Comic Review: Catwoman – The Game (2012)

CatwomanThe Game (2012)
Written by Judd Winick, Art by Guillem March

Rating: B+

Judd Winick was the recipient of a lot of unfair criticism during his run on Green Arrow. He had the longest tenure as writer of that series since Mike Grell’s epic run that lasted pretty much the entirety of the 1990s. Winick spent his entire time writing the Emerald Archer being compared to short spurts by film writer Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer. Although both Smith and Meltzer made important impacts on the Green Arrow mythos, Winick made Green Arrow feel current and important for the first time since the Denny O’Neill/Neal Adams years, and for that reason, he vastly under appreciated. Grell wrote stories that were strong but ultimately forgettable and unimportant; Winick made his mark on Green Arrow, and now has his chance to make his mark on Catwoman.

Although best known as a supporting character in the Batman mythology, Catwoman has actually had her own book for quite some time. The recent relaunch of DC Comics makes it the perfect time to jump on with any of the books, and Catwoman is an absolutely pleasant surprise. Selina Kyle may be best known for being an incredibly sexy character (and she is), but she is also brilliant, extraordinarily talented as a fighter and a thief, and so sassy that it is impossible not to like her. Winick understands this and it shows in the way he writes the character.

Over the course of the very well-drawn story arc that makes up The Game, Winick pulls out a few of really amazing cliffhangers, and manages to put Catwoman in enough duress that her fight to get out of a series of sticky situations is enthralling. New characters are introduced and made memorable just as quickly as they are taken away, something that Winick has done before and does so well. Readers who don’t like any of Winick’s previous work will probably not find anything in The Game that will change their mind, but for someone who thinks Winick is generally an underrated writer, The Game was a really enjoyable book that makes one look forward to the release of the second volume.

Comic Review: Animal Man – The Hunt (2012)

Animal ManThe Hunt (2012)
Written by Jeff Lemire, Art by Travel Foreman

Rating: B

There was a time when Animal Man was just a nobody superhero. He had the power to use the abilities of any animals within reasonable range, which is actually a pretty cool power, but Buddy Baker didn’t have a lot of interest or personality until Grant Morrison took over. Morrison took Animal Man from nobody hero to vegetarian political crusader who fought some pretty strange villains and ended up becoming the only hero we know of in DC Comics who is actually aware that he is a comic book character. Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man is frankly the shit, but it didn’t take long for the character to become relatively obscure again.

A few years ago, the weekly universe-wide series 52 made Animal Man into a main character again, as he had a pretty major plot that involved among other characters Starfire and Adam Strange. After that, he had small roles in the Blackest Night crossover and James Robinson’s Cry for Justice miniseries, but this new Jeff Lemire-penned comic is the first time we’ve seen Buddy have his own book in quite some time. Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Morrison days, there is a lot to enjoy about The Hunt.

The basic plot revolves around Buddy’s daughter Maxine discovering that she has powers, apparently passed down from her father somehow (despite him receiving them from aliens and not from genetics). Things pretty much go crazy when he finds her in the back yard digging up the skeletons of dead animals that she then turns into zombie skeletons. Some kind of strange web-like map appears on Buddy’s skin and his daughter informs him that in order to save the world they have to follow the map into a place called the Red. That’s about where it stops being vaguely coherent and becomes a surrealistic horror adventure into some kind of hidden nether region. I would suggest I have to read it about five or six more times to even have a vague idea about what is going on but it is definitely amusing and amazing in the way of Salvador Dali.

There are some lovely nuggets here for fans of the Morrison run on the book, but it is definitely easy to jump right into. The art is trippy and wonderful, and it is clear that Lemire has a really good grasp of who Buddy Baker is and how to make him tick. Although some reviewers are praising The Hunt as the best book of the New 52, that is going a bit far. There are certainly some issues of coherence here, but its enjoyability far outweighs its weaknesses.

Film Review: Justice League Doom (2012)

Justice League Doom
Directed by Lauren Montgomery
Written by Dwayne McDuffie

Rating: B+

With all the criticisms DC Comics has gotten over the past several years over their non-Batman live action film adaptations, at least it can be said that they know exactly what they are doing when it comes to animated features. Justice League Doom, the swan song of the sadly departed writer Dwayne McDuffie, is the thirteenth in the series that has only been going on since 2007. Loosely based on the comic story Tower of Babel by Mark Waid, the basic story revolves around the idea of the villain, in this case Vandal Savage, discovering the secret contingency plans Batman had in place just in case any members of the Justice League were to go rogue. Using the weaknesses against them, Savage assembles a collection of villains to take out the League so that he can start his plans for world domination.

For this particular film, all of the voices of the original Justice League animated series were brought back. Kevin Conroy is Batman, Tim Daly is Superman, Susan Eisenberg is Wonder Woman, Michael Rosenbaum is The Flash, and Carl Lumbly is Martian Manhunter, all of whom played the same roles in the DC Animated Universe series. Newcomers include Nathan Fillion (of Firefly and Castle fame) as the Hal Jordan incarnation of Green Lantern, a role he previously played in the Emerald Knights DC Animated movie, and Bumper Robinson as Cyborg. It is worth noting that the version of the Flash played by Rosenbaum here is Barry Allen, whereas in the original show he was the younger Wally West. Rosenbaum takes the difference between the two characters seriously, and his Allen is clearly distinguishable from his West.

Tower of Babel is one of the cooler Justice League stories in recent memory, and McDuffie’s adaptation for this film is strong. The lineup of the Justice League here is essentially the same as is currently starring in the comic books, with the only exception that this film features Martian Manhunter instead of Aquaman. Taking Waid’s story and telling it with the current incarnation of the League is a smart choice that makes the film feel very current, as if it could be slotted into continuity with the books without any issue. Some of the choices in villains to put the individual members of the League against could have been better (anyone but Bane, please) but the interplay between hero and villain is satisfying in practically every storyline. It is definitely helped by the quality of voice acting which, aside from the aforementioned heroes, features Alexis Denisof as Mirror Master, Olivia d’Abo as Star Sapphire, and a half dozen more, all of whom are at least good if not stellar.

Although there are slow parts around the middle, Justice League Doom is as good as getting new episodes of the Justice League show. Hearing the whole cast return with the addition of Nathan Fillion is a wonderful mix of childhood nostalgia and fanboy giddiness, which is something we can all use more of. It isn’t quite as perfect as it was in comic book form, but this film is definitely worthwhile and will have rewatch value for anyone. It doesn’t hurt that the disc is full of great bonus features. This film should basically please anyone with an interest in the Justice League as a whole or any of the individuals characters featured.

Comic Review: New X-Men – E is for Extinction (2001)

New X-MenE is for Extinction (2001)
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Frank Quitely

Rating: A-

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely becoming the creative team of the newly retitled New X-Men was a very successful effort to revitalize the X-Men brand. After a few years of being relatively forgettable, Morrison and Quitely made changes to the team that still play a major part in the comics more than ten years later, and created elements that would be incorporated into the up-and-down film franchise.

E is for Extinction is the first story arch of their sizable tenure. It introduces the concept of secondary evolution, which has X-Men mainstay Beast changing from his old self into a more feline body, while telepath Emma Frost develops the secondary ability to change her whole body into nearly impenetrable diamond (a trait that is also shown in her minor appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and her supporting role in X-Men First Class). Perhaps a more obvious change for the crew is that with this shift in creative teams the group has also shifted from individualized outfits to more basic and matching suits that emphasize that they are indeed a team of superheroes and don’t operate as individuals.

The story of E is for Extinction is outstanding; a new villain called Cassandra Nova is hellbent on destroying mutants to make way for what she claims will be the next phase of evolution. Although she doesn’t have the same level of charisma as Magneto or the pure cool factor of Apocalypse, she is a strong villain on the basis of the fact that she is so powerful that it is pretty terrifying. By the end of the three issues worth that comprise the storyline (and three-quarters of the trade release), she has managed to rack up a body count in the millions.

Morrison and Quitely have worked together a lot since this run, but E is for Extinction really made the X-Men cool again. The spirit of this book is so important because it modernized the X-Men in a way that was later carried on into Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men and is still an important part of what the X-Men are. With all of this in mind, it is really essential reading for anyone with an interest in the X-Men in print.