Comic Book Review: Dark Knight III: The Master Race

Details: Started being released in 2015. Published by DC Comics. Written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello. Pencils by Andy Kubert. Nine issues in total.

After Frank Miller’s disastrous run on All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, I’d pretty much given up hope on Frank Miller and the Dark Knight series. Thankfully, Dark Knight III redeems Miller, or should I say that Miller does okay work when he’s supervised by a competent adult. Writing duties for this miniseries fall to Miller and Brian Azzarello. It’s likely Azzarello’s influence that made this series so readable. I’m sure Miller has plenty of good ideas, but like George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels, sometimes you need someone around who can say no to you and tell you when your ideas are stupid.

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Movie Review: Justice League Dark

Details: Released in 2017. About an hour and fifteen minutes long. Stars Matt Ryan, Camilla Luddington, Jason O’Mara.

Justice League Dark is the latest in DC Comics series of animated movies based on their comic books. In this movie, the Justice League discovers that something is causing common citizens to lose their minds and commit atrocities. After learning that the threat is magical in nature, Batman goes off to find magic users capable of combating this evil.

It’s a new story and will likely appeal to a few kinds of people. Firstly, if you were a fan of Batman: The Animated Series, then you may enjoy this. It’s not Kevin Conroy voicing Batman nor is the story of the quality of a Bruce Timm animated series, but it’s not bad and is the best quality DC Comics based animated movie out right now.

Secondly, if you were a fan of the short-lived Constantine television show that was canceled a while back, you’d be happy to know that the voice actor for John Constantine is none other than Matt Ryan. It’s a nice chance to see him relive the role again (I also saw him guest star on an episode of Arrow a while back, if you’re interested). Camilla Luddington also voices Zatanna if you’re a fan of hers.

Lastly, it’s a chance to see some of the more magical elements of the DC Comics universe make an appearance. If you’re a fan of Etrigan, Constantine, Zatanna, Boston Brand, Swamp Thing, and the Justice League, then this may be worth a watch for you.

Overall, it’s an okay story that was just short enough to keep my attention. If the above appoints interest you, then you may enjoy the movie. Otherwise, you probably should skip this film.

Score: 5/10

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight is the Best Game I’ve Played In Years

The caveat is that I have yet to play the Witcher 3. I’m playing that next. Some details: I played Batman: Arkham Knight for about fifty-six hours on the PC and the version I played was the Premium Edition, so I had all the downloadable content.

So I’m going to do a spoiler free write up first and I’ll write up some bullet points that may have spoilers after the score.

First and foremost, we have to talk about bugs and glitches. When Arkham Knight was released on PC last year, it was a disaster. The game had so many bugs and glitches that it was pretty much unplayable. So how does it play now, one year later? I am happy to say that while there are some bugs still in the game, it did not substantially affect my enjoyment of the game. For me, there were primarily two bugs: stuttering/frozen screen and sometimes the audio would cut out. And I have a GTX 1070, so I’m fairly sure it wasn’t the card. Anyways, while not the ideal scenario, the game was still playable and awesome.

Secondly, the visuals in this game are just amazing. When I started up the game, the first thing I noticed was just how awesome this game looked. This is not just because of detailed textures and graphics engine, but because of everything else. The art direction is just amazing. You can’t help but marvel at the detail that has been applied to this world. It’s clear when you drive through Gotham City’s streets that artists drew and designed every aspect of this city and the player’s experience benefits greatly from it. Furthermore, the animations are just fantastic. Most of the cut scenes are in-game because of how good everything looks and because of camera positioning and motion capture. This game just has a top notch presentation.

In regards to audio, the music is great. It’s not ground breaking, but it’s exactly the kind of dark, orchestral music you’d expect from a Batman story. If you’ve played any of the last three Arkham games, then you will be delighted to hear that familiar Batman theme play again.

Gameplay in this game can be broken down into a few parts. Firstly, there’s the polished, free flow combat system that originated in the Arkham series and was subsequently copied by many other games. At this point in time, the system just feels good and I think most returning fans expect this system to remain in the game, with some minor improvements. These minor improvements include the use of new gadgets during fights, the introduction of some new enemies, and the use of the environment to add variety to combat moves. There are a lot of challenge maps afterwards, and I played through some but not all of them. In my opinion, the main draw of playing some of these challenge maps is to see some locations that you would not see otherwise.

The second part of gameplay involves stealthily clearing a room of enemies. This is also a fan favorite and expected to return. Minor additions include the addition of new enemies that either restrict your use of abilities, enemies who revive fallen abilities, invisible enemies, drones, and those who must be taken out last lest the rest of the enemies be alerted. This game mode was already fun and the small additions are nice.

A minor addition that I enjoyed immensely was the inclusion of Batman’s allies (like Robin and Nightwing) in the combat and stealth portions. I felt like these were so fun that if Rocksteady explored this mechanic further, this could have been the cool, new thing in the place of the less fun Batmobile combat.

Third, there are puzzles. These usually involve gadgets , the Batmobile, and standing on platforms. I’m glad they included puzzles, but the puzzles along with Batmobile combat are the weakest parts of this game. Additionally, some of the Riddler puzzles are so elaborate they kind of break the fourth wall in that it would take years to construct something like this, much less underneath a city of skyscrapers.

The last and newest gameplay addition is the Batmobile. The Batmobile can be broken down into two parts: racing and combat. Racing is… racing. The only thing I will say about racing is that there are certain tracks outside the main game where you can race around in old Batmobiles (like Adam West’s Batmobile, Keaton’s Batmobile, or Bale’s Tumbler) around tracks that seem taken straight out of each Batmobile’s respective show. It’s a fun side activity where you get to hear the theme music from these old movies/shows. Except for Christian Bale’s Batman movies. I don’t think they got the music rights to use the theme from those movies. You get an imitation song instead on those tracks.

Batmobile combat is more complex and if you’ve read other reviews, Batmobile combat is the weakest aspect of this game. Unfortunately, I have to agree to an extent. I certainly don’t hate Batmobile combat. I still found it fun. It just wasn’t as fun as free flow combat or the stealth portions. Of note is that some Batmobile combat portions require stealth, which kind of contradicts the idea of driving this powerful, loud tank.

In regards to the story, it is mostly fantastic. I was worried when I heard Paul Dini did not work on this, but it was just fine without him. I’ll go into it more in the bullet points following the score.

A note about the DLC: I would not buy the downloadable content piecemeal, I would just buy the Premium Edition and get all the DLC at once. While most of the DLC is weak, the ones that are worth it to me are The Season of Infamy and Batgirl: A Matter of Family. The Season of Infamy is the better of the two.

Score: 9/10 Loved this game. There is no other game that makes you feel more like the Batman than this. There is no superhero game as good as this. It’s like playing an episode of the animated Batman cartoon or one of the movies. This was a great, narrative driven experience. Easily one of the best games I have ever played.

 

Now for some potentially spoiler filled bullet points:

  • The story for the most part is fantastic and does a great job pushing the player forward. The weakest part of the story was how predictable the identity of the Arkham Knight was and the ending. The ending wasn’t bad, it just didn’t have the impact that the ending of Arkham City had. Since this was the end of the Arkham trilogy, I was expecting more.
  • There are some twists in this story. The one that truly shocked me was the one involving Barbara Gordon. Unfortunately, this twist was predictably ruined by events later in the game.
  • I like that they included decisions in this game. Unfortunately, the only decision that mattered was the final choice in the Ra’s Al Ghul quest in The Seasons of Infamy DLC.
  • Once again, I must praise this game for how details oriented and visually pleasing it was. For example, Batman gets dosed with some fear gas and slowly starts hallucinating more and more Joker related stuff as the game progresses. Sometimes, you will turn away from a statue and when you turn back to look at it, it now has the Jokers face. Just little details like this add so much to the tone and immersion of this game.
  • I like the inclusion of the Joker hallucinations. I love Mark Hamill playing the Joker and I will take his performance any chance I get.
  • The side quests are some of the best parts of this game. A lot of the plot lines planted in prior Arkham games are resolved in the side quests. Some of them are kind of bare, but it’s nice to see these characters in the game. I was particularly surprised by the inclusion of some new enemies from the comic books that fans of the old, animated series would not be familiar with. Professor Pyg in particular was cool.
  • I hoped in my heart of hearts that the Arkham Knight was not who I thought it was. Unfortunately, it was exactly who I thought it was. This was a missed opportunity to introduce a new twist that could have blown players’ minds. Instead, we walk the same, well trodden path that other writers have taken us down before. This sucked.
  • I like how in the Arkham series, you generally get to keep all the gadgets you found in the prior Arkham games. It really helps maintain the narrative integrity of the game and maintain the immersion.
  • I was disappointed that Gotham City is mostly empty. According to the story, the city was evacuated because of the threat from Scarecrow. Which if fine I guess. I would’ve loved to play in a living world with civilians and muggers though.
  • Batman doesn’t kill, but I’m pretty sure that running someone over and shooting them with a tank’s cannon would kill them. Just saying, “nonlethal” rounds shouldn’t be able to magically explain away everything. I do understand the conflict between making driving a tank fun while following Batman’s no kill mandate.

Comic Book Review: Trinity (2016) #1

Official site: http://www.dccomics.com/comics/trinity-2016/trinity-1

It started with a miniseries. Turns out that Superman, his wife Lois Lane, and his son John survived the demise of the last incarnation of the DC Comics Universe and has been living in secret in the current incarnation (the New 52 universe) this whole time. While living on this new Earth with its own, new Superman, old Superman took off the uniform and has been secretly saving lives and stopping disasters while remaining hidden from the heroes of this new world.

That all changed when the New 52 Superman died and old Superman was forced to reveal himself to help save the world. Now the heroes of this Earth must work together with this stranger of a Superman and figure out how to coexist.

Trinity explores the relationship of the old Earth’s Superman with the new Earth’s Batman and Wonder Woman. When I initially found out that they were bringing back the old Superman, the one who married Lois Lane, I was not optimistic. I thought DC Comics was throwing another badly thought out gimmick to try and get whatever new readers they could get their hands on. I’ve since read each of the stories involving this new Superman and have to say that he has been written really well. The art in the comics associated with old Superman has also been really good. It’s almost as if the DC Comics made a conscious decision to put their best artists and writers on Superman.

Or maybe they didn’t. There is something very compelling about old Superman. DC Comics apparent strategy for the New 52 universe was a darker, more contemporary retelling of their existing properties. Old Superman’s presence in the New 52 universe is like watching someone from the 1990’s being moved into the new millennia. And really that’s what I find compelling about seeing old Superman interact with this new world; it’s a temporal clash of cultures and of ideas between what old Superman represents and what new Superman represented.

This first issue of Trinity somewhat explores this idea. Lois invites New 52 Batman and Wonder Woman over for dinner so they can talk and get to know each other. Wonder Woman quickly establishes a relationship with old Lois Lane, which is interesting considering Wonder Woman was romantically involved with new Superman before he died. Wonder Woman quickly shuts down any ideas of rekindling old romance and confirms she feels nothing romantic for this stranger of a Superman.

The more interesting relationship to me was the one between old Superman and New 52 Batman. See, New 52 Superman retconned the old story Superman mythos and made Superman an orphan who lost both his parents. Maybe not to crime, but they are both dead. Accordingly, the relationship between New 52 Superman and Batman was that of fellow orphans; two people who understand the pain of loss and fought to protect people because of it. After Batman and old Superman meet, they quickly establish that the core of their relationship is not that of fellow orphans, but as fellow fathers. Old Superman has a son and Batman raised his Robins. It’s a different, slightly more optimistic relationship which gives them a foundation to understand why both of them are obsessed with protecting others.

It’s a promising beginning to a story that will likely give insight into and develop the relationship between these three characters. The ending was also interesting in that they seem to want to give old Superman a glimpse into new Superman’s life,  maybe even giving him a chance to prevent new Superman from dying. We’ll see how it plays out.

In regards to the art, Manapaul does a great job. The style gives a classical feeling and keeps the eyes entertained withe the page layout and brief, but well drawn action.

Score: 6.8/10

Comic Book Review: All-Star Batman (2016) #2

Official site: http://www.dccomics.com/comics/all-star-batman-2016/all-star-batman-2

Another week, another awesome Batman story delivered by Snyder. Snyder and Romita return for another chapter in this fun trip. This story is decidedly less serious than Snyder’s run on Batman. I can’t tell if it’s intentional or due to Romita’s art style.

There are a lot of interesting revelations revealed in the main story. Firstly, Snyder has retconned the relationship of Harvey Dent and Batman a bit. Harvey it seems has always known Batman’s true identity. Dent’s just never had enough evidence to prove it. In fact, Harvey and Bruce Wayne have been childhood friends. It’s an interesting addition to an old relationship. Bruce and Harvey have generally been friends in most story lines, but now they are life long friends. It’s also interesting to see Snyder add to the mythos of Two-Face and how Harvey Dent and Two-Face coexist.

What doesn’t feel natural though is how everyone in Gotham can turn on Batman so easily. I imagine it will be due to some big reveal in subsequent issues. I can’t wait.

The side story is also surprisingly good. We get another glimpse into Duke and into Zsasz’s modus operandi.

Score: 7.5/10 Another fun story and the main book I look forward to each week.

Comic Book Review: All Star Batman (2016) #1

Oh, thank heavens. Scott Snyder is writing Batman again. After his run on Batman ended I was left adrift on what American comic books could fill the void left by one of the greatest, if not the greatest run on a Batman comic book that there has ever been. Snyder and Capullo’s run on Batman was so good, it literally made me lose interest in almost every other book on the shelf because they simply could not match the quality Snyder and Capullo were putting out.

And while Snyder has returned to write a character he has proven to hold a deep understanding of, Capullo has unfortunately not returned with him. I suppose I will just have to accept John Romita Jr.– one of the most respected and desired comic book artists out there– as a consolation prize. Suffice it to say the art is good.

This first books jumps right into the action. Batman is taking Two-Face somewhere that might potentially rid Harvey Dent of his dangerous alter ego. Unfortunately, Two-Face has put out the word that whoever stops Batman will be paid an enormous reward, prompting both villains and civilians to try and kill Batman as he tries to get Two-Face to his destination. It’s been fun so far, but Snyder hints at some reveals that will affect the history of Batman and his relationship with Alfred.

Personally, I am excited to see Snyder take on the character of Two-Face. Besides Joker, Two-Face is arguably Batman’s most dangerous villain and I am eager to see Snyder’s insight into the Batman universe applied to this character.

In addition to the Two-Face story, there is also a side story involving Batman’s new ally, Duke. He is undoubtedly not Robin, and the story goes into figuring out what kind of hero he will be. It was a surprisingly compelling side story and I’m eager to see more of Duke and Zsasz.

Score: 7.1/10 A fun, action packed start to a promising Batman story.