Superhero

Ben 10 Omniverse: Volume 1

Aaaahh, what have they done to Ben 10?!?

Shazam: The Complete Live-action Series (DVD)

Where’s Walter Lawson, Monica Rambeau, and Carol Danvers?

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (Blu-ray)

Old heroes never die…they just get darker.

Danny Phantom: Season 2, Volume 2 (DVD)

“There’s a box ghost. Obviously, all the good haunts have been taken.”

Young Justice: Dangerous Secrets (DVD)

“What are we waiting for, a theme song?”

Alphas: Season One (DVD)

Impossible is what they do best.

Somebody’s Hero (DVD)

“Everybody is somebody’s hero.”

Justice League: Doom (DVD)

I’m gonna sing the doom song now.

Superheroes (2011) (DVD)

I’m super, thanks for asking.

Batman: Year One (Blu-ray)

“From now on, none of you is safe.”

Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers (DVD)

A tale of brothers with Shakespearian overtones comes to motion comics in the form of Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers.

Thor (Blu-ray)

“Whoever wields this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”

The Cape: The Complete Series (DVD)

“You’re not a superhero, you’re a circus act!” With the possible exception of George Reeves’ The Adventures of Superman, prime time live action TV and the superhero genre have never quite meshed, with a long history of almost-but-not-quites. The ’70s gave us The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman, which were successes, but look back at them now and you can see the thickness of the cheese. The internet haters always complaining about Raimi’s Spider-Man movies should check out the Nicholas Hammond Spidey series from the ’70s to see what crappy Spider-Man really looks like. Years later, The Flash did some interesting stuff, but low ratings and skyrocketing production costs ended its run quickly. Lois and Clark separated itself from the trappings of the genre by emphasizing romantic comedy cuteness over Red Boots action. Similarly, Smallville thrived for a whopping ten seasons by also distancing itself from the genre thanks to its famous “No tights, no flights” mantra. Birds of Prey also tried the “no costumes” thing, but with far less success. As for original superheroes created for prime time, things get even sketchier. A ton of shows, everything from The Six Million Dollar Man to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, owe a lot to superheroes, but choose instead to categorize themselves as “action/adventure,” “sci-fi” or “fantasy.” M.A.N.T.I.S. fully embraced its superheroic roots and had Carl Lumbley being awesome, but weirdly inconsistent plotting and a goofy costume soon it dancing the Fox Network Friday Night Cancellation Tango. Heroes started out as the hottest show on TV, and seemed like it would be the one to buck the trend, only to crash and burn in its second through fourth seasons as storylines got increasingly convoluted and ridiculous. Others are more obscure — Automan and Nightman were laughably bad, and I doubt anybody but me remembers Once a Hero, Sable, I-Man, Hard Time on Planet Earth, Infiltrator, or Captain FlashBang and his Glorious Grenades of Justice. (I made that last one up.) In 2011, a new supe dove into these already murky waters, as NBC hoped The Cape would find the same success as all the blockbuster comic book films. Ten episodes later, and here’s The Complete Series on DVD. Vince Faraday (David Lyons, E.R.) is the only honest police detective in a city full of corrupt cops. While on the hunt for a criminal mastermind known only as Chess, Faraday is framed for Chess’s crimes and appears to die in an explosion. Miraculously, he survives, and is saved by a group of bank-robbing circus performers. Faraday knows he must stay in hiding, not able to return to his wife and son until after he clears his good name by catching Chess in the act. Chess is actually Peter Fleming (James Frain, The Tudors), the head of the Ark Corporation, the city’s privatized police force. With the cops on his payroll, he’s free to commit all the crime he wants and keep his hands free. Faraday decides to fight back, with the help his new circus pals. They teach him circus abilities, such as acrobatics, hypnotism, and how to disappear in a puff of smoke. They also give him his most powerful weapon, a high-tech cape that makes him bulletproof, lets him blend into the shadows, and has retractable tips. In his ongoing battle against Fleming, Faraday — now known as “The Cape” — gains another ally, computer hacker Orwell (Summer Glau, Serenity), who has her own reasons for fighting back. I wanted to like The Cape. I hoped it would blow my mind and become my new favorite show. There’s some goofy fun to be had, but it can, at other times, be a chore to get through a single episode. For what is, at its heart, a simple idea — a guy with a cape fights crime — the show is far too ambitious for its own good, and tries too many things at once. At any given time, we go from slapstick comedy high jinks with the circus characters, immediately into the Cape’s wife and son in tears while mourning his loss, and from that immediately into the Cape duking it out with a room full of henchmen. The creators are trying to do Nolan one second, Burton the next, and, let’s say, Scorcese the second after that. This mishmash of styles and tones is jarring. Viewers will be exhausted by the time each episode ends, and not in a good way. Each episode has the Cape plotting to overthrow Fleming (after the pilot, he’s almost always called “Fleming” and not “Chess”), just as Fleming introduces the villain-of-the-week. The Cape and his pals investigate and stop the villain, while Fleming remains out of reach thanks to his “incredibly wealthy a-hole” status. Along the way, each episode also gives us a subplot with the Cape’s wife and son as they continue to wallow in depression and misery, another subplot with Orwell dropping the occasional hint as to her connection to Fleming, and an additional subplot with the Cape’s former partner (Dorian Missick, Lucky Number Slevin) gradually being tempted into corruption as Fleming’s new right hand man. One novelty of the character is that he’s not called the Cape just because he wears a cape, but because his cape is some sort of ultraweapon. The cape’s retractable edges allow its wearer to wield it like a whip against bad guys, or he can use it to grab onto things, not unlike Spider-Man’s webs. One episode even introduces a mythology for the cape, stating that it has been handed down from owner to owner throughout the centuries. The characters place all manner of importance on the cape, as if it were the One Ring or something. I’ll admit it is pretty sweet to see our hero whip it around when fighting bad guys, but the writers are overselling the cape’s importance as the greatest weapon ever. So, yeah, the series of something of a mess, but it does have its good points. The action scenes are generally well-staged, with fighting and explosions galore. Production values are solid, with big set pieces taking place in a variety of locales, such as high-tech labs, an ornate theater, and swanky rooftop penthouses. A lot of the villains-of-the-week are interesting, including a recurring role by Vinnie Jones (Snatch) as a half-human, half-lizard gangster. Others are a female assassin who can see the future, a seemingly undead criminal boogeyman, and a nerdy surveillance expert who’s buddies with a silent, brutal psychopath. The acting is hit or miss. Lyons wears the costume well and occasionally shows some raw frustration about his situation, but at other times, he too often falls into “generic good guy” mode. Jennifer Ferrin (Life on Mars) and Ryan Wynott, as the Cape’s wife and son, go overboard on the perpetual mourning thing and their scenes slow down the otherwise hectic momentum of any given episode. I love Summer Glau dearly, but I have to admit she’s done better work than this. Frain spends most of the series as a stock villain, but shows some a fascinating new side to Fleming in the next-to-last episode. Fortunately, it’s not all bad. The best of the lot is Keith David (Coraline) as Max, the circus leader. David is clearly having the time of life as this character, and he performs every scene with a sinister playfulness that is simply delicious. Other members of the circus crew provide great fun in their supporting roles, including little person Martin Klebba (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) as a rough n’ tumble brawler and the bone-bendingly sexy Izabella Miko (The Forsaken) as a ditzy tightrope walker. Nitpicks: * Why doesn’t the Cape use a gun? Sure, most superheroes dislike guns for one reason or another, but the Cape is a cop (we know this because at least once per episode he proclaims, “But I’m a cop!”) so why isn’t he using guns, cop-movie style? * Faraday adopts the Cape persona based on The Cape comic books his son reads. But then we learn that the cape is a real persona secretly handed down through the generations, so who’s publishing those comics? * So if a bunch of wacky circus performers are running around robbing banks, how come the cops never once say, “Hey, maybe we should go investigate at that circus that’s in town?” The picture quality on this two-disc set is stunning, with bright, vivid colors — this is a bright, colorful show — and remarkable detail. Sound is good as well, especially when the slightly Celtic-sounding but still appropriately heroic theme song kicks in. No extras to be found. As you can tell by now, I have great fondness for the superhero genre. I love the classic, iconic characters as much as anyone, but I’m always on the lookout for the new icons, the fresh faces of today that will last the test of time. For all that The Cape gets right, it just doesn’t fit this category. See it only if you have to see absolutely everything superhero-related. The Verdict Just as the foreman was about to read the verdict, the Cape once again disappeared in a puff of smoke, so we’ll have to rule this one as a mistrial.

All-Star Superman

Less a story of Superman and more an examination of Clark/Kal-El

Jonah Hex (DVD)

When will they make Jonah Hex Chex Mix?

Batman: Under the Red Hood (DVD)

There’s something about the DC Comics characters that makes them open to multiple interpretations. Every writer, artist, filmmaker, or animator that takes one of them on usually puts his or her own creative stamp on the character, making multiple artistic versions of each one. That’s why these DC direct-to-DVD animated movies have been so interesting. Each one is more or less a stand-alone tale, set in its own continuity, without worrying about tying into anyone else’s story. This has given writers and animators opportunities to adapt stories from the comics in their own ways, with fresh new takes on the old classics. This time around, writer Judd Winick adapted his own graphic novel Batman: Under the Hood into a movie, directed by Brandon Vietti (Legion of Super Heroes). It’s about how everyone’s past comes back to haunt them, even staunch do-gooders like Batman. Years earlier, the Joker (John DiMaggio, Futurama) brutally murdered Batman’s sidekick Robin. Note that this was the second Robin, Jason Todd. The first Robin, Dick Grayson (Neil Patrick Harris, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog) is all grown up now, and is the crimefighter Nightwing. As Nightwing reunited with Batman (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek (2009)), Gotham City is threatened by a new criminal mastermind, the Red Hood (Jensen Ackles, Supernatural). The Red Hood was once a disguise adopted by the Joker before the accident that gave him his clownish skin coloring, so Batman and Nightwing interrogate the Joker inside Arkham Asylum, awakening memories of Jason Todd’s death in Batman. As Batman confronts this new Red Hood, rival crimelord Black Mask (Wade Williams, Prison Break) springs the Joker from the asylum and hires him to kill the Red Hood. The Joker, of course, has his own plans in mind. This sets the stage for Batman, Red Hood, and the Joker to battle it out across the back alleys and rooftops of Gotham. Batman might be the marquee star, but plotwise, this one’s all about his famous (infamous?) sidekick. So let’s talk about Robin. Not surprisingly, Robin was created for editorial/marketing reasons, in order to get Batman comics to appeal to younger readers. The best way to do this, publishers assumed, was to add a young character to join Bats on his adventures, to give kid readers someone to relate to. Storywise, the reasons Batman has Robin running around is usually one of two reasons, either because Batman saw something of himself in Robin after Robin’s parents were killed or because Batman hopes that Robin would take his place as the new Batman someday. Fan opinions of Robin are varied, to say the least. Some believe that Batman is the ultimate badass, and the last thing he needs is some dorky kid in a yellow cape following him around. Others see value in the character, as a young martial arts master with genius-level computer and strategic skills. From there, Robin’s history gets even more sordid. The first Robin was Dick Grayson, who grew up and became crimefighter Nightwing. The second Robin was streetwise tough kid Jason Todd, who was murdered. The Robins that came afterward—Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne—don’t appear in this movie, so let’s not bother with them. The big controversy is Jason Todd, who was killed off in the comics allegedly because the fans hated him. After he was gone, though, his death always weighed heavily on Batman’s mind, and Jason’s uniform display became a permanent part of the Batcave, seen in the background throughout the years, becoming an iconic image of its own. That brings us to Under the Red Hood, in which the Red Hood’s Gotham City crime wave runs parallel with Batman being haunted by Jason’s death. Putting so much emphasis on Jason Todd, and the effect his murder has on Batman, humanizes Batman in a way we don’t usually see. There are none of the usual tricks writers use to get us inside Batman’s head—there’s no romance with a femme fatale, there are no “Gotham is my city” monologues, and there are no scenes of him freaking out at his parents’ gravesite. Instead, Batman believes it was his fault that Jason died, and his “great mistake” still haunts him after all this time. Seeing Batman make a mistake and then carry around the guilt of it makes him feel like a real person, even as he lurks around in the shadows and unleashes awesome kung fu moves on bad guys. Emotional torment makes for a solid story, but how’s the action? It’s pretty sweet. Both Batman and the Red Hood dish out all kinds of cool moves against their enemies. I don’t know if they used motion capture or the now-antiquated rotoscoping process, but there are times during the fights where it looks like two actual people (OK, stuntpeople) duking it out. The Batmobile and the Batcycle both make appearances, and the Batwing (Batman’s stealth bomber-looking plane) gets a lot of screen time with a lot of cool moves and gadgets of its own. Bats has these little bomb things that he likes to use in a fight, either by throwing them around or sticking them onto his enemies. I thought the creators had him rely on these little bombs a little too often, but they make stuff go kaboom, so I can’t fully hate them. The Red Hood is armed with both his fighting skills and kinds of deadly guns, so expect plenty of artillery mayhem as well. Like a lot of superhero movies, this one suffers from “too many characters” syndrome. The main conflict is among Batman, the Red Hood, and the Joker. Popular villain Ra’s Al Ghul (Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) shows up for a few scenes, but they are integral to the story. Black Mask, however, gets almost as much screen time as the Joker, if not more, and yet he’s more of a plot point and not our main antagonist. He doesn’t even confront Batman at any point. Shouldn’t there be the obligatory scene in which he gets hauled off to jail and/or Arkham? Also, why exactly is Nightwing in this movie? Because he used to be Robin, I thought they were setting up a “Robin of the past versus Robin today” dynamic, but it never happens. We get a lot of Nightwing in the first half of the movie as he does the sidekick thing with Batman, but then he disappears. We never get Nightwing’s thoughts about Jason, and he never confronts Red Hood, which is a missed opportunity for both action and drama. Maybe they’re saving that for a sequel. On the plus side, a bunch of other super-powered baddies fill in various “thug” and “henchman” roles, and these characters make for some fun “spot the face” trivia for comic fans. There are a lot of famous names in the cast, but I have to admit the acting didn’t fully work for me. It sounded to my ears like the actors were trying too hard to emulate the voices of the Batman: The Animated Series cast from the early ’90s. This is especially true of John DiMaggio. He’s one of my favorite voice actors, but in this movie, he’s stuck impersonating Mark Hamill’s Joker voice, so he’s not able to cut loose and make the character his own. This is also true of Greenwood, Isaacs, and the others. The best performance is Jensen Ackles as the Red Hood. He gives the character equal parts youthful energy and cold menace, creating a memorable villain to go toe-to-toe with ol’ Batty. Other observations: • The geography of Gotham City got a little confused after a while. How do they go from Crime Alley straight to a massive church rooftop and from there straight to a run-down apartment building that’s conveniently also the Red Hood’s hideout? Did I miss something? • Parents be warned, this movie really earns its PG-13 rating. Onscreen blood is present, but minimal. Several characters are seen getting shot to death, though. The bad guys talk about drugs and drug smuggling, and there are more than a few swear words. • If your knowledge of Batman comes only from The Dark Knight, you’ll likely be confused as hell, with all these references to past Robins and past Red Hoods. A previous knowledge of the characters’ basic histories in the comics is almost a requirement. The animation here looks great, reminiscent of the ’90s series without being quite as stylized and angular. The DVD shows it all off with some excellent visual clarity. Similarly, the 5.1 sound brings to life the many explosions and gunbursts, so go ahead and crank up the volume. On this single-disc edition, the only bonus feature you’ll get is a 12-minute sneak preview of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, an adaptation of the graphic novel that reintroduced the Kara Jor-el Supergirl to the DC universe. Note that there’s also a separately-sold two-disc version out there with a lot more bonus features than you’ll find on this one. Batman: Under the Red Hood isn’t the greatest Batman adaptation (Bataptation?) ever made, but it delivers what it promises, a solid Batman adventure (Batventure?). Check it out if you’re interested (Bat-terested? OK, I’ll stop now.) The Verdict Justice!

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