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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Does the "Ultimate Cut" make BATMAN v SUPERMAN a better film?

Last night, I took in the Ultimate Cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the 3 hour long R-Rated version of Zack Snyder’s superhero slugfest.
A few years back, Snyder had released a Director’s Cut, and later an “Ultimate Cut” of Watchmen. The former had drastically improved that film, while the latter harbored too much bloat. Regardless, these were both attempts to expand on a decent, if not spectacular theatrical cut. With Batman v Superman, the starting is a point was a theatrical experience that I did not hold a terribly positive view of. While I did not go in expecting the movie to magically become great simply through the restoration of 30 minutes of material, I wanted to get a better sense of what Snyder’s *vision* entailed in full. While this is one of those movies that I do not particularly like, I’m still fascinated by the process of making it and its ramshackle, almost unconventional nature.
So, the big question, does it improve the movie? That depends on what you found to be the biggest flaws of the theatrical cut. Bottom-line, it remains a fairly joyless slog, but this time it’s just longer. If Batman’s somewhat psychotic and thug-like nature does not sit well with you, nor does a Superman that looks pained by the idea of helping humanity, you’ll remain on the outside-looking in the entire time.
On the other hand, if the theatrical cuts logical holes were the stumbling blocks for you, then you may find that this new cut is just what you were looking for. The Ultimate version of the movie basically restores 50% or more of Superman’s arc in the movie. We get an opportunity to see Clark investigate, like an actual journalist, multiple times. Cavill himself isn’t much of an actor, but it’s nice to see him get to actually do something Clark Kent-like, particularly when he attempts to learn more about the Nairomi villager that testified against him at the initial congressional hearing.
With more Clark, comes more Lois as well, and she too gets in on the investigative piece. Here we get a lot more time with Lois and the bullet that was errantly fired into her notebook, including working with a scientist (played by Jena Malone – after ALL that speculation about who she might play) to determine its origin. In the theatrical cut, this was an utter stray end, but here its a much stronger subplot, with Lois initially suspecting the government of funding rebels. This in turn leads to Lois delving further into this mystery, and in the process coming across as far more capable, and less the damsel in distress that the original running time made her out to be.
The other major addition, is just how involved Lex’s master plan was. You knew from the initial iteration of the film that Lex was obviously pulling all the strings, but it seemed like it took very little to push both Batman and Superman into full-blown combat. With the expanded footage, we get a better sense of what lengths Lex has gone to in order to set these two titans at odds, from burning dead bodies to frame Superman, to paying prisoners to kill one another with the bat-brand, to being intimately involved with the testimony given at the hearing. All of this, in turn, helps beef-up the storylines given to Clark and Lois, and even poor Senator Finch, who, in her final moments, looks far less accusatory of Superman and instead is fully aware of the wool Lex has pulled over her eyes. In addition, the “Steppenwolf/Communion” scene has also been restored, so Lex’s increased madness/knowledge of both Batman and Superman’s identity can be attributed to what looks to have been an on-going interaction with the Fourth World. Lastly, Lex’s final destination subtly ties into Suicide Squad, and may provide some lead-in to that film, provided he still appears in that in just a little over a month.
As for the R-rated material, it’s a bloodier film, particularly in the Nairobi scene (and yes, it’s confirmed on screen that poor old Jimmy Olsen meets his end there) and the Batman fights the thugs in the warehouse sequence. Additionally, there’s at least one f-bomb thrown by Scoot McNairy’s Wallace Keefe, and we get a shot of Ben Affleck’s butt in the shower. While it’s not quite Watchmen level in its violence or sexual content, it’s definitely enough to get that R-rating. Also, Clark takes his shirt off when he hops into the bathtub with Lois, which ever so slight improves that bit just a tad.
There are multiple smaller additions that aren’t really worth noting, but the keen-eyed viewer may appreciate them. The truth is, this 3 hour cut felt very long, and the fact that we had to stop the movie in the middle to discuss just why Batman is at odds with Superman and vice-versa, tells you just how much plot has been crammed into this movie and the multiple pieces of groundwork it’s trying to lay down. No amount of new footage will really fix the issues with a core concept that just feels untenable, and the Doomsday finale remains pretty awful. In the end, the Ultimate Cut improves the movie’s in-story logic, but in terms of actual quality, it just makes a not particularly good film longer.
Still, I continue to be fascinated by this one in a way I rarely am with any other superhero film, and that’s gotta count for something.
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Monday, June 27, 2016

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 132

 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #2
by Tyler Boss

The 80's video game case feel here is chock full of authentic nostalgia goodness. Great color design too!
 Dark Knight III: The Master Race #5
by Karl Kerschl

I thought I was really sick of these Dark Knight Returns themed variants, but damn if Kerschl didn't find a unique perspective that really captures the essence of that book and Carrie Kelly. Love it!
 Judge Dredd #7
by Ulises Farinas

IDW made a smart choice in utilizing Farinas all over the place–his conceptual and design talents are through the roof. This one is a simple idea, but is rich with depth on closer inspection.
 Lobster Johnson: Metal Monsters of Midtown #2
by Tonci Zonjic

Zonjic captures the retro tech feel that the Hellboy universe is rich with; the weird scuba design and foggy background tech make for a very fun, moody cover.
 The Rocketeer at War #4
by Dave Bullock

Nobody pulls off WWII era action pinups the way Bullock can. This one is so ultra crisp and perfectly captures a sense of speed and distance that few others can muster.
 Spider-Gwen Annual #1
by Robbi Rodriguez

The character-within-their-silhouette thing is beginning to be played out, but Rodriguez uses it in an interesting way with subtle softness on the inside that makes the character sit outside of it all. Well done!
 Starve #10
by Danijel Zezelj

I love when a cover has the ability to surprise me with something new each time I look at it, and Zezelj has done exactly that with this densely designed and stylish cover.
 Transformers VS GI Joe #13
by Tom Scioli

You don't get much more fun than a classic face-off style cover, especially when Scioli is at the helm. Lots to love here!
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #9
by Erica Henderson

Cross-sections fall under the same category of super-fun that Scioli's cover above does. Henderson does a phenomenal job telling a fun, action-oriented story with just a few slices here, and with eye-catching color as well!

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Thursday, June 23, 2016

DC Rebirth: A (Somewhat) Outsider's Perspective - Week Four

Welcome everyone to Week Four of DC Rebirth!  If this is your first time here, this is a series of articles I will be doing to track how DC Rebirth is shaping up for the uninitiated to the DCU.  As someone who came to DC with the New 52, I know how the idea of DC relaunching can be exciting and intimidating at the same time if you've never regularly read stories with some of these characters.  If that sounds like you, then I hope these articles can be of service.

Week Four saw our lowest number of titles - just three #1's.  So let's see how those shaped up....

Aquaman #1

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Brad Walker

Premise: Aquaman works to bridge the gap between the worlds of land and sea, but Black Manta has other ideas.

New Reader Friendliness: After Superman proved that the Rebirth issue is not an indicator of the series's quality, I was willing to give Aquaman a second chance after the horribly boring Rebirth issue.  Overall, if you're a new reader and picked up the Rebirth issue and this, you'll be just fine.  Even if you start with this issue, you probably won't have too hard of a time understanding this.  While characters like Mera and Black Manta may be unfamiliar to new readers, their motivations are clear enough in this issue to make this pretty easy to follow.  Brad Walker's art is mostly good here and this is certainly a better start for Aquaman.

Verdict: May pick up in trade

The Flash #1

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico

Premise: The Flash finds himself constantly too late, which causes problems when two emergencies rise at the same time.

New Reader Friendliness: If you're unfamiliar with the work of Joshua Williamson, I'd highly recommend his Image stuff (Ghosted, Nailbiter, Birthright).  The guy knows his way around a story and it is paying off in spades with The Flash.  Even if you didn't pick up the excellent Rebirth issue, this #1 is still a great place to start.  I imagine a lot of new readers who pick this up will be fans of the Flash TV show.  STAR Labs and even Jitters play a role in this issue, which is a nice way to ease in that set of readers.  Overall this is a great start for someone looking to get into The Flash or DC Comics in general.  The panels moving in the direction Barry is running is a nice touch.

Verdict: Already on my pull list and staying there

Wonder Woman #1

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Liam Sharp

Premise: Wonder Woman searches for answers as Steve Trevor deals with problems of his own.

New Reader Friendliness: Wonder Woman has been one of DC's most underrated titles for the past 5 years, and, fortunately, it continues to be that here.  This is a pretty easy story to follow for new readers, even if you are unfamiliar with Steve Trevor or Etta Candy.  That being said, I can't say that this would be one of the first books I recommended to someone fresh to the DCU.  It is a fantastic debut issue and Liam Sharp provides perhaps the best artwork of Rebirth so far.  All this doesn't stop the fact that the comic is a little too weighed down with continuity for brand new readers to appreciate everything.  If you're interested, though, this is more than worth the $3.

Verdict: Already on my pull list and staying there

That's all for this week!  If you missed any of the previous recaps, you can check them out by clicking the links below.

Week One
Week Two
Week Three

As June is a month with five Wednesdays, next week will be pretty light in comics.  In fact, there are no new DC Rebirth issues coming next week, so use this time to catch up on anything you've missed out on!  See you in July!

Week Four
Most New Reader Friendly: The Flash #1
Best Overall: Wonder Woman #1

Week Three 
Most New Reader Friendly: Green Arrow #1, Batman #1, Superman #1 
Best Overall: Green Arrow #1 

Week Two 
Most New Reader Friendly: Aquaman Rebirth, Wonder Woman Rebirth, The Flash Rebirth Best Overall: Action Comics #957, Wonder Woman Rebirth 

Week One 
Most New Reader Friendly: Green Arrow Rebirth, Superman Rebirth 
Best Overall: Batman Rebirth 

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A bunch of sites went on JUSTICE LEAGUE set visits, here's what they learned

A whole slew of Justice League related materials just hit the various movie outlets, and there's a number of places I could link to, but I particularly like Devin Faraci's write-up of the whole experience (from a perspective not totally off-set from my own).

First things first, there's an official synopsis out now:
Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.  Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat.  But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes—Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash—it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions. 
Directed by Zack Snyder, this marks the big screen debut of the Justice League, featuring an all-star lineup: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher.
Other than Affleck and maybe Cavill, we're stretching the definition of star here perhaps, but it's nice to get a sense of where this is going.

According to all sources, the big McGuffins of the film will be a trio of motherboxes, with each belonging to ancient man, the Amazonians, and Atlantis respectively. Steppenwolf and his army of parademons will be hunting these items and the Justice League will be the only thing standing in their way.

Speaking of Atlantis, those of us wondering who Willem Dafoe is playing...it's Vulko, advisor to Aquaman.

No shock here, but Ben Affleck also confirmed the long-standing reports that he'll be directing the next Batman solo film:
AFFLECK: Why I’m an executive producer is that I’m directing one of the movies. So there’s sort of this cross pollination of story and characters and I don’t want to give any of that stuff away, but it basically means that there are some things that might happen in my Batman that are affected by I mean, here we are in the police station in Gotham city. There’s a potential that something like this might exist in that story. So it’s a creative way that DC came up with of kind of being a filmmaker-driven company and entity and also making sure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing and so that there’s collaboration and supervision. So that somebody doesn’t go sailing off, causing problems for your movie with their movie. You know, in a way, it’s also a kind of a courtesy. You know what they’re doing, one hand knows what the other is doing, and I get to weigh in on stuff that impacts the Batman stuff.
Batman is also getting some new tech with snazzy names like "The Knightcrawler" and "The Flying Fox" and few different suits for the film. Whereas the (very red) Flash costume is also a piece of Waynetech and apparently contains 148 different pieces (!). On the other-hand, Cyborg's suit will be all-CGI, and again as rumored, Cyborg and Flash will be the kind of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle of this team. Multiple outlets are confirming that Ezra Miller's Barry Allen will also be the comedic relief of the film. Given the grim proceedings of Batman v Superman, this is welcome news.

Both Deborah Snyder and Zack Snyder were interviewed, and I'm particularly happy with the former's take on things:
If each film is a learning experience, what do you think is the main thing you learned from BvS you used here?
Deborah Snyder: I think the main thing we learned is that people don’t like to see their heroes deconstructed. I think that’s hard because it’s people we’ve grown up with and that we care about. They like seeing them in all their glory. 
So who do you guys see as the target audience for these films because one of the things I think was interesting with BvS was seeing a lot of parents discovering that in the case of their younger kids, it was a little darker than they were ready for. That maybe 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds maybe weren’t the target audience for a Superman movie, which they weren’t expecting. So isJustice League more inclusive for that crowd? 
D. Snyder: Justice League is much more inclusive. I think also it’s all about the characters too. And we have these two very young characters, Flash and Cyborg. And you know, they’re definitely lighter. I think they’re going to appeal to a younger audience. I think the darkest where we'll be is where we've been.
And Zack Snyder added in his bit, where he reveals just how surprised he was by the reaction to Batman v Superman:
“You know, when Batman Superman first came out, I was like, 'Wow, okay, woof.' It did catch me off-guard. I kind of felt like - and I have had to, in my mind, make an adjustment, and maybe it is my hardcore take on characters as far as I love 'em, and I love the material. I do, I take it really deep. So I think the nice thing about working on Justice League is that it is an opportunity to really blow the doors off of the scale and the bad guys and team-building and all the stuff that I think I could justify as a big, modern comic book movie, if that makes any sense.”
Do peruse the above-link or any of the detailed reports that went up this morning. There's lots of great insight, and interviews with key cast, even scene descriptions. Maybe just maybe there's a chance for optimism regarding the potential for course correction, I sure hope so!
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Monday, June 20, 2016

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 131

 Red Sonja #6
by Marguerite Sauvage

This has the air of a classic fantasy illustration, and this novel cover approach is aided by the simple line border that adds a great amount of depth.
 Scarlet Witch #7
by June Brigman

I love the unique look and texture that this cover exudes, and the way it uses classic comics to add to that texture.
 Divinity II #3
by Andrew Pepoy

An unconventional choice to use the wonderful Archie style art of Pepoy on such a dramatic series, but it pays off–the contrast works very nicely and is fun as hell!
 Dept. H #3
by Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt

The Kindts create something that is minimalistic and depressing, and does a nice job creating a disorienting sense of weight that nails the tone of the series.
 Cry Havoc #6
by Sean Phillips

I like that they've stuck with the central numeric concept for the b-covers on Cry Havok, and Phillips does something especially interesting with the idea.
 Black Road #3
by Garry Brown

The color palette and cartooning are eye-catching and really set a cold, frightening tone for this book.
Bitch Planet #8
by Valentine De Landro

These propaganda poster covers are always pretty excellent, but I absolutely love the idea and execution here, just perfect!

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

DC Rebirth: A (Somewhat) Outsider's Perspective - Week Three

Hello everyone, and welcome to Week Three of DC Rebirth, the new initiative to return DC to some of its old continuity, piece by piece!  If this is your first time with this type of article, let me clue you in:  I began reading DC on a monthly basis with the New 52 back in 2011.  When Rebirth was announced, I was unsure how it would be for newer DCU fans such as myself, so I decided to look at each of the new series to see what was best for people picking up DC for the first time with Rebirth.  Looking around the Internet, I've seen that some people started wanting to read DC after Batman v Superman, so hopefully this series of articles will help you figure out what series will be the most comfortable reads for you.

This week was a bit different in that most of the #1's already had their Rebirth special (think a zero issue).  Although we did come away with one new Rebirth special in the form of Titans Rebirth, which sees the pre-New 52 Teen Titans reunited, including Wally West.  Despite already covering their Rebirth issues, I feel like it's worth diving into the new #1's as many comic readers are apt to start there instead.

So, without further ado, let's see what Week Three brought us in Rebirth!

Batman #1

Written by Tom King
Art by David Finch

Premise: Batman must find a way to stop a jet from crashing into Gotham City.

New Reader Friendliness: The Rebirth issue of this comic, while certainly enjoyable, was not exactly the best read for someone who may have wanted to try Batman comics for the first time.  Fortunately, this comic is a much better entry point for the new reader.  Tom King and David Finch tell a thrilling one-and-done Batman tale that sets up the story to come in the final pages.  What is perhaps most enjoyable about this take compared to Scott Snyder's is this Batman makes a huge effort to save lives as opposed to being dark and brooding from the shadows.

Verdict: Staying on the pull list

Green Arrow #1

Written by Benjamin Percy
Art by Otto Schmidt

Premise: Green Arrow and Black Canary's quest to stop the Underground Men leads them to Queen Industries.

New Reader Friendliness: It's hard to get more new reader friendly than this.  As I said last week, this is my first time regularly buying a Green Arrow comic (I also do not watch Arrow), so I have come to this comic with completely fresh eyes.  Even though this issue is a continuation from Green Arrow Rebirth, I still found it to be just as great an entry point for new readers.  I'm continuously amazed at how great this comic is.  Ben Percy is doing great work and Otto Schmidt is providing perhaps the best artwork of DC Rebirth thus far.  If you are someone wanting to get into DC Comics regularly for the first time, you cannot find a better start than Green Arrow

Verdict: Going on the pull list

Green Lanterns #1

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Robson Rocha

Premise: Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz face their first real challenge as the Red Lanterns prepare to come to Earth.

New Reader Friendliness: Green Lantern is a very tough universe to jump into as a new reader (trust me, I was right there 5 years ago).  Much like the X-men over at Marvel, Green Lantern today comes with a set of a few essential stories you have to have either read or be acutely aware of to understand a given issue.  This isn't a bad issue (Red Lanterns being pretty boring, aside), and Sam Humphries tries his best to give a few openings for new readers in this issue.  That being said, I don't think I could recommend this for someone wanting to jump into Green Lantern.  If this interests you, go ahead and pick it up, but be warned that reading this side of the DCU comes with a steep learning curve.

Verdict: Going on the pull list.

Superman #1

Written by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
Art by Patrick Gleason

Premise: Jonathan, the son of Superman, begins learning to deal with his powers.

New Reader Friendliness: After an overall pretty terrible Rebirth issue, Superman #1 provides more of the kind of Superman story one looks for (much like last week's Action Comics).  As for how this is for fresh eyes, I feel it's a pretty easy story to follow.  Thanks to Gleason's terrific art, you'll fall in love with Jonathan pretty quickly.  While the story isn't hard to follow, new readers may have some questions about how there is a dead Superman and also this Superman, who is married to Lois Lane.  I can't say these things will be explained without going back to at least Convergence, but those questions shouldn't keep you from enjoying this issue.

Verdict: Going on the pull list

Titans Rebirth #1

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Brett Booth

Premise: Wally West reunites with his old friends from the original Teen Titans.

New Reader Friendliness: Of all the Rebirth issues thus far (except for Flash), this is perhaps the most direct sequel to DC Rebirth #1.  With that in mind, I think that makes this a pretty easy jumping on point for new readers.  If you're brand new to DC and picked up the Rebirth special and found yourself curious about Wally West, this is the next place to go.  While I think most of the characters will be unfamiliar to people new to the DCU, they are introduced well enough in here for the story to function.  I can't speak for how this series will be for the uninitiated down the line, but, for now, it's not a bad route to take.

Verdict: In for the next issue.

That's Week Three.  If you missed my recaps of previous weeks, you can check them out by clicking the links below:

Week One
Week Two

See you back in a week for more DC Rebirth!  Let's take one last look at how Rebirth has gone so far....

Week Three
Most New Reader Friendly: Green Arrow #1, Batman #1, Superman #1
Best Overall: Green Arrow #1

Week Two
Most New Reader Friendly: Aquaman Rebirth, Wonder Woman Rebirth, The Flash Rebirth
Best Overall: Action Comics #957, Wonder Woman Rebirth

Week One
Most New Reader Friendly: Green Arrow Rebirth, Superman Rebirth
Best Overall: Batman Rebirth 

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The True Heart of FARGO

By Ron Purtee

I won’t lie to you good reader, I’m pretty new to the show. I spent the better part of the weekend buzzing through both seasons and enjoying what I felt was a Breaking Bad level of amazing television.

And while the show was driven by amazing performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Allison Tolman and the grossly underrated Colin Hanks, as well as compelling writing, set design, etc. Something really stuck out to me about the show. Where the heart of the show truly lied.

Now this is where I get into MASSIVE spoilers. So If you haven’t seen FARGO yet this is going to ruin a lot of people’s days.

Near the end of season 2 of Fargo, Betsy Solverson, played expertly by Cristin Millioti, succumbs to the effects of some drugs that she was given for her ever spreading cancer and she talks about a dream she has in a voice over as we watch things play out. We see the invention of supermarkets, and technology as a whole increasing but the part of her dream that really got to me was near the end. She dreamt of Lou and the family. They were all together (the cast from season 1) celebrating Gus and Molly’s son’s birthday. That’s when it hit me, and I’m not afraid to say that I had a tear come down my cheek.

You see, the true heart of this show is family. Plain and simple. Let me explain: during the year time jump of season 1, Molly and Gus get married, move into a house and Molly is very pregnant with their son. That’s when everything around them begins to fall apart. Lester runs into Lorne again and that brings him back into the fold.

When Lou finds out about this he has no reservations about going home, getting his shot gun and sitting outside of Molly and Gus’ house. He talks about protecting his granddaughter. In that year time, they became a family, and they don’t have the teenage angst of “She’s not my mother”. Lou sees Greta as his granddaughter. End of story. Molly is Greta’s mom now. And that family bond is what was at the core of this show.

So many times on television shows, and in real life, when someone who has been married before the family that they bring with them has serious reservations about the whole ordeal. Yet, even when Greta and Molly meets for the first time, there is a definite Mother/Daughter bond. I mean one of the first things Molly asks Greta is if she’s dating or not.

I don’t know if its because these are good hearted people with nothing but love to give, or if its just because they are from the upper Midwestern part of the US where everyone is nice to everyone, but it was something that was very touching to see. I think deep down its something that everyone wants. That family life where love is the order of the day, something so many of us are missing. A little love. That is where Fargo pushes forward while other shows falter.

Also, aren’t those Solverson’s amazing cops? 

Ron Purtee is a comedian, podcaster, and writer who has previously contributed to ShockTillYouDrop and GeekWeek. His podcast, The Ron Purtee Show can be found on iTunes and you can connect with him on twitter at @letsgetitron
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