A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

TITLE: Justice League
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
 120 min
RELEASED: November 17, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Justice League is a standard superhero popcorn flick. It’s nowhere near as dark, dreary, and generally abysmal as Batman v Superman. But it also doesn’t accomplish anything remotely special. It’s about a team of heroes coming together to fight a villain with a doomsday plan. Been there, done that. Several times, actually. So what we get comes off completely and utterly average.

After all these years, the first Justice League feature film is just average. What an awful, heartbreaking waste…

The plot is basic enough to surmise from the advertising. As the world continues to mourn the death of Superman, we’ve got a new big bad in town. Steppenwolf, a tyrant from the hellscape world of Apokalips, has returned to Earth after thousands of years with his army of Parademons in tow. He aims to conquer the world using the immense power of three “Mother Boxes.” Batman and Wonder Woman prepare to meet this invasion head on by assembling a team of super-powered heroes. The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are all called to action. But in the end, they won’t be enough. For this new team to triumph, Superman must return…

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting on paper than it is on screen.

Justice League is the culmination of the years-long comedy of errors that is the “DC Extended Universe.” Man of Steel was an adequate start, flawed as it was with it’s dreary look and overindulgent third act. It was followed by the downright dour Batman v Superman, which robbed its characters of almost any charm, heart, or likability. Suicide Squad wasted arguably pop culture’s most iconic supervillain in the Joker, but managed to be fun in a mindless hot mess sort of way. Wonder Woman was the exception that made the rule. It felt like a single vision, with purpose, heart, and passion put into it.

And so, on one the most rickety foundations in cinematic history, Justice League was built. Like Suicide Squad before it, this movie feels like a melting pot of visions, voices, and priorities clumped together to form a viable commercial product. Our director is once again Zack Snyder. But with their confidence shaken from the backlash to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to reshape the script. Thus, we have a Joss Whedon superhero movie taking place in Zack Snyder’s grim DC Universe, under the management of a studio desperate to compete with Marvel at the box office. Hot damn! Sign me up!

One of the major missteps in Justice League is it’s choice of villain. DC Comics lore is full of baddies worthy of challenging Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Darkseid is the obvious choice. But you’ve also got big cosmic villains like Brainiac, Mongul, and Despero. Professor Ivo and the Amazo android could have made for an interesting story. Hell, team Lex Luthor up with the Joker! It sure as hell beats Steppenwolf…

Yes, Steppenwolf. A second-rate, paper-thin, poorly rendered Darkseid stand-in with an army of space bugs, a silly name, and a generic doomsday plot. This is who they came up with to face the Justice League in their debut feature film. Strictly from a cynical marketing standpoint, how the hell to you pass up slapping Darkseid, Brainiac, or Lex Luthor on t-shirts and posters, and instead opt for someone called Steppenwolf?

Justice League cost a whopping $300 million to make. That’s astounding, considering our CGI-rendered Steppenwolf looks like he was done in the late ’90s. It’s not just him, either. It’s been well documented that reshoots were done with a mustached Henry Cavill. The movie’s opening sequence wasn’t even over before Mrs. Primary Ignition turned to me and asked, “What’s up with Superman’s mouth?” Certain shots in Batman’s introduction are also extremely fake looking. Makes you wonder what the hell happened to good old fashioned stunt doubles and prosthetic make up…

Superman has a certain aura of reverence in this movie. Had that been earned or established in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, that would have been fantastic. I’ve always been a proponent of Superman being the center, or at least part of the center, of the DC Universe. He’s certainly its moral backbone. But all this mourning we see over Superman doesn’t match the controversial figure we saw in Batman v Superman. Yes, some people loved him. But he was also the subject of protests and a congressional hearing. Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, and those who knew Superman have a reason to miss him. But based on what we saw before, there’d be a large contingent of people who’d be glad Superman died.

So now that I’ve sufficiently ripped Justice League apart, what’s there to like? What did they get right? Believe it or not, all was not lost from the get go…

Unlike in Batman v. Superman, almost all of our heroes are likable. Superman knows how to smile. Wonder Woman is compassionate, but still fierce. I’ve never needed a lot of selling on Ben Affleck’s Batman. Joss Whedon’s influence in the movie is obvious when the Dark Knight gets in a quip or two. Ezra Miller plays a socially inept Flash, who provides much of the comic relief. His costume looks absolutely ridiculous. But there’s a certain charm to him. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is surprisingly okay as a dude bro. For a team flick, it works fine. Granted it’s not the approach I would have gone with, and they’ll obviously need to deepen his character for the Aquaman solo movie. Assuming that’s still in the pipeline after all this.

As much as this movie fell short of what it could have been, there is a certain warm and fuzzy quality to seeing these characters on the big screen together. Most of them aren’t true to the essence of the iconic characters they’re based on. But at the very least it’s cool on a superficial level to see Batman is standing next to Wonder Woman. Superman is running next to the Flash! Aquaman is in Atlantis! It’s a highly tarnished version of what we should be getting. But at least we’re getting it in some form. That counts for something.

And so, four years into the DC Extended Universe, what have we learned? What has the road to Justice League taught us? More than anything, it’s this: Darkness doesn’t equate to quality. At least not to larger audiences.

Some people point to darker tales like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the pinnacle of the superhero genre. But while they pushed the boundaries of how these stories and characters could work and be seen, they weren’t simply dark for the sake of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns isn’t just about an older and grittier Batman getting to punch Superman in the face. It’s about a hero returning to face a world that’s changed in his absence. Watchmen isn’t about Rorschach beating people up. It’s a look at superheroes from a different, more grounded angle. The dark tones fit the stories and the characters, not the other way around.

We also need to remember that at the end of the day these characters are meant for children. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them as adults. We don’t need to dumb them down for kids, but we can’t keep them all for ourselves either. If DC and Warner Bros. should have learned one thing from Disney and Marvel, it wasn’t the cinematic universe element. It’s that these movies can be accessible to viewers of all ages. They can be mature without being meant for mature audiences.

The blame Justice League‘s failures, creative and otherwise, falls primarily on the studio higher-ups. But the finger also needs to be pointed at Zack Snyder. He’s got a devoted fanbase that will filet me for saying so. But if Batman v Superman didn’t convince you, the fact that the first Justice League movie didn’t outperform the third Thor movie should say it all. Snyder must be kept far away from any and all future DC films. I shudder to think what this movie would have looked like without Joss Whedon’s influence. 

Superhero movies can be thrilling, emotional, and surprisingly versatile. But at their core, they aren’t complicated. Give us a hero worth rooting for, a villain worth rooting against, and a reason for them to fight. We don’t need to see a bad guy get his neck snapped, a bomb inside a jar of piss, or a city destroyed to compensate for a lack of emotional connection with the audience. 

Lessons learned. Six years and millions of dollars too late. But lessons learned…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Dark Nights: Metal #2 Review – Aw, Look at the Baby…

TITLE: Dark Nights: Metal #2
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 13, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Dark Nights: Metal #2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor. There are no awful giant robots to speak of, and the Batman worship has been toned down to a degree. There’s even an opportunity for Batman to beat up the whole Justice League again, and Snyder and Capullo pass…sort of. This issue gives us the best from all parties involved. Now if only I were confident things weren’t going to degenerate going forward…

The League is on the hunt for Batman after learning he’s a living doorway into our world for a demon named Barbatos from the Dark Multiverse. The Caped Crusader is determined to prevent Barbatos’ arrival on his own. But it’s a mission that’s doomed to fail, as his determination is about to backfire on him. One way or another, the Batmen of the Dark Multiverse are on their way.

One element of Metal that has yet to falter is the art. Penciller Greg Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCO Plascencia give us the DC Universe in all its grandeur, albeit a shade or two darker. The issue opens with a sequence that quickly jumps between Gorilla City, the House of Mystery, Metropolis, and the Amazon rainforest. Later on, we go to a location that Superfriends fans will recognize as the Hall of Doom, which is a cool little moment. Then you have the two-page spread revealing of all the Dark Multiverse Batmen. I stand by what I said last time about how they don’t all need to be twisted versions of Batman. But there are a lot of fascinating design elements.

“The Batman Who Laughs” (center) is the most provocative, as he comes with what appear to be cannibalistic zombie Robins on leashes. But the Aquaman equivalent (far left), “the Drowned,” has an intriguing design that seems to be pirate-inspired. The Wonder Woman equivalent is clearly inspired by Ares. Of course, having Doomsday stand in for Superman is a nice touch.

My complaints about the art are few and far between. But one of them deals with a shot of Damian Wayne. Early in the book we get a chase sequence through the Amazon, as Justice League members chase various Bat-family members who have been digitally camouflaged to look like the Dark Knight. Robin, meanwhile, is driving what essentially amounts to a big Bat-tank. There’s a panel where we zoom in on Damian behind the wheel, and the poor kid looks like he needs a booster seat (shown below). He’s supposed to be 13 years old, not six. What gives?

I’ve made no secret of how much I hate what Snyder and Capullo did with Batman and the Justice League in their Endgame storyline. While under the effects of the Joker’s mind control, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Aquaman all attack Batman. Naturally, Snyder gives Batman a giant robot to fight back with, as he trumps all of them one by one. Each time, we got a detailed explanation of the pseudoscience involved. It all culminates with Batman spitting in Superman’s eye. There was no harm intended, but the whole thing wound up being absolutely disgraceful. One of the worst instances of Batman worship I’ve ever seen.

So naturally, the rainforest chase scene between the League at the Bat-family was nerve-wracking for me. Especially when the various members of Batman’s team start springing various traps. But in the end, with Superman’s help, the League gets a win. Batman himself winds up not being there at all. But let’s take our wins where we can get them. We avoided some indirect Batman worship.

Snyder and Capullo handle Superman pretty well this time around, which is a nice surprise. He’s compassionate and concerned about Bruce’s wellbeing, even referring to him as a brother. But at the same time, he’s the assertive leader that he should be. One way or another, he refuses to let Bruce face this threat alone.

I’m a little less sure about baby Darkseid, however. This transformation happened back in Geoff Johns’ Darkseid War. It’s not so much the way the little guy is used, but how he looks (shown below). I understand the goggles, which Batman addresses in the scene. But did we have to put him in a miniaturized version of his normal blue armor? There’s a ha-ha quality there that puts a damper on the drama.

On the subject of Darkseid, Snyder surprised me by weaving The Return of Bruce Wayne into this story. The idea is that Barbatos first saw Bruce when he was sent back in time via Darkseid’s Omega Beams, which set up the events of Return. I’ll say this much, it at least offers a little explanation as to why this giant cosmic entity is specifically targeting Bruce.

According to Snyder, Metal has been in the works since his run on Batman began in 2011. Metal #2 takes us back through the events of said run, and reminds us of the various otherworldly metals our hero has been in contact with. Electrum, Dionesium, etc. While I adore the long-term storytelling, the issue takes it a little too far by introducing a new metal called Batmanium. Ugh. Really? Batmanium?

I’ll say this much for Metal: It’s unabashed in its cornball moments, while at the same time creating a threat with some real gravity to it. We know it takes a lot to scare Batman, much less the entire DCU. While the heavy metal aesthetic isn’t really my thing, and the Batman worship continues to rub me the wrong way, Metal is worth your attention. Snyder seems to be writing a love letter to DC Comics lore, as Capullo and the artistic team continue to deliver quality work. Now it’s just a question of how much this thing is going to piss me off. Somehow, I doubt Snyder is as concerned about that as I am…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Dark Nights: Metal #1 Review – More of the Same

TITLE: Dark Nights: Metal #1
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 16, 2017

***Warning: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I feel like every time I review something Scott Snyder writes I have to go through the same spiel: I generally like his stuff, but he does certain things that make me mad as hell. As such, it’s difficult for me to look at Dark Knights: Metal in an unbiased manner.

In truth, I love the premise of Metal. It involves Batman, and later the entire Justice League, trying to unravel the ancient mystery behind Nth Metal. DC Comics aficionados will recognize that term from Hawkman’s mythology. This leads to the theory that Nth Metal came from a “Dark Multiverse,” existing outside the multiverse we’re familiar with. From this Dark Multiverse, a full scale invasion force is coming. A war with these dark forces is about to begin. And apparently, the one who will open the door to this Dark Multiverse is none other than Batman, who’s been looking into this Dark Multiverse for quite some time. As we’re told at issue’s end, the nightmare has only just begun…

I commend Snyder for weaving classic DC Comics elements into the fabric of Metal. Not just the perennially under-appreciated Hawkman, but the Challengers of the Unknown and the Metal Men as well. We even get little nods to places like Dinosaur Island. The League even travels to Blackhawk Island for briefing. It makes the whole Dark Multiverse concept feel a little more organic. We even get an appearance by a famous Vertigo character as part of our cliffhanger.

Kendra Saunders, leader of the Blackhawks and the reincarnated Hawkgirl (long story), exposits that iconic DC settings like Themyscira, Dinosaur Island, and Nanda Parbat exist in areas “where cosmic energy conducted through the Earth’s metal core cancels itself out, creates a kind of ‘static’ that disrupts space-time.” I’d never heard this explanation before. I assume it’s a Snyder original. I love it. It answers a question I never knew I had…

It’s great to see Greg Capullo back in the DC Universe. He, inker Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCD Plascencia give us an opening sequence with the League in a battle arena on a new Warworld. Naturally, it’s ruled by Mongul. Capullo puts our heroes in armor that is ironically attuned to their weaknesses. Thus, they’re essentially fighting as regular civilians. I’d say there’s at least a 50/50 chance we see these made into toys eventually.

My two favorite pages in the issue are back-to-back. The first is when we see Red Tornado attack the League on Blackhawk Island. Capullo’s take on the character’s cyclone powers are interesting, as they engulf the entire scene. Then on the very next page, we get a shot of Batman riding a dinosaur off the island (shown below). Hokey? Yes. But Capullo plays it somewhat comedically. Plus, there’s a giant dinosaur in the Batcave. So in a ludicrous way, it fits.

Alright, now I get to poo-poo the Snyder party like I always do. Let’s talk about robots, shall we?

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have a thing about big (sometimes giant) Batman robots. I’ve talked at length about this before. They just can’t help themselves. So it really should have come as no surprise that in the Warworld arena, the Justice League is fighting a bunch of giant robots attuned to their specific abilities. And of course, what’s better than the League bunch of giant robots? The League taking control of the robots and forming one GIGANTIC robot! Justice League Megazord, power up! OMIGOD U GUYZ!!!!!!!

On it’s own, this is fine. A little stupid for my tastes (And that’s coming from a Power Rangers geek!), but fine. But when you take in to account how much these guys have used big awful Batman robots before, it’s actually laughable. Honestly, did we have to go with the giant robots again? I understand the story is called Metal, and it behooved them to go with a mechanical threat. But this scene with Mongul and the Megazord doesn’t connect to the Dark Multiverse stuff anyway. So why not give Capullo and the team something new and fun to draw instead of going back to the giant robot well?

My second big complaint with the Metal story overall has to do with Batman and the “chosen one” narrative. In all fairness, this is a problem that goes beyond Snyder and Capullo. I’ve called it “over-Baturation.” On Blackhawk Island, Kendra warns of a beast as old as the universe itself, Barbatos, arriving from the Dark Multiverse through a human doorway. Based on clues she’s discovered, she theorizes Batman is that doorway. She then tries to spring a trap on him, and thus the Dark Knight escapes on said dinosaur.

Metal is meant to be Batman-centric. Yet another milking of DC’s biggest cash cow. As a DC reader, I’m used to that by now. I just wish they didn’t have to portray Batman and the Wayne family as a cosmic centerpiece to so many things. From an in-story perspective, it makes him more prominent than he should be. Even as a founding member of the Justice League, the world’s greatest detective, and all that stuff, what is Batman at the end of the day? A street-level crime fighter. So the idea of a demonic entity from another universe depending on him to open a cross dimensional gateway doesn’t fit for me. Why can’t Bruce just be investigating the Dark Multiverse, and let the bad guys in by accident? Why does it have to be a prophecy?

Hell, why is it that the Dark Multiverse creatures we’ve glimpsed all seem to be twisted and evil amalgamations of Batman and various Justice League characters? (For instance, the spin-off Batman: The Murder Machine is about an evil Batman/Cyborg blend. Batman: The Red Death is Batman/The Flash, etc.) For that matter, why can’t we use this Metal aesthetic on other characters and not drag Batman into it? Yes, he has the iconography of a demon, and is thus more suited to it. But are you telling me no one has any kind of take on a “metalized” Wonder Woman? How about Cyborg or Aquaman? You can make your event Batman-centric without having to put Bat-ears on everything!

Does everything have to be a giant Batman circle jerk?

*whew* Okay. I’m done. No, seriously. I am.

In the end, I’m sure DC will make decent bank on Metal, and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of cool creativity on display. The heavy metal inspired tonality is something fairly different for a superhero event comic. Greg Capullo’s art may be worth the price of admission on its own. But as far as I’m concerned, for better or worse, Metal represents more of the same from Snyder and Capullo. A lot of awesome ideas, mixed in with a lot of infuriating ideas. And giant robots. Lots of giant robots.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 Review – The 2016 Playbook

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, cover, Jason FabokTITLE: Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Josh WIlliamson
PENCILLER: Jason Fabok
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 21, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s fitting that Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is DC’s last big release of the year. This is essentially a snapshot of the Warner Bros/DC movie playbook for 2016. Of course, it’s a also hook for new readers who’ve seen the movies.

And in a very pleasant development, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is pretty damn good. At least, so far.

When the Justice League learns of Amanda Waller’s Task Force X program, they interrupt a the Suicide Squad’s latest mission to bring them in. Naturally, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and the team aren’t coming without a fight. Meanwhile, several prisoners have been broken out of the Catacombs, “the most top secret prison in the world.” A threat is emerging that may give the Justice League and the Suicide Squad a mutual enemy.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, two-page spread, Jason FabokI think one of the reasons this story works so well is that there isn’t an exorbitant amount of exposition to get through. Yes, we have the typical captions that introduce the characters (i.e. “Deadshot. Expert marksman. Has a death wish.” We also have a two-page scene where the League finds out about the Squad, and we go over why they don’t like them. But other than that, we’re mostly doing the business of the plot. It’s easy to understand why these two groups wouldn’t get along. You don’t need all of the build-up and the layers you would for, say, Civil War or Avengers vs. X-Men. The mere knowledge of the Squad’s existence is enough to prompt a fight.

The only downside to that additional time for character moments is that Williamson’s use of Captain Boomerang for comic relief comes off grating. One thing this book hammers home as much as anything is that ol’ Digger is horny as hell. I guess it makes sense, given he’s in prison. Plus, whenever he goes out he’s got the over-sexualized Harley Quinn with him. But he doesn’t need to be Captain Innuendo. We also have a little exchange where Simon Baz asks, “Aren’t boomerangs a little lame?” Not nearly as lame as that line. Way to go, Simon. Antagonize the murderer who Flash just told you was no joke.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, team shot, Jason FabokThe larger story Williamson is setting up involves a third team, led by our mystery prison breaker…the returning Maxwell Lord, dressed in his Omac Project and Justice League: Generation Lost era garb. Per usual, Lord is hardly a mustache-twirling villain. He’s out to save the world. What that means exactly remains to be seen. But the team he’s assembled (shown below) consists of Lobo, Dr. Polaris, Emerald Empress, Johnny Sorrow, and Rustam. Certainly an…eclectic crew. But they all have one thing in common: They hate Amanda Waller. Considering how expansive the cast of this book already is, we can’t guarantee all these characters will get a chance to shine. But I can definitely appreciate Williams putting a renewed spotlight on some of the company’s more obscure characters.

Jason Fabok is in top form here. As I’ve said previously, his is art has an undeniably epic quality to it. So he’ll always be a solid fit for big event stories like this, or Darkseid War. I compare him to Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, or Ivan Reis in that sense. He’s very much like Lee in the way he makes use of splash pages and two-page spreads that are either explosive, or have a lot of intrigue. His characters also tend to be very charismatic and expressive. Particularly Harley Quinn, despite the over-sexualization. There’s also a really nice splash page where Superman catches Deadshot in mid-air. Those two characters are such a great contrast. That image almost sells the premise by itself.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, Jason Fabok, two-page spreadBy the way, the country that the big confrontation takes place in is called Badhnisia. I was blown away when I typed that into the ol’ Google machine, and found out it’s actually a long standing country in the DC Universe. A little on the nose, don’t you think?

Lending a certain subtle consistency with other big DC event comics are Alex Sinclair’s colors. Sinclair has worked on big books like Batman: Hush, Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, Flashpoint, Justice League: Origin, etc. Sinclair’s work is always quality, and he’s a tremendous asset.

Based on the solicitations, it looks like the artistic teams on this book will fluctuate as the weeks go by. We’ll see names like Fernando Pasarin, Robson Rocha, and Howard Porter tag in. I can’t say I’m looking forward to those transitions, especially given the quality of what Fabok and his cohorts gave us here. But from a plot perspective, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad starts out strong. Now it becomes a matter of telling a compelling story while balancing all these different characters, and not letting it all become a mess.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A Dark Knight III: The Master Race #5 Review – Awkward and Armored

DKIII #5, cover, Andy KubertTITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #5
AUTHOR: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: June 29, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When All Star Batman & Robin came out, people reacted strongly to Frank Miller’s portrayal of Batman. It obviously wasn’t his first go-around with the character, but people reacted very strongly to that story in particular. Miller’s take on Batman has always been a little edgier. But the consensus seemed to be that he took it too far. Batman was too violent, too animalistic, and his catchphrase about being ” the goddamn Batman” was downright stupid.

It’s a fair guess that one of the reasons Brian Azzarello was brought in to work with Miller on DKIII was to keep him from going too far again. We were doing pretty well until last issue, when we were introduced to Carrie Kelley’s ungodly Batgirl costume. In issue #5, something similar happens. But this time we’re venturing back into the realm of stupidity.

As an army of Kryptonians prepares to decimate Gotham City unless Batman shows himself, our hero has once again armored up to face seemingly insurmountable odds. But he’s not alone. While Batgirl and Aquaman work to get Superman back in the fight, Batman tends to The Flash. But when time runs out for Gotham, what will The Dark Knight have up his sleeve?

Batman, Superman, Andy Kubert, DKIII: The Master Race Let’s dive right into this. To fight back against the Kryptonians, Batman seeds the clouds over Gotham with synthetic Kryptonite and causes a rainstorm. This produces a pretty cool visual of the Kryptonians falling out of the sky. Once the fight is on the ground, Batman is in his element. But he’s got back up: Superman. The Man of Steel is now wearing a suit of armor, presumably to shield himself from the Kryptonite.

This idea is fine. But what ruins that last shot, and moves it into the unintentionally funny category, is the way Superman’s head and neck are drawn. What in the blue hell is happening there? They’re both looking up, which explains the angle of Clark’s head. But where is his neck? He looks like a toy that’s had its head shoved down into its body. How’s he supposed to turn his head in that thing? The sheer awkwardness of Superman’s look completely kills the epic team-up vibe they’re going for, and ends the issue on a surreal and bizarre note.

Also, I think it’s supposed to be, “I’ve got your back.” Sorry, grammar nazi.

Toward the middle of the issue, Azzarello channels Miller by Batman a lengthy inner monologue about fear. He writes: “Fear. The strongest, purest primal motivation there is. My lieutenant. My nanny. My invisible friend. Fear is why I get out of bed. Fear is what I dream about.” This is a little weird, but not offensive by any means. Considering how Miller has personified Gotham and other cities he’s written about, we got off fairly easy.

DKIII: The Master Race #5, Andy Kubert, AquamanKubert’s Miller-ized take on Aquaman and the undersea life is really interesting. Kubert hasn’t spent much time with Arthur, let alone in a story like this. His scruffier take on the character fits this world well.

What doesn’t fit this world, or any other world, is the pink and green Batgirl costume. I still don’t understand it. Is it supposed to mimic the brighter colors that Robin wears? That might not be all bad. But why pink and green? It’s such a bizarre combination.

This issue’s mini-comic spotlights Lara the Supergirl, as she gets acquainted with one of the young male Kryptonians. While I haven’t been enamored with any of these mini-comics, I will say I enjoyed this one the best. The dialogue was awkward, as was the art. But at its core, it’s a story about a young girl still coming to terms with who she is. She is both Kryptonian and Amazon. Judging by a discovery Quar makes in this issue, I suspect her loyalties to both groups will be tested very soon.

Five issues in, it’s apparent DKIII isn’t going to have the satirical or insightful edge that The Dark Knight Returns had. That’s fair enough. The world Miller created in that original story had build up some ill will between The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All Star Batman & Robin. Things almost needed to be redefined, especially if they want to tell more Dark Knight stories going forward. As a result, what we’re getting is a fairly safe story.

But at this point, perhaps we’re better safe than sorry…

Image 1 from adventuresinpoortaste.com. Image 2 from aquamanshrine.net.

A DC Universe: Rebirth #1 Review – “How Could I Ever Forget You?”

DC Universe: Rebirth #1TITLE: DC Universe: Rebirth #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLERS: Ethan Van Sciver, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: May 25, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Part of the idea behind the 2011 “New 52” reboot at DC Comics was to modernize and simplify the characters and continuity for new readers. They largely succeeded. A lot of great comics were sold, and new readers were given a fresh jumping-on point for the DC Universe.

But lets be honest. If you were a longtime DC Comics fan, you lost a lot more than you gained. The timeline of the DCU was condensed down to five or six years. As such, the characters lost a lot of their depth. Certain characters, relationships, marriages and families were altered, if not erased altogether. As such, this new DC Universe suffered from a lack of heart and emotional connection.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is DC’s attempt to remedy this problem by restoring some of these lost characters, and injecting some much needed love into the proceedings.

A LOT of big things happen in this issue. So lets touch on most of them individually…

DC Universe: Rebirth #1, 2016, Wally West, Barry Allen hugWally West returns, reunites with Barry Allen, warns of a new enemy. Most of us can relate to being forgotten about on some level. It’s heartbreaking. That’s the feeling Geoff Johns taps into when he shows us the plight of Wally West. Lost to time, left as mere kinetic energy in the Speed Force, he’s so desperate to be remembered. Even his former wife replies to his presence with a heart-wrenching: “I don’t know you.” So it’s a genuine tear-jerker when Barry suddenly does remember him, then wraps him in a hug and says: “How could I ever forget you?” After almost five years without Wally, this was every bit the epic reunion it was designed to be.

The explanation we get for the other Wally West, who’s set to become Kid Flash in upcoming issues, is a little corny. Something about them being cousins and both named after their great-grandfather. I’ll grant them that there was no easy way to get out of that scenario. There was bound to be confusion. At least Johns connected them. Hopefully that’ll be a unique meeting eventually.

I’m not clear on what Barry and Wally remember at this point. In this issue, Wally remembers his wife Linda Park, the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, his time with the Teen Titans, and other odds and ends. At least some of that seems to have been transferred to Barry. But Wally also says it’s becoming harder to remember his old life. I imagine more will be revealed in the new Titans series.

Per events in Justice League, also written by Johns, we learn there have apparently been three Jokers. I balked when I first saw this. Having three Jokers seemingly takes away the character’s unique evolution and versatility. Now, instead of one multidimensional Joker, we’ll have three one-dimensional Jokers. That, at least, is my takeaway from the revelation.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1, Jokers, Ethan Van SciverI am happy, however, that they didn’t give us any names. We didn’t find out The Joker’s real name is Jack Napier or anything like that. My love for The Killing Joke notwithstanding, I like my Joker somewhat de-humanized, conveying the idea that absolutely anyone could be behind that twisted grin. “One bad day” and what not. They may still do that, but hopefully they don’t.

It’s easy to make snap judgments about dramatic reveals like this. (Captain America, anyone?) But ultimately, it’s all about the story they’re telling. The true merit of this twist lies with what they do with it.

Wally reaches out to an elderly Johnny Thunder, who has been searching for the Justice Society. Justice Society got a little out of hand before the reboot. The team was split between two titles. If they’re bringing back the JSA, my hope is the team will be smaller. My question is, if the Society comes back does that mean the timeline gets adjusted so Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, and all those characters were indeed active during World War II?

Ted Kord, DC Universe Rebirth #1Partnerships are established between Ted Kord & Jaime Reyes and Ray Palmer & Ryan Choi. Dr. Fate reveals that Jamie’s Scarab is actually magic. I hadn’t realized how much I missed Ted until this issue. Gary Frank perfectly captures that boyish enthusiasm, which is part of what’s so great about Ted. This new partnership with Jaime should make for good comics.

Ray Palmer has a line about Jean Loring in his scene with Ryan Choi, which seems to indicate that Identity Crisis is out of continuity. I’m a big Brad Meltzer fan (mostly). But if we have to abandon Identity Crisis in favor of a more hopeful DC Comics, with some of our favorites back in the picture, I’m okay with that.

Aquaman proposes to Mera. Jackson Hyde returns to the DCU.  Well heavens to Betsy. Marriage is okay again! With the reboot, Superman, The Flash (both of them), and Aquaman all had their marriages retconned. Batwoman was also not allowed to marry her love interest. Arthur at least got to keep his relationship with Mera. This seems to be a very positive step away from the “heroes can’t be happy” approach DC seemingly had in place a few years ago.

Why Jackson Hyde wasn’t a part of the New 52 reboot is a mystery to me. They had spent all that time building him up in Brightest Day, and then he was just gone. Hopefully they can now capitalize on what for years has been a wasted opportunity.

And now, for the biggest reveal of them all…

Batman, WatchmenWatchmen characters are incorporated into the DCU. Dr. Manhattan implicated as the mysterious force manipulating time. Ah, here’s the kicker. I mean, c’mon. We couldn’t have a villain manipulating the time stream somehow. We had to drudge up Watchmen again, as the book and the characters continue to be profitable 30 years after its original publication.

I won’t lie, there’s a certain excitement at the prospect of a post-Watchmen Dr. Manhattan interacting with the DC Universe. Seeing Batman find the iconic Comedian button with the bloodstain, hidden in the Batcave, of all places, was a legit shocker. Even watching Pandora perish the way Rorschach did was kinda cool.

But here’s my big question: Will it be worth it in the end?

The last time DC pulled this crew out of retirement was for Before Watchmen, a line of prequel miniseries’ featuring all the classic characters. It gave us some good stuff, particularly Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen story. But even with all the A-list talent involved, when you look at Before Watchmen cumulatively, you aren’t left with a feeling of justification. The sense that this was worth doing without Alan Moore and arguably taking some of the luster off Watchmen.

I’m really hoping they thought about that before making this move. Is this going to be worth bringing Watchmen out of retirement Especially when we presumably won’t be seeing Dr. Manhattan, and whoever else pops up, in the context of their own world.

DC Universe Rebirth #1, montage, Gary FrankThis oversized issue is divided into four chapters, plus an epilogue. For these various sections, Geoff Johns is working with three of his longtime collaborators. The MVP by far is Gary Frank, who draws chapter 2, and also assists with chapters 1 and 3. His art drips with pure humanity. When Wally bursts in on Johnny Thunder, we can feel the old man’s desperation, heartbreak, and fear. In the scene with Ted and Jaime, Ted’s enthusiasm is contagious. On the other hand, Jaime’s apprehension is palpable, and comes off very natural. Frank also draws the big reveal with Batman and the pin (shown above), and even drew the cover. What an amazing issue for him.

It’s very fitting to have Ethan Van Sciver on the pencil for chapter 1. As the artist on Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Flash: Rebirth, it creates a nice consistency. What’s more, having worked on those books, and contributed to projects like The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night, his work inevitably conveys a sense of importance. He very much lives up to that, as its Van Sciver that gives us our first look at the returning Wally West.

In chapter 3, Ivan Reis gives us a gorgeous scene with Aquaman and Mera. But the scene with Wally and Linda, where he’s so sure she’ll remember him and he gets rejected…it’s amazing. Their faces, their body language, it’s just perfect. You can make an argument that this is the most important scene in the issue. The impact of Wally’s failure with Linda makes the scene where Barry saves him that much more impactful.

There’s a certain artistic symmetry to Phil Jimenez drawing the reunion between Barry and Wally. In Infinite Crisis, Jimenez drew Wally and his family disappearing into the Speed Force, as well as Barry briefly emerging from it. Now, he gives us an emotional sequence where Barry pulls Wally from the Speed Force. He was the perfect choice for this moment.

Aquaman and Mera proposalFinally, let’s talk about Geoff Johns for a moment. The guy gets his share of flack these days. He’s got a reputation as Mr. Retcon. And I’ll admit those early Justice League issues where pretty flawed. But by and large, he tells gripping and often emotional stories. In the case of DC Universe Rebirth #1, he and the team give us a much-needed break from the grim and largely joyless DC Comics we’ve come to know since The New 52 began. There’s a place for hope, love, and wonder in this universe. Most readers always knew that. Let’s hope DC never forgets again…

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image Image 3 from pastemagazine.com. Image 3 from observer.com. Image 4 and 6 from observer.com. Image 5 from terrazero.com. 

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A Dark Knight III: The Master Race #4 Review – Nagging Distractions

DKIII: The Master Race #4, cover, Andy KubertTITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #4
AUTHOR: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: April 27, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Flash is kind of a big deal for DC right now. He’s got a TV show on The CW that pulls in millions of viewers per episode. What’s more, it’s actually a damn good show.

Viewers of said show may want to avoid this issue. Their hero not only goes out like a chump, but he’s wearing one of the gaudiest costumes the DC Universe has ever seen.

We open the issue with a showdown between father and daughter. It’s Superman against Lara the Supergirl, who happens to have an army of Kryptonians behind her. Once they’re done with him, Batman is next in line. Quar, leader of the hostile Kryptonians, demands that Batman be produced or Gotham City will be destroyed. Once again, The Dark Knight is about to come out of retirement. But this time, he seemingly has no choice in the matter.

The Flash, Andy Kubert, DKIII: The Master Race #4, 2016This issue devotes three pages to The Flash being taken out by a Kryptonian. I can’t say I was a fan. He doesn’t even put up a fight. He simply gets his legs taken out, and it’s all over. If you’re going to devote that much of your issue to taking out a hero, that’s fine. But come on! This is The Flash! Now more than ever, this guy is one of DC’s big guns! Give him at least a little offense!

That costume is a leftover from The Dark Knight Strikes Again. That alone should have been a red flag. I understand that book can’t be completely ignored. But there are certain things from DKII that need to be left in the past. This costume is undoubtedly one of them.

Sadly, it’s not the only awful costume we’ll see…

Surprisingly, the first thing we see when we open the issue is The Atom. Despite the CRUSH we saw in issue #2 that seemed to indicate Ray Palmer had been killed, apparently he’s alive, albeit in a microscopic state. I can’t say I’m sad to see him back. But his death was a nice punctuation mark on the arrival of the Kryptonians. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how he factors in later.

Quar, Lara, and the other Kryptonians either kill or neutralize Superman, depending on how you interpret the issue. Despite all the blood he spills in this issue, there’s no way Superman is gone. Not with his daughter playing such a crucial role in things. If there was ever a time for a reconciliation between Batman and Superman, it’s now.

DKIII: The Master Race #4, Carrie Kelley, Bruce Wayne, Andy KubertOnce again, Andy Kubert does a fine job evoking Frank Miller’s style, while still making the book his own. This is most evident in the way he draws Bruce Wayne. The detail he puts into the character’s facial expressions and his scarred physique are fantastic. It’s almost as if someone has flipped a light on, allowing us to see details we’ve never seen before.

One of my few complaints with the art in this issue involves the scene where Commissioner Yindel sees Batman for the first time in the story. She’s been searching for him since the first issue, and now they’re finally face to face. We see Batman shrouded in darkness, holding the flask he’s just taken from a hopeless Yindel. I envisioned this scene being as impactful as Superman’s return to consciousness last issue. It isn’t. I think it would be different if Kubert, inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Brad Anderson had taken him out of the darkness a bit more. This Batman doesn’t always lend himself to the whole shadowy figure of the night routine. He’s big, bulky, and brash. This would have been a big time for one of those toothy scowls he’s always flashing around. DKIII hasn’t given us much of Batman in all his grandeur yet. This would have been a good time to play that card.

This issue’s mini-comic gives us Batgirl as we’ve never seen her before: Drawn by Frank Miller and wearing Joker colors. Seriously! What the hell is up with that costume? If Batgirl has ever looked worse, I can’t remember it. That’s not even getting into how weirdly she’s proportioned.

Dark Knight Universe Presents: Batgirl #1The story mostly consists of Carrie Kelley, after being given the Batgirl costume by Batman, fighting off some thugs at a dock. Aquaman emerges from the water to save her when she gets in over her head. Why he happened to be there is anybody’s guess. Hopefully we’ll learn more next issue. But if what happened to Green Lantern and Flash is any indicator, I’m hoping he’s got good healthcare down in Atlantis.

This issue is still decent in terms of the core story. But the Flash interlude and the weird acid trip that is the Batgirl issue prove to be nagging distractions. As such, this is the least satisfactory installment of DKIII thus far. Brian Azzarello maybe in the driver’s seat, but Frank Miller’s fingerprints are still there….

Images 1 and 3 from weirdsciencedccomicsblog.blogspot.com. Image 2 from newsarama.com.

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