Showing posts with label Film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film. Show all posts

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50 review

Yup, this review is spoiler-free!

TMNT #50 creative team: Tom Waltz (writer/story), Kevin Eastman (story), Bobby Curnow (story/editor), Mateus Santolouco (art), Cory Smith (flashback art), Ronda Pattison (colors), Shawn Lee (letters)

Artwork by Mateus Santolouco and Ronda Pattison
Back in 2011, IDW Publishing rebooted the TMNT franchise. Everything about the iconic mutants felt familiar, but there were new faces and plenty of organic and exciting story changes along the way. Who would have thought the Ninja Turtles are now a reincarnated family? It sounds tough to swallow, but they absolutely pulled it off.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #49 review

*This review is spoiler-free*

Since the very first issue, IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has done an awesome job making this new take on the franchise feel fresh yet also enjoyably familiar. After several strong story arcs (and some excellent limited series, like Secret History of the Foot Clan), you can really tell a whole lot of love and planning went into crafting this new TMNT universe. And issue #49? Yeah, you can tell this one is building up anticipation for the ginormous issue #50 (it's 48 pages!), while also loosely teasing the big plans that'll step forward after the next issue (or even during it?). Oh, and the fact this chapter also manages to throw in plenty of character, exciting action, and great artwork doesn't hurt, either.
Cover by Mateus Santolouco
First and foremost, getting a look at Bludgeon and Koya during some downtime was an unexpected treat. Sure, the two mutants don't receive too much of the spotlight, but it's just enough to show even more why they're basically the polar opposite of Bebop and Rocksteady when it comes to their personalities. While Bebop and Rocksteady have this "goofy best bros" dynamic going on, Koya and Bludgeon seem to have more of a brother and sister relationship, and their personalities are far more fitting for the Foot Clan. The classic and dim-witted duo, Bebop and Rocksteady, have been given plenty of attention in this title (not that I'm complaining, of course), yet it feels like Koya and Bludgeon haven't received that much love, often only appearing in fight scenes or having small remarks here and there. So, while they may not have a standout scene, it is cool we received just a wee bit of insight into the two before we return to all of the action-packed craziness.

Since issue #50 is (presumably) all about the conflict between Shredder and Splinter, this issue wraps up Baxter Stockman's plot pretty swiftly. On one hand, it's a little disappointing his role is tossed aside so quickly - the fiend has a lot of potential, after all. But on the other hand, the conclusion does make sense for him, so it doesn't come off feeling forced or rushed. And, to be fair, the last issue did mostly revolve around the team fighting his swarm. I'd like to see more of him, but his departure here is logical.

To some, this franchise is all about cool mutants, amusing catchphrases, and ninja action. While those things did make me fall in love with the Ninja Turtles when I was younger - and they definitely help keep the stories entertaining - one element is equally important: family. Even though these stories are so surreal and sometimes even silly, this is a franchise that's really about a family who's simply trying to protect each other and the need to stand up against what's wrong. You may not know any mutated turtles who are also ninjas (or DO you?), but the sense of family and a desire to do what's right will always be relatable, and that allows this franchise to deliver some heavy doses of heart... you know, in between all of the fighting. In this issue, there's just enough of that right before a big battle begins, and it's a really satisfying moment. Splinter must be a tough character to write. In the wrong hands, Hamato Yoshi may come off too heavy-handed or corny. Luckily for us, Tom Waltz gets the character and there's a fine amount of emotion that takes place before mutants begin to flip around and dish out all sorts of violence. Without an emotional connection, action can feel meaningless because you just don't care about the combatants. (Well, unless the choreography is brilliant, like in The Raid.) Thankfully, the team behind the story - Waltz, franchise co-creator Kevin Eastman, and editor Bobby Curnow - understand these characters and have made them humanizing. Man, that was a whole lot of words just to say"there's a good family moment in here."
Cover by Kevin Eastman and Ronda Pattison
It may not be as compelling as what's going on with Splinter and his family, but it's great to see Waltz, Eastman, and Curnow decided to flesh out Karai's role even more. She's been a standout character in this series and something tells me her role is going to get even bigger after the next issue. We'll just have to wait and see if that really does happen, but one thing is clear: so far, IDW's done a good job with Karai. Let's hope she continues to capture our attention.

Sweet mother of Michelangelo, this issue has some really enjoyable fighting. Right when it feels like we've reached a cliffhanger moment and all of the popcorn entertainment will be saved for next month, we're thrown right into the madness. It's really tough to discuss this part without giving anything away, so I'll skip the details (just trust me, it's a fun scene) and instead jump to praising a very important reason why the action thrives: artist Cory Smith and colorist Ronda Pattison.

From Mateus Santolouco - who provided the attention-grabbing primary cover - to Sophie Campbell, IDW has been fortunate enough to work with several very, very, veeery talented artists. Their styles may be drastically different, but the decision to often have them work an entire arc prevented the changes in visuals from being jarring, and the distinct styles were often fitting for the story at hand. To top it off, Pattison's been around since the very first issue and doing an incredible job the whole time. Even when the anatomy, environments, and lines may be noticeably different, her attention to each and every panel has given us a feeling of consistency and brought so much more energy and emotion to these pages. Thankfully, she's still bringing it after dozens of issues and the end result is one mighty fine looking comic. The combination of Smith's strong character work, impressive handling of motion, and use of angles really pulls us into these moments, making them feel like they're actually playing out instead of being just static images. Throw in Pattison's impressively consistent coloring - I love how certain moments hit us with bright shades to sell the intensity - and it's safe to say issue #49's pages will leave most eyes feeling fulfilled. Man, I know I said I wouldn't give spoilers, but there's one double-page spread that's just begging to be turned into a poster. The "let's do it!" one also rules. Yes, I enjoyed it so much that I said it "rules." Whether it's a slow, character-driven scene or getting us pumped for action, the visual team delivers.
Cover by Jason Howard
There's one moment in here that made me really, really happy. Obviously, I won't give detail about its but I will say it was a totally unexpected surprise. I'm very excited to see how the team will utilize this new element in an already pretty crowded world - it was also a satisfying follow-up to a tease in a previous limited series. There's a lot going on right now and I'm anxious to see where the conflict with Shredder will go, but this new plot point has me thrilled. Brace yourselves, fan service is coming.

My only (relatively minor) criticism is the cliffhanger doesn't capitalize on all of the excitement nearly as much as it could have. With so many cheerworthy and interesting things going on, the final moments just isn't as gripping as what came before it. I wish I could elaborate here, but for the sake of remaining spoiler-free, let's just say the cliffhanger doesn't have me concerned or feeling like the stakes are truly high right now. But hey, it's a pretty small critique and thankfully everything before it makes up for it and then some. I also wish another dynamic was given more attention (considering something huge recently happened with the family), but maybe we'll see more of that in the next chapter - I certainly hope so.

If you've been following the series or simply love this franchise, this is a phenomenal issue. It's action-packed, has a (literally) huge surprise, and it continues to handle these characters extremely well. Based on the quality of this issue and the ones that came before it, I have a feeling the next issue - which is a whopping $7.99 - will be worth every penny. I won't conclude this review with a cheesy pun (I swear "cheesy" is an unintentional one), but I will end it on a very blunt note: it's clear IDW loves this franchise, and I absolutely love what they're doing with it. So yeah, consider this 30-year-old TMNT fan very happy. Bring on #50!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles "Tale of the Yokai" review

Last week, Season 3 of Nick's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returned with an episode that introduced the classic time-traveling character Renet. The episode, appropriately titled "Turtles in Time", had plenty of fun and creative ways of utilizing time travel - especially when the villain, Savanti Romero, had control over it. With "Tale of the Yoaki", the show is going in a more dramatic direction as it travels more than a decade into the past - 16 years, to be exact - to flesh out the rivalry between Hamato Yoshi, a.k.a. the man who eventually becomes Splinter, and Oroku Saki, a.k.a. the man who transforms into Shredder.

"Turtles in Time" was a total blast, but this second time travel story - which is written by the show's EP/head writer Brandom Auman, and directed by Sebastian Montes - feels like the complete package. It's the kind of episode that hits you with jaw-dropping action, scatters in some legitimately hilarious moments, and has a strong overall story that's full of intrigue and, more importantly, emotion. Like Mikey even points out in the episode, this tale (briefly) shows you a different side of Shredder, and leaves us wondering quite a few things. For example, I'm left thinking about what could have happened in Tang Shen did choose Oroku. Sure, Donatello explains why that could spell doom for the future, but could Oroku have saved the planet? Would he become a hero, or would he still be destined to resurrect the Foot Clan and take a more villainous path? I'm guessing the latter is bound to happen, but with the solid handling of the story - complete with a Back to the Future nod, of course - it's fun to think about. Also, a less composed Splinter, one who occasionally shows arrogance and doesn't hold back quite as much, was definitely an interesting thing to witness.

There's plenty of great comedy in here. For me, the highlight comes from when the Ninja Turtles dish out some psychological warfare because their enemies believe they're mythical creatures called Yokai. It was a great way for the show to implement some of the horror elements its known for, while also delivering plenty of funny lines and cool visuals. Plus, baby Miwa Karai - and the way she tugs on Leo's mask - is absolutely adorable. There's just enough consistently strong humor and nods in here to balance out the dramatic and surprisingly emotional narrative between Saki and Yoshi.

Montes' handling of the action scenes is amazing. The excellent directing allowed us to appreciate the characters' swift movements and skill, as well as the overall intensity of the scenes. There's several cool bouts in here and they just get better and better. There's an especially immersive shot that's used right as Yoshi and Saki begin their final fight in the dojo. There's a lot of steady shots that allow us to enjoy the technique, but that one was especially clever. And speaking of shots, it's great and all kinds of fitting how an emotional debate between Yoshi and Shen takes place on a peaceful bridge with the bright, towering city in the background. Oh, and the slow motion block and vanish that happens in the woods? Terrific stuff.

Even though you know what's coming when Saki and Yoshi begin their heated (pun so not intentional) fight, watching it all unfold is still a surprisingly gripping and powerful experience, so that's saying a lot about just how strong the writing and direction is in this episode. IDW's comic series also brought the Ninja Turtles back to the beginning of Yoshi and Saki's conflict so it could drop a stunning twist. Thankfully, Nick offers one that's completely different yet equally mind-blowing.

Minor criticism: At the start of the episode, the team's running away from a group of ninjas, and they're pretty freaked out and intimidated by them. Yes, it's quickly revealed these ninjas are no joke, but that's something they didn't know just yet, so them fleeing like that is obviously a comedic beat. Considering all that the team has been through and the fact they just faced a ginormous, time manipulating villain who's all kinds of frightening, you'd think this challenge wouldn't send them running like that. Still, it did make me smile!

"Tale of the Yokai" is an awesome episode and it's yet another example of how this show can juggle action, laughs, and heart so well. We all know how the conflict between Shredder and Splinter began in the Nick TMNT universe, but knowing the basics of this story by no means takes away from just how exciting and compelling it is. Ninja Turtles fans, watch this episode.

Fantastic Four movie review

By now, you've probably seen a bunch of reviews treating Fox's Fantastic Four reboot like it kicked a puppy. While I haven't read those reviews just yet - I've only glanced at the harsh headlines - I can see why some people are really, really disappointed by the cinematic return of Marvel's first family. That said, the movie does get a lot right... before taking a pretty big downward spiral, that is.

The first half hour or so of this movie is solid and includes what is by far the most interesting material. It mostly revolves around Reed Richard's (Miles Teller) as we see his passion for science and discovery, his close friendship with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and his amusingly awkward attempt to talk with Sue Storm (Kate Mara). This humanizing approach, along with the buildup to the Negative Zone Zero Earth is handled really well. It's feels like we're watching a solid sci-fi movie - not a comic book movie - that's inspired by the first volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Sure, there's some silly stuff, like how "it's clobbering time" is first used and Sue casually calling Victor Von Doom "Doctor Doom", but overall, this is where the movie really shines and pulls you into a more grounded and enjoyable story.
After the team develops their powers, this is where the movie seems to lose direction. There's a clear message here about the U.S. military and how it focuses on what it needs to do to remain a dominant force, even if it means making some people miserable and callous. I mean, when there's a shot of Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) - a guy who's clearly working with the military and treating the team like weapons - walking out of a vehicle and into a building, it has blatantly ominous music.

There's hints at character development when the powers are gained: Johnny finally feels like he's found a purpose in life, Sue doesn't want to be a weapon, Thing turned from a tough guy with a big heart into a freaking killing machine, and Reed's simply trying to find a way to fix his friends. However, none of it really goes anywhere; it kind of feels like this time is spent just to give them control over their powers instead of giving their personalities the amount of attention they should receive. I would have loved to see 20 minutes or so dedicated to some scenes that give each of them more insight; the Thing certainly could have used it. Then we're thrown into Doom's return, and unfortunately, that's when things become all kinds of predictable and silly.

Victor Von Doom is a missed opportunity, and that's a real shame because Toby Kebbell proved he's an excellent actor in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I'm fine with changes to the source material, but they have to bring something compelling to the table to justify the new direction. In this case, they attempt to make Victor more humanizing earlier on - he's still somewhat off-putting, but he's far friendlier than you'd expect him to be. Once he changes, the potential is there to have him loathe the Fantastic Four and want to rule Latveria the way he believes it should governed. Instead of that - something which would open the door to more interesting conflicts down the road and a better villain - Doom decides to unleash end of the world scenario #4,852. Look, some movies can get away with using stakes that ridiculously high, but in this movie, the sense of urgency and danger just isn't there and it all happens so quickly. Doom makes a heartless return, but the big battle plays out exactly how everyone thinks it would - and that's because we've seen stuff like this time and time again. It's just not nearly as exciting as it could be and it's very, very generic. When a movie has so much buildup, having this as the payoff is severely disappointing. (Oh, and I'm just going to assume Doom's green cloak is the U.S. flag that was left on the planet and it has been stained by the glowing resources.)
I enjoyed Teller as Richards; he captures the character's personality well and I can see him eventually becoming the team's leader and finally being able to have a strong relationship with Sue. I also liked Bell as Thing. His voice may not be as deep as you'd expect it to be but I think it worked. There was the potential for a really strong arc with him, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Michael B. Jordan's Johnny Storm is the last member of the team to be introduced, and while I think he does a fine job with the material he's given, the character isn't quite as uplifting and fun as he should be. He has a few moments of levity in there and the fact he's a thrill-seeker (he street races) means he'll love testing his powers, but when he does finally say "flame on", it's just a casual remark instead of embracing the fact that he can now, you know, fly! If the sequel does happen, hopefully they have his character bring more life to the movie. As for Kate Mara's Sue Storm, it feels like she's there to be a plot device instead of a complex character. There's plenty of time dedicated to her looking at computer screens or testing her powers, but it really does seem like she's there to help locate someone and then provide the team with a force field when they need it. There's a hint of character depth there - she doesn't want to be a tool for the military - but nothing really happens with it, unfortunately.

Fantastic Four begins as a legitimately interesting sci-fi, character-driven movie, but then it doesn't focus enough on what it wants to accomplish with each hero, and then things become unoriginal and disappointing when Doom is brought back into the picture. All in all, I agree with writer-producer Simon Kinberg that it's "not a disaster", but it's definitely not a good movie, either. It had the potential to be one, but then all of the movie's strongest qualities are tossed aside as it speeds towards the big boss battle with Doom. But hey, now that the team has finally bonded, maybe - just maybe - Fantastic Four 2 (if it even happens now) will be great. Until then, we can keep watching The Incredibles. That one's pretty... awesome. Bet you thought I'd say "fantastic", didn't you? Nope! You're welcome.

2/5

(There isn't a credits scene. Oh, and Thing dropping from the plane or slowly raising his fist to presumably unleash one hell of a strong punch? You know, the shots that are in many of the trailers? Those moments aren't in the movie.)

Spider-Man Reboot: Kraven might be the Villain

The Amazing Spider-Man #15, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Another day, another comic book movie rumor. This time, Heroic Hollywood claims Marvel Studios and Sony's Spider-Man reboot in 2017 could have Sergei Kravinoff, a.k.a. Kraven the Hunter, as the big bad. Thanks to great stories like Kraven's Last Hunt and Grim Hunt, Kraven has not only become my favorite Spider-Man villain, but he's also one of my favorite comic book characters. There's a lot of potential with Kraven and I even wrote about why I think he deserves his own series. (That'll probably never happen, but a man can dream, right?) So, when it was revealed that Kraven could possibly be appearing on the big screen, you would assume I'd want to throw some confetti. Instead, I'm left with very mixed reactions.

Based on all of the statements that have been made in interviews and the information that has been officially released about Tom Holland's Spider-Man, it sounds like he's still very new to being a hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Him being in High School is no big deal to me - there's plenty of material in that era, and Ultimate Spider-Man and the show Spectacular Spider-Man proved that time period can be revisited in a fun way. However, Kraven going after a rookie Spidey feels like it could be wasting the character's potential. Sure, this can plant the seeds for having him eventually join the Sinister Six or the creation of movie inspired by Kraven's Last Hunt, but as much as I love the villain, he really doesn't seem like the best choice for young Spidey's first big challenge.
In the MCU, that title goes to Star-Lord. Good luck in the dance off, Sergei.
Why I think it shouldn't be done: In Amazing Spider-Man #15 (the villain's first appearance), Kraven goes after Spider-Man because Chameleon tells him all about the powerful hero in New York. It's to save his own skin from the web-slinger, but Kraven's excited by the challenge.While Parker's still very young at that point, he already faced several big threats (e.g. Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, etc.) and earned a name for himself. He's still new to the game, but he's overcome a lot of enemies and he's become a public figure. But in a cinematic world that includes Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, and more, why would Kraven go after a rookie hero instead of one of the heroes that has saved the world twice now?

Even if Chameleon tries to sell Sergei on it, he could still view it as being below him and he would instead set his sights on someone far more worthy of a hunt. Obviously, he realizes people such as Thor and Hulk are out of his league (it is worth noting Kraven took on Hulk, but that was after he was brought back from the dead and gained an accelerated healing factor), but he could totally view someone like the super-soldier as a potential target - one that's more worthy of his attention than a young and seemingly inexperienced hero. If Spidey is still a novice, I can't help but feel like Kraven should be reserved for a later date - a time when Spider-Man has become a household name in New York and criminals are hesitant to go outside because they know he's out there.
Kraven: 90% confidence, 10% leopard print.
Why I think it could work: Even if Kraven thinks Spider-Man poses no threat to him, it's definitely possible Chameleon could convince Kraven to help him out. Perhaps Kraven owes Chameleon a favor or maybe he just sells the new and young hero especially well. While this would be changing a small part of how the two initially met, it could still build the same conflict they have in the comics. Kraven's confidence could get the better of him and he'd be surprised by the wall-crawler's speed and strength. The plot that appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #15 would be a good way to give Spider-Man new challenges without really interfering all that much with his High School life - and according to the co-writers and directors, the High School story plays a big part in the movie. \

This conflict - taking on the world's deadliest hunter - could turn Holland's Spider-Man into a more clever and experienced hero. Battling someone as skilled and as tactical as Kraven will make him emerge as a more efficient hero and it'll also leave Kraven with a new objective: to one day prove he's superior to Spider-Man.
Scarlet Spider #23, by Christopher Yost, Erik Burnham, David Baldeon, and Chris Sotomayor.
My knee-jerk reaction to this news was mostly a negative one. I'm sure they can use the villain well and I of course want the movie to be great, but I believe Kraven seems more fitting to include when Spider-Man has already earned a reputation. I'd love to see him appear in the second movie, and the first one has a threat like Mysterio or Scorpion. But hey, we still don't have all of the facts about the new cinematic version of Spider-Man. Maybe his cameo in Captain America: Civil War will be impressive enough to put him on Kraven's radar. Either way, it's just a rumor right now, so only time will tell whether or not this pans out. No matter what happens, I'll obviously keep an open mind about it until we get a chance to watch the movie in 2017.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters review

You've seen Batman: The Animated SeriesJustice League, Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series, or Justice League Unlimited, right? Assuming the answer is yes (and it really should be), that means you're familiar with Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett's work. Now the two have teamed-up to deliver a character-driven mystery that's sprinkled with creative fan service, loaded with exciting action, and packing a legitimately interesting approach to DC's trinity.
There's been a wide variety of alternate universes over the years; we've seen everything from Batman in a different era to Superman being raised by a different family. At this point, bringing something 100% original to these characters would be a herculean feat, but Timm, Burnett, director Sam Liu, and Geoff Johns (a bonus feature explains how he helped build the story) have managed to present an alternate universe that leaves me wanting to see so much more of it. Where will the remaining characters go from here? What changes have been made to other heroes and villains? Can these characters slowly begin to resemble their iconic counter-parts more and more, or will they never be able to reach that heroic level? This is a world where things aren't completely upside down, but they're just different enough to breathe so much more life into this place. Morals have shifted, the cosmic mythos is altered, and things aren't going to go so well for many familiar faces. The Justice League's three members are Gods compared to regular humans, but does killing their enemies also make them monsters? Or is a lack of transparency and trust what truly puts them at odds with humanity? I love the way the conflict between the Justice League and the U.S. Government is explored - there isn't a lot of blunt exposition and it escalates naturally - and I'm left seriously hoping we get a sequel at some point. There's still so much potential on their version of Earth.

Overall, Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment's direct-to-video projects have solid voice acting. There's some films where certain characters fall flat, but there's been far more hits than misses, thankfully. In Justice League: Gods and Monsters, the performances are definitely solid and that's hugely important because this is a movie that relies on character development and making sure these individuals are compelling instead of just being colder and more violent versions of characters you already know so well.

Tamara Taylor's voice manages to capture Wonder Woman's strength and vulnerability equally well. Whether it's yelling in combat or temporarily letting her guard down, it just wasn't jarring when Wonder Woman switched from a fearsome warrior to someone far more relatable. Benjamin Bratt's voice further solidifies the fact that we're dealing with a totally different version of Superman. The Man of Steel still sounds confident, but instead of speaking in a way that give listeners a feeling of hope, there's more mystery in his dialogue - there's something especially scary about a man who can talk calmly after killing his enemies, after all. You can really tell this is a guy who thinks he knows what he wants (he's tempted to rule humanity with an iron fist, yet never choose to do so), but he's still torn over whether or not he's doing the right thing. He wants you to believe he's firm in his beliefs, but deep down, it's obvious he's far more torn than he lets on. Bratt's lines absolutely did this character *ahem* justice. And Michael C. Hall as this darker version of Batman? I mean, we're talking about the voice of Dexter as an emotionally distant killer. Come on, it really doesn't get more fitting than that, does it?
Everyone may be familiar with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but Justice League: Gods and Monsters' take on these heroes are quite different - it isn't even the same people wearing the costumes. Because of that, this movie has the difficult task of revealing three new origin stories while also building an overall story. Luckily for us, these origin stories don't interrupt the flow of the bigger picture. Instead of feeling like jarring flashbacks, they unfold in a more natural way and the handling of Batman and Wonder Woman's earlier tales are a nice reminder of just how much this narrative relies on character instead of big events and spectacle. On the surface, these characters are colder and darker than their famous counter-parts. However, this story is able to humanize all three of them in different and equally effective ways.

The new designs are also a satisfying way to make it crystal clear we're leaping into a whole new world. Batman may still be swift and skilled, but aside from the signature ears and wings during flight, plenty of changes - like the goggles that aid his eyes - help this character stand apart from the Dark Knight. The same holds true for Wonder Woman's armor. I won't go into where it stems from (spoilers, obviously), but it's a clear reflection of someone who isn't from the same place as Diana Prince. Meanwhile, Superman no longer has his signature chest emblem (something Batman doesn't have, either!) or flowing cape. The way his coat waves is a nod to Big Blue's design, but overall, this Superman feels like a more grounded and practical approach to this individual. He isn't here to inspire; here's here to crush the opposition. There's no need for bright colors with him.

There's a lot of cameos and familiar items floating around, so viewers with a good amount of DC Universe knowledge are going to be pretty pleased with just how many people and recognizable things were sprinkled into this story. Some are nothing more than "Hey, I know that person!" kind of appearances, but it's still cool they packed so much in here. It's especially interesting how they handled one popular villain, but I won't get into that because, you know, spoilers.

Liu makes sure all of the action leaves an impact. From immense, super-powered strikes to jaw-droppingly harsh acts of violence, every encounter finds its own way to make an impression. Each "hero" fights differently - Superman's a blunt tank; Batman's agile and precise; Wonder Woman's frighteningly good with her blade - and the director's able to present all three kinds of action scenes in equally enjoyable ways. A slugfest between titans is every bit as jaw-dropping as Batman leaping around or Wonder Woman deflecting a barrage of projectiles. It's all thrilling and there's plenty of it. There's some especially over-the-top stuff in here as well and man, it's a blast.
My biggest criticism of this movie is one that also applies to many other superhero stories: it doesn't seem likely at all that the villain's elaborate plan will succeed. The buildup is excellent and there's a fair amount of surprises in the mystery, but once everything is revealed, it begins play out in a pretty standard - albeit enjoyable - manner. While it does remain focused on character - that, along with morals, is easily the most important part of the story - I would have loved to see some more creative twists once the villain's plan is put in the spotlight.

The Blu-ray's special features are definitely worth your time. There's an extensive look - 11 minutes and 45 seconds long - at next year's Batman: Bad Blood. This movie already had my interest, but after watching this feature, I'm legitimately excited for it. Going into the feature, all I knew about Bad Blood is who's directing (Jay Olivia) and who's voicing Batwoman (Yvonne Strahovski) and Batwing (Gaius Charles). This feature reveals so much more of the story - something I won't spoil in here - and goes into great detail about who's involved and what kind of roles they'll play. I will drop one incredibly minor and vague spoiler, though: Nightwing fans, it looks like you're going to be happy.

There's also a 20 minute feature about the various alternate realities DC has created. If you're looking for must-read alternate tales or simply want to hear some of DC's talent explain what makes stories like Kingdom Come special, it's most certainly worthy of your attention. Additionally, there's a feature which explores how Gods and Monsters was created. It's a very insightful look into where the idea came from, how the characters were designed, and what makes this universe worth exploring. As if nearly an hour of extra content wasn't enough, there's also an older feature about the history of Darkseid and the New Gods - there's a big emphasis on Jack Kirby's work, of course - and two relevant episodes of Superman: The Animated Series and Legion of Superheroes.
Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a must-watch for both new and old fans of DC's animated projects. Thanks to great designs, a sharp script which focuses heavily on character, and a variety of intense action sequences, Gods and Monsters is a movie that deserves a spot in your collection.

4.5/5

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is currently on sale digitally and the Blu-ray/DVD will be available July 28. It's rated PG-13 and, thanks to some graphic kills and language, it certainly earns that rating.

SDCC 2015: Thoughts on the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer

As expected, a new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer debuted at San Diego Comic-Con. Almost 4 minutes long, this video shows off a ton of new footage, dropping not only more of the conflict between Batman and Superman, but also revealing a whole bunch of new teasers. Based on what I've seen so far, it looks like a good percentage of fans enjoy the trailer just as much as I do, but if it's cool with you, I'm going to take a moment or two to explain why I'm so excited for this film.

First and foremost, I love how DC and Warner Bros. is using the Battle of Metropolis from Man of Steel to construct its new cinematic universe. What occurred in MoS is a big deal and it should have enormous ramifications. Far too often movie franchises will have surreal events occur and then they're glossed over. "Yay! The day is saved! Now, what's the next global threat?" Instead of racing forward and focusing on the future, DC and WB seems to be taking this big event and giving it so much more weight.
Just imagine if what went down in Metropolis actually happened in one of our cities. Aliens make a very public arrival with a clear warning - which would be startling enough - and then they begin to terraform the Earth, killing thousands in the process. Pretty terrifying up, yes? As if that wasn't shocking and frightening enough, it's revealed one of those absurdly powerful aliens - too formidable to be defeated and/or restrained by our militaries - has been living on the planet the entire time. Once the dust settles and the villainous aliens are defeated, this titan who has been hiding on our planet still remains. How do you know you can trust him, especially when the devastating battle killed so many innocents? Sure, a vast majority of the deaths came from the World Engine, but as viewers, we were given a much clearer picture of what really happened in the fight. To top it off, this person saved the day by snapping his enemy's neck. Now he's just roaming around the planet and we have to take his word that he's never going to flip out and destroy us all. Naturally, the word would have mixed responses to this seemingly invincible being. Some would think he's here to save us from every little problem and he'll always be there to help, no matter what. Others may loathe him. Many will be afraid of him. There would undoubtedly be plenty of polarizing coverage as talking heads influence people to either love or loathe Superman. This plot point is huge and it's so refreshing to see a majority of this follow-up movie is playing off of that tragic event (and in a remotely "realistic" way, too) instead of just reducing it to a few references and then moving forward with a totally different narrative.
Seeing how the Battle of Metropolis impacted Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne - the trailer reveals he's a man who has already endured great loss - was surprisingly powerful. The way he runs towards the destruction as everyone else flees it is a reminder of just what kind of man he is. How many close friends (and maybe even a loved one?) did he just lose as his building collapsed? Then the way he grips a child as he looks towards the sky - presumably watching Superman and Zod fighting or just gazing at the destruction they've left behind -  is powerful stuff. From his view, he can't tell it's Zod who's blasting apart the building with heat vision. He just knows Superman can do that, and that's a major problem to him. Even though we know they two heroes will end up as allies and they should solve their differences with their words, this trailer makes us really appreciate where Batman's determination is coming from. Plus, we all know Lex Luthor is going to be pulling some strings, right?

Superman is now thrown into the spotlight - something he tried to avoid for years and years - and based on the drastic reactions he's receiving, it's easy to understand Jonathan Kent's concerns that the world isn't ready for someone like Superman. Despite a noteworthy percentage of the world throwing nothing but vitriol his way and an overwhelming amount of darkness and tragedies occurring across the globe, the trailer shows Superman isn't shying away from doing what must be done. When politicians point the finger at him, he's willing to meet them head-on about it. Now, what he says has yet to be revealed, but showing him going out of his way to save others (he saves astronauts from a failed rocket launch, goes to what appears to be a ginormous flood to aid people, and he is spotted saving someone else from a fire) you can see he isn't turning his back on this world, despite it throwing so much hate his way.
We didn't see much of Wonder Woman, but the little we did see leaves me feeling confident that she'll be an impressive powerhouse in the movie. It looks like at least twice she's hit quite hard (the first shot shows her in front of a damaged Batmobile with a trail, so it seems like she was knocked into it) and then she recovers like it's nothing. I mean, the look on her face after she takes a hit? If that's not an "oh, it's on" face then I just don't know what is. It's clear they make a point to hide from us who Wonder Woman is battling and, thanks to some editing, they make it seem like Superman's the one blasting heat vision at an armorless Batman. However, I think they're fighting whatever the big bad is in those scenes - presumably a twisted, reincarnated version of Zod. This could make him a new version of Bizarro (I could picture Lex saying the being is "bizarre") or Doomsday. Maybe even Cyborg Superman or Metallo with Lex Luthor involved! The brief shot of the Batwing reveals a devastated landscape, so I'm guessing that's thanks to Superman and Wonder Woman battling this big bad. Or perhaps it's just a trail of destruction left by this new foe. Either way, it looks like these three are definitely teaming-up to take on whatever Lex Luthor creates. And based on this small sample of footage, I'm stoked. Then again, it could just be Wonder Woman and Batman battling a somewhat mind-controlled Superman (if Lex Luthor has Zod's body, he's studied Kryptonian physiology), but I really hope that's not the case. The whole "heroes fighting because of mind-control" plot device has been used so many times before; I'd much rather see them unite against one powerful enemy.

Additionally, this version of Batman looks like he's going to be pure fan service. There's a little nod to the iconic The Dark Knight Returns lightning cover (2:56), and seeing him use his grappling gun and briefly fight goons was totally thrilling. I appreciate Nolan's trilogy, but this version of Batman looks epic. Not only will he be a brilliant inventor and tactician, but from the looks of things, he's also going to have some serious combat skill.
One scene brings up some questions: "desert" Batman fighting soldiers with the Superman logo. The most common and logical theory is those troops are the cinematic version of The Dark Knight Returns' vigilante group called the Sons of Batman. It seems these rogue soldiers worship the Man of Steel and kill people in his name (they're seen executing helpless people). I'm thinking that the "Batman" they're fighting isn't Bruce (it's worth noting the chin looks different), but instead a man who's inspired by Batman as the Dark Knight stands up to the unstoppable God called Superman. It's tough to tell for certain, but if so, that could mean as a human dares to oppose the all-mighty alien, regular humans will rise against this group of soldiers who are sporting Superman's symbol. One can only assume that Batman and Superman will eventually find a way to put an end to that senseless and bloody madness. Or, this could simply be Batman trying to stop them and he's captured. (Possibly on purpose since he's crafty like that and knows it would bring Superman right to him.) If so, that could explain the shot of Superman going to their base. We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

Holy teasers and fan service, Batman! The Robin costume immediately has me - and a gazillion other people - wondering if the first Batman spinoff will be inspired by Under the Red Hood. Seeing as that movie has the potential to look into the past (new mythos building, people!) and also offer an action-packed and compelling story in the present, that's an approach I'd love to see adapted for the big screen... especially if Ben Affleck is directing! Yeah, people still love ripping on him for his older work like Daredevil and Gigli, but his latest work is excellent (The Town, Argo, Gone Girl) and that's what matters. I was already sold on him as Batman, but this trailer further boosts my faith in his performance.
I'm not here to make you change your feelings about this upcoming movie. Man of Steel was polarizing and if you still feel skeptical about Batman v Superman, so be it. Only time will tell whether or not the movie will live up to the hype, after all. But me? I can't help but support what I love. And this new trailer? Yeah, I definitely love it.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens March 25, 2016.

Batman/TMNT crossover comic announced: 5 must-haves

First, IDW Publishing made the child in me feel all kinds of nostalgic with Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening's very entertaining Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters limited series. Now, the publisher has joined forces with DC to create a crossover that makes me want to throw the planet's entire supply of confetti in the air: Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not only were these my two favorite franchises back when I was a kid, but now I'm approaching the age of thirty (this August!) and, thanks to some excellent comics, video games, TV shows, and movies, I still adore these two franchises.
CBR landed the exclusive announcement, announcing the series will have six issues and the creative team is James Tynion IV and Freddie E. Williams IIHere's the official synopsis:
"In the ongoing power struggle between the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, General Krang, and the Foot Clan, allegiances have shifted and the battle lines have been drawn. Krang concocts a plan to rid himself of both the Turtles and Shredder by transporting them to another dimension, where they land in the dark and dangerous streets of Gotham City. It isn't long before they encounter Gotham's most famous resident, Batman. The Caped Crusader may be their only hope of overcoming their enemies and getting back home. But not before they encounter a whole cast of Gotham's most infamous rogues."
If you can't tell by now, this news has me seriously thrilled. So far, this is easily the biggest surprise to come out of San Diego Comic-Con 2015 and it is without question the one that has me the most excited. The two released images - one above and one below - look awesome, and as terrific as seeing this team-up may be, it's going to take more than these heroes sharing the page to turn this into a memorable adventure. Only time will tell how the story is handled, but for now, here are five things I'd love to see in the limited series.

Character-driven, not plot-driven
When you have characters visiting another dimension, there's of course going to be a pretty big plot going on. How'd General Krang manage to pull this off? How will the Ninja Turtles (and presumably Shredder) get back to their own world? These are two huge questions which deserve a whole lot of attention, but at the end of the day, everyone is purchasing this story for the characters, not how the crossover happened and how it'll be resolved. The bigger picture will likely take more predictable (but probably fun) beats, but the character moments is where this limited series will have a chance to really impress. Batman's dynamic with the Ninja Turtles has so much potential! Mikey could joke about Bruce's serious demeanor or possibly even admire him; Raphael may get jealous or frustrated; Donatello could relish the chance to work with someone so brilliant; Leonardo may grow to respect Bruce's tactical mind and drive. In the end, they'll of course all bond and respect one another, but the conversations and the situations they'll produce are sure to be legitimately interesting.

Meanwhile, Shredder has a whole new city to conquer. Who will he get to follow him? Who may he view as a threat? Sweet mother of all that's holy, could we see a Shredder and Bane alliance?! I can't help but feel like Joker will pop up and, if he does, I sincerely hope he doesn't make a fool out of Shredder. The Clown Prince of Crime has had plenty of time to shine. This limited series not only has a chance to put the Ninja Turtles' personality on display as the interact with the Dark Knight, but it also has the chance to step up Oroku Saki's formidability and see whether or not he can provide Batman a legitimate challenge in the hero's own city.


Don't hold off the big meeting until the first issue's cliffhanger
There obviously needs to be buildup as the story and characters are all established, but we're all here to see the heroes interact. Saving that big meeting for the cliffhanger of the first issue? Not a cool move. I understand they'll do what they can to make the overall plot satisfying, but it would be hugely appreciated if they can effectively present all of the details and then have this meeting occur before the issue ends. Also, an intro page can be used to give the basics about all of the characters to save space and reduce exposition.

Interactions with other heroes in Gotham
The solicitation reveals we'll see more of Gotham's villains (which is so exciting), but what about Bruce Wayne's allies? A well-written Alfred interacting with these teenage mutants could be brilliant and delightfully lighthearted. Or what about Damian tossing some rude comments their way? Mikey and Raphael's reactions could be pure gold. The journey can give us a lot of insight into the Ninja Turtles and Batman, but these extra characters have the potential to make things all kinds of fun. If Shredder's forming an army and getting a chance to mingle with Batman's famous rogues gallery, then witnessing the Ninja Turtles interacting with Alfred, Damian, Nightwing, and others could be a real joy - especially if they all join forces for a massive battle in the end. That would be an overwhelming amount of fan service, wouldn't it?

Batman vs. Shredder
If Batman and Shredder are in the same city, Batman and Shredder need - yes, need - to have a jaw-dropping melee battle. We know Shredder and Splinter are the best fighters in their universe, but how do they hold up against the Dark Knight - one of DC's most gifted fighters? I'd place my money on Batman winning - even if hand-to-hand is a stalemate, he has several gadgets that are game changers - but still, this is a chance to show that Oroku Saki's skill is great enough to take on the Caped Crusader. Then, that means Master Splinter can as well. As someone who spends far too much time discussing "who would win in a fight?" - because I'm an adult like that - this is an important opportunity to show us how the IDW combatants stack up to DC characters.
There's no need to pander
By now everyone knows the Ninja Turtles love pizza and have dated (yet still awesome) catchphrases. There's no need to pull Batman into those things and make him look a little silly by suddenly learning to appreciate pizza (note: Batman's favorite topping is justice) or getting him to unenthusiastically say "cowabunga" when the villain is defeated. There's natural ways to acknowledge these things without making it feel forced. For example, Michelangelo could make a joke about how the pizza in Gotham is terrible. Could the things I'm complaining about be used and work? Totally, but I'd prefer to see the crossover avoid the obvious.

Bonus: Stealth!
Master Splinter has taught the Ninja Turtles to rely on stealth. Batman? Yeah, he's kind of the master of stealth. It would be amazingly cool if there's at least one solid scene of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles using stealth to infiltrate an enemy stronghold and they're able to take out a number of goons without even being spotted.


Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will go on sale this November. Yes, I will absolutely review it!

The first announced Batman v Superman Wonder Woman figure is a Barbie. Really?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice's opening weekend is quickly approaching and with San Diego Comic-Con right around the corner (at the time of writing this), it's obvious Warner Bros' big DC movie is going to have quite a presence at the event. We're all anxious to see what'll be revealed during WB's Hall H presentation - last year they showed footage and finally revealed Gal Gadot in her Wonder Woman costume - but there's obviously going to be plenty of merchandise as well. Funko has revealed its adorable versions of Ben Affleck's Batman and Henry Cavill's Superman - which I would totally want to buy if I was going to the convention - and now Mattel has revealed some of its BvS collectibles.

There's a two-pack of Batman and Superman action figures, two Hot Wheels vehicles, and the very first Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Wonder Woman figure! Did she also get an action figure so fans could pose her with the two other DC heroes or pretend to have her fight Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent? Nope, she gets a Barbie. Why? Because apparently girls don't collect action figures?

On one hand, having a Wonder Woman Barbie figure out there is pretty awesome (and it sounds like a Batman and Superman one are on the way). There's a zero percent chance I'd ever buy it, but this gives young fans - and some older collectors - the chance to have an especially strong and inspiring Barbie. Hopefully, it gets them into the DC heroine - you know, even though Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice looks like it's aiming to be a more "mature" comic book movie. Still, there's many other Wonder Woman things kids can enjoy, like the comics and the Justice League animated show. Anyway, there's countless Dark Knight and Man of Steel collectibles available, so the chance to get even more people interested in Diana is of course a good thing. That said, I can't help but find this choice to be pretty ridiculous. Why do Batman and Superman get action figures and Wonder Woman's instead turned into a Barbie? Yeah, Batman and Superman are the main characters in the movie, but stereotyping much? This is DC's trinity, people! Young and old fans should be able to have all three of them together - something which paints Wonder Woman as their equal instead of pandering and thinking the only way young girls would want a Diana figure is if it's a Barbie.


I'm sure we'll eventually see Wonder Woman action figures, but why didn't Mattel instead just make that two-pack a three-pack, especially since EW's latest cover implies Wonder Woman will play a noteworthy role in the movie and we know she has her own spinoff in a few years? It currently costs $30 ($15 for each figure, which seems overpriced based on the quality seen in those images), so if they included her, they could bump it to $45 or even $40, just so it seems more affordable. Doing so absolutely would not prevent many, many people from buying it. Maybe this Barbie will create a new generation of Wonder Woman fans and maybe it'll motivate others to get more into the character. Maybe I'm overreacting here, but I can't help but feel like Wonder Woman - who's a ridiculously skilled and powerful warrior - not getting her own action figure (just yet?) along with Superman and Batman is pretty messed up.

Source: USA Today

Deathstroke: Please stop making him a jobber

*Contains Son of Batman spoilers and minor Batman: Arkham Knight spoilers*

Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator, is one of DC's most formidable mercenaries. He may not be able to melt his targets with a blast of heat vision or shatter mountains with his fists, but the combination of his extensive training, enhanced physicals, and gifted mind has turned him into one of the publisher's most lethal and imposing characters around. He's humiliated a wide range of heroes and villains - he was even able to temporarily elude Superman and he's given Batman all kinds of trouble - yet for some reason beyond me, a number of his appearances outside of comics have been downright embarrassing. Slade may just be a fictional character, but if a video game, TV show, or movie is going to use him, the guy deserves some respect.
Deathstroke #1 variant cover by the amazingly talented Andrea Sorrentino. (Read his Green Arrow run!)
I usually enjoy DC's animated movies a whole lot - they have way more hits than misses - but I was especially excited for 2014's Son of Batman. Not only did it have Damian Wayne, Batman's awesome son, as a main character, but it also had Deathstroke stepping in to serve as the big bad. Immediately my mind raced with all of the possibilities. Slade - a brilliant tactician and skilled fighter - could force these two to bond and work together to take him down. Something like that would have created a seriously badass fight and a natural way to have Bruce and Damian overcome their differences as they use teamwork to defeat the villain. Suddenly, they're forced to trust and rely on each other if they want to survive the encounter. But that isn't even close to what happened.

Not only was Deathstroke's role lacking any kind of solid inspiration - he felt more like Bane because he thought the League of Assassins was rightfully his to lead - but his fight against the Dark Knight was shockingly swift. So short, in fact, that it made me exclaim, "What?! That's it?" Batman just effortlessly drops the dude with a quick combo. As if that wasn't degrading enough, Damian then has a one-on-one fight with Slade and walks away as the victor. I'm not saying Damian should never be able to win that one, but if he's going to take the victory, it would rely on his wit, resources, and tactics - not hand-to-hand technique. His agenda wasn't an organic one and the most dangerous mercenary was reduced to someone Batman can beat without breaking a sweat and even Robin can eventually best him in a direct fight. The character design was pretty cool, but everything else about Deathstroke in Son of Batman was seriously lacking.
Likely would have been a better movie if Ra's was the big bad.
Most recently, Slade made a surprise appearance in Batman: Arkham Knight. Once you complete the main story, Slade takes control of the Arkham Knight's army. When it's first teased that a mercenary is now controlling the bad guys, I got all kinds of happy on the inside. I was confident it was Slade and once it was revealed that it is him, I was thrilled. How could I not be? The guy had an excellent appearance in Batman: Arkham Origins. Sure, he was one of the earlier boss battles, but he was easily the most difficult fight and the game seemed to have a pretty good handle on the character. Unfortunately, Arkham Knight seemed to lose sight of who Slade is and the character in this game doesn't seem like him at all. First and foremost, his personality and dialogue makes him come off as a bratty child who's puffing his chest and making idle threats instead of being someone who's calculating and legitimately threatening. He's constantly bragging about how good he is and how Batman needs to stop relying on using "toys." But guess what? You don't fight Slade in a crazy hand-to-hand boss battle this time around. Instead, he has a tank of his own.

It's a shame a potentially awesome boss fight is used as another excuse to get in the Batmobile, and what happens next adds insult to injury. The way he's taken out once the tank is destroyed is beyond degrading. How terrific would it be if the tank fight was followed by an encounter which relied on stealth, countering, and using a variety of gear? Pretty terrific, yeah?  Instead, Slade leaps at Batman, gets tackled, and then gets knocked out with one punch. Slade claims he was caught off-guard, but that's pretty tough to believe seeing as he's the one who lunged at Batman's vehicle. Well, at least Guy Gardner and Slade Wilson now have something in common: getting flooded by the Dark Knight after a single punch.
Occupation: part-time jobber.
Slade's appearances in Injustice: Gods Among Us - he's the first obstacle Batman takes down and the cinematic prior to it has Bruce taking an easy edge - and the third season of Arrow - a brief cameo which even the actor, Manu Bennett, wasn't happy about left a lot to be desired as well. If Slade does appear in the DC Cinematic Universe - and rumors are claiming he will - let's hope he's a memorable and layered mercenary instead of someone who just offers a cool action sequence and then is cast aside. I'm not saying Deathstroke needs to be this seemingly unstoppable force whenever he appears, but if he is going to serve as an antagonist, he shouldn't be someone who's taken out through just basic melee combat. If used, he should challenge a hero's intellect and skill in a big way. He should push their physical limits while also forcing them to be more tactical and creative. A good villain has the chance to show us just how far a hero can push themselves to overcome evil - that's exactly what Deathstroke should bring about when he's the primary villain.

A lot of appearances have handled the character properly (countless comics, Young Justice, Arrow Season 2), but I hope him being a total jobber in recent appearances isn't a sign of what his future will be like whenever he pops up outside of comics. Deathstroke shouldn't be included in something just because he's a fan-favorite - he should be included because he has what it takes to truly test the hero's abilities and his personality can create interesting dynamics. If TV shows, movies, and video games really want to use an assassin who will get walked all over and offer a forgettable conflict, I hear Brutale is looking for work.

Batman: Arkham Knight review

"You have failed this city," said no one ever to Batman because he's Batman.
"Be the Batman." Rocksteady Studios' marketing campaign for its third - and allegedly final - Batman game recognizes just how much people loved being the Dark Knight in the other Arkham games. From the jaw-droppingly badass combat to the sheer awe experienced while gliding around an immersive Gotham City, the developer knows fans love stepping in the Caped Crusader's dark boots. Rocksteady also knows fans have incredibly high expectations for their latest project since the previous installments raised the bar for comic book video games. Thankfully, Batman: Arkham Knight is epic, appropriately moving, and full of fun.

The game's story really leaves an impression when it's focusing on delving deep into Batman's mind. Sure, this has been the focus countless times before and we all know the basics about who the Dark Knight is and what made him undergo such a drastic change, but that doesn't stop Rocksteady Studios from giving us brilliant and creative insight into the iconic hero. For example, when we're reminded of the death of Batman's parents yet again (for the gazillionth time), the scene swiftly goes in a different direction instead of trying to find new ways to make it emotionally powerful. The ending of Arkham City should be a big deal and thankfully it isn't ignored or just glossed over. The adventure's easily at its strongest when it focuses on Batman's psyche and how that event has not only impacted him, but also how others view him. Luckily for us, focusing on Batman's mentality is pretty frequent and there's some unforgettable sequences as the main story gets closer and closer to its end. 
Spoiler alert: unfortunately, the Arkham Knight isn't Condiment King.
While I am impressed by the amount of love Scarecrow receives - I sincerely thought he'd be a secondary villain who's cast aside halfway through - the whole mystery surrounding the Arkham Knight is telegraphed pretty heavily. When Batman does finally discover who's behind the mask, it isn't nearly as compelling as it could have been and there isn't any major follow-up. There was a lot of potential there and once the reveal is made, it feels like one of the weaker points of the story. I wouldn't say it's bad, but it just isn't nearly as gripping or moving as it could have been. Also, for such a narrative-driven franchise, it is disappointing the final ending is so sudden and leaves so many questions. The desire to make gamers speculate is perfectly fine (I have 3 theories), but for that to be the final end (presumably) is a bummer. Perhaps that'll be fleshed out in the DLC, but having to pay extra money to fully appreciate an ending seems like a greedy decision. That said, considering the handling of Batman and a few other points (which I won't spoil, obviously), there's much more to this story than the identity of the Arkham Knight. All in all, I believe the story's strengths outweigh the material that's just okay.

Overall, the voice acting is solid. Hearing Kevin Conroy as the Dark Knight and Tara Strong as Harley Quinn is going to make any Batman fan feel all kinds of happy on the inside. There's plenty of dialogue that's pure fan service, too. Some of it is a little heavy-handed, but I'll admit it still made me smile. Despite having some bratty dialogue, Troy Baker's performance as the Arkham Knight does an effective job making you understand the characters blend of hatred, sadness, and confidence. John Noble's perfect as Scarecrow, delivering lines that match the villain's eerie appearance and his dark mission. Aside from a few of Poison Ivy's lines (and can someone please get her a new outfit?), it felt like a fair amount of characters have their chance to steal some of the spotlight and some have the opportunity to effectively land powerful material - a few bits of dialogue with Jim Gordon (Jonathan Banks) and Tim Drake (Matthew Mercer) immediately comes to mind. I have no shame in admitting I was shocked and emotionally moved at least twice during the journey as well. I'd love to elaborate about the few parts that left me stunned, but since it's an enormous spoiler, I'll just have to bite my tongue. 

The following is a little spoilery (discusses a character who hasn't appeared in trailers), so skip this paragraph if you don't want any spoilers! Seriously, scroll down. Okay, I'll assume they're gone. So, for everyone else, I just want to say Mark Hamill's performance as the Joker manages to still be completely chilling and captivating. As someone who thought the franchise gave him a too much attention, I'm really impressed by the way the Clown Prince of Crime is handled in this one. I of course won't say how he plays a role, but it's a great way to enhance our emotional connection to Batman and it provides a little more twisted and clever humor. Speaking of humor, I absolutely love the conversations random criminals have as you explore the city. There's some seriously funny dialogue in there, especially after completing the main story.
Dual team takedowns aren't common but they're worth the wait.
Whether it's through secondary missions or the main story, there's a whole lot of characters from Batman's mythos in here. From characters who lack depth yet provide entertaining challenges (Firefly, the pyromaniac who loves to be repetitive about burning the city) to Man-Bat's tragic tale, it truly feels like a crowded and fleshed-out city. Catwoman, who's limited to being Riddler's hostage for a very long period of time, even jokes that she's there just to serve as Bruce's motivation. While not all of the characters are incorporated well (Poison Ivy's story makes sense, but it's a bit too out there for my taste), the opportunity to play as some of them or interact with others in the city is still satisfying. To top it off, there's even a fan-favorite brought in once the conflict with Scarecrow and Arkham Knight is completed! At the time of writing this, I haven't fought the villain yet and his dialogue does sometimes feel out of character (they don't seem as confident and intimidating as they should be), but I hear when you do face them, it's with the Batmobile. If true, that's a real shame because there's already so much vehicle combat and this individual has the chance to offer a difficult boss battle that requires a variety of melee attacks, gadgets, and stealth. Yes, the vehicle fight could be fun - there's one boss battle with the Batmobile that had me feeling an overwhelming sense of urgency and it was a nice change of pace - but using this villain for a tank vs. tank scenario seems like a complete waste of the character's talents.
To no one's surprise, controlling Batman in combat and stealth segments is such a rush. His melee abilities remain badass, fluid, and easy to use. Now there's something called "Fear Takedown" and using it honestly never gets old. They want you to feel like you're Batman and this is the perfect addition to making you feel like you're a gifted, imposing, and swift vigilante. Gadgets remain a joy to utilize in combat and they come in handy since enemies now have medics - characters capable of reviving downed enemies and even giving the recovered foes electric charges. Just like in the previous games, few things in the adventure are more satisfying than stalking criminals and having them walk right into your traps. Thanks to a few cameos, there's also the addition of dual team takedowns. When fighting alongside Catwoman, Nightwing, Robin, or even the Batmobile, Batman can join forces with his ally (or vehicle) to dish out an attack that'll immediately incapacitate the fiend - there's even one boss fight which relies on this. 

While there are several boss battles to enjoy and you can tell when you're nearing the end because the game will throw larger and larger hordes of enemies at you, I'm glad the final run of the main mission decides to focus purely on story and character instead of a potentially repetitive boss battle. There's plenty of combat to find and there's plenty more when the story with Scarecrow and Arkham Knight reaches its end, so the decision to deliver an imaginative way to sell the story is hugely appreciated. It really is a great way to really capitalize on all of the buildup.
Now just $50,000 per month. 0% APR for up to 5 days, too!
Seeing as the Batmobile is the franchise's big new feature, the vehicle obviously plays a pretty substantial role. As expected, speeding through the elaborate city is exciting and surprisingly enough, it's used to make some puzzles even more interesting. The combat mechanics are solid and they do give the game more variety, but when the regular melee combat, predator scenarios, and detective elements are all so good, I can't help but feel like they went a little overboard with the amount of times you need to fight waves of tank drones. As entertaining as obliterating overwhelming amounts of enemy vehicles may be, using Batman to glide below the cloudy skies or stalk henchmen is way more thrilling.

The visuals are stunning. They did a tremendous job creating a fitting atmosphere for Gotham and I've yet to get tired of staring at all that the city has to offer as I perch on a rooftop or race to my next objective. There's just so much variety sprinkled throughout the city and the framerate never took a noticeable drop (while using a PS4). It really is impressive just how much attention went into crafting this place and filling it with easter eggs. There are so many times I found myself simply rotating the camera around Batman so I could admire the view. 

The score plays an equally big part in pulling you into this fictional city. It's downright epic at times - sometimes even overshadowing what's going on - and there's one track that felt beautiful and tragic at the same time. I believe the first time it plays is when Batman's doing something especially heroic and putting himself in a fatal situation. Even though you know he's not going to die that early in the game (totally not a spoiler), it still manages to give the scene so much more weight.

Since I pre-ordered my copy for the Playstation 4, I had immediate access to the Harley Quinn, Red Hood, and Scarecrow missions. Harley Quinn's is the most elaborate mission and it includes exploring, predator sequences, melee fighting, and a boss battle. I didn't keep track of the time, but it was likely 10-15 minutes long at most. Playing as Quinn is pretty fun, especially since she has the ability to go into a frenzy which increases her speed and allows her to knock people out with one swift and oh-so-harsh combo. She may be lighthearted, but her extra vision mode reminds you just how frightening and unpredictable she can be. I imagine fans of a certain Robin won't be too pleased with the mission's outcome, though! 

As for Red Hood, the former Robin has 3 challenges: a direct brawl, a predator scenario, and a boss battle (Black Mask). The ability to use his twin pistols is a blast - totally unintentional pun - and his snarky responses are amusing, so this Jason Todd fan (I just lost some of you, didn't I?) is very pleased. Just like with Quinn, his content only took about 10-15 minutes, but their fighting styles are noticeably different. 

The Scarecrow missions are just 3 races followed by boss battles (while you're still in the Batmobile). Each race takes roughly a few minutes (assuming you aren't a total disaster at driving) and the boss sequence is just a few more. While the scenery and challenges a giant Scarecrow throws your way are cool, nothing is really done to make each race feel different than the other one. The only noticeable variation is the track. Aside from that, it's the same obstacles and the fight against the giant Scarecrow never undergoes significant changes. Unless you really love driving, it's unfortunately repetitive and doesn't seem to be as creative as it could have been. 
I believe I can Batman. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
It's a shame there isn't much replay value with the DLC - why can't I use Harley Quinn or Red Hood in other challenges? - but if you really love these characters and can afford it, then it's worth experiencing. Based on this, I can only assume Batgirl's upcoming story mission will also be 10-15 minutes long. Considering her role in the game, I'm very motivated to see her beat up a ton of bad guys. Here's hoping the extra content in the season pass justifies the whopping $40 price tag. I'm hoping it includes more combat and predator challenges, because as far as I can tell, there's only 4 of each (and they have pre-assigned characters!) yet there's at least 12 Batmobile challenges. Not cool.

Look, I'll be complete honest here: I've got a bit of Bat bias going on. Not only is he one of my favorite DC heroes, but I really, really enjoyed Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. If you didn't spend a bunch of hours having a good time with those games or don't care all that much for the Dark Knight's world, then this one obviously just isn't for you - the fan service will be lost on you and feeling unstoppable in a Batmobile isn't going to suddenly win you over. However, if you even kind of consider yourself a Batman fan and like the previous games - even just a little bit - then I absolutely recommend playing Arkham Knight. It's a must-buy if you loved the previous games and a rental for casual fans. Sure, a key story element didn't blow me away and that feels like a missed opportunity, but this game is one hell of a ride. Whether you want to think that's a terrible Batmobile pun is entirely up to you.

For the "too long; didn't read" crowd:
+Fighting and exploring as Batman.
+A ton of focus on Batman's psyche.
+The graphics and the way Gotham is brought to life.
+Lots of fan service.
+Voice acting.
+Scarecrow's role.
+Plenty of content.
+Epic score.
+/- Batmobile's fun but plays too big of a role.
-Arkham Knight's story.
-Only 4 combat and 4 predator challenges. Characters pre-assigned, too.
-Final ending leaves way too many questions.
4.5/5


Robin: Son of Batman #1 review

Robin: Son of Batman #1
DC's the New 52 had several memorable story arcs. Stuff like Geoff Johns' time with Aquaman and Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's Green Arrow run immediately come to mind. A number of titles earned a huge amount of praise and understandably so, but one that I believe was underrated is Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin. Sure, the quality jumped around a bit in the middle, but the opening story, Born to Kill, is amazing, and there are several other highlights, like Damian attempting to prove he's the best Robin or even Batman's ridiculously dangerous mission to resurrect his son. Now the title is moving forward without Tomasi and Batman. Gleason is taking over writing and the rest of the visual team (inker Mick Gray and colorist John Kalisz) are sticking around. This is obviously great news for anyone who enjoyed the previous run because it'll welcome them back with familiar visuals and even if the story takes some missteps, at least we know our eyes are going to receive some lively artwork.

This first issue proves Gleason can handle writing and providing pencils. The story isn't off to the most original start around - it certainly jumps around a bit - but what's important here is the handling of Damian Wayne. Many of us like the character because of his personality and for the most part, Gleason has a good handle on it. A few moments made me smirk and Damian's blunt desire to call everything upsetting him "stupid" was amusing and felt in character for the little dude. This first issue clearly focuses on showing Damian's confident and won't back down from anything or anyone, but behind that arrogance, there's a lot of emotional weight and he's finally going to deal with the twisted things he's done. Now, he's already proven he can be a great hero, but given the events in Batman and Robin and how closely connected he is to his grandfather and mother's work, it's understandable his past would once again feel like a huge weight on his shoulders. Speaking of huge, part of me is left wondering why Damian's Man-Bat, Goliath, looks different than the others. I guess we can just chalk that up to his love for eating and possibly even some of the al Ghuls' experimenting? It's not like the DC universe has weirder things than a muscular and red Man-Bat, after all.

As a reader of the previous run, I'm beyond thrilled to see plot points from Born to Kill are moving forward. There's an amusing play on words ("there appears to be nobody on board") and the villain's opening draws parallels to the previous story. There's a lot of potential here, but this is mostly setup - it's just enough to leave me wanting more. Then again, Born to Kill is also one of my favorite Damian stories, so I'm obviously a little biased here. Aside from that, we pretty much have to wait and see how the rest will be handled. It really is a pretty standard teaser/beginning that happens to be loaded with fan service for longtime readers. Here's hoping the "return" of Nobody will be every bit as emotional and exciting as it should be. There's another arc in here, but once again, it's basically one big teaser. This issue really is all about giving the reader a proper look into Damian's head - who he is and why he must do something about his past - and loosely setting up the bigger picture. To me, the most important element is making sure this feels like Damian, my favorite Robin, and luckily, it does. I love how the opening builds up this mythos with a new villain and then Damian just walks all over the guy with no problem whatsoever. The first splash page managed to put a huge smile on my face - it was great seeing Robin back in the spotlight and acting how he should.

Whether it's bright moments that are filled with fantasy elements or darker displays of horror, Gleason, Gray, and Kalisz deliver visuals that are animated, full of appropriate shades, and do a more than thorough job telling the story with their angles and use of expressions. My only criticism is things get a little too hectic when Goliath leaps into action, but the splash page which follows it is excellent; I love the contrast of the bold Man-Bat and the sky.

Question: What's up with the title jumping from Batman and Robin's $2.99 price tag to $3.99? It's odd the series removes DC's most popular hero (he's out of the picture for now, at least) and raises the price, too. I'm obviously willing to pay the extra dollar for this series, but I figured the price increase is worth bringing up.

Fans of Batman and Robin and/or Damian Wayne will want to pick this up. Thanks to consistently energetic visuals and a clear understanding of who Damian is, Robin: Son of Batman is off to a solid start. It has just enough action, personality, and intrigue to hook you. Now it's just a matter of seeing whether these plot threads will turn into something compelling and thrilling. Thankfully, this Damian Wayne fan is feeling pretty optimistic.

3.5/5