Thursday, February 28, 2008

Zombies Are So Played Out

I don't know about you but I'm tired of zombies. Take MARVEL ZOMBIES 2 as a case in point.

You might not be familiar with MARVEL ZOMBIES, but in brief:

Spun off from ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR, this five-issue miniseries shows a world where a zombie virus has run rampant, turning the superbeings of that Earth into ravening zombies. Humanity is reduced to a tiny remnant; the zombies-- including Giant-Man, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Wolverine and more-- are distracted from squabbling over the last few survivors by the intrusion of their biggest challenge yet: Galactus.

The first miniseries has plenty of great moments. The heroes, gathered into a bickering collective who fight each other over food, are driven by their need to feed. Once that need is sated, they are (briefly) once more in command of their faculties-- and their reactions run the gamut from self-loathing (Spider-Man) to pragmatism (Colonel America) to cold-blooded ruthlessness (Giant-Man). Robert Kirkman brought out the true horror of these heroic individuals trapped in circumstances that reduce them to monsters... and they do monstrous things anyway.

MZ2 picks up the story decades later, as the most powerful zombie-heroes (augmented by Phoenix, Firelord, Gladiator and others) are returning to Earth, where Black Panther, Forge and a few remaining Acolytes lead what's left of the human race. There are power struggles within the human and zombie camps both, as well as treachery and a sick recreation of a bygone hero. What will the zombies do when they find the last source of food in the cosmos? And do the handful of humans, mutants and allies have a prayer against them?

I liked the first miniseries a lot and gave it a great review. Dark, disturbing and yet blackly humorous, it was everything-goes-bad in concentrated doses of nastiness.

The new mini? Not so much. I don't know if writer Robert Kirkman got bored with the premise or I've just seen one too many Arthur Suydam zombified cover recreations, but I'm disenchanted with the concept. The heroes are less vividly drawn, with only Spider-Man reflecting any sense of regret at basically having eaten the universe; they're basically sick of each other and long only for new universes to devour. The humans and mutants on Earth don't have much going on, either, with Black Panther resorting to truly drastic means of preserving his rule. But there's something missing-- maybe the story is pushed too far into the future, maybe the stakes are too all-or-nothing, but it feels flat compared to the original.

Or maybe I've gotten my fill, and my appetite for undead savagery has been satiated.
Here's hoping Marvel puts the zombies back in the box and moves ahead to new ideas. Frankly, it's time for the dead to stay that way.

UPDATE: In thinking it over, I figured out what part of it is. The first miniseries ties into a key Marvel moment: the coming of Galactus. How it's resolved is gruesome but entirely in keeping with the story's premise--especially given that that world's Fantastic Four was being detained in Ultimate Marvel's Earth at the time. They can't fall back in Reed's genius (or the Ultimate Nullifier) to save the day.

In short, the storyline is something we've seen before but with a very horrific twist.

The story we see in MZ2 is NOT something that ties in to a key Marvel moment-- reinterpreting Marvel history the way Suydam has reinterpreted classic covers-- and that may be why it falls flat. It's not like a "zombie replay" of Days of Future Past or the Kree-Skrull War or the Korvac Saga or Civil War or World War Hulk... anything like that... so there's no emotional resonance. Just the sight of a pitiful remnant of humanity and a few zombie heroes facing a turning point. In other words, meh.

Artwork by Arthur Suydam, copyright Marvel Comics, all rights reserved

Need to get some pictures uploaded...

Hey everyone!
We have some snapshots of the kittens to upload-- been meaning to do that for awhile now but have been 1) trying to get back to the gym a LOT more often and 2) trying to get more writing done. When the muse is there, the blog suffers.
Still, I hope you'll keep on reading and check back to see shots of Chrissy and Janet.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Review Preview: LAMPLIGHTER by DM Cornish

For the full review, see SFRevu in April!

Rossamund Bookchild narrowly survived his journey to become a lamplighter in Foundling, book one of Monster-Blood Tattoo by D.M. Cornish. Now he's reached his destination-- but what new dangers await this orphan boy?

Training to become a lamplighter, Rossamund makes new friends-- such as the irascible girl-lighter Threnody and half-mad but lovable Numps--while inadvertantly delving into a plot that endangers the whole Empire. Can he survive being posted to the furthest, most dangerous billet the lamplighters have to offer? And what mysteries surround Rossamund himself?

D.M. Cornish continues to astound and delight in this second novel. It might be a bit intimidating for a series to jump from 300 pages (in Foundling) to 600 pages in Lamplighter, but the tale is engaging and the narrative compelling from start to finish. The summary above barely does justice to the extended subplots, engagements, elements and information-packed chapters of the story; it is a lush tale, set in a deeply-realized and refreshingly original fantasy world.

Cornish also liberally spices up the story with his own pencil artwork, as well as an elaborate series of appendices (which are greatly welcome, considering how many esoteric terms he creates). Readers truly get their money's worth in this volume.

Cornish has devised an intricate mystery at the heart of the story so far, one that is playing out at a leisurely pace. What is the secret of the dark trades, which undermine the law and order of the Haacobin Empire? And why is Europe so intent on Rossamund's service that she... well, that part would be telling.

In any event, this delightful, adventurous and wholly original series is certain to please even the most demanding readers.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Odd Turn Ahead for a Writing Project

I've been wrestling with one piece of writing-- a novel-- for a long while. The ideas weren't gelling; at best, they felt kind of thin and at worst, they felt like a bad pastiche of dark urban fantasy writers I enjoy reading.

Got a new idea this past weekend, however, and am eager to try it out.

If all works well, I'll post a snippet of MIRABILIS on the blog in the next few days. Give it a read and let me know what you think. I'll be eager to hear your comments!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Busy Week Indeed

Well, it's Friday and I'm thankful, be it to God, the Greco-Roman pantheon, what have you.
Tuesday was the hardest day-- getting the kittens to the vet to get spayed, getting myself to DC to undergo "shockwave" therapy for that miserable kidney super-stone, then voting in the primary and home. Kat took off from work to make sure I got back to the condo, for which she has my boundless gratitude.
Wednesday wasn't so bad, catching up at work and all, but Thursday-- well, yesterday was rough. I'd left my painkillers at home and sure enough, Valentine's Day afternoon found me with a flareup of kidney stone-like discomfort, escalating toward real pain.
Kat emailed that she was leaving work at 3:20, so it was easier for me to decide it was time to head home.
Left work at 4pm and went to Alexandria, only to find Kat was still in DC. Miscommunications abounded, leaving me to go to the condo and pick up our paperwork for the kittens, after which I walked about a mile to the vets to pick them up.
Kat and I could not believe how wonderful it was having them home, and the kittens seemed to agree--they never left our sides last night, purring and head-butting and showing us in every way how glad they were to be back. We have to take them in a week or so to get the stitches removed, which is probably about the time I'll need to go back for a follow-up with my doctor. (BTW, Dr. Shin, my urologist, absolutely rocks. Probably the coolest doctor I've ever had.)
Anyway, been a tough week for me and the kittens-- and not that great for Kat either. But this week we have friends coming to visit Saturday and Sunday, plus a day off Monday, so that isn't so bad.
Hope you have a great weekend too!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Been Awhile!

Hey folks, been awhile since I last posted, but I've been busy.
First up, I'm working on a ton of reviews (already) for March's SFRevu. We had an editorial conference on Sunday and figured out a bunch of upcoming stuff, much of which involves yours truly. Got a lot of legwork to do this next week.
Not only that but:
1- the kittens are getting spayed tomorrow;
2- our condo is getting sprayed tomorrow (taking advantage of the kittens' absence to do a thorough bug-bombing);
3- we have our Virginia primary tomorrow;
4- I'm going to coordinate a big interview in BPD and SFRevu to support the new Wild Cards website from Tor and comic from Dabel Bros.;
5- probably have "shockwave" therapy for a kidney stone (one that is doing some internal harm) on Wednesday;
6- gotta try to set up an interview with Ray Bradbury this month;
7- I get to sleep sometime around Thursday.

As you can see, a lot going on.
Hope you're all doing great and that you'll comment soon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Some interesting reviews coming up

Hey folks-

I have some fun stuff to review in the weeks and months ahead.

One item is the Wild Cards sourcebook, written by John Joseph Miller for the Mutants & Masterminds game. SFRevu will run the review and an interview with JJM to coincide with the book's release in June.

I'm also going to review the new Justice League: New Frontier DVD, as well as Small Favor (Dresden Files #10) by Jim Butcher, Dark Wraith of Shannara by Terry Brooks, Robert Napton and Edwin David, and a bunch more that are slipping my mind at the moment. Still, a lot of stuff coming up!

Stay tuned and check back here real soon.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Just... wow.
That last 2:40 minutes had it all. Drama, intensity, the fate of the game hanging on a single throw--I think I didn't take a breath for about a full minute. Might explain why I was a little woozy afterward.
I'm glad the Giants won. Not that I have anything against the Patriots, but the Giants came through a very rough year and the Patriots seemed to be the anointed ones--and who doesn't want to see a game that is 1) exciting and 2) ends in a massive upset? If the Pats had cruised to victory, it would have been another ho-hum game, more remarkable for the commercials than the action on the field.
As for the commercials...

  • I liked the Iron Man trailer a LOT. I'm more excited to see this by the day.
  • Didn't get to see all of the Leatherheads trailer but what I saw looked fun.
  • The Bud Light commercial with the Clydesdale in training was charming.
  • Ditto the Coke commercial with a surprise cameo at the very end (wasn't that balloon retired 30 years ago?)
  • ...and that's about all I can think of off the top of my head.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were solid and family-friendly entertainment, but showcasing a band playing 20+ yr old hits is pretty far from cutting edge. Did you have to dial it back so much, post-Janet 'n' Justin? Sheesh.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Spiderwick Review

Kat and I went to see a sneak preview of The Spiderwick Chronicles last night.

You know how you're nervous that a movie won't live up to the source material? That you'll see a lesser work, "inspired by" something really terrific? Well, it's about ten times worse when you know the writer and are really hoping against hope that Hollywood got it right.

Have no fear-- Spiderwick is not that movie.

Based on the series by Holly Black and Tony diTerlizzi, and featuring Freddie Highmore as Simon and Jared Grace, Sarah Bolger as their older sister Mallory, Mary-Louise Parker as their mom, Nick Nolte as Mulgarath, and David Strathairn as Arthur Spiderwick, the film is truly magical.

The story in brief: the Grace family has moved into an old, run-down country house left to the mother (Parker) by her Aunt Lucinda (the magnificent Joan Plowright), who is in a sanatarium. Lucinda's father, Arthur Spiderwick (Strathairn), was obsessed with fairies--and, she claims, one day they took him away. Now the Graces--Mallory (Bolger) and her twin brothers, Simon and Jared (Highmore)-- are living in the house, since the breakup of their parents.

Simon is a student of nature, Mallory is an ardent student of fencing... and Jared is a student of troublemaking. Angry and sullen, Jared calls his father (Andrew McCarthy) over and over, begging to live with him instead. Jared hears something in the wall and accidentally discovers a long-forgotten room, where he finds Spiderwick's "Field Guild to the Fantastical World Around You." This book assembles everything Spiderwick learned about fairies--and it comes with a warning not to read, lest dire consequences befall.

Jared learns pretty quickly that the warning was a serious one. He meets Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short), the brownie/boggart guardian of the Field Guide, and learns that the ogre Mulgarath (Nolte) will stop at nothing to have the book for himself. With its knowledge, the ogre can destroy the other fairies and perhaps even attack the human world.

Jared stubbornly refuses to heed the warnings and reveals to goblin spies that the Field Guide has been found. This results in Simon's kidnapping, an attack on Mallory, and ultimately a goblin assault on the house itself. Unless Jared can find Arthur Spiderwick, it seems certain that the Grace family will meet its doom.

The movie begins with a flashback to Arthur Spiderwick's frantic effort to protect his book, then races forward 80 years to the Graces' arrival. Each character is drawn vividly from the very beginning, from Simon's zen-like pacifism and studiousness to Jared's angry tirades, Mallory's exasperated-but-affectionate older sister to Mrs. Grace's weary, slow-motion emotional breakdown. In ten minutes, we know who these people are. Highmore is absolutely fantastic as both Grace brothers, endowing each with their own distinctive speech patterns, mannerisms, even expressions, while Bolger is terrific as the older sister whose love for the brothers is only rivaled by her frustration with them. And Parker shines in a role that is particularly demanding: she's falling apart inside while struggling to keep herself together for the sake of her kids. She doesn't have a lot of screen time to get the point across, but she makes it clear what's going on.

The forward momentum never lets up, with the rapid-fire introduction of many characters in a short span of time. Seth Rogen does a hilarious turn as Hogsqueal, the hobgoblin out to avenge his family on Mulgarath, and Nolte has rarely been more menacing--either in human form or as the voice of the massive ogre.

One of the movie's true wonders is Joan Plowright, who invests Lucinda with luminous heart and soul despite a lifetime of sorrow and misunderstanding. Her story is a tragic one, but though told quickly, she invests her character with the sum of that story's unhappiness and desperate faith. She deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

This is a film made for children along the old Disney model: real danger, real challenges, and kids who have to find the answers for themselves. It is also a classic folk tale, wherein the heroes cannot triumph by superior strength; they must be smart and use the knowledge they've earned, winning by wits rather than muscles. On all these points, Spiderwick succeeds admirably.

Director Mark Waters brings out enchanting performances from his talented cast, but also creates an entire world of magical creatures in and around the huge Spiderwick house. It is a Herculean task to make the real fit side-by-side with the surreal, but Waters manages in terrific style. Likewise, screenwriters Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum and John Sayles deliver a taut, amazingly faithful adaptation of the books, capturing their essence in only an hour and a half--truly a great feat of screenwriting. If the new Spiderwick books are made into a movie, this team must be reassembled, because they know how to do it right.

Although scary for very young children, I believe this is a film that parents and their kids will watch over and over, enjoying its magic for many years to come.

Strongly recommended.

New for Wild Cards!

Big news, folks. Tor has launched the "American Hero" website, supporting INSIDE STRAIGHT, the new Wild Cards mosaic novel. If you read the book, you get part of the action--but this site (illustrated by Mike S. Miller, who was a buddy during my WildStorm days) promises to give you the whole story. The challenges, the confessionals, the ins and outs--so if you're a fan, you know you want to see this.

Check it out!