Thursday, July 31, 2008

COMIC-CON STRIKES AGAIN! Finally - Danny's MEGA Post Detailing My 2008 San Diego Adventures!

Holy lord, what a week.

I've been dyin' to post about my San Diego Comic-Con adventures for days now, but have not had even a single second to log on, especially considering how much there was to write about. Each time I sat down at night to write this week, I could tell that I wouldn't be able to last long before it was off to dreamland. Like I said, this week has been insane. While in San Diego this past weekend, I got only a few hours of sleep a night, and by the time I got back to LA on Sunday night, I was ready to drop. But there could be no rest for the weary - Monday was packed at work, and not only was it a long day in and of itself, and not only was I still exhausted from Comic-Con, but somehow, on Monday my entire team from work had a big dinner/party/bowling event over at Jillian's at Universal Citywalk. On almost any other night, it would have been okay, maybe even something to look forward to rather than dread. But as my pitifully low bowling score served as testament to, I wanted nothing more on Monday night than to go straight home and go to sleep. Since Monday, work has only gotten busier and crazier as a number of big projects are driving everyone in my group bonkers. Everyone who knows me knows that I am anything BUT a morning person, so it's been killin' me that all week, every day, I've had early-morning meetings - as if the powers that be have conspired to keep me feeling as out-of-it and perpetually tired as possible. And then I've been getting home from work later and later each night, and there's been a lot of housekeeping stuff to do, from restocking my groceries to getting many loads of laundry done post-San Diego. And basically, I've just been waiting for the magical day to come when I can sleep in sans alarm and FINALLY recover a bit from my current, zombie-like state. Oh man, that glorious day of sleeping ten straight hours of blissful slumber cannot come soon enough!

An, oh yeah, to top it all off, this week I experienced my first-ever GIANT EARTHQUAKE OF DOOM! On Tuesday, I was in a coworker's office for a meeting when we all felt a giant rumbling that seemed to turn the ground below us into jello. I have to admit, I was pretty shocked by the whole thing. I bolted up out of my chair and began to head for the exits. It was particularly nerve-racking because so much construction is going on in our office right now ... there are all manner of loose beams, etc. hanging around ... our floor could have been somewhat dangerous had the quake continued. Luckily, there were no real aftershocks or followup (yet ...), and no huge damage has yet been reported. My apartment seemed fine and nothing fell or anything. Still, it was definitely a somewhat scary experience, and doesn't do much to allay the fear that southern California is destined for some apocalyptic mega-quake at some point in the near future.

-Oh, and by the way, speaking of scary stuff, I just caught this week's episode of NBC's FEAR ITSELF and was very pleasantly surprised. You see, it's no secret that for most of its run thus far, NBC's primetime horror anthology has not exactly been delivering the goods. In fact, over a period of weeks I went from eagerly anticipating each episode, to barely remembering to record it, to then being so turned off by the poor reviews I'd read online that I stopped bothering to even watch. BUT ... I was curious to check out this week's ep, as it was co-written by Drew McWeeny, aka longtime Ain't It Cool contributor Moriarity, and also starred one of my favorite genre actors working today, the great DOUG JONES.

Suffice it to say, Doug Jones was flipping phenomenal in this one, crafting one of the sickest and most demented villains I've seen in either movies or TV in a long while. The short version is that he plays this guy Grady who ventures off into the snowy wilderness on a trip with some friends, and then goes missing for a long while, leaving his wife, kids, and brother (who may or may not be shtupping his wife), to nervously wonder what's become of him. Finally, Grady staggers home, but he's obviously a changed man - he's rail-thin, has a ravenous look in his eye, and seems to have been noticabley changed by his experiences in the wild. Seems out there, he had to do anything to survive the cold and isolation and so he decided that human beings were now on the menu. In short, he returns to his home with a strong hunger for human. Yikes!

Anyways, don't want to get into too much detail, other than to say I'd highly recommend that those of you who, like me, jumped off the Fear Itself train several weeks ago go online and check out this latest ep. A nightmarishly crazy performance from Doug Jones makes it well worth a viewing.

My Grade: A -

- And one more TV note: I've said it before here on the blog, but I'll say it again - week in and week out, I have actually really been enjoying CBS' SWINGTOWN. Not sure what others think of it, but to me it's a pretty light yet well-crafted piece of primetime entertainment, with a couple of really fun characters and several storyarcs that have been built up very well as the weeks progress. It's odd to me that CBS suddenly moved it to a less than ideal Friday night timeslot, but hopefully it continues to find an audience - would love to see this one keep on swingin' for a sophomore season.

- Okaaaaay ... enough already - what I really want to talk about is my trip to San Diego last weekend. So without further ado ...

SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2008 - Show Report:

- Last year, I attended my first-ever San Diego Comic-Con, and it was an absolutely great experience. Sure, that inaugural trip had its rough patches, but, overall, I left San Diego with the intention of becoming a Comic-Con regular from that point forward. I had been totally blown away by the size and scope of the event, but mostly, I had just really been struck by the atmosphere that permeated the convention center and the outlying downtown area. It was a place where the geeks truly had inherited the earth. Where you found yourself in line for lunch standing between Catwoman and Mr. Spock and didn't blink. A place where I had more spontaneous conversations with random strangers than maybe anywhere else I've ever been. A place where people were universally friendly, passionate, and just happy to be there. So I absolutely couldn't wait to go back this year for Round 2.

This year, I tried to plan things out a little bit better and farther in advance. Rather than relying on the kindness of friends to help us out with lodgings, we booked a hotel room fairly close to the convention center several months in advance of July. I applied for press passes early, and also made sure to look into a number of cool opportunities for our trip, and secured invites to some bigtime parties that were to be held after-hours in San Diego. To make sure we packed as much adventure into this trip as possible, we decided to drive up Thursday morning so we'd get in four full days of Comic-Con craziness ...

... Of course, our drive up to San Diego on Thursday was marred by absolutely awful traffic on the freeway, due to some kind of huge accident. My friends and I set out from LA at about 9:30 am. We arrived in San Diego over 6 hours later. At one point, I fell asleep in the car, woke up an hour and a half later, and we were practically in the same spot we had been when I drifted off into dreamland. The traffic was simply unmoving and at a standstill for hours on end. At least we had my custom-made Comic-Con mix CD to help ease the pain.

- Finally, we made it to San Diego. We stopped for a late lunch (we were starving by that point!), and then hightailed it up to the convention center, where we checked in, got our press badges ... and then, it was off to the races. From the get-go, it was clear that, even more so than before, Comic-Con this year was going to be JAM-PACKED with people. For almost the entire time we were there, even on Sunday, the main halls were packed so tightly that even just navigating outside to use the restroom or to grab a snack was a fifteen minute ordeal. Especially in the middle area of the show floor, where the big movie and TV studios had their giant booths, the place was a madhouse. But man, what a scene. People of all ages and races, men and women, kids and adults. People sporting superhero T's, capes and tights, and Slave-Girl-Leia outfits. More Heath Ledger-esque JOKER getups than I could count. It really is one of the craziest gatherings of humanity that you will ever see. And I mean that in the best way possible. If you're a fanboy, it's practically the Promised Land.

So let me simply go day-by-day and try to give an account of some of the highlights from San Diego. Keep reading ...


- So after a loooooooong day of driving, we spent a little time walking around the show floor and taking in the scene. One cool little story is that, while walking in the Artist's Alley, I spotted an unassuming elderly man sitting by himself at a table. He stood out though, and then I saw his name plate ... and my eyes widened. It was JERRY ROBINSON - one of the founding fathers of BATMAN, who in the early 1940's created one of the greatest fictional villains of all time, none other than the Clown Prince of Crime, THE JOKER. Wow. I couldn't help but go up and thank him for his work. I asked him what he thought of The Dark Knight (he loved it). And I purchased a piece of original art from him - a sketch of Batman and Robin, that he signed and adorned with a personalized note. Awesome. It's crazy that this guy, this living legend who must be pushing 90, was sitting in an out-of-the-way booth selling sketches at a show that was all but built on the characters he helped popularize. I'll talk more about this later, but it's important to remember - as much as we get caught up in the big Hollywood filsm and slick TV shows ... it's the classic COMICS and their creators that are where it all started, and they deserve their due respect.

-Anyways, I did think it was only right to attend at least one panel, the nerdier the better, to kick off Comic-Con right. Therefore, we all went to the DC NATION panel at 6 pm. It was actually a really fun panel, hosted by DC EIC Dan DiDio, and featuring a number of big name writers like Geoff Johns, Keith Giffen, Judd Winnick and more. The big surprise occurred when none other than KEVIN SMITH made a surprise appearance, and announced that he'll be writing an upcoming Batman miniseries. Sounded really cool, and I loved Smith's run on Green Arrow, where he wrote a pretty entertaining Batman - so I'm reasonably excited about this project. In any case, it was cool to see Kevin Smith, as I had hoped to see his Zach & Miri panel on Friday, but couldn't due to scheduling conflicts. And I mean, come on - what's a Comic-Con without Kevin Smith? Meanwhile, there was a ton of hype for John's upcoming Blackest Night and Flash: Rebirth storylines, which are both pretty much guaranteed to rock.

- After the panel, we checked into the nearby Holiday Inn, where we were met with two somewhat annoying surprises. One was that we'd have to pay an additional daily fee for parking at the hotel, which seemed like quite the ripoff. The other was that, due to some wonky fire-code violation stuff, we would be unable to get a cot / rollaway bed in our room. Ummm, say what now? Our room, which turned out to be fairly small, only had two slightly-larger-than-twin-size beds. There were three of us. This meant that one of us was sleeping on the floor ... (and that one of us was Seth! Bwahahahaha ....)

- Anyways, we grabbed some dinner at the hotel, and then headed out for our first big night on the town. I had secured us invites to the G4 PARTY that was going down at this cool bar / lounge downtown. Yep, we were set to party with the folks behind one of the hottest cable networks on the air today, the go-to destination for coverage of games, comics, and all things geeky-cool. I wasn't sure what to expect, but we got in without any problem, and not only that, but we ended up having a pretty big posse once inside as well. Me, Seth, and the G-Man were soon joined by Diane and her friend from the area, and we soon ran into a few of Seth's friends, as well as NBC's resident queen of publicity, Fowzia, and finally, G4's (and New England's) own Jules. Aside from the great group we had at the party, the highlight may have been this great band / rap ensemble that was performing, a group known as NERDCORE. Never before have I heard anyone rap about playing videogames and downloading stuff with such awesome intensity. To put it simply: they rocked. Also, there were all manner of interesting characters walking around at the party - a bunch of G4's on-air personalities were in attendance, along with some other celeb types. And as anyone who's seen my Facebook photos may have noticed, there was also an abundance of scantily-clad ladies walking around, some dressed in superhero gear, others dressed in full-on Princess Leia Slavegirl attire. Not a bad way to kick off Comic-Con.


- Okay, so Friday morning / early afternoon was the must-go panel of the entire show, that being WATCHMEN. We got straight in line for the panel as soon as we arrived at the convention center, and we were happy to wait outside of the massive Hall H for a while, because, man, this was going to be huge. And you know what? The panel lived up to the hype. Zach Snyder came out with the entire cast, as well as original Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, and you couldn't help but be impressed with what they had to say. Look, I've already written a lot about Watchmen on the blog, so you guys should already know how big a fan I am of Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel. But to hear Dave Gibbons get giddy when talking about visiting the sets and seeing his artwork come to life ... to hear Patrick Wilson talk about playing Night Owl, and seeming to have an awesome grasp on the character ... to hear Billy Crudup seeming so enthused about Dr. Manhattan, and Carla Gugino seeming to have put her all into playing the original Silk Spectre. Every fanboy in the place was smiling ear to ear all throughout this one, folks, me included. This panel sold me on the cast, plain and simple. These guys, I can now say with confidence, are going to pull it off. They're going to do the impossible. They're going to make a kickass Watchmen movie. From Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach to Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre to Matthew Good as Ozymandias to Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian -- these guys get it. Zach Snyder gets it. And good lord, I think even Alan Moore, if he saw this, some small part of him would be happy and proud, because these guys clearly are acting with reverance towards his work. And the footage they showed ... holy crap. We already got a taste of things with that amazing first trailer. But the extended montage they showed, set to epic, classical music, was just mind-blowing. The one snippet that really sold me - it was a one-second scene of Dan Dreisberg sitting alone in his lair, his hair disheveled, looking slightly paunchy. Wow - THIS was Night Owl, baby. They nailed it. The buzz is now official - you could feel it all throughout San Diego. It was this weird duality - everyone was still twittering over THE DARK KNIGHT ... but there was also this vague anticipation for the next big thing. And there was no doubt - that next big thing is going to be Watchmen.

- Sidenote: everyone at the Watchmen panel received a voucher for a free T-Shirt, available for pickup at the Warner or DC booths. When we tried to grab a T-shirt later in the day, they only had mediums, so I decided to wait for the next day, when I was told they'd get in more shirts in larger sizes. I checked back on both Saturday and Sunday, and no luck. Sadly, I never got my super-cool, Comic-Con-exclusive Watchmen T. Oh well ...

- The next panel we attended was a DC Comics panel dedicated to all things BATMAN. Like many at Comic-Con, we were all still on a high from Dark Knight, so it felt only appropriate to assemble with our fellow Bat-fans. The panel was a little strange though, because on one hand, the Batman comics are currently embroiled in an off-the-wall, psychedelic Grant Morrison epic called Batman: RIP, that is pretty far removed from the tone or storylines of Dark Knight. On the other hand, many in the audience were relatively new Batman fans who were less interested in the comics and really wanted to talk about Dark Knight. The odd juxtaposition did kind of call attention to the fact that DC has not been particularly great about making the current Bat comics accessible to new fans who may be picking up their first issue post-DK. At the same time, it's always really cool to hear the Scottish madman Grant Morrison speak - he is definitely an iconoclast who does things his own way and always brings a unique perspective to the table. And then, Jerry Robinson was also at the panel, which was really cool ... although there was a little of that Grampa Simpson syndrome at play, where he'd be asked a question and proceed to give long and somewhat rambling answers. That's not to downplay his legendary presence though - it was awesome to hear his perspective on The Joker throughout the years. Overall, a cool panel, though it's interesting that the two biggest bits of Bat-news at the show would be revealed elsewhere.

- We then went over to check out a pair of panel s for two of FOX's biggest action TV franchises. First up was the one, the only TWENTY-FOUR (24!). This was a truly kick-ass panel. Unlike last year's 24 panel, this was the first time that JACK BAUER himself, Kiefer Sutherland, was there in attendance, live and in-person, baby! Kiefer was really entertaining, and overall I think he made a great impression on all the fans in attendance - even going out of his way to praise the Comic-Con audience and to thank everyone for their support. He also had a great sense of humor - when one fan asked him to give them one of Jack's trademark "dammit's," Kiefer summoned up his best Jack Bauer bellow and yelled a "DAMMIT, WE'RE OUT OF TIME!" to much uproarious applause. Also on the panel, in addition to many of the show's producers and writers, was Carlos Bernard, aka TONY BY-GOD ALMEDA, aka The Bearer of the Soul Patch! It was awesome to see the dynamic duo of Jack and Tony on stage together, and the two were doing a great job of hyping the upcoming Season 7. But the real kicker was the Season 7 footage we were shown. First we saw an extended scene from November's TV movie that will serve as an S7 prequel of sorts. What they showed wa vintage 24, although it had Jack relocated to Africa, which made for an interesting change of setting. We got Jack leading a bunch of African kids around a wartorn village, when the group comes under fire by a squad of armed villains. In classic Jack style, the villains are brutally taken out one by one, in excitingly violent ways that elicited much applause from the Comic-Con audience. But then came the shocker -- Jack turns a corner, only to be held at gunpoint - we pan out, and the holder of the gun is actually a small African kid. Jack yells at him to put the gun down, but the kid isn't budging. Jack raises HIS gun -- he wouldn't, would he? That's what we were all wondering, as the scene faded to black and we all burst into more applause. If this scene was any indication, 24 is going to be BACK in a big way come November. And I for one am PSYCHED. And that wasn't it - we then got a trailer for the actual season set to kick off in January. Jon Voight (!) and Janeane Garofalo will play supporting roles, though sadly no sign of Kurtwood Smith, who appeared in earlier trailers. But still, TONY will be BACK FROM THE DEAD (in Zombie form?), Jack is back kicking ass, and S7 looks to be a return to form. A great panel, awesome footage was shown and it was just plain cool hearing Kiefer Sutherland and the rest speak in person.

- Immediately following the 24 panel, we stuck around for the PRISON BREAK panel. After the kickass 24 panel, this one was a slight letdown, to be honest. We were all hoping that William Fichtner and the rest of the show's awesome supporting cast of villains would be in attendance, but all we got was Dominic Purcell (who plays Lincoln), and Sarah Wayne Callies (who plays Sarah, who is back from the dead in the new season). Both seemed somewhat cool, but neither seemed 100% enthusiastic about being at Comic-Con, and it was obvious that the crowd was disappointed that Wentworth Miller and others didn't show up. Still, we did get to see the opening of the upcoming season premiere, at it looked pretty cool and intriguing. We saw Scofield trailing Gretchen, Whistler, and Mahone. He catches up with them, and is about to finally avenge Sarah by offing Gretchen, when the femme fatale reveals to him that Sarah is, in fact, alive, and that only she can bring him to her. A cool setup, but it remains to be seen where this is all going. I liked that one fan asked about the dangling plot thread from two seasons ago, where the show seemed to venture into sci-fi territory, hinting that Scofield had some kind of weird backstory where he was cloned or genetically engineered in some way. It was a good question, so it was kind if disappointing to hear that there weren't any concrete plans in place to follow up on it. A decent panel, but it couldn't match the energy or enthusiasm of 24 which preceeded it.

- After leaving the show on Friday, we met up with the one and only Aksel, himself a life-long San Diego resident, for a classic night of craziness as is only possible when hanging out with the Axe Man. My old roommate was in rare form, meeting us at TGI Fridays (sadly and conspicuously rare in the LA area) to kick off the evening's adventures. We hit up a number of Gaslamp District hot spots, and had some interesting stories to tell the next day.


- After our night of Aksel-approved insanity the night before, we rolled into Comic-Con slightly later than planned on Saturday morning, so we decided to immediately get into line for the afternoon panel for THE OFFICE, which by 10 am already had a line of fans that wrapped around the outskirts of the convention center grounds. Now, okay, The Office isn't traditional Comic-Con fare, and yes, the purist in me slightly resents the fact that so many random Hollywood properties now insist on having a presence at the show. But hey, it's The Office - the panel focuse on the show's writers. It was sure to be hilarious (especially being that it was moderated by Rainn Wilson!), I'm really into comedy writing so there's that, and then, of course, I am a proud NBC Universal employee, and felt I should go to at least some NBCU panels to show some support and company pride. Luckily, others from NBC felt the same, and we were able to find them in line so as to secure a slightly better spot than we had originally landed in. And it was a good thing too, because even after we moved up in line, we only barely got into the panel. Overall, it was a great panel - Rainn Wilson was often hilarious, and there were some pretty itneresting insights from the writers (including writer/actors like BJ Novack and Mindy Kaling) and from exec-producer Greg Daniels. You could really kind of tell by listening to the group talk where some of the different styles of humor on the show come from - there definitely seemed to be a wide variety of writing styles and senses of humor represented. Best and most Comic-Con-appropriate question came when someone asked how Dwight would respond to a robot invasion. The answer: a.) he'd run through the streets screaming about how his warnings of an impending robot invasion had been right all along, and b.) he'd quickly begin sucking up to the robots, and become assistant to the regional manager of the robots / robot overlord. Hahaha ... classic. Lamest question was when some woman from some lame-ass website gets up and asks the msot generic question possible, like "how do you prepare for your role on the show" or something stupid like that. Ughhhhh. But anyways, yeah, it was a very funny and often insightful panel, and it got me thinking about all the potential that the upcoming OFFICE season has.

- Okay, so the next panel I'll talk about may actually have been the highlight of my entire San Diego trip. Because, while my friends went to check out the "Chuck" panel, I decided to skip out and went to see one of my all-time heroes in person while I had the rare chance to do so. The man I'm referring to is none other than a true master of sci-fi, a living legend, and one of the greatest authors to ever live - RAY BRADBURY. Some quick background: I've been a huge, huge fan of Ray Bradbury since I first read The Illustrated Man in middle-school. That collection of short stories, along with Ther Martian Chronicles, are two of my all time favorite works of fiction, and both were enormous inspirations to me, in terms of how I look at the world, how I write, and in terms of influencing the subject matter that drives me and that I'm most passionate about. In high school, I wrote my senior English thesis on the works of Ray Bradbury as a reflection of postwar America. I love the Ray Bradbury Theater television show and have Volume 1 on DVD. And I hope to read and experience many more of his works as the months and years go by. Last year at Comic-Con, I somehow missed a chance to see Bradbury at his annual panel, but this year I was determined not to miss it. I just had a real sense of urgency about it. Because let's face it, Bradbury is getting up there, and he won't be around forever. And I didn't want to miss an opportunity to hear the legend speak in front of a packed hall of his fans and admirerers.

And what an experience it turned out to be. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but I began to get goosebumps when I looked around and realized that the fairly large hall had become filled to capacity. I don't know if Bradbury always draws that big a crowd ... I know it's weird to say this, but I felt like there was that palpable, shared sense of urgency. We all wanted to see the man speak while we had the chance. And there was also a sense of getting back to basics. Amidst all the Hollywood hype and circus-like atmosphere at Comic-Con, here was Ray Bradbury, a TRUE science fiction legend who was not only a staple of Comic-Con since its inception, but a reminder of the great history and legacy of the show and of the genres it represents. This was the House That Bradbury Built, and I think we all felt honored and privaleged to be in that room at that moment. When a wheelchair-bound, somewhat frail looking Ray Bradbury was helped into the room and on to the podium, it was a Moment I'll always remember. The crowd erupted in genuine, heartfelt applause, the kind that only comes from true respect and admiration. It was the first of many times over the next hour that I'd have the chills.

The panel was moderated in a fashion by Bradbury's longtime friend Arnold Kunert, which was actually great, as it kept the discussion focused and helped to steer the conversation in some interesting directions. It's hard to describe what went on on that stage though. I'm not sure what Bradbury's health history has been, but for me it was at first a bit jarring to see the elderly Bradbury up on stage. My quintissential image of him from is from The Ray Bradbury Theater - that floppy writer immersed in his workshop - white-haired, an elder statesman, sure- but always with a bounce in his step and a gleam in his eye. Here on stage was, in contrast, a Bradbury who was wheelchair-bound and who struggled with his speech. Like I said, it was jarring at first, and almost sad for us longtime fans to see.

But then ... something magical happened.

As the conversation went on, and as certain topics came up, a certain glimmer began to appear in the old man's eyes and a smile formed on his face. As Bradbury talked about life and love and art and imagination, something seemed to come alive in him and he would become animated, alive, younger. You could see that old Ray Bradbury somehow boiling up from somewhere inside. I didn't expect it going in, but I found myself sitting there, listening to him speak, getting goosebumps, and becoming aware that I was witnessing something pretty special. And the stories we were hearing ... tales of Bradbury working with Jon Huston to adapt Moby Dick, and the rocky relationship the two had. Bradbury told of meeting Chuck Jones, of painting The Halloween Tree, of partnering with Ray Harryhausen on dinosaur movies, of creating Farenheit 451, and of his early days sending his writing to Amazing Stories and hoping agaisnt hope that this would finally be the submission that saw print in the fabled publication. But it wasn't just his stories that amazed - while we were hearing firsthand accounts of the stuff of legend, the real highlights were the other stuff - the random asides, the life lessons. It was while imparting a lifetime of accumulated wisdom that Bradbury really began to come alive. "It's all about love!" he repeated. "You do what you love, and to hell with everything else!"

Bradbury proceeded to talk in length about the theme of doing what you love. He talked about his early experiences with books, with movies, with robots and dinosaurs and pirates. About how each experience was part of the genesis of his lifelong love with those mediums and themes. He said that his college education was the library - that each new book he opened and discovered was his personal curriculum. He even mentioned how every woman he had ever been drawn to was an English teacher or librarian - I'm sure he could have elaborated a bit, but he left us laughing at his observation on his romantic past. He talked about how he began attending Comic-Con when it first debuted in 1970 for a very simple reason: when he was a boy, he read Prince Valiant in the Sunday paper, and from that day forward he fell in love with comics of all shapes and sizes, and he still loves comics, and THAT'S why he's come to the show each and every year since, in sickness and in health, because that love has never wavered. This statement was greeted, of course, with thunderous applause. In what quick turn of a phrase, Bradbury had somehow summed up what made Comic-Con great and what keeps it great. He cut to the core of why we were all there in San Diego in the first place, and it was a beautiful thing to hear.

It was simply inspiring to hear the passion that Bradbury still so clearly possessed. Earlier, a fan had presented him with a toy dinosaur as a gift, and Bradbury admired it with a childlike gleam in his eye. He still has that in him. The man is STILL writing stories, every day. Still producing movies. A new, big-budget version of Farenheit 451 is due soon that is poised to prove that his work is as relevant as ever. I'm not one to get emotional and burst into spontaneous applause, but during this panel, over and over again, with wide eyes and a smile, as I looked around at the others next to me who clearly felt the same way, I couldn't help myself. All I can say is this: Thank you, Ray Bradbury.

- So before the Bradbury panel, I actually went into the hall early, and caught the panel that preceeded it - a DC Comics Animated Feature panel, which featured DC head honcho Paul Levitz talking about DC's slate of animated DVD / Blu-Ray features, the most recent of which was the Batman: Gotham Knights film. The main focus of the panel was the upcoming Wonder Woman animated feature, which features Keri Russel as WW. Nathan Fillion, who voices Steve Trevor, was on hand at the panel, which was cool. Also there was Bruce Timm, the great artist who oversaw the DC animated universe from Batman: The Animated Series through JLU. The WW movie was actually looking pretty badass, the trailer shown had some great action and seemed to be a lot of fun.

- To close out the day on Saturday, we roamed around the show floor for a while, before heading back to our hotel to rest up for a bit. One cool highlight on the floor was that we actually saw Robert Smigel doing TRIUMPH THE INSULT COMIC DOG for my old employer, Late Night With Conan O'Brien. A truly awesome sighting, and I can't wait to check out the segment in its entirety.

- But anyways, our big event for the night was that, through work, I had secured some spots at the SCIFI CHANNEL / ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY PARTY, which is one of THE big Hollywood parties at Comic-Con. After some delicious pizza at Sloppy Joes, we walked over to the swanky Hotel Solimar. The party was being held on the hotel rooftop - an impressive area that featured a pool, and was decked out with an open bar, copious food kiosks, and moody lighting and video displays ... but wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. First, we had to wait in line. I had thought that a number of my NBCU Digital Distribution colleagues would also be in attendance, but none made it out. So Seth and I were kind of on our own, and a bit unsure of whether we'd actually get into the party - as the line was slow as molasses, with the rooftop party area apparently at its maximum occupancy level. We met a bunch oof interesting people in the line, though - a bunch of animators, some writrs for Adult Swim shows ... The most surreal part of waiting in line was that those of a certain celebrity status, from JJ Abrams to Joshua Jackson, were walking in and bypassing the line, and yet, at one point I saw DC Comics head Paul Levitz arrive and trudge to the back of the line (and yet, comics artist Jim Lee went right inside ... hmmm ...). But as we saw celebrity after celebrity walk into the party, Seth and I knew that we pretty much had to get in - this was the bigtime, baby. So we waited it out for a good hour and a half or so, but when it came time to give our names, we were good to go and were ushered inside without any problem. We were on the A-list and about to mingle with the stars.

So I'll be honest - I was trying to play it cool once inside, but I was definitely freaking out to some degree. This was definitely the most star-studded social event I've ever been to. When I went to find the restroom, I passed Matthew Fox, the cast of Chuck, and then got in line to use the Men's Room behind Jeph Loeb and in front of Masi Oka. We walked by Simon Pegg, Captain Awesome, JJ Abrams, and Joss Whedon. We ran into a bunch of NBC folks from the Agency, publicity, etc., from SciFi, and I also saw some colleagues from Microsoft who I had some good conversation with. My one disappointment was that Bruce Campbell was supposed to be there, but apparently didn't show up. I mostly kept my camera tucked away at the party, with the intention of not betraying myself as a drooling fanboy, but I don't think I could have passed up a potential photo-op with Ash himself. It was funny though, because since I was the sole representative of my department at the party, and one of only a handful of NBCU employees in attendance, I felt like that much more of a big deal. Not that I actually WAS a big deal, but hey, give me my moment of artificially-elevated sense of self-worth, will ya'?

But yeah, this was one bigtime party, and surely just the first of many such celeb-packed affairs that I'll be attending from this point on ... Hahaha ... But still, I kept getting the urge to call my mom and say "if you could only see your son now!" or something to that effect. Remember, even if my current job makes me a quasi-wannabe-Hollywood-playa (okay not really, but let me have my delusions) ... I'm still just a kid from Bloomfield at heart!

- So after we were satisfied that we had soaked in enough of the bigtime Hollywood ambiance, Seth and I grabbed some celebratory Pinkberry and headed back to the hotel. Which brings us to ...


- Sunday at Comic-Con was really the day to take in the show-floor one more time, make a few obligatory purchases, and just soak in the craziness of the show one last time. Although, I thought it was appropriate to do one last DC NATION panel, as a nice sort of bookend to how we kicked things off on Thursday. And also, the DC geek in me was curious as to the supposed big announcement that DC had saved for this one. The panel was a lot of fun - DiDio was once again entertaining, bringing up random people from the crowd to help him moderate the panel, including a 12 year old kid to answer audience questions about Final Crisis, and a girl in a pretty dead-on Supergirl costume to talk about the Girl of Steel. More hype from Geoff Johns on Blackest Night and Flash: Rebirth and JSA and Action Comics (the guy is definitely the best thing going in terms of superhero comics at the moment ...). And then the panel capped off with a little video presentation that revealed a pretty cool announcement: bestselling author and hugely popular comics writer Neil Gaiman, of Sandman and Stardust fame, will be writing a special Batman story called Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Could be interesting, to say the least.

- The next few hours on Sunday were, again, just spent roaming the show floor and soaking everything in one last time. I got some trade paperbacks and posters on the cheap. I did another walkthrough of the big videogame section at one end of the show floor, making sure to check out some of the big titles on display, from Little Big Planet to DC Universe Online to Ghostbusters to Star Wars: Force Unleashed to Street Fighter IV. I walked around to the autograph areas and got in the obligatory sightings of Rob Van Damme and the "legendary" Virgil. I bumped into Jules one last time and got a few more photo-ops of some of the strange characters that make Comic-Con such an awesome place to be - people dressed like the cast of GI Joe, the Batman rogues gallery, or the X-Men - and everyone and everything in between.

- And then, finally, it was time to head out. We capped off our stay in San Diego by heading up into the Gaslamp District and catching an afternoon showing of The X-Files movie. I'll post a full review soon, but, at least for me, seeing the movie was always the perfect way to close things out this year. The X-Files was the pinnacle of genre television in the 90's, and maybe ever, and it reignited fandom in a way that hadn't been seen in decades, producing a legion of X-Philes that analyzed each episode and the larger context of the show with uncanny devotion. For me, for years and years, Sunday nights were synonomous with The X-Files, so it was only appropriate to once again, one more time, take a few hours on a Sunday and spend it with Mulder and Scully as they embark on their latest adventure. Without getting into a full review just yet, I'll say that the movie was certainly flawed, but to its credit it evoked the same creepy atmosphere and character dynamics that made me such a fan of the show in the first place. Again, I couldn't think of any more fitting way to put an exclamation point on our own 2008 San Diego adventure.

- All that was left was the long drive home. Thankfully, it was a much shorter ride back than it was driving down to San Diego. I was happy after a great weekend. Cool panels, fun parties, a chance to hang out with Brian, Seth, Diane, Adriana, Aksel, Jules, and many others. But the exhaustion of four days of nonstop craziness and little sleep had caught up to me (and still hasn't quite left me). And then, there was that same slight feeling of post-Comic-Con sadness that I felt last year that began to creep in, even before we left San Diego on Sunday morning. I love the atmosphere there. Even at this point where the show has to some extent been taken over by the Hollywood studios, that grassroots appreciation for the good stuff is what makes this show special. Where else would WATCHMEN get this kind of reception? Because sure, Comic-Con is a place where Watchmen, the movie, can get a huge reaction, but that's mostly because Watchmen, the comic book, made such an impact on so many people in attendance. That's where it all comes from. From the people who go out there and FIND the good stuff and tell their friends who then tell their friends. The people who don't settle for what Hollywood tells them to like, but who yell and scream at Hollywood to get it right and get their act together until Hollywood has no choice but to listen. At work on Monday, nearly everyone asks me about the show is as much of a "freak show" as it seems. Everyone jokes about the people in costume, about the nerds who attend the show, about the diehard fans and how into everything they are. Well, to me it ain't no freak show, dude. To me, there's something that's REAL about people with passion, and what's UNREAL is the majority of people you encounter in the so-called "real world." The people who live life without passion, without a desire to stand out and be different. The people who conform to whatever the masses dictate, who aren't tastemakers, who don't seek out what's new and different and great. THOSE are the people who scare me, not some guy in a Batman costume. And when I, as an aspiring creator and storyteller, attend the show and see what is essentially the dream in action - when I see writers and actors and producers go out there and show what they've been working on to the fans, and when the fans respond and go nuts ... I'm reminded that THAT's the dream, and that's where I want to be. I don't want to be in a cubicle in khakis. I want to be writing, creating, contributing to the pop-culture fabric. I want to be up there on stage showing off my latest project, something that comes from my roots as a fan, and is made with the fans in mind. That's where I hope to be, and that's what I have to work for. Because like Ray Bradbury said, you've got to do what you love, and to hell with everything else. And that, to me, is what Comic-Con is all about.

And now, after a week of little sleep and lots to think about, I'm off to spend some time in the land of dreams and nightmares. I'm glad I got to finally write this post, and I hope to have that X-Files review up soon. Thanks for reading, True Believers!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Comic-Con Preview '08 - The Truth Is Out There!

What a week it's been already - I still don't think I've really recovered from Saturday's Dark Knight odyssey (check back-posts of my blog for the whole story), and things at work have been pretty crazy to boot. But no rest for the weary - tomorrow morning I'm bound for San Diego, where it will be four straight days of freaks, geeks, and general insanity, as I make my second annual trek to Comic-Con.

Oh, I also saw Tori Spelling at work today.

Oddly, that sentance seemed to fit in with this post's overall theme more than I thought it would ... But yeah, in all of my recent rush to post about E3 and all things Dark Knight, I've barely gotten a chance to get the hype train rolling for Comic-Con. If it's anything like last year's adventure, it's going to be crazy. Although, already I think the crew and I have planned a bit better this time around. We've mapped out a game plan, got our passes way in advance, reserved lodgings very close to the convention center, and secured invites to more than one swanky Comic-Con shindig.

As far as panels go, there's so much going on at any given moment that you'd have to have about 10 body doubles to see it all. Personally, my #1 must-see panel going in is the Warner Brothers WATCHMEN event, scheduled to take place Friday afternoon. That first trailer has me extremely pumped for more Watchmen, and if any single panel has the potential to rival the awesomeness of last year's Marvel movie panel (where the now-famous Iron Man trailer was first unveiled), this is it. I also can't wait to check out the TWENTY FOUR (24) panel. Apparently, Kiefer, TONY ALMEDA, and the rest of the cast and crew will be on hand to talk up the upcoming seventh season and its prequel TV movie. I can't wait to get an early glimpse of Jack Bauer kicking-ass-with-gravitas one mo' time. Immediately following that one there's also a PRISON BREAK panel, at which I predict William Fichtner may get a lot of love for his awesomeness in Dark Knight.

As a quick plug, NBC Universal is going to really have a great presence at the show. There's going to be a bigtime HEROES panel, featuring an early look at Season 3. Also, fans in attendance will have the chance to enter to win a special-edition Zune portable music/video player, which is specially-engraved with the Heroes logo. Pretty sweet, eh? There's going to be a CHUCK panel, which I'm sure will be lots of fun, and then an OFFICE panel, which will see Rainn Wilson moderating a group of the show's writers / cast members. Most definitely will bring the funny. We're also doing panels for new shows like KINGS, KNIGHT RIDER, and SciFi's SANCTUARY (SciFi will also host panels for Battlestar and Eureka) - so check 'em out.

But hey, this is Comic-Con, and the heart and soul of the show will always be the comics, no matter how much Hollywood likes to use the show to establish its geek cred. Can't wait to get my fix of DC panel-age, and get the latest scoops on what's cooking with Superman, Batman, Final Crisis, etc, and get the first word on upcoming and as-of-yet unannounced projects. And nothing beats roaming the show floor and seeing all the great artists sketching and chatting up the fans. That's what's great about Comic-Con - sure, it's cool that Hollywood celebs are in the house, but this is a house that was built by Stan Lee, Jim Lee, Frank Miller, Geoff Johns, and all the other comic book greats past and present.

And hey, who can forget all the great photo ops? You can be sure I'll be having my picture taken with everyone from Supergirl to Zatanna. Check out my Facebook or MySpace page soon - 'nuff said!

Can't forget the presence that the likes of Sony, Microsoft, Capcom, and Konami will have at the show either -- can't wait to check out huge games on the show floor like DC Universe Online, Little Big Planet, and Street Fighter IV. Shoryuken.

And don't worry - we'll be cruising around Sand Diego in style, hitting up some big parties and events, and making sure to rendezevous with Aksel, Jules, and tons of other special guest stars who will be there for the festivities. It will be great to just soak in that atmosphere that made the show so much fun last year - everyone is so friendly, so talkative, so eager to be around their fellow fanboys - it really is a geektopia of sorts. Better make sure to keep my business cards handy.

And finally - this weekend gives us another HUGE summer movie in THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. For me, this one ranked amongst my most-anticipated summer flicks, and the reason is simple: I am a diehard X-Phile. I watched the show from Day 1, and for me it became a weekly tradition through middle school, high school, and into college. I stuck around for even the final few seasons when some had jumped ship, and am now a proud owner of all 9 seasons on DVD. I had Fox Mulder quotes on my yearbook page, I wrote an op-ed about the show for my college newspaper, I own the X-Files videogame for PS2 (never actually completed it, though!), and am always quick to assert that "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" is the single greatest episode of television ever aired (because it is!). I've seen some slightly mixed reviews for the new film, but the sheer nostalgia-kick of seeing Mulder and Scully back in action is enough to keep me excited to see two of my all-time favorite characters on the big screen. It saddens me that the marketing for the movie has been a bit underwhelming (thanks, FOX), but I'm hopeful that there will be a groundswell of support for the film, as longtime fans come out in droves to see it. I know that in recent weeks I've done my best to hold a few marathon viewing sessions in an effort to both get myself hyped and also to bring some friends aboard the bandwagon. In any case, I hope the movie makes decent bank, so that, if nothing else, we can get that Invasion-themed movie in 2012! I mean, the series finale has to have been good for SOMETHING, right? And man, I'd love to see some key cameos in the movie. I hear Skinner's in there somewhere, but what I'd love to see is the Lone Gunmen back from the dead - as the door seemed to have been left open for a return. But really, just the experience of seeing an all-new X-Files case will be pretty darn cool. My hope is that in San Diego, maybe during that classic Sunday night timeslot that was once synonomous with The X-File, we can catch a showing and see the movie with a great crowd of fellow fans. The Truth IS out there, baby.

Whoah, better get packing, as the hour is getting late and tomorrow we travel early. Check back soon as I report back from the show, and if you'll be in San Diego, drop me a line.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


- After years of anticipation, months of hype, and one crazy night at the movies, I can finally report back on DARK KNIGHT. Over the last several days, it's certainly been interesting to take in all of the critical and public reaction to the film. From the typical fanboy raves at Ain't It Cool, to the one woman I overheard at Universal - who complained that her biggest problem with the movie was that she didn't think Maggie Gyllenhaal matched up to Katie Holmes in the looks department - it's an amazing phenomenon to see a character that means so much to a particular segment of the population once again explode into the mainstream. 

It really is crazy, because as the title implies, this is a DARK movie. It's PG-13, but is really on the R-rated level in terms of intensity. It's certainly not a film for small children - and yet a quick glance in the Sunday circulars will show you all manner of action figures, kids' costumes, and childrens'-sized t-shirts for sale. 

But all of that is ancillary. The truth is, this is NOT one of those movies that tries to be all things to all people. It's dark, complex, lengthy, violent, and disturbing. It comes to us as the product of a singular vision from a director, Christopher Nolan, whose trademark is not big, studio-friendly films but strange, twisting, mind-bending mysteries. 

And yet, here we have THE DARK KNIGHT - the movie that now holds the record for highest grossing opening weekend of all time. 

And you know what? The box office success of the movie is really a remarkable accomplishment. Because - putting aside the factors that helped feed the hype machine (Heath Ledger's untimely death, for one) - The Dark Knight's success means that it is now, by default, the template for how to build a successful blockbuster. And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.


(SPOILERS ahead!)

- Batman vs. The Joker. That iconic showdown between the forces of order and chaos, between good and evil, is pretty much the ultimate comic book rivalry. The medium's greatest hero and its greatest villain. It's a rivalry for the ages, and when it's brought to the big screen, it is an inherently special occasion. It's part of the reason why crowds everywhere burst into spontaneous applause at the end of Batman Begins, when Jim Gordon revealed the calling card of The Joker, indicating that we could expect to see the Clown Prince of Crime in the inevitable sequel. Ever since that crowd-pleasing closer, anticipation has been building for THE DARK KNIGHT, with fans closely following every step of the movie's production. I remember the speculation over casting and script. The trepidation about Heath Ledger being cast as The Joker. The gradual excitement as stills of Christopher Nolan's dark vision began to surface. There was that Empire Magazine cover story that revealed Ledger as The Joker in all his freakish glory - I made sure to purchase a copy while in London in November. In December, we were treated to the first several minutes of the film, a glorious display of badass action that introduced us to The Joker, revealed William Fichtner's kickass cameo, and taught us that what doesn't kill you only makes you ... stranger. That one scene contained so much promise, so much potential ... that the buzz for Dark Knight quickly grew to scale-tipping levels. Last winter, it was already clear that this was going to be one giant summer for blockbuster movies. Iron Man, Indiana Jones, and many more were coming in a span of several action-packed weeks. But one movie trumped all of them, as the shadow of The Bat loomed large over this summer movie season. And after this past weekend, there could be no doubt: this was the summer of The Dark Knight.

Picking up where BATMAN BEGINS left off, Christopher Nolan's second crack at the bat eclipses the original with an astounding mix of great writing and even better performances. Because unlike most superhero films, this one really has a stellar ensemble cast. Top to bottom, the cast that Nolan has assembled completely knocks it out of the park, and not only that, but we get at least a couple of actors turning in career-defining performances.

Let's start with the obvious: Heath Ledger really is remarkable as THE JOKER. This is a transformative piece of acting, in which Ledger completely disappears into the character. The mannerisms, the speech, the physical presence - this is as complete and dedicated a performance as any of the iconic roles that we've seen on film over the last several years. I can't help but draw comparisons to the two larger-than-life villains that stole the show in two of last year's best films. I can't help but put Ledger's Joker next to Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurgh and Daniel Day Lewis' Daniel Plainview - it's that same kind of iconic, scene-stealing performance. The kind that burns itself into your brain and becomes the stuff of dreams and nightmares.

Ledger's Joker is both the classic Joker of The Killing Joke and other canonical comics, and also something entirely new that we've never quite seen before. He's nihilistic and punk rock. He's Kurt Cobain and Johnny Rotten and Charles Manson all rolled into one. But most of all - he IS The Joker. Dark and disturbing, insane and psychotic and unpredictable and yet the smartest guy in the room - at times funny, but mostly a comedian playing to an audience of one. Ledger delivers a classic performance, and I think that he will and should be in the running come Oscar time. The buzz is deserved, and it would be there even if Ledger had been alive to hear it. His tragic passing makes this scary and immersive turn all the more haunting in retrospect, but the fact is, it's not really a factor while actually watching the film, and that's to the credit of Ledger and Nolan and the world that the movie creates. It's so complete (Ledger even gives the Joker a unique fighting style - wobbly and vicious), so real, that while watching you don't think in terms of actors - the characters are always paramount.

That being said, these iconic character are brought to life by a uniformly excellent cast. And aside even from Ledger's mind-blowing turn, two actors in particular really stood out to me here ...

Because as great as Ledger was, and as much as The Joker stole the movie to a large extent, Aaron Eckhart was also phenomenal in the film. Years ago, Batman: The Animated Series, in 22 minutes, crafted a Two Face origin story that was so compellingly tragic - it made Tommy Lee Jones' inept turn as Harvey Dent in the 90's that much more disappointing. But here, FINALLY, we get the big-screen Harvey Dent story we've been waiting for. Dent, Gotham's White Knight, becomes a character who you can't help but root for, and it makes his transition into the villainous Two Face all the more disturbing and shocking. Eckhart really delivers here - he make Harvey likable and sympathetic, and yet, beneath the surface, you can see the gears grinding. You can feel the frustration boiling below the surface. And man, when Dent finally snaps, it's scary. And awesome. And a lot of it is thanks to Eckhart's ability to sell us on the character's descent into madness.

Give credit also to the movie's f/x and makeup teams. When Dent is scarred, the result is a Two Face that looks at once to be straight out of the comics and cartoons, but also frighteningly grotesque and genuinely scary to look at. 

The other actor I wanted to give special mention to is Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. To me, Gordon has always been a great character - he's a guy who maybe would have been Batman himself were he younger and braver, but who is now forced to place his trust and the wellbeing of his city in the hands of a vigilante. And that's the thing about Gordon - he's willing to work with Batman because he knows that deep down he's a good man - but Gordon himself is a cop through and through. In fact, he's the one decent cop in a police force infested with corruption. In Batman he has his one true ally, and vice versa. And Oldman projects that sense of desperation mixed with determination to great effect. When the movie teased that Gordon was dead, I was legitimately upset. But when he triumphantly returned, I cheered aloud. And a lot of that is that Oldman has finally helped to craft a big-screen Jim Gordon who we the fans can root for, a Jim Gordon who can finally be that fan-favorite from the comics. As a diehard Batfan, it's awesome to see the ruffled trenchcoat, bifocal glasses, and classic cop 'stache. It's great to see Commissioner Gordon finally take his rightful place in the Batman movie cannon.

It's also kind of amazing when a movie has heavyweights like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in great supporting roles. When actors of that caliber are actually overshadowed in a film, you know you have a loaded cast. But that's not to say they don't both do a great job. Caine as Alfred (still sans 'stache, and still calling Batman "Master Wayne" - ugh!) really does get in some great moments. Same for Freeman as Lucius Fox. 

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes does a nice job with her part, though the character is really there in the film to serve a pretty specific function. The fact is - Batman is not a character that typically needs or works well with a love interest, and for that reason the Rachel Dawes character has always seemed a bit tacked-on since she appeared in Batman Begins. But at least here, she serves an important narrative purpose, and Gyllenhaal gives her a dramatic weight and maturity (though not much in the way of a spark with Christian Bale, or with Aaron Eckhart for that matter) that Katie Holmes had previously lacked.

One thing I really loved about the casting in Dark Knight though is how many uber-cool actors show up for smaller roles. My favorite scene in the film may still be it's absolutely show-stopping opening, with William Fichtner as one badass banker who cocks his shotgun with such gravitas-infused nonchalance that he makes you cry tears of fanboy joy. His presence is the icing on the cake of an opening bank-robbery set piece that absolutely crackles with energy and foreboding, as clown-masked thugs unknowlingly knock each other off at the Joker's whim. Later on, we get the always-fun Eric Roberts as mob boss Sal Maroni. Tiny "Zeus" Lister as a convict with a heart of gold. Anthony Michael Hall pops up as a shady character, and so does Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow. I also agree with the sentiment that the attention paid to the GCPD here really pays off. A few of Gordons' cops are given enough screen time that we begin to feel that Gotham's police force is made up of living, breathing people. It all adds to the rich tapestry of Gotham woven by Nolan and co.

And I haven't even mentioned Christian Bale. Make no mistake - Bale is the best big-screen Batman ever, bar none. He plays Bruce Wayne effortlessly, and really infuses the scenes that showcase Wayne's playful playboy facade with humor and wit. I have just one nagging complaint about Bale-as-Batman. For the love of Matches Malone, will someone make Bale study the Animated Series, to listen to the great Kevin Conroy's vocal inflections as both Bruce Wayne and Batman? While Conroy gave Batman an imposing, commanding voice and Wayne a softer tone, Bale feels the need to have Batman talk in a voice that sounds like he has a bad case of strep throat. It's not too distracting when Bale is using it while pounding on badguys and such, but it becomes unintentionally goofy-as-hell when he's delivering monologues to Gordon or Harvey Dent. Hopefully, if and when there's a third film, Bale can change this up a bit. But again, Bale is mostly great as Batman- give him credit for making this a Batman who's both believable and larger than life.

Christopher Nolan is certainly not a perfect director. He still struggles to make his fight scenes both frenetic and easy to follow, and his action choreography is rarely all that impressive. But overall, Nolan really does something special with The Dark Knight. He does something that few directors are able to accomplish with this type of movie - he creates a living and breathing cinematic world that feels real, solid, and is wholly immersive as a result. There are breathtaking shots of the Gotham cityscapes (even more breathtaking in IMAX), and this Gotham, while not as hyper-stylized as Tim Burton's version, is still dripping with grimy atmosphere. And yet, Nolan still manages to make the movie feel 100% epic. There are the sweeping shots of the Batman perched atop the city at night, the giant urban sprawl that becomes Batman's personal playground to glide, swing, rappel, and drive through. There is the insane menace of The Joker, who makes a classic entrance and whose acts of violence are framed with an eye towards capturing Heath Ledger's nuanced performance down to its every detail. There's an edge-of-your-seat car chase through Gotham, and a cool-as-hell moment in which a Batpod motorcycle breaks away from Batman's car, enabling a last-second escape. As I've said - the movie is just plain engrossing - it sucks you in and afterwards you feel like you've just spent a few hours in dark and dirty Gotham. 

The script is also really well done. There are some great dialogue exchanges, with some of The Joker's little speeches in particular being truly memorable. Yes, Ledger's strange and captivating delivery is what sells the lines, but there is some great writing at work here. It's a script that thematically builds on some of the classic Joker characterizations from the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, and which then places the Batman vs. Joker conflict into a larger context. I've read a number of reviews that look to place some type of political relevance on the film, but I don't see that at all. Rather, there are bigger questions of the human condition, of moral codes and absolutist beliefs, of right and wrong, that are on display here. It's weighty stuff, but that shouldn't surprise people. These comic book characters have long been an avenue to examine these types of issues, and its about time that these larger themes were featured so heavily in their big-screen adaptations.

Like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight is a movie which stands as greater than the sum of its parts. I say that because this is unquestionably a *great* film, but it is also a flawed one in some respects. It commits the sin of previous Batman films to some degree in that it can't help but be overstuffed. As well as Aaron Eckhart handles Harvey Dent's transformation into Two Face, for example, there is an argument that could be made that the full reveal of Two Face is something that could easily have been saved for another film. Instead, we get a final confrontation between Batman and Harvey that feels slightly anticlimactic after Batman's just-completed showdown with The Joker. And Harvey's final fate is left as frustratingly ambiguous. In fact, the movie has a few scenes that don't quite deliver any real closure. Take the scene where The Joker crashed Bruce Wayne's fundraiser. We see Batman save Rachel Dawes from certain doom at the party, and then quickly cut away, without ever seeing what becomes of The Joker and the party guests who he's been terrorizing. 

But for every little complaint - from Bale's goofy Batman voice to the crusading Dent's slightly abrupt transition into a very evil Two Face - there are two instance of pure coolness of the highest order. Everything with the Joker is pure gold - from his pencil-centric magic trick to his running gag of recounting his tragic origins - each time with a different spin on the tale. There's the great scene with the Joker seducing Harvey to the dark side, the Joker being subjected to the Batman version of good-cop / bad-cop, and that one awesome scene where he can't quite detonate his giant freaking bomb. There's Batman's sonar-infused white eye-slits (!), Fichtner's shotgun, "Yeah, he told ME something similar," and that one throwaway line about "cats" that seemed to hint at a certain feline femme fatale's potential presence in a Part 3. That really is what makes THE DARK KNIGHT so unquestionably great - it is bursting at the seams with iconic moments that you'll be hard-pressed to forget. The film doesn't let up for a second - the intensity is nonstop and everpresent, and it's as present in the smaller moments as it is in the big action scenes, with a moody and pulse-pounding musical score perfectly accenting the on-screen action.

So believe the hype. Despite some rough edges, THE DARK KNIGHT is a true cinematic accomplishment. And no, it's not just great "for a comic book movie." If anything, The Dark Knight reaffirms that these legendary characters endure for a reason - they symbolize our darkest fears and brightest hopes, and in their epic struggles we see our own modern mythology play out before us. They make the choices we can't, or that we hope we never have to make. They follow their moral codes to the logical extremes. They confront true evil head-on, and fight for a greater good. The Dark Knight embraces that superhero mythology and brings it to life like no movie before it has. Heath Ledger kicks ass as the Joker. Christian Bale is the definitive big-screen Batman. Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman bring Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon to life with the complexity and depth that the fans have always hoped they'd see from these characters in a Batman film. And Christopher Nolan crafts another movie that treats these characters and these themes with reverence and respect. He attacks the material with a singular creative vision - creating a realistic, immersive world that at the same time is completely larger than life. I can't wait until this Dark Knight returns for one more go-round, because these films are currently the high-water mark in blockbuster filmmaking. Once again, the bar has been raised.

My Grade: A

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Danny's Dark Night With THE DARK KNIGHT: A Tale of Tragedy and Triumph

Well, the road to seeing THE DARK KNIGHT was a little bit more of an adventure than originally anticipated ...

We had bought our tickets weeks ago. The plan was locked-in and fool-proof: in honor of the G-Man's birthday, we'd convene at Universal Citywalk on Saturday, have some rockin' good eats at the Hard Rock Cafe, and then jump in line in order to ensure prime seating at the 11 pm showing of The Dark Knight (in IMAX, naturally). We were all psyched, caffeinated, and ready for what promised to be the movie of the summer. What could go wrong?

For a while, the answer was nothing. We met up at the Hard Rock, had some good food, as quality classic rock tunes blasted from the speakers. We all wished Brian a happy birthday, and then it was time to get in line for The Dark Knight. Since we got in line a good two hours before the film was set to begin, we secured a pretty decent spot. The atmosphere was great, too. The line was filled with hardcore Batman fans, each chomping at the bit for Christopher Nolan's latest. There was a guy outfitted in full-on Joker getup, a group of teens sitting with a laptop watching BATMAN BEGINS, and tons of "I Believe In Harvey Dent" and "Why So Serious?" T-shirts (I for one was sporting my Batman-as-drawn-by-Jim-Lee T-shirt).

Finally, we got into the IMAX theater and all seemed to be right with the world. Our seats were pretty good, I had taken my final bathroom break after limiting my Diet Coke intake beforehand, and I was almost as excited for the pre-DK WATCHMEN trailer set to play prior to the movie as I was for the film itself. I cheered as Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach appeared on the big screen (Seth reseved his cheering for the brief Harry Potter teaser, but hey to each his own), and then, finally, it was time for the Main Event. The DC Comics logo flashed, the bat-symbol floated on the screen, and I got to relive the amazing footage I had seen prior to I AM LEGEND back in December - that glorious opening scene in which William Fichtner, playing one badass mofo, becomes the first casualty of The Joker's one-man war on Gotham City. Oh. Hells. Yes.

So we're watching the movie, totally into it, hanging on every scene - when about an hour and a half into things ..

... the movie stops. The lights come on. And THE FIRE ALARM begins to go off.


People began to reluctantly file out of the theater, but I wasn't having it. It seemed pretty clear that there was no fire. Soon enough, we were told to take our seats, but it still wasn't really clear what was going on, even as rumors began to spread that someone had pulled one of the fire alarms as a prank. The most surreal part was that the alarm was pulled right at a crucial point in the film where the Joker was about to unleash hell on Harvey Dent and Batman. I think more than a few of us, after being so engrossed in the movie, half expected the Joker to emerge as the responsible party.

So we're all sitting, waiting, wondering what the hell is going on. People at first were pissed, then chatty, then annoyed again as time wore on and we still ahd no answers about what was up. Some guys reported that if anyone decided to leave the theater, they'd be offered free movie vouchers. A few people heard that and decided to bolt, but most of us didn't care about free vouchers - we just wanted to SEE THE REST OF THE MOVIE. It was a really surreal experience - most of us were united in our determination to see the rest of the movie - if it had been almost any other film we probably all would have left after 20 minutes or so - but this was THE DARK KNIGHT, by gum, and come hell or highwater we would see the whole thing.

Of course, after a while everyone started to grumble, me included. Why weren't they turning off the alarm? Why wasn't anyone from the theater at least giving us an update on the situation? Finally, a hapless employee came in and tried his best to be friendly and to let us know that the problem was being worked on, but even though his likable manner sort of won over the crowd, it didn't really cover the fact that he was pretty much a giant moron. Basically, no one at the theater had any idea where the kill-switch was that would deactivate the alarm, and until they found it, the projectors could not be rebooted. A second employee came in a bit later, denouncing the "jackass" who had pulled the alarm, and saying that, to be honest, he wasn't sure whether they'd even be able to restart the movie once they shut off the alarm (keep in mind - this whole time, the alarm was blaring inside the theater). With an IMAX movie, as the employee explained, the audio track is digitally synced up with the video, and apparently there was no way to sync back up from where we had left off. With paying customers waiting for their late night / early morning screenings to begin, it was looking more and more likely that our luck was running out. As the reality of the situation began to sink in, some members of the crowd were on the verge of rioting. People shouted out questions to the employees, trying to figure out if they should leave or go. One guy screamed that they should just start the movie from the beginning if possible, and he got booed out of the building by the majority of us who would prefer for it to have started where we left off, if possible. One woman stood up, and tearfully wailed: "I just want to see the rest of the movie!!!", which was greeted by a mix of boos, cheers, and heckling from the audience. It really was like a scene from some cheesy movie - you had the one obnoxious guy who kept loudly complaining about how he wanted to leave, the nerdy dude who was happy to pass the time going over with those around him what we had seen in the movie thus far, and the tired couple who had driven all the way from who-knows-where and just didn't want their hard-earned time and money to go to waste. As people got up and went outside to try to get updates, they reported back with information - be careful about getting a voucher, they warned, because if you did they wouldn't let you back in the theater. This whole thing was definitely one of those unifying group experiences - both surreal and epic and horrible at the same time. I'd compare it to times I've been stuck on a grounded airplane - only instead of anxiously awaiting for word on takeoff, we were desperately hoping that we'd find out the final fate of Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent.

The funniest part of the whole thing was that, a good 40 minutes after the alarms began, a bunch of security guys came into the theater to inspect the situation, and they all seemed genuinely shocked that about 75% of us were still there. Every other theater in the cinema had long-since emptied out, but not this one. This one was filled with eager, desperate fans clinging to the hope that somehow, the movie would be seen through to its completion. I caught those security guys smiling - they couldn't help but admire our dedication.

For my part, I was trying to remain optimistic. This couldn't REALLY be happening ... could it? After all the build up, all the anticipation, would I in fact be in the one theater in the country that had to actually STOP the movie right as it was reaching its most intense and riveting moments? It was almost too impossible to believe.

Eventually, our worst fears came to pass: the theater employee told us that they were unable to sync up the IMAX audio and video tracks, and we were all going to have to leave the theater. Vouchers would be distributed, but for a moment, it looked like we would not be seeing the movie's conclusion that night. It was almost 2 am at that point. We were tired and downtrodden.

We forlornly shuffled out of the theater, wondering when we'd be able to all get together again to go to another showing. We even tossed out the idea of going to Burbank and trying to get into a late late showing that maybe wasn't sold out. But wait ...! Next to the IMAX screen was another, non-IMAX theater, where a 2:15 am showing of Dark Knight was about to start. It was a sold out show, we were told, so we couldn't go in.

But we did. We made a mad dash for the doors and planted ourselves in the front. While the show had been sold out, a few dozen people had left once they heard that things had been delayed due to the fire alarm fiasco. There were a handful of empty seats, and we grabbed 'em. It seemed like a minor victory, but as we settled into our seats, the reality of the situation began to set in: as all of us squirmed and yawned our way through the seemingly endless series of previews (I still managed a token cheer or two for Watchmen ...), the idea of watching the entire opening hour and a half all over again, at this late hour, was not entirely appealing. I told myself I'd stay put for that kickass William Fichtner opening, then hang out outside for a bit to kill time.
So after the first fifteen minutes or so, Brian and I headed out. I figured if I was going to go the distance and stay awake, I'd need some caffeine and sugar. I purchased a Diet Coke and Sour Patch Kids and walked around a little, curious to see if anything else was playing.

And that's when something caught my eye. Behind the concession stand, there was a theater that had been home to a 12:40 am showing of Dark Knight. I took a look inside out of curiosity - for some reason, either because the show had been cancelled or because everyone had left after the fire alarm, the the theater was completely empty. The lights were on, and half-eaten popcorn bags and empty cups filled the aisles. But when I looked up at the screen, I couldn't believe it - the film was playing, and it was literally at a point that was mere minutes from where we had last left off at the IMAX show before everything went to hell. Holy crap! I excitedly pulled Brian over and told him the news. He was so excited that he took off and ran back to the other theater, to grab Seth and Diane. But as he ran I got a little nervous. What if some theater employee was just watching the film for a bit, and was about to shut it off at any moment? What if we sat down to watch in the empty theater, only to promptly get kicked out? As the others ran back, I frantically expressed my concerns. Maybe we should have just kept our seats from before? I wasn't sure what to do, but Seth grabbed a theater employee and began explainin our situation - the film in that empty theater was almsot exactly where we'd left off - surely they wouldn't mind letting us sit down and catch the final hour? Miraculously - they allowed it! The movie gods had smiled upon us, and we ran into the theater jumping for joy. The lights got turned down, we spread out, put our feet up, and smiled ear to ear. We were back in business, baby!

In the end, the four of us sat watching the summer's biggest movie, a movie that had sold out theaters nationwide, in a theater that we had all to ourselves. Wow.

Finally, at about 4 am, we had seen THE DARK KNIGHT in its entirety, and watched the complete epic saga in truly epic fashion. It was an adventure, for sure, and not an entirely pleasant one at that. But we stuck it out, and somehow, we emerged, in some small way, victorious, despite the best efforts of a deranged prankster who deserves a Batman-style beatdown for his crimes against humanity. As the movie says: the night is always darkest before the dawn. And that statement couldn't have been more true, as I arrived home, overtired and buzzing, as dawn was about to break in Los Angeles. It had been a dark night indeed.

WHAT'S LEFT but to REVIEW the movie?!?! Next: THE DARK KNIGHT: Reviewed!

Friday, July 18, 2008

MORE DARK KNIGHT: I Grade All The Current BATMAN Comics! Plus: More On WATCHMEN.

Ahhhhh ... Dark Knight tomorrow, baby. I'm actually almost sick of all the hype at this point (to which I have, of course, been contributing). Well, not sick of it, per se, it's just ... I want to see the friggin' movie already.

Although, the MASSIVE FIREBALL OF AWESOMENESS that is the trailer for WATCHMEN is almost enough to distract me from all things Dark Knight. I mean ... did you SEE that trailer? The artistry, the action, the look, the feel ... it looks like somehow, someway, we may be in business with a legit Watchmen movie - something that no one thought we'd EVER see. I can only wonder what Alan Moore would think if he were to catch a glimpse. I'm sure he'd scoff, roll his eyes, curse Hollywood, etc. ... but you have to think that after all that, the old codger might just have a little gleam in his eye and the slightest hint of a smile ... how could one not after seeing your life's masterwork brought to life on film with such reverance?

I remember that, as I was getting into comics, I'd kind of hear Watchmen discussed in hushed tones. It was like this secret, sacred text that the world at large didn't know but that, to comic readers, was essentially the holy grail of the medium, the epitomy of what superhero comics could be, and the catalyst for the modern age of comics. Of course, a my interest began to gravitate from the simple stories of regular comics into the mature-readers-only realm occupied by names like Frank Miller and Alan Moore, I knew that Watchmen would be a must-read.

I don't think I've ever been as enthralled while reading something as I was while reading Watchmen. Immediately after reading it I knew it was the best thing I had ever read, and it still ranks up there alongside any work of literature, nonfiction, or graphic fiction that I've read. It's a work that I'll pull out every so often just to re-read a certain chapter, because it's one of those stories so packed with detail and nuance that literally every time you read it there's something new to discover.

As much as the comic book stands on its own, you've got to admit: there's a certain satisfaction in seeing these characters brought to life on film. Not to mention, there's the satisfacton in seeing this increasingly mainstream yet still somewhat cultish graphic novel explode into the popular conciousness, now plastered on magazine covers, online, and everywhere else. The amazing story that those of us in the know have loved for years is about to get on just about everyone's radar - but we'll have been there from the beginning. And if the movie is faithful, if it's done right, well, it will be all the more satisfying. If he trailer is any indication, we're in for one hell of a ride.

DARK KNIGHT: The Current State of BATMAN in the Comics ...

- So even as DC Comics is on the verge of having its biggest comics-to-film smash hit to date, I always like to pay tribute to the medium that made all these amazing characters and stories possible in the first place. After all, while most people have had to wait their whole lives to experience an epic Batman vs. Joker showdown of this caliber, us comics fans have already gotten to enjoy the likes of The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns and all the other great Batman stories that have been published over the years - simply because we are open-minded people who love the medium and the characters and don't feel the need to wait for Hollywood to tell us what is and isn't cool. Nope, us fanboys have already known for years.

Now, it that to say that all comics are created equal? No way, man. Batman as a character has been pretty fortunate though - throughout his history, he's been handled by some of the most legendary writers and artists ever to grace the medium. Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Denny O'Neil, Ed Brubacker, and Grant Morrison. Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, Neil Adams, Marshall Rogers, Jim Aparo, Brian Bolland, and Jim Lee. But of course, there have been plenty of crappy Batman comics published over the years as well. So right now, of all the various monthly titles that feature Batman and his supporting characters - which comics kick ass and which disappoint?

My overall take is that the state of the Batman comics right now is strong, but there's room for improvement to be sure. Batman under Grant Morrison has been a trip, but after his RIP storyline is complete I'd love to see a return to more traditional, character-driven Batman stuff along the lines of my favorite runs in the 90's and early 00's. The recent Ressurection of Ra's Al Ghul storyline was kind of a throwback in that regard, but it never quite came together as well as it could have, and really varied in quality from issue to issue. I'd love to see the supporting titles like Robin and Nightwing and Birds of Prey feature some real A-list writers and artists as well - one area where DC has often struggled is in keeping up the quality of its second-tier books. Now that they've lost a mainstay like Chuck Dixon, they've got a huge void to fill on a few of the Bat-Titles. Still, when I pick up an issue of Dini's Detective Comics, I'm reminded of how much Batman comics can kick ass when they're done right. For more in-depth reviews, check below.

Here's the rundown:


- At the moment, 'Tec is clearly the crown jewel in the Batman comics stable. Writer Paul Dini, who made his mark as the creative force behind Batman: The Animated Series, has delivered month in and month out some great, self-contained stories that really feel timeless and classic, while maintaining the darker edge of the modern comics. Dini has introduced some surprising angles as well. He's made The Riddler into a great supporting character - a semi-reformed criminal who has now become a detective-for-hire, and who is eager to beat Batman at his own game. Dini has used one of his favorite DC characters, the magical hero Zatanna, to great effect. He's fleshed out her history with Bruce Wayne and wrote a great two-parter where she and Batman take on the Joker. Dini has also introduced a few new villains as well, including a new version of Scarface who has a stunning femme fatale as his puppet master. Dini's run has been marred by occasional fill-in issues that disrupt its flow and that have been less than spectacular, but overall, when Dini is there and on his game, along with solid artists like Don Kramer and Dustin Nguyen, Detective is a consistently great read. That same simple-yet-satisfying style of The Animated Series, upgraded to fit the world of the comics.

My Grade: A -


- Right now, Batman is in the middle of an epic yet controversial run from the warped mind of writer Grant Morrison - a run which is at once mind-blowing and confusing, with an ongoing story that's remarkably layered and ambitious and yet possibly trying to tackle too much for it's own good. Morrison has been writing Batman in a very unconventional style - surreal, dream-like, and non-linear. And everything to this point has been slowly building to the currently running Batman: RIP storyline, which has intrigued readers with promises that it will shake the foundation of the Batman mythos. This far, I've enjoyed Batman: RIP, but I've been enjoying it despite barely understanding what the hell is going on. There's some intriguing ideas in there - a Batman who is slowly losing his mind while being hunted by a conspiracy out to destroy him, the implication that Martha and Thomas Wayne are not who we always thought them to be, the idea that Alfred of all people may be hiding something - it's all interesting, but so far the story is just a tiny bit incoherant. It may be that it all comes together brilliantly, and I can't deny that this one has a huge buzz factor to it, but right now I have to say that Batman is kind of a fun but confusing cluster.

My Grade: B

- Designed to supplant the older Legends of the Dark Knight series, Batman Confidential is a series with various storyarcs that look at different tales from throughout Batman's long and storied career. So far, the title has been a mixed bag, but in my view it's been picking up steam. Heroes writer Michael Green recently penned a really great Joker origin story, "Lovers and Madmen," that wa the best storyarc the title had seen to that point. Since then, Confidential has delivered the goods. Currently, it's in the midst of a multipart, light-hearted story that looks at the first meeting of the Barbara Gordon Batgirl and Catwoman. It's a fun romp with some sharp dialogue courtesy of Fabian Niczia (sp?), and great art from the legendary Kevin Maguire. This is a title that lives and dies by its individual storyarcs, but right now it's definitely on a roll.

My Grade: B+


- This anthology mini-series recently kicked off to capitalize on the Joker's recent obiquity, and two issues in, it's already had its ups and downs. Basically, each issue sees The Joker as a Crypt Keeper-like narrator, telling a tale of one of Batman's rogues - a different villain each issue. The first story, about the Joker himself, was nothing special. The second issue though, featured a really fun Penguin story that I enjoyed, by Jason Aaron. It remains to be seen how the rest of the issues will fare, but I do like the premise and I'm always a sucker for anthologies.

My Grade: B -


- Frank Miller. Jim Lee. Batman. It sounds like a match made in comic book heaven, but many fans were surprised that this series ended up going in a very strange direction. Rather than writing a serious and gritty Batman as seen in his own Year One, Frank Miller decided to present this version of Batman as one weird, creepy bastard, who is clearly one slice short of a sandwich. Miller's All Star Batman is a take that's dark but also satirical, and quickly had fans both laughing and scratching their heads, when Batman would say things like "I'm the god-damned Batman." Clearly, this was NOT the usual take on the character. But you know what? Once I started to see what Miller was going for here, I really got into it. This is one of the most fun comics in years - it completely pokes fun at itself and at its audience, and takes the point of view that, for a guy to dress up like a Bat, swing from rooftops, and fight crime, he's got to be slightly insane. The book comes out quarterly, so the wait between issues is nearly unbearable, but I'm always excited when a new one hits the stands - it's like nothing else out there and one of the most over-the-top, twisted, funny, and just plain wrong visions of Batman ever put to page. And even if Frank Miller's writing is a departure, Jim Lee's art is as amazing and eye-melting as ever.

My Grade: A -


- Robin was one of the first comics I began collecting as a kid, and thanks to the writing of Chuck Dixon at the time, I felt like I came to know the character of Tim Drake, aka Robin III, as if he was one of my classmates. Since Dixon's original 90's run, the Robin title has had some pretty bad years, and I always missed Dixon's spot-on characterizations and penchant for creating cool supporting characters and villains, like the teen-girl Gotham vigilante, The Spoiler. So, it was great when, several months ago, Chuck Dixon returned to Robin after a multi-year absence. While the return was a little awkward at first, I felt like Dixon only recently began to hit his stride. Quickly, Tim Drake once again felt like the same character who had been one of my favorites as a kid, and, to the delight of fans everywhere, Dixon revived the presumed-dead Spoiler, whose poorly-written demise was the source of lots of fan outrage. Sure, the art by Chris Batista has been an odd match for this title, but overall the book's been solid. But man, just as I was excited to see how Dixon would tie-in Robin to the ongoing Batman RIP event, he has announced that he is leaving the title, and in fact he is parting ways with DC as a while due to creative differences. This abrupt departure is a little worrying, and I hope that someone takes over who has a similar talent for writing the character.

My Grade: B+ (though this could quickly change ...)


- This is another Chuck Dixon title that is going to suffer from the writer's abrupt departure from DC Comics. As with Robin, Dixon took a little while to find his footing, but has delivered some pretty entertaining adventures, with the same kind of no-nonsense action that made his run on Birds of Prey stand out, and realistic, sharp artwork from Julian Lopez. Outsiders has struggled to find its identity since it relaunched, and went from being a Judd Winnick-written team book about Nightwing and a motley crue of uncoventional, proactive heroes to a covert-ops hero team led from afar by Batman. Dixon managed to pen some fun adventures, the book still seemed a bit aimless - why, exactly, did Batman form this team in the first place, and why, exactly, was it needed? With holdovers from Winnick's run on the roster, the book never entirely felt like Dixon's. Now, I'm curious to see if and how it continues. I'm hoping it still has that blockbuster action movie feel, but also that it really comes out with a new purpose and reason for existing.

My Grade: B -


- Here's a title that got a much-needed shot in the arm when writer Peter Tomasi came on board. After a horrific run by Bruce Jones, Tomasi has settled into the title eaturing the former Robin and done some fun stuff with it. The title recently wrapped up a big storyline that saw Nightwing attempting to foil the latest plot of Talia Al Ghul, a strange science experiment gone wrong that put her at odds not only with Nightwing, but with the Chinese government. Tomasi has delivered solid writing and strong characterization. I do question his relocation of Nightwing to NYC - I miss the Bludhaven setting that Chuck Dixon introduced way back when, and I'm still waiting to see Nightwing get a decent supporting cast and lineup of villains. Dixon was able to create this back in the day, but since that time that sort of depth has been missing from the comic. Still, Tomasi has been strong enough, and the art by Rags Morales and Don Kramer sharp enough, that I'm willing to follow the book and see where this team goes with one of DC's most popular characters.

My Grade: B


- Birds of Prey has been lucky to have had two great, long runs by writers who got the characters and made the title one of DC's most consistently well-written. Chuck Dixon got the ball rolling, and then Gail Simone picked up the reigns and made a mark with a memorable run of her own. Since Simone left, the title has bounced back and forth between a few writers, and remarkably it's remained solid. Sean McKeever came in and did some solid stories, and for the last few months, Tony Bedard has taken over and done a nice job as well. He seems to have a solid grasp on (former Batgirl) Oracle, (former Gotham vigilante) Huntress, and (time-lost WWII hero) Lady Blackhawk, and has made Misfit, a new and potentially annoying teen character, into one of my surprise favorites. Bedard's run has thus far been a bit slow paced, and slightly hampered by tie-ins to some of DC's big crossover events, but upcoming storylines look promising, and the art by Simone-era holdover Nicolla Scott is as smooth and dynamic as ever.. I am not yet ready to place Bedard in the same category as Gail Simone, but he's kept up my enthuiasm for the title, which has been a favorite of mine for going on several years.

My Grade: B+


- Unfortunately, the news recently broke that the monthly Catwoman title is being cancelled, which in my mind is really unfortunate. After a celebrated run by Ed Brubaker, writer Will Pfeifer has quietly shaped Catwoman into one of the most consistently great books out there. Even when its tied into big DC Universe events like Salvation Run, Pfeifer has kept the quality up and brought the same style of sharp, atmospheric writing, week in and week out. Catwoman having a baby and becoming a mother could have been a disaster, but Pfeiffer, and artist David Lopez, took this idea and crafted a memorable, moving story from it. Under their watch, I really looked forward to the monthly adventures of Selina Kyle, and it's too bad the the sales of the book weren't higher. Paul Dini has promised that the character will now play a large role in Detective Comics, but it's sad to see this book go. I'd definitely recommend that you check out the trade paperback collections of the recent run.

My Grade: A -

- And that's the latest I've got for DARK KNIGHT week. I'm sure many of you have now seen the movie or will see it shortly, so feel free to post your thoughts. Tune in next time for even more Bat-goodness, and of course the big movie-review. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

DARK KNIGHT Week Continues! My Wish-List for Dark Knight! And: HOLY #$%@ - the WATCHMEN trailer is here!

Are you ready for DARK KNIGHT?

As the hype builds to a fever pitch, I personally am basically now to the point of Dark Knight overload. I almost don't want to think about it until Saturday, when I will see it in glorious IMAX at Universal Citywalk. But I'm a Batman fan through and through, what can I say. I loved the Adam West show as a kid, later fell in love with the Animated Series, and somewhere in between I became a regular reader of the comics, during that magical year when Superman died and Bruce Wayne got owned by a jacked-up supervillain named Bane. I became enthralled with the monthly adventures of Batman, Robin, and Nightwing, and eventually caught myself up on the classic Bat-stories of all time - The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, A Death In the Family, and The Killing Joke.

So over the last 20-odd years, I've seen and read countless interpretations of the Batman, from campy avenger to dark knight detective to all-powerful uber-Bat. I've had my favorite runs on the character: Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's brilliant Animated work, the Knightfall era of Denny O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, and Doug Moench, the gritty, 2000-era runs by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker are just a few that fueled my fondness for all things Dark Knight.

With that being said ... Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS to me really captured the essence of many of the Batman comics I had enjoyed over the years. The tortured soul of Bruce Wayne, his quest to become a self-made avenger, the beginnings of his one-man war on crime in Gotham. Even if the details weren't always spot-on (ie the somewhat re-imagined version of Ra's Al Ghul), the spirit felt dead-on. Still, there are a few things that I'd love to see retooled for THE DARK KNIGHT - some I suspect will be, and some that just will not happen this generation of Batman films. But that being said ...


1.) Batman - The Dark Knight DETECTIVE

- A lot of people gave me funny looks after seeing Batman Begins when I said it was great, but that I wish Batman had done more detective work in the film. A lot of people sometimes forget that Batman is, of course, the world's greatest detective. And that's something I want to see reflected in the movies - especially Nolan's which tend to take a more realistic, as well as darker and grittier view of Batman's world. I hear that in Dark Knight we finally see a Batman who is not just badass, but also really smart, who uses his brains and intuition. I want the Batman who is the man with a plan, who is always five steps ahead of his enemies (well, except the Joker), who heads into battle knowing every detail, every weakness, everything there is to know about his adversary. Bring it on.

2.) A Batman who does NOT kill, ever.

- There was really only one scene I really disliked in Batman Begins - and that was when Ra's Al Ghul is falling to his presumed death and Batman says "I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you" or something like that. Whaaaat? The Batman from the comics would never say that, as throughout the years Batman has gone out of his way numerous times to save even his worst enemies from an untimely death, even the Joker. Now, the issue of whether or not Batman would or should kill is a worthy debate topic, but I think it should at least be addressed, along with Batman's moral code in general. It sounds like this very issue will be front and center of Dark Knight (as it usually is in stories involving the Joker), so that makes me very excited.

3.) A Joker with no definitive origin, and with no personal connection to Batman

- I hate when movies try to awkwardly wrap everything up in a tidy bow. I never liked that in Tim Burton's Batman, for example, the Joker had some kind of connection to the Wayne murders. Just lame in my book - the whole point of the Joker is that his violence is random and chaotic and nonsensical to everyone but him - how does it enhance his character to tie him in so directly to Batman's origin? Similarly, one other thing that annoyed me in Batman Begins was that Jim Gordon seemed to have had a personal involvment in the Wayne Murders - again, WTF. Gordon is supposed to be a Chicago transplant who, because he starts out as an outsider, stands as the one good cop in a corruption-filled GCPD. That being said, I really like where they're going with DARK KNIGHT. The Joker as a mystery, as a random force of evil and destructiveness - no tacked-on origin. Remember: even the definitive Joker origin story, The Killing Joke, makes it clear that this backstory is only one of MANY possible origins for the Joker - even he can't keep them straight.

- THREE THINGS I'D LOVE TO TO SEE IN A BATMAN FILM (and very much doubt I will see in Dark Knight)

1.) The Blue and Gray Costume

- Man, if there's one thing that, aesthetically, I've disliked about every Batman movie to date, it's Batman's costume. I hate the rubber / leather / sculpted chest muscles look (and better for everyone if we just don't even mention Schumaker-era Bat-nipples debacle) , and I find the all-black look to be, well, boring. I'm not quite sure exactly what my ideal Batman-on-film costume would look like, but I'd love to see the dark-yet-heroic blue/gray scheme of the comics find its way onto film. I'd like to see a more practical outfit, one where, finally, it seems like Batman could nimbly swing across the Gotham rooftops, nail badguys with spinning judo kicks, and yes, TURN HIS HEAD while wearing it. Am I advocating spandex? Hells no. But would I like something more akin the straight-from-the-comics Spiderman outfit? Yes indeed.

2.) Batman as part of the DC Universe

- A year or two ago, this one would not have been on my list. Even in the comics, many of the best Batman stories are self-contained, with little to no reminders that Batman exists in a DC Universe filled with flying men and aliens and the like. BUT ... ever since Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, I am dying to see the DC properties receive a similar interconnected, shared-universe treatment on the big-screen. I want to see Clark Kent do an expose on Gotham's protector, Bruce Wayne go to a meeting at LexCorp, and see J'onn J'onzz attempt to recruit Batman into a fledgeling Justice League. As much as Christopher Nolan has created a realistic, self-contained universe with his Batman films - how cool would it be to see the beginnings of a larger DC Universe on film begin to take shape?

3.) Alfred with a mustache

- Good lord, everyone knows that Batman's trusty butler, Alfred Pennyworth, is supposed to be a lanky dude with thinning black hair and a FREAKING MUSTACHE. Look, I'm not one to criticize the great Michael Cain, but will someone tell the man to go the distance here, do his duty as an actor and at the very least sport the 'stache?!?! And while I'm on this little mini-rant, I'd like to reitirate one very important constant in the Batman universe ... Alfred does not call Batman "Master Wayne," ever. Dammit, Nolan, it's "Master Bruce", beyotch.

- And that's all for now - stay tuned for even more DARK KNIGHT goodness very, very soon.

Oh ...

One more thing ...

What was it again ...?

Oh, yeah ...

... THE WATCHMEN TRAILER IS UP, and it KICKS THIRTY-FIVE KINDS OF ASS! OH MY GOD, there is life after The Dark Knight and it is called WATCHMEN.

Witness the glory: