Movie Trailer: Captain America – The First Avenger (2011)

Well, those Team America comparisons certainly aren’t going anywhere. The latest Captain America – The First Avenger trailer has hit, and it still looks like (a) Marvel have done a pretty good job of making a pulpy action blockbuster, and (b) Chris Evans was absolutely the right man for the Captain America role. It’s been a relatively crowded superhero summer so far, and while Thor and X-Men: First Class have done good business, Green Lantern has certainly not been a critical success (for reasons I’ll go into once I do my upcoming review) while not quite performing to the level DC and Warners would have liked. However, I have a sneaky feeling that superhero fatigue hasn’t set in yet, and while this particular Captain America trailer features way too many cock-rock guitar chords for my liking, it’s also got enough engaging banter, action and Hugo Weaving being evil for me to have my fingers crossed. Plus, the fact that the 1940s Brooklyn scenes were filmed on location (with plenty of set dressing) in Manchester about a minute’s walk from my local comic shop is just the icing on the cake…

Comic News: Bats and Oracles – More News and Thoughts on the DC Relaunch

Batman Detective Comics Issue 1 Cover Art Tony Daniel DC Reboot The Joker

The major news of the DC Comics September relaunch from last week has been bouncing around the comic-obsessed areas of the internet like wildfire, and we’ve now got a much clearer idea of what we’re dealing with. A dizzying amount of information has been released – creative teams have been announced for plenty of titles, we now know what a fair number of the 52 issue 1s that are hitting in September will be (from various Green Lantern, Batman and Superman titles to Wonder Woman (who’s staying in her most recent costume change), Animal Man, The Demon, The Fury of Firestorm, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Swamp Thing, Justice League Dark, and many, many more – a full list of the currently confirmed titles is up at BleedingCool.). Certainly, DC are going out of their way to make this an accessible jumping-on point for new readers, but contrary to early reports, they’re not going for quite the complete ground-up reboot we thought…

Wonder Woman Issue 1 Cover DC RebootThe fact that this is all happening after the alternate timeline shenanigans of Flashpoint meant it would have been possible to basically press a big button and reboot the whole DC superhero mythology, but what DC are aiming for does seem to be a mix of major changes and careful tweaking. After all, while they’re keen to get new people reading comics, they don’t want to completely annoy the long-time readers by telling them all those comics they’ve been following don’t count any more. Well… strictly speaking, superhero comics do this kind of thing all the time (It’s the nature of continuity reboots in long-running titles), but this would have been doing that kind of thing to the entire line of DC comics, an extreme move in anyone’s book.

Thankfully, it seems like DC are being sensible and saying in certain cases that if it ain’t broke, there’s no point in fixing it. Some characters do seem to be getting ground-up reboots in the DC Relaunch (like minor Justice League player and Brightest Day cast-member Firestorm, whose upcoming new comic definitely doesn’t sound like it follows current Firestorm continuity), and it looks like Superman is getting some major changes – one of which is strongly rumoured to be that his long-running marriage to Lois Lane may be history (meaning he’s ended up in the same boat as Spiderman and Mary Jane Parker in recent Spiderman comics, although at least we’re talking parallel universes and not incredibly unconvincing deals with the devil…), along with a worryingly revamped costume that brings back vague and scary memories of the fashion disaster that was the Nineties ‘Electric’ Superman

Batman Greg Capullo Art Cover DC Reboot Issue 1However, not every single bit of the DC Universe is being fiddled with – the Green Lantern franchise (which I’m not a huge fan of – I can understand the appeal of colourful space opera action, I just find multi-coloured spandex-clad space police with their own personal rhyming oaths a bit difficult to take seriously) isn’t being touched, simply rebooting its number and starting up a new story (with the aftermath of current event War of the Green Lanterns presumably being finally wrapped up in August). The only one I was really concerned about was Batman – or, more particularly, Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, which was absent from a number of the recent press releases (one of which announced the fact that ex-Robin Dick Grayson, who stepped into the role of Batman a couple of years back while Bruce Wayne was lost in time, would be returning to the role of Nightwing, while Bruce Wayne would be back as the only person in the Batman cowl).

Batman 683 Alex Ross Cover Grant MorrisonI’ve been enjoying the hell out of Morrison’s run on Batman – it’s had its fair share of ups and downs, but he’s done some seriously adventurous things with the character, and it’s the kind of wild storytelling that you can get away with in comics and which simply wouldn’t work elsewhere. (There have been moments where I liked to imagine Christopher Nolan going completely insane and saying “Oh, the third Batman film? We’ll be referencing Batman R.I.P., Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne, complete with the Batman of Zurr En Arrh, Bat-Mite and time travel.”) Of course, it’s had its fair share of detractors and critics, especially from trad-Batman fans who don’t hold with the comic being anything other than dark gritty action on the streets of Gotham (when there are multiple Batman titles, and most of them deliver exactly that) – and the one thing that Morrison’s run isn’t, especially now that it’s in its final phase in Batman Incorporated, is new reader friendly. Instead, it uses massive amounts of continuity in a really interesting way, finding a way of treating the entirety of Batman’s seventy-year history as the life of one man (most memorably in the brilliantly surreal post-R.I.P. two parter ‘The Butler Did It/What The Butler Saw’), while also utilising a large cast of characters and exploring different areas of the DC Universe (especially thanks to Bruce Wayne’s current globe-trotting adventures).

Not the kind of thing that’s easy to boil down into an accessible issue 1, of course, and while simply saying “Well, let’s cancel it and bring the Batman stories in line with the relaunch” would have been a dumb corporate idea, it would hardly be the first time storytelling in comics has been dictated by dumb corporate ideas. However, they’ve ultimately been sensible – Batman Incorporated is being split into two ‘seasons’, with the first concluding in August with issue 10. Then it goes on hiatus for a while (with Morrison working on a ‘yet to be announced’ project), and returns in early 2012 with season 2 of Batman Inc, which’ll be a 12 issue epic and will wrap up the whole Morrison run. And presumably mean I can start saving for the absurdly expensive omnibuses that DC will undoubtedly be doing of the run at some point in the future…

DC Reboot - Nightwing Issue 1 Cover Batman Dick GraysonThat’s got me relieved, and it’s nice to see it’s been handled well. Certain aspects are a bit disappointing – unlike some, I actually enjoyed the whole ‘two Batmen’ concept, and having Dick Grayson in the role opened up plenty of storytelling possibilities that hadn’t been there before (especially with his relationship with the fabulously grumpy Damian Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s 10-year-old son and the new Robin), but of course superhero comics are all about the illusion of change, and it also makes sense for an accessible relaunch to get the comic back to a general perception of Batman that doesn’t have to start with the sentence “Well, you see, it was all because Batman got hit by Darkseid with the Omega Sanction back in Final Crisis and everyone thought he was dead…” I’d have been happy for those stories to continue for longer, but I’m impressed we got as many as we did. Not sure if ‘demoting’ Dick back to his role as Nightwing will create many interesting stories, but I guess we’ll have to see.

DC Reboot - Batgirl Barbara Gordon Issue 1 CoverThen, though, there’s the one decision I’m less than comfortable with – the fact that they’re bringing Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl. To non-comic readers, that’s probably not going to sound like a problem, after all Batgirl (the BG version) is pretty iconic after all these years thanks to her countless animated appearences, the Sixties show, and she even survived the terrible, terrible ignominy of being played by Alicia Silverstone in Batman and Robin. Trouble is, back in the mid-Eighties, in Alan Moore’s legendary Batman graphic novel The Killing Joke, Barbara was shot in the spine by the Joker, paralysing her from the waist down (an event which was, like the rest of The Killing Joke, supposed to be outside of continuity, but has since been adopted as part of the DCU history). Since then, for over twenty years, she’s been in a wheelchair, but has still played a significant role in the DC Universe as Oracle, the all-round JLA information source and master computer expert, as well as acting as the head of the Birds of Prey, a female group of superheroes.

Oracle Barbara Gordon DC Reboot - Ryan Sook ArtShe’s essentially ended up as a much stronger and a far more interesting character as a result of this – especially since she’s held her own in a very major way in a universe full of incredible dangers without having any superpowers. There aren’t exactly many disabled characters in superhero comics, and it’s hard to think of one that’s been as long-lasting or been presented as well as Oracle – a tough, intelligent woman who doesn’t let a crippling injury stop her from helping people in any way she can. Of course, there is the fact that in an anything-can-happen universe like the one presented by DC, where people rise from the dead and do the impossible every other week, it shouldn’t be beyond likelihood for Barbara’s injuries to be eventually healed, but DC have kept to presenting that reality for a long time, with the result that Barbara Gordon has now having spent longer as Oracle than she ever did as Batgirl (and has actually acted as ‘advisor’ to the two subsequent versions of Batgirl who’ve turned up in Batman continuity over the last decade-or-so – Cassandra Cain, and Stephanie Brown).

Come September, however, and that’s all over. In the post-Flashpoint DCU, Barbara Gordon will officially be back as Batgirl – I’m guessing that she may be one of the characters who’s being aged down slightly, as Barbara has been allowed to get a little older over the years (comic book ageing in superhero comics is always odd and rather elastic, but it does happen – in the same way that Dick Grayson has distinctly aged since his first appearence as Robin). I’m hoping that possibly they may keep aspects of the Oracle storyline as part of her background – that maybe in this rewritten version of history, the injury from the Joker’s bullet wasn’t quite as bad. It’d give a nice ‘overcoming adversity’ edge to the character, as well as allowing at least certain aspects of her life as Oracle to still be around, but I fear it’s more likely that it’ll get wiped from history – which is a shame, and I don’t think DC realise exactly what they’re throwing away with this. I understand exactly why it’s happening; the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl is well-known, and if you’re trying to make the DC Universe as accessible to new readers as possible, and you want a Batgirl title, you need the most recognisable version of the character there. I understand the reasoning completely, but the fact is that they’re throwing away the Oracle part of Batgirl’s history for the sake of brand recognition, and simultaneously upsetting the hell out of any wheelchair-bound comics readers who considered Barbara-as-Oracle as a hero and a character that they care about (And it’s ironic, considering that DC are attempting to make lots of noise about having a more diverse and representative superhero universe, that they’re hanging this reboot on casually writing out a character’s disability). There’s an opinion piece at Newsarama that talks about this much more powerfully and eloquently than I ever could – all I can say is that while I know reboots are a natural factor of comic book storytelling, I really think this one is happening for the wrong reasons, and the DC Universe will be less interesting without Oracle in it.

So, September is the month. I’m impressed DC are going ahead with this, although I’ll be honest – not many of the announced titles have really made me think “Wow! That sounds INCREDIBLE!!” Plus, no matter how big a marketing push and how much they try and stretch out onto the new digital frontier, it’s all going to come down to the stories. These are going to have to be really good comics – all eyes are going to be on DC come September, so they’d better not mess this up…


Comic News: Reboot In Your Face (Major restarts coming in the DC Universe…)

Justice League Issue 1 Cover Jim Lee Geoff Johns Relaunch Batman Wonder Woman Cyborg Green Lantern The Flash Aquaman Superman

There’s been a lot of rumours about what’s coming up in the DC Comics superhero universe, the home of heroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. The current big DC event comic Flashpoint, where the whole DC universe is transformed into a dark alternative, is supposed to be leading to yet another one of those moments where ‘things will never be the same!’ On top of this, it was initially announced that in the last week of August, DC would be publishing exactly one comic – the fifth and final issue of Flashpoint. Considering DC normally has around a dozen titles coming out every week, this is a pretty major route to go for – and while it’s now been modified slightly (there are two comics coming out, rather than one), it’s clear that DC isn’t messing around.

Now, DC has started releasing official news of what they’re doing… and it’s pretty big. In a press release that’s turning up in lots of places, they’ve announced that they’re basically rebooting their whole line of superhero comics, and renumbering everything. In September, there’s going to be 52 issue ones, all of which are apparently designed to be accessible jumping-on points for new readers (and considering some of these titles are things like Action Comics, which recently crossed the 900-issue mark, this is quite a big move). Added to which, it does seem like there’s a certain amount of tweaking going on – artist and DC bigwig Jim Lee has apparently done redesigns on over 50 superhero costumes, the word ‘contemporary’ is being bandied around a lot, and it does seem like this is definitely going to be a different take on the DC Universe (with, for example, plenty of characters being aged-down into younger models). Considering that this is following Flashpoint, an event where the DC Universe is altered beyond recognition (meaning it might still be a bit different when it gets put back), it does seem like they’re going for permanent alterations to continuity, and the status quo. And, on top of all of this, every single one of these comics is going to be available day-and-date as a digital comic, through the Comixology platform that DC’s been using up until now.

The easiest bit of this to take on is the digital decision – it was obvious that at some point, one of the ‘big two’ was going to jump into the digital world with both feet (and considering DC are still running second to Marvel at the moment, it’s not a loopy idea). It’s big, and despite that they’re apparently going to run some incentives for comic shop retailers, there are going to be some unhappy people out there. Trouble is, digital isn’t going away, and this could be a very healthy move as well. The day-and-date comics will probably be exactly the same price as print (which is a tad steep for a digital comic), but it’s still a major step forward. For the first time, people who torrent comics because “Oh well, I want them on the day, and only a few titles are done day-and-date” aren’t going to have the excuse. Don’t know if it really will make piracy go down, but it’s a major step along the way to having a good legal digital alternative to piracy.

It’s the rest of it that is… interesting, if not completely convincing. Comic book continuity is a massive double-edged sword – it creates fascinating, intensely complex sagas, worlds that you can get lost in, interlocking stories that can be unlike anything else out there… but then, it can also make it impossible to keep up, especially if you’re not aware of all the tiny pieces of comic-book continuity that the story is tying into. Last week, I read the first two issues of Marvel’s The Mighty Thor, which is a relaunch of the Thor title done to tie in with the release of the Thor movie, and yet if I was a random cinemagoer who’d seen and enjoyed Thor, those two comics would have perplexed the hell out of me. (There’s a lot of reasons why comics have drifted away from being self-contained, and many of them actually only work now collected as trade paperbacks – it’s a complicated problem, and is slightly compounded by the fact that modern comic storytelling doesn’t let you easily put in narrative captions that bring everyone up to date.) And part of this problem is that the majority of the people who buy comics are the die-hard fans, who know the continuity and don’t want to read stuff that ‘doesn’t matter’ (which is one of the reasons why the brilliant out-of-continuity comic Thor: The Mighty Avenger got cancelled after eight issues, despite being a fun, all-ages and thoroughly charming adventure comic).

So, there’s a certain logic in DC’s move… but the fact that they’re going for such a drastic reboot leaves me slightly perplexed. What I’ve seen of the new costumes (shown above in the cover for Justice League issue 1, by Jim Lee) doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence (especially that ‘styled up’ version of the Superman logo, which brings back worrying memories of the Nineties ‘Electric’ Superman redesign), and the statement that they’re doing “younger, cosmetically changed versions” of these characters immediately opens up questions as to what’s in and what’s out continuity-wise. The various dark events in the Justice League’s history in Identity Crisis? Batman being presumed dead in Final Crisis (leading to the current activity in Batman Incorporated)? There’s all sorts of knots they could tie themselves in, especially with ongoing series like Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc, which certainly doesn’t feel like it’s going to end in about three months. (And what about the notoriously delayed David Finch-drawn Batman series The Dark Knight? We’re barely onto issue 3 (after it being launched in November) and now they’re bringing in filler artists – is that going to get a relaunch, or will it just stagger to issue 6 and then get quietly cancelled?)

Another question – violence. DC Comics have been getting ridiculous in terms of violence and pretty damn unpleasant adult content recently (the biggest and most ridiculous of the lot being issue 3 of Rise of Arsenal, which plays like somebody read Alan Moore’s Watchmen and took every wrong lesson from that book that it’s possible to take). Is this going to continue? If DC are looking to bring new readers in, are we still going to get showers of gore, brutal violence, and incidents like the infamous rape of character Sue Dibney?

Also, there’s the Justice League. At the same time as Flashpoint issue 5, we get issue 1 of Justice League – a relaunched version of the comic that’s often been one of DC’s biggest titles, with DC bigwigs Geoff Johns and Jim Lee at the helm (although considering how notoriously late Jim Lee can sometimes get with his art, it remains to be seen how long he’ll be staying on it – this is one comic that can’t afford to ship late). And a new line-up, taking us mostly back to the Grant Morrison era JLA, where he took the then-pretty-ballsy move of actually putting DC’s biggest guns together – we get Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash and Wonder Woman. Oh, and Aquaman. And… er… Cyborg. (I mean, really? Cyborg? They seem to be making a lot of finally trying to make the DC Universe look a little more multi-cultural, after some very unfortunate examples of ethnic ‘legacy’ superhero characters meeting horrible ends and being replaced by their previous white alter-egos, but that’s the guy you promote to DC’s A-list? That’s the guy at the forefront of DC’s new ‘contemporary’ style – a character who fit in with the Teen Titans back in the Eighties and Nineties, but doesn’t exactly look tremendously sensible now?)

It’s possible, of course, that Flashpoint might act a little like the Time War in current Doctor Who continuity – a way of buffering the new continuity from the old. Old Who continuity is still there, and while there have been tweaks and rewrites (hello, new Cybermen) it hasn’t been completely up-ended in the way a new version of Who could have relaunched everything. There’s any number of ways they could be doing things – the fact that DC are potentially transforming their core universe into a version of the Marvel Ultimate universe (which was originally created as a jumping-on point for new readers, and a more ‘contemporary’ take on the characters) is certainly brave. The potential for messing this up is pretty big, of course, but modern-day mainstream comics certainly need new approaches, and anything which might free them up from the constraints of selling to the direct market (to fans who regularly bitch about event comics and getting more of the same, and yet only ever seem to buy big event comics and ignore the new, riskier titles) has got to be a good thing…

Movie Trailer – The Adventures of Tintin

Adventures of Tintin Poster Steven Spielberg Herge Peter Jackson 2011

The Adventures of Tintin is something that’s intrigued me for a while – I grew up with Tintin, it formed part of my love of comic books, and stories like The Crab with the Golden Claws, Prisoners of the Sun and Explorers on the Moon are seared into my subconscious. Herge’s globe-trotting adventures have always had a massive appeal, and while a full-on live action adaptation would have just been wrong, the concept of a motion-capture CG adaptation that kept to Herge’s distinctive style was… interesting.

Then, there’s the creative team behind this. The first draft of the screenplay was done by Steven Moffat (before some sci-fi series started taking up all his time), with further work done by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. It’s being directed by Steven Spielberg, with the next in the series due to be helmed by Peter Jackson. The still images we’ve seen so far have been interesting – lurking in a halfway house between photo-realism and Herge’s original artwork.

Well, now we’ve got our first actual footage from the film. The teaser trailer for the film is now up in Hi-Def at the Apple trailers site, and it’s… interesting. It looks exactly as gorgeous as you’d expect (especially since, as far as I know, Weta Digital is handling all the animation), with many of the early shots not even looking computer-generated, and there’s a couple of moments which suggest that Spielberg handling 3-D could be an interesting experience. (There’s also the fact that despite this first instalment in the planned franchise being largely an adaptation of The Secret of the Unicorn, there’s a big chunk of The Crab with the Golden Claws in this teaser, suggesting we’re getting a brisk origin for Tintin and Captain Haddock’s friendship). The one thing it doesn’t do, of course, is show us much of the characters or much of the dialogue, giving us no chance to see if they’ve succesfully transferred the leaps in motion capture made by the Avatar crew into a film which doesn’t star giant blue pointy-eared space elves. The end shot of Tintin himself is gorgeously executed and amazingly photo-real, and the stylisation may prevent this from falling into the glassy-eyed creepiness that Robert Zemeckis’ mo-cap films have often ended up with. However, until we see some actual scenes, I’m going to reserve judgement, and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn will remain something I’m interested in, but not quite genuinely excited about yet…

TV News: Comics No More (Wonder Woman and Locke and Key bite the dust…)

Wonder Woman 2011 TV Pilot Production Adrianne Palicki

So, the much-kicked, much-derided Wonder Woman pilot has, in the end, not been picked up by NBC. In certain ways, this isn’t surprising – the network initially passed on the script, and it’s fairly clear that it only really got through to production because of the fact that it’s a well-known and recognised property, meaning NBC were dipping their toe in the water but with no commitment to diving all the way in. Naturally, there’s lots of victorious braying from certain areas of comics fandom, convinced that this project was a guaranteed disaster from the start, but I can’t quite work up the same enthusiasm and relief I did when Robert Zemeckis’ ill-advised motion-capture remake of Yellow Submarine got tanked. That’s mainly because Wonder Woman is a character where there’s so much manuevering room that you can do different takes on her (especially in a network TV show, which was highly unlikely to go the ‘Amazonian Goddess fights mythological beasts every week’ route). Now, I was never entirely convinced by what I heard about Kelly’s WW concept – it sounded like the kind of thing which could either work fairly well, or end up embarrassing – and some of the casting had me raising question marks (Liz Hurley as the main bad guy? Really?), but there was enough there to at least have me intrigued, and I was willing to give the project the benefit of the doubt until I’d actually seen it. And, from reports of people who’ve seen the pilot, the episode isn’t a disaster and has some strong elements (quotes used have been ‘ambitious’ and ‘well-crafted’), but the focus-groups and execs weren’t convinced.

Now, however good or bad lead actress Adrianne Palicki was as Wonder Woman, the series isn’t going to happen, and yet another version of Wonder Woman has failed to make it into becoming a genuine commercial spin-off. Fans may be breathing a sigh of relief, but this is likely to make another Wonder Woman project a lot less likely to happen for while, if only because producers may be slightly uneasy about a fandom that’s going to lash out with a borderline insane amount of venom unless they get a version of Wonder Woman that’s exactly like the comics in every conceivable way. And as we’ve seen plenty of times in recent years – sticking exactly with the comics isn’t always a good thing. Like I’ve said before, Wonder Woman is a tricky character to get right in a manner that will appeal outside comic-book fans – there’s a reason why so many WW film projects have failed to get off the drawing board – and it’ll be interesting to see if anyone can ever solve the Wonder Woman problem…

Locke and Key Cover Art Gabriel Rodriguez Joe Hill Issue 6 Head GamesThe WW pilot misfire is, of course, the big TV news – but the one that’s made me a lot sadder is that Fox have passed on the pilot episode of Locke and Key, an adaptation of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s brilliant dark fantasy comic (which is slowly approaching the end of its run). With a brilliant cast and an absolutely corking director for the pilot (Never Let Me Go helmer and music video supremo Mark Romanek), it was top of the list of shows I wanted to see happen – although I was a little concerned that Locke and Key is pretty damn dark, a pitch-black twist on a traditional ‘kids adventure’ tale, and it felt like the kind of work that would fit much better somewhere like HBO or AMC than on a mainstream network (added to which, Fox have not exactly always been kind to genre shows). Added to which, word is that the pilot episode is really, really good – but it’s fallen victim to being viewed as ‘too complex’, and in a showdown between Locke and Key and new JJ Abrams-produced mystery Alcatraz, Abrams was the winner. There’s always the vague chance it might get shopped to another network, but I’d be surprised – five years ago, Locke and Key would have stood a much stronger chance as a TV show, but mainstream US TV seems to be largely moving away from long-form mysteries and complex arcs (leaving it more for the pay-on-demand HBO crowd). Seems very likely that Locke and Key is going to be left as yet another fascinatingly incomplete footnote in SF/Fantasy TV History, worse luck…

Movie News: Dear Zack… (An Open Letter to Zack Snyder, on the occasion of casting Michael Shannon as Superman villain General Zod)

Superman Logo Alex Ross Art Comic

Dear Zack Snyder,

STOP CASTING ACTORS I LIKE IN YOUR SUPERMAN FILM!

I mean it. I was okay with Henry Cavill – after all, he’s the kind of mostly unknown actor who’s still notched up plenty of experience, and could work out very well. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Kal-El’s adoptive father? A brilliant, almost blindingly obvious choice. Diane Lane as Martha Kent? Hell, yes – even if the attractiveness of Superman’s mother just shot through the roof. But so far, I wasn’t too invested. After Superman Returns not working out at all, I wasn’t going to let myself get excited about another Superman film. All was well.

Then Amy Adams got cast as Lois Lane. I’d been expecting a twentysomething, and probably someone who’d be slightly miscast (as in Superman Returns, with poor old Kate ‘I look about twelve in this film’ Bosworth). Lois is one of those deceptive roles that looks easy but isn’t, and even Teri Hatcher in the Lois and Clark show never got close to besting Margot Kidder in the original Superman movies. However, Adams could conceivably do it – and suddenly, I was in a bit of a bind. After all, this was Zack Snyder’s Superman we were talking about – a film I was in no rush to see before I saw Sucker Punch, and after which all I wanted to do was grab a Warner Bros exec by the scruff of the neck and scream “Why? Why would you do this? WHYYY???”

And then, you had to do it. You had to cast Michael Shannon as General Zod.

Michael Shannon Casting News General Zod Zack Snyder Superman Man of SteelThat’s an incredibly good choice. If you’re going to do Zod (especially after the simply magnificent job Terrence Stamp did in Superman II), you’ve got to get it right. There were rumours that it might be Viggo Mortensen, but Michael Shannon is just as good, if not better considering he doesn’t have the visibility and foreknowledge that comes with Viggo. Shannon has, up until now, been one of those quietly impressive character actors who occasionally turn up in big films, but do most of their work in quiet, intense indie dramas (the most notable films I can think of featuring Michael Shannon are Grand Theft Parsons, Shotgun Stories, and The Woodsman – all of which feature him in very different roles). He’s an intense, dedicated actor, capable of bringing real fierceness to the role, and this will certainly catapult him into a much-deserved bigger league. It’s a great bit of casting.

I just wish it wasn’t for a Zack Snyder film.

I didn’t see your Dawn of the Dead remake. 300 was attention-grabbing, but shallow as a puddle. And I was burned with Watchmen – which was a decent, admirable effort, but did feel like a two-and-a-half hour thesis on why adapting Watchmen into a movie was a very bad idea. I recently made the mistake of seeing Sucker Punch, and am still reeling from the experience (it’s taken me a long time to write a review, just to fully express my slightly rambling feelings on exactly how unempowering this supposedly empowering fantasy was).

You may be a really nice guy – but your directorial style is, to be honest, borderline insane. You don’t seem to have any idea how to create a consistent emotional reality in your films (you managed it occasionally in Watchmen, but then, you had an excellent blueprint to work from). You throw eye-candy at the audience whether it’s necessary or not, bludgeoning them into submission. Your ability to select a completely inappropriate or thunklingly obvious pop song for your film soundtracks is unparalleled. (From the awfulness of the Leonard Cohen-scored sex scene in Watchmen, to the non-stop “Oh dear god…” experience that was the Sucker Punch soundtrack, your musical taste is truly the gift that keeps on giving). There doesn’t seem to be a single shot that you don’t think couldn’t be at least slightly improved by slow-motion, or funky CG speed-ramping. You were convinced the world was ready for an 3-D CGI animation starring armoured owls (A hint: it wasn’t). You actually managed to somehow make a film where sexy girls in kinky underwear fight Nazi steampunk zombies into one of the dullest, most repetitive things I’ve seen in a cinema for years.

You are quite plainly completely out of your mind.

Even with the new title – just ‘Man of Steel’, no Superman – your new movie fills me with a sense of foreboding. I’d like to think that maybe you’ll ratchet your style back and approach the film in a calmer perspective. But I really doubt it. A Zack Snyder Superman film isn’t something I wanted. But I’m getting it anyway. So…

PLEASE STOP CASTING ACTORS I LIKE IN YOUR SUPERMAN FILM!

You’ve made your point. Go nuts from hereon in. Perry White and Jimmy Olsen? Go nuts. Cast the most ludicrous actors you can think of. I don’t mind. Just please- don’t let me look at another casting notice and think “Damn that’s a really good choice,” followed by a Wrath of Khan-style cry of “SNYYYDERRRR!!” Okay?

I’m glad we had this little chat. And I’ll be watching you, you slo-mo lovin’ motherfunster…

Yours grumpily,

Saxon.

Movie News: Lanterns-a-Go-Go (New footage from Green Lantern)

Green Lantern Ryan Reynolds Movie Poster Wondercon Teaser Footage

Only yesterday I was talking about how the production schedule and effects work on Green Lantern has kind of slowed down and caused problems with the marketing push, resulting in us only getting a not-exactly-stunning trailer so far. Well, it seems like Warners have woken up to this, as the footage that’s recently premiered at US Convention Wondercon has also been put up online in sparkling high definition at the Apple Trailers site. It’s a sensible move, considering how often comic convention exclusives almost always get leaked onto Youtube as crappy cameraphone videos, and how awareness of Green Lantern as a movie property is not exactly at an all-time high right now.

And the footage? Well… it certainly proves that Warners dropped the ball with the first ad, and really should have gotten more effects-work done in time, as this is a much more impressive trailer than the first one, giving a far greater sense of scale and easing back for the most part on the cheesy humour. It certainly looks like it’s going to be colourful and fun, but with a major streak of straight-faced sci-fi cheese that seems to be – at least from my perspective – part and parcel of the whole Green Lantern experience (To be honest – it’s going to be absurdly hard to make the kooky and poetic Green Lantern oath work dramatically, and it doesn’t look like they’ve cracked it here (and I’m deeply worried about sequels and potentially getting to all the other colour Lantern Corps, all of whom have their own ridiculous poem-oath)). The costume looks better here (even if the mask is still going to be a tough sell – an alien energy costume, and the best thing it can think of to protect his identity is a domino mask?), although much of the footage on Oa, home of the Green Lantern Corps, looks like it’s way too skewed for the whole 3-D experience with CG shots that are good, but not always looking brilliantly immersive. I’m more onboard than I was before, but I’m still not entirely convinced (I’m nowhere near as sold as I was on the Captain America trailer), and I do reckon it’s going to be very interesting to see what sinks and what swims in this upcoming superhero-overloaded blockbuster summer…

The Thursday Trailer: Captain America – The First Avenger (2011)

Up until now, Marvel Studios haven’t been anywhere near as loud about their upcoming Captain America film as they have about Thor – probably because of the fact that Thor is a slightly trickier proposition that needs a little more groundwork laying than “Steve Rogers becomes a Super Soldier and punches Nazis”. Well, after the promising-looking Superbowl 30-second ad, the full trailer is now available in HD on the Apple site, and it’s actually looking like an absurd amount of pulp fun. I suspected that Chris Evans was going to make a really good Captain America when he was cast, and it doesn’t look like he’s about to prove me wrong…

Honourable Mentions:

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – To be honest, this only scrapes in via its newness. The fourth Pirates film looks like it might be an improvement on the goodwill-devouring and horribly bloated second and third films, but it still looks dangerously overblown, and hasn’t changed my mind on the simple fact that Captain Jack Sparrow doesn’t work as a lead character (The reason why he works in the first Pirates film? He’s a shambling Trickster who’s convinced he’s the hero of the movie, but isn’t). But it does at least seem the best bet for swashbuckling action this summer…

Plus – upcoming soon on DVD and Blu-Ray is the thoroughly intriguing-looking Japanese animated film Summer Wars, from the director of The Girl Who Leapt through Time. The trailer looks very good, and pretty nuts – this is the US version, though, so be prepared for a not exactly spectacular English dub…

TV News: Preludes and Nocturnes (Or, the Disappearing and Reappearing TV Adaptation of The Sandman)

Sandman Neil Gaiman Dave McKean TV Adaptation News

Scarcely have I stopped talking about how happy I am that the mo-cap Yellow Submarine remake isn’t happening, when another project that I’m slightly concerned about starts hovering in the Schrodinger’s Box of Cancelled/Not Cancelled reality. In this case, it’s the potential TV adaptation of one of the most successful and well-known graphic novels of all time – Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Dave McKean TV Adaptation News Cover ArtA 75-issue series that started out as a top-down remix of an old DC Comics character and went on to redefine much of what you could do in comic books, all while delivering stories that were dark, melancholy, funny, twisted and utterly distinctive, The Sandman is a hell of a comic book. One of the most high profile successes in the comic industry over the last twenty five years, Hollywood has been circling it for a very long time – but the distinctive style of The Sandman is also the thing that makes it incredibly hard to adapt. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories are lyrical and odd in construction, often using fairy tale logic or confounding the reader with deliberately anti-climactic endings, while the protagonist,  the moody and aloof immortal being known as Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is often more of a background presence. There are very few genuine villains in The Sandman’s world, and even the ones that are there don’t function the way you expect them to (or don’t actually receive any come-uppance), and the whole thing is about as far from Hollywood storytelling as it’s possible to get.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Sam Kieth TV Adaptation News ArtThere have been attempts since the early Nineties, but none have ever come to fruition – Roger Avary, Gaiman’s collaborator on Beowulf, came closest to managing a fairly faithful adaptation, but even his attempt eventually floundered, and ever since it’s seemed that there’d never be a way of reconciling The Sandman’s deliberately offbeat storytelling with the money it would take to actually make.

Then, in the middle of last year, rumours of a TV series started to circulate. Given The Sandman’s deliberately long-form storytelling structure, a TV adaptation isn’t an insane idea, and would certainly give the concept much more room to breathe. Plus, there’s much more potential to acheive something closer to the comic’s unique flavour on TV, rather than trying to do such a kooky story in the increasingly homogenised world of Hollywood Blockbusters. In an ideal world, a Sandman series developed by someone like HBO would be ideal – the original comic wasn’t afraid to go in some very dark, graphic and adult directions, and a series that was just as free to explore that kind of territory (along the lines of the recent AMC TV adaptation of The Walking Dead) could be a genuinely promising prospect.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Warner Bros were actually hoping for a replacement for their absurdly long-in-the-tooth ‘Young Superman’ series Smallville, and the Producer who was possibly going to transfer Gaiman’s work to the small screen was Eric Kripke, the creator of long-running fantasy/horror show Supernatural. This didn’t fill me with confidence – I’ve only seen one episode of Supernatural (and that was a long time ago) so I can’t judge Kripke’s suitability or not, but the idea of aiming The Sandman at mainstream network TV seemed, well, odd to say the least. It’s not impossible that such a project could work, but the potential for massive compromises and creative disaster was pretty damn strong, and it went down as something that I wouldn’t be upset about if, as with so much in the long history of proposed Sandman adaptations, it came to nothing.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Marc Hempel The Endless TV Adaptation News ArtSo, when I woke up this morning to find the internets ablaze with the announcement that Kripke had announced that it didn’t look like The Sandman was happening “at least for this TV season”, I have to admit I breathed a small sigh of relief. A TV version of The Sandman would be massively risky, and I’d far rather see it not happen than for a watered down, diluted version to shuffle its way onto the screen. The Sandman does strike me as one of those stories that, like Watchmen (despite all of Zack Snyder’s efforts) works best as a comic – its structure, its weirdness and its limitless imagination is simply ideal for the comics medium, and crowbarring it into another form risks breaking what makes it special in the first place.

However, it looks like I spoke too soon. DC’s Creative Chief Officer and Head Writing honcho Geoff Johns went on Twitter today, and tweeted: “Correction to world: The Sandman is AWAKE! Psyched to be working with @neilhimself on developing one of the greatest series ever!” It’s especially interesting, considering that according to Kripke, he had talked to Gaiman (aka @neilhimself) about the project, but wasn’t actually working directly with him. Of course, this could be general PR just to prevent people mistakenly thinking the project was actually dead, but for the moment it looks like the project is certainly active. Which means I get to keep being mildly concerned. Oh, hooray…

Of course, one interesting factor is whether or not a similar project makes it to the screen. Joe Hill’s brilliant dark fantasy comic book Locke and Key has been developed into a TV series – a pilot episode has been shot (directed by music video supremo and Never Let Me Go helmer Mark Romanek), and if it gets the green light, it’ll be going to a full series for the September 2011 TV season. If a project as dark and interesting as Locke and Key gets onto TV screens still with its weirdness and character intact, then I’d say the possibility of getting a Sandman TV series will definitely go up – but I’ll still remain to be convinced that this isn’t going to be anything other than yet another disappointing comics adaptation…

TV News: How Do You Solve a Problem like Wonder Woman? (Pilot Episode Details…)

Wonder Woman Terry Dodson

Wonder Woman Lynda CarterAh, Wonder Woman – the Amazon princess of Themyscira who’s sent to Man’s world as an emissary of Peace, a job that seems to involve a remarkable amount of beating people up, battling evil and repelling bullets with her magical arm gauntlets. She’s massively recognisable. She’s one of the most long-running superheroes around. She’s a female icon, a wish-fulfilment figure and a role model… and yet she hasn’t managed a non-animated onscreen appearance since the fabulously campy Seventies TV series starring Lynda Carter. It’s not for want of trying – there’s been a whole series of attempts to bring Wonder Woman back to the screen (most notably in 2005, when Buffy creator Joss Whedon was hired to do a reboot) but all of them have either failed or stalled.

Now, however, Wonder Woman may be on her way back to TV screens, thanks to a rather unlikely benefactor. If you were going to make a list of potential producers for a TV version of Wonder Woman, it’s very unlikely that David E. Kelly – the king of kooky courtroom drama and creator of shows like Ally McBeal and Boston Legal – would have made the cut. However, proving that you can never predict exactly how weird Hollywood can get, a Wonder Woman TV project is looking very likely, a pilot episode is being put together at US network NBC, and David E. Kelly is the man in charge. Details of the pilot script have filtered out via film/tv/comics site Bleeding Cool, and it’s certainly sounding a very David E. Kelly show – by the sounds of it, it’ll be a frothy relationship-driven superhero comedy drama with a fair selection of continuity from the original comics, but aiming more at the mainstream network audience, and certainly in no way trying to do the straight, mythic and serious take that plenty of fans seem to want.

(A quick summary of most of the details we’ve got – essentially, the setup is that Wonder Woman is Diana Themyscira, head of the Themyscira Corporation, and publicly moonlights as a superhero (think Tony Stark and Iron Man), but also uses the mild-mannered alter ego of Diana Prince from time to time. The general mood seems to be goofy female-oriented superhero drama, with a slightly worrying number of pop songs listed in the script (there’s apparently going to be a fight scene scored by ‘Single Ladies’ by Beyonce, which doesn’t exactly fill me with hope), and from most of what I’ve read in the Bleeding Cool article, it does feel like the closest reference point is going to be that fabulously Nineties TV take on Superman, Lois and Clark (also known over here as The New Adventures of Superman) – or, at least, the earlier episodes of Lois and Clark where the relationship-driven comedy worked, and the whole concept hadn’t been run into the ground yet).

Wonder Woman Brian BollandAt this stage, I’m neither loving nor hating what I’m hearing. A lot will depend on execution, and Wonder Woman isn’t a character I’m especially invested in – it does read like the kind of thing that’s more likely to fail than succeed, but pilot episodes can be notoriously clunky anyway, and I’m willing to at least give it a little benefit of the doubt (until I’ve actually seen the episode in question) as this could go either way. Kelly’s take might be a smash success or a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it failure (like the TV adaptation of female-centric Batman universe comic Birds of Prey, which was cancelled so quickly, hardly anyone even noticed that it existed), but it’s interesting in that it shows exactly how much uncertainty there is over how to do Wonder Woman onscreen, a lot more than there ever was with a character like Batman and Superman.

A little of it is simply to do with the fact that superhero tales tend to be pretty big budget (especially if we’re talking movies), and female-driven superhero movies don’t exactly have a fantastic strike rate of success (evidence for the prosecution: Supergirl, Elektra, and the stunningly awful Catwoman). Much of this is down to bad luck and rotten creative decisions, but there’s also the problem that big budget superhero films need to be pitched as wide as possible, and I don’t think anyone has yet to crack how to sell the kind of major-league, female-oriented superhero blockbuster that they’d need if they were going to give Wonder Woman the cinematic outing her following and history deserves.

Wonder WomanOn top of that, Wonder Woman is a tricky character whose origin story has been tweaked, rebooted and remixed a surprising number of times over the years. For example, while there have been wildly different interpretations of Batman, it’s hard to imagine anyone ever suggesting “Hey, you know what? What if Bruce Wayne gave up all the dressing up as a bat, and instead we had him travelling the world as a daring spy who poses as an international playboy? Maybe his codename could still be ‘The Bat’!” And yet, that’s exactly what happened to Wonder Woman for several years, from the late sixties to the mid seventies, when she was de-powered and transformed into a fab and groovy secret agent. There have been other massive changes over the years, and Wonder Woman’s origin isn’t the kind of clear-cut tale that you can sum up as easily and succinctly as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely managed in the first page of their magnum opus, All-Star Superman:

all-star_superman_origin

Even now, DC are struggling with the character – she’s in the middle of an ‘alternate history’ revamp, a ‘bold new direction’ that was thought up by writer J. Michael Straczynski before he jumped ship from writing monthly comics, and which seems to have turned her into a cross between Xena: Warrior Princess and the DC Comics beserker warrior equivalent of Wolverine. It’s not as much of a car-crash as Straczynski’s god-awful “Superman walks across America” tale Grounded, but after about six issues, it really doesn’t feel like it’s working (even with a mild upswing in quality thanks to Chris Roberson taking over scripting duties). They’ve also, as part of the remix, given her a much-heralded new costume:

wonder woman new costume jim lee

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t actually have a problem with this, and as superhero costumes go, it’s pretty good. The jacket is still ridiculously Nineties, but the ensemble works, and it doesn’t say “armoured swimming costume” in the same way that the classic WW costume does. Yes, it does take away a certain degree of Wonder Woman’s mythic nature but it also, frankly, is a more practical costume that would very probably be much easier to realise onscreen without drifting into the kind of campness that Xena or, to be honest, the Seventies TV show survived on.

wonder woman alex rossAnother problem with Wonder Woman is her mythic nature. She was created in the Nineteen Forties as a female adventurer to battle the Nazis, a long time before the Sixties Marvel revolution made street-level, ordinary-joe superheroes the done thing. As a result, she’s a character of pure myth (plenty of versions of the origin have her actually sculpted from clay by the Gods), and there’s a sense of distance from all the DC ‘Big Three’ – the feeling that they’re Olympian ideals to aspire to. That’s a tricky thing to pull off, especially in the post-Eighties/Nineties era when superhero comics are at least attempting a bit more psychological depth (even if they don’t always manage it), and I really don’t feel like anyone’s ever entirely cracked how to handle this.

There’s also the lack of a single definitive Wonder Woman story. As I’ve said, I haven’t read a heap of Wonder Woman comics, so I’m coming at this as an outsider, but especially in the last twenty five years, in the post Dark Knight and Watchmen comics landscape, there hasn’t been a comic that has truly defined Wonder Woman as a character in the same way that, say, The Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke have for Batman. I’m sure there have been some great runs of stories and some impressive creators have worked on the title (including writers like Greg Rucka and Gail Simone), but it feels like what’s needed is someone to take Wonder Woman and do something attention-grabbing and truly different with her (which I suspect was what Straczynski was trying to do with his rather ill-fated concept, unfortunately).

Wonder Woman Lasso of TruthOn top of all that, there’s the question of how close a screen version should stick to the comic, especially when there are aspects of the comic which (to put it mildly) might be tricky to transfer? The 2009 animated Wonder Woman direct-to-DVD film is a good example of this – it’s fine when it’s sticking to pure myth (featuring a 300-style flashback opening sequence), but comes unstuck when it has to do tackle some of the trickier aspects – and yes, we’re talking about the Lasso of Truth. Back in the Forties, there was a deliberate layer of kink to many Wonder Woman stories (with the mighty Amazon coming up against a wide variety of villains who seemed very fond of tying her up time after time), and the Lasso of Truth – the magical rope which, when tied around someone’s neck, compels them to tell the truth – is a direct descendant of this kind of storytelling.

It’s the kind of thing that’s much easier to play in a comic book than in reality, and that’s the main problem with Wonder Woman – you’ve got a character who’s a mass of challenging aspects, many of which could be breathtakingly silly if done wrong, and which doesn’t even have a clear, definitive set of stories which you can look to as an obvious blueprint for a screen adaptation. If anyone wants to set me straight and say “Well, of course there’s issues XXX to XXX”, then I’ll be extremely grateful, but considering these inherent problems, I’m really not surprised that nobody’s been able to get a full-on live action version of Wonder Woman out of development. In pop culture terms, she’s kind of where Batman was before the Tim Burton-directed 1989 blockbuster – the Seventies Lynda Carter show is still, despite its nuclear levels of camp, the main touchstone for what people (at least of a certain age) think when they think ‘Wonder Woman’. What she really needs is someone like Burton to come along and do something incredibly distinctive with her – knock the origin into a coherent shape, choose what they want and leave the rest on the comic page, and craft something which will be distinctive and attention-grabbing.

Now, for the record – I don’t think from what I’ve heard that Kelly’s TV adaptation is going to be that. It’s definitely going to earn a lot of fan hatred even before a second of it has been broadcast, and I don’t know that if my favourite comic book character was going to be changed that radically, I’d be particularly happy. But, I suspect that if Wonder Woman is ever going to succeed onscreen, she’s going to have to be changed – she’s going to have to be a specific interpretation. Until then, she’s going to remain an icon that everybody knows, but which remains frustratingly difficult to adapt…