Tag Archives: superheroes

For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Graphic Story

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 10, 2013. Members (as of January 31, 2013) of Chicon 7, LoneStarCon 3, or Loncon 3 are eligible to nominate.

One of the troubles with the Graphic Story category is that much of what’s published is in a highly serialized form, with storylines sometimes extending over more than a year. Publishers typically gather six to ten issues into trade editions, and these are what get nominated. But in reality, these volumes often don’t represent entire, self-contained stories.

In my opinion, the graphic story category remains the strongest overall category on the Hugo ballot. Choosing five nominees is an almost impossible task because there are so many good choices to pick from. Yet, the Hugo voters consistently nominate the same fanish works year after year. Come on, folks, there is more than Girl Genius and Schlock Mercenary. Much more.

The comics world is producing more top-notch work than in any other Hugo category, yet only seven works made the 5% cutoff last year (nine, if you count two works with 4.94% each). The number of graphic stories that are published is staggering, so I challenge the Hugo voters to think carefully about your choices and to not just fill in your ballots with last year’s nominees because you can’t think of anything else. Don’t be afraid to nominate superhero stories; these are some of the most exciting and relevant science fiction tales being published.

For your consideration:

  • The Abominable Charles Christopher, Karl Kerschl (http://karlkerschl.com)AdventureTime_v1
  • Adventure Time, Vol. 1, Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Branden Lamb (BOOM! Studios)
  • American Vampire, Vol. 4, Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Vertigo)
  • Aquaman, Vol. 1, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado (DC)
  • Batman: Earth One, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank (DC)batman-court-of-owls
  • Batman: The Court of Owls, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo (DC)
  • The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City, Jared Axelrod, Steve Walker (Tor)
  • Battlepug, Mike Norton (http://www.battlepug.com)
  • Batwoman, Vol. 1, J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman (DC)
  • Chew, Vol. 6: Space Cakes, John Layman, Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Cinderella: Fables are Forever, Chris Roberson, Shawn McManus (Vertigo)
  • Daredevil, Vol. 1, Mark Waid, Chris Samnee (Marvel)dial-h
  • Dial H, Vol. 1: Into You, China Miéville, Mateus Santolouco (DC)
  • Earth 2, Vol. 1, James Robinson, Nicola Scott (DC)
  • Fables, Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind, Bill Willingham, et al (Vertigo)
  • Frankenstein Alive, Alive!, Steve Niles, Bernie Wrightson (IDW)
  • Grandville Bete Noir, Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
  • Hawkeye, Vol. 1, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido (Marvel)irredeemable
  • Irredeemable, Vol. 10, Mark Waid, Diego Barreto (BOOM! Studios)
  • iZombie, Vol. 4: Repossessed, Chris Roberson, Mike Allred (DC)
  • Justice League, Vol. 1, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee (DC)
  • Lobster Johnson Vol. 2: The Burning Hand, Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Scott Allie, Tonci Zonjic (Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key: Clockworks, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)manhattan-projects
  • The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitavro (Image)
  • Mind MGMT, Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)20thCenturyBoys22
  • Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Vol. 22, Naoki Urasawa (VIZ Media)
  • The New Deadwardians, Dan Abnett, I.N.J. Culbard (Vertigo)
  • Peter Panzerfaust, Vol. 1: The Great Escape, Kurtis Wiebe, Tyler Jenkins (Image)
  • Prophet, Vol. 1: Remission, SImon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milogiannis, Brandon Graham (Image)
  • Punk Rock Jesus, Sean Murphy (Vertigo)saga
  • Saga, Vol. 1, Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples (Image)
  • Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson, Mark Siegel (First Second)
  • Saucer Country, Vol. 1: Run, Paul Cornell, Ryan Kelly (Vertigo)
  • The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, Vol. 1, Tradd Moore, Justin Jordan (Image)
  • Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2, J. Michael Straczynski, Shane Davis (DC)
  • The Underwater Welder, Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf)the-unwritten-6
  • The Unwritten, Volume 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, Mike Carey, Peter Gross (Vertigo)
  • The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Allard (Image)
  • Wonder Woman, Vol. 1, Brian Azzarello, Tony Akins (DC)wrinkle-in-time-graphic-novel
  • A Wrinkle in Time, adapted by Hope Larson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 10, 2013. Members (as of January 31, 2013) of Chicon 7, LoneStarCon 3, or Loncon 3 are eligible to nominate.

The dividing line between Dramatic Presentation, Short Form and Dramatic Presentation, Long Form is 90 minutes running time, but may be adjusted slightly one way or another if a majority of nominators place a borderline work in the other category. A multi-part production can be nominated in the Long Form category.

There is an overwhelming chance that Game of Thrones, Season 2 will be nominated, just as Season 1 was last year (my advice is to not waste your nomination votes for individual episodes of Game of Thrones in the Short Form category, as they will be disqualified). Beyond that, it seems to me that the field is pretty much wide open. I think The Avengers, Looper, The Hunger Games, The Cabin in the Woods, and The Hobbit are the most likely to be nominated. But there are a number of other worthy works.

For your consideration:

  • The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony Pictures
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fox Searchlight Picturesbrave
  • Brave, Pixar Animation Studios
  • The Cabin in the Woods, Lionsgate
  • Chronicle, Twentieth Century Fox
  • Cloud Atlas, Warner Bros. Pictures
  • The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros. Picturesfrankenweenie-poster
  • Frankenweenie, Walt Disney Studios
  • Game of Thrones, Season 2, HBO
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, New Line Cinema
  • Hotel Transylvania, Sony Pictures Animation
  • The Hunger Games, Lionsgateiron_sky
  • Iron Sky, Entertainment One
  • John Carter, Walt Disney Pictures
  • Life of Pi, Twentieth Century Foxlooper
  • Looper, TriStar Pictures
  • Marvel’s The Avengers, Marvel Studios
  • Men in Black 3, Columbia Pictures
  • ParaNorman, LAIKA/Focus Features
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures Animation
  • Prometheus, Twentieth Century Fox
  • The Rabbi’s Cat, GKIDS
  • Rise of the Guardians, DreamWorks Animationrobotandfrank
  • Robot & Frank, Samuel Goldwyn Films
  • Ruby Sparks, Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Safety Not Guaranteed, FilmDistrict
  • The Secret World of Arrietty, Studio Ghibli
  • Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Focus Features
  • Skyfall, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
  • Snow White and the Huntsman, Universal Pictures
  • Ted, Universal Pictures
  • The Woman in Black, CBS Films
  • Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Animation Studios

Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman

Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This volume contains four mini-series tie-ins to the Flashpoint event wherein Wonder Woman and Aquaman wage genocidal warfare across Europe in a skewed alternate universe.

The first sequence, Batman: Knight of Vengeance, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, is one of the best Batman stories I’ve read, deserving 5 stars. In this alternate universe, Joe Chill killed young Bruce Wayne, leaving his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, grieving parents. Thomas turned his anger into becoming the Batman. By day, Thomas Wayne runs casinos with the help of his business partner Oswald Cobblepot (in the normal universe, AKA Penguin). By night he rids Gotham City of vile menaces like Hush, Scarecrow, Ivy, and Killer Croc with extreme prejudice. When Judge Harvey Dent’s children are kidnapped by the Joker, Batman must face his greatest nemesis in a way we’ve never seen. This Joker has an origin that is utterly terrifying and completely consistent with this alternate reality. The artwork by Risso beautifully captures the dark insanity of Thomas Wayne’s world.

The second sequence, Deadman and the Flying Graysons, by J. T. Krul and a battery of artists, depicts a circus traveling through war-ravaged Europe, trying to evade the insane conflict all around them. Trapeze artists Boston Brand (AKA Deadman) and the Flying Graysons, featuring young daredevil Dick Grayson (known as Robin in the normal universe), become involved with the Resistance in a deadly way. A mystical artifact must be protected from Wonder Woman’s Amazonian army, which ultimately leads to transformations by Brand and Grayson. Unfortunately, the story ends before we see the full ramifications of these transformations. I give this 3 stars.

The third sequence, Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager, by Jimmy Palmiotti and a slew of artists, tells the story of the pirate Deathstroke who takes advantage of the chaos of war to plunder the high seas for his own gain. When rival pirate Warlord kidnaps his daughter, Deathstroke must face insurmountable odds to try to rescue her. Along the way they cross paths with Aquaman and his ally Ocean Master with disastrous results. This is a fast-paced adventure that really doesn’t have much to do with the main Flashpoint storyline, but is interesting for its depictions of familiar DC characters in unusual circumstances. This deserves about 3-1/2 stars.

The fourth sequence, Secret Seven, by Peter Milligan and a variety of artists, delves into the magical world of Shade the Changing Man and his one-time allies Black Orchid, Amethyst, Abra Kadabra, Raven, Zatanna, and Mindwarp as Shade tries to bring them together to help Cyborg end the metahuman war while trying to evade Sagan Maximus’s attempts to neutralize him and Enchantress’s attempts to kill him. In the end, though, the story is mostly a confusing mess that has no real conclusion. This is the weakest sequence in this compilation, earning no more than 2 stars.

The problem with most of these sequences is that they were only three-issue mini-series. I get the impression that they were originally intended to be much longer, perhaps six issues each, because in almost every case the story ends abruptly and often with the protagonists experiencing turning points that cry out for resolution. Overall, this anthology is well worth checking out for the Batman story, but the remainder is very inconsistent in quality.

WonderCon 2012, Part 1

Overview

WonderCon 2012 was held at the Anaheim Convention Center, across from Disneyland, on March 16-18. Billed as a one-time venue change from its usual home in San Francisco, the convention was a huge success, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Comic-Con organizers or another group puts on more Anaheim conventions in the future. I estimated that there were probably around 8000 to 10000 attendees at WonderCon, much fewer than Comic-Con, yet large enough to warrant plenty of good programming and a large exhibition hall. There were really never any lines and only a few presentations were “sold out.” The main ballroom was probably about the size of Comic-Con’s Ballroom 20, and there was another very large room for other popular presentations. There were a good number of smaller rooms for everything else. The exhibition space was always bustling, but never overly crowded. The convention center was also hosting a girls’ volleyball tournament, so there is plenty of room to grow if this or another similar convention comes to Anaheim in the future. About the only minor glitch to the weekend was that it rained most of the time, but since I was inside the whole time, it didn’t really affect anything. Parking was also a bit of a nuisance, but there was plenty of parking across the street at Disneyland, and there was also remote parking with a shuttle bus.

Comic Books

IDW Panel, with Mark Waid as the Rocketeer.

WonderCon had a greater emphasis on comic books than Comic-Con. The Small Press and Artists’ Alley areas were quite large, at least in comparison to the Dealers’ area of the exhibition hall. There were a number of presentations by the big publishers. I was most excited about some of IDW’s upcoming titles. In addition to the well received Rocketeer anthology series, they announced that Mark Waid would be writing a new Rocketeer mini-series, and the preliminary artwork for that series looked great.

Speaking of Mark Waid, he announced major plans to start a digital comics publishing endeavor. He is actually selling off his entire, large collection of printed comics to finance this digital start-up venture.

Doctor Who/Star Trek: The Next Generation Crossover from IDW, featuring a team up of the Borg and the Cybermen.

I had more of a chance to wander through the Small Press area than I usually do at Comic-Con. I like to pick up what look like promising books. Usually, small press books aren’t very good, but I did find a couple of titles that were interesting. Vigilante Project: The Guitar Hero by Chris Dickens, Chris Campana, and Nik Poliwko caught my eye as a pretty well written book that explores how a hero might actually act in the real world. The protagonist might win his fights, but he will look like a bloody mess afterwards. Another small press book that I liked was The Dinosaurs Are Dead: The Truth Behind the Extinction by Stephen Linquist, Travis Linquist, and Miguel Cervantes. From the outside this looks like a children’s book, but it is definitely not. It is a graphically violent look at the zombie infestation that killed the dinosaurs.

Justice League: Doom

Justice League: Doom (2012)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, based on “Tower of Babel” by Mark Waid; directed by Lauren Montgomery

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Snapshot: An exciting adventure reuniting most of the creative talent from the Justice League animated TV series that is almost derailed by major plot holes at the end.

Major spoilers ahead!

The story opens with Batman (Kevin Conroy), Superman (Tim Daly), Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion) Martian Manhunter (Carl Lumbly), and the Flash (Michael Rosenbaum) thwarting a jewel heist by a gang of thieves who seem to have a little more high-tech than expected. It turns out that they were supplied by the immortal Vandal Savage (Phil Morris) as part of his plot to destroy the Justice League and take over the world.

It turns out Savage is focused on the big picture. Little things like Batman’s secret identity don’t interest him (and anyway, he already knows it). Savage uses his “Legion of Doom” to discover and carry out the Dark Knight’s “contingency plans” for stopping any rogue Justice League member. This leads to a second act filled with nonstop action and suspense as the Justice Leaguers are knocked off, one by one by their rivals: Bane (Carlos Alazraqui), Cheetah (Claudia Black), Metallo (Paul Blackthorne), Star Sapphire (Olivia d’Abo), Mirror Master (Alexis Denisof), and Ma’alefa’ak (Carl Lumbly).

The third act is also filled with exciting action as the League regroups and fights to stave off Savage’s ultimate end game: the literal destruction of half the world’s population along with all technology utilizing electricity so that he can become the undisputed ruler of what’s left. Here’s where, for me, the plot goes off the rails. I realize that movies like this have to up the ante, especially with superheroes as powerful as the Justice League, but really, what kind of crazy does a super-villain have to be to think that ruling a decimated Earth would be any way fulfilling?

And the way Savage plans to wreak this havoc is mind-boggling, even for a comic book story. OK, he demonstrated that he has super-advanced technology earlier in the story, so I can kind of give it a pass that he can launch a rocket from the Earth that will crash into the Sun causing massive solar flares that will destroy anything in their path. But come one, it’s the fracking Sun! There’s nothing manmade that could possibly cause the Sun to explode this way.

If this were the only plot hole, I could forgive it. But the bigger plot hole is that the rocket takes only about a minute to reach the Sun. Even at the speed of light, it would take eight minutes, a fact that they repeat several times in relation to how long it will take the solar flares to reach Earth. A rocket would take months, if not years (it took the MESSENGER probe almost four years to arrive at Mercury) to reach the Sun. This could have been easily explained away in the movie if Savage had simply stated that he launched the rocket months ago in preparation. The climax could still have been as exciting, with the heroes attempting to activate the rocket’s fail-safe rather than attempting to cancel its launch.

Nevertheless, Justice League: Doom is well worth seeing. The chemistry between the returning voice actors is fun, as the they have grown into their roles over the years. Bumper Robinson as Cyborg is a welcome addition to the ensemble, and I hope we get to see more of him in future installments. (This movie just reinforces my desire to see a resurrected Justice League TV series.) There are many nice character interactions between the heroes and their villainous counterparts, as well as some pointed humor between Batman and Alfred (“You’re dripping blood on my clean floor.”) There is also some wonderful poignancy in the second act when it looks like our heroes are done for, especially when Green Lantern thinks he’s killed a civilian and momentarily loses his nerve.

Justice League: Doom is an exciting yet bittersweet end to Dwayne McDuffie’s prolific career as a writer for the DC animated universe (he died unexpectedly a year ago). I wish that the live-action movies were even close to the quality of the animated movies.

Before Watchmen

Yesterday’s announcement from DC that they are going to reboot the Watchmen franchise with a series of prequels was met with the predictable outcries from fans. Alan Moore is understandably upset because as far as he is concerned, Watchmen was a self-contained story with a definite beginning and a definite end. What possible minutiae could any writer bring to this world that would expand our enjoyment or understanding of the characters and message Moore created?

As has been pointed out, this new project will span 35 individual issues in seven different series (eight, if you count the Crimson Corsair backup feature that will eventually be collected separately), which is almost three times longer than the original Watchmen maxi-series in 1986. Is there really that much more to tell about these characters? I guess the same thing could be asked about any comic book character–how many times can Batman fight the Joker, after all, and remain fresh and interesting? Probably my biggest concern about the scope of Before Watchmen is whether I will have to buy all the issues to understand what’s going on. At today’s cover prices, it will cost almost $150 for the entire collection. Even if I wait for the trade collection(s), I’m sure it will cost a tidy sum.

I’m not worried that Before Watchmen will confuse readers. The original Watchmen will always be there and anything else can be cheerfully ignored, if so desired.

Original artist Dave Gibbons has given a fairly tepid endorsement of the new project, and has declined to participate. Len Wein, the editor on Watchmen, is eagerly participating, and original colorist John Higgins is also participating.

Alan Moore’s reaction is somewhat puzzling. I understand his disdain for other people using what he considers his work, but the fact is he does not own the Watchmen characters. In fact, the Watchmen characters are themselves thinly disguised versions of Charlton characters that DC had recently acquired in the 1980s. Moore had begun work on Watchmen with those characters, and only when DC found out how he was going to use some of them did they balk and make him revamp them. DC simply wanted the option to use the Charlton characters in other stories. Moreover, Moore has made quite a career out of mangling established public domain characters (and thinly disguised copyrighted characters) in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls. Oh, I’m sure J.M. Barrie, L. Frank Baum, and Lewis Carroll  would just love the way their characters are treated in Lost Girls!

One of the gripes Moore and others have made is that these are 25-year-old characters and well, couldn’t top-tier talent be used to create new characters for our times? Of course, Superman and Batman are 75 years old and that doesn’t stop anyone from updating them for today’s audiences. Part of the appeal of iconic characters is that  different creators can use them in a variety of ways and yet still be recognizable and relevant. In fact, Alan Moore has done this himself: taking Len Wein and Berni Wrightson’s Swamp Thing to a whole new level of significance.

I think the most powerful argument in favor of Before Watchmen was made by writer J. Michael Straczynski. You can read his interview about his plans for Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl here.

In the comic book world, no character ever stays dead and no story ever ends. I’ll take a wait and see approach to the final product. But given the A-List talent associated with Before Watchmen, I expect we will see some truly worthwhile stories, even if they don’t match up to the undisputed greatness of Watchmen.

The Upcoming Year in Movies

2012 looks to be an amazing year for science fiction and animated movies. What will be the hits? Here are some of my predictions, but I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises in store.

January

Fullmetal Alchemist : The Sacred Star of Milos – This feature-length sequel to the hit anime series looks like it will take place somewhere in the middle of the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood storyline. The release is limited, but hopefully it will come to a theater near you. Click here for U.S. theater/Canadian theater listings in your area.

February

Chronicle – The movie dead zone of February starts with this story of high school students who gain superpowers. Go watch reruns of Heroes instead.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – The February movie wasteland continues with an inane adaptation that would make Jules Verne weep.

Star Wars Episode I — The Phantom Menace 3-D – will George Lucas ever stop tinkering with his movies? And nothing could add dimension to the flat characters of Episode I.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – a sequel nobody but Nicolas Cage demanded.

The Secret World of Arrietty – from Studio Ghibli, an adaptation co-written by Hayao Miyazaki (but, alas, not directed by him) of The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The trailer looks great; let’s hope the movie is, too.

Dr. Suess’ The Lorax – finally, an animated adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book that looks like it will be true to its source and actually be funny.

March

John Carter – a live action adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars series by writer/director Andrew Stanton (WALL·E, Finding Nemo) starring a bunch of unknowns. With a screenplay co-written by Michael Chabon, I have high hopes that Stanton will bring his animation magic to this project, just as Brad Bird did with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Mirror Mirror – the first of two retellings of the Snow White fairy tale, this one staring Julia Roberts and Sean Bean.

The Hunger Games – will this be a juggernaut franchise like Harry Potter or a flop like The Golden Compass? A lot is riding on this film, and all signs point to it coming through.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Peter Lord (Chicken Run) of Aardman Animations seemingly can do no wrong, and the trailer is hilarious. I have high expectations for this animated film.

Wrath of the Titans – Another underwhelming special-effects laden quest of Perseus doing the gods’ bidding.

April

Iron Sky – You had me at “Nazi lunar base.” This indie will premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in April. Let’s hope it makes it to the U.S. soon thereafter.

Extracted – Sasha Roiz (Caprica, Warehouse 13, Grimm) stars as a brilliant engineer who invents a device that enables him to enter another’s mind. While testing it on a convict, he gets trapped and must race the clock to find a way out. Debuting at the Austin South by Southwest Festival, this indie could be one to watch for.

May

The Avengers – Joss Whedon’s take on the iconic Marvel team is the dream movie for comic book fans. I’m not a big fan of Whedon, and my concern is that he won’t be able to corral the egos of his large cast of stars, and the film will veer off into incomprehensibility. Nevertheless, this movie should deliver blockbuster numbers, no matter how good or bad it is.

Dark Shadows – Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up once again to revive the 1960’s soap opera about Barnabas Collins and his wacky household of vampires and ghouls. I expect campy fun.

Men in Black 3 – another sequel nobody clamored for, but Will Smith will put butts in seats.

Dorothy of OZ – I saw a preview of this animated musical at San Diego Comic-Con last year, and it looked HORR! I! BLE! Why or why can’t someone just make a successful, straight adaptation of the marvelous source material?

Battleship – very loosely based on the popular board game (coming soon: Candy Land, I kid you not), the trailer is just a mess and a half—lots of explosions and women in bikinis. And it will make a ton of money.

June

Snow White and the Huntsman – the second Snow White adaptation; this one a bit edgier than the first.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – I have to admit that the first two in the series were lighthearted fun, and I don’t expect them to deviate from the formula.

Prometheus – Ridley Scott’s triumphant return to science fiction as co-written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, this will either be astounding or a big, fat mess. No one seems to know whether this is a prequel to Alien or whether it morphed into something else during filming, but the trailer definitely makes me want to see it.

Jack the Giant Killer – another fairy tale retold, this time “Jack and the Beanstalk” as directed by Bryan Singer.

Brave – Pixar’s big release of 2012, their first starring a female protagonist. The trailer looks amazing, and I expect this will be the animated feature to beat at next year’s Oscars.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – cheesy fun from producer Tim Burton.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation – stars Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson should ensure this will be better than the first G.I. Joe movie, but director Jon M. Chu’s background is from the music and dance world (most notably, the Step Up franchise), so it’s hard to imagine it will be much better.

July

The Amazing Spider-Man – July will be the battle of the titans: Spider-Man vs. Batman. This reboot of Spider-Man will hopefully reinvigorate the franchise, but I think it will be overshadowed by…

The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan’s final entry into the dark world of Batman. Will Nolan be able to pull off a tour de force without a force of nature like Heath Ledger? Most likely it will be an emphatic “yes.” Here is a clever mash-up trailer for the film using footage from Batman: The Animated Series:

Ice Age: Continental Drift – at least we get to laugh at Scrat try to rescue his acorn, regardless of the other dreck that may be in the movie.

August

Total Recall – this new Total Recall will supposedly stick close to the original Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” it’s based on.

ParaNorman – this animated fantasy/horror/comedy from the makers of Coraline could be a sleeper hit.

September

Hotel Transylvania – Director Genndy Tartakovsky (The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack) animates Adam Sandler as Dracula in this Sony Pictures Animation presentation.

Dredd – Karl Urban stars in a new take on the ultra-violent British comic book. Without Sylvester Stallone to muck it up, it might actually turn out ok. Lena Headey co-stars.

October

Frankenweenie – Tim Burton’s feature-length stop-motion remake of his infamous 1984 short. Will audiences flock to see a black-and-white animated film in 2012? The hip ones will.

November

Wreck-It Ralph – Disney Animation’s big film for 2012 features the voices of John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer in something to do with video game characters coming to life.

Rise of the Guardians – Dreamworks Animation brings together the voice talents of Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Chris Pine, and Alec Baldwin in a story that has Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost banding together to fight the Bogeyman.

December

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – the one every fanboy has been waiting for—Peter Jackson’s long delayed adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved children’s book. My only question is whether it will remain true to its source material or whether it will be Lord of the Rings, Part 4. Either way, it should be awesome.

World War Z – based on Max Brooks’ tongue-in-cheek zombie book, this adaptation co-written by J. Michael Straczynski and staring Brad Pitt could be a surprise hit.

Unscheduled

Robot and Frank – A well-reviewed entry at the Sundance Film Festival starring Frank Langella as a burglar who teams up with a robot to commit his crimes. Co-starring James Marsden, Liv Tyler, and Susan Sarandon.

Upside Down – A man searches an alternate universe for a long-lost love from his youth. Stars Kirsten Dunst.

The Prodigies – Warner Bros. Pictures is planning to distribute this French animated superhero movie from 2011 sometime this year; my guess in limited release.

The New 52: First Casualties

DC announced today that they are canceling six titles of their New 52 launched last September. Gone are Blackhawks, Hawk and Dove, Men of War, Mister Terrific, O.M.A.C. and Static Shock. All will end with Issue #8. I don’t think any of these are a surprise, based on sales figures, but it’s still disappointing that DC didn’t give them a bit more time to develop followings. In my case, I don’t read monthly comics and was waiting for the collected trade editions. I enjoyed the first issues of Mister Terrific and Men of War and was looking forward to reading more of Mister Terrific. Men of War was a quality book, but just not my cup of tea. O.M.A.C. had gotten a fair bit of critical acclaim, but I found it too cartoony and too much like the Hulk for my tastes.

The six books will be replaced by six new titles beginning in May, including World’s Finest by Paul Levitz and George Perez and Kevin Maguire; Dial H by China Miéville and Mateus Santoluoco; G.I. Combat, an anthology title; The Ravagers by Howard Mackie and Ian Churchill; Earth 2 by James Robinson and Nicola Scott; and the return of Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham.

World’s Finest will star Earth-2’s Power Girl and The Huntress, and Earth 2 will feature the Justice Society as they collide “with other worlds.” It sounds like DC is opening the door to recreating the multiverse that existed before Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The Ravagers is a Superboy and Teen Titans spinoff which will also incorporate elements from Legion Lost.

G.I. Combat will feature “The War that Time Forgot” by writer J.T. Krul and artist Ariel Olivetti, “The Unknown Soldier” by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with artist Dan Panosian, and “The Haunted Tank” by writer John Arcudi and artist Scott Kolins. No mention if Sgt. Rock from Men of War will have a place in the new book, but it sounds like they are going to emphasize more fantastic war stories than the straight-up stories in Men of War.

The title I’m most excited about is Dial H. China Miéville is one of my favorite science fiction writers, with an amazing imagination and literate sensibility. He is a huge DC fan, and I can imagine that he will be able to produce something very special. Another positive note is that the editor on this book will be Karen Berger, Vertigo’s senior vice president and executive editor. This book should nicely complement Animal Man and Swamp Thing. If anything can get me to buy monthly comics again, this will be it.

DC did not announce the page count or pricing on the new books, although it’s certain that G.I. Combat will be an oversized, $3.99 title.

The New 52: Summary

My overall rating for the New 52: 4 of 5 stars

I think DC’s relaunch was largely successful. Their sales numbers certainly reflect a large influx of new readers, with Month 3 of the reboot still beating Marvel’s sales numbers. I haven’t read individual monthly comics in many years and I was enticed to try all 52 titles. I don’t see myself reading any of them consistently on an ongoing basis—it took me 6-7 weeks to read 52 issues, about 1200 pages, and I don’t have that kind of time to read comics on a regular basis—but I can easily see getting several of these when the trade compilations come out. Moreover, modern comic book writing relies heavily on long story arcs that are often best read in chunks.

I applaud DC for realizing that comic books are a medium, not a genre. Although heavily dominated by superheroes, this new line-up includes supernatural, horror, mystery, science fiction, western, and war stories. I hope that these find eager audiences willing to take a chance on something different.

There were a surprising number of variations on covert paramilitary operations. Men of War, Blackhawks, Suicide Squad, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Stormwatch, and perhaps to a lesser extent Birds of Prey, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Justice League Dark, and maybe even one or two others, were formatted almost identically except for the milieu they were in. After a while it became hard to differentiate them all.

It is obvious that DC is catering to an older audience, with lots of gore and sexual titillation throughout the line, not to mention the $2.99 cover price precluding unemployed kids from buying too many. DC is also trying to have their cake and eat it, too, by relying heavily on established continuity to assuage the wrath of long-time fans, yet claiming to be wiping the slate clean for brand new readers. I would rather have 52 really well told stories, even if it means setting aside years of continuity, than try to artificially shoehorn often-contradictory backstories into every title.

DC is also to be lauded for including so many female characters in lead roles. I don’t think Marvel has any solo-character books starring females. DC has Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, (half of) Hawk and Dove, Supergirl, Voodoo, and Wonder Woman. Now, let’s see more female writers and artists to create these stories!

Some people have complained about the perceived sexism in titles like Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, and there is certainly a strong case to be made for those criticisms. (Yet, at the same time, there was little or no outcry towards something like I, Vampire’s nearly naked cover art.) What I found most troublesome about some of these titles was the incomprehensible storytelling. These, and many of the other 52, seemed more like Issues #12, or even #50, than #1.

I had fun with the “Where’s Waldo?” hunt for the mysterious hooded figure from Flashpoint #5. There were a few books that took me several tries to find her. Did anyone else note her freakishly long fingers in her appearance in Resurrection Man?

I thought most of the books were good to very good. What were my favorites? All Star Western, Animal Man, Batwoman, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Justice League, Mister Terrific, and Superboy, with guilty pleasures Captain Atom and Red Lanterns. A number of others have the potential to become favorites, depending on how well they continue—for example, Action Comics, Batman, Batman and Robin, Demon Knights, and Wonder Woman. I suspect there will be other breakout hits as they settle into their strides—and certainly some of what looks good initially will falter along the way.

There were some real duds, though: Aquaman, Green ArrowRed Hood and the Outlaws, and The Savage Hawkman, coming to mind. But I wouldn’t count these out, either, as time may show improvement.

I’m sure we can expect to see a mega-crossover event next summer as sales begin to flag, to recharge interest, reveal the hooded figure’s identity and purpose, and make some final calibrations on the characters in the new DC universe.

I look forward to enjoying many more tales from the creative folks at DC.

The New 52: Batwing, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman, and Detective Comics

The final four titles in the Batman group of DC’s New 52:

Batwing

Trying to bring some racial diversity to the mix, DC is promoting Batwing from its obscure beginnings earlier in 2011 as part of the Batman Incorporated storyline to its own book. Batwing is billed as Africa’s Batman. That’s like saying Batman is North America’s Batman. Africa is not a country! Actually reading the story, we find that Batwing is David Zavimbi, a police officer in the fictional city of Tinasha within the real Democratic Republic of Congo (the large central African country formerly known as Zaire). Batwing uses a technologically advanced bat-suit provided by Batman that, among other things, has wings that enable him to fly. Batwing’s first nemesis is a villain called Massacre who lives up to his name by decapitating a bunch of policemen. Judd Winick’s script is nothing special, but Ben Oliver’s artwork is noteworthy for its realistic styling and absence of exaggerated superhero poses. I commend DC for giving this title a try, but will be surprised if it lasts.

Batman: The Dark Knight

Batman is arguably DC’s biggest star, so it makes sense to add this third title to the core Batman and Detective Comics. The question is, will it be different enough from its older siblings for anyone to care? Based on the first issue, I can say that it’s definitely different, but I’m not sure too many will care. Writer Paul Jenkins, along with penciller/co-plotter David Finch, pen a gritty, action-packed opener with an emphasis on the bizarre residents in Arkham Asylum. They don’t forget to round out the story with some secret identity hijinks. Inker Richard Friend keeps the shenanigans literally in the dark. The book ends with a Hulked-out Two-Face popping out, signaling that this book will not be taking itself too seriously. If you like your Batman as a dark demon hunter, this is the book for you; otherwise, I’d stick with the other two, immensely superior, Bat-books.

Batman

This version of Batman appears to take place in the present, as opposed to the Batman in Detective Comics who appears to be at least a few years younger and less accepted by Gotham City police. At least this Batman is getting coöperation from Sgt. Bullock as they look into a grisly killing. Overall, veteran Bat-scribe Scott Snyder nails the right combination of action and mystery that classic Batman stories need. Artists Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion offer a richly compelling look that reflects the mood of the story—a bit lighter for Bruce Wayne, a bit darker for Batman. The most interesting part of the story for me, however, was a panel showing Bruce and three of his wards getting ready to attend a black-tie party. The captions for Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne indicated “Access Level: High.” A few panels later, Alfred Pennyworth’s caption indicated “Access Level: Highest.” A subtle indication that Batman’s ultimate trust is hard-won, indeed.

Detective Comics

Detective Comics is arguably the flagship of DC publishing; after all, it’s where their star character got his start and it gave the company its name. So a lot is on the line. Writer/artist Tony S. Daniel (with inks by Ryan Winn) doesn’t exactly hit a home run, but this dark, mysterious Batman is quite readable. It features the most “what the heck is that” cliffhanger, as a truly psychotic Joker comes to town. Don’t expect Detective Comics to break too much new ground, but it should more than satisfy fans’ Batman cravings.