Throwback Thursday – Heroes in Crisis by Tom King and Clay Mann

Heroes in Crisis Cover

Publisher: DC Comics (Paperback – 1 October 2019)

Writer: Tom King

Artists: Clay Mann, Travis Moore, Lee Weeks, Mitch Gerads, Jorge Fornes

Colourists: Tomeu Morey, Arif Prianto, Mitch Gerads

Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Length: 234 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For this latest Throwback Thursday article, I look at an interesting DC Comics crossover event from a couple of years ago, the deep and compelling Heroes in Crisis.

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Now I have to admit that I have been somewhat avoiding a lot of the recent DC crossover events, mainly because I think the universe is getting a bit too complicated, what with the multiple versions of characters and timelines.  However, I recently grabbed the Heroes in Crisis collected edition (containing all nine issues of the limited series), mostly because I had heard some conflicting reports about whether it was any good, and I thought that it would be worth seeing just what sort of comic it really was.  I was also drawn to this comic as I am major fan of Tom King and Clay Mann after the work they recently did on Batman, which featured some really cool and compelling storylines.  Heroes in Crisis turned out to be a rather fun and intriguing comic, especially as King came up with another fascinating narrative.

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After years of fighting and surviving against the very worst evils in the universe, even the greatest heroes will start to crack under the unreal pressures of their chosen lives.  Realising this and determined to help their fellow superheroes, the trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman designed Sanctuary.  Sanctuary is a hidden facility containing a cutting-edge artificial intelligence programmed to provide advanced therapy, support and counselling to any hero that needs it after harsh battles and traumatic events.  However, no sanctuary lasts forever, and after losing contact with the facility, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman arrive to find Sanctuary in shambles and several patients brutally killed.  As the world’s superheroes reel from the deaths of friends and colleagues such as Roy Harper, Red Devil, Commander Steel, Poison Ivy and Wally West, their thoughts swiftly turn to justice.  But who is responsible for the killings, and could the culprit be one of their own?

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The answer may lie with the only two survivors of the Sanctuary massacre, the greatest hero you have never heard of, Booster Gold, and the mad clown princess, Harley Quinn.  However, Booster and Harley are both convinced that they saw the other commit the crime, and are now out to stop the other survivor by any means necessary.  As the heroes attempt to uncover the killer lurking amongst them, their world will be further turned upside down when the confessions and therapy sessions recorded at Sanctuary are leaked to the media, casting a new light on them.  Can the killer be caught before they strike again, or will this case irreparably damage the world’s greatest superheroes?  Whatever happens, the DC universe will never be the same again.

This was a very unique and fascinating crossover comic which contains some notable flaws, but is something that I quite enjoyed.  King, Mann, and their artistic team produced a clever comic that really dives into the minds of the collected heroes of the DC universe.  Featuring a great story, some powerful character moments and some impressive artwork, Heroes in Crisis turned out to be a fun and heartfelt comic that I had a wonderful time reading and which has really stuck in my mind.

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Heroes in Crisis has an intense and powerful character driven narrative that presents the reader with an interesting mystery, while also attempting to dive into the minds of some of the most iconic comic book characters out there.  I very much enjoyed the excellent premise that King came up with for this comic, especially as he starts the narrative off by showing several iconic heroes brutally killed around the Sanctuary within the first several pages.  At the same time, two of DC’s most unique and complex characters, Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, are fighting to the death, with both claiming that the other is responsible for the crimes.  This proves to be an excellent start to the comic which really drew me into the book, and which quickly leads into a compelling investigation angle with Booster, Harley and the DC Big Three (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) all working towards the same goal while also fighting amongst themselves.  At the same time, a mysterious opponent is manipulating events from the shadows, ensuring that the protagonists are distracted by the public revelations about their mental fragility.  All of this leads up to an interesting and heartfelt conclusion where the killer is finally revealed in an emotional confrontation.

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This was a rather intense and fast-paced narrative and it was clear that King was drawing a lot of inspiration from the iconic Identity Crisis crossover comic (another controversial comic that split the fan base, although I personally consider it a masterpiece).  However, unlike Identity Crisis, I think that Heroes in Crisis fell a little flat and I can see where a lot of the criticism surrounding it came from.  While this comic has a great start and the author sets up the whole mystery and characters perfectly, I felt that the ending had some major flaws to it.  The reveal of the killer, despite some hints throughout the story, is a bit of a letdown (admittedly, due to internet spoilers, I did know who it was in advance of reading this comic, but this didn’t massively impact my overall reaction).  While I could appreciate some of the motives surrounding the killer’s choices, especially as it ties into the psyche aspects of the comic, it was a bit of a weak choice that undermined an amazing and well-established character.  In addition, many aspects of the conclusion, such as the reveal, the killer’s motivations, and the eventual solution to some established problems, were unnecessarily complicated and required some major logic leaps.  I also did not quite get why King included a certain “bros before heroes” scene, as it proved to be a very odd inclusion for such a serious story.  While I did greatly enjoy the set-up, as well the impressive inclusion of flashbacks and character centric panels throughout the entire comic, this ending was a bit of a letdown that substantially affected how much I enjoyed Heroes in Crisis.

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While the flaws in the story were a little disappointing, I think that King’s excellent character work more than makes up for it.  As he has previously done with his recent run on Batman, King attempts to really dive into the heart of the characters featured within Heroes in Crisis, highlighting their complex psyches and personalities to help to draw the reader in.  I also quite liked how this comic focuses on a very unique selection of characters, including several of my personal favourites.  While much of the story follows the Big Three, with some additional inclusions from the Barry Allen Flash, the major focus of the comic is on the fun duo of Booster Gold and Harley Quinn.

Booster Gold, unconventional time traveller and the greatest hero you have never heard of, is a character I have a lot of love for, especially as he is usually shown to be a bungling hero trying to do the right thing.  Booster ends up being an excellent character in Heroes in Crisis as he desperately tries to understand who is responsible for the deaths at Sanctuary, especially as he is a suspect himself.  While much of Booster’s appearance is comical, there is a deeper sadness to him, both before the killings and after them.  King does a masterful job showing off Booster’s inner thoughts in some of his therapy sessions while also presenting him as a damaged person potentially capable of committing the murders.  I loved seeing Booster used so prominently in the comic and I hope we see more of him in the future.  The appearance of Booster also ensures that we get to see some of his robot companion, Skeets, who has a fun relationship with Booster, often pointing out the stupidity of several of his plans, such as telling the Flash that he may be responsible for Wally West’s death and not realising it would get him punched in the face.

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Heroes in Crisis also strongly features Harley Quinn, who DC have been heavily promoting recently.  Harley is her usual fun, chaotic self throughout Heroes in Crisis, although like Booster, deep down she is hurting.  King makes sure to explore the various damages that she still bears from her abusive relationship with the Joker, while also focusing on her current, relatively healthier relationship with Poison Ivy (who has a very lethal idea about therapy).  However, when Ivy is killed, Harley snaps a little and is determined to hunt down the person she thinks is responsible.  King does a great job showing off Harley’s unpredictability, humour and inner turmoil, and I liked how he presents her as a real threat, even to the likes of Superman and Batman.  Harley has a number of great moments throughout this comic, including a dangerous standoff, some great character development and some fantastic lines.  Harley also serves as a great foil to Booster, and when they are not trying to kill each other their conversations highlight their similarities, as both consider themselves failures in one way or another.  I deeply appreciated the use of Booster and Harley as key characters, and they were an outstanding focus of this comic.

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Heroes in Crisis also features a fantastic array of supporting characters, and the creative team takes full advantage of their story to bring back some great underutilised heroes.  I loved how King spent time exploring all the various characters who were massacred at the start of the novel, especially as he examines why they were there seeking help.  While there is an obvious focus on the more prominent heroes like Wally West and Poison Ivy, I had a lot of fun seeing characters like Lagoon Boy, Commander Steel and Gnarrk the Last Cro-Magnon.  King did a lot with these very minor DC characters, using a few short sequences to build them up as sympathetic and likeable characters, ensuring that the impact of their death was a little more significant to the reader.  The inclusion of Wally West was also mostly well done and I appreciated the exploration of all the trauma and pain he has gone through in the last few years (being written out of existence for a few years is a painful experience).  Batgirl and Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) also show up as supporting characters for Harley and Booster respectfully, and I quite enjoyed the examination of the unique relationships between these friends.  All of these characters really add a lot to the story and I very glad that King took the opportunity to explore and highlight how complex some of these DC heroes can be.

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While Heroes in Crisis has many good and bad qualities, without a doubt the best thing about it is the examination of traumatised heroes.  A large part of this comic’s narrative revolves around the fact that all the superheros in the DC universe are deeply traumatised or emotionally damaged because of their heroic careers, requiring them to seek treatment at Sanctuary.  While I know that some readers really disliked this portrayal of superheroes being emotionally and psychologically damaged, I personally felt that it was a clever inclusion from King that added a lot of realism to the DC universe.  Of course these heroes are going to be traumatised!  Most of them have been fighting crime or dealing with crazy people for most of their lives, experiencing innumerable tragedies and losses along the way, including dying and coming back to life multiple times.  It is honestly rather refreshing to see this acknowledged within the comics, and I deeply appreciated that King decided to feature it so prominently in Heroes in Crisis.

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One of the reasons that this psychological plotline works so well is because Heroes in Crisis features a ton of panels and scenes highlighting the heroes as they discuss their trauma.  Not only do you get glimpses at several AI assisted therapy sessions, some of which are quite intense (Lagoon Boy’s one hurts to read at times), but there are a ton of “confession” panels, which show the various heroes sitting in a special room discussing their pain to a camera.  These confession scenes are cleverly scattered throughout the comic and are worked into the story extremely well, showing the raw psyche of some of the comic’s major characters or murder suspects and providing possible motivations for their actions.  At the same time, they work to show the reader just how damaged some of your favourite heroes can be.  While there is a focus on characters who were part of the Sanctuary massacre, nearly every DC superhero makes an appearance at some point in Heroes in Crisis, talking about their pain and their sorrow.  King ensures that each of these confessions, even the single-panel ones, are really emotionally rich and moving, and you get some amazing feelings out of all of them.  Highlights for me include a great sequence with Batman lamenting the death of his sidekicks, and another one with Commander Steel, who is pretty damn traumatised by his experiences of dying, being reborn as a zombie, having his corpse mutilated, and then coming back again.  Booster, Harley and Wally West also have some very intense, story driven confessions which both moved the story along and helped to get to the roots of their issues.  I found these scenes of trauma, healing and emotions to be particularly well written and very powerful, and they are one of the main reasons I enjoyed this comic as much as I did.

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Another major highlight of Heroes in Crisis is the exceptional artwork by a massive collection of artists who banded together to produce some iconic and powerful pieces of art.  All of the scenes within this comic are very well drawn, and there is a real sense of movement, purpose and intensity in every panel.  I loved all the cool action sequences, and the artists really did not pull any punches when it came to highlighting the tragic deaths of so many different heroes.  Some of the best artwork, however, lies around the amazing and wonderful background and landscape shots throughout the comic.  There are so many fantastic shots that superimpose the characters in front of some beautiful settings, whether they be fields, sunsets or other pieces of nature.  These shots are not only visually impressive but they really add to the dramatic feel of the entire comic, especially as they remind you of the hope that so many of the damaged characters want to feel, but cannot, either because of the events of this comic or some pre-existing trauma.  The artistic team also has a lot of fun bringing to life a host of heroes from various periods of DC’s history, including some obscure characters we have not seen for a very long time.  While some of them were brought back only to die a painful death, it was great to see them again and the artwork surrounding them turned out to be superb.  I also deeply appreciated the artists’ ability to portray emotion and sorrow on the faces of each of the characters featured within Heroes in Crisis.  You get a real sense of the darkness and pain lying behind some of the characters’ eyes, especially in some unguarded moments, and it helps to enhance the emotion of the pages.  Overall, this was some impressive and memorable artwork that did a great job enhancing King’s intriguing tale.

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Heroes in Crisis was a very interesting and memorable comic which I had a great time reading.  While it does have some flaws, I think that the creative team behind it managed to create a very touching character driven narrative that succeeded in highlighting the vulnerabilities of several iconic DC superheroes.  I had an amazing time reading this comic and it is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are interested in exploring the damaged minds of some of your favourite heroes.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Loved that Made Me Want More Books Like Them

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this latest Top Ten Tuesday, participants are challenged to list books that they loved and which subsequently made them want to read more books like them.  While this is a rather wordy topic, I am choosing to interpret it as any amazing book or comic that, upon completion, immediately made me want to read or enjoy something similar, be it in the same genre, format or by the same author.

This was a rather interesting topic to consider, and for a while I was not certain that I could field a Top Ten List for it.  However, after a long think, I was able to come up with 10 incredible books or comics that awoke something in me and helped to shape what I would read in the future.  Each of the entries on this list really spoke to me for some reason or another, and many of these are responsible for my current reading choices. 

 

Top Ten Tuesday:

 

Jingo by Terry Pratchett

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Let us start off this list with the outstanding and funny Discworld novel, Jingo by Terry Pratchett, which really ignited my passion for this amazing series.  Funnily enough, I actually read this novel for the first time while waiting in line for a Terry Pratchett book signing in a book shop here in Canberra.  Due to the long line, I was able to get through a good swath of the novel while I waited and found myself deeply enjoying the outrageous and clever story within.  While I had read some of Pratchett’s novels before, such as The Carpet People or The Nome trilogy, I do not think that I ever fully appreciated the Discworld series until that moment as I swiftly got caught up in Jingo’s great humour, clever satire, and fun characters.  After getting my copy of Jingo signed (it remains one of my most prized possessions), I immediately went about reading or re-reading some of the other Discworld novels, and soon I was hopelessly addicted to this fantastic series.  Since that day I have read every entry in this amazing series innumerable times and in my opinion it is the best and most impressive literary series of all time.  I still deeply, deeply love all the Discworld novels (check out my reviews for Moving Pictures and The Last Continent), and I owe my love of this series to Jingo.

 

Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry

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Next, we have the awesome and exciting Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry, the 10th and final entry in the crazy Joe Ledger series.  When Deep Silence came out, I grabbed an audiobook copy of this book because I thought it sounded interesting and I wanted to try something different.  However, I was unprepared for just how much I would enjoy Deep Silence’s cool thriller/science fiction hybrid story, as it ended up being one of the best novels I read in 2018.  I loved this amazing book so much that the moment I finished Deep Silence I immediately started reading the first novel in series, Patient Zero.  Since then, I have gone on and read all 10 novels in the Joe Ledger series, as well as the first novel in the Rogue Team International series, Rage (one of the best books and audiobooks I read in 2019), and standalone novel Ink (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020).  I am now a deeply devoted fan of Jonathan Maberry’s writing, and I will be grabbing every single novel that he realises in the future, including the upcoming Relentless.

 

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

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The third entry on this list is the epic Batman comic, Hush, which is responsible for my current love of comic books.  Years ago, I happened across a copy of Hush while in the library.  Looking for anything to do other than the very important maths homework I had, I chose to read Hush, figuring it would be interesting.  At that point I really had not read any mainstream comics before, but Batman is Batman, so I thought it would be worth it.  What I found was a really cool Batman story that saw Batman face off against all his greatest enemies, as well as new foe Hush.  I really liked this comic, especially as it serves as an excellent introduction to key elements of the Batman mythos, and I had a wonderful time getting through it one sitting.  Right after finishing it, I immediately started reading some of the other comics the library had, which kept enhancing my love for superhero comics and hooked me for life.  While I have read many comics since then, I fully blame the existence of my multi-shelf comic collection on Batman: Hush.

 

Star Wars: Last Shot by Daniel José Older

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Those familiar with my blog will know that I have a certain fondness for Star Wars tie-in fiction, having read and reviewed a ton of Star Wars novels and comics over that last couple of years.  However, the book that started my current obsession with Star Wars media was the fun Last Shot by Daniel José Older.  Serving as a tie-in to the Solo film, Last Shot was an impulse buy I made as I thought it would be an interesting novel to review.  This proved to be correct as I really enjoyed Last Shot and soon after I started grabbing more and more Star Wars books.  This obsession continues to this day, and I have already enjoyed several great Star Wars books this year alone (make sure to check out my recent list of favourite Star Wars novels).

 

Talon of the Silver Hawk by Raymond E. Feist

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The next entry on this list is a rather interesting Talon of the Silver Hawk by Raymond E. Feist.  I received a copy of Talon of the Silver Hawk as a birthday present years ago and while I was unfamiliar with the author, I thought it was a great gift and immediately started reading it.  I swiftly became engrossed with this awesome novel and despite it being the 20th book in Feist’s Riftwar Cycle, I had an incredible time reading it.  I had so much fun with this book that I immediately grabbed a copy of Feist’s debut novel, Magician, from the library and from there, every single Riftwar Cycle novel, as well as the tie-in Empire trilogy.  The Riftwar Cycle proved to be an interesting grounding in fantasy fiction, and I fully blame Talon of the Silver Hawk as the reason why I currently have a massive stack of Feist hardcovers in my study, including his latest two novels, King of Ashes and Queen of Storms.

 

Battle Ground by Jim Butcher

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Another series that I instantly became addicted to, is the epic Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.  I had long meant to read this amazing urban fantasy series, but I only got a chance to do so last year when I received a copy of the latest book, Battle Ground.  I had such a great time reading Battle Ground that I went on to read some of the early entries in the series, including Storm Front, Fool Moon and Grave Peril.  This is turning into such an incredible series to explore in full, and I am so very glad that I read Battle Ground last year.

 

Star Wars: Darth Vader (2015): Volume One: Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

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In a similar vein to Last Shot and Hush above, I owe my current love for Star Wars comics to one specific release, the first volume of the awesome Darth Vader (2015) series, Vader.  This was an incredible comic that showcased Darth Vader right after the events of A New Hope and includes the moment that he found out that his son was alive.  I have a lot of love for this awesome comic especially as it convinced me to grab the rest of the Darth Vader series, and then several other awesome series.  I have since gone on to read most of the current comics in the canon (check out my list of favourites) and I am eagerly awaiting the next batch of awesome Star Wars comics.

 

The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore

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Salvatore is another author whose works I have greatly enjoyed over the years, and my appreciation of his novels begun when I read The Crystal ShardThe Crystal Shard was an impressive fantasy novel released as part of The Forgotten Realms shared fantasy universe and contained a fantastic story that introduced many of Salvatore’s iconic characters.  I really enjoyed The Crystal Shard and after I finished I quickly read the rest of the books in The Icewind Dale trilogy as well as all three books in prequel Dark Elf trilogy.  I have since gone on to read over 30 of Salvatore’s novels, including his recent releases Timeless, Boundless and Relentless, and he remains one of my all-time favourite writers.

 

Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

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While I currently enjoy novels from a great range of different genres, for many years I predominantly read historical fiction novels.  While much of this was a professional choice, the reason I started reading this genre in the first place was because I happened across a copy of Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell.  Sword Song was an excellent historical fiction novel and the fourth entry in The Last Kingdom series.  Despite reading it out of order, I had an incredible time with Sword Song, and I swiftly started reading the rest of Cornwell’s novels, as well as several other great historical fiction reads.  Historical fiction still remains one of my absolute favourite genres to this day, and much of this is thanks to the awesome story contained in Sword Song.

 

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

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The final entry on this list is The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  As I mentioned above, for many years I primarily read historical fiction novels, which meant that my fantasy fiction reading was severely neglected.  However, once I started reading and reviewing recent fantasy novels, I decided that I would be useful to go back and check out some of the bigger fantasy series that I had missed.  One that particularly appealed to me was Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, including the first novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora.  I had heard amazing things about The Lies of Locke Lamora and this praise was well deserved, as this novel was a clever and outstanding piece of fantasy fiction.  I had such an incredible time reading The Lies of Locke Lamora that I instantly started the rest of the Gentleman Bastards books.  I was also inspired to check out several other great fantasy series I had heard mentioned in the same breath as Lynch’s books, such as The Kingkiller Chronicles, The First Law series, and The Stormlight Archive.  My adventures in these epic fantasy series has proven very enjoyable and I am so glad that reading The Lies of Locke Lamora led me to them.

 

That is the end of this latest Top Ten list.  I think I came up with a really interesting and varied list of books that inspired me to read similar titles and I ended up having a fun time producing this article.  Each of the novels and comics above comes highly recommended and you may be surprised how inspired you may find yourself after checking them out.  Let me know which of the above entries are your favourites and I cannot wait to find out what novels inspired you to read more of the same.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Comic Series

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday participants get a freebie when they get to do any topic of their choice.  While there were a few interesting topics that I was tempted to write about, I decided to write a list about my favourite comic book series.

We are currently in a golden age of comics and creativity and there are some truly amazing comics coming from all the various publishers.  Over the years I have had the great pleasure of reading or collecting quite a few different series, including quite a few superhero comics.  While I tend to easily enjoy most comics that I come across, there are several great series that I would consider my absolute favourites, either because they are exceptionally written and drawn, or because something about that series draws me back in time and time again for a reread.  So I thought that this freebie week would be a good opportunity to highlight these epic and addictive comics, especially as there are some real gems that all comic fans should really try out.

To pull this list together, I went through some of the best of most entertaining series that I have read and picked out my 10 absolute favourite comics, with a generous honourable mentions section.  For this list, I chose to focus purely on ongoing series rather than one-offs or limited series, although I will probably feature a different list for them in the future.  I also avoided several great long-running series, mainly because I have not read all the entries in them.  I think that I came up with a rather good list in the end, containing an interesting collection of comics from several different publishers and universes.  I quite like how this list turned out and I think it encapsulates what my favourite comic series are.

Honourable Mentions:

Batman (Volume 3)

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One of the series I have most recently gotten into was this recent Batman series.  Starting in 2016, this great comic follows Batman as he faces off against some of his most iconic foes, while really getting to the heart of the Dark Knight and his relationship with his rogues’ gallery.  I have not finished this series off yet, but I have deeply enjoyed several key storylines within it, including the exceptional The War of Jokes and Riddles, and it will be interesting to see where this series lies once I finish all the main volumes in it.

 

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra

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I had to include the excellent and amazing Doctor Aphra series in this article somewhere as it is one of the most impressive Star Wars comics in recent years.  Featuring the outstanding adventures of original character, Doctor Aphra, this series contains a huge number of heists, betrayals, and deep introspection from the titular character as she spreads chaos across the galaxy.  I loved this outstanding series, and it has some amazing volumes in it, such as Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon and A Rogue’s End.

 

Y: The Last Man

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Anyone who has read this iconic series from Brian K. Vaughan will appreciate why I had to feature it in this article.  Following the last man left alive after a disease kills every male on the planet, Y: The Last Man is an intense and powerful comic with an amazing story to it.  This was one of the first non-DC or Marvel comics I ever read and it has definitely stuck with me over the years as one of the best comics out there.  If they ever manage to get around to adapting this series into a television show, it is going to be the next big hit.

 

All-New Wolverine

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A brilliant and self-contained series that follows one of my favourite comic characters, X-23, as she claims her place as the new Wolverine after her father’s death.  This was an amazing series with a unique feel, fantastic emotional edge and outrageous humour, which I loved it so much I kind of wished that Wolverine would stay dead for just a little bit longer.

Top Ten List:

Usagi Yojimbo

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So I very much doubt that anyone is going to be surprised that the first entry on my list is Stan Sakai’s masterpiece series, Usagi Yojimbo.  Following a rabbit samurai as he adventures through an alternate version of Feudal Japan, the Usagi Yojimbo series is easily one of the best comics I have ever read, and I am currently reviewing every single volume of it (for example check out my reviews of the 11th volume Seasons or the 34th volume, Bunraku and Other Stories).  I absolutely love this simple but powerful and exciting comic, especially as Sakai pours all his love for Japan and Japanese culture into it and produces some epic adventures. 

 

Teen Titans (Volume 3)

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There is no way I could do a list about my favourite series without talking about one of the earliest comics I ever got into, the third volume of the outstanding Teen Titans series.  Staring in 2003 and helmed by Geoff Johns, this series featured former members of Young Justice, Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl and Impulse, as they step up and join long-term members Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven in a whole new incarnation of the team.  This was an exceptional series which revitalised a lot of interest in the team, especially as they ended up playing key roles in the Infinite Crisis crossover.  While the series did dip a bit in quality after Geoff Johns left, this was an overall epic series, and it is one that I have read an insane number of times.

 

The Punisher (2004)

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While there are many great Punisher series out there, the best one in my opinion is the dark and violent 2004 series, also known as The Punisher MAX.  Primarily helmed by Garth Ennis, of Preacher and The Boys fame, this was an epic series that followed a grizzled Frank Castle as he pursues his bloody, never-ending war on crime.  Released under the adult MAX imprint, this Punisher series was particularly over-the-top and gruesome in places, but it is so much fun to read, especially as Ennis comes up with some insane and utterly compelling storylines.  This is the definitive series for all fans of The Punisher, and you will not regret checking this comic out.

 

Green Arrow (Volume 3)

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Another incredible DC comic that I really love is this Green Arrow series.  Starting back in 2001 with Quiver, this series resurrected classic comic character Green Arrow, taking him back to his roots and providing him with an epic and captivating series.  Featuring an array of great writers, including Kevin Smith, Brad Meltzer and Judd Winick, this was an outstanding series that really revitalised the Oliver Queen Green Arrow, brought in some great new characters and contained some impressive and powerful storylines.  I have so much love for this series and one of the storylines, The Archer’s Quest by Meltzer, is one of the best comics I have ever read.

 

X-Factor (Volume 3)

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X-Factor is a long-running X-Men title that has had many incarnations with varying success.  However, one run on the comic ended up becoming an amazing and powerful series that I was lucky enough to stumble across some years ago.  Running between 2005 and 2013, this X-Factor series followed X-Factor Investigations, a combined mutant superhero team and private investigation firm, as they become embroiled in some weird conflicts and adventures around New York.  Primarily written by Peter David, this was a very unusual and clever series that was overshadowed by the major Marvel titles but ended up lasting longer than most and producing some exceptional storylines.  Featuring fantastic, if underused mutant characters, including Multiple Man, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane, M, Rictor, Siryn and the mysterious Layla Miller, this was a great, character driven comic that really dived into the hearts of its diverse and unique cast.  I loved this comic so much, and it is one of the best X-Men comics that has ever been written.

 

Darth Vader (2015)

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

I had no choice but to feature the outstanding Darth Vader series by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca on this list due to how impressive and amazing it is.  This series follows one of the greatest villains of all-time right after the events of A New Hope as he fights against rivals and old enemies to secure his place within the Empire.  This was easily one of the most consistent and epic Star Wars series out there, especially as it also includes the spectacular Vader Down crossover.  There are so many cool elements to this series, such as the introduction of Doctor Aphra or the intense scene where Vader finds out Luke’s true identity and realises that the Emperor has been lying to him for years.  I love this great series and it is the reason I am currently so in to Star Wars comics.

 

Runaways

Runaways Cover

I have long been a major fan of the iconic Runaways series by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona.  Following a group of teens who find out their parents are supervillains, this series, which mostly avoids the main events and characters of the Marvel universe, is a fantastic and powerful comic with some real heart to it.  Introducing a colourful team of teenage heroes with some great powers, this is one of the most distinctive comics to come out of Marvel and is always going to remain a huge favourite of mine. 

 

Robin (Volume 4)

Robin_Vol_4_1

One of my favourite Batman associated comics is the long-running fourth series of Robin comics that followed my favourite version of the character, Tim Drake.  Set shortly after the death of Jason Todd in the infamous A Death in the Family, this comic introduced a whole new Robin, who swiftly won fans over.  Tim Drake, who relied more on his intelligence than his fighting ability, was an outstanding hero, and the creative team came up with some great stories for him which ensured he kept his spot at Batman’s primary sidekick for 20 years.  This entire comic is pretty epic, and while I deeply enjoy the post-Infinite Crisis Robin comics (all the way up to the really good Red Robin sequel series), his earlier stories are also pretty good and are very much worth checking out.  A great series that will appeal to comic fans young and old, I love this take on the classic sidekick.

 

New Avengers

New_Avengers_Vol_1_1

Over the years there have been an immense and wide-reaching collection of Avengers comics, from the classic storylines to weird and short-lived spin-offs, all of which I have tended to buy and read.  So for an Avengers comic to really stick out to me, it would have to be pretty damn exceptional, and that is exactly what the New Avengers was.  Created by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch, this series brought back a cooler and more modern version of the iconic team after the Avengers Disassembled storyline.  Bringing in beloved characters such as Spiderman, Wolverine and Luke Cage, this series helped to redefine the Avengers.  There are several amazing phases to this comic over the years, especially as it ran through some of the key crossovers like Civil War, Secret Invasion and Dark Reign, and it was an absolute joy to read from start to finish.

 

Secret Six (Volume 3)

Secret Six Volume 3 Cover

The final comic on my list is the often overlooked but incredibly fun Secret Six series.  Following on from the Villains United limited series, Secret Six follows a dysfunctional team of supervillains, including Deadshot, Bane, Scandal Savage, Ragdoll and Catman, as they engage in several morally grey mercenary jobs around the world.  Helmed by Gail Simone and featuring some rather insane, if touching, storylines, this was an amazing series that is near and dear to my heart, especially as Simon manages to turn eternal joke character, Catman, into the biggest badass ever.

 


Well, that is the end of my latest Top Ten List.  I think that I came up with an interesting list of comics, especially as it features such a wide range of titles.  I will admit that I did stick heavily to the Marvel and DC titles, and I also seemed to have primarily featured comics from the early 2000s.  Despite this obvious preference form me, I think this turned out to be a great and diverse list, and it definitely represents the comics I enjoy the most.  I think this might be a list I come back to in the future, especially as I will read some additional comics in the next year, and it will be interesting to see how this list changes.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite series are in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books Written Before I was Born

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  In the latest Top Ten Tuesday, participants have been given the intriguing task of listing their favourite books that were written before they were born.  This is one of the more interesting Top Ten Tuesday topics that I have had the opportunity to complete, and I was rather intrigued to see how many great novels I love were written before I was born.

While I am still very much young at heart, I do have to admit that I was born some 30-odd years ago in 1991, which, now that I have written it down for all the world to see, is starting to make me feel a tad old.  Nonetheless, I really want to complete this list, so I have moved on and scoured through some of the best books I have read in my long life to see how many of them were written before 1991, which should hopefully open up an excellent list of great reads for me to talk about below.

This ended up proving to be a rather difficult and interesting list to come up with, especially as it quickly became obvious that I really have not read a great variety of novels written before 1991.  While it did require me to feature multiple books from several authors, I was eventually able to come up with 10 impressive entries for a complete list, as well as some great honourable mentions.  Each of the novels below are particularly good novels and comics, and most of them were written by some of my absolute favourite authors, whose early work I have gone back to check out.  This ended up becoming quite an intriguing and varied list, and I am rather pleased with the entries featured below.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 1: The Ronin by Stan Sakai – 1987

Usagi Yojimbo The Ronin Cover

 

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett – 1971

The Carpet People Cover

 

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien – 1937

The Hobbit Cover

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 3: The Wanderer’s Road by Stan Sakai – 1989

Usagi Yojimbo The Wanderer's Road Cover

 

Top Ten List:

 

Legend by David Gemmell – 1984

Legend

Let us start this list off with a novel that is epic in every sense of the word.  Legend is the debut novel of the impressive and exciting fantasy author David Gemmell and features an intense and massive siege that sees a gigantic, unbeatable army attempt to conquer the world’s greatest fortress.  Serving as the first entry in Gemmell’s The Drenai Saga, this is an amazing and awesome novel filled with action, adventure and outstanding characters, including Gemmell’s major series protagonist, Druss the Legend, who has a particularly poignant and memorable tale.  This is an exceptional must-read for all fans of the fantasy genre.

 

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett – 1989

Guards! Guards! Cover

Considering the name that I chose for this blog, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I am a major fan of the late, great Terry Pratchett’s iconic and hilarious Discworld series.  I could have honestly filled this entire list with the 10 Discworld novels that were eligible entries.  However, I have shown some remarkable restraint and only featured my absolute favourite earlier novels from this long-running series.  The first book I am featuring on this list is Guards! Guards!, which came out in 1989.  Guards! Guards! is an extremely fun and fantastic novel that expertly and effortlessly melds fantasy, murder mystery and comedy elements into an exceptional and awesome novel that follows a seemingly useless city watch as they attempt to solve the biggest case of their careers: who is summoning a dragon to attack their city?  This was an absolutely captivating and hilarious novel that I could read time and time again without getting bored in the slightest, especially as Guards! Guards! sets up my favourite Discworld sub-series.  An incredible, outrageous and highly recommended read.

 

Magician by Raymond E. Feist – 1982

Magician Cover

Another pre-1991 epic debut that is essential reading for fans of the fantasy genre is Magician, the first novel in Feist’s long-running Riftwar Cycle.  This is an exciting and clever fantasy classic that I have had the great pleasure of reading several times.  Not only does it contain an inventive and compelling tale set across two separate worlds that find themselves at war with each other but it also serves as the first novel in a massive major fantasy series that ran for over 30 years.  I have a lot of love for Magician and I am still a major fan of Feist, especially as he continues to write great fantasy novels like King of Ashes and Queen of Storms.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 2: Samurai by Stan Sakai – 1989

Usagi Yojimbo Samurai Cover

There was no way I could do this list without featuring one of the Usagi Yojimbo comics that I have been having so much fun re-reading and reviewing over the last couple of months.  There were three separate volumes that I could have included on this list, but I decided to promote the second volume, Samurai, which features a captivating and detailed examination of the titular character’s backstory.  Filled with an amazing story and some excellent artwork, Samurai is one of the best entries in my favourite comic series and is a fantastic and wonderful read.

 

Streams of Silver by R. A. Salvatore – 1989

Streams of Silver Cover

Another author who was bound to appear on this list is fantasy legend R. A. Salvatore, who has authored a metric ton of novels since his debut in 1988.  There were several good options from Salvatore that I could have featured on this list, including all three novels in his debut series, The Icewind Dale trilogy, but the first one I decided to go with was his second novel, Streams of Silver.  While I love Salvatore’s debut, The Crystal Shard, I felt that Streams of Silver was the stronger novel, so I included on this list.  Featuring some intense action sequences, a deeper dive into the characters introduced in the first book, an outstanding antagonist and a fantastic cliffhanger conclusion, Streams of Silver is great novel from Salvatore that still really holds up.

 

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett – 1990

Moving Pictures Cover

The next Pratchett Discworld novel I included on this list was the comedic masterpiece, Moving PicturesMoving Pictures is a deeply impressive novel that sees the ancient art of moving pictures return to the Discworld and then promptly drive everyone crazy.  This entertaining and captivating read serves as an incredible parody to the film industry and is loaded with so many jokes and witty observations that you will be laughing yourself silly for days.  One of the strongest Discworld novels written before 1991, this one is very much worth reading.

 

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Todd Klein and Richmond Lewis – 1987

Batman_Year_One

While there were a number of great comics written before 1991, one of my favourites is the 1987 classic, Batman: Year One by graphic novel icon Frank Miller and his talented team of artists.  This is an outstanding read that re-imagined Batman for an entire generation and ended up being the character’s key introductory comic for one of the best periods of DC comics.  Serving as the main inspiration for the Batman Begins film, Batman: Year One is an exceptional comic that any true Batman fan will love and adore for years to come.

 

Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts – 1987

Daughter of the Empire Cover

While Magician served as a particularly impressive introduction to the Riftwar Cycle, one of my favourite entries in the entire series was Daughter of the Empire, which Feist cowrote with Janny Wurst.  Set on an Eastern-culture inspired fantasy planet, Daughter of the Empire is the first book in the Empire trilogy, a captivating companion trilogy to the Riftwar novels.  While all three books in this series are great, the best is easily Daughter of the Empire, which sees a noble-born daughter forced to survive and lead her house after her family is murdered by a powerful rival who wishes to crush her.  Thanks to its enjoyable and dramatic narrative of survival against all the odds, Daughter of the Empire is a particularly amazing novel that has a very special place in my heart and which I have gone back and re-read several times.

 

Homeland by R. A. Salvatore – 1990

Homeland Cover

My second Salvatore novel on this list is Homeland, the first book in the Dark Elf trilogy, which explores the early life of Salvatore’s most iconic character, the dark elf ranger Drizzt Do’Urden.  Homeland follows the birth of Drizzt and follows some of his earliest experiences living with his race, the evil Drow, in their homeland underground, where murder, betrayal and personal ambitions are the natural way of life.  Watching the noble and selfless character of Drizzt grow up amongst murders, cowards and fanatics is just fantastic and Homeland is easily one of my absolute favourite Salvatore books of all time.

 

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett – 1989

Pyramids Cover

The final book on this list is another Pratchett novel, Pyramids, a subtly clever and hilarious read.  Set in a parody version of ancient Egypt, Pyramids follows a modern king as he attempts to bring plumbing, feather beds and progress to his decaying country, only to face opposition from his priests, his fellow gods and his greatest adversary, geometry.  With some major laugh-out-loud moments, including one scene where multiple Egyptian-inspired gods engage in a football-style match to control the sun, and some amazing original characters, Pyramids is an incredible read and the perfect note to end this list on.

 

I rather liked how this list turned out and I was so glad that I was able to find several great books to feature above.  I do wish I had a bit more variety when it came to authors, and I might have to think about going back and checking out some earlier entries from authors I am fans of, especially if they published novels before 1991.  Each of the novels I mentioned above is really exceptional, and I would strongly recommend them all to anyone looking for a fantastic read.  Hopefully, some of the authors I mentioned won’t be too disconcerted about the fact that they have been writing for a longer period than I have been alive, and if they are I apologise deeply.  Let me know what your favourite novels written before 1991 are in the comments below and I will be interested to see if there are any great books that I missed.

Film Review – Batman: Soul of the Dragon

Batman - Soul of the Dragon

Studio: Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment

Series: DC Universe Animated Original Movies – Film 40

Director: Sam Liu

Producer: Bruce Timm

Writer: Jeremy Adams

Length: 82 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to dive into an intense and addictive DC Comics martial arts adventure with the latest entry in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies range, Batman: Soul of the Dragon, an outstanding and deeply enjoyable film that explores several amazing DC characters in a very unique way.

While The Unseen Library is primarily dedicated to providing book and comic reviews, I have in the last year been experimenting with reviews and articles about another great passion of mine, animated superhero films.  I have always had a lot of fondness for this genre and I started focusing on it more last year when I reviewed Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, and even further when I did an extended Top Ten Tuesday article listing my favourite superhero animated films, which primarily featured DC Universe Animated Original Movies.  DC continues their domination of the animation market with the very awesome Soul of the Dragon film, which serves as the 40th entry in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies range.  I had an outstanding time watching this latest animated offering and it is definitely a new favourite film of mine.

Bruce Wayne, Richard Dragon, Shiva and Ben Turner are four of the best martial artists on the planet, utilising their skills and training to become truly elite fighters.  While each of these renowned warriors are now on their own different paths, they shared a similar start on their journey as students at the secret monastery of Nanda Parbat.  Training under the legendary O-Sensei, these four, along with other notable students, not only learned the martial techniques that allowed them to become the fighters they are today but also became a close-knit family, until one terrible night changed everything for them.

Now their paths are about to cross again when Richard Dragon discovers that a fanatical organisation, the Cult of the Kobra, have stolen an ancient and dangerous artefact that Dragon and his fellow former students are intimately and tragically familiar with.  Travelling to Gotham City, Dragon recruits Bruce Wayne, who now fights criminals as the vigilante Batman, to help him stop Kobra and save the entire world.  Attempting to recover another artefact guarded by Shiva, now a feared Gotham crime boss, they soon discover just how long and deadly Kobra’s reach is.

With Shiva and Ben in tow, the four former disciples of O-Sensei prepare for the battle of their lives as they attempt to infiltrate Kobra’s island base.  However, nothing will prepare them for the dangers they will encounter, nor the horrors unleashed from their past.  Can these four dangerous fighters work together to save the world or will an ancient and deadly force be unleashed?

Batman: Soul of the Dragon is an excellent and amazing animated comic book film that proved to be an absolute treat to watch.  This is a standalone film which is directed by Sam Liu, written by Jeremy Adams and featuring Bruce Timm as an executive producer, and together these talented people have produced a fantastic and powerful feature.  Liu and Timm are the genius behind some of the best animated comic films that are out there, including Justice League vs. Teen Titans, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay and the incredible The Death of Superman, and they have once again done an outstanding job with Soul of the Dragon, creating a unique and entertaining comic book tale.  Making excellent use of an exceptional narrative, a great group of characters and a very distinctive vibe, Soul of the Dragon is an outstanding and wonderful film that is really worth watching.

Soul of the Dragon has a particularly awesome and captivating narrative that follows its four iconic central protagonists on an epic quest to right the wrongs of their collective past.  This movie contains an original tale set in the 1970s that draws heavily from classic DC martial arts comics to create a fantastic film that not only dives into the origins of some amazing DC characters but which also presents an exciting character-driven adventure.  This movie starts off with a captivating bang with Richard Dragon discovering a sinister plot with ties to his time as a student.  The story then quickly starts to reunite the four major characters, with several impressive action set-pieces dominating the early part of this movie, all of which were a real treat to watch.  The story than takes the protagonists to an island fortress where they must face their enemy before he can unleash a terrible force of destruction.

Interspersed with the main story are a series of compelling flashbacks that follow the protagonists’ training under O-Sensei, which provide some excellent context to the main story.  I thought that the flashbacks were a particularly impressive part of the movie and I liked they expertly tied together main narrative with the past, creating a richer overall story.  I also felt that the narrative did an excellent job of introducing each of the characters while also highlighting the differences between their modern appearances and their former lives as students.  I did think that the main story was a little rushed and could have potentially used a little more plot in between the protagonists’ reunion and their arrival at the antagonists’ island.  Still, this did not impact my enjoyment of the movie too much, and the last third of the film is so damn epic and emotionally charged that you forget about this slight misstep of pacing.  All of this wraps up with a memorable and interesting ultimate conclusion, which will leave you wondering about what, if anything, is going to happen next.

Thanks to the standalone nature of this movie, potential viewers do not need to have watched any prior DC animated features to enjoy Soul of the Dragon, and indeed minimal knowledge of the various characters and comic elements is needed to follow along, as the narrative provides a fantastic and detailed introduction to all the relevant parts of the plot.  All of this makes for an epic and just plain awesome story that honours some classic DC characters and comics while also introducing them to a new generation of DC fans with this fantastic adventure.

In addition to the first-rate story, I was also impressed with how well this cool movie was put together.  It contains some outstanding animation, especially when it comes to the impressively exciting action scenes, with a particularly well-put-together car chase halfway through the film being an amazing example.  This proves to be a very action-heavy film, with a huge number of fluid combat sequences that perfectly captures the skill of the combatants and which successfully translates the style of the original martial arts comic.  Parents should be warned that this is not an animated feature for younger children, thanks to some of its over-the-top content, but everyone else is going to love seeing all the exciting fast-paced scenes unfold.  I particularly liked how this animated movie had such a distinctive and entertaining style to it, which really enhanced my enjoyment of the film.  As the story is set in to the 1970s, the creators attempted to replicate the feel and tone of the era in a number of different ways, such as the technology, locations and the animated appearances of the characters.  The creative team also made sure to include a ton of appropriate slang (you haven’t seen anything till you’ve seen Batman say: “Let’s get it on”) and an excellent instrumental musical score that is not only very 70s in its sound but which perfectly fits the movie’s distinctive narrative and tone.  Soul of the Dragon draws a lot of inspiration from classic kung fu films, especially those featuring Bruce Lee, and you can really feel the creators’ love of the genre with all the little details they chuck in.  There are also a number of fantastic allusions to classic James Bond films, including several very familiar musical themes, some entertaining lines from certain characters and even a dangerous car chase with a gadget-laden car that ends with a vehicle getting whisked away on an electromagnet attached to a helicopter (a very fun call-back to You Only Live Twice).  I absolutely loved how well this film came together, and all the exceptional animation and clever tonal shifts combine perfectly with the great story to produce an enthralling and memorable viewing experience.

In addition to have an amazing and entertaining narrative, Soul of the Dragon is backed up by a fantastic roster of characters from across the DC Comics canon, voiced by an exceptional and talented collection of actors.  While this movie contains several great supporting characters, the story is mostly set around Bruce Wayne, Richard Dragon, Shiva and Ben Turner, each of whom are heavily featured in both the main narrative and the flashbacks.  While all four of these main characters are great in their own right, a lot of their appeal lies in fantastic connection they have with each other and with their master, O-Sensei.  These great protagonists have an excellent rapport, and it proved to be really great to see them interact with each other throughout the film.

The lead of the film is probably Batman, who is voiced by David Giuntoli of Grimm fame, who provides a fantastic take on the character with his voice work.  I liked how there were two versions of Batman: the vigilante who featured in the main story and the younger student in Nanda Parbat.  This proved to be an interesting portrayal of this iconic character, as the writers attempt to explore Bruce’s determination, even as a young man, to do the impossible and fight evil no matter the cost.  It was also great to see him evolve from the student in the flashbacks to the vigilante in the main story, and there are some fun scenes that showcase him becoming a more focused and terrifying fighter when he puts on the mask.

While Soul of the Dragon is nominally a Batman movie, Bruce is somewhat overshadowed by some of the other main protagonists.  This is no fault of the character’s portrayal or characterisation; it is just because the other protagonists are just a little more exciting and enjoyable.  Part of the reason why this is the case is that Batman is the least skilled martial artist in what is essentially a kung fu movie, as it is established that his fellow students are better fighters than him (this is true in both the film and in the comics).  While this does mean that some of the other characters’ action sequences are a little more visually impressive, you instead get to see Batman fight in different ways.  There is a great focus on how Batman utilises trickery and fear to supplement his weaker fighting abilities, and there are some excellent scenes around this, including a key one towards the end of the film where he uses a combination of his gadgets, cunning, and even his own cape to defeat a superior foe.  I did think that the version of the character was a bit blasé about keeping his identity secret with his friends, and he didn’t seemed as opposed to people using lethal force as you would expect, but this was an outstanding take on Batman and I really enjoyed his appearance in this film.

One major character who was a true highlight of this movie was Richard Dragon, an iconic character who is widely regarded as one of the best fighters in the DC canon.  Despite his popularity in DC’s martial arts comics, this is the character’s first appearance outside of the comics (the Richard Dragon featured in Arrow is a different character altogether) and he voiced by The Chairman himself, Mark Dacascos.  Depicted as Asian in the film (the comic character is traditionally a red-haired Caucasian), this character looks a lot like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and is portrayed as an international super spy.  Despite this being a Batman film, in many ways Richard is just as much the main character of this movie, with much of the story revolving around him.  Richard grabs focus right from the start, where he engages in some amusing spy antics, which include outwitting a James Bond-esque character in a fancy casino, effortlessly and stylishly fighting off some goons, and parachuting onto a boat filled with beautiful women (a scene very reminiscent of The Living Daylights, Bond music included), before identifying himself as “Dragon, Richard Dragon”.  Each of Dragon’s subsequent scenes are really fantastic, from the fluid and exceptional action sequences to the fun interactions he has with other characters, including an entertaining scene with a pompous bouncer.  Dacascos does an exceptional job voicing this character and he provides Richard with a confident, intelligent and generally calm air that proves to be extremely easy to enjoy, while also including some vulnerability in several amazing scenes.  All of this helps to produce an exceptional character and I am extremely glad that the introduction of Richard Dragon to a wider media went so well.

The next major character in the movie is the dangerous and delightful Shiva, who was voiced by the talented Kelly Hu.  Lady Shiva, as she is better known, is one of the deadliest assassins and martial artists in the DC canon.  I felt the creative team did an outstanding job showcasing Shiva in Soul of the Dragon, as she is portrayed as a merciless killing machine and living weapon able to destroy her opponents with minimal effort and nothing but her bare hands.  The character has some of the most brutal combat sequences, which were not only beautifully animated but which proved to be extremely entertaining to watch.  I felt that Shiva went through some fantastic character development throughout the film as she transforms from a dedicated student to a ruthless crime lord who even Batman is afraid to deal with: “I’m working up to it…”  I also really loved the choice of voice actor for this character as Kelly Hu does a sensational job bringing Shiva to life.  Hu, who is known for her comic book roles in both animation (as Cheshire in Young Justice and Karai in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and live action (as Lady Deathstrike in X-Men 2 and China White in Arrow), has previously voiced Lady Shiva in the Batman: Arkham Origins video game, and it was great to see her return to this fantastic character.  She gives this version of Shiva a particularly deadly air; you can tell with every sentence just how confident she is in her own ability and lethal potential.  Not only does Shiva have some of the best fight scenes in the movie but she also has some of the best lines, such as when she chooses her opponent in one of the big boss fights: “I’ll take the girl, her look offends me!”  I also absolutely loved one scene which saw the voice of Karai from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles face off against three green-clad ninjas respectfully wielding sai, nunchaku and a bo staff.  The character’s casual comment of “You know how to use those?” followed by her effortlessly taking all three out was just perfect and it has me laughing pretty heavily.  I think that Shiva was probably my favourite character in the entire movie and I am really impressed with how she was written and portrayed.

The final member of the main four characters is Ben Turner, the angry and dangerous African-American fighter better known as Bronze Tiger.  Bronze Tiger is a major martial artist in the DC canon who is probably best known for his run in the Suicide Squad comics.  Bronze Tiger is voiced by Michael Jai White, who recently portrayed the live-action version of the character in Arrow.  I really liked Bronze Tiger throughout Soul of the Dragon, as the film captures a lot of his essence from his original comic appearances and subsequently turn him into a fantastic character in this movie.  Part of the reason why is that he goes through the most development out of all the main characters, especially as several flashbacks bridge the gap between his student days and his current character, showing several pivotal events in his life.  I absolutely loved his look in this movie, as they made the decision to model him on African-American actor and martial artist, Jim Kelly, with some elements of other 70s African-American characters like Shaft and Luke Cage thrown in.  There is a particularly fun joke around this character when Richard misremembers the character’s codename as Black Samurai, a reference to the Jim Kelly movie of the same name, and the subsequent approval of the team at his actual codename of Bronze Tiger was very entertaining.  White does some excellent voice work for Bronze Tiger in this film and he successfully showcases the character’s intense anger at the start of the story before evolving it into a more zen-like persona towards the end.  I would say that Bronze Tiger was a little overshadowed by the three other protagonists, but he was still a great addition to the movie and is a fun character to follow.

Aside from the main four characters, there is a particular focus on the mentor character of O-Sensei, who is voiced in this film by the legendary James Hong.  O-Sensei is a fantastic character with an intriguing history in DC Comics, being a major figure in the lives of Richard Dragon, Shiva and Bronze Tiger.  This is actually O-Sensei’s first named appearance outside of the comics, and he proves to be a fantastic and fun addition to the movie’s narrative.  Hong portrays the character as a wise but humorous kung fu master, offering deep insights and amusing jokes in equal measure to the younger characters, while also forming them into a close family.  O-Sensei proves to be an extremely likeable character, with some deep and powerful moments that ensure that the viewer appreciates and enjoys him.  I particularly loved Hong’s voice work throughout the movie and I felt that he really dived into the character and made him stand out, especially in some later scenes in the movie where there are some intriguing twists around him.  An overall outstanding and exceptional part of the cast, I am extremely glad they got Hong for this movie.

No comic book movie will be complete without some villains, and to my mind this is where Soul of the Dragon falls a little flat.  The antagonists of this film are the members of the Cult of the Kobra (essentially DC’s version of Hydra, both of which were created by Jack Kirby).  Kobra are led by their prophet, Jeffrey Burr (voiced by Josh Keaton), backed up by his henchmen Schlangenfaust (Robin Atkin Downes), Lady Eve (Grey Griffin) and King Snake (Patrick Seitz).  While all of these characters are voiced perfectly and have some cool moments throughout the movie, such as Burr’s creepy introduction, his belief in his prophesised destiny and Schlangenfaust’s hidden abilities, I honestly found each of these villains to be a little underwhelming.  None of them (with the possible exception of Schlangenfaust) really stood out to me and they were all very generic sort of villains to the story.  That being said, Soul of the Dragon did feature two hidden antagonists at different points of film who add some major twists to the tale.  Both of these villains were rather good and moved the story along in some intriguing and entertaining directions.  I particularly loved the appearance of one antagonistic character towards the end of the movie, and while his appearance was slightly predictable, it proved to be a major highlight of the film, resulting in some outstanding scenes.  As a result, it was rather easy for me to forgive some of the downsides of the Kobra villains as the overall antagonists of this film turned out to be extremely good.

Overall, I think that Batman: Soul of the Dragon was an exceptional animated film that was a heck of a lot of fun to watch.  Thanks to its combination of an epic story, captivating and well-written characters and a tone that is a fun nod to classic and campy kung fu movies, this movie gets a full five stars from me.  This is definitely a movie I will watch multiple times in the future, and it comes highly recommended.  I very much looking forward to seeing the next entries in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies range (there is a Justice Society movie and an adaption of Batman: The Long Halloween coming out later this year), and I will have to have a go at reviewing them when they come out.

Top Ten Tuesday – Pre-2020 Novels

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  This week, in honour of Thanksgiving up in America, participants of Top Ten Tuesday get a freebie topic based around something they are thankful for.  While there are many book things I am thankful for this year, I thought I would take this opportunity to start my customary Top Ten List count-down towards the end of the year by listing some of my favourite pre-2020 novels that I read this year.

This year I have ended up reading quite a few books and comics that were published at some point prior to 2020.  I have checked these various books out for a number of reasons, such as the book had an awesome plot synopsis, it was part of a series or an expanded universe that I had been exploring, or because I wanted to see an author’s earlier works.  Most of these older releases are really good, and in some cases they are amongst my favourite books I read all year.  I have also featured quite a few of these books as part of my Throwback Thursday series, and pretty much all of them receive an extremely high rating from me.  As a result, I wanted to highlight which books amongst these series are my absolute favourites and decided to feature them in their own Top Ten list.  This is a bit of a continuation of a list I did last year, and I will probably list some of my favourite pre-2021 books next year as I quite enjoy going back and checking out older novels I haven’t had the chance to read yet.

This version of the list came together quite well as I read quite a number of awesome novels released before 2020 this year.  While there is a bit of a focus on Star Wars tie-in novels and entries in Jonathan Maberry’s exceptional Joe Ledger series (which I finally finished of this year), there are a range of other cool books and comics which made the list.  While a few of these are books I missed in 2019, there are a couple of other interesting entries in there.  I had a fun time coming up with this list and all 10 books on the list, plus the books I included in my Honourable Mentions, are excellent pre-2020 reads that are really worth checking out.

Honourable Mentions:

Batman: Detective Comics – 2016

Rise of the Batmen

In 2020 I had a bit of a hankering to finally check out some of the recent comics that DC has been producing.  To that end, I went out and grabbed out several great series that were relaunched in 2016 as part of the DC Rebirth range.  While I had an amazing time reading some of the impressive comic book series in this range (such as the new Suicide Squad and Batgirl series), one of my favourite pre-2020 comics has to be the new take on the classic Batman series, Detective Comics.  This new Detective Comics series had a bit more of an ensemble focus, following a new team of Batman family members, including Batwoman, Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, Clayface and more.  Not only did these comics feature some amazing storylines but the authors really dive into the past of each member of the team, providing intriguing new backgrounds which form the basis for some excellent character arcs.  Highlights of this series include a detailed arc around Red Robin that goes deep into the publishing history of the character, a surprisingly heart-warming attempt to turn long-time villain Clayface into a hero, and a major focus on Batwoman, who in some volumes gets more attention than Batman.  A truly amazing series that I deeply enjoyed.

Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker – 2019

Deathwatch Shadowbreaker Cover


Star Wars
: Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott – 2019

Dooku - Jedi Lost Cover


The Russian
by Ben Coes – 2019

The Russian Cover

Top Ten Tuesday (By Publication Year):


Redshirts
by John Scalzi – 2012

Redshirts Cover


Predator One
by Jonathan Maberry – 2015

Predator One Cover


Star Wars
: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden – 2015

Star Wars Dark Disciple Cover


Star Wars
: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp – 2015

Lords of the Sith Cover


Kill Switch
by Jonathan Maberry – 2016

Kill Switch Cover


Batman
(vol. 3) – 2016

Batman I am Gotham Cover

While I had a lot of love for the new series of Detective Comics, the pre-2020 comic book line I enjoyed the most this year was easily the series of Batman comics that started in 2016 as part of the DC Rebirth.  This series of Batman comics, written by Tom King, is truly impressive and contains, in my opinion, some of the best Batman storylines in recent years.  These stories dive deep into the psyches of Batman and his insane villains, showing just how complicated and layered comic book characters can be.  King comes up with some amazing arcs during his run, and I personally loved how he revolutionised the compelling romance between Batman and Catwoman, with their wedding arc being one of the most distinctive parts of this entire series.  King also revitalises Bane as one of Batman’s most significant villains, really diving into the heart of their rivalry, and showing Bane at his most dangerous.  This series are easily some of the best comics I have read in recent years, and I am extremely glad I decided to check them out in 2020.

Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry – 2017

Dogs of War Cover


The Bear Pit
by S. G. MacLean – 2019

The Bear Pit Cover


The Black Hawks
by David Wragg – 2019

The Black Hawks Cover


We are the Dead
by Mike Shackle – 2019

We are the Dead Cover

Well, that is the end of this latest list.  I had an incredible time reading or listening to all of the above books/comics, and each of them comes highly recommended by me.  As I mentioned above, I am planning to read a lot of older books next year, so I should hopefully have a Top pre-2021 list in about a year.  At this point in time I am hoping to check out some more Harry Dresden novels (after loving Battle Ground a few weeks ago), and I am also thinking about reading some more books in The Powder Mage trilogy by Brian McClellan (the first book, Promise of Blood, was pretty awesome) and Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive (if I can find the time to read these epic books).  In the meantime, let me know what you think of my list and if you have any suggestions for older novels to check out next year, I would be interested to hear them.

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Animated Comic Book Movies

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants get come up with a list around Non-Bookish Hobbies, in order for the various participants to get to know each other.  This is a rather interesting idea from The Artsy Reader Girl, and I thought that I would use this topic to talk about something I am quite passionate about, animated movies that are based on comic books.

I am a major fan of both animated television shows and of comic books, so naturally the combination of these two genres is something I am quite keen on.  Over the years there have been a huge number of animated comic book adaptions made and I have gone out of my way to watch as many as possible.  Most of these are pretty good, although several really shine through as the cream of the crop.  Surprisingly, this is one of the few areas where DC Comics really has the advantage over Marvel.  While there are a few good Marvel Comics animated adaptions, DC has more of a monopoly over animated movies, producing a huge range of high-quality and compelling films, mostly as part of their DC Universe Animated Original Movies range.  That being said, I have included a few Marvel movies into my list below, as they have done several good movies.  I am particularly keen to do this list this year as I actually reviewed one of these movies, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, on my blog earlier this year in what was my first film review.  I had a lot of fun reviewing this animated film and it might be something I will continue to do in the future for some of the better upcoming releases.

In order to appear on this list, the film had to be an adaption of a comic book or be based upon a character or characters who originated in comic book format.  I spent a substantial amount of time going through all the various animated movies that were out there, and I have to admit that my original list was pretty substantial.  I was able to cull it down a little, although I still had way more than 10 entries that I wanted to feature.  In the end I decided to make this a Top Twenty List, which made me a lot happier and allows me to feature several more out-there entries.  I am extremely happy with how this list turned out as every single movie below is well worth checking out for a variety of reasons.

Top Twenty List:

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Verse Poster

After talking smack about the Marvel animated films above, it does feel a little silly putting Into the Spider-Verse first on this list.  However, this is without a doubt one of the best, if not the best, animated comic book adaptation ever done, and is probably the one most people have actually seen.  This was an ultra-cool and clever movie that successfully brought the Miles Morales Spider-Man to the big screen, while also featuring an impressive voice cast, a unique animation style and an exceptionally well-written and entertaining story.  A must-watch for any comic book fan out there.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Under the Red Hood Cover

This second entry is probably one of my absolute favourite animated comic book movies.  An adaptation of the Under the Hood storyline, this movie pits Batman against the Red Hood, a masked vigilante who has a dark connection with his past.  Despite lacking a lot of the surprise about the eventual reveal of Red Hood’s identity that most comic readers had when it was first released, this is still an extremely strong and captivating movie with a number of action-packed and emotionally charged sequences.  Anchored by an especially good voice cast, including Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Jensen Ackles as Red Hood, John DiMaggio as a delightfully evil Joker and Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, this is an exceptional movie, especially the end scene which sees Batman have his final dramatic confrontation with Red Hood.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Apokolips War Poster

As I mentioned above, Apokolips War is a more recent release that I reviewed earlier this year.  This was another top-rate comic book movie that served as the epic final entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe, an extended collection of connected animated films all set within the same shared universe.  Containing a dark storyline and a massive cast, this movie successfully concluded the multitude of plot lines featured in the other DC Animated Movie Universe films while also providing the viewer with a number of amazing and moving scenes.  A really awesome animated film to check out.

The Lego Batman Movie

Lego Batman Poster

I could not do a list about animated comic movies without featuring The Lego Batman Movie.  While I could potentially have also used The Lego Movie or its sequel, The Lego Batman Movie is a pure superhero movie that brings a number of iconic Batman characters to life in a fun Lego way.  This is definitely the most comedic movie on this list and features a huge number of excellent jokes and send-ups of the Batman universe.  From the opening line about DC being “the house that Batman built”, to a cheeky takedown at Batman’s weird extended rogues gallery, you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh like crazy the entire way through.

The Death of Superman

Death of Superman Poster

The 1992-1993 comic book storyline The Death of Superman is one of the best-selling and iconic comics in history, and naturally several movies have attempted to adapt it before, such as the 2007 animated film Superman: Doomsday and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  However, the best adaption is the 2018 animated film, The Death of Superman, which absolutely blew me away when it came out.  Featuring an extremely brutal fight between Doomsday and Superman (after Doomsday takes down the entire Justice League by himself), and the extremely powerful Superman death sequence (I dare you not to tear up for it!), this movie is easily one of the best animated films ever done.

Batman: Assault on Arkham

Assault on Arkham Poster

This is the Suicide Squad movie we actually needed.  Set in the same universe as the bestselling Batman: Arkham games, Assault on Arkham was released two years before the live action Suicide Squad movie and is substantially better.  While it lacks the all-star cast of the live-action film, Assault on Arkham has an extremely well-written story that effectively captures the heart of the comic book and shows the villains at their worst as they attempt to break into the worst place in the world, Arkham Asylum.  Loaded up with bloody action, great characters and humour that is frankly more adult than its live-action counterpart, you will have an amazing time watching this film.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans

Justice League vs Teen Titans Poster

To me, the DC Animated Movie Universe only started to get really good when Justice League vs. Teen Titans was released.  While there were some good entries in the early going of this shared universe, this one was leaps and bounds above most of them.  Not only does Justice League vs. Teen Titans do a great job introducing my favourite superhero team, the Teen Titans, to this universe but it also presents a really good version of the Trigon/Raven storyline from the Teen Titans comics in a short amount of time.  In addition, this proved to be a key entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe, as it successfully ties into several of the other movies in the series.  An exciting and impressive movie that was great to watch multiple times.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

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While I was tempted to add Superman/Batman: Public Enemies to this list, I have more of a preference for the sequel, ApocalypseApocalypse is an excellent adaption of the Superman/Batman comic book arc, The Supergirl from Krypton, which reintroduced the Kara Zor-El version of Supergirl into the DC Comics universe (which eventually led to her current use in popular culture).  Apocalypse features an amazing storyline that sees Supergirl come to Earth, only to be captured by Darkseid, forcing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda to travel to Apokolips to rescue her.  Not only are there several epic scenes, such as Batman’s badass showdown with Darkseid, or the massive extended fight between Darkseid and the Super cousins that decimates the Kent farm, but this movie features an impressive voice cast.  This includes the dream team of returning Justice League voice actors Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly and Susan Eisenberg (the definitive voices of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman respectively), as well as Summer Glau as Supergirl and Andre Braugher as Darkseid.  I particularly loved Braugher’s work in this movie and I felt he gave one of the best Darkseid portrayals of all time.  An overall awesome movie, I have a lot of love for this film.

Justice League Dark

Justice League Dark Poster

This is an excellent movie that sees Batman forced to work with a mismatched team of magicians and magical creatures to stop a world-ending threat.  This was an amazing and fast-paced movie that not only serves as a key part of the DC Animated Movie Universe (the final film in the whole series was a sequel to this one), but which contains an outstanding original storyline of its own.  There are so many cool elements to this film, including the excellent reintroduction of Matt Ryan as John Constantine, the original rogue magician and world-class bastard, and it was an incredible film to enjoy.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Teen Titans The Judas Contract Poster

The second Teen Titans movie set in the DC Animated Movie Universe, this film serves as a unique adaptation of the classic Teen Titans storyline, The Judas Contract.  This film sees the Teen Titans under attack from within as the master assassin Deathstroke returns to destroy the team once and for all.  Expertly tying the established comic storyline in with the version of the Teen Titans introduced in Justice League vs. Teen Titans, this was an impressive film that has a lot going for it.  You have to particularly love the complex storyline written around the character of Terra, and Beast Boy shines as not only the comic relief (the way he gets captured is just hilarious), but also as a tragic romantic figure.  Work in a fun Kevin Smith cameo, and The Judas Contract is an absolute must-see film.

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

Suicide Squad Hell to Pay Poster

Another exceptional Suicide Squad movie, Hell to Pay sees the titular squad compete with some of DC’s deadliest villains to obtain a “Get out of Hell Free” card.  This is wildly entertaining and surprisingly adult film that has some intriguing connections to some of the previous animated DC films.  One of the film’s advantages is that it does not take itself too seriously and at times it comes across as a gritty grindhouse action movie.  This movie has a very high death count, even amongst its main characters, and viewers are in for a bloody and exciting time.

Batman: Year One

Batman Year One Poster

This next entry was a perfect adaptation of Frank Miller’s iconic comic of the same name, which not only formed the definitive introduction to the modern Batman but which also served as the inspiration for much of Batman Begins.  This film does an outstanding job bringing this story to life, and it is anchored by its two excellent narrators, Bryan Cranston as James Gordon and Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne.  Cranston is of course perfect in this, and I love the fact that McKenzie voiced Batman in a movie only a few years before he was cast as James Gordon in Gotham.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Justice League Crisis on Two Earths Poster

This is another great Justice League animated movie that was originally going to be set between the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited television shows (although it ended up being separate from them).  This is an impressive movie that sees the Justice League follow a heroic Lex Luthor to an alternate Earth (Earth-Three), which is ruled over by evil versions of the Leaguers.  Not only is this a great take on a classic Justice League comic storyline, but it also contains a lot of cool moments.  I particularly liked the sociopathic Batman double, Owlman (voiced by James Woods), as he has one of the best death scenes in an animated comic book movie.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knights Return Part 2 Poster

For this entry I am combining two films into one, The Dark Knight Returns: Part One and Part Two.  These two films serve as a close adaptation of the iconic comic book by Frank Miller and feature all the best elements from the comics.  Not only does it contain a great version of the iconic battle between Batman and Superman but it has one of the most disturbing and memorable encounters between Batman and the Joker.  A truly impressive movie in both scope and delivery, it is a great way to check out one of the most revered Batman comics of all time.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

The Flashpoint Paradox Poster

This animated film is an adaption of the key DC Comics storyline, Flashpoint.  While I am not a major fan of what the Flashpoint comic did to the DC Universe (damn you New 52!), the story itself was pretty good and its adaption is also really fun to watch.  Featuring an intriguing time-travel storyline that sees the Flash trapped in a dark alternate timeline, this is a clever and compelling film, especially when some revelations come to light towards the end of the story.  The Flashpoint Paradox is a very close adaption to the comics, although there are a few clever twists here and there.  I was also really impressed in how the events of this film were reutilised in several preceding movies in the DC Animated Movie Universe, and it suggests a lot of pre-planning from the writers of this film.

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Poster

While I was tempted to include the 2007 TMNT film, I ended up going with last year’s Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Based on the very successful Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, this is a fun and more light-hearted film that sees Batman team up with the Ninja Turtles to save Gotham from an alliance between Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul.  I really love the way this film blends together elements and characters from these two iconic franchises and there are some great moments throughout, from Batman absolutely spanking the Turtles the first time they meet, to a wild romp through Arkham Asylum as the heroes encounter mutated versions of Batman’s rogue gallery.  A very funny entry on this list, fans of both franchises are guaranteed to have a good laugh throughout this film.

Justice League: War

Justice League War Poster

The second entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe following The Flashpoint Paradox, Justice League: War is the movie this introduces the details of this new timeline.  Based off the Justice League: Origin storyline from The New 52, Justice League: War showcases the formation of the Justice League as they go from hunted vigilantes to national heroes by facing down Darkseid’s first invasion.  Not only does it do a good job introducing all seven members of the League in this timeline (with Shazam replacing Aquaman from the comics), but it lives up to its title, with a massive war sequence taking place throughout, as all seven members of the League engage in a brutal fight with Darkseid and his minions.

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 Poster

While this is more of a Disney movie than anything else, Big Hero 6 is still an adaption of a comic book, as Big Hero 6 are a Marvel Comics superhero team.  While not the greatest Disney animated film of all time, it is a lot of fun to watch and only someone with a heart of stone would fail to fall in love with Baymax.  Also, it has a fun Stan Lee cameo in the end, which carries a lot of weight with me.

Justice League: Doom

Justice League Doom Poster

Justice League: Doom is a sequel to Crisis on Two Earths which sees the Justice League fight another dangerous threat from both within and without.  Loosely based on the JLA: Tower of Babel comic, the Justice League is attacked by Vandal Savage and a cadre of supervillains who are determined to take the League off the board.  However, in order to achieve their goals, they utilise contingency plans originally created by Batman to take down his teammates.  A very smartly written movie with some epic sequences, I personally thought Doom was a little stronger than Crisis on Two Earths, and it is really worth checking out.

Hulk vs.

Hulk Vs Poster

The final entry on this list is a fun entry from Marvel that was released back in 2009.  Hulk vs. is actually a double feature film featuring two shorter movies, Hulk vs. Wolverine and Hulk vs. Thor.  Both these films are pretty much as described, with Wolverine and Thor forced to go up against a maddened Hulk who is lured into their path by their respective enemies.  One of the more brutal animated films from the 2000s, highlights include an entertaining Deadpool and the Hulk smashing through the entirety of Asgard’s armies to get to Thor.

Well, that is my list.  As you can see, I am quite passionate about these animated movies and I clearly have watched them too many times.  I hope the above notes encourage you to check some of them out as each of them are a lot of fun to watch and contain a lot of hidden depth.  Let me know which animated comic book films are your favourites in the comments below and keep an eye out for any future reviews I do of some of these movies.

Film Review – Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Justice League Dark - Apokolips War

Studio: Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment

Series: DC Universe Animated Original Movies – Film 38, DC Animated Movie Universe – Film 15

Director: Matt Peters and Christina Sotta

Producer: James Tucker

Screenplay: Mairghread Scott

Writers: Christina Sotta and Ernie Altbacker

Length: 90 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

For this review I am going to go a little outside my wheelhouse by reviewing the latest animated comic book adaption from DC comics, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Fair warning: this is going to be a rather in-depth analysis, so those people who have not seen this film yet might be better served watching it first and then coming back. I will also have a spoiler alert for a key part of the movie towards the end of the review, so keep an eye out for that.

Over the last 13 years, DC Comics have been leading the way over Marvel Comics in the distinctive field of animated movie adaptations of their comic books. While Marvel have produced a couple of decent animated films, such as Planet Hulk and Hulk Vs., the DC adaptations have been leaps and bounds ahead of them. Most of these epic DC animated films have been part of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies project, which has produced 38 distinctive animated films since 2007. There have been some rather impressive and enjoyable releases as part of this project, and I have watched each one of them as soon as they have come out.

While a lot of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies stand alone, 15 films were set within a shared universe, with the same group of voice actors reprising their roles multiple times. This shared universe, known as the DC Animated Movie Universe, started in 2013 with Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, and examines an alternate universe inadvertently created by the Flash. This new universe is very heavily influenced by The New 52 continuity of comics (but don’t hold that against it), and features an interesting collection of films featuring a range of different DC characters, although there is a noticeable and understandable focus on Batman and the Justice League. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is the 15th entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe and serves as the conclusion to most of the storylines that were featured within the preceding 14 movies. This film was directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, and features a story written by Christina Sotta and Ernie Altbacker, with the screenplay written by Mairghread Scott.

Following two previous attempts to conquer Earth by intergalactic tyrant and New God Darkseid, the Justice League is determined to safeguard the planet no matter what. Led by a vengeful Superman, the League launches a pre-emptive attack against Darkseid’s fortress planet of Apokolips, when it becomes clear that he intends to invade Earth again. However, the League’s attack fails miserably as they fly into a trap set by Darkseid, who uses his new troops, the Paradooms, to swiftly defeating the entire Justice League, killing or capturing most of its members.

Now, two years later, Earth has been brutally conquered by Darkseid, who has devastated the planet, and intends to drain it of its magma in order to fuel his future designs of conquest. With nearly all of Earth’s heroes killed during Darkseid’s assault, only a scattered few remain to oppose his plans. At the fore is Clark Kent, the former Superman, who has been stripped of his powers by Darkseid, and who now leads a resistance movement with his wife, Lois Lane. Determined to save the Earth no matter the cost, Clark recruits the surviving members of the League and the Teen Titans: Raven, Damian Wayne and John Constantine for one final mission.

With the help of an odd and violent group of villains, including Lex Luthor, Etrigan the Demon and Harley Quinn’s Suicide Squad, Superman and small team attempt the impossible, a second assault on Apokolips. However, even if they succeed in reaching Apokolips, they will face terrible opposition. Former members of the Justice League, including Batman and Wonder Women, have been converted into loyal soldiers for Darkseid, and they will do everything in their power to defend him. Can Superman and his team defeat Darkseid once and for all, or are these Earth’s final days?

Well damn, now that was one hell of an animated film. As I mentioned above, I have watched a ton of animated comic book adaptations but Justice League Dark: Apokolips War might just be one of the finest and most impressive animated adaptations that DC comics has ever created. This outstanding, five-star film is just plain amazing, and I had an incredible time watching it (multiple times). Apokolips War contains an intense story, pulse-pounding action, an amazing voice cast and a superb connection to prior films and comics, which helps create an epic and powerful animated movie experience. The creative team behind this movie did an exceptional job on this film, turning it into an intense and addictive viewing treat that I absolutely loved. Viewers should be warned, this is not a film for kids, as it has a well-deserved R-rating (MA15+ in Australia), which it earns very quickly and very explicitly.

At the heart of the excellent movie is an exciting and clever story that pits the broken remainder of Earth’s heroes against the ultimate villain in the DC canon. Apokolips War has such a cool concept, starting off with the entire Justice League getting taken out in the first few minutes and then abruptly jumping two years into the future, showing a world devastated by an evil alien invasion. This perfectly sets the scene for a character-driven narrative that follows the last desperate attempt of a handful of mixed protagonists, as they attempt an all-or-nothing mission with extremely high stakes. This results in all manner of character development, tragedy, intense action, and a fantastic smattering of witty humour, which all comes together into a compelling and utterly memorable overall narrative. I was deeply impressed with where the writers took this fantastic story, and I really appreciated all the existing storylines and the substantial character arcs that they were able to explore, expand on and finalise within the movie’s hour and a half run time. This was such a great story, and it worked exceedingly well with the enjoyable characters, eye-catching animation and the awesome team of voice actors to create an amazing overall film.

One of the things that I think I should address first is about whether or not you need to see the other entries in the DC Animated Movie Universe before watching Apokolips War. Due to its cool action and well-written plot, this is a film that is rather easy for viewers unfamiliar with the franchise to follow and enjoy, although a lot of the story elements will make a lot more sense if you are familiar with the DC Comics universe and characters. While you can probably get away without watching any of the previous movies, this is the 15th and final entry in an interconnected universe, so there are obviously going to be some advantages to watching these other films first. For example, you get a much better understanding of the characters, their relationships and their personalities in this universe, and having this knowledge about the characters beforehand can really increase the dramatic punch that a bunch of their actions have. I also personally enjoyed the continued storylines of this film universe, and I liked seeing how this movie wraps up a lot of character arcs and answers some interesting questions. As a result, I would strongly recommend watching some of the other movies first: The Flashpoint Paradox, Justice League: War, Justice League vs. Teen Titans, Justice League Dark, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen as a bare minimum (yes, I know that calling seven movies a minimum is a bit much, but that just goes to show how intricate this animated universe was).

The creators of this movie utilise an intriguing and unique cast of characters, continuing many of the character arcs established in the prior animated movies. Fair warning: quite a few major comic book characters, including some characters who have been key additions to this animated universe, die in the opening moments of the movie, while some others only get a few scenes, often without any dialogue, before they are also killed. While this movie has quite a huge death toll, I think most of the killings do serve a purpose by motivating the surviving characters, highlighting the brutal nature of the film and its antagonist, or providing a real emotional punch to the viewer. While a large number of characters from the DC universe only get small roles, Apokolips War does contain a rather intriguing and diverse group of central characters who are extremely interesting to follow.

The main character of Apokolips War is John Constantine, the rogue magician last seen in Justice League Dark. Ever since his live action television series a few years ago, Constantine has been popping up in all manner of DC Comic adaptions. Constantine is a fantastic central protagonist, constantly moving the plot along and providing entertaining commentary and witty remarks about the events occurring around him. He also has a rather tragic storyline, which sees him full of regret and shame after he let down his love interest, Zatanna. Not only does this result in a conflict with Superman, but it also serves as a driving force throughout the movie as he tries to redeem himself. Constantine also serves as the heart of the entire movie, acting as a confidant to several characters and providing inspiration during key moments, including one impressive speech at the very end. While he is an amazing character, he was a bit overused when it came to solving problems, as he seemed to have a magical solution for nearly every obstacle that the protagonists came up against. While it does show off his resourcefulness, and his jack-of-all-trades approach to magic, I thought that it was a bit of a crutch for the story at times. Still, I loved Constantine as a protagonist, and I cannot think of anyone better to be the main character for this film.

Another character that I really appreciated throughout this movie was Superman/Clark Kent. If the recent live-action DC movies have shown us one thing, it is that Superman is a very hard character to write or portray at times, due to his powerset, his iconic nature and his somewhat dated ideals. However, the DC Animated Movie Universe is one of the few projects which has covered the character perfectly and allowed the viewer to care about him. His use in The Death of Superman and its sequel Reign of the Supermen was particularly impressive, and the creative team have followed that up extremely well with Apokolips War. In the opening scenes, he is an angry and vengeful character, recklessly determined to take the fight to Darkseid and finish him off for good. However, following his defeat, he is cast back down to Earth without his powers and with a painful liquid Kryptonite tattoo to remind him of his failure and to demoralise those people he encounters. Despite this, Superman shows his usual spirit and determination, rallying the remaining heroes to Apokolips, and is a generally fun and inspirational character. The best thing about his character, however, is his relationship with Lois Lane throughout the film. Lois is a major badass in Apokolips War, reverting to the resistance leader persona that she had in The Flashpoint Paradox and leading the various heroes and villains (whom she brings to her side after a boxing match with Harley Quinn in a very fun scene). The relationship between Lois and Clark is one of the major emotional centres of Apokolips War, and it serves as a great continuation of their entire joint character arc from their previous movies. It also leads to the most powerful and emotionally charged scene of the entire movie, which was an extremely touching and memorable moment.

The other major protagonists are the two surviving Teen Titans, Robin and Raven, who both add a lot to the plot. The Robin in this movie is the Damian Wayne version of the character, who has been a focal protagonist of several films in the DC Animated Movie Universe. While Damian Wayne is not my favourite Robin (Tim Drake for the win), he has been a solid part of this shared universe, especially in the two Teen Titans movies. In Apokolips War, Damian is his usual arrogant self, although he has grown and matured since his introduction. However, the events at the start of the film turn him to a darker path, and he ends up leading the League of Shadows like his grandfather before him. While at first reluctant, he is convinced to help their mission by Raven, to whom he had grown close in Justice League vs. Teen Titans and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Damian’s major scene is the eventual encounter he has with a Darkseid controlled Batman, and their emotionally charged fight sequence is a great part of the movie. Raven is also a fantastic character as she spends most of the film fighting her literal inner demon, her father, Trigon, whom she has imprisoned in the gem in her forehead. The emotional turmoil of the film and the constant conflict against her father has drained Raven, and she is a shell of herself throughout Apokolips War. Raven has some rather dark moments in this film, and her continued inner conflict is an excellent part of the plot. I really liked that the writers chose to focus on Raven, and it turned out to be an exceedingly interesting continuation of her storyline from the excellent Justice League vs. Teen Titans film. I also really enjoyed seeing the extension of the relationship between Robin and Raven. There had been some hints of a connection between the two in their previous entries in the universe, but the writing team took the time to explore it in more detail in this film. There are some rather nice moments as a result, as well as some heartbreaking sequences (this is a pretty traumatic film after all), and overall, both of them proved to be a great addition to the movie.

While the above main characters are great, I really need to highlight the inclusion of the entertaining side characters, who add an incredible amount of fun and excitement to the movie. At the top of this list is Etrigan the Demon, last seen in Justice League Dark. Etrigan was easily the most amusing character in the entire film, mainly because he is comically depressed following the death of the human he was bonded to, Jason Blood, in his previous appearance. Because of this, he spends most of the film following Constantine, looking for something to break him out of his stupor, and being too apathetic to take anything seriously or even to rhyme (which is a big problem for a rhyming demon). His antics are very entertaining, and every appearance he has is designed to make you laugh, right up to the end. I also loved the fantastic use of the Suicide Squad characters in this film. Harley Quinn is her usual, exceedingly violent and over-the-top self in this film, and it was fun to see her lead the Suicide Squad: “Best boss ever”. Next up you have the always dependable Captain Boomerang, who is at his sleaziest right of the bat. Boomerang is another fun addition to the team, due to his funny jabs towards the other members of the Squad, and he has some great moments, including starting an Australian/British rivalry with Constantine. However, the best member of the Suicide Squad has to be King Shark, who stands out right from his start when Constantine hilariously identifies him as one of his exes (which is a great nod to Constantine’s bisexual orientation in the comics). Unlike the pacifist King Shark we see in the Harley Quinn animated show, this version of the character is a bloodthirsty killing machine who gleefully eats several people. He also appears to only be able to only able to say one phrase: “King Shark is a shark!” which I thought was a nice homage to Groot. Pretty much every scene with King Shark is just great, and you will surprised how much fun his constant declarations of “King Shark is a shark!” becomes, especially as it leads up to an amazing joke with Captain Boomerang. I loved all four of these characters, and their inclusion was a masterstroke from the creators, due to how much heart and humour they add to the film.

No superhero movie would be complete without a great antagonist, and Apokolips War features the biggest bad in the entire DC universe, Darkseid. Darkseid has been the major villain for the entire DC Animated Movie Universe, from his destructive introduction in the Justice League: War, to his manipulations in The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen. As a result, Darkseid is an amazing antagonist for this movie, as you get to wrap up his storyline and see how he has been building up to this battle for the entire length of the DC Animated Movie Universe. Darkseid is exceedingly ruthless and destructive in this movie, more than living up to his reputation by brutally taking out the Justice League and killing so many protagonists and heroes. I loved his portrayal as a cold uber-tyrant, and he has some awesome scenes, such as taking out the entire Green Lantern Corp by himself, or facing off against a raft of powerful opponents (including one massive brawl against another major DC antagonist). Of course, his most evil acts revolve around his treatment of the heroes that he captures in the opening acts of the film. I have already mentioned his depowering of Superman, but that is nothing compared to what he does to other members of the League, as he turns them into twisted cybernetic monstrosities, slaved to his will. I was particularly impressed with how he managed to twist Batman’s mind, turning him into his chief enforcer and strategist. Having the ultimate hero become as ruthless as the Batman in this film is a little jarring, and I felt that it was a rather intriguing character arc to explore. I also have to mention Darkseid’s new foot soldiers, the Paradooms. Paradooms are the traditional Apokolipian soldier’s, the Parademons, who have been enhanced with the DNA of Doomsday, making them more than a match for most of the heroes in the Justice League. While the name ‘Paradooms’ is a little uninspired, they do add an exciting new element to the story, especially after the thrashing that the Justice League gave the Parademons in Justice League: War. I did think that their power levels were a little inconsistent at times, as one minute they are killing the entire Justice League, the next they are getting taken out rather easily by the Suicide Squad, but overall they were a destructive addition to the universe. I really liked this collection of antagonists, and I think that having such impressive baddies, really amped up the stakes and my enjoyment of the film.

Apokolips War has a truly impressive voice cast, with most voice actors returning after prior appearances in the DC Animated Movie Universe. At the forefront is Matt Ryan, who once again voices Constantine to perfection in this film. Anyone who has seen any live action or animated feature where Ryan portrays Constantine will know how awesome his work is, and in Apokolips War he once again shines, bringing his brand of charm and roguish appeal to the character. I also must highlight Jerry O’Connell voicing Superman in this movie. O’Connell has been killing it as Superman throughout this shared universe, and Apokolips War is some of his best work. He brings a great deal of passion to the role, and I think that his voice expertly captures all of Superman’s attributes, from his inherent positivity, to his anger at Darkseid and everything that he has done. O’Connell’s Superman also has an amazing amount of chemistry with the film’s Lois Lane, although this is not surprising, considering that Lois is voiced by O’Connell’s real-life wife, Rebecca Romijn. Romijn also does a fantastic job with Lois, and I really like her take on the character, showing of Lois’s boundless confidence and deep love for Clark. Romijn also touches on Lois’s vulnerabilities and doubts in this film, and this helps her produce one of the best and most heartfelt sequences in the entire movie.

I am also a major fan of young voice actor Stuart Allan and his take on Damian Wayne. Allan has been voicing Damian since 2014, and he has always perfectly captured the character’s arrogance and reckless personality. I like how Allan has grown up in step with the character, and his portrayal of Damian in this film adds some more restraint, uncertainty and vulnerability to the character after the opening events. Another impressive young voice actor in this movie is Taissa Farmiga, who returns to voice Raven for the third time. Farmiga has a much younger and more vulnerable take on the character of Raven than Teen Titans fans would be used to, and I think it works extremely well, showing off how scared Raven is of herself and her inherent darkness.

There is also a fantastic group of voice actors voicing the many side characters and antagonists in this movie. Candyman himself, Tony Todd, voices Darkseid, and his deep and callous take on the character, really helps to make the antagonist seem even more menacing and evil. Jason O’Mara does another amazing job as Batman in this film, and I like his more calculating take on the character, especially when he is under Darkseid’s control. Rainn Wilson is also entertaining as Lex Luthor, and he brings a real cowardly, slimy air to his parts of the film. Rosario Dawson is once again cast perfectly as Wonder Woman, and I loved her strong and confident voice for this character. John DiMaggio, Hyden Walch and Liam McIntyre all return to voice members of the Suicide Squad they have portrayed before, and they are all rather entertaining. I have already mentioned how much I loved DiMaggio’s King Shark, and it was fun to see him provide a new voice to the character after portraying him in Assault of Arkham. Walch provides another excellent turn as Harley Quinn, bringing some great energy to the character, and I think I prefer her portrayal to that of her Teen Titans co-star Tara Strong. McIntyre also does an excellent Captain Boomerang, and I personally liked it when they cast an Australian in the role, even if the character is a bit of a silly Australian caricature. While there are a couple of actors who I haven’t discussed, I think I have done enough to show how this movie has an exceedingly strong voice cast, and there was not a single miscast in the entire film.

I also have to praise the amazing animation quality featured within this movie. The animators behind Apokolips War have helped produce an incredibly slick movie with some impressive backgrounds and some fantastic and eye-popping action sequences, some of which were quite brutal and over-the-top at times. Apokolips War also features some cool and unique character designs, as many of the character had new and distinctive looks as a result of the harsh plot of the movie. This includes the depowered Superman with the Kryptonite S on his chest, half-dead cybernetic Justice League members and a whole new evil costume motif for Batman. I also have a lot of love for how the musical elements of this movie fit in with the visuals, and some of the instrumental scores that were featured really helped some key events pop out and stick in the mind, especially when combined with some of the impressive animation. For example, there is a great scene about two-thirds in where the music helps really enhances a major moment around one of the key characters, there is also a bit right at the end of the movie where the score plays extremely well with a really visually impressive moment, creating a fantastic ending for the entire movie. This helps turn Apokolips War in a visual and audible treat, and I thought that the fantastic combination of these elements helped to create an excellent movie.

 

The next paragraph gets extremely plot heavy in its discussion, so I am issuing a SPOILER ALERT.

I need to discuss how the entire movie concludes, mainly because I am in two minds about it. The film essentially ends with the entire DC Animated Movie Universe being erased out of existence, when Constantine talks the Flash into creating another Flashpoint once it becomes clear that the Earth is doomed. While it was an amazing scene, especially with the monologue that Constantine gives to convince Flash to do it and the fade to white that heralded the end of the movie, I thought it was a controversial way to end the film. Not only was it a rather predictable move thanks to several discussions about the alternative Flashpoint universe made earlier in the film (and the fact that time travel was the only obvious way to fix everything), but it also seems to do the rest of the amazing film a disservice by instantly erasing it, and it reminded me of those television episodes where major events turned out to be dream sequences or simulations. That being said, I did think it was a great way to conclude the entire DC Animated Movie Universe, which was created as a result of a Flashpoint in the very first movie, and it keeps the entire plot of this shared universe rather contained. It will be interesting to see what happens next in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies range, and whether they create a new animated shared universe in the future. I also would love if they maybe set another movie in this universe post-Apokolips War, because seeing what happened in the crumbling ruins of Earth with a depleted Justice League has a lot of story potential

SPOILERS END

 

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is an incredible and highly recommended animated comic book adaptation, which serves as an epic and memorable conclusion to the DC Animated Movie Universe. I had an exceptional time watching this movie, especially as it blended a dark and clever story with amazing characters, impressive animation and a top-notch team of voice actors. This was an overall great film, and it might be one of the best new movies of 2020 so far (which to be fair, might be due to most films getting pushed back this year). I had a great time reviewing this animated film, and I might spend a bit of time reviewing more animated comic book movies in the future. As most of them are adaptions of existing comic books, I think this is close enough to my current focus as a reviewer to fit on this blog, and I look forward to examining some of my favourite animated comic book movies in the future.

Book Haul – Comics – 18 May 2020

For this latest Book Haul post, I am going to do something a little different and exclusively look at the comics that I have recently gotten copies of.  Like many people at the moment, I have been stuck at home for the last few weeks, and it is starting to drive me a little crazy.  In order to alleviate the boredom, I have ordered a few comics to keep me sane, and all of them started showing up over the last week or so.  I actually have a large pile of new comics on the dining room table at the moment (it goes well with the multiple piles of books I also have), and all of them are pretty cool.  I am actually planning to review most of these comics at some point at the future, so I thought I would take the time to highlight what I have gotten and what some of my early impressions about them are.

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 34: Bunraku and Other Stories by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

The first entry in this post is the latest Usagi Yojimbo volume, Bunraku and Other Stories.  I am a massive fan of this series and Sakai is easily one of my favourite authors at the moment.  I have been looking forward to this latest volume for a whole year and it really did not disappoint, containing some amazing stories, intense artwork and interesting concepts.  I am working on a review for it now, and should hopefully get it up in the next few days.

Hit-Girl: Volume 4: In Hollywood by Kevin Smith and Pernille Ørum

Hit-Girl in Hollywood Volume 4

The next comic is the fourth volume in the Hit-Girl series, Hit-Girl in Hollywood.  I have already reviewed this interesting entry in the series and it is a fun book to read, even if it is a tad extreme in places.

Firefly: The Sting by Delilah S. Dawson

Firefly - The Sting Cover

This is a fun one that I have been meaning to grab for a while.  The Sting is a cool Firefly limited series which sees the return of the murderous antagonist Saffron, who needs the female crew members of Serenity to pull off her latest heist.  This was an exciting and clever comic, written by Delilah S. Dawson (check out my review for her 2019 book, Star Wars: Black Spire), and I look forward to writing a review for it in the future.

Star Wars (2015): Volume 13: Rogues and Rebels by Greg Pak and Phil Noto

Star Wars Rogues and Rebels

The next comic is Rogues and Rebels the final volume in the excellent Star Wars comic series.  I have been loving this series ever since reading the first volume, Skywalker Strikes, and I think that Rogues and Rebels ends this current series rather well.
In addition to the four recent releases I detailed above, I also ordered in the first four volumes of the 2016 Batman series by Tom King, as well as its crossover with The Flash series, The Button.  I recently read a couple of later volumes on this run of Batman and I really enjoyed them, so I thought I would got out and grab the whole series.  I am extremely happy I made this decision, as each of the four Batman volumes are pretty damn epic, and I am planning to do Throwback Thursday reviews for each of them at some point in the future.  I haven’t had a chance to read The Button yet, but I sounds rather cool, especially as it ties into the Flashpoint and Doomsday Clock limited series.

I also have to point out the fantastic parcel that I ended up getting the Batman comics in.  Unlike the four volumes above, which I got from Book Depository, I got all the Batman comics from my local comic store, Impact Comics, who have been organising deliveries for the last two months.  When I got it, I was rather amused to find the following sketch of Batman drawn onto the packaging.  I love that the team at the comic book shop are managing to have fun during this time, and I am rather curious to see if anything will be drawn onto the next package that I order from them.

Batman Parcel

Batman: Volume 1: I am Gotham by Tom King and David Finch

Batman I am Gotham Cover

Batman: Volume 2: I am Suicide by Tom King, Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads and Hugo Petrus

Batman I am Suicide Cover

Batman: Volume 3: I am Bane by Tom King, David Finch and Danny Miki

Batman I am Bane Cover

 

Batman: Volume 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King, Mikel Janin, June Chung and Clay Mann

Batman The War of Jokes and Riddles

 

Batman/The Flash: The Button by Joshua Williamson, Tom King, Jason Fabok and Howard Porter

Batman, The Flash - The Button Cover

 

That’s the end of this latest Book Haul post and I hope you find this comic themed entry interesting.  Make sure to keep an eye out for my reviews of these comics in the future, and good luck with finding your own way to stay sane at the moment.

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

Catwoman Soulstealer Cover.jpg

Publishers: Penguin Random House

                        Penguin Random House Audio

Publication Date – 7 August 2018

 

One of DC Comics’ most iconic and badass female antiheroes is re-imagined in this bold new novel from young adult fiction bestseller Sarah J. Maas.

Selina Kyle is a rough street kid growing up in the slums of Gotham City.  She looks after her sister while scraping a living as a gang member and pit fighter.  When her luck finally runs out, her potential is seen by the mysterious Talia al Ghul who saves her and recruited into the League of Assassins.

Two years later, Selina has returned to Gotham City with a plan to turn the city on its head as Catwoman, the master thief and criminal mastermind.  Using the alias of the spoiled socialite Holly Vanderhees, Selina has returned at an ideal time; Batman is not in the city, away on a vital mission, and he has left his protégé Batwing behind to safeguard the city.  Initiating a series of high-profile thefts, Selina soon has the attention of Batwing and GCPD, especially when she starts teaming up with her new BFFs Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn to wreak havoc around the city.

While Batwing searches the city for this mysterious new villain, his alter ego, Luke Fox, encounters his mysterious new neighbour, Holly, and the two find themselves drawn to each other as their alter-egos battle in the night.  While Selina is able to outfox Batwing, a far more destructive force is about to be unleased upon Gotham.  Catwoman stole something from the League of Assassins and now a cadre of their most lethal assassins are descending on the city.  Will Selina be able to survive their deadly attentions, what is Catwoman’s plan, and who will be left standing in the aftermath?

This is the third book in the DC Icons series, a series of young adult books that provide re-imagined origin stories for younger versions of DC’s most iconic characters outside of the other established DC universes.  Featuring a range of different authors, the first book in the series, Wonder Woman: Warbringer, focused on Wonder Woman before she left Themyscira to become a hero, while the second book, Batman: Nightwalker, followed a teenage Bruce Wayne as he attempts to stop a series of murders in Gotham City.  A fourth book in the DC Icons series, Superman: Dawnbreaker, is currently set to be released in March 2019 and will follow a young Clark Kent as he investigates strange happenings in Smallville.

Soulstealer is the first of these DC Icons books that I have read, and I was quite impressed with the new and unique Catwoman story that it contained, as well as the cool new versions of several DC characters, including Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and Batwing.  I listened to this book in its audiobook format, read by Julia Whelan.  I quite enjoyed having the story narrated to me, especially as it only took around 10 hours to get through.  While I initially had misgivings about whether I would like this series, after reading and loving Soulstealer I will definitely be getting a copy of Dawnbreaker when it is released next year, and Warbringer and Nightwalker will both be appearing future versions of my Throwback Thursdays reviews.

The author of Soulstealer, Sarah J. Maas, is one of the biggest names in modern young adult fiction, having written two best-selling young adult series in the last six years.  Her long-running Throne of Glass series finished earlier this year, and she has also created the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.  Soulstealer is the first Sarah J. Maas book that I have had the pleasure of reading, but after really enjoying the intricate story and fantastic characters within the novel I am keen to see what her fantasy books are like.  As a result, her Throne of Glass series is high on my list of books to check out in the future, especially after seeing just how awesome the artwork is on some of those covers and collected box sets.

Maas has installed a fantastic and clever story into her debut DC novel, and I really enjoyed how she re-imagined the origins of prominent comic book character.  Soulstealer contains a younger version of Catwoman, introducing her as a teenager gang member and focusing on her initial life of crime.  After the introductory paragraph, the story jumps ahead two years to Selina’s return to Gotham and her initial adventures as Catwoman, while also featuring several flashbacks to her training with the League of Assassins.  This main story is then told from two separate point-of-view characters, Selena and Batwing, and shows the characters in both their costumed adventures and as the people behind the masks in their civilian identities.  Soulstealer has a tight and intricate storyline that contains the perfect balance of comic book action, relationships, backstory, references and variations to comic lore, as well as a number of heists and intricate plots.  I loved Catwoman’s overall plan, as she engages in a play to take over Gotham while really nursing an ulterior motive that pits her against the League of Assassins.  I loved the slow reveal of this complex and insane plan, as well as the lengths she goes to bring her plan to pass, including making some dangerous partnerships.

One of the most interesting and significant changes that Maas makes to Catwoman’s origin story in this novel is the fact that she never meets or associates with Batman.  In nearly every previous iteration of Catwoman, her story has always been intertwined with Batman’s, as the two were usually each other’s main love interest, either as Batman and Catwoman or Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.  However, in Soulstealer, Catwoman is substantially younger than Batman, who starts his crusade years before she is trained by the League of Assassins.  In addition, Batman is not present in Gotham when she returns to the city and throughout the book the two characters have no interactions at all.  Instead, Catwoman’s main love interest is the Luke Fox version of Batwing, who has been defending Gotham in Batman’s absence.  This results in a similar romance plot to some of the classic Batman and Catwoman storylines, where the two characters meet and start to fall in love with each other in both of their personas, despite their apparently different personalities.  This is a fun little romance that does get serious at times, as the two characters are mirrored by their personal traumas and backstories, such as a Selina’s life on the streets and with the League, versus Luke’s PTSD as a result of his time as a marine.  There are also some great moments when the two characters face off against each other, and some of the book’s best laugh-out-loud moments came when Catwoman messes with either Batwing or Luke, sometimes at the same time.  To my mind, the funniest scene in the book had to be when Batwing, after getting injured and rescued by Catwoman, awakens half-naked in a darkened room, only to find out that he is actually in Commissioner Gordon’s spare bedroom.  The moment Luke walks out to find Gordon and his family staring at them was pretty darn funny, especially when Batwing attempted to play it off nonchalantly while silently cursing Catwoman.

One of the elements of Soulstealer that I really appreciated was the references and re-imagined versions of several DC comics characters that appeared throughout the novel.  A huge range of DC characters, many tied into the Batman comics, appear throughout the book in a number of different capacities.  The characters that appear range from the iconic to the obscure and are enough to delight both hardcore comic fans and those with a more casual knowledge of these comics.  Several major Batman characters appear throughout the story; I will refrain from mentioning the full roster of characters to cut down on spoilers, although there is one appearance that was particularly awesome.  While a number of these characters have key or interesting differences between their mainstream comic book counterparts, it is clear that Maas has a real understanding and appreciation for the lore behind these characters.  It is also incredibly fascinating to see how Maas changes these characters for the purposes of her story, and the subtle tweaks that are made to accommodate this different universe.

Of all these additional characters, two of the best and significant inclusions are fellow supervillains Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, who team up with Catwoman to bring a little chaos to Gotham.  In the comic universe, these three supervillains occasionally form a team known as the Gotham City Sirens, and it was great to see them together in this book.  Like Catwoman, both Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are quite young and have slightly altered origin stories which somewhat mirror the new origin story of Catwoman.  However, some of the key elements that made these characters so great in their comic book origins remain alive in these book adaptations of the characters and which work extremely well with Maas’s fantastic Soulstealer storyline.  For example, in this story, Harley is still obsessed with the Joker, no matter how much it impacts her relationship with the others, and there are a lot of discussions between Catwoman and Ivy about the roots of her obsession and insanity.  There is also a very clear and acknowledged romantic connection between Ivy and Harley that adds a really interesting element to the story, especially as Harley’s insanity stands in the way of the more serious relationship Ivy desires.  The inclusion of these characters adds in a defining friendship for a main character who has never had the option of friends before, and it’s also a lot of fun seeing these three characters work together, especially as they have such diverse skill sets and range of attitudes.  Overall, I really loved the fact that Maas included Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn as key characters in her novel, and it was a lot of fun to see her version of these young villains banding together for the first time and forming an outstanding partnership.

Rather than read a physical copy of this book, I grabbed the audiobook copy of Soulstealer and listened to that instead.  The audiobook is narrated by Julia Whelan, who does an amazing job capturing the essence of the book’s main character, Catwoman/Selina Kyle.  When focused on Catwoman’s point of view, the listener gets a real sense of the character’s emotions and attitude, and the voices that Whelan assigns to the other main female characters, Ivy, Harley and Talia, are fairly distinctive and fit well with the character.  I thought that the voice that the narrator used for the book’s other point-of-view character, Batwing/Luke Fox, was very serviceable and conveyed the character well enough.  However, I was a tad disappointed that the narrator did not do too much with several of the other iconic Batman characters in the story, such as Alfred, Batman or Commissioner Gordon, especially as these major characters have all been portrayed by amazing actors or voice actors in the past.  Still, the audiobook version is a great way to enjoy this story and it certainly helped me power through this novel quickly without forcing me to skip over any of its important elements.

Catwoman: Soulstealer is an excellent young adult superhero novel from acclaimed author Sarah J. Maas.  This book is a fantastic standalone novel that re-imagines an iconic DC comic book character.  No great previous insight into Catwoman or the DC universe is required, and those with even a glancing knowledge of the comic book characters will be able to enjoy this novel to its full potential.  This serves as a very good young adult novel that will hopefully draw in a younger generation of readers into this established universe, and I appreciated Maas’s casual inclusions of a number of LGBT+ elements.  Soulstealer comes highly recommended and it has certainly sparked my interest in checking out all the other books in the DC Icons range.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars