BIG HERO 6
It's a big beautiful movie with a strong heart and a good sense of humor. I'm glad I got to see it, even if I never saw or even remember the original comics.
I hope I'm not overreacting, but the movie visually feels like a big jump up in computer animation. Every CGI animated movie has a scene that makes you feel like the animators learned a new trick and found a way to show it off nicely. Some movies have a specific style that you didn't think would work in a CGI movie.
â€¨But the whole look of "Big Hero 6" feels like a big step up somehow. It's not the first movie to have cartoony humans in front of realistic backdrops, but the lighting effects in the movie are spectacular. The car chase at night through the city streets is beautiful. The simpler shots in Hiro's room as the light pours in through a single window and through Baymax are stunning.
They have a way of fogging up the background that looks a little different from traditional bokeh. It's just a little hazier, but without the blurriness and shaped lights you'd associate with traditional large aperture filmmaking.
The new system is a renderer at Disney called Hyperion. What's it capable of?
The city of San Fransokyo has 83,000 buildings built procedurally, plus a similar number of street props and trees. There are 216,000 street lights in the city instanced off six instanced based designs. The pipeline and Hyperion supports instancing and that was used in these shots...
Those numbers are crazy. The overall effect is remarkable. They can control a wide dynamic range in this movie unlike anything I've seen in even the best computer animation. I can't wait to get the Blu-ray for this one so I can study it closer at home.
As a comic geek, I was happy to see "Man of Action" near the beginning of the end credits. (And, yes, stay through to the end for the bonus scene!) I didn't realize John Romita Jr. did some design work for the movie, too. And legendary Disney animator Mark Henn did some 2D animation work, too. (What were those? The end credits?)
That's all the good stuff. The movie is a visual marvel, with a strong character focus on Hiro and Baymax. The problem is, everything else suffers around that relationship. The other four members of Big Hero 6 are one-dimensional filler. (One gains an extra dimension in the post-credits scene.) What purpose do they serve? What's their story arc? How much do they add to the story? Honestly, not a whole lot. They're fun and occasionally funny. They serve as a Greek Chorus of sorts for Hiro.
But are they necessary, beyond the idea of having a superhero team for the movie? I think it would have been possible to rewrite the movie without any of them, beef up Hiro's aunt's role, and have a very similar movie.
Hopefully, there'll be a sequel and we can have more time to learn about them. In the meantime, they come off as the Happy Meal toy characters to round out the licensing department's mandate.
So, yes, do go see the movie. It's worth the time. I saw it in 3D and that worked for me. I want to see it in 2D next, if only to see the screen a little more brightly. Until then, Wired has an excellent article up on Disney's animation rebirth leading up to "BH6" that'll make for great reading and give you hope for the future of animation there.
EUROPEAN-STYLE COMICS: A NEW TREND?
Two recent Image launches, "Tooth and Claw" and "Drifter," have a very European feeling to them. I could picture these books as oversized albums, released once a year. They're beautiful science-fiction/fantasy books with imaginative stories and strong visuals.
"Tooth and Claw" launched last week. It's the anthropomorphic fantasy book created by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey. Set in a city that floats on islands and is populated by talking dogs, bears, and more, the book looks to star Dunstan, a teenaged dog looking to follow in his father's trader footsteps. Or, no, wait, maybe it stars Gharta of Daiir, the magician (on the cover) who unites a large number of powered folks to attempt to revive the flagging magical powers that they've come to rely on. By the end of the issue, they've both played big parts.
Things are in flux enough that anything can happen, and that's the exciting part. There's no clear and obvious over-all story arc here to be guessed at yet. Is this a quest book? A survival book? A political or war title? A fight for a species' survival? We don't know yet, and that's fun. Any of those might work; I'll be interesting in seeing which road Busiek pursues.
Busiek drops a lot of knowledge on you in this 40-page first issue. The script is packed with small details that you can gloss over in many cases to follow the thrust of the story, but that I have a hunch will prove more important to varying degrees in the issues ahead. It's clear that Busiek has thought this world out, and is smartly providing enough to keep the reader interested without completely overwhelming you.
The first issue does a good job in setting up the world of "Tooth and Claw" and then changing it to start things moving. It may not be a complete story in one issue, but it is a satisfying chunk (â„¢ Heidi MacDonald). It's the complete first act of the story, and ends at an opportune time for a serialized comic to take a break.
It's also a ridiculously beautiful comic. I've seen a lot of references to "Blacksad" as a comparison point. It's not far off from that, in that it's an anthropomorphic book done in a realistic style. Benjamin Dewey's work is filled a large cast of human-acting animals, draped in decorative clothes. But he also gets in the background details, complicated city structures, and a generally strong sense of place. The characters feel at home in their world.
Architecture is not hidden or obscured with clever angles. Dewey draws all of that in, including the tile patterns on the floors, the archways that are common, and the very natural looking railings that permeate ships and roofs. It's a lot to take in, and I loved going back to focus more on those little details after I had finished reading the story.
Credit also goes to colorist Jordie Bellaire, whose contributions to the book are completely additive. She gets out of the way of the art, for starters. Her palette is muted and earth-toned, yet bright enough to not obscure the art. She knocks out the line work for distant backgrounds to help create a distinct difference in the depth between foreground and background. You don't need 3D glasses for a book like this when you have simple techniques being used like that.
But you also see the more subtle work being done with Bellaire's textures. You might not notice them at first and you might just assume they were drawn in, if you did. But look more carefully at some of the details in the coloring work. See how her colors are drawn in not with fancy custom Photoshop paintbrushes, but with care to compliment the line work with the colors. Shadow areas have edges that mimic the texture of the fur of the character, for example. It almost feels watercolored.
Comicraft wraps things up with a distinctive look and design to the lettering in the issue. Word balloons run without the black stroke around the outside, just one line alone where the tail would normally be. The caption boxes are all caps while the dialogue is mixed case, which helps to separate out moments of the story done in an authoritative omniscient voice as opposed to the dialogue done in "real time."
It's a complete package, and a well made one, at that. It runs 40 pages of story with a wrap-around cover, and a mere $2.99 price tag. There's not a better deal in comics this month.
This week sees the release of "Drifter" #1 by writer Ivan Brandon and artist Nic Klein. It starts with a spaceship crash landing on a planet, before things get arguably worse for its pilot. I need to keep things vague, but let's leave it at the pilot winding up on a frontier town filled with, er, "interesting" people while bigger mysteries surround him.
"Drifter" is a smaller book than "Tooth and Claw." It's clearly focused on one protagonist. While Brandon is doing a fair bit of world building here -- including multiple landscapes -- he's not trying to create the full society and world that Busiek does with "Tooth and Claw." This story is narrower. You, as the reader, will know just as much as the star of the book, which helps maintain the mystery.
That said, Brandon gives you enough to follow the story and be interested in what's going on without feeling like a giant tease. There's a final twist at the end of the book that raises new questions without feeling forced or tacked on.
The immediate star of the book, though, is Nic Klein's art. He's coloring himself on the title, and the end results are fantastic. His style has a slightly watercolored look to it, alternating between dark green interiors and overwhelmingly bright orange and purple exteriors. The textures and tones set the look of the book. It looks in part like a "Metabarons" story and at times a bit like something Dean White might color, as on "Black Science," another book which fits this European theme. It does get a bit muddied in darkness in some scenes, but it doesn't ruin the art at all. The fact that there are other pages with brighter colors shows that Klein isn't using it as a crutch to cover up his art.
"Drifter" #1 can be had on store shelves this week for its normal cover price of $3.50. If you want to go digital, it's only $2.99 at Image's website.
Thematically speaking, Image also has the aforementioned "Black Science," which might be my favorite series at the moment, and the recently-concluded "Starlight," which was done by two European creators, as a matter of fact. I hope this is a new trend of sorts, just like I hope the next trend follows the other side of Euro-comics with books like Papercutz puts out, including "The Smurfs," "Dance Class," or "Toto Trouble." I'll have more to say on some of those in the coming weeks...
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #321: "Under War!"
Spider-Man fights with Paladin and Silver Sable to uncover the Life Foundation's pivot into a survivalist shelter for yuppies.
The book opens on action, with Spider-Man and Paladin taking on a small private army in the train yards as they attempt to dig up some information they need on the Life Foundation. After toppling a train car to keep the army at bay, Paladin goes inside to dig up the disks with the information Silver Sable might need to figure out what's going on.
The proportionate strength of a spider comes in handy sometimes:
I like the body language on Spider-Man's part there. He makes it look so simple, but it's also easy for the reader to forget just how powerful he is. We're so concerned with how lithe he is and how he swings through the city and avoids trouble with the help of his Spider Sense, but forget that he's pretty strong, too. Extra credit goes to Rick Parker on the "PLAM" lettering there, even if the "M" kind of falls apart off the end of that one. I like the angle it starts out, where it integrates into the page like a modern movie's credit listing. (Think "Panic Room," for one example.)
Spider-Man, distracted by what he thinks is Aunt May's bad health, takes out his frustrations on the soldiers, throwing them around like rag dolls. Even Paladin notices it.
From there, we go into the soap opera stuff, where Peter discovers that Aunt May is fine; it's everyone's favorite gambling addict, Nathan Lubensky, who's having heart issues. Aunt May loves the man, so she's closing down her house for guests to better take care of him. Peter and Mary Jane are once again on the look-out for a new place to live.
Turn the page.
Hey, they're helping Liz and Harry Osborne move into their new place. What could possibly go wrong there? Nothing, but they happen to have an upstairs area they could rent to the Parkers. Peter has roof access for his Spider-Doings, and the rent is cheap.
Problem solved. Life lesson learned: Networking is a valuable skill to have, even if it's with psychotic guys who dress up as demons and throw bombs in the shape of fruits.
David Michelinie just made a comic strip there. In the first scene, he sets up the problem. In the second, it starts to scale. By the end of the third, two disparate situations come together to plan a neat ending and all is resolved.
It's enough filler to get us to the next big action piece, starting with Silver Sable flying Spider-Man and Paladin back to New Jersey, only to crash her plane to serve as a distraction to get them into the underground lair where the bad guys are.
We return to the site of issue #299's fight scene, with our trio taking on a series of mutated mercenaries who've undergone an awful transformation turning themselves into dumb, but powerful, blobs of muscle. They look like Clayface and punch like Hulk.
After taking their share of licks, Paladin and Spider-Man use their wits -- plus the ever-popular electric panel and some environmental factors like the powerful sprinkler system -- to overpower the survivalist's protectors and get the information they needed.
That information leads back to Symkaria, where the royal family is in considerable danger. We'll get to more about that next issue.
We get a couple of nice examples in the issue of Todd McFarlane using the comic book format to tell the story in ways you just couldn't in a movie or TV show.
The lesser example is just this panel border:
McFarlane by this time has drawn dozens of scenes consisting of two people talking on the phone. I've seen him illustrate those with phone cords as panel borders, and even spider-webbing. Here, he uses the Spider-symbol as a way to help get across that while it's Peter Parker we see on panel, he's acting as Spider-Man for the sake of this phone call. It's a nice gentle reminder.
The other bit reminds me of a classic cartoon bit, so I suppose it could be done in the movies, but I don't think it would fly so well:
The same guy takes three punches. Paladin's punch comes right down the middle, while Spider-Man gets his kicks in from the left in the left panel and the right in the right panel. Remember those "Three Caballeros" cartoons with Donald Duck where someone would walk off-screen to the right and magically walk back on screen at the left? This is kind of like that, but keeping the panels positioned in one horizontal row is a nice graphical touch to the storytelling.
Apropos of Absolutely Nothing: I really liked this panel when I first read it in 1989:
It wasn't a typical panel with a straight rectangular border. It had a one point perspective. It has speedlines. It had dramatic lighting, even if the coloring was monotone, with limited white spots as highlights. Spider-Man is in an appropriately spidery position. It's just cool. Small, but cool.
That Page Where Spider-Man Swings Through the City, Recapping the Plot: This issue, David Michelinie did away with Spider-Man's swinging and sent him underground to catch a subway, instead.
Felix Watch: During the Osborn move, Felix shows up as tiny as can be in a box next to the couch Peter Parker is "resting" on.
Who's the Blonde? At the end of the issue, Spider-Man signs up for a job with Silver Sable to help out with security in Symkaria. Paladin can't make it because he has "a date with a blonde." Pardon this lapse of memory, but was that just a line, or was he really dating someone in the Marvel Universe at the time? I don't remember him being in any other books in 1989. Was he in "Captain America," maybe?
Next issue: The action moves to Symkaria, which is like a Disney fairy land castle country set in the Marvel Universe. And the bi-weekly schedule starts to show in McFarlane's art.