Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reform of the Roman Missal

We have said goodbye to the inaccurate, paraphrased English translation of the Roman Missal of the Ordinary Form. This weekend the new and improved, and more accurate English translation was implemented. The words match the Latin, and are more poetic and inspirational.  The downside is that many parishes, including my own, are still using sugary, folk-pop style "Liturgical music".  Hopefully, in time, that will change as new composers become inspired, and parish music directors become less fearful of using Gregorian chant.

I attended the 5pm vigil mass at my parish. The new words were very beautiful and inspiring... but the overall anticipation for this event let me down a little. I was looking forward to saying the Confiteor, with the "mea culpa", but we skipped over it and went right to the Kyrie.  Although I don't blame him, the priest didn't seem well rehearsed with the new words and stammered quite a bit. And there was the Andrew Lloyd Webber hymnal that bogged the celebration down.  One nice thing was when the parish said "And with your spirit" the very first time, very loud and confident.

But overall, I hope in the weeks to come, the priests will get more used to the new words, and not stumble so much, and we may get better music... perhaps even chant.  And hopefully we will get to say the Confiteor soon.

There are critics on the left who say the older 1970 paraphrase translation is more understandable, and there are critics on the right who say it doesn't matter how they improve the translation because only the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is pleasing to God.  While I am fond of the Extraordinary Form (the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII), I don't know if simply going back to it exclusively is something that would be accepted by the ordinary Catholic, unless it is gradually done over a generation.  Even I don't think I could attend the Extraordinary Form exclusively, due to the somewhat confusing nature of it, not so much  due to the Latin, but because much of it spoken by the priest in a low voice, having the people sit there in silence, reading the English translation missalettes on their own. The plan of Pope Benedict XVI seems to be to gradually merge the Novus Ordo of Paul VI and the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII together. The new English translation of the Missal of Paul VI seems to be step 1. Some years later, step 2 may be a hybrid Mass, perhaps based on the 1965 Missal. After a decade or so of that, then it would be feasible to think the 1962 Missal could be restored as the only form, slightly revised to include more vernacular, less "sotto voce", and to fit the newer liturgical calendar and three year cycle of readings.

But for now, I am looking forward to the new English translation of the Ordinary Form, and excited to see the celebration of it become better and more fluid, and just maybe, priests may start saying the Eucharistic Prayer ad orientem.

Friday, November 18, 2011

DCnU Progress Report

We are now a few issues into the company wide reboot of DC Comics.  Here are my thoughts of it so far. First, let me say I have not read (or plan to read) all 52 titles.  I just have no interest in some of the fringe series they are publishing, like VooDoo or Demon Knights.  For what its worth, I picked up several of the first issues, but by issue 2, I cut it down to a handful.
First, the Superman franchise. I actually kind of like what they are doing. They've gone back to the original 1938 stories.  Like those original stories, Superman is much less powerful, but the longer he is exposed to Earth's yellow sun, over time, the more powerful he grows. No more is Superman the classic big blue boyscout we've all come to take for granted.  This Superman is... well, kind of like Batman with superpowers.  He's tough, a brooding loner, and isn't above bending the law or threatening crooks.  The new Clark Kent is... well, kind of like Peter Parker. He's a nerd, a brooding loner, and an outcast, but he uses his status as a reporter to fight for the underdog, kind of like those old time crusading reporters in old black and white film noir movies.  As with the original comics, he starts out as a reporter for the Daily Star under editor George Taylor, while Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen work at the Daily Planet for Perry White. Soon, Clark lands a job at the Planet, while Lois gets promoted to being a TV news producer at GBS. Clark's only friend seems to be Jimmy Olsen, who does double duty as both a still photographer for the Planet and a video photographer for GBS (both are owned by Morgan Edge's Galaxy Communications).  And forget about Lois and Clark. In this new continuity, there is no relationship or even chemistry... at least not yet. Luthor's role, at this point, seems to be as a scientist/inventor who works with the U.S. military.

Perhaps the worst part of this reboot is the costume. His first costume is an S-emblem t-shirt, with blue jeans, work boots, and a baby blanket cape.  Yeah.  Kind of dumb.  He soon replaces it with a Kryptonian suit that has a lot of piping and armor, with a turtle neck, but no trunks.  The classic costume is still much better with out a doubt.

But this new take on Superman comes at a price for Batman fans.  Batman is mellowed out in the new continuity.  With Superman as the dark and brooding hero, Batman is made to be more of a leader and uniter.  In Justice League, it is Batman who plays the peace maker between the other heroes, a role the old continuity Superman played, while Superman acts more like Batman used to in the old continuity.
The Batman franchise fares much worse. Unlike most of the other characters, the decision was made (and, according to some reports, at the last minute) not to reboot Batman from the beginning. But the Batman franchise was one that needed rebooting as much as Superman. So, there still is an expanded Batman family, with a number of redundant characters.  There is still an overloaded history, and even the most recent "Batman Inc.", where Bruce Wayne actually franchises the concept of Batman to other countries.  The original and legendary Robin, Dick Grayson, is still saddled with being Nightwing, a bargain basement version of Batman based on a second rate Silver Age Superman character. While Superman was simplified and went back to his roots, Batman remains a muddled incoherent mess.  It would have been so nice to go back to the classic Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson Batman and Robin team, back to the moody, nocturnal roots, and revive a classic logo.

Wonder Woman appears to be on track to become DC's version of Thor. In her traditional origin, she is created when the Queen of Paradise Island molds a baby out of clay, and brings it to life. In the new reboot, Wonder Woman is the daughter of Zeus.  It is unclear if this reboot will be better or worse, because Wonder Woman is a character that, while iconic, is very hard to make interesting in any long term fashion.  It appears Green Lantern's personality has been changed to reflect Ryan Reynold's performance in the recent movie dud.

The new version of Captain Marvel will debut in a couple months in Justice League #5.  You can bet I will have a lot of opinions and commentary on that. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Popeye movie gets writers

As I reported previously, Popeye will be getting a new comic book series.  Now, the Hollywood Reporter has announced the developing CGI animated Popeye movie for Sony will have a script written by Jay Scherick and David Ronn, who wrote the script for this year's Smurfs movie.

Of the two projects, I am more excited for the comic book series. Not to be cynical, but I think this CGI movie is a disaster waiting to happen.  A CGI animated film was tried a few years ago, albeit direct to DVD, and it wasn't very good. The Popeye characters did not translate well to three-dimensional style CGI animation.  It also didn't help that the script was rather weak, retelling for the countless time of how Popeye searched for and found his long lost Pappy.

How did Sony get the rights to make a Popeye film? Paramount is the studio that has the longest relationship with the Popeye characters and owns the publishing to I'm Popeye The Sailorman.

If you ask me, a new Popeye animated film should be traditional hand drawn animation, done in the Max Fleischer style, with his Stereoptical Process.  The script should be a blend of E.C Segar's adventure storytelling and Fleischer's comedy and music.  If Scherick and Ronn plan on having Popeye dancing to modern pop music, making numerous pop culture quips and, and is more concerned with product placements than plot, then I think this movie may already be DOA.  But what do I know?  I'm just a fan.

Hopefully, Ted Adams and IDW will get Popeye right in the comic books. He tweeted that the creative team will be announced soon, and fans of the Segar Popeye will be happy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Captain Marvel makes it to DCnU

Announced at the NY Comic Con, Captain Marvel will make his debut in the DCnU Reboot Earth in a back-up series that will be published in Justice League beginning in issue #5, titled "The Curse of Shazam", written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank.  The artist mentioned  their take will be very modern, and will feature a new costume.  He also kept referring to the character as "Shazam", leading to speculation the name "Captain Marvel" may be jettisoned. No more details have been announced, but it can be assumed it will relaunch Captain Marvel from the beginning in the new Reboot Earth continuity. 

This means there will be two versions of Captain Marvel.  A version very close to the original version published by Fawcett Comics, located on Earth-5, and this new, relaunched/revamped version on the main DC earth.  Fans of the Jerry Ordway Power Of Shazam series may be snubbed, unless DC relocates that version to Earth-2 with the JSA, which seems highly unlikely at this point.

I am a little skeptical about Geoff Johns writing, as he has been overbooked as of late, and it is taking a toll on the quality of his work.  Plus in all his previous Shazam writings, he tends to keep Captain Marvel in the background while putting the spotlight on Black Adam.

Mr Johns, with all due respect, I hope you come across my blog and read it, and as one Michigander to another, please read my Captain Marvel Rebirth post and take it into consideration.  Please make Captain Marvel as great as he was in the Golden Age, as he still has the potential to be as successful to today's audience.  And, hey, why not put Fawcett City in southeastern Michigan? If the movie ever gets to the production phase, it would be great to have it filmed here!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Such an original idea for a movie!

Classify this in "What the - -?" column.  It has been announced comic book writer Mark Millar's Captain Marvel rip-off character, "Superior", will get a movie, to be directed by Matthew Vaughn.  Superior is about a young boy with MS who becomes a superhero through a magic wish.

Meanwhile, the development on the Captain Marvel movie seems to stalled to a complete stop, with director Peter Segal virtually invisible, and the much hyped script by Geoff Johns and Bill Birch seemingly DOA.  DC and Warner Brothers really need to get their act together.  Can't they see all the potential in a quality, properly done Shazam! movie? One of my first posts on this blog was a Shazam manifesto and its more relevant now than ever before.

At the very least, Captain Marvel is getting some exposure through his appearances in animated projects, such as Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave & The Bold and Young Justice, and the Superman/Shazam! DVD short, even if the comic books and movies seemed to abandon him.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lamenting the Batman Logo

To comic books, the cover logo is important, kind of like how a theme song is to a TV series.  Once upon a time (before 1986), Batman had some of the coolest, most iconic, and legendary logos in the history of comic books.

But then, when Denny O'Neil took over as Batman editor in 1986, that all changed, and ever since, with only a very few rare exceptions (the current logo for Batman and Robin being one of them), Batman has had some of the dullest, blandest and ugliest logos in comics.

The new Batman logo for the DC reboot definitely qualifies for "ugliest".
I'm not too happy with the direction the Batman franchise is taking in the reboot, as I explained in a previous post, but once the reboot runs its course and things get restarted yet again, I want to see a return to the classic and iconic Batman logos.  I want a return to greatness.

For my money, perhaps the coolest and greatest of all Batman logos was the one that first appeared in the early 1970s, and continued to be in use as a secondary logo until 1986.
The one thing I would tweak about it, though, is Batman's head. I always felt the face was too small for the logo.  I would take the head from the 1940s logo to replace it with.
I always thought the face on this logo was perhaps the most definitive drawing of Batman ever.  To add it to the 1970s logo would create the absolute perfect Batman logo:
As for Detective Comics, I would take another classic logo, the one from the 1960s.
But I would remove the word "Batman", and replace it with this legendary "Detective Comics" logo.

DC was smart enough to keep Superman's logo untouched (with the exception of a minor tweaking in the early 1980s) since 1940.  Even the Action Comics logo remains fundamentally the same since 1938. Too bad DC never had that same sense for Batman.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

DCnU Reboot Earth

This week the company wide reboot of DC Comics began.  In a nutshell, the entire continuity has started over, with the exceptions of Batman and Green Lantern, who now seem to be the "golden age" heroes, having been around several years longer in the timeline than Superman and the other characters.  The real Golden Age heroes, the Justice Society of America, have been retconned out and put on an alternate earth, Earth-2.  Also missing from Reboot Earth are the Marvel Family.

In my humble opinion, the DC reboot screwed up by not starting Batman over with the rest of the universe. The Batman franchise is overpopulated with replacement Robins, excessive "Batman Family" sidekicks, and even a "Batman Inc", where there are versions of Batman in other countries.

I really want to see the franchise go back to simplicity, and have the original and classic Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson version of Batman and Robin.  Get rid of all the excessive baggage.  Of course, we don't get that.

Then there's the Marvel Family. Rumor has it, as the JSA has been moved to Earth-2, the Marvels may be moved to Earth-5.  Grant Morrison insists his "Thunderworld" one-shot will be part of the second wave. I would be fine with that, if DC would actually give us an ongoing Shazam! series, with stories and art based on the Otto Binder-C.C. Beck era.  But with anything regarding Captain Marvel, DC usually gives us some kind of bait-and-switch.  It is entirely possible an entirely new character based on the same premise may be introduced on Reboot Earth, named Captain Thunder, whose secret identity is not Billy Batson, but a college age person who can claim superpowers by uttering "Shazam".

I recently wrote an open letter to DC regarding Captain Marvel and I still stand by everything I wrote.

Perhaps Earth-5 would be a good place in reintroduce the "real" Batman and Robin I've been longing to read... a mash up of the original 1939-1941 stories with the great "new old look" era of 1968 (moody and nocturnal adventures written by Frank Robbins and drawn by Irv Novick, Bob Brown, and Joe Giella), and the defining Steve Englehart-Marshall Rogers stint and elements of the Gerry Conway-Gene Colan-Don Newton serialized era.

Or maybe the DCnU Reboot Earth will ultimately be a total failure and a year from now, we'll have yet another reboot.  Only this time, DC may do it right, by using Alex Ross' Justice as the foundation.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Popeye: "War Of The Nightclubs"

As I reported in a previous post, Popeye will be returning to comic books in an all-new series from IDW.  To celebrate this, I thought I would post an original Popeye short story I wrote for the Official Popeye Fanclub a few years ago.  In this story, I wanted to combine the best elements of E.C. Segar's comic strips and Max Fleischer's cartoons, a path I hope IDW will also take (but leave out the weak attempts to be topical, like the "Iron Giant" line, something I wish I could edit out).  Special thanks to Mike Brooks, president of the Official Popeye Fanclub, and to Donnie Pitchford, who did the artwork for the story.  Donnie is also currently the writer-artist of the new Lum and Abner comic strip, which everyone should check out, and request their local newspaper to pick up for their Sunday funnies.

To see the scans in a larger size, just click on each page, then left click on the image and right click "Properties". On the pop up, copy and paste the address (URL) in a new tab or window. Then click on the new image to make it larger.   Simple, huh?

Page 1
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What If Elvis Lived?

I'm a lifelong Elvis fan, and one of the things I've often thought about is, what if Elvis lived into the 1980s and 90s. What kind of music would he have recorded? If you look at his evolving styles of the previous decades, it may give you an idea of where he was headed. When he started out at Sun Records in the mid 1950s, he was pure rockabilly: a simple blend of blues and country.  By time he signed to RCA, his repertoire expanded in favor of harder, blues based rock 'n roll and doo-wop inspired ballads.

After his stint in the Army, he took on a softer pop sound, though still laced with some harder blues.  His first post-Army album, Elvis Is Back! is one of the greatest rock albums in history, highlighted by a pair of blues tracks, "Reconsider Baby" and "Like A Baby".  During the "Hollywood Years" of the 1960s, his movie soundtrack albums were pure bubblegum. In 1967, Elvis got back to his blues based rock 'n roll roots at a recording session that featured Jerry Reed on lead guitar. The next year, he made his famous "1968 Comeback Special" which highlighted blues and gospel performances. He followed that in the next year with what could be considered a pure soul and blues album, From Elvis In Memphis.  From there he went to Las Vegas with a Country rock sound.  As the 1970s rolled on, his sound became more Country, although he still dabbled in some isolated blues style tracks such as "If You Talk In Your Sleep" and "Got My Mojo Working".  By the time of his death in 1977, America was at the height of a 1950s revival, and Elvis was releasing many 1950s inspired tracks, such as "Little Darlin'", "Way Down", and "Pledging My Love".

My own personal speculation is, in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Elvis would have adopted a rhythm and blues sound not unlike The Blues Brothers, or perhaps The J. Geils Band, perhaps with some rockabilly mixed in, as it was having a revival at this time thanks to the Stray Cats.  He would have dropped the full orchestra and string section he had been using on his albums and concerts throughout the 1970s, and would have revamped his band to include a four piece horn section.  Perhaps, after John Belushi died, Elvis may have even tapped members of the Blues Brothers Band for his own band.  The line up may have been something like Scotty Moore, bandleader and guitar; Matt Murphy, lead guitar; Floyd Cramer, piano; Booker T. Jones, Hammond organ; Donald Dunn, bass; Ronnie Tutt, drums; James Cotton, harmonica; and the horn section: Alan Rubin, Tom Scott, Tom Malone, and Lou Marini; and The Jordanaires on background vocals.

Also gone would be the jeweled caped jumpsuits that signified the 1970s. In the 1980s, he would have gone back to performing in bright color sport coats, as he did in the 1950s, and would have trimmed his hair and sideburns back to the style he wore on the 1968 Comeback Special.

In the 1990s, I think Elvis would have moved on from his rhythm and blues sound, and would have taken on more of a Country pop sound that became popular in that decade under the brand name "Young Country".  But the difference with Elvis would be, I would think, he would make it a little more bluesy and perhaps even have a slight grunge edge, unlike the typical "Young Country" artists of that era.  He would let his hair go slightly gray with shorter 1950s era sideburns, and his sport coats would be in darker colors.

By the late 1990s and into the 2000s, I think Elvis would be performing in tuxedos and his sound would be more middle of the road pop, but still with a slight rockabilly or blues edge to it. I think he would also be embracing the doo-wop revival that began at this time, and is still going today.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The new Man Of Steel revealed

Warner Brothers released the first image of Henry Cavill as Superman for the upcoming movie, The Man Of Steel.

I really like this. Infinitely better than the Brandon Routh costume. The dork in me will point out the "S" emblem is very retro, looking like the one from the costumes worn by Kirk Alyn (the serials) and George Reeves (the TV show). Also the design on the sleeve wrists look just like the artwork from Superman's first appearance in 1938's "Action Comics" #1 (the wrist design disappeared after that one issue). The colors are a little darker than the traditional comics, but it still looks "correct", unlike the hues used on the Superman Returns costume.  My only complaint would be I think they went overboard on the scale texture. I really hope the all-yellow "S" is on the back of the cape. Also the composition of the photo itself, of Superman in front of an over sized safe door, is similar to one of the panels from "Action Comics" #1.  This tells me director Zach Snyder will not be emulating the Christopher Nolan Batman films (a series I'm not too fond of) of shoehorning a superhero into an ultra-realistic setting, but may be going the Sam Raimi Spider-Man route of painstakingly recreating the earliest comics. There also seems to be a slight Tim Burton feel to the photo as well.  Snyder has also said his Superman will have lots of action, unlike all the previous movies and TV series, which were very light on action preferring to focus more on relationships.  All this has me anticipating The Man Of Steel.  The one thing that could negate the excitement is the realization David Goyer is writing the script. Not too fond of his work, so hopefully Snyder or some script doctors will be on hand to make the script the best it could be. So far, it's looking good.
UPDATE: Some candid photos of Cavill in the Superman costume got online confirming the cape does not have the yellow "S" emblem, and there are no red trunks. In these pics, the costume looks too much like Captain Marvel Jr's.  Without the cape's "S" emblem and the red trunks, the costume looks incomplete.  Some of the enthusiasm from the original released photo has evaporated, unfortunately.

Monday, July 25, 2011

movie review: CAPTAIN AMERICA

Captain America: The First Avenger is perhaps the best "superhero" movie since Spider-Man 2 (with the possible exception of The Dark Knight).  I put "superhero" in quotation marks, because Captain America doesn't really seem like a typical superhero movie.  It's much more of a retro, romanticized World War II movie with some sci-fi elements.

The movie opens in the present with SHIELD agents finding something big in the Artic, but the story begins in the 1940s with Steve Rogers failing time and time again to enlist in the army because of his frail health.  With his best friend Bucky (a nice revision of the comic book sidekick, and the very first time this character has made it to live action) about to ship out overseas, Steve makes a last ditch effort to enlist at a recruiting station set up at a fair (with a quick wink to the original Human Torch, coincidentally the revamped Fantastic Four version played by none other than Chris Evans).  There Rogers meets up with Dr Erskine who offers him an opportunity to serve his country.  Rogers becomes one of several candidates for a super-soldier program.  As the candidates go through basic training, we get to see why Erskine ultimately picks Rogers over the others, even though physically, he continues to come in last.  We find out Erskine was forced by the Nazis to conduct an early prototype of the experiment on Johann Schmidt, which resulted in him becoming the Red Skull (and looking freakishly like a bald, red skinned Michael Jackson), leader of Hydra, Hitler's supernatural division (with allusions to Asgard and Thor). With an assist of Howard Stark (the future Iron Man Tony Stark's father) and some retro scientific machinery, Rogers becomes the first super soldier, while a bullet from a spy who infiltrated the experiment kills Erskine making Rogers also the last.

Since there is no team of super soldiers, Rogers is sent to the USO to be a patriotic morale booster as the costumed Captain America.  When he learns Bucky has been captured, he sets off on his own to rescue him and the "Howling Commandos" transplanted from the WWII comic book adventures of Nick Fury.  Now Captain America, Bucky, and the Howling Commandos go on to bust Hydra, who has split off from the Nazis to take over the world for themselves (there is also a quick nod to the Captain America TV movies starring Reb Brown - in one scene Captain America is on a motorcycle and puts his shield where the windshield would be-- the TV Captain America's shield was clear plastic and doubled as his motorcycle's windshield).  On one of the missions, Bucky is killed, and Steve blames himself.  But he carries on with the Howling Commandos to stop the Red Skull from his ultimate plan.  In order to save New York, Captain America sacrifices his life to crash the Red Skull's bomber in the Artic.  Steve's final moments before the plane crashes as he speaks to the girl he loves, Peggy Carter, on the radio for the last time are moving.  But suddenly it is the present, and Steve wakes up, having been in suspended animation, as he encounters modern New York and Nick Fury, setting up The Avengers.

Joe Johnston directed the movie very well, giving it a retro Americana feel.  Chris Evans was perfect as Steve Rogers/Captain America. Johnston's use of special effects to make Evans into the skinny Steve Rogers was flawless, and makes one wonder if this could be the future of a movie like Shazam!, where a single actor via the aid of special effects, can play both the 12 year old Billy Batson and the super powered adult Captain Marvel. Tommy Lee Jones was excellent as Col. Phillips, and Sebastian Stan perfect as Bucky. Haley Arwell was fine as Peggy Carter, and Hugo Weaving did a good job as the Red Skull.  Stanley Tucci was excellent as Dr Erskine, and Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark is much closer to the classic comic book Tony Stark than Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal.

One of the only nit-picks I had about this film were Captain America's costumes.  His first costume is a USO costume based faithfully on the comics, and made in a primitive 1940s wool style reminiscent of the loose fitting superhero costumes of old movie serials (this definitely wasn't the skin tight spandex Reb Brown wore, or the cheap looking rubber suit Matt Salinger wore).  But I would have liked to see the USO costume really be faithful to the original comics by having Captain America's shirt be made out of blue chain mail. The original chain mail costume has never made it to live action, and I wish the costume designer would have gone for it instead of the retro movie serial look.

The costume for the majority of the movie worked great. A hybrid of a military combat uniform and a typical superhero costume.  My only gripe about it was they put this wide gray border on the seams of the shirt, which was unnecessary. 

It speaks well of the movie if my only complaints are with some of the costume choices. It also would have been nice if we could have had a couple movies set during World War II, but the scheduling of The Avengers prevents it.  DC and Warner Brothers need to take notice. The retro look, and good character development, combined with well done action along with some fun and humor is a good template for the languishing Shazam! project far more so than the "Big in tights" concept they seem to be bent on.  A director like Joe Johnston would have been perfect for Shazam!, just as Joss Whedon, the director of next summer's The Avengers would have been perfect for Wonder Woman.  But alas, as the failure of Green Lantern shows, it seems like DC can't seem to do anything right in recent years, as Marvel Comics continues to pass them by.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Popeye returns to comic books!

IDW Publishing has announced Popeye the Sailor will return in an all-new monthly comic book series in 2012! The series will be co-edited by IDW co-founder Ted Adams, who said Segar's Popeye will be the heart of the series, and comics historian Craig Yoe.  No creative team has been assigned yet, but I truly hope Stephen DeStefano, who has drawn the Max Fleischer style Popeye for King Features for several years, will be tapped to be the artist, or at very least the permanent cover artist.  In an interview, Adams said,
"What we want to do is make comics that are in the vein of the original Segar strips, and create a book that it is fun for all ages. And by that, I don't mean a book that is juvenile and will only be appealing to 6-year-olds, but literally a book that could be read by a 6-year-old or a 40-year-old, and that's the approach we want to take. The intention will be to have each issue be a complete story. There may be themes that stretch beyond individual issues, but we want each issue to be a fun comic book with a beginning, middle, and end within that comic...
There's not going to be an origin story, it's not going to be that sort of thing. And this isn't going to be some modern version of Popeye, or a retelling or re-envisioning of his origin or anything. We're not going to put him in the mall or something like that... That's one of the things Craig and I will work out, but my intention is not to do a modern take on Popeye. He's not going to be walking around with an iPod. I don't think we'll necessarily say what time period it takes place in, but it will be of the period and not today's world. "
This is very good news.  Popeye has always been my favorite comic strip and cartoon character.  I truly hope the artwork will look like the classic, polished, and fluid Max Fleischer animated Popeye.  As Adams promised, the stories will be faithful to Segar's strips, but I also hope the writers can work in some of the terrific Fleischer style humor.  A Segar-Fleischer hybrid would be the ultimate Popeye. With DC Comics going down the tubes with their ridiculous Reboot Earth, and completely ignoring Captain Marvel, this new Popeye series is just what the doctored ordered to get me excited for comic books again.  I cannot wait.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Retrospective on the Burton-Keaton BATMAN movies

Since I did previous posts on the Batman serials and TV show, I thought I'd conclude this trilogy of Bat-articles with the Tim Burton-Michael Keaton Batman movies.

It took almost a dozen years to get the original movie made. Ben Melniker and Michael Uslan bought the film rights in the late 1970s. By 1983, they had an ambitious script written by Tom Mankiewicz, using Superman The Movie as a template, and based upon the late 1970s Steve Englehart-Marshall Rogers stint in Detective Comics, featuring Batman, Robin, Joker, Penguin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Boss Thorne, Silver St. Cloud, and Joe Chill.

This script has been widely available to read on the internet for many years, so I won't go into detail about it. I will say that as far as detailed origin movies go, the Mankiewicz script is much better than the slumber inducing Batman Begins (no jeers from the Nolan Kool-Aid drinkers, please).  All it needed was to be slightly revised to include some of the better Burton-Hickson ideas I will give in detail in a moment, so that Batman wasn't such a public figure (he would give televised press conferences), and perhaps a few other tweaks (the way Batman kills Thorne in the finale with a giant thumbtack is almost laughable... Burton's reworking of the finale is much better), but otherwise it was great. Faithful to the comics, good character development, great action scenes (perhaps the best is the Penguin scene where he and his goons are wearing jet pack umbrellas, going after the Batmobile, which during the course of the scene transforms into a speed boat and a jet), epic, and fun.  Fun, but also has moments being quite dark, such as the ending where Silver dies in Batman's arms.  (It could be argued the Mankiewicz script was also the basis for Lee and Janet Batchler's script for Batman Forever. Both scripts share many of the same plot points, and the Dick Grayson scenes are lifted almost verbatim from the Mankiewicz draft.)

Needless to say, pre-production stalled. Jon Peters and Peter Guber were brought in as new producers by the mid-1980s. Melniker and Uslan, while retaining an "Executive Producers" credit, had no input, creative or otherwise, on any Batman project from that point on. Guber and Peters brought in Tim Burton, who with Julie Hickson, wrote a treatment that attempted to "Burton-ize" the Mankeiwicz script, while adding the distinct flavor of the 1940s era Batman comics.  The basic narrative of the Mankiewicz draft remains, but Burton and Hickson add their own touches to it. Both drafts establish a political showdown between Thomas Wayne and Rupert Thorne. The Joker in Mankiewicz's script is Rupert Thorne's hired gun, and is portrayed as a murderous stand-up comedian, while Thorne is the script's dominant villain.  In the Burton-Hickson treatment, the Joker is much more insane, and answers to no one.  Although initially hired by Thorne, who is more of a minor character here, to kill the Waynes (in the Mankiewicz draft, the Joker has Joe Chill be the gunman and then kills him afterwards), Joker turns on Thorne and kills him at a mayoral debate. 

Burton reworks the origin sequence to resemble Detective Comics #235, where the Wayne family attend a costume after-party following a performance of the opera Die Fledermaus. Thomas wears a "majestic bat costume," while Martha is a "delicately shimmering fairy queen" and young Bruce is a "small whirling harlequin." The Joker, described as a 17-year-old boy with "shock-white skin, radioactive-green hair, standing on end as if permanently electrified, and red, red, lips slashed into a chin so pointed it’s like a demented exaggeration of a clown face", kills Thomas and Martha from an ice cream truck as "insipid tinkling style music" plays. Alfred vows to Bruce that "as long as I live, you will never be alone."  Commissioner Gordon's role was more pivotal in this treatment, being a surrogate father figure to Bruce, and suspecting he is Batman, but doesn't confront him about it.  The Batcave also derives from the 1940s comics by having the entrance be a “nearby barn located several hundred yards from the mansion which has been connected to the Batcave by an underground tunnel.”

Where the Mankiewicz script dwells on Batman taking on various street criminals, Burton focuses on The Joker's reign of terror consisting of releasing animals from the zoo, preempting TV broadcasts (he holds Barbara Walters at gunpoint as he forces her to interview him, and he preempts himself into The Love Boat with guest stars Tom Bosley, Cloris Leachman, and Andy Warhol), painting all the windows of Gotham's skyscrapers black, making the subways run backwards, and painting the entire city candy-striped colors. Bruce saves Silver St. Cloud at one of the Joker's crime scenes and starts a romance with her.  The Joker then mock-elects himself mayor after killing Thorne and Bruce starts a campaign against him, giving a televised speech for people not to lose hope and to vote against the Joker.

The Joker strikes next at a charity circus where Bruce and Silver are in attendance. There, in disguises are the Penguin as the ringmaster, the Riddler as a clown, and Catwoman "sexily decked out as a trapeze artist".  Catwoman pours acid on the trapeze of the Flying Graysons ("the main attractions"), John and Mary fall to their deaths, while young Dick miraculously survives by falling into the bales of hay on the circus ground - “The effect is like a baby bird falling out of a tree into a nest.”  Running to the sobbing Grayson's side, Bruce scoops him up and carries him to his car, promising him that "As long as I live, you will never be alone." Burton describes Dick as “a charmer: a clever little wise-ass with a loving heart. He’s pale-skinned to the point of ghostly, defined by an alert little face and carrot-colored hair (sort of a new-wave Artful Dodger).”

Burton uses the parade sequence with balloons filled with his deadly laughing gas that would appear in the 1989 movie.  There is a confrontation between Batman and The Joker that results in both being carried off by the balloons. When they both crash through the skylight of the Gotham Museum, it's up to the new hero, Robin, “a flash of red and green” with a “devilish mask”, to save Batman's life. When Batman throttles the Joker and puts a gun to his head, Commissioner Gordon arrives, puts a hand on Batman’s shoulder and stops him from making a choice that would ruin his life (much better than the giant thumbtack scene).  The treatment ends on Christmas morning as Bruce, Dick, Silver and Alfred open up presents... the last one is wrapped in purple and green and has a clownish face on it.

Not happy with the treatment, still feeling it was too much like Superman The Movie in format if not style, Sam Hamm was brought in to write a new script based on a treatment by Steve Englehart. It was brilliant. By avoiding a chronological enactment of Batman's origin and instead starting the movie where Batman has existed for a few weeks, Hamm succeeds in not only breaking the Richard Donner mold, but presents Batman as a character shrouded in mystery. By not spelling out every little detail, the viewer gets to use their imagination to figure out how Bruce became an expert martial artist or how he came up with all the gadgets... or they could choose not to, and just enjoy the ride without being bogged down with such questions.  Hamm's first draft script (also widely available to read on the internet) was superior to the final shooting script. Bruce Wayne is the center of the script, and is clearly a troubled man, highlighted by several scenes where Vicki Vale and Knox separately confront Bruce about being Batman. You want to cheer him as Batman, yet you can't help but feel sorry for him. Joker is a bit more deadly than in the final film, and Hamm includes a brilliant version of Robin that not only makes the script seem more epic, but gives the story closure.

Unfortunately, Warner Brothers wanted rewrites done, being apprehensive about the dark and troubled portrayal of Bruce, and the writers' strike prevented Hamm from doing it himself, so Warren Skarren was brought in. His one addition that would have made Hamm's script absolutely perfect was the scene where Bruce lays the roses on the spot his parents were murdered.  Unfortunately, the changes didn't end there. Bruce's darkness was toned down a notch while the Joker's role was expanded and made a bit more outlandish, Vicki Vale's role was also expanded while Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent were both downplayed, and Robin was cut out completely, despite 13 year old Ricky Addison Reed being cast. Skarren also reintroduced the idea of the Joker killing Bruce's parents, from the Mankeiwicz and Burton-Hickson drafts.  Also Skarren added more action to the climax, but in the process, made it less logical. In Hamm's draft, Joker shot the Batwing down with a tank and Robin had to rescue Batman from the wreckage, with Batman suffering a broken leg and several broken ribs. In an apparent death wish, Batman sets a time bomb in his utility belt, and grabs hold of the Joker who begins to panic, screaming "It's not funny!"  Batman gets a big smile and asks, "No ... sense ...of ...humor?"

Despite the fact Hamm's draft was better than the final shooting script, the movie is still the best live action version of Batman to date, with Michael Keaton unquestionably the coolest screen Batman ever. Keaton's performance is simply magical. It's the little things that make him stand out head and shoulders above all the other actors who have played Batman. As Bruce Wayne, Keaton is brooding, reclusive, and a little scatter-brained. Watch his eyes, as Keaton is a master of silent acting.  You see in his eyes the pain he suffers from watching his parents murdered.  You see he is conflicted about Vicki Vale just as his crusade as Batman begins to grow.  Plus, Keaton adds a sense of humor to it all. As Batman, Keaton is silent and imposing. When he snarls, "I'm Batman!", you take notice.  At the right moments, he gives this little off-hinged smile that drives home the fact that Batman is dangerous. His voice as Batman is a harsh whisper that is perfect for the character, and not overdone like Christian Bale's frog voice that brings forth more giggles than intimidation.

Where as Uslan and Melniker wanted a living comic book action film, Tim Burton delivered something far more interesting and artistic and three-dimensional. By blending 1930s Warner Brothers gangster films with 1920s silent horror movies, he really brought Batman's world to life in a way no one thought possible.

The sequel went through almost as many scripts as the first film, despite it taking only three years to make. The original idea for Batman II: The Next Adventure was proposed by Sam Hamm and reportedly featured the transformation of Harvey Dent into Two Face after failing to convict the Joker, who survived the fall at the end of Batman. Warner Brothers felt Two Face was not a popular enough character to be the lead villain and rejected Hamm's proposal, demanding the more well known Penguin and/or Catwoman be used.

So, Hamm shelved Batman II (apparently, the plot was recycled by William Loebs for the Batman syndicated comic strip that was circulating after the first movie) and began work on a new script titled Batman Returns, and once again it was excellent. Set at Christmas time, the plot deals with an obese, aristocratic criminal named Mr. Boniface (alias the Penguin), who has spent the last thirteen years in jail for stealing 40 million dollars. He makes a deal to return the money for an early parole. Of course, he had it in the bank, and made millions of dollars in interest during his jail term. Penguin hires the erotic Eurasian cat burglar Selina Kyle to steal five raven statues from the founding five families of Gotham, and frame Batman for the murders.

Echoing the "Purrfect Crime" episode of the 1960s TV show, the ravens are a map that lead to a treasure. Unknown to Bruce, the map leads to where the treasure is buried--in the Batcave. Harvey Dent is no where to be found, but Gordon, Vicki, and Alfred are all back, as well as a group of wanna be teen vigilantes who hero worship Batman. At one point, Vicki is rescued by an orphaned homeless kid named Dick Grayson who seems to be quite an acrobat. Later, the kid helps Batman escape from the cops, and ultimately moves into Wayne Manor just before Penguin and Catwoman invade the place. Unfortunately, Tim Burton felt the script read too much like a sequel. Granted, the finale also seemed quite rushed and there never was any resolution with the storyline of the teen vigilantes. A second draft would be needed to correct these problems.

But Burton wanted to do "another Batman movie", not a sequel. With Denise DiNovi taking over as producer from Guber and Peters, Burton had much more creative control over the film. So the script was given to Daniel Waters to rewrite, and Sam Hamm unfortunately hasn't been involved in the franchise since.  Waters kept a lot of the details in Hamm's draft, but reworked the plot from the "Purrfect Crime" style treasure hunt, to the Pengy for Mayor plot from "Hizzoner the Penguin" (also possibly recycled from the similar "Joker for mayor" plot point from the Burton-Hickson treatment). He eliminated Vicki, the teen vigilantes, and the members of Gotham's Five Families, and reduced Gordon to little more than a cameo.

There are unconfirmed rumors the original plan was to have a now corrupted Harvey Dent, whose goal was to groom mob boss Penguin into a mayor Dent could control. Selina Kyle went from being an amorous cat burglar to Dent's mousy secretary. For the planned climax, as Batman, Catwoman, Penguin and Dent collide at Pengy's zoo hideout, Dent's fate was to be sealed as an exploding air conditioner burns and scars the left side of his face. A snag in planning the script happened when Warner Brothers, who were allegedly not happy with Billy Dee Williams' performance as Harvey Dent in the first film, bought him out of his contract for the sequels. Allegedly, Warners never wanted Williams cast as Dent in the first place. It's rumored the studio's top picks were Dale Midkiff (Pet Cemetery) and Don Johnson (Harvey Dent in Batman The Animated Series looks strikingly like Don Johnson), but Burton cast Williams. So Waters reworked Dent's planned role in the script for retail mogul Max Shreck, with Christopher Walken ultimately landing the role. While Max did not appear in Hamm's draft, Shreck's Department Store did.

Danny DeVito had been cast as Penguin, suggested to Burton that Oswald Cobblepot be a disgusting sewer dwelling mutant. Burton loved the concept, and Waters worked in DeVito's vision of the Penguin. Waters, under Burton's suggestions, also made a drastic change to Dick Grayson. Now an African American character known only as "The Kid", he was a teenage mechanic who helps Batman repair the Batmobile and escape from the cops, and later is recruited to help stop the army of penguins. Burton liked Waters' draft much more, but rewrites were needed. 

Since Waters had moved on to other projects, Wesley Strick was in charge of the rewrites. He removed some of Waters' more bizarre sequences, such as a long scene where Batman and Penguin joke and laugh with each other, a weird scene where goons dressed in Batman costumes attack people, and deleted a pair of characters named Punch and Juliet, who worked for the Penguin. He altered some of the bizarre dialogue that Waters peppered the script with, and deleted the revelation that Oswald and Max were brothers, which in the Waters' draft read like an afterthought that had no impact on the plot. Burton also ordered Strick to once again circumcise Dick, or rather, The Kid, from the script.  The character, as written, was patronizing, reading like a middle aged white man's idea of what a "hip" black teen should be like, with lots of Chris Rock style outbursts.  Had this come to pass, hopefully Marlon Wayans, who was initially cast as The Kid, would have been given the opportunity to rewrite his own dialogue, perhaps making the role less embarrassing.

Batman Returns was a movie I did not like very much on a first viewing. But the more times I watched it, the more I liked it, finding details in the story I didn't notice the first time around. It is perhaps the most complex and layered Batman movie ever made. Anchoring the movie once again is Keaton's splendid performance building on what he established in the first film. The chemistry between Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the highlights of the movie (apparently they were romantically involved several years earlier). Also, Batman's costume has been perfected for this movie. It's not as primitive as the 1989 film, and takes on an armored design.  It is my favorite movie batsuit.  Even so, I have to say Hamm's draft may have made a better movie. However, Strick's final shooting script is far superior to Waters' draft.

It is a shame Burton and Keaton never had the chance to conclude their Bat-trilogy.  Perhaps there may still be an opportunity, as I think reuniting Burton, Keaton, Nicholson, Pfeiffer, and Sam Hamm to make a film adaptation of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns graphic novel would be a Batman fan's dream come true.

Credit: Batman Movie Online for the details of the Burton-Hickson treatment.

Friday, May 27, 2011

John August SHAZAM script review

I finally got a hold of the John August script for Shazam! (or as it was officially titled at this point, Billy Batson & The Legend Of Shazam).  Unlike the William Goldman script, John August's draft is very heavily based on Jerry Ordway's Power Of Shazam graphic novel, even though August reworks some things, perhaps under the guidance of Geoff Johns, whom August said was his consultant.

The script opens on the fictional country of Kahndaq on an epic action sequence where Black Adam saves some people from a flock of monstrous hawk-men sent by the Pharaoh of a rival country.  Through out the script, Black Adam's actions are very violent and graphic, and I doubt they would make it to the screen as written, for it would get an R rating. Black Adam learns from one of the hawk-men that his wife is in danger. He speeds off to the Pharaoh, who is an eight year old boy.  After disposing of the Pharaoh, his high priest, and forty guards,  he speeds to his wife, but is too late.  She's dead.  Black Adam whispers that he can still save her.

Cut to the Rock of Eternity, where the statues of the seven deadly enemies speak in hushed tones, tempting all who pass.  Black Adam ignores them, and goes to the one he seeks.  Nope, not the wizard Shazam, but a young Central American girl named Maya, who acts soulless and seems to know past, present, and future.  Black Adam is about to take her, but then Shazam stops him.  Black Adam says Maya can bring his wife back.  The statues continue to whisper their temptations. Shazam takes a scarab, and imprisons Black Adam, Phantom Zone-like, in it.

From there we cut to the main titles, which is close ups of generic comic book panels.  It is revealed Billy Batson (age 13) is the one reading the comic book in the hallways of Fawcett City Junior High.  He is described as unmistakably good, and has a Norman Rockwell quality.  We also meet his best friend Freddy Freeman, who is a year older and described as quick-witted and crafty, and a survivor.  Billy is then bullied by an older kid and bravely stands up to him, calling the bully a coward. The bully is about to punch Billy out, but Billy is saved by a girl named Caitlin Bromfield (yeah, easy to figure out... August changed Mary Batson's adopted name from Mary Bromfield to Caitlin Bromfield).  Freddy has been videotaping the whole thing and the bully backs off.

It is then revealed Billy and Freddy live with their foster parents, Dale and Kitty Groot, in a small shack on the wrong side of the tracks. Why August created the characters of Dale and Kitty instead of just using Uncle Dudley in the role is one of those mysteries you can't figure out about Hollywood writers.  As it turns out, someone broke in, searching Billy and Freddy's room.  A cop questions Freddy outside while Billy goes to their room. He finds a man in his 40s, whom Billy assumes is a detective, in there.  He questions Billy, who explains his parents were archaeologists and have been missing since he was a baby.  Billy shows the man a stuffed toy tiger his parents gave to him.  The man, who is Theo Adam, quickly knocks Billy out, takes the tiger, rips it open to find the scarab.

Then there's a scene with Billy holding a cold can of pop on his black eye, as Freddy finds out the whole thing was a set up.  Billy and Freddy are afraid child services might get involved and they will be separated.  Billy gets suspicious that Theo Adam knows something about his parents.

Cut to a scene at Berlin University, where Theo Adam shows the scarab to a doctor who is 60 and is legally blind, forcing him to wear very thick glasses. Nope, not Dr Sivana, but a Dr Zehuti. Zehuti seems to have super strength, as he is able to lift Theo up as they argue about the scarab.  Then Zehuti exits, not to be seen anymore in the script.  The scarab begins to glow.  Theo touches it and it explodes into a halo of light and heat, transforming Theo Adam into Black Adam.  Black Adam is bigger than Theo was, as Theo's clothes have been torn and shredded by the "hulking-out" (yep, August uses the phrase "hulked-out" to describe the transformation, and there is no costume change with the transformation).  Black Adam flies up, and destroys a police helicopter that spots him.  Then it is revealed that Theo Adam and Black Adam have the "Firestorm" effect (for those not comics knowledgeable, Firestorm is a DC superhero who is a merger of a student and his teacher. In the Firestorm form, the teacher appears as a ghost to counsel Firestorm).  So it is here, Theo appears in a ghostly form to inform Black Adam as to where he is, and what is going on.

We cut back to Billy and Freddy in their room.  They take an internet quiz that asks "Are you a champion?" Freddy reads the questions and Billy answers them, all correctly. There is a power failure, but the computer continues to work. On the last question, a tricky one, "you have the chance to save your family, but doing so would unleash great harm. Do you save your family?", Billy answers "No." The computer asks "are you sure, Billy?" Billy affirms his answer as Freddy wonders how the computer knew Billy's name. Billy passes the quiz, and the printer prints out his prize: a map to a subway stop. Billy and Freddy sneak out to go see where the map leads them. At the subway station, they look for the right train. Billy spots it and tells Freddy to come on. Billy jumps aboard as the doors close, but then realises Freddy is still at the station looking at the map. Billy bangs on the window to get Freddy's attention, but it's like the world outside the train has frozen in time. Of course the train takes him to the Rock of Eternity, and we get the origin sequence. Maya is also there, observing everything. Shazam "blinks" out of existence instead of being crushed by a granite block.  Also, Billy does not turn into Captain Marvel at this point.  He is simply transported back to the train station next to Freddy.

Back at the boys' house, they talk about what Billy just went through.  Billy tries to recall the word the wizard told him to say. Shaboom?  Shaquile? Shazam.  We get to see the first transformation.  As August notes, "this is when those THX folks earn their money".  Billy is now Marvel (as the script refers him as), but still in Billy's clothes, now shredded (remember, there is no costume change). As with the Goldman script, there is a sequence of Marvel clumsily and comically trying out his powers, but at least Marvel doesn't speak with Billy's voice.  Freddy tries to coach him through. One funny bit has Marvel concentrating to see if he has heat vision, only to have Freddy yell in a panic, "Don't look at me!"

Later, Freddy and Marvel run into their teacher, Miss Hall.  Freddy passes Marvel off as Billy's uncle, and Miss Hall starts hitting on him, but Marvel doesn't catch on.

We cut to Black Adam, who tries to find the entrance to the Rock of Eternity, but cannot.  Those whispering statues inform Black Adam there is a new champion, and only he can enter the Rock of Eternity.

Then, Dale takes the boys to the parade honoring the Fawcett City Thunderbolts football team. He has Billy and Freddy wear Thunderbolt jerseys (that are too big for them) to get them signed by the players, so he could sell them.  At the parade, Billy spots some trouble, so he slips away and says Shazam.  As Marvel, the red Thunderbolt jersey now fits snugly, but Billy's jeans have shredded off.  Marvel grabs a pair of red pants and a white cape with gold trim from the marching band's uniform rack.  He stops a jewelry robbery, but the Sivana Electronics blimp is damaged when Marvel disposes of a bomb.  Marvel has to fly to save the people in the blimp, one of whom is Beautia Sivana. There is a near tragedy caused by a wardrobe malfunction of Marvel's cape, but he is successful in saving the people.  Meanwhile, Freddy, with his camcorder, got footage of Marvel in action, and sold it to a TV producer.  With the money the boys run away from their foster home and check into a hotel.

There's a montage of Marvel stopping various crimes (including a cameo by Stanley Printwhistle, who becomes Ibac in the comics).  Marvel tries to get back into the Rock of Eternity in order to get the instructions on how to use his powers better.  He can't get in at the subway station, so Freddy has the idea to go to a comic book store, and get in by the adult section (why this works is kind of muddled).  At the Rock, Marvel meets Maya, who tells him about Black Adam.  Its revealed Maya is sort of a human incarnation of the Historama, and can go back to any point in time.  If she stays too long, history will be altered.  Marvel flies to Kahndaq to see Black Adam's tomb.  He also finds a photo of his parents holding Billy as a infant.

Black Adam goes to the country of Nanda Parbat, where he encounters the Crimson Avenger (an old DC hero pre-Superman) and Felix Faust (a JLA villain).  I have to ask why use these characters instead of more appropriate Fawcett characters like Spy Smasher and Ibis? Then it's back to the Junior High, where Billy and Caitlin share a moment, and Marvel and Miss Hall do some flirting and go on a date.

Child Services come to the hotel and take Freddy away.  Marvel arrives home from his date and sees that Freddy has been taken.  Then it's back to Nanda Parbat, where Black Adam gets some Hindu techno-babble from Rama Kushna that enlightens him to go after Captain Marvel.

On the school bus, Billy sees Freddy, and Freddy explains he was taken to a group home.  Freddy is angry at Billy because he's always Marvel, and treats Freddy like a kid.  Suddenly, a giant meteor made of ice starts falling to Fawcett, chunks of it leading the way, causing destruction.  Billy slips away to change into Marvel.  Caitlin follows him. As he takes off his outer street clothes revealing his makeshift costume, he notices security cameras. Billy jumps off the roof to avoid the cameras, yells Shazam in mid air, and turns into Marvel in a slapstick manner, crashing into the street.  Caitlin witnessed the transformation.  Marvel flies up to stop the ice meteor, but cannot figure out how to do it.  Suddenly Black Adam whizzes past Marvel, and stops the meteor using his lightning to smash the ice into harmless hail.  The two meet in mid air for a conference.  Black Adam is now dressed in a black outfit with a gold sash he got from Nanda Parbat, the first time we see him in anything resembling the traditional comic book costume. He hovers like a regal warrior, while Marvel is like a newborn deer struggling to stay aloft in mid air.  Adam tells Marvel to meet him later.  Freddy says Marvel shouldn't trust Adam, that its a trap.

Then Marvel breaks up with Miss Hall. In the hallway Caitlin tells Marvel she knows. She tells him her real name is Mary, and he can trust her.

At the meeting between Adam and Marvel, Adam tells Marvel how he needs Maya to bring his wife back.  Marvel refuses, and the big fight is on.  Punching, destruction, Adam killing a few people just for fun.  Then they start fighting with their lightning bolts, but unlike the comics, Adam's bolt doesn't transform Marvel back to Billy, it just hurts Marvel really bad.  Likewise Marvel's bolt on Adam.  But Marvel's bolt turns him back to Billy, and Adam is able to grab him before he can say Shazam again.  He throws Billy down to his death, but saves him at the last minute, warning him he will not show mercy again.  Give him Maya or he will destroy Fawcett City.

Back at Dale and Kitty's house, both Billy and Freddy moved back in.  Dale shows that he really cares for the boys, as Billy and Freddy end their argument.  Caitlin comes over, and the three of them use comic books to find a solution to the Black Adam problem.  Billy figures out who Theo Adam is when he sees an old photo of his parents on an excavation, with Theo in the picture with them.  Billy goes to the Rock, and the Wrath statue shows Billy how his parents were murdered by Theo Adam. Maya approaches.  Billy changes to Marvel and takes Maya to his house.  There Freddy and Caitlin did detective work to find out more about Theo Adam.  Black Adam arrives, and Marvel has Maya rupture the time steam, so that the past and present start merging.  World War I bi-planes start flying in the sky... dinosaurs crawl up from the sea... Marvel goes back through Billy's life... he is able to get the stuffed tiger before Theo Adam gets it... back in time to Black Adam's wife's death... we see she is even more evil than Adam.  Marvel takes the scarab from the stuffed tiger, says Shazam, and allows the lightning to absorb Black Adam and his wife into the scarab. Theo Adam and Black Adam are now separated.  Theo taunts Billy with how he killed his parents.  Billy is about to say Shazam, but Maya takes him back to the day Theo Adam bought the knife he would kill his parents with.  Billy gets to have a moment with the parents he never knew.

Back in the present, Theo demands Billy to hand over the scarab, or he will kill Freddy.  Suddenly, a pteranodon scoops up Theo and rips him in half.  Maya then sets the timeline right again.

Back home, Billy discovers the picture he has of his parents is only half, there is another half with a second baby (in a pink blanket) in it.  He's interrupted by Freddy, who enters the room to tell him a giant shark has attacked a yacht.  Billy says Shazam, and is off to save the day.  Closing credits.

Post-credit scene.  Caitlin in her bedroom at night,  She has an identical stuffed tiger toy on a shelf. She whispers "Shaza--"  cut to black.  End of film.

Sidenote: There is also an earlier draft of this script I have read. The only real difference is with Black Adam.  After the pre-credits sequence, he is only seen in nightmares Billy is having.  A 60 year old university professor, Dr Theodore Adams is introduced into the story. Its slowly revealed he is aware of Black Adam's existence, and at one point there is a flashback to a scene lifted directly from the Power of Shazam graphic novel, where Adams and Billy's parents are in Egypt, and they find the scarab. Adams kills the Batsons and takes the scarab.  Later, Adams discovers how to transform into Black Adam (although there is still the "Firestorm effect"). 

If there were a choice between the Goldman script and the August script, the one that would make the best Captain Marvel film would be... well, neither. Neither one would make a truly great movie. Goldman's script is very short on action and adventure, but it does have heart, good suspense, and some great moments. August's script has much more action (and in the case of the finale, with all the time ruptures, one might say slightly overdone), but his script has minimal suspense and lacks heart.  It all seems very mechanical and sterile.  There's no magic.

Billy and Freddy, foster brothers in this script, are both portrayed in a very likable way.  Billy very honest and good, Freddy with more of an edge.  This is an improvement over the Ordway graphic novel and series, where Billy was usually a whiny brat. But August's take on Caitlin/Mary comes off as too aloof, perhaps even slightly creepy.

The August script, based heavily on Jerry Ordway's graphic novel, also comes with some major flaws. Unlike the Goldman script, where Sivana is a mad scientist, as he should be, August's script casts Sivana as a millionaire businessman, a copy of Lex Luthor (Sivana doesn't actually appear in this script, but we see all kinds of advertising for Sivana Electronics, and Beautia does have a small cameo). There is the link that Marvel looks like Billy's father, C.C. Batson, a concept that never sat right with me. Marvel, himself, is somewhat bumbling and awkward. The attempt at a romance between Marvel and Miss Hall seems like space filler, and has no heat at all, unlike the Billy/Marvel-Jenny Richee-Beautia triangle of the Goldman script.

The things that kills both scripts are the themes they share in common: attempting to be a superhero version of Big, and having Billy "learn" about being a superhero by reading comic books.  In the August script, both these themes not only give Black Adam more stature, and his scenes more epic, while Captain Marvel comes off as clumsy newbie, but it gives the script a schizophrenic nature, where the Adam scenes are typical superhero fare, while the Marvel scenes border more on parody, not unusual since Geoff Johns served as August's consultant, and Johns is responsible for building Black Adam's popularity in the comics at the expense of Captain Marvel.  (The earlier draft, perhaps because it has much less Black Adam, seems less schizophrenic and is a slightly better, more cohesive draft.)  Since both scripts contain these elements of Big and having Billy learn from comic books, it's obvious these are mandated aspects to be included in the film by either Michael Uslan or Warner Brothers powers-that-be, and that is really a shame, because it is those aspects that will kill this film, and should it ever be made, make it a critical and box office failure.

Now, to locate the Cohen-Sokolow script...!

Friday, May 6, 2011

movie review: THOR

When it comes to superheroes, I am pretty much a DC guy (although, ironically, I have no interest in seeing the upcoming Green Lantern movie).  But there are a few Marvel Comics superheroes I enjoy, at least in small doses. One of them is The Mighty Thor.  As a kid, I watched reruns of the old Grantray-Lawrence Thor cartoons.  I liked the early adventures, that seemed to be a take off of the original Fawcett Captain Marvel. In those stories, crippled doctor Donald Blake would tap his enchanted cane on the ground, which would transform him in a blinding explosion into the super powered Thor, while his cane transformed into an enchanted hammer that could be used as the ultimate weapon, and could control the weather.  Thor would battle some of the most powerful villains on earth.  Romantic drama was provided by Blake's nurse, Jane Foster.

However, a couple years into the series, the exploits on earth began to take a backseat, as Thor began to spend more time in Asgard, and his adventures took more of a galactic nature.  It was also revealed Don Blake didn't turn into Thor, but rather Thor's father Odin created the Don Blake persona as a way to teach Thor humility.  Needless to say, it all became very convoluted as the creators moved away from the Captain Marvel inspired roots, and moved more into Norse mythology and cosmic story lines.

As a fan of the earlier version of Thor, I went to see the new movie.  For those wanting those early comic book stories transferred to a live action epic, that's not really what we got.  The whole concept of blending Norse mythology with a mortal-to-superhuman Captain Marvel aspect has been dropped (which ultimately could be very good news for the Shazam movie, since there now no way critics and naysayers could deem Captain Marvel a copy of Thor).  In it's place, director Kenneth Branagh seems to have merged Norse mythology to a Superman archetype.  Asgard, in this movie, echos Krypton (and could be a problem for the upcoming Superman reboot if it looks too similar to Asgard).  Instead of the classic Thor costume, we get an outfit that merges Asgard trappings with a heavy metal/biker sensibility. 

The film starts in New Mexico with Jane Foster (who is not a nurse as in the comic, but a physicist who has been injected with a fair amount of Lois Lane's personality) and her crew (Kat Dennings as the Jimmy Olson type character and Stellan Skarsgard as the Perry White type character - neither of whom are from the comics) discovering Thor who has just been banished from Asgard.  From there we cut back to see how Thor got banished, due to his arrogance and recklessness. There is a great action sequence with Thor fighting Frost Giants, and we get to see images right out of the comic of Thor using his hammer.  Indeed the two biggest gimmicks of the character (besides the mortal-to-superhero transformation) are the hammer and the helmet.  Unfortunately, though, Thor only wears the helmet in one brief scene.  In fact, once he is banished to earth, we don't see him in costume again at all until the very end of the movie.

Once on earth, we get  humorous fish-out-of-water scenarios, with even a Dr Donald Blake reference for the hard core fan.  It even seems to go into Batman TV show mode with an interesting use of tilted camera angles (tilted camera angles always make a film look more interesting and fresh, even when its not). At this point, the film becomes more about relationships, as we see one develop between Thor and Jane, and see interspersed scenes back on Asgard of Loki who is revealed to be a Frost Giant whom Odin saved/abducted as a baby, and how Loki manipulates himself to become king when Odin falls into the Odinsleep.

Of course, there are the mandatory references and cameos setting up The Avengers, as Thor attempts to reclaim his power and hammer, which he fails to do because he is no longer worthy. When the Warriors Three and Sif travel to earth to bring Thor back, Loki send the Destroyer to... well, destroy earth.  There is the other main action sequence, where the Destroyer mortally wounds Thor, but now he is worthy, having become a better person since being banished to earth, and the hammer flies to Thor, and restores him back to full power, and gets him back into his costume (minus the helmet, of course).  After taking care of the Destroyer, the Asgardians go back to Asgard to stop Loki.  The Rainbow Bridge is destroyed, and it looks like Thor will never be able to come back to earth or to see Jane Foster again.

Overall, the movie was fairly enjoyable.  The actors all did very well in their roles.  Chris Hemsworth, who played Thor and looks a lot like pro-wrestler Chris Jericho, had very good charisma as Thor, and at times, his personality seemed very similar to Eric Allen Kramer's portrayal of Thor on a 2 hour episode of the old Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk TV series.  In fact, Kramer (who now currently stars on the Disney Channel sit-com Good Luck Charlie - Disney owns Marvel Comics) was slated to have a cameo in Thor, but I did not see him in the film.  Anthony Hopkins, who played Odin, did the role comparable to Marlon Brando's Jor-El. Tom Hiddelson's Loki was very good.  At different times in the movie, you weren't quite sure if you should feel sorry for him, cheer him on, or boo him. Branagh was successfully able to mix the humor driven earth scenes with the grand and picturesque Asgard scenes.  Thor's flying scenes were good, but not overdone.  But some of the shots of the final fight scene between Thor and Loki had an almost Joel Schumacker Batman & Robin look to it where the actors look like they are being pulled by wires.

And I think it would have been nice if they could have worked the old Thor theme song from the cartoons in there some where, as well as maybe a few bars of Wagner's Ride Of The ValkyriesThor was a good and entertaining movie, but I feel it could have been better.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jackie Cooper passes away. RIP

Jackie Cooper, the Hollywood icon, passed away on May 3, 2011 at the age of 88. 

He was a member of Our Gang in the early sound era, starring in what is known as the "Miss Crabtree trilogy", perhaps the best sound films Our Gang ever made.  He was the youngest actor ever nominated for an Oscar, for the film Skippy (directed by his uncle, Norman Taurog, who also directed several Elvis Presley movies).

Later he co-starred with the Dead End Kids' spin-off group, The Little Tough Guys.  He continued to act, and by the 1960s, he started working behind the scenes.

He ran Columbia's "Screen Gems" TV division, and was responsible for green lighting The Monkees.  By the 1970s, he became an Emmy winning director for the TV series M*A*S*H*

In the late 1970s he returned to acting to be, in my opinion, the unquestioned definitive Perry White in the Superman movies.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, let perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace.

Review: the BATMAN serials

Being a life-long Batman fan, and since I recently posted a column on the 1966 TV show, I thought I'd give my review of the two Batman serials produced in the 1940s by Columbia Pictures.

First was Batman (often referred to as The Batman) released in 1943, starring Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, and J. Caroll Naish, produced by Rudolph C. Flothow and directed by Lambert Hillyer.

Despite a non existent budget and Trick-or-Treat costumes, this serial is very entertaining and faithful to the early comics. Lewis Wilson plays a definitive Bruce Wayne, bringing the character to life for the first time on film as a bored and somewhat shiftless playboy. His Batman is dark and grim, yet fun, able to shoot off one-liners with Robin. But when he threatens a thug he's holding hostage in the Bat-Cave, Batman means business. His Chuck White disguise is the forerunner of Matches Malone. The design for Batman's costume is far superior to the Adam West TV show costume, however the tailor did not have the proper materials or measurements to make it fulfill its potential. The utility belt is perfect, though.

A twist in the legend has Bruce a government agent, predating Marvel Comics' SHIELD concept by decades. As such, he is assigned to capture the Japanese terrorist Prince Tito Daka, played by J. Caroll Naish, in an over the top performance that could be the blueprint for the villains of the TV series, and virtually all live action comic book villains that followed.

Douglas Croft plays Dick Grayson as a carefree teenager who still has sense enough to warn Bruce not to take his playboy masquerade too far. His Robin is a wisecracking daredevil who seems both younger and far more capable than the TV show counterpart.

Beautiful Shirley Patterson plays Linda Page, Bruce's love interest with some real emotion. William Austin makes such a perfect Alfred, that DC redesigned the comic book character to resemble Austin (previously, Alfred was drawn to look like Alfred Hitchcock).

The serial introduces the Bat-Cave and its grandfather clock entrance, which would be added to the comics, but Bruce's limo doubles as a nondescript Batmobile. There are some good gimmicks, such as a car that repaints itself and has revolving license plates, and Daka's alligator pit. Another thing I really like is, even in costume, Batman and Robin still call each other Bruce and Dick. Its a subtle touch of sophistication.

Even the musical score is good, with a dark and somber theme that hints at the theme Danny Elfman would compose for the Tim Burton movies.

Sadly, there are some racist moments against the Japanese, but this serial must be watched in the context of World War II. The narration does mention how FDR and the US government put many Asian-American citizens into detention camps (just as Hitler was putting Jews into concentration camps), a fact ignored by most modern history accounts for fear of FDR's legacy being tainted.

The racism notwithstanding, this is a very fun serial and one can easily imagine kids in the 1940s cheering and applauding Batman and Robin, and booing and hissing Daka and his henchmen, and probably cheering the one henchman who turns on Daka, in a moment of patriotism.

Six years later, Columbia released Batman And Robin in 1949, starring Robert Lowery, John Duncan (who did a short stint with the East Side Kids), and Lyle Talbot, produced by Sam Katzman and directed by Spencer Bennet.  Curiously, there is no continuity with the 1943 serial.  It is, what we call today, a "reboot".

This serial is essentially the prototype for the Adam West TV series. Robert Lowery plays a nondescript Bruce Wayne and a business like Batman who is a deputized officer of the law, and pulls some of the most unlikely things out of his cheap looking, plain belt, such as a gas mask that looks like it was made out of a drinking straw, and a full size blow torch. Ironically, Adam West, in his autobiography, said plans were made to bring Lowery on the show as Bruce's often mentioned (but never seen) uncle, but the concept never came to pass.

John Duncan's Dick Grayson and Robin are both far more mature that either Burt Ward or Douglas Croft, and he's also a lot more dull. Lyle Talbot's Commissioner Gordon is flat and one-dimensional. Jane Adams plays a very forgettable Vicki Vale, and Eric Wilton plays an Alfred who looks very much like the TV show's Alan Napier, but has little to do except wear a spare Batman costume when required to, much like a few episodes of the TV series.

The villain is a masked mystery man called the Wizard who has some outlandish scientific devices. Presumably, the plot is a mystery to figure out who the Wizard is, but the detective work leaves a lot to be desired.

The costumes and budget are worse than the 1943 serial, with Batman's cowl looking like a Halloween devil mask, but it is cool to see that huge bat across Batman's shirt a la "Batman Year One". The only advantage either serials' Robin costume has over the TV series is the longer (and in John Duncan's case, dark - presumably green) cape vs. Burt Ward's short, almost feminine cape, and the boots vs. Ward's elf shoes.

There is no Batmobile, as both Bruce and Batman drive the same plain gray Mercury convertible, and the Bat-Signal appears to be the size of a portable TV set. However, this serial did improve over the 1943 production in some regards: the fight scenes are better choreographed and the cliffhangers are a little more inventive.

The serial has some good moments, and you can really see how the TV series was a camped up version of it, but its just not nearly as fun or entertaining as the superior 1943 serial.