Tag Archives: Frank Miller

(What would the costume even look like?)

There is a mourning dove on the telephone wire out front just staring through my window at me.

This might mean I need to become a mourning dove-themed superhero a la Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One.”

Figures I’d get the depressing #@&* instead of a falcon or an owl something.



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Throwback Thursday: early 1990’s “Aliens” and “Predator” comics.

I was chatting here with a friend last week about the “Aliens,” “Predator” and “Aliens vs. Predator” comics produced by Dark Horse Comics in the 1990’s.  While Marvel, DC and Image Comics all specialized in their superhero universes, Dark Horse tended to corner the market on hot properties in science fiction and horror.  (The company actually did try to compete by launching its own superhero line, but its unsuccessful “Comics’ Greatest World” universe lasted a mere three years.)

Dark Horse acquired the rights to the biggest science fiction movie characters of the first half of the decade, including “Aliens,” “Predator,” “Terminator,” “Robocop,” and “The Thing.”  It also produced great books in other genres too, like Frank Miller’s legendary “Sin City” series, Matt Wagner’s brilliant “Grendel,” and “Indiana Jones” comics.   (I never actually saw “Indiana Jones” on the shelves; the two retailers in my smallish Virginia college town never carried it.)

Perhaps strangely, I don’t remember any regular ongoing series for “Aliens,” “Predator” or “Aliens vs. Predator.”  Instead, the company published limited series on an ongoing basis.

Dark Horse had been a young company back then — it had started only four years earlier, in 1986.  But I’ll be damned if the people running the company didn’t know their stuff.  Not only did they snatch up big-name properties, they did a great job in producing consistently high-quality “Alien” and “Predator” books.  (Maybe “Aliens: Genocide” wasn’t as good as the other series, but it was really more average than flat-out bad.)  I honestly don’t know how they managed to publish such uniformly excellent comics that drew from a variety of creative teams.  The “Big Two,” Marvel and DC, produced their share of mediocre comics — even for tentpole characters or major storylines.  (See the “Batman” chapters of DC’s “Knightfall,” for example, or Marvel’s “Maximum Carnage” storyline for Spider-Man.)

Was Dark Horse’s track record better because their target audience was adults?  Did they just have really good editorial oversight?  Or did they maybe share such oversight with 20th Century Fox, which had a vested interest in its characters being capably handled?  I’m only guessing here.

I’ve already blathered on at this blog about how I loved “Aliens: Hive,” so I won’t bend your ear yet again.  An example of another terrific limited series was “Predator: Race War,” which saw the title baddie hunting the inmates of a maximum security prison.  And yet another that I tried to collect was “Aliens vs. Predator: the Deadliest of the Species.”  The series had a slightly annoying title because of it was a lengthy tongue twister, but, God, was it fantastic.  I think I only managed to lay hands on four or five issues, but the art and writing were just incredibly good.

Take a gander at the covers below — all except the first are from “The Deadliest of the Species.”  I think they are some of the most gorgeous comic covers I’ve ever seen, due in no small part to their composition and their contrasting images.  And I’ve seen a lot of comic covers.  I think the very last cover you see here, for Issue 3, is my favorite.

I would have loved to collect all 12 issues … I still don’t know how the story ended.  (It was partly a mystery, too.)  But at age 19, I absolutely did not have the organizational skills to seek out any given limited series over the course of a full year.

In fact, this title may well have taken longer than that to be released … Dark Horse did have an Achilles’ heel as a company, and that was its unreliable production schedule.  Books were frequently delayed.  To make matters worse, these were a little harder to find in the back issues bins.  (I don’t know if retailers purchased them in fewer numbers or if fans were just buying them out more quickly.)

I suppose I could easily hunt down all 12 issues of “The Deadliest of the Species” with this newfangled Internet thingy.  But part of being an adult is not spending a lot of money on comic books.  Maybe I’ll give myself a congratulatory present if I ever manage to get a book of poetry published.  Yeah … I can totally rationalize it like that.

 

 

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A review of “Logan” (2017)

I’m not sure I agree with quite all of the accolades that “Logan” (2017) has been receiving.  (It’s being compared with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” for example, as well as Frank Miller’s medium-altering 1986 graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns.”)  It’s still a damn good movie, though, and easily among the best of Fox’s “X-Men” series.  I’d give it a 9 out of 10, and I’d firmly recommend it.

This absolutely doesn’t feel like a “comic book movie.”  It feels more like a brutally violent, sometimes introspective, road-trip drama — though all of the comic book elements are still there.  I’d caution comic book fans that “Logan” was actually much darker than I expected — and, no, it wasn’t just because of the visceral violence that could only be afforded by this movie’s unusual “R” rating.  There was a lot more that went on here that got under my skin … I just can’t say more for fear of spoilers.

There is one thing I can tell you — there is none of the escapism of past “X-Men” films.  (C’mon, for being about a supposedly oppressed group, those movies always made being a mutant look fun as hell, and even glamorous.)  This film follows an aging, ailing Wolverine, and an even worsely afflicted Professor X — subsisting in secret in the Mexico desert.  What’s more, they and their aging friend, Caliban, appear to be among the last of their kind, thanks to an unexplained, decades-long absence of new mutant births.  And what little exposition is given about the other X-Men suggests that they are dead.  If you’ve been a fan of these iconic characters for a long time, then seeing Wolverine and Professor X being so painfully not larger than life is jarring, and even sad.  No matter what is the outcome of its story, this movie’s plot setup alone can make an “X-Men” fan a little despondent.

The action is damned good.  The movie surprised me by how smart it was, too.  Its examination of violence and its consequences is unflinching.  Also, we’ve been instructed through so many “X-Men” movies that humans should not seek to contain the mutants out of fear … yet “Logan” adroitly and subtly questions such one-sided moralizing.  The acting, across the board, is extremely good — predictably from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, and surprisingly from 11-year-old Dafne Keen.  She’s perfect as the young, imperiled, yet ferocious Laura.

My complaints with “Logan” were minor.  One thing that irked me was my own confusion about whether it was “canon.”  Are we to assume that this takes place in the “X-Men” movies’ “main continuity?”  Or is this a parallel universe or a different timeline?  The feel of this film is so radically different that I found it difficult to imagine it following the previous films (although the post-credits sequence in 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” seems to set up “Logan.”)  I thought that this was based on Marvel Comics’ “Old Man Logan” storyline … wasn’t that an alternate universe story?

Maybe adding more to my confusion, “X-Men” comic books actually exist in the universe of this film.  Laura carries a bunch of them, and they are a minor plot point.  Does this mean that the humans in this universe have finally accepted mutants, enough to create comic books about them being heroes?  How did that come about?

My second criticism of “Logan” is that the character of Laura is thinly rendered.  Saving her is the plot device for the entire film, and Keen is absolutely talented.  Shouldn’t we know more about her, and about her relationship with Logan and Charles?

All in all, this was a superb film, though — with an unexpected tone and a surprisingly sober, risk-taking approach to Jackman’s avowed last appearance as Wolverine.  If you like the “X-Men” movies at all, then you should definitely see it.

 

 

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Batman vs. Superman vs. a Terrible Script

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR, GENERAL SPOILERS.]

Wow.  The script for “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) was really bad.

I hate to begin a review with a statement so negative, but it’s true.  I really think that I could have done better than this, and I know nothing about screenwriting.  Hell, parts of the movie were actually MSTy-worthy.  I just can’t believe that the gifted David S. Goyer had a hand in this.

Batman is flatly rendered and barely likable.  Superman is capably played by Henry Cavill, but has little to say.  Lex Luthor is portrayed as a cloying, verbose, flamboyant, attention-seeking manchild.  He gets all the screen time in the world (and more dialogue than Superman, it seems), and he really come across as a whiny, rambling high school student playing at theologian, trying in vain to impress the girls.  Luthor seems to want to ingratiate himself to every other character on screen.  Strangely, this includes even those he is threatening or endeavoring to murder.  He has weird vocal tics that quickly get on our nerves.  “Mmm.”  He makes repeated references to god, who he hates, and … this makes him hate the godlike Superman, via Freudian transference.  Or something.

He consequently wants to kill Superman.  He has kryptonite and demonstrably capable mercenaries at his disposal.  But, for some reason, he wants to employ unreliable, convoluted plans to prompt Batman to do it.  His plans to motivate Batman include harassing him with newspaper clippings and nasty notes, like a deranged stalker.

He also has a photograph of Wonder Woman that she would like to keep secret.  She goes ahead and mentions it to an ostensibly drunken Bruce Wayne at a party anyway.

Oh!  Luthor also knows the secret identities for both Superman and Batman, and has known for some time.  We don’t find out how he knows, and he does far less to exploit this information than you would think.  Couldn’t he easily (and quite legally) cause problems for both men simply by exposing them?  Superman knows Batman’s identity too; I guess we can chalk that up to his x-ray vision?  Batman is not in the know, and spends much of the movie trying to play catch-up, and is easily manipulated by Luthor.  This is despite the fact that, in the comics, he is the world’s greatest detective.

There is bad dialogue, weird science, and bad science.  There are murky, vague plot points and unsupported character motivations.  Some things are just plain dumb — Metropolis and Gotham City stand within sight of each other, just across a bay.  Either hero could easily intervene in the other’s city … but they apparently respect each other’s nearly adjacent turf, even though they don’t know or trust each other.

Even the premise is shaky — legions of people hate Superman because they blame him for the damage inflicted by Zod during the events of “Man of Steel” (2013).  Couldn’t he just exonerate himself by simply telling the truth — that Zod attacked earth and he rose to defend it?  I’m willing to bet most people would get that.

There are … dream sequences … and/or visions … and/or messages from the future?  And … conversations with the dead?  Or … not?  You tell me.

Why does Superman need a winter jacket?

Why does he refer to his mother as “Martha?”  Do any of us refer to our mothers by their first name?

I could go on, but you get the idea.  I actually found my attention wandering during this movie.

All of this is a shame, because there are hints of brilliance hiding among the mediocrity.  The movie is ambitious.  It seems to want to say a lot about weighty themes such as power, unlimited power, its ability to corrupt, and the unintended consequences of unilateral action.  There seem to be visual references to real world horrors like 9/11 and ISIS’ terrorism, which I found pretty bold.  I’ve never been good with subtext.  Were there allegories here that I missed, connected with U.S. foreign policy or the War on Terror?

I will say this — the film isn’t quite as bad as the critics are making it out to be.  It isn’t all garbage, it’s just a below average superhero film.  And it appears worse because it’s part of a genre characterized by a lot of really good films — Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies were groundbreaking, and most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s titles were quite good.  So this ambitious misfire seems far worse in contrast.  I myself would rate this movie a 5 out of 10 — even if I might be biased here by my lifelong love for these iconic characters.

I’ll tell you what — why don’t I go ahead and list this movie’s successes?  There are a few things that I really liked, and this blog post is so negative it’s starting be a buzzkill.

  1.  Ben Affleck did a damn good job in his portrayal of Batman.  I’m sold.  I strongly get the sense that he worked hard to prepare for the role.  The man is a good actor; this was a good performance.  Somebody get Batffleck a better script!
  2. Amy Adams and Diane Lane are both skilled actresses, and are both a pleasure to watch here, as Lois Lane and Martha Kent, respectively.
  3. The special effects are damned good.  If you’re a longtime fan of Superman, then his heat vision alone might make this movie worth the price of a ticket.  His flights and landings look damned good too.  The scene where Wonder Woman lassos Doomsday was downright beautiful — it’s one of the best FX shots in recent memory.  I couldn’t conceive of anything better by using my imagination.
  4. The fight choreography when Batman takes down multiple thugs is quite good.
  5. It’s a little hard for me to articulate, but … the final showdown here really does capture the epic, mythic feel of a major superhero battles in the DC Comics I grew up with.  We’ve got two heavy hitters — Superman and Wonder Woman — battling a super-powered villain in an apocalyptic battle, with the quite-mortal Batman holding his own just fine, employing the power of badass.  It was a hell of a fun finale for me, as it recalled the superpowered clashes I used to find in the better-written “Justice League” comics, or those various Jeph Loeb-written team-ups between Bats and Supes.  The vibe was just right, and it really struck a chord with me and improved the movie.
  6. As much as I’ve complained about the script, there were parts here and there that were actually surprisingly awesome.  The scene at the Capitol was darkly inspired.  Luthor’s modus operandi for controlling Superman was a nasty bit of business.  And one character delivers a monologue about a flood that is vivid and hauntingly sad — and it was made all the more effective because the actor delivering it is so talented.  I’m genuinely surprised that the movie went so dark with all of these moments.  Again — there were hints of brilliance among the mediocrity.

Postscript:  a note to those who might be new to comics — this movie cribs heavily from two famous comic book story arcs.  The first is 1972’s “Must There Be A Superman?” and the second is 1986’s  graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns.”  I haven’t read the former, but let me assure you that the latter is incredibly good.  It was written and illustrated by Frank Miller, and it was so damn good it actually transformed the medium, by changing how fans and the general public viewed comic books.  It’s a masterpiece.  The point I’m trying to make is this — please don’t judge the seminal comic series by its putative representation by this film.

Postscript II: has there really been a great live-action Superman movie since “Superman II” in 1980?  It’s well known that the third and fourth installments in the 80’s franchise were abominable.  I thought that “Superman Returns” (2006) and “Man of Steel” were both good, but they got mixed reviews from audiences and critics alike.  Weird.

 

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