Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

REVIEW – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (Spoiler-Free!)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Dark Knight Returns

It’s not every day that I get nice things. That changed when my friend won VIP tickets to an advanced screening at the Paley Center in NYC last Thursday. Warner Animation and DC have been doing this lately with their animated showings to get the hype going. And for me to see the 16th in DC’s collection of great animated movies and the most anticipated of the batch is the greatest honor.

For us Batfans, we all know how this goes. This is re-telling the Frank Miller story that not only changed the direction of a famed character to a more darker setting, but helped set that same mood and tone for future stories and characters to come. You can say that DC is still trying to relive that aura with all of their books in the New 52 (almost to a fault perhaps), but the industry itself has been greatly affected by what Dark Knights Returns was able to achieve.

Part 1 gave us the first two books in the saga with Bruce Wayne making his way back to the cowl to face the threat of Two-Face and the Mutants. He picked up a new Robin along the way. Saw the Commissioner hang it up. And Joker woke up.

No question that this was the one long-time fans wanted to see. Joker returning to his sadistic roots and the government lackey Superman will do that for you. What really set this adaptation going was that same mood and tone we got from the comic. This just went to darker places that even I didn’t think DC and Warner would have the guts to do even given the material they were working with. You felt it particularly with Joker’s appearances, which should be no surprise to anybody especially if you’re been reading Scott Snyder’s recent take on the character. I’m surprised the R rating wasn’t considered – guess I’ll see when my Blu-Ray copy arrives.

Speaking of the Clown Prince, give it up for Michael Emerson for giving me terrible nightmares. Something about the character just makes the actor playing him – to borrow a line from the flick – “lose control”. Anybody who’s seen Emerson play Ben on “Lost” can see that manipulative and sadistic side that works well with this character. It’s basically “Dark Knight” Joker times 11 – if that is even possible.

And then we have Mark Valley, fresh off a shortened stint on Human Target, taking on the Lackey of Steel. A fine performance where you didn’t expect much of the character to do much other than be the foil for Bruce that represents what he isn’t. He’s not likable here but yet wants to be because of the choices he made. Even though we know the outcome, it makes the final battle between these long-time friends/adversaries all the more sweeter.

Let’s not forget our regulars from the first showing – Peter Weller keeps the gritty going with a man who knows he’s coming to his end soon. I felt he brought a lot more to this than what was complained about in part 1 regarding his monotone interpretation of his lines. I could have used more “oomph” from his rally speech midway through the film, but it gets the job done. Ariel Winter kept providing some spunk to her Robin character, which was a nice contrast to the grim and gritty mentor she followed.

Sixteen movies done with these adaptations and DC and Warner seem to keep getting better when it comes to animation and fight sequences. They somehow have managed to master the pacing of the 75-minute movie and made it feel like it was more. Say what you will about a Batman in his 50s moving as fast as he does, but it sure makes for some well-choreographed battles.

I’m still conflicted on this and Under the Red Hood as my favorites of the batch. The latter still stays close to me because of how it unhinged itself from the source material (Infinite Crisis was prominent during the comic’s run) and made the story arc even better. But this is the granddaddy that the tone of all Bat books is based off for the last 25 years. It’d be hard not to celebrate it as one of the best. I’ll leave it open and say kudos to DC for once again reminding us for why we became fans.

Batman TAS Retrospective #1 : On Leather Wings

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

As Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment prepare to unleash the final Christopher Nolan chapter in his Batman trilogy with Dark Knight Rises this summer, let’s not forget another milestone this year in the Batman universe. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of Batman : The Animated Series, the series that not only brought mature and sophisticated storytelling to an animated show, but set the stage for countless other DC properties to make animated debuts.

To celebrate this occasion, I’m putting aside the 10,000 other things I have on my Netflix queue to share with you my reviews of every single episode of the acclaimed show. Enjoy!

One would think setting up your first episode with Man-Bat as the villain is a risky venture to try and get your show off and running. Bruce Timm though, a name you’d get to know very well over the next 20 years, said this best in an interview:

“Man-Bat was chosen specifically [for the first episode] because he wasn’t familiar to very many people outside of comic book fans. Nobody had any preconceived notions about him. It wasn’t like the Joker, where you had to deal with people expecting him to be Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero.”

And right you are, Mr. Timm. Looking back at it now, this was the best way to set the tone for what’s to come. Sure, the iconic villains would eventually come into play, but this episode was about letting you know what Batman really personified – a lone detective finding any means necessary to get the case solved without resorting to killing. And I think using that premise to find out who the Man-Bat was played out very well. Not to mention it probably scared the bejesus out of little kids who were expecting lighter fare that you’d come to expect out of a weekday afternoon cartoon at the time.

And while it didn’t resort to killing, this was the first time you’d see a cartoon willfully used guns. Remember before this period that any action-oriented cartoons you had on resorted to lasers as the weapons of choice. And even when your plane was shot down or your tank blew up, you’d find a way to parachute or leap out of the way before the explosions went off.

Yes, parachuting and leaping was still somewhat common in Batman, only the actions sequences were much more intense and in your face. You had a visual masterpiece with Batman clinging onto Man-Bat as they soared through Gotham’s dark skyline. Batman ends up smacking his face on a Gotham blimp. He even bleeds once he finally takes down the fallen antagonist on a rooftop.

And we also got to see Batman’s key supporting characters set up as well. Commissioner Gordon wanted things done right and by the book, Harvey Bullock was the rebel, and Harvey Dent plays it fair for the short time he has left before his fall from grace.

This set the stage for what was to come. I didn’t give this an episode much thought at the time when you compare it to its 84 other siblings, but looking at it now, it did a great job on selling the audience on a comic book property that can be taken seriously, especially in animated form. Kudos to the team for getting this off the ground right.

Review : Star Wars – Darth Vader And The Lost Command

Monday, November 28th, 2011

I don’t talk about it enough on this site, but I am a die-hard Star Wars fan. The movies are typically the first start for anybody who becomes a fan of the franchise and of science fiction in general. Count the endless amounts of novels, video games, TV shows, and, of course, the comics and you see how its influence has affected generations.

Having not dipped into the Star Wars pool for a while, I decided to check out the latest offering in this hardcover edition delving into more of Darth Vader’s past during the days post-prequel trilogy. Vader is tasked with locating Admiral Tarkin’s son and his forces in the Ghost Nebula. One would think this would be an easy task for a Dark Lord of the Sith, but he encounters the presence of the planet’s religious leader in Lady Saro, who bargains for complete control of the sector in exchange for helping Vader find Tarkin’s son. One betrayal leads to another, which allows the artist to show off the full might of Vader’s power. I don’t usually get this excited for art in a Star Wars book, as it tends not to do anything too special, but the pencils show a bit of a Sean Murphy vibe that I appreciated.

The standout from this series was a look into a future that will never come to be for Vader. During restoration sessions, Vader imagines a world where he was still Anakin, Padme was still alive, and they had their son. It’s not a lot of panels, but it conveys a great ‘What If?’ scenario that plays into how Vader handles his situation as he embarks on a plan to kill Tarkin’s son to push Tarkin himself to become more loyal to the Emperor’s cause. The prequel trilogy may have weakened Vader’s stature as a tough and powerful figure, but give credit to the novel and comics writers for trying to make the most of the situation and trying to build it back up.

Haden Blackman and Rick Leonardi gave us what you would come to expect from a Star Wars story – the continuing battle of good versus evil, space dogfights, great characterization, and great art. I only hope whenever the next movies come out (you know they’ll bring it) that this story be used as a template of how to do Star Wars right.

UNDER THE RADAR – House of Night #1

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Normally, I’d get this into my Quick Picks show, but I was so fascinated by its premise that it had to be a post of its own.

We’ve all seen the variations of the vampire mythology. Lately, it’s been swamped by the massive amounts of teenagers that believe vampires should be sparkly (and the upcoming Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1 movie will keep that trend going unfortunately). Scott Snyder’s American Vampire has kept the bloodthirsty side of vampires going for a couple of years, but besides that, not much else to please that side of the mythology.

Dark Horse must have been hearing the cries of that hardcore crowd because in my inbox was a sneak peek of House of House of Night #1, based on New York Times best-selling book from P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

Upon looking at the cover and preview images, one could easily dismiss to be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer knock-off but in Hogwarts, with the premise of a high school girl named Zoey Redbird coming to terms with her “vampyre” blood. But only when you start to learn about how she and her friends come to be part of this species that things to start get intriguing. The goddess Nyx plays a role in defining the vampyre culture, as shown by a flashback to medieval times that gives us some insight as to how this new academy came about. There’s a lot of layers to this mythology to hook you in, while keeping the teen angst that you come to expect from those struggling to accept their place in the world as they grow older.

The art is as fluid and clean as you get. Facial expressions are drawn really well. The flashbacks to a more savage period have a Northlanders and manga vibe to it if you could picture that. Overall, these are pages and panels that you’d want prints of hanging on your wall for sure.

And if that doesn’t entice you, it’s a freaking buck to purchase.

Dark Horse unfairly at times gets classified as a publisher that relies much on big name licensing in stories like Star Wars or Aliens, but they definitely have an eye for the smaller stories that would translate well to larger audiences. Give this one a shot and get a taste of the hemoglobin.

Green Lantern Emerald Knights DVD Review

Monday, June 13th, 2011

It’s Green Lantern week, kids! All week long, we’re going to give you lots of Green Lantern content in preparation for this Friday’s premiere of the live-action flick starring Ryan Reynolds. Give us your thoughts and let us know if you have anything you want to talk about regarding the popular DC character.

There’s obviously been a great concern for Green Lantern as of late. The books are at a climax in the War of the Green Lanterns arc that is not registering well with a lot of fans. They’ve called for a back-to-basics approach, taking the legendary corps back to their space cop roots. And then there was the First Flight animated flick from a couple of years ago, which, while having some high points with Victor Garber as Sinestro and some cool visuals, wasn’t the sales or critical smash DC and Warner Brothers was hoping for. Lastly, we’ve got a live-action showing of the character coming out this weekend that fans are being cautiously optimistic about. There’s no telling what Ryan Reynolds and team will bring to the table and the early trailers Warner Bros. released late last year brought concern, especially when the company admitted that the special effects weren’t fully ready at the time.

That all said and done, we can understand the skepticism going into DC’s 11th animated movie offering in Green Lantern Emerald Knights and whether or not it would do its material justice. Give credit to Bruce Timm and team though for giving the character another shot – and not so much in the sense that they did this because DC and Warner Bros. wanted something to tie into the live-action flick. They took the focus off Hal Jordan this time and centered it on the Corps itself – how it came to be, the personalities behind it, and what makes them a force to be reckoned with. It’s because of that mentality that this anthology ranks this as one of DC’s best animated offerings.

The Story
The story overall is the Green Lantern Corps preparing themselves for a battle with Krona, who is making his way out of the Anti-Matter Universe after the Guardians had banished him there billions of years ago. This gets touched upon in brief moments for the majority of the film – the bulk of it is the Corps sharing their tales of the group to a new recruit, Arisia. We get everything leading into their big, cosmic battle with Krona – the first Lanterns being chosen, Kilowog’s rise to the Corps trainer, Laira confronting her past, why Mogo doesn’t socialize, and Abin Sur’s confrontation with Atrocitus about the Blackest Night prophecy (not the one you’re thinking of though). Some humorous, some serious – but all eventually leading to what makes this group of extraterrestial beings the most powerful around, especially when Krona makes his way out of the sun to begin his conquest. It’s an effective anthology tale that tells us why we should care about them before giving us a special effects tour de force.

The Good
This could have fallen flat on its face like the last anthology series DC did in Batman Gotham Knight. And it thankfully did the exact opposite.

The majority of the shorts is what defines this movie. You really get a sense of the spectacular when you watch these brave beings slip on their rings and put their lives on the line for the sake of the galaxies. The First Lantern short is proof of that in the beginning – the minute you see the first Corps come to realize what they could do with constructs, you get a great sense of how powerful this group can be. It’s thrilling to see their realization and it sucks you in from the get-go.

Laira’s short was the highlight for me. The most serious of the bunch and written by Eddie Berganza, it takes us into a war that results in a family squabble as a result of Laira’s choice to become a Green Lantern. We’ve seen this Shakespearian plot done many times before, but it’s refreshing to see in a galactic setting. And the DC animators are getting better with fight scenes with each DVD offering – this was probably one of the most well-choreographed animated fights I’ve seen in a while. And Kelly Hu’s Laira definitely has a gung-ho vibe that works well with the character.

And Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame gives us what wrestling fans want – Rowdy Roddy Piper as the warlord Bolphunga searching for the greatest warriors to defeat in the galaxy. It takes him to Mogo and the rest is history. Long-time GL fans will know already who Mogo is, but it doesn’t take away the satisfaction of seeing Bolphunga not realizing what he got himself into.

With all the shorts and the spectacular showdown with Krona at the end, this is the cosmic space conflict we wanted to see realized in First Flight that never happened.

The Bad
Despite how visually attractive the Krona battle was, there was never much to get attached to with that conflict. Krona is mad and he wants to smash. If you can get past that as it hovers over the entire anthology, you’ll enjoy it more. And despite my praise for the shorts, I was disappointed in how much I didn’t care for Kilowog’s. Much as the story of him rising to the rank of drill sergeant was decent, Henry Rollins’ voice-over didn’t make him a convincing character. Didn’t seem rugged enough from my perspective.

The Extras
Not much to scream at here. We get a good look into their next animated offering in Batman : Year One. The animation style seems like they’re going to mimic the book to the tee. You get your standard trailers for some past DC animated movies and the upcoming GL video game, but that’s it.

An impressive collection of stories that would make the Corps proud. Visually stunning with a lot of emotional resonance that could relate to a whole range of people. It’s definitely 3rd on my list of favorite DC animated DVDs behind Wonder Woman and Batman Under the Red Hood, but that doesn’t take away from what it accomplished that First Flight couldn’t. The live-action movie has a lot to live up to here.

Grade : A

CBF Quick Picks #13 : Batgirl #8 and Red Robin #10

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

As much as you all want to hear my squeaky voice in the middle of a static hurricane, you’ll be getting me here for a while until my new headset arrives. Thank you for your sympathy during this tragic time. Now onto comics…

I continue to be impressed by DC’s offerings lately outside of Green Lantern and Blackest Night. I, like many other comic sites, was set to pick Batman and Robin #10 as the
Quick Pick, but I decided to buck the trend and go with two books and two characters I hadn’t followed seriously in the last 10 years:

I had heard that Stephanie Brown, originally dressed up as Spoiler long ago, had come back to be Batgirl and that she would eventually cross over to meet up with Red Robin in Gotham. My issues with Tim Drake’s choice of new attire aside, I was glad to pick these up so as to not only catch up on how these two have grown through the years, but to also re-kindle my love for the chemistry between these two that came out of Chuck Dixon’s run on Robin 10 years ago. To see them at this point grow more into their respective roles and help fill the gaps that Dick Grayson and Damian can’t is a nice sight to see. And they also still use the playful banter that made that past relationship work so well.

Adding in the League of Assassins storyline just makes this that much better and makes me wonder if they’ll play this out more as Bruce Wayne makes his return. They better not milk this then, as I believe the Bruce Wayne series will be 6 parts and you know how much a drawn-out story can get stale by the time something big comes around (I’m looking at you, Cable series).

The one pet peeve I had was with the art, particularly on Batgirl. Marcus To on Red Robin nailed her down fine as the more realistic straight-up nice-looking girl, but then in Batgirl, she’s drawn by Talent Caldwell as the sterotypical balloon-the-cleavage type of girl. Seriously man, keep some consistency going and know that not every girl in the world is like this. Beyond that, the art didn’t scream earth-shattering, but I did enjoy some of the fight sequences.

As long as we keep getting more Batgirl/Red Robin banter, I’m picking these two up for a while. Go give it a shot.