Back in 2007, Warner Bros. Animation started released direct-to-home video animated movies featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other heroes published by DC Comics. Most of the films, which each run some 70-odd minutes long, were adaptations of popular graphic novels like The Dark Knight Returns and All-Star Superman. But there are a few, like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight, that were original scripts rooted in comic book lore.
"New Frontier" figurine
As a life-long DC guy, I’ve enjoyed watching every single one as they are released. Best Buy started including an exclusive toy figurine beginning with the second title Justice League: The New Frontier. As a toy guy and as someone who also loved the original graphic novel, it was easy to decide to pick it up. Since then, Best Buy has gone and offered an exclusive toy figurine for all but one title (Batman: Gotham Knight). So guess who was a sucker getting every single one?
This past weekend, a friend mentioned watching one of them. It was one of the ones released midway in the series. Being as old as I’m getting, I couldn’t remember if I enjoyed it or not.
I watched it again and realized it wasn't one of my favorites.
So, for my own benefit that I can have something to refer to to remind myself which films I enjoyed the most and also to introduce you kind readers to these films, below is a list of the DC Universe Animated Movies currently available to buy or rent and my ratings of each. And as it so happens this may be a good time to explore these. The next title, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, is due out in two weeks. It’s based on a story published in the summer of 2011 that directly leads into that fall’s reboot of DC Comics’ entire line of comic books. Marketed as “The New 52”, every DC Comics title was reset to issue number 1 when a new timeline resulted from the conclusion of the Flashpoint story, making Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and all the rest exist in a present day time frame when the public had only been aware of these superheroes for five years. The idea was that this rebooting of origins, simplifying of 70-odd years of back stories and even fashion makeovers of heroes’ uniforms could make it easier and more appealing for brand new readers to jump into comic books, especially given the current Hollywood environment of heavily promoted and popular summer blockbuster movies based on comic book properties.
Before Flashpoint, movies previously produced have mainly been from a selection of popular graphic novels written in the past thirty years. Given the nature of Flashpoint’s role in DC’s publishing work, it wouldn't be surprising at all if the film adaptation served a similar purpose, rebooting the film series to feature stories based on the world of The New 52, perhaps focusing on lesser-known heroes. UPDATE: Confirmed just this morning that, at least initially, it's the former. See more details at the end of my blog.
So maybe this is an opportune moment to chat about these existing films. If you haven’t seen any, I recommend you consider giving my favorite five of the lot a try. They’re shown with comments in CAPS. And they’re really, really good!
Film 1 - Superman: Doomsday (2007) – Good.
Film 2 - Justice League: The New Frontier (2008) – Great!
Film 3 - Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) – Okay. Released the same time The Dark Knight debuted in theatres, a collection of six original short stories presented in various anime-style animation.
Film 4 – Wonder Woman (2009) – Great! An origin story not based on a specific graphic novel.
Film 5 – Green Lantern: First Flight (2009) – Fun! An origin story not based on a specific graphic novel.
Film 6 – Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009) – Okay.
Film 7 – Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010) – Loved it!
Film 8 – Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) – TOP FIVE
Film 9 – Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010) – Okay.
Film 10 – All-Star Superman (2011) – Great adaptation!
Film 11 – Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011) Good. Another collection of short stories featuring selected members of the Green Lantern Corps, released at the time of Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern film.
Film 12 – Batman: Year One (2011) – TOP FIVE!
Film 13 – Justice League: Doom (2012) – TOP FIVE!
Film 14 – Superman vs. The Elite (2012) – Not my fave.
Film 15 – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part One (2012) – AMAZE-BALLS!!
Film 16 – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part Two (2013) – GREAT!
Film 17 – Superman: Unbound (2013) – Okay. More interesting to watch immediately after Apocalyse since this takes place after that story.
And this just in...
As I was putting the finishing touches on this blog, Newsarama posted a tweet from Warner Bros. today confirming that the next DCU Animated movie will indeed take place in DC's New 52 universe. Justice League: War will adapt one of the first New 52 stories, Justice League: Origin, collecting the first six issues of the N52 title and describing how these seven heroes first met and how the Justice League ultimately came to be.
On the one hand, it's about time! N52 debuted almost two years ago, so it makes perfect sense to finally have the heroes' comic book looks and back stories finally align with this popular animated film series. On the other hand, I hated this story! It was mainly the personalities carved out by writer Geoff Johns that disappointed me, and how conflicts between them just felt more contrived for conflict's sake. I was also reading the solo books for The Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Batman and Superman as this story was unfolding, and because of the different writers across the books, I also became distracted when many of the heroes' personalities weren't consistent from the solo book to the Justice League book.
So it wasn't a great read for me. But what can I do? I guess just continue to hope that Best Buy goes on including figurines with each new N52 movie so my collection continues to grow. Because as I said, I'm a DC guy. I'm still gonna watch these movies!
Here's the trailer for the new movie, which goes on sale in exactly two weeks.
It's been known since last October that an "Ultimate" collection of The Dark Knight Trilogy of films would debut in a brand new Blu-ray collection this coming fall. But what would it include? Yesterday, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment issued a press release to spell it out, and you can read in full over at SuperHeroHype.com. I'll be breaking down the parts of it that are most important to me here in this blog.
As a life-long Batman fan and a big fan of Christopher Nolan and David Goyer's most fanboy-fulfilling depiction of the comic book origins of The Batman ever put on film, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing what Warner Bros. would cook up for an Ultimate Collector's Edition set for these films. After reading through the press release, I'm surprised to find I'm not all that excited about what's inside.
"And why do we fall...?"
There are two basic criticisms I have against this set. One has to do with the new content, the other with the set as a whole.
Regarding the content, I am one of those guys that love going through bonus features. Getting excited learning the minutia of how movies are made started for me when I was a kid reading books about the making of the original Star Trek series and devouring magazines I'd find like Starlog, Famous Monsters and Cinefex which featured articles and photos about such things and satiated my need to know "How did they do that?" way back in those newsprint-and-ink dark ages before the Internet.
In this UCE comes one new Blu-ray Disc carrying the exclusive bonus material.
NEW Special Features:
The Nolan and Donner conversation sounds interesting, but I'm curious to find out what the running time of that conversation is. I hope it's around an hour. The Fire Rises features doesn't sound very appealing to me. Maybe it's just the way it's written, because I certainly am not impressed to hear so many talking heads talk about a film they weren't involved in the making of!
As for the IMAX Sequences, that just points out the fact that the original The Dark Knight Rises Blu-ray Disc apparently (I haven't watched my copy of it yet) shows those scenes reduced in widescreen format to match the rest of the film rather than leaving them in their original, taller IMAX format as was done for The Dark Knight Blu-ray Disc release and was awesome to watch!
So to re-buy or "double-dip", as we Blu-ray and DVD collectors say when we choose to buy a movie again and again just to own the newer release, on this trilogy for the one bonus disk isn't quite as enticing as I'd hoped.
"The Tumbler? Oh, you wouldn't be interested in that."
But of course, there's more inside the UCE. Ignoring the five discs of the original trilogy set which I already own (for gratis! See photo above), also included are some exclusive swag.
Exclusive NEW Memorabilia:
Now I love stuff. Anyone who's ever been to my place can clearly see I love stuff. Cool stuff, like starships and animated wall art and action figures. So getting a box with more stuff included with my Blu-rays is a pretty easy sell to a guy like me. But alas, I already have UCE sets of other movies amongst my stuff, and that just means I'm gonna end up comparing what's inside The Dark Knight Trilogy UCE to these ones I own, ones that Warner Bros. themselves put out. And it's pretty clear to me that Warner Bros. didn't go all out like they have done with these other sets.
Below are publicity shots of five UCE sets that Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have previously released. I own them all. Click each one to blow them up and see what all's included with each one besides the Blu-ray Discs.
Previous Warner Bros. Home Entertainment UCE Sets
By my eyes, in every case shown, everything included, whether book or watch or replica vehicle or replica totem or facsimile document, were unique and exclusive to the set.
Not exactly so with The Dark Knight Trilogy UCE as they're including three Hot Wheels replicas of vehicles from the films. Three previously available Hot Wheels toys. This picture here on the left? That's my Tumbler and Bat-Pod that I already own sitting next to my Dark Knight Blu-ray and CD collection, the same ones that are included in the set. And that again makes me less excited to double-dip on getting the exact same toys I already have (altho' I guess I could just give the extras away to a deserving kid).
"Bats frighten me. It's time my enemies shared my dread."
If the UCE had to include a replica, I'd've chosen one of those ninja star-like Batarangs from the movies. The symbol was a prevalent image in every one of the Dark Knight movie posters, and it's also plastered big and bold here on the face of the UCE box. So that makes it seem obvious that that should be what's inside, at least to me. Of course, it might've also been re-purposing an existing, previously available Batarang like any of the ones on the left below from DC Direct or the one on the right from The Noble Collection. Or maybe they did consider it and thought the pointy ends were a safety hazard to stay away from.
Another suggestion I'd offer also comes from another pre-existing Dark Knight toy. MATTEL produced an exclusive action figure set to sell at last year's Comic-Con. As you can see in the video below, the packaging inside riffs on the room in the movie with the piano in Wayne Manor that hides the elevator used to descent to the Batcave. There's a hidden button behind the photo of the piano. Press the keyboard area and a sound chip plays audio of the three-note trigger heard in Batman Begins. Then, when you open the inner door, it reveals his Batsuit inside the Batcave which gets lit up while bats are heard flying and chirping throughout. I own one and IT IS COOL! And I think it would've been kinda neat to have that three-note trigger be heard as one lifted the lid to this The Dark Knight Trilogy UCE set box.
If they chose not to include any figural replicas, they could've still carried on with the Batarang motif by including some inexpensive overlay like vellum or acetate sheet with the Batarang symbol across it as a light cover over the rest of the contents inside the box. The Blade Runner Briefcase set has such an inner cover that you first see when you open the case and then have to lift up in order to access the goodies underneath it. Or include an inner cover with a diecut hole in the shape of the Batarang. Or better yet, maybe that book that holds the discs could've been shaped like a folded Batarang, so you get to open it up and form a larger, fully-shaped Dark Knight symbol.
"Didn't you get the memo?"
And as cheap as these things go, I enjoyed see all the printed facsimiles of call sheets, movie programs, letters, telegrams, production drawings or press releases that were included in the previous UCEs. While some were more interesting than others, these inexpensive paper props helped to put you in the context of the times and events happening when the films were made. By comparison, The Dark Knight Trilogy UCE gets five Mondo art cards and a book on top of the Hot Wheels toys. It's just my preference, but I think there might've been something else from the production of the films provided here that could've been more appealing to me than art cards, like production schedules or audition sides or marked up shooting script pages or pieces of the Batman cape. That last notion is a novelty that trading card companies have embraced often, embedding a small swatch of material used to make the actual costumes and uniforms into a trading card. Something like that's a little more interesting and uniquely "ultimate" to me than oversized postcards I'll never use or frame.
So will I get this or not? That's the $99.99 suggested retail price question, Batfans. Amazon will likely offer it for $69.99 right off the bat (pun intended). And then come Black Friday and the holidays, the price will get some further nursing to get fans to add it to their Christmas shopping lists. Right now though, I don't have a hell of a lot of enthusiasm to buy it for myself. And that makes me kinda sad.
But that doesn't mean I wouldn't want to get it as a Christmas present!
According to court testimony, the character "Superman" made his first appearance in comic books on April 18, 1938. It happened to be in the first issue of a title called Action Comics, a new anthology book containing several short stories about action heroes with Superman featured on the cover and in the opening story.
Also debuting in that issue were the characters of "Clark Kent", Superman's alter ego, and "Lois Lane", both reporters working for a big-city newspaper called the Daily Star. The Daily Planet, editor-in-chief Perry White, photographer Jimmy Olson, arch villain Lex Luthor, even the name of the planet "Krypton" would not appear until later, added to the Superman mythos as his popularly grew, expanding into his own featured title Superman a year later and then beyond the printed page into other entertainment media: the Fleisher Brothers' animated shorts, a radio series, the Kirk Alyn movie serials and the George Reeves television series.
So, today officially marks Superman and Lois Lane's 75th birthdays.
Happy Birthday, you two!
Perhaps not coincidentally, this week also marked the debut of the third and final official trailer of Superman's latest appearance on the big screen. This new trailer for "Man of Steel" runs three minutes long and features several new scenes including the debut of cinema's newest take on the world of Krypton and the major villain of the film, General Zod as played by Michael Shannon.
And like the trailers before it, it continues to reveal a more grounded, intimate tone to Superman's character. While we certainly get the point that there will be lots of action in the film, we find that the the man who would become Superman has been growing up as a man who fears what mankind will think of him, a boy who is told he isn't even from this planet and at first doesn't realize how he fits in to this world.
All he wants is to be his father's son.
As a result of that scene revealed in the new trailer, featuring Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, much discussion among comic book geeks around the Internet this week has been about the film's screenwriter David Goyer (Blade, the Dark Knight trilogy) and a scene from a comic book story first published in 2009. Superman: Secret Origin was written by Geoff Johns, a superstar writer who's success crafting stories with heart and action for characters such as Green Lantern, Flash and Superman among others has garnered him a huge fan following, and drawn by Gary Frank, whose model for illustrating Superman in this story was obviously inspired by an actor who inspired generations not only for his portrayal of the hero fighting for truth, justice and the American Way but for his courage in his personal life.
The next year, the six issues of Superman: Secret Origin were collected and released as a trade paperback, and Goyer wrote the foreward for it. What fans of the new movie trailer are keying in on are these words from that foreward.
There is a heart breaking moment halfway through the first chapter in which young Clark is told the truth about his heritage. He races out into the night, sobbing, stumbling through the cornfields. Eventually, his foster father, Jonathan, finds him.
He goes on to say:
As I write this, I am midway through my first draft of a new Superman screenplay. It’s a task that has stymied many talented fimmakers in the years since Donner’s film. And for all I know, it will end up stymying me as well.
And the following pages from the first issue of Secret Origin are also being circulated with acknowledgments to Goyer's quote.
I love sharing this because it's given me an ideal opportunity to share with folks who may not read them or who even regard comic books with little significance of the quality, artistry and heart that this medium, occasionally loftily referred to as "sequential art", is capable of.
I think it's awesome and among the reasons why I continue to read comic books enthusiastically every week that new issues come out. It's not everyone's cup of joe, but it is mine.
And, just like he successfully did writing the screenplays for the Dark Knight trilogy, it looks like with "Man of Steel", which opens June 16, Goyer found inspiration from some of the best comic books out there to read.
To all my clients, friends and family, thanks for a great 2012.
Representing many of the movies I went out to see this year are - going clockwise from the lower left - an Engineer from "Prometheus", Merida from "Brave", the Amazing Spider-Man, James Bond from "Skyfall", Tinker Bell from "Secret of the Wings", Captain America from "The Avengers", Kitniss from "The Hunger Games", Batman and Catwoman from "The Dark Knight Rises", Barnabas Collins from "Dark Shadows" and Ted. Thanks too to Normal Rockwell.
Last month, I entered a contest sponsored by SuperHeroHype for a chance to win a ticket to the West Coast premiere screening of the latest DC Universe animated film, The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1. Last week, an email arrived in my in-box, from one "Alfred Pennyworth". it said:
Warner Home Video, MTV Geek and The Paley Center for Media proudly present the World Premiere of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, the highly anticipated next entry in the ongoing series of DC Universe Animated Original PG-13 Movies.
Congratulations! You have been approved for one ticket to attend the West Coast premiere on Monday, September 24 at the Paley Center for Media (465 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills).
Now to be candid, I wasn't really too hopped up on this movie. I'm a huge Batman fan, and this was an adaptation of a highly-praised graphic novel that I read as each of its four issues were first published. It's influenced Batman stories written since its 1986 debut and Batman films from Batman in 1989 to this past summer's The Dark Knight Rises.
I've never been to the Paley Center, but I have seen Q&A panels that have been held there for the TV shows Glee and Castle. I assumed it would be in the same screening room. My email from "Alfred" said to arrive no later than 5:45 p.m. I got there by 5:30 p.m. There was a line outside, but I soon learned a good portion of the line included Media who were allowed in twenty minutes before us. We finally got in after 6:00 p.m. Off to the side was a glass-walled room where we could see all of the Media grouped, assuming waiting for their individual chances to interview the evening's VIPs: voice actors Peter Weller (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Ariel Winter (Robin/Carrie), and Peter Selby (Commissioner Gordon), director Jay Oliva, writer Bob Goodman, voice casting director Andrea Romano, and producer Bruce Timm.
I left briefly to move my car from one parking lot to the one across the street. The first structure I found charged nothing for the first two hours and then $3.00 each 1/2 hour afterwards. But both lots I found offered a flat rate of $5 if you enter after 6p. Since the one across the street closed at midnight, not 9pm like the first, it was well worth the car re-parking drama. (And the event didn't end until 9:45p!)
I entered the screening room and was surprised at how small it was. Looked so much larger in the Q&As I'd previously seen. It had about 120 seats. The two front rows were reserved as were much of the back four rows. Estimating there were only about 40 or 50 of us in line out, I realized just how lucky I was when I won my free ticket!
There was one brief announcement just after 7pm when the screening was scheduled to start to let us know that they were just finishing up with the Media portion and would begin running the movie soon. A marketing rep from Warner Bros. finally greeted us and acknowledged some folks from the Paley Center before the screening started. The lights were lowered and a short promo for the Paley Center played as the panel VIPs snuck in to take their seats in the front rows.
The movie was amazingly great! The pacing, tone, voice casting, sound design, musical underscore and animation were all perfect! And I laughed out loud with the rest of the audience a lot through the movie. Most times they were with the movie. But there were a few, rare moments when the details in the original novel didn't play as well in a movie. The big, hulking Batman running effortless across a wire between buildings being one of those scenes. But the fight scenes were bone-crushing and well choreographed. There's a lot of firepower in the story, Batman battling a mob army armed with all sorts of military weaponry - automatic machine guns, grenades, bazookas - and seeing it acted and sounded out was incredible! And there was a moment when I teared up. I grew up watching Batman and Robin and reading about their adventures together. When Batman is introduced to his new Robin after a dicey battle that went wrong, I don't deny I got really choked up!
As the credits rolled at the end, the sound was dialed down, the curtains were drawn closed and the lights came up. It was at this time that the VIPs were introduced as they took their seats at the front of the screening room for the panel discussion. And we were all allowed to take pictures, just without using any flash.
Some of the things revealed:
• The lines in the second scene between Peter Weller and David Selby were taken about a month apart. But viewing the film, you'd never have guessed that.
• I did not know Peter Weller was a professor. He has a Masters in Renaissance Art and considers comic books an American art form. He said he grew up reading Batman comic books and was happy that he got the chance to add to Bob Kane's legacy.
• I did not know that David Selby was in the original Dark Shadows series.
• I did not know that Ariel Winter is some famous sitcom star. But since I don't watch Modern Family and missed watching the Emmys over the weekend, I can be forgiven. :) I also thought she was darn cute, but then later found out she's 14.
• Peter Weller praised the film score and complimented the composer personally when he was told that the composer, Christopher Drake, was in the audience. He told us the music was inspired by the types of scores that came out when The Dark Knight Returns was first published in the late 80's. So it was done analog, including having to locate old, out-dated synthesizers to use on the recordings.
• Bruce Timm told us the voice actor cast to play the Son of the Batman,Yuri Lowenthal, brought him a photo of himself to show to Timm. It was from 1986 of Lowenthal dressed up for Halloween as a Son of the Batman, straight from the graphic novel.
• Of the voice cast there, Peter Weller was the most vocal and enthusiastic about how great the film was.
• One surprise visual gag in the movie is discovering a bookshelf in a shop with familiar DC Comics titles for sale on it. Director Oliva was asked about that and he said it was his idea, because that's how he remembered comic books displayed when he started reading them. He emailed his staff for suggestions of DC titles to show there from the late 1980's, and DC came back to him with clearances on the ones he could use.
• The cast have already done their recordings for The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2.
• Bruce Timm and the DC Marketing guy who hosted the panel strongly hinted that a release combining Parts 1 and 2 together is in motion. They said to watch for their 2013-2014 release slate to be announced during the New York Comic Con in October.
• Peter Weller is friends with Frank Miller. Asked for what he thought Miller would say about the movie, Weller basically said Miller would just be pleased we were talking about him.
• Bruce Timm said it wasn't very easy to come up with the final character design style for this movie. Studying the original graphic novel, they found that Miller had drawn Batman differently throughout the whole novel. But they did notice that when in combat, Batman was drawn leaner than when he's standing still and can made to appear like a giant of a man.
We were told that anyone asking good questions would received a gift. Damn if I didn't raise my hand every time. But I just didn't get picked. Looked like winning questioners received either an autographed The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 poster or an autographed Blu-ray of the movie. Here are the rest of my photos from the evening. Can't wait for "early 2013" to come around to see Part 2.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!