Posted by Bob Greenberger on November 20, 2013
I remain utterly fascinated and impressed with how successfully Marvel Studios has adapted their comic book heroes and villains to film. They are certainly not without flaws, but they are never less than entertaining and are doing worldbuilding in ways we’ve never seen in feature film before.
The comic book tricks of the trade, I knew, could work really well for television which is serialized like comics. But subplotting and seed planting across a variety of franchises is unheard of. The delicate balance has to be maintained between servicing the individual franchise as well as the larger universe. Thor: The Dark World builds nicely off both Thor and The Avengers while leaving threads for the next chapters in each series. But, does it work well enough as a Thor story with beginning, middle, and end? Yes, for the most part.
It has been two years since Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and she and Darcy (Kat Dennings) have busied themselves with scientific work. When we first see her, she is on her first real date since meeting the Norse God and she’s preoccupied, still pining for him. When Darcy provides her with a distraction, she bolts, and in the process winds up absorbing something called the ether, an ancient power that predates the universe and is loose because the once-every-5000-year alignment of the nine worlds is coming.
But not only is the ether released, so is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the Dark Elf whose sole goal is to plunge the universe back into its primordial darkness. He was last defeated by Bor (Tony Curran), Odin’s father, and hungers for revenge. Obviously, you see where this is going. Thor, meantime, has been protecting the realm, hammering out justice as needed, although appears to be arriving as the closer, letting the Warriors Three – Fandral (Zachary Levi), Volstagg )Ray Stevenson), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) – along with Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) do most of the fighting. He can no longer enjoy their post-battle revels and broods in the company of Heimdall (Idris Elba), thinking of Jane. Right there, we have a weakness in the film.
The Warriors and Sif have expanded roles, as do Frigga (Rene Russo) and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) that means Thor is left unexplored. We’re given glimpses of his internal struggles but never really get below the surface, close to his raging heart. Similarly, when Thor finds Jane and brings her to Asgard to deal with the ether, her reactions to her surroundings and his parents are appropriate but all too brief. There needed to be time for her to be with them.
And then there’s Loki. Tom Hiddleston is so good as the trickster god that he threatens to steal any scene he is in, even just by watching from afar. His character ark is fascinating and worthy of further explanation but is also slight. The evolving relationship between foster brothers is fascinating and I wanted to see more. Instead, we have to worry about Malekith and his own strongman, Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). In Walt Simonson’s telling, it was all about the Cask of Ancient Winter, but in Hollywood that’s not big enough so all of reality has to be threatened. And despite their inaction over five millennium, the elves are way too successful at attacking Asgard.
As envisioned by Jack Kirby, Marvel’s Asgard has always been a gleaming place where magic and traditional hold forth but with just enough science fiction to make it unique. Here, as adapted by screenwriters Chris Yost and Stephen McFeely and director Alan Taylor, the elves and Asgardians have projectile weapons, high tech flying vessels and other accoutrement more appropriate to a space opera than Norse myth. It proved irksome throughout the film. Of course, Earth is the focal point for the climax and interestingly, it’s the humans who truly save the day. Much as it fell to Black Widow and Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) to shut down the dimensional rift in The Avengers, it’s Selvig, Jane, Darcy, and Intern Ian (Jonathan Howard) to really stop Malekith. It’s a nice message from Marvel to its audience.
Overall, the story is epic and worthy of the source material and as the end credits rolled, I was left wanting more character moments, but was pretty happy. The second end credit sequence, also nicely mixed romance and humor, putting a button on the series for now (with no date scheduled for a third installment, it’s not happening any time soon). The first sequence, though, sets up the meta-arc of Thanos and the Infinity Gems, nicely turning the jewels into artifacts (the Tesseract/cosmic cube and the box containing the ether) and leads directly into next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Sif and Volstagg turn the box over to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) and it’s too bright, too cluttered, and feels off so I can why Taylor has carped to the press about it. I remain entertained and thrilled to see superheroics handled with deft action, good performances and a wink and nod to the fans with surprise cameos and references. It makes next year’s films all the more eagerly-anticipated.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on November 5, 2013
After reviewing the DC documentary Necessary Evil, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to villains of all stripes. It’s also been on my mind given my frustration with overly-long story arcs on some television series.
A good hero, we’re constantly told, is defined by the quality of his opponent. Also, we’re told, everyone thinks they’re the star of their own story. It’s when those stories come into conflict do we get an interesting tale.
Over at ComicMix, I wrote in my review for Bones season eight that I thought the threat of Christopher Pelant was being overplayed as he appeared too perfect, too prepared and too perfect. Somehow he managed to drain all of Hodgins’ wealth without any way for uber-tech Angela to trace or retrieve the money (and apparently FDIC insurance covered none of his wealth, leaving him broke,. A thread they’ve ignored). This season, Pelant’s actions have hovered over the opening episodes until recently when he took center stage eliciting groans from me and Deb. He was once more overly prepared and overly good at what he does until Booth finally killed him to save Bones’ life.
But, all along, he was a fairly boring character. Despite his genius, his motivations were murky until the final episode, and his stories may have been dramatic but they failed to engage the audience. Instead, they highlighted how tired the series was getting and that the plug should be pulled sooner than later.
Over on the fresher Person of Interest, the threat of Root, well played by Amy Acker, has been an interesting thread, in part because she’s a complex, interesting, and flawed personality. She’s made enough of an impression to be upgraded to series regular and after a slow start, she is being integrated into the overall storyline so that’s something to cheer. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on October 30, 2013
I have no recollection of who my father met while a salesman for IBM, but one day he announced that he arranged a tour of the DC Comics offices. I flashed back to that sense of wonder as the news spread across the Internet that after 75-plus years, the comic book publisher was going to be following the Dodgers to Los Angeles.
Carol Fein was immortalized in this sub ad.
At the time I visited in 1971, the company was still at 909 Third Avenue and I was shown around by Carol Fein, who was then a secretary for Carmine Infantino. She did this so often through the years that by the time I joined staff in 1984 and she worked for Jenette Kahn, there was no way she could recall this one incident. But I remember it. I must have been 14 and the corporate offices looked unlike any place I had seen before (and I never did visit Dad at IBM so had no basis of comparison at the time). It resembled offices I saw on television shows, with comic books replacing flow charts and spreadsheets covering the desks. As we stood in Robert Kanigher’s office, Infantino himself brushed by, cigar leading the way. I got a quick nod and he kept going. In a spare office, Neal Adams was hunched over a drawing board, pencilling the cover to World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. The highlight though was being taken into the austere library where Mark Hannerfeld made my eyes pop by casually grabbing a volume from the drawer and let me thumb through the first few issues of All-Star Comics – from the 1940’s!
The company moved to 75 Rockefeller Plaza soon after and I would visit there a few times during the years. The coffee room that was the hub of freelancer life at 909 was gone and the place always felt on the tight side. But when I was hired in 1980, the company had grown and it was definitely tight. I was summer help that year, stuffed in a small, glassed-in office with Andy Helfer. The best part of working in such tight space was that we were across the hall from Murray Boltinoff and heard him and Kanigher plot, yell, debate, and argue with one another. We were visited regularly by Bob Haney, in his final years as a writer, and he’d regale us with stories. Newcomer J.M. DeMatteis would also hang with us while waiting for editors to be free and I think we both envied his early success. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on October 18, 2013
I was 22 when I was lucky enough to marry Deb. I’m 55 now and today we celebrate 33 years of life together. Although I cannot usually perform any math, I came to realize that we have been together a long time.
Looking back, the odds were certainly not in our favor. We were young, her family had their objections to me, my career prospects compared to hers were questionable. But, we entered into this together and have stayed that way.
Along the way, there have been the layoffs, the job switches fraught with complications and stresses. We’ve moved a few times. We’ve had various and sundry pets enter and leave our lives. And of course, the crowning achievement was successfully raising Kate and Robbie. Even though he is no longer with us, I continue to take pride in what we accomplished.
We are incredibly comfortable with another, still supporting each other’s disparate interests along with all that we have in common. I truly thing it is that blend of mutual and separate interests that helps keep our individual identities while still forming a team.
All through the years, we’ve talked about being together and planning a future together. As retirement begins to enter the conversation more and more (even through it’s a good 15 years away), we dream about things we want to do and places we want to go. Key through it all is that we want to be there together, sharing those days to come.
Tonight we’ll go out to dinner and celebrate all that has come before, but really, it’s all about the days to come and sharing those experiences side by side.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on September 26, 2013
As I am finally getting a handle on my school work, my mind has increasingly begun to turn towards writing. I find I miss it and that those muscles cry for exercise. My heart leaps at the prospect of assignments or just getting back to the keyboard for something other email and lesson planning.
My mind, though, and my wife in her role as Greek chorus, point out I should not be looking for anything huge or overly involved with a tight deadline forcing me to make carefully balanced choices. I suppose the simplest solution would merely be to write for myself and Crazy 8 Press without pressure of a deadline, but I also recognize that without a deadline, I tend to meander.
Right now, I have two outstanding assignments on my desk: an essay for a soon-to-be-announced collection from the fine folk at Sequart and an article for Back Issue! Both are nearly done and just need me to sit down and edit them into shape.
There remain my reviews for ComicMix, which certainly keeps my critical skills well worked and my twice-monthly columns at Westfield Comics, which indulges my inner comic book geek.
Beyond that, though, I have a few pitches out that I hope at least one will be approved for writing during the summer break. I’ve also received two interesting offers, one for a short story if I have something to say and can say it by the reasonably tight deadline. The other is longer and creatively challenging, but comes with a tight deadline given the scope of the project. And here I am at inner war, trying to rationalize that I can do it but critically looking at the time and determining if there really is enough time to do it well.
Perhaps the best part of this is that I see where I can do some projects to supplement my school work and make me feel whole. That’s a good thing.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on September 12, 2013
Standing with Thom Zhaler and his fiancee Amy.
After a few weeks in the classroom, it was a welcome break to actually return to my roots, so to speak. The Baltimore Comic-con has been growing by leaps and bounds, embraced as a pure comics show where fans can interact with pros without being blitzed with disconnected media guests or loud video game demos.
In my third consecutive year, the show has grown more familiar and far more crowded a testament to its success and appeal. While the aisles have grown tighter, the enthusiasm has ratcheted up. This year was different a bit as I was accompanied by Paul Kupperberg, who stayed at the new house and was a great companion.
As I have done in the past, I have shown up to wander and spent most of my free time with peers and colleagues. Being allowed in somewhat before the hordes allowed me to catch up with many old pals with sustained conversations, which became increasingly difficult across the weekend. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on September 6, 2013
It is very weird to be writing this about Ann Crispin, but now that she has gone public with how serious how illness is, I thought it better to put down my thoughts while she is still here to hopefully see them.
Ann has been a working professional for some 35 years and I first met her through Howard Weinstein and the Shore Leave shows. Ann was a local, showing up during the con’s early years. She and Howie were already friends so she was very welcoming to me, just beginning my career. During her years as SFWA’s East Coast liaison, we made sure to spend some time prior to the annual holiday reception (dubbed the Mill & Swill) and a long-term friendship developed.
By then, she was writing Star Trek novels which led to the offer for her to pen a novelization to the V miniseries. The contract called for a second book, an oirginal but Ann, never the swiftest of writers, couldn’t meet the deadline alone. She and Howie paired up for V: East Coast Crisis and since I guess I kibitzed here and there, was honored to have the book dedicated to me.
Ann was a fan of Starlog so we had a lot in common during my tenure there and then, when my work at DC created opportunities to write my own prose, she was always encouraging. Her support was ongoing and she celebrated each step I made toward having a writing career of my own.
Life meant months would go by between contacts but then came the phone call or email and we’d pick up as if little time had passed at all. She delighted in Kate and Robbie, marveling as they grew up. She was particularly tickled that Kate devoured her Han Solo trilogy.
When Robbie got sick, Ann was in the process of writing her Jack Sparrow novel for Disney so honored him with naming the young sidekick after him. She told him about it, showing him some pages, but a variety of factors delayed the book so he never got to see the finished product. But I cherish my autographed copy from my friend.
Ann was not a prolific author but a steady one and I was pleased to see her Starbridge series of novels resurrected recently, allowing a new generation to discover them. In some ways, it was ahead of its time as the YA boom came after the series wound down and the media world missed out on a chance to bring it to wider audiences.
I learned of her cancer over a year ago and we chatted now and then, but rarely about the disease and more about writing. She knew her years were suddenly limited and she wanted to be very selective about what to write next. Unfortunately, the treatments took its toll and as we learned earlier this week, she was unable to complete anything new.
There are countless writers who owe Ann a debt for the work she has done through the years for Writer Beware, exposing and chasing away predatory agents and editors. She suffered abuse and legal actions, sapping her time and money, but she refused to give in and stood up to them until she grew too sick to continue.
Readers can continue to enjoy her creations now that the digital age allows her works to live on. I wish Ann could be around far longer to enjoy that. I wish my friend was able to greet me with a smile and hug at the next con.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on September 4, 2013
This weekend, I will be back at the Baltimore Comic-Con and thanks to Roger Ash – the con’s programming guru and my editor at Westfield Comics – I’ll be moderating three panels. Here’s my schedule for those interested.
Saturday, Room 302-303
11:00-12:00 – The British Invasion
In the 1980s, a number of British writers and artists started producing work for American comics and brought a new attitude to the stories. That spirit is kept alive today by creators such as Mike Carey (The Unwritten), Paul Jenkins (Deathmatch), and Roger Langridge (Popeye). Join them, and moderator Robert Greenberger, for a lively look at the current state of the British Invasion.
12:00-1:00 – A Marvel-ous Panel
Some of Marvel’s top creators – including Mark Waid, Mark Bagley, and Ed McGuinness – talk about their work for The House of Ideas with moderator Robert Greenberger. Marvel fans- you know you gotta be here!
Sunday, Room 301
12:00-1:00 – Spotlight on Ramona Fradon
Ramona Fradon is one of the few major female freelancers of her generation. The legendary artist co-created Metamorpho, and is well known for her art on Aquaman, Plastic Man, Super Friends, and Mermaid Man & Barnacle Boy. Join Ramona and moderator Robert Greenberger as they look at her amazing career in comics.
First of all, I’m delighted beyond belief to be spending time on stage with one of the grand dames of comics. I edited Dynamite’s forthcoming The Art of Ramona Fradon, a conversation between her and Howard Chaykin. To fill in some gaps I got to spend 90 minutes chatting with her on the phone so this should be fun.
It’s always a pleasure to chat with people I know, such as Mark Waid, but some of the others I have admired from afar so should have fun digging into their process, past, and projects.
The other cool thing happening that weekend is that Rob Kelly’s Hey Kids, Comics!, an anthology of essays including one by yours truly, will also be debuting from Crazy 8 Press. Look the guy with the big grin on his face — he’ll have copies.
If you’re attending do drop by. Otherwise, I’ll be wandering the show floor, catching up with old friends.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on August 14, 2013
I find it hard to comprehend that it has been five years since Robbie died. But here we are, half a decade removed from those horrific days. It was at approximately 8:20 p.m., nearly an hour after we turned off the machinery that he took his final breaths. He was surrounded by aunts, uncles, grandmother and his fierce doctors and I only hope he had some sense of the love in the room.
Unfortunately, when I am reminded of Robbie, most often my mind flashes back to those seven months and not the twenty years that preceded them. His absence is keenly felt all too often, such as at Shore Leave as hourly, audiences were encouraged to participate in the poker tournament now bearing his name. I see a film or television show and wish I could share the experience with him. And then there are other times where Deb or I feel his absence keenly for no particular reason.
I also think about the kind of man he would be today. Had he survived, what would his final course of study been and what sort of work would he be doing? So many what ifs and such wasted potential.
We still see some of his friends and keep in touch with others via Facebook. Clearly, he left his mark on them all and they continue to visit his grave or post on his birthday.
This is the sort of anniversary I don’t like observing but he continues to occupy my mind and leaves a void that will never be filled.
I miss you, kid.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on August 5, 2013
I love Shore Leave, but regular readers here know that.
This year, there were a few takeaways, both related to, sadly, age. First, I can no longer stay up to all hours one night and be up and functional art 8:30 for a business breakfast. I handled the breakfast just fine, but by 10 p.m. without a nap, I was dragging and first had to rehearse for Mystery Trekkie Theater before bed. I’m paying for it today.
Second, three different little girls are no longer so little anymore. I was reintroduced to the daughter of one after a decade and she’s an attractive, self-confident 20-something. Another is the daughter of two of the committee and was working Registration and the Auction, and has blossomed in the same way. Finally, there was the now-21 year old version of the little girl who crushed on Robbie and clung to him for years.
It’s weird how this sudden shift in time has occurred and a new generation has sprouted up with plenty behind them.
On the other hand, the con was a sobering reminder that if we don’t care for ourselves, we’ll wind up using walkers and motorized wheelchairs, needing surgery and still trying to chug along. One veteran, senior citizen who loves to costume told me this was likely her final convention because it was just getting too difficult to drum up the enthusiasm and ramble through the halls.
Still, I had a blast with a jam-packed schedule. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »