Tuesday, February 27, 2018

No "Batgirl" Movie? No "Batgirl" Movie.

Writer's block? Seriously?

Well, if that's the song Joss Whedon wants to sing - actually, it was "I just don't have a story" to be precise - then that's the tune we're going to hear.

And yet...

Didn't he get the ball rolling by pitching a Batgirl film to Warner Brothers/DC Films? What's really going on here? Could it be fallout from Justice League underperforming in spite of the hype surrounding Whedon filming reshoots over Zack Snyder's original cut of the film? Could it be his public image taking a beating from his ex-wife's statements about his philandering lecherous ways with co-workers at his production company? Could it be that he was given Batgirl on the condition that Justice League would be successful?

Maybe we'll learn more dirt as the days go on. I knew that with his name attached, a Batgirl film wouldn't be a pipe dream, but he was never clear about what he thought of the character beyond being influenced by Gail Simone's work...which kinda raises alarm bells, because due to editorial interference, a lot of what was happening in Gail's run wasn't particularly good. For my money, the best Batgirl comics ever were the issues Bryan Q. Miller wrote, with Stephanie Brown as Batgirl, ironically. Regarding Barbara Gordon, her best appearances as Batgirl were in Season 3 of the 1966 Batman TV series (as played by Yvonne Craig), plus in cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series , The Batman and in the respective tie-in comic books featuring those incarnations of Barbara. Plus, loathe as I am to admit, Barbara received significant character development in the 80's and 90's, when she was wheelchair-bound due to getting shot by the Joker in The Killing Joke and assumed the identity of Oracle. What's unfortunate about that bit is that it usually feeds a polarizing argument for keeping her in the wheelchair, in light of her current Batgirl characterization coming off superficial and lacking empathy. This is more a reflection of the quality of the scripts we've been getting to me...judging from the current comic books, it's still an ongoing problem that hasn't been reconciled. I don't know why DC Comics has been slow to change Batgirl writers - I wouldn't mind seeing K. Perkins take over the book now that Superwoman has been cancelled; I think she's good at writing natural dialogue and keeping a good pace with the suspense. If they could reconcile the positive elements of the character's evolution with their attempts at a soft reboot of the character's history, then her current comic book adventures would really start cooking. In other words, let Babs act her age.

Back to Hollywood. The Batgirl film is now "...no longer a priority." It looks like the next film in production is Shazzam, with Zachary Levi as Captain Marvel. After that, the only sure thing is the Wonder Woman sequel - everything else is..in the air. It's not clear if Flashpoint will happen, no clue if Matt Reeves' Batman movie will see the light of day (the underwhelming and tepid response to the possibility of seeing Jake Gyllenhaal as Batman does no favors). It always looked like DC was baiting TV executives with concepts for a Batgirl TV series, anyway, especially with the "Batgirl of Burnside" angle of the current comics. The floor is clear for that to happen.

Meanwhile, I'm still mulling over what might have been. I seriously doubted anyone took Lindsay Lohan's attempt to campaign for the part seriously...though in a parallel universe...to get an idea of how I imagine a different Lindsay Lohan's acting performance as Barbara Gordon, check out actress Caity Lotz's Sara Lance in Legends of Tomorrow. Hailee Steinfeld, of Pitch Perfect and True Grit fame, suggested as of last month that she would've loved to have played Batgirl in Joss's film..I actually see this as something that could have happened if things hadn't derailed the way they just did, even when it looked like Warner Brothers was going to push ahead and find a replacement for Whedon. At this year's Grammy Awards, Steinfeld showed up on stage in a stunning form-fitting white dress that showed off a pair of high-heeled, knee-high purple boots! If that wasn't a not-so-subtle hint about her campaign to play Batgirl...then she still looked great in those boots, regardless. She kinda looks like Yvonne Craig in some photos..that would be kinda cool if they casted her. I wouldn't object if they had.

Meanwhile, I had been narrowing down potential casting choices by selecting  Lily Collins. She just seems like a capable  actress who gets name-dropped here and there, but hasn't really had a breakthrough role - she's accumulated a number false-starts (The Mortal Instruments, Rules Don't Apply, Mirror Mirror) but nothing that stuck with an audience.

So no Whedonesque Batgirl, then. That's okay. Barbara Gordon won't sound like Buffy Summers or Winifred Burkle or Willow Rosenberg...or Veronica Mars. Barbara Gordon should sound like a woman who's as smart as Batman but has the poise of Wonder Woman and has Supergirl's enthusiasm mixed with Superman's humility. That's how she operates.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Getting" Ready For Ready Player One

The film adaptation of Ready Player One looks good because The Iron Giant guest-stars in it as a replacement for Ultraman. What this means is that certain sequences won't happen exactly as they did in the book, yet we'll get an improvement on what was in the text. There's a logical explanation for why the Iron Giant would appear as a replacement - he was name-dropped in the book - but I think that character's presence has a greater resonance among audiences than Ultraman, so it's a trade-up. That doesn't mean a contemporary appearance in a mainstream American film by a Japanese kaiju character directed by Steven Spielberg wouldn't have been awesome...it's just...one step closer to Warner Brothers green-lighting The Iron Giant Returns/Iron Giant Comes Back/Iron Giant Vs. Mecha-Godzilla or whatever title a sequel to The Iron Giant would have. And yes, it looks like Mecha-Godzilla won't be appearing in the film, either, for similar copyright reasons. To my mind, it sounds similar to when Pixar was barred from including Barbie from the first Toy Story, but then she appears in the sequels when that film became a phenomenon.

I had read the Ready Player One novel last Fall, just after seeing the first trailer for the film. I didn't write a review because I didn't think it was a big deal..it was okay and fun to read in a lot of places. I was impressed with Ernest Cline's prose being readable...a fault I find with a lot of trendy novels is that the prose is very clumsy...but I'm a picky reader; I could never get through any Stephen King, Stuart Woods, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Michael Critchton, etc.. - books by authors that appear on shelves at supermarkets, airports, bus stations, train stations, drug stores, discount stores. I've read books 3-7 of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter And... and I guess ..And The Cursed Child counts as the 8th installment, but I never thought she wrote action scenes well..and have no desire to check out those faux-pseudononymous mystery novels "by Robert Galbraith" she's written. Incidentally, "Robert Galbraith" is a much-easier to spell name than Commonran...Comeonman...Comoreram...CalmacalmacalmacalmacalmaChameleon Strike when you're just trying to recall it casually...my interest is too...casually vacant to look it up proper.

Back to the book. The paperback edition I had read was the precursor to the new edition released, which uses one of the movie posters as the cover. It's the same as the one I had, with the narrow shape and easier-to-read-but-still-not-large-print format. I figured Spielberg wasn't planning on reanacting the plot to Wargames or scenes where we would just watch characters play old arcade/PC games. The movie suggests we're getting a mix of The Maze Runner with It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with a Who Framed Roger Rabbit dose of spectacle...

If I could just go on a tangent for a moment..the thing with Roger Rabbit is that, as good as it was, whenever it's shown on TV reruns lately, I find that without the late Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant, the whole movie could've just fallen apart. One key casting decision. With him there, you believe everything that's happening. Eddie's the most-challenging character any actor could play in a movie like that. People like to act nostalgic about Space Jam, but the only reason that worked (and it was no Roger Rabbit) was
because everyone involved was awake, alert and working together. Nobody was sleepwalking, nobody was bored; Ivan Reitman didn't just stamp his name on it, Bill Murray wasn't bored & had fun, Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

I had just seen The Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Having never read the books, I was surprised that it ended with Thomas losing both his best friend and his girl. Theresa's death was spectacularly done, but I wouldn't have minded seeing her survive - if this were an episode of Talespin, Baloo would've flown that plane in a loop-de-loop into the collapsing building to follow her descent...so Theresa would be shown falling..into the cargo hold of the plane - which kinda looked like a military-grade version of the Sea Duck, in point of fact - so instead of Giancarlo Esposito going "Guys! I can't keep this plane hovering longer!" or whatever he said, Baloo would've been like "Hang on, li'l britches!! Ol' Papa Bear's got a trick up his sleave! Pelican Dive - don't fail me now!!" Baloo was pretty badass on that show. And I think I saw Matt Smith do a similar trick to rescue Alex Kingston in a Doctor Who episode..it's not a new trick. Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay would've had it happen, though it probably would've been with Thomas inexplicably finding the strength and skill to take control of the plane and rescue Theresa..who would've been wearing a tank top & micro-miniskirt with high heels...played by Alexandra Daddario (yeah, I saw her in San Andreas). As it is, we're left with a hero who has lost his damsel and his squire, so he just gets to..be around and..chill out on an island...maybe he'll take up fishing...or look for pirate gold.

It's with this mindset that I'm more charitable towards Ready Player One's Art3mis hooking up with Wade/Parzival in the end, as if she were the real prize...though all that money is nice...there's been criticism about the casting of Art3mis. Cline made a point of describing Art3mis as looking Reubenesque...in other words...curvaceous, full-figured...hips that don't lie...with junk in the trunk. The only actress that came to mind as I read the book was Demi Lovato, who's embraced having a curvaceous, fit-and-thick figure and makes wardrobe choices that match Art3mis fan art on the web. Casting-wise, that's the only one I had..and cash-strapped Johnny Depp as Halliday, seeimg as how the movie trailer makes the Willy Wonka connection between the two characters obvious..and Depp has bills to pay...Tim Burton isn't going to make Charlie and The Great Glass Elavator (though I wish that was the Wonka movie he had made with Depp instead of the unnecessary remake)..in fact, they could just make Great Glass Elevator without Burton and Depp would still be up for it..a job is a job is a job..he's available...I wouldn't mind a 6th Jack Sparrow movie, but I might be in the minority with that opinion...stopwaitcomeback.

#WomanCrushWednesday: Demi Lovato

Friday, February 9, 2018

Wind-Up Wolf in "Sonic Forces"...maybe.

I remember owning a Sega Genesis because I wanted to play Quackshot. That's the first and only time I remember choosing a videogame console because I wanted to play a game that was exclusive to it. Now, when a videogame is available on multiple platforms...and you're not pre-disposed to either (though having a Blu-Ray player included is a sweet extra), but still don't have the bucks to make that purchase...you let it go.

And yet...

Let me explain. I would LOVE to play Sonic Forces - that's the most-recent Sonic the Hedgehog videogame. It's received the same mixed reviews that most Sonic videogames have earned over the last two decades: interesting concepts, attractive designs, poor control & camera issues, threadbare storyline, etc...however, the reviews are unanimously positive in regard to the create-a-character/custom build feature, in which you get to design a new sidekick to accompany Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and the other critters in the latest bruhaha with Dr. Eggman.

This new character - referred to among the cast as "Rookie" and by Sega's promotional material as "The Avatar" can be created as one of seven distinct species of animals - Cat, Bear, Bird, Hedgehog, Wolf, Rabbit and Dog. From there, you have a multitude of combinations of colors, shapes and clothing/accessories to chose from. By default, Sega's Sonic Team needed to create a default avatar to appear in their promotional material, so they designed an orange male wolf wearing heavy eyeglasses and sporting a number of gadgets..fans on the internet refer to him as Gadget the Wolf/Gadget the Rookie. I think it's a great design and I hope he makes it in the Sonic comic books..

Dig deeper and fan videos on YouTube demonstrate/hint that you could use the custom feature to design other famous animal characters. I saw one gamer create Usagi Yojimbo (or Miyamoto Usagi if you want to get technical), and I think there is a potential to create reasonable facsimiles of Felix the Cat, Mr. Jinx, Jose Carioca, Oswald the lucky rabbit, Loopy D'Loop, Mildew Wolf...and Wind-Up Wolf.


Well, gosh, I'm assuming you know who the preceding characters were so that I can cut to the chase, aren't I? Wind-Up Wolf was a one-shot cartoon character who appeared in Cartoon Network's What A Cartoon! The title? Wind-Up Wolf. It was written and directed by William Hanna. The plot involved The Big Bad Wolf building a robot doppelganger to go after the 3 Little Pigs. Wind-Up does not succeed, but because he's a robot, he can endure the kind of rough-handling/cartoon violence that Network Censors would normally frown upon, so it was okay for little kids to watch a robot get rocked & socked without finding the gags particularly cruel. William Hanna co-created Tom and Jerry, so he had considerable experience.

Nowadays, you can find this cartoon available to watch on YouTube like nothing, but back in the 90's, I remember being obsessed with trying to catch it and record it, because I knew ahead of time some of the backstory behind it's creation. In the early-90s, Dark Horse Comics had the license to make comic books based on MGM cartoons directed by Tex Avery, so they produced mini-series starring Droopy, Wolf & Red, Screwy Squirrel..the inaugural issue of Droopy featured an essay by artist/animator Scott Shaw that was a reminiscence of his brief time working with Tex Avery at Hanna-Barbera Studios in 1980 - "Generation Tex". Tex had suggested an idea of a "Wind-Up Wolf" built by the Big Bad Wolf to put up with all the bruises and beatings he could no longer endure. He didn't live long to develop this concept, but Shaw worked on storyboards with William Hanna at some point, because Wind-Up wound up as a Cartoon Network short film. Perhaps as a nod to Tex, the design of the character (and the Big Bad Wolf) is a nod to Wilford Wolf, the antagonist of The Kwicky Koala Show, the last cartoon Avery worked on before he died. Wind-Up Wolf was a nice, good-looking cartoon...I imagine if it had been picked up to become a TV series, they would've broadened the horizons a bit and included other characters, like Red Riding Hood, and fleshed out the personalities of the 3 pigs and Big Bad Wolf a little, with Wind-Up as the wild card in the middle of that relationship; Hanna would've probably included new episodes of Hard Luck Duck, another cartoon he had directed at the time - a reimagined Yakky Doodle. There definitely would've been cameos from older Hanna-Barbara characters, because the brief Jetsons cameo (albeit shown only in shadow, but with a familiar music cue to help anyone who was clueless) was well-received.

So...while I mull over whether or not to buy the videogame (I haven't even thought about which console I would pick up, if I do), I found a way to calm this impulse by finding fan art of Gadget the Wolf  ( remember him? That was about 2 or 3 paragraphs ago ), printing it out and using it as a coloring page to visualize my idea in lieu of actualization.

I've seen demos of the schematics on YouTube that show I could get closer to the mark than my coloring page would have you believe - bowties are available, not sure about vests - but I tried sticking with the color scheme of the cartoon character so that Gadget's apparel was color-consistent. I would definitely try incorporating both if possible to alternate.

Pretty cute...one short obscure cartoon, about 21/22 years old, causing me to write this post.

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight

In terms of style and execution, this direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray Batman isn't really different from the other direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray Batman movies Warner Brothers Animation has been cranking out, lately. The same murky color palette, the same pacing issues...the faux-anime look to the designs and animation. I don't think it's particularly ground-breaking, kinda slow along the middle, but I wouldn't mind re-watching it.

Why adapt Gotham By Gaslight? I remember fans would say that graphic novel is the greatest Batman story told, better than The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke and Batman: Year One! I'm not sure if there's much analysis on the internet devoted to explaining that opinion, but here's my guess: to a generation or two who read Batman comics, Batman is Sherlock Holmes. There are many Sherlock Holmes pastiches depicting his efforts to identify Jack the Ripper, so having Batman solve that mystery is a treat. Ignore the fact that Gotham By Gaslight in an alternate reality and you have an archetypal Batman story  in which he solves the biggest unsolved true crime mystery ever recorded and you could understand the magnitude of the tale. No mutants, no killer clowns, no sideshow dwarves, no gangsters. We're just following Batman/Bruce use his brain.

The team behind these movies have been getting a lot of flack over their adaptations being too faithful & leaden; conversely, when they've tried to tell an original story ( Batman and Harley Quinn, a film I liked, but try finding positive reviews ), it's declared a piece of excrement. To date, the most-popular of these films is Batman: Under The Red Hood, which explains why they brought back Bruce Greenwood to voice Batman in Gaslight, rather than, say, Jason O'Mara, who's become their go-to for voicing Batman in these movies, moreso than fan-favorite Kevin Conroy. My opinion of Greenwood's Batman is that he doesn't sound different from O'Mara, but comes off less bland; I'm surprised they don't try casting Diedrich Bader more often if they're not casting Conroy.

Another thing they did was loosen the plot and change the characters in order to include more of the Batman mythos. Selina Kyle, Hugo Strange, Harvey Dent, "Dick", "Tim" and "Jason". They incorporated elements of Master of The Future, the sequel set at The World's Fair exhibition  ( just imagine a gentrified Epcot Center if you're not familiar with that and you'll picture it better ) to include more action scenes. Plus, they clearly wanted steampunk stuff sprinkled in, so we get a bat-motorcycle and bat-grapple thrown in. Those were neat. I also liked how the fight scenes didn't use martial arts much, so that makes the fight choreography less...recycled/generic. Without listening to the commentary, I am aware of plot points recycled from past Batman films - the scene where Bruce evades the Gotham police and hitches a ride with Selina Kyle in her hansom cab is a recreation of a scene in Mask of The Phantasm..up until the part where they're pretending to be making out in the cab to hide his injuries when the cops inspect it, that is.

That's a good key to understanding what I what I'm watching..this was, essentially, an R-rated "Batman: The Animated Series" movie set in a different time period, with a final twist that I'd rather let Wikipedia reveal, but I will say was pretty cool..better than having a counterpart to the Joker show up..ironic, because there is a character in the original graphic novel set up as such, but as a red herring. I wouldn't mind a sequel..probably with a little more detective work and humor next time.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

I finally got to see Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, which I was curious about, because I remember reading the book it was based on - Dorothy of Oz, by L. Frank Baum's great-grandson, Roger S. Baum...I guess that initial confirms that he's bonafide kinfolk...

It was what you would now think of as an attempt at a soft-reboot, ignoring all the sequels written by L. Frank Baum and only continuing from where the first book left off. Maybe there was a copyright issue ( up until the books entered the public domain, the rights to adapt the sequels were often accuired by production companies; Walt Disney himself had bought the rights and held onto them for a time ), but even so, Roger's book - and his sequels - seemed to take their cues from the MGM film with Judy Garland..because that's what most people who never encountered the books remember. It's the same approach used whenever an Oz movie is made: all thinly-veiled retellings of the same plot as the first book, with new characters sprinkled in. Ironically, L. Frank Baum's initial sequel novels in the canon were similar, abeit with a naturally more-convincing texture and abundant in imagination & originality.

So with the movies, prequels & sequels, regardless of the budget, a few familiar themes remain constant which resulted in a lot of formulaic fare. First, they boost up the iconography of the Wicked Witch of The West, whose appearance in the 1st book consisted of a single chapter, but has been made to count for something much more, largely because of Margaret Hamilton's iconic performance in the MGM film. New villains are introduced in ways that are always a callback/nod to MGM's witch, but feel like also-rans and their appearances are half-baked & perfunctory. I'm thinking of all the witches in Oz, The Great and Powerful, whose rules of engagement and power plays/motivations make no sense..or when they remember the Gnome King, like the Tom and Jerry In Oz movies did, they introduce him in a similar manner as an adjunct counterpart to the witch. In Legends, we have The Jester, an associate of the witch who was actually a bit creepier in the book, but it was never clear what his motivation to gain the witch's powers derived from, aside from just being a one-dimensional megalomaniac. The film makes this more obvious by having Martin Short voice the character...and in a falling-down-drunk-in-front-of-nightclub-parking-lot moment of desperation, they make him up to look like the Joker to try and give him an edge. I tolerated him in the book, but didn't like him in the film..and I don't believe for one second that he could outwit Glinda...although she often serves as the female counterpart to a Merlin/Gandalf/mentor/advisor/trickster figure in folklore/mythology that has the power to take decisive action but stays neutral/aloof, I doubt she could've been defeated as easily as she was here, except maybe with a wink - it wasn't her, it was her avatar or someone else - but we're supposed to accept that it is. Darn.

Second, they make much ado about the Emerald City. Every new Oz adventure is now a quest to go there, but to be fair, the elder Baum's early sequels did the same, until the sixth installment, when he had Dorothy, Toto, Aunt Em & Uncle Henry move from Kanas to live in the Emerald City as permanent residents of Oz. Dorothy became a princess and ruled Oz alongside Princess Ozma ( an interesting heroine with potential who has been caat aside, unfortunately ). Aunt Em & Uncle Henry settle down on a new farm adjacent to the town. From book 7 onwards, Baum introduces new characters who have to journey to the city or have established characters begin quests that would take them out of it. In Legends, Dorothy has to get to Emerald City via the yellow-brick-road again because the rainbow teleportation bridge ( arguably the most stunning sequence, though it looks more like 'Rainbow Brite' than Oz-appropriate ) got scrambled...fortunately, she's not alone on her journey...

And that leads to the third theme of these things: new sidekicks. Regardless of the protagonist on the quest, new sidekicks in the vein of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are introduced. In Legends, we get The China Princess, Tugg the tree/sailboat, Wiser the owl and, arguably the best, Marshall Mallow, a man made of candy marshmallows..at least in terms of design. Neither character really adds much to generate suspense and pace that would move the story forward; each sequence featuring them is an excuse to add more songs, which is the fourth, if sometimes optional theme that's a callback to the MGM film. The characters and story aren't deep enough to require songs to explain what they're thinking or what's at stake; each sequence slows the movie down further and I'm hitting the fast-forward button. MGM had the best songwriters in the golden age of movie musicals; why are they daring comparison?

So I've hinted the Dorothy of Oz story was servicable in book form, but watered-down in the film's adaptation. I remember a magnificent sequence in the book where the Jester's magic creates a construct of the Wicked Witch of The West as a ghost to torment Dorothy during a storm in the forest..why didn't they use that? I don't know if the animation budget/technology they had available to them would've pulled that off; most of the time, Legends of Oz has a made-for-TV look, with flat landscapes, "floating puppet" CG animation and plastic humans, but I do like the designs for the new companions and the classic Oz trio of the Scarecrow, Tin-Man and Cowardly Lion. Glinda's design reminded me of Princess Peach from the Super Mario Brothers games, but she was cute. The fleeting appearance of the Wicked Witch of The West in the Jester's musical number was striking enough to feel like I was watching a different movie for a moment. It's only the character designs for the Jester, the Kansas locals and Dorothy herself that seem uninspired. For a sequel, you would assume Dorothy's appearance would've been influenced by time spent in a strange new world, though I'll admit that's my idea and most depictions of Dorothy in sequel adventures depict her in similar ways that don't break from tradition. Maybe it's too imply that her initial trip to Oz was equivalent to a child's first trip to Disney World and there's no trauma..there's not much in the way of scholarly research out there devoted to the Oz books as there is with Alice In Wonderland, so any serious deep discussions of Dorothy's adventures in the canon are likely limited to discussion groups online and venerable Oz fan clubs.

I actually thought the film was okay. It falls in with every other Oz-inspired production out there. The only one time it seemed like there was a show of real ambition to adapt a story by L. Frank Baum that didn't lean on the MGM film too much or tried too hard to stray away..was Return To Oz. Nobody likes the opening scenes of Dorothy in the children's ward of a mental hospital..and the scene with the characters trying to escape the destruction of the Gmome King's lair looks a bit dodgy, but otherwise, there's well over an hour of filmmaking perfection sandwiched in there and it's the closest any film got to bringing those old sequel novels to life.

One last bit..the "If I had the chance.." moment. I would want to adapt either The Lost Princess of Oz or The Magic of Oz as live-action films, with a mixture of CG and practical effects when needed. Obviously, I would want to adapt the stories that showed L. Frank Baum at his most creative and dispell any notion that I wanted to do an homage to the MGM film...though I'm sure there are some people who would find a way to do so anyway.

Monday, January 29, 2018

This Is Fine..

DC Comics has 3 different Scooby-Doo comic books going. There's the traditional Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, a bi-monthly Scooby-Doo Team-Up, which has the Scooby Gang members paired with DC Comics superheroes and other Hanna-Barbera/Cartoon Network cartoon stars...and Scooby-Apocalypse, which is set in an alternate reality where the gang are survivors wandering a post-apocalyptic Earth, encountering zombie mutations and sharpening their survival skills more than their sleuthing skills.

That last book is a cornerstone of Hanna-Barbera Beyond, a line of comics published by DC which showcase radical alterations of old Hanna-Barbera characters in neo-noir stories. It's been functioning more as an oddity than something solid...I'm convinced it was created to capitalize on Archie Comics' success with Afterlife With Archie, in which most of the cast either turns into flesh-eating zombies or has to fend off the flesh-eating zombies. Ironically, this paved the way toward the revamp of the whole Archie line, eschewing the house style set by the late Dan DeCarlo in favor of a more realistic, if somewhat unremarkably generic style. The old look didn't pave the way to Riverdale, but I never thought there was anything wrong/old-fashioned about it...except maybe the story style. I remember following the Jughead comic book in the late-90's and early 2000s back when Craig Boldman & Rex Lindsay were working on it..and it rivaled any humor comic out there at the time and today.

Back to Beyond...funny enough, that brand name isn't promoted well - I only know of it because it's still around on Wikipedia...are the books any good?...meh. Scooby-Apocalypse is last man standing, anchoring rotating mini-series and one-shots introducing takes on different characters. And Apocalypse of late has been sharing space with back-up stories featuring a bizzaro take on Secret Squirrel, which looks like a spoof of Alvin and The Chipmunks movies..or any "talking cgi animal" films, because Secret is depicted as a realistically-drawn "real" rodent squirrel in a trenchcoat, working as a secret agent. Last time I checked, it looked like his tail had gotten blown-off and was bandaged..at $3.99, that's a long way for a monthly 6-pages.

Here's the thing...these books are solid proof it's possible to work on a project featuring a subject that you're not a fan of and deliver what's being asked. You really don't need to be familiar with the past incarnations of these characters to understand what's happening...because it's pretty likely that none of the creators involved watched any of those cartoons...like, literally sat down in front of a television and watched. If they had, then  they could've had more fun with creating a convincing texture that doesn't just feel like an exercise in tinkering with accuired intellectual property...the Flintstones book had some interesting moments, but it seemed to ask us to take seriously what was always meant to be a gentle parody of sitcom tropes at heart, not a socio-economic, socio-political allegory. Ambitious, yes. Fun?...

...suppose I give the benefit of the doubt. Let's say Jimmy Palmiotti loves The Jetsons...but they don't live in Brooklyn. He had Harley Quinn move to Brooklyn. He had Deadpool go to Brooklyn. He had Superboy move to a Metropolis counterpart to Brooklyn. Orbit City is a series of elevated platforms on poles that are grouped into a "city"; it has no boroughs. It's suggested that the Beyond version of The Jetsons Orbit City exists hovering over a submerged New York City...so they live over Brooklyn. Try as he night, Jimmy doesn't really have his frame-of-reference accessible to him, so the only story he can tell is to have Brooklyn emerge from the depths of the ocean and threaten to destroy Orbit City...that's revenge for spoiling his muse.
The only book that felt like it appreciated what was there before..or seemed to, was Future Quest, but I thought it was just okay. It's plot felt stretched thin and it sotta lacked empathy. It wants to be Crisis On The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera using their action-adventure guys, but it needed more wrinkles in the plot, more interesting character mashups and less cliched crossover tropes.

So here's the other thing: it's possible to be a fan and not really have stories to tell within the context of premise you've been given...or you can be the experiened journeyman who creates suspense by making you wonder if he's familiar with these characters or just having a laugh. The Dastardly and Muttley comic looks like Garth Ennis couldn't be bothered to recreate theplot of the TV series and is really revisiting his Adventures of The Rifle Brigade concept that burlesqued army comedies...and hinting that he hates cartoons? I can't tell. The plot is that the Earth has become exposed to a poison gas that is radically transforming all people, places and things into people, places and things, creating multiple gory casualties as real-life physics collides with cartoon physics in transition. Any resemblance to Dick Dastardly and Muttley is coincidental. Any resemblance to the plot of Cool World is also coincidental.

At present, there's The Ruff and Reddy Show and The Snagglepuss Chronicles. Both remind me of that issue of Astro City about Loony Leo, the cartoon lion who came to life during a superhero skirmish and enjoyed the ups and downs of celebrity life. It was done in one issue and didn't wear out it's welcome. These other two series are set as six-issue mini-series. I don't think they'll accomplish the same beats as eloquently as Kurt Busiek did in that single issue, but my point is both mini-series don't have a lot to say..of course, if you imagined/fancied Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss as more than just thinly-veiled caricatures of the Cowardly Lion and Droopy Dog, then you get to see that...

I can't help wondering what they'll try next...how about Penelope Pitstop remodeled to look like Baby Doll from Sucker Punch? Or Inch-High Private Eye's mysteries within the context of The Incredible Shrinking Man? Or Super Snooper & Blabber Mouse fashioned after Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman in Sherlock? Peter Potamas as Doctor Who? Wally Gator as The Maze Runner?...

All of these things could happen...because it's all apocryphal..so this is fine.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

About That Justice League Movie...

Justice League made it's money back, but with only a little bit of "fun money" for profit. I liked it, but I liked Wonder Woman and Batman vs. Superman, but not Man of Steel and kinda lukewarm towards Suicide Squad, so I wasn't insistent on some fidelity to every element of what came before.

Beat for beat, this Justice League movie seemed to be replicating plot points from Joss Whedon's first Avengers film, even borrowing the same auteur for reshoots/band-aids to inject doses of humor/empathy from its stars, as if to keep it from looking like a video game. I'm not a fan of the Avengers films - those two movies look like an assembly of well-paid, attractive people wearing/posing in various costumes and reciting patches of dialogue during an expensive photo shoot. The audiences collective  imagination did all the heavy lifting and applied context behind the magnitude of what we're seeing...I'm going to go on record and say the one film I truly enjoyed from Marvel Studios was Thor: Ragnarok.

It wasn't false advertising - we did get all of DC Comics best-known superheroes and Cyborg (again, lagniappe, though he's appeared a lot in cartoons, so he's not obscure), PLUS...a lot of Gal Godat, looking phenomenal and memorizing. We also get Ezra Miller as The Flash, looking like the son of Jimmy Fallon & Carrie Brownstein and unintentionally pissing off hardcore fans of Grant Gustin, the TV Flash, but I think Miller's performance does a better job at selling the character's humorous side..maybe to the point where he might've been better-cast as Plastic Man, but that character wasn't in the cards. And how is Ben as Batman? Much has been texted around the net about Affleck looking like he'd rather be elsewhere nowadays, but I think they're misreading his performance...and he's not bothering to clue anyone in. Ben's Batman seems to act more at-ease when he's wearing the batsuit and more tightly wound in civilian clothes, as if he needs to overcompensate for not wearing a batsuit in Bruce's dealings with others. It's a subtle thing that's completely ignored, but it makes his Batman/Bruce Wayne more interesting than Christian Bale or Clooney and Kilmer. Michael Keaton's Batman has an added gravitas; modern reception to Adam West's Batman has a lot of goodwill. And Kevin Conroy just has the quintessential voice you want Batman to have. Affleck's Bat seems a little closer to something iconic mired by appearing in ambivalently-received films. Pity that his next appearance might be a supporting role in Flashpoint, since it's the same rut with Mark Ruffalo not appearing in a solo Hulk film. I do wish Affleck had just gone ahead and filmed his script for The Batman as initially planned. As some consolation prize, we got a cameo by Joe Manganiello as Slade Wilson (Deathstroke), who would've been the main villain in Affleck's film.

I want to say the fault lies with the story. If you don't want to have the guys fight Darkseid just yet, then, instead of Steppenwolf (which sounded like a missed opportunity to feature music from the rock band with the similar-sounding name)  have them fight a psychotic mind-controlling starfish, instead. I'm not kidding - the first-ever Justice League of America adventure featured a battle with Starro, a massive alien starfish. The first Avengers film aped the first issue of that comic book by featuring a battle against Loki, so why didn't the Justice League fight Starro? Would it be too silly-looking? Heaven forbid. The only really interesting element of Jack Kirby's Fourth World concept to me were the Mother Boxes, because they foresaw the invention of miniature computers: pocket calculators, digital notebooks, laptops, smartphones, iPads..etc - except in this film, where they'd depicted as big, clunky cubes. I also enjoyed his parody of Stan Lee's public image with the Funky Flashman character..and about 45% of Mister Miracle, but...The King was a really clunky writer..

I had no problem with the cast, the crew or the shorter length of the film..but I do believe it suffered from the lack of a dazzling story beyond an apology for trying to make Superman a darker character over the last decade and just having the big guns...come together. I don't know if fighting a giant starfish or a gang of thugs dressed like playing cards would've been better, but it would've offered more-appealing visuals that cued audiences about what the movie was going to try to be...