Discussion! Vandal’s September Backlog

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We have less than one month before every night of the week becomes flooded with TV that all looks so great.  What follows is how I’ll be filling the hours before premiere week:

John Jackson Miller, STAR WARS: A NEW DAWN
Disney/Lucasfilm kicks off their mega-reboot of the Star Wars universe begins not with a TV show or a movie, but with a book–the first book ever to be considered ‘canon’ in the ongoing battle between good and evil.  Star Wars: A New Dawn tells the story of the first team-up of Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla and contains a nice foreword by Dave Filoni in which he explains the degree to which the creative teams, as well as the Lucasfilm Story Group, has changed their regard for the non-film media.

Destiny Is LiveBungie & Activision, DESTINY
I waited to buy an Xbox One for a game that was going to be worth it, and I’m betting my money and time on the game that has been at the center of the industry’s hype over the past year (sorry, Titanfall).  After playing the Beta in July, I can’t imagine the game won’t be a colossal hit, or a ton of fun.

Geoff Johns, JUSTICE LEAGUE, VOL. 4: THE GRID
As we readers of the trade paperback variety get closer to the day when we will finally read Trinity War in all its apparent glory, this collection from Johns and Reis will bring us right up to the brink of that huge crossover event.  As I maintain that this book has been the best of the New 52 across the board, I’ll be reading this one as soon as it comes out on September 16th.

Wes Ball & James Dashner, THE MAZE RUNNER
After being totally hypnotized by the trailer in August, and as there’s almost nothing else interesting coming to theaters in September, I’ll be stopping in to see how they bring another popular YA book franchise to the big screen

Teaser PosterBruno Heller et al., GOTHAM (FOX)
It’s an interesting take on the World’s Most Popular Thing, and I can’t tell if it’s going to be a big-concept police procedural or some kind of urbano-gothic Smallville.  What they’ve shown looks great, and as a Batman guy outright, I’ll not be hesitating to check in with my superhero’s new TV show (even if I have to admit that the other two guys over on The CW have shows that look more interesting right now).

October is going to be a crazy TV-heavy month for us here at the Backlog (we have some pretty ambitious plans for you readers), and things in the geekosphere are holding steady.  Thanks for a great first month!

– Vandal

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Discussion! Bats v Supes and the Super-Serious DC Cinematic Universe

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It’s no secret that Warner Bros. and DC Comics have more than a bit of work ahead of them to catch up with Marvel in terms of establishing a cohesive cinematic superhero universe. When Jon Favreau’s Iron Man hit theaters in May 2008, the world was awaiting the second installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight. Both, of course, were huge hits, but ol’ Shellhead’s film debut was the first in a series of movies that built up to the super-team mega-blockbuster, The Avengers, while the Batman sequel was part of a stand-alone—oh, I’ll just say it—”epic” with no connection to a larger superhero continuity.

Batman BvS

The first image from SUPERMAN v. BATMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was this still of Ben Affleck as Batman, brooding away in a Frank Miller-looking suit in front of a new Batmobile design.

And, really, super-powered folks would’ve been out of place in Nolan’s very grounded take on DC’s Caped Crusader.

Still, after seeing The Avengers in 2012, every comic book fan worth his or her weight in back issues had to be wondering, “Where’s my Justice League movie?” Meanwhile, Warner Bros. had announced Man of Steel, a Superman reboot to be directed by Zack Snyder, but it wasn’t clear if it would establish a connected DC Comics cinematic universe.

Then, suddenly, it was clear.

Superman BvS

Henry Cavill’s Superman looks more ripped than ever, but the costume and the brooding jawline remain seemingly unchanged.

So, Man of Steel hit theaters in June 2013, and I loved it. More than just a little—from Henry Cavill’s earnest Clark Kent/Superman to Amy Adams’ gutsy Lois Lane to Michael Shannon’s driven General Zod to the gloriously otherworldly vision of Krypton. However, I’m not one of those people who can’t the faults in the things they love, and my big problem with Man of Steel was that it was little too dour. Outside of the scenes in which Superman perfected his flying early on and confronted the general with the satellite at the end, the rest of the film was a fairly somber affair.

All of the Marvel films had their fair share of lighter moments—as do many good comic book stories, so why no fun for Superman? Sure, he had to deal with an uber-patriotic group of superhuman who wanted to terraform Earth and make it suitable for Kryptonians—thereby wiping out humanity, but, for the love of Pete, he can fly and lift mountains over his head—surely there’s some fun to be had in that.

So, what does all this have to do with the price of eggs in Metropolis? Well, the road to Justice League is paved with good intentions and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel that will introduce Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and build a DC cinematic universe—all of which sounds good to me. However, I’m hoping that the online rumors of a Warner Bros. decree that there be no humor in the DC movies are false. How do you get folks like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman together and not have a bit of fun?

Wonder Woman BvS

Gal Gadot made her first teaser appearance as Wonder Woman at Comic Con in this past summer, striking a menacing pose in a familiar suit of Amazonian armor.

Like any good fan, I was overjoyed with the Comic-Con footage of a fiery-eyed Superman descending through the beam of the Bat-signal on a dark and stormy night to confront an armored Batman. Too, the first photo of Gal Gadot in full Wonder Woman regalia thrilled me to no end. No smiles, though. Perhaps those will come from Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Cyborg—each of whom may make a cameo appearance in Bats v. Supes. Still, Aquaman is an occasionally savage warrior-king and Cyborg’s origin story is fairly tragic, so I may have to depend on the Flash and Green Lantern to lighten the tone.

What I’m getting at is that I want Bats v. Supes to be awesome, and I think it will be; however, I hope it will also be fun. With any luck, Snyder has looked at Bruce Timm’s take on the team in the Justice League and Justice League United animated series. There, the Man of Steel, the Caped Crusader, and the Amazing Amazon were anything but stodgy, and that’s because the writing was lively and inventive. That’s the tone I want for Bats v. Supes and Justice League.

(Incidentally, anyone read Justice League: Origin by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee? There was more than one or two laugh-out-loud moments in that sprawling six-issue story!)

So. How am I feeling about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League and whatever else is to come down the DC blockbuster pike? Incredibly optimistic. I like Henry Cavill as Superman. I am happy with Ben Affleck as Batman. Gal Gadot looks like Wonder Woman to me. But I want to smile, not feel like I’ve watched a Bergman film with fight scenes and explosions.

–  Mou

Review! ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Download [Spoilers]

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier is now available as a digital download and may be my favorite of the Marvel films thus far—even though Guardians of the Galaxy is also high on the list. Honestly, it depends on the day, but now, today, I’d say it’s Cap by a nose. Maybe just a freckle.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, the 9th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from Disney’s Marvel Studios, raises the bar its predecessor set in every way and ranks among the franchise’s finest.

Somehow, directors Anthony and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have managed to meld the modern superhero film with the 1970s political thriller and create a thrill ride that is rewarding as a summer blockbuster, a conspiracy flick, and a character piece—not unlike a really gripping comic book saga. Truly, Cap is portrayed as a man out of time—a man who keeps a notebook of historical and cultural touchstones he missed during his time on ice, a man who mourns his friends and comrades from sixty years ago, a man whose moral code doesn’t gel with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s modern methods of protecting the country he loves; and he’s played with earnestness and charm by Chris Evans, whose performance as the Star-Spangled Avenger echoed the late Christopher Reeve’s take on another comic book icon, Superman.

As S.H.I.E.L.D. falls apart, Cap uncovers a conspiracy and takes on the entire organization, but he’s not alone in his endeavors: Scarlett Johansson’s deadly super-spy, the Black Widow; Anthony Mackie’s high-flying commando, the Falcon; Samuel L. Jackson’s tough-as-nails S.H.I.E.L.D. director, Nick Fury; and Cobie Smulders’ loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Maria Hill, make up the team that helps Cap get to the bottom of the decades-old corruption that has rocked the espionage organization to its very foundations. However, the fallout from this film will affect the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, which was in desperate need of a shot in the arm since it stagnated after its stellar pilot episode.

The big reveal at just about the halfway point in the film is still stunning upon a second viewing—likely because of both its immensity and how it plays into our most paranoid fears.

Then, there’s the Winter Soldier himself—the super-agent who serves as the muscle behind S.H.I.E.L.D.’s destruction. He has a connection to Cap and, therefore, is something of a tragic figure. (We get that just past the halfway point.) Still, he’s only part of the story and will surely figure into future installments of Captain America’s story.

The film’s big finish is, well, big—pretty much what one would expect from a big-time summer movie, but, despite all the CGI and traditional special effects, this blockbuster has a heart. It excels when it plays on the sincerity of the Evans’ performance. We care about Cap, and he has a problem. Thus, we have a problem.

If I have a quibble with the home video release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s that there’s no Marvel One-Shot among the extras.  C’mon, Marvel, you’ve set a level of expectation. Why no One-Shot? Would another Agent Carter adventure have been so difficult?

BACKLOG RATING
I’m calling it 10/10. This is a must-see. Iron Man 3 was kind of hit-and-miss, and Thor: The Dark World was good, but somewhat laborious. This is a return to top form for Marvel Films, and, hey, there are some name-drops that are the stuff of geeky fever-dreams.

– Mou

Discussion! ‘The Maze Runner’: Coming Late to the Party

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When I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy last week, I saw a trailer for a movie that I didn’t know I wanted to see:

The Maze Runner story has been available to readers as a novel for over five years, with the first volume of the already-finished trilogy of YA books having been released almost 5 years ago.  It has sold very well (a cursory search didn’t turn up any sales figures, but Amazon.com still has it listed among its bestsellers), and has generated a great deal of conversation and excitement among its fan base, a fairly sizable online community of readers not unlike the group that elevated The Hunger Games to its lofty place in mass culture.

Maze Runner Book

If movie trailers are supposed to generate excitement and encourage people to plan to buy tickets at the theater, I’d consider THE MAZE RUNNER trailer demonstrably successful.

After seeing the impressive-looking and excitement-generating trailer, I did a little research into the narrative universe, and ever wary of spoilers, mostly focused my attention on the critical acclaim the The Maze Runner earned, most notably ‘Best of the Year’ awards from Kirkus Reviews and the American Library Association.  It holds at least as many bestseller distinctions as The Hunger Games (my quick search turned up some conflicting reports on this score), but was only given approximately half the budget for its first-volume film adaptation.

After seeing the trailer, I updated the Backlog appropriately, as I had become instantly intrigued (especially at 0:49, when we get a panoramic glimpse of what appears to be the maze itself) and would very much like to see the movie in a fairly lean-looking autumn of imaginative releases.  The critical and popular acclaim the book has gotten has likewise prompted me to set some time and money aside in the next month to read its modest 384-page length.

If nothing else, if I find the book to be a poor-man’s Hunger Games or the movie a low-budget flop akin to the disaster that was the Eragon adaptation, I’ll at least have gained an appreciation for just how powerful a well-edited trailer can be on affecting how we spend our time and money.

I’ll review both as I clear them from the pile, so stay with us here at the Unending Backlog!

– Vandal

Review: Batman-Assault on Arkham [SPOILERS]

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WARNING:   Movie and Batman Arkham Game spoilers below.  You’ve been warned.

Following Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited, the DC Animated Universe continuity moved to an animated movie model.  The most recent entry is Batman: Assault on Arkham. Resuming roles they’ve played in the past are Kevin Conroy as the one, true voice of Batman.  Troy Baker as the Joker and CCH Pounder as shadowy government official, Amanda Waller. Using the same voice actors effectively reminds you that you’re in the same universe as past DCAU / Batman Arkham games. There are nods to all three Arkham games throughout the movie.

Batman Assault on Arkham

BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is the first movie set in the “Arkham” universe that has already hosted three very good video game interpretations of Batman and his array of villians.

In Justice League Unlimited, Waller tried to take out the Justice League’s Watchtower satellite by grouping together convicted super-criminals in what she calls Task Force X or The Suicide Squad, putting bombs in their heads and sending them on “dirty” or “black” missions.  Waller uses similar tactics here to bring together a new Suicide Squad which consists of some well-known villains:  Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost, Harley Quinn, along with DCAU newbies Black Spider and Killer Shark.   Their task:  Break into Arkham Asylum, locate the Riddler’s Question Mark staff, retrieve a USB drive contained within and kill the Riddler.  The drive contains information Waller requires.  She doesn’t go through normal government channels due to the sensitive nature of the information and she does NOT want Batman involved.  Her orders are clear:  Get in, get the staff, get out.  Doing anything else risks sudden decapitation.

The bulk of the story focuses on the Squad’s infiltration of Arkham and the interplay between super-criminals.  The dialog between Deadshot and Boomerang is quick and tense with the two angling to see who can be the Alpha Dog.  There are a number of laugh-out-loud moments as well. In one scene, Killer Frost remarks “That gave me the chills” to which Captain Boomerang, in perfect sarcastic deadpan, replies “Ice puns? Really?”

Hynden Walch steals the show in her insane portrayal of Harley Quinn.  Whether it’s her joy at receiving electro shock or the cackling laughter while falling out of a plane, she steals every scene she’s in.  At one point she jabs at Boomerang quipping that “anyone who plays with boomerangs has a real problem letting go”.  Indeed.

Meanwhile, Batman consumes his time by searching for a dirty bomb the Joker plans to unleash on Gotham.  How he got the bomb while incarcerated in Arkham is unaddressed.  As the movie progresses, the Joker escapes (what else is new) and Waller’s plan unravels. The super-criminals discover the true reason for Waller’s mission:  The Riddler has figured out how to remove her head-bombs while Joker goes for Harley’s giant mallet which contains the bomb.

Batman arrives just as the Riddler finishes disarming the Suicide Squad’s head-bomb.  The hectic climax includes the Riddler escaping, the Squad turning on each other, and a knock-down drag-out fight between Deadshot and the Joker before Batman saves the day.

CONCLUSION
While Conroy IS Batman, this story really is Waller and the Suicide Squad.  Pounder is excellent as the “is she good or is she evil” Waller and Baker is great as the Joker but it’s Walch who shines here.  Her heartbroken Harely Quinn is troubled, insane and completely outstanding.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
Priority rating: 8/10.   If your Backlog contains DCAU TV/movies, I’d slot others ahead of Assault on Arkham (ex: Justice League Unlimited, and Superman / Batman Public Enemies) but I’d watch this before others like Son of Batman or Green Lantern : First FlightAssault on Arkham is not the best DCAU ever made but it is really, really good.

– Vrin

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy [Spoiler-free]

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So. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. What do you say about the perfect summer blockbuster—other than, you know, “It’s perfect.”

Well, here’s the thing: I thought Marvel Studios would have a tough time topping Captain America: The Winter Soldier; it was, for me, easily the best of the Avengers-related films, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from a movie based on one of Marvel’s second- or third-tier properties. Still, the trailers were promising—in terms of action, humor, and sci-fi goodness, so why not, eh?

GotG Review

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, directed by James Gunn, is the 10th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Studios’ second offering of 2014.

Turns out, I’m not sure if Guardians topped Cap, but it sure as heck equaled it. These days, it’s rare for me to exit a theater wanting to turn around and go back in for the next showing. I had a similar feeling when I first saw Star Wars in 1977 and Superman in 1978 at the ripe old ages of 11 and 12, respectively.

The Guardians are Star-Lord, a smart-mouthed rogue named Peter Quill with an abiding love for ’70s and ’80s pop classics; Gamora, a living weapon who also happens to be one of the adoptive daughters of Thanos, a death-obsessed god bent on conquering the universe; Drax the Destroyer, a super-strong, intricately tattooed alien seeking to avenge the murder of his family by the villain of the piece, Ronan the Accuser; Rocket, a genetically and cybernetically enhanced, um, raccoon with a gift for manipulating technology and a bad attitude; and Groot, a seemingly sweet, monosyllabic tree creature who is loyal to Rocket. Quite a list, I know, and because they are such characters, the plot that brings them together is fairly simple: everyone wants a mysterious orb—some for money, others for the unimaginable power it allegedly holds. Oh, and did I mention that the fate of the planet Xindar hangs in balance, dependent upon who ends up with the aforementioned orb?

What director and co-writer Gunn brings to this concoction is a real sense of wahoo, hold-onto-your-hats, go-for-it gusto—not unlike George Lucas brought to the first film in his Star Wars saga. In fact, it’s a lot like that scene of Han Solo running through the hallway of the Death Star, screaming and firing his blaster and hoping everything comes out okay. Everyone in the universe seems to speak English—except for Groot? Who cares?!? Quill uses cassette tape technology in the far reaches of the galaxy—and still has a fully functional Walkman? So what?!? Outside of an appearance by Thanos, who showed up in a mid-credits stinger at the end of Avengers, there’s no real connection to the other Marvel films? Big deal! Guardians has an internal logic that completely works, a sense of humor that welcomes film-goers—especially those unfamiliar with the comics (and that’s almost everybody)—into Gunn’s vision of the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe, and a devotion to character development that gives a straight-forward story depth and complexity.

Again, think Star Wars, but not your daddy’s Star Wars. This is its own thing.

Backlog Priority: 10/10. Get to your local multiplex ASAP.

– Mou

Blog: August Backlog [Vandal]

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As we approach that time of the year where it becomes necessary to buy another media shelf, here’s what made it to the top of my Unending Backlog for this August:

Brandon Sanderson, THE EMPEROR’S SOUL
Set on the world of Sel, this novella won the Hugo Award in 2013 and is apparently so good I need to be prepared to read its modest 110-page length in one sitting.

TotCM

Saladin Ahmed has written a critically-acclaimed first volume in a new fantasy series that echo the Arabian Nights.

Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Gail Simone, et al. BATMAN: DEATH OF THE FAMILY
I’ve been amassing these titles in trade since May, but have hesitated to read them piecemeal until I had the whole pile in front of me.  That time has come, and from what I hear, it will have been worth the wait.

Saladin Ahmed, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON
The Goodreads page tells me that this book was nominated for a whole bundle of awards (including the Hugo and the Nebula) in 2012, and despite its average 3.57 rating from users, looks to offer readers of fantasy something wholly new.

If GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY pans out for Marvel, it’ll be even clearer that they are in complete control with their Cinematic Universe.

J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, & Jeffrey Lieber, LOST
Don’t judge me for coming late to the party; I get to experience it for the first time 😀

Christopher Buck & Jennifer Lee, FROZEN
I’ve been told this film has the power to change lives, so I guess I should get around to it at some point.

James Gunn, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Usually I’m in the theater on opening night for the Marvel Cinematic Universe stuff, but this one ran up against vacation time.  Saturday morning should be a riot.

These should move the dog days of summer along as we wait for the influx of games that the autumn months will bring.  We’re also looking forward to all the new shows and the relaunch of the Star Wars universe.

–  Vandal