Saturday, August 29, 2015

ANI-MOVIES, *Batman: Year One

Before embarking on doing their 2-parter of The Dark Knight Returns, DC Universe decided to test the waters with Frank Miller's post-Crisis origin story of Batman: Year One. This was an canon telling of Batman's beginnings during his first year of operating as a masked manhunter. A lot of material from the original comic was later used for other adaptations like Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm and largely in Batman Begins, so if you've seen those already, it there aren't a lot of surprises on his end, but it's more about how Gotham City adapts to this new player in town, including the new police lieutenant.

After 12 years of training abroad, Bruce Wayne finally returns home to fight crime on his own terms, but James Gordon is also transferring to Gotham as an addition to the police department. Gordon starts rattling some internal cages as he realizes a lot of the city officials are on the take of the mob boss, Carmine Falcone. Bruce Wayne first tries out taking out some thugs wearing just a ski mask, but after getting beaten badly, he realizes he needs an edge over them. By way of possible providence, a bruised Bruce gets his answer as a large bat just happens to break through the window to his study, giving him the idea to take on the persona of Batman. This new vigilante starts causing problems for the mafia, and the police under their thumb, leading Gordon to take on a the assistance of the lovely Detective Essen, who he succumbs to having a brief affair with while his wife Barbara is pregnant with their first child. While out hunting for Batman, Gordon and Essen track Batman down after he saved a woman from getting run over. The SWAT team corners Batman in an abandoned building, so he uses a special sonic device that leads thousands of bats from the Batcave to downtown, and he escapes during the chaos. While this is going on, Selina Kyle is a prostitute that takes on the masked identity of Catwoman who decides to make a name for herself by scarring Falcone. The Don doesn't take this well, and has his nephew take his hatred out on Gordon by having him kidnap his wife and newborn son. An unmasked Bruce Wayne rushes to save them, leaving Gordon to trust this new vigilante, although not clearly showing he might now who he really is.

Also included in this is a short of Catwoman similar to the DC Showcase features which acts as a follow-up to Year One. Set sometime later, Catwoman is an established cat burgler and anti-hero who learns of a slave trade being conducted by gang leader Rough Cut(who supposedly was made up just for this short). After fooling him and his cronies that she was just another stripper at a nightclub, Catwoman follows Rough Cut to his warehouse, and causes him to have an epic crash into his boat, and she frees her old hooker friend Holly. There's a different style to this than from the main movie and it was mainly done to help pad out the movie for online broadcast as its only a little over an hour long, but still very worth it.

Year One makes for a definitive watch for any Batfan, although totally not for kids with all the serious adult situations and violence. The animation is acceptable, but Dark Knight Returns seemed to capture Frank Miller's idea a little better. Keeping in mind that its more of the beginnings of Commissioner Gordon that it is about Batman himself, it is still a compelling mature crime story. Bryan Cranston does a fantastic job as Gordon, while future Gordon on the Gotham TV series Benjamin McKenzie plays an acceptable Batman, although Kevin Conroy is still tops in my book.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

ANI-MOVIES, *Justice League: Gods And Monsters

While not being the first DC Universe movie based on an Elseworlds story, Justice League: Gods Ands Monsters is an original story in the spirit of Elseworlds and other "imaginary stories". This was written and directed by DC animated alumni Bruce Timm, along with Alan Burnett and Sam Register as a darker version of the Trinity, while excluding most of the other JLA regulars to make for a more streamlined storyline.

Set in a parallel universe from the canon DC comics, the last survivor of Krypton is actually the biological son of General Zod who as a baby crashes not in Smallville, but by immigrant Mexicans. Years later, more egotistical version of Superman has formed an alliance with two other heroes to form the Justice League. Their version of Wonder Woman is not an amazon but Bekka, an outcast resident of New Genesis and wife of Orion. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, while in the original universe he occasionally was Man-Bat is instead here an artificial vampire in the spirit of Mobius the Living Vampire who has none of the weaknesses of a vampire but still sometimes craves blood. The Justice League maintains a shaky alliance with the U.S. government, with Steve Trevor as an agent having an on-again/off-again romance with Wonder Woman. Lex Luthor has had knowledge of Superman's alien origins for years, and help form a group of eager scientists to come up methods of applying the little Kryptonian tech for the American armed forces. Members of this select think tank are being killed off by mysterious super-powered robots made to look like it's the League assassinating them. This trail leads Batman to his old college mates, Will Magnus and his wife Tina, whose research accidently help transform him into a bloodsucker. From them, Batman learns about a project title Fair Play, but sees all the other scientists aside from Magnus get killed by the robots. To uncover the mystery, Superman visits the aging Luthor in his orbital satellite who tells him that Fair Play was the government's contingency against the League if they ever went rogue, but that someone else is using this advance technology to frame them. Superman leaves, but witnesses Luthor's space pad getting destroyed, and the army thinks Superman blew it up. The armed forces converge on the League's tower, but Magnus' awakes inside after being brought back via nanotech magic, and reveals that the robots were his creations. Magnus years ago had killed Tina in a fit of rage because he was tired of hearing her ask him to help cure Batman's condition, so he recreated her as Platinum and decided to use this version of the Metal Men to take out the League, but also to gain access to the Superman's old ship to power up some device for him to launch a wave of nanobots all over the world to take everyone's minds. The League fights back at the Metal Men, and thwarts Magnus' plans while proving their innocence. Luthor appears at the end in his teleporting chair and offers to take Wonder Woman back to New Genesis, while the World's Finest stay behind to reconsider their approach to peacekeeping.

This made for an interesting take on the Big 3 of DC, with alternate versions of various DC characters, including a male Cheetah, a laser gun-toting Livewire, and legit takes on Mr. Freeze and Dr. Silvana. The animation is above average, although the story could've used a little more tweaking. There's so far been a 3-episode online animates prequal series to the movie, although for some reason it wasn't included on the Blu-Ray or DVD release. There's also a series of one-shot comics, and a 3-issue mini-series tied into the movie, although so far no plans have been made to have the Gods And Monsters universe crossover with the canon DC comics. This does make for a great take on the Justice League in an alternate reality, and a great leaping on for any fan of superheroes, although its not totally for kids.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

MISC. MANGA, *Felicia: The Sorceress' Apprentice

Felicia(no relation to the Darkstalkers character)has had a long career in the underground comics and fanzine circuit. An entire story arc ran through several fanzines, and was collected in the Melari's Wish trade paperback, plus she's been shown in several issues of Furrlough and Zu which were anthropomorphic anthology comics. But The Sorceress's Apprentice is a full original tale featuring the magical vixen.

In the anthropomorphic feline line of Katara, Felicia is a fox sorceress that used to live in the neighboring kingdom of Dogtaria, but was either exiled or left on her own to escape the tyranny of her homeland. She takes in a homeless girl from Dogtaria named Sandy, and begins to teach her in the ways of magic. Sandy is being stalked by dark magi from Dogtaria who know she's witness to an illegal slave trade ring. Felicia has Sandy and her elder pupil Cindy sent off to keep the dark magi off the scent, but they make their way back to Felicia's tower where she finishes them off. The whole experience strains the relationships the characters have with their friends and family, but they do end up better off for it.

This graphic novel is currently in print, and has some serious manga influence to it. Even if you're not a big "furry" fanatic, it makes for a good dramatic sorcery yarn, and the dangers of using magic with its effects on those who craft it.