Monday, December 31, 2012

My top 10 comic books of 2012

I haven't written much about comics here lately, mainly because I tend to be behind on my reading and anything I have to say would end up not being very timely. But I'm still an avid comics reader, and this year I've also been an occasional contributor to Comic Book Resources, including writing a few items for their list of the top 100 comics of 2012. Since my pieces are scattered throughout the list, and some weren't used, I thought I'd reprint them all here, in order. So here are my top 10 comic book series of 2012.

1. The Unwritten (Mike Carey/Peter Gross; DC/Vertigo) Even after nearly 50 issues, Carey and Gross can still find new avenues to explore in their examination of the way storytelling influences every aspect of society, and they're constantly pushing their own storytelling abilities along the way. As emotionally affecting as it is intellectually challenging.

2. Saga (Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples; Image) Totally upending preconceptions about epic sci-fi,Vaughan and Staples bring snappy, postmodern dialogue and self-aware characters into a worlds-spanning space opera, creating something that feels wonderfully new yet honors all of its various influences.

3. Fatale (Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips; Image) Pretty much everything Brubaker and Phillips do well (noir-style visuals, hard-boiled dialogue, ingenious plot twists, seductive women, compromised men, mixing the supernatural with the mundane) all combined into one fascinating series.

4. Prophet (Brandon Graham/Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis & Farel Dalrymple; Image) I have to admit that I only understand about a third of what goes on in this bizarre, endlessly creative series, but I love every bit of it. Graham has taken Rob Liefeld's muscled-up creation and made him into a melancholy avatar of sci-fi craziness.

5. Irredeemable/Incorruptible (Mark Waid/Peter Krause, Diego Barreto & Damian Couceiro; Boom!) Waid wrapped up his linked series about a superhero gone bad and a supervillian gone good with impeccable skill, bringing in serious themes about the nature of responsibility and the power of childhood influences while also telling a fun, action-packed superhero story.

6. Alabaster: Wolves (Caitlin R. Kiernan/Steve Lieber; Dark Horse) Kiernan's supernatural Southern gothic is a showcase for her twisted take on religion, with demon-hunter Dancy Flammarion representing the more unforgiving side of God's plan.

7. Chew (John Layman/Rob Guillory; Image) Consistently weird, inventive, hilarious, unpredictable and surprisingly deep for a comic about a guy who can see an object's past by chowing down on it.

8. The New Deadwardians (Dan Abnett/I.N.J. Culbard; DC/Vertigo) Did I know I wanted to read a series that crossed The Walking Dead with Downton Abbey? No, but apparently it was exactly the right combination.

9. Revival (Tim Seeley/Mike Norton; Image) Seeley and Norton manage to come up with an intriguing twist on the tired zombie formula, mixing horrific acts with solid family drama.

10. Animal Man (Jeff Lemire/Travel Foreman & Steve Pugh, DC) In the midst of the New 52, Lemire has created a haunting horror series about the lengths one man will go to protect his family.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Assault on Precinct 13' (2005)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

A year ago, I wrote about John Carpenter's lean 1976 thriller Assault on Precinct 13, which I found even more impressive on second viewing. The 2005 remake, directed by French filmmaker Jean-Francois Richet, is not nearly as good, losing most of what made Carpenter's film successful and turning the story into a mundane crime thriller that makes little sense. A big part of the appeal of Carpenter's film is its simplicity, and Richet and screenwriter James DeMonaco lose that right away, spending the first several minutes of the movie establishing a tragic back story for main character Sgt. Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke). Even worse, the faceless, almost zombie-like gang members who besieged the nearly abandoned police precinct in the original film have turned into talkative villains with convoluted motivations, which become less and less believable the more we learn about them.

In an interview earlier this year, Hawke said that he "just looked depressed" throughout this movie, and indeed the entire cast seems pretty dispirited, although Laurence Fishburne is good at delivering silky menace as crime boss Marion Bishop, whose presence in a holding cell in the broken-down old police station is the catalyst behind the siege. As Roenick, Hawke does project an air of world-weariness, but the character's angst doesn't really amount to much. The cast also includes Maria Bello, Brian Dennehy, Gabriel Byrne and John Leguizamo, but they're all playing stock types, from the mustache-twirling corrupt cop to the aging officer just on the verge of retirement.

Richet creates some moderately suspenseful moments, but the story drags on for way too long, especially when the entire climax takes place outside the precinct and involves a lame and obvious plot twist with one of the main characters. There was one development in the movie that took me by surprise, when a character who seemed destined for a happy ending was unceremoniously killed off, but there was nothing as brutal or shocking as the murder of the young girl in Carpenter's film. In a way, the obligation to use Carpenter's premise hampers the movie, since the police-corruption storyline fits awkwardly with the siege of a rundown old precinct. Maybe it would've been better to just make one without the other.