Doomsday Clock #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

This series by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank came out of nowhere for me.  I literally heard about it maybe a month or two before its release.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Doomsday Clock reportedly merges the world of Watchmen with the DC Universe proper.

Brief history lesson: Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, originally wanted to use DC’s newly acquired Charlton characters in his story.  Characters like Blue Beetle, Thunderbolt, Captain Atom, the Question, and Peacemaker.  DC wanted to integrate those characters into their mainstream universe, though, so Moore instead used them as templates for characters like Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, the Comedian, Rorschach, and Ozymandias.

As you know, DC published Watchmen, but the two worlds were apparently always separate … until now.  With the Rebirth movement that softly rebooted the DC Universe a few years ago, it was heavily hinted that Dr. Manhattan had a “hand” in its reformation.  Doomsday Clock will presumably address this possibility.

So, let’s talk about the actual first issue itself.  It reads very much like issue #13 of Watchmen.  Rorschach is the main character throughout the entire book.  But wait … didn’t Rorschach die in Watchmen?  Yes, and his death is definitively discussed.  I will not spoil it for you, but this is Rorschach, and if the man beneath his mask is whom I think it is, Rorschach makes perfect sense.

Geoff Johns is DC’s Golden Boy.  He has been for years.  He has captured the tone and style of Watchmen, and for better or for worse, is doing a nice imitation of Alan Moore.  Gary Frank, an amazing artist, has also captured the essence of Dave Gibbons’ art.  These are still Gary Frank drawings, make no mistake, but the panel usage, the angles, the clothes … it’s all very reminiscent of Dave Gibbons.

It takes a while to realize that Doomsday Clock #1 spends all of its time picking up after issue #12 of Watchmen.  It is a direct sequel, of sorts, and it’s a very satisfying one.  It doesn’t feel cannibalistic to me or like a cheap knock-off.  It felt very organic as a follow-up.  I just didn’t expect such a blatant follow-up.

In fact, it isn’t until the final few pages that we see a DC proper character at all — Superman.  But here’s the thing, there’s something involving his parents in those final pages that has me scratching my head.  I haven’t kept up with Superman very well over the years, but there’s a scene involving his parents that seems out of canon.  What could this mean?  Is this Dr. Manhattan’s influence?  Is this a different Superman?  Is reality bending and changing even as the book progresses?  Or, maybe, DC simply changed a part of Superman’s history for which I was unaware …

If you enjoyed Watchmen and still enjoy DC Comics, I totally recommend Doomsday Clock #1.  Geoff Johns is one of the best super hero writers in the business, and it’s fascinating to see him try his hand at a style very different from his own.  And Gary Frank … he’s just a joy.  His art has always been clean, cool, and compelling.

When you go to the comic book shop to get your copy, you’ll have lots of covers from which to choose.  Of course, I chose the ridiculously priced $5.99 cover.  It’s lenticular and features Rorschach’s face.  His inkblot mask changes from splotches at one angle to the Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman symbols at another angle.  That’s something I never once even considered seeing during the past thirty years.  I had to have it.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Justice League – A Movie Review (Spoiler-Free)

I attended Justice League on Thursday night at 10:00 p.m.  As you may remember, I felt very excited and had very high hopes.

With great relief, I report to you that Justice League exceeded my expectations.

First of all, I will freely admit that I am incredibly bias.  I love these characters.  I’ve been reading them for thirty-seven years, and that’s not an exaggeration.  It has been a dream for a long, long time to see them together on the big screen.  Frankly, the movie would have to be a total failure to disappoint me.  I acknowledge that.

But it wasn’t a total failure.  It was a legitimate success.

Let us first address a pressing issue – this is a movie based on comic book characters.  The movie never had the potential to change my paradigm regarding the human condition.  I sought no enlightenment from this movie, I did not expect Oscar worthy performances, nor did I anticipate a terribly complex plot regarding characters undergoing significant change.  We had a little bit of those things, more than I expected, but those things aren’t really what this movie was supposed to address.

What I did expect, however, was to see my heroes working together to defeat a bad guy in an entertaining fashion.  Guess what?  I got it.

Let’s do this  …

The actors playing our heroes had great chemistry with each other.  I truly believed these heroes were, at their core, friends because I felt a warmth and camaraderie from the men and women playing the roles.  The Justice League is not a family, but the members are super friends.   It was fun to see these actors interact with one another.

I also appreciated that Justice League is essentially a direct sequel to Batman v Superman.  I don’t want to get too much into it, but it resolves some conflict from its predecessor, addresses some dangling plot threads, and fully embraces what came before it.

Justice League makes no apologies in that it is made for Justice League fans.  There is so much DC lore in this film, so many blatant nods to both the League’s history but also the shared universe’s past.  Amazons?  Check.  Atlantians?  Check.  References to the 4th World?  Yep.  Mother Boxes? You know it.  There’s much more, but I don’t want to spoil anything …

Best of all?  These are heroes.  I know things were a little murky in Batman v Superman, but that was all by design.  Batman had grown cynical.  After all, they depicted him as 20 years into his career.  You can imagine the pain and heartbreak he’d endured by that point, especially with a troubling hint concerning Robin.  And Superman?  I don’t feel he had quite established himself as a hero in Batman v Superman.  He struck me as on his way to becoming a beacon to the world, but not yet there.  Justice League addresses all of that, and lights the way for both of these men.

Furthermore, Aquaman, Cyborg, Flash, Wonder Woman – they are natural born heroes.  They do good deeds because it is their nature.  As dark as Batman v Superman was in terms of theme and tone, Justice League is the opposite.  Justice League is fun, hopeful, uplifting, and even, at times, funny.  Is it still visually dark?  Well, yeah.  That’s just Snyder’s style.

Can we talk about Batman?  I adore his depiction in Justice League.  This is an old man compared to everyone else.  He’s breaking down.  However, he’s also the group’s mentor.  He gives every hero in this movie a pep talk at some point, and this is totally consistent with his character.  Remember, it’s been established that he’s worked with a Robin in this cinematic universe.  He wants to teach, he wants to encourage.  There’s a great moment when the Flash is having doubts and Batman helps him find his way.  So great to see that Batman instead of the grizzled, pessimistic neurotic isolationist.  And, man, does he have some great character moments regarding Superman.

Wonder Woman is, of course, amazing.  She’s got some mesmerizing action scenes, some hilarious one-liners, and is obviously the glue of the group.  When Gal Gadot stands next to Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, she towers.  She is the icon.  What I appreciate most about this movie regarding her character is that she is a Justice League member.  She is no one’s mother, no one’s love interest, and no one’s caretaker.  She’s doing her thing just like every other teammate.  As well she should.  Her solo movie has received the most critical acclaim, after all.  They better never reduce her to someone’s “damsel in distress.”

After the movie, a friend and I were talking and he mentioned the guy playing Cyborg.  He said exactly what I was thinking – Ray Fisher was the best actor in the film.  The moment he appeared on screen, he had a weight to him, a gravitas.  His voice held almost a power.  It’s hard to explain, but Fisher’s got what I can only describe as presence.  That’s hard to achieve when only half of a face is showing.  I wasn’t excited about a Cyborg movie before, but I am definitely looking forward to one now.  Fisher won me over.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is the absolute bad-ass you’d expect.  Funny, charming, and tough, I think he’s going to convince a lot of people that Aquaman is no joke.  They also managed to pull off some really cool underwater scenes with him and Atlantis, by the way.  Honestly, I was a little worried they were going to make him like a surfer dude with all the “My man!” and “Yeah!” from the previews.  But those scenes were pretty infrequent.  He had some real moments to shine, and shine he did.  Like with Cyborg, I’m excited for a movie featuring Aquaman by himself (but I always have been).

Finally, we’ve got to talk about the Flash.  Ezra Miller brought much of the film’s lightheartedness, warmth, and fun.  Though a hero from the beginning, we got to watch him become a better hero throughout – a more confident hero.  Miller plays Flash with a bit of a twitch and a fun lack of common sense that makes you believe this guy is really just figuring it out as he goes due to his youth.  They avoid the melodrama of the CW show with this iteration of Flash, they just make him likable and a little awkward.  Seriously, Miller’s expressions are so much fun throughout the movie.  His eyes tell the audience everything they need to know in virtually every scene.

I’m going to avoid discussing Superman, because there’s no way to do so without spoiling things.  You obviously know he’s in it, so I’ll just say that I’m beginning to see Cavill portray a hero that could win the world’s heart.

I’m a total fan, as you can plainly see, but I did have a few things I took issue with.  The biggest was Steppenwolf.  While I don’t mind a warm-up from Apokolips before Darkseid arrives, I wish they could have made him appear a little less CGI.  He lacked a certain tangibility that really stood out to me.  I didn’t feel like he was actually filling any space, which took me out of the moment a few times.  But, he made a great villain for the League to team up against, which was really his only purpose from a storytelling standpoint.  I wouldn’t say he was as flat as Doomsday from Batman v Superman, but he wasn’t nearly as interesting as Heath Ledger’s Joker.  So, take that for what it’s worth.

Also, when the Flash ran, that also never quite looked right.  I should say, his legs never quite looked right to me.  Everything else looked perfect – the electricity, the blurring, the sheer speed, but his legs did not actually look to me like they were propelling him at nearly the speed of light.  Small complaint.

In the end, I highly recommend Justice League.  In my opinion, if you don’t like this movie, you just don’t like the Justice League.  I think if you’re a fan of the characters, though, this film will absolutely satisfy.  Personally, I found it a magical, breathtaking experience.  Like I said earlier, it exceeded my expectations.

Oh, and stay through the credits.  The mid-credits will have your inner-geek cheering out loud.  The after-credits will leave you with your jaw on the floor.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

All In With Justice League

Tomorrow night the moment finally arrives.  The Justice League debuts.

I have literally loved these characters since the age of three.  I loved Super Friends, I loved the subsequent Super Powers, I loved all of the Batman, Superman, and Aquaman cartoons in-between.  I’ve followed their comic book stories from the Detroit era to the Bwa-ha-ha era to the Big Seven era all the way to modern day.  I have studied them, dove into their backstories from years long past, even researched the creative minds that spawned them.

I have longed to see these characters, together, on screen.  I am not joking when I tell you that this is a dream come true for me.  It seemed like such a simple thing, such a no-brainer, and even though it almost happened a while back, I feared this moment would never actually arrive.  Not an actual Justice League live-action, big-budget, Hollywood movie.  But it has.  It’s happening.

These heroes were with me in elementary school, junior high, high school, and college.  They were there when I started my career, when I married my wife, during the birth of both my children, and throughout my Master’s.  They have been with me as I made new friends, lost loved ones, experienced tremendous joy, as well as awful lows.  Though they are fictional characters, they have always existed within my imagination, and they have never stopped being my heroes.

When I soon see them bigger than life, it will not be as actors wearing costumes.  It will not be just a “comic book” movie to me.  I will not dissect every line of dialogue, nor will I critique the likely plot holes.  I will love this movie unconditionally, because I love these characters unconditionally, because, in my mind, they have always loved me unconditionally.  That may sound silly to some, but to others, you know exactly of what I speak.

This will be more than just a movie to me.  This will an experience.  This will be a realization.

I’m all in on Justice League–always have been, always will be.

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Cold Turkey: A Thanksgiving Misadventure – My Short Story Of the Week

If you’re in need of a short Thanksgiving story that will elicit a chuckle while warming the heart, look no further.  “Cold Turkey” is about an unapologetic Eddie as he stands fuming outside in the bitter cold while his son, wife, and in-laws sit silently at the dinner table, surrounding a cold turkey.  What caused this set of woeful events to occur?  Click the Kindle or NOOK links to find out!

Cold Turkey

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Thor: Ragnarok – A Movie Review

I love the first Thor, but the sequel—The Dark World—left me unimpressed.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for the loveable cast of The Dark World, I’d like it even less.  There’s a lot to be said for having Natalie Portman, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, and Stellan Skarsgard all in the same movie.

However, when I think about the super hero genre staling, The Dark World strikes me as a classic example.  Of all the super hero movies (and let’s face it—there’s a lot), Thor needed perhaps the biggest push into new territory (X-Men is also on alert).

When I first saw the trailer for Ragnarok, well, let’s just say I got very excited.  The music, the visuals, the humorous dialogue, the absolute weirdness of it all—it felt refreshing.  Unfortunately, I’ve been fooled by trailers before (I’m talking to you, Suicide Squad).  Therefore, I retained a certain amount of restraint going into Thor: Ragnarok.  I’ll never let a trailer break my heart again.  (That’s probably not true.)

Here’s the good news—Thor: Ragnarok broke convention in many fresh, fun ways.  In fact, that’s how I would describe this movie—fun.  There is no more Shakespearean tragedy, no more deadly serious monologues or pensive stares off into the distance.  Ragnarok moves at breakneck speed with one hilarious zinger after another.  It barely takes place on Earth, and this led to a lot of spectacular alien locales.  In other words, it absolutely lived up to its trailer.

You saw Hulk and Valkyrie in the trailers, and they exceeded my expectations.  They are fantastic.   Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster is worth the price of admission alone.  There’s a breakout character named Korg who pretty much stole the movie (and was voiced by the director—that’s no accident).  Hiddleston as Loki is always wonderful, and Hemsworth gave us a hilarious, likable Thor.

According to Norse mythology, Thor was a bit of a buffoon.  Strong?  Definitely?  Smart?  … Not so much.  While I don’t expect them to go the full dimwit route with Hemsworth, it was nice to see a Thor who wasn’t quite so deadly serious.  I read that the director wanted Thor to be the coolest character in the movie, and I think they mostly succeeded at that.  I’m totally okay with funny Thor, though I am curious to see if they maintain that level of humor with him in the subsequent Avengers movies.

Was Ragnarok perfect?  No, but so few movies are.  The story was perhaps a little too fast and furious to the point it didn’t always seem cohesive … or even logical.  Hela’s backstory left me scratching my head a bit.  Don’t even get me started on the total absence of Thor’s earthly supporting cast and the complete disrespect shown to his Asgardian companions.  And while no one is doubting Cate Blanchett’s acting abilities, those talents were largely unnecessary for the role of Hela.  She was pretty standard stuff as far as villains go.

The absolute success of Ragnarok is that it showed us something new.  I’ve never seen anything quite like what we saw on the Grandmaster’s planet, and that was a ton of fun.  At this point, as far as the superhero genre is concerned, I just want to see something original.

Happily, they took it even a step further.  Fans of the comic book won’t be shocked by a few of the developments occurring at the end of the film, but I think the casual fan will.  I personally couldn’t believe they did what they did—it was pretty bold.  Again, I’ll be interested to see if some of those developments continue into the other Marvel movies.  If you wanted the Thor franchise shaken to its core, you will be very pleased.

Oh, and there’s a certain cameo at the beginning of the film that completely won me over.  We love Hulk and Thor, but I also loved Thor with this character as well and can’t wait to see more.

So, while Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t a masterpiece in terms of story, I think it definitely broke new ground in terms of visuals and storytelling daring.  It ignored several of the genre’s tropes and even made fun of some of its own past sins.  I think if the super hero genre is to survive, especially the traditional ones like Thor, they are going to have to really defy convention and challenge expectations.  Ragnarok is proof it can be done well.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)