Monday, March 28, 2011

Adrianne Palicki's Wonder Woman Costume Debated By Fans And Fashionistas

After years of stalled pre-productions for a Wonder Woman film, the creation of David E. Kelley's television series has made surprisingly quick progress. Only a few short months ago, leaked scripts for the pilot were being circulated, and the casting of Adrianne Palicki is still a recent headline. This week saw the first glimpse of our generation's modern incarnation of the feminist icon, princess, goddess, and ass-kicking Amazonian, and more than a few opinions were expressed via the internet. Tempting as it was, I resisted the urge to dispense my immediate reactions, via twitter, blog, or otherwise. I opted to take a few days, and a few looks to reach a final verdict on the new costume. I'm still unsettled, with reactions falling somewhere between considering it a tasteless abomination to reverence for all its kitschy gloriousness.

Many criticisms are justified when discussing aspects of the costume's design. Words that accurately describe it include shiny, camp, busty, plasticine, Barbie-esque, fetishistic, inaccurate, form-fitting, stiff, cheap. Somewhere between the design and execution a few poor choices were made. Even a different material would diminish or eliminate many initial negative reactions. The current spandex / latex hybrid looks so thinly painted on that one high kick would rip the seams of Diana's delicate pants. The "gold" detailing is poorly disguised plastic. As for the lasso of truth, it is very reminiscent of Dave Chapelle's critique of Wonder Woman during a session with Dr. Katz. The only truth likely to be ascertained from this whip are observations about her good physique. She's got big boobs. Look at that! You squeezed the truth right out of me!

On the other end of the spectrum, this costume goes right past tacky to almost quintessential. Considering the wacky-as-normal atmosphere for comic book adaptations during the 70's, it is likely that Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman costume would have raised few eyebrows upon its premiere. Comic book culture has taken a more realistic turn in the last decade, so seeing a life-size version of a HeroClix can be unsettling. Costumes of our current film and television superheroes tend to be less flamboyant than the larger than life designs seen in comics. Even the most iconic ensembles have been made more realistic for film (think Batman's Kevlar heavy suit and Joker's grotesquely scarred face). The memorably fierce Dark Phoenix costume of the Byrne / Claremont years is hardly recognizable in the watered down mall-goth number sported by Famke Janssen in the third X-Men film. This version of Wonder Woman more closely resembles a comic book than a comic book adaptation, but what we see as iconic on the page comes across very differently in real life. Calling this "porn-esque" or "stripper chic" reveals a bias amongst fans of the source material. We have a much higher threshold for what is considered tasteful in a comic book versus real life. In comics, Tarot seems to be the ick zone for many fans, with Star Sapphire being totally acceptable, but neither have a comfortable place in reality. Kelley's version of Wonder Woman is no less revealing or impractical than the hot pants of her 1940's debut. Adam Hugh's Wonder Woman probably couldn't lift her leg without revealing whether she has a Brazilian or Amazonian wax (see image below).

I still find myself torn between polarized views of this new costume, but one consistent opinion I have is that it's poorly photographed. The belt is almost certainly photoshopped if not completely fabricated. Also, "Halloween Costume Listing" is not a good first impression. More dramatic lighting or a different pose would have been more flattering, and the anthropological nature of this promo shot certainly invites excessive scrutiny. Regardless of the bland presentation,  the negative aspects of the design are hard to reconcile with the fact that I love its shameless embrace for camp sensibilities. Whether you find this costume tacky or agreeable, most fans can at least agree that yes, that is definitely Wonder Woman. I'll even go a step further and say it is more modern and iconic than Jim Lee's recent revamp from the comics. At the end of the day, one promo image does not a show sum up. Judging this incarnation of Wonder Woman solely on a costume test shot is more than a little superficial, and is dismissive of the fact that it matters quite a bit how Adrianne Palicki portrays the character, how David E. Kelley has written her, not just how she looks in tight pants. Any fervor over this being an affront to feminism may be overstated and counterintuitive to the arguments of detractors. Any outrage should be saved for when we get to see the final product. The costume may be the least of fan's worries.
We've all been humbled by our past wardrobe choices at one point or another.

Here is a short link round up of fan reaction to the costume:
The Gloss: Why Are Warrior Women Always Dressed Like Strippers (Wonder Woman not on list, but relevant to discussion)

UPDATE 5/15: Aaaand It's Canceled 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Coming This Weekend To Chicago

Only a week after C2E2, there are already several comic book related social events here in Chicagoland. Whether you missed the recent convention or you went and were left wanting more, we locals here in Chicago are lucky enough to seemingly always have opportunities to indulge our love for comic books. Here are a few noteworthy events happening this very weekend (March 25th-27th):

Becky Cloonan Signing and Gallery Opening
Where: Challengers Comics + Conversation in Bucktown
When: Friday 7pm - 10pm
Website: Challengers "Demo" Gallery Event with Becky Cloonan

If you have yet to attend one of Challenger's Rogue Gallery openings, this is your chance to finally see what all of the hub-bub is about. Art collectors get the chance to see pages in person before they purchase pieces for their collections, and fans get the chance to meet and greet with the artist herself, all the while everyone enjoying snacks and refreshments: just like a real art opening! Pick up the new volume of Demo while you are there, or bring in a copy of your favorite Cloonan work to be signed. Even if you aren't familiar with Becky's work, this is the perfect opportunity.

Chicago Zinefest 2011
Where: Columbia College, 826CHI, Quimby's Bookstore
When: Events held throughout the day on Friday and Saturday (See flier)

You know those local artists I mentioned missing at C2E2? Chances are several of them will be at the Chicago Zinefest this weekend, including Sarah Becan (I'm hoping Jeffrey Brown will be there as well). This two-day long event has a wide range of activities to choose from (all free), including readings, karaoke, a DIY film festival, workshops, and of course the opportunity to purchase a ton of locally created work. Chicagoland has a lot of fantastic independent creators, and I can't wait to meet some of them and purchase their work in person. Locals won't be the only ones at this event. Expect to see creators from all over the country as well.

An early reminder as well, Free Comic Book Day will be happening on May 7th this year. I will be updating sooner to the date with a list of events and signings for the annual event. Last year we had a fantastic time meeting Buffy The Vampire Slayer actor Nicholas Brendon at Columbus, OH's Rat Pack Comics. For anyone who missed out last year, he will be returning to Rat Pack for another FCBD event. It will be hard to beat, but hopefully this year will be just as much fun.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

C2E2 2011: An Overview

Can you find Where's Waldo? No really, he's there.
As fans take inventory of their convention purchases, cos-players put away their weekend attire, and vendors and artists pack up what little is left of their merchandise, we all begin to process the long and exciting weekend that was C2E2. This being my first time at the new-to-Chicago con, I opted to go only one day (Saturday), and I have plenty of reasons to get a weekend pass next year. I spoke with many con-goers that were at the show last year, from artist Erik Rose to retailer Pat Brower, and across the board everyone has said that this year the show had much larger crowds (early estimates for attendance have confirmed this). Though I can't compare, it certainly felt crowded, especially when one tried to browse the merchandise. From personal experience, cons don't usually look  over-picked until Sunday afternoon. Logic dictates that the majority of good deals at conventions are going to be on merchandise that isn't moving in stores; hardcovers, books that were over-ordered, or old sets of toys. But I'm more likely to buy a $5 trade that I've seen at every other booth if I am also purchasing it with something I was actually looking for (Morning Glories was sold out EVERYWHERE.) Seeing the same books became a running joke; as my husband put it, there sure are a lot of Amazing Spider-Man: Back in Black HC's. The difficulty in finding sought after titles, combined with the frequent elbowing, bag swinging, and shoving that came with navigating the show made actual shopping a little difficult. However, it was nice to see large crowds for the convention in general and not for things like Rob Blagoavich sitting in the Batmobile.

The venue for C2E2, McCormick Place, is hands down better suited for cons than Rosemont, the home of Wizard World Chicago. There are windows, more food options, and with frequent free shuttles running from the loop to the convention, it was easier to get to, as well. McCormick does have some disadvantages. If you are an out of towner, the hotels aren't as cheap downtown as they are near O'Hare and Rosemont. Also, from what I've heard from vendors, the booths at C2E2 are a bit pricier. I'm sure for this reason many vendors opted for less square footage than usual, and it showed. Considering this show will probably prove to be a good moneymaker for vendors, here's hoping next year will see larger booths with more merchandise. The aisles between artist alley were large, but if anyone had a line for signing, you better hope the person sitting next to them isn't the one you were looking for. Overall it seemed like show organizers planned according to last year's crowds. Even the Hi-Chew booth ran out of candy to sell! I can't imagine how vendors and artists got through Sunday, as everyone already looked pretty exhausted by Saturday's end.

Despite the large crowds and smaller than anticipated selection of merchandise, I still had a blast at the convention. There were tons of cos-players, and the artist alley was the biggest I've seen yet. There were a few locals I would have liked to see, such as Sarah Becan, and Make Yourself Happy creator Lucy Knisley (she was signing at Challenger's booth on Friday, but did not have a table in artist alley). Alas, now that I have gone to C2E2, I know that what this show has to offer is more than a 1 day pass can provide. Next year I will know to shop on Friday, meet and greet with creators Saturday, and pick up the deep discounts Sunday. Of course going one day meant less time for panels, too, but many con-goers live blogged and tweeted announcements in real time, one of the most frequent being Girls Read Comics Too (I am not as technologically prolific, as evidenced by the blog's posting schedule). Here is a rundown of some notable announcements:
Greg Rucka to take on Punisher: Max, Mark Waid will write Daredevil
I'm excited about these announcements for several reasons. Rucka was awesome on Detective Comics, and I can't wait to see what he does with Punisher. Waid has delivered a lot of hits recently with his creator owned work at Boom! Studios, but quotes from the panel announcement indicated that he will continue with the "superhero swashbuckling" feel the book has maintained during Andy Diggle's run. He will "keep it gritty" but not "want a stiff drink" gritty. Personally, I kind of like my Daredevil as punching bag. Rucka was not present to comment on the announcement.

Marvel still not lowering prices
Though they hope to keep minis and one shots at $2.99 (minus any back up stories), there is no budging on titles that are already at $3.99 in order to keep up the quality and attract talent. That statement seems like a bit of PR bull, but at the same time I can agree that most artists and writers are probably keen to have 22 pages to tell their story rather than 20, and I am happy to support good content. Still not willing to be pay $3.99 for Uncanny X-Men until it gets better.

DC still keeping lower prices
"For as long as possible" says Dan DiDio. Enjoy it while you can folks, inflation will catch up! Word to Marvel and DC: what ever happened to the quarter / ten cent raise?
Editor in Chief Dan Didio takes full responsibility for Batwoman delay
I'm sure J.H. Williams is happy to hear this stated publicly as many have speculated that his beautiful, albeit time consuming artwork was the cause for delay. Apparently DC plans to release the book later in the year when the market is more favorable to its release. When exactly is that? Given that everyone calls this a "much-anticipated" title, they will have a hit no matter when they release it. But the longer they wait, the more it will be referred to as "much-delayed".

Bendis and Bagley to release new Icon series Brilliant
This new creator owned series will be centered around a group of college students competing to crack the code for superpowers. Bendis has stated that this will not be a "superhero" title. Considering his track record for Icon titles (Powers, Scarlet) this will be a book to keep your eye on when it is released this July.

Here are just a few photos from the convention of cos-players, fans, merchandise and mayhem. More after the jump!
These were only a handful of the adorable mini-cosplayers on Saturday. On Sunday all children were given free admission to C2E2.
Sights like this make me love conventions.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sex Or Substance: Female Casting in Comic Book Films

Hathaway just screams spinster
The recent announcement of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman has sparked some interesting debate amongst fans. Specifically a few of my nerdy pals, male and female alike, have questioned Ms. Hathaway's potential "sexiness" for the role of Selina Kyle. She may be a little awkward (see Oscars co-hosting gig), and starring in the Princess Diaries nearly a decade ago is an image not easily forgotten; but more recent films have included roles as a recovering addict, trophy wife to a gay man, and an ambitious would-be journalist.  "She's not sexy enough" hardly seems reason to claim she's miscast. And you know, a lack of sex appeal is totally Hollywood's problem these days, right? Not only is this reasoning an insult to Hathaway's acting abilities, but it also implies that the character of Catwoman amounts to little more than an object of sexual fantasy. Little known secret, Hollywood: "sexy" and "talented" are not mutually exclusive. With most films, it comes down to how well the part is written. I have faith in Christopher Nolan to do the character justice, despite his less than memorable take on Rachel Dawes.

Unlike past female comic book character castings that have ranged from bizarre to downright awful, Anne Hathaway seems like a refreshingly appropriate choice. In addition to a resume that includes Oscar and Golden Globe nods, she is also age appropriate, a rarity in Hollywood where male leads are too easily confused with father figures. Have we really gotten to the point where a critically acclaimed actress is cast in a film and we question their ability to pull it off? Fans will have to wait at least another year to see trailers for the third Batman to decide whether or not she is the best choice for the role. Until then, it is worth noting just how far off the mark casting has been in past (and upcoming) comic book adaptations. These questionable choices may make dubious Catwoman fans a little more grateful for Nolan's choice.

Jessica Alba as Sue Richards in Fantastic Four
Where do I start? When I think brilliant scientist counterpart to Reed Richards, Jessica Alba would not even be in the top 1000 names of actresses to come to mind. I have yet to see Jessica Alba demonstrate any ability as an actress. She is a human prop, and in stating as much I at least give her credit for looking nice as she reads lines. In the final scene of the first Fantastic Four film, Reed attempts to kiss the Invisible Woman and she girlishly squeals, "That's my nose, silly!" This has stood out as one of the worst displays of attempted acting by Alba to date. In addition to the ghastly performance, she was physically a very odd choice for the role. There are merits to casting an actor of a different race as a new take on a character (see Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, or even in this film Kerry Washington as Alicia Masters) but to turn around and pretend that Jessica Alba isn't in fact Latino and give her an awful bleach blonde haircolor to conform to the traditional all-American view of Sue Richards is superficial at best and insulting at worst.

Jessica Alba as Nancy Callahan in Sin City
You might think that an actress best known for her physical attributes would be well cast as a stripper, but you would be mistaken. Alba's miscasting isn't very obvious when she is gyrating in the background of Kadie's Bar, but it's clear she is out of her element once she starts talking. Part of the tension of the story comes from Nancy being rescued as a child from a rapist by Officer Hartigan, only to become the sexually empowered woman he finds upon his release from jail. Alba's attempts at naivety come off as childlike, giving the relationship a whole new level of uncomfortable. Alba also refused to do any nudity for the film. Although I have the utmost respect for the boundaries of an actress, she did sign up for a role as an exotic dancer. Co-star Jaime King opted for a body double, and I don't think less of her standards. Considering that this iconic role was made famous by Frank Miller's visceral depictions of Nancy, Alba's objections to nudity prevented the authenticity that was lent to the rest of the film's visuals.

Halle Berry as Storm in X-Men, Selina Kyle in Catwoman
I added Halle Berry to this list to remind readers that even a talented actress can't do much with poorly written material. In the case of the X-Men franchise, the character of Storm is underutilized and underdeveloped. Halle Barry can't even decide between scenes what accent she wants to use. Instead of a strong second in command to Scott Summers, we are given a character that is an excuse for special effects, a weak imitation of the force of nature seen in the pages of the comic books. (Could you ever imagine Berry's Storm rocking a mohawk?) The second and third outings may give Storm more lines, but they could have been delivered by any of the larger cast. Had the role been taken on by another actress, even fan favorite Angela Bassett, it is doubtful they could have given the part more depth as there was clearly little to work with.

In the case of Catwoman, however, miscasting is far down on the list of possible explanations for this film's vast failures. I can't even comment on the choice of Halle Barry since I skipped this movie altogether.

January Jones as Emma Frost in X-Men First Class
Hollywood does deliver the goods from time to time. When I first heard about January Jones being cast as Emma Frost, I thought it was a joke because it is absurdly perfect casting. For all of the missed marks in the X-men franchise films, there always seems to be one role that makes up for the rest of the mediocre choices. Alan Cumming as Nightrcrawler. Kelsey Grammer as Beast. Betty Draper as the White Queen. As an avid fan of Mad Men, I was already half-convinced that Mrs. Draper was secretly leading a double life as a member of the Hellfire Club. Whether the movie is as successful as this casting choice is yet to be seen. On an interesting sidenote, Matthew Vaughn, director for X-Men First Class, was originally set to direct X-Men 3. His biggest contribution to that film? Casting Kelsey Grammer before he left the project.

Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre in The Watchmen Zack Snyder really disappoints here. After the wonderful casting of Lena Headey in 300, one would think Mr. Snyder knows a thing or two about strong leading ladies. Then he goes and hires Malin "second coming of Heather Graham" Akerman. One could argue that the role of Silk Spectre is not meant to be played by a commanding young woman as the character is somewhat insecure in her role as crimefighter. But the most Akerman brings to the film is a lot of slow-motion entrances. The mediocrity of her performance would not be nearly as noticeable if she wasn't surrounded by far superior talents like Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley. Hollywood once again perpetuates the lack-of-female-talent myth with miscasting. 

Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane in Superman Returns
So many aspects of this film are off that casting isn't given much thought when debating the merits of the Superman re-bake. For a story that focuses heavily on the relationship of Lois and Clark, the miscasting of Kate Bosworth certainly made matters much worse than would seem at first glance. Even if one believes Ms. Bosworth gives a fair performance (which I don't), Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth have a palpable lack of on-screen chemistry. Bosworth is also void of the tenacity that Lois Lane is known for. Rather than portraying a flawed, neurotic workaholic, this Lois is naggy and not very likable. As with the case for Malin Akerman, it doesn't help when there are better actors in the supporting cast - Parker Posey has more spunk in one scene than Kate Bosworth has in the entire movie.

Blake Lively as Carol Ferris in Green Lantern
I don't even think there is so much as a screengrab of Lively in the Green Lantern trailer. Is there a Bechdel Test for movie trailers? If not, at least appearing in the trailer, having a line, and being involved in an activity besides kissing the male lead might be some good parameters. Though I may be preemptive in my judgment of the casting of Lively as Ferris, I am already dubious of the 22 year old actress's ability to convincingly portray the head of an aerospace company considering that only last year she was playing a high schooler on Gossip Girl. It's also not a good sign when articles insinuate that she MUST be talented if she beat out far more talented and older actresses for the role.

Jennifer Garner as Elektra in Daredevil, Elektra
Exotic bad-ass ninja? Not Jennifer Garner.

Whether you agree or disagree with the choices of the Hollywood casting system, as fans there is one thing we do control: the creepy photoshopped images that result from early casting announcements. Moratorium on these, anyone?
My favorite! Because it's not even the right character.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Retail Therapy Part VIII: The Comic Vault

The Comic Vault is an inviting spot along a quiet stretch of Montrose near Clark.
(This post is part of an ongoing series where I attempt to visit every single comic book store within Chicago city limits. You can read more about the project here!)

Location: 1530 W Montrose in Ravenswood
Public Transit: Nearest buses are the Clark (22) and Montrose (78), nearest train is the Montrose brown line.
Mon - Fri: 11:00AM – 8:00PM
Sat: 11:00AM – 6:00PM
Sun: 11:00AM – 4:00PM


The Comic Vault is another North side store (there are a lot) and it is rather unimposing in appearance, but don't make the mistake of overlooking this shop. The Comic Vault may be slight in scale, but the substance of the store is more than meets the eye. Things must be going well, too since they will soon be opening a second store in the Block 37 shopping center downtown on April 1st. For a business entering their fifth year, ambitious might be an understatement.
You'll find plenty to browse, especially when it comes to newer issues. I even broke my "rule" for Retail Therapy and purchased a hard to find issue.
Looking at the calendar of events, seeing the selection of new products, and watching the colorful ads for The Comic Vault makes one suspect this store has bigger plans than "sell you your comics". They want to sell you, your roommate, and your next door neighbor comics, too. The extra efforts put forth by owner Matt Sardor and staff give this store a very high value per square foot. They bag and board every comic, host signings, screenings, fundraisers, and claim to fit up to 80 patrons in the store for events. Counters are moved and back issues are set aside, essentially changing the store into a venue more conducive to socializing. The recent Winter Con 2 included the appearance of 20 local artist and writers for signings. Of course they were scheduled on a rotating basis, but that's an impressive draw for a store of any size. My visit came well over a month after a charity event featuring the appearance of pro football player Lance Briggs, but the organizations had yet to collect several boxes of the donated items. Considering these large stacks were just a fraction of the donations, it was demonstrative of just how many individuals this store has reached in its short time. The Comic Vault is clearly aiming to build a community that moves beyond the neighborhood store.
Stores with new release walls are an easy way to get customers to browse books they might otherwise ignore (anyone who has worked in a store knows about the "Marvel Zombies", and I don't mean the mini series)
The recent layout changes have improved the shopping experience.
When I say that it is easy to underestimate the offerings of The Comic Vault, I speak from experience. I lived near this store several years ago, and I stopped by a few times not too long after it first opened. Those visits were usually short, and this was partly because the store was more sparse back then. Now the three walls are covered in new issues, and the selection of products has improved. The back issues are lined up against the wall underneath the new release shelves. The check out counter, which previously took up almost half of a wall, is now in the center of the store, surrounded by graphic novels. It's likely that as the store has gained more regular customers, they have been able to take more chances on new titles and invest in long term sales like statues. The store didn't carry many trades back then either, but they have a modest selection of popular titles now. Their is a "new this week" section for issues, with the rest of the recent issues arranged by Marvel, DC, and Independent. The newer trades are on the same shelves as the individual issues, which makes them less obvious than the new issues. This pet peeve aside, the new set up of the store more successfully utilizes the limited shelf space. When I spoke with owner Matt, he talked about how many of his priorities have changed since opening the store. His affinity for superhero comics is obvious (Green Lantern is a prominent) but his bias doesn't show in the wide variety of titles. He's also more of a collector and didn't see the value of carrying trades until setting up shop brought him face to face with customers requesting them more and often. His willingness to adapt and cater to the needs of the shoppers shows in the changes made throughout the years. The generous 35% off subscriptions is a good draw for loyal customers as well.
If Matt seems easy to talk to it may be his background in bar-tending. Let the Cheers comparisons commence!
On my Tuesday visit, the merchandise and extra staff took up most of the counter space and even on a less busy day, one is never far from the staff. Though shoppers are encouraged to open the bagged issues for browsing, some may be too shy or feel pressured to buy an item after opening it. As a customer and avid collector, Matt didn't care to buy new books with bent corners and worn spines, and offering books in top condition is a priority for The Comic Vault owner. Bagging the issues is the easiest way to do this, and considering the store's close proximity to a large elementary school this measure seems necessary to protect books from sticky fingers and rough handling. Perhaps the only books that should be left unbagged are the children's section, alas these are still sealed. If you have had to cut back on reading for financial reasons, the generous discount will make this store a tempting destination.  I recommend checking out this neighborhood store, whether for one of the upcoming events (Jonathan Hickman for FCBD? Yes, please) or if you're considering finding a new shop. You'll have the opportunity for a lot more individual attention and may find yourself sticking around longer than you expect.