Wednesday, May 21, 2014

X-Men - How time travel can save the franchise

I’m super excited about X-Men: Days of Future Past. But I’m also a little nervous. Don’t worry, I’m not THAT fanboy. I’m not so naïve as to go in with the expectation that it will be a faithful adaptation of the classic storyline it’s named after. I’ve seen enough superhero movies by now to know that the filmmakers borrow elements from the comic and then run with their own ideas. But I’ve also gone into an X-Men movie with high hopes and been burned by the scorching flames of the Phoenix (more on that later).

After the disasters that were X-Men 3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (the less said about the latter the better, so I won’t), FOX kinda sorta wiped the slate clean with X-Men: First Class, a major step in the right direction. While it wasn’t the X-Men movie of my dreams, it came the closest since X2. Now the original X-Men director Bryan Singer has returned to helm Days of Future Past, which is the biggest X-Men movie to date, and has a lot riding on it. Singer, whose potential hasn’t always lived up to my expectations after giving us The Usual Suspects, has directed one mediocre X-Men movie (the original) and one good one (X2). Early word is this one is living up to the hype, so hopefully he’s learned some new tricks during his absence from the franchise and this will mark his triumphant return.

Now with a time travel element added to the mix, Singer expressed the desire to “fix a few things,” specifically in regards to X3, where he bowed out to direct the ill-fated Superman Returns. This is something that gives me a lot of hope that Days of Future Past could achieve “X-Men movie of my dreams” status. After I saw X3, I was pretty frustrated. The most aggravating thing is that it started off on a high note. The beginning of the movie dropped us right into the action with the X-Men in a Danger Room training sequence ripped straight out of the pages of the Days of Future Past timeline. They even had Colossus chuck Wolverine in a “fastball special” towards an unseen robot assailant and afterwards a giant sentinel head came crashing down. At this point in the movie I could not have been more pumped. This had to be foreshadowing for more sentinels to come, right? It turns out all we got was a head.

At least Days of Future Past will deliver on the sentinels. Cyclops’ death marked the downward plummet which the movie never recovers from. So many missed opportunities and so many confusing and misguided decisions that I don’t know where to begin (such as, how you can have Juggernaut and Colossus in a movie together and not have them fight?).  I knew that if the X-Men franchise would live on, that something had to change to justify what I had just watched. But then it hit me. I knew how to fix X-Men; time travel!

The good news is we're getting Bishop minus the mullet
It was too late to save X3, but it wasn’t too late for the future of the X-Men movie franchise. I went as far as to outline my own spec script for X-Men 4, which would involve the time traveling mutant, Bishop, traveling back in time from a post-apocalyptic future, into the events of X3 (think Back to the Future Part II) to correct all the mistakes. The fact that DoFP combines the new and old cast, meant that we could create a new path for these characters and their fates. For example, Professor Xavier dies in X3, one of the most pointless deaths scenes in an X-Men movie to date. We fans know that Xavier’s death in the comics has some major ramifications on the future, kicking off the Age of Apocalypse storyline. So obviously killing off Xavier was a bad idea in the movie. But what if we could take it back? Enter Bishop, who goes back to stop this from occurring to try and prevent the post-apocalyptic future from ever existing. Done. Next thing that needs fixing? The Phoenix Saga.

Fox really mangled this storyline. Honestly if you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all, but they went for it and the result was pretty pathetic. Worst of all, they tried to cram The Cure storyline into the same movie with it. I think Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool said it best – It’s like if MGM decided the James Bond franchise would conclude with Goldfinger but then wedged in a little Thunderball and a dash of Moonraker then called it a day. That’s basically what X3 amounted to, just throwing everything at the wall with little regard to what stuck.

THIS is the Rogue fans want to see on screen
So Jean, as Phoenix, dies in the end by Wolverine’s hands and that’s that. Jean dies in the comics so I won’t hold that against the writers, but here’s an alternative solution – Rogue, up until this point, has been one of the most boring characters in the movies, a complete contrast to her spunky persona we comic fans had become accustomed to. They introduce her with her original mutant power, the ability to absorb other mutants’ abilities, which factors into the plot of the first movie. In X2, it’s obvious they didn’t really know what to do with her, and they couldn’t take the time to introduce Ms. Marvel and give Rogue her flying and super strength abilities - that would have bogged the movie down. So let’s say, because this is a movie and not the comics, as an alternative solution, we go back into X3 and she were to absorb the Phoenix’s powers, in affect, saving Jean’s life and giving Rogue all her powers, so she can finally become the kickass X-woman we know and love. How cool would that have been to see an army of sentinels land on Alcatraz in the final battle and Rogue flipping them over her shoulder? So, no, not exactly like in the comics, but a way more satisfying outcome for Rogue’s development as a mutant as opposed to getting cured and that’s it. Supposedly, Rogue was cut out of DoFP and then added back in for a “pivotal scene,” so hopefully they finally figured out what to do with her.

Cable and Wolverine share a moment in time
As for Cyclops… he got the shaft in these movies, no more so than in X3. He was barely there in X2 and then he’s unceremoniously killed off in the first act of X3. The third movie pretty much became the Wolverine and Storm show so I guess there was just not enough screen time to accommodate poor Cyke. I attended a Comic Con panel where Zak Penn spoke about this and the way he explained it was that they wanted a major character to die early on so right off the bat, fans were given the heads up and that anything can and will happen in this movie. More accurately, it was a scheduling conflict as when Singer left to shoot Superman at the same time, he took James Marsden with him. This is another major event that could have catastrophic repercussions on the future. With no Scott Summers and no Jean Grey, that means no Cable, the future leader of X-Force who is our best hope against a world ruled by Apocalypse. Again, enter Bishop to save Cable’s parents from perishing and preventing the world from going to hell. I understand that James Marsden won’t be in DoFP, so that won’t be happening, but how cool would that be? Cable would be an awesome addition to the cast and would really help bridge the gap between the present day and the future.

So the good news is that Bishop is in this movie, and we will have time traveling mutants, in this case Wolverine (who else?). I’m very curious to see how this will tie in to Singer’s original cast and even though I know it’s not necessarily the X-Men movie I would have written, I hope it delivers. My expectations haven’t been this high since X3 so it’s got a lot to live up to.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Animated Batman Movie Rankings, Part 2: #5 - #1

Continuing on from Part 1, here we count down the Top 5 animated Batman movies of all time. Will my picks match up with yours? Read on an find out!

5) Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero

"Come on people! A guy in a weird suit with two polar bears can’t be too hard to spot!" - Commissioner Gordon

My favorite trivia about Subzero is that Warner pushed back the release date to distance it from the disaster that was the campy live-action Batman & Robin, a movie so bad, it put the Batman movie franchise in hibernation for nearly a decade. It was intended as a home video tie-in, but to avoid further embarrassment that the cartoon Batman took itself more seriously than the big budget bomb, it got delayed. Although the second animated Batman movie didn’t surpass its predecessor (Mask of the Phantasm), it’s still a worthy addition to the animated Bat library and lives up to the standard set by the series it’s based on. Batman: The Animated Series redefined Mr. Freeze with a sympathetic backstory, painting him as a tragic villain, and Subzero advances his story about a scientist determined to save his ailing wife by any means necessary, even if it means taking an innocent life. Freeze’s co-headlining is well earned, as this is primarily his story. Batman’s partners, Robin and Batgirl, have their share of screen time as well, with a budding romance sparking out of costume (Dick and Barbara are unaware of each other’s secret identities at this point). Having a bigger budget to work with, many of the vehicles are computer generated, but the CGI here doesn’t always blend seamlessly with the 2D animation. It doesn’t distract from the story but it does date it a bit. However, the runtime is a bit on the short side compared to other home video releases, and would have benefited from more breathing room to incorporate more character development for Freeze. Anyone who’s seen the classic episode “Heart of Ice” already knows about his wife Nora and Freeze’s mission to save her, but the movie could have used some flashbacks to fill in more backstory about their relationship prior to that. Freeze’s crooked colleague, Dr. Belson, could have used a little backstory to tie him into Freeze’s past as well. As it stands, Subzero is worth adding to your Batman collection, but I would have traded the CGI for more story, which would have added depth and making it feel more like a movie than a two-part episode.

Batman: Kevin Conroy
Heroes: Robin (Dick Grayson), Batgirl, Commissioner Jim Gordon
Villains: Mr. Freeze

4) Batman: Under the Red Hood

“I’m cleaning up Gotham. More than you ever did.” – Red Hood

The comic arc, Under the Red Hood, was perfectly suited to be turned into a movie. What I love best about it is it's a Batman movie made for Bat fans. Too often, superhero movies feel the need to start at the beginning, rehashing the origin in order not to alienate casual fans who have a basic understanding of the characters but aren't caught up to speed with how they've developed over the years. Red Hood keeps Batman’s continuity intact, managing to tell its story while also weaving in elements from classic stories like Death in the Family and The Killing Joke. Writer Judd Winick does an excellent job of adapting his own work onto the screen, and knows what needs to be cut in order to keep the story moving along at a good pace. This is a prime example of how a comic story should be adapted where making those cuts actually makes the end result stronger. Just like all the best Batman stories, this one involves a mystery at its core – who is the Red Hood? The story doesn’t leave a lot of room for speculation as to who the Red Hood is but while the revelation rubs a lot of fans the wrong way, it does pack an emotional punch. Bruce Greenwood brings a seasoned maturity to Batman and almost makes me forget about Conroy, as he’s one of the best actors to portray the dark knight in animation.  The Joker factors in to the plot, bringing the events that catapulted this storyline full circle. Voiced by John DiMaggio (aka Futurama’s Bender), this is one of my favorite interpretations of Joker yet. It’s a bit of an amalgam of Mark Hamill’s iconic take with a dash of Heath Ledger mixed in. Now that Hamill has supposedly retired from the role, I wouldn’t mind DiMaggio voicing Joker on a more regular basis with future projects. He brings a dark humorous edge to the role that Hamill perfected. The other major villain featured is Black Mask. The way he’s been portrayed here is one of the movie’s drawbacks as he just comes off as a raging hothead when the way he’s portrayed in the comics is cold and calculating. In the comics I always imagined his voice sounding similar to the way Jeffrey Combs portrayed The Scarecrow in the New Adventures of Batman series, which was menacing because it was devoid of emotion. When I first heard Black Mask’s voice in The Batman series, I was pretty disappointed with the way he was depicted and hoped future versions would tone him down a bit but if anything, they’ve taken it up a notch with his outbursts. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but if the movie has a weak link, this is it. Overall, the direction is top notch, with thrilling action scenes balanced with great character moments. It is a solid entry into the animated Batman library and set a new bar for all future releases.

Batman: Bruce Greenwood
Heroes: Nightwing, Robin (Jason Todd)
Villains: Red Hood, Joker, Black Mask, Ra’s Al Ghul, Riddler, Amazo

3) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

“In all the years to come, in your most private moments, I want you to remember the one man who beat you!” - Batman

While I said before that Year One, while essential to the Batman mythos, was a tad overrated, to me Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is one of the greatest Batman stories ever told. It does receive more credit than it deserves in regards to bringing Batman back to his dark roots, but it has had an undeniable lasting impact on future Batman scribes who have cited DKR as their one of their biggest inspirations and will serve as a major influence on the upcoming Zach Snyder movie featuring Batfleck. But enough about its reputation, how does the movie stack up to the rest? As far as adapting classic DC properties, this one nails it. This is the best comic-to-screen DCU offering since Justice League: The New Frontier in that it feels like a complete story and not just focusing on the major beats. They were able to accomplish this by splitting it up over two releases and leaving very little on the cutting room floor. If they had treated it the way they did the Death of Superman story in Superman: Doomsday, they most likely would have condensed all of the Two-Face and mutant gang stuff and just focused solely on the showdowns with Joker and Superman, but by allowing the time and care to do it right, it feels more lived in, taking the viewer on a journey. I still remember the classic animated episode, “Legends of the Dark Knight,” where they portray different variations of Batman and one of them was a snippet of DKR and at the time I thought, “how cool would it be if they made that into a movie?” It took a few years, but it was worth the wait. Peter Weller (Robocop) is perfectly cast as the grizzled caped crusader coming out of retirement. It was a smart choice because as much as Kevin Conroy’s older interpretation of Bruce works for Batman Beyond, Weller captures Miller’s Batman spot on. I enjoyed Michael Emerson as a villain on Lost, and the guy can play creepy, but he’s far from my favorite Joker. He’s not bad, he just doesn’t steal scenes the way Joker should. While I think the DCU movies need to ease up on adaptations and focus more on original content, if all future adaptations are treated with this kind of respect, that’ll be a major step in the right direction.

Batman: Peter Weller
Heroes: Robin (Carrie Kelley), Catwoman, Commissioner Gordon, Superman
Villains: Joker, Mutant Leader, Two-Face, Superman

2) Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

“If you don’t like the movie, I’ve got slides”The Joker

While it may not be Bruce Wayne under the cowl, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a Batman movie through and through. Many, like myself, scoffed at the idea of a teenage Batman, but who knew it would turn out this good. Or dark. This is by far the bleakest Batman movie on the list, with the flashback sequence alone earning it that label. If Batman Beyond was a completely separate entity from the original animated series, it wouldn’t resonate with me as much, but this is a direct continuation of the series, giving fans a look at what becomes of Bruce after retiring from his vigilante days, and that’s what really drives it. Return of the Joker fills in more gaps, especially in regards to Batman’s archenemy. One of the biggest questions jumping forward in time was, “what happened to The Joker?” and this movie sets out to answer that. The answer is both shocking and satisfactory. Mark Hamill is back in the role he was born to play and although this version of Joker is a little more toned down than usual, he’s still just as menacing as ever. The Batman of this series, Terry McGinnis, at this point had carved out his own path as Batman, but it’s with this movie that he takes the next step of not simply filling Bruce’s shoes, but really honoring the legacy of the Batman. It’s not really fair to compare Will Friedle’s Batman to Kevin Conroy as he’s not voicing the same character, and because Conroy reprises his role as Bruce Wayne, we don’t have to. Bruce’s former partners, Barbara Gordon and Tim Drake, factor into the plot, keeping the supporting cast in the Bat family. In addition to building a new mythology, the series had always touched on elements from Bruce’s past before, but when it came to crafting a movie, the creative team knew they would have to dig deeper to make it feel worthy of a movie, and the scope of this does feel big. It’s a shame that we have yet to receive another Batman Beyond movie as this proved to be a major achievement and there are clearly many more stories to be told. I’ve still got my Batman Beyond spec script on file, so what are you waiting for WB, let’s fast track it!

Batman: Will Friedle
Heroes: Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Barbara Gordon, Batgirl, Robin
Villains: The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Jokerz gang

1) Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

“Your angel of death awaits.”The Phantasm

The benchmark. The first full length animated Batman movie and so far only one that’s ever been released theatrically. Therefore the one every subsequent movie is compared to. Not only is Mask of the Phantasm the best animated Batman movie ever made, it’s arguably the best Batman movie of all time. It’s got all the elements that make for a good Batman story - mysterious plot, intriguing villains, tragic love, and if that’s not enough, it’s got The Joker piloting a jet pack. Spinning out of the best animated superhero show ever (no debate), Phantasm benefited from a dream creative team at the top of their game. The episodes of the show have been described as “mini-movies,” bringing a size and scope to the small screen unrivaled in animated programming at that time, and Phantasm builds on that model, allowing for a little more breathing room to include some fantastic flashbacks that not only provides additional insight into Bruce’s decision to don the cape and cowl, but also ties in directly to the main plot in a completely satisfying way. Others have come close, but no Batman movie since has matched the pathos on display here. And did I mention The Joker was in this? Yeah, he appears in half these movies, but I don’t think he’s utilized better than he is here (Return of the Joker being a very close second). The way he ties into the plot is one of the movie’s major highlights and Mark Hamill is at his manic best, the perfect balancing act between scary and funny. The story’s primary antagonist, the Phantasm (loosely based on The Reaper from Year Two), fits perfectly into Batman’s world and the mystery surrounding the foe’s motivation makes for a cool twist. It really doesn’t get much better than this, and in my eyes, it has yet to. If you’re a Batman fan and haven’t seen this, stop reading, do yourself a favor and go watch this now.

Batman: Kevin Conroy
Villains: The Phantasm, Joker

There you have it. I don’t claim this to be the definitive list, but that’s how I rank them. It’s worth noting that the Joker appears prominently in 5 of the 10 movies and that out of those, 4 ended up in my Top 5. Does Joker instantly increase the quality of any Batman story, or is it just a coincidence? Either way, it doesn’t seem to hurt.

As much as I enjoyed comic-to-screen adaptations of The Dark Knight Returns and Under the Red Hood, it would be nice if the direct to video line of DC Universe Animated Original Movies would live up to their name and actually be fully original content as opposed to just adapting the most popular DC comic stories. I’m sure it’s only just a matter of time before they adapt such classics as The Long Halloween, Knightfall, Hush and the more recent Court of Owls story lines, and while those are all fantastic tales of the dark knight, I really don’t want to experience the abridged versions. The first release under this banner was Superman: Doomsday, a truncated reworking of the Death of Superman arc. The execution was pretty sloppy and what could have been Part 1 of an animated trilogy, instead resulted in a stripped down version that didn’t do the story justice and left fans wanting.

What I’m getting at is if a comic storyline can’t be adapted into the strict 75 minute limit that is imposed on these movies without making major sacrifices, come up with something new that does work within that timeframe. How about it WB?

Having said that, I’m looking forward to the upcoming release of Batman: Assault on Arkham this summer, which tells an original tale set in the world of the Arkham video games and I will revisit this list at that time to see where it slots in. Until then…

How do my rankings compare to yours? Am I totally off base and you would have liked to see something ranked higher on the list? Let me know!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Animated Batman Movie Rankings, Part One: #10 - #6

Batman and animation have a long history. I’m always psyched for the latest animated adventures of the Bat, and the DC Universe line of movie has been cranking them out regularly in recent years, so with last week’s release of Son of Batman, I was inspired to revisit every animated Bat movie and rank them. I decided I’d just include straight Batman animated movies on this list, so I’m omitting the Superman/Batman movies as well as the Justice League ones that feature him. 

There’s 10 in all so let’s get started!

10) Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman

“Remember, there are many species in which the female is deadlier than the male.”Alfred Pennyworth

I don’t hate Mystery of the Batwoman. Yes, it’s my least favorite of all the animated Bat flicks, but hate is too strong a word for what adds up to a disappointing effort. There are actually some elements I appreciate about it, but the execution is sloppy and the mystery unravels in a totally unsatisfactory way. This is the only movie to be based on The New Batman Adventures animation style and while I don’t mind the look of that series, the movie appears to have been produced on a TV show budget. It’s too bright and the direction doesn’t give any sense that this is more than a glorified extended episode of the show. Worst of all, the one area they apparently did spring extra on was an original song used prominently for a musical number which I guess was supposed to raise the production value, but instead it just only served to take me out of the movie with how jarring it is. They even play it again over the end credits to get their money’s worth. The “mystery” is revealed to the audience before Batman figures it out which lessens the impact, but it’s not like the reveal was a major shocker. If you haven’t seen it, let’s just say there’s one too many red herrings. Kevin Conroy leads the voice cast, reprising his role from the series, and for the most part the actors suit their parts but Kelly Ripa is totally miscast in her role as a computer geek and while I don’t mind David Ogden Stiers as Penguin, he doesn’t compare to Paul Williams from the series. The climactic showdown between Bane and Batman on an ocean freighter engulfed in flames is a high point and there are a few good lines and some humor to be found, but as much as they try to give the new characters motivation, the backstories are one-note and end up feeling tacked on. Bruce’s love interest, who is mostly forgettable, comes across as forced with zero chemistry to speak of. It’s a shame because the creative team behind this did great work on the show but it appears without Bruce Timm and Paul Dini to help guide the ship, this is what we end up with. Batwoman deserves a better movie than this. We all do. Let’s hope next time they get it right.

Batman: Kevin Conroy
Heroes: Robin, Batwoman, Commissioner Gordon
Villains: Penguin, Bane, Rupert Thorne, Carlton Duquesne

9) Batman: Gotham Knight

"I'm willing to put my life on the line to do what I have to. But it has to be mine, no one else's" - Bruce Wayne

Gotham Knight is unlike any other title on this list. Instead of being one cohesive movie, it’s split up into six shorts, each scripted by a different writer (including Greg Rucka, David S. Goyer, Alan Burnett to name a few) and animated in six distinct styles by various anime studios. The stories loosely fit together with minor elements carrying over from one story to another but for the most part are self-contained. Here’s where it gets a little shaky – these stories take place in the Nolan-verse, falling in between the live action Batman Begins and The Dark Knight movies, so there are some subtle references that elude to events in Begins, but ultimately it doesn’t add much to the experience. I originally went in with the mindset of, “OK, so this is how Killer Croc would fit into Nolan’s films, got it.” But the more I thought about it, I didn’t really see the point. Unlike say, the Animatrix or Chronicles of Riddick animated tie-ins, which are voiced by the actors from the movies, Gotham Knight doesn’t feature any cast members from Nolan’s Bat films, weakening the supposed link to the movies. In a weird way, having Kevin Conroy voice Batman in this doesn’t quite work for me. Conroy, to me, is the definitive voice of Batman and I’m always up for him playing the role but when you’re so used to hearing that version in relation to a particular animation style, it threw me off a bit with the various anime interpretations. And that’s not to say that I’m not a fan of anime or that Conroy’s voice can’t work outside of the Bruce Timm model (it works great in the Arkham games), but I think I would have preferred different voice actors for the alternate takes on Batman. Voice acting aside issues, the animation is pretty spectacular throughout and is some of the best I’ve ever seen in an animated Bat movie. No surprise there, as the studios involved previously brought us such anime classics as Ninja Scroll and Ghost in the Shell. I would love to see a full-length movie animated in one of these styles down the road. Story-wise, the segments vary in quality and I think they would have worked better if they weren’t restricted by the requirement of fitting into the same universe and could operate completely independently of each other, similar to the Batman: Black & White anthology. So while I liked the idea behind this release, the execution wasn’t flawless.

Batman: Kevin Conroy
Heroes: Commissioner Gordon, Crispus Allen, Anna Ramirez
Villains: The Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Deadshot, Sal Maroni

8) Son of Batman

“My way is easier” – Damian Wayne

It was only a matter of time before Damian Wayne got his own movie. Based (very loosely) on the comic book story arc Batman and Son by writer Grant Morrison, this movie tackles the introduction of Batman and Talia Al Ghul’s son, Damian, the future Robin. Obviously being a DC animated movie and only having so much time to work with, this necessitates that events move at a much quicker pace here than they do in the comic. The rushed pace means the movie packs a lot of story in, but at the sacrifice of any character development. While there are plenty of action beats, there is little to no character moments to point to. Batman and Damian’s relationship barely has a chance to grow before he suits up as Robin and takes on Deathstroke. The lack of development makes it impossible to like Damian that by the final fight, it’s hard to say if anyone would care whether he lived or died. I certainly didn’t get a sense that Batman did, he’s far more concerned with Talia’s well being. The army of manbat ninjas make their way into the story straight out of the comic, but just as it was in the comic, it comes off more like a “wouldn’t this be cool” idea than something necessary to telling a good story. Having skipped Justice League: War, this was my first time hearing Jason O’Mara as Batman and my initial reaction was less than impressed. He’s not terrible, but he’s too one note. Every actor that voices Batman are put in the unenviable position of being instantly compared to Kevin Conroy, and some have pulled it off better than others, but I’m glad that Conroy is back for the next installment, Assault on Arkham. I’m beginning to tire of the DCU Animated “Original” Movies adapting stories from the comics. While Son of Batman isn’t a note-for-note recreation of the Batman and Son story, it was designed to be told in comic book format with as many issues as it took to tell the story. Because these movies are limited by their runtimes, I’d love to see a future installment that is completely original and is catered to the direct-to-disc format as opposed to trying to cram several years worth of story and character development into a tiny package. Fans crave something with more time and care invested into it, and if that means we have to wait longer, I’m willing to be patient.

Batman: Jason O’Mara
Heroes: Damian Wayne (Robin), Nightwing
Villains: Deathstroke, Killer Croc, Ra’s Al Ghul

7) The Batman vs. Dracula

“So the folk tales are true. There is another bat in Gotham.” - Dracula

I originally wrote off The Batman series altogether. I couldn’t get past the goofy character designs and I suppose I thought of myself as a purist that if it wasn’t B:TAS that it wasn’t worth watching. I eventually gave The Batman a shot, and once I was able to separate it from its predecessor and judge it on its own merits, I actually came to appreciate it for what it was. The Batman vs. Dracula is the sole movie to come out of the show and it, like the series, exceeded my expectations. No, it’s not perfect (Tom Kenny’s Penguin is too silly for words) but what does work really works. Peter Stormare (everyone’s favorite nihilist) captures the essence of Dracula, taking the role as seriously as he would a live-action one. The producers wanted to simply drop Bram Stoker’s version of Dracula into their story with his personality intact and they achieved just that. Dracula is a worthy foe and really presents a formidable threat to Batman. If the show treated every villain with the gravitas they did Dracula, the show would have majorly benefited from it. Having said that, one of my favorite aspects of the movie is Dracula Joker. Joker goes from being a laughable foe to one of his creepiest portrayals yet. I couldn’t have predicted how much fun a blood-sucking Joker could be. As much as I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome, I couldn’t help but wonder while watching how much more I would enjoy an adaptation of Doug Moench and Kelley Jones’ Red Rain. But this is The Batman and so I can’t really criticize it too harshly for being what it is which is a perfectly serviceable Batman movie.

Batman: Rino Romano
Villains: Dracula, Joker, Penguin

6) Batman: Year One

“From this moment on, none of you is safe.” - Batman

Adapted from the Frank Miller scripted classic of the same name, it was only a matter of time before this got the animated treatment. Before we get into this, I’m going to get this out of the way – Batman: Year One is a bit overrated. I know, blasphemy, right? Look, it’s a decent Batman story. It’s an even better Gordon story (a more appropriate title would’ve been, Jim Gordon: Year One), but it’s nowhere near my Top 5 or even Top 10 Batman stories of all time. It’s clear to see how heavily Batman Begins was influenced by it, and I can appreciate the blueprints it laid out for future Batman stories to follow its lead, but was it so good that it needed to be animated? Other than some fine voice acting from Bryan Cranston as Gordon, the movie doesn’t offer a whole lot more than you can get from reading the book it’s based on. It’s a spot on, nearly panel-for-panel, recreation of the book, an almost glorified motion comic in its faithfulness to the source material. The dialogue remains pretty much intact as well, meaning you can read the book and put the movie on in the background to serve as a read-along soundtrack if you choose. Although I prefer to hear Kevin Conroy’s voice in my head when I read Batman’s lines over Ben McKenzie, who isn’t bad, he’s just dry. It seems Christian Bale’s performance serves as inspiration here except McKenzie underacts, maintaining an emotionless monotone as opposed to Bale’s over-the-top shouting. Hopefully McKenzie will step it up when he fill’s a young Gordon’s shoes in the upcoming Gotham TV series. As noted earlier, Batman is not the star and has far less lines than Gordon. It’s not a bad attempt to introduce Year One to a new audience and I love seeing David Mazzucchelli’s art brought to life, but I’d prefer to see more fully original stories inspired by the comics worked into the animation schedule as opposed to operating as book-on-video recreations of Batman, Superman and the Justice League’s greatest hits.

Batman: Ben McKenzie
Heroes: Lieutenant Jim Gordon, Catwoman
Villains: Carmine Falcone

Which animated Batman movies will round out the rest of the list? I'll be posting my Top 5 in order tomorrow so check back to see if you agree with my rankings!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Colorist Appreciation Week Roundup

As much as I love comics and always will, there's still some kinks to work out in how creator royalties are handled as well as credits in regards to colorists. This past week my response was to shine the spotlight on some of the industry's top colorists and what makes their contributions such an essential ingredient to the overall package.

I learned a lot from researching each colorists' body of work and I hope you'll learn something too and come to appreciate them and their peers even more next time you read a comic (unless it's The Walking Dead, in which case, never mind).

DAVE STEWART (DC: The New Frontier, Hellboy)

JORDIE BELLAIRE (Deadpool, The Rocketeer)

DEAN WHITE (The Avengers, Uncanny X-Force)

CHANDRAN PONNUSAMY (Cryozone, Steam Engines of Oz)

ALEX SINCLAIR (Batman, Astro City)

Let me know what you think of my choices and leave a comment or tweet at me @scott_duvall

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Colorist Appreciation Week Day 5 - Alex Sinclair

One of my all time favorite comic book artists is Jim Lee. Growing up on Marvel Comics in the 90's, I was introduced to his work through his groundbreaking run on X-Men. So it comes as no surprise that frequent collaborator Alex Sinclair has turned out to be one of my favorite colorists.

Art by Jim Lee
His stellar work on Batman: Hush alone is enough to earn my respect, as he was given the opportunity to color a good chunk of Batman's most notable rouges which, for me, have turned out to be some of the most iconic Batman imagery of the modern era. Simply put, this guy knows how to color Gotham City and its inhabitants just right.

Whereas some artists have a stylistically minimalist style that relies on moody shadows to fill in the backgrounds of their panels, Lee has also always been very detailed, which means he sometimes gets delayed, but in my opinion, always worth the wait. But it would all be wasted effort if Sinclair didn't know how to color it to emphasize every last pencil line (special shout out to Scott Williams for the inks!) and it really enhances the art in a way that I can only describe as awesome. To get even less technical, I love that glow effect he whips out every time Batman is at his computer in the cave. Like I said, if Lee's attention to detail didn't have a colorist that could match him panel for panel, it just wouldn't work. Sinclair would probably make a good DP as he has an amazing eye for lighting. Check out the above panel with Killer Croc to see what I mean.

Art by Jim Lee, pencils to final colors
Art by Jim Lee
 His take on Superman is equally impressive in that it captures the Man of Steel's iconic colors the way they should look. I said in my original post that you can't picture Superman without his red cape and yellow chest emblem (although he's ditched the red shorts), and similar to how I suggested that Dean White colors the Marvel characters the way they were meant to be colored and should be referenced by all future colorists, the same can be said about Sinclair and the way he depicts the DC superheroes. See his work on the New 52 iteration of the Justice League if you don't believe me.

Art by Brent Anderson

One of the series where I've been most taken with Sinclair's work is on the underrated Astro City. The reason I say underrated is, unfortunately, I don't hear this series come up on conversation enough as a must-read, but I think it's one of the best takes on superheroes that I've ever witnessed. But before this turns into a "Why Astro City Deserves More Recognition" rant, the coloring on this book is so consistently good! Furthermore, these are not heroes whose look had been defined for decades prior to Sinclair trying his hand at them so he's really able to make their look his own. I'm thrilled that when Vertigo revived the series, they they brought back the key creative players, including artist Brent Anderson, whose work I don't see nearly often enough, and if for whatever reason, Sinclair wasn't available to join the party, Astro City would have lost one of its key architects. The coloring on this series is some of the best I've ever seen and every color pops right off the page. In some ways it reminds me of Lynn Varley's work on The Dark Knight Strikes Again, another of the most colorful superhero books that I've ever laid eyes on.

If you've never read Astro City, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Come for the unique perspective on superheroes in a universe that's all its own, stay for the killer artwork and some of the most brilliant use of colors that you'll ever seen in a comic.

You can find more of Alex Sinclair's work here.

That's going to wrap it up for #ColoristAppreciationWeek. I enjoyed feasting my eyes on some incredible art and figuring out what I liked about each colorist best. Who are some of your favorite colorists? I'd love to know who else deserves a look so feel free to leave me a comment!

Until then, I leave you with this...

Once again, art by Jim Lee. This one hangs on my wall printed on canvas. Beautiful!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Colorist Appreciation Week Day 4 - Chandran Ponnusamy

As my tribute to highly talented colorists continues, I want to focus on an artist I've had the pleasure of working with. Chandran Ponnusamy, or simply Chandran, as he's often credited, is in my opinion one of the most underrated colorists in comics. His work can often be seen in various titles for Arcana Studios, but I'm surprised he hasn't been snatched up by any other publishers because his flair for coloring and collaborative nature make him a great asset to any art team.

Art by Clint Hilinski
My experience working with Chandran was on a sci-fi comic Cryozone, where I had a very distinct vision in my head for how the coloring should look. I was very impressed with this stage of development as he made the art by Clint Hilinski crackle with energy. If I wanted a soft green glow to illuminate a room, that's exactly what I got. If I needed slightly out-of-focus panels to emphasize a flashback, he made it happen. If I needed a motion blur to emphasize the rapid growth of a tree, Chandran delivered. The coloring exceeded my expectations on every level.

Each and every challenge I threw at him was met with professionalism, giving me exactly what I wanted and going the extra mile to make sure the comic looked the best it could. As I've stated previously, coloring choices can make or break an otherwise good comic, and Chandran's instincts were right on the money.

Although I'm not as familiar with his other work, having viewed covers and some interiors online, it's clear that he brings the same skills and passion to each project, supplying his unique stamp.

Art by Allan Otero

Art by Yannis Roumboulias
 Below is one of my favorite pieces from Cryozone. I wanted a futuristic cityscape that was immediatly eyecatching and drew the reader in. The inked version was good and I was pleased with the outcome, but it was really when I saw this version that my jaw dropped. It went from being a drawing, to magically transporting me to this world I'd created in my mind. For the first time I could actually gaze upon a vision that was previously unseen by anyone else's eyes. In short, the coloring MADE it.

You can check out Cryozone on Comixology for just 99c or get the print version from Midtown Comics.

Check back tomorrow afternoon for the final colorist spotlight for #ColoristAppreciationWeek!

Art by Clint Hilinski