Comic Review: Batgirl: Stephanie Brown, Vol. 2

Published: March 20th, 2018
Written by: Bryan Q. Miller
Art by: Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Ramon F. Bachs, Dustin Nguyen

DC Comics, 327 Pages

Review:

This has been a really cool series and although I’m a massive fan of the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl, Stephanie Brown is a really lovable character that has earned her way to wearing the cowl made famous by the original Batgirl.

Now this volume wasn’t as good as the first and sadly, it’s the last volume in the series, as it fell victim to DC Comics rebooting everything, which they think is necessary every few years now.

Anyway, I still enjoyed this collection of issues, which were mostly a string of 2-3 issue arcs but I think that the first one was more appealing and a better read because it focused on the new Batgirl proving herself and her value.

At the start of this one, she’s accomplished that and even has the real Batman rooting for her. The thing is, that takes away some of the tension in the plot and the drive within the character. It’s that old adage about how the journey is better than the destination.

Now the destination is fine and it is cool seeing Stephanie Brown becoming more confident and stronger but the thing I liked about her was her defiance against those trying to keep her down. Now she’s pretty much loved by those same people and even though the story needed to evolve towards that, it’s just missing it’s edge.

But truthfully, this could have very well picked up into something exceptional and this volume feels like that’s on the verge of happening but the series was cut off with the end of this book.

Stephanie Brown deserves to be Batgirl, she really earned it and it was fun experiencing her journey but DC wanted Barbara Gordon back and Stephanie got downgraded back to Spoiler, which seems like a real slap in the face by her intellectual property owners.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the volume before this one.

Comic Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 3: Bizarro Reborn

Published: April 24th, 2018
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Art by: Joe Bennett, Tyler Kirkham, Dextor Soy

DC Comics, 188 Pages

Review:

Out of all the volumes of the Red Hood comic that focus on the trio of Red Hood, Artemis and Bizarro, this is my favorite.

Man, this story was solid as hell and it was also a pretty emotional due to how we see Bizarro die, come back to life as a super-genius and then find out that he is still going to devolve into a dumb brute again.

For long-time fans of Jason Todd, this is especially emotional, as we see him finally find a sense of family that has eluded him for so long. He’s no longer alone, he’s with people he loves but you get the sense that it’s all going to be taken away from him in the near future. Re-reading these issues now, it certainly adds more context to his more recent stories.

Scott Lobdell has done such a fantastic job with this series and even though my pull list from my local comic shop keeps shrinking, this is a series I just don’t want to give up. It’s much better than the industry standard in modern times and it is awesome that there is top tier talent working on a book that mainly features B or C level characters.

This volume actually collects three short story arcs, which see cameos from a lot of cool characters like the modern Suicide Squad, Nightwing, the modern Bat-family, Lex Luthor and others.

I’m also now a big fan of Dexter Soy’s art style. I didn’t know much about him before this series but the issues he works on just look fantastic.

Red Hood and the Outlaws is one of the best DC Comics titles of the last few years. I wish more people would read it, even if the most recent stuff is a bit different due to Jason Todd being alone, once again. But I feel as if that’s leading to him reuniting with his Outlaw family.

With DC cancelling a bunch of titles in the very near future, I really hope that this isn’t one of them.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Red Hood and the Outlaws collections post-Rebirth. Also, the recent Bat-family titles: NightwingBatgirl and also the current runs on Suicide Squad and Deathstroke.

Film Review: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)

Release Date: March 23rd, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Alan Burnett
Based on: Suicide Squad by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, John Ostrander
Music by: Robert J. Kral
Cast: Christian Slater, Billy Brown, Liam McIntyre, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Gideon Emery, Tara Strong, Vanessa Williams, C. Thomas Howell, Greg Grunberg

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, DR Movie, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I know I’m going to Heaven – anyone who can put up with Mr. J deserves a break.” – Harley Quinn

It seems as if these DC Comics animated movies are getting better and better. Pretty much most of the stuff that Sam Liu produces and directs is top notch. Also, I love that these are for an adult audience.

While I pretty much hated the live action Suicide Squad movie, I’ve been a fan of the comics for some time. This animated feature does a pretty good job of capturing that magic in a way that the live action film completely missed.

The voice cast in this was really good too and I especially enjoyed Christian Slater as Deadshot. I hope he plays the character more in the future and if this spawned its own series, I’d watch the followups.

This movie is violent but it works, as this film is presented in a grindhouse style. Now the look of it is crisp and clean like other DC animated films but it has that modern grindhouse edge to it in it’s credits sequences, editing style and musical score. While the modern grindhouse thing really peaked with Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse movie over ten years ago, it’s interesting seeing that style in this format.

The story is also good and it sets up a situation where these characters have a sort of loophole to work around the protocols the government has in order to control these villains forced to do good. There is a lot of back stabbing, twists and turns.

This also features a ton of villains whether they are members of the Suicide Squad or not. And while a lot of characters are crammed into this 86 minute picture, everything flows well.

This is solid. It’s one of the better DC Comics animated features to come out.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC animated features for adult audiences.

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight (PlayStation 4)

*I played the PlayStation 4 version. The game is also available on Xbox One and Windows.

Playing this was long overdue.

This is one of my favorite video game series of the last ten years and it is the best video game series to star a comic book hero. Also, it stars the coolest hero.

Out of all the Arkham games this is probably the best one overall. I think I liked Arkham City a bit more but this one had so much content and new elements added to it that it really takes the cake from a narrative and technical standpoint.

I guess the biggest addition to this chapter in the series is that it is the first game where you can drive the Batmobile. And you don’t just get to drive it, you get to do battle with it. There are a lot of parts in the game where you have to go into vehicular combat and there are different styles, as well. There are side missions that play out like straight up car chases and then there are other missions where you go into “battle mode” and you are essentially a tank in a firefight with other tanks and aerial drones. It’s actually pretty incredible stuff and this element never got old.

The only Batmobile stuff I didn’t like was the racetrack sequences, which are worked into the Riddler side missions. I don’t play Batman games to race cars, I play them to save Gotham City from scum and villainy. They also work the Batmobile into the equation where you have to solve some of the Riddler’s puzzles. I love the Riddler, I just liked his side missions the least because of these bits.

I liked the new Arkham Knight character, even though it became fairly obvious who he was and that he wasn’t actually a new character but just a new twist on a known character. I also like that changes to his character were instrumental in Deathstroke coming into the game. But sadly, you don’t get to exchange fisticuffs with him. But that leads me to one other minor problem with the game.

There are no real boss battles. Well, there are big boss battle feeling moments like when you take on the Arkham Knight’s tank or when you reach the big crescendo in the Mr. Freeze side missions but you never actually fight any of the major villains with your fists except for Killer Croc.

Still, I do like how the big battles go down in the game. I just wish that I got to have more intimate physical encounters.

And man, there are a ton of villains. And even though the Joker is dead, he is very much a big presence in the game but I don’t want to reveal how, as that will spoil the story. But Mark Hamill, as the Joker, probably has as much dialogue in the game as Batman.

I liked that Scarecrow was the biggest villain in the game, as he’s a character that gets shafted in favor of the better known villains in Batman lore. Plus, the version of Scarecrow used in this game series is my favorite version of the character to date.

Ultimately, this is the best game in the series overall and thus, I’d say it is the best superhero video game that I have ever played. It brings the story full circle and is a nice conclusion to Rocksteady’s Batman franchise.

But really, I hope that this isn’t the actual end. I’d love to see a Nightwing, Red Hood or Batgirl game spun off from this series.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The three previous Batman: Arkham games.

TV Review: Gotham (2014-2019)

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – current
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan, Richard Kind, Natalie Alyn Lind, Peyton List, Crystal Reed

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.