Sunday, January 29, 2012

Isaiah Bradley, the New American, and Shout outs to Rogue Squadron

It was before the release of Star Wars Episode III, when I heard George Lucas reveal that he was going to put together a movie about the Tuskeegee Airmen. I remember being very excited about this movie much more so then watching Episode III. Whenever someone would negatively criticize Lucas, I made it a point to bring up the mythical production of a mainstream movie about the Tuskeegee Airmen. Being a historian, World War II has become one of my favorite eras to cover with the contributions by African American pilots and tank crews, Chinese partisans, and Russian female fighter pilots being my favorite parts. So when I saw the preview to "Red Tails," I have to admit that I had a large emotional investment in the project.

American pop culture in general has been very nostalgic when it comes to doing movies or stories about WWII. That war is considered "the just war." It is sacred ground. Anything about segregation, Japanese internment camps, and the dropping of bombs on civilians (Dresden stands out the most) is never to be discussed. The last movie that dealt with segregation in the US military during WWII was HBO's Tuskeegee Airmen in which Lucas took many cues from. With a smaller budget but stellar cast, HBO produced a wonderful piece. Lucas employed probably one of the best satirical writers in Hollywood today: Aaron McGruder and John Ridley. The most critical approach to WWII was put together in comic book form by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker entitled "Truth: Red, White, and Black." It's release in 2003 was controversial in geekdom since the story implied that the U.S. military experimented on African American soldiers with the untested super soldier serum that later made Steve Rogers Captain America. We learn that the original Captain America, Isaiah Bradley, was secretly fighting Nazi's while Rogers was doing parades and USO shows. Thankfully, Marvel Comics has kept Bradley's story as canon. What was interesting in the latest movie adaptation of Captain America is Derek Luke's role as Gabriel Jones one of the members of Howling Commandos. Luke's Gabriel Jones was the renaissance man speaking several languages, able to operate almost every vehicle, out punch any Nazi, and even give a shout out to Howard University.

It's important to note that McGruder on his popular Boondocks series on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, wrote a story about the elder Freeman as a Tuskeegee Airman entitled "Wing Man." It was probably one of the funniest episodes of that season. Ridley also penned a jingoistic period piece entitled "The American Way" for DC Comics about fake superheroes employed by the US government during the Civil Rights era to entertain the public. The black superhero of that story was called "The New American." His power was being impervious to almost anything but the catch was that he would still feel the pain of the particular onslaught be it bullets or flamethrower. We see that same approach to the characters in Red Tails. Most of them are hard, gritty pilots who can match barbs with the best of them but understand that their presence in the Army Air Corps stands by a thread.

Unlike HBO's story of the Fightin' 99th, Red Tails lacks substance. If anything Ne Yo is annoying. There is someone named Joker (Elijah Kelley) but all the comic relief attempts were done by Ne Yo. Cuba Gooding, Jr. was restrained in his role as Major Emanuelle Stance. Although, he had few lines, Gooding did well playing the old pilot dropping jewels on his young fighter pilots. While I love Nate Parker, he did not sell his role as squadron leader Marty "Easy" Julian. The stand out performance was by new comer David Ayewolo who played Easy's Wingman, Joe "Lightning" Little. Ayewolo carried the movie and one couldn't help but root for him. Like any black and white movie produced in the 1950s about WWII pilots, Parker played the by the book squadron leader who has conflicts with the maverick pilot. Unfortunately, we didn't see that chemistry played well between the two.

What I enjoyed the most about the movie is that it was about fighter pilots. Anyone who has worked around fighter pilots will tell you that they are a unique breed who want to see action. They disdain anything that grounds them. I know quite a few Colonels who are up for desk jobs who refuse to do this and want to remain fighter pilots until their heart stops. We see that conflict arise when Ray "Junior" Gannon (Tristan Wilds) is grounded by the flight surgeon. At one point Gannon laments that he would rather die than be grounded. This is how real fighter pilots think. Gannon, who insists on being addressed by his call name "Ray Gun," is referred to as Junior because of his green ears. As he is shot down and taken prisoner by the Germans, we see his fellow POWs rely on him. When he escapes and returns to his unit, they immediately call him "Ray Gun." There is even a Nazi villain. What's a fun movie about WWII without it's Nazi villain. The Tuskeegee Airmen even dub him "Pretty Boy." I must admit that I jumped up when he was blown out of the sky.

Overall, the movie could use some work. The acting leaves much to be desired. The pacing is slow. The real struggle of the Tuskeegee Airmen was pretty much written out. Lucas admitted that there was so much to cover and let's face it, the American audience disdains long history lessons. The movie is fun and the action is unparalleled. The dog fights are realistic and the costumes are spot on. I took my daughter to see this. Like my other children, she is familiar with the story of the Tuskeegee Airmen, Patton's Panthers, and Russian women fighter pilots. Like her father, my daughter is a huge Star Wars fan and I wanted to share this moment with her. She found the movie to be fun and entertaining. I think that was the entire point. So this writer salutes Lucas and I hope his gamble pays off.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Avengers Origins: Luke Cage

Written by Adam Glass & Mike Benson

I enjoy when artists re-imagine a particular character. Even as a child, I had my issues with Luke Cage. Under Brian Michael Bendis's hand, however, Cage has been rehashed and remade. I enjoy it. They removed the stereotypical garb and he fights in regular civvies. He has been on the Avengers roster for awhile now. Honestly, he has become one of my favorite Marvel characters. This is a clear demonstration about how in comics it's about great writing instead of dope powers and a great costume.

When I saw the Avengers Origins series, I assumed it was another Marvel attempt to cash in on the Avenger's franchise. While Cage gets so much shine in several of the Avengers titles, I decided to pick it up. While Adam Glass doesn't change much about the story: Luke Cage was a street thug with a big heart and gets framed. While in jail, he takes part in an experiment that gives him his steel like skin and super human strength. He escapes jail and decides to use his muscle for good. What Glass changes are his motivations.

Cage confronts the childhood friend who betrays him and earns justice. I did cringe when I notice that he was wearing the black tights with the yellow disco shirt. I think that's where I have my issues. While I like Dalibor Talajic's pencils, there are pages where the work gets muddled. One some pages you can tell he took his time and on others, the pencils look rushed. While the artwork needed more work, the writing is on point.

If you are wondering, it is something that you should pick up. While Luke Cage doesn't have his own comic, he continues to be a major character in the Marvel Universe. It's good to learn something more about his past.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011: How it all went down...

One would think that all of the great stuff going down in 2011, we would have all the posts and exclusives. Time flies when you are having fun, so we dropped the ball about 1,000 times on this blog. We felt it was only fitting that we give at least one more post for 2011 even though it is 2012 as we post this. Again, forgive us our transgressions...

One graphic novel that stood out to us was of course, a non hero graphic novel. "99 Days" which was written by Matteo Casali and illustrated by Kristian Donaldson. It's on the Vertigo imprint which has released a gang of graphic novels and comic series dealing with crime and investigation. Some of it is great but much of it is not even worth the five finger discount. Vertigo still puts out quality stuff for being on the DC side so there other titles to check out. I will say that "99 Days" does a wonderful job of intertwining genocide with police brutality and gang violence as well as poverty and political strife without being too preachy or cliche. The artwork fits both locales in Rwanda and Los Angeles and it works seamlessly. Casali pulls off several twists. This better win an Eisner Award.

Vertigo did publish the last DMZ (Issue Number 72) this month. Let me say I love Brian Wood's writing. Ricardo Burchielli's art really kept up the storyline throughout its 72 issue run. The covers are probably the best in the biz. Vertigo knocked it out of the park with this. It won a gang of awards. I know some professors who use it in their political science and journalism class. I knew eventually, the series would end because of it's setting: Civil war torn New York City. I didn't like the last issue too tough. I mean Wood did a great job tying so many loose ends before the series ended. The last issue did bring back many of the characters we know and love. I just felt that it was outside of the story. I know it takes place 15 years after the previous issues when the war is way over, but still. It felt too distant. I wanted more. So yes, I am saying you can avoid this issue.

I will admit that the Captain America movie did not disappoint. It was everything I expected it to be. It's a wonderful piece of American propaganda when our soldiers fought the just fight and were heroic enough to be bulletproof. I love Captain America, I just don't dig this sanitized version of WWII. I think the movie played right into that. It even removed anything Nazi from history. That bothered me too much. I do think that Chris Evans redeemed himself in this role. He did horrible in Fantastic Four even though I felt much of the blame should be placed on the writers and didn't do too well in Push (even though he did his thing in "Sunshine," but again, the writer and director get full credit for that one). I give Marvel points for putting Gabriel Jones (played by Derek Luke) and giving a shout out to Howard University. What saved the movie was the last 5 minutes when Rogers is awakened in the 21st century by SHIELD.

The real winners of 2011 had to be DC with their 52 line. No one saw that coming and everyone thought it would be a flop. They hit us with four titles featuring non white characters: Mr. Terrific, Static Shock, Bat Wing, and Blue Beetle. While many might argue that some of these super heroes lean on other white heroes to work, who else is putting out non white superheroes with this much distribution. Marvel isn't anymore. Is this progress? I don't know but its a step in the right direction. It was a big risk especially in this economy for DC to do something like that so I have to give them cool points for that. I have heard many white cats call it a publicity stunt and that's a shame that some folks feel that way. We all know that paper is going the way of the do do and digital is where it's at. So DC get's love for taking that risk.

And yes for 2012, we plan on highlighting independent comic books by non white writers and illustrators so stay tuned for that.

The biggest story of 2011 was Ultimate Spider Man as Miles Morales. Even Fox News came out to blame Michelle Obama on that one. As usual Brian Michael Bendis did not disappoint. If you haven't checked it out already please do. Your best bet is to get the digital comic or wait for the Trade Paper Back. Yes, it's that crucial. I have to say that Marvel took a big risk on this one and it came through for them. The story is just so dope. So much to go over. It's not Peter Parker in black face. Bendis brings all the nuances of being a black child in NYC in the 21st century. Morales is about my sons. Morales is about me growing up in NYC trying to figure it out.

With all this and more, 2012 will be an interesting year in comics.

Thanks to all that follow us and pass our blogs around. We appreciate it. Yes! if you are wondering, more posts in 2012.