Tuesday, March 11, 2014

From the Rental Vault: Mighty and Meh

Since the early 1940s, DC Comics has paired their two major names in several different titles; Superman and Batman started teaming regularly in World's Finest Comics in 1941 and kept at it in that title until 1986. In 2003, DC revived the concept with the Superman/Batman series, which featured the two as wary allies but not necessarily friends. The opening story arc of that comic was released as the sixth DC direct-to-video animated movie in 2009's Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.

Lex Luthor, president of the United States, has built his own super-team, but his old enemy Superman and Gotham City's guardian Batman still distrust him. Luthor frames Superman for the murder of Metallo, claiming the radiation from an approaching kryptonite meteor has driven the Man of Steel mad. But it turns out that Luthor himself is the mad one, having decided to let the meteor hit so he can rule what remains of Earth after the destruction. Superman and Batman, assisted by Power Girl, must gather data on the meteor so they will know how to destroy it.

The official line on Public Enemies is that it is not a part of the DC Animated Universe continuity that included the animated television shows of the 1990s and early 2000's. The look is entirely different, drawing much more on the style of Ed McGuinness, who drew the original "Public Enemies" arc in the comic. It is, frankly, ugly and stilted, aiming at a more realistic look than the stylized "Animated Universe" shows but failing to have any style of its own.

But Warner Bros. made exactly the right call in bringing DCAU voice actors Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly and Clancy Brown back for their roles as Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor. The three are experienced with the characters and know how to play off each other as well as individually to give more believability than you'd think to a story about guys in colorful longjohns that also features a multistory rocket shaped like a composite of Superman and Batman. And Conroy, even though he's only voiced the role, really is Batman in a way Christian Bale's graveled dialogue can't match.
In 2011, DC did a universe-wide revamp of its characters called "The New 52." Continuity, stories and character looks were almost all thrown out and re-envisioned for what the company thought modern readers wanted. Whether or not that's true, significant sections of fandom were displeased with the new character traits, costumes, origins and the overall belief that the change was more about revenue than storytelling.

Last month, Justice League: War became the first of the direct-to-video releases to focus solely on New 52 storylines and characters. The prognosis is not good, if these are going to be the established versions of the characters.

Mysterious winged creatures are apparently abducting people in Gotham City, and Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Sector 2814, is investigating. But you don't investigate in Gotham without drawing the eye of the Caped Crusader, and Lantern quickly finds himself paired with a reluctant Batman in tracing the monster that was actually taking the victims. They find alien technology and visit Metropolis to ask its resident alien -- Superman -- what he knows about it. They get off on the wrong foot, but barely manage to get on the right page together before more of the aliens attack and build a dimensional bridgehead for their invasion force and leader, Darkseid, Lord of Apokolips. The three team with Wonder Woman, the Flash, Shazam and the newly-created Cyborg to try to fight off the invasion, but keeping Darkseid from getting what he wants is never easy.

War features some fun moments between the heroes -- the Batman-Green Lantern interaction noted here earlier is one of them and Wonder Woman's discovery of ice cream is a hoot. But all of the problems that plague the New 52 -- Superman's kind of a lunkhead; Captain Marvel's called "Shazam," is a steroidal version of the 15-year-old punk thief Billy Batson's supposed to be and manipulates lightning -- plague War as well.

Add in that we've seen all this before: Darkseid invaded Earth at the end of the Justice League Unlimited series (and about a half-dozen other times, I think), and the narrative of War could be mistaken for the storyline of 2012's Marvel's The Avengers if the two were in the same lineup. Also add in that the 79 minutes of the movie is about 5 minutes of character interaction, 10 minutes or so of exposition and better than an hour of punching and exploding, and you have a movie kickoff to the animated version of "The New 52" that is just about as meh as the print version.

In another "Marvel-ous" nod, there's a mid-credits scene that would be a kind of prologue to the second "New 52" Justice League movie, based on another arc of the Justice League titles. The scene sets up the new movie, but neither it nor the movie that preceded it give much reason to spend time watching the new one whenever it gets released.

No comments: