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And where does the newborn go from here?
The net is vast and infinite.
Don't you love it when everyone else knows how to do your job better than you do? Especially when they really fucking don't. Man, isn't just that great?

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WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for The Dark Knight Rises

I just finished watching the movie for the 2009-2010 Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider W. The series itself was, overall, one of the best of the Heisei-era (i.e., post-2000) Rider shows: it focused on a pair of private detectives, inexperienced Sam Spade wannabe Shotaro Hidari (Renn Kiriyama) and (sigh) mysterious amnesiac Phillip (Masaki Suda), who use devices called GaiaMemories to transform into the single hero Kamen Rider W (pronounced "Double"). The two run a struggling investigation firm that keeps leading them into cases where they have to fight monsters called Dopants; aiding them in their adventures are Akiko Narumi (Hikaru Yamamoto), the teeth-grindingly annoying daughter of Shotaro's mentor, and police detective Ryu Terui (Minehiro Kinomoto), who has a GaiaMemory of his own that lets him transform into super-fast Kamen Rider Accel (pronounced "Axel").

The movie has the absurdly overlong title Kamen Rider W Forever: A-Z/The GaiaMemories of Fate. The movie is pretty enjoyable, although it's not entirely something you could just watch to get a superhero or kung fu fix unless you've seen the series - the movie takes place very specifically in between episodes 44 and 45, and Philip has a sort of minor character arc that's rooted firmly in what was going on in the show at that point. In addition, the show's villains don't play much of a role in the movie - the main villains of A-Z are an entirely new group created just for the theatrical excursion, which leaves the anatagonists of the series to sit on the sidelines and serve as sort of a Greek chorus. Which means that if you've never watched the series, the movie will keep cutting to these characters that I don't think ever even get named, and they'll comment on stuff, but never actually do anything themselves - and I can only imagine the reaction of someone unfamiliar with the series being, "Who the fuck are these people and why do they keep showing them?" But it's directed by Koichi Sakamoto (fight choreographer for the Mark Dacascos version of Drive and for Guyver 2: Dark Hero - a.k.a. "the good Guyver movie"), so the fights are plentiful and, while not Sakamoto's best work, pretty solid. Plus, since this is a movie (albeit one that's only an hour and some change), the scale of the adventure is larger, the special effects have more of a budget, and the characters get to swear a little - so you'll occasionally have these characters from a kids' show declaring things to be bullshit and calling the villains assholes.

It also has a cameo during the third act that serves to introduce the hero of W's successor series, Kamen Rider OOO (pronounced "Ohs" or "Ozu," depending on who's doing the translation). The cameo is intrusive and unwelcome, but let's be honest: this whole franchise exists exclusively for the purposes of marketing. So it's not like it's some shocking thing when a marketing movie gets interrupted to do some marketing.

Oh, and it also turns out early in the movie that the villains are actually super-soldiers made from the reanimated corpses of dead mercenaries. Which means that this movie is Kamen Rider vs. Universal Soldier.

What really struck me about the movie, however, is the way it prefigures - of all things - The Dark Knight Rises. I admit this is a little bit of a stretch, but hear me out: the setting for the series is Futo City (literally, "Wind Capital City"), a green city that runs entirely on wind power; to facilitate this, there are miniature windmills, pinwheels, and similar things around the city, as well as one giant windmill in the middle that serves as Futo's main power generator. At the beginning of the movie, a group of mercenaries called "NEVER" arrive in Futo and start making trouble for the heroes; in particular the group's leader, Katsumi Daido (Mitsuru Matsuoka), who can become Kamen Rider Eternal. A woman also shows up in the middle of this whom Phillip suspects of being his mother. Eventually, NEVER gets all the plot coupons they need - save one - in order to achieve their endgame. This last coupon is still somewhere out there in Futo, but no one knows where; so in order to find it, Daido pirates the signal to every TV in Futo and announces that whoever brings it to him will receive one billion yen. Predictably, this starts a riot as everyone in the city begins vying for the reward. We ultimately learn that the mystery woman has actually been manipulating Phillip this whole time, as she's been working with NEVER from the beginning. When Daido finally gets the last plot coupon, it's revealed that his goal is to turn the windmill in the center of Futo into a weapon powerful enough to destoy the city.

So we have a mercenary force that arrives in a city protected by a superhero who is, as far as most of the public knows, an urban legend; a clean power source with the potential to be converted into a weapon; the leader of the mercenaries inciting civil unrest for his own ends (though Daido's incitement of a riot is closer to Nolan's Joker than his Bane; still, there are parts of Daido's broadcast that have vague echoes of Bane's speech in the stadium - especially the very end, when he tells the citizens to "consider us to be on your side"); a mystery woman who manipulates the hero while actually working with the villains (though this trope admittedly dates back...well, practically to the beginning of storytelling itself); and the villain's plan being to exploit the aforementioned power source to become an instrument of citywide carnage. Now, which movie am I talking about?

And keep in mind this movie came out two years ago, and was probably being written and put through pre-production while the Brothers Nolan were still determining exactly what they wanted The Dark Knight Rises to be about.

Now, I'm not in any way saying Christopher Nolan ripped off Kamen Rider W Forever - I'm sure the dude has much better things to do with his time than watch kids' shows from Japan (or kids' shows from America, for that matter). And it's really only the skeleton of the plot that's similar. But that is a crazy-ass coincidence.

I will say, though, that Kamen Rider Eternal is dispatched in a more satisfactory fashion than either Bane or Talia (even if W's victory does hinge on a huge deus ex machina). One thing you can always say for Heisei-era Kamen Rider is that even in its worst installments, the major villains tend to go out pretty well.

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It probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Marvel is trying to cash in on the relative financial success of DC's "New 52." They've announced that several of their titles - but not all, because this is mainstream comics, where if something is worth doing, it's worth half-assing - will be relaunched with new #1s as part of "Marvel NOW!," a name which puts me in mind of two things:

1) NOW Comics, an indie publisher from the '80s that I remember mostly for publishing a pretty okay Green Hornet series, then going out of business in the '90s; and

2) The scene from the beginning of Spider-Man 3 where Ted Raimi pitches his new ad campaign, "The Daily Bugle: It's Hip, It's Now, It's Wow...And How!" to Jonah.

In a single, deft advertising slogan, Marvel has managed to remind me of both a failed competitor and one of their worst films. So...congratulations?

Anyway, this relaunch will not be rebooting continuity - because God knows, we wouldn't want to jettison all these years of brilliant Spider-Man comics, like "that time we found out Gwen Stacy gave birth to Norman Osborn's Goblin-babies," or "that time Peter Parker sold his marriage to the Devil," or their current story arc, "Peter Parker is thirteen years old and just read The Fountainhead for the first time." It will, however, see new writers put onto these new titles, and characters getting redesigned costumes - presumably ones with lines all over them, because everybody knows that if you put lines on a costume, it automatically becomes realistic. Lines are the new shoulder pads and pouches.

On the upside, however, this means Brian Michael Bendis is going to be leaving The Avengers, and Fantastic Four writer Jonathan Hickman will be replacing him. So The Avengers might actually be readable for the first time in nearly a decade. Which brings me, at last, to my point:

Over on my favorite blog, Mightygodking, Jim Smith has posted a challenge: assemble your own Avengers team! Now, Smith worked within the guidelines thusfar established by what we know about Hickman's run: there will be 18 active Avengers(!), and Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, will be on the team. Because even though nothing good has been done with that character since the Doug Moench run on his title ended, they just can't let him go. So, in answer to this challenge, I thought I'd give my take on putting together a good Avengers team.

First and foremost, I will not be following the Jonathan Hickman 18-members-strong guideline; it's just too damn many characters. You get that many super-people working together, and it stops being a team and starts to become a small army. It also feeds partially into that concept of the "superhero class" that I talked about a long time ago: when you've got all these superheroes, and they all hang out with each other, how long will it be until they lose touch with anything else and just start ignoring the ordinary people they're supposed to protect? And Shang-Chi will not be on my roster, because while I love Shang-Chi, I really don't think he fits in with the super-types. I think he works best in exactly the context he was working in for his classic series: martial arts-flavored espionage (or "games of deceit and death," as he called it).

So, without further ado:

1) Steve Rogers/Captain America - Of course.
2) Tony Stark/Iron Man - Again: of course.
3) Monica Rambeua/Photon - While Captain America would naturally serve as the team's leader, one thing a good leader does is surround himself with other good leaders, some of whom he/she may not even agree with. Monica is a good leader; I see her as a very active second-in-command, being able to give feedback to Cap for his strategies, allowing him to consider other points of view and presenting options that may not have occurred to him otherwise; plus, inevitably, there'll be a story where Cap's been kidnapped, so Monica steps up and leads the team herself. I think the pair of them working in tandem would make the team much more effective.
4) Danny Rand/Iron Fist - Come on; just because I wasn't going to have the Master of Kung-Fu doesn't mean I wasn't going to have a martial arts character at all. And unlike Shang-Chi, Danny's Iron Fist power and supreme martial arts training let him fit in just fine with the heavy-hitters. Plus, I like the idea of him and Tony Stark, both superhero billionaires but with completely different outlooks, having to try to get along.
5) Thundra - Because I don't want all the female characters on my team to be of the "flying blaster" type, and because I think the friction that a completely anti-patriarchy character could generate on a predominantly-male team would be a lot of fun.
6) Erik Josten/Atlas - Yes, the guy who used to be Goliath and helped to nearly beat Hercules to death when he was a Master of Evil. One given for the Avengers, as far as I'm concerned, is that they always have to have a giant. But since no one seems to have any idea of what to do with Hank Pym beyond having him angst about that one time he hit Jan thirty years ago, maybe we can give Hank a rest for a while. I figure Atlas could get on the team on a sort of provisional basis, with Hawkeye vouching for him. Atlas was always my favorite Thunderbolt, the Avengers have a history of recruiting reformed villains, and yes - of course the team will end up fighting Baron Zemo at some point; it'll come out that Atlas, out of a sense of loyalty, helped Zemo escape them way back in Thunderbolts #12; and we'll finally get to see Atlas stand up for himself, instead of just completely rolling over when Zemo gives him an order. And that's something that's been a long time coming.
7) Melissa Gold/Songbird - At the risk of turning the series into a Thunderbolts fanwank, I really think Melissa deserves as much of a chance as Atlas. Much like Erik, she's proven over and over that she really does have what it takes to be a tried-and-true hero in spite of her past, and I think Songbird actually has the potential to be a really standout Avenger. Plus, I'm not going to lie: I'm a sucker for redemption stories, so it's hard for me to resist the temptation of putting reforming villains on the team, if the opportunity presents itself.
8) Stingray - Because he's got an established history with the team; because I always thought he had a pretty cool costume; because unlike a lot of aquatic characters, he's useful both in the water and on land (and can even fly, making him an all-terrain character), but doesn't carry any of Namor's baggage; and because I just love obscure characters.
9) Ronin - Nah, I'm just kidding. Fuck Brian Bendis, and fuck anything that would put his stink back on this series.

I admit that this is really a pretty standard roster, and that except for Atlas and Songbird, it doesn't take many risks. But it has what's absolutely essential for any team lineup, especially the Avengers: the potential for some great character interaction. It might lean a bit too heavily on obscure characters, but if it comes down to filling out the roster with B- and C-listers, or shoehorning Spider-Man and Wolverine onto a team where they don't really belong, I'll go with the B- and C-listers every time.

Oh, and you might be wondering where Hawkeye is. The answer? In the imaginary world where I get to write The Avengers, Clint's busy in his own ongoing series, where he and Mockingbird serve as a sort of smarter-mouthed combination of Nick and Nora Charles with Steed and Mrs. Peel. Admit it - you'd read that book.

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I've never been terribly impressed with Brian Michael Bendis's ability to write. I kind of liked Ultimate Spider-Man for a while, until I realized that he was never going to speed things up and that he was more interested in having characters spout annoying Mamet-lite dialogue than in having Spider-Man show up in a book called Ultimate Spider-Man. That said, my curiosity was piqued by his recent (in Bendis time, of course; in real time, this happened almost a year ago) replacement of Peter Parker with newcomer Miles Morales.

My interest in this came from the simple fact that I've been saying for a couple of years now that maybe it's time to just retire Peter Parker and let someone else be Spider-Man. We've reached a point where the only thing any Spider-Man writers seem able to do with Peter's character is recycle stories that were told better twenty years ago, while any new ideas that do get brought in either are ideas with potential that gets completely wasted (Horizon Labs), are just lame-ass gimmicks (having J. Jonah Jameson become the mayor, killing Marla Jameson, the whole "Spider-Island" story arc), or are just flat-out stupid (introducing Jameson's 300-year-old father, Phil Urich becoming the Hobgoblin, Spider-Man being both an Avenger and a member of the Fantastic Four, the new Scorpion costume). Now granted, this is as much a problem with the writers as anything else - I'm sure Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, or Kurt Busiek could do a great back-to-basics run about Peter. But even then, how much of what their stories said about the character would actually be new? And at this point, there would still be a lot of stupid, stupid baggage the book would be forced to carry around (I really, really hate Spider-Man as a full-time Avenger; I really, really hate Peter and Mary Jane's marriage being retconned away; I really, really hate that the only effect said retcon appears to have had is that Peter now sleeps with every single female character in the title, because that's totally in keeping with his character as it's been established, right?). Plus, this whole "One More Day/Brand New Day/Big Time/One Moment in Time/Let's Keep Using Titles That Repeat Words From Previous Titles Because That Makes It Meaningful or Something, I Guess" cycle was itself touted as a back-to-basics approach to Spider-Man that's really just wound up loading the character down with even more bullshit than he had before.

So you know what? Fuck it. Fuck all of that crap. Let's wind up Peter's story, give him a happy ending where he gets to go off with Mary Jane and live a quiet, normal life where he raises one or two normal, non-super-powered kids. Wipe the slate clean, and give us an entirely new Spider-Man who only has the basics. I really kind of think we've gotten to a point where this is the only viable option left for the franchise, at least as far as the mainstream comics go.

So the fact that there was a Spider-Man book that actually does that (never mind that it's Ultimate Spider-Man, which has been by far the worst Spider-Man book for a long time - and given how much I hate the current titles, that's saying something) caught my attention. Of course, I'm never going to pay money for an Ultimate Marvel book, so I checked out a copy of the trade when it came into work.

First of all, this is totally a Brian Bendis comic. It oozes Bendis; when you put this collection down, you can wash your hands for ten minutes, and they'll still have Bendis all over them. The book feels like it consists almost entirely of two-page spreads; the entire first page is wasted on Norman Osborn - who's not even an actual character in this story - narrating the Greek myth of Arachne, which has nothing to do with the story other than "lol spiders"; the cliffhanger for issue two is the new Spider-Man - whom everyone knows can stick to walls - discovering thar he can stick to walls; and the arc runs for six issues, despite being so utterly basic that a writer back in the '80s or '90s would've had it run for two. (But then Bendis wouldn't get to show off his high school-level knowledge of Greek mythology, and what a shame that would be.) Seriously, this is the entire plot for this six-issue arc: Miles Morales gets bitten by a spider and discovers he has powers. Peter Parker dies, and Miles feels that he failed by not using his powers to help Peter in his last fight. Miles is inspired to become the new Spider-Man and fights the Kangaroo. Miles gets captured by SHIELD and taken to the Triskelion, where Electro gets loose and he and Miles fight. Nick Fury decides that Miles is okay and gives him a better costume. (So, okay...maybe that would've had to be three issues.) All of the other stuff - the character interaction and all of that - could've been handled as gradually-building subplots that serve to connect the faster-paced adventure stories. You know, like in an actual good comic book.

The new Spider-Man's powers are also kinda stupid. Miles has the exact same powers as Peter - he's got the proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider, he can cling to walls, and he has a spider-sense. But since the spider that bit Miles was from a different breed, it also gave him some extra abilities; for instance, he can turn invisible. I guess this is supposed to be similar to the way chameleons or octopi can change color to blend in with their environments; I honestly had no idea there were spiders that could do this, but a quick skim through Wikipedia shows that there are, so I guess a point goes to you, Mr. Bendis. The other new power it gave him, however, is complete bullshit: he has a "venom strike." What this means is that Miles can touch people and knock them out. I guess it's supposed to be him injecting venom into them, except that every time he uses it, we see little lightning bolts coming off of his hand(s), and it's accompanied by a "Zzat" sound effect. So...maybe it's some kind of electrical power? But when Miles uses it in front of one of his friends, his friend is building something with Legos, and when Miles touches it, the Legos all go flying straight up. So the power can't be electrical, even though it looks electrical, because Legos are plastic and thus non-conductive, but the power also can't actually be venom-based, because Legos are made from plastic, so then it wouldn't do anything to them at all. So what the fuck is this power even supposed to be?

The problem with this isn't that it's a poorly-defined power; the problem is that it's another poorly-defined power. This Spider-Man already has a spider-sense, and spider-sense is probably the single most poorly-defined power in the history of the superhero genre. Sure, it's mostly treated now like it's exclusively a danger sense, and that's primarily how it's been used throughout the character's whole history. But there's been plenty of times where it's use is just completely bizarre: one of the earliest stories has Doctor Doom broadcasting a signal on the exact wavelength as Peter's spider-sense (?); the first appearance of the Sinister Six has Peter using it to read the text on a card that's been burned beyond legibility (?); and during the Clone Saga, we got Kaine, whose spider-sense was mutated to the point where he would get full-on visions of the future (?!). And to top it all off, spiders don't even have this ability in the first place! So Miles already has one poorly-defined power that doesn't really make any sense, but we'll go with it anyway because it's a long-standing part of the Spider-Man mythology. But stacking a whole new nonsensical power on top of that one? That's a bad idea. I'd be willing to go along with the spider-sense or the venom strike, but not both. (And to be honest, as it's portrayed, I probably still wouldn't be that willing to go along with the venom strike.) Also, giving the new Spider-Man a venom power? Seriously, Brian, just write a damn Spider-Woman ongoing and get it over with.

And Miles isn't the only character in the book with powers that don't make any sense; when Electro shows up at the very end, he fights the Avengers...I'm sorry, the Ultimates; "Avengers" just isn't stupid edgy enough...before facing off with Spider-Man. One of the present Avengers Ultimates is Hawkeye, and when Clint fires some arrows at Electro, they go right through him, so clearly Ultimate Electro must be made of pure electricity, right? But when Miles comes into the fight, he hits Electro with his his venom strike, and it weakens him. So if he can be touched, he must not be pure energy after all. Plus, after Electro is weakened by the venom strike, we see that he's vulnerable to taking three bullets in the chest. So...Electro is only intangible to arrows? Because that makes sense?

This whole comic is just dumb as hell. I won't even go into the irony of having Ultimate (one of the dictionary definitions of which being "final") Spider-Man be the one who gets a successor.

I'm also not a fan of Miles' costume. I think the basic design is solid; I like the sleekness of it, and I like the relative simplicity. My problem is the color scheme; I really prefer Spider-Man to be wearing bright colors, since he's meant to be a fun character and all. (Then again, nothing about Ultimate Spider-Man has ever been particularly fun, and Miles certainly isn't - if anything, he's even mopier than any version of Peter Parker ever was.)

I admit I went into this comic pretty much knowing I wasn't going to like it; it's not as though I expected a book I haven't liked in years, written by someone whose work I've always found frustrating, to magically be something brilliant. But I honestly didn't expect it to be this bad, either. I didn't even have to pay for this, and I kind of still want my money back.

Oh, and plus, this is Ultimate Scorpion. Fuck you, Brian Bendis. And your plans for the future.

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So I watched this today.

I do wish it had English subtitles; being that it's for an older audience, the show's not quite as easy to follow unaided as, say, Keita Amemiya's super-robot series Tekkouki Mikazuki. But since this came out seven years ago, and I've been trying to see it on and off for the duration of those seven years, I guess I can't complain. (Well, except about the shitty nu-metal song that plays while Mirrorman is fighting; I think it's just fine to complain about that.)

Anyway, Mirrorman REFLEX is a modern-day update of an Ultraman-style tokusatsu show from 1971. Unlike most such shows, however, the original Mirrorman had the benefit of pedigree: both Ultraman and Mirrorman were created by Tsuburaya Productions - the studio founded by special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya. And with even a quick glance at the show's basic structure, you can totally tell: Mirrorman told the story of a young man who gets brought into a super-science organization called the Science Patrol Science Guard Members; secretly, the young man has the ability to transform into the size-changing superhero Ultraman Mirrorman, which proves extremely useful when Earth falls under attack from giant monsters on a weekly basis. (To be fair, Mirrorman had more going on in its backstory than just that, and I think the main character spent a good portion of the early episodes not being a member of the SGM; still and all, the basic structure is pretty much identical.) The early episodes of the original series were dark and weird; a lot of it took place at night, and a lot of the special effects scenes were just very strange. Unfortunately, in the hopes of boosting ratings, the show's creative team was forced to drop the darkness in later episodes; some of the weirdness stayed, but Japanese superhero shows in the '70s were pretty damn weird anyway, so that part was probably seen as being pretty safe, ratings-wise.

Mirrorman was a series that was fairly well-regarded by tokusatsu fans, but never really achieved the success necessary to be on par with the cultural icon that Ultraman had already become by that time. In the mid-2000s, however, there was something of a mini-renaissance in dark, adult toku shows: the same period brought us Golden Knight GARO (which I've already discussed), Ultraman Nexus, Shibuya 15, and Mirrorman REFLEX - all sci-fi/superhero shows meant to appeal to an audience of older teenagers and adults. Thus, REFLEX is able to retain - and even enhance - the more shadowy tone of the early part of the old school show, and the end is result is a tiny bit like what might come of grafting Ultraman onto one of the Ringu or Ju-On movies (but only a tiny bit).

Mirrorman REFLEX was a three-episode direct-to-DVD series; each episode was about 45-50 minutes long, and much of the first episode, at least, is very much a mood piece - or at least, it seemed as such to someone who couldn't understand the dialogue. The story concerns a female scientist named Asami Hiro who's doing research into some kind of ancient mirror; eventually, she uncovers some magic words that summon monsters from another dimension into our own. This attracts the attention of a group of odd people, from whom she is rescued by our hero, Akira Kageyama - an Internet radio broadcaster (yes, seriously) who is constantly warning people of the dangers from the world beyond the mirrors. Akira also has the ability - with the aid of his niece, Momoso, and a mirror identical to the one Asami has been studying - to transform into the armored warrior Mirrorman, and protect our world from the incursion of evil from beyond.

It's a standard set-up, but it's fairly well-executed; and in the show's favor, even though I'm likely never going to completely grasp what's going on, I'm still interested in seeing what happens next. It's atmospheric and well-directed, and I liked their portrayal of the new Mirrorman, Akira: he's very shabby, we never see him interact in a meaningful way with anyone other than Momoso, and he always vanishes immediately after the monster(s) is (are) defeated. It's interesting to see a Japanese series where the hero is kind of a hikikomori, albeit a bit older than most to whom that term tends to be applied. Of course, this aspect of the character will probably soften in the coming two episodes, but such is the nature of storytelling: your hero has to change over the course of your story, or else why are you telling me this story?

I also like REFLEX's shift in focus from the vaguely sci-fi-ish nature of the original series to something a bit more folkloric. Where this is most apparent is in Akira's henshin (transformation) sequence. In order for Akira to turn into Mirrorman, Momoso must play a flute and sing a little song; presumably, Akira's hand motions and poses are also necessary for some reason beyond just genre conventions. The whole thing feels very ritualistic, and in particular carries a bit of an air of Shintoism to it, which is neat; it serves to give REFLEX a distinctive flavor, even among similar supernatural shows like GARO.

On the downside, the series probably didn't have the budget Tsuburaya would typically give to even one of their TV shows, and this is unfortunately apparent in some of the effects work: the "blue flame" effect that manifests throughout the episode looks a bit lacking, and while the model work is still good, there's fairly little destruction of those models - which is a shame, given that part of the appeal of shows like this is seeing two huge things wreck some shit up. As well, the Mirrorman suit suffers a bit from the lack of funding: a lot of the suit appears to be made from fairly standard fabric, rather than the rubbery material typically used on Ultraman shows, and thus the "guy in a suit" impression is a bit harder to shake than usual. The mini-monsters in the opening sequence also kind of just look like Tusken Raiders with Jawa eyes. Fortunately, the episode's main monster, Shiyu, still looks pretty good, and I liked his fight with Mirrorman; the choreography wasn't anything special, but Shiyu has neat, if simplistic (and admittedly somewhat nonsensical), powers that are cool enough to make up for the lack of intricacy in the choreography. (And can you imagine trying to coordinate a really complex fight when one of the guys involved is wearing something as heavy as that suit? Sheesh!)

I don't know if this was quite worth the seven years it took me to be able to see it, but I was still pretty happy with what I got; it's flawed, but quite solidly entertaining regardless. I recommend Mirrorman REFLEX to anyone who likes superheroes, giant monsters, or giant superheroes who fight giant monsters.

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These are the Pillars of Creation:


This picture was taken by the Hubble telescope in 1995, and depicts protuberances of interstellar gas and dust within the Eagle Nebula. Here are some fun (and by "fun," I mean "mind-blowing and with the potential to induce existential terror") facts about them:

- They have been referred to as a "star incubator" - meaning that several new stars were being formed inside each Pillar.
- The longest of the Pillars was roughly seven light years in length. Seven light years.
- The tops of each Pillar were larger than our solar system.
- Notice how I keep using the past tense? That's because these don't actually exist anymore. They were destroyed six thousand years ago by a supernova shock wave. But we can still see them, because the light from that event hasn't caught up to the Earth yet. We'll be able to see them get destroyed in about a thousand years, assuming we haven't killed ourselves or just become too collectively retarded to even know about space by then.

Isn't that insane?

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I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time the other night. It's a pretty good movie, although certainly too slow for its own good in some parts. And I can see how it became known as a drug movie, because while I don't partake, I imagine that a lot of the movie's visuals (and not just the star gate stuff from the end, but even some of the sets and other elements) would be simultaneously fascinating and terrifying if you were tripping balls. That said, I'm not here to review 2001, largely because anything that can be said about it has already been said.

What I want to talk about is an idea that struck me completely out of the blue while watching the beginning: I want to see someone make a luchador film that opens with an almost-identical sequence, except that one of the apes has a luchador mask on. Then, instead of an ape's discovery of how to use a bone as a club, "Also Sprach Zarathustra" gets played over a slow-motion sequence of the luchador ape figuring out how to suplex another ape.

Get on this, please, lucha filmmakers.

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If we ever got the urge to try another Skype-based RPG (since the last one worked out so great), I think it should be this.

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Seriously.

WHAT

WHAT


AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

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I was a big, big fan of 2005's "Hyper Midnight Action Drama" GARO, combining as it did horror, kung fu, and superheroes into a single, totally sweet package. When the series ran its 25 episodes, they were followed up with a pair of one-hour specials forming a story called Beast of the White Night...and then nothing. For several years. The GARO fanbase, however, remained - and even expanded - in the intervening time, all of us waiting with baited breath for more; something which was exacerbated by the fact that the TV series ended with the promise of further adventures. (And, honestly, by the fact that Beast of the White Night was cool, but felt a little lackluster; I think we didn't want to see something as special as GARO end on a bit of an off note like that.) But we were left with nothing until 2009 and the announcement that 2010 would bring us GARO: Red Requiem, a feature-length theatrical movie - filmed in 3-D, even! - with lead actor Hiroki Konishi reprising his role as Makai Knight Saejima Kouga, and series creator Keita Amemiya directing. Needless to say, I was fucking thrilled.

Garo 1
More of this? YES PLEASE.

I also didn't get to actually see it until last week. Was it worth the wait? Most definitely...but with some qualifications.

Red Requiem picks up at some point after the end of the TV series, and probably also after Beast of the White Knight. Kouga has spent some time now tracking down an "Apostle Horror" called Karma that resides in a cursed mirror, and finally catches up to her when she and her servants, Kurusu and Shion, take up residence in a city where Kouga happens to have a bit of history. At the same time, he encounters a Makai Priestess named Rekka seeking to avenge her father - and whom Kouga believes is too inexperienced to join in the battle against the Horrors. But when the two warriors storm the nightclub Karma and her henchmen have taken over, Kouga's armor ends up trapped inside Karma's mirror, and Kouga himself is injured (in an appropriately badass fashion) while fighthing one of the hench-monsters. With his armor gone, himself hurt, and no one to help him but a group of inexperienced Priests, can Kouga prevail against the Apostle Horror and her minions?

Garo 2
Of course he can. Don't be silly.

Red Requiem has a pretty simple, straightforward plot - but then, so did the series. You can pretty much predict all of the twists (three guesses who's responsible for killing Rekka's father, and the first two don't count), but the movie works well in spite of that. What carries it along is one of the same things that helped carry the series: pure passion. With every frame of this movie, you can tell that Keita Amemiya absolutely loves working with these characters and in this universe, and that he's just glad to be coming back to it. The movie feels like nothing so much as a love letter to GARO's fans, and being a GARO fan, I'm pretty happy with that.

Of course, that's also somewhat indicative of one of the movie's problems: it does absolutely nothing to hold the hand of the new viewer. I don't imagine anyone who's unfamiliar with the property could watch this and know why they should give a shit about Kouga or his war against the Horrors; they wouldn't have any idea what the Makai Priests are, or what purpose they serve when there's already Makai Knights out there doing the same job, but better; or, for that matter, little details like why Kouga's ring can talk. Of course, obsessive dorks like myself are right at home with this stuff - but even for the obsessive dork, there are a few things the movie flat-out doesn't bother to explain. The big one of these is the concept of "Apostle Horrors"; it's an idea introduced for the first time in this movie, and there's never really any attempt made to clarify just what they are. Obviously, they're a bigger, badder type of Horror than the ones encountered every week on the show, but...what, exactly, makes them special? We never really get an indication of that.

Similarly, the movie's climax is still pretty cool, but feels a bit too much like a truncated rehash of the climax to the show - just like in the show's climax, Kouga travels to the underworld and has a big fight with a giant naked albino woman. (Keita Amemiya is a weird guy.) It wasn't until I went to Wikipedia that I discovered somewhat the reason for this: Karma, the movie's big villain, actually transforms into the big villain from the series, Meshia. There is absolutely nothing in the movie that gives the impression of this being what happened; it really looks like it's just Karma taking on a bigger, more monstrous form - like Dracula at the end of every Castlevania game. So a few elements of the movie's storytelling could've been made a bit more clear.

The movie's fight choreography is also a bit disappointing; the guy who did the fights for the series did a great job, but he was busy elsewhere when the time came to work on the movie, so Amemiya had to go with someone else. And unfortunately, you can totally tell - the fights aren't bad at all, but they lack the energy and flow that they had on the series. This is probably not helped by the fact that Red Requiem's Horrors are all computer-generated, as opposed to the suits used for the TV version, and the Garo armor appears to be CG a good deal of the time as well, but...well, I suppose you can't have everything.

All of that said, though, I found GARO: Red Requiem to be a pretty pleasing ninety minutes, and walked away from it perfectly satisfied. It wasn't "Kouga's hardest battle yet!," it didn't redefine the GARO universe, and it didn't really push anything forward...but it also didn't really have to. It was simply another Garo story, and that's all I really needed it to be.

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