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22. Logan – This Just In (#37)

This is what podcasting looks like. You should take a moment. Really feel it.

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest John Hanney, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, James Mangold’s Logan.

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Non-Review Review: Logan

Logan is a powerful piece of blockbuster cinema, an R-rated feature film that recognises the distinction between “adult” and “mature.”

Logan is unashamedly a comic book movie. There is no getting around that. It features all manner of fantastic trappings, from Charles Xavier’s telepathy to self-driving trucks to clones to cyborgs. Logan is a film that revels in its superhero trappings, in particular the genre’s tendency to appropriate imagery and iconography from wider popular culture to fashion something unique and distinct. Logan is a superhero post-apocalyptic western road movie, and is unapologetic about that.

Bloody murder.

Bloody murder.

However, Logan never lets any of that get in the way of what is essentially a very intimate and personal story about a surrogate family unit and what it means to be a parent in a cruel and uncaring world. Logan is very much character-driven, using a very simple story to delve into its characters in a way that feels earned and nuanced. As much as Logan is proud of its more outlandish elements, it never allows them to crowd out a simple story about growing up and growing old.

Logan is a superb piece of cinema, one that knows when to go quiet and when to go loud, approaching its central character with considerable empathy and dignity.

A driving plot.

A driving plot.

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Jason Aaron’s Wolverine – Wolverine, Vol. 4 (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Jason Aaron’s work on the character of Wolverine is absolutely fascinating. The writer was written for Logan across a number of different books and in a number of different contexts. Indeed, his first professional comic book credit was on an eight-page story featuring the character. Since the publication of that first story, Aaron has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with Marvel’s most iconic mutant.

He has written Get Mystique for the third volume of Wolverine. He has written a number of miniseries featuring the character – including the tie-in Manifest Destiny miniseries and a six-part Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine miniseries. Along the way, he has provided a number of back-ups and short stories featuring the character. He also secured two different spin-offs for Wolverine –  the sixteen-issue Weapon X title and Wolverine and the X-Men.

Slice o' life...

Slice o’ life…

So Aaron and Wolverine work quite well together. It’s no surprise that Aaron was chosen as the writer to launch the fourth volume of Wolverine, shepherding the book to its three-hundredth issue. While his work on Wolverine might not be quite as brilliantly eccentric as Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine or as insanely fun as Wolverine and the X-Men, it does represent a rather thoughtful and insightful reflection on the popular comic book character.

After all, one of the recurring themes of Aaron’s work with Wolverine is the idea that a character who has lived to long – and one who has been published so frequently – must have seen and done almost everything by this point. The trick is to try and find something new and exciting for the character after all these years. In many respects, that is what is most interesting about Jason Aaron’s run on Wolverine: how much of the run exists to push the character into position for the next leg of his arc.

Villains of all Creeds down here...

Villains of all Creeds down here…

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Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine is a beautifully absurd comic book. Writer Jason Aaron and artist Adam Kubert keep the comic moving at a frantic pace, twisting and turning as they introduce crazy concept after crazy concept. There are enough brilliant over-the-top ideas in Astonish Spider-Man and Wolverine to sustain an on-going for years – and yet the duo tear through them with a speed that makes all of Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine seem like a delirious blur.

And yet, despite that, Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine reads like a tribute to the glorious ridiculousness possible within the confines of mainstream comic books – giant metal-faced sentient planets! robotic dinosaurs! guns that fire the energy of creation! a diamond-encrusted baseball bat as a means of time travel! There’s a surreal magic to Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine that marks it as one of the highpoints of Jason Aaron’s work on Wolverine. It’s funny, awe-inspiring and even occasionally moving.

Blood brothers...

Blood brothers…

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Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

The only way to read Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted is on a personal tablet.

Part of Marvel’s “Infinite Comics” initiative, Japan’s Most Wanted is a comic specifically tailored to the digital experience. Although a print version of the comic is available, it can’t help but seem inferior to the way the comic was meant to be experienced. Demonstrating that digital is not just a new format for comic books, but also a new medium, the work done by Yves Bigerel storyboarding the thirteen-part adventure is nothing short of astounding. It’s a fantastic experience.

A slice of the action...

A slice of the action…

The story Japan’s Most Wanted is fairly light. This makes sense. Japan’s Most Wanted isn’t intended to push Marvel’s continuity forward or to build off a lot of what has come before. Launched in the lead-up to the release of The Wolverine, Japan’s Most Wanted is a rather transparent attempt to appeal to those interested in Wolverine’s second solo trip to the big screen – playing more as a collection of imagery and iconography than a story in its own right.

The adventure is set in Japan and pits our hero against legions of ninja, playing up to Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s iconic Wolverine miniseries. However, it also features action set pieces on a bullet train and in an abandoned village, two of the more notable action sequences showcased in the trailer for James Mangold’s The Wolverine. The story wrapped around these sequences is almost incidental, perhaps the most basic of Jason Aaron’s Wolverine stories, as scripted by collaborator Jason LaTour.

Run and jump...

Run and jump…

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X-Men – Days of Future Past (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

What’s striking about Days of Future Past is how incredibly short it is.

That’s not to suggest that the comic “feels” small or has a shortage of ideas or anything like that. In Days of Future Past, writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne toss out a whole host of ideas that shape and define the entire X-Men mythos. These issues continue to inspire the X-Men comic book line. Without Days of Future Past, there would be no Age of Apocalypse. The franchise’s fiftieth anniversary “event”Battle of the Atom – is essentially a gigantic tribute to Days of Future Past.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

In fact, the influence of this story extends beyond the X-Men as a comic book franchise. “Bad alternate future” may be a trope favoured by the X-Men comics, but it’s a staple of the genre and – arguably – the medium. There’s a reason that the iconic cover to the first issue of this story arc has been emulated so often, or that Alan Moore planned to riff on the story’s central idea for his proposed Twilight of the Superheroes. Days of Future Past is just a great story hook.

However, reading it today, it’s striking how short it is. All of this come from two issues.

The poster child for this sort of story...

The poster child for this sort of story…

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My 12 for ’13: Gravity & Good Old-Fashioned Simplicity

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 4…

One of the more interesting aspects of blockbuster cinema over the past decade or so has been the way that bigger movies tend to have become more complicated and ambitious in their storytelling. This isn’t a bad thing, by any measure. The Dark Knight is a plot-driven blockbuster with no shortage of plot complications, reversals and reveals. However, not every blockbuster is as deftly constructed.

There’s been a surge in overly complicated and excessively convoluted blockbusters over the past few years. It’s not enough to have good guys and bad guys and spectacle. There’s a sense that there needs to be more crammed on in there. Double-crosses and triple-crosses, betrayal and redemption, shock reveals and game-changing twists. Bad guys no longer plan to simply destroy the world or kill the good guy, everybody has competing agendas, and big epic blockbusters often struggle to smooth those into a cohesive narrative.


From this year, for example, Star Trek Into Darkness – while still an exceptionally enjoyable film – suffered from an over-complicated plot and a surplus of villainous motivation. The Wolverine featured a fiercely convoluted middle act where it seemed like half-a-dozen bad guys were all trying to kill our hero for different reasons. G.I. Joe: Retaliation featured an evil plot that was not only brilliantly stupid, it was also unnecessarily convoluted.

Gravity serves to buck the trend, offering something of a sharp contrast to this convoluted storytelling. Gravity is a celebration of old-school visual spectacle, guided through a decidedly old-fashioned plot.


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Avengers vs. X-Men – Consequences (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine this month, we’re taking a look at some new and classic 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.

Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences feels like it really should be a light event cash-in, designed to generate some quick sales off the popularity of the latest gigantic crossover story arc. However, writer Kieron Gillen takes advantage of the five-issue miniseries’ location – situated between Avengers vs. X-Men and Marvel’s high-profile Marvel NOW relaunch – to turn the comic into something of a transition. It represents a clear shift from Kieron Gillen’s run on Uncanny X-Men to the relaunch of the book (and the spin-off All-New X-Men) by writer Brian Michael Bendis.

Oddly enough, thanks to Gillen’s skill, Consequences plays out as a character-centric storyline, capping off Gillen’s work on the mutant hero Cyclops and positioning him for his role future role in the shared Marvel universe.

Cyke out!

Cyke out!

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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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Roy Thomas & Werner Roth’s X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 1-2 (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.

The X-Men were not, to put it frankly, a comic book franchise that hit the ground running. Despite the considerable talent involved in their first nineteen issues, the comic struggled to find its own niche, unsure of just how far it dared to venture from the standard superhero template, and how confined it was by the whole “mutant superhero” bit. Writer Roy Thomas was tapped to take over the book when Stan Lee left.

Thomas is one of the underrated Silver Age writers. His work on The Avengers, spanning more than a half-a-decade, is arguably more influential and definitive than Lee’s original run on the title. He is responsible for The Kree-Skrull War, which remains one of the stronger early Avengers stories. He would work on X-Men twice before the book was finally cancelled. His second run, with Neal Adams pencilling, is arguably a lot stronger than his work here, which feels a little muddled and unfocused.

To be fair to Thomas, it’s quite clear that he recognised that the X-Men needed a shake-up and to find their own voice distinct from the initial run written by Lee and Kirby. Unfortunately, Thomas doesn’t seem entirely sure of what that voice is.

Lighten up, Charles!

Lighten up, Charles!

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