Throwback Thursday – The Death of Superman

Death of Superman Poster

Studio: Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment

Series: DC Universe Animated Original Movies – Film 32 / DC Animated Movie Universe – Film 11

Directors: Sam Liu and Jake Castorena

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi

Producers: Sam Liu and Amy McKenna

Length: 81 Minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review content I have enjoyed before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  This week, after the fun I’ve had recently reviewing Batman: Assault on Arkham and Batman: Under the Red Hood, I continue to check out some awesome DC comic book animated features, with the impressive and powerful The Death of Superman.

Easily one of the most iconic comic book arcs of all time is the 1992/1993 storyline, The Death of Superman, which (spoiler alert) saw Superman die at the hands of new villain Doomsday.  Not only did the act of actually killing off Superman shock the world but the series was a massive financial success, becoming one of the bestselling comics of all time.  Due to its popularity, DC have attempted to adapt the storyline multiple times, with Smallville, the animated Justice League show, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, all using elements of it in one form or another.  There has even been another direct animated attempt at recreating the storyline, with the 2007 release, Superman: Doomsday, the very first film of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies.  However, in my opinion, none of them successfully conveyed the tone or the fantastic story as well as the 2018 animated film, The Death of Superman.

Directed by Sam Liu and Jake Castorena and written by Peter J. Tomasi, The Death of Superman is an incredible and amazing film that really gets to grips with the original comic, while also adding in some unique details to create a memorable and deeply moving experience.  As the 32nd instalment in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies, it also sat in the joint DC Animated Movie Universe, and was a major instalment in this series, setting up several storylines that would later be utilised in later entries, such as the final film, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.  Featuring an awesome story, a fantastic voice cast and some exceptional animation, The Death of Superman is easily one of the best films in the entire DC Animated Movie Universe and is one of my all-time favourite animated comic book adaptions.

After saving the world multiple times, both by himself and with the Justice League, Superman reigns as one of the planet’s most popular superheros, inspiring the world with his spirit and determination to do good.  His latest act of heroics saved the mayor of Metropolis from the notorious Intergang, who made use of a large arsenal of advanced weaponry, likely supplied by an apparently incarcerated Lex Luthor.  However, despite his larger-than-life personality, Superman is also Clark Kent, a down-to-earth man from small-town America, trying to make his new relationship with fellow reporter Lois Lane work.  As Clark finally opens himself up to Lois and reveals his biggest secret to her, a brand-new threat arrives on Earth, bringing with it only death and destruction.

A mysterious meteorite has rapidly entered the solar system and crashed down on Earth, landing in the ocean.  When a team sent by Luthor and a group of Atlantean soldiers arrive, they find that the meteorite was a containment pod, and inside is something monstrous.  Killing everyone it encounters, the beast escapes the ocean and makes landfall, heading towards the largest population centre it can find, Metropolis.  With no-one able to slow it down, and even the Justice League powerless against it, it falls to Superman to engage it as Earth’s last standing defender.

Engaging in battle in the heart of Metropolis, Superman and the monster, Doomsday, begin a bloody battle that tears through the streets and levels buildings.  Superman may by the strongest person on the planet, but his new foe is a deranged and unstoppable killing machine, concerned with only death, destruction, and dominance.   Can Superman once again prevail and defeat his foe or has the Man of Steel finally met his match.  Whatever, happens, the world with never be the same again, and everyone who Superman has inspired may suddenly have to deal with the death of their greatest champion.

I must admit that when I first saw that they were doing yet another adaption of The Death of Superman comic, I was a little ambivalent, as I have not been too impressed by some of the other versions out there.  However, I still grabbed a copy as soon as it came out, and I was frankly blown away by how good it was.  This film has everything you could want in a brilliant animated feature, including an exceptional story and some amazing actors, but what this film has in abundance is heart.  Throughout its run time, you swiftly become attached to the great characters contained within, especially Superman and Lois, and then you are forced to watch as they suffer the most tragic moment of their lives.  This results in an extremely moving and powerful film, which became an instant classic in my book, and it is one that I have no problem awarding a full five-star rating.

When writing this film, Peter J. Tomasi had to do a lot with a limited amount of time.  Not only did he have to produce a pretty accurate adaption of the original Death of Superman comic, but he also had to work it into the wider DC Animated Movie Universe, which had already had its own unique history.  He easily succeeded on both fronts, as The Death of Superman contains an excellent and powerful story, that I have an extremely hard time faulting in any way whatsoever.  The story starts off with a shot of Superman saving the city and painting a pretty rosy picture of himself as Metropolis’s favourite son and defender.  After the title card, which contains the grim name of the film, the movie works to quickly introduce all the key characters, relationships, and settings, most of which had only been briefly touched on in the preceding DC Animated Movie Universe films.  This makes for a rather light-hearted start to the film; however, it also works to get you to know the characters and other key aspects of the Superman mythos and backstory, and all the setup is essential for you to get the full emotional and dramatic reactions during the second half of the film.  I also liked the way in which the film is tied into the other films of the universe, mostly using the Justice League, especially Batman and Wonder Woman, and it was great to see more of that version of the League.  All of this serves as a great set-up for the intense and action-packed second act, which is where all the action and mayhem begins.

About halfway through, the film really picks up the action with the Justice League, sans Superman, engaging Doomsday in a small town.  The action here is fast and furious, as the various members of the League get their best shots in and are then taken down in some quite brutal ways.  While this is happening, Clark is on a date with a frustrated Lois, where he finally reveals to her that his is Superman.  This date scene is done really well, and Lois’s reaction to the revelations runs the full range of emotions, especially once Superman, forced to leave to confront the threat reveals his other secret: that he loves her.  This is a great scene, and it is one that helps solidify the relationship and emotional bond between Superman and Lois while also making the viewer care for the characters just a little bit more.  However, the focus is quickly changed back to the fight with Doomsday, who has managed to take out the entire League, with only Wonder Woman hanging in.  As she falls, Superman steps in and begins a massive and brutal fight throughout Metropolis.  The creative team behind The Death of Superman really do not hold back here, as they present a knockdown brawl between the two, with Superman forced to also try and save civilians as they fight.  Their battle is a truly intense and amazing extended sequence, and there are some outstanding scenes featured throughout it.  You get some great reaction shots from the various supporting characters, and Lois and Lex Luthor have some outstanding moments as well, as they get involved for various reasons.  However, despite everything, it soon becomes clear just how indestructible and dangerous Doomsday is, and how even Superman doesn’t stand a chance.

The entire film leads up to the final climatic sequence, where the inevitable finally happens and Superman dies taking down Doomsday.  This entire scene is done perfectly, with a near-defeated Superman spurred on to make one final effort against Doomsday as the monster advances towards a seemingly hopeless Lois, who reveals to a downed Clark that she loves him too.  The blow itself is beautifully rendered with a powerful and lethal shot to Doomsday, but it is the aftermath that really turns this film into a five-star watch, as Superman is fatally impaled on a spike.  Watching a grieving Lois slowly release that the love of her life is dying in her arms is so hard to watch, and the creative team really turn up waterworks with Superman giving some touching last words: “what a lucky man I was”.  The eventual death is extremely moving, with the entire world witnessing his death and Lois’s grief, while standing in absolute shock.  Even the Justice League is moved to tears, with the usually taciturn Batman’s reaction being the most telling.  This entire sequence is deeply enhanced by a brilliant orchestral score that really plays up the emotion of the scene and strikes home every time you hear it.  This is such a powerful and impactful sequence, and it is swiftly followed by a moving funeral, with all the major characters in attendance, and then a final shot of several characters reacting in a post-funeral grief while Superman superfan Bibbo Bibbowski narrates a fitting final prayer for the character.  This entire sequence leaves me breathless, even after several re-watches, and it easily one of the most moving animated sequences I have watched.  The film then does a decent wrap-up, with several concluding sequences and post-credit scenes setting up the events of the sequel film.  However, it is the moving conclusion that will stick with you well past the films end, as it really brought everything about this movie together.

While I would be plenty happy with this film with only the outstanding story and amazing conclusion, The Death of Superman is also backed up with some incredible animation and a fantastic musical score which deeply enhance this fantastic film.  The animation is really great, and I loved the designs for the various characters, most of which hark back to their original comic book appearances.  The most impressive animation is reserved for the excellent and impactful action sequences involving Doomsday.  The animators show no hesitation in showing the blood and gore as Doomsday literally tears through everything in his way.  The initial fight with the Justice League is brilliant, especially as Doomsday brutally counters all their unique abilities and absolutely destroys them.  However, it is the giant fight with Superman which is the true highlight of The Death of Superman.  This fight is pretty extraordinary, and the animators really highlight the desperation and inspiration of the two participants.  Each of them is well and truly battered, and it is really shocking to see all the damage that Superman takes throughout the fight.  There is also some very dramatic damage to the city of Metropolis, with even the Hall of Justice being turned to a pile of rumble as these two duke it out.  I cannot emphasise how awesome this animation is, and it was so cool to see these battles unfold.

I also really need to highlight the fantastic use of music throughout this film, which works well in concert with the animated sequences.  The Death of Superman features an exceptional orchestral score, with the various tunes often harking back to classic Superman music.  This music is used perfectly throughout the various scenes in this film and help to really enhance the drama or emotion of the scene.  There are some great scenes with music throughout the film, although nothing tops the fantastic climatic sequence I mentioned above.  This animation and music are so very awesome, and it was an absolute joy to behold.

This film contains a pretty cool range of different characters, including iconic heroes, major Superman supporting characters and even a few more obscure characters.  This helps to turn The Death of Superman into quite a unique and fun film, and I really loved the range of reactions and character arcs that it contained.

Unsurprisingly, the most highlighted character in the film is Superman, who is voiced by Jerry O’Connell, who voiced the character in most of the DC Animated Movie Universe entries.  Up until this point, I felt that Superman was a bit underutilised.  Most of the previous films have focused on Superman’s relationship with Wonder Woman, while also featuring him as the League’s powerhouse.  However, this is easily Superman’s film, as the writers take substantial time to examine his history, relationships, inner personality and the duality between Superman and his Clark Kent persona.  You really get some intense insights into both versions of the same person, especially when you see his evolving relationship with Lois, and you swiftly grow to care for him in a way that some of the recent live-action films really didn’t make you.  His character really shines through during the battle with Doomsday, as he refuses to stay down, especially when people’s lives are on the line, and even risks himself to save his most hated enemy.  His sheer determination and intensity is really inspirational, and it starts to hurt a little inside to see him get beaten down by his opponent.  I felt that O’Connell does such a great job portraying Superman, and he really brings out the best of the character, showing his true heart and soul, and making him such a likeable character, who, despite his alien heritage, was still so very human.  I was really impressed and shocked by how much I grew to love Superman by the end of this film, which of course, ensures that you are so moved by the final scenes.  Seeing this character die in Lois’s arms in front of the world is just heartbreaking, and you guaranteed to be moved by his portrayal in this film.

While there is a natural focus on Superman, in many ways The Death of Superman is just as much a film about Lois Lane.  Voiced by the talented Rebecca Romijn, this version of Lois is bold and fearless in her career but also a little guarded in her personal life, especially as she senses that Clark is hiding something from her.  This film really builds up Lois extremely well in its short run-time, and you get a great sense of who she is and what she cares about.  I felt that the character had some amazing chemistry with Clark, which really isn’t surprising as Romijn is married to O’Connell in real life, so I’m sure they channelled a lot of that film.  I really was impressed by the way they showed Lois’s growing relationship with Clark as the film progresses, and the revelation about Superman’s true identity at the centre of the film really helps to solidify it, especially once Clark declares his love for her.  The subsequent battle sees Lois go through hell, as she chases the fight throughout Metropolis and has to watch Superman continuously get beaten up.  The scene where she tries to distract Doomsday and then gives up as he turns towards her is so dramatic, especially as she follows it up with her own declaration of love for Clark.  The final grief laden scene with Superman really moves me every time, and I felt that the sheer emotion coming off Lois was just amazing.  This might be one of my all-time favourite portrayals of Lois Lane, especially as Romijn does some exceptional follow ups in later DC Animated Movie Universe films.

The other major character I really want to highlight is Lex Luthor, who was voiced by the always entertaining Rainn Wilson.  Like Superman, Lex had been really underutilised in the DC Animated Movie Universe; his reveal in the Throne of Atlantis post-credit scene really did not pan out in a meaningful way in Justice League vs. Teen Titans.  However, this dramatically changed in The Death of Superman as they go out of their way to build up the showcase and show him as the maniacal yet brilliant businessman and criminal mastermind.  The creative team did a lot with Luthor in a short amount of time, and you get a really good idea of his genius, his various plans, and his unrelenting antagonism with Superman, born out of jealousy.  He proves to be a good secondary antagonist for the film, eventually turning into an erstwhile ally, abet for his own purposes, and he has some great scenes.  I was particularly impressed by Rainn Wilson’s voice work in this film, as he brings all the arrogance he can to the film, while also giving character a bit of a slimy edge.  I think he really captured Luthor’s various nuances, and ensures you see him lose his cool when faced with defeat.  I really liked the scene where Luthor can only watch in horror as Superman, despite being beat to hell, saves his life, and that results in some interesting changes in the later films.  I also liked how they captured a bunch of fun aspects of Luthor’s character from the 1990 comics, such as a nod to the Lex Luthor II persona that appeared in The Death of Superman comic.

I also need to highlight the main antagonist, Doomsday.  Despite not saying anything, Doomsday is a major presence, mainly due to his brutality and capability for destruction.  Doomsday is perfectly introduced and I loved the slow reveal of his true form, as the suit containing him is destroyed after several fights.  I must again really highlight how cool he looks in a fight, and the battles between the Justice League, Wonder Woman and Superman are just so damn impressive and pretty intense.  This was a really good portrayal of the character that perfectly harkens back to its comic origins, and it was a nice palate-cleanser after his cave-troll look in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The Death of Superman also contains a pretty substantial supporting cast of characters, each of whom add a fair bit to the overarching narrative of the film.  Some of the most prominent of these are the various members of the Justice League, with most of the actors from the earlier DC Animated Movie Universe films reprising their roles.  Each of these characters and their actors have been perfectly introduced in the previous films, so they are inserted into The Death of Superman with minimal effort and form a fantastic cohort around Superman.  The leading two characters are probably Batman, voiced by Jason O’Mara, and Wonder Woman, voiced by Rosario Dawson.  Both characters have unique relationships with Superman, particularly Wonder Woman, and his death really impacts them both.  I also liked the combination of Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion) and Flash (Christopher Gorham), who form a fun comedic duo, while also having some great action moments.  I had a great laugh during the Justice League meeting scene where Flash does a good imitation of Batman joining the PTA of Damien’s school, and Batman’s glaring reaction is pretty funny.

I also loved the inclusion of a couple of unique Superman supporting characters.  Despite the role he played in the original comic, I was really surprised to see so much of Bibbo Bibbowski, Superman’s biggest fan, in this film.  Bibbo is a bit of a dated character, to be honest, but he slides into this film really well, and I loved the voice work done by Charles Halford.  His comedic interactions with both Superman and Clark Kent in the early parts of the film are pretty fun, and there is something amusing about a big, rough sailor type fanboying about a superhero.  It also proves to be quite heartbreaking to see this fan watch Superman die in front of him, and you can see it really breaks him.  I felt that Bibbo’s Hail Mary prayer at the end, which overscored some great visuals of people in mourning, and the subsequent breakdown on the dock was quite touching.  I also liked Erica Luttrell’s Mercy Graves, especially as she forms a great counterpoint to Luthor, especially as she calls him out on some of his more outrageous plans.  Overall, I think that this film was incredibly well cast, and I loved the fantastic group of characters that they brought together.

The Death of Superman is a truly great and powerful animated film that continues to reign as one of my absolute favourite animated comic book adaptions.  Featuring a near-perfect adaption of one of the most iconic comic stories of all time, The Death of Superman is intense, exciting, and downright heartbreaking, as it shows the greatest hero in his final battle.  I was moved to tears the first time I saw this film, and I have so much love and admiration for the work the creative team did to revitalise the character of Superman in one short film.  A highly recommend film to watch, this is one of the better Superman adaptations (live action or animated) I have ever seen.

Throwback Thursday – Batman: Under the Red Hood

Under the Red Hood Cover

Studio: Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment

Series: DC Universe Animated Original Movies – Film Eight

Director: Brandon Vietti

Writer: Judd Winick

Producers: Bruce Timm and Bobbie Page

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review content I have enjoyed before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For this latest Throwback Thursday, I am going to keep following a recent trend of looking at animated movies and review Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Ever since I reviewed Justice League Dark: Apokolips War last year, I have been focusing a little more on one of my favourite forms of entertainment, animated films based on comic books.  Not only did I have a great time listing my favourite comic book based animated films and television shows, but I have also done some cool reviews for Batman: Soul of the Dragon and Batman: Assault on Arkham.  After I got some positive responses to my review for Assault on Arkham last week, I thought I would use this Throwback Thursday to highlight the incredibly awesome Batman: Under the Red Hood, which is probably my absolute favourite DC Comics inspired animated film.

Released in 2010, Under the Red Hood was an early entry in the DC Animated Originals Movies range, and it remains one of the best that they have ever done.  Directed by Brandon Vietti and written by Judd Winick, this film is an adaptation of the iconic Batman comics storyline Under the Hood, which was also written by Winick.  Not only does this film contain an excellent story that does an amazing job capturing the original comic but it also features an all-star voice cast and some excellent animation, resulting in a dark and exciting film that is also rich in emotion and tragedy.

Years ago, Batman suffered the greatest defeat in his entire crime-fighting career when the Joker did the unthinkable by brutally killing his sidekick, Jason Todd, the second Robin.  Despite this terrible loss, Batman left the Joker alive and continued his non-lethal mission for justice, fighting from the shadows to save Gotham City from its criminal element.

In the present, Gotham is controlled by the ruthless crime boss, Black Mask, who has managed to take over the entire criminal underworld.  But a new player in town, the mysterious Red Hood, is making moves to disrupt Black Mask’s interests and take control of the city.  With some incredible skills, brilliant manoeuvring and intense violence, Red Hood soon becomes a major thorn in Black Mask’s side, taking parts of the city from him.  At the same time, Red Hood has placed himself right in the path of Batman and his former sidekick, Nightwing, determined to test his abilities against those of the Dark Knight.

As Batman attempts to stop the latest wave of violence sweeping the city, he notices something disturbingly familiar about the Red Hood.  His skills and training are too familiar, and even more shocking, he knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne.  With Black Mask on the warpath, the mysterious Ra’s al Ghul watching from the shadows, and the Joker always a menacing presence in Arkham, Batman gets closer to finding out the terrible truth about who Red Hood truly is.  But is he prepared for the darkness and tragedy he will find under the hood, or will the ghosts of his past finally push Batman over the edge?

Under the Red Hood is a dramatic, exciting, and overall tragic animated feature, which is brought together beautifully to produce an epic and powerful film, anchored by an exceptional narrative.  The film starts in a very dark place, with a malicious and hilarious Joker brutally killing Robin just before Batman can save him.  This perfectly sets the tone for the entire film, as the story advances to modern times and shows a new brutal crime war between the Black Mask and newcomer the Red Hood.  At the same time, Batman becomes embroiled in their war, when he interrupts a ploy by the Red Hood to steal an Amazo superweapon.  This leads to an action-packed middle section of the film, as Batman and Nightwing attempt to capture Red Hood, who is also dealing with assassins sent by Black Mask.  After several impressive fight sequences, Batman learns the shocking truth about Red Hood’s identity (which is as a tad obvious, even for those unfamiliar with the comics), resulting in some extreme drama, as Batman is forced to confront the dangerous ghosts of his past.  As Batman attempts to come to terms with his discovery, Red Hood forces his opponents to make some dramatic moves, which work into his plans.  What follows is a fantastically powerful and intense final act, as Batman confronts Red Hood and finds out the tragic and touching reasons behind his motivations.  What follows is emotional blow after emotional blow, as Batman, Red Hood and the Joker have their final confrontation.  The aftermath of this is absolutely heartbreaking and will leave you breathless and utterly moved: “This doesn’t change anything; this doesn’t change anything at all!”  This is an epic and exceptional narrative that I have so much love for.

Under the Red Hood serves as an exceptional adaptation of the Under the Hood Batman comic storyline, although as the film and the comic share the same writer, that’s pretty understandable.  This film does a great job fitting all the key points of the comic into its 75-minute runtime, and you get the full enjoyable story, as well as some useful backstory, especially around Jason Todd’s death.  This is mostly a pretty straight adaption, although there are a few noticeable changes designed to make the movie flow a little better.  I think these changes work extremely well, and Winick adds several great new scenes into this film that make for a different and, in some ways, better experience than the comic source material.  This is mainly because the Under the Hood comic was set amid several other ongoing Batman storylines, as well as the major crossover event, Infinite Crisis, which impacted Under the Hood’s overall narrative.  As it would have been too confusing to include some of these elements in the film, their removal resulted in a few notable changes.  While this did result in a few fun parts from the comics being removed, such as having the opponents in the Batman/Red Hood team-up fight change from members of the Secret Society of Supervillains, such as Captain Nazi and Count Vertigo, to a group of mechanised martial artists (it’s still a great fight though), some of the other changes worked really well.  I loved the alterations to the Joker’s story, as it was clever to have the Red Hood orchestrate Joker’s release to kidnap him.  It also results in some amazing scenes, including that great cell scene with Black Mask, and the fantastic scene with the truck on the bridge.

One disadvantage that I felt the film version had was that the big reveal over Red Hood’s identity is a lot less impactful.  When the Under the Hood comic first came out, it was a major revelation and there were some great surprise elements to it.  However, by the time the film came out, every comic fan knew who Red Hood really was, so that really cut down on the surprise factor of the reveal.  In addition, even if you were unfamiliar with the Under the Hood comic, the Jason Todd death scene at the start of the film ensured that most viewers would be easily able to figure out this twist as soon as the mysterious Red Hood appeared.  This was kind of unavoidable though, as the rest of the film wouldn’t have made sense without the establishing scene.  I did think that the reason behind Robin’s resurrection was handled a lot better in the film.  The original story, in which he is brought back to life due to Superboy-Prime punching a dimensional barrier, never really worked for me, so having it purely be the result of a Lazarus Pit resurrection was a lot neater and simpler (well, as simple as a magical resurrection pit can be).  Overall, I think that Under the Red Hood proved to be a really good adaption of the original comic, and in many ways I felt that in enhanced the source material while also compensating for the changed canons.

I am always deeply impressed by the fantastic and well-crafted animation of Under the Red Hood.  This entire film features a constant stream of beautiful and amazing sequences that are an absolute joy to behold.  The action is seamless throughout, and the creative team make sure to feature several sequences that show off the various skills of the main characters, while also bringing some iconic scenes from the comics to life.  I really must call out the two excellent extended chase sequences, as Red Hood flees from Batman and Nightwing.  These scenes are full of excitement and major moments, and the fantastic running sequences, equipped with all the players using their various gadgets and tricks, are so cool, and they are just animated perfectly.  However, these chase scenes pale in comparison to some of the epic fight sequences featured throughout the film.  While I do deeply enjoy the Amazo fight sequences at the start of the film, which expertly highlights the way Batman and Nightwing work together as a team, the best ones are the two fights involving Batman and Red Hood.  The first of these, which sees the two former partners team up against the anime-inspired team of assassins, the Fearsome Hand of Four, is so deeply cool, especially as the amazingly drawn martial arts techniques are beautifully paired with the over-the-top gadgets (one guy gets thrown through the air with explosives several times).  The animators save the best for last, with a brutal brawl between Batman and Red Hood near the end of the film.  This impressive and dramatic fight sequence is teased throughout the entire film, and when it goes down it does not disappoint.  The two heroes go to war with each other, each of them bringing lethal fighting abilities and an entire arsenal of toys and gadgets against each other for some incredible action.  The fight goes from the alley where the two first met, to the rooftops, all the way to a dilapidated apartment bathroom, where bodies are brutally thrown through fixtures and walls.  There is so much intensity in this sequence, and the animators outdid themselves bringing this major and spectacular fight to the screen.  You will be so impressed by this terrific animation.

You cannot talk about Under the Red Hood without out mentioning the incredible collection of characters and the outstanding voice cast that perfectly portrayed each of them.  Unsurprisingly for a Batman film, the cast is anchored by the Dark Knight himself, who is voiced by the talented Bruce Greenwood.  This is a great portrayal of Batman and the writer really captured the complexities of the veteran version of this superhero.  This Batman has been fighting crime for a very long time, and has been struck by tragedy after tragedy, especially the death of Jason Todd.  This comes into play throughout the film, and there are some major emotional moments, especially in the final climatic scene with the Red Hood.  Watching this film, it is impossible not to see Batman as a tragic figure, always destined to experience heartbreak and trauma as the result of his relentless crusade.  I did love the amazing animation featured around Batman’s various fight scenes, and it contrasts nicely with some of the other characters, such as Red Hood, with more of a focus on his experience and placing the right move at the right time.  I also really enjoyed Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Batman, who brings a gruff and determined depiction of the character which really works.  Greenwood delivers several great dialogue sequences which show the depth and complexity of this iconic character, and I had a fantastic time following him in this film.

Another major character is the character of Jason Todd/Red Hood (I would add a spoiler alert, but after all these years it’s kind of redundant), voiced by Jensen Ackles.  The Red Hood featured in this film is an amazing and outstanding version of the character, and you run the entire emotional gambit with him.  I loved the fantastic and clever introduction of the character, where he manages to take over a large criminal organisation with just a bag and a machine gun.  This evolves into a very fun game of cat and mouse between Red Hood and Batman, while he also works to take over from Black Mask.  The eventual reveal about Red Hood works extremely well: “You haven’t lost your touch, Bruce,” and I loved the various chase scenes between the two, as well as their joint fight sequence against the Fearsome Hand of Four.  All this perfectly leads up to the great final confrontation with Batman, with a big elaborate fight scene and that extremely dramatic sequence opposite Batman.  Ackles adds some real cockiness to the character, and his various interactions with the supporting characters are pretty funny and really fun.  However, it is his sequences with Batman that are the best, as Ackles adds all the appropriate drama of a murdered child when encountering his former mentor.  The revelation of Red Hood’s motive is deeply captivating, and the entire scene where he, Batman and the Joker are reunited is so very tense and powerful.  You also have to love how the final scene in the film features the younger version of Robin on his first night of crime-fighting, as his innocence and childlike joy at being a hero stands in such contrast to his eventual fate: “This is the best day of my life.”  This is an outstanding portrayal of one of the most complex characters in the DC canon.

I also really must highlight the incredible version of the Joker that is featured in this film, who is voiced by the always entertaining John DiMaggio.  This is a great interpretation of the Joker, and you get to see just how vicious and ruthless he can be.  I love how the writers and actor did a great job capturing his insane mentality when it comes to the Batman, especially as his greatest ambition is to drive Batman insane enough to kill him.  I was honestly surprised at how awesome John DiMaggio was in this role, especially as the purely evil Joker is very different from the comedic characters he is best known for portraying.  However, he brings some very excellent menace to this character, and while there are a lot of humorous undertones to his actions, the sheer insanity and joy he has at other people’s suffering is more than evident.  Joker has some incredible scenes throughout this movie, which DiMaggio really enhances with his unique take on the character.  The opening sequence in which he beats Jason Todd half to death with a crowbar is pretty dark, despite the constant jokes, and his later confrontation with Batman in Arkham really captures his overall insanity.  However, his best sequences occur later in the film.  The first of these is the cell scene with Black Mask, where he accepts a job offer in the most boss way possible (never hand the Joker a cup of any variety).  The follow sequence on the bridge, where he attempts to draw the Red Hood out with a truck, some guys and some gasoline is really great, especially when it is revealed that the Black Mask is also amongst his hostages.  However, DiMaggio shines best in the final sequence where Batman and Red Hood finally have their dramatic showdown with the Joker in the middle.  The Joker revels in all the drama and emotion in the room, especially when Red Hood attempts to force Batman to kill Joker: “This is turning out even better than I hoped!”  The final bit of the confrontation where Joker, realising that Red Hood’s bomb will kill them all, joyfully attempts stop Batman, “This is perfect…. I’m the only one who’s going to get what they want tonight,” really captures the character’s chaotic mentality and is a great conclusion to his story arc.

The other major character in the film is Nightwing, former Robin Dick Grayson, who is portrayed by the legendary Neil Patrick Harris.  Mostly featured in the first half of the film, Nightwing serves as the traditional sidekick role, bringing a lighter comedic role to the dynamic duo and playing off the ultra-serious Batman perfectly.  I loved the fantastic coordination in the action sequences between these two, and the animators do an outstanding job showing how their fighting styles complement each other and they instantly know what the other one is doing.  Harris’s voice work is great, hyping up the characters comedic, banter-laden fight style, and while it didn’t fit as well as some other versions of Nightwing I have seen, this was still a pretty epic bit of casting.

Aside from these above four main characters, I deeply appreciated Jason Issacs and Wade Williams as Ra’s al Ghul and Black Mask respectfully.  Issacs does an outstanding job bringing the enigmatic and ruthless al Ghul to life, and it was great to see the respect and personal code this version of the character has, especially once his actions result in Jason Todd’s death.  Williams’s unhinged version of Black Mask is also incredibly good, and I loved the ultra-anger he brings to the role, especially as he slowly becomes more and more targeted by Red Hood and Batman.  His reactions to the crazy antics of the other characters is pretty fun, and you’ve got to love the look on his face when he sees Red Hood targeting him with a giant rocket launcher.  I also want to call out Kelly Hu as Black Mask’s assistant, Ms Li, a gender-swapped version of the assistant character in the comic.  Ms Li serves a pretty cool counterpart to Black Mask and is a constant calm presence in his chaotic administration, barely batting an eye at any of his angry or violent outbursts.  These great supporting characters compliment the main cast perfectly, and I felt the film’s entire collection of characters and actors helped to turn Under the Red Hood into something incredibly special.

While there have been some incredible DC animated movies out there, none have eclipsed the exceptional and awesome Batman: Under the Red Hood.  Featuring an impressive adaption of an iconic and cool comic story arc, this amazing film contains a fantastic narrative loaded with action, excitement, and intensity, as the characters engage in a dramatic and tragic battle.  With a perfect voice cast and some outstanding animation, Under the Red Hood is a must-watch animated film that I have seen and deeply enjoyed so many times.  An easy five-star watch that is highly recommended; if you love Batman, you need to see this film.

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Comic Book Animated 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.  The official topic this week was Favourite Places to Read, however, I’m going rogue once again and instead will continue my trend of looking at Comic Book adaptations.  Recently I have been highlighting and examining some of the great multi-media features that are adapted from established comic book series.  So far, I have looked at my favourite animated comic book films, ranked all the MCU films, and looked at some cool DC Comics films.  These were very interesting subjects which really appealed to my likes and focuses, and I am having a blast writing about them.  To keep this trend going, I thought that this week I would spend some time looking at some of the incredible animated series based on comic books.

I am sure that all of us can remember watching a comic book adaption on our morning cartoons when we were younger (I know I can, and several examples are featured in the list below).  There is an intrinsic connection between comics and cartoons, and Hollywood’s attempts to turn great comics into fun animated entertainment have resulted in some of the best adaptions of the original content out there.  I have long enjoyed watching animated series based on comics, and we are currently in a bright new age of animated adaptations, especially with the continued focus on all-things comic book and superhero.  As a result, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to explore some of my absolute favourite animated comic book shows.

To produce this list, I pulled together all the best animated shows I have watched over the years that were originally based on some form of comic book.  There are quite a few great shows out there that have some origins in the comic book world, and I had a big pool of potential entries to work with.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to my absolute favourite 10 shows, with my typical generous Honourable Mentions section.  The final list turned out to be pretty interesting, and I was quite happy with the range of shows featured.  I have only included shows I have so far watched, so that means a couple of notable series are missing, such as Superman: The Animated Series.  I have also tended to steer away from a few 90s classics, such as X-Men or Spider-Man.  While I enjoyed these shows when I watched them and they successfully adapt some of the most iconic storylines, they really haven’t aged that well.  I also excluded the most recent animated series, What If…?, mainly because there has only been one episode so far, and I want to see at least the whole first season before I make any decision about it, although I am sure it will appear on future iterations of this list.  Despite these limitations, I ended up coming up with a pretty cool list, so let us check it out.

Honourable Mentions:

Men in Black

Men in Black Animated Series

While strongly inspired by the films, this awesome show had a lot of connections to the original Men in Black comic, and it is an outstanding animated series with some incredible opening credits.

 

Ultimate Spider-Man

Ultimate Spider Man

This was a really good modern take on Spider-Man that nicely tied into some of the other Marvel shows running at the same time.  Featuring some unique and cool adventures, this was an excellent series.

 

Wolverine and the X-Men

Wolverine and the X-Men

A brilliant series that was cut off far too soon after only a single season (an unfortunate casualty of the Disney buy-out of Marvel).  The first season was extremely strong, and if it had gone on for longer, it would have easily been in the Top Ten.

 

Generator Rex

Generator Rex

Based on an extremely short-lived comic, Generator Rex was an epic and entertaining animated show.  Set in a world where everyone has been infected by nanites, it follows titular hero Rex, a teen who can control his nanites and turn them into weapons, as he fights monsters and great villains.  A very cool show that had a great run, and which even featured a fantastic crossover with Ben 10.

 

Top Ten List (Unranked):

Invincible

Invincible

Let us start off with the recently released InvincibleInvincible is an exceptional and amazing adaption of the comic of the same name, which follows a young hero as he attempts to follow in his father’s footsteps.  Featuring an awesome cast, this show really does the comic justice and is very dark and bloody.  I loved the changes they made to the story, while also keeping all the best bits of the comic, including that incredible twist.  I literally just finished the final episode a couple of hours ago and I am still reeling from how brutal it got.  A deeply impressive show, if you have not checked out this first season yet, you are missing out.

 

Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn

From one of the darkest shows on this list to one of the funniest, Harley Quinn is another relatively recent animated show that is extremely cool.  This hilarious show features an R-rated look at one of DC’s most popular characters as she strikes out on her own.  Featuring the voice of Kaley Cuoco in the titular role, this witty and fun show contains a fantastic and moving story that dives into the heart of the protagonist, while also showing off some excellent supporting characters.  I love the great combination of over-the-top humour, intense violence, clever parodies, and emotional storylines, and I am really looking forward to the third season.

 

Young Justice

Young Justice

I must admit that I was initially wary when Young Justice was announced, as surely no show about young heroes could ever top Teen Titans.  However, the moment I watched the first episode I was an instant life-long mega fan.  With a surprisingly deep and complex narrative about a group of sidekicks who become the covert-ops wing of the Justice League, Young Justice was an impressive and compelling series that quickly produced two fantastic and moving initial seasons.  Featuring a strong group of core characters, this series adapted several great storylines from the comics, while also telling its own clever and unique overarching narrative.  I loved all the twists and character development that occurred, and I was so very, very happy when DC eventually announced a third season.  This third season was even more adult than its predecessors and it continued to expand on the series extremely well.  There is another season on the horizon and despite knowing nothing about it, I am already immensely confident that I will love it.

 

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

Avengers_Earth's_Mightiest_Heroes_Vol_3_2_Textless

As you can probably imagine, there have been several attempts to adapt the Avengers into an animated series, and in my opinion the best example of this is The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  Taking most of its cues from the comics rather than the MCU, this outstanding series really captures the heart of the team and presents an exceptional take on each of the main characters.  The first season is pretty perfect and comes together extremely well.  The second season, while a tad rushed in places, is also incredibly cool, and features an amazing version of the Secret Invasion arc.  Unfortunately, this series was cancelled well before its time, but while it was going, it was incredible.

 

Batman: The Animated Series

Batman - The Animated Series

There are many, many Batman series out there, but none have captured the titular hero, the outrageous villains, and the grim setting of Gotham City as perfectly as Batman: The Animated Series.  With some deep and adult storylines, this series never pulled any punches, despite being a kids show, and for many, it was the best introduction to Batman and the world of comics that you can ask for.  Serving as the definitive animated version of Batman out there, this incredible series features all the classic Batman characters, and even introduced a few new iconic faces, such as Harley Quinn.  You also have to love the voice cast, especially with Kevin Conroy providing the quintessential Batman voice, while Mark Hamill is the ultimate animated Joker.  I am lumping in The New Batman Adventures into this entry as well, mainly as it served as a continuation of the original show.  I also must call out Batman Beyond here, which serves as a great end note to this series, especially with that dark and epic connected film, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.

 

Justice League/Justice League Unlimited

Justice League Unlimited 2

For this next entry I am combining the crowning jewels of the DC Animated Universe, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as they are honestly just the same show.  Continuing some of the great storylines from Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, this cool series brought together seven heroes who formed the Justice League to fight some of the DC Universe’s best and most dangerous villains.  This series contains some incredible storylines, which are easily appealing to both a younger audience and veteran fans of the comics.  I have a lot of love for both the original Justice League, which focused exclusively on the seven founding members, and Justice League Unlimited, which massively expanded the roster with a great cast of supporting characters.  Despite how epic and captivating the other seasons are, my favourite storyline is the one surrounding the Justice League facing off against Project Cadmus, as it contains some of the best writing and some deep examinations of the nature of power and the potential threat that a group of heroes could pose.  A must watch series for all fans of the Justice League and DC comics in general, you will love this show.

 

The Spectacular Spider-Man

The Spectacular Spider-Man

As Marvel’s most iconic and popular comic character, Spider-Man has had an insane number of animated shows over the years, but to my mind, the best is The Spectacular Spider-Man.  Featuring a perfect take on the character without needlessly rehashing his origin tales, this series serves as a great adaption while also providing its own unique story.  Every episode of this show is deeply entertaining, while also diving into the mindset of the teenage hero, his friends, and his menagerie of villains.  Out of all the shows, I think this one captures the teenage years of Peter Parker the best, while also adding in some more modern twists to ensure it still holds up after all these years.  I can honestly watch this entire series in one extended series, it is that damn good.  Unfortunately, as with many of the best Marvel television shows, The Spectacular Spider-Man ended way too soon, although its final episode did wrap things up nicely.  An excellent and compelling series.

 

Teen Titans

Teen Titans

When there’s trouble you know who to call, Teen Titans!!! Yeah, that theme song says it all when it comes to Teen Titans.  This was a wonderful and spectacular show that had just the right mixture of silliness and darkness.  Following the adventures of the titular superhero team, for four seasons, Robin, Starfire, Raven, Cyborg and Beast Boy fought a series of outrageous villains, with a combination of skill and humour.  With some very distinctive characters, a Japanese inspired art style and two versions of the same theme song, this was one of the most unique shows out there with a style all its own.  While there was a definite focus on humour and friendship, many of the storylines have a deeper, more emotional edge to them that will appeal to watchers of all ages, and there is constant and compelling character development.  This series also contains several outstanding antagonists, with the highlight being Ron Pearlman’s Slade (Deathstroke).  I cannot express how much I love this fantastic animated series, and I have watched it many, many times.

 

X-Men: Evolution

X-Men Evolution

I have mentioned a couple of X-Men shows so far, but the one that I think is the best, by dint of being still watchable and having a decent run, is X-Men: EvolutionEvolution features an impressive X-Men narrative that focuses on teenage versions of most of the main characters.  Featuring all your favourite X-Men, this was a really cool and compelling take on the iconic team, and it contains so many great story arcs, many of which dealt with the comic’s overarching themes of discrimination and prejudice.  While there are a lot of great impacts of this series, easily the best thing this show ever did was introduce the character of X-23, Wolverine’s murderous female clone, who is one of my favourite X-Men characters.  An impressive and important series that is well worth a watch.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 and 2012 series)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Joint

For the final entry on this list, I am going to combine two separate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shows, with both the 2003 and 2012 series.  Based on the comics of the same name, I have a lot of love for both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptations, and I honestly enjoy both equally (hence the shared spot on this list).  While both follow the same characters with similar adventures, these are very different series that go in some unique directions.  The 2003 series was the one I grew up with, and I still really love its drawing style and darker storylines.  The 2012 series on the other hand works its CGI animation and anime inspirations extremely well, resulting in more humour and homages to popular culture.  Despite this apparent divide, the 2003 series did have some extremely funny moments and episodes, while the 2012 series got extremely dark in places.  I also deeply appreciate that both shows feature appearances from my favourite comic character, Usagi, with the rabbit ronin teaming up with the ninjas in multiple fun episodes.  As a result, I would strongly recommend both these series as they serve as excellent introductions to this fantastic franchise.

 

 

Well, that’s the end of this list.  As you can see, there are some truly awesome animated comic shows out there, and I am really passionate about which ones I watch.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out, and I think the unique spread of shows really reflects my tastes and preferences.  Each of the above shows is extremely good, and I would highly recommend all of them.  This is probably a list I will revisit in the future, especially as there are more and more comic-inspired animated series coming out all the time.  With shows like Invincible and What If…? bringing in a whole new generation of fans to animated adaptions, it is only a matter of time before the other companies start adapting all manner of comics into something cool.  I am already excited about a couple on the horizon (they are apparently working on an Usagi Yojimbo animated series 😊 😊 😊), and I look forward to watching them in the future.  In the meantime, let me know which of the above shows you enjoyed, and if you have any recommendations for other cool animated comic book series, I will be interested in seeing what else is out there.

Throwback Thursday: Batman: Assault on Arkham

Assault on Arkham Poster

Studio: Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment

Series: DC Universe Animated Original Movies – Film 20

Director: Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding

Writer: Heath Corson

Producer: James Tucker

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review content I have enjoyed before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For this week’s Throwback Thursday I go back and check out one of the more intriguing DC animated movies, with Batman: Assault on Arkham.

As I mentioned in a recent Top Ten Tuesday, I have been in a DC mood ever since I saw The Suicide Squad on the weekend, which was easily the best film focusing on the titular Suicide Squad.  While people only familiar with the live-action films might think that this is a low bar, those who know about the awesome catalogue of DC Comics animated films will know that there are several awesome and outstanding films that perfectly capture the feel and tone of the supervillain team and are pretty fun to watch.  Therefore, this week I will look at one of these great animated films, with Batman: Assault on Arkham.

Assault on Arkham is an amazing and fantastic film that came out in 2014 and is set in the same universe as the Arkham video game franchise (set between Arkham Origins and Arkham Asylum).  Directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding, written by Heath Corson and produced by James Tucker, this was a memorable and fun DC Universe Animated Original Movie, which contains some of the best comic book based animated films out there.  Despite the name, Assault on Arkham is really a Suicide Squad movie, with Batman strongly featured but acting more as a side character.  This was an excellent and impressive film, which makes use of a darker tone and more adult animation to create a fitting Suicide Squad experience.  Heck, this was a much better Suicide Squad movie than the 2016 live-action film as it embraced the team’s darker side and their propensity for violence, while also featuring an impressive and clever story.

Two years before the Joker took over Arkham Asylum, the Clown Prince of Crime terrorises Gotham City, this time by threatening it with a dirty bomb.  With the Joker locked up in Arkham Asylum and refusing to talk, Batman stalks the streets of Gotham, searching for those who helped him.  His mission leads him to save the Riddler from a black-ops team of soldiers, sent by shadowy government agent Amanda Waller.  With Riddler now locked up in Arkham Asylum, Waller assembles the one force capable of breaching Arkham’s walls to find him and the information she desires, Task Force X.

Task Force X, also known as the Suicide Squad, is made up of some of the most deadly and skilled villains in the world, each of whom have been forcibly drafted onto the team and offered reduced sentences if they complete their mission.  Recruiting a team made up of Floyd Lawton (Deadshot), Harleen Quinzel (Harley Quinn), George Harkness (Captain Boomerang), Eric Needham (Black Spider), Nanaue (King Shark) and Louise Lincoln (Killer Frost), Waller sends them into Arkham with bombs implanted in their necks.

Forced to work together despite their innate distrust and dislike of each other, the Suicide Squad arrive in Gotham and make their plans to infiltrate the asylum.  However, it doesn’t take long for petty rivalries, massive manipulations, and dangerous outside influences to put all their schemes in disarray.  Working their way through the most dangerous place on the planet, the Squad soon learns a deadly secret that will change everything and set them on a bold new path.  But with Batman wise to their presence, can the Squad achieve their goals and make their escape, or will they find themselves locked up in Arkham instead.  Worse, someone far more dangerous is stalking the halls of the asylum, someone with an insane sense of humour and a desire to claim back what is his.  The Joker is loose, and he wants to play!

This is an awesome film that really does the chaotic and dangerous Suicide Squad justice.  Featuring an excellent story and serving as a clever adaption of the Suicide Squad comics and other pieces of media, this is an extremely fun movie.  Throw in an exceptional voice cast, some great interpretations of iconic characters, and some powerful animated sequences, and you have a great and impressive movie that I have long been a fan of.

At the heart of this great movie is a very compelling and exciting narrative that takes its various characters on a wild and dangerous ride to hell in back.  Assault on Arkham starts off with an excellent scene, which sees Riddler being attacked by Waller’s goons, only to be rescued by Batman in an intense and brutal fight sequence.  This then leads into an entertaining introductory sequence for the various members of the squad, with a fun reel of shots with no dialogue showing each member of the Squad showing off some of their skills before getting captured by various law enforcement groups.  These dark and sometimes gruesome introductory scenes really set the tone for the entire movie, while also providing great summaries of each of the main characters.  What follows is a fun and captivating character-driven tale as the members of the Squad arrive in Gotham and make their play to break into Arkham.  There are some fantastic clashes of personality and deep personal moments in this early part of the film, as the team initially comes together, despite their crazy differences.  This leads to an intriguing central part of the film, where the characters begin their assault on the asylum, performing a reverse prison break.  After some great scenes, the team are at large in the asylum, which leads to even more chaos, destruction, and big fight moments.  All of this leads to an explosive and dangerous final act, as the characters need to escape while being pursued by Batman and the Joker.  Caught between these extremely dangerous forces, the fractured Squad attempts to escape, facing some major defining obstacles which really bring the entire film together.  I loved the fantastic and darker story that this film featured, and the writing team did an excellent job combining brutality, humour, character development and pure craziness into one enthralling tale.  There are so many fun and thrilling moments to this outstanding film, and viewers will found themselves really getting drawn into the cool story.

The animation in Assault on Arkham is very impressive, and the creative team behind it did a great job bringing the various characters to life and placing them in some outstanding action sequences.  The movement and action in this film is pretty damn seamless, and you are in for some very fast-paced scenes that look pretty superb, especially as they feature a great mixture of lighting and multiple unique characters.  Highlights include the opening shadowy encounter between Batman and the special forces soldiers, the massive fight between Batman and the entire Suicide Squad, and the final two confrontations that occur after a big helicopter crash.  I loved the cool character designs of the various characters, especially as they mix some new looks with classic drawings.  I also felt that the creative team combined this cool animation with the excellent musical score well, and the various tunes really helped to set the scene.  There is something very dark, bloody, and adult about the designs in the film, and the end result is definitely not a kid’s cartoon.

Part of the design that I really enjoyed was the way in which the creative team attempted to emulate the style from the fantastic Batman: Arkham video games.  This film serves as a canon entry between Arkham Origins and Arkham Asylum, and the team did a great job capturing the cool style and themes that the games are famous for.  This is particularly seen in the various scenes featuring Batman, the playable character of the games, and you get to see him whip out the various gadgets and viewscreens that appeared in the games.  I particularly enjoyed the opening scene where Batman takes out a squad of soldiers in much the same way that a player would in the games, from the flips to the use of a batline.  There are also several references to the games throughout the film, from a character trying to hide in a vent, to the layout of Arkham Asylum, where you spend significant time in the first film.  Despite all these references, this film can easily be enjoyed by comic fans who have not played the video games.  Assault on Arkham is very much framed as a standalone film, and no matter your familiarity with Batman or the Arkham games, you will have a fun time watching this movie.

As I have mentioned above, this awesome film contained a really impressive and memorable take on the Suicide Squad, producing a truly great movie.  Part of this is the choice of team, as it features a compelling blend of characters that are inspired by the team first introduced in the New 52 range.  Anchored by team leader Deadshot and wildcard Harley Quinn, it also features long-time Suicide Squad member Captain Boomerang, as well as a fantastic combination of Black Spider, King Shark and Killer Frost.  While the team structure is similar to the team in the first live-action film, Assault on Arkham actually predates this film by a couple of years, and also utilises them a lot better, really showing off some more complex aspects of their personality, mainly thanks to the excellent voice cast.  This animated film also takes itself a lot less seriously than the first live-action film did, and is less afraid to show blood, sex and death.  While some of this is a tad over the top (some of the female characters are way too sexualised), I really wish that the subsequent live-action film had taken some cues from how successful this animated feature was, as that would have resulted in a much better experience.

Easily the best part of this film is the amazing characters and sensational voice cast, which really help to make it stand out.  While it does feature a lot of Batman and Joker, the main characters of this film are the Suicide Squad.  The most prominent is team leader an assassin extraordinaire, Deadshot.  Voiced by the talented Neal McDonough, a man who has voiced quite a few villains in his day, this version of Deadshot is near perfect, and contains a lot of elements from the comics that the live-action version was lacking.  While the overriding love for his daughter is still there, this version of Deadshot is a lot colder and a lot quicker on the trigger, happily massacring everyone who gets in his way.  McDonough really captures the character’s menace, killer instinct, and determination, and this Deadshot serves as the tough and often exasperated leader of the Squad.  I loved that they captured Deadshot’s crazier side (he has a massive death wish in the comics), especially as this leads to one of the best scenes in the entire film: “Mate, you just out-crazied the Joker”.  It was also cool that Deadshot had one of the most satisfying character arcs in the entire film, ending Assault on Arkham on a very entertaining and memorable note, that showed that the character was a man of his word: “Bang!”

This film also features an amazing version of iconic character Harley Quinn.  Before Margot Robbie and Kaley Cuoco put their spins on the character, veteran voice actor Hynden Walch provided her impressive voice to Harley, resulting in a fantastic and crazed female-lead.  Walch, who is probably best known for voicing Starfire in Teen Titans or Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time, does an excellent job going a little darker with this character, producing some excellent scenes of madness and humour as Harley manages to annoy the other characters while cracking up the audience.  I loved the introduction that this character had, biting off an ear in a halfway house with Looney Tunes music playing (it’s weird, but it works).  Harley proves to be quite conflicted in this film as she finds herself stuck between her abusive ex, the Joker, and her new love interest, Deadshot (all I am going to say about the later relationship is “Yahtzee!”).  While this starts off with a very concerted attempt to kill the Joker, Harley is eventually drawn back to him, which is kind of heartbreaking.  There is some of the typical abusive relationship stuff that comes out with Harley, as she blames everyone but Joker for her problems.  This was a great portrayal of this fantastic and complex character, and I was very happy that Walch came back to portray Harley in other films such as Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.

Other great members of the Squad include Captain Boomerang, voiced by Greg Ellis.  Boomerang acts as the Squad’s comic relief, and I liked the uncaring and selfish attitude that is such a feature of the character in the original Suicide Squad comics.  Ellis really brings out the character’s smarmy and arrogant side, and I loved the amusing rivalry he formed with Deadshot, which results in a brilliant game of darts.  This movie also features the outstanding Gincarlo Esposito in the role of Black Spider, a murderous vigilante who is less than pleased at being lumped in with a group of supervillains.  Esposito brings some real gravitas to the character, and he proves to be a skilled and fun member of the team, and his inclusion results in a pretty major fake-out.  The hilarious John DiMaggio does a great King Shark in this film, and I loved the somewhat more human design of the monster and his funny dim-witted mentality.  Despite being a source of some humour, King Shark is a brutal killer, which is very much shown in his introduction where he emerges from a bathtub full of blood.  Finally, the brilliant Jennifer Hale portrays a fantastic Killer Frost (not surprising, considering she’s voiced the character in nearly every film or animated television appearance).  This version of Frost is pretty cold-blooded and proves to be a murderous addition to the team.  I liked the fun friendship that she forms with King Shark, and they prove to be a great duo.

While the Suicide Squad takes most of the film’s focus, Batman is featured pretty extensively in this film, which is really cool.  I personally was overjoyed that they got the iconic voice of Kevin Conroy for the character, and this amazing actor reprises his role from the various animated series and the Arkham games.  Batman is mostly on the outside of the story for the first half of the film, only becoming involved when the Squad enters the asylum, but once he gets involved, the results are pretty damn awesome.  This version of the character perfectly highlights the various aspects of Batman, as he kicks ass, intimates everyone he meets, outsmarts his foes, and utilises his amazing detective skills to make some big assumptions.  Featuring Batman as a side-character in his own film was an interesting choice, but it is one that really works, and it was great to see him attempt to work out the various ploys of the Squad, Waller, and the Joker.  Conroy’s voice work is of course, perfect, which isn’t surprisingly considering all the times he’s portrayed the character.  Another excellent inclusion of the legendary hero.

While most of the cast of Assault on Arkham are villains, the one that sticks out the most is the master of anarchy, the Joker.  Voiced by Troy Baker, who reprises his role from Arkham Origins, Joker really stands out as a character, which honestly isn’t that surprising.  Joker escapes his cell and starts causing chaos all over the asylum, coming into conflict with both the Squad and Batman.  This version of the Joker is the usual awesome mix of scary insanity and corny humour, and the character has several hilarious scenes throughout the film, including one of the best lines: “Denzel, what have they done to you?”  I also enjoyed the new rivalry he forms with Deadshot, as he shows some uncharacteristic jealousy over the fact that Harley has moved on.  This leads to a brutal brawl in the film’s conclusion, which is a major highlight.  Baker, who would go on to voice the Joker in several other animated features, does a pretty good job in Assault on Arkham, and does well at replicating Mark Hamill’s take on the character.  This results in an excellent villain, and I loved seeing the insane Arkham version of the character once more.

The final character I really want to highlight controls Task Force X, Amanda “the Wall” Waller.  Voiced by the incredible CCH Pounder, the definitive voice actor for the character (she is so good in Justice League Unlimited), this manipulative bureaucrat is in many ways the true villain of Assault on Arkham, turning everyone against each other to get what she wants.   She has an excellent introduction, where she manages to outsmart the Riddler, while also giving a fantastic line about riddles: “I have Google, like the rest of the world!”  From there, she proves to be a consistent badass, dragging the ruthless killers together into her Suicide Squad, bending them to her will, and then unleashing them upon the world.  Despite her plans not going as well as she hoped, Waller still manages to have a great run in Assault on Arkham, and Pounder really dives into the character’s manipulative nature and inner anger: “No one screws the Wall!”  She also has a pretty badass stare-down with Batman, actually managing to win their confrontation.  This character has a pretty amazing final moment in the film, especially as it wraps up her entire arc with Deadshot in one fantastic word.  Overall, Pounder rounds out the awesome central voice cast perfectly, and it was an absolute treat to see their performance come together.

Batman: Assault on Arkham is a fantastic and memorable animated film that is so much fun to watch.  Serving as the definitive and best film about the Suicide Squad for years, Assault on Arkham makes full use of its intense and exciting story, its brilliant design and exceptional cast and characters.  I deeply enjoy this amazing film and I have watched it multiple times ever since it was released.  A highly recommended watch, especially if, like me, you loved the latest Suicide Squad movie and want some more crazy, villain-led chaos and destruction.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite DC Films, Ranked

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week was Secondary/Minor Characters who Deserve More Love, which, while interesting did not appeal to me.  Instead, I figured I would do something a little more in my wheelhouse and turn my mind to the film adaptions of DC Comics.  I am currently in a major DC Comics mood, and the reason for this was the awesome recently released film, The Suicide SquadThe Suicide Squad was an absolute blast from start to finish, and it was probably one of my favourite films of the year, and the best entry in the current DC Extended Universe (DCEU).  I loved this film so much, and so I thought I might do some related posts this week, starting with this Top Ten Tuesday.

While not as prolific or as impressive as Marvel in recent years, DC Comics has produced some awesome film adaptions of their comic properties over the years, including animated films, standalone films, series, and the recent DCEU films.  Despite some regrettable duds, there are still some outstanding DC films out there, and I thought that I would take the time to highlight them in this list.  I recently did a similar list for Marvel films (where I ranked the MCU), although rather than feature all the films of a particular shared universe, I am going to look at my absolute 10 favourite DC films of all time and have a go at ranking those.

I had a few rules in place when I started making this list.  I was only going to feature films based on mainstream DC Comics, so that excludes excellent films like Watchmen or V for Vendetta, both of which’s source material was published by DC Comics, and probably would have made the list.  I also excluded films I haven’t seen, such as Joker (I know, I know, it’s on my to-watch list) and Justice League: The Snyder Cut (I honestly can’t be bothered watching this film again no matter how they recut it).  I am sure that some readers will be amazed that I have excluded a few classic films, such as the Michael Keaton Batman or the Christopher Reeve Superman films, but to be honest, I was never a big fan of them (I’m such a millennial).  However, I did leave the list open to animated films (check out my previous list to see how much I enjoy them), with a couple making the cut.  Using these criteria, I was able to come up with and rank my absolute 10 favourite DC films, and I think my list turned out pretty good as a result.  So buckle in and see which great films made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

Suicide Squad Hell to Pay Poster

The best Suicide Squad movie I’d seen before last week.

 

Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984 Poster

Not as polished as the first film, but still lots of fun.

 

The Death of Superman

Death of Superman Poster

An outstanding piece of animation that will make you care for Superman again, and then absolutely break your heart.

 

Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad (2016) Poster

Ignore the plot and the villains and focus on the amazing main cast and the great music.

 

Top Ten List (Ranked in Descending Order):

10. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Justice League Dark - Apokolips War

Let’s start this list off with a bang and look at the awesome and incredible animated film, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.  This fantastic film serves as the culmination of 15 brilliant, animated films and sends the entire Justice League through hell and back as they attempt to save the world.  Exceedingly grim, emotionally draining and featuring some massive moments and an amazing voice cast, Apokolips War is a thing of beauty and comes highly recommended.

 

9. Batman: Under the Red Hood

Under the Red Hood Cover

My current favourite DC animated film is the 2010 classic, Batman: Under the Red Hood.  A near-perfect adaptation of the Under the Hood comic storyline, this epic film is one of the best Batman films in existence.  Containing a deep and emotionally rich story, this is an exciting and moving tale, which sees Batman come to terms with the ghosts of his past.  Featuring an exceptional voice cast, including Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, and John DiMaggio as a particularly impressive Joker, you will love every second of this cool film.

 

8. Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Poster

The moment that this film came out was the moment that the DCEU actually got good.  Following on from a couple of disappointing duds, Wonder Woman tells an exciting and powerful origin tale of one of DC’s most iconic characters.  With a great cast, a cool story, a tragic ending, fantastic music (Wonder Woman’s instrumental theme is so epic) and some impressive action (that no man’s land scene is just amazing), this is a captivating and distinctive film.  If only that final battle scene could have been a little less cheesy, then this film would be way higher up on the list.

 

7. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Birds of Prey Poster

Another great entry in the DCEU is the wacky and relentlessly entertaining Birds of Prey.  This cool film sees the return of Margo Robbie as fan favourite Harley Quinn and includes an amazing cast of characters.  An unfortunate casualty of COVID-19, this was one of the best (and only) comic films of 2020, and I had a great time watching it.  Special mentions to Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress and Ewan McGregor as Black Mask, who really added a lot of fun to this already hilarious film.

 

6. Shazam

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One of the main reasons that the DCEU is doing so much better these days is because the films try to embrace their fun side a little more.  Nothing encapsulates this philosophy more than Shazam, which utilises some great humour to tell a very fun and surprisingly deep story.  Featuring the origin of long-time DC character Captain Marvel/Shazam, this film featured a heart-warming tale of a teenager who gains the power of a god and has some fun with it.  I love the combination of adult and teen actors, and Zachary Levi, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer absolutely rock as the three main characters.  There are so many fun moments in this film, although I particularly loved their take of training montage sequence, which had me in stiches.  A really cool and excellent film.

 

5. Aquaman

Aquaman Poster

I had a hard time figuring out whether to rank this film higher or lower than Shazam, but in the end I ranked it higher, because I think it is an overall better movie, even if it does not reach the same levels of humour.  After making Aquaman cool in Justice League (one of the few good things you can say about Justice League), Jason Momoa returns to the role in a feature film and knocks it out of the park.  Thanks to James Wan’s impressive directing, Aquaman was a major CGI epic that not only dives into the heart of its main character but presents an outstanding adventure at the same time.  All the underwater scenes are stunning, and every sequence is visually beautiful and eye-catching.  A powerful film that serves as a true anchor to the DCEU.

 

4. Batman Begins

Batman Begins Cover

To my mind there is not better film version of the Batman origin tale than 2005’s Batman Begins.  Based on the Batman: Year One comic and written and directed by the unbelievable Christopher Nolan, this amazing film reinvents the iconic character and gives him a bold new story to follow.  Containing an epic cast of some of the best actors on the planet, this outstanding film had me from the moment Liam Neeson delivered his prison cell monologue, all the way to its explosive ending.  I have seen this film so many times, and only the very best comic adaptions can rank above it.

 

3. The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad Cover

Now we are at the latest DC film to be released, with The Suicide Squad.  After the mediocre performance of the first Suicide Squad live-action film, the legendary James Gunn takes the helm producing an outrageous, hilarious, and downright bloody film.  While I was expecting something pretty incredible, I was blown away with how good this film was, and I loved every second of it.  Gunn ensures that The Suicide Squad has all the utter carnage and absurdity a Suicide Squad movie needs, and the entire outstanding film is carried on a back of bizarre group of characters and actors.  On paper you wouldn’t assume that a team of Idris Elba, John Cena, Margot Robbie, and the voice of Sylvester Stallone, would work, however, it does, with all the characters playing off each other perfectly to bring you an exceptional performance.  I have so much love for this film, and it is a major favourite for me now.

 

2. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises Poster

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy comes to an end perfectly with The Dark Knight Rises, a grim and powerful film.  Taking inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns comic, this great movie features an outstanding story that shows a fallen Batman return to save his city one last time.  With the entire trilogy flowing into this film perfectly, you will be hit by every emotional imaginable as you witness Batman’s final adventure.  On top of the great cast from the previous two movies, Tom Hardy shines as Bane while Anne Hathaway manages to redeem Catwoman after her last film outing.  With a nail-biting conclusion, an amazing twist, and a moving ending, this was an amazing way to conclude the defining Batman film series.

 

1. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight Cover

“And here we go!”  Ok, so the top film on this list is going to come as no surprise to anybody.  The Dark Knight is easily the best DC film of all time, and honestly it is probably the best comic film ever made (sorry Infinity War and Deadpool 2).  Featuring the epic and tragic performance of the late, great Heath Ledger, this movie contains the perfect portrayal of the Joker, who brings all manner of madness and chaos to an already dark setting.  I could honestly watch this film 100 times and not get bored, and I know most comic fans could do the same.  I cannot see how this film could ever be upstaged by any other comic film adaption, and it was the only entry that could sit at the top of this list.

 

 

So that is the end of this Top Ten list and I think it did a good job of capturing my thoughts on the current DC film adaptions.  I am sure that this will provoke some disagreement, so let me know your opinions in the comments below.  I will probably come back to this list at some point in the future after I check out some more films, and maybe revaluate my decisions.  Hopefully some of the planned upcoming DC films will be great, and if they can knock any of the above off this list, I will be excited.  Until then, make sure you check out The Suicide Squad, because it is pretty damn awesome.

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

Jingo Cover

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

Deep Silence Cover

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

Last Shot Cover

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

Battle Ground Cover

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

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

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

The Crystal Shard Cover

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

Sword Song Cover

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

The Lies of Locke Lamora Cover

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)

Batman The War of Jokes and Riddles

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

Doctor Aphra Volume 1

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

Y - The Last Man Cover

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

All New Wolverine Cover

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

Usagi Yojimbo Bunraku and Other Stories Cover

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)

Teen_Titans_v.3_1

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)

The Punisher Cover

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)

Green Arrow Quiver

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)

X-Factor Cover

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.