Book: Life with Kevin

"Life with Kevin"

Kevin Keller is back–and he’s brought some friends! Kevin’s made his move to the Big Apple, and Vernoica Lodge is not far behind! To succeed in New York, he’s going to have to learn how to make time for dating while juggling a high-pressure journalism gig. Will his new life in NYC be a dream come true or will the big city eat him alive? Kevin will learn one thing for sure: when it comes to city living, expect the unexpected!

Reading Life With Kevin was a lot like reading Elizabeth, the Sweet Valley spin-off miniseries that focused on one Wakefield Twin and her journey to find herself. The main characters are definitely more mature than usual, the problems they face are definitely more serious, but everything is still so whimsical even as they face real life adversaries.

And just like with Elizabeth, I feel like Life With Kevin has so much potential that the series doesn’t really explore, because it didn’t want to ruin the cookie-cutter life of well-loved characters. That’s why, even at their most down-trodden, you never empathize with them. Because you know everything will work out for them in the end.

That’s not to say the book wasn’t an enjoyable read. It’s nice fun fluff. It’s just that… Alongside Life With Kevin, Archie Comics also released a new series featuring the titular character and his friends as they would live in the current time. That series, featuring Archie at his clumsiest, manages to be more mature in its handling of conflicts than this mini-series where the characters are supposed to be the mature ones.

I mean, we get storylines where Kevin stands up for his beliefs at work…and by the next chapter, everything is back to status quo. Kevin doesn’t get reprimanded, and it’s not because he sparked a revolution–it’s because he’s good-looking. The characters here are supposed to be adults, but it feels like they’re the cast of Archie Jr.

So I can’t help but be a little disappointed. I guess I just set expectations a little too high for this.

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Movie: Age of Ultron

When Tony Stark jumpstarts a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as they battle to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the villainous Ultron.

I enjoyed the movie for the popcorn flick it was. But does it live up to the hype and the quality of recent Marvel outings like Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy? No. It doesn’t even surpass the quality of the first Avengers movie.

To be fair, I don’t really know what the problem with Age of Ultron is. There was too much going on, but at the same time, I do not know what else they could’ve taken out. There were too many characters, and some of them were short-changed; and I feel like the Hawkeye storyline was more an apology to the actor than an actual need for story-telling purposes. That said, I do love every scene Linda Cardellini was in.

Before I delve into the film further, I must give a warning. I will discuss the film at length and there will be spoilers. So leave now if you have plans of watching the movie, and don’t want to have twists ruined for you. Okay?

Okay. Now, let’s begin with what I didn’t like about the film.

Number one: Black Widow. The Natasha we met in Avengers and got to know better in Winter Soldier is gone. Instead we get a teen-aged girl with a lot of bravado, and a big crush on Bruce Banner. Now, while I understood the appeal of Banner to Natasha, I’m not a fan of how writer Whedon went about in showing it.

We start the film in battle. Natasha shares a moment with The Hulk during said battle. And in the next scene, she’s already flirting with him. (And I don’t care what the Cap says. That was flirting.) It felt so off. And it didn’t feel earned. I felt cheated that Natasha’s journey into realizing she has feelings for the Banner wasn’t shown to us, the audience. But mostly, I didn’t like how the love story was forced upon us when, by the end of the film, it turns out that there was no need for it at all.

Why were we given an undeveloped love story and made to invest in it, if it wasn’t even going anywhere? And no, don’t tell me that it was a set up to Bruce saving Natasha in Sokovia. Thor could’ve done that. There wasn’t even a fucking guard to keep Natasha in that cage. (And, let’s be real. If Natasha was able to make that primitive spy gadget to communicate to Hawkeye where she was, she could make a fucking key to escape that old-as-hell jail cell.)

And don’t tell me it’s a set up for The Hulk to leave the Avengers. Because it sure as hell doesn’t fly. Why? Because of the number two reason I don’t like Age of Ultron: everything Whedon did right by The Hulk in the first Avengers movie was undone in the sequel.

Fans cheered when Hulk was finally given justice on the big screen–thanks to Whedon. So it comes as a big shock that the big guy’s undoing would be in Whedon’s hand as well. Everything established in the first film, of how he was controlling his anger instead of fighting it, was thrown out the window for a love story between him and Natasha. A love story that, as you can tell by now, I’m really not a fan of.

Because it made monsters of the characters we were already growing to love. While Natasha became a damsel in distress that she never should’ve been, Bruce was having an identity crisis. When he’s with Tony Stark, he’s a whipping boy who never stands up for what he believes in. When he’s with Natasha, he’s a stuttering fool who has forgotten that he already dealt with romance before. He had Betty. He knew a relationship with a woman would be hard. But he loved Betty enough that he trusted himself with her.

He doesn’t have that with Natasha because their relationship was never processed properly. (That said, they never acknowledged his relationship with Betty either, so…)

And Hulk flying off into the sunset doesn’t sit well with me either because Bruce has done the running away before. It didn’t work. He understands that he needs people, just as much as he needs to be careful around them.

To be honest, I would’ve liked it better if the rumors from before the film premiered had been true. That the Hulk was catapulted into space while fighting Ultron. Because that’s the only way I can see Bruce leaving his Avengers family. Unwillingly. And, you know what? This could’ve been the major ‘death’ that the heroes could rally around. I mean, none of them would know that the Hulk could survive in space, right?

Because the death that we got? It only actually left an emotional impact on two characters. So, in the end, the whole climax felt disjointed. And this is the third reason why I didn’t like the Age of Ultron movie: there was a huge set-up for a major characters’ demise, but the death we got instead was insignificant. (Which pains me to write, because I absolutely adored Whedon’s and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s take on Pietro Maximoff.)

Let’s break it down: in this film, we finally get to know Clint Barton. We find out he has a family who he’s been trying to keep safe–and secret. Throughout the film, it’s underlined how much more mortal he is compared with the other Avengers–even with Natasha in the mix. And then he makes a promise to his wife, which you know is a death wish in big action films. Then, as a final nail in the coffin, his wife tells him how important he is to the Avengers, because he is the one who grounds them.

Clint Barton becomes the reason why the Avengers are fighting. For the good people who want to do good, not because they are forced to–but because they want to. Because they believe that there is a future worth fighting for.

And while I like the fact that Whedon subverts expectations by not killing Barton, the death of Pietro lacks the emotional punch for it to live up to the build-up Whedon wrote. For more than half the film, Pietro was a villain. A villain with valid intentions and a good back story, but a villain nonetheless. And what’s worse, he only even emotionally connected with Barton. And his sister Wanda, of course. But that’s it. You can’t rally around the death of someone who, for the most part, had been fighting against your goal.

Which is why I think Hulk being catapulted into space would work better was the pay-off to the Barton build up. He is as much a part of the Avengers team as Hawkeye is. He has connections with all the characters–even Wanda who would feel guilty for what she made him do in South Africa. And viewers are already invested in the character.

Now, did we need Wanda’s scream of death that disabled so many Ultrons? Not really. Did we need the badass way she ripped out the main Ultron’s core? That’s a no too, even if it is cool that the main villain dies at the hands of a female character. But we could’ve given that scene to Natasha instead.

I don’t know what I was expecting with Age of Ultron. But whatever it was, it wasn’t the film we got. It wasn’t the sassy-as-fuck Captain America who had a steady stream of sarcastic one-liners at the ready. It wasn’t the hard-headed Tony Stark who did things with reckless abandon, although I wasn’t really surprised by this one. It wasn’t the under-utilized Thor who was literally a deus ex machina. … Literally. What with him being the final key to bring the Vision to life. It wasn’t the Natasha Romanoff who undid all the good that the Natasha in the first Avengers and Winter Soldier had done. And it wasn’t the unsure Bruce Banner who acted without a spine for the entirety of the movie.

But with all my complaints about the movie, I did enjoy watching it. I enjoyed the twins. I enjoyed the Vision. I enjoyed Linda Cardellini, and Samuel L. Jackson, and the introduction of Helen Cho. I loved how it was equally important for our heroes to save the innocent people as it was to defeat the villain. And I loved how the film didn’t shy away from the fact that there will be casualties in battles like this.

And, honestly: I enjoyed the film going boom.

That said, my advice to people who have already enjoyed the film on first viewing? Don’t watch it again. Because I did. And that’s when I picked up all the things that didn’t hold up, and the things I realized I didn’t like.

I really hope Ant-Man is better than Age of Ultron.

Book: Kick-Ass 3

"Kick-Ass 3"

Teenager David Lizewski loved comic books and superheroes. So why couldn’t he be the hero?

He tried. Lacking training and armed only with a pair of batons, Lizewski foolishly donned a costume of his own design and took to the streets to stop crime. His reward for taking on a gang of thugs? A trip to intensive care after he got his ass kicked.

But after intense training from the black belt tween prodigy Hit-Girl, David became the hero known as Kick-Ass. And Kick-Ass went viral in the public consciousness. Overnight, seemingly everyone wanted to be a superhero.

And of course, every superhero needs and archenemy. Chris Genovese, mafia son and the super-villain known as Red Mist, raised an army and tried to raze New York’s Times Square. Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took them down…barely. But there were consequences: Superheroes were outlawed and Hit-Girl went to prison.

Now Dave must step up and lead the superhero team known as Justice Forever, just as a major threat appears on the horizon. Rocco Genovese, an old-school don whose weapon of choice is a golden pickaxe. He’s got 99 kill-notches on that axe. And he’s saving the 100th notch for someone very special.

I thought I was going to be able to predict the ending… I thought wrong. For a grim and gritty comic book series about the pratfalls of being a superhero in the real world, the series sure ended on a whimsical note. Not that I’m complaining. I like that the series ended on hope, even if not all the characters we’ve grown to know survived to the end.

But isn’t that what Kick-Ass has been about since it started? Superhero stories make it seem like everything will always be all right in the end. Even when the odds are obviously not in the hero’s favor. I mean, just take a look at the Superior Spider-Man title. Peter Parker died. Doctor Octopus took over his life. Thirty odd issues later and Peter’s back in his body, and the whole thing is about to get swept under a rug. So long as people need superheroes, they will always prevail. They will always get back up from their graves. Or, if they’re a DC title, they get rebooted for the nth time.

The best thing about Kick-Ass is that his creators, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., granted him something no other superheroes have: an expiration date. David Lizewski gets an actual ending. And that’s one of the biggest reasons why Kick-Ass will live on in fans’ hearts as a great work. Because the plots didn’t need stretching. Because the characters were allowed to grow, and to keep growing until they reached their natural end. And because no weird subplot had to be introduced just to keep the title alive.

There really isn’t a lot to say about Kick-Ass’s final foray into superheroics. It kicked ass. Spectacularly. And I will remember it fondly.

Book: Bakemono High 2

"Bakemono High 2"

Love is in the air at Bakemono High: from love potions to puppy love, this one has it all! COntinuing from the pages of K-Zone Magazine, these are the adventures of Max, Chuck, and Amy, best friends who are too ghoul for school!

If you’re in need for a dose of cute, then you’re in luck–because Bakemono High continues to deliver that in spades. In the title’s second independent collection, creator Elbert Or tackles the intricacies of love…in the high school age. I would argue that the characters sometimes read as grade schoolers, but who knows? Maybe they are. Just because a school is called Blah-blah “High,” it doesn’t automatically mean that all students there are high school students, right?

But I’m getting away from the topic at hand–

Bakemono High delivers what readers continue to expect from the title: light-hearted fun, with a small dose of geekery. And this title, just like the first one, is perfect for casual readers who just want to pass the time in between things to do.

In a perfect world, we can get a longer Bakemono High serial. The characters are way too three-dimensional for them not to have one. But you can’t argue with the winning formula of short and sweet either.

That said, after reading this particular Bakemono High collection, I kinda missed one of Elbert’s older works–the one where he collaborated with Jamie Bautista. Cast. It’s also set in high school, it has romance, and it was one of the best comics serials at the time.

I continue to hold out hope that the Cast characters would be brought to life again. Until then, I’ll content myself with Bakemono High for my dose of the comics-induced warm fuzzies.

Book: Animen 1-4

"Animen"

It was a terrible, horrible plane crash which left many people dead–but Lawrence and five other passengers inexplicably survived it unscathed. But soon after, things got creepy and weird. Angry mythical creatures started haunting Lawrence.

And to make things more complicated and bewildering, a pair of wings spring from his back. Had he become a possible circus attraction–or a winged superhero? What about his fellow survivors? Was the same thing happening to them? Had they become freaks like him?

I’ve only read the first four books so far, and I’m happy to have finally found a Black Ink title that I like. There is purpose in the story, in the events that transpire, and in the holding back of information. But, most importantly, there is a sense of gravity in the way writer Ron Mendoza is handling his characters. You can connect to them. You can relate to them. And you can actually feel the pain that they are going through. And this makes me happy.

No, I don’t mean the pain part. I mean I’m happy that Black Ink actually produced a title that can hold up.

That said, I do feel like Animen could use a good script doctor. Some of the dialogue are clunky, and the plotting is still a little off… But after My Midnight and Dark Side? I’m just happy that Animen exists. And hopefully, the storytelling will continue to improve in the following issues.

Book: Blankets

"Blankets"

This is the most religious graphic novel I picked up– Which is odd, considering what happens in the end.

Okay, backing up a little: I picked this graphic novel up because it looked interesting. A bit pricey at over a thousand pesos; this, along with the visual companion for the World War Z film, was my Christmas present for myself. And if we’re friends, you’ll know that I will never intentionally pick up a religious anything.

So it’s a good thing I had no idea what the graphic novel was about. Because had I an inkling, I wouldn’t have picked it up. And I would have missed out on a great story about brotherhood, family, unconditional love, and religion.

Yes, religion.

I haven’t converted. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Christian in this lifetime. But I do respect the religion and the people who put their faith in it. Especially the ones who actually practices what they preach. And the ones who don’t shy away from the more controversial topics of discussion.

And although this book is far from controversial, it certainly doesn’t shy away from positing thoughts of confusion, of doubt–and I love it. Because isn’t that how you’re supposed to understand things? By thinking. By talking it out. By presenting opposing thoughts that would make everything clearer.

One of the reasons why I don’t like going to church, especially here in the Philippines, is because the word of the priest is good. Notice how I didn’t say “Word of God?” That’s because I don’t think the Christian God speaks through priests. If He’s supposed to speak through people, I would like to think He speaks through our hearts. Because that would be the purest connection, wouldn’t it? The one connection that cannot be altered, affected, misinterpreted?

And that is how I see Blankets. Craig Thompson shares his experience with the religion, but instead of hammering his readers with fact after fact after fact–he lets his heart do the talking.

Are you familiar with Blankets? Have you read it? Share your thoughts with me.

Book: Mythspace

What if creatures from Philippine folklore — the tikbalangs, nuno, kapre — were inspired by actual alien races? That’s the question that fuels the Mythspace stories.

"Lift Off!"

Lift Off! wraps up its story with the third issue, ending with a promise of more adventures. But before we get to the end, let’s talk about the journey going there.

This is still not my favorite story off the Mythspace lot. But having read this final issue of Lift Off!, I can now say that I don’t hate it. In fact, I can even admit that it is a good story. If only it came out all at once.

Honestly: the story took way too long. Couple that with the fact that I found it hard to like the protagonist? The title really dragged for me.

But now that it’s over, I see the potential in the title. As a prequel to other stories, Lift Off! is great. Hopefully though, when it does get a follow-up, the pacing will be better.

"Uncommon Ground"

Uncommon Ground is a solid noir story. So solid that you can actually have it take place in a different milieu and the story would still stand.

Unfortunately, that’s also my main complaint about the story: the characters are interchangeable. This could happen anywhere, any time. The main selling point of Mythspace is not integral to the actual story.

But it is good. I just wish it were more.

And now, I’ve saved the best for last:

"Unfurling of Wings"

Unfurling of Wings is the story I’ve been looking forward to since first being exposed to Mythspace a couple of years before now. And it does not disappoint.

If you’re looking for something to introduce people to the world of Mythspace, you’d do no wrong by giving them this title. The characters are interesting, the milieu is important to the story, and although it feels like a prequel of bigger stories to come, it’s an origin story that can stand on its own.

And the art? I normally don’t talk about the art as that would only draw attention to the fact that I know nothing about it, but I want to commend the artist here. It’s clean, easy to follow, and you can distinguish the characters even when they’re surrounded by creatures that look like them.

Unfurling of Wings is awesome.