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X-Men: Operation Zero Tolerance (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine this month, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men and Wolverine comics. 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.

Operation Zero Tolerance is very much an artefact of the nineties. It’s a big bombastic X-Men romp, one that manages to hit on a lot of the key themes and ideas of the franchise (making them resonate with the public mood), while still seeming loud and simply and incredibly hollow. After all, it’s a comic about the prejudice facing a minority in the nineties, with repeated references to the Holocaust. “Zero tolerance?” Senator Robert Kelly asks towards the end of the event. “Isn’t that what the Nazis had for the Jews in the last World War?” The villain, Bastion, is presented as a “wannabe Hitler.”

Operation Zero Tolerance is, in a word, blunt. With so many of the high-profile comics of the nineties, from both Marvel and DC, “subtlety” is an alien concept. This is an X-Men comic where racial intolerance and prejudice are expressed through nothing short of attempted genocide. On the one hand, it’s very clearly the mutant prejudice idea pushed to its logical extreme. On the other hand, the notion of the United States government even passively condoning an attempted genocide feels like it robs the franchise of the social relevance which had made it so compelling and intriguing.

Still, the event’s impact is quite obvious. It’s hard not to see Operation Zero Tolerance as the driving influence on the entire X-Men franchise from House of M through to Second Coming.

Chances of survival are Slim...

Chances of survival are Slim…

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Ultimate Comics: Divided We Fall, United We Stand – 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.

I actually like the scope of Divided We Fall. It’s a big universe-altering event spanning Marvel’s three Ultimate Universe titles, but it isn’t so granular or so tightly-wound that the three books are tripping over one another. Each of the three books involved tell their own side of the story. Each can be read independently, with no real dependence on the other two. There’s a sense that the creators involved are being allowed a reasonable degree of creative freedom, and that Brian Wood is crafting his own X-Men epic that doesn’t exist simply to tie into the headline-making decision to bump Captain America up to superhero-in-chief over in Ultimate Comics: Ultimates.

In a weird way, for a book in the middle of a gigantic crossover, Wood’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men feels like it’s seeking a fresh start, like it’s kicking off a new chapter, and relishing the status quo shattering crossover as an excuse to just get on with it.

Mutant Pryde...

Mutant Pryde…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 26 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s strange reading The Spirit Archives, Vol. 26. Not just because it’s a collection of absolutely everything (from stories to pin-ups to posters to sketches) rather than a set of comic strips. Also because of the scope of this final hardcover collection in DC’s Spirit Archives programme. While, with the exception of the last volume, each book collected six months of the weekly strip, this final book collects pretty-much everything Will Eisner did with the character from the time that the weekly strip ended through to his death in 2005.  I’m a bit surprised that there’s only one book of this material, although it does allow the reader to flick through the decades following the end of the strip as if examining a family photo albums – watching the subtle changes as time marches on.

Despite the fact that he was cancelled, The Spirit never seemed to quite go away. There was a lot of work featuring the character by other writers and artists, but most of that isn’t collected here. Instead, this admittedly disjointed collection reads best as a sort of a documentary charting the on-going relationship between Will Eisner and arguably his most popular creation.

Still making waves…

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Non-Review Review: The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal is a fascinating entry in the assassination subgenre, most impressive for the careful and meticulous way that it examines the unfolding events – it’s more of a procedural than a cat-and-mouse thriller. Indeed, it’s almost an hour into the film before the two detectives chasing the eponymous hit man appear on screen. Fred Zinnemann’s movie has a two-and-a-half hour runtime, but doesn’t rely on a shifting or twisting narrative to fill it. Instead, it simply allots the characters and the world that they inhabit a bit more room to breathe, to the point where The Day of the Jackal seems a great deal more human and personal than most assassination thrillers, as we get a sense of the people tied up in a plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.

Tie a grey rope ’round the old… I’m not sure what type of tree that is…

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A View to a Bond Baddie: Franz Sanchez

To celebrate James Bond’s 50th birthday on screen (and the release of Skyfall), we’re going to take a look at the character and his films. We’ve already reviewed all the classic movies, so we’ll be looking at his iconic baddies, and even at the character himself.

As far as James Bond’s on-screen adversaries go, Franz Sanchez stands out for a number of reasons. Like Julian Glover as Aristotle Kristatos, Robert Davi seems like he might have wandered on to the set from a nearby sound stage. While the murky and subtle double-agent from For Your Eyes Only could have arrived from a John le Carré story, Franz Sanchez looks to have wandered out of Miami Vice. Licence to Kill represented an attempt by the producers to make Bond topical again, with mixed results. It’s still one of the most divisive films in the series.

Part of that attempt to modernise Bond was the decision to cast the character as a morally ambiguous anti-hero out for revenge, in contrast to the clean-cut morality of earlier adventures. However, Sanchez himself was also by-product of the attempt to modernise Bond. Bond was no longer hunting a spy, an assassin or a madman with plans of world domination. Instead, Bond found himself confronting a thug running an international drug cartel.

It’s all keeled over on him…

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Non-Review Review: (Seeking) Justice

The premise of Justice (or Seeking Justice, as it is named in the States) is not fundamentally unworkable. The basic plot seems almost like an affectionate homage to Hitchcock, with people essentially trading motivations for murder, with a mysterious organisation (known as “the Organisation”) offering people a chance for revenge against the person who hurt them – but with a caveat. If they do you a favour, you will have to do them a favour later on. It’s not a bad premise for a revenge thriller, but the problem with Justiceis that it takes itself far too serious, and expects us to do the same. What could have been a cheesy-yet-enjoyable thriller becomes an overly long and self-important waste of time.

Cage rage!

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Non-Review Review: Please Give

Please Give is an interesting little dramedy, with some very well-observed points and a strong cast. It’s smart, it’s biting and it’s quite funny in places, with its wry commentary on some of the more cynical aspects of the human condition. However, I do find myself wondering why the lead characters, wonderfully superficial and weighted down by various forms of guilt, are really worth caring about at.

No mean Peet...

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