Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood (NO SPOILERS)

"Batman: Under the Red Hood" is the latest of DC Comics' direct-to-video animated features and I think it's one of the better ones to date. Note that it is not appropriate for children at all. The level of violence and bloodshed is once again high.

I didn't read most of the source material, so I can't claim to be an expert on the character or the comics, but for all of the faults of the retroactive continuity that leads to the appearance of the Red Hood, the writer of this movie, Judd Winick, avoids all of it and makes it work well.

The first thing I noticed about the movie is the different styles used to animate Batman and Nightwing. There is a scene where the former Dynamic Duo are pursuing the Red Hood on foot in a style reminiscent of Casino Royale's opening parkour chase. Where Batman tends to take direct routes, Nightwing often takes the lead, bouncing acrobatically from structure to structure. This is a nice attention to detail, since Nightwing is a former circus acrobat. Then, when the Red Hood actually makes his escape, Batman uses his memory of the chase and research to uncover the Hood's identity. That's right, Batman does detective work!! That alone is something to be happy about, but the fun doesn't stop there.

Through a series of flashbacks we learn the history of the Red Hood and his true identity and how it relates to Batman. Without giving it away, it is touching, well done, and emotional. Emotion in a Batman movie is generally limited to rage, so this is a refreshing touch that humanizes a character who for about the last 20 years has desperately lacked humanity.

There are some slick moments and some nice fight scenes, which I have come to expect from the DC direct-to-video movies, but this one had actual story beats that went beyond the typical large-scale earth-shattering superhero events. The interconnectivity of the characters and the concept of family play large roles and that, to me, makes this movie a winner.

Bruce Greenwood does the voice for Batman in this movie, and he's pretty good, though no Kevin Conroy. To be fair, though, I can't imagine why anyone would ever hire anyone but Kevin Conroy to provide the voice of Batman. John DiMaggio does a pretty good Joker, part Mark Hamill and part Heath Ledger (if you can imagine that) but the guy who stole the show for me was Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing. He simply nails the part as the not-so-dark knight.

The special features on this disc include two documentaries, which are so-so, and an animated short featuring Jonah Hex. I'd be willing to bet that this Jonah Hex was 10 times better than the live-action movie. It left out the horse-mounted Gatling guns and the occult and told a straight Western tale that I really enjoyed.

Also included were four episodes of Batman the Animated Series, but they were in standard definition and the picture quality was actually worse that that on the DVDs that I already own.

I recommend this disc!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Astro City--A Movie!

W00t! My favorite comic book of all time is going to be made into a movie!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Neal Adams

Neal Adams now has a blog.

I've been a fan of Neal Adams since I was a kid and didn't know who he was. He did the cover to the first comic book I can clearly remember, Batman #203. He did the covers to several comics that are burned into my memory from childhood, and stayed with me even after my stepfather literally burned all of my comic books. Neal drew this iconic image that you see at left, which has been recreated from a full-page splash in Batman #251.
Back then, though, I couldn't tell the difference between Neal Adams and Irv Novick. I just knew that Batman suddenly didn't look like Adam West. He had long ears, an impossibly long cape, and didn't drive a fancy Batmobile anymore. He was visually responsible for what is now my favorite era of Batman.

Adams also drew a treasury book that I absolutley adored in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. I don't care how stupid the story seems. I have read my copy dog-eared. My brother, sister, and I recorded an audio version of it when I was in junior high. I had a tape recorder and we had assigned parts to read. I wish I still had a copy of that tape! This glorious book is being recolored and about to be re-released in hardcover form. I can hardly wait.

Last week saw the release of Batman: Odyssey, written and drawn by Adams. The writing is a bit muddled, but it is a beautifully drawn book. I'll stick with it just because I would buy drying paint if it were painted by Neal Adams.
I got to meet Adams when my wife arranged a special treat for me in 2005. While we were visiting her sister Jessica and Jessica's husband, Jeremy Cook, in San Francisco, I knew that Jeremy would be going to Comic-Con International in San Diego in the middle of our visit. What I didn't know is that Magi (happy birthday, by the way, Sweetie!) had conspired with them so that I would fly with Jeremy to Los Angeles, where we would rent a car and drive the rest of the way down to San Diego. It was fun for me, because at the time, Jeremy was working at Industrial Light & Magic, and was a big-time digital matte artist. Do you remember the ship encased in ice at the end of "The Day After Tomorrow?" Yeah, Jeremy digitally painted that. But when we walked in, he was impressed because I was on a first-name basis with a lot of comic book artists who actually recognized me, a nobody! But on that trip, I got to meet a number of artists who never frequent the midwest shows that I normally attended. I got to meet Brent Anderson (Astro City), Chris Claremont (X-Men), Steve Rude (Nexus), and my artistic hero, Neal Adams! It was the best surprise I have ever received, and I don't think it can be topped.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Delusions of Grandeur...Not so Much.

C-3PO, in Empire: "Artoo, you don't know how to fix a hyperdrive."

Uh, Threepio? Do you know what R2-D2's primary function is? You know, besides delivering secret plans? He's an astrodroid. He fixes spaceships.

Seriously, did George Lucas even look at the scripts he commissioned?