Tuesday, November 30, 2010

COMIC: Top of the Stack - Batman Incorporated #1 (Review)

Written by Grant Morrison
Pencils by Yanick Paquette
Cover by J.H. Williams III

Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99

A little late but I could not go without mentioning what comic made it to the Top of the Stack for the week of November 17th. The week was heavily dominated by Batman related books so the pick might have seemed inevitable but surprisingly it was a fill-in issue of Zatanna written by Adam Beechen and the final issue of the opening arc of Geoff Johns' Flash that brought the competition. In the end however, the premiere issue of Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated was too good to be denied.

Morrison's several year run leading the direction of the Batman books is still going strong and after the grim RIP storyline and its gritty aftermath, the new lead Batman book is entering a bold new era for Batman that seems to be bringing back the fun action missing from Bruce Wayne stories of this generation.

This first issue is very much a starter of a much bigger story, but the seemingly more permanent team-up between Bruce and Selina Kyle was what made this issue so much fun. The instant chemistry that snaps back into place like Bruce wasn't gone and Selina didn't have that mess during One Year Later was magical and brought about many of the good feelings I experienced when reading the Batman/Catwoman: Follow the Money one-shot a few weeks ago. I dare not hope that Catwoman will be a permanent fixture in this book to tangle with Batman, but I do hope she is around for a lot of it.

The cover by J.H. Williams III is amazing, and reminiscent of the fantastic style he became well known for during his Batwoman issues of Detective Comics. The interiors were drawn by Yanick Paquette, who has worked before with Grant Morrison on an issue of the recent The Return of Bruce Wayne mini-series and the Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer mini-series from a few years back. The beautifully clean style reminds me of a blend between Cliff Chiang and Mike Norton and is perfect for the tone of this series.

Grant Morrison seems to be moving away from the grim and gritty (if you ignore what happens to Mr. Unknown), and Paquette's art is definitely topnotch. Turning Bruce into a globetrotting adventurer in his own solo title much like he is seen in group books is the perfect way to reestablish his presence without seeming to step on the new era of Batman and Robin in Gotham. And I am always a fan of superhero relationships, so if issues with Bruce and Selina are going to become more common, I am all for this new direction from Morrison to continue on end.

Check out Geek Plate's Tumblr for today's Batman with a dash of Catwoman themed picspam.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

FILMonBLU-RAY: How to Train Your Dragon (Review)

How to Train Your Dragon
2010 - Dreamworks
Released on Blu-Ray & DVD on October 15, 2010

# of Discs: 2 (Blu-Ray, DVD)
Runtime: 98 minutes

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has struggled to live up to his calling as a Viking. He is skinny, inquisitive and inventive, everything a Viking is not. His father is chief of the village, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), and has pretty much given up on his teenage son and apprenticed him to the village blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson). Worse, Hiccup knows the village loser has not a chance of impressing Astrid (America Ferrera), the girl of his dreams and a formidable dragon fighter in her own right.

When one of Hiccup's inventions actually works, he hasn't the heart to kill the young dragon he brought down. He names it Toothless and befriends it, although he has been taught to fear and loathe dragons and discovers that everything Vikings know about dragons is wrong.

The majority of the film takes place in three locations: Hiccup's Viking tribe's Village, the cove area where Toothless and Hiccup meet and the island where the Dragons roost. The Vikings' home is located on the island of Berk and is beautifully captured in the animation. Their village is beset by dragons and some of the best visuals come from the opening dragon attack and later when the Vikings set sail for the dragon home.

Most of the bonding between the film's main two characters comes in the cove that Toothless is unable to escape from alone thanks to being injured by Hiccup's wild shot to the sky. But the most terrifying location is by far the nest of the Dragons where the gigantic Red Death lives and is waited on by the other smaller Dragons.

Extras on the disc include an all-new adventure featuring the characters of the film. In "Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon", Hiccup and his friends join Gobber in his search for a mysterious dragon that he claims to having crossed paths with several times during his lifetime. The short consists of several different styles of animation to tell the story but that does not affect the story and help supports the idea that this Dragon world can support multiple stories beyond the feature film.

There is also an instructional video on how to draw Toothless, deleted scenes and a series of fun shorts starring the characters in the Viking Winter Games.

How to Train Your Dragon is a fantastic surprise of a quality story combined with endearing characters that made it easily one of the best films of 2010. Everyone should see this movie and I am excited with the news that the film's success will be leading to sequels and a TV series. I might even check out the book the movie was inspired from.

Look to buy the How to Train Your Dragon Blu-Ray over at Amazon for only $17.99.
Check out Geek Plate's Tumblr for today's How to Train Your Dragon themed picspam.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

COMIC: Top of the Stack - Red Robin #17 (Review)

Written by Fabian Nicieza
Pencils by Marcus To
Cover by Marcus To & Ray McCarthy

Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99

The week had releases from several books that always contend for the top of the stack (Avengers: Children's Crusade, Batgirl) but they were no match this time around for Red Robin #17. Writer Fabian Nicieza continues to thrive playing in the Bat universe sandbox and I have taken notice making this issue his third Bat book to be Top of the Stack in the last three months. The transition from Christopher Yost's start on the book to Nicieza's run has been so smooth that I might say the book has never been better.

This issue's story wraps up the arc of Red Robin's hit list and his search for Bruce Wayne. Lynx is broken free from GCPD detainment by Red Robin, and the best thing is the mystery of the character and Tim's uncertainty to her loyalties is a wonderful aspect of Tim who is always so sure of things and he is not with her.

And the other parts of the issue can not be ignored as that was where the Bat Family reunions took place. One of my DC peeves is how Cassandra Cain dropped off the face of the DCU once RIP started so it was a welcome sight to get that surprise cameo and of course, Bruce and Tim together again. It is always fun when they are written well because their relationship feels like the second chance Bruce gets to do things the right way that he did not do with the first Robin, Dick Grayson.

The art team of Marcus To and Ray McCarthy have now been on the book for a year and just like the overall book, the art is better than ever. The cover with Lynx touching Red Robin was a perfect mirror of the events on the inside, I can almost see the two as a mirror image of a pose Batman and Catwoman have been put in before I am sure.

While other characters have had their ups and downs, for the most part Tim Drake/Wayne has been one that most writers just seem to get and keep his tales at a consistent level of quality. Outside of a few odd choices surrounding Tim's relationship with Stephanie and Chuck Dixon's brief return/immediate departure, the last few years have been a great step in bringing Tim out of the shadows of being a sidekick and into the light as a true hero to depend on and that makes this book a must read for any comic book fan.

Check out Geek Plate's Tumblr for today's Red Robin themed picspam.

Monday, November 8, 2010

COMIC: Top of the Stack - Batman/Catwoman: Follow the Money #1 (Review)

Written by Howard Chaykin
Pencils by Howard Chaykin
Cover by Howard Chaykin

Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99

There was one book that stood out amongst the others this week and it happened to be the extra-sized, slightly pricier, Batman/Catwoman: Follow the Money one-shot written and drawn by longtime creative maestro Howard Chaykin. With the ever changing world of creative teams, sometimes it is nice to find a title that the creative duties are handled mainly by one person and see the results of having art interpreted perfectly with the story.

I would have welcomed the book to be split into a three issue mini-series because of the consistent pace to the story that kept it a thoroughly entertaining read would most likely translate well over several issues but the all-in-one packaging definitely made the book stand out even more for all the right reasons.

What kind of story could carry fifty-six pages of content? How about a story featuring the Cavalier as the villain? His characterization as a villain is the first proof that this tale is outside of DC's continuity where Cavalier aka Mortimer Drake is acting as a bodyguard for Dr. Leslie Thompkins.

Here, Mortimer Drake is the mastermind of a business theft scheme involving Bruce Wayne's money and left clues that would put the blame on Catwoman. And that's where the book really took off as it was a story of Bruce and Selina coming together to stop the Cavalier, clear Catwoman's name and save Bruce's money. Rarely these days do writers bring Bruce and Selina together in a story and it was a very welcome turn of events that kept a smile on my face while I read the pages.

Chaykin's art on the cover really set the fun tone of the book right from the start and the interiors followed suit in really displaying the colorful adventure to the reader. He drew a strong Bruce/Batman, a stylish stunning Selina/Catwoman and even made sure to include a tidying-up Alfred amongst the adventure.

There are several things I am hopeful for after reading this book. First off that more of these fun, free of the current state of the DCU, expanded stories can be written not only for Batman but other DC characters. With the reemergence of the Elseworlds brand I expect the quantity of stories outside of current continuity to grow and optimistically the quality will be as good as this issue.

Secondly, Howard Chaykin should not become a stranger to these characters or these type of stories. Too many times writers forget about the opposite sex dynamic when it comes to superheroes but the chemistry between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle was jumping off the page and it was a sight for sore eyes. It is one of the reasons why I have been looking forward to Bruce Wayne's return to the current DCU because the Bat/Cat dynamic is legendary.

Check out Geek Plate's Tumblr for today's Batman & Catwoman themed picspam.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

COMIC: Batmania (Commentary)

One of my favorite comic book characters of all time is DC Comics' Batman. The legacy of Batman has grown over the decades, going through multiple iterations, looks and relaunches through several media but for this article I am focusing on the original comic book aspect of the character and what I like and do not like about the current status of the Batman world.

Over time the aspect of Batman having a family has developed and grown to include several Robins - five so far - and Batgirls - four. With the amount of characters in the immediate universe having grown so much, sometimes a character or two will fall through the cracks if they do not have a title they regularly appear in.

This happens to be the case with the previous current Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. Since Batman RIP and the storyline of Bruce Wayne's death, the character stopped being a regular presence and only returned briefly in the first issue of the Batgirl series relaunch to pass the mantle to Stephanie Brown.

The irony in Cassandra's descent into anonymity is that the character had just been rescued from the horrid development she had gone through since Infinite Crisis four years ago. She had just been re-accepted into the family by Bruce, who had gone ahead and adopted her, declaring that while he was around she would always have a family but that ended up being a horrible tease because the Batman RIP storyline was next.

Now she has been seemingly forgotten - like always - by the creators on the Bat books but there may be a light at the end of the tunnel because during this current return of Bruce Wayne story that is happening, Bruce offhandedly mentioned that Cassandra was off doing what he told her to do if anything should happen to me. This could just be a throwaway comment to appease the fans and quickly explain why she has not been around but with the upcoming Batman, Inc. franchising, I think it would be fantastic if Cassandra has been globetrotting around the world scouting potential candidates and had already started the process of implementing Batman's presence on a global basis.

My dream would be for Cassandra to get a featured book but with Stephanie Brown finally getting some deserved spotlight as Batgirl, it would have to be something like a second batgirl book somewhat in the style of how there is a Batman book and a Batman and Robin book. So I would like to see maybe a Batgirls title that has Cassandra and Stephanie working together because their duo rivaled that of the typical Batman and Robin or Robin and Batgirl.

As a result I think it would be best for Cassandra to be a second Batgirl. With how the Bat characters seem to grow into another's costume when that character moves on to something else, I have seen some great fan drawings of Cassandra taking on the Nightwing costume which would be fine for me as well as long as Dick stayed as Batman.

Now that this seems to be the way things are going at least for the next few years while Grant Morrison is in charge of the Batman creative direction, fans will finally be getting the result I was hoping would come from this entire Batman RIP storyline in that both Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne will be Batman. Outside of a few writers who handle Dick poorly in order to make Bruce seem invincible and on a level too high for Dick to ever reach, Dick has been written fantastically as Batman.

I've been wanting to see the direction of multiple Batmen ever since Dick took over the mantle and thrived with it and knowing that Bruce Wayne would be returning especially with a character like Green Lantern who originally only had one Lantern from a given section now having four Lanterns from Earth alone at the same time, I always wondered why other characters had not been expanded that way. I think Wonder Woman with Donna Troy somewhat languishing in this awkward not Wonder Girl not Wonder Woman phase would be an excellent second Wonder Woman.

The great thing about bringing about multiple Batmen is that the yellow background behind the Bat symbol is coming back as part of Bruce's new costume to help tell apart the characters. I've been thinking for years now that I missed the yellow, even going so far as to wishing they had brought Bruce back in the classic blue and yellow costume that was prevalent in the 1980s or bringing the Michael Keaton-era Batman movie costume to the comic books and giving that to Bruce to where, classic solid black with the yellow background bat emblem.

The only part of the Bat universe - outside the lack of Cass - that really has my ire is the overwhelming push to make Batman Beyond a part of the main canon. Now, the animated show was a fun experience, but I was only able to enjoy it by placing it in its own little world as an alternate universe and there is one of the 52 worlds that is for Batman Beyond.

Except now the mini-series comic book has turned into an ongoing and I've stayed away because for some reason DC has refused to put the Elseworlds label on it despite having brought back that label this year with the Superman: Last Family of Krypton mini and I can not see any reason why any Batman fan would be happy with this being the future for the characters.

Going just off the animated series since I haven't read the new book, Bruce ends up old and alone, Barbara is old, alone and police commissioner (and because of the animated verse she and Bruce have something between them), there is no sign of Dick Grayson at all, and Tim is horribly treated in the Return of Joker film.

Batman Beyond is a fun alternate future tale and I want to keep it that way. And that is what this Bat fan has to say on the topic. Same Bat time, same Bat channel!

Check out Geek Plate's Tumblr for today's Batman themed picspam.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

FILMonBLU-RAY: Iron Man 2 (Review)

Iron Man 2
2010 - Paramount
Released on Blu-Ray & DVD on September 28, 2010

# of Discs: 3 (Blu-Ray x 2, DVD w/ Digital Copy)
Runtime: 124 minutes

Billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself with the hangover of a lifetime. He ha a toxic, potentially deadly condition resulting from the elements used to power the battery in his chest. That's not the only threat on his plate as his super-hero side faces off with Russian engineer Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) as the dangerous Whiplash and on his business side Stark with rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) and newcomer Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) are along for the action-packed ride.

The big set piece of the film is the Stark Expo spectacle that Tony Stark brings back from his dad's vision to the modern world. Reminiscent of the real World Expo's of past, the design becomes this beautiful vision only capable on film and the perfect location to open the movie and be the last place at the end of the movie. There is also a visit to Monaco for the first confrontation between Stark and Vanko that destroys a few race cars and unveils the suitcase armor of Iron Man.

Less flashy moments but equally spectacular in delivery would have to be first the recordings of Howard Stark and the legacy he left behind for Tony. The clear Walt Disney feel was a perfect direction to take with the character, immediately endearing him to audiences in a way only Disney was. Also Black Widow's big action piece set which literally was her going down a hallway destroying the guards that came in her way was visually stunning in its choreography and execution.

Iron Man 2 also delivered on the special features front. Aside from the usual commentary track, deleted scenes and information files on the characters that all movies should include in their movies, Iron Man 2 had a 4-part "Making of" documentary covering the entire production of the movie that shows off the friendly, fun atmosphere between the cast and director Jon Favreau ("Iron Man").

This movie was a non-stop roller coaster ride that had me on the edge of my seat throughout. Despite not having a real decisive, climactic final battle with Vanko going down quickly and having just previously turning on Hammer it was hard not to like this sequel more than the original. The only negatives I can really give the film are just preferences: Samuel Jackson looking old, Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard and Thor's hammer at the end of the film looking less than impressive. Superhero fans and action movie aficionados should definitely look at buying this movie.

Look to buy the Iron Man 2 Blu-Ray over at Amazon for only $26.99.
Check out Geek Plate's Tumblr for today's Iron Man themed picspam.