Keep your Omega Beams to yourself.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
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DC has had an impeccable track record when it comes to animation. Starting in 2007, they’ve released a bevy of direct-to-video movies featuring some of their most popular characters in adaptations of famous comic storylines. To date, there have been 8 films to come out over the last 3 years and all of them have been (for the most part) excellent, both in terms of storytelling and animation. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is the ninth feature to be released and I’m sad to say it doesn’t live up to its predecessors.

Apocalypse tells the story of Supergirl’s arrival on Earth and Darkseid’s plan to capture her and make her head of his Furies, an elite team of female warriors. This might actually explain right away why I didn’t enjoy this movie very much, I don’t like Supergirl. Admittedly, I don’t know very much about her history, or her portrayal in the comics, but in Apocalypse she’s just an annoying teenage girl with all the powers of Superman. Lame. She goes through a bit of character development once Darkseid shows up, but it’s not enough. The bad first impression I was given stuck with me the entire movie.

“I’ve been chased, shot at, kidnapped, beaten up, had my mind controlled and I broke a nail. I’m ready for a little quiet.” – Kara Zor-El

Speaking of Darkseid, he is easily the highlight of the movie for me. A very hands-off kind of villain, he spends more time directing his minions into the fray then he does actually in the thick of it. That’s not to say he doesn’t get his hands dirty, however. The climactic final battle between him, Superman and Supergirl is one of the best animated fights I’ve seen. The actor who voiced Darkseid (Andre Braugher) should also be commended for a job well done. His calm, collected delivery definitely set the mood for the character.

Another high point of the film is the animation quality. The character models are well designed; move very well and the choreography of the fight scenes are great. There is a battle between Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and an army of Doomsday clones that, while not as good as the final battle, looks fantastic. It’s hard hitting and really shows off the skills and powers of the heroes.

Of course, this is a Superman/Batman movie. There is only one problem, Batman is essentially missing entirely. It’s a little disconcerting, since he is pivotal for both the set-up and ultimate conclusion of the movie, but he does so by basically showing up out of nowhere, saving the day and then disappearing. His only real time to shine is during the Doomsday fight, and he’s got to share screen time with 2 with an alien and an amazon. There’s a scene that has Batman flying some jet thing (not bat themed *thumbs down*) running away from big mechanical dogs. Batman. Running away. It’s pretty groan worthy.

Batman/Superman: Apocalypse is not a bad movie. There are scenes and moments throughout that are genuinely enjoyable and sometimes downright amazing. But I can’t help but compare it to past DC animated movies like Justice League: The New Frontier or Green Lantern: First Flight, which were both spectacular examples of what an animated movie can be, both in animation quality and story-telling. There’s nothing here that I outright hate, but it’s also pretty forgettable as well. If you’re a comics fan, then check it out. If not, then you’re not missing out on a whole lot.

Kurt

Wreck And Rule!

The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers
Written by Nick Roche and James Roberts
Art by Nick Roche

“It’s a story of sacrifice and betrayal, and of good people dying in stupid, pointless ways”. – Verity Carlo

Last Stand of the Wreckers took me by surprise. The last 2 years or so of Transformers comics have been, admittedly, lackluster. They haven’t been bad by any means, but they haven’t been that great either. Bogged down by continuity errors and innumerable ret cons, it’s been hard to really single out any one story arc as fantastic. Enter Nick Roche and James Roberts. With Wreckers they took a 180° turn from the status quo, and in doing so have crafted one of the best Transformers stories I’ve ever read. Actually, it could be one of the best comics I’ve read, full stop.
A little history lesson might be in order for those that don’t know who, or what the Wreckers are. Essentially, the Wreckers are a special Autobot unit comprised of the toughest, die-hard fighters around. If a mission has little or no chance of victory, the Wreckers will be there, and they’ll probably win the battle. Not without casualties, however. One thing about being a Wrecker is that survival is not always guaranteed. Membership is basically a revolving door. If you get killed in battle, there are two more guys waiting to take your place.
I’m not going to give away the whole story, since it’s a 5 issue series. Covering all of that, while trying to keep this from becoming mind numbingly long would be impossible. So, I’ll give you the set-up. Just enough to get you interested. Three years ago, Garrus-9 Penitentiary was taken over in a Decepticon assault. Overlord, known and feared by Autobot and Decepticon alike, arrives on the scene and quickly assumes command. He kills the former bot in charge and turns the prison into a hunting ground of sorts, allowing those who follow him freedom “in every sense of the word” as he puts it. This means, of course, that any Autobots still alive on G-9 are now prey to be hunted, and killed as the Decepticons see fit. Cue the Wreckers. With every attempt to penetrate Garrus-9 ending in failure, it now falls to Springer, commander of the Wreckers, and a group of young, inexperienced, but skilled Autobots who must get the job done.
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Something that took me by surprise with this mini-series is the surprising lack of A-list characters. You won’t see Optimus Prime and Megatron fighting it out for the umpteenth time. In fact, with the possible exception of Kup and Springer, every member of the Wreckers team is a relative unknown. The same can be said for the Decepticon side of things. This doesn’t hinder the storytelling at all. Quite the opposite, actually. Using characters that are unknown provides the opportunity to start fresh, and makes you learn about about them as the story moves forward. I had no emotional, or nostalgic connection to these characters starting the book, but from page one I was invested in their stories. When someone dies (and they will… a lot), you will feel it, even if they’ve only been introduced the page before. There’s even a human element in the form of Verity Carlo. A stowaway, who followed Ultra Magnus from earth with the hope of finding her place in life. Verity has been around since the beginning of this current generation of Transformers comics (2005, I believe), and I’ve never seen her as much more than an annoyance. But she really comes into her own in this series, and actually becomes vital to the events that occur. It goes to show that a character is only as good as the writer can make them, and Nick Roche is one hell of a writer.
He is also a great artist. Pulling double duties on Wreckers, Nick puts as much thought and passion into his drawings as he does his storytelling. Every character design is unique, and full of personality. It’s cartoony in style, but never childish. At times, it can be downright disturbing. The violence is extreme, and you can tell Roche was having fun drawing robots getting killed. Decapitations, gladiatorial battle scenes, and bots getting ripped in half are just a few examples. It may seem a bit overkill, but that’s the point. The idea going in was to point out that Garrus-9 is out of control, and that being a Wrecker, no matter how skilled you are, is not a steady job.
I know I can get a little carried away with my Transformers adoration, but Last Stand of the Wreckers is different. First and foremost there is a beautifully crafted, gorgeously drawn story here. One that can be enjoyed by anyone, whether you’re a fan of giant robots or not. All five issues are out now, and there is a trade paperback coming out that will collect the entire series together. If you’re a fan of good characters, and an engrossing story, then pick it up and give it a read. If for no other reason than to send a message to the publisher that the Transformers can actually tell a good story. Maybe then, the main books might step up their game a little.

Wreck and Rule,
Kurt

Something Ain’t Right in Wainwright

The X-Files/30 Days of Night #1
Written by Steve Niles & Adam Jones
Art by Tom Mandrake

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It’s been a while since I’ve given any thought to The X-Files. I loved the show (until David Duchovny left), and the movies weren’t too bad either. I wish I could say the same about 30 Days of Night, however. I’ve never read the comics, except for the first 1 or 2 issues, and the movie was pretty bland. But the idea behind it, vampires using the cover of a month long darkness to feed, is very intriguing. Mix the two franchises together, and it has the potential to be a great recipe.

The story opens two weeks into the darkness in Wainwright, Alaska. “Patches” Brown is out plowing the streets in vain, as a blizzard ravages the landscape. Interspersed among the panels of Patches, we see a shadow speed through the blowing snow, nothing visible but sharp claws. Patches (whose real name is Henry-Lee) is lost in thought, unaware of anything except the road, and his plow, until he comes upon a horrible scene. A dozen or more trucks. All wrecked, with splatters of blood everywhere.  Naturally, curiosity gets the better of him, and he explores the wreckage. But what he’s seen is nothing compared to what he finds next. The decapitated bodies of the truckers, suspended on a pole. Heads lying at the base, while the blowing snow slowly covers their faces. This introduction sets the stage for what is a wonderfully drawn, and wonderfully written first issue.

The atmosphere is beautifully realized, with the foreboding tone of a pitch dark blizzard in Alaska offset by the fun, and often chuckle-out-loud repartee between Mulder and Scully. An example being a scene where Scully is already on the ground, as Mulder hops out of a helicopter, only wearing his usual suit and tie.

“Hello, Scully. It’s really cold here.”

“It’s Alaska, Mulder.”

It’s this kind of writing that really draws me in to these characters, and their world. Everything seems near pitch-perfect. Scully, as usual, only wants to find the truth, shushing Mulder until substantial evidence can be found. Fox, of course, instantly thinks of howling creatures and anything else outside the norm that can explain the murders. Oh, how right he is.

As far as secondary characters are concerned, aside from Patches, there aren’t very many. We’re introduced to Federal Agent Daniel French, “Frenchy” to Mulder. It’s obvious from the outset that these two aren’t exactly friends. French fills the dickhead, holier than thou role very well. I instantly loved to hate him, and I look forward to seeing him make life miserable for our beloved team. Well, maybe I want to see him get pulled apart by vampires a little bit more. Either way, I’ll be happy. Oh, and the vampires show up too, making a bad day just a little worse for poor Patches.

The artwork by Tom Mandrake also fits well with what’s going on with the plot. Having never heard of Mandrake before this series, I came in with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised. There’s nothing flashy here. No action set pieces, or crazy explosions. Just well drawn characters conveying fear, anger, and gleeful murderous intent (in the vampires that is) with ease. The backgrounds are essentially non-existent, but it totally works within the context. It’s perpetual night and there’s snow on the ground, what would you see anyway? If there is one thing I could nitpick on, it would be the coloring. It’s not bad at all, just unnecessary. I might be in the minority of most modern comic book readers, but I don’t think full color pages are always the way to go. A black and white layout here would have worked much better in my eyes, making what already feels like noir horror that much more so.

All in all, this is a great start to what I hope be a fun adventure with my favorite FBI agents. And it’s only running for 6 issues, giving me more hope that everything will stay this good throughout. I’ll definitely be at my comic shop next month, picking up issue #2.

I want to believe,
Kurt