Say Hello to Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

hilo-coverMeet Daniel Jackson Lim, or D.J. as everyone calls him.  As a middle child of middling capabilities in a family of extremely smart, athletic, and successful brothers, sisters, and parents, D.J. thinks there’s only one thing he’s good at:  being friends with Gina, his next-door-neighbor.  Since Gina moved away, though, D.J. has been alone and has lost the one part of life in which he felt successful.  Now, life is just average.  One day, though, a little boy hurtles from the sky and craters into a field behind D.J.’s house, and Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick begins.

D.J. soon discovers that the newcomer in the backyard is just as unusual as his method of arrival.  Ecstatic, curious, and talkative, the boy introduces himself as “Hilo,” and D.J. quickly learns that a name, shiny underpants, and a bad case of amnesia are Hilo’s only apparent worldly possessions.  After smuggling Hilo into his house, D.J. feeds, clothes, and befriends him.  Before long, though, Hilo’s past begins catching up with him, and D.J. finds himself caught up in life-threatening adventures with his new friend.  D.J. realizes that, in addition to being a good friend, he’s good at something else:  running for his life from alien robots.

hilo-comic-pageJudd Winick and artist Guy Major have designed a colorful, quirky book which has illustrations that match the exuberance of its characters.  Hilo is both fun and easy to read due to well-planned panels.  Even though the panels are irregular in size, varying from full page spreads to five sections on a page, the transitions between pictures are simple and smooth.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick is a hilarious story peopled by funny characters with personalities that remain believable, even in a fictional story.  This book will entertain and delight audiences of many ages with its characters, setting, and new twist on science fiction and alien stories.

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Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

legends-of-zita-the-spacegirlZita is still far from home, but after saving Scriptorius from an asteroid in the first book Zita the Spacegirl, she is now a galactic hero.  Being famous, though, is not all she might have expected.  For instance, there are the crowds of jostling alien and robot fans which Zita would rather avoid.  Matters only grow worse when an “imprint-o-tron” robot shows up, becomes fixated on Zita, and imitates her identity.  Zita meets the look-alike robot and switches places with it so she can enjoy a day of fun with Mouse while her look-alike handles the mob of fans.  One hitch in this plan is that the robot wants to become Zita, not just copy her.  Consequently, a seemingly innocent deception and excursion leave Zita and Mouse stranded on Scriptorius, and the imposter robot heads off on Zita’s ship with Piper, One, and Strong-Strong to save another planet.  In Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Zita is off through space on another dangerous adventure.

Though Zita continues to show good character qualities such as courage and devotion to her friends, her weaknesses outweigh her strengths more in Legends than they did in the first book.  Zita’s most common failing is acting on impulse.  Her intergalactic adventures began after she thoughtlessly pushed a red button, and her adventures continue after she impetuously decides to swap with a look-alike and then steal a spaceship to chase down her friends.  In this way, seemingly innocuous rashness leads Zita into deception and theft.  Now, thanks to her thoughtless actions, the public is questioning whether Zita is a hero or a villain, and she is on the run with only Mouse to help her.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl continues Zita’s story well, with fun characters, exotic settings, and dangers that call for quick thinking and fast acting.  The story lacks some of the momentum that the first book had, and Hatke spends less time developing his characters’ personalities, but all in all Legends of Zita the Spacegirl is a good sequel and suggests that the final book will be worth reading as well.

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A Closer Look at Captain America: Civil War

Introductory note:  I reviewed Captain America: Civil War last month.  This following article is a more detailed analysis of Captain America: Civil War and as such does give away some important parts of the plot.

Captain America Civil War poster

The latest movie in the Captain America series Captain America: Civil War is aptly named.  Beyond the visible division between members of the Avengers team as peace, alliances, and friendships crack, divisions in goals and ideals also emerge.  Even as I think about the problems the movie presents, addresses, and leaves unfinished, I find myself divided in my opinions about the story, characters, and message.  The story is more realistic (for a superhero movie), yet less satisfying, for the questions the movie poses are not simple ones to answer.

As usual, Tony Stark is the spark of trouble, but Steve Rogers (Captain America), instead of being a peacemaker, is uncharacteristically at the other end of the conflict.  Stark feels responsible for the civilian casualties he and the Avengers have left behind, and he argues that the Avengers team needs oversight and restrictions.  In Stark’s opinion, the Hero Registration Act which the United Nations proposes is the best answer to the problems the Avengers are facing.  The plan places the Avengers under an international authority, giving the Avengers the accountability they need, and Stark thinks the Avengers should take advantage of this compromise before nations begin taking more forceful actions against the Avengers.  According to many nations, the superhero team has become unpredictable and dangerous, even towards those they seek to protect, and Stark thinks the criticism is accurate.

Wanda Maximoff

Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)

On the other end of the dispute, Steve Rogers has some valid arguments.  Rogers doesn’t discount Stark’s concern about civilian casualties; in fact, Rogers has a discussion with Wanda (Scarlet Witch) early in the movie, reminding her, “This job…we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody.  But if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time…maybe nobody gets saved” (“Quotes”).  Rogers understands that civilian casualties are an almost inevitable part of conflict, but he accepts that risk.  Recalling S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption, Rogers also does not trust any organization to oversee the Avengers, for Rogers fears that such oversight will cause the Avengers to help the wrong agendas and will hinder the team from saving people.  Interestingly, in The Winter Soldier, Rogers initially wanted to be a soldier and just obey orders.  Now, in the aftermath of S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers seems to have swung to the opposite extreme, not wanting to obey any authority but his own conscience.

Barnes and Rogers

Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) and Steve Rogers (Captain America)

In addition to the interesting questions the movie poses about oversight and limitations of power, there are several other problems and themes that the story covers.  During one of the credit scenes, Black Panther claims Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) is a “victim.”  While this is partly true, it does not acquit Barnes of the crimes he committed while under others’ control.  Barnes deserves to be tried for his crimes for the sake of those whom he killed.  In a just trial, the judge and jury would account for Barnes’s lack of control over his actions and would reduce his charges and sentencing.  Hiding Barnes only delays the problem of facing what he has done, the consequences of his actions, and his own guilt.

Another thought-provoking theme is about compromise and principles.  Partway through the movie, a character quotes Steve Rogers’ friend Peggy Carter as having said, “Compromise where you can.  Where you can’t, don’t.  Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right.  Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move.’”  This advice is quite solid.  Nevertheless, Rogers does not appear to have been listening to the first part of the speech; all he remembers is “No, you move,” and he fails to realize that he can compromise, if he and Tony Stark will only take the time to stop arguing and listen to each other.

Stark and Rogers

Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers

Captain America: Civil War has some good themes, but also some twisted interpretations of them.  Peggy Carter’s speech appears to be a call to Captain America to stick to his uncompromising choices and seems to ennoble him in his decision.  Also, even though Tony Stark is on the right road in wanting oversight for the Avengers, his ballistic behavior turns the audience and Steve Rogers against him, making the Hero Registration Act and anything like it seem to be a bad idea.  Tony Stark aims for a good end, but uses the wrong means because he acts out of guilt, a desire to hand over responsibility for his actions to other people, and fear that the world will turn against the Avengers, and him.  Several times in Civil War, the story touches on Stark’s background and reveals he is a miserable, lonely person who is full of regret and guilt and whose most common answer to problems is to ignore them or get angry.  Sadly, Steve Rogers is too focused on saving one friend and defeating villains to realize he is losing other friends who need him too, like Tony Stark.  What disappoints me most, though, is that the entire Avengers team allows their division and anger to get out of hand so that friend is fighting friend.  Even the severe injury of one of the Avengers is not enough to bring the superheroes to their senses; it is only fuel for more anger and a sharp reminder of how dangerous and destructive their war is.

In spite of all the damage the Avengers team has suffered, though, some hope remains for reconciliation.  When Captain America explains why he did the many things for which Stark may never forgive him, Cap ends by promising that he and the rogue Avengers will come if Stark ever calls for them.  Stark most likely does not accept Rogers’ reasoning as right, and I would probably agree with him, but I still hope that Stark will eventually swallow his pride and be able to forgive those who have hurt him and acknowledge some of his own mistakes as well.  What Captain America, Tony Stark, and the entire Avengers team needs now is not superpowers, but a lot of humility and forgiveness.

Works Cited

Captain America: Civil War (2016) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2016.  Internet Movie Database.  20 Aug. 2016 <www.imdb.com/title/tt3498820/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu>.

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Captain America: Civil War

Politics, guilt, loyalty, fear, anger, and superheroes all play a part in Captain America: Civil War, leading to the longest—and perhaps most complicated—Marvel movie yet.

Tony Stark and Steve RogersAfter an Avengers’ mission in the fictional African nation of Wakanda leads to civilian deaths, the United Nations begins pushing for a law that will restrain superhero activities.  This most recent example of collateral damage, added to Sokovia, New York, and other disastrous scenes of Avengers’ battles, leads politicians, the public, and even the superheroes themselves to question how much good the Avengers are accomplishing.  Tony Stark agrees to the Hero Registration Act, and other Avengers follow suit out of loyalty, practicality, or agreement.  Steve Rogers feels he cannot agree to the act with a clear conscience and becomes the leader of the dissenting superheroes.

Both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers make valid points about the new law, but they never really listen to each other or have productive conversations.  The two characters stubbornly stick to “I’m right—you’re wrong,” when the best answer is somewhere in between their two ideas.  Sadly, personality and circumstances disrupt each possibility of compromise.  Meanwhile, as the Avengers team breaks down and superheroes take sides against each other, a sinister man named Zemo manipulates them all, and Captain America is swept up in saving his friend Bucky Barnes from everyone who is pursuing Barnes for a crime for which Barnes has been framed.

Avengers teamOne of my favorite parts of the movie is the characters, which is good because there are a lot of them.  Black Panther makes his debut, proving himself an impressive hero with some surprising character qualities.  The newest “incarnation” of Spider-Man appears several times, as well, bringing some energy and humor to the film.  Viewers also have another opportunity to enjoy Ant Man and his fun personality.  Although the story briefly develops the personalities of Scarlet Witch and Vision, most of the old characters change little, and the writers surprisingly focus, not on Cap, but on Iron Man.  Tony Stark becomes a more sympathetic, but also more frustrating, character whom anger, fear, and guilt drive more than love, courage, or compassion.

Although I appreciate that Civil War has a more interesting and complicated story than its predecessors, I miss the clarity of purpose and moral sense that Captain America displays in his two previous films.  Yet, divisive plot and themes notwithstanding, Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable movie, with lots of punchlines and interplay between the different superheroes, old and new, and plenty of fodder for those who like to think.

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Note: I will be posting another article about Captain America: Civil War in the near future in which I will look more in-depth at the themes and messages of the movie.

Faithful Through the Final Voyage

Illustration from The Last Convert of John HarperFew ships or voyages have garnered as much attention as the RMS Titanic and its disastrous maiden voyage.  At the time of its launch, the passenger liner was one of the largest, most opulent ships in the world, and it featured a new safety system which caused some people to declare the Titanic “unsinkable” (Tikkanen).  Since its sinking, the Titanic has attracted even more fame thanks to books, movies, and an exhibit of artifacts recovered from the wreck.  The Last Convert of John Harper by Art Ayris presents a brief picture of the life and ministry of Reverend John Harper and tells of the sinking of the Titanic, on which Harper was a passenger.

Neither the art nor the storytelling of The Last Convert of John Harper is exceptional.  As I have noticed in other graphic novels about historical events, the style of this genre often harms the clarity of the story, and this is the case for parts of The Last Convert of John Harper.  Nevertheless, the execution of the book is more than adequate, and the research the authors put into the book is evident.  Above all, the story makes the book worth reading.

The Last Convert of John HarperBorn in Scotland, John Harper begins evangelizing at a young age.  Art Ayris shows Harper’s journey from being a street evangelist to becoming a respected minister.  In Glasgow, Scotland, Reverend Harper helps establish the Paisley Street Baptist Mission.  Requested to be a guest minister at Moody Church in Chicago, John Harper travels to America and preaches there in the autumn of 1911.  Following his return to Scotland, Moody Church asks Harper to return in the spring of 1912.  John Harper accepts the offer and boards the Titanic with his daughter Nana and his sister Jessie.  As Ayris reveals how Harper’s path leads him and his family to the Titanic, the author also highlights Harper’s multiple near-death experiences which precede his final voyage.  Partway through the graphic novel, the focus shifts from John Harper to the construction of the Titanic and the convergence of lives on that fateful ship.  The Last Convert of John Harper reveals the flaws in the Titanic’s construction and narrates the events and mistakes during her voyage which lead to her sinking and cost the lives of more than half her passengers and crew.

In the midst of the disaster, however, John Harper remains true to his calling.  He continues to preach, sacrifices opportunities to escape the ship to safety, and impacts other people’s lives in ways that will change them forever.

Works Cited

Tikkanen, Amy.  “Titanic.”  Encyclopædia Britannica.  Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.  2016.  18 July 2016. <www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic>.

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The Peanuts Movie

KiteFrom classic kite scenes to new and creative elements, The Peanuts Movie is a fun film.  The animated children’s movie is well-rounded in character development, story, and humor, for the scriptwriters skillfully craft familiar elements of the Peanuts comic strip into an over-arching storyline that unites the fragmentary comics into a seamless whole.

Football, snow days, Red Baron duels, the Little Red-Haired Girl, and Snoopy’s typewriter all make appearances in the film.  Yet, while The Peanuts Movie alludes to the previous short films with Christmas carolers and pumpkin references, there are many new elements.  For example, there are moments when some little event spirals into a distinctive part of the comics, and when viewers think to themselves, “So that’s how the Red Baron storyline started.”  (Note: As I am not an expert on Peanuts, I don’t actually know how each storyline began, but The Peanuts Movie presents plausible scenarios.)

The Peanuts Movie is more than nostalgia and references to the past, however, for it has its own unique elements.  Charlie Brown becomes a developed and sympathetic character.  In spite of failures, he keeps going, and without realizing it, he’s always achieving and succeeding at what matters most.  While the roles and characters of Lucy and Linus are more downplayed than in past stories, Snoopy and the Little Red-Haired Girl join Charlie on center stage.  Snoopy and typewriterMy impression of Snoopy has always been negative; he seems to be 95% mean and annoying, at least in his roles in the two Christmas short films and in many Peanuts comics I have read.  Although vestiges of these characteristics remain, Snoopy turns out to be a good friend to Charlie Brown and a very imaginative daydreamer.  Finally, the Little Red-Haired Girl has an interesting character.  She has no name, and the audience knows almost nothing about her, yet the scriptwriters gradually reveal that she is sweet and nice—if only Charlie Brown could summon the courage to introduce himself!  But such things are easier written than accomplished, as the movie demonstrates.

In addition to a fun storyline and excellent character development, The Peanuts Movie also has good messages.  Charlie Brown discovers popularity isn’t as important as it seems and doesn’t change who a person is underneath.  As Charlie Brown struggles with what he calls “a serious case of inadequacy,” I appreciate his honesty with himself (“Quotes”).  Too often people promote “self-esteem” and self-confidence over humility, and the movie reminds us that we aren’t always going to be successful or feel “adequate.”  Everyone has Charlie Brown moments, but few people can swallow their pride and face their problems as he does.

Lucy and Charlie“If you really want to impress people, you need to show them you’re a winner,” Lucy advises Charlie at one point in the film (“Quotes”).  In an unexpected twist, Lucy is right, though not in the way she intended.  While Charlie Brown never really loses his chronic inadequacy and tendency to failure, he does show people that he’s a winner: someone who doesn’t give up and who is humble, honest, sympathetic, and kind even when it means sacrifice on his part.  In the end, Charlie Brown does impress people, but not with the kind of success he, or Lucy, would have imagined.

Works Cited

The Peanuts Movie (2015) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2016.  Internet Movie Database.  14 Jun. 2016 <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452042/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu&gt;.

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