Facing the Kryptonite: Taken Down by Anxiety and Rollercoasters

by Drew Kiess

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In most contexts, feeling like Superman would be a fantastic thing. Absolutely invincible—a man of steel. But what happens when some two-bit thug pull out that dreaded green rock? Steel turns to water and no amount of positive thinking seems to be good enough to get you back to normal.

 

That’s a bit what it’s like going through life with anxiety. I am claustrophobic and a agoraphobic, which means I am afraid of two things: Being in tight spaces and being seen being afraid of being in tight spaces. An anxiety or panic attack is bad enough on its own, but being seen having one is such an extraordinary dose of embarrassment that it has kept me from doing a lot of things that I would normally consider fun (or, at the very least, an improvement on doing nothing at all). For this reason, I drive separately to places. If I feel anxious, I’ll make up an excuse and drive home.

 

And so the prospect of riding with a group of friends to an amusement park three hours away to be strapped into a rollercoaster is about as kryptonite as it gets. I am trapped and have made some promises that I have no confidence in my ability to keep.

 

But, like Superman, it was “up, up, and away” anyway.

 

A mere fifteen minutes after arriving at the park, I found myself being strapped into my first coaster. I doubt it made much noise, but in my head, the vest restraints coming down sounded something like prison bars slamming shut. I was surprised at my ability, despite the tight restraints, to adjust in my seat.

 

Deep breath. And we’re off.

 

The climb began and I look down to see my feet dangling. My anxiety is hitting the level that if I were a cartoon, a steam whistle would have been going off. We hit the top of that hill and gravity takes over. Loops, twists, falls, climbs, banks, and two minutes later the vest comes up and I’m done.

 

And you know the strange part? I had fun. My anxiety spiked and I had fun. Perhaps, eventually, I could do another. But not right away, right? Only an idiot would do a second coaster that quickly.

 

Ten minutes later I was being strapped into my second coaster. This time, my reaction was quite different. The vest restraint included a skin-tight vest that pinned the rider into the seat. The moment that was secured on me, my chest began hurting. The sensation felt like I was a pencil being shoved through a straw. I couldn’t breathe, and it took everything I had not to rip the thing off and just get as far away from every living thing as fast as I possibly could.

 

The ride started, and for the minute and a half I was riding the coaster, I didn’t think much of the restraints (and may or may not have had a little bit of fun, but I will never admit to that), but when the car came to a stop, it felt like I was waiting for hours while this vest tightened its grips on my body, threatening to pop my head like a cork. My anxiety was through the roof and I was utterly and entirely embarrassed. I came with a mission to conquer this monster and I failed.

 

I rode only two more rides my time there. One was one of those classic log drop rides where your thrown over a waterfall and get drenched just because its fun. The other was a swing that took you twelve stories in the air at a 100 degree angle and swings you to the other side at nearly seventy miles per hour. Both of these were exhilarating and exciting, but I knew my anxiety wasn’t really in a place to take much more of a beating. If I did much more, I didn’t know that I would even have been able to enjoy being around my friends anymore.

 

Anxiety, in that way, is like a loose change jar. You can fill it with as many quarters, nickels, and dimes as you can, but sometimes all it takes is a few pennies to make a dollar. I was about at ninety-nine cents and had no desire to cash-in.

 

Attacking the things that scare is all about taking that one step further than we thought we could. If you think you can only take one step, take two. If you don’t think you can take any, just take one. You’ll be further along than you ever imagined. The only person you ever have anything to prove to is yourself. How far do you think you can go in conquering your fear? Let’s take one step further together.

 

In all honesty, I don’t know that I would call my trip a success. I faced some demons and lived, but I feel like I let them get to me more than I would have liked. But here’s the rub: I can honestly say that I enjoyed spending time with people I care about despite the fact that they saw me have a panic attack. And I left with a chip on my shoulder. Next time, I can go just a bit further. And maybe it’ll be just one more step than last time. But I am completely over letting anxiety tell me what I can or can’t do, and what I should and shouldn’t do in my life. Next time, I’ll be ready. Next time, I’ll take one more step.

 

Next time, I’ll leap tall buildings in a single bound.

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The Death of Superman: Best Superman Movie Yet?

by Drew Kiess

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The Death of Superman is the latest film in the DC Animated Universe directed by Sam Liu and Jake Castorena from a script from comics writer Peter Tomasi. The film stars Jerry O’Connell as Superman, Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane, and Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor. The Death of Superman is the first part in a two-part release adapting the Death and Return of Superman story arc from Mike Carlin’s Superman writing team in the early 90s, with The Reign of the Supermen hitting stores next year.

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any significant amount of time, you will know that I have been critical of many of the recent DC Animated releases. I think that one of the many benefits of this format for the DC characters is the ability to take a concept directly from page to screen. Recently however it would seem that these films are less interested in showcasing our heroes acting out the stories we all love and more interested in pushing them into adult-like scenarios, and I say adult-like because I don’t think there is anything remotely grownup about excessive blood splatters and fetishizing lesbianism (here’s looking at you, Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay). Most of the time, these harder edged updates come across tacky and out of touch with the characters and quite possibly the fans. Many of these films have been written by veterans in the DC animated worlds, so the disconnect hasn’t made a ton of sense, but perhaps they’ve just run out of things to say about this world.

 

Enter Peter Tomasi.

 

For my money, Peter Tomasi is the best thing to happen to the DC Movies in quite some time. His recent run at the beginning of DC Rebirth on the Superman title (opposite of Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics) has ushered in one of the greatest eras in the character’s 80 year publication history. Being tasked to bring this story to life is no small task, as the book itself is marred in a messy continuity and is impenetrable to anyone who is not familiar with that era (why does Lex Luthor look like a troll doll? And who the heck are these superheroes?) Don’t get me wrong, I love that time period, but there are good reasons why it hasn’t quite been elevated to the status of The Dark Knight Returns like it probably should have been. It’s weird and is very much a product of its time.

 

Placing The Death of Superman within the Justice League War continuity makes the story much more accessible (Let’s be honest: Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash are much more popular than Thorn, Gangbuster and Guardian). Dropping the Superman-Doomsday fight into a world we recognize allows Tomasi to draw out Clark’s personality.

 

The best parts of this movie don’t involve Superman punching Doomsday (although that stuff is great), but involves Clark and Lois. Clark is struggling letting Lois in on the big secret. It’s an incredibly well written plotline that humanizes Superman and gives him a weakness that is much more relatable than an alien killing machine. When the titular event finally does happen (this isn’t a spoiler… we all know Doomsday wins), you feel the Lois’ loss.

 

And this emotional weight that doesn’t rely on shock, gore, or sex to make the film stand apart is actually what makes it stand apart. It is emotionally resonating, visually exciting, and well-written from start to finish, with so many references from Superman’s history that I lost count. This has everything I could have ever wanted from any Superman movie, be it animated or live action.

 

I said after seeing the Deluxe Edition of The Dark Knight Returns (DC’s other two-part release, re-released as one movie) that it was the greatest Batman film ever made. I think we could be on the precipice of the same thing being said by me about Superman films if the second half pays off (and we get a Deluxe Edition, which I am hoping that we do), because I think I just saw the first half of what could be one of my all-time favorite comic book films.

 

As it stands, this is clearly among the best, if it is not the best, DC Animated Universe movies sense the relaunch. It is nothing short of spectacular and I hope that this raises the bar for this studio on what it means to adapt these characters and these beloved stories. They can be updated and adapted with love and accuracy. And they can be done with excellence.

 

This one certainly was super.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

The Death of Superman is on Blu-Ray and DVD August 7th, 2018

10 Years Serious: The Legacy of the Dark Knight

by Drew Kiess

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“You changed things…forever”

Do you remember 2008? The New England Patriots just failed to complete an unbeaten season, Indiana Jones is hiding in a refrigerator, and Sarah Palin is still the craziest Republican. The world has changed quite a bit since 2008. Except for the Patriots. They’re still really good. Dangit.

Superhero movies had been on the rebound since the turn of the century, starting with X-Men in 2000 and the Spider-Man in 2002, and their respective sequels. These films took a more grounded approach to the subgenre and were hits. Marvel comics on film was finally hitting the big-time after decades of false starts, but DC was dead in the water following Batman and Robin (and to a lesser extent, Steel and Catwoman) and attempts to relaunch Batman and Superman on the big screen were troubled and often misguided.

Enter Christopher Nolan.

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In 2005, Batman Begins was a modest success, but it offered one of the most nuanced and earnest interpretations of a comic book superhero to date (and perhaps since). Begins may not have lit the box office on fire, but Batman was back and people were paying attention again.

Three years later.

The build up to The Dark Knight in 2008 was the return of Batmania. There was an energy to this movie that hasn’t truly been replicated since, and when the movie finally hit, it hit hard. Heath Ledger’s Joker took the world by storm, taking a legendary pop culture figure and re-writing the legend entirely. “Why so serious” was now intrinsically tied to the character, and burned into public consciousness as an all-time great film moment. The Dark Knight was a massive success, clearing the $1 billion mark (a much more rare of a feat at the time). Comic Book movies would never be the same.

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The reason they would never be the same has less to do with The Dark Knight’s serious storytelling than with it does with its success. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, despite neither being spectacularly lucrative, had a more long lasting impact in the storytelling department than did The Dark Knight, as every company wants their own universe now. Warners has two shared universes, Fox had their own comic book universe which is now in limbo thanks to a corporate buyout, Universal has struggled to get one off the ground, and Sony has thrown everything from Men in Black to that one guy who once appeared in an ad in a Spider-Man comic at the wall in hopes that people would look forward to seeing their films. And of course, Marvel Studios built a multi-billion dollar business off the backs of their 2008 films.

No, the legacy of The Dark Knight is that no superhero movie since has been like The Dark Knight. At least once a year, we see a critic refer to a superhero blockbuster as “the best since The Dark Knight”. It changed the way audiences perceive the ceiling for comic book movies. These aren’t just superhero movies—these are real movies. They can contend for awards, and you can say you like them without feeling silly. Without The Dark Knight, there is no MCU, because The Dark Knight didn’t just make Batman cool again, it made superheroes cool.

There is still a lot of talk about whether or not The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie of all time. Maybe it is. I don’t think that’s a very interesting conversation, though. What’s more interesting is the fact that the conversations are happening, still, even ten years later. The Dark Knight was a landmark moment for cinema that ushered in an age of geek-domination at the box office.

If The Dark Knight were to be released today, I cannot help but feel that it would not be quite as beloved as it is. It came out at the perfect time. Not a day too soon or late. It was lightning in a bottle, which is why it has never been replicated. Even The Dark Knight Rises (which, in my opinion is every bit as good, if not better) could not repeat the cultural impact, despite being an even bigger financial success. To sum up the legacy of the film by simply saying that it was special seems too quaint, but that is exactly where we are. There was nothing quite like it before its release, and there will never be another like it again.

So, no, I don’t think it needs to be the best superhero movie of all time, but I do think that it is easily the most important superhero movie of the modern age. While Superman The Movie may have been responsible for planting the seed, it was The Dark Knight that reshaped the landscape and finally tilled the ground.

And for those who wish to argue its merits based on inconsistencies and compare it to other movies’ ability to stick to the source material, all I have for you is one question:

Why so serious?

Batman 50

by Drew Kiess

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A year ago, we saw Bruce Wayne propose to Selina Kyle on a rooftop. What followed was a long road of stories that have been rather controversial. Tom King’s writing style is divisive, as he opts for broad stroke narrations as opposed to small scale stories that focus on the adventures of the Caped Crusader.

I am a fan of Tom King. With the exception of Doomsday Clock, King’s Mister Miracle miniseries is my favorite book being published right now. His Batman run, however, has been more miss than hit for me.

Chief among my complaints is how little time King spends showing Bruce to be heroic. Instead, his time is devoted to watching the world around him as well as Bruce and Selina pontificate on the nature of happiness and marriage, and what motivates the characters to do what they do.

At this point, does anyone need a sermon on what motivates Wayne to be Batman? Particularly, does Wayne need this lesson? What has been attractive about the Batman-Catwoman relationship has been that she was the fly in the ointment, with Bruce having to reject his emotions in order to bring Catwoman to justice. After all, she is a thief– which for those of you playing along at home, means she is a villain. Has she done heroic things? Sure, but only when self-serving.

And so when it comes to the pivotal moment of Batman 50 (beware, for here there be spoilers), it simply rings false that it is Selina Kyle who walks away from Batman in order to protect his persona as the Bat. After hearing from both The Joker (yeah, that’s a conversation for another time) and her friend Holly that Bruce needs his anger to be Batman, and that happiness would rob him of this, Selina leaves Bruce at the alter, being, in her own words, the hero.

Batman 50 makes reference to Selina being a hero now. And her leaving Bruce is her crowning achievement of heroism. The problem is, because of King’s writing style, we never really get to see Catwoman be a hero. In fact, the “you’re a hero” moment comes while she is wearing a wedding dress that she stole and with a friend she broke out of prison. She is no hero, and the fact that Batman would look the other way is, frankly, insulting. If she is indeed a hero now, how about showing her doing heroic acts that aren’t directly about protecting herself (protecting Bruce doesn’t count, as even that is self-serving for this version of Selina).

As this half of King’s arc comes to a close, it is difficult to pull out highlights. Every issue feels like it is the centerpiece of a line-wide crossover that isn’t happening, and leaves me wondering if these 50 issues couldn’t have been condensed and told better in 15-20 issues instead.

While things appear to be heading toward a showdown with Batman and his rogues gallery, lead once again by Bane, one can only hope that we won’t spend the next 50 issues with long speeches about the nature of sadness and brokenness. You don’t have to point it out constantly for it to be a looming factor for the character.

A great example of this would be A Lonely Place of Dying, where we know Bruce is grieving following the death of Jason Todd. Marv Wolfman is able to show through Batman’s actions his mourning, while driving the conflict between Batman and Two-Face forward. And Wolfman tells a comprehensive story that deals with complicated issues in only five issues, and as a result, creates a story that has remained memorable for 29 years. Time will tell, but if I were a betting man, I would bet that this story is too spread out to have a lasting impact on the mythos.

If this version of the Batman mythos works for you, then I am happy for you. But I simply don’t see the heroism, the adventure, or intrigue that I associate with the character and the book. It is not that it is poorly written (it’s not, King knows how to spin words), but that it simply doesn’t push the character forward in anyway, and ignores what has made the relationship between Batman and Catwoman interesting for over 70 years. They can’t be together–and Batman knows it.

This Batman seems way too content with the flies in the ointment.

Why Superman Needs to be in Shazam

By Drew Kiess

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Superman fans have been asking for five years now about when we can expect the next Superman movie (that is, if you don’t count Batman v Superman or Justice League as Superman movies) will hit the big screen. Personally, seeing as Superman is my favorite superhero (please, no questions at this time), I share the sentiment. I am absolutely of the opinion that the more Superman content in the world, the better.

Leading up to Justice League, there was a lot of chatter about how Warner Bros. was really excited for this retooled version of Superman, and how they were hoping it would be a launching pad for more stories with him. Unfortunately, the portrayal of the character was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the CGI used to remove Henry Cavill’s moustache. However, beneath all of that was a vision of Superman that I believe has a lot of potential moving forward, particularly seeing and hearing how much Cavill enjoyed it.

In the end, Justice League did not prove to be the right vehicle to showcase this new Superman. Criticism from Snyderites aside, there was just too much drama surrounding the film and not enough tickets purchased to accurately gauge the audience’s appreciation of any aspect of the movie. Which is a shame because I still happen to think the film is a blast, even with the rough edges.

If Superman is going to continue on for DC Films, a new vehicle is needed to bring him back into the good graces of general audiences. Rumors have been swirling for some time now that that vehicle will be next year’s Shazam!. This would be perfect.

If the reports are correct about Shazam! taking its cues from the Geoff Johns ”Justice League” stories, then this Billy Batson is going to need a mentor. In a world where Superman actually exists, how would Billy and his friends view him? Some may see him as a hero, others as just a big blue boy scout. It could be fun to see this played out and watch Billy learn to be a hero from someone like Superman.

From a logical point of view, adding Superman into Shazam! makes sense. For one, it adds a recognizable hero into a movie starring an untested one. Although Shazam is not exactly an unknown, he certainly has not been a heavy hitter in some time, and Superman could add a level of familiarity to the project. And as mentioned above, this would be a solid vehicle to portray Superman in a new light for the audience. He is no longer the new kid on the block like he was in Man of Steel, and he’s no longer facing personal doubt like he was in Batman v Superman.

It’s time to finally see Superman as the veteran superhero that the new heroes can look up to and too finally be the example that others are striving to be like. Billy Batson is the perfect opportunity to display that side of the character. Not doing this would be a widely huge missed opportunity.

It’s time to bring Superman into a role of mentorship. If not in Shazam!, then soon. If DC Films wants to make Superman viable again in their film universe, then it needs to strike now and not wait around. We already have the perfect actor. It’s time to give him the perfect Superman.

The Reconstruction of the Superhero, part four: Doomsday Clock #5

by Drew Kiess

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The following contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock #5

There Is No God

With every issue released of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock, we find ourselves in a much darker world. Finding stories in our real world to be inspired by is becoming increasingly difficult, and we all seem to be living in a world without heroes.

I’m not even sure Alan Moore himself would have written a script this twisted.

“There Is No God” is the fifth chapter of the follow-up to Moore’s Watchmen. The Supermen Theory is becoming reality daily, and Lex Luthor’s would-be assassin Adrian Veidt is recovering from a fall in the hospital. Hawk and Dove have been arrested in St Petersburg for political rioting, and the world is falling apart.

What we have seen over the past several years is the decay of real-life heroes. In the age of the internet, it’s only a matter of time before every good guy has his dirty skeleton drug out of the closet and put on display. In many ways, this is what 1986 did to comic book superheroes.

While the intention of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns was never to turn the world of superheroes into the world of dark and brooding, it certainly had that effect on the industry. It’s well documented how serious superhero stories became in light of the success of those books.

Superheroes have always reflected the culture in some way, but originally, that reflection was always reversed—a mirror in which to see that we could do and be better.

Action Comics #1 is about a man standing up for the poor and the weak. It was written by two poor Jewish boys from Cleveland, Ohio. It reflected their world, but wasn’t about presenting the world as it was, but as they hoped it could be. A savior, finally come. An Übermensch come to set things right.

And for some time, we cheered with glee as the hero prevailed. Evil loses, good wins and everyone cheers. But at some point we came to believe that the hero had to be flawed, had to lose from time to time, and might even be part of the problem.

Superman Is The Only Thing You Can Believe In

Johnny Thunder in this series, at least for me, represents an era of comics-gone-by. Him and the Legion have always been something of a relic from the golden (and even somewhat silver) age of comic books. As we know, the Legion is gone and Thunder is aimless. This has been the most captivating element of this book so far, inasmuch as it’s the story with the least amount of revelations. What exactly is Johnny hoping to accomplish, and what in the world does the Lantern have to do with it?

Rorschach saves Thunder from being mugged. In this moment, a character with a legacy of death and cynicism saves a character from a simpler, more optimistic time. Maybe heroes do still exists.

Meanwhile, Superman himself makes his first appearance since the closing panel of the first chapter. While the story has yet to give him much to do, he overhears that is a metahuman that is responsible for Supermen Theory, adding to the mystery. Can we trust our heroes, especially the good ones?

Everything Evens Out

While this issue is light on narrative, its subtext is rich. The things we hope in determines our path in life. Are we resigned to the failures of our heroes? Must we fall prey to the negativity around us? If Superman over the years has taught us anything, it’s that hope in a better world than our own is never misplaced.

While the thesis is that there is no God, the trajectory is faith. This isn’t Moore’s world anymore. Superman isn’t Manhattan, and so there is hope to be had that good will, in fact, win. While this may not have been the most memorable or ground breaking issue, but it has given me much to think about over the last few weeks. The Reconstruction continues.

 

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” -Tolkien

Another Joker Movie On The Way?

by Drew Kiess

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Can I rant for a minute? Because I feel like ranting. Every other blog writer for geek stuff gets to do it, so why not me?

 

Overall, it has been a bad year for fandom. Not just DC fandom, mind you– all of fandom. Star Wars fans turning on each other and bullying individuals involved in a movie they didn’t like, Marvel fans using success as a weapon instead of an invitation for improvement, and Snyder fans turning every possible scenario into an opportunity to harass and belittle individuals who were only doing their job. The rest of us are left in the cold trying to fend for ourselves.

 

The reality is that we have created this mess. Our feverish desire for more of our geek-flavored product has caused a cheapening of what we once held precious. This is why we get a Han Solo movie that no one asked for (regardless of whether you liked the film or not, can we at least admit it’s still a little bizarre?) and its why we have Warner Bros. now scrambling to find Jared Leto’s Joker something to do.

 

Suicide Squad 2 is in apparent limbo, and Matt Reeves doesn’t want anything to do with Joker, and with Margot Robbie now attached to the moving train that is Birds of Prey, there isn’t really an obvious landing place for the character that for some reason, Warner Bros. has deemed a priority. Thus, we get the announcement today that Jared Leto will be starring in his own film as the Joker.
We may not have asked for this, but we absolutely asked for this.

 

The only thing that is currently known about this film is that Leto will star and produce. No writer, no director, and no production date have been given. So, in essence, its a concept without any skeleton.

 

I have done my best to remain positive regarding DC Films. As a matter of fact, I have liked to even loved every single entry to this point (yes, I liked Suicide Squad, Leto included). But it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand behind a studio that doesn’t seem to understand why these characters matter in the first place. Joker exists to challenge Batman. Without that dynamic, it is difficult to comprehend what the draw will be. Add that to the fact that Leto’s Joker was not particularly well received. It makes me wonder who exactly this film will be aimed at.

 

Time will tell if this will even be made (I have my doubts), but it seems like this is what happens when we push these studios for content. Long gone are the days when we were happy we had just one great comic book franchise. Now we need ten, plus.

 

And all this… and still no Superman movie. Explain that.

 

 

Desperately Seeking Batman

by Drew Kiess

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As I write this, it is the 28th of May, 2018. We’ve been living under the threat of a new actor playing Batman for somewhere around a year now, since Ben Affleck dropped out as the director of his own film. Rumors of who it could be, and whether or not Ben Affleck would change his mind (or what his mind actually is regarding playing the role) have been swirling in the wind like the garbage from an unsatisfying fast food meal in a shopping mall parking lot.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, we all seemed fairly sure that Jake Gyllenhaal would be taking on the cowl, but with Marvel’s Spider-Man Homecoming bringing him in as Mysterio, that rumor proved to be all smoke and no fire. Now, the rumors seem to be swinging back around to Affleck wishing to stay. And perhaps that may be true. But, in the end, I am not so sure it really matters how things look today.

When Batman v Superman was first announced, there were so many names floating around as to who would be playing the role of Batman. I remember Orlando Bloom, Karl Urban, and even a begrudgingly returning Christian Bale all being thrown around by serious to semi-serious outlets as possible solutions to the empty Batcave. But it was a name that was not in the rumor mill, that of Ben Affleck, that ended up being what Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. landed on. And no one saw it coming.

What this tells me is that the honest truth is that we have no idea. We can speculate, we can write articles based on outdated information taken from third hand sources in a game of entertainment espionage, or we can just sit back and wait.

Here’s what we know about the upcoming Batman film: Matt Reeves is developing one. That’s it. That’s all we know, and all we need to know.

From where I sit, if we never received a new Batman movie, I could still die a satisfied man. We have gotten arguably four different versions of the character that are all true to who he is at his core (and one version that isn’t). Why are we owed another one at all? Why can’t we just be satisfied with Warners putting other characters like Shazam and Wonder Woman on the front burner? The Wonder Woman franchise is the new cash cow, and it might just be time to come to terms with that.

And what if Shazam! is a huge hit? That could be a brand new direction for the studio as a whole. Would Batman be as relevant to them at that point? And what if Birds of Prey (should it be properly made as a PG-13 girl power superhero team-up) breaks out and Batgirl becomes the star she deserves to be? There are so many factors that lie between where we are now and what kind of Batman film we will get down the road, that speculation simply does not make sense. That is why, I think, this movie is in for a very long development.

So I could write an article listing all the actors that I think could play Batman, but I’m just not going to do that. I really don’t see a point in wasting your time like that, much less my own. Until I am told otherwise, I will assume that Affleck is still Batman, and if I am told otherwise, I will choose not to jump to conclusions until I’m given the appropriate information about how his replacement has performed in the role.

I am just really…really… over the speculation game. There’s just nothing interesting to say about it.

Batman Ninja: A Beautiful Frustration

By Drew Kiess

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Oh, boy… where to start with this one?

I suppose I will start by admitting that this is a review of the dubbed version of Batman Ninja. I am not an anime fan, so watching the movie with subtitles would have been a chore for me. For some, that may disqualify me altogether from reviewing this. That would be fair. I can only approach this from the standpoint of being a Batman fan, so that is the angle from which this review is written.

There. The qualifier is done.

Batman Ninja is the newest addition in the long line of DC Animated movies, this time from Warner Bros. proper and not from any of its subdivisions, such as Warner Premier. This movie will see a theatrical release in Japan, and I sincerely wish it all the success in the world there. The film was directed by Junpei Mizusaki, with Roger Craig Smith providing the dubbing for Batman, Tara Strong for Harley Quinn, Grey Griffin for Selina Kyle, and Tony Hale for the Joker.

When Gorilla Grodd’s time travelling experiment sends Batman, his allies—Nightwing, Red Robin, Robin, Alfred, Red Hood, and Catwoman—and his greatest foes—Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Penguin, and Deathstroke—back in time to feudal Japan, Batman must learn the ways of the ninja in order to return everyone back to Gotham. As the movie opens, the CG animation is striking. The movements look fluid and the action is more captivating than anything DC animation has put out in some time.

This quality in the visuals is almost constant throughout and the eyes never get bored watching the movie. The one strike against this is a baffling change in style about midway through the film that seemingly serves no storytelling purpose, but this alone does not sink this movie.

What keeps this movie from being great in my eyes is its over reliance on its own medium. The film sets itself up in ”our Gotham”, and then transports the familiar back in time to feudal Japan, but the rules of feudal Japan are not the rules of “our Gotham”—it exists very much by the rules of anime.

And this would be fine, if the movie set itself up as an anime first, set in an anime world. By trying to its cake and eat it, too, the film loses its punch. If fighting mechanical castles were necessary to the overall arc of the film, perhaps it would have been better to simply establish that the world that this Batman lives in is that kind of world, and not bother with the whole time travel ruse (It’s hard not to feel like Randall from Clerks, here. “I don’t appreciate your ruse, ma’am. Your cunning attempt to trick me).

What saves this movie for me is the characterization of Batman, which never feels false to the character, and the aesthetic. It is also incredibly refreshing to see a DC animated movie that doesn’t feel reliant on sophomoric sexual overtones that have become tiresome in recent entries. The characterization of the other characters, however—save, perhaps, Selina Kyle—is all over the map and not really as true as I would prefer.

Overall, I am lukewarm on Batman Ninja. This very well may be a great movie that simply wasn’t made for me. What I can say is that the film is absolutely gorgeous, and the marketing on just how good this film looks was not overstated. If you are a Batman fan or an anime fan, I would say that Batman Ninja is worth checking out. But if you are not as into anime as you are into Batman, then this may not be for you, either.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

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Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay

By Drew Kiess

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Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is the latest addition to the DC Animated Universe that began with Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox and is the first to feature the Suicide Squad. The film stars Christian Slater as Deadshot, Vanessa Williams as Amanda Waller, Billy Brown as the Bronze Tiger, Kristen Bauer van Straten as Killer Frost, Gideon Emery as Copperhead, Liam McIntyre as Captain Boomerang, and Tara Strong as Harley Quinn. It was written by Alan Burnett (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm) and was directed by Sam Liu (Batman: The Killing Joke).

Can we be honest about these animated films for a moment? There has been a narrative about DC’s animated projects that has been all the rage that these are the DC movies that are knocking it out of the park. And at one time, that was honestly true. From Wonder Woman, New Frontier, The Dark Knight Returns, and Flashpoint Paradox, there was a strong string of good to great animated features in a short amount of time.

Since then, there has been less consistency. Killing Joke and Batman and Harley Quinn are far removed from the glory days of DC animated films. And for every Gotham by Gaslight, there is the unavoidable realization that the production quality is not what it once was. And I don’t think it’s a problem with the creative team, but there might just be too many projects for not enough people.

Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay may be one of the better productions from this universe in a while, but the story as a whole feels somewhat lacking. The Squad is sent to retrieve a get out of hell card for Waller, but they have some competition from various baddies across the DC Universe, including Blockbuster, Vandal and Scandal Savage, and Professor Zoom. A grindhouse road trip ensues to find the card.

Where this movie thrives is with the villains—that is, the bad bad-guys. The connections to the greater universe that is weaved into this film may be the best use of this connected universe to date. If this were the focal point of the movie (you know, telling an interesting story within a larger comic book universe) it would have been one of my favorites. That’s not what we got.

What we got was a movie that promised a sexy, violent action movie that could not separate itself from past attempts by these animated movies to be more “adult”, succeeding only in fulfilling the most juvenile of expectations on both fronts. Fetishizing strippers and lesbians is not something I associate with “edgy” and it, unsurprisingly, falls incredibly short here.

I have said it before with these movies and apparently it needs repeating: not everything needs to push the boundaries. Cool stories that exploit what makes these characters interesting will forever be preferable than using these characters to prove some point that comic book stories can be “grown up”. It’s a trend that is in desperate need of ending and I seriously hope it finds its demise before Death of Superman.

Here’s hoping.