Thursday, June 30, 2005

War of The Worlds review

Holy crap, War of The Worlds was amazing.


This is going to be one of those movies, I can already tell, where you either get it or you don't. I'm not sure exactly why some people don't seem to be getting it. Maybe it's because it mixes somewhat antiquated, literay Wells-ian imagery with a very modern setting. Maybe because it strays from every typical action movie convention that we associate with alien invasion movies like Independence Day. Maybe because people are too wrapped up in Tom Cruise's public craziness to get fully immersed in the movie. But for every Harry Knowles who raves about this movie's awesomeness, there seems to be a Roger Ebert who looks at it with a more cynical eye and states the mantra of which many films are desrving of - overhyped - but, no, not this one. This one surpasses the hype. Still, there will be those who hate on it. I've already heard 'em.


This movie rocked, and rocked hard.

Visually, this is simply one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. Every action sequence, every set piece, every visceral, kinetic motion is triggered by one thing - fight or flight, live or die, survival of the fittest, RUN! Never before in a movie has it been so apparent that, even though every rule of movie convention states that these characters will live, to us, at any given moment, it is clear that they are SCREWED. Sure, the Hollywood way is for a bunch of action heroes to ride up in humvees and start shooting flamethrowers or some crap at the aliens, showing them that their otherworly technology is no match for good ol' American know-how. We expect to see Will Smith punch out ET and crack wise, to see Sigourney Weaver take it to those alien bastards, to see Jeff Goldblum plant a friggin' computer virus in the alien's sytem. Now don't get me wrong, I love Independence Day for what it is. It's a brilliantly fun, pulpy look at Us vs. Them, all-out war. Despite it's title this film is not about war. It's about what happens when you know you're gonna die. When you're a regular guy and there's no superhero to save you from the Big Bad. And that feeling pervades every moment of this film, thanks to Spielberg's literally awe-inspiring direction.

The alien tripods in this movie are amazing looking. They sound like the digital trumpets of the armies of hell. They are the sadistic cousins of the aliens in Close Encounters. We don't know what their deal is, and that's a good thing, because in that way they are truly alien. These creatures don't have some elaborate plan to take over earth. Okay, well it's kind of elaborate. But basically, all we really know is that they want us dead. And they will use huge-ass tripod war machines and instant-vaporizer rays to do it. The fear that Orson Welles must have projected into the hearts of listeners during his War of the World's broadcast? This is that fear, personified, brought to awesome life. Spielberg has always excelled at putting storybook-like images on screen, at capturing moments as if ripped from paintings and children's illustrations and putting them in motion on screen, yet retaining that timeless quality that burns specific still moments into the inner facets of your brain. Consider my brain burned. This is old 1950's scifi pulp novel covers brought to life and made real. This is Spielberg's Norman Rockwell Americana destroyed and crushed. This is every fear of terrorism, genocide, helplessness, destruction - combined with every fantasy of aliens, death-rays, and intergalactic invasion. It looks amazing. It sounds amazing.

I don't care if Tom Cruise has lost it in real life. He's great in this movie. Sure it's not a complex part, but the main thing here is that his portrayal of a man who is numb with fear is spot on. I don't think most of us know how we'd react when faced with certain death and the end of the world as we know it - but Cruise does a great job of making us believe that this is how we'd feel and act if faced with these extraordinary circumstances.

Dakota Fanning is seriously an amazing actress for her age, and in general. She is completely convincing in this movie and like Cruise, her fear and shock and utter trauma is totally absorbing and believable and shocking - we are shocked along with her, and traumatized along with her. To have an audience's emotions channeled through the wide eyes of an eleven year old girl is pretty incredible.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well, but again it's the set pieces - the dazzling imagery, iconic sounds, and feeling of being right there, in the moment of danger and certain death, that makes this movie great. Some might compare it to SIGNS, but please, don't. War of the Worlds OWNS that movie and is leagues better, no comparison.

But yes, there are complaints.

Spielberg has always been a sentimentalist, but here, as in his last few movies, that sentimentalism takes away from the final product. In a lighter adventure story like Jurassic Park it worked. In a bleak dystopian fairy tale like AI, the Spielbergian ending REALLY detracted from what had been a potentially classic movie. While Catch Me If You Can was great, and Minority Report avoided some of AI's cheesier inclinations, The Terminal was flat out frustrating because of its unrelenting sentimentality and ultimately unconvincing and contrived plotline. Now let's get one thing straight - most of War of the Worlds is dark, unrelenting, and absolutely, gloriously BRUTAL. A few moments though, notably the rushed and impossibly happy ending, are just WTF moments that really took away from what have could been a much more poignantly bleak and thought-provoking conclusion. Most of the movie did exactly what Spielberg wanted - it kept the audience in a hushed, tense, nail-biting "oh my god" mindset. But at the end he asked us all to go "awww, isn't that nice!" when it just wasn't the right time. Does this slightly cornball ending ruin the movie? Hells no! In the end the human drama aspect of the movie has been mostly overshadowed by the spectacle, by the sheer awe of what has happened. So while it is a bit jarring to see the bow-tied, gift-wrapped fate of the main characters, really, it's secondary to everything else. As for the final fate of the aliens themselves, after some thought, I love it. First off, it's true to the book by H.G Wells. Secondly, it makes a damned interesting point - if not for a fluke of nature, humanity would have been completely screwed at the hands of these aliens. Essentially, we as a people, had a bare minimum chance of actually stopping these dudes before they all but wiped us out. Our guns, our tanks, were basically useless (even if Cruise does take down one tripod with a well-placed grenade ...). Hubris and poor intelligence were what ultimately brought down the alien behemoth. Hmmm ... interesting ...

Other complaints? The Tim Robbins scenes drag on a bit. Again, the final few scenes seem rushed and have some weird time gaps that stretch credibility a bit. The scene where, Cruise, Fanning, and Robbins evade an alien probe is too reminiscent of the Raptor hide-n-seek scene from Jurassic Park, and is easily one of the more contrived action scenes in the film, not to mention way too long. The aliens themselves look a bit too familiar and not quite as unique as we'd expect from the crazy cool look of their tripod war machines. But come on, in the wake of the sheer devastation this movie portrays, these are all minor complaints. There is no quickly cutting motion blur here. No unrealistic, cartoony CGI f/x. No action hero one-liners or other lame-ass garbage that you expect from most summer blockbusters. This is an assault on the senses in the best possible way. You are there. You're running for your life and there's an alien tripod stomping its way towards you, incinerating everything in its way with a blast from its cannon, as strange, horrible noises pierce your eardrums and nightmares become reality. This movie is the real deal, classic Spielberg, and despite some clear and obvious flaws, it shows all the pretenders how blockbuster action sci fi dramas should be done. Get it? Good.

My grade: A

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Close Encounters of the Forty-Second Kind

I think I need some sleep, but first I thought I'd check in with a little update.

The weekend: So Saturday I braved the ridiculous traffic on the 5 freeway (defining the term "stop and go") to head on down to Newport Beach - where I hung out with B-Raddddd (aka Bradd Kern) and fellow K-O alumnus Matt Green where we represented CT and made a Bloomfield / West Hartford-style splash at the NBC Page shindig that was happening down the road in Irvine. A good time was had by all and it was nice to have a change of pace and feel all cool since I brought my own CT-bred posse to the page program party procedings.

This week (so far): a pretty light schedule for most of the week, as the Tonight Show is once again taking a brief hiatus (aka vacation for you non-showbiz types out there), though yesterday I was once a-gain stuck with the mind-numbing job of heading the NBC ticketbox, which due to the circumstances involved telling about 4,376 people that there were no Tonight Show tix available - yes, despite the fact that they travelled 5,000 miles to get there. Today was a light day. The powers that be finally realized that I give the best tour at NBC and thought hmmm, maybe this guy should train the new class of pages. Well it was probably just random ,actually, but yeah, today for the first time ever I took a new group of future tour guides along with me for one of my patented VIP deluxe studio tours. Showed 'em how it's done, I did. Then I got home at 1 pm, and I was all set on doing SOMETHING, ANYTHING with my free afternoon but suddenly lack of sleep caught up to me and I was unable to muster the energy to leave the apartment, instead watching the entire movie of Close Encounters of the Third Kind on TCM, I guess to get my own personal hype machine rolling for Spielberg's next alien-themed opus, War of the Worlds. Damn, I had forgotten how slow, dream-like, surreal, and just plain weird Close Encounters is. Visually it's vintage Spielberg but story-wise it is totally out there, very new-agey and vague, full of forced ambiguity. Great movie though, if not very very slowly paced. Also, yesterday I managed to have a very informative informational interview at NBC's programming department, which hopefully will give me the motivation to really get cracking with my script writing. Still waiting to hear about my assignment interview for the producer's assistant job.

NBA Draft:

Honestly the only reason why I used to really enjoy watching the draft was because TNT's hilarious coverage made it a must-see event. ESPN's humorless, mean-spirited show today was just obnoxious. Okay, I understand if loudmouths like Steven A. Smit disapprove of the picks, but come on, to rank on the players out loud over an open mic, AS THEY ARE GOING UP TO SHAKE DAVID STERN'S HAND? That is a little much. And the fact is that rarely do these analysts have any cluse which players will make an impact and which ones won't. Sure, with your Shaq's and Duncan's it's easy to see what the future holds, but come on, the ragging on some of these foreign players is totally unnecessary when the guys in the studio have no idea exactly what they are capable of. ESPN and ABC need to seriously retool their NBA coverage because it has just been offensively bad in some instances, exemplified by the draft today. Wow, even though I thought I was looking forward to next year's NBA season, today's draft made me realize that as of now, I am very underwhelmed by what I'm seeing in the NBA's future. Oh well, at least the Lakers will still probably be amusingly bad once again next season.

TV Stuff:

- Despite it being a kind of okay episode as a whole, I must give a shout out to Family Guy for having references to both He-Man~! and THE SNORKS~!!! in this Sunday's new episode. Our generation is finally making it ...

- I hope you guys are catching up on VERONICA MARS on UPN. Seriously, if you haven't seen it, it's being rerun all summer on Tuesdays at 9 so do yourself a favor and hop on the Mars bandwagon.

- Also if you're a comedy fan I hope you checked out STELLA on Comedy Central tonight. Funny stuff.

- Interestingly, it's now official that NBC has to change the name of it's show Fathom to avoid legal action from Michael Turner, the superstar comic artist who created a popular comic book of the same name, which is also optioned to be made into a film (as is every comic book ever conceived of these days ...). Honestly, good for Turner. His Fathom came first, and he deserves to be able to use the name. I remember being disappointed when I found out that the NBC show was not an adaptation of his comic, but hey, that would have been much cooler than the current premise of a vague threat of unseen underwater alien sea monsters. Sucks for NBC, as the show formerly known as Fathom will now be known as, get this: "Surface." Ouch, that's gotta hurt.

- I now get the channel VH1 Megahits. Yes! Music videos on my TV again! Sweeeeeeeet ...

Definitely time for sleep.

And yet, I feel an odd compulsion to build a mountain out of mashed potatoes and play a series of five notes on a xylophone, you know the ones ... dun, dun, duuun, duunnnnnnnn, duun.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"I think they named the orange before they named the carrot ..."

Some quick thoughts:

Wow, a pretty exciting, if low-scoring, Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and congrats to San Antonio, even though I still don't like them.

I have never liked San Antonio since the David Robinson days. Tim Duncan carries on their tradition of players who are supremely talented yet come off as mechanical pod people with few actual human emotions and little to no passion for the game, except when it comes to arguing every call the referees make. Also, as I've stated many times, I Robert Horry is a perrenial NBA villain in my eyes. He was instrumental in: elevating the Rockets past the Suns in the 90's, when I wanted more than anything for the Suns to win the title; helping the Lakers defeat the Rockets and Pacers in the late 90's and early 00's, further denying Sir Charles and Reggie Miller championship gold and accumulating more rings for himself by gliding from one talented team to another; and now coasting to even more glory on the heels of Tim duncan and the Spurs. All the while Horry has been praised as the second coming by the likes of Bill Walton for years, and displayed annoying antics like when he threw a towel in Danny Ainge's face during his brief stint with the Suns.

But hey, again, congrats to the Spurs. Duncan showed why he is still, easily, the best player in basketball despite being one of the game's least flashy all-stars. Ginobli stepped up big this year, and Parker was solid as always.

This also marks the end of a very memorable NBA season that saw the retirement of Karl Malone and Reggie Miller, the shift of Shaq to Miami, and the emergence of Steve Nash as an MVP. Can't wait for next season to begin.


The title of this entry is taken from a very funny, wryly brilliant comedian named Demitri Martin, who I was lucky to work with a bit while interning at Conan O'Brien. Demitri was a writer on the show then and has now moved on to pursue his stand-up career. This guy is just so unique in his humor, and the weird thing about him is that he's hilarious, and yet there's something oddly deep and thought-provoking about his jokes and observations. Unlike most comedians who put on a total act for the crowd, Demitri's humor is really raw and almost emotional in a way, call it emo-humor if you will, but on second thought that would be a pretty lame categorization. Anyways the reason I bring this up is because last night I was completely randomly flipping the channels on TV and - hot damn - there's Demitri Martin on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, doing a hilarious musical-comedy performance that's like Steven Wright mixed with Weezer's Perry Cuomo mixed with Dick Van Dyke's character from Mary Poppins ... or something. But suffice to say it's seriously funny stuff and unlike anything else out there. If any other former Conan interns are reading this you guys should try to check out the footage.

What else?

- I'm on a huge Daft Punk kick lately. Don't know why, probably from that damn Ipod commercial.

- Speaking of which, how the hell do so many people afford Ipods? Like everyone has them, and I don't really get it. I mean sure they're cool and if I had a ton of extra cash lying around I'd get one, but it's not the first thing I'd think to spend three hundred bucks on. It's funny I thought the whole point of downloading music in the first place was because people were so sick of spending so much cash on CD's and stuff.

- Must .... get ... assignment ... at Page Program ...

- After re-watching them on DVD the other day, I think the first three episodes of The X-Files are the greatest first three episodes of any show ever.

- Awesome article in the latest Newsweek about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are cool.

Time to make my exit, cuz that's how I roll.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I've Got a Fever, and the Only Cure is MORE COWBELL!!!

Too much cowbell still ain't enough, know what I mean?

As Jim Anchower might say, it's been a long time since I rapped at ya'.

Definitely felt some blog writing fatigue after my insane entries last week. Damn those were some long entries, ya feel me?

Okay, so it's summer time and yet there are no seasons here in the semi-Real World. Speaking of the Real World, I saw the first ep of the new Austin season last night, because as much as a given season may suck, those first introductory episodes are almost always reality TV gold. And as much as I may diss Real World lately, you've gotta love it's now classic formula. No gimmicks, no contests, just straight up reality TV, which as we all know by now is not quite real, especially in this age of self-awareness where reality TV "stars" are already well aware of the cliches and expectations associated with them. So instead of presenting a cross section of interesting young adults as they once did, MTV now presents a predictable mix of "diverse" cast members, who are all slight variations on a common theme: ridiculously attractive young people, with little to offer in the way of personality or intelligence, who came to the house to party, hook up, and have their inevitable 15 minutes of fame. Despite all that, it was a pretty entertaining hour of TV, and it was hilarious to see that one guy, Wes I think his name was, just go nuts with giddiness at everything that was happening. Now that I am starting to write about it, it's kind of ridiculous to analyze. But hey, there was drama, a fight, an arrest ... what more do you want? Long live The Real World, dammit all.

Oh and while I'm talking TV, just a quick note that this past Sunday's Family Guy was easily the funniest of the new season so far. Sure, the premise of Peter being borderline retarded was a bit too familiar (probably ripped from The Simpsons as are so many of the plots and jokes), but this was the first one of the new batch that had me laughing from start to finish - all the jokes worked. So that should silence the dissenters for a while.

Oh yeah, I took major advantage of Best Buy's recent limited time half-off sale on X-Files DVD sets, purchasing the first three seasons of the show over the last two months. Damn, the early seasons of this show are even more amazing now than they were then, as they blow away most of what you currently see on TV. I am especially enjoying rewatching some of the real early, first season stuff, before the mythology became convoluted and there was this huge sense of mystery surrounding everything.

So anyways, what's been up at work ...?


Saw a few tapings this week and last ... nothing too great to report. This week has really seen the show hit rock bottom - I mean this week we had a lineup of Martin Lawrence, Sinbad, Dr. Phil, and Don Rickles as consecutive headliners. Okay, I used to love Martin back in the day, but this isn't 1994. Sinbad, wow that is just embarrasing, even if he was classic in Necessary Roughness. Dr. Phil's on like every other week, and Don Rickles is a legend, sure, but where's the stars of Batman, Bewitched, or any of the other big summer movies? And the musical lineups have been equally bad, with the lowlight being a absolutely cringe-worthy performance by Sugar Ray the other day, who believe it or not has a GREATEST HITS album coming out. WHAAAAAT?!?! They had like one hit song, not to mention they completely suck as a band, which was proven by their bad live performance. I mean, come on, at least do that one kinda catchy song they had, you know "all around the world statues crumble for me" or whatever. At least that was a decent pop song. The one they did about summertime or something was just painful. In addition, I hate to say this but Jay's monologues have been at a real lowpoint lately. I guess the lack of Michael Jackson in the news mean, GASP, Jay and his staff must actually strive to be creative in their joke-writing. Today I was CB and got to admit Dr. Phil as well as uber-critics Ebert and Roeper. I told Ebert I had read his recent book and was a big fan, so that was kind of cool, though I was kind of struck that Ebert didn't look so hot, hope everthing's alright with him. While I feel like the thumbs go up a little too easily these days, I feel like Ebert really is a great reviewer and is always honest and well-spoken in his reviews, especially his written reviews for the Chicago-Sun Times. Him and Siskel back in the day always seemed to give attention to less hyped up films and really seemed to have a passion and appreciation for the good stuff, which I think all true fans can really respect.

Now that that rant is done, business has been picking up around the page office as seven, count 'em, seven new pages joined our ranks this week. Of course I've barely had time to meet them since my schedule has had me running around doing tours and whatnot like nobody's business. Unfortunately, things are not working out on the assignment front. I didn't get the most recent Studios Production assignment I applied for, which was pretty disappointing as I really thought I might be a lock for that one. Now I'm applying for this one producer's second assistant assignment, which would be GREAT if I could get it. I'd be able to check out scripts, meet writers, visit sets, etc. which would be awesome. Unfortunately, if I don't get this one ... well, let's just say I'll have to do some serious reevaluating, because after this there really isn't anything coming down the pipeline in the near future.

Man, talking to returning Camp Shalom counsellor Jeremy Yanofsky over IM, it is amazing how much my Counslerrin' years prepared me for my current job. I mean, leading groups of people around a small area and trying to make it all seem fun and interesting while trying to impart just a little piece of my wisdom to them? Check. Dealing with an eclectic group of coworkers? Check. Striving to find some outlet for my creative energies amidst the beurocracy and red tape? Check (and I have the classic Cosmic Doodad movie trilogy to prove it). The only thing the page program is missing is dodgeball and bug juice.


Saw a free screening of The Longest Yard at NBC today. Not bad at all, though I'm glad it was free. Actually it did have some funny moments, and the whole movie was pretty consistently entertaining the whole way through. It was actually pretty dark in some ways, despite what I'd heard that it was purely a goofball comedy, and basically it worked well for what it was. Sandler was actually pretty decent here, more restrained than usual with a bit of a harder edge. Rock was okay even if he was basically playing himself. Funny to see so many pro wrestlers in the movie, kind of surreal to see former interfederation rivals Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bill Goldberg together, and Kevin "Diesel" Nash was actually really funny in his part. Burt Reynolds pretty much ruled it in the kickass old man with one more game left in him role. Overall though the comedy was a bit lacking with a lot of the lines and gags falling flat, even though the dramatic arc of the movie was, surprisingly, it's biggest strength. My grade: B

- I'm not sure what JD Powers and Associates is, but damn if they don't have a kickass sounding name.

- Who in the blue hell is watching this Dancing With the Stars crap? And yet ... NBC is probably kicking themselves for not thinking of this "brilliant" idea. Oyyyyy ......

- I spend way too much on groceries. I don't know why it seems like so much. I think other people literally do not eat. Like they have a glass of juice for dinner or something. Dammit people, you need your vitamins.

- Grape-flavored Fruit 2 O, while hard to find, is clearly a superior flavor.

- While I don't claim to be a Dr. Phil fan, the man makes sense, and I respect that.

And ......... that's all folks. For now ...

Friday, June 17, 2005

Full Batman Begins Review, and: A Whole Lot More

Wow was today one of those days.

For some reason I was sure that I had to be at work at 10:30 today, and yet I overslept, woke up at like 9:55, and realized I had to be there at 10. I threw my page uniform on, hauled it down to NBC, and called to let them know I'd be slightly late, but would still be able to do my 10 am tour. So of course my supervisor is right there in the room when I called, and heard the whole thing, so my plan to quietly slip in at 10:10 and get on with my tour was thrown out the window. So it turned out there were two 10 am tours, I didn't even have to do one, yet I was still chewed out for being late, and awkwardly sat in the ticket office for an hour and a half trying to make myself busy and useful, too out of it to engage in any form of pleasant conversation. But I still had another tour to do, and the Tonight Show. And my tour overlapped with Leno, so I had to run right from one thing to the other without a second to collect myself. And I was Admitter, meaning a lot of counting was involved. I don't like counting.

So tonight I'm taking it easy because I am freakin' exhausted.

Today on the show: Michael Jackson's attorney Tom Mezzero (sp?), some American chopper dudes, and some wannabe Sheryl Crow named Courtney Jay (sorry but her song today was ripped right off of a Crow album or something, which isn't saying much in the first place). I thought Mezzero was very well spoken and seemed pretty convincing in explaining how poor the case against MJ was. His statements combined with Stephen King's EW editorial today about the Jackson trial coverage goes to show how the media really created much of the hype about this case and turned one highly eccentric guy's life into a media circus that blew things way out of proportion and was basically a self-perpetuating feeding frenzy.

Yesterday: Craziness ensued as Lindsay Lohan and the Backstreet Boys came to the show. Some of the other pages had some horror stories about dealing with crazy fans and whatnot, but I didn't really have any bad experiences and most of the fans I dealt with were very nice people and didn't cause any real problems. Sure, seeing people tattooed with pics of the Backstreet Boys and wearing handmade garments emblazoned from head to toe with screened photos of the band was little creepy, but hey, it was an easier bunch to deal with than those wacky Gerard Butler fans (I love you guys but you are totally freakin' nuts!). Barely saw Lohan but she seemed a little less emaciated looking than in recent tabloid photos. Kind of surreal to be standing in front of a girl who is such a huge pop cultural star yet at first glance could easily have been just another one of us NBC pages.

Wednesday: Pre-Batman Begins, the I got up close and personal with Paris and Kathy Hilton who appeared on Leno. Unlike her daughter, Kathy was very articulate, dignified, and possesing that old school upper class snobbery, not that new-school red carpet MTV-ified club girl image of her daughters. But seeing Paris up close is so weird. It's like she is just constantly posing. Like every little adjustment, leg cross, turn of the head, and smile is some carefully timed gesture made as if to accomodate some everpresent fashion photographer or something. Just very weird and Stepford Wives-ish. Unlike say, Jessica Simpson though whose vacant eyes led me to believe she wasn't quite all there in the head, I think Paris may be a little bit smarter than she lets on, and maybe even a lot smarter - I mean look at the success she's had basically from doing nothing ...


What a crappy NBA Finals this has been so far. Every game has been a blowout, first by the Spurs and now by the Pistons. And yet, intriguingly, it's now a tied series at 2 games a piece. They have gotta be due for a close game at this point ...


Oh mang, today's EW cover story on Bryan Singer's Superman movie has me more nervous than ever that this movie is going to suck. First of all it, it's going to follow the continuity of the first two Superman movies? What the hell? Take a lesson from Batman Begins - those movies are almost 30 years old - START OVER. While the first two movies are classics, they are by no means the end all be all of Superman movies - they can be done MUCH BETTER in the right hands. Second, Singer's already talking about all this allegorical stuff, like Superman as the messiah, something about the plot being an analogy for Singer's relationship problems over the years ... What the ..?!?! Singer, put down the crack pipe and give us a kickass Superman movie, not this crap! Dammit, if he screws this up ... oh, and Brandon Routh still looks retarded in that lame-ass version of the costume in the pictures they've released so far.

Batman Begins Review:

Well, in Wednesday night's initial Batman reactions I covered the basics: namely, that the movie rocks. But there's a lot more to say than that. Really though, I don't think it takes a lot to explain what's good about Batman Begins. It's dark, takes itself seriously, is mature, dramatic, and focuses on something very important that the other films largely glossed over: the character of Bruce Wayne - who he is and why he became Batman. Because Batman is a unique superhero in that his persona is entirely of his own creation. There was no freak accident, no alien origin - he is a self-made, self-styled hero whose abilities were gained through work and persistence and dedication, and the whys of that transformation are finally and satisfactorilly explained in Batman Begins.

The acting in this movie is almost universally phenomenal. First off, Christian Bale IS Bruce Wayne. He pulls off the tortured nature of Wayne expertly. He adapts to the different personas - the billionaire playboy, the driven student, the emotionally stunted victim - effortlessly and flawlessly. Never before have the many faces and facades of Bruce Wayne been explored so thoroughly in a movie. Bale looks iconic as Wayne, right off of the comic page and onto the big screen. Bale as Batman is almost as good. He does "the voice" well, for the most part, though in a few scenes he over does it a bit and sounds too cartoonish when he takes on that trademark gravelly Batman tone. While Bale is good, it's still Kevin Conroy of the Animated Series who is the definitive Voice of Batman. Now in certain shots, Bale as Batman looks hella freakin' cool. In long shots, in side shots, in sillouette, in shadow, standing atop the Gotham rooftops with the moonlit cityscape framing his flowing cape, this is the best, most iconic looking Batman yet. Closeup though, the costume still looks kind of goofy, and appears too tight and constraining, giving Bale some very awkeard-looking facial expressions while under the cowl. The costume itself is still too detailed and strange and rubbery looking when seen in close up shots. Still, that's more of a nitpick than a big omplaint, but damn I wish they would just drastically change the way the costume looks for the next movie, but I doubt that is gonna happen.

Aside from Bale though, some of the supporting characters really almost steal the show. First off, Morgan Freeman is great as Lucious Fox, a character who is actually pretty two dimensional in the comics but who here has a lot of great, humorous one-liners and is pretty interesting addition to the Batman mythos. As Morgan Freeman so often does, he makes you really get behind Fox as a character and root for him throughout the movie as a kind of sly underdog mentor type. Sure, it's par for the course for Freeman, but I'll take it.

Michael Caine is great as steadfast Butler to the Bat and father figure Alfred Pennyworth, a character who is much more intriguing and well rounded in this movie than in previous efforts (even if the late great Michael Gough did imbue the character with much needed class in the previous films). What can you say, it's frikkin' Michael Caine, the man is a legend. As a longtime Alfred fan from the comics, I have but two small fanboyish complaints that about five other people in the world will care about. One: Alfred is supposed to have a mustache, dammit all! I want to see Alfred with a mustache, he just isn't right without it! Two: He calls Bruce Wayne "Master Bruce" not "Master Wayne." Sorry but I had to get that out.

Now, Katie Holmes could have been a disaster here. She does fine as Rachel Dawes, the idealistic DA, but she is simply outclassed by the great actors around her and just seems miscast in a role that should have probably gone to an older actress with a stronger screen presence. As is though Holmes does okay in the ole and doesn't really detract from the movie. I was happy to see that the romantic subplot was kept in the background, but overall it seemed mostly pointless and was kind of put in there to throw a bone to marketing types who think any Batman movie must have a love interest, even though it doesn't really fit with Batman's intensely driven persona as a loner with no time for love.

Gary Oldman is awesome as James Gordon, and does a great job with the material he's given, and I can't tell you how great it is to finally, finally see the real Jim Gordon on screen - the one with an old school cop 'stache and overly big glasses, the one with a Chicago accent and a heart of gold, the one who is the one good cop in a corrupt city, who is Batman's one ally in his war on crime and his one true friend. But, sadly, Oldman is underused. So much of this movie is based on the great Batman: Year One, that it's just a shame that they couldn't have at least touched on Gordon's backstory which is so prominent and well-written in that Frank Miller-penned tale. Hopefully in the sequel we can see more of Oldman as Gordon, this time played more for drama than comedy, with a bit more of a chance to shine (if they adapt The Killing Joke at all then he may get that chance ...). Still, Oldman as Gordon just made me happy that they finally were starting to get the character right.

Now, as for the villains ...

First off I have to talk about Liam Neeson, who I am really starting to like as an actor who can pull off those key dramatic yet slightly over the top roles so well. His performance here reminded me slightly of Kingdom of Heaven, where in a short time on screen he stole the show and delivered some of the best lines of the movie with some much needed gravitas (been hearing that word a lot lately ...). Neeson as "Ducard" is great, and his strong performance in the early part of the movie makes his return in the latter half, and the revelation of his true identity, that much sweeter. Neeson is a great, old-school, pulpy villain with a modern twist. He plays a multi-faceted character who still delivers his villainous lines with vigor and relish when the time is right. Like Gordon though, more could have been done. Neeson's motivations are murky throughout the movie, and his backstory is only hinted at in the briefest of ways.

And that's the thing - Ra's Al Ghul is one of Batman's best and coolest villains in the comics, and yet many of the things that make him so great - the immortality-giving Lazarus pits, his demonic appearance, his conflicted daughter Talia - are conspicuously absent here. Sure, the basic essence of Ra's Al Ghul is intact, but there could have at least been some nods to his rich backstory as was so memorably crafted by the likes of Denny O'Neal and Neal Adams.

Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow is friggin' sweet. Again, the character kind of comes out of nowhere and gets lost in the shuffle a bit, but Murphy does an awesome job of portraying a legitimate insane, psychotic Batman villain who is still believable and works in the more realistic context of the movie. The digitally-created hallucinations brought on by the Scarecrow's fear gas are great and provide some spectacular imagery - particularly an amazing shot of Batman as seen by a criminal - as a sick-looking demonic Bat-being that looks way cool. Murphy, like Neeson, delivers his lines like he means 'em, and really invigorates every scene he's in.

Ken Watanabe is barely in the movie, as it turns out, but hey, he looks cool when he's there and as usual kicks some ass when called upon.

Also for the comics fans it was sweet to see Mr. Zsasz, one of the sickest and most twisted Batman rogues from the comics appear in a small role, menacingly played by the lead singer of British band James no less! Rutger Hauer is always good as a badguy and his role here was no exception, and the character of mob boss Carmine Falcone was used to good effect as well.

The action in the movie ranged from great to subpar. The Batmobile car chase scene was brilliant and a lot of fun. But the frustrating part was that the overly quick cuts and shaky camera movement made you want to slow things down to really get a feel for the fight scenes, which are just too quick and confusing to allow the viewer to really get into them and get a sense for what exactly is going on. While this technique works well for some of the early scenes where Batman is portrayed almost as a monster, surprising his prey and attacking stealthily from the shadows, it really detracts from the later scenes, particularly the final battle with Ra's, where the action becomes way too obstructed due to the nonstop cutting and camera shifts.

The music in the film is powerful and moving at times, though it can't hold a candle to Danny Elfman's classic score for the original and his later work on The Animated Series. While I realize they wanted to separate themselves from the previous movies, and justifiably so, I would have loved for them to have retained that classic soundtrack from the original, which really is perfect for any incarnation of Batman.

Visually and aesthetically, the movie looks awesome. Gotham looks realistic yet futuristic and slightly surreal. While I did miss the stylized gothic cityscape of Tim Burton's Batman, this Gotham was still cool in its own right, though they still should have had a gargoyle or two for Batman to stand on ominously in the night sky. Also this is a small nitpick, but the color scheme of the movie in my opinion was too predominantly monochromatic, with everything a kind of sandy tan color. I couldn't help but think back to the classic stories drawn by the likes of Neal Adams, Norm Breyfogle, and others - stories that the movie drew much of its material from - and remembered the vivid blues and purples and blacks that his Gotham was colored in. The movie though did a great job of establishing a realistic, gritty, dramatic look and feel early on, with its snow-covered mountainsides, dank prison camps, and sweeping camera shots. Once Batman entered into the picture, they had all the iconic shots done very well - Batman standing on the rooftops, interrogating criminals, crashing through glass skylights, scaling walls, and emerging from the shadows all looked as they should - dark, iconic, and memorable.

As far as plotting goes, I really have to give credit Christopher Nolan and David Goyer for crafting a story with excellent pacing, dramatic weight, and character. The big moments felt big, the beginning - the fall of young Bruce into the batcaves underneath Wayne Manor, was great, just as I pictured it would and should be. The fateful night when young Bruce's parents are shot in cold blood before his eyes was also great - the best version on screen ever of the dark night that birthed the Batman. Additionally, while the climactic action scene felt rushed and overly confusing, the subsequent ending to the movie was, in a word, PERFECT. Right out of Year One, setting up things for future sequels and leaving the audience wanting more, tantalized by the possibilities of what comes next, demanding that Nolan and Goyer get to work and bring it on, cuz we want more Batman and we want it now. Again, where it counted, dramatically, this movie plain and simply got it right - it did justice to Batman and fit everything together to create the ultimate setup for a potential franchise that seems like it can only get better because now that the origin is out of the way it looks like business is really set to pick up.

As a diehard Batman fan, certain details of this movie bugged me. Like Gordon being the cop who consoled Bruce Wayne after his parents are killed - that makes no sense, he'd be like 70 by the time the main action of the movie takes place if that were the case, and anyways Gordon is supposed to be a recent transplant from Chicago, thrust into a hopeless situation with Batman as his best and only ally. That kind of shoehorning of plot elements into the movie's timeline really gets to me. But again, a minor point in the larger scheme of things. I also take issue with the fact that the movie was almost exclusively focused on Batman's training and abilities as a fighter, when so much of his persona is that he is a brilliant scientist, criminologist, and above all, Batman is the WORLD'S GREATEST DETECTIVE. He debuted in Detective Comics and 700-something issues later still stars in it today. Hell, in the comics and Animated Series, Ra's Al Ghul ALWAYS calls Batman "The Detective," so it's ironic that in a movie featuring Ra's, the detective aspect of Batman's character is really nowhere to be seen. Again, not the beiggest deal, and something that can be addressed in the sequels, hopefully, but something conspicuously absent from the movie. The only other real complaint is that, as I said before, the backstories of Gordon and Ra's could really have used an extra scene or two to help flesh out their characters.

Keep in mind though, all my complaints are partly due to me having, in my head somewhere, the ultimate Batman movie planned out, envisioned as I see it from my own ideas of what Batman should be and my own inspirations from the comics and other sources. But as a movie, apart from anythign else and taken on its own, Batman Begins was damn good. It more than holds its own against Spiderman, X-Men, Superman, and any other comic-based movie. As a pure drama, it succeeds. This isn't just a great comic book movie, as many have pointed out, it's a great movie, period. But more importantly for me, it is a great Batman movie, that above all else nails the Bruce Wayne / Batman character and makes him the focus of the film, which is exactly the direction that this franchise desperately needed to go in, and is why most of my criticisms are insignifigant compared to the larger accomplishment that is this movie, taken as a whole. Which is why even though some of those criticisms might ordinarily drastically lower my opinion and grade of the movie - my complaints are simply overwhelmed and overridden by the sheer sense of relief, enjoyment, and hope that this movie provides, because yes - this is the Batman we've been waiting for. This is a benchmark achievement in comic book movies. And it's one of the best overall movies of the year. Finally, the real Batman is back, the Dark Knight has returned, and I have a very good feeling that like the title says, this is only the beginning.
My grade: A

A few other quick Batman notes:

- Over on they did a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels that ended up being pretty similar to my own (hmm, maybe some of those IGN'ers are chcking out my blog?). But their list isn't bad either, and does include a few stories that I admit I have yet to actually check out, such as Batman: The Cult. It is amazing though just how many good or great Batman stories have been written though.

Comics' Influence In Batman Begins:
- Nice to see many tributes and nods to some of the great comics that shaped Batman through the years. While Year One is clearly the biggest comic influence on the movie, there are a few other little references to certain stories scattered throughout the film. Here, for the curious, are a few quick notes about stuff in the movie directly lifted from or influenced by the comics ...

- Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli was clearly the biggest comic influence on the movie. The scenes of Bruce Wayne's parents' murder were very reminiscent of Miller's version in Year One (though traditionally the Wayne's are exiting from a showing of The Mask of Zorro). The look of Gordon was from Year One, as was the gritty, starkly colored feel of Gotham itself. The inclusion of crime lord Carmine Falcone is a plot element taken from Year One and expanded upon in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Long Halloween. Interestingly, the ending scene with Batman and Gordon discussing the Batman's effect on crime in Gotham and the emergence of new more dangerous villains like the Joker, is almost a straight adaptation of end of Year One.

- The character of Henri Ducard hasn't appeared in the comics in a while, but ironically was created in the late 80's by writer Sam Hamm, best known as the writer of Tim Burton's original Batman movie. Hamm did a brief stint as a writer of the Batman comic where he introduced Ducard as a French mercenary who trained a young Bruce Wayne in the use of firearms, combat, and other skills. Ducard later popped up as an adversary for Robin, but hasn't been seen or heard from in years. His Sam Hamm-penned appearances are actually collected in the Batman: Blind Justice trade paperback.

- Ra's Al Ghul was created in the 70's by Denny O'Neal and Neals Adams, though the movie discards with the supernatural aspects of the character (though does sort of hint at them) and does not include Talia, Ra's' daughter, who is a key element of the character and a longtime on again off again love interest of Batman, who she calls her "beloved." Ra's has been featured in a number of big event stories over the years. He takes on Batman in Batman: Tales of the Demon, Batman: Legacy, Batman: Birth of the Demon, and Batman: Evolution. He actually died in the recent story Batman: Death And the Maidens, leaving his daughter Talia and her sister Nyssa as the heirs to his secret organiztion, which in the comics is known as the League of Assasins, not the League of Shadows as in the film.

- Bruce Wayne training on snowcapped mountains with secluded sects of warriors is at least visually similar to scenes from Denny O'Neal's "Shaman" storyarc in the Legends of the Dark Knight comic, collected in the Batman: Dark Legends book.

- The bridges to Gotham being raised as citizens attempt to flee is similar to a scene in the "No Man's Land" storyarc with a similar visual. Also, Batman talking to Jim Gordon in his small garden outside his home is an image that occurred often throughout No Man's Land.

- The surreal image of The Scarecrow riding on a black horse with flames surrounding him is similar to a splash page drawing by artist Tim Sale in Batman: The Long Halloween, a story which like Year One seemed to be a big influence on the plot and tone of Batman Begins.

- Arkham Asylum has been a part of the Batman mythos for some time, but it was really fleshed out by writer Alan Grant, who created the serial killer Mr. Zsasz (who plays a small role in the movie) in his Batman: The Last Arkham storyarc from the Shadow of the Bat comic. The idea that the batcave was used by Bruce's ancestors as a means to trasnsport slaves for the Underground Railroad is an idea that was also established in the comics by Alan Grant in the pages of Shadow of the Bat.

- Many aspects of the movie's Joe Chill plot, and Bruce's decision on whether to avenge his parents' murder, were lifted from Batman: Year Two by Mike W. O'Barr, a story which is actually considered out of continuity in the current Batman timeline, as it has since been contradicted by other stories where Batman never actually discovered the identity of his parents' killer.

- The idea of Wayne Manor as Bruce's father's house is a thread lifted from The Long Halloween, but the scene where Bruce decides to rebuild his detroyed mansion "brick by brick" as it was is a scene lifted from the Batman: Cataclysm storyline where Wayne Manor is destroyed by an earthquake. In the story, as in the movie, Bruce contemplates letting the manor stay buried in the rubble, but ultimately decides to rebuild it as a testament ot his family's legacy.

And there you have it.

Alright, that officially concludes Batman Begins week. It's been fun - a lot of writing - but fun.

Have a good weekend everyone, take 'er easy.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Just Saw Batman Begins ...




and yes, dammit all, it friggin' kicked ass.

Now it's late and I have to wake up crazy early tommorow, but I'm sure I'll be dreaming dreams of Scarecrows and batcaves and genial English butlers. Yep, this is going to be one of those movies that stays in your head for a long while. Awesome, kickass, excellent.

Sure as a fanboy and Batman afficionado I have a list of nitpicks and grievences and comparisons to other canonical works. I have some problems with the aesthetics, the quick cuts, the costumes or lack thereof, and some backstories that remained conspicuously unexplored. I'll tell you those later.

For now I'm just going to reflect and smile as I think about that final scene, straight out of Batman: Year One, perfectly nailed by Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and director Christopher Nolan, which plain and simple GOT IT RIGHT - nay, got it PERFECT, it felt right, it looked right, it sounded right, and it left you wanting more, leaving the audience with no choice but to spontaneously burst into uncontrollable applause signifying pure, unadulterated appreciation - appreciation that yes, it was finally all so clear - this, THIS, was the Batman movie that we had all been waiting for.

More later ...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Tales From the Page Lounge, and: The Best Batman Stories Ever

Yo yo yo let me speak on this.

Well today was a much more laid back day than yesterday's ticketbox nightmare, despite my schedule being kind of crazy. But that was okay since I had a great tour in the morning (if I do say so myself) and while doing tape and hold for Leno I got to see a cool rehearsal featuring a bunch of crazy animals like bobcats, a vulture, albino rattlesnakes, and some rare species of lizards. The rattlesnakes in particular were amazing and very creepy. Gotta love the animal editions of the Tonight Show.

The one lowlight was that while seating people for the show, this one family, particularly the wife / mother of the clan, was absolutely furious due to being seated in the upper corner of the studio rather than front and center. I mean, this woman was practically quivering in anger, with tears flowing from her eyes and fists clenched. Absolutely unbelievable. Sure it's disappointing to not get the best seats in the house, but come on, what makes you more deserving than anyone else to sit in the front? Oh, right, you traveled 3000 miles to be here. Guess what? So did almost everyone else. The fact that this woman was so emotional over a FREE event and selfish enough to throw a tantrum about it just boggles the mind. The best thing she said? I told her I was sorry, but "there's nothing else I can do to help." And she just looked at me, eyes burning and lip trembling, and said "Can't? Or WON'T?!?!" The fact that I was so nice to her despite her acting like an idiot is pretty remarkable now that I look back on it.


Interview for an assignment with Studios Productions. Is third time going to be the charm? Wish me luck, I think.


Nice to see De-troit actually making a series of the NBA Finals, which until tonight had been completely boring and utterly dominated by San Antonio. Game 4 just got a lot more interesting ...

And by the way, while I don't like the Pistons, ya gotta love Antonio McDyce, who truly has the heart of a champion and is a class act all the way, coming back from some horrible knee surgery to put on a string of great playoff performances.

Oh, and I really hope that the Lakers get no big free agents in the offseason, so we can finally see if Phil Jackson is the real deal or just an overhyped bandwagoner. Guess what, LA, you won championships because of Shaq, not Jackson. Honestly I wish he would have taken over the Knicks position. Now that would be a new kind of coaching challenge for the Zen Master.

And now ...


I don't feel like speculating any more than I have about the movie, other than to say that the 80-something percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty encouraging. Can't wait to see it for myself, in IMAX no less.

But in any case, Batman Begins week continues here on my site with the biggie ...


While hundreds of great Batman comics have been published, I have limited my selections here to stories or storyarcs that are still available in print as trade paperback collections. In my mind, there are particular self contained issues of Batman, ones that have never been reprinted, which are among my all time favorites, but to list them here would just be too time consuming and complicated. However, a number of the best single issues of Batman from his illustrious history can be found in some great collections that are out there. For example The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told trade paperback collects a number of standout stories from the last six decades by an all star lineup of creators. Another one I highly recommend is Batman: Dark Legends, a collection of some of the best single issues and short story arcs from the critically acclaimed Legends of the Dark Knight anthology series, including works by Mike Mignola and a Denny O'Neal-penned tale of Batman's first encounter with the Joker. I have included a few collections in the list that don't collect just one particular storyarc, but that's because I feel these compilations reflect singular visions of particular creative teams, like Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, or Denny O'Neal and Neal Adams. There are also a few key miniseries or storyarcs that might have made the list but are excluded since they have never been reprinted, such as the underrated Batman: Family series by John Francis Moore or the excellent Batman: Turning Points by Greg Rucka. Also, while there are some amazing stories featuring Batman's supporting cast, I mostly refrained from including stories featuring Nightwing, Robin, Barbara Gordon, the Justice League, or the Gotham PD, and stuck to stories where, at the least, Batman's name appears in the title. In any case, these are all great stories, and the top five or so entries are definitely amongst the greatest comic stories ever told, period. Sure, some of the entries are not exactly universally regarded as great stories, but they are ones that I really enjoyed, and probably read at a time when I was younger and highly impressionable, and therefore they have a particular sentimental value for me - but still, I think all of these stories hold up to this day and stand the test of time. So here they are, all available at your local Borders books or on for your reading pleasure: The Best Batman Stories - Ever.

20.) Batman: Hush - writer: Jeph Loeb / artist: Jim Lee

premise: Batman is perplexed by a new villain, Hush, who shares a personal connection with Bruce Wayne and is determined to manipulate Batman's greatest villains in a calculated attempt to bring down the Batman.
- My first entry here is one I am kind of torn about, because in the final summation this can't be considered a great Batman story, because the ending is simply not satisfactory. And yet, the build up to that ending, the feeling of excitement and anticipation that each chapter in this mystery story generates, is off the charts. Loeb does a cinematic, widescreen version of Batman here, and the art by Lee is absolutely phenomenal - the best work of Lee's brilliant career, easily. In recent years, no other comics story has had me awaiting each new chapter like this one did when it was first released two years ago, and yet that ending - ugh. But the art alone makes this classic - Batman, his allies, and his villains as drawn by Jim Lee is a watershed moment for the character.

19.) Batman: Contagion - writers: Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, etc. / artists: Graham Nolan, etc.

premise: a deadly virus sweeps Gotham City, and Batman is powerless to stop it, even as Robin is numbered among the infected.
- While this story has a few weaker chapters, it has some amazing moments as well. The premise alone is different and interesting, and is really a different kind of threat for Batman to take on. There is lots of human drama here, and the writers and artists really put Batman to the test, both personally and as a crimefighter.

18.) Batman: Prodigal - writers: Chuck Dixon and others / artist: Tom Grummet and others

premise: the first Robin, Dick Grayson, temporarily takes over for his mentor and becomes the new Batman!
-this is a great exploration of what it takes to be Batman, and what makes Bruce Wayne's interpretation of the mantle so unique and potent. It is also an entertaining character study of Dick Grayson, and the similarities and differences between him and Bruce Wayne.

17.) Batman: The Last Arkham - writer: Alan Grant / artist: Norm Breyfogle

premise: Batman is deemed criminally insane, and is locked up in Arkham Asylum alongside his deadliest foes.
- An intense psychological study of what makes Batman tick and what differentiates him from the criminals he hunts. Great action and a dark, foreboding atmosphere make this a classic.

16.) Batman: Venom - writer: Denny O'Neal / artist: Trevor von Eeadon

premise: Unable to save a girl from death, Batman is convinced that his human limitations are hindering him, and thus begins taking a strength-enhancing drug known as Venom.
- Denny O'Neal's intriguing story examines Batman's own self-perceived shortcomings and asks the question - are his lack of extraordinary abilities in fact a liabilty? This is a dark, cold, and brutal story that takes a look at what makes Batman unique in the world of comicbook heroes.

15.) Batman: The Sword of Azrael - writer: Denny O'Neal / artist: Joe Quesada

premise: Batman investigates the origins of the avenging hero Azrael, the product of a secret society that has long manipulated its champions throughout the centuries. This story would introduce Jean Paul Valley - the latest incarnation of Azrael who would later go on to become Bruce Wayne's replacement as Batman.
- This is an intriguing story with amazing art by Quesada, and a classic globe-spanning adventure penned by O'Neal, that introduces a fasicnating world of secret societies, avenging angels, and reincarnated demons long before the Da Vinci code made that stuff vogue. Plus it introduces Azrael, who would go on to become a key figure in Batman lore.

14.) Batman / Huntress : Cry For Blood - writer: Greg Rucka / artist: Rick Burchett

premise: Batman confronts the vigilante Huntress, who plays by her own rules and will do anything to get to the bottom of her mafioso origins and take revenge on those who were responsible for her tragic childhood.
- Rucka crafts a mature, emotional crime drama here that pits the Huntress against the Batman in an amazingly well-crafted tale, whcih stands as, easily, the best ever depiction of Huntress and features great supporting roles by underused characters like The Question and Richard Dragon.

13.) Batman: Mad Love - writer: Paul Dini / artist: Bruce Timm

premise: the twisted origins of Harley Quinn, the one time criminal psychologist who somehow fell madly in love with her deadliest patient - the Joker!
- Adapted from the animated episode of the same name, this one-shot comic may seem simplistic, but is in fact an insanely entertaining and memorable story of love's twisted tragedy through the eyes of the one woman who could actually fall for The Joker, the inimitable Harley Quinn, Dini's psychotic yet lovable villainous creation.

12.) Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying - writer: Marv Wolfman and more, artist: George Perez and more
premise: still reeling from the death of Robin II, Jason Todd, Batman has become darker and more driven. So having figured out the secret identity of Batman and put all the pieces together, a young kid by the name of Tim Drake decides to prove a point - that Batman needs a Robin.
- A story that really examines the duality of Batman and Robin, while succesfully introducing the character of Tim Drake - the best-written and most likable incarnation of Robin to date. Featuring excellent art and some great character moments, this is a great companion piece to A Death in the Family.

11.) Batman: Arkham Asylum - writer: Grant Morrison / artist: Dave McKean
premise: a dark, horror-filled look at Batman's villains and what exactly is going on in their psychologically-disturbed heads
- From the insane mind of Grant Morrison comes probably the weirdest and most offbeat Batman story ever told, a horrific and disturbing look into the minds of Batman's rogues gallery, showing us the readers just how tormented and screwed up villains like Two Face and the Joker really are. Featuring surreal art and poetic prose, this is as unique a Batman read as you'll find.

10.) Batman: Knightfall / Knightquest / Knight's End - writer: Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Alan Grant, Denny O'Neal / artists: Jim Aparo, Mike Manley, Brett Blevins
premise: Batman is pushed to the limit and broken by the new villain Bane, who in a masterstoke of evil genious unleashes all of Batman's villains in an effort to wear doen the Batman until he is rip for th kill. Confined to a wheelchair, Bruce Wayne relinquishes the mantle of the Bat to Jean Paul Valley. aka Azrael, who becomes a grittier, more violent version of Batman. As a crippled Bruce Wayne goes on a quest to fins his kidnapped love, Shondra Kinsolving, Azrael alienates the ploice, Robin, and crosses a line that Wayne never would - he becomes a killer. When Wayne eventually heals from his injuries, he learns of Azrael's extreme actions and confronts his increasingly unstable replacement, in an epic battle to decide who will be Batman!
- Some criticize this story, but clearly, it is probably the most ambitious in-continuity Batman epic ever told, featuring new characters, sweeping changes, and Bruce Wayne's most crushing defeat ever, followed by him giving up the role of Batman to another. This is the story that made me a comics fan forever, and while some of the plot elements seem a little rushed now, this is awesome stuff- the stuff that makes thirteen year olds into fanboys for life.

9.) Batman - Bruce Wayne: Fugitive / Bruce Wayne: Murderer? - writers: Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and more / artists: Scott McDaniel and more
premise: Bruce Wayne appears to be guilty of murder, and the evidence is so convincing that even Batman's closest allies aren't sure what to believe. But when Wayne is actually found guilty, he decides that his "secret identity" is no longer worth keeping, and becomes Batman full time.
- This is the best Batman story of the last few years, expertly written by Brubaker and Rucka, deftly examining who Batman is and who Bruce Wayne is and why both pieces are needed to form the man. Rucka introduces Batman's most compelling and believable love interest ever, Sasha Bordeux, who plays a key role in the story, and Brubaker pens some incredible standalone chapters as well. The two authors play with the inner struggle between Bruce Wayne and Batman to amazing dramtic effect, and in so doing elevate this to much more than just a murder mystery, but a classic Batman tale with a ton of action, suspense, and conflict to boot.

8.) Batman: Strange Apparitions - writer: Steve Englehart / artist: Marshall Rodgers
premise: Batman must cope with a new wave of crime in Gotham, spearheaded by mob boss Rupert Thorne, even as he falls for the enigmatic Silver St. Cloud.
- in this classic run of stories by Englehart and Rogers from the 70's, Batman is redefined - he is taken out of the campy Adam West years and suddenly, all those old villains - Joker, the Penguin, etc. are fresh again, revitalized, and they are joined by cool new menaces like Deadshot and Clayface. Basically, this is classic, definitive Batman. Sure, slightly melodramtic and over expository by today's standards, but the basics are all here and done right, paving the way for a lot of stuff to come, featuring great art by Rogers and fun, classic writing from Englehart.

7.) Batman: Tales of the Demon - writer: Denny O'Neal / artist: Neal Adams
premise: Batman first encounters Ra's Al Ghul, his intellectual equal, who manipulates and toys with Batman to suit his own ambiguous ends, all the while courting Batman to be the successor to and inheritor of his secret league of shadows.
- These stories brought Batman back to the dark side - tinged with foreboding atmosphere, mystery, and intrigue thanks to the pulpy prose of O'Neal and the incredible, realistic, dynamic art of Adams. They introduce Al Ghul, one of the all time great Bat villains, and his daughter Talia, forever torn between love for her father and adoration for Batman, her "beloved." These stories feature world-spanning adventure, martial arts showdowns, leagues of assasins, hidden mountaintop lairs, and a sophistication that was as of then unseen in Batman comics. In short, these stories of the Batman and The Demon's Head (aka Ra's Al Ghul) kick a lot of ass, even thirty years later.

6.) Batman: The Long Halloween / Batman: Dark Victory - writer: Jeph Loeb / artist: Tim Sale
premise: in this tandem of epic murder mysteries, a killer called Holiday plagues Batman's first year on the job with a series of murders corresponding to the calender dates of holidays. As he tries to solve the mystery of the holiday killings, Batman sees his friendship with James Gordon grow, betrayel by his tormented friend Harvey Dent, the introduction of Robin, and fateful encounters with the likes of the Joker, Catwoman, and the mafia family that runs Gotham, the Falcones.
- these stories take the world of Frank Miller's Year One and expand it enormously, adding new depth to Batman's early years, and providing the definitive takes on Batman's early friendship with Commisioner Gordon, and of the tragic turn of D.A. Harvey Dent into the insane villain Two Face. The murder mysteries themselves are intriguing, but the real star here is the unique vision and atmosphere of these stories, stylistically illustrated by Tim Sale and starkly written by Jeph Loeb, who here is at his absolute best, channeling the classic film noirs and bringing their shadowy sensibilities ot the world of Batman. Along with Year One, these two hefty volumes are the must-read tales of Batman's formative years.

5.) Batman: A Death in the Family - writer: Jim Starlin / artist: Jim Aparo
premise: becoming increasingly uncontrollable, Jason Todd, the second Robin, sets off to find the secrets of his true parentage, even as his quest puts him in the deadly path of The Joker. In his recklessness, Jason seals his tragic fate - one that even Batman is powerless to prevent.
- It's not often in comics that the death of a character has true impact - but this is one notable excpetion, where the effects of Jason Todd's death are still felt today. But apart from the shocking nature of the death itself, this is, in any case, a great story. The intensity and desperateness of Batman to try to save Robin - his determination to exact revenge on the Joker - his single mindedness which puts him in direct conflict with none other than Superman - all are the elements here which solidify this landmark tale as a classic. And you know what? Years after first reading this story, it's not the death of Robin that stays with me, it's the aftermath - the desperate, terrible realization by Batman that the Joker has gotten away with murder - he's killed Batman's partner - and that Batman was powerless to stop it.

4.) No Man's Land - writer: Greg Rucka, Devin Grayson, and more / artist: Dale Eaglesham, Alex Maleev and more
premise: in the wake of a destructive earthquake, Gotham City is declared a no man's land by the government and evacuated - only the vile, the venal, and the insane remain. The city has been divided up into sectors, each controlled by various gangs and criminals. Batman is nowhere to be found. After careful planning, Batman returns, and begins the long, arduous process of taking back his city.
- in theory, this story, with it's far-out premise and overwhelming length (it spanned over a year's worth of comics), should not have turned out anywhere near as good as it did. But somehow, DC Comics assembled an amazing team of writers and artists to tackle this ambitious project, and it all eventually came together, and became one of the greatest Batman sagas of all time. This story was really Greg Rucka's coming out party, and he peppered it with great character moments in the midst of all the action and high drama. Rucka brought the Batman-Jim Gordon relationship to its most complex, dramatic high point. In fact he wrote Jim Gordon better than anyone since Frank Miller. He elevated the Huntress to main-event status, fleshing out her character to unprecedented levels . And he delivered one hell of an ending to this saga. Because of its huge size, there are obviously some chapters in this story that fall flatter than others. But remarkably, the team of artists and writers is consistently great, and they pull it off. No Man's Land went from a bold experiment in storytelling to something a bit easier to appreciate - a great Batman story.

3.) Batman: The Killing Joke - writer: Alan Moore / artist : Brian Bolland
premise: As the murky history of the Joker is revealed, the Clown Prince of Crime goes on a personal crusade against the Batman, crippling Batgirl in the process and setting himself up for a final and climactic showdown with the Dark Knight, with an ending that nobody expected.
- Alan Moore is a frikkin' genious. The man can flat out write, and this short but effective graphic novel is his lasting contribution to Batman - the best ever Batman-Joker story. Similarly, Brian Bolland can flat out draw, and this is his lasting contribution to Batman - a kickass rendering of Batman and the absolute greatest version of the Joker ever drawn. This story is unrelentingly dark, horrifyingly violent, and posseses a grotesquely black sense of humor. It singlehandedly explains why the Joker is the greatest and scariest and most insanely evil of all comic book villains. It is, simply put, a masterpiece.

2.) Batman: Year One - writer: Frank Miller / artist: Dave Mazzuchelli
premise: the origin of Batman, this series chronicles Bruce Wayne's tragic beginnings and his first year as Batman - his early relationships with Jim Gordon, with Catwoman, and with the unrelenting city he calls home.
- with Year One, Frank Miller created the modern day Batman, and changed comics forever. Miller essentially said "this isn't just comic books, this is literature, this is art." He was working on the same premist that Christopher Nolan is going with for Batman Begins - if you take the character seriously, you can tell a seriously effective, relevant, and lasting narrative. Miller reinvented Batman with this story, and ushered in the modern age of comics - stories that resonated, that were tangible, spophisticated, multi-layered, that felt real. This was the new benchmark in comics storytelling, and one of the best Batman stories ever.

1.) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - writer and artist: Frank Miller
premise: In the near future, a middle-aged Bruce Wayne is forced out of retirement to clean up the city he calls home, which is spiralling into darkness and chaos. A cold, calculating, grizzled, battle-hardened, and violent Batman has returned for one final mission, and he is out not just to rid his city of crime, but to take on anyone who would try to stop him, be it the Joker, the government, or even Superman himself.
- When you talk about the best mainstream comics ever written, there are really only two that deserve mention - Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. Both take place in dystopian near-futures. Both are filled with sex, violence, and depth of story. Both are products of the cynical and politically charged Cold-War era 1980's. But only one has Batman. Miller's magnum opus is a pure adrenaline rush - it is big, epic, but above all it is the tale of one man, Batman, who is mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore, and there's not a damned thing anybody can do about it, even if they happen to be more powerful than a locomotive. This Batman is middle aged and crazy, intense, violent, and maybe even has a deathwish. So while this is a political story, it is also an intensely personal one - one that despite being out of continuity left the character of Batman forever changed. This Batman completley erased whatever remanants were left of the 1960's happy go lucky Batman, it kicked that Batman in the balls and left it crying out for mommy. This Batman was darker, crazier, more driven than ever before, and that has been reflected in the comics, the movies, the popular culture ever since. This is the story that got people into comics, that got comics written about again in the New York Times and Time Magazine, that got them taken seriously. And above all it is an awesome and awe-inspiring story, filled with memorable quotes and images that are forever emblazoned in one's memory after having been immersed in Miller's world. Because Miller does creat a whole world here, with it's own look, feel, dialect, and attitude. This is the story where the Dark Knight Returns, yes. But in a larger sense, this really was the return of the Dark Knight, and above all else, is the greatest Batman story ever told.

Alright, tommorow is the day. Let the countdown begin, to Batman Begins.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Smooth Criminal, and: Batman's Greatest Writer

Holy frikkin' crap, longest day ever.

Okay, normally I get on here and complain about working ticketbox, and usually, sure, it's annoying, but I get through. But not since my first disasterous day as ticketbox head have I had such a purely awful, strenuously conflict-riddled ordeal out at the front of the NBC guest relations office. First, the less annoying part, which, still, is unbelievably annoying. Everyone had an issue today. Every single person coming in had some sob story or some reason why they'd keel over and die if they did not get on the 12 pm tour. I heard about people driving 2000 miles, 3000 miles, appparently everyone is in the habit of driving straight across the country just to get on the freekin' 11:30 NBC Studio Tour, never, not for a moment, anticipating that it is FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE. PEOPLE! Realize that you have to be a little bit flexible, this isn't the German train system or something, it's not an exact science. But yeah, that, THAT, was only the tip of the iceberg.

Hmm, should I or shouldn't I go into details? Tempting, but I guess if the situation were reversed I wouldn't want some jackass going on the internet and detailing my particular failings of character. But basically, things got badly screwed up with the scheduling today, and it wasn't due to the customers, but because of my fellow pages acting like immature jerks and nobody stepping up to the plate and saying "yeah, things aren't going exactly as I planned in my ideal vision of what this day would be like (aka sitting on my ass doing nothing), but don't worry I'll help out." Some people need to get their heads out of their asses and learn to work as PROFESSIONALS, which sometimes means 1.) taking one for the team, and 2.) COMMUNICATING with others in a productive, not destructive manner.


A few small highlights did brighten up my otherwise rough day. One was, guess who was on the guest list for the Tonight Show today, who checked in on the guest list with her family? Jenna Fischer, the leading lady from the US version of The Office! Cool! I am a big fan of the actress, and I even got to talk to her for a bit and tell her how I thought she did a great job on the show, and how I was glad it got renewed. And she had not a hint of snobbishness or anything - a truly class act and nice person. So that was pretty cool.

Also, randomly, my former landlord from my early LA days at the Burbank Extended Stay Inn was on the guest list. Weird.


So everyone at work was preoccupied with the stupid Michael Jackson trial today, as I suppose much of the country was. Now to quote a great man: I'm not the kind of guy to say I told you so, but I told you so. It was so clear to me that MJ was going to gt off scott free in this case. It's what happens when the accuser in a trial is most likely just as corrupt and whacked out as the accused. I mean what parent, in their right mind, let's a kid stay at Neverland Ranch in the wake of the charges that had previously been leveled against Jackson? Clearly, these are people who wanted something and would do ANYTHING to get it. There was little solid evidence, from what I know, in this case. Just circumstantial testimony and a scattered bunch of reports about Jackson's behavior, few of which directly relate to the particular incident in question, and most of which could not be supported by multiple witnesses or any concrete evidence. So no, in this particular case, there was NO WAY they were going to find him guilty of anything. As for MJ, I think that basically he is just a really screwed up guy who while he may even sometimes be well intentioned in trying to help kids, he just is clueless in terms of what is appropriate in terms of how to act with kids and how not to act. No question, he is a guy who has done some highly questionable, sketchy stuff, and who needs someone to forcefully take him aside and tell him "look, you need help, and you need to change some of your attitudes. Even if you don't like it, you have got to realize what is and is not appropriate." So yeah, a predictable if unsatisfactory resolution - which as could be anticipated, left things mostly unresolved.

And now ...

Batman Begins Week Continues with:


Batman has been fortunate in terms of writers. Most mainstream superheroes are lucky to have one or two great stories that have been told throughout their histories being published. Batman has had dozens of amazing stories told, and his myth has been shaped by some of the absolute greatest writers to ever work in comics or any other medium. Here are some of the best, and the their definitive stories.

16.) Mike W. Barr - O'Barr is one of those classic yet underhyped writers whose ability has never gotten quite the recognition it deserves. But he has written a lot of good Batman stories, and a lot of his stuff is unusual in that it is no longer part of official cannon despite being quality stuff. For instance his Batman Year Two was taken out of continuity after it was retroactively explained that contrary to what happens in this story, Batman has never found out who killed his parents. O'Barr's Batman stories mix superheroics (Batman and the Outsiders) with dark tragedy and pathos (Year Two, Birth of the Demon), and the man deserves credit as a key contributer ot the modern mythos. (see: Batman: Year Two).

15.) Jim Starlin - Starlin has done a few key stories for Batman that really set the bar high. First you have to acknowldge his role in writing Batman: A Death in the Family, which saw the death of Robin II and, for all the hyper around it, was a damn good story that still holds up today. Also, Starlin wrote kind of the Batman fans' cult favorite story, Ten Nights of the Beast, a kickass story that pits Batman against the KG Beast, a villain who though kind of cheesy in concept, is depicted as an awesome threat in this action packed, classic story. (see: Batman: Ten Nights of the Beast, Batman: A Death in the Family)

14.) Grant Morrison - Already something of a modern legend, the Morrison's crazy ideas, unlimited imagination, and unique vision have established him as one of the greatest writers of the last two decades. His Batman works have been few, but Morrison really did a lot to redefine the character. First there's his graphic novel Arkham Asylum, a twisted look at Batman's rogues gallery which is a classically psychotic and nightmarish tale. Then there is Grant's work on JLA in the 90's, which helped establish the badass Batman of today, who seems to always be the JLA's MVP despite having no superpowers. Morrison's first JLA Arc, the awesome New World Order storyline, reintroduced a James Bond-like Batman who single handedly prevents a Martian invasion with his superior intellect. (see: Arkham Asylum, JLA: New World Order)

13.) Doug Moench - Moench is one of the most prolific Batman writers of the modern era, and helped write many of the key stories in Batman's career in the 80's and 90's, working with great artists like Jim Aparo. Moench has a flare for dark, moody stories, and wrote some great supernatural-themed stuff featuring magical characters like The Demon, giving Batman a large part of his otherworldly, gothic persona that came to define the character in Tim Burton's movies. Moench also wrote key chapters in epic event sagas like Knightfall, and did a number of standalone stories as well. Pick up any Batman collection from the 90's and you'll likely see Moench's sistinctive stamp. (see: Batman: Knightfall)

12.) Marv Wolfman - Wolfman's most lasting contribution to Batman actually took place in the pages of Teen Titans in the 80's, where his classic run with artist George Perez saw former teen sidekick Robin, aka Dick Grayson, evolve into Nightwing, stepping out of his mentor's shadow and going on to form his own identity. At the same time, he wrote the definitive version of Grayson's origins as Robin in Batman: Year Three. This transformation paved the way for numerous stories to come, including the introduction of the second Robin, Jason Todd, a character who Wolfman wrote and helped kill along with Jim Starlin. Wolfman would then go on to help introduce the third Robin, Tim Drake, in the story A Lonely Place of Dying, another key chapter in Batman's saga. While Wolfman is best known for Teen Titans and the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths, he is also a key shaper of the Batman mythology. (see: Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract).

11.) Jeph Loeb - While Jeph's current work on titles like Superman / Batman is not among my favorite, this currently hot writer earns his place on the list for two amazing, character-defining stories that played a big role in influencing Batman Begins. Loeb's The Long Halloween and Dark Victory are great, classic, stories - dark, murder mysteries that show Batman's early years with unprecedented levels of emotion, character, and cinematic scope. Loeb's work with Tim Sale on the stories is canonical, but Loeb also went on to write perhaps the most hyped up Batman story ever, Hush, along with superstar artist Jim Lee. While the story was widely criticized for its lackluster ending, there's no question that it exemplified Loeb's ability to do widescreen, edge of your seat adventure like nobody else, along with an uncanny ability to write stories that really play to the strengths of his artists. (see: Batman: The Long Halloween)

10.) Ed Brubaker - Brubaker, along with Greg Rucka, are the two best Batman writers of the new millenium. Brubaker established himself during the epic No Man's Land story, and went on to produce some of the absolute best Batman stories ever in the following years, with a consistently satisfying run on the main Batman title that hit all the right notes, and showed a great mix of both character and action. Some of Brubaker's one-shot stories in the midst of the Batman: Bruce Wayne - Muderer / Fugitice story are shockingly good, and his work on the milestone Batman issue #600 is classic. (see: Batman - Bruce Wayne: Murderer? / Fugitive)

9.) Greg Rucka - I give Rucka the edge over Brubaker simply because he's worked on the character slightly longer and done more work overall. Rucka had a definitive run on Detective Comics over the last few years, and produced a long run of dark, noirish stories that harken back to Rucka's roots as a mystery / spy novelist, and intoduced love interest Sasha Bordeux, one of the best new Bat supporting characters in a long while. He also wrote some of the best chapters of No Man's Land, including the gripping final chapters. Rucka has also done awesome work with some of Batman's supporting characters. His miniseries Batman / Huntress: Cry For Blood was an amazing story of Gotham's most loose-cannon vigilante, The Huntress, that explored her mafioso roots. His work on the series Gotham Central, a ploice drama set in Batman's Gotham City, is award-winning and groundbreaking - all the best aspects of Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue set in the world of Batman. (see: Batman / Huntress: Cry For Blood, Gotham Central: Half A Life, Batman: No Man's Land).

8.) Alan Moore - Moore is in my mind and the minds of many the best comics writer ever, bar none. His work on books like Watchmen is simply unmatched, not only in comics but in literature, period. And luckily, Moore has lent his talents to a select few Batman tales which, unsurprisingly, were classics. The notable contribution by Moore to the Batman mythos is of course The Killing Joke, an examination of The Joker that is, basically, the definitive story of Batman's greatest villain, featuring amazing art by Brian Bolland. The Killing Joke is one of the most intense, gripping, and darkest Batman stories ever told, and some would say one of the greatest comics stories ever, with a shocking ending that will stay with you forever afterwards, and reprecussions that forever changed the world of Batman. (see: Batman: A Killing Joke)

7.) Alan Grant - Along with Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench, Grant was one of the key Batman writers of the 1990's. But even in the midst of big event-driven storylines, Alan Grant always seemed to do his own thing, and his thing was damn good stuff. Grant had a knack for the pschological, and if you think about it Batman is all about the psychological element. It was Grant who spearheaded the launch of a new Batman title, Shadow of the Bat, to coincide with the new Batman movie in '89, and what a launch it was. From it's classic opening arc, The Last Arkham, in which Batman is imprisoned in Arkham Asylum alongside the criminals he helped to place there, Shadow of the Bat was the most innovative, mature, and well-written of the Bat titles at the time. Grant took chances and introduced new villains, like the serial killer Mr. Zsasz and the unpredictable Anarky. Grant went on to work on a number of Batman titles, specials, and miniseries throughout the 90's, and each maintained his clear ability to write Batman as a dark, shadowy, and psychologically complex character. Grant helped redefine the modern version of Batman, and sadly he has all but disappeared from the comics scene in recent years. But Alan Grant is truly one of the greats.

6.) Paul Dini - For over ten years, Paul Dini has been bringing superior Batman stories to television in the form of Batman: The Animated Series, a work that stands as the best ever translation of Batman from comics page to screen, and that is in large part to the decievingly simple scripting of Dini, who managed to combine the best elements of Batman into a timeless celebration of all that is great about the character. In comics, Dini is no slouch either, teaming with superstar artist Alex Ross on the oversized graphic novel Batman: War On Crime, and on occasional specials like the critically acclaimed Batman: Mad Love one-shot and Batman: Harley Quinn, which introduced his animated Harley Quinn character into the comics. But his work on The Animated Series is Dini's true and lasting contribution to the Batman legacy. (see: Batman: Mad Love)

5.) Steve Englehart - In the 60's, Batman was all fun and games, and had gotten away from being a grim avenger of the night as was originally intended. But two writers began to darken the character, one of whom was Steve Englehart, whose short but memorable run on Batman with artist Marshall Rogers in the 70's layed the groundwork for much of what was to come, and brought a darker, more mysterious atmosphere to the formerly camped-up world of Batman. Englehart reestablished Batman's villains, and wrote some of the all time classic Joker stories. He gave Batman one of his all time best and most memorable love interests, Silver St. Cloud. He introduced new villains like the marksman Deadshot. And most importantly, he combined the fun and adventure of the 1960's Batman with the maturity and depth of modern storytelling to completely change the way that the character was perceived from that point on. (see: Batman: Strange Apparitions)

4.) Chuck Dixon - While he is never listed among the great comics writers like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, few writers are able to capture and define the voice of comic book characters like Chuck Dixon. Dixon is a writer who has perhaps contributed more elements to the modern Batman canon than any other, and in doing so he forever set the tone, created the voice, of Batman, Robin, Commisioner Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, Nightwing, Barbara Gordon,and a host of other characters. At the same time, Dixon has a flair for pure action-based storytelling like few others do, and has created a number of action-adventure epics featuring Batman and his supporting cast. Dixon is the definitive writer of Robin, Nightwing, and Birds of Prey, three books on which he had long runs that forever shaped the featured characters, to the point where other writer's versions seem off in comparision, for lack of having that trademark Chuck Dixon inner monologue, which got you inside the heads of his protagonists so that you really felt like you knew characters like Robin, aka Tim Drake, like they were your high school buddy. Along with his sometime writing partner Scott Beatty, Dixon really has been the modern gatekeeper of Batman's universe, and he wrote some great stories while he was at it. (see: Batman: Knights' End, Robin: A Hero Reborn, Nightwing: The Hunt for Oracle)

3.) Bob Kane / Bill Finger - These two created Batman, and while their early stories were simplistic and rough by today's standards, they created an icon who is one of pop culture's greatest characters. Kane saw the appeal of a man who was born of tragedy, who was not super per se but just a regular guy who wanted nothing more than to stop criminals. The two's imagination and vision led to an amazing series of ideas, from wonderous gadgets to memorable villains to the first ever teenaged sidekick in Robin, The Boy Wonder. Give credit where credit is due - these guys started it all, and in doing so changed pop culture forever.

2.) Frank Miller - The Batman as we know him today? Yep, that's in large part Frank Miller's doing. Miller changed comics forever with Dark Knight Returns in the late 1980's. One of the greatest comics ever published, Dark Knight, along with Alan Moore's Watchmen, deconstucted the superhero for the modern day and looked past the masks to give a new spin on what it meant to be a hero in a world that seemed increasingly drawn in shades of grey. Dark Knight changed everything. It was Batman for adults. It was practically rite of passage reading. It was R-rated, or at least close to it, and it was unrelentingly dark, violent, and gritty. And most of all, it was a simply amazing story, the likes of which had never been seen before in mainstream comics. If you've never read Dark Knight Returns, read it now! I guarantee you'll be blown away by what you find. Sonn after, Miller would apply his same grim n' gritty style to Batman: Year One, an in-continuity tale that rebooted Batman from scratch and retold his origin for modern audiences. Year One is almost as much of a classic as Dark Knight, and is probably the number one influence on Batman Begins' look and feel. Miller reinvented Batman in the 1980's, and everything since is just riding his coattails. (see: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One)

1.) Denny O'Neal - O'Neal is my pick for the all time greatest Batman writer, and the reason is that for over thirty years, O'Neal has been contributing to the Batman legend and defining the character like no other singular personality has ever done. Denny O'Neal along with artist Neal Adams singlehandedly saved Batman in the 70's. Batman had become a joke, a campy punchline as delivered by Adam West. But O'Neal, with his darkly poetic prose and atmospheric narration dripping with moonlit night skies, exotic locales, and ominous creatures kicked Batman in the ass and never let up. O'Neal brought back the grim crusader, the enigmatic Dark Knight. He pitted Batman against new foes like Ra's Al Ghul (star of Batman Begins), and made the adventures mature, realistic, and yet absolutely fantastical - pure, exhilirating escapism in the grandest pulp-noir tradition. And yet, O'Neal didn't stop there. He kept writing Batman into the 80's, and shaping him as an editor during the next few decades as well. And he kept going. In the 90's O'Neal came back in a big way, launching the new title Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and writing many of its best stories himself, including new classics like Batman: Venom. He added new layers to the Batman supporting cast with the groundbreaking Batman: Sword of Azrael series, which would introduce Bruce Wayne's short lived replacement as Azrael, and then O'Neal would go on to write a succesful spinoff Azrael series for 100 issues, despite being a senior editor and well past middle age. He was instrumental in crafting the big event stories of the 90's and beyond, from Knightfall to No Man's Land, and he still hasn't stopped. O'Neal opened the door for people like Frank Miller to take Batman to new places, and in general he opened the doors to new levels of sophistication, relevance, and realism in comics - but of all his many contributions to the field, O'Neal's stands out as Batman's greatest writer. (see: Batman: Tales of the Demon)

Alright - can you feel the hype building?

Tommorow it's another early day, so I'm off. Whoooooooooooo.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Not Just The Coolest. Not Just The Best ...

That's right, this blog is Just. In. Credible.

Man, I am hyped up from watching today's ECW One Night Stand PPV. Yep, pro wrestling, dudes fighting it out in no holds barred death matches with tables, ladders, and a wee bit of barbed wire like it was 1997 all over again. If you're a red-blooded American male, ya gotta love it. If you're reading this and thinking "man who watches that crap?" then look at yourself and ask "do I watch shows including but not limited to: Britney and Kevin: Chaotic, Dancing With the Stars, Fear Factor, or One Tree Hill?" See my point? It's the guys who are watching reruns of Friends and voting for American Idol that I'd be worried about.

Anyways why am I defending myself. Awesome show and kudos to all involved. It gets a solid A from me and it will be interesting to see if this triggers any kind of revival of ECW, or at the least makes some of the other promotions, namely the WWE (who actually put on this show and own the rights to ECW) reconsider the type of product that they currently present. As this show reminded everyone, ECW is not just about spectacle and violence but heart, soul, intensity, and passion. EC-Dub, EC-Dub, EC-Dub!

So .......


Since I'm currently in a rebellious, anti-establishment mood yer gonna get the extreeeeme version of Danny B for the remainder of this blog entry. Just warning you.

So this weekend I went to see MR. AND MRS. SMITH on Friday at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. Decent movie though slightly below the level of what I was expecting. I guess I was hoping for a bit more James Bond and a little less When Harry Met Sally, if ya know what I mean. But again some good dialougue, a hefty dose of action, and some good character moments. But lack of plot and an uneven pace made this less of a summer blockbuster as it was hyped to be and more of a "meh" movie that is solidly in the lower to mid B range. Clever, but a little too clever for it's own good. Jolie and Pitt were both good with what they were given, and dayum if Angelina doesn't know how to handle some heavy artillery, but a movie like this needs a good villain and some sweet supporting characters, which were two elements sorely lacking, though Vince Vaughn tried his best to add something to the movie. Anyways, don't rush out to see this, but at the same time, worth checking out if you have the time and $$$. My grade: B

Saturday I (contain your excitement) cleaned my apartment and then stopped by Paul Lurie's place before he heads off to USY on Wheels (same trip my brother Matt is going on). While there I caught a screener DVD of STELLA, the new trippy sitcom from the guys behind THE STATE And WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. Some hilarious stuff, even if some of the gags were old hat for these guys, and some of the stuff was a little TOO out there even for them. Still, funnier than almost anything else on TV and definitely worth checking out for fans of absurd, irreverent, crazy comedy, of which these guys are the masters.


(Conan the Barbarian voice on) Gaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Ticketbox ... AGAIYNNNNNN!?!?!


And it's getting closer ...


Got my tix reserved for the IMAX showing at Universal on Wed. Can't wait. A lot of interesting stuff being written about Batman lately, such as a great look at the evolution of the character in today's LA Times' Book Review, written by Max Allan Collins, who dabbled as a Batman writer in the 80's and went on to create Road to Perdition, which became a huge movie with Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, and Jude Law. Just as I did last week, Collins contrasts the colorful and relatively simplistic creation of Bob Kane with the brooding, serious, and gritty Batman as written by Frank Miller in Year One, which would forever change the character. And to show you that Batman is just about as extreme as they come in recent years, I present to you the darkest, sickest things that have happened to the character in his modern continuity:


7.) SPOILER DIES (Batman: Wargames) - Batman has bad luck with Robins. The most recent example is the teenaged girl hero Spoiler, aka Stephanie Brown, who for a brief while became the new Robin when her predecessor, Tim Drake, had some disagreements with Batman. But soon after she put on the green and red tights, she got offed in gruesome faction by the villainous Black Mask, who was in the midst of a plan to become Gotham's new criminal kingpin.

6.) BATMAN SLEEPS WITH THE ENEMY -- AND HAS A SON?!?! (Batman: Birth of the Demon). In the new movie you'll see Ra's Al Ghul, but wo you might not see is his beautiful but deadly daughter, Talia, in the comics forever torn between love of her father and love of "The Detective," aka Batman. Well in one instance, Batman finally succumbs to his passions and does it with the demon, er, well his daughter at least. And then the twist - at the end of the story it is nine months later and Talia has a baby boy! So wait, Bats is a daddy? According to DC Comics editors this story is now considered out of continuity, but for a while there it looked like Batman had a little Batman out there wondering who his true father was.

5.) BATMAN TAKES OUT THE ENTIRE JUSTICE LEAGUE?! (JLA: Tower of Babel) Turns out that Batman is a pretty paranoid guy. So paranoid that he designed ways to take out all of his super friends if they should ever go bad. But when Ra's Al Ghul steals those secret protocols from Batman's files, the villain uses Batman's own darkly efficient methods to destroy Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and the rest of the JLA, and it was all Batman's fault. Let's just say that those heroes hadsome trust issues with Bruce Wayne after that episode.

4.) THE JOKER SHOOTS COMMISIONER GORDON'S WIFE IN COLD BLOOD (Batman: NO MAN'S LAND) - The Commish is a tortured soul. In fighting his own war on crime he's lost just as much as Batman himself. His wife left him, his daughter was paralyzed ... and then just as he found happiness with his new wife, Sarah Essen, the Joker comes along and offs her, as the hellish No Man's Land saga reaches its conclusion. After the deed is done, Gordon confronts the Joker and points a gun to his head. "I won't stop you" says Batman. But Gordon, quivering, simply shoots Joker in the kneecap and says "No. We do this by the book." and lets the cops take him away. Now THAT'S a cop for ya.

3.) THE JOKER CRIPPLES BATGIRL (Batman: The Killing Joke) - Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon, was a pop cultural icon. But in one grotesque act of violence, The Joker barged into apartment of the dominoed crimefighter and shot her in the abdomen, paralyzing her from the waste down. Today Barbara Gordon is still haunted by that fateful day, but continues to fight crime, though wheelchair bound, as the information broker to the heroes, now known as Oracle.

2.) ROBIN DIES - (Batman: A Death in the Family) Back in 1988, fans weren't exactly enamored with Jason Todd, the second Robin, who replaced Dick Grayson, the original, after he took on a new identity as Nightwing. DC then set up Todd for a hell of a fall, as they penned a story where, after a search for his true parentage, Jason went toe to toe with the Joker. So the penultmiate issue of the story ends with Jason, badly beaten by the Joker, trapped in a building full of explosives. Would he live or die? DC left it up to the fans, who could actually call a 1-900 number to vote whether Jason lived or died. And they actually voted, by a small margin, for him to DIE. So next issue Batman arrives on the scene too late, only to find the lifeless body of Robin amongst the wreckage. At that point Batman vowed to kill the Joker, but the insanely evil clown eluded capture in what would be the first of many narrow escapes from Batman's wrath.

1.) BATMAN BEATS SUPERMAN - (Batman: Dark Knight Returns) - So how does a regular guy with some martial arts skills and cool gadgets take on an all powerful kryptonian who can fly, lift twenty tons, and is invulnerable? Read the classic Dark Knight Returns to find out. Ya see, in this dystopian future, Superman has become a puppet of the corrupt US government, and Batman has called him outfor an all out, to the death battle. Sporting a mechanized suit of armor, Kryptonite-laced gloves, and an array of other weapons at his disposal, Batman pummels Superman while taking the beating of his life. The tide changes when A trategically fired kryptonite arrow opens up things for Batman to really open up. Though it almost kills him, Batman has done the impossible - kicked Superman's ass. "I want you to remember, Clark." he thinks. "To remember the name of the man who beat you." Hardcore.

Alright, must get sleep for ticketbox tommorow. Oh man that is gonna succccccccck. Tommorow regular nice guy Danny returns. For now, I say if you want some, come n' get some.