Category Archives: comics

Review: The DC Movies & What Went Wrong

Let me tell you, yet another review, this one more of a meta-review on the direction of a movie studio. The End of the Decline for DC? That’s right, I’m calling it. Or at least, Suicide Squad shows they finally realised they’re heading in the wrong direction.

No, The Backstory Isn’t Important

One of the big problems with Suicide Squad is the inordinate amount of time spent on backstories. They gave several minutes of screen time at the beginning of the movie to all the anti-villains getting captured – bearing in mind there are six of them – and filled in more detailed backstory for a couple of them, as well as setting up the plot overall.

Each particular backstory was well thought out, but that many at the beginning of the movie really began to drag. They simply weren’t necessary, and they detracted from the overall story.

All that was needed was for Amanda Wallace to indicate she was putting together a team of bad guys, some of whom have powers. That’s it, that’s all the set-up that’s required. That way, all the fight scenes from the bad guys getting captured can be moved into the body of the movie, where they can be used to further the plot rather than backstory, and be used to give a good surprise. The powers would be an impressive surprise rather than something that was foreshadowed to the point of tediousness.

I am reminded of Fast and Furious 7. Warner, watch it, study it, learn from it, and run free…

Review: Suicide Squad

suicidesquadposter

Suicide Squad has been the hope of fans that DC might start making movies that aren’t depressing soliloquies on the interchangeability of good and evil. Which is odd, considering Suicide Squad is specifically about “bad guys” acting as heroes, but it’s the tone people seem to want changed, rather than the message.

I went into the movie with high hopes, and didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought. The tone of Suicide Squad fails to live up to the wacky-punk of its promotional material and trailers. This makes sense – from what I understand, the movie was filmed in the tone of BvS, and then desperately recut at the last second to try to make it more like the trailers, which were clearly more popular.

It did succeed in a few places where BvS failed. Most importantly, it was internally coherent. I’ve heard people say that BvS is really good if you’ve read the comics, but that just means that it failed as a movie. Movies aren’t supposed to rely on people already knowing the story to tell a coherent tale. Suicide Squad tells a good story of the “good guys” using the “bad guys” to save the world, with fairly standard depictions of the government-run as heartless and evil. Refreshingly, the bad guys were all depicted as actual bad guys, even if a few of them are eminently relatable.

I’m not a fan of this Joker, even as I recognise the different style it’s promoting. Put simply, this Joker isn’t beguiling. Previous incarnations (Batman & The Dark Night) were gifted orators, and even if you didn’t agree with them you could see how they might convince others – think about The Joker talking to Harvey Dent in the hospital. This incarnation had none of that seductive banter, which is a shame because in this movie, where they show a psychiatrist falling in love with the Joker. That wasn’t believable, at least as it was shown in the movie.

A major part of superhero movies are the fight scenes, and they were good in this movie, but there weren’t enough of them. There was a lot of bluster and macho posturing, but that tends to fall flat in the action stakes. A lot of the action sequences from the introduction, where they provided the background of the characters, should have been put in the story. They could have been more exciting, and served the plot instead of the backstory.

All in all, I give the movie 7/10. It had some good parts, but there should have been a lot more. They could have gotten away with a bit more wacky oddness, and a bit less exposition. I mean, the most surreal part of the experience was watching Stephen Hawking hawking cars before the feature. If you like the previous few Batman movies, and you’re a fan of the comics, you’ll like this movie.

Batman & Supeman Vs Movie Critics

I haven’t read any of the reviews of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice because I wanted to see the movie with an untainted mind. Still, when the titles are all along the lines of “This is the worst movie ever” and “I would rather gouge out my eyes with a rusty spoon than see this again”, the sentiment is pretty clear.

My official verdict: The movie is pretty good. There are great visuals and a steady (if slow) build up of suspense and threat. DC is sticking by its grimdark approach to superhero movies, which I’m OK with – there a people who say they should take a lesson from Marvel, but then all the superhero movies would be the same…and they’d probably be criticised for not trying something new.

Ben Affleck played Batman the same way all the other actors since Micheal Keaton have. Henry Cavill played Superman the way you expect him to be played, with possibly less smiles. The actors for the support characters did their job, and Gal Gadot was great as Wonder Woman. I’m looking forward to that movie now.

However, there were some things I thought were mistakes, or which could have been changed to improve the movie.

Too long a set-up
The set-up of the premise – that Batman was going to try to kill Superman – went for ages and ages and ages. A third or a half of the movie. Seriously, they should have checked out Fast & Furious 7, which introduced the main villain and had the entire premise set up in two minutes. If the audience is suspending their disbelief enough to accept an invincible man who can fly and shoot laser fire from his eyes, it isn’t much to ask them to make the leap that some people want to kill that man, possibly for erroneous reasons. Then straight onto the action. There are some subsets of this point:

  • Origin Stories are pointless: Let’s be perfectly clear. WE DON’T NEED THE ORIGIN STORY FOR SUPERMAN OR BATMAN. PUTTING THEM IN, EVEN BRIEFLY, IS A TOTAL WASTE OF SCREEN TIME.
  • Superman’s Screen Time Was Wasted: Superman’s personal story could have been edited from the film and it would have been just as good, if not better. The only scenes which added were the scenes where he interacted with Batman and Luthor, and the hearing. If the other scenes had been left out it woud have added to the overall impression of him as this distant and overpowered being, instead of changing that to merely indecisive. Or else they could have been used to add more viewpoints and consideration to the themes, rather than just have Supes look mournful and confused.
  • Batman V Superman
    Batman Is a Second-Rate Villain: You know how villains, such as Batman’s line-up of adversaries, often lose because they spend all their time blabbing to the hero instead of just dealing the death blow? Considering how many people he’s thought, you’d really think Batman would know better.

    Featuring The Joker as Lex Luthor: Apparently DC thought that since the Joker is their most popular villain, possibly their most popular character, the movie would be improved by having Lex Luthor talk a lot of oblique nonsense. I don’t think it suited the character at all. Jesse Eisenburg played the character well, but he should have been playing a different character. I think if he’d had better dialogue and direction he would have made a great Luthor. This might lead into the greatest problem of all with the movie:

    The Characters Aren’t Consistent With Their History: I’ll be honest, I don’t much care about Batman or Superman, so I didn’t particularly care that they both seemed rather cavalier with life. However, I think a major idea behind those characters is that they don’t kill people, and changing that really changes the character. I can see how that would annoy fans.

    Finally, the title – Dawn of Justice. What the hell did that have to do with the movie? If it’s setting up the Justice League, it’s pretty lame. You don’t title the movie to be a hint about a sequel.

    Nerd’s End – The Rise of the Princess

    The NY Times has an article on Disney Princesses, specifically the way they’re being transformed and repurposed, gender-bent and race-bent and everything else that crops up on tumblr and instagram. They’re also the subject of long dissertations about why a particular princess is actually awesome, what each princess signifies in terms of life lessons and admirable traits to emulate, and how they’re far more serious and important than a mere children’s film.

    This sounds very familiar – it’s what nerds did with superheroes. ← This link explains it pretty thoroughly, but the overly simplified version is that nerds adultified superheroes, and made them part of mainstream culture via a two-pronged process of having the best talent create superhero stories and having a large demographic with excess cash like superheroes.

    I think Disney princesses are at the stage we were in the 90s – maybe they’re a little bit more ahead, but a lot of what I see reminds me of the conversations I had with my friends while waiting for a bus. So in the coming decades we’re likely to see “Disney Princess” movies made for adults rather than children, with complex plots and ambiguous heroes, and amazing writing. They’ll be good enough that they’ll be mainstream, everyone will watch them because they’ll be the best movies with the highest production values, and even people who don’t like Disney movies – and who probably ridicule those who do – will start liking Disney Princess movies.

    They’ll get remade. They’ll get rebooted. And they’ll be celebrated in a way that will annoy current fans.

    I need to find a way to cash in on this.

    Review: Girl Vs Monster

    Girl Vs Monster is the tacky steampunk lovechild of Ghostbusters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer that you never wanted. It’s basically a series of one-liners interspersed with cack-handed moral messages about over-coming fear, with a few pop songs thrown in for spice. It’s not a good movie to take seriously, but it is a great movie to laugh at, and I don’t regret the hour and a half I spent watching it.
    Girl Vs. Monster (2012) TV Movie Directed by Stuart Gillard Shown: poster art
    Yes, that is the word “Monstober” on the poster.

    Where’d My Nerd Culture Go? Oh, There It Is.

    When I was a kid I loved comics – I started off loving Archie, moved on to loving Spider-man and the Silver Surfer, and finally migrated to Hellblazer and Sandman. These were my escapist fantasies: Archie was full of dorky characters who nevertheless had friends and – quite often – girlfriends; Spider-man was the ultimate nerd who beat up the bullies and got the cute girl, while the Silver Surfer was not trapped on this “planet full of madmen” but could roam the galaxies on a cool surfboard; Hellblazer and Sandman were more complex stories, but still offered the dream that life wasn’t as fixed and staid as everyone kept insisting it was. Of course the characters were powerful and beautiful and had proportions that never exist in the human species, but no-one really expected an accurate anatomy lesson*.

    My sister and mother had different escapist stories, Mills & Boon and Harlequin books where men were always impossibly handsome and brooding and just couldn’t resist the protagonist, who was normally strong and independent yet desperate to be swept off her feet. Or there were other books, Pride and Prejudice clones, where the normal-looking woman attracted the attention of the most sought-after rich, handsome and unattainable man, aloof and yet unable to maintain his display of disinterest around the protagonist.

    Some stories we shared, such as Piers Anthony novels, TV sitcoms and the like.

    groinvillainThat was when I was a kid. Now, superheroes are mainstream culture. They’re no longer nerd escapism, they’re intended to be entertainment for everyone, and as such they have to appeal to everyone, which means jettisoning a lot of the wish-fulfillment parts that attracted nerds in the first place. This has happened with a lot of “nerd culture” that I enjoyed growing up, to the point where there isn’t really a nerd culture anymore. This means a lot of people feel not only that their escapism stories are under attack, but that they personally are under attack. If the situation was reversed, and millions of men had started reading Mills & Boon novels, the same type of outcry would be underway but with different segments of the population.

    So, the traditional nerd culture that I grew up with has been co-opted, has sold out to the lowest common denominator. And who is to blame for this? I’ll give you a hint: Nerds. I’m not talking about growing up and getting good jobs and suddenly having a lot of purchasing power and so on; I’m talking about the way we took it all too seriously.

    Nerds forgot that what they were enjoying was escapism, and started treating it as high art. Batman was an exploration of the psychological damage trauma could cause, Superman a biting commentary on the burdens placed on those with the power to save the world, X-Men an intelligent discourse on the problems faced by the different and dispossessed… We punished cookie-cutter scripts and tepid art and lauded Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Todd McFarlane and Sam Keith, which would have been all to the good if we didn’t also loudly and persistently try to convince everyone else that comics were a valid form of literature that everyone should read, lending copies of Alan Moore and Will Eisner willy-nilly, pushing books by Frank Miller and Jeff Smith onto all and sundry. Of course they all liked it, of course comics became popular, and of course the big entertainment industry began making blockbuster movies about them (something everyone had clamoured for) and of course those movies were targeted to a general audience. What did we expect?

    batkissThis will never return to the escapist fantasies of old, and we wouldn’t be happy if it did. Underlying a lot of the you’re-not-a-real-nerd rage is the fear that once “nerd culture” falls out of fashion we will again be mocked for liking it, and further mocked for trying but failing to be cool by liking something that’s gone out of fashion. We can form enclaves where we can enjoy superheroes in our traditional nerdy ways, but whenever they get good they’ll just be invaded again. Besides, there’s a lot to be said for the mainstream superhero appreciation – the escapist comics would work better as b-grade movie schlock rather than Hollywood blockbusters anyway, and there’s a lot of great shows on TV plus the cosplayers at cons are really cool.

    Nothing is meant to last forever, and I think this is hopefully also true of the need for escapist fantasies. It’s time we remembered that nerd culture, like any subculture, is just that: A subculture. It’s not mainstream, it’s on the fringes, it’s small groups of people enjoying what they like together rather than desperately flooding friends and family (and social media) with it in the hopes that people will belatedly realise how cool it is, and therefore how cool we are for doing it.

    So, I think we should just enjoy the new versions for what they are, ret-cons and inclusiveness and all, and focus on following our passions irrespective of what society is up to – just like we’ve always done. It’s back to the indies for us, the self-published section on Amazon**, the band putting up their songs on YouTube, the pub or cafe meetings to argue about the finer points of radiation protection in space. Stop bitching about people not really understanding what we like, and just concentrate on liking it. The Mills & Boon crowd have done it – just look at the romance section in online bookstores, there’s everything from monster porn to romances that cleverly satirise international politics being published. As far as I can tell they’re just ignoring the bitching about Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey and getting on with enjoying what they like.

    * That being said, comic book art did later morph into the realm of ridiculousness.
    ** I know, this could seem self-serving, but I’ve always waded in the indie section.

    When nerds fight amongst themselves.

    When nerds fight amongst themselves.

    Review: Tinkers of the Wasteland

    Nómadas del Yermo (nomads of the wilderness, although it is translated it as tinkers of the wasteland) is a fast-paced manga-style comic by Raúl Treviño, from Monterrey. I’m a fan of his art, which is a little rough around the edges but works well with the theme, and goes into pretty decent detail when warranted. I read the comic in Spanish paperback, but it is available online, and also in English.

    NomadasPortada-baja-400x593The setting is post-apocalypse México, after civilization has been destroyed by a meteor shower. The meteor shower is still underway, which I suppose makes the setting intra-apocalyptic. The survivors band together to get food, protect themselves and attack other people. The plot of the first comic – Los pollos chidos del Apocalipsis – revolves around the three heroes/protagonists and their quest to liberate however many chickens they can from Rey Kuir, local crime boss and chicken hoarder. There is a lot of surreal absurdism, with the inclusion of aliens and mutants and chickens, a hallmark of Méxican stories, although the stories aren’t usually in this sort of setting.

    The comic is constructed well; Treviño has worked as a colorist for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse amongst others, so he knows how a comic should be structured to make the reading path natural. The action is hectic; the comic is strongly reminiscent of Mad Max in its long sequences of people battling in souped-up cars with strange attachments and weapons. It’s very easy to keep reading the comic until the end.

    My main complaint is of the character of Milla, the female in the group of three protagonists. She is portrayed as a harridan, forever complaining, insulting and scolding without offering any useful comments, suggestions or plans. I suspect this might be an attempt to create a “strong woman” character, but it falls flat if the character isn’t actually useful. The only other female in the comic is seen in one panel, a woman kept prisoner as a sex-slave. Since this comic is the first part of a three part series (and the only one I’ve read) it’s possible that the character gets further developed in the next couple of comics, and other females are introduced. I’m hoping.
    NomadasMila
    Final Verdict: I liked it. It’s a good comic if you favor action over moody exposition, and I’ll be reading the rest of the series.

    Review: Alex+Ada

    A few days ago I hopped onto the Image Humble Bundle deal as a good way to read some of the newer comics without paying the exorbitant comic price –
    not that I’m a cheapskate, but my discretionary income had taken a bit of a beating over the past few years. So I paid the dues, started downloading the PDFs and reading them, and this is the first…

    Alex+Ada is a sci-fi comic, a thoughtful one rather than an action comic. Not really what I expect from Image after reading them in the 90s, but it’s good that publishing houses adapt and expand. The comic relies on the depiction of advanced technology to draw the reader in, hoping they have a desire to explore a world of direct mind-connection to the internet, holographic screens and androids. There’s a lot of foreshadowing and no real surprises.

    That being said, I like the five issues that I read: The art is pleasant and the dialogue easy and believable, even during info-dumps. There are a lot of ways the comic can go from here, but it seems to be heading in a how-people-relate-to-technology Frankenstein direction. It reminded me a lot of Chobits, a fantastic Japanese series that explored similar issues, but with more humour and emotion. Chobits also had the benefit (at least, I think it’s a benefit) that it starts out as a simple tween-girl program that I imagine attracts a lot of younger viewers, before getting into some deep philosophical questions about people and how they relate to each other. Adam+Ava requires more patience for something interesting to arrive.

    I’d continue reading if the comics were free or cheap, but it didn’t grab me enough to get me to pay full price for them. If you like a slow pace with plenty of ambiguous emotions, this may be for you.