Being a dad means most of the movies I see in the theater are of the G/PG variety, and as such I catch many of the big blockbusters at home when they drop to DVD.  Pacific Rim was one of those films.  Considering a day at the movies is nearly a day’s pay for me, I’m really glad I waited to only lose twenty bucks on the disc.

A Kaiju film with giant robots featuring Idris Elba, and directed by Guillermo del Toro should have been a slam dunk.  However, the movie is a cocktail of great ideas, failed executions, overly-restrained performances and over-acting.  The basic premise is sound: giant monsters attack cities and a defense strategy of human-piloted giant mecha robots is created to defend humanity.

Unfortunately, the film very quickly gets bogged down in adventure movie tropes that never fully gel.  The characters are basic, and based on far too many stereotypes, and the pacing is like so many recent films that nearly every scene is its own déjà vu trigger.  (For example, on more than one occasion I felt like I was watching deleted scenes from Abrams’ recent Star Trek relaunch.)

Del Toro is a brilliant visual storyteller, and with Pacific Rim he created a gorgeous world for us to watch, but one without enough original substance to care about that world.  This is del Toro’s love letter to the monster movies of his youth, specifically Godzilla, and that certainly shows in the designs of the creatures, the robots, and the almost gleeful wanton destruction showcased in the battle scenes.

In making Pacific Rim, del Toro also found a role for his friend and monster-film icon Ron Perlman, in a role that felt like a far-too-long and mostly unnecessary cameo.  In fact, many of the story-advancing scenes had me wondering just how necessary they were, and waiting for the next monster/robot fight.  Too many of the characters weren’t endearing enough, and several were so annoying that I had to fight the urge to fast forward through scenes just to avoid them.

The only three characters/actors who didn’t drive me completely nuts were, thankfully, the three leads Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, and Rinko Kikuchi.  I am always happy to see Elba headline a film, and Hunnam and Kikuchi were good enough that I would be willing to check out more of their projects.  Hunnam and Kikuchi are both young and attractive, and probably have a bright future in film.

Kikuchi’s Mako Mori was hailed as a strong female lead, a rarity in film in general and in action films in particular.  However, I’m not entirely sold on that idea.  Kikuchi is an appealing female lead character who does get a chance to show off her fighting skills, but I’m not convinced that was enough to elevate her or her character to that sought-after status.  In many ways, she reminded me of Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa: solid in a fight, attractive, and most importantly…the only notable female in the film.

Do not misunderstand me, I liked her character (enough that I made it all the way through the film) and the actress herself, but I just don’t buy into the idea that she was a truly major female lead, simply because she was basically the only woman in the movie.  (Yes, I did see other women, including other female pilots, but their screen time was less than the young girl portraying a young Mako.)

Unfortunately, the charisma of the three leads, brilliant visual effects, and my hope for a better story, could not overcome the jigsaw-puzzle-like assembly of elements from so many previous action dramas that Pacific Rim ultimately became.

In SEPTEMBER, Fairfield, Ohio residents woke to some 1,600 pairs of women’s underwear strewn all over a wooded area.  Officials vowed to get to the bottoms of the situation.  Herman Cain wins the Florida Republican “Anyone But Mitt” contest.  Infamous basketball player Ron Artest changed his name to “Metta World Peace,” in the broadest use of irony in sports in some time.  The ashes of the creator of the Dorito were buried with his famous snack chip.  No word on just how orange the ashes were.  Rick Perry, after failing to remember the third reason he should drop out of the race, attempted to show how tough a candidate he could be by scheduling the executions of the remaining candidates.

OCTOBER began as Ireland ended their 350-year tradition of judges wearing wigs traditional in British courts, at a savings of nearly $3000 per wig.  Garters and corsets were left alone.  A Michigan woman sued producers of DRIVE for a misleading trailer, complaining that the movie was not as exciting as trailers suggested.  An Alabama company began converting the ashes of the deceased into ammunition.  No word on if they described the ammunition in advertisements as “live.”  Herman Cain failed miserably at “Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego?”  The kicker for Michigan’s Pinckney Community High varsity football team kicked the game-winning field goal after being voted homecoming queen at halftime.  The kicker was the first girl to play on a Michigan varsity boys’ squad.  Senator John McCain called Mixed Martial Arts fighting “human cockfighting,” and based his knowledge on his behind-the-scenes arguments with Palin’s people.  In the “can’t make this stuff up” category, it was revealed that the Catholic Church of Germany is the nation’s leading publisher of pornography.

NOVEMBER started with A South African man was killed when his pet hippo started chewing on him, and didn’t stop.  Neighbors described it as “hungry-hungry.”  Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi stepped down despite a suitable cad not being available to replace him.  Chik-Fil-A sued a man for producing tee-shirts that read “Eat More Kale,” even though the man was heterosexual.  An unmanned rocket was sent to explore Mars after Flash Gordon and Bugs Bunny turned down an offer to pilot the rocket.

The year wrapped up in DECEMBER when it was revealed that Medicare paid $240 Million over 10 years for ED treatments for men over 65, a bill the government was stiffed with.  A crash in Japan involving Lamborghini and Mercedes collectors resulted in $4 million in damage, and 5 million jokes at the owner’s expense.  Herman Cain suspended his campaign and joined Fox News, celebrating by releasing a single, “I Had 9-9-9 Problems and the B*%$#@ were One.  And Two.  And Three…”  And, ending the year much like it began, 4-year-old Italian Tommaso Assunta inherited a $13 Million fortune when Maria Assunta died. Tommaso is a feline.

Thanks for playing along, and I’ll try and do better about getting this thing posted earlier!

McCann and Lee's RETURN OF THE DAPPER MENIn the interest of full disclosure, I doubt I would have read this book were it not for Twitter.  RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN, out now from creators Jim McCann and Janet Lee, has been described as a fantasy, a fairytale, and even a steampunk adventure.  I am pretty picky about what steampunk that I do indulge in, so such a description would not have caught my attention.

However, the fact that the book’s creators are such nice folks did catch my attention.  McCann writes for both screen and print, most recently a number of books for Marvel Comics.  I found one of his books particularly enjoyable, and as McCann was a regular on Twitter, I sent a message about the comic.  He replied, and in doing so invoked what I would consider the ultimate keys to the clubhouse: he referenced Nick and Nora Charles.  Ever since then I’ve made sure to try everything he writes.  He and I have also had a couple of brief conversations via Twitter (as much as one can in 140 characters at a time) and I’ve come to learn that McCann is a classic film fanatic, which is a very good thing.

So, despite the initial descriptions of Dapper Men not exactly falling within my general sphere of interest, any story written by someone who loves Loy and Powell as much as I do deserves a shot.

I’m glad I gave this book that shot.

As with all graphic novels, the art is the first impression, and it only needed one chance.  Janet Lee, whose unique style is given a primer at the end of the book, is an amazing artist.  Her style and method are rooted in decoupage, and she uses it to grand effect.  I don’t think anything I say would do her work justice, and I doubt there is any fair comparison to give you an idea of what to expect.  Her work is evocative of some of the most classic works from all over literature: pages reminded me of everyone from Sendak to Bill Watterson, and evoking the woodcuts common in books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Lee starts with pencil and ink on paper, then cuts out negative areas, and adheres the page to a slab of wood that has been painted.  In some cases she will also cover the wood with pages from old books to give the final page of art more texture.  She does not do this without thought, however.  For example, in one grand panel at the book’s center, just as the lead Dapper Man is explaining that it is time to dream again, Lee uses pages from the original version of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground as the art’s foundation.  It is often debated about Carroll’s inspirations for Alice, and one is that the story of Wonderland was born from a series of dreams Carroll had as a result of a severe migraine.

It is an absolutely appropos theme for Lee to use as a literal underlying influence on the scene.

One of the key themes in the book is the passage of time, and in one moment, right after Lee’s use of the Carroll pages, we see that the ground is partly made up of the gears of a timepiece.  For that moment, Lee moves from pages of Alice to pages of Isaac Newton and the Laws of Motion.  Genius.

Much of the background “art” in comics or graphic novels are filled with generic flotsam that needs no attention paid it.  However, with Lee’s work (both in general and in this book) there is no space that is wasted, no space where there is no thought put in to what you are seeing.

There are so many nuances to Lee’s art that I doubt anyone could find nor fully appreciate them in one sitting.  This is a graphic novel that requires multiple readings just for the art alone.

The story, however…

Again, I do not indulge in stories rooted in the fantasy or fairy tale genres.  I would never be so arrogant as to say that they are not worthy forms of storytelling, they just simply don’t appeal to me.  Part of that stems from the fact that I really don’t read much fiction in general.  I don’t susbscribe to the notion that fairy tales and fantasy are gender specific, either, so I had no such prejudices when I picked up the book.

After reading the book, to label it a fantasy or fairy tale is doing the work a disservice.

McCann presents us with Anorev, a land in which time has been rendered still.  Populated by children and machines that cannot remember where they came from (or even which of the two created the other), Anorev is a place literally without a future.  Such is the state of Anorev as 314 “Dapper Men” begin to rain down from the skies.  One of the men, simply known as 41, begins the adventure by engaging two of Anorev’s young people, Ayden and Zoe.  Ayden and Zoe are the only two citizens of Anorev who continue to wonder.  41 guides the two through a journey of discovery of the destiny of Anorev and of their own destiny, both of which ultimately result in rebirth.

Again, I would argue that to label this book a fantasy or fairy tale would be doing the work and its creators a disservice.

Reading this story evoked a number of memories and influences, from the classics of Greek myth to A Hero’s Journey by Campbell to Doctor Who.  In fact, 41 seems a perfect characterization for a Doctor Who story.  Even the name, 41, could be seen as an homage to onetime Who writer Douglas Adams, who posed in his seminal work A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that the answer to life, the universe and everything was, simply, “42.”  By being just shy of 42, Dapper Man 41 is fittingly a guide for our young heroes, but just shy of being the final answer, either unable or unwilling to easily reveal every clue.

I cannot say if this was intentional by McCann, but one thing I loved about the two heroes is that they fit no archetype fully.  In fact, their potential ran the gamut just as you might expect when their initials are A and Z.  I fully admit that I may have read too much into the relationship between the two, but McCann’s careful hand in spinning this tale allows for the reader to immerse themselves in just such a way.

McCann is a deft storyteller, and that skill comes through here briliantly.  He never fully reveals the full nature of anyone, allowing the reader to wonder for themselves about the origins of the Dapper Men, or what exactly caused Anorev to fall out of time, or even the true relationships between…

Well…

For that you will just have to enter McCann’s world on your own.

I did, gladly and willingly, and I found a tale of a journey only to be discovered by accepting and understanding the passage of time, where the minutes take us and where we guide them.

So, what is RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN?

Fairy tale?  Perhaps.

Fantasy?  If you like.

A story worth sharing with everyone who dreams?

Absolutely.

Thanks for the ride, Jim and Janet.  I look forward to more.