Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review - Batman: Assault on Arkham


Batman: Assault on Arkham is the latest from DC Animated.  Like all the DC Animated features it runs a little less than 90 minutes (75 in this case), and as usual this is just about right.  Of all the DC animated movies the only one I found to be too long was All-Star Superman; 75 to 85 minutes seems to be the right amount of time to fit everything in.  The storyline has a few twists in it, but nothing absurd or forced.  While it is a Batman movie, the main focus is on the Suicide Squad.  We also get some quick cameos from several members of Batman's Rogues Gallery, and some solid screen time from Amanda Waller.  Kevin Conroy is back as the voice of Batman after a few movies with someone else doing the voicework.  Conroy is the definitive Batman for a lot of people; some even put him ahead of all the actors who played the role in live action films.  That's an apples and oranges comparison to me, but I understand why some feel that way.  Conroy's performance is the only one that no one picks apart; everyone else from Adam West all to Christian Bale has some detractors.  CCH Pounder, who voiced Amanda Waller in the Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited animated series, reprises that role here. If I could sum this up in one word, it would be.....WOW.

The story starts off a cat and mouse game between the Riddler and Waller; while they are trading riddles and answers a Special Forces Unit closes in the Riddler to take him in.  They are interrupted by Batman, who takes them down so he can capture the Riddler himself.  He does so, because what are a bunch of special forces guys to the Batman, and takes Riddler to Arkham.  We then go to the capture of several DC Universe bad guys - Killer Frost, Deadshot, King Shark, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, KGBeast, and a new guy, Black Spider (basically a bootleg Bronze Tiger - later on it becomes obvious why they went with that).  They get the usual spiel from Waller that pertains to Task Force X, the Suicide Squad; the reason they were put together, the bombs in their neck that will go off if they care captured or try to escape, etc.  Their mission is to get into Arkham Asylum and get to the Riddler, who downloaded the identities of all the past and present Suicide Squad members onto a thumb drive stored in his cane, which is being held in the room that houses all of the possessions of Arkham's inmates.  They are also told to use Batman to their advantage while he's out doing his normal Gotham work.  Now anybody who follows the Suicide Squad knows that the mission is never what it seems to be, and that's the case here as the real reason Waller wants them to get to the Riddler is entirely different from what the Squad was originally told.


This movie is another home run for DC.  There's a lot of action, a good story, and all the twists are for the better.  Deadshot and Harley Quinn emerge as the key players on the team here, and Quinn's portrayal captures all the trademark loony-tunes behavior we've come to expect.  Deadshot is a real badass here, a step above the second level player that he usually is in the comics.  Waller is the double dealing, manipulator that is always changing the facts to get what she wants from her operatives.  And Batman is......Batman!  One of the final twists is the kind of thing that only he can pull off.  Be warned: this is not a kids' movie.  There is a lot of violence, a pretty high body count for an animated movie, the most adult language yet for a DC animated film, and even an offscreen but obviously occurring sexual encounter.  DC is really taking a risk here with what they're doing in their animated universe.  Of the four New 52-esque animated movies they've done (Flashpoint Paradox, Justice League: War, Son of Batman, and this one), two (Flashpoint and this one) have gone heavy on the language and killing, and Justice League: War had some unnecessary profanity.  I'm not trying to be a prude here, but the language and the sex scene really aren't necessary; they don't add to the story and seem to be added just for the sake of putting some edginess in the movie.  It doesn't feel as forced as it has in prior films, but I would still leave it out.  People my age (40) still dig the older DC animated films that didn't have all that just fine.

But minus that, this is a good one.  DC remains light years ahead of Marvel in the animated movie department.  I give this 4.5 out of 5.

Summerslam Approaches


In just a few weeks the second biggest WWE show of the year, Summerslam will be upon us.  We have five matches on the card so far.  With only a few weeks left until the show, there are a few questions remaining.  How will the rest of the card shape up?  What's likely to happen?  And how does this position things going forward?  What do I think so far?

  • The Main Event - John Cena is defending the WWE World Title against Brock Lesnar.  We've known about this one ever since the poster leaked over a month ago, but that doesn't mean it will be any less important.  This is Lesnar's first big match since ending the Undertaker's streak at WrestleMania, and this is the first real challenger for the title since Cena got it back at Money in the Bank.  This could go down one of many different ways.  We could get the standard Cena retaining the title ending (the worst possible and least likely finish, in my opinion), a Brock title victory (also unlikely at this point given his sparse schedule), or some kind of non finish (my pick).  If the non finish happens, then the question will be whether or not Seth Rollins cashes in on Money in the Bank to take advantage of a beaten down Cena after the match is finished.  Right now that's my pick, but we'll see.
  • Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton - This is an important test for Reigns; he's obviously going over Orton in this match but this is first major singles match on a pay per view show.  So far this year on pay per view he's been in the Royal Rumble, four straight six man tag team matches, an eight man ladder match, and a Fatal Four Way; this time around he'll be tasked with going out there and giving a good 10 to 15 minute match without any tricks.  Orton is a good worker, but a bit overrated in my book.  He can hold up his end of a good match but doesn't carry anyone beyond what they're already capable of.  If Reigns isn't read to hold up his end, this could be a bad sign for his future.  If he's going to be a face of the company kind of guy, then he's going to be able to go 15 to 20 minutes in a pay per main event against an opponent.  I don't doubt that he could work well with Daniel Bryan or Cena, but what happens when they need a simple no drama title defense against say, Mark Henry?  Last year was able to get two very good matches against Ryback and a decent one against Mark Henry over three straight months.  That's the kind of thing that Reigns will be required to do if he becomes champ.  If he doesn't look like he can do that he could very well be the next Lex Luger, a guy who is always the 'future champion' without ever beating the main guy.
  • Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt - This is the rematch from last month.  Everybody assumed Jericho would be jobbing to Wyatt at Battleground but he inexplicably got a clean win.  My guess is that the favor get returned here and we get a big blowoff match at Night of Champions before Jericho rides off into the sunset until next year.
  • Jack Swagger vs. Rusev - Another rematch from Battleground.  The first was supposed to be another win for Rusev on his way up, but the reaction Swagger started getting warranted stretching this out a little.  Either Rusev gets the win this time and moves on or we get another non finish to set up a final chapter in September.
  • Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie Bella -  This is mainly a way to keep Daniel Bryan's name alive while he's out.  I'm sure Stephanie will perform better than expected in the ring, and might even get the win in order to keep the program going.
As far as the rest of the show, there are probably two or three more matches to add.  At least one of the other titles needs to be defended, and at some point we need to actually get a Dean Ambrose-Seth Rollins match. We have a few weeks so we'll see how it shakes out.

Support is crucial


Over the last couple of weeks I've been posting about women and minorities in comics and comic-based movies, and I under-emphasized a crucial thing: our support for the comics.  There are a number of new and recurring series featuring women and minorities in either starring or important supporting roles.  If you want these to continue, there's only one way: with your wallet.  If these books don't sell they'll be cancelled, and the ones that star that's immune to cancellation will be changed to de-emphasize the characters that are getting a chance to shine now.  In addition to Cap and Thor, here are some titles that need your financial support in order to show the companies that the stories are worth continuing.  Some sell very well, some don't.  Either way it's good to add to what they're bringing in every month.  So if buy comics and you're serious about more highlighting of women and minorities look towards these:

  • Marvel - Storm, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Ultimate Spider-Man, All-new Ultimates, all the X-men and Avenger titles, Iron Patriot


  • DC - Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, Justice League, Justice League United, Justice League Dark, Supergirl, Batwing,Suicide Squad
This isn't a full list; there are other titles at the big two and from other companies that either star women or minorities or have them in prominent supporting roles.  As much as we need to keep pushing the companies to expand on these, it's important to remember that there is some material already there and that we need to support it.  At the end of the day what matters to these companies is dollars, not tweets or blog posts or Facebook status updates.  I made this same point in my WWE post after WrestleMania about Daniel Bryan.  If you want your underdog to get the chance they deserve, you have to back them up with dollars.

Monday, July 28, 2014

TNA Canceled

So the word on TMZ is that Spike TV is not renewing its contract with TNA Wrestling; if that's true and they don't get another deal they're going to die a slow death.  And with them gone, then unless Jeff Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling catches on we could finally be at the point where there's only one game in town, the WWE. That's not a diss to Ring of Honor; a lot of great stars have come through there, most notably CM Punk, but they make no illusions about their place on the totem pole.  TNA, built from the ashes of WCW after it's demise in 2001, was the last company to make a go at challenging the WWE head on.  And while they never got close to overthrowing the WWE for a brief moment they were doing some real damage to the 'E.  But that faded quickly and they returned to also ran status.  Now they're in danger of going under for sure.  Even though I don't watch TNA (I tried a few times and just couldn't.  If just felt  like a low rent WWE to me headlined by a few WWE castoffs, WCW survivors, and dudes I never heard of.), I do see it's possible demise as a bad thing for the business.  Even if most fans do seem content with only one major organization.

If you weren't around as a fan before the 90s you missed a lot of variety.  In the old territorial days you had regional organizations all over the country and each had its own distinct character.  And for the first few years of the cable TV explosion you got to see almost everything out there.  At various points from 1985 through 1988 I got to watch shows from the NWA, AWA, WWF, Mid South (based in Oklahoma), World Class Championship Wrestling (based in Texas), Southern Championship Wrestling (Memphis), Southeast Continental (Alabama), Championship Wrestling from Florida, and Central States Wrestling (St. Louis).  And that's not counting Pacific Northwest (Oregon) and Stampede Wrestling (Canada).  Ever major star of the decade traveled through several of these companies, adding a different wrinkle to their character to fit in with a new audience.  By the time people like Jake Roberts landed in the WWF, he'd spent years perfecting his character in front of different crowds in different parts of the country.  During his early days as NWA World Champion Ric Flair was literally crisscrossing the country defending against the local territorial favorites in as many as seven or eight different places a year; as things consolidated he had the skills to entertain people anywhere.  It was a really fun time to be a fan.

The business is hurt by having fewer places to work.  What happens now is that a guy (or girl) knocks around in some obscure small potatoes organization, gets to NXT, and then is put on Monday Night Raw with a short window to impress a national audience or get sent to jobberville, followed by a quiet release a few years later.  Some guys knocked around various territories for years before finding something that worked, and if your act starts to get stale in one place you could pack up for another place to stay fresh.  Having TNA around gave a few guys a chance to do that.  Christian is an example of guy who had a good WWF/WWE run but needed to get out of town for a little while.  He was able to put together a remarkable run in TNA before coming back to the WWE to close out his career.  It was also a place for people like Kurt Angle and the Hardys to go after they'd worn out their WWE welcome but were still capable of putting on a good performance. 

I hope TNA finds a lifeline; if not, we need Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling to do something.  The business needs places for guys to work (on a real show and not in a developmental league) before getting thrown in front of a WWE audience, and to work if WWE doesn't have a place for them anymore.  I personally don't have the time to devote to more than one league but those of you who do deserve options.

Comic Con Musings

San Diego Comic Con went down this weekend, and as always it was huge.  Over time SDCC has become the place that the major studios doing comic book and sci-fi movies have to roll out teaser trailers, announce new film projects, and just get everone all worked up about what they're going to be putting out over the next year or two.  This year was no different; there are a plethora of movies in the pipeline that everyone is dying for any information on, and a slew of both new and returning television shows to dish on.  And boy, did they have a lot for us.  So what we did we see, what did we learn, and what were we left wanting?  Let's see.....

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman 

Here is the big picture from the weekend, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Judging by the responses I've seen, a lot of concerns from comic book fans were squashed.  Of course there are some complainers that this doesn't work for them, but they're in the minority and they can go have several seats.  Get over it, losers.  You're not going to ruin this for us.  Just 10 years ago, even five years ago this seemed like an impossibility.  And now we're going to get the Big 3 from the DC Universe all on the same big screen together.  If that doesn't get you excited, then please hop on the next transport and get off the planet already.  We have no further use for you here, especially if you're one of the people who wanted Megan Fox of all people.  But that wasn't all.  There's the footage from the upcoming Dawn of Justice film with Batman, decked out in his Dark Knight Returns Time-to-Kick-Kal El's-Ass suit meeting up with a not too happy see him Superman.  The hall erupted in excitement at this clip, which you've probably seen the leak of already.  At his point the doubters don't have much to cling to beyond a bunch of 'yeah, but' arguments.  Yes we still have two years until the movie drops and I suppose it could suck, but whatever.  Some of these people are so dialed in to it being bad that they're going to say it sucks regardless of how it really is.  Don't be one of those people.


Other than that, we got news on Arrow.  Ra's Al Ghul will apparently be the big bad this season.  I'm for that; he's been name dropped throughout the first two seasons and we've seen members of the League of Assassins.  Given the mess Starling City has been left in at the end of each of the first two seasons, it's ripe for the kind of, ahem, urban renewal, that Ra's and the league are known for. We're also getting a new Count Vertigo and more action involving ARGUS.  The flashback scenes will now shift to where Oliver ended up after getting away from Slade and waking up in China.  Roy Harper gets to suit up now in full costume alongside Oliver now, and there will be some more new allies and adversaries for Oliver in his quest to clean up the city.

And then there was the Marvel news.  We got a panel with the full cast from Avengers: Age of Ultron, and we got the news that Gardians of the Galaxy 2 will be released in 2017. We also got some footage from Age of Ultron and the upcoming Ant-Man film. And that's where the questioning came in.  With Guardians 2 joining Ant-Man, Cap 3, Thor 3, and Doctor Strange, phase three seems to be full.  Which means that if you were looking for a Black Panther or Black Widow movie, even just a hint of news, you weren't very encouraged by what you saw.  There was a still photo released of a broken Captain America shield, which comic book fans know is a suggestion that someone may need to make a trip to Wakanda to get some vibranium, but that's it.  The silver lining to this, of course, is that Marvel has plans for several years out and there's no reason to think that as the Cap and Thor solo series finish up (although Cap may continue with Bucky taking over), there will be space for new series to start up.  But I do wish they'd done Black Panther sooner; no one outside of the most hardcore comic heads are clamoring for an Ant-Man film.  Dr. Strange and Guardians are interesting characters, and the Guardians have real breakout potential for younger viewers, but hearing that they're going on Guardians sequel before the first movie even hits theaters is somewhat deflating.  Marvel has earned our trust so far, but it looks like they're cashing it in early.  If the movies are good, then we'll be good but if they hold off movies people want like Black Panther and Black Widow just to put out a bad Guardians sequel or Ant-Man film there could be some trouble.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Women in Comics - Who is ready for the big screen?

I took part in a brief but cool Twitter discussion about when Marvel was going to do a movie around one of its female characters and who it could be.  Having looked at what we've gotten so far in superhero films, I'd say it's past due time.  As far as I know, the only woman-centered superhero films have been Supergirl from back in the 80s and from the 2000s Elektra and Catwoman. From all accounts they were awful.  Of the three the only one I saw was Supergirl and I can tell you it was terrible.  Even as a preteen I knew I was watching complete and utter crap. Given that we're in the midst of an incredible run of quality superhero films there's no reason why we can't get a good one now.  So what's taking Marvel (and the other studios) so long, and will DC move faster now that it is establishing its own film universe?  And which characters warrant the risks, both real and imagined, of doing a movie centered around a female superhero?  There are some obvious answers, and some not so obvious ones.  Here are my choices, based on the simple criteria that it's someone who the movie going audience at large is familiar with and wold consider worthy of a solo film.  Here are my choices:

  • Wonder Woman - No brainer.  The first, and most well know, most iconic female superhero around.  Thankfully, DC reportedly has a Wonder Woman film in the works as part of its list of films to spin off of the coming Justice League-centered films.
  • Storm - She just got her own solo comic series, and if she's not the number one woman in the Marvel comic universe she's pretty close.  I've seen a lot of people, be it on Twitter or in internet forums, calling for her to get a film.  There are two hangups right now.  One, Fox studios is busy prepping for the next X-Men film which Storm will be a part of.  And second, while a lot of people want a Storm-centered movie, there isn't a whole lot of enthusiasm for Halle Berry to continue playing the role.  Berry's performances have been panned ever since the first X-Men movie, and with a popular option for a replacement available in Lupita Nyong'o an announced film starring Berry might be met with groans and empty seats from lots of people who might otherwise go to see it.
  • Black Widow - Long a supporting character in the comics, Widow became a lot more interesting once Scarlett Johannson donned the black jumpsuit and got a lot of attention in Iron Man 2.  We saw more of her in the Avengers film and she was an integral part of Captain America: the Winter Soldier.  She has her own comic series now, so her own movie would be the right next step.  In fact, I'd prefer Marvel went with her next up as opposed to someone like Ant-Man, who nobody outside of hardcore Marvel comic fans is clamoring for.  The character has been set up well and with an A-list actress already doing a great job in the role there's no reason to hold this off.  Get with the program Marvel!

Those are the quick and easy choices; there are some others that could work.  We'll get to see Scarlett Witch in Avengers 2 next year.  If done right, she can definitely make a big enough impression to pique peoples interest in seeing more of her.  Captain Marvel hasn't been in a live action film or television show, but she's a big enough character in the comics that a good introduction in one movie could serve as a good set up for her own movie.  On the DC side it's a little harder once you get past Wonder Woman.  A good Catwoman film might work.  People know Batgirl, and she has her own comic book, but I don't think she's a big enough deal to surpass the perception among non-comic book readers that she's an also ran.  The same goes for Black Canary, Katana, Huntress, etc.  But if the DC film projects succeed like the Marvel ones have, the space could there in the future.  Only time will tell, but it definitely is time to find out.