Braver and Bolder

The boy has been watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Netflix lately.  I knew about this series and may have watched it once or twice during it’s original run (2008-11), but I didn’t recall how fun and well-done this show was.

This is four-color era Batman, with a definite nod to Adam West and Burt Ward and the lighter comic styles of the Silver Age.  From its bright color palette to its jazz-infused score and music, the show gives us a less dark and more fun version of DC’s famous detective.  The basic premise goes back to the old Brave and the Bold comic, which featured some form of super-heroic team-up (usually, but not always featuring Batman).  And they weren’t always the A-list/Justice League-type heroes.  So with this series, the producers took a bit of a gamble to include lesser-known heroes like Red Tornado, Phantom Stranger, Blue Beetle, etc.,as well as some of the more obscure (and silly) villains.  You will also see Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Robin and more familiar faces, but a lot of the show’s charm is in seeing the full breadth of DC  characters. Continue reading

By the Beard of Odin

We did not expect our favorite super-hero/action movie of 2013 to be Thor: The Dark Worldand yet there it is.  Iron Man 3 was not good, Man of Steel was problematic and should have been better…  We have not yet seen The Wolverine, but based on the reviews and chatter, we doubt it will eclipse the son of Odin.  Thor: TDW had the right blend of humor, action, and Asgardian mayhem, as well as an imminently watchable Loki and Thor dynamic and some Avengers 2 easter eggs.  If you’re into the superheroes, you should check it out.

And, of course, it hath spawned another excellent ‘How it Should Have Ended’, this time featuring the Villain Pub.

Movies: Man of Steel

…written by David Goyer, directed by Zach Snyder, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Russell Crowe, based on the comic book by Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster.

Superman is serious business.  He’s the first and arguably the greatest comic book super hero.  Clark Kent has inspired countless spin-offs and clones, including the super hero action blockbuster sub-genre that currently rules in Hollywood.  That doesn’t mean he’s always fared well on the big screen.

Witness the latter Chris Reeves Superman movies (but please, don’t).  Even Superman and Superman II, which we love around here, don’t hold up all that well over time.  2006’s Superman Returns embraced Richard Donner’s same big-screen mythology and floundered.  Now the team of David Goyer and Zach Snyder, with input from Christopher Nolan, have rebooted with Man of Steel.  They are hoping for that same mature and riveting re-imagining of the the Kryptonian Mythos as Nolan provided with his Dark Knight trilogy.  Warner Brothers needs a foil to the Marvel juggernaut, and it’s Big Blue to the rescue.

But, like an ill-fated Lex Luthor plot, they come up a little short.

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Some Summer Movies

With Iron Man 3 opening this weekend, we enter the Summer Movie zone.  Ah, the smell of popcorn and industrial-strength air conditioning…  Big budgets, big stars, big plot-holes…  Summer movies have crept forward from the traditional Memorial Day weekend starting point, because why, again?  Because if they open something big the first week of May, it will sell.

Even if we don’t make it to the cinema as much as we used to, we’re still big movie people in Beemsville.  And summer movies, with their explosions, effects, and fantastic settings always provide grist for the escapist mill, not to mention fuel for the snark fire.  So here are five movies we’re pretty excited about and will most likely see…

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Movies: The Dark Knight Rises

…based on Bob Kane’s Batman, written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer, directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tom Hardy.

The Dark Knight Rises, the third installment of the Nolan brothers’ take on the Batman Mythos, has been criticized and praised alike with heavy-handed gusto by media and culture critics.  You’ll hear how it’s violent, bleak, self-indulgent.  It’s epic, intricate, spectacularly visual.  Dark Knight Rises is guilty of all.  The film also carries considerable baggage: the crazy expectations that seem to accompany any Chris Nolan project, the legacy of the last film, the Dark Knight, which receives too much credit for a number of reasons, not to mention carrying the standard for the entire DC Comics/Warner Brothers line.  A crushing weight, Man-of-Steel worthy.

And Batman and the Nolans are up for it.  This is an awesome film.  Awesome in its most literal sense.  DKR pushes the boundaries of super-hero/anti-hero narrative.  It engages in multi-layered, multi-generational story telling.  It takes this version of Batman – a contemporary characterization that still retains the essential elements – breaks him down, examines his ethos, and brings him back from the brink.  Visuals, performances, character arcs – its’ all there.  The movie is a cut or two above…

And DKR does not achieve this in a vacuum.  Nolan and company employ a secret weapon (that’s not so secret to comic book fans):  years and years of great Batman stories from DC Comics, including Knightfall, which introduced the Bane character, but most importantly the great Frank Miller treatise, The Dark Knight Returns.

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Movies: The Avengers

…based on Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, written by Zak Penn, directed by Joss Whedon, starring Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).

By now, after Hulk-smashing 1st and 2nd week box office records, nearly everyone who reads this blog has seen Marvel’s The Avengers.  It’s the greatest team super-hero movie of all time.  After the last few years’ series of Avengers solo movies, starting with Iron Man up to last summer’s Thor and Captain America, the geeks of the planet have had this date circled.  We’ve watched the short Nick Fury cut-scenes at the end of the movies.  We’ve debated on the internets.  We’ve all hoped it could somehow live up to expectations, seeing Earth’s mightiest heroes together on the big screen.

And Joss Whedon’s super-powered popcorn epic hits the mark.

Yes, the first act is a little slow and awkward at points, introducing the characters with their back stories from the other movies, while setting up Loki and his quest for the Cosmic Cube (the Tesseract in the movie, don’t know why they had to call it that).  No, Black Widow doesn’t really belong on the team, and the Agent Coulson-uniting-the-team card is one Whedon has used over and over again.  Yes, the Chitauri alien villains were pretty generic and definitely had some storm trooper factor.  However…

Joss Whedon

Whedon has been lobbying to do super hero movies for years.  At one point he was linked with an attempt to bring back Wonder Woman and he recently helped the Marvel Comic Astonishing X-Men refocus on that team’s roots.  Beemsville has been a fan of Whedon going back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (still the superior teen-angst with monsters TV series), Angel, and Firefly.   Other than the Firefly-spin-off movie, Serenity, a modest success, Whedon hasn’t directed a blockbuster type movie.  Until now.  He is, however, a lifelong comic fan; a guy who grew up with these characters, reading and re-reading their origins, marveling at the great cross-over four-color stories.  He gets it – he understands the source material, the importance of certain interplays between characters and their symbolic moments.  Contrast this movie to something like Batman and Robin – another big-budget ensemble with a director, Joel Schumacher, who certainly did not get it, and you gain even better appreciation. Continue reading

Books: Ultimate X-Men Collection(s)

In Brief:  Ultimate X-Men hits the reset button on Marvel’s mutant heroes about ten years ago, re-imagining and re-casting the familiar characters in a more contemporary light.  The Collections compile 12 issues – or roughly three trade paperbacks – each in four volumes.  The Ultimate line reached new readers more familiar with the movie versions of these characters and not well-versed in the voluminous back-stories that go with decades of comics.

Pros:  Marvel placed the hottest writers and artists of the day on the Ultimate books.  The stories have enough familiarity for those who know the characters, but they are (usually) fresh enough to be compelling on their own.

Cons:  Some of the narratives are rushed or weak – almost as if the writer had lost interest in introducing certain well-known elements of the X-Men mythos.  The metaphorical linking of mutants with terrorists gets old and played out, and the Ultimate War Storyline was pretty poorly done.

Full Review:   When I was growing up, the X-Men were favorites.  Not sure when exactly it happened – probably about 6th grade – but all through junior high and high school I pretty much read the X-books.  This period, now remembered fondly by many, had Chris Cleremont writing voluminous and ansgt-ridden tales that still managed to be action packed and heroic.  The X-Men, scorned by many for their genetic heritage, yet still rescuing humanity form monsters, aliens, and villains on a routine basis.  I stopped reading the books in college, but still enjoyed the movies (mostly) and would pick up a trade paperback from time to time.

Marvel’s Ultimate line came along about ten years ago and immediately became a critical and commercial success.  Simply put:  the writers and editors hit the reboot button and started telling the stories of their best characters from scratch.  Next summer’s Avengers movie is largely based on these comics, as were some aspects of Marve’ls other recent movies.  Ultimate Spiderman is very good – a great book particularly for pre-teen/teen readers.  So when I saw the Collections for Ultimate X-Men on sale recently, I decided to check it out.

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Of Capes and Books

Last weekend we headed up to Chicago for our end-of-summer family field trip.  This Windy City trip was a little different from those in recent years in that it did not involve a sporting event, comedy clubs, bar-crawls, or stuff like that.  On the agenda:  Chicago Comic-Con and the Field Museum.

to THE Batmobile!

The Chicago Comic-Con, aka, Wizard World Chicago, has been a Beemsville favorite for years now.  It’s always fun to look around at the memorabilia, talk to comics creators, see the folks dressed up as their favorite characters, and generally revel in the geek culture.  In the past, objectives have involved networking, learning about making comics, or listening to favorite writers and directors speak about their craft.  This year, we focused squarely on the kids.

With our two and nephew in tow, the kids decked out in costumes, we patrolled the convention floor, taking it all in, posing for photos, and looking for the best deals on books.  I quickly realized that the prices on trade paperbacks and graphic novels meant a transition to shopping mode (50% off and higher on trades and hardbacks), and having come to the con with a goal of getting a bunch of comics reading material for my girl and the nephew, I was on the hunt.

Somewhat unfortunately, as anyone familiar with comics these days can attest, most of the reading material is geared at teens and above.  You don’t really want your 7-9 year old reading most of the superhero titles these days (an ongoing an much discussed problem in the comics industry).  But there are some titles for the little guys, and we found a new Super Friends book, Tiny Titans, and some Star Wars Clone Wars stuff.  Also picked up some copies of the acclaimed Bone books (which my girl has already finished), Owly for my youngest, a big beautiful hardcover Marvel Superheroes reference book for the nephew, the Mice Templar trade, a Power Pack hardback, and a handful of trades for myself. Continue reading

Superhero Summer Under Way

With the release of X-Men: First Class this weekend, the superhero summer is certainly upon us.  This isn’t the first such summer.  Comic book properties have more than a decade of box office success to draw on now, and while some may lament the dearth of truly original storytelling this trend has helped facilitate, the comics fans among us have generally cheered the results.  You will see a certain segment of the geek world cheering the box office returns, living vicariously through the profit margins.  At Beemsville, we’ve long been more interested in the narrative and whether the character or comic book ensemble gets a fair creative shot on the silver screen.

This is a weird summer; however, with no truly A-list-to-the-general-public characters (no Batman, Superman, Spidey), but plenty of beloved comic book heroes with long histories and strong followings.  It’s worth noting that most of these movies don’t feature a lot of A-list stars, but rather good known quantities in the lead roles.

Marvel’s Thor has lead the way in admirable fashion (full review here).  The early reviews of the X-Men prequel have been positive, and though it will mess with the purists’ heads on facets of the X-mythos, we’re glad to see the mutants looking strong.  Later this month is DC’s only offering, with Ryan Reynolds’ portraying Green Lantern.  Hopefully this film is good, because GL has always been a personal fave with a lot of cinematic potential.  In July we get another of the Avengers prequels from Marvel with, Captain America.  Not sure what to think about this one, and I’m worried about the film spending too much time in the World War II setting rather than the more interesting aspect of Cap – how he deals with the present once revived from suspended animation. Continue reading

The State of Superheroics

As the kids and I enjoy the hi-jinks of Super Hero Squad on Cartoon Network, over in comic book land, the storylines of the Big Two have grown increasingly troubling.  Check this summary from SF Signal:

If we are to adhere to DC comics continuity, the version of the Man of Steel lifting that car on the cover of Action Comics #1 was recently turned into a soulless super zombie that slaughtered much of the population of Smallville. He is one of many dead heroes reanimated for DC’s latest mega-event Blackest Night, a story hinging on the fairly idiotic concept that every color of the spectrum mystically corresponds to an emotion, and these are the primal forces of the universe. The Green Lantern Corps now operates alongside the Red LanternsIndigo Lanterns, and so on, and all of them have to deal with super-zombies. It’s like gore-riddled Power Rangers fanfic written by folks who watch too much Japanese horror*.

Corpses rise to take steaming dumps on the work of the many talented creators who have shaped these characters over the decades. Established canons are discarded, the legacy of Jack Kirby is trampled under the feet of the rotting undead. Continue reading