Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Blog Gotham by Gaslight Review Title

Wait, it was him?!

Okay, I’ll admit I’ve been staying away from the DC universe animated movies of late. They seem to have lost something recently, I keep seeing clips and sneak peeks and my interest just isn’t there. There’s either an overabundance of darkness and violence where it isn’t needed (Batman: Bad Blood, I did not need to see a guy’s head explode thank you very much) or they just get terrible reviews (Batman and Harley Quinn). Gotham by Gaslight though, that had my attention and yes I know I just complained about excessive darkness, and this film gets incredibly dark, but if there’s any place that that kind of thing feels appropriate it’s a story about Batman taking on Jack the Ripper. Batman can fit into almost any setting, but a Victorian one feels more appropriate than most. It adds to his gothic appeal, those smog covered streets, that architecture against a moonlit night, I don’t know why this sort of thing doesn’t turn up more.

Now, this movie is based on a comic, which I have never read. So speaking to this film’s adaptation is kind of out of the window (I will get round to the comic eventually it’s on a very, very long list of comics, books, films and TV shows that I must own at some point). However, this film gives me pretty much everything I’d ask for from the concept. A host of characters reimagined in this new period? Check. Steampunk gadgets for our caped crusader? Check. Rooftop chases, contests of strength and intelligence as well as some detective work (i.e. the stuff Batman is really good at)? Check. Mystery and drama as our hero hunts through the back alleys of Gotham all leading to an epic final confrontation? Check. Could there have been more characters and namedrops, more gadgets and such? Sure, but I think they would have probably cluttered up the film too much if you tried to cram absolutely everything in. This is a pretty simple film with a simple story, it’s really an introduction to a world similar to the one we’re all familiar with, but not entirely (I’ll come back to this).

Characterwise Batman is Batman, obviously. Bruce Greenwood puts in a really good performance as a dark knight who’s just starting out. He’s guarded and clinically minded, but still makes mistakes and has a ways to go in the brawling department, which I appreciate. I like a Batman that hasn’t evolved into the Bat-God yet. Also the film makes use of his detective and observation skills, which I always appreciate. The other characters all feel like themselves too, even if on the outside they’re wildly different. Such as the street urchins that are Dick, Jason and Tim (the robins to those that don’t know) and the two-faced Harvey who shows his ugly side without the need of getting half his face burnt off among others. Though if I can take a moment, and please excuse the language, but…you bastards! Not only do you give my Ivy precious little screen time, but you let the Butcher have her! How dare you! I’ll…(Sound effect: being restrained and sedated.)

I’m back. Sorry, I…I…have a thing. I’m better now. Anyway, my favourite character has to be Selina. She’s smart, intelligent and won’t take any nonsense off of anyone; you feel the chemistry between her and Batman. She’s his equal and that’s the way Catwoman should be.

I suppose that brings me to Jack himself and while I’ll try not to spoil it I do want to talk about it. So, if you want to go in completely blank about the Ripper, skip this paragraph. So, Jack, I can see the reveal upsetting a fair few people. Like I said before I’ve never read the comic, so I don’t know if it was the same there, but damn you’ve got some balls. It takes one of the fundamental pillars of the Batman mythos, a character that should be unshakable, and twisted them into a completely new direction. It’s just…It’s…I don’t have the words. My jaw hit the floor when they did the reveal. “You can’t do that!” I cried and yet it made perfect sense. It fit this version of the character and that’s the thing. These are not the characters we all know and love, they may be similar, so very similar, but this is not the canon DC Universe. This is a different world and here there are no rules. There are no characters that are untouchable and I admire this film so much for taking something I thought to be fundamental and smashing my expectations into pieces with it. If the rest of this film was as daring as this reveal I think we’d have a classic on our hands.

On the animation front I like the style they’ve gone for. It’s clean and simple and allows the focus to be on the action and the performances. I also really like the designs of all the characters, simple, but effective. The action is great with lots of fast motion and heavy blows, I especially like the fight between Batman and Jack on the blimp. Though this film isn’t entirely action, it also does a good job of building tension, giving a real feel for this gas lit world.

When it comes down to it Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a short and sweet story, giving us a glimpse of a world very similar to the one we know, but not quite. It’s driven by good performances, good writing and good animation, and while I don’t think it’s going to change anybody’s world, I’m glad I saw it. I’d love to spend more time in this world with these characters. I’m hopeful for the DC Universe movies again and, strangely, that’s the note the film leaves on too. Despite the horror that came before, there is hope for the future, a chance to build something better.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman The Killing Joke Review

Blog Killing Joke Review Title

There were these two guys in a lunatic asylum…

It’s funny really, when you think about it. The animated adaptation of the Killing Joke has probably been one of the most highly anticipated DC animated films of all time and within days of it being released the internet quickly turned it into one of the most despised. I really didn’t know what to expect, I mean it’s Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, and the Killing Joke is a great Batman story (and probably one of the greatest Joker stories), how bad could it possibly be? So here we are, time to throw my voice in with the choir, will I join the chorus or go for a solo? Can I stretch this metaphor out anymore? Probably not, let’s get on with it!

What’s the Story? Well for those of you who haven’t read the Killing Joke (What are you doing? Go read it. Go read it!) this is the Joker’s origin story, or at least a possible origin story, the Joker himself is so far down the rabbit hole he’s not too sure of its authenticity himself, but more than that this is a tale of madness and what one bad day can do to you.

First things first, that prologue that isn’t a prologue (it lasts for 30 minutes; it’s an episode, end of story). This is probably the part of the film that upset fans the most, and when it comes down it it’s… ok. I mean, really? This is what everyone was getting so bent out of shape about? I was expecting far worse, though I suppose that’s why it’s not so bad for me. I was expecting something horrible and instead I got something average with a few questionable moments. If I went into this film blind, hyped up on my expectations to see the Killing Joke and then this ‘prologue’ played, yeah, I’d burn the cinema down. I come to the Killing Joke for an examination of the Joker, his relationship with Batman and a possible origin story, I did not come to see Batgirl and Batman banging on a rooftop (we’ll get to that in a minute).

The idea of the prologue isn’t a bad one. The Killing Joke does need more Barbara Gordon in it because if you just go off of the comic she shows up, gets shots and that’s it, her point in the story is to use her maiming as a way to drive Jim Gordon crazy (which is really bad). Luckily the comic has history and continuity on its side so you can treat the Killing Joke as moment in Barbara’s life, a pivotal one, which allows her to show how truly great a hero she is, rising out of this tragedy to becoming an even better hero, Oracle. A film doesn’t have that. It’s standalone and that causes problems with the Barbara part, so I get adding a bit to the beginning of the film to introduce the audience to Barbara, to show her as Batgirl in her prime, to prove she’s more than just a victim and make us care for her plight.

The problem is that it doesn’t show Batgirl at her best. She comes across as whiny and overemotional half the time, there are moments were she gets to show her skills in combat and a brief glimpse of her computer skills, but all it feels like an average animated episode of one of the series. The talk about the abyss feels a little force and trying to make that Paris guy Batgirl’s own personal Joker doesn’t have the emotional punch it needs. Then we come to the sex scene. Look, Mr. Timm, Bruce, I know you ship the whole Batgirl/Batman romance, but you’re kind of in the minority there. Personally I don’t think Batgirl would see Batman in that way, maybe at the very start of her career she could have a little bit of hero worship that could be mistaken for something else, but that’s about as far as it goes, being Batgirl should be about more that pining after the Dark Knight, and Batman himself would certainly never reciprocate. Also the scene itself is kind of pointless, it comes out of nowhere and has no effect afterwards, it’s kind of like the prologue itself in that regard. You could skip the whole thing and be none the worse for wear. It fails on all counts really, it doesn’t introduce Batgirl very well, it doesn’t connect or build on the themes of the Killing Joke and it doesn’t make us care.

On to the main feature itself. It’s the Killing Joke in animated form, go watch it. It has its problems, but for the most part it’s worth the price of admission. I almost died from joy listening to Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reciting some of those killer lines from the comic, it’s what I’ve always dreamed of. I grew up on the animated series, those two are the Joker and Batman and I tend to hear their voices whenever I read the characters in comics, so this just felt so right to me. It also highlights another flaw with the prologue (I’ll shut up about it after this, I swear), here the animation and writing hit another level. There are moments in this were the animation blows anything else out of the water, I felt it when Barbara hit that table, I love that shot of the Joker just after he’s transformed and the fights are gorgeous. The writing is, well mostly it’s word for word from the comic just with a few additions, which brings me to a problem.

I think this adaptation is a little too faithful, as sacrilegious as that might sound. It does most things as the comic did it, and that makes the film feel a bit restrained. It lacks a certain sense of style to some transitions and scenes because I feel the creators where too nervous about making changes. They couldn’t put their own stamp on this and really go for it, I wouldn’t want any major changes, just more a sense of showmanship (this is the Joker’s story after all). There was no real transition into the flashback, they just came and went, and I never felt that Jim Gordon was on the very edge of breaking down. There were some scenes that just happened too quickly, the Joker’s first laugh is way too quick to come, the comic is helped by the fact that it’s just artwork and dialogue you can read it as fast or slow as you like, but I felt some drama was missing from that scene. I was never really on the edge of my seat until that final scene where Batman and the Joker face off, Conroy and Hamill getting to stretch their muscles a bit, it was fantastic.

In the end, I think Batman The Killing Joke is a bit of a disappointment, but it’s not awful. It has its flaws and you could skip the first 30 minutes without losing anything, but it’s still a great Joker story and it’s fantastic to hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the roles. It’s worth a watch is what I’ll say, whether you watch it again is up to you. Have a good day.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice League Crisis on Two Earths

Blog Crisis on 2 EarthsTitle

This is not like the Jedi mind trick.

So I’m closing out DC month with my favourite DC original animated movie, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. This movie isn’t actually based off of a comic, but instead an abandoned DCAU (DC Animated Universe) episode that was supposed to bridge the gap between the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons. Now there are a few changes here and there to make it so that this film stands by itself, but I do get a giddy kind of nerd glee out of spotting where all the connections would have been. That isn’t the only reason why I love this film though, but we’ll get to that in a minute. What’s the story?

We open with Lex Luthor and the Joker breaking into some kind of facility to steal a shiny thing. Pretty soon they’re being chased, and we start to notice that something is off here (outside of the Joker’s terrible dress sense). The Joker acts oddly heroic, staying behind to hold off their pursuers while Lex gets away. Then we get our first good look at the pursuers, weird looking versions of Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl, who the Joker promptly blows up. Yep. This is an alternate Earth where everything is switched around. Bad guys are good guys. Deathstroke is President. Ultimate Spider-man is universally praised as the best cartoon ever. That kind of thing.

Anyway, on the justice league’s Earth, everyone is lending a hand repairing the Watchtower (the Justice League’s base in orbit, because of course they have a base in outer space they’re the Justice League), when alternate Luthor (I’m going to name him Lex-2) lands on this Earth. This leads to one of the funniest moments in the film, where Lex-2 has a conversation with Superman, Wonder Woman and Flash while naked (I’m not going to explain why he’s naked, I’m just going to let that image sit with you). The script for this film is pretty much perfect to me. It’s bursting with brilliant and funny one-liners, it has a ton of action-packed fights, every character gets something to do at one point, and the dialogue between all of the characters is just amazing to listen to. Throw in a great voice cast and some DC animators at the top of their game and you have, for me anyway, as close to a perfect Justice League movie as you’re going to get.

You can guess where the story is going from here. Lex-2 convinces this Earth’s Justice League to come to his Earth and stop their evil counterparts, the Crime Syndicate. After a little bit of debate everyone decides to go, except for Batman. I do really like this scene. While there’s talk of not trusting a Luthor, and another dimension being outside of their jurisdiction, there are people in danger and they’re going to help. You know, like heroes should. These are very much the classic Justice League, there’s no need to be dark or gritty here, there are people who use their incredible powers to fight for what’s right. Might for Right, as opposed to the ‘Might makes Right’ of the Crime Syndicate. These are the heroes I grew up with and admired as a kid.

Of course this film isn’t just blindly optimistic, light does cast a shadow and in this film that shadow is Batman (naturally). He does what the others can’t. Now while he is opposed to killing, he’s not so opposed to tricking the bad guys into risking their lives, and possibly killing themselves. It’s a touch dark, but I just see it as an acknowledgment that the good guys sometimes have to do bad things, and I’d much rather have one hero willing to push the line, than all of them doing it. Actually that does bring me to my one gripe with the film. The ending is just a little two neat. The Justice League beats the Crime Syndicate, but what happens when they leaves? Sure the Crime Syndicate has lost a few heavy hitters and President Slade Wilson has a couple of nukes ready to use on the other heads if they step out of line, but do they actually have anywhere that can hold these super powered criminals? That’s not to mention all of their subordinates. Lex-2 is the last hero on this world, how are they meant to round them all up? Also there’s how the film chooses to end the Martian Manhunters’ love interest for the film. They’ve spent time building a genuinely sweet relationship, and then J’onn just goes home at the end. I mean this film is no longer tied to the cartoon’s continuity, surely he could have stayed behind, and his excuse for going just feels empty and forced.

Outside of that, I do really love this film. It’s fun, pure and simple. The heroes are heroic, the battles are epic, and the villains are gloriously evil. The story has a lot of fun with the idea of parallel Earths (I am a sucker for a multiverse). The nerd in me gets a special kind of glee trying to working who all the villains are alternate versions of (and there are a lot of villains, so this does take some time). Also all of the character interactions are spot on. To say that this film has to juggle so many characters, it does it amazingly well. Sure, a few characters get less of the spotlight than others, but everyone makes an impression on you before they leave.

Speaking of the gloriously evil villains, I do have to mention my favourite, Owlman. While the Crime Syndicate are the main threat, Owlman is definitely the Big Bad. I love a villain who has a unique philosophy or any kind of philosophy actually. It makes the character feel more real and rounded, and there’s nothing more that I like than crawling inside a character’s head space and seeing how they tick, and Owlman is a doozy. The common theory with a multiverse is that a new world is created for every decision we make, one world where we said yes, and one where we said no, to put it in basic terms. Owlman’s philosophy is that every choice we make is meaningless, seeing as how any meaning we have will not be present on another Earth. Therefore, in the grand scheme of the multiverse, the only possible decision that could ever have any lasting meaning is to destroy the multiverse itself. Wow, that’s just…Wow that’s crazy.

Okay, perfect is probably too strong a word for this film, but I just get so much joy out of watching it. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s intriguing and just beautiful to watch. If you’re looking for some classic heroics alongside some great animation and a funny script, then I can’t recommend any film above this one. This is my favourite DC animated original movie on any Earth.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Wonder Woman (2009)

Blog Wonder Woman Review Title

All the world’s waiting for you, and the power you possess. In your satin tights, fighting for your rights, and the old Red, White and Blue. Wonder Woman! (Sorry, I had to get that out of my system.)

As you can probably guess the next movie in my DC Month extravaganza is Wonder Woman. People say that Superman is hard to write, and while that can be true, I think Wonder Woman is harder. It mostly comes down to her dual nature. On the one hand she’s an ambassador, she represents compassion, love and peace. On the other hand she’s a fierce Amazonian warrior who baths in the blood of her enemies. It’s kind of hard to reconcile those two halves.

Mostly the problem comes down to the origin idea. Diana is Amazonian. In her origin the Amazonians are represented as a peaceful utopian society. In Greek mythology they’re the bad guys who are a clear indicator of why women shouldn’t be allowed to think for themselves (The Greeks were many things, pioneers of science, mathematics, medicine, great philosophers and apparently a bunch of jackasses. How could a people thought of for their democracy get it so wrong?) Anyway, this is where the conflict with Wonder Woman’s character comes from, and it takes a great writer to find the balance to portray Diana properly. Luckily this film has some fantastic writers, so let’s see how they do. What’s the story?

We start at some point in the past where the Amazons are fighting the forces of the God of War, Ares. It’s a truly epic, and also brutal, opening. We get two decapitations in five minutes (well the kids aren’t going to be watching this), but the action is fantastic. We get to meet several Amazons who will be relevant throughout the plot, and although we never go too deep into their characters, we learn enough to get a handle on their personalities. We also get to meet the Queen of Badass, Hippolyta, who manages to subdue Ares. Unfortunately Zeus isn’t too keen on the idea of a third decapitation in the opening, so stops he her. Hippolyta is royally annoyed, she came here for bloody vengeance and now she can’t get any. Hera offers a consolation prize of immortality and a fancy invisible island where the Amazons can live in peace. Also Ares is stripped of his godly powers and given to the Amazons as a prisoner, and he doubles as a handy demonstration of the evils of men.

Eventually Hippolyta wants a child, so wanders off to the beach to mould a baby out of sand and let lightning strike it (as you do), thus Diana is born. We finally move to the present day where Diana has grown up into a skilled warrior, though longs to see the outside world (almost makes her sound like a Disney princess, that’s a joke, but at the rate that Disney is buying up franchises I’m not so sure…). Anyway, the outside world decides to send Diana a present, Nathan Fillion! Sorry, that’s Steve Trevor, a U.S. fighter pilot who crash lands on the island. Diana and Steve’s relationship gets off to a good start, when he hits on her and she beats him up.

Of course this island of women aren’t too happy to have a member of the opposite sex hanging around, he could give them cooties or something. You may have noticed my sarcasm there. I actually really like this version of the Amazons. They have a peaceful society, in all appearances its paradise, and yet it’s missing something important. The Amazon’s, and more specifically Hippolyta’s, hatred and fear of men is robbing them of opportunities and families (not everyone can make a baby out of clay and lightning). Hippolyta’s experiences with Ares are truly terrible and I can completely understand why that has coloured her view of the opposite sex, but she’s taking her opinion of a horrible man and applying it to the whole gender.

This is actually the stereotypical view of a feminist, a man-hating Amazonian, and yet it’s not feminism. Treating someone differently because of their gender is sexism and stupidity. People are people, whether their sex organs are inside or out. There’s nothing wrong with being a woman. There’s nothing wrong with being a man. It’s about regarding one another as equals and communicating more for the betterment of one another. That’s the message I take from this film, and Wonder Woman in general.

Back to the story, while the Amazons hold a contest to determine who should take Steve back home, Ares is freed from his prison (and look I know the guy’s mortal now and has limited powers, but really? You just stick him in a cave with a couple of guards? Arkham Asylum has better security than this).  Now Diana, having won the contest, not only has to get Steve home, but also has to track down Ares and stop him before he starts a war that will wipe out most of humanity.

I suppose this is a good as time as ever to talk about some of the other characters who I adore in this film. For starters there’s Steve who is played perfectly by Nathan Fillion. He has just enough likable charm that you can put up with Steve’s attempts to hit on Diana, and he has a brilliant delivery with every one of his jokes. In the beginning he’s exactly the kind of guy that Hippolyta thinks populates the world, yet through his time with Diana he grows up a little bit. I think his big moment comes when Diana has become disillusioned with the world and no longer believes it possible to bridge the gap between the Amazons and the rest of the world. It’s a tiny little moment, but you can see Steve realise just how much he’s unintentionally hurt Diana and he wants to make up for that.

The only other supporting characters of note are three of the Amazons. As I said earlier, we never truly go into detail about them, but in the brief time we spend with them we get to see them shine and they have their own little arcs too. Artemis goes from being a bloodthirsty warrior to actually sitting down an attempting to read a book. Alexa is a bookworm, yet gets to prove that the brain has a place on the battlefield, as well as having a triumphant moment leading a charge of Amazons. Persephone is actually a really interesting one. She’s the traitor who frees Ares. At first she’s depicted as a fool, tricked by Ares for his own ends, and while I doubt that Ares has any genuine feelings for Persephone, in the end she’s shown as a more tragic character illustrating what’s wrong with Themyscira.

All in all this is a terrific film. It’s funny, action-packed, well written and well thought out. The characters are great and the animation is amazing. This is one of the best films DC has put out, and if the live action Wonder Woman movie is even half as good as this, we’re in for a great movie.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Superman/Batman Apocalypse

Blog SB Apocalypse Review Title

What’s that in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s a girl flying around in a skirt (because that’s practical).

It only feels appropriate to kick off DC Month with Supergirl. She’s the latest DC superhero to get her own live action TV series (I’ve seen a couple of episodes, it’s not the Flash, but it’s pretty enjoyable. Melissa Benoist is adorable, or should that be adorkable?).

For those unfamiliar with the character, Supergirl is Kara Zor-El, Superman’s older cousin. Yes, I said older. While baby Superman was being bundled into a rocket and shot off to Earth, Jor-El’s brother was putting Kara in her own rocket, except something went wrong. The specifics change depending on the continuity, but the result is generally the same. Kara is frozen in stasis in her rocket and doesn’t arrive on Earth until Superman is all grown up and a well established hero. Now Kara not only has to deal with adapting to a strange new world, all of these frightening new powers she suddenly has, but also with living up to the standard set by her cousin.

I like Kara. I like her struggle. Superman was raised as a human, in everything but genetics he is human, just a little more…super. Kara on the other hand is an alien. It’s harder for her to adapt. She remembers Krypton, its people and its ways a lot more than her cousin, and feels the loss so much more. She struggles to find her place in the world. She struggles step out of the Superman’s shadow and be her own hero. Yet despite all of the darkness she’s experienced it never diminishes her light. To me, that’s super.

This DC original animated movie is based upon the second story arc of the Superman/Batman comic by Jeph Loeb, which reintroduced Supergirl into DC continuity at the time. How does it handle the origins of the Girl of Steel? Let’s find out. What’s the Story?

While the audience gets to listen to the radio (hello exposition news), a meteorite crashes into Gotham Bay. Batman investigates the crash, discovering a kryptonian spaceship, but then a naked woman steals the Batboat and drives it into the harbour (What? It happens). Said woman then stumbles around beating up dock workers, who really should know better, and setting police cars on fire. After accidentally knocking a blimp out of the sky (because it wouldn’t be Gotham City without blimps), Batman finally manages to knock her out with some kryptonite (You know I always figured Kryptonite was more of an ‘Ack! I’m being painfully poisoned’ than ‘I sleepy. Go night night now’).

When the woman finally wakes up Batman and Superman learn that her name is Kara Zor-El, She’s Superman’s cousin. Superman is overjoyed at finally having a living blood relative (and meeting a kryptonian who doesn’t want to kill him or take over the world!), Batman on the other hand is more suspicious (let’s face it, since this girl arrived at least two very expensive pieces of Bat-equipment have gone boom).

Meanwhile Darkseid, general Mr. Big Bad of the universe and major badass (I’ve spent two paragraphs explaining about Supergirl, I’m not going into the New Gods right now), is holding try outs for ‘Hot Women Dressed in Ridiculous Outfits’, aka The Furies. The latest applicant for head of the Honour Guard doesn’t fare so well, but Darkseid has heard of a promising new potential recruit on Earth.

Back with Kara, after a bit of time training and the ultimate language cram school, Kara is let out into the world. Her first stop is Metropolis, where she sees what it’s like to be a normal Earth girl. She likes it, though after seeing how the Earthlings idolise Superman she’s sure she doesn’t have what it takes to be someone’s champion. Suddenly Kara and Superman are set upon by mysterious assailants, who turn out to be Wonder Woman and Harbinger (because this is a superhero film, we need to get a certain amount of heroes fighting one another). Batman and Wonder Woman believe that Kara needs more specialised training to control her powers. There’s also the fact that Harbinger has been having visions of Kara dying, but we don’t need to inform Kara about that (I mean why let her be forewarned? It’d spoil the surprise).

Kara trains with Wonder Woman and the amazons…and are you starting to see one of the problems this film has yet? This movie lasts for 75 minutes (an annoying restriction DC places on pretty much every one of its original animated movies) and it has a lot to fit in. The story ping pongs all over the place, from Gotham to Metropolis, to Paradise Island to Apokolips. Yeah I haven’t even gotten to the part where Darkseid sends an army of Doomsdays to distract the heroes while he kidnaps and brainwashes Kara. One minute Kara is upset over her cousin just handing her over to the Amazons, the next she’s happily training with them and annoyed when Superman interferes. The film manages remarkably well with the restrictions placed upon it, there are several emotional moments that manage to hit home despite the pacing feeling so rushed. Yet I can’t help but feel that this film would benefit from either a few less locations or a longer running time.

Despite having Batman and Superman plastered across the title (because when it comes to the original animated movies DC apparently can’t sell anything without Batman or Superman in it), this story belongs to Supergirl. This entire setup is primarily here to help her decide who she wants to be. She can either be a normal Earth girl with Clark in Metropolis, or she can be a warrior with Wonder Woman and the amazons, or she can be Darkseid’s latest toy soldier. In the end though Kara chooses to be a hero, she fights for what she believes in and to protect those she cares about.

Speaking of the ending, I have to say this is definitely an occasion where the film outshines the source material. In the comic Clark brings Kara to the Kent Farm when they’re attacked by Darkseid. Kara jumps in the way of Darkseid’s omega beams, and is vaporised. This is completely undone in the next issue where it’s reveal that it was all just a fake out and Kara is alive and well. In the film? Kara has a huge knockout brawl with Darkseid, and though she eventually loses, she survives and helps Superman to beat Darkseid. It’s a much more satisfying finish to the story, especially the part where Kara says that this is the life she chooses.

On the animation front this is all fairly standard. It’s never bad, but there are some scenes that don’t really impress all that much. Where the animation excels is with the action, and there’s a lot of action. The fights are brilliantly choreographed and brimming with intense and exciting moments.  Also a special shout out to Summer Glau who really knocks it out of the park as Supergirl. She perfectly captures all of the emotions the Girl of Steel goes through, and is also really funny when called upon.

All in all, Superman/Batman Apocalypse is hardly a masterpiece. It has some pacing issues due to the restricted time allowance and an overabundance of fights and locales, but despite its flaws it’s still a really enjoyable movie. It showcases Kara’s strengths and weaknesses, displaying why she’s such a great character, even if it doesn’t have enough time to fully explore her. The banter and the fights are great. The voice acting top notch. This is just a really fun movie.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

DC MONTH !!!

December is upon us once more and I’m happy to announce that this is going to be my first themed month! ‘But wait Infallible Fish!’, I hear you cry (or at least I would if this wasn’t a blog and anyone actually called me that), ‘don’t tell us that you’re indulging in a shameless attempt to increase your viewing figures and draw in fresh blood!’ Guys, come on, let’s be honest here, hardly anyone reads this blog (if I even contemplate that more than twenty people have read a single post of mine I’ll disappear in a puff of embarrassment. Though since I am a writer this is something I am going to have to come to terms with once I get published).

Anyway, no, I’m not doing this to draw in new readers. The real reason is that Christmas is here and I don’t really have any Christmas movies that I want to talk about, so doing a theme is a handy way of avoiding the problem. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Christmas films out there, but most of them have already been talked about and I don’t have much to add to the discussion (I said most of what I had to say on the subject last year).

So what’s my theme? Well in case the title didn’t give it away its DC, more specifically the DC original animated movies that they put out. Now I’ve already covered several of DC’s offerings in the past, though admittedly I can be a bit critical of the recent films, which probably makes me sound like a grumpy old man going on about how much better the older ones were. (At least I’ll admit that they have their flaws too.)

Across December I’m going to be looking at four of my favourite movies from this DC line, which are Superman/Batman Apocalypse, Wonder Woman, Batman Under the Red Hood and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. So strap on your capes and put your underpants on the outside. The Infallible Fish is going to have a SUPER month! (Heh, did you see what I did there?)

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Blog Gods and Monsters Review Title

Bruce Timm! The Man! The Legend! The God! A huge part of Batman: the animated series, and the subsequent “Timmverse” which included the likes of Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited and Batman Beyond. If Disney rules the films of my childhood, Bruce Timm rules the TV of my childhood (well, the cartoon section anyway). His work is part of the reason I dream of becoming a professional animator, and his style has influenced my own drawing style a great deal.

And now we have a new DC original film brought to us by Mr. Timm (and it’s actually animated in the style of the old DCAU!)

That being said, this is a bit of an odd film. This is an alternate universe story that basically goes along the lines of, what if Superman was General Zod’s son? What if Wonder Woman was one of the New Gods? And what if Batman was an actual vampire? What if the Justice League wasn’t filled with so many of those pesky do-gooders and was more feared by the world than beloved? Yes, because DC has never tried to make its heroes darker and gritter, ‘cause that’s edgy yo, and the kid’s be diggin’ it…yo. I’m sorry, I promise never to try and speak young person again (unless it serves a joke), but I am kind of tired of this whole darker superhero thing, it’s works for several characters, sure, but not all of them and I tend to want my superheroes to be, well, heroes. Ugh.

Anyway, back to the point. These are interesting ideas, well, the last one isn’t but I’m willing to let it slide with this film, partly because of this gorgeous animation, and partly because this is an alternate universe. These are not the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman we all know and love, so it is no slight to them that these characters are more violent or darker, but that is as much of a hindrance as it is a boon. We don’t know these characters, so the film has to do a lot of work to do to get us to invest in these characters, give them a journey to go through, and have us be satisfied by the conclusion. Does it work?

For the most part, yes. The characters are very good, it’s interesting to see the different routes they’ve gone along in this universe, and though they aren’t all that likeable at first, as we get to know them and learn their stories we can come to understand them and care about them a little. These are by no means good guys, but they’re not entirely bad guys either. They’re regular people, as corruptible, fallible and in some cases as broken as the rest of us. I do have to say though, Kirk, our Batman, is by far the most likeable character for me. His struggle is easy to identify with, and he’s definitely the least aggressive and villain-like. He’s just a guy who’s been dealt a bad hand by life and is trying to make the best of it, even if his actual origin is a tad generic. Superman and Wonder Woman are great too, don’t get me wrong. They both get some powerful and emotional story bits and their back stories are far more interesting than Batman’s, but the events hardly ever connect up with the main plot.

The main plot here is a murder mystery, with a group of recognisable scientists being killed one after the other, and the Justice League being framed for the murders (this is intercut with flashbacks to the origins of our central trio). While I like the idea of who our villain is eventually revealed to be, his motivations, and even his plan, feel a little rushed. It all kind of comes out of nowhere, and the character switch is just too jarring. It’s meant to be this big emotional payoff, but in the end it just relies upon some clichéd villain speech, and to be honest the guy was kind of an ass to start with, so I’m not exactly inclined to feel any sympathy for him. Maybe if the film spent a little less time on the flashbacks it could have developed the villain more, or just spent a bit more time in the present day universe, but then again I really like the flashbacks. The twists on the origins for our ‘heroes’ are really fun, and I kind of enjoy them more than the actual main plot, even though the main plot does have some awesome fights in it.

The animation for the film is of course fantastic. It feels both nostalgic and entirely new all at the same time. It has the same style as the old DC animated universe, but the budget and techniques have greatly improved to deliver some eye-popping action. The fight scenes are brilliant, with some great choreography. That being said, sometimes it gets a little too violent for my tastes. This film isn’t particularly gory, there’s blood sure, but the actual deaths are mostly out of sight and the look of the animation (as gloriously nostalgic as it is) does take away from the realism. That being said this is an incredibly dark film. There are some very nasty deaths, in one scene in particular we’re treated to some people burning to death, people being impaled, oh and a guy gets ripped in half. The fact that we don’t see most of the details just makes it all the more horrific. It’s just weird for me watching something that reminds me of my childhood so much go to such a dark place.

In the end this film is about showing us that these characters are not gods or monsters, they are, in fact, just people. Extraordinary people to be sure, but just as fallible as us, they have been shaped by their environments, and carry pain and torments all their own. I do like that by the end of the film they’re trying to be better, to be heroes (though I would prefer an actual demonstration of this new ethos, as opposed to just some lip service). As a ‘What If’ story, this is a very interesting take on our classic heroes, but much like a lot of ‘What if’s, once the question has been answered, it’s not all that likely that you’ll ask it again. Still, the animation alone is worth the price of admission. I’d recommend this for at least one watch.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman vs. Robin

Blog Batman vs Robin Review Title

Ok, I’ll admit it, I went into this latest DC original animated movie with lowered expectations. A lot of their recent original films have been lacklustre to say the least, and this one is meant as a sequel to their Son of Batman film (a film I didn’t really care for). Add into that the fact that this is an adaptation of the Court of Owls story arc from the comics (which in my opinion is one of the best Batman arcs in recent years), and all of that awesomeness has to be compressed into about 80 minutes? Yeah, my hopes weren’t exactly high.

So what did I have against Son of Batman? Apart from the excessive violence, the lack of any emotional weight and the fact that Damian Wayne came across as an annoying brat who made me want to drive a pencil into my ears? Not much really, but it was more a film I tolerated than enjoyed. I know Damian Wayne is a very hard character to write, I understand that. He’s arrogant and unfortunately has the skills to back up that arrogance, but he’s also tormented, trying to find his own path somewhere between the way his father (Batman) does things and the way he was raised by his grandfather (Ra’s al Ghul). Damian Wayne is one of my favourite Robins (only coming in second to the original Dick Grayson), and Son of Batman just didn’t do him justice.

So how does this film fare? Well let’s see. First off, what’s the story?

For those not in the know, Damian Wayne is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul. Damian was raised as an assassin by his grandfather Ra’s al Ghul, until the last film where Batman discovered Damian’s existence and took him in as his new Robin. Batman vs. Robin picks up several months later with Batman struggling to control his son, while also failing to foster any kind of trust between them. Matters aren’t helped by Damian constantly sneaking out to fight crime on his own. Damian comes across a mysterious figure called Talon. Talon wants to take Damian under his wing (heh, owl pun) and the offer is certainly tempting. Talon has a lot more faith in Damian than Bruce ever did, and even goes so far as to praise him! Meanwhile Batman is being confronted by the Court of Owls, a secret society of rich people that rule Gotham from the shadows. This group actually has a personal connection to Bruce, as after his parents were killed he believed the Court of Owls to be behind it and tried to track them down, to no avail. Once it is revealed that Talon is working for the Court of Owls though, Damian must make a decision as to where his loyalties lie. While Batman must come to terms with how he’s supposed to be a father to a boy who was never really a boy. Things get complicated though as Talon reveals that he has plans of his own.

I actually really enjoyed this film, ok it’s not perfect, but it certainly did impress me. First off there were a lot of little moments that I really like. I like that they had Dollmaker as our opening villain. The film gets points for using a lesser known villain, and even more points for making him incredibly creepy, yet a touch sympathetic. You only meet the guy for a few minutes, but you know that something has gone terribly wrong inside. He’s clearly insane, but he’s partially a victim too, just like all the best Batman villains. I liked the stuff about Bruce trying to officially adopt Damian, having to keep him a secret for the moment (yeah explaining where he came from to the outside world might be a tad problematic). It shows that the writers are thinking about this situation and I appreciate that. I also like the fact that the Court tries to recruit Bruce Wayne, it’s a diversion from the comics, but I think it’s a fun idea. It’s these little moments that shows the writers have put some thought and effort into this, not feeling constrained to the source material, but making the story their own.

The characters fair a lot better in this film too. You feel the emotions a lot more. The tension between Batman and Robin feels genuine, though I do admit that their titular fight does feel like it’s pushing it a bit (I’m not sure how dramatic it is watching Batman beat up a ten year old). Damian is still a little annoying, but there’s more of a tortured soul to him, a few shades of young man trying to find his way. I particularly like a scene at the end of the film where Damian goes on about all of the voices in his head, telling him what to do. It’s quite a powerful little scene. A few more like that and we might just have the Damian I know and love from the comics.

I also really love Talon as well. He’s not just a powerful foe, or a badass, he has an actual back story. Sure it’s not the most original back story, but it lets you sympathise with the character and see his side of things a little bit, though it is disappointing that he kind of descends into just pure villain mode by the end. The only real disappointment I have with this film is the Court of Owl (which is kind of what I was expecting). In the comics they are a great villain, a massive threat that pushes Batman beyond his limits, a foe that knows Gotham city better than he does, and rocks his belief in himself. In the film? They’re just another adversary who wants to take control of Gotham. They never really feel like anything that Batman hasn’t dealt with before. Outside of their army of refrigerated zombie ninjas (because what kind of secret society doesn’t have a few of those knocking around?) they’re not much of a threat to Batman. Like I said I was kind of expecting this. Fitting the Court of Owls story arc into 80 minutes would be a challenge, and that’s without attaching on a plot about Batman and Damian bonding as father and son. Still, the Damian plot is clearly the focus here, so the ball had to drop somewhere. At least Talon made for a likeable villain.

The fights scenes are amazing. They are beautifully choreographed and expertly animated. You pretty much feel each hit, and the motions are fluid yet easy to follow. This is really DC animation on top of its game. I’m also pleased that they’ve toned down the gore for this film. I mean sure I still wouldn’t let little kids watch this, there’s still a fair amount of blood and at one point a dude gets his heart ripped out, but it doesn’t feel as excessive as other recent films.

Overall this film is huge improvement over Son of Batman. There’s more emotional weight to the story, Damian comes across a lot better, and even the gory violence has been toned down a touch. The villains may not be the most threatening or unique, but they’re enjoyable enough. The animation is fantastic and there are lots of little moments that raise this film just above your average Batman tale.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

Blog Justie League ToA Review Title

Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it, I didn’t like Justice League: War. It was just a big boring fight scene, filled with bad characterisation and a generic plot (The Justice League fights Darkseid? Haven’t seen that before). There was no heart to the film. The only character I managed to get any kind of emotional connection to was Cyborg. Here’s a tip for you, if you want people to be invested in a fight, to care about the outcome, they have to care about the people involved in the fight first. Well with that out of the way, let’s see if the sequel can do any better.

So what’s the story? After defeating Darkseid’s army everyone loves the Justice League (the name tested better than Super Seven), the only problem is there isn’t much of a Justice League. Our heroes aren’t really a team, preferring to spend time on their own problems and situations rather than getting together. Meanwhile in Mercy Reef, Arthur Curry is mourning his late father when he is sent for by his mother, who just so happens to be the Queen of Atlantis. She hopes Arthur will be the bridge between Atlantis and the surface, and prevent a war, a war Arthur’s half-brother Orm so eagerly wants. When the missile payload of a sub is stolen, our heroes must band together to defend the world from the ambitions of the underwater Prince.

Thankfully the characterisation in this film is much improved, still not perfect, but definitely better. I mean there were scenes were Superman actually sounded like Superman (there were also scenes were his eyes glowed red and he warned the bad guys to retreat or else, so there’s still work to be done). I think this is mostly down to the fact that there is more of a focus on the human aspect of the characters, whether it’s Cyborg being haunted by his implants, or Arthur struggling with who he is. We get a couple of little quiet moments for the characters to breathe, though I did notice that the Flash and Shazam were kind of left just hanging around. They didn’t even contribute to the investigation of who attacked the sub like everyone else (which was pretty nice to see the others using their different skill sets and experience to piece bits together).

Unfortunately these are just moments, and they go by before you can even blink. And as the film goes on there’s less and less of these moments, leading to instantaneous character growth such as Arthur deciding to become Atlantis’ king, or his relationship with Mera sprouting out of thin air (or should that be thin water?). I still don’t understand why DC’s original animated movies are slaves to a 72 minute run time. I know animation is a costly business, and every single frame counts (it’s not like regular film where you can just let the camera run, in animation just one extra frame can take forever sometimes). Bu I can’t help feeling that this just keeps hurting the films. This film especially feels cramped and rushed, struggling to squeeze in all of its plot and characters. It robs the ending of the emotional triumph it was aiming for.

How does this film handle Aquaman though? I know he has the reputation of being a bit of a joke, but I think one of the few things the New 52 has done really well is showing how much of a badass Aquaman really is. This film manages it too. We get to see that Arthur is a competent fighter. He shows he has the brooding hero stuff down in the moments we get to explore the loss of his father and his feelings of not knowing who, or what, he is. We also get to see that his powers go beyond just being able to talk to fish (though when you can control sharks, whales and an entire army of sea creatures, that’s not as lame a power as it sounds).

Probably the weakest characters in this whole film, unfortunately, are the villains. Black Manta is criminally underused. He hardly gets any lines or development, he doesn’t even get any motivation outside of just being evil. In his last scene he tries to throw out some evil plan as he monologues, but the film cares so little that Arthur just summons a shark to eat him (the scene is pretty hilarious actually, though I’m not sure that is supposed to be the intended reaction). And Prince Orm is even worse, he just comes off as a whiney little brat (much like Shazam). It’s painful to watch him act like a sullen teenager when I know how great a villain he can be, same goes for Black Manta. In the battle at the end they try to make Orm this big villain who can easily take on the League singlehandedly (because we didn’t see that at all last time with Darkseid), but I don’t buy it for a second. This arrogant moron wouldn’t last two seconds.

At least the animation is good, but then this is DC (where Marvel rules the cinema, they rule animated stuff). I am worried that I happened to notice some CG sneaking into scenes. Come on DC, your original movies are one of the last bastions of hand drawn animation. I’ve already lost the Disney cinematic releases; don’t let me lose you guys too.

There’s one last thing I want to talk about with this film, and that’s the excessive violence and blood. It’s been a trend in these DC animated movies of late. I really don’t understand it. There wasn’t an excessive amount of violence in the source material beyond the usual superhero stuff (I certainly don’t remember seeing dozens of people being chopped in half in the comic). I don’t mind violence and bloodshed if it adds to the end product, but here it’s completely pointless. It adds nothing, and only means that a younger audience won’t be able to appreciate this film, which I imagine is robbing it of a considerable chunk of viewers (how else are they going to learn of the awesomeness of Aquaman, you know, outside of the comics?).

Overall this is a decent film. It’s definitely better than Justice League: War, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s rushed, has a load of underdeveloped characters (especially the villains), excessive violence and some spots of bad characterisation. If you want to see Aquaman kicking butt on the screen, give this a shot, but if you want a good Aquaman movie (heck, just a good superhero movie), I suggest you try elsewhere, perhaps some of DC’s earlier original animated movies.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.