Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Batman '66 #25

This issue has two stories.  First is an introduction to the Harley Quinn character into the '66 Universe, written by Jeff Parker with art by Lukas Ketner.  Since the beginning of this series, I have not been a fan of incorporating aspects of the generic DC Batman into this universe, despite it most likely being a corporate mandate from the powers that be at the DC offices.  Harley Quinn, or Harlequin, as she's called in this continuity, is perhaps one of the worst of the lot. I know Harley is reaching new levels of popularity thanks to Margot Robbie portraying her in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, but the character is just so unnecessary in the '66 Universe.  Parker does his best to make this version of Harley as different as he can (like giving her a Roller Derby motif) while still being essentially the same character, but it ultimately falls flat. The artwork is average with nothing really standing out.  At the end of the story, Harlequin asks if she has achieved Catwoman level or even Egghead level.  The answer for me is Lord Marmaduke Ffog level. This story earns a D.
The second story is simultaneously better and more frustrating. Written by Gabe Soria, the premise is brilliant. A Mad Med parody where the United Underworld (Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman and Joker) go to an ad agency, where Barbabra Gordon just happens to have started a temporary job, to re-brand themselves. Brilliant premise, but a flawed execution. First, Batman and Robin do not appear. Technically, Batgirl doesn't even appear except for a brief daydream sequence. The fearsome foursome are portrayed as being virtually harmless and inept, being outwitted at every turn. This story could have and should have been so much better. The art by Ty Templeton is is excellent, as he's one of the best artists to work on this series.  However, even though the feature film's United Underworld is used, Templeton used Eartha Kitt's interpretation of Catwoman instead of Lee Meriwether's, whose likeness he did use in a one-panel flashback to the feature film in Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet. The premise and art gets an A while the execution gets a C, averaging out to a B-. That averages out the entire issue as a C.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Batman '66 #24

This issue, written by Ray Fawkes, is an enjoyable issue despite the use of one of the weaker made for TV villains, Marsha Queen of Diamonds. Actually, the script for this issue is, in fact, superior to Marsha's debut episodes. The plot deals with Marsha using a hypnotic reflection diamond to brain wash millionaires into falling in love with her, and giving her their riches.  Bruce and Dick attend a millionaires' event to scope out the crimes, but Dick gets an eyeful of the hypnotic reflections. As Batman and Robin chase Marsha in the Batmobile, Batman notices Robin has removed the Batmobile's diamond-studded brakes to give to Marsha.  This causes a terrific death trap (and resolution) inspired more by old cliffhanger movie serials than the TV series. An amusing scene is when Batman and Robin need to take a bus to Commissioner Gordon's house.  The art this time around is by Jon Bogdanove, who over all does an excellent job. There are a few panels that have a near photographic reproductive look to them, similar to an effect Neal Adams used to do in the early 1970s. Not as well done, in contrast, are a few other panels that take on a Mad Magazine caricature look.  All in all this was an excellent and enjoyable issue, and earns a solid B+.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: Convergence: Shazam #2

The 2nd issue of the pre-Crisis Earth-S Marvel Family micro-series continues the high quality set forth by writer Jeff Parker and artist Doc Shaner in the first issue, but yet isn't quite as satisfying. Part of it is the inherent problem of a company wide crossover event. The first issue was an ideal Captain Marvel story in the style all us fans have been clamoring for.  But issue 2 has to get to the business of conforming to the crossover storyline, making this issue seem a little more forced.  This issue guest stars Batman, and since Batman and Captain Marvel are my two favorite heroes, this should be a great event.  And in a certain way it is... but it's the alternate reality Gotham By Gaslight Batman. It would have been so much better in my eyes if it were a Bob Kane style Golden Age Batman, or a classic Bronze Age Jim Aparo style Batman. Mr Parker and Mr Shaner, how about an issue of Batman 66 guest-starring the Jackson Bostwick/Filmation Captain Marvel, using the Legends of the Superheroes TV specials as the foundation?  Another thing that weighs this issue down is the fact we don't get  Doc Shaner sketches like in the first issue.  Instead it's a sneak peek of an upcoming Constatine book, and a multi-page advertisement for the "New DC Universe", which is really just the same old crappy "New 52" (really, guys... you're not even making the Earth-5 Marvel Family's Thunderworld Adventures an on-going series...epic fail right there). Never the less, Parker and Shaner bring their A game.  Parker continues to get the former Fawcett characters' personalities spot on, and he has a very unique and brilliant inter-transformation scene between Billy and Captain Marvel, that is punctuated by Shaner's artwork. As with issue 1, there are lots of cameos and Easter Eggs. This issue earns an A-.

Review: Batman '66 #23

This issue presents two short stories instead of a book-length one.  First up is the introduction of Solomon Grundy into the 66 Universe. The script, written by Jeff Parker, has Marsha Queen of Diamonds' Aunt Hilda conjuring up one of Marsha's deceased husbands as Grundy.  Being a short story, it is fairly simple and straight forward, and to me, reminds me very much of the simple stories from the Batman coloring books of the era.  The art by Brent Schoonover is excellent, some of the best in this series, and is a homage to Carmine Infantino. 

The second story, also written by Parker, has a lot more to the narrative. It establishes the secret origin of False Face: none other than Basil Karlo, the original comic book Clayface from the 1940s. It turns out False Face didn't wears masks. He ingested a serum that allowed him to morph into anyone one he willed. In hot pursuit of False Face in a swamp area, he ingested an altered version of the serum that radically changed him into the Matt Hagen version of Clayface from the 1950s comics.  This story alludes to a new trophy area in the Batcave, which includes a Joker playing card and a giant penny. The art, by Giancarlo Caracuzo, is good, but a notch below Schoonover's work. This issue earns a B.

Friday, May 1, 2015

movie review: AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON

Avengers: Age of Ultron is, in short, one great movie. A visual spectacular that deals with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner creating an artificial intelligence lifeform, Ultron, that severly backfires when Ultron decides to wipe out humanity, and the Avengers need to save the world by stopping Ultron and his army of robots. Director Joss Whedon brought back what worked and fixed the problems the first movie had. Gone was the slower paced first hour the primary film suffered. This one starts with an amazing action sequence, and things only get better from there. All the action scenes are highlights, and unlike the Nolan-Snyder approach, are fun and colorful and still convey danger and thrills. Another flaw in the first film was that many scenes happened on a SHIELD aircraft, giving the movie, at times, an almost made-for-television feel.  The sequel avoids such a contrivance, yet still has quieter character scenes that match the big budget spectacle of the action scenes. Stand out moments include the Avengers' party, that concludes with everyone trying to lift Thor's hammer, and the banter between the various characters, such as everyone ragging on Captain America after he tells Iron Man to watch his language during the film's first sequence.


All of the actors return to their respective roles. Chris Hemsworth, who kind of phoned in his performance in the lackluster Thor: The Dark World, redeems himself with a stellar performance. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johanson, and Mark Ruffalo all continue with great performances as their characters.   Jeremy Renner, who was kind of the odd man out in the first movie, shines here as Hawkeye in character scenes, and if Tony Stark is the brains, Thor the might, and Steve Rogers the soul, you could say Clint Barton is the heart of the Avengers. Three new major characters are introduced: The Vision, played by Paul Bettany, The Scarlet Witch, played by the Olsen Twins' younger sister Elizabeth, and Quicksilver, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson. Of the three, I thought Scarlet Witch had the best portrayal, perhaps due to Whedon's credentials in similar characters dating back to his Buffy The Vampire Slayer years. Quicksilver has a pivotal scene, where as the movie seems to be setting up Hawkeye for a heroic final fate, only to give us a "you didn't see that coming" swerve, that needless to say, means Quicksilver may now be the sole property of the X Men franchise.  Ironically, as good as Johnson was as Quicksilver, I thought Evan Peters' competing portrayal in X Men: Days of Future Past was slightly better, and the film effects of his speed were better realised (and I'm saying this as someone who isn't a big fan of the X Men franchise). The film ends with the founding Avengers moving on, leaving Captain America and Black Widow to train a new incarnation of the team consisting of the Vision, Scarlet Witch, the Falcon, and War Machine.

I've always been a DC guy. But I have to say the Marvel Cinematic Universe is getting it right. I kind of fear for the upcoming Batman v Superman and Justice League movies because the powers-that-be at DC/WB have lost sight of what a superhero movie could be. Colors are washed out, everything is taken to a level of seriousness one would expect from a documentary on the Holocaust.  The fun has been sucked out. The Marvel Cinematic Universe remembers that superheroes could be fun. Avengers: Age of Ultron squeaks in just below Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the second best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: Convergence: Shazam #1

I thought Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart's Thunderworld Adventures was going to be a tough act to follow. I thought Jeff Parker, with his hit-or-miss writing on Batman '66 would turn in an okay, but not excellent script.  I thought there was no way Convergence: Shazam could come close to equalling Thunderworld Adventures. I was wrong! Convergence: Shazam has, indeed, equaled Thunderworld.  Jeff Parker and Evan "Doc" Shaner hit a home run. You have to understand, as a Captain Marvel fan, it's just so unusual to have two superb Shazam products back to back, and ironically... or perhaps subconsciously prophetic... without Black Adam in the spotlight.  This really hasn't happened since the 1970s.  But we got it now.  Thunderworld Adventures and Convergence: Shazam.
 
Parker turned in a brilliant script. He wrote all the characters' personalities perfectly, and completely in line with each character.  The plot has to do with a dome covering Fawcett City, preventing Billy, Freddy, and Mary from transforming into the Marvel Family for one year.  Two comments: One, there is a difference between this comic's continuity and Thunderworld. This comic is set on the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-S, where Billy first became Captain Marvel in the 1940s, and after some time, along with the entire cast of characters, was trapped by Sivana in Suspendium for decades.  Parker does a masterful job recapping that bit of history in the story.  Thunderworld, on the other hand, is set on the post-Flashpoint Earth 5, which keeps the entire original Fawcett continuity timeline, but transplants it to the modern day.  Second, the only mistake I noticed is Parker refers to Fawcett City.  The pre-COIE Earth-S had no Fawcett City.  Billy and the others live in New York City (the term "Fawcett City" was first used in COIE).

The story works in some of Captain Marvel's greatest foes, and there are scores of cameos and Easter Eggs.  The art by Evan "Doc" Shaner is excellent, and unlike Cameron Stewart, who captured the C.C. Beck flavor while still making it very modern looking, Shaner's art has a more authentic Golden Age look to it. I can't wait to see what's in store for issue 2 when the Gotham By Gaslight version of Batman comes to Earth-S.  Supposedly, after the Mulitversity and Convergence events, DC continuity will be tweaked (editorial:  I hate the "New 52", so they could scrap that continuity all together as far as I'm concerned), and I am hoping Thunderworld Adventures will get picked up as an on-going series, featuring the Earth 5 Marvel Family... and Parker and Shaner would be a great team to launch it.  And between Thunderworld and Convergence: Shazam I hope Toby Emmerich, Dwayne Johnson and the powers-that-be at New Line Cinema are paying close attention on how to properly bring the World's Mightiest Mortal to life on the silver screen. As for Convergence: Shazam #1, it earns an A+.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Batman '66 #22

This issue features bronze age great Mike W. Barr supplying the script. Since I suggested some bronze age writers, like Barr, should be assigned scripting duties on this series, could it mean the powers-that-be at DC may be reading my blog? If so, you have to give Andy Fish a chance at writing this series, too. Barr's script is good, featuring the Penguin, who is foiled by an umbrella trap set by the Dynamic Duo.  To gain his revenge, Penguin discards his birds and umbrella themed crimes, and starts committing crimes loosely based on various bat references.  The cliffhanger of Penguin trapping Batman and Robin in a plexiglass cage infested with blood-sucking vampire bats is one of the most ingenious ones to appear in this series. One of the finnier moments has Batman impersonating a professor, and we can clearly see the Bat-costume under the disguise, yet Penguin doesn't seem to notice it. Unfortunately, the full enjoyment of Barr's script is somewhat hampered by mundane and cartoonish art by Michael Avon Oeming. This issue earns a C+, knocked down a grade for the poor artwork.