consider me excited by osmosis. More readers and new readers is always a good thing.”
John Romita Jr, artist and co-creator of Kick-Ass, said, “I’m excited about these advances in technology that I have been hearing about for, what seems like ten years. Now it has arrived, and all I can think of is that it advances the state of ‘comic books’ in that it will direct people to the source material. I believe this will cement the tangible material, the comics themselves, into the hands and minds of future ‘young’ generations! It always comes down to the quality of writing and the sequential art. Holding a comic and turning the page for more will forever be a novelty, even with advanced technology as an option.”