Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Greatest Fictional Weapons: The Infinity Gauntlet

Some weapons become more iconic than the fictional characters that use them. Others are a vital aspect of a character’s personality. In this column, we take a look at some of the greatest fictional weapons of all time.

It’s one of the most iconic weapons in comic book history. It’s destroyed billions and resurrected millions. It’s saved lives and empowered crazed galactic titans. And it’s coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nothing will be the same.

It’s the Infinity Gauntlet. A weapon so powerful that its power is split between six Infinity Gems, each with control over an aspect of reality. Combined, their wielder can reshape the world with his or her mind. With so much power literally in the hand of one person, it’s a weapon that no one should control. Of course, this awe-inspiring armament is synonymous with the Mad Titan, Thanos. His obsession with death and his all-consuming desire to rule the universe has sent him on a collision course with The Infinity Gauntlet, the one thing that can help him achieve his dreams of conquest.

While this multi-colored weapon has been known and loved to comic readers for decades, it is only now that The Infinity Gauntlet is coming into the mainstream consciousness. While not divulged by producers, the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be on a collision course with Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet storyline written by Jim Starlin and published in 1991. With the seeds of this universe-shattering story set to come to life on the big screen in the near future, now is a better time than ever to dive into what The Infinity Gauntlet means for Marvel Comics’ heroes and villains alike.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Saviors, Conquerors, and the Aliens We Love

The idea of extraterrestrial life has been one of fiction’s most long-lasting points of interest. The notion that there are more forms of life in the far reaches of cold, deep, and dark space has been taken as both a point of hope and terror. Even as science has allowed us to better understand the nature of both outer space and our own inner workings, the vast mysteries of other planets has allowed some of fiction’s greatest creators let their imaginations run wild.

With no limits on what creatures can be formed when coming from worlds completely unlike our own, the aliens that have chosen to invade/destroy/enlighten Earth have covered an enormous spectrum. From the cute to the frightening to the confusing, the most interesting alien life forms have taken on a wide variety of appearances and motivations.

But it’s not just creators who have been enraptured with extraterrestrial life. Audiences have flocked to theaters and bought up books for decades and even centuries because alien life forms spark an idea in everyone. Whether these life forms are here for our own good or our destruction, aliens tend to fit into five different categories, each with their own iconic figures.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The MacGuffin: Motivating Plots Mysteriously

Ever watch a film where heroes and villains clash over the fate of a mysterious object of some grave importance, yet that all-powerful item usually ends up not meaning anything to most of the story? That’s because it’s a MacGuffin.

What’s a MacGuffin? It’s nothing yet everything at the same time.

MacGuffins are mysterious items that put a plot into motion. Most often, these are highly valuable items, either because of their rarity or because of the power they hold. However, the most important piece of a MacGuffin’s definition is that these  awe-inspiring items do nothing in the narrative. Should a potential MacGuffin, such as the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, eventually play a role that changes the course of the narrative, like melting Nazi faces, it becomes a plot device and not a MacGuffin.

While the term "MacGuffin" was solidified by Alfred Hitchcock, whose movies often revolved around such items, the idea was in place in storytelling long before the director's influential career. However, MacGuffins have always been a bit of magical rubbish.

Sure, this may take some of mystery out of MacGuffins, but these awesome items can still be a vital part of an excellent film, novel, television show, or comic book. Understanding what can make a MacGuffin awesome is the key to not only creating a powerful narrative motivated by such an empty vessel, but also understanding what makes these narrative devices so fun in the first place.

Understanding the (Real) Value of a MacGuffin
The unfortunate truth about understanding MacGuffins is that once you know what they are, you can’t unsee them when watching new movies. The best MacGuffins will capture the imagination or viewers or readers enough that they are quickly drawn into the story, but they do not have a continued importance placed on them. Films like the Indiana Jones Series are strong because of the fantastic characters and thrilling action sequences, not because the artifacts being chased after are wildly imaginative.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The 25 Best Comic Book Covers of the 2000s

Comic book covers are like the best movie posters: they make people desperate to buy the product while also standing on their own as a piece of artwork. It’s this incredible balance that makes these artistic creations some of the most memorable pieces of comic books. A great cover is not only something that can stand the test of time on its own, it is a promise made to readers about the quality of the content in the pages that lie beyond the cover.

Comic book covers, like comics as a whole, have gone through a massive evolution in the decades since the medium was first created in the 1930s. As comic book art has progressed, with a vast array of styles taking shape throughout the decades, covers have become more and more unique. The creativity that took shape in the 1970s and 1980s combined with the artistic flourishes of the somewhat dull 1990s, resulting in the fantastic 2000s.

These 25 covers, which were published from 2000 through 2009, represent some of the best covers ever created in the medium. Unlike many of the other decades, the 2000s have some of the most variety in cover styles, with artists putting their hearts and souls into insanely memorable pieces of art. Be on the lookout for other lists spotlighting the best covers of other decades coming soon.

25. Green Arrow #1 by Matt Wagner

After his death several years before, Oliver Queen returns to life and comics in author Kevin Smith’s “Quiver.” The relaunch of Green Arrow and his comic book series needed something striking, and this cover by Matt Wagner is the perfect way to announce it. All this comic cover needs to announce Ollie’s return is a shining arrow tip and the Emerald Archer’s eye.

24. The Amazing Spider-Man #611 by Skottie Young

Spider-Man and Deadpool make a great comedic team, so this ultra-cartoony cover by Skottie Young encapsulates the zany heights that these two can reach together. Decking out Spider-man in shoulder pads, pouches, and giant guns, Deadpool has made his unwilling partner into the perfect encapsulation of 1990’s excess. And as evidenced by The Merc With a Mouth’s speech bubble, it’s Deadpool-tastic!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Greatest Batman Stories: Hush

batman hush analysis
Because Batman is a character who is one of the most consistently depicted and most well-defined heroes of all time, he has been subjected to countless era-defining stories. In 75 years, there are at least 50 stories, either single issue or story arc, that can be pointed to as stellar examples of The Dark Knight.

In the category of modern classics, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush is equal parts engrossing mystery and blockbuster action story. Not only that, but it also depicts Batman and his enormous gallery of villains in spectacular fashion. If comics were films, Hush would be the summer movie event that packs the crowds into theaters. Except no Batman film will ever reach the dizzying array of heroes and villains packed into this 12-issue story that spanned from 2002 to 2003 or include the explosive set pieces that fill these many pages.

While there may be Batman stories that delve more deeply into The Dark Knight as a character or ones that shake up storytelling conventions more, Hush is a fantastic entry into the Batman cannon. Offering some of the character’s greatest artwork and some of his most defining moments in recent years, there are countless reasons why no Batman fan should pass up Hush.

A New Mystery Plagues The Dark Knight
Through and through, Hush is a mystery, which is great because Batman is a detective. Yes, a detective wrapped in spandex, covered in bulging muscles, and prone to fighting intergalactic superpowered gods with his fists, but still a detective. His many crime fighting tools are at the forefront as well, with night vision goggles and digital readouts on criminals’ weaknesses creating a particularly memorable scene near the beginning.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why Are Good Third Films So Difficult?

Trilogies live and die on how they close their stories. While no film trilogy is technically perfect, the best are the series that send audiences out of the theater both satisfied and still wanting more. Unfortunately, there are countless instances of series that have royally botched the landing when it comes to the final film in a trilogy. In the best cases, a bad third film can leave audiences disappointed and jaded concerning the storytelling prowess of the series' creators. In the worst cases, terrible third movies can retroactively make the good films in the series worse.

While there are plenty of fantastic third movies in franchises, these are the installments that stand tall among their peers and show that a great trilogy finale is possible. But these are instances of fantastic storytelling, strong characters, and a focus on quality over name-recognition profits. Given the sheer number of terrible third movies, especially those that come after strong first and second installments, audience members have long wondered where so many franchises go wrong.

There is no exact winning combination when it comes to creating a worthwhile third movie, or “threequel,” but there are numerous challenges that have led to franchise downfall. Recognizing what causes a bad third movie can help filmmakers avoid making a movie that’s bad for everyone. Or it can at least let audiences see a bomb coming and save their money.