Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Batman '66 #14

This issue sees the return of Jeff Parker as writer.  Thankfully, he turns in a story that is stronger than some of his other recent efforts.  Professor Overbeck, who is becoming a major character in this series, in conjunction with Batman, has created a Bat-Robot to take some of the burden of crime fighting off Batman's shoulders, allowing Bruce Wayne to have more leisure time.  With slight satirical nods to The Iron Giant and Robocop, the Bat-Robot rounds up Clock King, Louie the Lilac, and the Archer, allowing Bruce and Dick to go on a fishing trip. Next the Bat-Robot goes against a Joker-Riddler team-up, and an err in the robot's computations, causes the Giggling Gangsters the have the upper hand.  But Batman and Robin arrive in time to thwart the Laughing Larcenists.

Curiously, this issue has two artists.  Part 1 is drawn by Paul Rivoche, and he turns in excellent artwork.  A nice change of pace over the weak art of the last couple issues.  Part 2 is drawn by Craig Rousseau, and is not as good as Rivoche, but still good quality. 

As stated earlier, Parker turns in a stronger script this time. In addition to the mild satire of Robocop and The Iron Giant, he takes a jab at the Nolan Dark Knight films, where it seemed like Bruce was constantly looking for reasons to quit being Batman (perhaps it had to do with the fact Joe Chill was captured the same night as the murder of Bruce's parents, with Chill serving nearly 20 years in prison, thus eliminating Bruce's motive to become Batman in the first place.... but I digress). It was also great to finally see The Riddler back in these pages. My biggest critique of the series is that it is trying to be like the third and fourth seasons of the TV series, instead of the far superior first season. Symbolic of that is The Riddler sat out most of those seasons after dominating the first season, and likewise, The Riddler has been absent from most of this comic book series. This issue earns a B+.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dwayne Johnson confirms he's playing Black Adam...kind of, sort of

Dwayne Johnson unofficially confirms the SHAZAM! movie has been given a green light, and hints that he will be playing Black Adam in this interview:
What struck me was what he said about the secret writer hired for the script. By my great powers of deduction, I can conclude it is not Geoff Johns or David Goyer. Both of them are "company guys", and such intricate negotiating that Johnson speaks of would not be needed. It also points to the fact that this writer must be a fairly well known and big name.

Something that causes me some concern is how Johnson emphasises the movie will be "grounded". I hope they do not Nolanize the World's Mightiest Mortal. In an ironic way, this film should be more "Marvel" like than the current DC movie house style of grim, dark, and reality based. This movie needs to be a contrast, showcasing color, fun, and humor along with the action-adventure and drama and pathos. This movie should be more like Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy than Chris Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. And that brings us to the question, have they signed a director? Will they bring Alex Ross aboard as a producer and creative consultant? (they need to!)  Hopefully the answers will come very soon.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Mini-Review: Justice League Beyond TPB "In Gods We Trust"

I'm a little late with this one, because I only recently discovered that Captain Marvel... yes, I said "Captain Marvel", not "Shazam"... is involved in this spin-off series to Batman Beyond.  I decided to go the trade paperback (TPB) route with this one, because the Justice League Beyond series shares a monthly title with Batman Beyond and Superman Beyond in Batman Beyond Universe. I really just want to read the Justice League Beyond series, so I thought it would save me some money to get the TPBs instead of the monthly comics.  Besides, since this is a series set in the future, it makes sense, since the traditional "pamphlet" format comic book is sure to be phased out over the next decade, leaving digital comics as the main way of getting monthly comics, and the only print options being TPBs and hardcover graphic novels.

Captain Marvel actually appears very little in this particular TPB, which half belongs to Superman Beyond, unlike the previous TPBs, which separated the two features and were half the page count and half the price. Perhaps its because there is a big JLB/Superman Beyond crossover coming.  (Note to DC: Once the crossover ends, re-separate the Justice League Beyond and Superman Beyond TPBs!)

The JLB story introduces Fawcett City as someplace considered old-fashioned. Located in the city is the Academy of Arts and Sciences, a school that is brain washing the kids into drones.  The current (future?) Green Lantern, Kai-Ro, is at the school and the JL is teleported there to get him.  There is an amusing scene where they encounter the Fawcett City locals, who are portrayed like it's Mayberry, complete with a Don Knotts-type deputy.  Kai sneaks around and meets a girl named Mary.  She informs him of the devious agenda of the school.  Both are captured by the headmistress and brainwashed, and then the headmistress and her minions capture the JL. She is about to destroy the JL at a school assembly, when Mary is urged to say the name.  She says "Shazam", and is replaced with Captain Marvel, who sets the JL free.  Captain Marvel phases out to be replaced by Mary Marvel, who punches out the headmistress. But Mary is captured by some minions, and she phases out to be replaced by Black Adam.  Then Captain Marvel phases back in and destroys the villains getaway jet with his magic lightning, turning into Billy Batson, who falls out of the sky, only to be rescued by Kai's power ring.  In an epilogue, Billy explains that some kind of accident caused the Marvel Family to share time together, with only one member allowed to be in reality at a time.  Billy is then invited to join the Justice League.

The story by Derek Fridolfs is good and presents a unique situation for the Marvel Family.  Unless it is specifically noted otherwise, I think this could be the same continuity as Billy Batson & The Magic of Shazam. Sometime after that series ended (ironically with Captain Marvel being introduced to the Justice League), the mentioned accident happened, causing the Shazam characters to share an existence, which could also explain why Billy and Mary haven't aged much in the two or so decades in between BB&TMOS and Justice League Beyond (neither does BB&TMOS contradict Captain Marvel's only other appearance in the so-called Diniverse the Beyond franchise is set in, the Justice League Unlimited episode "Clash").  The art by Ben Caldwell is excellent, and resembles Mike Norton'a art in BB&TMOS,  but with perhaps a slightly more anime look.  He draws an adorable version of Mary.  Billy and Cap are portrayed with more respect here than they are as a Geoff Johns punchline in the main Justice League New52 series.  The Justice League Beyond installment of the TPB earns a solid B+, and I can't wait to read Captain Marvel's further adventures with Justice League Beyond.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet #3

Issue 3 of this mini-series has Batman and the Green Hornet teaming up to save their respective side-kicks, who have been taken hostage by the Joker and General Gumm.  Batman, believing the Hornet is a criminal, begrudgingly agrees to this.  Once the Hornet is in the Batcave (after a whiff of Batgas and Batwake, naturally), the two crimebusters do some impressive tag-team detective work, with Batman gaining some respect for his green guest.  Meanwhile, Robin and Kato are forced by their captures to fight to the death. Batman and the Hornet arrive in time, even though Robin and Kato made an agreement to pull punches.  Joker and Gumm escape, and the Dymanic Duo head back to the Batcave to deduce where the villains will strike next. It turns out the Green Hornet and Kato apparently have arrived at the destination to rob it first.

Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman continue to deliver a good story with clever moments capturing the essence of the TV series, such as the scene with the Hornet in the Batcave, and later, with him climbing up the side of a building with a batrope.  They also showcase Batman's detective abilities, something the show brushed aside in favor of letting the Batcomputer do all the thinking.  The artwork by Ty Templeton is again, excellent, and the Alex Ross cover is worth the cover price alone. This issues earns an A.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thunderworld at Comic-Con

Writer Grant Morrison and artist Cameron Stewart presented artwork from the upcoming Multiversity one-shot, Thunderworld featuring the Captain Marvel of Earth-5 (previously known as Earth-S).
Of Stewart's art, Morrison said, "it's the best Shazam ever".  Stewart commented, "I didn't want to do a flat out emulation of CC Beck...but I wanted it to have the same quality". Morrison added the Captain Marvel of this series really looks like Captain Marvel rather than just another version of Superman.  The book is said to have a Pixar-quality to it, and Dr Sivana will be a major villain for the entire mini-series as he tracks Captain Marvel's lightning back to its source and finds a way to build a technological Rock of Eternity by scientifically reverse-engineering that magic.

I have high hopes for this one-shot. I hope it will bring the character back to where it should be, and I hope the one-shot sells well enough to warrant an on-going series of the Earth-5 Marvel Family.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ranking the Shazam Reboots

As we wait for an imminent announcement at Comic-Con regarding the Shazam! movie, let's take a look back at the multiple reboots of the Big Red Cheese since DC acquired the character from Fawcett.

Shazam! (the 1970s series).
DC revives the original Captain Marvel.
What it got right: The look and tone of the original Fawcett stories.  C.C. Beck was the artist on the first several issues, and after a few fill ins by Bob Oksner, Fawcett alumni Kurt Schaffenberger took over.  The stories by Denny O'Neil, Elliot S! Maggin, and E. Nelson Bridwell captured the more humorous Fawcett style.  Towards the end, E. Nelson Bridwell did a great job incorporating aspects of the live action Filmation TV series into the book.
What it got wrong: The scripts stayed in the humorous vein. Humor was just one facet of the Fawcett material, but DC chose not to go for more serious adventure.
Final analysis: Even though it concentrated too much on humor, it still seemed like a golden age comic produced in a bronze age era, and that was a good thing.  It's still my favorite DC Captain Marvel series.

World's Finest.
A "dynamic new look" and direction rather than a true reboot, had Bridwell writing more serious stories, and Don Newton bringing the art style up to date in the bronze age.
What it got right: Bridwell hit his stride with the scripts.  They still had some humor, but adventure was now front and center. Newton did a great job bringing the Marvel Family's art style up to date. Al Weiss and Gil Kane also contributed some excellent art in this era.  Kane, in particular, really was able to mix the classic Beck look with bronze age definition.
What it got wrong: DC cancelled Shazam! and moved the feature to the back of World's Finest, suffocating any chance the new direction had to gain a wider fan base.
Final Analysis: Even though it was set on Earth-S, this really was what a main continuity Earth-1 Captain Marvel could have and should have been.

Shazam The New Beginning.
After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Earth-S was no more, and Captain Marvel was reborn in the unified DC Universe.
What it got right: A streamlined approach.  I'm an Uncle Dudley guy, so I really liked how Dudley was a major part of the story. Roy Thomas' script can be overdone with dialogue and narration, but having Billy be the narrator implies he may have been telling the story to his listeners on station WHIZ.  Thomas brought the story up to date, while still avoiding making it too topical, and therefore quickly outdated.
What it got wrong: The art by Tom Mandrake. Completely wrong artist for this project.  Gil Kane should have been the artist. A little too streamlined in that Sivana and Ebenezer Batson were consolidated into one character.  Magnificus could have been omitted. Perhaps a little too dark and grim. For the first time, Captain Marvel retains Billy's personality.  While Thomas did it better than most, this would ultimately be Captain Marvel's biggest downfall.
Final Analysis: This version scores big points with me for its use of Uncle Dudley. This is the version of Captain Marvel adapted for the Young Justice animated series, which became one of the more popular versions of the character.  What killed this reboot was two things. Mandrake's art.  And Thomas' radical plans for Mary and Freddy.  Mary Marvel was to be unrelated to Billy, a girl named Spike Bromfield, a punk rocker who is hinted at doing some prostitution, and was to become Billy/Cap's love interest.  Freddy was to be portrayed as an African-American in a wheelchair.

Power of Shazam.
After DC stalled until Thomas' contract expired, there were pitches by Michael Eury (who wanted to focus on the child celebrity aspect of Billy) and Alex Ross (who wanted to keep the entire Fawcett continuity intact, just transplanted to the modern day), and a false start by John Byrne (who wanted to mix Oliver Twist set in an Anton Furst inspired Fawcett City). Ultimately it fell to Jerry Ordway to reboot Captain Marvel for the post-Zero Hour continuity.
What it got right: The look and the tone. Fawcett City was a 1950s art deco utopia. The series had the right balance of humor and adventure.  Showed some inspiration from the classic 1941 Adventures of Captain Marvel movie serial. Ordway was able to keep things traditional and still up date it for the modern audience.
What it got wrong: Ordway portrayed Billy as a whiny brat.  Therefore Captain Marvel had a whiny brat personality.  This is the thing fans complained about the most on the old DC Message Boards, even years after the series was cancelled. Ordway also made Sivana something of a Luthor clone millionaire businessman, although by the end of the graphic novel, he is penniless.  Sometimes Ordway got a little too trendy for his own good, such as renaming Captain Marvel Jr "CM3".  Perhaps embellished Billy's back story too much with the Batson parents and relatives. I loathed how Dudley was portrayed, an alcoholic school janitor. Put too much emphasis on Black Adam, something that would come to do damage to any chance Captain Marvel would have of developing a new fanbase. Later in the run, the wizard Shazam started getting too many storylines. Bottom line, Ordway was a much better artist than a writer, while Peter Krause, who took over the art chores after the graphic novel, wasn't as good as Ordway.
Final Analysis: The first 12 issues are great, but the quality of the scripts drop off considerably after that. In hindsight, it would have been for the best if after issue 12, Ordway was moved to doing the artwork and contributing some plots, and a different writer, like Mark Waid, was brought in.  Sales would have had a better chance of increasing, and when Ordway left DC for Marvel Comics in 1999, instead of cancelling the series, DC could have brought in a new artist, like Mike Wieringo, who expressed interest in drawing the title.

Alex Ross.
After Ordway's series was cancelled, Ross, now a comics superstar, was able to show the World's Mightiest Mortal some respect, with Shazam: Power of Hope and Justice.
What it got right: Everything. Ross' Captain Marvel is perfect. Ross' Billy is youthful, but not a whiny brat.
What it got wrong: Nothing. Ross' Captain Marvel is perfect.
Final Analysis: This is the best DC portrayal of Captain Marvel ever.  With the exception of E. Nelson Bridwell, no one else has come close to equaling Ross' version.

First Thunder.
A miniseries written by Judd Winick and drawn by Josh Middleton that was a revisionist take on the early days of Captain Marvel, and his first encounter with Superman.
What it got right: Went into more detail about Billy living homeless on the streets. Billy wasn't a whiny brat, but was sympathetic and likable.  Captain Marvel was portrayed quite good. The art had a nice anime quality to it.
What it got wrong: Sivana is even more of a Luthor clone than he was in Power of Shazam. Captain Marvel seemed to be too much in awe of Superman.
Final Analysis: A great story, but it treads on the idea Captain Marvel is Superman's protege, a concept that would also be used in the Superman/Shazam: Return of Black Adam animated DVD.

Trials of Shazam.
In the Dan Didio era, a mandate was made to make changes to the Shazam feature. Alex Ross pitched an idea where an older, Michael Gray-esque Billy loses the ability to trigger his powers, and the ordeal he goes through to regain it.  Captain Marvel would be portrayed leaner and Jackson Bostwick-esque.  Didio rejected it, and assigned Judd Winick to write a miniseries with a similar yet different theme.
What it got right: Nothing at all. Most fans agree this is the worst example of the DC Captain Marvel ever put to paper.
What it got wrong: Everything. Captain Marvel was promoted to Wizard, taking the name "Marvel", and altering his costume to include long white hair and a ridiculous hoodie (which would reappear in Curse of Shazam). Freddy (often misspelled as "Freddie") gets promoted to the main hero, after going through a series of trials, now called "Shazam", although DC ended up referring to him as "Captain Marvel" a lot. Mary lost her powers, but was able to siphon off Black Adam's power, and she becomes an Emo/Goth naughty girl in a tiny black dress that offers lots of upskirt shots.
Final Analysis: Garbage.  A total waste.

Monster Society of Evil.
After the disaster of Trials, focus was shifted to an out-of continuity version by Jeff Smith, originally planned as part of the "All Star" imprint, but published after the imprint folded.
What it got right: Billy and Captain Marvel are given separate personalities.  Despite the child like quality to the material, Smith still gives us a serious and grim look at Billy's homeless life on the streets.  Despite the liberties and updating Smith made, it still has more of a Fawcett quality to it than most other DC efforts. After suffering through Captain Marvel making juvenile remarks (New Beginning) and throwing a bratty temper tantrum (Power of Shazam), it was great to see an origin sequence where Billy is in awe and wonder about what is happening to him.
What it got wrong: It establishes Billy and Captain Marvel are two completely separate beings. Billy and Mary are a little too young.  Mr Tawny is given a human form, essentially becoming what Uncle Dudley should be. Tawny is a character that works better in smaller doses, and here he is overused. Sivana is again mirroring Luthor, who was president at this time, by being the US attorney general.  Smith's writing has some great moments, but is also uneven and clunky in spots and his super hero style of drawing isn't as fluid and slick as it should be for a project like this.
Final Analysis:  A good step in the right direction, but it still stumbles.

Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam.
A semi-sequel semi-reboot to the Jeff Smith miniseries.  Published as an all-ages title under the "Johnny DC" imprint.
What it got right: Billy and Captain Marvel are once again the same being. Once Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani took over the writing with issue #5, the series started gaining traction, and became a rare occurrence where it kept getting better with each passing issue. Mike Norton, who took over the art chores with issue #13, was excellent, and Stephen DeStefano's sole issue, # 6, is arguably the best issue of the series.
What it got wrong: Captain Marvel has Billy's personality.  Mary is given a tiring chatterbox personality. The first four issues were by Mike Kunkle and were on a pre-school level. After Kunkle, Bryan Vaughns took over as artist, and was still a very childish art style.
Final Analysis: Despite a slow start, at a time when there was no other Captain Marvel comics being published, this became the de facto series, even though it was on the "Johnny DC" imprint. It filled that role nicely, and was cancelled too prematurely.
Sidenote: It could be said this version of the continuity has, in fact, continued, albeit in the far future, in Justice League Beyond, a digital first series, that is collected in the pages of the monthly title Batman Beyond Universe as well as its own Justice League Beyond trade paperbacks.

Curse of Shazam.
The "New 52" reboot, which replaces the original Captain Marvel with a similar character called Shazam.
What it got right: Having reviewed this series in depth , it got very little right.  It added some cinematic touches, like how the wizard abducted many prospects for the power before finding Billy, and gave Capt... er, Shazam some unique lightning based powers.
What it got wrong: A lot. Geoff Johns tinkered needlessly with so many aspects, like radically changing Sivana, trying to ground the story in reality, building Billy's character to have an edge, but at the end of the day, it has the same inherent problem:  as soon as Billy turns into Capt... er, Shazam, everything goes out the window, and we are back to the same old, tired concept of adult Capt... er, Shazam acting like a goofy, semi-retarded 12 year old.
Final Analysis:  As long as DC remains stubbornly committed to the idea of the adult hero acting like a goofy kid, it will always fail... and if they go that direction with the movie, it, too, will be an epic fail, guaranteed.

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".  Surprisingly, this issue has a reduced page count and is priced a dollar less.  There is no second, short story as previous issues had. This issue earns an A-.