Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday America…..Love FanBoyWonder

Two hundred and thirty-one years ago today, a group of gentlemen, Englishmen by lineage but American in spirit gathered secretly in the city of Philadelphia to do what only a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.

The men from the 13 colonies literally risked signing their lives away (the penalty for high treason against the Crown was death by hanging) by placing their mark on a carefully crafted, politically explosive document that would quite literally change the world.

Composed primarily by Virginia plantation owner and future President Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence was unprecedented in the scope of its content and righteous in its tone.

At the time the Declaration was drafted to justify and explain to the world the Founding Fathers’ reason for revolution but their words quickly took on a greater meaning and it became the soul of our nation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

[To read the full text of the Declaration, click here]

Out of these words was born the United States of America. In more than two-and-a-quarter centuries, the US of A has risen from puny colonial upstart to a global super power and leader of the free world.

We have endured two world wars, one civil war, economic depression and the threat of nuclear Armageddon….and we have done it as Americans.

While our ideals have often exceeded our actions, America represents something unique to the world. Quite simply, America is the freest nation on Earth.

However, our latest and greatest challenge is at this moment in front of us as America seeks to fight and defend against a shapeless, nation-less enemy that would destroy us and the idea that is America. Yet the challenge comes not just in combating our fanatical foes but also in preserving the freedoms and liberties that make up the core, the D.N.A. of America’s greatness.

For if those are lost, the terrorists win after all.

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” –Benjamin Franklin

We The People, who are the beneficiaries of the sacrifices our ancestors made time and again, owe it to them and to ourselves to take a moment between the parades and the fireworks shows and the automobile clearance sales today to remember the ideals on which our country was founded and perhaps to strive just a little harder to live up to the ideal that is America.

To our readers, FanBoyWonder wishes you and yours a happy and safe Independence Day.

God Bless America!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

FanBoyWonder TV Spotlight—USA Network’s ‘Burn Notice’

In an effort to become more of your all-purpose entertainment blog, FanBoyWonder has come across a TV show that’s more than worth watching during these dog days of television programming—Burn Notice on the USA cable network.

Here’s the Upshot from USA: When spies get fired, they don't get a letter from human resources. They get BURNED...

The action/spy genre gets a refreshing update with USA Network's newest original series,
Burn Notice. Jeffrey Donovan stars as Michael Westen, an international spy who suddenly finds himself blacklisted. Dumped in his hometown of Miami without money or resources, Michael struggles to put his life back together and find out why he's been burned. In the meantime, he uses his unique skills and training to help people in need ... mostly people who can't get help from the police.

Michael is joined by Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) an ex-IRA operative, who also happens to be an ex-girlfriend; and Sam (Bruce Campbell), a washed-out military intelligence contact who's being used by the feds to keep tabs on Michael. He's also forced to confront the family he went halfway around the world to get away from—particularly his mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless) who couldn't be happier to have her son back in town.

The premiere episode has already aired but you can get the two-minute replay plus all kinds of other extras about Burn Notice at its USA Network Website:

For our part, Burn Notice isn’t just one of the best shows of the summer, it’s some of the most original and innovate television to come along in a long time. Not just for the great characters, the clever writing and the witty dialogue but one big thing going for Burn Notice is that it’s set in Miami and to the best of our knowledge it LOOKS like Miami—not Vancouver or Toronto or someplace else in the Great White North dressed up to look like the U.S. of A. (or is that “eh”?).

This is NOT to rag on our friendly neighbors to the North honestly but given that practically half the shows on television (including just about all the sci-fi programs) are filmed in the greater British Columbia area, there are just so many times we can see scenes shot on the same streets at the same buildings and credibly suspend our disbelief.

Okay, we know we’re digressing but one of the best observations ever came from Aaron Sorkin’s now canceled Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip—“Vancouver doesn't look like anything. It doesn't even look like Vancouver. It looks like Boston, California.”

Ok that’s out of our system, back to Burn Notice. From what we’ve already seen, Jeffrey Donovan’s Michael Westen has serious potential as one of THE great television characters.

Westen is less 007’s James Bond than Chevy Chase’s Fletch but he’s neither a goofball nor a pushover. Donovan’s sardonic narration gives just the right comic bite to what can be some pretty dark moments.

Covert intelligence includes a lot of waiting around. Know what it’s like being a spy? It’s like sitting in your dentist’s reception area 24 hours a day—magazines, sip some coffee and every so often, someone tries to kill you.”

Face it, spooks have to do some very unpleasant things and it’s tough to root for a guy who has to do those kinds of things, but we do.

Rounding out the cast is Gabrielle Anwar, whom we’re glad to see again. While we’re sure she’s been steadily working and we just haven’t see her, it does seem like the early ‘90s “it girl” dropped off the map after not quite being able to make it among the A list movie actors.

Her character Fiona is a lot more than just eye candy, although the British-born Anwar’s Irish accent does seem to come straight out of an Irish Spring commercial. She provides both sexual tension for Donovan’s character as well as “tactical support”—meaning she’ll kick arse and take names.

Bruce Campbell—King of the B Movie Actors—is great as Westin’s espionage burn-out buddy Sam. Out of the spy game but always with his ear to the ground, Sam is the “go-to guy” that always knows another guy that every spy/hero/protagonist always needs to get things done.

When not getting things done for Westin, Sam is a gigolo for the middle-aged Miami divorcee who pays for his clothes, his apartment with a view and “an endless supply of blue pills,” while also tipping off the feds as to Westin’s doings.

Sam is a great character because he’s lying and you know he’s lying because his lips are moving but it’s still tough not to like the reprobate.

However, the real show stealer is going to be Westen’s mother played by Sharon Gless. She’s had only two scenes in the pilot and we love her already. She is the character who humanizes our otherwise tough as nails hero.

“People with happy families don’t become spies. A bad childhood is a perfect background for covert ops. You don’t trust anyone, you’re used to getting smacked around and you don’t get homesick.”

Our hero Mr. Westen can take a beating by African warlords and stare down the feds who now follow his every move but he is helpless to resist his mother’s pleading to take her to one of her many doctors’ appointments.

Gless’ ballsy but beautiful Cagney & Lacey days are long since behind her but she still looks quite good into her 6os. As a chain-smoking, pill-popping hypochondriac, Gless is utterly entertaining as the mother who can strike down her otherwise hard-hearted spy with a bolt of guilt-lightning.

Burn Notice will air throughout the summer on Thursday at 10 p.m. (eastern) on the USA Network. It’s worth checking out.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Fear The Sinestro Corps, Armageddon 1991 Do Over and Teen Titans Dropped Again

Apologies all around for FanBoyWonder’s lack of recent postings. A busy work schedule, technical difficulties with the computer and just plain writer’s block have kept us from our appointed rounds until now.

However as an aside, over the weekend we rented Rocky Balboa at the video store and darn if it wasn’t pretty good.

It doesn’t matter that we knew or had figured out pretty much the whole movie before we ever pressed “play”—Rocky is Rocky and how can you not like the old lug?

Also, Mr. and Mrs. FBW went to see Live Free or Die Hard at the theatre’s over the weekend. We both quite enjoyed ourselves. Nothing will ever top the first Die Hard because it broke new ground for the action film genre but by our reckoning, both Bruce Willis and John McClain have proven that things can get better with age.

Anyway, here’s our take on our books for the week of June 27.

Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special

The Upshot from DC Comics: Hal Jordan has struggled to regain his reputation. Kyle Rayner has suffered great personal loss and reluctantly gained great power. Guy Gardner's trust in the Guardians is wavering. John Stewart's unbreakable loyalty soon will be tested. Together, these four men are the Green Lanterns of Earth…but why are so many Earthmen recruited into the Corps? What is their ultimate role in the future of the universe? And how will the secret of the rings' power threaten the Guardians and affect Hal Jordan's future?
Sinestro was called the "greatest" of the Green Lanterns; now the renegade has vowed to bring terror to the universe he once protected. The worst murderers, thieves and deviants in the universe have gathered into Sinestro's Corps for one purpose: to instill great fear. Armed with the truth behind Parallax, Sinestro's intergalactic insurgents strike hard and fast at the very heart of the Green Lantern Corps. The Sinestro Corps is about to change everything you know about the Green Lanterns. Fear them. Everyone else will.

After more than a year of coasting creatively, Team GL appears ready to raise the stakes and kick things up a notch with the long-teased introduction of the Sinestro Corps.

Following the aforementioned long and steady build up, this one-shot special provides the promised payoff. Writer Geoff Johns hasn’t delivered something this buzz worthy in Green Lantern since re-introducing Hal Jordan back from the dead in Green Lantern Rebirth.

Not coincidently artist Ethan Van Sciver produces stunning visuals that equal or perhaps exceed his worth in Rebirth.

As an aside, about a year or so ago, FanBoyWonder took Sciver to task as an example of deadline challenged artists. For the record, we never doubted or had issue with his ability—to the contrary Van Sciver single-handedly managed to re-define the visual representation of the Green Lanterns in much the same way that Todd McFarlane did for a certain wall-crawler when he drew the Amazing Spider-Man.

Each page of Sinestro Corps is dead bang perfect and we tip our hat to the man. We don’t know how much time it took him to complete this 64-page special but given how long this story-line is in the works, the lead-time for art must have been ample.

Yet our issue is (and not just with EVS to be sure) that artists on monthly books should be able to produce….well monthly.

Not being able to carry a monthly book shouldn’t be a career-killer if you’re good enough and don’t pretend otherwise so there should be a place for artists of quality (think Alex Ross). There are plenty of great pitchers in baseball who are closers rather than starters—know your limitations and play to your strengths. But we digress.

What we liked about Geoff Johns story the most is that he has attempted and succeeded in giving Sinestro, the one-time “greatest Green Lantern” an actual personality, a plausible reason for going “renegade” and a purpose in forming his Sinestro Corps that’s far beyond just being the dark-mirror image to their emerald opposites.

The earlier comparisons between this special and Rebirth are appropriate because Johns finally takes up again the theme of fear and the GL Corps and the role that fear plays.

The forced possession of Kyle Rayner as the new Parallax would seem to bring the story full circle. We’ve missed Kyle since we skipped the really unreadable Ion 12-issue maxi-series from last year but Johns’ story is strong enough that Ion wasn’t required reading to get Kyle’s part of the story.

It was nice to see John Stewart however briefly and we hope he gets some of the spotlight soon. He is WAY overdue.

Johns has also done a great job of setting up insurmountable odds. Not only do the GLC have to face off against an army that’s their mirror image, but Sinestro has recruited the Cyborg-Superman (as an aside , where does Hank Henshaw fit into the newly retro-coned Superman universe), Superboy-Prime—all of whom are doing the bidding of the back from the dead Anti-Monitor.

We will agree with what we’ve heard other reviews say, just how well Sinestro Corps has been rolled out and given just how boring Countdown has become (short trip to be sure), Sinestro Corps should be the “event” of the DC universe.

Countdown #44

The Upshot from DC Comics: This year-long weekly series featuring a cast of hundreds kicks into high gear in its second month, under the watchful eye of head writer Paul Dini! See Mary Marvel undergo a surprising transformation! Learn why Donna Troy and Jason Todd are integral players in a cosmic chess game! And see Jimmy Olsen as you've never seen him before!

Wow. Monarch from the 1991 DC Event “Armageddon 2001” is back and in the pages of Countdown. We just don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

A quickie history lesson. The premise behind Armageddon was that in “the future” year of 2001, a hero whose identity had been lost to history would betray all the other heroes, assume massive power and use that power to rule the Earth as a freedom-choking despot.

That hero was set to be Captain Atom but someone at DC editorial let the cat out of the bag so in a last minute change up they switched it to be Hawk from Hawk and Dove. If you don’t remember or have scarcely heard of Armageddon, you know how well things went.

On the one hand, we can see how some 15-years later, DC is tempted to try to move forward with the character and original concept. But on the other hand, the original concept was never that good…or original.

Meanwhile, the Mary Marvel story line, the one thing the series has going for it (and the only thing that keeps ups from dropping this book) is starting to falter.

A confrontation between Mary and her brother, the new white-haired “Wizard Marvel” fell flat.

The art this issue did not help advance the weak story. While the breakdowns by Keith Giffen were as strong as ever, the pencils by Carlos Magno with inks by Jay Leisten failed to deliver. We don’t know it if was a clash of artistic styles but some pages were just plain opaque while the close-up facial expressions were all over the board.

JSA Classified #27

The Upshot from DC Comics: The 2-part story concludes as Wildcat's investigation into an underground superhuman gambling ring results in a surprising discovery about himself!

It’s funny that we were talking about Rocky Balboa earlier. Ted Grant, the DCU’s resident boxing champion and all around tough guy gets a refreshing bit of characterization during this two-part story.

We learn that Wildcat’s compassion and disgust with the Sportsmaster’s comes from Ted Grant’s own unresolved feelings of his father’s gambling which left Ted penniless and an orphan and forced to make his way in the world of boxing to survive.

He hates his father for being weak and it’s this fear of weakness that has driven him all these years. This story by Frank Tieri—while digging deeper than anyone else over the last 60 years—only scratched the surface of this character. We’d love to see more, especially as we (and Ted Grant) have learned that he is a father to a next-generation Wildcat.

Teen Titans #48

The Upshot from DC Comics: An AMAZONS ATTACK tie-in issue guest-starring Supergirl! How far will Cassie and Kara go in the impending battle — and how will their choices affect their relationship with the Titans?

We didn’t actually pick up this issue. It had been on our pull list but we looked at it in the store and put it back and asked that Teen Titans be dropped from our pull list, this time for good.

Beyond throwing good money after bad to read a crossover for a series we’re not reading, this book has been slipping for a couple years now. We gave it another chance when it was announced Geoff Johns was leaving and they have promised a roster and creative change with issue 50 but we don’t have the patience.

And from what we’ve seen of the roster, this is not our generation of Teen Titans. We wish the new guy luck but we’re getting off here.
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