Meeting Stan Lee

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15 July 2014.

Stan Lee June 2014

In comic book fandom, there is only one true living legend. Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are just a few of the co-creations of Stan “The Man” Lee. At the spritely age of ninety one, Lee was recently on our shores for his farewell world tour, and I was one of 50,800 fans who attended the Supanova Pop Culture Expo just to be in the same room as the creator of the Marvel Universe. I actually did a little better than that, also having the opportunity to have a photo with and obtain an autograph from “Smilin'” Stan Lee.

As the Game of Thrones travelling exhibition proved (I came, I saw the queue, I went home), being a lover of pop culture often means enduring long waits, and Supanova was no exception. Even with my reasonably expensive “True Believer” pass, I was still subject to queues which snaked across the immense concrete floor of what is normally the food pavilion of the Royal Easter Show. It was impossible to get lost. There was a plethora of kooky volunteers to prod you into a single file, and the seemingly never ending masking tape arrows at your feet would see you to the superstar guest of you choice, eventually.

I was quite amazed at the efficiency of the celebrity photography outfit at Supanova. It was literally get in, drop your bags, get drenched, er, I mean smile, get out and collect your glossy photo. Proudly sporting my new lycra Spidey tee, I approached Mr Lee who was comfortably seated on a bar stool. I posed, we smiled, there was a flash and a treasured memento for my living room was made. I was quite chuffed when Stan muttered, “Good work.” Hey, who is going to turn down positive feedback from the revered co-creator of Doctor Strange?

The autograph process was much the same. Luckily for me, my pass allowed me to bypass the extremely lengthy general admission queue and join the “True Believer” queue. Sigh. Standing in line at a pop culture convention is never boring. There are always interesting geeks, who know more about Doctor Who than should be legal, to converse with, as well as costumed cosplayers to admire (or not as the case may be – portly Picard I’m talking about you).

At the head of the line, I hastily unfurled my limited edition print (Stan fighting off a Mars Attacks alien with a typewriter) and was waved on to meet “The Man” again. Seconds later I was on my way with an authentic Stan Lee signature (I paid extra for a sticker that says so) and a brief story about how the typewriter on the poster is a depiction of the original typewriter that he used until his ex-wife broke it, and that was why she was his ex-wife. I assume that was a joke.

The highlight of my day was a filled to capacity Q & A session where Lee bounced around the stage, captivating the audience with tales of Marvel’s early years, the origins of now iconic super heroes and his favourite creation (for the record, it is Spider-Man). I just hope that when I am ninety one, I will still have such passion for my work. Forget that, I hope that I still have a passion for anything. I also hope that thousands of geeks will pay hundreds of dollars to get my autograph and have photos with me, as I relax in a chair. Excelsior!!

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Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 15:02  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 27th May 2014.

After a lacklustre second sequel, an enjoyable prequel and two disappointing Wolverine solo outings, director Bryan Singer returns to take over the reigns of the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Combining the retro cast of X-Men: First Class (2013) and many of the significant characters from the original, Singer has crafted a mega lineup of mutants that should have any comic film fan salivating. The time bending plot will not disappoint. Unfortunately, as is the way with these sorts of features, not everyone gets enough screen time to satisfy.

In the distant future, mutant exterminating machines called Sentinels have almost wiped out all of the X-Men. A rag tag group of survivors led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) realise that their whole situation is a direct result of the assassination of the creator of the Sentinel programme, Dr Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in the seventies. Using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) time travelling powers, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to convince Professor Xavier and Magneto’s younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) to put their issues aside and fight to save the future.

Although a welcome presence on the screen, I’m not entirely sure how it is that Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier is alive and well in this film. Last seen being blown into smithereens in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), he then popped up in the post-credits sequence of The Wolverine (2013) with no explanation. I assume his mind control is so great that he can will himself back into existence. In that case, why not also fix your legs and get rid of the wheelchair? Never mind.

Bookended by scenes in the future, the majority of the film takes place in the seventies. Fish out of water Wolverine (Jackman absolutely inhabiting his signature character) attempting to bring the warring parties together leads to many memorable moments, in particular an excellent sequence featuring Quicksiver (Evan Peters) slowing time to ensure Magneto’s breakout from the Pentagon. McAvoy and Fassbender bring back their chemistry as the feuding mutant leaders but once again, Jennifer Lawrence proves that she can steal a movie from anyone. She looks great in blue body paint too.

Hot from Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage is charismatic as the porno ‘tached Trask. Perfectly cast, it is significant that his lack of stature is not even mentioned in the film.

Back to the future (Marty), Stewart, McKellan and Halle Berry’s Storm have little in the way of dialogue, which is a shame for the two former and not so much for the latter. In fact, the biggest chunk of dialogue Stewart gets is in the much anticipated scene with McAvoy as the older (and balder) Xavier meets his younger counterpart. Like the iconic scene in Heat which saw De Niro finally share the screen with Pacino, the double Professor X scene is brief but noteworthy.

The CGI heavy action sequences are well done, with the imposing Sentinels particularly threatening. The scenes set in the future are quite dark, which might frustrate those viewing in 3D (I went to a 2D screening).

With an impressive array of cameos, Singer certainly knows how to craft a compelling X-Men tale. I don’t find his directorial style to be distinctive at all, but I suppose it is comforting to know that all of the franchise entries have the same look and feel. I don’t know if that’s a criticism of other franchise directors Brett Ratner, Matthew Vaughn, Gavin Hood and James Mangold, or a compliment to Singer’s obvious influence on the X-Men movies.

From a storytelling perspective, the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past make the plots of the original trilogy redundant. I suppose this splitting of timelines ala the recent Star Trek reboot will allow for more stories to be told, but I dislike my previous investment in the earlier movies to have gone to waste.

Comixology: comics digital style

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th July 2013.

I’ve always loved comics. As a kid, I’d arrive at the bus stop early and browse the comic racks at the newsagency. Each week I’d receive my allowance and put aside just enough money to purchase a comic, which I would read on my way to school and reread on the return journey. I would then file the comic safely away in a shoebox where I presumed it would stay for years under my bed until it became valuable. What I didn’t know at the time was that the price the newsagent scribbled on the front cover in black marker rendered the comic worthless then and forever.

A couple of years ago, I found myself in a financial position (pre-mortgage, of course) that allowed me to have the latest comics delivered weekly from a specialist store in Sydney. Every Friday, I’d receive a package of crisp, mint condition books. I’d carefully read them before they were sealed inside acid free bags and then transferred to a comic storage box where I presumed they would stay for years in my spare room until they became valuable. What I didn’t know at the time was that there are thousands and thousands of nerds around the world doing exactly the same thing and that the vast majority of comics decrease in value over time. Only limited condition covers and pristine first editions are worth collecting.

Several thousands of dollars later, I realised that what I actually enjoyed was following the adventures of Batman, Superman and other superheroes with their underwear on the outside, not the actual physical act of collecting comics. And that’s why I’m now hooked on the Comics iPad app by Comixology.

Comixology is a platform for purchasing, reading and collecting digital comics. Both DC and Marvel sell digital editions of their printed products, as well as digital exclusive titles, through Comixology. Many major independent publishers also participate. Once you buy a comic, it stays in your virtual collection forever and is accessible via multiple devices (smartphone, tablet and PC). Actually, similar to music collections on iTunes, you are only licensing the comics for your own personal use until you die. You can’t bequeath your comic collection to anyone else.

One of the great features of the Comixology platform is the patent pending “guided view” technology, which allows the reader to follow the action panel by panel, replicating the normal action of the eye when reading a printed comic page. Both golden age and brand new comics look great in HD.

At the moment I am thoroughly enjoying The X-Files Season 10, which sees Mulder and Scully continuing to search for the truth following the events of the final episode of the TV series. I’m also keen on the ongoing adventures of the new movie universe USS Enterprise crew in Star Trek. The Walking Dead remains a perennial favourite. I’ve also just discovered Batman ’66 which continues the campy trials and tribulations of the Adam West caped crusader universe. Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:15  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: Iron Man 3

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th April 2013.

Avengers assemble again…in an orderly fashion over the next two years!! Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has begun in earnest with the first of four superhero movies rolling out of the Walt Disney Pictures factory this past week. Iron Man 3 will be followed in October by Thor: The Dark World. Next we have Captain America: The Winter Soldier in April next year, then Guardian of the Galaxy in August, before the superhero mothership mark 2, otherwise known as The Avengers 2, lands on May 1 2015.

The good news is that Iron Man 3 maintains the fun quotient set by its predecessors and isn’t a letdown following the smashingly brilliant geekout that was The Avengers. The storyline picks up directly after the Chitauri invasion of New York and finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) unable to sleep following his near death experience free falling from the alien portal. To keep busy, he has designed a further 35 armours, as you do, and is experimenting with a mind-controlled version (Mark 42 for the nerds). A mysterious terrorist attack masterminded by The Mandarin brings Stark back into action as he confronts a new enemy and his own demons.

The challenge for new director to the franchise Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was finding a villain menacing enough to follow an evil alien race. To his credit, he manages to find two, in Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin and Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. Kingsley is joyously over the top (and very non-Asian) in a role reminiscent of his turn as The Hood in the terrible Thunderbirds movie. Pearce also seems to be carving a niche for himself in the movie villains department with yet another crazy moustache twirling bad guy, following a similar role in last year’s Lawless.

Alongside the dependable RDJ, Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow return as James Rhodes and Pepper Potts, respectively. Original franchise director Jon Favreau also reappears briefly as newly appointed Stark Head of Security, Happy Hogan. It’s a testament to the quality of the film, and the whole Marvel Universe franchise generally, that a balance has been found in the storytelling which allows each major character to have their moment in the spotlight and not get lost in a plethora of villains and minor characters.

As with most major Hollywood tentpole releases, Iron Man 3 is available in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX versions. Filmed in 2D and post-converted, the movie is not a remarkable 3D experience and after a few minutes I forgot about it altogether.

Tony Stark is armour free for the middle third of the film, and it was a refreshing contrast to enjoy a superhero using his brains rather than his brawn, or his powered suit of high tech weaponry in this case. Of course, fans of mega-armoured suit battles aboard oil rigs will particularly enjoy the finale. A rescue of multiple passengers falling from a crippled Air Force One is also exhilarating.

Make sure you stay right to the end of the credits for the traditional Marvel Movie Universe bonus scene. It’s a corker.

A healthy blend of action, humour and melodrama, set in a comfortable, now familiar universe, makes Iron Man 3 a winner in the superhero stakes.

Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 17:51  Leave a Comment  
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