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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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 Soldier — Ed 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. Batwoman — J.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]
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]
“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.
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]
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, haven 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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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.
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.
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]
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]
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 HBIO/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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
5. Batman: Under the Red Hood — Bruce 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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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 week. Here 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.
If they ever actually make another Judge Dredd movie, I love the idea of Karl Urban under the helmet.
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]
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]
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?
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]