Sunday, January 1, 2017

Batman v Superman: From disappointment to appreciation

2016: The year I spent way too much time thinking about BvS
Movies play a huge role in my life. I remember being afraid as I watched the first ant scene in Honey, I Shrunk The Kids when I was just four years old, and I remember the excitement of watching the Ninja Turtles take on the Foot Clan when I was six. Whether a film turns out to be a personal favorite or a disappointment, it has the potential to stick with you for the rest of your life. After all, you're dedicating around an hour and a half to two hours or so of your time to focus solely on a single story. It has your complete attention and you're investing time in it - not only the time you spend watching the movie, but often the countless hours you'll spend thinking about it afterwards. One of the worst things a movie can be is forgettable. Love or hate it, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is by no means forgettable. Now that we're in 2017, I want to share just how much my thoughts have evolved on one of 2016's biggest comic book movies.

Just like so many of you, several movies are on my "must-watch" list each and every year. In 2016, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was easily at the top of my list. I loved 2013's Man of Steel (how many people just stopped reading?), so you can imagine how thrilled I was when BvS was announced at 2013's San Diego Comic-Con. That means my interest in Batman v Superman was building for about three years before I saw it. That's a whole lot of time to speculate and generate more and more anticipation. 2014's SDCC brought about the first image of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, as well as a brief teaser of Batman - in his iconic The Dark Knight Returns armor - having a stern staring contest with Superman. There was plenty to love from 2014's SDCC, but that was definitely my highlight, as well the highlight for many others out there.

Let's fast forward to 2015 - a huge year for promoting the second film in the DC Extended Universe. Due to a leak, the trailer was released a little early, and I was lucky enough to see it at the IMAX fan event, which included a few seconds of extra footage, two posters, and a ticket to see the movie for free in IMAX before it opened in theaters! Some time later, there was also another trailer that was full of fan service, like the first footage of Wonder Woman and Batman using his grappling gun - with a blink and you'll miss it nod to TDKR, too! I loved this trailer.

Later that year, Jimmy Kimmel Live debuted a new trailer - a trailer that would receive very mixed reactions, and understandably so. This is the trailer that included the first look at Doomsday (a villain who wasn't quite as fearsome looking as his comic book counter-part) and DC's Trinity (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman) all standing on the same side, ready to take on the powerful enemy. Some people feel this took away from the weight of the conflict between Batman and Superman and ruined a surprise (Lex Luthor creates Doomsday). Given all of the rumors and amount of time we had to think about the film at that point, it just felt like it was confirming the obvious to me, so this didn't bother me one bit. In fact, it had the opposite effect on me. This trailer brought me so much joy. I couldn't believe I was seeing Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne taking verbal jabs at one another or the Trinity ready to face one of DC's most dangerous fiends. I was so excited that I ran into the bedroom - unaware that my wife was already asleep - and exclaimed something like "that trailer was so good!" It was a total fanboy moment, and I couldn't resist dropping an all caps tweet sharing just how much I loved it.

When 2016 rolled around, my expectations for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were absurdly high. With about three years of speculation, I pretty much had my own version of the movie playing in my head. I thought about how thrilling it would be to see Batman test Superman's limits, and how it would now deliver a more vocal and optimistic version of Superman after the events in Man of Steel. With Aquaman getting his own collectibles (the Funko POP is immediately to the left of my laptop as I write this), I was so certain that he'd make a jaw-dropping debut as the Trinity struggled to defeat Doomsday. I wanted a brutal Batman - one inspired by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley, and John Costanza's The Dark Knight Returns - but he still wouldn't cross the line. I even remember defending the film before it released - I was so certain that Batman wouldn't do anything that would take a life! When the Batwing gunned down those trucks full of criminals in the trailer, I was confident that Lex Luthor hacked into the Batwing and was using it to fuel Superman's actions against Batman. And with the guns on the front of the Batmobile, I remember reading somewhere that it fired non-lethal rounds. I recall telling people that Batman wouldn't kill, otherwise he'd just be the Punisher cosplaying as the Caped Crusader. 

I knew what I wanted from the film, and I brought all of that with me when I finally got to see the movie. My job (Midtown Comics' Marketing & Events Manager) comes with some great perks and I regularly collaborate with movie studios and marketing agencies to give fans in the NYC area some fun opportunities. For Batman v Superman, we gave some lucky fans the chance to attend the U.S. premiere of BvS at Radio City Music Hall, and I was able to attend with a few coworkers as well. This experience made me even more excited about watching the movie - this was my first time at the famous venue! Since you've read about my previous expectations for the movie, you can obviously tell by now that I was feeling pretty disappointed immediately after seeing Batman v Superman for the first time.

There were several things I really enjoyed - like the beautiful cinematography, witnessing Parademons on the big screen, Wonder Woman's cinematic debut, the costume designs, the warehouse fight, and Ben Affleck's performance - but that didn't matter to me right when I walked out of Radio City Music Hall. All I could think about was Batman taking lives whenever he was in one of his vehicles, and Superman's noticeable lack of dialogue. Both things were very disappointing to me and I couldn't get them off my mind. "Why'd they make Batman act like that whenever he's in a vehicle? He was really going to kill Superman by stabbing him in the chest?! And why didn't Superman talk more?! He barely tried to talk to Batman during their fight!" I was okay with the unexpected ending in Man of Steel, but now that the cinematic universe is a bigger place and has more surreal elements, I found myself thinking about how things should have been handled - or at least how I think they should have played out. I know live-action versions of Batman have killed before - especially Michael Keaton, which is the version I loved as a child and still do love - but why couldn't they show a darker, more violent Batman who still holds on to his code? Why couldn't Superman's actions in their fight prove to Batman that they should become allies?

I saw the movie a second time shortly afterwards (an IMAX screening). I went with a good friend (he liked it) and, before going in, I told myself that I'd watch with an open mind, unlike my first viewing. My first viewing was loaded with preconceived notions - no matter how scary he may be, Batman doesn't kill, and Superman is a friendly face who always inspires us. So, during my second viewing I did my best to let go of these thoughts and judge the film based on what it's trying to tell me instead of what I wanted from it. Obviously, I enjoyed it a lot more this time around. It didn't completely shake my disappointment over Batman taking lives and Superman's limited dialogue, but they bothered me less because with the initial shock cast aside, I better understood why things went that way.

With the initial disappointment out of the way, I could finally watch the movie with a clear mind. I better understood that Batman's pain and anger transformed him into the very thing he spent decades fighting against. It wasn't what I wanted, but it made sense and will likely solidify Batman's moral code as we move forward. He was so blinded by his hate that it took a reminder about the tragic loss of his parents to finally snap him out of it. The "Martha" scene isn't as simple as their moms having the same name - it's about taking him back to the very last thing his father said and how that drastically changed his life and set him on a path that was so very clear to him; however, he was no longer the Batman that he should be, which is likely how many fans - including myself - felt while watching the movie. Superman's sacrifice in the end (by the way, he can't give Diana the spear because she's holding Doomsday with the lasso, and wouldn't it be out of character from him to want someone else to risk their life?) blatantly makes Batman realize that he needs to change his ways.

I better understood that Superman wanted to help but faced a stunning amount of conflict as his mere existence led to the suffering of others - you can tell he wants to help as he smiles while saving a child from a fire. Can you really blame him for experiencing doubt, though? He tried to the do the right thing by meeting politicians, and in doing so, many lives were lost - this came after the world questioned whether he helps or hurts. However, his sacrifice reminded much of the world that he is on their side and a symbol of hope. This will likely give him more confidence as he returns in Justice League, which hopefully means he'll have more dialogue as he interacts with his fellow heroes. I also realized that Superman tried to talk it out with Batman but quickly realized there was no reasoning with the vigilante, so he tried to end the fight swiftly and then talk some sense into him - but, as you know, it quickly became a fight for survival once he inhaled some kryptonite.

The more and more I think about it, the more I believe that what I wanted would have been a very safe approach and not nearly as interesting. Entertaining? Absolutely, but I can't help but feel like it wouldn't have stuck with me nearly as much as Batman v Superman has. The comic book counter-parts of these iconic heroes have decades and decades of history, so I don't mind these brand new live-action incarnations being developed differently as long as they organically end up becoming more like the characters we expect them to, and I do believe that Batman v Superman's story accomplished that. In my opinion, I think Batman going after Superman - especially after the loss of a Robin - with so much hate in his heart is an organic conflict given the devastating event in Metropolis; it makes sense that someone like Superman would be so polarizing in the modern era, and that would absolutely make him wonder if he's making things better or worse.

Batman v Superman didn't give me the story I wanted, but it's one that I've come to appreciate more and more with every viewing, and the director's cut definitely enhances Superman's story - I strongly recommend it if you're willing to give the movie another chance. With this darker movie out of the way (which is fitting because it was loosely inspired by TDKR, after all), I'm feeling optimistic about 2017's DC movies, especially with Geoff Johns being so involved. Up next: Justice League and Wonder Woman! Happy New Year, everyone.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Flash: The Complete First Season Blu-ray review

Season 2 of The CW's The Flash is about to begin, and the best way to prepare for all of the new episodes - aside from reading the comics, of course - is by watching the first season all over again. Many of us love the show, but is the collection worth the cost? The short and simple answer: yes! If you want the longer answer, read on!
"Now run, Barry. Run!"
There's a fair amount of special features, but to me, the highlight is easily the commentary provided for the pilot episode. Geoff Johns, Greg Berlanti, and Andrew Kreisberg not only sound like they're having a legitimately good time reflecting on the creation of the first episode and series as a whole, but they also share a lot of very interesting facts; everything from things that were cut to stories from the set are talked about. It's too bad there's only one commentary track from the trio - I would have loved to hear them talk about the finale - but it's a great and informative addition nonetheless. 

It should go without saying that the gag reel is adorable and hilarious, right? Sometimes these things run the risk of feeling cheesy - especially when goofy music is attached - but fans of the show know just how much levity is thrown into each episode and how well the cast can pull it off. Watching some of the silliness and slip-ups that occurred on the set kept me smiling and it's funny stuff. If you love the show, this will bring you some happiness.
It's okay to admit you cried.
The show is loaded with visual effects (or is it?) and there's a detailed special feature that puts that department in the spotlight. Seeing as this is such a critical part of the show, the people behind the VFX get plenty of time to talk about their process and educate by showing how some of the memorable shots - like the train rescue! - were tackled. All in all, it's definitely worthy of your time.

The collection managed to land a solid interview with Mark Hamill, the actor who reprised his role as the villain the Trickster. While it isn't the longest feature around, it is an amusing one that's full of footage and discussion about the Flash show from the '90s. Also included are several deleted scenes, a San Diego Comic-Con 2014 presentation, a feature called "the fastest man alive!" which consists of a lot of recap and discussion about character motives, and a feature that delves into Grant Gustin's screen test and why it was so important for him to have noticeable chemistry with Arrow's Emily Bett Rickards.

My fellow The Flash fans, the special features totally warrant watching. However, it would have been great to see one or two more insightful features. Something dedicated to just the Rogues or the excellent supporting cast has a lot of potential. An elaborate look at Reverse-Flash or even the show's countless easter eggs would have also been appreciated. Still, there's a lot to enjoy.
Pun 1 and Pun 2.
Obviously, the entire season is worth watching all over again. Sure, it has its noticeable flaws - like some villains lacking depth or major fluctuation of Barry's powers and how he acts in fights - but the criticism I have about the show is vastly overshadowed by all of the things I love so much about it. Several live-action comic book shows need some time before really finding out what works for them. For The Flash, it knew what it wanted to accomplish right from the pilot.

It's a show that can make you cry, laugh, and smile during the course of a single episode. It's never too dark, but it's never too silly, either. It's found a balance that works so well as it unleashes the perfect dose of character and comic book fun. The performances across the board are terrific (Jesse L. Martin deserves an unlimited amount of praise) and that makes these characters simply feel so much more human... and in Barry's case, metahuman. Sorry, that bad joke was just too tempting. The Flash gets you to care about its cast, totally embraces the source material (there's a telepathic gorilla AND time travel in the FIRST season; let that sink in!), and it always makes sure you're entertained.
Grant "Game Face" Gustin.
Did you also love the first season of The Flash? If so, buy this Blu-ray. It's really that simple, people. If there's no room in your budget, ask for it as a gift - the holidays are coming up, after all, I firmly believe that The Flash has one of the best debuts out of any live-action comic book series, and overall, it managed to keep doing what it does best throughout the entire season. Yeah, not every episode will blow you away, but each one is pretty much guaranteed to make you cheer, crack up, or even cry at some point. There's excellent worldbuilding throughout, the cast nails it every time, and there's just so much super-powered action and engaging drama. The show knows how to keep you emotionally invested and never lets go. The Flash had a great first season and it absolutely deserves a spot in your collection. By the time season 2 ends, I know I'm going to want to watch these episodes all over again.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50 review

Yup, this review is spoiler-free!

TMNT #50 creative team: Tom Waltz (writer/story), Kevin Eastman (story), Bobby Curnow (story/editor), Mateus Santolouco (art), Cory Smith (flashback art), Ronda Pattison (colors), Shawn Lee (letters)

Artwork by Mateus Santolouco and Ronda Pattison
Back in 2011, IDW Publishing rebooted the TMNT franchise. Everything about the iconic mutants felt familiar, but there were new faces and plenty of organic and exciting story changes along the way. Who would have thought the Ninja Turtles are now a reincarnated family? It sounds tough to swallow, but they absolutely pulled it off.

Year after year, this new direction has been handled brilliantly. No matter how much the narrative changed, one thing stayed the same: Oroku Saki, a.k.a. Shredder, wants to end Hamato Yoshi, a.k.a. Master Splinter, and the Ninja Turtles. Now - four years later - the conflict between the two sides is reaching its conclusion. You know that saying "go big or go home", right? Well, that's exactly what's going on here. This issue is one large slice of awesome, and the topping is an extra amount of awesome. Sorry, I just couldn't resist the pizza pun.
Variant cover by Kevin Eastman and Ronda Pattison
As expected, this issue is loaded with terrific action. There's a lot of great choreography in here and it's a blast to follow.  From the Ninja Turtles requiring tactics against the mutants to - and this totally isn't a spoiler since it's in the solicit - the team fighting Shredder, the melees are pretty much guaranteed to please anyone who's been following the series. Seriously, I can't imagine a fan of this series not feeling totally immersed and enjoying the fight sequences. The minds behind the story (Waltz, Eastman, Curnow) did an impressive job making sure the issue is full of different kinds of fights to keep things consistently gripping, but obviously, a ginormous amount of credit goes to the art team.

To me, Santolouco and Pattison can do no wrong. Issue after issue, this duo has created countless pages that are loaded with personality, energy, and an incredible sense of impact. Whenever there's a battle, there's no doubt these two are going to make it look appropriately fast-paced and amazing. As you more than likely know by now, their talent isn't limited to the chaotic stuff, either. Even calmer moments (e.g. reaction shots, discussions, etc.) have such convincing character work. When this duo's providing the art, you're going to believe these individuals are full of life and emotion instead of simply being static images in panels. The environment vanishes quite a bit, but it's often a justified decision. In those moments, it's usually done to help convey extra speed during something physical, and that definitely makes the instant feel more animated. Besides, there are quite a few pages where it's clear a lot of time was dedicated to an establishing shot and fleshing out the atmosphere. All in all, I have nothing but love for the artwork.
Cover by Mateus Santolouco
In the flashbacks, Cory Smith provides the art. Fans of this series know he's more than capable of making this franchise look good. His style draws some parallels to Santolouco's, and in the past, he's impressed me with some solid composition. This time around, he's tasked with handling a key part of the Splinter and Shredder conflict: their past. As the present unleashes an unrelenting amount of punches and kicks, the past is used to remind us why everyone is fighting. The contrast of seeing how they were when they were raised together to where they are now gives this action-packed issue the emotional weight it requires. Smith's art does a fine job humanizing the characters and he gave the peaceful environments a proper amount of focus - two things that are absolutely mandatory for these scenes to establish an emotional connection. By the time the issue ends, you'll know for certain that Shredder is so much more than a one-dimension foe who wants to dine on turtle soup. The series has already done a phenomenal job handling the villain, but this issue really drives that point home. I really didn't expect this one to move me the way it did; one moment even reminded me of Under the Red Hood, and yes, that's a very good thing.

With Bebop and Rocksteady, there's a bit of silly, slapstick humor. I get this series is loaded with comedy (e.g. Mikey has an amusing line after jumping over a certain mutant), but given the intensity of the situation, that style of humor felt a little out of place and didn't make me laugh. That said, I completely realize this is a personal criticism, and the use of those moments do feel true to Bebop and Rockstready's dynamic - they aren't exactly known as the most nimble and tactical mutants around, are they? Given all that's occurring, it would have been great if the battle was more, well, badass, but the handling of it is perfectly understandable because that incident allows the heroes to use even more teamwork, and there's a really fun layout thrown in there, too. The conclusion with the two does make me ask a question or two, though. After you have characters shrug off a whole variety of attacks and walk away from having a building collapsing on them, it must be quite a challenge finding believable ways to take those two down. I would have loved to see something more along the lines of what Karai did to them (i.e. going for a weak point and getting them to submit) and that could have generated a brutal fight which is reminiscent of the one the heroes had with Slash, but it's still a very satisfying and entertaining battle. The stunning artwork doesn't hurt much, either!
Variant cover by Robert Atkins, Chuck Arnold, and Simon Gough
One minor criticism I have is the handling of a mutant who made a brief cameo in the last chapter. In issue #49, a full reveal of the individual wasn't made, but it was very obvious who the character is (or is it?). In issue #50, the mutant does have dialogue and interacts with others, yet the mutant still remains off-panel - only an arm is visible. So, I'm left wondering why they're holding off on the reveal. After blatantly teasing this fan favorite character, giving the mutant a proper first appearance in this huge issue would have been a fitting way to further boost the reading experience. I'm hoping there's something about the mutant which justifies saving the reveal for another time.

If you're going to charge $7.99 for a comic, it needs to be phenomenal. Thankfully, you can tell so much love went into creating this issue. It's clear the art team is passionate about this franchise, and it's easy to see that the people behind the story enjoy thinking about these characters and what the world can throw their way next.  The price tag sure is off-putting - so many of us have a limited budget for weekly comics - but the IDW team made sure this one was worth every penny and then some.

TMNT #50 feels like a conclusion that gives you everything you could possibly want from it. Fun yet also dramatic fights? Check. Strong characterization? Another check.  Light teasers about what's to come? Yup! Twists you won't see coming? Major check. (Really, I expected things to play out one way - and they did - but then it went in a totally different direction. Bravo, storytellers.) Consistently excellent - or should I say "bodacious"? - artwork? A big ol' check. There's even a reference or two to Eastman and Peter Laird's very first TMNT issue - some probably slipped past me, too. This isn't just a conclusion to an important storyline - it's also a celebration of just how phenomenal IDW's take on this franchise has become. I loved the Ninja Turtles back when I was a kid, and IDW is making sure I love them just as much now. Prepare for awesomeness, TMNT fans.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Legacy of Luther Strode #3 review

The Legacy of Luther Strode #2 was pretty much one ginormous, over-the-top, and awesome fight scene as Luther, Petra, and Delilah continued their search for Cain. Issue #3 can be described the exact same way, but that doesn't matter all that much because the handling of the characters is solid, and the hectic fighting is jaw-dropping. Seriously, comic book fights don't get much better than this, people.
Time and time again, I've praised Justin Jordan's ability to write dialogue that simply feels natural. The things these characters are saying feels organic and relatable; it doesn't come off like forced displays of emotion or blatantly stating exposition just so the reader knows what's up. There's several instances in this comic where Petra's blunt reactions were basically a reflection of my own; it's great having someone who's also blown away by just how stunning and ridiculous these battles can get. Someone who's constantly spewing insults and cursing with every other word could be obnoxious or the character could get old fast, yet Jordan continues to make me adore Petra. Her response when she realizes which weapons she could have brought? Or her witnessing Shooter's incredible accuracy with guns? Priceless stuff.

While writing the script, there's no doubt Jordan has this comic's amazing choreography playing out very clearly in his head. Luckily for him, artist Tradd Moore and colorist Felipe Sobreiro do an absolutely brilliant job bringing all of the insane and fast-paced mayhem - as well as convincing facial expressions - to life. Jordan makes sure this book has a fun and well-paced script, and Moore and Sobreiro make sure these pages are pure bliss for our eyes. Moore's animated and exaggerated character work feels perfect for Luther Strode's crazy world, and the handling of the motion and impact is phenomenal.
In the last issue, the creative team unleashed a fight with a powerhouse that was loaded with staggering hits. Now, it's all about technique, skill, and agility. In the wrong hands, this fight could have been far too complicated to properly follow. In Moore's hands, everything feels fluid and that he allows us to fully appreciate just how swift and elaborate some of these actions can be - even something like two characters leaping up a stairwell can be easily followed and enjoyed. Throw in Sobreiro's attention-grabbing colors and the end result is pages that'll keep you staring and, eventually, going back just to look at 'em all over again. This art team nails the expressions and they do a satisfying job establishing environments, but once the punches and bullets begin to fly, they produce some truly remarkable panels that are full of energy.

Like I said above, the story here is very, very similar to the previous issue. The group is looking for Shooter, a man who can potentially reveal how to find Cain. While Luther Strode tries to go non-lethal, Petra still has no problem going for fatal shots, and Delilah's pretty much there to assist both characters. Like Petra pointed out in the first issue of this volume, her facing people with these abilities is just no fair, so having Delilah by her side makes things more interesting - not just because she can save Petra from the impressive targets, but also because their personalities are so very different. That said, there are noticeable differences this time around. First and foremost, they've encountered someone similar to Strode. Usually, people like this are out for blood and not exactly the kindest people around. Okay, technically both of those descriptions do apply to Shooter, but what makes him different is that he's an anti-hero - he's using his talents to kill scum, not decent people. Additionally, Delilah still remains a mystery to us (for the most part, that is), but she's starting to show just a little more humanity - it's slow and steady development for the character.
The backup - which is written by Tradd Moore, and has art by Stephen Green and Sobreiro - continues to be a solid, character-driven tale. So much of the worldbuilding has been done through Luther's perspective, so it's refreshing to see how two other people were brought into this bloody and twisted story. It's definitely a nice little dose of fan service for those who have followed along since the first volume, too. (If you're reading Legacy but you haven't read the others, what gives? Go read them!) Green's expressions do the creepy kids justice, and while Sobreiro still has vivid displays of red, purple, orange, and several other colors, you can tell his work is more restrained to better fit Green's style - a style which is drastically different from Moore's energetic panels. Green's work creates a much more haunting and darker atmosphere, and Sobreiro's noticeably different handling of the colors most definitely complements the experience. The story may feel very different than Luther's adventure (and understandably so, of course), but Moore's script makes it still feel like a fitting addition to Luther's vicious world.
The main story technically doesn't move forward all that much, but that's easy to ignore because everything else is just so entertaining. The character insight remains strong, the visuals are thrilling, and the creative approach to all of the chaotic action absolutely makes up for the lack of story progression. I've read this issue 3 times now and I loved it each time - the layouts and dialogue are just that enjoyable. The Legacy of Luther Strode is full of exciting action and personality - what's not to love? This is apparently the last volume with Luther Strode, but I'm pretty sure no one would object to a Shooter spin-off. Let's see more of that dude, please.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Comic book reviews: 8/26/15

Old Man Logan #4
Brian Michel Bendis, Andrea Sorrentino, and Marcelo Maiolo's fourth chapter of Old Man Logan pretty much provides more of the same: It still looks amazing, it's still pretty fun, and it's still a brief glimpse of one part of Battleword before throwing us (quite literally) into another part of Marvel's new planet.

Bendis' script has plenty of amusing action scenes and there's a surprisingly lighthearted cameo (which offers a nice balance to the horror vibe), but right now, it feels like this book is following a formula, and that leaves me feeling like the only real surprise is which part of Battleworld will appear on the final page. I'm sure Bendis will make me eat my words at some point, but right now, the book's following a noticeable pattern, and that's a little disappointing. It's definitely an entertaining journey, but the fast-paced nature of this story doesn't give us a lot to chew on. Instead, it's Sorrentino and Maiolo's absolutely stunning layouts that leaves the strongest impression, and those visuals have me coming back for more. (Okay, my love for Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's Old Man Logan doesn't hurt.) I mean, the vivid way these two handle the waves of zombies and Logan's struggle to survive? Or the immersive way they handle an intense scene towards the end? My eyes thank you, Sorrentino and Maiolo.

This book may not be pulling any surprises or delivering especially compelling material at the moment, but it consistently looks phenomenal and it's still good fun.

Ninjak #6
As someone who spends a silly amount of time discussing comic book battles with other fans, one comment seems to pop up a lot about Ninjak: "He needs his technology and gear, otherwise he's not all that great." Firstly, no. Secondly, Ninjak #6 kind of feels like Matt Kindt's response to that false statement. While the flashback (in the primary story) may not add much to the experience, Ninjak's search for - and fight with - La Barbe is well-paced and legitimately interesting. I do miss the previous artist's work (Clay Mann), but Raul Allen, Patricia Martin, and Borja Pindado's drastically different style - one which has a more animated atmosphere and large displays of one tone that tends to to attract your attention (e.g. the bright trees in Paris; the shades of blue in the forest) - produces some truly awesome action sequences. This allow us to better appreciate Ninjak's fluid motions, and the creative handling of these scenes makes it far more memorable, too. Things like watching Ninjak flip through an onomatopoeia or drones sweeping an area is surprisingly enjoyable.

This may be a jumping-on spot, but the backup story (by Kindt, Stephen Segovia, and Ulises Arreola) is really geared towards readers who have been following Valiant's (oh-so-awesome) reboot. For those missing Mann's work, you'll be happy to know the visuals here draw some pretty strong parallels to his pages. It's obviously drastically different than the pages from Ninjak vs. La Barbe, but given the fact it takes place in a totally different time, the difference really shouldn't be jarring for anyone. All in all, it's a satisfying story that's just intriguing enough to make you wonder what'll happen next and fills in just a wee bit of history with another character closely linked to Ninjak. Like I said, longtime readers will get a little more out of this one.

Ninjak #6 is one part clever spy mission, one part ninja awesomeness, and a sprinkle of origin story. If that sounds like a good time to you - and it should - do the obvious thing and give this series a shot.

Spread #9
"Think of the children!" Justin Jordan certainly has with Spread's latest story arc. In a post-apocalyptic world - one that presumably hasn't been around for that long - what would it be like for kids who are unlucky enough to grow up in this violent and horrifying place? Would they lose their humanity, or would there still be signs of it, even when they're in the cruelest conditions? We've seen how bigger societies thrive - or at least attempt to - but now Jordan, as well as  Kyle Strahm and Felipe Sobreiro, are showing us what some people are doing to in order to hold onto their lives for as long as they possibly can.

While I've grown to love No, having him out of commission was a good move. Not only does this give Jack - a seriously lovable character - more time to shine, it also gives the comic more time to flesh out the new characters who have entered the picture. One of Jordan's strengths as a writer is his ability to craft dialogue that comes off feeling natural, so that makes these new characters feel more alive instead of just random complications that are introduced just to give our leads more grief. This is a story that throws us into a post-apocalyptic scenario that's loaded with horror elements, yet what keeps me coming back are the characters. Sure, I like the premise a lot (John Carpenter's The Thing is my favorite horror film), but what has me hooked is seeing how these people - whether they're silent and collected or have totally lost it - react to this insane world and the many challenges it throws at 'em. It would have been cool if one of the new kids used a vicious looking boomerang, but maybe Jordan thought that would be too blunt of a Mad Max: The Road Warrior reference. Not that I'm complaining - there is a blatant Predator reference, after all. Bonus points for that.

As for the art, it's all in the eyes. How does the saying go? The eyes are the window to the soul, right? I'm not going to stop writing so I can google it, but I'm pretty sure that's it. In this story, Strahm allows the eyes to speak volumes. Immediately, you can tell whether someone's curious, sad, or out for blood. Hell, he even pulls it off with a bear. Through expression alone, we can see the animal go from prey to predator very, very quickly. Strahm and Sobreiro's work continues to be a perfect fit for Jordan's harsh and twisted story, and the handling of the eyes really makes these fictional beings more humanizing. The use of bold red shades will always capture your sight, too.

Roche Limit: Clandestiny #4
Michael Moreci, Kyle Charles, and Matt Battaglia's Roche Limit: Clandestiny kind of feels like a more elaborate and way more satisfying version of Prometheus (i.e. traveling to an alien world for a mission that isn't quite what it seems to be and the crew encounters more and more mysteries) - and I say that as someone who has a mostly positive opinion of Ridley Scott's movie, too! Now that we've reached chapter four - the penultimate issue - we're starting to get more answers to the several mysteries going on. Thankfully, these answers further boost my interest in this story, and it helps that it's written in a way that doesn't feel like blatant exposition. There's quite a few elements being juggled in this adventure (A.I., exploring an alien world, invasions, the human psyche), yet none of them feel overshadowed or glossed over and, somehow, this issue is also loaded with cheerworthy action. (Cole is the best, by the way.) One ridiculously over-the-top attack - one which started as a blatant parallel to Prometheus, and then went in a hilariously awesome direction - won't be forgotten any time soon. It's also really interesting seeing how these characters acted in chapter one versus how they are when they know what the odds really are... or at least what they think the odds are. And the icing on the delicious sci-fi cake? Energetic visuals that are overflowing with appropriately strong colors. This volume has delivered some excellent displays of emotion and alien landscapes, but this time around, it's the hectic action that really wows.

Overall, Roche Limit: Clandestiny is thought-provoking sci-fi which also happens to be full of action and some legitimately funny banter. It'll capture your interest, keep you guessing, and excite you with some crazy, gorgeous action. Seriously, what's not to love? Fans of Prometheus/Aliens (the first chapter has a moment that just screams "Ellen Ripley")/sci-fi in general, check it out.

A few notes:
  • I've decided not to provide scores for these quick reviews. Really, they're pretty short. I believe in your ability to read them and understand how I feel about a comic without seeing a number or letter grade.
  • If a publisher wants to use a quote, you of course have my permission to do so. Please credit as "Comic Book Babbling Blog".
  • If you're interested in having a comic reviewed, please feel free to contact me at Or you can reach out via Twitter: @greggkatzman.
  • I didn't have time to review Rumble #6, but please, do yourself a favor and give that Image Comics series a chance. I'm not even a fantasy fan and I absolutely love it. It's fun, funny, and full of creativity. Plus, it has a giant sword called Thunderchop, so there's that.
  • One final - and very important - note: Be a good person, okay? Just give it a shot. Anyway, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #49 review

*This review is spoiler-free*

Since the very first issue, IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has done an awesome job making this new take on the franchise feel fresh yet also enjoyably familiar. After several strong story arcs (and some excellent limited series, like Secret History of the Foot Clan), you can really tell a whole lot of love and planning went into crafting this new TMNT universe. And issue #49? Yeah, you can tell this one is building up anticipation for the ginormous issue #50 (it's 48 pages!), while also loosely teasing the big plans that'll step forward after the next issue (or even during it?). Oh, and the fact this chapter also manages to throw in plenty of character, exciting action, and great artwork doesn't hurt, either.
Cover by Mateus Santolouco
First and foremost, getting a look at Bludgeon and Koya during some downtime was an unexpected treat. Sure, the two mutants don't receive too much of the spotlight, but it's just enough to show even more why they're basically the polar opposite of Bebop and Rocksteady when it comes to their personalities. While Bebop and Rocksteady have this "goofy best bros" dynamic going on, Koya and Bludgeon seem to have more of a brother and sister relationship, and their personalities are far more fitting for the Foot Clan. The classic and dim-witted duo, Bebop and Rocksteady, have been given plenty of attention in this title (not that I'm complaining, of course), yet it feels like Koya and Bludgeon haven't received that much love, often only appearing in fight scenes or having small remarks here and there. So, while they may not have a standout scene, it is cool we received just a wee bit of insight into the two before we return to all of the action-packed craziness.

Since issue #50 is (presumably) all about the conflict between Shredder and Splinter, this issue wraps up Baxter Stockman's plot pretty swiftly. On one hand, it's a little disappointing his role is tossed aside so quickly - the fiend has a lot of potential, after all. But on the other hand, the conclusion does make sense for him, so it doesn't come off feeling forced or rushed. And, to be fair, the last issue did mostly revolve around the team fighting his swarm. I'd like to see more of him, but his departure here is logical.

To some, this franchise is all about cool mutants, amusing catchphrases, and ninja action. While those things did make me fall in love with the Ninja Turtles when I was younger - and they definitely help keep the stories entertaining - one element is equally important: family. Even though these stories are so surreal and sometimes even silly, this is a franchise that's really about a family who's simply trying to protect each other and the need to stand up against what's wrong. You may not know any mutated turtles who are also ninjas (or DO you?), but the sense of family and a desire to do what's right will always be relatable, and that allows this franchise to deliver some heavy doses of heart... you know, in between all of the fighting. In this issue, there's just enough of that right before a big battle begins, and it's a really satisfying moment. Splinter must be a tough character to write. In the wrong hands, Hamato Yoshi may come off too heavy-handed or corny. Luckily for us, Tom Waltz gets the character and there's a fine amount of emotion that takes place before mutants begin to flip around and dish out all sorts of violence. Without an emotional connection, action can feel meaningless because you just don't care about the combatants. (Well, unless the choreography is brilliant, like in The Raid.) Thankfully, the team behind the story - Waltz, franchise co-creator Kevin Eastman, and editor Bobby Curnow - understand these characters and have made them humanizing. Man, that was a whole lot of words just to say"there's a good family moment in here."
Cover by Kevin Eastman and Ronda Pattison
It may not be as compelling as what's going on with Splinter and his family, but it's great to see Waltz, Eastman, and Curnow decided to flesh out Karai's role even more. She's been a standout character in this series and something tells me her role is going to get even bigger after the next issue. We'll just have to wait and see if that really does happen, but one thing is clear: so far, IDW's done a good job with Karai. Let's hope she continues to capture our attention.

Sweet mother of Michelangelo, this issue has some really enjoyable fighting. Right when it feels like we've reached a cliffhanger moment and all of the popcorn entertainment will be saved for next month, we're thrown right into the madness. It's really tough to discuss this part without giving anything away, so I'll skip the details (just trust me, it's a fun scene) and instead jump to praising a very important reason why the action thrives: artist Cory Smith and colorist Ronda Pattison.

From Mateus Santolouco - who provided the attention-grabbing primary cover - to Sophie Campbell, IDW has been fortunate enough to work with several very, very, veeery talented artists. Their styles may be drastically different, but the decision to often have them work an entire arc prevented the changes in visuals from being jarring, and the distinct styles were often fitting for the story at hand. To top it off, Pattison's been around since the very first issue and doing an incredible job the whole time. Even when the anatomy, environments, and lines may be noticeably different, her attention to each and every panel has given us a feeling of consistency and brought so much more energy and emotion to these pages. Thankfully, she's still bringing it after dozens of issues and the end result is one mighty fine looking comic. The combination of Smith's strong character work, impressive handling of motion, and use of angles really pulls us into these moments, making them feel like they're actually playing out instead of being just static images. Throw in Pattison's impressively consistent coloring - I love how certain moments hit us with bright shades to sell the intensity - and it's safe to say issue #49's pages will leave most eyes feeling fulfilled. Man, I know I said I wouldn't give spoilers, but there's one double-page spread that's just begging to be turned into a poster. The "let's do it!" one also rules. Yes, I enjoyed it so much that I said it "rules." Whether it's a slow, character-driven scene or getting us pumped for action, the visual team delivers.
Cover by Jason Howard
There's one moment in here that made me really, really happy. Obviously, I won't give detail about its but I will say it was a totally unexpected surprise. I'm very excited to see how the team will utilize this new element in an already pretty crowded world - it was also a satisfying follow-up to a tease in a previous limited series. There's a lot going on right now and I'm anxious to see where the conflict with Shredder will go, but this new plot point has me thrilled. Brace yourselves, fan service is coming.

My only (relatively minor) criticism is the cliffhanger doesn't capitalize on all of the excitement nearly as much as it could have. With so many cheerworthy and interesting things going on, the final moments just isn't as gripping as what came before it. I wish I could elaborate here, but for the sake of remaining spoiler-free, let's just say the cliffhanger doesn't have me concerned or feeling like the stakes are truly high right now. But hey, it's a pretty small critique and thankfully everything before it makes up for it and then some. I also wish another dynamic was given more attention (considering something huge recently happened with the family), but maybe we'll see more of that in the next chapter - I certainly hope so.

If you've been following the series or simply love this franchise, this is a phenomenal issue. It's action-packed, has a (literally) huge surprise, and it continues to handle these characters extremely well. Based on the quality of this issue and the ones that came before it, I have a feeling the next issue - which is a whopping $7.99 - will be worth every penny. I won't conclude this review with a cheesy pun (I swear "cheesy" is an unintentional one), but I will end it on a very blunt note: it's clear IDW loves this franchise, and I absolutely love what they're doing with it. So yeah, consider this 30-year-old TMNT fan very happy. Bring on #50!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles "Tale of the Yokai" review

Last week, Season 3 of Nick's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returned with an episode that introduced the classic time-traveling character Renet. The episode, appropriately titled "Turtles in Time", had plenty of fun and creative ways of utilizing time travel - especially when the villain, Savanti Romero, had control over it. With "Tale of the Yoaki", the show is going in a more dramatic direction as it travels more than a decade into the past - 16 years, to be exact - to flesh out the rivalry between Hamato Yoshi, a.k.a. the man who eventually becomes Splinter, and Oroku Saki, a.k.a. the man who transforms into Shredder.

"Turtles in Time" was a total blast, but this second time travel story - which is written by the show's EP/head writer Brandom Auman, and directed by Sebastian Montes - feels like the complete package. It's the kind of episode that hits you with jaw-dropping action, scatters in some legitimately hilarious moments, and has a strong overall story that's full of intrigue and, more importantly, emotion. Like Mikey even points out in the episode, this tale (briefly) shows you a different side of Shredder, and leaves us wondering quite a few things. For example, I'm left thinking about what could have happened in Tang Shen did choose Oroku. Sure, Donatello explains why that could spell doom for the future, but could Oroku have saved the planet? Would he become a hero, or would he still be destined to resurrect the Foot Clan and take a more villainous path? I'm guessing the latter is bound to happen, but with the solid handling of the story - complete with a Back to the Future nod, of course - it's fun to think about. Also, a less composed Splinter, one who occasionally shows arrogance and doesn't hold back quite as much, was definitely an interesting thing to witness.

There's plenty of great comedy in here. For me, the highlight comes from when the Ninja Turtles dish out some psychological warfare because their enemies believe they're mythical creatures called Yokai. It was a great way for the show to implement some of the horror elements its known for, while also delivering plenty of funny lines and cool visuals. Plus, baby Miwa Karai - and the way she tugs on Leo's mask - is absolutely adorable. There's just enough consistently strong humor and nods in here to balance out the dramatic and surprisingly emotional narrative between Saki and Yoshi.

Montes' handling of the action scenes is amazing. The excellent directing allowed us to appreciate the characters' swift movements and skill, as well as the overall intensity of the scenes. There's several cool bouts in here and they just get better and better. There's an especially immersive shot that's used right as Yoshi and Saki begin their final fight in the dojo. There's a lot of steady shots that allow us to enjoy the technique, but that one was especially clever. And speaking of shots, it's great and all kinds of fitting how an emotional debate between Yoshi and Shen takes place on a peaceful bridge with the bright, towering city in the background. Oh, and the slow motion block and vanish that happens in the woods? Terrific stuff.

Even though you know what's coming when Saki and Yoshi begin their heated (pun so not intentional) fight, watching it all unfold is still a surprisingly gripping and powerful experience, so that's saying a lot about just how strong the writing and direction is in this episode. IDW's comic series also brought the Ninja Turtles back to the beginning of Yoshi and Saki's conflict so it could drop a stunning twist. Thankfully, Nick offers one that's completely different yet equally mind-blowing.

Minor criticism: At the start of the episode, the team's running away from a group of ninjas, and they're pretty freaked out and intimidated by them. Yes, it's quickly revealed these ninjas are no joke, but that's something they didn't know just yet, so them fleeing like that is obviously a comedic beat. Considering all that the team has been through and the fact they just faced a ginormous, time manipulating villain who's all kinds of frightening, you'd think this challenge wouldn't send them running like that. Still, it did make me smile!

"Tale of the Yokai" is an awesome episode and it's yet another example of how this show can juggle action, laughs, and heart so well. We all know how the conflict between Shredder and Splinter began in the Nick TMNT universe, but knowing the basics of this story by no means takes away from just how exciting and compelling it is. Ninja Turtles fans, watch this episode.