Some thoughts on Comic Books and Comic Book Movies: Part 2 of 2

I don’t know if this is unusual or extremely common — to abandon a genre because you believe that you’ve read something so good (Sandman) that everything else you read in that genre just seems inferior or childish in comparison.  In retrospect, I realize that the comics I was reading while in college — at least the Marvel ones — were some of the best of that time, that their original owner had deemed fit to save, and if you actually read the month-to-month issues, so much of it really was drek.

In any case, every once in a while, I’d still read a graphic novel or two — a lot of the ones that were recommended to me, though, really weren’t all that appealing.  Sometimes they had an interesting start, but would lose my interest as they progressed (“Y: The Last Man”).  Sometimes they seemed to want to rely too much on shock value, and not enough on writing and characters (“Preacher”, “Batman: The Killing Joke”) making me wonder how anyone could actually get enjoyment out of them.Michael-Keaton-Batman

Comic books though, started having a resurgence on movie screens. There was, of course, Tim Burton’s “Batman”, featuring Michael Keaton, a far cry from what most people remembered from the 1966 TV series. Jack Nicholson made for a memorable, and far darker Joker than Cesar Romero. Batman was dark and brooding. But he also was more human than the perfectly behaved Adam West. The film turned into a rather imperfect franchise that ended with the laughably bad “Batman and Robin”. It was enough to show that a more realistic and darker comic book movie could work — unfortunately the franchise  went down in such big flames that it probably put a damper on future efforts, at least for a good while.15

Later, Sam Raimi had his take on Spider-Man. Tobey Maguire was, imho, a great Spider-Man — certainly he was a little old for the part.  But he does have a young enough face that it still is quite  believable.  And it was the movie that showed that special effects technology had progressed to the point that you could believe you were seeing a man swinging from webs attached to skyscrapers.  It also had a great sequel, featuring Alfred Molina as ‘Doc Ock’, the iconic Doctor Octopus from the comics. These were actually fun movies that didn’t take much effort to enjoy. Once again, I was a Spiderman fan — not a comic book fan, per se. But those first two movies were just fun. I guess there may have been a kind of nostalgia aspect to it. But comic books was suddenly serious business.

Now, this is about as far as I got yesterday, writing this, before I realized I didn’t have time to finish. And if you were looking forward to reading part 2, I apologize for that. But partly because I want to write my review of “Captain America: Civil War”, and partly because I REALLY do not want to write my thoughts now on a whole lot of other comic book movies, I am going to leave this almost in its current state, with only a few final thoughts:amd-batman-jpg

I’ve grown to love comic book movies. I loved the entire Dark Knight series. Certainly, the third one was not as good as either of the first two, but I still enjoyed them. I loved Watchmen — it wasn’t perfect, but for an adaptation of a great graphic novel that most people thought to be unfilmable, it was terrific. But what really got me going was the MCU — “Iron Man”, both Captain America films, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and especially “Avengers” were stand-outs, to me. These were comic book films for both comic book fans AND non-fans. They became a kind of serialized story, like comics were, and like how a lot of TV has become. And now we have a Netflix division of the MCU, and IT’S going strong, without a single misstep among the first three seasons (Daredevil 1 & 2, and Jessica Jones). DC now wants what Marvel has, and they did take a bit of a misstep with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”. But people still loved the movie, and I didn’t dislike it as much as some people seem to think I did. And I still am looking forward to their next few entries in their shared universe, especially “Suicide Squad”, and the Ben Affleck solo Batman film (after all, Batman was the best part of Batman v Superman).x-men-apocalypse-final-poster

And someone last night, when I was at the CA premier, pointed out to me that only 3 weeks from now, the next X-Men film is coming out. 2016 has an unbelievable number of comic book films coming out, some of which may be quite good. It’s gotten so that I’ve actually started reading comics again — well not the comic books themselves, but some trade paperback collections of them. I discovered Mike Carey’s “Lucifer”, a fantastic comic book which is a direct spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”. TV’s “The Walking Dead” inspired me to start reading the TP collections of (the?) TWD comic. I’ve been also enjoying some of DCs New 52 comics, particularly the Batman ones. I haven’t actually been reviewing them, and I probably won’t. But we’ll see. Anyway, Comic Books are back in my life now, and I even enjoy several of the TV shows (“Flash” is good, light-hearted fun, for example). And that’s all I’m going to say for now about it.

My final thoughts turned into a couple of paragraphs. That happens to me a lot — I go off on tangents. I’ll probably write my non-spoiler “Captain America: Civil War” review a bit later today. In short, I loved the movie. I’ll go into more detail later.

Some thoughts on Comic Books and Comic Book Movies: Part 1 of 2

I already bought my tickets to the very first thursday night showing of the third Captain America film, “Captain America: Civil War” (in IMAX). But I before I see that movie, I wanted to clear my head and get my general thoughts on comic book films in general, in writing.

When I was growing up, one of my best friends was a comic book fan — I wasn’t. He was so incredibly protective of his comic books that I never even got a glimpse of them — they were all protected in plastic coverings, hidden in what he described to me as a very large collection of cardboard boxes in his basement. But like me, he also loved science fiction (unlike me, he was a big fan of fantasy as well, but almost nothing that he ever recommended, outside of a small handful, ever gained my personal seal of approval.

reevesThat said, I did grow up watching the old George Reeves Superman TV series — even at my young age, I recognized that they were kind of silly. Mostly Superman spent is time dealing with minor mobsters and rescuing his mortal friends, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane from danger. Part of the problem, as I saw it, was that the criminals were always stupid — Superman was supposed to be this great hero, and yet they would always try to shoot him.

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Yvonne Craig, Burt Ward, and Adam West

As a child, I was lucky enough to have the Adam West “Batman” series on TV. I was 6 years old, which is likely to be the perfect age for that particular Batman.  But it was such a good, and fun show that even my parents enjoyed it, plus it was on early enough that I didn’t have to fight to stay up late to see it (like I did with the “The Ed Sullivan Show”). Today, it was a very silly show, but as a six year old, it was great. It also was helped by the very silly villains with their truly over-the-top behavior, but always treated quite seriously by the actors hired to fill those roles. This was a far cry from the darker DC movies of current times. It was pure camp, probably the purest we’ve ever seen.  The fact that it was silly, but never actually treated as a parody was part of the appeal of the show.

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Lee Meriwether, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, and Cesar Romero from “Batman: The Movie”

The Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve “Superman” didn’t really make a big impression on me.  I know a lot of people loved them, and that’s fine.  The first one came out when I was just graduating from High School, ready to enter college, and since the film really left no big impression on me, I had to actually look that up.

X-Men_Vol_1_135But what did make an impression was the fact that Caltech had a student-run coffee house  a couple of blocks from the campus that would be open late.  You could stop by after or in the middle of studying, get yourself a burger or a milk shake, and relax.  It didn’t actually look or feel like a restaurant — other than the  semi-broken and already antiquated pinball machine in one corner, it was like relaxing in someone’s somewhat messy living room. There was an Intellivision set up in front of one sofa, which, for the most part, didn’t appeal to me.  But what did was all of the scattered comic books (both Marvel and DC) that were scattered across tabletops, and a couple of these circular, rotatable metal stands (the kind that still exist today to sell comic books).  It was there that I discovered Spiderman and X-Men and the assorted Avengers, as well as rediscovering Batman and Superman. Based on what was available there (which wasn’t much, I admit) I discovered a love for Marvel, particularly Spiderman and the X-Men. The other stuff was good also, but those two are what appealed to me the most.

cerebus51-4I was still friends with the guy I mentioned above, with the big, but secret comic book stash.  And when I told him about my experiences, he made some really good suggestions of other series to follow.  The most notable suggestions included DC’s “Watchmen”, and “The Dark Knight Returns”, as well as indie comics like “Badger”, “Cerebus”, and “Nexus”.  But most notably, it included Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”.Sandman-Conversation

“Sandman” (and to a lesser extent, the early Cerebus comics) changed my opinion on comic books in general.  For me, comic books were this mindless kind of fun that I could enjoy to decompress from work or studying. But Sandman was different.  The story itself was incredibly well-written, and it was storytelling about how stories and myths are actually created. Sandman was just so head and shoulders above most of what I had been reading in comics up until then that I actually started to lose interest in all things comic-book related up until that point. It made everything else look so… bad by comparison.  I still read Cerebus (until, I felt that it went off the rails and had lost everything that I had enjoyed about it up until then). I loved Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns — they were still smart and extremely well written (and they should be required reading for anyone at all interested in comic books in general).  But they were also complete.  And then when Sandman itself, ended (and what an incredible ending) that was the last actual comic book that I would read for a long time.  I still picked up the occasional graphic novel, recommended by that friend.  But I would no longer read actual physical comic books. They just couldn’t stand up to Sandman.

It was a lot like when I had been reading the juvenile Tom Swift books, and then I discovered Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohl, and Larry Niven and Frank Herbert and Theodore Sturgeon and Arthur C. Clarke.  And I could never ever read a juvenile book again because they made me realize that they were such a waste of time. The only juvenile book that I find I can still read, to this day, is “The Once and Future King”, by T.H. White — I could not get through the first Harry Potter book at all. It just feels so terribly unreadable to me, like Monty Python with all of the funny bits edited out.  And really, to me, that’s how most comic books started to feel.

Daredevil (Season 2)

I just finished watching the last episode of season 2 of “Daredevil”, available on Netflix — and, by the way, this series (like Jessica Jones) is not for kids. There’s a lot of graphic violence that you probably do not want young kids to watch.

I’m a fan of comic book movies and TV.  And I really have enjoyed what Netflix has been doing so far with its corner of the Marvel universe.  Season 1 of “Daredevil” showed that even with a low budget, that you can tell interesting stories and create compelling characters within a comic book universe.  Anyway, I’m going to try to review season 2 now, without giving away too many spoilers.  But I don’t think its possible to be COMPLETELY spoiler free, so I’m going to tell you my conclusion right now — Season 2 is at least as good as Season 1 was, and that’s a very good thing.  It wasn’t perfect, but I loved season 1.  It was far different than anything else done for television, an experiment that happened to work out incredibly well.  So if you haven’t watched “Daredevil” (at least season 1) yet, and don’t want to risk spoilers, I would now do so before continuing, and then come back and read the rest of this review later.  I still will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.  But there will be spoilers (you’ve been warned).

Season 1 Trailer:

Season 1 primarily dealt with Daredevil, his alter ego/lawyer, Matt Murdock, his buddy and law partner Foggy Nelson (played by Elden Henson), and client/future employee, Karen Page, played by “True Blood”‘s Deborah Ann Woll.  The story arc carried them all through a major conflict with Wilson Fisk (played impressively by Vincent D’Onofrio of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” fame).

Season 2 starts about a year after the events of Season 1.  Wilson Fisk is in prison, and other criminal organizations have been moving in to fill the power vacuum, keeping Daredevil quite busy.  Meanwhile, another masked vigilante has joined the stage, and unlike Daredevil, he’s not shy about shedding blood.  He’s been turning Hell’s Kitchen into a bloody war zone, and so it’s no surprise when he starts butting heads with our hero.  This new vigilante is a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, named Frank Castle (played by Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal), but he’s been dubbed ‘The Punisher’.  Bernthal is simply perfect for this role, playing a hardened killer who may be a psychopathic serial killer, but one that we can still feel sympathy for.

As the series continues, we also meet Elektra Natchios, an old girlfriend of Matt (played by relative unknown Elodie Yung), who knows all about his alter ego.  They knew each other back in college, but things didn’t work out (for reasons shown in a flashback).  She wants Matt’s help dealing with, what she claims to be ‘money issues’, but you and I know that things aren’t always what they seem.  I can’t recall seeing her act before, but Elodie is very believable in her role.

In Season 2, the story is much more complex, with a lot more moving parts.  There’s a lot of twists and turns and unpredictability to the story.  And a lot of the characters from season 1 make a return appearance. Daredevil/Matt has a lot more worries now, dealing with both old and new enemies, two potential romances, and people who he’s not sure he can trust.  Matt’s relationships with his partner Foggy, and with legal assistant Karen are tested and we don’t know how things will work out in the end.  It makes for terrific drama.

There are some really good action scenes, especially the climactic battle at the end of the last episode.  If I have any complaints, it’s with a couple of the better-lit combats (because, Daredevil mostly fights in the dark).  I’m betting it’s because of post-processing or editing, but a couple of the fights, you can see the actors pulling punches, which makes things look fake.  But mostly the fight scenes are very well done.

We also get to see more of Foggy and Karen becoming stronger people, making their own decisions, taking risks, and being brave in their adversity.  For example, there’s a great scene where Foggy has to take control of a situation where two gang-bangers are ready to shed each other’s blood in the middle of an emergency room.  It works, it’s believable, and it makes him more likable as a character.  And Karen, per usual, gets herself into trouble, but has seen enough of that that she handles herself well.

By the end of the last episode, not everything is resolved, but enough has been, that it feels quite satisfying.  We know that Netflix would love to have a third season of Daredevil, as it’s done very well for them.  So it’s no surprise that the show ends on kind of a cliffhanger with at least one big question left unanswered.  It’s pretty clear that we will see some of these characters again.

All in all, I HIGHLY recommend Daredevil Season 2.  It’s fun, it’s action-packed, it has drama, and good acting and really good writing.  Keep in mind that Netflix’ comic book series are character-driven dramas.  Yes, they have action scenes, and yes, they involve comic-book characters.  But the emphasis is on the writing and the characters themselves.   I really appreciate that, in what amounts to a 13 hour motion picture, that enough time is spent to create tension and suspense, and to build characters.  If I have one criticism is that it is less focused than Season 1, trying to juggle several more story elements than before.  But that did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying the story.

Anyway, go now.  Watch it.  Watch the whole thing.  And I also highly recommend “Jessica Jones” as well.  It’s a much more focused, more adult series that deals with adult situations that may be hard to watch.  But it does so in a sensitive, and realistic way.  Yes, it’s a superhero series.  But it’s an adult superhero series with believable characters who suffer and have real lives and have history and have suffered genuine, relatable trauma.  For me “Jessica Jones” was not easy to watch some of the time.  But it’s one of those things, like “Schindler’s List”, or “Requiem for a Dream” that you’ll be glad you did.

Season 2 Trailer Part 1:

Season 2 Trailer Part 2: