A totally unexpected reappraisal of Justice League

Yesterday I activated my free month of Amazon Prime to take in Picard, the new Star Trek series. That was excellent and I especially loved the subtle Brexit reference, but that’s for another day. After that I had a look at what Amazon offered, and had Zack Snyder’s Justice League film recommended to me, but I’d found the film a mess not to mention a chore to get through when I’d seen it the only time a few years back. I thought I’d give it a few minutes to see if things had changed expecting to stop and have an early night.

And I liked it lots more than I did previously.

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Maybe some distance has passed, and although the issues still stand it really is more enjoyable than a number of other superhero films, plus it has an actual sense of a directorial vision which the Marvel films, on the whole, have lost.  Sure, the scenes shot by Joss Whedon stand out a mile, the villain is badly done, the script has gaping holes, and that CGI lip is an awful bit of work to appear in a big-budget Hollywood film.

However, the League themselves are actually interesting. Affleck’s Batman is an interesting portrayal of an older man who’d lost his way finding redemption. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is the standout star character of the DCEU and should be its bedrock as Iron Man was for Marvel. While Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash have a genuine spark on screen. Hell, even Cyborg seemed less tokenistic this time round.  The big loser here is Henry Cavill and his Clark Kent/Kal El/Superman as once he’s allowed to play Superman not as a brooding Emo type, but actually as Superman, he’s a revelation.

It’s a flawed experiment and yes, I’d be interested in seeing what a full ‘Snyder cut’ would look like because again, there’s a bland generic quality creeping in to the point you couldn’t tell who directed one Marvel film to another. With this it is pretty clear it’s Snyder’s vision. You may not like it, but there’s a clear vision which makes the Whedon footage clash so badly, and also, there’s a bit of irony as the Marvel template is based on what Whedon did with the first two Avengers films.

It is unlikely DC/Warners will do a Justice League film again in some time, which  is a shame as it’d be good to see this group together again but in a film free of studio meddling.

But there you go, I never thought I’d write any of that but it shows opinions do change…

What I thought of Crisis on Infinite Earths

Imagine trying to do Avengers: Endgame on a budget akin to Scarlet Johansen’s hairdresser? That’ll be the CW’s version of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s comic Crisis on Infinite Earths.

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A five-part series designed to partly clean up issues with the CW’s Arrowverse and to act as this year’s big crossover event to end all events. Overall it manages to just hold together, and just work though the problem as usual with the Arrowverse programmes is the budget holds back the ambition so what should be a cosmic level event (something Marvel have shied off adapting fully as yet) comes over as sometimes small, and in the case of episode two, slow and stretched.

The other problem is that when it needs action we get exposition, or worse, exposition from people standing round the set looking a bit stiff. However the producers clearly love the source material, and they clearly love what they’re doing so for all the multiple flaws they manage just about to live up to this fan made poster from a few years back.

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Crisis works because they realise the entire thing is daft, and they know that superhero comics are essentially melodramas so they embrace that, so we have all the usual aspects of a CW show mixed with these overaught moments of superhero comics, mixed with possibly the biggest, and first, comic book mega-crossover.

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They manage to tie every DC TV series to the Arrowverse bar Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman series and the Shazam! series from the 70’s due mainly to the reason that Warners have successful film versions but remarkably, everything else did make an appearance from the Titans, to Tom Welling from Smallville, Brandon Routh reprising his role as Superman which means the Christopher Reeve films are canon, through to the surprise cameo of Ezra Miller as the DC film version of The Flash.

I enjoyed the entire crossover a lot, with that Miller cameo especially making me like Miller’s depiction of my favourite superhero more than I did. Yeah, some of it is awful, cheap and badly acted/written at times but this is soap opera and it’s also great entertainment which has the good guys beating the baddies which in 2020 is a great message to send out.

My last fanboy wish would be they repay the cameo and bring in the TV Flash for the film due sometime in the next few years, but that can’t happen can it?

The DC Comics 50th anniversary party

Back in 1984 DC Comics had it’s 50th anniversary which was an historic turning point, as DC finally turned into a company that could take Marvel on. 1984-5 is a serious time of transition just as the Bronze Age closes and the modern era starts and this video is the sort of video they used to send out to comic shops back in the day but mainly what would happen is they’d be watched once, then end up gathering dust somewhere.

What’s great about this is the foreshadowing of the new era to come. Alan Moore, Alan Davies, and Dave Gibbons get namechecked, you get to see Julie Schwartz and Dick Giordano, plus a half-cut Joe Orlando. IT really is a wonderful bit of history.

Enjoy.

What I thought of Batman: City of Bane

Tom King’s run on Batman has been controversial to say the least, but reading it as a whole (all 85 issues of it) will throw up problems. For example, the first issue of Batman: Rebirth is awful, awful stuff read now, and not even average as I thought at the time. However over the run, King gets to redefine not just Batman, but Catwoman and Bane in a way that future writers now have more to play with which is why it depressingly looks as if it’ll be ignored or skimmed over in future.

King’s entire run is essentially building up to City of Bane, a ten-part story that wraps everything up, and there’s a lot to wrap up.

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Over the course of King’s run, we’ve seen Bane scheme to destroy Batman once and for all. As this storyline starts, Bruce Wayne has been broken. Defeated by his father Thomas, the Batman of the Flashpoint reality saved by the Reverse Flash and Bane, Bruce Wayne is expelled from Gotham leaving it under the control of Batman’s rogue gallery, who are themselves controlled by Bane thanks to the Psycho Pirate who can control anyone.

City of Bane details Batman and Catwoman taking Gotham City back from Bane and the villians. There’s lots of fighting, and lots and lots of characters standing on rooftops spouting exposition done in the most tedious ways, but it is a way to work out what Batman is by pitting him against a twisted shadow in the shape of Thomas Wayne. Eventually of course Batman and Catwoman defeat Bane and Thomas, while expressing their love for each other, which is just one of the way King changes the Batman dynamic along with the murder of Alfred by Bane.

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You rarely get runs of 85 issues or more by a writer these days. Most go in for 12-24 issues, enough for a trade or two, tell a story and get out so King being allowed the time to tell his story is admirable of DC. Though sales figures probably dictated that King curbed his planned 100 issue run, and even with the 85 issues there’s a hell of a lot of padding.

King’s problem is his storytelling is sometimes poor for superhero comics, so instead of dynamic, exciting pages which move the action on there are just pages at times of characters standing around talking spouting exposition for panel after panel.  Rob Leifeld of all people pulled up this point on Twitter the other day.

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And you know, Liefeld has a point. Superhero comics have swung so far towards cramming pages full of dialogue, they’ve forgotten they’re comics, so storytelling is being lost because writers are forgetting, or are unable, to trust artists to let the story be told by pictures. King would be a better writer if he wasn’t trying to be a third-generation Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman.batman85

King though has done something amazing in today’s climate which is produce a vision for one of DC’s big money-earners which wasn’t just pandering to a decreasing hardcore of fans who see Batman as a flawless character who can do anything. King resets Batman as a flawed character but now accepting his limits but knows he has support when he needs it. He’s become a bit more human by being allowed to love.

An 85 issue run is an achievement and although King’s run won’t have changed comics for any much the better or worse, he’s told a Batman story at times massively entertaining, at times awful and at times frustrating but it has been interesting which Batman in the comics hasn’t been for some time now. King now moves onto other things, including helping adapt Jack Kirby’s New Gods for the screen so his comics work could take second place to his new career in film but he’s now a writer who is one to keep an eye on just in case le learns to curb his faults and become a vastly better one.

A look at comic book conventions in the early 1970’s

These are two bits of amazing footage from the very early years of the comic convention. This first clip is from 1971 showing fans at a New York convention which included the great Jack Kirby as a guest. At this point, Kirby had left Marvel for DC so he was hot at this point. There’s no sound but it still is an amazing bit of archive.

The next clip is from 1973 and is a bit longer. Again there’s no sound but there’s some hugely evocative images here of things like Warren Publishing’s stand at the convention, and of creators like Gil Kane.

So much of this early time is in danger of being lost to comic historians let alone fans, so thanks to the people at Comic Book Historians for posting them on their page.

A tour round Sparta Press in 1977-an amazing bit of comic book history

The internet can still be a wonderful thing. The bit of footage I’m posting here is of a tour round Spartan Press in 1977, which to most people sounds incredibly boring but to comic book fans above a certain age especially, it’s the Mecca of comic books as this is where nearly every American comic book was printed for decades.

When I worked for Neptune Distribution in the 80’s and early 90s I was totally familiar with Sparta, as we’d get their boxes all the time. For us in the UK, this would be a Friday when we’d get our shipment from the US before picking them for shops across the UK. Many a week would end up with me down the pub covered in newsprint, but DC Comics and Marvel moved more and more of their titles to other printers who could do better justice to the art in their titles. The problem with Sparta Press is their comics are wonderfully bits of nostalgia but cheap newsprint fades with time, so take say, a Daredevil comic drawn by Frank Miller in the late 70s and its likely to look dull and faded. Better printing stock and techniques made Sparta obsolete.

So to have this video pop up in my recommendations is a joy. This is deep pop culture history so enjoy…

What I thought of Doomsday Clock

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Watchmen sequel, Doomsday Clock, is the best example we’ll ever get of how much corporate comics treat creators as only money generating units even though that creator is firm that their work was never meant to be exploited as it has been with this 12-issue mess designed only to weld parts of the Watchmen story onto the main DC Universe.

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The problem lies in the fact that Geoff Johns has never actually read and understood Watchmen. Sure, he’s read it, but these 12 issues show he’s read it purely at a superficial level. All the stuff about the comics industry, creativity and humanity has been replaced by cold, hard cynicism and the need to drive forward with Big Event Comics to increase sales rather than do anything which advances the medium.

For Johns, Watchmen is just a story about a plot to kill superheroes and how that developed. It’s an entirely superficial reading of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons book. Johns fills each issue with typical superheroic violence but Watchmen violence is used sparingly, so when it is used the effect is shocking. Here, Johns and Frank just throw it around so it becomes meaningless which is exactly the opposite message Watchmen sends out.

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Here the message is ”how cool is it we’ve got Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan fighting Batman and Superman?” and that ultimately is the only premise behind the book. The plot, as it is, exists only to drive things towards a climactic meeting of Dr. Manhattan and Superman. In effect, Doomsday Clock is a device to revamp Superman in the image of Geoff Johns regardless of what current writer Brian Bendis thinks. Same goes with Batman, where here Alfred plays a crucial part in the story but in the series, he’s been murdered by Bane so he is very dead. Of course, superhero comic death isn’t real death but the fact is that Dr. Manhattan in this comic is analogous to Geoff Johns casually waving his hand and changing things as he wants.

The irony here is that Johns places the blame for ‘dark, grim and gritty’ comics at the feet of Alan Moore, but the reason those comics gained traction was because of people like Geoff Johns who neither had the talent to ape people like Moore, or the inclination to do something different so much of his work seems nostalgic but its nostalgia dipped in the grim cynicism of the dark and gritty phase of comics. In short, he’s trying to have his cake and eat it but trying to blame the disaster of things like The New 52 (DC’s short-lived attempt to gritty up all their line) on anyone but themselves.

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Ultimately all this was designed to do was to use Alan Moore’s name to give this project a legitimacy it never deserved as reducing a work which stands as one of the best mainstream comics ever made to just a product to exploit for new content to keep fans happy because they care more about Superman and Dr. Manhattan fight than the creative rights of Alan Moore or indeed, any other creator who have been shafted over the decades. These fans have all the stuff back. Multiple Earths are back, the Legion of Super-Heroes are back, the JSA are back and so is the New 52 because DC just can’t let go of failed ideas so they’ve dug up Grant Morrison’s old concept of Hypertime and rebranded it for a new generation.

So there it is. DC’s latest roll of the dice, even if it wiped its collective arse with the concept of creative rights and the kick is that the comic builds in future crossovers to prolong the Big Event Comic for the decade ahead and creator wishes be damned because there’s no solidarity among most fans or creators. As long as they get their toys to play with and the content to read they don’t care and that ultimately was all Doomsday Clock was. Content that does nothing for the medium of comics, and doesn’t even care if it does.