Thursday, October 27, 2011

Comics for Causes- Code Word: Geronimo

The American Veterans' Center was initially established to educate young people about the legacy of the World War II generation, particularly of World War II veterans, their motto being "From the Greatest Generation to the Latest Generation." Recently, though, they decided to live up to that motto in even more ways, eventually broadening their mission "to preserve and promote the stories, experiences, and lessons of our military men and women of every generation."

IDW got behind that with Code Word: Geronimo, which chronicles the raid against Osama bin Laden. Weighing in at a hefty seventy-four pages worth of fast-paced graphic novel storytelling and a dozen or so more pages of timelines and other informative tidbits in hardcover, but with a relatively lean pricetag, this book is already an excellent value for the money. That part of the proceeds are going to the American Veterans' Center makes this an even more valuable investment in preserving the well-being of our veterans and especially the lessons they can impart.

Given my support for similar projects such as Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, I would have felt remiss if I did not pick this up the second I saw this at my local comic book store. I did not regret it in the least. Not only is it a substantial read, but the writing by Capt. Dale Dye and Julia Dye flowed seamlessly and in most places unobtrusively, though not without plenty of helpful footnotes to explain some of the tougher military jargon. Though obviously the sensitivity of the subject required some changes, it did not detract from the flow of the story or the portrayal of all involved, even those whose true identities we will not know, as well-developed characters.

I found the artistic team- Gerry Kissell, Amin Amat, David Enebral, and Rubin Cubiles with lettering by Robbie Robbins and additional colors by Marc Rueda, Alex Towers, Miquel Diaz, Lucrecia Fraile, Ego, and Nieves Fernandez- larger than usual for a graphic novel. That could have posed a challenge, but it looked to me like they all worked very well together, accommodating and blending their different styles with the grace that comes with the best teamwork. They all worked so well with the story and the writers that they could convey not just each person's actions, but emotions and motivations clearly enough that often no written words needed to appear on panel to guide the readers.

The afterword by John Del Vecchio is just as worth reading. In only a dozen pages or so, it provides a few insights into military history, a timeline of Osama bin Laden's life and atrocities, a history of the Navy SEALs and particularly SEAL Team 6, and even a biography of the Apache warrior whose name would go on to be used to inspire courage or, such as in this case, to signify the success of a dangerous raid- Geronimo.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Comic Book Reviews and Spoilers: The Walking Dead 90 and Wolverine and the X-Men 1

Yes indeed, it was a big Wednesday, so big I have to write twice the review.

The Walking Dead 90 felt like a roller coaster all in one issue, tying up points from the previous couple of issues like the standoff between Rick and Nicholas, addressing their fallout, and introducing new themes all very satisfactorily without letting us think anything is really resolved. Nicholas and Rick reach a peaceful if tenuous understanding. Carl goes home. Andrea reaches out to Rick and says something so warm, hopeful, and life-affirming it made me look forward to the next issue with almost reckless optimism.

Of course, the key word is "almost." We can count on Robert Kirkman to not let us remain long on top of the world before taking us down. Rick's uncertain of his place in any "safe" society. It's becoming clearer just how deep Carl's own scars run. Glenn is nervous about Nicholas and has more reason to be worried about Maggie, who says she can't live "like this." And Abraham's new girlfriend seems to be using him to make a play for power within the community. While the issue ends on a very high note, I'm still on the edge of my seat anticipating the next issue with equal parts hope and dread.

On the other hand, the inaugural issue of Wolverine and the X-Men left me feeling rather elated. For too long, I'd felt that the X-books had been too bogged down with darkness, imminent extinction, and Cyclops's more militant brand of leadership to be any fun. Jason Aaron effectively threw all of that out the window. The school is back. The themes of coexistence and misfits struggling to find their places even among fellow misfits are back. The characters are relatable and even likable- warts and all. Small tidbits of realism like the inspectors' concern over Headmistress Pryde's lack of academic credentials stood out nicely and balanced out what might have otherwise been a roiling cacophany of hyperkinetic craziness.

My only complaint is about how some of the "interdimensional gremlins" Beast mentioned were drawn. I wasn't sure what exactly those creatures who each resembled a nudist, chaotic neutral Nightcrawler on a perpetual sugar rush were supposed to be. Bamfs? They certainly weren't the cuter, cuddlier Bamfs as I remember them. Maybe they just need their "daddy" back to keep them in line. In any case, I hope there will be no Bamf-hunting.

Overall, though, the book was chock full of laugh-out-loud moments such as hadn't been seen in the X-books in a long time- I'm thinking since Excalibur's whackiest moments. As Kade Kilgore (who, now that I think of it, may well be a better villain than I at first expected) said, "The very idea of a 'Wolverine School for Gifted Youngsters' is utterly absurd."  And it just may be extremely entertaining, too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Walking Dead 89: Review and Spoilers

Upon the first reading, there doesn't seem to be much to this issue- just the simmering tensions within the Community escalating to a fever pitch! And do they ever! Once I started reading, I couldn't stand to put the book down.

The issue starts right where 88 left off, though it's not necessary to have read 88 or really any previous issue to understand what's going on. I think Kirkman may have mastered the delicate art of writing an ongoing series in which almost any issue can serve as a good "jumping on" point. Members of the Community grumble about Rick and his band of newcomers moving in and taking over, so Nicholas formulates a plan to take Rick out permanently and tries to get Spencer, Olivia, and eventually the rest of the community to go along with him. While it remains to be seen how successful he is, there is no doubt about his methods. He insults Olivia's intelligence, Spencer's manhood, and the loyalty of anyone who, even if they disapprove of Rick's leadership, doesn't agree with what Nicholas has planned. As his bullying becomes more violently apparent, it becomes more evident that his hatred of Rick has blinded him to his own actions. He threatens Glenn, Maggie, former friends, even little Sophia, all while blaming Rick for making the Community more dangerous.

There are a couple of breaks from the tension. Rick discusses with Andrea his changing relationship with his son, and a scavenging party kills a few roamers while they find little food. To those unfamiliar with the book, it may seem odd that in a post-apocalyptic comic book, the part where zombie heads get smashed constitutes a break, but this is perfectly in accordance with this series' running theme. The monsters against which we need to be most vigilant are not mindless ghouls, but very much alive, very human, and all too real.

The extras in the back include the conclusion of the interview with The Walking Dead: The Rise of the Governor author Jay Bonansinga which offers some helpful advice for aspiring writers. A rather amusing couple of letters also poke some gentle and affectionate fun at the practice of shameless self-promotion. And then they allow Arcadio BolaƱos to promote in one of them his work for Grayhaven Comics. This further proves to me that whoever the real monsters may be, Robert Kirkman is not one of them.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Film Review: Dolphin Tale

These days I don't often see movies in the theater. A tight budget and a Netflix/Quickster membership have made it necessary to limit my theater-going to movies I believe will be worthwhile.

Two years ago, my daughter went whale watching for the first time and completely fell in love with the sea and all life within it. Last year, she adopted a humpback whale through The World Wildlife Fund. This year, she'd been particularly excited about two things. One of them is the movie Dolphin Tale. And since it came out so close to her birthday, I figured it might be worth seeing in the theater- perhaps even in 3D, and I never pay extra for 3D if I think the movie would be just as good without the glasses and gimmickry.

I was not disappointed. The 3D effects did indeed enhance the moviegoing experience without being obnoxious. Similarly, the star power of the cast showed best by not showing at all. I found Austin Stowell's performance as a wounded veteran heartrendingly perfect right down to his eight mile stare. Every actor in the cast could have easily overpowered the entire movie, just as the family movie schmaltz also could have, but they did not. Instead, barring a scene with a remote controlled helicopter I found took excessively long, the focus of the whole film remained right where it needed to be. Based on the true story of a remarkable bottlenose dolphin named Winter who'd lost her tail after getting tangled in a crab trap line, the movie focuses on her and her ability to touch so many lives- from the alienated young boy who found her, to the doctors and biologists who worked with her, to disabled children and wounded veterans who understood her plight and were inspired by her triumph.

And this leads me to mention one other problem. I forgot to bring a hanky.

I rate this movie four and a half boxes of Kleenex out of five, and my daughter gives it two pectoral fins up.