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).

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.

Film Review: ‘Reign of the Supermen’

The Man of Steel’s potential successors rise in the latest DC animated feature…

Reign of the Supermen

The ‘Eradicator’ continues the late Superman’s fight against crime in the DC/Warner Bros. Animation release, ‘Reign of the Supermen’ (image credit: DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. – used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring (voices): Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Patrick Fabian, Charles Halford, Cameron Monaghan, Cress Williams

Directed by: Sam Liu / written by: Tim Sheridan and Jim Krieg

What’s it about?

Six months after the death of Superman, Metropolis is stirred by the appearance of four new ‘Supermen’…

In review

Concluding the story which began with last summer’s The Death of Superman, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation present Reign of the Superman, a fun and enjoyable adaptation of the 1993 comic book arc. Picking up six months after Superman’s death following his defeat of the Doomsday creature, the world continues to mourn the loss of the beloved Man of Steel as the citizens of Metropolis are swept up in a media frenzy when four supposed ‘Supermen’ begin to appear – the wise-cracking, Lex Luthor sponsored clone who hates to be called ‘Superboy’ (Gotham’s Cameron Monaghan), the armoured champion of justice known as ‘Steel’ (aka John Henry Irons – voiced by Cress Williams, star of the CW’s Black Lightning), the mysterious yellow-visor wearing ‘Eradicator’ (Charles Halford) and the part organic, part machine ‘Cyborg Superman’ (Jerry O’Connell/Patrick Fabian). As each of these Supermen make their claim as to who may be the rightful successor to the fallen Last Son of Krypton, a looming threat from the stars places humanity in the path of a danger from which it has little hope of surviving…or do they?

Overall, Reign of the Supermen does a decent job of condensing the narrative of the original comics (which ran over the course of several months and numerous different titles) into its 89 minute running time. It does at times feel a little overstuffed and the various sub-plots and characters are not as fully developed as they could have been, particularly in the case of John Henry Irons/Steel and the Eradicator but it never feels jumbled or incoherent. There may have been a case for a further instalment to fully flesh things out and provide some breathing space but Reign of the Supermen works well enough as is and is still able to deal with the “World Without a Superman” part of the story sufficiently in its opening act, with some heartfelt moments between Lois and Jonathan and Martha Kent and an amusing yet poignant scene with Perry White (Rocky Carroll) in the Daily Planet offices. The Justice League once again play their parts (although it continues to be odd that, as with The Death of Superman, Hawkman is present but with no lines of dialogue) although the script wisely removes them from the action until the final act so that there’s more focus on the main story.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot of Reign of the Supermen in more detail without delving into spoilers but for those familiar with the comics, the film adheres fairly closely to the source material with a few original additions (and an alteration to the central threat) and it all leads to an exciting and action packed climax, a neat homage to Superman’s cinematic past and a tantalising tease of things to come in the DC animated universe.

The voice cast is solid and are served well by Tim Sheridan and Jim Krieg’s screenplay, the particular highlights being Rebecca Romijin who delivers a warm but strong portrayal of Lois Lane (bolstered by her scenes with Rosario Dawson as Lois builds a budding friendship with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman), Cameron Monaghan – bringing the arrogant, care-free and quippy Superboy fittingly to life and Cress Williams, applying the right qualities of inherent goodness and heroism to John Henry Irons/Steel. Rainn Wilson once again infuses Lex Luthor with the appropriate level of menace and deviousness but it’s still hard not to miss Clancy Brown in the role which he defined so definitively in Superman: The Animated Series.

The animation and character designs are good and the action (always a high point with these animated DC films) thrilling, all skilfully guided under the direction of Sam Liu – who also helmed The Death of Superman (with Jake Castorena) and many previous DC animation projects including Batman: Year One and Justice League vs Teen Titans resulting in an entertaining package that, when coupled with The Death of Superman creates a pleasing adaptation of the iconic story.

The bottom line: an enjoyable conclusion to the “Death of Superman” arc, Reign of the Supermen is a successful adaptation of the 1990s comic book story.

Have you read… ‘Superman Unchained’ ?

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are worth checking out…

superman unchained

Art for ‘Superman Unchained’ by the phenomenal Jim Lee (image credit: DC Entertainment, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  2013

Written by:  Scott Snyder / pencils by:  Jim Lee (main story) & Dustin Nguyen (epilogues) / inks by:  Scott Williams / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

As Superman tries to prevent the escalating attacks of a cyber-terrorist group, events lead to him crossing paths with General Lane and a mysterious and powerful alien being called ‘Wraith’…

In review:  why you should read it

Originally published as a nine-issue limited series, launched in June 2013 to coincide with Superman’s 75th anniversary as well as the release of Man of Steel on the big screen, Superman Unchained is a bright spot in DC’s divisive ‘New 52’ reboot.  Whilst other DC characters and titles such as Batman (for the most part) and Justice League were well served during the New 52, Superman, generally, was not with both Superman and Action Comics something of a mixed bag, if not mediocre.  Superman Unchained remedied that with an epic and exciting story that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Written by Scott Snyder, who was already in the midst of his popular run on Batman (with artist Greg Capullo) and with pencils by Jim Lee (with inks and colours by his regular collaborators, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair), Superman Unchained sees the Man of Steel faced with the threat of a cyber-terrorist group known as Ascension, whose attacks lead to an encounter with General Lane and his forces, the discovery of a military facility called ‘the Machine’ and a secret weapon: Wraith, an alien being – with powers to rival that of Superman – who arrived on Earth in 1938 with an equation that is the key to unlocking technological advancements.  Amidst this, humanity faces even greater danger as a further threat from the stars looms.

As well as drawing in appearances from Batman and Wonder Woman, Unchained also gives Lois Lane her own share of the action as she investigates and is ultimately captured by Ascension, learning that they are in possession of a powerful crystalline technology known as ‘Earthstone’ which they plan to utilise to devastating ends.  It also wouldn’t be a good Superman story without Lex Luthor and Snyder has fun with him, presenting a Luthor who’s at his megalomaniacal and ingenious best.  Luthor’s escape from maximum security detention (aided by a mech-suit of his own construction) and subsequent kidnap of Jimmy Olsen exemplify all of those qualities and remind us that he’s Superman’s most formidable nemesis.  The main story is complemented by back-up epilogues that run sporadically throughout, written by Snyder and pencilled by Dustin Nguyen and which provide tantalising teases of things to come.

Snyder creates a busy narrative, with multiple threats, fast action and several interconnected story threads but luckily it all hangs together quite successfully.  The fan-favourite writer has a good handle on the character of Superman in his New 52 iteration (later defined during DC’s ‘Rebirth’ initiative as an alternative version, whose essence would merge with that of the original pre-New 52 universe Superman…whoever said comics could be confusing?), who has a bit more of a gritty edge than the traditional take but still upholding those nurtured values of truth and justice.

Whilst Unchained may seem predominantly focused on Superman, there’s still a place for Clark Kent as we see his efforts to investigate Ascension and enlist the assistance of Bruce Wayne/Batman in tackling the group.  Snyder also incorporates a flashback of a traumatic event in Clark’s childhood that plays thematically into the present.

Although there’s a lot going on in Unchained and parts of it may seem overly wordy, it’s more a case of substance than waffle and Snyder does take time to focus on characterisation, even when there’s fists flying and satellites crashing and we get a sense of what motivates everyone.  The conflict between General Lane and Superman is a good example, both are sworn enemies with opposing viewpoints but Lane has an argument and a personal perspective with a commitment to duty and service that drives him, adding some dimension to the age old battle between the two characters.

Some of Snyder’s more recent works (and to an extent, the latter parts of his Batman run) tend to be a little overindulgent and unnecessarily convoluted but Superman Unchained is a more positive and coherent example of his writing and being paired with the amazing Jim Lee certainly helps.  Lee’s visual storytelling speaks for itself and his style here is as you would come to expect – powerful, detailed and cinematic – Superman Unchained reads and looks like a superhero blockbuster.  Lee’s renditions of Superman are confident and his depictions of the action scenes are exciting, all adding to the appeal.  Lee proves he can handle the scale and also the craziness of Snyder’s script, Superman’s battle against Lane’s forces in a Kryptonian armour suit being a particular highlight.  There’s also the design of Wraith, a hulking stone-grey creature emanating flaming tendrils of energy – simple, yet effective and when married with Scott Snyder’s dialogue together they create an interesting adversary for Superman with a foe who is not just physically imposing but also challenges the Last Son of Krypton on a philosophical level.  Having been in the service of the U.S. government since his arrival and intervening clandestinely in conflicts throughout history, Wraith believes in what he is doing just as much as Superman does and having our hero team up with Wraith against Ascension creates an unusual dynamic given Wraith’s declaration that once they’re done he has one more task to perform: kill Superman.

Superman Unchained is a highly entertaining read and easily one of the best Superman stories of the last decade and it wouldn’t be surprising if in the years to come it ends up ranking amongst some of the Man of Steel’s all-time greats.  Even if you weren’t a fan of DC’s New 52, it’s well worth the dive.

Read it if you like…

The Man of Steel by Brian Michael Bendis (as well as the writer’s current run on Superman with artist Ivan Reis), Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee and Superman: For Tomorrow written by Brian Azzarello with more fantastic visuals from Jim Lee.

Superman Unchained is published by DC and is currently available in print and digital formats.

It’s a Classic: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Open the pod bay doors please HAL…”

2001

David Bowman (Keir Dullea) faces an unbelievable journey in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (image credit: MGM/Warner Bros. used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1968

Starring:  Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Robert Beatty, Douglas Rain

Directed by:  Stanley Kubrick / written by:  Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke

What’s it about?

Mankind learns they are not alone in the universe when a strange artefact is uncovered on the Moon, leading to a journey to the outer solar system and beyond all imagination…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Fifty years ago, author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick brought what many consider to be the greatest of all science fiction masterpieces to the big screen.  Based on Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not only a seminal masterwork of SF cinema but also, frankly, one of the best films ever made.  An ambitious production that’s still impressive today, 2001 is a mesmerising, haunting and beautiful visual and aural experience that marries high concept science fiction ideas with incredible photography (captured by Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later work on Richard Donner’s Superman), innovative special effects and an inspired mix of classical music and contemporary orchestrations, eschewing the use of a traditional motion picture score produced by a single composer.

2001: A Space Odyssey can be an enigma to the uninitiated, it’s more focused on hard SF concepts (technological and existential) and extraordinary visuals than a “coherent” plot – although repeated viewings and a reading of Clarke’s novel (which he wrote whilst collaborating on the film’s screenplay with Stanley Kubrick) deepen both understanding and appreciation for, and enrich the experience of, the “proverbial good” science fiction film Kubrick and Clarke set out to make.  The lack of clear explanation, especially in the mind-bending finale, is an intention on the part of Kubrick and Clarke, wanting to impart interpretation and meaning on the viewer.

In terms of the underlying narrative, 2001 follows the evolution of man and its encounters with an alien intelligence via black, featureless slabs – or monoliths – at key points, from the human race’s primitive beginnings to its spacefaring ways millions of years later (connected by that iconic jump cut) as mankind reaches for the stars and is ultimately taken on a journey beyond comprehension.  Following the unearthing of a mysterious monolith on the Moon a powerful signal is blasted into space, leading to humanity’s first expedition into the unknown.

The main bulk of 2001 focuses on the spacecraft Discovery as it journeys on a mission to Jupiter.  The ship’s scientific crew in hibernation, only her commander, David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and co-pilot Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) remain awake to attend to the day-to-day functions of the mission along with Discovery’s advanced supercomputer A.I., the HAL 9000.  Without delving too heavily into spoilers, everything runs smoothly until the HAL 9000 – or HAL – begins to exhibit signs of malfunction and turns against Bowman and Poole as they consider the possibility of disconnection.  This provides drama for the central act before viewers are taken on “The Ultimate Trip” as 2001 moves towards a conclusion that has been endlessly debated and dissected.

Kubrick’s expert direction coupled with the understated and naturalistic performances of the actors gives an almost documentary style of execution to 2001.  Again, it’s more of a visual and auditory experience that challenges the mind (and the senses) than a showcase for awards worthy character portrayals (as it happens, there is actually – intentionally – very little dialogue in the film).  The exception to this of course is Douglas Rain (who sadly passed away in November) who provides the voice for HAL.  A chilling and unrivalled performance, Rain’s subtle, soft tones and restrained delivery bring a sense of unease that only becomes more unsettling as HAL’s programming begins to unravel.

The production design of 2001 is staggering, with intricate model work and meticulously detailed sets having a functional and believable quality to them.  Adding to this are the astonishing special photographic effects, designed with assistance from Douglas Trumbull and directed by Kubrick – the iconic ‘Star Gate’ sequence remaining one of the most incredible and startling in all of cinema.  The use of music is also ingenious, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s jubilant rendition of Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube the perfect accompaniment to the dreamy, waltz-like imagery of man’s journey into space whilst Adagio (from Gayane’s Ballet Suite, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra) conveys the isolation and loneliness of the Discovery’s voyage to the outer solar system.  Most effective though are Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra and Gyorgy Ligeti’s Atmospheres (performed by the Berlin Philharmonic and Sudwestfunk orchestras respectively), compositions that complement and accentuate the eeriness and mystery of the monolith and Bowman’s cosmic and reality spanning journey ‘beyond the infinite’ as he encounters a larger version of the alien object floating in the vicinity of Jupiter.

There’s so much that has been said and can be analysed about 2001: A Space Odyssey but in basic terms it is simply outstanding and an enduring masterpiece that will forever be influential and revered by lovers of science fiction, film, music and art in general.

Standout moment

Unable to verify HAL’s report of a fault in the Discovery’s communications system, David Bowman and Frank Poole employ subterfuge as they enter one of the ship’s EVA pods to discuss deactivating the ship’s computer, unaware that HAL is observing…

Geek fact!

Prior to filming on 2001, Gary Lockwood appeared in the second pilot for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.

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2010 : Peter Hyams directs the Kubrick-less sequel that sees Roy Scheider’s Heywood Floyd journey to Jupiter in order to reactivate HAL and uncover the secrets surrounding the monolith and the disappearance of David Bowman.

Solaris : Russian cinema’s answer to 2001, Solaris is a similarly cerebral and enigmatic piece that’s worth checking out.

It’s a Classic: ‘Superman: The Movie’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Y-you’ve got me? Who’s got you?!”

Superman 78

The unforgettable Christopher Reeve as the iconic Man of Steel (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1978

Starring:  Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Susannah York, Marc McClure

Directed by:  Richard Donner / written by:  Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman & Robert Bento (story by Mario Puzo)

What’s it about?

Fearing his world is on the verge of destruction, an alien scientist sends his young son into space.  Arriving on Earth, the infant Kal-El grows up to discover he has great powers and becomes humanity’s greatest hero and protector…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Just as Superman himself celebrates the 80th Anniversary of his first appearance in Action Comics #1 (courtesy of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), 2018 also marks 40 years of director Richard Donner’s Superman – more commonly known as Superman: The Movie – the character’s first major silver screen outing.  Whilst parts of the film might now seem a bit camp when viewed in these more complex times, the film’s spirit is non-the-less timeless and Superman remains a landmark achievement that set the standards for which comic book film adaptations continue to strive toward.

Superman opens on the doomed world of Krypton as the warnings of the planet’s imminent destruction from Jor-El, one of Krypton’s leading scientists, are ignored.  Sending his baby son into the depths of space as Krypton crumbles to its death, Superman moves into more traditional comic book fantasy as the infant Kal-El arrives on Earth where he is found by the kind and loving Jonathan and Martha Kent.  Kal-El is subsequently raised by the Kent’s as their son Clark, who in his teenage years discovers his true origins and abilities and embarks on a journey to utilise his gifts for good as champion of truth, justice and ‘the American Way’.

It’s a first class production, with a strong story – from The Godfather’s Mario Puzo no less – and screenplay (which received uncredited re-writes from Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz), coupled with epic visuals and a cast which includes cinematic legends Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman – all brought forth confidently under the masterful direction of The Omen’s Richard Donner.  John Barry’s incredible set-design and the pioneering special effects add further to the majesty of Superman.

A huge part of Superman’s success is down to Christopher Reeve, whose performance as Krypton’s Last Son is unforgettable.  Reeve embodies the core principles that drive the iconic hero with strength (both emotional and physical) and believability, whilst conveying strokes of vulnerability that humanise the character.  Likewise, his quirky portrayal of the bumbling, bespectacled Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is fun and endearing.

Margot Kidder is the quintessential Lois Lane for the era, plucky, headstrong and determined and has great interplay with Reeve, whether it’s in scenes with Clark Kent or Superman.  The supporting cast is bolstered by memorable performances from Jackie Cooper as Daily Planet ‘Chief’ Perry White, Marc McClure as budding photographer Jimmy Olsen, Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent and of course an introductory role for Terence Stamp as General Zod, who would return to cause trouble in Superman II.

Marlon Brando (who received top-billing along with a hefty $7 million fee), through his scenes in the grand, almost Shakespearean opening act and his later appearances as a hologram in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, delivers his portrayal of Jor-El with nobility, intelligence and an inherent goodness – qualities that, along with his upbringing by Ma and Pa Kent, would inform the character of Superman.  Gene Hackman brings an enjoyable measure of menace to Superman’s nemesis and self-proclaimed criminal genius Lex Luthor in an amusingly pompous performance.  His evil deeds are aided by the incompetent Otis, played by Deliverance star Ned Beatty.

Any discussion about Superman: The Movie would be remiss without mention of John Williams’ legendary score, indisputably one of the all-time greatest motion picture soundtracks – without which the film would simply be incomplete.  Williams’ soaring, spine-tingling Superman theme is obviously the highlight and one of the most instantly recognisable and celebrated pieces of film music.

35 years later, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel would thrust Superman into the modern era with a more layered and introspective approach but there will always be a certain kind of innocence and magic that comes with Superman: The Movie and its legacy continues to endure.

Standout moment

A helicopter accident leaves Lois Lane dangling from atop of the Daily Planet building, about to plummet to the ground.  As crowds gather on the streets below, Clark Kent decides he must take action…Superman swoops in to save the day.

Geek fact!

Richard Donner would revisit Superman: The Movie for a 2001 ‘Special Edition’ which restores eight minutes of footage originally cut from the theatrical release.  An overlong (at 188 minutes), yet interesting 1980 TV version was recently released on home video.

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Superman II : director Richard Lester takes over for an inferior but fun sequel that pits Terence Stamp’s Zod against Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel.

Superman Returns : Bryan Singer’s love letter to Donner’s Superman has its flaws but is seen as a spiritual successor and worth considering as a tribute to the classic 1978 original.

Flashback: ‘Superman: The Man of Steel’

Decades before the New 52 and Rebirth, John Byrne was tasked with redefining the Superman mythos…

The Man of Steel 86 #1

John Byrne’s cover art for ‘The Man of Steel’ #1 (credit: DC Entertainment, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1986

Written by:  John Byrne / pencils by:  John Byrne / inks by:  Dick Gordiano / colours by:  Tom Ziuko

What’s it about?

A young Clark Kent discovers his true heritage and decides to use his powerful abilities for the greater good to become the world’s mightiest hero, Superman…

In review

Following the multiverse shattering event, Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Comics proceeded to refresh their line and produce new, modern retellings of the origins of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman that redefined the comic book titans in the age of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.  With Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli set to explore Batman’s beginnings with the four-issue “Year One” storyline and George Perez assigned to tackle Wonder Woman, DC enlisted writer/artist John Byrne to relaunch Superman beginning with a six-issue mini-series called The Man of Steel.

Having already crafted iconic runs on Marvel’s X-Men and The Fantastic Four, Byrne was the perfect choice to bring Superman soaring back into the eighties and give the character firm creative footing heading into the 1990s.  Each issue, or ‘book’, of The Man of Steel is a self-contained story that looks at the origin of Superman and a series of ‘firsts’ during the early days of his superhero career.  Book One opens with a prologue focusing on the destruction of Krypton before providing a glimpse of Clark Kent’s early years and the space-plane rescue that leads to the birth of Superman and his first encounter with his future love – Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.

Byrne’s reimagining of Krypton has become highly influential, seen here as a scientifically and technologically advanced society that is relatively emotionless and where offspring are grown artificially inside egg-like genesis chambers are all ideas that would later be incorporated into Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s Superman: Birthright, in big screen feature Man of Steel and more recently SyFy’s Krypton television series.

Byrne also manages to re-establish other classic elements from the Silver Age and reinterpret them in a way that is less ridiculous than in their earlier iterations, specifically an updated take on the oddball alternative Superman known as ‘Bizarro’ who appears in Book Three as an imperfect clone of the original Superman created by Lex Luthor.  Speaking of Luthor, it certainly wouldn’t be Superman without him and the titular villain makes appearances throughout the series as he draws his plans against the Man of Steel, with a slightly more sophisticated and sinister take on the character in comparison to his portrayal on the big screen (as enjoyable as Gene Hackman was in that role).

The highlight of the series though is undoubtedly Book Four, which depicts the first meeting of Superman and Batman.  Byrne perfectly nails the relationship between the two, demonstrating the differences in viewpoints and the values each attributes to their pursuit of justice.  There’s some nicely executed tension as Superman arrives in Gotham City, initially butting heads with the Dark Knight Detective but both heroes ultimately develop a comradery as they set aside their differing ideologies and work together towards a common goal in pursuit of the criminal known as ‘Magpie’.

With The Man of Steel, Byrne goes beyond the comic book action to dig into the man behind the cape.  This focus on characterisation is one of the most appealing aspects of the series as readers get a sense of who Clark Kent really is and how his upbringing by his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, together with his experiences growing up in Smallville shape the person he is to become.  It brings a human quality to Superman that adds layers to the character, making the hero more relatable and interesting.

It goes without saying that great writing in comics needs strong art to visualise it and John Byrne’s compositions are iconic.  Whilst modern art is often more flashy and energetic, Byrne’s style is classic and recognisable – his bold, assured character designs and intricate, realistic landscapes and environments give the series a pleasing look that combined with decent scripts makes The Man of Steel a defining point in the history of Superman comics.

Geek fact!

The origin of Superman would once again be revisited in 2009’s Superman: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, following another DC multiverse cataclysm in Infinite Crisis.

All six issues of The Man of Steel are collected in Superman:  The Man of Steel – Volume 1, published by DC and is currently available in digital format.

Comics Review: ‘Superman’ #4

Superman’s battle against Rogol Zaar continues…

Superman #4

‘Superman’ #4 features another striking cover from the art team of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image credit: DC, used for illustrative purpsose only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencils by:  Ivan Reis / inks by:  Joe Prado & Oclair Albert / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

“The Unity Saga” Part 4:  Superman faces Rogol Zaar and a dangerous horde of Phantom Zone escapees as he attempts to save Earth from imminent destruction…

In review

Brian Michael Bendis continues with his run on Superman and it’s another solid issue that’s pacey and action packed whilst offering some emotional investment that helps to ground the Man of Steel and reinforces the positive values of the character.

Picking up on previous issues, Earth is trapped inside the Phantom Zone and Rogol Zaar has partnered with Kryptonian traitor Jax-Ur and assembled an army of the Zone’s most powerful and deadliest prisoners to take on Superman and prevent him from saving his adoptive home and its denizens.  Naturally, this all provides very high stakes for Krypton’s Last Son and Brian Bendis keeps the pressure on and the tension ramped up.  It makes for an entertaining read that’s for sure but Bendis still takes time to focus on character and intersects the action with a flashback to a key moment with Jon in which he imparts an important moral lesson to his son – namely that despite what he may be capable of, sometimes intellect is more important than might.  In turn, this memory inspires Supes to calmly assess the situation in seemingly dire circumstances and find the best course of action to achieve a more effective outcome.

The story also features the inclusion of Superman’s Justice League colleagues and there are some fun scenes with Flash and the Atom as they work desperately to keep things together on the ground and aid the effort to free Earth from the Phantom Zone.  As for Rogol Zaar, there’s still some work to be done as we really don’t know a whole lot about him, we’ve had glimpses of his background and motivations but a shroud of mystery remains.  Zaar is still a decent enough villain and provides a palpable sense of threat but hopefully Bendis will get to delve deeper into the character’s backstory and how it connects to the destruction of Krypton – if he is indeed responsible (we know the why, we just don’t know the how yet).

Ivan Reis once again provides great visuals (together with his collaborators on inks and colours) bringing powerful and epic layouts that elevate the blockbuster action sequences in Bendis’ script.  There’s almost a Bryan Hitch style widescreen quality to it but Reis’s talents are equally effective in the smaller more character orientated moments where he proves deft at conveying a wide range of feeling via intricate facial expressions and body language.

Along with his work on Action Comics, Brian Michael Bendis is building an enjoyable run on one of the greatest comic book superheroes that has great potential for the future.

The bottom line:  Another good issue from Messrs Bendis and Reis, Superman #4 is an entertaining and at times insightful read that reassures fans that the Man of Steel is in the right hands.

Superman #4 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comics Review: ‘Heroes in Crisis’ #1

Tragedy strikes the DCU…

Heroes in Crisis #1

Clay Mann’s powerful and evocative cover art for ‘Heroes in Crisis’ #1 (image credit: DC, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / art by:  Clay Mann / colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“I’m Just Warming Up” : discovering that several of their fellow heroes have been murdered, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman must uncover the mystery surrounding the circumstances…

In review

Eisner Award winning writer Tom King (critically acclaimed scribe of DC’s Batman and Mister Miracle) teams up with artist Clay Mann for the highly anticipated nine-issue series Heroes in Crisis, which launches with a harrowing and emotionally charged opening chapter that shocks and surprises in equal measure.  Numerous crises have befallen the DC universe over the course of its long history but this one is more personal as opposed to cosmic.

Heroes in Crisis introduces us to Sanctuary – a safe and secure place set-up by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman where superheroes, unnerved by the rigours of the job, can seek refuge and recovery.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that darkness has fallen as the Trinity race to Sanctuary to face a terrible horror…someone has turned the safe haven into a blood bath of tragedy that will have dire repercussions for the entire community.  Addressing the heart-breaking wave of shootings in America and tapping into his own experiences as a former C.I.A. operative, King infuses Heroes in Crisis with social relevance and an overdue commentary on the state of our world that makes for a stark but compelling read.  It’s quite clear that the core of this story concerns PTSD and King delivers necessary gut-punches of emotion throughout this first issue, which is sure to carry on into the rest of the series.

As readers of Batman will recognise, King employs an inventive narrative structure splitting the book between the perspective of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman as they rush to the scene of the crime, confessional style flashbacks (utilising the iconic Watchmen style nine-panel grids) and a brutal encounter between Harley Quinn and Booster Gold, who are the main focus of this instalment.  King has a great handle on Harley, highlighting the zany humour and unhinged danger of the Joker’s old partner and continues the work he did on Batman to redefine Booster Gold beyond his more beaming and egotistic persona to create an iteration of the character that’s actually interesting.

The art by Clay Mann (who has previously worked with Tom King on Batman) in a word is simply incredible.  Mann’s figures are strong and heroic (his Superman is a particular standout) and his storytelling is cinematic on a variety of scales but proves most skilful in depicting the intimacy of the drama with detailed facial work, expressing every emotional nuance, vocal or not, that the characters experience.  It’s all rendered beautifully with the aid of Tomeu Morey’s organic colours.

So, does all this mean dark times for the DCU, then?  That remains to be seen but it’s probably unlikely in the long run, DC’s Rebirth has been celebrated for its optimism and hopefully Heroes in Crisis will have a resolution that reminds us that there will always, eventually, be light at the end of the tunnel.

The bottom line:  A strong and gripping start, Heroes in Crisis promises to be an important series and couldn’t be in better creative hands.

Heroes in Crisis #1 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Film Review: ‘The Death of Superman’

Warner Bros Animation makes another attempt at adapting an iconic Superman story…

Death of Superman

The Man of Steel prepares to meet his doom in Warner Bros Animation’s ‘The Death of Superman’ (image credit: Warner Bros, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring (voices):  Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara

Directed by:  Jake Castorena and Sam Liu / Written by: Peter Tomasi / 80 minutes

What’s it about?

Superman faces his greatest challenge when a mysterious and brutal creature arrives on Earth and begins tearing its way through Metropolis…

In review

After the lacklustre Superman: Doomsday (released in 2007), Warner Bros Animation takes another stab at adapting the iconic 1990’s DC Comics storyline – elements of which were also incorporated into Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman.  This time WB is taking the same approach as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by splitting the story into two parts, beginning with The Death of Superman and to be concluded in Reign of the Superman, which is due for release next year.

More satisfying than the aforementioned Doomsday, The Death of Superman is an enjoyable, albeit not totally perfect, entry in Warner Bros’ DC animated universe.  Written by comic book scribe Peter Tomasi (writer of the acclaimed DC Rebirth Superman series), the screenplay does a commendable job of streamlining– and in a few areas improve – the original comics storyline which had the luxury of several issues to expand into numerous sub-plots.  The result is a loose reinterpretation that focuses on the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, providing a solid emotional core that pays off when the Man of Steel is faced against Doomsday – the powerful and unstoppable destructive force that smashes its way through Metropolis.

It’s a little slow and uneventful to begin with but once Doomsday arrives and the tension begins to build it picks up the pace and becomes more engaging, the final third largely a prolonged (and quite bloody, this isn’t one for younger viewers) battle between Superman and his titanic foe.  That was the only real highlight of Superman: Doomsday and directors Jake Castorena and Sam Liu deliver some exciting and impactful action scenes that rival the 2007 film.

One key improvement made by Tomasi’s script (which drops in some neat references to Superman: The Movie and the 1966 Batman television series) is an increased and more integral role for the Justice League and whilst this is still Superman’s story, there’s some fun and insightful interaction between the various team members, with wisecracking exchanges between Green Lantern and the Flash adding a dash of humour whilst Superman and Wonder Woman open up as they contemplate their past relationship.  The team’s failure to halt Doomsday’s rampage raises the stakes and adds to the sense of impending doom making the final showdown all the more intense.

The voice cast is very good, Jerry O’Connell is a strong and reassuring Superman with a more grounded and vulnerable approach to Clark Kent, Rebecca Romijn (Mystique in Fox’s original X-Men trilogy) brings a warmth and determination to Lois Lane and The Office and Star Trek: Discovery star Rainn Wilson delivers a spirited performance as Lex Luthor, infusing him with the right measure of arrogance and menace, although Clancy Brown is still arguably the definitive choice.  Justice League voice artists including Jason O’Mara, Rosario Dawson and Nathan Fillion (Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, respectively) reprise their roles as the various DC heroes whilst Black Lightning’s Cress Williams is a welcome addition as John Henry Irons – a character that as fans know plays a big part in the “Reign of the Supermen” arc.

Visually, The Death of Superman is decent if a bit unremarkable – character designs are generally strong (adopting the same anime-esque style of previous releases such as Justice League: War and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis) but environments are pretty sparse and lack detail.

The Death of Superman doesn’t evoke that more immersive and cinematic feel of The Dark Knight Returns and that stops it from fully living up to its potential.  Perhaps this might have been achieved by having it be a standalone project (with a slightly bigger budget) rather than incorporating it into the continuity of the main DC animated films (established in 2014’s Justice League: War), or maybe it’s because the source material is just not as strong or as nuanced as Frank Miller’s seminal Batman tale – that’s all a matter of perspective and open up for debate but as is, The Death of Superman is a worthwhile watch if only at least to erase disappointing memories of Doomsday.

The bottom line:  The Death of Superman is a more successful version of the classic Superman story that although falling short of greatness is non-the-less an enjoyable watch and superior to WB Animation’s previous attempt.

The Death of Superman is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now.  Reign of the Superman will be released in 2019.