Wednesday, 25 July 2012

XD About time things got "AvX" in here!

More than half of the year 2012 has passed & my blog has been donning the same look ever since January! So I decided to do something about it...

If the previous theme of my blog's look was the then-ongoing Marvel event "Schism", this new theme revolves around the event that follows it: Avengers vs X-MenConsider AvX Marvel's way of pandering to the movie-going crowd- fresh after watching (& enjoying) The Avengers movie, they'd be curious to learn more about these beloved comic book heroes & hit their local comic book stores (or the Internet) to get their hands on some comics that will help them do just that!

The Avengers vs X-Men event (or AvX, for short), kicked off its 12-issue biweekly run in April this year. Spurred by the return of the Phoenix Force, the Avengers wage an all-out war on the X-Men as they do not want to see the Phoenix cause any more destruction in its wake. The event was teased by several gorgeous comic book covers that enticed us with battles that we've been dying to see between the Avengers & X-Men characters!

Act 1 (issues #1-5) of AvX saw both the Avengers & the X-Men in a frenzied rush to get hold of Hope Summers while the Force headed for Earth. When the Avengers manage to prevent the Force from bonding with Hope, they inadvertently cause it to split into five & link itself with five other members of the X-Men: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik & Namor, thus forming the Phoenix Five. And it's this very same fiery team that is now featured in my blog banner!
This art is from the Avengers vs X-Men #8 Adam Kubert variant cover. Personally I absolutely LOVE Emma Frost's new outfit! It's sexy in keeping with her trademark tantalizing dress-sense & nicely melds in the Phoenix theme. Magik's is pretty cool too. What I don't like are the male costumes- Cyclops' costume is a complete Nightwing rip-off! Colossus' costumes have always been messed up really bad, so this isn't much of a surprise. And Namor? OMG! That's just gay! That being said, this cover still looks pretty badass!
^The #8 AvX cover & some more art featuring the Phoenix Five in their fiery glory!

Of course, with all this focus on the Phoenix Force, I just had to have the beloved Jean Grey as part of my blog background! The Dark Phoenix artwork comes from the Phoenix Endsong #1 issue. This cover (< left), created by Greg Land, is by far my favorite image of Jean Grey till date! You can download the wallpaper (1280 x 1024) of this background below.

CREDITS:Thanks to my Comic Book Nerds Are Hot Facebook group peeps, Chris Grisby, Tim Barklay & Mohammed Aarrach, for helping me search for the "Things" font on the banner. Big thanks to Chris for managing to snag the Linotype Rory Oblique font that is so close to the original!
The other (red) font used is Avengeance.

So how do y'all like the hot new look of the blog? While creating the new banner I was just thinking to myself that it's such a happy coincidence that my blog's name begins with an "A" & ends with an "X"! :D What would y'all like to see as the theme next time around? Any fave character you'd like to see gracing the background of my blog? Sound off in the comments below!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Xcursus: The Dark Knight Rises Review!

Before I begin, let me just inform you- I'm a guy who's not been a big fan of Christopher Nolan's Bat-verse. I still haven't managed to finish Batman Begins (slept through it twice) & the only reason I liked The Dark Knight was because of Heath Ledger's Joker. So the review that follows is completely unbiased. And yes, it is spoiler-free, so you can gladly proceed if you haven't seen the movie yet.

I have never liked getting into the summary in my reviews- just know that this time (due to the sad demise of Ledger R.I.P.), Christian Bale's Batman goes head to bald head against Tom Hardy's Bane. And throw in Anne Hathaway's Catwoman into that already-heady mix. Jonathan & Christopher Nolan have managed to create a story so engaging that you actually don't miss the presence of Joker in the movie. It doesn't even give you time to think what the movie would've been with him in it!

Christopher's direction is top-notch as always. Only after seeing this movie do I truly appreciate his "real-world" approach to the entire Batman universe. If it didn't completely have me sold with TDK, I totally got it in this one! Yes, you feel the strength of all the characters, but Nolan's real & gritty style helps you also see the more human side & the vulnerability of each of the characters. It doesn't make you go, "Oh well, he's Batman! He's OBVIOUSLY gonna save the day!" You truly feel for the characters & the situations they are caught in.
The excellent editing helps move the story swiftly from one event to the other without wasting any time, thus giving you a very well-paced movie that will keep you engrossed from start to finish. It's good to see that equal screen time has been given to the three main lead characters, without one overshadowing the other, but rather each helping the story's progression.

Onto the acting. I wont even bother commenting on Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman & Michael Caine- those guys are masters! Christian Bale, as always, is great as Bruce Wayne aka the Batman. I think in this movie he gets a lot of screen-time as Bruce & that helps him display his craft well. The weird Bat-voice is still slightly annoying & distracting but by the third movie now you just expect it & it's automatically ignored. For me ironically, I was waiting to see this film more for Bane & Hathaway's Catwoman than Batman himself, So let me get onto their performances!
Tom Hardy has definitely proven his mettle before with Inception & Warrior. But it takes a whole new level of acting to be able to display the evil, wrath, intelligence, power, arrogance & emotion just through your eyes & voice with the rest of your face covered by a cumbersome mask! This guy manages it so well that he makes it look easy! You see the emotion in his eyes, you can feel it in his voice. It's also a relief to be actually able to understand him clearly after all the flak Bane's voice got when the first trailer was released. Sometimes though, his voice sounds almost unrecognizable, that it made me wonder at times if it was really his.

Now my fave part: Catwoman! Anne Hathaway has totally killed it! She was brilliant, & I knew she would be! When she was first announced to be playing Catwoman, my only qualm was if she could pull off the entire (sexy) persona. But man, she nailed the role- right from her dialogue delivery to just the way she moves, she's simply badass! She's all the things you ever wanted to see in Selina Kyle on the silver screen- her sexiness, her stealth, her cunning, the wisecracks! I love that this Catwoman isn't an all-out black or white character but grey, just like in the comics. Hathaway constantly brought a smile to my face & was the reason for my applause & exclaims quite a few times in the movie. Till date, Michelle Pfeiffer's turn as the feline foe in Tim Burton's Batman Returns has been my all-time fave. Hathaway's performance has made me have Pfeiffer share that spot with her (I still love Michelle's interpretation too much to drop her to second!). Christopher Nolan recently said in an interview that he would definitely love to see Anne in her own spin-off Catwoman movie & after seeing TDKR I totally see why & completely agree! Definitely loads of Selina moments in here!

The action is quick & well-paced but not in a way that is tough to follow. The fact that the movie isn't in the irksome 3D is seriously a blessing- no blurry action here! It's good to see the different fighting styles of our three main characters. Oh & let me just add here: if Catwoman was one reason that got me to applaud on quite a few occasions, the spectacular "Bat" aircraft (< left) was the other- it is just simply awesome!

The VFX out here isn't obvious as you don't have any CG characters like the Hulk or Lizard. But scenes like the destruction of Gotham City were pretty well executed. When I first saw the stadium destruction scene in the first trailer I thought it looked slightly iffy, but on the big screen I didn't think it looked too bad at all.

I must mention the costumes here. Batsy's duds look great as always. Bane, on the other hand, looks pretty different here than his comics counterpart. The luchador mask is replaced with the ominous headgear. I think it's a pretty swell adaptation to make Bane's character less tacky & more real & threatening. Plus it helps in the story quite a great deal besides adding to the overall aura of the character. Everyone was upset to see the initial set photos of Anne Hathaway in her Catwoman costume sans cat cowl & whip. Then the tacky looking cat ears-eyewear appeared & we still weren't too impressed, but on film, the entire costume looks amazing.

Lastly I want to talk about the background score. Hans Zimmer does an splendid job with the movie soundtrack! I love the whole Bane theme & the beats just get your adrenaline pumping & your feet tapping waiting to see what happens next in the scene. It's like almost building to a crescendo/climax in the scene & the music makes you more eager to get to that point. I've been listening to the OST & these are my faves: The Fire Rises, Despair, Fear Will Find You, Imagine The Fire & No Stone Unturned.

So if you haven't surmised as yet, this is definitely a must-watch. I give it a solid 9.5/10. It's a near-perfect mix of great story, action, drama, brilliant acting, a dash of romance, & a very generous sprinkling (for Nolan) of laughs here & there. I'm a Marvelite, & it's with a boulder on my heart that I say that this for me was THE comic book movie of 2012. Yes, I also rated it slightly more than my review for The Avengers. I love that film too, & it was epic. But this was just simply EPIC! It's definitely turned this Nolan-Bat meh-er to a Nolan-Bat lover & I think Batman Begins is begging for a third (complete) rewatch from me. I loved how this movie concluded this trilogy nicely by tying together all the loose ends with a beautiful ending, but yes, I'd love to see more (though we know it ain't happening- not with Nolan at least). I hope we at least get an Anne Hathaway solo Catwoman spin-off movie! Warner Brothers- make it happen!

So there you have it- my review for The Dark Knight Rises which also happens to be my last movie review for 2012...Hope y'all enjoyed reading my reviews as much as I loved sharing my views with y'all! If you haven't read my previous reviews you can find em all here. Now I think it's time I get some more "X" on this X-blog... :P

Thursday, 12 July 2012

X-Factor! Interview with a Cosplayer: Hannah Lees & Josh Kent!

It's July 12! You know what that means right? The San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) 2012 commences today!

I thought of doing something different this time around. I decided to interview a cosplaying couple who will be donning some costumes at the Con this year as well- Hannah Lees & Josh Kent. They were kind enough to take time out from their hectic schedules to answer these questions for my modest blog. Thanks guys! Read the interview below & peruse through the images of their cool cosplays & behind the scenes photos!

^GORGEOUS capture of Hannah's Rogue by Michael Shum & Josh's Gambit captured by Jason Holmes.

Tell us a bit about yourselves. 
Hannah: My name is Hannah, VFX Artist by day, geek girl by night. I have always loved art, movies & comics, & as a child wanted to work on animated film "when I grew up". Technically I am "grown up" but it sure doesn't feel like it! I get to work on cool movies, like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk & Hotel Transylvania as well as dress up in costumes & go to Comic Con with my friends & fiance!

Josh: I'm an animator in the film world, working on visual effects & feature animation movies. It's an appropriate outlet for my inner nerd & has allowed me to be a part of some amazing projects such as Rango, The Avengers, & Hotel Transylvania. Otherwise I try to fill my spare time with various hobbies, watching movies & playing video games.

Did you guys meet while cosplaying?
H: I actually met Josh, my fiance, through a mutual friend. At the time I had just signed up for the MSF course, to learn how to ride motorcycles, a childhood dream of mine. Our mutual friend, Johnny, felt compelled to introduce us as we were both "into motorcycles & Christians". It didn't take long for us to discover the many other things we have in common. Josh introduced me to MotoGP, Final Fantasy 6 & Buffalo Burgers, & I introduced him to cosplay. Now, before you think I forced him into this, you should know that I did nothing of the sort. I was working on my Harley Quinn costume for SDCC 2009, when he asked me "How hard would it be to make a Joker costume?" I was hooked- a motorcycle-riding, awesome cook, genuinely nice & handsome guy who wanted to cosplay with me? Keeper!

J: Hannah's the one responsible for getting me into the whole cosplay world. That year we met, I rode down to San Diego just for the day to hang out with her, she was dressed up as Harley Quinn so I thought it would be cool to see the lifestyle she experienced at a Con. Throughout the day it seemed like she was having a really good time & I decided it was something I wanted to be a part of as well. So after that Comic Con I asked what it would take to put me in a costume as well, thus getting me into a whole other world that I'm not sure I was prepared for!

For how long have you been cosplaying?
I started officially cosplaying in high school & never looked back. It's been over 14 years & I have had so much fun & made so many wonderful friends & memories from it. It's been a very rewarding part of my life.

J: This year will be my third year cosplaying.

Do you have any training in costume design or is this more of a hobby?
My mom taught me to sew, as a child I would hand sew outfits for my Barbies. Growing up, we never got store-bought costumes for Halloween, instead my mom would make them for us. As I got older, I started learning from her & helping with the costume construction. I then discovered anime & conventions, & my new hobby was born. My mom began teaching me full throttle the ins & outs of sewing garments for a life-sized person, as opposed to my 11 1/2" blonde friend. After a few years, I began learning how to pattern from scratch & getting more complex & clean with my costume construction. I still have much to learn & certainly do not work as cleanly/correctly as someone with formal costuming/seamtressing education, but I have grown tremendously since my first costume.
^L- The Rogue jacket pattern & R- the jacket in progress

J: For me this is mostly a hobby. Even then Hannah is responsible for doing the brunt of the work on the costumes. That girl's sewing ability is far beyond what I could hope to do, so she tends to handle most things involving fabric. In order to feel included & help out, I try to spearhead some of the non-cloth oriented things, like the props, or if we have some sort of armor piece I'll attempt to figure out a good way to tackle those things.

How far ahead do you'll plan out the costumes you're going to wear? Run us through that whole process.
Typically San Diego Comic Con is our main event each year. Once the con is wrapping up, we will likely begin discussing new possibilities & ideas for next year. Over the next 6 months we will figure out & decide on our new costumes, & then start working out an initial breakdown & list of things needed to be done, purchased or evsluated to complete this costume. About 6 months out, we will start buying materials & plotting our patterns. The next several months are spent fine tuning the designs & fit & hopefully polishing the costume with finished hems & zippers so as not to have to safety pin anyone in. Usually the month before the con is crunch mode, no matter how well we planned ahead- realizing various details that were either overlooked, or likely more time consuming then anticipated.
This is also usually when the wig styling (if a character needs it) gets done. The week/weekend before the Con, I like to make a checklist of every piece, as well as print a reference photo to help aid in packing up for the Con & double checking that no costume bit gets left behind. When I attended DragonCon, I didn't refer to my check list for Rogue- big mistake. I packed everything for both Gambit & Rogue. Everything except my wig. I was devastated! I couldn't wear the costume without the wig- it's what makes Rogue, Rogue! Thankfully, Arda Wigs had a booth at the con, & I was able to buy some white bangs for $10. It saved my costume!

J: By discussing what we want to do at least a year ahead, it gives me a little bit of time to figure out how to approach things, if we decide on any sort of prop to go along with the outfit. For example, I made the glowing card & armor for Gambit that took a good deal of research & trial & error to figure out the best route to accomplish those. I wanted a card that would be bright but also be as thin as I could make it. There were a few options to emit light, but I had to try a lot of them before I decided what to go with. I then used the same general idea to make a lit-up belt buckle for Hannah & a few other X-Men who were cosplaying with us.
The armor Gambit has on his legs (right >) took a bit of figuring out as well. Thanks to the Internet, I learned about Sintra & ended up using that to make the armor, which still was no easy task. I had to make patters for it wrapping around my leg & had to find a good way to get it on & off, as well as keeping it all together while I'm walking around. Usually whenever there's a prop or piece of armor I need to make to go with the costume, I'd like as much time as I can get to figure out how to get the desired effect & look I want. I spend a good deal of time on research, learning as much as I can to make something I'll be happy with, which usually ends up leading me towards a few dead ends before I find something I like.

After the costume planning, on average, how long does it take for the costume to get completed?
Roughly 6 months, but that is with at least a full-time 40-hour-per-week job as well. If I had unlimited time off, & unlimited income, I could see the costumes getting done in less time for sure.

J: Since I'm more oriented around the props, my end doesn't always take as long. Once I'm done with research & I know how I'm making something, I can usually finish it in a couple of months.
(< Josh's work on Rogue's belt buckle. Unlit & lit.)

Do you prefer to go strictly according to the comics, or have you'll also tried to put your own spin on any iconic costumes? Examples, if any?
More often then not I prefer to portray a character/costume as accurately as possible. However, sometimes it is fun to put a unique twist on an old favorite. For example, Josh & I loved making Rogue & Gambit. They have been fun costumes to wear to several events & we love that people have recognized us doing the "Classic Designs" as they are favorites to many. We put a lot of time & care into their construction, researching details as unseen (mostly) as Gambit & Rogue's sleeves without their jackets on. It was important to us to honor the designs.
However, this past weekend we went to a Masquerade Ball, but not having time to make anything new, we decided to let Gambit & Rogue out for a night on the town. (right >) We found an amazing black button up & fuchsia vest, paired with Josh's Gambit wig, eyes, gloves & cards, made for the perfect snazzy Remy look. I was able to find a gorgeous green evening gown & a pair of yellow opera length gloves, put on my wig & some thick eyeliner & Rogue was ready to dance all night. We had a great time & received many fun compliments from people of how much they loved that we did this twist on the characters. We had a great time in both scenarios for sure, & I definitely wouldn't mind a fancy night out as Gambit & Rogue again soon!

J: Personally, I too am a fan of making our costumes as close to the comics as possible. I love seeing the different twists other people put to a character. There's some amazing creativity out there; however, I like to look as close as possible to what you'd see in the comics, maybe to a fault sometimes, as I tend to not be easily satisfied until it looks accurate enough.

Over the years, have you noticed any particular comic book artists, whose work seems to inspire you most in costume design?
A few comic book artists come to mind for me. George Perez, Jim Lee & Adam Hughes. They each have such distictive styles & yet each so perfectly reflects the action & emotional tones in each issue they draw.

J: I'm constantly impressed with a lot of the artwork out there. Just walking around a convention hall makes me realize how much talent exists in the comic world. I end up drawing inspiration from several pieces I come across. Over the past few years though, I've been blown away by the art Jim Lee puts out, so he's definitely someone I might turn to for a detail or two. When it comes to the X-Men costumes we also referenced the animated series a bit as well. It was a favorite of ours growing up, & it's nice to pop in an episode every now & again for a bit of inspiration.

Is there any comic character or costume that you'd like to attempt, but might be challenging or difficult to execute?
H: I have actually really wanted to make Rogue from X-Treme X-Men, but have been intimidated by the amount of vinyl/leather that would be required. After doing classic Rogue though, & actually feeling pretty successful with the jacket construction, it might be a fun new challenge to take on her X-Treme version now! (X-Treme X-Men Rogue & Gambit >)

J: There's tons that we'd like to do, some are a bit more ambitious than others. One of these years I'd like to do a really good Captain America & be as detailed as we can be about that one. There's also some non-comic costumes we've been wanting to attempt at some point as well. A few Star Wars themed outfits have been considered. There's one or two that we've done in the past that we want to remake & see if we can improve on them a bit.

How do you'll balance your time with your jobs & working on these costumes?
It's a tough balance. Some years are better then others. For example, this past year was a bit of a cosplay challenge as I was unemployed for several months, during which I was being very concious of where my money was going. Sadly, it did not end up going towards cosplay. Then when I started work, the schedule was so busy I was lucky to have one day off a week, resulting in almost no time to do my cosplay. Usually things balance out a bit better & I am able to start construction of costumes around January & February, providing me with plenty of weeknights & weekends to get things done. The biggest challenge of balancing costumes with work is giving yourself enough time.

J: That's a tricky one. Being part of the entertainment industry sometimes requires some very long hours, & it's tough sometimes to find the motivation to do anything other than sleep after working the majority of the day. Every now & then we'll get breaks in our schedules when we can devote a bit more time to the costumes, but even these times get filled with other hobbies occasionally. The weekends become the best time to actually get anything done. That & some reluctant late nights as the date of the con approaches.

What's been the most fun costume project you've worked on till date?
Definitely Gambit & Rogue. Since meeting Josh, it's been a fun learning experience in making menswear. Gambit was a particularly difficult as we wanted to make the fuchsia chestplate look a little bit nicer then just a spandex shirt. We wanted to give it some definition! I had seen some cool versions done that were more durable, like armor, but since I am more experienced with fabric, I decided to try my hand at sewing foam. We patterned out the chest plate, then I drew the muscles onto the foam & sewed over them. We then glued the fuchsia spandex on top & painted it with a couple coats of latex so as to change the look & texture of the finished piece. All in all it turned out pretty good!
^The Gambit chestpiece in it's 3 stages: Foam sculpt, applied spandex, completed.

As for Rogue, the bodysuit had it's minor quirks in figuring out the shapes, but the real hurdle for me was the jacket. That & the white streak in Rogues hair are her most iconic visual traits! I was nervous about providing an appropriate level of detail while also incorporating some level of functionality i.e. built-in pockets to carry my Con badge, phone & credit cards around with me. I ultimately was very pleased with the final outcome of the jacket, it sets off the rest of the costume perfectly. Coupled with Josh's amazing light-up cards & even the belt buckles he made for my friends & me, we had a pretty amazing time. It's also fun to be dressed up as such well-known & recognized versions of the X-Men. It always makes for some great photos & a lot of good memories.

J: Since I'm still fairly new to this whole world I don't have a ton to draw from here, but I'm going to say Gambit (work in progress image- right >) has been the best experience I've had thus far. It's been an immense challenge learning completely new things just to achieve a little look I was hoping for. I had to deal with a whole lot of unknowns & experienced failures several times, but for me the payoff in the end made it more than worth it. And that was just for a little card I carried around with me. The detail that Hannah put into that also just blew me away. She worked so hard on everything to make sure I was happy with it, which wasn't easy since I was a bit strict on getting certain things to be as accurate as possible & accommodating some seemingly strange requests I may have had. The big drive for me to dress up as some character is to learn something new or improve on something I've tried before, & Gambit fully provided this for me. Next is to find that new costume that pushes me that much further.

DC or Marvel? :P
This is a difficult question. When I first got into comics, it wasn't about DC vs Marvel. I wanted a good story, with compelling characters! Batman, Teen Titans, Spider-man & the X-Men all provided me with endless enjoyment! I will say that over the years I have found my lean towards Marvel, but only because I am more drawn to their storylines. All in all I like to consider myself a comic book enthusiast, if it's good, I'll read it! ^_^

J: DC has some amazing characters (both good & evil) but ultimately I gotta say Marvel takes the cake. :D

Fave comic book character? And why?
Rogue from the X-Men has to be one of my all-time favorite characters. I think she just has so much depth & personality. She's constantly at war with herself, battling with the ghosts of those she's touched. She has more guilt & remorse than a lot of people I know. She is also incredibly strong, yet like most women, just wants to be loved, held & looked after. Since her powers deny her the simple sensation of even touching another's skin, it only adds to the ache & empathy I feel for her.
^Just some of the many looks Rogue has donned. Umm Hannah? Last one is my fave- Hooded Rogue FTW! *hint, hint* :P

J: Growing up I've been a HUGE fan of Spider-man. I enjoyed the sort of acrobatic style he had swinging around the city, & how he struggled with still having a personal life at the same time being responsible with his "great power." I also liked the fact that he was still a smart hero & turned to science to help him fight his foes. It wasn't just about bashing them around & causing a mess. That & his witty comments while in mid-battle always entertained me.

Lastly, any message for all the aspiring cosplayers out there who may be reading this?
Cosplay is not a competition, unless you make it one. Cosplay is all about having fun. Some of my costumes I have spent months on, others I threw together in a day. You don't have to be the world's best seamstress to do it, nor do you have to "fit the bill" perfectly when it comes to looking like a character. I personally love the challenge of recreating a look from scratch as accurately as possible. It's fun for me to figure out how all the pieces need to go together. Other times I love making a costume because I just love the character so much, even though they're supposed to be super tall or more tan & I'm not. I do it because I love the characters & the costumes I am creating. I also have just as much fun when I am at a con with friends hanging out & enjoying all the new people we meet & other cool costumes we see. So whatever your skill level, be proud of your accomplishments & have fun!

J: When you're making a costume don't be afraid to make mistakes, they'll happen. I welcome them because they're a great way to learn for the future. Things could get a bit stressful at times, but just stick with it & it'll pay off. The whole experience of wearing a costume at a convention is a blast!

THANK YOU Hannah & Josh! I know it wasn't easy to take the time from your choc-a-block routines so really appreciate that! You can catch more of Hannah's work on her Facebook page & blog! All the best for the future & the Con you two!

So did you enjoy this interview? Lemme know in the comments if you'd like to see more like these!
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