Posts Tagged ‘Superman’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lego Batman 2

February 22, 2013

Recently my inner child was demanding and shouting in my head to play some video games. So I decided to fire up the handheld games so as to not hog up the TV. There was one game that I had been dying to play (much to the chagrin of my wife) and that is Lego Batman 2. Since I do not own any of the latest gaming systems, the handheld Nintendo DS served as the home for this game, as it was available in the format. I went to my local GameStop and procured a used copy.  I was not disappointed.

There is something attractive about playing any of the Lego video games. The series includes Lego Indiana Jones and Star Wars. These games follow the premise of the movies respectively. The stories are simplified and told with a humorous slant, making some of the antics of the game truly funny and fun to play.

Lego Batman 2 carries on with this style of gaming. In the first Lego Batman game, you play Batman and Robin, along with other characters in Batman’s legendary Rogue’s gallery. You have the option of playing for the good guys or the bad guys. Both sides have unique game levels that follow a centric storyline spread throughout Gotham City.

Here in Lego Batman 2, you get to play with members of the Justice League, along with the villains of the story. This includes Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and many, many others. This is a nice expansion of the game, allowing you to play these heroes along with the villains.

The game levels are rather complex, with elaborate puzzles to solve to attain studs, move on to the next level, and unlock characters. This has a richness to it that appeals to kids and adults like me. Each character you control has specific attributes that allow you to perform some of the tasks to solve the puzzles of the game. Each level has sections that have you working in pairs to complete certain tasks. Some seem a little like a Rube Goldberg machine using all sorts of Lego components.

By default, you start off with Batman and Robin. Batman has his batarangs and cable gun that fires a grappling hook toward select targets. Robin is slightly smaller in appearance, with the same equipment, only he has acrobatic agility due to his smaller size. For some puzzles, it requires Robin (or a character that has acrobatic agility) to leap up a wall like Jackie Chan, bouncing from side to side. As you progress through each level, and solve some of the puzzles, you can unlock game features and characters, along with other bonus materials.

One thing that attracted me to the series is that the game is like playing with Legos. It is a digital version that brings to life the miniature figures of Batman, Robin, and many other characters. The animation is fluid for the game characters, with great Lego based physics. When you fight the bad guys, you have the option of using your powers or simply beating them in a cartoonish kind of way. In defeating them, you literally break them up into their component parts.

There are a lot of ‘breakable’ pieces to the game. Each item you break, whether it is a desk, fire hydrant, or a door, generates gold, silver, or blue studs that you collect to buy unlocked characters and bonus items. Some even generate hearts that can revive your character’s health. Since the DS is a scaled down version of the console game, it lacks some of the more robust features that you find in the games. In the console games, not only can you unlock characters, bonus options, and extras, you can collect prizes that form scale replicas of items that represent a theme in the game.

In the Lego Star Wars games, you get to collect miniature versions of the many vehicles abound in the game. Indiana Jones had replicas of the treasures and vehicles found and used in the game. Lego Batman had many of the props used in the game, such as the Batmobile, Robin’s jetski, and playing card for the Joker. The absence of this in the portable version is minor.

What I find fantastic about this version of Lego Batman is that you get to play as other superheroes. You are  (sort of) flying around as Superman, or zapping bad guys as Green Lantern. Smashing set pieces to earn Lego money is kind of satisfying in a way. Like playing with real Legos and knocking down a wall or crashing a whole load of pieces, it gives the game some appeal. You don’t have to have Lego sets or the right pieces to assemble or tear down your creation. It is sort of built for you and it’s all integrated into a game of beat the bad guys, solves the puzzles, and earns points to unlock all these treasures.

This portable version for the Nintendo DS is really robust and has quite a bit of content to keep players occupied. One of the best features that are now a part of the game is a voiceover for the characters. The older games usually used pantomime to explain or communicate between characters. At best, it was a series of grumbles and gestures indicating what is going on. Now the cut-scenes are full of dialog- wait, is that Clancy Brown I hear as Lex Luthor?

Lego Batman 2 is another great title of the Lego series of video games. It carries on the great game play and puzzle platform that the series is known for. It brings to the table of being able to put together and break apart Legos without having to actually buy the sets. It is fun and fantastic gaming for any age.

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Superman/ Batman: Apocalypse

February 11, 2013
Supergirl (voiced by Summer Glau) readies to duke it out with Darkseid.

Supergirl (voiced by Summer Glau) readies to duke it out with Darkseid.

One thing about my local library that I am diggin’ is the selection of DVDs you can get. There is a huge selection of cartoons, foreign films, and popular TV shows. When I go to the library, I usually come home with a handful of movies that I want to see. It’s not as convenient as say a movie rental store or kiosk, but I’ll take what I can get.

A recent venture to the local library allowed me to get a copy of “Superman Batman Apocalypse.” The name is a bit of a misnomer, as it really should be titled “Supergirl,” as it is an updated version of her origin story. The original comic was drawn by one of my favorite comic artist, the late Michael Turner, who incredible art graced titles like “Tomb Raider,” “Witchblade,” and his creation “Fathom.”

The comic book series “Superman/ Batman” written by Jeph Loeb for the first 25 issues was a recent ‘reboot’ or another modern retelling of Superman and Batman’s friendship. Originally portrayed as the best of friends and allies, they are now almost polar opposites with Superman being the ‘Boy Scout’ goody two shoes, playing by the rules and being an upstanding citizen. Batman is seen as being more paranoid and suspicious, and not so much a friend to Superman. Their methods and backgrounds were way too different, bringing a sort of clash of personalities.

Part of this story brought in the origin of Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin, to the modern era. It is a fantastic origin story that I believe really should have been a standalone story for Supergirl, but with the Superman and Batman characters being the tent pole characters and it being part of a specific series, it sort of made sense to keep it under that banner. Despite that, it has a first rate story and cast that pulls it off seamlessly.

The story begins with a mysterious meteor crashing into Gotham Bay. Batman investigates the devastation and comes across the source of the tsunami that wreaked havoc along Gotham City’s ports. It is a space ship, surrounded by glowing green crystals. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure emerges from the water, and boards Batman’s hydroplane. The boat takes off and crashes into a nearby pier; the mysterious passenger is nowhere to be seen.

Nearby, some longshoremen are working. They are met by a young naked woman, who violently rebuffs their unwanted advances. She escapes, lost and confused by the strange cityscape and the populace. She loses control and suddenly fires beams from her eyes, and takes off flying uncontrollably. She is found by Batman. He manages to stop her using the glowing green rock.

Superman intervenes at the Bat-cave, when the mystery girl awakens. He soon learns that the young girl is Kara Zor-El, a relative. Superman welcomes her and takes her to the Fortress of Solitude to help her assimilate to Earth culture. Batman does not trust her. Kara feels isolated in her time on earth.

On the planet Apokolips, Granny Goodness it overseeing the training of Darkseid’s elite guards The Furies. Their latest recruit fails to impress. When Darkseid learns that another Kryptonian had survived, he is motivated to have her become the next Fury.

Kara and Superman, under his secret identity of Clark Kent takes Kara to Metropolis as an introduction to public life. She is undecided on what to do with herself and her place in the world. Their day is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Wonder Woman, Batman and Lyla the Harbinger. Kara loses control of her powers in the ensuing surprise action, proving that she needs training in the use of her powers. It is suggested that Kara train with the Amazons of Themyscira. Reluctantly, Superman agrees.

Kara proves to become an adept warrior and harnesses her powers. She befriends Lyla who becomes her confidante as she becomes center of an argument between what Superman and the others want her to be.

Suddenly an invading force comes to Themyscira, consisting of ‘Doomsday clones.’ Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and a legion of Amazons take on the horde. The battle is merely a distraction for something else. Darkseid captures Kara and pressures her to become one of his new Furies.

Superman and Wonder Woman go seek the aid of Big Barda, the former captain of Darkseid’s Furies who went rogue and escaped his control. Superman asks Barda to help them get Kara back from Darkseid. She reluctantly agrees to help, knowing what hell Kara would be going through on the planet Apokalips.

Barda leads them through a ‘boom tube,’ a hyperspace gateway that allows them to travel from world to world. They are welcomed by the many residents of the planet, soldiers serving Darkseid. The group split up to find Kara. Batman seeks Apokalips’ vast armory, while Wonder Woman and Big Barda confront Granny Goodness and the Furies. Superman seeks out Kara at Darkseid’s palace. They encounter vast resistance.

Superman and Kara are reunited, but Kara has been heavily influenced and put under control of Darkseid. She beats Superman down, but he refuses to fight Kara initially. Batman intervenes in Darkseid’s amusement of Superman and Kara’s fight. He threatens to destroy Darkseid’s arsenal of hellspores, which can destroy planets. He bargains with Darkseid, Kara’s life or he would destroy Apokalips. Darkseid concedes, with admiration for Batman’s tenacity.

They all return to Earth, where Kara is healing at Themyscira. She honors the loss of her friend Lyla, who died during Darkseid’s invasion.

Kara and Clark travel to Samllville, where the small town life might suit Kara better. Darkseid appears and personally tries to destroy Superman and Kara. It is a battle royal that would decide Kara’s fate.

This adaptation of the “Supergirl from Krypton” of the Superman/ Batman comic is incredible. The voice acting is superb with Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, and Summer Glau portraying the iconic characters of Superman, Batman, and Supergirl respectively. It is a fish out of water story with a young woman trying to come to terms with who she is- it’s a very relatable story. The action is first class, adding weight to the overall story. The character design is a great homage to Michael Turner’s stellar work.

This story is ultimately a brilliant introduction of Supergirl, giving her a much needed modern update for today’s audience. I recommend it highly.

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Challenge of the Superfriends

January 19, 2013
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Apache Chief and Aquaman are trapped in the past in the episode “The Time Trap.”

For most of my Saturday Mornings, I would get up and watch cartoons. Been doing that most of my life. A lot of you out there are going, “You’re forty and you still watch cartoons.” To which I say, “So what?” I love cartoons. I am fascinated by the way they are made, the creative process, the artistic direction, and the story. Many of today’s cartoons are created by people my age. Get over it and enjoy it for what it is.

So I try to watch the stuff they have on now, which includes “Power Rangers Lost Galaxy,” a live action show that reminds me of the shows from the 1970’s like “The Secret of Isis,” “Jason of Star Command,” and “Space Academy.” They have a rather simplistic plot, fight aliens or some such threat, and the heroes win or pass some form of moral judgment on us impressionable youths.

There are some Japanese anime airing now in the states, heavily toned down in violence and graphic depictions, with plots that I don’t much care for. They are based on card games or cock fighting with strange monsters that you somehow can store in some sort of tennis ball sized container. Some of the episodes are fine to watch, some of them are dreck.

On one such Saturday morning, after staring at the screen dumbfounded by what I saw, I pulled out a DVD of “Challenge of the Superfriends.” This DVD had four episodes of the show, spotlighting the adventures of the Justice League of America versus The Legion of Doom. Itt harkens back to a simpler time, where comics were telling implausible stories of heroes defying the laws of physics.

The animation was simple, made by the great studio Hanna Barbara. Essentially the same folks that created “Scooby Doo.” The animation was simple, the stories not so complex as they are today. They showcased Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and other DC Comics heroes working together, being friends, beating the bad guys who didn’t go medieval on anyone.

This particular DVD sports four favorite episodes: “Wanted: Ten Super Friends,” “Invasion of the Fearians,” “The World’s Deadliest Game,” and “The Time Trap.” All these episodes have had heavy rotation on ABC’s Saturday Morning lineup. I must have seen these episodes dozens of times growing up, and didn’t quite get bored with them.

My favorite episode, “The Time Trap,” has this time travelling plan that seems to work. Gorilla Grodd creates this time doorway to commit crimes in the past. Apache Chief and Aquaman are transported 70 million years in the past (!) by a scheme carried out by Black Manta and Giganta.

Another scheme is executed by Captain Cold and Sinestro, which Green Lantern and Samurai intercept. This time, they are transported to the time of King Arthur. The villains have stolen King Arthur’s treasure and trapped Green Lantern and Samurai there.

Batman and Robin are dealing with Solomon Grundy and Gorilla Grodd, who take them to ancient Rome. Batman and Robin are captured  and blamed for stealing Ceaser’s treasure and sentenced to the Arena.

In order to save themselves, Aquaman and Apache Chief bury an emergency radio at the precise location of the future site of the Hall of Justice. This gives Superman the idea of using a tracking device to detect the radios of the others. Superman uses his abilities to travel through time to rescue the others.

The Superfriends unite to stop the villains’ last theft, at Sutter’s Mill where gold was discovered in California. Green Lantern transports them back to that time period to stop them. Grodd manages to orchestrate an escape after being defeated.

The other episode that I thoroughly enjoyed was the “The Invasion of the Fearians.” Here the Legion of Doom negotiates with an alien race, the Fearians from the planet Venus.  They asks the Legion to change the climate of the world so that it is like their world. If successful, the Fearians would then take care of the Superfriends.

The Legion of Doom carry out climate changes by using their schemes to increase the temperature and environment. The Superfriends manage to stop them, but do not notice the sudden climate change. The Fearians (really just one, a three headed green alien) use their advanced technology to trap the Superfriends.

Tricking the Fearians to thinking that they escaped, the Fearians deactivates their trap and allows the Superfriends to escape and to change the environment back to normal. They then proceed to defeat the Legion of Doom, where they escape once again.

These episodes are pure escapism. They do not have complicated plots, but are so much fun and simplistic. For a young child, this was a time to jump in and imagine being that hero. They continued to keep the heroes of the DC Universe alive.

Watching these episodes made for a half hour of entertainment. They made kids happy and excited to want to be the next Wonder Woman or Superman. These heroes were making a difference in their world. They combined the animated sensibilities of the old Warner Bros. cartoons with DC Superheroes.

So, next Saturday, I am going to try and catch some of the more ‘smarter’ Saturday Morning Cartoons that I find more appealing. A lot of it is not good, but if you look you can find some real gems. They could be classics like “The Challenge of the Superfriends.”

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The Before Watchmen Debate

February 11, 2012

Any comic book fan will know of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s seminal work “Watchmen.” A take on Charlton Comic book characters that were eventually absorbed into the DC Comics universe, “Watchmen” proved to be a tense murder mystery, a character study of heroes in a world not too far off from our own, and a conspiracy that led to a cataclysmic end.

I remember reading a copy of “Watchmen” with my buddy Jeff who started collecting this series early on. He is still a fan of Moore’s work. I became a fan after I started reading this series. It was definitely not meant for kids and tackled very mature themes.

Moore and Gibbons crafted a complex tale triggered by the death of one of the original members of the superhero team known as the Minutemen. These costumed heroes were made up of men and women who had skills and training to fight crime during and after World War II. Each of these heroes had very human flaws that eventually overwhelmed them. Inspired by these early heroes, others rose to take their place.

One of these heroes, a vigilante known as Rorschach, investigates the murder of the Minuteman known as the Comedian. In his state of mind, he can see some conspiracy slowly unfolding, and calls upon the other heroes to action. He pays a visit to Dan Dreiberg the Nite Owl, his former partner. He also pays a visit with Dr. Manhattan and Laurie Juspeczck to warn them about what was happening and about to come.

The story had multiple points of view and is woven very well with a balance that explores each lead character’s history and origins. The murder mystery was just part of a greater conspiracy that unfolded and caught many off guard. In my simple teen mind, it was stunning. It was nothing like the superhero stories of Marvel or DC. Along with “The Dark Knight Returns,” it was one of the titles that pointed comics into new directions beyond their kid friendly origins.

Moore is incredibly protective of his work. An example of this is his adamant resistance of having many of his works adapted to film, and in most cases he completely separates himself from these projects. The way I basically interpret his point of view is that his work should be unique, standalone stories in the medium of comics and not to be adapted elsewhere.

I applaud that stand. Of the movies that I have seen that have been adapted from his work, I did enjoy “V for Vendetta” and “Watchmen” as they are well crafted films. I enjoyed them, but I did my best to separate them as different mediums. Part of me was glad that a film was made of the work and in the case of “Watchmen” was handled with kid gloves, being about 75% true to the source. Part of me was sad that changes had been made that strayed from the source materials.

The films had their limitations though as they had to fit in a set run-time and to cover as many plot points as possible. Inevitable changes were made, but they were a necessary evil in order for the films to work. I treated these movies as film adaptations and try to remember that these stories were much more complex and compelling in print. You could spend hours just studying one issue of “Watchmen” to capture all the subtle nuances of what was going on in that issue. I know I did.

I think adapting a comic book story to the silver screen is a fine idea, as long as it remains true to the creators’ intent. There were some great adaptations like “Superman,” “The Rocketeer,” Tim Burton’s “Batman,” Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” “American Splendor,” and “Ghost World.” Then there were some clunkers. (Cough! “Fantastic Four!” Cough!) Many of the good ones were handled very well by brilliant directing, acting, adaptation of the story, had creator input, while the others tried and failed. Not all adaptations work. Some are just fun popcorn movies, and that is fine too as they do bring attention back to their comic book origins.

Moore’s work is yet again being adapted by others, this time by creators working for DC Comics. I had been reading about in comic book trade websites about how many are for and against this production.  The intent was to create more back stories for the characters of the “Watchmen” series.  The idea was to allow some of today’s creative teams to put their spin on the characters that Moore and Gibbons created in their stand alone work. This ‘prequel’ work would fill in some of the gaps in “Watchmen’s” character origins, such as Rorschach’s and Nite Owl’s early partnership.

I think this is a bad idea. While it is a compelling thought of ‘wouldn’t it be cool to see and read some of the early adventures of these characters,’ it should not be done. It is doing a form of disservice to the original story, which had a beginning, a complete exploration of characters, their motivations, history, and an ending. “Watchmen” is an encapsulated story- a novel that does not need a sequel or prequel.

It is analogous to how Moore’s work is treated by the movie industry- he wants his work to stand on its own merits in its own medium while somebody else just goes ahead and makes a movie anyway without his input. While the film makers have good intentions and in some cases produce exceptional movies, there is a disservice to the original work and its creators with changes that hampers the point of the story and lessens the impact of the plot.

If “Watchmen” was meant to be a more expanded story, Moore could have made the original series more robust with the actual stories of how Nite Owl teamed up with Rorschach, some of Ozymandias’ early adventures, and Comedian’s exploits. But these would not serve the conspiracy story that “Watchmen” is about. It is a most complex murder mystery that conceals one hell of a conspiracy. The characters are completely fleshed out. While you want to learn more about them and maybe see some of their adventures, they were meant to be finite characters. The story was finite with an ending that let the reader draw their own conclusion on what could happen next.

If I could compare or equate how bad of an idea “Before Watchmen” is to any other  stories, it would be that of “Casablanca” and a terribly written follow-up novel called “As Time Goes By. ” The novel pretty much destroys the theme of  Rick Blaine’s self sacrifice for the greater good by giving his character a real history and eventually reuniting with Ilsa. I wished I had never read that book and would rather pour bleach into my eyes than read it again. The movie, while ripe with possibilities for sequels, was lightning in a bottle. It could not be remade, no sequel would live up to this movie’s appeal, and nothing could make this story continue. (While I admit I have an idea for a follow-up to “Casablanca,”  I have the good sense to keep this to myself and make it no more than a short story exercise.)

I may later read and actually like some of the stories told about the “Watchmen” characters, but again I would have to treat them like the movie adaptation as separate entities. I would hold the source material in much higher regard.

“Watchmen” and Alan Moore deserve that.