June 25, 2011


Well, the Auckland programme for the annual NZIFF has launched and Flicks have got a run down of every film so far announced. I ran my keen wee eyes over the huge list of films and found more than a few that caught my attention. The Festival starts in Auckland in just over three weeks time and winds its way down to Wellington in just over a month (with the Wellington leg of the programme launching next week on June 30) so we can enjoy a fortnight of glorious cinematic gorging and madness.

I've got a long list of 60 films.

One of the reasons I love the annual Film Festival so much is that it is very eclectic; it's a film festival with something for everyone. On my personal long list I've got everything from Tree of Life to Hobo With a Shotgun. From classics like Taxi Driver and Metropolis to exciting new films like Trollhunter and Submarine. And I haven't even had a chance to read the entire programme yet! Needless to say, when I get a look at the full programme for Wellington I'll be talking a little more about those films I'm looking forward to most. And, as I did last year, during the Festival itself I'll be writing up every single film I see. I'm looking forward to it, all over again.

June 24, 2011

13.06: LE DOULOS

I’m not entirely sure why it has taken me this long to come around to writing about Le Doulos. This was another (mostly) great French noir that played at the Wellington Film Society and, for one reason or another, I just haven’t been able to marshal my thoughts on it. I found it neither revolutionarily great with a masterfully intricate plot nor ploddingly dull with no sense of style.

Usually when I think of French films of the 60's I might think of Umbrellas of Cherbourg or A Bout de Souffle. This feels very much like a noir film of the old school - filled with tough guys in trench coats smoking, drinking and living by their own strange code of honour.

A bit of pre-film text informs us of the meaning of the title: le doulos is French slang for "hat". In the criminal world this has come to refer to someone who is a finger-man; a snitch. One of these aforementioned trench-coated tough guys is thief Maurice. He's just got out of a stint in prison and a friend, a fence, is putting him up in his small shack. There is talk of a new heist brewing. And then Maurice kills him for an as yet unknown reason and then makes off with an armful of jewellery. He stashes the loot (in a beautiful and evocative shot - underneath a lone streetlight, surrounded by darkness) and makes his getaway to his girl's place. There his friend Silien brings him the tools for the next job. But the job turns out to be a set-up: the cops arrive and a shoot out ensues. Maurice's accomplice dies, along with a copper. Maurice survives thanks to a mystery saviour – but now he suspects his friend Silien

The film is stylish and beautifully shot, soaked in black and white atmosphere. But it is also at times brutal, cynical and misogynistic. It becomes a slippery beast, balancing these two opposing forces; the cool and the coolly violent. The personification of this is Silien, the man who seems to be playing both sides off one another smoking and chatting while he does it. He shows no compunction about casually smacking around Maurice’s lady, tying her up and smacking her around some more. What also shocked was the abrupt change in protagonist; the film focuses on Maurice until the job goes South and then switches to the traitorous snitchery bastard Silien.

I can’t really confirm what my ultimate thoughts on Le Doulos are. It’s a film I think I’d like to revisit some time, now knowing more of what I can expect but one that is currently sitting in a weird part of my brain. I certainly didn’t hate it; wasn’t repulsed or bored by it. But neither did I love it and find it to be a smart, stylish reworking of noir tropes. It's a film I would totally recommend and part of my difficulty with writing about it has been attempting to review without spelling out the plot, as that's one of the inherently interesting things about the film. What has been successful with Le Doulos and Touchez pas au grisbi is getting me excited about seeing even more French noir and crime films.

June 23, 2011

Oh hi there. Haven't see you for awhile.

So... been a while, huh? Sorry about that. I've only seen the one film (Le Doulos) since last we spoke. For some reason I'm having trouble even writing about that. Perhaps its been a case of bloggers block. But don't worry. Things are gonna change soon. There are a stack of films out at the moment that I'm keen to get to: Green Lantern, Bridesmaids, Cars 2, The Conspirator. And then there's even more to come, with blockbuster season ramping up: Transformers 3, Captain America, Kung Fu Panda and of course Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part the Second.

And in the midst of all that sound and fury comes the two weeks of the New Zealand International Film Festival. I'll be bringing my preview of the line-up soon and then will be reviewing the entirety of the Festival. 

And before all that... I'll be finishing my write-up of Le Doulos

June 13, 2011

random sketch

Random sketch number 32a.2:

'Cos what could be cooler than a T-Rex in space, right?!

June 9, 2011

08.06: SUPER 8

My friends and I have been making our own short films since we were, about oh, 14. While we weren’t using 8mm film stock, we were using VHS-C and, later, 8mm videotape. Editing was done in camera, or with two VCRs before we got access to some school Macs. The results were… well, about what you’d expect from a group of young, inexperienced genre lovers. I think those early films of ours contain an equal share of great and cringe-worthy moments. But the passion and fun is always there.

I say all this so you can have an idea of the frame of reference I approach a film like Super 8 with. Super 8 is the latest from geek-tease filmmaker JJ Abrams, and features a group of young teenage friends making a movie in 1979. One of the boys, our hero Joe Lamb, has just lost his mother in an industrial accident. He and his dad, Deputy Lamb, don’t really understand one another; Lamb Snr. doesn’t understand his son’s interest in monster make-up and horror & sci-fi films and is none too keen on him spending the summer making a zombie movie. The director of the zombie flick is Joe’s best friend Charles, a demanding kid who hassles and wrangles the others into the movie. There’s also the young pyro Cary, star Martin and general gopher Preston. Into this mix of young males, Charles brings in Alice Dainard to play the wife in his movie, to cram in an emotional core. Alice’s drunken dad was sorta kinda responsible for the death of Joe’s mum; he was too drunk to turn up for work, so she took his shift. Despite this, Joe and Alice share a connection. I can see a fair amount of me and my friends in this young group of filmmakers, though they’re obviously heightened. There’s the joy of hanging out together, all making a movie because you just love hanging out together and making movies. And it’s when they’re all together, shooting a scene at midnight at an old train station that HOLYSHIT BIG TRAIN CRASH EXPLOSION KABOOM POW CRASH BOOM PAH!

That train crash you’ve seen in the trailers? Well, this is nothing like what you’ve seen in the advertising – in a very, very good way. And it signals a hard right turn for the film – it’s here that Super 8 changes from a late-70's set coming-of-age film to a late-70's set coming-of-age film with a whacking great alien monster marauding through it. And while keeping back the images of the alien in the advertising is understandable, Abrams keeps obscuring it throughout the actual film, which only serves to become distracting. I can see what he's going for - a Jaws-like effect - but there's no big reveal, no huge Ohmygods moment so it doesn't really work. The creature in fact looks like a smaller cousin of the Cloverfield city-stomper; that is, not particularly memorable. Perhaps Abrams is envisioning Super 8 as being in the same shared universe as Cloverfield – but why?

In any case, the alien is not the star of the show nor the focus of the tale. The kids are. And the young actors making up the group of film-making friends are mostly great and hit that same sort of chemistry that made hanging out with the Goonies such fun. Joel Courtney as Joe is quite the young find managing to carry the emotional centre of the film superbly. And Elle Fanning (yes, younger sister of Dakota) is outright fantastic as Alice. Abrams peppers the adult characters with fine character actors like Kyle Chandler, Dan Castellaneta, Ron Eldard and Michael Hitchcock.

For Abrams' first original feature film (after two TV show adaptations) this is a solidly entertaining adventure. While the alien will never enter the hallowed halls of classic movie monsters, Abrams has otherwise made a cracking film; I could, in fact, have just watched this as a coming-of-age tale without the alien altogether. I'd be interested in seeing what Abrams can do away from the relative safety of genre films; this is the man who created Felicity after all. It feels like Super 8 is a step in that direction with the sci-fi element being Frankensteined on, but only a step.

There is an obvious Spielbergian quality to the film; Abrams is directly referencing and calling back to the early films of Spielberg. Which is not to say Super 8 is some sort of slavish homage (Superman Returns); this is still through Abrams' lens: instead of an absent father, there is a struggling father. And where Spielberg’s “kids” movies took place in the time period in which they were made, Abrams has gone back to the time period of his own childhood; the time when Spielberg was making these films. Does Abrams think there is no innocence anymore? Are kids today too interconnected via technology? Or, is it just a little bit of nostalgia and a call back to his childhood? I think it must be a little from all of those.

What Abrams doesn't manage to take from Spielberg though, is his elegance. Spielberg's films, for all their whiz-bang special effects, always have a real heart at the centre of them with everything intertwining and leading to the emotional pay off come the end. Abrams goes for the big metaphor, but doesn't quite pull it off; it doesn't quite all come together. But the man knows how to shoot a scene, and really goes to town (so to speak) with the destruction visited upon the small town. If only he weren't so enamoured with the lens flares. My gods, the lens flares. It's a stylistic tic we could do without, thanks. In Star Trek they were similarly omnipresent, but at least they made sense within the context of the film: the Enterprise was bright and shiny and new and decked out like an Apple product. I thought perhaps they might be the sort of lens flares caught on a cheap super 8 camera. Nope. It's just a thing he does now.

Lens flare aside, Super 8 is a surprisingly entertaining film. Yes, it harkens back to similar films of yesteryear either produced or directed by the Beard and it does so with nostalgia and respect while being it's own beast. I can't help but be reminded of my own times being covered in fake blood/covering others in fake blood and having a helluva great time doing so. I thought it an interesting dichotomy though that this is a movie about kids working with film (the super 8 of the title), but was projected digitally. 

June 7, 2011

a year on

Today marks one year since I started rockets and robots are GO! (then titled rockets & robots are awesome) so I thought I'd just do a quick post on that and say a quick thanks. 

Over the past twelve months, the audience for this blog has been slowly growing with a number of readers from around the world (hello there!). In all there have been 143 published posts (144 if you count this one) since I began and, with the exception of 127 Hours, I have written up my thoughts on every film I've seen since the start of 2010. The films have ranged from The Princess and the Frog through to X-Men: First Class.

Moments like these can often be times to look back and reflect; to see how far I've come, in my writing and my life, since last year. But I'd rather look forward. I love cinemas and I still have a plan to write cinema reviews. Things are gearing up for the annual NZ International Film Festival, where I’ll be bringing you news and reviews every day. I have my Quest for the Fest (you can help too!) and I hope to make it there and to bring you daily run downs of the shenanigans at the world’s premier genre festival. I’m looking ahead to more film-making; there are a couple of festivals I’m going to aim for next year (such as Fantastic Fest and, get this, the Robot Film Festival). This isn't a huge blog, not yet. But my goal is to keep growing rockets & robots are GO!, to keep posting new and interesting musings regularly, to attract more people, to bring on a couple of contributors maybe. 

The act of writing can be an entirely selfish one, so sometimes this blog is an extension of my own writing desires. But I'm not just writing this for my own sake, never publishing a word. Equally, it's about you guys. You guys who visit and read my posts and leave generous comments and maybe get something out of this whole geeky blog. I hope I've pointed you towards a film you otherwise wouldn't have seen, or given you fair warning on a potential pile o' shite. Or, perhaps, you just enjoyed reading my thoughts on a particular film. So: thanks. I also ask a big favour of you, my readers. If you enjoy something on rockets & robots are GO! please share it. Spread the word - there's a selection of technical doodackies to do just that underneath each post. Let anyone who you think would want to know, know. I'm also still actively fundraising to get to Fantastic Fest (see the widget on the right). I've got a couple of ideas for some really cool things to do with this, but I appreciate any help and support y'all can give.

Thanks for the past year. I enjoy writing and I enjoy writing here. I'm looking forward to many more adventures, many more films, many more thoughts and arguments all chronicled here, where rockets & robots are GO!

June 6, 2011


Not one of the official posters but, well
they were rubbish weren't they?
Matthew Vaughn has finally made his Marvel superhero movie, and thank goodness for that. Vaughn was previously attached to X-Men 3 where he was all but set to shoot when he left for "personal reasons". We all know how that turned out: X3 was a steaming pile and Vaughn eventually went on to make the brilliant Kick-Ass. But before that he was also attached to Thor. Yep, the Marvel Norse god superhero movie that came out earlier this year. I believe the version he was attached to involved Asgard more, to the point of being told almost exclusively in that realm. Again, he left the project. And now, finally, he gets to come full circle and tackle the early days of Marvel's uncanny X-Men.

Like most, I'm no big fan of reboots or prequels or prebootquels or whatever the hell you want to call them. Prequels can, by the very nature of telling a story about characters you know from "future" installments, be the trickiest of the bunch. How do you create dramatic tension and tell a compelling story when we already know the end point for these characters' arcs? In the case of Vaughn and his screenwriting companion Jane Goldman, they do so by enlivening the genre in which it is told, by entangling the story of the X-Men into the real world and by bringing it back to that central relationship: that of Charles Xavier and his friend and enemy Erik Lensherr.

X-Men, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was an instrumental film in bringing the superhero into the mainstream. The film itself doesn't really stand up nowadays but back then it was something else. I still think X-Men 2 is one of the finest of the genre and, where most superhero films now focus on one character, the X-Men films have always been about the team; well, Wolverine and the team. But in ditching the feral adamantium-laced wonder and going back to how it all began they have actually managed to open up a whole new raft of story possibilities. And that seems to be one of the best tricks Vaughn and Goldman have pulled off: they acknowledge and respect the films that were made before, but they aren't entirely slavish to the continuity.

X-Men: First Class begins where the first X-Men film does; in fact it re-creates shot for shot the opening with young Erik Lensherr having his family ripped away from him. But First Class then expands on that, introducing us to the villain of the piece: Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw. We're also shown a young Charles Xavier as he discovers the young shapeshifter Raven (the future Mystique) and takes her in. Cut ahead to the early 60's: Erik is a young man consumed by anger and revenge, encircling the globe hunting down Nazis and hunting for Shaw. Just like Nolan worked in his Bond film fetish into Inception, so has Vaughn done here with Michael Fassbender's Erik Lensherr: he's brutal, charming, deadly and just so fucking cool. And what's more, you understand his anger and his need for vengeance: Shaw killed his mother, Shaw tortured and experimented on him for years. Shaw stripped him of his humanity and turned him into a weapon. Life for the young Charles Xavier, however, is vastly different. He's studying genetics at Oxford, but we only see him down the pub drinking and picking up birds with lines about mutation. James McAvoy's Xavier is not the saintly saviour just yet; he is just a young man with naive, arrogant ideas. An annoyingly gifted and charming one who just assumes he's always right, equally at home in the worlds of academia and down the pub. But you can still see his desire to help his fellow mutants, even if he doesn't quite know how yet. An interesting addition to this mix is Jennifer Lawrence's Raven: she's grown up with Charles and followed him to Oxford. She struggles with her natural blue and scaly appearance and her "big brother" Charles is all but oblivious to it. The relationship between these two is one of the finest additions to the X-Men story and casts events in the other X-films in a new light.

Lawrence, McAvoy and Fassbender are, unsurprisingly, perfect and the chemistry between the three of them is different for each pairing (Xavier/Raven, Xavier/Lensherr etc.) but undeniable. Kevin Bacon is relishing his time as the Bond villain with a grand, insane plan to ruuule the world! Mwahahaha! He's creepy and thoroughly menacing. January Jones has less to do, and gives us less (unless you count skin) as the diamond skinned telepath Emma Frost. Getting similarly short shrift are the young mutants that make up that first class; most of them are barely defined past their powers with Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast being the only one to really have some time to shine (which is fine, as Hoult is great as the nervous hyper-intelligent Q of the X-Men). But these kids do give us some of the best bits of the film: Xavier and Lensherr finding them with Cerebro, the kids hanging out and showing off their powers, Xavier and Lensherr training them in the use of their powers. It's a more joyous, liberated feeling given to these gifts than is usually seen in the X-universe. And I'd just like to say, I am incredibly pleased they went with the classic (albeit tweaked) blue and gold uniforms. Those costumes suit this film down to the ground.

The fact that this was all made in 10 months is almost unbelievable but Vaughn and his team have pulled it off. And not only pulled it off, but made one of the best blockbusters of the year. The truncated production/post-production period shows in some places though: some FX work isn’t the best (notably in the flying sequences) and the film is relentlessly plot driven. But they still find time for those all important character moments. In fact, the biggest complaint I have is that I wanted more: I wanted more of Erik hunting Nazis like an angry, charming, super-powered 007. I wanted more of the relationship between Charles and Erik, of just seeing these two future leaders together. I wanted more of the 60’s societal vibe, this being the decade of the civil rights movement and more. There is a dash of that, but it feels more like really great flavouring to events than being a pivotal part of proceedings (the Cuban Missile Crisis aside). I hope the plan is to involve real, society shifting events in a sequel as they move deeper into the fractious decade.

X-Men: First Class marks a big, important step for Vaugh as a director. This is perhaps not as inventive in the action sequences (but they're still great) as his previous Kick-Ass but given the incredible time constraints and huge nature of this canvas, that is something easily forgiven. And that's another great thing: First Class hops around the globe and the central threat involves nothing less than total nuclear armageddon. It's a little bit larger and higher stakes than most other superhero films. Vaughn has managed to revitalise a struggling franchise and bring it back to the central relationship: the teacher Xavier and the leader Magneto. I, for one, am glad the Vaughn left X3; there he would've been telling a continuation and end of a story someone else started. With X-Men: First Class he gets to begin a new one.

June 2, 2011


Just Jack!
Johnny Depp's appearance as Jack Sparrow (Captain) in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is one of the greatest, most succinct character introductions in modern film. He rides into port on a sinking ship, perched perfectly in the crossbeams and elevates an otherwise reasonably straight ahead pirate ghost adventure film to something special. Orlando Bloom’s Will and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth are our nominal heroes but Depp’s Captain Jack saunters in and makes off with the whole film, grinning as he does so. He’s a fantastic character, and the film is a lot more fun because of him; The Curse of the Black Pearl is an exceptionally well made blockbuster film.

It’s a shame then, that no Pirates sequel has been able to capture what made the first film so magical. The first two sequels became over-stuffed with new and returning characters and needlessly overcomplicated plots and mythology. There were reversals, betrayals and counter-betrayals nearly every minute, losing the audience’s compassion for any character whatsoever. With the fourth film, On Stranger Tides, a new director in the shape of Chicago’s Rob Marshall came aboard and the attempt was made to strip the film back: shorten the run-time and simplify the plot mechanics. Now it’s like they’ve gone too far in the opposite direction, stripping out any sense of fun or craft.

The plot involves some guff about the Fountain of Youth. Captain Jack arrives in London, having heard about someone impersonating him to procure a crew. The impersonator turns out to be an old flame, Penelope Cruz’s Angelica, who also happens to be the long lost daughter of the much feared and legendary pirate Blackbeard. Blackbeard has heard of a prophecy regarding his death, which is why he’s heading to the Fountain. And Barbossa is back, this time as a privateer under the auspices of King George. Barbossa is out for revenge on Blackbeard and the English are looking to beat the Spanish, so that’s why he’s heading to the Fountain. The only one with no real motivation to be going to the Fountain… is Jack. Oh, and the Spanish are there for some reason but they barely book-end events and seem to be (yet another) random element thrown in to the mix (they serve, quite literally, absolutely no purpose to the film. None).

Placing Captain Jack Sparrow front-and-centre seems like the obvious decision to make; a recurring criticism of the last two films was that Orlando and Keira should have been jettisoned after the first. This makes him no longer a character commenting on the action from the sidelines but neither does the action of the film revolve around him. Oh, they make a game attempt to pretend like it does but Captain Jack is such a passive protagonist here. He now has no clear motivation and is brought along by others for the ride. Ian McShane does his level, glowery, stompy best as Blackbeard and manages to bring the menace in every scene and he and Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa actually have some great enmity between them. But the Orlando and Keira replacements are such blank non-entities I’m struggling to even remember their names. They’re both introduced late into the piece, rather than having things revolve around them and their love-story, and Depp keeps his distance from both of them.

I guess with On Stranger Tides I just couldn’t muster up too much enthusiasm. The last two sequels have their supporters, and I’ll admit they have some fun set-pieces in them, but I’m no fan. Coupled with the fact that all advance word I had heard about Tides was, well, not that great my expectations were suitably lowered.  It just seems that screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio are still scrambling to find out why the first film worked so well and just throwing everything in with no real thought (I, for one, hope they're jettisoned from any follow-up films. Their writing here is pretty lazy and terrible). Having said that, I didn’t find it to be complete rubbish, with everything chugging along at a decent enough pace and certainly not being a blockbuster crime of the Transformers 2 level. I think Johnny Depp still enjoys playing the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, but they just need to give some motivation next time. As for this stranger tide? It all just washed over me leaving no discernable imprint.

June 1, 2011

In Appreciation of... THE X-MEN

Just before I head off to see Matthew Vaughn's 60's set X-Men: First Class for myself, I thought I would take the time to write a (long overdue) new entry in my In Appreciation of... posts/columns. As you can see from the title, this is an Appreciation of Marvel's Merry Mutants: the X-Men.

The X-Men began life in that great comic-book idea boom of the 60’s; the Silver Age. There was a reason Marvel was called the House of Ideas, and the two biggest idea men at the company were Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby. The idea behind the X-Men was one of their less inspired origin stories though: Stan Lee could not think of a new and exciting way for this group to gain their powers, so he decided to just make them born with them. But out of that simple idea came shadings of discrimination and struggle all within the context of the social upheaval in the 60’s. It's no accident that comparisons are often made between Professor Xavier/Martin Luther King and Magneto/Malcolm X. The original team was made up of five teenage mutants: the stoic and reserved Cyclops, the brilliant and ebulliant Beast, the class clown Iceman, the high flying playboy Angel and the gifted and lovely Marvel Girl. Their ranks have changed dramatically in the decades since, with new mutants joining, leaving, dying, turning evil, being reborn, returning from the future etc.

The X-Men are, in all likelihood, my favourite bunch of comic-book characters. Some people go for the dark grittiness of Batman, while others prefer the everyman quality of Spider-Man (when I started reading comics, Spider-Man was in a weird, dark place. This was the time of the Clone Saga). The X-Men are a pop culture link to my past; the pubescent me with gross hair down to my shoulders, my parents going through a difficult time, me trying to fit in and impress (re: talk) to girls and then trying to pretend like I didn’t care. Where I grew up there were two comic-book shops and one trading card store. It was a small teenage haven on the main street: comic-book shop, movie theatre, video-game arcade. They’re all gone now; the centre of town shifted. I spent a lot of time after school, just hanging out at the comic-book shop talking to the comic book guy (actually a pretty cool guy; about as far away from CBG on The Simpsons as you could get). I don’t know what it was about comics, and the X-Men in particular, that drew me in but I was hooked. I was an addict and the X-Men were my crack.

I think I was first introduced to the X-Men by my friend Rajeev and his issues of the "Fatal Attractions" storyline - where the X-Men went to shut down Magneto for good and Wolverine ended up having the adamantium (the special comic-book metal that coats his bones) yanked out of him. Or it could've been via the totally wicked 90's cartoon:

Memories become blurred but that cartoon show was awesome, with its multiple episode story arcs that managed to draw on decades of X-stories. Not even Batman: The Animated Series managed to do that. From there I picked up the comics, got hooked and somehow found myself jumping almost directly into one of the biggest X-crossovers Marvel have had: The Age of Apocalypse. Professor Xavier’s son, the schizophrenic telekinetic mutant known as Legion, travelled back in time to kill the X-Men’s long-time adversary Magneto. Instead, he accidently killed his daddy and founder of the X-Men. Being a comic-book, this didn’t lead to some sort of looping time paradox that destroyed the entire universe (well…) but instead created a dystopian universe where the X-Men’s ancient enemy Apocalypse ruled. It was great, crazy, heady stuff and I lapped it up. It was the X-Men, but more hardcore: a lone band of rebels (who still managed to find spandex for their costumes somehow) up against a despotic ruler whose doctrine was simply “survival of the fittest”. It was grim, but as a 13-14 year old it was also so fucking cool (that paragraph was a lot of fun to write. Time travelling psychotic sons creating dystopian timelines! Woo! Comic-books!).

This was also the mid to late 90’s where, in the comic-book world, the artist and gimmicky cover was king. I started reading after Jim Lee et al had taken off to form Image, but just as Joe Madureira was starting his run. Madureira was instrumental in bringing the anime/manga look into the mainstream of American pop-culture. His stuff was freakin’ cool and crazy and over the top and full of motion. It’s a shame his post-X career has gone nowhere.

But going back and re-reading these comics now I cannot help but see the poor, obvious and expositional writing. But at the time, I was well into them. In fact, I got into the Children of the Atom in a big way in various formats:

• Uncanny X-Men and X-Men comic books
• X-Men cartoon show
• Children of the Atom video-game
• X-Men (and Marvel) collecting cards
• X-Men toys

I shudder to think at the amount of money I spent on “collectable” trading cards and various action figures. I read the comics all the way through the Onslaught storyline (Professor Xavier goes evil, turns on X-Men, sends Marvel heroes to alternate universe) and beyond. I followed the X-Men through time, dimensions, struggle, outer space, betrayal and more. Then, well, my interest started falling off. I stopped buying all the extraneous crap (ok, I was still buying some of the action figures). I stopped buying and reading the comics. I gave ‘em up; they just got too… well, silly (and given what had gone before... silly was very silly). 

Then there was Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Holy shit. An X-Men movie (and a good two years before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man brought the comic-book movie into the mainstream). And this was a time before I had discovered movie websites (hell, before a lot of them even existed), so each teased image, each clip was devoured by me and my friends. We talked (argued) amongst ourselves about the costume changes, whether Magneto was going to look silly in his helmet… Yeah, a regular group of geeks. This was no cheapie piece of crap flick either: this had Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as the two mutant leaders, Professor X and Magneto respectively. It's not a great game-changing movie by any shakes, but it's still some damned good mutant fun and of course led into one of the best superhero movies yet: X-Men 2. Singer built on the world and characters and though one of my favourite X-Men (Cyclops) got short shrift I would still hold it up as an exemplar of a superhero team movie. I remember seeing it at a midnight screening with a large group of friends when I was at University. It was exactly the type of movie you wanted to watch with a collection of fellow geeks, with the shared level of excitement being palpable. The less said about X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine the better.

So I was still enjoying catching up with the X-Men, but I certainly wasn't doing it on any sort of regular basis; I'd stopped buying the monthly issues of X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. I'd kicked the habit and moved on. Oh, sure, I bought a comic-book every now and then and even had a flick through the latest X-Men comic at the local shop (Cyclops merged with Apocalypse?! Xavier dead?! Xavier alive?! Xavier walking?!) but I was free and clear. The only comic I was regularly buying was the brilliant Ex Machina.

Then Firefly ruined it all. 

Firefly introduced me to the particular genius of Joss Whedon and if not for that ill-fated one season space western, I might never have picked up a flatmate's trade paperback of Astonishing X-Men. It was... *sigh*... it was really fuckin' good.

I was like a junkie getting his first sniff of crack in years. I ended up buying all four of the trade paperback's collecting Whedon (and artist John Cassady)'s run on Astonishing X-Men. It was a great run, with Whedon's finely tuned ear for dialogue, comedy and character beats featuring strongly and Cassady's artwork being some of the best I've seen, bar none. But it wasn't just Astonishing X-Men; I bought up a fistful of the Ultimate X-Men trades and started buying the single issues monthly (Ultimate X-Men was part of Marvel's Ultimate imprint - relaunching Marvel characters free of the continuity baggage and contemporising them and their origins). The X-Men were, if anything, even more "hardcore" now than when I first started reading them. And then the Ultimate universe imploded in on itself. The quality of the writing and storylines quickly dropped off. Marvel seemed more interested in "Ultimising" new characters than telling new and interesting stories. I dropped the title.

The X-Men were my gateway to the larger Marvel Universe and from there, to the larger insane silliness of comic-book lore. Within the context of the Marvel Universe, the X-Men are the perpetual underdog; they don’t have the fame of the Fantastic Four, nor the adoration accorded to the Avengers. They protect a world that hates and fears them; that's their modus operandi. And one of the things I think I love most is that there is still so much more that could be explored in the X-Men stories, there's still so many stories to tell and themes to explore. Grant Morrison had an interesting run a few years back and the main continuity books right now are actually pretty damned good (being written by Matt Fraction now I think). I pick them up every now and then at the comic-book store and flick through them, just to see what's happening with this collection of the uncanniest of heroes. But they're going for $10 a pop here in NZ, so I can't really afford to buy them. But maybe, just maybe, I'll buy a trade or two.

So, to writers and artists like (deep breath) Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Jim Lee, Joe Madureira, John Romita Jr., Ed Brubaker, Chris Bachalo, Adam & Andy Kubert, Warren Ellis, Carlos Pacheco, Joss Whedon, John Cassady... cheers.

Shine on you crazy diamonds. Shine on.