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A Marvel Guy Tries The New DC Universe

Justice League of America Issue 01 - 2011

Everything old is new again in the New 52. Which sounds like a slogan for Weird Al's TV station in UHF.

Have you heard about the DC Comics unvierse reboot?

Of course you have.  Even if you don’t go to your comic book store every Wednesday, this story has reached beyond the geek level with coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and Entertainment Weekly.  Despite The Dark Knight being one of the top grossing films of all time, and despite all the hype around this summer’s Green Lantern, comic book sales are still flagging month over month.  In response DC has taken the boldest step yet to try to draw new audiences to these heroes’ original medium.  By doing a “soft reboot” of the entire comic book universe, DC hopes readers will no longer be daunted by the complex histories and continuities for heroes such as Batman and Superman, and instead impulsively pick up a comic book.

And for this comic reader, it certainly worked.

While I grew up with the DC comic characters, my exposure to them was always in their mass media formats.  To me, Superman was Christopher Reeve or George Reeves, Batman was a cartoon Bozo introduced in the mornings or, on a special Saturday, Adam West in an old rerun.  Through the Super Friends cartoon I was introduced to B-list characters like Green Lantern and The Flash.  But I never understood that the DC and Marvel universes were separate, a distinction muddled by my Mego toys including both The Incredible Hulk and Batman in the same toy line, and other than an impulse buy of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen purchased in the early 80’s I never read any comic books.

When I got into comics in my teenage years though, it was Marvel that caught my eye, and I became an avid collector of Marvel comics.  My one attempt at entering the DC universe was in 1992 when Batman Returns had me hyped, and I went out and bought several issues of the Robin mini-series, as well as some Batman and Superman comics.  But while I did enjoy the Robin series greatly, the rest of the comics never really grabbed me, and my lack of familiarity with many of the characters and situations (Lex Luthor had cancer?) was much of the reason for that.

Later that same year, the much ballyhooed Death of Superman comic event also grabbed my attention, and I read the issue in which Superman was killed by Doomsday, and I was again left unimpressed as the death seemed unearned, the fight did not seem to me any worse than what Kal-El suffered at the hands of Zod on screen in Superman II, or by Nuclear Man in Superman IV.

And in the almost 20 years in between, despite reading thousands of comics from Marvel, as well as some issues from other publishers like Dark Horse, Image, and several other independents, I’ve not read a single other DC Comic.  Until now.  Once again, the media blitz DC has created around their reboot drew me to my local comic store Wednesday night where, despite having never had interest in a single Justice League comic in my life, I purchased a copy of Justice League of America #1.  And I went home with an enthusiasm I’ve not had for a comic in many years, and immediate read the entire issue.

Batman and Green Lantern meet

I never thought superheroes would have to "meet cute", but I guess when one was played by Ryan Reynolds I should expect no less.

And my impressions as a Marvel comics guy who’s only familiarity with DC is through it’s movies and television shows?  I will get into that, and spoilers follow below.

I don’t envy writer Geoff Johns this week, having the entire burden of introducing this new universe to fans old and new, but he handles it very

well.  Despite the plethora of heroes on the cover, the image that has been the trademark of DC’s New 52 since it was announced, the issue focuses specifically on two heroes meeting for the first time–Batman and Green Lantern.   The comic is set “5 years ago” at a time where super-powered beings were still new to society, and super-powered beings, both good and evil, are hunted by authorities.  Even non-powered costumed vigilantes like Batman are not safe from pursuit.

Despite DC telling long time readers that this reset of continuity was not a hard reboot, seeing that we are being introduced to all these heroes shortly after they were revealed to society at large it seems much, if not all, of the past histories are now washed away.  It truly is a great entry point, as clear a beginning for these heroes as we need without going back and retelling each character’s origin story.  I was reminded of Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe, where just over a decade ago they pulled the exact same stunt, and as a reader I was drawn in wanting to see how DC’s handling of superhumans among regular society differed from Marvel’s Ultimate take.

Rather than focus on introducing the universe, Johns focuses on telling a story of an intergalactic threat large enough to make several heroes come together.  In the first issue we focus entirely on Batman and Green Lantern, though we get a few pages of a pre-heroic Vic Stone (soon to become Cyborg).  Unfortunately, this story seems marred with the cliched story steps whenever heroes get together for the first time.  We get Batman and Green Lantern posturing to see who is the toughest hero in Gotham, and when the story ends we see Superman handily take out Green Lantern before turning to fight Batman, sure to follow in Issue 2.

And that is another disappointing aspect to this comic.  Despite all the hype being around Issue #1, and despite DC delivering day-and-date digital copies of these comics, the modern comic structure of telling stories in 5-issue or 6-issue arcs, easily collected in trade paperbacks to be sold at Barnes & Noble, persists.  And thus this first comic gives us everything and nothing, we see the universe but such a small portion of it that we don’t really know what to make of it.

Meet the New Superman

Is it me, or does the new Superman look a lot like Tom Welling from Smallville?

Given that we only have 23 pages of comic, it’s a good thing that we aren’t spending five or ten pages being introduced to all seven characters on the cover, but yet I can’t help but feel cheated that in the issue there is no sign of Aquaman, Wonder Woman, or Flash, and Superman just gets the final page in the issue. In the end, this comic is just too short to be fulfilling.

I really feel that for such an auspicious launch, DC should have expanded this issue.  While profit margins on comic books are tight, with as much curiosity as surrounds this first new comic for their universe, DC should have offered offering readers 46 pages for the same $3.99 cover price, giving us more of the characters and a greater feel for the new universe.  As printed, it feels like comicus interruptus.

The art in the comic is tremendous, though.  Jim Lee really has some gorgeous splash pages as we see our three costumed heroes for the first time.  While I actively dislike some of the art I’ve seen from the upcoming books (looking at you Wonder Woman), the art in Justice League is bright, detailed, and in some cases stunning.

But while the art may make great posters and iPhone cases, at the end of the issue I was left unfulfilled.  Despite this being the “New 52”, there was nothing new here, just the tired story of superheroes meeting and in-fighting before, I presume, they will be forced to put aside their differences to fight an even greater threat.  And for such a risky move as flushing 70 years of history, this seems like a story very much playing it safe.

And so I will not be picking up Justice League of America #2.  The publicists at DC did their job, I bought the first one, but the writers did not live up to the hype–though I don’t see how anyone could.  But after all the hype dies down, depending on internet buzz, I may someday check out the trade paperback collection while sipping a mocha at Barnes & Noble.



September 1, 2011 Posted by | Comic Books, Reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot (The House of Chthon)

Original Air Date: June 28, 2006
Director: Peter O’Fallon

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series.  You can watch this episode free at

The pilot episode of the Blade series has been released as a movie on DVD three times.  The first was right after the series was canceled, released alone as Blade: House of Chthon.  Then it was included as part of the Blade TV Series box set.  Now it is available as part of a Blade 4 Movie DVD Pack where you get the three theatrical films, as well as Blade: House of Chthon.

As such, it was given serious consideration for inclusion as part of the Now Playing Blade Retrospective Series.  While we normally shy away from TV movies, we did delve into some for Marvel and have more on the horizon, so this would be natural for inclusion.

But then I watched Blade: House of Chthon and I must say to all the folks who work at New Line/Warner Bros. marketing: shame on you!  How dare you pass this off as a self-contained film?  And more importantly, how dare you release it not once but twice as a stand-alone film and not give the rest of the series?

I want to make it clear right now — Blade: House of Chthon is not in any way, shape, or form a self-contained story.  When I sat down to watch it, I sat down intending to see a movie that would stand alone.  This does not!

Screenwriter David Goyer is the man I credit the most for bringing Blade to the big screen.  While directors rotated in and out of the franchise, Goyer was a constant who produced many drafts of each film and even stepped into the director’s chair for final installment Blade: Trinity.  He is also the one responsible for bringing Blade to television, bringing on his friend and writing companion Geoff Johns to help with the writing duties.

Despite his work on the Nick Fury film, I think Goyer is a gifted writer with a knack for genre films.  I’ll cover the Blade films more extensively over at Now Playing, but let me say I was excited to see Goyer’s name attached to the TV spin-off and hoped that meant a continuation of the quality we’d gotten on the big screen.  But in writing this pilot, Goyer was very smart — he knew that this Blade was a TV series, and what we have with Blade: House of Chthon is a pilot for a TV series, not a movie.

Jill Wagner is Krista Starr

Wagner plays new heroine Krista Starr, who seems to have only one emotion--petulance

Why do I keep hammering that distinction?  It’s very simple:  If you go to a Blade movie, you obviously want to see Blade.  Sure, in Blade: Trinity you may have gotten a bit too much of the Nightstalkers, but Blade was still the driving, central force.  In Blade: House of Chthon, the star is Krista Starr, played by current Teen Wolf star and Wipeout host Jill Wagner.  Krista is a Iraq war veteran who returned home to Detroit after her twin brother was murdered.  When the cops seem unwilling to investigate, Krista takes it on herself to find out what happened, and she discovers her brother was a Familiar to Marcus Van Sciver – a wealthy and charismatic vampire whose public face is that of a real estate developer helping to reinvigorate Detroit.

Also after Marcus is Blade, and his new weapons-maker Shen.  But this is really secondary to introducing us to Krista – her family, her motivations, and her induction to the House of Chthon by Marcus.  We get to watch Krista as she takes that familiar journey of going from “there’s no such thing as vampires” to accepting them, and discovering her brother’s role in their organization–a role that ultimately got him killed.

Unfortunately Wagner’s acting here is one-note and bland.  I’m not sure if it’s the actress or the script, but Krista is given one note to play, and she plays it repeatedly.  Whether arguing with corrupt cop Boone, rebelling against Blade, or fighting with Marcus, Wagner has a permanent sneer on her face and, despite her character’s supposed military background, she carries herself with all the menace of a beauty queen who’s lost her lipstick.

Randy Quaid - Vampire Expert

You know what the Bible says about movie stars taking bit parts in TV pilots? It's against it.

But Wagner is given one priceless scene when she seeks out info from local vampire expert Professor Melvin Caylo, played by erstwhile Uncle Eddie, Randy Quaid.  Quaid was almost unrecognizable in this role, looking a bit more puffy than I’m used to seeing him, and I wonder if perhaps he was just in Vancouver looking for an apartment should he ever need to flee the US when the call came up to cameo in this pilot.

But in the end, this pilot does exactly what it should–it introduces us to new characters, as well as setting up ongoing conflicts such as Marcus’ right-hand-woman Chase who is both jealous of Krista’s new place as Marcus’ favorite vampire, and also perhaps has an eye on Marcus’ position in the house.  We also meet Detective Boone, a crooked cop who is betrayed by Marcus and turned into a vampire.  And thus begins a story that will be played out over the course of the entire TV season.

In addition, this episode teases us with Marcus’ plans to engineer a vaccine that makes vampires impervious to their weaknesses, such as sunlight and garlic.  While a good hook, it seems to be a crutch that Goyer leans on a bit too often as this was the primary plot of Blade II and a more minor plot point in Blade: Trinity.  Yet it seems Marcus believes he is the first to try and create such a super-Vampire.  A reference or two to the reapers to tell us Goyer knows we’ve seen this before would have been nice. Instead it just feels like a weak retread of old plots.

And it seems Goyer is not just stealing from his own old script ideas, this pilot also sets up that vampire ash is a new street drug, which basically turns humans into Blade, having the strengths of a vampire.  This seems stolen directly from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse Novel series, in this case replacing blood for ash, though Goyer does also give ash users a thirst for blood which causes many to eat their own fingers.

Sticky Fingaz as Blade

Kirk Jones may have "Sticky Fingaz" but he does not steal the show with his portrayal of Blade.

But with all of this, where is Blade?  Played now by Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones (and I don’t want to know how he got that nickname), Blade is a virtual non-entity in this pilot.  The opening in which Blade gets to rough up a couple people in poorly-choreographed fight scenes was tacked on in post production, producers perhaps realizing there was no Blade in this Blade series.  Blade cameos from time to time – coaxing Krista to spy on the House of Chthon or engaging in the poorly staged climactic fight.  But any fan of the character is bound to be disappointed by how little their daywalker hero is featured in this first episode.

Jones, inheriting the character from Wesley Snipes, does about as much with the character as Snipes did–a lot of glowering and not much true acting.  But without Snipes’ blackbelt to back him up the only battle this Blade might win is a rap battle, so we are left with quick-cut poor action when we get Blade at all.

So do I recommend this Blade TV pilot?  My initial reaction to it was “absolutely not, this is awful” but that reaction was based on false expectations.  From the marketing I expected this to be a self-contained Blade movie, similar to so many two hour TV movies that eventually become series, like the original Incredible Hulk pilot or the pilot to Knight Rider.  But having had time to digest and, yes, watched this again with those expectations reset, I say that it’s impossible to give this a ranking as it’s two hours of a 12-hour saga.  I certainly don’t recommend this as a stand-alone movie, do not watch this if you never intend to watch the rest of the series, but as a single installment in the series?

Well I guess I’ll have to watch the rest of the series to see if it pays off, because given the structure of this pilot it’s all or nothing; the pilot does not work as a movie.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 1, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 16 Comments