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 greggkatzman@gmail.com. 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.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Fantastic Four movie review

By now, you've probably seen a bunch of reviews treating Fox's Fantastic Four reboot like it kicked a puppy. While I haven't read those reviews just yet - I've only glanced at the harsh headlines - I can see why some people are really, really disappointed by the cinematic return of Marvel's first family. That said, the movie does get a lot right... before taking a pretty big downward spiral, that is.

The first half hour or so of this movie is solid and includes what is by far the most interesting material. It mostly revolves around Reed Richard's (Miles Teller) as we see his passion for science and discovery, his close friendship with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and his amusingly awkward attempt to talk with Sue Storm (Kate Mara). This humanizing approach, along with the buildup to the Negative Zone Zero Earth is handled really well. It's feels like we're watching a solid sci-fi movie - not a comic book movie - that's inspired by the first volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Sure, there's some silly stuff, like how "it's clobbering time" is first used and Sue casually calling Victor Von Doom "Doctor Doom", but overall, this is where the movie really shines and pulls you into a more grounded and enjoyable story.
After the team develops their powers, this is where the movie seems to lose direction. There's a clear message here about the U.S. military and how it focuses on what it needs to do to remain a dominant force, even if it means making some people miserable and callous. I mean, when there's a shot of Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) - a guy who's clearly working with the military and treating the team like weapons - walking out of a vehicle and into a building, it has blatantly ominous music.

There's hints at character development when the powers are gained: Johnny finally feels like he's found a purpose in life, Sue doesn't want to be a weapon, Thing turned from a tough guy with a big heart into a freaking killing machine, and Reed's simply trying to find a way to fix his friends. However, none of it really goes anywhere; it kind of feels like this time is spent just to give them control over their powers instead of giving their personalities the amount of attention they should receive. I would have loved to see 20 minutes or so dedicated to some scenes that give each of them more insight; the Thing certainly could have used it. Then we're thrown into Doom's return, and unfortunately, that's when things become all kinds of predictable and silly.

Victor Von Doom is a missed opportunity, and that's a real shame because Toby Kebbell proved he's an excellent actor in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I'm fine with changes to the source material, but they have to bring something compelling to the table to justify the new direction. In this case, they attempt to make Victor more humanizing earlier on - he's still somewhat off-putting, but he's far friendlier than you'd expect him to be. Once he changes, the potential is there to have him loathe the Fantastic Four and want to rule Latveria the way he believes it should governed. Instead of that - something which would open the door to more interesting conflicts down the road and a better villain - Doom decides to unleash end of the world scenario #4,852. Look, some movies can get away with using stakes that ridiculously high, but in this movie, the sense of urgency and danger just isn't there and it all happens so quickly. Doom makes a heartless return, but the big battle plays out exactly how everyone thinks it would - and that's because we've seen stuff like this time and time again. It's just not nearly as exciting as it could be and it's very, very generic. When a movie has so much buildup, having this as the payoff is severely disappointing. (Oh, and I'm just going to assume Doom's green cloak is the U.S. flag that was left on the planet and it has been stained by the glowing resources.)
I enjoyed Teller as Richards; he captures the character's personality well and I can see him eventually becoming the team's leader and finally being able to have a strong relationship with Sue. I also liked Bell as Thing. His voice may not be as deep as you'd expect it to be but I think it worked. There was the potential for a really strong arc with him, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Michael B. Jordan's Johnny Storm is the last member of the team to be introduced, and while I think he does a fine job with the material he's given, the character isn't quite as uplifting and fun as he should be. He has a few moments of levity in there and the fact he's a thrill-seeker (he street races) means he'll love testing his powers, but when he does finally say "flame on", it's just a casual remark instead of embracing the fact that he can now, you know, fly! If the sequel does happen, hopefully they have his character bring more life to the movie. As for Kate Mara's Sue Storm, it feels like she's there to be a plot device instead of a complex character. There's plenty of time dedicated to her looking at computer screens or testing her powers, but it really does seem like she's there to help locate someone and then provide the team with a force field when they need it. There's a hint of character depth there - she doesn't want to be a tool for the military - but nothing really happens with it, unfortunately.

Fantastic Four begins as a legitimately interesting sci-fi, character-driven movie, but then it doesn't focus enough on what it wants to accomplish with each hero, and then things become unoriginal and disappointing when Doom is brought back into the picture. All in all, I agree with writer-producer Simon Kinberg that it's "not a disaster", but it's definitely not a good movie, either. It had the potential to be one, but then all of the movie's strongest qualities are tossed aside as it speeds towards the big boss battle with Doom. But hey, now that the team has finally bonded, maybe - just maybe - Fantastic Four 2 (if it even happens now) will be great. Until then, we can keep watching The Incredibles. That one's pretty... awesome. Bet you thought I'd say "fantastic", didn't you? Nope! You're welcome.

2/5

(There isn't a credits scene. Oh, and Thing dropping from the plane or slowly raising his fist to presumably unleash one hell of a strong punch? You know, the shots that are in many of the trailers? Those moments aren't in the movie.)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Justice League: Gods and Monsters review

You've seen Batman: The Animated SeriesJustice League, Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series, or Justice League Unlimited, right? Assuming the answer is yes (and it really should be), that means you're familiar with Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett's work. Now the two have teamed-up to deliver a character-driven mystery that's sprinkled with creative fan service, loaded with exciting action, and packing a legitimately interesting approach to DC's trinity.
There's been a wide variety of alternate universes over the years; we've seen everything from Batman in a different era to Superman being raised by a different family. At this point, bringing something 100% original to these characters would be a herculean feat, but Timm, Burnett, director Sam Liu, and Geoff Johns (a bonus feature explains how he helped build the story) have managed to present an alternate universe that leaves me wanting to see so much more of it. Where will the remaining characters go from here? What changes have been made to other heroes and villains? Can these characters slowly begin to resemble their iconic counter-parts more and more, or will they never be able to reach that heroic level? This is a world where things aren't completely upside down, but they're just different enough to breathe so much more life into this place. Morals have shifted, the cosmic mythos is altered, and things aren't going to go so well for many familiar faces. The Justice League's three members are Gods compared to regular humans, but does killing their enemies also make them monsters? Or is a lack of transparency and trust what truly puts them at odds with humanity? I love the way the conflict between the Justice League and the U.S. Government is explored - there isn't a lot of blunt exposition and it escalates naturally - and I'm left seriously hoping we get a sequel at some point. There's still so much potential on their version of Earth.

Overall, Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment's direct-to-video projects have solid voice acting. There's some films where certain characters fall flat, but there's been far more hits than misses, thankfully. In Justice League: Gods and Monsters, the performances are definitely solid and that's hugely important because this is a movie that relies on character development and making sure these individuals are compelling instead of just being colder and more violent versions of characters you already know so well.

Tamara Taylor's voice manages to capture Wonder Woman's strength and vulnerability equally well. Whether it's yelling in combat or temporarily letting her guard down, it just wasn't jarring when Wonder Woman switched from a fearsome warrior to someone far more relatable. Benjamin Bratt's voice further solidifies the fact that we're dealing with a totally different version of Superman. The Man of Steel still sounds confident, but instead of speaking in a way that give listeners a feeling of hope, there's more mystery in his dialogue - there's something especially scary about a man who can talk calmly after killing his enemies, after all. You can really tell this is a guy who thinks he knows what he wants (he's tempted to rule humanity with an iron fist, yet never choose to do so), but he's still torn over whether or not he's doing the right thing. He wants you to believe he's firm in his beliefs, but deep down, it's obvious he's far more torn than he lets on. Bratt's lines absolutely did this character *ahem* justice. And Michael C. Hall as this darker version of Batman? I mean, we're talking about the voice of Dexter as an emotionally distant killer. Come on, it really doesn't get more fitting than that, does it?
Everyone may be familiar with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but Justice League: Gods and Monsters' take on these heroes are quite different - it isn't even the same people wearing the costumes. Because of that, this movie has the difficult task of revealing three new origin stories while also building an overall story. Luckily for us, these origin stories don't interrupt the flow of the bigger picture. Instead of feeling like jarring flashbacks, they unfold in a more natural way and the handling of Batman and Wonder Woman's earlier tales are a nice reminder of just how much this narrative relies on character instead of big events and spectacle. On the surface, these characters are colder and darker than their famous counter-parts. However, this story is able to humanize all three of them in different and equally effective ways.

The new designs are also a satisfying way to make it crystal clear we're leaping into a whole new world. Batman may still be swift and skilled, but aside from the signature ears and wings during flight, plenty of changes - like the goggles that aid his eyes - help this character stand apart from the Dark Knight. The same holds true for Wonder Woman's armor. I won't go into where it stems from (spoilers, obviously), but it's a clear reflection of someone who isn't from the same place as Diana Prince. Meanwhile, Superman no longer has his signature chest emblem (something Batman doesn't have, either!) or flowing cape. The way his coat waves is a nod to Big Blue's design, but overall, this Superman feels like a more grounded and practical approach to this individual. He isn't here to inspire; here's here to crush the opposition. There's no need for bright colors with him.

There's a lot of cameos and familiar items floating around, so viewers with a good amount of DC Universe knowledge are going to be pretty pleased with just how many people and recognizable things were sprinkled into this story. Some are nothing more than "Hey, I know that person!" kind of appearances, but it's still cool they packed so much in here. It's especially interesting how they handled one popular villain, but I won't get into that because, you know, spoilers.

Liu makes sure all of the action leaves an impact. From immense, super-powered strikes to jaw-droppingly harsh acts of violence, every encounter finds its own way to make an impression. Each "hero" fights differently - Superman's a blunt tank; Batman's agile and precise; Wonder Woman's frighteningly good with her blade - and the director's able to present all three kinds of action scenes in equally enjoyable ways. A slugfest between titans is every bit as jaw-dropping as Batman leaping around or Wonder Woman deflecting a barrage of projectiles. It's all thrilling and there's plenty of it. There's some especially over-the-top stuff in here as well and man, it's a blast.
My biggest criticism of this movie is one that also applies to many other superhero stories: it doesn't seem likely at all that the villain's elaborate plan will succeed. The buildup is excellent and there's a fair amount of surprises in the mystery, but once everything is revealed, it begins play out in a pretty standard - albeit enjoyable - manner. While it does remain focused on character - that, along with morals, is easily the most important part of the story - I would have loved to see some more creative twists once the villain's plan is put in the spotlight.

The Blu-ray's special features are definitely worth your time. There's an extensive look - 11 minutes and 45 seconds long - at next year's Batman: Bad Blood. This movie already had my interest, but after watching this feature, I'm legitimately excited for it. Going into the feature, all I knew about Bad Blood is who's directing (Jay Olivia) and who's voicing Batwoman (Yvonne Strahovski) and Batwing (Gaius Charles). This feature reveals so much more of the story - something I won't spoil in here - and goes into great detail about who's involved and what kind of roles they'll play. I will drop one incredibly minor and vague spoiler, though: Nightwing fans, it looks like you're going to be happy.

There's also a 20 minute feature about the various alternate realities DC has created. If you're looking for must-read alternate tales or simply want to hear some of DC's talent explain what makes stories like Kingdom Come special, it's most certainly worthy of your attention. Additionally, there's a feature which explores how Gods and Monsters was created. It's a very insightful look into where the idea came from, how the characters were designed, and what makes this universe worth exploring. As if nearly an hour of extra content wasn't enough, there's also an older feature about the history of Darkseid and the New Gods - there's a big emphasis on Jack Kirby's work, of course - and two relevant episodes of Superman: The Animated Series and Legion of Superheroes.
Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a must-watch for both new and old fans of DC's animated projects. Thanks to great designs, a sharp script which focuses heavily on character, and a variety of intense action sequences, Gods and Monsters is a movie that deserves a spot in your collection.

4.5/5

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is currently on sale digitally and the Blu-ray/DVD will be available July 28. It's rated PG-13 and, thanks to some graphic kills and language, it certainly earns that rating.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

SDCC 2015: Thoughts on the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer

As expected, a new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer debuted at San Diego Comic-Con. Almost 4 minutes long, this video shows off a ton of new footage, dropping not only more of the conflict between Batman and Superman, but also revealing a whole bunch of new teasers. Based on what I've seen so far, it looks like a good percentage of fans enjoy the trailer just as much as I do, but if it's cool with you, I'm going to take a moment or two to explain why I'm so excited for this film.

First and foremost, I love how DC and Warner Bros. is using the Battle of Metropolis from Man of Steel to construct its new cinematic universe. What occurred in MoS is a big deal and it should have enormous ramifications. Far too often movie franchises will have surreal events occur and then they're glossed over. "Yay! The day is saved! Now, what's the next global threat?" Instead of racing forward and focusing on the future, DC and WB seems to be taking this big event and giving it so much more weight.
Just imagine if what went down in Metropolis actually happened in one of our cities. Aliens make a very public arrival with a clear warning - which would be startling enough - and then they begin to terraform the Earth, killing thousands in the process. Pretty terrifying up, yes? As if that wasn't shocking and frightening enough, it's revealed one of those absurdly powerful aliens - too formidable to be defeated and/or restrained by our militaries - has been living on the planet the entire time. Once the dust settles and the villainous aliens are defeated, this titan who has been hiding on our planet still remains. How do you know you can trust him, especially when the devastating battle killed so many innocents? Sure, a vast majority of the deaths came from the World Engine, but as viewers, we were given a much clearer picture of what really happened in the fight. To top it off, this person saved the day by snapping his enemy's neck. Now he's just roaming around the planet and we have to take his word that he's never going to flip out and destroy us all. Naturally, the word would have mixed responses to this seemingly invincible being. Some would think he's here to save us from every little problem and he'll always be there to help, no matter what. Others may loathe him. Many will be afraid of him. There would undoubtedly be plenty of polarizing coverage as talking heads influence people to either love or loathe Superman. This plot point is huge and it's so refreshing to see a majority of this follow-up movie is playing off of that tragic event (and in a remotely "realistic" way, too) instead of just reducing it to a few references and then moving forward with a totally different narrative.
Seeing how the Battle of Metropolis impacted Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne - the trailer reveals he's a man who has already endured great loss - was surprisingly powerful. The way he runs towards the destruction as everyone else flees it is a reminder of just what kind of man he is. How many close friends (and maybe even a loved one?) did he just lose as his building collapsed? Then the way he grips a child as he looks towards the sky - presumably watching Superman and Zod fighting or just gazing at the destruction they've left behind -  is powerful stuff. From his view, he can't tell it's Zod who's blasting apart the building with heat vision. He just knows Superman can do that, and that's a major problem to him. Even though we know they two heroes will end up as allies and they should solve their differences with their words, this trailer makes us really appreciate where Batman's determination is coming from. Plus, we all know Lex Luthor is going to be pulling some strings, right?

Superman is now thrown into the spotlight - something he tried to avoid for years and years - and based on the drastic reactions he's receiving, it's easy to understand Jonathan Kent's concerns that the world isn't ready for someone like Superman. Despite a noteworthy percentage of the world throwing nothing but vitriol his way and an overwhelming amount of darkness and tragedies occurring across the globe, the trailer shows Superman isn't shying away from doing what must be done. When politicians point the finger at him, he's willing to meet them head-on about it. Now, what he says has yet to be revealed, but showing him going out of his way to save others (he saves astronauts from a failed rocket launch, goes to what appears to be a ginormous flood to aid people, and he is spotted saving someone else from a fire) you can see he isn't turning his back on this world, despite it throwing so much hate his way.
We didn't see much of Wonder Woman, but the little we did see leaves me feeling confident that she'll be an impressive powerhouse in the movie. It looks like at least twice she's hit quite hard (the first shot shows her in front of a damaged Batmobile with a trail, so it seems like she was knocked into it) and then she recovers like it's nothing. I mean, the look on her face after she takes a hit? If that's not an "oh, it's on" face then I just don't know what is. It's clear they make a point to hide from us who Wonder Woman is battling and, thanks to some editing, they make it seem like Superman's the one blasting heat vision at an armorless Batman. However, I think they're fighting whatever the big bad is in those scenes - presumably a twisted, reincarnated version of Zod. This could make him a new version of Bizarro (I could picture Lex saying the being is "bizarre") or Doomsday. Maybe even Cyborg Superman or Metallo with Lex Luthor involved! The brief shot of the Batwing reveals a devastated landscape, so I'm guessing that's thanks to Superman and Wonder Woman battling this big bad. Or perhaps it's just a trail of destruction left by this new foe. Either way, it looks like these three are definitely teaming-up to take on whatever Lex Luthor creates. And based on this small sample of footage, I'm stoked. Then again, it could just be Wonder Woman and Batman battling a somewhat mind-controlled Superman (if Lex Luthor has Zod's body, he's studied Kryptonian physiology), but I really hope that's not the case. The whole "heroes fighting because of mind-control" plot device has been used so many times before; I'd much rather see them unite against one powerful enemy.

Additionally, this version of Batman looks like he's going to be pure fan service. There's a little nod to the iconic The Dark Knight Returns lightning cover (2:56), and seeing him use his grappling gun and briefly fight goons was totally thrilling. I appreciate Nolan's trilogy, but this version of Batman looks epic. Not only will he be a brilliant inventor and tactician, but from the looks of things, he's also going to have some serious combat skill.
One scene brings up some questions: "desert" Batman fighting soldiers with the Superman logo. The most common and logical theory is those troops are the cinematic version of The Dark Knight Returns' vigilante group called the Sons of Batman. It seems these rogue soldiers worship the Man of Steel and kill people in his name (they're seen executing helpless people). I'm thinking that the "Batman" they're fighting isn't Bruce (it's worth noting the chin looks different), but instead a man who's inspired by Batman as the Dark Knight stands up to the unstoppable God called Superman. It's tough to tell for certain, but if so, that could mean as a human dares to oppose the all-mighty alien, regular humans will rise against this group of soldiers who are sporting Superman's symbol. One can only assume that Batman and Superman will eventually find a way to put an end to that senseless and bloody madness. Or, this could simply be Batman trying to stop them and he's captured. (Possibly on purpose since he's crafty like that and knows it would bring Superman right to him.) If so, that could explain the shot of Superman going to their base. We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

Holy teasers and fan service, Batman! The Robin costume immediately has me - and a gazillion other people - wondering if the first Batman spinoff will be inspired by Under the Red Hood. Seeing as that movie has the potential to look into the past (new mythos building, people!) and also offer an action-packed and compelling story in the present, that's an approach I'd love to see adapted for the big screen... especially if Ben Affleck is directing! Yeah, people still love ripping on him for his older work like Daredevil and Gigli, but his latest work is excellent (The Town, Argo, Gone Girl) and that's what matters. I was already sold on him as Batman, but this trailer further boosts my faith in his performance.
I'm not here to make you change your feelings about this upcoming movie. Man of Steel was polarizing and if you still feel skeptical about Batman v Superman, so be it. Only time will tell whether or not the movie will live up to the hype, after all. But me? I can't help but support what I love. And this new trailer? Yeah, I definitely love it.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens March 25, 2016.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Batman/TMNT crossover comic announced: 5 must-haves

First, IDW Publishing made the child in me feel all kinds of nostalgic with Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening's very entertaining Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters limited series. Now, the publisher has joined forces with DC to create a crossover that makes me want to throw the planet's entire supply of confetti in the air: Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not only were these my two favorite franchises back when I was a kid, but now I'm approaching the age of thirty (this August!) and, thanks to some excellent comics, video games, TV shows, and movies, I still adore these two franchises.
CBR landed the exclusive announcement, announcing the series will have six issues and the creative team is James Tynion IV and Freddie E. Williams IIHere's the official synopsis:
"In the ongoing power struggle between the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, General Krang, and the Foot Clan, allegiances have shifted and the battle lines have been drawn. Krang concocts a plan to rid himself of both the Turtles and Shredder by transporting them to another dimension, where they land in the dark and dangerous streets of Gotham City. It isn't long before they encounter Gotham's most famous resident, Batman. The Caped Crusader may be their only hope of overcoming their enemies and getting back home. But not before they encounter a whole cast of Gotham's most infamous rogues."
If you can't tell by now, this news has me seriously thrilled. So far, this is easily the biggest surprise to come out of San Diego Comic-Con 2015 and it is without question the one that has me the most excited. The two released images - one above and one below - look awesome, and as terrific as seeing this team-up may be, it's going to take more than these heroes sharing the page to turn this into a memorable adventure. Only time will tell how the story is handled, but for now, here are five things I'd love to see in the limited series.

Character-driven, not plot-driven
When you have characters visiting another dimension, there's of course going to be a pretty big plot going on. How'd General Krang manage to pull this off? How will the Ninja Turtles (and presumably Shredder) get back to their own world? These are two huge questions which deserve a whole lot of attention, but at the end of the day, everyone is purchasing this story for the characters, not how the crossover happened and how it'll be resolved. The bigger picture will likely take more predictable (but probably fun) beats, but the character moments is where this limited series will have a chance to really impress. Batman's dynamic with the Ninja Turtles has so much potential! Mikey could joke about Bruce's serious demeanor or possibly even admire him; Raphael may get jealous or frustrated; Donatello could relish the chance to work with someone so brilliant; Leonardo may grow to respect Bruce's tactical mind and drive. In the end, they'll of course all bond and respect one another, but the conversations and the situations they'll produce are sure to be legitimately interesting.

Meanwhile, Shredder has a whole new city to conquer. Who will he get to follow him? Who may he view as a threat? Sweet mother of all that's holy, could we see a Shredder and Bane alliance?! I can't help but feel like Joker will pop up and, if he does, I sincerely hope he doesn't make a fool out of Shredder. The Clown Prince of Crime has had plenty of time to shine. This limited series not only has a chance to put the Ninja Turtles' personality on display as the interact with the Dark Knight, but it also has the chance to step up Oroku Saki's formidability and see whether or not he can provide Batman a legitimate challenge in the hero's own city.


Don't hold off the big meeting until the first issue's cliffhanger
There obviously needs to be buildup as the story and characters are all established, but we're all here to see the heroes interact. Saving that big meeting for the cliffhanger of the first issue? Not a cool move. I understand they'll do what they can to make the overall plot satisfying, but it would be hugely appreciated if they can effectively present all of the details and then have this meeting occur before the issue ends. Also, an intro page can be used to give the basics about all of the characters to save space and reduce exposition.

Interactions with other heroes in Gotham
The solicitation reveals we'll see more of Gotham's villains (which is so exciting), but what about Bruce Wayne's allies? A well-written Alfred interacting with these teenage mutants could be brilliant and delightfully lighthearted. Or what about Damian tossing some rude comments their way? Mikey and Raphael's reactions could be pure gold. The journey can give us a lot of insight into the Ninja Turtles and Batman, but these extra characters have the potential to make things all kinds of fun. If Shredder's forming an army and getting a chance to mingle with Batman's famous rogues gallery, then witnessing the Ninja Turtles interacting with Alfred, Damian, Nightwing, and others could be a real joy - especially if they all join forces for a massive battle in the end. That would be an overwhelming amount of fan service, wouldn't it?

Batman vs. Shredder
If Batman and Shredder are in the same city, Batman and Shredder need - yes, need - to have a jaw-dropping melee battle. We know Shredder and Splinter are the best fighters in their universe, but how do they hold up against the Dark Knight - one of DC's most gifted fighters? I'd place my money on Batman winning - even if hand-to-hand is a stalemate, he has several gadgets that are game changers - but still, this is a chance to show that Oroku Saki's skill is great enough to take on the Caped Crusader. Then, that means Master Splinter can as well. As someone who spends far too much time discussing "who would win in a fight?" - because I'm an adult like that - this is an important opportunity to show us how the IDW combatants stack up to DC characters.
There's no need to pander
By now everyone knows the Ninja Turtles love pizza and have dated (yet still awesome) catchphrases. There's no need to pull Batman into those things and make him look a little silly by suddenly learning to appreciate pizza (note: Batman's favorite topping is justice) or getting him to unenthusiastically say "cowabunga" when the villain is defeated. There's natural ways to acknowledge these things without making it feel forced. For example, Michelangelo could make a joke about how the pizza in Gotham is terrible. Could the things I'm complaining about be used and work? Totally, but I'd prefer to see the crossover avoid the obvious.

Bonus: Stealth!
Master Splinter has taught the Ninja Turtles to rely on stealth. Batman? Yeah, he's kind of the master of stealth. It would be amazingly cool if there's at least one solid scene of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles using stealth to infiltrate an enemy stronghold and they're able to take out a number of goons without even being spotted.


Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will go on sale this November. Yes, I will absolutely review it!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mortal Kombat X: Predator review

Predator, the fighter I was rooting for back when it wasn't certain who would appear in the Kombat Pack (sorry, Spawn fans), has finally stepped into Mortal Kombat X's bloody world. Given the fact the alien's a skilled combatant who's loaded with all kinds of weaponry, it's really should come as no surprise that Predator makes a solid addition to NetherRealm Studios' evergrowing MK universe.
Now if we could get a Xenomorph in the game...
Predator's three variations are Warrior (brutal close combat), Hunter (healing and the ability to set traps), and Hish-qu-ten (gains use of the signature shoulder cannon). While these obviously benefit three different gameplay styles, one surprising thing is Predator doesn't have unique combos for any of the variations. On the plus side, that means there's less to memorize and the character is "easier" to master since each of the three variations have the same melee attacks and combos - it's just a matter of how you'll work in the different new special moves to make your opponent suffer even more. But on the down side, that's kind of disappointing. How great would it have been to use the Predator's impressive strength in new ways for the Warrior variation? Or the Plasma Caster at point blank range to conclude a harsh combo with the Hish-qu-ten variation? Or what if the Hunter variation had a combo that ends with trapping your enemy in a net, leaving them temporarily open for an extra combo? There's so much potential here - the Predator is heavily armed, after all - so to have no unique combos is a bit of a letdown.

Even though Predator's lacking unique melee attacks across his three variations, the special moves shared by all three are still satisfying. Obviously, Predator has the ability to cloak - no real surprise that was picked as a move or what it does - but Scimitar Stab is ferocious and exactly what you'd want to see from a Predator. With the ability to lunge forward pretty far, the Predator impales his enemy with his wrist blade, slowly lifts them up and abruptly throws them away. It's savage, it's swift, and it has the Predator doing his memorable noise. All in all, that one never gets old. While it doesn't have as much fan service as the wrist blade toss, Smart-Disc is a hugely effective special move. Instead of throwing the disc directly across the screen, the Predator tosses the bladed weapon into the air. From there, it waits for a moment or two before launching after its target. If the Predator is knocked around, the weapon falls. Otherwise, it seeks out and stuns its target. This is probably the biggest and most creative surprise for the character. I fully expected the Smart-disc to be incorporated, but I assumed it would be a relatively standard throw. Well played, NetherRealm.

The combos he does have are pretty simple yet still good fun. I'm glad the Combi-stick is utilized to give the extraterrestrial a little more reach and his one very easy combo with the pointy melee weapony is appropriately cool and effective. It's really easy to juggle with the Predator and all of his listed combos are easy to execute. Best of all, they all feel true to the character. From the way the Predator walks towards his enemy to the handling of his attacks, it's obvious NetherRealm put a lot of love into bringing the iconic movie character to life in to the video game. You can also tell NetherRealm had a good time naming Predator's combos. From "ugly mother" to "CONTAAAAACT," the names are likely going to make any fan of the movie(s) smile while looking through the move list for the first time - I sure did. Oh, and his throw is beyond cruel. The way he uses his wrist blade is relentless.
At least "Carl Weathers" has a fair shot at winning this time around.
Warrior - my favorite variation - is simplistic and focuses on an aggressive tactics. With the mask removed, this is the Predator when he's ready for some vicious hand-to-hand combat. This one's all about blunt damage and giving your enemy no room to breathe. Meanwhile, the Hish-qu-ten variation - which equips the shoulder cannon - can be used by clever players at just the right moment, but honestly, it's clear this is what the spammers will adore. This variation only gives Predator the ability to fire forward, downwards (you can alter the range by holding the direction) and upwards. You can also aim with the laser sight and fire whenever you're ready. In the right hands, this can serve as a game-changer. In the wrong hands, it'll be obnoxious. Thankfully, you've learned how to counter spammers at this point, right? Last but not least, the Hunter variation takes the most talent to use well, so if you're an especially skilled and tactical player, this could be your go-to variation. The ability to lay traps is guaranteed to manipulate your enemy's movement and if they do step on the trap, they're left vulnerable. Plus, the ability to generate some extra health - especially while your foe is stuck in a trap - doesn't hurt.
If only the Predator mimicked Dutch's "stick around" line after stabbing someone.
Just like with Jason Voorhees - another movie character who doesn't speak English - Predator's intros don't offer a lot of variety. As a fan of the alien hunter, seeing the Predator roar and get ready for a fight is consistently awesome, but the way characters react to this new fighter isn't all that entertaining -  based on what I've seen so far, that is.

I'm left with really mixed feelings on the ending. On one hand, the development is huge for the Predator and it gets my mind racing with all of the ridiculous and over-the-top possibilities. On the other hand, it seems somewhat out-of-character and I'm guessing an honorable Predator wouldn't want to make things too easy for himself. Yeah, the Predator has technology that makes a fight unfair for its opponent, but they often relish a challenge, too. This development seems to imply the Predator will never have a proper fight again; he'll have no problem obliterating all of his prey with ease. I would have liked to see the ending go in a different direction, but it's still an amusing twist.
I ain't got time for pacifism. 
Even though Predator's first fatality is solid (as if stabbing someone in the gut isn't enough, he then slices off the top part of their head with the Smart-disc), it's pretty swift. Yes, it's a fine way to humiliate your friends and it's cheerworthy the first time around, but when we're waiting this long to play as a character, you can't help but expect more. The Predator's generic win sequence is more satisfying (it includes the signature spine rip and then adding the skull to his trophy room). Thankfully, the second fatality is much, much better. Using his should cannon - and we get a glimpse of his vision as he locks on - the Predator systematically blasts apart his enemy. That one offers a little more fan service, feels more brutal, and it definitely feels like a fatality that holds up to all of the other combatants' ridiculously over-the-top finishers.

When it was announced Predator would be included in the Kombat Pack, it's ridiculous just how excited I was. Seriously, I wrote about it at least twice. My expectations were way up there for the deadly extraterrestrial and overall, I think NetherRealm Studios has handled the Predator very well. The animations, sound effects, basic attacks and combos all feel true to the character. You can really tell the developer picked the Predator as an extra fighter because they're fans of the character - this was a passion project for them, not just a fighter that's getting tossed in there mainly because fans demanded it. I mean, just look at what happens if you pick "Carl Weathers" Jax and "Commando" Johnny Cage! Would I have liked more unique moves with each variation and a more jaw-dropping first fatality? Yes. Do I think everything else about the character is excellent and all kinds of fun? Absolutely. NetherRealm Studios, you've made this Predator fan very happy.

Predator is currently available for download if you have the Kombat Pack. For everyone else, he'll go on sale July 14.