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‘Deadpool 2’ is Ten times better than ‘Logan’ Was

Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson), would tell you that “Deadpool 2 is ten times better than Logan was.

The first Deadpool, was unexpected bliss. Studio-heads and comic-book fan-boys fundamentally misunderstand each other. Nowhere is this clearer than with that three-letter-studio holding rights to the X-men. When the first Deadpool film came out in 2016, we were blown away – they finally managed to give us the comic-book film [we] the nerds had been begging for. So naturally – and skeptically – I wondered, would Deadpool 2 deliver to the same extent? How much of the euphoria delivered by the first film was the result of pop-culture references, unrestrained violence, and pure unadulterated shock value? Could they catch lightning in a bottle a second time?

They did. Spoilers below.

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Death Cat

Shady Grove Rest Home promises residents tranquility in their final years.  Instead, it delivers terror in the form of Bingo, a palliative care cat that snuggles up to whichever resident is next to die.  Is Bingo’s power supernatural, or is something more ominous at play?

Death Cat  is written by SCC contributors James C. Harberson III & Frazer C. Rice with the script by Harberson III.  Artist is Stephen Baskerville, a brilliantly-talented comic book, video game, and advertising artist.  He has worked for, inter alia, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Egmont Fleetway, Curve Studios, Asylum Entertainment, and KUJU Entertainment.  He resides in the UK and you can learn more about him here.

Click top right arrows for full screen.

[The NSFW version is available after the page break.]

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Trailer Tuesday – The Peanuts Movie

In 1950 cartoonist Charles M. Shultz debuted what would become arguably the great American cartoon strip – Peanuts. Gracing the pages of nine different newspapers for the first time on October 2, 1950 was a bald headed boy named Charlie Brown. His faithful beagle, Snoopy, made his appearence just 2 days later. 65 years, and 2,600 newspapers later, Charlie Brown, and the more popular, Snoopy, would make up an marketing empire that could rival the one based on some Mouse. But Peanuts had a far more, albeit subtle, impact on the culture than Disney’s band of animal characters ever would. What Schultz and the comic strip did in the 60s and 70s really helped foster forth an era of a new normal, one that centered readers on what real diversity meant – a melting pot. And like a true melting pot, it was a slow cook.

From Hogan’s Alley

Characters like Franklin, Peppermint Patty, and even Pig-Pen helped acknowledge that race, gender and social status shouldn’t be the focus of societial relationships. Individualism and free association is the best path to achieving a harmonious community – even if Lucy pulls the football every time. It wasn’t all Schultz’s idea though. Like many advancements, sometimes it takes some outside persistance. For instance, Schultz was nudged into introducing the Franklin character by a school teacher who insisted the time was right to introduce a black character that was just as adorable as the others. With literally the stroke of a pen, or many strokes, Schultz agreed and without ever overtly acknowledging such an introduction of a minority character, Franklin appeared and fit right in with the rest of the Peanuts gang.

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Film Review – Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Even the poster is crowded.

Within about 36 hours of its American theatrical release, Avengers: Age of Ultron has already grossed over $424 Million dollars worldwide (update: the final tally for the weekend is $626,656,000) and it earned the title of having the second-highest grossing opening day of all time, just behind Harry Potter’s final installment. Marvel Studios continues its Hulk-like rampage across the American cinematic landscape. Having now seen both the 2D and 3D (not worth it) versions of the film, I feel like I’ve done my part.

But I guess the real question is, “Was it worth it?”

The short answer is yes, absolutely.

The longer answer is, this is a film that has a lot of heart, goes out of its way to show its heroes actually being heroes, further develops key characters that haven’t had as much of a chance to be seen in other films, has a pretty compelling villain (almost entirely thanks to James Spader), and unsurprisingly features some phenomenal action sequences.

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Trailer Tuesday: “Fantastic Four”

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What’s invisible, stretchy, rock hard and on fire? This trailer! Or at least the cast is…
Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” is about 3 months from theatrical release and with that impending doom (ha!) comes a new full-length trailer.

I’ve tackled this issue before, but to reiterate, I’ve been pretty stoked about this film since I heard Trank was first attached.  “Chronicle” was a great film with a dark edge that I thought would be great for a reboot of Marvel’s first family.  Then all the production nightmare stories started floating around about Trank trashing the set and the cast wanting to back out, etc.  But none of that would have ever crossed my mind having just viewed the second trailer!

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The Indoor Crowd

 

Indoor Crowd #1

 

Editor note: Smash Cut Culture is proud to be the exclusive home of the brand new comic strip The Indoor Crowd by Francesca Parise.  The strip is centered on three female millennials as they navigate their way through the culture and their urban surroundings. New strips released every Sunday, because that’s what Sundays are for – comic strips!]

 

This Again? Defending Comics Against Censorship

Last week was the American Library Association’s annual “Banned Books Week”, which is always a good time to reflect on the state of literary censorship in America, but this year focused specifically on one of my favorite subjects: comic books.
unnamedReasonTV put out a great short interview with Charles Brownstein, the head of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund that they shot at the San Diego Comic Con. The whole interview is worth a look, but the key takeaway is that comic books are, today, just as they were in the early years of their existence, among the most censored and challenged forms of expression. Two comic book series, the bizarre and often hilarious fantasy “Bone” by Jeff Smith, and of all things, “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey, which actually won a Disney Adventures Kid’s Choice award in 2006, are among theg the top 10 most challenged books.

To quote Mr. Brownstein, “The books kids are reading in their leisure hours are the objects of censorship.”
Sadly, this is hardly new.
Moralizing busybodies have been censoring expression and ruining everything good and fun in the world in the name of protecting “the children” for a long, long time. In America, all it took to shut down comic publishing was one lousy book by an unscrupulous psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham.
In the 1950s, superheroes weren’t what they are today, and the most popular comic books (and movies) were horror and crime titles that featured monsters and murder mystery detective stories. Wertham’s book, “Seduction of the Innocent,” published in 1954, claimed that the themes of violence, death, fantasy, and even (imagined) homosexuality in comic books were corrupting the good nature of America’s youth. In support of this theory, he trotted out evidence compiled from his own clinical research which was since found to have been likely falsified and misrepresented.
To quote the NY Times, following their write-up of the research paper that exposed Wertham’s deception:

“‘Seduction of the Innocent’ was released to a public already teeming with anti-comics sentiment, and Wertham was embraced by millions of citizens who feared for America’s moral sanctity; he even testified in televised hearings.

Yet according to Dr. [Carol L.] Tilley, he may have exaggerated the number of youths he worked with at the low-cost mental-health clinic he established in Harlem, who might have totaled in the hundreds instead of the ‘many thousands’ he claimed. Dr. Tilley said he misstated their ages, combined quotations taken from many children to appear as if they came from one speaker and attributed remarks said by a single speaker to larger groups.”

But, ironically perhaps, it was “Seduction of the Innocent” that had the truly profound impact on American culture, as it provided all the ammunition needed for petty tyrants and moral scolds who pushed the US Government to do something about all those pernicious comic books.
For the children, of course.
unnamed-1Facing a wave of attacks from the government, the comic book industry took a cue from the Motion Picture Association of America, and created its own preemptive censorship board known as the Comics Code Authority. The Comics Code established in 1954 laid out 19 criteria that comic books had to abide by. They include things like, “Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority,” and “Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.”
Naturally, this had a severe chilling effect on comic book publishing. Comic book sales plummeted. According to penciler/inker Joe Sinnott of Marvel Comics (Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Inhumans, The Avengers) by 1958, the industry had suffered so much that rates for the writers and artists had been cut in half. The hugely successful horror and mystery genre comics were gone, and what remained endured a period of creative stagnation while publishers figured out how to work within the new rules. Eventually, some independent publishers began ignoring the Code and produced some darker stories, but without the Comics Code Authority seal of approval, those books would never see the light of day on store shelves.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Marvel Comics finally abandoned the code, and DC continued to abide by it until just 4 years ago in 2010.
unnamed-2It’s important to understand here that while it was technically the industry “self-censoring”, it did so purely as a result of repeated threats from a government which had by that point a well-established history of censoring “undesireable” speech in numerous forms – a government, it should be remembered, that is legally constrained by the 1st Amendment, which expressly prohibits the creation of laws abridging the freedom of individual speech, or of the press.
Censorship is clearly alive and well in America. Even today, the United States is ranked a shocking 46th place on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, our public schools and libraries routinely ban books, and government-funded colleges severely limit speech on campus. Just a few years ago, we saw a hotly controversial Supreme Court case (“Citizens United”) to decide whether or not it was ok for the government to restrict the promotion and distribution of a documentary film simply because it was unfavorable to a prominent and powerful politician (Hillary Clinton) during an election year.
unnamed-3The restrictions on comic books, films, and other entertainment media are one small piece of a very scary picture where the government of the country which is supposed to be the beacon of freedom for the rest of the world is continually grabbing more and more authority to control what people say. A world where ideas and art cannot be shared if a vocal minority of nannies deems those ideas “unsuitable” is a world headed for collapse.
It’s good to know there are people like Charles Brownstein out there standing up for free speech.

A Look Back: X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Comic

So you’ve seen the X-Men: Days of Future Past, the movie, but have you read the original comic book?

That huge movie event has its origins in Uncanny X-Men #141 and 142, just two little old issues from 1980 written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Byrne.

X- Men Uncanny #142
X- Men Uncanny #142

Warning:Spoilers ahead for the comic book; movie spoilers won’t exceed what you see in promotional materials.

Shortly before Days of Future Past, the Claremont/Byrne team made use of another classic storyline, The Dark Phoenix Saga, which resulted in the death of Jean Grey. Cyclops quit the team after that, and leadership duties fell to Storm. In fact, DOFP was her first mission as team leader. The rest of the “present-day” team consisted of Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Angel, and 13-year-old newcomer Kitty Pryde, all under the guidance of Professor X. (Hank McCoy/Beast was an Avenger at this time, following an unsuccessful attempt at spinning him off into his own solo adventures.)

The “future” of the comics’ storyline is 2013, and the robotic Sentinels have taken control, similar to what we see in the movie. A new character named Rachel uses her mental powers to send the adult Kate Pryde’s mind back to her teenage body, at a time before she had been trained to shield herself from any mental attacks.

That’s why Kitty is chosen as the time-traveler—she was the novice. In the movie, they need to send someone back to 1973, before Kitty was born, and since  Hugh Jackman is the star, so writers took liberties with her phasing powers and added “passing people through time” to her usual skill of “passing through solid objects.”

Unlike the movie, her objective is not to save the life of the Sentinels’ inventor, but to save the life of Senator Kelly, whom moviegoers met in the first X-Men film.

Mystique still plays the role of assassin—or rather, leader of a group of mutants out to kill the senator as a show of mutant strength.

Days of Future Past is Mystique’s first appearance in the X-Men comics. She had debuted a couple of years earlier as a nemesis for Ms. Marvel (a non-mutant super-hero and Avenger who today is experiencing a surge of popularity among comics fans as Captain Marvel).

At this point, the comics’ Mystique has no personal ties to Charles Xavier or Magneto. There are hints that she has a connection to Nightcrawler, and we later learn she’s his biological mother. Additionally, Mystique is the foster mother of Rogue, who is about a year away from her comics introduction.

Jennifer Lawrence gives a great performance as Mystique in DOFP, but hers is a more youthful portrayal, a disillusioned young woman whose path and personality haven’t been set in stone yet. From the beginning, comics Mystique comes across as worldly and set in her ways. However, both incarnations are willing to do whatever they feel is necessary to protect their fellow mutants.

Also of note, Professor X and Magneto didn’t even have any personal history at this point in the comics either. Their past friendship was retroactively inserted into continuity about 20 issues later.

X-Men Uncanny #141
X-Men Uncanny #141

Wolverine is a bit more psychotic than Hugh Jackman’s more mature portrayal. At a couple of points, he’s ready to impale a bad guy with his claws, and Storm goes out of her way to stop him and issue a stern warning that he will not slay anyone on her watch. It’s a nice little mid-battle moment giving us an early glimpse of Storm’s leadership potential and reminding us what a shame it is that Halle Berry’s Storm isn’t more fleshed out.

While the present-day battle is a pretty basic brawl, the future scenes were more groundbreaking at the time, as we see our favorite characters in a world in which they’ve failed and don’t have much else to lose. And we see them die. This is basically The End of the X-Men—a true “last stand.”

It’s pretty dark at a time when comics were regarded as kids’ stuff (and indeed, most of them were).

DOFP packed a lot of story into two issues. Modern comics would expand this into at least a six-issue storyline, if not an 18-part crossover across six different X-Men titles.

The writing style is somewhat dated. Claremont tends to be verbose, with characters often saying exactly what they feel.

Still, these comics are worth reading. That goes for the full Claremont/Byrne run, which ran from #108 to #143. They’re fun and exciting whether you’re 10 or 40—as great comics should be.