I’m going to be blunt. I’m not much of a Superman fan. There’s nothing wrong with the character or anything, his stories just don’t do much for me. That said, there is something about a story that intrigues me. He’s an alien refugee from a war-torn planet who dedicates himself to protecting the Earth. So, I’m open to finding a Superman story I enjoy. That’s partly why I decided to watch Superman: Man of Tomorrow, the newest animated film from DC Comics. The other reason is that Darren Criss, whom I’ve been a fan of since his early Starkid days, was voicing Superman and I was curious to see how that turned out. Well, having seen the film, Superman: Man of Tomorrow is deeply enjoyable. It might even rank among my favorite of the recent DC animated films. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review contains mild spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow (written by Tim Sheridan, directed by Chris Palmer Meet Clark Kent. Sent to Earth as an infant from the dying planet Krypton, he arrived with as many questions as the number of light-years he traveled. Now a young man, he makes his living in Metropolis as an intern at the Daily Planet – alongside reporter Lois Lane – while secretly wielding his alien powers of flight, super-strength and x-ray vision in the battle for good. Follow the fledgling hero as he engages in bloody battles with intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo and before fighting for his life with the alien Parasite. The world will learn about Superman…but first, Superman must save the world!
Today was DC Fandome, an event designed to rival this year’s Comic-Con at Home. Promising exclusive panels, clips, and reveals, it was the big day for DC to present their upcoming projects to audiences in an attempt to create hype. I love DC Comics; they’re what I grew up on and I will always want the films and television shows to be good. So, I tuned into DC Fandome with a lot of nervous energy and unsure expectations. Comic-Con at Home was a bit disappointing, so I hoped DC Fandome would be better. And, largely, it was, thanks to some great edition from the DC team to make it look better than glorified Zoom calls, some great footage and announcements, and some panels filled with a lot of fan-interactions. On the whole, it was a great event that made me very excited for future DC movies and games. But, the things that everyone’s most interested in are the reveals and trailers. So, let’s break that down.
Making an audio adaptation of The Sandman seems like a great idea. There’s a lot of ways to convey fantasy settings using just sound and it feels like the perfect medium for The Sandman. I mean, it’s a series about the power of stories and what better way to experience the story than to close your eyes and let the sounds wash over you, right? And, in all honesty, that’s basically what Audible’s adaptation of The Sandman is – though, I’d argue it skews a bit closer to an audiobook than a true audio drama, but for most people, that’ll be just fine. For me, I enjoyed the adaptation but I wish it embraced the power of audio dramas a bit more than it does and relied less on narration to explain the “missing” visuals. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Mild spoilers may follow.)
The Sandman (written by Neil Gaiman, adapted by Dirk Maggs) When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus—the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination—is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer (Michael Sheen), chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare (Arthur Darvill), and many more.
I don’t normally review screenplays – and I especially don’t normally review screenplays that were never produced. But I am making an exception here. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman has had a long road to being adapted for another medium. A film version languished in development hell for 20-some years before finally getting turned into an upcoming Netflix TV series and an Audible audio drama. One of the writing teams attached to the film was Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, most famous for writing Shrek and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. In 1996, they wrote a draft of a Sandman film. That draft is publicly available for reading on their website, Wordplayer. It is for this reason that I feel comfortable reading and reviewing the script – the writers have put it out there and, at that point, it’s fair game to be looked at. And, in all fairness, I actually think their attempt at adapting The Sandman is a relatively good one. Obviously, those comics are better suited for a TV series, but as far as film adaptations go, it’s pretty solid. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
I really wish Doomsday Clock was better than it is. I love Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and I really enjoy the DC Universe; I even thought much of the lead up to this series was very good – or, at least, intriguing. But then the actual series came out and it was plagued by so many delays in its publication that it genuinely became difficult to follow the story as it went on. Unfortunately, rereading the whole series upon its completion didn’t really make it much easier to follow. But, I suppose, that’s in line with the original Watchmen graphic novel. (This review covers all twelve issues of Doomsday Clock and may contain mild spoilers.)
Doomsday Clock (written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Gary Frank)
Seven years after the events of Watchmen, Adrian Veidt has been exposed as the murderer of millions. Now a fugitive, he has come up with a new plan to redeem himself in the eyes of the world. The first step? Finding Dr. Manhattan. Alongside a new Rorschach and the never-before-seen Mime and Marionette, he follows Manhattan’s trail to the DC Universe, which is on the brink of collapse as international tensions push the “doomsday clock” ever closer to midnight. Is this all Dr. Manhattan’s doing?
Spinning out of Watchmen, DC Universe: Rebirth, and Batman/The Flash: The Button, Doomsday Clock rewrites the past, present, and future of the DC Universe.
Birds of Prey is one of those comic properties that know very little about. While I’ve always been more of a DC fan, and Batman has always been my favorite of the DC heroes, I’ve rarely ventured too far outside of his main title. Of course, I’ve seen some of his various animated films and shows, so I’m familiar with characters like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya, but I’ve never been introduced to Huntress or Black Canary. So, going into this movie I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The DCEU has a historically uneven track record, with only Wonder Woman and Shazam being particularly good and this film is technically a sequel to the atrocious 2016 Suicide Squad film, so there was certainly no guarantee of quality here. Couple that with the slightly-unusual way the film was promoted and it became quite hard to predict just what kind of film Birds of Prey would be. Luckily, the film is an utter delight from start to finish and ranks among the best entries of the DCEU to date. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Written by Christina Hodson and directed by Cathy Yan
You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is a twisted tale told by Harley (Margot Robbie) herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz (Chris Messina), put a target on a young girl named Cass (Ella Jay Basco), the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya’s (Rosie Perez) paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.
As I said in my review of the first volume of this new run of The Dreaming, one of my favorite things about Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman run was the way the comic’s story was partially about the very nature of stories. Gaiman played with various structures to examine the fabric of storytelling and why it’s always been such an effective means of communication. Everything else was the icing on this theme of a cake. This examination of storytelling is one of the key things that brings readers back to those comics time and time again. Simon Spurrier continued this approach in the first volume of his run on The Dreaming, and he continues it in this next volume – a volume that helps bridge the story of The Sandman with this new story being told here. It’s a really good graphic novel.
The Dreaming, Vol 2: Empty Shells (written by Simon Spurrier, art by Bilquis Evely and Abigail Larson)
As his kingdom crumbles and his subjects search for him in desperation, Dream of the Endless wanders the Earth as an exile from the realm he is meant to embody. Here, far from the Gates of Horn and Ivory, there are wonders and horrors that even an immortal cannot imagine—until they experience them firsthand.
When an ill-fated romance collapses, Dream is vulnerable to exploitation by sinister forces. And when the heart of an Endless breaks, worlds break with it. Meanwhile, as the Dreaming’s abandoned inhabitants hunt their absent sovereign, the realm’s reluctant new ruler strains against the confines of its throne, threatening to undo the very reality that supports it. What happens to a fairy tale’s inhabitants when their author goes missing?
Watchmen is one of those properties that has proven notoriously difficult to adapt to other mediums, so it only seems fitting that it would similarly be difficult to review. Normally, I either review a TV show episode-by-episode, or I review it in chunks, or I review it after the finale ends. For Watchmen, the trick was deciding whether I’d review it three episodes at a time or whether I’d wait until the end of the season and just review the whole thing. As the third episode aired, it became clear that it was going to be impossible to judge this show until the ending was known. Like the graphic novel (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons), every episode/chapter of the story was clearly building to a climax that would either answer (most of) the questions posed by the story or would completely drop the ball, and the quality of the story would largely be determined by how well it executed its ending (even if individual “chapters” were excellent – episode 6 of the show and the chapter of the comic detailing Manhattan’s past). And, let’s be clear, every episode of the series was extremely good. There was a point to every episode, and they followed a very similar pattern to that of the comic (one episode would be devoted to furthering the plot along, the next would be devoted to exploring one of the key characters’ backgrounds (thus moving the emotional arcs forward) and they’d alternate back and forth like this until the climax. But with this style, it is very important that the landing pay off all of this development in a meaningful and satisfying way. Luckily, that’s exactly what the show managed to do. (Spoilers for all nine episodes of Watchmen follow. You have been warned.)
Set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws, WATCHMEN, from executive producer Damon Lindelof (Emmy(R) winner for “Lost”; HBO’s “The Leftovers”) embraces the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel of the same name, while attempting to break new ground of its own. Nicole Kassell directs the pilot from a script written by Lindelof. WATCHMEN is produced for HBO by White Rabbit in association with Warner Bros. Television; executive producer/writer, Damon Lindelof; executive producer/director, Nicole Kassell; executive producer, Tom Spezialy; executive producer/director, Stephen Williams; executive producer, Joseph Iberti. Based on the iconic graphic novel co-created and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and published by DC.
As if enough things haven’t been written about this movie, here comes another one. Ever since the announcement of this movie, I’ve been skeptical. The Joker is a character who has, historically, never had a definitive origin story – nor has he ever needed one. The entire point (and fun) of the character is that he has no origin. Various stories have hinted at one (The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight) but all have shied away from suggesting any of those origins is the definitive one. So, this movie being entirely about how the Joker became the Joker worried me a bit, though that worry was squashed a bit when they made it clear this movie wouldn’t tie into the larger DCEU and would be the cinematic equivalent of one of DC’s Elseworlds stories. With that context, it was a bit easier to get on board with a film like this. Then came all of the controversy surrounding the film – the articles about how it was irresponsible, the security concerns, etc – and the whole thing began to get a little messy. It was difficult to know what the film was actually saying versus what people were accusing the film of saying. The big question, now that opening weekend has come and gone without much incident, is whether Joker is a good movie that gets across all that it is trying to say. The answer? Yes, mostly. (NOTE: This review will contain some light spoilers for the movie, but this is one of those films where you pretty much already know how it ends; it’s not filled with surprises, but the enjoyment comes from the journey it takes you on.)
Joker (written by Scott Silver and Todd Phillips; directed by Todd Phillips)
“Joker” centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.
I never read Neil Gaiman’s original 4-issue run of Books of Magic, nor did I read any of the subsequent runs, so, naturally, of the four titles initially announced for the first wave of Sandman Universe series, this one was the one I was least interested in. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the premise – I love a good story about people learning how to do magic – but it was more the idea that, due to my lack of knowledge of any of the previous stories, I’d be totally lost going into this comic and find myself unable to enjoy it for what it is. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, it is still my least favorite ‘volume 1’ of the three in the Sandman Universe that I’ve read so far. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Books of Magic, Volume 1: Moveable Type (written by Kat Howard, illustrated by Tom Fowley, colors by Jordan Boyd)
While Tim’s trying to study and attract the cutest girl in his class, there are cultists who want to kill him, believing his magical powers will eventually corrupt him, turning him into a merciless mage that will bring upon the end of magic forever! But when a mysterious new substitute teacher for his school called Dr. Rose wants to mentor and educate him in the magical arts so that he can discover the secrets behind the Books of Magic, Tim believes he has the tools to find his missing mother. Is this sudden guidance too good to be true, and what connection–if any–does Rose have to the disappearance of Tim’s teacher Mr. Brisby?