Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rise of the ‘Salvation’ army

To understand and appreciate this new installment, you should have seen at least the first two parts of the Terminator trilogy. “Terminator: Salvation” unveils the horrific future world that was only briefly shown before, the dreaded dystopia where a war between man and intelligent machines raged.

Directed by McG, it stars Christian Bale as John Connor, a resistance figure so important that relentless cyborgs time-traveled to the past to erase him from existence. “Salvation” creates a dark, chaotic reality that easily connects with what was previously presented. Humans are herded and exterminated, so John Connor must find his father Kyle Reese--still a teenager, played by Anton Yelchin--to ensure that certain events become history.

The dynamic is different but not necessarily better; the previous Terminator films tapped the underdog element well. In this prequel, Connor and Reese are guaranteed to survive, despite some life-threatening situations, so the dangers aren’t as felt as those in the old movies. The action sequences are executed impressively, however, so there’s still a working semblance of urgency. There are dramatic moments, brought about by the inclusion of Marcus (Sam Worthington), a confused cyborg with a heart.

What “Salvation” lacks is the presence of strong females in the vein of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood play pretty forgettable background characters.

While the script clunks on occasion, some classic lines are uttered with precision by key characters. Also, there aren’t many stories left to explore, but the crucial ones--those involving time travel and the introduction of new Terminator models--should make for some interesting, action-heavy sequels.

Hospitals and Classrooms

Nothing quite reminds us that we’re part of a bigger whole--our family--like medical emergencies. Late last week, a close relative went through a serious one, which sent most of us thinking about the consequences. How significantly would this unforeseen event affect her, and us?

Work schedules had to change; some of us had to visit or stay with her. When the emergency was happening, I thought of her a lot, but I did suppress signs of being bothered when I did an interview that day. The family was amazed and thankful that she revived moments after flatlining, and eventually felt relieved that she’s on the road to recovery.

Hospital stays can be dreadfully dull. She wanted to leave when she felt a little better. I was confined a few times myself when I was a kid. Hospitals make me uneasy now for different reasons, but that’s just something I have to get over when I need to go to one. I’m glad that she felt a little happy when I showed up, though.

Anyway, the events of the past few days made me think about hope, and the oft-unspoken rapport between loved ones. I took a break from work because my mind was just too busy. I listened to music, channel-surfed and contacted people. One particular conversation with my friend John didn’t really center on the recent medical situation, but led instead to our long-forgotten elementary classrooms.

We found out that we had similar “open” classrooms, in that all sections in one level were contained into a one-storey building. Where I studied, chalkboards with wheels, or shelves and wooden lockers, divided the big area into several rooms. Sometimes, we could hear the activities of the sections nearest ours, but it was easy to get accustomed to.

The center part was an open teacher’s lounge. At the end of each hour, a teacher would ring a handheld bell, not unlike an ice cream vendor’s or an altar boy’s, and signal all of us to prepare for the next subject or leave when it was 3:00. It was also used once by a teacher to call fellow teachers after classes, signaling them that she carried the latest magazines that covered the Sharon Cuneta-Gabby Concepcion wedding.

I remember one time when a batchmate, an attention-deprived boy, wandered past the teacher’s lounge and near our section. He was playing with clay, and noticed that some students from our section were bored and just staring at him. His exhibitionist tendency surfaced; he shaped the clay into a male organ--uncircumcised--held it in front of his crotch, and sure enough, he got some giggles. I wonder what happened to that kid.

The conversation led to Religion class. John and I found ourselves reciting “Hail Holy Queen” at the same time, without missing any word. “To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” Man, we can’t relate to it now at all. We were laughing at how strange it was to have that stuck somewhere in our brains, many decades later.

I suppose that’s the kind of week it’s been. Many connections to old memories are quite intact. The random things from the past remind us how our minds can retrieve specific information, which may not always be essential.

And events in the present also remind us that there is a need to preserve some old connections, to be there for people who’ve been there for us.

‘Dark Avengers’: Thunderbolts repackaged

Brian Bendis’ new Avengers team consists of four of the most loathsome ex-Thunderbolts (Norman Osborn, Moonstone, Bullseye, Venom) and four figures with not-so-spotless pasts (Ares, Sentry, Noh-Varr and Daken). Osborn and some of his handpicked members steal existing superhero identities and pretend to be heroes, while those with established hero identities join the group for their own reasons.

The concept isn’t exactly new. We’ve seen this before during Kurt Busiek’s Thunderbolts run. The pretension and the shots at redemption are hard-to-miss elements. And it feels like an extension of Warren Ellis’ stint, when the Thunderbolts became government-sanctioned hero-hunters.

The first four issues of Dark Avengers are pretty decent, however. While the battle with Morgan is unnecessarily spread across three issues (and reminds us of the never-ending ninja fights in New Avengers), the characters, including guest star Dr. Doom, are capably handled. The villains stand out, and the Sentry’s sanity issues are finally being addressed. The writer shows a better grasp of the nasty, snarky ones, as well as Ares, so it’s a much smoother read than his other Avengers book.

Mike Deadato’s art is okay; he’s improved as a storyteller, but he needs to clean up the clutter a little, and tone down the shading.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Finding the human in five space spectacles

(Published May 23, PDI-Super. The Battlestar Galactica part was omitted in the online edition for some reason, but it’s included here and in the paper version.)

To explore galaxies far, far away is to come face to face with all-too-familiar conditions

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The rebooted Star Trek mythology reintroduces decades-old characters, winning over old and new fans with its crafty melding of energetic storytelling and a vibrant young cast.

Invigorated anew, the space sojourns of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the intrepid crew are expected to examine and explore human-alien dynamics further in upcoming sequels.

As in other science fiction-fantasy concepts, the universality of struggle--whether one is human, humanoid, or even an artificial entity--is a factor that makes these otherworldly conflicts appealing.

The vastness of space provides these larger-than-life beings mystery-filled venues to discover and understand. Examinations of the characters are usually provided in the process, giving them--and us--insights into the human condition, aside from flashy spaceship spectacles.

Here are five galaxy-spanning screen serials, recent and classic, that center on a spectrum of human traits, in clashes not confined to just one world:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

The animated “Clone Wars” series elaborates on that pivotal period in Star Wars history. Concepts previously unexplored in the films (such as Anakin Skywalker the mentor, and undecided alien races choosing sides during the War) are focused on.

Familiar characters are developed, and new situations are introduced. It expands on Anakin’s heroism in a way that the prequel films couldn’t. There are very few clues that indicate his eventual downfall, and the growth of his secret romance with Padme keeps him away from inner conflict, at least for now.

The drama captivates, and insightfully depicts wartime blues on a galactic scale.


In the short-lived “Firefly,” an eclectic group of space-faring humans dodge and fight the scum of the universe together. Narrowly escaping different pursuers such as government goons and ruthless cannibals, Mal and his crew stick together despite differences. The roster is changed forever in the film “Serenity” but the team is stronger than ever.

There are no alien or extraterrestrial antagonists; instead, a variety of humans pose serious threats. The collision of cultures and distinct characters make this “space western” accessible and easy to revisit.

Battlestar Galactica

The revived “Battlestar Galactica,” which had a prior TV incarnation about three decades back, re-imagines the unparalleled menace of the mechanical Cylons, who successfully annihilate most of the human race. Defeated, the remaining thousands escape and fend off subsequent attacks. The Cylons have evolved to appear like real persons, however, and have infiltrated the ranks of the survivors.

The occasionally depressing series is well-written, poignantly illustrating human resilience in the midst of impossible adversity.


The cryogenically frozen pizza delivery boy Fry wakes up to a totally changed Earth a thousand years later. He delivers packages to different planets with his co-workers, the cyclopean pilot Leela and snarky robot Bender.

“Futurama,” a consistently witty animated series, lasted a few seasons and had a number of straight-to-DVD movie releases. It satirized present-day human behavior and pop culture, among other things.

Doctor Who

The British science fiction show aired for decades and was successfully revived and retooled in 2005.

The enigmatic Doctor is a time traveler who jaunts across different eras and galaxies with his chosen companions. The Doctor’s encounters with aliens, authors and armies escalate into adventures that highlight human frailty and heroism.

Consistently imaginative and clever, the show has just concluded its fourth season, and is expected to continue bringing viewers to the most unexpected times and places in the coming years.

Enigma-free ‘Angels’

Tom Hanks reprises the Robert Langdon role in “Angels and Demons,” a considerably less controversial film than “The Da Vinci Code.” It has more straightforward cat-and-mouse scenarios and corresponding deadly puzzles. There’s just barely any tension.

Save for one scene involving a papal candidate’s combustibility, it becomes difficult to get involved with the simultaneous problem-solving and rescue missions. There’s a twist you can see coming from miles away, and from time to time the movie feels like it’s trying to unruffle some feathers.

It’s not totally tedious; Hanks delivers, as does Ewan McGregor, who plays a Church official alerted to the vengeful machinations of a revived secret society.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sing a Song

I enjoy singing at those videoke rooms in the malls’ video arcades. I don’t get to do it often, but I’ve done it when there was time to kill. The prices vary, from P5 to P10 per song depending on the venue, but three to four songs at a time are enough to scratch that specific itch to vent through song. I know I can’t sing, but people outside the room are prevented from hearing me thanks to the wonders of soundproofing.

I wish they had songs by Joni Mitchell, Sarah McLachlan and other similar artists. But most of the videoke places have nice enough selections to choose from. For me, the easiest to sing are two classic new wave tunes, Seona Dancing’s “More to Lose” and Modern English’s “I Melt With You.” I know those songs well enough and they’re within my mimicking range; I’d like to think that I’m able to get the accent and intonation, at least.

The lyrics differ from arcade to arcade, though. Sometimes I don’t rely on them, and just stick to what I know. “We tear our hearts with jagged truths” is sometimes written as “We tear our hearts with jagged tubes.” And I’ve seen the line “And now it’s over, both of us free” mistakenly written as “And now it’s over, about us three.” Hmm. That changes the meaning of the song.

One of the many songs that I can’t mimic is Cheap Trick’s “The Flame.” Man, trying to sing that made my throat hurt. That’s out of my repertoire, and I’m back to just singing along to it when it’s playing on the radio.

But I’ll look for more songs I can interpret, and vent some more, when I get the chance.

New Muties

Yes, it’s another X-team. No, it’s not the New Mutants, who recently got revived in their own book. According to solicits, this team is the Dark X-Men, yet another group created by Norman Osborn that blatantly swipes the name of an existing, established one. The mini, Dark X-Men: The Beginning, is written by Paul Cornell (Doctor Who, Captain Britain, etc.). I’m curious about the lineup: Namor, Emma, Mimic, Weapon Omega, Professor X, Daken and Cloak and Dagger are there, but like in Dark Avengers, some of them might not be who they appear to be. It’ll be out in July.

Oh, that’s strange. I didn’t notice earlier that Dagger’s X-insignia is placed on her crotch.

Another ‘Night at the Museum’

Statues of historical figures come to life again in the sequel “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” something that might only appeal to fans of the first fantasy movie. Ben Stiller returns as Larry, former night watchman who befriended most of the magically animated museum characters. This second movie introduces more works of art and figures from the past, but offers little in terms of their clever utilization. Amy Adams and Hank Azaria are nice additions to the cast; however, their characters quickly become inconsequential and do little to improve the equation. Stretched-out jokes and meandering storylines make it difficult to care for Larry and the people that the living statues represent. Also, the effects are okay, but they’re nothing spectacular or different.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


One of the stranger things about having fever for three days was the unusual clarity I had most of the time. I did not have any bizarre fever dreams; instead I thought of eulogies and heartbreak--when I wasn’t going to the bathroom to spit out phlegm with blood, of course.

The sore throat was a sign that things would get more uncomfortable. Drinking with ice during rainy days shouldn’t be an issue, but my sensitive throat still became a mess. The shifty weather didn’t help, and I don’t seem to adapt well to those changes like I used to. I did finish an article about health tips, ironically, before succumbing to drowsiness. When I woke up, my throat wasn’t painful but phlegm had built up. I kept waking up to spit. Thankfully, the bathroom’s just a few feet away from my bed.

So it was a weird routine during the first 24 hours. I’d feel really cold, then hot. I had little to no appetite for food. I couldn’t finish fried chicken--an easy task, under normal circumstances. I had to drink lots of water, maybe more water than I drank in about a week. I kept going to the bathroom every half-hour or so to pee and spit, ever-curious if there’s still blood in my phlegm. Some people online say that it might be old blood and no cause for worries, and it’s something I’ve experienced for maybe half my life. Sometimes there were red chunks; sometimes they looked paler and liquefied.

Before falling asleep, I’d have long hours thinking about mortality, mine and others’:

I’d probably write decent eulogies for people closest to me. If I suddenly die, I hope my family can look at my blog and read a few years’ worth of my thoughts. I’m not really scared of dying, but I’m scared of suffering before that or leaving unfinished business.

When I wasn’t feeling totally feverish, I bathed, which always felt good, but the phlegmatic throat remained. I also threw up, which made me feel better after. I kept sinking into my bed, and distracted myself with Kurt Busiek’s classic Avengers run and back-to-back episodes of Futurama and How I Met your Mother. Both shows were pleasant distractions (although there was a Futurama episode where Fry and Zap Brannigan became sex slaves/ comfort men of giant Amazons--still funny but a bit disturbing).

By day three I didn’t feel the need to take paracetamol. I did go out quickly to buy toiletries and some food. I was getting my appetite back. I kept watching TV on my bed, while finding words to fit how I’ve been feeling in the last couple of months. I found myself crying by the end of an episode of How I Met Your Mother, which was about how a character recovered from heartbreak. The narrator’s final words were simple: “The only thing that can really heal a broken heart is time.” Then a light remake of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” played in the background. It was one of those rare syntheses of writing, music and visuals that really tugged at the heartstrings.

So here I am, feeling loads better. And no, no more bloody phlegm. I’ll be okay. I’ll be great.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

New Trek, New Leagues

We watched the new Star Trek, which was damn awesome, last Tuesday at the Imax. The JJ Abrams-directed film introduces a young and sexy new crew while acknowledging the existence of the original one. It’s accessible enough for the uninitiated, and respects longtime fans, if the audible praises of many cosplaying Trekkies during the screening were any indication.

Speaking of new groups, The Justice League: Cry for Justice 6-issue mini will finally be out in July. It’s by James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli; the roster is made up of Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Green Arrow, Atom, Batwoman, Starman, Supergirl, Congorilla and Shazam. It looks promising.

I’ve been reading about Dwayne McDuffy’s JLA situation. To paraphrase, he’s being hampered by big event stories, which he has to adapt to. That explains the vague direction of the book. I don’t know if this lineup is entirely his idea or editorially mandated, but it’s interesting. The revamped team was hinted at in the JLA Origins and Omens backup months ago; only Black Canary is missing from the drawing. Well, I really hope it works.

Clockwise from top left: Firestorm, Icon, Dr. Light, Hardware, Vixen, Green Lantern (Jon Stewart)

Surprisingly okay ‘FCBD Avengers’

Bendis proves that he can write a single-issue team story with Free Comic Book Day Avengers, a one-shot that finally shows a confrontation between real and poseur Avengers (New and Dark), albeit briefly. So forget the misleading NA # 50 cover; this is where it happens.

Some gripes: You’d wish that Ronin, Warbird and Mockingbird did and said more. You’d also wish the other Avengers books (Mighty and Initiative) were represented in their own separate FCBD story, preferably written by their writers, too. And, there’s an attempt to arrest the outlaw Avengers once again, but that’s prevented by the timely intervention of a certain Thunder god this time.

But FCBD Avengers is still fun, a cleanly told tale that nicely introduces new readers to this side of current Avengers lore.

Celebrating Free Comic Book Day

(Published May 9, PDI-Super)

It was a special day for comic book fans, creators, shop owners, and of course, literacy

Text by Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Photos by Benedict S. Bartolome

May 2 was a Saturday, but it wasn’t a day that many comic book fans spent zonked out at home. Only a few local shops were set to give away freebies during Free Comic Book Day (FCBD), so readers and collectors who knew about it got up early (well, maybe earlier than the usual Saturday), patiently lined up, and got rewarded some cool stapled goodies.

Free Comic Book Day started in the United States in 2002. Held every first Saturday of May, FCBD aims to promote the comic book medium, as well as literacy.

Fans, old and young alike, trooped to participating shops and get free comics, which have been created exclusively for the event or are reprints of previously published stories. People also tried out new books, met fellow devotees, and bought items at discounted prices.

Among shops that gave away free comics were Planet X in Glorietta, Druid’s Keep in Gateway Centre, Magallanes, and Comic Odyssey in Robinsons Galleria.

A long line of visitors--hundreds of them--waited to pick from a selection of comics piled on a table inside Comic Odyssey. Shop owner and manager Sandy Sansolis was pleased.

“We get the whole range of comic fans, from the diehard fan to the casual reader, and the passerby who is curious to see what the long lines are about,” he said. “Almost all comic genres are represented in the comics, so there is something for everyone.”

The earliest visitors got comic loot bags. They also got their choices of three FCBD titles and even an FCBD lollipop. Sansolis added that preparing for the fun annual event was challenging.

“I get ready for FCBD approximately three months ahead of time. Pre-ordering the FCBD comics is the toughest part of planning. As there are product and freight costs for the free comics, I have to be very careful in ordering. I make sure I order enough products without going over budget.”

Back at the Comic Odyssey line, people held on to their stubs, as Marvel and DC compilations, sourcebooks, variant edition comics and other collectibles were raffled off. Other comic book fans checked out back issues, or queued up to have their Pinoy-drawn titles signed by artists like Gerry Alanguilan, Leinil Francis Yu, Wilson Tortosa and Carlo Pagulayan.

“Creator appearances are a great draw for FCBD,” Sansolis said. “It’s a great time for the fans to meet their favorite artists and have their comics signed. We also run a sale where customers can save up to 50% off selected items.”

Sansolis considers Free Comic Book Day important to the business. It helps create new readers.

“FCBD has been a great tool in promoting comics to the general public. I would say about 25% of the people that show up on FCBD, they’re potential new customers. Many of these new customers are kids who get exposed to comics for the first time. Hopefully, the FCBD comics will help spark a love for comics and reading in general.”

Monday, May 04, 2009

Geek Week

A bunch of things from the last couple of days. In no particular order:

1. Lined up for almost two hours to get free comics at Comic Odyssey and got Blackest Night # 0, among other freebies.

2. Read Legion of 3 Worlds… Man, two major resurrections in a row rectify some lame-ass deaths. Wow!

3. Was visited by my old high school friend, who mentioned stuff I said 20 years ago that I completely forgot.

4. Found out that someone from Top Gun came out of the closet. No, not that one--it’s Kelly McGillis! Nice.

5. Was given a box of 12 different pastries.

6. Went to two invitational screenings of Wolverine.

7. Wrote two articles in a row yesterday, after getting a surge of ideas.

8. Finished Greek season one. I like the cute romances and the petty rivalries.

9. Discovered that, after many months of not checking, the big toy stores have been selling Marvel Legends Wal-Mart exclusives.

10. Was given a Wolverine Weapon X figure by Benedict. It’s the third clothed version of the character, methinks. Logan’s supposed to be naked, with various contraptions covering his bits.

11. Solved two cube puzzles.

12. Won Jollibee gift checks at the Wolverine screening.

Last Suppers

I’ve seen different illustrations and photos inspired by Da Vinci’s interpretation of the momentous dining scene. A Google Image search reveals interesting variations, like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Looney Tunes, X-Men, JLA, House, Simpsons, South Park, and many others.

So these are mine, but I didn’t adhere strictly to the layout. I’m a fan of Milligan and Allred’s mutant celebrity team X-Statix, and would like to see the title and characters revived someday. I included Spike Freeman because he’s the traitor figure of the old series.

X-Statix Dines Out

The Smurfs, back in fourth grade, I drew them a lot. I enjoyed drawing them again. Papa Smurf isn’t a messiah figure, but he’s used mystic abilities, saved the young ones from trouble, and taught lessons along the way. Anyway, after doing this, I found a similarly themed drawing of the Smurfs online. Same long table with Papa Smurf at the center, but it’s outdoors, daytime, and they had sandwiches on their plates.

Eat At Smurf’s

Fan Artistry

Unlike other creator friends’ comic books, mine isn’t the type that inspired fan art. Yeah, I’m glad that people like it (much thanks), which is more than enough for me. I don’t see people making pinups or whatever, so I was surprised to see this drawing some time ago. On this particular Friendster profile, we see “Lexy’s” self-portrait.

I love it. I dunno who did it, though. The fictional person doesn’t have any Friendster friends, but the one who created the profile did fill the “Who I Want to Meet” space with “I’ve already met him.. ;)”

Just like the character. Aww.

Spare the Mug

When I was transcribing my Christian Bautista interview weeks ago, I kept rewinding to a conversation with Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, who was also present at the I-Shine presscon. She’s the overall program director of Promil’s summer workshop for kids. Over lunch, the theater actress-director talked about her previous work with the singer, “West Side Story.” A colleague asked if she was a tough director like her late mentor Zeneida Amador. She answered:

“I have had mugs thrown at me, cigarettes. But you learn how to make ilag very quickly. I’ve had tables thrown at me, our batch of theater people.”

I asked her, “But you don’t do that?”

She didn’t hear me, so she said, “Huh?”

I spoke louder: “You don’t do that naman?

“I don’t do that,” she replied, looked at Christian and asked, “I don’t do that, right?”

Christian didn’t say anything. Menchu quickly admitted, “I only lost it once. And then I apologized.”

Most of us at the table laughed, and she continued, “But no, that’s really… I feel, it depends on a director what they feel works for them. That doesn’t work for me. Although, when it was done to me… again, it takes two types. Mayroong kaya, mayroong hindi. I was one of the ones na, I took it. And I’m glad I did. It was part of my training. So I do the exact opposite. I’m very patient and I explain a lot. And I do a lot of work with the cast, which I really enjoy to do.”

Interesting perspective. She also spoke about giving the actors separate notes that specify suggestions for improvement.

I enjoyed her presence there. I wasn’t assigned to write about her, so I shared it here, instead.

(image from repertory-philippines)