Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nerd Rant: Batman and the Dead Robins Society

News came out early this week of an upcoming plot development in DC's Batman comic book series: Batman's sidekick, Robin, is going to die. Again.

"Dammit! Alfred, fetch me another Robin from the orphanage!"

The latest dead Robin is the fifth Robin in official Batman continuity--sixth if you include the Robin from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. (Then again, DC has rebooted and ret conned its superhero universe so many times, what really is "official" continuity anyway?) This will also be the third dead Robin, after the second Robin, Jason Todd, was blown up by the Joker back in 1988, and the fourth Robin, Stephanie Brown, was killed in 2004 after being tortured by Black Mask. (Check out the official Robin-torturing Black Mask action figure here.) However, the current dead Robin is the only officially dead Robin because Brown was brought back in 2008 and Todd was brought back in 2010. To paraphrase Adam West, "Some days, you just can't get rid of a Robin!"

According to what I've read, this Robin will be killed while he is saving the world, by an assassin cloned from Robin's own DNA. (Doesn't this qualify as suicide?) How long this particular Robin will stay dead remains to be seen, providing that DC doesn't have some kind of unwritten rule that there must now be at least one dead Robin for Batman to mourn over at any given time. You know, for ready-made pathos that doesn't involve Batman's dead parents.

It's been said frequently that death doesn't last long in superhero comics, which is all too true. However, there's something unintentionally and morbidly hilarious that Batman's kid sidekicks die and then return from the grave on what now appears to be a regular basis. Keep in mind that the character of Robin was originally created in the 1940s as a surrogate for kid fans of Batman, that he enabled child readers of the comics to imagine fighting alongside the Caped Crusader himself. Now, they can imagine themselves croaking and then cheating death too with Batman by their side--providing that Batman himself isn't dead, lost in time, having his back broken by Bane, or some other inconvenience that will inevitably go away within a few issues.

If this isn't enough shark-jumping for you, just take a look at the details behind the killed character in question. The new dead Robin is Bruce Wayne's biological son, Damian Wayne, who Wayne had with Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Batman villain Ra's al Ghul--although Wayne didn't know about it until ten years later. Then it gets weird. As Vaneta Rogers for Newsarama writes:

"Talia had her developing fetus genetically perfected and grown in an artificial womb. Then as Damian grew up, she made sure he was trained by the masters of the League of Assassins. ... Not only did he become an expert in martial arts, but his childhood was a life of cold-hearted competition, a matter of "kill or be killed." ... By the time Talia handed the boy over to his father -- in an apparent attempt to disrupt Batman's investigation of one of her villainous plots -- Damian Wayne had grown into an unfeeling, barbarous, uncontrollable killer. ... the bratty, spoiled, deadly Damian Wayne was immediately a problem for Bruce ... Originally, the kid came across as an almost humorous addition to Bruce's story, because the super-cool Batman was getting frustrated with his inability to control the little bugger. But when Damian went out on his own and beheaded a criminal to "help" his father fight crime, the problem got a little more serious. ... "(Damian) means well but was raised wrong," Batman artist Tony Daniel told Newsarama after the character first debuted."

Robin no. 5 (a.k.a. Damian Wayne), working out his frustrations
over having a crowbar instead of a machete.

Supposedly, the death of this particular Robin is supposed to "redeem" him. You know, to redeem an unfeeling, barbarous, uncontrollable, bratty, spoiled, deadly 10 year-old little bugger who has his own pet Bat-Cow and knows a thing or two about beheading people.* I think it's safe to say that Damian's own death won't involve decapitation, even though he'd get his head back anyway when he returns from the dead and someone else occupies the Robin coffin in his place.

(* Damian Wayne is not to be confused with Cassandra Cain, yet another youth who was raised by a parent to become a deadly assassin but was then taken under Batman's wing for the sake of redemption. Cain briefly assumed the mantle of Batgirl, although the last time I checked I think that Cain was kicked out of the official Batman timeline during the last DC reboot. I guess there can only be one homicidal-yet-redeemable youth in the Batcave at a time.)

Batman writer Grant Morrison says,"Batman will
ultimately always have a partner."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Great Moments in Body Horror Cinema: The H-Man (1958)

Growing up as I did during the heyday of VHS rentals, I noticed one recurring idea among gory, low-budget horror movies: melting people. Quite a few exploitation horror films from the 70s, 80s and early 90s, films such as The Incredible Melting Man (1977), Street Trash (1987) and Body Melt (1993), featured shocking scenes where monsters and/or victims would melt into messy puddles of blood, bones and liquefied flesh. Of course, such a plot device allowed for huge amounts of stomach-churning gore. Yet what's remarkable is that the grandfather of these films isn't that gory at all and is actually much more disturbing for it: The H-Man, which was directed by IshirĂ´ Honda and produced by Toho Studios.

The H-Man is an Atomic Age horror movie from Japan, although it's much different than the Atomic Age kaiju movies for which Japan is largely known. Even though it's often compared to The Blob (which was released in the U.S. later during the same year), The H-Man is actually an early "body horror" movie; it was released the same year as another Atomic Age body horror movie, The Fly, and it predates David Cronenberg's first body horror film Shivers (1975) by over a decade. Director Honda did two other Atomic Age body horror films in addition to The H-Man: The Human Vapor (1960) and Matango (1963).

Not only was The H-Man ahead of its time in the body horror subgenre, it was also ahead of its time in terms of melting people effects. Read on for more details about this strange and haunting Japanese horror classic.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Enter the ENCOM Grid in the Tron 2.0 Video Game

With the recent cancellation of Tron: Uprising on Disney XD, I found myself going into intense Tron withdrawal. So, I did the only thing that I could think of to do: I went on eBay and picked up a copy of Tron 2.0, a 2003 first-person adventure game that was developed by Monolith Productions and released by Buena Vista Interactive. Tron 2.0 was the first sequel to the original Tron movie--that is, until Tron: Legacy arrived in theaters in 2010 and thus reclassified the game as non-canon. In spite of its displacement from official Tron franchise continuity, Tron 2.0 is still a fun game that both fans and video gamers in general should enjoy. Read on for my complete review and for thoughts about how Tron 2.0 stacks up against Legacy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Erth's Dinosaur Petting Zoo is Coming to the U.S.

As I was looking through the newspaper today, I found this interesting tidbit that might be of interest to monster, dinosaurs and/or puppetry aficionados: Erth's educational puppet show, "Dinosaur Petting Zoo", is currently touring England and will soon arrive in the U.S.--namely, locations in California, Texas and Arizona.

According to Erth's site, Dinosaur Petting Zoo is "(a) unique show that allows heaps of interaction for kids and adults while they travel with the Erth performers on a journey through prehistoric Australia. Experience an amazing selection of dinosaurs and creatures that inhabited that landscape millions of years ago. Children will have the opportunity to help feed, water and care for these prehistoric marvels with simple lessons in animal husbandry."

Erth is an Australian puppet company that began in 1990, and has used a creative selection technology and techniques throughout its history to bring a large assortment of amazing creatures to life. Given how impressive live puppetry has been for stage productions of The Lion King and War Horse, I think that it's wonderful that dinosaurs are getting their due in this form of performance art. However, others may disagree:

Click here to see the 2013 Dinosaur Petting Zoo touring schedule.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nerd Rant: Is the Alien Franchise's Game Over in Aliens: Colonial Marines?

The long-awaited Aliens: Colonial Marines video game has arrived this week for Xbox 360, PS3 and PCs, and it looks like the wait was a bust. According to review totals calculated by Metacritic, Colonial Marines has gotten abysmal reviews from all over the Internet. From what I can tell, the game's main weaknesses are bad AI, subpar graphics, repetitive and oversimplified game play, poor plot and scripting, a complete absence of suspense and terror, and a wide assortment of technical glitches. The more generous reviews describe the game as an average shooter that might have been impressive ... had it been released a few years ago.

One of my favorite review quotes is from the one by Ben Kuchera on the Penny Arcade site: "The aliens, or xenomorphs as they’ve become known, are supposed to be one of the most brutal and vicious opponents in modern science fiction. Here they run around like clumsy men in suits, and they often swipe at you and then take a step back to either make sure you’re okay, or to give you time to shoot them. ... The combat itself is like being inside a haunted house and not playing along with the actors. What are they going to do, hit you? The aliens don’t seem to know what to do if you don’t kill them all the second you see them. They like to run around each other, only attacking human characters on occasion. You’ll sometimes find them just kind of hanging out with their heads butted up against walls."

I haven't purchased a copy of the game (thankfully) so I can't comment on it myself. Nevertheless, I'm disappointed to read just how bad this game is after everything that was done to hype it as a canonical installment in the Alien universe. Gearbox, the company behind Colonial Marines, has heavily promoted this game as a "true" sequel to Aliens that explains some of the narrative gaps between Aliens and Alien 3. It also released many articles and videos that emphasize their developers' love of Aliens, their in-depth knowledge of Aliens trivia, and personal meetings with key figures from the Alien franchise such as Ridley Scott, Ron Cobb and Michael Biehn.

So, with the critical and technical failure of this latest entry in the Alien franchise's long list of video games, I can only ask one question: Just how much longer can video game developers rely on the franchise's Colonial Marine characters and weapons to create new games? Read on for my complete face-hugging, chest-busting, acid-bleeding rant.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

NECA Brings Aliens, Robots and Caped Crusaders to Toy Fair 2013

It's February, which means that yet another Toy Fair has come and gone. I've looked through many of the horror and sci-fi offerings that were displayed at this year's event, and I'm glad to say that the National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) keeps bringing the good stuff to the geek masses at affordable prices. Click below for a list of what NECA has in store for horror and sci-fi collectors later this year, complete with pictures courtesy of NECA and Figures.com.

Monday, February 11, 2013

8-Bit Music: When Techno Goes Retro

Being a child of the late 70s and early 80s, I remember falling into a state of slack-jawed awe when video games began to play their own soundtracks. Not just music cues that would play every now and then, but actual soundtracks that would play a music track throughout a level and then switch to a different track on another level, and so on--almost like a movie or a TV show. Mind you, these early video soundtracks were very simple in their arrangement but back during the heyday of coin-op arcades and early home gaming consoles, the arrival of 8-bit music soundtracks hinted at the successive waves of increased technological sophistication that were inevitably on their way in video gaming entertainment. Thankfully, even though video game soundtracks have since moved on to include compositions played by full orchestras, 8-bit music has stayed alive to create an underground music genre of its own.

I recently discovered that 8-bit music, otherwise known as "chipmusic" or "chiptunes", is still being composed and distributed by artists who specialize in electronic dance music. According to Wikipedia, 8-bit music "is synthesized electronic music often produced with the sound chips of vintage computers, video game consoles, and arcade machines, as well as with other methods such as emulation. In the early 1980s, personal computers became less expensive and more accessible than they had previously been. This led to a proliferation of outdated personal computers and game consoles that had been abandoned by consumers as they upgraded to newer machines. They were in low demand by consumers as a whole, and not difficult to find, making them a highly accessible and affordable method of creating sound or art. ... (I)n its modern form, the terms 'chip music', and 'chiptune' refer to music made by the sound chips found within early gaming systems and microcomputers."

I've been listening to 8-bit music tracks on YouTube and even though some of the tracks sound like the simple compositions played on 80s-era coin-ops, the best 8-bit music utilizes the full range of sounds that the technology provides to create complex and unique music. Read on for a small selection of few tracks that I recommend for those who wish to hear the 8-bit musical sounds from decades past taken to a completely new level.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Past Outruns the Present in The Abandoned (2006)

I first saw The Abandoned when it was making its rounds at movie theaters in 2006 during the annual, limited-run "8 Films to Die For" After Dark Horrorfest. I saw it after a showing of The Gravedancers, another film that was included during that year's selection of horror titles. Both films were good but while Gravedancers was fun to watch, The Abandoned left me speechless. Few films affect me like that, so I thought that I would return to this gem to review why it's one of the best overlooked horror films from the last decade. Read on ...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Green Lantern and Young Justice Have Been Defeated by Cartoon Network

The first few weeks of 2013 have been depressing ones for fans of sci-fi and superhero cartoons. First, Disney XD aired its final first season episodes of Tron: Uprising during January with no intention of renewing the series for a second season. Then, Cartoon Network announced the cancellation of its current "DC Nation" series Green Lantern and Young Justice. According to news sources, Cartoon Network will replace these two shows in April with a new Batman series, Beware the Batman, and Teen Titans Go!, a revamped relaunch of the previous Teen Titans cartoon series that first aired in 2003.

I have a personal theory about what is happening here, at both Cartoon Network and Disney XD. While I don't have access to the ratings information of any of these shows, I do know that each of them have proven to be successful among certain age demographics; unfortunately, for the network executives, they are the 'wrong' demographics. Older fans of sci-fi and superheroes, such as teenagers and adults, have shown their support of cartoons such as Green Lantern, Young Justice and Tron: Uprising by watching episodes on TV or downloading episodes through online services, but this kind of support is not enough for their respective networks. What the networks want instead are demographics that watch the shows AND buy as much of the licensed merchandise as possible, merchandise such as toys, clothing, linens, and so on (i.e., they want viewers who loyally watch Young Justice and loyally buy Young Justice action figures, Young Justice toothbrushes, Young Justice bed sheets, Young Justice wallpaper, etc.). Adults and teenagers don't fit these merchandising goals, but children do. I suspect that this rationale was also behind the cancellation of Genndy Tartakovsky's Sym-Bionic Titan series back in 2011.

If my theory is correct, then it's bad news for fans of American animation entertainment that's aimed at older audiences. It means that the business model for syndicated TV cartoons in the 80s still applies to cable TV cartoons of today--that the only cartoons that will receive long-term support from American entertainment companies are those that are 30-minute commercials for kids. I suppose that's why Disney XD cancelled the animated Tron: Uprising series but Disney itself is still moving forward with the live-action Tron 3 movie: Disney feels that when it comes to the Tron franchise--in terms of economics and demographic appeal--it will get a greater return on investment from a live-action movie than it will from a cartoon series. That's a disappointing way for a quality TV cartoon series like Green Lantern, Young Justice and Tron: Uprising to end, but that seems to be the way the cartoon business works these days.