What’s All the Hoopla About?

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So, I’m a little late today as I got up a bit later than normal.  I would normally do the blog either during breakfast or shortly afterwards, but today (in addition to picking up my car–yay!) I needed to reset my password to Hoopla, a service that my home public library, Chattanooga Public Library subscribes to and that I have access to by being a member.

What is Hoopla?

Hoopla is a streaming service that is more than just a traditional streaming service.  It allows you to borrow (for my institution) 10 items per month.  Notice that I said, items, not movies or TV shows.  It does have movies and television, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.  However, it also has comics/graphic novelsebooksaudiobooks, and music (!).  I’ve used it before and really liked it.  What it lacks in terms of terms of hit releases (very few major releases), it makes up with breadth–there are a lot of good genre materials embedded within each of the categories.

Summer Hoopla

So, while I’ve got a ton of work to do over the summer, in terms of getting ready for my summer classes this summer, I’m going to try to catch up on reading some of the comics/graphic novels (& books) that I’ve put off over the school year.  They have quite a few Marvel graphic novels, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other properties (again, books and graphic novels, mostly, not so much with movies/television).  Still, now that I trying to integrate Popular Culture into my scholarship as a Pop. Culture scholar, I actually need some pop. culture to go with my scholarship.

I would encourage you to check out Hoopla if your library has a subscription.  If not, then you might want to see if your library has something similar.  It is a really useful service that I plan to investigate more over this summer.

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

 

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Mini-Review: Alien Legion #6

Mind Blown

Although I’ve featured other Alien Legion (AL) issues before, this is the very first AL comic that I ever owned and read.  The others I just happened to have found around town, but this one was so great, that as soon as my eyes spotted anything with the AL logo on it, I immediately went to it and picked it up–and if I had the money, purchased it.  With an Aug. 1988 cover date, I probably would have bought it May/June of 1988 at (the now defunct) Waldenbooks in downtown Chattanooga and it would have been something that I read over the summer of 1988 before school started.  I probably would have been beginning my sophomore year in high-school at that time as well.

Large and in Charge

While the other two AL stories that I’ve review have featured Sarigar, the commander of Nomad Squad, this issue is pretty much a character study on one of Nomad’s toughest characters–Jugger Grimrod.  Jugger is given his own command and while I won’t spoil it–it proves to be pretty memorable.  We get to see Grimrod command soldiers on what appears to be a routine mission, but is anything but and we get to see his reactions–sometimes hilarious–in the face of extreme danger.

Characterization

Jugger Grimrod is very much a character cut from the Logan/Wolverine mythos.  Very much a loner and a hard-talking, fast-living, remorseless killing machine willing to do anything to get the job done.  I’ve always likened Grimrod as a Wolverine in space.  While you don’t learn his back story until later in the comics’ run (my next mini-review will actually focus on a pivotal part of his back story), you don’t really need it.  One thing that the writers actually do for this story is that they give him an advantage and a flaw.  While he is one of the best soldiers out there, he is an enlisted man who hates officers.  In this story, he is promoted to an officer–in essence, he becomes the very thing he hates.  And now he must deal with it.  How he deals with it and the ultimate resolution, I’ll leave you to read, but this small detail causes conflict–both external as he has people whom he’s now responsible for and internal–he has to overcome/deal with being the very thing that he despises (or not overcome/deal with it).

Overall Score: A+

The writing (Carl Potts–Creator/Chuck Dixon–Writer) and the art team (Larry Stroman and Mark Farmer) created a story that really set my imagination on fire as a child.  It was inventive, clever, and fun.  The hero was larger than life and while I couldn’t agree with the character’s ultimate decision at the end of the story, I did understand it.  If you happen across this at a “Flea Market” or “Yard Sale” or “Book Sale” of some kind, and if it is inexpensive, you might consider picking it up for an afternoon of fun reading.

Have a great day!

Sidney



Mini-Review: Alien Legion #1 (Vol. 2)

A New Beginning

Alien Legion #1 (Vol. 2) marks a new beginning for the team.  I’m not sure, but I think I purchased this issue from a spinner in Waldenbooks well before they went of business (when they were still a thriving store).  The cover date is Oct. 1987 and since comics usually went on sale about a month or two prior to their cover date (the date was “fiction” to show how “new”/”fresh” it was), I probably got it in Aug/Sept of 1987, so please forgive me if my memory is a little off.

The basic gist of the comic is that the commander of the Alien Legion squadron, Sarigar, “lost” is squad on what appeared to be a suicide mission and he was the only one to make it out alive . . . or so it seems.  This issue marks the beginning of a new storyline with a new formulation of new team members (I think it also marks a new art team, but don’t quote me on that).

Sarigar For the Win

The focus is squarely on Sarigar in this issue.  There are very few other characters–and they are mostly secondary characters by which the commander gets to show off his characterization as being someone who loves the Legion, but who loved his squad more, and is willing to risk his life to get them back.

Duty and Honor

This issue very much focuses on the idea of “duty” to one’s fallen friends, especially when they might not be as . . . fallen as first supposed.  It also has the idea of “honor” in that Sarigar is too much of a “true” Legionnaire to allow the uniform that he wears be sullied with disgrace by engaging in a bar fight with three bar room bullies.  However, when he takes off the uniform, we get to see just what a complete warrior Sarigar really is–the fight scene is only 2-3 pages long, but Sarigar wipes the floor with them easily.

The only thing I wished was that there was more interaction/story about finding the team than there is currently.  Still, its a really good read and holds up pretty well even after all these years.

Overall Grade: B+

Sidney



Mini-Review: Alien Legion, Vol 1, Issue 14

So, as I try to come to grips with the Ship of Shadows graphic novel that I am writing, I am trying to relearn many of the lessons about graphic storytelling by rereading my comic book collection that I amassed as a teen.  Unfortunately, I weeded the collection down back in the late 90s/early 2000s and lost quite a few issues that would have been good to have.  I kept what I considered were the essentials, however.  So, I decided what better way to wrap my head around writing a graphic novel than by revisiting the comics that I so loved (yes, I know there are books like Scott McCloud’s seminal work on graphic novels–and I even own a couple–but what better way than to actually read the works that I’m trying to write and breakdown what those successful creators have done to really learn the form).

I’ve always liked the concept of Alien Legion ever since I first discovered it in a comic book spinner at Waldenbooks.  The idea of a galactic Foreign Legion spoke to my inner child just coming off the high that was Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  The characters are extremely captivating.  I guess the parallel that I could make would be to have intergalactic Fast and Furious.  Wait, I take that back–that’s not interesting at all, forget I said anything like that–that’s actually a very bad comparison (I say, as I hurriedly scribble down the idea to get it written before someone else does).

In all seriousness, it really is sort of like a “Dirty Dozen” in space.  You have a group of alien soldiers, mostly humanoid, who go on missions.  Being that this is an “Epic” imprint from Marvel (a “darker” imprint than normal Marvel comics published at the time), this allowed them to go into more adult territory.  This particular issue is really unique as it deals with domestic violence and   the effects that it has.  Yes, this is told in such a way that it can be digested in a YA comic, but for 1986 and for a medium that was often marketed to children, this one deals with some pretty revolutionary issues for the time.

While the artwork is a little rough, it is still easy to read and follow the action.  The actual dialogue and story is also well done–I like how it establishes each on of the main characters through action and dialogue.  Captain Sarigar, a snake-like alien, is obviously the protagonist of the story, but I like how he involves two of the more hard-bitten Legionnaires in what is obviously a personal mission based on their reputations for being hard cases.  The story is very well done (for all of the “heavy” themes) and illustrates the dangers of domestic violence, both physically and emotionally to the victim.  For a comic book, it handles the subject matter surprisingly well and still manages to tell a strong story about a brother who, despite his obligations as a Captain in the Legion and a fierce warrior, only wants to protect his sister from an abusive boyfriend.

Overall Grade: B+

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

Mini-Review: Dark Matter, Season 3 (No Spoilers)

Without realizing it, I finished Dark Matter (DM) Season 3 (S3) last night, and overall, I liked it.  In my mind, it was a little more uneven than the previous two seasons were, but I think it is because they are trying to set-up multiple story threads to touch on in upcoming seasons (if the show has been renew–need to check as I haven’t looked to see if Syfy has renewed it yet).  Otherwise, the season had some ups and downs–more so than in the previous two seasons.

Permadeath & Exit Stage Right
They used death in S3 much as they had done in S2 to emphasize the (I guess) the capriciousness of the universe and to illustrate that they universe that the characters inhabit is a dangerous place.  The problem is, they used the deaths throughout the series, rather than at the traditional places where one might expect it, in order (again, guessing here) to keep viewers on there toes and to emphasize that no character is safe in this narrative.  However, they also had a fairly robust cast of “side characters” who existed in the world for a few episodes (or played a major part), who often left the ship for whatever reason, while others (new ones) would come on-board.  So this gave the episodes a less stable feel and very few characters on the ship were actually stable.  This contributed very much to the uneven feel of the episodes.

No Single Narrative Thread
There were many different plot lines running through DM: S3.  One such plot line (an important one that I won’t spoil) literally got introduced two episodes before the finale.  I think it (and another related “prophecy” plot line) should have placed earlier in the season, perhaps even in the first or second episode, and I think that would have gone a long way to giving the show a consistent plot “through line” to build on throughout the season.  As it was, there were many different elements going on–from double and triple crosses, to colonists rights vs corporate rights, to the idea of a good ruler vs a bad ruler, to searching for vengeance, to surviving, and et. cetera, that it all just came off just a bit jumbled.  A good kind of jumbled (for me, at least, as I love it when plots get convoluted), but still jumbled when compared to something that has a full season long arc that all the episodes have been building to (say, the final season of Star Trek Enterprise or Deep Space Nine).

Humor and Characters
One of the things that I really like about the show is that while DM can be a “dark” show (i.e., perma-death and all that), it isn’t all about blah, blah, world is such a bad place, blah, blah, blah, “Red Wedding,” blah, blah, blah, “hate all my characters, let me kill them all of in horrible ways,” blah, blah, blah.  (Yes, I know that this is a very unsubtle dig at Game of Thrones, but I’ll take any shot I can to restore a more “balanced” view of Fantasy that is more in line with tradition High Fantasy a la Tolkien, than the dreary, grim dark muck that we mostly have right now, even if that includes cheap shots).  DM allows its characters, particularly the character of the Android, but other characters as well, to inhabit an almost comedic space that one might find in a sitcom, rather than a drama.  Make no mistake, this is a sci-fi action show with the requisite space battles, warping, light speed, AI vs human conflict, etc., show that you might expect, but there are some truly hilarious moments that all characters get to participate in.  However, the Android gets to have some of the funniest lines, reminiscent of Data from Star Trek The Next Generation.  The actor’s deadpan delivery makes some of the lines truly laugh out loud funny.

Overall Rating: B (Above Average): Okay, so I was going to give it a B-, but then I got to thinking about all the fun that I had with the characters, especially the Android and I raised the grade slightly.  All it needs is a single through line for the season and less of a “revolving door” secondary character policy–let them stay on for an entire season.

Edit: Just discovered that Syfy has cancelled Dark Matter.  There will be no Season 4.  To be honest, I’m not really surprised, although it has more to do with Syfy than it does with DM.  To me, Syfy is just the television equivalent of EA at this point, with executives who care more about their investors and share prices that their audience.  I learned this the hard way when Syfy cancelled Star Gate: Universe just as it was finding its footing.  It put on the show Alphas as a replacement (only to cancel it after just two seasons).  Too bad, I really liked DM and thought it had room really grow.  I should let anyone know who might be interested in starting it though (a potential minor spoiler, but I don’t really guess it matters now): S3 ends on a cliffhanger (that is now likely to go unresolved).  Just thought you should know.

Mini-Review: Spider-man Homecoming (No Spoilers)

Over the Thanksgiving Break, my family and I watched Spider-man Homecoming (SMH) and we liked it.  It wasn’t our favorite Marvel movie, but it was still fun and exciting.  I thought I’d do a Mini-Review for the blog based on my love of comic book movies, Marvel movies, and Spider-man movies.  This one was very good–not the best–but still very good.

Action AND Humor
One thing that SPH really gets right is the action sequences as well as the humor of the character.  One of the crucial things that filmmakers don’t really get about the character is that Peter Parker is a “sincere” human being having to react to some of the scummiest situations (both in terms of everyday life and over-the-top villainy) that are out there.  His defense mechanism is his ability to turn every situation into a joke or a wise-crack.  Yes, as Spider-man, Peter is insanely powerful and gifted, but it is the humor that helps him deflect much of the trials and tribulations that he goes through.  While not nearly as funny as say, Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s still a bit of that irrepressible mixture of deft humor along with very strong action scenes that help to sell the movie and Tom Holland’s performance of the character.  As much as I disliked the high school stuff (see below), I think that Tom Holland’s performance of Peter Parker might be my favorite so far (I’ll have to reflect more on that as the year ends and I see it more times to be sure).

Straight Outta’ High School
So why isn’t this my favorite of all the Spider-man movies?  In two words: high school.  The filmmakers decided to “reset” Peter as it were, and placed a significant portion of it in Peter’s high school life/activities.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this is where quite a bit of both the tension and the humor comes in, but I’m just not one who really likes (for the most part), high school narratives in movies.  In this case, while well done, these were (again, for the most part) some of the least interesting parts of the movie.  Yes, they were well acted and all the rest, but having collected Spider-man comics during my high school and early college years (freshman & sophomore years), I really think that the true strength of the Peter Parker narrative comes from his struggle to support himself as a young photographer at the Daily Bugle with J. Jonah Jameson.  Yes, I know Peter originally started in high school, but I personally don’t feel that the stories came into their own until his college/work years, and this perception colored my feelings towards the movie.  I liked it, but I would have liked it even more had the filmmakers chosen to “age-up” Peter’s character (as I assume they will in future movies).

Marvel Movie Genres (This would be the YA Movie)
The Marvel movies have been good with mixing different genres into the standard comic book movie formula (well, with the exception of “horror” movies which they don’t seem to want to do even when it is the most appropriate genre–Age of Ultron).  However, this one would be the YA movie, if that’s the case.  Much like movies like The Hunger GamesThe Spiderwick Chronicles, etc., the reliance on such a young cast and the focus on quite a bit of high school drama/activities makes this feel more in line with a YA movie than it does with a typical Marvel movie–not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.  I should note, however, that the performances by the cast, both younger members and older members, were excellent and well done.  I look forward to their next outing whenever Marvel and Sony team-up again to produce another one.  My only hope is that we move past the high school setting into college and work-life and that they can make that as compelling in the movies as it was in the comics.

Overall Grade: B (Solid performances, action, and humor, dragged down by an over-reliance on high school drama and a bit (not too much, but a definitely bit) of teen angst/drama).

Implications for my Writing: I have to understand that I don’t really like certain genres/things: the “heist” movie, “crime” movies, and apparently “high school” movies.  If I don’t like them, it’s probably not a good idea for me to try to write them in that I probably won’t be able to create a story that is credible and true to the genre because I can’t see past the “flaws” of the genre to do it justice.  There are probably genres that I won’t be successful writing, and the “high school drama” might be one of those genres.

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

Mini-Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows

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The four turtles in NY.  Image Source: YouTube

Okay, so I’m an original TMNT aficionado.  I grew up during the first independent comic craze of the mid 80s and then watched as TV struggled to get to grips with the new resurgence of comic mania (the original Flash TV show mania and hype (and letdown) in the 80s is probably a reason why I never got super invested in the hype for the current slate of DC/Marvel TV shows).  I didn’t have access to a (dedicated) comic shop at the time (I had to buy my comics from the spinners at Waldenbooks or Eckerd Drugs–now Rite-Aid), or I probably would have picked them up as I was into all things ninja/martial arts at the time.  I’ve seen the original trilogy, the multiple incarnations of animated series, and own the animated movie version that existed before this current reboot of the franchise.

So, coming from a TMNT aficionado (won’t say fan), is this movie any good?  In a word, no.  This is from Nickelodeon films and it all but screams “kid movie.”  It is if they took the cartoon (from the 80s), mixed it up with the original movie with the goofy suits, changed the goofy suits to slick CGI actors, and threw in an 80s/90s mixtape because, hey that’s what Guardians of the Galaxy did and it worked for them, so it’ll work for us too. There are so many elements that don’t work in the movie–the dialogue, the shift in tone from goofy to serious and back to goofy.  The motivations of characters or lack of motivations.  The forced plot lines and betrayals that seem forced.  And so on.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to suspend my disbelief in order to keep watching the movie.  Even from the opening sequence where the Turtles are “skating” across the buildings of the NY skyline–which seemed like a good, cool intro.,–had me wondering about all the damage they were causing.  There’s a reason why city officials go out of their way to build skate-parks and encourage skaters to use them instead of city streets and curbs–the damage skateboards can cause is enormous, and that’s on cement.  I don’t think the glass that most skyscrapers are made of would fare any better–yet, the filmmakers didn’t even take that into account when designing, planning, or displaying that scene.  And it just goes on from there.

Yes, TMNT is supposed to be campy (they are teenage turtles who know ninjutsu), but Eastman and Laird were able to find the right balance of farce and heart in their depiction of the characters.  This one is all farce, right down to the “flatulence jokes” of the henchmen, which begs the question of why the “baddest” villain of all time (aka Shredder) would tolerate his newest henchmen if that is all they could do.  It would have made a better movie, had the two henchmen been created within the first ten minutes of the movie and hunted the turtles “to extinction.”  Sort of like what Kraven the Hunter does to Spider-Man in several of his storylines.  Then it would have made the “moral crisis” of the movie (manufactured as it was) at least relevant: “hide among the humans as humans to save ourselves or stay true to our turtle forms and find a way to beat these two hunters as a team/band of brothers.”  As it stands, the way this actually plays out in the movie is very weak and not very convincing.

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Character Sketches for BeeBop and Rocksteady.  Image Source: TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com (a TMNT fan site).

On the whole, I only finished the movie because: 1) for completeness sake–I’ve seen most everything else Turtles-related, so I might as well see this since it is on streaming and 2) I’m trying to stop abandoning movies mid-stream (I have at least four movies–Terminator: Genisys–I looking at you that I started, but did not finish because of the overall hokiness to them) and I’m trying to stop doing that (although this movie sorely tested my resolve).

OVERALL GRADE: D  (My suggestion–watch this ONLY if there’s nothing else to watch and make sure that you understand that you are going to most likely need to metaphorically “dive into the kiddie pool” in order to get through this one.)