Friday, August 31, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Green Lantern Annual #1

I'm going to get this across now: I will not be reviewing the entire Rise of the Third Army crossover as it comes out.

That crossover is going to spread through four titles that I don't normally review (Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians and Red Lanterns), and will last for four months in each of those titles.

That is one hell of a commitment to make, especially considering that Batman will be doing quite a few Joker stories in the near future. I will review what I can do properly and I will definitely talk to you about the trade version once that is produced.

For the time being, though, I will give you my thoughts on the Prologue of this story.

I have only read a few parts of Geoff Johns' runs with the Lanterns, so I can't really claim to be that knowledgeable. I know the stories due to plot synopses I've found and what few trades are present in the comic stores.

So bearing in mind that this is my first chance to see the Johns take on the Lanterns in real time, I will say I was thoroughly impressed. I knew when the Annual's cover was reminiscent of "Death of Superman" that they were going big, and luckily they didn't disappoint.

The main part of the book focuses on two stories. In the main one, Hal Jordan and Sinestro have been buried alive by a black lantern and both have to dig themselves out. Hal is seen first and he is tempted by the prospect of being able to see his father raised from the dead.

He ultimately chooses not to allow it because he's not an idiot and Sinestro comes to his aid once he surfaces. Through the power of teamwork, they bring their rings together, say the Lantern oath and get to work on the fight at hand.

While this is happening, the Guardians have completed their oh-so-gradual turn to insanity and have sought the First Lantern's power to create the third army. They go into the zone where he was kept, which reveals a race of Guardians from a bygone era (even wearing medieval elf clothing.

Turns out they were meant to keep the First Lantern trapped and this leads to a battle between two races of glorified Smurf-people. (And one side actually is dressed like Smurfs.) It's sort of a funny moment if you forget who these people actually are, what's at stake and that they are trying to annihilate each other.

Anyway, bad side wins (Doesn't it always in prologues?) and the old Guardians that weren't stabbed through the neck are kept locked in while the First Lantern is taken to Earth... Just in time for the Guardians to see that their plan is in danger, forcing them to save the black lantern so that he can kill Hal and Sinestro.

Well, I guess Hal and Sinestro won't be around for a while. (And seriously, if this character death doesn't go for at least a year, this was a complete waste.) To be honest, it was an impressive character death and one that really made the book awesome. If they actually give the developments here some staying power, this story could have a really monumental feel to it.

The supplemental story is about the Guardians using the First Lantern to create the Third Army, and it is absolutely chilling. I won't give much away, but the revelation of how they plan to create warriors without free will (coupled with the first recruit's creation), will definitely make you want to see how this turns out.

The art in this book is really good and really supplements the story well.

Overall, this book is worth anyone's time, even someone who doesn't regularly buy Green Lantern. The story is accessible enough for anyone and it serves as a great hook for the coming crossover event.

If you can find copies still (a big if, considering it took me multiple stores to find one), it's a worthy buy, even at $4.99.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Batgirl #11 and #12

I had been considering just leaving Batgirl out of my comic rotation altogether, as I consider it to consistently be the weakest of the five books that I've been reviewing.

That said, I'd be remiss if I didn't close out its first year post-New 52 since I've still been getting the book in my pull box. I'll run through the stories and then share my thoughts on Barbara Gordon's first year back in active duty

Issue #11

I was very impressed with this issue. As a matter of fact, it's one of the reasons why I decided to do these Batgirl reviews.

This issue, provided you can find it, which should still be easily possible, showed Barbara actually behaving competently. She knew what was left in her utility belt and was analyzing the battle the way she would have as Oracle. I really appreciate that.

Batgirl is - once again - fighting meta-humans in this book, and she requires the help of the cop who has had a vendetta against her to sneak her off. It is at that point that the cop, who is connected to the villains from their attempted escape at Arkham, explains Knightfall's backstory and a few of the side villains' powers.

However, this ultimately serves as a lead-in to the next installment, as the last page shows Batwoman spying outside while the dialogue completing talks about being careful as to what side a person is on.

I was legitimately interested by this issue and it actually brought me back from pulling away from the book.

The side story of Barbara's brother dating her roommate while clearly giving off a "I'm still a psycho" vibe was really chilling and fun to read.

Barbara appeared very skilled and it was fun watching the fight. For the first time since the reboot, there was a Barbara Gordon story that didn't focus on her legs working again and was just her doing her thing to the best of her ability.

Issue #12

And then we got to the follow up and boy, did this book get me angry.

Ignoring for a second the story, which ends on a cliffhanger that is very upsetting given that it will take two months to reach a conclusion, my biggest complaint is with the Batwoman-Batgirl crossover.

What aggravates me is that Batwoman basically hands Batgirl her ass in the fight. And then after that, there is a scene where Barbara talks about how Batwoman has reminded her what it means to be a hero and WHAT AM I READING?!?!?

I get that Batwoman (despite having about the same experience as Barbara) is supposed to be the bigger deal and should be able to win fights. And I also get that JH Williams has returned to the Batwoman book and the stories aren't as incoherent crap now, and they want to push the character.

But I also understand what a crossover should accomplish: Make both characters, especially the title character of the host book, look amazing. Even Bruce Wayne took clean hits from Barbara in his cross with her, and pre-Flashpoint Damian Wayne took clean hits in the Stephanie Brown Batgirl book.

Having the character whose importance is measured by their book take a beating from a fellow hero IN THEIR OWN BOOK makes them look bad by comparison. It makes the reader wonder why they are paying for a Batgirl book if even the creative team there thinks there are better female heroes in her own family of Bat-heroes.

There wasn't even a thought bubble where Batwoman acknowledges Barbara's toughness. She's basically just a thug who swoops in, whips Barbara's ass and then is talked down when she realizes she's fighting the wrong people. Ugh.

This is not helped by a cliffhanger that shows Batgirl unable to defeat the villains of her book while Batwoman is downstairs beating the tar out of henchmen. This was just a spit in the face of this character.

If you can get past that, though, it isn't a bad plot. You don't get much in the way of motivation, but you see all the abilities the villains have and at least see a (fairly gruesome) resolution to the kidnapped car thief thing.

Overall, I don't know what to make of this title. The art was amazing in both, and I want to like this character because I loved her older stories and loved both successors to the Batgirl mantle (even if neither has existed yet post-Flashpoint). But Gail Simone made the wrong Bat look good and has been fairly inconsistent recently.

Hopefully the Joker's return will make for a trip back to interesting after this arc concludes.

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Comic Book Reviews: Justice League #12

I will freely admit this: I bought this for the cover and what I knew was going to happen with Superman X Wonder Woman.

It's not that the JL's book has been bad. I've read through the first arc (Issues 1-6) in trade paperback form and it was pretty good, actually. I am really upset that Cyborg is getting his origin in the Justice League that in the Teen Titans, but if Wolfman-Perez is getting written out, then this is a good way to honor the character.

I also feel like the first arc, at least in the beginning, was a gigantic love letter to Superman. It's more balanced now, but the key to making the League interesting is acknowledging that each has a skill set that makes them a threat to the other:

Superman: Power and most expansive superhero abilities
Wonder Woman: Superman-like abilities but improved agility and fighting arsenal at the cost of power
Batman: Best strategic ability and weaponry that could take out a superhuman
Green Lantern: A power with no true limit (only limited by how strong the holder's will is)
Flash: Unmatched foot speed and the ability to vibrate through obstacles
Aquaman: Control of 70 percent of the earth's surface and nearly unbeatable under water
Cyborg: Ability to do damage from a distance with weaponry and competent with most everyone else's abilities

Having Supes just shame Hal Jordan and Barry Allen in the early encounter seemed to lower their momentum, but like I said, the unit has shown more balance lately.

Anyway, with this being the last issue of the second arc, I was ready to read through this once and put it away for collection purposes. But this actually was a great jump-on point.

What really helped was that the first few pages did an "Entertainment Tonight"-esque report on what's been happening in the last few issues so that the stage was set for what was about to happen. This evidently replaced a side story, Shazam!, that has been shaming the main book lately.

I'm guessing when they knew they were doing the Superman-WW thing, they realized it would be wise to make this new reader friendly. Most were probably disappointed, but it really did help me. I'd recommend this highly as a jumping-on point.

The story opened with all the heroes seeing their dead relatives' ghosts, who wanted them to stay in the ghostly realm. This is proven to be a clever ruse and it leads to an interesting fight sequence that showed off the heroes' abilities well.

What really sells the book, though, is the post-battle backlash. The heroes begin to wonder if the manner in which they have fought crime has been a valid method and whether they need to be smarter about how they go about it.

Hal Jordan takes himself out of the picture in time for his massive crossover (more on that when I can find a copy of the GL Annual), Aquaman tries to seize leadership from Batman, and the Flash is... there.

Lastly, Superman and Wonder Woman discuss why a secret identity has value and talk about how they can never truly be one of the regular people, and are attracted to each other's pain.

Admittedly, I can understand Clark and Diana feeling frustrated by their responsibilities, but I can't help but feel like there was a feeling of arrogance in this scene. Superman seemed more down-to-earth, but I felt a horrifying connection to "JLA: Act of God" in this at times. I like what they did; I just wish the writing had been a little sharper.

Needless to say, this is going to get a big buyrate. Heck, only two issues of the normal print of the book were left when I got to my local store, so there will be reprints coming.

This was a really strong issue, and from what I've gathered that's not a consistent occurrence with this series. That said, I will be keeping tabs on this title in the store now. Pick up a copy of this book if you can still find one.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Batman Trilogy Comparison: Nolan vs. Burton Part 2

Welcome back to the comparison. Part 1 can be found here. Let's continue...

Better Supporting Cast

I initially felt like this category HAD to go to Nolan simply by way of the massive span of supporting characters. However, one man made that hard.

Michael Gough, the man who played Alfred in the originals.

Here is a man who's voice is the one I have in my head when I read Batman comics. (Well, him or Clive Revill from the Animated Series, but the voices are very similar). Even though Michael Caine is a great Alfred, he never felt like the icon Gough was.

Gough was exactly what I expected the character to be: an adviser, a confidant and a generally good-hearted older gentleman. That was present with Caine, but his long-winded speeches and almost surrogate father status LONG after Bruce grew up changed the dynamic to a degree.

They're both good, but I love what Gough did and I just couldn't get Caine to ascend above him in my mind. He's really a brilliant actor (and the saving grace of The Movie We Shall Not Speak Of).

All of that said, Gary Oldman plays Jim Gordon brilliantly where his character is almost inconsequential in the originals. Lucius Fox isn't seen in the originals but is key in Nolan's movie, and Morgan Freeman plays it beautifully.

Nolan knew how to make every person's role count, and for that, he gets the point. But because Alfred is the only common major supporting role and was won by the original, I give each a point.

Alfred Winner: Burton Trilogy
Rest of the Cast Winner: Dark Knight Trilogy

Better Fights/Sets/Effects

This is about as much of a no-brainer as can be conceived. The sets in Nolan's movies are modern, sleek and was consistent for three films. Burton's... were not.

The set in the first film was a dark, dreary city reminiscent of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. Returns does that as well, but it's made even more ridiculous, almost delving into the surreal and supernatural when Penguin's areas are shown. Forever diverged completely and went for a realistic city look that had been beaten over the head by Vegas neon.

It really changes the feel of the movies to have such different sets, and Nolan understood that he had to keep a consistent look to maintain a trilogy.

Effects are obviously Nolan's. He had better technology and better equipment. If you want a specific, go watch Bale and Gyllenhal fall from the Wayne penthouse in TDK and compare it to Pfeiffer getting shoved out the window in Returns.

Fights were going to be the original's simply because Pfeiffer's scenes were easily the best of the first five films. However, TDKR's scenes between Batman and Bane (and some of Catwoman's) were just great and I'd now call it a wash if not slightly toward Nolan.

All of this is really one setting of comparison, and so the whole point is Nolan's with no special caveats for Burton this time.

Winner: Dark Knight Trilogy

Better Overall Batman Story Arc

This is kind of the big one, and with the score 4-3 to Nolan, it's certainly key to this contest.

For this, I am taking execution of acting skill out of the equation. I have also taken many plotpoints out as well. I'm only talking about the overall Batman character arc, which is really what a Batman story boils down to at its core.

The story of Bruce that I took from Nolan's trilogy is that of a man who was broken early on in his life and had to break from that being in order to grow past it.

Losing both parents the way Bruce did is a tragedy for anyone in that position, but unlike most, who move on by using that pain to drive their lives forward, Bruce fell into a state where he both wanted to honor and avenge his parents.

He wanted vengeance and to kill Joe Chill, but when he couldn't, he turned to fighting and terrorizing criminals as a means of revenge. But at the same time, he knew his parents detested murder, and Rachel's message of his parents being ashamed of his vengeful nature causes him to honor them by refusing to kill.

Because Chill was never dealt with by him directly, he sees no purpose for himself beyond cleaning the city as Batman. Rachel remains as his only link to life beyond the Manor as Bruce, and when she is gone (and Batman is no longer as needed), he gives up on life besides as a recluse.

The end of TDK also establishes that all this has given him the message that the truth may not be good enough (Bullshit!) and he and Gordon choose to lie to the public. That message is revealed to be utter crap, and it further pushes Bruce to not fear death, and in many ways desire it.

It is in TDKR that, through both Catwoman's reviving of his energy as well as Gotham's peril, that he sees that he has reasons to care and reasons to fear death, and his time in the faux-Lazarus Pit helps him to get that fear pumping through him. However, rather than simply reconciling his past and choosing to honor his parents' name as Bruce, he decides life would be easier with a clean slate and kills off both Bruce Wayne and his version of Batman.

The thought of wiping the slate clean seemed to be a running theme for both Bruce and Selina, but with Bruce it almost feels like an escape. He never truly dealt with his parents in a healthy manner and decided that the only way to get away from his life as a Wayne was to end the Wayne persona (and by extension, the bloodline). It's a happy ending, as Bruce and Selina are able to be happy without their old identities, and they presumably grow up there, but it is a poetic end to very flawed individuals.

Burton's story never really had an outright theme... until Forever. Joel Schumacher, for all the hell he gets, turned the series from random Batman fights with arch villains into a story about a man reconciling his pain and feelings of revenge to legitimately become a grown-up, heroic individual.

In the original film, Bruce is pretty reclusive and very focused on his parents' deaths. It's clear that he is in pain, but he isn't really dealing with it. Ultimately, when he finds the killer (who should NOT be the Joker, but is), he is able to fight him and ultimately see his end.

However, that is not enough for him. The Batman in Returns is far more aggressive, even blowing up henchmen in the movie. It's a clear step away from established Batman mythos and actually is an annoyance that I berated in the individual film.

But in the context of the trilogy, this is a natural step and is touched on later. When Selina Kyle has a chance to get revenge on her "killer," Bruce tries to appeal to her better nature, specifically due to the growing feelings he was having for her. She chooses not to listen, though, and Bruce never knows for sure if she survives.

This mark clearly sticks out later on when Dick Grayson wants revenge on Two-Face for killing his family. He tells Dick even if he got what he wanted, then what? It wouldn't fill the hole, and so he'd just continue a vengeful path of death to try to understand why he isn't feeling better.

While this is happening, Bruce sees that vengeance - his primary motivation for being Batman - is not a valid reason to do what he does, and this is shown in flashes while he's talking to Chase Meridian. So his motivation is now simply to keep close to Chase, and when it's clear she wants Bruce, he's willing to retire the cowl.

It isn't until Riddler kidnaps her and blows up the original Batsuits that he comes back with a new, armored suit (kind of like how the Power Rangers changed Zords and suits to signal an escalation or change in the battle). When he is forced to choose between saving Robin and Chase, and manages to do both, he makes a realization that he says to Riddler is the answer to his riddle, "Who are you, Batman or Bruce Wayne?"

He says, "I'm Batman, and I'm Bruce Wayne, not because I have to be, but because I choose to be."

As weak as that line is, it's a monumental shift in the story and is a full rounding out of Bruce's journey.

In the beginning of the trilogy, he sought revenge on criminals by being Batman, and when he had to explain it to Vicki Vale, he admitted that even he didn't understand it, but he did what he did because "no one else can."

By the end, he not only has dissected his motivations, but he has moved past them. He is no longer shunning his Bruce half to be Batman; rather, he is embracing the Bruce half so that he may finally live a happy life, but is remaining Batman because he can still do good in that position and, again, "no one else can."

The original trilogy is a story of what all heroes strive for: a reconciliation of their civilian and heroic sides. Nolan's trilogy is in many ways a tragic story of an immature man who ran from dealing with his issues by taking on an alter ego, and then destroyed both personas when he wanted to finally move on from his pain rather than try to rectify the schism between Bruce and Batman.

In many ways, the original trilogy is more a complete character story than the remakes.

This sentence feels so weird to say in this order, and I am sure the Internet will explode with rage on this, but...

Because of the story provided by Joel Schumacher, and how it tied together the films while concluding a character arc, I am giving the nod for better main story to the original movies

Winner: Burton's trilogy


Best Execution and Overall film

This really is the deciding factor in this film series, and it's obvious who wins.

While I LOVE the original three films, and in particular the first and third installments, this is a superhero driven by the characters in the universe, and Burton's characters, while creative, were pretty bizarre and at times made me want to avert my eyes (DeVito!)

Both movies take tremendous liberties with the source material, but Burton really diverged from it in order to tell his story. Yes, I suppose a man who is driven to become a bat would be more likely to kill early on in his crusade, but that's what makes Batman who he is - that since his solo comic debuted, he doesn't take a human life.

At times, I felt like the Batman in Returns was the one in the All-Star Batman books. (Geez, could you imagine a film about that psycho?) As I said, it's a great arc for a story, but it's not a good depiction of the hero.

What I find interesting is that Burton's trilogy could name any of its three films as the best, and certain sects of fans would flock to each argument. Those who like superhero, flashy Batman will be drawn to Forever; those who like dark and disturbed go to Returns; and those who like a mixture tailored to mainstream appeal like the original.

With Nolan's movies, I could argue that any film is the best of the bunch, but it doesn't divide the fans into certain sects of tone. The tone stays pretty uniform, which allows the viewer to focus on the story.

And I think that that is the biggest factor in this discussion - consistency. One theme that seems to be running rampant while I've been writing this is that no matter the category, I end up saying "X was done well in this movie, but was just awful in this movie."

While the story itself resembled a trilogy, the movies never felt like that. The second got too dark to the point that it felt like a parody of the first one and had a totally different vibe. And the third was so colorful and comic-like that it bore no resemblance to either of the other two.

Nolan had the advantage of having a trilogy in mind and tying his universe into a uniform look, and Warner Bros allowed him the freedom to execute it clearly. Burton had some restraints on him initially then went crazy with the second one, giving no mind to building a story (beyond a Catwoman sequel that went into development hell and spawned evil embodied through film). The third film had restraints on it and limited the story Schumacher wanted to tell.

It's really not a contest once the execution is taken into account. The better representation of Batman overall, and the better movies overall, are the Nolan movies.

Winner: The Dark Knight Trilogy

In closing, I want to note that even though the modern films are better as a trilogy, the fact that the battle was as close as it was should tell you about what the originals accomplish. They tell an amazing story and really do have a tremendous impact on the world of comic movies today.

It goes to show how great Batman is as a character - that he's able to carry two series and have them both be amazing. Burton's movies should never be disrespected as inferior; rather, they should be celebrated as the groundwork for the successors.

I would recommend any of the Batman films (besides Batman and Robin) to any fan, and I'd even recommend the goofball film to anyone who wants to introduce a five-year-old to the character - provided of course that the TV series, the Animated Series, and the Adam West movie aren't available.

I hope you've enjoyed these last couple of months of Batman live-action retrospectives. Keep an eye out for my thoughts on the animated movies as we get closer to the animated adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Batman trilogy comparison: Burton vs. Nolan Part 1

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the 50th post on this blog! And I'm celebrating with the first part of a two-part analysis. (Part 2 is here.)

Now that The Dark Knight Rises has been in theaters for more than a month, I feel comfortable enough to go into the plot of the film and analyze it in the context of the trilogy.

That means for those who haven't yet gotten themselves into a theater and seen the film, SPOILERS ARE HERE. DO NOT READ ON. YOU WILL NOT BE WARNED AGAIN.

Now that that's out of the way, I thought of this blog idea while I was doing last month's Batman-a-thon - specifically, during my review of Batman Forever.

You see, in it, I stated that had the film series not gone to a ridiculous low by adding to the story with Batman and Robin, the crew had actually created a decent trilogy. They could have ended Burton's Bat-verse right there and I don't think anyone would have gone into a psychotic rage over Joel Schumacher's work (or at least not to the extent that it would have been a death knell for his work in the superhero industry).

In an effort to make that point (and to aid my belief that if I continue to bury B&R from my discussions on the hero, it will drive the film further and further from public consciousness), I've decided to do an Old vs. New comparison of the first three films against the trilogy of Christopher Nolan movies.

To further set this as a trilogy vs. trilogy battle with reasoning besides "I hate B&R," I am dubbing it: Burton vs. Nolan. This is because Tim Burton was involved in all three movies, albeit only as a producer in Forever. 

If you're wondering what an Old vs. New comparison is like, let me show you the version that the Nostalgia Critic does:

Basically, it's like this except I will the movies will be compared as a whole, rather than film by film. But the idea is the same - I'll compare areas of the movies (like I did with the Batman Awards) and choose a winner. So here we go!

Best Batman: Michael Keaton/Val Kilmer vs. Christian Bale

This battle, much as I've done in the past, is only based on the time that the character is Batman. Bruce Wayne and Batman should, by definition, have a stark contrast and should be played and judged separately.

I have said in past posts that Michael Keaton is the best Bat of the bunch. He has the ability to be threatening regardless of the circumstances. He could be silent, giving serious dialogue or even grinning, and he is still the kind of guy who would terrify a criminal.

Val Kilmer, meanwhile, was good but not amazing. When he took over for Keaton, it was clear the threat would diminish. He still was legitimately a good Batman but that was more of the iconic suit than anything.

He couldn't serve as a three-dimensional Batman and as such lost a lot of luster when he played the character as anything but stoic and business-like. I will give him points for feeling more heroic and like a superhero than his predecessor, but a lot was sacrificed to get that feeling and if anything, I'd say that what is lost is what really makes Forever feel different from the other two of the trilogy.

Christian Bale has the advantage of being able to play the character in all three films. As such, the character never really changed in terms of how he was portrayed. His biggest drawback is that his voice always makes him sound like he's enraged and trying to be tough, whereas Keaton and even Kilmer at times could feel threatening without forcing themselves on the audience.

I ultimately grade on a trilogy-wide scale and as such, I'm going with Bale because of consistency. His performances were probably around an 8/10 each time whereas the original series diminished each time from probably an 8.5 down to a 7.

It's close, but the Bat had better writing and a set plan the second time around.

Winner: Dark Knight Trilogy

Better Bruce Wayne: Keaton/Kilmer vs. Bale

Bale once again showed consistency while the K&K express had a stark difference in performance. The difference, however, is that while Batman performances got weaker, the Bruce Wayne character got better with time.

For all Keaton did right in the first film, his Bruce was merely serviceable. I could feel his pain at times, and I get that they were going for subtlety, but he played his part so coldly and dark that I never really got into the Bruce character.

I didn't feel like there was a contrast from the alias to the hero, where Bale played the part with much more of a difference in persona. In the video above, the Critic said that he thought Bale was too odd as Bruce and that gave him away as Batman while Keaton would be a surprise given his actions as Bruce.

I disagree completely. If I saw Bale's Wayne, I may see him as eccentric, but especially in the first two movies, he just seems like too much of a dumbass to be a threat like Batman is (very much as Bruce was portrayed in older comics).

Keaton seemed to be far more realistic a choice as Batman with his Bruce. He came off as an oddball who kept to his estate and realistically could have slept with about a dozen cats - the kind of person who would be maniac that compulsively must scare the bejesus out of poor people.

However, in Returns, Keaton is far better. He starts to come out of his shell and his billionaire playboy contrast is better seen. He's clearly a competent businessman and has a far more natural charm. He's not the best here, but he's better than his first performance by a mile.

Kilmer even steps it up further in his movie. He plays up the one trait that gave Keaton a good contrast: seeming far too weak to threaten criminals. And he even adds to it.

The Bruce in this film is having to deal with his dual identity far more than in the prior installments, and he plays off being a tortured soul perfectly while still succeeding in giving a more relaxed Wayne persona.

As I said, Bale's Bruce was great in that he came off as too goofy to possibly be a concern to villains, but he did have his weak points.

He is very clearly in better shape than Keaton or Kilmer were, and so he couldn't draw on the being weak thing. At one point in TDK, he has to crash his Lamborghini to save someone, and he actually has to talk his way into making Jim Gordon believe he wasn't trying to be a hero. His problem was that he gave off being heroic through body language and actions at times and had to rely on dialogue and almost outrageous behavior to maintain an illusion of incompetence.

Another issue with Bale was that his Bruce never really showed an arc in character. Everything about his Bruce character can be seen in relation to his Batman character.

In Begins, he wants nothing to do with his Bruce persona, and it basically serves as a tool to get to Rachel and keep up appearances in TDK. In the final installment, with Rachel gone he gives up as Batman and Bruce altogether, and only returns as the full-on Wayne persona once he's ready to be Batman again.

By contrast, Keaton's Bruce is very focused on his parents' deaths, and that motivation is what consumes him, not the suit itself. He is drawn out more in Returns to date Selina Kyle. And when she is gone, although he's not as buoyant a personality, he keeps up appearances and is in a position to grow when Dr. Chase Meridian comes into the picture in Forever.

It's a close call, but I'd go with the original trilogy here. The Bruce-Batman personality difference is more shown than told and the character exists more as a true alter ego, not a figurehead.

Winner: Burton Trilogy

Better Villains: Nicholson/DeVito/Pfeiffer/Carrey/Jones vs. Neeson/Murphy/Ledger/Eckhart/Hardy/Hathaway/Cotillard

I'll go into generalizations to keep this section short with individual thoughts when needed.

Jack Nicholson plays an excellent Joker despite the just awful rewrite to the backstory. The Critic is right in that while Heath Ledger's Joker was an agent of chaos trying to spread anarchy, Nicholson was chaos and plan was anarchy.

Nicholson had no plan besides kill people while acting as out of his f***ing mind as possible. Ledger was like a Bond villain in that his plans seem nuts until looking in hindsight, where it becomes clear that everything had been a calculated move.

Ledger was a better Joker in that he felt more calculated and based in the comic character. While not as big a personality as Jack and a little lacking in the humor, the humor was still present while also being terrifying. Jack was never terrifying; he was just nuts.

Eckhart's Two-Face was clearly superior to Tommy Lee Jones' because while Eckhart held his own with Ledger by simply playing the character, Jones seemed to alter his character to absurd levels of over-the-top behavior to keep up with Jim Carrey's Riddler.

Both Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway should be commended on how well they played the part. Overall, I'd call this a wash - Hathaway rocked the leather better, Pfeiffer's fight moves were stronger, and they acted at about the same level.

With Catwoman it all comes down to your personal preference. Do you prefer a lucid Catwoman who behaves like a badass, or do you prefer a sadistic Catwoman who sets goals and will seek their fruition regardless of the collateral damage?

The round has to go to Nolan's trilogy here. Of the remaining villains in Burton, only Carrey played his part well, and it's nowhere near good enough to match Neeson, Murphy, Hardy and Cotillard.

Nolan did the villains right and gave them each plenty of time to be strong characters. It's a quality and quantity issue.

Winner: Dark Knight Trilogy

Better Love Interests: Kim Basinger/Michelle Pfeiffer/Nicole Kidman vs. Katie Holmes/Maggie Gyllenhal/Anne Hathaway

The love interests of these movies each carried major ties to Bruce's character, but I will say that it's more defined in Burton's trilogy.

With Nolan's movies, the Rachel actresses were more symbolic - the normal life that Bruce still wants deep down. Hathaway was the rebirth of those feelings in a package that a man who enjoys beating people up would have to take notice of.

Outside of that, though, they aren't much in terms of love interest. Gyllenhal and, to a lesser extent, Holmes were more martyrs when they weren't with Bruce. They only served to garner sympathy. And Hathaway's relationship is more a Catwoman-Batman relationship than a Bruce-Selina one.

By contrast, the females in Batman's life with Burton and Schumacher served a purpose of developing Bruce's character, specifically Pfeiffer and Kidman. Being around Pfeiffer brought Bruce out into the world far more than in the first film, and the point where he thinks she dies (as I'll point out later) really seems to hit him psychologically.

This comes to a head with Kidman, who as Dr. Chase Meridian may be the best female counterpart in Batman cinema. She is the force that helps Batman to reconcile his two identities and actually allows him to complete his arc of development.

Overall, all of them act well and none of them outright destroy the other in terms of quality. As such, I have to go with the ones who drive the story more.

Winner: Burton Trilogy

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Shipping update: Superman-X-Wonder Woman (Yes, it's actually canon now)

The relationship that once caused an Earth-shattering quake has made it into the mainstream DC Comics continuity.

OK, so that requires some explanation. In Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," Superman and Wonder Women are paired in a relationship, even having a daughter in the process. When Superman is feeling worthless, Wonder Woman revitalizes him by having sex with him in the Fortress of Solitude. This action causes a massive earthquake that literally brings whole parts of nature to their knees.

As stupid and upsetting as that image may seem, many news websites like this one are reporting that the most naturally powerful male and female heroes in the DC's main Earth are a thing now.

Don't believe me yet? Check out the cover:

I don't believe I've mentioned this on this blog before, but although it's kind of cool seeing that much raw power in a relationship, making it quite possibly the ultimate power couple, I really have never been into 'shipping SupesXWondy.

Superman is naturally attracted to Lois Lane. It's the course of action and the driving drama in Superman's life.

I didn't hold any anger toward the two's marriage being undone by the Flashpoint reboot and New 52 continuity, mostly because universe-wide retconning is FAR less offensive than something like "One More Day" in Spider-Man.

However, this is the first time since Crisis on Infinite Earths that a reboot drastically changed Superman's stories, which means a whole new generation could be turned on to the building Superman-Lois dynamic, but they won't really have that in this story.

The positive of all this is that it is set in the Justice League's book, which is farther back in time than most New 52 books, so the whole Lois Lane thing might not be too far off. And for what it's worth, I do prefer this to WondyXBatman, which is kind of an annoyance in a comic universe where Batman remains a solo, brooding hero who can barely manage relating to his Bat-family let alone a demigod.

This really is the first chance the mainstream DC Universe has tried its hand at this relationship, and it should be interesting to see how Superman handles a girlfriend who is right on par with him in terms of superhuman abilities.

All that said, I am a fan of the classic, and I hope to see something involving Clark and Lois at some point. Until then, though, I am going to give this a shot.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Nightwing #12 and Red Hood & The Outlaws #12

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The first year of the New 52 concludes next week, and since this past Wednesday's Red Hood and Nightwing releases are the final two same-week reviews I'll be doing before the #0 issues come out, I figured I'd share my thoughts on the reboot.

So far, I have been a fan of the reboot, at least in terms of the storytelling. Jason Todd has finally got compelling, post-"Under the Hood" stoires; Scott Snyder has forged incredible additions to the Bat-verse with Harper Row and the Court of Owls; Nightwing is getting a chance to revisit his origin and truly grow directly from it; Barbara Gordon's Batgirl is gaining a modern audience through a decent title; Superman's early years are being developed well with Action Comics; Wonder Woman and Aquaman have received great books (that I unfortunately have been unable to purchase, but I'll be sure to grab the TPB versions and give my thoughts); and Dial H is back.

All of that said, there have been plenty of issues with it. Batman's timeline is cramped, but I'll hold judgment until the #0s are out.

Batman Inc. was a cool idea before the reboot, but now it feels added on and unnecessary.

I'm not sure if Cassandra Cain existed and am almost certain Steph Brown hasn't, so I'm a little angry about that.

Cyborg is in the Justice League but almost certainly not the Titans, and that deeply upsets me.

Beast Boy is red, which just pisses me off.

Restoring the multiverse adds the annoying complexity that I thought the reboot was supposed to help eliminate (though that world's Lantern and Flash are good characters). And the Teen Titans and Ravagers have been completely pathetic.

Taking it as a whole, I'd say the money-making characters have fared pretty well and I hope Scott Lobdell is able to put a strong run together with Superman. And low-tier heroes are now getting space

The reboot hasn't been as kind to second-level heroes or most of Batman's classic rogues, but to this point, as a Batman fan, nothing has been done that can't be made to work, so I will say that the reboot was a good call.

Now PLEASE do not have a status-quo shifting crossover for a while. A. LONG. While.

Anyway, to the reviews!

Nightwing #12

Nightwing's arc with the Tomorrow cult comes to an end here, and all the stuff that didn't make sense when Dick had his revelations in #11 are seen here.

I do love how Dick Grayson has been seen as an amazing detective in his own right in this book. Obviously, it's been in place before and he does make mistakes at times, but it really feels prominent in this book. Good stuff.

Some complexities are added to his relationship with Zucco's daughter, and it turns out he really did understand what was going through her head... but not all of what she was thinking. I have a feeling this thing between them will end terribly, but until then I shall enjoy it.

I will acknowledge that the art is weaker than before and the layout of word bubbles is just horrible. If you take a little extra time, you won't be confused by them, but it is a pain.

Art/layout issues aside, it's a good story and I'm interested for what origin changes have been made next month.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #12

Scott Lobdell seems to me like a writer who has good ideas but who needs time to put them together. The problem with "The Culling" during his Teen Titans run was that the whole thing felt hurried and should have been given more think-through time so that it didn't turn into an utter mess.

RHATO is an example of how, given enough time, he'll make a plot amazing. In one year, Lobdell went from spitting on the 80s Starfire and only intelligently working one character at a time, to providing a fresh take on Kori's world and persona and making all three members of the group likable badasses.

Roy Harper's narrations and humor have made him just a fun character to read, and Jason managed to play a tough guy with Isabel while still appearing naturally warm and funny. I don't even know how that's possible.

Jason has gotten less space in these last few issues than the others, andI still feel like stuff is being accomplished with his character.

But Kori is the star of this one, and I am liking this take on the character. In the New 52 world, she came to Earth expecting to be as lonely there as when she was a slave, and although her history with Nightwing is REALLY being glossed over, it's a natural way to react to being sold out by her own race.

Additionally, Blackfire is acting with remorse for enslaving her sister, and it made for a compelling scene in this story. Granted, it may all be a load of crap, but Lobdell has made it so that I'll be happy with whichever route they choose to go with. There are stories to be had in either situation.

The art wasn't as strong with a back-up artist, but it's not a huge drop and definitely nowhere near distracting.

I am absolutely looking forward to Robin No. 2's origin and seeing Lobdell's take on the now legendary story of Jason Todd.

See ya'll for the origins!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Batman #12, Batman & Robin #12

It's nice to be back on a regular schedule again, as it's time to review Batman #12 and Batman & Robin #12.

I was going to do one on Batgirl #12, as I've been keeping up with the arc in the store, but I'll save that for a separate post since it's two issues now that I haven't reviewed.

These issues today conclude the first year of the New 52, and in these two books' cases, they conclude an arc in time for next month's #0 issues to come into play.

Batman #12

This is the first post-Owls issue of the Batman comics, and it is a standalone piece that provides backstory on Harper Row.

For those who are just getting into Batman after the conclusion of the Owls storyline or The Dark Knight Rises, Harper Row appeared in Issue #1 and #7, and actually saved Batman from drowning in the time between Issues #6 and 7 (off-screen).

Harper is actually quite the badass girl, supporting her younger brother, who is apparently gay, financially by working on underground power lines.

She attends Bruce Wayne's benefit in celebration of his remodeling of her run-down neighborhood, only to find that bullies/hate criminals have annihilated her and her brother's home.

This leads to one of the scenes that makes Batman such a likable character. He finds the two cornered by these jerk-offs and beats the living crap out of them, and finishes by warning them he'll be back if they mess with Harper or her brother again.

I absolutely love this. It shows that no crime is considered to be beneath Batman. One of the things I love about DC's iconic heroes like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman is that they really are heroes someone can look up to. They epitomize helping anyone with problems and holding to a set moral code - something that might not be the most realistic, but something that fans expect from their heroes and serves as a goal that fans can aspire to attain in their own lives.

Anyway, Harper is done brilliantly in this book. She uses her own strong detective skills to figure out how Batman does what he does, though the fact that she seems very unaware of Bruce and Batman's connection leads me to believe that Scott Snyder has not been writing with Batman Inc. in mind (not the worst idea, actually).

This book introduces a character competently and gets the reader emotionally invested in the story, something that so few people can execute properly. This is a great jump-on point for new readers. Also, with Snyder looking to explain this six-year Batman history next issue, and a big Joker storyline after that, this will be a good next few months for Snyder's Batman.

Batman and Robin #12

The last three issues of this book have been one REALLY good storyline tied into a REALLY bad storyline. Both come to a head here.

Evidently, Terminus is now in the fight, and he has a countdown clock for the moment he is going to die. He demands revenge on Batman (for something that is STILL NOT EXPLAINED!) and has made him fight in broad daylight.

This of course causes Batman to go under his car to dawn a second Iron Bat suit (because Bruce has to prove he's richer and better than Tony Stark), which proves completely useless in battle until the very end.

While this is happening, all the former Robins come to aid the Duo, showing that they're all in this together. Why we couldn't at least get a token Jason-Bruce conversation is beyond me. Maybe Scott Lobdell and RHATO's crew have dibs.

Ultimately, Batman is left to do what he seems to do best in every medium the past few years: manually ride a doomsday bomb with his death being a very realistic possibility.

The artwork for this book is great, and Nightwing's conversation with Damian really serves as the best end to the "Damian VS." arc. The problem is that it was surrounded by a main plot that made very little sense and was really not that interesting.

I seem to recall that this is leading into a mega-event in a few months. I hope so because this has been utterly painful to sit through. Damian was the only thing keeping me interested in this book the last few months. Maybe there should be a lesson taken in that, Peter Tomasi!

Well, keep up with the blog, as I have Batgirl reviews coming this week, and next week is Nightwing and Red Hood's turn at bat. Also, be ready for my comparison of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy and the three films Tim Burton worked on. I guarantee you there will be debate!

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Why I ... Prefer plot-based to standalone

The next few non-comic review blogs on this page are going to spark some HUGE debates, I would expect.

Following the success of the Batman-a-thon, I intend to do a trilogy comparison, comparing Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy to the three Batman films Tim Burton was involved with. That alone would spark debate, but the fact I plan to give the originals any credit may break the Internet.

(Note: Burton HAD to have been either a director or producer, so Batman and Robin will not be included. Only Batman, Returns and Forever.)

Additionally, I will be doing a second Batman-a-thon for animated Bat-films, in honor of the upcoming release of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns Part 1.

Lastly, I will count down my 10 favorite animated series of all time. These always draw interest online, and I plan to give a lot of credit to shows that may not get as much credit as they should.

One thing that I have noticed while going through cartoons for this list is that it's more of a list of shows that either started after I was born or were active when I was born. Despite the fact that I do love shows like Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes and The Flintstones, they never really came into my consideration.

Part of that may be the culture. The cartoons that came around in the 1980s and 90s were marketed to children of the era, and so I related to them. But I believe something else is at play here.

I've talked with many of my friends about the differences between shows that are plot- and continuity-based vs. shows that base themselves in standalone episodes. It is no question that I consider story and plot to be tremendously important, and as such, I'm more drawn to shows that follow that model.

That's not to say that standalone shows can't be good – heck, can't be great. I get plenty of enjoyment out of shows like Animaniacs, Family Guy, The Simpsons and South Park. Very few of those episodes have long-lasting effects on the show as a whole but still are loved.

Plus, shows do both. There were loads of filler episodes in Dragon Ball Z (Saiyans on Arlia) and there have been Family Guy episodes that set a new status quo in the universe (James Woods and Diane Simmons being killed off). Heck, those shows can even be really good.

However, there are distinct advantages to universe-building and going into a season (or entire series) with a game plan as to where you're headed. So here's a brief list of reasons I consider plot shows to be in a better position to be legen- *wait for it* - dary.

1. Characters progress naturally

One of my biggest complaints with shows that don't have a plan is that, sooner or later, characters become known for certain qualities, and those qualities are pushed to the nth degree until the character is basically a parody of itself.

Need some examples? How about Peter Griffin? Peter was initially an idiot, but he at least was self-aware and was able to see when he messed up. Now, they've actually made him so dumb and oblivious that they had to declare him dumb to the point of mental retardation in order to make it plausible.

Plausible. In a show with talking dogs and babies.

Now, it may be that it also might garner Peter some sympathy. But don't you think there is something wrong when your character has become so annoyingly out-of-touch with logic that you have to make excuses for him?

Another is the Spongebob-Squidward dynamic. Initially, Spongebob was an idealist with a childlike personality who wanted Squidward's friendship. Squidward was a dry character who refused anything that didn't fit a very myopic worldview, and so it's easy to root for Spongebob to bring Squidward out of his shell and to a less abrasive level.

Since the show's theatrical release, however, Spongebob's naivete has been replaced with stupidity. And what had been following Squidward like a brother, is now stalker-like horror.

Meanwhile, Squidward has become an epitome of high-life desires. He wants to be successful, but the town shuns anything resembling high art, and Squidward is in a state where he is only allowed to be happy if he gives in to Spongebob's increasingly ridiculous demands for friendship.

What had been initially charming characters for a show are now annoyances who need a total overhaul.

With a show like "Avatar: The Last Airbender," the maturing of the characters is done in a reasonable time frame. Their growth is based on events happening to them, and although characters like Zuko have changes in character, they are still within the initial frame of who the character is.

Bottom line: Plots allow characters to come full-circle. Standalones keep a status quo until ideas run dry and a new status quo is needed, which brings me to part two.

2. There is little-to-no carryover from one story to the next.

This one's kind of a given, but it underlies the real problem:

2a. There is no urgency to see a story, and no story rises to a memorable level on its own power.

When Dragon Ball Z was on, every episode was a must-see for fans. Either major plot points were going to be hit, or a filler episode was going to give more insight into a character.

With a show like the Fairly Oddparents, there's nothing really that needs to be seen to understand the show. Even Timmy's parents' first meeting has been altered, so no episode (with the exception of the one where Poof is born) makes any real change to the basis of the show.

And because there is not a base where viewers all HAD to watch a storyline conclude, nothing is ever added to the character's mythos.

Spongebob Squarepants advertises new episodes all the time, and they even occasionally tease something mind-blowing will happen. But it doesn't, and most fans forget the episode.

To explain the importance of mythos, here's a perfect example: You could ask 100 people what the best Spongebob episode is and have no episode get more than about 3 votes. By contrast, you could ask Avatar fans which episode is the best and most likely have no more than 3 different answers.

The reason is that plot-based shows build to a conclusion, so if the show is good, then every fan will gravitate to the conclusion of that plot point. Standalone-based shows are there to entertain at a viewer's leisure, so there's no point where the whole fan base needs to see something. And that can lead to the third point:

3. Plot-based shows engage fan bases more

Let me clarify by saying this: Standalone shows have BIGGER fan bases. They draw in viewers who are just passing through channels because there is no story needed to understand what is happening. In that sense, standalones are more fan-accessible.

HOWEVER, that does not mean that the fans have anywhere near the same investment in the characters or story.

Spongebob viewers don't really think about the show when it's not on (which is almost never because Nickelodeon is like Elaine Benes from Seinfeld: sponge-crazy) because there's no depth to the story.

By contrast, there are debates all the time with plot-based shows. Was the Terra in the last "Teen Titans" episode the real Terra? Was Mystic Gohan the most powerful canon unfused DBZ fighter? If bending is spiritual, how can it run through a bloodline? (By contrast, if it was genetic, then why is Katara the only waterbender in three generations of family?)

There are so many discussions on what changes are made to the universe with each passing episode that whole podcasts and blogs are devoted to the task of making sense of it all.

And the relationships. Oh, the relationships.

These things are big to the point that according to my go-to Avatar/Korra podcast, From the Spirit World on the Dongbu Feng site, that message boards from the original show are filled with zealots who will treat you like a bat at an Ozzy Osbourne concert if your relationship of choice conflicts with theirs.

Now, is the world a better place when people exist who treat TophXSokka in such high regard that liking Suki as a character (to them) equates to slapping their mom in the face with you privates? I don't know, but it's certainly funnier.

Moreover, it gives the program a place in the world beyond its airtime, which will add to its legendary status in the long run.

Ultimately, I don't want anyone to think that I consider standalone programming to be inherently inferior, and I don't consider plot-based to be inherently superior.

I will freely acknowledge that I love shows that reset their plot. Shows like Animaniacs, South Park, Futurama and (pre-movie) Spongebob are excellent programs that get a lot across and show an interesting, if not ever-changing, universe.

By the same token, when continuity-based programming isn't executed well or fails to deliver on its buildup, it can be downright horrible. Despite being incredibly invested in Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide in early- to mid-high school, its failures in how it advertised the finale turned me off to ever watching the show in reruns as well as most non-animated programming on Nick.

***TIME FOR BACKSTORY: Alright, so I had no major complaints with Ned's finale itself. What bothered me was its advertisement for an alternate ending. I got into the show in Season 2 when it seemed a plot was forming, and had 'shipped with NedXSusie. It was pretty clear to me that the finale was going to go to NedXMoze, and I understood that that was the relationship that had been built based on the framework of the show.

BUT, the notion of an alternate ending excited me as well as my brother and cousins. We assumed Nick would provide a NedXSusie ending (since endgame was the only outstanding loose end in the main plot) and were ready to give credit to the network for doing their loyal fans such a service.

What we got, however, is two full airings with the same ending and then some stupid, tacked-on, 45-second piece of crap where aliens invade and the kids chase them around a hedge maze. At that point, it was clear that this creative team had no desire to produce a compelling program and merely wanted to appeal to the lowest denomination of child viewers.

Thankfully, I had discovered Avatar before this and its crew has kept me around. But ultimately, I had been on the fence regarding Nick's live-action shows and this blatant milking of Nick's goofiness for a higher ratings return turned me off from them permanently. Devon Workheiser and all the Ned crew: YOU ARE ALL HACKS!!!!***

And it's not to say that a show has to be one or the other. Teen Titans had standalone, goofy episodes that actually endeared the show even more. And the original Power Rangers had episodes that caused dynamic shifts in the show, and that made it all the more legendary.

All I'm saying here is that having a coherent universe that builds on itself and allows for fans to grab on and be more active in their fandom gives the show the chance to be more than a show. It becomes a modern myth, something that, when done well like Nolan's Batman trilogy, makes programming truly memorable.

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