Posted in Comics n Stuff, Films

Defending the DCEU part 4 – Suicide Squad: The Extended Cut

This was the one I was least looking forward to. I have reservations regarding some of what became known as ‘Snyderverse’ but a lot of that were questions about plot direction and overall feel. The actual film making wasn’t real problem. I had problems with what the film did, not how they did it. With this film, it was quite honestly both, but we’ll get to that.

Suicide Squad was a 2016 film written and directed by David Ayer and had something of a stellar cast playing villains and bad guys from DC’s stable of characters. The cast included Will Smith as Floyd ‘Deadshot’ Lawton, Margot Robbie as Dr. Harleen ‘Harley Quinn’ Quinzel, Jai Courtney as Digger ‘Captain Boomerang’ Harker and Viola Davis as Amanda ‘The Wall’ Waller. We also have Jared Leto playing the ‘Joker’ and cameos from Ben Afleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash.

The plot involves Amanda Waller recruiting members for Task Force X as she manoeuvres and manipulates events to have this team in place for when it’s needed. From maximum security prisons she recruits Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Slipknot, Harley Quinn, El Diablo, Killer Croc and the Enchantress and has Rick Flagg, the one ‘good’ guy riding herd on them, with Katana having his back. The team is then set out to rescue someone from Midway City after Enchantress frees her brother and the two powerful magical beings work to do ….. something and the task force is sent along with two teams of special forces operatives and chaos ensues. Whilst all this is going on the ‘Joker’ (I am using quotation marks for reasons that will be clear later) is trying to find and liberate Harley Quinn.

I will be honest internet people, I was dreading this particular section of this DCEU rewatch. I don’t have fond memories when I first watched the film and in particular it’s use of the ‘Joker.’ That said, there’s a lot to like about it.

Viola Davis inhabits the role of Amanda Waller, giving her a sense of power and of menace that previous portrayals have lacked. She plays the character as a person who fully commits to doing that job and as a result has no compunction with whatever needs to be done in it’s service. She lies, manipulates, blackmails and at one point cold-bloodedly murders and seems to not at all care about it. You can’t help but hate her, but know that what she’s done could save others. Some of the cast have a lot of fun with the role, Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomering is a lot of fun and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje breathes life into Killer Croc. We also get the revelation of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, who plays crazy with such wild abandon that it’s hard not to watch her flit between sharp psychologist and unhinged lunatic. The moments with her and the action scenes are true high points of the films. There are a few lines that stick with you long after the rest of the film fades away like the taste of popcorn. There’s also an interesting point in how people feel after metahumans become and thing and then Superman is killed. People in power are scared and the Suicide Squad is a reaction to that.

But sadly there’s only so much you can say that’s positive. Will Smith phones it in, Joel Kinnaman mustn’t have needed to eat during most of the shoot, since he feasts on the scenery. I’ve been to butchers where there was less ham and much of Jay Hernandez’s Diablo’s story seems to not land for me. But in such an ensemble cast, not everyone’s going to either deliver or be given the screen time to deliver and it’s hard to be too harsh, but we don’t stop there. From the video game menu style captions, to the disjointed tone and the weird balance of exposition where we get lots of lots for some things and almost none for the others. The editing and direction seem wrong in a way that I can’t describe as a lay person, but don’t like as a viewer. The final act with the ubiquitous blue sky beam is just not very good, despite the drama and characterisation that the film tries to deliver at the end of it.

There’s little in this film that seems well done, I can see several of the actors doing their best and the second unit people don’t come up short, but overall this film is something of a lukewarm mess. This wasn’t a failure of concept because some things work and it would lead into a sequel which proved that. This was a failure in execution on several levels. I’ve watched it now, so it can go back into the the DVD storage thing for a few more years now.

I know, I didn’t mention the ‘Joker’ in this, but I’ll be honest I didn’t want an additional 600 swear words in an already rambling mess of a post. I will say two things 1: I like Jared Leto as an actor, he was great in Requim for a Dream and other roles and I have enjoyed his musical efforts 30 Seconds to Mars, so I mean no slight to this actor. 2: We’ve had Mark Hamill, Cesar Romero, Tim Curry, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Joaquim Phoenix play the character, plus several others and each one doing something quite different from the rest. How far off the mark do you have to go to not be recognisable as that character. I use inverted commas because I honestly don’t see this guy as the clown prince of crime, I just don’t.

The positives I can see is that the some of the things in this film that worked survived into other, better films and they are ahead of me.

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Posted in Comics n Stuff, Films

Defending the DCEU Part 3: Wonder Woman

After the rise and fall of the past two films, we get a bit of a more cheerful and uplifting one, set against….the trenches of World War One?

This 2017 film directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston and David Thewis capitalised on Gadot pretty much picking up the previous film and walking off with it and moved that goodwill into it’s own film.

It is the story of Diana Princess of the Amazon island of Themiscyra and how when a pilot from ‘Man’s world’ called Steve Trevor crash lands near the island and is in need of help, she goes with him against her mother Queen Hippolyta’s wishes and finds herself in a very strange world, our world in 1918.

We get a good look at the island full of warrior women who have no war to fight and how Diana, the only child there is loved and cared for, provided she doesn’t do anything the queen doesn’t like. Like most kids, she rebels and chooses exile from her home over ignoring the danger that exists from the war and who she feels is responsible, Ares the god of war.

Along the way we get some good perspectives on the horrors of war, the abject cruelty of those at the top and the wreckage left at the bottom. We also get some decent performances from the supporting cast and one or two great action set pieces from the attack on the beach, to the liberation of Veld to the by this point iconic No Man’s Land scene.

This isn’t a perfect film, it’s a bit preachy, overlong and it’s sort of fitting that the male lead’s name is Pine because the word of the day here is wooden. But this is a film that has a lot of heart and does it’s best to be showcase a character that often is mishandled, but when done right is a fantastic heroic figure and this film does have it right.

The point of these posts was defending DC’s recent films and to be perfectly honest, this film doesn’t really need defending. It’s fun, action packed and a good way to spend a couple of hours, it’s just a shame it’s sitting in between other films that don’t handle the material so well.

Posted in Comics n Stuff, Films

Defending the DCEU Part 2 – Batman vs Superman – Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition

After the flawed but promising start of Man of Steel, Zack Snyder followed it up with Batman vs Superman in an attempt to jump-start a MCU style shared universe. It.. didn’t work out like that.

Starring Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck as Superman and Batman πŸ¦‡ respectively with supporting roles by Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot as Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman and is a film bristling with ambition.

The plot is that in the wake of the Kryptonian attack, the world doesn’t really know what to do with Superman. Many fear what he can do and just as many see him as the symbol of hope he can be and he is equally bereft as his rescue of Lois (now his girlfriend) has become this juggernaut of unforeseen consequences. This is both helped and complicated by Lex Luthor who sees Superman as another in a line of abusive authority/father figures and an aging Batman who recognises the threat that Kryptonians pose and can only see Superman as something to get rid of, unable to see the man in the Superman.

Herein lies the films big problem. Its not the different version of Lex Luthor played her as a scares little boy version of Mark Zuckerberg, or ‘Batfleck’ being not what the fan boys wanted. These are interpretations that for the most part work. No, the biggest problem is that this film doesn’t get Superman. They play the isolation of this strange visitor and how people have their doubts about him well enough. But at heart Superman is a well meaning guy who doe the right thing because it’s the right thing and that is oddly missing from this film. It suffers an oft encountered problem with the character which in an inability to find the core idea of humanity’s big brother who wants everyone to be okay and doesn’t need to elevate himself. Whenever you see him silently floating overhead you are missing the point of him and that shot happens a lot.

But this is not Denouncing the DCEU, so I need to point out the positives. The film’s reliance on talking head clips is actually a useful narrative device to show how the world is reacting to Superman and quite a lot of it rings true. Amy Adams gives a degree of weight to the often unlikeable character of Lois Lane without trying to make her more likeable. She’s hardnosed and determined and these are shown as reasons to respect her rather than reasons to like her. It’s the most believable iteration of Lois I can think of, this is a successful reporter for a reason. The visuals are also quite striking, this version of Superman doesn’t hold true but it is beautifully rendered. There’s also a lot of moments that work, Clark Kent investigating the Batman is an interesting look into the Superman movies we could have gotten, his crusading journalist mode being a real person rather than a disguise and Cavill pulls it off, without pulling off the playing different characters thing. Also the scene were Lois has a gun to her head and is scared for her life, becoming calm and relaxed as soon as Superman shows up. This added to the very well executed action set-pieces (including Batfleck’s star turn in the warehouse scene) make this an exciting and engaging film to watch, despite the bum-numbing 3 hours run time (seriously had to split this over 3 nights so that SuperSam could watch it with me) and at time bizarre plot points.

As part of the attempt to do a Marvel, this film includes introductions to Aquaman, Cyborg, Flash and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman herself appears periodically throughout the first two hours before arriving in the 3rd act to just walk away with the rest of the film as a woman who doesn’t seek to fight, but enjoys the hell out of it when it arrives. Gal Gadot’s smile as she is knocked on her ass is a joy to behold and her blasΓ© remark of “I’ve killed things from another world before.” just shows how overqualified she was as a guest star in this film. Something that can also be said of Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth who is the best live action version of this character I’ve seen to date.

So yes, this film fails to accurately capture the spirit of the title character(s) and fails in it’s goal of launching a successful and coherent shared film universe and this ultimate edition is long. All of these are true and fair criticisms of this film, but it’s well put together, has stakes and ultimate is fun, even when it’s taking itself far to seriously.

It’s a solid 3/5 with some of the wrong lessons learned from Man of Steel, but I was glad to have watched it and am more committed to doing this rewatch than before.

Next Time: Wonder Woman

Posted in Comics n Stuff, Films

Defending the DCEU – Part 1: Man of Steel

I have decided internet people that 2023 is the year I start being positive. Instead of constantly looking at a half empty glass, I will try to view things from a more rose-tinted lens. This came into severe focus yesterday morning as my son SuperSam was failing to find his school tie. Whilst it’s disappearance (and later discovery) brought up some issues to discuss later as a family, I tried to cool him down from getting in a flap with the following 3 questions.

1: But did you die?

2: Was anyone severely hurt?

3: Did you s**t your pants?

Since all three was a no, it wasn’t worth getting so upset.

Now that’s easier said than done, but it showed me that I could look at things in a different way than I used to and that became even clearer when the other night we started watching 2013’s Man of Steel.

Now I have been less than kind to DC’s movie output over the last decade or so as they’ve tried to replicate the success of Disney’s multi-media powerhouse franchise the MCU. Sadly DC haven’t done the work that Marvel did for the first 4 years of it’s existence and so it’s been a series of mixed bags, rather than a shared movie universe full of interconnectivity and multi-layered storytelling.

So lets ignore than comparison, let’s leave the MCU juggernaut to one side and look at DC’s efforts as their own thing. Are the films good? Do they get the spirit of the characters? I thought this is something to look at and decided to start with Man of Steel.

This film had a story by Christopher Nolan and script by David Goyer and the whole thing was directed by Zack Snyder and featured Michael Shannon as Zod, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Clark Kent/ Superman.

Rather than take the 1978 movie’s pattern and show the story of Superman in order, the origin of Clark’s life on Earth is given in flashback. The story opens with the destruction of Krypton and the efforts of scientific cassandra Jor-El to save his son and preserve something of his race, his world and culture. We see Clark living on the road, constantly moving as he often uses powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men to save lives. During this part of the film we also see the difficulties in his early life and how his desire to hide was informed by his father, who wanted his son to do good and be great, but recognised the flaws in this world. Eventually he learns of his origins, encounters a villain (Zod) and does everything he can to save this world that adopted him.

Now there are several complaints about the film that whilst valid are understandable and easily explained and they became clearer to me as I watched it this time. Now I’m going to spoil this ten year old film, so be warned and stuff.

The main complaints I see online and from people I know seem threefold:

1: Superman kills Zod. Now for me this was an easy thing to accept. The version of Superman I am most fond of and familiar with is the Post Crisis/John Byrne version. There was a famous story where he had to execute Zod and two other Kryptonians to prevent further atrocities and genocides from just these three. This messes him up for years of stories to come and the audience learns why he has such a code against killing.

2: The massive amount of damage and body count that the Kryptonians cause. Again, this makes sense, when you have a big budget film you need big budget stakes and consequences. These are people with years of combat experience up against a guy raised as a farmhand during his first day fighting anyone. Honestly, I think he did okay.

3: The take on the character and story. Now this is two separate things. Yes the film does have a dour and grim tone. The fear that permeates it does go against the cheerfulness and optimism that the character is based on. Maybe its the times we live in and fear and suspicion would be a much stronger element in this story that it would have been in what we often think of as ‘simpler’ times. That is true. This is a valid and completely understandable criticism. But then we look at the character of Superman himself. He’s a guy who instinctively does the right thing as he is travelling the world trying to stay under the radar. When he learns about his past it’s a lovely moment. He also has a fun and loving relationship with his mother and he puts his faith in humanity in the hopes that it will work out. I mean it doesn’t, they throw him under the bus almost immediately. But he still does the right thing. Trying to keep everyone out of the line of fire, saving lives and when the 3rd act kicks off, he tries to save the world, despite the high level of risk to him. The fact that where he needs to be will drain him of his strength, putting him at risk of death is pointed out to him and his response is simply “I can’t let that stop me trying.” Well at that point, Superman was in the film. His battle with Zod is skill versus determination as the stronger and more skilled fighter is held at bay by a man fighting for the world that has adopted him.

The film ends with a bit of a standoff between Superman and the US Army and establishing the identity of Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter. This is a springboard for a more traditional Superman franchise that acknowledges we don’t live in 1978 anymore but this is a very recognisable Superman. No matter what people think of what happened next, this was a solid story that was let down by some stylistic choices and an uneven tone.

I genuinely enjoyed this film and it’s worth a bit of a reappraisal.

Next Time: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – the extended edition.

Posted in Comics n Stuff, Miscellaneous

2022 – What a s**tshow – Part 1

To describe this year as challenging would be something of an understatement to the level of calling the grand canyon a bit of a ditch. I have come close to cracking more than once and joy and calm have been things that were seldom found. That said, I am trying to look at things in a more positive light and can look back at the year with a more cheerful disposition and look at the good things that 2022 have brought.

I made a little challenge for myself to see how many comics I would read in 2022. This would have the benefit of showing what I was reading and pushing me to read more and enjoy more. Just scant days before the end of the year I crossed the threshold of 2,500 and my question becomes do I try and top that in 2023?

This was another year where I didn’t actually buy any new comics. Now I bought comics (how else would I feed the addiction) but none of those comics were ones that were produced in 2022. So in a section that is about the new comics I read in a year, what do I put in this post?

Milestone

I missed out on Milestone when it launched as a DC imprint in the 90’s. I recently read the first trades of both Icon and Hardware. At first glance they seem to be a superficial black version of established characters, but were actually interesting ideas that used analogues of established heroes to great effect.

Independents

From the tongue in cheek Moneyshot to the tense Shadecraft to the epic mystery of Ordinary Gods and the dark fantasy of Die, I have tried to give a few more independent comics a try and for the most part this has been a great success and has left me with the desire to try more new comics next year, or at least new to me.

Licensed comics

From the less than amazing Robocop: Dead or Alive to the spin off of the Jack Campbell series I have enjoyed Lost Fleet: Corsair to the 1980s UK Transformers comics and the surprisingly good Doctor Who comics from Titan it’s been a good year for spin-off material. Often tie in material is lack-lustre or a cheap cash grab but there’s a lot of interesting stories that play in someone else’s sandbox.

Collected editions

I made the shift years ago to digital comics. I still own many (many many many) comics and trades, but I check the deals and sales on Comixology and this year I used these to add some trades and epic collections to my reading pile and collection. I’ve added classic X-Factor, a number of Spider-Man collections as well as some 90’s Avengers and 90s X-Men as well as an almost complete run of the Mark Waid Flash run that cemented Wally West as a fan favourite.

The 90s

It has definitely come to my attention over the last year that my favourite era was in fact the 90s. I know that the 90s were a time of excesses, creative and editorial mistakes and more than a few trends that should never have been. But I enjoyed comics the most during that period between 1989-2009 and whilst I have read some amazing comics produced before and after, that was the time that I liked best.

So that’s my year in comics, less bought, less new, but more read and I’m pretty happy about that. It’s about finding your joy and I think I have done just that.

Next Time: Movies Did I even go the cinema this year?

Posted in Comics n Stuff

5 Alternate Comic Universes

There is a great appeal to the idea of parallel earths or alternate timelines. The world being different or wrong with characters in different roles to show how nurture helps build us, or show that they are the same person anyway showing that a heroic nature can always shine through, no matter where we are.

Here are 5 worlds that may not have lasted, but shine brightly nonetheless.

Amalgam

This was a 5th week/skip week event in the mid 90’s that leapt from the pages of the 90’s excess fest that was Marvel vs DC/Dc vs Marvel. It was briefly created when the DC and Marvel Earth’s merged and so did some of the characters. Superman and Captain America became Super Soldier, Superboy and Spider-Man became Spider-Boy, Avengers and X-Men became JLX and things like that. A couple of dozen comics were made and whilst not all great, all had interesting ideas and were lots of fun.

Heroes Reborn

From around the same time as Amalgam, Marvel were enduring some difficult financial situation and sales on some of their oldest titles were getting very soft. What Marvel did was to go to Image comics founders Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld and let them produce four of their titles. Captain America and the Avengers went to Rob Liefeld, whilst Iron Man and the Fantastic Four went to Jim Lee and they were given a year to do whatever they wanted.

This didn’t really go to plan, but we got 52 issues of comics from Image studios that took the struggling core heroes into new and different places and whilst not all ideas were golden, some stuff took such as S.H.I.E.L.D. being more of a presence regarding the Avengers and Iron Man being more a story of redemption than before.

Ultimately this was reversed and the heroes returned, but that return led to some great comics too and was a massive shot in the arm to these heroes who for the most part didn’t fall back into the depths they were in before.

Forever Yesterday (New Warriors)

This was a three part story starting in issue 13 of New Warriors in March 1991 by the usual writer/artist duo for that book Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley. It was based around the Sphinx (an old Nova villain) or at least a new version of her, re-writing reality so that Egypt was the cultural and political centre of the world. The Avengers were more Egyptian themed with Captain Assyria rather than Captain America and Horus rather than Thor. The New Warriors were as we remembered them, but in different places in their lives. Nova was a junior member of the Avengers, Marvel Boy and Firestar were rebels and Night Thrasher went through his origin again, but with different people killing his parents. It was a great self contained story that examined these heroes in new places, exactly what alternate history stories should do. If redone now, it’d be 20 or 30 issues with tie ins and fancy trade dress, but this was a great 3 parter.

JLA: A Midsummer Nightmare

Back in 1996, DC were planning to restart their flagship Justice League title with JLA under superstar writer Grant Morrison. Rather than a mix of A and B list heroes (with the odd C-lister) this was going to be all A-List. To give that series an extra 3 months of lead time and showcase this magnificent 7 approach. Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza along with artists Jeff Johnson and Darick Robertson gave us a 3 part story reintroducing that team.

This was a world were there was no Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash or Aquaman. With their costumed lives seemingly erased we got reporter Clark Kent, philanthropist Bruce Wayne, school headmistress Diana Prince, artist Kyle Rayner, school teacher Wally West and fishing company executive Arthur Curry. The rest of the world was getting super powers instead. There was a mystery to solve and one by one, the leaguers remembered who they were and then found J’onn J’onnz who was living his life on Mars with his lost family who were killed again. Now reunited, they battled the architect of this plot to produce a world of super heroes, a man called Know Man. The heroes won the day of course and the world was put right, but Know Man warned them there was a threat coming and if not a world of heroes, then the 7 of them would have to be face it alone. This mini reformed the heart of the league, giving something for Grant Morrison to build a great title around.

Age of Apocalypse

In December 1994, Marvel suspended 9 comics from their X-Men line and relaunched them as part of a 4 month event known as the Age of Apocalypse. If you are familiar with it, then I need say no more, if not, I am currently in the middle of looking at it, on another blog which you can find here.

It was an ambitious and to my mind successful effort to tell an alternate universe story in a way that gave each element room to breathe and allow different writers a way to change the tone and feel of the story without affecting the whole of it in a negative way. When the four months were up, the 9 replaced titles simply returned, but there were repercussions that lasted for years after this.

So that’s my 5, what was your favourite of these? Did I miss a glaringly obvious one?

Posted in Comics n Stuff

Weathering the Storm: Sympathy for the Devil

One of the advantages of a shared fictional universe is the picking up of someone else’s toys to do more with them than their creators got around to. Whilst the appeal of creator owned IP and stories does tend to speak for itself, being able to take interesting characters from someone else’s mind and taking them in new places can lead to interesting stories too. The mini-series Point Blank and the follow-up maxi-series Sleeper were excellent examples of how this can be done, whilst still adding new characters to it.

Point Blank was released in August 2002. Written by Ed Bubaker with pencils by Colin Wilson, it told the tale of Cole ‘Grifter’ Cash, a member of the WildC.A.T.S who was helping out another Team 7 alum Jack Lynch who was searching the underworld for information on an old protege of his called Holden Carver. Carver has started working for Tao (Tactically Augmented Organism) a former member of Wild.C.A.T.S whose intelligence usually dwarves everyone around him. Part way through the series, Lynch is shot in the head and everyone lost and confused, with the exception of Tao, who is ruling his growing little criminal syndicate that no one knows exists.

This thread was picked back up in Sleeper #1 a couple of months later. Brubaker returned and this time was joined by Sean Phillips who carried the story forward by focusing on Holden Carver, who it turned out was working for Tao on an undercover assignment from Lynch. With Lynch in a coma following his gunshot, Carver is trapped as only Lynch is aware of the assignment and the whole world thinks he’s gone over to the bad guys.

Sleeper carried on in the superhero noir style of Point Blank, but this told a more spy-themed story. Holden was affected by a piece of alien tech and could no longer feel anything, but could conduct pain and damage to other people. Cut off from his friends, his fiancee and even his own body, he must become more of his cover to survive.

This is a tense series full of twists and turns, friends become enemies and back again and you can see how this wears on the main character. We also get treats of characters like XXX-Ray, a coward who is kept around because he can see through anything. Genocide Jones, who’s back story sort of explains why he is such a violent and nihilistic soul. The standout star of these new characters is Miss Misery, who maintains her health and vitality by doing things she knows are wrong. Theft, violence, sex with the wrong people and even being verbally cruel, it’s what she needs to do to stay alive, literally.

It never gives you the idea that Holden is a hero, his talent of surviving means he is capable of committed horrible crimes to protect his cover and the mission and as his safe extraction and exoneration become more and more unlikely, Holden starts to blur the line between posing as a criminal and actually being one. Is he a talented survivor? Or is he more like the bad guys than he wants to admit, in fact as he learns more about his former employers, he starts seeing less and less of a difference between the two of them and his options to survive this whole thing is becoming limited.

All told, this series is a lot of fun and the whole story from soup to nuts is 25 issues (or 5 tpbs) long and is purely and simply self-contained. To be honest, the first trade (Point Blank) is not essential to understand or enjoy Sleeper, which for the most part is its own thing. Either way it’s a solid and engaging story from a writer with form of crime/spy/noir stories that are high quality and an art team perfectly suited for the genre they find themselves in.

I have re-read this series recently and 3rd or 4th time I still enjoyed it. Looking forward to looking into some more WildStorm hits of yesteryear.

Posted in Comics n Stuff

Weathering the Storm: Not quite super heroes

One of the things I mentioned in my last look at the WildStorm Universe was the absence of the traditional super-heroic tropes. There were heroes in this universe, costumes, code-names and villains, but often the heroes weren’t really that. One comic where that difference was more delineated was StormWatch.

StormWatch was a series launched in 1993 about the UN created crisis intervention team. These were more soliders and law enforcement types that had super-powers rather than masked vigilantes. Most of the team’s operatives were altered by radiation produced by a comet passing by Earth that blanketed the entire world, meaning that the team was truly international. The operatives were grouped into 4/5-man teams that were numbered. StormWatch 1, StormWatch 2 etc. The operatives were seedlings found by an activator called Christine Trelane (call-sign Synergy) and trained by team trainer Marc Slayton (call-sign Backlash) and they worked under the organisations leader Henry Bendix (known as the Weatherman) and there were dozens of support staff operating out of an orbital station called Skywatch. With the primary colours on the support staff uniforms and the bald leader it all looks very Star Trek. The comic mostly featured StormWatch 1, which was originally comprised of Battalion, Winter, Hellstrike, Fuji and Diva, but other cast members included Cannon, Fahrenheit, Flint, Swift and Strafe (Battalion’s younger brother) as well as several others, from several other places around the world. The international flavour really helped set the book apart as did the fact that they were more soliders than super-heroes and had no problems dealing out death to their enemies when the situation called for it. Over the next three years the series became a bit bland and lacked anything to make it stand out. Then in the story Fire from the Sky, some former team-mates (Flashpoint, Sunburst and Nautika) came back into the team and the team was betrayed and for the most part decimated.

In the wake of that story, a new writer was brought on board with the remit of shaking the title up and making it something different from everything else. In came current wunderkind Warren Ellis (now, I am aware of the reputation this writer has and the numerous allegations against him. I personally have decided not to buy anything new that bears his name, because I do not want to endorse this man or put money his way, but at the time this wasn’t a thing that was known to many) who in one issue changed the title and the direction of the WildStorm Universe as a whole. After the funeral of Flashpoint, Henry ‘the Weatherman’ Bendix reorganises the teams. Backlash having gone many years past, he puts Battalion into the trainer job, so his relationship with Synergy can be allowed, Sunburst and Nautika (a married couple) are also taken off the team and become consultants. Fuji and Hellstrike work under Winter in the main team of StormWatch Prime. Bendix then recruits the murder machine known as Rose Tattoo to work with Flint under Fahrenheit as part of StormWatch Red, used for reprisals and more violent actions. He recruits spirit of the 20th century Jenny Sparks and Jack Hawksmoor, a man who is bio-engineered to live in cities join Swift in StormWatch Black, the black-ops/espionage division. Sparks was born in 1900 and has lived through the 20th century, seemingly not aging since the 1920s. She’s bitter, drunk and cockney (Ellis had a habit of putting a character like that in every book he did) as well as having been a super-hero at least twice. This more cynical character matched the feel of the book from here. These 9 ‘heroes’ took on aliens, terrorists and rogue states in lethal ways as Bendix worked in the shadows with his own agenda. This comes to a head at the end of the 4th year. This led to a larger story and a relaunch.

StormWatch vol 2, well that’s a different story.

Posted in Comics n Stuff, TV Stuff

5 90’s Comic Book Films

It is hard to imagine in the days of the MCU and the DCEU that a vast array of comic book related movies is still a relatively new concept. Go back 15 years and there was a glut of them of varying quality, 10-15 years before that and it’s still varying quality, but there is only a few of them, which meant it was easier to see them all. That said there was some quality in there.

Most of the ones I chose had a very pulp heroes feel to it, with only one being a traditional super-hero from the big two. The was less product, but more variety, which is a bit sad.

First up is…..

The Rocketeer: 1991 – Dir Joe Johnstone

This is not so much an adaptation, but an homage to republic serials of the 30’s like ‘King of the Rocketmen’ and has been adapted to comics several times since. This is a genuinely fun film, suited for a bank holiday afternoon. It’s a period piece, set in that sweet-spot between the pulp heroes era, the start of the golden age of comics and before the second world war. The cast are fantastic with stand-outs being Jennifer Connelly, who does her best with the thankless ‘damsel in distress’ role and Timothy Dalton taking whole chunks out of the scenery. It’s a sort of film that doesn’t get made anymore and we are sadder for it.

The Shadow: 1994 Dir Russel Mulcahy

Before he was known as a Trump imitator, a comedy performer and a guy famed for his anger, Alec Baldwin was something of a leading man. Here he stars as Lamont Cranston, a criminal searching for redemption posing as a rich dilettante by day and crime fighting mystery man called the Shadow at night. Able to cloud the minds of men and alter his face he battles criminals with his skills, his guns and a network of people who owe him their lives. He battles a descendent of Genghis Khan in 1930’s New York while romancing Margo Lane. A lot of it is silly, but this is again a fun film that doesn’t ask much of you and is a lot of fun beside.

Batman πŸ¦‡ Forever: 1995 Dir Joel Shumacher

After the culture phenom that was Tim Burton’s Batman films, Warner Bros went in a different direction for the follow up. Gone was the gothic themes and quirky performances and here was something a bit more camp and over the top. Val Kilmer does an okay job as Bruce Wayne and Batman and Jim Carrey channels his inner Frank Gorshin to give us an energetic Riddler. There are missteps, but honestly this is a comic book on the big screen and if you wanted nuance, realism and coherence in your comic adaptations, then you were not reading comics in the 1990’s. Comparing this to Batman, or Batman Returns shows the films flaws, compare it to Batman & Robin and it starts looking like Citizen Kane.

The Phantom: 1996 Dir Simon Wincer

This was one of the last of those campy superhero-esque films of that decade. Billy Zane dons the purple (yes purple) tights of Kit Walker, the current iteration of the Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks. Battling pirates, mercenaries and corrupt businessmen in the 1930’s this film feels in keeping with Rocketeer and the Shadow and is again a lot of fun. Zane is not the best actor, but he gives it his all and this puts some earnestness to the character that carries him across the finish line. The Phantom is an interesting character and it’s a shame that this under-appreciated classic didn’t lead to more of a series of films, maybe exploring this past and future of the ghost who walks.

Blade: 1998 Dir Stephen Norrington

This was one of the films that changed the who comic book movie genre forever. Blade was a side character in the critical darling Tomb of Dracula comic by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. New Line took the idea from the comic, jettisoned some of the more 70’s ideas and added some stuff and out came this fun and violent action-horror. Wesley Snipes owns the screen as Blade, a half-vampire/half-human who craving for blood is curbed by a serum and with the vengeance obsessed Whistler fights a nightly battle against a subculture of vampires whose daytime familiars cover up their existence. When a haematologist is turned, Blade becomes personally involved just as Deacon Frost, the vampire who turned his mother, altering him in-utero is trying to change the nature of the vampire/human world. This is a lot of fun, action, some comedy and body horror that put a marvel property on the big screen and made some money. When other studios started paying attention we got the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises and the rest is history.

So that was 5 comic booky movies from the 90’s, all of them are worth checking out if you just want some mindless fun that’s better than you expect it will be.

Posted in Comics n Stuff

Weathering the Storm: The foundation

When 7 of Marvel Comics’ most popular and valuable pencillers left to form their own company, it started something and that thing became so much bigger than those original 7 people. Two of the 7, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee were almost immediately capitalising on their initial success by expanding their creator owned titles into expanding shared universe comics, much like Marvel and DC had done. I imagine looking into Extreme studios and their books would be interesting, but for me Wildstorm was where the interesting things were found.

I wrote this about the first series released, WildC.A.T.S Covert Action Teams 1, but this initial few issues had elements that would become larger part of this new universe  (no  not that one) and done so in a manner that seemed organic. IO, Jack Lynch,  Team 7, the Daemonites,  the Kherubim and more all were introduced to be expanded upon later.

So the concepts that were fundamental to the Wildstorm universe were…..

The Kherubim/Daemonite war. Two space ships (opposing sides in a war) crashland on Earth 🌍 in ancient times, the human looking Kherubim passing as locals and moving through history like the cast of Highlander.  While imperious, they generally like humans and separately from one another, help where they can. The Daemonites possess humans and live on them as parasites building power and amassing influence as part of a cabal. Its a micro of Marvel’s Kree and Skrull, just limited to one planet and cut off from their warring brethren.

Team 7 and their descendants: Many of the main characters/teams were connected to the special forces Team 7 years earlier. Wetworks’ Jackson Dane, Wild.C.A.T.S’ Grifter, Backlash, Deathblow and IO’s Jack Lynch amongst others were all members and were involved in lots of different adventures which had repercussions that echoed in 20 years later.

Gen-Factor, seedlings and alien s**t: There was usually only a handful of ways to possess superpowers.  1 – Alien or alien interference were nonterrestrial technology or biology is what made someone super. Most of WildC.A.T.S fell into this category. 2 – the seedlings. A comet passed by Earth 🌍 soaking it in radiation, this left them and their descendants possessing the potential to develop superpowers.  These seedling based SPBs (super powered beings) were the majority or the UN special ops group Stormwatch. This prevented the ideas of metas or mutants being too prevalent a thing.  3 – Gen-factor was a mutagenic process which altered many of Team 7 and their children.  The sons and daughters of Team 7 were brought into Project Genesis and several of them fell into the group known as Gen-13.  The benefit here was reasons why there were SPBs without the plethora of variety of metas that Marvel and DC had.

More espionage and sci-fi, less long underwear characters:  International Operations, Stormwatch, the Cabal and other shadowy organisations were the order of the day. Spy-fi and cyberpunk over Silver Age silliness. This was super heroes without heroes, like a lot of Image properties, but with time, a lot of the cliches fell into well realised stories.

So much of the Wildstorm titles had one or more of these elements and it gave the universe a feel that was different to what else was on offer and added the illusion of depth and history that you need to make this sort of thing work and some good titles and stories came out if it

How about all of you, do you remember Wildstorm fondly? What titles did you like? What didn’t work for you.