Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Flash: The Complete First Season Blu-ray review

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

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

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

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

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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50 review

Yup, this review is spoiler-free!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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