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  1. The Journey of Adventure, Part 2
  2. The Journey of Adventure, Part 1
  3. Remembering Apollo 1
  4. Restarting Star Wars
  5. Game of Thrones Season 4 Trailer
  6. Thoughts on Marvel Taking Over Star Wars Comics (Again)
  7. How to Train Your Dragon 2 Trailer Thoughts
  8. Jupiter Ascending Teaser Thoughts
  9. Thoughts on the X-Men Apocalypse Movie
  10. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Batman/Superman
  11. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Trailer
  12. Marvel & Netflix Producing Shows Together
  13. Maleficent Trailer Thoughts
  14. X-Men: Days of Future Past Trailer Thoughts
  15. Captain America: Winter Soldier Trailer Thoughts

The Journey of Adventure, Part 2

August 5, 2014

Posted by: James

Read the first part here

The flight to New England went smoothly, and I recall virtually none of it owing to having slept through the majority of the ride. The landing, taxiing and disembarkation of the plane all went as smooth as could be expected given the late hour of our arrival (around 1:30 AM or so), and we tired passengers made our way dutifully to baggage claim.

I stood around for a bit waiting for the bags to begin appearing, but since it seemed they were taking their time I decided to wander over to the rental car check-in and get my car squared away (it was a mere twenty feet away from the baggage claim, so I could easily see the bags). This all went fairly smoothly except for the one small point that all rental cars were being selected from one particular vendor. My understanding is that after a certain hour the remaining cars to be picked up are all consolidated so that only one rental company has to pay for an employee to stay so late. This was fine since I was still renting my car through the company I had previously selected, and would be returning it to them, too.

The person at the register kept trying to get me to upgrade my car from the compact I had rented, but since I knew I was going to do a lot of driving I stood my ground and opted for the better gas mileage. As it turned out they only had SUVs left, and so I got a free upgrade to that anyway... but then I had to pay a significant amount more for gas, so I was not as thrilled as that perhaps should have made me (plus I just hate driving SUVs in general).

My triumph over unnecessary upgrade fees kept my spirits up (I did not yet know I was getting upgraded regardless) as I turned back to the baggage claim belt just as the first set of bags started coming out. Normally my bag is very easy to spot since my usual luggage is in the form of a hockey bag, but this time I had my traditional bag instead so I had to check the names on multiple bags to make sure they were not mine. Soon it became apparent that it was the same bags going in a circle and no new bags were being added. My bag was not one of the ones making the rounds, and did not magically join them despite my attempts to conjure it.

The baggage attendant and a handler started to pull the remaining bags off the carousel and bring them over to the check-in. There were many bags that needed to be removed, most likely owing to the number of people who had opted to wait for a flight the next day or who had flown stand-by on an earlier flight, but mine was not among them. Even though I had checked them as they passed on the carousel I looked each one over just to be extra sure. Nada.

Two other passengers had missing bags, and one very irate lady had picked up a minor dent to her "brand new" suitcase (which, judging from the dull scuff marks on it, was at least a year old already). I was in no hurry given that I had a four hour drive ahead of me for a wedding still twelve hours away, so I let the others go in front of me. The two who had lost their luggage were about as calm and composed as you can be at two in the morning, having just discovered you have no clothes but those on your back. One of them, a man in about his mid-60s, also had foolishly put his keys in his luggage and so was out those, as well. He did not even raise his voice as he dutifully reported his missing luggage and then called someone for a ride (I presume).

Miss "New Luggage" however, was having none of this "polite" nonsense. She did not quite go into a screaming fit, but her demeanor and tone left no doubt that she was going to have someone's hide for this terrible injustice against her precious suitcase. The dent in question was about half an inch deep and about two inches long on the bottom of the suitcase, near where the wheels were. She demanded compensation, loudly and with great force (possibly great spittle, too; the baggage attendant flinched a few times). Unfortunately for her such a small dent constituted "normal wear" for a suitcase, and Southwest was not going to reimburse her for the damage. I generally believe that a company must take responsibility for its actions, but in this case I was inclined to side with Southwest. It is expected that bags do not fly as comfortably as you do (such as it is), and small bits of damage are not uncommon. If this had been a massive gauge out of her bag I would have had sympathy, but her self-entitlement overrode any amount of caring I might have possibly had. It was an especially stupid claim since just a few inches above the dent was a large, black scuff mark about the size of my thumb that looked permanent. She made no comments about this mark so I can only assume it existed prior to the tragedy currently befalling her bag. I wonder if she tried to get compensation for that, too.

The lady finally admitted defeat and went on her way, but not without shooting a few choice words at her new friend. I am sure that, given her job description, this sort of display was a nightly, if not hourly, occurrence for the baggage attendant, but it was still depressing to witness. Sometimes (okay, frequently) people just need a good smack upside the head. We walked into the office and I filled out my missing baggage report. She, I and the baggage handler sorting the remaining luggage were the only three people in the airport as near as I could tell. As I handed the paper back to her the topic of getting the luggage back to me came up:

Baggage Lady: Will you be staying in the area? Is there somewhere we can ship your bag to?

Me: Uh, not really. I will be moving around a lot...

Baggage Lady: Surely you have an address we can send it to?

Me: Well, I'll be in Maine today, New Hampshire tomorrow, Massachusetts after that and then back to New Hampshire.

Baggage Lady: ...

Me: ...

Baggage Lady: I'll just put "mobile" down in the address field.

"Just so long as you don't think I'm going to Alabama!" is what I should have said, but I didn't because it was 2:30 AM and even night crew don't have operational brains at that point. Missed opportunity. L'esprit de l'escalier.

Since it was decided that I would pick up the bag myself from the airport at the first good opportunity I was given a voucher for my next Southwest flight. I got $50 for making the effort to get the bags myself, and "New Luggage" lady got nothing for all her whining and screaming. We call that justice... or at least schadenfreude.

Voucher and claim slip in one hand and keys in the other, I made my way to the rental car garage to finally claim my ride and begin the journey farther North. At this airport the rental car facility is a short walk from the main terminal either by skybridge or straight out the main doors, so it was a quick trip. I clicked the key fob a few times and followed the blinking lights to my new ride. This is when I discovered it was an SUV, and I had a laugh at just discovering the trickery that had been attempted by the upgrade pressure. I loaded her right up and did the walk around to look for dents, scratches, etc. Everything was in order so I hopped in and drove away.

Or, rather, I tried to. As I pulled the car around to the exit gates I saw that each gate in turn was closed, and a car had been parked in the middle of each lane. The only lane without a car blocking it was the return lane, which of course had a spike strip preventing cars from backing out. Not wanting to shred the tires I opted to not go through that lane. I stepped out of the car and walked around the rental area that I was now trapped within. Every conceivable exit was either blocked or mined. With not a soul in sight, not even a security guard, I had no exit. I walked back to the terminal in the desperate hope that whomever was manning the check-in station was still there, but no luck there. I also tried calling the rental car's hotline, but only got automated machines informing me of business hours. I did not need a tow or roadside assistance (I could not even get to the road...) so I did not call that number. So I did the only sensible thing I could at 3 AM while trapped in a parking garage: I slept.

To be continued...

The Journey of Adventure, Part 1

July 28, 2014

Posted by: James

The Internet has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I can trace my history back to the days of AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve. Those were the days when “webdesign” was a loose term, at best, and Geocities was the place where all the cool kids had their personal pages dedicated to whatever was hot at the moment. The years passed and the Internet evolved to be a home to more sophisticated webpages which played hosts to actual communities of like-minded individuals (for better or worse), and media in the form of games and music started to emerge as legitimate enterprises. It is difficult now to imagine a time when the World of Warcraft did not exist as a household name, and any of a million movies are available to watch within minutes of thinking about it, but those days did exist.

As a child of the Internet, and an introvert no less, it is thus natural that I made acquaintances over the Internet. In particular, my time in an early multiplayer game called Final Fantasy XI (somehow still alive and active, though I am no longer a part of it) resulted in numerous friendships that have spanned near a decade now. It is hard to recall precisely when I met Chad and Jessica in the vast lands of Vana'diel, but a friendship formed which has resulted most recently in one of the strangest trips I have ever taken.

Chad and Jessica decided (not entirely by their own choice) to have their wedding in July of 2014. I say “have their wedding” and not “get married” because they were, in fact, already wed the previous year. This is not the proper way to do things™, apparently (perhaps it should be, though), and thus the requisite wedding festivities were planned. So, out of a sense of small obligation I received an invite to said wedding. And, out of a similar sense of small obligation, I agreed to attend.

For a while I waffled between flying to the wedding, and driving. Ultimately the convenience of flying won out again the 12 hour drive to get to the Maine wedding. There was still a 4 hour drive from Massachusetts (where I flew into) to the wedding, but I believed this would be a better alternative in the end. I no longer necessarily believe that is true.

The first omen that things were unwell occurred a day before my flight was scheduled to depart for more northern climes. As I gathered my suitcase from the back of my closet (I rarely use my suitcase as I prefer to bring everything as a carry-on, but for a wedding where I would have formal clothes this did not seem appropriate) I heard a cascade of what sounded like broken glass emanating from inside the case. Curious, I opened the suitcase and found it empty save for a few dust bunnies, which fled on a blast of air from the overhead fan. I picked up the case and tilted it slightly, which again produced the sound of broken glass sliding around.

Closer examination of the suitcase revealed a zipper at the back, which I carefully opened. Thousands of tiny pieces of broken black plastic greeted me. While I was relieved it was not glass I would have to clean the size of the fragments meant that it would still be a difficult task. Too large to suck up with my hand vacuum (I have hard floors, so a traditional vacuum is not in my arsenal), and too small to clean up easily by hand I began the tedious task of scooping them out and tossing them in the trash by the dozens. Each time I cleared out all the plastic pieces in view I would lift the suitcase, and inevitably the sound of tinkling shards would return. I shook the case around to move the pieces into view so I could clean them, and eventually enough shards were gone that it no longer sounded like a waterfall of glass whenever I moved the bag.

I must assume that there was a back plate of plastic meant to protect the suitcase against getting tossed around, and that it was at some point shattered. Assuming that there is not a mosh pit in my closet that I am unaware of, I can only imagine that this damage must have occurred on my last trip. I suppose that would have been Ireland, and thankfully I do not recall anything in my bag being broken during that trip (probably thanks to my policy of keeping anything important in my carry-on luggage). There was no time to replace the bag, so I had to hope that it would survive this flight without anything inside it being damaged. Since it was only transporting clothes I figured this to be a safe bet.

My flight was scheduled for 9 PM the next day, which I had planned so that I would have enough time to get some sleep before the flight, and I could drive to Maine overnight from the airport (I work overnight, so this is my natural “awake” time). I was awoken at 3 PM to a text message from Southwest informing me that the flight had been delayed until just after midnight. Excellent! I reset my alarm to give me a few more hours of sleep, and promptly nodded off.

The drive to the airport was fine, and thanks to a bus driver who must moonlight as a Nascar racer we made excellent time to the gate. A gate which was completely devoid of all human life. This was not a small airport, so the complete lack of any officials in the area (there were a few passengers milling around) was fairly disconcerting. There was not even a janitor to question. I had recalled seeing some men at the outdoor check-in counter, so I went there. They informed me that they were closing up and all flights were loaded, and there was no way past security.

“What about my flight? It does not leave until after midnight.”

Their blank stares in response suggested that the idea of a plane leaving after midnight was beyond ludicrous. Clearly either they had not been informed of the delayed flight, or I had made a serious mistake. I already knew which of these options they thought was accurate. And since they did not even have the authority to help me rebook my flight I was pretty much screwed.

I was, to say the least, pissed. By pure luck, though, in the glass window behind the baggage handlers I saw someone walking around behind the AirTran counter, and I quickly bolted to catch them before they went back into the offices.

I explained the situation, and what the handlers outside had said, and he got his manager. Fortunately, she was more in touch with what was going on than anyone else and she was able to get me checked in. She also pointed me to the only lane of security that was open in the entire terminal, and I got through that with no problems. That lady saved my sanity. Temporarily, anyway.

The flight departed on time and, aside from a few brief bits of turbulence, was as efficient as I had come to expect from Southwest. Since the plane was less full than expected (many people had either gotten tickets for another day, or flown standby on an earlier flight), I grabbed another hour of sleep in my empty row (with my C-2 boarding order (122nd in line, for those not familiar with Southwest's boarding system) no less).

With that strange glitch out of the way I assumed my trip would be nothing but smooth sailings from there on out. To which the universe said “HA!”

To be continued...

Remembering Apollo 1

January 28, 2014

Posted by: James

Forty-seven years ago on January 27th, 1967 the American space program experienced its first major accident, setting back the goal of reaching the Moon by 1970 more than a year. Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were not the first Americans to lose their lives as part of the space program (that sad distinction goes to Elliot See and Charles Bassett, who died in a plane crash almost a year before), but they were perhaps the most visible and prominent to that point. Apollo was supposed to get Americans to the moon before the Russians could get there, and as such risks -- perhaps unnecessary ones -- were taken. The Apollo command module was known to have defects, but the extent of them were not discovered until that fateful morning when Apollo 1 erupted into flames on the launch pad during a routine test run.

The full details of the accident are a bit obscured by age, and perhaps a need to hide how much was known before the fire, but what we do know is tragic enough. The review team that investigated the incident found a number of small problems that added up into one gigantic death trap. The 100% pure oxygen environment was probably the biggest warning sign, but by no means the only one... nor even the worst. In order to keep the oxygen pure while on Earth the capsule was pressurized to have a greater internal pressure than the external Floridian air. A highly pressurized environment comprised solely of an extremely flammable element... what could go wrong? In fairness, the same conditions had existed in the Mercury and Gemini programs, and those had flown without exploding (often, anyway), so there was not much reason to think Apollo would be different.

The cause of the fire was never pinned down to any one source, but the prevailing theory is that the astronauts built up a certain amount of static electricity (this is a gross over-simplification, but fundamentally similar) which discharged through a silver plate and was enough to cause potent enough sparks to start a fire. The seemingly innocent Velcro used to keep objects in place during weightlessness was shown to be combustible in the Apollo 1's pressurized environment. What only makes all this worse is that -- at the request of the crew -- most of the flammable objects in the capsule had been removed in August the previous year, but replaced a mere week later with virtually no changes made.

One of the last elements that played into the tragedy of the situation was the hatch that the astronauts used to enter and exit the Apollo capsule while it was on Earth. Its design was such that the hatch could not be opened until pressure had been equalized between the craft's internal systems and the external air. Once the fire started the internal pressure rose significantly, making opening the hatch impossible. The true horror of this only comes into view when you realize that the original plan had been for the hatch to utilize explosive bolts -- allowing for a quick opening of the hatch regardless of internal pressure -- but that plan was scrapped largely because of the loss of Liberty Bell 7 in 1961, which was piloted by the same Gus Grissom who was killed in Apollo 1. Had the hatch on Libery Bell 7 not blown after landing, causing the craft to be lost to the sea for more than thirty-five years, Grissom and his crew may have stood a chance of escaping Apollo 1.

There was a lot of history in Apollo 1 beyond entering the last phase of getting humans to the moon. Gus Grissom would have been the first man to fly in Mercury, Gemini and Apollo -- after his death Wally Schirra was the only man to fly in all three. He also flew in the last American spacecraft to be named when he named his Gemini 3 capsule "Molly Brown" (after The Unsinkable Molly Brown, in a cheeky nod to Liberty Bell 7 sinking) Wally Schirra would try to revive the tradition with Apollo 7 (the first manned Apollo flight after the fire), but his idea of calling it "Phoenix" was shot down due to the unfortunate imagery that conjured. Apollo 9 would successfully bring the tradition back with their less imaginative "Gumdrop" command module. Ed White was the first American to walk in space free of his craft several years prior. Paul Chaffee never flew in space, but had been with the program since the beginning of Gemini where he worked closely with Grissom and White, even before being assigned to their flight team.

There have been tragedies since, like Challenger (which would occur almost exactly nineteen years later, on January 28, 1986) and Columbia, and near-tragedies, like Apollo 13, but it was Apollo 1 that reminded Americans for the first time since the early days of the Mercury program that it was indeed a dangerous mission we had undertaken for ourselves. Space is a deadly, inhospitable place and even the things we have to do just to get there are dangerous beyond measure. We toss the term "hero" around a lot these days, and often for very silly reasons. I would wager that any man or woman who has taken the risk of putting him or herself into space, American or otherwise, is deserving of it, though. It takes a special kind of crazy to strap yourself into something that could more accurately be called a bomb then a spacecraft and launch yourself into the most dangerous and hostile environment imaginable.

Gus Grissom himself was known to be something of a fatalist, and had many quotes regarding how he and his fellow astronauts dealt with knowing they could die at any moment. Perhaps is best known quote is generally attributed to an interview he did right after his Gemini flight, however I do not think it is his best. In a press conference in December 1965 he was asked by CBS corresp0ndent Nelson Benton if he had any concerns about the upcoming flight. This was his response:

No, you sort of have to put that out of your mind. There's always a possibility that you can have a catastrophic failure, of course. This can happen on any flight. It can happen on the last one as well as the first one. You just plan as best you can to take care of all these eventualities, and you get a well-trained crew, and you go fly.

Restarting Star Wars

January 21, 2014

Posted by: James

With Marvel taking over the Star Wars license again and Disney helming a whole slew of new movies starting in 2015 could it possibly be time for Star Wars to start from scratch? Now, let us be clear, I do not think that Disney would actually just chuck out the entire Extended Universe, but in fairness I do not think many people thought DC would reboot their entire comics universe (or that they would do it so poorly... more on that in another post). But what if they did?

In May 1991 a brand new Star Wars novel came out from author Timothy Zahn, titled Heir to the Empire. Set five years after Return of the Jedi, Heir was the start of a new trilogy of stories that starred Luke, Leia and the rest of the gang of heroes we loved from the movies. A new villain, in the form of the alien Thrawn, threatened the galaxy and pretty much single-handily restored the Empire to its former glory and squashed out the New Republic. At the time it was assumed that Star Wars as a franchise was pretty much done. The original trilogy was pretty much all there was, outside of a few spin-offs like the Ewoks movies, some cartoons and a handful of books -- none of which had done anywhere near as well as the movies. The prequels were still just a hypothetical at that point, and even if they did come out would take place before the original trilogy, so anything coming after was fair game. The Heir to the Empire trilogy, combined with Dark Horse's Dark Empire comics, revitalized the franchise, and the Extended Universe was born.

Move forward thirteen years and the number of comics, games, television shows and books set in the Star Wars universe has exploded. There are stories set thousands (even tens of thousands) of years before the original trilogy, dozens of stories set between the movies and books that extend the timeline about forty years past the movies (and some comics that extend it even farther than that). If Disney wants to keep the books as part of the Extended Universe they are going to have to bend over backwards to fit the new movies in somewhere, or find an easy way to explain what has happened to everyone not reading the books.

Almost every single year between the Battle of Endor and the most recent Star Wars novel (Crucible, set forty years after Endor) is accounted for. You could certainly set a book after that, which may fit with how the original actors have aged since the movies, but a lot of stuff has changed for the characters since then -- not the least of which is the death of Chewbacca. There has been no official word on whether or not Chewie will be back for the sequels (although a casting call has gone out for suspiciously Wookie sized actors...), but if he is that either means it happens before Vector Prime (twenty years after Return of the Jedi) or he is not dead at all. Keeping an eye on Peter Mayhew's status as a cast member may very well lead us to clues on the plans for the series.

But would starting over really be that bad a deal? When you get down to it there is a vast library of Star Wars literature out there, and eliminating it from continuity would definitely annoy the people who have put so much time into collecting and reading. Certainly some of it is very good (like the aforementioned Heir to the Empire trilogy, which are probably still the best Star Wars novels around), and conversely there are some which are significantly less good (looking at you, anything written by Kevin Anderson). You cannot ask people to just set aside continuity that they have invested in (and paid a lot of money for). It cheapens the impact of the events by making them feel unimportant.

On the other hand, though, the continuity that exists has gotten rather convoluted. Who is dead, who is alive, who is married to whom... all of this needs to be explained over and over again for new readers. This is exactly why we have seen DC reboot their entire universe multiple times, and ultimately fail in the efforts to do so. Seventy years worth of continuity can not just be flushed down the drain, so DC has tried to find a happy medium between reboot and maintaining existing stories, but with dreadful results. Marvel has largely avoided it, but they did create the Ultimate line back in the early 2000s to create a continuity free line of comics that would be accessible. The problem there is that in time it has developed its own continuity and made itself completely inaccessible to anyone who has not been reading it for a few years.

So is there a solution? Probably not, and no matter what happens someone will be upset. More than likely Disney will take what exists and work around it without really referencing it except in broad strokes. Marvel will probably have more freedom in the comics, but what will happen with the books? I do not know how much longer the current contract is valid for with their current publishers, but they should be worried about it when their deadline comes up. Disney may not have a fully-fledged in-house publishing business, but you can bet they are going to want to retain control of the property with an iron fist.

Ultimately, should Disney reboot the license and say that anything outside of the six core films no longer counts? Probably not, but I have to admit I do not think I would mind. Strip everything down and give it a clean start. It did work for Battlestar Galactica after all (even though the new show was horrendous), and franchise reboots in Hollywood have done fairly well (think Bond and Batman, for example). If there ever was truly a time for it, it would be now. The ball is in Disney's court.

Game of Thrones Season 4 Trailer

January 13, 2014

Posted by: James

It is the beginning of a new year, which means it is time to start countdown to the launch of a new season of Game of Thrones. The series crawls ever closer to the point where it will catch up with the books, so hopefully that means we will see book six from George Martin soon, but I am not exactly holding my breath for that one. In any event, up until now we have been getting only brief teasers of what to expect in season four, but the first full trailer has begun making the rounds of the Internet (I presume it accompanied the launch of HBO's new series, True Detective, but I have yet to watch that yet so I am not certain). For anyone who has decided that the Game is not for them, I do not think this trailer will make much of a difference in changing their opinion, but for those of us eagerly awaiting its launch it has just the right mix of elements to start building anticipation for the new season in April.

Multiple major events are teased in the trailer, but perhaps the biggest of the big is the much anticipated wedding of Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell. Game of Thrones weddings tend to never go as expected or planned, and people who have read the books are already chomping at the bit to see if this one will takes its cue from the book or set off in its own. Whatever happens at that wedding will probably be the most important event of the season, but it will hardly be the only one.

It would be easy to hypothesize the course of season four based on knowledge of the books, but that is not really the point. The trailer is meant to entice us into wanting more, and that it does extremely well. Hints of what our favorite characters (the ones still alive, anyway) will do are only briefly seen before moving on to new hints about other characters. With such a large cast it would be easy to overlook characters, but it does look like every major character gets at least a few moments of the trailer (though some you really have to be looking for). The only one I do not recall seeing is Brienne, which is unfortunate but not surprising since I think she will be seen only in passing this season.

Game of Thrones has rightfully earned a reputation for being violent and uncompromising, and all signs indicate that season four will continue that trend. Some of the most anticipated moments are coming this season, and even now I feel motivated to rewatch the first three seasons. It will be a long wait until April, but I will not mind rewatching the trailer a few times, I think.

The trailer can be viewed on YouTube.

Thoughts on Marvel Taking Over Star Wars Comics (Again)

January 4, 2014

Posted by: James

It should not come as any surprise that Disney decided not to renew Dark Horse Comics' Star Wars license when it came up for option this year, but somehow a fair portion of the internet was caught off guard. I never even thought that there was a chance Dark Horse would get to keep the license -- not when Disney owns Marvel Comics -- but it looks like a number of people thought that somehow the House of Mouse would give up the opportunity to control their own properties. Given that Disney is one of the most notorious companies out there when it comes to guarding their intellectual property I cannot imagine how this idea was even considered. Dark Horse clearly did not think there was any chance they would keep the Star Wars license since they have spent the last year bolstering their library of licensed material, with a good eye towards the sci-fi genre.

While Star Wars leaving their stable will certainly be a blow, Dark Horse is not particularly lacking in good science fiction material. Firefly, Halo and Mass Effect all call Dark Horse home these days (and Halo used to be under Marvel's publication banner, at that), and some other fan favorites like Buffy and Avatar: The Last Airbender are getting some really good material from Dark Horse. They also publish Hellboy and Sin City, which both have had relatively successful films, and a number of other well received properties. Dark Horse still has cards up their sleeve, and they obviously have been planning for the loss of Star Wars for the past year. They will lose sales, certainly, but they have certainly survived worse.

The bigger question remains of what will happen to the current Star Wars comics. Almost certainly Marvel will not miss the opportunity to release a whole range of new #1 issues, so all of the series will be cancelled. But what of the creative teams? Haden Blackman, John Ostrander and Jan Duursema (as well as others) have been crafting Star Wars tales for more than a decade now and know the property inside and out. Brian Wood recently joined the Star Wars team with his well received book set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and he is relatively well known in comics circles so he may be given a new book to write under the Marvel banner. The others, despite their years of experience, I strongly suspect will be replaced by some of Marvel's in-house crew. Which is disappointing, but that is just the way business works. John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, who have worked together for a long time now on Star Wars, may team up for a creator-owned book or be shifted over to one of the other Dark Horse properties. At least I hope so, since I love their combined talent. As for the others? I have no clue, but I believe they will find their feet on new books, either at Dark Horse or elsewhere.

The other remaining question is what will happen to the back catalog of books? Dark Horse has published a fairly extensive array of Star Wars comics since they acquired the license all those years ago, and it would be a shame to see them go out of print. I am sure there is something in their contract which accounts for this, but the details are unknown to us watching from the sidelines. I imagine most of the books will remain in print, but whether under the Dark Horse logo or the Marvel one is the underlying question. The old Marvel books from the 70s and 80s that Dark Horse gained the reprinting rights to a while back will probably revert back to Marvel, but the new catalog material is another matter. This is simply one of those "time will tell" situations, unfortunately.

Dark Horse losing the license at the end of 2014 will mark the end of an era for Star Wars, but that is not always a bad thing. With Disney having more direct control over the series we may see a much stronger focus on the comics with the heroes that we love, and less on random characters we have no connection with (which is both good and bad, I enjoyed the Knight Errant comics, but felt it lacked any weight since we did not know any of the characters). I expect we will see 2015 start with a massive push by Marvel and Disney with some big name comic creators taking the helm. That is a year off, though, and Dark Horse has until then to wow us with whatever they have left. We shall see what they have in store for Star Wars, and for us.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Trailer Thoughts

December 13, 2013

Posted by: James

When How to Train Your Dragon came out a few years ago I was in the camp who took a look at Dreamworks' track record (which, at the time, was largely centered around Shrek and a bunch of cheap Pixar knockoffs) and dismissed it as another weak cash grab. I was also in the camp who was terribly wrong about it. Even so, I ignored How to Train Your Dragon until well after its DVD release and was only finally drawn in when I got to hear a clip of the soundtrack. I am glad that I did since it has become one of my favorite movies from the last decade or so. Since then the mildly successful television show Dragons: Riders of Berk has been somewhat entertaining, but seeing as it is clearly intended for younger audiences it does not have quite the appeal of the movie. Now, however, several years later, we are getting our first glimpses of the first true sequel (of two planned) with the How to Train Your Dragon 2 trailer.

The first thing to note about the trailer is that some people online have made a bit of a stink about the fact that there is a potentially large spoiler revealed early on. Having seen the spoilery-trailer my opinion is that this really is not much of a spoiler at all, and in fact I thought it was something that had already been revealed about the movie -- but in hindsight this was just me making some assumptions based on casting decisions. Regardless, there is now a fan-cut trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 2 that has cut the spoiler from it, which I have linked below.

In any event, the story of How to Train Your Dragon 2 picks up five years after the first movie ends, presumably with the kids having become significantly more experienced in dragon training since then. The animation has certainly improved a lot in the four years since the original movie, and it was not exactly a low-budget affair the first time around. Most of this trailer focuses on our main character, Hiccup, and his dragon, Toothless. Seeing as Toothless really stole the show last time, and I would wager was a very large part of the film's success, focusing on the pair of them seems to be the right idea. The trailer really showcases how far things have come both technically and emotionally by making Toothless even more expressive than before. He is more doglike in his expressions this time around, whereas I would have said he was more catlike in the first movie, but that does seem to be the more appropriate way to approach his relationship with Hiccup. In the first movie they were first just getting to know each other and were a bit stand-offish, but now they are best buds completely comfortable in the other's company.

A bit could also be said for Cate Blanchett's new character, Valka, who gets several scenes in the trailer. Setup as a maybe-ally, maybe-enemy character her abilities at dragon-taming surpass even those of Hiccup, which is certainly an interesting direction to take with her. I am not sure what I think of her character design so far, but we have only really seen her in her battlegear so there is not much to go on. Her part in the trailer is fairly minimal, but important. Clearly she is going to be the focus of some important plots in the coming movie.

The last thing to talk about is the overall sense of action and adventure in the trailer. While most of the trailer is about Toothless and Hiccup's relationship and how they have grown since the first movie, there is also plenty of action to be had. A new villain has entered the picture, which I am presuming will be Drago Bludvist (voiced by Djimon Hounsou of Gladiator and Amistad fame), and he has armies at his command. What his motives are and exactly what kind of threat he will represent is yet to be seen, but judging by the battle that closes out the trailer it looks like he has considerable power.

This trailer does a good job of enticing fans of the original with new information, while making it seem exciting and fun to those who may not be familiar with the franchise. The animation is solid, the voice acting fits and the magic of the original does seem to still be present. We will have to wait for the full movie in June to see how it shakes out, but until then things are looking good for How to Train Your Dragon 2.

The spoiler-free trailer is here and the full, official trailer is here.

Jupiter Ascending Teaser Thoughts

December 10, 2013

Posted by: James

Jupiter Ascending is the latest movie endeavor from the Wachowski siblings, whose main claim to fame continues to be their creation of The Matrix trilogy. They have worked on a few other projects since The Matrix, but their overall impact on the Hollywood landscape has been rather minimal since that breakout hit in the 90s. Jupiter Ascending appears to return to the mold of The Matrix in passing, although enough differences appear to be there to separate the two.

The teaser, as you would expect, does not give many details, but it is enough to entice. Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is special in some form or other to an intergalactic empire, who send Caine (Channing Tatum) to rescue her from Earth and bring her to them. Sean Bean also plays a role, possibly as a mentor to Caine, and I am always a fan of seeing Bean get more work. The details of exactly who Jupiter is and what her importance is to this space empire is not revealed, but we get enough to know that people/aliens want to kill her over it, too.

There are certainly hints of a Matrix-esque plot to the teaser, although seemingly taken in a different direction. The core of the story follows the same Alice in Wonderland motif of being led into a broader, stranger world that so permeated The Matrix, with perhaps a hint of Snow White's tale of being hidden from a greater destiny. Granted that neither Alice in Wonderland nor Snow White have anything approaching a lock on those themes, but the designs of Jupiter Ascending do evoke a certain Disney-through-Star-Wars lens, while The Matrix was pretty much dripping with Alice in Wonderland imagery. The Wachowskis have not struck the same gold that they did with The Matrix in any of their subsequent works (including to the two Matrix sequels, and assorted spin-offs), so maybe it would not be such a bad idea to tap into that well again. We will have to wait and see just how far down the rabbit hole the two stories travel together.

The Wachowski siblings have always been known for their rather stylized cinematography, and Jupiter Ascending certainly does seem to continue that trend. Brief glimpses of kinetic fight sequences draw favorable comparisons to V for Vendetta and The Matrix, while their alien worlds are just different enough from ours to make everything seem just a bit off. They have a very strong grasp of how to use color and perspective to frame an audiences perspective, and that shows through in the trailer. Fortunately the dull, dark shades of The Matrix seem to be replaced with a more full color palette, so the lessons of the past seem to be seeping in as well.

Prior to this teaser I knew very little of Jupiter Ascending beyond that it existed, and if we are being fair I know only marginally more than that now. But what I do know is that this movie is worth keeping an eye on, and come July next year I suspect I will be watching my first Wachowski film in the theaters since.

You can check out the teaser on YouTube.

Thoughts on the X-Men Apocalypse Movie

December 8, 2013

Posted by: James

Even though X-Men: Days of Future Past is still half a year away Sony has gone ahead and announced that its sequel, tentatively titled X-Men: Apocalypse, is on its way in 2016. I suppose it is not too surprising in this day and age to have sequels announced before the original even lands (we already have a rough idea of what is following Avengers: Age of Ultron even though that is two years out), but it does still feel a bit awkward. It may also inadvertently spoil a bit of Days of Future Past, though I suspect we are looking at fairly minor details at best in regards to that given that Apocalypse was never part of the Days of Future Past storyline (he did not exist yet). No, I suppose the bigger problem here is that we are going with Apocalypse at all, which is a risky proposition at best.

While it is true that one of the best (if not the best) X-Men stories of the 90s centered largely around Apocalypse himself, the story itself is not notable for Apocalypse but rather for the dystopic reality that had overtaken the regular X-Men universe. Apocalypse was the keystone that caused it, but to be quite frank he was fairly interchangeable and it could just as easily have been any number of other villains. No, the problem with Apocalypse is that he is a poorly defined character with a rather weak motive: survival of the fittest by trying to kill everybody. There never really seems to be any reason for his desire to "cull the weak" except that it offends him that they exist. Sure that gives you a good reason to throw in some epic, large scale battles, but it does not provide much of a theme to wrap it around. Magneto wants to secure the safety of mutants by wiping out or enslaving humanity, Ultron wants to create a world run by machines and Dr. Octopus just wants people to acknowledge his genius. Hell, even Thanos has a better motive, and he wants pretty much the exact same thing as Apocalypse -- he just wants to do it so he can woo Death (yes, the abstract concept) and become her consort. Even that is a more interesting hook than "kill everyone and see who survives".

The biggest problem with Apocalypse, though, is that he is just plain uninteresting. He has a ho-hum (if rather weird) design, motives that are only charitably called one-dimensional, and powers which are so broadly defined that I frankly could not even tell you what they are beyond some form of shapeshifting and energy blasts. They seem to change every time he appears in the comics. More often than not the "show, don't tell" rule is broken with Apocalypse. We are told frequently that he is a super powerful menace who could destroy the world, but so very rarely do we ever see it. Indeed, most of the action in the comics that we get comes from his henchmen fighting the heroes, not Apocalypse himself.

His henchmen, though, are part of what makes Apocalypse interesting. Or, at least, the idea of him. I suspect we are still going to have at least some allusion to Mr. Sinister (and that's a whole bag of worms on its own) and the four horsemen of Apocalypse (Death, Pestilence, Famine and War). He might have armies to call on, too, but that normally is not his style. I will come back to the horsemen shortly since they are potentially a bright spot to the movie, but let us focus on Sinister for a while. Mr. Sinister has always been a faintly ridiculous concept (as you would expect from a guy who actually calls himself Mr. Sinister). It makes more sense if you know that the original idea was for Sinister to actually be the mental projection of a child who was imaging how he thought a villain should be -- that's actually kind of a cool concept. Instead, though, we are saddled with a geneticist psycho who tends to pop up in stories, say something indicating that he is manipulating events, and then piss off for another three years. The most recent incarnation of him in Uncanny X-Men was actually really interesting, with Sinister remade as a wannabe 19th century British aristocrat bent on remaking the world in his image. That I could watch an entire movie of, since it was a fantastic book. I suspect, though, that the scheming, annoying Sinister is what we will get.

The four horsemen are the real hook of Apocalypse though. The original Horsemen were fairly generic characters with little to recommend for them, except for Death. In the early 80s the original X-Men (Beast, Angel, Cyclops, Jean Gray and Iceman) split off from the X-Men to form their own team, called X-Factor. During one of their early battles Angel was wounded severely and lost his wings as a result. Later he was apparently on a plane when it exploded, except that he was not actually on it and Apocalypse saved him. The price for this was that Angel became the fourth horseman, Death. He was eventually rehabilitated by X-Factor and rejoined them as Archangel, but ever since then the role of Death (and sometimes the other Horsemen, too) has been traditionally taken over by a fallen hero. Wolverine, Gambit and Banshee have all worn the mantle of Death at one time or another, while the Hulk has become War and Cyclops even became Apocalypse himself for a while. If the movie does decide to go this route we could get some very interesting fight scenes and emotional moments. Watch for at least one notable character to die in X-Men: Days of Future Past in preparation for them taking the role of Death in X-Men: Apocalypse (that is total speculation on my part). My money is on Wolverine, since it would make for an interesting character arc going through Apocalypse.

What this all adds up to is not very much, though. It is all pure speculation, and what we see in Days of Future Past may well turn everything we know on its head. Still, it is an odd choice to be sure, and one that will merit watching as details start to be revealed. Until then, it may well be worth taking a trip through the Age of Apocalypse one more time.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Batman/Superman

December 7, 2013

Posted by: James

My initial reaction to the news that Gal Gadot would be playing Wonder Woman in the upcoming Batman/Superman crossover movie was "who?" I doubt very much that I am alone in that question. My second reaction was to wonder why Wonder Woman is not getting higher billing in the title, although it is possible that her role in the movie is minimal (and then again, maybe not). She is, after all, the third member of DC's trinity (the other two being Batman and Superman), and pretty much the only female hero that the vast majority of people could name in either the Marvel or DC universe (Black Widow may join that list now, thanks to the Avengers, but how about before that?). I guess that does not merit much of a mention, though.

Wonder Woman is a character that has had a bit of a tumultuous past in terms of movies and television shows. There was the well received show in the 70s starring Lynda Carter, of course, but after that she pretty much dropped off the radar. She did feature in the Justice League cartoon series of the 90s, but even after that her appearances have been relegated to cameos. She never even appeared in any of the ten seasons of DC's hit show, Smallville (though Lois Lane did dress up as Wonder Woman for Halloween in one episode). Even Aquaman made it into Smallville, but Wonder Woman was only ever mentioned in passing. There have been persistent rumors of the CW trying to get a Wonder Woman show off the ground in the style of Smallville or Arrow, but none have made it past the pilot stage so far.

The problem with Wonder Woman has always been a matter of identity. While we typically associate her with the American way, she is actually Greek with ties to the ancient Hellenic mythology. Her best stories tend to come from exploring her mythology, rather than with her doing typical superheroing or being part of the Justice League. Other than a well received run in the 80s by George Perez, her comics have largely existed simply because they have existed. Even some of today's best writers like Greg Rucka had a hard time giving her a focus. It is a sad commentary when you note that the two biggest pieces of news surrounding her in the last decade were first that her costume was redesigned so that she was wearing actual pants instead of a star-spangled bikini bottom (and the Internet was furious), and that she shared a kiss with Superman. What does it say about a character when the parts we focus on are what she wears and who she goes out with? Especially when she is supposedly a symbol of feminism?

What does any of this have to do with Gal Gadot? Well, nothing really. But that also pretty much sums up what I know about her: nothing. She was in a few of the Fast and the Furious movies, which I gathered from the press release announcing her as Wonder Woman, and that is the extent of it. That could be a good thing, though. We have our high profile actor in Ben Affleck, and Henry Cavill has already played Superman so he is at least recognized in the role, so a lesser known actress could help ground the movie. It is also a bit difficult to picture many of Hollywood's leading ladies in the Wonder Woman role, so allowing someone to take the position and make it her own is encouraging. Will she be good in the role? I do not know, but I am certainly willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.