Oh, before we get to my favorite Batman [comic book] stories, here is a new DC Nation video I just saw this morning. It is pretty awesome.
The Bat Man of Shanghai
5. Batman & Robin: Blackest Knight
I thoroughly enjoyed Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin from top to bottom. The conceit of the title was that instead of Batman being this brooding and tortured genius, held aloft emotionally by a carefree and colorful Robin… Former Robin Dick Grayson (now the Batman of Gotham City) is the pretty nice guy, and Damien Wayne (the natural child of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul) is a bit of an asshole; in an early adventure, Damien — trained from birth by Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins — decided that now that his father had a “real” son, the other Robins were unnecessary… He tried to murder Tim Drake.
Batman & Robin is a story about Dick trying to hold Gotham together in Bruce’s absence, and a story about Damien rejecting his al Ghul ancestry to become a worthy Robin.
Characteristically for Morrison, he got to work with awesome artists like Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart, and Chris Burnham on Batman & Robin. Blackest Knight is a crossover with Batwoman that I mentioned in the previous part of the review (Morrison — like YT — adored Greg Rucka and JH William III’s Batwoman)… Illustrated by Cameron Stewart. Here are the opening three or so pages:
… If you said “WHAT THE!?!” you and I agree. The opening salvo of Blackest Knight is the comic book equivalent of the White House scene in X2. Yes, yes, yes — Cameron Stewart is very good.
4. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Any of the next three stories… Most longtime Batman fans can probably pick them.
The Dark Knight Returns is the seminal “adult” Batman story. Bruce comes out of retirement to bring back the Bat. Issue after issue he accelerates the stakes of the game, as Batman strives to right Gotham City even as old age creeps up on him. The climax is a battle between Batman and Superman that has ultimately set the tone for every fan’s perception of what might happen if the two clashed.
Miller’s masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns reinvented the campy four-color cartoon hero into essentially the world’s most revered — and feared — iconic character.
Five Stars obviously.
Love The Dark Knight Rises? You can thank The Dark Knight Returns.
3. Batman: The Killing Joke
Almost universally lauded at the greatest Joker story of all time — and the unofficial “origin story” of the Joker — Alan Moore’s masterpiece is everything that you could possibly want in a Batman story, or any comic book really.
Beautifully illustrated by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke features many of the same razor sharp storytelling techniques Moore used in Watchmen; personally I prefer Bolland’s illustrations to those of Dave Gibbons (though Watchmen is obviously the pinnacle of the comics medium).
For those of you who don’t know, The Killing Joke was a prestige one-shot. Usually these kinds of comics have minimal impact outside of the story itself… But in this case Moore had the Joker shoot Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) through the spine and then do all kinds of terrible naked stuff to both her and her father, Commissioner Gordon. Joker’s goal is to prove that one bad day can ruin the best of men (here Gordon); in defiance, the noble Gordon demands Batman take down the Joker without compromise.
The story itself is one of the most devastating in the history of mainstream comics. A cherished heroine is brutalized. Moore brings the Joker’s evil — so often over-the-top — low enough that you can touch it, feel Barbara’s sticky blood on your own fingers, or wince at a naked Jim Gordon caged and paraded around like a circus animal.
Moore also challenges us as he challenges the Batman. It is a hard story to read; and to be honest, I have never been 100% comfortable with how Batman dealt with the situation.
But as I said, it is gorgeous throughout.
Love Tim Burton? You can thank Batman: The Killing Joke.
2. Batman: Year One
You know how The Dark Knight Returns is basically the greatest Batman story of all time?
Well… not only is it not better than The Killing Joke, it isn’t even the best Batman story written by Frank Miller!
Batman: Year One, written by Frank Miller and gorgeously illustrated by David Mazzucchelli tells the story of Bruce Wayne’s first year as Batman. He is raw and untested, makes mistakes he never would later. Batman: Year One re-imagines the origin of Catwoman, and casts a young Jim Gordon as a heroic maverick redeeming a corrupt police department from within… and with his fists.
Love Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? You can thank Batman: Year One
1. Catwoman: Relentless
Most of you have heard of the middle-three favorite Batman stories. Some of you might be surprised that I didn’t pick Son of the Demon or Death in the Family (honestly, the closest almost-rans were Batgirl Adventures #1 and Mad Love).
Catwoman: Relentles? What the!?!
This is more-or-less the most heart wrenching comic book I have ever read. Know Ed Brubaker from Captain America or Daredevil? Bru’s Catwoman runs circles around his Marvel work (and that is no knock on his Marvel work… just that Catwoman is so good).
The first part involves Brubaker building up Catwoman’s life… and then crushing her life like a bug under some skinny supermodel’s high heel. The first half of Relentless is gorgeously illustrated by Cameron Stewart; and ends on a kiss. Brubaker and Stewart go absolutely Alan Moore, drawing on the fundamental storytelling limitations of the comics medium… and then again turn the story on its head.
The second half, also perfectly illustrated — but wildly different from Stewart’s — comes via Javier Pulido. It is a tale of desperation and misery, self-destructive co-dependence, and wildly imbalanced emotional attachments: the cautionary tale of a “The End” tag applied too soon.
Catwoman: Relentless isn’t just my favorite tale from Gotham City, but one of my Top 10 favorite comic books, ever.
Teddy Card Game (Ted Knutson) asked me to write about my Top 10 favorite Batman stories. I finally got around to it.
#10 Batwoman: Elegy *
Fifteen years or so ago I was good friends with this short-haired redheaded girl in the Navy. I spent several balmy evenings with her drinking vodka out of plastic bottles (or whatever). Really we had this very long-standing and meaningful friendship, which, apparently, is why I can’t remember her name.
I basically make up nicknames for everyone I hang out with (GreedyM, Teddy Card Game, KFlo) so I used to just call her “Midships” (she held the rank of Midshipman in the Navy). Midships got boned (and not by a man).
During officers’ training, Midships was taught all different qualities of being a good leader (you know, to be a good officer). One of those qualities was to stand up for what you believe in, and tell the truth. Full of inspiration as an up-and-coming Naval officer, Midships went to her commanding officer and declared that she was a lesbian. She had been consistently ribbed in training for her short hair, but it turned out that yeah, she was gay.
Midships was proud of herself for about the next fifteen seconds, at which point her life fell apart.
She got busted out of the Navy and all of a sudden found herself saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. Right before coming out, Uncle Sam was paying for her Ivy League education; and afterwards… Not so much.
I couldn’t help but think of Midships for the first time in over a decade reading Greg Rucka and JH Williams III’s Batwoman. Kate Kane is also a short-haired redhead who is busted out of the US military on account of being gay.Still driven by a desire to do justice and contribute, she eventually transforms herself into the titular superhero. Unlike my old friend Midships, Kane is Bruce Wayne-rich and has massive resources to equip herself as a high-tech hero.
Batwoman has much of the “real-life” military / espionage feel of Rucka’s awesome Queen & Country, plus out-of-this-world visuals from JH Williams III… Just one of the most beautifully illustrated comic books in history. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Grant Morrison loved their work so much he “had” to set up a team-up between Detective Comics fill-in Kate Kane and substitute Batman Dick Grayson in the pages of Batman and Robin (more on that later).
This book is deeply concerned with the conflicts of social justice. Rucka lays family obligation on like smears of butter on too-done toast; it is thick, and greasy, burnt-crunchy, and rich all at once. You probably won’t see very much you recognize in the romantic struggles Kate has with her various partners; but Rucka and Williams III will make you feel. Along with the typical tropes of secret identity-missed-date-hijinks Kate has to deal with overlaid social acceptance in sexual orientation, high society balls, and class. She is Wayne-rich, remember. Her love life was an animal I wasn’t used to wrestling with.
This book would probably be higher up in this list but there isn’t actually much Batman in it. I read it in trade paperback, but my assumption from its timing was that Kate Kane was keeping the seat warm in Detective Comics while Bruce Wayne was off being dead or lost in time or whatever after tussling with Darkseid in Final Crisis.
#9 Superman / Batman: Public Enemies
This story was from the inaugural arc of the comic book Superman / Batman, with the ever-popular Jeph Loeb writing and Ed McGuinness of art chores. The notion of Superman / Batman is kind of goofy — especially if you factor McGuinness’s iconically cartoon-y art into your seriousness assessment — but it ended up having lasting impact on the DC Universe, at least at the time. Public Enemies ousted Lex Luthor from the presidency, set up Talia al Ghul, personally, as a financial powerhouse, and transitioned into the reintroduction of Supergirl to the DCU.
Spoilers! (for a story many many years old at this point)
Public Enemies starts with President Lex Luthor sending the troops (and “the troops” being supervillains and coerced superheroes) after the titular icons; by the last part of the arc he is off the rails, dons his bad guy Iron Man armor from Apokalips and manages to lose the presidency and his fortune.
Superman / Batman: Public Enemies is almost unbelievably over-the-top with super-injections and large scale participation from the extended Super- and Bat-families. It also includes one of my all-time favorite fight scenes in comics… Which is why it is one of my favorite funnybooks (not just Batman funnybooks).
The bigwigs at DC agreed and turned it into one of their direct-to-DVD movie releases.
In the midst of Luthor’s hunt for Bruce and Clark, the pernicious prez sends the usually-heroic duo of Captain Marvel and Hawkman after two of DC’s Big Three. Captain Marvel is basically the “magic” Superman (similar power set but powered by magic instead of being from Krypton)… and Superman is vulnerable to magic. So Batman calls a “castle” so they switch dance partners (as Batman has himself at a disadvantage against Hawkman due to Hawkman’s power of flight).
So they switch???
Batman sends Captain Marvel into the side of the mountain despite the fact that the entire superhero community has cowered in fear of him in other arcs (e.g. Kingdom Come). He’s basically the more powerful version of Superman, essentially combining the power of six different mythical gods and heroes of legend! But we are so used to seeing Batman beat Superman with cleverness and kryptonite rings that it seems perfectly natural that Batman best a stand-in Superman… Yet a minute ago Bruce was having problems with basically Indiana Jones wearing a jetpack and swinging an iron sheleighleigh.
This fight exemplifies the sheer ludicrous-ness of Superman / Batman: Public Enemies. It’s exactly the feel that Loeb and McGuinness (in contrast to a story like Hush) are going for in this one.
Here’s a clip of the fight from the video version:
#8 Batgirl: Year One
I love Love LOVE Marcos Martin!
Pretty cool “rookie learning the ropes” story by Chuck Dixon (who was considered the best action writer in comics at this point) and the then-relatively unknown (and still criminally not-famous) Marcos Martin.
Some comics you love for being unbelievably put together and executed (Watchmen), others for a peerless evel of innovation (Supreme), and still others for the absolute perfection of their writing (tons, let’s be honest). Batgirl: Year One makes this list because of Martin.
At this point I buy basically everything Marcos Martin touches. He’s done work on The Runaways and Doctor Strange with my old high school buddy Brian Vaughan, and most recently has been kicking butt on one of the best books bar-none, Mark Waid’s reboot of Daredevil.
I would recommend you do the same and buy everything he draws on account of it is all so purdy. His Batgirl: Year One looks effortless on the page.
Amazon prices are all a kick to the unmentionables (I guess this is out of print). With an iPad you can get single [digital] issues on ComiXology for $1.99 apiece, though.
#7 Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!
I suspect Grant Morrison did all kinds of jumping through hoops for several years running — inventing Damien Wayne as the natural child of Bruce + Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, “killing” Bruce in an epic showdown with Darkseid (who else can match Apokalips’s God of Evil? Superman?), setting up Dick Grayson as the new Batman (but with a slightly different costume), elevating the Club of Heroes (goofy Batman wannabes from earlier decades of four-color pulp) — just so he could make Batman Incorporated.
Batman Incorporated is the idea that Bruce Wayne comes back from the dead and comes out of the closet as Batman’s backer. Not as Batman per se, but as the guy who supplies his Batmobiles and Batarangs and so on. How could Batman only be one dude, right?
In Batman Incorporated, Bruce sets up Batmen all over the place. Damien was working well with Dick in Batman and Robin anyway, so he lets Dick stay the Batman of Gotham City. Bruce sets up Bat-wing, Rightrunner, Black Bat (formerly Batgirl), and actual other dudes also named “Batman” as his operatives around the globe.
Amazing high concept and great fun.
Over the course of Batman and Robin and Batman Incorporated, Morrison hooks [back] up with some of the best artists in the business (most notably Cameron Stewart IMO) and elevates Chris Burnham to one of the best in the business. Burnham’s Batman Incorporated has the energy and layout of a Cameron Stewart… but with the finish of a Frank Quitely. I mean this in all the best ways.
But to get onto this Top 10 list that includes some of my favorite comics of all time?
It was this one panel in The Leviathan Strikes!:
OMG Holy Fan-boy Bat-dream (Batman)!
Bruce and all his adopted and flesh-and-blood sons; two Batmans, two Robins, all fighting back-to-back???
I know it is just one panel but I think one of the things that makes a fan like me love comics so much is the opportunity to see the heroes really strut their stuff and cut loose, look really cool while serving mad justice: To give us a reason to cheer.
Boy, does this comic do that.
#6 Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds
I consider all of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey as one long run; Of Like Minds is just the first trade she wrote of a run that is comparable in both length and proficiency to Gaiman on Sandman, Ennis on Preacher, or Robinson on Starman. I don’t state that lightly. Gail Simone on Birds of Prey — especially in the early trades and at her best — is the equal to any of those iconic writers on one of their signature books.
As a high concept, the crippled Barbara Gordon, once Batgirl but now the hacker-hero Oracle, employs with Black Canary and Huntress as her strike team. Who are Black Canary and Huntess? Who gives a hang?
These are two heroines who you might have literally zero investment in right now, but whom Simone will make some of your all-time favorites.
Birds of Prey is one of the all-time best action / martial arts comics. Under the skilled pencil of Ed Benes, it comes to life beautifully. Via Simone’s typewriter, Birds is consistently both heartwarming and hilarious. Butt-kicking, butt-kissing, exposed abs (with good reason), unbridled violence, and even more laughter.
That would be telling!
* I completely forgot I previously reviewed this comic book previously; for a more immediate review (i.e. right after I read it the first time), check it here.
No, I don’t like Avacyn, Angel of Hope. More on this later.
Yesterday was an absolutely epic day here in Five With Flores land.
243 Facebook Likes? Are you m-f’ing kidding me?
We crushed any and all all-time records with well over 10,000 visits. And why?
No effin’ clue.
I literally saw Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded circa 6am when my toddling monsters awoke me from my Thursday evening slumber, and decided to comment based on — if you read yesterday’s blog post — what I saw as some unnecessarily reductive forum posts.
Was I a little too harsh?
But it’s not like this is the New York Times or something; if one can’t be self-indulgent on one’s own blog, where can one?
Over 300,000 people have visited Five With Flores over the past four years or so, but we have never welcomed 10,000 of them in a single day before, not even when being linked to by ye olde Mother Ship. Was the universe just trolling me on account of it being Friday the 13th?
Thank you any and all for validating me, per usual.
At this point, I would like to thank my Twitter friend Scott MacCallum, better known as @MrScottyMac. A short time ago I appeared on — to be frank — a surprisingly unpopular episode of Scott’s podcast The Eh Team.
I am a “what’s great about this problem?” kind of person, and took something really compelling out of that appearance, which is that all The Eh Team guys talked about loving this blog, and lamented that I had let updating it slip since, you know, December of last year… Scott in particular.
So if Scott (and KYT, Medina, and Jay) didn’t give me a little push, I might not have ever had a day like yesterday.
Quid Pro Quo, Scott recently did an interview at Medina’s site LegitMTG (“what is LegitMTG?”) that he asked me to look at. I actually enjoyed this interview. I think you should visit LegitMTG and read it.
Scott taught his son to read via Magic: The Gathering cards (he saw how much fun they were having and wanted to join in)
Actually the whole thing was heartfelt; I learned lots of stuff about Scott I didn’t know, despite chatting with him regularly and listening to quite a few episodes of his cast for the past handful of years… Well worth the read.
Things that could have been better:
Not enough michaelj. Sure, Scott says that I was a podcast inspiration and that being able to chat with me on Twitter was cool… But most of you on Twitter know that I will chat with most anyone there! Examples for improvement: 1) naming me as the hero of his story (over the ridiculous choice of Brian Kibler), 2) drafting me for his “surviving the Zombie Apocalypse” team, or 3) at least mentioning Top 8 Magic in his favorite podcasts!
… But hey, we all have room for improvement 🙂
On the subject of fellow Twitter folk / podcasters / personalities elsewhere, Chris Lansdell of Horde of Notions recently did a nice write-up of deck design principles he learned from me (and some other guys but I don’t remember who any of them are).
One thing I find to be super ingenious and super useful is anything that is both blatantly obvious and true being said in plain language. I absolutely love stuff that has some people saying “well, duh…” You know why? Because even if something is obvious to you, that doesn’t mean that it is obvious to everyone, and especially in a game as fast-growing as Magic, we have new players who are eager to learn joining our ranks every day.
This is what I am talking about in Chris’s post:
“It’s a fundamental truth that the power of your spells increases with the mana cost, at least when it comes to tournament-quality cards.”
I was talking about a very similar concept in the most recent Top 8 Magic podcast *, specifically why I don’t like Avacyn, Angel of Hope.
Most of my compatriots were talking about how she has a lot of board presence. Yeah. Congratulations. She costs eight. If I am spending eight, I don’t want an “indestructible” creature that dies to Tragic Slip. My God, Vapor Snag is probably the most common creature control card being played in Magic: The Gathering right now.
“Well you probably aren’t paying full retail for it.”
Well if I am reanimating… Or I am paying eight, and I am allowed to play Avacyn Restored cards, why do I have dumb Avacyn, Angel of Hope in my deck rather than Griselbrand?
“Pick me! Pick me!” -Griselbrand
Even the most Spreading Santorum-leaning conservative player can, you know, gain seven to pad HIS life total a bit before paying the seven to, you know, completely take over the game.
“One of these things is not like the others.”
(when the DailyMTG fans were voting on Crucible of Worlds versus other, less card advantageous, options)
Anyway, Chris’s plainly spoken statement pretty much echoed what I was thinking about last week, and as you know, that gives you like +1 points in my book.
Check out Chris’s blog post and see where you can agree, disagree, or just pick out michaelj name-drops (also an admirable way to spend a Saturday evening).
Last “everywhere” in this roundup: AJ Sacher put up a blog post on EV and how to deal with girls, possibly “for whom you care deeply” (AJ’s terminology).
I would recommend clicking the above and checking out AJ’s story before reading this next bit.
I have been in similar spots, especially early on in my dating / married life to / with Katherine. One thing that women I dated found odd about me — and I don’t know if this is the same with you or what — but they often didn’t understand the adversarial / competitive relationships I had with some of my best friends. Think about how you deal with some of your best buds… Many of mine are duels of oneupsmanship, or running beats, shenanigans, or dirty tricks on each other. Who’s the barn? Who’s the hull? Different question: Who’s winning? How do we keep score?
In AJ’s spot I hope I would have recognized the communication disconnect and just acceded to her. It is just simpler to let her thank the other guy than inadvertently step on feelings. If there is one thing marriage has taught me, it is that avoiding conflict is generally more desirable than “being right” (or perceived as right).
In the introduction to Justice League: Cry for Justice, writer James Robinson claims that it is maybe the darkest Justice League story ever.
I actually bought and read this comic after buying Robinson’s first regular old Justice League story (which read like a mish-mash of semi-related stories with an inconsistent lineup of superheroes, but referencing Cry for Justice somewhat)… and the two could not be more different (despite featuring some of the same characters).
This story is a combo of a “gathering of eagles”-type that brings together some seldom-seen heroes (the 1970s blue Starman, Congorilla) and an overall tone of “man, bad spit be happenin'”.
And boy, is it bad.
Grant Morrison JLA villain Prometheus gathers any number of villains to do some science-disaster stuff, and it is really bad. I don’t really want to say specifically what, as the unfolding of the threat and how heroes in geographically different areas uncover the elements to its mystery is the essential process and experience of Cry for Justice, but it is quite bad.
The cast of characters includes big names like Green Lantern; “super pinups” like Starfire, Zatanna, and primarily Supergirl; and oddball heroes you have never heard of that James Robinson has a soft spot for, like a gigantic talking golden monkey. Per usual, he does a good job putting a story together.
From the other side, the Big Bad is the aforementioned Prometheus, and a cast of villains (many of whom I had never heard of before) used as chess pieces to get the good guys, often with no regard for their own safety. It is cool seeing super-torture from the side of ultimately lilly white souls, and bad guys misleading heroes mid-combat only to ultimately throw their own lives away in explosion after fiery holocaust (I told you it was the darkest Justice League story ever, already).
What’s Great About Justice League: Cry for Justice:
IMO, Three [big] Things:
I don’t know what the exact process is, but Mauro Cascioli’s art comes across like fully-rendered oil paintings. For the most part, only Alex Ross does that kind of stuff well, and the also-rans come off looking stiff or traced (or both), or badly sacrifice rendering and storytelling for the perceived painterliness of an end result. None of that here; Cascioli’s art has the fluidity and grace of storytelling indicative of a well-rendered conventional comics page, but just happens to be finished by a richer and more varied box of colored pencils, china markers, and oils (or maybe just really, really exacting Photoshop… who knows?).
I know I just got done publishing a comics review where I said the book [Batwoman: Elegy] didn’t look like anything else on the stands, and I certainly don’t want to make visual uniqueness unintentionally trite, but this book doesn’t look like anything else on the stands, either. Cascioli doesn’t have the variety of different finishes that JH Williams III does in Batwoman, but the cross-section of “good art” and “looks like a painting” is just a few microns sub-Ross (I mean that in the best possible way).
As for the story, I don’t buy many books on the strength of the artist, and I wouldn’t have known that Justice League: Cry for Justice was beautiful anyway, because I had never previously heard of Mauro Cascioli. However James Robinson is one of my all-time favorite comics writers (mostly on the basis of his [primarily] 1990s run on Starman). Robinson has some Starman favorites like the Shade and the blue Starman Mikaal Tomas (characters he didn’t create but most people either have never heard of or don’t care much about but he made layered and absolutely great in his own stories) feature prominently in the story; you can really see his love for comics and old / forgotten / still cool or rich characters unfold on the page.
I had heard about some of the crappy stuff that happened in this story from reading upcoming comics listings on various websites, and again, from the first Robinson Justice League trade (with Mark Bagley, that comes after Justice League: Cry for Justice), but rest assured, the bad things that happen are the kind that have a lasting effect on a character, like a bullet to the spine or a brutal beating at the hands of the Joker.
You would literally have to re-boot an entire universe to…
Oh wait… Never mind.
What Gave Me Pause About Justice League: Cry for Justice
While the core cast of characters — Green Lantern and Green Arrow primarily, along with Starman and Congorilla separately — is pretty constant, there often seemed to be minor stuff going on that was disconnected to what was actually going on. Like why bother putting Mon-El into one panel in the whole book? Let’s just randomly put Starfire in a bikini scene and joke about her being naked poolside sometimes! I mean sure, that is good for a LOL, but I get the feeling there were tie-ins with other titles or something that I wasn’t 100% apprised of as a trade paperback reader. I don’t know if the story would have suffered much with no Mon-El, no Starfire, whatever. As long as we follow around GL, GA, Supergirl, Starman, and the big golden monkey (and I guess the Jay Garrick Flash and his onetime archenemy Shade), we get more-or-less everything we need to out of the main story.
I didn’t / don’t hate-hate the side stuff like that, but it is semi-annoying.
Also, Scott Clark takes over the illustration chores for an issue or so. His pictures are reasonably pretty, but not as pretty — and certainly not as unique — as Cascioli’s in the majority of the rest of the book; that makes for a semi-jarring twenty-odd pages, especially given the expectation set up for the preceding 100 or so.
None of this really bothered me that much; quality book overall.
Why would someone buy Justice League: Cry for Justice?
I think the majority of buyers are either JLA zombies or like James Robinson. He is certainly not guilty of plastering an excess of commercially overblown characters all over every page, though he does an artful job of casting the absent Batman’s long shadow across the story entire; Prometheus has a very distinct agenda: He sees how Batman, “just a guy,” can terrify into submission not just cowardly criminals but also his crimefighting teammates. Prometheus wants to be — bereft of any Kryptonian DNA, magic words, or power rings — the villainous equivalent of Batman, the master strategist who bosses other villains about.
To that end Prometheus can convincingly hold his own against the entire cadre of assembled heroes. In a scene borrowing from Deathstroke the Terminator against the whole JLA in Identity Crisis (how great was it when Deathstroke swung his sword at Green Arrow, with GA ducking and Deathstroke “missing”… only to reveal the ends of all of GA’s arrows had been de-feathered by the “missed” sword-stroke?), Prometheus has a silver bullet for every good guy, moves around, dodges expertly, predicts who is going to attack from what angle, and manages to tear off heroic arms, burn off faces, break legs, split bodies in half, and generally kick buttocks aplenty.
You also get a chance to see the good guy equivalent of water boarding (along with the requisite objections from the team’s resident bleeding heart). Still, something some readers will cheer for.
Buy / Don’t Buy:
This is a strong superhero story. It touches on a sort of Authority-esque notion of proactive super heroics (the opposite of the traditional X-Men stance of waiting around for someone to attack them), but beyond a couple of questions of superhero morality (do superheroes kill? under what circumstances? should superheroes use torture to extract information? even from known killers? does giving someone a sinus headache count as torture?), it is “just” a darker look at a superhero team book.
If you love superheroes, again, this is a strong superhero story.
The art is very beautiful (for the most part).
The story is very engaging.
I personally adore James Robinson’s work.
(but not like “highest possible recommendation” buy, or anything)
I probably would have read Batwoman: Elegy anyway, as I am a gigantic fan of Greg Rucka comics from his Oni Comics Queen and Country [think girl James Bond, but like with real-life spy stuff / issues instead of teleporter wristwatches and Astin Martin black hole projectors] series, and of course wonderful runs on both Gotham Central [Bruce Wayne’s gritty war on crime, but from the other side of the Bat-Signal] and Checkmate [international espionage meets flowing capes and power rings]… But this comic came especially highly recommended.
In the foreword to one of his glorious Batman & Robin hardcovers, Grant Morrison said that he was going crazy over Rucka’s work with Batwoman… and… well, good enough for me.
Batwoman: Elegy has two big things going for it.
1. It is absolutely gorgeous. I mean beyond anything JH Williams III has done in the past. JH Williams III has worked on some pretty fantastic comic books in the past but he uses every part of the buffalo on this one. It is pretty clear, panel to panel and page to page that the same hand laid out the illustrations, but Williams communicates in half a dozen different visual languages with his finishes… Matte finish, richly layered colors, big bold flats, gray tones. It is like several different specialists all running different riffs on a single master’s core idea… Except that he is the engineer of all of it (JH Williams III is running the post-New 52 Batwoman comic as well… But I only read trades).
2. Rucka does what Rucka does well. He takes real-life military issues and blends them into a four-color superhero world, and makes them work well together. Kate Kane (the “modern” take on the Batwoman) is a capable military operative from a family of superb soldiers… Who happens to be a lesbian. She isn’t a lesbian in the ooh, ah, hetero-porn sense, but a very three-dimensional woman facing a very human problem at the crossroads of career choice and sexual orientation. She deals with it in what she thinks is the most honorable way… and through a series of struggles, ends her military career, and ends up a kind of super-soldier superhero.
Now a comic book that is grounded in real-world military concerns isn’t the kind of comic book where the protagonist is struggling against alien invasions or 1,000,000 malicious former corpses, all armed with otherworldly power rings. Kate Kane’s struggles are about social status, somewhat relatable stresses, romantic relationships, family problems none of us would wish on our worst enemies, and the rising influence of the so-called Religion of Crime in Gotham City. She works with a much more realistic palette of crimefighting tech than Batman and his Science Fiction Closet, and if she takes a knife to the chest, her recuperation has to be dealt with in a very different way than the default superhero three-world Ultra Combo Finish of “I got better.”
This is a book of emotional highs and lows, tragedy, perversion, betrayal, and personal loss; yet also of punching a room full of criminals into red-gloved KOs; of crashing through skylights in a flutter of wing-reminiscent crimson bat-cape. It is gritty and visceral as it is gorgeously rendered. Unlike even some pretty well realized telekinetic possessions and galaxy wide gamma irradiated rampages, Batwoman: Elegy makes you feel something (made me feel something anyway).
Pretty obvious that: I loved it and.
What is Great About Batwoman: Elegy? The writing. Also the art. One thing that I really liked about this book, especially as I don’t read monthly floppy comic books, is that even though Batwoman’s adventures take place in the greater DC superhero universe, you don’t really have to know that much about whatever the hell else is going on to appreciate and enjoy this story. I was vaguely aware of the Religion of Crime, and I remembered even some of the more obscure Batman-borrowed villains from my days working on the Vs. System card game; but whatever. You don’t really need to know anything about superhero comics to drop your jaw at JH Williams III’s illustrations or wipe away a tear summoned up by Rucka’s prose.
What Gave Me Pause About Batwoman: Elegy? I had a theology class back around 1993 where the instructor’s main criticism of comics — the medium that I was then growing to really love — and loved to relate to many different philosophical discussions and situations — was that they were taking themselves too seriously. I do think there is something to be said for “comics allow us to tell stories about superheroes without making superheroes look silly” (which is the point of differentiation that a fairly famous reviewer who used to work for me said was the main thing that made comics special… though this was years before amazing works like Batman Begins, X2, or Iron Man); if you are in that camp, and you mostly want to see Superman punch a planet so hard it shatters into 1,000,000 irradiated pieces, then weld together a bent-backed concrete bridge using his laser vision lickety-quick (forget about the underlying structural damage that crashing through it at the speed of sound might deal in the first place)… then this comic might not be for you. If your criteria for female-fronted superhero comics comes out of the 1990s bikini-blur of bad girls and butt shots (the last comics review I did on this blog spent several paragraphs talking about the specific rendering of Emma Frost and contrasting January Jones in X-Men: First Class relative to Andrews illustrations)… This might not be the comic for you. Kate Kane is “hot” (would be considered “hot” by a fair number of people), but despite the flowing red tresses of a Batwoman, her civilian persona has stereotypically clipped short hair. She is covered by tattoos and looks like she would be able to beat you up, even when there is no Bat-Shield emblazoned across her bust.
To me, that treatment of female Bat-hair is kind of a hat-tip to the original Batgirl from the campy Adam West Batman television show, even though Barbara Gordon is a completely different character. I liked it regardless.
Sometimes you can have a great, or well-written, technologically useful, or otherwise +EV piece of writing, art, artistry, craft, self-expression or article that has some element that some people just “can’t get over.” In Magic articles some guys don’t like name drops or humor, or are incredibly myopic. They will fixate on something (whether or not that is the central thrust of a piece) and judge it on some detail without being able to appreciate it for its whole (I am sure you know what I am talking about). Ultimately, I know that my vast blog readership crosses many backgrounds and demographics and maybe you just don’t want your comics to be progressively preachy. Batwoman: Elegy isn’t MOSTLY progressively preachy but an inability to empathize with how a talented lesbian might be dealt with by the US military might translate into an inability to appreciate Batwoman: Elegy despite how gripping and well-illustrated it might be. Me? None of these things bothers me (in some cases quite the opposite); but they gave me pause insofar that they might have given some of you pause.
Why Would Someone Want to Buy Batwoman: Elegy?
It is already great in every way that I care about. My ability to appreciate comics translates across fairy tales (Stardust and Fables) to Superman deconstruction (Miracleman and Supreme) to trippy Brazilian author autobiography (Daytripper) to regular old four-color superhero adventures (Invincible). I love any kind of comics that are well-written (Sandman) or well-rendered (WildCATs); sometimes we get both (She-Hulk… or Batwoman).
Buy / Don’t Buy: I can’t give this book a “highest possible recommendation” without a perception of watering down future highest possible recommendations, but it is pretty great (if you are into liking things that are pretty great).
Make me a millionaire (a couple of pennies at a time, it turns out):
Last Friday (9/16/2011) was what I consider the first big television night of the fall season.
No, it wasn’t my girl Zooey Deschanel on her new Fox sitcom, or the long-awaited return of an old favorite… But an action-packed evening on Cartoon Network!
I have been on mono-cartoons on Friday nights for at least the bulk of 2011. I have no clue what is on any regular teevee network on Fridays (though I do DVR Smackdown in preparations for some future rasslin’ site I have been spitballing with some other community members). Anyway, following are my reactions to this week’s first “the biggest night of action”…
While I generally like my “four perspectives” paradigm for reviewing stuff, since there is basically no buy-component to watching a single episode of basic cable cartoons, I will vary a bit for the purposes of this review (hope you don’t mind).
Batman: The Brave and the Bold “Scorn of the Star Sapphire”
Batman and Green Lantern team up to face Star Sapphire.
What was great about “Scorn of the Star Sapphire”?
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is just so deliciously over-the-top. Every situation on the show is basically the furthest extreme of what you might see in a comic book in terms of scale. At the same time, the universe of Batman: The Brave and the Bold seems to draw on everything anyone who likes comics or comics-related media has ever liked. Case in point, the opening James Bond-esque vignette at the beginning of “Scorn of the Star Sapphire” was a Wonder Woman team-up that included — I spit you not — the Lynda Carter version of Wonder Woman from the old live-action television show, complete with the old theme trumpeting as the background music during the rescue / beatdown segment. I pretty much adored that.
Plus, there is Batman’s scathing crime fighting quip, “If it weren’t for your tattoos, Tattooed Man, you could be working in that bank instead of robbing it!”
What gave me pause about “Scorn of the Star Sapphire”?
The introductory scene with Caron Ferris and Hal Jordan (testing a prototype Batmobile) is extremely reminiscent of the scene in the summer’s Green Lantern movie (I disliked the scene, and didn’t particularly like the movie) [Hal crashes stuff for seemingly no reason].
I thought Loren Lester as Hal Jordan sounded like kind of a wimp. Hal Jordan is supposed to be a fighter pilot / beat cop (as Green Lantern… his “beat” being all of the Sector). Lester made me feel like I could put down a Green Lantern with “one punch” … Not convincing in my opinion.
The overall conflict — and conflict resolution — seemed pretty goofball. I guess you can count on this show for goofball stories, but nevertheless I thought this one was a mite eyebrow-raising.
Why would someone want to watch Batman: The Brave and the Bold?
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is maybe the funnest cartoon incarnation of Batman, ever. It doesn’t have the depth and complexity of the 1990s Bruce Timm / Paul Dini animated series / Gotham Knights incarnations, but like I said before… If there is something about DC comics or related media (up to and including the Adam West-type stuff) you love, it is in there. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is kind of like the Joyce’s Ulysses of Friday night comic book cartoons 🙂
Watch / Don’t Watch?
(no clue; I don’t watch Generator Rex)
Young Justice “Targets”
Red Arrow is pitted against dangerous assassins.
What was great about “Targets”?
Red Arrow is probably my second-favorite character in the current incarnation of Young Justice, and he takes center stage. I love his attitude, I love how he fights, and I even really like his voice actor.
“Targets” really dangles a lot of interesting future possibilities in front of us, including Ra’s al Ghul as one of the principal antagonists, and — by the end of the ep — quite a bit of fill-in on the overall Young Justice backstory.
“Targets” does a superb job with its villains, and it is fun for longtime comics fans to see the interplay between Red Arrow and Cheshire (in the comics, Cheshire is the mother of Red Arrow’s child). Even Sportsmaster (an old time villain based on sporting goods… seeing how a wooden baseball bat can get through Alan Scott’s particular brand of Green Lantern) seems pretty cool / formidable.
What gave me pause about “Targets”?
I am used to Clancy Brown — the em effin’ Kurgan from Highlander — as my Lex Luthor. Mark Rolston, by comparison, seems downright effeminate. I like nine things about Young Justice for every quibble like this, but to me, Lex didn’t have the appropriate follow through.
Why would someone want to watch Young Justice?
BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME.
Watch / Don’t Watch?
DID I MENTION IT’S AWESOME?
Ben 10: Ultimate Alien “The Purge”
Old George reignites a war against all aliens on Earth.
What was great about “The Purge”?
Nothing really great. Fair amount of enriching world-building… I can see something coming on the horizon… but not “great”-great if you grok.
What gave me pause about “The Purge”?
Logistics, mostly. I mean why do the bad guys even give the aliens they catch a choice? Why not just off them if they have no fear of the Plumbers? Early in the ep it looked like they were taking on Plumbers head-on, even.
When Ben beats the bad guy end boss, why does he power down back into sixteen-year-old human mode so that he can pontificate? Why is it not “honorable” to use his Way Big alien mode to win the fight, but it is okay to use Ultimate Spider Monkey (the sentiment behind this sentence made as much sense to me as it makes to you, and I watched the show)? Does Ben really need to soapbox in that spot?
The Ben 10 universe has some of the highest highs (when it is “on”), but the average ep at this stage is pretty hit or miss, and this one was medium at best.
Why would someone want to watch Ben 10: Ultimate Alien?
I actually adore the Ben 10 cosmology… the different incarnations of the most powerful weapon in the universe… the fact that it / they is / are in the hands of a ten-year-old (now sixteen-year-old) adolescent who isn’t actually the nicest kid in the world. There is a deep idea of redemption, and sometimes good guys get hurt or even killed. Heck, good guys kill (and on occassion, needlessly). The combination of interesting universe-building and an actually surprising level of emotional engagement (for a half-hour cartoon) make it worth tuning in every week. Considering the fact that Ben 10 was at one point one of the most desirable licenses in the US means that I am no the only one.
Watch / Don’t Watch?
I’d say watch, but mostly because if Old George is going to be a central character to this season, if you don’t watch, I fear you will have no idea what is going on.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars “Water War; Gungan Attack”
Inhabitants of Mon Calamari are on the brink of civil war; the Jedi realize they need help from a powerful and amphibious ally to drive out Separatist invaders.
What was great about “Water War” and “Gungan Attack”?
This was a full hour season premiere, with the first half being “Water World” and the second half being “Gungan Attack” … The best thing about these eps (in particular the first one) was the underwater fighting! We have seen swordfights, space dogfights, but never before a large scale underwater fight like this one.
We have a shirtless Kit Fisto, Ahsoka Tano fighting with two lightsabers, and some kind of shark bad guy who apparently doesn’t need weapons. Lots of battle, lots of fun.
What gave me pause about “Water War” and “Gungan Attack”?
You can probably tell from the DVR summary (and the name of the second episode) what the proposed resolution is… and the cavalry that comes a-comin’ is a planet full of Jar Jar Binks. I’d almost not be rescued at all.
Why would someone want to watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars?
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is absolutely gorgeous. This one was a sight to behold, actually… So different, so inventive. There is nothing else on television like it. Also lightsaber fights.
Watch / Don’t Watch?
Watch / Watch / more-or-less Watch / Watch – That was pretty easy 🙂
I don’t actually obsess over new set spoilers beyond what I actually have to know in order to write things that make half an ounce of sense, you know, professional-like. However I was visiting DailyMTG on September 15th in order to check the forum responses to ye olde Top Decks The Best Card Ever… Plus or Minus One, and I saw “Card of the Day” Falkenrath Marauders.
If you didn’t saunter over to the mother ship that day, here be it / them:
I thought this was an interesting card, so I immediately checked the rarity… Yep, rare. This might do.
Flying, haste guy in Red, for five mana? It gets how big how quickly? What does this card make you think of?
For me, the answer was Demigod of Revenge, a creature so good it bent Standard mana bases all around itself, and grew into a key player in Extended’s All-in Red. Some of you are going to have the gut reaction that Falkenrath Marauders just isn’t as good as Demigod of Revenge and call it a day; I mean all things held equal, Falkenrath Marauders probably isn’t as good. It doesn’t re-buy on a cast, and it is 2/2 instead of 5/4. Check. Roses are red, water is wet, and Falkenrath Marauders ain’t no Demigod.
And they — gasp — cost the same amount of mana. How dare Falkenrath Marauders even exist?
Who cares if Falkenrath Marauders isn’t the equal to one of the best creatures of its kind ever printed? Is that a useful conclusion in the abstract? Does it mean we should never consider a Falkenrath Marauders? I mean a 2/2 for five… Who would ever consider playing one of those?
Falkenrath Marauders’s double-Dervish ability actually closes the Demigod of Revenge gap to a surprising degree… I mean, did you bother to do the math?
First hit in, Falkenrath Marauders is in for two, but becomes a 4/4 afterward.
Now a 4/4, Falkenrath Marauders is nigh-Demigod size, and ends combat a 6/6.
Third attack is for six, putting Falkenrath Marauders on 8/8.
Finally… Actually, look at this pretty simple spreadsheet comparison I set up:
No, F does not equal D. However, that doesn’t mean that F might not find a viable place in the universe.
While Falkenrath Marauders doesn’t have Demigod of Revenge’s resilience, and instead of being awesome against Counterspell it is actually poor against Mana Leak. It is also weak to removal… Even a humble Shock will knock it out of the sky on the first attack.
That just means you have to work a little harder to stick it.
I remember when Stupor appeared the first time, and the powers that be restricted Hymn to Tourach. I thought of Stupor as a more expensive, less powerful, Hymn. So for my first Pro Tour, I played the one Hymn to Tourach they let me play in a pretty non-strategic role… whereas eventual champion Paul McCabe embraced the opportunity to play both Hymn to Tourach and Stupor (and two Mind Warps) in his heavier Necropotene deck.
Eric Taylor later won a PTQ with a Mono-Black Stupor Necropotence deck, and I asked him about playing the substandard version. He explained that Stupor was more strategic. You could play for it because you had more discard. And while it wasn’t Hymn to Tourach, it certainly wasn’t a “bad” card. In fact, you could wait until the opponent had two or four cards, and then set him up with Demonic Consultation to empty his hand. Years later, Brian Hacker played one of my all-time favorite matches of Magic to watch, again with a Stupor Necropotence deck (this time in Extended).
Falkenrath Marauders might be Demigod of Revenge’s Stupor. It isn’t as good, you might have to work a little harder to stick it the first time, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to pay you back.
One thing to keep in mind: Demigod of Revenge is next-to-impossible to cast from a colors standpoint. Even Mono-Red decks of the Demigod era couldn’t play Mutavault!
On the other hand: It’s a vampire! Who knows what kind of bonuses that is going to get us?
Where can I see this fitting in?
I would guess this card would be the top end of a Mono-Red or G/R beatdown deck, presumably with some way to get small flyers out of the way. It is also possible that we could see some kind of Blightning Beatdown redux (minus the Blightnings, as far as I know)… If you empty the opponent’s hand before turn five, he isn’t going to have any way to stop your 2/2 the first time, and will have less of a chance to deal with your subsequent 4/4 or 6/6 versions.
Snap Judgment Rating: Role Player
No, I don’t think this is the best card in Innistrad or anything, but I did think it was interesting enough to spend ~800 words on; especially around the reality of how quickly Falkenrath Marauders can kill relative to good old Demigod.
A small African town has been hit with a series of bizarre occurrences, as children are born possessing strange and powerful abilities. With the mutant race dwindling, the X-Men are the first on the scene to investigate the phenomenon. When they arrive, their hopes are raised by what looks to be a concentration of mutant births. But soon they find themselves confronted by the country’s ruthless leader, who has his own ideas of what the children truly are and how to deal with them. Have the X-Men stumbled across a series of new mutant births, or are they dealing with something far more dangerous?
I have not been super into X-Men comics in some years, and I haven’t been a regular consumer of any kind of X-Men comics since Joss Whedon’s launch of the Astonishing X-Men title (illustrated in its entirely by the great John Cassaday) as kind of a follow-up to Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. Warren Ellis — the man responsible for many of the late 1990s and early 2000s greatest superhero comics, as well as comics-to-film adaptations like Red
— carried on the Astonishing X-Men after Joss launched Kitty Pryde into a super spacefaring bullet, with a succession of strong artists, arc-by-arc, most recently Kaare Andrews in this volume.
I was in particular excited to pick up this book because Andrews was such a celebrated cover artist on Incredible Hulk a few years back. You may know him from some of those iconic covers…
(my favorite was this Rockwell-inspired one, but there were lots of goodies)
Andrews has used a lot of different styles — painterly, cartoonish, exaggerated — but his ability, workmanship, and distinctiveness are pretty undeniable.
Ellis is a writer who has produced some of the greatest comics any of us will ever read — The Authority as a concept, a great deal of Planetary — but the joke is that this writer, who is one of the best at innovative superhero stories, doesn’t particularly like writing superheroes.
… So of course he finds himself piloting a quintessential “superhero” concept team in the X-Men. And not just any X-Men here… He has some of the most popular members in the history of the franchise in Storm, Cyclops, and of course Wolverine on the lineup.
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis is, I think, a rare opportunity for a writer to really bend a popular franchise to a truly terrible context… No, not a faraway space station or the undersea kingdom of Atlantis (those are actually pedestrian for a squad like the X-Men). Instead, Ellis uses the opportunity to put them into an actual awful place, a small village in Africa.
He uses the opportunity to highlight some real-world problems to an American audience… Stuff I wouldn’t have thought about independently, and because Ellis is so good, he can interweave the socially uncomfortable bits in with dialogue and situational conflicts we might actually want to read. Case in point:
Cyclops (to Storm [who is a Black woman, currently a Wakandan Head of State, and was worshipped as a goddess in the Serengeti in younger years]:
“… I’m walking two White Americans, a White Canadian, a Japanese girl and a White woman of indeterminate ancestry who speaks with a fake English accent into an African country. So if you don’t mind a little more consultation than usual…”
So even if there is a political agenda driving the setting of the book, Ellis’s skill level mitigates how much it might detract from the usual, you know, ultra-violent superhero romp.
Anyway, onto the review…
What was great about Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis?
Honestly, I loved Loved LOVED the thing about Emma Frost’s alleged fake English accent. I just got done watching X-Men: First Class for the third time, so my working image of Emma Frost is the “sullen and bosomy” portrayal by January Jones, which I didn’t hate, but was admittedly not great. Emma is written so over-the-top by some writers (Grant Morrison in particular)… I could just see the Madonna-esque fake English accent fitting for a woman who jokes about her plastic surgery, or getting herself appraised while in diamond form. Such a real-feeling nugget characterization, situated in potentially a throwaway piece of dialogue.
Additionally, the bad guys / reveal to this one harkens back to some Alan Moore / Alan Davis comics from twenty years ago, and longtime comics fans like YT get a kick out of that stuff.
From my perspective, this wasn’t really a “great” graphic novel, though I certainly appreciated quite a bit of it, and would consider it well above average in general.
That said, maybe it wasn’t meant to be great … The “ruthless leader” of the African country sums up the scope of what is going on in Xenogenesis via a thought-provoking bit of monologue over the story’s the final two panels:
“And no one will care. It’s not Chernobyl. It’s not an oil spill, or a hurricane.
“It’s just a village in Africa. Everyone wants to save the world, you see.
“But nobody really cares about M’Bangwi. No one but me.”
What about Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis gave me pause?
The African thing didn’t really bother me at all. I know some readers, once they realized what was going on, would cry emotional manipulation and close themselves off to what was good about the book. “I want the X-Men to be fighting aliens, not for the safety of one African village!” Well, they actually end up fighting some aliens so that isn’t even a problem.
The biggest thing that bothered me is actually some of Kaare Andrews’s rendering. Here is a highlight of the cover:
I mean WTF is up with Emma Frost’s butt?
Like I said before, Andrews has any number of styles available to him. And in this case he chose “gelatinously drooping”.
Emma invented the concept of using your superhot superhero body / underwear-looking costume as a weapon as the White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Flaunting cosmetic surgery is one of many batarangs in her utility belt. There was even a backup story in Classic X-Men when she explained her “uniform” to a lib-minded young waitress [things from when you are 13 that you don’t easily forget]! I mean… that is the cover!
We are way more used to seeing Emma look like, well this:
Emma Frost by Adam Hughes
Or the aforementioned:
January Jones as Emma Frost in X-Men: First Class
Anyway — that’s what gave me pause. And now that I’ve pointed it out, I bet you feel the same damn way.
Why would someone want to buy Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis?
Like I said earlier in the review, I don’t follow the X-Men slavishly. I bought this one because of the strength of its creative team… So if you were to do the same, I would guess it would be for similar reasons. Or, if you just buy every kind of X-Men everything, you don’t really need any kind of purchasing criteria other than the giant “X” in the corner (so mise).
Buy / Don’t Buy?
Buy, but a fairly soft buy. Your life won’t change if you miss this one, except maybe around a monologue on Nelson Mandela by Wolverine (but I don’t know that I would take my history lesson queues from a superhero comic book).
Teeny tiny ads: You know, so I can be F-U rich enough to join the Hellfire Club
For those of you who don’t know what Movie Klub is, it is a klub… err… club that Lan D. Ho and Jon Finkel started a few years ago. Lan, a onetime (and one-time) Grand Prix Top 8 competitor [although a participant in the greatest Grand Prix Top 8 of all time] moved to New York City a couple of years back. Lan originally moved to NYC to make his Magic: The Gathering documentary I Came to Game, and live the real life Big Apple adventure with his friends (Magic and otherwise) along the way. He showed up without a job or anywhere to live (so a somewhat less prepared, though equally handsome Felicity), but brought with him longtime friendships and contacts, and a love of new experiences and slightly-above-average mind that landed him, eventually, a position at Susquehanna International Group.
Anyway, when Lan first moved to New York, he took up “resident gamer” status at Jon Finkel’s apartment (basically you get to live in Jon’s lavish New York luxury apartment in return for being the sixth- or eighth-man to fill out drafts when we are short)… Rough life, I know.
Lan started the once-per-week New York Movie Klub, whose original members included himself, Jon of course, Webb Allen, Dan O’Mahoney-Schwartz, Tuna Hwa, YT, and Tom Martell (plus other awesome people, obv).
Some years later, Lan has located a little south to the City of Brotherly Love, but Movie Klub continues strong, having become the social center of the week for some thirty-plus mostly awesome New Yorkers (and the occasional New Jersey-er) from various walks of life, hanging out at Jon’s every Wednesday.
This week it was my turn to show and I showed the kick-ass movie Kick-Ass.
I knew I wanted to show Kick-Ass ever since I was invited to the New York premiere by then-UGO television blogger Hillary Rothing (@tricia_tanaka), whom I had met over Twitter. The premiere feature Kick-Ass [comic book] co-creators Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. in a Q&A afterwards, where we learned all kinds of reasons why the making of Kick-Ass may have in fact been even more interesting than the movie itself (and the movie is effin’ great).
Kick-Ass is a somehow non-satirical, often hilarious, ultra-violent movie about a kid who decides to become a real-life superhero. He has no StarkTech, no great physical or financial super resources, and no “great responsibility” borne by possession of great power. He is just a kid who likes superhero comics and buys himself a goofy green wetsuit and some surplus police batons… I know that as a teenager who grew up on a mix of Dungeons & Dragons and Marvel zombie-dom, the same kind of fantasy occurred to me more than once, but the protagonist of Kick-Ass, christening himself (ahem) “Kick-Ass” just took that vital step that separates the boys from their, you know, eventual padded rooms.
But his heart is in the right place.
Kick-Ass follows essentially three story threads, the heartwarming, uncomfortably funny, and somewhat Dexter-like birth and colossally unsuccessful early adventures of the aforementioned Kick-Ass; the backstory and development of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, a father-daughter team of actually competent, well-funded, and well armed super vigilantes who befriend him; and the latter family’s arch-rivals, a wealthy drug cartel who eventually produce their own superhero.
Hit-Girl is among the most unique, interesting, and irreverent characters in the history of fiction, an eleven-year-old girl with the fighting prowess of a less scrupulous Drizzt Do’Urden; it is the presence of Hit-Girl that at once makes Kick-Ass such a singular piece of fiction… and simultaneously what made the movie hard to sell to studios in the development process. Not to say too much that might spoil the experience for those of you who haven’t watched it, but she is not only and eleven-year-old murderous sociopath (with a heart of gold), but the only eleven-year-old character in the history of mainstream fiction whose typical dialogue involves “giant cock” and (in the parlance of Arrested Development) the ever-popular “Seaword” [you know, if you grok].
Millar and company, in making Kick-Ass were attempting to create the Pulp Fiction of superhero movies, and I think their particular combination of emotional poignance, inappropriate hilarity, casual bloodletting, and genuinely surprising moments mean they were successful in that. It is in fact one of my favorite films.
Kick-Ass was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed Movie Klub classic (also selected by YT), Stardust. The amazing thing about Stardust, adapted from the Vertigo fairy story by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess is that it is actually better — that is, in my opinion, ends better — than the original… And Stardust has been one of my favorite stories since its late-1990s publication. Vaughn’s most recent film is X-Men: First Class… so I can only assume he likes the comics as much as I do.
General consensus among Movie Klubbers was overwhelmingly positive for Kick-Ass. During my introductory speech, hosting Jonathan Magic asked what the Rotten Tomatoes score was; I didn’t know offhand, but looked it up on ye olde iPhone 4 during the movie, and later responded with 76%.
The best possible recommendation, then, coming from Jon was:
“Then 24% of movie critics are morons.”
Kick-Ass was (among this group) least well-received by former Beckett Magic: The Gathering and Star City Games Premium author Mark Young, who keeps the general Movie Klub blog. You can read Mark’s significantly less enthusiastic review (and learn more about different movies shown) here.
My Four Perspectives Kick-Ass Review:
What was great about Kick-Ass?
The movie is beautifully filmed. The colors are alive in shot after shot. You can really tell that the people who made this movie, from Big Daddy Nic Cage to original story writer Mark Millar absolutely love the material. There are little winks, like Brian Vaughan’s Runaways being read in a local comics shop to the kinds of banter about whether or not Bruce Wayne is a bona fide superhero or just crazy rich dude that really ring true to IRL comics fans.
Cage’s performance as Big Daddy was visually evocative of Tim Burton’s Batman, but played like Adam West’s Batman. The con-fusion is something that anyone watching the movie might notice, but that longtime fans of comics-to-film and such can appreciate as a kind of micro-Easter Egg.
More than anything else, the character of Hit-Girl, so solitary in all of fiction, is something to behold. She is hilarious and tragic, and simply fun to watch. We debated after the film what Kick-Ass might have been like with a twenty-five-year-old actress in a Hit-Girl-like role… and while some Movie Klubbers might have appreciate Angelina Jolie in such a role, the general consensus is that every action movie since The Matrix has had some kind of Trinity, and it just wouldn’t have been that special.
I might be a little bit biased though… like I said, Kick-Ass is one of my favorite movies.
What about Kick-Ass gave me pause?
The biggest barrier to my potentially showing Kick-Ass was that I had already shown a Matthew Vaughn movie at a previous Movie Klub, and I didn’t want to typecast my own choices; so I suppose that “self-consciousness” would be the biggest thing that gave me pause.
This is a little bit of quibbling, but Kick-Ass takes place in New York (and there are some unmistakably “New York” shots), but it is pretty clearly not actually filmed in New York for the most part (someone at Movie Klub suggested Toronto). I mean NYC just don’t look like that.
That said, if you are one who is sensitive to harsh language — especially coming out of the pie ice cream hole of a murderous eleven-year-old girl — you probably won’t be able to distance yourself from the raw in-your-face-ness of this film to actually enjoy what is good about it.
Why would someone want to buy (or in this case, rent) Kick-Ass?
Besides the fact that it is really, really good, I am pretty sure it streams gratis on Netflix. So if you have a Netflix membership, it’s a free roll!
On Amazon streaming you can catch two of the best hours of filmdom of your life for… let’s see… $7.99:
It’s hard to explain how much I love my Nintendo Wii.
My parents actually won it in a raffle last year, but (unsurprisingly) did nothing with it but let it collect dust in the box, so for Christmas this past year, they shipped it to us (well, ostensibly Bella and Clark). So there you have it, for the past two months or so I am (that is, we Floreses are) the proud owner[s] of a Nintendo Wii.
“Blah blah, just another video game system, blah blah.”
Despite being a hardcore gamer, as “definitions” go, I have not been much for video games since maybe the early 1990s. I mean in 1992 I was a fierce Street Fighter II competitor (albeit my Dragon Punch was inconsistent from the right), but since I got into Magic seriously in the mid-1990s, I have focused most of my gaming energies in that direction… Almost no video games for the past… can it really be 17 years?
I mean I will still game LEGO Batman with Bella or help Clark with his StoryLand adventures or whatever, but not for myself, for my own focus. To wit, I was the worst Kart player in our group in the 1990s, whereas before Magic, I was one of the best Street Fighters.
So a decade and more later… Enter the Nintendo Wii.
When these things first came out a couple of years ago, my friend Drew Nolasco (newest member of WotC R&D, but then working full time at Top 8 Magic) was telling me that the Wii was changing the face of video gaming. It was a platform not to reinforce the addictions of hardcore gamers like ourselves, but “would get grandmas playing Nintendo” … at least that’s what Drew predicted.
And true to form, since seeing how I and my family have been using her Christmas present, my mommy (herself a grandma and former owner of an essentially unused one) has elected to re-Wii.
So from the one hand, she shipped something she wasn’t using, and now has to go buy a new one; from the other, I am the owner of a used video game system… that I have declared to be the best thing I have ever owned.
Okay, so why is the Wii so awesome?
Though I am a great lover of Mario Kart from my college days (YT, TunaHwa, and altran would play Mario Kart Wii and Goldeneye on altran’s N64 when we needed a break between playlets sessions… I was playing maybe 50 hours of Magic a week back in 1997 or 1998). So yes, I Kart with the kids, which is made fun by these wheels that they let you plug your controller into.
A Kart controller.
But that’s not why the Wii is so awesome for me.
First of all, we get a lot of mileage out of our Netflix subscription.
I am toying with the idea of just canceling our cable. For what we spend on cable tv per year, we can basically buy another Mac Air (ever think about it that way?), or an iPad… Which based on our Netflix subscription (a paltry $5 a month), plus Hulu (free), we would be getting a better ROI. The down side is that much of our tv consumption is premium (Dexter, Entourage, upcoming Game of Thrones and so forth), so @craftyK is currently putting on the objections.
That said, I have mentioned how much I like Spartacus a couple of times, and since I don’t actually subscribe to the premium channel Starz, I only get to watch Spartacus thanks to my Netflix subscription… which I run through the Wii, onto my tv. Yes, it is kind of strange using a video game system as a proxy Internet interface for an online streaming service that approximates television, which is then piped back through the television as the UI… But long story short, I like me some Spartacus: Gods of the Arena; and I like being able to watch it from the couch rather than the desk.
The Wii lets you watch tv like Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, through the Internet, using your tv. Confusing, I know.
The other reason I like the Wii is the Wii Fit. Right before I started writing this blog post I did an hour of yoga on the Wii and feel great! (Actually, it inspired me to post this post.)
And unlike using a yoga video or phoning it in at the gym, the Wii Fit can actually critique your form! The Wii Fit knows when you drop your other leg for stability on a difficult pose, and cautions you for being too jittery. It can even track your pace in free run mode (running while you change the channel and watch something else), which keys into our drive as gamers to get a better score and battle past our personal bests. When Bella first started studying karate seriously about a year ago, she impressed her instructor and everyone else with how long and confidently she can hold a bridge (the bridge is basically the perfect exercise, challenging every part of your body simultaneously… look it up); I tried to match what my five- or six-year-old daughter could do for 90 seconds or more and just ended up giving myself back spasms. Today I can effortlessly move from a Wii modified “bridge pose” into a “real” wrestler’s bridge and hold it for 30+ seconds. My personal goal is to eventually be able to beat Bella, who can hold a full bridge for over 3:30.
A bridge, sometimes called a “wheel pose” (obviously not Bella doing it)… This is harder, much harder, than it looks.
Modified “bridge pose” you do on the Wii. By practicing this, I have trained myself into being able to transition into a “real” bridge.
When I first got together with Katherine — going on ten years now, most of them joyous — I was almost 25 pounds lighter. In full dating mode, I was running maybe eight miles a day, and very mindful of my weight, diet, and ability to trick beautiful women into thinking I was cool, interesting, a decent prospect, whatever. But after successfully roping the optimal wife into my long-term clutches with a tiny band of platinum and what I can only assume is a magic shiny stone… Honestly, there aren’t any excuses. Even when I was awesome at running endurance with a sub-60 beats per minute resting heart rate, I was never flexible and was always hurting myself by pushing too hard at the gym without warming up. It’s amazing to me that basically a video game is putting me into a position of being more flexible than I was when I was ostensibly in much better shape.
And as far as new year’s blah blah blah goes, I’ve already dropped about six pounds while still hitting BonChon, Hill Country, etc. with my friends every week. Just from doing yoga, free running, and other fun exercises on the Wii. It’s actually amazing to me.
Culmination of a lot of the tech I have been working on for Standard. No Sylvan Caryatids is a nod to Patrick Chapin. Nothing but two-for-ones. Wish I could have gotten this in the hands of a good pilot for the GP but just finished it.
I had a day off this weekend from shooting Supernatural, and I was walking around downtown Vancouver on Saturday, sampling all the artisan coffee I could get my throat around. At one point I saw a pair of guys walking towards me wearing gamer shirts. Black short-sleeved, one Halo and one Call of…