DC superheroes on TV this fall

28-May-14 2:41 PM by
Filed under Television; 3 comments.

Superheroes are cashing in big at the box office — but on television, they're a gamble. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite being renewed, has received mixed reviews, while other shows such as The Cape haven't survived a single season. This fall, several shows are taking the bet that they can buck the trend and be a success on the small screen.

Capitalizing on the recent trilogy of Batman movies (and the successful line of Arkham video games), the Dark Knight comes to Fox this fall — though he's a minor character in his own show. Set in Bruce Wayne's youth, shortly after his parents are murdered, Gotham focuses on Detective James Gordon, the officer who would one day be police commissioner, as he investigates crimes and encounters characters such as Harvey Dent, Edward Nygma, and Selina Kyle, years before they become the villains that would haunt the city's night. It's a combination of superhero and police procedural that hopes to last longer than the other show to be set in Gotham and not feature Batman, that being 2002's Birds of Prey, cancelled after just 13 episodes. Check out the trailer for Gotham:

Why is comic book publisher DC capitalizing so heavily on the iconic character of Batman? Lest you think they've forgotten their rich cast of other superheroes, joining Arrow on The CW this fall will be the Scarlet Speedster himself, The Flash:

The FlashLook familiar? This character already had a television run with a 1990 live-action series starring John Wesley Shipp. That incarnation of the Flash lasted only one season and 22 episodes, with the high cost of production cited as a reason for its cancellation. But with special effects now more affordable and accessible than ever, it's not just the Flash that's getting a second chance: Shipp has been cast in a recurring role as the hero's father, Henry Allen. Lightning does strike twice!

I'm more excited about that casting decision than I am about 24-year-old Thomas Gustin as Henry's speedy son, Barry. He seems too young and similar in build to Andrew Garfield, whose second Spider-Man movie debuted earlier this month. I don't know how old Barry was in the comic books when he received his powers, and I'm not opposed to rewriting and adapting the source material — but Tobey Maguire did such a great job of showcasing powers thrust upon the young that I'd like to see a more mature hero in this role.

With Arrow and The Flash on the same network — and set in the same universe, as seen in the above trailer's crossover — is DC positioning itself to create a television pantheon to rival Marvel's silver-screen Avengers? If so, what role will Smallville play in this lineup? Superhero cameos were the norm in that decade-long incarnation of Superman, though the Green Arrow that appeared there is seemingly not the same character who now has his own show. Where will they go from here?

Of course, Marvel isn't going to let DC have all the fun. Complementing the second season of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a precursor to the agency in Agent Carter, with Hayley Atwell reprising her role from the Captain America films. Based on the Agent Carter one-shot that was released with the Iron Man 3 DVD, the series will be set in 1946, during the post-WWII founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whether this show will be like Gotham in the unlikelihood of featuring superheroes, or will be closer to S.H.I.E.L.D. in its encounters with the unknown, remains to be seen.

Movies take only two hours to judge, but as fans of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Joss Whedon know, television shows can take years to mature and for characters to develop Let's hope these superhero spinoffs get that chance.

(Hat tip to Charlie Jane Anders via Gene Demaitre)

Batman vs. Captain America

18-Jul-12 10:29 AM by
Filed under Showbits; Comments Off on Batman vs. Captain America

Showdowns and smackdowns are a popular impetus for comic book action sequences. The film The Avengers featured a contentious team-up of some of Marvel Comics' greatest heroes, while a recent comic book plot pitted this same team against the mutants known as the X-Men.

But rarely do we see authorized battles across the universes, those being DC and Marvel. Each has its own stable of superheroes, and never shall the twain meet (with the exception of the rare amalgam). Thank goodness for fan films, which know no limits and can pair the likes of Captain America and Batman.

I love that the film is completely plot-free, allowing the viewer to make up a reason not only for why these two good guys are fighting, but how they encountered each other in the first place. Did the Infinity Gauntlet breach the galactic barrier? Did Mr. Mxyzptlk play a trick? As believable as each explanation may be, I find it hard to believe that the hand-to-hand combat skills of a serum-enhanced super soldier could even temporarily overcome the extensive training the Dark Knight has had in all the world's martial arts — just watch how much more reliant Cap is on his shield than Batman is on his utility belt. Fortunately, the battle lets you choose the winner, with a separate concluding video for each: Batman or Captain America.

At the moment, this video is the only one in the "Ultimate Fan Fights" playlist. Given the production values and choreography (and excessive use of dramatic slow-motion) of this first battle, I hope to see more showdowns from this group, IGN's START.

(Hat tip to Gene Demaitre and ComicBookMovie)

Summer Shorts: City of Scars

02-Jul-10 11:00 AM by
Filed under Films; 1 comment.

The shorts we've watched so far this season have demonstrated the creativity of artists with original intellectual properties. Some actors and directors are just as limitless when applying their talent to their own interpretations of well-known characters. Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939, has undergone many metamorphoses, each time adapting to the times and audience in which the superhero finds himself. One manifestation of the Dark Knight can be found in a recent 40-minute independent film, City of Scars:

For a "short" to carry its plot across 40 minutes requires excellent production values and talent, which this film has in spades. But it does set itself apart from the archetypal Batman in several important ways.

Just as Superman's modus operandi is based on the trust and support of the American people, Batman's power is founded on fear. Most of Gotham has never seen Batman and few believe him to be more than an urban legend, which made his bold appearance in the bar hard to believe. Nor was his fighting style as subtle and elegant as represented in the comic books. Rather than choke a thug with an iron chain, Batman would more likely bust out a martial art that would lay the hood low without little apparent effort.

We're also given an unusual look at Batman's counterpart. This Joker acts (or perhaps looks) like a bully, lending the character more anger and menace and less insanity than previous portrayals, such as Andrew Koenig's. Yet this Joker is not new to the role; Paul Molnar has previously played the Clown Prince of Chaos in both Patient J and Batman Legends, in which Kevin Porter again played Batman. Given the above film's ending, it seems this partnership may be at an end.

There is no one right way to define these characters, though, and it's encouraging to see films that are willing to put their own spin on classic icons. What is your favorite version of Batman, either in print or on screen? Does the above version mesh with what you expect from these characters?

Find more Batman films from these artists at Bat in the Sun. For a lighter look at Batman, see Batman's Bad Day and The Interrogator — or even RiffTrax's take on The Dark Knight.

(Hat tip to Showbits contributor GeneD)

DC Superheroes Duke It Out on DVD

06-Apr-10 1:03 PM by
Filed under Reviews; Comments Off on DC Superheroes Duke It Out on DVD

DC, the animation house responsible for Batman and Superman, have in the last few years brought their stable of superheroes to life in a series of direct-to-DVD feature films. From the aforementioned mainstays to less popular heroes Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, each has gotten a crack at the spotlight. But despite extended length compared with their television series and PG-13 ratings, I found that two recent installments don't always do their heroes justice.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is based on the first six issues of the Superman/Batman comic book that launched in 2003. When Lex Luthor is elected president, one of his first acts is to declare his two arch-nemeses enemies of the state. With villains out to collect the bounty and vigilantes-turned-soldiers determined to follow the letter of the law, Batman and Superman have few places left to turn.

The plot consists mostly of blows being traded among a cavalcade of DC superheroes. While this who's-who of the DCU can be fun for fans of the comics, it doesn't leave much room for character development. There are a few insightful moments, be it in dialogue or in cooperative battle tactics, that reveal Superman and Batman's relationship and ability to work as a team, but mostly it's just one action scene after another.

But the presentation of this film is fantastic, with a vaguely anime-like look. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprise the titular roles they've become famous for in the last two decades, while Clancy Brown and Allison Mack (the latter of Smallville) turn in admirable performances as Lex Luthor and Power Girl, respectively. Unfortunately, the script doesn't afford Power Girl much respect, leaving her a weak-willed woman. (Can you spot LeVar Burton's cameo?)

Batman and Owlman

Batman and Owlman face their counterparts.

Public Enemies was followed this February with DC's seventh and most recent video release, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, in which our heroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter — travel to a mirror universe, where heroes are villains and vice versa. Such an encounter could be a fascinating opportunity to delve into what makes someone be good or evil, but the running time of just 75 minutes affords little opportunity for backstory or character development. The most screen time is given to the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their evil counterparts: Ultraman, Owlman, and Superwoman, but the only meaningful dialogue is given to Batman and Owlman. There is a superficial love interest for the Martian Manhunter, but it's not explored in any real depth.

Being such a short film, the plot has to move fast. The Justice League's first melee with the Crime Syndicate occurs just 12 minutes into the film, resulting in an exciting airborne battle. In this scene and throughout the film, the Justice League fight mostly random super-powered troops; the movie doesn't pit our heroes against their equivalents until about the one-hour mark.

Again, the animation is top-notch, though there remain instances where CGI is not as seamlessly integrated as they could be. It would've been clever had Batman, Owlman, or both been played by familiar voice actors, such as Kevin Conroy. But we do instead get excellent performances with James Wood as Owlman, Gina Torres (Firefly) as Superwoman, Bruce Davison (X-Men) as the POTUS, and Kari Wuhrer (Sliders) as Black Canary.

Both movies feature trailers and featurettes that we've seen on DC's other DVDs, which doesn't make for very "special" features. A notable exception is Crisis on Two Earths, which includes an original short film starring The Spectre, the DC universe's manifestation of God's spirit of vengeance.

These two animated films feature top-notch production values and are true to their comic book origins without requiring viewers to be familiar with their other animated incarnations. But I couldn't help but feeling that the PG-13 rating was used not to explore mature themes and characters, but to show grittier slugfests. I don't need "mature" to mean "dark", but I do want to see characters embark on a journey, tackling issues with more than their fists.

Andrew Koenig's Preventable Passing

26-Feb-10 11:57 AM by
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on Andrew Koenig's Preventable Passing

Andrew Koenig, actor and son of Walter Koenig (Star Trek's Chekov) and Judy Levitt, passed away this month from an apparent suicide.

Andrew KoenigMore than just the son of a star, Andrew had a diverse performance portfolio spanning decades, from Kirk Cameron's friend "Boner" on the television sitcom Growing Pains, to an appearance on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to playing the villainous Joker in the acclaimed short Batman: Dead Enddescribed as "one of the ten most pivotal moments in fan film history." More recently, he appeared with his father in the independent film InAlienable, written by the senior Koenig, the pair's only collaboration.

Andrew also used his celebrity status for humanitarian causes. As described on Walter Koenig's site:

Andrew was an activist his entire life and was best known to those who knew and loved him as a compassionate, ethical man who lived according to his conscience. He was a vegan, active in environmental causes, and in animal and human rights and was quick to take an active role to help on a grass roots level. Most recently, he had been working on behalf of the people of Burma, and was arrested during the 2008 Rose Bowl parade for protesting American involvement in China's Olympics due to China's support of the Burma military regime.

I was first notified that Andrew was missing by an email to Star Trek: Of Gods and Men fans. I hoped for a happy resolution, but Andrew had been suffering from clinical depression, in which good decisions are hard to make. If Andrew could've understood how many friends and family cared for him and how hurt they are, he may not have chosen this permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Please do yourself and your loved ones a favor: know the signs of depression, and if you or someone you know needs help, call the Hopeline.

(Hat tips to Alyssa Milano and PostSecret)

Drives Us Bats

13-Oct-09 2:22 PM by
Filed under Television; 3 comments.

What show isn't improved upon by a good musical number? Otherwise tonal adventures such as Xena and Buffy have featured impromptu chorus numbers and dance routines not only to break from the traditional script but also as a way to gently lampoon themselves.

Batman has often proven ample fodder for other sorts of parodies, perhaps because the Dark Knight takes himself so seriously. In the October 23rd episode of his latest televised incarnation, The Brave and the Bold on Cartoon Network, the villanious Music Meister, played by Neil Patrick Harris, uses his own symphonic satire to bring down Gotham's defender. Courtesy Entertainment Weekly, here's a sneak peek at one such scene:




Hat tip to Dr. Horrible himself!

Why So Serious?

10-Dec-08 2:50 PM by
Filed under Films, Humor; 3 comments.

Yesterday saw the DVD release of The Dark Knight, Batman's last cinematic manifestation. Like no one else I know, I chose not to partake of its theatrical debut, and it's not high on my home theater's priority list.

But I am always ready and eager to mock anything this popular. Courtesy RiffTrax comes this exclusive audio from a rather revealing deleted scene:

The clip is a promotion for their RiffTrax of The Dark Knight:

Despite these parodies, I actually am a fan of the Gotham Knight. I count the original Michael Keaton film, Mask of the Phantasm, and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker all among my personal library, and I am eager to add the complete animated series to my collection. If you want to read about some superheroes I actually could do without, check out IGN's top ten list, "Worst Comic Book Heroes on Film". I wholeheartedly concur with such choices as Spawn, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and <shudder> Daredevil. Sigh. Why can't all superhero movies be super?

The Dork Knight

18-Jul-08 12:45 PM by
Filed under Films, Humor; 4 comments.

Today is the release of The Dark Knight, for which I, a diehard DC comics fan, am not waiting in line to see. I was thoroughly underwhelmed with its predecessor, Batman Begins — Christian Bale just isn't the man to portray Gotham's caped crusader.

That opinion is a happy consequence of the fact that there isn't one right way to portray the Dark Knight. There have been many interpretations of the character over the years, and Web 2.0 has allowed fans to put him in their own tales as well. The dark, landmark short "Dead End" is one of my favorites, as it plays on many of the grim aspects of both Batman and the comic book medium that are so appealing.

"Dead End" also provides a sharp contrast from which to create more humorous takes on Batman. Ever since Frank Miller (of 300 and Sin City fame) wrote The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, most incarnations of Batman have depicted him as brooding and violent character. So any return to the campiness with which Adam West first brought Batman to life is a welcome relief, such as shown in this recent release, entitled "Batman's Bad Day":

This film is funny for more than showing how superheroes treat each other when not in crisis management mode. Showbits contributor Hiphopguy23 hates the Man of Steel for having every other character's superpower, usurping any other hero's usefulness. It's past time to see him and his god-like brethren put in their place — and the quintessential Boy Scout's uncharacteristic riposte is a great zinger.

Another recent entry into the Batman fanfilm category is one that doesn't feature Batman at all, and again features a surprising ending. I give you "The Interrogator":

This is just a small sampling of the creative output of the Batman fan community; a more complete index can be found at BatmanFanFilms.com. And if you too are uninterested in today's theatrical release, check out Dayton Ward's Batman gallery, which takes the audio and action of the Dark Knight trailer and recreates it using a variety of media, from animation to LEGOs. Finally, remember that the animated film Batman: Gotham Knight is now available on DVD, serving as a bridge between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.