Talking about comic books, TV shows, movies, sports, and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Monday, February 27, 2017

And the Oscar Goes To...?

I've been watching the annual Oscars telecast every year since 1992 (at least, that's the first one I have vivid memories, in part because I was heavily rooting for A Few Good Men, the one film of the five best picture nominees that I'd seen, to win (which it didn't, giving me my first taste of Oscar disappointment); it's entirely possible I'd seen some of the earlier ceremonies as well), and starting in 2001, I made a concerted effort to see each of the five nominated best pictures every year. When the Academy expanded the field from five nominees to, first, ten, in 2009, and then to a variable number between five and ten, in 2011, that practice became more difficult to reach, and though I came close in most years, there was always at least one I missed, usually by choice. But I knew the frontrunners, and if I didn't see ALL the best picture nominees, I usually at least saw all of the Best Director nominees and/or the presumed frontrunner, and so one way or another, I ended up having seen whatever was crowned Best Picture on Oscar night. 

All of which is a lengthy preamble to say that Moonlight is now the first best picture winner I hadn't seen when it won since Shakespeare in Love in 1998 (I wasn't making a point of seeing everything back then, but it didn't matter, because it seemed so obvious that Saving Private Ryan would win). This is mostly down to having only seen an embarrassingly-low two of the nine best picture nominees at this point, a fact brought on by the dual circumstances of: 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Force in Focus: Star Wars #61

"Screams in the Void"
July 1982

In a Nutshell
An attack on the Imperial armada leads to Luke seemingly killing Shira.

Scripter/Plot: David Michelinie
Breakdowns/Plot: Walt Simonson
Finishes: Tom Palmer
Colors: Glynis Wein
Letters: Joe Rosen
Editor: Al Milgrom
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

At the Rebel base on Arbra, Shira Brie receives a medal and a promotion for her recent actions on Shalyvane, while the Imperial armada continues its journey to the Imperial capital with the cargo it was created to guard: a Teezl, one of an alien species capable of giving the Empire near-instantaneous communication. On Arbra, Luke & Shira oversee the modifications made to the four captured TIE fighters: transceivers to identify them as friendly ships have been installed, and the guns modified to fire only a half dozen shots before all their energy is put into one massive blast. Luke and his squad then depart, stopping along the way to retrieve recognition codes for the armada from a captured Imperial scout. Using the codes, they infiltrate the armada, and proceed to use their modified ships to wreak havoc. But as Luke begins his attack run on the flagship carrying the Teezl, Admiral Giel orders the Teezl to block all communications, preventing Luke from telling which TIEs are enemy craft and which are his teammates. Relying on the Force instead, he blasts a TIE in his way, then gets off his super-charged shot, destroying the Teezl. Landing back at Arbra, a jubilant Luke's spirits are dulled when Leia shows him footage of the mission, revealing that the pilot of the TIE he blasted just before destroying the Teezl was Shira.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

X-amining Bizarre Adventures #27

"Phoenix" / "Winter Carnival" / "Show Me The Way To Go Home"
July 1981

In a Nutshell
A trio of tales featuring Phoenix, Iceman & Nightcrawler

Writers: Chris Claremont (1st Story), Mary Jo Duffy (2nd & 3rd Story)
Plot: Mary Jo Duffy & Bob Layton (3rd Story)
Artists: John Buscema & Klaus Janson (1st Story), George Perez & Alfredo Alcala (2nd Story), Dave Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte (3rd Story)
Letterers: Janice Chaing & Rick Parker
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Dennis O'Neil
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

1st Story: Visiting her sister's grave, Sara Grey recalls the time in which she and Jean were kidnapped by the undersea warlord Attuma and transformed into water-breathers, part of Attuma's plot to breed super-powered children to conquer Atlantis. But Attuma was unprepared for the power of Phoenix, allowing Jean and her sister to escape. Afterwards, Jean wiped Sara's memory of the events, but her memories returned upon Jean's death, and now Sara is less apprehensive about the idea of her children being mutants.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Force in Focus: Star Wars #60

"Shira's Story"
June 1982

In a Nutshell
The origin of Shira Brie

Scriper/Plot: David Michelinie
Pencils/Plot: Walt Simonson
Inks: Tom Palmer
Colors: Glynis Wein
Letters: Joe Rosen
Editor: Al Milgrom
Grand Moff: Jim Shooter

Using their recently acquired TIE fighters, the Rebels attack an Imperial facility and gain the coordinates to a new Imperial armada. Returning to Arbra, Shira requests leave to attend a personal matter, but Leia will only let her go if accompanied by Luke and the rest of her fighter squadron. Meanwhile, the leader of the Imperial armada dismisses the severity of the Rebel's attack. Elsewhere, the Rebel squad arrives on Shalyvane, Shira's homeworld. They land on the outskirts of a deserted town, and Shira proceeds to an altar within, cutting her hand to leave behind some blood. Just then, a group of barbarians attack the Rebels, and Shira explains how the same barbarians used to attack her people, until they brokered a phony peace treaty to lure them into an attack by the Empire, during which Shira's family was killed. She managed to escape and join the Rebellion, and since then, she's returned to the site each year to add her blood to her family's. Luke proceeds to send Shira through the tunnels she used to escape the Empire as a girl while he and the rest of the squad hold off the barbarians, and Shira is able to reach her X-wing and turn the tide just as Luke is about to be overwhelmed. Together, the Rebels leave the planet and the past behind, and head into the waiting future.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

X-amining Marvel Team-Up #65-66

"Introducing Captain Britain" / "Murderworld"
January - February 1978

In a Nutshell
The first (American) appearance of Captain Britain, Arcade, and Murderworld.

Writer: Chric Claremont
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker/Colorist: Dave Hunt
Letterer: Bruce P. (issue #65), Tom Orzechowski (issue #66)
Editor: Archie Goodwin

Issue #65: After Peter Parker learns he's been assigned a new college roommate in the form of the British Brian Braddock, he shows him around town, while the assassin Arcade is hired by representatives of the Maggia to kill Braddock, whom they believe may be Captain Britain. Later that night, Brian spots Spider-Man leaving Peter's room and, believing Spider-Man to be a criminal, chases after him as Captain Britain. The two fight until Spider-Man is able to convince Captain Britain he and Peter Parker are friends, after which the pair is kidnapped by Arcade. Issue #66: Captain Britain & Spider-Man fight their way through Arcade's Murderworld, with Captain Britain trying to save his captured girlfriend Courtney Ross and Spider-Man figuring out a way into the access tunnels of the place. He is able to trigger an overload of the system, which the heroes use as cover to escape into the sewers. Emerging in the city, they learn from police captain Jean DeWolffe that the European Maggia who wanted Captain Britain dead have been taken out. Elsewhere, Arcade stands in the ruins of Murderworld, vowing to rebuilt it better than ever, then to invite Spider-Man for a rematch.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Milch Studies: NYPD Blue, Season Nine - The Wrap-Up

One hallmark of the David Milch era is the extended suspect interview, which had the detectives searching for whatever angle that could convince a criminal to put down on paper two things -- I was there, and I did it.  All of the "get your side of the story out there" or "we'll get you a good deal with the DA" talk is merely a ploy to get those two facts down on paper.  This is largely inspired by Bill Clark's true tales of The Job, and Milch certainly seemed to enjoy writing these extended dialogue sequences.  The fact that they only required one set was also, I'm going to assume, a benefit for a man who liked to write the scripts on the day they were actually filmed.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Force in Focus: Star Wars #59

May 1982

In a Nutshell
Luke & Lando team-up with space hobos to fight a giant garbage worm.

Writer/Plot: David Michelinie
Pencils/Plot: Walt Simonson
Inks: Tom Palmer
Colors: Don Warfield
Letters: Joe Rosen
Editor: Al Milgrom
High Roller: Jim Shooter

Aboard the Bazarre, Luke & Lando meet with Ferret, concluding their deal to purchase four TIE fighters from him. However, Ferret has put the fighters on Patch-4, and requires Luke & Lando to take a pre-programmed shuttle to that world to retrieve them. As insurance, Chewbacca stays behind to watch over Ferret. Soon, Luke & Lando arrive on Patch-4, a world covered in garbage, and are promptly attacked by a massive worm-like monster. They're given shelter by a group of hobos who, after being displaced from their homes, have gathered underground on Patch-4. They tell them that Ferret keeps a sonic pacifier that can control the beast, whom they call Ceasar, on the ship which brought Luke & Lando to the planet. Back on Bazarre, Ferret, assuming Luke & Lando have been killed by Ceasar, captures Chewbacca. On Patch-4, Lando manages to distract Ceasar long enough for Luke to reach the pacifier, and on Bazarre, Chewbacca manages to escape and hunt down a fleeing Ferret. When Lando & Luke return to the ship, they tell a captive Ferret they've successfully retrieved the TIE fighters, but leave Ferret be, saying they've dealt with enough garbage for the day.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

X-amining Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4

"Madrox the Multiple Man!"
February 1975

In a Nutshell
The first appearance of Madrox the Multiple Man

Writer/Editor: Len Wein
Co-Writer: Chris Claremont
Illustrators: J. Buscema, C. Stone & J. Sinnot
Letterer: J. Constanza
Colorist: Glynis Wein

On his way to a football game with Alicia Masters, Thing's train is stopped due to man in a strange suit standing on the tracks, calling himself Madrox. When Thing punches him, a duplicate of Madrox is created, and with each ensuing blow, more Madrox are created, until Thing is overwhelmed. He wakes up at the Baxter building, where Reed Richards detects a series of power outages drawing nearer to the building. The outages are caused by Madrox, whose suit is absorbing the power and fueling his anger, and the Fantastic Four attack him. Madrox' duplication power proves to be too much for the Fantastic Four, until Professor Xavier arrives. He tells the Fantastic Four of how he gave Madrox' parents a suit to help control his power, but after his parents died, the suit malfunctioned and began absorbing energy, driving Madrox mad. Working together, Mr. Fantastic and Professor X are able to repair and improve Madrox' suit and knock him out, after which his duplicates disappear. Professor X then departs with Madrox, in order to help repair his mind.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Milch Studies: NYPD Blue, Season Nine - The Stars & Guest Stars

Season Nine saw David Milch without even a token credit on the show, and to be honest, I initially planned on handling the post-Milch years with maybe a brief overview of each season and simply moving on.  However, there's plenty to write about this year -- not only are these the episodes that aired immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, but they also see the introduction of Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the series' new co-star.  And with Steven Bochco inserting even more of his influence over the series, there is a noticeable change in the structure of the stories.  All of this is worthy of discussion, so no quickie wrap-up this time.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Force in Focus: The Star Wars Special Edition

This past week marked the 20th anniversary of the release of the Star Wars Special Edition, George Lucas' infamous release of a remastered edition of Star Wars (followed a month later by The Empire Strikes Back and a month after that with Return of the Jedi), which featured newly-edited and entirely new scenes relative to the original 1977 release (and subsequent prior re-releases). Though generally maligned nowadays, especially amongst online fandom, a direct line can be drawn from the Special Editions and the current pop culture dominance of Star Wars, as the releases were not only a successful way of gauging market response to more Star Wars, but also served as a proof-of-concept for the integration of CGI effects amongst live action actors, and thus in both ways opened the door for the Prequel Trilogy, and beyond. More importantly, for an entire generation of fans who grew up loving Star Wars but were only ever able to watch it on TV, via home video or televised broadcasts (including yours truly), the Special Editions marked the first opportunity to see the films on a big screen, in all their widescreen, THX-enhanced, stereo surround sound glory.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

X-amining Incredible Hulk #180-182

"And the Wind Howls...Wendigo!" / "And Now...The Wolverine!" / "Between Hammer and Anvil"
October -December 1974

In a Nutshell
The first appearance of Wolverine!

Writer: Len Wein
Pencils: Herb Trimpe
Inks: Jack Abel
Letterer: Artie Simek
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Roy Thomas

The Hulk enters Canada, drawn there by the sister of the Wendigo, who hopes to transfer the Wendigo curse from her brother to Hulk. Meanwhile, the Canadian military dispatches Weapon X to capture the Hulk. Wendigo and Hulk fight one another, pausing only when Weapon X, calling himself Wolverine, arrives on the scene. Realizing both his foes are nearly invulnerable, Wolverine convinces Hulk to help him defeat Wendigo. Thinking perhaps this means Wolverine is his friend, Hulk agrees, but once Wendigo is defeated, Wolverine turns on Hulk, determined to complete his mission. But Hulk manages to land a glancing blow on Wolverine, strong enough to knock him out, and when he wakes up, his superiors order him out, his time limit to capture the Hulk on his own having expired.