Comic Review: ‘Batman/Superman’ #1

The greatest team-up in comics returns…

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Cover art by David Marquez (image credit: DC Comics).

 

Written by:  Joshua Williamson / art by:  David Marquez / colours by:  Alejandro Sanchez

What’s it about?

Batman and Superman unite to grapple with the deranged Dark Multiverse villain, the Batman Who Laughs as he transforms their comrades into ‘the Infected’, his horrifying horsemen…

In review

Spilling out of the pages of the recent The Batman Who Laughs mini-series (by writer/artist duo Scott Snyder and Jock), Joshua Williamson, current writer of DC’s The Flash, teams up with artist David Marquez (who previously worked on Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man and Civil War II) for a new Batman/Superman series, a title that’s been sorely missing in the post-Rebirth era of the DC Universe.

Given that this first arc takes it’s lead from The Batman Who Laughs, pitting the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel against the terrifying schemes of the twisted Dark Multiverse Batman, Batman/Superman #1 has a more gothic, horror infused tone to it than previous Bat/Supes team-up books and although that may leave it ‘feeling’ more like a Batman comic in some respects, it’s immediately clear that Joshua Williamson is perfectly suited as writer of the series.  Williamson quickly proves adept at handling the big two of DC’s pantheon, ensuring the focus is equally split whilst demonstrating an understanding of the established (and expected) traits and qualities of each character and the dynamics of their relationship, given the differences in viewpoints.  Most of these explorations occur via the dual narration/monologues that run throughout the book, although this is nothing new in any iteration of Batman/Superman (or Superman/Batman as it was before the New 52), it is part of the creative make-up of the title and really gives the reader a feel for what motivates the heroes and reasoning as to why, despite their opposing views and methods in the pursuit of justice, Batman and Superman continue to be allies – and more importantly, brothers.

As with any debut issue, there’s a certain amount of exposition in Batman/Superman #1 in order to establish the characters and the main narrative, but Williamson manages to keep things relatively tight, coherent and moving at a steady pace – the central plot and the investigations by Batman and Superman building gently throughout, drawing the reader into the action neatly without it rushing the story along or hindering its momentum.  It’s unfortunate that DC spoiled the closing twist of the book in their marketing but whether you’re familiar with that or not, the issue remains a gripping and suspenseful read.

Making the move from Marvel Comics to DC, David Marquez produces superlative visuals, rendering powerful characters and cinematic layouts – adding an ever so slight element of grit to his beautifully detailed pencils that’s fitting for the tone of the comic, keeping it moody and atmospheric in all the right places whilst creating exciting and clearly staged action scenes.

The bottom line:  It’s been too long since we’ve had a Batman/Superman comic and it’s off to a confident and reassuring start under the perfectly matched creative team of Joshua Williamson and David Marquez.

Batman/Superman #1 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

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

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Film Review: ‘Batman: Hush’

Warner Bros. Animation adapt another popular Batman story for the latest DC Universe animated film… 

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The Dark Knight Detective returns in the Warner Bros. Animation release ‘Batman: Hush’ (image credit Warner Bros/DC Entertainment).

Spoiler-free review

Starring (voices):  Jason O’Mara, Jennifer Morrison, Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Peyton List, Geoffrey Arend, Maury Sterling, Rainn Wilson

Directed by:  Justin Copeland / written by:  Ernie Altbacker / 81 minutes

What’s it about?

Pitted against some of his oldest and most dangerous foes, Batman soon finds himself facing a new enemy – the mysterious ‘Hush’…

In review

Batman: Hush is the latest DC animated film from Warner Bros. Animation, based upon the popular 12-issue story arc (written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Jim Lee) from 2002.  “Hush” is rightfully considered as one of the greatest modern era Batman stories in which Bruce Wayne faces a gauntlet of villains and a mysterious new nemesis – a manipulative, bandage-faced foe known as ‘Hush’ – whilst grappling with stark revelations from his past and the complications of a burgeoning romance with Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

This direct-to-video animated adaptation is an enjoyable one, doing a reasonably solid job of translating the source material to the screen and neatly condensing its elaborate plot into a relatively short running time of 81 minutes (around average for the DC animated films).  Certain elements of the original story are either trimmed or cut entirely but Hush generally feels cohesive and flows steadily without rushing through the narrative or unnecessarily dragging its heels.  Certain changes are made in order to service the adaptation or for creative reasons (mainly to fit Hush within the mainline ‘DC Universe Movie’ continuity) but for the most part they add a freshness to the story for those who have read the comics.  There is, however, one particular alteration that is likely to prove divisive and although it works for the film it arguably robs it of some of the emotional power of the original comic book story – leading to a fairly satisfying but less weighty finale that doesn’t quite measure up to the source material.

As with the comics, Hush places significant focus on the Batman/Catwoman relationship and that plays out as expected, as do several key moments fans will expect – the highlights undoubtedly being that iconic Bat/Cat rooftop embrace, Batman’s ‘tussle’ with Superman – the closest we’ve ever come to the epic conflict in previous DC animation Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II – and of course, the Batman’s ragingly brutal and bloody encounter with the Joker (pushing the film’s PG13/15 certificate rating).  The inclusion of Bane adds to the drama and adrenaline, although it’s a shame he’s not much beyond a dumb, musclebound brute here, although we are provided with a narrative reason for the character acting less “eloquent” than fans may be accustomed to.

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The Bat and Cat in ‘Batman: Hush’ (image credit: Warner Bros/DC Entertainment).

The voice acting performances are fine, if a tad unexceptional.  Whilst no Kevin Conroy, Jason O’Mara (in his fourth solo outing as the Batman, following Son of Batman, Batman vs Robin and Batman: Bad Blood) is non-the-less reliable in the central role of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jennifer Morrison is equally adept at delivering the requisite slinky, feline quality to Selina Kyle/Catwoman and the chemistry between the pair is adequate if unremarkable.  Peyton List does well handling two completely different roles – Poison Ivy and Batgirl, Jason Spisak eerily channels Mark Hamill as the Joker, alas Bruce Thomas isn’t the greatest fit for Commissioner Gordon, nor is James Garrett as Alfred (to be fair we have been spoilt by some real star casting in those roles previously).  On the plus side, Hynden Walch is superb as Harley Quinn as is Sean Maher as Nightwing and Geoffrey Arend delivers a pleasingly menacing Riddler whilst Maury Stirling proves a good choice for Bruce’s childhood friend, Thomas Elliott.  There’s also the welcome return of Jerry O’Connell as Clark Kent/Superman as well as Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane and Rainn Wilson is once again suitably devious as Lex Luthor.

The style of Hush continues the pseudo-anime design of prior DC animation releases which may not be to everyone’s liking but gives an established and consistent look to the universe, although it lacks the detail and craft of Jim Lee’s comic book pencils.  Director Justin Copeland keeps everything tight and focused and delivers some strong and well-staged action scenes which is no small wonder given his experience as a storyboard artist on previous DC animation projects including Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, The Death of Superman and most recently, Reign of the Supermen.

The bottom line:  Batman: Hush is another entertaining Warner Bros/DC animation release that, despite a controversial alteration, does a good job of adapting the iconic comic book story.

Batman: Hush is available digitally now with Blu-ray and DVD releases to follow in August.

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

Film Review: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

Peter Parker packs his web-shooters as he heads to Europe for Spider-Man’s latest adventure…

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Spider-Man returns to the big screen in ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Cobi Smulders

Directed by:  Jon Watts / written by:  Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers / 129 minutes

What’s it about?

Embarking on a school trip across Europe, Peter Parker is called upon by Nick Fury to help battle a new threat…

In review

The cap to Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Far From Home is the sequel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and follows the enormously successful Avengers: EndgameFar From Home, whilst an entertaining comic book romp isn’t as good as Homecoming, or Sony’s Marvel Studios-less Academy Award winning triumph, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

On the positive side it’s generally fun, humorous, heartfelt and offers a reasonable measure of spectacle and excitement striking the right sort of tone in the wake of Endgame.  Tom Holland once again proves he’s perfect casting for this iteration of the teenage Peter Parker – a.k.a. our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man – and brings the same commitment and likeability to the role we’ve already seen in Spidey’s previous MCU appearances.  Holland is, again, well-supported by Zendaya’s wonderfully amusing ‘MJ’ and Jacob Batalon’s reliably hilarious Ned, Peter’s best friend.  There are equally pleasing returns for Jon Favreau’s ‘Happy’ Hogan as well as Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May and Tony Revolori as the bully we all love to hate – ‘Flash’ Thompson.  Samuel L. Jackson brings gravitas and star-power as he reprises his role as the ever-popular Nick Fury (with his right-hand women, Maria Hill – played by Cobie Smulders – at his side once more).  Yet, it’s Jake Gyllenhaal (at one point under consideration to replace Tobey Maguire as the titular web-head) who arguably steals the show as the world’s newest heroic figure and a new mentor for Peter, Quentin Beck, otherwise known as ‘Mysterio’.  Gyllenhaal and Holland have solid chemistry, bolstered by some nice scripting that leaves the viewer invested in their relationship.

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A new hero in town – Peter Parker (Tom Holland) meets Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) a.k.a ‘Mysterio’ (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios).

To say too much about the plot for Far From Home would lead to spoilers but the basic premise sees Peter enlisted by Nick Fury to team-up with Beck/Mysterio to battle a new threat in the form of powerful and destructive entities called ‘Elementals’, but Peter, on a European school trip and pining after MJ (facilitating a number of sweet moments between the two) just wants to live the life of a normal teenager, leaving him torn between using his gifts to help keep the world safe and just being an average 16-year old.  As such, Far From Home functions more as a teen road trip rom-com than an actual full-on Spider-Man adventure.  There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that and it’s great for exploring and developing the characters but previous, prior MCU, Spider-Man films were able to achieve that whilst still delivering a more satisfying interpretation that genuinely felt like an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.  Despite some decent action set-pieces (accompanied by some great visuals), there’s just something absent from Far From Home to make it a real “classic” iteration of Spider-Man.  It also feels a little overstretched during its first act and the pacing tends to suffer as a result and whilst those action scenes offer the requisite popcorn spectacle, they are driven by the effects leaving the sense of jeopardy and tension lacking.  The humour is pretty much on point but there are times when it seems to override everything else, as if serving to paper over some of the narrative cracks.

Spider-Man: Far From Home, if not a contender for the best big screen outing for Marvel’s wall-crawler (or a top-tier MCU entry for that matter) remains an enjoyable enough diversion and provides some interesting set-up for the character’s cinematic future and that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The bottom line:  A fun comic book adventure with some great cast performances, Spider-Man: Far From Home leans more towards teen-romance and comedy hijinks over delivering a truly classic big screen outing for Marvel’s iconic web-slinger.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

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

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison

The prolific writer of numerous iconic SF works has died…

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison: one of the all-time greats of literary and screen SF (image used for illustrative purposes only, no copyright infringement intended).

The news on Thursday of the death of Harlan Ellison marks the loss of one of science fiction’s most iconic writers and whose contribution to the genre and storytelling in general cannot be understated.  Notoriously protective of his works, Ellison’s career encompassed an impressive range of material from short stories and novellas to comic books and television scripts that would become highly regarded and influential.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio on 27th May 1934, Harlan Ellison’s journey as a writer began after holding a series of odd jobs and having his stories published in titles such as Amazing Stories and Fantastic Science Fiction before serving in the U.S. Army between 1957 and 1959.  Work in television would eventually follow and Ellison would provide teleplays for various shows including Burke’s Law, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and ultimately, The Outer Limits and Star Trek.

For The Outer Limits, Ellison penned two of the series’ most revered stories, “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand”“Soldier” is particularly noteworthy, a story in which two enemy combatants in a future war find themselves transported into the present, it became a contentious issue upon the release of James Cameron’s The Terminator.  The apparent similarities between “Soldier” and The Terminator saw Ellison launch legal action on the basis of plagiarism leading to the addition of an acknowledgement of his works to the closing credits of The Terminator.

However, it’s Ellison’s one-time connection with Star Trek that produced arguably his greatest and most celebrated work which resulted in 1967’s Hugo Award winning “The City on the Edge of Forever”, recognised as one of the very best Star Trek episodes.  Much to the outrage of Ellison, his script was heavily rewritten by Gene Rodenberry (following drafts by other Star Trek writers) in order to bring it more in line with Roddenberry’s vision and philosophy for Star Trek and to adapt it to the technical and budgetary limitations of television at the time.  Despite this, the core concept of Ellison’s story remained and only served to make the finished episode stronger and in 2014 his original teleplay for “The City on the Edge of Forever” would be adapted into a comic book mini-series, published by IDW.

Harlan Ellison would continue working into the 1970s and would serve as a creative consultant on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone and in the 90s would be enlisted by J. Michael Straczynski as a ‘conceptual consultant’ on Babylon 5 where he even made an onscreen appearance in the 1997 episode “The Face of the Enemy”.  Ellison’s short story “The Human Operators” would form the basis of two episodes of the contemporary version of The Outer Limits – the 1999 episode “The Human Operators” and 2002’s “Human Trials”.  His final television credit came in 2007 with “The Discarded”, an episode of Masters of Science Fiction, co-written with Josh Olson and based on Ellison’s story “The Abnormals”“The Discarded” is notable for starring Stephen Hawking, John Hurt and Brian Dennehy and being directed by Jonathan Frakes who played Commander Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Harlan Ellison leaves a rich legacy and can be considered as one of the all-time greatest writers of science fiction.

Harlan Ellison died 28th June 2018, aged 84.

Flashback: ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’

Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, directs Star Trek’s

notorious fifth big screen adventure…

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‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ – a flawed but fun adventure for the original crew…

Year:  1989

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Laurence Luckinbill

Directed by:  William Shatner / Written by:  David Loughrey (Story by William Shatner, Harve Bennett & David Loughrey)

What’s it about?

Spock’s estranged half-brother, Sybok hijacks the U.S.S. Enterprise to go in search of the fabled planet Sha Ka Ree…

Retrospective

It’s generally looked upon as the weakest of the original crew’s big screen voyages, but is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier really all that bad?  With the critical and commercial success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986 and the franchise entering a new golden era with the launch of television series Star Trek: The Next Generation it would have been fair to say that the odds were already stacked against Star Trek V, in whatever form it would take.  With Leonard Nimoy having helmed Star Treks III and IV it would be William Shatner’s turn in the director’s chair and although the results would be less successful with the production being hindered by budgetary woes and script and story issues, The Final Frontier does have its moments.

The story of The Final Frontier sees an undermanned and malfunctioning U.S.S. Enterprise despatched to Nimbus III – dubbed “The Planet of Galactic Peace” – where Spock’s long lost half-brother, Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) has taken envoys of the Federation, Klingon and Romulan governments hostage.  Using his Vulcan telepathy to ‘influence’ individuals into joining his cause, Sybok succeeds in commandeering the Enterprise and taking her crew on a voyage to the mythical planet ‘Sha Ka Ree’…where he believes God himself resides!  Adding to the tension is the eager commander of a Klingon vessel out to prove himself (Captain Klaa, played by Todd Bryant) by relentlessly pursuing the Enterprise, in the hopes of engaging her captain in battle.

It all sounds a little hokey, but with the revelations of the film’s final act it all comes together like a fairly entertaining episode of 1960s Star Trek.  Although the finished film lacks the complexity, nuance and real-world commentary writer/director Nicholas Meyer would infuse into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Final Frontier is still an imaginative and fun science fiction adventure carried by the beloved characters of the original Star Trek, especially the central troika of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy and the performances by their respective actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley.  Principal cast aside, one of the film’s biggest assets is guest star Laurence Luckinbill who brings both strength and passion to the role of Sybok, an outcast of Vulcan society who has shunned their traditions in repression of emotion and an adherence to logic above all else.

It’s been well documented that Shatner’s original vision for The Final Frontier was far more elaborate and, perhaps, daring than what eventually appeared on screen.  Most notably, a diminished budget meant a finale in which Kirk was to be pursued by monstrous rock creatures (a sequence preserved in the pages of the DC Comics adaptation) would not be possible.  There were also some major script changes, facilitated in part by concerns from Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley about how Spock and McCoy would be portrayed in the film, both particularly startled by an earlier draft of the story which had Spock and McCoy also falling under Sybok’s influence and turning on Kirk along with the rest of the Enterprise crew.

Some of Shatner’s concepts certainly work, particularly the concept of “the Planet of Galactic Peace” – a well-intentioned, yet failed experiment in co-operation between seemingly implacable enemies.  The very notion of Sybok and his ‘crusade’ is also allegorical of religious extremism, an element watered down likely at the behest of Paramount Pictures but still has some presence in the completed version of the film.  Working with Shatner and producer Harve Bennett on the problematic narrative, David Loughrey’s screenplay does a respectable job in focusing the disparate elements into a reasonably cohesive and entertaining adventure that gives all of the Star Trek crew moments to shine with strokes of humour that’s as enjoyable as some of The Voyage Home’s funniest moments.

One of the film’s biggest drawbacks is in its visual effects, which generally fall below the quality of previous instalments.  With legendary effects house ILM stretched by their commitments on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II, the film’s visuals were undertaken by a smaller, less established effects company and lack the overall punch of what was seen in prior Star Trek films, made all the more noticeable by the inclusion of stock footage from The Voyage Home.  It’s a shame because if ILM had been available it would have improved The Final Frontier, especially those sequences in which the Enterprise traverses the ‘Great Barrier’ where the effects work is adequate but clearly weaker and far less impressive than ILM’s work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a decade earlier!  Luckily, the production design by The Next Generation’s Herman Zimmerman is decent with the trashy, decaying aesthetic of Nimbus III’s ‘Paradise City’ aiding greatly in the sort of gritty Western feel Shatner strived for.  The bridge of the newly commissioned Enterprise-A is also a highlight, brightly lit and with advanced touch screen displays on show, it’s slightly reminiscent of the set of J.J. Abrams’ films as opposed to the subdued and submarine like styling Nicholas Meyer would employ for The Undiscovered Country.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score also proves to be a successful component, mixing themes from Star Trek: The Motion Picture with new material to enrich key moments of excitement, awe and mystery.

In the end Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is by no means the strongest entry in the series, mainly due to disappointing special effects work and the dilution of the stronger themes William Shatner sought to explore.  Yet, viewed with an appreciation for the original Star Trek series and affection for its cast of characters there’s a certain level of enjoyment to be had.

Geek fact!

The role of Sybok was originally intended for Sean Connery, ‘Sha Ka Ree’ being derived from his name.

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In search of “the ultimae knowledge”: Kirk, Sybok, Spock and McCoy reach the Final Frontier…

Have you read… ‘Green Arrow: Year One’ ?

With ‘Arrow’ returning to television screens in the UK and US later this month, here’s a previous post looking at one of the very best and most accessible Green Arrow comic book stories that fans of the tv series should definitely check out…

GEEK BLOGGER UK

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are

well worth checking out…

Written by:  Andy Diggle / Art by:  Jock

Collects:  Green Arrow: Year One #1-6 (published 2007)

What’s it about?

The young Oliver Queen is a reckless socialite and billionaire playboy without a purpose.  Betrayed by his trusted bodyguard, Hackett, Queen is shipwrecked on an opium-rich jungle island where he must fight for survival against a group of ruthless drug traffickers…

In review

No doubt like numerous other comic book fans, DC Comics’ Green Arrow was a character I had always overlooked.  Sure, I had a passing awareness of Oliver Queen from years of reading other DC titles (his appearance in Geoff John’s Green Lantern:  Rebirth for example) but for some reason I was never really interested in Green Arrow – was it the Robin Hood motif?  Possibly – although honestly I…

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GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’

With ‘Spectre’ currently taking the worldwide box office by storm, here’s an earlier GBUK post looking at one of the very best James Bond films…

GEEK BLOGGER UK

Looking at some all-time film favourites…

 

“Red wine with fish.  Well that should have told me something”

 

Year:  1963

Starring:  Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee

Director:  Terence Young / Written by:  Richard Maibaum

What’s it about?

Crack spy James Bond is dispatched to Istanbul on a mission to capture a Soviet coding device but soon becomes embroiled in the plots of the nefarious SPECTRE organisation…

In review

From Russia With Love is the second cinematic outing for Ian Fleming’s literary super spy (and based on Fleming’s 1957 novel of the same title), James Bond (aka 007), and ranks highly as one of the best – quite possibly THE best – of the enduringly popular film series.

Whilst 1964’s Goldfinger would catapult James Bond into the stratosphere as a pop culture icon and world-wide phenomenon, From Russia With Love presents the…

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