Brightburn (2019)

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Tori and Kyle have long dreamt of being parents. But, try as they might, they’ve never been able to conceive. Then one night, a ship crash-lands in the woods behind their farm, and they discover a baby inside. Believing this to be a gift from above, the couple adopts the child and name him Brandon. All seems well, until Brandon hits puberty, and starts to exhibit superhuman abilities, including flight, strength, invulnerability, and heat vision. More disturbing than that, though, Brandon starts behaving violently, killing their chickens, breaking a classmates hand, and, eventually, just hurting anyone who displeases him. Tori and Kyle do their best to rein him in, but it might be too late, as Brandon now views himself as a predator and the whole world as his prey. Continue reading

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Brightburn, And The Troubling Trend Of “Evil Superman” Stories

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So, in case you guys haven’t seen the trailer for Brightburn, the upcoming James Gunn sci-fi/horror flick, here’s the rundownIt’s basically “evil Superman.” No, they never say the name Superman in the trailer. But the story is about a little boy who lands on Earth, is raised by a kindly couple in the countryside, exhibits powers as he grows up, and wears a red cape. Except here, he kills people instead of saving them. Continue reading

Justice League (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Superman is dead, Wonder Woman is apathetic, and Batman isn’t as strong as he used to be. As such, the world has become vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, including those from the New God Steppenwolf, who, centuries ago, tried to destroy the Earth by combining three “Mother Boxes,” objects of immense power. Recognizing that the Earth now has no one to protect it, Steppenwolf returns from his long exile to collect the cubes, and in true villain fashion, take his vengeance upon the world of men. But he might have a little more trouble with that than previously thought. For while Wonder Woman and Batman might not be able to repel him on their own, they just might be able to with the help of a few other, super-powered friends; specifically, Barry Allen, aka The Flash, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. They’ve never met, or worked with each other, before this. But with the fate of the world literally on the line, they just might have to.

Justice League is a flawed film. The first 30 minutes are very crowded, the CGI is highly noticeable, and the villain, while effective, is extremely bland. And, in the end, none of that really matters. This is a funny, action-packed, fast-paced thrill ride with likable characters, and I want to see it again. It’s probably the second best film in the DCEU, after Wonder Woman. And unlike other DC films, like Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, which I did initially like, there’s nothing in this picture that jumps out at me as glaringly bad. (No Jared Leto’s, if you get my meaning).

A lot of it has to do with the fact that the movie really gets the League members right. Over the course of the film, you learn their personalities and pasts, and see them interact with each other, with some of them, in a few cases, coming to blows. And unlike BVS and Man Of Steel, this film has a much lighter tone. There’s a lot more humor, the color palette is brighter, and the heroes act like heroes. They smile. They save people. They do their best not to cause collateral damage. And unlike DC’s other cinematic offerings, which were each over two hours long, this movie is much shorter, and moves much faster. So there’s no risk of boredom here. There’s also a ton of fan service for people who like that sort of thing. Danny Elfman’s 1989 Batman theme is played at a couple points, as well as the John Williams Superman score. There are some great references to other superheroes in this flick, and the film even manages to address some questions viewers had about previous movies. And, most importantly, for me, anyway, this flick really gets Superman right. When he returns, which we all know he is, since it’s in the trailer, and on the poster, it is beyond satisfying. People in my theater were cheering and clapping with delight when he shows up, and for good reason. Unlike in Man Of Steel and BVS, he’s not a total downer here. He smiles, he tells jokes, and, shock of all shocks, he saves people. There’s actually two, really funny, bits with him saving people, one involving a blog, the other involving a big building in Russia. I also love the friendly rivalry he has with the Flash over whose faster, and the post credit scenes in this movie are awesome. They are definitely worth waiting for.

Guys, all I have to say about Justice League is this. It’s not perfect. The CGI is noticeable, the villain, while effective, is forgettable, and the first 30 minutes are a bit crowded. But as soon as the League gets together, the movie kicks into high gear, and you don’t really care about those other flaws. You’re having so much fun that you just sit back, enjoy the ride, and leave the theater with a smile on your face. And if you don’t believe me, check out the reviews for this film from Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckman, the Schmoes, Doug Walker, Roger Ebert.com, the LA Times, Village Voice, Variety, IGN and Forbes. All of them think, like me, that this flick is a fun ride worth taking. Be sure and give this a look.

Kingdom Come (Comic Review)

Written by: Mark Waid and Alex Ross.

Painted by : Alex Ross.

Lettered by: Todd Klein.

There’s an old saying, “Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes, you get it.” That’s essentially what the graphic novel Kingdom Come is about. The story of a world where the heroes of old–Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern–have retired, and a new, less responsible, generation of vigilantes have taken up the mantle, the book basically serves as Alex Ross’s answer to the common fan querie, “If the villains are always going to escape, why don’t the heroes just kill them?” This is why. These new vigilantes are absolutely awful. They cause massive amounts of property damage, kill people at the first sign of trouble, and never bother to check and see if they’re injuring the civilian population. The story actually opens with several of these newer heroes, led by the Golden Avenger Magog, causing a nuclear explosion in Kansas, because they were too careless to recognize their surroundings. This disaster draws Superman out of his self-imposed exile, and he, along with the newly re-formed Justice league, set about trying to put things right again. They arrest the vigilantes who have committed horrible crimes, they recruit the ones who actually have moral fiber, and construct a massive prison in the wasteland that was Kansas, where the bad super beings can hopefully get reformed. But, of course, nothing goes according to plan. Batman refuses to help Superman, and actually sides with Lex Luthor, who’s whole scheme is to exacerbate tensions between humans and super beings, and eventually use the public’s hatred of Superman to take over the world. The book climaxes with a giant battle in front of the prison in Kansas, with Superman and the Justice League on one side, and Batman and all the imprisoned super beings on the other. The UN decides that if this battle between superheroes continues, it will spread, and eventually engulf the world. To avoid that, they shoot a nuclear missile at Kansas, hoping to kill all the belligerents there. In the end, Captain Marvel sacrifices himself, and even though some heroes die, there are enough left to rebuild. Superman and the Justice League then set up formal relations with the UN, he and Wonder Woman have a child together, and the story ends with them asking Batman to be their baby’s godfather.

For the most part, I really enjoyed Kingdom Come. The story highlights a lot of the things I’ve written about regarding Superman; like how his refusal to kill is actually a sign of great strength, and how his unyielding morality and optimism will carry people much further than swift, ruthless justice. On top of this, the artwork is just plain beautiful. All the characters are painted with gouache, which gives the images an almost ethereal air. Looking at the panels, I feel more like I’m staring at a Renaissance painting, or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, than a comic book. I also thought it was a very good idea to have the narrator of this whole story be a regular person. Yeah, in case I didn’t mention, this graphic novel is narrated by a non-superhero, and pastor, named Norman McCay. He witnesses the civil war among the superheroes from afar, and then, at the climax, intervenes; convincing Superman not to destroy the UN, even though they launched a nuke at him. Having Norman be the narrator and de facto protagonist was a really smart choice in my mind, because it helps ground the story. You’re dealing with fantastic characters who can fly and pick up buildings here. You need someone normal, with normal problems, like leaky faucets and food stuck between their teeth, to make the scenario seem more plausible. Norman does this, and all while being a very likable character. So, yeah. There’s a lot to admire in Kingdom Come.

There’s also a few things not to like. One is the artwork. Yeah, as much as I praised it earlier, I do have one gripe with it. It’s not a big thing, but, most of the characters have the same angry, constipated expression on their faces the whole time. it just gets annoying to look at after a while. Another thing I don’t quite like is the ending. Yes, it’s hopeful and optimistic, and I usually love that stuff, but it just feels out of place here. Batman basically stabbed Superman and Wonder Woman in the back. He sided with Superman’s greatest enemy. Why would they want him to help raise their child? And that leads me to my biggest problem with the book; Batman. He just comes off as a hypocritical asshole. Like I said earlier, he refuses to help Superman because the latter retired after the death of Lois, and because he believes Clark will become a dictator, blah, blah, blah. This whole scenario is just so played out, and that wouldn’t necessarily bother me, if not for the fact that, within this story, Batman being afraid of Superman becoming a dictator is completely hypocritical. When we’re introduced to Batman in Kingdom Come, we see that he’s turned Gotham into a police state. He has Bat Robots patrolling the streets, taking down anyone he sees as a threat. He’s an actual dictator, actually subjugating people. But no one ever calls him on that. They just sit back, and let him lecture them on how they’re too powerful, and how they need to be reigned in. What about you, Bruce? You’re an actual dictator! There’s nothing theoretical or hypothetical about it. You are actually oppressing people. Don’t you need to be stopped? No? Ugh. And it’s not just this comic, it’s a trend in most stories involving Batman and Superman. Whether it’s Frank Miller writing The Dark Knight Returns, or Bruce Timm writing Justice League Unlimited, creators love to have Superman be the dangerous alien who can’t be trusted, and Batman be the wise, grounded realist who can always be relied on. What they never seem to acknowledge is that, with his virtually unlimited wealth and resources, and his refusal to compromise with anyone who disagrees with him, Batman is just as dangerous, if not more so, than Superman. True, he can’t flatten the globe with his fists, but he can do all the horrible things that the excessively wealthy can do in the real world, and most of them don’t have military grade weaponry at their disposal. Just saying.

But, in the end, I would recommend Kingdom Come to you all. The artwork is glorious, the story is epic, and the manner in which the narrative unfolds is engaging. It’s an 8 out of 10. If you’re a comic reader, buy it. If you’re not a comic reader, I still think you’d enjoy it. So, buy it.

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And, I’m just going to go ahead and say it, I really enjoyed this movie. I think it’s exciting, well-acted, and well-shot. On top of that, if you’re a fan of comic books, or the Justice League animated series, you’re going to have the biggest orgasm ever at the sight of the holy trinity–Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman–finally teaming up on the big screen. I’m really hoping that, despite all the negative reviews this movie has gotten, it’ll make enough money for Warner Brothers to Green Light the rest of the movies in the DC Cinematic Universe. I want there to be a Wonder Woman movie. I want there to be a Flash movie. I want to see the Justice League make their cinematic debut. And, if the jam-packed theater I was sitting in tonight indicates anything, it’s that, all of those dreams just might come true.

Now, with all that said, I’ll be the first to admit that this movie has problems. Most of them are story-related. Others have to do with certain choices the filmmakers made with regards to representing these characters. But, if you ask me, the biggest problem with Batman V Superman is that it doesn’t seem certain of what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes it comes off as a very mature, very thoughtful political thriller, just with superheroes in it. Other times, it feels like a great big sci-fi spectacle, full of explosions and wanton property damage. And then, at other points, it seems like you’re watching an artsy indie film directed by Terrence Mallick, or Hou Hsiao-Hsien. A fine example of this latter phenomenon is the first five minutes of the movie. In them, we’re given Batman’s origins. We see the Waynes getting murdered, and young Bruce running away from their funeral, only to fall into a cave full of bats. On top of lasting way too long (thank you, slow motion), and looking far too much like the first five minutes of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, this scene is accompanied by some very melodramatic, very nonsensical sounding narration. The first line Bruce Wayne speaks in this film is something like, “There was a time before: a time above.” The hell does that mean? What does that have to do with, well, anything? I certainly don’t know, and I don’t think the filmmakers do either, because this whole opening narration never gets touched upon again.

Also, like its predecessor, Man Of Steel, this movie doesn’t seem to realize that what made these characters interesting was their moral code. Why would someone who could, very easily, conquer the whole Earth, choose not to? Why would he refrain from using his powers to bully others? Why would a man who witnessed his parents get murdered right in front of him, and who constantly gets tortured by sadistic serial killer clowns, not become a madman himself? Because they knew that that was the right thing to do, and that that fact alone was enough of a reason. All of that nuance, that moral complexity, is absent from this movie. Batman uses guns here. He kills LOTS of people. Same with Superman. He snapped General Zod’s neck in Man Of Steel, and stabs Doomsday to death in this one. If you’re a comic fan, and the idea of witnessing your heroes perform that level of violence bothers you, don’t go see this movie. It’ll probably traumatize you. Honestly, as I was watching this film, especially the Batman bits, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Frank Miller’s universally-reviled All-Star Batman And Robin series, in which the Dark Knight is a narcissistic, violence-loving asshole, who calls children “retarded,” and forces them to eat rats. Hell, the book’s most infamous line, “I’m the Goddamn Batman,” actually makes its way into this movie. I really don’t know how to feel about any film that gives homage to ASBAR.

But, all that aside, I did actually enjoy this movie. Yeah, some of the writing is bad, and yeah, it’s probably more violent than it should be, but it’s still well-acted, well-shot, and super exciting. And, more so than this, I want to see the other movies in the DC Cinematic Universe. I want to see Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern Corps. I want to see other artists, besides Zack Snyder, give us their interpretations of this material. There’s a lot of potential here, and I really hope audiences will let filmmakers unlock it by going to see this movie.

So, at the end of the day, though it does have flaws, I’d say that Batman V Superman is still a 7 out of 10. Please, please, please, go see it.

Superman: Red Son (Comic Review)

Written by: Mark Millar.

Penciled by: Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett.

Inked by: Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong.

We all know the basic origins of Superman–in the dying moments of a distant world, a lone space craft carrying a baby is sent off into the void. This ship ends up crashing on Earth, where the boy, re-named Clark by his adopted parents, slowly discovers that he has extraordinary powers, including flight, super strength, near invulnerability, and heat vision. Deciding he is morally obligated to use his powers for good, Clark embarks on a life of crime fighting, and adopts the alter-ego of Superman. All this is more or less common knowledge to most people. But what if, instead of crashing in Kansas and being raised on Mid-Western values, Superman landed in the Soviet Union, and was raised to be a champion of Communism? This is the question that Mark Millar seeks to answer in Superman: Red Son.

Set at the height of the Cold War, the graphic novel begins with Stalin unveiling a new weapon to the World; Superman, a being with near god-like powers. Realizing that nuclear weapons are more or less obsolete when compared to a guy who can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, and pick up buildings, the US government asks Doctor Lex Luther, a scientist of impossible brilliance, to develop a means of combating Superman. Over the next several years, the two engage in various battles, with Lex eventually becoming President of the United States, and Superman becoming supreme dictator of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death. Luther devises several strategies for defeating the latter, including making a deformed clone of Superman, and using a Green Lantern ring recovered from a crashed alien space craft, but all to no avail. Superman, for his part, uses his powers to bring the rest of the world under Communist control, and, with the help of the alien robot Brainiac, ensures equality and good living for everyone.

Eventually deciding that America, too, must be perfected, Superman launches a full-scale invasion of the continental United States, only to be stopped by a simple piece of paper that Luther’s wife, Lois Lane, holds out to him. On it is written the simple question, “Why don’t you just put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?” This query destroys him, as he now sees that he is no different from Brainiac. Both of them are just aliens bullying less-developed species. Neither one was born on Earth, and neither one has the right to interfere with the affairs of creatures they don’t know or understand. Realizing that he must leave for good, Superman destroys Brainiac and vanishes. Many centuries pass, and Luther’s descendent, Jor-El, discovering that the sun is about to explode, sends his son, Kal-El, back in time, where his pod crash-lands in Kansas, starting the whole saga anew.

There’s a lot to admire with this comic. The story is compelling, the artwork is, for the most part, brilliant, and I personally love it when writers are able to re-imagine classic characters in new settings. Something that this book does very well–and that a LOT of other re-imaginings don’t seem to understand–is the fact that, even though the characters are occupying different positions than the ones they have in ordinary continuity, they are still very much the same people. They have the same personalities, the same interests, and the same goals. Superman in this book is still an overgrown boy scout who wants nothing more than to do the right thing. This universe’s Luther is still a narcissistic asshole with nothing more on his mind than destroying the man of steel. By keeping the characters and their choices consistent, Millar is able to make the story, as a whole, more believable, and the re-interpretation of the material more acceptable to die-hard readers, like myself. There’s never a point in it where I put the comic down and say, “Oh, bullshit! Superman would never do that!” Which is always a good sign. I also like the fact that you get to see the fictional characters interacting with real historical figures, like JFK and Stalin. I don’t know why, but whenever I see real people walking around in a work of fiction, I feel happy. I guess it’s because it gives a whole new level of depth and texture to the narrative. But perhaps the greatest strength of this work is its setting, the Cold War. I thought it was absolutely brilliant of Millar to have the conflict between Luther and Superman be emblematic of the real-life conflict between the United States and Soviet Union. It’s impossible for most people to understand the complex social, historical and economic factors that drive countries to fight one another, but we can understand fights between individuals. And in the case of Luther and Superman, that conflict does mirror the one that actually took place. Luther in the book, like the United States following World War 2, wants to show off his intelligence and strength, and eliminate anyone whom he views as a threat to maintaining authority. Similarly, Superman’s naive desire to foist prosperity and equality on everyone without their consent mirrors the doctrine of Global revolution practiced by the USSR and other Communist states. I thought it was a clever metaphor, and an effective means of educating the readers about how, very often, it is people wanting to do the same thing, just in different ways, that causes conflict. Wonderful stuff! Wonderful stuff!

Now, with all that said, the graphic novel does still have problems. First of all, as much as I praised the artwork earlier, there are certain places where I don’t think it looks all that good. The design for Batman, for instance–yes, Batman is also in this story–is kind of odd-looking. He has this weird little Ushanka–that’s the flappy, fur-lined hat you see Soviet officers wearing in old photographs–on at all times that looks a little silly. I mean, he’s supposed to be dark and menacing. He’s supposed to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies. Having him wear big wooly hat just makes him look cold, and I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot less scared when I see my assailant shivering in the breeze. The second major problem with the graphic novel is the inclusion of other superheroes, like Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Each of them is only featured for a brief amount of time, and none of them really has any bearing on the plot, so I don’t think their appearances were necessary. Not only this, but if the whole idea here is that Superman’s existence is enough to change the course of the Cold War, doesn’t the presence of other super-powered people lower the stakes? I mean, if America has access to individuals with the same level strength and speed as Superman, why get scared? Why talk to Lex Luther? The theory of mutually assured destruction still stands. In my humble opinion, the story would have been stronger if it had just included characters from Superman’s mythology, like Luther, Lois, Brainiac and Jimmy Olson, and nothing else. But, for me, the absolute biggest problem with the book is the ending. I mean…really? If you’re going to go through all the trouble of writing a story that re-imagines the Superman mythos and creates new rules, why throw it all away at the end just to give the readers stuff that they already know? Doesn’t that make everything you just did pointless? I don’t know. For me, the ending just felt tacked on. It felt like Mark Millar was trying to be clever. The book would have been perfect if it just ended with Superman leaving Earth for good after realizing how horrible he had become.

But, all these flaws aside, I do still think the book is a strong piece of work, and would highly recommend it to you comic readers out there. It’s smart. It’s well-written. It’s a re-imagining that truly understands the mythology that it’s adapting. It’s an 8 out of 10. If you love the man of steel, or re-imaginings of classic stories, give this comic a look.