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Josh Reviews Injustice

December 10th, 2021
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Injustice is the latest DC animated movie, based on the videos game Injustice: Gods Among Us, as well as the variety of comic book series that expanded upon those games.  (The film’s credits specifically site the comic book series Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year One by Tom Taylor.)  In the story, the Joker finally goes too far and a vengeful Superman murders him.  This leads to a schism between the DC superheroes, with Superman, Wonder Woman and a variety of other characters declaring that enough is enough and it’s time for them to stop playing defense and finally take control and make the world a better place.  Batman, meanwhile, gathers a group of other characters to defend freedom and oppose those heroes who have followed Superman and set out to take over the world.

I came into this series knowing nothing about the Injustice video games or comics.  But I was interested in the premise.  I’m always up for an alternate universe story taking famous comic book characters into new directions, and the idea of a Batman versus Superman story always has juicy potential.

Sadly, I was underwhelmed by this animated film.  There were certainly some fun bits, but it didn’t wow me the way I’d hoped.  The animation is solid but I really disliked the character designs.  The scowling, huge-chested Batman is particularly hideous.  I found the look to be very blocky and inartful.  I didn’t care for that at all.

Worse, the story was superficial and fairly obvious.  As soon as a pregnant Lois Lane appeared in the early scenes, I knew, ugh, I bet she’s going to be killed.  And sure enough, that’s what happened.  In 2021 I think using the death of a female character as motivation for a male character is not a good look.  The film makes a number of poor choices like that.  One that particularly jumped out at me is that Superman’s first action when he decides to end crime is — rather than doing anything within the United States — he goes to a foreign country run by brown people and takes control.  I really rolled my eyes at that behind-the-times simplistic notion of depicting evil-doers by showing us foreign dark-skinned people.

It’s interesting to see superhero characters pushed into difficult places.  A question that many writers/artists have asked of superhero characters is why they don’t do more to use their powers to make the world a better place.  There’s an inherent tension between these characters fighting evil while also being the keepers of the status quo that can be the basis for interesting stories.  There are kernels of those interesting elements in this film, but the story moves too fast … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Animated Adaptation of Superman: Red Son

The direct to blu-ray/DVD DC animated film Red Son is an adaptation of the three-issue mini-series by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett.  That “Elseworlds” story asks the tantalizing premise: what if young Kal-El had been raised in communist Russia rather than in the American mid-west?  (It also has an irresistibly clever title.)  I can see why the team at Warner Brothers Animation decided to adapt this story.  I am pleased that this animated film (scripted by the great J.M. DeMatteis, who wrote some of my favorite comic books back in the eighties and nineties) is an enjoyable adaptation!

The idea of seeing what would happen when the noble Kal-El was raised with very different values than an American farm-boy is a great one, and the film gets a lot of mileage out of that premise.  It’s a lot of fun to see this alternate history of the DC universe play out, and to see the characters interact with real-life figures from history such as Stalin and JFK.  The animation is, as usual for these animated DC films, good albeit not great.  The voice cast is very strong.  Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, Captain Lorca in Star Trek: Discovery) is fun as this Russian-accented, Communist version of Superman, and Amy Acker (Angel, Alias, The Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado About Nothing) is fantastic as Lois Lane.  Diedrich Bader (Veep, Better Things) is perfectly cast as Lex Luthor; he brings a perfect amount of oily arrogance to Lex.  Phil Morris (Seinfeld, Smallville) is great as Jimmy Olsen — I love seeing a black Jimmy Olsen in this film!!  Singer/songwriter Paul Williams (who also was so great voicing the Penguin back on Batman: The Animated Series) is perfectly obsequious as Brainiac, and it’s a delight to hear Phil LaMarr reprise his role from the animated Justice League show as John Stewart.

The film opens with a cleverly retro, Cold War inspired opening-titles sequence.  I love that the film maintained the period setting of the original comic, and that, like the comic, the story unfolds over many years.  The story beings in 1946 and continues through the following decades.  It’s wild to see Lois Lane smoking in the scenes set in the fifties!  (I’m shocked that this was permitted in a 2020 animated film.)

J.M. DeMatteis added some modern social commentary into the film (that wasn’t so much present in the original comic).  For the most part, it works.  In the first Lois-Superman scene, Superman presents several critiques of the United States that are (intentionally) quite relevant to 2020.  I liked seeing that.  It’s also certainly no accident that … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Death of Superman Animated Film

Back in 2007, when DC/Warner Brothers began their series of direct-to-DVD animated films, the first project they tackled was an adaptation of the 1992-93 “Death of Superman” storyline from the comics.  That animated film, Superman: Doomsday, was very entertaining and still stands as one of my favorite of the now thirty-plus DC animated films.  A decade later, DC/Warner Brothers have returned to that well with another adaptation of this famous story-line, this time in an extended two-part film.  So what did I think of the recently-released part one, The Death of Superman?

It’s actually quite good!  I’m pleasantly surprised.  First off, I wasn’t that excited for a second adaptation of this storyline.  The first animated film, as I just mentioned above, was great, and the “Death of Superman” story from the comics is far from my favorite Superman story.  Additionally, this new animated adaptation is set in the “New 52” inspired continuity that has been connecting most of the past several years’ worth of DC’s animated films, and while I love the idea of a continuity between these films, I don’t love many of the creative decisions at the heart of this “New 52” style.  (And, indeed, DC’s 2014 “New 52” relaunch of its comic book universe has, only four years later, already been mostly abandoned.)  So none of this had me exactly chomping at the bit for this new film.

But I’m happy to say, it’s a very entertaining film and a very competently-made adaptation of this storyline.

When this project was first announced, I’d assumed that it would be designed as a more-faithful adaptation of the original source material, as opposed to the first animated adaptation that took a lot of liberties with the story and condensed a year’s worth of plot from across multiple Superman titles into a less-than-ninety minute film.  But, surprisingly, this new adaptation has reconfigured the source material almost as much as the first film did!  First off, as I’d noted above, the story been adjusted to fix into the “New 52” inspired continuity of these recent animated films, which necessitated a number of changes to the story as well as the look of all the characters.  And while a two-part film will surely be able to get into a lot more detail than the original done-in-one animated adaptation, there was still a great deal of condensing that needed to be done to fit this sprawling story into a film.  (Part two looks like it will include a lot more of the “Reign of the Supermen” storyline from the comics, in which various Superman-doppelgangers appeared on the scene following Supey’s death.  Superman: Doomsday skipped all of that, so I’m excited to see part two … [continued]

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The Many Origins of Superman!

It’s incredible that, eighty years after his creation by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman remains such a popular character, one who is known and loved worldwide.  Even if you’ve never read a single comic book in your entire life, I bet you know who Superman is!  It’s quite extraordinary.

Something that has always intrigued me about DC Comics is their willingness to continually recreate their superhero universe, tossing out the old and restarting their characters from scratch.  This can make their continuity difficult to follow at times, as past stories are continually rewritten and/or shunted aside, and yet I suspect it has also helped to keep these characters relevant and viable.

Recently, I’ve found myself rereading several retellings of Superman’s origin.  It’s been fascinating to compare and contrast these different versions of the classic origin story that we all think we know!

Man of Steel Written and illustrated by John Byrne in 1986, this was the bedrock of the Superman comics that I grew up reading.  This six-issue mini-series spun out of DC’s line-wide crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was their attempt to unravel all of the contradictions and inconsistencies that had cropped up over the previous fifty years of storytelling (much of which had been very silly) to restart their characters and reboot them for modern readers.  John Byrne, who had achieved success and fame working for Marvel (he illustrated The Uncanny X-Men for many years, including The Dark Phoenix Saga, and he had an incredible run writing and drawing The Fantastic Four, among other achievements), was lured to DC and given the keys to the kingdom: the opportunity to relaunch Superman, restarting his story at zero.  Man of Steel was a six-issue mini-series presenting a new version of Superman’s origin, and then Mr. Byrne continued as the writer and artist for the main Superman comic book, while also writing Action Comics.  Those two Superman comic book series, along with The Adventures of Superman (which was written at first by the talented Marv Wolfman), began a new continuing saga of Superman stories that would last for many years.  I was never a regular reader of DC Comics as a kid the way I was of Marvel books, but I first started reading Superman comics soon after Man of Steel, and I dipped in and out of the various Superman titles over the years.  For me, this was the Superman continuity that was the “real” Superman.  Not the old “silly” comics from days of yore, not the Richard Donner Superman movies (though I loved them), but the continuity begun by Mr. Byrne in Man of Steel.

At the time, the six-issue-long Man of Steel felt … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice League Dark

April 19th, 2017

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 Actually Doesn’t Hate the Extended “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice!

So, yeah, I wrote a pretty scathing review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and also of the DC follow-up film Suicide Squad.  I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d be in any sort of rush to watch Batman v Superman again any time soon (or even ever).  But when I read that Warner Brothers was releasing a new cut of Batman v. Superman (I’m just refusing to keep writing out Dawn of Justice, OK?) with almost thirty minutes added into the film, I found that, despite myself, I was intrigued.  Thirty minutes is a lot of additional footage.  Was it possible that this longer cut salvaged the mess that I had seen in the theatre?  I doubted that this was a Kingdom of Heaven situation (in which a truncated to the point of being almost nonsensical version was released to theatres and was rightfully savaged by critics as being terrible; and then when Ridley Scott’s much-longer director’s cut was released to DVD we all discovered that the film was, lo and behold, almost a masterpiece), but was there a chance this longer version might salvage the film?  I was dubious but, like Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe.


Well, I am pleased to report that the “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v Superman is actually, wait for it, not entirely terrible!  It is actually sort of almost OK.

Most of the major flaws of Zack Snyder’s film remain.  The film almost completely misunderstands the characters of both Batman and Superman, turning Superman into a dopey, wishey-washy moron and Batman into a criminal-murdering crazy-person.  The film’s version of Lex Luthor is lame and criminally disappointing.  The way glimpses of all the Justice League characters are inartfully shoehorned into the movie is painful, and Batman’s long dream/vision/whatever of a future in which Darkseid controls Earth and Superman is his lackey is head-scratchingly confusing and totally out of place stuck in the middle of the film.  The entire extended climax is a disaster, in which Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman don’t talk to one another at all while spending an inordinate amount of time punching an ugly, horrible CGI creation and Superman sacrifices himself for no reason when Wonder Woman (who doesn’t happen to be deathly allergic to Kryptonite) could have easily killed Doomsday with that spear.

But the new material provides a lot of useful connective tissue for the film’s various interwoven stories, and at last I can understand what Zack Snyder’s vision was for the film: a dark, complex epic that attempted to blend the ultra-serious and “grounded” approach that Christopher Nolan used so successfully in his trilogy of Batman films with more of an embrace of large-scale super-powers … [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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Josh Reviews Suicide Squad

Following the disappointment of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie that I found to be overly dour and grim and dull (and, even more problematically, filled with almost nonsensical plotting and paper-thin characters), I thought Suicide Squad looked like a breath of fresh air for the burgeoning DC movie-verse, fun and anarchic.  Sadly, the film has almost all of the exact same problems as Batman v. Superman: the plot makes little sense, the characters are underdeveloped, and the whole thing reeks of desperation to be cool and adult, while failing to be either.  I actually think Batman v. Superman is better than Suicide Squad — something I can’t believe I am writing.  Oy vey!


Created by John Ostrander in the eighties (actually, recreated, as there was a previous Silver Age version of the concept) (and I was happy to see that Mr. Ostrander got a fun shout-out in the third act of the film), the idea behind Suicide Squad is that government operative Amanda Waller (played here by Viola Davis) has gathered a group of meta-human super-villains and attempts to coerce them into doing good on the government’s behalf as a way to commute their sentences (and avoid getting blown up by the bombs she’s had implanted in their necks).  Here in the film, the DC world has been shaken by the arrival, and then departure, of Superman, which lends context to Amanda Waller’s desperation to have some meta-humans she can control.  Of course, the idea of trying to control these super-powered crazies is probably a bad idea.

I am somewhat shocked that this obscure property has made it to the big screen, so in this I applaud DC/Warners for having the guts to dig this deeply into the wonderful history of DC Comics.  I never really expected to see Harley Quinn in live-action on-screen, let alone Deadshot or Katana.  While I think DC/Warners are shooting themselves in the foot by rushing to create a shared cinematic universe — in slavish imitation of what Marvel Studios has done so well — without taking the time to carefully develop each property individually, which has been Marvel’s (very successful) strategy, I must admit that it’s also sort of cool that this new slate of DC movies are dropping us into a universe fully in motion.  Man of Steel was a new origin story for Superman, but Batman v. Superman presented us with a Batman who had been in operation for decades and already had a Robin killed, and a Wonder Woman who had been around since WWI at least, while also suggesting the existence of many other super-humans (all the other members of what will be the Justice League.)  Here … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Let’s begin today with this: the single best joke told by every president, from Obama to Washington.

Fox has greenlit 12 episodes of a 24 spin-off series, 24: Legacy.  It’s hard to imagine my watching that since I didn’t make it past the first two episodes of 2014’s 24 revival mini-series Live Another Day.  I watched 24 from episode 1 of season 1, and at first I was evangelical about this amazing, intense serialized show.  But truth be told the only seasons I really loved were those first two years (and even those seasons had plenty of problems).  I stuck around for years afterwards and while there were some high points, I tended to find myself continually disappointed.  I finally bailed before the final season.  I had high hopes that Live Another Day would be a return to the show’s original greatness, but those first two hours just felt like more of the same.  Oh well.

Far more exciting: Netflix has announced a Wet Hot American Summer sequel!  The so-obvious it’s genius Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later will be eight episodes and, you can be assured, high on my must-watch list.

Was this seriously going to originally be the opening shot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens???  Love it!

So this is awesome: the Language Creation Society has just submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Paramount’s suit attempting to halt production of the Star Trek fan-film Axanar.  Seems this Language Creation Society objects to Paramount’s contention that they can copyright the Klingon language.  You’ve got to read this article, it is nerdy and hilarious and wonderful.  To restate my position, I strongly object to Paramount’s heavy-handed effort to squash this fan-made film.  (After creating the amazing fifteen-minute Prelude to Axanar, this group of Trek fans fund-raised on Kickstarter — full disclosure: I have donated — to create a full feature-length film telling the story of the Five Years’ War between the Federation and the Klingons.  This is an event that is part of the backstory of Star Trek: The Original Series.  The planned film would focus on telling the story of Starfleet Captain Garth of Izar in the years before he became a crazy villain, as seen in the Original Series episode “Whom Gods Destroy.”)  To be clear, it is probably true that the Axanar folks are in violation of Paramount’s copyright, but who really cares?  These fan films are not a competition with Paramount’s official Star Trek efforts.  These fan-made projects are done by Trek fans who love Trek.  I absolutely guarantee you that every single Trek fan who donated to Axanar is going to buy a ticket (perhaps many!) to see Star [continued]

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The Best Not Quite “To Be Continued” Endings of Franchise Films

One of my complaints about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was how much of the film was filled with shameless plugs for future DC Universe films.  I am all for connectivity between superhero films, thus establishing a shared universe of story-telling.  That is, in fact, one of the greatest triumphs of the Marvel cinematic universe!  The problem with Batman v Superman was how obvious and awkward and often confusing those connections-to-not-yet-made-future-films were.  The ending was a particular problem.  The film’s ending (which I won’t spoil) was clearly designed to be a cliffhanger that would make an audience excited for the next DCU adventure.  But I felt it landed with a thud.  Rather than being excited for the next film, I’m already dreading the time that will need to be wasted in Justice League to undo the events of the end of Batman v Superman.

This got me thinking about great endings to films in a series.  There’s something magical about a great ending to a film, particularly a film that is designed to be, not a stand-alone one-and-done entity, but rather an installment in a series.  There is a delicate art to being able to satisfactorily bring a film’s story to a close, while also teasing future adventures.  I adore that buzzy feeling of walking out of a movie absolutely desperate for the next installment, even if that next installment might be years away.

So what WERE some great endings to franchise films, endings that gave me that thrilled, excited feeling?  Well, I’m glad you asked, as I’ve decided to list some of my very favorites.

Now, before we begin, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a movie that ends on a out-and-out “to be continued” cliffhanger.  The best example of that would, of course, be:

Back to the Future Part II This film, gloriously, actually does end with the words “to be continued.”  (Well, actually the film ends with the words “to be concluded” which makes sense only when you know that the words “to be continued” were added on to the ending of the original Back to the Future for its home video release, so this ending of Part II now echoes/completes that ending of Part I.  Without that “to be continued” ending of Part I, you might expect the ending of Part II to read “to be continued” rather than “to be concluded.”  At least, I would!  Sadly, all DVD and blu-ray releases of the original Back to the Future restore the original ending and remove that “to be continued.”  But I dearly miss that “to be continued” ending, as that’s the ending I grew up with.  Why no branching option, Warner brothers, … [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?


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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Rogue One and News Around the Net! UPDATED with Doctor Strange Trailer!

I suspect by now you’ve all watched the first teaser trailer for Rogue One, perhaps (like me!) several times:

That’s a pretty terrific trailer.  Not as instantly iconic as any of the magnificent trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but still pretty great.  It’s a far more substantial look at the movie than I had expected for a first teaser trailer.

My main question is: why the heck isn’t this film called Star Wars: Rogue One?  Because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a heck of a mouthful.  I guess we’re going to be saddled with this “A Star Wars Story” business for all of the non-official-“Episode” spin-off Star Wars films to come.  I think that’s a big mistake.  Just call all of these films Star Wars: Whatever You Want Your Title To Be.  Isn’t that much more simple and direct?

As for the peek at the content of the film itself: well, I am on-record as hating prequels, but while I am absolutely DREADING the in-the-works “young Han Solo” movie, I am sort of taken with the idea of telling the story of the secret mission to steal the Death Star plans that must have happened right before the events of the first Star Wars.  That’s a pretty big piece of Star Wars back-story about which we know nothing at all, and it seems like a cool idea for a movie.

And while we all know that you can’t judge a film by its trailer, this first trailer is pretty terrific.  I love that, like The Force Awakens, this Star Wars film seems to be anchored by a strong female character in the lead.  I really enjoyed Felicity Jones’ work in Like Crazy, and she looks terrific here in the lead as Jyn Erso (I had to look that up on-line).  I like the Seven Samurai type feel to the film, of a motley crew of criminals and scum gathered together for a mission.  (It’s interesting that Warner Brothers’ next big DC Universe movie, Suicide Squad, is also based on a similar premise.  I am curious to see how similar those two films wind up being.)

It’s pretty cool to see those shots of Star Destroyers and the Death Star being assembled.  I’ve heard rumors that Darth Vader will be appearing in this film (which would be awesome if done right), but so far they have kept him hidden in this trailer.  (There is a shot of a figure in black kneeling before a pillar of light which resembles how Vader would communicate with the Emperor but that figure doesn’t look like Vader to me.)

I’m eager to learn more about the many new characters … [continued]

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New Around the Net!

So, holy shit, I am seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens a week from today!  That a new Star Wars film, featuring the cast of the Original Trilogy, is so close to being a real thing that I can see, is incredible.  I expected that someday there would be new Star Wars movies, but I never really thought we’d see any of the original main cast back onscreen in their roles.  Is the film actually going to be good, or will it be a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull level catastrophe that we’re all going to regret?  I’ll know soon!!  I’m very excited.  I’ve been saying for years that I would love to, in my lifetime, get to see another great new Star Wars movie on the big screen.  Let’s see what happens.

In the meanwhile, in Star Wars news, here is a phenomenal short interview with Oscar Isaac, who has become one of my very favorite actors (in killer roles in Inside Llweyn Davis, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, and Show Me a Hero) and who plays X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron in the new film.  (I have successfully avoided spoilers in learning anything other than that about the character!)

The first trailer for Captain America: Civil War came out a few weeks ago, but I don’t think I’ve written about it yet.  For a first teaser, it’s a hell of a thing:

I love that trailer, and I am really pumped for this movie which really seems like it could be called The Avengers 3.  But what I love about the trailer is the way that, despite all the huge number of Marvel characters who will be popping up in it, this film really does feel like a Captain America film, with Cap front and center and the Bucky story-line (begun in The Winter Soldier) moving forward.  I love how it looks like they’ve taken Bucky/The Winter Soldier and used him as the crux point for the Civil War storyline (from the terrific Marvel Comics mini-series written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Steve McNiven in which Cap and Iron Man split the Marvel universe heroes over their differing opinions on a law requiring that all superheroes give up their secret identities in order to be trained and regulated by the federal government).  The trailer looks amazing.  It’s yet another way in which we can see the enormous richness and complexity that has developed in the Marvel cinematic universe so many years and movies into it.  I continue to be thankful that this incredible cinematic undertaking — a sprawling universe of interconnected films — exists.  A film like Civil War can exist … [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.


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 video is amazing.  It’s a nine minute mash-up of clips from lots of great movies to create the notion that there is one bar in which a lot of famous movie characters meet up. Check it out, it is great (despite the mis-spelling in the opening title):

How about that love for Carlito’s Way?? Fantastic.  (Click here for my recent review of Carlito’s Way.)

So, what the heck is going on over at Marvel Studios?  There’s a lot happening behind the scenes that is starting to get reported.  Some of it is exciting, some of it very worrying.  The major event is the move of Marvel Studios, run by Kevin Feige, out from under the control of CEO Ike Perlmutter and over to the direct control of Disney (who bought all of Marvel a while back).  There have been many reports over the years of Ike Perlmutter’s tight purse-strings — limiting budgets for the Marvel films and leading to tough negotiations over salaries with the films’ stars — and his vindictiveness — directing Marvel’s publishing and merchandising arms to de-emphasize the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, because the rights to those film series are owned by Fox.  Although that has been continually denied by Marvel, the last year has seen the FF comic book –which has been published since 1962 — cancelled, and the removal of FF and X-Men characters from t-shirts and other merchandise (posters, toys, etc.).  Kevin Feige has been praised by many as the key driving creative force behind the success of Marvel Studios’ films, and so the idea of his having more creative control on his own, away from the supervision of Mr. Perlmutter, and perhaps larger budgets for his films, is very exciting.  On the other hand, I think the characterization of Perlmutter as a crazy billionaire is overly simplistic and denies his large role in Marvel’s reinvigoration as a publisher this past decade, and the creation and successes of Marvel Studios in the first place.  I’m also mystified by the way the Marvel Creative Committee seems to be being blamed for various Marvel Studios problems, as described in this weird piece by Devin Faraci at Birth.Movies.Death.com.  I love Mr. Faraci’s work (and later in this post I will link to some wonderful articles on his site, one of my very favorite web-sites), but his article about the Creative Committee doesn’t make much sense to me.  The Creative Committee is a small group of people from Marvel’s publishing arm: Joe Quesada (an artist who rose to the position of Marvel Editor-in-Chief in the aughts and who is one of the major reasons why Marvel was … [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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News Around the Net!

It’s Comic-Con in San Diego, and so lots of cool stuff has been popping up all over the web lately.  Let’s take a look!

I am a little dubious about Batman v Superman, but damn if this lengthy trailer isn’t pretty cool:

I mean, come on, who ever thought we’d actually see a Batman vs. Superman movie??  I love that this trailer showcases the Man of Steel supporting cast — I’m glad they’re being included in this film.  And I do love the liberal usage of imagery from Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns.  I just hope this film tells a good solid story and doesn’t waste too much time building up a future DC film universe to compete with Marvel.  (I was surprised they included Wonder Woman in this trailer, and I wonder how large a role she plays in the film.)

I cannot wait for Netflix’s Jessica Jones series!!  Love this first look.  Glad to see Luke Cage is involved.

This is a great write-up of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel.  Sounds cool.  Hey, the entire panel is on-line!

I can’t quite believe this is real!  Here is (a very shaky recorded version of) the profane, violent Comic-Con trailer for Deadpool!  Fox is really releasing this??  Wowsers!

I’m also intrigued by this shaky leaked version of the trailer for DC’s Suicide Squad.  This movie is either going to be completely lame or unbelievably awesome.  I don’t think there’s much chance of a middle ground… I hope we get an official release of this trailer soon so we can get a better look at all of these characters.  UPDATE!  Here’s a high-rez version:

A trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse was shown but sadly hasn’t yet found its way on-line.  Too bad, the trailer sounds cool.  (Though I really feel like Days of Future Past was a wonderful conclusion to Bryan Singer’s X-Men films and I think it’s time to re-set these films and start telling new X-Men stories set in the present day (or, as the first-film was so wonderfully captioned, “in the not-too-distant future”…)  And Hugh Jackman, please stop teasing me with the possibility of an Old Man Logan film!  ‘Cuz that would be AMAZING!!!

The Game of Thrones panel sounds like it was fun.  Here’s even more info.  Aww, heck, just watch this!!

In other news…

This is a wonderful first article from Birth.Movie.Death’s Devin Faraci from The Jerusalem Film Festival.  He makes a fascinating point about the stories of Jerusalem connecting to the stories told in films.  It’s a really thoughtful article.  I can’t wait to read more about Devin’s experiences at the festival.

I … [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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“The date is set!” — The X-Files returns to TV on January 24, 2016!  Please don’t disappoint me, Chris Carter!!

This is a great article listing 10 Making-Of Documentaries That Are Better Than The Actual Movie.  In many of these cases I don’t actually agree with the “Better Than The Actual Movie” part, but these are certainly ten of the very greatest documentaries about the making of specific movies.  These are all essential viewing for movie fans.  (The only one of the ten listed that I haven’t seen is Cleopatra: The Epic That Changed Hollywood.)  Hearts of Darkness is endlessly fascinating, one of the best movies about movies ever made, period.  I wrote about The Sweat Box, the documentary that Disney doesn’t want you to see about the making of what became The Emperor’s New Groove, here.  It’s fascinating and heartbreaking.  The documentaries on the Alien Quadrilogy are magnificent, particularly the staggeringly no-punches-pulled version on the Alien 3 blu-ray.  (The doc on the original DVD release was edited by the studio who felt that some of the behind-the-scenes material was too honest and raw.)  I have written endlessly about the amazing Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Appendices (elaborate, hours-long making-of documentaries) on the Extended Edition DVD/blu-ray sets.  (Click here for my thoughts on the behind-the-scenes material from An Unexpected Journey and here for my thoughts on The Desolation of Smaug.)  And I am glad this list also included two of the many magnificent making-of documentaries on the DVDs and blu-rays of Ridley Scott’s films, all of which was masterminded by Charles de Lauzirika.  Dangerous Days is an exhaustive look at the making of Blade Runner, and though Prometheus was a bomb, the four-hour long look at the making of that train wreck, titled Furious Gods, from the Prometheus blu-ray set, is amazing.  (By the way, Charles de Lauzirika also masterminded all of the Alien documentaries on the Quadrilogy set, making him the king of this list of making-of documentaries.)  I highly recommend all interested film fans track down these documentaries, they are wonderful.

I recently read Jerry Weintraub’s terrific memoir: When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead.  Mr. Weintraub was a music producer who worked with Elvis and Sinatra, and in his later years he became a movie producer as well, most notably working with Steven Soderbergh on Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen.  The book is terrific — Mr. Weintraub is a wonderful raconteur and, man, does he have some great stories to tell. I highly recommend it.  Here’s a link.  In a related story, birthmoviesdeath.com recently posted this loving look back at Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy.  I never thought too highly … [continued]

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Wow, looks like the studios have all started selling their 2015 movies pretty hard lately!  This past week has seen a flood of new trailers for some big upcoming films.

It all started, of course, with that look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  What a great trailer.  As I wrote last week, I remain dubious that this film is going to be any good (though I am beginning to dare to hope), but wow, this is a pretty perfectly cut trailer.  It’s been very interesting to see how universally loved this trailer seems to have been, across the internet.  Let’s watch it again, shall we?

Oh man.

Moving on, soon after the Star Wars trailer dropped we also got our first peek at Batman v Superman:

Unlike the Star Wars trailer, this trailer has been pretty roundly criticized across the interwebs.  I think the hate is a little much, personally.  This is a not a home-run trailer, but I don’t mind that DC is giving us a more serious, grim version of their super-heroes, in contrast to the Marvel approach.  I am glad a main story-point for this film seems to be the public’s questioning perhaps rejection of Superman as a hero.  That’s certainly understandable after the carnage that Supes was involved with at the end of Man of Steel.  And while I think Batman’s line about making Superman bleed is pretty dumb (and I’m definitely not yet liking the highly-modulated new Bat-voice), I do have a lot of love for the Frank Miller The Dark Knight Returns inspired look of Batman’s anti-Superman armor.  I am very intrigued by this film.  I can see a lot of ways in which it can stumble, most primarily under the weight of all the announced cameos as Warners seems increasingly desperate to ape Marvel’s success with The Avengers.  But boy, wouldn’t it be cool if this Batman/Superman crossover film — something we’ve never seen before — was actually good??  We’ll see…

We also good our first good look at Fox’s upcoming Fantastic Four film:

I’m very uncertain what to make of this film.  I love the FF dearly.  This might prove to be a great film, and I am certainly hoping it will be.  But it feels like it’s a decade too late.  After the last few years of Marvel films, in which we’ve seen superhero films that were able to be both compelling and also incredibly faithful to the essence of the characters from the comics, what I want to see on screen is the FF I know from the comics, not this weird un-superhero version.  I am not very excited right now for this film.  Prove me wrong, … [continued]

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Late-breaking update to my last post — take a gander at this new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens!!

WOW that is a hell of a trailer.  I love hearing Mark Hamill’s voice-over, echoing his words to Leia in Return of the Jedi.  Love the shot of the crashed Star Destroyer… and I love even more seeing the Millenium Falcon fly into what looks like the guts of that ruined Star Destroyer!  And that last shot and that last line… wow.  It’s very weird seeing a very old Han Solo, but I sort of love it.  I still don’t know if this movie is going to be any good, but I have huge love for this trailer.  Pure bliss.

This is amazing.  Just trust me.

This is a great article on Dune from The New Yorker from a little while back.  It is indeed curious that Dune has not penetrated the pop culture the way The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars has.  But for those of us who know and love Dune, it is a treasure.  (And I do love all of Frank Herbert’s five sequels, even though they are imperfect.  Sadly the Dune novels written after Frank Herbert’s death by his son Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson have, for the most part, disappointed.)

Please lord let this be true.  Seventeen additional episodes of Arrested Development??  Let’s do this.

Hey, season two of True Detective is coming!  Can’t wait:

I’m also fairly eager for the third season of Orange is the New Black:

I was surprised by the glum tone of the first trailer for Marvel’s Ant Man.  This new trailer is far stronger, though I’m still a little surprised at how serious they’re making the film look.  Is that really the tone?  I do love that train gag at the end of the trailer, though.

In other Marvel news, this raised my eyebrows: Marvel can’t make a Hulk stand-alone film because Universal retains the rights to any Hulk solo film?  Wow, that is a crazy tangle of legal red-tape.  This doesn’t bug me too much because as awesome and perfect as Mark Ruffalo is as Bruce Banner, I think the Hulk functions best in a supporting role rather than carrying his own movie.  I do hope, though, to someday see a Guardians of the Galaxy/Planet Hulk crossover story-line movie.   I’ve tried to avoid too heavy spoilers for Age of Ultron and the upcoming slate of Marvel films, but various bits and pieces that I have heard and read lead me to suspect that might be coming a few years down the road, and that is awesome.

This new trailer for Terminator: Genisys[continued]

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I hope you’ve all enjoyed by Best of 2014 lists!  I’ve listed my Top 20 Movies of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, part three, and part four), my Top 15 Episodes of TV of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three), and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three).  Now we arrive at my final list, the Top 8 Blu-Rays of 2014.

Top eight?  Yeah, top eight.  While this year I have expanded most of my lists (my Top 15 Movies list became a Top 20, and my Top 10 Episodes of TV list became a Top 15), I found I had a hard time coming up with 10 truly great DVDs or Blu-rays.  I think there are two reasons for this.  The first is personal: though I suspect I still buy far more DVDs & blu-rays than the average person, I found that I bought far fewer discs this year than I had in years.  Partly this was to save some money.  But also because of reason number two: that after a golden age of awesome DVD sets with extraordinary special features, great special editions of movies or TV shows are much scarcer these days.  I find myself unimpressed with the behind the scenes features on most blu-rays these days, even the movies that were the biggest hits.  Most studios are trying to save money by cutting back on providing special features for their home video releases, which is a big shame in my opinion.

But still, there were eight blu-rays that I wanted to praise, and here they are:

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes This film was number 5 on my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, and it looked absolutely spectacular on blu-ray.  And while I wouldn’t say that the special features are phenomenal, they are pretty good, certainly head-and-shoulders above the special features found on almost any other big 2014 release.  There’s about an hour of fun behind-the-scenes featurettes (it’s particularly cool to see Andy Serkis, Terry Notary, and several other familiar faces from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit behind-the-scenes documentaries, appear in these featurettes) and a great commentary track from director Matt Reaves.  (Click here for my original review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.)

7. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution For decades I have been reading or hearing about this film that was written by Star Trek II and VI writer & director Nicholas Meyer (adapting his novel of the same name), but … [continued]

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Ok, ready to lose the rest of your day?  You might recall that this past summer, FXX ran a marathon of every single Simpsons episode ever.  Well, apparently a bunch of the best writers for Hitfix.com decided to list their favorite episodes of each day of the marathon.  Five writers each picked their two favorite Simpsons episodes from that day, and wrote about them.  Click here and thank me later.  This is a staggeringly wonderful walk down Simpsons memory lane.  It’s been way too long since I have revisited some of these classic episodes.  Reading those articles makes me want to blow off work for the next week or two of work and just watch old Simpsons DVDs…

Click here for a terrific interview with Nicholas Meyer.  Mr. Meyer is pretty much single-handedly responsible for all of the very best Star Trek ever made.  He wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and wrote and directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and he wrote the vast majority of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  (He wrote everything that took place on present-day Earth, starting with the immortal Spock line: “Judging from the pollution content of the atmosphere, we have arrived in the latter part of the twentieth century,” all the way through to the escape with the whales.)  Nicholas Meyer is the reason for the odd numbered Star Trek curse (in which fans noticed that the even-numbered original Trek movies are far superior to the odd-numbered ones).  I had no idea he was involved in this Harry Houdini project for the History Channel, but now I am very interested in seeing it!  Mr. Meyer doesn’t work nearly enough to suit me.  It’s fascinating that the History Channel film is based on a biography of Houdini that Mr. Meyer’s father wrote.  The whole interview with Mr. Meyer is terrific, but I particularly loved his answer, at the very end, when asked his opinion of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films.  “That’s changing the shape of the bottle.”  (Read Mr. Meyer’s comments to understand the context.)  That is very well-put, and I 100% agree.

StarWars.com has released animatics for four unmade episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  These are four full-length episodes, with complete voice performances and sound effects, it’s just that the rough blocky animatics were never taken to full animation.  These are great episodes, well-worth the time of any fans of the show.  Anakin and Obi-Wan investigate the death of a Jedi on Utapau (a key location in Episode III) and discover that General Grievous is about to acquire a terrible weapon with ties to the secret of the construction of Jedi … [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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News Around the Net: Comic-Con Edition!

Hi friends!  This past week was the San Diego Comic-Con, and as a result there has been an awesome flood of news about all sorts of geeky things.  Let’s review some of the highlights, shall we?

Here’s the first teaser trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  I don’t love that title (is the second “the” really necessary?) and I think the “The Defining Chapter” tag-line they are going with in this trailer and on the posters is silly, but I dig this trailer.  These Hobbit films have not lived up to the expectations established by the phenomenal Lord of the Rings films, but I have still enjoyed them a lot and I am eager for the third and final film.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron footage that screened sounds cool.  I am intrigued by this glimpse of Ultron Mk. 1.

This is a pretty terrific interview with Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige.  Interesting stuff covered.  Someday the true story of what went down with Ant Man and Edgar Wright is going to be told, and it is going to be fascinating.

This description of footage of Batman v Superman sounds interesting.  Are they really using some of Frank Miller’s  designs from The Dark Knight Returns?  I’d love to see this footage.  DC’s plan of stuffing lots of Justice League characters into this Man of Steel sequel seems worrisome to me, but on the other hand this first image of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is pretty great.

People seem to have been bowled over at the footage that screened from Mad Max: Fury Road.  (I can’t believe this movie finally got made and is being released!!!)  I am very, very curious to see what George Miller has crafted after so much time away from this franchise.  This first teaser, made up of some of the footage they showed at Comic-Con, is pretty great:

Here is a teaser trailer for Kevin Smith’s Tusk:

Just what the heck is this film going to be, and could it be any good???  I dunno, I am not hugely optimistic, but I’ll admit I am damn curious and that’s a pretty great trailer…

Ronald D. Moore (one of the best Star Trek writers and creator and show-runner of the modern version of Battlestar Galactica) just did a fantastic Q & A on reddit.  Prepare to loose a large amount of your time reading this.

Dr. Julian Bashir will be appearing on Game of Thrones?  Awesome!!  I grew to love Alexander Siddig’s work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (my favorite of all the Trek series) and I have often felt that he is a great … [continued]

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It’s interesting that the only two network half-hour comedies that I watch these days… happen to be run by the same individual, Mike Schur.  He made his bones on The Office (where he also played Mose), and he’s one of the show-runners of both Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  Here’s are two wonderfully detailed interviews with Mr. Schur, the first of which looks back at the first season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and the second of which looks back at season seven of Parks and Rec, with a focus on the season finale.  These are great interviews and well-worth your time if you’re a fan of either show.

This is a terrific, in-depth interview with Mel Brooks, discussing Blazing Saddles.  Get comfy and enjoy.

R.I.P. H.R. Giger.

I was sad to read of the passing of Efrem Zimbalist Jr.  He had many great roles but for me he will always be the iconic voice of Alfred from Batman the Animated Series and many subsequent DC animated projects.  He was absolutely perfect as Alfred, and when I read the character’s dialogue in any comic book I always hear Mr. Zimbalist’s voice.  I am really heartbroken that we’ll never again get to hear him voice Alfred in any future DC animated film or show.

Speaking of Batman, I’ve gotta say, this first official glimpse of Ben Affleck as Batman (in Zack Snyder’s upcoming untitled Superman Vs. Batman film) is pretty great.  Love the costume.  Love the small bad ears.  Love Ben’s Batman chin.  Love that classic look of the Batmobile.

So, I bashed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in my review.  I’ve been glad to see that I’m not alone in my disappointment with the film.  Click here to read Film Critic Hulk take the film apart.  Click here for io9’s very funny list of Amazing Spider-Man 2 FAQs.  (Their one-sentence answer to the question “What is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 about?” is hysterical and 100% spot-on.)  Finally, this article No One Cares About Peter Parker’s Parents is also 100% spot-on and echoes a point I made in my review.

This is cool: apparently back in the day, Criterion released the first three James Bond films on laserdisc, with commentary tracks featuring candid comments from many of the people involved in the making of the films.  When Bond producer Albert Broccoli objected, the discs were recalled from stores.  Here’s the full story.  Now the commentaries have re-surfaced and are available to download for free here!  I have downloaded them all and look forward to giving them a listen soon.  Should be fun!

This is a cute article, tracking the many appearances of … [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

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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In one of my earliest posts on the site, I wrote my own follow-up to the famous Comics Journal article “Martin Wagner Owes Me Fifty Bucks,” in which I listed several comic book series that remained tragically never-completed by their authors.  At the top of the list was David Lapham’s magnificent series Stray Bullets.  This independently published, black-and-white comic book blew me away as a teenager.  I still think it stands as a magnificent achievement, which makes the fact that the series stopped publication in the middle of a story tragically painful.  Mr. Lapham is still working in the comic book industry, and for years and years I have been hoping that he would some-day return to this series and complete his story.  It looks like that day has finally arrived, as Image Comics has listed Stray Bullets on their publication schedule for March, 2014.  I hope this is real!!!

Devin Faraci at badassdigest.com has listed his Ten Most Disappointing Films of 2013, and at the top of his list is Star Trek Into Darkness.  What Mr. Faraci wrote about the film so perfectly sums up my feelings that I don’t think I ever need to write another word about that terribly disappointing film.  Here is Mr. Faraci:

This isn’t technically a ranked list, but I saved this for last on purpose. There were many months leading up to Star Trek Into Darkness that allowed me to roll with the movie’s punch, but even still this broiling heap of nonsense left me deeply despondant. JJ Abrams had totally proven me wrong with Star Trek 2009, a movie that while not great was filled with heart and adventure and managed to work despite extraordinary script flaws. Star Trek Into Darkness brought back both the cast who made the first film live and the script flaws that almost sank it, except this time the script flaws were not going to get upstaged. Into Darkness is dumb, it’s complicated for no reason, it features reveals that are meaningless to the plot and it pisses away Star Trek‘s most name-brand villain in a plotline that disrespects hardcore fans while being meaningless to the coveted new audience. Star Trek Into Darkness is a movie so bad that it fails on almost every conceivable level, including mewling fan service. This isn’t the worst film of the year… but it’s without a doubt the film that squanders the most talent, money and good will. 

Amen.  (If you’re interested, here’s my review of Star Trek Into Darkness.)

Love this trailer for Christopher Nolan’s new film, Interstellar.  I don’t have a clue what the film is about, and that’s just the way I want … [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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Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic Part 7: The Devil’s Daughter

It’s taken me many months, but I have at last arrived at the end of my project re-reading Grant Morrison’s seven-year-long Batman epic.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman stories: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn bannerPart 3 of Grant Morrison’s run, the launch of the new Batman and Robin seriesPart 4 of Grant Morrison’s run, Time and the Batman, Part 5 of Grant Morrison’s run, The Return of Bruce Wayne, The Long Road Home, the story of the return of Bruce Wayne to life and the DCU, and Part 6 of Grant Morrison’s run, Batman Incorporated.

I am excited to dive into an analysis of the end of Mr. Morison’s story, issues #1-13 of Batman Incorporated volume 2.  But first, a warning: there are spoilers ahead.  There is just no way to discuss this final run of issues without talking about some of the major plot twists.  I will try not to spoil every single twist and turn of the stories, but I’m going to have to mention a few of the big events.  These developments are, I think, pretty well known to comic book fans, even if they didn’t read these specific issues.  But still, fair warning: SPOILERS ahead, so proceed at your own risk.

In the middle of the final arc of Grant Morrison’s storyline, the DC Comics universe was completely rebooted, re-starting all of its series back at issue #1 and re-starting all of its characters and their story-lines.  This “New 52” universe-wide reboot was intended to be a massive blank slate for all of DC’s characters, so that they could tell new stories, unburdened by decades of continuity.  Unfortunately, Grant Morrison’s long-running story was just nearing its conclusion!  What would happen?

Well, his Batman Incorporated series was cancelled and re-started with a new #1.  Fortunately, DC editorial seems to have been willing to turn a blind eye to what Mr. Morrison was doing in his series, and while this new Batman Incorporated title was theoretically set in the “New 52” rebooted continuity, it’s actually way more complicated than that.  The most major plot twist in the story, the death of Damian Wayne, was referenced in all of the other “New 52” Bat-books, which dealt with the impact on the Bat-family on Robin’s death.  So, in that respect, the events … [continued]

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Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic Part 6: Batman Incorporated

Back in 2006, Grant Morrison began writing DC Comics’ flagship Batman title.  Now, seven years (and two title changes) later, Mr. Morrison’s epic Batman saga has concluded.  Over the past six months I have had a heck of a time re-reading Mr. Morrison’s story from start to finish, along with a lot of the other Batman comics written in the past few years before the DC Comics universe-wide reboot called “The New 52.”

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman stories: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn bannerPart 3 of Grant Morrison’s run, the launch of the new Batman and Robin seriesPart 4 of Grant Morrison’s run, Time and the Batman, Part 5 of Grant Morrison’s run, The Return of Bruce Wayneand The Long Road Home, the story of the return of Bruce Wayne to life and the DCU.

Mr. Morrison had killed of Bruce Wayne in Final Crisis, the DC-wide crossover miniseries he masterminded, settling off a major re-shuffling of all of DC Comics’ Batman books.  In the newly-launched Batman and Robin title, Mr. Morrison chronicled the exploits of the new Batman-and-Robin team: Dick Grayson (the former Robin who had become his own solo super-hero Nightwing, before assuming the mantle of the Bat following Bruce Wayne’s death) and Damian Wayne (the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia — the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul — from the 1987 graphic novel Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jeremy Bingham, a tale that had been considered out-of-continuity until Mr. Morrison’s story).  But, of course, it wasn’t likely that Bruce Wayne would stay dead for long, and sure enough, after just a little over a year, Mr. Morrison wrote the return of Bruce Wayne in the mini-series titled, creatively, The Return of Bruce Wayne.  Published simultaneously, Mr. Morrison brought many of his long-running story-lines to a head in the pages of Batman and Robin, as Dick Grayson and Damian confronted the villainous Dr. Hurt (a silly villain from the ’60s who Mr. Morrison brought to prominence in his story-line, making him a credible threat to our heroes despite his goofy name) and were reunited with Bruce Wayne.  In the final pages of Mr. Morrison’s last issue of Batman and Robin, we see Bruce Wayne call a press conference to reveal that he has … [continued]

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This is fantastic: Tom Hiddleston (who played Loki in both Thor movies and The Avengers) doing a phneomenal impression of Owen Wilson, had Owen been cast as Loki.  Check this out.

West Wing fans!  Did you see this clip of Allison Janney performing The Jackal on The Arsenio Hall Show?  This is an obscure reference, but one that any die-hard West Wing fan will appreciate:

This blog from Kevin Smith gives an intriguing update on his fast-developed, absolutely bonkers weird-sounding new movie, Tusk.  Click here for even more info.  Despite being an enormous fan of Kevin Smith, I still haven’t seen Red State.  I want to see it, for sure, since I can’t imagine not having seen one of Mr. Smith’s films, but it just doesn’t interest me that much.  So far, I am bummed to say that Tusk is trending the same way, but it’s such a loony concept that I am intrigued.  It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

This is a great short little retrospective of Jim Henson’s life and work.  I very much want to read Brian Jay Jones’ biography of Jim Henson, it sounds like a really fascinating book.

OK, this is a very geeky link, but I loved this.  An enterprising photoshopper has created images showing how awesome the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast would have looked in Original Series uniforms.  So great.

There are a lot of stories cropping up about behind-the-scenes issues on the pre-production of Star Wars: Episode VII.  Seems Disney is pushing for that 2015 release date, come hell or high water.  More info here.  I hope it’s all just talk.  I don’t have much hope that I will ever again in my lifetime see a great Star Wars film, but that little ember of hope does still exist, deep inside me.  Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe!

Chris Claremont is, I would argue, single-handedly responsible for the incredible popularity of the X-Men today.  Mr. Claremont wrote The Uncanny X-Men comic book, and a truck-load of spinoffs and mini-series and annuals and other special events, for a jaw-dropping seventeen years, from the ’70s into the ’90s.  (In one of the great injustices of the medium’s history, he was sort of pushed off of the series when his work began to be overshadowed by the popularity of the superstar artists working at Marvel in those days.)  A new documentary about his career — focusing on that incredible seventeen year run on the X-Men — has just been released, and I am dying to see it.  This is a fantastic article about a recent screening of the film, followed by a Q & A [continued]

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Batman: The Long Road Home

I’ve been having a grand old time, over the past six or so months, re-reading Grant Morrison’s years-long Batman epic, as well as many of the other Batman stories published around the same time, in the last few years of DC Comics’ pre-“New 52” continuity.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman stories: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn bannerPart 3 of Grant Morrison’s run, the launch of the new Batman and Robin seriesPart 4 of Grant Morrison’s run, Time and the Batman, and Part 5 of Grant Morrison’s run, The Return of Bruce Wayne.

DC Comics killed off Batman in their 2008 company-wide crossover Final Crisis, but just a little over a year later Bruce Wayne returned in the six-issue mini-series creatively titled The Return of Bruce Wayne.  (Both those stories were written by Grant Morrison.)  This set the stage for the final act of Mr. Morrison’s Batman saga: Batman, Incorporated, which I will be writing about soon.  The return of Bruce Wayne set about another large re-shuffling of the other Batman books.  While Grant Morrison’s tale got a lot of attention, there were some great stories being told in the other books and, in a bizarre turn, by the time DC Comics re-launched their entire comics universe in “The New 52,” Mr. Morrison’s Batman story had been shifted to the sidelines.  (More on that when I write about Batman, Incorporated, soon.)

Bruce Wayne: The Long Road Home — Setting the stage for the post-Return of Bruce Wayne stories, DC released a series of one-shots, spotlighting different characters in the Batman universe.  I like the idea of giving some attention to the Bat-universe’s many supporting players, and certainly the hook of taking this opportunity to show how Bruce Wayne’s return affected these other characters, and updating the audience on their current status quos, was a good idea.  The execution left a little something to be desired, as the story that connected the one-shots, of Bruce donning a new costumed identity so as to spy on and evaluate all of these other characters, seemed a little dopey to me.  Bruce Wayne has ninja-like training, so he could certainly observe other characters without being seen if he wanted to.  The reasoning for him to create another identity and get involved in the goings-on seemed flimsy to me.  … [continued]

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Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic Part 5: The Return of Bruce Wayne

September 6th, 2013
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My re-reading of Grant Morrison’s years-long Batman epic continues!  You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman continuity: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn banner, and then Part 3 of Grant Morrison’s run, the launch of the new Batman and Robin series, and Part 4 of Grant Morrison’s run, Time and the Batman.

As I wrote about last week, Mr. Morrison was giving out long-withheld answers in three story-lines being published simultaneously in three different comic book series: Batman and Robin, Batman, and the mini-series The Return of Bruce Wayne.

The Return of Bruce Wayne At the end of Final Crisis, we saw that Batman had not been killed by Darkseid’s Omega beams.  Instead, he was somehow transported to the dawn of time (actually, in a clever bit of DC Comics continuity, Batman found himself in the time of Anthro, the “first boy” from a DC Comics series in the 60’s).  The events of R.I.P. The Untold Story in Batman #701-702 gave us a little more information on how that came to be.  In this six-issue mini-series, writer Grant Morrison set about telling the tale of how Bruce Wayne would manage to return to the present day.

The premise of this mini-series is silly on the surface: that Bruce Wayne was sent back in time to pre-history, but is jumping through the centuries on his way back to present day.  Andy Kubert’s covers to each issue playfully render Batman in different time-frames: neanderthal Batman, pirate Batman, Puritan Batman, 1960’s private eye Batman, etc.  Grant Morrison’s story, thankfully, is far more serious, playing up the mystery of what is happening to Bruce Wayne and why, as well as the dread of the terrible danger that apparently is waiting for Bruce Wayne once he arrives in the future.

Each issue was illustrated by a different artistic team.  The first few issues, in particular, are gorgeous, illustrated by Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, and Yanick Paquette & Michael Lacombe.  The art seems to deteriorate a bit in the last few issues — I get the feeling the series was rushed to completion, which is a shame after such a high-quality artistic beginning.  (Ryan Sook does a fantastic job illustrating issue #5, but the last third of the issue is drawn by someone else, nowhere near as good.)

I was surprised by how much I … [continued]

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Ben Affleck is Batman? And Other News Around the Net

So Ben Affleck will be playing Bruce Wayne/Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel (currently titled Superman vs Batman).  How about that?  I have very mixed feelings about this announcement, but this isn’t coming from a place of being an Affleck hater.  Quite the contrary, I have been a fan of Mr. Affleck since the beginning of his career (I’m talking School Ties days!).  I’ve always enjoyed his work.  I think he’s a terrific actor, equally adept at playing comedy or drama.  I’ve always thought so, but what really made me a fan of Mr. Affleck was listening to his candid and hysterical participation in the commentary tracks for Kevin Smith’s early films, specifically Mallrats and Chasing Amy.  Mr. Affleck is OK in Mallrats and superb in Chasing Amy, but he is so funny, so genuine and so likable on the commentary tracks that I was solidified as a huge fan of his.  When considering Mr. Affleck as a superhero, one must of course consider Daredevil.  I am in the minority here but I am a big fan of that film.  I think it’s great, a nice serious take on the Daredevil character, and I thought Mr. Affleck was terrific in the title role.  I have always been bummed we never got a sequel (particularly since the narrative was positioned, at the end of the film, for a sequel to take on the classic Frank Miller Daredevil story-line “Born Again,” which I would KILL to someday see on a movie screen).

So why am I having a hard time imagining Mr. Affleck playing Batman?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  It might be that he is just too big a name for the role.  He’s a great actor, but not necessarily the type who vanishes into his different roles.  I am wondering if he as Ben Affleck is too well known to portray this character — will be be able to see Batman when watching him, rather than Ben Affleck?  Or is the issue that I have always found him to be a very likable performer — might he be TOO likable to portray Batman, a very grim character?

I am dubious, but on the other hand I am pleased that Warner Brothers are shooting high and looking to assemble a high-profile cast for the Superman sequel.  We’ll all see how it turns out on July 17, 2015…

In other news:

This could be one of my favorite articles I’ve ever read on-line: Devin Faraci at badassdigest.com on How Lost and The X-Files Are Exactly Like All His Failed Relationships.  So funny, and his analysis of those two shows that both collapsed in the ninth inning is … [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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Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic Part 3: Batman & Robin

Grant Morrison began spinning an epic Batman story, back in 2006, one that is only now, in mid-2013, wrapping up.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman continuity: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, and the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn banner.

Now, after some digressions reading the various other Batman series of the time, written by other authors, it is time at last to return to Grant Morrison’s story.

Following Batman: R.I.P. and his killing-off of Batman in Final Crisis, Mr. Morrison launched a brand-new Batman book: Batman and Robin.  This book would follow the new Batman, former Robin and former Nightwing Dick Grayson, partnered up with the new Robin, Damian Wayne (the son of Bruce Wayne from the 1987 graphic novel Son of the Demon, a story long-considered to be out of continuity until Mr. Morrison included the character in his run on Batman).

Batman Reborn (Batman and Robin #1-3) — The new series launched in fantastic style as Mr. Morrison was reunited with his frequent collaborator, Frank Quitely.  Mr. Quitely is an artistic genius, and he is able to draw some of the most fantastic super-hero comics that I have ever seen.  His super-detailed but slightly off-kilter design work is the perfect complement to Mr. Morrison’s stories. Together they are able to create a book filled to the brim with almost unparalleled weirdness, but also one that is fiercely compelling.  I love Mr. Quitely’s redesigned flying Batmobile (introduced in spectacular style in the double-page splash at the start of issue #1).  I love the way he incorporated his sound effects into his artwork.  I love the “Next in Batman and Robin” panels on the last page of each issue that preview the following issue.

Grant Morrison’s story is at once more fun than any of the other stories being told in the Bat-books of the time, and also far more serious.  I have often commented on Mr. Morrison’s ability to bring a true sense of danger into his super-hero comics.  He is able to create a world in which terrible things can and do happen, and that gives his stories a sense of tension that most other super-hero comics lack.  The last two pages of issue #1 are a great example of this.  In this terrifying two-page sequence, we see the horrific Mr. Pyg burn a pig-mask onto the face of a … [continued]

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Following the much-ballyhooed death of Bruce Wayne in Final Crisis, in 2009 DC Comics re-launched all of their Batman books, with former-Robin Dick Grayson assuming the mantle of Batman, while young Damian Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s son as seen in Son of the Demon from 1987, and brought into modern-day DCU continuity by writer Grant Morrison) became Robin.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman continuity: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, and the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?.

Batman #687-691Batman #687 is a stand-alone issue, written by Judd Winick and illustrated by Ed Benes and Rob Hunter.  It covers pretty much exactly the same ground as the three-part Battle for the Cowl mini-series (and rather more effectively).  We see our characters’ grief over the death of Bruce Wayne (such as the powerful moment in which Alfred tells Superman and Wonder Woman that “my son has died”), and we see Nightwing’s resistance to stepping into the cape and cowl, and ultimately his acceptance of the role of Batman.  Long-time Marvel comics illustrator Mark Bagley (who had terrific, lengthy runs on The Amazing Spider-Man and then on Ultimate Spider-Man, one of the longest uninterrupted runs ever) joins Mr. Winick for Batman #688-691, in which we see Dick Grayson’s early days in the role of Batman.  We see the differences in style between Dick Grayson’s Batman and Bruce Wayne’s, and we see Dick’s attempts to forge a partnership with the difficult, stubborn Damian.  More interestingly, at least to me, is that we see the villains’ reactions to this new Batman — specifically Two-Face, who notices immediately that this new, more-smiley Batman must be a different man than the Batman he had known.  I love Two-Face’s plan for utilizing that knowledge, and I think Mr. Winick gave him a clever scheme for gaining access to the Bat-cave.  Mark Bagley’s art was solid, and I was sorry that he didn’t continue as regular artist on the book.

Detective Comics — Amidst the re-shuffling of the Batman: Reborn story-line (the banner given to all of the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne Batman books), Greg Rucka returned to Detective Comics (Mr. Rucka had written a memorable run on the book several years earlier), replacing Paul Dini.  But rather than telling new Batman stories, Detective Comics now focused on the new Batwoman character who had been introduced in DC’s weekly series, 52.  Lavishly illustrated by J.H. Williams III, this run of Detective Comics quickly became my favorite Bat-book, … [continued]

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Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

What started as an attempt to re-read Grant Morrison’s weird, epic, years-long run on Batman (which began back in 2007 and is just now wrapping up) has expanded into a more thorough re-reading of the last few years’  worth of Batman continuity.  It’s been fun!

Click here for Part I of my re-read of Grant Morrison’s run, and click here for Part 2.  Click here for my thoughts on Batman: The Animated Series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, a terrific read that ran parallel to Mr. Morrison’s run on Batman.

When last we left Mr. Morrison’s story, the six-part Batman: R.I.P. and the Morrison-written DCU crossover series Final Crisis (click here for that review)  had left Bruce Wayne dead, killed by Darkseid.  This lead to a major re-shuffling of all of the Batman books published by DC Comics.

I am not someone who gets too bent out of shape when one of the major publishers kills off one of their main characters.  Obviously I know it’s not going to last forever.  The question is, does the “stunt” of knocking off a main character lead to great new stories, or does it just feel like a lame attempt to drum up publicity and boost sales?  Let’s see what I thought of DC’s post-death of Bruce Wayne stories:

Last Rites (Detective Comics #851 & Batman #684) — Following Grant Morrison’s terrific Last Rites story-line (in Batman #682 & 683 ), long-time Batman writer, the great Denny O’Neil, returned to write this two-part story.  I was excited to read a new Batman story by Mr. O’Neil, the man responsible for some of the most seminal Batman stories ever written (he created Ra’s al Ghul with Neal Adams in Batman #232), but sadly this story-line was just eh.  It mostly focuses on a new super-heroine character, and feels like a completely separate story that was shoe-horned into the post-Batman R.I.P. continuity.  Spectacular Alex Ross cover on Batman #684, though!

Faces of Evil — The next month saw a DC-wide publication hook in which all the books temporarily focused on the villains, rather than the heroes.  In Detective Comics #852 & Batman #685, Paul Dini focused on Hush and Catwoman, picking up the story-limes from his phenomenal Heart of Hush storyline in Detective Comics (which I wrote about here).  Hush has been defeated and is near death, but after having altered his face to resemble that of Bruce Wayne, Hush discovers an incredible opportunity, since the real Bruce Wayne is out of the picture.  Attempting to pass himself off as Bruce Wayne, Hush briefly seems to be on a path back to his lost fortune, but … [continued]

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Why Man of Steel is Good but not Great

It’s been fascinating, over the past few weeks, reading all of the varied reactions to Man of Steel.  It has proved to be a tremendously divisive film, with some loving it and some really loathing it.  Personally, I am somewhere in between.  I had a great time seeing it in theatres for the first time (an experience enhanced not only by the crowd’s opening-weekend excitement but also by awesome Imax 3-D), and my initial review (click here) written the next day was very positive.

I stand by that review, but in the days that followed when people asked me what I thought of the film, I found myself not being quite as excited as I had expected to be.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing an awesome super-hero film, and I remember how evangelical I was about the first Iron Man (click here for my review) and about The Dark Knight (click here for my review).  As much as I enjoyed Man of Steel, I didn’t feel the same way about it as I had about those other amazing films.  The more I thought about Man of Steel, the more the problems that I mentioned towards the end of my first review seemed to impact my over-all evaluation of the film.

I still think Man of Steel is a fun, enjoyable film.  It is very good.  But it’s not great.  Here are the two main reasons why:

1.  The film does not pay off its central question.  All of the trailers culminated with Clark’s question: “My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me… What do you think?”  The entire first two-thirds of the film is focused on that issue.  Clark allows his father to die because he honors Pa Kent’s wishes that he not reveal his super-powers to the world.  Ultimately, Clark decides to put on that super-suit, and he reveals himself to the world in spectacular fashion, with a super-fight that wreaks havoc on Smallville and Metropolis.  At the end of Man of Steel, the whole world knows that aliens exist, and that one has been living among them.

And yet the movie doesn’t bother to tell us what anyone thinks of that!  We don’t get any indication as to the world’s reaction to those revelations.  Do they love Superman?  Do they fear him?  After the death of Zod, there is one epilogue scene before we get to the film’s (great) final scene in which Clark enters the offices of the Daily Planet.  That scene is the jokey moment in which Superman tells General Swanson to stop trying to find out “where he hangs his … [continued]

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Josh Kneels Before Man of Steel

I love Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie from 1978, and for much of my life I thought Superman II was even better.  (My preference has swung back slightly, in recent years, towards the original film.)  Those two movies were a huge part of my childhood, and more than any Superman comic book I have ever read (and I have read a lot), they shaped in my mind the quintessential depiction of Superman.  I stand by my love of Bryan Singer’s homage to the Donner films, 2006’s Superman Returns (has it been that long since Superman Returns came out???  Crazy!!), and I remain bitterly disappointed that we never saw a sequel to that film.

I was excited, though, by the news that Zack Snyder would be directing a new Superman film, working with the Batman Begins team of Christopher Nolan (serving as producer) and writer David S. Goyer.  I love both 300 and Watchmen (particularly the super-long Ultimate Cut of Watchmen) — I think they’re both terrific adaptations of very difficult-to-adapt comic books — and so I was eager to see what Mr. Snyder could do when playing in the bigger sandbox of the Superman mythos.  I suspected he could bring a new energy to  the depiction of Superman on film, and his involvement certainly promised an increase in the action quotient (something that even I admit was sorely lacking in Superman Returns).  

My enthusiasm for the Superman reboot dipped when I heard that they were planning on re-telling Superman’s origin.  That seemed silly to me, as Superman has probably the most famous origin of any comic book character ever.  Why waste time re-telling, yet again, an origin story that everyone on the planet already knows?  Just cut to the chase and tell a great Superman story!  My enthusiasm grew again when the first trailers for Man of Steel began to surface.  I was dazzled by the visual spectacle, and really started to get excited for what seemed to be a very different depiction of Superman on film.

I just left an IMAX screening of Man of Steel, and I am delighted to report that Mr. Snyder and his team have delivered on that promise.  They have threaded the difficult needle of delivering a dramatic reinterpretation of the character and his origin, while at the same time presenting us with a depiction that is, without question, iconically Superman.

The film opens with Jor-El on Krypton, and we spend a lot more time on Krypton than I would have expected.  I loved every second, and almost wish we had a whole film set on Krypton, chronicling the breaking of the friendship between Jor-El and Zod.  (The idea that Jor-El and Zod … [continued]

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OK, this is the greatest thing I have seen in a long time (BUT BEWARE SPOILERS IF YOU ARE NOT UP TO DATE WITH GAME OF THRONES!!!)

I love The Princess Bride!

I’ve completely lost faith in M. Night Shyalaman over the past decade, but that being said I still think Unbreakable is his best film, and I would so love for the long-rumored sequel to someday happen.  The one flaw with Unbreakable, in my mind, is that the story feels incomplete — it feels like the first act of a larger story.  So every time Mr. Shyamalan talks about a possible sequel, I am happy.

So this is interesting: in the months after the success of Skyfall, there was a lot of talk that Bond 24 and 25 (the next two Bond films) would be two connected films.  That was denied by the Bond producers.  But amidst the recent news that Skyfall Director will be returning for the next Bond film, the 24th, comes this rumor that Mr. Mendes is going to commit to helm the 25th Bond film as well!  I love the idea of a two-part Bond film, that would be super-cool if that happens.

Zack Snyder (director of Man of Steel) and Bruce Timm (mastermind behind Batman: The Animated Series) are collaborating on a Superman short film in honor of Superman’s 75th anniversary?  Awesome!

I have Superman because of my huge anticipation for The Man of Steel (which I hope to see this weekend!!), so now’s as good a time as any to read this terrific piece looking back at Superman II!  That film was a HUGE part of my childhood…!!

There’s been a lot of rumors flying in recent weeks about the inclusion of the character of Quicksilver in both Fox’s upcoming X-Men movie, Days of Future Past, as well as the Disney-owned Marvel Studios’ upcoming Avengers 2.  It will be fascinating to see how this all shakes out!

(Speaking of Days of Future PastNixon!  Love it!)

Anytime anyone is talking about Escape From the Planet of the Apes, I take notice!

And with that, my friends, I wish you all a great weekend.  I’ll be back next week with my thoughts on Man of Steel, season four of Arrested Development, and cartoons making fun of Star Trek Into Darkness.  Hope to see you all back here soon!… [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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Re-Reading Batman the Animated Series’ Paul Dini’s Run on Detective Comics!

I am digging deep into some old Batman continuity, friends!  After starting a project to re-read Grant Morrison’s years-long run on Batman (click here for part one, and click here for part two), I decided to also re-read some of the other Batman comics of that era.  Parallel to the beginning of Mr. Morrison’s run on Batman, Paul Dini, one of the major creative forces behind Batman: The Animated Series (still my favorite non-comic book depiction of Batman), took over Detective Comics.  Right now I am having a heck of a time re-reading Mr. Dini’s run on Detective!

While most comic books of the day favored lengthy, multi-issue stories (something that is still the case today, a style which I quite enjoy when done well), Mr. Dini took the opposite approach.  In a deliberately retro choice, Mr. Dini decided to tell a series of done-in-one single issue stories.  This is a surprisingly difficult task to do well.  To introduce a compelling mystery and/or character story-line, provide several twists and turns for the reader and complications for our hero, and then to resolve everything in a satisfying conclusion, all within the span of just twenty-two pages is fiendishly difficult.  Mr. Dini, thankfully, proves a master at this form of story-telling.  Each issue is a little gem all of its own, an entertaining Batman short-story.

I was particularly heartened to see how seriously Mr. Dini took the comic book’s title.  This isn’t Batman, this is Detective Comics.  Almost every one of Mr. Dini’s stories has a mystery aspect, in which the Dark Knight Detective must use his brains, far more often than his fists, to solve the mystery and foil the villain’s plot.  I love this more cerebral take on Batman.  There are super-villains galore in Mr. Dini’s run, and there are certainly some great fight scenes.  But the joy of each issue is in the slow unraveling of each new mystery, as the reader races with Batman to solve the caper.

Mr. Dini’s run gets off to a terrific start in Detective #821, illustrated by the great J.H. Williams III.  In my post about Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, I commented that the Black Hand three-parter (in Batman #667-670) was my first exposure to Mr. Williams’ amazing art, but I now see that I was wrong, as I definitely read Detective #821 first.  All of the characteristics of Mr. Williams’ spectacular work is on display: the brilliant way he shifts his art style to differentiate different characters and different situations, his dynamic page-layouts (including some particularly jaw-dropping double-page spreads), and a gorgeous, lushly painted depiction of Batman himself.  I wish Mr. Williams had illustrated more than … [continued]

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Re-reading Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic — Part Two

Last week I began my look back at Grant Morrison’s years-long run on Batman!  His run got off to a great start, but then things got a little shaky:

The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul — this storyline crossed over through Batman, Detective Comics, Robin, and Nightwing.  I was very excited to read Grant Morrison’s take on Ra’s al Ghul, but this crossover was a huge disappointment.  The artwork on all off the titles ranged from terrible to atrocious, really downright embarrassing for such high-profile DC titles.  In addition to being just plain bad, the artwork is completely inconsistent from issue to issue, with, for example the look and costumes of Ra’s and Talia being totally different from issue to issue.  (In one issue, Ra’s is a decomposing zombie in tattered rags, in the next he looks pretty normal just with some bubbles on his skin.)  I understand different artists having different styles, but this is ridiculous.  And the storytelling is totally inconsistent as well, with, for example, Grant Morrison writing Damian as an arrogant little bastard, while some of the writers on the other books depicted him as being far more sympathetic.  (And all sorts of other snafus such as Damian escaping from Ra’s’ men at the end of Batman #670, and then the next issue, Robin #168, opening with Ra’s’ men reporting that they lost Batman.  Who they weren’t even chasing!!)  And ultimately, most damningly, the crossover amounted to nothing at all.  Rather than being the Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul, as it was titled (which I had assumed would mean the return of Ra’s to prominence and significance in Batman stories moving forward), in the story’s epilogue in Detective Comics #840, Batman easily defeats Ra’s and takes him off the board.  What a waste!  What, then was the point of that whole story??

Batman # 672-675 —  Tony Daniel, who took over drawing Batman during the Ra’s al Ghul crossover, continues as the series’ artist, a real disappointment to me.  I was let down at the time, and I still am, that Andy Kubert only drew seven issues of this run with Mr. Morrison.  I never cared for Tony Daniels’ artwork, I found it messy and lacking in clarity.  I wonder if I would have enjoyed this part of Mr. Morrison’s Batman run more had a higher quality artist been illustrating it.  It’s a big what-if for me.  In these issues, Mr. Morrison returns to the weird story he had been spinning several issues earlier, when he introduced the the imposter Batmen and the black casebook.

In these issues, one of the imposter Batmen attacks police HQ.  When Batman intervenes, the impostor shoots Batman in the chest, … [continued]

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News Around the Net (and a rant about Prometheus!)

So, OK, bloody disgusting ran an article that Fox doesn’t know what to do with a proposed sequel to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, and that the source of the problem is that when Lost’s Damon Lindelof re-wrote Jon Spaihts’ original Alien prequel script into what became Prometheus, he turned a one-shot film into the start of a trilogy, except now he isn’t returning for film two and so Ridley Scott and Fox are left holding the bag with no idea where to take the story next.  The article is pretty fierce in attacking Mr. Lindelof, and no surprise he has responded to defend himself, saying that Ridley Scott and everyone at Fox all wanted Prometheus to be the start of a trilogy and explaining why he isn’t returning for the sequel.  I have no reason not to take Mr. Lindelof at his word, but the real story to me, here, is how clear Mr. Lindelof’s comments illustrate the brain-dead decision-making that went into the making of Prometheus.  Mr. Lindelof comments that the whole idea was that, if/when they made a sequel to Prometheus, they didn’t want that sequel to be the already-made original Alien.  They wanted room to explore the story further, to tell what he describes as a “parallel” story to the events of Alien and its sequels.  That’s why instead of making the planet that they find in Prometheus LV-427, the planet where Ripley finds the crashed ship and the alien eggs in Alien, they decided to set Prometheus on a different planet (despite the fact that they kept in the film the Engineer’s ship that looks exactly like the one Ripley found, crashing at the end so it looks exactly like what we saw in Alien.  Guess those Engineers just crashed their ships on LOTS of barren planets, huh?  So stupid!!).  Am I the only one who sees how easily the filmmakers could have had their cake and eaten it too?  Had they stuck with Jon Spaihts’ original plan, the events of Prometheus would have beautifully lined up with what we saw in Alien, explaining who the Engineers were and how their ship carrying Alien eggs wound up crashed on that planet… and meanwhile, had the movie ended exactly the way it did, with Dr. Shaw and David’s head surviving the Engineer’s rampage and setting off in search of the Engineer’s home-world, they could have  had their “parallel” story-line right there, continuing to explore Shaw’s adventures in future films without connecting any further to Ripley.  Am I right or am I crazy??  Once again I am struck by what an enormous, jaw-dropping missed opportunity Prometheus was.  (Click here for my original review [continued]

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Re-Reading Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic — Part One

March 25th, 2013
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After completing my big project of catching up on Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern saga, I decide to dive back into another DC Comics epic: Grant Morrison’s long run on Batman.  Mr. Morrison took over the Batman title back in 2006, and he’s been spinning a long, complex Batman yarn on and off ever since.  (His story appears to be in its final stages in the pages of Batman Inc.).   Unlike Green Lantern, I followed this story as it was published, and have re-read many of the individual issues ever since, but I always felt this story would be best enjoyed when read all together, as a whole.  It’s been… well, interesting, to say the least!

Batman # 655-658 — This first four-part story, illustrated by Andy Kubert, starts things off strong.  Mr. Morrison is one of the best writers out there at writing a dynamite first issue, and his first Batman story is no exception.  Issue #655 kicks things off with all kinds of crazy moments, starting with Commissioner Gordon getting poisoned by the Joker and thrown off of the roof of the Gotham Police HQ, and then Batman shooting the Joker right in the head.  Oh yeah, and then Mr. Morrison finally brings the seminal but usually ignored 1987 graphic novel Son of the Demon, by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham, into continuity by reintroducing the son Bruce Wayne fathered with Talia, the daughter of the crime-lord Ra’s al Ghul.

Its a really strong opening, and the issues that follow are also very entertaining.  There’s all sorts of madcap craziness with Talia’s army of man-bat ninjas, and a bravura sequence in issue #656 in which Batman fights the man-bats in the middle of a modern pop-art gallery.  There are lots of Roy Lichtenstein-style paintings drawn into the backgrounds of the panels, and the old-style comic-booky captains and thought balloons drawn into those paintings in the background serve as a funny running commentary to the main story being played out in the foreground.  It’s a very clever piece of work.

The centerpiece of the story is the introduction of Batman’s son, Damian, an arrogant pup who is nevertheless a brutally efficient warrior, having been trained since birth by the League of Assassins.  This is a bold new direction in which to take a Batman story, that’s for sure, and Mr. Morrison makes a nice meal out of it in these early issues.  It’s fun to see how this little terror makes everyone in the Bat-family crazy, particularly Robin (Tim Drake).

But while these issues are very strong, the seeds of problems that will bug me more as Mr. Morrison’s run continues can be seen even here.  Specifically, unneeded … [continued]

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Awesome new Iron Man 3 Trailer & News Around the Net!

I am absolutely loving this new Iron Man 3 trailer:

This movie looks fantastic from what we have seen so far.  I love seeing Tony really challenged.  I love the idea of connecting this film to the Avengers not by featuring other super-heroic characters, but by exploring the psychological ramifications of what Tony went through in that film.  I love what we have seen of Ben Kinglsey’s interpretation of the Mandarin as a media-savvy terrorist.  I love the teases of what looks to be some great action set-pieces.  It’s Shane Black working again with Robert Downey Jr.  I am in.

I am intrigued by this announcement of The X-Files Season 10 in comic-book form.  And I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Faraci’s statement that the time is ripe for an X-Files revival.  I posted a lament when the date for the alien invasion came and went a few months ago, with no sign of the massive X-Files third movie I had been hoping for.  I would love to see that remedied someday, before all the actors get too old.  A man can hope…

I am always too busy over the summer to watch The Daily Show, a fact which eased my initial dismay when reading this announcement that Jon Stewart is taking 12 weeks off from the show to direct a film.  What’s particularly fascinating is that Mr. Stewart isn’t planning on directing a comedy, but rather an adaptation (that he has written) of the book Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival.  The book was written by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy, and tells the true story of the detention and torture of Mr. Bahari, a BBC journalist, for 118 days in Iran.  Viewers of The Daily Show might recall Mr. Bahari, as he appeared on the show both before and after his ordeal.  One of the pieces of evidence used against him by the Iranians, who accused him of being a spy, was a previous comic appearance he had made on The Daily Show.

The fact that Warner Brothers seems to have no idea what to do with all of the DC Universe super-hero franchises they own, exhibited by their inability to get a Justice League movie off the ground, would be hilarious if it wasn’t so disappointing to folks like me who would love to see a whole slew of kick-ass DC movies.  Here’s hoping Zack Snyder’s Superman film doesn’t disappoint.  Going back to Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale seems like a desperation move to me.  Though I would rather see Christian Bale back in the bat-suit than Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as had been rumored. Look, I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt … [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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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012 — Part Two!

Yesterday I published part one of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012.  You can also check out my Top 15 Movies of 2012: click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

And now, on to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!

5. Batman: Earth One  A staggeringly entertaining ground-one reinvention of Batman, I can’t believe how much I loved this hardcover graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.  I don’t have too much patience for creators reworking classic super-hero origins — do they think they know better than the original creators of these long-lived, much-beloved characters?  And if you’re going to re-tell Batman’s origin, how could anyone possibly do it better than Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s superlative Batman: Year One from the eighties?  While I wouldn’t consider this origin story to be superior to Batman’s established origin, it’s a marvelously entertaining what-if version in which all of the familiar beats play out differently.  (And it’s hugely superior to DC’s first “Earth One” graphic novel, J. Michael Straczynski’s woeful Superman: Earth One.)  Mr. John’s tweaks to the familiar characters (I particularly love Earth One’s versions of Alfred and Harvey Bullock) plus Mr. Frank’s exquisite art make this a knockout.  I hope they make lots more sequels so that I can return to this world for further adventures.

4. America’s Got Powers — This six-issue mini-series (of which four issues have been published so far) has been blowing my socks off.  Superstar artist Bryan Hitch (for my money, the very best illustrator of super-hero comic books working today) and Jonathan Ross have teamed up to create this original, powerhouse new series.  Something has gifted a whole generation of young people with super-powers.  A fearful government has rounded up anyone exhibiting special abilities, but to keep them (and the general population) from focusing on the hideous human rights abuses, they have created a super-powered reality TV show in which the super-powered kids compete for fame and glory.  No surprise, the behind-the-scenes reality is far different than the happy, televised spectacle.  This series is deft speculative fiction of the very best kind, crossed with a terrific super-hero adventure story.  I have loved every single page.  I hope this series continues beyond the scheduled six issues.

3. All-New X-Men The biggest surprise of the year for me has been Brian Michael Bendis’ new X-Men series.  The Beast, fearing that his life is nearly over and distraught at the state of the X-Men, the world, and the actions of his former best friend Scott … [continued]

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I hope you enjoyed my Top 15 Movies of 2012 list!  You can click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

Now let’s jump into my second Best of 2012 list, my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!

First up, some honorable mentions.  They didn’t make by best-of list, but I really enjoyed The Manhattan Projects, Secret, The Massive, the publication of Alan Moore’s last scripted issue of Supreme, the conclusion of RASL, Ultimate Spider-Man (dropping off my best-of list for the first time since I started doing this, but still a great comic book), Daredevil: End of Days, and Peter David’s X-Factor.

15. Batman Beyond: Unlimited I am loving this continuation of the world of Bruce Timm’s animated Batman Beyond series.  The comic has picked up on many terrific story-lines left hanging by the show’s conclusion, including Terry’s membership in the Justice League, Superman’s return to Metropolis, Terry’s relationship with Dana, the tragic events that befell former Robin Tim Drake (as depicted in the Return of the Joker DVD movie), and at last the introduction of Dick Grayson into Batman Beyond continuity.  With the Justice League and the New Gods front-and-center, as well as a revitalized Jokerz gang, the stories feel suitably big and epic.  I love that each issue is double-sized, with several serialized stories running concurrently.  The art is a little inconsistent on some of the features, but I love Dustin Nguyen’s work, and I am absolutely delighted to see the great Norm Breyfogle once again illustrating a Batman comic.

14. Winter SoldierEd Brubaker’s final Captain America story-line has been terrific, returning full-circle to where his Captain America epic began years ago, with a still-alive Bucky Barnes operating on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, trying his best to be a hero in the murky world of spies and shadows.  I love the relationship between Barnes and the Black Widow.  I love how heavily SHIELD and Nick Fury are involved in the story.  I love Butch Guice’s spectacular illustrations, at once retro and very modern.  This is a great noirish super-hero story, and I’m going to be sorry to see it end.

13. BatwomanJ.H. Williams III’s lavishly illustrated series continues to impress me.  Without question, the main draw is J.H. Williams III’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous art, so creative in terms of page and panel layout, and his use of different artistic styles for different characters/settings.  But Mr. Williams has also been doing fine work as the writer, spinning a great mystery yarn that is grounded but not afraid to embrace the supernatural or the super-heroic.  The latest story-line, featuring … [continued]

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Green Lantern: Secret Origin and More

Last Spring, I started making my way through Geoff Johns’ years-long run on Green Lantern. I had heard and read so much praise for his defining work on the series, that I thought it high time to sample his stories myself.

I started with Mr. Johns’ hugely successful re-launch of the Green Lantern series (bringing back the original Green Lantern, Hal Jordan) in Green Lantern: Rebirth and his first several story-arcs on the re-started Green Lantern regular series, and then I moved on to his epic, galaxy-spanning Sinestro Corps War storyline, in which classic Green Lantern villain Sinestro creates his own corps to rival the Green Lantern corps.  Whereas the Green Lanterns draw their strength from will, Sinestro’s Yellow Lanterns draw their strength from fear, and prove to be a near insurmountable foe for the GL Corps.  That was a fantastic story-line, and at that point I was well and truly hooked on Mr. Johns’ stories, and eager to see where things went from there.

Green Lantern: Secret Origin — After the Sinestro Corps epic, Mr. Johns stepped back from the cosmic story he was telling to present an updated, fleshed-out version of Green Lantern’s origin.  Taking a very similar approach as he did with his wonderful Superman: Secret Origin mini-series (click here for my review), Mr. Johns presents a wonderfully rich, detailed version of the hero’s classic origin story.  This is very much a modern version of Green Lantern’s origin, in which three-dimensional characterizations have replaced the far more black-and-white simplistic characters seen in older versions.  But it’s not a reject-everything, start-over-from-square-one story.  Quite the contrary, Green Lantern: Secret Origin is steeped in the richness of the character’s complex mythology.  That the story respects continuity while also presenting a fresh take on this familiar origin is the key to this story’s magic.  It’s also fun to see how Mr. Johns has gone back and retroactively layered in characters and plot-lines from his current Green Lantern sagas.  Hence we now see Abin Sur and Atrocitus discussing the prophecy of the “Blackest Night,” that Sinestro was first sent to Earth by Ganthet, and that William Hand (who would become the villainous Black Hand) was involved in one of Green Lantern’s first super-hero fights.  It’s nice to see those stories and characters incorporated into the beginning of Hal Jordan’s story.  The art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert is magnificent, crisp and detailed.  It’s hard for me to imagine a more perfect art team on the book.

Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns — This is a fun collection, though less of a complete story than previous volumes.  These stories serve more as an epilogue to events … [continued]

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Batman: Earth One

“Earth One” is a series of new original graphic novels from DC Comics.  The idea is to re-invent their characters from zero by re-telling their origins as if they occurred in our world, a world without other super-heroes.

They launched the series two years ago with Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis.  I thought it was pretty terrible.

When Batman: Earth One was announced, I had no interest.  But then I read the graphic novel would be created by the team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, who worked together on some terrific Superman comics a few years ago, including the spectacular six-part Superman: Secret Origin. (It’s a far superior re-telling of Superman’s origin than that seen in Earth One, and I also reviewed it in the above link.)  OK, I thought, let’s see what they can do with Batman.

They knocked it out of the park!  Now that Christopher Nolan has completed his trilogy of Batman films, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll soon see a reboot of the Batman film series and another telling of Batman’s origin.  In many ways, Batman: Earth One seems like a perfect pitch for an awesome new film version of Batman.  I don’t know if that was the creators’ intention, but I could absolutely see this graphic novel working as a film.

Let me be clear: this story was not intended to be an “iconic” version of Batman’s origin.  No, Mr. Johns and Mr. Frank have taken a very different approach, re-shaping and re-thinking aspects of the character and his origin. On the one hand, I am not exactly sure why that is something worth doing.  Why bother messing with one of the simplest, most perfect origin stories in comics?  Why change things that don’t really need to be changed?  Why fix what isn’t broken?  On the other hand, if one can let go of one’s sense of continuity and the occasional horrified “No!  That’s not what’s supposed to happen!”, then this bold reinvention of Batman is very exciting and, for the most part, very successful.

What works?

I love the new version of Alfred.  Physically the character looks totally different (yep, that gun-weilding dude on the cover is Alfred), and though the character’s central affection for Bruce Wayne remains, the changes are more than just physical.  This is a younger, more vigorous, more virile Alfred than we’ve ever seen before.  This Alfred is a military man, and in this story he becomes far more directly responsible for the training of the man who would be Batman than ever before.  (Although the idea that Bruce Wayne spent years traveling the world training to become Batman is a … [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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The Man of Steel Rises

July 21st, 2012
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Our first glimpse of Zack Snyder’s new Superman film, The Man of Steel, has arrived!

Here’s an alternate version, with narration from Jor-El (Russell Crowe) rather than Pa Kent (Kevin Costner):

I prefer the Pa Kent version myself, though both are strong.  This is a very solid teaser.  I like the imagery, and the seriousness with which it seems Superman is being handled.  After reading the very excited reports from the footage screened at Comic-Con last week, I will admit to being disappointed that we don’t really get to see anything of Henry Cavill as Superman.  I’m really curious as to how he looks and sounds in the role (something that it seems the Comic-Con fans got to see).

I’m also very surprised, since this movie is supposed to be a major course-correction from Bryan Singer’s poorly-received (though loved by me) Superman Returns, just how similar this first teaser trailer is to the first teaser for Singer’s film.  See for yourself:


Am I wrong??  The trailers are eerily similar, aren’t they?

Well, whatever.  I am excited for The Man of Steel, and can’t wait for a trailer with more substantial footage.… [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews The Dark Knight (2008)

My excitement is building for The Dark Knight Rises, which opens today!  I hope to be seeing it soon, and of course I’ll be posting my thoughts right here as soon as I do.  In the mean-time, let’s continue my look back at Christopher Nolan’s previous two Bat-films. Last week I wrote about Batman Begins. Of course, after re-watching that film, I was eager to dive right back into Christopher Nolan’s first Bat-sequel, The Dark Knight.

I have written about The Dark Knight before on this site.  Here is my original review of the film, which I wrote soon after having my brains blown out the back of my head by my first viewing of this magnificent film.  I stand by my rapturous review.  Having now seen the film several times, I think it has held up extremely well.  When I first saw it, I was continually shocked by the film’s plot developments, but even knowing what is going to happen I think the film still totally works.  In fact, knowing what is to come, there’s a powerful sense of additional dread watching the story unfold.  You know it’s not going to end happily.

I have read this film described as “Batman Loses” and that pretty much sums up the story.  Bruce Wayne gets smacked around for pretty much the entirety of the film’s long run-time.  This is the way a super-hero sequel should be.  Once you’ve established your super-heroic character, you need to really stack the deck against him/her.  It needs to be nearly IMPOSSIBLE to conceive of a way that your hero can overcome these tremendous odds, and boy oh boy does The Dark Knight do that in spades.

Key to this, of course, is the incredible success of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker.  Everyone went crazy, back in 1989, for Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, and rightfully so.  It’s a spectacular performance, and one that was long-deemed un-toppable.  But Mr. Ledger’s work absolutely blows Mr. Nicholson out of the water.  This Joker is DANGEROUS in a way that Nicholson’s never really was.  Ledger’s Joker is creepy and weird and scary.  He clearly has a brilliant tactical mind (a point driven home by the film’s terrific opening sequence, an intricately-orchestrated robbery of a mob-controlled bank) but also a wild unpredictability.  Pretty much every single Joker scene in this film is instantly iconic, from his magic trick making a pencil disappear, to his various stories about how he got his scars, to his taunting of Batman in the police station’s interrogation room, to his conversation with a scarred Harvey Dent in his hospital room.

Which brings me, of course, to Harvey … [continued]

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DC’s Infinite Crises — Part Three!

My rollicking journey through several years-old DC Comics events continues!  I’ve already written about Identity Crisis here and Infinite Crisis here, so now my attention turns to Grant Morrison’s 2008 mini-series Final Crisis.

Final Crisis — Vastly superior to 2005’s Infinite Crisis, Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis is a complex, layered, stupendously entertaining tale that also, sadly, collapses at the very end into an utter mess.

The first three issues are pretty much perfect.  Nobody does mounting dread better than Grant Morrison, and the sense of real menace and danger for our heroes practically drips off of every page.  It’s quite a feat to make the reader fear for any long-running comic book character (who you pretty much know will eventually be OK and return to the status quo), but somehow in much of Grant Morrison’s work I find an engaging edge of “I don’t know quite WHAT this crazy writer is going to do to any of these poor characters next!”  Mr. Morrison also loves to incorporate Big Ideas into his super-hero work.  I love that issue #1 opens in prehistoric times, as we see Anthro (the DC Universe’s “First Boy”) meeting Metron (of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, here serving as a Prometheus figure).  It’s an indication that Mr. Morrison is setting out a more epic, universe-spanning tale than one might expect.

I love the use of Darkseid as the villain, and the terrible corruption and crumbling of tough-cop Dan Turpin is heartbreaking.  (This is classic Grant Morrison — it’s difficult not to emotionally invest in the story when we see such horrible things happening to this good-guy character.  Turpin’s fall is much more traumatic for me, as a reader, than the one-panel death of the Martian Manhunter, an event which I expected would be reversed before too long, as indeed it was.)

But what I particularly like about the early issues of Final Crisis is that, while they certainly encompass many characters in many locations and of many types: gods, super-heroes, and mortal men, the story is very focused (FAR more so than the rambling, wobbly Infinite Crisis).  It’s a big story, but we follow the storie’s events through the eyes of a relatively small group of characters, and even when we cut away to new characters (like, say, the Flashes at the end of issue 2), it’s clear how those scenes are moving the main story forward.  While the comic crosses over into other stories (I’m certain the Green Lantern issues published at the time give far more depth to the Hal Jordan-accused-of-murder storyline), we get enough in the Final Crisis issues themselves to be able to follow the story without feeling that we need to … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Batman Begins (2005)

With Christopher Nolan’s third and apparently final Batman film only weeks away, I thought it would be fun to go back and re-watch his first two Bat-films.

Having seen so many great super-hero films in the years since 2005, it’s easy to forget just how impressive Mr. Nolan’s achievement was with Batman Begins. Finally, here was a filmmaker ready to bring to movie-screens the character of Batman that I have loved for so long in the comics, and to treat that character seriously.  I love Tim Burton’s Batman, but while that’s a great film, it’s not in my mind a great depiction of the character of Batman.  Then, of course, the later films descended into ridiculousness and camp.  In the minds of many in the public, the Batman they knew was still the Adam West Pow! Book! Zap! version.

But Mr. Nolan took Batman seriously, and he and co-writer David S. Goyer set about to dig into the character of Batman: who he is an how he came to be.  (Comic fans know, of course, that I am paraphrasing a chapter title from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s seminal four-part story Batman: Year One, to this day the definitive origin story of Batman and a text from which Mr. Nolan and Mr. Goyer borrowed liberally for their screenplay for Batman Begins.)

The genius of Batman Begins is that you don’t spend the whole movie just waiting for Bruce Wayne to put on the cape and cowl.  The details of Mr. Wayne’s adolescence, as depicted in the film, are rich and fascinating, and fully hold the audience’s attention for the first two-thirds of the movie.  Indeed, it’s the final third, in which Wayne finally becomes Batman, that is the weakest part of the film, but I’ll get to that in a few moments.

I love how well-thought-out and focused the film’s script is.  Mr. Nolan and Mr. Goyer seized on the idea of fear as central to Batman and Bruce Wayne.  I love how the film, and the characters, continually return to that idea.  Ducard (Liam Neason) constantly needles young Bruce Wayne on the subject, exhorting him to identify and conquer his fear.  The choice of the Scarecrow as one of the film’s villains further plays into this subject.  That’s smart screenwriting.  They didn’t just choose a random villain, they chose one who really meshed with the story being told.

Speaking of villains, I love Liam Neeson’s role in the film.  Yes, Liam Neeson has played this type of mentor character many, many times before.  Yes, when he and Bruce Wayne are training with swords on a frozen lake I can easily imagine him with a lightsaber in his hand instead … [continued]

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DC’s Infinite Crises — Part Two!

July 11th, 2012

The word “Crisis” has always had a special meaning in the DCU, something solidified by the epic, line-rebooting Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1986.  When Brad Meltzer titled his 2004 mini-series Identity Crisis, I wonder if he realized that his use of the “Crisis” name would launch a build-up to several additional universe-spanning “Crisis” events.  Last week I wrote about Identity Crisis, and the build-up towards the 2005 mini-series Infinite Crisis.  Now, let’s continue to my thoughts on that big event itself:

Infinite Crisis — Like The Omac Project, I remember thinking that Infinite Crisis had a great beginning but then petered out mid-story.  Re-reading the whole series now, years later, I can see how the story hangs together a little more strongly than I’d remembered, but I still think that over-all, it’s not terribly successful.  I love the beginning — the first issue is particularly strong.  That issue highlights how the schism between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman has reached a breaking point, with the three heroes unable to find any common ground.  (I love the scenes between the three characters in that first issue, arguing with each other in the ruins of the Watchtower.  Batman’s kiss-off line to Superman is still a killer: “They need to be inspired.  And let’s face it, “Superman”… the last time you really inspired anyone was when you were dead.”)  We’re shown how things are going wrong across the DCU, with a million Omacs unleashed world-wide, the Rann-Thanagar war raging across space, and the newly united super-villains brutally murdering the Freedom Fighters.  (That gruesome sequence really threw me for a loop when I first read it, and it’s still shocking to read now.)  Then, of course, there’s the last-page cliffhanger, which connects all of these events to Crisis on Infinite Earths, as we see that the return of the four survivors of the destruction of the multiverse from that story: the elderly Superman and Lois Lane from Earth-2, Alex Luthor from Superman-3, and Superboy-Prime.  It’s a very surprising revelation, and a great hook for the story.

But things quickly fall apart from there.  There are several problems with Infinite Crisis, in my opinion.  First and foremost, it’s too big.  The series is constantly bouncing around from location to location, and from character to character across the DCU.  Unless you’re reading all of those characters’ individual titles (which I certainly wasn’t), it’s extraordinarily difficult to follow (can anyone explain to me what happened to the Flashes in issue #4?), and without any characters to really invest in, I lost my involvement in the story.  This series should have been much more focused on the big three of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  The … [continued]

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DC’s Infinite Crises!

I’ve been having a ball, recently, reading the last few years’ worth of Geoff John’s work on Green Lantern.  Click here for part one, in which I discuss Green Lantern: Rebirth and the subsequent collections of Mr. John’s work on the re-launched Green Lantern comic, and click here for part two, in which I discuss the massive crossover The Sinestro Corps War. The Sinestro Corps War dug deeply into DC Universe continuity, featuring as villains characters such as Superboy Prime (who was a main villain in DC’s line-wide crossover series Infinite Crisis) and the Anti-Monitor (the villain of 1986’s classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, the series to which Infinite Crisis was really a sequel).

Since I was a kid, I have always been more of a fan of Marvel Comics than DC.  I’ve read far, far more Marvel comics than DC comics, and I am far more deeply-versed in the minutia of Marvel Universe continuity than I am with that of DC.  Nevertheless, I’ve been reading DC comics since I was a kid, too.  And while the only books that I have been reading regularly, year after year, are the Batman books, I’ve also picked up many of the big DC crossovers, as well as various other DC books from time to time.  I’ve read a lot of the big DC events of the past decade, but I’ve never really gone back and re-read them.  So I decided to take a pause in my reading of Geoff John’s Green Lantern stories, to read back through some of the big recent events in the DCU.  I have read 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths several times, so I decided to start more recently, with 2004’s Identity Crisis.

Identity Crisis — Brad Meltzer’s story was pretty shocking at the time, and I must say it still packs quite a punch.  It’s a very adult take on the characters of the DCU, one that is more than a little reminiscent of the great Alan Moore’s approach to telling stories of the DC super-heroes.  (That is a compliment, not a criticism!)  Identity Crisis kicks off with the shocking, brutal murder of Sue Dibney, wife of the DC hero the Elongated Man.  But it’s the events of the second issue of the mini-series that really shocked — the revelation that, years ago, Sue was raped by the villain Dr. Light, and that in retaliation members of the Justice League wiped his mind, and that, in fact, the Leaguers had been doing that for years, any time a super-villain discovered anything that might put their secret identities in jeopardy and endanger their loved ones.  Identity Crisis works on so many levels.  It’s a great way … [continued]

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Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War

One of the new DC comics I started reading following the DCU’s line-wide relaunch (called “The New 52”) was Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern. I’ve been really enjoying it, so I decided to go back and catch up on the saga Mr. Johns has been weaving in the Green Lantern books for the past several years.  Click here for part one.  The next collected edition I picked up reprinted the big cross-over event The Sinestro Corps War, which took place over several months in the two main Green Lantern comics (Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps).

The Sinestro Corps War This was a fantastic story-line, my favorite since Rebirth. I loved Green Lantern: Rebirth, but my interest wasn’t quite as captured by the three subsequent collections of Mr. John’s run on the re-launched Green Lantern regular comic.  But The Sinestro Corps War kicks things back up into high gear.  The story is hugely epic, containing galaxy-spanning interstellar conflict featuring hundreds of characters, but it is also deeply personal, centered on the individual characters and story-arcs of Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, and a few other characters.  In many ways, this feels like the direct sequel to Rebirth, as the Parallax fear-creature returns (this time taking possession of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner), and the resurrected Sinestro steps back into the fore as Hal Jordan’s greatest nemesis.  This story is HUGE, a fact driven home by the splash page at the end of the Sinestro Corps Special (the issue that kicked off this crossover) in which Sinestro’s allies are revealed as the Cyborg Superman, Superboy Prime, and the Anti-Monitor.  This story is neck-deep in the intricacies of DCU continuity, but that didn’t prove an impediment to me, even though I’m not nearly as well-versed in the DC Universe as I am in the Marvel Universe.  I’ve read enough of the big DC crossovers over the years to recognize all three of those characters, even if I don’t quite understand, for example, Superboy Prime’s back-story, or how exactly the Anti-Monitor was returned to life after Crisis on Infinite Earths. But in the context of this story, it doesn’t matter — Geoff Johns gives us just enough information to ground the motivations of all three villains, and together they set the stakes extraordinarily high, posing a threat that it seems impossible for our heroes to overcome.  I loved that we get to see other DC heroes involved in the story’s climax — which makes sense when the Earth and the Universe was facing such danger — and I was pleased that we saw just enough of Superman, etc., while the story stayed sharply focused on Hal Jordan and the other Green … [continued]

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Green Lantern’s Light

When DC Comics rebooted their comic book universe with “The New 52” initiative, I was interested enough to pick up several new DC books that I hadn’t been previously reading.  (For my initial thoughts on The New 52, click here and here.)  Now that we’re about ten months later, though, I’m pretty much back to just reading the DC books I was following before the relaunch.   With two exceptions: I’m still reading and enjoying Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman and Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern.

I of course know all about the work that Geoff Johns has been doing , since 2004, to revitalize the Green Lantern franchise.  Under his guidance, Green Lantern has become one of the central books of the DCU, and events from that title have often spun-out into company-wide events (such as “Blackest Night.”).  I’ve been interested in what Mr. Johns has been doing, but I never read any of his work on Green Lantern. In fact, before The New 52, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased an issue of Green Lantern ever!  (Maybe one or two crossover issues back during the Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen days).

It’s not that Green Lantern holds no interest for me.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the GL-based DC Animated DVDs (click here for my review of Emerald Knights), and I was very excited (though ultimately very let-down) by the prospect of a Green Lantern movie.  But I grew up a Marvel fan, and I just never found myself drawn to Green Lantern’s comic book stories.

However, something about the cosmic mythology that Geoff Johns has been building up over the last number of years did interest me.  And since I’ve found  myself really enjoying the post-relaunch Green Lantern series (which doesn’t appear to be relaunched at all — it seems to be picking up directly from where the pre-New 52 Green Lantern comics left off), I decided the time had come for me to sample more of Mr. Johns’ work on Green Lantern.  So I picked up a number of trade paperbacks, and dove in.

Green Lantern: Rebirth — I decided to go back to the beginning: Mr. John’s attempt to unravel the past decade’s worth of Green Lantern stories that had seen Hal Jordan become a mass-murdering psychopath, then eventually die and have his spirit bound to The Spectre, the DCU’s spirit of vengeance.  Mr. Johns’ goal was to somehow bring Hal Jordan back into the center stage as the heroic Green Lantern once more.  Rebirth is quite an extraordinary piece of work.  What I loved about it was that Mr. Johns didn’t disregard any of the GL stories that had come before.  He didn’t invalidate them, taking … [continued]

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The Dark Knight Rises

May 1st, 2012
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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011 — Part One!

My Best of 2011 lists roll on!  Here are the links to my Top 15 Movies of 2011part one, part two, and part three.  Now on to my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011!

15.  John Byrne’s Next Men When Mr. Byrne’s Next Men series was originally released back in the 90’s, it was one of my very favorite comic book series.  Mr. Byrne’s illustration skills were at their peak, and the story was just “mature audiences” enough to peak my teenaged interest.  I was also very, very taken by the fiendishly clever circular narrative.  I was disappointed when the series ended, particularly since it was only supposed to have gone on hiatus for a few months, BUT I thought that, if it had to end, Mr. Byrne had wrapped things up beautifully.  I never imagined the series would ever return to the comic book stands, but lo and behold, IDW brought the series back for a nine issue run this year.  There were moments when the relaunch approached the greatness I had remembered (I enjoyed the twisted revelations about Bethany in issue 4), but for the most part, I wasn’t quite sure the point of this new story.  It sort of muddled the perfect ending of the series, without really enhancing what had gone before.  Ultimately, I didn’t quite understand the new time-travel machinations, and so was left a bit underwhelmed.  Still, new issues of John Byrne’s Next Men!! How cool is that??

14.  Ultimate Spider-Man I hated the whole Death of Peter Parker story-line, but I am very much enjoying the initial issues with the new Spidey.  The focus on this young kid and his classmates reminds me very much — without being derivative — of what attracted me so much to this series when it began, over a decade ago (wow).  Ultimate Spidey has been one of the most consistently enjoyable comic book series I have followed ever since it began.  Attentive readers will note it has slipped down in the rankings of my end-of-the-year list in the past few years, but it’s still on here as one of the stronger serialized super-hero comic books out there.  And god bless Mr. Bendis and his various artistic collaborators (including the very, very talented Sara Pichelli) for their consistency in getting this book out on a regular basis, month after month, year after year!

13.  Kick Ass 2 Mark Millar and John Romita’s sequel is just as gloriously profane and juvenile as the original.  Taking the concept of “escalation” (an idea explored in many comic books and also in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film) to the extreme, the … [continued]

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The “Extended Cut” of Green Lantern Still Stinks

I was really disappointed by this summer’s Green Lantern.  I had high hopes for the epic space adventure promised by the trailers, but what we got instead was a lame, Earth-bound mess.  (Read my full review here.)

I wondered if the “Extended Cut” of the film released on DVD and blu-ray would address any of my criticisms of the film.  Sometimes I find that extended versions of films can really flesh out the stories and characters in a way that alters my opinion of a film that I had previously disliked.  Sadly, that is not the case here.

Basically, the only change made to Green Lantern in this new, longer version is an extended flashback, set at the beginning of the film, in which we get to see Hal, Carol, and Hector as kids, and we witness firsthand the death of Hal’s test-fighter pilot.  It’s a great sequence, and never should have been excised from the film.  It’s a much more coherent way of presenting this important back-story than the laughably ridiculous Airplane!-style stress-induced flashbacks that Hal gets, in the theatrical version, when trying to out-maneuver Ferris Airlines’ new pilot-less drones when we first meet him.  It also enables us to start the movie by sympathizing with Hal, which is far better than starting the movie thinking he’s a jerk the way we do in the theatrical cut.

After watching that long new introductory sequence, I was jazzed — this movie is already a whole lot better, I thought!  Sadly, if there were any further changes or extensions to the film after that point, I didn’t notice them.  The rest of the film is as turgid as before.  They even left-in the ridiculous flashbacks in Hal’s test-flight early in the film!!  That makes that whole sequence even MORE stupid than it was in the theatrical cut, when at least the flashbacks were presenting us with some new information.  In this version, we just saw ALL of those scenes literally minutes beforehand!!  Having to sit through those scenes again is beyond stupid.

But Green Lantern is afflicted by this sort of ham-handed story-telling from start-to-finish.  Take the whole introduction to the film, and the escape of Parallax (the film’s main villain).  We hear, in prologue, all about the Green Lantern Corps and about their great enemy, Parallax, who only the great Green Lantern Abin Sur was able to defeat, and imprison in something called “the Lost Sector.”  First of all, as much as I loved Geoffrey Rush’s voice in the narration, and the cool sci-fi imagery on display, I think telling the audience everything we need to know about the villain right off the bat deflates all … [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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News Around the Net!

Lots of fun geeky goodness has been spilling out onto the nets recently, mostly because of the annual San Diego Comic-Con.

Did you miss the teaser trailer for The Avengers at the end of Captain America? Check it out here. Pretty sweet.

Speaking of teasers, here’s one for The Dark Knight Rises.  I’m intrigued as to how definitive an ending Christopher Nolan is planning on giving his Bat-films.

Here’s another teaser for one of next summer’s big films — though this isn’t just a teaser, it’s a full-length trailer for the Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man.  The trailer is well put together, but I still can’t muster up too much excitement for this film.  I hate that they’re rebooting the series, and that we have to sit through another version of Spidey’s origin.  Just re-cast the roles and tell a great new Spider-Man story.  Why start over from zero??  Frustrating.

Now this is more intriguing: it’s the much-discussed abandoned introduction sequence to Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, in which Superman explores the ruins of Krypton.  I can understand why it’s not in the movie (the whole scene is perfectly summed up in Superman’s one line to Ma Kent, that all he found at the end of his long journey into space was a graveyard), but it’s still a pretty cool sequence.  I love Supey’s crystalline Kryptonian ship, and I love the huge S.

It’s Peter Jackson’s third production diary from The Hobbit! Rejoice!

Oh, Lost, will you ever stop breaking my heart?  If you are (or WERE once, like me) a fan of Lost, this hilarious “lost” scene from season one, that was unveiled at Comic-Con, is a wonderful piece of genius.  (But Damon Lindeloff’s comments about why they didn’t answer one of the most annoying, to me, lingering questions from season 5 — just who was shooting at Sawyer and co. from the other boat — makes me CRAZY.  CRAZY!!!)

Sooo… is Prometheus an Alien prequel or not???  AAARRGH!!!  I’m desperate to know, but either way, a new sci-fi film from the great Ridley Scott has me excited.

We’ll see what people say about the set once it’s released, but for now I stand by my comments that I do not plan on purchasing the blu-ray set of the Star Wars films.  Still, I did begin salivating at the report that the set will include never-before-seen deleted scenes from the Original Trilogy, and this teaser trailer for those deleted scenes is pretty awesome:

Speaking of George Lucas, it seems that he and his collaborators have FINALLY finished Red Tails, the film about the Tuskegee Airmen from WWII, about which Mr. Lucas has been talking … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Green Lantern!

Well, we’ve had two very solid super-hero films so far this summer, Thor (click here for my review) and X-Men: First Class (click here for my review), and while neither were quite as perfect as I might have hoped, I found both to be very solidly entertaining films.  But with Green Lantern, sadly, we have our first big super-hero swing-and-a-miss of the summer.

Green Lantern isn’t terrible, and there are certainly a lot of things that work in the film.  But it’s very, very mediocre, and it’s painful to see the potential for a much better film that was squandered.

What works?  The film is, for the most part, well-cast.  Ryan Reynolds does a fine job as Hal Jordan.  He certainly looks the part, and there are moments (such as his desperate, through-gritted-teeth declaration of the Green Lantern oath late in the film) that really made me believe in him as Green Lantern.  The voice actors chosen to portray the alien members of the GL Corps (most notably Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re and Michael Clarke Duncan as Killowog) are spot-on, and Mark Strong is absolute perfection as Sinestro.

But all are completely wasted in the film!  Let’s begin with Hal Jordan, who is barely a character.  The film wants him to be Tony Stark from Iron Man (the self-centered asshole with incredible abilities who eventually learns to see beyond himself and his own ego to become a hero), but his character arc is so barely sketched in as to be laughable.  It all seemed very predictable and perfunctory to me.  I never felt that we really got to know Hal Jordan at all — who he is and why he behaves the way he does.  (And, no, the painfully on-the-nose flashback during Hal’s test flight at the start of the film didn’t do it for me.  That sequence seemed right out of Airplane!, and that’s not a good thing!)  When he stepped into the role of a hero, it didn’t feel earned the way that Tony Stark’s transition did in the first Iron Man film.

Speaking of Iron Man, the whole vibe of Green Lantern felt totally derivative of that film.  The movie desperately wanted to be hip and cool while also telling a fairly earnest super-hero story, just like the first Iron Man, but Green Lantern was never able to find that tone.

I had thought, from the trailers, that Green Lantern was going to be a cosmic adventure film.  That the film opens in space, and keeps cutting back to events taking place in space (rather than starting with human Hal Jordan and staying with him until he discovered Abin … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to Smallville!

It’s pretty hard to believe that Smallville has been on the air for ten years, and I am even a little bit more astonished that I’ve been watching the show for pretty much all of those ten years!  From the very beginning, I have found watching Smallville to be a somewhat frustrating endeavor.  I’d be hard pressed to name a show that’s been so wildly inconsistent in quality.  A spectacular, exciting, complex episode will be followed by an agonizingly painful, awkward, juvenile installment.  But the good episodes have been good enough to somehow keep me watching even through the bad ones (and there have been plenty of bad ones).

Smallville is probably the best argument for the strength of the British TV model (and the increasingly common HBO/cable model) of shorter (8-12 episode) seasons rather than the standard American network TV seasons of 20-24 episodes.  Over the years I’ve read fans writing off this season or that season of Smallville as garbage, while praising other years.  Personally, I think pretty much every season of the show has had merit, and has had some great episodes.  But boy oh boy have I felt (right from season one) that the story-lines were padded and stretched FAAAAR beyond what made any logical narrative sense.  The years and years of yes-they’re-a-couple, no-they’re-not-a-couple Clark Kent/Lana Lang soap opera antics is the most annoying example of this, but even in the later, more focused seasons this has been a problem.  The show actually found interesting ways to incorporate Doomsday and General Zod as villains (in seasons 8 and 9, respectively), but by making us wait through the WHOLE long season for Clark and his Big Bad villains to finally come to loggerheads stretched my patience well past the breaking point.  Out of the ten seasons of Smallville, I’d say there’s probably a terrific four year-run of a great super-hero show.

That is not a very good record!  But Smallville did have a number of moments of real greatness, and those moments kept me from ever giving up entirely on the series.  There have been some episodes that have been among the very best live-action depictions of super-heroics that I’ve ever seen, in movies or on TV.  (The season two episode, “Rosetta,” guest-starring Christopher Reeve comes to mind, and the show consistently did season-finales like nobody’s business.)  The visual effects are not great, but they’ve been good enough to be decently entertaining week in and week out.  But when the show was great, it wasn’t because of visual effects, it was because they found a sweet spot between incorporating aspects of the Superman mythology while keeping the over-all narrative fun, engaging, and accessible.

When Smallville was … [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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The Worst Movie Endings of All Time

A few days ago, Devin Faraci wrote a great piece over on Badassdigest.com (a really phenomenal site that I can’t recommend highly enough) about the terrible ending of the classic Bill Murray film, Stripes.

Mr. Faraci is right on the nose — the last 30 or so minutes of Stripes are really quite terrible.  Now, I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of the first two-thirds of Stripes, either.  I think I saw the film way too late in life to really connect with it the way other children of the eighties did.  Despite my long-held love for Bill Murray’s movies of the 1980’s (epitomized by my near fanatical worship of Ghostbusters), somehow I missed Stripes throughout my childhood — I only finally saw it when I was in college, and by then I just didn’t find it all that funny.

But Mr. Faraci’s article got me thinking about other good films undone by their endings… and wondering if there any films, as Mr. Faraci asks, whose first two-thirds are so good that I forgive their weak ending?

(Let me state that, obviously, SPOILERS LIE AHEAD for the films under discussion!!)

Let’s begin with some films that start off strong but are, in my opinion, completely ruined by their terrible endings:

No Country for Old Men — I was totally engrossed in this tense, beautiful film for much of its run-time, but the ending totally sunk my enjoyment.  After following the character of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) throughout the film, and totally investing in him, I couldn’t believe how that character was completely abandoned and ignored in the final few minutes of the movie.  The film’s title — No Country for Old Men — and the way the end of the film focuses on Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) indicates to me that the Coen Brothers intended the film to be the Sheriff’s story, not Llewelyn’s.  But the movie never earns that.  It never shows us the message given by its title, and Tommy Lee Jones’ monologue in the last scene.  What was it about the death of Llewelyn Moss that so affected Sheriff Bell?  For a man who had clearly been involved in other cases that involved murder and death, what was it about this particular event that shook the Sheriff so deeply?  We’re never told, and ultimately, as a viewer, I didn’t care too much about Sheriff Bell — I was invested in Llewelyn!  And having the end of his story be cut off by the finale really disappointed me.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence — Not that the first two-thirds of this film were so perfect to begin with, but had the movie ended … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

This is a pretty funny assemblage of 1980’s movie references.  Don’t miss Topher Grace’s dynamite Marty McFly impersonation that comes at around 2:30.

I was sad to read of the passing of famed composer John Barry. He’s responsible for so many pieces of iconic James Bond related music, it’s staggering.  He wrote the scores for eleven Bond films, including Goldfinger and From Russia With Love.

In happier Bond news, is it possible that Javier Bardem will be the villain in the next Bond film?  James Bond vs. Anton Chigurh?  What an inspired idea!

In even-happier-than-that Bond news, comes this casting possibility.  I really hope these casting rumors pan out!  I’m very excited with the way Bond 23 looks to be shaping up so far…

Click here to read The New Yorker‘s fantastic profile of Guillermo del Toro.  It’s a lengthy piece, stuffed full of delicious tidbits of information on the many projects that he has in the hopper (and some — like The Hobbit with him as director — that sadly will never be).  I really hope that his adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness actually happens.

I’m a dreamer, and I dare to dream that someday we’ll get another awesome X-Men movie.  (I adored X-Men and X2, but was disappointed by X3 and thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.)  I’m starting to think it just might be happening when I read articles like this about The Wolverine, the upcoming film directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan), written by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), and based upon Chris Claremont & Frank Miller’s famous, amazing Wolverine mini-series from 1982, set in Japan.  My hopes are VERY high for this one, gentlemen.  Please don’t let me down!

The moment I knew was coming has arrived: Brandon Routh is officially not playing Superman in Zack Snyder’s upcoming film.  Readers of this site know that I am a fierce defender of Superman Returns, and in particular I thought Mr. Routh was phenomenal as Clark Kent/Superman.  I totally understand that Mr. Snyder wants to set his film apart from Bryan Singer’s film, but I’m still really disappointed that we’re not going to get a whole series of films with Mr. Routh in the lead.  It’s a big disappointment.

And, I must add, this rumor that Jessica Biel is up for the role of Lois Lane has me VERY worried.  Urgh, that’s a terrible idea.  But then I read that that Jessica Biel rumor is just that — a rumor.  OK, whew, I thought, bullet dodged.  But then I read … [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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New Comics! Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale and Dueling Versions of the Origin of Superman!

Here are some of the comic books I’ve been reading lately:

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale — This gorgeous hardcover graphic novel finally reveals the mysterious back-story of Shepherd Book, the enigmatic preacher from Joss Whedon’s dearly-missed TV series Firefly.  I always felt that the character, played to such perfection by Ron Glass, was one of the more intriguing members of the show’s ensemble.  This man of peace clearly had a great deal of knowledge of war, and about the inner workings of the Alliance, but we never got to know the character’s full story.  With Book’s tragic death in the film Serenity, and that film’s poor box office killing the hope of any further sequels, it seemed that Firefly fans would be left always wondering about the much hinted-at history of Shepherd Book.

Dark Horse Comics to the rescue!  The publisher has put out several Serenity comic books over the past few years, but The Shepherd’s Tale is the high-point.  Written by Joss Whedon and his brother Zack Whedon (a very talented writer in his own right, Zack was a key creative voice behind Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and wrote Dark Horse’s terrific recent Terminator series), this is the official, canon, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth version of Shepherd Book’s story.  It’s a wonderful tale, presented in vignettes told in reverse chronological order.  In a clever touch, we begin with Book’s death (and, by the way, Book’s narration of the moment of his death is so perfect, so wonderful, that once again my heart aches at the demise of Firefly) and then work our way back through his life.  (I should note here that, as wonderful as the choice to present Book’s life in reverse chronological order is, its impact was a bit diminished for me since I have long held Star Trek Annual #3, “Retrospect,” published by DC Comics back in 1988, to be one of the greatest comic books I’ve ever read.  That issue, written by Peter David and illustrated by Curt Swan & Ricardo Villagran, presents the story of Scotty’s life-long love affair with a doomed woman in reverse order, from the moment he learns of her death back all the way to their first encounter as little kids.  It broke my heart when I first read it as a kid, and I have re-read it a thousand times in the years since.  But back to Serenity…)

Chris Samnee’s art is gorgeous, dense and atmospheric.  He’s not an expert at capturing the features of the actors from the TV series, but his art is so expressive that I didn’t mind a bit.  He totally captures the “feel” of Shepherd Book, and he’s an expert at creating a … [continued]

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On the Comics Shelf!

Last month I wrote about a number of great comic books that I’d read lately.  Here’s some more of the fun stuff I’ve been reading these past few weeks:

The Marvel Art of Joe Quesada — I remember taking note of a young artist named Joe Quesada back when he was illustrating Azrael for DC Comics and a variety of books for Valiant Comics (like Ninjak and, as I recall, a zero issue of X-O Manowar), and I’ve been following his work ever since.  These days he’s one of the biggest superstars out there, but not just as an illustrator — Mr. Quesada has been the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics for a decade.  This gorgeous oversize hardcover is a comprehensive look back at his work for the House of Ideas.  In particular, I love the spotlight given to all of his phenomenal cover work.  I wish there was a little more commentary provided along with all the beautiful reproductions of his work (I’ve been spoiled by the way the Cover Run: The Art of Adam Hughes book contained commentary by Mr. Hughes for EVERY IMAGE), but that’s a minor complaint.  A stunning collection that sits proudly on my bookshelf.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships — Another winner from Mike Mignola and his team.  Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden (working together to bring the lead character from their novel Baltimore,: or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire to the world of comic books) with wonderfully atmospheric art by Ben Stenbeck (and phenomenal coloring by Dave Stewart), the mini-series has me gripped so far.  Lord Henry Baltimore hunts vampires across Europe in the early 1900’s.  It’s grim and bloody and phenomenally good.

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects — Speaking of Mike Mignola, I must also heap praise on this wonderfully loony hardcover collection of his one-off story, The Amazing Screw-On Head (about a robotic head that can screw into various elaborate action-figure bodies in order to hunt monsters for Abraham Lincoln) along with a variety of other equally bizarre short-stories (many of which were written and drawn specifically for this collection).  Wonderfully off-beat and gorgeously illustrated by the phenomenally talented Mr. Mignola, I am in love with this handsomely-designed collection.

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories — I was a bit dubious that the characters from Joss Whedon’s triumphant web-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (read my rapturous review here) could translate to comics, but this softcover collection (reprinting Dark Horse Comics’ Dr. Horrible one-shot from earlier in the year along with several other short stories spotlighting different characters from the Dr. Horrible universe) but boy was I wrong.  Zack Whedon wrote all of … [continued]

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

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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Catching Up on my Comic Books!

September 7th, 2010
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Although my life is as hectic as usual, I did have a little time off after the summer that allowed me to catch up on a whole host of great comic books that had been sitting unread on my shelf!  Here’s some of what I’ve been reading lately:

Batman #700 – “Time and the Batman.”  Loved this one. It’s a great mind-bender of a story, set in three different eras.  This issue had all the Grant Morrison weirdness that I love, but contained in a one-shot story that had a strong resolution. Great art, too, by Tony Daniel, Frank Quitely, Andy Kubert, and David Finch.

Streets of Gotham – I am continuing to love this series. Fun mystery/adventure stories by Paul Dini and great art by Dustin Nguyen equals a winner for me.

The Marvels Project — I caught up with this whole miniseries by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, depicting the early (WWII-era) days of the Marvel Universe.  Brubaker and Epting are enormous talents, and great collaborators, but I wasn’t bowled over by this series.  It felt like pretty familiar ground (covered pretty thoroughly by Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek’s seminal series Marvels), and while the story was engaging and entertaining I didn’t feel like I learned any dramatic revelations about the origins of the Marvel Universe.

Nemesis — Another hyper-violent series from Mark Millar, but I’m loving every juvenile minute so far.  Glorious art by Steve McNiven.  I’m really eager to see where this goes.

Powers — Boy, after singing the praises of this long-running (over a decade!) series in the spring, I’m sad to say I’ve been disappointed by the first five issues of volume 3.  The issues all seem rushed — the usually stupendous art feels scratchy and unfinished, and the story feels half-baked.  (We’ve seen that Walker has been a good guy ever since the dawn of time — yet suddenly we learn he was a prick back in the ’50s?  Doesn’t really work for me.)  I hope things pick up soon.

Avengers and New Avengers — I know he has his critics (and I just said I’m not loving Powers these days), but I get enormous enjoyment out of the vast majority of Brian Michael Bendis’ writing, and I love how things have kicked off with his re-launches of these two series.  In Avengers, he and the phenomenally talented John Romita Junior are telling a big, huge, cosmic time-travel storyline that is rollicking along, while in New Avengers he and the equally phenomenally talented Stuart Immonen are crafting a slightly more down-to-earth tale that nevertheless involves an upheaval in the magical aspects of the Marvel Universe and the possible destruction of … [continued]

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Have you heard that they’re making new Looney Tunes cartoons to show theatrically?  Check out this glimpse of the first new Road Runner cartoon in far too many years:

Battlestar Galactica lives on!  Rumors are that SyFy are working on an on-line BSG spin-off, tentatively titled “Blood and Chrome” that would depict a young Bill Adama during the first Cylon War.  I LOVED the glimpse at a young “Husker” Adama that we got in Razor, and would LOVE to see more.  I hope this comes to pass!

I’ve been reading for years about the Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow film series, in which famous films are screened in a location connected in some way with the film.  It’s always sounded like a cool idea, and these special posters for the upcoming tour are just phenomenal.  I love movie posters, and these are about the coolest posters I’ve seen in a long, long while.

If there’s one sliver of a silver lining from MGM’s financial woes forcing Guillermo del Toro to leave the in-development Hobbit films, its the announcement that he’ll next be directing an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness, a project that del Toro has been talking about for years.  Should be awesome.

As readers of the site are probably well aware, I am one of the few people on Earth who unabashedly loved Superman Returns.  So I wholeheartedly second this plea from CHUD that Brandon Routh be allowed to reprise his role as Clark Kent/Superman in the next Superman film.  I thought Routh was pretty much perfect, and I would be thrilled to see him continue.

Speaking of superheroes, I’m sure you’ve all heard about the official announcement of The Avengers‘ cast and line-up at Comic-Con last weekHere are some more details from the panel.  Pretty astounding cast, if you ask me, and I think Joss Whedon is a perfect choice as director.  Now please please please don’t screw this up, gang!!

Here are some fascinating reports from the Thor panel & footage from Comic-Con, as well as the Captain America panel.  I cannot wait to see some actual footage from these two films.  I really hope Marvel is able to pull these movies off.

Behold The Infinity Gauntlet!!  Awesome.

OK, enough Marvel, let’s talk DC!  I was very underwhelmed by our first look at Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern, but I love this peek at Sinestro.

Lost‘s Damon Lindeloff is re-writing the Alien prequel that Ridley Scott is directing? Pretty cool.

If they ever actually make another Judge Dredd movie, I love the idea of Karl Urban under the helmet.

Some interesting TV [continued]

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Superhero Movie News!

July 16th, 2010

There has been some exciting news recently in the world of superhero movies.

EW has premiered the first look at Ryan Reynolds in his Green Lantern costume.  I think it looks absolutely terrible, frankly — but I often think that the first time a live-action superhero costume is revealed.  I remember really disliking the first glimpse I got of the X-Men costumes, and the Spider-Man costume, but both worked well on film, so I’ve learned not to put too much stock into that first pic.  Still, not encouraging.

More encouraging is the word that, following the whole brou-ha-ha over Edward Norton getting booted from the upcoming Avengers movie is word that Mark Ruffalo is being considered for the role of Dr. Bruce Banner.  That’s an inspired casting idea, and I really hope this happens.

Is Kevin Bacon going to be the villain in the upcoming X-Men prequel? That’s a sort of weird idea.  The casting so far for X-Men: First Class has been superb, so hopefully this isn’t the first wrong turn.  (I still think making an X-Men prequel is a dumb idea… Let’s move teh story FORWARD and make X-Men 4 already!!)

Here’s some news on Marvel’s next films: Thor and Captain America.  There’s a fun pic of Anthony Hopkins as Odin, but I’m not sure what to think of the idea of converting the two films to 3-D.  The jury’s still out, in my opinion, as to whether and of these late-in-the-game 3-D conversions can be done with any decent level of quality.  We’ll see…… [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

May 21st, 2010

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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Last week I wrote about some of the great comics I’ve read lately.  That list was just scratching the surface!  Here’s some more fantastic stuff that I’ve been enjoying recently:

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and BPRD: 1947 – The Hellboy saga continues in these two new wonderful mini-series.  In Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, things are coming to a head for the big red guy.  Cut off from his old friends and comrades in the BPRD, and hunted by the newly-resurrected Queen of Blood, things are looking grim for our hero!  Last month’s issue (#6) was jam-packed with astonishing revelations about Hellboy’s origin that I never saw coming, but that I thought worked absolutely PERFECTLY.  Meanwhile, BPRD: 1947 takes us through a rollicking tale of the second year of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense as Professor Bruttenholm struggles against vampires and a lot of other weirdness.  The Hellboy universe has really richened and deepened over these last few years, and I am really excited to see where things go from here.

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man — The relaunch of Brian Michael Bendis’ take on Spider-Man (three issues have been published as of this writing) continues just where the previous 133 issues (plus a handful of annuals and other specials) left off.  Young Peter Parker must juggle his, um, interesting love-life with a boring job at a fast-food joint (since he lost his job at the Daily Bugle following the devastation of NYC in the truly awful Ultimatum miniseries) with, oh yeah, his crime-fighting escapades as Spider-Man!  Mr. Bendis is well-known for his witty, true-to-teenaged-life dialogue, but I think his real strength is the depth of characterization he brings to Peter Parker and all the rest of the extraordinarily numerous cast of this comic.  Mary-Jane, Flash Thompson, Aunt May, “Kong,” Kitty Pryde from the X-Men, Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four (and it is almost embarrassing how much more interesting Kitty and Johnny are here than in their “home” comics) and many more characters are all brought to amazingly real life in these pages.  I’ve been following Bendis’ run on “Ultimate” Spider-Man and I’ll be with the series until he leaves.  Spider-Man has never been done better (in my comic-reading life-time, at least!).  My only small complaint: I’m not quite taken with the overly stylized work of new series artist David Lafuente.  Let’s see if it grows on me any more after a few more issues…

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower — I fell way behind on this series of mini-series, adapting and expanding upon the back story of Stephen King’s seven-book The Dark Tower opus, but I was finally able to catch up last month.  Breathtakingly gorgeous art by … [continued]

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News Around the Net (Comic-Con Edition!)

So, wow!  After the recent Comic-Con the web has been flooded with all sorts of teases about upcoming movies, TV shows, and other geeky goodness.  Here’s some of the best stuff that I’ve found:

After so many years of speculation and false starts, the sequel to Tron is finally, actually happening!!  Check out the STUNNING trailer here.  It’s going to be in IMAX 3-D??  I’m THERE.

I cannot believe they’re actually making a Jonah Hex movie.  (And with Josh Brolin, no less!)  Check out the poster.

The ending of Lost revealed?  Um, not quite.  Check out this video from the Lost panel!  Quite a lot of additional footage from that panel can be found here.  For some reason, Michael Emmerson’s fake audition for the role of Hurley isn’t included, but you can find that here.  Funny stuff.

Here’s a pretty bad-ass trailer for Season 2 of The Clone Wars.  I actually found the first season to be fairly watchable, and this glimpse at the next season looks pretty promising.

You know what it takes to sell real estate?  The same thing it takes to re-make one of the most brilliant TV shows of all time.  Well, AMC’s version of The Prisoner, starring Ian McKellan and Jim Caviezel, is nearly upon us.  Check out this lengthy trailer.  I must say, that looks pretty damn intriguing!

Amongst all of this glorious fun is the extraordinarily troubling continuing story about the newly-resurrected Futurama‘s uncertain future.  This report from the Futurama panel at the con is grim indeed.  Can’t everybody just make nice already?!!

That’s all for now — have a great weekend everybody!!… [continued]

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Kingdom Come

June 5th, 2009

It is the distant future of the DC Universe.  Beings with super-human abilities have spread across the globe, and ever-more powerful violent heroes and villains wreak untold havoc with their escalating conflicts.  Meanwhile, the heroes of old are gone.  Green Lantern has abandoned Earth for the solitude of space.  Wonder Woman has returned to Themyscira.  Batman, his body broken after years of pushing himself beyond the limits of human endurance, maintains order over Gotham City through the use of menacing robotic sentries.  And Superman has lived alone in his Fortress of Solitude for the past ten years, ever since the Joker’s brutal attack on the Daily Planet resulted in the deaths of ninety-two men.  And one woman.

This is the world of Kingdom Come, a dazzling tale of the future of the DC Universe by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.  Originally published in four parts in 1996, one of the initial core ideas of the story was a comment on the increasingly violent anti-heroes that were very popular in comic books of the nineties.  The brutal Magog, with his scarred eye, his enormous shoulder-pads, and his vicious weaponry was a clear comment on Marvel Comics’ character of Cable.  The specificity of that reference has faded over the years, but the power of Kingdom Come has not.

I can think of few stories that have captured the grandeur of DC’s pantheon of heroes as well as Kingdom Come.  This may be a story of an alternate, possible future, but it remains oen of the most iconic tales of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman that I have ever read.  The dynamic between the three of them is at the heart of the story.  Kingdom Come focuses our attention on the way their differing backgrounds have lead them to view the world from vastly different points of view.  Those differences drive deep wedges between the characters, and lead to much of the drama of the story.  Mark Waid’s script is filled with powerful moments and wonderful characterization.  Having read the tale countless times, I am still struck by the moments like Wonder Woman’s first visit to Superman in his isolation, when she throws his oft-repeated commitment to truth and justice in his face.  Then there is my very favorite moment in the series (and frankly, one of my favorite moments in any comic book ever), which comes in Chapter Three when a furious Superman flies out of the Batcave at super-sonic speed, basically disappearing from sight he’s moving so fast, leaving a solitary Batman to remark “so that’s what that feels like.”  Brilliant!

Which brings me to Alex Ross’ remarkable painted artwork.  I have been an enormous fan of this great … [continued]

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Here Come the Superheroes! Part III of Josh’s Look at His Favorite Graphic Novels!

Over the past two days I have listed several of my favorite graphic novels.  (Click here for part I and here for part II.)  You’ll notice that most of them had nothing to do with super-heroes.  This was purposeful — although super-hero stories dominate the American comic book scene, there are so many other types of stories that can be told using the comics medium.  That’s something I wanted to highlight.

But that’s not to say that I don’t also love a terrific super-hero story, because I certainly do!  Here are some of my favorites, that are available in graphic novel or collected-edition formats:

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — Following the death of Robin, Bruce Wayne retired his Batman persona.  It’s been 10 years, and Gotham City has sunk into an urban decay of crime.  Bruce Wayne is a broken man, empty and lost.  But when something drives him to put on that mask one more time, everything changes.  (Although not necessarily for the better!)  Along with Watchmen (which was also released in 1986), Frank Miller’s magnus opus changed the comics industry forever, demonstrating without a doubt that it was possible to tell sophisticated, mature stories with super-hero characters.  (It also was a tremendous influence on the look and tone of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film.)  This story is intense and shockingly brutal.  It is also a gorgeous work of art, filled to the brim with overlapping narratives that tell the stories of an enormous cast of characters, all struggling to make their way in the brutal urban jungle that Gotham City has become, and all of them somehow affected by the shadow of the bat.  The Dark Knight Returns is also infamous for Miller’s depiction of an almost fascistic Superman, and his battle with the Batman in the series’ final chapter is a show-stopper.  (I should also mention that I am quite fond of Miller’s Batman: Year One, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, from which a great deal of the story of Batman Begins was adapted.)

The New Frontier — Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant series re-tells the origins of many of DC Comics’ most familiar characters, albeit set in the years in which they were originally created.  Similar to the way in which The Right Stuff showed how American fighter pilots gradually became our astronauts, The New Frontier tells the story of how the pulp heroes that came out of the second world war gradually became the costumed super-heroes of a brave new age.  Cooke’s somewhat retro, simplified art style is stunningly gorgeous and absolutely perfect for the story being told.  The New Frontier captures the innocence and wonder, as well as the growing dangers, of the 1950’s and … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Have you seen this?  Jon Hamm (Mad Men) plays Lex Luthor in this short from Funnyordie.com, asking for bailout money for Luthorcorp.  Genius!

Out-there director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) is making a film of Maurice Sendak’s beloved childrens’ book, Where The Wild Things Are?  What an insane, inspired notion.  Check out this wondrous trailer.  This is a movie I need to see.

Speaking of trailers I really want to see, I didn’t know anything whatsoever about Sam Mendes’ (American Beauty) new film, Away We Go, before I saw this new trailer (mentioned at the Motion Captured blog over on HitFix.com).  It stars John Krasinski (Jim from The Office) and Maya Rudolph (from SNL), and now that I’ve seen the trailer I am very excited for this film!  

I love this new poster for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie.  I need this in my home.

Speaking of Trek, there’s been some interesting pieces posted on-line lately about the use of Bryan Tyler’s magnificent score for Children of Dune in the trailers for the new Star Trek film.  This article summarizes the confusion nicely.  I am fascinated by this stuff.  Tyler’s score was also used extensively in the first trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  I loved both of the Sci-Fi channel’s Dune mini-series, and it tickles me to hear snippets of the score being used all over the place these days!

Come back here tomorrow to read my thoughts on a terrific older film from director Guillermo del Toro, The Devil’s Backbone!… [continued]

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“Sorry, we’re closed” — Josh’s Favorite TV Series Finales!

As I prepare for this weekend’s series finale of Battlestar Galactica (and contemplate life without that brilliant show, one of the greatest of the last two decades), I’ve been thinking about some of the great series finales of the recent past.  Here are some of my favorites, counting down from ten!

10.  Cheers — “One For the Road” — Diane Chambers (Shelly Long) returns in an attempt to re-kindle her romance with Sam (Ted Danson) in this extra-long finale.  To be honest, it’s been years since I’ve seen this one, but my recollection is of really enjoying it.  Bringing back Shelly Long, who was pretty much the star of the show (along with Danson) for the first half of its run, was a brilliant idea.  And the final scene is perfect — Sam waving away a customer while saying “sorry, we’re closed.”  Sniff!

9.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — “What You Leave Behind” — I am giving props here to the entire 10-hour, 9-episode “final chapter” of this, the greatest of the Star Trek series.  The show finally becomes what it has always flirted with: a true serial, as seven seasons worth of storylines come to fruition over the course of this magnificent final epic run of episodes.  The Dominion War escalates, a secret section of Starfleet’s complicity in attempted genocide is revealed, and Captain Benjamin Sisko must finally fulfill his destiny as Emissary of the Prophets (a story thread begun in the series’ pilot episode). The show was notable for its enormous cast of recurring characters, and everyone gets his/her due here (with quite a number of popular characters meeting their demise!).  The show gets bumped down a bit on my list because the actual final two-hour episode isn’t quite as great as the episodes leading up to it (it looks like they used up their special effects budget, as one of the major battle sequences is composed almost entirely of recycled footage, something that eagle-eyed fans like me noticed).  Still, the melancholy tone (so unusual for a Trek series) and the sad, final shot of Jake Sisko looking out the window for his lost father as the camera pulls back and the station slowly fades away into the blackness of space is just perfection.

8.  Justice League Unlimited — “Destroyer” — Classic DC Comics villain Darkseid launches a full-scale invasion of Earth, and even the combined might of practically every character (hero & villain) who ever appeared on this amazing animated show are powerless to stop him.  In an epic battle atop the ruins of the Daily Planet building, Superman ultimately falls before the might of Darkseid.  (That sequence, by the way, is a showcase for the … [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]

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“I Am The Night” — The Very Best Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series

Last week I wrote about the terrific new soundtrack collection of music from the early episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.  That got me reminiscing about that amazing cartoon series, and so of course I busted out my DVDs to enjoy a few episodes.

Several few years back, I was rather shocked to discover that one of my good friends who dug comics had never gotten into Batman: TAS.  So I put together a collection for her of several of my favorite episodes — everything I could squeeze onto one VHS tape.  A few days ago I happened to stumble across the list of the episodes I’d selected (yes, I save everything), and I thought I’d share it with you all.  

So what follows are some of the best half-hours of animated television you’re ever going to find, and also among the most perfect non-comic book depictions of Batman.  If you’ve got these episodes on DVD or on tape, then dust ’em off and give ’em a watching!  If you don’t, then go out and find a friend who does!!  


1.  The Demon’s Quest , Parts I & II — Batman traces a criminal conspiracy across the globe, in an effort to locate a kidnapped Robin.  Liam Neeson was fine in Batman Begins, but if you want to see the REAL Ra’s Al Ghul, check out this version, voiced by the incomparable David Warner (Time Bandits, Star Trek VI).

2.  I Am The Night — A depressed and disillusioned Batman goes into an emotional tailspin when Commissioner Gordon is shot during a botched stake-out.  

3.  It’s Never Too Late — There are no supervillains to be found in this episode — it’s just a small, personal story about an aging mobster’s fall from grace.  This is why this series is awesome.  

4.  Robin’s Reckoning, Parts I & II — Perhaps the series’ finest hour.  Batman and Robin’s relationship is strained to the breaking point when the man responsible for the murder of Robin’s parents returns to Gotham City.

5.  Legends of the Dark Knight — This episode pays homage to some of the most iconic comic book depictions of Batman over the years, from Dick Sprang’s Batman of the ’50s to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns from the ’80s.  

6.  Mad Love — A disturbing examination of the twisted relationship between the Joker and his “hench-wench,” Harley Quinn.  Plus, Harley asks the Joker the question that comic fans have been wondering about for over 50 years.

7.  You Scratch My Back — I really enjoyed how, over the life of the series, we saw a noticeable passage of time.  This episode from late in … [continued]

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The Sounds of Gotham City — Music from Batman: The Animated Series!

In 1992, the groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series premiered on Fox.  To this day, despite some mighty competition from the last two live-action Batman movies (especially the magnificent The Dark Knight), this show still stands as my favorite non-comic book depiction of Batman, the one that is most true to the character I have always pictured in my head.  Gorgeous animation combined with terrific stories that played Batman serious and scary made the show a knock-out right from the beginning (and ensured that the episodes would be as strong upon repeated viewings over 15 years later as they were when the show first launched).

But when considering all of the elements that made Batman: The Animated Series such a terrific success, we would be remiss in neglecting to mention the magnificent music.  In support of this point, La-La Land Records has recently released a phenomenal two-CD collection of the soundtrack from the show.  Unlike most cartoons of the time, which relied on a lot of recycled music, each episode of Batman: TAS had its own original score, performed by an orchestra.  The music was masterminded by Shirley Walker, ably assisted by a team that included Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuiston (all three of whom have a lot of work represented on this new CD collection).  Like the very best film score, the music from Batman: TAS was a critical element in creating the over-all tone of the piece, and it is strong enough to be tremendously enjoyable when listened to on its own.

The CD begins with a presentation of the Batman: TAS main title theme, which was composed by Danny Elfman (creating an interesting and catchy variation on his theme from Tim Burton’s Batman).  We are then presented with music from eleven notable episodes from the series’ early run.  

I am not a musician, so writing about music doesn’t come easily for me, but let me try to share how much I enjoyed listening to these CDs.  What is incredible is the way each episode has its own unique themes, composed to reflect the action and the characters (heroic and villainous) featured in that particular show.

Right away a stand-out is the work on the series’ first episode, “On Leather Wings,” in which Batman is blamed for crimes committed by a mysterious and monstrous Man-Bat creature.  The Batman: The Animated Series theme is wondrously woven in to the adventurous, exciting score that the conveys the energy and action of Batman’s vertiginous mid-air battle with the Man-Bat while establishing the series’ dark, brooding tone.

Other stand-outs for me include the creepy, almost child-like theme for Harvey Dent, tracking his descent into madness as he becomes the creature … [continued]

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Top 10 Movies of 2008! — Part Two!

Today we continue my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2008!  Scroll down (or click here) to read yesterday’s installment, listing numbers 10-6 and several honorable mentions, if you missed it.

5.  Tropic Thunder — Ben Stiller’s evisceration of Hollywood actors and their quest to win Oscars by making “serious” movies is one of the funniest films in recent memory.  Somehow Stiller was able to corral an astonishing group of actors and comedians (Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, Bill Hader, Matthew McConaughey, and many more) into the project, creating one of those special films in which every single scene has about ten funny things going on.  Special attention must be paid to the brave work by Robert Downey Jr. (as Australian actor Kirk Lazarus, a man so “method” that he dies his skin black to become the Afrian-American character Sgt. Osiris) and Tom Cruise (buried under a hilariously hideous hairy fat-suit as studio head Les Grossman), who turn in two of the best performances of the year.  Though not the type that will win Oscars!  (Click here for my full review.)

4.  Religulous — Comedian Bill Maher partnered with director Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Borat) to create this movie in which Maher travels around asking people questions about religion.  You might not agree with Maher’s views, but it is impossible not to respect someone willing to ask straight, tough questions of believers.  (Well, not impossible, apparently, as Maher’s film certainly angered some.)  Maher speaks with members of various different religions and denominations, both religious leaders and common people.  He demonstrates a surprising (to me, at least), gentleness with most of the people he questions.  Whatever your faith, the issues that Maher raises are important ones to consider, and it doesn’t hurt that the film is also absolutely hysterical.  (Click here for my full review)

3.  Man on Wire — This extraordinary documentary looks behind-the-scenes at Philippe Petit’s incredible achievement of walking on a high-wire strung between the roofs of the Twin Towers in NYC back in 1974.  The audacity of Petit’s artistic crime is astounding to contemplate, and this film provides an insightful peek into the years that Petit and his friends spent planning the event.  It also explores a variety of ideas about art and human accomplishment.  Amazing.  (Click here for my full review.)

2.  Iron Man — Director Jon Favreau and actor Robert Downey Jr. created one of the best, most joyful comic book movies I have ever seen.  A fun, funny epic that is also a serious film filled with great character work (as opposed to a camp-fest), Iron Man is everything that a super-hero film should … [continued]

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The Dark Knight Returns: Spoiler-Free Review!

I am almost speechless.

For the past two and a half hours I had my brains pretty much blown out the back of my head by the The Dark Knight in IMAX.

This is a SPECTACULAR film.

It is dense. It is dazzling. And boy oh boy it is dark. It is SHOCKINGLY dark — not in terms of gore but in terms of how brutal it is towards all of the major characters in the film. I’ve heard people compare this sequel to The Empire Strikes Back (sort of the geek Mount Olympus in terms of a sequel), and one way the two are very much alike is that both films are not afraid to pretty much beat the hell out of “our heroes,” both physically and emotionally, for pretty much the entire running time.

This is a Batman story. And the best Batman stories, in my opinion, are the downbeat ones. But the Batman movies to this point, even the very excellent Batman Begins, have always seemed to be rather afraid to veer too far away from the happy ending. In the films we’ve seen previously, Bruce Wayne and co. always seem to be able to find fairly painless ways out, narratively, of the troubles they find themseves in. But not here. Time after time in The Dark Knight, our characters are faced with difficult situations and impossible choices, and no easy exit is presented to them. This makes for an extraordinarily compelling film.

There’s great action in this movie, no question. But this movie isn’t driven by action set pieces. It is driven by STORY, and by CHARACTER. The scenes that I can’t stop thinking about aren’t the car chases (they are awesome) or the fight scenes (they are bone-crunching). Its moments like the scene in which Batman and Jim Gordon must confront a deranged, hopeless man with a gun to the head of an innocent. Or Bruce Wayne’s dinner with Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent. Or the Joker talking about his scars. Those are the scenes that are staying with me long after the lights went up in the theatre. And it is those sorts of intense emotional moments that propel the plot forward, rather than just fight scenes leading to more fight scenes.

Its a long movie, but I was on the edge of my seat right from the opening bank heist through to the absolutely note-perfect ending. Seeing the movie in huge, loud, glorious IMAX certainly enhanced that, but I simply cannot imagine anyone watching this movie in any sort of movie theatre not being intensely gripped by this film. I suppose some might complain that the film is too downbeat. But for … [continued]

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“They only lack the light to show the way”

As an addendum to my list of my five favorite super-hero movies posted at the start of this week, here are three super-hero movies that I consider to be tremendously under-rated:

Superman Returns — I just don’t understand the almost universal apathy or even dislike towards Bryan Singer’s Superman relaunch. I love that this film has a somber, melancholy feel to it. I love that the story creates complicated character conflicts (the Clark-Lois-Superman-Richard love tangle) that aren’t easily resolved by the end of the film. (I was SHOCKED that Richard lived through the movie — and I really respect the filmmakers for not killing him off, thus providing an easy way for Lois and Clark/Superman to get back together.) I also love reverence the filmmakers showed for Richard Donner’s Superman movie — it really tickles me all the times the movie refers to Donner’s films, both visually (the design of the Fortress of Solitude, the use of Brando as Jor-El), and in the echoing of lines of dialogue in the script (such as Superman’s “statistically speaking, its still the safest way to travel,” and the reprise of Jor-El’s message to his son: “You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father… the son.”) The film has weaknesses — there’s not enough action, and Lex Luthor’s plot is pretty stupid. But watch again the plane crash sequence in which Superman reveals his return to the world, and tell me that’s not a magnificent moment of pop-fantasy magic. I’d love to get a sequel to this film to see where Singer takes the story from here, so I hope Warner gets around to making one.

Daredevil — Here’s another movie that I seem to be the only one who likes. As with Superman Returns, there are weaknesses to this film, like some embarassingly dodgy CGI effects. But there’s so much that I enjoy about this movie. I love how down-beat it is. I love how the filmmakers differentiate Daredevil from a more selflessly heroic character like Spider-Man. (This is epitomized by the scene on the rooftop between Matt Murdock/Daredevil and Elektra, in which he hears someone in trouble — but when Elektra asks him to stay with her, he does. Peter Parker would never make that choice — and I love that.) Speaking of Murdock/Daredevil, I know that its a popular sport to make fun of Ben Affleck, but I actually find him to be extremely watchable as Matt Murdock. And the rest of the cast is strong as well — Michael Clarke Duncan, Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, … [continued]