Noah (2014)

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Noah is the most ballsy recent attempt to modernize a biblical story and make it, if not relevant, then at least interesting. What starts out pretty conventional, apart from the fallen angel-golems helping Noah build his arc, becomes more tense once most of humanity has been killed off, the animals and Noah’s family are on the boat and Noah decides that God has one final, decisive fate for him and his family in store.

Basically the movie injects more drama by merging Noah’s story with traces of Abraham and Isaac (kill the kids because it’s God’s will, no survivors) and what started out as Noah and his family against the rest of the world devolves into a tense closed quarter drama with Noah as the potential slasher who won’t even stop at killing his own grand-children.

Which is, despite being quite demented, very well acted and interesting to watch, especially how that final act actually transforms his family from mere appendixes of Noah into real characters with his wife showing that she has a lot more steel inside that one would have believed initially.

The ending sadly is a big cop-out and I really, really disliked how they hand-waved away the emotional trauma that Noah caused his family. That they accepted him back into their midst and especially that his wife seemed to be happy to be re-united with him after he became their worst nightmare, is utterly implausible. That is not how humans react and most people would have kneed him in the balls or better precautionary stuck a knife into his back before his next psycho-episode. That was the happy ending I was hoping for, but for that the movie was a bit too conventional.

The Legend of Korra S1 (2012)

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I must admit I wasn’t expecting much when I started watching Legend of Korra despite all the hype I’ve seen. ATLA was pretty much perfect from start to finish, but I couldn’t imagine where the show could go afterward. Color me pleasantly surprised-

The first season opens with a brilliant, self-contained arc that takes the conventional fantasy world of the original series, cranks up the history clock until we end up in something like the early 19th century, only with bending added to the mix and then goes on to explore what kind of class conflicts could arise in such a world.

The big villain of the season has a truly terrifying power and the movement he’s leading (equality for the non-benders) has actually a good motivation for doing what they do, even if their methods are questionable. But this is what makes the best kind of villains, those where you can’t be sure if they really are the bad guys. And as much as I liked ATLA, the overall set-up was a pretty simplistic good vs evil conflict, even if the excellent writing and characterization made you forget that most of the time.

All that said, toward the end the season falls a bit apart plot-wise, with too many reveals that feel like cheap soap opera and the backstory of the main villain more convoluted and less topical than I hoped for. But still, the main set-up and how it plays out over the season is great, from the initial harmless seeming episodes until the final clash between both sides.

And yet the show manages to remain centered around the characters and not feel plot-driven. Which is actually the biggest strength of the show, because even when the plot falters a bit in the final moments, Kara (who believable grows from worry-free and naive teenager to matured young adult over the course of the season) and her friends journey keeps you glued to the screen until the end.

TMNT (2007)

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TMNT, the 2007 animated ninja turtles movies, is kind of an odd duck. It’s not a direct sequel to any of the existing versions of the TMNT franchise, but it quite clearly builds on stories that happened in those versions, with the most obvious one the turtles victory over the Shredder. For full enjoyment of the movie, you’re required to know some or at least one version of the turtle franchise, while at the same time the movie has to stand completely on its own without having the bonus of actually being a direct sequel.

That it still succeeds has a lot to do with how well the movie manages to take the usual franchise cliches, foremost among them Raphael’s angry nature, and integrate them into a functional story without making any of the characters too annoying (not even Raph). And if you don’t think this is an art, just look for the second animated series, that tried something similar and utterly failed.

It also helps that the art direction is quite good, the main plot is actually kind of interesting (an ancient warrior king collecting artifacts, lots of neatly designed monsters and a portal of doom) and doesn’t go where most people would expect it to. Sure, it’s not as compelling as a conflict with the Shredder would have been due to the personal connection, but the movie makes up for that by showing how the individual turtles have grown beyond what most versions of the franchise show (they rarely leave their teenage years behind). In that regard, it actually is kind of a sequel, a meta-sequel, that acts as a future chapter for various incarnations of the turtles.

Could have been really interesting if it had gotten a sequel, but then it probably would have fallen in the same old same old track of the never-ending war with the Shredder (there were hints he was back again). Very enjoyable overall.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles S2 (2013-2014)

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The second season of TMNT doesn’t offer any innovation over the first one, instead it takes the monster-of-the-week formula even further by making the turtles lose countless mutagen containers all over the city in the first episode. Subsequent episodes see various humans or other living things transformed and the turtles are forced to deal with it. Various predictable shenanigans with transformations happen, though most of them are actually pretty cool and I have to applaud the creators of the show for remaining constantly inventive with these transformations and also for being able to tell all kinds of great stories, from tragic to comic (pizza face is probably my favorite episode of the season) and everything in between.

The season ends with another fight with the Krang and while the overall quality of the writing remains just as high as the first season and there are lots of developments (new friends and foes), it feels a bit like treading water. But as long as the shows manages to keep the same level of quality, I don’t mind too much.

Bad Machinery: The Case of the Team Spirit (2013)

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While this is billed as the first volume in a comic book series that is part coming-of-age and part teenage mystery series about a group of six teenagers who start secondary school, it feels actually like the nth entry in a longer running series. The book starts pretty disjointed, jumping between characters like crazy and the two main groups of characters, the boys and the girls, only have some intersections without really interacting with each other. Soon, though, it becomes clear that they all have known each other for some time and have a sort of rivalry in the mystery department going on.

The mystery-aspect of the book is about a curse following a rich Russian guy who owns a local football team and who wants to build a new stadium. It’s nice, but the real draw of the book is seeing the teenagers talking with each other and how they react to the world around them. It’s not very realistic, they are far too smartly written, but it’s also extremely funny, almost pitch-perfect of how I imagine I would have liked to sound at that age. There’s a bit of Daria quality in there, though with less of the bite yet a lot charm and clever observations of how growing up can feel. Very well done and it makes me want to get the second volume from Oni.

Sketch Monsters: Escape of the Scribbles (2011)

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Short 50-page comic book written by Joshua Williamson about a little girl who bottles up all her feelings and deals with it by drawing monsters. When her sister leaves for college, her bottled up feelings in the shape of the monsters escape and she has to get them back by actually letting out her feelings, this time for real. It could have been pretty boring with this obvious comic-as-a-lesson set-up, but the charming art by Vinny Navarette with a plethora of visual gags makes sure that its actually a pretty fun and sweet read.

That said, its very obviously aimed at a very young audience, I say kids, not even teens, so with that in mind its probably perfectly fitting both in size as well as depth.

Buzz! (2013)

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First volume of a comic I picked up in an still ongoing Humble Bundle sale. Written by Ananth Panagariya, Buzz tries to make spelling bees cool and dangerous. Which sounds utterly ridiculous and which it is, but the comic draws on the particularly strengths of the medium. Like far forefather Felix the Cat or recent entry Scott Pilgrim, thoughts and concepts become reality (in this case its letters and their spelling) and are then used to pummel enemies and nobody seems bothered by it.

Plot is pretty standard with a nerdy teen becoming embroiled in the world of spelling bees (which in this reality is a real important thing for seemingly no reason, where people can even die from it and all the big players have more or less superhero-like powers), going up in the ranks (mostly pushed and shoved by the mysterious king) and finally having to face the champion of the hidden masters of the spelling bee world, the Spelluminati. Yep, its going there.

This is all pretty zany, yet played utterly straight, and while I don’t feel like I’m really buying into it, I admire Buzz! for keeping it going for an entire volume without everything unraveling based on the preposterous set-up. If the writing were a bit more sophisticated and not just showing standard level competence, it could be really good. As it is it’s definitely fun enough to read, but I’m not sure its good enough to make me search out further volumes in the series.

JSA: Justice Be Done (2000)

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This collects the first five issues of the Justice Society of America run from 1999 and co-written (at least for those issues) by David Goyer and James Robinson of Starman fame. It’s an okay introductory arc that trades a lot on nostalgia and offers a deadly villain who is evil seemingly just because and who starts killing former JSA members. This snowballs into lots of former members and legacy characters of former members hunting him down and finally to regroup as the newest incarnation of the JSA.

Since I haven’t read much about the JSA or its characters previously, there’s no nostalgia bonus from me. I thought it was an okay read, nothing stellar, but competent enough and I can see how it can get really good if it goes on. This is not a team of the most awesome or strongest DC characters, but people who fought together for a long time and who have become sort of a secondary family for each other. Lots of soap opera potential, both the good and the bad kind, and with its long history lots of toys from the past that can make for some neat superhero stories.

After this Geoff Johns takes over for Robinson and since he’s pretty well known for his reverent yet inventive use of DC history, this could be a fun ride.

DC Showcase: Catwoman (2011)

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One of the DC Showcase short movies that was one the same BluRay as Batman: Year One. 15 minutes of Catwoman hunting down a gangster with various well done action scenes, from a car chase to fights between Catwoman and the various goons she encounters. Ends with her hunting down her prey to a shipyard and finding the human goods the gangster is in the process of shipping off. The short movies manages to present her as both extremely skilled to survive a lot of seemingly insurmountable situations in a believable way, yet still as human enough not to shrug of any damage thrown her way. It’s fun to watch and I wouldn’t mind seeing a longer outing with her as the main character.

Seconds (2014)

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Seconds is the kind of story that requires its main character (Katie, who dreams of owning her own restaurant and plans to open one soon) to remain stupid for most of its running time to function at all. Which is not all that different from Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series, but at least there we could see Scott grow over the course of six books, whereas in Seconds Katie is only allowed an epiphany near the end to finish of the story with a neat climax and the usual life lesson.

The comic has a lot of things going for it, like the meta squabbles between narrator and Katie about what is going on at various moments (a type of light fourth wall breaking I haven’t seen previously which manages to support the narrative instead of putting a dead stop to it) or the usual great art by Bryan Lee O’Malley which looks even better than in any of his previous outings. And the overall plot of house spirits, changing small scale past events and how this all snowballs into worse things could have been interesting, but the way Malley handles Katie as a character makes the outcome less enticing.

Had he opted for a smarter and more self-assured character, it would have been far more interesting to see how despite all the good intentions and the foresight to anticipate how things could go out of control, things still would have gone from bad to worse. Far more rewarding than seeing a clueless dunce doing it with utterly predictable results.