Comics Ate My Brain

December 1, 2006

Royale, No Cheese

Filed under: james bond — Tom Bondurant @ 9:45 pm
I talked about Casino Royale in a roundabout way over in this week’s Grumpy Old Fan, but I know Nik wants to hear what I thought about it as a movie. Here you go, and watch out for SPOILERS:

I liked it. It was a little long, and I still can’t quite get used to the substitution of poker for baccarat, or Daniel Craig’s blond hair. Those are minor nitpicks. The Best Wife Ever liked it too, probably because she hadn’t brought all her fannish baggage. We tried to go on opening weekend, but it was only on one screen at our lone theater, and it sold out that weekend. It sold out for our show last Saturday too, just after we got tickets.

It was a better introduction to Bond than Dr. No, although that’s not fair to Dr. No. CR has a couple of big advantages over its (by now distant) ancestor, mostly forty years of the public’s familiarity with the character. There will never be another 1962 audience that didn’t know it could be so entertained by a Scottish actor playing a British assassin. Casino Royale, the movie, is pumped full of action that the book doesn’t have, but which audiences would naturally expect. Bond’s relationships with M and Vesper are both riffs on traditional series elements, but they’re handled in ways that would be familiar to casual fans or even non-fans. Bond’s tweaking of M is particularly reminiscent of any number of plays-by-his-own-rules heroes. Here it works, because this Bond is finding himself and dealing with new responsibilities the extent of which he probably doesn’t appreciate yet. He’s not the polished agent of the previous movies, so it’s understandable that he would be testing boundaries at this early stage.

Before I forget, I want to mention the fantastic work of composer David Arnold. He builds the score around a very catchy figure, so syncopated it almost sounds like mixed-meter, and uses it to such effect that I barely noticed the relative absence of the classic Bond theme. When the Bond theme does creep in, it’s mostly the bass-clef foundation, whetting our appetites for the Real Thing to erupt, fully formed, over the end credits. I can’t decide if David Arnold or credits designer Daniel Kleinman is the best thing to happen to Bond (before Craig) in a long time, but they should both be locked into the series for as long as possible. I can’t remember a lick of lyrics from “You Know My Name” (beyond that phrase), but I’m still humming that syncopated figure. It’s a shame that the themes (by and large) haven’t carried over from film to film, because it would make a good addition to the music library, along with John Barry’s “007” and OHMSS themes.

And that’s a decent segue into the real issue with these kinds of back-to-basics movies: at what point does an innovative Square One movie give way to the inevitabilities of its parent series? This film placed the “gunbarrel sequence” at the end of the opening scene, but don’t we all expect the next Bond movie to open with it? The fan consensus I’ve seen is hopeful that the mystery organization after Le Chiffre is SPECTRE, freed from the shackles of litigation by the same deal that allowed MGM and Sony to co-produce this film.

[That reminds me — if memory serves, this movie is the first to list Craig as playing “Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007,” and also to state that it is “based on the novel by Ian Fleming.” None of the previous films had the latter credit, styling themselves as “Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger” (for example) or as featuring “Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007.” Another byproduct of the settlement, perhaps?]

So anyway, if Bond 22 is full of the classic theme-music and has Bond fighting SPECTRE — or even if Bond 22 is a faithful adaptation of another novel (Live and Let Die was the follow-up) — how long will it be before Craig gets his first rocket-launching Aston Martin or laser-torch wristwatch? I really can’t see Craig playing opposite John Cleese’s Q (and indeed, we might not see Q for a while, since he wasn’t as prominent in the books). The stakes presented by Casino Royale were economic and therefore more abstract, with the danger to the world’s largest airliner feeling almost like an obligation to threaten something big and explodey. A more familiar Bond-movie setup would end with the danger to the big explodey thing, but I think that’s the lodestone towards which the series is expected to gravitate.

It’s the same problem that the sequel to Batman Begins faces: now that the gangsters and the lower-profile supervillains are out of the way, The Dark Knight promises not only more Batman in costume, but the Joker too. I guess the challenge is to invest the Joker and the further development of the first film’s characters with the same quasi-realistic approach, which allows The Dark Knight more leeway in terms of where they’re “supposed” to end up. The Batman mythology, extensive as it is, is helped further by being more setup than narrative, without the same kind of continuous-storytelling throughline that, say, Marvel built into its cornerstone characters. Spider-Man has the death of Gwen Stacy, the Fantastic Four have Reed and Sue’s wedding and Franklin’s birth, and Bond has Tracy’s death. Batman doesn’t have anything after-added which is that iconic except the addition of Robin, and apparently that can be ignored in the interests of avoiding excess frivolity. (Robin opens all kinds of worm-filled cans, including Batgirl, Nightwing, and Dick’s successors.)

Actually, as important as Tracy’s death was to the literary Bond, it may well be fading in the rear-view mirror of the cinematic Bond, especially in light of Casino Royale‘s character-definitive ending. Ironically, Casino Royale‘s fidelity to Fleming’s sensibilities may do the most to liberate the franchise from 40 years’ worth of expectations. I’m ready to see it again, and I’m excited about the next one.

New comics 11/29/06

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. SPOILERS FOLLOW….

The last big piece of the speedster puzzle from Infinite Crisis is revealed in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #6 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ken Lashley and Andy Smith, inked by Art Thibert), and honestly, it amounts to “because we said so.” Basically, after Bart takes care of Griffin (who dies in a somewhat incoherent sequence where a giant boulder is dropped, Wile E. Coyote-like, on him), we flash back to the Battle World where Bart, the Jay Garrick of Earth-Whatever, Barry Allen, Wally West, and Max Mercury are standing around talking about how best to warn everyone else that Superboy-Prime has gotten away from them.

First off, I’m willing to ignore the space-time issues as to how beings who can travel through time and across multiverses unaided are worried about catching someone who’s, granted, about as fast as they are. Still, standing around? Only Jay and Wally are even in costume. Shouldn’t they be racing after Superboy, talking strategy on the run? Wouldn’t that have been more, y’know, EXCITING?!? Anyway, since Wally can share and steal speed, he proposes absorbing the others’ Speed Force energy to push him to eleven. Bart says no, it’s too dangerous, and you have Linda and the kids to think of — let me do it! And that’s how it happens. That’s why Bart’s been so reluctant to use the Speed Force — he feels guilty for something he volunteered for, and his friends agreed to. Man, what a crappy bit of fiat. Nothing in there suggests that Bart couldn’t have transferred the SF energy back to the others once he was done with it. Nothing in it suggests that Bart abandoned them on the Battle World (which, by the way, means that Barry Allen and Max Mercury are still alive out there, since DC’s apparently unconcerned about that screwing up the timeline the way it did in Flash vol. 2 #150). Therefore, nothing prevents Bart from finding Wally and the rest, telling them he’s done, and restoring their speed to them. The little jolt he gave Jay this issue is probably an acknowledgment that he can do just that. Good grief, DC, at least with Kyle Rayner you burned a lot of bridges! Here you’ve just put up some flimsy barricades. Basically, Bart is the Flash for as long as he wants to be, and since there’s hardly anything new or innovative about Bart-Flash, you’re going to have to work a heck of a lot harder to convince me to buy this book. Another guest artist, this time Andy Smith helping out Lashley, does improve the overall look of things with a sort of Alan Davis-meets-Dick Giordano style.

I’m really not very fond of Ethan van Sciver’s cover for Green Lantern #15 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ivan Reis). Since when does Hal Jordan have black eyes with little white pupils? Inside is better, as GL fights the Global Guardians, a couple of Faceless Hunters from Saturn, the Rocket Reds, and a special surprise team on the last page. Oh, and we see the new Sinestro Corps. It’s entertaining enough, but there’s an undercurrent of sexism that kind of spoils it for me. The prominent female characters are a (mind-controlled) seductress (Crimson Fox), a man-hating murderess (the new Star Sapphire, who still gets a cool origin), or a prisoner (Cowgirl, who does escape her guards). Maybe I’m being unfair, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

Van Sciver provides interior art for Superman/Batman #30 (written by Mark Verheiden), which, as it happens, is a sequel to a plotline from Verheiden’s short run on Superman last year. That was a pleasant surprise. The thought of Alfred turning to sweet, sweet bourbon as a tonic for his stresses was also kind of funny, if a little wrong. However, the rest of it was just very strange. Batman and Plastic Man breaking into the Fortress of Solitude was probably the highlight, although I think the Alien Bad Guy just spoiled part of 52. Otherwise, Superman and Kilowog somehow conclude that they have to Kill All Humans, Superman’s eyes get all red and glowy, and … yeah. I’m not long for this book.

I was looking forward to the all-Batman, all-Grant Morrison issue of 52 (#30 written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Joe Bennett, inks by Bennett and Ruy Jose), but this issue wasn’t it. For one thing, it featured a two-page Origin of the Metal Men, and while I don’t have anything against the Metal Men, they’re not exactly part of Bruce’s One Year Later development. Seeing Kate Kane in the old Wayne Foundation penthouse — one of my absolute favorite fictional buildings, giant fake tree and all — was nice, but jumping back and forth from Gotham to wherever Nightwing and Robin were, was a bit confusing, and I went over those scenes again to confirm that they hadn’t come back to Gotham only to have Robin fly back to the desert with his super dune buggy. I did have to smile at the Ten-Eyed Assassins, but rather than this issue being the done-in-one wonder I was expecting, now I’d like to see a more satisfying follow-up.

Over in Batman #659, guest writer John Ostrander and guest artist Tom Mandrake bring us Part 1 of the four-part story of Grotesk, yet another new Batman antagonist that hits a number of familiar notes. He’s a vigilante who kills because the skels deserve it; he’s an unstoppable brute with (yes) a grotesque look; and he has a mysterious connection to one of Bruce Wayne’s old flames. Thankfully, Bruce and Alfred figured out the connection right around the time I did, which redeems the issue considerably. Ostrander also includes a nice scene with Gordon and a disguised Batman, and Mandrake’s art looks really good. He was a fine regular Batman artist in the ‘80s, and he’s only gotten better.

Batman/The Spirit (written by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke, pencilled by Darwyn Cooke, inked by J. Bone) was fun, although I shamefully admit not being up on my Spirit Rogues past P’Gell. This is basically a $4.99 ad for Cooke’s Spirit series, beginning next month. It’s not exactly the sly meditations on the human condition that Will Eisner’s originals were, and neither the Spirit nor his supporting cast dominate the pages like the more colorful Batman characters, but Cooke’s style is the selling point here, and it’s enough of a Spirit story (not to mention a more carefree Batman story) to be a pretty good ad.

Captain America #24 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) didn’t feel like Part 3 of 3, since it seems more concerned with setting up a big throwdown involving the Red Skull and a very welcome Surprise Guest Villain. Sharon Carter joins Cap’s side and also links up with Nick Fury, Cap fights Hydra goons and SHIELD cape-killers, and … is the Winter Soldier in this one? No. Oh well, he would’ve gotten lost in all the Hydra beatdowns. Anyway, good clean fun, and the next-issue blurb sounds sufficiently hyperbolic.

Nextwave #10 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) featured a short fight sequence between our heroes and the Not Brand Ecchers, followed by a series of freakish dream sequences showing the Nextwavers as “real” superheroes, or at least more traditional superheroes. It’s the first issue of Nextwave that isn’t riotously funny, and in fact it’s a little more like Planetary, but it’s still good. Boy, Stuart Immonen can draw. Be assured, though, it ends in typical Nextwave fashion.

Jog liked Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage #1 (by Howard Chaykin), and Kevin Church compared it to American Flagg!, so I’ll agree with both and postulate further that it shouldn’t have been G’Nort who acts as the P.O.’ed voice of the Green Lantern Corps, but Raul the Cat (or something like him) with a power ring. Can you imagine? It would have made this Flagg! fan very happy, and it would have prevented an otherwise jarring transition from the purely comedic goofball G’Nort was in Justice League International to this pragmatic, jaded canine creature. Ch’p would have worked as well. Guy translates into a typical Chaykin protagonist smoothly, although he’s not quite the socialized Guy found in other DC books, nor does he have all the charm of Reuben Flagg. I do think that Chaykin is well-suited for Guy, and next issue should be good as well.

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