Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 6: Graveyard Shift (The New 52 – 2015)

batman vol 6

So here’s the deal with this book and why people are rating it so low. Snyder and Capullo have done the majority of their Batman run in arcs, arcs which take up a trade’s worth of material all by themself. However, inbetween these arcs are usually one-and-dones, smaller stories that only take up one or two issues. Including chronologically didn’t work so well, because it would have made the trade’s too big, and make less sense as a story. So, all the one and done Batman stories are collected here. Some of these issues are very good, some of them less so. The issues it collects are #0, 18, 19, 20, 28, 34, and Batman Annual #2.

#0 is sort of a precursor to Zero Year. It would have been nice if this was included in the first Zero Year trade, but again, that would have made the book too big, so it goes here. It’s a good story on it’s own, just a little out of place.

#18 is a Harper Row issue, detailing how she tracks Batman in the days following his son’s death. If you liked the other Harper story in City of Owls, you’ll probably dig this. I was never huge on Harper, so it didn’t do much for me, but too each’s own.

#19-20 is a short Clayface story. I really enjoyed these two. It has one or two tender moments with Bruce still dealing with Damien’s death, Clayface seems to be going through a cool process, and there’s a great easter egg to a certain DC Animated show from the 90s (and not the one you think). There’s a moment where I think Bruce plays things a little close to the chest with his secret identity, but I can forgive it. It’s important to note too that these are the only 2 issues drawn by Capullo in this volume.

Batman Annual #2 is a fun short story where Batman is trying to break out of Arkham Asylum. It also introduces the character of Eric Border, who will be important down the road (don’t look up why, it’s only 1 volume away).

#28 is definitely the worst of the bunch. It’s a story that ties into the Batman Eternal series. You may or may not be completely lost reading it, and you will never see any pay-off for what happens in this series. Read it if you plan on reading Batman Eternal, but otherwise I’d almost say just skip it.

#34 is one of my favourites. It’s a simple murder mystery story, with Batman trying to hunt down a serial killer. It’s not Capullo, but the art here is amazing. The story, other then one big “WTF, HOW” moment is really well done.

Overall, it’s nowhere near as good as the other volumes, but there’s plenty of material to enjoy. Issues 19, 20, and 34 are definitely the stand outs, with the annual being pretty good as well.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year – Dark City (The New 52 – 2015)

batman 5 zero year

Batman Vol. 5 Zero Year-Dark City collects two of the final story arcs for Zero Year; Dark City (issues 25-27) and Savage City (#29-33). This is the conclusion of the three-part story arc major crossover origin event known as Zero Year. Dark City picks up after the events in the first story arc of Zero Year, Secret City, after Batman has stopped the Red Hood Gang and the Riddler shuts off all the power in Gotham City. We see the reintroduction of the classic GCPD blimps from Batman the Animated Series, which is awesome to see, as they comb the city searching for any sign of Batman. But, Batman has a new case on his hands involving a killer who uses a serum that causes uncontrolled bone growth. Batman discovers the villain, known as Dr. Death (who was Batman’s first major supervillain he fought in DC Comics, the Joker was the first villain Batman faced in his own comic book series) and both Death and the Riddler team up to seize control of Gotham during superstorm Rene which threatens to cause even more problems for the powerless and crippled Gotham City. In Dark City, more is explained about Bruce’s opinions of Lt. Gordon and why he doesn’t trust the police lieutenant. We also see more backstory involving Bruce as a child and his parents leading up to the fateful night in Crime Alley. Dr. Pamela Isley also has a cameo appearance in this arc but her research will later impact the look of Gotham in the next story arc. Savage City takes place several days after the events in Dark City. It is now, Zero Year: the new calendar year according to Edward Nygma. Using Isley’s research Riddler has turned Gotham into an overgrown barren wasteland and his demands for Gotham is quite simple: get smart, or die. Every sunset, the Riddler on a giant screen in Gotham and challenges any brave citizen to ask a riddle that he can’t solve. No one has been successful. Bruce can’t retrieve any of his suits or gadgets from the cave so he must improvise and create a torn and tattered costume and tools to help him mount a counterattack against the Riddler. Batman enlists the help of trustworthy allies who are trying to fight against the Riddler, specifically Lucius Fox and Lt. Gordon. The team is also joined by a special covert military assault force as well. But time becomes the enemy as jets threaten to bomb Gotham, doing exactly what the Riddler intended and sending Gotham crashing down all around. Batman and his team must work together to stop the Riddler and survive Zero Year. Scott Snyder’s writing is still great. The characterization of these characters is both refreshing and still honors the source material, which Snyder is very good at doing. The interaction between Bruce and Alfred is very special and very well written. Bruce’s relationship with Gordon changes drastically in these final arcs and it makes sense why Bruce finally throws off his uncertainty about Gordon and accepts him as an ally going forward. The story appeared to take a lot of inspiration from The Dark Knight Rises and the video game The Last of US (both can be seen in the Savage City story arc). The inclusion of Dr. Death as one of Batman’s first villains, just like in the original comics, was amazing. Snyder really got to show off his horror writing here with gorgeous yet very visceral character design for Dr. Death by Greg Capullo. Speaking of Greg Capullo, he hasn’t lost his touch at all. Gotham is very vibrant and well defined as well as people are all distinctively drawn. Capullo always brings his unique style to many of these characters which I enjoy, it definitely sets his work apart from other artists. We see many new vehicles a Bat-blimp, a proto-Batmobile race car, and the Bat-boat. All of them are beautiful to look at and are drawn with great detail. Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia make Capullo’s art look absolutely gorgeous and very vibrant and colorful as well. Batman Vol. 5 is a great ending to the masterpiece of an origin story retelling. To me, this will be my favorite Batman origin story, not because it’s new and I very much enjoy Snyder and Capullo’s run on the character, but because, like Year One when it was written, Zero Year speaks to us in the 21st Century. Zero Year addresses our anxieties our struggles and places Batman’s emergence in the midst of all of those things to show us how truly great a hero he is.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 4: Zero Year-Secret City (The New 52 – 2014)

batman secret city

Great new take on Bruce Wayne/Batman’s early, first year adventures upon his return to Gotham City. The story is littered with great cameos from the Batman Rouges Gallery, and sets up for a great follow up in Volume 5 – Dark City. Snyder’s writing is tight and makes for an entertaining, easy read, and Capullo’s art pops off the page. If you’re looking for a different take from the classic Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, this is a great purchase.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family (The New 52 – 2014)

batman death of family

I’ve read some good Joker stories over the years, most notably ‘The Killing Joke’ one-shot by Alan Moore. This arc compares very favorably to that. After DC (and Marvel) rebooted most of their lines in 2011, Scott Snyder took over Batman. The first two volumes saw Batman battle a mysterious ancient cult for the control of Gotham.

This volume sees the return of the Joker. After an inexplicable absence of a year the Joker makes a dramatic return to a life of mayhem and chaos. He raids the GCPD to steal his face from an icebox and from there lures Batman into an elaborate trap by systematically and slowly reenacting his famous crimes from the past. Joker’s tactics and Batman’s response puts a severe strain on Batman’s relationship with his extended ‘family’, hence the title.

Snyder’s Batman series is dark, constrained and tense. He likes to put the Dark Knight in the most perilous situations to test his mettle and his morals. Capullo’s art is a good complement to this style. He keeps the panels crowded and cluttered and induces a real sense of claustrophobia and fear. Snyder has written the Joker just right, and in some parts he is incredibly creepy. The extent and scope of his crimes (which provides an unwanted glimpse into his twisted psyche) is downright terrifying. The conclusion is sort of bittersweet and a bit ambiguous. Readers will be left to wonder if the Joker really succeeded in his goals or not.

Years from now we will look back at this arc as one of the more memorable Batman stories. This deserves to be in the pantheon of great comic book arcs.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Suicide Squad (2016) – Movie Review

suicide squad

First: 2015’s abominable Fantastic Four. Now: Suicide Squad, the latest in a slew of big-budget train wrecks, resulting in an acrid cocktail of the wrong directors being given too much agency coupled with boneheaded, contradictory studio hand-holding. Still, it’s hard to strictly call studio interference party foul here, as the film is so inherently muddy it’s hard to imagine any iteration successfully coughing itself to life. It’s hard to resist a spectral Queen chorus of “Is this the real life?” running through your head watching the shambolic mess unspool – Suicide Squad wants desperately to strut, but stumbles on every step, before toppling into the void of being utterly forgettable.

We can excuse the embarrassingly gratuitous Justice League tie-ins (hey – at least Ben Affleck’s Batman acts somewhat more like Batman, saving villains from certain death rather than branding them in the face). We can **sort of** excuse the flagrant piggybacking plagiarism of Guardians of the Galaxy, from the hyperactive prison montage antihero character bios to the soundtrack, nonsensically cobbled together like a caffeine-high teen with a gift card to the iTunes store (and no, you’re not mistaken – that Norman Greenbaum song is yanked straight out of the Guardians trailer. The theft is that blatant). We can even try to excuse director David Ayer’s uncomfortable balance between dopey, wannabe slick humour and self-important wannabe ‘darkness’, even if it mostly manifests in the film’s indiscernible, murky lighting (grossly counterbalanced by splotches of colour, like a toddler vomiting play-doh). Still – a film full of villains-turned-antiheroes must bring SOMETHING original to the table. Right…?

And this is what we can’t excuse: Suicide Squad is not only a bird’s nest of content and tone, but also a fundamentally trashy, soulless, redundantly small-minded film. It loudly parades some of the worst nonlinear editing and pacing seen in a recent Hollywood film, to the point where its gossamer-thin plot (literally a lazy, boiled down version of The Raid – the entire conflict can be reduced to ‘climb the building’) becomes almost incomprehensible at times when really nothing is happening. There’s so much daft flashiness (yes, including Ezra Miller), sense is thrown to the wind. But, lest we get confused, Ayer is sure to slop in massive exposition dumps every 10-15 minutes, which rudely bring the film to a screeching halt every time it starts to pick up steam. The tiny blips of action are so bland, they fade from consciousness and memory before they’ve even finished feebly sputtering on. Finally, the glut of action figures-sorry-characters is so unreasonably vast, several Squad members are given no introduction, and literally dispatched within minutes with no send-off. Several are so extraneous they could be trimmed without anyone even noticing (Katana, anyone?). Initially, there’s hope for the effectively creepy uber-villains, but, after memorable introductions, they spend the majority of the film sulking in puffs of CGI, waiting for Ayer to remember they exist. Even worse: even some of the most iconic secondary players – Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s iconic Killer Croc, for one – are so underused, they’re effectively there to snarl on command, and burp out unfunny “B.E.T.” punchlines. Ouch.

It’s even more of a shame, as Ayer does scatter nuggets of genuinely compelling material to grapple with. Peel aware its slathering of smarm and gloom, and Suicide Squad is a film about characters struggling with bad relationships. Smith’s Deadshot regrets his daughter being overly permissive of his career as an assassin. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo spends the rest of his life owning up to his superpowered tantrum gruesomely murdering his girlfriend and children (the sole flashback which actually works, infusing the film with tragedy, scope, and as sombre a cinematic allegory for domestic abuse as we’ve seen lately, and Hernandez is unexpectedly moving). And let’s not even start on whatever warped, emotionally abusive relationship the Joker and Harley Quinn share. These interludes may not propel the story, but when Ayer allows himself to linger in the darkness, he digs up the film’s only real illumination.

The film may have been transparently retrofitted to accommodate Will Smith, but he’s worth it. Arguably the film’s greatest asset, Smith warps his boundless, sassy charisma and badassery into the film’s uneasy moral compass, supplying (the film’s only) surprisingly compelling emotional arc. Margot Robbie, conversely, hits her marks with an unshakable sense of her performing Harley Quinn rather than getting under her skin. She’s oodles of fun, but her crazy is as wobbly and vaguely forced as her accent. Thankfully, Viola Davis is steely perfection as the Machiavellian Amanda Waller, and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is funnier and more unpredictable than he has any right to be as such a boorish bogan stereotype. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg is one of the most infuriating military grunts in recent cinematic memory (and this is a generation that survived Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Godzilla…). And then there’s Jared Leto. Hoo boy. If ‘forced’ was already a shroud ensconcing the film, his blingy Joker is its bleating fog machine of artifice. He’s loud and irritating, but embarrassingly far-removed from appropriate levels of sinister or unhinged, no matter how many rings of knives he lies in or pools of toxic waste he dives into.

There’s a bit near the end of Suicide Squad where Kinnaman’s Flagg, suffering a change of heart, offers the Squad the chance to escape, and live their lives. Cliché dictates they will instead seek redemption, and stay to fight (yawn). Instead, Courtney’s Boomerang prances up, and, without a word, jackrabbits out of the room. It’s the film’s biggest laugh, partially for its unexpectedness, but partially for being the single most sensible move in the entire production. Suicide Squad is a sinking ship, and the fact that all involved didn’t follow Boomerang’s example (and even he idiotically crawls back – boo), makes the title exquisitely apt.

 

3 out of 5 stars

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Wonder Woman (2017) – Movie Review

wonder woman

In 2015, the post-credits zinger for Marvel’s Ant-Man had Evangeline Lily’s heroine, the Wasp, promised her own super suit. Her retort: “It’s about damn time.” The world echoed her sentiments. And waited. But alas: you snooze you lose, Marvel. Wonder Woman is here, loud, proud, heartfelt, and almost absurdly fun. Not to mention: in the super-super-saturated cinemas of late, it’s the first female-led superhero film in 13(?!) years? Suddenly Wasp’s pithy barb feels like the understatement of the century.

If we’re going to continue to play the Marvel card (and we should, for Wonder Woman is more akin to the MCU’s bright, mischievously fun fare than any of its sombre, melodramatic, ludicrously unironic DC precedents), director Patty Jenkins magpies the best bits of Captain America and Thor into a robustly satisfying romp. It’s a lot to juggle, simultaneously sating the twin bastions of feminism and fun in the rare superhero film expected to be About Something, but Jenkins, drawing upon nearly 80 years of fandom and iconography, is rightly confident. Her social commentary streak is as hearty as her flair for fun, and she gamely plunges into the film’s WWI setting as a potent vehicle for one of the genre’s most potent explorations of the ethics of action combat. Jenkins juxtaposing the sparkling, saturated sapphire colour scheme of Diana’s Amazon island with the sepia soot on the war-torn outside world (and just when we’d been enjoying a welcome break from the gloomy DC greys…) which succinctly feeds into Diana’s indictment of human cruelty. A superhero film sincere enough to advocate for empathy and benevolent compassion instead of revenge, justice, or simply violence? It’s a core moral streak so puppy-eyed and earnest it would verge on cornball were it not sold with a ferocious fervour heartfelt enough to trigger twinges of guilty reflection in between bites of popcorn. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

But, paradoxically, in spite of this effective call for compassion… there’s almost never been a movie where watching someone punch things has felt so goddamn awesome. Jenkins uncorks action interludes with a zippy abandon, as balletic as they are concussively cathartic, so stupendously fun that you shouldn’t be surprised to see audience members unconsciously swept to their feet with the infectious, heady momentum (Robin Wright, in particular, nearly steals the show with a functional cameo just by making ass-kicking in a leather miniskirt look so ferociously cool). Paired with the crisply perfect period wartime décor, and especially when accompanied by her exhilarating and impossibly catchy guitar riff, Wonder Woman is the first superhero film in years where the fight scenes, rather than merely pleasant diversions, are moving, almost overwhelmingly endorphin-flooding experiences. The mere memory of Diana crumbling a clock tower or flattening a roof with single blows, or granted her very own Éowyn moment by storming into no man’s land (get it?) is enough to bring shivers of magnificence.

And that’s when the shoe drops, and the ‘women only Texas screening’-shaped elephant in the room rears its head: we’ve had decades for the exuberance of men hitting things to wear off. Wonder Woman reminds us of how much fun it can be to watch WOMEN hitting things, and how desperately rare it is. Mercilessly scrutinized under the gender policing microscope, Jenkins, cannily, doesn’t oversell her gender politics. Instead, she calmly naturalizes them by steering the film through Diana’s headstrong, take-no-sh*t character, with each feminist beat emerging naturally through her personality. It’s oodles more effective than any polarizing, dogmatic diatribe, and yields many of the film’s moments of sneaky humour. One aside in particular, where an exasperated Diana condemns petticoats and skirts for impeding high-kicks, instantly cements itself as an iconic reprieve of solidarity for women’s dressing rooms for the next century.

Still, a Wonder Woman film would be moot without the right Gal in the lead. Here, it’s indisputably clear that it’s been worth waiting for Godot. Anchored by a tempestuous, fiery charisma, Godot’s remarkable performance is just as unforgettable in her small moments of zealous humanity (her almost childlike indignation at a war counsel willing to abandon soldiers as a strategic coup, or equivalent jubilation when tasting ice cream for the first time) as she is fiercely convincing tossing tanks or bridling enemies with a glowing lasso. Supporting her, Chris Pine is at his most disarmingly hysterical and irreverently lovable here, and provides a welcome anchoring of incredulous realism when the film threatens to topple into being too steeped in mythology. Danny Huston’s Red Skull clone hits all the requisite skulking, ominously pontificating adversarial notes, but he’s nowhere near as interesting as Elena Anayu’s luridly sinister and tragic Dr. Poison, who, disappointingly, is relegated to sidekick status. Thankfully, Diana’s remarkably diverse cabal of ‘Howling Commandos’ pals remain on the right side of fun without overstaying their welcome (though Ewen Bremner is just one bug-eyed nibble of haggis away from belonging in a live action cartoon). Finally, David Thewlis’ droll prissiness perfectly befits Diana’s befuddled ambassador to the human world, even if his range isn’t quite up for the challenge plot twists demand of him.

Wonder Woman isn’t perfect – there are expanses when Jenkins’ juggernaut pacing fumbles (especially an overlong expository origin), and it toes the line of being a touch too derivative, leaning on its superhero predecessors so liberally that key emotional moments threaten to belly flop from over-familiarity. Still, it’s only a fleeting wobble of tentativeness and creative laziness, that only serves to reinforce Robin Wright’s advice: Wonder Woman is at its (/her) best when she truly believes in herself. Still, when Godot is armoured up, flashing her gauntlets and kicking through walls, the film achieves an almost peerless sense of infectious awesomeness. Will its legacy abide? Well, I’ll let the waves of young girls (and boys!) jump-kicking and slamming their forearms together when stampeding out of the auditorium of my screening speak for themselves.

 

3 out of 5 stars

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Movie Review

dark knight rises

First of all, Nolan has made the greatest trilogy of all time, and while the film probably won’t demand repeat viewings like The Dark Knight, it’s narrative structure and beautiful photography by Pfister, make this film the superior one in the series.

Where the first movie explored fear and the second movie chaos and anarchy, this film is based on redemption and pain, because as many people have stated, both Bane and Bruce experience pain throughout the movie.

And this is what makes Bane an interesting villain; he is very similar to Batman. As Nietzsche once said, “you stare into the abyss long enough, it will stare back at you”. Bane is Batman’s abyss, what he would have become if he had joined the League.

Structurally the movie fits in perfectly with the others, and this is what makes this the best trilogy of all. Everyone is dedicated to Nolan’s vision; from the cast to the crew, they believe in what he has done, and this makes it a better viewing experience for the audience.

The cast are fantastic and the ending is perfect. Wayne has paid his debt to Gotham, and Gotham to him, after all it took away his parents and made him unhinged. But this movie finally shows him at peace and the last scene confirms that this epic trilogy is over.

Nolan resurrected a franchise that died with the release of Batman and Robin, and has managed to give the movie a conclusion that not only respects the source material, but the audience as well.

A must see, and the best film of 2012.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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