Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Batman '66 #13

Issue 13 opens up with a new writer, Gabriel Soria, giving us a very clever story where a Batman TV series, "The Dark Knight Detective" premiers, and puts Gotham into a state of Batmania.  However, this TV series, is dark, grim, and black and white.  This TV Batman, looking a lot like The Spirit, in a suit and tie plus a Batman cowl, is violent, causing the real Batman to seek out the producer of the show.  The producer, Fred Fillips (who looks like a cross between Christopher Nolan and Frank Miller) turns out to really be False Face, and captures the Dynamic Duo, planning to kill them on live TV. Of course, our heroes thwart False-Face's plans, and in fact end up winning an Emmy for the live telecast.  Soria has the right balance of parody regarding the current post-Nolan Batman, and gets in some good shots at both the morose direction of the character, and it's fan following. This story was a welcome change from Jeff Parker's rather stale efforts.  The art by Dean Haspiel, however, was rather weak, although he did do a good job aping the look of the classic Batman The Animated Series for "The Dark Knight Detective".  This story earns an A-.

The second story is written by Tom Peyer, but might as well have been by Jeff Parker, as like his stories, is drowned in the weaknesses of a typical season 2 episode.  The Archer is back, to steal a computer, that he uses to form his own rival police force.  The story is quite weak, featuring a weak villain, and weak artwork by Dave Bullock.  This story earns a C-, averaging out to a C+ for the issue.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mini-Review: Justice League #30-31; Do Not Let Geoff Johns Be Involved With The Shazam Movie

For Captain Marvel fans, this is sad. Sad, but expected.  In Curse of Shazam, Geoff Johns really went out of his way to rebrand Billy Batson as some kind of 21st Century Dead End Kid (or Sweathog).  But as soon as he became Captain Mar... er, Shazam, it was back to the stupid "adult acting like a retarded kid with lots of fart jokes" shtick.  Captain Shazam's appearances in Justice League #30 and 31 has Johns taking it to the next level.  There is no sign of the complex, brooding Billy.  Rather we get dufus Shazam acting like Ashton Kutcher doing a parody of Big on a Saturday Night Live skit.  Awe at Johns' amazing dialogue like (in a totally 80s Valley accent), "We should totally train together, Superman, see who's stronger". Or "That's badass."  Or "This stuff is kinda nasty."  Yes, it is very nasty, Johns... very nasty.  Thrill to Shazam's mighty magical powers when he speaks the inspiring incantation while wearing a hoodie, "Uh, powers of Shazam... show me what I want for the League. ALA-KA-ZAMM!" ...and a ping pong table materializes.  This is beyond sad, this is beyond nasty, this is embarrassing.  Please DC and Warner Brothers... do not let Geoff Johns have any creative involvement in the Shazam movie! Keep him away from it at all costs!  You must bring in Alex Ross to be the creative consultant and an associate producer!  Unlike Johns, Alex Ross will insure Captain Marvel is portrayed on the silver screen correctly, and he will fight hard to see that the movie is good.  I cannot wait for the ThunderWorld one-shot to be published later this year. I'm hoping the Grant Morrison-Cameron Stewart interpretation of the Earth-5 Marvel Family will get us back to where we should be with the characters, and it sells well enough to spin-off an ongoing series, something Curse of Shazam couldn't do for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #2

Issue 2 opens with our heroes escaping from the speeding train.  The Hornet and Kato in an action-dramatic way, Batman and Robin in a more silly way.  The Hornet then knocks the Dynamic Duo out with sleeping gas, and escapes.  Then it is revealed The Joker is General Gumm's partner, and there is a reference to the 1966 movie.  Batman and Robin regain consciousness, and get on the trail of Gumm and the Hornet.  There's a cool scene at Britt Reid's home that seems like it was taken right from the TV show.  Both the Dynamic Duo and the Hornet and Kato soon uncover Gumm and the Joker.  There's the customary fight scene with Batman and the Hornet about to square off, when they realize the Joker and Gumm have Robin and Kato, and are about to suffocate them.

Writers Ralph Garman and Kevin Smith continue the excellent job, really capturing the style of dialogue from the TV show. However, one critique I have is that they seemed to portray the Dynamic Duo a bit more buffoonish in contrast to the more stoic Hornet and Kato.  One of the big problems with seasons 2 and 3 that many fans dislike is that Batman and Robin became buffoons, where as they were more heroic in season 1.  I hope Garman and Smith don't end up going down that slippery slope like regular series writer Jeff Parker has.  Ty Templeton's artwork is superb, and gets all the likeness right, although he could make Batman's gut a little smaller.  Need I say Alex Ross' covers are masterpieces.  This issue earns a B+.

Friday, June 27, 2014

First look at Tartakovsky's Popeye

The first image of director Genndy Tartakovsky's CGI Popeye movie has been released.  Allegedly this is a concept painting by Richard Daskas, and although Sony has begun using it to promote the project, it officially does not have a production green light yet, as Tartakovsky is still only making animation tests.
Regarding the movie, Tartakovsky has been quoted as saying,
"For me, it’s the original early ’36 to ’40 range of the Fleischer Popeye cartoons. I think since they were based out of New York, it was very different. I don’t want to say underground, but it was more racy, more edgy. And I think while everyone was warming up to Disney, Fleischer made huge marks in animation, with Popeye, Betty Boop and Superman. They were doing amazing stuff and for me it’s the exaggeration and the silliness, the laughter, the movement, the physical comedy. And that’s one thing I’m after for Popeye. It’s the whole reason I agreed to do the feature; I said 'If I’m going to do this, I want it ten times more physical and crazy than we did in Hotel Transylvania and ten times more character.' And [Sony] were like, 'Alright.' The funny thing is that CGI was designed to mimic reality, but I’m going to use this realistic tool in a completely different way."

Looking at the image, the figures appear to be much more fluid than the CGI Popeye's Voyage: The Quest For Pappy DVD from a few years ago.  Olive appears to be from her Famous Studios era.  Popeye looks to be in a white shirt and blue pants... perhaps a nod to the Robin Williams movie?  I can't seem to see his pipe.  I hope it's not eliminated for political correctness.  I think its very good that Tartakovsky is inspired by the Fleischer cartoons, and although it will be CGI, it will mimic traditional hand drawn cel animation in a way we have never seen yet with CGI.

Rumors have already begun circulating as to who will voice Popeye. Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler have been mentioned.  Sandler would be a total disaster, and I hope he is not cast as Popeye.  Carrey might be a good choice, as he was able to nail the beloved Jack Mercer voice many years ago on an In Loving Color sketch, although who knows if he can still deliver. If the studio feels they must get an established star, they might as well consider Robin Williams. Although not a star the caliber of Williams, Carrey, and Sandler, I would like to see Dave Coulier be considered for Popeye.  Back on Full House, he showed a great love for the character, and has perhaps come the closest to duplicating the Jack Mercer voice.  Maurice LaMarche, who voiced Popeye after Mercer's death in the short lived and awful Popeye and Son cartoon series, couldn't come as close as Coulier or Carrey to getting Popeye's voice right.  Billy West, who did the voice for the Popeye's Voyage DVD, sounded like LaMarche, but higher pitched, giving Popeye a chipmunk-like quality to his voice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: Batman '66 #12

The first story in issue #12 features one of the dumbest villains of the TV series, Marsha Queen of Diamonds.  The first episode this character appeared in was neck and neck with the Archer episode as second worst episode of season two (the Black Widow episode being the worst), with one of the dumbest cliffhangers - Batman being forced to marry her.  Unbelievably, this character was not negated to a one shot villain, and was brought back in a second episode... a three-parter, no less, but was basically reduced to being The Penguin's moll.  With this issue, writer Jeff Parker has officially "jumped the shark".  While his work on this series has been mixed, this story cements his legacy as a Charles Hoffman-Stanford Sherman disciple. The plot deals with Marsha tunneling into the Batcave, stealing the Bat-diamond, and the Dynamic Duo recovering it. Batman does some good observational detective work early in the story, but otherwise its a big disappointment, from D-list villain Marsha successfully breaking into the Batcave and stealing the Bat-diamond, to Alfred using a Bat-pole to go up into Wayne Manor instead of using the service elevator, to Marsha's Aunt Hilda's dopey magic and potions.  Dario Brizuela contributes perhaps the worst artwork this book has seen.  He really goes overboard drawing Batman as a pot bellied, out of shape slob.

The second story is a breath of fresh air. Written by the team of Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, who also wrote the prematurely canceled Johnny DC  Billy Batson & The Magic of Shazam title, they use the second season one-shot villain The Minstrel.  He breaks into Wayne Manor and steals the Shakespeare Bust as bait to lure the Dynamic Duo to him so he can use a sonic vibration emitter tuned to the exact frequency of the Batmobile to destroy them.  Unbeknownst to Minstrel, the bust is the key to the bookcase Bat-pole access, and he has unwittingly locked Batman and Robin out of the Batcave. While this could have been another disaster like the lead story, Art and Franco have two things on their side.  First, they make the villain a minor player in the story, focusing more on Batman and Robin (and like the lead story, early in they show Bruce using his detective skills).  Second, since they are locked out of the Batcave, Art and Franco have Bruce and Dick wear "prototype costumes".  Batman's is the one used in the screen tests for the TV show, while Robin's looks like the costumes worn in the two serials from the 1940s.  Such a nod to the characters' histories like that really elevates the story and makes it clever and special.  Ultimately they also use a prototype Batmobile (looking like a cross between a 1959 Eldorado and the classic 1940s-50s Batmobile of the comics... with Alfred driving no less, another nod to the serials) rendering Minstrel's machine useless.  The art by Ted Naifeh is better than Brizuela's, but a better artist, like Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Joelle Jones, Chris Sprouse, Christopher Jones, or Joe Quinones (all of whom drew previous stories) would have really made this story into a masterpiece.  I hope to see Art and Franco script more stories.  They would also be the perfect writers to bring the TV version of Captain Marvel into the 66 continuity, using the Legends of The Super Heroes TV specials as a common denominator linking the two series  (hint, hint DC).  The first story earns a D while the second story earns a B, averaging this issue's grade to a C.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #1

The first issue of this mini series crossover event between DC and Dynamite sets the pace by following the format of the Batman TV series in a way that the regular Batman '66 title has avoided. Written by celebrities Ralph Garman and Kevin Smith (yes, that Kevin Smith), this issue unfolds like a typical TV episode, which gives this book a sort of "yes... finally!" moment that we never got from the regular monthly book.  But to be fair, I do think its wise for the regular series to stray away from the TV show's format, because the TV show itself quickly fell into a rut, a sense of a sameness to every episode.  Plus, when a story does use the show's format, it makes it a bigger event. The story starts with Dick preparing for a date with Mayor Linseed's niece (a continuity gaffe - not on Garman and Smith's part, but Jeff Parker's, as Batman '66 #11 features a different mayor, one who looks similar to the mayor from Batman Forever as played by George Wallace). A Bat-call summons Batman to protect a valuable fossil collection arriving in Gotham by train.  On the train, Bruce meets his childhood friend, Britt Ried and Kato. There are a couple out of character moments: one where Kato suggests the Green Hornet's masked accomplice should have his own code name (out of place for that Bruce Lee version of Kato, much more in line with the recent - and awful - Seth Rogan movie), and one where Bruce loses his temper over Britt's belittling of Batman (again, seems very out of place for the Adam West version of the character).  Suddenly, the train is stopped by a gummy, glue like substance covering the tracks.  Bruce, Britt and Kato investigate, as Bruce is able to contact Dick via cuff link radio, to end his date with Linseed's niece to meet him at the train.  A clever bit where Garman and Smith use Dick's alias "Dog George" from the episode The Joker Goes To School/He Meets His Match The Grisly Ghoul and also give Bruce a similar codename, "Bravo Whiskey".  Bruce checks the cargo, only to find Col Gumm, who is now permanently covered in glue from a lab accident, and goes by the name General Gumm, with his men attempting to steal the fossil collection.  He's thwarted by the arrival of the Green Hornet.  Meanwhile Robin flies up in the Batcopter, and in a clever moment reminiscent of the feature film, is able to give Bruce his Batman costume.  Eventually the four heroes get Gumm trapped atop the speeding train, but he uses his glue gun to stick the heroes to the train. Gumm and his men make off with the collection, as he uses a solvent on the tracks to get the train going again.  And to make matters worse, the train is speeding toward a low tunnel, sure to decapitate our heroes.

Garman and Smith seem to have upped the quality a notch from Jeff Parker on the regular series. I appreciate what Garman and Smith did with the first half, expanding on the back story of Bruce and Britt as old friends.  Things pick up in the second half, but I wonder if 6 issues may be too long for a single story. It may have been wise to make it 3 or 4 issues.  We'll see how the remaining issues play out, and what Garman and Smith have planned. Ty Templeton's artwork is superb, and I wish he would get to draw more issues of the regular series.  This issue earns an A-.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: Batman '66 #11

Issue 11 features a book length novel. Jeff Parker's script is a mixed bag.  The first part of the story deals with a talent show Harley Quinn organized at Arkham Asylum, featuring all the super villains. This part of the book is very much like "The Roast" episode of Legends Of The Super Heroes. Joker and Catwoman escape with a version of Professor Overbeck's brain regulator, seen in issue 3, which leads the Terrific Trio to investigate. Joker and Catwoman attack the Mayor (no longer Mayor Linseed from the TV show, but the George Wallace played mayor from Batman Forever) on a golf course.  Its revealed Quinn has been helping Joker and Catwoman, as they use the brain regulator to turn citizens into mind controlled laughing henchmen.  Ultimately, Quinn, feeling guilty over her part in this, uses the brain regulator to nullify its effects, but loses her own sanity in the process.

The one villain noticeably absent in an issue riddled with cameos, is the Riddler.  In fact, the Riddler hasn't made much of an impact in the series, save for the debut issue.  The Riddler dominated the first season of the TV series, but went missing for most of the second and third seasons, when the show went downhill.  It seems somewhat appropriate since Parker has modeled his stories on the lackluster second and third seasons (and even the Joel Schumacher movies) rather than the excellent first season.  It also appears Parker's main objective for this series is to make the 66 Universe conform with standard modern DC continuity, by bringing in Harley Quinn, and fostering a Robin crush on Batgirl, among other little bits he has thrown in over the course of 11 issues.  This is the opposite of what this series should be doing.  It should be exploring and expanding the 66 Universe, without forcing it to conform to standard modern DC continuity. And this all leads to the fact Parker should be replaced on this series by someone like Andy Fish, who understands the differences between season one and the other two seasons.  On the other hand, Jonathan Case returns to do the art, and does an excellent job, making the story seem better than what it is.  Overall, what was supposed to be a full length epic novel falls flat due to a poor script, and earns this issue a C.