Thursday, December 31, 2015

5 Animated Films Warner Premiere should consider making

Ever checked out the DC Universe animated films from Warner Premiere? They're direct to DVD releases based on "famous" DC comics and they're often a bit of fun. Sometimes they're even better than the comic they're based on; other times, they're dross, but hey, it's only 70 minutes of your life so who cares? The good ones can be really good, and I've never found one so bad that I couldn't at least paint to it. The very best manage to tell the stories better than the comics they're based on; Flashpoint and Justice League: New Frontier are better than most of the DC live action films. The Warner Premiere films are a great showcase for some of the DC stories that could never carry a full film or television release, however, they do seem tied to "recent" events in the DCU. Yes, there are some "classics" like Batman: Year One, but it really seems like there's a wealth of untapped potential. So here are my suggestions for fun animated titles that WP and DC could potentially make some coin with.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again
Often seen as the ugly stepchild of the classic The Dark Knight Returns and the beginning of Frank Miller's slide into insanity, I actually quite enjoy DKSA on it's own merits, few though they may be. Miller's schizophrenic style and bizarre artwork actually complement the storytelling device of internet talking heads and the social decay of a digital society. Batman, having revealed his secret identity and faked his death in The Dark Knight Returns, has organised his army of former street gangs in order to take back the world from Lex Luthor and Brainiac. If The Dark Knight Returns is the story of the death and rebirth of Batman, DKSA does the same for the Justice League, with many of the old guard dying or moving on and a new generation taking up the fight. Due to the odd art and unique set-pieces, DKSA would make an interesting animated film that could highlight the cleverness of the original and hide some of the stupidity that fans tend to focus on. And who doesn't want to see Batman wail on Superman with kryptonite gauntlets?

Amazons Attack! 
A Wonder Woman crossover event that was epic in it's stupidity, this suggestion will leave many scratching their heads. This event series is infamous for having Batman spout the line "Bees... my god." and fighter jets getting taken down by spears and arrows. It's dumb, inescapably dumb, and that's why I think it should be animated for all to see. In evidence, I'd like to submit Superman vs The Elite, an, at best, passable comic, with shallow villains and childish morality but pretty cool fight scenes, but an amazing animated film, with a great villain in the form of Manchester Black, Superman actually explaining his moral stance and plenty of cool fights. Now take that approach with Amazons Attack!, fix up the dialogue slightly (but leave in the bees line), boost the action and bury the story in amazing action faster than Zach Snyder. I'd watch it. 

Probably one of the best limited series that I've ever read, and practically no one has heard of it. 52 (or DC Comics' 52 as I've seen it called), was a weekly series that covered the events of a year in the DCU without Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman. Instead the story focuses on characters like Animal Man, Adam Strange, Elongated Man, Renee Montoya, Batwoman, Booster Gold, Black Adam and Steel. The writing is sharp and the use of secondary characters really allows for some interesting storytelling. The trade is in four volumes, so more than one DVD would probably be needed, but I think it would be worth it to get the story out there and generate more interest from some of the often-overlooked characters of the DCU, like Booster Gold and The Question.

Superman: Red Son 
Everyone knows the story of Superman. Last son of a dying planet, crash lands outside a collective farm in the former Ukraine, raised under Stalin and fights for Socialism, The Worker and the International Expansion of the Warsaw Pact! Red Son is one of the best Superman stories ever told, achieving critical acclaim and spawning lesser imitators in its wake, so why is so little done with it? Is it because its an atypical Superman story? Is it because it kind of paints Superman as a villain? Whatever the reason, it's not as good as it needs to be to convince me that Red Son should be a DVD film. There's not much more I can say about this other than that you really should go pick up a copy and give it a read.

Animal Man: The Hunt    
You wanna see some fucked up shit? Check out Animal Man. Buddy Baker gets his powers from the "life grid" formed by all of the animals on the planet, but what does that look like and how does it work? Turns out the answers involve a Geiger-esque netherworld made of flesh and bone. Add in Buddy's daughter's developing powers and getting hunted by literal monsters and this series manages to be enthralling and subtle. Visually, the look of Animal Man would stand it apart from the other WP titles, as well as the more adult themes and spiritual concepts. Fans of classic Swamp Thing would be well served checking this title out, as it links back to some of the older stories from the era of Hellblazer and Swamp Thing crossovers. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Superhero Media: Young Justice

I can imagine the pitch meetings for this show very clearly. On one side of the table are a bunch of nerdy writers who really love the Teen Titans and on the other is a bunch of studio executives who want another Batman, The Animated Series. The programme can go ahead so long as it's angst-ridden, dark and brooding, so some of the characters need a rewrite. The meetings about trying to find a way to make Aqualad cool must have taken weeks. Tattoos? Yeah. Buff? Yeah. Water control? For some reason, yes. Also Robin is a hacker, despite being Dick Grayson, not Tim Drake, Superboy is emo and Kid Flash is horny. Together, they will save the world from a cadre of villains using bits of Starro to destroy the reputation of the Justice League. Yeah, it's not the best story. 

Where the programme shines (and why it has such a dedicated fanbase) is in the relationship between the characters. Unlike in many teen/tween dramas, the characters in Young Justice actually come across as real people, real adolescents with real problems of identity that go along with burgeoning adulthood. Entire episodes are given over to interactions within the team, which can be tedious in programmes like Arrow, but works with the less emotionally developed characters of Young Justice. The choice of villains is interesting too, with D-listers like Sportsmaster and The Brain not only making appearances, but playing major roles.

Has it come across that I have a few big niggles with this programme? Yes, it's good, really good, in fact, but there were a few things I just couldn't shake while watching it. Firstly, it's trying really hard to be "edgy" and cool, which can grate with the inherent silliness of the source material; it's Teen Titains for Zod's sake! Second, I get the feeling that this was a backdoor pilot for a new Justice League programme. The League show up a lot. Some episodes deal with League politics a great deal, which do lead somewhere in Young Justice: Invasion, but kind of jar with the theme of young heroes trying to be taken seriously. Still worth a look, just take with a grain of salt. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Greatest Generation [GA]

June 1940, the Allied forces have been beaten out of France and the German War-Machine is nearing its height. With the United States of America still reluctant to fight, the tenuous alliance between Great Britain and the USSR is all that holds the march of Fascism back from global domination. MI-13 and the NKVD are thrown into turmoil when the SS and SWD announce that they have a genuine Super-Human in their arsenal. Der Flieger was super-strong, could fly at supersonic speeds under his own power and bullets bounced off his skin; all of this wrapped up in a perfect Aryan form and manipulated directly by Goreing and Hitler themselves. The propaganda coup alone would have been enough to encourage desertion and fifth-column activities, let alone the impact on the war raging in Africa. Both British and Soviet intelligence immediately embarked upon programmes to level the superhuman playing field of the war.

Can even "Fighting" Jack Churchill hope to stand against Der Flieger? 

Having had a reputation for being a land of legend and wonder since ancient times, England was primed, in this time of apocalyptic conflict, to produce an array of defenders. Figures from history and mythology, including the great wizard Merlin himself, came forward in the nation's hour of need, the result being that MI-13 had little work to do in order to fill the rosters of their own "team". The USSR however, despite their large population, found superhumanity a bit harder to garner. Rituals and unrestrained experimentation finally yielded a handful of results for the NKVD from the hundreds of selfless "Comrade Volunteers" that were willing to sacrifice their own humanity to stop the Nazi Monsters flying through the skies of Eastern Europe. Before long, costumed warriors are being spotted in Poland, France, Italy and even the USA. 
Kilroy and Jacques Noir operate deep behind Axis lines. 

Who doesn't love some four-colour action? Two-fisted pulp heroes putting boot to Nazi backside and saving the plucky, determined (and pretty) correspondent girl? From classic Eisner through to Atomic Robo and New Invaders, WWII, weird science and pulp have been a fertile ground for comics since their inception. When I got started on playing supers, the Golden Age was my first stop outside of Marvel and DC. Playing Secrets of the Third Reich helped get me grounded in the setting, and now I'm ready to invade historical wargames tables and cause mischief by having caped lunatics throwing tanks around. Excelsior!