Film Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Release Date: July 27th, 2010
Directed by: Brandon Vietti
Written by: Judd Winick
Based on: Batman: Under the Red Hood by Judd Winick, Doug Mahnke
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, Wade Williams, Kelly Hu

Warner Premiere, DC Comics, The Answer Studio, Warner Bros., 75 Minutes

Review:

“I’m being forced into negotiating with a psychotic.” – Black Mask

This is one of the best DC Comics animated features that I have seen. But I was also a massive fan of this story in the comics and this film benefits from being written by Judd Winick, who also wrote that comic story.

I love that these feature length animated films by DC are not made for kids, they are made for those of us who grew up reading comics in the ’80s and ’90s and who are probably the same age as the people working on these films. It’s like some of us grew up, got jobs at DC and decided to high five the rest of us by making adult animated comic book films.

I liked the art in this, the tone was perfect and the story was well structured. Plus, I always like stories that feature Nightwing and Black Mask. I friggin’ love Black Mask and think he’s underutilized. So seeing him come to life in a feature length story was a lot of fun and just f’n cool.

Also, Nightwing was voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, which was kind of cool too.

My only real complaint was that Kevin Conroy wasn’t Batman and Mark Hamill wasn’t the Joker. I think this was made when they retired from the roles for fifteen minutes. Because they did eventually come back to do other animated features for DC, as well as the Arkham series of video games.

I still thought that Bruce Greenwood was good as Batman but I can’t not hear Kevin Conroy in my head whenever I read a Batman comic, so when it’s not Conroy’s voice in an animated feature, it throws me off. He just is the voice of Batman to me, as Hamill is the Joker.

Apart from that, there isn’t much to shake a stick at. This was well crafted and came off feeling just right.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other DC Comics animated films of the last decade.

Comic Review: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1

Published: July 25th, 2017
Written by: James Tynion IV
Art by: Freddie Williams II

IDW Publishing, DC Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

When this was first announced, I got pretty excited. But at the time, hunting down single issues of comics was hard for me, as my closest comic book shops are both 45 minutes in opposite directions. So I planned on waiting for it to be collected in a trade paperback format.

I mean, who doesn’t want to read a team up of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? On top of that, who doesn’t want to see Batman fight Shredder? Yeah, because that’s just about all I could think about when I first heard that this crossover was happening.

You get more than that though. You also get to see Shredder team up with Ra’s al Ghul and several Batman villains get exposed to mutagen and thus, turn into TMNT styled animal villains. The Penguin obviously becomes a penguin but my favorite was Mr. Freeze as a polar bear. You also get to see Casey Jones show up about midway through the story arc.

Overall, this was a lot of fun. I heard that the follow up wasn’t as good but I’ll read that once it’s complete. I think there are still issues coming out for that sequel run.

This comic is really just fan service done really well. It’s not an exceptional story but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to take these two franchises and smash them together and let everyone loose.

One of the highlights for me was seeing Alfred interact with Michelangelo. That shit was comedy gold.

I can’t call this a great book but if you love both franchises this is certainly worth your ten or fifteen bucks.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 2 and other recent TMNT crossovers.

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.

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham City (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2014.

*I played the PlayStation 3 version. The game is also available on Xbox 360, Wii U, Windows and OS X.

It has been a while since I have played the first installment of this series, Arkham Asylum. In fact, I played it when it first came out in 2009. It was an amazing game and I wanted a sequel. Unfortunately, it took me this long to get around to it. In fact, the 4th game is coming out in the near future. That’s actually what motivated me to get into this one, as I realized I was falling behind in video games in general. Life is busy and shit.

Arkham City is a much larger game in scope. Instead of being trapped within the walls of Gotham City’s iconic mental institution, you are now free to roam a section of the city that has been retrofitted as an urban prison for psychos and hard criminals.

Gameplay is virtually the same as the previous installment, the graphics are amazing, the plot is pretty solid and there are enough villains and other characters in this game to make it a who’s who of Batman lore. The main villains who drive the plot are the Joker, Hugo Strange, Ra’s al Ghul, Mr. Freeze and the Penguin. There are side quests and other minor missions that bring in Harley Quinn, the Riddler, Two-Face, the Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Bane, Solomon Grundy, Hush, Deadshot, Victor Zsasz, Calendar Man, Black Mask, Killer Croc and Clayface. Batman’s allies throughout the story include Catwoman, Talia al Ghul, Alfred Pennyworth, Oracle, Robin, Commissioner Gordon and after some disagreements, Mr. Freeze. Nightwing also appears as a playable character in bonus content.

There is a lot of meat and potatoes in this game. It is truly a total package of pure awesomeness in that it is a near perfect game play-wise, it does a magnificent job expanding on a fictional universe that has existed for over 75 years and it keeps this world fresh, new and exciting. If you are a Batman fan, this game is an essential experience and must be played – that really goes for this whole series.

I had more fun playing this than most games over the last few years. It is actually hard to try and find any flaws within it. I cannot recommend Arkham City enough. I guess I better go out and pick up Arkham Origins (the third game and prequel to the series).

Rating: 9.25/10

TV Review: Arrow (2012- )

Original Run: October 10th, 2012 – present
Created by: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Blake Neely
Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Colton Haynes, Manu Bennett, John Barrowman, Echo Kellum, Josh Segarra, Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Kelly Hu

Bonanza Productions, Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 115 Episodes (so far), 40 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2014.

Comic books have not historically been well-represented in television form. Some people will argue that Smallville was great and that The Incredible Hulk was awesome. Both had some good moments. Ultimately though, neither were amazing, The 1970s versions of Spider-Man and Captain America were pretty awful. The 1960s gave us Batman, which is one of my favorite shows of all-time but as a faithful adaptation, it falls in more ways than it succeeds. In 1990, we got The Flash, which I particularly liked even with the villains being pretty bad (excluding Mark Hamill’s role as the Trickster). However, that show didn’t make it more than a season, despite a great Danny Elfman score and popping up on the heels of the super successful 1989 Batman movie (the first one with Michael Keaton). We got other shows based on superheroes like Heroes and M.A.N.T.I.S. but neither were adapted from a comic book and both had promise but fizzled. There were other superhero shows but nothing that really captured the essence of a comic book.

Then there came Arrow.

This CW show followed up Smallville and its ten year run. While there was a Green Arrow on that show, with this show, they decided to start from scratch and I am glad they did. Green Arrow was one of the cool things about the later seasons of Smallville but for the character to have his own show, it needed to be darker and more real. The climate changed between the start of Smallville and the end of it, as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films completely changed the game. Arrow is a reflection of that and a pretty solid contrast from Smallville.

The acting on this series is pretty damn good. Stephen Amell is great as Oliver Queen a.k.a. the Arrow. In fact, he may be close to perfect. His sidekicks played by David Ramsey and Emily Bett Rickards are quite awesome. The other main cast members also hold their own. Doctor Who and Torchwood alum John Barrowman owns it as the sinister Merlyn. I would say that my favorite character on the show thus far though, is Slade Wilson a.k.a. Deathstroke, who is played by Manu Bennett.

While the tone of the show is gritty, it often times doesn’t take itself entirely too seriously, as there are good lighthearted moments and some humor worked in. It also makes use of flashbacks very extensively, as each episode follows two stories – the story of the present and a story from five years earlier, when Oliver was trapped on an island.

Arrow is a unique show in that it feels like Batman Begins meets Lost. Two seasons in, it is off to a good start and I hope that the show keeps moving forward and improving as it goes. Its success has already led to a spin-off show for the Flash, which starts pretty soon. I hope Arrow and The Flash can maintain the quality I’ve now come to expect from this new era in DC Comics television shows.

Update:

Arrow lost some steam in the third and fourth seasons but in season five, it picks up steam again and gets closer to its roots. It becomes more of a flawed show as it progresses but cast changes and new threats keep it interesting enough to stick with it. At the end of season five, the game has seemingly completely changed going forward and I am still ready and willing to check out season six in the fall.

TV Review: Gotham (2014- )

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

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.