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Non-Review Review: Prisoners

Prisoners is very much a game of two halves. Feeling like two separate films grafted together, Prisoners feels at once like a psychological exploration of American masculinity and also a far more conventional serial killer film. Indeed, had director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski decided to cut suddenly to black two-thirds of the way through Prisoners, we’d have a frustrating but much more cohesive atmospheric drama.

Instead, it seems like the duo conspired to surgically attach the last act from a far more conventional thriller on to their robust framework. The result is intriguing, but disappointing – the conventional paint-by-numbers final third diminishing a lot of the richness to be found in the first section of the film.

Somebody is about to get Jack(man)ed...

Somebody is about to get Jack(man)ed…

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Jason Aaron’s Run on Wolverine & The X-Men – #1-8, 17 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Superhero comic books have had a somewhat rocky relationship with the concept of “growing up” since the mid-eighties. Books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen proved that it was possible to craft mature tales with incredible depth using these icons. However, it seemed like the industry learnt all the wrong lessons from the success of Frank Miller and Alan Moore. For the past couple of decades, it seems like the ideal for superhero comics is grim and nihilistic nonsense, that “maturity” is measured in blood and bodycount.

There was a sense that the comic book industry was afraid of being seen as childish or unsophisticated, which created an ironic situation where the industry’s immaturity was on show in its fixation with adult material. “When I was ten,” C.S. Lewis once mused, “I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men feels like it subscribes to this philosophy. It’s an incredibly silly and  goofy piece of work, revelling in the clichés of the superhero genre, but it’s also a surprisingly sincere and intelligent one.

It's a bit of a gamble...

It’s a bit of a gamble…

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Jason Aaron’s Run on Wolverine & The X-Men – Avengers vs. X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Wolverine and the X-Men is one of the best comics that is being published by Marvel at present. Along with Waid’s Daredevil and Fraction’s Hawkeye, it’s a celebration of the strange and surreal side of comics. Jason Aaron doesn’t get enough credit for his character work, but his handle on the wonderfully wacky side of the X-Men mythos makes Wolverine and the X-Men a joy to read for anybody with an open mind and a willingness to try something a bit different.

Although the Avengers vs. X-Men tie-in issues are hardly the best place to witness Aaron’s artful approach to the franchise, often feeling a little disjointed and more all-over-the-map than usual, they still contain a lot of what makes Aaron’s work with the characters so appealing.

Burn, baby, burn...

Burn, baby, burn…

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Jason Aaron’s Run on The Incredible Hulk – Vol. 1-2 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

Of the major writers currently working at Marvel, Jason Aaron seems the best fit for the Hulk. Aaron has an undeniably charming pulpy style, an approach to mainstream superhero comics that has given the creator enjoyable and engaging runs on characters like Ghost Rider or Wolverine. As such, Aaron would seem to be the perfect fit for a character who likes to smash things. Aaron’s run isn’t perfect. It’s too scattershot to really offer an insight into the character, too short and all over the map to be a “definitive” take on the Hulk.

However, the run consists a fun and amusing set of comic book stories, where thoughtful high-concepts combine with absurd set pieces to create something the feels quite unique. While certainly not the strongest one there is, nor the best run for character or author, there’s a wit and a charming energy to Aaron’s run on The Incredible Hulk.

Green with envy...

Green with envy…

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Avengers vs. X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

I’ll admit, I’ve always been broadly curious about how the Avengers and the X-Men franchises fit together. I’m not normally a massive fan of over-thinking the whole “shared universe” aspect of superhero comics. After all, how can Spider-Man continue to have it so tough when there’s a bunch of wealthy and well-loved superheroes who could vouch for him? Why wouldn’t Batman use Superman or Green Lantern for back-up all the time? It’s best not to dwell on the implication that all these comic books are unfolding at the same time, despite how fun the occasional crossover might be.

Still, I’ve always found it interesting that the X-Men books apparently share a continuity with Marvel’s publishing line. After all, the merry mutants are frequent victims of persecution and attempted genocide, the subjects of institutionalised racism and seem to spend the majority of their time as pariahs or outlaws. You’d assume that at least Captain America – the Sentinel of Liberty and all that – would probably want to take an interest in mutant affairs, or try to help them out a little.

Avengers vs. X-Men is a massive line-wide crossover between Marvel’s two largest and most iconic franchises. It is – as you might expect – mostly an excuse to throw the two sets of toys against each other, but it still has its fair share of interesting ideas. It doesn’t necessarily develop those interesting ideas in the most satisfactory direction, but it is surprisingly coherent for a twelve-issue series from five of Marvel’s highest profile writers and three of the company’s most respected artists.

Exactly what it says on the tin...

Exactly what it says on the tin…

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Non-Review Review: Broadcast News

Broadcast News feels like it has lost a bit of its bite as the years went on. Originally released fifteen years ago, it undoubtedly seemed like a prophetic commentary on trends in news media, voicing an understandable unease at the line blurring between merely reporting the news and “selling” it to an eager and unquestioning population. Back then, these trends were undeniably present and one could sense a none-too-subtle shift in the approach to news. Unfortunately, it looks like those trends are to stay, and I think that has aged Broadcast News considerably. It doesn’t feel like James L. Brooks’ telling media satire is attacking a coming change so much as it is making one last stand against it. It’s still a very clever, very powerful and very well put together piece of film, but it sadly feels like it’s fighting a battle lost long ago.

That, perhaps, makes Broadcast News the most depressing comedy I’ve seen in quite some time.

They let an Tom, Dick or Harry host the news…

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Wolverine by Jason Aaron Omnibus, Vol. I (Review)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

Wolverine shouldn’t be a tough character to get right. He’s a fairly simple archetype, one often seen in the annals of pulp fiction history. He’s the Man With No Name, the ronin, the warrior who has lived through the war. He’s a man who is a weapon, even if he doesn’t necessarily want to be. He’s badass, he’s a loner, and he doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone or anything. It’s easy to see why the character is one of Marvel’s most iconic fictional creations, right up there with Spider-Man in terms of recognition. However, it seems that many writers struggle in characterising the most famous mutant. Arguably the writer with the best handle on Wolverine since Chris Claremont left Uncanny X-Men was Mark Millar, who wrote two of the character’s more memorable stories (Enemy of the State and Old Man Logan). However, this collection makes a nice argument for Jason Aaron as the logical successor to the writer who defined the bladed Canadian.

It’s hardly cutting edge, but it is good comics…

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