Category Archives: Articles and Musings

12 Essential Superhero Comic Books

Marvel and DC (along with many other smaller or independent publishers) put out hundreds of different comic books issues and collected editions each year. There’s so many titles on the market, that unless readers make the effort to research what’s coming out, many of them would be completely lost. Often, individual characters like Spiderman  even have multiples series starring them being released simultaneously. Today, I thought I’d ask myself: “If I could only read one book or series starring each of my favourite characters, what would I choose?” And so today I present to you, ‘12 Essential Superhero Comic Books‘or ‘The only books you’ll ever need.‘All these books are avaible in some form in collected print editions or digitally over on Comixology.co.uk.

Starting in no particular order…

Batman - The Long Halloween

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

13 Issues – First Published 1996-1997

The first and still the best Batman story I’ve ever read. The story takes place in Batman’s early years and features the rise and fall of district attorney Harvey Dent and his relationship with Batman and Commissioner Gordon as they take on the Corleone crime family. A deftly crafted murder mystery story taking place over a year-long time period, The Long Halloween incorporates nearly every facet of Batman lore, including the best of his expansive rogues’ gallery. Though it may not have as much cultural significance as Frank Miller’s work on the character, The Long Halloween is Batman and co. at what they do best, trying to make Gotham City a better place, even if the road is paved with dark deeds along the way. The Long Halloween has been published in its entirety as a single paperback edition.

Superman - All Star Superman

All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

12 Issues – First Published 2005-2008

An alternate world story about Superman having to come to grips with his own mortality, All-Star Superman is a masterwork in stirring, emotional storytelling, while still having a mythic level sense of scale and significance in the world. Morrison and Quitely may be one of the most in-tune author/artist pairings to ever grace the pages of a comic book and every possible ounce of quality is eked out these pages. A fitting tribute to the world’s original superhero. All Star Superman has been collected in its entirety as a single paperback edition.

Aquaman - The Trench

Aquaman: The Trench, The Others and Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

20 Issues – First Published 2011-2013

Johns and Reis wipe away every possible doubt that Aquaman is a dull, uninteresting character in this seminal 17 (technically 20) issue run (though it runs across multiple books, each book is a part of the ongoing story with the writer and artist remaining the same). As the gorgeously rendered and fantastically badass heir to the throne of Atlantis, Arthur Curry (Aquaman) has to contend with political machinations, assassination plots and an undiscovered race of deadly sea creatures that threaten both his worlds in the ocean and on land. If you ever had any interest in seeing the true nature of Aquaman, then this run is a must read. Geoff John’s run on Aquaman has been collected in three short paperback editions.

Iron Man - Extremis

Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov

6 Issues – First Published 2005-2006

Artist Adi Granov usually only sticks to illustrating covers for other series, but his brief, 6 issue stint into doing all the art for this story makes it worth reading on that single fact alone. But not only that, Extremis is arguably the quintessential 21st century Iron Man story, telling you pretty much everything you ever needed to know about the titular genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. When terrorists manage to get hold of an experimental bio-weapon that turns normal men into flaming death machines, Tony Stark must find a way to stop them, while also considering the place of the weapons he’s built in the name of world peace. Extremis has been collected in its entirety as a single paperback edition.

Hulk - Planet HulkPlanet Hulk by Greg Pack, Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti

16 Issues – First Published 2006-2007

Bruce Banner and the Hulk have both appeared in thousands of stories over the past 54 years since he debuted, not just in his own series, but in the pages of the many Avengers titles along with many other series. This 16 issue story arc, is the best of them all. Bar none. With a group of other heroes having finally decided he’s too much of a threat to remain on Earth, the Hulk is tricked into being fired into deep space. However, through a series of events he winds up stranded on a world with a tyrannical ruler and is forced to fight in the arena as a gladiator. A legendary tale of titans on both an epic and incredibly personal scale, Planet Hulk is the cosmic odyssey of a man and a beast who learns that there is more to himself than just anger and hate. Planet Hulk has been published in its entirety as a single paperback edition.

Inhumans - InhumansInhumans by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee

12 Issues – First Published 1998-1999

The Inhumans have been appearing in the pages of Fantastic Four since the mid-60s, but larger audiences finally started to take notice with this gorgeous miniseries published in the late 90s. Taking place shortly after the Inhumans have revealed themselves to the world, this focuses on the efforts of their self-willed mute king, Black Bolt, and the rest of the royal family, to keep the people of the city of Attilan safe from threats both inside and outside their walls. This series serves not only as a great story in its own right, but is a fascinating exploration of the culture and power structure of the Inhuman race, and is essential for any fan not just of comics but science fiction in general. Inhumans has been collected in its entirety as a single hardback edition.

Hawkeye - Hawkeye

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja

22 Issues – First Published 2012-2014

Adopting a dog, being the landlord of an apartment building, causing trouble with the Russian mob. Just a day in the life of Clint Barton, long time Avenger and the world’s greatest marksman. And with his headstrong protégé Kate Bishop along for the ride, what could possibly go wrong next in Hawkeye’s anything-but-average time off from flying robots and falling cities. Fraction and Aja bring Hawkeye down to earth in a seemingly endless number of creative, sharp, hilarious and endearing ways. Famous for having an issue written primarily in sign language, one from the perspective of Clint’s canine companion and even an animal themed Christmas TV special, Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye is the funniest, most lovable, most heartfelt comic to come out in years. Hawkeye has been collected in four short paperback editions, two oversized hardback editions, and a single hardback omnibus edition.

Spiderman - Ultimate Spiderman

Ultimate Spiderman by Brian Michael Bendis

200+ Issues – First Published 2000-2015

The Ultimate Universe was a project Marvel began in 2000, intended to introduce new readers with a fresh start, a new universe running alongside the regular Marvel Comics universe, but without 40 years of convoluted continuity. Ultimate Spiderman was the premiere title of this initiative. Featuring a teenage Peter Parker, this series retold many old stories with new energy and fresh, modern art, while also introducing many new story elements such as Kitty Pryde (one of my favourite characters in all of comics) as Peter’s love interest and Miles Morales as the black Spiderman. The most easy-to-enjoy Spiderman series since the character’s beginnings, Ultimate Spiderman is one of the big reasons both me, and a whole generation of readers fell in love with comics. Ultimate Spiderman has been collected in over thirty short paperback editions as well as several longer paperback editions and partially in a long out-of-print hardback omnibus edition.

Avengers - The Ultimates

The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

26 Issues – First Published 2002-2007

What Bendis did for Spiderman, author Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch did for the Avengers, with their Ultimate Universe counterpart, ‘The Ultimates’. Edgier, bigger and bolder than any other superhero book being released at the time, it featured a line-up consisting of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and several other key players, with a Sam Jackson looking Nick Fury behind the wheel. This book served as the key inspiration for Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is blockbuster comic writing at its absolute best. It’s perhaps the most entertaining comic I’ve ever read, if you can buy into its ridiculousness. Note: listening to the music of Tool while reading may induce seizures due to the sheer widescreen awesomeness coming into your eyes and ears. Caution is advised. I’ve also ceremoniously dubbed ‘Vicarious’ as the main theme of this book. The Ultimates has been collected in four short paperback editions and two larger paperback editions as ‘The Ultimates’ and ‘The Ultimates 2’, and as a single long out-of-print hardback omnibus edition.

X-Men - New X-Men

New X-Men by Grant Morrison

42 Issues – First Published 2001-2004

Beginning just after the mutants first hit it big at the box office, Morrison redefined the landscape of Marvel’s X-Men titles by turning the Xavier Institute into a proper educational academy, establishing the Weapon X program as including more than just Wolverine, bringing secondary mutations into the fold, and most notably of all, the killing over 15 million mutants within the first story arc. Mature, weird, wonderful, and utterly enthralling are all words I’d use to describe this epic 42 issue narrative, which sets the stage for practically every post 2000s X-Men story, including the glorious Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, which immediately follows on from this book. It’s up for contention whether New X-Men is the best run on the franchise ever written, but in every manner possible, it’s got my vote. New X-Men is collected in either seven short paperback editions, three larger paperback editions and in a single hardback omnibus edition that will be reprinted in November 2016.

Annihilation

Annihilation 

29 Issues – First Published 2006-2007

2006 saw the release of Civil War, the big event that set the comic’s world on fire with its insane popularity. However, while Civil War was flying off store shelves, a talented group of writers and artists at Marvel where quietly revamping and reintroducing the Cosmic line-up. Hero’s like Nova and the Silver Surfer, joined by former villains like Drax, Gamora, Super-Skrull and Ronan the Accuser, all came together to combat the universal threat that was Annihilus, whose insect drones spewed across the cosmos from the Negative zone. Throw the mad titan Thanos, the enigmatic Peter Quill and the world eater Galactus himself into the mix, and you have a science fiction epic worthy of the gods. Presented as a group of concurrently occurring miniseries before the big finale event, Annihilation set the stage for writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s beloved tenure as the lead authors of Marvel’s Cosmic comics for the next 5 years. All in all, Annihilation was and still is considered to be one of if not the best event comics in Marvel’s history. Annihilation has been collected in three paperback and hardback collections and as a long out-of-print hardback omnibus edition.

Green Lantern - The Sinestro Corps War

Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War by Geoff Johns

11 Issues – First Published 2007-2008

I admit I may have been cheating a little, since the last few entries have been longer stories on titles by the same author, but believe me, they’re worth everything they ask of you. This final entry though,  is worth even more. From 2004 to 2013, Geoff Johns changed practically everything readers thought they knew about Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. The ring wielding space cops found new worlds to save, new challenges to overcome, and of course, new foes to battle, with Geoff John’s writing have a true sense of mythic proportions. The inarguable high point of this journey was the Sinestro Corps War, as Jordan’s long-time nemesis Sinestro formed his own army of fear to do battle with the might of the Green Lanterns. A story of loss, hope, horror and redemption, this is superhero comics at their most spectacular. John’s entire run on Green Lantern is collected in three hardback omnibus editions, with the first containing the beginning of his work up until the end of the Sinestro Corps War. I personally recommend starting from Green Lantern: Rebirth, the miniseries that opens the first omnibus, and Johns first work on the character.

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Sony@E3 – The Art of the Press Conference

And so, this year’s big E3 press conferences have come to an end, with many announcements from big publishers and developers like EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda, Microsoft, and Sony, many of which are incredibly exciting, some, not so much. Last year, at E3 2015, Sony blew the house down with announcements like the return of The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and of course, the magnificent Shenmue III. Rare unveiled Sea of Thieves, there multiplayer pirate adventure game, at the Microsoft conference and we got some exceptionally cool trailers from the show, like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. The PC Gaming Showcase also started, highlighting an increasingly popular corner of the gaming community that rarely got significant attention at events like E3 before.

2015 had the “E3 of dreams”. Whatever this year’s E3 gets remembered by (“E3 of stabbing” if Daniel Bloodworth would have his way), it might just top that, thanks in no small part to the biggest of the bunch, with the toughest act to follow from last year, Sony. How do you follow up a conference that literally made some audience members weep with joy at the thoughts of things to come? Well, Sony did something that’s not really so out there for gaming conference. They sat us down, made us comfortable, and rocked our world with nearly 80 solid minutes of mostly uninterrupted gameplay demo’s and trailers. Other conferences often talk big about showing their games, but then end up standing on stage for way too long explaining everything going on in their demo (I’m looking at you EA), but Sony just didn’t need to say anything. I’m pretty sure that after the opening speech, a big smug grin never left Shawn Layden’s face for the whole time.

Other publishers did show off some interesting things in their more traditional press conferences, with my personal highlights being Battlefield 1 (despite it’s awful title and terrible musical sense), the PC exclusive Quake Champions, the once again spectacular Sea of Thieves, the much improved PC Gaming Showcase (which showed off some awesome Dawn of War III gameplay), and the new console, Project Scorpio from Microsoft. Despite being great for me however, I don’t believe Play Anywhere, an initiative where many, if not all announced games that were previously exclusive to Xbox One, like ReCore and Scalebound, are now also being released on Windows 10, was a something that fit properly into the show, as it essentially I have zero reason to want to own an Xbox One. The meaning of the word ‘exclusive’ has been twisted to an alarming degree by Microsoft in this instance, and with new incrementations of the console on the horizon, the idea that quite a few players no longer have any need of it does put a bit of a dampener on the proceedings. Despite Sea of Thieves‘ fantastic jollyness, Microsoft’s conference ultimately went out leaving some sour thoughts in my mind. Sony destroyed them, along with every other publisher, royally, in one fell swoop.

They opened with spectacular swagger and confidence. The first five minutes was nothing but the tension building, blood stirring music of an orchestra conducted by Bear McCreary (of Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead fame). They had only three speakers for the entire conference, all which kept their spiel short, sweet and too the point. It’s not about telling you about games – it’s about showing them to you. Nevermind the great production, let’s just note down everything we got from the Sony conference:

  1. A fantastic opening number from composer Bear McCreary, who sets the stage for God of War, which returns with a new story direction, new player perspective, and (hopefully) a new pantheon of gods to slaughter.
  2. They showed off the cinematic trailer for a brand new IP in the post-apocalyptic open world genre, Days Gone. By itself this wasn’t that impressive, but more on this later.
  3. A frankly breathtaking story teaser for The Last Guardian, with a release date of 25th October this year. To live in a world where this and Final Fantasy XV are finally coming out, tis a truly wonderful thing.
  4. An expanded look at Horizon Zero Dawn, a great surprise from last year. The sci-fi stone age open world game from the developer’s of Killzone showed off some beautiful cinematic action and some intriguing story teases. It even has dialogue menus. I really, REALLY want to ride some robot dinosaurs after this one.
  5. Moving on, we looked at Detroit: Become Human, a detective game set in the future starring a synthetic android named Connor. What’s very interesting about this one is that depending on what or how much you investigate and what choices you make during a case, there may be hundreds of possible outcomes. This one sets a tone, a very solid one.
  6. Resident Evil VII. I have no words. The Kitchen VR horror demo from last year was completely terrifying and was expanded on this E3 for something special. This reveal was frighteningly creepy, elegantly eery, and was probably the best trailer of the show. A superb new beginning for Capcom’s premiere survival horror franchise and the whole thing is playable in VR, with a release date of 24th January 2017. Best of all, the demo is out. Like, right now. Spoilers… it’s scary as ****!
  7. We got Playstation VR, a price point ($399), along with tons of triple AAA VR experiences that will lauch with it in October, including Star Wars (X-Wing Missions – YESSSS!!!!), Batman and even Final Fantasy XV.
  8. Maybe Activision should have started with this trailer for Infinite Warfare, because now I want to play it. I want to fly around and dogfight in the middle gigantic space battles, have shootouts in zero G and choose my own missions. For the first time in years, I’m actually excited for Call of Duty and that means someone’s done something right. Also, Modern Warfare Remastered looks killer.
  9. The only real lull of the conference is now and it’s not really a lull to be honest. Crash Bandicoot 1, 2 and Warped are back and remastered for PS4 and Crash himself is coming to the new Skylanders game. It’s all good, but it’s not a new Crash platformer. Oh well, at least we now know that Activision are willing to play ball with the franchise again.
  10. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This game is two weeks away from release. It looks good. Moving on…
  11. …To something much cooler. Andy House comes out and welcomes a super-special guest. He walks onto the stage from the back in gloriously flashy fashion, his new logo stretched across the screen, the Fury Road soundtrack being blasted in the background,  and destroys over two years malpractice from ‘the man’ in one sentence. “Hello everyone. I’m back.” The crowd erupts as the legend himself Hideo Kojima (creater of Metal Gear Solid) unveils his new game Death Stranding in a cryptically intriguing yet disturbing in-engine trailer starring Norman Reedus. P.T. is dead, but the dream lives on.
  12. After this was another cool surprise. Insomniac (Resistance, Ratchet and Clank, Sunset Overdrive) are making a Spider-Man game, and it looks awesome. Spectacular. No. Amazing, one might say. 🙂 In all seriousness, this supposedly original universe title looks really impressive from what we saw of it and if it’s standing in a line-up in this conference, then there must be something special about it.
  13. Finally, the conference finished in an unsual way. We went back to look on Days Gone, that post-apocalyptic new IP unveiled earlier in the show, this time with a live gameplay demo. What’s impressive about this game, especially the demo at least, is not only the way you and your main enemies, these strange zombie like creatures, frequently interact with the environment, but the sheer number of zombies that appear on screen at once, swarming the player World War Z style. It was probably not the strongest way to end the show, but it gives me confidence that Sony has enough confidence in their new projects to put them in important parts of an E3 press conference.

Sony E3 2016

And that was the Sony show. This was a shorter conference then what they had in previous years, but it was packed much more tightly with greater focus. It was fast paced and exciting, with one game after another, no one coming in to talk about them, simply showing them, having confidence enough in the games to let them speak for themselves. Other publishers should take not. That’s how you show off. And the best part of all, I want to play every game that was at that conference. Every single one of them, and that makes me so happy.

It’s what E3 is about. The new stories, the new moments, the new memories, the new technology, the new GAMES!!!!!

Sorry EA. Sorry Bethesda. Sorry Ubisoft. Sorry Microsoft. You put up a good fight this E3 2016 (some of you anyway), but once again, undoubtedly, Sony wins.

Adapting the DC Universe: Part 2(a)…

Note: beware of possible spoilers below…

*After last’s week big bowl of negativity, I want to talk about something a little more enthusiastically. I was originally only going to discuss Young Justice this week, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to talk about the history of some of the history of DC adaptations from the modern age of comics onward before getting down to the meat of things. Unfortunately this means little mention of any adaptation pre 1980s. Sorry Adam West fans. Due to the sheer amount of things I want to discuss, this particular article will be split into two parts. I just couldn’t leave things out.

*All the emboldened adaptations I discuss are ones I consider personally important and will also have watch recommendations written with them…

11 years after Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) proved that superheroes were a highly profitable big screen venture, Tim Burton’s infamous Batman (1989) changed the face of not only the superhero genre, but also the blockbuster industry as a whole. Copious amounts violence and disturbing imagery, a gorgeously gothic style and an iconic score combined to make a movie that audiences the world over flocked to in droves. But of personal interest to me is the thing that came afterwards. I’ve always found DC to have more critical success with their animated adaptations rather than their live-action versions, but in-fact many of these critical successes in that format come down to coherent, effective writing and presentation. Let’s begin then with a big one.

Batman: The Animated Series

BAS

On 6th September 1992, “On Leather Wings”, the first episode of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s Batman: The Animated Series aired on television. It introduced us to an animated version of Batman that was more in line with the version seen in Burton’s film and Bob Kane’s original comic than anything seen before it (I’m looking at you 1960s Batman). Utilising influences of art deco, noir and some of the gothic visual cues found in the 1989 film, as well as 1980s Batman comics, like (surprise, surprise) The Dark Knight Returns, the show presented viewers with a rich, beautifully haunting look into Gotham city and its inhabitants. Batman became a symbol of fear for criminals, Bruce Wayne transforming into a businessman of great wit and assertiveness compared to previous renditions. This series introduced the world to Harley Quinn, Mark Hamill’s quintessential Joker, Kevin Conroy’s Batman and countless other memorable characters and performances, all clearly expressing a keen love for the source material they originated in while placing unique new twists on them.

For many, including some of the most dedicated comic enthusiasts, Batman: The Animated Series remains the definitive, most well-realised interpretation of the Dark Knight to appear in any format, page or screen. Its stories, though still airing on children’s television, hardly shied away from mature aspects of the character like fear, complex personal tragedy, mental illness, addiction, sexuality, corruption, and violence, but never became outlandish, keeping individual stories tightly contained into one or two twenty-minute episodes with sharp, often darkly witty writing that seemed more skewed towards adult audiences then children. Batman: The Animated Series also established the DC Animated Universe, something that will prop up again later on in this article.

Why the series, and so many of its individual stories, succeed as adaptations is because they take the audience’s established knowledge of what is a not just a character, but a pop-culture icon, and build on it, creating a universe full of dastardly rogues, shady criminals, and downright monsters, that remain to this day iconic. It added to Batman lore, with Harley Quinn later being added to the comics. It modernised Dick Grayson’s Robin for general audiences, paved the way for other DC adaptations and brought in strong female heroes and villains like Batgirl and Catwoman that had serious roles. It even spawned a plethora of spin-off series and films. To this day, Batman: The Animated Series remains, to me at least, not only one of the most important and greatest animated series ever to air on television, but one of the greatest TV series of all time.

The show is mostly episodic, so can be enjoyed in almost any order, so several episodes that everyone should see before they die include:

  • “On Leather Wings”: A glorious, compelling introduction to the Dark Knight of Gotham and the Man-Bat.
  • “Two-Face”: the introduction of one Batman’s most tragic villains is starkly harrowing and undeniably gripping.
  • “Almost Got ‘Im”: An exemplary masterpiece of clever writing and construction, this iconic episode features interactions between many major villains over a game of poker, each with a story of how they almost caught the Batman.

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There are many more I could name, but these are just a few of the best. Remember before how I mentioned the DC Animated Universe? Well this was a project of Bruce Timm, one of Batman: The Animated Series creators, to expand this style of adaptation to other heroes, most notably, Superman, whose own Superman: The Animated Series began airing in 1996. This is another classic that gave a stark, more grounded depiction of the character and garnered similar critical success, even bringing in other major DC characters like the Flash and Green Lantern in some team-up episodes. The series also crossed over with Batman: The Animated Series, as they were both part of the same fictional universe. Speaking of which…

Batman Beyond

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This show takes the concept of ‘putting a new spin on things’ to a whole other level. Set many years after Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, follows Terry McGinnis, a teenager who is taken under the wing of an elderly Bruce Wayne to be the new Batman in a future Gotham City. Channelling everything about the first Bruce Timm Batman series and dashing in healthy doses of dystopian sci-fi and Blade Runner homages, this series epitomises the use of adapting a comic in a completely unique way. Batman Beyond is an original concept that sprung from the minds of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and was incredibly dark for a children’s show, further building on the themes established in the earlier series while adding its own, such as cyberpunk culture and the social conflicts involved in technological advancement.

*Moment of unprofessionalism. If you haven’t seen Batman Beyond before, watch the show’s intro and tell me you’re not interested. Go on! I dare you! Moment of unprofessionalism over.*

This is the series that I watched as much as I could growing up. I mean, it’s Batman in the future. How is that not automatically the coolest thing ever? But having revisited it years later, I began to truly appreciate its complexity and maturity. The series showed audiences a very different kind of Batman, one new to the responsibilities and risks of crime fighting and the effects it can have on the people in someone’s life, as well as the person themselves. It was a bold show that took many creative risks, especially since it began airing at a time when competing Marvel animated series were becoming more light-hearted in contrast to their relative maturity throughout the 90s (see X-Men, the classic 1992 series). Batman Beyond’s stories stood out more than any other animated series airing at the time and even if not all of them were as memorable as others, they still demonstrated a tremendous amount of style.

Like its predecessor, Batman Beyond is mostly episodic, but at least watch the first season in order as there is an ongoing story in those episodes. They’re also all worth watching as well, though the show’s highlights for me are easy:

  • “Rebirth”: Featuring tragedy, obsession and gripping writing, these episodes not only give us great origins to the main cast of the series, but also introduce a fantastic new villain to the DC mythos.
  • “Dead Man’s Hand”: Many members of the series’ cast are teenagers and this episode perfectly captures the effects the Batman lifestyle has on Terry’s social life in a meaningful and heartfelt way. He meets ‘someone new’, but ends up getting a little more than he bargained for.
  • “The Call”: This two-parter is great because it features a very aged version of the Justice League, as Terry is inducted into its ranks. A true treat for DC fans.”

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Batman Beyond also features a punchy, atmospheric soundtrack that blends incredibly well into its setting and the series eventually spawned one of my favourite DC superhero films, The Return of the Joker, which as you would guess, features the return of the classic villain to haunt Bruce and Terry in 2039. It was the first Warner Brothers. Family Entertainment film to be rated PG-13 and had to heavily censored for its original TV broadcast, proving how DC could still find both critical and commercial success with mature, intelligent and stylised narratives.

Next week I’ll get to my favourite DC adaptations and touch on some of the live-action works like Superman Returns, Green Lantern and Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse…

Adapting the DC Universe: Part 1…

Note: beware of possible spoilers below…

I love superheroes. I love comic books. I love stories that take my favourite characters in brand new directions. But I really don’t like Dawn of Justice. I just can’t get behind it at all, even though the film is heavily inspired by two of my favourite graphic novels of all time, The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. The characters, in many cases, are poorly brought into the DC cinematic universe and to put it plainly, are not yet fully rounded individuals. Over the next three weeks I will be discussing adaptations of DC’s heroes, so to get the trash out of the way first, this first article will focus on the failures of Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in establishing the characters of this universe. Next week will focus on what I consider to be the best adaptation of a DC property, the animated, fan-favourite TV series Young Justice and why that was so critically successful. Finally, my third article will focus on the comic book storylines I’d like to see turned into live action films or series, somewhere down the line in DC’s cinematic history.

So it finally seems like the uproar left in the wake of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s release has finally begun to subside. I’ve no doubt even those living under rocks have heard at least taste of the appalling critical reception it got so let’s jump past that quickly. In my opinion, it’s a great film about Batman’s quest to destroy Superman, trapped inside the suffocated husk of another film designed solely to capitalise on existing IPs and rush DC’s cinematic universe to an inevitably even more incomprehensible Justice League. It’s an unfortunate 4 or 5/10 at most, though at least the soundtrack is beastly.

batman-v-superman-dual-character-poster

Anyway, perhaps the film’s greatest failing is its treatment of the DC ‘Trinity’, its three most iconic characters: Superman (Clark Kent), Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Wonder Woman (Diana Prince). It’s admirable that Snyder and the writing team have tried to take these characters in engaging new directions, but they’re attempting to walk in the footsteps of significantly superior writers like Frank Miller and Alan Moore, who have not only created beloved renditions of many comic book characters, but have also been able to subvert existing interpretations in exciting ways (see Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns for a prime example). From everything we’ve seen so far, Snyder and the people at Warner Bros. are simply not up to the task, especially at the accelerated rate they’re introducing new characters. They’ve failed to create a cast of fully rounded characters with believable personalities and motivations, and even have some that have zero purpose whatsoever.

Superman:

Let’s begin with the big one, the ‘Man of Steel’ himself, Superman. This version of Superman we have, especially in Dawn of Justice has a compelling debate in theory. The world is reeling from Superman’s wrecking of Metropolis in Man of Steel and Superman’s place on the Earth is being debated; is he a saviour or a bringer of doom. The best complements I can give to this idea is that Superman is fundamentally both. He is a being of godlike power, capable of saving it or destroying if he chooses. Humanity both reveres and is terrified by this being because he holds their lives in his hands.

Yet in response to the compelling nature of this debate, this Superman displays very little response, outside of a few key scenes. In many regards this version of Superman is unfit for his position, quick to anger and displaying very little mercy to anyone who crosses him. This Superman is different from his comic and pop culture variants, yet not in the good way. In every manner he deserves his negative reputation, and as pointed out by Bruce Wayne, he is a hypocrite, and an unequivocally dull one at that.

It almost all falls down to poor execution and presentation. A Superman that destroys the drone which is very understandably sent to track him, and that openly threatens to break the limbs of people who harm him is not a protector of the Earth and certainly not the leader of the Justice League, at least not any League that I remember. Even in the comics and other adaptations, though Superman is not always right, that doesn’t mean that without extreme justification he should resort to murder.  Snyder’s Superman is not only a Superman that is unlikable, but also a character that doesn’t (yet – I shall hold out hope) deserve the admiration he should based upon his glaring personality flaws. Also, this Superman will never have a tense moment again because some idiot decided to show him essentially resurrecting in the final seconds. Whoever thought that was a good idea wants sacking, right now if they haven’t been already.

Wonder Woman:

I’m interested to see the movie critics who were absolutely loving Wonder Woman were watching, because it certainly was not Dawn of Justice, where the Amazon warrior has about 5 minutes of screen time, if that, zero motivation and no purpose in the movie other than to attract an extra demographic.

I’m not displeased in the little bit of personality we see from her, easily the most uplifting of the three main heroes, yet what we’ve seen barely constitutes a character, especially not one I can get attached to yet. This is Wonder Woman we’ve never seen before, one already fully integrated into modern society, having spent the last hundred years among us and I’m interested in seeing the opinions she voices about normal humans, having lived among them instead of being divided by her heritage. Yet despite the promise her character shows, I simply haven’t seen enough of it to make a decent judgement call, which ultimately, is the fault of Batman v Superman being a franchise movie.

Batman

I’ll admit it, Batfleck turned out to be incredible and I couldn’t be more excited by the upcoming solo movie supposedly being written by Affleck and the great Geoff Johns. There are only really two things I will say about Batman that urk me about his presentation in this film, the first being his apparent willingness to not only use firearms but also to kill many of his foes outright without any attempt at a use of nonlethal force, and the second being his sudden change of attitude to Superman when he realises they have mothers with the same name.

The first point is ‘somewhat’ understandably glossed over for the most part, besides a single conversation with Alfred early on in the film. Bruce Wayne is understandably enraged and angry, seemingly frustrated with his inability to contend against Superman, and that for all his efforts to defeat crime in Gotham, not only in 20 years has he not been able to do so (even costing the possible death of Robin) but now he is nearly powerless to contend against threats from the stars. He has turned ‘cold’ as Alfred says in his age. The debate about the morality of Bruce Wayne’s more brutal tactics at this point is a large point of contention in The Dark Knight Returns, and would probably take up a very large amount of screen time in an already crowded and long film. All I can say for now is that it is hopefully covered in a future movie, for it definitely needs to be addressed.

The second point, about Batman’s sudden change of heart, is just sloppy writing and the less said about it, the better. Perhaps if Bruce had looked into Luther more, he might have seen he was being manipulated, but there’s nothing we can do about it now without pulling a Days of Future Past style retcon.

Dawn of Justice has many more issues to do with its writing alone, not to mention some of the other aspects, but there’s been enough negativity in one article by now so I’ll not mention them here. It’s a deeply flawed, yet important film that I urge everyone to go see at least once if they haven’t already. The potential to create an enthralling DC cinematic universe is still alive, at least if the first Justice League film turns out to be better. Adaptation that is both very accessible and yet satisfying for existing fans is extremely difficult, especially with a pantheon of characters like DC has, but next week we’ll look at an adaptation that has managed to pull off this gargantuan task marvellously.

Until then, prepare for Darkseid…

The Oscars 2016: Best Picture Roundup

Another year, another season of awards to grace us with their presence. In previous years I’ve never had the chance to check out so many of the nominees before, but this time I managed to see most of the films on display. Here’s my brief roundup of the nominees for Best Picture from this year’s Academy Awards, in alphabetical order…

*Unfortunately I never checked out Bridge of Spies, nor do I have much intention to in the future. It seems like a perfectly competant Spielberg film, but everything that went into promoting the film to me painted it as an incredibly by-the-numbers Cold War drama. It’s not that that can’t be a great thing, but Bridge of Spies never captured my attention enough to make me see it.*

BrooklynBrooklyn

Directed by: John Crowley

Crowley’s adaptation of the Colm Tóibín novel is definitely lovely, inspiring film about experiencing new ways of life and finding yourself. It’s soars thanks to solid, often charismatic performances from it’s leads, especially Saoirse Ronan and Julie Walters (a spinoff series starring Walter’s character is even being developed by the BBC). The film shines in establishing a mood and tone in its New York and Ireland settings, though unfortunately upon the return to Ireland part way through, all the life is sucked out of the picture and it becomes almost painfully dull and predictable for a good third of the run time. Though this choice was likely deliberate (if so it was handled remarkably), it ultimately soured my overall experience with Brooklyn and left me less than satisfied come its conclusion. As for the film’s chances of winning, I’d put them at slim to none.  Outside of Best British Film at the BAFTAs, Brooklyn hasn’t managed to pick many other prolific awards from the main circuit, despite a large number of nominations. The film is a great watch, especially for the performances, but outside of that I feel like it simply didn’t have much else to offer, especially in comparison to some of the other nominees.

Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max Fury Road

Director: George Miller

Though I expected Miller’s post apocalyptic death metal album cover to sweep the technical categories, a nomination for Best Picture was quite unexpected, considering the Academy’s usual focus on dramas. However, despite unexpected occurences, it’s undeniable that Fury Road is a marvel of filmaking craft, rivaled this year only by The Revenant. The film, which is essentially a single 2 hour chase scene, takes the concept of practical stuntwork to an appropriately insane degree, showcasing some of the most ridiculously entertaining action set pieces I’ve seen in recent years. Whether it’ll manage to actually bring home the award, I don’t know (the film has 10 nominations, meaning there’s the possibility of another sweep scenario like we saw with Return of the King in 2003), but as much as I enjoyed the film, in some regards it is very thin on the ground, singular in its own madness. It’s also definitely not Tom Hardy’s strongest performance this year. Yet in spite of all these things, when I watch Fury Road, all I have to say is “What a lovely day.”

RoomRoom

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

One of my favourite themes to explore in film and television is discovery. The Macross franchise is an excellent example of this and even the previously discussed Brooklyn presents a kind of cultural discovery, though few things have presented the theme as well as Room. Brie Larson is deservedly the favourite for Best Actress as Joy, the mother, and it’s a crime that Jacob Tremblay, hasn’t received more praise for what is, to me, the easy standout performance of the year as Jack, the boy whose spent the majority of his life within a small room, knowing nothing of the world outside except through what he sees on TV.  Room is an unusual film in that it climaxes about half-way through and then proceeds to explore the consequences of Jack and Joy’s experiences on them. It’s an expertly constructed narrative, simple yet deeply intimate, based around the perspective of a child learning about just how big the world really is for the first time. This is definitely my pick for the film that should win Best Picture, though it’s unfortunately stuck towards the middle of the pack when it comes to actual odds of victory. In any case, Room has easily become one of my favourite films in general, and probably my favoruite film of 2015.

SpotlightSpotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy

Focusing on the Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team as they uncover scandals of sex abuse from Catholic priests, McCarthy’s picture takes my pick as the most polished film among the nominees. Not only is it a winner in terms of strong performances across the board, paired with an engaging and wide reaching wide-reaching subject matter, but Spotlight is exceptional in the way in which it’s central issue is slowly escalated throughout the film. The build up to the investigative team’s reveal of what they uncovered is impeccably paced and sharply written, making Spotlight the standout of the numerous nominees based on real-life events. This is one of the top contenders for the Best Picture award, deservingly so. Described in one word, the film is enthralling and I happily wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it ended up taking the award on the night.

The Big ShortThe Big Short

Director: Adam McKay

You could argue that one of Adam McKay’s aims with The Big Short was to make an entertaining satirical comedy that also makes the complicated causes of the 2008 economic crash dramatically accesible. Outside of its constant use of economic jargon, there is quite a lot of on offer in the form of hilarious, yet gut wrenching entertainment. The main issue with the film is that it clearly takes many stylistic inspirations from Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street. It’s not that these inspirations are not well founded, but having multiple sections of the film where shoe-horned in celebrities attempt to explain shady economic practices to the viewer is distracting and ultimately hurts the picture. I’m also wondering how Christian Bale is the one getting nominated in an acting category, while Steve Carrell is not. As a dramatic actor, Carell has really come into his own following last year’s Foxcatcher, and has the easy highlight performance of The Big Short. Like Spotlight, the film is one of the ‘big’ frontrunners for Best Picture, especially after picking up the Producer’s Guild Award.

The MartianThe Martian

Director: Ridley Scott

This years big realist science-fiction film brings together a few of my favourite things: a stellar and visually striking outing from Ridley Scott, an array of great performances from an ensemble cast including the consistently excellent Jessica Chastain, along with a healthy dosage of space drama to round out the overall package. The Martian successfully hearkens back to simple, yet tense and engaging pictures like Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, never getting bogged down in it’s adherence to scientific accuracy, but embracing it with flying colours. Damon soars in his finest performance since The Departed as stranded astronaut  Mark Watney, possibly the finest performance of its kind since Sam Rockwell in 2009’s Moon. As it for it’s chances of winning, if the Academy’s track record is anything to go by, unfortunately The Martian probably won’t be able to nab the coveted statue, despite being victorious at the Golden Globes (strangely for Best Comedy or Musical), though it was not competing against the final nominee in those awards. Nevertheless The Martian is a standout work from Ridley Scott, his second best film of the 2000s behind Black Hawk Down.

The Revenantrevenant-leo

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Hot off the astounding critical success that was last year’s Birdman, Iñárritu delivers yet another tour de force of filmmaking craft, though in a much more divisive manner this time around. Much has been made of the arduous efforts from both cast and crew that it took to make the film (shooting only in natural light, the consumption of raw animal flesh etc.) and it certainly comes across on screen in a brutal, ravishing fashion. Yet for all its many marvelous technical achievements (especially the film’s phenomenal opening battle scene), the film disastrously fails when it comes to telling an engaging story. Leonardo DiCaprio (who really, really wants that trophy) gives a certainly determined run as Hugh Glass, the fur trapper left for dead and looking for vengeance against Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald, in an arguably far superior and more interesting role, but the film spends too much of it’s already lengthy run time making the audience watch Leo grunt and suffer his way through horrible situations, meanwhile simultaneously riffing drab and derivative flashback sequences straight from Gladiator. It seems all for nought in the end as well, as both lead actors are ultimately outdone in acting prowess by an angry, CGI bear. The Revenant starts exceptionally strong, but after the 30 minute mark never manages to recapture the magic from the opening moments that made it so engaging. The film is a remarkable piece of work don’t get me wrong and is sure to nab Iñárritu his second award for Best Director, but as for Best Picture, this will be the film I put my money on that will win the award, even if I think it doesn’t truly deserve it. As for Leo winning Best Actor or not, I’ll take it as a running gag right now, laughing wholeheartedly if he doesn’t win it, but at the same time, hopeful that if not now then soon he receives at least an honorary award for his overall body of work.

Who I want to win:  Room

Who I think should win:  Spotlight

Who I think will win:  The Revenant

 

My Favourite Soundtrack Songs

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

Despite film, television and games primarily being a visual medium, it can be suggested that music, in many instances it can be argued that music provides the greatest elements of a piece of entertainment. There have been movies I’ve re-watched just to hear there music again and even 70 hour + games I’ve bought and played through solely based on the name of a composer. Finding a good soundtrack that you love is hard, but finding one that you can constantly come back to again and again is a true sign  of musical genius on behalf of the creators.

Today I’d like to highlight ten tracks that resonate with me as some of my personal favourite pieces of music composed for films and games, with some honourable mentions thrown in for good measure. By the way, music is in my mind, a spoiler. If you haven’t seen or played any of the source materials that I’ve mentioned below, skip past the description. You have been warned! Now, let’s begin.

10. Naoki Sato – Hiten

Rurouni Kenshin (2012)

RK

We’re starting with a track from one of my favourite action films of the past decade. Serving as the main battle theme for Kenshin, the swift-striking swordsman, Hiten is played during his assault on drug lord Kanryu’s mansion. The lower parts of the track often use an electric guitar and woodwind instruments to raise tension and hype up Kenshin’s arrival on the scene, before exploding into powerful vocal choirs that punctuate Kenshin’s ironic rampage through the field of battle.  He beats down swordsman after swordsman, performing impossible feats of speed and agility, made legendary by Sato’s beautiful compositions.

9. Ennio Morricone – The Ecstasy of Gold

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

TGTBTU

I don’t even know how to describe The Ecstasy of Gold (maybe that’s why it took me so long to write this list). The closest phrase I could find to fit it would be “so stylish it’s magical” and you can quote me on that. Anything more I say wouldn’t do the track justice. Just go listen to it.

8. Hiroyuki Sawano – Hill of Sorrow

Guilty Crown (2011)

GC

Hiroyuki Sawano is an incredibly interesting composer. Since he arrived on the scene at the start of the decade he’s produced a number of OSTs with incredibly memorable tracks, including The Reluctant Heroes (Attack on Titan) and Don’t Lose Your Way (Kill la Kill) to name just a couple. His most memorable tracks incorporate a mix of rhythm based hard rock with lots of ‘Engrish’ lyrics that often become iconic as the main themes of the shows he works on. Though to me his greatest collection of works came in the soundtrack of Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Sawano’s peak for his most iconic type of song came in Hill of Sorrow, one of the main themes for Guilty Crown. The show itself might have been garbage at best, but it at least we’ll always have this song.

7. Nobuo Uematsu (and others) – Advent: One Winged Angel

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)

FF7AC

One-Winged Angel was already one of the most iconic boss themes in gaming history, but the remade version featured in FFVII‘s vastly unappreciated movie sequel, Advent Children is grander and more intense than the original. The Advent version amplifies the sounds of of the choir and orchestra, while adding electric guitars and powerful drums into the mix, bringing undeniable weight and presence to every moment main antagonist Sephiroth occupies the screen. Also with the release of this version came yet more ways to interpret the lyrics. My favourite is:

“Estaban – he’s my niece
He’s a bear – has big feet Sephiroth!”

6. Jamie Christopherson – Metal Gear Rising Revengeance: Vocal Tracks

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance (2013)

MGR

I know this list was initially meant to be for individual tracks, but I couldn’t single out any particular track that stands enough above the rest, so I just slapped the whole vocal album down. Like the game itself, MGR‘s vocal tracks just ooze metallic, uninhibited awesomeness that grabs you by the throat, proceeds to slice it into a thousand tiny pieces before ripping the cybernetic heart out of your chest and coolly walking away from your exploding corpse. Between The War Rages On, Stranger I RemainIt Has to Be This Way and the electric The Only Thing I Know For Real, every track is a highlight, like the spectacular boss fight that comes along with it. Rules of Nature is a common favourite, but I feel the entire album deserves its mention.

5. John Powell – Test Drive

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

HTTYD

How to Train Your Dragon came as one of the best surprises I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I was already having a good time before Hiccup and Toothless took to the air for the first time, but when I saw it and when I heard this track (dat crescendo!!) I immediately fell in love with it. The final 40 seconds of this track send shivers up my arms whenever I hear it. I haven’t found another film that’s done it as well since.

4. Steve Jablonsky – Scorponok

Transformers (2007)

T

Say what you will about Michael Bay’s Transformers series, but it’s undeniable that they sound fantastic. Scorponok is easily the best track composed for the films by Jablonsky, punctuating the intense battle between Josh Duhamel’s army unit and the titular burrowing Decepticon. Nearly relentless with it’s tension building in the first half, Scorponok evolves to incorporate a sweeping full orchestra to act as the perfect backdrop to an exciting action sequence.

3. The Pillows – Ride on Shooting Star

FLCL (2000)

FLCL

Though its technically the theme for ending of FLCL, this song still deserves this spot or above on any music based list. Composed and performed by hard rock band ‘The Pillows’, Ride on Shooting Star‘s beat and riff parallel the outlandish ridiculous of FLCL perfectly, also serving as a relaxing cap for any given episode. It’s catchy, witty, cathartic and most importantly, an unforgettable song from an unforgettable show.

2. Takeharu Ishimoto – Price of Freedom

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2007)

FF7CC

When I first played Crisis Core several years ago, I got to the ending and thought: “Hey, Zack Fair seems like a pretty powerful character and he survived the disaster at Nibelheim, whatever happened to him?”, then The Price of Freedom began playing while I (playing as Zack) attempted to fight off an endless onslaught of Shinra warriors. That’s what so tragic about Crisis Core and its OST, it’s a medley of Zack’s quest to become a hero, only to end at his final act, passing his will onto Cloud. I was deliberating between this track and Under the Apple Tree, but ultimately the tears I shed upon a play of The Price of Freedom made me lean more toward it. It’s one of the most emotional pieces of music I’ve ever heard, just behind the number 1 spot…

Honourable Mentions:

Bear McCreary – Kara’s Cordinates

Hans Zimmer – Ideal of Hope

Hiroyuki Sawano – Banshee

Nobuo Uematsu – Tina/Terra

Howard Shore – In Dreams

Harry Gregson Williams – “METAL GEAR SOLID” Main Theme (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater Version)

1. Nobuo Uematsu – Cosmo Canyon/Valley of the Fallen Star

Final Fantasy VII (1998) and Piano Collections: Final Fantasy VII (2003)

FF7PC

I know I’ve practically been gushing over FFVII‘s music on this list, but it’s my list and my honest opinion. The thing I loved most about the game’s soundtrack is that every aspect of the game, whether it be a location, a character or a system, had a unique, easily identifiable musical theme to accompany it. Masterpieces like the Main Theme, Ahead on Our Way, Those Who Fight, Tifa’s Theme and the previously mentioned One Winged Angel are all tracks that will stay with me forever, but the version of Cosmo Canyon found in the FFVII Piano Collections CD is something entirely in a league of its own. Uematsu, a king of his craft, reduces the Native American influences that were found in the original track and simply uses the core melody to a haunting effect.

‘Cosmo Canyon’, the home of feline companion Red XIII, houses a touching story of personal and familial loss. It’s a place where the characters are constantly looking upwards towards the sky, wandering about what they have done so far and what will happen before their journey is over.