Monday, February 28, 2011

Black Superheroes: Thunder


Thunder subscribes the "Black Canary Method" of secret identities
"Wear a blonde wig and hope for the best"
Name: Anissa Pierce
First Appearance: Outsiders #1 (2003)
History: Anissa Pierce is the oldest daughter of Jefferson Pierce, known throughout the world as the (Then retired) superhero Black Lightning.  As a kid her family discovered that she had inherited her father’s metagene which allowed her to increase her density.  Elated the young girl wished to follow in her father’s footsteps but he forbade it.  She made a compromise with her parents that she wouldn’t even think about such things until she finished college.  Years later, the very same day she earned a Pre-Med bachelor’s degree and walked the stage, twenty-two year old Anissa Pierce put on a costume and a wig and proceeded to start fighting crime.  Despite Jefferson's extremely vocal protest Anissa sets out to do what she feels she was born to do, taking the name “Thunder” to honor her father…even if he is against her decision.  She is immediately recruited by Arsenal to join his new version of The Outsiders.
Beta Says: Thunder is the youngest character to appear in this series of blogs, both in real life and in-comic.  Created by Judd Winick and Tom Raney in 2003 Anissa was one of several new or relatively new characters created for DC Comic’s newest incarnation of the Outsiders, likely created as sort of throwback to her father (Black Lightning was a co-founder of the original team).  Thunder has one major thing going for her, and in greater abundance than every other character I’ve talked about: potential.  She’s such a young person (No older than 24 at this point, I’d wager) and she’s been so underused that the sky is the limit for a bold writer who is willing to give her a chance.  She’s not a blank slate or anything like that but in a world crying out for more female heroes of color Thunder could be the perfect example we’ve all been waiting for.
Also she’s just as gay as Batwoman but with none of the latter’s publicity.  Unfortunate Implications, indeed.
Click below for more on Thunder.

Beta’s Super Awesome Unofficial 83rd Academy Awards Blog: The Revenge


Only one F-Bomb accidentally uttered tonight.  Darn
[The following intro was written before the show began]
Ah the Oscars.  I’m not sure if I should be in awe of everything present or disgusted with all the excess and self congratulation.  Celebrity worship is very annoying and when it’s directed at the Hollywood Elite it’s at its most ridiculous.  I imagine that people like you and me may be considered insects due to the pedestal we as a society put them on.  Add to the fact that Hollywood seems to be made up of the most distant, aloof and profit minded monsters in the country outside the banks or car companies-
Whoa, what the hell was that?  Unresolved anger, much?  I’ll try to keep that crap in check.
(Why the hell do I care what they’re wearing?  You goddamn bastards!)
Okay sorry, sorry.  So anyway I’ll just be writing down thoughts.  I hear The King’s Speech was nominated for about 783 categories and is the favorite for pretty much all the major awards.  I still haven’t seen it yet so I got nothing to say, but it looks like my favorite movies of the year are likely not walking away with anything.  Curses!
Beta’s thoughts on the show after the jump.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Black Superheroes: Luke Cage


Doesn't this guy just scream "I'm a Hero"?
Name: Carl Lucas (Legally changed to “Lucas Cage”)
First Appearance: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (1972)
History: Growing up in Harlem Carl Lucas was a troubled youth.  He was involved with gangs and often in trouble along with his friend Wilis Stryker (As opposed to X-Men villain William Stryker).  As he got older Carl had a change of heart and decided to go straight, despite staying friends with the still wrong doing Stryker.  One day Wilis’ girlfriend leaves him due to his criminal activities and he starts blaming Carl for it.  He plants heroin on his old friend and tips off the police.  Lucas was arrested and then imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.  While in prison he is recruited for an experimental procedure but an “accident” (Actually a murder attempt) gives Lucas super strength and unbreakable skin.  Promptly escaping his imprisonment he takes on the name “Luke Cage” and vows to protect the people he once let down during his youth make that mother-loving money by selling his services as a Hero-for-Hire!   Since then Cage has been a complete joke of a character that no one has taken seriously become one of the most respected heroes in the Marvel Universe and a high ranking member of the Avengers.
Beta Says: F*ck Luke Cage.
Find out why by clicking the link below.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Black Superheroes: Vixen

Sorry this is so late.  I’ve been sick.
No, not Vixen the porn star.
This blog is about the "good" Vixen
Name: Mari Jiwe McCabe
First Appearance: Action Comics #521 (1981)
History: Mari Jiwe McCabe is the latest in a long line of descendants of legendary African warrior Tantu.  According to legend he was given a totem by Anansi the Spider to protect innocent lives (Which doesn’t really sound like something Anansi would care that much about based on what I learned in grade school, but I digress).  The totem granted its user the power to mimic the abilities of animals.  The Tantu Totem is handed down through the generations eventually falling into the hands of Mari’s father, Reverend Richard McCabe.  However he is soon murdered by his own brother General Maksai who wanted the artifact for himself.  Fleeing to New York City Mari becomes a supermodel (Seriously?) and gains wealth and fame in the process, allowing her to travel the world in luxury.  One day she rediscovers the Tantu Totem and, despite reluctance, decides to follow in her ancestor’s footsteps and become a hero.  Taking the name “Vixen” she goes on to become a member of Justice League Detroit the Justice League of America and later the Suicide Squad.
Beta Says: Vixen was created by Gerry Conway and Bob Oksner and has a rather annoying and somewhat downplayed publishing origin; we’ll get to that, don’t worry.   Ignoring Wonder Woman the number of the ongoing series starring women under the banner of DC Comics include Supergirl, Power Girl, Batgirl and to my knowledge that’s it as of this writing.  That’s still more than what Marvel has but ask yourself what do these three characters have in common (Aside from their condescending names, I mean)?  They’re all blonde white girls.  Sure two of them are actually aliens but still DC in this way has disclosed their incredible lack of diversity by having most of their titles starring women to feature very similar looking characters (Batwoman #1 can’t get here soon enough, damn it!).
Where are the women of color?  Hidden away where we can’t see?  The obvious first choice to address and hopefully fix this problem is Cassandra Cain, of course, but there is another character who is much older and has been severely underused since before she actually debuted.  I’m talking about Vixen, the character who should have made history by being DC’s first black woman to star in a self-titled ongoing superhero book but was screwed over at the last minute.
More on Vixen and the “DC Implosion” after the jump.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Black Superheroes: War Machine


No, he doesn't need two back mounted cannons
But damn if he ain't about to use 'em
Name: James “Rhodey” Rhodes
First Appearance: Iron Man #118(As Rhodes, 1979), Iron Man #170 (As Iron Man II, 1983), Iron Man #282 (As War Machine, 1992)
History: A pilot in the US Marine Corps James Rhodes met Iron Man while stationed in Southeast Asia.  Impressed with his skills Iron Man’s “employer” Tony Stark (Actually Iron Man himself) offered Rhodes a position as his personal pilot.  Since then the two became best friends but when Stark fell into alcoholism during Obadiah Stane’s attack on his company he passed on the mantle of Iron Man to Rhodes.  However it later turned out that the suit wasn’t compatible with his brainwaves and Rhodes became dangerously paranoid and aggressive and suffered from severe headaches.  This combined with injuries forced him to vacate the superhero identity for the most part.  However one day, during a crisis, Rhodes again was forced to become Iron Man, donning Stark’s latest designs the “Variable Threat Response Battle Suit, Model XVI, Mark I”, a suit built for all out-combat.  Afterwards he decided to keep the armor and continued to fight the forces of evil as War Machine.
Beta Says: Created by David Michelinie and Bob Layton James Rhodes, better known as “War Machine”, is probably one of Marvel’s most successful African American superheroes.  He’s one of the company's few black heroes, along with Blade and Storm, to be featured in a major motion picture (Performed by Terrence Howard and then later by Don Cheadle as War Machine proper) meaning that he may be among the most high profile minority characters in comic books today.  That all said Rhodey has had the unfortunate luck of being known as “Tony Stark’s Black Friend” since day one.  Despite what they originally had planned for him his long association with Iron Man as a supporting character has likely locked him in that position.  Never mind he’s had several solo titles or that he was a founding member of the West Coast Avengers.  With rumors of a possible War Machine spin-off film it is possible that this might change.  But I doubt it.  In fact I’d bet money that it wouldn’t.
More thoughts on War Machine after the jump.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Blue Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day, suckers.  I hope you’re having a productive day so far.  While it’s true that there is no Mrs. Beta for me to celebrate the day with that also means I don’t have to spend tons of money on gifts and restaurant bills or fight the huge crowds at dinnertime; don’t feel bad for me, I’ll be alright.  But in the spirit of romance I’ve decided to review a film about love, though I highly suggestion you avoid taking your sweetheart to see it on a date.
Blue Valentine is an independent movie that premiered at the 26th Sundance Film Festival but didn’t get a wide release until the following December.  It’s known for two things right now: 1) Michelle Williams was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film (For Best Actress) and 2) the film was briefly rated NC-17 because it was just too darn sexy.  The Weinstein Company managed to get a lower R rating without having to make any cuts so anyone who was aching for a scene with Williams having oral sex performed on her will no doubt be pleased that they can to the theater without feeling like a creepy weirdo.  What’s up with that anyway? I swear to God that I’ve never seen such stuff in movies my whole life and now between this flick and Black Swan I feel like I’ve entered some sort of frightening Golden Age of Simulated Cinema Cunnilingus.  I for one felt pretty damn awkward as I and the only other people in the theater, an elderly couple, sat around looking at all the deviant sexual activity.  Good movie, though.
Full review after the jump.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Black Superheroes: Black Lightning


HEY YOU GUYS!!
Name: Jefferson Pierce
First Appearance: Black Lightning #1 (1977)
History: Born and raised in the Suicide Slum, the most crime infested area in Metropolis, Jefferson Piece was able to escape the ghetto through athletics eventually winning the Olympic Gold Medal for the decathlon.  Returning to his old neighborhood years later he was saddened to see little had changed from his youth and thus went on to become a teacher at his old high school in order to help make a difference in the kids’ lives.  However when one of his students is murdered and then has his body displayed in the school’s gym Pierce comes to the conclusion that he can do nothing as a teacher or an activist against the rampant gang violence…and then resolves to try fighting the corruption head-on!  Donning a costume and utilizing a electricity generating belt/his own inherent electric meta-gene powers (Depending on which version you’re reading) he takes to the streets as Black Lightning!  Pierce has since gone to become one of the most respected members of the superhero community as a member as the Outsiders and the Justice League of America.
Beta Says: Much of Black Lightning’s story suffers from changes due to retroactive continuity (Or “Retcons”) so in my research much of the info I found on his origin and early history was slightly different depending on the source.  Black Lightning: Year One is the most recent retelling and incorporates many of these retcons (Most famously his super powers now being referred to as something he was born with, which wasn’t the case in the original comic).  Bear with me if I get some things wrong here.
More on Black Lightning’s insane real world origin after the jump.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: The Green Hornet (2011)


In 1936 a truly interesting character debuted on the radio: a pulp masked vigilante known as “The Green Hornet”.  The character was described as being a descendant of The Lone Ranger (Although for legal reasons this can no longer be addressed) and was unique in that he and his partner Kato posed as criminals in order to have free reign in the underworld while at the same time working against it.  “Bringing it down from within,” so to speak.  It was a great success and spawned numerous comic books, movie serials, and eventually a 1960s TV show, actually a sequel featuring the characters’ nephew and son respectively, with one of the best theme songs in television history.
Then in 2007 someone in Hollywood thought it would be a brilliant idea to cast former fat guy and comedy actor Seth Rogen to play the title character.   What.
Funny; Not a Superhero; Not Fat Anymore
Warning: This review contains a good chunk of spoilers.
The story of how this film came to be is a long and depressing one so I’ll try to condense it.  As early as 1992 this film has been floating around with many big names attached at one point or another in various capacities including George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Jet Lee, Jake Gyllenhaal and many others.  At one point Kevin Smith was hired to write and direct, which only makes sense if you assume that a director who is a comic book fan automatically can make decent movie based on a comic book character (Smith himself later admitted that he’d much rather go see a superhero film than make one).  After many false starts and teases Rogen was finally cast and hired as co-writer.  Why him?  Because obviously when you’re making a movie based on a 1930s Mystery Man the obvious choice is someone who, at the time, was best known for making gay jokes with Paul Rudd and being a charming and lovably overweight, though now very much so in shape, funny guy.  In 2009 Michel Gondry was hired to direct.   Wait a second here; Michel Gondry directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the feel bad movie of 2004.  The same movie that taught me the lesson that love is a curse that will haunt you and force you to experience the same pain over and over again no matter how much you try to erase it.  Crap, this is going to suck…
Britt Reid (Rogen) is a spoiled rich kid who wastes his life partying and getting into the tabloids, much to the chagrin of his newspaper publisher father James Reid who venomously disapproves of his son’s lifestyle.  Upon the elder Reid’s death Britt along with James’ former mechanic Kato (Jay Chou), in one night, drunkenly defames a memorial, rescue a couple from muggers, and engage in a deadly police chase.  Hoped up on adrenaline and poor forethought the two decide to continue fighting crime while playing into the media’s depiction of them as criminals themselves.
Right off the bat the film makes some pretty drastic changes to the Green Hornet’s origin.  Originally Britt Reid, while a certainly a party guy, didn’t seem to be as decadent as he’s portrayed here.  In the original stories he was depicted as a bored playboy who would often travel the world and in fact met and befriended Kato while traveling abroad.  Plus his father wasn’t murdered but merely retired leaving his media empire in his son’s capable (Key word) hands.  In addition this movie clearly ignores that Reid was an intelligent journalist and more than capable fighter (Not in comparison to Kato, of course).  But these are technically nitpicking points that are merely the cries of an overzealous fan (The Green Hornet’s radio program, like myself, began in Detroit).  I must therefore look past my own prejudiced attitude and try to judge the film on its own merit rather than what they did or did not “get right” as far as its source material goes.
Yes, please!
The first thing to understand about this film is that it is a superhero satire.  Why they chose to make a satire about superheroes with a pulp comics/radio character doesn’t make any damn sense as he’s more of proto-superhero-Gah!  I’m doing it again!  Gotta judge it by its own merits, gotta judge it by its own merits!  *Ahem*  It is somewhat similar to Frank Miller’s film version of The Spirit as a parody of the genre, but where the Spirit was offensive and incomprehensible nonsense The Green Hornet is considerably more successful as a complete story.  As it stars a comedic actor it should come as little surprise that this is an action comedy; I have no reason to believe that Rogen is capable of being convincing action star.
As expected the Hornet’s car, the iconic Black Beauty, is awesome.  It may be bit overloaded but the visuals and the gadgets are great fun to watch and seeing all the cool features as the movie goes on is a hoot.  It does overstay its welcome by the end a little bit, but aside from that it makes the Batmobile look hokey and lame.  Jay Chou plays Kato, which is weird because as far as I know Chou isn’t a martial artist or a stuntman; he’s a pop star.  This is like casting Justin Timberlake as the title character in a Walker: Texas Ranger movie.  And yet somehow Chou is pretty much the only likable person in this film.  His Kato is down to Earth, sensitive and ultimately feels like a real person.  So, even though it’s due to different reasons, this version of Kato is similar to Bruce Lee’s in that you’ll probably come for the Green Hornet but you’ll be more interested in his partner throughout which is an appropriate feeling.  Plus his song during the credits is pretty catchy, even if I couldn’t understand a single word.
Do not ask him to fetch coffee
Did you notice how I said Chou was the only likeable character?  Most of the folks in this movie are just dull.  There are some interesting casting choices in this film, with Tom Wilkinson basically playing the opposite kind of character he played in Batman Begins.  And look at that: recent Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is here too, playing the extremely insecure villain Chudnofsky.  Great.  Both of them can talk about how embarrassed they were to have appeared in this film in the coming years.  The cast in the film doesn’t do anything for me, with the exception of Chou and Rogen.  Oh yes, Rogen does something for me alright: he confuses the hell out of me.  Ignoring that he plays Britt Reid as a completely useless and talentless fool throughout the film despite the character being capable in several fields in the source material Rogen’s Green Hornet suffers from a lack of likeability.  He’s so incompetent, so egomaniacal, and so self-centered all the way through to the end that it is impossible to get behind him at all.   I wasn’t cheering for the Green Hornet; I was yelling at the gangsters to beat the crap out of him to teach him a lesson.  I hate when the protagonist is someone I can’t stand because then I have to sit through and watch this guy I’d like to punch in the mouth not only avoid getting punched in the mouth but end up looking like a hero.  Now most of this can be attributed to the writer and director rather than the actor…except that we know that Rogen was one of the writers and apparently an executive producer!
In addition Rogen is just playing the same character he always plays.  He’s the guy from Pineapple Express except that instead of a drug dealer he pals around with a fighter who rescue him from his problems.  He’s the guy from Knocked Up except that the female lead won’t sleep with him, thus foiling an attempts to get her preggers.  He’s the same unlikeable asshole from Observe & Report except he’s saner and less physically capable.  This is not a character who should be fighting crime; this is a character who shouldn’t be trusted to take out the damn trash.  It doesn’t help that, when disused as the Green Hornet, he reads his lines as convincingly as he did during the porn scenes in Zack & Miri Make a Porno.
Oh yeah, Cameron Diaz is in this movie.  But since her character is only there to showcase just how incompetent Reid is (As he can’t even figure out how to fight crime he just makes his secretary unwittingly plan things out for him) and James Franco’s five minute cameo made as “Guy Chudnofsky Kills in the Beginning” made a more lasting impression I’m going to go ahead and say there’s no point in talking about her performance.
Another big issue I had with the film was the effects.  Now crazy-ass car chase scenes where doors turn into guns aren’t a problem for me, so anything regarding the Black Beauty scenes was mostly okay.  However everything else was downright ludicrous.  For example the vast majority of Kato’s fight scenes are CGI and effects heavy because he enters some sort “Pusdo-Bullet Time” sequences when he takes on villains.  Really?  What’s the point in having Kato in a movie if you’re going to fill everything with bad graphics and jerky movements?  It looks sooooo fake that I can barely tolerate it.  If Bruce Lee didn’t need such crap when he made that role famous in 1966 I don’t understand why you need it in 2011. 
A more minor complaint would be that apparently everyone in the Green Hornet version of Los Angles is a damn moron.  I’m not sure how the many journalism professionals working at Reid’s newspaper didn’t put two and two together and suspect that their boss might in fact be the Green Hornet, considering that a) the criminal’s first act was to steal the head of Jebediah Springfield Britt’s father’s statue, a man he famously didn’t get along with, b) Britt keeps pushing and pushing for more news coverage on the Green Hornet for seemingly no reason whatsoever, and c) Every time his secretary makes a statement on what the Green Hornet will do next in a meeting the criminal does the exact thing several hours later despite the fact that none of them seem to hold her on high regard as far as the criminology goes.  Plus the ending of the film has Britt getting shot by the cops in the shoulder and being too afraid to go to the hospital for fear of being discovered and thus engages the outrageous plan of the masked Kato shooting him at a press conference with “regards from the Green Hornet.”  The problem?  THE POLICE WILL FIGURE IT OUT!  If you get shot and go the hospital the police are called to investigate no matter what!  You don’t think that’ll be able to match up the bullet?  “Huh, that’s strange.  The bullet we pulled out millionaire Britt Reid matches up exactly with guns we supply our SWAT teams.  The very same SWAT team who, not two days ago, were in a shootout with the Green Hornet at Britt Reid’s office and now that I think about it the Hornet clearly has millions of dollars at his disposal in order to afford all those wonderful toys.  It must be a coincidence, humpty dumpty doo!”  Even if the cops are too slow to make the connection I’m sure a good doctor can tell the difference between a fresh bullet wound and a bullet wound from several hours beforehand.  No sequel for this movie because there’s no way in hell Reid didn’t go to prison after the credits rolled!
EXPLOSION!!!
This movie sucks.  It’s not even all that action filled as there’s long stretches of Britt and Kato just talking to each other about nothing important.  It lacks a lead character that is likable, heroic or capable, the cast as a whole don’t have any real impressionable performances, the plot gets progressively dumber, and the humor is juvenile.  Add to the fact that it ignores a lot of Green Hornet lore and instead goes for the easy and overused joke about Kato being the true force behind the Hornet’s operation kills any enjoyment I would have had as a fan of the original radio show.  I told myself I’d fail the movie if it didn’t feature the theme song from the TV show and luckily it did; very briefly as if to taunt me but there nonetheless.  This far and away not the worst movie out there and you may enjoy it if you want to watch a dopey comedy with Seth Rogen making typical Seth Rogen jokes.  There are worst superhero movies floating around, no doubt but if you feel like checking this one I suggest you instead rent any other of Rogen’s movies and a copy of Mystery Men.  Overall that’s a more entertainment evening.
I give The Green Hornet 2 Freaky Looking Hornets out of 5

Pros
-Jay Chou is petty alright as Kato
-The Black Beauty is sweet
Cons
-Unlikable protagonist
-Plot that makes little sense
-The cast was boring (Except James Franco who isn’t even credited)
-Only has a token relation to the source material
-It’s a Seth Rogen comedy rather than a superhero film

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: The Shadow (1994)


Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow knows!
Ah the iconic phrase to signal the beginning of the classic work of 20th Century fiction.  The Shadow is one of the most recognizable pulp comic heroes of his era.  Originally he was the sinister sounding narrator of the radio program Detective Story Hour, an adaption of stories from Detective Story Magazine, starting in 1930….eight years before the creation of Superman and the beginning of the Golden Age of Comics.  The narrator proved to be very popular and was rewarded with his own comic book feature the following year and later in 1937 his own radio drama, for which he is probably best known.   In the comic he was Kent Allard, an aviator and veteran of World War I who fakes his death and begins to wage war on crime, becoming “The Shadow”.  He used many different aliases, including “Lamont Cranston” (Although the real Lamont Cranston was a separate character) as well as having many agents working for him…including Lamont Cranston (So confusing…).  In the radio drama much of the character’s traits and powers were altered.  Here his real name was indeed Lamont Cranston, wealthy young man about town, an instead of numerous agents at his command he was mainly aided by Margo Lane, an original character created for the show (And somewhat disliked by fans of the comic).
I LOVE the Shadow.  When I was growing up I used to listen to his adventures all the time, especially on long car rides.  In fact both my father and grandfather were fans of the drama as well so it’s sort of a family tradition.  One day I may track down some of those old recordings to make sure I can share it with my own children (Though as you may have guessed by the fact that I have a internet blog I am indeed single at the moment so that may yet be a while).   So in 1994 when a live action movie based on the character hit theaters you can bet your ass I was excited as hell!  But even at nine years old I could tell that something was…amiss with the film, even if I couldn’t exactly tell what or why.  It was directed by Russell Mulcahy who is famous for such blockbusters as Highlander II: The Quickening and direct-to-DVD masterpiece The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior.  This is the first warning sign.  The second is that it stars Alec Baldwin. Now perhaps things were different in the mid-90s but these days it’s hard for me to picture the guy in anything other than a comedy or narrating The Royal Tenebaums.  I admit this may be my own personal hang up but when I watched this movie I keep expecting Tina Fey to walk onto the camera while Baldwin fights the forces of evil.
Jack: Lemon, do you know what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
Liz: Well I-
Jack: That was rhetorical, Lemon; of course you don't

Even so it’s hard to argue against Baldwin’s acting ability and despite the fact that Highlander II was a cinema equivalent of a kick to balls and a subsequent setting of fire to said balls Mulcahy DID also direct The Highlander (The original one) and that movie had amazing fantasy/Sci-Fi lore so there’s no reason to simply disregard this film.  Not until after I’m done with it, of course.
In the aftermath of World War I Lamont Cranston (Baldwin) has set himself up as a drug warlord in Tibet under the name “Ying-Ko”.  One day he is abducted by a powerful holy man who sees great capacity for good in the man.  Cranston is taught how to “cloud men’s minds” (And a butt load of other weird psychic crap, apparently) before returning to New York City a changed man.  Using these powers, as well as a large amount of blackmailed agents, he becomes The Shadow and fights the forces of evil and corruption.  Things become complicated when a man named Shiwan Kahn (John Lone) arrives in the city with a nefarious scheme in place and his eyes directed towards Cranston.
It’s worth noting that the film seems to be an amalgam of the comic and the radio show, taking elements from both but also adding things as the writer and director saw fit. 
If nothing else Baldwin looks exactly like The Shadow when he wears the costume, though it may not be all a hard to do so.  But with the hat, the scarf, and dual pistols he looks like the character literally came to life off the pages of the classic comics.  I also though that, despite the many flaws we’ll get into, Shiwin Kahn had a number of interesting quirks that helped make him a more bearable villain such as he fondness for brandy and appreciation of a good tie.   The Shadow’s origin is pretty intriguing here.  It seems far darker than in both the comics and the radio drama, Cranston being a bloodthirsty criminal and all, but gives a lot more detail than I believe either of the source materials divulged.  Its not perfectly realized here but it is interesting and certain aspects remind me of the origin scenes in Batman Begins, a much better movie that wouldn’t come out for another eleven years.
Though you may not appreciate the costume like I do
That all said this movie is literally made out of ham.  The dialogue dips into the hammy region constantly and Baldwin is overacting like crazy, especially when he attempts to do the Shadow’s trademark maniacal laughter.  Try not cracking up when you hear that noise.  Frankly this feels like a big miscast, but some (Though I doubt “all”) of the blame can be put on the awful script, which we’ll get into soon.  Baldwin does the best he can but the net result is more hilarious than dramatic.  John Lone is alright, but his character is so badly written that it was hard to care one way or the other.  Penelope Ann Miller is Margo Lane, but I can’t take her seriously partly because her lines all sounded forced and partly because her character feels superfluous.  In the radio drama she was the Shadow’s partner, aiding Cranston in his investigations, but here they turned her into a psychic whose only importance to the plot is that Kahn kidnapped her father.
In fact that whole “Margo Lane is Psychic” plot point, aside from never being the case in the radio drama, is just a time sink here since it never amounts to anything more than “The Shadow can’t control her mind and therefore they are drawn to each other”.  The powers never become useful later in the film, especially at one point when KAHN MIND CONTROLS HER EASILY despite her supposedly being immune or resistant to such things earlier!  Maybe it wasn’t so much she’s psychic so much as Lamont was accidently trying to cloud her mind with the wrong head.  Broads will do that to ya.
Broads: With Absolute Control Over the Weak Minded
(i.e. Dudes)
Also starring in this movie is Sir Ian McKellen for some reason.  How the studio bamboozled one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of a generation into appearing into this nonsense is a mystery, but then again he later voluntarily appeared in X-Men 3 so obviously he’s not above appearing in terrible, terrible films.  Anyway here he plays Dr. Lane, Margo’s father and a plot point.  He spends the majority of this film speaking in monotone and not emoting.  Way to cast one of our greatest thespians in a role that doesn’t require him to do any of that acting he’s famous for.  Well done, Hollywood, well done.  Spekaing of surprise casting choices what the hell is Tim Curry doing here?  He’s a playing a villain which is what he’s a master of, sure, but his character is not relevant to the plot.  His big scene, involving trapping the Shadow, meant nothing in the long run!  Damn it, movie, stop putting my favorite actors in your crap if you’re barely going to actually utilize them!
Cast aside there’s pretty much just one major problem with this film: it can’t seem to decide if it’s a gritty dark superhero film or a comedic fantasy adventure and it destroys the tone of the film as a result.  The dialogue, the plot, and the characters themselves al end up looking ridiculous since half the cast at any given point look out of place.  Sometimes it feels like a dark and cynical movie, with scenes like the opening one in Tibet and the fact that the Shadow uses lethal force.  Then we’ll see the Shadow running around with a wacky taxi driving sidekick (Played by Peter Boyle and again I ask “what the hell are you doing here?”) and uttering James Bond-like one liners.  “Next time you get to be on top,” he says to a dead henchman he used to cushion his fall off a building.   Hahahahaha; he just downplayed his brush with doom by making a sexual joke at the expense of THE DEAD GUY HE JUST KILLED!  Hilarious!  It’s like, and I bet this is actually what happened, someone saw the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie and thought that the Shadow could make an equally good film, wrote a really dark script, and then got told by producers that it was “too scary” and was then ripped up to make it more “PG-13 & Action Figure Friendly”.
Anyway everything that bugs me about this film stems from that problem.  I can’t take Baldwin seriously because of the constant and jarring mood shifts and at times it seems that even he himself is confused as to what movie he’s in.  Shiwan Kahn, while having shades of a more interesting villain, fails due to the sheer cartoonish nature of his plot and the fact that the movie goes to insanely long lengths to show just how eviiiil he is.  I’m surprised he doesn’t just start kicking random puppies as he walked along the street.  There is no subtlety here at all.  Plus what’s up with that weird living Phurba dagger thing?  Is it suppose to be scary, because it just seems weird to me.
A reasonable facsimile of the Phurba in the film
Also voiced by Frank Welker
A minor nitpick I had was the scope of The Shadow’s powers.  In the comic he could alter people's perception to make it seem as if he was standing farther left or right than he actually was, which is a pretty low key but useful ability.  In the radio drama he could “cloud men’s minds” so he would appear invisible.  In this film he has the amazing ability to do whatever the plot calls for from Jedi mind control to telekinesis.   Now I hope I don’t actually have to remind anyone that The Shadow isn’t really a superhero so much as he’s a Noir-like pulp comic hero, who have some similarities but more were more grounded in their abilities.  He just seems somewhat overpowered here and, like his nemesis, lacks any sort of subtly.
Bottom line this movie is crap, but it’s the type of crap that ends up being entertaining.  It’s “so bad its good” and hilarious for all the wrong reasons.  As a film standing on its own merits its dumb, campy, and needlessly long since so much of the film ended up being pointless and went nowhere.  However this is a perfect movie to watch with your friends and make fun of in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 style.  I suspect that’s the best hope for milking any entertainment out of this stinker.
I give The Shadow 2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.
Pros
-Certain aspects of the film are an intriguing take on the source material
-Hilarious, though possibly not in the intended way
Cons
-Tons of overacting
-Cool actors abound, but not doing a damn thing
-The movie tries to be dark/cynical AND campy/fun with predictably disastrous results

Thankfully we can rest easy knowing that Hollywood must have learned some pretty crucial lessons about adapting old radio dramas into modern cinema after this film.  I assume the next time they make such a flick, he said with blissful naiveté, it’ll be a much more appropriate translation.
Next Review: The Green Hornet


The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.  Crime does not pay.  The Shadow knows!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Black Superheroes: Storm


An All-New, All-Different Breed of Hero
Name: Ororo Munroe
First Appearance: Giant-Sized X-Men #1 (1975)
History: Originally born in New York City a six year old Ororo Munroe was orphaned while she and her family were living in Egypt.  Growing up on the streets of Cairo she becomes a talented thief and pickpocket in order to survive.  Later in life she ended up in the Serengeti.  As her mutant powers, the incredible ability to control weather itself, began to emerge Ororo was worshipped by local tribe as a goddess.  On day she is approached by Professor Charles Xavier who convinces her to return with him to America where she can use her powers for the benefit of all mankind rather than just one village as a member of a new generation of X-Men.  She takes the codename Storm and goes on to become one the greatest, and most powerful, superheroes in the world.
Beta Says: Storm is not only one of the most historically relevant characters on this list but she’s also arguably the most successful, popular and recognized black superhero in American Pop Culture.  Created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum as part of a multicultural “All New, All Different” X-Men in the mid-seventies she was one of several new minority characters introduced.  Like a few of her teammates she was original envisioned by Cockrum as a new character for DC Comic’s Legion of Superheroes but was redesigned when he ended up drawing for the X-Men.  Her shock white hair and blue eyes, a result of being a descendant of magical African priestesses rather than her mutation, gives her a unique look that helps her stand out among her fellow comic book characters.
Storm is not only the first black superheroine she’s the first major black female character to appear in Marvel or DC.  Gee, that only took about forty years.

[Update: As pointed out by Atomic in the comment section, a  female black superhero character by the name of “Butterfly” apparently predates Storm!  Debuting in 1971 in the pages of Hell-Rider #1, a black and white comic magazine, this costumed crime fighter appears in a back-up feature.  Fascinating!  Unfortunately information seems a bit scarce, but click here for some really neat screens]
 Like her husband Black Panther she is very important from a historical standpoint but unlike T’Challa Ororo is one of Marvel Comic’s “Top Guys”.  In addition to being leader of the X-Men (A lot of the time, anyway) and showing up in damn near every cartoon, video game and film adaptation she is almost always utilized by Marvel in promotional material for their comics in general an is usually brought in for ensemble pieces (Such as video games) standing side by side with their most popular characters.  Although there are some non-comic readers who may have heard names like Black Panther, Black Lightning, etc., everyone has heard of, or at least seen, Storm by now (Unless they slept through the trilogy of X-Men movies, of course).  I’m pretty sure no other black superhero from Marvel or DC has gotten the publicity she has over her history.
Because I'm 26 this is what I consider to be "Classic Storm"
Despite this I’m actually not the biggest fan of Storm.  I often wonder how much of her popularity is real and how much of it is manufactured by Marvel in order to give the illusion that their characters are more racially diverse than they really are.  For example the number of black women, and the number of women of color in general, who are practicing superheroes is shockingly small in number but Storm is always standing next to Thor and Captain America in ensemble shots.  For one thing I’m not sure Ororo has been written all that interestingly in years.  Her most well known storyline in the last twenty years or so may have been her marriage to Black Panther in 2006 and that whole thing was a suspiciously motivated promotional stunt (I wanted to talk at length about that plot pint but then I thought that would be unfzir to Storm as character, so I may write a lengthy rant about this subject next month).   Back in the 70s and 80s Storm was AWESOME!  She was a very tough and strong willed character who was not above voicing her opinions and generally being a badass.  I fondly recall a scene from the Days of Future Past storyline where she stood up to Wolverine, demanding he stand down as he was about to possibly slice up Nightcrawler.  The follow conversation took place:
Storm: Sheath [Your claws] or use them on me.
Wolverine: That can be arranged, babe!
Storm: I am leader of the X-Men.  While that is so you will use your claws when I command.  No other time.
Wolverine: I wouldn’t take that from Cyclops!
Storm: You WILL take it from me.
[From Uncanny X-Men #142, 1981]
Hell yes, Storm!  Strong Female Lead, indeed!  She goes on to tell him that he’s so powerful that she shouldn’t even need to have to use deadly force except in the most extreme circumstances.  I’ve been saying that about superheroes for years!  Throughout his tenure as writer Chris Claremont had given Storm tremendous character development and, despite going overboard at times (Beating Cyclops in a fight for leadership of the X-Men without the use of her powers?  That doesn’t make her look strong it just makes Cyclops look like chump!), she was at her best under his guidance.  Since then she has sort of taken a backseat.  Back in the day Uncanny X-Men was basically Storm and Her Uncanny X-Men, feat. Wolverine & Kitty Pryde (As opposed to the X-Men movies where it was The Wolverine Show, guest starring Storm) but at present she’s just one of many X-Men floating around.  She certainly hasn’t done enough, or I should say “Hasn’t been written properly enough”, to be considered one of Marvels most beloved characters.  But this can change.
Storm during her brief stint as singer of the band Black Flag
It’s never too late to salvage a character.  Right now Storm is pretty boring but perhaps if she once again took center stage in an ongoing title, not just playing the part in an ensemble, things can pick up.  Right now there are barely any titles starring women in Marvel; if Storm is truly so beloved perhaps its time to try one with her.  Maybe spin it out of a major crossover event.  I mean, if Wolverine can have fifteen different titles I’m sure Ororo can have one.  Sometimes Marvel complains about having a hard time with getting new female readers.  Well perhaps if they avoided garbage like Models INC. (Because all girls love models and fashion, apparently) and Marvel Divas (Because all girls love Sex and the City, apparently) and instead feature a strong, confident and independent women fighting crime like her male counterparts it might bring a few ladies from DC (As DC is much, much better at this sort of thing than Marvel).  As she has an interesting and unique background, cool super powers, and great look and, let’s face it, doesn’t exactly look out of place when standing next to the world’s greatest heroes I think you could do a lot worse than her, provided the book had proper advertising for it and a good creative team.
Later this week we’ll look at a character who, despite his immense historical importance and well known name, has only recently appeared outside the comics.
Ororo Munroe: First Among Equals
For more on Storm click here.  Also check out BLACKSUPERHERO.COM for a giant list and profiles of black comic book characters from various companies.