Comics Review: ‘Superman’ #1

Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman story continues…

Superman #1 (2018).jpg

Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair provide a confident and powerful cover for DC’s ‘Superman’ #1 (image credit: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Ivan Reis, Joe Prado / Colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

After the fallout of his battle with Rogol Zaar, Superman reflects on recent events and how he should face the future…

In review

Picking up where The Man of Steel mini-series left off, DC’s main Superman book returns with a new #1 as Brian Michael Bendis commences his run on the monthly title which will also spill out into Action Comics beginning with issue #1001.  Like The Man of Steel itself, this is a good start albeit one that is not all that accessible given that it ties heavily into the events of that aforementioned six issue series and although there’s a brief opening-page recap it’s likely that new readers will become lost quite quickly.  On the flip side, the chances are if you pick up this issue then you probably did on the strength of The Man of Steel, or at least to see where Bendis takes the story from hereon in.

It’s hard to discuss Superman #1 without referencing events in The Man of Steel, so some spoilers for that series follow…

Superman #1 sees a dejected and slightly morose Clark Kent mourning the destruction of the Fortress of Solitude together with the Bottle City of Kandor at the hands of Rogol Zaar and the absence of Lois and Jon who elected to join Jor-El on his cosmic journey of discovery and exploration.  Now without the means to contact his family, Clark is somewhat at a loss and a series of flashback scenes highlight his pain.  It’s a bit of a departure from the sort of Superman we got with DC’s Rebirth and some readers may be at odds with that, but it only makes the character more relatable and that’s what a lot of great Superman stories do – take a look into the man behind the cape.

Despite these more dour elements, Bendis doesn’t forget the positive aspects of Superman and although he’s hurting there’s always hope – from the ashes of the old comes a new Fortress of Solitude (grown from a central Kryptonian crystal, much like we saw on film in Richard Donner’s Superman) and it’s here that we truly get that sense of determination that drives the Last Son of Krypton to always be better and to stay strong, even in the face of darkness.

Whilst guest appearances from fellow Justice League team members the Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg and Wonder Woman are welcome, it’s an extended conversation between Supes and Martian Manhunter that’s one of the book’s most enjoyable moments as Brian Michael Bendis takes on the philosophical themes of who Superman is and how he should be.  It’s an interesting and thought-provoking debate that’s also quite fun as proceedings are interrupted whilst Clark quickly deals with various threats, facilitating some stunning poster-worthy splash pages from the art team of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair.  Reis, Prado and Sinclair provide the art throughout and it’s generally very good (and thankfully Superman and Action Comics are now on a monthly schedule which should ensure visual consistency, provided the respective artists remain on the titles issue to issue) although there are a few odd instances where Reis’ pencils seem a bit rushed.

All in all it’s a decent start and it’ll be interesting to see how Bendis’ story unfolds and expands into Action Comics but it’s highly recommended that readers check out all six issues of The Man of Steel first.

The bottom line:  Brian Michael Bendis continues what he started in The Man of Steel and delivers an interesting and enjoyable new first issue of Superman.

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

Comics Review: ‘Batman’ #50

The Bat and the Cat are ready to make their vows… 

Batman #50.jpg

Mikel Janin’s cover art for the milestone ‘Batman’ #50 (image belongs: DC, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / art by:  Mikel Janin (plus guest contributors) / colours by:  June Chung

What’s it about?

“The Wedding” : the day has arrived and the venue is set as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle prepare to tie the knot…

In review

Batman #50 is significant for more reasons than one, not only is it the fiftieth issue of the current volume of Batman it also marks the half-way point of Tom King’s proposed 100-issue run on the book and the culmination of a storyline the writer has been building for some time, but it’s also a celebration of two iconic characters whose lives have been intertwined for what seems like forever.

Any issue of Batman by Tom King is never less than interesting and more often than not inventive and gripping, so whilst this extra-sized anniversary issue may not completely live up to the set-up of the lead in of #’s 48 & 49 (the superb two-parter “The Best Man”) or hit the emotional heights of Batman Annual #2, it’s still a skilfully constructed and deftly executed comic.  In a similar vein to his earlier “Superfriends” arc, King splits the majority of the narrative between Batman and Catwoman as they both go about their respective ‘tasks’ with the ever-excellent Mikel Janin pencilling these main sequences, we see Selina hook-up with old friend Holly Robinson (who first appeared in Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One) and Bruce enlist the support of Alfred as the Bride and Groom make final preparations.

What’s interesting is that between those regular pages are single page spreads by a number of past and present Batman artists including Tony S. Daniel, Frank Miller, Jason Fabok, Neal Adams, Clay Mann, Tim Sale and Andy Kubert (to name just a few) that are almost like snapshots that highlight the history of the Bat and the Cat’s relationship.  King laces these pages with some deep and poetic dialogue in the form of letters the couple have written to one another which ponders the big questions – can Catwoman be truly good?  Will this marriage make Bruce happy?  Can Bruce’s mission as the Batman continue?  These are things that readers have not doubt been asking themselves and King delves deeply into these themes.

Aside from the roster of guest artists, King pays tribute to some of the many great Batman writers by weaving their names into Gotham itself – from Kane Plaza and Finger Tower to O’Neil Ave and the Englehart and Conway Bedrooms of Wayne Manor, it’s a pleasing complement to the rich creative history of a titanic figure of pop culture.

As for the conclusion of the story, despite the release of spoilers prior to the issue’s publication, this review will not delve into the specifics and readers should check it out for themselves.  Needless to say, if you haven’t been reading Tom King’s run on Batman you’re definitely missing out on some great comics.

The bottom line:  A fitting culmination of one of Tom King’s biggest Batman stories, Batman #50 is a satisfying celebration of two iconic comic book characters and their legacy.

Batman #50 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now

Comics Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #3

Brian Michael Bendis raises the stakes for the Last Son of Krypton…

Man of Steel #3.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #33 by Ivan Reis & Joe Prado (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Ryan Sook, Jason Fabok & Wade Von Grawbadger / Colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

Rogol Zaar arrives on Earth and is ready to take on the Man of Steel…

In review

After a slightly patchy second issue, this week’s instalment of The Man of Steel kicks things up a gear as Brian Michael Bendis sets the stage for the impending conflict between Superman and his new nemesis: Rogol Zaar, the maniacal brute who may have been involved in Krypton’s destruction.  The fact that Bendis has taken such a creative risk and shakes up the established Superman mythos is a gutsy one but impactful and will no doubt have readers debating for some time.

Via flashbacks in the first two issues of The Man of Steel, we’ve learned of Zaar’s hatred for the Kryptonian civilization and his desire to eradicate it completely – a ‘quest’ that now brings him to Earth is pursuit of the Last Son of Krypton.  Zaar is a formidable force and Bendis pulls no punches in that respect, the book’s opening pages depicting the decimation of the Fortress of Solitude at the hands of the deranged ogre.  It’s a dramatic and emotional blow that is going to change Superman’s world forever.

If all this sounds dark and depressing, it isn’t – it’s just gripping and compelling stuff that makes comics a great reading experience.  Bendis retains a strong hook on the character of Superman and all that he stands for, but like the world we live in things can often seem hopeless and even DC’s first hero can face those situations.  There’s still a little fun to be had before the emotional gears begin to turn as Superman continues to investigate the mysterious rash of fires in Metropolis, this time enlisting the help of a certain Dark Knight Detective in an enjoyable – and quite funny – cameo from one of DC’s other mainstays.

Ultimately, Bendis gives us a Superman that isn’t completely invulnerable (and exploring those vulnerabilities is what makes the character more relatable) as he soars to the Fortress to discover the damage, joined by Supergirl it’s an effective sequence of scenes that engages the reader and leads to the book’s finale as the Kryptonians face off against Zaar – which ties nicely into Bendis and Jim Lee’s short in Action Comics #1000 and sets anticipation for next week’s issue rather high.

In terms of the art, it’s surprisingly good – Ryan Sook’s style is not too dissimilar from that of Ivan Reis, sure it’s not quite as lavish but his characters are powerful and emotive and the action is epic and exciting.  Jason Fabok returns to pencil the continuing interlude concerning the absence of Lois and Jon that’s being threaded throughout the series.  It’s a tantalising tease and Fabok’s work is always a highlight – given that he’ll be pencilling the whole of #6, it promises that the series should conclude on a high, so long as Brian Michael Bendis continues to deliver the goods.

The bottom line:  The Man of Steel starts building momentum as it heads toward the half-way point and Brian Michael Bendis’ first Superman story continues to show promise.

The Man of Steel #3 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #1

Bendis takes on the Man of Steel… 

Man of Steel #1.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #1 by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Jason Fabok / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

A powerful threat from Krypton’s past looms as it’s Last Son prepares to face his greatest challenge…

In review

Following his short stories in Action Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0, former Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis presents his first full DC comic with The Man of Steel #1, commencing the weekly six issue series that will lead into Bendis’ run on Superman and Action Comics beginning next month.

Most would argue that Superman is in no need of a creative relaunch given that Patrick Gleason, Peter J. Tomasi and Dan Jurgens have been doing just fine with the character and given readers some of the strongest Superman comics since before the New 52.  Coupled with the fact that some people love Bendis and more and more these days seem not to, it’s understandable that a number of fans will be approaching this title with caution.  There needn’t be any worry because on the basis of this first issue, Brian Bendis clearly loves the character and has a strong handle on the Last Son of Krypton, whether he is soaring into the skies as protector of the innocent and vulnerable or seeking truth and justice as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.  Unlike John Byrne’s 1986 Man of Steel mini series this one isn’t a reboot, just a little bit of a refresh and a new start without undoing any of the work produced over the last couple of years.

Bendis paces things gently in The Man of Steel #1 which functions very much as a scene-setter as he establishes the basics and teases the larger overarching narrative.  Via flashbacks, we’re reintroduced to Rogol Zaar, the brutish new villain designed by Jim Lee and introduced in the Bendis/Lee short in Action Comics #1000 and whereas that dropped readers straight into an all-out brawl here we get more character depth, an idea of his motivations and ominous hints at an intergalactic conspiracy relating to the destruction of Krypton.  Zaar could turn out to be both an imposing and personal threat for Superman (and his adopted home) with potentially high stakes so hopefully Bendis delivers.

Those set-ups aside, Bendis keeps things fairly simple (there’s some wordy exposition here and there but nothing too dense) as we see Supes tackle Gotham criminals Firefly and Killer Moth, out to cause trouble in Metropolis, whilst he investigates a series of electrical fires.  In these scenes, Bendis nails the core tenets of the character – conveying that sense of strength and inherent good but also dipping into those subtle nuances of loneliness that can occasionally haunt him.  Brian Bendis proves equally adept when dealing with Clark Kent as mild-mannered news reporter and family man, scenes with Lois and Jon being both heartfelt and fun.

The art by penciller Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado (with Jason Fabok contributing the final two pages of the book) is pretty solid as is to be expected.  There are a few spots where it feels a little rushed (and unfortunately the red trunks are still here) but otherwise it’s business as usual from the pair with powerful, emotive characters and beautifully composed environments enriched by Alex Sinclair’s colours.

Anyone expecting explosive all-out action and gripping drama from the outset will likely be disappointed by this premiere issue, but if every Superman (heck ,any) comic was like that it’d soon become boring, right?  With The Man of Steel #1 Brian Michael Bendis and collaborators Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Alex Sincalir and Jason Fabok provide readers with a taste of potentially exciting things to come.

The bottom line:  A promising new beginning for Superman, The Man of Steel #1 demonstrates that Brian Michael Bendis has a good handle on the character and gives tantalising hints at what’s ahead.

The Man of Steel #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ #37

Will the iconic Green Lantern be forced to kneel before Zod?

Hal J GL Corps #37

Rafa Sandoval’s evocative cover for DC’s ‘Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ #37 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Robert Venditti / pencils by:  Rafa Sandoval / inks by:  Jordi Tarragona / Colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“Zod’s Will” Part One : Hal Jordan investigates unauthorised mining on the planet Jekuul only to find that General Zod has claimed the world for himself…

In review

Kicking off a new story arc, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37 once again proves that this is one of DC’s strongest titles and has been since it launched during their Rebirth initiative.  Like most opening chapters, this issue is a little light on actual story but by its closing pages sets things fully in motion for what looks like another promising arc for Hal and his fellow GL Corps members.

This issue opens ominously with a bloodied and beaten Hal Jordan, seeming virtually helpless at the feet of General Zod, banded together with his wife, son and the Eradicator Superman.  It’s quite a powerful and disconcerting opening (beautifully realised by penciller Rafa Sandoval, but more on the art later) that immediately grabs the reader before writer Robert Venditti circles the narrative back to preceding events – not an original method of story execution but necessary in order to deliver the cold shocks of that opening.

Part of the appeal of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps is that, as the book’s title suggests, it doesn’t reserve all of its focus for Hal Jordan himself and Venditti has always taken time to explore and develop the other principle Green Lanterns, particularly Corps leader John Stewart who, following the events of the previous arc has lost faith in the Guardians and his place as a Green Lantern.  It’s a tight and dramatic sequence that whilst heavily dialogued, allows Venditti to quickly explain the current status quo and discuss the virtues of the Green Lantern Corps, their achievements and how much the Guardians value Stewart and entrust him with the leadership of their intergalactic police force.

With some closure given to the “Twilight of the Guardians” arc, Venditti neatly moves along as Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner are sent to investigate unauthorised activity on the planet Jekuul…to discover that Zod has claimed the world as his own ‘New Krypton’ (thus tying into events over in Action Comics).  The threat of the Kryptonian General has been building gradually since his appearances in Suicide Squad and Action Comics and Robert Venditti doesn’t disappoint in presenting the reader with a powerful and imposing villain who doesn’t hesitate to ‘deal’ with Jordan and Rayner as trespassers, providing an exciting and action packed close to the issue that pays off those opening pages.

The art by Rafa Sandoval is, simply, amazing and probably his best work on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps thus far, with bold characters, detailed space/landscapes and energetic action scenes that provide the book’s visuals with a rich, cinematic quality, embellished by Jordi Tarragona’s inks and Tomeu Morey colours.  Like Tom King’s Batman this is one of DC’s more visually consistent titles which is no mean feat considering numerous other twice-monthly shipped DC books fall victim to frequent artist rotations or generally lacklustre art (something that’s certainly afflicted sister title Green Lanterns), but with the likes of Sandoval and Ethan Van Sciver working regularly on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, partnered with writer Robert Venditti it’s always a solid read.

The bottom line:  Robert Venditti and Rafa Sandoval deliver an exciting and tense issue of one what continues to be one of DC’s best comics, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #36

Tom King dives deep into the heart of DC Comics’ most complex and enduring friendship…

Batman 36

Clay Mann’s striking cover for DC’s ‘Batman’  #36 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Tom King / pencils by:  Clay Mann / inks by:  Seth Mann / Colours by:  Jordie Bellaire

What’s it about?

“Superfriends” Part One : for many years Batman and Superman have fought alongside each other and even against each other…with Bruce Wayne’s engagement to Selina Kyle, the two heroes explore what they truly mean to one another…

In review

Whilst there has been an absence of an ongoing Batman/Superman title during DC’s Rebirth (now rebranded under the ‘DC Universe’ banner) both characters have still played a part in each other’s storylines as well as appearing together in the likes of Justice League and Trinity.  The history and dynamics of the relationship between DC’s Dark Knight and Man of Steel is a complex one, both fight for justice but their methods somewhat differ as do their morals – this has often lead to conflict between the two characters but there’s always been the notion that their core values are in alignment and a sense that they share an unspoken brotherly connection.

In Batman #36, writer Tom King takes the simple premise of a parallel narrative as the story jumps between Batman and Superman’s current crime thwarting efforts and uses it to flesh out and provide a deeper and more personal understanding of a complicated ‘friendship’ (as Superman finds himself questioning whether Batman really wants or needs a friend) between two men, born of different worlds – literally and figuratively.  With the world of Batman comics shaken by the recent engagement of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, this seems the perfect time to tell such a story where Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman agonise over whether one should call the other to discuss the news.  It’s a straightforward concept but it’s in the execution where King excels and having each hero’s respective partners in crime fighting and life – Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Lois Lane – function as the voices of reason is the genius stroke, whereby Bruce and Clark are able to divulge their true feelings of respect and friendship.

“Superfriends” is elevated further by returning artist Clay Mann (aided by inker Seth Mann) who’s powerful, attentive and intricate visuals are of great benefit.  His style has a sort of scratchy and nourish look to it that would generally seem a stronger fit for the dark and gritty world of Batman, but Jordie Bellaire’s well utilised colour palette makes it work equally well for the brighter and more optimistic world of Superman.

Tom King’s run on Batman has been a highlight of DC’s Rebirth and beyond, and whilst some arcs have been stronger than others (how could “Rules of Engagement” have hoped to top “The War of Jokes and Riddles”?) it’s been a consistently strong title and right now, DC’s best comic – if you’re not reading it, you really should be.

The bottom line:  Tom King delivers one of his strongest issues of Batman yet and together with artist Clay Mann gives readers a compelling insight into the bond between two of DC’s finest.

Batman #36 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Doomsday Clock’ #1

DC’s Rebirth collides with the world of Watchmen…

 

Spoiler-free review

Doomsday Clock #1

When universes collide: Gary Frank’s beautiful variant cover for DC’s ‘Doomsday Clock’ #1.

Written by:  Geoff Johns / pencils and inks by:  Gary Frank / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

In an alternate 1992, as the U.S. is on the verge of nuclear war, the vigilante ‘Rorschach’ sets about assembling a team to save the world…

In review

Here it is – the much mooted (perhaps feared) collision of the current DC Comics universe and the alternate world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s undisputed and eternally celebrated series Watchmen.  First teased in last May’s DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and touched upon further in the brief Batman/Flash crossover “The Button” from earlier this year, Doomsday Clock #1 begins the culmination of one of the most daring projects DC Comics has ever attempted to tackle.

The first chapter of a twelve issue maxi-series, Doomsday Clock #1 is both a beautifully constructed homage to the original Watchmen and a worthy successor.  There could be no better creative team to bring this story to life, Geoff Johns – DC’s premier writer – and Gary Frank – one of the most exciting artists working in comics today – (both of whom have collaborated before on the critically acclaimed Superman stories “Secret Origin” and “Brainiac”) are a match made in heaven.  Whilst this first issue takes a slow-burn approach that doesn’t immediately thrust the narrative into the impending conflict between two universes, it’s a welcome one as Johns takes the time to immerse the reader in the gloomy dystopia of the world created by Moore and Gibbons and remind us of those elements that made that particular series such a masterwork, it’s simple, yet effective panel construction, focused dialogue and narration and political and social commentary faithfully replicated.  It’s seven years since the end of Watchmen as we follow Rorschach (who of course died…so how does he exist here? You’ll have to read to find out) as he seeks to assemble a new team to once again save a world that’s still under threat from crime, international conflict and a U.S. President driven by ego and his own interests (Johns’ substitution of President Redford for Trump being glaringly obvious).

The writing is great and the strong, cinematic visuals are the icing on the cake, Gary Frank’s realistic and detailed layouts enhanced by the rich and moody palette of Brad Anderson’s colours.  It’s a comic that looks and feels like the true Watchmen sequel this is, as for how things tie into the main DC universe, Doomsday Clock #1 provides a small but significant taste of what’s to come…we yearn to see the inevitable confrontation between Superman and Doctor Manhattan but good things come to those who wait and Geoff Johns clearly wants to take us on a journey and one that has the potential to become a modern classic in its own right.

The bottom line:  A gripping and compelling read, Doomsday Clock gets off to a strong start thanks to a phenomenal creative team.

Doomsday Clock #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Film Review: ‘Justice League’

It’s all in or bust as DC’s league of heroes unite in Warner Bros’ Pictures latest comic book blockbuster… 

Spoiler-free review

Justice League

DC’s premier super team unite in the Warner Bros’ Pictures release ‘Justice League’.

Starring:  Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher, Ciarin Hinds, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons

Directed by: Zack Snyder / Written by: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon / 121 minutes

What’s it about?

In the wake of Superman’s death, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of Wonder Woman to assemble a team of powered individuals in order to protect the Earth from a looming cosmic threat…

In review

It’s no secret that Warner Bros’ DC Comics film universe has had it tough so far.  2013’s Man of Steel was fairly well reviewed but divided audiences, its sequel 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was even more divisive and Suicide Squad…again, more so.  The tide seemed to turn with the critical and financial smash of Wonder Woman this summer, meaning the pressure was well and truly on for Warner Bros/DC with team-up event Justice League, a popcorn superhero action flick that is enjoyable and entertaining even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark.  Directed by Zack Snyder, who helmed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Justice League is held together by its central heroes, with likeable performances from their respective actors and great chemistry that makes it worth a look.

There are flaws to Justice League that prevent it from being as great as it could’ve been.  Firstly, the film’s narrative is a little messy and disjointed (a criticism that Batman v Superman was able to remedy with its superior extended cut), becoming more problematic as it rushes through various plot points that could have warranted more focus – it seems clear that the studios’ insistence on a relatively slim running time has resulted in a good chunk of material being excised.  Another weak link is Steppenwolf, an adequate but generic CGI villain (voiced and performance-captured by Ciaran Hinds) who, albeit, provides a reasonable enough threat, pales in comparison to some of the stronger comic book film villains.  He’s by no means terrible, just not all that interesting or memorable.  There’s also some disappointingly shoddy VFX work that can on occasion be distracting, especially in the film’s busy and action packed final act.

However, it’s with its main characters that Justice League is elevated.  Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot make strong returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman respectively, both providing solid leadership to the rest of the team.  After fleeting glimpses in BvS, we’re fully introduced to Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/the Flash, Jason Mamoa’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg.  All three are great, with Miller’s nerdy, excitable and hilarious take on the Flash a particular highlight.  Mamoa is a pleasing surprise with a fun, swashbuckling twist to the iconic heir to the throne of Atlantis and Fisher brings fitting strokes of tortured humanity to the brooding Cyborg.  As for the return of the Man of Steel himself it’s a triumphant one, the rebirth of Clark Kent/Superman forming an integral part of the story and Henry Cavill slips back into the cape and boots with ease, his selfless, heroic sacrifice in BvS and a second chance at life leading to a Superman with a renewed purpose and a more hopeful perspective.

The tone of Justice League is certainly lighter and more accessible than Batman v Superman, with a fair amount of humour sprinkled throughout and it’s generally well-placed and doesn’t undermine the film’s more dramatic moments.  It’s well known that due to personal tragedy, Zack Snyder handed over post-production duties to Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron writer/director Joss Whedon, with Whedon (who shares screenwriting credits with Chris Terrio) scripting some additional material and handling reshoots.  This could’ve easily been to the film’s detriment but gladly, the end result actually feels quite consistent.  Visually, Justice League is most definitely a Zack Snyder film, it’s themes of heroism enhanced by Joss Whedon’s knack for snappy character dialogue.  The screenplay may lack the deeper, more introspective themes and idiosyncratic touches of BvS but it gets the job done.

Although Justice League isn’t perfect its positive aspects make it enjoyable and fun in all the right places, particularly for fans of these iconic characters.  It isn’t on the same level as Marvel’s Avengers but it sets the DC film universe on the right path for the many further cinematic adventures ahead.

The bottom line:  Flawed but ultimately enjoyable, Justice League assembles some of DC’s finest heroes and establishes the road ahead for future outings.

Justice League is in cinemas now.

Comic Review: ‘Dark Days: The Forge’ #1

DC lift the veil on Rebirth’s next big mystery…

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV / pencils by:  Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr

What’s it about?

Batman is suspected of hiding a dark secret that could spell disaster for all…

In review

Not long after Tom King and Joshua Williamson delved briefly into the mysteries of DC’s Rebirth in “The Button” readers are thrust into another enigma as Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV present us with Dark Days: The Forge #1, the first of two one-shot titles serving as a prelude to the forthcoming Dark Nights: Metal event which will see Snyder reunited with his Batman collaborator, artist Greg Capullo.

Dark Days: The Forge #1 may be billed as a prelude to Metal but this one-shot could very easily have been a ‘zero’ issue as it really does feel like the opening chapter of something grand, setting the stage with epic scope and hints of looming threats that are more than adequate in whetting the appetite.  Framed by the narration of Carter Hall – aka Hawkman – Snyder and Tynion IV weave an intriguing tale that draws connections between the earliest ages of the DC Universe, Snyder’s New 52 Batman run and beyond.

The script is rich with atmospheric mystery, crazy action and drama with reliably strong characterisation as the story moves between the pairings of Batman and Mister Terrific, Batman and Superman (teasing the return of a long absent DC hero) and Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Batman protégé Duke Thomas, the latter matchup providing some particularly fun moments with Thomas befuddled at Jordan’s ability to miraculously combat the colour yellow and Jordan’s retorts at Thomas’s current lack of a name for his ‘not Robin’ superhero persona.  Both Snyder and Tynion IV are veterans when it comes to the Dark Knight but in these moments demonstrate their ability to write characters in general, whether they are long-established DC heroes or more contemporary ones.

In the end it’s the apparent ties between Metal and Snyder’s Batman arcs that are the most satisfying elements of the story, the relationship between Thanagarian Nth Metal and the Court of Owls being the most tantalising…but the biggest punch of The Forge is rightfully reserved for its denouement as the truth behind Hal Jordan’s mission to the Batcave is revealed, setting up potentially hefty stakes for the second part of this prologue in next month’s Dark Days: The Casting.  Despite all these connections though, Dark Days: The Forge #1 is accessible enough that it can be enjoyed without the need to be overly knowledgeable of DC Comics lore and past storylines – it merely sweetens the deal for those readers who are.

Art duties are divided between Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr, with inks by Danny Miki, Klaus Janson and Scott Williams and colours by Alex Sinclair and Jeremiah Skipper.  It’s a little problematic as there’s no clear narrative break in the change between the three pencillers, leading to some slight visual inconsistency.  The transition isn’t quite as jarring as it could have been (mainly thanks to the cohesion between inks and colours) but it’s a shame that Jim Lee couldn’t have pencilled the entire issue on his own or at the very least with backup from Andy Kubert as John Romita Jr’s style doesn’t quite fit with theirs, his more cartoonish and blocky figure work at odds with the powerful characters and detailed environments Jim Lee excels at.

The bottom line:  A tantalising introduction to DC’s next big mystery, despite some slight issues with the art Dark Days: The Forge is a decent and enjoyable prologue to the larger event to come.

Dark Days: The Forge #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Dark Days the Forge

DC Comics teases forthcoming event “Metal” with ‘Dark Days: The Forge’ #1.

Film Review: ‘Wonder Woman’

DC’s iconic female superhero bursts onto the big screen in her first solo feature…

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nelson, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Ewen Bremner, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Eugene Brave Rock

Directed by:  Patty Jenkins / Written by: Allan Heinberg (Story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg & Jason Fuchs) / 141 minutes

What’s it about?

Rescuing crashed pilot Steve Trevor, Diana, princess of the Amazons, leaves her homeland to bring an end to the Great War which is ravaging humanity…

In review

Despite the relative financial success of the DC Extended Universe thus far, there’s no escaping the divisive opinions from various fans and critics that loom over Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.  Could Wonder Woman turn the negative critical tide and foster some much needed appreciation for the Warner Bros’ DC Comics films?  Thankfully, Wonder Woman is a resounding success on various levels.  It retains a layer of gritty seriousness that will please those that actually enjoyed the previous DCEU entries and deftly marries it with a vision of hope and optimism in dark times and a heartening message that although humanity has it’s ugly side, good will ultimately prevail over evil…all it needs is a hero to lead us into to the light.

An origin story told via flashback, Wonder Woman opens on Themyscira, an island paradise populated by the Amazons – a female society of immortal warriors lead by the wise Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson).  It’s here that the Hippolyta’s daughter, Diana grows to adulthood and trains under the guidance of Antiope (Robin Wright – House of Cards).  When Diana rescues American pilot Steve Trevor after his crashes off the shores of her homeland, she learns of a great conflict raging across the outside world – one that she believes is being orchestrated by the god of war, Ares.  After German soldiers storm the beeches of Themyscira, Diana, in defiance of her mother’s wishes, decides to pursue the callings of a hero and accompany Trevor back to the war-torn theatres of the First World War and bring an end to the bloodshed and needless suffering of the innocent.

After making a memorable debut as DC’s iconic Amazonian princess (created by William Moulton Marston and first appearing in All Star Comics #8 in 1941) and champion of justice in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot delivers a pleasingly nuanced performance as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in a turn that conveys equal measures of strength (both physical and emotional), compassion and heart with a touch of innocence and naivety as she embarks on her hero’s journey.  Despite her relative inexperience as an actor, Gadot is actually quite wonderful in her first solo DC outing, demonstrating a clear affection for the character and embodying the values and spirit of an important and enduring pop culture icon with reverence and conviction.  Star Trek Beyond’s Chris Pine is the perfect co-star, infusing his portrayal of Captain Steve Trevor with charm, humility and a dose of earnest humanity.  He also shares great chemistry with Gadot, a key component to the film’s rich and often touching emotional core.

There’s some well implemented comic relief from Lucy Davis as Trevor’s plucky secretary, Etta as well as drunken marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and fellow comrade Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) that along with participation from Gadot and Pine provides dashes of levity that feels natural and fitting without compromising the film’s more dramatic moments.  Although underdeveloped, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya provide adequate enough villainy as devilish German General Lundendorff and the deranged Dr. Maru respectively, their plot to unleash a deadly new gas creating reasonably high stakes for Diana, Trevor and their group (which also includes “The Chief”, played by Eugene Brave Rock) to grapple with.  Ultimately, it’s the characters and themes, bolstered by a solid script that really makes Wonder Woman work.

Director Patty Jenkins (at one time in the frame to helm Marvel’s first Thor sequel) draws fine performances from her cast that lift the overall package whilst proving skilful in presenting grand visuals (enhanced by the finely tuned eye of cinematographer Matthew Jensen) and staging some thrilling and slickly executed action sequences (with composer Rupert Gregson-Williams adding to the excitement as he incorporates Hanz Zimmer/Junkie XL’s WW theme from BvS).  Some viewers may feel fatigued by the bombastic CGI-laden finale, yes, we’ve seen it in numerous superhero films by now, but it’s arguably necessary to close the film on an epic high and it’s executed with some satisfying emotional beats.  Yet there’s no denying that Wonder Woman’s finest and most effective set piece comes from earlier in the film as Diana, frustrated by the horrors and injustices of war, emerges from the trenches as she heroically pushes her way across the battlefield, plunging through the barrages of the German war machine.

It’d be all too easy to cynically write-off Wonder Woman as a mere symbol of feminism, but peel away the layers and she’s so much more, with all that’s wrong in the world these days heroes are needed and though a work of fiction, blended with popcorn entertainment and comic book fantasy, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is an inspiring tale and one filled with plenty of heart.

The bottom line:  A triumph for the DCEU, Wonder Woman is an exciting and epic story of a hero’s origin that’s enhanced by strong characterisation, dynamic action and great chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.

Wonder Woman is in cinemas now.

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Ready for action: Gal Gadot stars in ‘Wonder Woman’ from Warner Bros.