Comics Review: ‘Detective Comics’ #1000

DC celebrates 80 years of their most treasured icon…

Detective Comics 1000.png

Main cover art by Jim Lee for the milestone ‘Detective Comics’ #1000 (c. DC Entertainment).

Written by:  Scott Snyder, Brian Michael Bendis, Tom King, Denny O’Neil, Kevin Smith and more / art by:  Greg Capullo, Alex Maleev, Tony S. Daniel, Steve Epting, Jim Lee and more / colours by:  various

What’s it about?

An anthology of short stories to mark the 80th anniversary of Batman as Detective Comics reaches one thousand issues…

In review

Following Superman’s landmark 80th birthday last year, DC presents the 1,000th issue of Detective Comics (more accurately going by the full title of Batman: Detective Comics in contemporary times) in celebration of 80 years of Batman, the comic book publisher’s most treasured (and lucrative) character and one of the world’s most popular and beloved fictional icons.  This behemoth 96-page issue enlists some of the greatest comics talent to produce a truly special and memorable collection of short stories.

There are numerous tales in Detective Comics #1000 and it would be exhaustive to provide a detailed overview of each one but needless to say there are many highlights.  Perhaps fittingly, the book opens with the fan favourite creative team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (whose character work is, pleasingly, a little less rough and cartoonish than in his previous collaborations with Snyder) and intriguingly as they deal with Batman’s longest and most mysterious investigation.  Current Batman writer Tom King with artists Tony S. Daniel and Joelle Jones present “Batman’s Greatest Case” an expectedly strong contribution that involves the whole Bat-Family and some fun interplay between the various players, particularly Dick Grayson and Damien.  Geoff Johns and Kelley Jones team-up in a creepy story dealing with a copycat criminal.  Jones’ art is the only real ‘blip’ here as there’s a diminished, muddied quality to his visuals in comparison to his work in the nineties.

Superman and Action Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis reunites with Alex Maleev for “I Know“, a stark and gritty tale where an elderly and bitter Oswald Cobblepot laments that he always knew what Batman’s other foes never knew – the true identity of the man beneath the cowl.  It’s a reminder of Bendis and Maleev’s monumental Daredevil run that will only make readers yearn for a full Batman mini-series from the (dynamic?) duo.

A real treat is the return of the legendary Denny O’Neil (whose most celebrated collaborator, Neal Adams appears elsewhere with a story written by Christopher Priest) who together with the sublime Steve Epting presents an appropriately sombre and moody sequel to the popular “There is No Hope in Crime Alley!“.  O’Neil’s tenure as a Batman writer in the 1970s helped to bring the character back to his darker crime fiction roots after the camp and zany 1960s and revisiting one of his most beloved stories is a perfect addition to this anthology.

The pick of the bunch though has to be “Manufacture For Sale“ by Kevin Smith (geek icon and writer of Batman: Cacophony and Batman: The Widening Gyre) and Jim Lee (DC art god who also pencils the main wrap-around cover for this issue), a heartfelt and poignant story which sees Bruce Wayne’s search for a specific item that ties to his past and turn it from something used for an evil deed and utilise it as an object of hope.  It’s beautifully crafted and bound to be cited in the years to come as a classic moment in Batman history.

Whilst much of the content of Detective Comics #1000 is self-contained it does close out with the title’s regular writer Peter Tomasi and rotating artist Doug Mahnke as they set-up the upcoming Arkham Knight arc that kicks off fully in issue #1001 which brings the popular video game character into DC Universe continuity and leaves the reader ready and waiting for many more issues of Detective Comics.

The bottom line:  Essential for even the most casual of comic book readers and Batman fans, Detective Comics #1000 is a perfect celebration of 80 years of the Dark Knight Detective, boasting some of the very best comics talent.

Detective Comics #1000 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.  A Deluxe Edition hardcover containing extra material is slated for release in June.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

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Flashback: ‘Iron Man 2’

Marvel’s path to ‘The Avengers’ continued in the 2010 sequel to ‘Iron Man’…

Iron Man 2 - IM & WM

Iron Man and War Machine unite in ‘Iron Man 2’ (c. Marvel Studios).

Year:  2010

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Clark Gregg

Directed by:  Jon Favreau / Written by:  Justin Theroux

What’s it about?

After revealing to the world that he is Iron Man, Tony Stark faces the scrutiny of the U.S. Government and the wrath of Ivan Vanko, the son of one of Howard Stark’s former colleagues…

Retrospective/review

When 2008’s Iron Man proved to be an immediate success, Marvel Studios moved quickly to greenlight a sequel for release two years later.  With Jon Favreau once again in the director’s chair (and also appearing in front of the camera as Happy Hogan), Iron Man 2 would allow Marvel Studios to push forward with the first ‘phase’ of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which would culminate in 2012’s The Avengers (Avengers Assemble as it was released in the U.K.).

Whilst not as effective as the first Iron Man, Iron Man 2 is still reasonably entertaining and delivers much of what audiences loved about its predecessor.  Picking up six months after Iron Man and Tony Stark’s revelation to the public that he is in fact Iron Man, the sequel sees an overly cocky and self-assured Stark falling foul of the U.S. Government – who have classified the Iron Man armour as a weapon – and drawing the ire of Ivan Vanko, whose father passes away without his work with Howard Stark on the design of the revolutionary arc reactor being acknowledged.  Meanwhile, Tony has learned that the substance powering the arc reactor fitted to his chest is poisoning him and that he’ll face an early death if he doesn’t find an alternative.

Robert Downey Jr’s return as Tony Stark is a confident one and Justin Theroux’s script serves the leading star with some decent material that deftly combines humour and heart.  Although the wisecracks can feel a little too dialled-up, it doesn’t necessarily feel forced like some of the later MCU films and helps fuel the motivations of the embittered Ivan Vanko who seeks to knock Stark down a peg or two.  Beyond the lighter elements, Downey Jr gets further opportunity to delve deeper into the humanity of Tony Stark, frails and all, as he grapples with issues of his own mortality which drive him to excess (Stark’s drinking binge touching briefly on classic comic book storyline “Demon in a Bottle”) and the fraught relationship with his late father, Howard (John Slattery).

Iron Man 2 - Vanko

Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko (c. Marvel Studios).

Gwyneth Paltrow is equally assured in her reprisal of Virginia “Pepper” Potts whose chemistry with Robert Downey Jr continues to be a highlight and Paltrow’s character is given room to grow as she takes up the role of CEO at Stark Industries.  Don Cheadle makes a pleasing debut as Rhodey, taking over from Terrence Howard and proves a superior fit for the role, even more so when he suits up as War Machine.  As Ivan Vanko, Mickey Rourke does well with what he has to work with providing a serviceable antagonist (a sort of mixture of iconic Iron Man comic villains Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo) that does the job but doesn’t quite have the same weight as Jeff Bridges’ Obidiah Stane from the original Iron Man.  The threat to Tony Stark is bolstered somewhat by Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer (a recurring vilain in the comics), the boisterous rival industrialist seeking retribution when his government weapons contract is revoked thanks to Stark’s ramblings during the senate hearing.  Rockwell effortlessly shifts between being funny and formidable adding both tension and wit to proceedings.  The cast’s other most notable addition is Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow whose introduction, in terms of performance, feels a bit flat compared to her later MCU appearances.

Iron Man 2 - Black Widow

Scarlett Johansson makes her MCU debut as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (c. Marvel Studios).

One common criticism of Iron Man 2 is that there are times when the story takes a back seat in favour of building its ties to the wider Marvel universe and the set-up for the impending assemblage of the Avengers.  In fairness that’s a bit of an overstatement – the inclusion of Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t too overbearing and has some significance to the plot as Fury helps Tony unveil his father’s unfinished work and search for a new power source for the arc reactor.  It also builds on that post credits scene from the first film, providing a gentle push toward The Avengers.

Iron Man 2 has its flaws.  It’s perhaps a little too sure of itself at times and there’s some loss of the irreverence that made the first Iron Man feel so unique and fresh.  As mentioned earlier, Rourke’s villain doesn’t pack as big a punch as one would hope and it doesn’t help that, although the attack on the Stark Expo leads to an exciting finale, the final showdown between Vanko and Stark is rather anticlimactic with no real emotional payoff.

Ultimately, Iron Man 2 isn’t a sequel in the same vein as The Dark Knight or Aliens or Terminator 2, nor does it rank as one of the best MCU entries but as a comic book blockbuster, viewed with realistic expectations it’s a fun ride.

Geek fact!  Iron Man 2 is dedicated to DJ Adam Goldstein who appears in a cameo filmed prior to his tragic death at the age of 36.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comics Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru’

IDW continues its expansion of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ with their latest comic book tie-in… 

ST Disc - Captain Saru

Cover art for ‘Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru’ by Paul Shipper (c. IDW Publishing).

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson / art by:  Angel Hernandez / colours by:  J.L. Rio and Valentina Pinto

What’s it about?

After the nearly catastrophic events on the Klingon homeworld and the U.S.S. Discovery’s return to Earth, Starfleet orders the ship, under the temporary command of Commander Saru, to investigate the disappearance of a science vessel…

In review

IDW Publishing continues its winning streak of Star Trek comics with the one-shot 2019 annual Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru, based on the hit CBS All Access series.  Written by Discovery staff writer Kirsten Beyer together with veteran Trek comics writer Mike Johnson and with art by Angel Hernandez, Captain Saru is a superb tie-in to the latest Star Trek series and a great comic overall.

Slotting neatly into place at the end of Discovery’s inaugural season but prior to the closing scenes of the season one finale, Captain Saru further expands on the titular Kelpien’s leadership abilities as he continues his role as acting captain and the faith that Starfleet Command has in his skills when they despatch the skeleton-crewed, under-repair Discovery to investigate the whereabouts of the U.S.S. Dorothy Garrod, a science vessel aboard which Ensign Tilly is spending her leave – only to discover that it has fallen prey to Orion pirates that soon endanger Discovery and her crew.  Can Saru effectively marshal his experience and skills to overcome this latest challenge?

It goes without saying that Beyer and Johnson’s script is excellent given their history as Star Trek writers.  Beyer (appointed to oversee the licensed fictional expansion of the Discovery universe in books and comics) as novelist, co-writer, with Johnson, of previous IDW Discovery titles “The Light of Kahless” and “Succession” and scribe of the outstanding Saru-focused first season episode “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”.  Johnson, comparatively, is now in his tenth year of writing Star Trek comics for IDW and has given fans numerous stand-out stories including the Star Trek (2009) prequels “Countdown” and “Nero”.  Both writers bring all of their talents, knowledge and love for Star Trek fully to Captain Saru where they perfectly capture the voices of the various Discovery characters (aided in no small part by the performances of Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp et al providing strong points of reference), the feel of the show and the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision which imbues it in its finest moments.  Saru’s tenure as temporary commander during the Mirror Universe crisis was a highlight of Discovery’s first season and that is strengthened here.  Whilst there is action and suspense in the story, Captain Saru excels in characterisation and emotional investment as Beyer and Johnson dive deep into not only Saru’s capabilities and resourcefulness but also his doubts and inability to view himself as his ship-mates do.  There’s also a great deal of focus on the familial relationship between Saru and Michael Burnham which has, after a fraught beginning, blossomed (but with that occasional hint of professional tension remaining) during the series.

Just as Beyer and Johnson faithfully adapt the narrative dialect and characters of Star Trek: Discovery, Angel Hernandez (who cut his Star Trek comics teeth on the Mike Johnson written Star Trek/Green Lantern crossovers) perfectly recreates the look of the series with meticulous detail and attention and evoking the cinematic scope and direction that the makers of Discovery bring to television screens each week.  Hernandez is also adept in making the reader ‘feel’ the characters with his intricate range of facial work and their placing within the panels.  Colouring by J.L. Rio and Valentina Pinto further embellishes the visuals with a slight painted, water-colour quality that’s a little reminiscent of J.K. Woodward’s work on titles such as Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor WhoAssimilation² and Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever.  It all amounts to a wonderful read and essential for fans of Star Trek: Discovery.

The bottom line:  a highly enjoyable tie-in to the CBS series, Star Trek: DiscoveryCaptain Saru is another unmissable Star Trek release from IDW Publishing brought to life by a superb creative team.

Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.

Incorporated image is used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright holder(s).

Film Review: ‘Captain Marvel’

The MCU’s newest hero takes flight…

Captain Marvel

Brie Larson heads up the cast of Marvel’s latest blockbuster, ‘Captain Marvel’ (c. Marvel Studios).

Spoiler-free review

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg

Directed by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck / written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet (story by Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet / 124 minutes

What’s it about?

Granted incredible powers but left amnesiac when a test-flight of an experimental aircraft goes awry, Airforce pilot Carol Danvers is taken to the homeworld of the alien Kree where she joins them in their war against the Skrulls, which ultimately endangers Earth…

In review

With anticipation for Avengers: Endgame building and after all the marketing fanfare, Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel arrives – but does it fly ‘higher, further, faster’? Alas, although Captain Marvel is mostly an entertaining ride it isn’t extraordinary, lacking the cultural impact of DC’s superior Wonder Woman and Marvel’s very own awards darling, Black Panther and despite a robust and appropriately heroic turn from lead star Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island), it doesn’t do quite enough to stand out from the crowd or add anything fresh to the genre.

In Captain Marvel we’re introduced to Carol Danvers, a human gifted with powerful abilities, living as a disciplined, emotionally bereft soldier of the Kree in their war against the shapeshifting Skrulls. With no memory of her former life on Earth or the incident in which she gained her powers – ‘Vers’ is committed to the cause of the Kree but when a mission to rescue an undercover operative goes wrong, events lead Danvers back to her home where she seeks to uncover the mysteries of her past and save humanity from a Skrull invasion.

Taking into account that Captain Marvel doesn’t quite soar as much as it could (and maybe should) have, there’s still a fair amount to enjoy – as mentioned, Brie Larson is pretty much perfect casting, tackling the role of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (albeit not actually referred to as the latter onscreen) with a solid and assured portrayal of the Marvel Comics hero that deftly weaves in subtle strokes of comedy and an otherworldliness that adds a dash of the alien to the otherwise human Danvers. Larson plays it in more of an understated than charismatic manner, but that’s the beauty of it.

Samuel L. Jackson’s return as Nicholas Joseph Fury (or just plain “Fury”) is reliable, as we’ve come to expect, and the digital de-ageing effects employed for himself and Clark Gregg (also returning as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson) are astonishing. There’s good chemistry between Larson and Jackson making the Danvers/Fury ‘team-up’ all-the-more enjoyable, adding a slight Lethal Weapon-esque buddy component to the narrative. The always brilliant Jude Law provides a presence as Kree warrior (and Danvers’ mentor) Yon-Rogg and Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn brings the right mix of playful villainy to the game as Skrull general Talos, an antagonist with realistic motivations. Star-credentials are broadened further by the inclusion of Annette Bening in a pivotal role and the film’s emotional core is strengthened as Larson’s Danvers reunites with her old friend, Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch).

There’s a certain sense of empowerment that’s laudable and important but doesn’t feel as potent as it did in Wonder Woman, perhaps it’s down to the fact that DC were first out of the gate with their female lead superhero hit, or it may just be something else but it’s still a positive element of Captain Marvel.

Competently directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck with a screenplay by a muddle of writers that hits all the requisite beats – action, humour (that’s not forced and actually genuinely funny in the right places), heart – Captain Marvel gets the job done, with some pleasing visuals (particularly when it comes to the Skrull shapeshifting transformations) and set-pieces, bolstered by those key cast performances together with its nifty and nostalgic mid-1990s setting, accentuated by the sight of the VHS-stacked shelves of Blockbuster Video and iconic tunes from the likes of Nirvana, Elastica and No Doubt. It also has to be noted that how Captain Marvel pays tribute to Stan Lee is touching and simply wonderful.

In the end Captain Marvel is just another superhero blockbuster, a decent if unspectacular one that’s a little formulaic but it establishes a new hero in the MCU who has great potential as we approach the end of one era and prepare for the dawn of the next.

The bottom line: an entertaining superhero blockbuster, Captain Marvel isn’t a revelation but thanks to its stars has a certain heroic appeal.

Captain Marvel is in cinemas now.

Images used herein remain the property of the copyright owner(s) and are used for illustrative purposes only.

Flashback: ‘Man of Steel’

DC’s cinematic universe began with a fresh take on the world’s first superhero…

Man of Steel flight

Superman takes flight in ‘Man of Steel’ (c. Warner Bros).

 

Year: 2013

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Henry Lennix, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne

Directed by: Zack Snyder / written by: David S. Goyer (story by David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan)

What’s it about?

Transported to Earth as his home world is destroyed, the infant Kal-El is raised as Clark Kent by a kind farmer and his wife. As an adult, Clark struggles to find his place in the world until he discovers his true heritage and sets on mastering his amazing powers…

Retrospective/review

With Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns failing to connect with audiences and plans for a sequel abandoned, the summer of 2013 saw the release of Man of Steel – arriving just in time for Superman’s 75th Anniversary. Whilst Superman Returns sought to be a spiritual successor to Richard Donner’s seminal Superman: The Movie, Man of Steel would take a slightly edgier and more modern approach in an effort to make the iconic superhero more relatable. The film would also be seen by Warner Bros. Pictures as the first entry in a Marvel-style shared universe (once unofficially referred to as the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU, but now officially branded as ‘Worlds of DC’) featuring DC’s stable of comic book characters.

Enlisting The Dark Knight trilogy director Christopher Nolan as a producer and to craft a story with screenwriter David S. Goyer (who previously worked with Nolan on his Batman films), Man of Steel was built from an intriguing premise – what if Superman existed in the real world, today? How would humanity react and what would a man with incredible abilities choose to do with them? Given the critical and commercial success of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Warner Bros. naturally felt a similar take was needed for Man of Steel in order to make Superman a more identifiable and dramatically engaging character for a contemporary audience without intentionally alienating existing fans.

Directed by Watchmen’s Zack Snyder, Man of Steel is a Superman film for more complex and troubled times whilst still conveying an underlying sense of hope and providing the blockbuster spectacle viewers had come to expect in the wake of The Dark Knight and The Avengers. It may have become divisive, but it works rather well and favours that Nolan ‘heightened reality’ over the family-friendly fantasy of Superman: The Movie.

The story is solid – there’s the traditional opening on Krypton (depicted as a more organic Star Wars-esque world in comparison to the cool crystalline aesthetic of Donner’s Superman), its ultimate destruction and the baby Kal-El escaping doom to arrive on Earth. Shifting to some thirty years later, Kal-El is now Clark Kent, a drifter who finds himself lost and without purpose but often faced with the urge to help those in need. Through a series of flashbacks we learn of Clark’s struggles to reconcile his abilities with the life of a normal person. Searching for answers, Clark ultimately discovers his origins and embarks on a journey to master his gifts and utilise them for good, but the arrival of Kryptonian survivors, led by the militant General Zod presents an unexpected threat to Earth and its people and throws an inexperienced Superman into a dangerous conflict.

Man of Steel Zod

General Zod: a formidable foe.

The cast is equally as good. Henry Cavill has a firm grasp of the central role and provides a grounded and very human portrayal of the man who will become Superman. Amy Adams is impeccably cast as the Daily Planet’s star reporter Lois Lane, bringing dramatic weight to the requisite qualities of professional drive and personal strength. As General Zod, Michael Shannon delivers a powerful and formidable antagonist whose threat is further enhanced by Antje Traue’s Faora-Ul. The casting is made all the more impressive by the inclusion of Russell Crowe, who succeeds Marlon Brando in the role of Jor-El, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, respectively and Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White.

The action is exciting, especially during the film’s final act. Some have found themselves at odds with the level of destruction in Man of Steel, but it both shocks and enthrals in a way that’s realistic and entertaining. It’s also seemingly a response to the reception of Superman Returns which many felt was too slow and lacked action and physical conflict. Zod’s death has also proven controversial, yet it’s arguably one of the film’s most emotionally effective and powerfully acted scenes. Henry Cavill’s performance in that particular moment is gripping – his gut-churning yell grabbing the viewer and making you feel all the anguish, frustration and regret of the situation.

Man of Steel Lois & Perry

Laurence Fishburne joins Amy Adams’ Lois Lane as Daily Planet Editor Perry White  (c. Warner Bros).

The production design is accomplished (particularly in respect of Krypton), the costuming superlative and the effects are great, all captured beautifully via Amir Mokri’s cinematography and Zack Snyder’s kinetic direction. A real highlight of Man of Steel is Hanz Zimmer’s wonderful score – atmospheric, emotional and exciting it’s one of Zimmer’s finest providing themes that enhance the visuals greatly (especially during Superman’s exhilarating first flight). As classic and unforgettable as John Williams’ Superman theme is it would feel out of place here and not fit the world of Man of Steel.

Ultimately, Man of Steel establishes hope as Superman makes it known that he’s here to help. The events of the film would end up driving the titanic clash of 2016 sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but as it stands, Man of Steel is highly underrated and a superbly executed redefinition of Superman for modern times.

Geek fact!

Man of Steel cleverly incorporates a Christopher Reeve cameo with a brief glimpse of the actor’s face inserted into Henry Cavill’s performance during Superman’s battle with Zod’s Kryptonian World Engine.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.