Archive | May 2013

Action Figure Analysis: The many variations of Anakin (aka ‘Old Man’) Skywalker

Up until The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader seemed nothing more than an ominously breathing, black-suited foe. But, when the revelation came about that he was Luke Skywalker’s father, it changed everything. Suddenly, this symbol of the Dark Side of the Force, and the Galactic Empire, was found to be not some kind of droid or robotic samurai, but a man contained within a suit.

It was during Return of the Jedi, that we were finally told of the name Anakin Skywalker by Obi-Wan Kenobi. From that point on, Luke’s quest takes a very different turn. While it seems that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda were steering Luke to kill Vader (why else would they not tell him the truth?), Luke instead attempts to save the man who ‘ceased’ to be Anakin Skywalker.

Of course, Luke’s belief that some good still existed in his Father is proved true when Anakin throws the Emperor down a shaft in the second Death Star, saving his son, and destroying the Sith.

It is in Luke’s struggle to get his Father off the crippled Space Station, that Anakin asks his son to remove his mask, to see Luke “through his own eyes.” As we watched, Luke removed two pieces of the ominous helmet, to reveal a white-faced older man (actor Sebastian Shaw), with circles under his eyes, and a gash in the top of his head. As he utters his last words to Luke (without the ominous intonations of James Earl Jones), Anakin expires.

Later on, after burning his Father’s body, and then joining his friends to celebrate the end of the Empire, Luke is visited by the spirits of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, and then notices the two are joined by a third, this one Anakin, no longer burned or scarred, but looking normal and very pleased.

Of course, this is how many of us knew Anakin, up until 2004, when Shaw’s ‘spirited’ presence was replaced by Hayden Christensen (I guess killing children and force-choking your wife can have advantages in the after-life). However, we’re here today to talk about figures of Anakin, when we knew him way-back-when (aka the Sebastian Shaw years).

As the Star Wars toy line began to wind down in the mid-80’s after the trilogy ended, there were few places for it to go (aside from figures based around the Ewoks and Droids cartoon series). As figure production ended during the Power of the Force toy line, Anakin Skywalker emerged as a rare and very strange figure. Much like The Emperor, Anakin was a figure whose robed form was made up in a rather ‘block’ action figure. As well, he came without any form of weapon.

At the time, one could find Anakin only on the Power of the Force cardbacks, or as a special mail-away promotion (I still remember seeing that promotional sticker on the numerous Rancor Keepers that failed to sell at Kay-Bee Toys back in the day).

After this appearance, it would be some time before Anakin would reappear to Star Wars fans. With the impending release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, Kenner began releasing figures that had some relation to characters that would be seen in the upcoming prequel. As we would be seeing a younger version of Anakin, Kenner then released the Sebastian Shaw Anakin in a brand-new sculpt, but in two forms.

The first release happened in late 1998, when Anakin was included as part of the Jedi Spirits “Cinema Scene” 3-pack. Along with figures of Obi-Wan and Yoda, the set was meant to replicate the end-scene of the three Jedi, appearing to Luke.

Though if some thought that the 1985 release of Anakin was stiff, the newer version was pretty much a statue. While it looked like he had neck and arm joints, they were firmly locked into place on the translucently-frosted Jedi.

Even though he couldn’t move, I found this release to be really cool, and the 3-pack recreated one of the last film’s iconic moments.

In early Spring of 1999, Anakin appeared as part of the Power of the Force ‘Flashback’ series. This figure series included a small pull-tab device that showed an image of Anakin from Return of the Jedi, and a younger image of Anakin from Episode I (portrayed by Jake Lloyd).

Though he looks very much like the Jedi Spirits release of Anakin, this figure is largely a new sculpting/molding. The body and Jedi robes Anakin is wearing are definite proof of this. The head-sculpt appears to be the same as the previous release, but due to the plastic and paint, works out pretty well.

This version of Anakin also broke the mold, in that he came with an accessory this time: a blue lightsaber (albeit the same style as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s). At the time, almost every figure seemed to come with some sort of accessory, and this may have just been Kenner’s attempts to keep kids from thinking they weren’t getting their money’s worth with this ‘action’ figure.

In a sense, it is a little sad that with the level of sculpting-detail that Hasbro has done in the last decade, and with how George Lucas defined the trilogy’s imagery in these years as well, an updated Sebastian Shaw sculpt in Jedi Spirit form, is most likely a wishful thought. As it stands now, the only trace of Shaw within current action figures, are the incarnations of Darth Vader, in which removing his helmet shows Shaw’s scarred face underneath.

In another sense, going through Sebastian Shaw’s figures reminds me of those days-gone-by. The original release of Anakin reminds me of my youth when I first started collecting figures, and the next versions remind me of those days in high school, when I began to collect again, and when the Special Edition films were released in 1997, showing many naysayers that even with the convenience of home video, many would still come out to see some films on the big-screen.

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Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 1 – The Summer of Indiana Jones

One could find it hard to imagine that with the popularity of its films, why did it take so long for Indiana Jones to return to the action figure aisles?

In the early 1980’s, Kenner held the license for figures to be made for Raiders of the Lost Ark. When Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released, the license passed to LJN. Unlike Kenner’s figures, which were in the same scale as those from Star Wars, LJN chose a 6-inch size, and only released 3 figures.

In 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade came and went without any figures or toys, but then again, fans of Lucasfilm productions were in the middle of the Dark Ages, with the Star Wars’ Power of the Force line having ended a few years prior. It wasn’t until the announcement in the late 2000’s that Indiana Jones would be returning for a fourth feature, did merchandising swing into full-gear. Kenner was no more by this time, having been absorbed by the Hasbro toy company. As the Indy line began to take shape, the release for action figures and playsets from the films looked to follow this schedule:

Summer 2008 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Raiders of the Lost Ark

Fall 2008 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Winter 2008/2009 –Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Spring 2009 – Raiders of the Lost Ark (additional figures from the film)

Hasbro also expanded their reach into other age-groups, with the static-figured Adventure Heroes for younger children, and the creation of 12-inch, articulated figures with real clothing for collectors.

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Indiana Jones and the Toy Shelves of Doom

Naturally, when you have a well-loved film franchise returning to popularity after 2 decades of absence, you’re going to ramp up production of merchandise for the latest installment (if you lived through the hype that was Episode I, you know where I’m coming from).

The latest adventure of Indiana Jones saw the release of 9 individual figures, a couple figure packs, vehicles, and a Temple playset. Though in a move that was rather surprising, Hasbro blitzkrieged the toy aisle with a second line of Indy material: figures, and vehicles from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Thus in May of 2008, both lines collided with a jumble of figures, vehicles, and more merchandise. It was almost like there was a crazy grab for new fans, and old ones.

Though one of the most startling things to be found, was the difference in sculpting and articulation between the lines.

Here’s one example above. The Indy on the left is from the Raiders line, and the one on the right from the Crystal Skull line. While the newer film has a pretty good sculpt of Harrison Ford, the Raiders Indy just looks…generic. Definitely a step-down from the level of sculpting quality we had come to expect from Hasbro who were now able to make spot-on likenesses in their Star Wars figure line.

The Crystal Skull line was also not without problems, as some figures were strangely out of proportion. Just take a look at Mutt Williams below, compared to two of the other figures in the line. Some would say Shia Labeouf can have a big head, but this is ridiculous.

Hasbro also created a mail-away offer tied between both lines. Each figure came with a small top secret crate, that contained both a relic from one of Indy’s past adventures (some fictional), and a small sticker. Collecting 6 stickers and sending $5 dollars for shipping and handling, would make the sender the proud owner of an exclusive crystal skeleton, complete with a gold (painted) throne to sit on. You can see examples of the crates, a few of the items they contained, and the final mail-away ‘prize’ below:

Of course, within days of its release, word was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was not turning into the return that many of the fans had hoped for. George Lucas’ attempts to move Indiana Jones from the realm of 1930’s matinee serials to 1950’s B-movies, wasn’t being widely accepted by many. As well, many had no problems with Indy attached to a sub in Raiders, jumping from a plane on a raft in Temple of Doom, or getting his whip-training, facial scar, and fedora in a single afternoon in Last Crusade…Jones surviving a nuclear explosion in a lead-lined fridge was just going too far for today’s audiences!

But, I’ve gone off track.

Needless to say, the shelves were never bare of Crystal Skull figures, or even the Raiders line. Mutt Williams and plenty of background characters continued to gather dust throughout the summer season. Indiana Jones games and vehicles sat on shelves past the summer, and on into 2009.

So, what happened? With so many fans eager for the return of Dr Jones, why wasn’t there a buying frenzy for all things Indy and plastic? Well, I’ve given it over to a couple of  things:

1) Tastes in Action Figures – There’s one likely reason why George Lucas’ Star Wars line has been able to weather itself through several generations, and keep collectors coming back for more: its diverse and strange universe of human and alien creatures.

Indiana Jones doesn’t deal in alot of strange-looking aliens (well, with the exception of Crystal Skull’s ‘inter-dimensional beings’). Plus, almost every bad guy Indy has fought is basically a man in a (fine-tailored) suit. Rene Belloq, Lao Che, and even Walter Donovan were sharply-dressed men looking to off Indy. Belloq did show up in the Raiders toyline, but only in his final ceremonial outfit.

As well, the background characters didn’t really make kids go crazy. While adults remembered the characters of the Nazi spy and his monkey, as well as the black-robed swordsman, these figures excited kids as much as seeing Jar Jar Binks on toy shelves again. Given this logic, one can’t imagine there were kids requesting figures from Crystal Skull like Jim Broadbent’s college dean, or John Hurt’s crazy Harold Oxley character.

2) Over-Saturation – Sometimes it would be nice if some stores would show restraint in ordering merchandise. It’s not that many weren’t excited for Indiana Jones to appear, but I never once saw a store peg picked clean. In fact, the only figure that didn’t seem to spend much time on pegs was Irina Spalko. Even though she is the main baddie in Crystal Skull, it seems the odds of short-packing female figures was prevalent (I got lucky and just happened across her at a suburban Walmart one day). As it was, there were more pegwarmers of the generic Russian soldiers, and Colonel Dovchenko.

3) Choices for various vehicles – Whoever decided on vehicles for Raiders of the Lost Ark, they did pretty good with their choices, notably choosing to create the cargo and troop vehicles during the big desert chase where Indy tries to get the Ark back. However, when it came to choosing vehicles for Crystal Skull, the vehicle choices only came down to one: The Jungle Cutter.

Sure, the vehicle has ‘spinning blades,’ but it probably had about 2 minutes of screen-time before Indiana Jones disabled it with a rocket launcher. One wonders why choices such as the amphibious “Duck” vehicle our heroes use to escape, or the large troop transports in the film weren’t considered.

In a sense, it is sad that no vehicles were made after the summer of 2008 lines. I’m sure many were hoping Hasbro would have created the German tank from The Last Crusade.

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By the end of the summer, with the figure line showing no signs of disappearing any time soon, prices quietly began to be slashed on Indy merchandise, and orders for the next wave of figures all but dried up. For those hoping to go on The Last Crusade, finding these figures would be like going on a quest yourself.

*Next Time: We look into the short-packed Wave of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Will we find illumination…or something else?*

*Click Here to read Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 2 – The Fall of Indiana Jones

An Animated Dissection: Howl’s Moving Castle, Part 2 – Howl learns maturity

As I started writing about Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, I suddenly realized I was doing a great disservice by not analyzing another character who grows and changes in the film: Howl himself!

Though Howl’s outward appearance doesn’t make as major a change as Sophie does,  it is his inner self that changes over the course of the film.

The village where Sophie lives has rumored about Howl for some time. Though noone seems to know exactly what the wizard looks like, Sophier’s co-workers at the hat shop tell how he’s interested in devouring the hearts of pretty young girls (even Sophie’s step-sister Lettie mentions this).

Our first appearance of Howl is as a handsome blonde-haired, blue-eyed young man. Though he doesn’t devour Sophie’s heart, one could say he has almost ‘stolen’ it, given how she seems in an unbelieving daze after their encounter.

Howl doesn’t reappear until after Sophie has been cursed, and finds her way into his moving castle. Though he does have an apprentice (a little boy named Markl), this doesn’t necessarily make Howl ‘mature.’ The castle is helter-skelter inside and out. Dust and cobwebs all over the place, not to mention books and bric-a-brac everywhere.

We soon find that Howl is also a fugitive of sorts: he uses multiple identities across different kingdoms, and different portals of entry to them. With a war going on, each of the kingdoms is recruiting wizards and witches to join in with their battles, but Howl does not take sides, preferring to stay neutral to the kingdom’s various affairs.

Using his magic powers, Howl turns himself into a winged creature, that seems to just pass through the battles, sometimes taking on some of the aircraft or wizards in small skirmishes. However, such use of power is slowly taking a toll on him. Calcifer mentions that the more times he goes into these battles, he loses himself to being unable to regain his human form. One could almost see this as Miyazaki’s way of saying that war can ‘change’ people, sometimes not for the better.

Sophie is one of the first to really make a change in Howl’s lifestyle (for the better). First intentionally (cleaning the entire castle), and then accidentally (messing with his potions in the bathroom). This results in Howl having a breakdown in vanity, when he shows her that his blonde hair has turned reddish-orange, before finally regaining his ‘natural’ black coloration.

In a surreal and dark scene, we see Howl lamenting that unless he’s beautiful, he has no point in living. This causes the room to twist and bend, and a green ‘goo’ permeates through his skin. Sophie considers this to be the equivalent of him ‘throwing a tantrum,’ but also shows how vain Howl has become.

When we next see Howl, he’s laying in bed (in his rather cluttered bedroom). His hair is still black, and from this point on, he doesn’t attempt to change its color again (a first step into accepting who he is, and moving into maturity).

After the ‘hair fiasco,’ we find out more regarding Howl’s immaturity. He tells Sophie about how he once was in love with the Witch of the Waste, but then when he found out she wasn’t beautiful, he left her. As well, he has not answered any of the summons by the different kingdoms in regards to their recruiting him for their side of the war.

Sophie recommends that Howl meet with at least one of the Kingdom’s rulers, and explain his own feelings in regards to the war. Howl feels that such a thing won’t deter the request for him to serve, when he hits on a ‘bright idea.’ He suggests that Sophie pretend to be his Mother, and get him out of his obligation with one of the kingdoms. Naturally, she sees this as just another way for him to avoid responsibility. When Howl sends her off, her expression and tone definitely make it clear that she is disappointed at his ‘solution,’ and is doing this ‘under protest.’

However, Howl gives her some consolation to this plan. Before she leaves, he slips a ring onto her finger, telling her that it will protect her, and that he’ll be following her in disguise.

Going to the Royal Palace of one of the kingdoms, Sophie has an audience with the King’s Royal Sorcerer, Madame Suliman. Suliman reveals to Sophie that Howl was once her most gifted student, one whose powers she felt could lead him to taking her position. However, his heart was ‘stolen’ by a demon, and he left his apprenticeship.

Suliman claims that Howl’s uses of magic now are purely for selfish reasons, and that without a heart, he may soon be unable to control his powers. This is some nice insight into the powers Howl has, as well as the thought that demons exist in this world, and can corrupt the magic of some users.

Eventually, Howl shows up in disguise, attempting to retrieve Sophie. However, his disguise is seen through by Suliman, and she uses her powers to make Howl’s powers manifest. Without his heart, Suliman’s powers bring forth the winged creature inside Howl.

Sophie manages to get through to Howl, causing him to regain focus, and escape with her and The Witch of the Waste (who had also been summoned by Suliman). Using a flying vehicle, Howl sends them back to the castle, while he disappears from sight.

After this, Howl returns late in the evening, transformed moreso into his winged creature form, and dripping blood. Sophie awakens and follows his trail, encountering Howl in a carved-out cave, embedded with toys and children’s things. At the end of them, she finds Howl transformed into a large, winged creature. She tells the winged Howl that she wants to help him, but is met with a response of “You’re too late,” before the creature disappears into darkness. A few moments later, it seems that the encounter was nothing more than a dream, but it may have given Sophie some clues to helping Howl.

Sophie then speaks with Calcifer the fire demon, regarding Howl. Calcifer and Sophie have a deal that if Calcifer’s curse is broken, he can break Sophie’s. However, neither is allowed (per the spells on them) to tell what needs to be done to break the spell. At this point, Sophie suspects that Calcifer was the demon who stole Howl’s heart. He is unable to say yes or no to her question, but when she inquires what would happen if Calcifer was extinguished, the fire demon mentions that Howl will die if he (Calcifer) dies.

Eventually, Howl reveals himself to everyone. He’s in good spirits, and informs his new ‘family’ (which now includes the true-aged Witch of the Waste) that they are moving to a new location, since the link to one of the kingdoms has been severed (to prevent Suliman from finding them).

The new place they move into is moreso a ‘home’ than anything else: in fact, it’s the former hat shop that Sophie once lived in! Howl has even included an extra bathroom, and has given Sophie her own room. It feels moreso like Howl is growing up, thinking of others. He even gives Sophie a little insight into his past, by taking her to a secret garden, allowing her access to come here whenever she wishes.

Howl’s new role as a family protector continues on, as he soon after goes away. The town is evacuated, but Sophie, Markl, and The Witch of the Waste stay behind. Howl patrols the skies, becoming more and more bird-like as the war draws closer.

When Howl finally does return to the new home, it is when it is threatened. Howl manages to stop a bomb from destroying the home, and attempts to help cleanse Calcifer of a deadly ‘tracking bug’ that was snuck into the house.

He then attempts to leave, but Sophie wants him to not fight, and come away with them to seek refuge within the castle (whose main location is situated on the outskirts of the town, away from the firefight). However, Howl claims that he won’t run anymore, and that he is committed to fighting to protect her and their ‘family.’

Unable to stop him from leaving them, Sophie has Markl, The Witch of the Waste, and Calcifer transferred into the castle. Going outside, she can see Howl tearing into one of the kingdom’s flying machines. From the distance, he looks like a roaring monster, most likely a side-effect that war has thoroughly unleashed his inner demons, pushing aside his humanity.

Sophie then severs the castle’s connection to the hat shop, and taking control of the castle, intends to get to Howl (with Calcifer’s help). Her assumption is that if Howl realizes that the hat shop is no longer tied to the castle, and that they are safe, he’ll give up fighting (and most likely quell the darkness inside him).

However, when the Witch of the Waste finally realizes that Calcifer has Howl’s heart, her old selfish desires and vanity surface, and she grabs for it, breaking up the castle, separating Sophie from the others.

After being separated from the others, the ring Howl gave Sophie begins to emit a light, and she goes through a doorway, finding herself in Howl’s past. As she watches, she sees a younger version of Howl in the floating garden, amid a series of falling stars. Each one seems to be a living being, that soon dissipates and dies within seconds.

One of the falling stars lands right in Howl’s hands. As Sophie watches, he seems to talk to it, before ingesting it. After a few moments, a flaming mass emerges through his chest, beating. It is here that Sophie is witness to how Calcifer came to be in Howl’s employ: in order for Calcifer to live, Howl gave Calcifer his heart, in exchange for the ability to use his powers. This revelation gives Sophie the last puzzle piece to saving Howl: In order for Howl and Calcifer to be free of the other, Howl’s heart must be returned.

Sophie then emerges back to the present, to find Howl standing before her, now an enormous, feathery creature. The only vestige of humanity is Howl’s face, which is slowly being taken over. Even his eyes seem dull and blank when Sophie addresses him. Sophie tells him to take them to the others, and silently, the Howl-bird does so.

Upon arriving with the others, Howl collapses, feathers from his bird-form floating away, to reveal his human body. However, he does not move.

Pleading with the Witch of the Waste for Howl’s heart to be returned, the old woman complies. After Howl’s heart fades into his chest, Calcifer suddenly escapes in the form of a twinkling starlight. However, without Calcifer’s power, the remnants of the moving castle fully collapse.

Shortly afterwards, Howl speaks, but complains of a weight on his chest.

“A heart’s a heavy burden,” replies Sophie, as she smiles at Howl’s return.

The return of his heart, is one of the final symbols that Howl has now fully-matured. Now no longer relying on Calcifer for the brunt of his magic abilities, he now has full responsibility over his own magic and actions.

The final scenes show that the castle has been rebuilt. But unlike its previous incarnation of something that a young boy would build, the new castle is smaller, and seems more suited for the new family that Howl and Sophie have brought together. Though it does have a few of the original castle’s traits, it shows a familial compromise that makes it very…homey.

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…But wait, there’s still more of the surface to scratch away regarding Miyazaki’s film. In our next part, we’ll look at another transformed character: The Witch of the Waste.

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

Let’s face it: when it comes to a movie series, the third film in most series is often the one that can make-or-break it. While some series can fly gracefully into the night (like Toy Story, Back to the Future, and Lord of the Rings), there are plenty of others that just crash-and-burn in their third act (I’m looking at you, Godfather, Spider-Man, and Pirates of the Caribbean).

When my friend and co-worker Eric Prahl invited me to see Iron Man five years ago, I had very little knowledge of the character or Tony Stark. Most of what I knew was from the inebriated MEGO doll of Iron Man in Toyfare Magazine’s Twisted Toyfare Theater. However, the theatrical experience was a film that was definitely movie-magic. While Tony Stark was an egotistical and brilliant man, he also had his own faults that he realized he needed to take care of. As well, the film’s use of visual effects (done largely by Industrial Light & Magic and Stan Winston Studios),worked together in a seamless tandem, that reminded me of the CG/practical effects tag-teaming done on Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

The overwhelming success of Iron Man quickly pushed director Jon Favreau and Marvel into high gear, giving us a sequel just 2 years later. Iron Man 2 was one of those sequels where they attempted to go bigger than the first film, and for that, the production suffered as the storyline was pulled in multiple directions. You had Tony Stark dealing with the ghosts of his father’s past, preserving the Stark legacy, being further brought into S.H.I.E.L.D., developing his relationship with his friend James Rhodes (this time played by Don Cheadle), and dealing with a Tony-wannabe in the form of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

I know that last sentence went on forever, but that’s what the second film felt like to me: it was just too much, making it a good-but-not-great sequel. So it was with that last sequel in mind, that I entered Iron Man 3 with some trepidation.

Like the first two films, 3 intermingles Tony’s past to tell the story(with one cameo that definitely made my eyes go wide), where we find him struggling to make sense of life in the aftermath of encountering alien warriors, and almost getting killed in another dimension. Fearing for his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his his friends, Tony has all but spent his down-time building suits.

While the previous film hinted at other countries possibly building their own Iron Man tech, the world in this film has come under a new threat, by a bearded figure calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Stark gets embroiled in this conflict in a rather shocking way, but definitely leads one to understand his emotions when it happens.

Up until now, I’d never really seen much of Director Shane Black’s film repertoire. He made a name for himself in the movies, scripting the Lethal Weapon films, and had a hand in writing one of the most anticipated, and biggest flops of 1993: Last Action Hero. Some have said that Black’s writing style feels like he has one foot firmly planted in the realm of 80’s action films, and that shows quite a bit in Iron Man 3. Co-written by Black along with Drew Pearce, the ‘retro-tech’ of the writing style definitely seems comfortable (For more information about this, check out Cinema Blend’s analysis).

While Iron Man does figure into the plot, Black never seems to forget that Tony Stark is at the heart of the story. That is something that money-grubbing studios would have jettisoned by now in favor of putting more Iron Man on-screen to sell toys. It’s always nice to see that to many of us, Marvel Studios still values making us care about what’s inside the suit, not how cool it looks on the outside. I daresay that by the end of this third film, Black has made Tony Stark a much more well-rounded character, than Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

While Iron Man 2 gave Don Cheadle a chance to get people introduced to his characterization of “Rhodey,” it is in Iron Man 3 that he really gets a chance to shine. He’s not on-screen as much as Downey, but when he does show up, I couldn’t help but imagine Terrance Howard seeing this footage and wishing that he was on this rollercoaster ride. There’s even some ‘buddy-cop’ moments between the two that just kept my eyes glued to the screen.

What also helps the story, is that we’re on ‘cool-down’ mode after the pumped-up excitement of The Avengers, and that helps us to pull the film’s story away from a bigger story, and making it seem more intimate regarding the world of Tony Stark and his friends. If Iron Man 2 faltered for me with its shaky focus, Shane Black has stabilized the series with his own level of craftsmanship. I could have gone on for another 6 paragraphs about the film, but that would be treading into dangerous spoiler territory, something I am wont to do.

Though it sounds like I have praised the picture to the moon, I will say it’s far from being a perfect film. There are some areas that have questions that seem unable to be answered upon one viewing. There are mysteries to solve, that like any good detective, requires going over the clues a few times, before a pattern emerges. Not to say that this will detract from your overall enjoyment of Iron Man 3, but for those that may want more thorough answers, repeat showings will definitely be in your future.

I will say that once the film was over, I found myself wondering something I didn’t think I’d ever wonder: “Where can they go from here with Iron Man 4?” I never wonder about future films, but this film made me one of the masses.

If three films can lead to uncertainty, we’ve had plenty of examples where a fourth film has led to Hollywood throwing the twisted, lifeless corpse of many franchises to the curb. One can only hope the management at Marvel Studios is able to pull off (when the time comes), something we’ve never encountered before: An eye-opening fourth film, that maintains the mantra of, “How can we keep the audience pumped for more?”

Comic Review: My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic, Issue #7

Hard to believe that in less than three years, the fandom of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has expanded the world of Equestria beyond the boundaries of the animated series. The internet is alive with fanfiction, fanart, and music remixes from the show.

Spinoffs were inevitable, and that’s what’s happened thanks to IDW Publishing. Tying into the world of the animated series, the comic series appears to do for the fandom, what the Expanded Universe has done for Star Wars: take familiar characters and places, into realms that are limited by the source material. You won’t get swearing ponies or adult-appropriate material, but you will most likely see storylines that wouldn’t pass muster by Hasbro to appear in animated form.

Issue #7 brings us the third part of the comic’s second major (4-part) storyline.

After the mane 6 ponies (Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy) end up having a series of nightmares, they are shocked when Rarity is whisked away to the moon. Apparently, the dark spirits that had possessed Princess Luna, turning her into the dreaded Nightmare Moon, were never fully destroyed. Preying on Rarity’s fears and elemental powers of ‘help and generosity,’ they end up overtaking her, turning the prissy pony into: Nightmare Rarity.

This proves a rather interesting dilemma: with Rarity overtaken by these forces, the Elements of Harmony that were used to repel the dark spirits can’t be summoned. As well, Princess Luna holds her stoic demeanor, while seeming troubled over the events. Though the other 5 still trust her and maintain she is their friend, one can’t help but wonder if there is some revelation coming down the pike, that may make their trust in her waver.

The latest in this 4-issue story arc continues with the artistic/writing duo of Amy Mebberson, and Heather Nuhfer. What’s lovely about these two, is they have been all across fandom with their talents. Nuhfer has written for the Fraggle Rock comic series, and Amy’s art has run the gamut from Muppets to Disney (she also worked for DisneyToon Studios in Australia!) .

Mebberson’s art style seems a little more whimsical and streamlined than Price’s, whose artistic work looks like ponies by way of MAD or Cracked Magazine (not that that’s a bad thing, mind you). The streamlining of characters definitely comes out in Princess Luna, whose Alicorn features are a bit more angular in the animated series, but seem ‘softened’ with Amy’s art style.

The latest story arc also seems to be going into an area that may cause some unease among fans, in that this storyline does have humor, but seems to be going for a plot that runs a little more ‘serious’ in nature. It also serves as a call-back to the events in the animated series’ introductory story arc, The Mare in the Moon. The little shout-outs to previous storylines help establish familiarity to fans, and jog their memories regarding what has come before, but I do have to wonder about those that may just be joining the fandom, and if they’ll be able to keep up.

Also brought into play in issue #7, is Spike’s crush on Rarity. He ends up getting a little more attention in this issue, with a rather touching few pages near the end.

On a (slightly) negative note, I must say that there are a few areas in this issue that felt…muddled. A few panels don’t seem to have very good ‘flow’ in telling the story, and a few feel like they could have been restructured to get down the narration of the scenes involved. As well, there are a few jokes that just seem to fall flat.

Overall, the story continues to build on the foundations of the previous two issues. We all have a pretty good idea how the story will end, but the big question is, “how” will it end? It feels like a storm is coming, and issue #8 is when it makes landfall.

On a final note, I thought I’d share the image on the left. I recently attended the C2E2 expo in Chicago, where I got the chance to meet several of the persons working on the MLP:FiM comic series. Meeting Amy Mebberson in person was definitely a highlight, as she drew this image of Fluttershy for me on an issue #1 variant sketch cover.

You can find out more about her artistic endeavors, by going to www.amymebberson.com.