Joker Review: A Medley Of Madness

By Drew Kiess

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Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix and is directed by Todd Phillips. Based on the villain we all know and love to hate from DC Comics, Joker is a one-and-done psychological thriller that has no franchise ambition, which is something that the comic book movie sub-genre is sadly lacking. Sequels and franchise-starters are the name of the game, and if nothing else, maybe that trend will finally be bucked. One can dream.

Once upon a time, I wrote about how dumb of an idea I thought a Joker movie was. I am happy to report that in the case of this film, I was dead wrong. Joker is a freight train and it hits hard. Like its subject, the film slithers and contorts as it weaves an uncomfortable story about the relationship of mental illness and violence, as well as explore, more superficially, how a character like the Joker could possibly come to exist.

This film is not unique in its depiction of madness. As has been pointed out by many before me, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, and American Psycho all have shown a main character fall into murderousness. But when you take the most high profile villain in the most high profile subgenre of film and entertainment and give him a similar treatment, people are going to react. It’s not part of the plan. And that reaction has been harsh. Some are simply trying to score woke points in a world where clicks equal dollars (I don’t get paid to write these reviews, by the way). Others are striking against a preconceived idea of what a film like this ought to be. But Joker has opened up conversations like no other movie in recent memory, regardless of its quality.

Luckily, it is quite good. I will even dare to say that Joker is great. It is repetitive at this point to praise Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck and Joker, but I will do it anyways because it is deserving of the praise. What Phoenix manages to pull off is incredible. He is physically unlikable at all points in this movie, yet somehow manages to maintain a certain quality of helplessness that it is reasonable to feel some empathy towards him early in his downward spiral. However, that quality of helplessness vanishes as we reach the final stage of development in this two hour thriller. Fears that Joker would somehow make the Joker’s violence attractive are, in my opinion, unmerited. In any other story, a likeable character would choose option “A” at critical moments in his narrative. Arthur, every time, chooses option “B”, moving him further away from the character we as an audience empathized with at the beginning. The film, instead of glorifying the violence, makes us mourn for the fall of the offender. We wanted better for him and he fell short of that hope. It is a tragedy, which is nothing new to the arts. Just ask Bill Shakespeare.

It is a shame that we will never see this Joker get punched in the face by a man dressed like a bat, but for once, the Joker will get all the press in this film. But if you are a Batman fan, fear not: there are so many nods to other iterations of the character, and his eighty year legacy is honored well by the Phillip’s script. From references to Cesar Romero and Heath Ledger, to plot points ripped from the pages of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, this elseworld’s tale does not shy away from its comic book lineage. There is a wonderful blend of source material and creative license that keeps us on our toes while never straying away from the black heart of the clown prince.

Joker is one of those movies that it is hard to fully commit to an opinion on. It is deserving of long conversations and quiet reflection. While the internet is buzzing about whether or not it will lead to gun violence, it bluntly asks whether our monsters are born in a vacuum, or are they born out of a society going to hell? Perhaps in a climate of over-sensitivity and stark black and white morality, this question lands with a dud, but, it might just be the kind of important questions we need to be asking as our handbasket closes in on its final destination.

The film is not for everyone. It is audacious, violent, uncomfortable, and beautifully gross. It is also fascinating, thought provoking, and provocative. It is tempting for me to believe that those who do not see the message in the film are those who want to avoid it, but I also think that there are many who are simply not ready to have that conversation just yet. How are we responsible for our monsters? What have we done to create the awful world our villains live in? These are the questions that we are left with, and I hope that we begin to ask them.

Final score: Full House

Holy Moly! Shazam! Is A Triumph For DC

By Drew Kiess

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It seems like a lifetime ago that we fans were speculating that Dwayne Johnson was hinting at the possibility of a DC Universe movie featuring Shazam. Of course, when the movie was initially announced five years ago, Dwayne Johnson was announced as Black Adam. Things have changed, and while many (including me on some, but not all, fronts) will bemoan that change at Warner Bros. and DC Films, we now have our first winning streak as fans of this world on screen.

Aquaman was a moderate critical success and a major box office force. Following in the footsteps of James Wan, David Sandberg brought a truckload of magic into the DC universe with Shazam. Written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke, Shazam brings back the Amblin spirit and tells the tale of an orphaned Billy Batson and his search for family…and there just so happens to be an ancient wizard looking to hand out superpowers to someone pure of heart.

Zachary Levi and Asher Angel together create a likeable Billy Batson. The movie works because these two actors convey an undying hopefulness and despite perhaps him behaving badly at times, we empathize with his journey. Jack Dylan Grazer as his foster-brother Freddy brings a nerdy perspective to the cast, and he is very much the audience’s viewfinder into the superhero world at-large. Mark Strong as the villainous Sivana adds a level of gravity to the proceedings and provides a poignant foe for our hero. The rest of the cast fills in beautifully, and I cannot find a weak point.

Where Shazam! soars where other superhero movies have fallen short for me is the use of humor. Most of the jokes land well and feel character appropriate. The film balances comedy and the understanding that the situations are, in fact, serious, very well. The humor is the kind of humor a fourteen-year-old would use in similar situations that Billy finds himself in, while Sivana is allowed to carry the weight of the darker elements of the story.

And the story does have darker elements. Sivana channels the Seven Deadly Sins in his search for power. Sandberg taps into his horror roots and creates a threat that has vibes of Gremlins-style horror, all balanced by Big-style heart. Levi’s childlike glee contrasts nicely with Strong’s childish envy.

Shazam! is the film that will win over many stragglers onto the DC Films bandwagon. It is a true crowd-pleaser and offers something for the whole family. My only concern heading out of this movie is the DC slate moving forward. Yes, Wonder Woman 84 hits theaters next summer, but between now and then, Joker and Birds of Prey, both of which are expected to be rater R, are on the horizon. Will this darker turn turn-off the fans hopping on board with the Aquaman-Shazam! vibe? Time will tell. But for now, get ready to enjoy one of the most joy-filled superhero movies we may ever see.

 

Final rating: A

Aquaman Keeps DC Afloat

by Drew Kiess

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It feels like an eternity since Justice League landed with a thud last November, the film that introduced us (officially) to Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry. Irrespective of your opinion on that film (I still watch that movie with a stupid, childish grin on my face, despite its flaws), we all knew coming out of it that the landscape of DC on film was going to be changed forever.

The Snyder era, in practicality, was over (The Snyders are listed as producers for Aquaman, but likely had very little creative control). Aquaman is the first true post-Snyder DC film and the first film who’s post-production (and some production) overseen by Walter Hamada. This is the new DC Films, for better and worse.

By the time my “early” screening started, it felt like everyone in the world had already seen the film. In fact, it had already become a smash hit in China and had many screenings around the world. The word-of-mouth on the movie felt really strong, but the critical reception was lukewarm. Heading in, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was in for.

Ever since Geoff Johns took over the book in 2011 at the beginning of the “New 52” era, Aquaman has remained at the top of my favorite comic books. There’s been something exciting about the character for me for some time, and I have long wanted to see what the world of Atlantis would look like on the bigscreen. Finally, James Wan has brought this dream to life.

Aquaman looks gorgeous. Yes, it’s a CGI heavy film, but there’s probably a good reason for that. Rumor has it that Jason Momoa and Amber Heard are not actually fish-people. Once we accept the world, then hopefully we can acknowledge just how well crafted it is visually. But CGI always has a way of drawing criticism, warranted or not.

The cast of Aquaman, from Momoa’s Arthur to Heard’s Mera, and from Wilson’s Orm to DaFoe’s Vulko, are all pitch-perfect castings and seem to have good chemistry. It is an overused trite of film criticism to say that actors seemed to have a fun time making a movie (who cares? So long as it’s a great performance, they can be miserable for all I care), but Momoa had an energy about him that was absolutely infectious, and Heard played Mera with a light-hearted royal air.

Aquaman, however, squanders its cast’s chemistry with some fairly cliche’ emotional writing. There’s nothing wrong with a conventional Joseph Campbell-esque hero’s journey, but the writing needs to be less conventional and on-the-nose. Too often, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall’s screenplay held the hand of the audience through emotional beats, and some of these beats were delivered in flashback, without our heroes. Much of the humor falls flat as well, which falls square at the feet of the screenwriters The break-neck pace of the film and the consistency and quality of the action make up for much of what is lacking in the screenplay’s dialogue, but script-wise, it may be the weakest of these DCU films for me (remembering, of course, that I haven’t disliked one outright yet).

That hero’s journey is well-plotted. Arthur’s journey from reluctant hero to king is about as classic as it gets, and is a quintessential part of who this character is. He shows us that being heroic isn’t about whether we are worthy of our heroic stature, but it’s about what we decide to fight for–ourselves or those around us?

In a better world, this would have been a two-part film, giving some of the ideas and character development room to breathe. But because superhero movie sequels are not a guarantee outside of the mighty MCU, this film had quite a bit of ground to cover. The result is a fast-paced, wacky, and action-packed adventure. For the most part, it’s fun. It brings a comic book character to life in a way that I had not thought possible. Wan certainly deserves a chance to direct the sequel, and all signs point to him getting that chance. Aquaman is poised to become Warner Bros.’ biggest box-office superhero success since The Dark Knight Rises, but even if it falls short of that billion dollar mark, it should land happily in the neighborhood of Wonder Woman‘s $822 million dollar hull. The new DC Films is here, boys and girls. Let’s hope it sticks around.

Final Grade: Comics Code Approved Approved_by_the_Comics_Code_Authority

 

Aquaman is in U.S. theaters December 21st

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.

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.

 

 

The Reconstruction of the Superhero, Part Two: Doomsday Clock #3

By Andrew Kiess

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The following contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock #3

Not Victory or Defeat 

A Comedian Died in New York, but he now lives in Metropolis. While it is revealed that Dr. Manhattan reversed the cornerstone death of Watchmen. The Comedian responds by attempting to reverse the situation on his killer, Ozymandias. Fortunately for Veidt, Lex Luthor has thicker windows in his office than Comedian had in his apartment.

This is not a story about reversing the past. This is a story about putting the pieces back together that the past broke.

Meanwhile, Rorschach II is in the Batcave giving Batman Kovacs’ journal. Batman does not believe a word of the story and locks Rorschach II in Mad Hatter’s vacant Arkham cell.

This is not a story of optimistic heroes becoming pessimists. This is a story about pessimistic heroes living in the shadow of a pessimistic world, who we hope find optimism in the end.

My Hands Are Dirty, Too

The Superman Theory looms large over the DC Universe of Doomsday Clock, which takes place one year ahead of present day continuity.  Rorschach II stands in an interesting position for audiences that his predecessor did not possess, he is both clearly detached from reality and yet he may be the only one capable of seeing reality.

Unlike Adrian Veidt, Rorschach II witnessed and felt the loss caused by the creature in Watchmen. We learn that his parents were killed during Veidt’s lie. We see Rorschach II’s unknown alter-ego, driving a car and speaking in a more conventional speech pattern before disaster strikes.

The tragedy is seemingly the beginning of the end for our hero’s innocence. As he showers in the Wayne Manor bath, he scrubs his scalp so hard the he bleeds. What blood is on his hand? How did he come across Kovacs; journal, and what pushed him towards wearing Kovacs’ face?

The answer is right in front of us. Or, rather, right in front of Rorschach II. If Walter Kovacs is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s answer to Charles Victor Szasz, The Question, then this Rorschach is Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s answer to Bruce Wayne, The Batman.

In the face of tragedy, a man uses the tools at his disposal to seek out justice and to, in the words of Frank Miller, force the world to make sense again. It is interesting, then, that when faced with his (albeit, more extreme) mirror image, that he thought the solution was to lock him in Arkham. Had not Batman, just a few years prior, jumped universes with The Flash investigating the very thing Rorschach was claiming to have information on? Ever the cynic, Bruce cannot accept the bizarre unless he himself witnesses it. Instead, he views his reflection as the personification of madness. Rorschach’s worldview is not reality for Bruce, but who’s to say which reality is which?

But I Wore My Best Suit

We’ve known since Rebirth began that something is up with Johnny Thunder and the Justice Society of America. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this part of the book, but his presence is heartbreaking. It would appears that he is experiencing the effects of the time slippage, and is aware of the life he may never have fully lived. The Justice Society may yet play an important role in this story and I’m excited to learn more.

In The Darkness…I Can’t See Their Faces

The final layer of this story is reflective of The Black Freighter comic in Watchmen. The Adjournment, a black and white detective film starring Carver Coleman is sprinkled throughout the book. Coleman is an actor who made his claim to fame playing Nathaniel Dusk (named after an obscure detective featured in DC Comics), a hard-boiled detective in a fedora and trench coat, in six films before the actor’s untimely death. Coleman’s murder is the subject of the newspaper and tabloid clipping stingers in this issue. The Adjournment sees Dusk investigate the mysterious murder of two men playing chess. The movie is interrupted by news of a metahuman arms race.

This is the dual identity of Watchmen. A murder-mystery placed in the backdrop of impending nuclear destruction. The Superman theory is the element that was missing in Watchmen. When Manhattan was the lone metahuman, the arms race halted while tensions grew taut. The Superman Theory states that 97% of metahumans are American, and now other nations are trying to create their own metahumans in order to compete.

It’s no wonder Clark is having nightmares. What is hope personified to do in a world so consumed with despair? While we are waiting patiently for Manhattan and Superman to come face-to-face, we continue to look into the mirror with our heroes and examine both our world and theirs. Issue #3 is the most restrained of the books so far, but it is also the most interesting and the strongest. This series is on its way to becoming a modern classic.

 

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The Reconstruction of the Superhero: Doomsday Clock 1 & 2

By Andrew Kiess

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November 22nd, 1992… or maybe it’s the 23rd?

It’s been eight years since Adrian Veidt (A.K.A. Ozymandias, the smartest man on Earth) brought world peace in the guise of a staged alien invader, prompting Dr. Manhattan to leave earth. The ruse is up, and the world is converging on Veidt demanding justice for his lie.

The opening monologue from an unfamiliar Rorschach who is unreliable even in his own journal keeping (he is not entirely sure what day it is), sets the reader off with a bit of unease. This is our world, but it’s not our world. This is the world of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, but it’s no longer that world, either. Things have changed. “God turned his back,” Rorschach laments, “Left paradise to us. Like handing a five-year-old a straight razor.” Rorschach sees the world barreling towards complete destruction, “unless we bring God back down. Kicking and screaming because maybe we don’t deserve it. Maybe the world should burn this time. We shattered the American dream. This is the American nightmare.”

We find our new Rorschach, a young black man named Reggie, playing the role of Rorschach to the best of his abilities, breaking two criminals by the names of Mime and Marionette out of prison. The trio make their way to what appears to an abandoned Owl’s Nest where Adrian Veidt, who is revealed to be suffering from a brain tumor, has concocted his latest plan to save the world: find Dr. Manhattan and bring him home. The only problem? No one is exactly sure where he is.

The first book ends with a glimpse of a small Kanas town: Smallville. A nightmare scene of a young boy losing his parents in a car accident unfolds, being revealed to be the nightmare of a sleeping Clark Kent, lying in his Metropolis apartment with Lois Lane. “I can’t remember the last time you had a nightmare,” Lois says. Clark tells her that he’s never had one.

Life’s Not Black And White Like It Used To Be

Following an electron trail, Ozymandias, Rorschach, Mime, and Marionette find themselves in an unfamiliar city called Gotham. Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor are locked in a legal battle over research into a metagene, research that could show why so many metahumans have appeared in the United States. While Lex Luthor is hailed as one of earth’s greatest minds, Bruce Wayne is being subjected to psychological exams while dealing with a Gotham protesting his existence.

This world baffles Veidt, who observes that many of the costumed heroes in this new world fictional characters in his own. Superman? The Question? Could this world be the creation of Dr. Manhattan? The book closes with Veidt interviewing Lex Luthor, and Rorschach going to the Batcave. Veidt finds an intellect greater than his, and Rorschach finds breakfast. But what becomes apparent quickly will have lasting effects on all these characters going forward.

Obsessed With Reliving Yesterday

1986 changed things for comic books. The combination of the release of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns shattered many preconceptions on the limits of the medium. Some have lamented these books as being the reason for the dark and gritty obsessed 90s for mainstream superheroes, while others have praised them for being the reason for leaving the campy 60s and 70s behind. They did both, in my opinion.

Since DC Rebirth launched in 2016, a theme of restoration has reverberated throughout the pages of DC Comics. Superman Reborn saw the rectification of timelines for Superman, an act that attracted the attention of Manhattan, according to Mxylplyx and Mr. Oz. A timeline long dead had been restored and was brought in marriage at long last to the timeline that replaced it.

Let’s See If I Understand You Correctly

It is no coincidence that the forgotten book of 1986, Crisis on Infinite Earths, appears to play such an important spot in the Rebirth saga. During this event, the Charlton Comic book characters, bought out from the defunct comic book company by DC, made their first appearance in DC continuity. These Charlton characters were the target of Alan Moore’s deconstructionism. For example, look at the similarities between Captain Atom and Dr. Manhattan, or The Question and Rorschach. These characters were fictional in the Watchmen universe (along with Superman) according to Hollis Mason’s Under the Hood.

Within the narrative, it appears that Manhattan is drawing from what he knows to create a universe. From outside the narrative, writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank are saying that Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach changed the characters of Superman and Batman forever, and now it’s time for these characters to say something back.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons deconstructed the superhero. In 1986, this needed to happen.  The Superman movie franchise had its best days in the rearview mirror. The Batman TV show was ancient history. Comic continuity had grown stale, and a shakeup was needed.

We are now in a time where superhero media is everywhere, but comics have been suffering. Everyone is consuming cape stories on a surface level, and I believe Geoff Johns is saying with this book that superheroes are in need of reconstruction. Rebirth has been doing that, and Doomsday Clock appears to be the culmination of that effort.

And, for me, it’s working. In looking at Doomsday Clock, it’s undeniable that this is meant to contrast with Moore and Gibbon’s work. Gary Frank does a great job of twisting the imagery of Gibbons while not ripping them off, providing softer edges living in a more shadowed world. Geoff Johns’ writing is terrific, even if his monologues, albeit for story purposes, are not quite as catchy as Moore’s.

These first two issues set up the reconstruction of the Superhero. I am more than excited to see where this goes.

 

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Justice League Review

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by Drew Kiess

 

How to describe a movie like Justice League? Or, a better question, how to describe a movie like Justice League in a way that it has not already been described?

Let’s look over what we know: yes, we know that the post-production process on this movie was less than smooth for various reasons, chief among them a personal tragedy in the director’s family. Yes, we also know that the critical hill for this movie to climb was probably much too steep and the comparisons to the distinguished competition were unavoidable (how could anything measure up to what is already locked-in as a cultural phenomenon?). And yes, we also know that the tone of this film was shifted even further from the somberness of its predecessor due to critical feedback.

We know all that. What we don’t know is how things would have turned out otherwise. I can only review this movie for the movie I saw in the theaters and not the movie that I thought we were getting. Maybe someday we’ll get to see that movie (we’re just now getting to see the three hour version of 1978’s Superman The Movie, so there’s always hope), but this is the Justice League movie we got. And—honestly—I loved it.

To say a movie is imperfect seems like a critical cheat, but it is also important to say in this case. While I think most of the imperfections pointed out aren’t necessarily the same problems I have with the film (most of my complaints involve the ever-hated spoilers, so I will avoid talking too much about them), this is the first of the three Snyder DC Films entries that I’m comfortable with letting the critical onslaught hit without much argument. Perhaps that says more about me than the movie, but this is not quite the same kind of movie as Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. If you hated those movies, you might take that as a relief. As someone who loved them, it is a bit of a dunk in cold water.

What exists instead, though, is just as reverent a love letter to DC Comics fans. Never did I dream of seeing pieces from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World on a big screen. Seeing Commissioner Gordon (played well by J.K. Simmons) speaking with Batman and Wonder Woman and The Flash and Cyborg on a rooftop is a treat. And for anyone who has read the works of Kirby, Grant Morrison’s Rock of Ages, or Geoff John’s Justice League: Origins, there is plenty to keep you geeking out from the opening titles to the close of the credits. And yes, that end credits scene is as good as you’ve been told.

Of the major characters, most for me were given a fantastic show case as to what makes them amazing characters. There is one character that I felt may have been shortchanged, but that may be super spoilery (see what I did there?). Steppenwolf was fine. The great thing about using a character like Steppenwolf is that he does not come with a lot of baggage and is disposable without having his fan club become up-in-arms. Quick, name your favorite Steppenwolf comic book! He serves the purpose of providing a threat daunting enough to get the team together, but is not the kind of character who merits a long-winded motivation.

What the movie does well for me is not shying away from the comic book-ness of the whole thing. While the humor, thanks in part to screenwriter (and post-production supervisor) Joss Whedon, is cranked up in Justice League, it never feels aimed at the audience for enjoying these types of stories. It managed to have fun while still telling a cool story ripped almost perfectly from the pages of a comic book. And that may make it a movie that’s not for everyone. But if you’re someone who loves these characters, I highly recommend seeing Justice League with someone who loves these characters with you. There’ll be plenty for you to talk about.

Final score: Comic Code Approved

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“Batman Vs Two Face” Review

 

 

Batman-vs-Two-Face-1

By
Drew Kiess

I fell in love with Adam West’s Batman later in my fandom than many. While West’s portrayal was responsible for an entire generation becoming Batman fans for the first time, what West did for me was teach me how versatile the Caped Crusader could be. In 2016, seeing Adam West (along with Burt Ward and Julie Newmar) return to his classic role was an absolute joy, and the film itself was ridiculously entertaining, even if it was flawed in some ways.

When Adam West passed away, it struck a chord with me. This man had been responsible for bringing a character that has meant so much to me and has brought me a countless amount of joy to the mainstream. Before his passing, he was able to provide us with one final crusade: “Batman Vs Two-Face.”

In “Batman Vs Two-Face,” Adam West’s Batman is joined by Burt Ward’s Robin, Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, and William Shatner as the villainous Two-Face. While most of what we now consider the heavy hitters in Batman’s rogues gallery found their way onto the screen during the 1960s TV series, one notable exception has always been Two-Face, who starred only in one unused script. Harvey Dent, Gotham’s District Attorney and best friend to billionaire Bruce Wayne, is scarred by pure evil in a laboratory accident gone terribly wrong. The explosion turns Dent into the criminal known as Two-Face, and despite what Bruce Wayne believes to be a successful recovery, Harvey Dent’s scars are deeper than just the surface. With a crime wave indicating the involvement of a duality obsessed fiend, only Two-Face could be behind it. But could Harvey Dent truly be evil? Can the Dynamic Duo stop this crime spree in Gotham? (Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!)

The DC Animated films have been hit and miss lately. This was definitely a hit. Not only was it incredibly funny, it also had a surprising weight that pulled me into the film’s story. The casting of another 60s TV star in William Shatner as Harvey Dent was a stroke of brilliance, and he delivers with a voice performance that rivals any in these films. (His performance was reminiscent of the better moments of Tommy Lee Jones’ version in “Batman Forever.” Surprisingly, this version was less cartoonish.) Shatner pulled off a menacing Two-Face, playing the tongue-in-cheek nature of this universe with ease, while providing a tragic weight to Harvey Dent that is unexpected in connection with the 60s TV show.

Adam West’s performance was everything you would expect it to be. This story gave him a terrific send-off, allowing him to play both the heroic and inspiring Batman in some of the film’s more heavy moments, to the more comedic tones that this version of the character requires. As always, this was what made Adam West and this character such a great marriage: he could play every tone with the same amount of sincerity and commitment. You are always sure about two things with Adam West’s Batman around. Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot that he’ll bring to justice, and that Batman is always there watching out for us when we need him most.

The cast of characters in “Batman Vs Two-Face” is deep. If a viewer can go in not knowing what villains cameo and have major roles outside of the titular character, they can find themselves enjoying the revolving door of references to episodes of the TV series. On top of the revolving door of villainy, be on the lookout for some hilarious shout-outs to various Batman pop-culture moments that add flavor to this bountiful Bat-feast.

If “Return of the Caped Crusaders” served as a sequel to “Batman-The Movie,” then “Batman Vs Two-Face” closes out Adam West’s Batman trilogy triumphantly, providing us with humor, action, and a big bucket of heart. Director Rick Morales’ obvious love for the TV show shines through with every scene. It is a miracle to take a world and a style and bring it back to us 50 years after it was popular and do it so well, and to provide us all with one last adventure with our Bright Knight.

I would recommend buying two copies (one for each face), and enjoying this conclusion to Adam West’s Batman trilogy. I watched this with a smile on my face from beginning to end and am looking forward to watching it again. And for those of you out there who have yet to discover Adam West for yourselves, please take it from me: when you learn to love the goofiness and the colors and the biffs, booms, and pows, you will also find the heart, love, and unwavering goodness that was Adam West and his Batman. I think we could all agree that the world needs a Bright Knight now more than ever.

 

3.5 Bats out of 4

 

 

 

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