Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The Warner Bros. Archive program has rolled out a bunch of Johnny Weissmuller jungle movies. It's mostly Jungle Jim stuff, but there's also one (Jungle Moon Men) where he plays himself as a jungle expert thanks to all his experience as Jim and Tarzan.
I've bought a few collections through the Warner Archive and it's good stuff. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but the prints and packaging are better than they have to be considering this is the only legitimate way you're going to be able to own this stuff. Planning on getting some of these.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Image from Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier.
It always sounds weird to me to wish someone a Happy Memorial Day. I'm not sure that happiness is the right emotion on a day for remembering the people who died protecting their country. On the other hand, I'm not sure that it's not the right emotion when combined with gratitude. Either way, I'm certainly not going to refrain from eating bratwurst and potato salad with friends; I just hope to do some reflecting as well.
For those of you in the US (or anyone else who wants to participate), I hope the day is meaningful for you.
Friday, May 27, 2011
My theory that Elizabeth Swann is the central character of the first Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy gets into some trouble in At World’s End, but it holds together. The reason it gets into trouble is because At World’s End is very much about all three of the lead characters: Elizabeth, Will, and Jack. We’ve been examining motivations in these articles and how the characters change and grow. All three make some monumental decisions in At World’s End that result in my liking the film even more than I did before.
Let’s start with Jack. Though he was unrepentantly selfish all though The Curse of the Black Pearl, he learned to act selflessly by the end of Dead Man’s Chest. In retrospect, we can see him wrestling with that all through the second film. We’re never told exactly why the compass doesn’t work for him in that movie. What’s he torn between? Obviously, saving his hide from the kraken is a huge motivation, but what’s the other choice that the compass is pointing to? What else does he want?
We could make a decent case that it’s Elizabeth, but knowing the specific object isn’t important. From a broad perspective, Jack is waffling between two desires: selfishness and selflessness. That becomes clear at the end of Dead Man’s Chest and he makes the right decision. It’s not necessary to know the particular thing that represented selflessness for him.
In At World’s End, Jack is lamenting that decision. He says so when we first see him in Davy Jones’ Locker, arguing with himself. One of the Jacks wants to be lenient to another Jack who deserves punishment. A third Jack berates the first, declaring that that kind of thinking is what got them all killed in the first place. The rest of the film has Jack continuing to struggle with that. Picking up on the theme of choices and paths from Black Pearl, Jack’s chosen the path of Selflessness and is now suffering for it. The big question for him in the movie is whether or not he’ll back up and choose the other option.
The way that struggle is played out is through Jack’s fear of death. Having experienced it once, he has no desire to go through it again and spends the rest of the movie trying to manipulate his way onto The Flying Dutchman where he can kill Davy Jones and replace him as the immortal ferryman of souls. Of course, by the end, he willingly gives up that desire in order to save Will. He’s chosen Selflessness, and the suffering that goes with it. That’s a hell of a character arc.
Meanwhile, Will seemed to be going nowhere in Dead Man’s Chest. His motivation in Black Pearl was to save a loved one; namely Elizabeth. His goal in Dead Man’s Chest hadn’t changed. He was still all about saving those he loves, though that was expanded to include his dad. However, At World’s End presents him with an interesting choice by making him choose between those two people. Suddenly Will is back in the story.
We shouldn’t take his choosing of Elizabeth too lightly. Bootstrap Bill needs Will much more than Elizabeth does, because she’s become quite self-sufficient over the course of the trilogy. Also, Will’s relationship with Elizabeth has become very rocky as a result of Elizabeth’s choices. The smart, safe choice is for Will to continue trying to save his dad, but that’s not what he does. He picks Elizabeth and asks her to marry him on the spot. I understand why a lot of people don’t care for Will – he spends all of Dead Man’s Chest and two-thirds of At World’s End not being very likeable – but he won me back when – against all reason – he chose a girl over biological family. It’s not as impressive as Jack’s transformation (after all, it’s the choice everyone makes when they fall in love), but it’s a decent character arc.
Elizabeth’s half of the love story is more powerful. Having chosen a life of adventure over safety in Black Pearl and having followed that path to a frightening place at the end of Dead Man’s Chest, Elizabeth – like Jack – is lamenting that decision at the beginning of At World’s End. She’s gone too far, been seduced by the Dark Side, and now she wants to take it back. If they can bring Jack back to life, she thinks she has a shot at doing that.
Oddly enough, it sort of works. A realistic story would force Elizabeth to realize that once you go down a path like that, there’s no turning around. But Elizabeth doesn’t live in a realistic world. She lives in a world of roguishly charming pirates, sea monsters, and ocean goddesses. She’s successful in rescuing Jack and returning to a state of relative innocence.
The word “relative” is important because of course she’s not washed completely clean. Jack never does completely forgive her and she can’t “take back” what she did. But she’s able to come to terms with what she did and have some peace about it, which is a kind of return to innocence.
Once she’s done that, she’s able to move down the path again, but with a proper sense of balance. Having that, she achieves more than any adventurous, pirate-loving person could hope for by becoming the Pirate King herself and leading the nine Pirate Lords and their men into battle against the entire East India Trading Company. Which she then gives up for Will.
The fanboy in me hates that. He’d much rather see a whole series of movies about Elizabeth Swann the Pirate King than know that she wound up on a deserted coast waiting for her man to come home once every ten years. But there’s some touching nobility in that sacrifice that overpowers the fanboy. It’s not very feminist, but it’s awfully human and romantic. She and Will were both willing to make sacrifices for each other: he gave up his dad and she gave up her life of adventure.
Of course, Will didn’t actually end up having to give up his dad at all, but it’s impossible to call the situation unfair. It’s unilaterally tragic. Will wanted to be with Elizabeth more than he wanted to save his dad. That he can’t have it that way isn’t a blessing. If anything, Elizabeth is in the better spot because as her son grows older, she’ll have the option of taking him on all sorts of adventures. But neither she nor Will is getting what they wanted when they chose each other over their other desires. It’s a heartbreaking situation. Or would be if we liked Will more.
As much as I like At World’s End, it’s certainly got some serious flaws. Will’s not being as cool as he could be is only part of them. There are a lot of confusing red herrings for one thing (whether or not Elizabeth is Calypso, all of Will and Jack’s double-crossing, etc.), but the final battle between the pirates and the East India Trading Company also fails in a big way to live up to its promise.
One of the high points of the movie is when Elizabeth rallies the pirates to war with a speech, inspiring them to raise their colors as the music swells. It’s extremely anti-climactic then when the Black Pearl faces the Flying Dutchman in an undeclared clash of champions to determine the winner of the entire battle. It doesn’t feel anti-climactic at the time, because it’s a great contest, but once it’s over and the weather clears, it makes no sense at all for Cutler Beckett to sail his ship alone to meet the Pearl. Flying Dutchman or no Flying Dutchman.
Here’s the thing though. What Cutler Beckett does or doesn’t do isn’t important. The story’s not about him. He’s not even the real antagonist. He’s there to keep the characters moving, but they’re not actually fighting him. The same goes for Davy Jones. Jack and Elizabeth’s antagonists are their own selfishness; Will’s is his father. Everything else is a distraction to drive the plot. Seen that way, it’s much less offensive that the filmmakers chose a shorthand method of finishing off the Cutler Beckett thread. The real story was about Elizabeth’s being in the position to inspire a nation of pirates, not what the pirates did or didn’t do with that inspiration.
And in the end, I still believe this was Elizabeth’s story. All three characters have their big, defining moments in At World’s End, but Elizabeth is the only one who consistently moves forward through all three films. That each of them also opens and closes on her is telling in a huge way as well.
The question is: where’s the series to go without her? Fortunately, Jack hasn’t been as unchanging as I originally remembered. He’s had a story too and that’s what continues in On Stranger Tides. Or should have.
But that’s another article.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I'm a little late on this news, but Matt Wagner is getting ready to finish the epic Zorro story he's been writing for Dynamite Entertainment. In it, Alejeandro de la Vega finds out that his son, Don Diego, is pulling double-duty as Zorro and threatens the masked swashbuckler's continuing crusade against Luis Quintero, the alcalde of Los Angeles.
Zorro Rides Again #1 hits stores next month with art by Esteve Pols (the Lone Ranger/Zorro cross-over).
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
If you’ve already read last Friday's installment of Kill All Monsters, you’ve seen the announcement.After six straight months of updating every single week (even on holidays), Jason and I need a little break from posting pages.
But NEVER FEAR! We aren’t taking a break from creating the comic and it will be back. It’s just that we’re starting to feel a little rushed and as we head into the second act of our story we want to make sure that it’s the best it can be. In other words, we just need a little breathing room that we haven’t been able to get on the schedule we set for ourselves.
When we come back, we plan to resume that schedule, but we’ll do so with a nice buffer and full confidence that we’re telling the story the way that it needs to be told.
In the meantime, I’ll continue updating the Kill All Monsters! blog with the History of KAM, Jason’s process drawings, and any other giant monsters/robots goodies I find around the Internet. And of course that will be the first place where we’ll announce details about KAM‘s return. Several fantastic artists approached me at SpringCon too about doing more KAM pinups like the one Jason May did, so we'll get that going too.
So stay tuned. Even if you don't follow the KAM blog, I'll be sure to repeat big announcements here. We’re looking forward to lots more monster-killing with you.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
I'll be at SpringCon all weekend with copies of the very limited edition Kill All Monsters! ashcan. The book collects all of Chapter One and looks pretty cool in its widescreen format. Come get one!
There's obviously a lot more to see than just me though. I haven't been keeping up with the Guest List very well before now, but I just looked at it and there are (as usual) all sorts of great makers of comics coming. I hate naming names for fear of leaving people out, but when folks like Howard Chaykin, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and Trina Robbins are going to be there, you can't help getting excited about it. It should be a great time as always.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Writer Matt Maxwell is putting Murder Moon, the first volume of his Western Horror series Strangeways online for free. He's releasing it a page at a time and when he gets it all posted he'll start on the sequel, The Thirsty. As you can tell from the cover, Murder Moon is a werewolf story. The Thirsty's title should give you an excellent hint to what that's about as well.
If you're curious to know more before deciding to jump in, I've got the printed version of Murder Moon and reviewed it back in my Newsarama days. Either way, it's well worth reading and you should check it out.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
In Planet Comics #55 (helpfully shared by Sleestak, naturally), Mysta doesn't so much fight giant crickets as watch other people do it while she gets to the threat behind the giant crickets. What's really interesting about this story though is the subplot in which Earth's governing Safety Council (formerly called the Science Council) has selected a new leader who doesn't see the value in Mysta's ubiquitous assistance.
There are a number of reasons worth speculating about why the Science Council changed its name, but Safety Council sounds overly assuring; like they've got something to hide. Science Council was simply descriptive of the organization's mandate to control the dissemination of knowledge. Safety Council implies an external threat that the people of Earth need to be protected from. That's not an invalid concern - as anyone who's been keeping up with Mysta's adventures knows - but actually changing the organization's name indicates an overt change in focus from the management of scientific learning to police action. Troublesome. (Sleestak has a different, equally valid theory that this is an entirely new organization that has possibly taken over the Science Council's role in Earth's leadership. Even if that's true, it's no more reassuring.)
Mysta acts strangely in this adventure too. Not so much at first. Her disguising herself as a technician in order to spy on the Council's new leader is very much like her. As is her willingness to let him fail without her in order to teach him a lesson (of course she stays close enough that she can step in and clean up when needed, but that doesn't go entirely according to her plan). What's weird is that even though the new leader fails and she saves the day, she stays undercover at the end of the story and lets him think that he succeeded. Sleestak speculates that Mysta thinks she can best manipulate the new leader if he isn't threatened by her. That makes perfect sense to me.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Thematically, Dead Man’s Chest carries right on from Curse of the Black Pearl. The first film is all about Elizabeth and Will’s choosing their paths. Elizabeth chooses a life of adventure over safety; Will nominally chooses a life of piracy over a more respectable career as a blacksmith. “Nominally” because he certainly isn’t a pirate as Dead Man’s Chest begins.
He’s living safely in Port Royal and is about to marry the governor’s daughter when Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company shows up to squash those plans. For that matter, Elizabeth’s not exactly struggling either, but at least she’s living the life she chose at the end of Black Pearl. It was a brave choice for her considering expectations of women in that time and culture, but still less dangerous than the path that Will claimed to be choosing. Since he’s not a pirate though, her choosing to be with him also loses some of its risk. A disappointing opening.
As Dead Man’s Chest progresses though, the situation gets more perilous and complicated for Elizabeth as she learns just where the path that she chose in Black Pearl leads. More on that in a minute. First let’s talk about Will and how the story all but abandons him.
At first glance it seems like Dead Man’s Chest is very much about Will. It reveals a lot of information about his father and dedicates a ton of time to showing how Bootstrap’s fate affects Will and his decisions. But by the end of the movie, Will hasn’t actually grown as a character. His motivation at the closing credits is the same as it was at the opening ones: to save the people he cares about (first Elizabeth, then his father). That’s the same motivation he had in the first movie. Once he made the decision to enter a life of piracy (even if he didn’t completely follow through on it), his growth is pretty much done at the end of Black Pearl. Following that, we’re just learning his back-story and watching him complicate the lives of the two characters that actually are experiencing some growth.
A quick note about Will before we move on though: He’s easily the most heroic character in the trilogy and we should like him a lot more than we do. However, he has a tendency to glower and brood, and that makes him unpleasant. Even though he’s doing very admirable things, he does them resentfully. He takes everything very seriously and wears his selflessness on his sleeve. Self-conscious martyrdom is never attractive.
Also before we move on to the important characters, I feel like I should at least mention Norrington, even though he’s not really growing in Dead Man’s Chest. His motivation is the same that it was in Black Pearl: to advance his naval career. He’s just starting from farther behind in this movie. Still, he becomes more important in At World’s End, so we shouldn’t lose track of him.
It’s Jack and Elizabeth who experience real growth in Dead Man’s Chest. I know I described Jack as an unchangeable, Bugs Bunny-like character in Black Pearl, but it’s not quite as simple as that. One of the interesting things about him in Black Pearl was that you were never really sure what he was going to do. He was only out for himself and that made him fickle. That seems like a contradiction in an “unchangeable” character, so let’s pull that apart a little.
“Unchangeable” doesn’t have to mean “predictable.” Jack is just predictably unpredictable, if that makes sense. This is in spite of what he tells Barbossa at the end of Black Pearl about dishonest men being predictable. He claims that it’s the honest men whom you never know what they’re going to do. There’s probably some truth to that from a certain point of view. Dishonest men will always do what’s in their best interest, while honest men will surprise you by acting for the benefit of others. But what Jack doesn’t say is that particularly clever dishonest men will find all sorts of surprising ways to get what they want. Which he immediately illustrates by freeing Will and attacking Barbossa.
We shouldn’t make the mistake of turning Jack into a hero though. Not in Black Pearl at least. He always acts selfishly in that film; it’s just that his goals tend to align with Will and Elizabeth’s. He’s a good guy by association. And because we like him.
That begins to change in Dead Man’s Chest though. Even before the movie’s begun he seems to be changed by his experiences in Black Pearl. He has his ship now and doesn’t know what he wants next. He’s conflicted and it’s messing with him and his crew. He continues to behave selfishly though until the end of the film, after his talk with Elizabeth in which she convinces him that he wants to try being a good man for once. He demonstrates this by giving up his flight from the Pearl and returning to the doomed ship to be with his crew and help them escape the kraken. When he does this though, we also see how much Elizabeth has changed as well.
Elizabeth’s barely in the first act of the film, but her character arc through the movie is the most interesting. As Jack is struggling with becoming a better man, Elizabeth wrestles with becoming a worse woman. Her lifelong interest in pirates and the path she chose in Black Pearl are leading her to some dark places. She never truly becomes romantically interested in Jack as a person, but she’s devilishly attracted to what he represents: complete freedom to do whatever she likes.
But with complete freedom comes a price. She learns this when she shackles him to the Pearl in order to save herself and the others. Pretty it up however you like, but it’s a selfish thing she does and she knows it. That’s why she’s so upset in the final scene. She doesn’t want to rescue Jack because she loves him; she wants to rescue him in order to undo her mistake in forcing him to die so that she and the others could live. She wants to be able to back up from where her path has taken her.
Jack, meanwhile, stays on his new path. When Elizabeth shackles him to the ship, he tries to escape, but he never calls for help. That seems like the instinctive thing for a truly selfish man to do. His crew is easily within earshot and would rescue him in seconds, so the only thing that makes sense is that he’s still being selfless. He wants to be unchained so that he has a fighting chance, but he knows that Elizabeth’s right. It’s even more selfless and heroic than his returning to the Pearl in the first place.
What’s going to be interesting about At World’s End is seeing how Elizabeth and Jack continue to change. Or if they both continue to change. I don’t think that both of them do, which is why I’m titling these posts the way I am.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Thanks to my slowness and his industriousness, Sleestak's long past finished posting the entire Mysta series at Lady, That's My Skull even though I'm only about three-quarters done commenting on it. Where I left off was with Planet Comics #53, in which Matt Baker began drawing the series. He's still drawing it in #54 where Mysta investigates some shady goings on at a processing plant.
At first glance it seems like a typical adventure for Mysta: stopping an evil industrialist who would abuse science and knowledge for his own selfish gain. She does use the invisibility cloak she got last issue, but that was the only new thing I noticed until Sleestak pointed out that Mysta's unusually horrified by the villain's fate at the end of the story. Though I haven't always agreed with Sleestak about the extent of Mysta's coldness to others, he's been absolutely right in observing that she's usually extremely generous with the "oh well, that bastard got what he deserved." I totally dig his theory that it's Bron who's having an affect on her. Bron's enough of a tool that I doubt he's intentionally changing her, but her feelings for him seem to be making her more empathetic. Curious to see if that continues.
If you're wondering where Wednesday and Thursday's posts went (I sure did), Blogger apparently had a problem early this morning and in trying to fix it, temporarily removed all posts since Wednesday am. They tell us that they're now restoring those posts and expect to be back to normal soon.
I'm going to trust them and not repost those two items myself.
Update: And they're back. Yay!
Update: And they're back. Yay!
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Monday, May 09, 2011
As we get closer to On Stranger Tides, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films for some context. Though Stranger Tides is the first of three more Pirates movies, reports are that it’s not beginning a new trilogy. Each of the films will stand on its own without directly leading into the next. I’m curious to see how audiences will receive that in comparison to the first set. Most everyone loved Black Pearl, opinions were divided about Dead Man’s Chest, and At World’s End was generally hated. The new films are designed so that each stands or falls on its own.
Personally, I like At World’s End a lot, but it took me two or three viewings to figure out what was going on. Or – more accurately – how much I needed to care about everything that was going on. The world of the Pirates movies is so thought-out and complex that by At World’s End there are so many characters with so many unique motivations and agendas that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. Which is why so many people threw their hands up and declared that it wasn’t worth it.
I don’t really blame them. When even the jilted love-interest of the female lead in the first movie has become a fully-realized, developing character with his own story arc, some overload is to be expected. The trick is to realize who the protagonists really are and follow her (oops, gave it away) story. Everyone else exists only to support her story, regardless of how interesting and diverting he may be. Jack, I'm looking at you.
Curse of the Black Pearl opens on Elizabeth Swann and At World’s End closes on her. It’s pretty clear to me that the trilogy is about her. I’m not saying though that seeing the films from that perspective is going to fix everyone’s problems with them. A lot of people simply don’t care for Elizabeth – I don’t understand that, but I acknowledge it’s true – so identifying her as the main character is only going to make those folks less satisfied with the films. So I’m not trying to defend the first three Pirates films as universally great cinema (even though I think they are); I just say that if they’re going to be criticized, they should be criticized for what they are: Elizabeth Swann movies.
Part of the trouble in identifying whose movies these really are is that it’s impossible to tell until the entire trilogy is done. Again, this is because all the characters are so fleshed out that you don’t know who to focus on. Black Pearl’s opening on Elizabeth doesn’t really tell us anything. Harry Potter isn’t about Dumbledore just because he’s the first person to show up onscreen. And even once Black Pearl is finished, you can’t tell that Elizabeth was the primary antagonist.
Judging from Black Pearl alone, Pirates of the Caribbean has three main characters: Elizabeth, Will Turner, and Captain Jack Sparrow. They all have their own agendas and at first glance, Elizabeth’s is actually the weakest. Her primary goal throughout the film is to keep Will safe. She steals his cursed necklace because she doesn’t want him identified as a pirate by Norrington and her father, then – after a brief diversion in which she seeks to save all of Port Royal from Barbossa’s men – she spends the rest of the movie trying to protect Will from the Black Pearl’s crew. And that’s pretty much all she does.
In contrast, Jack – who I’m going to argue is the least important character – seems to have the strongest agenda: reclaiming his ship. Most of the film seems to be about that and even the name of the movie appears to reinforce the idea that this is where we should be keeping our attention. And because Johnny Depp is so freaking charismatic in the role, we certainly want to keep our attention on him.
Will lies somewhere in between. His motivation plays exactly the role in the story that it appears to. He’s in love with Elizabeth and wants to rescue her (again making her appear to be a plot device), but that changes as he learns about his father. If we’re only looking at Curse of the Black Pearl, Will is the protagonist. Though his motivation is no more or less strong than Elizabeth’s (both are trying to protect each other) or Jack’s, Will is the only character who appears to grow or change in the course of the film. At least at first look.
Elizabeth is a strong, independent character from the first moment we see her and she stays that way throughout. She bucks convention as often as she can. She loves pirates, hates corsets, and never actually consents to marry Norrington.
Meanwhile, Jack is Jack. He’s unchangeable and we love it that way. He’s Bugs Bunny. You can drop him into any situation and it instantly becomes more interesting, but there’s no story to be told about him. That would require growth and we like Jack just the way he is when we first meet him.
Will, on the other hand, learns a valuable lesson about prejudice and stereotypes. It’s interesting. After watching Black Pearl this last time, I realized that my son’s probably the right age now to appreciate these movies, so I started watching it again with him. He quickly had some questions about pirates: Are they good guys or bad guys? If they’re good, why does everyone want to put them in jail and hang them? If they’re bad, why are we rooting for Jack? It was nice not to have to stop the movie and explain this myself, because those are exactly the questions that Will’s asking. I just told David that his answers were coming. (The answer, of course, is that it’s much more complex than that. Not everyone in a group is going to be just like everyone else in that group. I’m pretty pleased with and grateful for the teaching opportunity.)
But even though Will is the most overt protagonist in Black Pearl, Elizabeth joins him in a subtle way. The movie talks a lot about choosing paths. Mostly in reference to Will, who chooses to become a pirate at the end, but Elizabeth also chooses a new path for herself. Though she never agrees to marry Norrington and live out the traditional life of an English governor’s daughter, she sure does wait a long time to announce that she’s not going to do that either. She keeps her options open, not because she’s torn about which choice to make, but because what she really wants to do is pretty damn scary. It’s a choice between safety and adventure, and though the repercussions of her decision aren’t as dramatic as Will’s, her choosing to help free Jack and proclaim her love for Will is an important development in her character.
Helping to drive that decision is Elizabeth’s discovery of just how powerful she has the potential to be. In Jamaica, her influence is extremely limited, but at sea she’s able to control events in very cool ways, including mounting rescues and leading a crew of pirates into battle. That makes her integral to the theme of piracy-as-freedom. In fact, that central theme – though directly talked about by Jack – is seen most clearly in Elizabeth’s story.
So that's why there are two main characters in Black Pearl. I suppose you could argue that the rest of the trilogy focuses on them equally, but I’m not going to. Instead, I'll suggest that by the end of Dead Man’s Chest, Will’s starting to drop out of the contest and into a supporting role, even while the movie appears still to be focused on him. But that's a post for another day.
Friday, May 06, 2011
Mike's (no relation) Amazing World of Comics has a cool feature where you can see a cover gallery of any month/year combination you choose. Say, for example, your birth month..
You know, it may explain a lot to know that as I was being born, Tarzan was fighting an underwater triceratops.
You know, it may explain a lot to know that as I was being born, Tarzan was fighting an underwater triceratops.