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Hugh Likes Movies: Gotham By Gaslight

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Batman: Gotham By Gaslight
Produced by DC Entertainment
Directed by Sam Liu

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The Skinny: The graphic reimagining of the Batman mythos in the 19th century pits the Dark Knight against Jack the Ripper.

Superhero movies by their nature feature alternate versions of comic book characters. They compress plots that run for moths or years into digestible stories that audiences can enjoy in only an hour or two, without having to rely on previous knowledge of the hero’s adventures. “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight,” the latest direct-to-DVD animated feature from DC Comics, takes this truism a step further.
The dark but lushly animated film reimagines Batman’s one-man war against crime as taking place in the 19th Century, with him taking on none other than Jack the Ripper himself. In fact, the movie spends a lot more time on the case than with the origins of the character, which makes for a much darker and more explicit take on Batman’s world.
The overall effect is more gothic than steampunk, although most of the fight sequences take place on a burning airship, a burning ferris wheel, and a slaughterhouse that, inexplicably, hasn’t caught fire. The story is pretty much what one would expect from a Batman vs. Jack the Ripper story, and it hits all the broad points you would expect well enough. There are a few plot twists fans who haven’t read the original graphic novel might not see coming, but the story is mostly concerned with showing how these pulp characters fit into a slightly more antiquated Gotham City.
I will say that I felt the movie leans a bit too heavily on the Ripper-ology. The viewer is invited along with a few very nasty killings, and we get a good dose of Jack’s vitriol in the form of villain monologue. It all feels a bit voyeuristic, and lands on the other side of good taste in parts. This certainly isn’t the next film to go to after your child finishes watching Lego Batman.
Although this superhero isn’t for kids, older teens and adult Bat-fans may find something to like in this risqué and violent alternate take on the character and his world.

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Hugh Likes Comics: All-Star Batman

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All-Star Batman Vol 1: My Own Worst Enemy
Written by Scott Snyder
Penciled by John Romita Jr.
Colors by Dean White
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: Batman and Two-Face take a road trip in search of a cure for his condition, with horde of bounty-hunting assassins on their trail.

I’ve often heard it said that one of Batman’s greatest strengths as a character is his versatility. Batman, the theory goes, can be effectively put in any story and work. With respect to Mr. Chris Sims, the internet’s leading Batmanologist, I’m not sure I fully agree with that notion. While Batman can fit into a variety of roles, he’s still Batman, and including him changes the story. I’d posit the reverse is true. Batman doesn’t just fit into any story. Batman can make any story he’s in into a batman story.
But Snyder and Romita Jr. do bring something different to the formula with All-Star Batman Vol. 1. Taking Batman out of his environment is sometimes a dice proposition, but the creative Team pulls it off well. Harvey, the good half of Two-Face claims to have found a cure for his condition. But his evil personality isn’t going to go quietly. He has a secret data network, and if Batman reaches their destination, he’ll release every dirty secret he has on Gotham’s citizens. He’s going to prove to the world that everyone, deep down, is just as monstrous as he is. But he’s not going to stop there. He’s also pulled a lot of financial info, and if someone should kill Batman on the way, they’ll pocket the cash, too. Now it’s a race against a rogues gallery of assassins, bounty hunters, amateur criminals, and Two-Face himself.
The premise is mostly just set dressing for one big over-the-top fight after another, and it works, as a batman story. He faces an endless stream of B and C level rogues. We get to see a lot of these fights, and Snyder and Romita Jr. are clearly having a ball bringing back the likes of Firefly and Copperhead for cameos. Batman mentions a few of the battles that he had off page as well. And while the big reveal of a revamped KGBeast was a lot of fun, I’m a bit disappointed we never got to see Orca and her Death Cycle.
The trip is well-paced and has a nice, over the top conclusion of the sort you only get in superhero comics. While Romita Jr’s art style usually isn’t my cup of tea, he’s doing good work here, and the flashback sequences, to a time when Bruce and Harvey met at a children’s home look great, given a watercolor style from Dean White’s colors.
All-Star Batman Vol. 1 is a lot of fun, and it’s nice to see Batman a bit out of his element and on a deadly road trip. This is one of those comics that rewards long-time fans with a basket of easter eggs while still being accessible for new readers. If you’re looking to jump onto reading Batman in the modern era, this is a great place to start.
You can find All-Star Batman Vol. 1 at your local comics shop, or buy it digitally at Comixology!

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Hugh Likes Comics: Dark Nights: Metal

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Dark Nights: Metal #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Drawn by Greg Capullo
Colors by FCO Plascencia
Published by DC Comics

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“Metal,” DC’s next big comics event, is equal parts spectacle and classic four-color nonsense. Normally, I can’t stand this kind of storytelling, but Snyder and Capullo are up to something that tugs at my nerdy heartstrings in just the right way.
Ostensibly a Justice League story, this is really a story about Batman. Batman’s membership in the organization has a notably rocky history. He quit to start his own band in the 80’s and in the 00’s Justice League cartoon, he was more of a consultant than a committed member.
“Dark Knights: Metal #1” brings in all that continuity and wraps it with enough bombastic spectacle to hold it together, at least until issue two.
The comic opens in an alien colosseum and pinballs the reader through a ravaged city, an impossible mountain, and a time-lost island with dizzying speed. The event attempts to bring in a bunch of characters who were shuffled off the rosters in one reboot or another, including Hawkman, Lady Blackhawk, and a last-page reveal that I won’t spoil here. Admittedly there is a lot of posing and speech-making about impending doom that gets a little tiresome, but there’s enough great stuff here to keep the reader going through the exposition about an ancient evil from ‘The Dark Multiverse’ that is using Dark Energy, Batman, and magnets I guess? to enter this reality.
But for all the talking and grimacing, the characters all feel on point, and the most important thing is that this is a comic in which Batman stunt-rides a velociraptor. Full stop. There are other fun surprises that I won’t reveal here, but it is some classic, old-school comic silliness that you don’t really need to be up on the latest continuity to enjoy. You can find “Dark Nights: Metal #1 at your local comics shop, or digitally via Comixology.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Batman The Long Halloween

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Written by Jeph Loeb

Drawn by Tim Sale

Published by DC Comics

 

With summer movie season already begun and a host of superhero comic book adaptations leading the pack, it is time for Hugh Likes Comics to embrace the trend and give you some hop on points for Big-2 Superheroes. These characters have long, tangled pasts, and their stories are far too often are an impenetrable soup of references, call backs, and retcons. So for the summer, I’ll be discussing some of my favorite, and most accessible stories from Marvel and DC Comics. Since we just got a lovely image of Ben Afleck moping next to his rocket car for “Batman vs. Superman,” let’s start with the Dark Knight.

In a Gotham City ruled by Organized Crime, a young Batman teams up with Commissioner Gordon and D. A. Harvey Dent. But they aren’t the only trying to bring down the mafia. Criminally insane Freaks like the Joker and Poison Ivy are muscling in, and a serial killer dubbed “Holiday” has begun killing gangsters, each on a major holiday. Can Batman truly complete the task he’s given himself, or is Gotham city doomed to be cut in half by Organized Crime and random violence?

First of all, let me start this review with a confession: I like this graphic novel better than it’s predecessor, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s groundbreaking “Batman: Year One.” “Year One” is a GREAT story, and a wonderfully gritty depiction of the kind of city that made Batman not only possible, but necessary. But “The Long Halloween” is a noir mystery filled references to “The Godfather” that ends with Batman fighting his entire rogues gallery at once, so it wins out.

Year One is an engaging look at how Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne came to be who they are. The Long Halloween boils that origin down to a single sentence: “I made a promise to my parents that I would rid the city of the evil that took their lives.” It doesn’t get simpler than that. And as reductive as the set-up is, the book is actually a nice character driven piece about the human cost of working towards goals. Relationships get shredded by the weight of these personal quests. Jim Gordon’s relationship with his family. Harvey Dent and his wife Gilda. Even The Roman’s relationship with his children is deeply affected by his work. And then there’s Batman and Catwoman. Their relationship is extremely complicated, both in costume, and out of costume. It lends the noir elements significant weight.

But one thing that this comic does, and does really well, is temper that weight with super-heroic sections. The focus of the book is the Holiday mystery, but Batman still has to contend with The Joker, Poison Ivy, Solomon Grundy, and the rest of his villains. In a lesser run of comics, the change would be abrupt, and flow breaking. “I can’t look for clues today, The Joker is robbing that bank!” But here, everything flows naturally. The colorful characters are all weaved like brocade into the black fabric of the noir mystery. For example, at one point, Batman chases a fleeing buttonman into the sewers, where he accidental fumbles into the lair of Solomon Grundy. Later, the Falcone family brings in the riddler as a consultant, green suit and all, to help solve the murders. Instead of being asides, these sections lend a depth to Gotham City, and raising the stakes. It evokes the best parts of my introduction to the characters, Batman: The Animated Series.

Sale’s art, and Gregory Wright’s colors, bring the story to life. There’s a rich, velvety darkness to Sale’s Gotham City. The page layouts are also really well done. The book is filled with gorgeous splash pages, and Sale really knows how to guide the eye and build tension. A great deal of imagery from this book was included in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” film.

“Batman: The Long Halloween” is the perfect graphic novel for readers who want to see the World’s Greatest Detective tackle an engaging mystery and fight crazy villains without wading through 75 years of canon.  It can be found at your Local Comics Shop, or purchased digitally through Comixolgy!

Next week: The Astonishing X-Men!

 

Hugh Likes Comics: The Top 5 of 2013

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#5: Batman ’66: I like stories that go all-in. No pussy-footing around, not Super-Heroes-but-no-tights, which seems to be de-reguer, particularly at “The Big Two.” That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by this outing from writer Jeff Parker and artist Jonathan Case. They’ve returned to the source material of the ’60’s Batman TV show, complete with dancing and giant sound effect bubbles. The digital versions have a few more tricks up their sleeves to evoke the classic series. Batman ’66 embraces everything the New 52 disdains, and soars because of it.

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#4: Saga: Vaughan and Staples continued to knock it out of the park this year with Saga. The story of an ancient interstellar war cut with family drama, mercenaries, and the ways art can change a person make for a heady mix. The art remains evocative and controversial. Saga doesn’t pull its punches, but it isn’t crass, either.

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#3: Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur: There was little chance for Clevenger and Wegener to escape this list as well, with this nail-biting installment that puts Atomic Robo at the site of an impossible underground city, with shadow military agents storming his headquarters, and completely unstable velociraptor mad scientist Dr. Dinosaur sitting on a stockpile of stolen nuclear warheads. Atomic Robo remains funnier and smarter than it has a right to be.

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#2: Sandman Overture: We only got one issue of Neil Gaiman’s return to his seminal Byronic Dream King, but oh boy, was it ever a doozy. Filled with all of the gothic-horror elements that made Sandman great, and with exceptional art by G H Williams III, This comic is a rare treat for Morpheus fans. Hopefully, we’ll get to see it a bit more frequently in 2014.

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#1: Young Avengers: Sadly ending in early 2014, Young Avengers is a comic that knows exactly what it wants and goes right for it. Under the direction of comics super-team Keiran Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, the Young Avengers bring a little bit of their indie hit “Phonogram” into the Marvel Universe. “Young Avengers” pits focuses less on what it means or takes to be a superhero than it does the trials and tribulations of modern teenagers. After a poorly planned bit of magic use, a group of teens find themselves fighting against an magical parasite that draws power from how parents don’t understand teenagers. It is a fantastic high-concept very well executed. Unfortunately, for a teen book, there is a lot of backstory for these characters that just isn’t given. I’ve felt in over my head a few times, but I’ve loved the ride. Another plus in this comic’s favor is that it has possibly the highest collection of LGBTQ characters anywhere in ‘the big two,’ and handles them with then same excellent touch as earlier Young Avengers installments.

2013 No-Prize: Dan Didio continues to be comics’ greatest super-villain. He spent the year making sure no DC Comics characters have any fun on his watch. After denying the upcoming marriage of Batwoman Kate Kane, he went on to say that none of DC’s heroes should have a stable home life, and seems to be making certain of it. His crowning achievement this year: Creating an art contest for Harley Quinn #0 which included drawing the beloved children’s TV character naked, despairing, and about to commit suicide. After much outcry, the panel did not appear in the final version.

Honorable mentions:

X-Men: Teenage Mom Jubilee, enough time-travelers to stage a production of “Les Mis” and other crazy nonsense. Marvel seemed to focus on their movie-friendly characters like the Avengers in 2013, but there was still a ton of mutants out there, including an all-female team!

Edison Rex: Artist Dennis Culver gets the nod for designing not just a new set of comics characters, but an entire major publisher’s line-up of heroes and villains. My personal favorite: ROFL, an omnipotent extra-dimensional being using the form of a muppet Grant Morrison.

Subatomic Party Girls: Simms and Bowers had the stones to use the line ‘Do you realize we’re floating in space’ unironically. Props.