Tag Archives: Comics

Pop Thoughts: Big Hollywood and the War on Independent Journalism (Part Two)

This entry will be significantly shorter than my last ramble but I intend to keep this topic alive because I feel it is important.  If we hope to maintain an open and honest media, even if it is a blog that is a barely-trodden corridor of the city-sized labyrinth of Internet rags, we have to get the word out whenever we feel there is some sort of system in place that exists to handicap or even eliminate our ability to share our own thoughts on a product released by a major media corporation.

A long-time studio tactic that has been called into scrutiny more and more of late is the review embargo.  A review embargo is a prohibition on the early release of reviews and detailed commentary before a certain specified date after early screenings or pre-release copies of a product are made available to critics.  These individuals are usually your standard mainstream newspaper critic but their ranks also encompass a rollcall of columnists from other “trusted” sources.  Often coming with a written agreement to the studio’s terms and even the occasional non-disclosure agreement, these embargoes are almost always a red flag for me.

While I often prefer to avoid citing any corporate-fed media source, I think critic Marshall Fine said it best on the Huffington Post; “It’s all about controlling information — and bad word of mouth.  This kind of embargo is almost never associated with a movie which is expected to be a critical hit. (source)”  I think this pretty much hits the proverbial nail on the head.  If a movie or game is expected to rock everyone’s world, why keep them out of the loop as long as possible?  Sometimes these review embargoes can be in place up to as late as the Wednesday before the release of a film, intentionally buried in the middle of the workweek.

I stated in my previous diatribe (for lack of a better word) that as products become more expensive, it becomes more necessary to hide or silence any negative press for as long as possible to get the cash of early adopters and opening weekend addicts who want to beat the barrage of inconsiderate spoilers that will inevitably flood the Web by Saturday evening.  However, I believe this tactic is starting to lose its effectiveness.  Consumers are growing more and more savvy to the biases and manipulations of major media sources and are less tolerant than ever of being conned into buying a product that is knowingly-bad, the flaws of which being intentionally hid from them in the hopes that they will spend first and ask questions later.

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Comic Quick Review: Sideways #1 (2018)

There have been quite a few cool new series starting up over the last few months.  Some, like Silencer and Mister Miracle, have been cool fresh starts on older, largely-forgotten comics.  Sideways is a new hero from DC that has branched off from events in the ongoing Dark Knights Metal series and is now part of DC’s “New Age” lineup.

Sideways is the story of Derek James, a seemingly-unremarkable teenager who is the adopted son of a family who, due to previous events in DC’s “Metal” run, have grown to be extremely over-protective.  What they do not realize is Derek, after facing down the darkness, has been imbued with the power to create “rifts” and teleport freely to just about anywhere on a whim.  This comes at a cost, however, as someone (or something) has become aware and disturbed by Derek’s abuse of the space time continuum, so now he has become a target of forces that are not of this world.

Sideways does a good job of establishing its characters early on through quality sequential storytelling and very solid artwork.  Even though each of the core characters are in their own ways archetypal, they are written in a mostly-naturalistic fashion which makes them far more convincing.  The world in which this story is set feels somehow more real than many of the more over-the-top settings we see so much in comics, despite taking place in DC’s own Universe.  There is a human quality to things that can sometimes be lost when dealing with superhero stories.

In its first issue, Sideways establishes a cast of individuals that I look forward to following in the future.  If you have a chance to hit the comic shop, give Sideways #1 a shot!  It’s worth a read and shows the potential for a huge plot with real stakes.  I look forward to #2, which is slated for a March 14th release!

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Comic Quick Review: Damage #1 (2018)

As part of an ongoing push by DC to resurrect the Dark Age of comics, 90’s B-list anti-hero Damage makes a return to shelves.  As (one of) DC’s answers to The Hulk, Damage was meant to have the combined power of a number of DC’s most powerful heroes.  Now he makes a comeback as the failed experiment that feels no pain, shows no mercy and will not stop…

The comic opens with American solider named Ethan strapped to an exam chair, busting free as a clock showing one hour is printed in frame.  From here, we see him take the form of Damage and leave miles of destruction in his wake as he combats a specially-trained mech-driving solider sent to stop him.  The army’s attempts to stop him have failed and now, after Damage is the last man standing, Ethan finds the briefest respite.  He is now left hiding, stranded, and he can only wait until his alter ego returns for another hour-long rampage.

Damage is 90’s comic insanity done right.  Issue #1 doesn’t have a whole lot of exposition, it just opens with carnage and destruction then ends with a tease.  The upcoming issue promises a brawl with the Suicide Squad, who is sent in after Damage once Amanda Waller sees the military (and Damage’s creator) fail to stop this “walking, talking weapon of mass destruction.”

Back in the day a lot of the time the first issue will just be a chaotic brush with death to get the reader excited about what is to come.  There would be exposition and story, but the focus was on showing us what the hero can actually do.  Damage does a good job at this and while it is certainly not thought-provoking and intellectual, it is insane, entertaining action.  Sometimes that’s all I want.  Comics do not necessarily have to be deep, they do not always have to start a conversation or represent any particularly meaningful political topic.  Many times, fans just want their comics to be fun.  Damage #1, in all of its muscle-headed madness, has me excited to see what’s ahead.  The thought of seeing this gray monstrosity face off for an hour with Harley Quinn and the gang in the next issue is enough to get me pretty excited.

The art in Damage is pretty solid, too.  At points the quality takes a sudden decline but it isn’t often enough to really hurt it.  Also, there were a few points where I thought the action could have been drawn to appear a little more dynamic.  That said, it looks great, you can tell what is going on, and the character Damage really does come off like a force to be reckoned with.  Also, the cover is 100% “Badassitude!”  Give this one a read if you want some dumb, chaotic, rampaging violence in your week!

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Comic Quick Review – Avengers Infinity War: Prelude #1 (Updated!)

It’s safe to say the comics industry has been struggling over the past few years.  Sales are down, turmoil brews in the form of a cornucopia of controversies, characters are being replaced and storylines are intersecting to the point of incomprehensibility.  Marvel has been the tip of the spear here and the fallout has been deafening.  I have not been a fan of Marvel’s comics for a while now (not since the mid-aughts), as I think their storytelling abilities have been on a pretty steady decline as their writing staff was steadily replaced over a period of about ten years, leaving only a handful of cynical veterans behind.

Despite their more recent failings as a comic book company (with mainline books selling well-below 30k in units shipped), Marvel has shown consistent resilience in their movie brand.  Even the weakest of Marvel Studios’ films often have moments of enjoyment and the focus seems so far to have less about weaving together a complex universe and more about being fun adventure movies; Which I suppose is all a movie fan can really ask of them.  So, in preparation for the hotly-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War, I decided to give their tie-in comic “Prelude” a read.

Avengers: Infinity War - Prelude #1 (2018; Marvel)

Prelude is a combination of three things: A lead-in from the end of movie “Captain America: Civil War”, a tie-in to the upcoming “Black Panther” flick, and lastly a way to connect these two movies to the impending galactic struggle against Thanos in the titular 2018 Summer blockbuster.  The story opens with Cap and Stark’s confrontation at the end of the movie “Civil War” and sloppily leads into Cap’s rescue of his allies from a Hydra prison.  Then bounces haplessly to an over-long, boring exposition scene about Bucky as told by a Wakandan doctor that goes on for roughly seven pages!  Lastly we get more flopping around to Cap-and-company busting up a terrorist arms deal selling Chitari weapons.  If you didn’t gather it from my hastily-thrown-together synopsis, this book is a hot mess!

The sequential art is all over the place.  It switches between dull, mannequin-esque posing to rough, sloppy sequential action scenes.  Things happen quickly from panel to panel and it is often difficult to tell just what is going on without a second or even third look.  The seemingly-random series of events is merely a rush to force all of the plots of these films together while trying to introduce us to the Wakandan scientist Shuri, who is simultaneously the most boring and most unlikable character in the issue, due to her long monologing and sheer, abrasive arrogance (or should I say “the writer’s arrogance?”).

As for the art: It’s bad.  It looks like roughs used for storyboarding; not print-ready art.  The often-fanart levels of ugliness on display is unsurprising given Marvel’s present state, but seeing it come together like this in a comic that is meant to tie into the superior Cinematic Universe just makes it stand out even more.  This is the crux of this book’s problem, too.  I have a feeling the very existence of Prelude may only prove to intensify the apparent rift in competency between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Comics’ publishing arm.  The contrast on display is glaring with art that varies in quality from page to page to visual storytelling that is occasionally confusing.  The writing is a bundle of exposition clumsily written into page-filling dialogue balloons as if to reassure us that these are the words of the characters we are reading and not an anonymous fanboy’s drunk IMDB plot synopsis.

So much is wrong with this obvious cash-in, and I definitely can’t give it a recommendation.  This is the comic book equivalent of a movie trailer.  It’s slashed to bits, vague, clunky, and I cannot foresee anyone reading it and finding it enhancing their enjoyment of the upcoming movies in any real way.  This is just shelf-bait hoping to grab disgruntled comics fans who are more excited about the upcoming movies than they are about anything pouring out of Marvel’s presses these days.

UPDATE – 2/16/2018:

Less than a month after writing this review, I forgot I had even read this book.  So, there’s that.

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Batman & Robin: Is It Really That Bad..?

For nearly two decades, a popular contender for “Worst Movie of All Time” from multiple mainstream media outlets has been Joel Schumacher’s 1997 bomb, Batman & Robin.  The question I’ve since asked myself is, how bad is this movie, exactly?  Well, I will say I have watched Batman & Robin several times and will assert, right off the bat: It isn’t bad enough to be considered “Worst Movie of All Time”, but believe me when I say, it’s pretty bad.

First it’s important to lay out some context; Batman & Robin may seem anomalous by today’s standards, with its neon colors, flashy costumes, bad one-liners and cheesy performances, but this was the late 90’s, people!  If you did not grow up in the period, from about 1997 to 2003, we witnessed a virtual legion of over-the-top, goofy, brightly-colored pooch-screws that dominated cinemas.  Some of these contemporary flicks were passable; Most of them were terrible.  However, for its time, B&R was not really all that out of place aesthetically or in its tone.

Now, let’s paint an objective picture of Batman & Robin before we delve into everything wrong with this money pit.  First off, Joel Schumacher was not a bad director before this film more or less ruined his career.  He did make the (I would say ‘classic’) film Falling Down starring Michael Douglas, the sleeper thriller Flatliners, the dramatic courtroom epic A Time to Kill and the arguably-underrated 8mm.  He isn’t a slouch or an underdog in spite of what one may think of these movies, and yes, I DID like Flatliners.  So, hot off the heels of the successful-but-underwhelming Batman Forever (which primarily rode the popularity of Jim Carey at the time), Schumacher did not do much differently with this final entry in the 80’s-90’s Batman Saga.  The tone was the same, the ideas were similar and the bleakness of Tim Burton’s vision of Gotham City was replaced with one that was more cartoonish and reminiscent of the ’60’s TV series; whether or not this is a good thing is debatable.  Now, the casting was more than a little questionable.  It’s obvious there was some hesitation on the part of the casting director to bring in someone who is too “different”, and they wanted stars who were recognizable to help Warner Bros. attach butts to theater seats.  So, by that standard it made sense to cast Alicia Silverstone (who was still riding her Clueless fame), Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was top-billed) and George Clooney (who’s portrayal of a passionate pediatrician on the hit series ER made him a super-star).  I think it is safe to declare it a fact that Batman & Robin was handcrafted to be a hit; or, at least, that’s what WB hoped…

Now, for a more subjective perspective, let us consider what made Batman tick as a series leading up to the 1989 Burton film.  The comics took a much darker turn in the 80’s, focusing more on the societal conflict of the presence of Batman as a vigilante than it ever had before, and the vision of Batman went from blue and purple to grey and black.  Why?  It was a sign of the times, a shift in the idea of comics as the age of the average reader increased, but it was also a reflection of the period.  As crime continued to rise throughout the 70’s, the following Neon Decade wasn’t all Lauper and stretch pants.  Dramas and crime thrillers turned to brutality as an answer to the projection of inner cities from news, movies and TV, and films like Robocop satirized the extremes we could have been headed toward.  Yet, this did not translate well to the big screen if I was to be entirely honest.  Most of the movies from this time were too dark and often gross in their depictions of grit.  The few films that did work landed because of the underlying idea within their plots being more than just bleakness, offering us characters and stories that reach beyond the cynical depiction of a collapsing social contract.  Where does Batman fit in to all of this pretentious rambling?  Well, the 1989 Batman was great.  It had that darker mood we expected from the time but it shared it in a way that was still humorous.  The evil, murderous Joker (played masterfully by Jack Nicholson) injected memorable moments into the film, his bright purple getup and wild antics being a stark contrast to the drab, unpleasant aesthetic of Gotham City.  Even the city’s ray of hope in Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) was somewhat shadowed in suspicion, especially for fans who knew what Dent was to become in the future.  Sadly, we never got that Two-Face.

Things looked good going into Batman Returns, but Burton took things a little too far.  While I actually like many elements of this first sequel, I recognize it as a dark departure to a story that was far too disturbing for young kids and far too… ‘Burton’ for many adults.  It has gained some cult status for this reason and I think deserves a second look to those who haven’t seen it since the early 90’s.  The biggest mistake following the criticism of ‘Returns’ was the over-correction on the part of Warner Bros. and their board room full of aging, out-of-touch executive producers.  Their attitude was contrasting the reception of Batman Returns with that of the masterwork that was Batman: The Animated Series.  Their solution was to turn the Dark Knight’s film franchise into a live-action cartoon, apparently having not spent ten minutes watching the actual TV show they thought they were planning to mimic.  If they had, they’d have realized that Batman: TAS was a well-thought-out, sophisticated, smart and surprisingly-mature show.  That is NOT what we got with Batman Forever…  Now, don’t get me wrong, Schumacher gets some blame in this as well, and it’s obvious he didn’t put up much of a fight because “Batman Forever” has studio stink all over it.  Therefore, I can safely skip over most of “Forever” because it is effectively a cinematic dead zone.  It isn’t quite terrible enough to dwell on, but it was an odd attempt to wring Tim Burton’s style out of a director who really only worked on thrillers, dramas and INXS music videos while tossing in a bit of cartoon antics to make things seem a little softer.  The movie did okay, but that was more due to Jim Carey than anything else, as he was THE hot comedy commodity at the time.

So, this brings us to Batman & Robin.  The problems with this one are lengthy, so bear with me.  First the movie is ugly; very, very ugly.  Every scene is poorly-lit, over-exposed and oddly-designed.  Dutch angles and wide-angle lenses are used in excess (a trend at the time) and every single scene in the movie is way, way too long.  Dialogue was inundated with bickering, pointless banter, and face-palmingly-bad “zingers” grumbled, grunted and bawled with comical vocal inflections by obviously-bored actors.  The forced tone of this film reeked of action-figure-friendly filmmaking with a tone-deaf attempt at giving us a more adventurous, exciting universe.  It did have everything WB could have wanted out of a money-printing marketing fountain, but what the actual filmmakers seemed to have forgotten was how to tell a story.  The plans of the villains were paper-thin and their actions often made little sense, each character’s place in the events that transpire is awkward and poorly-planned, and events jump around as if somebody edited the movie using a roulette wheel… with a ping-pong ball…  while drunk.  Also, is it even possible for a story with this many ‘lead characters’ could even work in this sort of film?  Large casts can do okay when they are tied together with a tight script (i.e. Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption), but here, since every line is belted and nauseating, this many overpaid presumed-to-be-adults on screen just becomes distracting.

So, most importantly, is Batman & Robin even fun to watch?  I would have to say ‘no’.  The excess on the screen, complete with skyboarding, lame ‘girl power’ with Silverstone’s motorcycle racing and the contrived turn as Batgirl, and bizarre and mostly-confusing sexual undertones, drag it way down.  On top of that, it’s easy to forget how boring this movie is.  Sure, it has action, explosions, yelling of one-liners and attempts at dramatic tension, but man is it dull.  More than half of the movie involves tight shots of characters talking and often arguing (insert dutch angle).  The heroes deliver their bland lines over each other quickly, but with no rhythm, so there’s nothing keeping an engaging pace with the dialogue (not to mention there being nothing of substance to discuss).  To contrast that, our villains talk slowly with strange, ill-advised puns.  It doesn’t make sense because there is no consistency through the film, so each dialogue scene either spins your head or leaves you shouting “Just finish your damn lines already!”

However, where does that place Batman & Robin in the grand scheme of things?  I will be clear in stating it is certainly not the worst movie ever made.  It isn’t even the worst movie I’ve seen in theaters in my lifetime!  As far as blockbusters go, it’s bad, but it isn’t as obnoxious and aggravating as Bay’s Transformers movies, or as cynical and self-indulgent as anything Adam Sandler has starred in.  It is just bad in the most obvious ways possible; bad dialogue, bad visuals, bad acting, bad story.  But nothing really drags it down below that standard ‘bad’ that we all know.  If you disagree that’s cool, but do go sit through Pink Flamingos, The Fat Spy and anything from PureFlix and get back to me on that sentiment.

I usually try not to give movies precise scores but for this I will say Batman & Robin sits safely at around a 3 out of 10.  I think it fails to be interesting enough to be so scorned.  It’s like calling Might No. 9 the worst game of all time; it’s terrible, but not in any particularly special way.  It fails at everything, but only in a way where it doesn’t really do anything right, as opposed to something like “The Room” which managed to fail at just about every aspect of filmmaking outside of simply getting the thing released.  Many people (myself included) love Wiseau’s Magnum Opus, yet hate Batman & Robin.  I guess Batman & Robin is so despised because it just quite isn’t bad enough to be loved…

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017) Movie Review

Thor: Ragnarok (2017; Marvel Studios)

To say the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had highs and lows is an understatement, but Thor: Ragnarok, despite being at one point the highest-rated Marvel movie to date on the “infinitely reliable” Rotten Tomatoes (*scoff*), is a baffling exercise, the meat of which resembles the floor of a Golden Corral after it is raided by an Oprah studio audience that had been infected with the Rage Virus from 28 Days Later.  I walked away from Thor 3 not so much angry but rather confused.  I was entertained in the moment, for sure, but upon some reflection I realize just how indescribably-bizarre a specimen this movie really is.

Thor: Ragnarok follows the titular Norse icon as he finds himself in a strange new world and must fight his way out to return to Asgard and save his home before Hela can overtake the throne.  He is forced to face off with his old ally the Hulk in gladiatorial combat, team up with his selfish and deceitful brother Loki, and partner with a former Valkyrie-turned-slaver to defeat the embodiment of Death and rescue the people of his homeland.

In terms of the Marvel films we’ve seen so far, Ragnarok is more “Guardians of the Galaxy” than “Winter Soldier”.  It is filled with classic rock tracks and slow-motion montages and has a neon flair that is reminiscent of Gunn’s adaptations of the cult comics.  Where this does work is it sets a consistent tone for a movie, the problem is it sets that tone for a completely different film than the one you are watching.  The best way I can describe Thor: Ragnarok is, if you took one of the better, non-comical MCU movies from recent years and at the end of every seminal moment you insert a clip from The Family Guy.  Nearly every scene in the movie, including those that are supposed to have some weight to them, is punctuated with a splash of completely unnecessary humor.

To make matters worse, we aren’t talking Mel Brooks levels of comedy here, either; The man who wrote a chase scene involving a six-foot blunt has far too much pathos for this.  This is bad, sitcom-levels of comedy.  Thor is filled with half-written stinger jokes and pointless rambling dialogue that serves no purpose other than to pad the movie out and shutter a scene because the writers and director didn’t know how to end it; so instead of a resolution or smooth transition, we get a one-liner or a pratfall.  It is also painfully obvious that the director, Taika Waititi, thinks he is a whole lot funnier as a comedic director than he really is and the end result is embarrassing and completely cringeworthy.

A positive I will give Thor is the acting is pretty good, albeit occasionally goofy.  I am about 90% certain that most of the worst acting moments of the movie fall into the laps of the writers and director more so than the actors, though.  Hemsworth still makes the perfect Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki is still pretty solid, though he spends some parts of the movie trying to come off as badass and it really does not suit him.  Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as Bruce Banner and Tessa Thompson brings the classic character Valkyrie to the screen in style.  Jeff Goldblum plays the almost Messianic leader of a decadent and debaucherous hidden civilization and has some of the best lines in the movie delivering them as only he can.  Cate Blanchett plays the Lady of Death Hela with confidence, but takes the camp a little too far at times for my taste.  Idris Elba also returns as Heimdall but is barely even used in the movie.

These are our main players, and every other character is a punchline or an obnoxious comic foil.  Korg (voiced by the film’s director, Taika Waititi) is an unforgivably-annoying character.  He enters the scene running off dialogues that seem to go on forever.  He shows up and delivers lines as if he was riffing the movie he was in, completely disconnected from the events happening on screen or their impact.  The final scene in the movie, one that should have been powerful and a visual spectacle is suddenly stopped so we could get a stinger from Korg, who painfully mumbles a predictably-unfunny commentary on the very thing we are looking at.  I was in a packed house with people of all ages (including quite a few kids) and nobody, I mean nobody, was laughing at this alien annoyance.  He sucked the emotional presence out of every scene he was in and ground the movie to a needless halt in a way that Chris Tucker wishes he could aspire to.

As an action movie, Thor looks good.  It is not as claustrophobic as the previous Thor movies and has a good sense of scale.  Characters look like they belong in their world and everything has a consistent and admirable visual tone.  There really wasn’t much to hate on in the effects department except for the inclusion of Korg and his buddy, which look like a 2nd year computer animation student did them in a weekend in Unity and sold them to Marvel Studios to be included into the movie.  Other moments are bright, vivid, well-composed and you could actually see what was going on in the action scenes; a marked improvement over other CGI-fest thrill rides.

In all, to me Thor 3 looks like a movie-by-committee.  Previous Thor movies have been mostly-underwhelming, so I’m sure some suit at Disney said something to the effect of, “We need to make this one work.  What was the last movie that made us all of the money in the Universe?  ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2’?  Good.  Let’s make that.  How much is Gunn charging these days…  How much?!  Oh, Hell no!  Who can we get for about… 10% of that?  The guy that made a mockumentary about vampires that nobody saw?  Sounds good.  Somebody get me my checkbook.”  This movie reeks of production-by-committee and cynical Hollywood marketing tactics.  Say what you want about some of the lesser Marvel movies since Iron Man 2, but at least there was visible effort and an honest attempt to recreate these worlds.  Thor: Ragnarok spends a majority of its running time on a world that was ripped right out of The Fifth Element only so we could have the creations of a self-indulgent director shoved down our throats.  To make matters worse, this universe and its goings on seem to have no consequence to the rest of the worlds we’ve encountered so far in Marvel’s big movies.  It’s there so we can see how “quirky” and “zany” Waititi is and that is it.  The term self-indulgent comes to mind, but I don’t think that quite nails it.  It’s more of an attempt at a strange self-aggrandizement mixed with an effort to recreate the laziest sorts of gags.  I can say, if you want to see it, it’s harmless enough, but this is not one that I will likely sit through again.

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Comic Review- Batman: White Knight #2

The Batman series has always been somewhat of a deconstruction of the superhero.  As the series progressed we’ve seen Batman as a noble father figure, a guardian of justice and as a vengeful, bitter and violent man.  All of these are reflexive of the writer at the time as while Superman is always good and always on the right side of things, Batman is a little more of a malleable character.  It’s possible to get away with writing a story where Batman is enraged and even outright dangerous and because of his character, we can believe it.

Right now, I’m seeing a few different iterations of Batman in my pull list.  One is the absent-yet-caring father of Damian, the brilliant and defiant Robin; the other is a distant, angry figure who will stop at nothing to take down the Joker.  The latter is the focus of Batman: White Knight, an eight-part series which puts Batman in the spotlight in an entirely different way.

After shoving a bottle of unknown medication down the throat of the Joker at the end of a violent and destructive pursuit, Batman has finally gone too far.  Only, instead of the Joker’s subsequent overdose killing him, it instead has cured him of his madness.  He vows to atone for his crimes by becoming an upstanding citizen activist to take down the corrupt government of Gotham and the GCPD in the process.  He also promises to rid the city of the vigilante forces of Batman and his allies while preserving the wellbeing of those caught in the middle.  White Knight #2 centers on the Joker returning home to Harley and things take a surprising turn.  As he sees his world flipped upside down he resorts to drastic measures to set things right in Gotham city… or, at the very least, his version of “right”.

Unlike a many typical superhero comics, White Knight is not a black-and-white story.  White Knight #2 has no real action, there’s no epic battles or sweeping action set pieces, either.  The story is captivating enough on its own, though.  It is infused with a sort of gray-area approach to modern themes of individualism, justice, fairness, corruption in government, and just trying to put one’s life back together.

The art is solid, taking the rougher edge of modern Batman art and blending it with the style of the legendary Animated Series.  This is, in fact, a sort of spiritual successor to that version of the world.  It is a love letter to what is arguably the greatest animated TV series of all time.  It is a story that showcases the niorish style of Batman with a serious edge and contrasts page to page to reflect the tone of each scene.

White Knight #2 is a good chapter that succeeds in keeping me excited about this limited series.  As it stands, it holds up quite well to thought as it is more politically-ambiguous than you might think, and the issues that are raised can be seen any number of ways.  This way it feels more like real life, where things are as simple as A or B.  There is thought and effort in this story that is a real credit to writer Sean Murphy.  It is taut, suspenseful and has a few surprises for long-time fans and lovers of the animated classic.  This is a comic that is written for the older reader, those of us who grew up on comics in the 80’s and 90’s and features a mood and tone that is sort of a deconstruction of that period.  I recommend giving Batman White Knight a read if you’re looking for something a little different, but good luck finding a physical copy as these books are flying off the shelves at a record pace with fans getting truly excited about new comics with well-executed stories.

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Marvel’s The Defenders Finale Review (Contains Spoilers)

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its Juggernaut charge through the otherwise-stale box office, the Netflix series have maintained a surprising level of quality.  The four series leading up to Marvel’s The Defenders set the bar for what should have been a pretty-good series, finally building the seamless connection between the Marvel series while attempting to tell a fresh story.  Unfortunately, this new series did not live up to the standard set even by Iron Fist and Luke Cage.

The plot picks up where both Iron Fist and Daredevil’s second season left off, and carried the heavy burden of molding all the chaos of the series’ sub-plots into a form that would have some cohesion and reason.  To me, it felt more-than-a-little forced, but still worked for the most part up to this point.  The action scenes throughout the series were often satisfying and even though it ran a very short eight episodes, Defenders did land some solid excitement if you were able to get past the slog that was its Pilot but it all came to a close in a way that felt like everyone just wanted to get out of this series and on to bigger things.

The Defenders finale sets the stage for the now-united Defenders’ duel with a possessed Elektra (A plotline that carried over from Daredevil’s second season).  The heroes then fight their way into a hidden cave deep below a New York highrise where they split up into groups.  One to take on The Hand who is attempting to use the Iron Fist to achieve their ends of attaining immortality, and one small group to plant explosives to level the building.  That is pretty much it.

I did not have a problem with the simple set up as it carried some plot points from earlier in the season, but this finale was so very, very forgettable.  I suppose this was a problem with the entire series.  It was necessary to re-establish Jessica Jones and Luke Cage to integrate them into the more comic book worlds of Daredevil and Iron Fist (despite them always having taken place in the same New York City) but the way it was done was rushed due to this spinoff’s very short run.  These are the same writers who did Daredevil, yet the entire series of Defenders feels like it’s on a caffeine high, and it culminates in an ending that is far less impactful than it could have been if the creators would have taken their time building things up patiently, allowing for more depth to the story, but it’s difficult to do that in a television series that only runs about six hours in total.

The tone of the finale (simply titled “The Defenders”) is all over the place.  It has a lot of dark undertones, themes of sacrifice, love, friendship and facing the past head-on, but then it ramps up the cheese with overwritten and laughably-bad lines.  On top of that, all of the the characters (including the supporting ones) are forced to face all of the plot points foreshadowed through the first seven episodes in one 48-minute sprint.  It is then blended with hamfisted dialog, bloated action movie cliches, and some truly cringe-worthy scenes, resulting in what is more of a predictable and shallow whimper, as opposed to the promised bang, despite the very literal one at the end.

 

For all of the problems I had with The Defenders leading up to the finale, I was even more disappointed with the conclusion.  It wrapped up safely, not taking any risks, with a predictable closing for all involved characters and the dramatic shift in tone was jarring, at-best.  I can say a lot of this is the bad screenplay but some of the blame could be the result of the episode’s director Farren Blackburn.  This is the only episode directed by Blackburn and it shows with its shift in focus.  The action scenes are all obscured, which is just baffling to me.  One scene with Colleen Wing finally facing her former master is spent with almost the entire fight taking place out-of-focus, in the background, behind a bunch of pipes, while the camera focuses on Claire Temple hiding and talking on a cell phone.  The rest of the action mostly takes place in a dark cave where quick-cuts and identical-looking bad guys fly through the air.  Every scene was so disjointed and ugly and the creators’ decision to obscure the action from the viewer is outright maddening!  I cannot even begin to fathom the series of pitches and ideas that brought the writers and director to make that call.  It is probably the stupidest decision I’ve seen from any of Marvel Studio’s creations to date.

Add to that the fact that two of the main fights the series were building up to barely happened at all (aforementioned Wing v. Bakuto and then Daredevil v. Elektra) and you have a truly upsetting finale.  While Wing and Bakuto’s final duel took place almost entirely off-screen during a phone call, Daredevil and Elektra’s fight was obscured in darkness making the fight barely-visible and was peppered with sappy attempts by Matt Murdock to convince his former love to stop fighting and go back to the way she was before her death.  It was really badly-written, repetitive and very, very long.  It all ends with a CGI building blowing up, and that’s it.  The epilogue involves a long, boring conversation between Foggy Nelson and Karen Page in a church and a tease that there may be a second season of Jessica Jones.  Then it just sort of stops with a single, final reveal that essentially undoes all of the drama of the events that took place during the climax and takes suspension of disbelief and mutates it into an outright rejection of rationality.

For a series that had to rush through its 8-episode run, a big, exciting, engaging finale was absolutely crucial.  This wasn’t a five-chapter season of Sherlock where the individual episode was like a movie, running 90-120 minutes; this was eight episodes running a standard TV hour block (about 44-48 minutes).  There was no room for meandering, laziness and obfuscation of the action.  Zero room!  The choice to close this much-anticipated and hyped series out with such an ugly, dull, lackluster finale is beyond the pale.  It isn’t unusual for a series or even season finale to leave much to be desired, but this isn’t Seinfeld!  There was an underlying story, theme and goal here.  What needed to be done was known.  All they had to do was execute it in a satisfying way.  The Defenders was tolerable at best up to its finale so they could have gone big and at least left an impact, but instead we get what is probably the worst of all of the Marvel series on Netflix, a shell of a series hampered by what I can only assume is utter apathy on the part of the director.

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