Black Panther Review

“You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.”

 

black-panther-poster

 

Since the fantastic first look at Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa in Civil War, I’d been eagerly anticipating this solo film and a full look at his world. It certainly didn’t disappoint, going beyond my already high expectations in a wonderfully realized film with both captivating moments of superhero action and deep, resonant themes that provide a lot to think about. This is a film that shows deep respect for culture and tradition while carefully considering the forces and necessity of change, largely through Michael B. Jordan’s fantastic showing as a villain who has validity in his point of view but flaws in his chosen course of action. Eric Killmonger’s rhetoric isn’t easily dismissed, and the moral questions he inspires in T’Challa both anchor and plague our hero’s story.

Mention should also be made of Black Panther’s excellent portrayal of women as an important part of their society in a seamless way that speaks to true respect. The new king is surrounded by several confident, powerful women who are rightfully treated as the experts they are, have significant roles in the narrative, and are amazingly brought to life by pitch perfect performances by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letita Wright, and Angela Bassett (among others).

I’m not going to attempt a full laundry list of all the other ways in which Black Panther excels, but it’s simply excellent and continues the evolution of Marvel Cinematic Universe in important ways. It reminded me a bit of the also incredible Thor: Ragnarok, in elements like the way secondary characters are getting deeper and more nuanced development as well as (further) refining the impeccable balance of drama and humor the MCU’s known for. This is one of the very best movie’s I’ve seen in recent memory, and it’s wonderful to see a film strive for such depth and meaning while entertaining and succeed so thoroughly.

Beautiful Dreams 2: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams, I’ve been a fan of Juri H Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work. Here I’d like to share and talk about more of it (as well as ramble a bit about the stories and inspirations behind certain pieces).

 

 

Juri continues to be heavily featured in Perna Studios excellent card sets. I’ve been lucky enough to get several diverse, beautiful sketch cards of hers from sets like Witchcraft, Elementals, etc, in addition to having the opportunity to commission some incredible Artist Proofs (APs) as well.

Juri’s also done promo and base card art for Perna’s sets, and special cards including metal and spot foil chase cards and variants.

 

 

Some particularly interesting pieces of my collection include unique original works, such as Juri’s original pencils underlying her Mistress of the Night piece (the final version of which I featured in Beautiful Dreams) and colored and original art versions of her page from Sarah “Sakky” Ruth Ford’s Magical Girl Coloring Book.

 

 

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been more fantastic additions to my collection, with the great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements.

As always I adore her use of color, particularly in her hand drawn work, and like with her Perna sketch cards and APs above that aspect also really shines in her PSCs. Seeing her visions of some of my favorite characters come to life has been a real treat. I’m a diehard gamer, with particular preference to RPGs and fighting games over the years. With Juri’s pitch perfect confrontation between Kasumi and Ayane from Dead or Alive and jaw dropping melding of Morrigan and Lilith from Darkstalkers joining the original sketches I got from her featuring Millia Rage, Jam Kuradoberi, and Dizzy from Guilty Gear, I now have incredible renditions of all of my favorite characters to play from each of my favorite fighting game series.

 

 

Valkyrie Profile is my single favorite RPG of all time, and Juri’s intricately detailed, soft yet strong interpretation of Lenneth Valkyire is exquisite. Favorite series honors go to Persona, and I adore Juri’s vibrant, striking depiction of a key supporting character from one of the series’ best entries.

 

One of the more unique requests I’ve made is a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. Mitsuru’s already showing great potential and instincts even with only a little over a year in wrestling, and I adore the incredible way Juri’s captured and combined her strength, determination, grace, and beauty in this remarkable rendition.

 

IMG_9736

Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

The last two pieces I’d like to talk about are anime/manga related. I’m using the word “favorite” a lot, but in explaining the inspirations for choosing these subjects across various mediums it has been appropriate and illustrative in every case. Gorgeous animation, thought provoking stories, and an incredible atmosphere come together to make Kino’s Journey my all time favorite anime. Juri perfectly related Kino’s cool, somewhat detached demeanor resting for a moment atop Hermes against a wonderful background horizon that evokes the show’s sense of traveling through a vast, intriguing world.

 

Rosario Vampire is an amusing, fan-service and action heavy harem style manga based around a high school for monsters where students regularly get into fierce battles with one another. It has solid story progression once it gets going, but is admittedly largely formulaic and trope ridden. However halfway through the second “season” of the manga there’s a side story,  introducing a relatively minor supporting character (who didn’t even make the anime adaptation), which embraces and upends cliches in equal measure to present a nuanced, emotional story that is easily at the top of the (long) list of things I’ve read. San Otonashi is a phenomenal character and (here’s that word again 😉 ) an absolute favorite of mine despite her relative obscurity. Even with being initially unfamiliar with San, Juri was able to create a gorgeous, spot on card of her, conveying both delicacy and strength and again really elevating the final work with her incredible coloring.

 

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her incredible creations for a long time to come. 🙂

 

——-

Edit 2/9/18: I recent received three more wonderful Personal Sketch Cards by Juri, and wanted to add them to this celebration of her art.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is an incredible, unique adventure. At its heart are Kuro’s ever curious companions Ninjuku and Sanju, enjoying their journey but also gradually losing their blissful ignorance of the larger world around them. Juri’s wonderfully captured their playfulness and variation of personality.

 

IMG_0079

 

Brian Q Miller’s Batgirl series was an wonderful comic with the headstrong yet lovable Stephanie Brown in the titular role. One of my favorite issues of the run was a lighthearted story about her friendship with Supergirl. I absolutely love Juri’s rendition of the two of them together.

 

IMG_0080

 

Finally, Food Wars is a surprisingly fantastic manga/anime with a sports competition manga feel applied to idea of a highly competitive cooking school. Beneath the (admittedly enjoyable) humor,fan service, and general ridiculousness are compelling story arcs featuring an interesting, fun cast. A personal favorite of mine is prodigy Alice Nakiri, who’s simultaneously sheltered/immature and world traveled/formidable in a highly amusing way. Her confidence and attitude are perfectly reflected in Juri’s depiction.

 

IMG_0078

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

“I know you want to save the world. But… you’re not ready yet.”

 

Spider-Man_Homecoming

 

I enjoyed bits and pieces of Sam Raimi’s original three Spider-man movies, but overall they weren’t as good as they should have been. I never had enough interest to bother watching the “Amazing Spider-Man” films. But I read a fair number of comics featuring him when I was younger and have always been interested in seeing a proper representation of the character on-screen.

Given the success and quality of Marvel’s ever expanding cinematic universe, news that they reached a deal to reacquire Spidey for use in their own films brought a lot of excitement. The new version of the character was introduced in Civil War, and Tom Holland impressed immediately as the perfect person to channel the balance of earnestness and awkwardness Peter needed.

Still, the high school setting that needs to be incorporated in a solo Spider-Man movie is tricky, and there were points of concern going into this new vision of the wallcrawler. As contradictory as it sounds, I thought things were executed both really well and with somewhat lackluster execution.

Make no mistake, the movie is great overall. When things start to come together the level of tension and emotional pitch are perfect, the action scenes are striking and fun, and the acting throughout is excellent. The catch is getting to the point where the movie becomes fantastic and all of the groundwork pays off is so boring. It shouldn’t be, as there’s nothing wrong with the plotting, acting, nor approach in the first half of the movie as the specifics of Peter’s life and all the important characters around him are introduced. Yet somehow despite being necessary and competently done the film lacks something to fully engage the viewer and shake the feeling of waiting for “the good stuff” to happen. Again, it’s not bad, but the early sections feel slow and pedestrian despite touches of humor and a solid underlying story.

And then a switch flips, and all the buildup, potential, and patience pay off in a big way. The climax of the movie is fantastic, anchored by incredible performances by Michael Keaton as a smart, dangerous antagonist just a few degrees of center and by Holland as a wannabe hero coming of age. Homecoming became everything I wanted from a Spider-Man movie by the end, it just took it a while to get there. Hang in for the full ride, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the MCU’s best scenes and performances. I just hope next time they’ll skip right to that feeling from the get go.

Thor: Ragnarok Review

“Kneel before your queen.

 

thor3

 

I enjoyed the first Thor movie and its epic feel that really hasn’t been replicated in other Marvel movies, despite some pacing issues. The second one was fine, shining in the interactions between Thor and Loki amid a serviceable but somewhat lackluster plot and paint by numbers villain.

Third time is the charm here, and this was a flat out blast. Ragnarok feels like a music video come to life in places in the best way possible. Thor and Loki again provide the movie’s emotional core, and with a logical plot that still manages a couple of nice twists and a larger than life antagonist the layered story shines. Of course on top of all of that are healthy layers of action and humor.

Said humor largely works and several awesome moments had me unexpectedly laughing out loud. However in other parts it admittedly tries way too hard, and the characterization of a certain green supporting cast member felt really odd, with depth and consistency often sacrificed for running gags. The movie also drags just a touch in the middle and the use and/or absence of certain characters from the previous movies was … interesting. On the other hand, there are also great new cast additions.

Overall though I thought this was fantastic, with a strong story featuring compelling characters and numerous fun moments.

Hinges: Mechanical Men Review

Mechanical Men” is the third and final collected volume of the webcomic Hinges.

 

hinges3

 

Hinges started strong with an initial volume (Clockwork City) that introduced a just awakened Orio to a curious new city and some ominous happenings. Volume 2 (Paper Tigers) widened the scope a bit and, while I felt it wasn’t quite as strong as volume 1, continued Orio’s tale in a fairly compelling way. Both proceeding volumes were highlighted by compelling characters and moments of genuine emotion.

After the harrowing events of Paper Tigers, Orio is left dejected and unmotivated. But the changes in Clockwork City since she’s been gone provide quite a shock upon her return…

 

Mechanical Men brings everything together in a reasonable conclusion. Without getting into spoilers I’ll admit I wanted more explanation on certain things, but this was a strong finish regardless. There were enough details provided there to follow the important reveals and resolutions, and as throughout the story was anchored with really great character moments (for several of the cast) worked into the escalating stakes and danger. The end scene in particular was perfect.

Overall Hinges is a compelling, incredibly illustrated read right up until the end. There was potential for it to reach even greater heights, but what’s here is an easy recommendation as it is.

Hinges: Paper Tigers Review

“Paper Tigers” is the second collected volume (of three) of the webcomic Hinges.

 

hinges2

 

Clockwork City was an excellent introduction to Orio and the world she woke up to. There were strong characters, an interesting city readers got gradual glimpses into, and intriguing and harrowing strange happenings to build mystery and tension.

Paper Tigers shifts gears a bit, and while still quite good I didn’t find it quite as engaging. I wanted to learn more about how things worked in Clockwork City before moving on to the mysteries of what lurked outside, and a lot of this volume felt less like a compelling, unfolding mystery and more like the author was holding too much back. The general idea is fine: the readers are exploring with Orio and learning things as she does. But at this point Orio has more of a framework to work with than the reader, and the disconnect broke immersion for me a bit. I was less into the ordeal Orio was going through now and still wondering about what had come before.

That said, the larger world of Hinges does hold a lot of fascination and danger, and in the end it feels like a significant amount of progress has been made in the overarching story. Character development, particular with Orio and Bauble, continues to be the biggest strength of the series and generates genuinely emotional moments throughout this book.

As with book 1 the art is beautiful, although I found action sections a bit hard to follow this time and some of the color palates made details hard to process. Stopping to reexamine panels wondering exactly what was happening again breaks immersion and the story’s momentum.

This is a hard volume to review. I wanted more from it. Much more. But what’s here is still very good overall and makes narrative sense, with some huge reveals and developments going into the final volume.

Hinges: Clockwork City Review

“Clockwork City” is the first collected volume (of three) of the webcomic Hinges.

 

hinges1

 

I originally started reading Hinges without any foreknowledge, based solely on randomly coming across the wonderfully haunting opening image of the main character, Orio. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was very intrigued, and was incredibly impressed as I began her unique tale.

Orio wakes up with no memory in a strange clockwork town called Cobble. While disorienting to Orio it’s apparently not unusual as and administrator immediately begins her initiation. It’s a wonderful way to start as Orio is in the same limited information state as the reader, but with other characters already on hand to provide a little framework we get a nice, seamless introduction to world. It’s delightfully imaginative, from it’s doll and marionette citizens to the “ODD” companions they all have to the general design of their surroundings. Little hints and details about how Cobble works are unobtrusively given as the comic progresses while the main focus stays firmly on the characters.

And what delightful characters we’re given. The silent Orio is a strong lead, possessing something that makes her immediately endearing. The reader feels for her confusion, admires her determination and cheers her strength. The lovably mischievous Bauble is a source of humor, trouble and mystery in equal measure. Add in several strong yet diverse personalities around them and Hinges has an excellent cast all around.

One of the unusual things about Hinges is the use of numerous sections without dialog. Authors that are confident enough to get out of the way and let the story proceed at its own pace and its own manner make me very happy. When used right it really enhances pacing and impact. One of my favorite manga, A Bride’s Tale, is a great example of this and I love it in Hinges too. The plot moves at a perfect pace and good use of this technique is a big reason why.

The art is exquisite. It has a soft feel that occasionally “hardens” a little when tension or danger are present. The subdued color palette helps establish a great atmosphere for the comic and subtly changes in different locations. In general the coloring is among the best I’ve seen in comics.

Clockwork City is a great start to a comic that became an instant favorite of mine. I couldn’t wait to learn more about Orio, Bauble and their strange little world.