Monday, October 24, 2011

Batman: Year One Review

In the rich, generation spanning history of Batman in comics, arguably only a handful of stories are revered as canon. One of these is Batman: Year One. Released in the late 80’s as part of the character’s ongoing title, Year One delved into the formative stages of Bruce Wayne’s one man war on crime, providing a updated depiction of the character’s tragic origin along with a comprehensive study of his motives for resorting to vigilantism. Another pivotal facet of Batman lore the story expanded upon was the relationship between Batman and Jim Gordon. Not yet having earned his recognized role of commissioner, Gordon is portrayed as a down on his luck cop trying his best to make a difference in Gotham City, an urban cesspool riddled by crime and destitution whose own police force is mired in a sea of corruption and bureaucratic greed. He feels trapped and hates himself for bringing his wife and unborn child into a place as ugly and hostile as Gotham. Although Assigned to apprehend “The Batman” at all costs, Gordon eventually comes to see the city’s shadowy protector for the hero he is trying to be and the two lost souls manage to find a measure of hope and inspiration in each other while each working in their own ways to save Gotham from its many demons.
As you can imagine, I was very excited when I heard this story was being adapted into one of DC Entertainment’s animated features. And on the most part, it delivers. The movie is faithful to its source material to a fault and therein lies my biggest criticism in that nothing new and exciting is really added to the story. The movie is pretty much a straight page by page re-telling of the comic and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, I kind of wish they had tried to be a little more creative in putting their own unique stamp on the story as was successfully demonstrated in prior adaptations of pre-existing storylines like Superman: Doomsday and Batman: Under the Red Hood.
I thought the voice casting of the film was pretty solid. Brian Cranston in particular did a superb job at providing the voice of Jim Gordon and perfectly conveys the stoic resolve yet underlying emotional turmoil of a good man with the odds stacked against him who is just trying to be good at his job and do right by his family. Ben Mackenzie gave a pretty good performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman though at times I thought his voice acting came off as a little “forced” like he was trying too hard to sound brooding and obsessive. Eliza Dushku, who provided the voice of Selina Kyle/Catwoman was good though not present in the film enough to really leave much of a mark.
Although it doesn’t bring anything new too the table, Batman Year One is still an impressive and very well-made animated adaptation of it’s classic comic book inspiration and it’s raw edge and gritty realism definitely set it apart from many of the studio’s other animated ventures.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Aquaman #1 Review

Of the entire pantheon of superheroes, no has endured more ridicule and fan boy derision than Aquaman. From South Park to Robot Chicken to The Big Bang Theory, the orange shirted ruler of Atlantis has long been the butt of more than a few jokes and superhero parodies and like the late Rodney Dangerfield, seems to get no respect, no respect at all. Maybe it’s the whole talking to fish thing? Or the fact that the guy cavorts around the ocean on a giant sea horse? In the nineties, DC attempted to de-sissify the character by ditching the iconic look and giving him a grungier, more warrior like appearance complete with beard and harpoon hand. Although well received at first, Aquaman’s pirate makeover was almost too much of a departure for fans to ever fully get behind and despite rubbing shoulders with the likes of Superman and Batman in The Justice League, the character more or less toiled in obscurity before being killed off in the early 2000’s.
Enter Brightest Day. A bi-weekly miniseries from DC that ran from summer 2010 to around Spring 2011. In it, both heroes and villains who had met their end at one point or another were brought back from the dead and given a second chance at life by a mysterious white light expelled fromas deep within the earth. One of these characters was Aquaman who had apparently been able to grow back his missing hand, and with it, rediscover how to use a razor. The series went on to be a success with the Aquaman storyline regarded some of the its strongest material.
Given the characters sudden upsurge in popularity it was no surprise that when DC announced its new 52 relaunch Aquaman #1 made the grade along with Batman and Action Comics as one of the most anticipated books set to hit the shelves in September. Of course it did not hurt any that the formidable writer/artist duo of Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, arguably two of the most talented people working in comics, were selected to restore the sea king to all his aquatic glory and prove, unmistakably that even a guy who chats with fishy’s has the potential for untold awesomeness.
If Aquaman #1 is any indication of what lies in store for fans of the character than they are definitely off to a great start. Geoff John’s is once again at the top of his game with this book and one of the things I enjoyed most about this first issue was the clever way he directly tackles the subject of the character’s inherently cornier aspects while setting out to prove them wrong. Ivan Reis’s artwork is outstanding. Aquaman looks regal and imposing like a true king should, and it is amazing how he can make something as common as a seafood restaurant pop off the page and be fun to look at. I really liked the child of two worlds aspect of the story and how Arthur Curry has trouble reconciling his role as protector of the seas with his desire for an ordinary life on the surface. Judging by the ending, a life of domestic bliss may be entirely out of the cards for the trident wielding superhero as a sinister new threat rears its ugly, and I mean UGLY leaving the reader with a certain dread filled notion that Aquaman is about to be pushed closer to the edge than he’s ever been.
If you can’t tell by now I really dug Aquaman #1 and am glad the character is finally getting the respect he deserves. Unlike Raj in “The Big Bang Theory” I would have no qualms about dressing in a tight fitting Aquaman outfit complete with ride-able seahorse. As long as the Batman outfits weren’t sold out first. And Superman, and Green Lantern, etc.