Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Movies by the Numbers: Ghostbusters Afterlife (2021)

How far would you go? Just how much are you willing to sacrifice for your life's work? Would you give up your savings, your career, your friends, your reputation, your family... your life? Director Jason Reitman honours his father's work with his latest film, Ghostbusters Afterlife, which also honours my favourite character in the franchise, Dr. Egon Spengler, played by the late Harold Ramis.

Dr. Spengler's daughter, now an adult and mother of two, didn't know her father. Her children know nothing of their grandfather. They don't know why he abandoned the family, moved to a creepy run-down farm in the middle of nowhere, and filled his property with junk. The grandkids don't know of the Manhattan Cross-Rip of '84, have never seen a miniaturized particle accelerator backpack, and don't recognize the old Cadillac rusting in the barn...

Through exploring their granddad's property, and thanks to teacher Paul Rudd's stories of New York in the '80s, Phoebe and Trevor piece together just who their Grandpa Egon was, what sort of life he lived -- and what he died fighting for. But with little more than their grandfather's old gadgets, an once-white Cadillac, and the couple of misfit kids from town they might call friends, can they possibly stand a chance where even Dr. Spengler, the Brains of the Ghostbusters, fell?

Of the main cast, the only actor I recognize is Paul Rudd, who is such a good casting choice that his inclusion alone gave me cautious optimism. (Were I casting a 'Busters movie, he'd be one of my four. 'Nuff said.) As Phoebe's enthusiastic teacher with a deep-seeded lifelong in-universe love of the Ghostbusters (and more than a little interest in her mom), Rudd delivers every line, displays every facial expression, with his distinctive down-to-earth style. Good use of Paul Rudd can elevate any project, I find, and Afterlife is even better thanks to his inclusion.

Not to say anything bad about the rest of the cast. I don't know any of the kids' actors and despite my reservations, they were largely all right. Phoebe is the clear standout, and I'm pleased with how she was written and played. The hair and glasses are great design elements, too. Little Phoebe is a Spengler, through and through. The other kids didn't really stand out, but at least they had enough strengths and good moments to help offset some of their annoyances.

I also have to commend them for just how versatile the cast is. There are so many good characters for people of all ages and 'Buster familiarity to associate with. Some will be the kids, just learning about Ghostbusting for the first time, finding an exciting world they will carry with them for life. Some will be Paul Rudd, the lifelong fan, now a grownup, who can't keep the smile off his face.

I get the impression that some scenes were cut short, as they don't always flow well from one to the next. Dialogue explains everything well enough and long-time fans can follow the logic, but I am very much looking forward to the deleted scenes and/or extended cut.

In an age where rights holders churn out transparent cashgrabs to "monetize dormant IPs," it's a breath of fresh air to find someone who genuinely cares, and Ivan's boy has done a hell of a job in the director's chair. There are plenty of throwbacks that do not feel out of place, or forced, or overly wink-and-nod. Some fun sight gags and plenty to analyze in the background will reward old fans and eagle-eyed viewers but in no way detract from the film. More importantly, the emotional core at the heart of Afterlife feels genuine.

This isn't some soulless payday. This is Jason Reitman saying "I love you, Dad." This is the people who made Ghostbusters happen saying "We miss you, Harold Ramis." This is a message to the fans: "Thank you for spending these decade with us." Any targeting of nostalgia is real; it's Jason Reitman's nostalgia, too. Any use of real-life brands comes across more as a bit of real-life authenticity and not a shallow advertising attempt. And think of how many real-life brands appeared in the original film: I can think of a chocolate bar, a snack food, and a soft drink offhand.

The emotional core is true. I'm convinced that some of the actors' tears were real. Yes, Afterlife has plenty of comedy, but more than its fair share of darkness as well. People around me were wiping their eyes in the theatre and I do not blame them. Afterlife will make you laugh, and for some of the viewers around me, it made them cry. The film pulls no punches and even opens with a particularly brutal scene (the technical elements of which are exquisite, I might add).

Visually, Afterlife is outstanding. There is always something to keep the eye hunting in the set design. Keep searching the backgrounds; maybe on your next viewing. Technical elements are strong; the Reitmans have a knack for composition and framing. Visual effects combine practical and digital and look so good that I didn't even think of them. I've spent so long along capture streams with the movies and cartoons and games that I've forgotten how dated the original '84 effects were (though groundbreaking at the time). That is perhaps the biggest praise I can give Afterlife's visual effects: they look, sound, and feel so right that I didn't even think about them. They capture how I remember Ghostbusters feeling.

Your ears are in for a treat as well. Elmer Bernstein's classic theme returns, revisited, throughout the movie. Classic sounds are back and better than ever, from the whirring of PKE Meters, the familiar capture stream energy, and the bass of the timeless powerup sound. The equipment has been modified, not redesigned, and feel consistent with the universe and art style of the brand. Paragoggles are still paragoggles, but at some point, Egon built a camera into them. In no way do the additions to the proton pack make it less recognizable. The PKE meter's new function came as a surprise -- and there I was thinking it was just a fun play feature on the new toy!

And of course, the Ectomobile. She's back and seen better days, but still kicking. Still busting. New features seem almost out of the animated series (or at least the Kenner toy line), but I don't mean that in a bad way. The gunner seat and Remote Trapping Vehicle make for dynamic scenes of 'busting that we haven't seen in the movies until this point. Might be a little too Real or even Extreme for some 'Busting fans, but Afterlife's exciting use of the Ecto-1 as a mobile paranormal elimination platform makes it so much more than just transportation for personnel and equipment, and does not feel out of place with the brand.

There's so, so much that it gets very right, and even its weaknesses are not enough to take away from its many strengths. He who dismisses Ghostbusters Afterlife as nostalgia-milking product placement will miss out on something special. You don't need to be a 'Busting enthusiast to enjoy the film, but if you are, get ready for a hell of a ride. Ivan's boy has done a great job. Worth the wait and worth seeing, and for Ghostbusters fans, at least once.

Rest well, Dr. Spengler. Your legacy is in good hands.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Movies By The Numbers: Fast & Furious 9 - The Fast Saga

When does a guilty pleasure stop being guilty?  For the last two decades, the venerable Fast & Furious brand has entertained audiences the world over with its sense of humour, ensemble-cast action comedy, frequent emphasis on practical effects, and over-the-top ridiculousness.  Stupid ideas are acknowledged as stupid in-universe, but fully committed to by both the characters and the filmmakers.

Yet underneath all the silliness, there is genuine heart.  Approachable, likeable characters, whose lives (and deaths) mean something.  Characters who, in spite of everything and for better or for worse, have been a constant part of popular culture for the last twenty years.

Every Fast movie is a good jumping-on point, with any backstory or lore important enough being mentioned in dialogue or shown in flashback.  Knowing nothing going in, you will still have fun.  Fast & Furious 9 takes things even further by carefully using (and expanding on) two decades of Fast lore.  There are some very, very deep cuts, great cameos, plenty of blink-and-you'll-miss-it treats for eagle-eyed fans, and for those heavy into the F&F lore, brace yourselves.  If you have a soft spot for F1 (and yes, even F3), you might have your heartstrings tugged a little.

From the very first shot's colour palette, and vehicle and costume design, I immediately knew that it wasn't set in the present day, but a flashback to a traumatic moment only talked about in F1 and never seen until now.  Even the very last shot and mid-credits scene are purely for the long-time fans.

But can it stand on its own, without any knowledge of or reverence for the brand?  Absolutely.  When CIA spook Kurt Russell's spy plane goes down deep in enemy territory carrying secret cargo, Vin Diesel's retired international vehicular-themed heist crew goes in after him.  But Vin comes face-to-face with a ghost from his past: his estranged (and villainous) brother, John Cena.  Vin's spent the last twenty years saying how important family is ("You never turn your back on family... even when they do"), yet here is a mysterious brother we've never heard about!  Dark secrets are revealed, familiar faces (friendly and otherwise) make their return, and so do some long-absent characters.

Some lament the series' steering away (pun intended) from its street-racing roots; those people are nuts.  The brand has always been a product of its time, and as such, cannot recapture the mood of the turn-of-the-millennium car scene -- other than flashback scenes set in that era, of course!  If you liked Fast 1, you might enjoy F9's scenes set before the events of F1... and be surprised at how much world-building they've accidentally or at least unintentionally done in the last two decades.  We get to see what is arguably the most important street race in the brand's history, and it's filled with nods to the past.

Not to say that F9 is grounded in the trying-too-hard-to-be-gritty tone of F1 (or F4, for that matter).  Expect plenty of throwbacks, recurring lines, running gags, series staples, and the logical extreme of the brand's over-the-top ridiculousness -- and I don't just mean Dame Helen Mirren drifting and J-turning a supercar to shake the London rozzers.  It's so goddamn perfect that you just need to see it for yourself.

Long-time Fast fans rejoice as fan-favourite character Han Lue (aka "Han Seoul-Oh") returns, portrayed once again by the always-cool Sung Kang.  Such a beloved character that despite being killed on-screen in F3, he would appear in F4 (and the surprisingly-introspective character piece short film set before it), F5, and F6, with the franchise's timeline retconned accordingly.  Han is back, equipped with another black-and-orange car (albeit nowhere near as nice as the Veilside RX-7), an explanation as to how he lived, what he's been up to, and more importantly, no patience for villains.  Jordana Brewster's character Mia, sister of Vin Diesel and John Cena, has more of a hands-on role this time, beating the crap out of dudes with Michelle Rodriguez.  And even characters you might not have liked the first time around, well, it's good to see them again, and they are used surprisingly well.

Fast 9's subtitle of "The Fast Saga" might sound pompous as all hell, but that subtitle is completely deliberate.  F9 explores and deepens the lore of this wacky brand with genuine heart and plenty of surprises.  Young actors in pre-Fast 1 flashback scenes really did it for me.  F9 explores the past and brings the Family together into the present... and sets up for the future.  I honestly shouted "OH SHIT" in the theatre during that mid-credits scene.

Fast & Furious 9 is more than capable of standing on its own, but its main strength isn't its amazing globe-trotting action or huge stunts.  Its biggest strength is its heart.  The love for its history.  The love of its characters.  The love for the fans.  F9 is a thank you to everyone who has enjoyed this ridiculous brand, from those just starting to those who've been here for twenty years.  There's really something special to this movie, my friends.

And I'll tell you all about it when I see you again.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Thank You for the Birthday Wishes!

First, I want to thank all of you for the birthday wishes.  It really means a lot to me.  The last year has been one of tumultuous turmoil and torture, and even though I posted The Good Life, pretty much any song off Pinkerton has felt true to me in the last twelve months (particularly tracks 1, 4, 5, and 9, but not in that order).  Don't worry, I won't write another cyberpunk short story about any of it this time.

Make no mistake.  As much as I'm tempted to make a Kyle Katarn reference no one would get, without you guys, I wouldn't "be a content old man."  You guys mean everything to me; you're the reason I'm here at all.

It really makes me glad to know that you guys are there.  I feel bad that I don't do enough for you guys any more and barely post anything, even less anything worthwhile.  Isolated and without drive or purpose, I struggle to get anything done these days.  I mean, I have a ton of unboxings and reviews to put together for you, but I don't know if I ever will.  These figures will probably stay sealed for good.  Hell, Figma Batou's still in the shipping box.

I'm not going to lie and say I've ever really been genuinely happy, as far as I know, but this last year has been even more soul-crushing than usual, and I'm sure many of you would agree.  I haven't even been able to finish A25U #400, which is a project I've really come to hate.  Sometimes I'll animate a second or two and not really want to touch it again for a week.  It should be done by now, yeah, but it should also be BETTER.  I've had to restart it entirely once and powered on through, despite feeling like I should reshoot the entire thing, both video and audio.

Or scrap it entirely.  How the hell I was able to make a 15-minute animated short in a single summer in college defies any kind of explanation these days.  Ah, to be young again...

I told you guys I would do it and I will keep my word.  #400 was supposed to be a silly celebration and it's become some kind of torment that would just finish if I could bring myself to hunker down and knock it out.  I don't know.  It was probably the best I could've done at the time I wrote and shot it, but it still feels like a testament to my good-enough laissez-faire attitude that reeks of mediocrity.  You guys deserve more, deserve better, but I still want to finish it.  Or at least, have it finished.  Have it behind me.

And move on.  Which is something I'd like to talk about if you'll let me bend your ear.

#400, when it gets done (if you believe me, and I don't blame you if you don't), won't be the final Ages 25 & Up comic.  That honour will go to #401.

Don't act so surprised.  You guys know that every time I try to do an animated issue for every one-hundred-issue milestone, the entire comic comes to a crashing multi-year halt.  To a certain extent, it's been a relief not having to throw anything together each week, desperately trying to be at least somewhat entertaining, sidelining real life sometimes and sacrificing my entire weekends others.

I have the finale issue planned already.  Had that round chambered for years.  Hell, I've had it prepared before there even was an A25U.  I'd written the script for a short student film in college that got butchered once it was taken out of my hands (even the director, a good friend of mine, had his powers stripped from him).  It'll finally see the light of day when I adapt it as the last issue of Ages 25 & Up, an issue in which a pair of average-joe--

Sorry.  Bad choice of words.

A story in which a pair of average, working-class Cobra Troopers pull off the job that just might be their last...  A story of endings, and new beginnings.  Of doors closing, and others opening.  Of the sun rising after a long, dark night.  It's not as sappy as I'm making it sound, if you'll believe me.  You'll see, if it ever comes out.

No amount of spending money on stupid crap I don't need can soothe whatever emptiness I might feel.  Only you guys' friendship can do that, and I want you all to know how much you mean to me, and have over all these years we've spent together.

So thank you, all of you.  I'm still here, I'm still trying, I'm still me.  And most importantly, I'm still your friend.

I had a Happy Birthday, in spite of everything, thanks to all of my friends.  I'll keep doing what I'm doing, and I am planning a fun Joe project tentatively called "Pages & Panels" (working title) in which I'll share with you some selections from the Marvel Joe comics as I re-read them.  Could be fun.

But like everything I do, we'll find out together.  Thanks, guys.

Your pal,

Numbers, Helix, Six, and every other callsign, codename, or handle you might know me under

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Short Story: "No Country For Old Netrunners"

Last month, I wrote a short story inspired by the works of Pondsmith, Gibson, PK Dick, Ridley Scott, and Masamune Shirow (with a little Suda 51 in there), among others. It was somewhat of an homage to my favourite literary theme, and I shot and edited a cool-ass photo to go with it:

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The story would go great with Vangelis' Blade Runner Blues, to the point that I'll even post that song here in case you want to listen to it:

This one's dedicated to anyone who's ever punched deck and broken ice with his softs.  Enjoy, my street samurai.

"You ever hear the one about the old netrunner?"  The signal wasn't clean and there was interference on the line, but I couldn't mistake the sarcasm in my fixer's voice.  She'd done things I didn't want to do, seen things you people wouldn't believe, and couldn't just give advice.  She had to bust my balls, make me hunt for wisdom in her gonkbrained jokes and stale anecdotes.

But she was trying to warn me, and I read her five by five.  It was no secret that netrunners didn't exactly live long.  Only outlier being Ishikawa, if the rumours were true.  Yeah, the pachinko parlour guy.  Word is, he has some kind of military hookup and takes his beard off before going to sleep.  But your average, run-of-the-mill backalley breacher doesn't have those kinds of luxuries.

'Runners didn't exactly live to see retirement.  Those who were lucky enough to just walk away only did so because the heat was too much.  No matter how shit-hot you thought you were, there was always someone with better counterintrusion softs just waiting to fry your brain, or a corpo hit squad ready to kick down your door.  Not sure which was worse.

"You ever hear the one about the old netrunner?"  'Runners didn't get old.  They burned up on barriers, slipped on ice, and in some embarrassing cases, got impaled on lagspikes.  But that's not all that awaited an interface cowboy, and my fixer wanted me to know it.

With the Parasite spreading and roadblocks going up like realspace firewalls, you couldn't even grab a beer with a choom these days.  She knew I'd spend more and more time punching deck, and that's just what she wanted to warn me about.  Some said that the more you dive in, even with a barrier, the less of yourself remains when you jack out.  We all knew the stories.  Case and 3Jane.  The Ballad of Buck Ravers.  That delivery guy and the dolphin.  But that wasn't going to be me.

"You ever hear the one about the old netrunner?"  I don't plan on hearing about, much less becoming, an old netrunner.  I was more of a street samurai kind of guy.  I let my beam katana do the talking.  Still, I was no stranger to punching deck, but I wasn't trying to blaze a way down the rebel path.  All I wanted to do was jack in and see my friends on the net.  Sure, I'd never seen them face-to-face but that didn't mean we never had heart-to-hearts.  As the weeks rolled into months, I found myself diving in more and more, and staying in longer and longer.  Maybe one more combat drop with the armoured operator in Central.  One more conversation with the jetsetting businesswoman who hated the corps and couldn't wait to move half-way around the world.  One more plan with the West Coast girl who hustles as hard as I do.  One more job.  One more drink.  One more dance.  One more kiss, dear.

It wasn't physical, but it was real.  The stories.  The laughter.  The friendship.  The compassion.  The understanding.  Maybe even the romance.  When you punched deck, your friends were there for you, even when they weren't there with you.  We understood each other.  Didn't mean we weren't all jaded and alone, but we understood each other.  Maybe that's why I started 'running so hard.  Why my fixer had to warn me.

They say that 'runners have many faces, a different one for each place on the net they need to go.  Each with its own rules, lingo, and mindset.  Over time, these identities conflict, tear away from each other, vie for supremacy.  Double lives leading double lives, with not a word to their realspace friends, to protect the friends as much as themselves.  Guy who punched in isn't quite the one who jacked out.  I've seen it happen.  People who dive for too long don't tend to be themselves when they're back in realspace.  They're more distant.  They're not quite there, like their ghosts aren't comfortable in their shells anymore.  They only feel right when they're diving.

More and more of this knowledge, I was getting firsthand.  I could feel the 'running taking its toll on me.  I felt the different facets of myself tugging in different directions.  I could feel the effects on my wetware.  One morning, a gyrostabilization glitch on wakeup had me fall right on my ass until my optics rebooted.  My diet was mainly liquid.  And forget about dreaming of electric sheep or unicorns.  Any decent sleep was a distant read-only memory.

Did old netrunners have to worry about this sort of shit?  Was the next dive the only thing on their minds, even when they were off on some low-paying realspace gig to get that badly-needed scratch?  Did they want to reassure their friends with a "It's okay, I'm still me," even though it wasn't okay, and being them felt like a slow death sentence?  

More and more I felt at home 'running.  Maybe I didn't feel like eating.  Maybe I didn't feel like sleeping.  Maybe I couldn't fall asleep.  Maybe I wanted to share one more story with her before saying goodnight.  Maybe I didn't want to punch out and be alone at five in the morning.

"You ever hear the one about the old netrunner?"  The signal wasn't clean and there was interference on the line, but I couldn't mistake the sarcasm in my fixer's voice.  She was trying to warn me, and I read her five by five.  No, I hadn't heard the one about the old netrunner.  But maybe if I was lucky, I'd live long enough to find out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Have a Happy Groundhog Day

Out of all of the holidays to make a comic about, I made one about Groundhog Day back in 2017.  Or, I guess, technically, about the movie, not the holiday.

Honestly, Bill Murray's predicament in the movie really didn't sound that bad.  Getting out of the time loop and having to continue living life normally after being trapped in the same day for (possibly hundreds of) years, free to do whatever you want, without aging or degrading in any way...  Giving up your self-described godhood to be a normal mortal man just doesn't seem worth it.  (Maybe if it was someone more delicious than Andie Macdowell...)

Stay safe and sane out there, folks.  More than me, anyway.  And the classic movie still holds up.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Not Too Late to Ring in the New Year with Ages 25 & Up!

Okay, so we're about a week deep into 2021, which means we can still enjoy some quality New Year's content.  Even if said content is not very new itself, and you've probably seen it all before.

Then how about we revisit some quality New Year's content together!  Here is, to the best of my knowledge, every New Year's issue of the comic that I can think of.  Every one I can remember making and a few that I don't.

Some of these are part of larger story arcs -- sometimes ending one, other times launching another.  If anyone's interested, here's a list of the comics, when they were first posted, and links to their original pages, where you can use the Next Comic buttons to read the rest of the stories, if you'd like!  No pressure.  They aren't all good, they aren't all funny, and they've probably aged poorly -- just like me!

Hope you all have a wonderful New Year in spite of everything.

Your pal,


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Friday, January 1, 2021

Numbers' New Year's Newsletter: 2021, And A Two-, And A One-Two-Three-Four

[Other years' letters: 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020 / 2021 ]

It didn't matter.  Not sure what else I can say.

Once I wrote you about the havoc caused by Specimen Number 2016 and how we barely made it out alive.  It is hard to believe that things could get even worse.

During my many misadventures through time, space, the dimensional inbetween, and the Edge of Beyond, my team and I have encountered numerous hardships and endured unspeakable evils.  To put it mildly, friends: I've seen some shit.

But I write this now from the rain-soaked neon-lit rooftop of a long-abandoned hotel, broken and afraid, while what remains of my teammates surround me, eyes to the sky, waiting for an evac bird that may or may not be coming.

Our efforts to survive have worked, barely.  Our attempt to dimension-hop home again failed.  And all of this feels familiar.  We'd once again jumped to a familiar-feeling reality that is not quite home.  Again.  Déjà vu.  I've been in this place before.

I have spent the past year trying to come to terms with this twisted circle of hell and devising a way out.  Our plans to build a time machine out of a car failed when we could not find the right model.  The best we could use would've been an old hatchback, but our portable reactor would've needed tofu as fuel, and the time circuitry would've been linked to tire temperature.  Putting the car into controlled slides to generate the right temperature was not a discipline we could nail down consistently.  As our nights of fire turned into mornings and we felt the beat of the rising sun, we were no closer to home.  Attack that corner at the wrong angle, and we'd go back too far.  We'd find ourselves drifting into the '90s... which would've been preferable to this hellish year.

I look around this rainy roof, the glowing city below, and I cannot help but think of the insanity I've witnessed this year.  I've...  seen things you people wouldn't believe.
  • Attack ships on fire off the Shoulder of Orion.
  • Common sense grew increasingly uncommon.
  • Millions of credits' worth of cargo ships vanish with the screams of 30,000 souls.
  • The concept of self-improvement murdered by self-entitlement.
  • I watched as tax-evading corporations squabbled with tax-evading corporations over profits.
  • I saw the biggest ship expo in the galaxy turn into an underwhelming overpriced shitshow.
  • Arguably the last remaining superpower on Earth continued its unstoppable decline to shitholedom, the sun having long set upon its empire.
  • I saw people claim to want respect when what they sought was attention.
  • I witnessed the entertainment industry's ongoing War on Redheads.  A pox upon the entire industry, I say.
  • I watched the public continue to give chances to companies that repeatedly proved they didn't deserve it.
  • I lost loved ones, but gained a few along the way.
  • I heard the incomprehensible ravings of a nuclear-equipped manchild and its cabal of international supervillains.
  • I witnessed the continued activity of ethnoterrorist organizations and people's inexplicable reluctance to admit to themselves that is indeed what they are.
  • I heard people express ridiculous fears about tracking devices, publicly posting the aforementioned fears from the tracking devices they keep on them at all times.
  • A virological pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes reared its ugly head, yet people are too stupid to react accordingly.
  • I watched helplessly as rampant unchecked capitalism increased its kill count.
  • I saw questions, doubts, and desire for conversation dismissed as fear, hate, and other buzzwords.
  • I heard underequipped would-be neuromancers bitching that their weak-ass decks aren't augmented enough to handle the latest softs.  No one else's fault but yours if your gonk-ass wetware can't support the chrome.  Delta outta here with that shit, choom.
  • I saw people die who should've lived, and vice-versa.
  • I saw the bad guys get away with it, as usual.
  • I collect spores, moulds, and fungus.
  • I lost The Game.
  • I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in spacetime when my friends and I jump out of this torturous dimension and interminable year.  Surely, things for you guys back home were peaceful, happy, and safe, with the world's power wielded by rational individuals who genuinely have our planet and its peoples' best interests in mind.  I long to once again be with you all, to get close to you, to hug you, to share a meal and a drink, and to celebrate the New Year together, in a packed room of happy people with nothing but smiles on our faces!

Oh, how much I must've missed, being marooned here!  I can't wait to catch up on what a great year 2020 must have been for all of you back home!

I'll be right there!

- Numbers
From the roof of the Bradbury Building
Los Angeles, January 2021

[Other years' letters: 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020 / 2021 ]

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Did you have a Merry Christmas this year? Maybe I can help.

This year has been absolute crap.  This is undeniable.  I hope you managed to have a Merry Christmas, in spite of everything.  If not, maybe this can help.  Here is every Christmas issue of Ages 25 & Up I've ever made, spanning 2008 to 2016.  They're not all funny, they're not all good, but they're all here, at any rate.

Stay tuned for an annual Numbers' New Year's Newsletter, which I'll try to have ready for tomorrow.  We'll see.

Stay frosty.

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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Halloween 2020 and Farewell to Sir Sean Connery

2020 continues to be absolute crap.  It's Halloween, but I'm not scared.  Just angry that the legendary Sir Sean Connery is no longer with us.

I made sure to get the Joescale Sean Connery action figure in the Indiana Jones series as well as his Lego minifigure version, both of which appeared in the Combat Heroes story back in '11.  More importantly, he appeared as himself in the behind-the-scenes special of issue #150, reposted below.

I love Sean Connery.  His style, his classic leading-man charm, his voice...  To this day, whenever I read Joe comics, Destro's voice is HIS voice (to the point I was startled when playing Destro in Operation Blackout).

Here's some Sir Sean Connery, Ages-25-&-Up-style, and then every Halloween comic I can remember.

Hang in there, everyone.

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Friday, March 13, 2020

Movies by the Numbers: "Bloodshot" (2020)

Are you ready for Vin Diesel's latest action movie experience?  Here's a trailer for you, and my thoughts will follow:

Bloodshot is a movie starring Vin Diesel and is based on a '90s Valiant comic.  It's so bad that it stars Vin Diesel and is based on a '90s Valiant comic.

I'll explain, but first, bear with me...

They catch your eye and your hand instinctively reaches out for them.  You lift the cookie to your mouth, preparing, anticipating that first bite.  In a heartbeat, you will savour the delicious chocolate chips.

But you won't.  For the cookie in your hand isn't chocolate chip at all, but raisin.

What does this have to do with anything?  Simply put: Valiant is the raisins of the comic-book world.

Growing up in the '90s, super-powered comic heroes lived on my TV screen thanks to spectacular, amazing, incredible cartoons such as X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman (especially the cyberpunk Beyond), and so on, but comic books themselves were a privilege.  My brothers and I would buy bagged issues (no, not like X-Cutioner's Song), literal mixed bags of three issues each, with only one visible through the front of the bag.  And even if there was an issue of Iron Man or Hulk in the front, well, you could bet the other two weren't.

It wasn't long before my brothers and I had a shoe box of crappy Valiant issues, needlessly-edgy '90s comics filled with 'tude, plenty of blood, and frequently poor-man's versions of familiar characters and/or teams.  In grade school, I remember trying to come up with my own "His Superpower Is Guns" character in that '90s style, with a suitably violent and edgy name.  I used a word I'd recently learned after having my finger stuck in a window: Bloodshot.  Luckily, when I'd learned someone with the creativity of a schoolboy had already used that name on a character that looked even lamer than what I'd devised, I dropped the entire thing.

And that brings us to the year 2020.  The capeshit oversaturation of entertainment media knows no bounds, and Sony's latest transparent cashgrab is, for whatever reason, an attempt to establish some kind of "Valiant Cinematic Universe."  Hell, what's next?  Malibu Comics?  Topps?  (I'd be okay with Amalgam.)

Their first (and should we all be so lucky, final) attempt is Bloodshot, which stars Vin Diesel as the titular character, an American soldier who is killed in action, only to be resurrected as an amnesiac super-soldier with nanomachines in his veins, allowing for superhuman strength and regeneration.  (What's a Wolverine?)  Brought back to life by a brilliant roboticist played by Guy Pearce and his RST Corporation, Vin finds himself welcomed by a group of wounded soldiers, all of whom are now enhanced cyborgs.

He finds camaraderie among the RST cyborgs, and eventually, bits and pieces of his memory.  He remembers his wife... and the guy who killed her.  Driven by revenge, he sets out to take down his wife's murderer.  But his memories are artificial, RST has been using him to kill people, and what, if anything, in his new cybernetically-augmented memory-altered world is real?

Yep.  It's that generic.  As if someone ripped elements out of RoboCop with some Wolverine thrown in, but nowhere near as good as either.

The first scene sets the tone for much of the rest of the movie.  As the opening logos fade in, tacticool military radio jargon is heard, and leads into a scene of modern-military American soldier Vin Diesel single-handedly breaching and clearing an entire building of insurgents, throwing flashbangs in slow-motion and sloppily performing a tac-reload, dropping the empty mag on the ground.  Is this an adaptation of a '90s superhero comic or a Call of Dudebros game?

Naturally, the scene is filled with excessive amounts of shaky-cam and fast cutting, making it impossible to really tell just what the hell is going on or to focus on the action at all.  Just about all of the action scenes fall victim to an overuse of shaky-cam and fast cutting.  You could argue that such overused techniques create an atmosphere of frantic chaos in battle.  I don't.  All it creates is the impression that someone could not be bothered to do tracking shots or choreograph fight scenes.  John Wick exists, and if you are going to lift elements from other works, consider stealing some technical elements from Keanu's beautifully filmed action flicks.

The only actors I recognize here are Vin Diesel as our titular hero, and Guy Pearce as the head of RST, himself having a cybernetic arm.  I'm guessing that casting Guy Pearce in a movie about an amnesiac trying to avenge his wife's murder has to be intentional.  (Don't worry -- Bloodshot isn't told out of order with desaturated scenes.)  Everyone's performance is just as serviceable as it needs to be for the movie's characters and tone.  I particularly enjoyed Vin's brash foil, the dude with bionic legs and an exosuit akin to something out of The Surge.  And, of course, the badass athletic lady in consistently tight outfits.  I got a Michelle Rodriguez vibe from her later in the movie -- and not just because Vin was in it.  (The movie, I mean, not the lady.)

Say what you will about Vin Diesel, but the man really gets the concept of Stupid Action Movies.  He's built a career out of getting Stupid Action Movies.   Make no mistake, Bloodshot desperately wants to be nothing more than a stupid action movie filled with clichés.  (Make a drinking game out of "Predict The Next Line of Dialogue" and YOU will wake up in the RST headquarters with a cybernetic liver.)  Yet it can't find its tone.  On one hand, it's extremely stupid, the writing is awful, and it's an excuse for Vin to do his Stupid Action Movie shit.

But on the other hand, the pressure from the studio is palpable.  The seriousness of the subject matter.  The generic "epic" music.  How straight everyone seems to play it.  It feels like a tug-of-war between two parties: those providing the big budget who want to sell this serious action story about a wronged soldier, and milk this for all it's worth (and then make more Valiant flicks); and those writing and starring in it who just want to make a self-aware action/comedy, leaning into and embracing the stupidity.

The tone is all over the place.  You have a story about revenge, duty, and the meaning of freedom, yet it's told through cybernetically-augmented Vin Diesel punching dudes and blowing crap up.  There's an audience-stand-in brown I.T. guy who's one of the few normal people caught up in this crazy world of cyborg warriors, yet he's the comic relief as well as butt of the joke.  (I particularly enjoyed Guy Pearce's gag about him liking cricket more than tennis.)

We're supposed to want to cheer for Vin, hoping he can break free and take his life back, yet one of the meters on a screen showing his vitals reads REVENGE: 100%.  Now I've played enough Street Fighter IV to be no stranger to Revenge Meters, but when a movie deliberately has a close-up of a screen so the audience can see the "REVENGE" value fill up (accompanied by actors' dialogue confirming the filling of the REVENGE meter), one thing is clear.  It cannot be taken seriously.  And that's just the thing: Bloodshot can't decide if it wants to take itself seriously or be over-the-top stupid, and doesn't fully commit enough to either to have any hope of working.  It can't decide if it wants to be Fast 4 or Furious 7.  I'm glad it's not as self-indulgent with its attempts at humour as Hobbs & Shaw, but the humour feels at odds with the self-serious grit, and neither shine through.

If, for whatever reason, you have convinced yourself that you have any kind of affinity for the source material, rest assured that the filmmakers don't.  Other than the basic premise and some character names, there really isn't much here that seems to be lifted from the pages of the Valiant comic.  (I tried to keep my eyes peeled for stuff like a H.A.R.D. Corps logo, schematics of the X-O Manowar armour, or the name of the Eternal Warrior on a computer screen.  I caught nothing.)  In fact, it really feels as though the '90s comic book 'tude has been replaced with contemporary techno-futurism and Hollywood generica, further cementing the overall impression that this movie's mere existence is a studio's attempt at just churning out a product to get a payday rather than a creator's labour of love.  There are certain points in the flick where Vin's skin turns white, his eyes red-on-black, and the red glow inside his chest resembles the red circle on the comic-book character.  That's about as much accuracy to the comic as you can expect.

Would it have been better if the Bloodshot movie kept the hyper-violent super-bloody Edge & 'Tude of the '90s Valiant comic it ostensibly brings to the big screen?  Well, if it did, at least then it'd feel like the source material whose name it bears, rather than a completely generic contemporary big-budget blockbuster-chasing Hollywood action flick with cyber-futuristic techno-gimmickry leaking from its pores.  It takes itself too seriously to be a Vin-style Stupid Action Movie, and it's too stupid and generic to stand out as a smart (or even clever) action-themed revenge movie -- but in a post-John Wick world, that is a big request.

Bland writing, overuse of shaky-cam and CGI, characters that aren't particularly exciting or endearing -- nothing here is special, and other than a setpiece battle in a blocked tunnel, nothing is really done that well.  Sure, you could gather your friends at home whenever this comes out and apply the Fast & Furious Drinking Game rules to it for a gag (many vehicles explode, at least one car ends up on its roof, the word "family" appears at least once...), but you could do that for any of Vin's movies, and if you did that with Fast Five or xXx, you'd get to watch a better movie, too (however guilty the pleasure might be).

For a movie that uses memories as a crucial story element, Vin Diesel's Bloodshot sure is completely forgettable.

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