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A blog for poetry, prose, and pop culture.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 12

Eva looked out the window of the house, staring at the glowing back orb that had seemingly replaced the sun. Her father had passed it off as some kind of eclipse but Eva still had that feeling that something was wrong, really wrong. Just outside the window you could see the huge BBQ pit that the ranch hands had dug for the cookout they always had whenever the cattle came home. With the somber pallor that hung over the ranch from the death of young Evan and the dark oppression that covered the sky, those plans had been scrapped.

After Evan had passed, they had wrapped him in a sheet and he still lay on the couch in the drawing room, a rider having been dispatched to town for the Undertaker. Even though the cookout was canceled, they still had prepared a huge meal. The ranch hands would eat theirs in the bunkhouse but those closest to the family would eat in the dining room. Eva had finished dressing, her hair freshly washed and pulled back, and continued to stare at the dead sun, waiting until she interrupted by the call of lunch.

Eva walked into the dining room, feeling the pallor over the whole table. Caleb was seated at the head, with Rex on his right side and Bartley next to him. Her spot was vacant on her father's left side. There was an empty seat next to her, though at the far end of the table Thomas Moore sat, her father's legal adviser. Rex had been the foreman at the farm since she was a little girl and she looked at him like a member of the family. Rex still had a thick head of black hair that was just beginning to shows flecks of salt and pepper, though his arms and chest were still thick with muscle. Bart had been with her father only slightly less, though he was older. He had grown a bit softer around the belly and his hair had thinned, he was still the best driver she knew and a crack shot with his rifle. Thomas though, well Eva never really liked Thomas.

He had come aboard the farm after her mother and siblings had died and her father had been injured, to guide her father's business interests. He'd been about 10 years older than her, but even then she didn't like the way he looked at her. He was tall and slender, with a thin mustache, always dressed immaculately. When she was younger she had always wondered if her father had thought him a good suitor for her and an accomplished man who could lead the ranch, but they had never gotten along. Where Eva was tough and self assured, who enjoyed the outdoors, Thomas and her had never shared the same interests. To this day, Eva was convinced the man's sidearm had never even cleared its holster, and his smooth grip always belayed the callous on her palms. Sure, he HAD helped guide the ranch to some of the prosperity it was enjoying now, but she couldn't help feeling that he still had eyes on her.

They ate dinner in relative silence, avoiding topics like Evan and the unnatural sun that hung in the sky. Thomas prattled on about the price the herd would bring in the coming months and the fortunes that were almost at hand for the Saint ranch. Trying to fill the silence with words, another thing that really pissed her off. Eva just ate silently, the knot of worry thick at the back of her neck. Most of the meal had passed when the sounds of tearing came from the drawing room. Soft at first, with louder and with more urgency as the seconds ticked past. Sounds like linen being ripped in two. At first they all kind of looked at each other, before Rex pushed his seat back.

"None of you need move. I'll go check it out."

Rex folded his napkin on the table and got up, accompanied by Emily, who had been clearing some of the table. They were gone just a few moments, when Emily screamed again, loud and tinged with fear, accompanied by the loud curses of Rex.


Eva sprang from the table, followed by the rest, and came up behind Rex, who was staring at a sight neither could believe. Young Evan, or at least something that use to be Evan, tearing at the remnants of the sheet with fingers that ended in long black claws. Evans flesh was yellow and sallow, seeped with green and black pus, and his mouth, stretched abnormally wide, ending in rows of blacked sharp teeth, snapped at the air around him. Then his black eyes locked gazes with Emily, and he sprang free, desperately clawing at the frozen young girl.

End of Line.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Concert Time! Sia

Hey all,

Boy, it really feels like its been a while since I sat down to blog. I have been struggling with a slight cold and a heavy work week, but the real culprit has been searching for inspiration. I'm totally ready to do the next Flash Fiction chapter of Dead Sun, but I like to break the blog posts up in between just to give the blog a little symmetry. This is usually a good point for a me to run a Word Balloon or a Rewind post, but I already did that this month! Fortunately, I got the opportunity to go to a concert on Tuesday night and I had a really great time.

We headed down to the Marquee Theater, the go to place in Phoenix for any not stadium style concerts. It's very much a locale for close knit shows with a small seating area at the back of the ballroom, and a bigger open pit style place in front of the stage. I've seen a lot of concerts there and I prefer it to the bigger stadiums for that intimate feel. Watching Jenny Lewis there last year made it feel almost like she was singing right to me we were so close. Tuesday I joined my friend Autumn and caught the Sia show with her, Sia being one of her favorite singers.

Sia is an Australian born singer who over the past few years has started really ear marking her place in music. She has has her music appear in shows like Private Practice, Six Feet Under, and Dollhouse. Her biggest hit, Breathe Me, has had significant radio play and I was quite surprised as someone not familiar with her work before hand, just how much of her music I did recognize and liked. She has a new album coming out next month, a bit of a change from her older music. Her early albums are very much a pop infused blues jazz sound, while the songs she played off of her upcoming album, We Are Born, featured a catchier beat, almost like pop jazz dance music. Still in the same ball park, but with a hint of more dance pop than before. You could almost see the influence working with Christina Aguilera on her new album had on Sia. It felt a little more mainstream, but not so much that she left her vocal roots.

Admittedly I did some music research to familiarize myself a little more with her music prior to the concert, and more so now in the days post concert. In truth I find that her style of music is really more in line with the musicians that I have started listening to over the past year, like Jenny Lewis, Feist, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, so I can honestly say I was pretty happy to be asked to go.

As for the concert itself, opening for Sia was a band called Body Language. A four piece act, they had a very pop reggae sound, They were a quartet comprised of an Asian guy on drums, a white hipster guy on keyboard, a white emo guy on synthesizer and keyboard, and an African American lady on the xylophone. She was the main vocalist, though both keyboardists spent significant time on vocals as well. I thought they did a good job warming the crowd up for the performance, despite the very short set they did. They only played about 30 minutes but I was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm they brought to the show. They really got into the performance and I think the impact from being on a national tour really was a very new feeling to the group.

Sia came on about 9pm and was very warm, funny, and open about everything. She was still recovering from a sore throat and early on in the performance she had trouble hitting the high notes, you could actually hear her voice give out on her. I will say this, by the end of the night she was hitting those higher keys pretty consistently, having warmed her voice up enough. She played a nice mix of material off her new album as well as stuff off of her earlier releases. I particularity enjoyed the songs Be Good to Me, which seemed a lot breathier and intimate versus the album version. She also played several of her new songs, such as The Fight, Clap Your Hands, and Bring Night On, all very much representing that poppy catchy sound. She ended the set with her biggest hit, Breathe Me, which was I thought her most powerful performance of teh night. Her voice troubles were non existent as she performed a really soulful rendition of the song. Very Emotional.

A few other notes on the show. I have to comment on the stage setting. It was kind of a weird collage of primary colors, red, green, blue, yellows, in a mixture of wrapping paper motifs surrounded by countless amounts of knitting. Literally every instrument, mic stand, guitar strap, amplifier, and set piece was covered in a array of knitted cozies and blankets. It was kind of incredible actually. It was like a weird explosion of color and kitsch, yet very fitting for Sia's personality. The only picture I managed to grab, and not a very good one at that, was of the stage just before Sia came out, before my battery died. I also thought her use of props were pretty cool, wearing a menagerie of different items, from a mechanical set of circular wings that shot out bubbles, to another set up that gave her a sort of halo, she was very interactive in her performance.

I think perhaps my favorite part of the show was how Sia interacted with the audience. She had a very infectious laugh and really encouraged audience participation and heckling. The times in-between songs were rally an opportunity for her to chat with her fans, it made her feel very approachable and down to Earth. She was very funny, giving as good as she got during the course of the show, making jokes on everything from vagina's and her period, to the set choices that they had made. It was a really refreshing take from an artist with a very different feel than I have normally been exposed to.

I had a great time and I am very glad to have had the opportunity to go. I really have to thank Autumn for inviting me to go. I love going to concerts and I did not attend that many last year. All in all my experience at the Sia show was awesome and I am really enjoying finding a brand new musician for me to learn more about. It has sort of lit a fire under me to try to see more live music. I'm going to have to see what I can do about that. If you haven't checked out Sia, start with Be Good To Me or Breathe Me, both excellent tracks. Thanks for reading!

End of Line.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 11

Morgan circled around the creature that had been his wife, keeping the pick axe extended in front of him. The beast moved with an urgency, quicker each moment, her distended blackened jaw working open and closed, faster ever since he had cut his elbow on the rocky ground. Morgan backed up again, feeling the small wooden fence that he had built around the house at his back. The creature, sensing he was trapped, dove forward in a lunge, swiping at Morgan with it's thick claws. Morgan threw himself backwards, rolling over in a reverse somersault on the opposite side of the fence. He sprung up from the crouch he was in and dived sideways as the creature fell hard through the fencing, splintering wood with tremendous force.

Morgan turned around to watch the creature get up. Bits of wood had cut into his wife's chest and face, black gore and green puss seeping from the wounds, but still she came. Morgan felt a thick knot in his throat, tears in the corner of his vision. God how he had loved Eliza. The woman who had brought him back to life, the woman who had shown him kindness. Who had shown him love. Whatever the fuck this thing was, it wasn't his Eliza. He still heard her cries, the pleading in her voice, the agony. Whatever this monster was, it wasn't his wife.

The monster had freed itself from the bits of fencing and continued towards him as Morgan brought the pick axe up. The creature opened its jaws wide, black spittle flecking free and snapped out at Morgan. He spun right, letting her jaws go wide beside him, clamping shut on empty air and came back around. Using the momentum of the spin he continued the turn, bringing the pick axe around with him and burying it deep into the beast's back. An eruption of vile green puss and blackened dead blood erupted as the pick tore in. The creature let out a gurgled cry and fell on its knees, the pick still stuck in her back.

Still the creature struggled though, slowly rising to it;s feet undeterred. You could see entrails and broken ribs bursting beneath the battered wedding dress, yet still the undead creature rose. Morgan looked around, finding himself only steps from the battered fencing. He quickly picked up one of the biggest timbers and struck out as the monster tried to turn about to face him. His first strike caught it across the jaw, muscled flesh tearing and spraying dark blood. The creature fell back, and Morgan struck again, bringing the beam down across the top of her head with all of his force. He heard a sickening crack and the monster fell to the ground, blackened matter seeping from her cracked skull. The monster stopped moving, but Morgan kept swinging until the timber was no more than a splintered nub, and the creature that had once been his lovely Eliza nothing but a battered pasty mess.

Spent, Morgan collapsed on the ground, as the implications of what he had done sunk in. Sobs racked his body, the guilt, the anger, the self loathing gripping his insides. Emotions Morgan had long buried these many months, since she had first died. He reached out, turning the bloody pulp of her head sideways, looking at the tattered remnants of her hair, instead of her accusing black eyes. Morgan cried, the weight of having to kill his wife a second time threatening to crush him.

When he closed his eyes he could still see her, his lovely Eliza, screaming in pain. The doctor telling him that their baby had killed Eliza from the inside. The mis-carriage had went horribly wrong and there was nothing he could do. There had been so much blood, blood everywhere. Morgan had seen some horrific things, had done horrific things, but nothing had compared to what he had seen in his wife's bed that day. The doctor told him all they could do was make her comfortable, ease her suffering, by overdoing her on morphine. Otherwise, the tearing in her insides would cause her to bleed out. In between her cries, even now, he could hear his wife's whimpers for her baby, the bloody mess that lay swaddled, so still, on the crib he had built. With a thick voice, he had told the doctor to ease her pain, and Morgan Randall held his wife as she slowly died in his arms, still asking for her baby. The baby he had given her.

Morgan cries of anguish was interrupted though by another sound, softer, though still a cry, coming from the burst grave his wife had just risen from.

End of Line.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Movie Time: Rewind: Broadway Melody of 1936

Hey all,

Time to turn on the Way Back machine and look at another great film of yesteryear. The last few months I have really come to appreciate a new actress I have yet to highlight in the column, Eleanor Powell. The early 1930's were a wide open field in Hollywood. Audiences went to pictures in droves as an escape from the oppressing poverty of the Great Depression and the high days of radio were still a little ways off, let alone the on-set of television. Studios churned out pictures at an incredibly fast rate and many studios were trying to find out their identity. One studio that was in trouble in the early 30's was MGM.

By 1939, MGM would be the unparalleled titan of movie making, but early in the 30's they were still having trouble with their identity. The lady that really helped establish that was Eleanor Powell. Eleanor had been a dance prodigy since she was 11 years old and was a huge smash on Broadway with her electric dancing skills, particularly her tap dancing. She was called the "Queen of Taps", a moniker even Fred Astaire bowed to, citing her as the only person who ever intimidated him to dance with. Eleanor had several bit parts in films, but her performance in Broadway Melody of 1936 not only put her on the map, but MGM as well. The success of her films from 1935 to 1940 is one of the driving forces that established MGM as the home of the musical, and saved the company from bankruptcy.

Broadway Melody of 1936 was technically a sequel to the original Broadway Melody, one of the first talkie musicals in 1929, though it owes nothing to the first film in terms of story or characters. The film stars Powell as Irene, a young dancer who still has a crush on her high school sweetheart(Robert Taylor), who is now a big shot producer. She badly wants a part in his new act, but he is to busy romancing the financier of his play, a wealthy widow played by June Knight who is backing the play so she can have the part. When a newspaper reporter (Jack Benny) dreams up a famous French Dancer in his gossip column as a means to sell more papers, Powell begins impersonating the dancer to get the part. She is determined to show Taylor that she is good enough to survive on Broadway. Taylor wants the exposure Powell (as the French Dancer) will bring to his play, but doesn't know it is his former flame. In the end, Taylor and Benny have to decide what kind of choices they will have to make, and who they love.

This picture was Powell's first for MGM and her first as a lead actress. They surrounded her with some of there best talents, actors like Benny, Taylor, as well as marking this as the film debut of one Buddy Ebsen, the man who would later play Uncle Jed in the Beverly Hillbillies, though who cut his teeth as a song and dance man in many of MGM musicals throughout Hollywood's Golden Years. The real triumph of the film is the climax, a hugely elaborate piece set in a nightclub that is designed as a vehicle for each dancer. Ebsen, and his sister Vilma, dance, June Knight dances, and Eleanor Powell closes out the show to the song Broadway Rhythm in a doorbuster of a performance.

Broadway Rhythm was written by the great songwriter Arthur Freed, and culminate sin a number by Powell clad in a tuxedo tap dancing surrounded by trumpet players. Powell uses the entirety of the set

Powell was a trained ballet dancer who learned tap late after getting beat out for a lot of jobs by her lack of tap skills. She learned to tap with sandbags tied to her waist to keep her feet close to the ground and to dampen the more balletic style of her dance. When she does tap, she is amazing. Her machine gun style of tapping was unequaled and combined with the elegance of her balletic skills, she was un-comparable. What really amazed me was her skills at twirls and pirouettes, the flexibility combined with her long legs made her a dancer totally unlike anything movie goers had ever seen. I am an un-abashed fan of the classic Hollywood musical and the grandiose scope at which they operated. I can count only a few occurrences where I have been awestruck by a performance. Fred Astaire version of Puttin' On the Ritz. Gene Kelley and Don O'Conner in Singin' in the Rain. Powell floored me nearly every time I watched her. I picked Broadway Melody of 1936 because its the film that meant the most to her. Its the film that opened my eyes to the true genius that was her dance. I'm still searching for a copy of what I perceive to be her greatest performance, in the Red Skelton comedy I Dood it, where she does a Cow Rope dance that I would call impossible if I hadn't seen it performed.

Unfortunately after her stellar team up with Fred Astaire in Broadway Melody of 1940, Powell's career slowed down. Her production numbers had come under criticism for their ever increasing size and scope and after a surgery, she made only a few more films. All in all Powell's film career was brief, making less than 15 pictures. Less than that as the star. There were a few things about her career I never understood, specifically why studio's dubbed her voice in many of her films, despite the stellar voice she displayed on the songs they let her sing. It was a fallacy that Cyd Charisse, by many considered her successor, also suffered. I also didn't understand why MGM didn't team her up with other great dancers of her time. So many of her performances are wonderful tour-de-forces of her solo capability as a dancer. Plans to team her with Gene Kelly fell through on a sequel to her Broadway Melody series and once again in 1942 with dancer Dan Dailey in For Me and My Gal. Part of it I think were the others actors intimidation at her prowess, the other I think was her marriage to actor Glenn Ford in 1943. She made a few pictures after her marriage, including Sensations of 1945, largely overshadowed by also being the late W.C. Fields final film as well as a final team up with MGM in The Duchess of Idaho in 1950. Musicals had faded, given way to television to the most part by the late 50's and Powell did as well, along with her faith, hosting a Sunday morning television show for youths as an ordained minister. She did have a wonderful resurgence on the nightclub scene in the 1960's, singing and dancing well into her middle age.

Eleanor Powell is simply an amazing dancer. Even now I can watch one of her numbers and wonder how anyone could even compare to her. Ginger Rogers, her biggest contemporary at the time, was an actress who could dance. Eleanor was a dancer who could act. Not to take away from either girl, as each are performers who I hold a high regard for. Eleanor was simply on another level. Broadway Melody of 1936 is an amazing display of dancing skill, the first step of a series of films that showcase just how great she was. Broadway Melody of 1938 and 1940 continues that trend, the 1940 version especially with her dance numbers with Fred Astaire. Unfortunately many of her films are not on DVD yet and are quite difficult to find copies of. Still, I cannot recommend enough the caliber of performance she gives in each piece. Rehearsing until her feet bleed, striving for perfection. Powell's fresh look and dazzling smile always felt real in her performance, never a matter of having to smile for the scene, the woman loved dancing. She was once quoted as having said that she would rather dance than eat. I'm amazed at her continued ability to carry a dance number by herself, so many times and it's tragic that she didn't make more pictures.

Few could match the success or ability of Powell those first few years. I always thought it fitting that her final great film came out in Hollywood's Golden year, 1939, teaming with Fred Astaire. She made many good films after that, and even, in my opinion, had her best dance number. But without Eleanor, Hollywood would have been a far different place. Her contributions, so often downplayed when compared to the continued notoriety of Rogers, Astaire, and Kelly, should not be forgotten. Please check out 1935's Broadway Melody of 1936, from MGM. Eleanor Powell ha joined an elite list of actresses for me, joining the company of some of the all time greats, Ginger Rodgers, Grace Kelley, and Audrey Hepburn, as an actress who changed the way I look at motion pictures. Eleanor Powell was really the Queen of Taps, I'm in awe even now.

End of Line.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Poetry: Spring

Hey all,

A very short poem today, sort of a hearken back to one of the thematic tones I had very early on in my blogging process. I wrote 3 or 4 poems about the changing of the seasons and I thought, looking out at the burst of vegetation in my back yard, that maybe it would be fun to re-visit one of them. In some sense I don't know that its over different in terms of the message that it is sending from my previous poem, called Springs Reason, but I do think that it is a little more developed. I sort of look like it in the same way one might re-draw an illustration later, taking the things they have learned over the yeas and make it better. In any way it is a very short poem, just meant to be more of an exercise in writing and for my own development. Hope you like it.


Sun drenched sky, awash in blue

The cloudy days gave way to new.

Rain drops fade to seasons dawn,

As the gloomy winter starts to yawn.

The grass so green begins to spring,

When the birds fly home and start to sing.

Flowers bloom in lusher shades,

As Winter's grasp weakens and fades.

Season's change to from cold to warm,

This brand new year begins to form.

As plants and birds and animals awake,

From the long and weary rest they take,

To greet so soon the summer days,

And shake the sleep in Spring time ways.

Spring is truly the birth of the year,

Where all of the Earth can bask in cheer.

End of Line.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 10

Ally Marshall hurt all over. It was dark and there was still a faint taste of mud and dirt on her lips, along with a more coppery flavor, blood. She rolled over and eased her eyes open. She was laying in the stable, she could tell by the feel of the hard dirt and the strands of hay that were poking at her through her dress. Ally's head throbbed and she swooned, nearly fainting, as she pulled herself into a sitting position. She closed her eyes and took a series of deep breaths. Then Ally wiped some mud off her hand on the front of her dress, which itself was a mess of dirt, mud and blood before gently running her hand through her tangled hair, feeling the two giant lumps on her scalp. The worst one, the one from the man with the gun, still felt wet and sticky. The other was a hard knot, tender to the touch. Her face and cheek were still tender and felt swollen, especially when she licked her lips, feeling where it had been split open. By him.

After a few moments, Ally opened her eyes again, feeling less faint, though in no less pain. She could see it was dark outside, but when she looked to her left, she started screaming, scrambling away on all fours, curling into the far corner of the stable. Three bodies lay together. The old man, her father, lay with a bullet hole in his head, his arm stretched out as if reaching to her. The other two, behind him, were her brother, his glassy eyes staring vacantly at her. The last was poor sweet Eric, so shy, so sweet, her fiancee.

"Oh god no.........."

Ally cried for a long time, her body racked with sobs, shuddering under the guilt. Tears ran down her face, streaking the dirt, as she rocked herself softly in the corner. Everyone she had ever loved was dead. She was afraid to even open her eyes, for fear of seeing her father reaching out to her. For fear of seeing her brother, never again seeing his smile. And Eric, poor sweet Eric. They were to have been married in the spring, the arrangements having been made since they were both 12 years old. Ally cried harder now, until the tears no longer came and her voice became a dry throaty rasp, and stayed curled into that corner, the pain of her body forgotten at the pain of her heart.

After what felt like a lifetime, Ally opened her eyes. Her throat was raw and she desperately needed a drink of water. She gently pulled herself up, her entire body protesting with stiffness and pain. She steadied herself, leaning against the wall as a wave of vertigo swept over her. After it passed she slowly shuffled over to the water trough, just outside the stable. She sank to her knees, which sunk deeply into the mud, and drank deeply. After a few gulps, she leaned her head back, trickles of water running down her jaw. It was then she noticed it, the rising sun breaking in the East. But it was no sun she recognized. No longer a shining orb, but blackened, with tendrils of darkness stretchering out from it. Each moment she stared at it, she could feel more and more of the warmth be stolen from the air. A dead sun had risen in the dawn.

A new kind of fear gripped her then, and Ally Marshall freed herself from the mud and pulled herself upright, wanting to get away from the fear she felt. She stumbled into the stable, falling hard on her knees onto the dirt, laying on all fours. She stayed like that, breathing heavy, trying to hold back a fresh wave of tears. Out of the corner of her eyes though she saw movement, a slight flicker. She slowly turned her head, and saw her father's outstretched hand. Where the fingers had been though had been replaced by blackened sharp points, a claw. A claw that was now reaching for her. Ally screamed again this time, not one of anguish, but of terror.

End of Line.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Word Balloon! Kick Ass!

Hey all,

I thought it appropriate this month to highlight the next comic book adaptation to hit the big screen, writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita, Jr's Kick Ass, published by Marvel/Icon. Marvel Comics Icon imprint is a specifically tailored comic book imprint for some of Marvel's biggest name creators who are under contract. It allows the creators, who continue to work for Marvel on their regular assignments, the opportunity to create, market, and publish comic books that they retain the rights to. It's a win-win scenario for both sides. Marvel gets to sign top tier creative talents to work on their biggest name characters, like Millar with the Ultimates, Romita with The Hulk, among others, while still giving them the creative vision to work on the projects that they want to do. The creators meanwhile get the steady employment and benefits (like insurances and guaranteed pay that come with big time exclusive deals) while continuing to create comics they want to work on without the stress and headaches that come from publishing comics independently.

Mark Millar has had some huge success with creating his own comics for Image Comics just a few years ago with Wanted, his book with artist JG Jones. That books success paved the way for the hugely successful movie adaptation with Angelina Jolie. He created a whole line of books for Image at the time, but the biggest parts of his success have been from his time with Marvel. He was an instrumental factor in creating Marvel's hugely successful Ultimate line in 2000, helming modern day, fresh takes on decades long heavy continuity laden books like the X-Men and the Avengers. By helping reboot this Ultimate take on established comics characters, Millar made books accessable to new readers again. Artist John Romita, Jr is the son of comics royalty, John Romita, Sr, who is one of the pre-dominate artists of Marvel's Silver Age. Romita Sr crafted epic runs in his career, establishing characters like Daredevil and Spider-Man after the departure of co-creator Steve Ditko. His son, Romita, Jr, had been working for Marvel since the late 70's exclusively. Romita Jr is the closest thing Marvel has to a modern day Jack Kirby, a penciler who has worked on nearly every single Marvel character in his 30 plus year career with epic runs on X-Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and the Hulk, along with every character in-between. With Kick Ass, it provided John Romita Jr a chance to stretch his creator legs for the first time in a very long while. It gave him a chance to do something original.

The teaming of Millar and Romita was guaranteed to provide instant sparks in the comic community, especially with Millar, known for crafting cutting edge, wide screen shock and awe comics, and Romita, who was perceived as almost a comics institution. The team up definatly does not disappoint. Kick Ass is an 8 issues limited series about Dave Lizewski, your typical run of the mill teenager facing many of the issues that today's teens face. His mother has recently passed away and his father is having a tough time coming to grips with her loss, so Dave turns to his friends, and comic books, for comfort. One day Dave takes his obsession with super-heroes to a new level, deciding that maybe one person can make a difference prompting Dave to buy a suit online and don a mask to become a super hero.

At first he simply prowls the neighborhood, training and posing, but when he witnesses a mugging, he springs into action for the first time. Unfortunately, just wearing suit does not make you a hero, and he get's beaten so severely he is hospitalized. After months of therapy, Dave is released, the world convinced he was the victim of a gay mugging (since he managed to remove his suit before paramedics arrived to protect his identity) after being found naked and beaten. He decides that he should give it one more go, and this time he successfully manages to protect a man from several thugs, while being filmed by a video camera. Becoming a YouTube and MySpace sensation, the hero Kick Ass is born, and gives birth to several copy cat heroes.

At the same time, two other masked vigilantes are attacking a local crime boss, Big Daddy and his 11 year old foul mouthed daughter, Hit Girl. With all of the crime bosses men claiming a masked vigilante is killing their men, he believes it to be the work of Kick Ass, the most well known hero. Kick Ass then becomes embroiled with Big Daddy and Hit Girl, realizing just how outclassed he is in the super hero business. Ready to give up, he meets another new hero, Red Mist, a hero who eventually drags him further into the growing conflict between Big Daddy, Hit Girl, and the crime syndicate.

First let's look at Mark Millar's writing. Kick Ass is exactly the sort of book Millar excels at, foul mouthed characters doing incredible wide screen action. Here Millar does allow for some nice deconstruction over the 8 issues to allow you to really get in the head of lead character Dave Lizewski. You do come to feel for him and his plight and the general earnestness in which he carries himself. Young Hit Girl continues to be the stand out character though, Millar having crafted this foul mouthed hellion who is both parts deadly and adorable. She is the freshest character I have read in quite some time. My only compliant is that sometimes the book feels a little long. I think the terribly intermittent publishing schedule really affected the quality of the story, qualities that I feel they really tightened up in the advanced screening of the theatrical adaptation that I saw last month. The film adaptation for Kick Ass was in the works even before the book was finished being published, stretching way back to early 2008. The comic book's 8 issues were published over the course of nearly a 2 year stretch. A fact that I do think takes away from some of the story elements, making it feel dis-connected at times.

Romita's pencils though haven't been this sharp in nearly a decade, since his epic run on Spider Man in early 2001. He brings Millar's wide screen storyline to bigger than life proportions. He crafts some really great character models, from the spindly Kick Ass, to the hulking Batman-esque Big Daddy. His thick heavy pencils come across really clean, creating a style completely his own. I even thought his pencils were tighter here than in some of his recent Incredible Hulk work. In Kick Ass he found a nice balance of the classic blocky approach he has developed over the past decade and the more streamlined style he had early parts in his career. He even manages to capture the violent and graphic action of the story in a very fresh manner. Graphic violence is not usually something you see in a Romita drawn book, but he proves why he has been Marvel's go to guy for the better part of 3 decades in teaming up with Millar. He never shys away from the scenes, including a fairly graphic torture sequence near the books climax.

Kick Ass is a book that likes to push the envelope, in terms of violence, action, and what you have come to expect from a comic. While I certainly don't claim it's either creators greatest work(for Millar his Ultimates run is un-parralleled and Romita's Daredevil and Spider-man arcs remain seminal works) I will say it is a really great book. It does so by creating an entirely new facet for promoting and formatting comic books. Kick Ass was something that was being written with the concept for the film in mind, melding the union of comic book and motion picture even deeper, right from the beginning. Writing self contained stories that were perfect for film adaptation is not something most writers have considered, at least at first. Most write the story and let it go from there. Here is a creation that was written with a beginning, middle, and end, in short form. Millar took the successes he had crafted in his earlier creator works like Wanted, and refined them to make Kick Ass even more successful. Arguably it works too. The option for Kick Ass was bought before the first issue even hit the shelf. What this means for the future of comics remains uncertain, though this could change many creators choices in the model by which they create new material.

As comics and film become more and more intertwined, we are going to be looking at books like Kick Ass that paved the way. Kick Ass is really a prototype for modern comic books, embracing the traditional elements of the classic four color comic book, yet all the while preparing the reader for a brand new interpretation in an entirely different format. I'll be curious to see how Mark Millar's next Icon book, Nemesis with artist Steve McNiven does. It's being crafted in a very similar style to Kick Ass, the question though is will lightning strike a third time. I totally recommend Kick Ass as a fun read and one of the best action books that have been published in the last few years.

To conclude I will say this, in what is surely a bit of sacrilege, I honestly thought the movie was a slightly stronger interpretation. They addressed a lot of the minor storytelling issue I had with the series and condensed the slower parts very nicely. All the changes that they made (which wasn't many) I thought really went towards making the over all experience stronger. That and the fact that Chloe Moretz portrayal of Hit Girl is one of the best performances of a young actress since Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. If your intersted, you can check out my early review of the Kick Ass film here Still, you can never go wrong with checking out the source material after checking out the film. It's an unflinching take on what super heroes would be like in the real world, in all of its visceral glory. Mark Millar and John Romita Jr craft a really fun and original tale that is artistically gorgeous to look at. Check out Kick Ass, from Marvel/Icon.

End of Line.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

Hey all,

Easter has came and went and I managed to find a few hours in a very packed working weekend to catch the new re-make of the 1980's classic, Clash of the Titans. The original film is one of those movies that so many people have great memories of from their youth and I think this film has drawn a lot of harsh criticism for that reason. The 2010 version is directed by Louis Leterrier, best known for helming The Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton. It also stars action film up and comer Sam Worthington, who is quickly carving out a name for himself in huge blockbuster movies like Terminator Salvation and Avatar.

Clash of the Titans chronicles the adventure's of one of Ancient Greece's earliest heroes, the demi-god Perseus (Worthington), the half mortal son of the Olympic God Zeus(played by Liam Neeson). Raised by fishermen, he arrives in Argos with his family, only to watch them die at the hands of the God of the Underworld, Hades (Ralph Finnes). Hades has been allowed to attack Argos for their insolence towards the Gods and the fact that they believe themselves superior. Promising to release his beast, The Kraken, upon the city in 10 days, he vows to destroy Argos unless the daughter of the king, Andromeda, is sacrificed to the monster. Andromeda (played by Alexa Davalos) embodies all that Argos believes makes them superior to the Gods, kindness, intelligence, and a beauty to rival Aphrodite.

Perseus teams up with some of Argos best soldiers and begins a quest to find a way to stop the Kraken, as is his destiny. He is helped along the way by Io (Gemma Atherton), an immortal woman who has watched over Perseus his entire life so that he may complete his destiny. Io, together with Perseus and the soldiers of Argos, guides them along the path his quest must take. First they must consult the Furies, wise, yet crazed seers who share a single eye and can foresee the future as well. Along the way the must fight Calibos, an empowered creature of Hades who hates Perseus and the giant scorpions that spring from his blood. Thier quest takes them to the liar of Medusa, the Gorgon who live son the edge of the Underworld along the River Styx and whose gaze turns men to stone. Only after defeating these, can Perseus return to Argos to meet his greatest challenges, The Kraken and Hades himself. He also must learn to accept exactly what his is, both man and God, in one.

Overall this movie was okay in my opinion, it's a big summer action movie that admittedly I went into with very low expectations. I had heard a lot of bad things about the actual 3D effects in this film, so my review is entirely based on my traditional 2D experience. Let's look at some of the things that I thought worked. Director Leterrier really knows his way around an action scene. He can give you huge spectacle, but he also knows how to keep the direction in the shot so that you can still see what is going on. One of the problems I have with films like Transformers is how fast they cut the film. The action is moving at such a pace, you don't get to see what is actually happening. This was one of the things that Leterrier did well when he directed Transporter 2, that I really missed in the action scenes from Transporter 3. You lost focus. I also liked that the fight scenes against the giant scorpions cast a nice homage to the great Ray Harryhausen who did the stop motion effects for the original film. The fights had a fun cinematic flair to them.

Now let's look at the casting, which I thought was a little more of a mixed bag. First up, the casting choices that worked. Sam Worthington is continuing to establish himself as a growing star and certainly Clash of the Titans exemplifies his ability to work in such an effects heavy genre. He has a natural toughness that can suit him as a big budget film actor. I can easily see him developing a career along the lines of Harrison Ford, making huge genre blockbusters but never getting recognition for his acting. My only concern is that if he continues to make these CG heavy films, people won't know the actor, just the film. Hopefully he can work in some riskier roles in the future, but for now he is establishing himself as a force in this genre. The best bit of casting is Gemma Atherton as Io, Perseus' guardian and eventual love interest. Gemma is gorgeous in the role and really steals the spotlight with just the brightness of her appearance in every scene. Liam Neeson brings just the right blend to the character of Zeus. Part of him knows the campiness of the film and you can see him having fun with the role, but he does have that certain amount of gravitas to lend to scenes that need him to display the weight of a God. My only complaint in casting was in Ralph Fiennes as Hades. Fiennes is usually such a great actor and in this role it really feels like he is doing a pale version of his role as Voldemorte from the Harry Potter films. For such a great actor, it really felt like he was mailing it in, getting lost in the visual effects and not channeling any sort of real effort into the character.

As for the visual effects, I can see where people would have some gripes. I didn't partake of the 3D experience, but some of the effects shots did look a little rushed to me. While big sequences, like the Kraken and the Medusa looked great, smaller bits could have used some polish. I noticed it more in scenes on the water where a lot of times the boats didn't really look like they were floating, or in scenes on Olympus, where you never really got a sense of the grandiose halls that should be housing the gods, they looked a little plain. I also can imagine that soem of the 3D effects could have come across feeling a little forced, since the concept of converting the film to 3D came so late in post production on the film. I would imagine that a director would direct or edit an scene differently if they know the film is going to be in 3D, as opposed to otherwise.

I think one of the biggest complaints I have heard about the film is that they changed so much of the original films story to fit this one. Honestly, both films are based on the Legend of Perseus, and both films take a generous amount of liberties with the film. The original Clash of the Titans was written based on several of the Ancient Greek Legends, borrowing some points and placing them in a single context around Perseus and Andromeda. They didn't even stop at Greek Legends, as technically the Kraken is Scandinavian in origin. Still the original film de-railed itself from the myth as well, changing the sea monster from a giant whale to the Kraken, adding in more mythological monsters, changing the fates of Perseus and Andromeda. It seems kind of silly to me that people are upset about scripting changes to something that itself changed based on an ancient myth that is full of conflicting historical inaccuracies. The only real change that bothered me in this was to the love story between Io, Andromeda, and Perseus. One of the things that set Perseus' legend apart from other great Greek heroes, like Odysseus, Hercules, Jason, and Achilles, is that he is the only one who get's a happy ending. Greek heroes always suffered, sure they lived a greater life than an other, but they always suffered, even in the end. Perseus was one of the only ones to live and rule a kingdom pretty much happily ever after. In this version, well they take an approach that leaves the possibility of a sequel more open.

Overall my approach to this film was one that I don't often have. I wasn't going in to it trying to re-capture the experience and resonance of my 8 year old youth. I looked at it as a remake, along the lines of what they to do properties like Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Gladiator, and the like. It's very much a re-make of a piece of property in the public domain. To judge this film based on pre-conceived notions is the same as judging Russel Crowe's upcoming Robin Hood film to that of Kevin Costner's 1990's version or Errol Flynn's version in the 1930's. They are simply different interpretations of classical stories. I had the same approach with the Batman franchise. Where this differs for me with movies like Transformers or Bond films is that these are supposed to be interpretations of properties that have been defined. Each Bond film is based on the one that came before, they never really re-set the franchise, they still keep ties to the old, therefore keeping the same connotations with each film. The films are based on material that is fairly clearly defined. This is where a film like Tron 2 this year is going to have a higher bar to measure up to than Clash of the Titans does.

In the end, I thought the movie was fun. I won't call it well written, or acted, or even a great movie. It's simply what it promises, a huge fun action film that acts as a fun bit of escapism. I can enjoy the film for what it is, entertainment. Sometimes all you can hope for from a movie is that, entertainment. I'd say if you are looking just to go have some fun, catch Clash of the Titans,if not, you can enjoy it just as much on DVD.

End of Line.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 9

Cody Jarrett knelt next to one of the dead men laying face down in the muck. He used the fringe of the man's shirt to gently clean the drying blood off of his pearl handled Colts. Two feet to his left lay a young girl. She couldn't be more than 15 years old, with long brown hair that had been pulled into a pony tail, but now lay askew. He could see the welt forming on her head from where he had taken the pistol across her scalp, blood already drying, mixing with the muck of the river mud, caking her head. Cody stood tall and twirled his Colt into his gun belt, which lay in a cross draw. Using his boot, he none to gently kicked the girl onto her stomach, mud and dirt caking her face and the front of her dress. She was ample and wide of hip, just the way he liked them. Using his gloved left hand, he slowly wiped the muck from around her mouth, smiling at the fullness of her lips.

Cody titled his hat back as he heard the shuffling of hoofs behind him and knew that Beau was coming with fresh horses. He turned and looked at the animals, two were not much better than plow horses, though the third was a good sized bay that would meet his needs nicely. He took the reins to the bay, flashing Beau a glare. Beau just lowered his eyes and began transferring his brother's and his saddles to the new horses. Cody hitched up his gear, including repositioning the stolen money from the bank into an extra set of saddle bags that would make it easier to carry. After his horse was ready he walked over to the brothers. Beau had saddled the horses, wise enough not to piss Cody off, but was now looking at his brother's belly wound.

The bullet was still lodged in Buford's gut. Cody knew he was a goner. Still, he needed the brothers a little longer. This wasn't yet the time of the place. Buford was turning a sickly yellow, blood likely seeping into his stomach. It was a painful way to die to be sure. His eyes had already started to glass over and he kept mumbling how cold he was over and over.

"Cody, please..... we gotta get to Desperation. He.. he ain't gonna make it unless we get to a doctor. Please Cody..."

The simpering sounds of weakness in Beau's voice made Cody want to kill him right there. Cody looked up, the sun already starting to set in the West, soon it would be to late to see to travel and staying at the river's edge was to dangerous, to close should a boat come along. He also glanced over at the girl, trying to quell the needs bubbling inside him. The needs that always came after a killing. There just wasn't time. Cody Jarrett may be a murderer, but you don't live as long as he has doing the things he has done by being careless. Cody ordered Beau to get Buford on his horse and then help him drag the corpses into the stable. They quickly drug the three men in, tossing them just out of sight. Jarrett threw the girl beside them, hearing a sick thud as her skull bounced off the hard packed dirt inside. Oh well, he never did like them to stupid to enjoy it. With a smile, Cody mounted his horse and followed the two brothers as they rode towards the town of Desperation, thinking the worst of things now lay behind him. Little did he know how wrong he was.

End of Line.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Poetry: Color

Hey all,

All right the following poem is a very far cry from my normal stomping grounds. I think I have fallen into a bit of a rut, concerning the very dark themes of some of my poetry so I cast about looking for some kind of inspiration to craft a love poem. I didn't want it to be something that was a very traditional post of love poetry, instead I looked for an event in a person's life that is very romantic and tried to build around that. I always thought of a proposal as being a very romantic time for the most part and wondered how I could capture that.

To do so, I looked at another poem I wrote a few years back, in which I used colors to tell a message of loss. As I played with it I thought about crafting a bit of a this poem to act as a sort of companion piece to that poem. Where one is the opposite end of the same spectrum. I tried to keep some of the things close, and changed a few others. The redness of the lips, the yellow hair seemed very much like something that fit tonally, though I tried to change the rest of the colors around to mean different things. I still think I effectively changed up the poem enough so that it is different from the other poem, which I titled Black. Black remains the only poem I have written that doesn't have the title in the poem itself, in and of itself being a representation of what color the author felt. Hopefully you like this poem and don't feel its just a re-tread. I like how it came out. To be honest, it just felt nice writing something different.

If you want you can re-read Black here Enjoy!


Yellow flecks of straw spun hair,

Whose flowing locks brighten my cares.

Deep green eyes, the stillest pool,

Whose depth make me feel the fool.

Soft red tinged lips curled to smiles,

Your sweet taste lasts for miles.

Peach smooth skin I'm blessed to touch,

Whose gentle caress I love so much.

The sky above is filled with blue,

But in the clouds I just see you.

Orange rays of sun enlighten the Earth,

Yet you are the one who brightens my worth.

A field of green, so ripe and pure,

Seems a withered mess when you differ.

Even daisies bloomed, grown lushly white,

Cast a paler beauty that against you seems slight.

Our future may be uncertainly gray,

But with your love I can find the way.

For silver seams glow brighter when,

I hold you in my arms again.

So as the purple dawn begins to break,

On the next step our relationship must take,

I kneel to you and offer this gold band,

And ask for you to take my hand.

There is no color that can say,

Will you be my wife today?

End of Line.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Assorted Nuts!

Happy April All!

Another month down, 1/4 of the year already gone. Time seems to keep speeding up when i look at the big picture, and while individual days seem to drag sometimes, overall time is blurring very quickly. Only a few months to go until comic con too. A very exciting time lays ahead, just hope that I can continue to make time and grow my creative output.

I thought last month that I had a nice range of stories and work, especially the short story Violets which I thought came out nicely. I also have to admit, I really like working on Dead Sun, the first serial was one of the few projects that I never got tired off, and the two long formed works I have done since then I really started to get bored with after 20 or so chapters. I have some good plans outlined but I keep coming up with better ideas which is why we still continue to get into the exposition of the story. Eventually the separate tales will convalesce into a single story, but we may see different chapters from different points of view. I hope to take some time out later tonight and get the next chapter up, ideally getting the opportunity to meet the last "main" character in the tale.

Gonna stay hard at work on the blog and keeping creative. As always I appreciate your feedback and thank you all for reading.

End of Line.