Top 5 Worst Superhero Movies

Of all my incredulous “they’re making that into a movie” moments, one of the most confusing occurred in the lobby of 1000 Van Ness a few months ago when I stared, dumbstruck, at a poster for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Was Marvel trying to give the character a second chance on the big screen, a reboot or reinvention? Was this a Punisher-style replacement of a Dolph Lundgren with a (slightly less awful) Thomas Jane? No, Nic Cage is in this movie. It’s a goddam sequel to one of the worst comic book movies ever made.

This isn’t a terrible problem to have, really. There always have been and there always will be lousy movies. Sturgeon’s Law undergoes constant verification at every cineplex: ninety per cent of everything is crap. So it’s actually somewhat satisfying to know that comic book movies have become so popular over the last decade-plus, that the requisite 90% of bad cinema rolling out of Hollywood on an annual basis contains an ever-increasing amount of capes-n-tights crud. The law of averages simply guarantees more Scott Pilgrims and Dark Knights.

This list focuses exclusively on superhero films. Comic books get unfairly equated with the one genre most prevalent on spinner racks and in specialty stores, but let’s not forget all the other crap flicks that have been inspired by other types of funnybooks. The Spirit was more crime than costume, Dylan Dog more spooky than spandex. Jonah Hex is filed under weird western, Judge Dredd with the silly sci-fi. Cowboys and Aliens is… well, whatever the hell it is, it started out shitty, so any film based on it was bound to be shitty. [Reminds me of a Nick Swardson veterinarian joke: “My cat has diarrhea. What have you been feeding him? Diarrhea.”]

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 10: Cashing In My High School Chips

#85. “Everybody Hurts” – R.E.M.                      Our six-minute dinner theater performance of Pyramus and Thisbe (see previous entry) did not require intense rehearsal, and once that show was performed, there was no reason to go to drama class at all. My duties as a teacher’s aide were rapidly becoming non-existent, and we still had an open-campus lunch. It was the onset of “senior-itis,” so if you went looking for the Holy Bee in the halls of his high school between the hours of about 10:30 to 1:00 that spring, you would not find him. I was usually in the company of Jeff McKinney (who played “Lion” in P&T), loitering in some of Yuba City’s finer fast food establishments, or simply cruising around town aimlessly, looking for targets for our Super Soakers. Squirt guns were quite a fad the last few weeks of senior year. Everyone had a Super Soaker under his car seat, and a smaller “piece” in his backpack. Sadly, this silliness would never be tolerated at a post-Coumbine high school.

I had a definite feeling of closing shop, putting up the shutters, and taking in my shingle. I received my letter of acceptance to CSU Chico (the only university to which I bothered to apply), but decided – in the Great Holy Bee Tradition – to follow the path of least resistance and put some time in at the local community college for awhile. Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 10: Cashing In My High School Chips

Idle Time: A Look Back, Part 3

The self-indulgent celebration of our tenth anniversary continues by prying open the archives: the dusty, zippered compact disc binders full of Idle Time compilations. Prior to 2003, these are garish exercises in artist-specific primers. Adrift on the wide-open internet waters was a bounty of images, mp3s, and treasure-map signposts towards albums, singles, and recordings that we never knew existed. It was a grand time to be a pirate. Matt had his Your Music Sucks series, which seemed to specifically target my indifference towards bands like Son Volt and Supergrass. I adopted The Promise Ring’s “Make Me a Mixtape” as a battlecry for any number of mix-CDs. We mail-ordered labels and booklets in bulk.

It was Will’s What I Heard compilation that gave real direction to this operation. Following his lead, we shared our favorite albums with one another just prior to winter break in 2002. Initially, these discs included songs from 2000 and 2001. That was before the project took on radioactive parameters and, screeching with mathematical fury, threatened to destroy Tokyo to the hundredth decimal point.

We went from friends, happy to find common ground in something like 02’s Yoshimi, to bitter rivals, arguing vehemently over whether or not 03’s Hail to the Thief belonged on a year-end celebration of the best music. We were doing one list, one compilation, and affixing one name to the glossy inkjet-printed booklet: the institute of idle time’s top 20 records of the year. I even had the audacity (or foresight) to stick a little ® on there, even though I shamelessly stole the Jack White artwork from someone on the internet.

Continue reading Idle Time: A Look Back, Part 3

Ghostmann’s Horror Movie Guide: The 1930’s

The Black Cat (1934)

Directed by – Edger G. Ulmer

Starring – Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi

****** 6 out of 10 ghosty orbs!

Plot: Who wants to go on their Honeymoon in Hungary? Well Joan and Peter Allison do and as luck has it they end up sharing their train compartment with Dr. Vitus Verdegast, a bit of a weirdo who is returning to the town he defended before becoming a prisoner of war for fifteen years (life has sorta sucked for old Vitus). Anyway, when the bus they were taking to their hotel crashes in a mountain storm and Joan is hurt, they find a fortress-like home to hole up in. The home, turns out, was built on the site of a bloody battlefield! There at the fucked up house, cat-phobic Verdegast learns his wife’s fate, grieves for his lost daughter, and must play a game of chess for Allison’s life. What a fucking Honeymoon! Continue reading Ghostmann’s Horror Movie Guide: The 1930’s

The Best of DC’s New 52: #1, Action Comics

1. Action Comics – Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Rick Bryant

Grant Morrison is the Radiohead of comics creators. He reinvents without losing sight of the power of the medium, shaking lose from the expected while celebrating the sanctity of the established. Every time he dons his fiction suit and dives into the mythstream, he creates something worth experiencing. Sometimes challenging, oftentimes multilayered, but always engaging, these are constructs that grant repeat readers/listeners/devotees new rewards with every visit. He loves comics; and the passion for the story, character, and fabric of four-color futures comes through with every project and plotline. I’ll read everything he writes, and I’ll expect everything to be worth my time. The track record speaks for itself: beyond the pre-Vertigo fantasy that first brought Morrison to our attention, he has gone on to craft some of the greatest X-Men, Justice League, and Batman stories ever conceived. Handing over the reins for DC’s most important book, the comic that started it all, makes perfect sense. And the funny thing is, Grant Morrison has already written the great Superman story.

All-Star Superman, created with fellow Scotsman Frank Quitely, debuted in 2005. Over the course of its twelve issues, Superman transcends popular culture iconography and is situated properly in the pantheon of literary deities. The story opens with news that Superman, now more powerful than ever, has one year to live. The very source of his abilities, our solar system’s yellow sun, has over-saturated his cells. His final acts, delineated as twelve Herculean labors, give epic context to everything from his relationship with Lois, to the existence of Bizarro World, to the villainy of Lex Luthor. Free of the constraints of continuity and irrespective of whatever Crisis reset button had been recently pushed, All-Star Superman is the Superman story for all time, complete with loving tribute to the real, prophetic power of Joe Shuster. As Morrison himself explains in 2011’s Supergods, “Stories can break hearts or foment revolutions. Words can put electricity into our hearts or make our blood run cold. And the idea of Superman is every bit as real as the idea of God” (p. 415). Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #1, Action Comics

The Best of DC’s New 52: #2, Batman

#2 Batman – Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion

For a long time,  Saturday morning cartoons were my only inlet into the world of capes, cowls, and spandex.  Growing up, my comic-related knowledge relied on two volumes of colorized Eastman/Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stories, and the entire set of ’95 Fleer Ultra Spider-Man trading cards.* Instead of reading the books, I watched every single super-hero cartoon that made its way to the Saturday morning block. Actual comic books were neglected, their covers providing a simple sense of the kinds of dramas that were supposed to unfold between my action figures. I was a superficial comic fan, liking the content for what it looked like, never really thinking about it as literature.

When I inevitably made the cross-over from television to graphic novels, I was eighteen, a legal adult, and I made mine Marvel. After all, it was Marvel’s cartoon cast of costume-clad characters that first piqued my pubescent fan-boy interest. Every opinion I’ve developed about comics, every urge to spend $3.99 on 24-pages of glossy, illustrated wonder is rooted in those Saturday mornings inside Marvel’s animated universe. And to this day, I see Marvel heroes as old friends–drinking buddies from the juice-box era, here to help me escape from boredom into a world of imagination.

There is, of course, one exception–the one exception I think every Marvel fan concedes to: The Batman. When I think about DC comics, only three (maybe four) characters jump to mind, all of whom grace the top three spots on this list, and Batman is hands down the coolest. Before Marvel got their shit together to produce accurate cartoon versions of their popular book titles, Warner Bros. had Batman: The Animated Series, an extension of the successful launch of Tim Burton’s cinematic Bat-franchise. Batman: TAS was DC’s sole cartoon offering for a long while, but it’s dark tone and excellent animation put it levels above anything Marvel had at the time, including the awesome Jim Lee/Chris Claremont inspired X-Men cartoon. Even after a well-received Justice League show and several (pretty good) Batman incarnations, The Animated Series is still the best super hero cartoon show ever.** So, shortly after pledging to devote myself strictly to the goings-on of the Marvel U, I allowed myself one concession – Batman books – and I opened my world to Gotham City legends by Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Jeph Loeb. As one of DC’s signature characters, and arguably the most visible super hero in the game thanks to those fine Chris Nolan flicks, Batman carries the burden of many fans’ expectations. Die-hard readers critique lame Batman arcs with the same animosity as those against Julie Taymor Beatles musicals and inconsistencies in Star Wars prequels. So when DC relaunched all of their titles, believe when I say that Batman was one of the few that really mattered. Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #2, Batman

The Best of DC’s New 52: #3, Wonder Woman

3. Wonder Woman – Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang

I cannot believe the Idle Time brass has dragged me into this new 52 mess.  I read about one comic book a year, and that is usually one of the collected story lines in one big book.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the new 52 series, so I have no perspective why this one is #3 or how it stacks up to the other 51.   My only history with Wonder Woman is through the Lynda Carter television series.

Other than thinking Wonder Woman was the most beautiful woman in the world, I can only remember some shit about an invisible jet that she could fly with her mind, her taking her lasso and roping the bad guys into telling the truth, deflecting bullets and insults with her giant bangles, and that damn tiara that she would throw like a boomerang.

This new reboot of Wonder Woman tackles all kinds of issues the modern everywoman deals with.  First, Wonder Woman always thought she had a normal childhood, forged from clay like Saruman’s Uruk Hai, and that her mother loved her little claybaby so much that the gods chose to animate her.  She leaves Paradise Island because she was so different from the other Amazons, and begins living a fabulous life in the big city.  All this is turned upside down when some little white-trash girl, Zola, appears in her bedroom because some chicken-footed dude gave her a portkey so that she may escape a cruel death by two crazed centaurs.  Wonder Woman isn’t afraid; she takes the key and returns to Zola’s house and lays waste to those hoofed bitches. Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #3, Wonder Woman

The Jealous Sound – A Gentle Reminder

At the bottom of The Jealous Sound’s new website (scratch that — brand new, with lots of coming-soon/under-construction caution tape) is the line: “a second chance rarely comes along.”

For a band that released one great LP, way back in 2003, truer words are rarely spoken. A nine-year hiatus is fine when you’re an established act; reunion tours generate their own publicity and the hyperbolic hyphenate “long-awaited” gets carelessly thrown around all over the internet. But for these guys, who faded out before ever realizing on the promise of Kill Them With Kindness, the just-released A Gentle Reminder (2012, Music Is Subjective) truly is a second chance.

The band traces its origins to UC Davis in the mid-90’s (not coincidentally, the same birthplace for my love of this much-maligned offshoot of punk rock), and Blair Shehan’s band Knapsack. They became The Jealous Sound in 2000 after moving to Los Angeles, and released their first EP right as “emo” started to become a bad word. Even Pitchfork, back in its ultra-pretentious days, acknowledged Kindness as “a solid set of rock songs that hovers somewhere between the professionalism of Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American and your favorite slice of homegrown emotion.”

It then remained to be seen if The Jealous Sound would, like Jimmy Eat World, overcompensate in an effort to distance themselves from the mainstream and lose themselves musically. Or maybe they would ride the wave of alternative-eyeliner hardcore and degenerate into Hot Topic popcorn like, say, Alkaline Trio. Maybe they would undergo a successful transformation into a grown-up indie band by following a Promise Ring/Maritime model. Or, they could just disappear…

Continue reading The Jealous Sound – A Gentle Reminder