Mark Irwin

Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

About a half hour into Scanners, the film starts to run out of its initial steam. Director Cronenberg (who also scripted) opens the film with some dynamic set pieces–lead Stephen Lack mind frying a mean woman, Lack on the run from goons, Patrick McGoohan chaining Lack down and torturing him (apparently), and Michael Ironside blowing up some guy’s head with his mind. Scanners is a lot right off. Oh, and then a car chase action sequence after the head explosion. Again, it’s a lot.

And then it’s time for the first exposition dump. McGoohan is trying to find “good” Scanners, who are telepaths, like Lack. Ironside is trying to find bad ones. Both want them as biological weapons, McGoohan just wants to sell them to humans. Ironside wants to subjugate the humans. Not all that information comes out at the first info dump, mostly just McGoohan bickering with security chief Lawrence Dane. Dane doesn’t trust McGoohan, but Cronenberg wants the viewer to side against Dane. It’s a confusing turn of events at the end, just because McGoohan’s not a sympathetic character and Dane seems square but level-headed.

Then Lack comes in and goes on a secret mission around Canada as a double agent to join Ironside’s group. Previous to this point in his life story, Lack’s character had been homeless. Now he’s a well-dressed Canadian, kind of a maple syrup James Bond. Only he’s not particularly good at the secret agent stuff. Eventually he meets a girl Scanner–Jennifer O’Neill–who he actually treats terribly and roughly, which is a little disconcerting at times because apparently Lack is supposed to be sympathetic and likable. He’s not, of course, because his performance has all the life of a once damp towel. Same for O’Neill. Same for McGoohan. Dane gives the film’s best performance almost by default.

Well, except for Ironside. I mean, Cronenberg front loads the film with action. He saves some effects work for the grand finale, but there’s no action to it. There’s exposition, there’s pointless contrivance. Cronenberg keeps throwing out big revelations to try to get some emotional connection to the characters, but they’re impervious–Ironside should be intellectually sympathetic but Cronenberg can’t swing it. He really does rely on Lack instead and Lack crumbles, time and again.

But until the late second act, Ironside’s a perfectly good thuggish villain. Sure, he’s also a millionaire war profiteer but it’s Canada, it’s just how Canadian millionaire war profiteering Scanners who operate out of desolate office parks operate.

Nice photography from Mark Irwin, some occasionally strong editing from Ronald Sanders. Once O’Neill and Lack have teamed up in their chemistry-free quest for… it’s unclear. Cronenberg has at least two jumbo red herrings in the script just to keep things moving, which might work at ninety minutes but at over a hundred it’s a slog.

Howard Shore’s music is competent, occasionally Hitchcockian, but most often too much. Cronenberg never really gets a sense of the locations in the film and Shore’s music defaults to filling in mood. But it’s not good at filling in mood.

Really, until O’Neill shows up and becomes Lack’s Eva Marie Saint, Scanners can almost get through. Cronenberg’s got Dane, he’s got Ironside. Sure, Lack’s vacant but maybe he’s supposed to be vacant in that poorly acted way. The strange part about the film is how the first act’s well-plotted. Shame the rest of it is either aimless or misguided.



Written and directed by David Cronenberg; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; produced by Claude Hèroux; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Lack (Cameron Vale), Patrick McGoohan (Dr. Paul Ruth), Jennifer O’Neill (Kim Obrist), Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok), Lawrence Dane (Braedon Keller), and Robert A. Silverman (Benjamin Pierce).

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics 1 (May 2015)

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1What’s Grant Morrison doing with Ultra Comics, a Multiversity tie-in issue? Well, he’s giving Doug Mahnke a lot of great stuff to draw. If you ignore all of Morrison’s breaking the fourth wall (but not really–it’s not like it’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure”), the comic just gives Mahnke a chance to realize this quick superhero story in the apocalypse.

What’s caused the apocalypse? A Cthulhu-like monster. It might not come across as a big Alan Moore knock if Ultra–he’s the protagonist of Ultra Comics–if Ultra didn’t look like Miracleman. The issue has a credit to Siegel and Shuster and there’s a Shazam reference; but what isn’t clear is if Morrison likes Miracleman or not.

There’s lame stuff about the reader interacting and generating the life of the comic (and protagonist) and Internet whining. But it’s thoughtless.

Except the Mahnke art makes it all worthwhile.


Ultra Comics Lives!; writer, Grant Morrison; penciller, Doug Mahnke; inkers, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Keith Champagne and Jaime Mendoza; colorists, Gabe Eltaeb and David Baron; letterer, Steve Wands; editor, Rickey Purdin; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fly (1986, David Cronenberg)

The Fly starts with perfect economy. Director Cronenberg does not waste time with introductions or establishing shots–whenever there’s an exterior shot in the film, it comes as surprise, even after Cronenberg opens it up a little. There’s Jeff Goldblum, he’s a scientist, and there’s Geena Davis. She’s a reporter. The film conveys this expository information by having her interview him. It’s perfect.

And that perfect economy keeps going for quite a while, maybe even half the film. A lot happens during that first half–mad science, romance, jealousy, all sorts of things–and it’s outstanding. Goldblum and Davis are great together, John Getz is excellent as her weird, slightly creepy ex-boyfriend and boss. Cronenberg’s direction is exquisite; he’s utterly focused on these three actors. Even the science fiction visual exposition gets downplayed.

Then there’s a shift, a small one, as Goldblum’s character begins to “turn.” Cronenberg doesn’t allow many horror film sensibilities in The Fly. Instead of trying to terrify the audience visually with Goldblum, Cronenberg pulls back and Goldblum disappears. It’s a problem, because the film loses its momentum and never regains it.

Wait, I forgot–there’s one big horror movie sensibility… a dream sequence. It’s cheap. It’s gross and effective, but it’s narratively cheap.

Amazing special effects from Chris Walas, a nice score from Howard Shore, excellent cinematography from Mark Irwin. The Fly ’s a good looking (and sounding) picture.

Unfortunately, Cronenberg’s ambitions decline as the film finally has to deliver the horror.

Still, pretty good stuff.



Directed by David Cronenberg; screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue and Cronenberg, based on the story by George Langelaan; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Stuart Cornfeld; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Seth Brundle), Geena Davis (Veronica Quaife) and John Getz (Stathis Borans).

Green Lantern 3 (January 2012)

Once again, Sinestro is the best thing about Green Lantern. Johns really ought to consider redoing the book with Sinestro as the lead and Hal Jordan as his flunky. Maybe because of the movie (and Ryan Reynolds playing the role), it’s hard to take Hal seriously. Maybe it’s just because Johns makes Hal out to be a complete moron.

Not sure if that development’s new DC Universe or whatever.

Johns has been so successful at making Sinestro a force through the narrative, the focus on him works. Hal’s just a tool. He’s the comic relief. Regardless of Johns’s intention, he’s made Lantern better for making the expected lead a toadstool.

There’s very nice art from Mahnke and company. Occasionally, the differences in inkers–they’re close, but not exact–become clear. But it’s never disjointing.

The issue’s third act is just a great time. Johns manages a predictable, but deft cliffhanger.


Sinestro, Part Three; writer, Geoff Johns; penciller, Doug Mahnke; inkers, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin and Tom Nguyen; colorist, David Baron; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Darren Shan and Brian Cunningham; publisher, DC Comics.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – N-Vector 4 (November 2000)

Jeter runs out of space here a little. He’s got an exciting conclusion, but then he’s also got a big special effects conclusion (Cypress is disastrous as rendering it, unfortunately) and some more talking heads stuff.

Also–and here’s why I was confused last issue. He’s got the station commander–Major Kira (you can’t refer to “Deep Space Nine” characters and expect non-Star Trek aficionados to know them)–using the exact same dialogue the evil guy used when he was possessing people. But it’s apparently not done to raise suspicion. It’s like Jeter copied and pasted dialogue and didn’t think about the context. The editor should have caught it.

This issue is probably the least successful for the above pacing and art reasons. It also ends on a humorous note, mimicking how a television episode would end. But it doesn’t work because it’s way too slight.

The series should have run five issues.


Writer, K.W. Jeter; penciller, Toby Cypress; inker, Jason Martin and Mark Irwin; colorist, Bad @ss ; letterer, Naghmeh Zand; editor, Jeff Mariotte; publisher, Wildstorm.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – N-Vector 3 (October 2000)

This issue is the all action issue. Or close to it.

I think N-Vector is most useful–not to discount its success as an episode of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” it’s a fine episode of that television program–as an example of how television pacing can be adapted to comic books. The problem, of course, is the length and pricing. It takes four issues to get a single episode. All together, it would have been ten dollars for, basically, something one watches for free on television.

Also, this issue requires the reader be familiar with the show and the relationships between its principal characters. I couldn’t tell if people were acting out of character or if I’d missed something since I hadn’t seen the show or if the evil space entity had possessed them.

Jeter’s good at plotting out the dramatic moments; still a fine licensed comic read.


Writer, K.W. Jeter; penciller, Toby Cypress; inker, Jason Martin and Mark Irwin; colorist, Bad @ss ; letterer, Naghmeh Zand; editor, Jeff Mariotte; publisher, Wildstorm.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – N-Vector 2 (September 2000)

Did Wildstorm not get the likenesses in their “Star Trek” license or something? At first I thought it was just Cypress’s style, bringing a scratchy indie feel to a completely mainstream release, but now I’m wondering if it’s just because he couldn’t draw the actors. His artwork is a little static at times, especially for this issue, which is mostly talking heads. Then there’s the problem with him not being able to show important details–I don’t know if Quark found a dead Ferengi or Ferengi costume or a Ferengi blow-up doll.

As far as writing, this issue’s a little better than the first, as Jeter is getting into the actual situation. Even if someone isn’t familiar with the characters or ground situation, the drama’s been introduced and Jeter’s got a good A plot and a good B plot (no doubt they’ll tie together nicely).

A fine, mediocre comic.


Writer, K.W. Jeter; penciller, Toby Cypress; inker, Jason Martin and Mark Irwin; colorist, Bad @ss; letterer, Naghmeh Zand; editor, Jeff Mariotte; publisher, Wildstorm.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – N-Vector 1 (August 2000)

So this series is a continuation of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” I guess I’m glad I don’t care about the ending of the series being spoiled for me.

I decided to read it because of Jeter, who’s a science fiction novelist of good repute, and because I didn’t realize–on seeing it in his bibliography–N-Vector was a Star Trek comic book.

Jeter does a fine job writing the characters and matching their personalities to the show (as far as I can tell, having mostly seen the first couple seasons), but there’s zero subtext. It’s more of a television episode than a comic book. The issue breaks are the commercials.

The art is the most interesting element–for a licensed comic book, it looks nearly nothing like the norm. Cypress isn’t interested in likenesses, he’s using the art to convey emotion.

It’ll probably turn out a pointless read, but I’m on board.


Writer, K.W. Jeter; penciller, Toby Cypress; inker, Jason Martin and Mark Irwin; colorists, Dan Brown, Bad @ss and Wildstorm FX; letterer, Naghmeh Zand; editor, Jeff Mariotte; publisher, Wildstorm.

Avengers vs. Atlas 2 (April 2010)

I clearly don’t appreciate Gabriel Hardman enough. Hardman reminds me of Michael Lark’s superhero work, only without the… moodiness. Hardman’s like a non-moody Michael Lark, at least here he is–I honestly don’t remember finding him so stunning. Maybe I’m just forgetting.

Or maybe it’s because he’s got such a great fight to visualize.

The idea of Parker bringing in a different group of Avengers each issue sounds kind of silly, but it’s a great idea (so far). Like I said after the first one, he hasn’t got any big Atlas story going here, instead he’s just got those great characters of his interacting with other characters.

It’s a joy to read. I can’t believe this series–of all the Atlas titles–didn’t cause a big stir.

Then there’s the backup. It’s the first Atlas story I’ve read not written by Parker. Scott Kurtz does fine enough–it’s hilarious.


Earth’s Mightiest Super Heroes, Part 2; writer, Jeff Parker; artist, Gabriel Hardman; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Tom Orzechowski. S(take)out!; writer, Scott Kurtz; penciller, Zach Howard; inkers, Mark Irwin and Zach Howard; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Joe Sabino. Editors, Nathan Cosby and Mark Paniccia; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Aliens 4 (December 2009)

All right, I’m clearly missing something here. Not only does my android question go unresolved, so does the two major questions the series raised–why are these aliens different than those previously encountered and what’s the deal with the mystical alien canyon?

The letters page this issue tells the reader to stick with the comic continuity, but I’m pretty sure Dark Horse stopped doing new Aliens comics in 1999, which means other than collected editions, this story is the first new one in ten years. And they expect the reader to know their continuity?

You’ve got to be kidding me. What about the casual reader who’s picking up the series because of all Dark Horse’s anniversary nonsense?

Again, it’s a fine enough Aliens story (it would have been right at home running through eight issues of Dark Horse Presents), but come on–this series isn’t some awesome event.

It’s common.


Writer, John Arcudi; penciller, Zach Howard; inkers, Mark Irwin and Howard; colorist, Wes Dzioba; letterer, Blambot!; editors, Samantha Robertson and Chris Warner; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

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