Saturday, May 10, 2008

Emerald City ComiCon, Day One

Day One of the Emerald City ComiCon was fun. I arrived at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center by 9:30am, exchanged my ticket for a badge, and waited in line until the doors to the convention space opened at 10am.

I spent most of the first hour looking at the merchandise on display from various exhibitors and making mental notes about where I might return later or tomorrow to actually buy things. The only thing I bought today was this. It's going on top of the PC with the Hal Jordan action figure and the Jawa plushie.

From 11am to Noon, I attended a panel called "The Legal Side of Creating Comic Books". The panelists were two attorneys from Washington Lawyers for the Arts who discussed copyrights, trademarks, and related issues. It was just a basic overview, but informative.

From Noon to 1pm, I was at the "What It Takes to Make It in Comics" panel put on by writer Christian Beranek and another writer whose name I didn't catch. Lots of good suggestions about finding artists to work with, submitting to publishers, and making it as a comic book writer.

At 1pm, I stepped out of the convention space for lunch. There's a Subway on the same floor, so I went there for a foot long tuna sub and a bottle of Coke. After waiting in the long line, getting the food, and then eating it, most of an hour was used up.

Then I attended the "Mondo Marvel" discussion from 2pm to 3pm with a panel consisting of editor Jen Gr├╝nwald, writer Ed Brubaker, writer Robert Kirkman, artist Skottie Young, and writer/artist Jeff Parker. Lots of info about upcoming Marvel Comics projects. It was also the funniest panel of the day. The panelists were a laugh riot.

From 3pm to 4pm, it was the "Spotlight with Jamie Bamber" (aka Apollo on Battlestar Galactica). He's even cuter in person, plus I got to hear his normal charming English accent instead of the North American accent he uses on the show. He's an engaging speaker with a good sense of humor. He also said and quickly retracted a potential spoiler about who the final Cylon may be.

I walked around the exhibition floor a little more, looking at more things I might want to buy tomorrow. I got a big smile from a lovely woman in a Power Girl costume after she noticed I was admiring her. There were cute geek women all over the place, so I was happy.

I finished off the day between 5pm and 6pm at the Costume Contest. The judges were three characters from the Who Wants to Be a Superhero? reality show, including The Defuser. Lots of great costumes, including the aforementioned Power Girl, a couple dressed up as Gambit and Rogue, a convincing Robin, some amazing looking Borg, and an Ian McKellen lookalike as Magneto. The contest ran late, so I left before the winner was announced.

I'm looking forward to Day Two.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Review: Iron Man

The golden age of films derived from comic books continues with a production that immediately vaults into the category of the best superhero films.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a billionaire playboy and a brilliant engineer. While in Afghanistan to demonstrate his new weapons system to American military brass, including his old friend Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard), Stark is severely wounded during an attack on his military convoy and is taken hostage by the Ten Rings terrorist group and their leader Raza (Faran Tahir), who wants Stark to build a weapons system for him. Stark and fellow captive Dr. Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who creates a device to keep Stark alive despite his injuries, instead construct a metal battlesuit that Stark uses to stage an escape. Returning home to America, Stark finds himself changed by his experience as a captive and decides to stop manufacturing weapons. His decision puts him in conflict with his mentor and corporate second in command, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who challenges Stark for control of the company and uses his battlesuit designs to become the villainous Iron Monger. Can Stark save the day as Iron Man?

Director Jon Favreau (Elf, Zathura) completely gets what this film and by extension the superhero genre are all about, injecting high flying action, a sense of humor without getting campy, and a respect for the genre into a thoroughly entertaining two hours of cinematic fun. It's a tightly constructed film that effortlessly succeeds on all intended levels. It doesn't break any new ground, but it's a satisfying and high quality production that ranks among the best of the superhero films. I was initially concerned when Favreau was hired as director because his previous films just seemed to lack a certain spark, but that spark is here in spades.

The screenplay by the writing teams of Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby (Children of Men) and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway (Shadow of Fear), along with a final polish by the uncredited John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride) and some uncredited additional dialog by comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, is top notch and faithful in tone to the source material. The script was more of a guide for the director and actors, with much of the dialog improvised on set, giving a much more naturalistic feel to many scenes.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) provides a sleek visual style as polished as Iron Man's armor, matched by the sets of production designer J. Michael Riva (Zathura, Spider-Man 3). The three versions of Iron Man armor were created by Stan Winston Studios, with the final form based on designs by artists Adi Granov and Phil Saunders. The score by Ramin Djawadi (Blade: Trinity, Mr. Brooks) is perfectly suited to the story, with just the right amount of bombast befitting of the film's title (the Black Sabbath song of the same name is used over the end credits). The visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic are up to their usual high standard of work, featuring seamless CGI.

Downey is absolutely perfect as Stark/Iron Man. The roguish charm, the ego, the determination, and the transformation into a hero...it's all here, and Downey's presence lends weight and believability not only to his role but to the film as a whole. While Bridges' performance isn't on that level, it's still a solid counterpoint to Downey's as Stark's mentor turned foe. Howard captures the personality of Rhodey. Gwyneth Paltrow has fun with the role of Pepper Potts, Stark's enamored personal assistant.

The rest of the cast is also well chosen for their roles, including Toub as Yinsen, Tahir as Raza, Leslie Bibb as a reporter Stark has a one night stand with, Bill Smitrovich as General Gabriel, Clark Gregg as SHIELD Agent Coulson, and director Favreau as Stark's bodyguard/driver Happy Hogan. Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee has a cameo as a benefit party guest mistaken for Hugh Hefner. Paul Bettany is another nice touch as the voice of JARVIS, an advanced artificial intelligence program that Stark uses (in the comics, Jarvis is a human butler).

The summer film season just got kicked off in a spectacular fashion. Whether you're a comic book fan or just an action movie fan, Iron Man will leave you completely satisfied and then some. Just be sure to stay past the end credits for a special bonus scene that sets up future developments in a fan-thrilling way.

[4.5 out of 5 stars]

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Iron Man's opening weekend garnered an impressive $201 million at the box office worldwide ($104.2 million in the US, $96.8 million internationally). Only Spider-Man had a better historical opening among non-sequels. Can you say Iron Man 2? Marvel Studios already has. The sequel is set to be released on April 30, 2010.

Other release dates announced by Marvel: Thor on June 4, 2010, The First Avenger: Captain America on May 6, 2011, and The Avengers later in 2011. That last film will feature Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America.

On the DC side of the fence, although there has been no official announcement, actor Brandon Routh said in a recent interview that he expects Superman: Man of Steel to start shooting next year for release in 2010. Bryan Singer is expected to return as director.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Judging by all the squeeing on my friends list, even from some notoriously hard to please people, Iron Man is good entertainment. I'll find out for myself on Tuesday, but all the reviews I've read have me feeling optimistic.

New Dark Knight Trailer -- does this look good or what?

The Top 100 Comic Book Runs Master List -- I concur with the Top 6.

The Emerald City ComiCon is next weekend. I'm looking forward to it. There are nearly a dozen panels I want to attend over both days. "What It Takes to Make It in Comics" is the one I have the most interest in.

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