2015年7月31日 星期五

Comic Book Interlude 2

Fatale: Book One

Ed Brubaker, writer of the "Captain America: Two Americas" discussed below, also wrote this noir comic for Image.  It's more H.P. Lovecraft than Sin City, and I'm looking forward to reading Book Two.  The art isn't flashy, but it does a good job of telling the story.

Daredevil by Mark Waid: Volume One

Great run of Daredevil comics by Mark Waid and various artists.  As of this telling, most of Hell's Kitchen knows that Matt Murdoch is Daredevil.  The story about DD stranded in the snow with a group of blind children is head and shoulders above the rest, but they're all good.

Justice League: Rise and Fall

After a couple of supervillains lay waste to Star City, both the Green and Red Arrows seek revenge.  The Green Arrow's story arc is a bit too similar to something that happened to the Flash in the 80s, while the Red Arrow's story is much better.  All in all it's not bad, but not great.  I couldn't help but think there were some real, human emotions here that could have been used to greater effect.

Moon Knight (TPB: #1-7)

Moon Knight, Marvel's answer to Batman, was so much less interesting before he went crazy.  Brian Michael Bendis has a lot of fun with this character, and the combination of his writing and Alex Maleev's art makes for a compelling comic book.  In this installment, Mark Spector attempts to track down L.A.'s newest crime lord.  I highly recommend it.

Flash Volume 3: Gorilla Warfare

The Flash squares off against Gorilla Grodd and a band of criminals.  The layouts are amazing, though the story is just average.  I really wish DC would do away with this "speed force" concept, but I suppose it's become an accepted part of the character.

Fear Itself

It's the Marvel Universe and it's the end of the world - again.  This time around Odin's brother has returned from wherever he was before, and Thor finds himself caught between his loyalty to his father and his love for his adopted world.  It's entirely predictable, but the art is great.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus - Volume 2

I'm having difficulty articulating just how weird and awesome this comic series is.  After leaving Marvel, Kirby went on to create DC's New Gods and their "Fourth World" in 1970.  This self-contained universe was shared between four titles - Mister Miracle, The New Gods, The Forever People, and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson.  It's a wild ride through some wonderfully strange characters and concepts, and lends credence to the idea that it was Kirby (and not Stan Lee) who made Marvel Comics the pop culture phenomenon that it continues to be.

2015年7月28日 星期二

Comic Book Interlude 1

Barring unforeseen baseball games, camping trips, concerts, and other such distractions I plan on reading A LOT of comic books in the next few weeks!

Bone: Rose

Magic, and dragons, and princesses.  The story is pretty dumb, but the art is just pretty.  Apparently this comic series has won awards, so maybe I just read the wrong part of the series.  As it is, this one is quite silly.

Battling Boy

A godlike boy descends to the world of mortals to do battle with monsters.  The story's rather uncomplicated, but I think the author might be building up to something good.  The art is very quirky - in a good way.

Captain America: Two Americas

Following the conclusion of Civil War, Bucky takes over as Captain America while Steve Rogers recovers from his "death" at the hands of the Red Skull.  Shortly thereafter Steve's doppelganger resurfaces in Idaho, at the head of a group of survivalists/insurgents.  It's a great comic - well drawn and well written.

Batman: Through the Looking Glass

A retelling of "Through the Looking Glass" (Alice in Wonderland) via Batman.  The Mad Hatter slips Bruce Wayne some 'shrooms at a dinner party, and the result is a surreal trip through Gotham's sewer system.  This one is pretty good.

Brightest Day - Birds of Prey: End Run

Not really sure what the purpose of this comic was.  For guys to stroke themselves over?  For people to read?  Despite writer Gail Simone being (gasp) a woman, the female characters in this comic book are incomprehensible.  They cry and have "girl feelings," but their emotional displays are either out of context or out of character.

The Brave and the Bold - The Lords of Luck

A well-written comic by Mark Waid and George Perez.  Every time I see Perez's art I instantly feel about eight years old.  The dialogue is snappy and it's well plotted.  Sure, some of the time travel elements make no sense, but then again they rarely do.

2015年7月26日 星期日

"Mountains Come Out of the Sky - The Illustrated History of Prog Rock" by Will Romano (2010)

First off, the title: it's one of the lyrics to Yes's "Roundabout."  Had to get that out of the way so it doesn't drive you crazy later.

This book is a history of progressive rock.  If you're not familiar with the term, "progressive rock" refers to the slew of classically-influenced, mostly British bands that appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Like any label, the term "prog rock" isn't easy to define, but it works well enough to be in common usage.

And as you might have guessed, I am a huge fan of several bands in this genre.  I grew up listening to groups like Yes, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson, so a lot of this book was old news for me. 

Now I could try to encapsulate this book for you in a few paragraphs, but I think any attempt to do so would be self-defeating.  Instead I offer the chapter headings, a song discussed in that chapter, and some thoughts on both.

1. What is Prog?

Prog is one of those things that seems easily defined at first, but the harder you try to describe it the more difficult it becomes.  What about Uriah Heep?  Were they a prog band?  Atomic Rooster?  Tony Williams Lifetime?  The Moody Blues?

Fun Trivia #1: Despite being some people's very definition of prog rock, Procol Harum is not to be found in this book.

Fun Trivia #2: The author considers Hawkwind a "space rock" band, and not a prog rock band.

2. In the Beginning

This might seem obvious to anyone familiar with rock history, but one could say that the Beatles were the first prog band.  By virtue of their popularity they were a huge influence on the prog bands that came after.

Fun Trivia #1: The Moody Blues's "Days of Future Past" was quite possibly the first "group and orchestra" album.  It might also be the first prog rock album.

Fun Trivia #2: The rock band Cream was also a source of inspiration for many prog bands.  Though primarily remembered for their more blues/hard rock offerings, they wrote songs in a number of different styles.

3. Pink Floyd

I like early Pink Floyd.  Back when Syd Barrett was part of the band.  As for the later stuff, I like bits and pieces of things up until "Dark Side of the Moon," and after that they lost me.  I've never quite understood why people are so devoted to this band.

Fun Trivia #1: Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd because of mental illness, LSD, or both.

Fun Trivia #2: Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd's sound engineer, formed the Alan Parsons Project in 1975.

4. King Crimson

Now here's a great band.  My favorite Crimson albums are the three with John Wetton, but I like the others that came before that line up.

Fun Trivia #1: Greg Lake, King Crimson's first singer/bassist, would go on to form Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Fun Trivia #2: John Wetton would go on to join Family and Uriah Heep before forming U.K. in the late 1970s.

5. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

"Tarkus" really blew my mind the first time I heard it.  What a great album.  I also love the first album and "Pictures at an Exhibition."  Not a huge fan of either "Brain Salad Surgery" or "Works."

Fun Trivia #1: Greg Lake hated Tarkus when he first heard it.

Fun Trivia #2: Carl Palmer formed this band with Lake and Emerson after drumming with Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster.

6. Yes

"Close to the Edge" and "Fragile" are amazing.  The albums before "Fragile" are also pretty good.  They lost me with the "Tales from Topographic Oceans" album, though I thought their 80s stuff was alright.

Fun Trivia #1: Bill Bruford would go on to drum for King Crimson after "Close to the Edge."

Fun Trivia #2: Keyboardist Rick Wakeman was also an in-demand session musician.  He can also be heard on David Bowie's "Hunky Dory" and Black Sabbath's "Vol. 4."

7. Genesis

Never been a big Genesis fan.  The stuff they did with Peter Gabriel is... OK, but I can't stand the albums they did after he left.  I despised their 80s hits.

Fun Trivia #1: Drummer (and later vocalist) Phil Collins was not part of the original lineup.

Fun Trivia #2: During a later tour Bill Bruford played drums while Phil Collins concentrated on singing.

8. Jethro Tull

Great band, but they got stuck in a rut.  "This Was...," "Benefit," and "Stand Up" are excellent, though I can't get into their concept albums.  As much as I like Ian Anderson, I have to admit that he can be annoying.

Fun Trivia #1: Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi was in this band for about a second.

Fun Trivia #2: Original guitar player Mick Abrahams would go on to form Blodwyn Pig.

9. Colosseum and Greenslade

Not a big fan of either band, though Colosseum had their moments.  One of my problems with Colosseum, however, is the Chris Farlowe albums.  I can't stand Chris Farlowe.  

I wasn't familiar with Greenslade until I read this book, and having listened to them a bit, I can't say that I'm all that impressed.  Great instrumental tracks, but the singer ruins many of the songs.

Fun Trivia #1: Drummer John Hiseman also played with British R&B legend John Mayall.

Fun Trivia #2: Greenslade had two keyboardists.

10. The Canterbury Scene

What, only one mention of Egg?  How could the author pass over Egg like that?  Yeah, I'll agree that the Soft Machine and Gong were great bands - but c'mon... Egg!!

Not-So-Fun Trivia #1: After his tenure in Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt was paralyzed after falling from a third-story window.

Fun Trivia #2: Original Soft Machine guitarist Daevid Allen would go on to form Gong in France.

11. Camel

Camel's alright.  I haven't really sought out their other albums, but my daughter loved "The Snow Goose" from the first time I played it.

Fun Trivia #1: Guitarist Andrew Latimer almost joined Roger Waters for a world tour.

Fun Trivia #2: The band were almost endorsed by Camel brand cigarettes prior to the release of their first album.

12. Gentle Giant

Yes, Gentle Giant were an impressive band, but a lot of their music leaves me flat.  I'll agree that "Octopus" was their best album.

Fun Trivia #1: Three of the founding members of this band were brothers.

Fun Trivia #2: One of these three brothers went on to become a recording industry bigwig in the 80s, signing several hair metal bands to various record labels.

13. Prog Folk

Pentangle's "Basket of Light."  I wore the hell out of that album.

Not-So-Fun Trivia #1: Renaissance founding member Keith Relf was also a member of the Yardbirds.  He was electrocuted in a freak accident in 1976.

Fun Trivia #2: Yes member Rick Wakeman rose to prominence as a member of The Strawbs.

14. Progressivo Italiano

I can't remember if Goblin is mentioned in this book or not, but they are definitely my favorite Italian prog band.

Fun Trivia #1: The above-mentioned Goblin did a lot of soundtrack work on the Italian horror movies of that time.

Fun Trivia #2: King Crimson's Peter Sinfield and ELP's Greg Lake signed many of these bands to their respective labels.

15. German Prog and the Krautrockers

There's no end of German prog bands that I'm not familiar with.  This is one of them.  What do you think?

By the way, many Germans find the terms "krautrock" and "krautrockers" offensive.  It's easy to see why.  We don't call the British bands "limeyrock," so maybe it's better to discard the term krautrock.

Fun Trivia #1: Tangerine Dream, one of the first bands to pioneer the use of the synthesizer, were originally a German prog band.

Fun Trivia #2: German prog band Eloy took their name from H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine."

16. Song for America

Kansas?  No, thank you.  Never liked that band.  Instead, here's Ronnie James Dio singing "Aqualung!"

Fun Trivia #1: I will never like Kansas.

Fun Trivia #2: I will also never like Styx.

17. Tubular Bells

Tubular Bells is awesome.  His other albums?  Not so much.

Fun Trivia #1: Mike Oldfield got his start in Kevin Ayer's the Whole world, with Robert Wyatt on drums.

Fun Trivia #2: "Tubular Bells" rose to fame as part of the soundtrack to the film "The Exorcist."

18. Rush

I could bore you to tears with Rush trivia.  They were the first band that I really, truly liked.  They were definitely a later prog band, and their earliest stuff is more hard rock than prog.

Fun Trivia #1: Singer/bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson grew up together.

Fun Trivia #2: Prior to joining Rush, drummer Neil Peart was a member of another band, Hush.

19. U.K.

Sort of a proto-Asia, filed somewhere between the great albums Wetton did with King Crimson and his 80s pop hits.  I guess if someone tried really hard they could like this music, but even by the late 70s this was sounding tired.

Fun Trivia #1: U.K. were one of the last prog supergroups, consisting of John Wetton, Bill Bruford, Eddie Jobson, and Allan Holdsworth.

Fun Trivia #2: The jazz-oriented Bruford and Holdsworth often argued with the pop-oriented Wetton and Jobson.  This quickly led to the dissolution of the original lineup.

20. The Return of the King (Crimson)

Love 'em or hate 'em, you've got to admire their ability to reinvent themselves.  They're still filling theaters, and I'm still more than willing to pay far too much to hear Robert Fripp play... anything.  Not liking Belew's voice though.

Fun Trivia #1: At the time of writing Crimson has two drummers.

Fun Trivia #2: Adrian Belew also played on David Bowie's "Lodger" album.

21. Throwing It All Away

Listen to the above audio clip at your own risk.  It's TERRIBLE.  This chapter is about prog bands that "sold out."  The above album is a prime example.

Fun Trivia #1: ELP weren't alone.  They were just the earliest band to do something like this.  Many prog bands and prog players were quite honest about their desire for hit songs.

Fun Trivia #2: After Steve Howe grew tired of Asia and Steve Hackett grew tired of Genesis, the two would go on to form GTR.

22. Marillion


23.Dream Theater

Double yawn.

24. Progressivity [?] Continues into the Twenty-First Century

Again we arrive at the difficulty in defining what "progressive rock" really is.  This difficulty is only compounded by the distance between modern bands and the 70s.  Is Tool a prog band?  I don't know, but I sure do like their music.

And while we're at it, I should add that there's a sub-genre of metal called "progressive metal."  And yes, defining whatever that is poses even more problems.  

I leave you with Obscura.  Hope you like... LOUD?

"Three Novels" ["Rule Golden," "Natural State," and "The Dying Man"] by Damon Knight (1957)

"'You think it is better for those who have much to keep apart from those who have little and give no help?'"

Damon Knight wrote several noteworthy stories during sci-fi's golden age, though he is better remembered for his criticism.  In a way this is a shame, because for all his shit-talking with regard to other science fiction authors, he was a good author in his own right.

The title of this collection is "Three Novels," but none of the stories here are long enough to be described as novels.  They average about 60 pages a piece, and the entire collection is only 189 pages long.  Knight's (real) novels are largely forgotten, and difficult to find.

In "Rule Golden," an alien visits Earth, bearing a "plague" that undermines humanity's violent tendencies.  This is an excellent short story, and also invokes several compelling arguments for pacifism.  It would make a great movie.

"Natural State" details a competition between two forms of civilization.  One society clings to the technological innovations of past, while the other has embraced an entirely new form of technology, unknown to the other.  It's not as strong as "Rule Golden," but it's still very good.

In "The Dying Man" an immortal woman mourns the fate of her doomed lover.  It's a meditation on the meaning and value of mortality, as framed within a futuristic context.  An excellent short story, and just as good as "Rule Golden."

2015年7月24日 星期五

"More Than Human" by Theodore Sturgeon (1953)

"I grunted and with my mind I took all the eights and all the rhymes and everything they stood for, and made it all black.  But it wouldn't stay black.  I had to put something there, so I made a great big luminous figure eight and just let it hang there.  But it turned on its side and inside the loops it began to shimmer.  It was like one of those movie shots through binoculars.  I was going to have to look through whether I liked it or not."

"More Than Human" is Theodore Sturgeon's most famous novel.  It is also the expanded version of his novella, "Baby Is Three."  It has won awards and is included in many "best of" lists.

It's a short book, and I don't want to ruin it for you by over-explaining the plot.  It's set in the present day (or the 50s, anyway), and a group of young people develop telepathy, telekinesis, and other psychic powers.  Instead of becoming instant celebrities, they suffer a marginal existence, fraught with peril.

And yes, this does sound a lot like the idea behind Marvel's X-men comics, though the characters in "More Than Human" aren't superheroes by any stretch of the imagination.  The X-men usually direct their frustration outward, at a world that refuses to accept them, while the characters in "More Than Human" ponder deeper questions of evolution and identity.

I think it's a good book, though not as good as I had hoped it would be.  Of the three sections that comprise this book, the second section, "Baby Is Three" is by far the strongest.  Compared to this middle section, the first and third sections feel like they were written much later, in an attempt to make a short story longer.  I also found the ending somewhat disappointing, since the main character wasn't sympathetic enough for his "revelation" to be that moving.

But maybe this book has just been on my "must read" list for too long.  Perhaps I built it up too much in my mind.  I did, after all, love "Venus Plus X," and since I read that book I've been looking for this one.

"More Than Human" was definitely groundbreaking for its time, and despite a few reservations I do recommend it.

2015年7月21日 星期二

"Visions and Venturers" by Theodore Sturgeon (1978)

"She closed her eyes, and quietly the answer came, full of pictures; the lute picked up and played; the instant familiarity with the most intricate machine; the stars seen otherwise, and yet again otherwise, and every seeing an honest beauty.  A thousand discoveries, and manhood with a rush."

Although this collection was published long after the previously reviewed "A Way Home," the stories found in this volume were originally published at about the same time.

"The Hag Seleen" is a terrible story.  Sturgeon wrote it with some guy I've never heard of.  It's silly from start to finish.

"The Martian and the Moron" goes into far too much depth with regard to radio technology, and proceeds to the conclusion that less intelligent people are more apt to be conduits for extraterrestrial radio transmissions.  I liked the dynamic between the father and son, but Sturgeon could have built up toward the ending a bit better.

"The Nail and the Oracle" is a very clever story, in which a technician working for the U.S. government attempts to work the bugs out of a supercomputer.  Reminded me a lot of the Asimov story "Jokester," though it's not as good.

"Won't You Walk--" illustrates how a man gains self-confidence through the use of advanced technology.  As with the "Unite and Conquer" story in the "A Way Home" collection, I could see the ending coming a mile away.

"Talent" reads a lot like an episode of The Twilight Zone, with a similar kind of twist at the end.  It's a good story, and one of the best in this collection.

"One Foot and the Grave" is Sturgeon trying too hard to be H.P. Lovecraft, and failing miserably.  One gets the feeling that he wrote this for a non-science fiction publication.

"The Touch of Your Hand" ends rather arbitrarily, but is by far the most memorable story here.  A tribal society discovers its roots in a futuristic civilization.  Reminded me of Robert E. Howard - in a good way.

"The Traveling Crag" details an agent's attempt to get a new story from a favored author.  The ending is rather stupid, and one gets the feeling that Sturgeon having writer's block at the time he wrote it.

"A Way Home" by Theodore Sturgeon (1955)

"And behind it - far, far behind it, his articulate mind said dazedly, Great day in the morning, he's right!  What'll they make of me - a saint, or a blood-red Satan?"

"A Way Home" is a collection of Theodore Sturgeon's short stories.  As with almost every short story collection, the stories found here range from bad, to good, to almost readable.  But then again, any Sturgeon collection is bound to have at least one gem in it, and that gem makes the other stories worth reading.

In "Unite and Conquer" the author turns H.G. Wells on his head, and offers a tale of mankind banding together in the face of an extraterrestrial menace.  I saw the ending coming from a mile away, but it's not a bad story.

In "Special Aptitude" we see how contact with an alien race is established through a shipboard misfit.  I liked the turnabout at the end, the story is concisely written, and the characters are very engaging.

In "Mewhu's Jet" a family on vacation takes care of an alien stranded on Earth.  This story tries very hard to be funny, but doesn't succeed.

In "Hurricane Trio" a married man lusts after another woman.  This could have been a great story if it weren't for the extraneous science fiction elements.  The ending also falls flat.

In "The Hurkle is a Happy Beast" an animal from another world stumbles onto Terran soil.  It's another story that tries a bit too hard to be funny.

"Thunder and Roses" is a surprisingly good story, dealing with the survivors of a national catastrophe.  It's well written, and the part where the protagonist meets his idol is heartbreaking.

"Bulkhead" details a psychological experiment, a space journey, or both.  If you want to know which, you'll have to read the story!  It's probably my favorite story here.

"Tiny and the Monster" is hands-down the most retarded story in this collection.  Hard to tell if it was an attempt at humor, or just a short story gone wrong.  A dog helps an E.T. return home.  It's pretty bad.

"A Way Home" is about a boy running away.  Not really a science fiction story, but it works well and I liked it.

"A Choice of Gods" by Clifford D. Simak (1972)

"He did not like the idea of visiting the robot installation, he recoiled against the robot, Hezekiah, riding in a canoe, sharing even temporarily this ancient way of life, but Jason was quite right - it was the only thing to do, it was the only chance they had."

Clifford Simak wrote a whole mess of books.  Some of these I've read.  Others I haven't read.  Almost none of them I remember.  As sci-fi authors go he's strictly B-grade, perhaps worthwhile if you want to read some random book about robots and spaceships, but certainly not worth the effort if you're looking for something that makes you think.

"A Choice of Gods" has something to do with some kind of alien intelligence, discovered at the far reaches of the galaxy.  Then there's some kind of disappearance, wherein most of the (bad) people are magically transported to a galaxy far, far away.  Those left on earth develop the ability to not only teleport but also to communicate telepathically.  Meanwhile the Native Americans go back to being idealized Native Americans, in tune with the Earth in some way that white guys will never understand.

The above paragraph is about as coherent I can be on the subject of this book.  Beyond that the plot really doesn't make a lot of sense, and as it progressed I began to dislike the protagonists more and more.  There was a point at the end where the main character was saying something like, "We're telepaths, and we're better than you, so you guys need to go back into space!" and I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself.

In my humble opinion, the real problem with Clifford Simak was the fact that he was a science fiction author who never held any sympathy for science.  He is constantly extolling the virtues of a small town (or rural) existence to the detriment of "progress."  In his heart of hearts, Simak didn't really want to see a technologically advanced future.  He didn't think that science could solve everyday problems, or the dilemmas of human existence.  He wanted to bury his head in Americana.

And all of that would have been fine - IF he'd been writing books about life in small town America.  But somehow he got stuck (or he stuck himself) as a science fiction writer, and from that point on he was condemned to explore and elaborate upon a genre he never really believed in.

Oh, and by the way, the title of this novel has almost nothing to do with the story.  I can think of no point in the narrative where anyone is choosing any kind of god, or where any god presents itself for the choosing.  It's a mess, for sure.

"Ringworld" by Larry Niven (1970)

Larry Niven's most famous book is "Ringworld," so I suppose it's the best point of entry into his bibliography.  It's also the only book of his that I've read, so I'm not prepared to say where this book stands in relation to his other novels.  I've heard of "Ringworld" for years, but I only sat down and read it last month.

In "Ringworld," two humans and two aliens journey across the galaxy to a ring-shaped planet.  One of the aliens is a member of a very advanced, technologically superior race fleeing some kind of Extinction Level Event at the center of the galaxy, while the other alien and the two humans join the expedition in order to receive a new kind of propulsion system.  None of these characters know who (or what) created the Ringworld, how old it is, or why it was created.

What follows after the introductory chapters is a fairly by-the-numbers adventure story, not unlike something Jules Verne would have written.  There is, however, a bit more "science" in this book, and I can understand why some people find it boring or "dry."  Given our present understanding of the cosmos, the explosion at the center of the galaxy idea doesn't make a lot of sense, nor does the idea of a ring-shaped planet.  Since planetary orbits involve both attraction and repulsion, a ring-shaped planet would tend to drift toward the star it is orbiting.  Niven corrected this flaw in "Ringworld"'s sequel, "The Ringworld Engineers," but the explosion at the center of the galaxy remains an enigma.

All in all I thought it was a pretty good book, even though I have little desire to read its many sequels.  Niven's characters are little more than cardboard cutouts, and I have the feeling that this series of novels would make even less sense as one proceeded through the later books.  For sure, it's better than a lot of the crap out there, but not by much.

"The Eden Cycle" by Raymond Z. Gallun (1974)

I'd like to think I've read a few books that were ahead of their time.  "Moby Dick," for example, or "VALIS."  Maybe even "American Psycho" or "A Canticle for Leibowitz."  But this book, "The Eden Cycle," might be so far ahead of its time that it has yet to find an audience.  It might be that Mr. Gallun was writing not for the present future that we represent, but for a future still further removed from his own time, and ours.

At some point in the future (or is it at some point in the past?), an alien race sends us the blueprints for the ultimate virtual reality machine.  Once connected to this machine, the user experiences a godlike existence, wherein death, illness, and isolation become things of the past - unless the user wills it otherwise.  The user is free to construct a world in which he or she possesses superhuman powers, in which myths are made real, or any number of other possibilities - all under the guidance of the machine's designers, who are never seen, but who are heard from often.

Within one of the worlds created by this machine we find a two characters, perhaps best referred to as "male" and "female."  Their love for one another remains one of the only constants in the book, and their quest to uncover the true nature of "reality" forms the bulk of the narrative.  

As they pass through virtual world after virtual world, they are beset by questions.  What is real?  How long have we been here?  What is the value of reality?  Is human existence made better through adversity?  Many of these questions remain unanswered at the conclusion of the book, and the author provides no easy answers for these facets of human existence.  Even the ending is ambiguous.  Did they really leave the machine?  Or were they merely experiencing another virtual world?  It is rare to encounter science fiction novels of such existential depth, and I doubt I'll be encountering another such book any time soon.

And of course, the plot devices described above will bring "The Matrix" films to mind, or even the lesser-known "Dark City."  But where the two movies offer action with a side of existentialism, "The Eden Cycle" offers a compelling, heartfelt story, centered around the crucial questions of human existence.  Sure, I liked the movies, but "The Eden Cycle" is so much weightier than either.  It is, moreover, a much earlier effort, having appeared long before the films.

I would encourage you to read this book.  The paperback version can be a bit difficult to track down, but it's worth locating.  It's slower going than the more generic type of science fiction, but you won't be sorry you took the time to read it.

2015年7月20日 星期一

"The Planet Strappers" by Raymond Z. Gallun (1961)

"For once his pale eyes flashed.  'You Bright Boys,' he said.  'Especially you, Ramos...!  Well, I'm most to blame.  I let him hang around, because he was too doggone interested.  And driven - somehow.  Lucky nothing too bad happened.  Last August, when you romantics got serious about space, I made him prove he was over twenty-one...'"

Raymond Z. Gallun (pronounced "Galloon") should be better known than he is.  He wrote a number of books, and was quite prominent during sci-fi's golden age in the late 40s and early 50s.  Unfortunately his star faded as the 70s began, and he stopped writing shortly thereafter.

"The Planet Strappers" is about a group of young people who set off for the far reaches of the solar system, making most of their own equipment and getting by with a second-hand knowledge of astrophysics.  They begin by traveling to the moon in inflatable (yes, inflatable) spacecraft, and after their arrival there they spread out in different directions, finding adventure from Mercury to distant Pluto.

It's a straightforward adventure story, and could have just as easily been set upon the surface of the globe, or the high seas.  But the author has a masterful way of both describing characters and setting them into dramatic conflict, a skill not often seen in science fiction.  The story is also well told, even if the author's understanding of space travel is, well, quaint.

The science - and the distances traveled - are not aspects of "The Planet Strappers" that bear thinking about, but Gallun's talent as a writer overcomes this shortcoming.  Yes, some of the chapters near the end had me rolling my eyes, but I remained invested in the protagonist, and I wanted him to find peace.  This sort of investment is hard to come by, and I was happy to find a lot to like in this book.

2015年7月19日 星期日

Why I Don't Write for This Blog So Much Lately

Hey, I've been on vacation.  And hey, I kind of forgot about it for a while.  But if you can be patient with me I'll have some more stuff up here soon.  In the meantime I'm writing this.

Have a good day.

2015年7月18日 星期六

A Review of Every DC Movie from 1951 to the Present (Revised as of July 17, 2015)

I have omitted Stamp Day for Superman, which was produced by the US Government, and cannot be classified as a feature film.  There are also a few "DC imprint films" (Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, Stardust, The Losers, Gen 13, RED, and RED 2 that are not here for various reasons.

And there are also the "novelty" superhero films such as "Indian Superman."  These movies are/were exercises in copyright infringement, and never saw theatrical release outside of their countries of origin.  Many of these films are good for a few laughs, and can be seen in part or in their entirety on YouTube.

Excellent!  Had to see it twice!
Good movie with a few flaws.
Not bad, but not great.
I’d watch it once if I was bored enough.
[no stars]
Just terrible.
So bad it’s kind of good.
1950s, 1960s, 1970s

1. Superman and the Mole Men (1951) *

You can watch this whole movie on YouTube.  It is, by some accounts at least, the first feature film featuring a DC or Marvel superhero.

2. Batman (1966) @

You can also watch this one on YouTube.  I've read that at the time this came out, the two stars of the show were banging just about anything in a skirt.  Good times!

3. Superman (1978) ****

This film is classic, and is STILL one of the best superhero films ever made!  The scene where Lois "dies" really freaked me out when I was a kid.


4. Superman 2 (1980) ****

This one might be even better than the first Superman.  Terrence Stamp was fantastic as General Zod, the plot was well thought out, and many scenes in this movie are iconic.  See it if you haven't already.

5. Swamp Thing (1982) **

Wes Craven directed this before he rose to fame with A Nightmare on Elm Street.   As a child it was one of my favorite films, though I can't say I like it quite as much now.  Adrienne Barbeau was HOT.

6. Superman 3 (1983) **

Not quite as good as the first two Superman films.  Also quite jokey, but Richard Pryor was in it, so what could you expect?  Gotta love the "bad Superman" sequence.

7. Supergirl (1984) @

Supergirl, one of several kryptonians who survived the destruction of Krypton by fleeing to "inner space," does battle with an evil sorceress.  The actress that plays Supergirl is hot, but this movie makes almost no sense from beginning to end.

8. Superman 4: The Quest for Peace (1987) **

A lot of people like to go on about how terrible this one is, but it's not really trying to be a good film in the first place.  Christopher Reeve takes his last run at being Superman, and the whole thing is predictably silly.  Would have been cooler if "Nuclear Man" had been Firestorm.

9. Batman (1989) **

Tim Burton's 1989 movie phenomenon.  This is the movie that revived the genre after years of stagnation.  Pretty slow compared to more recent films, but a lot more like Bob Kane's original Batman comics.  In some ways, Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman.  Fun Trivia: for the three weeks Jack Nicholson spent filming his scenes as the Joker he earned $6 million, in addition to a percentage of the box office gross, which amounted to something between $60 and $90 million!

10. The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) **

A surprisingly watchable movie.  More humorous than the first one, and Swamp Thing looks less rubbery.  It's too bad they never made a third one, because the run Alan Moore did on the comic book would have produced some really trippy movies.  Fun Trivia #1: Heather Locklear is in this.  Fun Trivia #2: The actress that played Faora in Superman II is Dr. Arcane's mistress.


11. Batman Returns (1992) *

This didn't seem so much a movie as an excuse for a toy line.  By 1992 I was already sick of Tim Burton and his quirkiness, and this movie did nothing to change my opinion of him.  Yeah, Michelle Pfeiffer was a damn sexy Catwoman, but that fact alone did not save this film.

12. Batman Forever (1995) *

This is where Joel Schumacher stepped into the Batman franchise, and the results are unsuprising.  It's a shiny, pretty movie star world that proves unbearably dull.  It would have been bad enough, but Jim Carrey's overacting makes it so much worse.  Fun Trivia #1: Bruce Wayne breaks a henchman's neck after Two-Face disrupts the circus.  Fun Trivia #2: During a subsequent discussion, Wayne mentions to Dick Grayson/Robin that "The circus must be halfway to Metropolis by now."  Fun Trivia #3: Jon Favreau, who would go on to direct both Iron Man and Iron Man 2, is in this movie for about a second.

13. Batman and Robin (1997)

Gluttons for punishment would have seen this in the theater.  I was probably next door, watching a better film.  Seeing the apocalyptic performance Arnold Schwarzenegger gives as Mr. Freeze, one marvels that Batman Begins ever got made at all.

14. Steel (1997)

Shaq plays John Henry Irons, an ex-soldier who develops a suit of armor and then sets out to rid the inner city of high tech weaponry.  Some terrifically bad puns in this movie.  It was aimed at kids, and the plot makes little sense.


15. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) *
No wonder Alan Moore wants nothing to do with Hollywood.  Movies such as this one prove his point.  This movie lacks the sense of irony that made the comic book so good, and one wonders what the hell Sean Connery was thinking.

16. Catwoman (2004) @

Halle Berry plays Catwoman, Sharon Stone plays the villain, and Benjamin Bratt plays the most clueless detective in the world.  The DC comic book character in name only.  That scene where the cats bring Halle Berry back to life is hilarious.  So bad it's good!

17. Constantine (2005) ***

This oft-overlooked movie is worth your time.  It might not be classic, but it's a solidly put together film with an interesting protagonist.  The guy that plays the devil near the end is great.

18. Batman Begins (2005) ****
Hell yes.  This was a movie Batman as we always wanted to see him.  Not the neurotic guy with all the gadgets, but the kind of guy who could kick your ass.  The scarecrow is awesome here.

19. V for Vendetta (2005) ***
Great film, made by the Wachowskis of Matrix fame.  Hugo Weaving is fantastic, and even if they dumbed down the source material it's still worth your time.

20. Superman Returns (2006) **

Not as bad as some people make it out to be.  Yeah, Superman does come off as a stalker, and I don't know why they had to do so many of his flying scenes in CGI, but the part where Kevin Spacy and co. deliver a beatdown is excellent.

21. The Dark Knight (2008) ****
Still hands-down the best superhero movie ever made.  And yes, I liked The Avengers.  The plot is complex, the performances are amazing, and the direction is first-rate.  How could Nolan have ever topped this one?

22. The Spirit (2008)

Fuck this movie is bad.  I saw Sin City so many times I had the lines memorized, and with The Spirit I was hoping for something similarly classic.  Unfortunately, Frank Miller isn't quite as good in the absence of Robert Rodriguez.

23. Watchmen (2009) ***

Two problems with this movie: the actors are too pretty, and way too much kung fu fighting.  Aside from these two problems, it is faithful to the comic book and works on many levels. Snyder might have bungled Sucker Punch, but this movie gave me hope for Man of Steel


24. Jonah Hex (2010) *
Josh Brolin stars as an ex-confederate soldier who can talk to dead people.  John Malkovich is the villain.  It was almost a good movie, but the soundtrack ruins the better moments and it gets pretty corny near the end.

25. Green Lantern (2011)

The movie had everything going for it.  I'm not even a big fan of Green Lantern, but when I heard about the director and the cast I got really excited.  Unfortunately the road to Green Lantern is paved with good intentions.

26. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) **

This movie just bored me.  It's over three hours long, and Bane is unintentionally hilarious at times.  Anne Hathaway makes a great Catwoman, but that's all I can say in favor of this film.

27. Man of Steel (2013) **

Half of a great movie, and half of a Michael Bay movie.  It starts out well, even though some of the details surrounding Krypton don't bear thinking about.  Henry Cavill is a great Superman, but Zack Snyder was trying too hard to please too large an audience.

On the Way

28. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Henry Cavill will reprise his role as Superman, Ben Affleck is Batman, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman, some guy I've never heard of is Cyborg, Ezra Miller is the Flash, and Jason Momoa will appear as Aquaman.  Warner Bros. has constructed some very ambitious plans around this film.  We'll see if it works out.

29. Suicide Squad (2016)

Hell yes Suicide Squad.  As with Deadpool, this could be a great film if they don't water it down too much.  Will Smith will star as Deadshot, Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, and Jared Leto plays the Joker.  David Ayer is directing, and I'm thinking this one will be pretty good.

30. Justice League Part 1 (2017)

Having set up the general premise in Batman v. Superman, Warner Bros. will introduce this superhero team to the big screen.  Confirmed members are Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Aquaman.  The Flash and Green Lantern will also appear.

31. Wonder Woman (2017)

Likely contingent upon the success of Batman v. Superman.  To me the idea of this movie is a no-brainer - a female superhero(ine) with a great back story.  Hopefully Warner Bros. finds the right director.  Chris Pine will also appear in this movie as Steve Trevor.

32. The Flash (2018)

Ezra Miller will play the Flash.  No other details available.

33. Aquaman (2018)

Jason Momoa will play Aquaman.  No other details available.

34.  Shazam (2019)

The Rock (OK, Dwayne Johnson) has already been cast as Black Adam.  Word is that this film will exist outside the main DC cinematic continuity.

35. Justice League Part 2 (2019)

So not only are we getting the second Avengers film, but we're also getting a second Justice League film in the same year.  It boggles the mind.

36. Cyborg (2020)

Ray Fisher has already been cast as Cyborg.  I imagine he'll turn up much earlier in the Batman v. Superman film.

37. Green Lantern Corps (2020)

Some conceptual art for this film appeared at the SDCC.  As for the rest, your guess is as good as mine!

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 1986 to the Present (Revised as of July 17, 2015)

The Men in Black films have been left off this list, even though the characters are now the property of Marvel Comics.  The original comic books were not published by Marvel, and this is the reason I left them off this list.

Dr. Strange (1978) and Fantastic Four (1994) are not here either.  The former is a TV pilot, and never saw theatrical release, and the latter was only made to retain the rights to the characters.

And there are also the "novelty" superhero films, such as 3 Dev Adam and "Italian Spider-Man."  These movies are/were exercises in copyright infringement, and never saw theatrical release outside of their countries of origin.  Many of these films are good for a few laughs, and can be seen in part or in their entirety on YouTube.

Excellent!  Had to see it twice!
Good movie with a few flaws.
Not bad, but not great.
I’d watch it once if I was bored enough.
[no stars]
Just terrible.
So bad it’s kind of good.

1. Howard the Duck (1986) @

I must confess that the shot of Leah Thompson in her panties gave me one of my first hard-ons, way back when I was 11 years old.  This movie is so awful that it demands your attention.

2. The Punisher (1989) **

This is the Dolph Lundgren version.  It is on a lot of "worst of" lists, but I think that in many ways it is closer in spirit to the original Punisher comics.  Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but not that bad either.


3. Captain America (1990)

This movie almost arrived in theaters, until the studio responsible realized how awful it was.  It makes little sense, it's surprisingly boring in parts, and the Red Skull bears an unfortunate resemblance to Skeletor from 1987's Masters of the Universe.

4. Blade (1998) ***

Now HERE is a good movie.  Not only was Wesley Snipes super cool, but the script was good and the direction was competent.  Kris Kristofferson also made a great sidekick.  My only complaint about this one is that the vampires just seem to "splash" out of existence.  It's kind of unsatisfying.


5. X-men (2000) *

I have never been a big fan of the X-men, either the films or the comic books.  This movie seemed very melodramatic to me, and I think without Hugh Jackman's performance as Wolverine this movie would have been a complete disaster.  As it is, it's forgettable.  Fun Trivia: Joss Whedon, of Avengers fame, helped write the screenplay for this movie.

6. Blade 2 (2002) ****

This movie is classic.  Blade 1 was already pretty good, but Blade 2 turned up the volume on everything.  It's super violent, super cool, and it is the reason someone needs to unearth Wesley Snipes for Blade 4.

7. Spider-Man (2002) **

I was as psyched as anyone else when I heard this movie was coming out.  With Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire involved, it seemed like a sure thing.  Then the Green Goblin almost ruined the movie for me.  Nothing against Willem Defoe, but that suit was ridiculous.

8. Daredevil (2003)

This has to be one of the worst superhero movies ever.  Ben Affleck didn't have the build to play The Man Without Fear, and the plot to this movie was a mess.  Bullseye was somewhat interesting, but this movie could have done without Elektra.

9. X2: X-men United (2003) **

I thought this was slightly better than the first film, but still not that great.  Had Brian Singer stayed on for X-men 3 and really built towards the Dark Phoenix saga, this would have been a better movie in retrospect.  Like the first, a bit corny.

10. Hulk (2003) ***

I can't see this as the unqualified disaster that it is often made out to be.  This is definitely one of the more intellectual superhero movies, and I liked the battle between The Hulk and the Absorbing Man at the end.  Could have been better, but could have been a lot worse.

11. The Punisher (2004) *

After Dolph Lundgren, it was Thomas Jane's turn to play Frank Castle.  This movie was better than Lundgren's, but it doesn't have the darkness that made the comic book so interesting.  Jane would have gone on to play Castle again in Punisher 2, but grew frustrated with the process involved.  Can't say that I blame him.

12. Spider-Man 2 (2004) ****

This is one of the great ones.  This movie hits the ground running, and the whole thing flows seamlessly from beginning to end.  Alfred Molina was a revelation as Dr. Octopus, and this movie is everything the first one wasn't.

13. Blade: Trinity (2004) *
What a disappointment this one was.  Blade 2 was excellent, but this third installment was just stupid.  Why would Jessica Biel start listening to her MP3 as the vampires are attacking?  Wouldn't she want to hear what was going on?  Fun Trivia: Wesley Snipes was THIS close to playing the Black Panther in a movie adaptation of the Marvel character the same year, but the studio felt he was too recognizable as Blade.  A Black Panther film is still in active development at Marvel Studios, and the character is rumored to appear in the upcoming "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

14. Elektra (2005) *
Not a terrible movie, but not that good either.  Jennifer Garner stars as Elektra, and she would have looked just like the comic book character if she had only dyed her hair black.  A watered-down version of everyone's favorite female ninja assassin.

15. Fantastic Four (2005) ***

Any movie featuring Jessica Alba in a skin-tight costume is going to have my attention.  The Thing looks kind of rubbery, but Tim Story did a good job with the material.  The battle at the end reminds you of the better FF comics.

16. Man-Thing (2005)

Low budget horror movie in which environmentalists square off against an evil petroleum company.  Man-thing doesn't appear until the movie's halfway over.  This film was shot in Australia, and many of the actors' accents are less than convincing.  A real chore to sit through.

17. X-men: The Last Stand (2006)

Unspeakably bad.  This movie makes you feel sorry for Hugh Jackman.  Not only did this film almost destroy the franchise, but it also butchers one of the classic runs in the comic book.  Fun Trivia: this film was based on a comic book story written by Joss Whedon, with elements of The Dark Phoenix Saga added on.

18. Ghost Rider (2007)

Ghost Rider STILL deserves a better movie.  Nicholas Cage is annoying throughout, and I have the feeling they were trying too hard to make this movie kid-friendly.  Peter Fonda couldn't have been less threatening as Mephisto.

19. Spider-Man 3 (2007) **

If they had just cut Venom out of this movie it would have been a good film.  As it is, Venom contributes almost nothing to the plot, and one gets the feeling that he was added as an afterthought.  Not terrible, but not that good either.

20. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) **

There are people who hate this movie, but I don't have any problem with it.  Galactus could have looked a lot cooler, and the movie stumbles near the end, but again there is Jessica Alba.

21. Iron Man (2008) ****

After Batman Begins, this is the other movie that reinvigorated the genre.  Where Batman Begins was dark, this one was funny.  Where Batman is driven, Tony Stark is brilliantly conflicted.  It is everything that Nolan's movie wasn't, and that's why it works.

22. The Incredible Hulk (2008) ****

This movie was sidelined by the overwhelming success of Iron Man, but I loved it.  I loved Edward Norton's take on the character, I loved the script he wrote for the film, and I loved the Greco-Roman take on The Hulk.  My only complaint is that he let The Abomination live at the end.  I found this hard to believe.

23. Punisher: War Zone (2008) *
A more violent take on Frank Castle.  It's a solid film, but maybe a little too depressing for its own good.  I consider it an improvement on the first.

24. X-men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
This movie is standard popcorn fare, much along the lines of Ghost Rider. Hugh Jackman goes through the motions, an attempt to bring Deadpool and Gambit into the mix is handled badly, and by the end you're thankful that it's not as dreadful as X3.


25. Iron Man 2 (2010) ***

I liked this almost as much as the first one.  Downey Jr. is given even better one-liners in this film, and Mickey Rourke characteristically chews the scenery.  Sam Rockwell is also great as Justin Hammer, and my only complaint is that Don Cheadle isn't given enough to do.

26. Kick-Ass (2010) **

I have friends who love this movie.  I don't.  I think the first half is good, but after Big Daddy dies it just gets silly - especially the jet pack.  A nice warm up for The Amazing Spider-Man, however.

27. Thor (2011) *
Considering how hard it must have been to adapt Thor to the big screen, I would consider this movie a success.  Still, compared to other movies Marvel Studios has made, I think this is the weakest one.  I've never been a big fan of Kenneth Branagh.

28. X-men: First Class (2011) **

Michael Fassbender makes this movie.  Forgive the pun, but he is positively magnetic as Magneto.  I thought the end was weak, but it's still miles ahead of the first three films.

29. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) ***
I would rank this fifth among the Marvel movies, behind The Avengers, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor: The Dark World.  It might seem a bit slow for some people, but the mixture of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark really worked for me.

30. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

Can't bring myself to either rent or download this film.  I can't.  I just can't.

31. The Avengers (2012) ****

There are entire websites devoted to how awesome this movie is.  It's a good film, but not one of the best.  Considering how difficult it is to put characters as diverse as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor into the same movie universe, this one is an unqualified triumph.  I'm only sorry the Oscorp Tower didn't make an appearance.

32. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) ***

This is a good movie, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have some terrific chemistry, and it's a solid effort.  The Lizard is a bit too Hulk-like for my taste, but this is a vast improvement over Spider-Man 3.

33. Iron Man 3 (2013) *

I was super excited about this movie, but walked away from it disappointed.  It starts out well, but neither of the villains are very compelling, and the stunt work is too over the top.  My biggest complaint is the ending, which gives us a Tony Stark who no longer has any reason to be Iron Man.

34. Kick-Ass 2 (2013) **

It's not a great movie, but it's not bad.  There are some funny scenes in this one, but it could have been a lot better.

35. The Wolverine (2013) **

I had high hopes for this one, but it wasn't all that good.  It's certainly much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine and all the other X-Men films, but that's not saying all that much. 

36. Thor: The Dark World (2013) ***

This was a great movie.  I didn't love the first Thor, but this one was a vast improvement.  Reminded me a lot of the Walt Simonson run on the comic book.  Hoping to see Beta Ray Bill in Thor 3!

37. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) **1/2

Steve Rogers struggles with the modern world and his role in S.H.I.E.L.D.  After encountering the Winter Soldier, he has even more reasons to doubt the nobility of certain causes.  A very topical movie, with some great action sequences.  Didn't like it as much as Thor: The Dark World, but it was well done.

38. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) **1/2

Too much CGI, but some great performances from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  I liked this movie more than "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," though the action sequences in Cap were better.  This film has more dramatic tension, better ensemble performances, and more heart.  Looking forward to the third film!

39. X-men: Days of Future Past (2014) ***1/2

A surprisingly good movie.  As mutantkind faces extinction, Wolverine journeys into the past to change the future.  Excellent performances, and one of the most emotionally resonant superhero films to come along in quite a while.

40. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) **

A good movie, though it features too many characters for its own good.  Humor holds the film together, and makes some of the less plausible plot elements seem more plausible.  As with many other recent films from Marvel Studios, seems less inspired than calculated.  Maybe the second one will be better?

41. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)**1/2

I can't say it's flawless, but I did like it much better than the first Avengers.  It's less talky than the first film, and the battle between Hulk and the Hulkbuster is truly awesome.  Quicksilver seemed a bit underused, and I would have liked to see more of the Vision, but it's still a great movie.

42. Ant-Man (2015)**

Any great scenes in this movie involve a) Michael Pena, b) shrinking, or c) both.  As for the rest of it?  It starts off well enough, but it takes too long to get going.  "The heist" at the end is a bit of a non-event, but the fight scenes between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket are good.

On the Way

I'm leaving Sony's Spider-man films off this list.  With the recent deal between Sony and Marvel Studios, the future of this franchise seems very uncertain.  Marvel's take on Spider-man will appear in Captain America: Civil War, plans for a solo film are definitely in the works, but it's too early to say when the next Spider-man film will hit theaters.

43. Fantastic Four (2015)

Josh Trank directs a cast of relative unknowns in this newest interpretation of Marvel's first family.  This film will be more scientific in tone, and instead of traveling into outer space Reed Richards and co. travel into another dimension.  The trailer looks pretty good.

44. Deadpool (2015)

Everyone's favorite wisecracking mutant mercenary gets his own movie.  Deadpool (as played by Ryan Reynolds) appeared in X-men Origins: Wolverine, but this will be a soft reboot of the character.  Reynolds was born to play Deadpool, and this R-rated take on the character looks good so far.  The SDCC panel for this movie killed it.

45. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

More of a sequel to X-men: First Class, this film will focus on the origin of the mutants.  Apocalypse was always one of my favorite X-men villains.  This film will take place in 1983, and will hopefully also feature Cable.  After SDCC I know a lot more about this movie, though I can't say that everything learned from that panel has me excited.  Apocalypse looks surprisingly non-threatening in early stills, but maybe he'll look better later on.

46. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America and Iron Man face off over the superhuman registration act.  Marvel has already stated that the Black Panther will appear in this film, and there will certainly be a host of other superheroes on hand. Marvel's version of Spider-man will also make an appearance.

47. Doctor Strange (2016)

All I can say is... finally!  I've been waiting for this movie for so long.  Scott Derrickson is directing, and Benedict Cumberbatch will star as Stephen Strange.

48. Gambit (2016)

Channing Tatum will star as Gambit.  This one is straight out of left field, and there are few details available.

49. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)

Who would have thought the first Guardians of the Galaxy would be such a success?  And who would have thought that a sequel would be on the way so soon?  Most of the original cast and crew will probably return for this film.

50. Third Wolverine Film (2017)

Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold should be returning.  Hopefully they can improve upon The Wolverine, which wasn't the stylistic triumph I hoped it would be.

51. Fantastic Four 2 (2017)

No idea.  Details on the upcoming reboot are hard enough to come by, and this movie is a complete mystery.

52. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

We'll probably see Surtur in this one.  I'm thinking this could be the movie that really sets Thor apart.  The first Thor film wasn't very good, the second one was much better, and this one might just be great.

53. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman will play the Black Panther.  I think it's safe to say that elements of his backstory will appear in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Nothing else is known about this movie at this time.

54. The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (2018)

It was bound to happen.  Thanos will be the villain, and his quest for the infinity gems (stones) will probably cause Earth's mightiest heroes a great deal of misery.

55. Captain Marvel (2018)

A female-centered superhero film, even if it's a year after the proposed female-centric films by both Sony and Warner Bros.

56. Inhumans (2018)
It's kind of hard to imagine the Inhumans in the absence of the Fantastic Four, but I'm sure Marvel will figure out a way to make it work.

57. The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (2019)
I would hazard a guess that this is going to turn up the volume on EVERYTHING.