Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Powerpuff Girls Volume 1

Writing and art by Troy Little

            The Powerpuff Girls is one of my favorite Cartoon Network shows, and probably one of my favorite cartoons in general.  Full of action, humor, and memorable characters, it hit all the right marks.  It makes an obvious choice for IDW’s sudden plan to revive several Cartoon Network shows in comic book form.  And the comic is a perfect adaptation from page one.
            The comic starts naturally enough, with the girls once again foiling one of Mojo Jojo’s plots.  But from there, Mojo Jojo gets so tired of being constantly defeated that he decides to make a major change.  No spoilers here, but it’s a moment that’s surprising and…well, you know it’s going to snap back, but the road there is what’s interesting.  There’s several more twists here along the way, especially as Him begins his own schemes.  Sadly, my review copy only came with the first 3 issues of the arc, so I can’t judge how everything ends, but I want to find out how things end up, which I consider to be good enough.  Overall, it’s just like a story you’d expect from the show in a longer format than normal.
            And tonally as well, this is right on point.  From the classic “The City of Townsville” opening to the narrator jokes to the art style, this reads and looks just like the show.  It can be so common, even with animated shows, for the comic to get off-model for the characters, but there’s none of those problems here.  The comic even includes some of the more adult jokes that you’d expect (like references to Ed Wood and Saw), which is especially great for the older fans who actually get these jokes now, while not distracting from the basic family-friendly style.  It’s what you want out of an all-ages comic, and even kids that have never seen Powerpuff Girls before would likely be interested in it from this book.

            If this is the high quality I can expect for IDW’s Cartoon Network comics, then you can sign me up for all of them.  An adaptation that tells new stories in a style that’s almost indistinguishable from the show itself.  You can’t get much better than this.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fatale Volume 4: Pray for Rain

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

            Fatale is nearing its end, and the story isn’t necessarily coming together as more than a series of stories about Josephine.  And somehow, it doesn’t matter.  The simple concept of Josephine being cursed to make guys unnaturally attracted to her keeps finding new and interesting territory to explore, and Volume 4 takes another decade leap and another twist on it.
            After the previous volume of one-shots, Pray for Rain is another full story of Josephine, this time in 90s Seattle, right in the middle of the grunge scene.  She shows up on the doorsteps of the band Amsterdam, who had a one-hit wonder before their songwriter went insane, and now they have to rob banks to survive.  And of course, everybody becomes attracted to Josephine as she becomes their muse.  There’s just one problem: she has amnesia, and she doesn’t remember about her curse.
            That simple twist that changes everything.  Up to this point, we’ve seen Josephine guarded, hiding away from people and on the run from the cult that’s trying to find her.  Here, she’s open and free, having sex with whoever she pleases, and it is terrifying.  It shouldn’t be a shock that this volume does not end in sunshine and rainbows, but the violence and depravity that takes place is done so suddenly and so effectively that it just clicks.  As always, Sean Phillips’ art is walking that line between noir and horror, just like this whole comic has been walking that line.  When it’s the simple fact that the band is likely going to tear itself apart over her, it’s tragic.  When you get that reminder that the cult is also after her, it goes straight into horror.

            Hopefully things will start to come together more as Fatale nears its end.  Even if they don’t, Pray for Rain is yet another volume that can be read as a piece of the whole or as a standalone story, and either way, you’re not going to be disappointed. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Written by far too many people to list
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo

            There’s that period of Disney animated history, going from Pocahontas to Meet the Robinsons, where about every movie was hit-or-miss (with Robinsons finally starting the hit streak again).  There were some great movies (Lilo & Stitch, Emperor’s New Groove), there were some awful ones (Home on the Range), and there were some that were so uneven that it’s hard to say.  And that’s squarely where Hunchback of Notre Dame falls.
            Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is the titular hunchback, locked up in the bell tower of Notre Dame by Judge Frollo (Tony Jay), who “protects” him by keeping him away from the outside world.  When he escapes the tower for the Festival of Fools, he becomes attracted to Esmeralda (Demi Moore)…but so does the captain of the guard Phoebus (Kevin Kline) and Frollo, who decides that she’s either going to be his or die.
            OK, let’s talk about this for a moment: there is absolutely no way this movie should have a G movie.  It is almost oppressively dark, starting from Quasimodo’s mother dying on-screen in the first 10 minutes.  The movie is downright nightmarish at times, featuring Quasimodo getting tied up by a mob and a lot of execution imagery.  And then we have Hellfire, which may be the only Disney song about how much the villain wants to have sex with the love interest (seriously).  At times, this comes off less like a Disney movie and more like an independent adult-focused movie.   Not that this works against it.  It’s generally enjoyable to watch, and the focus on drama is a rather different tone for Disney.
            To the point where the comic-relief gargoyles can’t help but feel a little out of place.  There are some comic moments that work, but the gargoyles role in the movie feels forced in.  This is almost a hard realism movie, and having that one element of magic (or hallucination—it’s never really explained, and the movie doesn’t seem to care) is just weird.  Almost as weird as them singing a song about how much Esmerelda loves Quasimodo…while Paris burns and using imagery of people hanging.  The songs in general are…well, they’re constant, and there are some good ones in here.  There’s not that much that’s going to be stuck in your head (besides the aforementioned Hellfire), but the darker they get, the better they fit in with the movie.

            Hunchback of Notre Dame is definitely uneven, and rather out of place in Disney canon, but under the right circumstances, it’s an interesting and enjoyable movie.  If you’re not a fan of the sillier Disney movies, well, this is perfect for you.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Lego Movie

Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Written by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

            The success of toy-based movies to this point has been…well…about what you’d expect out of toy-based movies, full of merchandising opportunities and not much else.  Meanwhile, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have been on a hot streak, after directing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, two movies that should’ve been awful but were instead hilarious.  And with The Lego Movie, they’re proving that you can throw them any license and it’ll turn out great.
            Emmett (Chris Pratt) is a normal construction worker who follows every rule, every instruction, and is perfectly ordinary.  Then he stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance and gets picked up by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who believes he’s the Special, the Master Builder who can save the universe.  And all the Master Builders will have to team up if they’re going to stop President Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the world.
            Let’s start with the obvious necessity of a Lego movie: featuring Legos.  Yes, yes, it’s an obvious point, but it’s the sheer way this movie features Legos that’s incredible.  The characters pass through several worlds based on different sets, all of them distinctly different and interesting, but when they come together true magic happens.  The Master Builder scene (that’s been featured in trailers) is a good example, featuring everybody from NBA players to an 80s spaceman to Milhouse.  It could’ve just been done as a way to show off all the different sets that Lego has, go ask your parents to buy them right now, but they just flow into the movie, creating perfect jokes and great interactions.  And the other plus of this Lego movie is the animation.  It’s computer-generated to look like stop-motion, and crazily enough, it works.  And there’s the fact that everything is made out of Legos.  The Lego games tend to just have characters and important objects, while everything else is realistic.  Here?  The lasers are Legos.  The smoke clouds are Legos.  Hell, when Wyldstyle goes into Master Builder vision, the Lego pieces are marked with their actual piece numbers.  It’s a crazy attention to detail that pays off spectacularly.
            And all the detail would be nothing without a good story and plenty of good jokes, and this movie has both.  The story flows perfectly, with plenty of expected twists for a story like this, and then throwing in more than a few unexpected ones.  And the jokes are as rapid-fire as you’d expect, going from visual to verbal to wherever the movie can take things.  And they’re both helped by an incredible voice cast.  Everybody, from the main cast, to cameos such as Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Green Lantern, they’re all doing a perfect job.  Special notice must be played to Will Ferrell, who once again proves that he should probably switch over to voice acting, and Charlie Day as Spaceman Benny, who is quickly becoming one of those people I look forward to hearing in animated movies.

            The Lego Movie is a pleasant surprise for toy movies, and another hit for Lord and Miller.  Witty and interesting, it’s an early must-see for 2014.