Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve read a lot of Batman stories in my day, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like Batman: White Knight.

Published under the DC: Black Label imprint aimed at more mature audiences, Batman: White Knight is a stand-alone collection that exists outside of regular Batman continuity.  Because of this, anything can happen.  Even so, for a book that is disconnected to the monthly Batman stories, it is oddly beholden to them as well as to the cartoons, video games, and movies.  More on that in a moment …

White Knight embraces a simple premise — What if Joker became good and Batman turned evil?  Now, the story is not quite that simple, but that’s the central concept.  Sean Murphy dives deeply into that idea while also exploring familial bonds, corrupt politics, abusive relationships, and mental health.  Like I said, this book distinctively examines content in a way that is unrivaled.

However, even though the story kept me guessing, certain aspects struck me as obviously recognizable.  For example, White Knight pays homage to the classic animated series, all of the Batman movies, the old live-action TV show, the comic books, and even the various Batman video games.  It’s as though parts of all of that happened in this Batman’s past, but in a way that we can’t fully understand.

Make no mistake, however, Murphy’s depiction of Batman and Joker, as well as their supporting cast, is what makes this book so enticing.  This is a Batman even more unhinged than in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  This is a Joker unusually sane.  This is a Harley Quinn gloriously empowered.  This is a Commissioner Gordon realistically compromised.  This is a Gotham City genuinely broken by its atypical combination of criminals and vigilantes.  And though the book is gritty, it’s also not afraid to be bombastic.  Murphy offers an ending that seems like something out of The Fast and the Furious — and I mean that as a compliment.

Finally, Murphy is the writer and artist on this title, so I wanted to address his line work.  His Batman is feral, intimidating, and a force of nature.  Murphy tweaked the costume just a bit, but it’s his use of shadows and shading that really makes his panels pop.  Speaking of costumes, I love the slight alterations Murphy made to everyone’s look in this book.  You’ll know who’s who, don’t worry about that.  The changes he made were simultaneously appropriate and dynamic.

If you’re a Batman fan but feel like you’ve seen it all, give White Knight a chance.  It will strike you as extraordinary.

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The New Joker Trailer Proved Me Wrong

Did you know they are making a standalone Joker movie?

Truthfully, when I first heard about this film, it sparked not one bit of interest from me for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I believe the Joker is one of those characters that exists best on the fringes.  The less we know about him, the better.  The Dark Knight nailed his character by telling us virtually nothing about him.  To devote an entire movie to his origin, I thought, would weaken his character and provide too little content.

Secondly, I’m one of the few people who really enjoyed Jared Leto’s take on the Joker.  I’m not yet ready to cast that Joker aside in favor of this new one.  I appreciated Leto’s Joker because it was both classic and unique at the same time.  I’ve never encountered a Joker quite like that, yet his look struck me as comfortably familiar as well.  The contradictory interpretation suited Joker nicely.

Furthermore, I heard rumors that this Joker would not connect to any of the other DC movies and would, for all intents and purposes, be a standalone in an alternate reality.  Now listen, I’m a fan of the DC Multiverse.  I’ve often said that Warner Brothers needs to lean into this concept and really play up the Earth 1, Earth 2, etc. concept.  Fans would easily be able to grasp it.  However, the initial description of the movie didn’t sound like the Joker at all.  For example, they gave him a name, Arthur Fleck, and placed him in the 1980s.  Worst of all, it was said he would just be a failed comedian who loses his mind and dons the makeup.  No mention of Batman.  It’s been argued that Batman is the driving motivator of Joker’s mayhem, especially because it was partly Batman’s fault that the Joker fell into the vat of chemicals resulting in his madness.

All of these things deterred me from thinking I would like this movie.

And then, this morning, the first trailer dropped.  If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look …

I was wrong.

Totally.

Utterly.

Completely.

Wrong.

They are doing everything it takes to completely win over my interest, and that’s by giving me the totally unexpected.  I did not anticipate the unsettling tone regarding Fleck’s descent into madness.  And though I knew Joaquin Phoenix could act, I did not think he’d deliver such a disturbed character.  I could not predict changing the Joker’s “look,” though ever so subtly,  would render him even more terrifying.  They have captured something with Joker, something profoundly … creepy.

This trailer validates taking the film into a remote part of the DC Universe.  While you could argue the fact that this movie doesn’t even have to be the Joker, it could be any clown-based criminal, the fact that it is an iteration of the classic villain makes it all the more ominous.

After all, we know just how awful the Joker really is.  We know that this Fleck character is destined to become one of the most evil fictional villains in pop culture.  Watching him get beaten up and kicked by life time after time after time in the trailer’s short time span really strikes a nerve because we know that many of our mass murderers were similarly bullied in life.

Which leads me to my only real concern about Joker.  Because it’s so clearly detached from the other DC movies, I don’t mind the thorough exploration of his origin.  I actually think it’s totally appropriate to display every single life-altering tragedy that drives a man into criminal insanity in this context.  However, I am worried that they are going to make him sympathetic or even an anti-hero.  I don’t want to feel bad for the Joker, and I say this because he is so heinous.  Mind you, I’m generally not against villains being sympathetic.  But Joker?  No, we can never feel sad for the Joker.  (Of course, Joker has proven me wrong in every other facet, so it will probably do so again in this case as well.)

Joker seems to have tapped into something very special.  It’s unafraid, primal treatment of such a visceral character appears to be creating a film full of raw, unflinching emotion.  I know it certainly struck a nerve with me.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – A Movie Review

My kids and I loved the original Lego Movie, but none of us were super excited for the sequel.  I’m not really sure why, to be honest.  We realized yesterday that it may not be in the theaters much longer, so we made our way to the show to catch it before time ran out.

The verdict?

We all loved The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part even better than the original!

This is a streamlined, funny, easy to digest movie with some great one-liners, catchy music, and a message that personally touched my heart.

The most superficial morality lesson is to be true to yourself.  It reminds kids not to let anyone else determine one’s actions–do what you know is right and you’ll always come out on top.  However, there was also an underlining message about growing up.  I’m not sure either of my kids caught it because I tried to talk to them about it and they seemed at a loss.  Because the movie takes place five years later, Will Ferrell’s children from the original, Finn and Bianca, are now further along in age.  Though they both still love Legos, they are in very different places in terms of how they like to play with their Legos.  This is the driving force of the film’s plot, and I absolutely cherished it.  It meant so much to me because I see the same thing happening with my own children.  I see my ten-year-old try to play with my six-year-old, but it can get frustrating for big sister because, well, little sister is only six.  This chasm seems to have been too great for Finn and Bianca, and it’s driving Emmet, Lucy, Batman, Unikitty, MetalBeard, and Benny apart as a result.  Of course, the movie has a happy ending, and it struck a chord with me because my kids continue to play together despite their age differences.

Are you convinced yet?  Is that a little too introspective for you?  Well, rest easy, the movie is also flat-out hilarious.  There are pop culture references galore, especially if you love Will Arnet’s Batman.  Oh, the mom appears in this one too, and you’ll love the actress portraying her.  They even pull a great gag involving Lego bricks that every parent will instantly relate to.

Admittedly, the song Everything Is Awesome catapulted The Lego Movie into everyone’s consciousness last time around.  This second part hasn’t reached mainstream success in terms of music, but the tunes are great nonetheless.  Listen closely to all of the songs’ lyrics–I was rolling!

Again, I’m not sure why we weren’t jazzed to go see this.  Maybe the brand got a little diluted with The Lego Batman Movie quickly followed by The Lego Ninjago Movie?  Those two spin-offs definitely felt repetitious to me in terms of story and theme, but not to worry, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part breaks with those previous themes and creates something totally new.

If you and the kids haven’t seen The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part yet, I urge you to go check it out while it’s still in theaters.  You won’t be disappointed.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE

Batman: The War Of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King and Mikel Janin – A Book Review

I’m not totally on board with Tom King’s Batman. Tom King is a good writer, don’t misunderstand, but his take on Batman just isn’t really doing much for me.

In this volume, Bruce Wayne is in bed with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. He is baring his soul regarding a horrific moment during his first year as Batman, a moment that occurred during The War of Jokes and Riddles.

First of all, that’s a really awkward name for a war. Maybe a little too literal as well. Don’t you think?

Anyway, Bruce is recounting his tale to Selina and we experience what is essentially a flashback. The Joker and the Riddler have declared war against each other, and all of the other villains in Gotham have chosen sides. There’s some perfunctory attempt at explaining why a band of murderous sociopaths would join forces, but it all fell a little flat with me. Eventually the story begins to focus on Kite Man. Yes. You read that right. That’s where it really lost its way with me.

I will admit that I appreciate King’s take on The Joker. Unfortunately, his Riddler seemed totally out of character in my mind. The whole story felt a little too contrived, a little too forced for my taste. It struck me as though they had a really cool idea to have Riddler and Joker wage war, but then couldn’t come up with anything any deeper than that concept.

Mikel Janin’s art, though, absolutely makes this volume worth reading. I believe his Joker is iconic, and his Batman is both regal and terrifying. I first discovered Janin on Justice League Dark, and his talent has only grown.

King’s moody, almost whiny Batman is not for me, but I appreciate the risks he’s taking and the new stories he’s trying to tell. His work is solid and well-executed, I just don’t care for his iteration of the character.

(His Mister Miracle, on the flip side, may be the best series that I’ve ever read.)

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

Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, and Andy Kubert – A Book Review

Redemption.

That’s the word I would use to describe Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race.

I mean this both literally and thematically.

From a literal standpoint, Master Race undoes the travesty of Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  Of course, these are both sequels to the seminal Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Master Race is the first Batman book I’ve read in quite a while that kept me turning the pages.  When I had to put it down, I couldn’t wait to pick it back up.

Some say that The Dark Knight Returns helped to usher in the Dark Age of comics.  It played a role in taking Batman back to his dark roots, establishing a general psychosis to the character, and promoting the idea that Batman and Superman would be anything but super friends.  It’s impact can be felt even to this day.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again was just a hot mess.  I haven’t read it in a long time, but I remember feeling that it had nothing in common with its predecessor and seemed intent on being as crazy as possible even at the sacrifice of plot, character, good taste, and logic.

Master Race takes the best aspects of both books, blends them together, and churns out an incredibly satisfying read.  Carrie Kelley, the young girl who took on Robin’s mantle back in The Dark Knight Returns, is front and center in this book.  The Dark Knight Strikes Again brought Superman’s daughter Lara into the fold, as well as Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkboy and Hawkgirl, Atom–all of whom reappear in Master Race.  This time, though, they are treated with depth and care.  In fact, some would say they are all actually redeemed.

There’s that word again.

Master Race redeems every single character in its pages.  They each go through a personal journey, and they each come out better for it.  I don’t want to get into the particulars due to revealing too much plot, but this book made me look at these characters as heroes again.  Redemption strikes me as a theme of the book.

Which is probably the most ironic thing ever.

Master Race also, in my eyes, redeems Frank Miller.  Frank Miller is a gifted writer and artist–he proved that on books like The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil, Batman: Year One, and the first Wolverine miniseries.  Unfortunately, his work on The Dark Knight Strikes Again made me question both his talent and character.  That book seemed like a total cash grab.  It almost acted like it wanted to make a point to the reader–that the comic fan will buy anything if there’s enough hype surrounding it.  It definitely turned me off from Miller for a while.

So why did I return for Master Race?  Brian Azzarello.  I’ll read anything that man writes.  I knew that if he played a hand in Master Race, it would be worth my time to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.  I have no idea as to the politics of Azzarello teaming up with Miller, but if DC made it happen to ease fan apprehension, it worked like a charm on me.

It’s so ironic that two men who are known for grim and gritty, hard-boiled writing provided one of the most inspiring Batman stories that I’ve ever read.  As much as The Dark Knight Returns created a Dark Age, I could see Master Race igniting a Heroic Age.  It truly counteracted all of the negativity surrounding our society at the moment.

Maybe you’ll agree with me, maybe you won’t, but I definitely recommend you read Batman: The Dark Knight–Master Race and see for yourself.

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

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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