Saturday, February 28, 2015

Agent Carter review

    Agent Carter recently ended and I thought I'd stop to give my thoughts on this miniseries and what it managed to accomplish in its short time onscreen. For those of you unfamiliar with the series or its premise, it is an eight-episode season following the adventures of Agent Peggy Carter of the SSR (a precursor to Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D).

    Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) was the love interest of Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger but made a strong impression on audiences. She was smart, capable, tough, strong-willed, and beautiful. Despite her counterpart in the comics being a comparatively minor character, people wanted to see more of her. Making her the star of her own series was an obvious decision and presented all sorts of opportunities.

    Or perhaps not.

Haley Atwell makes a formidable agent.

     After all, Peggy Carter's adventures take place in the 1940s and is a time unrelated to the later popular Avengers franchise. Unlike, Agents of SHIELD, it would have to rely on material established entirely in Captain America: The First Avenger rather than later movies. Yet, the post-World War 2 period is one ripe for exploration with Hydra, Stalinism, and the formation of S.H.I.E.L.D to draw from.

    So how was it?

    Extremely good.

    The premise is Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), father of Tony Stark, has had his most dangerous weapons designs stolen by an unknown party. The SSR believes Howard sold them to a foreign power and are intending to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. Appealing to their shared service with Captain America, he convinces her to investigate the crime against the wishes of her superiors.

The action scenes are very well handled.
    Even if this might get her charged with treason. Making things worse is the presence of a conspiracy of Russian soldiers, one of whom is a precursor to the Black Widow program. What is Leviathan and what do they want with Howard Stark's inventions? It's a plotline which holds together surprisingly well, even if there's a couple of parts which don't make much sense like the assassins lacking voice-boxes.

    The series is carried by the extremely good acting of Ms. Atwell. She gives us a physically potent, emotionally mature, and engaging protagonist in Peggy Carter. The character is easily the best developed of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's females and one audiences will easily fall in love with. Not since the rebooted Lara Croft and Alias' Sydney Bristow before her have I enjoyed a female action protagonist this much.

    While Peggy is easily the draw of the series, she is backed up by a great supporting cast which brings out the best of her character. There's Edwin Jarvis (James D'Arcy) who serves as her partner in crime in a manner reminiscent of the classic English spy series The Avengers. Peggy's coworkers are a group of sexists bigots with one exception but, even they, play an important role other than as obstacles to her success.

Beautiful but deadly.
    The villains in this series are great too. While the identity of the mastermind behind the plot is a secret which shouldn't be spoiled, I have to say I was pleased to see another Marvel villain adapted from the comics in an unexpected way. The highlight of the series, though, is Bridget Regan's 1940s Black Widow. As a huge fan of the actress from her role in Legend of the Seeker, she poses both a physical as well as mental threat to Peggy.

    The action sequences are elaborately staged with a substance to them usually lacking from live-action television. According to reports from the sets, Ms. Atwell's enthusiasm resulted in several stuntmen on the set getting punched for real. While I regret their pain, you can really see it adds a believability to the fights. Peggy is a dirty fighter, compensating for her small size and strength by making use of every possible advantage she can.

     The world-building for the series is excellent. We get insight into the Soviet Black Widow program, how the SSR transitioned into S.H.I.E.L.D, the Stark Household, and what happened to the Howling Commandos after the War. Fans of The First Avenger will be pleased by the amount of cameos from the movie. Reducing the number of episodes from thirteen to eight is a good choice if it means quality actors, sets, and special effects. The plot is also fast-paced and tightly written, meaning every single episode is a treat.

The tension of Peggy working against her own agency is well-handled.
    So is there any downsides? Period accurate or not, I did get rather tired of the relentless barrage of sexism poor Peggy is subjected to throughout the movie. From the fact her wartime adventures have been reduced to "screaming nurse love interest" in the in-series Captain America Radio Show to the constant commentary about her past relationships in the office, poor Peggy is chomping at the bit to be given something more than secretary work.

    I think they could have toned it down a little while maintaining its importance to motivating Peggy. Likewise, I think they could have used more of the 1940s Black Widow. Then again, I just love Bridget Regan.

    There's no actual serious flaws with the miniseries, something exceedingly rare in live-action television. I even liked Peggy Carter's annoying neighbor and confidante Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca). The fact she went from playing Alex on the CW's Nikita to a normal non-spy character is kind of funny on a meta-level but she adds a delightful sense of 1940s mundanity in an otherwise over-the-top series.

Angie may not be up to the level of Thor's Darcy for funny commentary but she comes close.
    Watching the series balance drama, humor, action, and tense thrills gives me a sense Agent Carter is something great-in-the-making. I hope the mini-series is duplicated for a second season as it would be a shame for it not to be. It's been years since Captain America: The First Avenger yet I still felt emotion watching Peggy Carter come to terms with Steve's "death."

    In conclusion, as a man who was iffy about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D for the first season, this is a tour de force from start to finish. I recommend it to all fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and think anyone who doesn't watch it is missing out on a really great experience.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Crowd-funding authors - The New Financial Reality?

    Recently, on The Bookie Monster, we had an interesting article by someone I respect a great deal called "Writers Begging For Money." Which was an article about writers asking money for them to continue writing.

Writers Begging For Money

    Excerpt from the article by Shana Festa (Time of Death):

    A few months back I happened to be perusing Facebook. All of a sudden I see a post from an author asking their fans to donate money so they can pay their bills and continue to write full time.

    Hold up a second. Did that really just happen?

    Rereading the post again, sure that I had gotten it wrong the first time, I found it to be exactly what I saw on first glance. So I ask you, when did it become acceptable for authors to beg their readers for money? And frankly, could someone’s moral and ethical compass be THAT out of alignment?

    So I chocked this up to one authors gross negligence in judgment, shook my head at the post, and moved on. Thinking, ooh that’s going to come back and bite them in the ass. But then I saw it again. And again. And yet again. So this really seems to be becoming our new reality. I’ll admit, for a split second I thought about it. But immediately felt icky.

    My thoughts on this? It’s just tacky. Allow me to dazzle you with my opinions as to why.

    Oh Shana, how does one of my favorite authors who is intelligent, witty, and observant be so very wrong? For those unfamiliar with what she's talking about, she's discussing the recent trend in authorship to crowd-funding. Most of us are familiar with Kickstarter after high-profile projects like the Veronica Mars movie and the Legacy of the Avatar video game.

    However, Shana is more specifically referring to similar-sites like Patreon which consist of readers going to the account of their favorite authors and basically pledging to donate a set amount per new content within a monthly maximum. Like Kickstarter, Patreon recipients offers receive bonuses the more they donate. One of my favorite websites, Atop the Fourth Wall: Where Bad Comics Burn, functions due to this.

    The primary difference between it and Kickstarter is the former is for one specific project, like, say a pledge goal of $10,000 so an author can create his masterpiece over the course of a year rather than focus on earning his supper like so many others. Patreon is more about pledging in general so authors can continue writing indefinitely about whatever they want. It's very useful for things like blogs, webcomics, videos, and review sites which are about regular content rather than larger projects.

    There's a controversy for authors who make use of this method because it is a question of upending the traditional association of the author putting their nose to the grindstone and receiving revenue from book sales after the completion of their product. Shana draws the comparison between a book revenue which supports you being the difference between a hobby and a career.

    Woah-woah-woah, Shana, I think that's going a bit too far.

    Do you know what also used to be out of fashion when referring to "real authors"? Independently published books. You used to be considered only a real author if you'd managed to get someone else to sign off on your work.

    That was before the internet made it possible for success stories like Wearing the Cape and the Demon Squad series to reach just as many books as the Big Five publishers. There was also a bigger benefit to many authors in that individuals like Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance), were able to reap almost the entirety of their profits rather than just the small percentage they previously gained.

    Shana says it's awfully presumptuous of authors to ask their fans or would-be fans to support them in their writing. That it's rare enough for authors to be able to make enough money to succeed as a full-time author. The thing is, I believe Patreon and crowd-funding is a solution for that and merely a new phase in the way writing is done rather than something shameful. For example, my rebuttal to Shana saying authors about being presumptuous. Well, do people send them money or not? Because if they do, they're not.

    Authors who get patronage, by and large, are proven qualities. In the dawning age of social media, fandoms are created left and right by authors for authors. In short, they're fans and they're willing to help independent authors form their own one-person publishing houses. While many authors struggled and worked themselves to the bone at their day (or night) jobs only to work out a little of their magnum opus at a time, that may be changing thanks to patronage.

    Which is a good thing.

    Now, not every author can make it via patronage and it may turn off fans who are being asked. I believe patronage is best used for those who have already established themselves to some degree either with a website or a previous books. It's just a way of defraying costs and keeping a steady output for the people who are willing to open their wallets for more of what they like. I wish these authors luck even if I'm not one of them.

    After all, who'd pay to read me?

    Hopefully lots someday.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Is the zombie genre worth writing in?

One of these zombies will be a success. The others will not be.
    Hey folks,

    A friend of mine asked me an interesting question. He's a burgeoning horror author and said that he wanted his book to be a success (don't we all?). He was a fan of The Walking Dead and asked me if I thought the zombie genre was a good place for him to begin his career. My response to him was awkward and ill-composed. Frankly, I needed time and space to frame my answer since it's a complicated question.

    The short answer?

    Kind of.

The success story all the zombie-philes want to imitate.
    The zombie genre, just like the vampire genre, is now a permanent part of the cultural landscape. What was once a very niche monster has exploded onto the screen, page, and art panels with a definite "no going back" sensation. The flesh-hungry dead, largely created by George Romero in 1968's Night of the Living Dead, have been repeatedly adapted til they're everywhere. Even so, it's taken awhile to get there and if you'd asked me in October of 2010 if I thought the The Walking Dead premiere would be a huge success, I would have said no.

    You see, the thing people are really asking when they ask if they should write in the zombie genre is, "Is it a magic bullet train to publication and success?" The magic bullet train is a prevailing myth in authorship and a constant quest for new authors who attempt to follow trends, genres, and patterns in order to make their big break. This has resulted in many of the trends we see in writing. If one were to study the history of writing we can actually see many periods of aspiring artists trying to create their own markets based on someone else's success.

    Harsh sounding, I know, but it's there.

The biggest success before TWD had the bright idea of treating the genre seriously.
    Having done a little study of the subject you can basically see some of these patterns in a cool little table: Sherlock Holmes clones (creating the mystery genre), Doc Savage clones, Superman & Batman clones (creating the entire superhero genre), Middle Earth clones (creating modern fantasy), spy-fiction of the James Bond variety or in reaction to it, the Western is a massive part of American culture created from about fifteen stories retold in different ways, Dracula & Carmilla, and so on.

    Now, this is where I'm going to surprise you. This is actually a very good thing. The entire idea of genre is, essentially, attempting to cater to a need from the audience for more of what they like. There's about a hundred entries on my blog related to zombie fiction because I like zombies and stories about them. The thing is, however, I'm conspicuously harder on zombie stories than I am on general fiction.

    This is, essentially, the trap of genre writing in that the more you're a part of it, the more you run the risk of being lost like sugar in water. As an author formerly contracted to Permuted Press, famed publisher of zombie fiction which has had its ups and downs, I literally know the plots to almost a thousand zombie novels. Okay, that's a lit. It's more like seven hundred. That's not including the movie, video games, and so on plots which raise the number back to the thousand range.

    What are the factors which contribute to making a book a success?

    The answer? There is none.

    There is no magic bullet train.

    I do know that trying to be The Walking Dead isn't going to get you much success, though? Why? Because fans of The Walking Dead already have The Walking Dead. If they want more after they've seen the television series, they can go buy either the novels or pick up the comic book series. Yes, every zombie writer benefits from having more exposure and respect from others' success but it's not something which automatically translates into an inescapable hunger for the genre. If I may make an example: fans of A Nightmare on Elm Street are likely to go see Friday the Thirteenth. They both love horror but they aren't likely to go see every horror movie made in their wake.

    This may seem like obvious advice and, if so, sorry for wasting your time but I do think it needs to be said: you should probably figure out if you have a story to be told in the genre first before you set about trying to conquer a piece of its market. I don't believe there's any original stories under the sun but there's new ways of looking at things.

A great series.
 Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. That had the relatively simple idea of setting a zombie apocalypse in a superhero universe where they weren't powerful enough to prevent it from destroying most of humanity. The Justice League meets Land of the Dead wasn't new but you could see how it appealed to markets of both superheroes and zombies. It wasn't a specific story I'd heard yet.

   One of my favorite indie success stories is

    I also liked Tankbread by Paul Mannering which has had surprising success with the concept of intelligent zombies raising humans as food. Yet, even this isn't an absolute idea. There's nothing new about the The Becoming, Contagious Chaos, or Time of Death series in terms of plotting. They're "simple" zombie survival stories. The strong characterization and writing, though, make the books a success.

    One benefit of this way of doing things is it also side-steps another problem people writing in a specific genre may face. Specifically, that for all the attempt to follow in the footsteps of a successful franchise, you will never be alone in trying to do so. In an ideal situation, you aren't competing but growing the same audience but a lot of authors try to fight for the same audience rather than support one another. In other words, you run into all the people who want A Nightmare on Elm Street to be against Friday the Thirteenth than the two getting the same audience on different nights. If you try and do what everyone else is doing, you will be part of the latter group instead of the former.

    I'm also a great believer that writing comes from the heart rather than the head. I don't think you'll ever achieve success by sitting down to make a checklist of things you think will appeal to the public. The Hellblazer series of comics succeeded because, in the deep dank corners of the DC universe, no one cared what the authors did with the character and they had freedom to write about what they wanted. Attempts to adapt the character to a wider audience often fail because so much of the original's strength is diluted. What does this mean?
One of my favorite zombie books.
What did it add to the genre? A little dog and humor.

    It means on a simple level, write what you want to write. Your audience will find you if you create something you enjoy reading and will be more powerful for not watering it down. Now, maybe your audience won't find it but that's an entirely different essay. So what is my advice about writing a zombie story? Here's a simple question: Do you have a zombie story to tell? Is it pressing in the back of your mind more than most? Can you add other stuff you like to it and add your signature spin? If so, go ahead and write it. Just don't try and walk in the footprints of others, forge your own path.

    There's much good in the zombie genre to write about. There's metaphors for disease, natural disaster, breakdown in social order, and the slow onrush of death. There's stories about what people do in times of crisis and whether people's "true" selves are revealed during a calamity. There's even questions about what one must do in the face of a hopeless situation. Or, you might want to write about zombies who are just good excuses to beat up with nail-covered baseball bats while traveling with sexy companions. Zombies who have replaced humanity and nobody noticed because we're that pathetic. Zombies regaining their humanity or that inevitable zombie romance crossing the grave. Some of these stories have been told already but are just waiting to be reinterpreted for a new audience.

    Just make sure you're writing for the right reasons.

Game of Thrones: Episode 2: The Lost Lords review

    God, this was boring.

    Well-written, but boring.

    That is an amazing accomplishment given the episode involves several impressive sword-fights, a surprise resurrection, a murder attempt, surprise revelations, and an attempted marriage. A staggering amount of things happen this episode and yet all of it feels rather glacially paced. This is quite upsetting given the first episode started so promising.

    The Lost Lords isn't bad, per se, but it does ape a lot of the book's structure. Virtually the entirety of the episode is set up for future events with no real sense of payoff. Events happen but they're all part of a larger structure which is invisible to the player.

Asher is a welcome edition and there's too little of him.
    Unfortunately, I think this is a bad strategy for a episodic video game. Compare, obviously, to The Walking Dead video game. Each episode in that game was an adventure in itself. Gamers got a true sense of accomplishment after each episode and were always hungry for more. Here, we're forced to stew in House Forester's misery.

    No jokes about being faithful to the books/show.

    I've already made them all.


Jon Snow's appearance is little more than a guest star.
    The premise of The Lost Lords begins with Asher, one of the Forester sons in exile. This is the most exciting part of the game as we get an immediate contrast to the other Foresters in he's doing fairly well for himself, implied to be a mercenary in Daenerys Stormborn's army. He's a devil-may-care sort of fellow and a welcome antidote to the grim and gritty finale of the previous episode. Unfortunately, Asher's part doesn't last very long.

    We also get some good news with another character's revival who has his own subplot. Everyone else is treated to nothing more than set-up and events which move them along a little bit in their stories. There's too many characters to really get much focus and I can't help but think this story would have been better with two or three characters rather than the five we have.

    There's some very tense scenes like a part with a wounded character lobbed in a cart full of corpses, the aforementioned murder attempt, and the fact a marriage alliance could mean the end of House Forester or not. I also loved the funeral for a pair of characters killed in the previous episode, which ends on a beautiful and treasonous song. There's a lot of good in this game, but it's not all good.

Mira has one of the most interesting stories but there's almost no progress on it.
    In addition to the pacing, this is the Telltale Game I've felt most doesn't actually care whether or not I do actions. At least in The Walking Dead, you die if you screw up. Here, the choices have never felt more perfunctory. The major choices from the previous episode all come up but are immediately rendered moot by the arrival of a character who supersedes them. You don't even die in most of the situations. I'm very disappointed in Telltale as while they should be kept on the rails for the most part as a function of the medium, the sheer absence of choice is quite vexing.

    The episode has guest appearances from television show characters Tyrion, Margaery Tyrell, and Jon Snow but their appearances don't really play much of a role in the story. No, let me correct that, everyone but Margaery isn't really integrated into the plot very well. She, at least, has a strong connection to one of the Foresters and her influence can play a key role in one of the choices. I just hope said choice has consequences.

    In conclusion, I really hope this isn't a sign how the next couple of episodes before the finale are going.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Dresden Files: White Night review

     As my reviews will indicate, I considered Jim Butcher to be on a role from Blood Rites onward. Subsequent novels Dead Rites and Proven Guilty were amongst my favorite in the series and introduced series favorites Butters as well as Molly. White Night isn't quite as good as these volumes but is still really-really good and one of the last of the books I unambiguously loved without qualification.

    Yes, that's a bit ominous isn't it?

    The premise of White Night is there's been a series of murders across Chicago by an obvious supernatural force. These individuals aren't killed in the traditional "blood and guts" sort of way but in more subtle ones, including death-by-sex whose discovery is rather hilarious. All of the victims turn out to be low-level practitioners of the mystic art, witches and magicians not powerful enough to join the White Council.

    Harry must find out who is interested in preying on those who have very little magic or involvement in the ongoing war with the Red Court of vampires. Complicating matters is Harry's possession by the demon Lashiel, a spirit who wishes to corrupt him to the Dark Side and is willing to do so through giving him everything he's ever wanted. Harry is losing ground every day through the temptation to use hellish powers to do good.

    White Knight is an excellent story less because of the mystery, which is decent enough, than because of the follow-up on so many other plot-lines. We get a return of Elaine from Summer Knight, the Raith clan of White Court Vampires, Carlos Ramirez the Warden, Molly Carpenter, Butters, and even minor ones like Helen Beckitt. This is a very continuity-heavy story and yet for fans of the series, is quite enjoyable for it.

    Part of what I liked about the book is the strong relationships between all of the characters. Murphy and Harry's friendship, Molly's crush on Harry, Elaine's past relationship with Harry, Helen Beckitt's friendship with her fellow witches, Butter's increasing interest in the supernatural, and a general moving away from the episodic missions of the previous books to full immersion in the overarching plot.

    Another element I like is it goes further into analyzing what it means for Harry to be part of the Wardens now. Having been one of the criminals chased by the White Council for most of his life, he's now feared and hated by exactly the sort of people he used to consider himself to be a part of. Watching Harry try to deal with people who believe he's a mad dog killer as well as an instrument of the law is both funny as well as moving.

    The White Court of vampires politics are another great thing to be enjoyed here. Lara Raith is a fabulous villainess, basically Cersei Lannister if she had all of her father's intelligence and cunning. Her scenes with Harry crackle and I really wish those two would get together. She's the best femme fatale in a series filled with them. The fact she's confirmably evil but on our heroes' side is something which adds to the ambiguity of her character.

    The Lashiel subplot was one I felt was starting to drag after three books devoted to it but the conclusion to it here was quite satisfying, as well as a bit touching. I never thought I'd expect to be moved by a plot involving demonic possession but I was. Their interaction throughout the novel was a delight and you could see where each of them gave ground to the other.

    Despite this, White Night didn't quite grab me as much as its immediate predecessors. It relies heavily on past continuity and doesn't quite pop out the same way. It's still a great novel, though, and something I think every fan of the series would enjoy. It's perhaps not the best book to start the series on, though.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Rules of Supervillainy news

    Well, that's good news. I've just gotten a response from Jim Bernheimer, Author of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain about whether or not he wants to publish my superhero novel, The Rules of Supervillainy, with his press. He does, indeed, and wants to do TWO books with it. Best news I've heard all year (spoken in February, admittedly, but still very true).

    So we should expect, The Rules of Supervillainy to come out relatively soon (hopefully this Summer) and its sequel, The Games of Supervillainy, to come out this Winter. I think everyone will love the adventures of Gary Karkofsky a.k.a Merciless the Supervillain without MercyTM.

     For those unfamiliar with the series, it's my attempt to do a black humor superhero series set in the run-down crime-ridden setting of Falconcrest City. Its only superhero, the Nightwalker, dies unexpectedly and it's open season on the citizenry. Sadly, the hero's magic cloak ends up in the hands of a citizen more interested in fame and fortune than saving the city.

    Still, he's the best they've got. A snarktacular adventure in heroes, villains, capes, and crooks coming your way!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Constantine (2005) review

    The Spear of Destiny is found in Mexico, hidden by the Nazis. Demons, hoping to bring about the end of the world, spirit it away. Freelance exorcist John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) becomes suspicious of events due to an increase in demonic activity and aggression. Unfortunately, John has his own problems due to the discovery he has terminal lung cancer and his name being linked to the mysterious suicide of a mental patient.

    Said patient's identical twin, police officer Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), proceeds to track down John in hopes of getting answers but finds herself way-in-over-head with his word of demons and angels. Heaven, for all of its presence, also proves surprisingly uninterested in preventing Armageddon or helping John reach eternal salvation. This is a synopsis of the very convoluted, but surprisingly easy to follow on-screen, plot of 2005's Constantine.

Keanu brings the right level of world-weariness to the character.
    I'm extremely fond of this movie, which automatically makes me a heathen amongst hardcore Hellblazer fans. Well, no, not really. I think the common consensus ten years later is this was a excellent Urban Fantasy film but it wasn't what fans wanted from the franchise. We're spoiled now, with our Marvel Cinematic Universe, that we forget comic book movies don't necessarilly recreate everything in the pages as we imagine them to be.

    To be fair, the criticism then and now is still pretty valid. Forget Keanu Reeves' looks, I don't think those a big factor. If Daniel Craig can be a blond James Bond, I wouldn't mind Keanu Reeves being a dark-haired John Constantine. The fact he's American, or at least heavily implied to be, is a bigger issue. Then there's the fact John is depicted more as a pure exorcist than a (mildly talented) wizard. I'm willing to give them a pass with this too since John does plenty of stuff which qualifies as magic.

    Finally, there's the fact John is trying to get into Heaven when the book John considers the Celestial Host to be equal-to, if not worse, than Hell. I'd point out it was a choice of evils and John isn't too fond of Heaven in this movie anyway. They're all excuses, though, for changes from the source material which didn't have to be made. Yet, here I am, a Hellblazer fan willing to make those excuses.


The film's image of Hell as an eternally flaming Los Angeles is well-done.
    Because the movie is good. Real good. Not great, mind you, but real good. Even more than the television show, I think Constantine manages to capture the world-weariness and jaded cynicism of the character. Keanu Reeves catches a lot of flack for being a wooden actor but it works in Constantine because I got the sense of a man without much hope in his life. The John of the movies is a tired, cynical, beaten-down man who continues to fight the good fight against demons mostly because they piss him off. He's the sort of man who knows an Archangel personally but says, "God is a kid with an ant-farm."

    The movie manages to capture a lot of things about Hellblazer which I think newcomers would, otherwise, miss like the fact knowing John is dangerous. He makes ample use of friends, connections, and associates during the film only for them to get killed off in a variety of ways. Sadly, one of those characters is Shia Lebouf's Chaz, who is one of the few mistakes in the movie. As an annoying tagalong who is, at least, meant to be an annoying tagalong he is alright but I can't help thinking almost any sort of substitute character would have been better.

Two of these actors are really good in this movie. No points for guessing which.
    We also get characters like Papa Midnight (Djimon Hounsou) who, like John, stradle the two worlds while playing both sides against one another. I regret the character of Ellie was left on the cutting room floor since John being in a relationship with a Hell-aligned succubus would have added considerably to the film's already heavy moral ambiguity.

    The story is an adaptation, loose as it may be, of Dangerous Habits. One of the better Hellblazer arcs, it's spruced up with a plotline about the Antichrist trying to birth itself with the Spear of Destiny. While John Constantine is always better when dealing with personal human stories rather than big epic heroism, I didn't mind this change either. The movie makes it clear the plan is, in a real way, stupid. When neither the Devil or God approves of an apocalypse, you're going to find it difficult to get much traction.

    Nevertheless, I loved Tilda Swinton's portrayal of Gabriel in this book, serving as the face of Heavenly self-righteousness and smug condemnation. The fact we later find out Heaven and Hell may be cooperating in their desire to bring about Armageddon is another factor which fits the film's Noir sensibilities.

Tilda's Gabriel is a snooty delight.

    Rachel Weisz has the thankless role of playing the part of the audience surrogate and, later, the Damsel in DistressTM. Despite this, I was able to believe she was an otherwise reasonable person in very unreasonable circumstances. The fact the movie avoids a romance arc between her and John, both of them having much bigger problems than love, also makes her presence far more tolerable than it might otherwise be.

    There's a lot of genuinely cool scenes in the movie like the encounter between John and Satan, John's faux-last rites of the demon Balthazar, John's visit to Hell, and any scene involving Gabriel. I'm also fond of the wholly unnecessary but still-delightful scene involving holy water sprinklers and a dragonsbreath-round shotgun. John using a shotgun to take down demons is about as far from the literary character as you can get but so satisfying.

    Purists are going to hate the changes, no matter what, but I think the movie is a far more faithful adaptation in its own way than the recent television series. Nothing against Matt Ryan's performance but the simple fact is the world of the movie is a dark, scary, and compromised world which John just tries to live in. I think they do themselves a disservice by not appreciating how much of the comic's flavor they managed to bring to the screen untouched.

    I consider this a must-buy for Urban Fantasy fans even if it isn't the greatest Hellblazer adaptation ever done. The movie is tremendously fun with great characterization, an interesting mythology (if not an entirely coherent one), and fun memorable scenes. In a very real way, I consider this to be my favorite non-Batman, non-Marvel Cinematic Universe comic book movie.