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!)

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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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Mother Panic: A Work In Progress by Jody Houser, Tommy Lee Edwards, and Shawn Crystal – A Book Review

The Young Animal imprint intrigued me, so when each of the various first issues debuted, I had to check them out.  If we’re being honest with each other, Mother Panic #1 did not resonate.  I did not much care for Violet Paige, the woman behind Mother Panic’s mask.  I did not understand her motivation, her means, nor her technology.  She struck me as whiny and selfish.  Furthermore, I felt placing her in Gotham City and using Batman appearances as nothing more than a sales tactic.  (Even on this trade cover, the eye is drawn to him well before it is to her.)

However, an opportunity arose to procure a copy of A Work In Progress free of charge through Amazon Vine, and so I took advantage.

I’m so glad I did.

What I like about the Young Animal titles is that they are operating with a big picture mindset.  All of them seem to be going places, and these places cannot quickly be reached.  The disadvantage of such storytelling, however, is the possibility that a title could lose a reader early on if not initially dynamic enough.  Well, I’m here to tell you, if you gave up on Mother Panic after the first issue, it is certainly worth a revisit.

As A Work In Progress, well, progresses, we begin to understand Violet Paige’s past traumas that resulted in her maladjustment.  This is a deeply flawed protagonist.  She has an agenda, and she does not want to be distracted from it.  But, deep within her heart, she allows herself such distractions, especially when saving lives is involved.

Jody Houser, the writer, succeeds in providing a terribly complex character who, with each new issue, reveals more and more of herself.  Paige’s supporting cast grows with each subsequent installment, and they are equally interesting.  (In fact, there is one former bat-villain that specifically delighted me.)  Houser’s plot is multilayered, and we quickly realize that this is not a simple revenge story.  Happily, Houser is careful to keep some things a secret.  I think this is a brilliant move to keep readers coming back.  For example, Mother Panic has powers, but it’s not made completely evident what those powers are.  She also has some very impressive technology, but we have no idea from where that technology derives.  Those two mysteries alone are enough to keep me coming back.

Tommy Lee Edwards depicts the first arc’s artwork, and it suits the tone of the book perfectly.  It is gloomy, rough, and dark, yet the action is clearly conveyed and the figures are rendered well.  Shawn Crystal handles the art duties for the second arc of the book, and though his art is a bit more cartoonish, it still fits both the character and the story very well.  Each artist depicts Mother Panic as a primal, almost monstrous, force of nature, not just a woman wearing a costume.

I think it should be noted that, at no point in the book is the character actually referred to as “Mother Panic.”  It’s a very cool pair of words, though I’m not sure it’s the stuff of a vigilante alias.  I mean, it sounds awesome, but I have trouble picturing the media or criminals choosing it as a moniker.  Does that mean Violet Paige herself assigns the designation?  I guess we’ll wait and see.  Great title for a book, though.

Finally, Mother Panic has a very “Vertigo” vibe to it.  I feel like it would fit in well next to The Sandman, American Vampire, and Fables.  That’s why every time Batman and Batwoman made an appearance, it sort of jarred me.  On the one hand, I liked seeing the Bats interact with a violent costumed vigilante dropping f-bombs.  Felt more accurate to the Gotham environment.  On the other hand, I didn’t feel as though they quite fit in correctly, which made me think they are there just to help sell books.  After reading A Work In Progress, Mother Panic stands just fine on her own.

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

Help My Treatment Of The Batman Get Noticed … PLEASE!

Friends, I know this is crazy.  It’s crazy.  I get it.  But I’ve written a treatment for The Batman.  It’s good.  Seriously.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Scott, you teach high school English in Central Illinois.  You have no connections to the movie industry.  You’ve gone batty.”

Yes, but remember I have a few things going for me.  First and foremost, I’ve been reading Batman for over 37 years.  I literally know this character better than I know myself.  I know his history, his persona, his potential.  I also have a firm grasp on what’s come before, his position in the new shared DC cinematic universe, where this universe seems to want to go, and where the fans would like to see Batman himself go.  I’ve taken into account Ben Affleck’s desire to perhaps leave the franchise, and I’ve given him an out if he wants it.  I realize Joe Manganiello is getting positive response in potentially playing Deathstroke, and so the assassin is still Batman’s primary antagonist.

I’ve got a treatment that develops characters amidst nonstop action.  And though Batman and Deathstroke are the major players, I’ve got a story that logically utilizes virtually Batman’s entire mythology — both hero and villain.  Yes, I’m serious.

But here’s the problem: I’m an outsider.  I’ve tried reaching everyone associated with the film via email and Twitter to no avail.  I have no agent.  I have no Hollywood union.  I have no connections to that world at all.

Another problem?  I can’t share the actual treatment online.  If I posted the treatment to the Internet, the plot would be spoiled, and the studio would have no interest in making that movie.  I somehow need to capture Hollywood’s attention enough to make them want to get in touch with me and read the treatment.

That’s where you come in.  I need you — each and every one of you — to share this post.  My hope is that you’ll share it, you’ll say you believe in me, and it will build so much strength that Matt Reeves, Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder, and the rest of the film’s creators won’t be able to help but take notice.

All I want is a chance to share my treatment of The Batman.  If you know me at all, you know I’ve spent a lifetime preparing for this opportunity.  Please help me succeed in making it happen.

BatScott

An Open, Encouraging Letter To Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck, the rumors are swirling that you want to give up playing Batman.  Please don’t.

The Internet can be a beautiful, wonderful place full of information, inspiration, and innovation.  Unfortunately, it can also be a putrid pit of negativity.  It certainly seems as though only those with vile complaints take the time to make their voices heard on the Web.

Well, Ben Affleck, it’s time to spread some positivity.

I’m a lifelong Bat-fan.  As a forty-year-old high school English teacher (and, yes, I am working on a novel—it’s mandatory), Batman has been a constant in my life since 1980.  For the English teachers out there, that’s thirty-seven years.

I’ve enjoyed Batman teaming up with Scooby-Doo, I loved the Super Friends, Adam West will always hold a special place in my heart, Michael Keaton and Tim Burton blew my mind, The Animated Series proved itself a masterpiece, Frank Miller scared me while aweing me, Val Kilmer didn’t scar me, George Clooney kinda did, and then Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan took Batman someplace both old and new in a way that felt important.

But you, Ben Affleck, you’re doing something that’s never been done before.  You are laying the groundwork for a cinematic Batman that must play with others.  No one else had the guts to do what you guys are doing.  No one else dared put Batman’s dark costume on the same screen as the Flash’s, Wonder Woman’s, or Superman’s only slighter less dark costume.  You dared take Batman back to his vigilante roots, and you are brave enough to depict his evolution not only into a team player, but the heart and soul of the Justice League.  Batman has endured a long and illustrious cinematic life, but you are truly breaking new ground.

I know the trolls have been really tough on you.  I understand you are sick and tired of fielding questions about a movie you haven’t even started filming yet.  I recognize that the expectations are impossible to meet.  In the here and now, you have a thankless job.  But please keep the big picture in mind.  You have a vision for where you want to take this character.  You see the end result, though it may be years away.  In time, people will appreciate you and your efforts.  You will win over the haters, trust me.

How do I know this, Ben Affleck?  I’m a diehard Batman fan, and you won me over immediately.  I am being totally honest when I say that I loved Batman v Superman.  I acknowledge it as the initial step in a marathon.   Of course Batman and Superman wouldn’t get along at first!  But, with his death, Batman realizes the great ally he’s lost, and with Superman’s eventual return, both men will recognize even further the good they can do.  In a way, Justice League will echo The Lego Batman Movie – Batman is ultimately a family man.   The orphan always builds his own family.  He has an army of Robins and a multiverse of teammates.  The aloof Dark Knight is nothing of the sort.  You are depicting the advancement of a brooding cynical man believing in heroes again and leading those heroes to a better tomorrow.  In the end, everyone will see that.

So, please, don’t step away.  Don’t interrupt the journey you’ve begun.  Anytime you’re feeling blue, get in touch and I’ll build you back up.  Want to know why you’re my third favorite Batman?  (Sorry, you’ve yet to top Adam West and Michael Keaton.  You’ve got to win over my inner child with those two guys and I just don’t know if that’s possible.)  First of all, you’re big, man.  I mean, you’re a really big dude.  Batman is also a big dude.  And, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you can deliver the smug, arrogant Batman/Bruce Wayne for which we’ve all been pining.  There’s an intelligence behind your eyes that make us believe this is the world’s greatest detective.  You ooze charm, both with the mask on and off.  You can look intimidating as hell one minute, and then project a heart-breaking inner turmoil the next.  You’re able to take every dimension of Batman that we love and combine it into your performance.  Furthermore, you’ve got great chemistry with Gal Gadot, and Batman must always have chemistry with Wonder Woman.  It’s geek law.

Ignore the hate, Ben Affleck. Persevere.  Know that you’ve really struck a chord with Bat-fans everywhere.  Sadly, as a society, we’re slow to heap praise.  Well, I’m heapin’, baby!  I believe in your vision, your performance, and your interpretation.  I believe, in the end, you will be the Batman for generations to come.

Of course, this could all just be a power play to gain leverage on the studio for some reason.  In which case, I wish you luck.  Whatever the case may be, my sentiments remain unchanged!

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