Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness : Movie Review


   The much-awaited sequel to the first Doctor Strange movie has finally arrived, and it also Marvel's first step into the horror realm (no, I'm not counting Sony's Morbius).

    Thankfully, the Multiverse of Madness is in the hands of director Sam Raimi, who excels at the genre - especially adding humor in the mix, always a crucial element in a Marvel movie.

   The story almost defies description (at least when you're trying to be careful not to spoil anything), but here goes.

   It revolves around young America Chavez, (the lovely Xochitl Gomez) a teen from an alternate universe who discovers she has the ability to travel between realities in the multiverse - and a sinister force is trying to take that power from her, at the cost of her life. 

   She's trying to escape from a terrifying monster Shuma Gorath when Doctor Strange (an always magnetic Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (the delightful Benedict Wong) rush to her rescue - and then they try to protect her from the force that's pursuing her. 

    Strange decides to recruit help from fellow Avenger Wanda Maximoff / the Scarlet Witch (another amazing, heartfelt performance by Elizabeth Olsen). The ensuing story takes the cast to alternate realities, a delight of cameos with the Illuminati (hey, the commercials already spoiled that one) - two of the members of that group got the biggest crowd reaction in our sold-out theatre.

   There are massive battles (including a delightful music-based one), some heart strings to pluck at as Strange encounters past love Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), some horrific moments (usually accompanied by a laugh of delight at the cleverness involved), and some startling revelations about some other Doctor Stranges out there in the Multiverse.

   This movie covers a lot of ground, but I have to admit, I enjoyed it throughout. The challenge of Stephen Strange is similar to that of Tony Stark - how do you make someone who's not always the most lovable guy around into a hero you can root for? The answer is by giving him challenges to overcome (with smart, clever solutions), and having him do the right thing even when it isn't easy - the true mark of a hero.

    I loved this film, and certainly hope they keep this cast (and Sam Raimi) busy far into the future!


Grade: A


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Farewell to Neal Adams and George Perez

     In the past week comics fans have been forced to say goodbye to two beloved artists who provided us all with untold hours of entertainment.

   Of course, I'm talking about Neal Adams, who passed away last week, and George Perez, who passed on  Friday.

     Adams has been active in the business since the '60s, working on virtually every title in the DC Comics pantheon (including Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope).

    Of course, his lasting mark was on his redesign of Batman into a creature of the night. But he actually left his mark on every character he tackled, including this milestone issue for Superman - and he also drew the huge Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Treasury Edition, which I consider one of the all-time greatest single issues published. 

    Most people compliment Adams on his photorealistic style, but I don't agree with that (most of his drawings would not be confused with real life, after all) - but his style was much more detailed and naturalistic than anything that had gone before. I was an instant fan of his work.

    I didn't really see his art until he moved over to Marvel - his first work was on the X-Men, a title that had just been through a few amazing issues drawn by Jim Steranko (another titanic talent). 

   I clearly remember seeing the splash page for his first issue and thinking, "Why is Steranko signing his name 'Neal Adams'?" (I eventually figured it out.)

    It was his work on that series - and everything that followed, from Avengers to Justice League to Green Lantern and on and on - that made me a fan for life.

    Of course, there are other reasons to be a fan of Adams - he worked hard to help others out in the field and improve conditions for the creative talents of the future.

    Comics artists and writers were once paid poorly - but these days, you can make a good living in the industry.

    For that, for his inspiration to innumerable artists and writers, and for a lifetime of amazing work, we owe a debt of thanks to Adams.

    George Perez arrived in comics a decade after Adams, but he also had an immediate impact. 

   The first work of his I remember seeing was in the page of the black-and-white Marvel magazine, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. It was a splash panel with a bird's-eye view of New York, and I was amazed at the detail that went into every building - this was an artist to watch for!

    In addition to doing amazing work, Perez was also prolific, crafting several monthly titles regularly - something few artists have been able to manage, especially when you're talking about team comics. 

    I believe at one point he was drawing the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers at the same time! 

    One of the things that set Perez apart was that he was obviously a comics fan himself - you could see it in the care he lavished on every title!

    He managed two separate runs on the Avengers - one with writer Steve Englehart and, years later, with Kurt Busiek. But he didn't stop there - he went to DC and (with Marvel Wolfman) co-created The New Teen Titans, and changed DC forever with the Crisis on Infinite Earths series - and then he retooled Wonder Woman for modern audiences and worked on the History of the DC Universe

    Any one of those would make a career, but Perez did so much more for those companies, for the so-called "independent" companies (including CrossGen) - the list goes on and on!

    But best of all, Perez was a wonderful ambassador for comics - he never lost his love for the fans and gave tirelessly to charitable causes.

    It was wonderful to see the industry give back to George at the end, recognizing how beloved he was.

    Both men leave behind a vast catalog of amazing work they created over the decades, and we hope they know how much they were loved and respected by fans all over the world. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Uncle Scrooge #219 - What I Saved


   From the mid-'80s to around 2000, I had a fun job.

    I was working at a local TV station in West Virginia, writing and producing educational children's programming. 

   One of the regular features we produced focused on local artists, and a friend suggest we pay a visit to an artist who had just started writing and drawing Disney comics - Don Rosa.

   Don lived just a couple of hours away, so I made a connection through a mutual friend and arranged to shoot the segment at his home studio.

   The videographer, our teen host and I arrived at the given time, and I knocked on the door. Don opened the door, and we both did a double-take. It was like looking in a mirror!

    We were about the same height, same build (I have since put on weight, while Don remains annoyingly slim), same thinning hair - the big difference was our glasses. Don wore round wire-rimmed lenses, while mine were square.

   We both laughed. It was a terrific interview - Don was (and is) very funny and generous with his time, and the feature that resulted was terrific.. 

    I immediately set out to track down his work, and that led me to this issue of Uncle Scrooge, which was Rosa's first full-length Duck tale (this issue is dated July 1987).

   Titled "The Son of the Sun," it's an incredible, rollicking adventure that pits Scrooge, Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie against Scrooge's evil nemesis, Flintheart Glomgold.  

   They launch into a competition to find the lost gold of the Incas, and what follows is equal parts adventure, humor, history and discovery. Like the best Carl Barks stories, it's thoroughly researched, loaded with surprises, twists and shocking events. 

   Rosa's art manages to live up to the story - it's amazingly detailed, loaded with great action sequences and (literally) Earth-shaking events. He manages to get the maximum out of the incredibly expressive (and virtually animated) ducks. 

   In other words, this comic is just a pure delight from beginning to end.

    And it was just the start for Rosa, who spent years crafting terrific stories around the Ducks - it's a job he was born to tackle. 

   I can't urge you strongly enough to sample Rosa's work (especially his history of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck) - and it goes without saying that you should also read Carl Barks' stories, which are classics in every sense of the word. 

   Between the two, they've crafted a number of my all-time favorite comic stories.

   So thanks, Don, for being such a good sport - and bringing me back to the Duck fold!


   (This series focuses on the comics I saved when I recently sold most of my collection. This essay includes elements written in 2010.) 

Grade: A+