Valerian and Laureline

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If you’re a fan of Luc Besson’s films (The Fifth Element, Lucy) or you’re just a fan of science fiction films in general, and you’ve been on Facebook recently, then you likely have come across the first trailer for Besson’s upcoming film VALERIAN.

If you haven’t, let me show it to you:

So, most people agree that the trailer is pretty mind blowing but few people know just who Valerian is. I’ve been a fan of the graphic novels that this film is based on for years, since I was in my early twenties, and that is a long, long time ago.

valerian-ambassador-int-1Back then I was a huge fan of the American comic magazine HEAVY METAL. When I learned that the US magazine was based on a French magazine, METAL HURLANT (literally Screaming Metal), I managed to find some copies of the French version as well. Along the way I learned about other French magazines including one called Pilote in whose pages the adventures of Valerian et Laureline were originally presented.

Valérian et Laureline, also known as Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent or just Valérian, is a French science fiction comics series, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières.

First published in 1967, the series focused on the adventures of the dark-haired Valérian, a spatio-temporal agent, and his redheaded female colleague, Laureline, as they travel the universe through space and time. Valérian is a classical hero, kind-hearted, strong and brave who follows the orders of his superiors even if he feels, deep down, that it is the wrong thing to do. On the other hand, his partner Laureline combines her superior intelligence, determination and independence with sex-appeal.

Influenced by classic literary science fiction, the series mixes space opera with time travel plots.

valerian_3Christin’s scripts are noted for their humour, complexity and strongly humanist ideals while Mézières’ art is characterised by its vivid depictions of the alien worlds and species Valérian and Laureline encounter on their adventures. The series is considered a landmark in European comics and pop culture and influenced other media as well: traces of its concepts, storylines and designs can be found in many science fiction films including Star Wars and Besson’s own The Fifth Element.

valerian-and-laureline-2-the-empire-of-a-thousand-planets-paperback-l9781849180870The final installment of Valerian et Laureline was published in 2010. All of the Valérian stories have been collected in graphic novel album format, comprising some twenty-one volumes plus a short story collection and an encyclopaedia. Valérian is one of the top five biggest selling Franco-Belgian comics titles of its publisher, Dargaud.

Many of the stories have been translated into several languages, including English. The series has received recognition through a number of prestigious awards, including the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême. An animated television series, Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline, was released in 2007.

And now, Besson’s film is set to introduce the characters to the world at large. When I heard that Besson was set to tackle the subject I was skeptical, particularly with the casting of Dane DeHaaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider Man 2) .

However, the trailer looks absolutely amazing and I can see that DeHaan is not as miscast in the role as I had earlier feared (although Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad) is perfectly cast as Laureline). I can only hope that the final film lives up to the graphic novels.

SDCC: a rant about ungrateful fanboys (slightly NSFW)

sdcc_logo_grande_4542ff10-4626-4dce-91e0-f0e916457862_largeI’m at that point.

You know the one, especially if you’re a parent and you’ve been listening to the kids whine about how unfair everything is and how their life sucks. You get to that point and suddenly the Dad comes out in you and you lecture your kids about how good they have it compared to when you were a kid.

You try to resist, because you know that it never really makes a difference and your kids will just stare at you like some alien that has just walked into the house speaking Klingon.

But I’m there now.

This past week I’ve been watching all this incredible stuff coming out of the San Diego Comic Con, arguably the biggest and the best convention for fans of comics, science fiction and other genre movies. As is usual during Comic Con I’ve also been listening to the whiny-ass fanboys complaining about how nothing is exactly how they want it. How (insert adaptation of your favorite comic/SF novel/sequel/spin-off/whatever) had better not suck or how the (Insert Comic book company name here – which one doesn’t matter) cinematic universe has lost it and has to be rebooted post haste.

To all you fanboys: STFU.

No… better yet, I’m not talking to you in textspeak anymore… I’m Dad now and I’m talking like a dad. Fanboys, shut the fuck up!

You’re getting so much amazing stuff and all you do is whine and complain. It’s like getting a huge fucking haul at Christmastime and complaining because the phone I got you wasn’t the exact brand you wanted.

Oh, boo-hoo.

You know what I had at your age? I had Star Trek re-runs. Heavily edited on old and dirty and badly spliced film reels. We didn’t have the restored versions with new and shiny cgi effects.

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We didn’t have a blockbuster movie to watch and a new series to look forward to.

7a28a7f7959c09777e756b71a5b23083d6e2fe8c4de98bfa0713da1e513234a4We didn’t have a DOCTOR STRANGE movie with A-list actors and top notch visual effects to look forward to. We had a TV movie done on cheap sets and starring Peter Hooten with a 70’s porn ‘stache.

We didn’t have Justice League starring an OSCAR WINNING ACTOR, we had… never mind. You don’t want to know what we had. 90 minutes of our life we’ll never get back, that’s what we had.

hqdefaultYou fanboys (and I don’t care how young or old you are) are fucking ungrateful. You’ve got it made, kids! You’ve got it made in the shade and you don’t know just how good you have it. Yet you whine and you complain like none of this amazing stuff is good enough for the likes of you.

Now, I hear you say; “Yeah, Jack, but, cut us some slack! These aren’t gifts. It’s not Christmas. It’s a business transaction. The studios make a product and they sell it to consumers, and consumers have a right to criticize the products they’re being given. If I go into a restaurant, order a burger, and find it’s undercooked, do I not have the right to call attention that?”

Well, yes, you’re right. It’s not Christmas, and these aren’t gifts given to you by loving parents. the Christmas analogy was just meant to illustrate how I feel about the situation.

These films, TV series, comics, what have you, they’re product. And absolutely, you have the right to complain about an undercooked burger.

But telling the waiter  “This burger better be good or I’m never coming here again!” before it’s even on the plate or telling the chef that his meals suck based on a picture you saw on the restaurant’s website strikes me as a bit entitled, not to mention that it makes the one complaining look like a dick.

Look, if you watch something and you don’t like it, I’ll accept that. We may even talk about it. I frequently do with fellow fans. But I reserve judgement about something until I have seen the movie/series/comic/whatever rather than moaning about it beforehand.

Saying “I hope it’s great.” is better than saying “Oh, man this is gonna blow” in my opinion. And, yes. I’m not just talking about younger fans. I’m not trying to pull some ageist crap here. There are fans older than me who are just as bad and there are younger fans who have a fantastic attitude.

As a creator it just guts me to hear fans talking shit about something sight unseen. As an artist and a writer… see, this is where my frustration is coming from. I know what it’s like to put so much of myself into something, a book or a piece of artwork, only to have someone who doesn’t know, hasn’t seen/and/or read the work dismiss it out of hand.

I’m sorry, for having to go all “Dad” over it like this, but I’m at that point. I’m all out of fucks. I’m out of them. You like something? I don’t give a fuck. You don’t like something? I don’t give a fuck.

I’m. all. out. of. fucks.

FANT4STIC

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It was on Netflix.

I’d heard that it was bad, but I thought; “How bad could it be?” So… I watched it.

Oh… wow… really… that bad…

The first part of the movie was going somewhere… not sure where that was. It didn’t seem like the Fantastic Four that I’m familiar with but it was going somewhere. Josh Trank clearly had something in mind. But then it felt like the producers said; “This is insane! We can’t make any money off this!” so they stopped the film and then brought someone else in to finish it.

Because suddenly everything is different. The tone, the dialogue, the delivery… even the performances change. From moody, monotone delivery suddenly they switch to breezy one liners and Reed urgently shouting out hurried plot explanations that make no sense whatsoever.

I don’t know who wrote and directed that last half hour, but honestly, kids playing in their backyards could have come up with a more exciting and plausible final battle.

Oh, God this movie sucked. I’m going to go watch the Roger Corman version on Youtube just to get the taste of this atrocity out of my mind.

Here, watch it with me!

 

DC Comics Movies: Why so Dark?

This blog post appeared originally on the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website.

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You all know DC Comics, right?

Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. Green Lantern. Aquaman. You know those guys, right? They’re superheros. They’ve been having adventures in the pages of comic books for decades. They wear brightly colored costumes and they fight for truth, justice and the (insert name of your favorite awesome country here) way.

Silver-Age-Justice-League-of-AmericaThese heroes’ brightly colored adventures inspired kids to want to be heroic and do good. They were fun, light and breezy. At least that’s the way I remember them. But it’s been a long time since all my pocket money went into buying comics. Maybe I’m out of touch.

I’ve blogged before about the colorful nature of the early superheroes, but that whole aspect seems to be getting lost in its translation from page to screen. The movies that are being made from these flashy comic book characters are, it seems, being made universally grim and dark.

christopher-reeve-supermanIt wasn’t always this way. Early films were a lot brighter (indeed, some of the earliest adaptations of these heroes were as serials which were filmed in black and white and yet still seem more colorful than some of the latest offerings). True many of these adaptations chose to play up the “camp” aspect of the comic books and are today pretty universally reviled. Even 1979’s Superman starring the late Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel cannot be watched by modern audiences with any degree of seriousness. Despite the impact it had on the moviegoing public at the time of its release, today’s audiences can’t help but be overwhelmed by the fact that it all seems to be played for laughs.

That’s not what today’s audiences want out of their superhero movies.

A recent special on the CW aired a day ahead of the premiere of one of their new superhero TV series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. DC Films: Dawn of the Justice League, besides having Kevin Smith fangirling all over Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics, offered a glimpse at the projects that DC Films is working on and some of the ones that are just in the development stage. It also talked about the upcoming Superman v. Batman movie and framed its subtitle in no uncertain terms. Dawn of Justice will be the dawn of the Justice League movie (which will be DC’s answer, belated as it is, to Marvel’s Avengers).

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The special also featured clips from the upcoming Wonder Woman film, which looked intriguing (Gal Godot is seeming more and more like the right choice for the role) and managed to generate some actual excitement for the project, but the one thing that struck me about these clips more than anything else was how dark they all seemed. I don’t just mean in tone, but the very images themselves all look like they were filmed Day for Night, even the daytime scenes.

What’s up with that? These are the Four Color Heroes. They are meant to be bright primary colors, not skulking in the shadows.

It used to be that DC Comics weren’t so grim and so dark. Then in the early 1960’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced a new type of hero with Marvel Comics – a type of hero that was a little darker, a little more grounded in reality. Yet the film adaptations of Marvel’s characters seem much more brightly colored than the film adaptations of the DC comics.

Take Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. The whole thing was filmed with such a muted color scheme. That seems appropriate for the darker, Dionysian Batman movies, but Superman is Apollonian… he even gets his power from the sun! Man of Steel and the Upcoming Dawn of Justice seem so dark I would expect Superman to be constantly running at half power.

391Oddly enough, the one upcoming film that should be dark and grim is the adaptation of the recent DC title Suicide Squad. It was tailor made for this dark approach, yet, if the recent trailers are anything to go by, this adaptation seems to have far more color than Man of Steel or any of the recent Batman movies, which is a wee bit ironic. Nevertheless, buzz is growing for this film which some have called DC’s “Guardians of the Galaxy“, ie: a sleeper hit that could put them ahead of their competition.

So, what do you think? Are you wondering where the colorful heroes of the past have gone, or are you just fine with DC’s new grimdark persona?

Oblivion (2013)

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You know, there is a really interesting science fiction story somewhere in this film. Unfortunately it’s buried underneath the weight of Tom Cruise.

Oblivion was written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, based on an unpublished graphic novel which he co-wrote with Arvid Nelson. Kosinski pitched the idea to Universal and they bought it which led to it being developed as a motion picture. According to Kosinski the film pays homage to the science fiction films of the 1970’s.

Well, he’s got that part right. Oblivion travels some very familiar territory. Visually the film borrows heavily from films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the original Solaris and some of the Planet of the Apes films. Visually there is more than a few nods to the future as envisioned by the 1970`s.

Oblivion takes place in 2077. The Earth has been devastated by war with an extraterrestrial invader, the Scavengers (referred to as scavs)  Humanity is relocating Titan via the Tet, a large tetrahedron-shaped space station. Gigantic offshore fusion energy generators drain the oceans to produce power for the colonists on Titan.

Jack Harper (Cruise) is Tech / 49. He and his teammate and lover Victoria “Vika” Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are among the few humans left on Earth. Instructed by mission controller Sally and assisted by drones, they protect the generators from attack by any remaining Scavs. Despite having had a memory wipe, Jack experiences visions of being on the observation deck of the Empire State Building with an unknown woman before the war.

All this is backstory and is given to us via Tom Cruise`s voice over narration, which feels kind of forced and awkward. Jack and Vika live in an ultra-modern sky apartment that looks like it was designed by a tech firm rather than an actual production designer. Cruise wears a funky leather suit and flies a sleek looking airplane. Vika stays behind wearing a dress and shiny pumps operating a super-slick monitoring station.

Cruise flies down to the surface of the ruined wasteland that was the earth. Only the tops of the very tallest buildings can be seen poking above the sand. Despite that Cruise finds the ruined remains of an old football stadium and single handedly re-enacts the last Superbowl ever played before the war (how he can remember that with his memory having been wiped is never fully explained). He also has a place where he hangs out, an idyllic cabin that he has built for himself in a little wooden area hidden in a valley and conveniently located in a radio blind spot so that Vika can`t find him. Here he has his aviator sunglasses from Top Gun and his New York Yankees cap and he unwinds and lies in the grass and enjoys the sunshine of old Earth.

He also rides a motorcycle, which should come as no surprise. I think Tom Cruise’s standard contract comes with a “must ride a motorcycle in the movie” clause. Sure, it’s a super sleek futuristic motorcycle, but it still makes the requisite “vroom vroom!” noise.

So Tom’s idyllic existence is interrupted by the arrival of a pre-invasion earth ship which crash lands nearby. When Tom goes to investigate he finds several cryo-pods containing humans in suspended animation. What are the odds that one of them is the unknown woman from his dreams of the Empire State Building.?

A drone destroys all the pods except for the one containing Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko). Tom saves her from being destroyed, of course, because she is his dream girl. But her presence causes Tom to start questioning everything he’s been told.

Well, from there the film plods along in a rather predictable way. If you’ve seen a lot of science fiction films from the 1970’s (and, believe me, I have) then the plot’s twists and turns will not come as any surprise.

In fact, little about this film surprised me, right down to the dialogue which I found myself quoting before the actors had even spoken the lines.

Like I said, there is a good story underneath all the flashy designs and Cruise’s overbearing performance. Not even Morgan Freeman is able to elevate it all above mediocre, though. The way that the filmmakers get to the meat of the story feels awkward, like they had to incorporate so many disparate elements to meet the requirements of the film’s star that by the time you get there you wonder why it took so long.

The other big problem is casting. Cruise is the star and he needs a heavyweight antagonist. That’s Freeman. But is he an antagonist? Or is he really on Cruise’s side? See, you need a talented heavyweight actor to pull that subtlety off, right? Then there’s Nicolaj Coster-Waldau who is cast as the standard “angry” antagonist, the kind who wonders aloud why-are-we-keeping-him-alive-why-don’t-we-just-kill-him?

The problem with this film lies with its female leads. They feel rather miscast. The female characters have very little to do to begin with, but it seems like the director has purposely cast smaller, frailer, very non-kick-ass actresses into the roles. The one character who could have been a real threat to Cruise if she had been beefed up a little, is portrayed as simpering and unsure and more of an annoyance than an obstruction.

You know, if you’ve got a few hours to kill (and you’ll need more than two. This is a needlessly long movie) and you don’t have to pay for it, then you could watch this film. But if you have to go to any sort of trouble… don’t bother.

This film isn’t worth the effort.

Images

Some of you may know that as well as writing as Jack Mackenzie, I so artwork as MD Jackson. As artist M. D. Jackson I also write for the AMAZING STORIES website.

A recent post I wrote required me to gather up some images from the web and, as usual, I collected far more than I could use. So I’m going to share them here without any explanation or context, just posting them for fun!

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Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame

©Lucasfilm 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

Wonder Woman: Relevant or Ridiculous?

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In the world of comic book superheroes, there is the trinity: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

2160789-sensation1_coverBatman and Superman are iconic characters and have changed and morphed over the decades since their first appearances. They have changed to stay relevant to comic book fans in a changing world.

But how successful has that transformation been? The male heroes have become darker, grittier and grimmer, but what about Wonder Woman? How has she been able to stay relevant?

Has she been able to stay relevant?

Wonder Woman has had an interesting history that few comic book readers are familiar with.

In the early 1940’s the DC comics line was dominated by super powered male characters. Psychologist William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the polygraph, or lie-detector test, struck upon the idea for a new kind of superhero, one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love. After introducing the idea to comic publisher Max Gaines, Marston, along with his wife Elizabeth, began to develop the hero who would eventually become Wonder Woman

All-Star-Comics-8-december-1941-featuring-wonder-womanMarston was an unconventional figure in the 1940’s as was his wife, Elizabeth, whom he considered a model of the unconventional liberated woman. He was also inspired by a former student of his, Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple in a polygamous/poly-amorous relationship.

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.” Marston wrote in 1943. “Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

Marston used a pen name that combined his middle name with that of Gaines to create Charles Moulton. Marston intended his character, which he called “Suprema”, to be “tender, submissive, peace loving as good women are,” combining “all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” His character was a native of an all-female utopia who became a crime-fighting U.S. government agent, using her superhuman strength and agility, and her ability to force villains to tell the truth by binding them with her magic lasso. Her appearance, including her heavy silver bracelets (which she used to deflect bullets), was based somewhat on Olive Byrne.

In 2002, Heritage Auctions listed an original Illustration by Harry G. Peter, the first sketches of Wonder Woman, with notes from Marston on the look.

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Editor Sheldon Mayer replaced the name “Suprema” with “Wonder Woman”, and the character made her debut in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941).

sensation-comics_05It was never smooth sailing with Marston who wrote the comics under the pseudonym Charles Moulton. Complaints began coming in almost immediately with one prominent bishop complaining that Wonder Woman was “not fully dressed”. Marston also had, it seemed, an obsession with bondage. He was extremely specific as to what kind of chains Wonder Woman should be bound with. A lot of Marston’s storylines involve Wonder Woman being tied up. “The secret of woman’s allure,” he once told Gaines, is that “Women enjoy submission—being bound.”

Wonder Woman was never allowed to be just a comic book like the other heroes. Gaines was in constant consultation with psychologists regarding Wonder Woman’s storylines. Great scrutiny was brought to her every action and to her wardrobe.

Wonder_WomanThat was, sadly, not to change over the seventy year history of the character. Her origins have been revised many times throughout the decades, as has her outfit. With the television series from the 1970’s starring Lynda Carter, a good deal of campiness was introduced to the character. Carter was a voluptuous woman. In the Wonder Woman outfit, her assets were on prominent display, often overshadowing the character’s other virtues.

And that, I think, is part of the problem for Wonder Woman. She is a strong and potent ideal for feminism, but in a bathing suit. The cognitive dissonance of Wonder Woman almost rivals that of the Miss America Pageant where spin doctors try to portray it as a “scholarship program” but one where the contestants are required to participate in swimwear.

WonderWoman_by_els3basWomen scholars are not to be judged based on how they look in a bathing suit. Neither should a superhero, but there’s the rub. Wonder Woman represents the pinnacle of heroic behavior but also of athleticism and beauty. In that respect she is representative of modern women in the pursuit of that balance. Still, not even her steel bracelets can protect her from society’s judgment and, often, scorn.

Changing her costume to something a little less sexist is fraught with controversy. Old school fans rail against the change and still others accuse the comic creators of pandering to feminists. Some readers want Wonder Woman to live up to feminist ideals. Others just want her looking hot in her costume.

2903163-01So what’s a Wonder Woman to do? Her latest incarnation (and, it seems, her upcoming appearance in the Superman vs. Batman film) has her more closely resembling Xena the Warrior Princess.

Greek Goddess… Miss America… Xena… which role does she play in order to make others happy. Isn’t that the dilemma of a woman today? She finds herself having to behave and dress in certain ways to make others (mostly men) happy. That’s the irony of Wonder Woman. For a character who is portrayed as being true to herself and to her heroic ideals, she has to, it seems, do an awful lot of pandering to her audience.

Along the way I have to wonder (pardon the pun) is she the representative of a feminine ideal or just a boob show? Is she a positive role model for women and girls or is she just a bit of cheesecake for male comic book readers?

I’d like to think it was the former, but after all this time I still don’t think the answer is entirely clear.

What do you think?