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.

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Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Story by David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan

Rating: B+

Christopher Nolan and the rest of the creative team really dug themselves into a hole with The Dark Knight. They made quite possibly the greatest comic book movie of all time, featuring one of the brilliant performances in film history by the late Heath Ledger playing their character’s most compelling villain. Then they had to reconvene and write a third installment that would live up to the brilliance of its predecessor and close out their trilogy in a way that works. Although The Dark Knight Rises is not quite as good as The Dark Knight, it is by far the best super hero trilogy closer yet.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after The Dark Knight, a period during which Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. Crime is almost non-existant in the city thanks to new laws inacted in Gotham City in honor of the late Harvey Dent, who is portrayed as a hero despite his fall. The relative peace of Gotham is destroyed with the coming of Bane, a terrorist leader hell-bent on annihilating Gotham under the false pretense of freeing it. Seemingly reluctantly involved is Catwoman, a woman named Selina Kyle who works as a thief to earn enough to get rid of the past she wants to get away from. With all of the trouble that starts to tear apart the city, Bruce Wayne comes out of his shell as Batman is forced to re-emerge.

There were two key issues based on the early information and trailers about the film that were the cause of most concern. The first of these is the casting of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, which seemed suspect based on the scenes of her in action in the parts shown in the trailers. As it turns out, she very quickly proves that she is capable in the role, although not extraordinary. The second and most important concern was that Bane is a fairly boring villain after using both Two-Face and the Joker in the previous films, arguably the two most important villains in Batman’s canon. Bane is generally portrayed as a Mexican wrestler crossed with a ‘roid rager, and that doesn’t quite live up to the former District Attorney-turned-serial-killer of Two-Face or the Clown Prince of Crime. The film version is a signficant improvement over Bane’s depiction in the source material, but he is definitely not as charismatic or thrilling a villain as any of those previously shown in the series.

The biggest surprise of the movie is how much Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s storyline as young cop John Blake really made the movie. He is a very intelligent and capable cop, who in quieter times would obviously rise up in the ranks very quickly. It is hard not to be reminded of the idea of a young James Gordon in his absolute belief in the right thing, although we suspect Blake might even surpass Gordon in that respect. His relationship to Bruce Wayne and Batman in the film is a wonderful symbolism of what Batman as a figure means to all of the people in Gotham who don’t believe he was responsible for the death of Dent. Gordon-Levitt is outstanding in the role, and both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman turn in their best performances in the trilogy for their parts as Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox, respectively.

Despite the underwhelming villain, the plot of The Dark Knight Rises is outstanding and the build up to the finale is really well done. There are some really great twists that won’t be spoiled here but that upped the satisfaction level, despite at least one major one being far too heavily foreshadowed. A final judgement on a film of this scope really has to be made after repeated viewings, but it is at least a very good conclusion to the mythos. There is a lot to say from a comic book geek perspective in terms of things that seemed strange to leave out, or choices made in the end about certain characters, but these are qualms that probably wouldn’t even be noticed by someone without a familiarity with the source material. In the end, it is hard not to wish that a better villain than Bane had been chosen to close out the Nolan trilogy, but it is hard to complain about the film as a whole.

Feminism & the Portrayal of Women in Comics – Part 2

I am extraordinarily pleased to see that our article about feminism and comic books continues to be one of our most read pieces, as feminism is something near and dear to my heart personally that will always be important to Android Dreamer as a website. That being said, the conclusions drawn in the article were called into questions by some readers who brought up very important points in the general discussion of the portrayal of women in comics that are absolutely worth addressing. Although it is hard to argue that comic books are inherently pro-women, I still believe that super hero comics as a medium are neither inherently feminist nor sexist; it is really a matter of the individual creators.

The first point brought up is that although it is true that women and men are both portrayed as near impossible standards, that these portrayals are specifically a male ideal of what women and men should be. Batman may be unrealistically portrayed as a Mr. Universe contestant, but that is because it is what men want to look like rather than what women want men to look like. Although the idea of what is attractive and what isn’t is definitely subjective, it is worth examination. Without the finances to conduct an official survey of what women find physically attractive in men, a quick Google search doesn’t really give the information required to give a real answer. Generally recurring answers to the questions of who the most attractive men are include people like Marlon Brando and Paul Newman, when it comes to lists of all people living and dead, and men like Brad Pitt and Robert Pattinson in talking about the hottest men of today. You are no more likely to find Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti on the hot men list than you are to find Kathy Bates and Queen Latifah on a list of the most attractive women. This isn’t because they aren’t extraordinarily talented people in their fields, but because both men and women when talking about averages of the entire population prefer people who are physically very fit when it comes to attractiveness on a completely superficial level. This holds up in the portrayal of both genders in the comic books, as both the men and women are portrayed as exaggeratedly fit. There are individual artists that may go a step too far in the way they draw their women, but on a pure eye candy level there is generally a level playing field.

Another point mentioned that frankly shouldn’t have been missed is that it is equally if not more important that women in super hero comics are written well rather than how they are portrayed physically. The first example of an extraordinarily strong female character that springs to mind is Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl who later became Oracle after being shot through the spine and left in a wheel chair by Joker. As Batgirl, she was an asset to Batman, and was successful operating on her own. As Oracle, she has proven that physical fitness and martial arts were not the only tools in her repetoire, as she is indisputably one of the most intelligent characters in the DC Universe. Despite her handicap, she used computer technology to communicate remotely with Batman and other heroes to feed them information. If Batman was in a public building, Oracle is there with the maps. If there’s a security system that needs breaking into, Oracle can hack through it before Batman even has to ask. Oracle is a wonderful character who ought to be a role model, and is proof that extraordinarily strong female characters exist in comics. It is only one example (Wonder Woman and Black Canary could also both be discussed) but she is at least proof that the genre is capable of feminist leanings.

It would be impossible to form an argument that pleases everyone when it comes to the topic, but it is worth continuing to discuss. We still don’t think that super hero comics are inherently sexist, but that writers and artists who portray women poorly ought to be called out for it. Characters like Starfire, a sexual liberated and gorgeous alien from a culture that doesn’t understand humanity’s hang-ups about sex, walk a very fine line between feminist and sexist, and it is important that the creators of these books are kept in check.

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.

Film Review: Batman: Year One (2012)

Batman: Year One
Directed by Lauren Montgomery & Sam Liu
Based on work by Frank Miller

Rating: A-

Frank Miller has two very important legacies in the history of Batman. The first of these is The Dark Knight Returns, a completely non-canon alternate reality story in which Batman comes out of retirement in middle age to kick some more ass and act like a total asshole. It is often seen as one of the great comic book stories of all time, but portrays Batman as chauvinistic and completely unlikable in attempt to make a grittier version of the dark knight. It is criminally overrated.

The second and far superior story that Miller contributed to the history of Batman is Batman: Year One, an aptly titled telling of Batman’s first year fighting crime as the caped crusader while future police commissioner James Gordon endures his first year on the force in Gotham as an honest man in a dishonest police department. Gordon is really the main character of the story; almost all of the narrative is from Gordon himself, voiced perfectly by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame in this film version. Catwoman also appears in an almost-so-minor-it’s-pointless supporting role, portrayed very capably by Eliza Dushku. Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica is Detective Essen, Alex Rocco is mob boss Carmine Falcone, and Benjamin McKenzie is Batman himself.

A film adaptation that takes the source material and translates it to the screen exactly is almost pointless, but thoroughly enjoyable anyway. Although there is absolutely nothing different about it, seeing the film is a lot like reading the original story for the first time, and that has value. The voice cast is almost entirely stellar, although Batman could have been better cast. The visuals are perfect, and the entire production makes for an animated film that is just as enjoyable as the Christopher Nolan live action films. That being said, if you have already read the book, there is nothing new to experience here. Still, if you can appreciate a quality transfer between two mediums, Batman: Year One will be enjoyed.

Feminism & the Portrayal of Women in Comics

Whenever discussion of comic books as a medium comes to anything beyond simple plot discussion and goes into the sociopolitical ramifications of super hero books in particular, the portrayal of women is often the most highly criticized point. No one doubts that comic books were ground breaking in discussion of topics of great social importance, such as when Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy was shown to have a drug addiction in Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow series in the late 1960s, or when the uncomfortable and enraging subject of domestic violence came to forefront in the pages of Avengers when Ant-Man struck his wife. Still, when looking at the pages of a modern comic book for the first time, it is hard not to notice the way most artists draw their heroines; they are almost always voluptuous, sometimes to the point of bordering on unrealistic. But there are a few points that are worth mentioning before we condemn superhero comics as sexist.

Generally speaking, when a woman is being objectified, she serves no purpose other than being the object of sexual attraction. Fiction as a whole is full of these kind of characters, across all of the visual mediums. In the case of comic books, however, the superhero women who are depicted as extraordinarily well-figured are generally also shown to be highly intelligent. While Catwoman may be dressed a bit provocatively, to say the least, she also shows time and time again that she is not only charismatic but capable of outsmarting just about anyone who comes in her path. The same can be said of Wonder Woman, who is not only an Amazonian goddess of exceptional beauty, but is also highly intelligent and among the most powerful characters in general in the DC Universe.

One of the main criticisms for portraying women with an exaggerated level of attractiveness as they are in comics is that it sends out the wrong message to young women who read the books. It is feared that by portraying these superheroes as being the standard of beauty they should aspire to that young girls will develop issues with their own body images, something that no self-respecting feminist would ever hope for. This may be a genuine concern, but it should be noted that the “absolute perfection” of these characters is not limited to the women alone; male characters throughout all major comic books are given physiques that would only be seen in competitors for Mr. Universe. Aside from bring possibly the smartest man alive, Batman is also built so ridiculously (once again dependent on the artist at the time) that it borders on the impossible. The same can be said of Superman, most incarnations of Green Lantern, Aquaman, Hawkman, Captain America, and more than half of the male X-Men. It is actually easier to list the men who aren’t designed that way. So although the unrealistic body image portrayal is definitely a part of the way these characters are drawn, it is not a gender issue.

Despite not thinking that superhero comics are inherently sexist, there are individual aspects that need addressing. In general, everyone in comics wears spandex. Man or women, teenage or senior citizen, the vast majority of those fictional men and women who take on secret identities are dressed in skin-tight clothes that leave nothing to the imagination, and that’s okay. For every Wonder Woman leotard there is a Green Lantern black and green skin-tight body suit. Despite that, there is one particular costume that we find hard to swallow, that of DC’s Power Girl. She may have personality, and she may be written okay from time to time, but Power Girl’s costume is one thing that is blatantly ridiculous, no matter how tongue-in-cheekedly it is explained away by the writers.

In the end, it is hard to see comic books being any more exploitative of women than they are of men, and certainly no more driven by sex appeal than any other medium. We would conclude that as long as the women are smart and powerful, and that neither of the major comic book companies introduces a new character called Hooker Woman or Brothel Girl, there really isn’t anything here to be angry about. There may be a topic of discussion for the sociology of depicting either gender as being physically ideal, but it is not a male vs. female issue so much as a cultural portrayal of people against the truth of existence. Comic books may sometimes have important things to say, but in the end it is escapism. Once the hole on Power Girl’s costume is filled, all will be well.