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Legend of the Avatar

10 Jun

Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in an Asiatic-like world in which some people can manipulate the classical elements with psychokinetic variants of the Chinese martial arts known as “bending”. The series combines anime with American cartoons, and relies on the imagery of East Asian, Inuit, South Asian and New World societies. For the uninitiated, the series takes place in a world defined by water, earth, fire and air. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, can stop the evil Fire Lord from enslaving the rest of the nations. As it happens, the current Avatar is the last of the Air Nomads, a young boy named Aang, who must learn the ways of waterbending, earthbending and firebending if he hopes to save the world. If you haven’t already seen it, Avatar is seriously a must-watch. In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest animated series of all time. The series was commercially successful and was universally acclaimed by audiences and critics, with praise for its art direction, humor, cultural references, characters, and themes. It was nominated for, and won, Annie Awards, Genesis Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award and a Peabody Award. The series inspired a critically panned but financially successful live-action film, The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan; action figures; a trading card game; three video games; and a sequel series, The Legend of Korra, aired from 2012 to 2014, which perhaps rose to even greater heights.

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A Superman for All Seasons

13 May

Superman is the blueprint for the modern superhero. He’s arguably the single most important creation in the history of superhero comics. Superman is a hero that reflects the potential in all of us for greatness; a beacon of light in times that are grim and a glimmer of hope for the hopeless. He’s an archetype for us to project upon; whether you consider him a messiah or just a Big Blue Boy Scout, Superman’s impact on the genre and pop culture is undeniable. Rocketed to Earth from his dying planet of Krypton, Superman was raised in Smallville, Kansas with small town American ideals. Brought up by the loving Jonathan and Martha Kent, Kal-El was given the name Clark Kent and was taught to use his powers to better humanity. After adopting Metropolis as his home in his adult years, Clark would save the city – let alone the world – time and time again. Though he’d be joined by other members of his Super-family throughout the years, it would be the Man of Steel that would demand the attention of evil-doers, the respect of his peers, and the adoration of citizens across the globe. Superman stands as the single most iconic figure in comic books; his Kryptonian S-Shield recognizable as a universal symbol for truth and justice. Though Superman may have begun as a slice of Americana, he’s grown into a symbol that all of humanity can look up to. In his 80th anniversary year and with the recent publication of the 1000th issue of Action Comics, there is perhaps no better time to look at this character’s ‘super’ legacy.

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Saga of the Swamp Thing

11 Mar

The character of Swamp Thing, an elemental creature who shares a connection to all plant life on the planet, first appeared in 1972 but had roots in a comic published a year earlier. DC Comics’ House of Secrets #92 (June-July, 1971) contained a story by Len Wein and artist Berni Wrightson, about a man murdered and dumped in a swamp, whose body metamorphosed into a muck monster that rose from the mire to wreak vengeance upon his killer. Response to the story was overwhelming, and plans were immediately made to launch a new title with a similar creature as the protagonist. Swamp Thing #1, by Wein and Wrightson, had a cover date of Oct-Nov, 1972. In the ongoing series, the man in the muck was Alec Holland, a handsome young scientist, and his first mission in hideous, shambling post-life existence was to avenge the murder of his wife, done in by the same criminal outfit that put him in the swamp. In the course of the series, he found his body had become more plant than human — if a limb was cut off, he could grow it back. He ranged far from the Louisiana swamp he’d come to call home — even had an adventure in Gotham City with Batman — and he took on a wide variety of science fiction and supernatural adversaries. The series was both a critical and a commercial success. But Wein and Wrightson were unable to stay with it beyond its 10th issue, and their replacements were not as well received by readers. The series ended with its 24th issue (Aug-Sep 1976), and the character was relegated to occasional appearances as a guest star. In 1982, Swamp Thing was adapted into a movie — not exactly a record-smashing box-office bonanza, but DC deemed it a big enough deal to warrant reviving the comic book. The new series limped along for a couple of years, then was taken over by writer Alan Moore. That’s when the character really took off.

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Legends of the Dark Knight

14 Jan

Batman was the brainchild of the artist Bob Kane and the writer Bill Finger, who collaborated on a new character for Detective Comics in 1938. Their first sketches were a long way from the Batman image most people are familiar with today: the first drawings gave him wings and red tights. A few drafts later, a Batman who looked more like the movie version was born. He was soon starring in his own self-titled comic. From the start, Batman was unlike other heroes. His rivals, Superman and Spider-Man, are festooned in the primary colours of the American flag, whereas Batman dresses in dark blues and blacks. And no other superhero has a story quite as bleak. When Bruce Wayne was a little boy, he watched his parents’ deaths at the hands of Joe Chill, a heartless mugger, and vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to gaining revenge on the criminal underworld. Superman’s arrival from another planet is more the stuff of myth and fairy tale in comparison. To quote the film director and comics geek Kevin Smith: “Batman is about angst; Superman is about hope.” So why then do we love Batman so much?

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The Artifacts of Power

9 Aug

As a lifelong comics fan I can’t help pinching myself at the flood of graphic novel adaptations that we’re being treated to in this current golden age of comic book movies. Quite apart from the Marvel and DC superhero features which are unsurprisingly garnering most of the headlines, there are quite a few adaptations of lesser known properties, both on television and on the silver screen, which their legions of fans might be surprised to know were ever comics in the first place e.g. The Walking Dead, 300, A History of Violence, Road to Perdition, Sin City etc. Whilst I love seeing spandex-clad superheroes and villains going at it as much as the next person, it’s particularly gratifying to see that film-makers are also appreciative of the wide range of more eclectic comic books out there and that the lesser known properties are also getting their chance. Of course, there are plenty of excellent graphic novels that haven’t yet been treated to film or TV makeovers, e.g. Sandman, Fables, The Books of Magic, Preacher and The Unwritten, to name just a few, but almost all of the ones that come to mind immediately are either in development or are likely to be adapted at some point in the near future. This may well be because of their links to one of the big two – Marvel and DC – express or otherwise, as much as for any other reason. But there are in my view other comic book publishers out there whose properties are just as worthy of adaptation in my view, and of these the universe of Top Cow appears to have several that appear particularly suited to the big screen.

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Hanging out with the Dream King

22 Jun

As befits a man with his undying work ethic, Neil Gaiman once said “Writing is flying in dreams. When you remember. When you can. When it works. It’s that easy.” One of the world’s most successful and versatile writers, Gaiman is a best-selling novelist (American Gods), an award-winning comic book writer (The Sandman), a popular children’s book author (Stardust) and a highly respected screenwriter (Neverwhere). The dazzling diversity of concepts produced by Gaiman’s fecund (some might say fevered) imagination has led many to ask him where he gets his story ideas from. His answer, more often than not, is that a few of them were written to amuse himself or, more precisely, to get an idea or an image out of his head and pinned safely down on paper: releasing demons and letting them fly. Other stories began in idleness: mere fancies and curiosities that got out of hand. In Gaiman’s richly imagined fictions, anything is possible: an elderly widow finds the Holy Grail beneath an old fur coat in a second-hand shop; under a bridge, a frightened little boy bargains for his life with a very persistent troll; a stray cat fights and re-fights a terrible nightly battle to protect his unsuspecting adoptive family from unimaginable evil, and so on and so on… The distinctive storytelling genius of Neil Gaiman has been acclaimed by writers as diverse as Norman Mailer and Stephen King. I’m sure, if you haven’t sampled Gaiman’s work already, that if you seek it out it will no doubt similarly dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the depths of your soul.

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Barbarians at the Gate!

21 Sep

What is it that makes barbarian characters so popular and appealing? The original barbarians – the Huns, the Goths, the Gauls, the Saxons, Jutes and Picts etc – were history’s Hell’s Angels, credited with nothing less than bringing about the fall of western civilisation and the onset of the Dark Ages. They were anything but heroic, yet their fantasy equivalents are some of the most enduring and well known characters in the genre. Few have not heard of Conan, Robert E Howard’s muscle-bound anti-hero (although in fairness that may have more to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger than the character on the printed page). Of rather more respectable vintage are Druss, axe-wielding hero of many of David Gemmell’s Drenai heroic fantasy novelsand Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd in the Lankhmar novels. Barbarian warriors are also, of course, a staple of role-playing games. In this medium they are often represented as lone warriors, very different from the vibrant historical cultures on which they are based. Several characteristics are commonly shared, including physical prowess and fighting skill combined with a fierce temper and a tolerance for pain. No doubt due to their animal magnetism (though not to their general lack of personal hygiene) they appear to be irresistible to the opposite gender, and seem to possess an equal appetite for food and drink. While Conan, Druss and Fafhrd are all fairly standard examples of this archetype, the graphic novel character Sláine is a somewhat more ambiguous and intriguing take on the classic barbarian.

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The Dark Knight Rises 101: Or, Tell Me About Bane…

8 Jul

A ‘Knight’ of a different kind…

the m0vie blog

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

To help get everybody in the mood for The Dark Knight Rises later this month, I thought it might be worth taking a look at the third film in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, the sequel to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

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The Books of Magic

28 Dec

Let me tell you about a bespectacled young schoolboy with a pet owl who finds out one day that he’s a wizard – and no, I’m not talking about Harry Potter! Timothy Hunter is the star of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series The Books of Magic, which tells the story of a young boy who has the potential to become the world’s greatest sorcerer. Despite the striking superficial similarities between Timothy Hunter and Harry Potter, The Books of Magic actually came into being several years before J K Rowling’s creation was released on an unsuspecting world. The similarity was once noted by a journalist from The Scotsman newspaper, who asked Gaiman if he thought Rowling was aware of his 1990 comic, to which Gaiman replied that he ‘wasn’t the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school’. Gaiman’s view, with which I tend to agree, is that whether or not Rowling had read The Books of Magic, the similarities most likely result from both it and the Harry Potter series being inspired by similar works, in particular those of T H White (author of The Once and Future King). The idea that Rowling and Gaiman were were both simply ‘drinking from the same well’ is supported by the prevalence of common archetypes from myth and fantasy in both their works.

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