Impressions of The X-Files: Conspiracy

The X-Files always walked a fine line of verisimilitude. Science fiction and horror have different lines whereby viewers will suspend their disbelief, and since The X-Files played in both genres, it could often be hit or miss. As such, shape-shifting, extraterrestial bounty hunters lacked the verisimilitude of horror but were fine in science fiction. Conversely, mysterious lights in the night sky work for both genres.

All this to say, doing a comic book cross-over in which Mulder, Scully, and the Lone Gunmen work with the Ghostbusters, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Autobots doesn’t so much throw verisimilitude out the window as much as it dresses it up in a Guy Fawkes mask, ties it to a pole, and burns it to a crisp.

There is also calliope music in the background.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

What’s it about? In another reality, Lex Luther is a good, but he is being chased by The Crime Syndicate, which is made up of evil versions of the DC heroes we know and love.  Luther finds a way to “our” Earth and enlists the aid of The Justice League to defeat The Crime Syndicate.

Kevin Conroy. The primary problem with any DC Universe animated film is the

Similarly, I am not Mark Hamill

question of Batman.  Two questions, really.  First, is Batman in the film.  Second, does Kevin Conroy do the voice?   If the answer to this second question is no, then the film will automatically suffer.  There is no other Batman but Conroy.  This is a fact.

That said, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, henceforth abbreviated as JLCoTE, already has one strike against it.  I’m not sure why Conroy wasn’t in the film.  Perhaps he wasn’t available.  Seeing as this film was produced by Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, two of the minds behind Batman: The Animated Series, it would have made perfect sense for the voice continuity.  As it stands, William Baldwin provides the voice.  While he does a passable job, it just isn’t Conroy.  No offense to Baldwin, I rather like him as Jayne in Firefly, but he does not bring the nuance of emotion to Batman that Kevin Conroy provides.

The Negative. Voices are my main concern with this film.  Superman is performed by Mark Harmon, a performance which works in some scenes but not in others.  Possibly the two standout performances are Jonathan Adams as J’onn J’onzz and James Woods as Owlman.  But these are the two characters who get the most emotional depth and attention.  J’onn has a character arc where he grows close to Rose Wilson.  These scenes are handled rather well and are an unexpected highlight of the film.  Owlman is cold and emotionless.  Being the evil version of Batman, he has the same temperment and emotional temptations.  However, in this world he became evil.  As Batman says at the climax of the film, “We both looked into the abyss, but you blinked.”  Owlman is the ultimate Nihilist, he believes everything is pointless, including reality.  This is why he wants to destroy it.  Woods conveys a straight, near emotionless delivery that effectively aids the characterization.

Yes, Owlman wants to destroy reality.  This is problem number two with the story.  I can’t quite get behind villains who want to destroy all of reality, which also means they wish to destroy themselves.   Part of the logic of the film is that every decision we make creates an alternate Earth where we made the opposite decision.  This multiverse, however, has a point of origin: Earth Prime.  It is the first Earth, the one all Earths are connected to.  Thus, if it is destroyed, all of reality is destroyed.  Therefore, the only decision of any consequence is the decision to destroy Earth Prime.  It is the only action that has any meaning.  I think this story just about gets away with this as a motivation.  It is thought out and Owlman is portrayed this way to the very end, his last words before his plan fails and he dies being, “It doesn’t matter.”

Next problem, the Mafia.  The Crime Syndicate is portrayed as a Mafia-like organization where the U.S. is divided into territories and trusted lieutenants become “made-men”, meaning they are given superpowers.   This is an interesting concept, but the Mafia influence also translates to over-the-top Italian dialogue and accents.  It seems strange to listen to Ultraman (the evil version of Superman) threaten Lex Luther with an Italian accent.

The Positive. Enough of the gripes.  What works?  The fun of the film, for me, was trying

President Slade makes me smile.

to identify the characters.  There are a lot of cameos in this one, my particular favorite being the Supers who bore a slight resemblance to The Marvel Family.  Even though they were evil, they instantly became my favorite characters.  I’ve hardly read any comics starring The Marvel Family, but I love them all the same.  I can’t figure out why.

The most impressive part of this film?  The fights!  Seriously, these are some amazing, well-choreographed fights.   You see the characters move into different positions and footing, reflecting actual fighting styles.  These aren’t just blind punches and kicks, they are nuanced maneuvers.  I especially loved when The Flash was fighting Johnny Quick and despite fighting each other at super speed, The Flash would also throw out quick punches at whatever villain he passed just to give his teammates a bit of help.  Great care was given to analyze fighting styles for the different characters and utilize them in whatever way suited their powers.  I give them high marks for this.

Batman. Batman is my favorite of the DC characters.  Truly, my favorite super-hero.  I usually think of him more as a mystery man since he has no super powers.  He is just a man who is well-trained.  The Batman in this film is inconsistently portrayed.  At times, he has humor, at other times he is harsh and cold.  It really seems as if two different takes on Batman were being presented, and I don’t think they meshed.  This is a Batman who stole The Flash’s pretzel at the beginning of the film, and tricked Johnny Quick to sacrifice his life at the end.  I can come up with all kinds of ways to justify these differences, but it would be just that: justification.

Overall, this was not one of my favorite DC animated stories.  However, it is still quite good even if I wasn’t a big fan of it.  Besides, DC Animated cannot hit perfection every time.  And even though I didn’t care as much for this one, I am eager to see others.  There was so much potential in this story, I’d love to see more.

So long as Kevin Conroy is Batman.

Green Lantern #61 and Batman, Inc #2

Rar!

Green Lantern #61
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, and a ton of inkers.

After the disappointment of Batman: The Dark Knight, Green Lantern came as a relief.  This is funny to me since I have felt for the last few issues that Green Lantern has been treading water.  Yes, the story and art have been good, they just haven’t been all that interesting to me.  If nothing else, they have been predictable.  Yes, Parallax would possess The Flash.  That was signposted in the opening pages of #59.  Issue #60 saw the inevitable fight and ultimate revelation of the new villain of the story, The Mad Guardian, a revelation that was on the level of Nekron from Blackest Night (underwhelming).  The final line was also cheesy beyond words.  But with #61 we have what made me a fan of Geoff Johns to begin with:  the balance of intrigue, super-hero action, and character.

Issue 61 focuses on Atrocitus as he hunts for the Rage Entity, The Butcher.  The Butcher finds a home in a father who is attending the execution of his daughter’s murderer.  The Butcher then attempts to use the rage of the father to kill the murderer.  In a wonderful twist, The Spectre appears, forbidding The Butcher access to the murderer.  Vengeance on Earth is the province of The Spectre.  Naturally, a fight ensues.  The murderer is killed.  Atrocitus arrives to capture The Butcher and take him back to Ysmalt.  Atrocitus and The Spectre have a conversation about the role of emotion in vengeance.  It is all rather good, and the art is wonderful.  The Butcher looks especially chilling and awesome.

These are the types of stories I like from Johns.  There are wonderful character moments, hints at big things to come, and it all doesn’t seem too bogged down in continuity or rehashing the past.  There has been a lot of that lately in Green Lantern, and while it has often worked, I’m growing tired of it.  I’m ready for some well-crafted, close-to-home stories similar to those Johns did in his first year or two on the title.  Sometimes I fear he may be spreading himself too thing over the DC Universe.

Why is Mr. Unknown making a monkey pose?

Batman, Inc #2
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Yanick Paquette, Michel Lacombe

The first thing you notice when you open a comic is the art, so I’ll start there.  I have hated the art on this title.  This comes as a surprise to me because I know Yanick Paquette has worked with Morrison in the past and I’ve never hated the art on a Morrison title like I have on this one.  This leads me to wonder who is ultimately to blame: Michel Lacombe on inks, Nathan Fairbairn on colors, or is Paquette somehow still responsible for my dislike.  Oddly enough, the fact that this story takes place in Japan makes the art fit.  I know, I’ve said I don’t like the art, but for whatever reason it still seems to fit the Japanese cityscapes.  Perhaps a decision was made to do a manga-influenced style while the story is in Japan.  Regardless, I hope issue 3 moves away from this particular look.  I’m all for experimentation, but in this case, I really would prefers something more traditional.

The story itself concludes what was started in issue #1.  Bruce Wayne is in Japan with Selina Kyle and he is looking to recruit the Japanese Batman.  He puts the candidate through a test while also tracking down Death Man, a character from the Batman Manga.  Death Man is an odd character, but as usual, Morrison finds a way to get past the weirdness and make him chilling.  The actual motivations of the killer seem secondary to the theatrics, but that’s been typical for many Batman villains over the decades.

I can’t help but feel Morrison is taking a break, having some fun having just finished bringing Bruce Wayne “back from the dead”.  This might be the calm before the next storm.  While it all seems somewhat light and a bit fluffy from where the Bat-titles have just come, with Morrison there is always the promise of something deeper and more horrifying just around the corner.  It may be another year or two of stories before we get there, but I’m sure it is on its way.

I have one more title from today’s excursion to the comic shop:  Batman Annual 28.  I have not read it, however, because I’m a bit irritated with it.  I had no idea that there was a story that started in the Detective Comics Annual this year, and that this story is concluded in Batman Annual 28.  This has been an irritating trend in comics recently.  At one time you could get a complete story in an annual (sometimes two or three complete stories).  Flipping through 28, I saw that there are two complete back-up stories following the second half of “All The Rage”.  Why couldn’t “All the Rage” just appear in ONE title?  I’m sorry, but if I’m going to put out $4.99 for a comic, I would like it to be complete, or at least feel that way.  The only reason I even bought it was because the comic guy pulled it for me because he thought I might be interested.  I wanted to help support him.  I accomplished this, so I guess I can say something good about the comic.

And apparently the cover to part 1 forms a bigger picture when combined with part 2. Well worth your $5.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1

When I made my list for 2011, I decided to “Write reviews for every book I read, movie I go to, and show I watch.” In hindsight, I’m not sure whether or not I intended to review every book I read.  By this, I mean comics.  I don’t buy too many comics.  I regularly purchase Batman, Batman and Robin, and just started with Batman, Inc.  My wife gets the Green Lantern titles.   But this week, I had some extra money, so I picked up Batman: The Dark Knight #1.  I was excited about this story for two reasons.  First, well, it’s Batman.  Second, it is by David Finch.  This means he wrote AND illustrated the book.  I’ve enjoyed David Finch ever since I first saw his work on a few Ultimate X-Men stories back when Brian Bendis was on the title.  They later collaborated on The New Avengers when Bendis began his bid to be the new Stan Lee by setting pretty much all of Marvel’s storylines into the next decade.  I didn’t follow things very long.  I stopped reading Marvel for two reasons.  First, I couldn’t afford to follow all the Grant Morrison stuff at DC AND keep getting Marvel titles (Daredevil in particular).  Second, The Amazing Spider-Man #545.

This is what I expected.

Anyway, getting back to Batman before I start my Spider-Man rant, Grant Morrison has been doing some wonderful stuff with Batman.  He has shaken up the core of what the title is, and rebuilt it for a new era where international terrorism makes the news more often than the crimes the Caped Crusader has traditionally fought.  This new era was set forth in Batman: The Return, in which Bruce Wayne began to investigate international crime organizations while recruiting people to become “Batman” in other countries.  Basically, Bruce Wayne is franchising Batman.  David Finch provided the art for this story, and it was beautifully dark and gritty.  I went in to The Dark Knight #1 expecting the same thing.

I was disappointed.

Finch turns in his normal art, which I said before that I like (and still do), but I was hoping

This is what I got. Not bad, just unexpected.

for something similar to The Return.  Art aside, the story was somewhat underwhelming for me.  Having recently revisited Grant Morrison’s entire run on the Batman titles, The Dark Knight seems so…pedestrian.  Bruce Wayne is investigating the disappearance of Gotham socialite Dawn Golden, a friend (and later ex-lover) who he knew before his parents were murdered.  Bruce has put aside his international excursions to investigate her disappearance.  For whatever reason, he deems this case worth his attention rather than turn it over to Dick Grayson, who is the current Batman for Gotham City.

Each Batman title seems to be covering a different focus.  Batman, Inc. is Bruce Wayne’s international Batman stories.  Batman is Dick Grayson as Batman in Gotham.  Batman and Robin continues with Dick Grayson as Batman joined by Damien Wayne as Robin.  Detective Comics is Dick Grayson acting more as the detective rather than the superhero. Part of me wonders if The Dark Knight is meant to be the title with Bruce Wayne as Batman in Gotham.  Looking over the above list, it would seem that the majority of the titles focus on Grayson, so a Bruce Wayne title is needed.  Since there was a successful movie in recent history titled The Dark Knight, what better way to capitalize on interest in Bruce Wayne and Batman than to use the same title for a comic.  Will this comic have strong ties to the Morrison-driven continuity?  Only time will tell.  At $3.99 per issue, however, I’m not sure I’ll stick around to find out.