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TITANS Season 1 Review | A DC Universe Original Series

DCUniverseStreamingIn September 2018, DC Entertainment launched its own streaming service, DC Universe.  Built as a private platform, Time Warner Media and DC Entertainment would not only be offering fans a service where they could watch DC Comics live-action movies as well as animated and live-action television series from years past but would also allow them to read digital comics and receive exclusive news updates through DC Daily.  But the most attractive selling point for this first-of-its-kind platform:  Original content in the form of new television series available exclusively through the DC Universe streaming service.  Unveiling a very ambitious assortment of shows including a third season of the fan-beloved Young Justice which was unfortunately canceled a few years ago after a two-season run, Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, and a Harley Quinn animated series, DC Comics fans everywhere were thrilled by this new prospect.  But the show that would be leading the charge was Titans.  Covering the full 11-episode first season, this review will be breaking down the series by the story, characters, production value, and it’s potential moving forward into future seasons.

The series debuted in the Fall of 2018 and is executive produced by DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer & writing legend Geoff Johns, DC television veteran Greg Berlanti who developed the various CW TV shows, and Akiva Goldsman.  If that name sounds familiar, it should as this is the same man who wrote Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and 2005’s Constantine with Keanu Reeves.  But don’t let that scare you as Titans is about as far away from Batman Forever as The Dark Knight.  Taking a darker and meaner approach to this iconic team, Titans is an adrenaline shot to the heart that never lets up.

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STORY:

The series starts in the pilot episode aptly named “Titans” where we are first introduced to Rachel Roth.  She lives with her mother in Traverse City, Michigan and is a very gothic looking teenager who has dark, supernatural abilities that she doesn’t understand and fears what she’s truly capable of.  So much so that she asks her mother to lock her in her room at night while she sleeps to protect her from herself.  Rachel’s life quickly comes unraveled when a mysterious figure kills her mother in front of her after forcing her to reveal that she’s not really her birth mother.  Rachel escapes to Detroit where she finds Dick Grayson, a detective working with the police department and has spent the last year or two solo having decided to leave his past with Batman behind him.  It’s quickly revealed how disturbingly violent Dick has become when he mercilessly takes down a group of drug dealers single-handedly as Robin, beating one within an inch of his life.

Dick is quickly entangled into Rachel’s life as he tries to help her escape the mysterious group that is looking to abduct her.  When he witnesses Rachel kill a man by injecting her soul-self into him and crushing all of his internal organs, he takes her on the run to regroup.  As the conspiracy continues to unfold, Dick and Rachel encounter other characters from his past including the new Robin/Jason Todd, Hawk/Hank Hall, and Dove/Dawn Granger, Beast Boy/Gar Logan, and Wonder Girl/Donna Troy.  They soon meet a mysterious girl named Kori Anders/Starfire who doesn’t remember her past and possesses metahuman abilities including enhanced strength and solar-based energy blasts.  In order to survive and find out why this mysterious cult is after Rachel, Dick must focus the team to work together while facing his own inner demons.

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For anyone who has read the legendary 1980’s run of The New Teen Titans and Tales of the Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, then you can more than likely ascertain that this first season is an adaptation of the first 8 issues of their run as Rachel is revealed to be Raven, the daughter of Trigon, a demon from another dimension who is a longstanding villain of the Teen Titans and has the ability to end the entire world.  Minus the addition of Kid Flash/Wally West and Cyborg/Victor Stone, the team in the television series is very similar to the original line up used in the comic series.  In this regard, it’s sure to be a very exciting experience for fans to finally see these characters brought to live-action in such a realistic way.

Clocking in with an 11-episode run, the story greatly benefits from the restricted runtime.  Often with the network shows such as Flash and Arrow, a 23-episode season necessitates “filler” episodes that help in dragging out the season-long arc to fill the required episodes.  This is often met with restlessness and loss of interest in the fan base, but by keeping the season trim with just 11-episodes, there is no fat on this bone.  The writers skillfully keep the driving narrative marching along at a brisk pace, while simultaneously introducing all of these new characters with their backstories to explain who they are to both long-time fans and newcomers.  However, it must be pointed out that even though the series succeeds in keeping your attention, it does become very formulaic by consistently having new people who find Raven, take her to where they reside, then show Dick Grayson and Kori having to track her down.  This happens a couple of times throughout the season with a rogue police officer, Starfire, the Doom Patrol, the Nuclear Family, and the Cult of Trigon.

Overall, the storytelling is very tight and compelling, guaranteed to keep your attention and get you invested in these characters while moving the plot forward.  It would have been better to see more sequences where the team comes together to fight as a single unit but does not fall short in providing good character building moments of dialogue and interactions.  This first season certainly feels more focused on establishing these characters and their world and less on the action spectacle that most superhero team-up shows attempt to go for.

 

CHARACTERS:

Screenshot 2019-04-01 15.12.22While the season-long arc of Titans focuses on Raven and her role in Trigon’s plans, the clear star of the series is Dick Grayson/Robin played by Brenton Thwaites.  Coming into the series, many were skeptical of how this interpretation of the character would be received.  When they released the first trailer, fans were immediately pushed out of their comfort zone when they saw how brutal this adaptation of Dick Grayson was, but also by his simple statement of “F*&^ Batman.”  If this is shocking to you, then brace yourself because this series makes a regular habit of using colorful vulgarities throughout the season, clearly aiming to capture the attention of the more mature audiences.

Brenton does a good job of physically embodying the character and certainly looks the part when he’s suited up as Robin.  The costume is very well realized and is an amalgam of the classic Tim Drake suit from 90’s comics and the more recent DCEU movie costumes worn by Batman.  He brings the leadership and impressive combat skills from the comics, but I would argue that he lacks a lot of the humor and charm that has been synonymous with the character for decades.  I understand that his more serious approach is reflective of where this Dick Grayson is in his life and trying to overcome the intense violence and anger he feels when he’s in the costume, but as he even mentions in the season finale “Bruce doesn’t have a conscience, he has a code.  I was the conscience.”  It shows me that they fundamentally understand the character, but decided to go with this darker interpretation.  I think given a second season and more time to grow, Brenton can eventually evolve his character to more accurately reflect what we see in the books.

header-2Rachel Roth/Raven is played by Teagan Croft, who is still a fresh face in the industry.  She does a great job of humanizing the character of Raven and getting the audience on her side as we travel with her in uncovering her origins and discovering the darker purpose she is destined to serve in Trigon’s plans.  She never wears an actual costume but does sport a unique hood that is very reminiscent of her cloak in the comics.  Her powers are also very brilliantly realized in live-action in how they show Raven’s soul-self and just how powerful she is.  I was most particularly impressed with the effect they did whenever she peers into reflective surfaces and she is confronted by her darker self.  Not only does it look cool and a horror movie element, but it gives Teangan a great opportunity to flex her acting chops and gives her the broadest range to play out of the entire cast.

Screenshot 2019-04-01 15.10.43Kori Anders/Koriand’r/Starfire is played by Anna Diop.  From the moment she first appears on screen, she just oozes badassery.  At no point does she go for any cliché shortcuts to prove herself to be a strong female character, nor is she ever objectified to be a sex symbol or something to chase after for male characters.  Instead, we are along for the ride with her as she works to piece together her fractured memories and learn where her powers come from and why she and Raven are linked.  The closest parallel I could draw would be to say it’s like The Bourne Identity if Jason Bourne had superpowers.  Starfire’s powers are brilliantly brought to life through stunning visual effects.  Everything from her green glowing eyes, flame-like hair, and the fire-based energy blasts she emits, this is very much the Starfire we know from the comics and not the more recent anime-styled animated series.  I was most pleased that they added in the additional effect of showing how the solar energy pulses beneath her skin as it adds another level to creating the realism of this character.

Last, but certainly not least is Gar Logan/Beast Boy played by Ryan Potter.  Ryan masterfully interprets the character from the pages of the comics, capturing the fun-loving and humorous personality of Beast Boy.  If Robin is the brains of the team, Starfire is the muscle, and Raven is the soul, then Beast Boy is most definitely the heart.  His personality and genuine caring for the other members of the team acts as the glue that keeps the team together.  His powers are also well done through visual effects as we get to see how he shifts from human form into a tiger.  The biggest complaint will likely be that we only ever see him transform into one animal (a tiger), but he still seems relatively new and inexperienced to his powers, so this may play into his growth as a character in later seasons.  It’s true that he does not have the green skin while he’s in human form, but that becomes less bothersome as you start to realize how he perfectly captures all of the other aspects of the character in the season.

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One of the biggest treats for DC fans in this show is the revolving door of supporting characters that jump in periodically.  Hawk and Dove are very well performed by Smallville alum Alan Ritchson as Hank Hall and Minka Kelly as Dawn Granger.  We also get to see Jason Todd/Robin played by Curran Walters when he steps in for 2 episodes to meet Dick Grayson and help him solve a case involving Haley’s Circus.  We’re also treated to the first appearance of the Doom Patrol and the involvement of Wonder Girl/Donna Troy towards the end of the season played by Conor Leslie.  Looking through this impressive roster of characters that appear throughout the first season, this is an all you can eat buffet for seasoned DC Comics fans who will no doubt enjoy seeing these characters brought to live-action for the first time in a way that is very loyal to their comic book counterparts.

 

 

PRODUCTION VALUE: 

Filmed in Canada, Titans brings a very real-world aesthetic to the small screen series.  You very much feel that you are seeing these characters inhabit real spaces and not sets or soundstages as we often do on network shows such as Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, or Legends of Tomorrow.  To draw a comparison, Titans feels like it has taken a page out of the Marvel Netflix shows playbooks and brought a real honesty and realism to the characters and their world as we’ve seen with Netflix’s Daredevil, The Punisher, and The Defenders.

As mentioned previously, established characters/heroes such as Robin, Hawk, Dove, and Jason Todd’s Robin all have legitimate costumes.  Designed by Joyce Schure (The Boys, 12 Monkeys) and Laura Jean Shannon (Iron Man, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Blade Trinity), the costumes are very well realized and representative of the comics.  You can very much look at them and know who you’re seeing on screen as they are all very comic book-accurate, especially Hawk and Dove.  The suits bring a level of real-world functionality and purpose with the flair and presentation of the comics.

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The biggest plus for Titans is the fact that it’s shot on location.  By shooting on real streets and in existing locations, the series holds a level of reality and believability.  Some sets were constructed on sound stages, such as some interiors of Wayne Manor and the Batcave, but that was about it.  Not to keep drawing comparisons, but this is very similar to the Marvel Netflix shows as all of those series were shot predominantly on real locations to bring the city of New York to life and make it another character in the cast.  Titans achieves this, as well, giving us all the sense that the heroes are really on the run and visiting all these places, giving the audience the sense that they’re on this journey with them.  It also eliminates the cliché that many other shows have where you set up a specific set location for exposition.  For example, The Flash uses the command center in STAR Labs and Arrow uses the bunker as a space for the characters to unload exposition.  This is not the case in Titans, so the scenes feel much more organic and real to the point where you don’t feel like you’re watching a television show.

source-TIT102u0125V1-2-1539120652Where the series could benefit from some improvement is in the fight sequences.  This will prove to be a tad challenging in future seasons as the vast majority of the characters are superpowered and require expensive effects.  As we’ve seen with The Flash, effects done on a television budget don’t always possess the best quality and can come off looking rubbery and cheap.  Achieving the level of scale that the original Wolfman & Perez stories had will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the production team, so this will prove to be an interesting challenge moving forward.  I would also say that the crew should be careful when it comes to getting the other characters in costumes:  They shouldn’t go the Smallville route and keep everyone in civilian clothes that match the colors of their comic counterparts for very long, nor should they go over the top as they’ve done with the CW shows as many of those more recent costumes have received poor reactions from fans for being a bit cheesy and campy looking.

Overall, the production value of Titans is comparable to that of a Netflix or Amazon television series, but would greatly benefit from an infusion of more team-based action sequences and a little more presence of visual effects.  With a second season being inevitable, I’m sure they will get an increase in the budget and will be able to achieve more as the series develops.

 

POTENTIAL MOVING FORWARD:

Season one of Titans was a very strong introduction to the series and the characters.  They were very ambitious in rolling out this new series in a way that would attract long-time DC Comics fans as well as newcomers who had perhaps never heard of them.  Where the series succeeds most is in crafting likable characters that the audience can identify with and become invested in.  By realizing these characters accurately from the comics and focusing on developing them as people, you are able to create that connection with them early on.

TITANS_ROBIN.0Titans also ends with opening a whole new dimension (quite literally) to the universe that these characters exist in.  The stakes are raised to such a point where you question how the team will be able to react and overcome the adversity set before them.  The season finale ends where the pilot episode began in that Robin and Raven very much take the priority of the narrative, with the supporting characters such as Starfire, Beast Boy, and Donna Troy being sidelined.  Many fans may take issue with this, however, I feel it was ultimately a wise decision on the part of the writers as it creates a sense of continuity and consistency for the audience to finish the season-long arc in the same way it was started.  It is also well-positioned to open the story up to a wider team effort in the season 2 premiere to deal with the outfall from Trigon and the hint of a presence from a certain Kryptonian courtesy of CADMUS Labs come this Fall.

 

RELATED: Detective Comics #1000 Review | A Landmark DC Comics Event

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

MV5BMTU0NDc4Mjc4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjcyNTM0NjM@._V1_Titans is certainly worth your time if you’re a fan of comic book movies and television shows.  It’s very entertaining and well crafted, and best of all it’s a short run that a viewer can enjoy without necessitating a huge time commitment.  You can comfortably work your way through the series in a matter of 2-3 days.

What this will ultimately come down to is HOW you choose to watch it.  Many casual fans may find it difficult to justify paying $75 for the year to the DC Universe subscription, but if you feel that you would be intrigued enough to see their other original content such as Young Justice: Outsiders and Doom Patrol, then the subscription is definitely worth the fee as it comes out to less than $7 per month.  With that, you’ll also get access to all their other movies, TV shows, animated series, animated movies, and a vast library of 20,000+ comics.  However, if you feel that Titans is the only series you find yourself having any interest in, then the price of $25 on iTunes is a good investment as you not only get the 11 episodes, but you also get a good 40-minutes worth of extra features.

If you’ve been on the fence about subscribing to DC Universe, I hope this review helps you to make a choice.  I think this plus the other original content is well worth the subscription fee and you get access to so much more.  Ultimately, I look forward to seeing the progression of Titans and of the platform moving forward.

RELATED: Shazam! Review | A Perfect Blend Of Humor With Heart

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Detective Comics #1000 Review | A Landmark DC Comics Event

ICO001306_2._SX360_QL80_TTD_In May of 1939, DC Comics (formerly known as Detective Comics) was looking to recapture the lightning in a bottle that they’d experienced with Superman in Action Comics the previous year.  Rising to the challenge set by the company to create a new superhero to match the Man of Steel was Bob Kane.  As a child of the Great Depression, Bob and his family struggled to achieve financial stability, forcing Bob to take on multiple jobs while fostering his talents as an artist.  When the publishers approached Bob about creating a new character and revealed he could stand to make nearly $800 a week, he said: “You’ll have a new hero on your desk by Monday morning.”  Partnering with writer Bill Finger, the duo quickly got to work in hammering down the details of the first issue that would introduce a new character derived from the pulp detective novels like The Shadow, the heroic presence of Superman, and a wingspan inspired by Da Vinci’s flying machine.  This character would be called “The Bat-Man”.

Now, 80 years and 1000 issues later, DC Comics proudly celebrates this landmark event and the 80th anniversary for the Caped Crusader in Detective Comics #1000.  Bringing together writers and artists from past and present to contribute to a massive 96-page giant, this is the ultimate love letter to a character who has become a globally recognized icon and represents true justice and heroism to countless generations, cultures, and ethnic groups.  You would be hard pressed to find an area of the world that doesn’t recognize that iconic symbol as that of Batman.  Enjoying a successful career in comics, radio, animation, video games, and live-action films, Batman has penetrated every generation to achieve something beyond pop culture, to even reach a point of superstardom that is shared by very few, if any at all.

DETECTIVE_COMICS_1000_Main_Lee_CVR_crop_5c0abb40521120.49426663Detective Comics #1000 brings together eleven different short stories told through the lens of 11 different writer & artist teams.  Each story is a self-contained short that celebrates the different eras and interpretations of Batman.  This review will break down each short and provide a SPOILER FREE dissection of story, art, and how it ultimately celebrates the legacy of Batman.  With a gorgeous wrap-around cover drawn by DC Comics legend Jim Lee, the book boasts a formidable presence and a hefty weight, giving the book an instant sense of value that collectors everywhere will want to have in their collection.  Once you pick up your copy, you know you’re in for a momentous event in comic book history.  (If you would prefer, you can skip to the bottom to the “Final Thoughts” section to see my overall review)

 

“Batman’s Longest Case” is written by New 52 veteran team Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.  The pair most famously had one of the longest runs on Batman ever when DC Comics launched the New 52 in 2011.  “Batman” quickly became the biggest selling title in the relaunch and provided some of the best storylines in the Dark Knight’s history including Court of Owls, Death of the Family, Zero Year, and Endgame.

Following in the footsteps of the quality they’ve consistently brought to the character, Snyder and Capullo create a fantastic story that really taps into the detective element of Batman.  We are thrust into the middle of a case that Batman has been working to solve since the beginning of his career, following clues to the farthest reaches of the earth and to the deepest depths of the ocean.  Upon coming to the trail’s end, Batman realizes that he’s been unknowingly observed by a secret group that has been leading him on this case the entire time.

detective-comics-1000-capullo-2010The artwork by Capullo has often been praised as some of the best to ever grace the character, and he does not disappoint here.  He perfectly captures the film noir aesthetic he started in Court of Owls 8 years ago, paying homage to the classic Bruce Timm animated series in how he shows Batman breaking into an apartment to investigate a crime scene.  Scott Snyder also lives up to his reputation as one of the single greatest writers to tackle the character thanks to the level of detail and historical research he is able to infuse into the stories he tells.  Every panel is oozing with information, both verbal and visual, as you go with Batman to uncover the truth of this mystery and showing why he IS the World’s Greatest Detective.

 

“Manufacture For Use” teams writer/filmmaker Kevin Smith with fan-favorite artist Jim Lee.  The story works effectively as somewhat of a highlight reel, showing Batman fighting his famous rogues’ gallery over the years, consistently getting shot and taking damage to the armored chest plate he wears in his suit.  This operates as a backdrop while we are given narration dialogue between Bruce and an antique weapons dealer who happens to own the gun that was used to kill his parents.

image_d87d2f05-8e7f-4767-b55a-cb6f6d19f582Kevin Smith is most famously known for his comedic writing and acting talents, but Kevin is a Batman fan first and foremost, so this story is approached with deep sincerity and love as he creates a perfect verbal and visual metaphor that regardless of how much physical punishment Batman takes, nothing will ever equal the injury inflicted on him as a child when he lost his parents.  Paired with Jim Lee’s stunning artwork, this story carries a true gravitas to it and treats us to seeing Batman in dynamic action poses against his most famous of villains.  Seeing these panels brought to life in Jim Lee’s unique art style is certainly one of the largest highlights of this issue.

 

“The Legend of Knute Brody” is written by Batman The Animated Series and Arkham video game scribe Paul Dini, with artwork by the talented Dustin Nguyen.  Dini and Nguyen had worked together prior to the launch of the New 52 on an on-going title called “Streets of Gotham”.  Reteaming for this story, the duo clearly hasn’t missed a step in how they complement each other’s work.

The story works a lot like a particular episode of Batman: The Animated Series that Dini wrote in 1993 called “The Man Who Killed Batman”.  In this issue, we see a low-level thug named Knute Brody who has worked unsuccessfully as a thug for all the major rogues in Gotham City, ranging from the Joker, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Mad Hatter.  With each crew, Brody is an inevitable bad luck charm and ultimately results in catastrophe and apprehension by Batman.  The story is very heartfelt and reminds us why Paul Dini is one of the most clever writers to ever tackle the character of Batman.  Much like a magician, Paul Dini knows how to get the audience looking in one direction so they don’t notice the misdirection when he reveals the surprise.

Dustin Nguyen’s art is also a refreshing change of pace in the book as it takes the reader from the darker and gloomier aesthetic and brings in some pop and color to showcase the inherent fun that this story brings to the book.  It’s by no means campy, but colorful in representing the fun and escapism that Batman and family can represent.

 

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“The Batman’s Design” is written by Warren Ellis with artwork by Becky Cloonan.  For any Batman fan worth their salt, they know that Batman is one of the greatest heroes in comics.  Not because he has super strength or billions of dollars or because he’s the best fighter.  It’s because of his strategic mind.  Bruce Wayne has trained himself to both physical and mental perfection so that he can plan for every situation.  The man has contingencies for his contingencies.  In this story, Warren Ellis brilliantly showcases this as Batman takes on a group of militant cultists who’ve been using meta-human enhancement drugs and super-powered battle armor.  Here, Batman realizes that he will have to strike hard and end this quickly.

Ever the tactician, Batman reveals that he’s lured the group into a trap of his own design that has been pre-rigged with traps and devices purpose-built for each of them to take them down systematically.  The stellar visuals created by Becky Cloonan matched with Ellis’s narration where Batman explains the activity in each panel will have fans grinning from ear to ear.

 

“Return to Crime Alley” is written by legendary Batman writer Denny O’Neil with artwork by Steve Epting.  This is arguably one of the shortest stories in the book, but definitely one of the hardest hitting.  Many fans will likely be disappointed to see that Neal Adams did not partner with O’Neil to do this story together as they’re widely regarded as one of the best teams to tackle the character, but Epting’s artwork more than makes up for it.  Bringing a striking realism and noir landscape to the chapter, this story is a more grounded approach to the characters.

image_d965f372-f48f-4f08-b49f-038646835f0f_grandeBatman meets his longtime friend and mentor, Leslie Thompkins, in Crime Alley to commemorate the anniversary of the night Bruce’s parents were murdered.  Much like dozens of issues and episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, Leslie and Bruce trade dialogue on how each of them have dealt with the loss since that night, but this latest take on this “appointment in Crime Alley” shows the fundamental differences in opinion of how Leslie views Bruce’s decision on how to deal with his loss and pain.  Through a series of events, Leslie divulges a profound feeling of guilt and sorrow for what Bruce has become rather than what has happened to those around them.  This story brings the readers back down from the high-flying, fast-paced stories in previous chapters and instead gives us a more emotional moment to introspect the character of Batman and the decisions he’s made and how he views the criminal element of Gotham City.

 

“Heretic” partners writer Christopher Priest with artist Neal Adams to bring forth another story that focuses on a mysterious murder case in Gotham City.  When an Asian boy is found dead with a Wayne Foundation business card on his persons, Bruce investigates to find that the boy actually has ties to one of his oldest and greatest foes, Ra’s al Ghul.  Bruce must retrace the steps of his past to discover how he unintentionally played a part in the young man’s death.

This story is very well told by Priest and provides great moments of dialogue between Bruce and Jim Gordon, and even Bruce and Dick Grayson.  But the real standout with this story is Neal Adams’s artwork.  As a fan of the 70’s era of Batman comics, this was a real treat to see the artist revisit the Caped Crusader in this landmark issue.  The story itself doesn’t present a complicated mystery but succeeds in showcasing the resolve and iron clad principles that Batman has always exhibited as a heroic figure in the DC Universe.

 

“I Know” is written by current Superman/Action Comics scribe Brian Michael Bendis with artwork by Alex Maleev in what is certainly one of the more humorous stories told in the book.  “I Know” sheds some spotlight on another detective, The Penguin, as he is shown as an old man and confesses that he’s always known the true identity of Batman.  This story is not only creative as it shows how Penguin deduced Batman’s identity but saves the big surprise for the twist at the end.

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Maleev’s artwork creates a great diversity from the other stories in the book, drawing many homages to Tim Burton’s 1992 film Batman Returns, not only in his design of The Penguin but also in the world around them and how The Penguin uses his penguin minions.  The other piece of fun with this particular story is that, much like Superman, fans have always been frustrated that Batman’s enemies haven’t been able to deduce his secret identity and this story takes that concept and succeeds in giving it a great explanation while simultaneously making it humorous.

 

“The Last Crime in Gotham” pairs fan-favorite DC Comics writer and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns with artist Kelly Jones in a story that takes place in a possible future.  With artwork inspired by the 90’s aesthetic seen in previous Batman comics, “The Last Crime in Gotham” shows a world where Batman and Catwoman are married, fighting crime alongside their two children, in a Gotham City that has been crime-free for a few years.  That is until Jim Gordon fires up the Bat Signal one more time to reveal a gruesome murder committed by an unknown copycat looking to mimic the greatest crimes in Gotham’s history.

The story itself is very sweetly told.  As with most mystery stories, we are led to believe we are seeing one thing when, in actuality, we are seeing something quite different as it is also revealed to be Bruce’s birthday.  This is a very clever nod from Geoff Johns acknowledging the character’s own 80th birthday in comics.  In many ways, I feel that this whole story is meant as Geoff’s birthday gift to Batman, that we would all happily give if possible.

 

“The Precedent” is written by James Tynion IV with artwork by Alvaro Martinez-Bueno and chronicles Bruce Wayne’s apprehensions about training Dick Grayson to be Robin.  This is a fantastic story for several reasons.  Firstly, it not only shows a heartfelt discussion between fathers as Bruce and Alfred discuss the negatives and the positives of bringing a young child into this type of life.  Secondly, and arguably most importantly, it shows why Bruce and Dick are ultimately different sides of the same coin.  Where Bruce forged his skills and abilities in a hot fire of anger and vengeance, Dick Grayson has been a character forged in the light.  He’s a better version of Bruce that would have existed had someone like that been involved in Bruce’s life at that age.  But when you look deeper at the situation, it reveals why there must always be a Batman and there must always be a Robin.

The artwork in this section is very stoic and colorful, using somewhat of a highlight reel motif to show the future life that Dick Grayson has in his career as Robin and how he’ll eventually become Nightwing.  This is clearly a very heartfelt story with a heartfelt visual approach in the artwork.  Everything is much warmer as it deals with a gentler side of Batman as we see his concerns as a surrogate father.

 

xRfx2Co“Batman’s Greatest Case” is written by current “Batman” writer Tom King and drawn by Tony S. Daniel & Joelle Jones.  Death and loss have always defined Batman.  From what made him to what drives him to continually be the best that he can be, it’s all been in the effort to deal with his greatest losses.  Tom King, who has been writing “Batman” since DC’s soft reboot of the universe in 2016’s DC Rebirth, has brought the entire Bat Family together for a deeper exploration of how Bruce deals with this loss, but not in a way that you might think.  Very cleverly, this short story delves more into the dialogue amongst the other members of the family including Nightwing, Robin, Red Hood, Red Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman, Spoiler, Huntress, Orphan, Signal, Alfred, and even Ace the Bat-Hound.  It’s through these key characters that we learn where Batman gains his greatest strength and how he continues to find the determination and will power to continue his war on crime.  Tony S. Daniel’s return to the characters is very refreshing as he had a fantastic run on the character from 2008-2012.

 

“Medieval” is by “Batman & Robin” veterans and current creative team working on “Detective Comics”, writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke.  This is a partnership that has found success in countless characters and story arcs across the DC Universe in everything from Superman to the Green Lantern Corps.  Their work in the New 52 on “Batman & Robin” enjoyed one of the longest runs out of any of the titles during the relaunch, so to see them tackling the character once again in “Detective Comics” has been an outstanding pleasure.

detective_comics_1000_federici_cover“Medieval” is a fantastic dissection of Batman from an unknown third party who is narrating across the full-page splash panels, setting up the next story arc that will be unveiled in the coming issues of the title.  Doug Mahnke’s artwork takes center stage as he gives us full-page spreads depicting Batman in amazing action poses, fighting against some of his greatest villains.

While the chapter’s primary purpose is to set up the next chapter in their story, it simultaneously gives us a thorough breakdown of Batman’s methods and ideology, and how those are perceived by people in the world.  While many claim him to be a hero, others see him as a “Badman”.  When readers see the final page, it will instantly send you shooting to the ceiling in anticipation for the next issue!!

 

FINAL THOUGHTS: 

Much like Action Comics #1000 which came out last year, Detective Comics #1000 is a great celebration of the character of Batman, his allies, his villains, and his legacy.  Sporting a fantastic collaboration of writers and artists, this is truly a wonderful celebration of Batman.  If readers go into this issue aware that most of what they will be reading will not tie into on-going storylines, then they will be very happy with the issue and enjoy reading it time and time again.  For any readers who may feel cheated by the fact that the issue is primarily short stories that don’t have a significant effect on continuity, they should remember what this issue represents:  This is a celebration of Batman.  Who he is, what he represents, and what he’s been to so many people over the last 80 years.

With 57 different variant covers, DC Comics took no short cuts in making this an event worthy of Batman.  Hardcore collectors will be hard pressed to collect them all as many are very limited print editions and will be sure to fetch a pretty penny in the collector market.  You can get a glimpse of all the variants together, compliments of “Batman” writer Tom King.

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For a steeper price than your average weekly back issue, Detective Comics #1000 retails on stands at $9.99 with its regular cover.  But do not let the price deter you from picking this issue up as it is packed to the gills with a lot of entertainment.  Readers will likely feel compelled to read and re-read the issue to not only get the full experience of the stories but to soak in all the breathtaking artwork on display throughout the book.  This is an issue that will benefit from multiple reads, and coming in at 96-pages, it will take you a good block of time to get through it.

Ultimately, I feel that this issue is a fantastic celebration of Batman, the 1000th issue of Detective Comics, and his legacy.  Not just in comics, but in world history.  No matter what generation you were born in or what language you speak or what the color of your skin is, Batman is a hero we have all looked up to.  Many of us hold dear the memories of charging around the house in a cape and mask pretending to be this character so that we could feel that courage and heroism that we saw in him as we read the comics or watched the movies.  The issue officially goes on sale March 27, 2019, and can be purchased in your local comic shops or digitally through the DC Comics app.

 

Happy Birthday, Batman, and here’s to the next 1000 issues!!

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Adaptations Cinema Spotlight DC Entertainment Retrospective Review Sci-Fi Spoiler Free Spotlight Superheroes TV and Cinema Warner Bros Worlds of DC

A Retrospective Review | 1997 STEEL Movie | Cinema Spotlight

MV5BODI1YzMxMjQtMzllYi00ZjFmLWI2MjQtNDMzNDJjZjQ4Y2UyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzc5MjA3OA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_It’s 1997, Tamogatchis are still a thing, Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” is stuck in your head, no one has really figured out how to play Pogs, and studios keep trying to make Shaquille O’Neil a movie star.  A year after the critical flop of “Kazaam”, movie-goers were being force-fed another Shaq-Attack in the form of “Steel”.  Based on the DC Comics property, “Steel” was brought to the silver screen after the hugely popular Death and Return of Superman comic storyline that had started in the Fall of 1992 and culminated in the Fall of 1993 which had introduced the new character of John Henry Irons to the DC mythology.  In the wake of Superman’s death, John Henry dons a full-body suit of armor that gives him superhuman strength, durability, and flight.  Feeling responsible for a plague of high-tech weapons that have been flooding the streets, Irons uses his new suit to clean up the streets and try to fill a void left by Superman as the hero known as Steel.

Sounds cool, right?  Like a DC Comics version of Iron Man who happens to wear a cape and Superman’s S shield on his chest.  I bet you’re thinking it’d make for a pretty great movie.  That’s what Warner Brothers thought too, so they greenlit a feature film that hit theaters on August 15, 1997, on a budget of $16 million dollars.  What may come at little to no surprise, the movie only recouped $1.7 million domestically and proved to be another critical failure for the studio after the catastrophic “Batman & Robin” which hit theaters just two months earlier that same summer.  But is the film really as bad as everyone has made it sound these last 20 years?

STORY: 

“Steel” opens in the present day as John Henry Irons (Shaquille O’Neil) performs a weapons demonstration for his commanding officers and the Department of Defense.  These new weapons supply superior firepower but reduce the risks of human casualties.  He’s joined by his friend & collaborator Susan “Sparky” Sparks (played by Annabeth Gish) as well as the shifty looking Nathaniel Burke (played by Judd Nelson).  In an effort to impress his superiors, Burke goes against John Henry’s orders and boosts the weapons to full capacity, killing multiple on-lookers and gravely wounding Sparky in the process.  After seeing the destruction his weapons can cause and the military’s refusal to abandon the program, John Henry quits and returns to his childhood home in Los Angeles.

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After the accident, Burke is court marshaled and honorably discharged.  Blaming Irons for his fate, Burke steals the weapon designs and brings them to a Los Angeles weapons dealer, partnering to distribute the next generation of super-weapons.  Once these high-tech weapons start being used on the streets, Irons takes responsibility for the destruction and enlists his uncle Joe (played by Richard Roundtree) and Sparky, who is now paralyzed from the waist down, to help him build a suit of armor to help him combat their weapons and clean up the streets.

At face value, the story itself adheres very closely to the source material of the comic books.  Looking at it objectively, the two elements missing from the comics are the presence of Superman and the fact that the story isn’t set in Metropolis.  There is a structured narrative that takes us through a beginning, middle, and end that makes sense and doesn’t leave us behind with broken plot threads that don’t make sense as other bad films do.  The core problem with the story is poor development and growth to create compelling characters and a complete lack of stimulating dialogue.  Characters are used to deliver details that take us to the next part of the story, but none of it serves to make them likable characters with unique personalities.  Everyone is essentially a talking cardboard cutout, save for Uncle Joe who provides some ever so brief moments of genuine comedy.

We’re never given anything in this film that makes us identify with John Henry Irons other than that he feels obligated to clean up the streets from these weapons.  The film never explores his internal struggles in taking on this challenge or how he’s processing all of what’s happening on an emotional level.  Some might argue that’s due to Shaq’s limited acting ability, but other characters in the film prove to give him the benefit of the doubt as none of them go beyond the clichéd façade they’ve been brought in to play either.  Sparky seems to be the only character who has any level of growth or adversity to overcome as she must learn to live with her new handicap and prove to herself that she’s still fully capable of achieving the same things she did before her injury.  Her story very much takes inspiration from Barbara Gordon’s arc in the comics and proves that we would have all probably rather seen a movie starring Sparky than Steel.

This movie is a perfect example to prove that just because you adapt the surface level elements of a character’s comic book origins correctly, doesn’t mean that you’ve made a good movie.  Where this movie plays more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a film, the comics gave the character of John Henry Irons a rich emotional depth and a great motivation to become a hero.  He wasn’t just creating this suit to combat weapons dealers but felt that he owed a debt to Superman for having saved his life and wanted to honor his sacrifice by giving the city another hero that they could believe in and know would protect them.  Instead of weighing audiences down with that “boring stuff”, instead we’re treated to 97 minutes of Shaq finger waving thugs for trying to shoot him in the crotch and running away (very slowly I might add) from the police, which happens to be the same one cop every time.  Perhaps the city of Los Angeles has had budget cuts?

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HISTORY:

When looking at this movie, it’s crucial to look at the time period it was released.  In 1997, Warner Brothers was fresh off the success of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever in 1995 and was enjoying the millions they were making in toy merchandise and sponsorships.  At the same time, DC Comics (which is owned by Time Warner) was still making big waves with a hugely popular run of comics that started with Death and Return of Superman and the Knightfall series running across all Batman titles.  Warner Brothers viewed this as a prime opportunity to bring more properties like this to the big screen that could work as established franchises and give them guaranteed hits that would sell at the box office and in toy stores.

Unfortunately, Warner Brothers had to learn the hard way that spreadsheet decisions such as this do not work.  After several years of trying to get a Death of Superman movie off the ground, Warner Brothers decided to green light “Steel” as Tim Burton commenced pre-production on the never-made “Superman Lives”.  Approached much in the same way “Batman & Robin” was, “Steel” was engineered to be geared towards kids from day one with a toy line and a likable sports star in the title role.  “Steel” writer/director Kenneth Johnson was best known for writing and directing episodes of television such as The Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Alien Nation.  This isn’t to say that television writers and directors can’t make the move to feature films, but ultimately, I feel Kenneth didn’t wholly understand the character or the world he is supposed to inhabit.  He seems to have approached this more like a “made for tv” movie and just concentrated on having a beginning, middle, and end for the narrative that kids would understand and enjoy, lacking any depth or emotional investment in the characters.

SPECIAL EFFECTS:

The ’90s were an interesting time for movies.  With computer effects starting to become more affordable and gain more of a presence, movies began to get more and more ambitious in their action sequences regardless of budget.  Produced by Joel Simon (X-Men, Wild Wild West), Leonard Armato (Kazaam), and Bruce Binkow (Kazaam), “Steel” went into production with a very limited budget of $16 million dollars, significantly less than the $125 million dollars of “Batman & Robin” or the $40 million dollars of New Line Cinema’s “Spawn” which had come out just 2 weeks before “Steel”.  Operating off such a limited budget didn’t provide the crew with many opportunities for a special effects film.

As mentioned previously, in the comics, Steel’s armor allows him to fly, have super strength, and near-invulnerability.  All abilities that were well realized and showcased in the 4 previous Christopher Reeve Superman films and 1984’s Supergirl, but even those films which had started coming out two decades earlier had bigger budgets.  So, when it comes to action and effects in “Steel”, everything is very limited.  Instead of seeing him fly, he rides a motorcycle and has a grappling hook, like Batman.  We also do not see any evidence of super strength.  The suit does provide a good amount of invulnerability to the weapons in the film, so long as you don’t shoot him in the mouth area since he has a mouth opening in his mask like Batman’s.

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Designed by Catherine Adair, the costume for Steel isn’t a far deviation from the comics but is yet another victim of the film’s limited budget.  Missing the cape, Superman “S” shield, and a level of functionality, the suit really resembles something that could’ve been made by a cosplayer in their own home instead of something made by a major studio.  Even the hammer, which in the comics is a massive weapon with a myriad of capabilities, looks like nothing more than a simple sledgehammer that for some reason fires laser beams and has a dog whistle (yeah, I’m not kidding on that last one.  Don’t believe me?  Watch the movie).

The effects of the weapons used in the film are very sufficient.  Most of the weapons are either lasers or powered-sound waves, so those are all relatively easy to make believable even for a film with a limited budget such as this one.  But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it helps save the movie.  It’s really more that it’s one of the things that are just “fine” with the movie.

The action sequences are ultimately very disappointing.  We’re not treated to any grand-scale fight sequences or fast-paced chase sequences.  Much of what John Henry does while he’s in the suit is grab thugs and lift them up, stand still in the middle of the street as they fire bullets at him, or stand still as he engages a function that turns his armor into a magnet and attaches their guns to his body.  Even in the third act, Steel spends five minutes on his back while Burke does his evil villain monologue.  We get a small handful of chase sequences, but nothing that you would equate to being in a superhero film as nothing substantial happens.

THE SCORE:

For all the bashing this movie gets on a fairly regular basis, we should give credit where credit is due.  Composer Mervyn Warren has composed some great collections of music for films like Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and The Wedding Planner.  With “Steel”, Mervyn created a very recognizable score for the film.  It uses a unique blend of an industrial-themed march with R&B motifs.

The main theme is constantly used throughout much of the film, giving the movie and the character identity.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s on the level of what we’d heard previously with other Superman family characters such as Superman or Supergirl, but it sufficiently provides a theme that is authentic to the character.  It’s heroic and honest, while industrial and hard-hitting which is who the character is in the original comics.

RECEPTION: 

When “Steel” opened nationwide on August 15, 1997, I don’t think anyone, including Warner Brothers, was very surprised by the poor reception the film received.  With a 12% Critics Score on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was in and out of theaters relatively quickly.  Given that the studio did not assist the film with an aggressive marketing campaign or even a trailer that made a clear message that this was a DC Comics character that was tangentially related to Superman, many audience members didn’t know what this movie was or that it even existed.

MV5BMTQ1MjI0Nzc5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA4NjYxNA@@._V1_People who did see the trailer instantly recognized the low-budget look to the film and were still freshly reminded of Shaq’s last film “Kazaam”.  Coming in at 1 hour 37 minutes, “Steel” was released into 1,260 theaters and was only in theaters for a couple of weeks until it was pulled out relatively quickly.  By the end of its domestic run, “Steel” only managed to recoup $1,710,972 and was pushed to VHS soon after, which would be how most kids would inevitably see the film.  In 2010, Warner Brothers issued a bare-bones DVD release through their Warner Archives Collection.  The DVD featured the original poster artwork, a lackluster description on the back, and no special features to accompany the film other than the trailer.  Even the menus weren’t given any level of identity or care.  When you pop it into your player, you’ll likely question if you’re watching a bootleg.

1.5 OUT OF 5 STARS: 

Let’s not sugarcoat this: “Steel” is a raging hot tire fire rolling down a hill that probably should not have been made, but not for the reasons that you might think.  This is by no means an unwatchable movie.  The story is competently told and offers morsels of interesting moments.  What inevitably broke this movie was a shoestring budget and an NBA athlete trying to be something other than an NBA athlete.  Growing up, I loved Shaq as a basketball player.  Again, as a BASKETBALL PLAYER, not as an actor.  Just because he can recite lines for an Icey Hot commercial doesn’t mean he can act in a feature film.  I have no doubt that this was very much an ego project that Shaq’s representation was able to convince Warner Brothers to make because Shaq is a huge Superman fan and saw this as yet another chance to do more than just dunk on a court.

It’s clear that Shaquille O’Neil was trying very hard to bring a level of enthusiasm and energy to this project and make it something special, to which I do give him credit, but as Dirty Harry Callaghan famously said: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  “Steel” is one of those movies much like “Batman & Robin” or “Super Mario Bros” where you can put it on with a couple of friends and have a good laugh with it, but if you’re looking for something beyond that, you’ll more than likely be disappointed.

On a side note, I would like to quickly add:  If you haven’t seen “Steel”, I actually recommend you do.  Not just because it’s nostalgic of the 90’s, but because it will better help remind you how far we’ve come in the genre of comic book cinema.  People are quick to complain about movies like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” or “Aquaman” not being everything they wanted them to be, but “Steel” will be a fresh reminder of what we used to have and how fortunate we are to be experiencing the level of care and quality we get in our comic book movies today.  And for the record: This movie is also nowhere as near as bad as the Halle Berry “Catwoman” movie.

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