Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders — a review

Holy animation, Batman!

Holy animation, Batman!

Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders is a loving tribute to the 1960s TV series that manages to feel like the second 1960s-era Batman movie, thanks to the voice-casting of original Batman and Robin stars Adam West and Burt Ward, along with Julie Newmar, who reprises her role as Catwoman. Taking place in the same time period as the series, the film is filled with the social mores of the time, such as having Catwoman demurely step to the side whenever Batman and Robin battle the villainous henchmen (complete with the customary BIFF! BAM! and POW! word balloons the original series always flashed during the fight scenes).

Catwoman is a part of a fearsome foursome of rogues that includes the Joker, Penguin and the Riddler as they set out to work together to wreak havoc on Gotham City. The fact that these villains team up, along with their use of a penguin-themed zeppelin later in the film, is a nice nod to the original 1966 Batman movie that was released during the height of the TV show’s popularity. But there are plenty of fun Easter eggs here, all riffing on the various incarnations of Batman. One of my favorite moments is when Batman, having been struck on the head, sees three Catwomen standing before him, with two of them looking just like Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt.

They may be nefarious villains, but they still wear their seat belts!

They may be nefarious villains, but they still wear their seat belts!

There are also fun nods to Michael Keaton’s Batman, the Nolan Batman films, and even a shout out to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. But while it tweaks the nose of the original series (like when Bruce outright fires Alfred for not stopping a nosy Aunt Harriet from snooping around), this animated version is still very respectful of the source material. I first saw the 1960s Batman series when I was a toddler, so I always took it very seriously–until a viewing when I was older made me realize that the show was much more lighthearted and whimsical, but still entertaining in its own way.

That was what the makers of this animated feature realized as well, and they sought to recreate that same silly vibe, and they succeeded marvelously. The characters are all drawn just like they appeared in the series (although this version of the Joker, while drawn to look like Caesar Romero’s version, doesn’t have his painted-over mustache–and I’m actually grateful the filmmakers’ dedication didn’t go that far), and even the original 1960s Batmobile makes a valiant return. If you’re a diehard Batman fan, like me, then this is the movie for you. –SF

Batman Vs. Superman — a review

Call  me Robo-Bat one more time...go ahead, I dare ya!

Call me Robo-Bat one more time…go ahead, I dare ya!

In Batman Vs. Superman (to be referred to as BvS from here on out), Zack Snyder’s grandiose epic, we’re introduced to Batman first–or, rather, to Bruce Wayne, where we once more witness the gunning down of Thomas and Martha Wayne outside of that frigging movie theater. As a life-long Batman fan I’ve had to put up with watching this scene over and over in various films and TV shows, which makes me appreciate the 1989 Batman film all the more for how director Tim Burton instead hints at the tragedy.

But as we see in BvS, Snyder is more of a blunt force director. While he’s a good visual stylist in his own right, he’s never been big on subtlety. So we have no choice but to watch Martha Wayne (played by Lauren Cohan, Maggie from The Walking Dead, in a blink and you’ll miss her scene) get shot in the face, which haunts Bruce Wayne (a superb Ben Affleck) to begin his crime fighting career as the Batman. Snyder’s take on Batman is that the Dark Knight is a twenty year veteran of the superhero game who is absolutely brutal on criminals; he brands special cases, like sexual deviants, with a bat-symbol, signaling them out in prison for further rough treatment by the general population. It’s a harsh take on the Dark Knight, who at least is decked out in a marvelous new costume.

Wayne has lost a building filled with his employees during the free for all battle that erupted between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) in Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel. Two years later Wayne’s still simmering with rage at Superman (once more well played by Henry Cavill). Along comes Lex Luthor (a hyper-active Jesse Eisenberg), who takes advantage of Wayne’s anger at the Man of Steel to manipulate him into fighting Superman in the rumble of the century.

What's with you guys? Mingle, already!

What’s with you guys? Mingle, already!

While I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would have, there are problems galore, such as how self-righteous Batman is at Superman slaughtering untold innocents when the Dark Knight becomes a one man wrecking crew in his pursuit of criminals, carelessly causing all sorts of destruction with his Batmobile (which is not the most inspired design; it looks like a giant grey pancake on wheels), not giving much thought to injuring any innocents in his single-minded rampage for justice. The always good Holly Hunter is largely wasted in the role of a senator who tries to reel in Superman. And a bomb goes off with Superman right in the room, killing hundreds, yet the Man of Steel never notices the device until its too late. Just like in Man of Steel Superman seems to be dropping the ball by letting innocents die literally all around him.

It’s because in BvS, as well as in Man of Steel, it’s clear that Zack Snyder really doesn’t know what to do with Superman. He’s treated like an all-powerful god who’s above the cares of mere mortals, and yet whenever Snyder tries to humanize Superman, like when he makes love to Lois Lane in a bath tub, it falls flat. And come to think of it, much of the movie feels this way. As spectacular as the imagery looks, there’s rarely any sincere feeling or emotion behind it. And the whole film, which is designed to set up a cinematic Justice League series, feels unfinished. It’s also unrelentingly grim and solemn to the point that during the rare moment when someone actually cracks a joke it comes off as being more of a shock than being genuinely funny.

Stand aside boys, I got this.

Stand aside boys, I got this.

There are bright spots here, one of them being Gail Godot as Wonder Woman, who infuses her character with so much vitality that I wished she was in the film a lot more. I’m really looking forward to seeing her standalone Wonder Woman film, now. Another bright spot is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, whose frantic performance makes sense when you view it within the context of the story: he is the herald for a far greater evil that will threaten earth. Perhaps being in the presence of such a monstrous threat, or even just knowing that it exists, would be enough to make anybody a wild-eyed maniac.

While far from being the perfect film (Snyder seems hell bent on pissing off DC comics fans at every turn, which is annoying) BvS is still fascinating to watch, largely for the big battle at the end, and the promise of an even more epic story to come that has a truly frightening villain at its core. Here’s hoping the Justice League movies, which is something I’ve wanted to see since I was a boy, are handled correctly. With Snyder at the helm, I have my doubts that it will be done right, but time will tell. –SF

Gotham City just got more crowded

Scarecrow and Harley have arrived.

Scarecrow and Harley have arrived.

When I saw these figures coming down the pike, I just had to get them. I never had the Scarecrow figure as a kid because he wasn’t available. But I read about the character in the comics and would have loved to have him menace my Batman figure back then. I really like the detail work they put into the Scarecrow figure, here.

Harley wasn’t around at all when I was a kid. She didn’t make her debut until the now-classic Batman: The Animated Series in the 1990s. But I still had to get this figure for the Batman rogue’s gallery.

But Batman isn't happy.

But Batman isn’t happy.

Poor Batman, just when he thought he could take a break, more trouble shows up in Gotham City.

Gotham — a review of the show

Now before I wig out and try to kill you, can I offer you anything? Cheeseballs? Potato chips and dip? No? OK, let me just get my knife...

Now before I wig out and try to kill you, can I offer you anything? Cheeseballs? Potato chips and dip? No? OK, let me just get my knife…

Remember back when I reviewed the first episode of Gotham? Remember that? I liked it well enough, but I said then that I couldn’t really make a proper assessment of the entire series based on just one episode.

Well, now I’ve seen the entire season of Gotham–having just watched the incredibly dopey finale last night. And I’ve gotta say, this really isn’t my favorite incarnation of Batman–especially since Batman is nowhere to be seen. Granted, the idea behind this series was to show the rise of the infamous Batman rogues gallery in a Gotham City before the arrival of the Dark Knight. And the Batman villains–Joker, Catwoman, Penguin–are among the most fascinating baddies in comics.

So Gotham should be fantastic, right? Right?!

Tonally, it’s all over the place, with the characters acting stupidly to serve even dumber scripts that try to fit them into preordained story lines–which works about as well as fitting round pegs into square holes. In last night’s season finale, little Selina Kyle, aka She Who Will Be Catwoman, joins the Fish Mooney gang because…well, you know…just because. Selina, a strong female character who traditionally hates authority figures and who is so individualistic that she goes her own way even if it means going at it alone, gleefully becomes one of Mooney’s minions, even to the point of getting her hair styled just like her new very best friend.

We're forming our own pop group, the Eighties Kitties.

We’re forming our own pop group, the Eighties Kitties.

Ugh! If Selina had turned against Mooney, that would at least show a flicker of the Catwoman whom we all know and love. And Fish Mooney is just too bland and uninteresting a character to hinge your entire series on. I kept waiting all season for her a-ha! moment, the moment where she would finally be a real threat (or at least make sense), but the season’s over, and the Gotham writers just couldn’t be bothered because…you know…just because…ugh!

The real hero here was meant to be the young Jim Gordon, who, in the last episode, is desperate to save the life of a mob boss who he thinks would be “right” for Gotham City. (???) WTF? Even if James Gordon isn’t the last decent man on the force (which is what the character always was: an honest cop), if he had an ounce of brains in his head, Gordon would just step aside and let these maniacs kill each other–then go after the last man (or woman) standing. That would at least be cool. But, oh no, Gordon’s reduced to being just another mob lackey here because…you know…whatever…ugh….

There’s been a slow burn build up for a mob war that’s brewing in Gotham City all season long that makes it look like Gotham is striving for a gritty, Nolan-Batman feel. But then they have silly, cartoonish episodes where people are offed by balloons, and then they dive right back into the pseudo-grittiness again. I don’t really mind either direction–Batman has worked with many different interpretations; both serious and comical–but just make up your fricking mind and pick one, already!

Jeez, this show sucks...maybe Joss Whedon has another series for me to do.

Jeez, this show sucks…maybe Joss Whedon has another series for me to do.

The writing overall seems very indecisive, like how they keep toying with the arrival of the Joker (look, a guy in a red hood–oh never mind; wait, here’s a guy who kinda, sorta looks like the Joker, so maybe…oh never mind). As I was watching the final episode with Gordon and Bullock getting captured, escaping and then getting recaptured again, I just got fed up with the whole thing. Gotham has been renewed for a second season, and I hope the fans out there continue to enjoy it (however many of them are left). Me? I’m done, thanks. –SF

A review of the first episode of Gotham

You hear what that guy called us? Check if there's room in the grave for one more body....

You hear what that guy called us? Check if there’s room in the grave for one more body….

Having seen the first episode of Gotham, all I can say is…interesting. I was suspicious of this series when I first heard about it: a Batman show without the Dark Knight, taking place when James Gordon (played here by Ben McKenzie) is starting out as a rookie detective on the Gotham City police force. Partnered with veteran cop Harvey Bullock (the very good Donal Logue), their very first case is the murder of a wealthy couple in a back alley of Gotham City. It seems the couple were on their way home from the movies with their young son, Bruce.

Hey, dude, hold on...how about this time you just let us walk on through, huh?

Hey, dude, hold on…how about this time you just let us walk on through, huh?

Yep, we’re witnessing the classic scene of Thomas and Martha Wayne taking one for the team once more so that their kid can become the Batman. But instead of this scene being just a prelude to the main action, like it would be in a Batman film, it’s the main storyline of the entire season of Gotham as Gordon tries to figure out who is behind the murders and why were they killed. So is a Batman show without the Batman going to work? That’s hard to say with watching just the first episode, but from what I’ve seen, the series has potential.

Is the fish market open, yet? I could use a snack.

Is the fish market open, yet? I could use a snack.

The first episode is a joy for Bat-fans to watch in that we can play “spot the future rogue’s gallery member” whenever a younger version of Batman’s classic villains are presented here. In this episode alone we have the Riddler, the Penguin, a very young Poison Ivy and even a stand up comedian who might be a real joker. The episode also features Camren Bicondova as a fledgling Catwoman (since she’s just starting out, should she be called Kittengirl?) who silently stalks the proceedings in a stylish manner. Her scenes are the closest we get here to feeling the Dark Knight vibe.

That scratching post looks like it might be a trap....

That scratching post looks like it might be a trap….

The down side is Fish Mooney, the main villain who’s played by Jada Pinkett Smith. She comes off as being too silly and over the top to feel like she’s a real threat. Another problem for me is that Sean Pertwee is too gruff and hard to be Alfred Pennyworth. But, like I’ve said, it’s just the first episode. Despite its flaws, which are nitpicks, I still enjoyed this. Will Gotham take flight as another unique take on the Dark Knight myth, or will it become a safe and vapid Smallville clone? Time, and the rest of the season, will tell. –SF

Batman Begins: a sneak preview of Bane?

I was re-watching Batman Begins (I’m in the process of re-watching the entire Nolan Batman trilogy, which are my all-time fave Batman films) and I noticed something during the big climatic confrontation near the end.

Of course, I should mention that there are SPOILERS ahead. The movie’s now nine years old, but better safe than sorry, I guess.

Anyway, Ra’s al Ghul, the evil mastermind who’s revealed to be Liam Neeson (I told you there would be spoilers!) carries out his plan to destroy Gotham City from within by dispersing a special hallucinogenic gas throughout the city. To prevent himself from falling prey to his own gas, Ra’s puts on a gas mask that looks a little familiar:

"Hey, why are my eyes still burning? Should I also be wearing safety goggles?"

“Hey, should my eyes still be burning? Should I also be wearing safety goggles?”

If you don’t get the reference, he reminds me a little bit of Bane, a future Bat Villain who would vex Batman in the Dark Knight Rises.

"I've lost my car keys, and would appreciate it if the finder would bring them the to the main office. Thanks, and enjoy the game."

“I’ve lost my car keys, and would appreciate it if anybody who finds it would bring them the to the main office. Thanks, and enjoy the game.”

Considering that the back story in Rises ties these two together (they share a past history), the mask that Ra’s wears could almost be seen as foreshadowing the eventual arrival of Bane in the third and final Nolan Batman film.

I don’t know if director Christopher Nolan was plotting ahead that far back when making Batman Begins, but–now knowing what is to come–this is still a pretty cool thing to see.

Riddle me interested, Batman!

When Gotham–the new series based on Batman that’s coming to Fox next month–was first announced, I thought it was another “not-quite-a-superhero” show like how Smallville was; in other words, it will show everything but Superman. And with Bruce Wayne still just a boy mourning the death of his parents, we also won’t be seeing Batman any time soon.

Meh, who cares, right?

However the main show runner on Gotham is Bruno Heller, who did a magnificent job on HBO’s ROME. So that’s a really hopeful sign right there for this show.

And then I saw this trailer:

Holy Bat Guano, Batman! A young Jim Gordon, arriving at a crime scene, is shown walking past an even younger Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin) and Edward Nigma (the Riddler). Jim Gordon’s partner at the crime scene is Harvey Bullock. And then, near the end, they tease the Joker!

Oh yeah, you can now consider this long-time Batfan to be very excited to see this one.

Batman’s back (and the Kindle’s got him)

"I am the Dark Electronic Knight!"

“I am the Dark Electronic Knight!”

When I saw recently that Amazon had a special electronic version of a Batman comic for the Kindle Fire, I just had to get it. I haven’t bought a Batman comic–nor any comic at all–in about ten years, now. But a good reason to get this was because this year is the 75th anniversary of the Dark Knight, which this special issue celebrates by being a blend of the old Bob Kane origin story and newer tales. Another reason to get this e-comic is that it would be the very first such comic that I would read on my Kindle Fire, and I wanted to see what that experience was like.

But, really, the main reason I got this Batman e-comic was because it was cheap…really cheap–it was so cheap, it was absolutely free. And you can’t argue against getting free stuff, now, can you?

This isn’t so much a review of the comic itself, but of the format that it’s presented in. As I’ve stated before, this is the very first time I’ve read an e-comic. I don’t recall the first time I read an actual paper comic; that was when I was just a little spud back in the 1960s. My parents were both strong advocates of getting me to read, and so they started by buying me comic books back when I was very small (I still recall reading a scary Mickey Mouse adventure back then that terrified me witless).

So how’s the new “comic book” format? Very nice, thank you very much. You “turn the page” on the Kindle Fire by tapping the right or left side of the screen–the same if you were reading an e-book. But unlike an e-book, the comic has some very colorful imagery that simply looks gorgeous on the bright and clear screen of the KF. Overall, I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this comic in this format.

I think I enjoyed this so much because getting the comic was very easy and hassle free; a big plus is that there’s no need to worry about tracking down issues that might be sold out already in a comic book store. If you want it, just get it right on the KF (or the e-reader of your choice).

Diehard comic fans may consider this viewpoint blasphemy, and I used to be one of them–right up until the bottom fell out of the comic book market some years back. All I have to show for my avid (and expensive) hobby is a vast comic collection that’s now actually worth less than what I paid for at the store.

But if you just want to read a good story (like me), if you just want to enjoy a Batman story by just having it delivered to your Kindle (normally for a fee, of course) then this is definitely the way to go. DC is still printing paper editions of the comics they provide to the Kindle, but something tells me that the days of paper comics is on the way out (and if so, then maybe my comic collection will finally be worth something…but probably not).

The boys are back in town

When I was a kid, I had a large collection of Mego action figures. These were eight inch high figures with real cloth clothes, and they had figures for nearly every character in Star Trek, as well as the Planet Of The Apes.

In recent years, they’ve been re-releasing these oldies but goldies, and I’ve been getting them whenever I could. One of the Mego collections I had, alongside the Trek and Apes, was the DC superheroes. In addition to Superman and Green Arrow and the others, I also collected Batman and Robin.

The Caped Crusaders action figures came with the full rogues gallery, which included the Joker and the Riddler. They recently re-released these two bad guys in Mego figure form once again. The UPS guy brought them over on Monday, and this is the first time I’ve had these two bad dudes since I was a little spud:

Joker and the Riddler are back in Gotham.

Joker and the Riddler are back in Gotham.

Uh-oh, it looks like somebody’s not too happy to see the Joker and Riddler back in town:

Bats doesn't look too happy at this turn of events.

Bats doesn’t look too happy at this turn of events.

Batman looks like he has a real problem seeing these guys. I’m planning on keeping them all in their original packaging, but maybe I should still keep them separated, anyway. Just to be on the safe side. 😉