“Harper!” Chino hissed. His attempt at quiet was nearly deafening in the small room. Harper turned to him, an expression of alarm creasing his face. The big elephant was standing by a door that should not have been open.
“Be quiet!” Harper said, holding the pads of his paw toward the floor.
Chino nodded, lifting a limp body into the air for Harper to see. “I think I broke him,” he said, managing to stay relatively quiet. In his arms, the mob guard lolled loosely, head rolling and legs dangling toward the floor.
“What the –“
Harper dashed across the room, abandoning the safe he had approached, and laid his paw on the elbow of the big Shepherd. He gave Chino a glare as the elephant opened his mouth to speak. After a moment of concentrating, he took a long breath and nodded.
“He’s alive,” Harper reported. “What did you do?”
“He came in and saw us, then he went for his gun. I tapped him.”
In Chino-speak, Harper knew, tapping was code for ‘I slapped him in the head with a crowbar’, and it rarely ended well for the party being tapped. When you were strong enough to bench-press a ground car, swinging a couple feet of thick steel was a devastating attack. On the plus side, the elephant had heard the approaching guard and dealt with him before anything happened, and for that Harper was glad.
Rather than belittle his partner, Harper simply removed the guard’s gun belt and wrapped it around his own waist. It hung loosely, as the rangy coyote was nowhere near as solidly built as the Shepherd that Chino was even now laying onto the floor.
“Watch the door,” he said. He returned his attention to the safe, throwing the scope into place and spinning the dials with an expert touch. In moments it was open, and Harper was stuffing piles of cash into a bag. Gems and jewelry went in as well, and although he wouldn’t keep the printed material inside the safe, he took it with him. It could always be shredded later. Certificates of ownership and stock would be problematic in the real world, so proper disposal was important. Money was money, though, and the cash was in fat stacks. Bag in hand, he made his way back to Chino’s side and patted his partner on the back.
“Time to go,” he said.
They slipped out through the door they had used to enter and once more stayed in the shadows as they passed a guard shack. Soon, they were in the clear and broke into a run until they reached the car they had parked behind a stand of wide-leafed trees.
Chino took the driver’s position and Harper leaped into place beside him. The engine rumbled to life and they sped into the night. A half mile later Harper pointed to a telecom booth and Chino pulled over. Harper stepped out and slipped a coin into the machine, using the tip of a claw to punch in a series of numbers and then fitting a scrambling device over the mouthpiece.
“There’s gonna be a hit tonight,” he said when someone answered. His voice was distorted by the scrambler, becoming deep and mechanical. “Blackie’s crew is gonna take down one of yours. He’s saying you owe him money and he’s gonna collect.”
He hung up before anything else could be said or asked, and then reclaimed his seat in the car. Chino drove them away from the booth in a leisurely fashion. Now that it was all done there was no need for speed.
Within the hour, the Rincon Crime Family discovered the theft and assault of the guard. Calls were made, and Blackie Biggs ended the evening with a price on his head.
“I thought we was going straight?” Chino asked as Harper finished counting the money. The pair had made it back to their apartment unscathed. Orderly stacks of bills took up space on the kitchen table beside an open bottle of beer.
“We are. I mean, soon. We needed a little seed cash for this trip to the Colony, right? So we’ll go straight when we get there. Meantime, just consider us slightly curved.”
Hello again, Cats and Kittens! Peel your eyes and check out what I managed today – an interview with Nick Piers, the one and only author of the Armadillo Mysteries.
Nick! Welcome to the place. Digging the outfit, man! Make yourself at home. Avoid the recliner with the cat on it, though. She’s in a mood. Tell ya what, just sit over here at the table and we’ll get this started. Got you a nice cold Keith’s Pale Ale waiting.
Now then, the mic is all yours, sir. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Well, “yourself” is a pronoun used to refer to the person addressed as the object of a verb or preposition. And my desktop background regularly shifts between pictures of armadillos, Superman, Order of the Stick, and various Darwyn Cooke DC pictures.
Ummm… Say what?
Oh! Wait, no. I heard that question wrong. Round 2!
So hi! I’m Nick Piers: Canadian writer, comic book guru, urban cyclist, and DDP yoga enthusiast. My name to fame – what little fame there I have – is The Armadillo Mysteries: a series of hard-boiled superhero novels. I like to describe it as Mickey Spillane meets Ninja Turtles.
So, you know. It’s high, hoity-toity literary stuff.
Well with a combination like Spillane and TMNT, I’ve gotta know: Which writers inspire you?
Oh geez, how many can I list? As many as I want? All right, it’s your funeral.
Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Daniel Keyes, Jim Butcher, Robert J. Sawyer, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Chuck Palahniuk, Mary Shelley, and of course, Mickey Spillane.
My biggest inspirations – certainly for Dill – are Simon R Green and John Zakour. Green, especially, for his fantasy-detective Nightside series. After reading those, I dreamed of writing my own series in a similar vein.
Oh, and Jim Henson’s “DOG CITY”.
I remember “Dog City”! With the crime lord bulldog dude. Fun stuff right there! So, tell us about your books. The things near and dear to you. Come on. Put ’em up on the table and I’ll take a quick pic of them while you talk about them and what other writing you’ve got floating around out there.
The two biggies are THE CITY OF SMOKE & MIRRORS and THE DAME WAS A TAD POLISH, published by Pro Se Press. Pro Se also published some of my short stories, which can be found in RAT-A-TAT: SHORT BLASTS OF PULP and WRITE TO THE COVER VOLUME 1. I’ve also been published in the quarterly, A THOUSAND FACES, as well as magazines such as OPEN MINDS QUARTERLY and THE COUNTRY CONNECTION.
Oh! And a first for me: I wrote the script for Gaming Wildlife’s IF WWE WERE 100% HONEST YouTube video.
Speaking of The Dame was a Tad Polish, give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special?
Dilbert Pinkerton a five-foot-nothing mutant armadillo private detective. He’s the shoot-first-ask-questions-while-shooting type. He’s a chain smoker, a booze hound, and enjoys leaving take-out go bad in his Hovel Office so he can have a buffet of cockroaches. He’s kind of a dick and kinda trigger happy, but he also gives a crap about people wronged or injustices. Especially with this new case involving Lily Pad. She’s a fellow homoanthropomorphic (aka: mutant animal). And Dill can’t help but empathize with her struggles to fit in with society.
Hollywood seems to love characters like this, especially lately. If it came up and you could choose, which actor would you like to see playing Dill?
Actually, I think the best way to portray Dill is like the live action Ninja Turtles movies: animatronic puppetry! That’s the only way I picture Dill being done. I couldn’t imagine him properly done as a computer-generated character.
Awwww, yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!
As for actors, this will sound strange but there’s a relatively unknown actor, Ed Lieberman. He made a small appearance on “Big Bang Theory” as a man Sheldon meets on the bus. Except Sheldon is hallucinating, seeing Isaac Newton as an armadillo. Don’t ask, I don’t really get it, either. And for a moment, the man is shown as a walking, talking armadillo in a trench coat and fedora. Lieberman only says the line of “Yeah well, women. What’re ya gonna do?”
But what’s funny is that THE CITY OF SMOKE & MIRRORS had been out for two years when that episode aired and I was already starting to hype THE DAME WAS A TAD POLISH. I tweeted a joke about it, that I’d already cornered the market on armadillos in trench coats and fedoras. I don’t know if someone on the show has read Dill. I highly doubt it, but it’d be amazing if they had and threw him in there like this.
Anyway, the more I obsessively watched that clip, I started really digging Lieberman’s voice behind that badly rendered Dill. So if I could get an animatronic Dill, voiced by Lieberman? That’d be perfect for me.
And while we’re at it, I’d do the same with Lily Pad (animatronic) and have her voiced by Anna Akana.
You’re writing about anthro characters, and I know sometimes folks can get mighty picky about details. How much research do you do?
For a silly, pulp adventure starring a mutant armadillo? Oddly more than I expected.
I talk about this more in my Joys of Writing blog entry, Research, but for one thing, I basically become an armchair expert on armadillos. I picked up this great book, The Nine-Banded Armadillo: A Natural History, by WJ Loughry and Colleen McDonough. It’s become a constant companion while writing anything involving Dill.
Usually, I’ll do research on the fly, in the middle of writing a scene or just before writing it. I’ve picked up many books on crime scene investigations, forensics, criminology, mythologies, and even some science-related books. I talk about this in more detail in my Joys of Writing blog entry called Research (http://nickpiers.com/2013/11/22/the-joys-of-writing-research/).
When I try to research on the fly, I end up watching cat videos, so you’re doing good there! When did you decide to become a writer?
After Grade 2, if you can believe that. I don’t know when I wanted to be a published writer, but as far as just being a writer and storyteller? After Grade 2. I started writing stories in crayon about Gizmo from the film, Gremlins. Over time, my writing improved and my stories became more complicated. I don’t know when I wanted to actually publish. I’ve dreamed of walking into a bookstore – any bookstore – and see my work on the shelves.
Why do you write?
Boy, that’s the quintessential question, isn’t it? Do I do it for potential fame? The (preferably positive) feedback? The money? The money would be nice, I suppose. Make a living off it.
But really, my answer is simple: I write because I need to. Ideas, stories, characters, and moments constantly enter my head. The only way I stay sane is to write it out, to put them on the page, and get them out of my head. Otherwise, I’ll go absolutely batty.
I can dig that. So do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured?
I wish. To be honest, I’m horribly inconsistent with my writing. I’ll putter on down to Starbucks for a spell, hoping that I’ll bang out around 1,000 words, which is my average for a writing session. Sometimes, I’ll crack out less. Sometimes, I’ll be on a role and crank out two, three, even four thousand words in one sitting. I think my record is around 8,000 words in one session.
That’s a decent session. So when it comes to being on track, do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Usually, I’ll have a rough roadmap in my head. This usually includes some rough notes I’ve either written down or typed out. For Dill, I try not to plan too much, especially on what he’ll do. I’ll try to weave the mystery as best as I can and then throw Dill into the pot and see how he deals with it.
Really, for me, my writing process is very free-writing. I don’t think much about what I’m writing while writing. There’s a broad roadmap, but I let my characters do most of the work; especially with Dill. Growing up, I’d hear other authors talk about how a character took over, doing things they didn’t expect. I never understood that until I started writing Dill. I wrote the first two chapters of The City of Smoke & Mirrors on a whim, to see if I could feel comfortable writing that kind of book. And Dill just took over. I’d throw him into a situation without a clue of how he’d get himself out of it. I’d end chapters on cliffhangers and a friend of mine would ask, “How’s he gonna get out of that?!” I’d say, “I dunno, I’ll let Dill figure it out.”
There’s a moment late into The Dame was a Tad Polish where I needed to get Dill from Point A to Point B. Except I didn’t know how to get him there. As I was writing the scene, Dill suddenly did something totally unexpected. I sat there in Starbucks, stared at the screen, and suddenly said to him, “What the hell are you doing, Dill!?” Then I stopped and thought, “No, wait. You’re a dick. This works.” And I wrote the rest of the scene (and subsequent chapters) accordingly.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
The mystery. It was my first time writing a murder mystery, so I was reading articles from other writers on how they concocted a murder mystery. Eventually, I got so frustrated, I took a little notebook and started writing question after question after question about the mystery. Who did it? Why them? Why did they do it? Why did they leave or set up the body like that? What’s their end goal for all this? What will they do if this plan falls through? What happens when Dill gets involved? What if they get caught?
Some answers created more questions, so I kept answering those until finally, I had what I thought was a pretty solid mystery. But good lord, it was a slog to get there. I don’t know how the best mystery writers do it on a regular basis.
Well, since we covered the difficult part, what was the easiest thing about writing it?
I guess writing Dill himself. I became very comfortable with him after the first book and I really got a grasp on him. As I mentioned before, I basically free-write, so Dill taking over makes things easy.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
Absolutely, though like my writing (and other things), it’s not very consistent. This year, I’m trying to finally clear out some of my backlog. Any book lover knows what it’s like to have a backlog of unread books. It’s like gamers who have a backlog on Steam. So far this year, I’ve read Robert J Sawyer’s Rollback, Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Restaurant at the End of the Universe (first time reading those, I’m ashamed to say), and Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. I’ve just started reading Quiet by Susan Cain. I’m trying to switch between fiction and non-fiction for each book.
As far as favorites? Too many to list them all, but here are some: Greg Rucka, Neil Gaiman, Robert J Sawyer, Simon R Green, and John Zakour. Green and Zakour, I’ve mentioned before.
You have unique covers for your books. Who designed them?
The City of Smoke & Mirrors’ cover was done by Chris Sheehan, who I found on the Digital Webbing forums. The cover was designed by Sean Ali.
The Dame was a Tad Polish’s cover was drawn by Larry Nadolsky. Its design is actually a parody of the cover for Mickey Spillane’s The Killing Man. The book was designed by Percival Constantine.
It’s been a busy day, and you’ve been hard at work. How do you relax?
Lately, it’s been either spending time with my girlfriend or playing video games. I recently finished The Witcher 3. I also greatly enjoy urban cycling and DDP Yoga. BANG!
Let’s take a look at some of your favorites. What is your favorite book and why?
I think it’d be Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. Its writing is absolutely brilliant how it shows Charlie’s intelligence gradually increasing. And it’s just a really solid story, overall.
A close second is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I remember reading it in high school, which helped me think more about race within society. When I re-read it only a few years ago, I fell in love with the book all over again.
Same basic question: Favorite film and why?
The Shawshank Redemption. I can’t really put my finger on why it’s my favorite, though. The acting is phenomenal, the story is deceptively simple on the surface, and it has one of the best payoffs in film. I never get tired of the big “ah ha!” moment. It has probably my favorite example of poetic justice.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The same advice one of my oldest and best friends gave me: write. Just write. Don’t think about it. Just write. Even if you think it’s crap, write. Writing crap is better than not writing at all. Don’t be that person that has a great idea, points to their head, and says, “I have it all up here.” Stop thinking about it and WRITE IT.
Ok, so nobody gets out of one of my interviews without a lemur question. It’s traditional, man! With that in mind, if you could see any one of your characters as a lemur, which one would you choose and why?
Screw one of my characters! Why don’t I create a whole new character that’s a mutant lemur? Hell, I just google image searched lemurs and my first thought was making some kind of seedy informant that Dill rustles up sometimes.
Don’t expect him to show up any time, but the idea is my head now and it won’t go away any time soon. Thanks a ton for that. Jerk.
Ha! My pleasure. Giving people incomplete characters is even better than singing a part of a song and haviing it haunt them all day long.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
1) I think I’ll know I’ve made it when someone in a Dilbert Pinkerton cosplay comes up to my table at a convention.
2) If there’s one thing I fear more than anything else, it’s discovering that someone has written Dill slash fanfic. Especially once they start getting weird. You have the obvious ones like Dill/Tony or Dill/Komodo. But some sick bastard will inevitably include Mickey (Tony’s dog) in one of those. Whoever you are, you future sick bastard, I hate you already.
Yeah, I can imagine that would…what? No, I’m not writing that idea in my notebook! That would be wrong.
Nick, thanks for dropping by, man. We gotta do this more often. Next time, we’ll make it a party!
So there you have it, folks! Dig on Nick’s stuff. I’ve added the links below. Just click ’em and enjoy the magic computer linky thing taking you to the cool places.
The bell rang just as Alice managed to seat the tip of the microdriver in the slot of the screw. Her muttered curse did not go unheard, and the strong voice of Brother Vincent scolded her for the slip.
“Sorry, Brother,” she said. She wormed the driver back from inside the tangled wiring harness and set the palm-sized device she had been working on aside. Brushing at her robe, she stood and moved to the door.
On the other side of the portal waited Kress Mrrr, her arms burdened with a large box. The cat grinned past perfect teeth.
“Hey, Sister,” she said, her tone respectful but also that of a friend. Kress always said ‘Sister’ as though she was addressing an actual family member, and not as the title it was. Of all Folk, Alice was the least likely to be offended by such conduct.
“Kress. Please, come in. Be welcome,” Alice said, stepping aside and beckoning the beautiful young cat into the temple. Her fluffy white tail came last, nearly brushing Alice’s muzzle as Kress walked near her.
“So there was a group of security Folk that went out and among other things they rescued a crawler that had taken a toothie rocket. Wasn’t much left but I scrapped the parts. I figured you and Brother Vincent could use some spare bits.”
Her voice was high and energetic as she practically danced into the temple, a snow-furred cheerleader poured into short shorts and a grease-marked shirt that barely contained her ample curves. Alice had often wondered what the secret was that let a mechanic of Kress’s talents crawl into and all over the dirtiest, greasiest machines and still come out brilliantly white.
“Spare bits?” she asked, the smile on her face mirrored in her voice.
Kress looked back over her shoulder and threw a wink at the coyote. “I find things,” she said.
“What kind of things?”
Kress stopped and slowly turned, letting her gaze linger on Alice. Her voice took on a slightly deeper edge. A tiny bit of pink tongue darted out to moisten her lips.
“For you? Oh, that’s gonna be a big list.”
Alice could feel the color creep into her cheeks as she met the appraising stare of the cat. She wasn’t able to keep the eye contact and opted to gesture at the box.
“So what did you find?” she asked.
Kress tilted the open top toward Alice, flashing an image of assorted bits of machinery and electronics beneath an expanse of cleavage. For a moment the coyote was caught up in the softness above the box, but her gaze eventually fell to the piles of metal and circuit boards, and then her expression became one of raw delight.
“Brother Vincent!” she called, using the tip of a claw to hold the box in her range of vision.
“To the cog apply oil, Sister,” said the deep voice of Brother Vincent. The aged leopard shuffled out from a door and began the walk across the room, his staff tapping on the floor as he moved. He flashed a toothy grin on seeing their guest.
“Kress Mrrr,” he said in booming tones. “As always it is a pleasure to see you here. Welcome, child, to the home of Gara.”
“Why, Brother, don’t you look wonderful,” she said. “Your spots are awful shiny.”
A purring chuckle slipped from his throat. “Perhaps a little too much grease of late,” he said.
“Now don’t be like that. I like shiny.”
The chuckle erupted into a full-throated laugh. “My child, I am far too old for your wiles, although I do appreciate the flattery.”
“Shot down before I even got out of the hangar this time,” Kress said. Another wink, slower this time.
“If you are nice, I shall let you be the first to see my new creation,” he said, dangling the kind of bait he knew she could not resist. Her eyes flashed and her lips peeled back in a grin.
“Oh, now, you know I’ll be nice for a chance to see your toys,” she said. “Did you get that resonator fixed?”
“Purrs like a mechanic now,” he shot back, his casual flirtation delivered over his shoulder as he walked from the room. Kress handed the box of parts to Alice and jogged after the older cleric. Alice blushed as she caught herself watching the hindquarters of the cat in motion.
“I’ll inventory these,” Alice called, placing the box atop a small table. She pulled items out of the box and documented them one at a time as Kress and Brother Vincent examined his latest device. From time to time, she could hear an excited meow come from the shop as Brother Vincent demonstrated some new quality of the thing. Alice had scarcely been made privy to the details of whatever Brother Vincent was constructing. It was of no concern to her, however. Her paws were being guided by Gara in her own manner, and as she slipped the control module from a targeting system from the box, her eyes twinkled.
“This will certainly make the aiming easier,” she muttered. The possibility existed that she might not be granted the module once Brother Vincent went through the list of requested items, but she recorded its presence nonetheless. She would never advance as a servant of Gara if she falsified the records in order to keep a part for herself.
She had finished the inventory for more than half of the small pieces in the box when Kress returned to the room. The cat sidled up to Alice and bumped hips with her.
“Hey there, Sister. How you doing?”
“I am making headway. There were a lot of parts in here.”
“Well, you know me. I like a nice full box.”
“I see that.”
“One day maybe you’ll help me fill it?”
“I would be delighted,” Alice said. She looked up to see Kress shaking her head.
“Right over your head,” the mechanic mumbled. She glanced around the temple and then leaned forward to gently kiss Alice before pulling away and bounding for the door.
“See you next time,” she called.
“I hope to have my teleporter finished by then,” Alice replied, waving to her friend. Her lips tingled and she wondered what the kiss meant for their friendship. It had been warm and soft, and more than just a pleasant goodbye gesture.
The temple door closed and she picked up a circuit board, logging it into inventory. She shrugged, and after a moment, her attention was riveted on the box of supplies. Still, though, she could taste the lip gloss of the mechanic.
So I’m talking to someone the other day (no names — you know who you are) and I got asked what my favorite superhero films were. I hadn’t really thought to put any time into it, I just like the movies, and that was my basic answer.
“But you write superhero stuff!”
“So you’re the kind of person that needs to review them!”
Yeah… I don’t review movies very well. I’m more of a, “Holy shit, that was fun! When old dude jumped out of the coffin I nearly peed!” kind of guy. You’ll never see me on TV sitting in a balcony fawning over a piece of celluloid and comparing a fight scene to the cinematography of a Bergman film, or discussing the similarities and contrasts between The Fantastic Four and Chariots of Fire. That ain’t me.
But I thought on what had been said, and I figured, “Why not make a little list? I can tell people some of what made it fun, and why I like it.”
Some disclaimers up front:
1: Your favorite(s) may or may not be on the list. Sorry. This isn’t to denigrate your choice or say you have no taste (unless you don’t, in which case WHOO! I got it right!). I’m putting ten of my favorites up.
2: Spoilers. This list will probably have a few. That being said, I’m not going to just come right out and say, “Wow, that chick in the movie is really a dude and that’s the surprise ending!” That’s a total dick move (which apparently she can also make). But if you don’t know that Steve Rogers gets a scientific Super-makeover and becomes Studly Guy, well, then, sorry. I just ruined that for you.
3: I’ll say it again for the folks in the upper rows: I am not a professional reviewer! No film classes, no director’s training, no comparative cinema internet course, nothing. Just a mook who watches movies for fun. When you read it and think, “This guy is a lame-ass. How can you not see the Kurosawa influence in scene 7 when Crusader-Man is silhouetted in the shattered doorframe with the burning city behind him,” remember that I told you this here.
4: I think Thundercats should be a live-action film. If that tells you something about what you’re stepping into with this article, then cool. You understand this is no highbrow, in-depth analysis of the films in question. Also, if you think Jason Statham would make a good Tygra, then yay! We can be friends!
Ok, on to the list, in no particular order (click the image to be taken to the IMDB page for that particular film):
The incomparable Joss Whedon put together a superhero ensemble that blew audiences out of their seat. Featuring Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, the Hulk, Hawkeye, and S.H.I.E.L.D. squaring off against Loki and a bunch of creepy-ass aliens, The Avengers was a tour-de-force of action and one-liners.
Asgardian gods, legendary soldiers, the sand worms from Dune with some upgraded rims, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. What’s not to like?
Related: Sections on Captain America and Iron Man.
Ah, Deadpool. Always on the periphery of film, but never quite picked up. It seemed no one would do justice to the character, and fans across the world rejoiced and feared in equal measure when it was announced that Ryan Reynolds would be slipping into the red-and-black to be the wisecracking assassin.
The trailers — at first “leaked” and later crafted to showcase some of the funnier moments of the film — served to unite fans behind Reynolds’ performance, and soon the waiting became almost unbearable.
Protests erupted that the film was given an “R” rating by the MPAA, and that this would preclude children from attending a film featuring a popular superhero. Although certainly not the first superhero film to feature the red-and-black “R” image (a coincidence of color, Deadpool? Or another subtle breaking of that fourth wall?), Deadpool star Reynolds and fans worldwide ran with the controversy, creating advertisements, social media postings, and graphics that explained why the “Merc with the Mouth” should remain out of reach of those tiny little kiddies. Here’s a hint, folks: the language alone met the MPAA requirements. Add in the violence, nudity, and suggestive nature of many a comment or action, and yeah…leave little Timmy at home for this one.
Alan Moore’s seminal work on the topic, Watchmen was always “in the works” somewhere. This person or that one fought to acquire the rights and make it come to life, but it always seemed to fall through for one reason or another.
Finally, in 2009, director Zack Snyder dropped his monumental film onto the world, and the results were incredible. At times a nearly frame-by-frame adaptation of the graphic novel, Watchmen was a shining example of what can be done with the right patience, crew, cast, and budget. Its extended release, complete with the Tales of the Black Freighter sequences intact, stands in my mind as quite probably the most “true to the source material” adaptation of a comic or graphic novel ever made.
I laughed at the folks in the theater on this one that brought their kids and sat there watching Nite Owl and Silk Spectre obliterate a street gang. They watched the opening fight where the Comedian is thrown out a window. They watched every act of violence with absolute glee and rapt expressions, but as soon as Malin Akerman shed that Silk Spectre suit and her nude body showed on screen, “Oh no! Gotta pack up the young uns, Marge!” They grabbed those kids and dragged them out of the theater as if there was a fire. Shattered arms and dead heroes are cool, but boobs? Can’t have that!
Blade – the Daywalker. Dusting vamps with the ferocity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the precision-tuned weaponry of Abraham Whistler.
Wesley Snipes strode on screen as the half-vampire out to destroy pointy-toothed ancients and their more modern descendants (Stephen Dorff tore it up as Deacon Frost). With his razor-edged sword and silver spikes, shotgun, and converted MAC-11, Blade ripped his way through the ranks of the undead and left the audience grinning.
As you’ll note through a lot of these review things, the cast made this movie what it is. Snipes, Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, Donal Logue, and a host of others combined to make this a gritty and dark anti-vampire romp.
Guardians of the Galaxy
One of the most anticipated films of 2014, Guardians featured the story of a ragtag group of criminals thrown together and facing off against an evil alien overlord.
A talking tree, a raccoon with a penchant for weapons, a powerhouse with no understanding of the subtleties of language, and an assassin seeking redemption join forces with a Terran expatriate thief. What follows is a rollicking romp through space, with lots of action and humor, and even the occasional tear. Well, you know, from some people. Not me, of course. Never.
Production is underway on the sequel, and I, for one, can’t wait.
Captain America: the First Avenger
The First Avenger. Captain America, created as part of the United States Super Soldier program and unleashed upon the forces of the Third Reich. The living embodiment of the American ideal, striding fearlessly into a hail of bullets, with his Vibranium shield bouncing slugs left and right. These are timeless images.
I will admit that when I first saw the ads for this one, I commented that Chris Evans had already portrayed Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four and they should go with a different actor.
I was wrong.
Read it again, folks. I admitted it. I was wrong!
Chris Evans makes the role come alive. He is Captain America.
Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark was the best casting decision the studios for Marvel made in years. Between that one and putting J.K. Simmons in as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man franchise, they hit an absolute home run. This is one of those roles where I see the actor for the first few minutes and then after that he is the character, through and through.
Returning home after spending some vacation time in a cavern in the friendly embrace of some desert-dwelling terrorist-types, Tony is now the proud possessor of a new energy source and a desire to build bigger and better suits of armor in order to redeem himself for the sins of his past.
As always, the cast blows away even the tech in this tale. RDJ, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Jon Favreau (who also directed), all are great in their roles and bring their incredible skills to bear, making an origin story a lot of fun. It is also here that we meet S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson for the first time, and his popularity only grew after his beautifully casual performance.
The year was 1978 and I was just a little critter, but I went to the theater and took in the spectacle that was Superman. This was a turning point film for me. Christopher Reeve made Superman feel more real than George or Steve Reeves ever had. His delivery — so soft-spoken and friendly as Clark Kent and so decisive as Superman — was a wonderful thing. The second film was a beautiful thing, with Terence Stamp and the positively stunning Sarah Douglas, but this one holds a special place in my heart, as it is the first superhero film I can remember seeing.
And that score! Thank you, John Williams, for creating a score that will always resonate with us. Face it, when you hear those chords, you know all too well what they mean. Your spirit soars in the same way that Superman did.
The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a wonderful trio of films, and The Dark Knight is a masterpiece.
Heath Ledger’s inspired depiction of Joker draws the lion’s share of praise from most critics reviewing this film, but if you look at the overall package it is a beast. Aaron Eckhart turns in one hell of a performance as Harvey Dent / TwoFace. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox just knock their roles out of the park. Don’t even get me started on Gary Oldman as Commissioner Jim Gordon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Oldman muff a role. If that wasn’t enough, toss Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth onto the pile of names.
The film is a wonder from start to finish, and sets the stage nicely for the coming of Bane in the third film of the trilogy. Batman finds himself in over his head with the expansion of operations by the Joker, and soon ends up as a wanted man on his own.
Filled with the glorious gadgets one expects from a Batman film, but also with the well-thought script from Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight is one of those you definitely don’t just turn off.
X2 — X-Men United
Wait! X2? What about X-Men? Dude, you skipped one!
I did indeed.
X2, I find, is that little bit better than its predecessor. With viewers having already been introduced to most of the major players, X2 was able to simply advance the plotlines. Allusions are made to upcoming movies here, some subtle and some really not.
The use of Nightcrawler as a tool of assassination seems to make sense from a “why didn’t anyone think to do this sooner” point of view. So now the mutants from Xavier’s school have something to look for, right? Plus, the government is ramping up the anti-mutant measures. Add in a military-style raid of the school by agents working for William Stryker and now you’ve got muties running loose all over the place!
By the way, for a fun superhero connection: The mansion used for Xavier’s school is also the Luthor home in Smallville, the WB network’s highly successful coming-of-age Superman series.
So there you have my top ten list (at least for this week). Narrowing the list to just ten was tougher than I expected. I could have included another ten without breaking stride. Here are a few that came damned close:
Captain America: the Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Iron Man II
Hellboy 2: the Golden Army
Folks, I won’t run away from a showing of any of the above, and in general, you’re safe throwing a series of superhero films up onto screen any time I’m around.
Also, since I mentioned it at the first of this article, here are my suggestions:
Lion-O: Travis Fimmel
Tygra: Jason Statham
Cheetara: Katee Sackhoff
Jaga: Edward James Olmos
WileyKit and WileyKat: No clue. Those are kid actors and I have zero knowledge of those. Last kid actor I knew was Chloe Grace Moretz back when she played HitGirl on Kick-Ass, and she’s not a kid any more.
Snarf, of course, would be a CGI construct of some kind. I’m thinking Zooey Deschanel for the voice.
Mumm-Ra: Willem Dafoe
Monkian: Bruce Campbell
VultureMan: Steve Buscemi
JackalMan and Slithe are up for grabs. Any suggestions?
Images obtained through IMDB search for movie posters of the film in question.