Monday, November 25, 2013

Ugly American: IMAGINE Agents Review!

Boom! Studios 4 issue mini-series

Scripts: Brian Joines
Art: Bachan
A few weeks ago some guy you might be familiar with named Mike reviewed some comics on the Where Monsters Dwell radio program and recommended a Boom! title called IMAGINE Agents. I had seen the solicitation copy and cover images for the book, and it looked like a forgettable little cartoony fluff piece that wouldn't interest me. Mike seemed so pleasantly surprised with it...I just had to see for myself.

After reading the first two issues, count the Ugly American as also heartily endorsing IMAGINE Agents.

You had an imaginary friend as a child, right? Well, the IMAGINE Agents are tasked with keeping these "notional entities" in line. Think "Men in Black", with a more specific jurisdiction.

Agent Dave Slatern (the grizzled, jaded vet) and rookie Terry Snowgoose (hapless comedic relief) are drowning in cases. Seems a a wayward notion named Dapple has a revolution in mind, and he's recruiting other rowdies with an eye toward interacting more directly with the tangible world. Caught in the crosshairs of all this mayhem are a host of colorful notions and regular folks like little Elliot and his mother Rebecca.

This is an all-ages book in the truest sense. You can hand this to just about anybody, and they'll find something to grab hold of. The reason to do a book like this is to dismantle the governor on a creator's imagination and just let it rip. IMAGINE Agents does not disappoint on that front. The main Notional is Furdlegurr, who looks like a fat teddy bear, and there are plenty of other cutesy creatures if you're into that sort of thing.

Blounder is a pink blob who really takes an emotional beating in this comic and steals every scene he's in. The visuals run the gamut - some of the Notions are ill-conceived amalgamations (their forms are influenced by the undeveloped minds of children) that lean toward the creepy and bizarre. My favorite is Jupert,
the "wild west" tyrannosaurs acting as deputy sherrif of the district where the diaspora go when their children can't see them any more. I don't know what a "Bachan" is, but they're doing a bang-up job selling interesting looking characters.

What draws me to IMAGINE Agents is that it's deeper than it's cartoon exterior. Agent Slatern (who clearly has a checkered emotional history with his own childhood Notion) forces Blounder to confront the idea that his unnaturally sweet relationship with Molly might cripple her ability to form relationships in the real world.

Not all the Notions have that syrupy bond with children, however. Pono got saddled with a kid who quickly got bored with him, tossed him in the corner and promptly forgot him. Joines has a very solid structure in place for the Notional world and the rules it plays by. Notions take a form that is chosen for them. What a drag, even if you found the box you were placed in aesthetically pleasing! It's a narrative demonstration of how part of what we are is
constructed by other's perceptions.

Pono being stuck inside that weird plant sells the idea of societal influence more powerfully and with more subtlety than 99% of the comics on the rack today, who think jamming propaganda down your throat with a dirty plunger is storytelling.

It works in IMAGINE Agents because it's built into the story organically, and serves the story in terms of motive. Some of the Notions are just destructive people who enjoy breaking things. But many of the Notions find Dapple's plan attractive simply because they've grown attached emotionally to the "real world" and want to be a part of it. How would you feel if everything in your life was stripped away from you because the person you cared about most happened to turn 8 years old? That's the life of an imaginary friend.

So there's a lot to like about this comic. It looks fantastic, it has heart, and it's extremely tightly plotted. There is exactly zero fat in Joines script - every word and image serves a purpose, and the pace is quite brisk. I honestly wouldn't mind if the script were allowed to meander a little more, because the character moments are so strong. I think it's smart, though, especially in today's market to err on the side of less decompression and more story density.

Not for nothing, but Elliot's mom Rebecca also has the highest MILF quotient in comics. That's important.

And hey, for you Market Spotlight folks...I would say that IMAGINE Agents has higher-than-average investment potential, because this property is absolutely begging to be made into an animated feature.

Now, the "movie option" game is a bit played out, and the windows for that game are getting incredibly short. This is different, though. Not everything that gets optioned is actually good. If exposed to a larger audience, IMAGINE Agents will really grab hold of some hearts and stick. It deserves a shot in your reading pile, for sure.

PS: the imaginary friend bit is an inspired hook, I would say. Most of us have experience, yes? Or am I the weird one?

As a child, I had two imaginary friends running simultaneously: Mark and Guggees. Guggees rhymes with "juggies", only with a "guh" sound at the beginning, if you're curious. Mark was a bit of a bad seed. If I threw a Hot Wheels car at the dog.....that was probably because Mark thought it was a good idea, not because I was a little asshole. He was sort of like the devil on my shoulder.

Some people have a little angel on their other shoulder to balance things out. Not me. I had Guggees. He was an impulsive but hilarious lunatic. So if Mom laid out my clothes for an exciting day at kindergarten, I might switch things up and wear two different colored socks to school. That would be the Guggees Factor.

Everyone, please try to contain your shock that my two formative phantom influences were a sociopath and a certifiable nut bag. I think Mark and Guggees had pretty much left by the third grade, so I think the 8 year rule feels about right to me. Now it's all me. If I throw a Hot Wheels car at your dog? I'll own that. The point is, keep your dog in line and nobody gets hurt.

Next up: I think we'll start tackling the 2013 year in review!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ugly American: Decisions, Decisions!

After sifting through this month's Previews...I might be done with Marvel Comics, and I hate that. I hate that I'm even forced to consider it, because I love Marvel Comics, and I'm not a quitter, and I don't want to be 'That Guy'.

This all started when I zipped to the Marvel section of Previews, looking for the new X-Factor book. Layla MIller is my favorite character in comics, so first I needed to confirm her presence or absence in the new line-up. She is absent. That's not a good start.

Then I needed to confirm that Peter David was scripting, and he is. I don't even remember who the penciller is, because it doesn't matter. If I can tolerate PAD X-Factor scripts rendered by Larry Stroman, then I can tolerate anything. So Peter is in, and that's critical, because at this point X-Factor to me kinda IS Peter David.

They've titled the new rendition "All New X-Factor"
, which I loathe. This musical adjective game Marvel likes to play is silly. lazy, random, and ultimately destructive. When a dozen different titles juggle a dozen different adjectives, those adjectives stop creating distinctions and start creating chaos.

Five years from now when everything a customer wants to read has worn an Uncanny, an Amazing, and an All New on its masthead, who will remember which is which? How will that customer find what they're looking for in a sea of spines at their local comic shop? It's just bad business. Such a practice is marketing suicide...and any college intern could tell you that. How do they not know this?

That wasn't the deal-breaker, though. All New X-Factor is priced at $3.99, so even if it did have Layla Miller in it, I'm out. I'm just out. That makes me sad, because I would dearly love to support a Peter David title, even though in this case it looks like he's going for the tedious and played out "corporations are bad" bit. I trust that he'd handle it with some degree of subtlety and humor, and that would probably take some of the gag reflex away from the southpaw medicine. But I won't be around to find out, because I'm not spending $3.99 on a Marvel comic. That's been the law, at least for me.

Trouble with that is, there isn't much left at the House of Ideas for $2.99, and what's left is not long for the world. Marvel just doesn't believe in titles running longer than two years. Here's your list of regular Marvel books at the $2.99 price tag in this month's Previews:

Avengers A.I.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man
X-Men: Legacy
Young Avengers

There were a handful of other odd items in there for $3 as well, like the all-ages books, some clearance items they found lying in a warehouse, and the Daredevil Dark Nights mini. But we're down to about a half dozen titles, none of them will be around in their present form a year from now, and when they do come back? They'll be $3.99, just like the All New X-Factor.

So that's it. The rubicon has presented itself, and now I must decide if I'll cross. There will be no more $2.99 Marvel books soon - do I re-write my laws and fudge a little, do I simply admit defeat and just buy anything in direct defiance of all that I hold true and dear...or do I say good-bye to Marvel Comics?

It's a complicated beast, and it probably has more to do with petty psychology as it does economics. I'll let you in on a little secret: the #1 thing preventing me from kicking Marvel to the curb is the fact that I self-identify as a "comics guy", and I don't think you can be a "comics guy" and not have some intimate contact with Marvel. They're too big, and too important.

Some of my readers will reject that notion, and God bless you all. There's more to comics than superheroes, for sure. I'm not suggesting that avoiding Marvel eliminates you from being a fan of comics. That's just silly.

What I'm saying is....this is so bizarre...comics are kind of My Thing. I write a column about them. I did a weekly podcast about them for more than five years, and still crank one out occasionally because I love it, and because I just can't stay away. On my days off, I'm researching and reading and buying comics for my side business, which is selling comics. That "side business" makes my life possible, by the way. Without it, there's no way I make ends meet. In a very real way, comics are my life.

So the idea that I might simply ignore the medium's (for better or worse) dominant can I do that? How can I do that and still be a Comics Guy?

I suppose one answer is that I can re-define myself. I don't have to be a Comics Guy. Some people might call that growth, actually. I call it a heinous fate worse than death, but I'm admittedly prone to hyperbole. Maybe it's not as bad as all that, and maybe I'm already there and just not ready to admit it to myself? The last Marvel event that I read front-to-back was Civil War. That was what, 7 years ago?

Amazing Spider-Man flipped over to $3.99 in the summer of 2010. Can you really be a Comics Guy and abandon Spider-Man for three years? The $3.99 price point has chased me out of nearly everything - I've never read an issue of Hickman's Avengers. I've been priced out of most X-Men titles for years. I don't know...maybe I'm already that "out of the loop" character I'm afraid of becoming.

So what to do? I've been partially in the loop via my public library. Most Marvel titles are available to me for free shortly after they hit the stands. I've been able to keep my thumb on the pulse of Superior Spider-Man and
Thor: God of Thunder in that way. I could expand that program. Somehow that just doesn't feel right. I'm not truly current, (should that really matter?) and why should I have to go through the extra hoops and waiting because Marvel's pricing sucks? Seems more fitting to just leave it alone.

Honestly, there is such a wealth of material out there already published, I could probably happily just explore back issues and collected material and never run out undiscovered gems. I've never read the Legion Great Darkness Saga, for crying out loud. I have hundreds of gaps like that. I could just do that and not even worry about new issues, from any publisher.

But again, there's that identity thing again. Ever listen to a podcast and the host or supposed "expert" guest wants to opine about comics, but openly admits they haven't picked up a book in years? Fair or not, those people have no credibility with me. You left. You don't know. You can choose to spend your money how you want, and you can leave the fold any time you want. But your words have no credence unless you're in the muck with me. That's what I'm considering becoming - a guy with no comics credence. Insert shudder here.

Maybe it is time to wave the white flag on price. Prices do rise over time, I'm not oblivious to that. I think the price of comics has risen in a manner that's completely out-of-whack with general inflation and in a completely irresponsible and arbitrary manner, is the thing.

How do I know that, you ask? I can prove to you that comics don't need to be $3.99 rather easily. If Bryan K Vaughan can make money with Saga at $2.99, and Robert Kirkman can make money with Walking Dead at $2.99, then Marvel absolutely, positively, 1000% does NOT need a $4 price tag to make money with their comics. It should be noted that Robert Kirkman sleeps on a bed of money, and none of it comes from his television deal. He uses the TV money to construct his 1:1 scale replica of Castle Greyskull in the back yard. It should also be noted that Kirkman and Vaughan's $2.99 comics show something unique in the industry called "growth", while the $3.99 material always suffers standard (or worse) attrition. I don't think that's a coincidence.

But maybe that doesn't matter. The $3.99 price point may be arbitrary, unnecessary, and destructive, but the fact of the matter is that common sense failed and short-term greed won. Maybe it's time to just own the defeat and buy whatever Marvel books I like as budget permits. I would really like to be current with Superior Spider-Man. I would like to be reading Jason Aaron's material, and Jonathan Hickman's new stuff.

The downside there, is that my limited budget means adding those grossly expensive and double-shipped Marvel books will inevitably result in my dropping books from other, more responsible publishers. Does that sound like a good result? It feels like there is no winning here, no matter what path I take.

I sincerely don't know what path I'm going to take. All I know is that the decision is no longer a thought experiment. $2.99 is going away, here in the Marvel NOW!

So I'll ask you, dear reader...what shall I do?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ugly American Report: Miracle-Whipped!

This week I thought I'd jam my hand into the mailbag to see if it still bites. What I got was this letter from Miracle Keith, who wants me to speculate on the future of Miracleman. Keith writes:

I wonder if Ryan could comment on the Marvel announcement regarding Miracleman? Apparently, the Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman issues will be reprinted in their entirety, with the possibility of Gaiman finally finishing his storyline. The hilarious part of the whole thing is that the solicitations contain the writer credit: “The original author” and Mick Anglo. In other words, Moore is such an unbelievably obstinate grudge-holder that he has requested his name to be struck from the reprints. I understand that he is donating all royalties from any first printings be donated to the Anglo family (which stands to be a pretty huge chunk of change), so his philanthropy should be admired. If Ryan could just quickly comment on 1) what collectors of the old Eclipse issues should do with their back issues (i.e. – sell now before it’s too late or keep on hangin’ on) and 2) what he thinks the future will hold for the character after Gaiman (ostensibly) finishes out his story arc.

Thanks, ya puke


Just to get everybody caught up, Miracleman was a much lauded series penned by Alan Moore in the 1980s, revising and maturing Marvelman, one of Britain's most popular superheroes from the 1950s. The series began as a black-and-white strip contained in Dez Skinn's "Warrior" anthology magazine before Eclipse took over and started publishing the series in color. Alan Moore left after 16 issues and then passed the baton to Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham. That team went for 8 more issues before Eclipse finally declared bankruptcy, leaving the Gaiman/Buckingham arc incomplete.

At that point chaos ensued as to who actually owned the rights to the character. Dez Skinn was pretty sure he bought the rights from original Marvelman creator Mick Anglo, Eclipse was pretty sure they bought the rights from Skinn, and Todd McFarlane was pretty sure he bought the rights from Eclipse. It's a long convoluted, painful story, but the story ended with the relevant courts deciding that Mick Anglo had always owned the rights to that character. And then at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con, Joe Quesada announced at the "Cup O' Joe" panel that Marvel had, in fact bought the rights from Anglo.

For some, that announcement was a big deal. Miracleman is regarded as a seminal work, on par with Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns in terms of quality and historical importance. If you want to watch comics grow up on the page, Miracleman was a critical part of that process. And it's a damn fine read.

The difference, though, is that Watchmen and the Dark Knight have always been in print. If you want to read that work, you can walk into any comic shop at any time and find it. If for some bizarre reason your LCS doesn't carry those books, Amazon or Barnes & Noble will. The Eclipse bankruptcy made sure that the Miracleman comics were not and could not be in print, leaving only the back issues. The early issues of Miracleman are plentiful and relatively cheap. Many of the later issues, particularly issue # 15 (still one of the most gruesome, raw comics in history) are very expensive.

Alan Moore is a hallowed writer, and Miracleman a canonized classic that almost nobody has had access to. That Miracleman announcement at SDCC 2009 was the equivalent of saying "Hey, we found this lost Beatles album in the archives of unreleased material from the White Album era, and it will be on the shelves soon."

And then we waited.

And waited.

My prediction after a year of waiting was that Miracleman was caught in Legal Hell, and forever. In my opinion, if the Disney lawyers couldn't cut through the red tape, it was tape that couldn't be cut. This month's Previews took a giant poop on my crystal ball, because Marvel begins reprinting the Alan Moore Miracleman comics in January 2014.

Keith is correct, though, they can't say "Alan Moore", because he's like the Candyman at this point. If you print his name, Tony Todd shows up with a swarm of bees, a meat cleaver, and an attorney, and nobody needs that. Bees are irritating.

It is in fact quite hilarious to see his work credited as "the original author", especially when you consider all the delicious little ironies. Like the fact that his Miracleman work is built on Anglo's work, which was a direct British rip-off of Fawcett's Captain Marvel. Alan Moore is a genius-level talent and deserves his elevated status in comics history, but let's face the facts - his greatest achievement (Watchmen) stole its plot from an episode of the Outer Limits, and his longest running empire (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) is built entirely with bricks borrowed from other great writers. So yeah, Alan Moore. Talented? You bet. Original?

So why isn't Alan Moore's name on the Miracleman reprints? Well, the short answer is that he's bat shit crazy. Well, that's not true. Poor people are crazy, Alan Moore is astoundingly eccentric. He just doesn't live in the same world that you and I do. He lives in Alan Moore World, conveniently parked between Earth 2 (helloooooo Power Girl) and the mental space that Prince inhabits.

If you want to know how out of touch he is with reality, I give you this from the Wizard of Northampton:

"It's always seemed to me that the majority of the comics field, if you had to place them politically, you'd have to say centre-right. That would be as far towards the liberal end of the spectrum as they would go."

That is actually the least true statement uttered in human history. The guy simply does not intersect with any known reality. Perhaps this is a strength for a writer of fiction?

Moore seems like the kind of cat who is quite charming if you sit down and spend an hour or two with him. Nobody seems capable of withstanding extended exposure, however. Give him time, and Alan Moore will concoct a reason based upon available evidence to boycott you forever. That evidence can be real or imagined, it all comes out the same in the end. Eventually Alan Moore will cast you out into the lake of fire, and you won't be coming back. Either he's the unluckiest person in the world who just continues to bump into a never-ending series of traitors and back-stabbers, or maybe the problem actually lies with the guy wearing a Glycon ring and an absurdly large beard. I know which direction Occam's Razor is leaning.

So yes, Marvel does have the rights to the Alan Moore material, but he doesn't want his name on anything he doesn't own. He doesn't want any comp copies, he isn't doing any interviews for the product, and he doesn't want any of your damn money, either. He's giving that to other creators.

And you know what? Keith's right, he does deserve credit for that. He might be a crazy asshole, but damned if he's not an entertaining and principled one. More crazy assholes could learn a thing or two from Alan Moore.

Before I get to the horrifyingly bad news about Marvel's handling of the Miracleman property, let me give them credit for a couple of positives. Firstly, I give them credit for pulling an about-face and titling the material "Miracleman". That's what the material is known as, and it's been known that way because Marvel's laywers made it that way. I think it's wise to roll with things rather than try to move the boulder of public consciousness. Brits may still think of that character as Marvelman, because they have a longer history with him. In America, the Alan Moore character is either unknown, or its Miracleman. Kudos for not fighting that.

Kudos also for getting Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham on board. That story deserves to be completed, and by the original creators. It sounds like that's exactly what's going to happen. So good on that.

To me, that's not the real story, unfortunately. The real story is the manner in which Marvel is packaging this material. Issue # 1 ships in January. It includes some material from Miracleman # 1, Warrior # 1, Marvelman Primer, and carries a $5.99 price tag.

Yup, that's right. They want $6 for a sliver of Miracleman # 1 and a metric ton of fluff you've already seen, and didn't want to pay for the first time. That's a crime.

But wait, you say - that's just the first issue, right? It gets reasonable after that, I'm sure. No, no it doesn't. Issue # 2 reprints material from Warrior # 1-5 (Miracleman ran in 8 page installments in the magazine) and carries a $4.99 price tag.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised any more about the Queen Whore of Babylon and her wily ways. I guess if it were me, I would have priced those issues dirt cheap to get as many eyes on it as possible. That's a solid strategy if the material is quality. Get rid of the filler, I want the customer satisfied when they're done. Get as many people in the door as possible, because once they see the product, they fall in love and are in for life. That's the long game, the smart game, the game dedicated to serving your customer.

That's just not the Marvel Way.

The Marvel Way is not about building a satisfied customer base. It's about stuffing as much cash into your pockets as possible for this quarter. Fuck the customer, and fuck tomorrow. What can I get today? That's the Marvel Way.

If you pay attention to this stuff, you know that Marvel Comics have big problems in the book stores, and with their collections. DC cleans up with their evergreen Vertigo material and Watchmen. Image have the powerhouse Walking Dead combined with new sluggers like Chew, and Saga.

Marvel just can't sell any books, and they have (in my opinion) the strongest IP inventory in the business. It's embarrassing, frankly. Miracleman is just BEGGING to be a Watchmen-level evergreen title for them, and I can already see that they're going to pooch it.

If you ever wondered if Marvel had given up on the idea of chasing new readers, wonder no more. They don't know what they have, and they don't know how to sell it. Remember Shadowland? Marvel was so adamant about backing that piece of dog shit they spontaneously sent double the ordered product to retailers. Why wouldn't you price it reasonably, cut the fluff, and do something like that for Miracleman? That's a known commodity, a high quality product, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser! Why not flood the market with that and then reap the benefits of word-of-mouth on the collections?

Because there is no vision at Marvel, and they don't even pretend to chase new customers. "Share your universe?" Disgusting. How about share quality product at competitive prices?

Marvel's business model at this point is to find whatever core customers are left to them, and to punish them as much as possible for having the audacity to still be interested in the product. "You're excited about Miracleman? Eat that $6 price tag, loser!" It's madness.

It's madness, and it may in fact kill the property. I say this because nobody is more excited about the prospects of Miracleman than me, and I took one look at the price tag and bailed. There may not be enough good will left in the customer base to finish the reprinted material, much less continue with new stories.

Those of you who listened to Chronic Insomnia back in the day will recall that Quincy and I had many debates on the issue of comics piracy. Those listeners will remember that I have never advocated the practice. I still don't endorse piracy, but I will say this - if Marvel is going to charge you $5 an issue to trickle out a few pages of that Miracleman material per, I don't know why you wouldn't get them for free from another source. Piracy is unethical...and so is extortion. When faced with that ethical dilemma, I would not take issue with a consumer that chose to protect themselves from Marvel's abuse. I value integrity, and making sure that creators are justly compensated for their work. What we're talking about with these Miracleman reprints is consumer abuse.

So, when Keith wonders what might happen with Miracleman when the reprints are done, my answer is that I don't know that we'll even get through the reprints. Are there enough masochists out there to sustain this? Marvel is asking you to pay $11 in January for Miracleman comics, and you won't even have issue # 1 by the time you're done!

Gaiman and Buckingham have had Miracleman # 25 in the can for ages, I'd really like to see that in print after all these years. I think that's in jeopardy now. The door is theoretically open to continue past Gaiman/Buckingham, but what would that look like? At these prices, do you see Miracleman being a big seller? And if it isn't a big seller, what kind of creative teams would Marvel assign to the book of extended adventures? If you found Before Watchmen underwhelming....buckle up for All-New Uncanny Miracleman. I'd like to be wrong about that. I won't be.

As for the back issue situation, we at the Ugly American advise you to hold onto your Eclipse Miracleman issues. They are classics, and they will always be classics regardless of how badly Marvel bungles the property.

Eventually, Marvel will create new collected editions of the Miracleman stuff. When that happens, invariably some collectors dump their current format in order to subsidize the new desired format. If that happens - if a bunch of people flood the market with Eclipse books when Marvel produces the new hardcovers and TPBs, you may see prices come down. Do not panic when that happens, but rejoice! And BUY. That is your last opportunity to buy those books at a reasonable rate.

In particular, Miracleman # 15 is a modern classic, and the volume 3 Olympus trade is a holy grail book for TPB collectors. Miracleman # 15 trades often, but is expensive. The Olympus trade is rarely seen, and the HC is hyper scarce. The near future could be your last chance to own these gems without putting the kids' college money at risk. Keep your eyes open on that front!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ugly American Bloated Halloween finale: The Classics!

The Spawn animated series didn't quite work out, but there are a couple of Halloween classics I can always count on, and watch every year.

The Crow (1994)

Of course The Crow began as a comic book, or as the closing credits declare...a "comic book series and comic strip by James O'Barr". The comic book series I get, but comic strip? I certainly don't recall that in the Sunday funny pages. It would have been a sharp (and welcome) contrast to Family Circus, that's for sure. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think that ever happened. I'm digressing already, but just as an aside, if you're reading this you should definitely go back to the WMD archives and spin # 239 with the James O'Barr interview. It's worth it.

I imagine most of you reading this need no introduction to The Crow, but some of you might, and the good news is that the story is very simple to grasp. Eric Draven and Shelly Webster are to be married on Halloween, but are murdered the night before by a quartet of street thugs. A crow brings his soul back a year later to seek revenge.

That's it. Keep it simple, stupid! I wish more storytellers knew to do that. You keep the core concept simple, and then the devil is in the details. The Crow separates itself because so many of the details are handled with exemplary skill.

Alex Proyas chose to go oppresively dark with the picture, punctuated by bright strobe effects, and glaring reds. Some of the human elements are lit, but when Eric Draven is on screen, the film is practically in black-and-white, with the notable exception of wonderfully odd scene between Brandon Lee and Ernie Hudson. That's the scene that produces the "nothing is trivial" line that you'll remember forever. That's another strong element - The Crow is imminently quotable.

It's been a while since I've visited the source material, but I think many of the best lines were contributed by the screen writers, which is not a criticism of O'Barr, but a surprising compliment to the film team. So often a comic property is stripped of its essence because a film-maker doesn't understand what makes the property go. You just have to shake your head when a studio opens up Juggernaut's helmet so you can see his face, or when they hire gifted smart-ass Ryan Reynolds to play a character (Deadpool) defined by his mouth, and then physically remove it.

The Crow movie gets it right because it clearly understood that this was a vengeance story...about love. If you read the original comics or listen to J O'Barr talk about that story with your ears open, you'll know that it isn't Death Wish or Dirty Harry. The revenge element is there to be sure, and also celebrated. The Crow doesn't actually take pleasure in killing, but neither is it just a mechanical duty. There's a showmanship to it, and symbolism. If you're paying attention, Eric kills them all ironically. Tin-tin dies by the sword, Fun Boy with drugs, T-Bird by fire, (and then The Crow signs it with his own fiery bird) and he kills Skank in the manner he himself was killed.

My roundabout point is that I won't deny that this is a revenge movie, but that's not where it's heart is. It's a vengeance story catalyzed by love lost, and consistently showing a better way. The world is dark, and connection is the way out. Love your fiance, mentor the little girl who was orphaned by a tragic murder, remember what it means to be a responsible to your daughter. The Crow is not a horror or adventure's a love story.

I've watched the movie many times, and every time there are points when I sort of leave the story space and think "Brandon Lee died making this movie....what a loss that is." There are moments when you can catch him in the act of trying, and not all of his choices work. The Crow is filled with strong emotional beats across the spectrum, beats that are very easy to turn cartoony and excessive. Brandon Lee takes a lot of chances with his performance and nails most of them. There was nothing in say..."Rapid Fire" that suggested he was interested in or capable of the depth on display in The Crow.

Toward the end of the movie when Eric storms Top Dollar's tower looking for Skank, the police bust in, point their guns and tell him to freeze. Lee's choice was to hold his hands up, then prance to the window like he's Michigan J Bullfrog and crashes through. It's a surprise laugh that completely cuts through all expectations, and you're telling me that's in the script? There's no way. Brandon Lee did that, and it's inspired.

I watch this every year around Halloween, (usually on "Devil's Night, the night before) and I always pick up new things. This time I may or may not have picked up on a piece of the Crow Mythos.

After Draven dispatched with Skank...the mission is over. He goes back to Shelly's grave, and is about to disappear or crumble to dust, or do whatever it is Crow's do when the vengeance is done. He pulls his hand back from Shelly's grave because Top Dollar has captured Sarah and he hears her scream.

When Eric gets to the church with Albrecht, Tony Todd shoots Draven's crow avatar, and he suddenly becomes vulnerable. We think those things are connected, because Bai Ling's character says so. But really, how the hell would she know that? Just because you sniff incense off roasted eyeballs doesn't make you an expert on ghostly vengeance. This is a character with such a fantastic grasp of the situation that she allows her own eyeballs to be plucked out of her head by a now extraordinarily pissed off magical crow.

Why would wounding the crow affect Draven's healing abilities? If that crow sprains his ankle, then he has to wait until it comes off the injured reserve to continue the mission? It doesn't make sense.

I'm not convinced that it matters a lot in the grand scheme of things, but I think Eric Draven lost his magical abilities because he went off-mission. Sarah was not part of the plan. He had supernatural sanction to go after the men who directly raped and murdered Shelly and killed him, but after dice. I think he was vulnerable when he went into that church whether Tony Todd clipped his bird or not.

It still fits the story mechanics perfectly, because the theme is that you don't turn your back on love, even if it's not part of your undead itinerary. The move is to help Sarah, which he does. He even gets one last mystical gift (even with a wounded crow) that forces empathy on Top Dollar, who ordinarily receives pleasure from other's pain. This time he uploads 30 hours of Shelly's suffering into Top Dollar, who is then defeated.

Anywho. Not a big deal, but that's my theory now after watching The Crow for about the 37th time.

Trick R' Treat (2007)

I love The Crow, but this is now my Grand Champion of Halloween movies. When Trick R' Treat initially launched, I saw the promo pieces featuring a creepy little guy with a burlap sack on his head and outright dismissed it. No matter how good the look was, and Sam does have a good look, (especially with the mask off) I was simply not interested in a mindless creature feature where a spooky cipher randomly stalks and kills. I've seen that movie a gajillion times. No more, please.

Trick R' Treat is not that movie.

There is nothing mindless, random, or cliched about Trick R' Treat, and it isn't actually about Sam. It's about Samhain, the origin of Halloween. It's about acknowledging and understanding the past so that you can act correctly in the present. It's about respecting the darkness, not becoming it. It's about paying homage to tradition, and coming to a correct understanding about one's place in the world, in order to make that world a better place.

Now, before you check out on me, please do understand that we learn all these lessons via werewolves, ghost children, and disturbing little Sam. And when you aren't being bombarded with the spectral forces of darkness, there are also very real sexual predators, child predators, crotchety old men, and grade school bullies to contend with. In other words - fun!
Trick R' Treat is actually four stories that end up overlapping and interlocking with each other as the movie progresses. It has a clear point of view and it is absolutely dedicated to subverting your expectations.

Michael Dougherty is the writer and director of the movie. He has writing credits on X2: X-Men United and Superman Returns, so he's got a bit of a comic book background. There's even a Trick R' Treat comic by Mark Andreyko and Mike Huddleston. He's clearly seen and adores all the same horror movies I have. He knows them all, and knows how to remind you of them...and then the rug comes out from under you, every time.

I very much envy those of you who haven't seen this film yet, and can have that initial experience of surprise again and again. I'm not going to spoil anything with plot analysis, because I want you all to maintain that surprise.

I didn't see the film until 2011, and only watched it as an accident the first time. It was just on in the background, in the middle of the picture. I was hooked inside of five minutes, and then by the end when I started piecing together how the stories were cascading into each other, I decided I must find this and watch it front to back. I hit the guide button to see what hidden little masterpiece I was watching, and when the grid said "Trick R' Treat", I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. How could I have been so wrong about this, and why hasn't anybody told me this was so good!

The most compelling element of the movie is its internal logic. Trick R' Treat has its own set of rules based upon its theme of respecting tradition, and it follows them religiously. Everything that is mindless, and dull, and played-out about most horror movies becomes instantly fresh in this movie because it all happens for a reason.

Somebody could write a very worthwhile term paper dissecting where these characters transgress, and whether the punishments are just or not. It's that rarest of movies that can be enjoyed by a variety of people at a multitude of levels. There is ethical pondering and philosophy about the human condition available if you want that kind of thing. There's horror and violence in moderate amounts for those in the market for that. And there's also Anna Paquin and a bunch of her co-ed friends prancing about in really hot halloween costumes for those who go in for that.
And Bryan Cox. There's definitely Bryan Cox...who doesn't like him?

Trick R' Treat is not just a great Halloween movie, it's one of my top five favorite movies ever. Highest possible recommendation as something to pop in and watch on Halloween.