Thursday, July 24, 2008

Detective Distress!

With this upcoming post, I had a conundrum: Which medium of the comics world was I ignoring more and had to correct; Independent web comics that were collected in print, or DC comics? As you see, I had to get some DC going on this site again, lest Dan Didio come down to my apartment and roast my Batarang over a slow-cook fire.

Detective Comics #846 features the return of Bruce Wayne's childhood friend Thomas Elliot, also known as the murderous Hush, forever bandaged and mentally disturbed. Hush has come back to town to once again attempt to get revenge on Wayne/Batman, in ways that will only unfurl in the coming issues.

For the time being, Batman is not alone. Catwoman is also in this issue, and figures to play a prominent part on the road ahead. They come across one another when Wayne (undercover as two-bit thug Lefty Knox) tries to take down a gang led by a fairy-tale-reciting Doctor Aesop. When he's cried "wolf" a few too many times, Wayne has to be rescued by Catwoman, who happens to be in the area. The two resolve to team up and take down Aesop together, at least until the next argument hits.

Much of the book tells the origin of Hush, who actually wanted the life of Bruce Wayne, but on his terms. Whereas Bruce's parents were killed by chance, Thomas had no such luck in his future, so he tampered with the brakes on his parents' limousine. Furious when Bruce's father saved the life of his mother, and further avoiding vengeance when Bruce's parents are not killed by his hand, Thomas truly and insanely hates Bruce Wayne for the life that he has, both as a magnate and as the superhero crime fighter.

What's left is his revenge to be wrought, and he makes himself known to the Batman in the end. There are many questions to be answered in the next four issues, not the least of which is how this evenly-matched opponent of Batman plans to succeed. There's nothing worse than a villain who knows you so entirely well that he can predict your every action, and Hush is that kind of bad guy.

The pen of Paul Dini (Countdown, Madame Mirage) more than makes this title worth reading. His extensive work with the character of Batman and his history of writing for the Batman TV shows (and the creation of such characters as Harley Quinn) are readily apparent in his writing. He knows perhaps more about the Dark Knight than anyone else in the industry (or at least has been so submerged with it that he just oozes Batman know-how) and his writing is fantastic, coherently telling a story good enough to eat. The dialogue is great, the pacing is wonderful, even the back story is solid, all without giving away too much for a first issue.

Sadly, the artwork doesn't live up to the writing talent. I'm sure Dustin Nguyen (Manifest Eternity, The Authority) must have talent. I'm just not sure it's with drawing comics. Not that his style doesn't suit Batman in any way, shape or form. His dark shadows and detailed backgrounds match Bats perfectly. It's just that the artwork is so darned sloppy! I hate looking at the art, and that's three quarters of why I'm reading in the first place!

Fortunately, Dini's writing is good enough to pass this otherwise-dud. Detective Comics retains it's luster and will hopefully keep my comic needs sated until the next big storyline comes along. Until then, arrivaderci!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wanted: Great Entertainment

The August issue of Details Magazine contains the following quote: "James McAvoy made out with Angelina Jolie, and you didn't." Frankly, I don't need Details to tell me that my fantasies haven't played out quite as expected, but the first trailer I saw of Wanted made me lean back and go "Whoa."

It was lust at first sight; all that violence; all that action; all that Angelina. Even the aforementioned McAvoy seemed to fit the part, and when you add a deep-voiced superstar like Morgan Freeman to the mix, you have a truly intriguing story, cast, and overall movie you just HAVE to watch.

Imagine to my surprise, then, that Wanted, directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch), was actually based on a miniseries written by Ultimates scribe Mark Millar and drawn by Alex Ross wannabe J.G. Jones (Final Crisis). Even more astounded now, I decided I had to see both, starting with the sure-to-be-fantastic movie.

One thing to remember with Wanted: The Movie is very much based in reality. Even the opening sequence, where we see man leap through a plate glass window out of a high-up office tower over to ANOTHER tower a few hundred yards away to eliminate his would-be assassins, you hardly feel like you've left the modern-day world. This is also true when you see people shoot bullets out of the air, curve bullets or do other fits of daring-do... normal people wouldn't be able to do these things, but our heroes can.

And that brings us to McAvoy, playing the role of Wesley Gibson. Wesley is like you or me. He hates his job. He hates that his best friend is fucking his girlfriend when his back is turned. He hates his father for abandoning him at eighteen weeks old. He hates his ergonomic keyboard. He takes medication for severe panic attacks. Okay, maybe not QUITE like you or me. Wesley is used to being pushed around. He's never been the assertive type, used to being stepped on and never sure how to stop it. Along comes Fox (Jolie) who tells him his father was killed in our opening scene not too long ago, and after a bit of wild driving, she brings him to the Fraternity, led by the great Freeman as Sloan, who would train Wesley to be good enough to kill the rebel assassin who killed his dad.

First of all, the action sequences are fantastic. The only real hiccup is the driving scene with Jolie and McAvoy being chased by the bad guy (King Kong's Thomas Kretschmann) in which the camera gets a little too close and obscures some of the action. Besides that, though, the movie's action scenes are flawless, constantly letting blood and bending the fabric of reality to make everything both believable and unbelievable at the same time. I always knew Jolie could act, and McAvoy is fantastic as both the sniveling worm he starts as and the hardened killer he becomes. Other strong performances include Kretschmann and Common, who plays one of Wesley's trainers. Sadly, it seems that Morgan Freeman mails in his performance, though it didn't hurt the movie any with him at only half-strength. There are also some scenes that are a little TOO out there (animal rights activists will have trouble with a couple of scenes, though a slight reminder that this is just a movie should alleviate those concerns) and ridiculous, but nothing that detracts from the final product.

In all, Wanted is a fantastic movie. It's got acting, action, mythology and just plain bad-assness, all the while rooting itself in the real world in a completely believable fashion. I highly recommend it to any who haven't watched it yet. And if you have, make definite plans to pick it up on DVD, which it probably will by this Christmas.

I wish there were an easier way to compare the movie and the graphic novel well. I definitely liked the book, but I LOVED the movie so much more. However, it's hardly an even playing field, as the two mediums are so different that their disparate traits outnumber their similarities by a wide margin.

First of all, the majority of the story takes place in New York City (in the movie, it was Chicago). It starts off the same though, with anger and violence ripping through the first few scenes before we even get to Wesley. It's obvious from the start that there are some issues that take place in the book that don't place in the movie (racism, gender degradation, homosexuality, even excess violence).

But probably the most pointed difference between the book and the movie is that in the book, the Brotherhood are in reality a league of super villains. (Note: That wasn't a spoiler, if you read the FIRST ISSUE you'll see I'm right; they lay it out up front) Years ago, they organized, teamed up on the population of super heroes, and killed all of them. Then they wiped the memories of these heroes from the minds of the populace and now they run the world like a black-curtained Illuminati. As a member of the Fraternity, you can destroy, kill, rape, and rob with impunity, never being blamed for your actions. And Wesley's in since his dad was The Killer, a super assassin who never missed. Obviously, this changes the whole scheme of the universe, but I still liked the movie's ability to ground in reality, while the books seems far-fetched and full of holes.

Jones definitely loves his celebrity faces, as the main characters in the story look like Eminem, Halle Berry and Tommy Lee Jones. His art is actually very good, though some flashback sequences are drawn by Dick Giordano (The Phantom) and don't work as well. Jones is definitely the superior artist, and the vulgar and violent undertones are done well here.

Disappointing though is Millar's writing, which doesn't adopt the redemption story in the movie and instead the message the book seems to be trying to get across is "Fuck the world". On top of that, uninspired characters (Sucker, Fuck-Wit and Shit-Head are some such villains who don't amount to crap) and a general plot malaise don't quite live up to the clever dialogue and occasionally hilarious one-liners. If this had been more like the movie's story, instead of ANOTHER super-hero story, it might have been a little more original and stood out from the acres upon acres of indie super stores that exist out there today.

I picked up the Assassin's Edition of the Wanted novel, which includes some fantastic concept art, storyboards, covers, character dossiers and creator interviews. These are almost worth the price of admission alone, but I guess it depends on how much you like extras.

So there you have it! For once, the movie is BETTER than the book! Who'd a' thunk it? I hope you enjoyed this review, we're looking forward to the next Latest Issue!