Thursday, July 17, 2008

Overheard While Listening to K-Billy's "Super Sounds of the Seventies"

I listened to part one of the Quentin Tarantino discussion on An Alan Smithee Podcast (episode 3) last week. It amounts to a rather scathing indictment of Tarantino's career. But, I never got a clear picture from the hosts -- Matthew Hurwitz and Andrew Wickliffe -- why they were savaging the filmmaker's body of work. They admit to enjoying his work when it first came out, but they clearly despise those same films and the filmmaker now.

It seems one day film buffs were winking right back at Tarantino because they were in on the fact that the filmmaker was lifting from other films. The next day they were cutting off his ear and pouring gasoline on the wound because of it. Where this sensibility shift took place, and why, would have been a more insightful topic to explore.

I enjoy
Tarantino's movies, but I didn't come to his body of work until six years ago when it was getting the special edition treatment on DVD. Because of my enthusiasm for the DVD medium back in the early 2000s, I picked up True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown when they were released in August and September of 2002. Those first four movies were blind buys -- I had not seen them prior to purchasing them. I bought them on the strength of the reviews I read on DVD forums touting both storytelling and technical quality. All of these movies still entertain me. And so does Kill Bill, Volume 1 and Volume 2, the only Tarantino movies I've seen in the theater.

Tarantino takes a lot of crap for lifting source material and plopping it down in his movies. But by the time I came to Tarantino's work, his borrowing was well-known and self-acknowledged. So I never held it against him. In fact, I'm glad he uncovered for me these other genres and styles I might not have been exposed to otherwise. Hero, a "Quentin Tarantino Presents" movie, is another DVD blind buy. And it's a gorgeous, lush film I never would have known about if I hadn't been in the throes of the DVD culture and enjoying Tarantino's movies so much at the time.

Unaccredited appropriation of another's work is a slippery slope of ethical and legal problems. But it doesn't sound like that's what the Alan Smithee boys are up in arms about. It sounds like they are kids who enjoyed Tarantino's stuff, then grew up to be on-line film critics and are embarrassed about their past taste in movies.

I started to listen to part two of their Tarantino podcast (episode 4) yesterday, but at the 12-minute mark, Hurwitz said that around the time Kill Bill was released Tarantino was "losing the affections of the elite, like us" [my emphasis]. I turned it off right there and switched over to some music. I don't have a problem with changing and evolving tastes. What I don't understand, though, is the scathing rebuke of something one admittedly loved once upon a time seemingly for the sake of waving a self-important critic's flag.

I don't know either of the podcast hosts personally, but I enjoy Andrew's work on his two sites, The Stop Button and Comics Fondle, and have corresponded with him on occasion. I will tune in to An Alan Smithee Podcast again to hear what the hosts have to say, but I'm hoping future episodes are more than soapbox rants.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Captain America Omnibus

With today's Marvel Noise podcast comes a spoiler-filled edition of "Marvel Unbound". Here on Random Thoughts Escaping is a written version of the installment. Feel free to join the conversation about this in the Marvel Noise forum "Marvel Unbound" thread. Enjoy!

Last spring I was going through old comics from the Original Collection and reading trade paperbacks of some of the classic storylines I knew and loved as a kid. I wasn't reading any current runs at the time. My only cause for going to the local comic shop was to pick up copies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight for my wife. (And she was the one who tracked down the comic shop in the first place.) Then I caught wind of the death of Captain America. I think I read it on CNN.com first, then dug around some more. It was the second wave of publicity around the event -- this time promoting the Director's Cut release of Captain America #25. I picked it up July Forth weekend and never looked back.

Well, that's not altogether true. I did look back... and read the Captain America Omnibus. What an incredible anthology. I have been consistently blown away by the work of Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Mike Perkins. They are a large reason for my being back into the comic book culture. It's likely I would never have pursued things further if I hadn't enjoyed what I found on the pages of Captain America, and my wallet wouldn't be as thin as it is now.

The Captain America Omnibus provided yet another way to lighten my bank account, but it offered a great way to catch up on what I had missed up to the point where I jumped on board. This beast collects the first 25 issues of Brubaker's run on the title in a single hardcover volume.

This title is so much more than just a "super-hero" comic. Brubaker offers up an amazing mystery and spy story set to Epting and Perkin's beautiful visual score. From the very first issue the medium is elevated by the apparent death of Cap's longtime nemesis, the Red Skull (handled with a twist clever enough to stifle a groan when revealed), and the way the introduction of the Winter Soldier is handled, all the way through to the death of Captain America in the last collected issue.

Brubaker's handling of these three very key, highly-charged plot points helped soothe a potentially shattered fan base. The status quo has always been that only Uncle Ben, the Stacys, and Bucky stay dead in the Marvel Universe. Then Brubaker goes and resurrects Bucky... as an assassin! Instead of providing background (both old and new canon) in one helping, Brubaker opts for a slow-burn reveal that unfolds over the course of nearly a year's worth of books, with flashbacks beautifully set off in black and white by Epting and Perkins.

There are stand-alone stories within the larger continuity collected here, like the "Interlude: The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe" issue (#7) and the "House of M" issue (#10), along with the "65th Anniversary Special" and "Winter Soldier: Winter Kills" one-shots. Good stuff. Not to mention Nick Fury, The Falcon, Agent 13, Iron Man, Union Jack -- they all show up here in just the right doses.

The dark tone of the book is matched panel-for-panel with Epting's tough, gritty visuals. And the world Cap's inhabiting is all the better for it. As much as I love Epting's work here (I mean, his art has me believing in flying cars for Pete's sake!), the one-off artists also do a fantastic job, particularly Lee Weeks on the "Winter Soldier: Winter Kills" story.

The extras in the omnibus are plentiful, as one would expect from a collection like this, and if you're a fan of Marvel Spotlight interviews then you've just hit the mother lode. There are multiple interviews with both Brubaker and Epting reprinted here, along with the full script of issue #25, and some great sketches, design evolution, and covers by Epting. One of the coolest extras is a short, two-page spread on the media frenzy that took place around issue #25.

Collecting the first two-years of the title under one cover, the Captain America Omnibus is a mammoth tome. Almost to the point of being a bit unwieldy. This is the first and only Marvel Omnibus I have, and it's about as far away from a monthly book as you can get -- hardback, dust-jacketed, 700 or so pages. It's a beast, but worth the investment in time, money, and effort.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Deus 7: Knowing is Half the Battle

Although it is the title with the most issues in the Original Collection, G.I. Joe is also one of the most out of character titles for my personality. I was finally able to sit down and capture my thoughts on the topic, and the result is another Deus ex Comica published at Field's Edge today. Part seven, "A Real American Hero", is an exploration of influence and pop culture on a personal level that builds off of my thoughts in the previous installment, "Marvel 1985". As with so many of these looks back at my mid-'80s comic collecting, I also expose Mark as an accomplice to my fascination with this book.

Sunday, July 13, 2008