Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category


Guardians of the Galaxy

August 17, 2014

What seems to be an odd choice by Marvel Studios to follow up with their blockbuster “The Avengers” is proving to be a thrill ride. Marvel has tapped its long history and aree mining gems of stories that are continuing to be popular. While it would be nice to have tent pole titles like the “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Spider-man” folded back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the success of the Marvel movies would not be possible without them.

It has given Marvel the means to take stories that many of us comic book fans grew up on and bring them to life. None of these movies were disappointing, as they breathe life to great characters.

For “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it expands the Marvel Universe to cover the world outside, where Thanos, the Chitauri, and other alienraces reside. It serves as a bridge to “The Avengers” and the ever growing continuity that the films share.

The film starts off with a young Peter Quill who witnesses the death of his mother due to cancer. His favorite belonging is a mixtape of his mother’s favorite music that she grew up with. Upon her passing, in anguish, he runs out of the hospital, and is suddenly kidnapped by aliens.

Over twenty years later, we find Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) grown up and now part of the organization that kidnapped him, The Ravagers. He is seekinng an orb as part of his treasure hunting day job. He finds the orb he was hired to retrieve in an ancient ruin of a city. He is nearly stopped by Ronan the Accusor’s men. Ronan (Lee Pace) is trying to track down this artifact for Thanos (an uncredited Josh Brolin) who is secretly collecting these artifacts for his purposes. He sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the orb.

Quill, who is trying to sell the orb to his employer, is also hounded by his father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker) who have been ate each other’s throats for some time. The sale does not go well,m as Gamora tries to take the Orb, while Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) had followed him and plan on taking Quill as bounty, put on by Yondu.

The whole capture ends up in a fiasco, and they get sentenced by the Nova Corps to the Kyln prison. Here their paths cross with convicted killer Drax (Dave Bautisa) who wants to use Gamora as bait to strike back at Ronan the Accusor for the death of his family and homeworld.

The group finally hatch a plan to escape and retrieve the orb to be sold to another buyer- Tanelee Tivan the Collector. The daring escape takes the group to Knowhere, the remaining head of one of the Celestials, an ancient being of the universe, where the skull had become a mine and home to many thieves and pirates. Herre the Collector had taken refuge with his vast collection,

Here it was revealed what was in the orb that was so important. It was one of the Infinity Gems that had immense power, used in ancient times to destroy worlds.

Upon learning where the Infinity Gem was, no thanks to Drax, Ronan retrieves the stone and infuses its power into his hammer. He then sets off to destroy Xandar, having been their mortal enemy- he blames them for the destruction of his people.

Having lost to Ronan, Quill sets off with Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and the Ravagers to go and stop Ronan, setting aside their persoanl issues and to something for the greater good. He managrs to unite this band of misfits to go after Ronan and stop his plans.

This film taps into the parts where we only got some ideas from about life in other parts of the galaxy, which was hinted at by “Thor” and “The Avengers.” It gives us a “Star Wars”/”Flash Gordon” like adventures with relatively unknown characters that are anything but two dimensional. This harkens back a bit to those grand space operas with just the right amount of drama, camp, and pathos to drive the story along.

The characters have scarred backgrounds that drive the to what they are. They choose to rise above that and face their enemies. They still do this while keeping their rogue elements. There is a lot of room for characters to grow and be defined, with more villainy and adventures to come. This overall is an entertaining, action-packed romp that leaves us wanting more.


Heavy Metal 2000

March 1, 2014

On a dreary afternoon, I was surfing the web, watching my favorite Youtube channels- Geek and Sundry’s TableTop hosted by Wil Wheaton, Co-Optitude with Felicia and Ryon Day, Awe Me’s Man-At-Arms, and many others. Somehow I stumbled upon someone’s posting of “Heavy Metal 2000.” I decided to give it a viewing. I was a little disappointed that it was a linear story, as the first “Heavy Metal” movie was an anthology of animation that had strange, crazy stories set in a science and fantasy world. There were multiple stories with different characters and designs, with a mix of music that made it like the progenitor of many music videos to come.

What I liked about “Heavy Metal” was that it told a story that was loosely connected by a tiny thread that linked each story. In a way, it was much like the magazine- a series of mature themed stories of fantasy and science fiction created by a cadre of genre artists and writers. Many mainstream comic book publishers would not print these stories as they would not fit within their company’s paradigm.

I did enjoy the story, as it reminded me of the often epic stories that graced those pages. The animation was crisp and solid, featuring character designs by Simon Bisley and Kevin Eastman of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame. The main character of Julie is modeled after model and actress Julie Strain, who was once married to Eastman. She also provides the voice of the character.  Strain is known for being a Penthouse Pet and a B-Movie actress, starring in many productions.

Also lending their voices are veteran actor Michael Ironside and rocker Billy Idol. Both provide interesting characterization to their animated counterparts. While Ironside give a good performance as the villain Tyler, it is the unusual casting of Idol as the mysterious Odin that makes for watching. I didn’t recognize Idol’s speaking voice and found it to fit the look and feel of the character of Odin.

The plot of the story was much like a pulp novel from the 1950’s. The animation lends itself to a more European style, and less ‘Anime’ style. It was rather slick with a mix of traditional looking animation and some computer generated effects. It was quite stylized.

In this story, a mining expedition uncovers what appeared to be an unusual crystal. The lead miner Tyler takes hold of this crystal and is immediately driven insane. He kills his colleagues and crewmates, taking over the ship to pursue the crystal’s home.

The crystal is the key to a lost temple that houses a fountain of youth. It was cast and hidden away never to be found again, as its creators had intended to hide the temple from others who would abuse the power of immortality.

Tyler’s madness leads him to the planet Eden, where he attacks and kills most of the inhabitants. Here pilots Julie and Kerrie along with their father protect their colony from outside hostiles. Their colony- much like a weight station for other space farers- serve as a rest stop to other colonies. Julie manages to escape the sudden attack, while her sister Kerrie is captured, along with other colonists who are used to supply the water of the fountain of youth. The water has trace amounts of this water to which the in habitants have within their system- and in Tyler’s madness is using the fluid from their bodies to heal himself, like an addict. Tyler and his crew leave to continue to search for the source.

Julie manages to survive and seeks him out at another port, where she attempts to kill him in revenge at a strip club. Tyler destroys the club, and is injured in the process, where he ingests his immortality serum to heal.  Julie teams up with Germain, one of the pilots of the mining ship that Tyler commandeered, to pursue Tyler.

They manage to follow him to the ship before entering into hyperspace. They attached their ship to Tyler’s. They are soon discovered and the resulting attack forces them to crash land on the planet of Oroborus, the home of the temple. Far from the temple’s location, Tyler sets up a base with the remains of his ship and sets off for the temple. He finds a race of humanoid lizards, whom he takes over by killing their leader in a gladiatorial fight for power. He uses this as an army to take on the temple and the guardians.

Julie manages to survive the crash and once again pursues Tyler. She meets the mysterious Odin and the rock creature Zeek along the way, who take her to find Tyler. She tries to assassinate him through seduction. Zeek intervenes saving her. They manage to find Kerrie and eliminate the mad doctor who was responsible for extracting the immortality fluid from Eden’s citizens. Julie, Kerrie, Odin and Zeek return to the citadel where the temple is hidden in.

Tyler rallies his army and prepares to take on the stronghold, while Julie takes the warrior rites of Odin’s people, preparing her for her final confrontation with Tyler. What ensues is a battle for control of an ancient power that could lead to a terrible era ruled by insane immortals.

“Heavy Metal 2000” is not quite the epic level of animation as I hoped it would have been. It is still a solid piece of entertainment that is engaging, sexy, with the right amount of science fiction and interesting characters. It is a fine fantasy story of revenge that seems to have some clichés in it, but there are some surprises that make it interesting.


Man of Steel

March 1, 2014

I am a fan of Superman. I do enjoy watching the many versions of the character in live action and in animated form. So far though, I think the animated version Superman portrays him the best, with the television versions following very closely. I enjoy their takes on the character, making him unique to the series mythos and staying true to the origin story and other key points that make the character.

The films however have received a bad rap. While the actors portraying Clark Kent and his alter ego do not seem miscast, they do encounter terrible storytelling. It is hard to top Christopher Reeve and his portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton in the first two Superman movies. While the sequels to the movies suffered much in the same way as Batman did before Christopher Nolan bought in real worldliness to the films, Superman almost had a new start with “Superman Returns.” However, there were many missteps in the story that made the movie fall flat. While an enjoyable yarn, it rehashes some of the too familiar schemes of Lex Luthor and tried to tie it to the original Christopher Reeve movies.

This time around, Christopher Nolan lent his help with producing another attempt with reinvigorating interest in Superman and his cast of characters. Zach Snyder was chosen to direct, with a resume that has comic book movies “Watchmen” and “300,” he seemed an ideal choice to take on the character. In this version, he takes Superman on a personal odyssey of self discovery and given many of the background characters some depth and more story.

“Man of Steel” is more the story of a god that walks among men and this same god looking for his place in the world. It hints at the growing pains the young Clark spent as his alien physiology adapted to the world around him, and how it alienated him from others. It also gives the classic origin story more levity by giving Superman’s birth parents Jor-El and Lara more than being simple exposition.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with snippets of Clark’s life, past and present intertwining with events unfolding in his present. It can be a little disorienting and seem a little jumbled, but, it is done rather tastefully to match the tones of the scenes. They tell the origin story as if we haven’t seen it before.

The planet of Krypton is a terraformed world that is dying from its own devices. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Antje Traue) plan to save their son using the meager resources he has to create and craft a ship to carry his son to Earth, a scouted planet that may be home to the next Krypton. Shortly after Kal-El’s birth, General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a military coup to overthrow the current government. Jor-El manages to steal and encode into his son the codex of the Kryptonian species, a database of genetic information that someday would be used to revive the Kryptonian race via their process of reproduction through artificial means. General Zod catches up with Jor-El and kills him before he could stop the launch of the capsule with infant Kal-El.

General Zod and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone, where they would be indefinitely incarcerated for their war crimes. Shortly afterwards, the planet Krypton explodes.

The ship crash lands in the town of Smallville, Kansas, near the family farm of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who found the infant Kal-El and adopted him as their son.  His growth in our world was difficult, as his physiology took time to adapt to Earth’s atmosphere.  These changes isolate the young Clark from the rest of his classmates and childhood friends. Concealing his abilities proved difficult, as he saves his friends and classmates from a near fatal bus crash. Clark learns that he is not from the planet Earth, but in fact a survivor from another world that is alien to him.

Fast forward to the present, and you see Clark (Henry Cavill) wandering around doing odd jobs and traveling, helping others as it allows him. He save an oil rig crew from a fiery explosion, but in turn has to move on from his job as a fisherman on a trawler. He is making his way north.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has been granted permission to see a mysterious alien structure that the military is trying to investigate. Clark has also managed to sneak onto the work site as a civilian member of the exploration team. The structure turns out to be a Kryptonian scout ship that had landed on Earth a long time ago, and was one of the scout ships that alerted Jor-El of Earth’s potential for colonization. Clark discovers his history through the avatar of his father Jor-El.

Due to the events at the alien ship, Lois decides to work on finding this mysterious person who has been performing superhuman feats to protect others. Her  investigation leads her back to Smallville, where she encounters him again.

Freed from the Phantom Zone incarceration, General Zod and his followers manage to cannibalize their prison into a ship. They searched for the remaining Kryptonian colonies that were scattered across  the galaxy, finding none that had survived. During this search, he learns of Earth and it being home to the last surviving Kryptonian, the infant son of Jor-El. Upon arriving at Earth, he threatens its citizenry unless Kal-El steps forward.

Clark surrenders to the US government, hoping that his surrender would help render a truce or as an act of peace between the surviving Kryptonians. Zod has ulterior motives that lead to a knock down drag out fight with the fate of Earth at stake, as Zod activates a terraforming world engine to start work on turning Earth into a new Krypton.

I found this movie to be a bit of fresh air to the Superman series of films and his 75 plus years. It takes many of the elements from the comics, a few bits of lore from the various TV, serials, and animation and mixes them together to make a very modern take of the hero we know and love. It does go over the origin story again, only giving the characters of Jor-El and Lara, not to mention the other Kryptonians, more depth and levity to their characters. This was a utopian society that was suddenly collapsing, giving rise to the military coup led by General Zod. He  did what he thought was best to help wrest control from the seemingly ignorant government.

While Clark’s story continued on Earth, it was less of a happy experience as depicted in comics and animation, rather it was the worst imaginable as his body changed and having little control of it. It is far off from many of his television depictions, as is more closely resembling his growth in the TV series “Smallville.”

His growth into the role of Superman was well conceived, following many plotlines from the recent comics. This gives the character of Superman more human flaws and makes for a much more relatable character.

Henry Cavill fills this role nicely with a nobility that slowly grows from his humble beginnings. Michael Shannon  makes for a good General Zod, making him more of a realistic soldier trying to save what he believes is right and important. His actions don’t necessarily make him a complete villain, more of a man trying to save what he can the best way he knows how. It is a very interesting role for him. Russell Crowe is a scene stealer, giving the very important role of Jor-El much more definition. Amy Adams seemed well cast as a bit world weary yet still curious Lois Lane. She lacks a bit of the fiery charm that makes the character interesting.

Overall I thought this was a nice updated take on the greatest hero created. It modernizes him to fit in with the times, it fits a lot of classic stories into the movie, and delivers a lot of action and character. While it falls flat in some areas, there are some that breathes new life into the characters and makes for a more rounded story.


The Adventures of Tintin

November 17, 2013
Tintin (Jamie Bell) finds a model of "The Unicorn" in "The Adventures of Tintin."

Tintin (Jamie Bell) finds a model of “The Unicorn” in “The Adventures of Tintin.”

My globetrotting buddy Paul introduced me to two important European comics while hanging out in our youths. One was “Asterix,” laugh out loud funny tale of Gaul warrior Asterix and his friend Obelix who fight to protect their village, mainly from the Romans. The other was “The Adventures of Tintin,” a young, earnest reporter who finds himself caught up in some amazing adventures and discoveries.

I have enjoyed both series immensely growing up and hoped one day I would find their adventures animated and can enjoy their antics on television or in the theater. Alas, I was not able to find anything at that time. My interest in anime gave way to the European comics for quite some time. When I learned that Steven Spielberg was planning on creating a film version of this, it showed promise that Tintin would become a thrilling, action packed adventure movie. Spielberg himself became a huge fan of the work of artist Herge’s creation after many comparisons to Indiana Jones and his adventures.

Coproduced by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson with a script by Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish, “The Adventures of Tintin” is the first film of an ongoing series, adapted from three of Tintin’s adventures where he meets his longtime friend Captain Haddock. This was Spielberg’s first venture into motion capture animation.

The craftsmanship that went into this animated feature shows, as Spielberg and Jackson were both fans of the series shows. It has the right touch of action and adventure that Spielberg is known for, with Jackson’s experience with motion capture helped generate the fantastic adventure we see. This form of work allowed the look of Tintin and the other characters to meld between reality and Herge’s cartoon characters. It is an interesting blend that gives the characters a hint of realism, while remaining true to the art of Herge.

The film adapts plots from three of Tintin’s published adventures. These elements tie together the best from these stories to form one grand cinematic experience. I found the whole story to be charming, full of adventure, and with the right amount of wit, comedy, and drama.

The adventure begins with Tintin buying a model ship of ‘The Unicorn’ at a street market. He is quickly approached by others to have the model purchased. He refuses and takes the model home. He examines the model to see what the fuss was all about, other than it being a rather exquisite model of a legendary ship. The model is broken as Tintin’s dog Snowy takes on an intruding cat. A mysterious tube slides out of the model ship and under Tintin’s cabinet. Distraught by the broken model, Tintin proceeds to investigate the history of the ship itself as it may lend some information on why so many people want it.

Returning home from his research, he finds his apartment trashed as an apparent thief made off with the model. He is once again approached by Barnaby, one of the men he met earlier who wanted to purchase the model. He is gunned down while trying to enlist Tintin’s help and the model. Tintin’s friends Thompson and Thompson help investigate the situation, while dealing with a notorious pickpocket. Clues lead Tintin to the other man who was interested in purchasing the model ship, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine. He confronts him at his home, Marlinspike Hall.

Discovering that Sakharine did not steal the model and has one exactly like it, Tintin returns home to clean, where he finds the mysterious tube. In it is a piece of parchment with a poem and symbols written on it. It seemed to be some sort of clue in regards to The Unicorn’s sinking. He keeps the clue inside his billfold, which is taken by the pickpocket Aristide Silk.


Captain Haddock and Tintin meet for the first time.

While trying to find the pickpocket and his next lead, Tintin is kidnapped and taken on board the freighter Karaboudjan. Here he learns more about what Sakharine is up to, and why he was looking for the models- the parchment hidden within the models. Tintin is uncooperative. While in captivity, he plans his escape with the help of Snowy, who managed to follow and stow away on the ship.

During Tintin’s escape, he meets the Karaboudjan’s erstwhile captain, Archibald Haddock. Drunk and seemingly out of sorts, the two become allies and manage to escape together, while the crew search frantically about the ship, hoping not to do harm to the Captain. Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy managed to escape on a lifeboat.

Sakharine does not believe Captain Haddock to be dead, and has his men to search for them. Meanwhile, Tintin and Haddock are trying to reach shore. They manage to commandeer Sakharine’s men and their plane and race towards the city of Bagghar. While on board the Karabourdjan, Tintin learns that there is a third model of the ship, and one more clue that may lead to the wreckage of the Unicorn. Tintin and Haddock crash in the desert in trying to get through a storm. After wandering the desert for some time, they are rescued by the French Foreign Legion.

While recovering at their fort, Haddock is given alcohol, which puts him in a recollective stupor. He is able to tell his family history, which explains his connections to the history of the Unicorn and why Sakharine wants the models.  With the pieces of the puzzle starting to fall into place, it becomes a race to find the last model ship and clue that solves the mystery of the Unicorn.

The movie has a little bit of an uneven pace, but has a fantastic adventure with a grand mystery that motivates both hero and villain to solve. It brings a lot of likeable characters together and takes them on an incredible adventure. What may have soured some on the movie is the unfamiliarity of the characters, as the character of Tintin is well known in Europe. If you move past this, you will find a terrific fast paced adventure with a truly puzzling mystery that drives the movie.

The cast is fantastic in being a part of the animation process. Andy Serkis brings a lot of gusto and humor to the character of Captain Haddock. Daniel Craig is nearly unrecognizable as Sakharine, whose villainy is sinister laced with a bit of humor and wit. Jamie Bell breathes life to our hero, giving him his earnest charm. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost scene steal as Thompson and Thompson.

I found the whole film to be a solid, enjoyable adventure. It captures the right amount of action and adventure with a mystery at the center of it all. I can’t wait to see the next version, it can’t come soon enough.


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

November 17, 2013

The Dark Knight Returns

Way back in the day, when comics were starting to dwindle in sales and seemed doomed, there was one comic book that took the industry by storm and help reignite the industry. Helmed by Frank Miller, one of the hottest writers and artists of the time, “The Dark Knight Returns” was a look at Batman as if he were living in the real world and aging along with it.

In this tale, Bruce Wayne had retired from being Batman, after seemingly overcoming his enemies and fighting the good fight for Gotham City. He is still restless, possibly due to survivor’s guilt and his own need to fight crime. As crime escalates to new levels in Gotham, he is drawn out of retirement to face old foes and new criminals in the brave new world that was the 1980’s. No longer were the stories campy or fantasy driven. The stories would be like today’s modern crime procedural, almost visceral and stark for the time.

It became the inspiration and template for future alliterations of Batman and many of the other superhero comics. It grounds Batman into a human being- a near perfect soldier and detective doing what he does best, protecting the citizens of Gotham from crime. Here he is seen in a different light- edgy, paranoid, and ruthless in his battle against the criminal element.

“The Dark Knight Returns” has been lauded as one of the best graphic novels ever, with sharp writing, cinematic pacing, and overtones that make the story timeless. Miller’s art with Klaus Jansen’s gritty inks and Lynn Varley’s use of dull colors makes the story even more noir and pulp, adding extra texture to the story.

Now when I learned that DC Comics was going to produce an animated version of “The Dark Knight Returns,” I thought “Oh this can’t be good.” Even though it has influenced many of Batman’s incarnations, from the Animated Series, “Batman Beyond,” and the many recent film versions the character, I found it hard to believe they would adapt this story. The whole novel is very expansive, and in many ways like “Watchmen,” unfilmable. I took the news with a grain of salt as it was in the hands of Bruce Timm and his team, the creators of “Batman: The Animated Series.”

The original release of “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” had the feature divided into two parts. The animators adapt Miller’s designs from the comic, but the cel shaded images lack the graininess and grime that seem to permeate the graphic novel. It is bright and colorful, but it does a lot to retain the noirish feel of the novel, leading to the build-up of the key storylines that make up the four issue miniseries. I have the version that has both features stitched into one long movie.

The feature shows Bruce Wayne participating in a race and losing control of the car. He narrowly survives the resulting crash and walks away. Wayne seems content in his retirement, but is actually restless. There is still talk of the legendary figure of Batman, and how his presence has affected the many criminals he has encountered and incarcerated in Arkham Asylum. One of his oldest foes, Harvey Dent, or Two Face is recovering here, with plastic surgery repairing his scarred visage. His recovery and sudden disappearance, along with the escalating crime rate and ‘Mutant’ gang problem galvanizes Wayne to become Batman again.

Batman hunts down the criminals that have now plagued the city. It is not as easy as his age has slowed him down. He soon tracks down Dent, who resurfaces with a terrorist ploy of destroying one of Gotham City’s towers. It is in reality a suicide attempt that Batman manages to stop. Dent now admits the dark half of his dual personality has won over. Batman seems to sympathize with this.

Meanwhile, Carrie Kelley, a young girl that Batman saved earlier from Mutant gang members, has taken inspiration from this and decided to become Robin. She aids Batman as he is nearly beaten to death in a clash between the Mutant gang leader. She manages to rescue Batman from a severe beating and is taken back to the Batcave, where Alfred patches up the injured Batman. She is chosen to become Robin.

In a new ploy to stop the Mutants, Wayne has Carrie infiltrate the gang to spread the rumor of the Mutant leader’s showdown with Batman. The gang leader himself kills the Mayor of Gotham. As a last favor for Batman, Commissioner Gordon helps release the gang leader, where he successfully escapes but is beaten by Batman in a brutal fight.

The presence of Batman has awoken a catatonic Joker, who plans his escape from Arkham Asylum,  feigning his sincerity at reforming. This escalation culminates with his escape from custody during a taping of ‘The David Endochrine Show,’ where he kills everyone in the studio. Batman hunts down the Joker for their final confrontation.

Meanwhile, Superman has been serving the US by fighting for the government and the President. He has been serving in this capacity for some time, with many of the superheroes of the world were forced into retirement. His attention was drawn to Batman and his growing rabble in Gotham.

After tracking the Joker down, Batman has his final showdown with his most dangerous foe. The resulting conflict leads to the greatest confrontation of them all, with Batman fighting Superman.

As far as the adaptation goes, it plays rather well. It conveys the meat and potatoes of the story in most of its unflinching glory. Very little was changed from the graphic novel. The animation is sleek and high quality. The voice acting is impressive with veteran Peter Weller taking the lead as the voice of Batman/ Bruce Wayne. While lacking the baritone that many actors use to voice Batman, his near sinister tone adds gravity to the world weariness of the aged Bruce Wayne and the soldier fighting the war against crime. Ariel Winter is quite chipper as Carrie, almost sounding like the way I envisioned in my mind.

What I found lacking was the ongoing narrative in the story. In the graphic novel, the story is narrated to help carry the story along, much like a film noir or crime novel. Matched with the art, it paints a grim portrait of how the world had changed and why Batman chose to step down. The city of Gotham is a character itself, being grim and riddled with crime. While it is just a backdrop in the animation, it adds to the story by setting the stage and the mood. The graphic novel has a lot of texture to it, matching the story with grim muted shades. The animation seems to just gloss it over.

The animated “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” is a fantastic adaptation of the legendary graphic novel. While very enjoyable, it is hard to compare it to its source material, which in my opinion, is far superior.


Ultimate Spider-Man

November 2, 2013
Spidey meets Thor the Frog of Thunder.

Spidey meets Thor the Frog of Thunder.

Who doesn’t like Spider-Man? In all of his incarnations, he is still a superhero who has a little bit of snark and drama to him. Taking on the responsibility that his powers bought him, he fights crime in the streets of New York City.

This take on Spider-man is a lot of fun to watch. The animation style is reminiscent of many versions of the comic book. It looks like an updated version of the 80’s “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.”

In this series, he is discovered by S.H.I.E.L.D (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, Logistics Division) and recruited by Nick Fury to become a better superhero through special training. Since Spider-man leaves a wake of collateral damage in his fight with crime, Fury believes that Spidey could use his help to be a better hero.

This encourages Spidey to become a student in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s training program. His own idols, The Avengers, inspire him to be better than he is now. He works hard to improve his crime fighting abilities while being pursued by many super villains- classic ones from Spider-man’s long history.

In a twist in the story, he is teamed up with other up and coming superheroes. (Another set of classic heroes from the 70’s era of Marvel Comics.) The team of Power Man, Iron Fist, Nova, and White Tiger fight alongside Spider-man in many episodes.

Many of Marvel’s popular characters make cameo appearances and become part of an episode. The Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man make a visit in different episodes, setting off different chains of events that Spidey and his team gets caught up in.

For example, when Iron Man appears, he is on the trail of the Living Laser, a former Stark Industries scientist who became a being consisting of photons (light to you and me). Iron Man is trying to stop him from his crime spree. He takes an interest in Spider-man due to his bad dress sense and provides him his own specialized “Iron Spider” suit. Problems ensue with Spidey not being able to effectively control the suit and the Living Laser able to control both the Iron Man and Iron Spider suits.

Another episode highlights the Hulk, in which Mary Jane Watson tries to win a contest by gaining a video interview with Spider-man. Peter/Spidey does it to improve his image and to hang out with is childhood friend and crush. The interview soon becomes a disaster film when the Hulk shows up and starts trashing the neighborhood. It is quite the inventive episode.

There is a lot of action and adventure spread throughout the series episodes that I have watched so far. One of the fun parts of the show is that Spidey constantly breaks the fourth wall and starts talking to the audience, mainly to explain the plot points and make light of a given situation. There are also little cutscenes that remind me of many episodes of “Looney Tunes,” “Animaniacs,” and “Teen Titans,” where they turn a scene into something quite humorous- it is a sight gag of sorts with all sorts of different tropes found in many funny cartoons.

I really like the lighthearted fun this series takes. While there is plenty of action and drama, it is almost balanced by the in-jokes and sight gags. The dialog the characters have are fast and smart. From the jabs that Spidey and Nova take at each other, to the Zen moments Iron Fist uses to input into a given situation, the stories are smart and well written.

Many veteran actors and well known voice actors are part of the cast. This includes Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson- the same one in the Sam Raimi movies!), Steven Weber (Norman Osborn), Tara Strong (Mary Jane Watson), Chi McBride (Nick Fury), and Drake Bell (as Spider-Man/ Peter Parker). They give great voiceovers and make the characters fun and interesting.

I find the series to be a lot of fun to watch. It is a perfect blend of action, humor, and some lighthearted drama. This show caters towards the fans of the fun-lovin’ crime fightin’ antics of Spider-Man.  It is quite entertaining.


Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam

October 6, 2013

When I was a kid, there was a live action show called (I think) “The Power of Shazam!” It featured Billy Batson, a teenager travelling with an archeologist. He stumbles upon the cave of Shazam, a wizard who gives him powers to become the mightiest mortal. It was a nice Saturday Morning live action yarn that also appeared with other shows like “Isis,” “Jason of Star Command,” and “Space Academy.” These shows were simple, fun shows that were precursors to shows like “Power Rangers.”

I was reminded of this when I picked up a copy of “Superman/ Shazam!- The Return of Black Adam.” I was hoping for a more extensive story and background on Captain Marvel. Well, you can’t call him Captain Marvel anymore, Marvel Comics now own the rights to that name, as I recall.

I was disappointed that it was just a short feature. I hoped for a lengthier tale of Billy Batson’s life story of how he became an orphan, and how he managed to survive. He is still an optimistic teen, but instead of a more dramatic presentation, we get a snapshot view of Billy’s life before becoming Shazam.

In this feature, Billy is living alone in low income housing. Despite living in squalid conditions, he is almost cheerfully optimistic. He wakes in his studio apartment and heads out to meet Clark Kent, who is doing a profile on him. Billy helps a homeless man from three thugs who were shaking him down. Billy stands up to the bullies, but gets punched in the face for his troubles.

Meeting Clark for breakfast, they continue their conversation on his life story, glossing over Billy’s history.  Before Billy could finish his breakfast, they are suddenly attacked by Black Adam. He is out to kill Billy for no reason that Billy could understand. Clark steps in to try and protect him, but is knocked across the street. Billy escapes into the city.

Clark, stunned by the sudden appearance of Black Adam, changes into his alter ego of Superman. He pursues Black Adam and confronts him, protecting Billy from his relentless attacks. Billy ducks into the subway, but before he enters, he is stopped by the same homeless man that he helped earlier in the day.  He gives Billy the spare change matching the amount Billy gave him earlier. Before he could contest the issue, Billy spies Black Adam approaching.

Billy ducks into the subway, only to find no train. Black Adam pursues him still, cursing Billy’s existence. He corners Billy onto the train tracks with an oncoming train. Billy seemingly is hit by the train. Black Adam leaves to finish of a beaten Superman, whose vulnerability to magic has him at a disadvantage.

Billy is safe on the train. He is transported to meet Shazam. He has chosen him to become the next champion of the world due to his pure heart. Billy is taken aback by the strange turn of events, but is given the power of Shazam. All he needs to do is say his name to call upon his new power.

We also learn that Billy was not the first person to wield this power, and that Black Adam was chosen. However, he became mad with the powers he was given and betrayed his duties to be the protector of Earth and became a conqueror. He was banished from Earth, and has taken him 5,000 years to get back.

Billy was transported to where Superman was pinned down by a giant obelisk. Black Adam was once again ready to strike, when Captain Marvel steps into the fight. Billy uttered ‘Shazam’ and became Captain Marvel. Now the fight between the two wielders of the power of Shazam begins.

While the animation is quite good, the story and Shazam’s origin is presented in too short of a format. Had this been a longer animation, where we could see how Billy was raised and where he got his optimism, it would truly round out the character. Having Superman in the mix might not have been necessary. He is little more than a plot device here, providing convenient protection from Black Adam’s relentless assault.

If it had more to it, like “Superman/ Batman: Apocalypse” where it introduces Supergirl, it would have made it a more tantalizing story and watchable. This short needed to be much longer. This could have been an episode of “Justice League Unlimited.” If it was made to be a full length feature, it could have been something exciting. It would have breathed life into a classic hero.