Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer

For the 99.99% of us who couldn’t make it to the very select few theaters showing it, here’s the official (no fan-made stuff) teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

It looks pretty interesting, so far we only caught one Abrams lens flare and that was when the Millennium Falcon appears (the ship looks kind of fake though, hopefully the fx shot will be tweaked). Things that were cool seeing were the X-Wing fighters, the Millennium Falcon, of course, John Williams legendary score and a new lightsabre design!

It’s too bad the teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens didn’t feature any of the original cast but it’s a good intro to the next stage of the Star Wars saga.

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Marvel Comics’ Greatest Moments

marvel 75 logo

Marvel Comics turned 75 this year. As we celebrate Marvel’s 75th anniversary, it’s hard to imagine how long the comic book company has been around. Even though Marvel Comics first debuted in 1939 with Marvel Comics #1 (featuring decidedly different superheroes like the Human Torch, Ka-Zar and Namor), the company truly came to its own in the 1960s when writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko introduced the world to new and dynamic superheroes.

marvel photo

These masked marvels like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men quickly captured readers’ imaginations. Without exaggeration, Marvel Comics changed the comic book world and left a permanent mark in popular culture and its characters are still vibrant today. Incredibly enough, it can be said that they’re more popular today than when they were first introduced in the 1960s .

While Marvel superheroes have successfully transitioned into other media like films, toys, games and such, let’s not forget that the core of their appeal are with the comic books. Whether they’re just single stories in individual issues or epic mini-series and story arcs, the following are, based on my opinion, the best stories from Marvel’s 75-year history.

age of apAge Of Apocalypse: Spanning several different X-Men titles over several months, this massive storyline was about an altered reality where Professor X’s assassination in the past led to Apocalypse conquering North America, and Magneto leading the X-Men in a desperate attempt to stop him and correct history. Just seeing the alternate takes of our favorite mutants was a joy to read.

Avengers Disassembled: Boasting top avengers disassembledwriters and artists like Brian Michael Bendis, Paul Jenkins, Robert Kirkman, Steve Epting, Dave Finch and George Perez, this comic book crossover spawned from The Avengers #500-503 into other superhero titles and upended most of the Marvel Universe. The team is literally ripped apart from within by an insane Scarlet Witch. Many heroes are killed and the Avengers were catapulted into new popularity with this controversial story arc.

Born Again: Daredevil has never been lower or a more captivating read than in this classic story arc spanning Daredevil #227-231. That is due to the genius writing of Frank Miller and the art of Dave Mazzucchelli. Daredevil’s worst enemy discovers his secret identity and systematically destroys the blind superhero’s personal world plunging Daredevil into his own worst hell.

The Captain: This underrated Captain America tale by Mark Gruenwald, Tom Morgan and Kieron Dwyer spans Captain America #332-350 and has Steve Rogers abandoning his role as the iconic hero and going underground. Meanwhile, a super patriotic, though unstable, replacement is picked by the U.S. government to take over, but as we see, it’s not easy living up to a legend.

Civil War: Probably the last great mini-series produced by Marvel pits its most iconic heroes against each other. As Iron Man and Captain America took opposite sides against the U.S. government’s superhuman registration act, Marvel Comics was changed forever and the mini-series’ impact is still with us today.

civil war 2

Deliverance: The famous “Demon in a Bottle” story arc from Iron Man #120-128 bravely introduced the notion of a superhero being truly human and becoming an alcoholic. Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) alcoholism would resurface to even greater effect several issues later after his nemesis Obadiah Stane orchestrates a series of attacks. Stark soon became unable to continue being Iron Man and hit rock bottom culminating in Iron Man #182 when a now-homeless Stark battles not only the cold elements, but his own inner demons.

wolverine kittyDays of Future Past: The greatest X-Men story ever made reflected the height of the historic collaboration of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. In this exciting two-part tale from The Uncanny X-Men #141-142, robotic Sentinels have hunted mutants nearly to extinction in the near future, so one mutant is sent back in time to alter history.

The Death of Captain America: One immediate aftermath of the Civil War mini-series was Ed Brubaker’s gut-wrenching examination of the death of an American legend. Coldly assassinated before standing trial, Captain America’s death led to another hero taking up his mantle and a serpentine plot by Cap’s greatest enemies.

The Death of Gwen Stacy: The two-part gwen stacy deathstory from The Amazing Spider-Man #121 & 122 is considered by some as the end of the Silver Age of Comics. This emotional tale about Spider-Man’s nemesis, the Green Goblin, killing his girlfriend  was a gut punch not only for Spider-Man but his many followers who were stunned by the tragedy.

The Doctor Is In: John Byrne wrote and drew some outstanding comic books during his Marvel tenure. Before Deadpool came along, Byrne’s rendition of She-Hulk had her hysterically breaking the fourth wall. In The Sensational She-Hulk #5 story titled “The Doctor Is In” she had to not only contend with Doctor Bong, but with literally walking across comic book pages (ads included). Marvel Comics was rarely funnier than with this particular issue.

The Hulk Vs. The Thing: Marvel is known for how often its superheroes fight each other. This early story from Fantastic Four #25 & #26 is one of the best since its primarily a battle royale between two of Marvel’s strongest titans. The Stan Lee-Jack Kirby classic is at the same time a story about determination and fighting against the odds, in particular with the Thing.

spidey trapped

If This Be My Destiny…!: The story arc from The Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 had Spider-Man run through exhausting trials to gather serum for his dying aunt. His quest culminated in issue #33 with a story titled “The Final Chapter!”.  In the issue, our hero is trapped under tons of steel and rubble and in danger of drowning with the serum just out of reach. Spider-Man has to find the fortitude to free himself and his effort was memorably inspiring.

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DC Wins The TV War…For Now, Part One

 old DC

One of the great corporate rivalries is the one between the comic book giants Marvel Comics and DC Comics. It’s a competition that has spilled over to other media. When it comes to films, Marvel has won the war on that front due to the monumental successes of their Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. However, take a quick glance at the current TV schedule. From looking at that and television history, it’s obvious that DC has won the TV War…for now.

Head Start

In reality, DC had the war won for decades now. This goes way back to the 1950s with the success of the first TV show based on Superman. That would be, of course, the landmark series Adventures of Superman, which starred George Reeves. It’s well known that the series was very popular and helped cement Superman’s legendary status in pop culture. Marvel at that time period didn’t even exist, nor did their most popular heroes because the company was concentrating on non-superhero comic books.

Following the cancellation of Adventures of Superman, the next DC superhero to bask in the television spotlight was Batman. Beginning in 1966, Batman was an instant hit and a genuine pop culture phenomenon. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, the show was a decidedly goofy sendup of comic books and introduced characters like the Joker and Catwoman to non-comic book readers. Although, it was and is still popular, many decried the way Batman belittled the Caped Crusader and comic books in general.

wonder woman

In the 1970s, there were a few TV shows and specials based on DC Comics superheroes. The best known was Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter and it aired from 1975 to 1979. The show wasn’t as cheesy as Batman, nor as popular, but it was noted for its pro-feminist stance since the title character was a superhuman woman. The women’s lib messages obviously went over the heads of most younger viewers, who were enamored with Lynda Carter and her skimpy outfit.

Other TV shows airing in the 1970s were strictly aimed at children like Shazam! and The Secrets of Isis. In fact, these half-hour programs only aired on Saturday mornings and had limited appeal.

Around this time period, Marvel got into the hulk showact with the premieres of TV shows and TV films based on their characters. The first superhero to make a live-action appearance was Spider-Man, who made non-speaking appearances on The Electric Company. Some of the Marvel TV films and shows were truly awful like Captain America and The Amazing Spider-Man, which thankfully did not last long as a series. But a couple were actually decent like Doctor Strange and Marvel’s biggest hit on TV The Incredible Hulk. Airing in November 1977 and starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, the TV film was a big hit and led to a successful TV series the following year.

Second Wind

superboyThe decade that followed, the 1980s, was slow for comic book properties on TV. After The Incredible Hulk was cancelled in 1982 there wouldn’t be another superhero TV show until the syndicated program Superboy debuted in 1988. Coming after the film disaster Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superboy was a welcome respite for fans who just wanted to see good, old-fashioned superheroics and teenage angst. Plus, Superboy was a competent place holder until DC and its parent company Warner Bros. could bring out another Superman TV series or film.

On a side note, there were a trio of TV films that continued the Hulk’s adventures and the first two introduced live-action versions of Thor and Daredevil. The Hulk and his alter ego David Banner actually died at the end of the third film, but there were plans to do more TV films. However, those ended after Bixby’s untimely death in 1993.

The humongous success of the film Batman in 1989 helped jumpstart new DC-based TV shows in the 1990s. Not wanting to rest with the success of Superboy, Swamp Thing: The Series premiered on the basic cable channel USA Network in 1990, while a show based on the comic book Human Target aired briefly on ABC in 1992.

old flashThere were two shows that made the largest impact in that decade. They were The Flash and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The Flash, starring John Wesley Shipp, premiered in the fall of 1990 fresh off the success of Batman and seemed to copy the stylistic direction of the Tim Burton film. Even though it only lasted one season, the show is revered by fans because of its fun stories, dazzling effects, and character work. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which aired on ABC, was targeted more towards women since it concentrated more on the relationship between Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) and Clark Kent (Dean Cain). The superhero aspects of Superman took a back seat to the romantic shenanigans and it was laden with light humor. Of course, this displeased some fans, but it was still a successful program.

As for Marvel, the 1990s was a decade best left forgotten. There were DOA pilots based on Power Pack, Generation X and Nick Fury. As for the syndicated show Night Man, the less said about it the better.

Animation Dominion

young justiceAs DC dominated the television medium, there was another TV venue that it conquered. That was with their animated TV shows. Since the 1960s, there have been numerous TV shows that aired on Saturday mornings and on syndication based on DC’s superheroes. DC enjoyed early successes like Superfriends in the 1970s, but their animated shows weren’t acclaimed until Batman: The Animated Series premiered in 1992. Boasting memorable characters, villains and plots, the show was a huge hit and led to other superior animated gems like Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League. DC’s animated renaissance probably culminated with the recent Young Justice. It just lasted two seasons, but its smartly written scripts, mature themes, and complex character development won wide appraisals from fans and critics.

In this venue, Marvel actually presented itself as a viable counterpart to DC since the 1960s with series based on Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Avengers and other stalwarts. The results were quite admirable in many instances, but DC on the whole produced more noteworthy animated TV shows.

New Century, New Renaissance

As DC celebrated their animated successes in the 1990s, the live-action field was stagnant after the cancellation of Lois & Clark in 1997. There was an infamous pilot made for the Justice League that thankfully never made it into a series. It can be found on Youtube for anyone that is curious.

The live-action drought ended a few years later in 2001 with Smallville. This long-running show starred Tom Welling as Clark Kent in his teenage years and early twenties. It ran on The WB and later The CW networks and explored many aspects of the Superman mythos while concentrating on Clark’s emotional development and how he came to be Superman. It had its faults like the producers’ insistence of “no tights, no flights”, which meant Clark never put on his iconic Superman suit. (The final episode doesn’t count since he was never fully shown wearing it.) This was strange because many other superheroes featured on Smallville like Green Arrow, the Justice Society and Supergirl were allowed to fully embrace their comic-book roots. The Warner Bros. network tried to capitalize on the success of Smallville with other programs, but weren’t successful. Efforts included the short-lived Birds of Prey in 2002 and a pilot for Aquaman.

Around the time that Smallville came to an end, the superhero genre exploded in theaters. Super hits like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and The Avengers cemented the permanence of arrowsuperhero films. As it goes, whenever there is a mammoth box office hit, TV executives take notice and follow suit. Warner Bros. and DC took advantage of the heightened interest in superheroes and produced many TV shows. Not all of them bore fruit like pilots for Aquaman and Wonder Woman, or another iteration of Human Target, but others blossomed and are now hit shows. These include Arrow, The Flash, Gotham and to a lesser extent Constantine. And that is just the beginning.

José Soto and Lewis T. Grove

To Be Continued

The Flash Streaks Ahead Of DC’s TV Invasion

flash1Out of the four current TV shows based on a DC Comic, The Flash is the one that sticks closest to its comic book roots.

Airing on The CW network, The Flash stars Grant Gustin as the Flash or Barry Allen. He was introduced in a couple of episodes of Arrow in its second season, which set up his origin. The pilot episode of The Flash embellished the Flash’s origin and opened up Allen’s world. When he was young, his mother was killed by a mysterious figure in a vortex. Unfortunately, his father (played by the original Flash John Wesley Shipp) was sent to prison for her murder and Barry’s been looking for the killer ever since.

In the pilot (and the Arrow episode “Three Ghosts”), Barry was hit by lightning and fell onto chemicals at his lab in Central City when a nearby particle accelerator exploded. star labsThat accelerator was part of S.T.A.R. Labs headed by Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) and the accident made him a pariah and a paraplegic. What’s revealed in the pilot and several episodes is that Wells is only pretending to be a paraplegic and that he has nefarious and deceitful intentions. After the lightning bolt knocks Barry into a coma, he later awakens in Wells’ lab and soon discovers he has superhuman speed. This was caused by the accelerator, the storm it created and the chemicals that splashed over him when he was struck. The accelerator also unleashed a type of radiation that randomly gave some people in Central City superhuman powers, turning them into supervillains of the week.

Now Barry, when not doing his job as a dorky crime scene investigator, spends his spare time at S.T.A.R. Labs where Wells and his assistants run tests on Barry and help him catch the new supervillains that have sprung up from the explosion.

strealAs a show, The Flash is generally entertaining. It’s not deep, and a bit too lightweight and clunky, but it captures the breezy spirit of the comic book with fast-moving stories and Barry’s superfast antics. They’re among the highlights of the show and are very inventive. In the episode “Plastique”, he used his powers to blur his face and reverberate his vocal chords to hide his identity and it was as much fun to watch as seeing him run across water.

One thing the show did right when compared to most comic-book-based shows is that it jumped right into the mythos of the superhero and showcased the Flash’s famous rogues gallery. Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) has already made his appearance, as has nods to Gorilla Grodd and Professor Zoom. But the most interesting villain is Wells himself. The pilot revealed that he has knowledge of the future and seems to be using all means, including murder, to guide Barry into fulfilling his superhero destiny.

It would all be more palatable if the acting were better. Gustin is OK as Barry, but earlier on, he emoted allenPeter Parker too much, which wasn’t in line with his character. But he’s toned down the nerdy act in recent episodes. The other actors are fine, if not exceptional, except for Carlos Valdes, who plays Cisco Ramon, an overeager and annoying lab assistant. It seems like he is trying to emulate the quirky Felicity Smoak character from Arrow but he cannot pull it off and the result is that his scenes are irritating. Then there is the situation with the love of his life Iris West (Candice Patton). In the show, they have it that the two grew up together in the same home after Barry’s father went to jail. Essentially, Barry was a foster child in Iris’ home…so that means they’re really foster siblings. If that is so, then the unrequited attraction he has for her is uncomfortable to watch.

Putting that aside, The Flash is still young and finding its legs, but it’s better done than some of the other superhero shows. To date, the show is worth watching and hopefully will become much more captivating once the kinks are worked out.

Waldermann Rivera

Interstellar & Its Emotional Core

interstellar poster

Interstellar may be director Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious work to date. Is it his best? Maybe, it truly depends on any viewer’s taste. Regardless of one’s viewpoint, Interstellar is probably Nolan’s most emotional film rivaling The Dark Knight.

One criticism of Christopher Nolan as a director is that sometimes his films feel emotionally distant even though he tries very hard to connect audiences with his characters. This time, Nolan is able to make that connection thanks in large part to Matthew McConaughy’s sincere performance. Playing Cooper, a former astronaut turned corn farmer, McConaughy’s work is gripping and deep and he is able to keep his scenes from being too kitschy. The emotions he displays strike a perfect note.

 

INTERSTELLARIn an unspecified future, the Earth is slowly dying. Various crops like wheat and okra have gone extinct as pervasive dust strangles the world. As crops die off, humanity spirals towards extinction with dust invading everything. Dreams are long gone, replaced by a practical need to grow more food and to just survive. As a widowed farmer, Cooper longs for the days when humanity strived for the stars and a sense of adventure.

Eventually he meets an old colleague, Prof. Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway). They are part of the remnants of NASA and a secret mission to return INTERSTELLARto the stars. Fifty years earlier, a wormhole appeared near Saturn and several manned missions were sent into the wormhole since the wormhole leads to other habitable worlds. Brand hopes that these worlds can be colonized in order to save humanity. Cooper is recruited to join Amelia and other astronauts to voyage through the wormhole and follow up on data provided by earlier explorers on three potential worlds for colonization.

In the run up to Cooper leaving Earth and his children, Interstellar is the typical well-plotted-though-a bit-distant Nolan film. Yes, there are the teary scenes from his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and subtle disparaging remarks from his father-in-law (John Lithgow) about Cooper leaving his children behind without a guarantee of returning. These scenes do work but one has to wonder how Steven Spielberg (who was attached to the film originally) would’ve handled them. They probably would’ve had more emotional punch or they might’ve been overly sentimental.

INTERSTELLAR

Interstellar does pick up in leaps and bounds the moment Cooper and the crew of the spaceship Endurance first plunge into the wormhole. These moments are gasp inducing and afterwards a sense of danger and wonder is felt throughout the rest of the film. Nolan is also able to inject a feeling of moroseness and loss, especially when the effects of time dilation are noticed. Even more ominous are the moments when the Endurance crew explore two worlds. They seem genuinely alien and uninviting, and add a feeling of foreboding and lost time. Meanwhile, in the short time that he’s exploring, Cooper’s children have grown into adulthood and Murphy (now played by Jessica Chastain) has joined the project by assisting Prof. Brand as the old man struggles with a gravitational equation to allow humanity to leave Earth. As this is going on, the film engages the viewers even more and more.  Moments of high tension and eye-popping wonder fill the theater screen. The only drawbacks to Interstellar at this point are some pacing and narrative issues, as well as expository dialogue that flies by quickly. It dares audiences to keep up with  verbal examinations of quantum physics and other modern scientific concepts. The payoff though is huge.

black holeThat is because final part of Interstellar is unforgettable and daringly thought-provoking with mind-twisting moments. Nolan skillfully presents some far out concepts of physics and the nature of time and other dimensions that calls to mind Kubrick’s work in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Nolan departs from Kubrick in that while he is as analytical as Kubrick, the core of this film isn’t stark nor cold. Rather, Interstellar embraces human emotion as it rails against the cold, harsh nature of science and physics. Not only that, the film goes beyond and explores some ethical and philosophical concepts about species survival, love and the human connection. As a sci-fi epic, Interstellar is a sweeping, magnificent, though flawed, endeavor that pushes boundaries.

José Soto