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Comic Genius: Capital Punishment

Greetings Dear Readers,

Today’s post has nothing to do with civil rights or the justice system in America.  No, that is better left for other blogs.  This post is dedicated to Greg Rucka and his run on The Punisher/Punisher War Zone for Marvel Comics.  As a huge fan of Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, I could not be more thankful for the incredible storytelling and characterization of my favorite comic personality over the past two years.  When Marvel handed the reigns of Frank Castle’s lore to Greg Rucka, I am not quite sure they even knew or appreciated the depth of talent, thoughtfulness, and inspiration that resided in this man’s mind.  Rucka also had the help of Marco Checchetto and Carmine Di Giandomenico who took Rucka’s vision and brought it to life on the page in a way that this fan had never before seen.  These are undoubtedly two of the fastest rising stars in graphic novel art today!

 

 

The character I love so dearly has been through a sort of creative purgatory over the course of the past twenty years.  Originally appearing in Amazing Spider-man #129, in the 1970’s, Punisher began as a mercenary hired to end the famed hero.  Gaining popularity after more guest appearances in various stories, a limited series was launched in the mid-80’s at a time when gun-toting action stars ruled the big screens.  Modelled after Charles Bronson’s Death Wish character and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, Frank Castle was a Vietnam vet who came home from one war and found that he could not escape it when his family was gunned down after witnessing a mob execution.  He survived to wage a one-man campaign against organized crime, murderers, and deviants of all stripes.  Somehow becoming what he despised most, yet keeping a code of honor simultaneously.  The perfect Great White Shark of graphic novelty.

 

 

 

After many years of popularity, the Punisher went through a bit of a transformation as Marvel saw fit to have Castle go off the rails and assasinate Nick Fury (as known to most audiences as the cool head of SHIELD portrayed by Samuel Jackson in the current Avengers series).  This led to Marvel coming up with the terrible idea of making him the head of a crime family.  That short-lived incarnation later led into the character becoming some tool of divine judgement using angelic weapons (in a thankfully shorter lived series), before Garth Ennis saved The Punisher character by returning him to his roots…..fighting a dirty mob war without the supernatural enhancement package (sarcasm mode off).  Garth Ennis righted the Punisher ship for many years giving fans just what they wanted.  It was a no holds-barred Frank Castle.  A force of nature doing what he does best.  But he kept him mainly in his own little corner of the Marvel world, separated from the larger Marvel cast of characters.  And when he did write Castle in a space occupied by the superhero community, he did so in such a way that reflected the writer’s own feelings on spandex-clad characters.  He just didn’t like them, and it showed.  Following Ennis’ departure, Matt Fraction took over the Punisher storytelling to mediocre result, followed by Rick Remender who in spite of his talent decided to drop the character down one of the weirdest rabbit holes in all of comic history.  Killing the Punisher in one of the most epicly horrific ways, and having him reassembled into some Frankenstein creature.  ACK!  Somebody stop the madness!

 

 

 

Enter Greg Rucka!  Returning Castle to his roots, Rucka created a world heavy on supporting cast, which was a huge departure from the previous 10-15 years of Punisher storytelling.  Fleshing out the world around him, and allowing Castle to be a shadowy force of nature working in the story’s backdrop proved to be masterful.  Introducing characters that people could care about (two detectives assigned to solve the Punisher killings, the lone survivor of a mob execution that wiped out an entire wedding, the leadership of a new crime syndicate called The Exchange), while also intergrating in existing supporting characters from other Marvel books, and then having some very logical appearances from other featured Marvel heroes, Rucka’s Punisher run can only be considered a shining moment in history for the character.  Sixteen issues of a regular series returned Castle to being what I believe he always was at the heart of the character.  A highly principled killing machine that also happens to be a brilliant field strategist and soldier.  Rucka knows Frank Castle, and it is apparent that he holds the character in the highest respect by not minimalizing his attributes.

 

By the end of the 16 issue run, we are left with a sincere and deep interest in Frank, his relationship with Seargant Rachel Cole-Alves (lone survivor of her ill-fated wedding), and where the story would go from there.  There is some real gut-wrenching stuff in these pages.  And the artwork is spectacular.  If gritty could ever be beautiful, it is demonstrated here.

 

 

 

After finding out that Marvel was going to add Punisher to a team book, Rucka knew his run would have to come to an end and he delivered the 5 issue Punisher War Zone to bring his story to a grand finale.  What happened in the pages of the preceding 16 issue run causes The Avengers to stand up and take notice.  Something would have to be done to solve the “Castle problem”, and Rucka masterfully develops a condensed character study on each of these Avengers, which is reflected in the progression of events and in the actions/words of the heroes with respect to dealing with the Punisher.  It is great to see a writer go to great lengths to honor the histories and motives of the many characters in the story.  In life there is rarely the black and the white.  Most live in the gray, and I think the sophisticated storytelling by Rucka relfects in this work perfectly.

 

 

 

I just read the final issue, which was released to stores today, and I have to say that it is the finest run of all Punisher stories.  I say that with great joy and also a feeling of great remorse.  Knowing that it is not likely that we will ever see Greg Rucka deliver another Punisher story to the masses is a bitter pill, but I am most thankful for his time with the character that got me started in comic books so many years ago.  I raise a celebratory glass to you Mr. Rucka (and to both Marco Checchetto and Carmine Di Giandomenico) for two years of graphic novel bliss.  Thank you for returning Frank Castle to such a high place creatively, with honor, respect, and dedication to your art.

 

As for me, I will be seeking out Greg Rucka’s past, present, and future projects with eagerness.  And I encourage any of you readers out there to do the same.  The Punisher trade paperbacks would be a great place to start!

 

Chris (for the Great Stories team)

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Storm of the Century

Greeting Everyone,

I’d like to apologize for the extended absence, as it is my intention to update this blog at least once per week.  Some weather patterns that moved into the New England area caused some changes in our update schedule as we worked to unbury ourselves and our neighbors.  That being said, we are right back to it, and thankful in some ways to this recent storm and the additional snowfall we are getting at this very moment to inspire the next topic of discussion here at the Great Stories blog.

 

For me, these winter days make me want to find some warm and comfortable place in the house and open a good book.  In between the shoveling, frostbite, and watching the neighborhood kids laugh and play, there really is nothing better than to grab some hot chocolate and some peaceful reading time…at least for me.  In keeping with the theme of winter storms, Stephen King has provided us with a great haunting tale sure to keep your eyes glued to the page and pull your family a little closer to you.  “Storm of the Century”.

 

 

 

King originally wrote this story back 1999 and it was released as a screenplay with a TV movie released to viewing audiences directly after.  The book form is actually in screenplay form, which is exactly how King wrote it, which makes for a vastly different reading experience.  The premise of the screenplay centers on the community of Little Tall Island, off of the coast of Maine which is in preparations for the biggest storm to hit in 100 years.  With access to the island being blocked off by the impending blizzard, the town suffers a tragedy as one of their residents is brutally murdered by a mysterious stranger named Andre Linoge, who seems to know all of the dark secrets of the town and makes a promise to spare the town if given a young child in exchange.  You see, Andre is an emissary of Satan himself, and he needs to train another soul to take his place in this unholy mission.  As King reveals the true nature of the antagonist and the hold he has over the town, we the readers are left with only shock, amazement at the plight of this town, and a shiver in our bones as if the cold of the Storm of the Century was ours to experience.

 

I cannot recommend this decade plus old story enough to you all the next time you are snowed in, and feeling warm and cozy in your favorite chair, under your most comfortable blanket, and sipping at your mug.  Escaping into the imagination of a great storyteller can be just the thing to pass the time.

 

What story can you recommend to those of us, who don’t mind feeling a bit of a chill in the comforts and safety of our own homes?

 

Until next week,

Chris & The Great Stories Team

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Fresh Popped Corn: February 2013 Movie Trailers

It is that time…..Great Stories previews the cinematic releases for the month of February.  Movie trailers are our source, and here are our choices for movie dollar spending!

February 1st
Bullet to the Head (Warner Bros):  Sylvester Stallone sets out to prove that old action heroes can still rake in the dough at the box office in this film about a hitman (Stallone) teaming up with a cop (Sung Kang) to hunt down the people responsible for killing their respective partners.
Stand Up Guys (Lionsgate):  Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Allen Arkin play old friends who reunite after one of them is released from a 28 year prison sentence.  Rekindling their friendship, they make up for lost time with more mayhem in this comedic drama.
Warm Bodies (Summit):  A zombie falls in love with a human survivor after the apocalypse and sets off a chain of funny events that might change their world.
Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (Lionsgate):  A family moves into a historic Georgia home inhabited by some restless spirits.

Great Stories Pick:  Bullet to the Head
We have to go, once again, with the re-emergence of the classic action heroes of the eighties.  After Schwarzenegger’s lackluster box office in The Last Stand, we are rooting for a Stallone success to help preserve a moral victory for that generation that brought so much joy to our movie palates so long ago.  Though, the Pacino/Walken coupling is quite intriguing as well  and could prove to be a winning combo.  As for the zombie apocalypse done for laughs and love?  Well, zombies are just starting to get a little too played out, and we will wait for the DVD in spite of the presence of John Malkovich.  And what does  A Haunting in Connecticut have to do with a Haunting in Georgia?  I would love to hear the explanation for that title, or not.

February 8th

Identity Thief (Universal):  Jason Bateman plays a family man victimized by an identity thief (Melissa McCarthy).  He tracks her down and gets more drama than he bargains for in this comedy.
Side Effects (Summit):  Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum star as a couple whose world is turned upside down after a new psychiatric drug is prescribed to Emily(Mara) by her doctor (Jude Law).

Great Stories Pick:  Side Effects
After a week of mindless action, following it up with a thriller starring the talents of Jude Law and Rooney Mara (who comes off the gripping The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), seems to be in order.  We are fans of psychological thrillers here at Great Stories, and this one promises to be worth a look.  That is not to take anything away from Jason Bateman’s adult comedy effort, which certainly had some good moments in its trailer.  Only two movies this week, and they both look solid!

February 15th
A Good Day to Die Hard (20th Century Fox):
  John McClane (Bruce Willis) teams up with his son to defeat terrorists in Russia as the Die Hard series continues on.
Beautiful Creatures (Warner Bros):  A young man meets a beautiful and mysterious young girl as he plots to escape the confines of his small town, and in so doing learns some dark secrets.

Safe Haven (Relativity):  Julianne Hough plays a woman running from her past where she meets a widower and has to deal with her secrets.  From the author of The Notebook.
Escape from Planet Earth (Weinstein Co): Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Jessica Alba lend their voices to this animated feature from the makers of Hoodwinked about an alien who comes to Earth to rescue his brother from Area 51.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (Film Buff):  Charlie Sheen returns to the big screen and is joined by Bill Murray.  Sheen plays a graphic designer whose world spirals into despair after his girlfriend breaks up with him.

Great Stories Pick:  Safe Haven
Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day weekend, and as much as we would love to see Bruce Willis save the day again, Safe Haven’s trailer makes it look like a movie you can enjoy together.  And you and your loved one should be on this of all weekends.  With the story coming from Nicholas Sparks, author of The Notebook, there is even more promise to be had.    On the other hand, if you prefer to be served up another dissatisfying dose of teen schlock, you could always jump on the Beautiful Creatures bandwagon.  Or if you want to see an actor circling the drain of life in a movie where he portrays a man going much the same direction, go check out Charles Swan III.  As for Escape from Planet Earth, it feels one part Monsters Inc. and one part Toy Story to me.  I am sure the kids will eat it up like cotton candy!

February 22nd
Snitch (Summit):  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a Dad who goes undercover for the DEA to help clear his son’s name in this action/thriller.
Dark Skies (Momentum):  Keri Russell stars in this horror/thriller about a family that is accosted by strange phenomena in their neighborhood and seek to uncover its origin before it tears them apart.

Great Stories Pick:  See Below
After spending our money on a sugary romance movie last week, we were all set to admit to you that we would be foregoing the February 22nd releases in favor of that Die Harderest of Them All movie, or whatever it was called.  Bruce Willis is the man, after all!  But wait….Snitch and Dark Skies both delivered trailers that have set our genre-meters buzzing in excitement.  What should we do?  I think the only natural thing is to take a vacation day from work, start counting all of that loose change in your car and around your room to spend it on an extra tub or two of popcorn (make sure you ask for extra butter while you are at it) and wash it all down with a nice cup of satisfaction because this week is looking like the definition of a good time at the theaters.  Yeah!

Chris @ Great Stories

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Super Episode 7?

A long time ago in a galaxy not far away by any means, a young boy joined by his loving parents took a journey into the darkness of a movie theater in 1978 and witnessed the spectacle of Star Wars.  His world changed along with many other children, young and old alike as they witnessed the birth of one of the most storied and successful franchises in Hollywood history.  With the release of that movie, a generation of loyal fans followed.  Three movies, full toy lines, lunch boxes, clothing, and just about every other merchandising scheme you could dream up was used to Lucasfilm’s advantage.   The Empire was indeed strong, and a commercial juggernaut.

Fast forward almost two decades, and the loyal fan base was energized to hear that George Lucas was set to resurrect the cinematic legend with three more movies would serve as a prequel trilogy to the original.  Taking total creative reigns with the scripts, Lucas released The Phantom Menace to massive success but very mixed reviews.   What followed from that were two more Lucas “solo” creative efforts that also received very mixed reviews leaving the fan base decidedly split on the results.  While some of the luster seemed to have worn off from the Star Wars legend, a new generation of young fans was introduced and what cannot be denied is that in spite of it all, Lucasfilm had continued it’s amazing record of financial dominance.

Now, about eight years removed from the last film release, word is that the franchise will live again with Episode VII scheduled for release in 2015.  Lucasfilm has since sold the rights to future Star Wars releases to Disney, truly giving the franchise the shot in the arm that I believe it needs.  Disney, one of the few film studio juggernauts that could match Lucasfilms’ success, also owns major properties such as Marvel.  And I can’t think of too many people who have been displeased with the creative efforts of the films they have churned out in the last few years.

Without George Lucas monopolizing the creative direction, who might take this franchise into the future….or should I see a new “ frontier”?  Enter the rumors that JJ Abrams has been offered the directorial chair for the next installment.  The man who created what is in my mind the most inventive, interesting, and entertaining TV show in my lifetime (Lost)….the man who took a sci-fi property that I personally did not like (Star Trek) and actually caused me to enjoy its relaunch….the man who has given us some of the most mystery-shrouded marketing campaigns for films like Super 8 and Cloverfield.  Yes, this man who just might be (for me) the biggest creative shooting star in Hollywood today.  What could JJ Abrams do for the Star Wars franchise?

Color me excited.  Of course, this assumes that the rumors are true.  Well, this wannabe Star Wars fan can hope.  “A new hope” for a better Star Wars future, if I may coin another phrase, with apologies to you readers.   Disney and JJ Abrams could be the winning formula to puts Star Wars back on my personal radar, and maybe even win back some of those old fans who have felt the diminishment of a legend.

Are you intrigued by the prospects of a JJ Abrams-directed Star Wars film?  If not, why?  And who would you like to see bring the franchise back to the big screen?

Until, next week!

Chris & the Great Stories Team

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Fresh Popped Corn: January 2013 Movie Trailer Preview

We are already a few weeks into the 2013 movie season, but I wanted to take an opportunity this week to talk about the films on the schedule before we hit the summer blockbuster season.  Great Stories will be previewing Hollywood’s offerings every month on this blog, and it is genuinely a fun subject for us (as we are very big movie fans).

The post Christmas holiday movie schedule is traditionally known as a dumping ground for films that studios either could not fit into their summer/fall plans, or films that the studio does not have a lot of confidence in for one reason or another.  It is generally a time when the industry is talking about Oscar nominations and awards, and even re-releasing the supposed year’s best films to audiences that may have missed the first time around.  We aren’t so impressed by Oscar nominations and all the hoopla over here at GS.  We like to keep all of the fawning and glory-seeking to that Hollywood crowd.  What we are about over here is enjoying two hours for the $10 movie ticket price we just paid.  That can be had with movies that would not garner Oscar nods too (who are the people who decide who gets nominated anyway?).  That all being said, I have found that it is this time of year that I most look forward to in the movie release schedule…..movies that have not been over-hyped!  Hey, we take a chance, and we may be surprised by what we find!?  So, without further delay, here are the movies we have our eyes on for the remainder of January.

January 18th
Last Stand (Lionsgate):  It is Ah-nuld’s return to a leading role on the big screen as he and Johnny Knoxville take on some undesirables who invade their quiet southwestern town.  Cue the explosions!

Broken City  (Fox):  Mark “I don’t talk with animals” Wahlberg and Russell Crow star in a thriller about a private eye who investigates some marital infidelity for the mayor and uncovers a real estate scandal.
Mama (Universal):  Guillermo del Toro produces this horror picture about two little girls who disappeared into the woods after their parents were killed and are rescued years later.  But…hit the scary music….some caretaker of unknown origin still has an interest in them.

Great Stories Pick:  Last Stand
Speaking (however unfairly) for the rest of the team at GS, we are big horror fans (OK, I admit to being the only horror hound on the team).  Mama strikes me as a rental, however, and the draw of a classic Schwarzenneger film is just too good to resist.  I want the old action movie heroes to rise up again!  Broken City looks like a nice moody drama/thriller too, but it will take the runner’s up.

 

January 25th
Movie 43 (Relativity):  A shock and awe comedy with an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Gerard Butler, Emma Stone, Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, Richard Gere, and Julianne Moore and many more.  One of those loosely-related series of sub-plot type of movies is the word.
Hansel & Gretel : Witch Hunters ( Paramount):  Famke Janssen and Jeremy Renner play the famous siblings who survived the gingerbread house of horrors and grew up to become the butt-kicking pair dedicated to vanquishing evil.
Parker (Film District):  Jason Statham stars as a professional thief who is some kind of modern day Robin Hood.  After getting double-crossed by his not-so-merry men, he tracks them down with the help of J-Lo minus the back-up dancers.
Johnny Dies at the End (Magnet):  Two college drop outs have to save humanity after a new drug on the street (soy sauce) sends its users across time and dimensions and then back again in not so human form.

Great Stories Pick:  Hansel & Gretel
Following his roles in “The Avengers” and the latest Bourne installment, what is there not to like about Jeremy Renner? Add in a little ex-Bond girl, some sinister fairy tale lore, and you might be onto something entertaining!  Truth be told, action movies just look better on the big screen too.  Hansel & Gretel looks like the kind of cheesy action/special effects movie that makes it fun to go thrown down your Andrew Jackson , toss popcorn in your mouth, and smile until the end credits.  After seeing the trailer for “Parker”, I quipped to my fiancée that I had already seen that movie (and I sincerely meant it, thinking it was a DVD advertisement and not a new film).  I guess there is just something too familiar about Statham’s roles.  “Movie 43” just looks like an utter mess in spite of the respectable and talented actors that are all over the credits.  And “Johnny Dies at the End” screams of Billy Bob Briggs’ Movie Channel  grade-C movie fare (not that we don’t like that kind of thing!).

Are you planning to hit the box office and catch a flick this month?  What has caught your eye of the films that are in theaters now or to be released in the next couple of weeks?  We want to hear from you!

We’ll check back in with you next week…have a great weekend!

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Icon or Identity?

Christmas went by in a blur as 2013 dawned on us all, and we were reminded that even though we may have checked out of hobby-land for a couple of weeks, a very major event was happening in the world of Marvel…..the death of Peter Parker as the iconic Spider-Man.  Yes, another comic hero passes before our eyes ushering in a new era.  Is Spider-Man gone?  No….just the man behind the mask.  Fan spoiler coming up here in the next sentence, so beware!  The man who was Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius) is the new man behind the mask and spandex.  You can read the book to find out all of the nitty gritty details and theorize on how Peter Parker may once again be resurrected in the future.  After all, that is what is bound to happen.  Comic books are famous for such plotlines with major characters.  Shock and awe is good for business!

Pop culture has seen its share of identity-changing stunts for some of its biggest icons.  Obviously, Spider-Man is not the first.  It has happened with Batman (see Azrael), Captain America (Steve Rogers out and John Walker, who later became U.S. Agent, in), and even Hulk (Grey, Green, or Red).  Outside of the comic book world, we have seen cultural icons like James Bond, Obi Wan Kenobi, Peter Pan, Willy Wonka, and Dracula portrayed by multiple actors to much success in the world of film.  All of these actors have had the gift of fame which begs the question of who we love more.  Is it the people behind the mask or the characters they play?

We live in a very disposable world where the flavor of the month has sunk the biggest pop stars the music industry has served to a ravenous public, yet others have carried on past the expiration date and remain gigantic even as their performances wane.    We have seen political stars rise and fall at a whim, while some endure regardless of the tarnish they bring to their legacy.

How can it all be explained?  What is the difference between those that burn bright and those that fade away without a whimper?

Truth be told, every successful individual in the public eye needs a good role, a good character, or a good story to build around them.  Without these ingredients, talent and good intent is sadly not a recipe for longevity.  In the end, the mystique that surrounds the individual is what transcends!

Madonna created a brand, image, and a personality.  She was no longer Madonna Louise Ciccone.  She made herself into a character that has become the story.  The Kennedy name has brought with it guaranteed political success through a series of great tragedies, no matter the individual or the deeds.   And Arnold Schwarzenegger will always have a following regardless of personal troubles and time because people have fallen in love with his fictional roles (such as Conan and the Terminator).  Stories give life to our memory.  And we cannot deny these effects on our psyche.  We are as bound to them, as we are to our families and friends in many ways.

Spider-Man will survive without Peter Parker.  Dracula has outlasted the great Bela Lugosi.  James Bond is still saving the world without Sean Connery.  The legend and lore are enough to carry us all on the many more journeys of fascination and adventure.  We are ready for 2013 to be another year of Great Stories, great characters, and making great memories.

We, at Great Stories welcome your thoughts on this topic, and we would also love to hear who your favorite cultural icons are!

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2013: The Year of the Great Story

Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the story of a start-up business that began officially in July 2012 with the launch of our website (www.great-stories.net).  Great Stories is taking to the blogging community with a mission.  That mission is to spread the good news that creativity and imagination is alive and well within us all.  While the family business has a foundation in retail, we have much broader goals than just being some ordinary place of commerce….not to say that what we sell is not interesting.  Far from it, since our store features some rare and hard to find treasures for collectors and kids of all ages!

No, Great Stories is far more than that in the minds of its creators and proprietors.  It will be far more than that in a future time that remains to be seen.  And the beginnings of that vision will unfold within this very blog.   It is our hope that you stick around, bookmark this site and come visit us time to time so you can see for yourself the metamorphosis that Great Stories takes on over time.  We will do our best to make this blog an interesting place for collectors and fans of all of the things we love so dearly to discuss, contemplate, and immerse ourselves in.

We don’t want to say too much about what the future has in store for Great Stories and our friends from all over, but we are excited to take this journey with you and see where it leads.  So, here is to a wonderful 2013 for everyone out there.  We hope that you have a year that matches the dreams we have for Great Stories.  Love, honor, and courage be your companions as we write new chapters of life together!

 

We’ll see you on the blog soon,

Chris (for the entire Great Stories team)