Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #45 review

*Yes, this review has SPOILERS! Do yourself a favor and make sure you've read #44 and #45 before reading this.*

So, that happened. Unless you read the solicitation first or the internet spoiled you, odds are Donatello's vicious defeat at the hands of Bebop and Rocksteady was quite a jaw-dropper. The whole time that fight was going down, I kept thinking of different ways my favorite Ninja Turtle would make it out of the situation just fine. "Maybe Alopex and Nobody will show up at the last second. Maybe there's another device in the lab that'll save him. Maybe..." But no, nothing happened to save the mutant from the evil duo's brutality and I was left wondering just one thing: is Donatello really dead or is he barely alive? This latest issue wastes no time answering that question as we quite literally see that Donatello hasn't "walked towards the light" just yet.
Let's talk about the developments with Donatello since, you know, they're kind of a big deal. What Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, and Bobby Curnow are doing makes perfect sense. Even if you thought Donnie was dead, there's about a 0% chance you sincerely thought it would be permanent. Instead of dragging his fate on and on, they immediately present a way to keep Donatello "alive" that doesn't technically bring "him" back. This option also feels very fitting for this universe -- a place which is rich in technology and fantasy. It's also a solid way to keep Fugitoid in the loop; I was concerned he'd vanish for awhile after the conclusion with General Krang. It's a shame leaks blatantly spoiled this issue's cliffhanger for me (seriously, please remember to use proper spoiler etiquette, people), but that's not something I can hold against the issue.

To me, placing Donatello's consciousness into Metalhead doesn't lessen the impact of what happened. It showed that, despite their dim-witted nature and goofy personalities, Bebop and Rocksteady aren't a duo anyone should take lightly and they clearly have no problem crossing the line and being incredibly cruel. They're oblivious to their own strength, and that makes them ridiculously dangerous. It doesn't change how much it impacts Donnie's loved ones, either. You'd be mistaken to believe putting his personality into Metalhead suddenly makes everything okay. We all know he'll eventually get back into his mutated body, but for now, this is going to create an interesting dynamic. Will they treat him differently? Will this change his personality? Will he want revenge? Or will this push him to hide once he does get back in his body -- you know, in an effort to keep himself safe? Given what we saw in Turtles in Time, that would make sense. Or would Donatello know that taking that path means the death of his brothers? I'm really hoping that future version of him isn't forgotten as the story moves forward.

As we see in this issue, Bebop and Rocksteady's violent actions aren't going to be glossed over. (I so can't wait for Raph to go after them.) As expected, Raphael is beyond pissed off and he's lashing out. This brought about a surprising response from Mikey -- it's nice to see his more serious moments from time to time, isn't it? -- and it's making Leonardo feel guilty over the decisions they've made. We all know Donatello will eventually be okay, but for now, this development is loaded with potential and its already taking the series in a more compelling and interesting direction, especially with his mutant brothers. Now, that's not to say it wasn't interesting or compelling to begin with; it's been consistently great! But something this traumatic should have a huge impact on everyone and it's looking like it absolutely will.
The stuff going on around Donatello's weakened body is solid, but I especially love what they're doing with the purple-masked turtle's spirit. As everyone else worries or works to save him, we see Donatello in another, well, dimension. As his spirit encounters his mother, and his father races to prevent him from accepting his end, Charles Paul Wilson III's pencils are the perfect addition to this sequence. Obviously, they're drastically different than artist Mateus Santolouco's work (he handles the rest of the issue), but given the fact it's a completely different setting and tone, it feels so right. With a soothing handling of the colors and location and an especially strong and skilled emphasis on compassionate expressions, these visuals really pull you into the scene and deliver a totally appropriate amount of emotion.

While a good portion of the issue is dedicated to Donnie follow-up and it's way more emotional, Casey Jones is given one simple task in this issue: give the readers some awesome action. Thanks to artist Mateus Santolouco's insanely energetic visuals, Ronda Pattison's consistently talented and eye-catching coloring, and some really badass and fast-paced choreography, Jones' brief role is a blast. It ends on a note that feels a little unclear (there's no way Hun was unaware of that brawl after the gunshot, so was it just a diversion?), but hopefully that'll be explained in the next issue. After April's parents bonded with the vigilante, I can't help but feel like they're in serious danger and we could soon witness a real death.
As if the spotlight on "dying Donnie" and Casey Jones wasn't enough, the villains also receive just a wee bit of love. We get a very brief update with the Foot (Karai, Bebop & Rocksteady, etc) and it's just enough of a teaser for what's to come, but the really good teaser comes from the new alliance that is forming between Baxter Stockman and Shredder. It's terrific this isn't your typical "evil boss and not happy yet still subservient scientist" dynamic. Stockman is done taking orders and he's taken steps to make sure he isn't taken advantage of or walked all over. His plan will probably fail miserably sooner or later, but it's great they're taking a different approach to the alliance and it makes the scientist seem way more formidable. There's a mutual "respect" here and I definitely want to see how this will continue to play out.

It really is impressive just how much story this team can pack into each and every issue. Not only do we get a satisfying follow-up to Donatello's situation -- one which takes advantage of this universe's mystical and sci-fi elements -- but you can also feel the tension building everywhere else. By the time you're done with this issue, you can tell at least three different plot points are ready to explode. Equally impressive is Santolouco and Pattison's consistently stellar visuals. Those two continue to bring a crazy amount of energy to these pages and Charles Paul Wilson III's handling of Donatello's scenes created the perfect atmosphere while also delivering powerful expressions. It's tempting to say something cheesy here -- something like "I love being a turtle('s fan)" -- but I'd much rather be blunt: IDW's TMNT is a damn good series. This publisher is giving us an unforgettable incarnation of the franchise and I can't wait to see what they'll dish out next. If you consider yourself a TMNT fan, you need to be following this series. If not, you're missing out on some truly great stuff.

Avengers: Age of Ultron review

Hey internet,

This week I was fortunate enough to see Avengers: Age of Ultron a few days before it opens here in the United States. (I'm sure international readers are saying, "Better late than never, Gregg.") Not only was I lucky enough to watch an early screening of Joss Whedon's ridiculously anticipated sequel to The Avengers, but I was also lucky enough to review it for Comic Vine! So, here's the spoiler-free review:
http://www.comicvine.com/reviews/avengers-age-of-ultron/1900-4072/


Friday, April 24, 2015

The Valiant Movie News is Ridiculously Exciting Stuff

We all knew Valiant was working on bringing some of its characters to the big screen, but there hasn't been any especially detailed news in quite some time. We know some of the properties the publisher's interested in and we know it's teaming-up with DMG to make these movies happen, but now we finally know when the first set of movies will begin to drop and which characters will be the first ones to step into the spotlight. Working with Sony, Valiant is going to create two Bloodshot movies and two Harbinger movies before unleashing a Harbinger Wars film. To Valiant fans, this is obviously exciting news. To everyone else, there's understandable concern about the world having one too many comic book movies. Well, I'm here to tell you why you should be thrilled about Valiant creating its own cinematic universe.
I have a pretty big confession to make, okay? Before Valiant rebooted back in 2012, I wasn't a fan of the publisher. In fact, my only experience with Valiant before it reemerged was the Iron Man and X-O Manowar crossover game -- I have it for my Sega Game Gear. Despite that, the publisher's reboot won me over and several years later, they continue to earn my love and support. With a focus on quality over quantity, Valiant really has brought these characters back in a way that offers something for just about everyone. These don't feel like dated characters who are lucky enough to get another shot; these are intelligent and entertaining stories! This publisher consistently delivers and has yet to let me down.

Dinesh Shamdasani, Valiant's CEO & CCO, has obviously played an important part in the publisher's success and he's expressed in countless interviews just how passionate he really is about these characters. When it was announced Sony would be the Studio behind these films, there were some immediate concerns racing around in my head. Despite enjoy The Amazing Spider-Man movies, it's clear the studio did some major interfering with the story and that took a noticeable toll on the final product's narrative. However, you'd assume this would be a learning experience for the studio since The Amazing Spider-Man wasn't nearly as big of a hit as they wanted it to be. Even if that's not the case, the fact Dinesh is producing these movies puts my mind at ease. I can't help but feel like he wouldn't simply sit back and allow the studio to make absurd changes -- changes which could take a toll on the stories. This is a huge deal for the publisher and I'm sure he's well aware of just how critical this step is for them.

A Bloodshot movie has the chance to seem all kinds of familiar. We're talking about a brainwashed killing machine who's trying to learn about his identity, so it's easy to draw parallels to Wolverine and a gazillion other stories out there. How could they make this unique enough to pull-in more people instead of making many potential moviegoers shrug and say, "Looks like more of the same or just an action movie from the '90s." The comics are good -- especially the new Bloodshot: Reborn series (go read it!) -- but a vast majority of the people who will possibly buy a ticket likely haven't bought any of the comics, so the fact it's Bloodshot isn't enough to sell them on seeing the movie. Simply put, they aren't pre-existing fans, so the trailer needs to blow them away. But what will motivate them to see yet another action-heavy, shoot 'em up featuring a man who's trying to discover his past? I believe Bloodshot has two things working in its favor: John Wick's directors and the fact it's the start of an all-new cinematic universe.
On paper, John Wick is so generic. But thanks to David Leitch and Chad Stahelski's directing (along with several other factors, like the score and Keanu Reeve's performance), it turned out to be one of the more memorable action movies in the past few decades. I mean, it's no The Raid, but it's still really damn good. John Wick could have been cliche, yet they turned it into something truly special and fun. It was full of cheerworthy and intense action, attention-grabbing worldbuilding, and just enough emotion. Ladies and gentlemen, those three things are critical for Bloodshot. If the two can pull off refreshing action, a legitimate emotional connection to the lead, and the promise of a bigger and interesting universe yet again, it'll be well worth the price of a ticket and an exceptional way to begin this new cinematic universe. What they did so well in John Wick is exactly what they need to do well in Bloodshot. Otherwise, it'll be forgettable and that'll be a disaster for them. No pressure, right?

Since this is the movie that'll launch the Valiant Cinematic Universe, it's safe to say they'll do their best to make sure this one hooks us and leaves us wanting more. It'll focus on Bloodshot's story, but it'll also begin to slowly unravel a much bigger picture -- one that'll hopefully leave viewers saying they want to see more and they want to have some of their questions answered. Also, I seriously hope some promotions say "by the directors of John Wick," otherwise they'll have to do some major marketing to win over a large amount of people. Going to the movies isn't a cheap experience. With so many appealing films coming out, a fair amount of people decide what's worth seeing in theaters and what they'll eventually rent. John Wick earned one hell of a following and understandably so. I think they can bring that crowd to Bloodshot and it'll definitely help them at the box office. That story draws a few parallels to Bloodshot, but now it involves powers and there's the promise of seeing expansion of this world. To many of the people who've seen John Wick, that's pretty exciting news.
While Bloodshot hopefully offers some jaw-dropping action and just enough worldbuilding to hold onto your attention, Harbinger is the movie that'll offer something totally different. You probably won't find shootouts and non-stop action in this one; this will be Valiant's chance to offer something thought-provoking. If you had the power to change the world, would you? How far would you go? If you had astonishing telekentic abilities, how would you really use them? Harbinger impressed because it's a legitimately compelling, character-driven story.

While Bloodshot may be clever and impactful in its own ways, Harbinger is the movie that'll truly require a smart and gripping script if it wants to be even remotely as good as the source material. Bloodshot can get away with a not-so-great story if the choreography and action sequences are a blast. Now, that's not to say Harbinger won't have plenty of action. In fact, this one's going to need a really creative director because the displays of completely different powers has the chance to be truly stunning and immersive. It'll rely heavily on visual effects and it's the kind of movie that can appeal to your brain while also wowing your eyes with spectacle. This is definitely one that could take advantage of 3D.
The roster has someone for everyone to fall in love with (I'm on team Faith) and what made the comic so special is just how well it humanized and fleshed out each of the protagonists. No one here is one-dimensional; they each have relatable and powerful tales. Everyone is going to walk out of the theater with a different favorite character. I can almost see this as being a more grounded and a darker version of Guardians of the Galaxy. But, you know, with psionic powers instead of all of the sci-fi elements. In addition to a seriously likable team, it also has a fascinating villain: Toyo Harada. The most formidable psiot on the planet, Toyo wants to make the world a better place for everyone. Oh, did I say "everyone?" I meant "everyone who won't stand in his way." You can draw some parallels to Magneto and I recommend reading his origin story (Harbinger #0) to see the brilliant work the publisher has done with the villain. Unless he doesn't want the role or he's way too expensive, they should really get Ken Watanabe to play as Toyo. He'd be perfect.

"Sure, these movies have potential, but announcing two right away for both of them and then a crossover? Isn't that a bit premature?" Sure, it's a risk, but I'm guessing it's one they're willing to take because they're going to go all-out and have confidence in the movies they're going to release. Additionally, I'd say both Bloodshot and Harbinger are worthy of at least two movies. Bloodshot's whole first movie can be his "origin" and dealing with Project Rising Spirit. After that, he discovers about children being experimented on and sets out to do what he can about it. Harbinger would serve as our introduction to the team and this world, concluding with a major conflict involving Toyo -- one that obviously don't truly defeat him or even temporarily defeat him. The sequel could be this group's side of the story as they also discover about the children being trained and manipulated. As both sides do what they can in this mission, they move closer and closer to each other. Then, Harbinger Wars has the potential to deliver on four movies full of buildup. When I read Harbinger Wars, I thought to myself, "This would be an AWESOME movie. It has a ton of thrilling action and it's consistently epic." I'm sure a large number of readers had a very similar thought while reading it. Now, that's becoming a reality and I seriously hope it's as awesome as we all want it to be.
Imagine if Harbinger Wars has a credits scene involving X-O Manowar. Unless these movies totally bomb, it would be silly to think Valiant only has plans for these five movies. Bloodshot delivers gun-heavy mayhem and Harbinger unleashes exciting powers and a whole lot of emotion, but X-O Manowar would give Valiant, Sony, and DMG the opportunity to give us a sci-fi adventure. Shadowman could provide dark fantasy and supernatural elements. And Ninjak? Man, that would just be a phenomenal spy movie. Seeing as Matthew Vaughn is an executive producer on Bloodshot, I sincerely hope he gets to direct at least one of Valiant's movies. If so, he'd be perfect for Ninjak. However, that might be too similar to his other work. Honestly, I'd have faith in anything that guy directs.

Will these movies give the big two a run for their money? Probably not. Marvel Studios has spent years earning a following and DC has the advantage of incorporating two of the most recognizable heroes on the planet. I don't see Valiant's movies breaking the box office, but if they're even remotely close to the quality of the comics the publisher has been releasing, then we're going to be in for a real treat. If they are as good as we're hoping they'll be, positive word of mouth will definitely give these features a few more dollars and hopefully, quite a few new fans. There's a lot of comic book movies out there, but Valiant's been doing amazing things and has focused on making sure they're giving us the right stories. Valiant hasn't just rushed a character out there for a blatant cash grab -- that's why it took so long for the publisher to give us a Ninjak comic! If they're now stepping into the cinematic ring, I have a feeling it's because they're going to give us stories they believe are worth seeing in theaters. Let's hope I'm right. And if they do turn out to be disappointing movies, at least we still have plenty of excellent comics to enjoy.
Bloodshot opens in 2017. No word yet on who will direct Harbinger and Harbinger Wars or when they'll open. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Legacy of Luther Strode #1 review

Back in 2011, writer Justin Jordan, artist Tradd Moore, and colorist Felipe Sobreiro introduced the world to Luther Strode. Think Spider-Man meets Kick-Ass, throw in a lot of totally over-the-top gore and you pretty much have a decent understanding of this character. Luther and his girlfriend, Petra, have gone through a lot of craziness in the past two limited series, but now their story is apparently coming to an end. The Legacy of Luther Strode is expected to be the last chapter in Luther's tale, and thankfully, it's off to a ridiculously fun start.

When it comes to the bigger picture, Jordan isn't giving too much away. We get just a bit of insight into the big villain and then it's mostly a character-driven experience as Luther and Petra once again find themselves in all kinds of madness. You can tell there's a couple of building blocks for bigger plot elements in the issue, but this one really is all about telling us who Petra and Luther are and seeing what they're capable of. If you've been with them since the very beginning (if so, let's be friends because that makes you awesome), this is going to be a really rewarding and fun read. Petra's confidence and badassery has shot through the roof and Strode is doing his best Superman impression. He used to have no real problem obliterating any evil person in his way, but now he'll do his best not to kill a murderer who clearly cannot be reasoned with. With great power and all that, right? While Luther tends to be reserved, Petra's the polar opposite. It makes their relationship pretty adorable and considering how it's handled in this issue, I can't shake the feeling that one of them is going to die before this limited series concludes. Hopefully I'm wrong on that one, but if I'm not, I'm pretty confident that Jordan wouldn't give either of them a pointless and/or disappointing death.

The action in Luther Strode's comics are usually full of totally absurd and excessive amounts of bloodshed and brutality. They always embrace that and don't hold back at all. While there are more than a few twisted and amusing examples of this in the issue (someone kicks through a poor dude's head!), a lot of the ridiculous action is showing off just how powerful and dangerous these enhanced characters can be. Luther pulls off some insane feats in this one and watching two of these formidable beings leap around is a real blast. We may not be getting too much of the story just yet, but that won't be on your mind because you'll likely be loving every second of the purposely outrageous mayhem.
Tradd Moore's overly animated style obviously won't be for everyone -- art is subjective, after all -- but I continue to love it. I think his exaggerated character work is such a delight and it fills these fictional beings with so much life. None of the panels feel static to me; they're all packed with energy and emotion. And when the action kicks in, this guy sure knows how to bring it. I'm sure there's plenty of artists out there who could bring their own satisfying take on Luther Strode, but the way Moore escalates all of the impacts and motions is simply brilliant and it allows Luther Strode to stand apart from all of the countless other action-heavy titles that are out there. It's purposely all kinds of over-the-top and it's so damn exciting! There's a lot on Moore's plate in this one and he never appears to slack off or rush. Whether it's a giant army getting slaughtered in the past or a ludicrous pile-up, it all looks equally impressive. To top it off, there's a handful of creative sequences to enjoy in here. One is displayed above ( he allows the reader to move from one car right into the next one) and there's another memorable bit in a restaurant. I won't spoil that one for you!

I'm sure Moore's pages look terrific on their own, but colorist Sobreiro does an amazing job enhancing them and he fills this world with bold colors. There's a lot of strong contrasts here (as you can see above) and I especially love how the sparks are handled; it really makes the action feel more intense and gives you a better appreciation of some of the movements. All in all, Moore's style is perfect for Strode's world and Sobreiro's coloring is seriously praiseworthy and fills it with even more vitality. Thanks to these two, this comic doesn't feel like I'm looking at still images. Instead, it gives me a proper understanding of how everything would play out in motion. Thank to their work, I'm pretty much getting a Luther Strode animated movie in my head while I read the comic and I absolutely love that.

The debut issue of Luther Strode's final volume offers all of the crazy fun you'd expect from it. The bigger picture is off to a bit of a slow start, but that hardly matters when there's such an entertaining focus on Luther and Petra's relationship, consistently enjoyable and striking artwork, and a huge amount of thrilling and delightfully over-the-top action. It's good to have you back in my life, Luther Strode.

Monday, April 20, 2015

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Special IMAX Event

Seeing as I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice special IMAX event (as well as a guest ticket for my friend), I figured I should tell you all about the experience. As you can imagine, I went to the theater with very high expectations. Since the studio was forced to release a high definition version of the trailer after a low quality version of it was leaked, director Zack Snyder promised the event would have brand new shots -- shots that no one else will allegedly see until the movie opens. Well, "no one else" as in people not working on the movie, but you get what I mean, right? Additionally, we were promised some kind of "swag." The director tweeted two pretty cool promotional images the other day, but it wasn't entirely clear if these would be posters or t-shirts. It was easy to assume the former because the latter would probably be more expensive and a total nightmare since everyone attending the event would need to say their t-shirt size before getting one. That would cause some major traffic as everyone is leaving. Thankfully, it turns out they were posters. I already have plenty of Batman and Superman shirts, but posters? Not many.
When I arrived at the theater an hour and a half or so early, the person at the booth asked me which poster I wanted. I quickly exclaimed, "Batman!" and was beyond happy that I managed to get it. I was concerned we'd only get one and it would be random. As much as I love Superman, the Batman poster is simply badass. So, with a rolled-up poster in one hand and a Dunkin Donuts coffee in the other one, I then joined the line with my buddy. Much to my surprise, there were only 10 or so people ahead of us. Before heading to the theater, I feared we would get crappy seats (e.g. somewhere in the front) and a bad spot would absolutely ruin the experience. Who wants to look up and not be able to see the entire screen with ease? Thankfully, it looked like the odds were in my favor and we'd have no trouble finding good seats. We then spent the next hour or so talking with a fellow fan and his mother in the line. You can't help but love talking with the people you meet at fan events and conventions. Everyone there is so passionate about the things you love, so it's fun to act like total fanboys in person. For me, that kind of enthusiasm is usually limited to the internet since a majority of my friends aren't all that crazy about the comic book genre. Anyway, we discussed what we like and don't like about Man of Steel, what we think of the future of the DC Cinematic Universe, and we even discussed Avengers. It was a good chat, especially since we were on the same page about a lot of things. If you're reading this, Jared, thanks for making the wait in line an entertaining one!

After quite some time, a security guard announced that our electronic devices need to be turned off (so they can hopefully prevent "The Leak Returns") and they began to let us in two at a time. Finally, my friend, Scott, and I walked up to get our tickets scanned. It was here we received an amazing surprise: not only are we going to get both posters, but we're also going to receive a free ticket to see the movie a week before it opens! Combine all of this news with being full of coffee and yeah, you can bet I was in a pretty great mood. Seeing as I'm currently unemployed (and oh-so-willing to write for your site), I have no shame in admitting the last few weeks haven't been the best around and all of this was an excellent way to simply escape all of the stress and concerns I've been experiencing.

My friend and I (along with the two people we met) snagged perfect seats and then we waited for about 15 minutes. During that time, the theater was full of commotion. People were talking, shuffling around, and making plenty of noise as they chomped on popcorn or sipped soda. But once the lights dimmed, the theater went silent and we all had our eyes glued to the ginormous IMAX screen. Then something went terribly wrong: the audio played, but there was no video! Before the trailer came an introduction from Zack Snyder. We heard him giving a basic teaser and many of us just assumed they only had an audio recording of it. So, no big deal. But then the trailer's narration began and there was still just a blank screen. That's when things got rowdy. Everyone began to make jokes. Some were just downright rude (this is a free fan event and there were quite a few kids present, after all), but many were lighthearted and legitimately funny. My friend claimed we were getting the Daredevil experience and I accused Marvel Studios of ambushing the event. The entire trailer played with no picture, and then it cut to more audio from Snyder. With still no video playing, we heard him talk about the new scene added to the trailer -- a sequence we didn't see -- and he said they were going to play it again so we could enjoy the new IMAX footage one more time. Then the trailer began to play again and finally the people in the theater were able to get the video working. Better late than never, right? To make it up to us, they restarted the screening right after it ended. So, I technically saw this new footage 3 times.
For the most part, this was the same trailer I've already seen multiple times. However, seeing it on the biiiiiiiig screen sure was enjoyable and the few IMAX shots were definitely appreciated. The sequence of armor Batman and Superman facing off? Seeing this formidable version of the Dark Knight on that screen was just surreal; it looked terrific. As for the new footage, my mind was previously racing about what it could possibly be. Would we see Wonder Woman? Additional stuff with Batman? Lex Luthor? Maybe even a minor Aquaman teaser? What we were treated to was a handful of extra seconds teasing the armor Batman and Superman fight. It begins with a close-up of Superman. His hair is wet and he doesn't look pleased. We then see armor Batman yet again, and then we witness a shot or two of the iconic heroes running at each other. It ends with a wide-shot of them racing towards each other and ends a split second before they clash. They were indoors, so this was probably shortly after their "tell me, do you bleed?" interaction. It seems like Batman must have smacked him into a building and then the fight continued from there. It looked great and it sure was one hell of a tease, but that was it for the new footage. Honestly, I couldn't help but feel somewhat disappointed. It's cool these few shots apparently won't be seen in any trailers until the movie is released, but the extra footage was maybe 5 seconds or so. On one hand, I loved it. I was able to see Batman and Superman on a freaking IMAX screen and they were about to go all The Dark Knight Returns on one another. On the other hand, I expected more. Maybe that's my fault; this is a free event for a teaser and the movie's a year away, after all.

Was this IMAX event worth attending? Hell yes. I'm disappointed by the lack of extra footage, but the opportunity to see this trailer on a huge screen and with such superb audio really filled me with happiness. Okay, maybe "happiness" isn't the right word since it's hardly an uplifting trailer, so I guess "awe" would be the more appropriate choice. While they didn't give us a substantial amount of new footage or really show anything drastically new, seeing the two charge at each other was kind of thrilling. It's such a simple group of shots, yet given how much I'm interested in these characters and the source material it's inspired by, I can't help but kind of love the fact I was able to witness it. Then there's fact I was able to talk with fellow fans and receive two solid posters and get a free ticket to see the movie a week early in IMAX! It's a bummer we weren't able to view more of the movie, but am I really in any kind of position to complain about that? They didn't have to create this event for the fans. They could have simply released the trailer on YouTube and called it a day. Instead, I had the opportunity to hang out with other excited fans and talk about DC's movies, walk away with sweet collectibles, and I left with the promise of seeing the movie before it opens... for free! It was incredibly cool of Warner Bros. to create this event. I may have left feeling let down about the lack of extra footage and the technical difficulties was a hilarious slip-up, but the experience was a good time and they sure made it worthwhile. This fan definitely appreciates it. So, thanks for that, Warner Bros.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Trailer: Superman Soldiers

The very first Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer was posted yesterday (click here if you want to know what I think about it) and as expected, people are debating over several shots. One, however, stands above the rest and I wanted to quickly discuss it. The scene I'm talking about is the one with soldiers -- who have Superman's logo on their armor -- kneeling before the hero when they're in his presence. I already see some saying this means the story is inspired by Injustice: Gods Among Us and that means Kal-El is a dictator. I don't agree with that claim. Maybe I'll have to eat my words on this one, but I really hope that won't be the case.
Nothing about this brief shot (seriously, it's 1.5 seconds long) makes me think Superman is a dictator and he wants this kind of reception. Some say Clark looks imposing and is demanding their respect. Me? I see a ladder behind him and based on that brief shot, it seems like this is the second or so after he landed and it's right before he begins to walk forward. I'm not sure why people assume this means this is his division of soldiers, either. What about the character from Man of Steel would leave you to believe he'd want his own squad -- one which worships him? The whole point of the trailer is to show how humanity is reacting to him; not how he's reacting to it. In our world, there are soldiers who wear Punisher's logo. In the DC Cinematic Universe's Earth, there are people who worship Superman -- he did save the planet, after all. The idea of them wearing his symbol because they choose to admire him seems way more logical than Henry Cavill's character saying, "You, my soldiers! Bow down and wear my symbol! It stands for hope, and I hope you're wearing it, because otherwise I'm going to punch you across the ocean!" I guess we'll just have to wait and see, but to me, it really seems like a group of soldiers who worship the Kryptonian because they choose to.
The trailer reveals some of humanity is treating Superman like a God; it's not saying that Superman is acting like a God or even wants this extremely high level of glorification. Kal-El's true response to all of this has yet to be revealed and I'm hoping the next trailer gives us more insight into the character. But for now, the thought of Superman wanting people to wear his symbol and bow before him just doesn't seem probable to me. Oddly enough, I wrote this quick post while wearing a Superman shirt. Go figure.

Update: @digital___rain and @derbykid pointed out something obvious that I was somehow totally oblivious to: this could be Snyder's version of the "Sons of Batman," an organization in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Basically, it's a group who strives to fight injustice in the name of their idol, but they aren't accomplishing it in a way that makes their idol very pleased. In this case, it would essentially be the "Sons of Superman." That theory makes perfect sense and I have no idea how it slipped my mind. I guess that's what happens when you write before having a sip of coffee?

Friday, April 17, 2015

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Trailer

Well, it's looking like the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer is every bit as polarizing as Man of Steel. Some people loved the footage and think it'll be an amazing movie; others hate it and hope it's not an accurate picture of the entire movie. Me? I'm someone who loves Man of Steel (we can still be friends if you hated it, you know) and I've been very, very, veeeeeery excited for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. So, did I love the debut trailer and it now has me exclaiming, "ZOMG BEST MOVIE EVER"? No, unfortunately I can't say that I loved it, and honestly, I was left feeling incredibly down the middle in the moments immediately after my first viewing. However, I do like it and if you'll give me a minute or two (because you're nice like that, right?), I'll explain why.
When Warner Bros announced the movie's first trailer was on the way, I immediately began to think about what it would include. You probably did, too. I envisioned a video that's full of cameos, some basic ways to spell out the plot, and a whole lot of spectacle. That isn't what we received. Not at all. The first trailer is purely story-driven and drenched in darkness. While Marvel Studios aims to win over a wide variety of moviegoers by making sure its films always have some amount of fun and comedy, it's clear Warner Bros is making the DC Cinematic Universe the opposite of that -- at least for now. The studio's going for grittiness and realism. While Marvel Studios embraces a trigger-happy, talking "raccoon," DC is establishing a dark atmosphere. When I say "realism," I don't mean anything involving how these characters act in combat -- it's clear Batman is going to be well-above what an ordinary human is capable of. I mean how the world is crafted and how it responds to this unreal situation.

Man of Steel ended with aliens attempting to destroy the planet. They unleashed a devastating amount of damage in a major city and even though Superman was able to stop them, his fight with Zod brought about additional destruction and it resulted in Kal-El snapping the neck of his opponent. I know it's ridiculous, but imagine this really happened. How would you feel about Superman? You don't know anything about him aside from the fact he's absurdly powerful and no government on the planet could hope to stop him. To top it off, you know he saved the planet by killing his enemy. Some of you will think he's just trying to do the right thing. Some will think he's a God. Many will fear him and think he can't be trusted.
"I lift things up and put them down."
What happened in Man of Steel is a ginormous deal for Earth and it's great to see it isn't simply being glossed over. There's huge ramifications and those are obviously being used to justify why the Dark Knight comes to blows with the Kryptonian. Just look at how the news industry tends to cover events. Something huge like this? Yeah, you can bet they'd have a lot of talking heads saying why the Man of Steel is worse than mega ebola and you can bet a lot of people would let that fear and hatred bleed into their impression of Big Blue. Obviously it won't affect everyone -- some view him as the next messiah and want him to fix just about everything -- but with Lex Luthor in the picture, you know he's going to do some manipulating and make even more people view Superman as a super villain. This trailer isn't showing us how Superman's reacting to this reception (something I'm VERY anxious to find out), just how the world is responding to his presence. It's a simple yet efficient way to give us some understanding of the bigger picture. I'm surprised we didn't see Lex or any especially huge moments from the film, but I'd much rather have them reserve the really good stuff for when we're sitting in a movie theater. Here's hoping Warner Brothers doesn't release a silly amount of clips as the release date gets closer and closer. I just don't have the willpower to resist watching those. I'm no Hal Jordan.

Sweet mother of all that is holy, Batman looks like a beast in this movie. The costume looks great in motion, the armor appears to stay very true to Frank Miller's classic comic, and Affleck's voice is so intimidating. We've yet to see a lot of the Caped Crusader and how his character is handled, but at least we know he looks and sounds all kinds of formidable. That said, one part did have me concerned. There's a bit with two vehicles (looks like the Batmobile and Batwing) and they unleash some attacks that blow up several gunmen. It seems like Bruce is the one who did this. I'm really hoping that's not the case and there's some context we're not getting. It immediately reminded me of Tim Burton's version who has no issue murdering anyone in his way. This version of Batman may be darker and more brutal, but the fact he can topple obstacles without killing makes him even more impressive and admirable. Otherwise, he's pretty much just Punisher but in a different costume. (That's not a jab at Punisher; I love the character.)
Everyone -- even Superman -- must bow down to Batman at some point.
The trailer provides a loose reason why Batman goes after Superman. The world isn't sure it should trust this ridiculously powerful being, so why should Batman? And wouldn't this be a bit of a blow to Bruce's ego? After all he's put his body through, there's now some flying dude who can go above and beyond what he's capable of. (Well, not unless Wayne has prep, but let's not get into that, okay?) We of course don't get all of the details, but seeing as the emergence of a seemingly surreal hero is a huge deal, it's only natural that a hero/brilliant detective/seeker of justice/ninja would want to find out what the deal really is with this guy.

Random thoughts:

  • Batman is definitely holding a rifle and it looks just like the one from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
  • I'm guessing the Superman statue/park is built on ground zero in Metropolis.
  • Seeing as we know Snyder's directing two Justice League movies in the future, I'm assuming this conflict will more than likely end with them gaining each other's respect. It may be called "Batman v Superman" and they may beat the living hell out of each other, but it'll more than likely end as them becoming great friends and admiring the others' strengths. So yeah, while the studio's cashing in on the pure fan service of seeing these two fight, at least the conflict will be the thing that produces their friendship. Plus, I'd be a total liar if I said I didn't want to see these two fight on the big screen.

This may not be the trailer I expected and it didn't totally blow me away, but it sure gives us a lot to chew on. There's one very important thing I'm left wondering about, though: What is Superman's response to all of this worship, fear and hatred? I understand why this trailer doesn't get into that (it's informing us how the world is reacting to him and what he's done), but it's a pretty important question, especially since this version of the character left fans divided. In this trailer, he seems kind of distant, cold, and even confused. These shots are all out of context and I'm sure there's more to them, but I can only form an opinion based on what we've seen, right? To me, Man of Steel ends with Clark Kent becoming the Superman many of us know. Before the conflict escalated, he's someone who spent his whole life holding back and hiding who he really is. He avoided conflict and aside from the Kents, he's clearly never had any meaningful relationships. When the credits begin to roll, he's finally used his powers to save the planet from an insanely dangerous threat -- one which impacted him emotionally -- and told the U.S. government he's here to help. No longer can he remain quiet, expressing himself mostly through body language. Now that he is Superman, we need to see him acting more like it. If the world is unclear about who he is and what he stands for, he should give a public speech in an attempt to clear things up. He should do everything he can to help but make it clear he's not a God; he can't be everywhere at once and save everyone from everything. If this movie has two brilliant humans -- Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne -- setting their sights on him, he's going to look like a fool if he doesn't exude more confidence, intelligence and warmth when interacting with others.

Given the themes this movie is handling and the source material it's inspired by, it should be a dark story. However, Superman's iconic personality and optimism should still be on display and receive more attention this time around. When the credits begin to roll, we should have a brighter future on the horizon and the start of a powerful friendship. If you watched the trailer and hated it, so be it. I understand why some may not be a fan of the tone and the direction the story's taking. To each their own and hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised by the final product. At least you know there's plenty of other comic book movies that may appeal to you and there's certainly plenty of superb comics and animated shows/movies that feature Batman and Superman. But me? Yeah, I'm looking forward to this and hopefully after reading this post, you don't think that makes me absolutely crazy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Teaser: Yeah, I'm Excited!

*Click here if you haven't watched the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice video or if you just want to watch it yet again.*
We live in an era that's all about building the hype for a movie. No longer are exciting trailers simply an awesome surprise. Now, the arrival of a trailer is its own event, one that is built-up by announcing when it'll be available and then teased multiple times. If the movie's big enough, the trailer may receive multiple teasers -- videos that are basically very, very short sizzle reels -- before the full trailer is ours to watch. By the time a movie opens in theaters, so many moviegoers already have firm opinions about the movie. We should always go into a movie with an open mind, but when we've already seen so many trailers and clips and have strong opinions about the cast and crews' previous work, it's tough not to form at least a few opinions about the feature. You know, despite seeing all of these clips and moments totally out of context and hearing God knows how many rumors. So, as you can tell by this intro, I'm not the biggest fan of how trailers get so much hype. I get why studios do it -- they want to make sure their big movie is catching our attention -- but I guess I'm just old and grumpy; I miss seeing a trailer in a movie theater for the very first time. Anyway, I think the whole "teaser for a teaser trailer" method has been pretty ridiculous at times, but for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it's kind of silly just how excited I am about this simple 21 second teaser.
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I love Man of Steel. That means you're either going to disregard everything I'm about to type, or you'll be on a similar page. Man of Steel was such a polarizing movie, so it's understandable. Now, there's several reasons why I don't mind the fact DC and WB released a teaser for a trailer. Firstly, this is an enormous movie for them. Man of Steel technically marked the beginning of the DC Cinematic Universe, but this will be the one that expands it in a huge way. If people are going to stick around for what's to come, this movie really needs to win them over. Plus, it's the first time the Dark Knight and Superman will share the big screen! Secondly, they're building the hype for the movie's first trailer and we're talking about a movie that has been anticipated by many for quite some time now. Aside from the SDCC teaser (which wasn't released outside of the event... officially, that is), we've only seen pictures of actors in costume and a few other things. This is going to be the very first big trailer for this movie, so I'd say its arrival is worth promoting. Even if you're skeptical about the movie, odds are it at least has your attention. Thirdly, not only is this teasing the arrival of the debut trailer, but it's also promoting an upcoming fan event. (And yes, I was able to get tickets to it!) Unless you were at SDCC (or watched a low quality version of the video), you haven't seen any footage from the movie; just officially released pictures and maybe some set photos. So yeah, the release of the first trailer is, as Ron Burgundy would say, kind of a big deal.

Sometimes teasers for trailers show a little too much. They'll reveal glimpses of really cool shots in the trailer, and honestly, it kind of takes away from seeing those moments when the trailer does drop. The teaser for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is beyond simple and I love it for that. We're talking about a movie that's a year away and no footage -- again, outside of SDCC -- has been officially released. So, instead of showing us a few jaw-droppers from the upcoming trailer, they build the hype in such a simplistic way. We don't even see the actors! Instead, we're treated to some Hans Zimmer music and we receive a look at the two iconic costumes. It's clearly saving the best moments for the trailer, as well as seeing the first footage of Ben Affleck in the signature costume. It's preparing us for what's to come without blatantly spoiling anything. For me, it's putting the word "teaser" to proper use. It's not revealing anything new; it just leaves me wanting more.
Will the first trailer live up to the hype? Maybe, maybe not. I'll attend the IMAX screening this Monday (and hopefully get a good seat!) and assuming this post isn't a total failure, I'll be sure to share my thoughts on the full trailer. In an era that's full of spoiling stuff well in advance, I'm really, really glad this teaser didn't show us any highlights from the upcoming trailer and instead attempted to get us excited in such a simple yet effective way. We live in a time that'll mark the debut of Batman and Superman sharing the big screen and this is the first official teaser for it. It doesn't give us a look at them in action or even a shot of the two heroes standing in the same room. Instead, it just reminds us we're about to get a whole lot of both of them and I'm legitimately thrilled. We're finally going to see Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Wonder Woman in the same movie and it's going to expand the DC Cinematic Universe. I'd say this is an event that's worth teasing and promoting, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Deadpool #45 (The Death of Deadpool) review

*Since Deadpool #45 went on sale a week ago, this review contains plenty of spoilers. It would be tough to talk about the big moment without using some, after all. Also, this review only covers the main story (which is about 31 pages), not the several extra chapters.*
When a big event takes place in the Marvel Universe, the story usually bleeds into various titles. For example, Civil War had a whole lot of tie-in story arcs as we got to see how the big debate between Captain America and Iron Man was impacting other heroes and villains. Who was on Tony's side? Who was on Steve's side? Who was just trying to avoid all of the craziness? After a few issues or so, these titles would then go back to business as usual. However, Marvel's upcoming event, Secret Wars, is so much more than "yet another" big event. This one is totally reinventing the Marvel Universe by destroying the one we've come to know. Instead of simply appearing in several titles before it fades away, Secret Wars is acting like a genocidal maniac. This upcoming event is the reason several titles are coming to an end (or at least it certainly seems that way) and, as we've all known for awhile now, Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn's Deadpool run is one of Secret Wars' victims. But hey, at least they had dozens of issues with the Merc with a Mouth. W. Haden Blackman only had eleven issues with Elektra! Sorry for the tangent, but that still really disappoints me. Seriously, it was such a great series. Anyway, you're here to read about Deadpool's death, so I'll get back to that.

We already know two things going into this issue. One is we're aware this is the final chapter of the volume. The other? Deadpool is going to die. If you didn't already know that, the intro page makes sure to tell you, as does the cover. When the announcement was first made that Wilson's going to die, one of the most common theories was that Deadpool will die, but Wade Wilson will live on. Basically, after all of the nonsense and madness Deadpool had to go through and then seeing how it put the people he cares about in danger, he realizes it's time to walk away from that lifestyle. It's not the most original "death" around, but it's a fitting one for the guy. He's certainly earned it, hasn't he? I mean, how else would U.L.T.I.M.A.T.I.U.M. (God, that's a pain to type) kill the seemingly unkillable anti-hero? Some crazy plot device that negates his healing factor? How original, right? Would you even want that organization to be the one that kills Deadpool (for now)? My answer: no way. Thankfully, co-writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn avoided the blatantly obvious option and instead offer a death that's both appropriate and serves as hilarious commentary on big events. Secret Wars killed Deadpool's title... and the event kills him, too.
In case you're out of the loop, the Avengers have been dealing with this little thing called incursion. The Marvel 616 Earth and another Earth are going to collide and it's up to Earth's Mightest Heroes to stop that from happening. Well, they failed and these two planets crashing together is what brings about the demise of our lovable lead. That's right, a big event shoved its way into Deadpool's world (something that already happened twice in the series), but this time it's causing the end of the title and the end of everyone in it. To me, that's hysterical because it shows how Marvel's bigger picture can often get in the way of a satisfying story that's going on in solo titles. I imagine this will seem random to some and lackluster to others (I'm sure plenty were hoping for Deadpool going out in a blaze of glory), but the combination of this being funny and heartfelt makes it pretty fitting. Wade does attempt to kill "Deadpool" by walking away from that life when his fight with U.L.T.I.M.A.T.I.U.M. is over and, in his final moments before those worlds explode, he's finally happy. He's surrounded by the people he loves and when that alternate Earth comes racing towards their planet, he doesn't freak out. He doesn't panic. He doesn't scream. In this moment, he's at ease. He simply hugs his daughter and knows what true happiness and love is. After all of the messed up, dark, depressing and violent things Wade has endured in this series (and everything which came before it), I'd say this is a damn good ending for him. For us? Well, that'll obviously vary from reader to reader, but I think it's both funny and appropriate. The dude is literally being taken out by the very thing that's killing is book -- something none of us expected -- and he's getting the "happy" ending he deserves. Even if it's just a few seconds of bliss before everything goes dark, it's well worth it for him. He's endured how many years of torment, after all?

Before Deadpool's demise, we get the chance to see the 616 version of the character unleash one final time. We know he has no problem killing, but a previous big event, Axis, messed with his head and he was really hoping to resolve his conflicts in non-fatal ways. But when an evil organization goes after the people you love and burns down their home? Yeah, the gloves come off. What follows is an absolutely brutal display that paints Wade Wilson as a true killing machine. There's just enough humor in there to prevent things from getting too dark, but overall, this is basically Wade doing his best impression of the Terminator. He's cracking some jokes and there's a bit of levity in the way it all plays out, but the guy is still frightening, cold, and shockingly lethal. This is where artist Mike Hawthorne, inker Terry Pallot, and colorist Jordie Bellaire really grab our attention and all of the mayhem is a twisted joy to witness. Deadpool is downright badass the whole time and these visuals strike a nice balance between horrifyingly savage and humorous. The rest of the issue is consistently animated (the assault on the homes also look good thanks to an unexpected twist) and the final pages allow Bellaire to really escalate the big moment, but this giant war zone really is the visual highlight. Here's hoping Hawthorne gets to illustrate the character in the future because I really love his his work with Wade. No matter what the expression or tone is, Hawthorne makes the merc look good.
As someone who cares about the well-being of this fictional character (because I'm an adult like that), I'm happy Deadpool's final moments were heartwarming and tranquil for him. As the world literally comes to an end and everyone freaks out about it, he simply accepts what is going on and appreciates the fact he's holding onto the most important thing in his life: his daughter. Maybe -- just maybe -- he made that horrifying situation easier to accept for his daughter as well. It sure seems like it. Maybe I'm a total sap for loving that, but I've been rooting for the guy and it's great he gets to experience the joy he deserves. Part of me is frustrated with this ending, though. I think it's a nice blend of heart and humor -- something the co-writers often handle well -- but I'm left wondering what issue #45 would be like if Secret Wars wasn't completely changing the Marvel Universe. Would the series have a few more story arcs for us to enjoy? Or would this still be the end? You know, minus the worlds colliding. I'll probably never know and the fact we already know Deadpool has a limited series post-Secret Wars means Wade Wilson (just not the 616 version, I guess) won't be absent in the comics. Battleworld, the place that'll serve as the new Marvel Universe, will be full of alternate versions of characters, so I'm certain we'll see much more of him. So, when it comes to the bigger picture, his death really isn't that big of a deal. This isn't happening because the publisher is doing a petty move in an effort to hurt Twentieth Century Fox; it's happening because the publisher is setting a whole new stage for (some) of its heroes and villains. But as an ending of this run for comic book readers who know Secret Wars is just around the corner? Yeah, I'd say this is a pretty entertaining way for the run to say "goodbye." There's a whole lot of crazy action, just enough insight into Wade, and a fitting amount of humor and heart. It's not as emotional or as epic as one might expect, but this fan of Duggan and Posehen's run is very pleased. Here's hoping Marvel's smart enough to put the entire run into one mega omnibus. I mean, I wouldn't be able to afford it, but that would be one hell of an awesome gift.

Oh, and as expected, the "lost" issue is a blast. Scott Koblish never disappoints.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bloodshot Reborn #1 review

When you think of Bloodshot, what immediately comes to mind? Over-the-top violence? Pale skin with red eyes and a red circle on the chest? Even more vicious violence? Jeff Lemire tells you what he thinks about Bloodshot right in the opening (while also providing some exposition for new readers) and then spends the rest of the issue completely redefining the character. So yeah, you can bet the title of this series is pretty literal.
If you were brainwashed by a shady organization and used as their hitman for God knows how many years, how would you feel if you were finally free from their control and that life of violence? And what if your final mission ended with a tragedy? Would you bury those feelings deep down inside of you as you embrace your freedom and see what it's like to finally live like an ordinary person? Or would the weight of your previous actions crush you? After all, it's unclear just how many lives you've taken. With Bloodshot, Jeff Lemire makes it clear we're dealing with a guy who is being eaten alive by his past and understandably so. The character isn't sight-seeing or frolicking in a field, he's laying low and simply surviving as his former life slowly tears away at him. This is Bloodshot like you've never seen him before (well, post-reboot; no idea about in the past) and it's a really gripping and emotionally powerful approach to the character. You go in expecting bloodshed, bullets and brutal madness as Bloodshot embarks on his next mission, and instead we get a comic that's 99.9% character-driven -- one that can be appreciated by new and pre-existing fans. There's a tiny amount of commentary in here about violence and gun control, but the primary focus is making us feel for this damaged guy.

Bloodshot's in a rough place and it is a dark book, yet it isn't overly depressing. Lemire finds a way to make Bloodshot's low point both entertaining and insightful. You'll get more out of it if you've been following the character over the past few years, but the handling of the character study is so well executed that I'm sure new readers will still establish an emotional connection to the dude and finish the comic with a strong desire to read even more.
Lemire's script pulls you right into Bloodshot's world, and artist Mico Suayan and colorist David Baron do a beyond excellent job making sure everything looks great. When you're dealing with Bloodshot, you don't want bright and energetic visuals. These two perfectly understand the tone Lemire's going for and the end result are some gritty pages that are full of great, expressive character work and a commendable amount of attention is given to each and every location. (Minor gripe: I noticed the video game had the same moment in multiple panels, so I'll just assume the kid paused it?) Early on, there's one page that allows Baron to steal the spotlight as the layout calls for attention-grabbing shades of red. It's easily the most striking page in the comic. And don't worry, the opening gives you all of the twisted violence you'd want from a Bloodshot story before taking a more compelling and emotional turn. Oh, and comic readers know Lemire is also an artist and he provides a little bit of character work in this one. I know you're probably thinking Lemire's style is drastically different than Suayan's, but trust me, they make it work.

Bloodshot Reborn is taking a smart and entertaining approach to the character that you think you know so well. Lemire's opening chapter makes sure it quickly catches up new readers and then delves deep into who this Valiant character really is and why he's not as one-dimensional as some may think. There's only a loose teaser about the bigger picture, but that's not exactly a bad thing when there's such a terrific focus on humanizing this killing machine. Throw in Suayan and Baron's amazing pages and yeah, this is a comic that earns your $3.99 and then some. When you go into this, you're only getting a small sample of the Bloodshot you've come to know. If you want savage mayhem, there's plenty of Bloodshot collections you can pick up and enjoy. But if you're looking for something different with the character, this one's definitely for you. It looks like Valiant has yet another awesome series for us and I can't say I'm even remotely surprised. The publisher's doing a great job focusing on quality over quantity.

Bloodshot Reborn #1 goes on sale April 15.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Batman vs. Robin review

I love Damian Wayne. I think the little dude is simply an awesome hero. Quick-witted, hilariously blunt, and surprisingly formidable, he quickly became my favorite Robin. Damian's had some great stories in the comics, but unfortunately, his animated debut in Son of Batman wasn't exactly the strongest feature from the new DC Animated Universe. However, he's getting a second chance in the spotlight with the appropriately titled Batman vs. Robin. Yes, the father and son technically do fight, but the "vs." really applies to their relationship. Can Batman be a father and a hero's mentor? Can Damian earn his father's trust? Does he even want to earn it or will Bruce's methods push him away? This one is all about character, readers. Don't worry, there's plenty of punching and kicking as well!

This animated feature doesn't draw any strong parallels to Grant Morrison's "Batman vs. Robin" storyline (at least none that I recognized) and it instead takes some major inspiration from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Court of Owls" and Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's "Born to Kill." Both are pretty excellent stories ("Born to Kill" is without question one of my favorite New 52 arcs), so it's understandable to go into this movie with some pretty high expectations, even if you weren't a fan of some of the recent animated features. Thankfully, there's a solid creative team behind this movie and it really does show.
Directed by Jay Oliva (The Dark Knight Returns, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox) and written by J.M. DeMatteis ("Kraven's Last Hunt"), Batman vs. Robin is all about the difficult relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son, Damian. If you watched Son of Batman, read the comics, or just quickly googled the character, then you know Damian was raised by Ra's al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, and the League of Assassins. Batman is all about solving conflicts with a strict no-kill rule (well, unless they're basically zombies), so that makes their dynamic an interesting one. Damian was raised to believe that killing your foes is the right thing to do, and Batman is doing his best to make his child realize he needs to resist taking fatal measures. Seeing as they've been apart for so long and Damian was raised by villains, there's also a wee bit of a trust issue going on. As if things weren't difficult enough as is, the Court of Owls enters the pictures to make matters far more complicated. In this story, Talon takes Damian under his wing and attempts to tell him that yes, killing bad guys is the right thing to do. Seeing as Damian and Bruce are arguing so much and they're having trouble connecting, Damian isn't exactly opposed to the idea of joining forces with another "hero."  If you've read Snyder and Tomasi's work, you can tell DeMatteis has pretty much given Talon Morgan Ducard's role. If you haven't, well, go read those stories! Seriously, check 'em out.

The story here is solid. Unlike some of the other movies, it doesn't feel like it's rushing through character-driven scenes in order to get to the explosive conclusion. Sure, the action is probably the part that'll really win you over and I'll admit Batman's stubborn attitude can make him frustrating instead of simply seeming unaware about how to properly balance being a father and a hero, but this movie did a good job handling both character and story progress. It really did stand apart from the source material in a creative way, too. It's really cool that Talon is basically Ducard and that brought more way more emotion to the story. Aside from Batman: Assault on Arkham, the latest DC animated movies haven't done a great job selling their villains. Ocean Master and Black Manta didn't receive nearly enough focus; Deathstroke's story felt uninspired and seeing him lose to Damian in an extended fight is tough to swallow; Darkseid was basically there for one big boss battle. That really isn't the case here and they make sure Talon is there for plenty of kick-ass action while also playing a substantial role in the narrative. The twists probably won't drop your jaw, but it all plays out in an entertaining way and there's a legitimately heartwarming moment in the end -- one which is well-earned. It's brief and predictable yet still totally effective. There's no shame in admitting it'll potentially make you tear up. As the overall narrative moves forward, it never loses sight of making sure to focus on its primary theme: the bond between a mentor and their protege. Even during the opening conflict, this theme is front and center... in a very twisted way, though.
When Jay Oliva is directing, you know you're going to get some exciting action sequences. The choreography -- especially during the final fight between Batman and Talon -- is thrilling and there's plenty of amusing shots. The debut fight with the Talons is downright vicious and watching Batman do everything he can against seemingly impossible odds is a blast; I loved seeing Bruce use different pieces of equipment throughout his fight. It's great to see they just didn't have him to go hand-to-hand the whole time since that would have been totally foolish. Dick Grayon fans will probably feel disappointed by the hero's role, but there's a handful of seconds in there of the agile dude unleashing and it's terrific. Short and sweet sure beats nothing at all, right? The crowded battle is a lot of fun and offers a nice amount of variety. From displays of technique to various gear to a spiffy armor that's taken out in such an unexpected way, the big conflict is a really good time. Plus, even Alfred gets in on the chaos. It's nothing spectacular, but it's still pretty entertaining seeing the guy take part.

There's some great melee combat and fun madness in here, but I do have a criticism: the handling of Damian's capabilities in fights. I don't mind making him formidable -- he should be -- but it'll take some serious plot devices for him to give some iconic characters trouble, and the way he took advantage of them didn't really feel justified. I know it's made clear he'd lose against Bruce in an all-out fight, but the fact he's giving him that much trouble without any other factors playing a role is a little baffling. I can't help but feel like Grayson fans will also feel disappointed. It would have been cool if that brawl concluded the same way as Damian's first violent fight with Tim; that way it isn't downplaying Grayson and still gives Damian credit. I also wish Damian's impressive intellect played a bigger role.

As for the performances, I have to say Jason O'Mara has grown on me. I won't say he's my favorite Batman, but I do believe he's come a long way since Justice League: War. Even when enraged or upset, he gives Bruce a more controlled tone, and I think that's fitting for such a brilliant character. Stuart Allan's perfectly fine as Damian and Jeremy Sisto delivers as Talon, yet the real treat is Kevin Conroy returning to the Wayne family. He doesn't have many lines, but making him voice Bruce's father, Thomas, was a nice dose of fan service. I know we've seen the death of Bruce's parents a gazillion times now, but it's appropriate for this story. Thankfully, it doesn't drag out the scene of his parents being gunned down and instead focuses primarily on the follow-up.
I do have some minor and personal criticisms -- many of them really aren't even worth noting -- but one that I do want to mention takes place early on in the movie. It's a minor spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you don't want even a tiny part potentially ruined. If we're dealing with the world's greatest detective, it's tough to believe his reaction when he first sees Damian and Dollmaker out in the snow. If Robin's weapon had blood on it (for example, he could have cut the guy's leg to make the villain trip), the Dark Knight's reaction would be easier to swallow. Instead, I was left feeling like Batman would demand to know what happened instead of immediately blaming his son. I get there's the issue of trust, but after what they went through in Son of Batman and the time they spent together that we haven't seen, it felt like an unnecessarily harsh response. I know the situation was dark and it impacted Damian personally, but it seems like Bruce's interactions with Damian made him surprisingly cold and mean. Even when he's just curious about what his son is reading, he pretty much swipes the book from Damian's hands! I also wish this movie took advantage of some of the story elements that took place towards the end of "Born to Kill," but at the same rate, you have to respect them for doing their own thing with these two story arcs. Oh, and I thought having the owl carrying a bat was a little too blunt. But hey, that's like, a few seconds out of the whole movie. No biggie. 

I know some of you weren't the biggest fans of Son of Batman and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis. Those experiences may have you feeling uninterested in this latest feature and honestly, I wouldn't blame you for feeling that way. I didn't love those two features, either. However, I'm here to tell you that you really shouldn't let those two movies prevent you from watching this one. Batman vs. Robin is pretty awesome and it's definitely worthy of a purchase. While those previous movies disappointed because of lackluster villains or very generic story beats, this one thrives because it has a solid balance of character insight, a fleshed-out bad guy, and excellent action sequences. Batman: Assault on Arkham is still my favorite post-Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox animated movie, but this one absolutely takes second place. Even if you're not a fan of the story, the action is pretty much guaranteed to win you over. (Unless you hate Damian, that is.) Here's hoping the next Batman movie -- you know, if we do get another one -- is every bit as good as this one. And if we do get one, I'm still hoping for "Hush" or maybe even "Knightfall" as a two-parter. A man can dream, yeah?

Oh, and just so you know, there unfortunately isn't a credits scene. Bummer, right? But hey, at least Justice League: Gods and Monsters looks cool. Bruce Timm for the win!



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Daredevil is the comic book show I've been waiting for

*Don't worry, there's no big spoilers in here.*

Marvel and Netflix's first limited series, Daredevil, is finally here and man, it was so worth the wait. Before I get into why I think it's all kinds of terrific, I want to make one thing crystal clear: this article isn't a jab at the other comic book shows. I'm absolutely loving The Flash; Arrow's quality jumps around yet it still has my attention; The Walking Dead's latest season showed a lot of promise; Constantine was solid; Nick's TMNT is a total joy. I hear Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has made significant improvements, but I'm way too behind and don't see myself catching up with it in the near future. Sorry, S.H.I.E.L.D. fans. "But Gregg, what about Gotham, Powers, and iZombie?" Hey, random reader, I'm trying to get to why I really enjoyed Daredevil, but sure, I'll quickly answer that. Gotham: wasn't a fan, sorry. Powers: has potential, but rarely leaves me hooked. So, I'm left feeling down the middle. iZombie: sorry, haven't checked it out yet. Now, let's get to why Daredevil made such a strong impression, okay?
Daredevil wasn't kidding when he said Hell's Kitchen is his city.
There were a lot of concerns about Daredevil's tone and I'd say understandably so. The Marvel Cinematic Universe can sometimes be a pretty lighthearted place -- Marvel Studios obviously aims to make sure its projects can be enjoyed by a wide variety of viewers. Even when stories take serious or more compelling turns, the minds behind these films try to make sure you have a good amount of fun throughout the adventure. Sometimes the emphasis on comedy can be a little too much, but for the most part, the trips into the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been a pretty good time. However, seeing as this is on Netflix and going for a more "street level" approach, there were understandable concerns this limited series would be overly dark and gritty just because it now has the freedom to bring more mature content. Thankfully, that wasn't the case and I think the minds behind this series did an excellent job delivering a tone that's serious and gripping while also having just the right amount of darkness and levity.

The show is not too dramatic and the occasional bits of comedy most definitely don't get in the way of the more serious story and it doesn't ever feel out of place, either. (Unless you dislike Foggy, but that doesn't apply to me.) What's really great is this show doesn't let loose simply because it can. It shows a lot of restraint with its graphic content, making those especially savage moments even more effective when they do drop. Just because they can curse or show gruesome violence doesn't mean they're constantly throwing it in our faces and I think that's to be commended. We get a proper look at just how ugly the situation in Hell's Kitchen has become (the very first episode includes human trafficking, after all) and we feel the weight behind these situations, yet surprisingly gory displays of violence aren't common and when characters do curse, it feels natural instead of just some attempt to be edgier. They aren't saying "shit" every other sentence just because they can and when they do have disturbing elements, they're handled appropriately instead of aiming just for shock value. When there's a very unsettling story about a twisted father, it's used to enhance Matt Murdock's story; it's not there just to stun. The show has plenty of darker elements, a ton of drama, and a whole lot of violence, yet it's not a depressing experience that feels like it's taking itself way too seriously. It brings the kind of content you'd never see in one of Marvel Studios' movies, yet it doesn't feel like it's a different world, either. We're just exploring a whole new part of the one we already know pretty well. Avengers Tower may be right around the corner, but this show is exploring conflicts that are simply under the powerful team's radar.

Photo by Barry Wetcher.
Daredevil's overall story has plenty of familiar elements. The hero trying to save his city; he questions whether he should kill his enemies and whether he should reveal his secret to the ones closest to him; the media and authorities think he's a problem; there's the power hungry villain; so on and so on. Despite this, the show doesn't feel uninspired or repetitive because it focuses on humanizing and building its characters. Foggy isn't just there for laughs. Murdock's moral dilemmas aren't handled in a way that make me go, "Yeah, Arrow already covered this, man." Karen Page isn't just a potential love interest. Ben Urich isn't just in the story to give us exposition. This may be Daredevil's story, but the show did a mighty fine job making me feel emotionally connected to each of these characters and that's what truly matters. Sure, this is a show about a superhero and it ends in a very standard way, but what helps it standout is just how character-driven each and every episode is. Best of all? The relationship elements aren't cringeworthy! They could have had a seriously annoying and predictable love triangle or dragged out some of the relationships, yet they were able to dance around this and handled these stories in a reasonable way. You kind of go into these shows expecting some frustrating romance drama and thankfully, Daredevil didn't give us that. These storylines are still present, but they aren't front and center and they sure aren't cheesy, either. This show got me invested in these characters and the fact it's so well-acted certainly doesn't hurt.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is full of interesting heroes, but overall, the villains haven't exactly been one of the universe's biggest strengths. Luckily for us, that isn't the case in Daredevil. They could have gone with cliche crime lords and one-dimensional baddies, but instead of being lazy with its antagonists and focusing mostly on the good guys, the show gave its foes a great amount of insight. Some may not enjoy the show's take on Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin, but I view it as the big guy's origin story. Instead of him just acting like a tough guy and enjoying a cigar, we're given a far more complex and fleshed out foe. The actor, Vincent D'Onofrio, does an awesome job handling the surprisingly awkward character's mannerisms. This isn't the Kingpin you'd expect, but he's still able to command respect and absolutely reminds us he's a brutal, brutal man. The other villains don't receive as much insight -- which is to be expected -- but they still get more than enough of the spotlight at one point or another. After watching the first episode, I was concerned the handling of the villains would be really generic. Well, this is me happily eating my words.

Photo by Barry Wetcher
The show obviously has a few reminders that this takes place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the big battle in The Avengers is discussed a handful of times and there's a joke about the iconic heroes' abilities), but the show also did a pretty satisfying job building up the hype for future Netflix shows. I didn't spot any Luke Cage or Jessica Jones easter eggs, but there's a few really neat ones for Iron Fist's world. There's a whole lot of love given to Daredevil's mythos, too. From a potential nod to Elektra to even something little like Gladiator's symbol, there's a whole lot of fan service in here. I mean, they even have a freaking Stilt-Man easter egg. How awesome is that?

I can be a pretty big snob when it comes to action. For example, I was told by many that Captain America: The Winter Soldier had brilliant and stunning action sequences. I saw it the day after I watched The Raid 2 and I couldn't help but feel like the action was just pretty good. Certainly the best choreography we've seen from a Marvel Studios movie, but it wasn't as intense as it was built up to be. So, you can bet I was feeling a little skeptical about how Daredevil's agility and hand-to-hand encounters would be handled. Thankfully, a majority of it is solid and there's more than a few moments that were legitimate jaw-droppers. There's an extended and astonishing shot that'll remind you of Oldboy and they frequently manage to use slow motion at just the right moments. Okay, sometimes you can tell when there's a stunt double or you may question why someone is such a terrible shot, but overall, the action sequences are massively entertaining and oh-so-visceral. Daredevil isn't as agile as you may expect him to be, but they remind us every now and again that the dude is a brawler and nimble. He endures some crazy stuff and there's dozens upon dozens of harsh punches. And when the show does unleash some stronger displays of violence, they're definitely memorable.
From left to right: Dr. Evil, the latest voice of Wonder Woman, Cyclops, Gwen Stacy, Fulton Reed. 
Daredevil offered basically everything I wanted from it. It had an excellent focus on character, cool and sometimes even creative action sequences, and it did a great job balancing comedy and a grittier tone. The cast certainly delivered with their performances and the story even manages to avoid all of the cliche relationship drama that seems to be a mandatory ingredient in some shows! Now, it's obviously not flawless. You'd want to give up attempting to count the amount of times anyone says "city," some story elements drag a bit, and I was left wanting more from the ending. But if you put my complaints on one scale and my praise on another one, it's pretty clear I think this is a damn good show. Daredevil's emotional, gripping, and brings just the right amount of fun. We're talking about a comic book show that embraces the source material, offers thrilling action, and has a smart script and solid performances. What more could you want? My expectations are raised for the next four Netflix shows.

Oh, and now that we know they're cool with making the action more brutal and occasionally even over-the-top, Gareth Evans needs to direct the Iron Fist show. Make that happen, Netflix and Marvel!