WELCOME TO EARTH-4
A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain
There are combinations of nerddom or geekdom or awesomedom (however you’d like to describe persons with passionate interests in a given subject) that are simple. A love of chess and a love of The Lord of the Rings can lead to buying a Lord of the Rings-themed chess set. A love of Chuck, Alien Nation, and cosplay can lead to Tenctonese Buy More employees Alien and Predator can lead to Batman: Dead End. (AK47, gone, not forgotten.)
Then, there are combinations that have built on each other for hundreds of years, as a love of science fiction can lead to a love of sciences and exploring that interest through reading books on astronomy, physics or chemistry (or vice versa). I can’t remember why I came upon Disappearing Spoon And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean, but its combination of history, familiar names of the past and the ability to summon up the image of the corner of my high school chemistry class, made it enthralling to me every morning and evening during my subway commute. It may not be as obvious as a Star Wars Monopoly set, but in this book and contained in those stories are links to older wonders that we Knights of Wonderfulness, we Kings and Queens of Comic-Con explore.
The 75th anniversary of the creation of Batman is approaching. Continuing the theme of superhero television series revolving around crusaders defending their city, DC Comics and Fox released the first trailer for their new series Gotham. Shifting from Arrow’s Starling City to the more famous Gotham City, DC Comics also is continuing its focus on a cast of supervillains, this time as a prequel starring Ben McKenzie (Southland, The OC), who previously was the voice of Batman and Bruce Wayne in the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.
But if the new series is able to latch onto some of the success seen by CW Network’s Arrow, it may be because of supporting cast, like the always great Donal Logue (Vikings, Life, The X-Files, Ghost Rider, Sneakers). Gotham is also taking a cue from AMC’s Bates Motel, revealing the creepy pasts of Catwoman (Camren Bicondova), Poison Ivy (Clare Foley), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), and the Penguin (Robin Taylor) in their early days in Gotham City. On the downside, DC Comics is now taking a cue from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by leaving the key superhero–Batman– out of the story, other than the Bruce Wayne origin story from Miller’s Batman: Year One.
Check out this first preview for Gotham:
With so many on-going monthly series in the DC Comics New 52 universe, it’s sometimes difficult to find an entry point into the DC Comics titles because of continuing story arcs. If you’ve dumped one or more titles and want to get back in, where do you start?
One entry point for you may be Detective Comics, Issue #30, the beginning of a new story arc titled “Icarus.” In this first chapter we don’t learn what Icarus is, but we do meet up with an interesting Batman, moving on past the death of son Damian. We also meet Elena Aguila and her daughter Annie, a motorbike daredevil who looks like she’s cut out to be the next Robin. Similar to one of the main story threads in the Arrow TV series, Elena and Bruce Wayne are forging an alliance to restore the welfare of the citizens in the community of Gotham’s East End Waterfront District.
Replacing Wayne’s plans to commercially develop that area of town, and the likely deals with businessmen in Gotham City that he is going to need to cancel to do it, will no doubt create some enemies for Wayne in the process.
By Art Schmidt
I was having lunch with a friend the other day and we were talking about comic book movies and the slow transition of the formulas for the ones which have succeeded to television format. My friend was grumbling about the lack of costumed heroes on popular shows such as Arrow or the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I have to admit, I hadn’t really noticed the lack of costumes in those shows, loving the first season of Arrow despite very few folks with traditional comic book costumes, and enjoying the first couple of episodes of A.O.S. (can you acronym an acronym?).
But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I was. Why weren’t there more costumes in Arrow? Certainly Deathstroke’s mask was a pivotal prop in the series, and the Dark Archer had a cool getup, but they weren’t costumes so much as work attire fitting the villain’s nature. And of course A.O.S. is a show about normal people, super spies and highly-skilled to be sure, but not superheroes. And certainly without costumes outside of May’s black leather suit, akin to Fury’s normal wardrobe and the attire seen by many personnel aboard the Heli-carrier in The Avengers.
Speaking of which, The Avengers is a perfect case in point. The evolution of the superhero sans costume. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
By C.J. Bunce
American Graffiti. Just two weeks ago the George Lucas classic coming of age film about high school graduates in 1962 came back for the first national release in movie theaters in decades (we discussed it here at borg.com). In a series of interconnected vignettes Lucas gave us a snapshot of kids and cars and cruising culture, popular then and now. American Graffiti wasn’t the original title, and, as the story goes, the film’s backers had no idea what the title meant, but it was better than Another Quiet Night in Modesto or other proposals so they just went with it. No graffiti actually plays into the plot, and the viewer can conceive his or her own meaning to this now classic movie title.
Graffiti as pop art? Actual graffiti in America, in many ways hasn’t changed a lot, and it doesn’t share the same feelings of nostalgia as the eponymous film. A form of vandalism, its very nature is something covert, rebellious and illegal. Spray paint is the medium and the canvas is anything and everything from highway overpasses to train cars to building walls. The stealth required gives the creator a challenge–maybe even the adrenaline rush that fuels some that are behind it. Over the years the costs to city governments to wash or sand or scrub off graffiti prompted many cities to work with local graffiti artists–designating projects and mural locations where local creators could show off their creativity. It’s a constructive bridging of law and order and a radical form of expression.
A freshly cleaned up butter cow at the 2013 Iowa State Fair.
If you find typical animated series on Cartoon Network visually boring, this new series is for you. DC Comics’ DC Nation on Cartoon Network has finally achieved a satisfying blend of eye-grabbing visuals and smart storytelling in its newest animated series, Beware the Batman. A follow-on to Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Beware the Batman is a fresh take on Batman that opens up possibilities for a long-term animated series with interesting villains of the week similar to those we enjoyed with the 1960s live action Batman series, but skip the camp and humor for some gritty situations and snappy dialogue.
What first will draw viewers to Beware the Batman is the high-resolution, three-dimensional effect of the cutting edge CGI animation itself, similar to the realism we’ve seen in Tron: Uprising, but even more so like the stylish visuals in The Incredibles. Although the Batman himself may be the least eye-catching of the hundreds of Batman incarnations out there, he has his own style here that may grow on viewers. But Alfred, the villains, Tatsu Yamashiro, all look incredible. Wayne Manor is a beautiful mansion on the edge of a cliff, something you’d expect to see from Richard Branson. Gotham looks like the moody covers to The Dark Knight Returns. The action sequences are full of explosions and chases offered up in ways you haven’t seen before, too, with realistic and futuristic 3D technology effects like those in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.
If you want to understand why Marvel Comic’s Hawkeye series is up for five Eisners next month–for Best New Series, Best Continuing Series, Best Writer, Best Cover Artist, Best Penciller/Inker (and could easily win them all)–all you need do is ask your comic book store to get you a copy of Hawkeye Issue #11, which hit the shelves last Wednesday.
Matt Fraction has delivered what I had been after for some time–when writers like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns get endless acclaim and you never quite get that one issue that solves for you why they have such a great following–Fraction’s Hawkeye series has cemented his status for me as a top comic book writer. We at borg.com also loved David Aja’s cover art for the Hawkeye series last year, declaring him our runner-up for Best of 2012 for comic book cover art. Together Fraction and Aja gel together to make what we’ll look back on years from now as a classic Marvel Comics creative team. Matt Hollingsworth’s color art rendering plays an integral role in the series, too, highlighting Aja’s panels just where it is needed. Their Hawkeye series is subtle, slow-paced, beautiful, and thought-provoking.
You wouldn’t be off base thinking of Batman when you see the superhero The Black Bat, as their history and origin is linked in controversy. Both The Black Bat and Bob Kane’s Batman derived the look of their characters from common pulp fiction renderings. Both characters emerged at about the same time and the publishers Thrilling Publications and DC Comics sparred over rights until a DC editor who had worked with The Black Bat’s publisher mediated the dispute where both publishers could continue using the characters.
Which brings us to 2013 and Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite has the rights to publish The Black Bat along with the great pantheon of classic 1930s and 1940s characters we have discussed before, including the featured characters in their ongoing series Masks: The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Kato, Miss Fury, Black Terror, Zorro, and The Spider. But don’t confuse the Black Bat with a similar modern noir retro-creation, Francesco Francavilla’s The Black Beetle from Dark Horse Comics, which we previewed here at borg.com earlier. But both The Black Bat and The Black Beetle are different enough and similar enough that if you like one you probably will like the other.
By C.J. Bunce
Sometimes you want to just sit down and view a single TV episode where you walk away at the end of the hour having been energized with a complete end to end story. I remember countless episodes of the X-Files with the monster of the week and these stand out to me from the episodes that followed the long-term plot of Fox Mulder’s lost sister or uncovering the mysterious smoking man’s real story. I have the same thoughts about standalone issues of comic books. Most series today have multi-issue story arcs and they are usually relevant and continue the intrinsic and historic serialized nature of monthly comic series dating back to the origin of comic books. But when I was a little kid I’d flip through the short supply of comics at my local Kwik Shop and sometimes you’d be lucky and get an issue with a single beginning to end story and sometimes you’d start reading and have no idea what is going on. I still get excited about a book when I get a great end-to-end story. Detective Comics #19–the 900th issue of Detective Comics is one of those reads.
When the old DC Universe ended in August 2011, Detective Comics was at issue #881. Detective Comics was set to become the second DC Comics series to reach Issue #900 after Action Comics. Then the New 52 renumbered everything. No matter. DC Comics knows when it has something to celebrate, so to mark the occasion it is publishing a good ol’ 80-page giant issue. As part of its across-the-line gatefold cover series, it cleverly manages to include the number 900 as part of its cover, as well as integrate the number into its storyline in a meaningful way.
More than 25 years after Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s four-part prestige format comic book series/graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns changed the landscape for comic books thereafter, DC Animation produced a quality animated adaptation. Released in two parts, we reviewed The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 here last year. Part 1 was a faithful adaptation of roughly the first half of the original graphic novel. It proved first and foremost that Christopher Nolan really pulled his key story elements in his Dark Knight trilogy of films from Frank Miller’s work. Part 1 really keyed in on Nolan’s Bane character. Both Part 1 and the Dark Knight trilogy failed to provide an exciting narrative, however, when compared to The Dark Knight Returns Part 2, now on video.
Part 2 is every bit as faithful to the original as Part 1. Commissioner Gordon has already stepped down and was replaced by a new commissioner whose first act is issuing a warrant for Batman. The vacuous Doctor Wolper brings his patient The Joker to appear on Miller’s take on The David Letterman Show, only for The Joker to release a gas bombing that kills the entire audience as well as the host, leaving The Joker’s trademark grin on all their faces. From the first sentences of Part 2, you know this is not a kid’s Batman film. The Joker escapes and proceeds to bloodily murder everyone in his path until he confronts Batman in the bowels of Gotham City. Here the classic confrontation between the long-time foes plays out exactly as it should.