What If MAN OF STEEL Had Been In Color?

man-of-steel

Man of Steel had a lot of problems, and unfortunately Batman v. Superman looks to replicate some of them and add a few more. Which is a shame because Henry Cavill is an awesome Superman and Ben Affleck looks great as Batman.

These folks color-corrected Man of Steel to see how it would look if it were spared Zack Snyder’s monochromatic dreariness. It actually looks like a Superman movie, which would have been nice, though it still would have been a Superman movie in which Clark Kent just stands there and watches his dad be killed by a tornado.

You Have Failed This Series: Why ARROW Kinda Sucks

Arrow

I want to love Arrow, I really do.

Green Arrow has always been one of my favorite DC heroes, and I’m thrilled that he’s got his own very successful TV show which, to be fair, is a damn sight better than it might have been. But that doesn’t mean that it’s as good as it should be.

My relationship with the show has run hot and cold. I watched the first seven episodes and quit. Later, during the second season, several friends recommended I give it another try, reassuring me it had gotten a lot better, so I went back and watched everything from the point I’d stopped. And I was glad I did, because it was getting better, and by the end of second season, it was pretty great. I went into the third season excited to see what the show’s creators would do next, and then things got painful.

Eleven episodes in, basically halfway through the season, I quit again. That was several weeks ago, and this week I decided to give it another chance to get better again, and I’ve now watched up through the season’s thirteenth episode, “Canaries.” And it’s still not must-see TV.

Before getting into what’s wrong with the show, I want to mention some things that are right about it… Continue reading

Batman Strange Days (A New Bruce Timm cartoon)

Last week, I posted a short cartoon Bruce Timm and Zack Snyder made last year to celebrate Superman’s 75th anniversary. I mentioned also that a Timm-directed Batman short — commemorating the Dark Knight’s 75th — was due to be released shortly.

Click on the image below to watch Batman Strange Days, with Timm-style Batman animation applied, I believe, to a story from way back in 1939…

Batman Strange Days

The Joker’s Cold, Cold Heart (ABC Wednesday & Song of the Week, 3/21/14)

The JokerThis week’s ABC Wednesday comes on Friday due to indecision and scheduling conflicts, and I’m combining it with the Song of the Week for efficiency’s sake.

I just completed the video game Batman: Arkham Origins. I’d gone into it with lowered expectations because, unlike the earlier Arkham games, this wasn’t written by the great Paul Dini, and it wasn’t developed by the original outfit, Rocksteady, but by a new developer using Rocksteady’s technical assets. I wasn’t just pleasantly surprised, I was blown away. The writing is probably the best in the games, with a strong storyline and some deeper insight into the characters’ minds; this is a grittier Arkham game (if that’s possible), with a more mature outlook. It operates on a more street-level scale than even Arkham City did, and does wondrous things with a full roster of Batman villains. And it has, by far, the best (and least video-gamey) boss fights in the series.

Most notable was the Joker. Now, for years Mark Hamill has owned this part both in animated and game forms. The fact that he wasn’t doing the vocals here was another point of trepidation. But let me tell you, Troy Baker is a phenomenal new Joker, playing the role with a similar manic energy but imbuing it with a subtle raspy cruelty that, I think, actually suits the character better. This Joker is genuinely creepy, and you get to play through Batman’s very first encounter with him. It’s really astonishing stuff. And if you play, just wait until you get to the Joker’s lair…it’s epic.

So, in celebration of Jokers past and present, I offer up this dark little number for song of the week.

“Cold Cold Heart” by The Joker (Troy Baker)

J

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter K. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, feel free try to check out my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of DoomIt’s been very well reviewed (KIRKUS REVIEWS: “Written in fast-paced, intelligent prose laced with humor and literary allusions ranging from Dante to Dr. Seuss, the story has all of the fun of old-fashioned pulp adventures.”) and is great for action-adventure lovers of all ages.

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Tim Vs. Superman ( MAN OF STEEL Review, No Spoilage)

Superior Super

Better than the movie.

Saw Man of Steel yesterday.

Didn’t love it. Sorta liked it.

If I let myself, though, I think I could hate it.

There are some movies that are deeply flawed but I come out of them loving them anyway because what I remember about them is the good stuff.  The Dark Knight Rises was like that. It fails in some major ways, but it is audacious in what it attempts and gets so much right and is just so thrilling that I loved it (though not with the same passion as I love its immediate predecessor) .

Man of Steel flips that dynamic on its head. It gets quite a few things right, but what lingers in memory are its failures.

The casting is excellent (though Amy Adams, who I generally adore, isn’t as good a Lois Lane as I’d imagined she would be). Henry Cavil is a fantastic Superman. The villains are pretty great (especially Antje Traue as Faora-Ul, who seriously upstages central baddy Zod).

Faora

The action is all very good to excellent, if at times too frenetic and unclear.  The story is smart and restructures the story we all know all too well by now in interesting ways. Largely, the creator’s approach to making a Superman for our time is admirable and successful.

Except…

There is no heart here. There’s a virtual geometry of a heart, pumping away in predictable throbs, but there’s no blood in that geometry, no heat. No humanity. The only truly human moment in the film is when Jenny Olsen (Jimmy’s much hotter contemporary iteration) panics while trapped in a terrible situation…and Jenny is barely even a character in this movie. And it’s the actress who brings the humanity, not the script or the direction. Suddenly, in that moment, I cared for one of the characters on a visceral, rather than an intellectual, level.

The film has absolutely no sense of humor. None. Zilch. I don’t want comedy, I don’t want camp, and I hated those elements in the old Christopher Reeve movies. But I do want wit, I do want humor, I do want irony, I do want to fucking smile every once in a while.

And please. Please please please. Please spare us the Space Jesus crap. Sure, it’s easy to find all sorts of subtext in a Superman story  if you want to (he’s basically more Space Moses than Jesus anyway, and was created by a couple of Jewish kids to boot), but when you start making the subtext hamfisted text it’s just embarrassing. Bryan Singer was guilty of this in Superman Returns too. Don’t bash us over the fucking head with the allegory: having Superman spread his arms as if he’s on a cross isn’t clever, it’s just stupid and obvious, especially when paired with a line of dialogue like “You can save them all…”

Also, spare us the jingoistic military recruitment video before the film that uses heroic imagery of Superman to inspire more kids to enlist to die pointlessly in far off lands. How frigging manipulative and cynical can you get?

There have been a lot of complaints that the movie makers went too dark and gritty with the film, and for the most part I disagree. There could certainly be a bit more color on their palette visually, but it’s fine, and I don’t think the story or characters are too thematically dark. I like the uncertainty and humanity they bring to Superman, and I prefer a noble person struggling to do the right thing to a two-dimensional symbol of heroism who is unfailingly perfect. I don’t mind Superman killing occasionally if he sees the need, though the need has to be overwhelming and clear and earned by the storytellers (there’s at least one big failure on this point in the film).

Overall, I’d give Man of Steel a very shaky B-. I’m glad they’ve done well with it, because I mostly like the elements in the mix and am glad they’re getting to continue with those elements. I just hope that next time they address some of their failures and make a movie I’ll actually want to watch a second time.

“Batman: Arkham Origins” Looks Badass

Batman

Ladies and gentlemen, I am STOKED.

This series is not only some of the best Batman ever, it’s some of the greatest gaming ever. My love for it is already a matter of record.

And yet again a CGI game trailer shows that they really shouldn’t need to be waiting for Hollywood to get its head out of its ass to give us good flicks of Halo, God of War, or other great games, not to mention the possibilities for animated comic book fare.

Comics and Me

Comics

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day. It got me thinking about my relationship to comics.

The comic above,  The Amazing Spider-Man # 119, is the first comic I remember buying. I know I had others before it, but perhaps I didn’t actually choose them myself, but had them given to me. Whatever the case, I remember going into the 7-11 and choosing this comic and reading it. The result was an obsession that lasted for years, and a strong love of the medium that I still retain today.

That said, I can’t recall the last single issue of a comic I bought. I still read bound collections here and there, like the recent “Court of Owls” storyline in the Batman comics. There are some things I buy for my library as soon as they appear, like the incredible cloth-bound library editions of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, or the “Absolute” edition of Warren Ellis’s Planetary. But mostly, I just don’t bother with comics these days.

I still love them. But they’re like old friends who’ve drifted away. I keep up with them via gossip. “Oh, Superman is seeing Wonder Woman? Good for him.” “Oh no, Damian Wayne died? That’s terrible, Bruce must be in agony.” “Peter Parker’s dead? Oh my god, that’s…actually really fucking humdrum at this point, unfortunately. Tell me when he’s back.”

It’s not that I’m not interested in reading them, because I am. But the reasons not to are so compelling. They’re too damned expensive, for one thing; for ten bucks, I can get two or three comic books I’ll read in under fifteen minutes. But that same ten bucks will get me two hours of entertainment at the cinema, buy me a book or ten that will give me many hours of enjoyment, get me ten songs I’ll be able to listen to forever, or even pay for a month of Netflix. Comics just don’t offer much bang for the buck when they cost so much.

It’s also a chore to keep up with them. The big companies love crossovers, and to be honest, so do I. But I’m too busy and distracted to have to follow all related series, and read the issues every month in proper order, in order to keep up with a storyline. The latest Batman mega-arc may be incredible, but if I have to hop spastically from title to title, and research the fucking reading order online, to keep up, it’s too much work for too little joy. You can’t just buy a single title, in individual issues or trade collections, and get a coherent storyline.

So, these days, though I miss them, I’m fine following the lives of my favorite comic book characters through hearsay. And, of course, through other media. I’m re-watching The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon at present, and it’s exceptional. Of course, it lasted just two seasons, and now we have Ultimate Spider-Man, which isn’t. DC’s animated efforts tend to be incredible; we watched the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns a few weeks ago, and it was great. And, of course, there are the movies. That’s where most people get their comics fix these days, and there, for the most part, the companies are getting it right.

Speaking of which, today we’re going to see the new Iron Man flick. Can. Not. Wait.

Superman’s Rash Solution

The Bottled City of Kandor

Today, in honor of Superman’s 75th anniversary, I’d like to share a story…

Not many people are aware of the fact that the Bottled City of Kandor actually uses kryponite-run nuclear reactors for power, and there is a (relatively) huge mass of the element beneath the city. Naturally, mining the ore can be very dangerous for those of Kryptonian descent, and early on even the best protective measures proved insufficient, as miners continued to develop terrible rashes even when wearing highly shielded suits. Superman ultimately solved the problem, of course, by developing a special cream which completely eradicated the rash and even had a mild pleasant scent. This salve is now sold in pharmacies in Kandor under the name “Kal-El Mine Lotion.”

Thank you! Thank you! I’ll be here all week…

CHASE ME (A Charming Animated Short)

Chase Me

This is for Nydia…

A lovely animated short from the creators of the classic Batman animated series, silent movie style, all elegant art and sleek action, with a great musical score.

Enjoy.

The Mother Fucking Space Marines

SPACE MARINES

So corporate bully boys Games Workshop are now insisting they own a trademark on the term “space marine,” which first appeared back in 1932 in the story “Captain Brink of the Space Marines” by Bob Olsen. They had a book by writer M.C.A Hogarth kicked off of Amazon for her use of this common, stock, standard, downright cliché science fiction trope.

From her blog:

Today I got an email from Amazon telling me they have stopped selling Spots the Space Marine because Games Workshop has accused me of infringement on their trademark of the word ‘space marine’.

If you go to the Trademarks Database and look up the word “space marine” you’ll find the Games Workshop owns a trademark on the term “space marine,” but it only covers the follow goods and services: IC 028. US 022. G & S: board games, parlor games, war games, hobby games, toy models and miniatures of buildings, scenery, figures, automobiles, vehicles, planes, trains and card games and paint, sold therewith.

Fiction isn’t included in that list, which means Games Workshop has no grounds on which to accuse me of trademark infringement.

I didn’t get my use of that term from Games Workshop. I got it from Robert Heinlein. Apparently the first use of the term was in 1932. E.E. Smith used it, among others. Also there are other novels on Amazon being sold that have “space marine” in the title. I don’t know why Games Workshop decided to complain about Spots in particular, but my guess is because the Kickstarter made it a little higher-profile than the average indie offering.

This is as bad as Marvel and DC Comics conspiring to share a trademark on the term “superhero,” barring all others from using it. It’s pointless and ridiculous and downright unfriendly to the creative community at large.

As for Games Workshop? Fuck those guys.

(Note: Like that cool pulpy cover I posted up there? You can make your own with the Pulp-O-Mizer at Bradley Schenck’s Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual website, which is a very cool place to visit…)

I’m Reading DC’s “New 52″ Comics (Part 2)

Thousands of readers haven’t battered me with messages asking what happened to my reviews of DC Comics’s “New 52” which I launched here. For those thousands, and the millions who also didn’t mention it, I figured an update was the least I could do.

Frankly, I burned out quickly. Writing even capsule reviews of all these comics proved a more tedious task than anticipated, especially as I started trying to read some of the bad ones. The first I read that I didn’t even remotely enjoy was Men of War, which was half a pound of machismo in a hundred pound box of don’t-know-what-manhood-is. It also tried to embrace the heroism of the military at the same time as it told us the best soldiers aren’t soldiers at all but bold individuals who ignore orders and thus always save the day. Crap.

But it wasn’t until I tried to read Legion Lost that I couldn’t even finish one of the comics. It wasn’t really bad, it was just there. Nothing about the thing, neither story nor art, was remotely compelling. It was basic, serviceable superhero fare, and I described it to a friend as “what people who have no respect for comics expect comics to be at their best.”

I lack the fortitude to force my way through all these books and bother saying anything about them. If you’re interested in reviews, though, the net is full of ’em. I’ve been enjoying Erik Mona’s thoughtful reviews which put my paltry earlier offerings to shame (even though he enjoyed the war comic). You can find them at his blog.

Now don’t get me wrong, the New 52 isn’t a failure, either creatively or financially (as a publicity stunt, it boosted DC’s sales a great deal). There are a lot of problems with it, from really shaky chronological consistency to some really egregious institutionalized misogyny. Also, Rob Liefeld.

But there are some good ideas too, and I particularly enjoyed the treatment of the big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Each of their titles starts off strong, and I’ll be staying with those and a few others in the months ahead.

I’m Reading DC’s “New 52” Comics (Part 1)

As you may or may not know, this month DC Comics relaunched its entire line of superhero titles with a batch of 52 comics all starting at issue #1.

They’re doing this in a bid to increase their readership and market share in a time when comic sales are declining. They’re also fully embracing the digital market for the first time (something neither they nor Marvel have done previously), with every title available digitally on the day of release.

Creatively, they’ve decided to reset the timeline of the stories. The characters are (mostly) younger now, operating earlier in their careers. Some of the previous canon of events are still considered to have occurred (Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon was shot by the Joker, paralyzing her; Superman died and came back in that ludicrous Doomsday storyline used in a previous desperate bid for publicity), some did not (Superman hasn’t married Lois Lane). The mish-mash of what officially happened and didn’t happen, and when, is implicitly perilous to the goal of solid continuity for the DC universe, and could easily spin out of control as everything is juggled by the many creators involved.

The first batch of titles is out, and I’ve read them. Here are my impressions: Continue reading

Laughing My Ass Off: A Hilarious Review of a WTF Batman Story

Whoever you are, whether you’re a Batman fan or not, whether you’re a comic book fan or not, if you like to laugh, you should read the review of Batman: Odyssey at Comics Alliance.

Today, Editor-in-Chief Laura Hudson and contributor David Wolkin sit down and attempt the nigh-impossible task of figuring out exactly what happens in Odyssey, a book that has both challenged and redefined our notions of Batman, comics, and our tenuous grasp on sanity…

Neal Adams is one of the all-time great comic book artists, the man who truly defined the cool modern Batman. For many years as a kid, I had a huge poster of this Adams image on my wall:

Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case in comic publishing, someone at DC thought, “Hey, the man can draw, I bet that means he can write too!” Because after all, writing is easy, right? And they gave Neal no telling how much money to do a twelve issue epic series about Batman. The result seems to be one of the most completely batshit crazy comic book stories in history.

You need to read the review. Honestly. I laughed till I couldn’t breathe while I read it. I had to take breaks so I wouldn’t asphyxiate myself. It’s comedy gold, and I say that as someone who hasn’t even seen the comic book in question.

Deconstructing the Complete and Utter Insanity of Batman: Odyssey

Doc Savage News

I reported a while back that my old friend Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon among other things) was scripting a Doc Savage movie. As many of the folks who’d care most about this sort of thing likely already know, it was recently confirmed that not only is Shane writing the screenplay (along with Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry), he will be directing the film as well. Anyone who has seen Shane’s directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, will know how exciting this news really is.

With Sam Raimi working on The Shadow, it’s looking very promising for pulp adventure in the near future. Now all we need is a Bruce Timm adaptation of Doc Wilde and the world will truly be on the right track.

In related news, DC Comics just released the first issue of their First Wave series, in which they establish an alternate world, outside the normal DC universe, in which pulp heroes operate, and no one has super-powers. The greatest of the heroes in this world is, of course, Doc Savage.

The First Wave series actually began last year with the one-shot Batman/Doc Savage special I reviewed in November. I was underwhelmed, but still hopeful that the actual series would be good.

Well, I just read First Wave #1, and it’s awesome pulp and awesome comics. Brian Azzarello’s writing and treatment of these classic characters honors their roots while at the same time deepening their emotional lives and rooting them realistically into the world. And artist Rags Morales brings the cast to vivid life with a style that’s both realistic and somewhat cartoony, befitting the pulp nature of the work. My only beef with the book is that Doc Savage’s hair color and complexion are still off, though not as badly as they were in the Batman team-up book.

Great stuff.

Good Memories of 2009, Day 1: Arkham Asylum

As I did a year ago, I’m going to list a few things that I truly enjoyed during the recently deposed year, in no particular order. This year, though, I’m going to serialize the list for a few days. Today’s entry is

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Click for more

One of the best damn games I’ve ever played. Written by the brilliant Paul Dini, one of the chief creatives on Batman: The Animated Series, it featured voice work by actors from that esteemed cartoon including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn, and Mark Hamil as the Joker. With incredible graphics and design, the game follows Batman through one very long night on the island whereon the titular criminal madhouse is located, after the Joker takes over and lets many other villains out.

Arkham proves an ideal setting for adventure, coming to life in a way few locations in games ever do and never getting old. The game’s only weakness is in its boss fights, structured, alas, like video game boss fights, and are the only times the game’s contrivances remind you you’re in a game.

In this game, you really get to feel what it’s like to be Batman. Drop into a pack of thugs and efficiently take them down in seconds with acrobatic, bone-breaking martial arts. Steal through the night, lurking in the shadows above armed goons, swooping to take them out one by one without alerting their comrades. Use incredible gadgets to set traps, gather intelligence, and overcome obstacles. Investigate, using your tech and brilliant detective skills to solve mysteries and track your foes.

The character designs are amazing, managing to be original while remaining completely true to the characters’ histories. Killer Croc is dinosaurian and terrifying. The Scarecrow is creepier than ever. The Joker is manic and crazy-eyed. Poison Ivy is more inhumanly sexy than in any prior incarnation. And Batman is an armored engine of dark destruction, whose costume over the course of the game shows more and more damage, and who even gradually develops a five o’clock shadow on his square jaw. The attention to detail in the characters, and the world, is fantastic.

An utterly amazing game, and a sequel was just announced, which creates a flood of endorphins in my system when I think about it.

Batman Meets Doc Savage (and I review the result)

So I just finished reading DC’s Batman/Doc Savage Special, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while.

batdss-01-coverGreat cover by J.G. Jones. Inside…hmm.

As a prologue leading into the pulpy First Wave books DC will start publishing next year, it works fairly well in establishing the alternate universe in which these characters coexist. As a story, it kinda fails. Writer Brian Azzarello brings a noirish attitude to it, and gives an interesting take on the heroes, but narratively it just hangs limply and ends on a trite note.

It’s not helped by the artwork by Phil Noto, which lacks the visual dynamism that comic book storytelling really demands, and the book’s color palate (I assume colored by Noto himself, as no credit is given otherwise) is dreary in an obvious attempt at making it feel more noir. It just makes it seem unexciting.

And I really don’t like Noto’s take on Doc Savage, especially the coloring he’s given.

All that said, I’m still looking forward to seeing what they do with First Wave, though with more trepidation. It will feature art by Rags Morales, and the advance images that have been shown are great, a lot better than the art in the comic at hand.

Also, I have to say, in spite of the underwhelming story in this book, I’m intrigued by Azzarello’s comments and notes about the various heroes who will be operating in this pulp, non-superpowered world. He has clearly studied the original characters in depth and put a lot of thought into fleshing them out psychologically and making them somewhat more realistic than might usually be the case. I’ve seen a few comments by devoted pulp fans who detest this approach to the classic characters they love, but I like well-developed characters, and at least in principle I find Azzarello’s ideas pretty cool.

My main reservation along those lines is that, if this comic is any indication, he may have too much noir and not enough pulp adventure in his approach. This could work fine for Batman, but not for characters like Doc Savage, who really need to be somewhat over the top. More realistic I can enjoy. Mundane, not so much.