I can literally say I’ve been waiting for this for YEARS. The 1960s Batman TV series has been caught up in rights issues for the longest time, and has never seen a quality release on home video (at least not DVD). I saw reruns as a kid on TV as well as the 1966 movie, which is on DVD, and started watching the series via torrented files a few years ago, which was pretty much the only way to see them. Those files were taped off Nick and Nite or TVLand, and were obviously VHS quality. The remastered images in this trailer look too good to be true. I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on these on Blu-ray. It’s about time campy Batman made a comeback! POW!
My Favorite Films of 2011 are posted here, but like any good film buff, I also watched a whole lot of non-2011 films. Here are some of my favorites of those first-time watches in loosely descending order (more favorites at the top). I didn’t limit this to a specific number. If I feel like it’s worth mentioning and I want to write a few words about it, it’s on here.
Le cercle rouge (1967)
I had a feeling I was going to like this film, just based on how much I’ve liked Jean-Pierre Melville’s other films, especially Le samourai, which, if I recall correctly, topped my favorites list in 2010. I had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. Melville weaves several plotlines together, involving a criminal just out of prison, the mob he steals money from, a detective chasing a different escaped con, a former sharpshooter cop who’s now an alcoholic, and more. Each of them has their own narrative rise and fall, and each character has their own arc, but they all interplay in an incredibly intricate way, as different ones join up on a heist (one of the best heist sequences in cinema) and others try to track them down for their own reasons. It’s hard to explain, but very easy and clear to watch. Brilliant work on all levels.
Blue Valentine (2010)
This film just missed my 2010 best of list (I saw it mere days after last year’s posts were made), but it would’ve ended up about #4 on that list. It might be even higher now. The film parallels the beginning and end of a single romance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (both in career-best performances), juxtaposing the courtship and the break-up of this couple to incredible emotional effect. Despite the temporal contrivance, the film is incredibly raw and realistic, with no easy answers for what causes a couple who seem so perfect for each other to hit the skids so badly. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Why in the world did it take me this long to watch this movie? That phrase actually applies to the next two as well, but the prestige of those two be darned, this is the one that I can’t get out of my head. The tales surrounding it are as legendary as the film itself, playing on the long-standing bitter rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who here play two aging showbiz sisters who have a long-standing bitter rivalry. It may be high camp, but this is quite possibly Bette Davis’s best performance – it’s mean and grotesque and pitiful and naive. And the movie itself is quite possibly the best example of Hollywood gothic, yes, even giving Sunset Boulevard a run for its money.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
There is a reason I’d been avoiding watching this classic must-see. I’m not a big Brando fan. I’d seen On the Waterfront, Sayonara, The Godfather, and more, and I just didn’t really get the whole Brando thing. But I finally sat down with this one and suddenly GOT IT. He’s utterly magnetic here, and the film is far more stylistically interesting than I’d expected. It wears its stage origins on its sleeve, but in a heightened way that works, and the clash of Leigh’s old-school Hollywood acting with Brando’s muttering animalism is palpable. Now I want to go rewatch all those other Brando films – I bet I’ll like them more.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
And the reason I’d been avoiding this one was simply that I figured it’d be depressing and Important Movie-esque. (Also I dislike Steinbeck based on “The Red Pony” traumatizing me as a child.) Wrong on both counts. It’s certainly not a happy peppy movie, and a ton of bad things happen to this Dust Bowl family, but I wasn’t prepared for how gorgeously this is shot (Gregg Toland, should’ve known) and how intense it can be, sharing in this family’s troubles and little joys, as well as dealing with the subplot of Tom Joad’s fugitive status. His final speech is justly praised, but the whole thing is pretty great.
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Often cited as one of the prime examples of the haunted house mystery comedy, a genre that was apparently prominent in the silent era, and rightly so. Simply a ton of fun from start to finish, as a group of people gather in a long-deserted mansion to read the will of their crotchety old relative. There are threats of insanity, a murderer running rampant, an asylum escapee on the loose, plus various positive and negative interpersonal interactions among the varied potential heirs. Moody cinematography counterbalances the humor in the plot.
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
I watched the Man with No Name trilogy all out of order (I’d already seen the other two…yeah, backwards), but Jonathan wasn’t about to let me get away with not having seen this one, which is his favorite. I still like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly more, but there’s a lot I did like about this one, especially the way the story really follows Lee Van Cleef instead of Clint Eastwood – that was an interesting touch. Also, the bank robbery segment is just awesome. Next up – watching all three of these actually in order. :)
The Godless Girl (1929)
I always enjoy Cinefamily’s Silent Treatment nights because I get to see films that are rarely if ever screened and aren’t on DVD, plus learn a bunch about silent cinema and 1920s Hollywood and chat with film archivists. I’m always appreciative of the films I see, but to be honest, a lot of times, they’re mostly of historical significance. This is an exception, because this film is gangbusters fun. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, it’s the story of a clashing set of teenagers – one the leader of a group of young Christians, the other the leader of a group of Atheists. After the groups get in a riotous fight, they’re carted off to reform school, where they get to know each other. Frankly, there are like five or six sections of story (and tones!). But they’re all crazy and fun, and it ends with a massive escape/chase sequence followed by a climactic fire.
The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
Seems like every year a film I’ve never heard of wins Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, upsetting one I either wanted to win or thought was a shoo-in. And then every year when I get around to seeing the actual winner, I’m blown away. This is an extremely solid mystery/character study of a detective flashing back to that one case, you know that one he never quite managed to solve. It’s tough to find the balance between mystery and character in films, but this one does it wonderfully, and with a lot of style to boot – just wait for the seemingly one-take stadium shot. It’s incredible.
The Naked Island (1960)
I happened to be volunteering on a night when Cinefamily screened this film, which I’d never heard of and knew nothing about – I hadn’t even read the blurb on the Cinefamily schedule. I stuck around to watch it anyway, and I’m certainly glad I did. An almost silent picture, depicting the day-to-day lives of a family struggling to maintain their farm on an unwelcoming island. Much of the film is just watching them cart water from the mainland, carry it up a treacherous hill, and water their crops one at a time. Sounds boring, but it isn’t, and when larger events do happen, they hit you like a ton of bricks.
The Illusionist (2010)
A sweet and simple ode to the entertainments of the past, the pleasures that progress has robbed us of in search of bigger, faster, louder thrills. The main character, once a popular vaudeville magician, finds himself less and less wanted as rock bands and television replace his craft – all except for one little girl, entranced by his magic. Like Sylvain Chomet’s previous film The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist is almost silent – as befits its origin as an unproduced script from Jacques Tati. Charming, simple, warm, and wistful.
Love in the Afternoon (1972)
Also known as Chloe in the Afternoon, this is one of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales films, and so far, I think it’s my favorite. Each of these films presents some sort of moral dilemma, but not in a didactic way – in this case a happily married man daydreams about other women, with no intention of taking action – until his friend Chloe decides to seduce him. Like most French New Wave films, it’s emotionally aloof in such a way that you actually end up supplying the emotions yourself, and this one presents its characters without judgement, but with a great deal of fairness and empathy. I love New Wave noncommital-ness, and this is right in my ballpark.
Night Train to Munich (1940)
I already knew director Carol Reed was more than just The Third Man, from having seen The Fallen Idol, but this would’ve clenched it – Night Train to Munich is a WWII spy story with double agents, concentration camps, undercover espionage, and daring mountaintop chases, all of which it does with a wit and panache that set it apart from most other spy films. It’s classy and silly and genuinely thrilling. Also, and this is not unimportant, it knows when to stop and doesn’t clutter everything up with needless denoument and codas.
The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)
Frank Sinatra may have already won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for From Here to Eternity two years earlier, but with this film he really cemented his standing as an actor. Pushing the envelope of the Production Code, the film tells of Frankie Machine, a card dealer and drug addict who just wants to get clean and play the drums, but he can’t get out of the gambling game – tied in by debts and drugs and a shrew of a wife. It’s not always easy to watch, and it does have an old-school realist melodrama angle, but when it’s on, boy is it on. The withdrawal scene gave ME the DTs.
The Descent (2005)
Director Neil Marshall continually impresses me with his genre films, and this one was no different – a group of girlfriends tries to reconnect after one of them experiences tragedy by going spelunking. But in an unknown cave, anything can happen, and everything does. This film is great on every level, with the dangers of the cave itself creating enough intensity, but the film is hardly content to stop with that. The pacing, the use of sound design, and the thematic content all raise this film above your standard horror thriller.
My Winnipeg (2007)
Easily the most accessible Guy Maddin film I’ve seen so far, and thus my favorite, at least until I get more accustomed to his extremely unique style of filmmaking – this time he takes us on an idiosyncratic tour of his hometown of Winnipeg, a surreal blending of his childhood, his attempts at recreating his childhood to deal with past trauma, and legends and stories of the town itself. It’s associative, bizarre, dreamlike, and definitely an experience.
Wayne’s World (1992)
I totally did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did – I had it mentally lumped in with a bunch of other early ’90s comedies that just struck me as stupid and juvenile, but Jonathan convinced me to watch it, and yeah. This one is much smarter than it seems on the surface, with a lot of clever writing and meta humor that worked like gangbusters for me. Jonathan already quoted this one a bunch (leaving me shrugging my shoulders in ignorance), but now we’re quoting it together ALL THE TIME. See our “He Says, She Says” post.
Changing Husbands (1924)
Another hit from the Silent Treatment folks at Cinefamily, this one has Leatrice Joy (no, I’d never heard of her) in a double role as a bored rich housewife who wants to be an actress and a poor browbeated actress who just wants some peace and rest. Yep, you guessed it, they run into each other and decide to switch places for a bit, since the rich woman’s husband is out of town anyway. Surprise, he comes back and wants to take his “wife” on holiday. More mix-ups ensue, with a lot of sly innuendo and some great comic timing from all involved. It’s frothy, but great fun, and one of my favorite new-to-me silents of the year.
Batman: The Movie (1966)
I hesitate to put this movie (a big-screen film to go along with the campy ’60s TV show) into the “so bad it’s good” category, because I think the people who made it knew exactly what they were making, and did it all – the cheesy line readings, the over-abundance of villains, the ridiculous plot elements – totally on purpose. There’s no way they didn’t, there are too many self-referential jokes (“some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”). If you go into this with the same kind of pure enjoyment of ridiculousity that they did, you’ll have fun. I sure did.
Woman in the Window (1944) / Scarlet Street (1945)
I’m lumping these two together because it’s hard not to. In 1944, Fritz Lang got together with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, and made a quiet little noir film about a middle-aged man who falls for a younger woman and gets drawn into a crime because of her. It worked out so well. They all got together and did the same thing the next year. The details of the plot are different of course, but that trajectory is the same. Both films are solid noirs; it’s hard to rank them against each other, though, because WotW has a better and more interesting plot overall, but has a serious cop-out ending, while SS follows through on the ending beautifully, but has a less interesting/believable plot throughout. Both worthwhile, though, especially for noir fans.
Loves of a Blonde (1965)
Cinefamily did a series on the Czech New Wave a couple of years ago, but either they didn’t play this Milos Forman entry, or I missed that night. But seeing a few of those definitely gave me a taste for them, and I went into Loves of a Blonde with high hopes – which were not misplaced. With definite French New Wave influences, the film basically follows a young girl in a rural factory town in Czechoslovakia, who eschews the middle-aged men who remain in the town after most young men have been conscripted in favor of a pianist from Prague. But the story is less important than the individual scenes, vignettes like three leches macking on girls at a factory-sponsored dance, the girl getting lectured on propriety back at her hostel, and the encounter with the boy’s parents when she arrives unannounced on his doorstep. Take the focus on the youthtful and mundane from the Nouvelle Vague and add in a specifically Czech-under-communism austerity, and that’s this film.
49 Up (2005)
This can kind of stand in for the entire Up series of documentaries – it’s difficult to judge them separately, and this is the most recent one (though if they stay on schedule, 56 Up would be out this year). The premise of the series is that in 1964, a TV production team got a group of fourteen British 7-year-olds from different regions and class backgrounds and interviewed them on various topics. Every seven years they’ve gone back and interviewed the same people (though not all of them have agreed to be in every episode). It’s fascinating, both in the ways it upholds the original premise that a child’s future is set by the age of seven, in terms of societal status, and the ways it subverts those expectations – not to mention how it delves into the nature of documentary filmmaking itself. I don’t like documentaries that much, and this one is largely talking heads, but it is absolutely entrancing.
After being a huge fan of Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 last year, I wanted more Varda, but I put off seeing this one for a good while, largely because it just looked freaking depressing. And yeah, it kind of is. It’s about a twenty-something girl who roams the roads, hitchhiking, sleeping wherever she can, working for a while or living with people as she’s able. But the film opens with her dead in a ditch, then backtracks to how she got there, so you know it isn’t going to romanticize the life of the open road. Even though this was made long after the New Wave’s heyday, it does have that same kind of non-committal sympathy that works so well for me – Varda isn’t going to manipulate you into feeling sorry for the girl, she’s just going to show you want happened and allow your feelings to grow naturally. She’s not always an attractive character – often being rude or dismissive to those who would help her, until it’s too late – yet Varda’s technique works. It’s a really powerful, often hard to watch, but very rewarding film.
Robin Hood (1922)
I couldn’t pass up a chance to see a bunch of Douglas Fairbanks silents at Cinefamily earlier this year, and I think this was my favorite of the lot – it tells a good bit of the backstory to Robin Hood, depicting Robin of Locksley’s friendship with King Richard and his falling for Maid Marion before Richard ever went off to the Crusades, allowing Prince John to oppress the people and create the need for Robin Hood. Some of that gets a little long, but it’s a nice setup that most versions of Robin Hood skip over. After that, it’s really pretty similar to the Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood, but Fairbanks is even more athletic and exuberant than Flynn.
Zazie dans le metro (1960)
I still don’t quite know what to make of this early Louis Malle film, but I know I enjoyed watching it, and will likely enjoy it even more on future rewatches. Taken from a Raymond Queneau book (he was a prominent literary experimenter), the film is delightfully absurd, with basically no plot stringing along its series of nonsensical vignettes. It’s definitely got that New Wave sensibility that appeals to me so much, but I’m sure there are also satirical elements that slipped by me entirely. Even so, it was a whole lot of fun.
Finally got around to this horror classic this October, after meaning to for the past two Octobers and failing. Despite knowing all about the bullying and the prom scene already, this film was a LOT different than I was expecting. The crazy mother, for one thing, and then the whole ending that went on much past the prom scene and complicates it a lot. In some ways, I didn’t like where the ending went, but I am highly intrigued by it and wish people would talk about it more, rather than just accepting the film as a pro-feminist revenge-on-bullies story. In any case, the film is really effective at putting us on Carrie’s side through Spacek’s wide-eyed performance and the agonizing yet lovely leadup to the climax at the prom, even if DePalma does overdo the visual flamboyance when he doesn’t really need to.
A Man Escaped (1956)
I have a love-hate relationship with Robert Bresson. I love Pickpocket, but really dislike Lancelot du Lac and felt pretty ambivalent towards Diary of a Country Priest. This one seemed more on the Pickpocket wavelength, and sure enough, it joins the “love” side of Bresson’s filmography for me. The film takes its time, as the main character is member of the French resistance imprisoned by Nazi forces, who works carefully and patiently to plan and execute an escape. Despite the slow pace, though (something Bresson is known for generally), this film maintains tension perfectly, and doesn’t get dull at all.
Back to the Future II (1989)
When Jonathan found out I had only seen the first Back to the Future film and that I hardly remembered any of that, he sat me down with the whole trilogy almost immediately. Not only did I enjoy the first one a lot more than I initially had, but Part II instantly joined the ranks of sequels that are better than the originals. The way that II coils back on I with amazing intricacy is great, but I was also really taken by the future world (which is NOW, by the way, if you work the dates out…I’d say we failed to progress in certain areas quite as much as expected, but maybe we’re better off in other ways). Of course, being the history nut that I am, I also really enjoyed Part III, but not quite enough for it to make this list. It’s hovering right below it.
Bigger Than Life (1956)
Long before David Lynch (Blue Velvet) or Sam Mendes (American Beauty) satirized the underbelly of American suburbia, Nicholas Ray brought this scathing attack against suburban values – or the veneer that suburbia tries to uphold to hide the darker things lying beneath. Here James Mason secretly works two jobs to support his family, but a malicious disease takes its toll on him, the only thing that helps being large doses of painkillers – which he becomes addicted to. He eventually devolves into madness, and yes, there’s quite a bit of melodrama in the film, but if you go along with its excesses, you’ll find one of the darkest films about the ’50s ever made.
Born to Kill (1947)
I’d never heard of this noir film until a friend lent it to me, but hey, Robert Wise usually makes good pictures, right? Right. The always-impressive Claire Trevor leaves town after she finds a friend murdered, not wanting to get involved, but unbeknownst to her, the murderer (her friend’s jealous boyfriend) is insinuating himself into her life, ALSO not knowing that she knew the victim. It’s a crazy mess of fate, mutual attraction and repulsion, double-crosses, and both a femme fatale AND an homme fatale. Plus, Elisha Cook Jr. in a meaty supporting role. A lesser-known noir this may be, but that’s a mistake – it’s definitely one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen.
Taking Off (1971)
After making a splash with the Czech New Wave (see Loves of a Blonde, above), Milos Forman made his way to Hollywood success with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. But first he did this little-known film, his first in the United States, about a teenage girl who runs away to be part of a group of hippies, and her parents trying to find her. It’s got its ridiculous parts (which have a strange tendency to turn sublime, like the scene where all the parents learn how to smoke a joint to try to understand their children better), but it’s ultimately a quite moving and wistful portrait of two generations, and the longing of both to find meaning and connection.
The Constant Nymph (1943)
Long kept out of circulation due to rights issues, TCM finally got it worked out to show this Oscar-nominated Joan Fontaine film at the TCM Film Festival this year, and it was pretty great to see it with a whole crowd of people who’ve been waiting for it for a very long time. It’s a bit of an unusual film, though, with Fontaine a spright of a girl who breathlessly falls in love with a family friend who still thinks of her as a child. It’s chockfull of melodrama, but Fontaine plays it all with such eager naivete that it’s impossible not to like her, despite the underlying ick factor their ages make kind of hard to ignore.
This is the Night (1932)
Hyped up at the TCM Festival for being Cary Grant’s debut feature, there’s a lot more than that here to like. Basically playing second lead to Roland Young’s hapless gentleman, Grant is an athlete whose wife Thelma Todd is stepping out with Young (no, it’s not believable, just go with it), but in order to keep Grant from finding out, Young hires an actress to pretend to be his wife. It’s convoluted, but thanks to a stellar lead and supporting cast and a solid script, it’s as witty and charming as any 1930s movie – it’s unfortunate that it’s so little known. Definitely deserves a look.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Silly and nonsensical story? Check. Ridiculous line readings? Check. Cheesy stop-motion effects? Check. Actually, the special effects are kind of awesome, I love watching stop-motion animation. It’s not believable, but it has a tactile charm that CGI loses along the way. The story here is basic fantasy adventure stuff with sorcerers and princesses and giant monsters, but it’s all in good fun, and I had a great time watching it.
Good Morning (1959)
I’ve tried to watch Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (generally touted as his best/most important film) at least two or three times and always failed, getting bogged down in my lack of knowledge of Japanese culture and the film’s deliberate pacing. A friend suggested I start with Good Morning instead to get into Ozu, and that was an excellent suggestion. This is a sunny, funny film, the loose plot centered on a pair of kids who want a television more than anything, but with plenty of time given to other vignettes around their apartment area. Charming and breezy.
I mostly snuck this one in here just because I was shocked at how much fun this film is – I thought it was just gonna be a horror film (and I knew the basic “don’t feed them after midnight” premise), but it’s REALLY goofy, and that’s what I liked about it. I loved all the inventions, I loved the gremlins having fun at the movies, I thought all that stuff was great – even more so because I had no idea it existed.
Almost got it down to doing this weekly! There’s two weeks included in this update, maybe I’ll get it done every week going forward. Fingers crossed. A lot of good ones this week, with a few more third issues upping the ante from the second. Still a few relative disappointments, though. I didn’t flip through any this week, though, so kind of a smaller grouping than I’ve had before on here – only the ones I actually bought in print. I’ve really been enjoying noticing all the different at styles on display here – everything from the straightforward and cocky Birds of Prey to the bold lines of All-Star Western and Wonder Woman to the painterly looks of Supergirl and parts of The Flash. Obviously the quality of a book depends on both the art and writing, but it’s great to see so much variety just in the look. Makes it more interesting to pick up the next book and check it out.
Batman continues the trend of my being super-impressed with third issues after being slightly underwhelmed by the second issues. That’s not true in the case of all books, but there have been several so far. Last month, I enjoyed the book well enough, but the whole thing with the Council of Owls came out of nowhere really abruptly, which turned me off. This book explores that more fully, in a way that’s really engaging and worked for me really well. It also seems like it’s going to tie into the mysterious town council in All-Star Western. I STILL can’t tell Bruce apart from the politician guy, but the writing is so strong in this series and this issue especially that I’m fine with the somewhat generic square-jawed male face that everyone seems to have.
All-Star Western #3
They must’ve gotten the memo loud and clear that there was too much damn narration in the first issue of this, because this one pares it down to almost nothing again, relying on really eye-catching bold-lined drawing to move the action forward rather than narration or dialogue. There’s a little of that, mostly dealing with Jonah Hex’s outlier status, and his unwillingness to stay in Gotham City no matter how much he may be needed. At the beginning, he and Dr. Arkham take down the Religion of Crime members who had captured the guy at the end of issue #2 (possible tie-in with Batwoman and/or Batman?), but it does get a little confusing when two other groups of bad guys turn up – not sure how or if they’re connected to the others, or if they’re just part of Hex’s rock-em-sock-em lifestyle. In any case, this book is a blast to look at, lots of action, and I love the bold look of it.
Justice League Dark #3
The plot thickens in this issue, as we get the first real glimpse of what Sorceress is all about – apparently the Justice League Dark’s protection of June Moone is what’s bugging her, because she needs her for some reason. More good character interactions here, with Constantine and Zatanna, Deadman and June Moone, and Shade and his illusion girlfriend (here rendered with wonderful hideousness) all getting time. Straight-forward but often lovely art here, and the story and situations are definitely living up to the “dark” part of the comic’s title. This is one of the more thematically adult titles of the New 52, and I’m really glad I started picking it up.
The art style in this issue is VASTLY different than in the previous ones – a little more finished-looking and painterly, a little less quick and kinetic. That’s effective both because this issue is much less fighting and much more plot and character stuff, and also because frankly, it looks way better. The previous issues I was having fun with the action, but this one, I wanted to slow down and actually drink in the look. Storywise, we get a bit of Superman explaining his mission on Earth to Kara, but she leaves him despite his protests and promptly gets captured by a gazillionaire who works outside all governments to investigate extraterrestrial stuff, and hence wants to test Kara’s physical limits. Some echo here of Action Comics #2, but a little less mean-spirited on the captor’s part – he’s not sympathetic, but he just seems more clinical than anything else. He definitely has an agenda, though, and I’m curious to see what it is. And I hope they stick with this art style.
I may be fully turned around on the Superman title – I really disliked the first issue, but grabbed issues #2 and #3 just to see, and wow have they been a lot better. Less whiny monologue, more actual action and depth. This one really starts delving into the question of how many bad things happen in Metropolis simply because Superman is there – obviously something brought up by the anti-Superman journalist McCoy, but it’s definitely weighing on Superman’s mind as well. The ice monster part is fine, but honestly not as good as the first half of the comic (which also includes some nice shout-outs to Action Comics #1). There are some dialogue-heavy parts, but they’re much better written than the first issue was – even if this one does have still have a couple of cringe-worthy lines (“you’re heading for a meltdown!”…really?). I’m glad I didn’t give up on this one initially.
The Flash #3
I’m continuing to enjoy this series at a relatively low octane level. It’s solid, and there are always certain parts, certain panels that really grab me, but I’m still not totally into the military/clone/whatever storyline. This one does have an intriguing flashback that may explain some of the backstory to Manuel’s situation, but mostly I liked it because the painterly art style is really pretty. Meanwhile, an electromagnetic pulse has hit the city and Flash is trying to do what he can while also looking for Manuel…the biggest problem with this issue is this disjointedness. Is he saving people as Flash? Is he looking for Manuel as Barry? Did the guys who have Manuel sent the electromagnetic pulse? There’s a lot of stuff happening this issue, so it’s fun to read, but I’m having real trouble connecting it all together, which lowered my overall enjoyment.
Justice League #3
Justice League adds Wonder Woman this week, who has apparently been working with the Pentagon, who has also been trying to keep her out of trouble and off the streets, unsuccessfully as it turns out. So I guess there’s no connection between this and the individual Wonder Woman comic – I mean, none of the others really seem to have a connection with their individual comics either, but at least they feel like they inhabit the same world here as in their own titles. We’ll see how the integration works over time. I didn’t love this entry as much as the first two, as it gives a bit more time to large-scale action scenes against hordes of the demon creatures instead of the fun character interactions of the first two issues. Looks like the origin story for Victor/Cyborg is coming along, though, and I hope that connects to our main story more soon, because jumping between them is a little jarring. One by one the team is being assembled (one more gets teased by the end), and I hope the focus stays on the characters and not on the faceless action.
Wonder Woman #3
Three issues in, and I STILL don’t totally know how I feel about this book. This one is mostly taken up with Diana learning her true parentage and the circumstances that led to her birth, which result in her severing ties with Paradise Island. Still, she’s unlikely to join Strife, which is what Strife seems to want – although, her name being Strife, maybe she just wants to sow discord among the Amazona? In which case, mission accomplished. I’m not sure what her end goal is, and this issue has almost NOTHING to do with the current Zeus progeny problem (the girl who caused all the hullabaloo in the first issue is barely in this one at all), but I’m assuming that will take center stage now. This issue I noticed particularly how much of the story is told strictly through images instead of by dialogue, and I really like that aspect – especially since there are a few dialogue sections that hardly make any sense.
Birds of Prey #3
Big thing here is Poison Ivy joins the group. That’s…interesting. And not without its hurdles, as the first altercation is between her, Ev, and Katana. But there are bigger bads afoot, apparently, and after a captured stealth soldier explodes, they all go after some prominent politicians that are probably the next targets. But the next head-bomb victim may be someone even closer to them. This continues to be fun but not very deep, and the art is pretty plain, take it or leave it. The writing is decent, though, if a bit throwaway.
The fight from the previous issue continues, focused on Aquaman vs. the one really big Trench monster. There’s some good action here, but nothing as kinetic as some of the other books. After they deal with that, Aquaman and Mera go to find out what the things are from a guy he knew as a kid – they had a falling out when Aquaman wouldn’t show him Atlantis. I’m kinda anxious to see Atlantis myself at this point, since they won’t shut up about it. But instead they head for the Trench. I wasn’t too enamored of this issue; it was just all right.
Yeah, I know this post is weeks late, and yeah, I know new comics are coming out today for several of these series I’m talking about here. I’ve been busy with other stuff and this fell by the wayside, but I don’t want to let it get too far behind, so this is a catch-up and reset post. Hopefully after this week I can get these done weekly and not fall behind. I flipped through a bunch of ones over the past few weeks just to see how they were, found some I like more than expected and had some fall down a bit in my estimation. The best remain the best, though, and looks like that’s not going to change as we’re solidly into the third issues of each series.
One thing I’ve noticed as I’m gone through to write these up is that I find myself almost never caring about the big bad or the major plotline of the arc. The parts that draw me in and keep me interested are the character interactions, the bits of dialogue between people, or the insights into the characters from their own or others points of view. I guess this means I’m not bothered by issues that other people are calling “slow” or “not enough forward action,” because usually they’re filled with the things I like. Instead, I find myself getting bored when the alien/mech big bad shows up in Action Comics or they talk about Darkseid in Justice League, or the suited men terrorize clone guy in The Flash, and I have to reread the book to remind myself what’s even going on with that. But I remember Clark chatting with his landlady or Green Lantern snarking at Batman or Barry realizing his mental potential. It’s not true across the board – Swamp Thing, Animal Man, All-Star Western, and Batwoman all have me intrigued by the big bad plot as well as the character stuff. I don’t know what that means in terms of my relationship with comics. Anyway. On the individual books. Clicking the thumbnails will bring up bigger images in lightboxes.
Justice League #1-2
I initially avoided the Justice League flagship series because I didn’t think seeing a whole bunch of established superheroes working together would be all that interesting to me, but after a few people mentioned how fun it was, I figured I’d take a peek, and gorram, were they right. What I didn’t realize is that this book starts right at the formation of the Justice League, so most of the characters are meeting each other for the first time, and those “who the heck is this guy” interactions are a whole lot of fun. First off we get Green Lantern swooping into a fight Batman’s having with a raggedy villain (while the cops chase both vigilante and villain) – “Batman? You’re REAL?” Green Lantern is pretty much an arrogant jackass, but in the most entertaining way as he mocks Batman’s lack of supernatural powers. Wait until he gets a load of Superman, though, who’s none-too-impressed with Lantern’s theatrics. The Flash shows up in #2 and has a great evading fight with Superman that lets both characters display their strengths. There’s not a lot of story so far beyond setting up these relationships (the villainous creatures are leaving mysterious boxes everywhere that explode and seem to lead to Darkseid), but it’s written with so much vigor and humor that I don’t care. Wonder Woman gets added to the mix next month, and I can’t wait to see how she’ll fit in with this testosterone-laden group.
Swamp Thing #3
Wow, I was already loving this book, and if anything, the third issue has upped the ante. We start off with a young boy in a hospital, carefully sequestered in a bubble because he’s allergic to chlorophyll – allergic to plant life itself. Meanwhile, Alec is trying to figure out what Abigail Arcane’s agenda is, and it turns out her family has close ties to the black, to the rot that would destroy the earth, a connection the boy in the hospital also has. Alec’s connection to the green (and over in Animal Man, Bud’s connection to the red, that is, animal life) are going to be needed to stop the rot from taking over. Things are building up so nicely in both these books that I don’t even care that they’re about to crossover, even though I initially said I didn’t want any crossovers. In this case, it totally makes sense. This time out art duties have been split between Yanick Paquette (who’s done the previous Swamp Thing issues in the New 52) and Victor Ibañez, with Ibañez taking care of all the parts with the boy in the hospital – drawing in bold, simple but effective lines – and Paquette continuing the dark and twisty vine-laden panels in the swamps. It works out well, and I can’t wait to see what issue #4 has in store.
Action Comics #3
This continues to be a great story, extremely well-written and balanced by Grant Morrison. The world is starting to turn on Superman as the news outlets led by Glenmorgan (the guy Supes held off a balcony in the first issue) brand him as a dangerous alien, while Clark continues to delve into tough stories. I love that Morrison is giving so much time to Clark and his struggles to be a great reporter…it’s clearly more than a cover for him – uncovering corruption and trying to alleviate suffering through his journalistic endeavors is just as important to him as the more obvious stuff he does as Superman. Here he can’t catch any breaks, though, as the police investigate his apartment for basically no provocation, Lois is right on his tail for all the good stories, and, oh, yeah, he’s having dreams about the destruction of Krypton by an entity that has Earth in its sights next. The art is suffering a little now; different panels of Clark don’t even look like the same person at times, but the writing is so solid I’ll forgive the rushed look of some of the art.
All-Star Western #2
I picked on the first issue of All-Star Western for the interminable psychoanalytic voiceover by Dr. Arkham, and that’s thankfully gone this issue, leaving just wonderfully bold-lined action scenes with Jonah Hex taking no prisoners from the cowled assailants who threaten, and more staid but still great depictions of Gotham’s secret controllers. I don’t know how much the story was actually advanced this issue, but I love the way it looks so much, and Hex’s scowl is the perfect fit for this art style and setting, that I greatly enjoyed it. I’m hoping we’ll get more details on the secret society and their plans soon to give this gorgeous comic a bit more weight.
Animal Man #3
It took me a few issues, but I am totally on the Animal Man train now. With Bud and Maxine full enclosed in the Red, the drawing takes on almost Plympton-esque level of surrealism, which spills over into the now-staid-looking normal life panels with Ellen and Cliff as three hunters (bad guys) go after them with increasing levels of distortion. They can take human form by eating people, but can’t hold it for long, and soon they’re spreading their bizarre shapes all over. The family scenes continue to work great, with a nice page of Cliff trying futilely to get Maxine’s zombie animals to stop bugging him and Ellen joins him to play his “disgusting” video game. It’s a great dynamic, and the intrusion of the hunters is a wonderful juxtaposition. Meanwhile, in the Red we learn that Bud isn’t fully an avatar of the animal, but that Maxine will be, and she’s got to step up soon despite her youth because a rot is threatening both the Red (animal) and the Green (plant) – presumably setting up a crossover with Swamp Thing. The story is coming together nicely, and the art has now managed to win me over as well. Great stuff.
I didn’t totally love Batwoman #2, which picks up with Kate and Bette beating up some guys in an apparently random encounter – not sure what it has to do with the kidnapping ghost, who shows up for one panel, a lovely spread (once again, the book is almost completely gorgeous spreads, which I liked, but your mileage may vary), and then disappears again. One truly brilliant use of the spread style is when Sawyer deconstructs a crime scene; Williams presents lots of information density in a very concise and attractive way. Of course, Batwoman was involved in the crime scene, but it’s kind of nice to see Sawyer’s perspective on what Batwoman is doing/has done. Batman is also continuing to pursue Batwoman for membership in his worldwide league of Bat-people (something I didn’t know existed, but at least it’s introduced a little better than everything in Batwoman #1), but she’s wary. But issue #3 picked up really nicely, starting off with Batwoman held underwater by the watery ghost, plagued with visions of her sister’s death (and implying her own guilt-impelled death wish) before she escapes and returns home, insistent that cousin Bette stop being a costumed crimefighter out of concern for her safety. The art in these parts is great, with the very different styles clashing as a costumed but unmasked Kate walks into the Bette’s room. Fight scenes are done beautifully, with Williams capturing the movement like a strobe light, jagged lines using space to indicate time. The art has been privileged over the story a bit in the first two issues, but with the third, the storytelling THROUGH the art is really starting to coalesce.
This one I didn’t pick up the first month either, though it was in my second-tier of “interested if something else goes south” books, and hence I picked it up in month 2, and really enjoyed it. The first issue is basically Supergirl landing on earth in a meteor but not knowing where she is or what’s going on – she thinks it’s a dream, even as a bunch of mechanized soldiers try to capture her and she fights them off with strength she didn’t know she had. There’s a lot of great moments as she starts gaining powers, especially the panel where she starts overhearing everything, including snippets of dialogue from other DC #1s (Nightwing, Birds of Prey, Aquaman). That’s a nice touch. The second issue has Superman show up and the two basically beat each other up for the whole issue. Yeah, not a lot of plot development there, but it is FUN. The art’s a little slapdash, but I like it.
The only non-DC book this time around (though I’m still working my way through the American Vampire trade – hopefully will have that finished before I do the next one of these). This series by John Layman and Rob Guillory and published by Image Comics is up to issue #27 or so, which came out a couple of weeks ago and the preview on Comixology intrigued me. A lot of times they have the first issue of a series for free or severely discounted, so I got #1 to check it out. Tony Chu is a police detective with a special psychic ability – he get psychic impressions from whatever he eats. So he’s mostly vegetarian to avoid seeing, like, the slaughter of the cow in the cheeseburger he’s eating. Anyway, on a routine case (in a non-routine place – apparently chicken is outlawed here and there are chicken speakeasies), he eats some soup and realizes the cook, who sliced a sliver of finger into the soup, is a serial killer. The book is quite macabre, but also really funny thanks to Chu’s smartass character. I liked it a lot, and if I get a chance at some cheap collected editions or something, I’ll definitely check out more.
Demon Knights #3
This continues to just be flat-out medieval fun. Less battle action in this one, more preparation for a coming attack, with Xanadu (who I just realized is the same character as in Justice League Dark) giving all her strength and many years of her life to create a magical shield over the village, and all the other disparate characters trying to figure out how to work together to get ready for the coming of the hordes. Lots of individual character moments here, two-on-two or two-on-three interactions that are mostly well-written, and drawn with a great level of detail. I love the varied color work here, as a lot of panels have slighlty different tints depending on where they are and which characters are foremost. There’s not a lot of depth, but it’s fast-paced and exciting to read, and sometimes that’s all I need.
The Flash #2
I was a little hard on The Flash #1 because I thought the writing was a little weak, especially toward the end, and it just didn’t hit me anything very special. This issue was a big step up for me, though. I’m still not totally on board with the cloning plot or whatever is going on there, which I assume actually going to become the big bad, but the part of the story that focused on Barry increasing his mental abilities to catch up with his physical speed was tremendous. Loved every second, every panel of it. And I also liked the flashback panels more this time around, with their watercolor-looking evocation of Barry’s past with Manuel, which should also tie into the main villain story before long. There’s a lot of promise here, and this issue realized it a lot more than the first one did as far as I’m concerned.
Justice League Dark #1-2
I skipped over this one initially for the same reason I skipped over the main Justice League title, but I figured I’d check it out this time, and it’s pretty solid. There’s a pretty great fight with big bad Sorceress overcoming the main Justice League heroes with her otherworldly magic – a step beyond the supernatural powers they have – hence requiring the formation of Justice League Dark, made up of more esoteric characters whose powers are a little more, well, weird. Deadman is here, with his ability to possess other people, and John Constantine with his demon summoning, and Shade with his reality-warping powers, plus magician Xatanna and fortune teller Madame Xanadu (though I’m not entirely sure whose side she’s on, even if she is doing most of the narrating). Interestingly, the second issue drops a lot of the mysterious tone of the first one and focuses on Deadman’s relationship with Dove (of Hawk and Dove, yeah, another crossover/backstory thing I’m not gonna get) – I actually quite liked the domestic break, though I’m sure things will get crazy again in the next issue. I just wish I knew a little bit more about what Sorceress is up to.
Wonder Woman #2
I’m still not sure how I feel about Wonder Woman, to be honest. I know people who love it, and there are certainly elements I like a lot – I like the bold drawing on the fight scenes, but the looser style on the more relaxed panels isn’t grabbing me. It looks a little unfinished/unpolished to me, and I haven’t decided whether I like that yet or not. The mythology continues to intrigue me, even as I have to readjust some of the things I know about Greek mythology to fit into DC Greek mythology. :) The modern girl thrown into the mix gets some of the best dialogue, but I also liked Wonder Woman’s clear intention to protect her rather than side with either Zeus or Hera in the feud they’re about to have over her. Little things like that are starting to reveal Diana’s character to me, and I like it. The whole thing just feels a little…light-weight to me somehow, and I’m not sure if that’s due to the art or the writing. I’m obviously still enjoying it, but we’ll see if it starts coming together for me a little more cohesively in upcoming months.
This issue kind of has three movements – one in which Batgirl tries to stop Mirror from blowing up a train with a bravado play that doesn’t quite work, one with police activity and Barbara talking with her father, and one where Batgirl and Nightwing alternately talk and beat each other up. I still really like Barbara Gordon’s narration, the most self-aware and jokey of the New 52 without ever losing sight of her very real trauma, but it starts to go off the rails a bit toward the end. The whole sequence with Nightwing doesn’t do much except establish back story that I’m not sure really matters and provide an opportunity for Barbara to have mood swings that will induce whiplash. But there are panels earlier where her self-doubting persona works really well, especially when she’s talking with her father and gives two versions of how the conversation could go. I love that stuff. More of that, please, and less of other superheroes popping in for no good reason.
I won’t say I was necessarily disappointed in the second issue of Batman, though it’s going to seem that way since it’s so much lower on my list than the first issue was – I still quite liked it, and Scott Snyder is quickly becoming one of my favorite comic writers. But I’m kind of getting distracted by the samey drawing, especially in the Bruce Wayne parts where all the male characters look the exact same. And some of the panels didn’t make sense to me spatially (especially when he was falling in the middle section). I do very much like the continued VO probing of Gotham itself and its nature, and the holographic link Batman has to the autopsy room is pretty cool. The end seemed really abrupt to me, though, and didn’t so much leave me wanting more as going “huh, where did that come from?” Hopefully we’ll find out next issue.
Birds of Prey #1-2
I’d heard conflicting reports on this one – both that it was breezy fun and really boring. I vote “breezy fun.” My only exposure to Birds of Prey is the short-lived TV series WB mounted in the early 2000s, which I remember enjoying and my comic-book-nerd friends hating. Heh. Anyway, in this take, Barbara Gordon is on the periphery but not really involved (she’s shown wheelchair-less and Dinah mentions her being Batgirl again, so there’s consistency with the New 52 Batgirl); the main characters are Dinah/Canary and Ev/Starling, and they add a third, Katana, in the second issue. Yeah, this is just fun. Not overwhelmingly good writing or art, but it’s fast-paced and the dynamic between the girls is enjoyable and mostly witty.
I hadn’t intended to pick up another Batman subsidiary, but I kind of went crazy checking out random stuff this week, and it turns out Dick Grayson’s post-Robin character intrigued me the most out of the Bat-books I looked at. I know next to nothing about this character except the old Batman TV show, which doesn’t go into any of Grayson’s back story at all in the episodes I’ve seen. Like the fact that he grew up in a circus as a trapeze artist. Circus stuff is cool. The art in this comic is cool. Grayson’s pretty cool. So I might keep reading this one full-time, even if the “Seiko Killer” pun on the cover of #2 was pretty painful. That’s pretty much the worst thing in these first two issues, so I think I can overlook it. Oh, also, I didn’t know that Grayson took over from Wayne as Batman for a time, which is mentioned early in the first issue. Someone should catch me up on that sometime.
I know, I said I wan’t going to keep reading this one. And I still may not, but I figured I’d check out the second issue just to see, and you know what, I liked it a good bit better. Still not as much as Action Comics, I think, but at least it didn’t alternately bore me and piss me off like the first issue did. Here Superman/Clark is a bit down in the dumps thanks to his perceived failures in the first issue, both in terms of public acceptance of his superhero help and Lois’s romantic interest. Then he gets attacked by something he can’t see, but it turns out everyone else can, and that fight scene, with Superman at first unable to see his assailant and then helped thanks to Lois’s crew’s video coverage, is pretty awesome. I also liked seeing a bit more of Clark and Lois’s relationship.
I didn’t care for this month’s Aquaman quite as much as last month’s, even though it definitely has its moments. Most of it is a big, not particularly coherent or visually interesting fight scene with the Trench monsters (who are still pretty scary-looking). What I did find interesting is that Aquaman apparently doesn’t bother keeping his identity a secret – when the police guy looks for him, he just answers the door in his state of undress and seems utterly unconcerned about admitting his identity, and he and his girlfriend call each other by name during the fight. I also quite enjoyed their dynamic, of a committed but unusual couple that avoids the awkward flirtiness or outright sexuality of some of the other titles.
Batman & Robin #1-3
Yes, another Batman title. Don’t blame me, it’s DC going for maximum overload on their hottest superhero. This one has an intriguing dynamic between Batman and the current Robin, who happens to be Batman’s son Damien. I didn’t know Batman had a son until I started reading the New 52, but apparently he does, and he’s an amoral killing machine. It’s actually getting better as the series goes on, I think, with issue #3 having some really nice moments with Damien and Alfred and some great fighting panels with Damien doing his worst. I might actually add this one to my normal rotation.
Detective Comics #1-3
I chose Batman over this of the straight Bat-books, and I still think that was the right decision, but I gotta say after checking this one out, there’s some pretty gruesome and macabre stuff in here, in a good way. The Dollmaker character is f-ed up, and I’m actually pretty curious to see where that plot goes (one of the few villains that really intrigues me out of the whole New 52, to be honest). I actually wish it were just him and not Joker…just about every Bat-thing I’ve seen as a casual fan has had Joker, and even though he’s extra psychotic here, I don’t care that much. I was pretty back and forth on issue #3, as well – the Dollmaker is still scary, but some of the dialogue is really bad, and Batman just running around being ineffective only goes so far. A few of the plot elements are still intriguing, but a lot of is just “gotcha” shocks.
Resurrection Man #3
Picking up right from the end of the previous issue, our hitwomen wonder why Resurrection Man isn’t resurrecting immediately, but it turns out he’s chatting with a shadowy demon thing in an empty void of eternity, who reveals there’s some kind of battle over his soul going on between heaven and hell – his constant resurrecting is throwing off their rhythm. He fights off the demon and resurrects, only to have to fight the hit girls again, showing off various new powers as he dies and resurrects yet again. There are still elements of this book I like, mostly the basic idea, though. In execution, it’s getting a little old, and this issue ends with a WTF panel that pretty much makes me ready to give up on it. Might give it one more issue, we’ll see.
DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1-2
DC Universe Presents is going to be a catch-all title for lesser DC characters to cycle through instead of getting their own books. The first miniseries is Deadman, an arrogant trapeze artist who dies but ends up cursed to jump from body to body until he can redeem himself from the bad things he did in this life. The “bad things” seem to be stuff like “behaved arrogantly” and “looked down on others”, but whatever. This purgatory is run by a blue alien goddess person, but what exactly her agenda is and how long Deadman is going to have to go before escaping her realm is unclear, which is not a good thing about the book. Some of the individual scenes are fun, like when he works his way from person to person in a crowded nightclub, trying not be detected by paranormal-aware bouncers. Aside from that, I prefer Deadman’s more mature portrayal (as in, not an angsty origin story) in Justice League Dark.
Flipped through the second issue of this just out of curiosity, and still probably won’t be reading it for real. At the end of the last issue, Voodoo had killed the male cop and taken his form – she goes straight from there to sleeping with the cop’s partner, which is awkward. There’s a nice fight scene with the partner figures it out and goes in after Voodoo all angry, but the art continues to be bland, and the ending is essentially the same as the end of the first book. Not terrible, but not great.
I, Vampire #2
Another “can it possibly be as bad as the first issue” flip-through, and the answer is no, it isn’t as bad, but that’s still not enough. This one is from Mary’s point of view, and has a bit more of the vampire rebellion in it, which cuts down on some of the emo-ness, and the art is still quite lovely, but this book is just…boring. Possibly the worst of all sins in a line-up of 52 competitors.
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1-2
I’d heard some good things about this other book by Jeff Lemire (who also writes Animal Man), but I just don’t see it. Frankenstein’s monster is the head of a secret organization of superheroes made up of old monster movie characters like The Mummy and others that are made-up but in a similar vein, and they go to stop an invasion by thousands of giant monsters from another dimension. A flashback story to one character’s human life before transforming herself into a black lagoon-like creature is well-done, but most everything else just seems really messy, in both storytelling and art style. Could just be me – after all, the Animal Man art style is taking me some time to get used to, also, but I don’t like the story or character set-up here nearly enough to put up with it.
The Savage Hawkman #1-2
I had high hopes for a story about a superhero whose alter ego is a forensic archaeologist. How cool does that sound!? It’s not actually cool at all, the book I mean, which is probably the worst written of all the ones I’ve read. After a good opening when Hawkman drives out into the country to burn his costume and try to eschew his superhero identity, it just devolves into silliness and repetitiveness and…horrible writing. I gave it the second issue chance, and it’s just as bad. It’s a double shame because there’s some nice art in here, a painterly style that I haven’t seen in the other books.