Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood

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Amidst DC’s relaunch with the New 52, every title in their collection was restarted at issue #1, with numerous changes to continuity being established and laid forth in the ensuing comics.  Some things have changed, many remain the same, and some characters and events are as yet unknown as to how they play into this new multiverse.

I’d already read the first three trades of the newest Superman, so I knew that even the most seminal of characters would be facing some changes.  That being said, reading this Wonder Woman trade has only further proven to me that there is an inherent flaw in the way writers choose to tell Diana’s story. There have been numerous continuity shifts throughout the run of DC comics, but for the pillar characters of Superman and Batman, much of their mythology remains unchanged.  Superman was sent to Earth from a dying Krypton by his parents; Batman watched his parents be gunned down in Crime Alley.  The minor details may shift over the years, but these basic tropes are kept in place.

…And then there’s Diana. Over the years her origin has been rewritten countless times. She was the shaped from clay, she was Hippolyta’s child brought forth by the Gods.  Now, it is revealed that she is the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus.  These constant changes to the core being of a character as seminal as Wonder Woman have helped keep her from attaining the same mythological weight as her fellow heroes.   With so many changes, Diana’s history feels uncertain. Whereas Batman and Superman have certain facets of their history that remain unchanged, Diana’s is more blurry. Yes, she’s always an Amazon who travels to man’s world, but her motives and backstory vary enough to keep a clear image of her purpose from forming.  It leaves her character feeling uneven and ungrounded, something that is not true of the other key DC heroes. While Batman and Superman’s stories can generally be read as a single narrative despite the reboots and continuity shifts, Diana’s are often completely rewritten, making it difficult to align her stories into one cohesive history.

This leaves us with little choice but to approach each run on the title as self-contained. That being said, Brian Azzarello’s run so far has been quite well done. Wonder Woman, upon learning that Zeus is her father, strikes out on her own and attempts to defend a young girl (pregnant with Zeus’s child) from Hera’s wrath.  The goddess has vowed to destroy her husband’s mistress and unborn child (obnoxiously blaming the young girl who didn’t even know she was sleeping with a god rather than blame her philandering husband).  Diana does what she can to stop Hera, though facing off against numerous gods proves to be difficult.

I appreciate the fact that Azzarello enlists less common gods for his story. We get to see lesser names like Hermes and Strife, rather than solely focusing on the biggies like Ares and Zeus.  I enjoyed seeing Wonder Woman branch out within the mythology, acknowledging that there are more than just a small handful of gods to work with.  That being said, one minor issue I took with the story was the fact that Azzarello bounces back and forth between the Greek and Roman naming of the gods.  Within one scene, the same character refers to the king of the gods as both Zeus and Jupiter, and while both are technically the same name for one being, the inconsistency bothered me. Perhaps it was intentional to keep from locking in to a single mythology, pointing out that these are the gods of numerous civilizations. Nevertheless, it was a small detail that bugged me while reading, and took me out of the story a bit.

Overall Aazarello’s story was engaging and enjoyable, but at the same time I still can’t get over the fact that Diana’s story over the years is so disjointed. This is no fault of Azzarello’s, but rather the result of numerous writers reworking Diana’s origin, motives, and history.  Her story has a much less solid foundation than Superman or Batman’s, providing less for future writers to build upon.  Though one of the core three, Diana’s continues to remain the weakest of the three stories. It’s a shame, because it really feels like there is so much there to work with. No one can seem to agree on how she should be portrayed though: fierce warrior ready to fight at any given moment, proponent for peace who believes all life is sacred, or a combination of both?  Only when this motivation is worked out once and for all will her character be able to gain a more firm footing within the continuity.

-Jess

The Multiversity

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Have I mentioned how much I love Grant Morrison?

DC has gone back and forth with the concept of the multiverse for decades now. It existed, then it didn’t, then it did again. The idea was always interesting to me, but I must admit that at times I found it downright confusing.  The earliest hints of it, when all we had were Earths 1 and 2, was confusing enough, but at least could mostly be kept straight.  Once they threw in numerous Earths though, I got a little lost.  I’m on more firm ground now, but only after fumbling my way though multiple trades spanning decades of publication, constantly asking Mistah J to explain who is from which Earth or what makes that Earth different from another (the man has the patience of a saint).

I wish I could have had a collection like Multiversity earlier on in my readings.  Loosely interconnected stories about the various 52 Earths that comprise the multiverse, Grant Morrison’s Multiveristy attempts to explain just what the heck is going on in DC Comics after the New 52 launch.  Many of the issues collected here are just brief asides, meant to fill us in on what numerous obscure characters are up to in this new reality (Captain Carrot! You’re back!).  Occasionally people from various Earths will interact, reminding the reader that the worlds are all interconnected, but for the most part they exist on their own, and their stories merely help to flesh out this newly formed multiverse.

My favorite collection in this trade is smack dab in the middle, in which Grant Morrison puts together a handy-dandy compendium about each and every Earth in the multiverse.  He writes a brief summary of each world, noting who are the key heroes on that world, or what might set it apart from others.  He does this for EVERY Earth.

Well, almost every one. Since Morrison is a genius, he’s far too intelligent to shackle the entire DC writing team with his vision of the entire multiverse (at least that’s what I’m choosing to believe).  He left seven of the worlds as mysteries, saying that little is known about them at this time. This is brilliant, and you can’t tell me otherwise. Those worlds can remain mysterious until a time arises that a writer can make use of one of them, and create their own Earth within the multiverse that can play into a future story.  Much better planning that forcing a writer to work with what you’ve already roughly laid out, no?

They may not be super detailed, but the Earth descriptions are just enough to make me want to read more about many of them.  My favorite by far is hardly mentioned in this trade, sadly: Earth 11, a.k.a. the Girl Power Earth (that’s what I call it, at least) where women are the primary heroes.

Um…YES PLEASE. Somebody needs to write the heck out of an Earth 11 comic right now, thanks.

Given how obvious it is that DC wanted to create a natural jumping-on point for new readers, a series like Multiversity is only logical.  Morrison brought plenty of talent and creativity to it to keep the series from feeling stiff or encyclopedic, which I greatly appreciated.  There’s no doubt in my mind that many of these Earths will play into other New 52 comics (many already have, in fact) so I’m grateful for this primer on the various Earths I may encounter in my reading.

If only this existed back in my early days of reading “the shelf”, maybe I wouldn’t have been so utterly confused as to what the heck was going on. Oh well, if anything it shows me how far I’ve come, so I can’t really complain.

-Jess

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

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Well, I made a mistake and accidentally wrote these posts of out order. This was meant to come before my previous post on Bolt, but alas, I’m a dummy and reversed these two movies. Oh well, it may actually work in my favor, given what I want to talk about today…

Meet the Robinsons was the first Disney film in what felt like a very long time that I actually genuinely enjoyed.  In reality, it had only been a mere 5 years since I fell in love with Lilo and Stitch, but somehow those 5 years felt like a lifetime.  When I finally saw Meet the Robinsons, I felt as though Disney had finally found its voice again.  There had been plenty of memorable Pixar films released in that time, but as my previous posts outline, Disney’s films were a bit lackluster, to say the least.  Meet the Robinsons, at least for me, was a turning point.

The film tells the story of young Lewis, an orphaned boy fascinated by science who spends his time dreaming up inventions.  After a particulatly disasterous showing at the school science fair, Lewis is whisked away to the future by Wilbur Robinson, informed that he is the only person who can help stop the evil “bowler hat guy”.  What transpires after this is equal parts absurdity and heart. There are a handful of “reveals” throughout the film that I won’t spoil here, partially because I don’t want to give it away and partially because it’s a bit too elaborate to accurately summarize.  Without revealing too much, let’s just say that a dinosaur, singing frogs, and a meatball cannon are all involved.

This film is silly. There are numerous points that feel downright ludicrous and completely out of touch with reality. Why then do I consider this a great example of a Disney film? Because despite all of this, Disney manages to keep the film grounded.  Yes, there are fantastical elements, including time travel and sentient robots, and there are plenty of absurd elements that don’t scream “Disney”.  Even so, the heart of this film is about a young boy’s search for a family to call his own, and Disney keeps the tone light while never letting you forget that key plot point.

I’ve found that this balance is key to any great Disney film.  Aladdin has incredibly light-hearted, funny moments (mostly due to the genius that was Robin Williams), but at its heart there is a lesson about chasing your dreams and fighting for what you want in life.  Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King each have characters who serve as comedic relief, but each respective film still has darker, more serious elements. These not only make it more appealing to adult viewers, but to children as well, not bothering to pander to a younger audience but instead treating children with the respect and understanding that they can comprehend these deeper elements, at least on some level.

In addition to the overall tone, Meet the Robinsons surpasses its successor Bolt by being silly, but being earnest in its silliness.  Bolt was too self-conscious for its own good, poking fun at a character who would believe that magic powers were real.  Meet the Robinsons may switch out “magic” for “science”, but the same basic principle is at work.  The movie embraces its humorous and extraordinary elements, never apologizing for depicting something that may not fit into our “rational” world.  I find this to be far more endearing than watching Disney self-consciously stumble through a film as they worry that the magic we all loved as children isn’t catchy enough for today’s youth.

Meet the Robinsons is not a perfect film, but it is far better than many Disney churned out in this period.  Again, perhaps I’m biased, and am simply holding all films to the gold standard of the Disney heyday of my youth. Surely no future Disney movies could ever live up to my childhood nostalgia?  Probably not, but Meet the Robinsons does a great job of trying, and appreciate the ability to prolong my childhood by even the briefest of moments.

-Jess

Bolt (2008)

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I watched this movie once when it was first released on DVD. Of course, I was babysitting a 4-year old at the time who spent the whole film putting stickers all over my face, so I can’t say I remember much of it. I had thought that it was somewhat decent though, at least as far as I remembered. I was even happy to be out of Disney’s dreary slump, figuring this would be a step in the right direction.

Sigh. I hate when I’m wrong, especially when it means sitting through another Disney misstep.  The opening scene, though a bit surprising, grabbed my attention. It feels a lot like an action film, with a supe-rpowered dog battling bad guys and trying to save his owner.  About two minutes into the film we realized that Bolt was basically Krypto the Wonder-Dog, pondered why a studio didn’t just make that movie because it would be such an easy success, and then decided to just go with the “Bolt is really Krypto” thing because it made the film more enjoyable. I figured we were in for an odd but enjoyable ninety minutes.

…And then the first scene ended, and it’s revealed that the whole thing is all scripted for a television series.  For some unknown reason, the producers decided that they got a better reaction out of Bolt when the dog believed he actually has superpowers, and so never let him see the cameras/find out that it’s all fake.

Um…what the heck??  First of all, how do you hide an entire film crew from a friggin’ dog, and why would you even bother?  This is completely nonsensical and quite frankly turned me off from the movie early on. I’m totally fine suspending disbelief, but that’s generally for more fantastical situations. If we’re supposed to be watching this movie knowing full-well that there are no super-powered puppies running around, then the rest of the film should be equally rooted in reality.  Not so. Instead, an episode of the show ends with Bolt’s owner Penny being “kidnapped”, and Bolt, believing it’s real, runs away to try and rescue her.

What follows is painfully predictable. Bolt meets up with a couple side characters (a street-wise alley cat and a t.v.-addicted hamster) and slowly realizes that he doesn’t really have special powers after all.  The cat teaches him how to be a proper dog (fetching, drinking out of the toilet, etc etc) as they make their way across country to try to get back to Penny.

The climax of the film ends with Penny and Bold being trapped in a burning building, with a surprisingly ominous scene in which the two seem to resign themselves to dying in the fiery inferno.  It’s up to Bolt to use his “super bark” to save the day, alerting a rescue team to their whereabouts. The film abruptly ends with Penny and Bolt leaving the show in favor of a quieter, real life, complete with the newly adopted cat and hamster.

I wanted to like this movie, honestly.  After a slew of less-than-stellar films, I had high hopes that Disney would turn it around with this one. Unfortunately, it just feels like it misses the mark yet again.  Bolt at least attempts to instill a sense of heart into the film, a trademark of any true Disney classic, but it just doesn’t quite live up to the expected level of sentiment.  I think my primary issue with the movie is that it feels too self-conscious; had the film been a straight-up “superhero dog” movie, I probably would have liked it better. As it stands though, it’s as though Disney was too worried that something so basic would work, and so spend much of the film poking fun at Bolt for believing that his powers are real. A word to Disney writers: magic is sort of your bread and butter. People love your films because of the magical, fantastical element. We want to believe that anything is possible, no matter how far-fetched. The Disney crew on this film just didn’t seem to believe in their power to convince the audience that that magic was real, and so left us with a film that feels a bit flat and too condescending to be a true Disney classic.

Bolt is not the worst of the worst, but I had higher hopes going in. I’ve seen it, but I think once is enough for me. Knowing what films await me in upcoming weeks, I know Disney is capable of so much more, and that it’s not just my adult bias clouding my judgement.  Future films on the list of Disney releases will garner a great deal of praise from me, even though they were released in my adult years. Sadly, Bolt is not one of them. It’s missing the earnest sentiment and belief that anything’s possible that makes a Disney film truly great.

-Jess

Justice League Volume 1: Origin

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Before I started reading this trade, Mistah J described it as, “Geoff Johns’s pitch for a Justice League movie”.  I honestly can’t think of a better description. Luckily for Johns, it works incredibly well here.

The writing is sharp and witty, with each character bringing a distinct personality to the table. I’ve read plenty of lesser Justice League comics in which the overall story may be good, but the individual character development is lacking.  Characters are sometimes left behind for the sake of the larger story.  Being a fan of the individuals characters themselves, I tend to favor those types of stories, so Johns’s take on the Justice League was right up my alley.

The story here is not complete, no doubt continued in later trades, but this collections helps to jump-start the entire New 52 run.  With the timeline rebooted, the League is no longer the old and trusted team they once were. Instead, we’re greeted with a new incarnation, with all of the distrust and quippy dialogue one would expect from such encounters.  My personal favorites here are the exchanges between Batman and Green Lantern. While there has never been any love lost between Bruce and Hal, Johns brings a great balance between humor and animosity to the meeting of these two heroes.  For some reason I really enjoy watching the heroes spar, especially when they first meet. Given that they each have such strong, distinct personalities, it only makes sense that they would butt heads while trying to figure out how to navigate working together.  The realism in this is fascinating, and makes the comics that much more enjoyable.

I’m not very far into the New 52 continuity at this point, but it seems clear that much has changed. Whether it’s for the better or worse has yet to be seen, but it certainly feels different than anything else I’ve read within DC’s continuity so far.

-Jess

 

 

Chicken Little (2005)

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Can someone please explain to me what happened to Walt Disney Animation Studios in the early 2000s?  It seems they made a slew of bad films during that time, and Chicken Little is no exception.  I came into this one knowing nothing about the film, and only vaguely knowing the fairy tale it was based on;  “The sky is falling,” and all of that.  I didn’t have very high hopes going in, but I decided to keep an open mind on the off-chance that I was wrong and that this was an underrated Disney classic.

As it turns out, no such luck.  The film begins with tiny Chicken Little declaring that the sky is falling. He has no proof, and the entire town thinks he’s completely nuts. In an effort to fit in and please his disgruntled father, Chicken Little joins the school baseball team, trains tirelessly, and makes the winning run to win the championship game. If this had all been a brief opening scene to lead into the main plot of the film, it may have been fine. Unfortunately, this whole storyline encompasses half of the film. It isn’t until after Chicken Little wins the game that he finds a piece of the fallen sky, and realizes that the sky is falling for real.  He and his friends investigate, only to find out that…it’s aliens.  Aliens are apparently trying to take over the Earth, and as the full-scale invasion is taking place, Chicken Little and friends must get to the bottom of it. They soon realize that the aliens are not invading, but are merely looking for their lost child. Chicken Little finds the baby alien, returns him to his family, and all is well.

…Why??

The plot is far-fetched and oddly paced, with the movie feeling like two completely separate and disjointed stories.  The film tries hard to be funny, injecting  jokes and physical comedy into the film that largely fall flat. It seems obvious Disney was trying to draw on the appeal of contemporary Dreamworks releases like Shrek, making use of modern songs throughout the film in place of an original score.  Unfortunately, this isn’t what I’ve come to expect from Disney, and so found myself longing for the more classic Disney tropes.  I don’t know what inspired Disney to go with a retelling of the “Chicken Little” fairy tale. I’m not adverse to the company making the tales more kid-friendly (ever read the original “Little Mermaid”? That would have been a drastically different story had Disney stayed true to the source material), but Chicken Little misses the mark entirely, resulting in a film that is rather bland and boring.

It makes me sad to write so many negative reviews about Disney films, especially all in a row, but it can’t be helped. While Pixar was churning out one classic film after another, Disney was struggling to find its own voice.  I take comfort in knowing that soon enough I’ll be back in familiar territory, with more classically styled Disney films that are far more reminiscent of the movies from my childhood.  It’s only natural that the studio would falter once or twice during its long run, and while it’s disappointing to admit that, at least there are plenty of other far superior films to enjoy in their vault.  I wouldn’t personally count Chicken Little among those, and honestly can’t imagine that many would.  At least there are better films awaiting me; I’m eager to move on to those, and get away from these chicken/alien nonsense stories.

-Jess

Home on the Range (2004)

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What the actual frack, Disney??  Were the normal creators all on vacation this year, so you let some high interns make a Disney Animated Feature??  How did this trainwreck of a film even happen??

Imagine this: Take Roseanne Barr, and have her voice a cartoon cow. The end. That’s the entire plot of Home on the Range, or at least the only plot I could find. There’s some sort of story buried in there about a trio of cows going off on an adventure to stop a cattle thief and collect a reward to save their farm from being sold, but given how absurd it sounds even as I type it out, I’m going to just move right along.

This film is basically a trainwreck masquerading as a Disney film.  There is no heartwarming lesson, no endearing characters that appeal to viewers. We just get a handful of random barnyard animals thrown into a movie without any discernible purpose or direction.  The characters try way too hard to be funny, while lacking any sort of depth.  The jokes are contrived and often fall flat. Perhaps this is funny to a 5-year old, but I couldn’t find anything redeemable about it.

Now before anyone goes off thinking I’m some sort of movie snob, let me just say that I love me some bad movies.  A truly awful bad movie is so much fun to watch, generally because it winds up being unintentionally funny and for some reason I find that hilarious. Home on the Range, however, is not that type of bad movie.  It’s dull, plain and simple.  It’s a bland, generic attempt at storytelling, and feels more like a direct-to-video Dreamworks movie than a Disney animated classic.  I don’t know what prompted Disney to release this in theaters, but I’m glad it’s behind me.  I most assuredly will not be watching this one again.  Now if only I could go back in time and stop myself from watching it the first time.

-Jess