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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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: 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: 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.

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.