Monday, June 29, 2015

Deathstroke: Please stop making him a jobber

*Contains Son of Batman spoilers and minor Batman: Arkham Knight spoilers*

Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator, is one of DC's most formidable mercenaries. He may not be able to melt his targets with a blast of heat vision or shatter mountains with his fists, but the combination of his extensive training, enhanced physicals, and gifted mind has turned him into one of the publisher's most lethal and imposing characters around. He's humiliated a wide range of heroes and villains - he was even able to temporarily elude Superman and he's given Batman all kinds of trouble - yet for some reason beyond me, a number of his appearances outside of comics have been downright embarrassing. Slade may just be a fictional character, but if a video game, TV show, or movie is going to use him, the guy deserves some respect.
Deathstroke #1 variant cover by the amazingly talented Andrea Sorrentino. (Read his Green Arrow run!)
I usually enjoy DC's animated movies a whole lot - they have way more hits than misses - but I was especially excited for 2014's Son of Batman. Not only did it have Damian Wayne, Batman's awesome son, as a main character, but it also had Deathstroke stepping in to serve as the big bad. Immediately my mind raced with all of the possibilities. Slade - a brilliant tactician and skilled fighter - could force these two to bond and work together to take him down. Something like that would have created a seriously badass fight and a natural way to have Bruce and Damian overcome their differences as they use teamwork to defeat the villain. Suddenly, they're forced to trust and rely on each other if they want to survive the encounter. But that isn't even close to what happened.

Not only was Deathstroke's role lacking any kind of solid inspiration - he felt more like Bane because he thought the League of Assassins was rightfully his to lead - but his fight against the Dark Knight was shockingly swift. So short, in fact, that it made me exclaim, "What?! That's it?" Batman just effortlessly drops the dude with a quick combo. As if that wasn't degrading enough, Damian then has a one-on-one fight with Slade and walks away as the victor. I'm not saying Damian should never be able to win that one, but if he's going to take the victory, it would rely on his wit, resources, and tactics - not hand-to-hand technique. His agenda wasn't an organic one and the most dangerous mercenary was reduced to someone Batman can beat without breaking a sweat and even Robin can eventually best him in a direct fight. The character design was pretty cool, but everything else about Deathstroke in Son of Batman was seriously lacking.
Likely would have been a better movie if Ra's was the big bad.
Most recently, Slade made a surprise appearance in Batman: Arkham Knight. Once you complete the main story, Slade takes control of the Arkham Knight's army. When it's first teased that a mercenary is now controlling the bad guys, I got all kinds of happy on the inside. I was confident it was Slade and once it was revealed that it is him, I was thrilled. How could I not be? The guy had an excellent appearance in Batman: Arkham Origins. Sure, he was one of the earlier boss battles, but he was easily the most difficult fight and the game seemed to have a pretty good handle on the character. Unfortunately, Arkham Knight seemed to lose sight of who Slade is and the character in this game doesn't seem like him at all. First and foremost, his personality and dialogue makes him come off as a bratty child who's puffing his chest and making idle threats instead of being someone who's calculating and legitimately threatening. He's constantly bragging about how good he is and how Batman needs to stop relying on using "toys." But guess what? You don't fight Slade in a crazy hand-to-hand boss battle this time around. Instead, he has a tank of his own.

It's a shame a potentially awesome boss fight is used as another excuse to get in the Batmobile, and what happens next adds insult to injury. The way he's taken out once the tank is destroyed is beyond degrading. How terrific would it be if the tank fight was followed by an encounter which relied on stealth, countering, and using a variety of gear? Pretty terrific, yeah?  Instead, Slade leaps at Batman, gets tackled, and then gets knocked out with one punch. Slade claims he was caught off-guard, but that's pretty tough to believe seeing as he's the one who lunged at Batman's vehicle. Well, at least Guy Gardner and Slade Wilson now have something in common: getting flooded by the Dark Knight after a single punch.
Occupation: part-time jobber.
Slade's appearances in Injustice: Gods Among Us - he's the first obstacle Batman takes down and the cinematic prior to it has Bruce taking an easy edge - and the third season of Arrow - a brief cameo which even the actor, Manu Bennett, wasn't happy about left a lot to be desired as well. If Slade does appear in the DC Cinematic Universe - and rumors are claiming he will - let's hope he's a memorable and layered mercenary instead of someone who just offers a cool action sequence and then is cast aside. I'm not saying Deathstroke needs to be this seemingly unstoppable force whenever he appears, but if he is going to serve as an antagonist, he shouldn't be someone who's taken out through just basic melee combat. If used, he should challenge a hero's intellect and skill in a big way. He should push their physical limits while also forcing them to be more tactical and creative. A good villain has the chance to show us just how far a hero can push themselves to overcome evil - that's exactly what Deathstroke should bring about when he's the primary villain.

A lot of appearances have handled the character properly (countless comics, Young Justice, Arrow Season 2), but I hope him being a total jobber in recent appearances isn't a sign of what his future will be like whenever he pops up outside of comics. Deathstroke shouldn't be included in something just because he's a fan-favorite - he should be included because he has what it takes to truly test the hero's abilities and his personality can create interesting dynamics. If TV shows, movies, and video games really want to use an assassin who will get walked all over and offer a forgettable conflict, I hear Brutale is looking for work.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight review

"You have failed this city," said no one ever to Batman because he's Batman.
"Be the Batman." Rocksteady Studios' marketing campaign for its third - and allegedly final - Batman game recognizes just how much people loved being the Dark Knight in the other Arkham games. From the jaw-droppingly badass combat to the sheer awe experienced while gliding around an immersive Gotham City, the developer knows fans love stepping in the Caped Crusader's dark boots. Rocksteady also knows fans have incredibly high expectations for their latest project since the previous installments raised the bar for comic book video games. Thankfully, Batman: Arkham Knight is epic, appropriately moving, and full of fun.

The game's story really leaves an impression when it's focusing on delving deep into Batman's mind. Sure, this has been the focus countless times before and we all know the basics about who the Dark Knight is and what made him undergo such a drastic change, but that doesn't stop Rocksteady Studios from giving us brilliant and creative insight into the iconic hero. For example, when we're reminded of the death of Batman's parents yet again (for the gazillionth time), the scene swiftly goes in a different direction instead of trying to find new ways to make it emotionally powerful. The ending of Arkham City should be a big deal and thankfully it isn't ignored or just glossed over. The adventure's easily at its strongest when it focuses on Batman's psyche and how that event has not only impacted him, but also how others view him. Luckily for us, focusing on Batman's mentality is pretty frequent and there's some unforgettable sequences as the main story gets closer and closer to its end. 
Spoiler alert: unfortunately, the Arkham Knight isn't Condiment King.
While I am impressed by the amount of love Scarecrow receives - I sincerely thought he'd be a secondary villain who's cast aside halfway through - the whole mystery surrounding the Arkham Knight is telegraphed pretty heavily. When Batman does finally discover who's behind the mask, it isn't nearly as compelling as it could have been and there isn't any major follow-up. There was a lot of potential there and once the reveal is made, it feels like one of the weaker points of the story. I wouldn't say it's bad, but it just isn't nearly as gripping or moving as it could have been. Also, for such a narrative-driven franchise, it is disappointing the final ending is so sudden and leaves so many questions. The desire to make gamers speculate is perfectly fine (I have 3 theories), but for that to be the final end (presumably) is a bummer. Perhaps that'll be fleshed out in the DLC, but having to pay extra money to fully appreciate an ending seems like a greedy decision. That said, considering the handling of Batman and a few other points (which I won't spoil, obviously), there's much more to this story than the identity of the Arkham Knight. All in all, I believe the story's strengths outweigh the material that's just okay.

Overall, the voice acting is solid. Hearing Kevin Conroy as the Dark Knight and Tara Strong as Harley Quinn is going to make any Batman fan feel all kinds of happy on the inside. There's plenty of dialogue that's pure fan service, too. Some of it is a little heavy-handed, but I'll admit it still made me smile. Despite having some bratty dialogue, Troy Baker's performance as the Arkham Knight does an effective job making you understand the characters blend of hatred, sadness, and confidence. John Noble's perfect as Scarecrow, delivering lines that match the villain's eerie appearance and his dark mission. Aside from a few of Poison Ivy's lines (and can someone please get her a new outfit?), it felt like a fair amount of characters have their chance to steal some of the spotlight and some have the opportunity to effectively land powerful material - a few bits of dialogue with Jim Gordon (Jonathan Banks) and Tim Drake (Matthew Mercer) immediately comes to mind. I have no shame in admitting I was shocked and emotionally moved at least twice during the journey as well. I'd love to elaborate about the few parts that left me stunned, but since it's an enormous spoiler, I'll just have to bite my tongue. 

The following is a little spoilery (discusses a character who hasn't appeared in trailers), so skip this paragraph if you don't want any spoilers! Seriously, scroll down. Okay, I'll assume they're gone. So, for everyone else, I just want to say Mark Hamill's performance as the Joker manages to still be completely chilling and captivating. As someone who thought the franchise gave him a too much attention, I'm really impressed by the way the Clown Prince of Crime is handled in this one. I of course won't say how he plays a role, but it's a great way to enhance our emotional connection to Batman and it provides a little more twisted and clever humor. Speaking of humor, I absolutely love the conversations random criminals have as you explore the city. There's some seriously funny dialogue in there, especially after completing the main story.
Dual team takedowns aren't common but they're worth the wait.
Whether it's through secondary missions or the main story, there's a whole lot of characters from Batman's mythos in here. From characters who lack depth yet provide entertaining challenges (Firefly, the pyromaniac who loves to be repetitive about burning the city) to Man-Bat's tragic tale, it truly feels like a crowded and fleshed-out city. Catwoman, who's limited to being Riddler's hostage for a very long period of time, even jokes that she's there just to serve as Bruce's motivation. While not all of the characters are incorporated well (Poison Ivy's story makes sense, but it's a bit too out there for my taste), the opportunity to play as some of them or interact with others in the city is still satisfying. To top it off, there's even a fan-favorite brought in once the conflict with Scarecrow and Arkham Knight is completed! At the time of writing this, I haven't fought the villain yet and his dialogue does sometimes feel out of character (they don't seem as confident and intimidating as they should be), but I hear when you do face them, it's with the Batmobile. If true, that's a real shame because there's already so much vehicle combat and this individual has the chance to offer a difficult boss battle that requires a variety of melee attacks, gadgets, and stealth. Yes, the vehicle fight could be fun - there's one boss battle with the Batmobile that had me feeling an overwhelming sense of urgency and it was a nice change of pace - but using this villain for a tank vs. tank scenario seems like a complete waste of the character's talents.
To no one's surprise, controlling Batman in combat and stealth segments is such a rush. His melee abilities remain badass, fluid, and easy to use. Now there's something called "Fear Takedown" and using it honestly never gets old. They want you to feel like you're Batman and this is the perfect addition to making you feel like you're a gifted, imposing, and swift vigilante. Gadgets remain a joy to utilize in combat and they come in handy since enemies now have medics - characters capable of reviving downed enemies and even giving the recovered foes electric charges. Just like in the previous games, few things in the adventure are more satisfying than stalking criminals and having them walk right into your traps. Thanks to a few cameos, there's also the addition of dual team takedowns. When fighting alongside Catwoman, Nightwing, Robin, or even the Batmobile, Batman can join forces with his ally (or vehicle) to dish out an attack that'll immediately incapacitate the fiend - there's even one boss fight which relies on this. 

While there are several boss battles to enjoy and you can tell when you're nearing the end because the game will throw larger and larger hordes of enemies at you, I'm glad the final run of the main mission decides to focus purely on story and character instead of a potentially repetitive boss battle. There's plenty of combat to find and there's plenty more when the story with Scarecrow and Arkham Knight reaches its end, so the decision to deliver an imaginative way to sell the story is hugely appreciated. It really is a great way to really capitalize on all of the buildup.
Now just $50,000 per month. 0% APR for up to 5 days, too!
Seeing as the Batmobile is the franchise's big new feature, the vehicle obviously plays a pretty substantial role. As expected, speeding through the elaborate city is exciting and surprisingly enough, it's used to make some puzzles even more interesting. The combat mechanics are solid and they do give the game more variety, but when the regular melee combat, predator scenarios, and detective elements are all so good, I can't help but feel like they went a little overboard with the amount of times you need to fight waves of tank drones. As entertaining as obliterating overwhelming amounts of enemy vehicles may be, using Batman to glide below the cloudy skies or stalk henchmen is way more thrilling.

The visuals are stunning. They did a tremendous job creating a fitting atmosphere for Gotham and I've yet to get tired of staring at all that the city has to offer as I perch on a rooftop or race to my next objective. There's just so much variety sprinkled throughout the city and the framerate never took a noticeable drop (while using a PS4). It really is impressive just how much attention went into crafting this place and filling it with easter eggs. There are so many times I found myself simply rotating the camera around Batman so I could admire the view. 

The score plays an equally big part in pulling you into this fictional city. It's downright epic at times - sometimes even overshadowing what's going on - and there's one track that felt beautiful and tragic at the same time. I believe the first time it plays is when Batman's doing something especially heroic and putting himself in a fatal situation. Even though you know he's not going to die that early in the game (totally not a spoiler), it still manages to give the scene so much more weight.

Since I pre-ordered my copy for the Playstation 4, I had immediate access to the Harley Quinn, Red Hood, and Scarecrow missions. Harley Quinn's is the most elaborate mission and it includes exploring, predator sequences, melee fighting, and a boss battle. I didn't keep track of the time, but it was likely 10-15 minutes long at most. Playing as Quinn is pretty fun, especially since she has the ability to go into a frenzy which increases her speed and allows her to knock people out with one swift and oh-so-harsh combo. She may be lighthearted, but her extra vision mode reminds you just how frightening and unpredictable she can be. I imagine fans of a certain Robin won't be too pleased with the mission's outcome, though! 

As for Red Hood, the former Robin has 3 challenges: a direct brawl, a predator scenario, and a boss battle (Black Mask). The ability to use his twin pistols is a blast - totally unintentional pun - and his snarky responses are amusing, so this Jason Todd fan (I just lost some of you, didn't I?) is very pleased. Just like with Quinn, his content only took about 10-15 minutes, but their fighting styles are noticeably different. 

The Scarecrow missions are just 3 races followed by boss battles (while you're still in the Batmobile). Each race takes roughly a few minutes (assuming you aren't a total disaster at driving) and the boss sequence is just a few more. While the scenery and challenges a giant Scarecrow throws your way are cool, nothing is really done to make each race feel different than the other one. The only noticeable variation is the track. Aside from that, it's the same obstacles and the fight against the giant Scarecrow never undergoes significant changes. Unless you really love driving, it's unfortunately repetitive and doesn't seem to be as creative as it could have been. 
I believe I can Batman. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
It's a shame there isn't much replay value with the DLC - why can't I use Harley Quinn or Red Hood in other challenges? - but if you really love these characters and can afford it, then it's worth experiencing. Based on this, I can only assume Batgirl's upcoming story mission will also be 10-15 minutes long. Considering her role in the game, I'm very motivated to see her beat up a ton of bad guys. Here's hoping the extra content in the season pass justifies the whopping $40 price tag. I'm hoping it includes more combat and predator challenges, because as far as I can tell, there's only 4 of each (and they have pre-assigned characters!) yet there's at least 12 Batmobile challenges. Not cool.

Look, I'll be complete honest here: I've got a bit of Bat bias going on. Not only is he one of my favorite DC heroes, but I really, really enjoyed Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. If you didn't spend a bunch of hours having a good time with those games or don't care all that much for the Dark Knight's world, then this one obviously just isn't for you - the fan service will be lost on you and feeling unstoppable in a Batmobile isn't going to suddenly win you over. However, if you even kind of consider yourself a Batman fan and like the previous games - even just a little bit - then I absolutely recommend playing Arkham Knight. It's a must-buy if you loved the previous games and a rental for casual fans. Sure, a key story element didn't blow me away and that feels like a missed opportunity, but this game is one hell of a ride. Whether you want to think that's a terrible Batmobile pun is entirely up to you.

For the "too long; didn't read" crowd:
+Fighting and exploring as Batman.
+A ton of focus on Batman's psyche.
+The graphics and the way Gotham is brought to life.
+Lots of fan service.
+Voice acting.
+Scarecrow's role.
+Plenty of content.
+Epic score.
+/- Batmobile's fun but plays too big of a role.
-Arkham Knight's story.
-Only 4 combat and 4 predator challenges. Characters pre-assigned, too.
-Final ending leaves way too many questions.
4.5/5


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Robin: Son of Batman #1 review

Robin: Son of Batman #1
DC's the New 52 had several memorable story arcs. Stuff like Geoff Johns' time with Aquaman and Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's Green Arrow run immediately come to mind. A number of titles earned a huge amount of praise and understandably so, but one that I believe was underrated is Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin. Sure, the quality jumped around a bit in the middle, but the opening story, Born to Kill, is amazing, and there are several other highlights, like Damian attempting to prove he's the best Robin or even Batman's ridiculously dangerous mission to resurrect his son. Now the title is moving forward without Tomasi and Batman. Gleason is taking over writing and the rest of the visual team (inker Mick Gray and colorist John Kalisz) are sticking around. This is obviously great news for anyone who enjoyed the previous run because it'll welcome them back with familiar visuals and even if the story takes some missteps, at least we know our eyes are going to receive some lively artwork.

This first issue proves Gleason can handle writing and providing pencils. The story isn't off to the most original start around - it certainly jumps around a bit - but what's important here is the handling of Damian Wayne. Many of us like the character because of his personality and for the most part, Gleason has a good handle on it. A few moments made me smirk and Damian's blunt desire to call everything upsetting him "stupid" was amusing and felt in character for the little dude. This first issue clearly focuses on showing Damian's confident and won't back down from anything or anyone, but behind that arrogance, there's a lot of emotional weight and he's finally going to deal with the twisted things he's done. Now, he's already proven he can be a great hero, but given the events in Batman and Robin and how closely connected he is to his grandfather and mother's work, it's understandable his past would once again feel like a huge weight on his shoulders. Speaking of huge, part of me is left wondering why Damian's Man-Bat, Goliath, looks different than the others. I guess we can just chalk that up to his love for eating and possibly even some of the al Ghuls' experimenting? It's not like the DC universe has weirder things than a muscular and red Man-Bat, after all.

As a reader of the previous run, I'm beyond thrilled to see plot points from Born to Kill are moving forward. There's an amusing play on words ("there appears to be nobody on board") and the villain's opening draws parallels to the previous story. There's a lot of potential here, but this is mostly setup - it's just enough to leave me wanting more. Then again, Born to Kill is also one of my favorite Damian stories, so I'm obviously a little biased here. Aside from that, we pretty much have to wait and see how the rest will be handled. It really is a pretty standard teaser/beginning that happens to be loaded with fan service for longtime readers. Here's hoping the "return" of Nobody will be every bit as emotional and exciting as it should be. There's another arc in here, but once again, it's basically one big teaser. This issue really is all about giving the reader a proper look into Damian's head - who he is and why he must do something about his past - and loosely setting up the bigger picture. To me, the most important element is making sure this feels like Damian, my favorite Robin, and luckily, it does. I love how the opening builds up this mythos with a new villain and then Damian just walks all over the guy with no problem whatsoever. The first splash page managed to put a huge smile on my face - it was great seeing Robin back in the spotlight and acting how he should.

Whether it's bright moments that are filled with fantasy elements or darker displays of horror, Gleason, Gray, and Kalisz deliver visuals that are animated, full of appropriate shades, and do a more than thorough job telling the story with their angles and use of expressions. My only criticism is things get a little too hectic when Goliath leaps into action, but the splash page which follows it is excellent; I love the contrast of the bold Man-Bat and the sky.

Question: What's up with the title jumping from Batman and Robin's $2.99 price tag to $3.99? It's odd the series removes DC's most popular hero (he's out of the picture for now, at least) and raises the price, too. I'm obviously willing to pay the extra dollar for this series, but I figured the price increase is worth bringing up.

Fans of Batman and Robin and/or Damian Wayne will want to pick this up. Thanks to consistently energetic visuals and a clear understanding of who Damian is, Robin: Son of Batman is off to a solid start. It has just enough action, personality, and intrigue to hook you. Now it's just a matter of seeing whether these plot threads will turn into something compelling and thrilling. Thankfully, this Damian Wayne fan is feeling pretty optimistic.

3.5/5

Old Man Logan #2 review

Old Man Logan #2

By now it should come as no surprise that any comic with visuals by artist Andrea Sorrentino and colorist Marcelo Maiolo is going to amaze your eyes. So, you can bet the duo once again delivers some gorgeous and stunning work in the second issue of writer Brian Michael Bendis' Old Man Logan. The page layouts and angles in the panels capture each moment brilliantly, making these feel delightfully cinematic and the pages breathe so much life into the various heroes and villains. Whether it's a lush jungle or a vivid bolt of lightning, these two make all of the characters, locations, and effects look terrific. Seeing their take on some of my favorite alternate universe characters is a real treat and the visual ride never fails to impress, but it's the last page that'll really drop your jaw.

The first issue was paced well and it did a nice job catching up new readers while also offering something original, but this second chapter feels a little too fast-paced. Before we really have time to appreciate all that's going on or let it sink in just how emotional this must be for Logan, we're quickly thrown into more and more chaos, and a bit of the buildup felt like unnecessary exposition since much of it is covered in the recap. I also have some small criticisms/questions about the wall (how is climbing it impossible with so many powered people?) and why AoA Sabretooth is now evil (I guess I missed/forgot about him becoming a villain?), but those are minor and don't change the score. Despite that, Bendis' script is still thoroughly entertaining and one or two lines gave me a good laugh. The idea of seeing Old Man Logan interact with other alternate Marvel heroes and villains is promising and has plenty of potential, but I hope the book never loses sight of making sure it remains character-driven and keeps us emotionally connected to this older, grumpier version of Wolverine. Millar and McNiven's Old Man Logan isn't just great because of the interesting alternate universe it creates; it's also great because of Wolverine's emotionally compelling journey

So far, Bendis is doing a pretty good job making sure we continue to get a nice amount of insight into Logan and there hasn't been a dull moment yet; I just hope things slow down a wee bit so we can get a better handle on the bigger picture as well. Whether the story gets better, stays the same, or takes a downward spiral, at least we know the artwork is going to continue to be awesome. Thankfully for us, it looks like Old Man Logan's second adventure is in good hands.

4/5

Legends of Tomorrow Podcast


Hey internet,

How's it going? Thought I'd make a really quick post to let everyone know I'm going to be part of the DC TV's latest podcast! Twice a month, I'll join Comic Uno and Tony B. Kim to discuss the CW's upcoming comic book series Legends of Tomorrow. Seeing as the show won't debut until next year, many of the upcoming episodes will highlight the heroes and villains on the roster - what makes them interesting, what to read/watch to prepare for the show, etc. - and several other topics.

The first episode - which consists of quick introductions and then thoughts on the trailer, as well as The Flash and Arrow's latest season finales - should be posted as soon as Thursday night. If you're awesome and would like to follow along, below are links to several of the podcast's pages.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Legends_Podcast 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LegendsOfTomorrowPodcast?fref=ts
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/dcs-legends-tomorrow-podcast/id993662961?mt=2

Take care, everyone!

P.S.
Totally off-topic: Who else is beyond excited that Batman: Arkham Knight drops next week?!