Friday, 25 March 2016

[Film Review] DCMU 2: Batman vs Superman - Dawn of Justice [NO SPOILERS]

 DCMU 2: Batman vs Superman - Dawn of Justice

Most films are part of the landscape of popular culture that simply passes by as you move through life, but some movies are so much more. There are films that speak to people on such a basic level that individuals have dreamt of them long before any actual film was ever a serious discussion to be made let alone released. There are films that have played in people's minds a thousand ways as they hope for it to actually one day get made. Star Wars was one such film. Over the decades before Phantom Menace, the idea of a new Star Wars film fueled fan-dreams.

DCMU 2 : Batman vs Superman is also one of those kinds of films. A personal movie, dreamed of by children, by adults, by fans, dreamed by me but I do not think anyone, including myself, was ever salivating for a "Batman vs Superman" story. We were near rabid over the idea of seeing these character alive on screen, though. When comic fans dream of comic book films they really dream of the characters, the actual films themselves could be anything and nowadays they often also promise so much more than a single movie. Much anticipation is more to do with the idea of what is coming after the film than the film itself. So the pressure on this film is tremendous, not just in the normal way that a film of this size gets pressured, but because it is attempting to launch something so much larger, and it is this, the idea of a DCMU that the fans are really dreaming of.

BvS has many problems which are indicative of this new style of narrative, the shared universe. The movie is pulling so many parts from so many different locations while at the same time trying to construct a future which the actual film you are watching is not even about. So like most comic book movies the film is a mess of loosely interconnected threads all vying for screen time, with none getting the attention it deserves. This is Age of Ultron all over again, all the same, mistakes.

While the movie gets so much right, there are structural problems with how it is made that must fall squarely on the director and the editor.  The most glaring problem is the seemingly disconnected scene by scene assembly of the movie. There is no flow of the narrative from one scene to the next, instead, we are left with what feels like a series of independent scenes walled off from the next. It reminded me a little of  how a comedy sketch show works. Each scene from a given act could be cut and moved around with little effect on the outcome. This could be one of the worst examples of horrid editing I have seen in a big blockbuster in a long time. BvS simply fails to follow the tried and tested rules of film language and as a result, we see a series of the book ended sequences that produce no feeling of pacing and most importantly of all completely fails to convey the plot of the film itself. This failure, probably in the scripting itself but definitely in the editing is especially galling due to the fight sequences being superbly constructed.

The biggest surprise in the film for me was the performance of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. It really stands out as not only one of the best performances in the entirety of DC films and easily the best representation of Lex outside of the comics, but also a great example of what I believe is a core idea in the DCMU and DC in general.

DC is all about a concept called the multiverse. Each verse or "earth" completely different, yet the same, there is no "Lex Luthor" or "Batman" in DC, not in the kind of defined way you see at other publishers. For me, this is one of the towering reasons why DC is so fantastic, as artists have the freedom to play with ideas and concepts without the rigid conformity that you find at other publishers which can restrict imaginative writing.

The DCMU's Lex is a great example of this idea working extremely well. He is Lex, there is no doubt of that, he is absolutely recognisable. He is artfully brought to life by the actor, and yet he is something new. Something that pulls interest and discovery from the viewer, rather than them sitting in the theater with a bingo sheet ready to cry "Lex" after all the dots get filled. The entire DCMU character list is built in this way to varying degrees of susses. WB's attempt to create real characters on the screen is a bold and intelligent move which creates a far more interesting texture to the movie. After all, when your characters are 80 years old, there is no "real" version, it just depends on what period the fans are looking at. BvS for all its faults has more going on with the characters than most other movies of its type.

The tone of the film is bang on as well. It is no secret that I prefer the darker side of comics and it is a joy for me to see the DCMU continuing to be darker than its peers. I'm not interested in a DCMU that looks and feels like a cartoon, there is enough of that around and even at its best I dislike it. In the comic books, blood flows with violence and madness upon every page. I see no reasoning that compels me to believe that when these comics turn into films they should suddenly become light-hearted half comedy adventures unless the comic itself is one. There is already a very popular location to find the watered down children versions of comics, Saturday morning cartoons. The look and emotional tone of BvS are nearly perfect, only hampered by the fact that there isn't the emotional core in the writing to give it a better sense of reality.

Batman is particularly well done tonally and to my mind is the definitive Batman of film, though on a personal level I think he could have had a little more "crazy" peppered in Mad Max style. Even so his look and Affleck's performance as Bruce Wayne is another highlight for me even though I was surprised at how much of the film Batman takes up, regulating Superman into a near side character. That is not to say that Batman purists will not have a lot to complain about with this more brutal and angry Batman but like Lex the Batman of this film is an actual character to be discovered and I am completely sold, on not only the performance but on this DCMU version Batman itself.

Wonder Woman's role in the film is fun for every moment she is on screen even though her presence is small and ultimately unnecessary, as far as the story is concerned. She is a world building element for the future of the franchise and could easily be removed from the movie entirely along with Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. This is a problem all current comic book films have. The derailing of the films story and focus by bringing in threads that are not in any way relevant is among some of the greatest reasons that many of these films completely fail in so many ways. Brevity is the sign of a great plot. All the greatest books and films are streamlined and focused, but the very conceptual idea of the future movie tie-in produces a bloated sore upon each comic book film's storytelling. Yet, as I was saying at the start, they are ultimately necessary as the viewers are invested in the next film and beyond, sometimes more invested than they are of the film that they are currently watching. So these building scenes are greatly loved by the fans and appear as sweet spots during the movie even though they are largely responsible for the failure of the narrative as a whole, not just in this movie but in almost all modern comic book films.

BvS is far from the worst film to be released among the modern comic book movies, but it is also far from the best. I would say out of the collection of Disney, WB and Sony movies containing the property of DC and Marvel, BvS is in firmly in the middle of the awesome scale. It isn't terrible, nor is it great. The action is fantastic, its tone is perfect and it contains some great characterisations of some of my favorite characters of all time. The plot, once you decipher it from the loose connective tissue holding everything together is in fact very good. It is a real shame the pacing and execution of this film nearly completely obscure the terrific ideas behind it. It has some amazing imagery and there is no doubt seeing the DC Trinity in action was as great as we always imagined.

This film's greatest draw was the power of the icons within it, and this is also its greatest detractor. For a film like this, nothing short of a masterpiece would be satisfying and there will be a huge backlash upon this film not so much for the many things it got wrong, but also for the fact that, to put it plainly, it's just disappointing. The excellent moments, the great visual style, the performances, and superb action sequences are crippled by horrible editing, a jilted pacing, and convolution through story commitment to the films yet to come.

There was a great film in here somewhere, but it was just not on the screen. Yet somehow I fail to care. There is so much right going on here, and so much to look forward to in the future that a bad, not terrible, film is little more than a speed bump to me. I'd still prefer to watch this film again over many of the other films that have come out in this genre.

VERDICT : Must Watch for fans, worth checking out for everyone else, maybe.

I'll make a spoiler version of this post a little latter after Batman vs Superman has run for a while. There are many ideas that deserve closer attention and discussion which will require spoilers to be dissected.

(Probably should get around to this.. at some point.. but long story short.. the Ultimate Edition is a LOT better and fixes many of the problems I had with the Theatrical Cut, there is no reason to ever watch another version than the Ultimate Edition.)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

[Comic Review] - Batman & Dracula - Red Rain

Batman & Dracula - Red Rain

The idea of mishmashing genres is nothing new and the idea of Batman himself in some ways is conceptually close to vampyres already. It is really the very first place anyone would go to when thinking of ideas for an elseworld story about Batman. This is something I have never been a big fan of. Do I want to see Conan in a Terminator story? No not really. Some stories just do not need to be told and they always seam to have a faint smell of desperation and hollowness about them. A cynical mind might say that they feel like ideas born out of a desire to cross pollinate fans from one series to another rather than an actual writer thinking a story should be told for "pure" reasons and a more comical mind might see it as hokey.

Eric V Lustblader eloquently sums up my feelings about mash ups in the forward

I have a love hate relationship with vampyres. On one hand I think they are nearly the perfect classical monster of literature and on the other hand I thoroughly despise how they are usually depicted in modern popular culture. They are just behind zombies as the most over used and boring villains of all time. It takes a special story to be able to breath life into these monsters which are so well know and so often used, that very few surprises can be worked into the tale. It doesn't help that they are most often used badly. So I came with a pretty sceptical attitude when I started to read this book.

This is how vamps are usually depicted. Fucking lame.

To my extreme surprise one of my worries about the book was not founded. While this books dose have whiffs of the Anne Rice taint that has polluted horror fiction these vamps are still in fact, monsters. They live in the sewer, they do not stop rotting, so they are kind of like zombies. The ideas of predator and prey are taken to literal levels through the vamps regressing into "intelligent rats"  as one character calls them in the squeal, Batman : Bloodstorm.

There is an imagining going on here with these vamps, beyond the usual wish fulfilment we see in most modern stories. The original and incredibly deep ideas of "cost" are still present for these vampyres. The closer the bloodline to Dracula the more human they appear, but  the taint of demon becomes stronger. At no point are they "just immortal humans". They are demons, or monsters.

The comic has a very strong set of opening panels that really carry you for much of the book. In fact I would say that the book is a little slow in some areas and this engaging start not only sets the mood but also gives the story teller some leeway to marauder around the point for a while. I am sure if you spent 5 seconds thinking you have already got the plot basically mapped out. Dracula comes to town. Strange deaths intrigue Batman, dead rise for the grave... etc etc. This is a story they really writes itself. So the crux of the tale is really in how the characters behave, not in the actual events themselves which are obvious and known the the reader just by looking at the cover.

One of the great detractors, for me at least was the lettering in this book. Now I am not saying this will be a problem for everyone but I found the calligraphy to be particularly hard to read. The cursive is used to invoke the feeling of a hand written journal, like the Bram Stoker books. Yet as a child of the computer age, who can't use a pen with out getting a pain in my hand and basically never reads cursive I just found it difficult to read. Especially as the standard  bold text is replaced with underlines and this cramps an already busy text box. Though I think my heavy dyslexia has something to do with it as well.

Much of the story is told in cursive, with underlined words instead of bold

Another wasted opportunity was that the story didn't go old school with Batman himself. This is a tale that I felt should have been told as a detective story. The gothic nature of vamps and of Batman lends itself perfectly to the lovecraftian idea of discovering the horrible truths under the city. Truths even Batman didn't know about the Gotham. I think this could have been a angle for the book to take but instead the discovery is very early on and all the subsequent information is spoon fed to Batman through an auxiliary character.

All in all I think this is one of the better Batman Elseworlds stories and much of that is due to the mind blowing art. Though I think that it could have been a lot better. This is one of those books you read and go "Yeah, that wasn't bad" and move on. There are two other stories in the series ( [url=]Batman : Bloodstorm[/url] / [url=]Batman - Crimson Mist[/url]) and it is my hope that they fully commit the the idea more than this tale did. It felt somehow reserved. The supernatual aspect is so bizarre in a Batman setting that in some ways the story doesn't really deal with it. Maybe the next one will be "all in".

* Recommended *

[Comic Review] - Justice League : Dark - In The Dark (#1-5)

 Justice League : Dark - In The Dark (#1-5)

The premise of Justice League : Dark is very simple both in an conceptual way as well as from a publishing stand point. The thinking going around the board meeting was probably something like this.... "Lets get these popular but underused characters in the DC pantheon and give them some face time and in doing so we can also explore aspects of the DC universe that may be harder to fit into a traditional superhero comic like Batman or Wonder Woman!"

The conceptual idea is demonstrated early on in the book by having Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg spectacularly fail at facing a supernatural threat. Demonstrating to the reader that the traditional aspects of the super hero has no sway here, Speed, Strength, being a warrior and so on is not going to help, and just for icing on the point Cyborg is there to show that technology is pretty useless as well.

The problem is that the idea of a "Justice League" but one focused on the supernatural isn't exactly a difficult concept to sell. There is strong narrative reasoning for these scenes to be including to demonstrate why a universe like DC would need another "group" but as I was reading I just felt like I was being talked down to a little, spoon fed. It just felt  tacked on and forced and honestly a waste of pages.

Once the clumsy set up gets out of the way, the story has to go thorough the laborious process of introducing the players. Xanadu, Deadman, Constantine, Shade, Zatanna and Mindwarp as well as a story to connect, bind and focus them. It is an extremely difficulty task for a book of this type. Some characters obviously need more introduction than others and the story becomes crowded and full of exposition. There is a definite sense of orientation here, the book is more concerned with getting everything in place, than actually telling a boss story.

This is the biggest failing in the start of this series. The actual story is a mess with a mash of personalities, that the reader may not be failure with leading to confusion and a feeling of pointlessness regarding the action. With out any connection the reader is left looking at a mass of colour where the dialogue has no real meaning. Some of the more famous characters shine through, grasped onto by the reader from the very fact that their personalities are solid and thus give their actions meaning, still for the majority of the cast this is not the case.

Once the laborious task of "starting the engine" is done with so to speak the story actually settles down into what is in actuality a pretty cool story. Xanadu and Constantine particularly stand out with a extremely strong character driven conclusion to the tale and a great reveal about why these events happened at all.

In fact the final books of this story were so good it really sold me. Making me not so much forget the terrible start but be more forgiving, as it really is a huge ask for a writer to do what has been attempted here. The ending though, really shows how Dark can differ from the standard Justice League. While "black ops" style teams are nothing new, good guys that do the dirty work that the prissy heroes wouldn't dream of, this is another thing entirely.

The supernatural aspect gives the book a little schizophrenia as well. Some of the ideas are down right horrific, yet it still has that action "hero" book feel to it were consequences are nearly irrelevant. Is this is a horror or an action mag? I think at this stage the people making it do not even know themselves, or probably in actuality the writers know, but that may be a bit different to what the guys in suits were told when they set it in motion.

Nothing is what it seams, let alone motivation or meaning. There is some extremely fertile ground here for some really awesome stories and while I think this was a very rocky start there is a spark here that could very well develop into something very, very readable. Ultimately its reliance on the "Justice League" analogue could be its downfall.

I expect the team members to stay in flux for a while. Shade and Mindwarp are prime to be replaced, and probably shouldn't have been in the mix to begin with. It would have made the start of the story so much better if it didn't need to introduce and integrate them into the plot.

Recommend, with a Warning. 

 Still, I have a good feeling about this.... and will be reading more..... .  Besides.. Constantine is in it.

[Comic Review] - Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things

 Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things

Recently I stumbled onto a comic which I have since found out is quite famous.Courtney Crumin.

This is a very interesting book I feel. The author seams to be a little confused as to what kind of book he is trying to write. There is a strong vibe here of a fairy tale. A Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe type thing, were a young woman comes to a new location and finds a hidden, magical world. This is a fantastic fiction you would expect form say Niel Gamin and is by far the most interesting and engaging part of these books. Yet, slowly over time starting at the second book the magic has fallen away to full blown fantasy. Courtney is no longer a explorer of the bizarre, experiencing it with the reader, but instead is a initiate into an entire world whom the reader just follows.

Think of the difference between Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Now, the main character is so alike to one of my girls it is kinda spooky. So maybe I enjoyed this book so much because of that but even so I think this is a pretty exceptional book. At least at the first one was.

Most stories write from a adult perspective, again think of Harry Potter, those kids don't behave like kids. You can feel that it is an adult writing how kids could behave and talk, but it feels false. This story writes the children in a similar was as fully developed people. There is no dumbing down or trying to write form a child's perspective. Instead it is written with the main character possibly being the most clued in and "adult" of the lot. This in turn gives her real credibility as a character and I feel that this kind of writing always makes children not only more believable in stories when they are the main protagonist, but also allows adults to relate to them easier, thus making able to relate to all ages.

Now these are not exactly horror tales, but they are relatively macabre and in that lies the genius of the book. Kids and many adults, love spooky stories. For example there is a goblin in this book that lives in the forest that gobbles up children and this happens in the stories, it is not implied. Yet I use the word "gobbles" deliberately as it is not a horrific word. In fact it is a kind of cute word. Children are completely accustom to it, the troll under the bridge, the witch in the ginger bread house, the big bad wolf. These are all ideas used in famous tales for children and for some reason many modern kids stories are so gentrified now, power ranges, the TMNT cartoons and stuff that it is easy to forget that kids love this kind of macabre shit.

I found this series to not only be extremely enjoyable, but I felt it is the kind of book that could transcend the comic community. You could buy this for literally anyone, especially a little girl or say a girlfriend / wife. I think this could very well be one of the better "gateway" comics I have come across in a while. A comic that taps into very well understood story tropes that we all understand as they have been heard and retold for 100s of years. Story frame works that appeal across the board.

I strongly recommend this book, very much so the 1st one, but I really did feel much of the gloss wore off after the first volume due to the change of tone, and disconnect in the narrative. In the 1st volume there is a clear progression of the character, but volume two reads like "2 years latter" or w.e. Things have moved along greatly that I felt we missed so much stuff. The feeling of exploration as the main character discovered the world was lost to her simply moving though it.


*  Strongly Recommended *

[Comic Review] - Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity 1-3

 Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity 1-3

Superhero comics are a mixed bag for me. There is such a fine line between fine works and pap rubbish. Rubbish that is exactly what the non-comic reading public thinks when they imagine what comics are. Comic artists and writers have been working hard to move soups from the corny and childish golden age into comics that have more to say to the adult reader. Yet soups by definition have to be kind of corny and childish, and no amount of modernisation can really remove that without drastically changing them.

This leads to some of the best soup comics being post modern re-imagings of what superheros are. The most famous example of this is Watchmen, which for all its greatness is at its core a distorted mirror of typical superhero comics. Still with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman the writers do not have the luxury of changing them in some kind of re-imagining, unless the alternative setting is the point of the book. No alteration to the costumes and setting, or whatever to try and bring these large characters into some kind of believable reality from the often naive and simplistic origins they were birthed from so long ago while retaining their classic shape is allowed.

So it is that Superhero comics can often be so terrible that you wonder why you even read comics. For every stack I read, only a few stir me. For only a few are able to walk this line of classic cartoonish revelry in the childish absurdity of what Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are yet still be able to use them to paint a book with deeper meanings and interesting interactions that can engross an older mind.

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity is what I would consider to be right on that line. This is a great example of a book that is true to the nature of what a soup comic is, without apology for its ridiculousness yet still, without compromising that true nature is able to bring a more adult narrative to us.

Much of this is done by focusing the text on interactions between the characters. The narrative switches from a narrator to internal dialogues split among the three main characters. This is done in a way that allows us to really see past the actions. Superman may be catching a plane on fire in the panels but he is thinking about something more. This "something more" is what makes this comic stand out among its peers. We feel so much more connected to them and understanding of their feelings. This allows interplay between the characters to really shine. There is some fantastic back and forth dialogue that is sure to raise a smile, dialogue set up and put into perspective through these internal narratives.

Even so, it dose not skimp on the core of what a soup comic is. In our hearts we all want Superman to be super, Batman to be sneakily one step ahead and Wonder Woman to be awe inspiring. This comic delivers all that, and again much of this is though the narration as each character becomes aware of the greatness of the others as they get to know each other. Seeing Joe Blog being impressed by Wonder Woman has no meaning, but Superman being impressed?

There are some problems in this one though. One is just a simple typography thing. In more recent comics that have adopted this idea the internal narration use colour coded boxes, Say Yellow for Wonder Woman, Black for Batman and Blue for Superman, in this book unfortunately there is no such visual distinction. Sometimes you need to re-read a bit to work out who is thinking what if the context is not clear or if it is the 4th voice, the narrator.

The other thing is that as a Wonder Woman fan I felt while she did some cool stuff, she is a little under utilised in this story. I am trying hard to keep as much as possible a surprise, but I felt that much of the series could have been done with out her. She isn't exactly shoe horned in, but I left with a slight feeling that I wished she had a more epic moment than she got, moments on par with the men. These two things are small grips though.

The art is off the chain awesome. I think it is telling that they went for a more cartoonish style. It fits perfectly the clash of styles between the story, the superheros and the words. I miss the "art" in comics. Why is it suddenly so that everything needs to be digital painted into some kind of sudo-photo-real look. This comic has stylisation in the art that I found incredibly charming.

There are some adult concepts of rape that I felt a little out of place in such a classically fun book that while are completely justifiable in the story would make this one a comic I wouldn't show my 10 year old just yet. Still, the story is in fact very good. It splits between the three characters giving each there time to shine as well as showing us how a super-villain behaves, in all his "bbwaahaha I will destroy the world and rule the ashes" way. Yet, like how the heroes are handled, it works and it is fun. Your not sitting there going "this is stupid". You are going "this is awesome" the total re-donk-culous idiocy of it completely escapes you as you accept reality as a given allowing you to focus on the tale itself.

* Highly Recommended *