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Josh Reviews Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is the latest DC Animated direct-to-DVD/blu-ray film.  It adapts the famous Judas Contract story-line by Marv Wolfman and George Perez from The New Teen Titans in 1984.  In the early eighties, Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans was an enormous smash hit for DC Comics, rivaling Marvel’s X-Men in popularity.  The Judas Contract is one of the most well-known stories from the run, in which the young Titan Terra is revealed to have been working with the villain Deathstroke to learn the Titans’ secrets in order to destroy them.

This new animated film is a direct sequel to last year’s Justice League vs. Teen Titans That film introduced this version of the Titans into the “New 52” continuity of the past few years’ worth of DC animated films.  I enjoyed this version of the team introduced in that film, with an amalgam of characters from the classic Wolfman/Perez run (Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy, with Cyborg and Nightwing making brief appearances) combined with characters from more recent versions (the current Blue Beetle and the Damian Wayne Robin).  Justice League vs. Teen Titans was a loose adaptation of Wolfman and Perez’s Terror of Trigon story, which delved into the origin of the young heroine Raven.  This new film focuses exclusively on the Titans, without feeling the need to shoehorn in the Justice League, and dives directly into The Judas Contract, perhaps the most famous Teen Titans storyline ever.

Overall, I was very satisfied by this adaptation.  When this series of direct-to-DVD/blu-ray animated DC films began a decade ago, The Judas Contract was one of the first storylines that was rumored to be adapted.  But year after year, it never happened.  It’s great to see that, so many years later, this adaptation has finally gotten made, and that it’s far better than most of the other very mediocre recent animated films have been.  This isn’t anywhere as good as the great Bruce Timm/Paul Dini collaborations from years ago, but it’s a solidly entertaining story with good characters and interesting conflict.  The voice cast is great, and the animation is solid if not spectacular.  The film has an adult edge, but it avoids the worst of the juvenile cursing-and-sex masquerading as “sophisticated” elements of the recent DC animated films.  I liked it quite a bit.

The film makes a LOT of changes to the original story, in order to fit it into the continuity of these new DC animated films.  But I was impressed by how faithfully the film stayed to the major beats of the original story.  Most of the best moments from the original story find their way into the movie somehow.  The Judas Contract, as … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice League Dark

April 19th, 2017
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From Batman: The Animated Series, which launched in 1995, all the way through the final episode of Justice League Unlimited in 2006, Bruce Timm and a team of extraordinary writers and artists crafted an interlocking universe based on characters from DC comics.  This was long before the current popularity of connected universes, as every studio in Hollywood struggled to copy what Marvel Studios has done so successfully since 2008’s Iron Man.  In 2007, Bruce Timm returned to the DCU, at the helm of a series of stand-alone direct-to-DVD animated films.  There were some successes (the best was, I feel, Batman: Under the Red Hood) and some failures.  Eventually, Bruce Timm moved on to other projects, but the series of animated films has continued.  In 2014, with Justice League: War, they began connecting the animated films together again, in a series of stories based on the recent relaunch of the DC comic book universe called “The New 52.”  I was delighted at the idea that the films would connect to tell a larger story, but disappointed in pretty much everything else.  I didn’t love the “New 52” relaunch (other than Grant Morrison’s wonderful reinvention of Superman, which was almost immediately ignored once Mr. Morrison completed his initial story).  I felt the animated films were based on weak source material, had terrible character designs, and were so desperate in their attempts to be “adult” by adding in some sexual content, violence, and curse words that they wound up being more juvenile.  While the DC comic book universe has already moved away from the “New 52” reboot with yet another reboot, called “Rebirth,” the animated films based on the “New 52” are continuing, with the latest being Justice League Dark.

In this story, Batman’s investigations of a series of seemingly random incidents of civilians losing their minds and committing horrible atrocities because they were convinced they were seeing monsters leads him into the mystical, magical side of the DC Universe.  He meets up with John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Jason Blood/Etrigan, Swamp Thing, and several other occult characters from the DCU.  Though Batman is initially distrustful of magic, it will take this motley team of magicians to end the threat to mankind.

I can’t say Justic League Dark is a great film, but I rather enjoyed it.  It’s easily the best film of this “New 52” animated continuity, though it possesses many of the flaws that weakened the previous films in this series, most notably horrific character design and juvenile dialogue for the characters filled with unneeded cursing and innuendo.  But this film actually has an interesting story, and it was fun seeing all of these bizarre characters from the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Animated Adaptation of Batman: The Killing Joke

Released in 1988, Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is widely considered a masterpiece, one of the greatest Batman/Joker stories ever told. And yet, over the last few years I have noticed something of a critical re-approximation of the work, with many finding fault with the story, primarily because of the degrading act perpetuated upon Barbara Gordon, and the way that act is used primarily to drive the actions of the male characters (Batman and the Joker) rather than in any way exploring the impact if that act on Barbara herself.

This is a perfectly valid criticism of The Killing Joke, and I can understand why some reject the tale entirely.  For myself, I can still appreciate the story in the context in which it was made, going on almost thirty years ago now, and I can appreciate the incredible artistry of the writing and gorgeous illustration work, even as I freely admit to being troubled, as a modern reader, by certain aspects of the story.

The decision to adapt the story for an animated DVD/blu-ray raised my eyebrows, because the not-for-children content of The Killing Joke is central to the story.  Recognizing that, the folks at Warner Animation made the decision to not pull any punches in the adaptation and allow it to earn an R rating.  I must confess that I am somewhat torn about this.  On the one hand, I have long been a champion of the idea that comics, and animation, do not have to be limited to being media for children.  I love the idea of an animated film embracing adult ideas and concepts.  On the other hand, The Killing Joke is so controversial, and such a product of its time, that I wonder whether it was really the best idea as a subject for an adaptation?  To be honest I am not entirely sure where I come down on this question.

Batman The Killing Joke animated.cropped

Unfortunately, this animated adaptation of The Killing Joke is something of a mess.  To address the criticisms of the original story’s treatment of Batgirl, the filmmakers made the very curious decision to add a lengthy prologue — forty minutes long, almost half the length of the whole feature! — that focuses on Batgirl.  In theory I understand why this is done, but in execution it fails almost completely.  The actual content of this forty minute prologue has problems (which I will discuss in a moment) but the biggest problem is that this sequence — which feels like a full episode of Batman the Animated Series tacked on at the beginning of the story — totally unbalances the film as a whole.  The events of the prologue don’t have any … [continued]

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Catching Up With DC Animation: Bad Blood and Justice League vs Teen Titans

OK, quick summary: I fell in love with Batman: The Animated Series when it first premiered back in the nineties.  Bruce Timm and Paul Dini forever defined Batman and so many of his supporting characters for me.  I believe that Kevin Conroy is the best actor to ever portray Batman on-screen, and Mask of the Phantasm is my third favorite Batman movie of all time (after The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Begins).  I watched and enjoyed all of Bruce Timm’s subsequent DC universe animated shows: Superman, Batman Beyond, and Justice League.  After a somewhat rocky first season, Justice League (later renamed Justice League Unlimited) became, for me, the finest superhero show (animated or otherwise) that I have ever seen, with sophisticated story-telling, a note-perfect voice cast, and gorgeous animation.  When it was announced that Bruce Timm would oversee a new line of aimed-at-adults, direct-to-DVD/blu-ray animated movies, I was super-excited.  But while there have been a few high points (most notably their adaptation of Batman: Under the Red Hood), these animated films have been extremely hit-or-miss.  A few years ago Bruce Timm left the project, and the new team decided to switch from one-off story-telling to developing a continuity between the animated films (a decision that I loved), while basing this new continuity on DC Comic’s latest revamp of their universe, nicknamed “The New 52” (a decision that I was not wild about).  Disappointingly, I have not at all cared for the first four DVD-movies set in this new animated continuity.  But I quite enjoyed last year’s animated release, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, in which Bruce Timm returned to tell an alternate-universe story of his own creation.  So what did I think of the latest two animated films that have come out in the past few months?

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Batman: Bad Blood steps right into the continuity begun by Justice League: War, Son of Batman, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, and Batman vs Robin It’s decently entertaining, I suppose, but it’s clear that this current wave of animated DC universe films is just not speaking to me at all.  There are some good bits in Bad Blood, but like the other films I found much of it to be humorless and somewhat dull, and I just don’t like this tone.  The opening of the story introduces the current DC Comics version of Batwoman, Kathy Kane, to the animated universe as she is witness to what looks like the death of Batman.  This forces former Robin, now Nightwing Dick Grayson, to become Batman, partnering up with the current Robin, Damian Wayne.  The two former sidekicks are joined by Batwoman and also the new character … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice League: Gods and Monsters

October 9th, 2015
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For many years, Bruce Timm was the mastermind behind Warner Brothers’ Animation’s wonderful DC Universe superhero shows.  But in the past few years he has stepped away from the currently-running line of direct-to-DVD/blu-ray movies, to what I feel is the detriment of the level of quality of the product.  With the latest animated film, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, Mr. Timm has made a most-welcome return to the fold.  Working with the incredibly talented Alan Burnett (who was involved, along with Mr. Timm, with the masterful Batman: The Animated Series back in the day), the two have crafted a fun, engaging, and adult reinvention of the Justice League characters and concepts.

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Gods and Monsters is set entirely in an alternate universe, and presents us with dramatically re-worked versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and an entirely different DC Universe.

The film opens with a terrific prologue in which we see the final moments of Krypton as Lara and Jor-El prepare to launch their progeny away from the dying planet.  But in this version, a baby has not yet been born.  Instead, just as Jor-El prepares to fertilize Lara’s egg (and never fear, nothing graphic is shown — Mr. Timm & Mr. Burnett have devised the clever and efficient device of showing this process happening by simple computer contact with the father’s hand), he is shot by Zod who instead fertilizes Lara’s egg himself.  And so we are introduced to the birth of a Superman fathered not by wise Jor-El but by the villain Zod.

This film’s Batman is not Bruce Wayne, rather he is Kirk Langstrom, who was infected with a man-bat serum in an effort to cure his lymphoma — it succeeds, but turned him into a vampire, albeit a super-powered one.  Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is not Diana from Themyscira, but Bekka from New Genesis/Apocalypse (of Jack Kirby’s “New Gods”), the last survivor of a betrayal that wiped out her family.

After the prologue on Krypton, the film jumps ahead many years to introduce us to this Justice League in action.  It’s clear that this is a much darker team than our familiar characters, and that all three of these super-heroes are more than willing to kill.  A tense situation exists in which the Justice League cooperates with the President (Amanda Waller in this reality) and the military/police, but that neither side much trusts the other.  Very early on in the film, Superman muses about the potential benefits of their taking over the world.

In previous DC Animated adventures we have seen “our” Justice League battle evil versions of themselves: the Justice Lords.  These were versions of Clark, Bruce, and Diana (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) who one … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

This trailer for SPECTRE is pretty great:

I am tremendously excited for the reintroduction of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld to the Bond films — for the first time in four decades!! — and I really hope they don’t blow it.  This new trailer looks large-scale, and I am thrilled that this story looks to be combining threads from the first two Daniel Craig films, and the organization that was named as QUANTUM in the second film, with the mythology of SPECTRE.  Casting Christoph Waltz as Blofeld is genius.  The two things that worry me about the trailer is the re-appearance of the done-to-death idea of Bond going rogue from MI6, and all the hinting that Blofeld is somehow tied to Bond’s past.  I hate this oh-so-common trend in movies that the hero and the villain must be intimately connected.  The Joker didn’t shoot Bruce Wayne’s parents and I am not excited by the idea that Blofeld and Bond have some long shared history.  Well, I will hold my concern in check to see what the filmmakers have come up with.  Anyways, this trailer is slickly made and has me very excited to see this film.

(Click here for a wonderfully in-depth analysis of the SPECTRE trailer.)

The entire Back to the Future trilogy is being re-released back into theatres???  I am there!!  (Click here for my review of Back to the Future’s 25th anniversary screening on the big screen…)

As readers of this blog know I have been pretty disappointed by DC’s recent slate of direct-to-DVD animated films.  But I’m pleased that DC Animation mastermind Bruce Timm seems to be returning to the fold, and I am quite curious at the idea that he is overseeing an animated adaptation of Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s violent and disturbing Batman: The Killing Joke.  How could that possibly work without having all of its controversial edges shaved completely off?  I dunno, but I’ll admit I am curious.  And the news that Mark Hamill will be playing the Joker has me delighted.  They’d damn well better be casting Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne!!

I can’t wait for Netflix’s Jessica Jones series!  Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias was brilliant.  I hope this adaptation lives up to the original.

I am impressed by the vibrant, colorful costumes seen in these peeks at Bryan Singer’s upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse film.  It’s fun to see these Marvel-movie colors in a Fox X-Men film, which has used mostly far more stripped-down, color-less looks.  I felt that X-Men: Days of Future Past was a great conclusion to Mr. Singer’s X-Men films (click here for my review) and I wish this new film was a … [continued]

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Catching Up! Josh Reviews Powers Season One, Star Wars The Clone Wars “Bad Batch”, and Batman vs Robin

On my desk I keep a list of the various movies and TV shows that I’ve watched that I intend to write about here on the site.  Lately that list has been growing very long!  I have fallen somewhat behind on my blogging.  So I’m going to try a new format here and post some “Catching Up” blogs in the coming weeks, with short reviews of some of the stuff I’ve seen.  Let’s dive in!

Powers Season One — For fifteen years Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers has been one of my favorite indie comic books.  For about that long, Powers has been “in development” in Hollywood for a movie or TV adaptation.  It looked like it would never happen, but then miraculously the series became the initial TV show produced by Sony’s Playstation network.  It seemed to me like a perfect fit.  The show would have the freedom to faithfully adapt Mr. Bendis & Mr. Oeming’s profane, sexy, violent, weird, wonderful series.  I was very excited.  But I’m sorry to say that this first season of ten episodes disappointed me.  I wrote about my initial lukewarm reaction here, and unfortunately the series never improved much for me.

Powers should be edgy, it should be cool, and above all else it should have the wonderfully witty & gritty dialogue that Mr. Bendis is justifiably famous for.  But I found the show to have none of those things.  It was stiff.  It was cheap looking.  Shockingly cheap-looking.  The sets looked like sets and what few super-heroic moments we saw were painfully primitive.  (I mean, the wire-work was just horrendously awkward.)  But I could forgive that if the series told a cool story.  Sadly it did not.  The show has a great ensemble of actors but there was never a moment when I felt that the show ever truly came alive and took flight.  There was little momentum from episode to episode.  With the involvement of the talented Mr. Bendis and crime-writer Charlie Huston, I was excited to see a ten-episode super-hero murder mystery.  But that never really came together.  The murder of big-time super-hero Olympia that kicked off the series, was quickly forgotten about in place of a lot of boring soap opera between former friends Walker, Johnny Royale, and Wolfe.  There was never any momentum to the show, just a lot of dithering about and back-and-forth between these flat characters.  Hardly any character actually DID anything.  Worst of all was that the comic’s central relationship, that between partners Walker and Deena Pilgrim, felt ignored by the show.  Deena herself was marginalized in the second half of the season, and that was a big disappointment.  Who’d … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

February 23rd, 2015
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I had read that DC was planning on creating a new continuity amongst some of their animated films (while still continuing to release some one-shot, stand-on-their-own films like Assault on Arkham) that would parallel the newly-relaunched “New 52” DC Universe in the comics.  Justice League: War was the start of this new animated continuity (fitting since that film adapted the story by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee that launched the “New 52” DC Universe), and the next film, Son of Batman, maintained the look and voice cast with Jason O’Mara as Batman.  Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is the third film in this new continuity, but I was surprised that many members of the voice cast were changed since War.  Nathan Fillion, who has voiced Green Lantern so wonderfully in many previous DC animated films, is back as the character (replacing Justin Kirk from War).  Michelle Monaghan is out as Wonder Woman, replaced by Rosario Dawson (who, interestingly enough, had a supporting role as Artemis in the Wonder Woman stand-alone animated film from 2009).  Alan Tudyk is also out as Superman, replaced by Jerry O’Connell (who has also previously appeared in these DC animated films, playing Shazam in Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam from 2010).  Lastly Shemar Moore is out as Cyborg, replaced by Sean Patrick Thomas.

Most of these changes are definite steps up.  I love Alan Tudyk, but he was terribly miscast as Superman in War.  And while I thought Justin Kirk did well as Green Lantern, Nathan Fillion is way better.  I am surprised by all these changes and wonder what the behind-the-scenes story is.  I am particularly surprised that they are using Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, since I thought the intention with these new films was to really set themselves apart from the previous ones.  But I’m not complaining.  These voice changes are a big step in the right direction of correcting some of the many problems with Justice League: War.  (Though of course this begs the question: if they’re OK using Mr. Fillion again, then why can’t we also bring back Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, and the other great voices from the classic DC animated series and films from the past???)

Throne of Atlantis is a loose adaptation of one of the early story-lines of the Justice League in the relaunched “New 52” DC Universe, written by Geoff Johns.  In both the comics and the film, the story focuses on a conflict over who will rule the undersea realm of Atlantis, which eventually spills over into a battle between the warriors of Atlantis and the surface world.  Here in the animated film, the story also serves as … [continued]

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Batman: Assault on Arkham

September 12th, 2014
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I have soured recently on the DC Animated direct-to-DVD/blu-ray releases, and I’m afraid their latest release, Batman: Assault on Arkham, does little to change my general impression that this line of animated films has lost its way.

This film had a few things going for it off the bat (no pun intended).  One, it was a separate tale from the new continuity of animated films (begun in the horrible Justice League: War and continued in the not quite as bad but still not that good Son of Batman).  It also featured the return of a few of the classic voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series and the Bruce Timm-run shows that followed, most notably the great Kevin Conroy as Batman (for me, THE definitive voice of Batman) and also C.C.H. Pounder as Amanda Waller.

On the downside, this film was set in the continuity of the Arkham video games, something in which I have little interest.  I am pleased to say that the film totally stands on its own — there weren’t any points where I was confused or felt that I needed to have played those games in order to understand the story.  On the other hand, I wonder if this story would mean more to people who had played the games, since for me I was left rather cold.

Assault on Arkham is interesting in that the story is told, not from Batman’s point of view, but that of the villains.  The Suicide Squad is a group of villains who have been assembled by Amanda Waller to undertake black-op, off-the-books missions.  In this case, they need to break into Arkham Asylum in order to recover the Riddler’s question-mark-shaped cane, in which he has hidden valuable data he stole from Ms. Waller.  (This whole concept of using unstable super-villains to do your dirty-work seems crazy to me, but the Suicide Squad has long been a popular concept in the DC comics.)

I like the idea of a Batman story told from the point of view of the villains, I just wish the villains were more interesting.  (Assault at Arkham pales unfavorably to the last season of Justice League Unlimited, which also spent a lot of time telling stories about the villains.  The penultimate episode of that show ONLY featured the villains, and it was phenomenal, one of the best episodes of the series.  I can’t say the same for Assault on Arkham.)

I also have the same complaint I have had about the last few animated films, in that it has some bad language and some sexual content/references that are supposed to feel adult but to me just feel out of place and juvenile.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Son of Batman

Well, I have just about given up on these direct-to-DVD DCU animated films.  There have been some great ones over the years (Batman: Under the Red Hood is probably my favorite), but the series has been very hit and miss.  Since Bruce Timm’s departure as mastermind of the series a few years ago, things have gotten particularly wobbly.  Earlier in the year saw the release of Justice League: War, an adaptation of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s revamped origin of the Justice League, part of DC’s universe-wide total reboot a few years ago that was nicknamed “The New 52.”  I am not a big fan of that reboot of DC’s comic-book universe, I think it has caused more problems than it has solved, and the animated adaptation was just atrocious.  When it was announced that War would be the start of a new continuity between the upcoming animated films, all based on DC’s “New 52” revamped universe, I was concerned.

The latest DVD, Son of Batman, isn’t nearly as bad as War, but if mediocre is the most I can hope for from these DVDs, it’s probably time for me to stop watching.

Son of Batman adapts Batman & Son, the initial four-part story that kicked-off Grant Morrison’s years-long run on Batman.  I spent quite a while writing about that entire run last year.  Click here for my detailed thoughts on Mr. Morrison’s initial story-line, the source material for this DVD adaptation.  The hook for Mr. Morrison’s tale was his decision to take an old, ignored, generally considered to be out of continuity story (in which Batman and Talia, daughter of villain Ra’s al Ghul, hook up and Talia, without Batman’s knowledge, gives birth to a son), and to bring that story-line into mainstream DC continuity.  In the opening of Mr. Morrison’s tale, Talia shows up in Gotham city with her son, the young Damian.  Bruce takes him in and tries to break the arrogant, spoiled, vicious Damian — who had been trained to kill by the brutal League of Assassins that Talia and Ra’s controlled — and teach him morality.  Meanwhile, Batman fights manbat ninjas and all sorts of other craziness.

The comic is a great story, and since Damian went on to become a hugely popular character, this is a great choice for an animated adaptation.  Now, because the original four issue tale was just the start of a years-long story-line, I can understand how certain changes would have to be made in the adaptation process.  It’d have made sense to trim away a few subplots, and to try to give the story more of a resolution than it had in the comics.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice League: War

February 19th, 2014
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I am thrilled that DC’s series of Direct-to-DVD animated films exists, and I always look forward to the newest release.  That being said, there’s no question that this series has been very hit-and-miss.  There have been a few spectacular films (like Batman: Under the Red Hood), and a number of very good if not great ones (the adaptations of Frank Miller’s two classic Batman stories, Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns; Superman: Doomsday; Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox), and a few quite terrible, unwatchable ones (with Superman/Batman: Apocalypse probably being the worst).

The latest animated film is Justice League: War.  It adapts “Origin,” the Justice League story by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee that was the kick-off arc in DC’s totally rebooted “New 52” universe from a few years ago.  I am pleased to see that this film is a direct adaptation of a specific comic-book story-line, something I have wanted to see more of from this film series.  I was also intrigued by the announcement that this film would launch a tighter continuity between these films, with aspects of the story-lines, and the voice-cast, carrying over from film to film.  That’s also something I have been eager to see from this film series, as I have missed the tight continuity from across the many terrific DCU animated TV shows masterminded by Bruce Timm (starting with Batman: The Animated Series and carrying through Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited).  So all of these were ingredients that might have made me enjoy Justice League: War.

Except, oy vey, this film is a mess.

It doesn’t help that I don’t think very highly of the source material.  I wasn’t a huge fan of DC’s decision to reboot their entire universe and start all of their series and characters back over from zero.  Had that led to exciting new stories, that would have been one thing, but other than Brian Azzarello’s brilliant reinvention of Wonder Woman, I haven’t been that bowled over.  Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are two hugely talented comic book creators, and I spent quite a while on this site last year writing about Mr. Johns’ phenomenal years-long Green Lantern epic.  But I found the six-issue Justice League: Origin story to be hugely underwhelming.  What was intended to be an exciting, widescreen reinvention of the Justice League for a new generation wound up being, to me, simplistic and childish.  I didn’t find any of the characterizations of the characters to be that compelling — quite the contrary, all of the “heroes” came across as juvenile idiots.  It’s one thing for these characters to be inexperienced, at … [continued]

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And so, at last, we arrive at my final Best of 2013 list!  I hope you all enjoyed the rest of my lists.  Click here for part one of The Top 15 Movies of 2013, and here for part two and here for part three.  Click here for part one of The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013, and here for part two.  Click here for part one of The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013, and here for part two.

And now, without any further delay, let’s dive into my list of the Top Ten DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2013:

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower Had I seen this film in 2012 when it was released, it surely would have made it onto my Best Movies of 2012 list.  Since I missed including this touching, heartbreaking film on that list last year, I sort of had to find a way to cheat and include it on one of my Best of 2013 lists!  This film has stuck with me deeply since I saw it.  It’s surely one of the greatest coming-of-age stories I have ever seen, masterfully adapted for the screen by Steven Chbosky, based on his own novel of the same name (which I now desperately need to read).  Each one of the kids in the film is portrayed by a phenomenal actor/actress: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson, Mae Whitman, and a score of others, not to mention some great adults in supporting roles such as Paul Rudd, Joan Cusack, Dylan McDermott, and Kate Walsh.  No child should have to go through what Charlie has to go through in this story, but should god forbid that happen, I hope he/she is blessed with friends as wonderful as Sam, Patrick, and their gang.  And while I referred to “cheating” a moment ago by including this film on this DVD list, the blu-ray is in fact phenomenal, with some great behind-the-scenes stuff and two magnificent commentaries, one by Mr. Chbosky alone and one by Chbosky and all the kids.  (Click here for my original review.)

9. The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 & The Flashpoint Paradox These two direct-to-DVD animated DCU projects were both very strong.  At the start of the year we got the second half of the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns.  Published in 1986, this dark, psychological tale is the seminal “Last Batman Story,” in which an aged Bruce Wayne once again dons the cape and cowl in an attempt to reclaim a Gotham City without hope.  Mr. Miller’s work has been heavily mined for inspiration by … [continued]

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“I am the Night” — Music From Batman: The Animated Series!

I can’t believe that Batman: The Animated Series is over twenty years old.  Oy vey, that means I am getting pretty old myself!  I immediately loved Bruce Timm’s animated Batman series, and as a kid I watched and re-watched those episodes incessantly.  To this day, I think that Batman: The Animated Series remains the finest on-screen depiction of Batman, and so many of the show’s versions of Batman’s familiar supporting cast and cadre of villains still stand as the most iconic, most definitive version of those characters.

One of the many ways in which Batman: The Animated Series excelled was in its gorgeous music.  Overseen by Shirley Walker, each episode of the series had its own fully-original, scored-by-an-orhcestra soundtrack.  The music of the series was so rich and expressive and memorable.  It was a HUGE element of the series’ success.

Back in 2009, I was delighted by La-La Land Record’s 4-disc CD collection of music from the series.  Click here to read my thoughts on that release.  The CD set was labeled “volume 1,” leading me to hope that a “volume 2” would be on its way.  Sure enough, last year La-La Land released volume 2, and I must say I think this collection is even stronger than the first.

Disc One — This first disc begins with music from “Beware the Gray Ghost,” the wonderful episode in which 1960’s Batman Adam West portrays Simon Trent, an actor who years earlier played a Batman-like TV superhero “The Gray Ghost,” who inspired Bruce Wayne as a boy.  I love how the peppy “Gray Ghost” TV theme heard in track 2 turns forlorn and mournful when we catch up with washed-up actor Simon Trent in the present day.  This theme becomes a haunting motif that runs through the rest of the episode.  The two-parter “The Cat and the Claw” (which, although it was the fifteenth episode made was actually the first episode aired — I remember watching it that first night!) begins with a great four-and-a-half minute-long piece of music (track 13) that scores the depiction of Batman and Catwoman’s first encounter.  It’s a great piece of music that introduces the show’s playful Catwoman theme.  In track 33 on the disc, which contains music from the Scarecrow episode “Nothing to Fear,” it’s interesting to hear Shirley Walker quote Danny Elfman’s Batman theme from Tim Burton’s Batman movie.  Then, a little later in that episode, in track 37 we hear the Elfman Batman theme transition into the Batman: The Animated Series Batman theme, which is very cool!  The disc concludes with music from “Heart of Ice,” one of the finest episodes of the entire series (it was written by Paul Dini, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the latest DCU Animated Adventure: The Flashpoint Paradox

August 20th, 2013
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After the dreadful Superman: Unbound (click here for my review), I am very pleased that the latest DCU direct-to-DVD animated movie, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, is a very solid, entertaining adventure, one of the strongest DCU animated outings from the past several years.

It is certainly a much stronger adaptation of the source material than the last several animated films, which include Superman: Unbound (an adaptation of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Brainiac story from Action Comics), the two-part adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (click here for my review of part 1 and here for part 2), and an adaptation of Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One (click here for my review).  The less said about the dull, childish Superman: Unbound the better — the animated film totally abandoned everything that was great about the original story-line from the comics.  And while there was a lot to enjoy in the adaptations of Frank Miller’s two famous Batman stories, and while I respect the ambition of tackling those two complex, iconic tales, I think the animated movies, while enjoyable, lacked a lot of the nuance and sophistication of the source material.

The original Flashpoint, a five-issue mini-series written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Andy Kubert and inkers Sandra Hope and Jesse Delperdang, is a much simpler story than, say, The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One.  Perhaps that is why it fares much better being adapted into an animated film, as the action/adventure aspect of the story might have proven to be easier to turn into a compelling animated movie than the more introspective, internal Frank Miller tales.

Flashpoint, published in 2011, is famous for marking the end of the DC Comics universe as it had existed since 1985-86’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. At the end of the series, DC completely relaunched their entire superhero universe, re-starting every one of their comics with a new #1, and starting almost every character’s story over again from the beginning, calling this reboot “The New 52.”  But Flashpoint really isn’t about all that.  Instead, it’s a classic alternate-universe tale in which the Flash wakes up in a terribly altered timeline, in which Aquaman and Wonder Woman are leading their respective nations (the underwater kingdom of Atlantis and the Amazons of Themyscira) in a war with one another that threatens to destroy the globe.  Robbed of his super-human abilities, the Flash must try to figure out how and when the timeline was changed, and how he can possibly change things back.

At this point, dark alternate-timeline stories have become incredibly cliche.  It’s been a long time since my … [continued]

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Let’s begin the day with this phenomenal article from badassdigest.com about how Optimus Prime’s death defined a generation of kids.  Do you want to understand the depths of my geeky heart?  Then read that article.  My parents wouldn’t let me see Transformers: The Movie in theatres, but I was allowed to rent it on video.  I didn’t cry, but I was shocked by the brutal deaths of all my beloved characters in the film’s opening minutes.  When Optimus Prime bought the farm I was changed forever.  I had loved the Transformers before, but one viewing of Transformers: The Movie sealed that flick’s place in my heart forever.  “Megatron… must be stopped.  No matter the cost.”

Boy, those crazy guys and gals at badassdigest.com have a direct line into my psyche these days, because while the experience of seeing Transformers: The Movie was seminal, so too was my discovery of Voltron.  This magnificent article examines the mysterious origins of Voltron, a show that combined and repurposed several different Japanese cartoons.  Oh my lord I loved Voltron.  The continuity of that show — the way story-lines flowed from one episode to the next — was a staggering discovery to me as a kid, and I fell in love hard.  To this day, I have a love for long-running continuing stories in any media (Movies, TV, books, comic books, etc.), and I think that began as a kid when I discovered Voltron and Robotech…

I just discovered Jerry Seinfeld’s web-series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and it is magnificent.  I love stand-up comedy and I loved Seinfeld, so no surprise I think this series of shorts of Jerry hanging out with his very funny pals is phenomenal.  With this project, Seinfeld has inched even closer to truly having made a show about nothing.  Genius.  I have already watched them all.  If you haven’t seen this, click on the above link immediately.

Want to watch Ewan McGregor tell a hilarious story about filming the Star Wars prequels?  Jump to 7:50 below:

So far I am very, very excited for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.  My only cause for worry?  The film’s very unimpressive redesign of the Sentinels.  I wish they had stuck a lot closer to the classic, iconic original design by John Byrne.  The Sentinels aren’t just any robots, they have a very specific look, and this isn’t it.

As for this summer’s X-Men movie, I have already written my review of the good-but-not-great new Wolverine solo film, The Wolverine.  Click here for a fascinating interview with Chris Claremont, who shares his thoughts on the film.  Chris Claremont didn’t create the X-Men or Wolverine, but in … [continued]

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Superman Unbound

The latest DC Universe animated direct-to-DVD/blu-ray film has arrived: Superman: Unbound.  Like many of these DCU animated DVDs have been, this new film is an adaptation of a great story from the comics — in this case, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal’s reinvention of Brainaic that ran in Action Comics #866-870 in 2008.

Mr. Johns’ story in those issues of Action Comics is terrific.  It manages to be a very new-reader-friendly story that reinvents both the villain Brainiac as well as the cast of characters surrounding Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet in a way that makes them new and fresh, and not overly bogged-down by continuity… and yet Mr. Johns’ story demonstrates a detailed grasp of DCU continuity, as Mr. Johns references previous Brainiac appearances and the backstory of characters such as Cat Grant, he features General Zod in the story’s prologue, and he even finds a way to clarify the often confusing, tangled histories of the Kryptonian cities Kandor and Argo (both of which somehow survived the destruction of Krypton and both of which have been used, somewhat inter-changably, in various non-comic-book Superman stories).

And Gary Frank’s art (inked by Jon Sibal) is magnificent, possibly one of my top two or three favorite renditions of Superman ever.  Mr. Frank uses Christopher Reeves’ face as his model for Superman/Clark Kent, and it is wonderful to behold.  (And I was pleased to see that Mr. Frank drew other artistic cues from Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, such as the crystalline-look of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.)  Mr. Frank can draw super-hero fisticuffs as well as he can draw a meeting in the Daily Planet offices.  I love his design-skills (his newly-redesigned robotic Brainaic minions are fantastic) and I find his detailed line-work to be quite beguiling.

Sadly, this new animated DVD/blu-ray adaptation is a total disappointment.  Geoff Johns’ story has been stripped of all danger and excitement.  What has been left is a completely generic, bland Superman adventure, far inferior to the previous Superman/Brainiac stories we saw years ago in Bruce Timm’s Superman: The Animated Series and the follow-up Justice League series.

Geoff Johns’ story depicted a newly fierce, dangerous Brainiac, whose menacing robotic minions had no compunction about brutally murdering the inhabitants of unsupecting planets.  When Superman finally makes it on board Brainiac’s ship and encounters the true Brainiac at the ship’s core, it feels like a moment of true threat and danger for the Man of Steel.  Sadly none of that menace is present in the animated adaptation.  The awesome prologue of the comic story, with General Zod on Krypton, has been replaced by a generic earth-bound incident in which Supergirl and Superman stop some terrorists … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Animated Adaptation of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Part 2)!

February 11th, 2013
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DC’s series of direct-to-DVD animated films stepped up to the plate big-time, recently, by taking on direct adaptations of two of the greatest comics that DC ever published.  Both were written by Frank Miller.  The first was Batman: Year One (click here for my review of that adaptation) and the second was The Dark Knight Returns.  In 1986, Frank Miller wrote and drew this seminal story, one that has continued to powerfully influence Batman stories in the comics and on film ever since.  On the surface, the plot is simple: following the death of Robin, Bruce Wayne gave up the guise of Batman.  But as Gotham City sinks into crime and despair, Wayne once again picks up the cape and cowl in an attempt to free Gotham of crime.  This is the Last Batman Story that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises so desperately wanted to be.  Mr. Miller’s graphic novel is a work of genius, a brilliant take on Batman elevated by his complex, nuanced storytelling and gorgeous, unconventional artwork and page layouts.  It’s one of my very favorite graphic novels.

To give their adaptation the room to breathe, in a very cool step, Bruce Timm and his team decided to release this adaptation in two parts.  Part One was a very solid effort.  (Click here for my review.)  It’s not a home run — I wish that they had used the voice actors from the original Batman: The Animated Series, and I wish the animation was of a higher quality.  (I recently picked up the blu-ray edition of Batman: Return of the Joker, and I found the animation in that 2000 animated film to be superior to all of the recent direct-to-DVD DC animated projects.  I wonder why that is?)  There were a few key moments that I felt that got wrong in Part I of the adaptation, and it seemed to me that many of the layers in the narrative were lost in favor of a more straight-forward telling of the story.  But I was still very entertained by the pleasingly faithful adaptation.  I thought it was a very solid effort, and even a straight-forward telling of this incredible story is extraordinarily entertaining.  I suspect that anyone who has never read the original graphic novel will be blown away by this grim, intense Batman story.  Those of us who worship the graphic novel will be entertained, though less impressed because for everything the adaptation got right, we are cognizant of the layers that were lost.

Part II of the animated adaptation is pretty much exactly the same.  I was hoping that things would get kicked up a notch, and since that didn’t happen … [continued]

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And so, at last, we arrive at my final Best of 2012 list!  I hope you enjoyed the rest of my lists.  You can follow these links to see my Top 15 Movies of 2012: click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.  Click here for part one of my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012, and here for part two.  And finally, you can click here for part one of my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2012, and here for part two.

And now, my final list: the Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2012!

10. Great documentaries for not-so-great films: Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises Both of these films disappointed me when I saw them.  The Dark Knight is an extremely well-made film and a great super-hero epic, but it’s a big let-down after the magnificence that was The Dark Knight.  And Prometheus was just a catastrophe.  Nevertheless, the blu-rays of both films contained terrific feature-length documentaries.  Prometheus’ special features are particularly compelling — the 220-minute documentary “Furious Gods: The Making of Prometheus” (directed by Charles de Lauzirika) is extraordinary.  Is it crazy to be so interested in the behind-the-scenes stories of two films that ultimately disappointed me?  Maybe, but I loved these glimpses behind the curtains.

9. Jay and Silent Bob Get Old: Tea-Bagging in the UK Every few years, Kevin Smith releases a DVD collection of some of his Q&A  sessions, and I always gobble them up.  None have topped the original An Evening With Kevin Smith DVD from 2002, but Mr. Smith’s skill as a spinner-of-yarns is unparalleled, and I adore listening to his lengthy, raunchy, hilarious answers to the audience’s questions about his life, his film-making, and all sorts of other details of his personal life.  (I even saw Mr. Smith live, in Boston, a few years ago!)  This latest DVD is a recording of some of the “Smodcast” podcasts that Mr. Smith recorded with his “hetero life-mate” Jason Mewes, on tour in England.  These shows are nowhere near as great as some of the previous Q&A DVDs — I like Jason Mewes, but I think Mr. Smith is much funnier solo — but these shows are still a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the frank, friendly interplay between Mr. Smith and Mr. Mewes.

8. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 — This animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal comic book from 1986 is one of the best of Bruce Timm’s recent direct-to-DVD animated films.  With solid (though not spectacular) animation and a phenomenal voice cast, I was very impressed … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Animated Adaptation of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Part 1)!

Released in 1986, Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most seminal Batman stories ever written, and certainly one of the finest super-hero comic-book stories ever told.  The Dark Knight Returns forever changed the depiction of Batman, and it has been influencing comic book writers and artists not to mention filmmakers ever since.  The dark, gothic look and tone of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was heavily influenced by The Dark Knight Returns, and the first hour-and-a-half of Christopher Nolan’s similarly-titled The Dark Knight Rises (in which an aging Bruce Wayne, having not been Batman for nearly a decade, puts back on the cape and cowl, attempting to rebuild his body and then doing battle with a muscle-bound terrorist attempting to take control of Gotham City) is nearly a direct adaptation.

That’s a bit of a joke, of course, partly based on my disappointment with The Dark Knight Rises (click here for my review, though my dissatisfaction with the film has grown since I wrote that initial, mostly-positive review), but it’s certainly true that many of the major story-beats from that film were taken directly from The Dark Knight Returns. They even directly took the scene in which two cops, a veteran and a rookie, respond after first seeing Batman again on the night of his return.  (“You’re slowing down?”  “Relax, kid.  We’re in for a show.”)

I first read The Dark Knight Returns only a few years after it was initially published.  I was WAY too young to read it, not question.  I didn’t understand everything in the story (the twist about Harvey Dent’s psychosis at the end of Book one totally went right over my ten-year-old head) but I was nevertheless gripped by this dark, violent, gripping story.  I have since read The Dark Knight Returns countless times, and it has lost none of its power.  I’ve written about it before on this site, naming it one of my favorite graphic novels of all time.

I was thus very excited and also very nervous when it was announced that Bruce Timm & co. would be adapting this groundbreaking work as their next direct-to-DVD DC Universe animated project.  This is exactly the type of comic source material that I desperately want to see Mr. Timm and his crew adapt — a classic series from the DC pantheon.  But The Dark Knight Returns is so good, so beloved, that the idea of a lame, sub-par adaptation was far worse than the idea of no adaptation at all.

One of my biggest continual complaints with these DC Animated DVDs has been that they’re way too short.  They all seem to be clocking … [continued]

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Superman vs. The Elite

September 5th, 2012
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The latest release from DC Animation is Superman vs. The Elite, an adaptation of “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” written by Joe Kelly and illustrated by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo .  The story was originally published in Action Comics #775, and has been expanded into this latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray release.

In the story, Superman encounters a new group of super-heroes, the Elite.  Though they at first seem like potential allies, they quickly come into conflict with Superman when he objects to their willingness to use violence and even kill in their pursuit of justice.  In the original story from 2001, the Elite was designed as a parallel to The Authority, the super-team created by Warren Ellis for Wildstorm Comics.  For a time, The Authority was an incredibly popular comic book series, and fans seemed to love their brutal, take-no-prisoners brand of super-heroics.  Joe Kelly’s story was designed to address head on the issue of whether Superman’s old-fashioned values had any place in a modern world.  Was Superman still relevant, or just a relic of a bygone age?

Those questions remain equally interesting a decade later, and Superman vs. the Elite is a compelling super-heroic yarn.  Comic-book fans will chuckle at all the parallels to the Authority (the profane, British-flag-wearing leader; the inebriated sorcerer; the teleportation doors; the huge living fortress of an HQ that exists between dimensions, etc.), but it’s not at all necessary to get any of those references in order to enjoy the story.  Although the Elite are the villains, I like that they’re not presented as too over-the-top evil.  Until the very end, they do seem like they legitimately want to do good, which makes their conflict with Superman more potent.

The film displays some solid though not hugely impressive animation.  The action is great, as per usual with these DC Animated films, though the character designs are all over the place.  I quite like the designs of the Elite, though Superman/Clark Kent is ridiculously malformed.  They went for a weird sort of stylization for Supes that totally didn’t work for me.  I found it very distracting.

The voice acting is very strong.  It’s great to see George Newbern return to the role of Clark Kent/Superman.  Mr. Newbern played Superman for the entire Justice League series, because Tim Daly was unavailable to reprise the role from Superman: The Animated Series. I’ve always really enjoyed Mr. Newbern’s work, and I think it stands equal with Mr. Daly’s iconic portrayal.  It’s nice to see Mr. Newbern back in the role.  I have never before heard of Pauley Perrette, but she is dynamite as Lois Lane.  Her work here is one of my very favorite … [continued]

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In response to this summer’s lousy Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man (click here for my review), comes this great article on 10 Remakes that Got it Right.  There are some really intriguing films on this list that I have never seen, but have been immediately placed on my “to-watch” list…

It’s old news by now, but I haven’t yet waxed poetic on this site about how excited I am that Peter Jackson has expanded his adaptation of The Hobbit from two films to a trilogy!  Very exciting.  The hints of obscure bits of story from the Lord of the Rings appendices that Mr. Jackson is going to be filming in order to flesh out the story are even more exciting still.  The battle of Dol Goldur??  Awesome!!

The new X-Men film is going to be Days of Future Past??? That’s hugely exciting, but also very worrisome.  Days of Future Past is one of the greatest X-Men stories (heck, one of the greatest comic book stories) of all time.  The idea of that being adapted into a film is extraordinary!!  Bravo to Bryan Singer and xx on taking on this iconic story.  But the thought of a BAD version of Days of Future Past would be horrifying.  I was burned by X3′s brutalization of the Dark Phoenix Saga (probably THE greatest X-Men story of all time), and that’s a pain not easily forgotten… I am crossing my fingers and toes about this one…

Speaking of Bryan Singer, why the heck is he still developing a Battlestar Galactica movie?  Do we really need another version of Galactica, after Ron Moore’s fabulous TV series…?  The only place to go is down…

I am excited to see DC’s upcoming animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal “Last Batman Story” The Dark Knight Returns. (DKR was a strong source of material for Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, as I noted in my review.)  However, this first trailer leaves me underwhelmed in the extreme.  This trailer should have been slow, spooky, and reverent, selling us on a world that had moved on without Batman.  Instead, it seems to be selling a zippy animated adventure.  I hope this doesn’t reflect the tone of the finished product.

In happier news — Larry David, Dave Mandel, Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer (key players on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland, Paul) are working together on a new movie for HBO?  Can’t wait!!… [continued]

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Josh Returns to the DC Animated Universe with Justice League: Doom

Justice League: Doom is the latest direct-to-DVD DC Universe animated feature.  The story is adapted from the “Tower of Babel” story-line that ran through issues #42-46 of JLA back in 1998.  Those original comics were written by Mark Waid and Dan Curtis Johnson and illustrated by Howard Porter, Drew Geraci, Pablo Raimondi, and Steve Scott.  This adaptation was written by the late Dwayne McDuffie.

In the original story, villain Ra’s al Ghul is able to take out the Justice League using strategies specifically tailored to disable or destroy each individual member of the league.  The hook of the story is the revelation of the inside-the-League source from whom Ra’s was able to attain the specific information he needed to create his stratagems.  (Every on-line review I have read of this DVD has spoiled the identity of that member of the Justice League.  I understand the reasons for doing so, since a) most comic-book fans know this story and so know who it was, and b) the identity of that Leaguer is really cool, and the story behind that betrayal is at the heart of this tale and part of what makes this such a great, fascinating story.  But I’m going to try to preserve the surprise for anyone reading this.)

Justice League: Doom is a very, very loose adaptation of the “Tower of Babel” story-line.  Though the central hook remains the same, the villain has changed (here it is the near-immortal Vandal Savage, rather than Ra’s al Ghul), many of the tactics used to attack the League members have been changed, and the villain’s ultimate goal (and his methods for achieving that goal) have changed.  After the very-faithful animated adaptations of Batman: Year One (click here for my review) and All-Star Superman (click here for my review), it came as somewhat of a surprise to me that this adaptation played so fast-and-loose with the source material.  On the one hand, I don’t think the original “Tower of Babel” story was so perfect that any change is a mistake.  Still, I was surprised by the degree to which the story was altered.

First of all, I have no idea why the villain was changed from Ra’s to Vandal Savage.  Why not use Ra’s?  He’s a terrific villain, and his connections to Batman provide a great extra layer of resonance to the “Tower of Babel” story.  (Also, since this DVD used so many of the original voices from Batman: The Animated Series and the Justice League cartoon — more on that in a minute — I would have LOVED to have seen the great David Warner reprise his role of Ra’s, who he voiced so memorably in Batman: [continued]

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The (Animated) Dark Knight Rises

OK, I already posted a link to a “sweded” version of The Dark Knight Rises trailer.  Now check out this version of the trailer created entirely from re-edited footage from the seminar and still-amazing Batman: The Animated Series:

I love that so much!!… [continued]

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The Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011!

Click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three, and here for my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one, and part two.

Now let’s dig into my list of the Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011!

10.  The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One As a huge fan of Arrested Development, this six-episode IFC series that reunited Will Arnett (Gob Bluth) and David Cross (Tobias Funke) was something of a disappointment.  More agonizingly awkward than actually funny, it’s on this list because that fact that this weird, short little series exists at all on DVD is one of the reasons that I love this format!  I had missed this series when it aired on IFC, so I was so pleased that it was released on DVD.  The show isn’t without merit, but it’s nowhere near the genius of the late, great (and now possible resurrected!) Arrested Development.

9.  Marvel’s super-hero movie blu-rays: Thor, Captain America: The First Adventure, and X-Men: First Class I praised these three Marvel super-hero movies in my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2011, and I was equally taken by their blu-ray releases.  Not only do all three films look absolutely gorgeous on blu-ray, but all three are accompanied by some fairly in-depth featurettes exploring all aspects of the films’ production.  None of these are super-elaborate special editions, and I do wish that, for all of these films, the featurettes had been edited together into one longer, comprehensive making-of documentary.  But these are very, very solid releases, with a lot for fans of these films to dig into.  Extra props for the wonderful “Marvel One-Shot” shorts included on the Thor and Captain America discs, that further connect the Marvel films leading up to The Avengers.

8.  Louie: Season 1 I’d been reading about this show for a while, and having now finally watched the season one set I can say that this show deserves all the praise it’s been getting, and more.  In it’s structure, the show resembles Seinfeld: clips of Louie C. K. performing stand-up are intercut with vignettes of his life.  But in other respects the show is the exact opposite of Seinfeld.  Whereas on Seinfeld all of the story-lines would wind up beautifully dovetailing by the end, on Louie the individual scenes on the show often have little or nothing to do with one another.  We’ll watch a seven-minute sequence of Louie and his buddies playing poker, and then after some more stand-up we’ll shift to an entirely different scene … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews the Animated Adaptation of Batman: Year One!

Back in 1986, Frank Miller turned the comics world on its ear with the release of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.  This four-issue prestige-format limited series, which Mr. Miller wrote and pencilled (with inks by Klaus Janson and gorgeous colors by Lynn Varley), told the story of a bitter, middle-aged Bruce Wayne.  In Miller’s story, Bruce had retired from being Batman following the death of Jason Todd (the second Robin, who was actually killed in-continuity in the Batman books a year or so later in the “A Death in the Family” story-line).  But disgusted by the cess-pool of crime and corruption that Gotham City has become, Bruce puts back on the cape and cowl and resumes his one-man war against crime, leading to his final confrontation with the Joker and, ultimately, with Superman, who is now in the employ of the U.S. Government.  Violent, gorgeous, and compelling, The Dark Knight Returns blew my mind when I read it (at far too young an age, back in 1988), and it still stands today as one of the finest comic book stories ever made (and certainly as one of the very best Batman stories ever told).

One might have thought that such a work could never be equaled, but the following year, in 1987, Frank Miller returned to Batman and told a story that is as good — if not even better — than The Dark Knight Returns.  For four issues in the regular Batman comic (#404-407), Mr. Miller and David Mazzucchelli retold Batman’s origin in the story called Batman: Year One.  Whereas The Dark Knight Returns was a huge, epic saga, Batman: Year One is a street-level, entirely stripped down Batman story.  In fact, the genius of the story is that it isn’t really Bruce Wayne’s story at all.  The focus is on a young James Gordon, as he attempts to survive his first year on the force in Gotham City.  Batman: Year One is a tough, violent, gritty tale, populated by the corrupt and the broken.  Even our heroes, Bruce Wayne and James Gordon, are presented as being far from perfect — but their heroism derives from their striving to battle past their flaws and imperfections and attempt to do the best they can in a city without hope.  It’s one of Frank Miller’s very best-written tales, and David Mazzucchelli’s art continually takes my breath away with its gorgeous stylization (the man knows how to spot blacks better than pretty much anyone else in the business) and astonishing detail.

Like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One sits at the very top of the heap of comic book story-lines.  It’s been mined for inspiration by several of … [continued]

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DC Animated Update

It’s been a while since I’ve chimed in with my thoughts on the recent direct-to-DVD DC Universe animated films!  Here are my thoughts on the last three releases:

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse — Coming hot off the heels of what I consider to be the strongest film in this series so far, the grim and intense Batman: Under the Red Hood (read my review here) comes this, by far the worst film so far.  This one is pretty much a total, unwatchable catastrophe.  Despite what the title and cover art might have you believe, this isn’t a story about Darkseid (one of the best Superman villains) at all.  It’s really the latest version of the Supergirl story (adapted from Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner’s story which did not interest me when it was published and still does not interest me now).  Now don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against Supergirl!  I loved the character on Bruce Timm’s animated Superman and Justice League shows.  But this desperate-to-be-hip reinterpretation has always smacked of desperation to me, and shoe-horning in Darkseid and his minions just robs those great characters of the focus they deserve.  Darkseid and the New Gods mythos were presented with far greater success in the afore-mentioned Superman and Justice League animated series.  This is just a sub-par retread of ground that has already been covered.  Skip this one at all costs, gang.

Superman/Shazam!  The Return of Black Adam — In addition to re-presenting the three DC Universe universe shorts that appeared on the three prior DVDs (with commentary tracks that are interesting but really should have been included on the original releases), this DVD collection includes the new Superman/Shazam short.  I say “short,” but it’s a good deal lengthier than the previous three shorts.  At almost 25 minutes, this is much more the length of an episode of one of the DC animated series.  And, indeed, this short feels just exactly like we’re watching a long-lost episode of one of those Bruce Timm DC Universe animated series.  That’s both good and bad.  It’s good in that the quality of the story-telling and the animation is high.  I find origin stories to be a little tiring, but I like this version of the Shazam/Captain Marvel mythos and I thought everything was presented in an effectively succinct, to-the-point way.  But it’s bad in that this felt pretty much like just another episode.  There wasn’t anything that jaw-dropping to see, and the story never reached anything near the apocalyptic heights glimpsed in the DVD’s terrific cover painting.  Also, as with the Darkseid stuff in the previous DVD, I felt that all of this had been done before, and better, in the old … [continued]

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Though I think the quality of his films has dipped considerably in the last decade or two, I remain an enormous Woody Allen fan.  So I tip my hat to Juliet Lapidos from Slate Magazine who just watched every single Woody Allen film and summarized what she’s learned.  It’s a wonderful piece — well-worth your time.  (I’m also pleased that to learn that, after her massive re-watching project, she concurs with my long-held opinion that 1997’s Deconstructing Harry was Mr. Allen’s last truly great film.)

Here’s also a fascinating ranking of Mr. Allen’s films into categories (from the “masterworks” to the “bad”).  There’s not too much I can disagree with about this listing!  It’s pretty spot-on, I think.  A few quibbles: I think Hannah and her Sisters and What’s Up Tiger Lily should be bumped up to “great,” as should Play it Again Sam, Deconstructing Harry, and Zelig. Bananas deserves a spot in the “Masterworks” category, and I’d bump The Purple Rose of Cairo down one notch to the merely “great.”  And Scoop definitely needs to be shifted down into the “bad” category.  OK, I guess I did have some objections!  But still, over-all, a terrific list.

Speaking of obsessive-compulsive types, check this out: a complete guide to every single sneaker Jerry Seinfeld ever wore on Seinfeld.  Very cool (and just slightly frightening).

So, Rise of the Apes (which was originally called Caesar) is now Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Wow, the title just became simultaneously way more awesome and also way, way stupider.  I can’t wait!  (By the way, did you watch the new trailer???)

I’m not sure what makes me happier: that we’re actually getting a new Planet of the Apes movie this summer, or that in New Zealand right now they’re actually, finally, for-real, filming Peter Jackson’s two-film adaptation of The Hobbit. Have you seen the first new production diary? I have tingles.  I’m not kidding!  Peter Jackson was a true innovator with the video diaries that he posted back in the day, chronicling the making of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then King Kong, and I have fond memories of devouring those whenever they were released during the pre-production and production of those films.  It makes me so happy that they’re finally back, and that The Hobbit is at long last under-way.  CAN’T WAIT FOR MORE.

Are we really just a few weeks away from Thor? I really want that movie to be good, but I’m a bit nervous.  This very positive early review has me optimistic, though!

I’ll be posting a piece soon with my thoughts on the last few DC animated projects … [continued]

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Yesterday I began listing my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2010.  Here’s the rest of my list!

5. Batman: Under the Red HoodBruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series knocked me for a loop when I first saw it back in the ’90s, and I’ve been a huge fan of his many DC Universe animated projects in the years since.  The recent series of animated DVDs that he’s been masterminding have been a bit hit-or-miss, but this film (adapting a storyline from the Batman comics written by Judd Winick) is really tremendous.  The story has a GREAT hook: Batman’s life is uprooted when he discovers that the new crime-lord in Gotham City just might be his former partner, Robin.  What unfolds is a surprisingly dark, surprisingly violent tale.  Whenever Mr. Timm returns to Batman, I’m a happy camper, but this grim little film really grabbed me.  I think it’s a particularly great depiction of the Dark Knight Detective.  A superlative voice cast (including Bruce Greenwood, Neal Patrick Harris, Jensen Ackles, Jason Isaacs, and Futurama’s John Di Maggio) is just the icing on the cake.  (Click here for my original review.)

4. Family Guy: It’s a Trap! The folks at Family Guy conclude their trilogy of extended episodes parodying the three original Star Wars films with this warped version of Return of the Jedi. The animation is absolutely gorgeous (it’s shocking that I would write that about an episode of Family Guy, but believe me, it’s true.  These artists have painstakingly recreated shot after shot from Return of the Jedi. Their version of the Battle for the Second Death Star is astounding).  The jokes are very funny.  (I was particularly taken with their depiction of the speeder-bike chase sequence, but on tricycles.)  It’s Family Guy Star Wars.  What more could I ask for?  (Click here for my original review.)

3. Grindhouse (Blu-Ray) — I was very afraid that this would never see the light of day, but at last one can now own the original theatrical version of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double-feature, complete with all of the fake trailers.  I love the extended versions of the two films that were released on DVD a few years back, but I’ve been aching to be able to experience what I saw (and so loved) in theatres back in 2007.  Ignore the nay-sayers — this film is genius, and it is phenomenally entertaining viewing.  It’s not for everyone (there’s a lot of sex and violence), but damn do I think it’s a lot of fun.

2. Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure (Blu-Ray) Apocalypse Now is one of my favorite films.  I didn’t … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Batman: Under the Red Hood, the Latest DCU Animated Film!

September 24th, 2010
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I’ll admit, I had been starting to lose hope about the continuing series of DC Animated films, but Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was a step in the right direction, and the latest installment, Batman: Under the Red Hood, is even better.

Under the Red Hood is based on the story-line that ran through the Batman comic books in 2005-2006 (and was eventually collected in a two-volume collection called Under the Hood), written by Judd Winick and illustrated by a variety of artists but primarily Doug Mahnke.  In the story, Batman must confront a new nemesis: The Red Hood.  The mysterious character at first appears to be a new crime-lord, vying with The Black Mask for control of Gotham City’s criminal element, but he turns out to be a vigilante aiming to destroy those criminals, albeit using much more violent (and deadly) methods than Batman ever employs.  That’s troubling enough on its own, but when evidence points to the Red Hood as being a mysteriously resurrected Jason Todd (once Batman’s second side-kick Robin, murdered by the Joker in the infamous A Death in the Family storyline from back in 1988), Batman finds himself painted into an impossible corner.

At the risk of repeating the point I have made in my last several reviews of these DCU animated films, I’m much happier seeing direct adaptations of famous comic book story-lines, rather than all-new stories (like the mediocre Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight films, or even the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths film which I found more enjoyable).  So Under the Red Hood had that going for it, in my book, right off the bat.  The problem is that, with the exception of the graphic novel New Frontier (which is a phenomenal piece of work by Darwyn Cooke), I haven’t been too wild about the choice of comic story-lines these films have adapted.  Superman: Doomsday adapted the sprawling, months-long Death of Superman storyline, and while that story-line was a smash hit at the time it came out, it has aged very poorly.  I thought Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman storyline (adapted for Public Enemies) was over-rated at the time — all flash and dazzle without too much actual meat to the story.  And Judd Winick’s Under the Hood story-line was, in the comics, fairly mediocre in my opinion.  It had a killer hook, bringing back Jason Todd, but rather than building to a powerful climax I felt the story was abandoned.  There was no clear resolution as to what happened to Jason/Red Hood, and when we finally got the answers as to how he was resurrected (in Batman Annual #25) it seemed like a convoluted mess.  Also, read … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

May 21st, 2010
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I know I’m turning into a bit of a broken record regarding the continuing series of animated DC Universe DVDs, but I can’t really help it.  I’m really enjoying the direct-to-DVD series so far, and I certainly understand that I should count my blessings that these unique and well-made animated projects exist at all.  But I’m still waiting for one of these new animated films to truly hit the ball out of the park.  These films are great, but none yet rival, say, the animated Batman: Mask of the Phantasm from 1993.

Which is not to say that the latest animated film, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, isn’t a lot of fun — it certainly is!  Based on a variety of different comic book story-lines, this film has some fun with the idea of alternate universes existing parallel with the main DC universe.  Lex Luthor flees one-such alternate world, where alternate versions of the Justice League members have banded together to form the Crime Syndicate and take over the world.  Luthor — actually fighting on the side of good in that universe — determines that his world’s only hope lie in heroes from another universe entirely — our Justice League.

It’s a pretty familiar set-up, but what follows is a fun, tightly-paced action adventure in which Superman, Batman, & co. are forced to confront darker, more ruthless versions of themselves.  There are some nice character beats, and several terrific action sequences.

The voice acting — as is par for the course in these Bruce Timm-supervised DC animated productions — is top-notch.  Hark Harmon (NCIS, The West Wing) is Superman, William Baldwin is Batman, Chris Noth (Mr. Big from Sex and the City) is Lex Luthor, and Vanessa Marshall is Wonder Woman.  Portraying their adversaries are Brian Bloom as Ultraman, James Woods (so many great movies, including Casino and Once Upon a Time in America) as Owlman, and Gina Torres (Zoe from Firefly) as Superwoman.

Despite those great actors, though, I must confess that I miss the voices from the original animated Superman, Batman, and Justice League TV series.  It was GREAT having those core original actors (Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, and Clancy Brown) back for the last DC animated DVD, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (read my review here), and I missed them in this installment.  This was particularly the case because this film isn’t a direct adaptation of a specific comic book story — in fact, of all the DVD films, this adventure feels the most like it could have been an extra-long episode of the Justice League series.  This isn’t a surprise, because on the special features it is revealed that writer … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, the Latest DCU Animated Adventure!

OK, we’re getting closer!

We’re now six films into DC Comics and Warner Bros.’ exciting new endeavor to launch high-quality direct-to-DVD animated films masterminded by Bruce Timm, one of the key creative forces behind the amazing Batman: The Animated Series from the 90’s.  In my review of the fourth film, Wonder Woman, I wrote that I enjoyed the effort but that I was disappointed that, to that point, the DVD series wasn’t turning out as I had hoped.  I wrote:

The original announcement had seemed to indicate that the series would focus more on adaptations of classic comic stories as opposed to this sort of one-off origin story that isn’t based on any specific source material.  This is the sort of thing that most of the live-action super-hero films do, creating a new story that is sort of a “melange” of various bits of story-lines and background from the many years of the character’s history.  It’s not what I was hoping for from these DVDs.  (To my dismay, the preview included on the Wonder Woman disc seems to indicate that the next DVD, a Green Lantern adventure, will be exactly this same type of not-based-on-anything-specific tale.)  Where is my epic animated adaptation of The Great Darkness Saga?  Or Batman: Year One?  Or Kingdom Come?  How cool would that be?

I never got around to writing about Green Lantern: First Flight, which was released earlier this year.  It turned out to be a much stronger film than Wonder Woman, but it was exactly the type of totally-new, one-shot story that Wonder Woman was.  The latest animated film, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, is an entirely different breed of cat.  Like the first two DVDs (Superman: Doomsday and Justice League: The New Frontier), this is a direct adaptation of a comic book storyline: specifically, the first six issues of Superman/Batman, by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, released in 2003/4.  I love that we’re back to a direct adaptation of a specific comic book tale.  THIS is the direction in which I want to see this DVD series continue to go.

Other than my philosophical support of its premise, is Superman/Batman: Public Enemies actually any good?  Well, it definitely is, though like the rest of these new DVDs it does not match the heights of any of Bruce Timm’s animated DCU series (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, etc.).

The story is simple:  Lex Luthor has been elected President of the United States.  He uses the discovery of an enormous fragment of Kryptonite that is on-course to impact with Earth (to what would be sure to be devastating consequences for the planet) as an excuse to … [continued]

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Animation Update! Josh reviews the final Futurama adventure and DC’s new Wonder Woman film!

Two rather high-profile new direct-to-DVD animation projects have been released recently — but are they worth your time and hard-earned dollars?  Well read on, true believers!

Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder — And so, once again, we bid farewell to Futurama.  Matt Groening’s lunatic sci-fi series was brutally cancelled by Fox back in 2003 after only four seasons.  Luckily, after several long years of waiting, the series was resurrected for a series of four direct-to-DVD feature-length animated films, of which this is the last.  While these new movies haven’t quite reached the high-points of the series’ best episodes (I’m thinking about episodes such as The Farnsworth Parabox, Roswell That Ends Well, Love and Rocket, War is the H-Word, Amazon Women in the Mood, The Bird-bot of Ice-Catraz, The Problem with Popplers, or The Day the Earth Stood Stupid), they have been very, very good.  The strongest, in my opinion, was The Beast with a  Billion Backs, in which David Cross (Arrested Development, Mr. Show) plays the alien Yivo who attempts to mate with every creature in the universe, while the weakest was Bender’s Game (as I found the extended fantasy sequence in the middle of the film to be a bit dull).

Into the Wild Green Yonder contains all the crazy zaniness, wild side-stories, and obscure sci-fi references that I have come to expect from the series.  The plot is almost beside the point, but I will attempt a summation.  The story begins on Mars, where the construction of a new Mars Vegas is disrupted by a band of eco-feminists.  Pretty soon Fry has been declared the savior of the universe by a bunch of telepaths wearing aluminum foil hats, Bender arouses the wrath of the mobster Don-Bot for making out with his wife, Leela goes under-cover with the feminists, and it all builds to a massive space-ship battle in the middle of an intergalactic mini-golf course.

The DVD is very solid — the animation is GORGEOUS, as always.  The story, despite some digressions, works well as a movie.  There are very few lulls between big laughs.  As for the ending — well, the original Futurama series was cancelled without any time to produce a final episode, so with this being the final DVD (for now, at least — hope always springs eternal that these will have proven profitable enough for more to be on the way!), fans wondered if we’d get some sort of “finale” to the over-all story.  Well, I think they got things just right.  The last scene is just terrific, with some nice closure that doesn’t close the door on further adventures.  And the very last shot?  Perfection.

If this is … [continued]