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The Avengers – movie phenomena of the year

April 30, 2012 2 comments

Apparently, if I hadn’t gone to see the The Avengers 1 this weekend, the geek police would have turned up at my door and taken away my geek card and nerd privileges. Or something. It’s mostly pointless to pretend to review what is rapidly turning out to not only the box office smash of the year, but the younger generations equivalent of Star Wars. 2

Go see it, if not to prevent people from endlessly telling you to go and see it. If you’re a comic-book fan you’ll emit little squeals of nerdy delight, if you like big budget hero movies, you’ll love it. The rest of you will find the performances engaging, the wit sharp, the heroes pretty and the plot doing its best to not get in the way of the fun.

More interestingly, the The Avengers shows that the super-hero movie has finally reached the point where it can not only emulate the more intricate elements of the comic book format, it can excel it. Namely, the idea that you can set multiple stories in the same place. This isn’t particularly news, recurring characters have been a feature of films in the past, but this is the first time that the concept of a shared world, spread across multiple movies, has taken centre stage.

Avengers. Assembling. Never seen in Ikea.

Audiences have proven that they can ‘buy into’ a coherent world and setting, in this case the Marvel Universe. Remember, The Avengers is not just set in the same world that the Thor, Captain America and Iron Man movies were set in, it also (technically), exists in the same place that Ghost Rider and Blade exist. In theory, any of these characters could turn up in a movie with each other, and though it’s unlikely that Marvel will produce a romantic comedy featuring Spider Man’s Flash Thompson and Patty ‘Hellcat’ Walker3, it’s more possible than it was last year. Moreover, other franchises will now try the same trick. I expect to see Batman taking on Superman sometime soon. 4

The other thing it means is that comic-book geeks are now mainstream. But then they always were; The Avengers (and their corporate rivals, The Justice League) are modern versions of god-like pantheons, a repetition of the stories of heroism that we’ve been telling in different ways since we could tell stories. It’s just this time, when we tell, they are explosions.


1: Apparently it’s actually “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”, presumably to distance it from the 1998 movie “The Avengers” that completely misunderstood the classic TV series of the same name. Personally, I’ve always found comparing the British Avengers (a super-spy TV show with incredibly weird moments) with the American Avengers (a super-hero comic book with incredibly weird moments) a nice study in the differences of cultures. Also, the British Avengers actually have stuff they want to avenge, but that’s a different rant.

2: My generation’s Star Wars was Empire Strikes Back. Pity today’s adolescents, their big Hollywood movie was The Phantom Menace.

3: Patsy Walker is an interesting example of the weird adaptability of the Marvel Universe. She began life as a character in ‘teen romance’ comics, and was eventually re-imagined as Hellcat, a kick ass crime-fighter in tight spandex. Imagine if you will, a version of Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan suddenly becomes a deadly assassin, beats up Tom Hanks and then goes on to save the world from shape shifting alien monsters. I’d watch that movie.

4: Of course, a lot of TV is connected to other TV. At least according to the Tommy Westphall Hypothesis, which isn’t the name of a rock band, it’s an odd little idea that much of American TV is a child’s dream.

Categories: Comic Books, Geek, Movies Tags:

Runaways

March 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Marvel Comics has never been afraid to look for new ways to sell its tales of super powered hi-jinks, and quite often, these experiments yield interesting and enduring results.1 One rather nice example is Brian K Vaughan’s Runaways.

Original pitched at manga reading teenagers, the book found popularity amongst comic book fans of all ages; after all, a light sprinkling of teen angst can go a long way, especially if you add super powers.
The premise of Runaways is quite fun; a band of teenagers who have known each other through childhood stumble across their parents performing some sort of sinister and evil ritual. This being the Marvel Universe, the kids jump to the conclusion that their folks have to be some sort of super villain team. Convinced that their own lives are in mortal peril, they make a break for it and go on the run, uncovering amazing revelations about themselves and their families on the way.

Original, fun and refreshing, but still very Marvel.

Runaways is a rites-of-passage tale with a heavy focus on emotional journeys and personal revelation. The kids argue, make-up and inevitably bond, becoming not simply a team of heroes but a family2 . The Marvel Universe stands out when everyday problems (such as teenage homelessness) run smack-bang into impossible things (such as The Incredible Hulk).

The other nifty thing about Runaways is that all the super-powered elements are really, really cool. From intelligent uses of over-used super powers to novel gadgets and resources (including frog-shaped vehicles and pet dinosaurs), the book takes familiar comic book tropes and makes them young again.

The original series of Runaways is well worth your time, as is the Joss Whedon run, especially if you like a little soap-opera in your comic books.


1: Case it point, the Ultimate series of books began life as a way to explore old stories in new ways, with an eye to perhaps making Marvel Movies. So much so in fact, that the reimagined comic book version of Nick Fury looked like Samuel Jackson in the hope that they could convince him to play that character in the movies. (It worked.)

2: Family is a major theme of the Marvel Universe, from the Fantastic Four onwards.

Categories: Comic Books

Order of the Stick

February 10, 2012 1 comment

Rich Burlew’s The Order of the Stick has been in the nerd news recently due to the fact that it’s raised over $ 600,000 via Kickstarter1. For the uninitiated, The Order of the Stick is a webcomic that parodies the game of Dungeons and Dragons2. The core joke is that everyone speaks in game terms as if they where a real thing, because to them, they are. So when someone gets hurt, they talk about hit points, job interviews involve discussions about experience point totals, etc. This may seem like a barrier to non-gamers, but the nerd humour is just a side-line to the main plot.

Y’see, The Order of the Stick is deceptive piece of work. Take the artwork, for example. They’re stick men and women (hence the name). Simple art, yes? You would be forgiven for thinking so, but it’s nothing of the sort. These designs are incredibly simple but at the same time very well realised. Simple yet appealing character design is one of the major goals of any good artist. (Take Snoopy for example; Iconic, instantly recognisable and also very simple.) Each element is carefully thought out and very easy on the eye. And its genius is that most people have noticed how complex it is, and yet they enjoy it none the less.

Yes, you can be deep and clever at the same time

Simple, clever, funny, deep. Order of the Stick.

The same applies to the story. Amidst the gags about hit points and story clichés, Burlew has snuck in an epic-fantasy story that is not only a parallel to the likes of A Game of Thrones and The Lord of The Rings it also comments on the structure of fantasy story telling itself. The world is has detailed as any of its epic cousins, and just as grand in scale and design. These simple looking stick people grow and develop. We care when they are hurt and cheer when they succeed. The reader grows to care about them, just like you should when a story is told well. Yet even the concept of character development and growth is examined, parodied and made entertaining. The author never lectures, he simply shows the reader the mechanisms of storytelling whilst claiming to be a simple storyteller. Burlew is a magician who shows you exactly how the trick is done, and at the same time, you don’t notice yet still wonder how he does it.

The Order of the Stick is a stick-figure cartoon gag strip. It’s also a rich and complex work of art with a fundamental understanding of how we tell stories. Of course it’s based around roleplaying games, because many of our modern storytellers learn the craft by rolling dice to fight dragons. It may not have been the creator’s intention to deliver such a grand endeavour, but this is where he has brought us. This is why it is so beloved by its fans, and why it is doing so well.

You can check it out here, though I should warn you that it is epic in length, don’t try this in a single sitting.


1: Kickstarter’s brilliance is that it tells the user that they’re being philanthropic whilst at the same time being a great place to look for bargains. It lets everyone play at being an entrepreneur, even those of us with little money.
2: Specifically the Third and Third-and-a-half-editions of the game. This may seem as a minor technical point to some of you, but it was D&D’s third edition that changed the status of the game from ‘something that was once relevant in the eighties’ to part of the popular culture, mostly due to some very clever handling of the intellectual properties associated with the game.

Categories: Comic Books, Geek, Reviews

The adventure-game magazines of the Eighties

January 12, 2012 4 comments

Back in the mid-eighties, Fighting Fantasy1 books where everywhere; young geeks devoured them, and the bookshops where filled with a myriad of titles and their imitators. For the dedicated fan though, this wasn’t enough. The books painted a fantasy world, but the fans wanted more.

Cue Warlock, the short-lived Fighting Fantasy Magazine. For a fraction of the cost of one of the books, you could get a brief fix of your growing gaming habit. Better yet, you got to glimpse the development of these worlds. Warlock, featured maps, articles and monster profiles, and was pretty much a basic primer on how to build worlds. Many of these features would later be further developed into source books for Fighting Fantasy’s main setting. What made it stand out from the other fantasy gaming magazines of the era was the sense that things where being created before your eyes.

Smell the nostalgia. (Though it could just be the smell of old magazines.)

That and the mini-adventure stories. If you can have adventure books, then surely you can have adventure short-stories, and the idea that one can delve into a spot of gaming on a short bus trip has always appealed to me. I find that adventure books tend to be single sitting affairs, I open the book and try and finish it in one gulp. I may come back to it later to play other options, but if it’s any good then it should feel more like a thrilling fairground ride than watching a TV series.

The cool thing about short-form adventure games is that you can indulge and then leave them alone. They’re quick, fun and pretty much ideal for wasting time in those short moments. Even though the old Fighting Fantasy novels are now available as apps,2, I‘ve not seen short-story format adventures in the modern formats. Which is sad, as the appeal of the e-books is their portability. This is why I tend to read short stories on the train, after all. I’d much rather delve into a sword and sorcery game than play Angry Birds, especially when I’m in the mood for something a bit more interactive than a regular book, but I also want it to last the length of my journey and no longer.

Warlock, by the way, only lasted for 12 13 issues, but in that time developed two imitators. Proteus was filled with the contributions from fans, and some of these were very good. It was all about the adventure-game aspect, and lasted a little bit longer than Warlock. Also of note is the sadly very short-lived Dice Man. Edited by 2000AD legend Pat Mills, Dice Man was an adventure game anthology that let you play the characters form the 2000AD comic. The stories where told through comic panels, and this quirky little bit of comic book history was recently paid homage to in 2000AD’s Prog 2012 with a fun little Judge Dredd story.

I do wonder if this sort of thing will make a come-back. We have the technology, after all, and I recently discovered they’re as fun to write as they are to read. It would be nice, and I do get the feeling that they are due a glorious come-back. Time will tell.


1: Adventure Game books require the reader to make choices, rather than passively reading the story. All books draw you into a different world, but only Adventure Game books let you hit things once you’re in that world.
2: There is also a new generation of these games such as Jonathan Green’s Temple of The Spider God, exclusive to iPhone. Hopefully you’ll be able to read them on other things soon enough.

Categories: Books, Comic Books, Geek

Verity Fair – Terry Wiley’s latest book

January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Way back in the early 90’s, UK independent comics seemed to be the next big thing, and there was a seemingly endless supply of new and trendy graphic novels. Most were very different from the mainstream, telling odd little stories about real things in unreal places, rather than the usual action-adventure hero fair. Sadly, the big British indie comic rush never really happened, and though a few creators moved onto bigger things, many more simply vanished, and many great stories just petered out, never to be finished.

So I was recently delighted to discover that comic book creator Terry Wiley is back. Wiley is perhaps best known “More Tales from Sleaze Castle”, a strange tale that puts an ordinary person in a surreal and extraordinary world (imagine Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy with a more surreal bent, and add an aardvark.) 1. Wiley’s latest work is called Verity Fair, and focuses on the everyday adventures of Verity Bourneville, a 40-something jobbing actress.

Great art mixed in with photo backgrounds lends a strong real world feel to the work

She’s had a good life, but one that has had more than its fair share of strange moments and quiet horror. Verity Fair, is an everyday tale, filled with humour, tragedy and well realised art. Though they are plenty of shout-outs to Wiley’s previous work, knowledge of obscure 90’s indie comics is not required.

I can firmly say that this is Terry’s best work so far; the art is strong, the characters are interesting and the plot, though slow, is fun and clever. The tale of one women’s journey through a tough world is never going to fly off the shelves; comic book fans aren’t famed for their love of domestic drama, which is a real shame as it means they’ll miss out on a great read.

Fans of the TV series Coupling , or those who just appreciate good pub inspired banter will probably get a kick of Verity Fair. Further samples of Wiley’s work can be found here and Verity Fair is currently available by bothering your local comic book dealer and getting him to stock it for you2.


1: The book generated a series of spin-offs: the everyday mystery story (and prequel) “Tales from Sleaze Castle” and the conspiracy theory parody “Surreal School Stories”. The latter was presented in a penny dreadful format, mostly text with key illustrations, with the occasional full length comic-strips appearing elsewhere. (For a good example, take a look here.) You may also want to check out Petra etc.
2: Travelling Man UK would probably be your best bet; the Newcastle store certainly has copies.

Categories: Comic Books

BANDIT!

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Christmas is coming, a geeks everywhere are wondering if there is a slightly odd present that they can give to a loved one in order to open someone’s world to the wonderful weirdness that we nerds take in our stride.

One of the comic-books I love to give to non-comic fans is Grant Morrison’s We3, which can inaccurately described as Watership Down meets Short Circuit1.
This gripping, intelligently written and beautiful drawn tale is a showcase for the sort of quirky stories that work brilliantly well in the graphic-novel format; a sentimental action story about a bunny rabbit, a dog and a cat on the run from a US military. Why are they on the run? Because they’ve been wired into enormously powerful war-machines. The story begins with an Army commander realising what a terrible idea this was in the first place, and demanding the project be ‘terminated’. One of the scientists can’t bear to hurt the poor wee beasties, and lets them loose instead.

It’s the sort of absurd tale that can only be well realised by the sort of talent working in comics today, in this case, Grant Morrison, who’s well known for his weird stories filled with warmth, emotion and utter freakiness. Morrison has written some very well regarded mainstream comic books in recent years, and his back catalogue is filled with brilliant yet odd stories.2 His best work is always his strangest and We3 is no exception.
Artist Frank Quitely draws the three animals in a way that reminds us that these are the sort of creatures we have as pets. The artwork is always sympathetic and makes us believe that they are innocent creatures trapped in a man-made nightmare, doing what they can to escape. It’s the sort of thing that works well in a comic-book, and though I would love to see We3 on the big screen, I doubt it would have the same sort of impact.

This is a book that will extract a tear and a smile from any but the most hardened of comics reads, and as a way to showcase precisely what the medium can do, it’s ideal. It’s also cheap, and short, and a great stocking-filler.


1: If you’ve not read the novel, Watership Down then you should. It’s one of those books everyone should read. The same cannot be said for the 80’s move Short Circuit, which is not as good as you remember.
2: RomCom pastiche Kill your boyfriend and tabloid parody Big Dave spring to mind. Big Dave featured special envoy Terry Waite punching aliens for justice.

Categories: Comic Books

Robert Kirkman’s Invincible

December 1, 2011 1 comment

Robert Kirkman is best known for his comic book turned TV series The Walking Dead. What a number of zombie-horror fans neglect is Kirkman’s just as lengthy and detailed work Invincible. This is isn’t that much of a suprise; horror comics stand out more amongst the countless super-hero books on the market, and on first glance, it’s pretty easy to dismiss it as just another super-hero book.

The set-up for Invincible is surprisingly simple; it’s a mix of the growing pains angst that fans of various Spider-Man titles will be familiar with and the sort of two-fisted, god-like heroism that appears all the time in books like Superman. The titular character is a young man with incredible power and a sudden realisation that he’d better find some sense of responsibility or deal with the consequences. The book addresses the notion that if one was nearly-indestructible and strong enough to throw buildings around, then you’d have to grow up pretty fast.

Despite this, it doesn’t take itself as seriously the way many post-Watchmen1 comics do; Invincible doesn’t try and do comics for grown-ups, what it does is tell a story about super-powered humans in a way grown-ups will find engaging. Nominally set in the same universe as Spawn and The Savage Dragon , Kirkman’s tale quickly establishes its own mythos and rules,2 showing us a world in which the consequences of having individuals with the destructive capacity of a nuclear bomb is dealt with in a rational and pragmatic way.

The artwork is clean and action driven, and fits the narrative very well

Fans of The Walking Dead know that Kirman loves to throw his readers a curve ball; he delights in setting up reader expectations and telegraphing the forthcoming plot, only to suddenly change everything at the last minute, causing sub-plots to suddenly reverse and the main characters to have to deal with rapid change and stress. Just like real life, the reader seldom knows what’s coming next.

There is a lot to love about Invincible; the romantic sub-plots are always set-up in a way that, though often fantastic, are believable and the villains are very rarely cackling mad-men, rather they have hopes, dreams and motivations. (Indeed, some of the villains aren’t villains). Time is spent setting up the supporting cast so we care about what happens to them, and the entire work has the internal consistency that one gets with single-creator owned work.

Invincible is a big story, the 15th volume comes out in January, and it’s still ongoing, with no sign of the end in sight. Despite the size, I suspect once you start you’ll find it hard to stop, so be warned, it’s addictive.


1: Alan Moore’s The Watchmen was a comic book back in the 80’s which gets mentioned every time someone else writes a super-hero book aimed at a mature audience. It’s typically used as a the base-line for ‘mature’ audiences and spawned countless imitators of variable quality, and can be criticised for being too visceral and cynical.

2: Image comics in general tend to avoid being one cohesive lump of shared- universe. Which is fair enough, as Marvel and to a lesser extent, DC, already have that market cornered.

Categories: Comic Books, Reviews Tags:

Marvel grants us Annihilation

November 24, 2011 2 comments

One of the endearing things about the Marvel Comics Universe is its scale. Not only is everything stitched together so tightly if Captain America waggles his winged helmet somewhere in the Amazon then it’d probably cause a tsunami in Tokyo, but also because this sort of attention to detail applies not only to Earth, but to the entire universe.

One excellent example of this is Marvel’s epic Annihilation series. Various rows of dominos set-up in previous comic books1 get knocked down all at once, in what can be only described as epic space opera. No real knowledge of the Marvel comics are required to enjoy Annihilation, but it helps if you know who the likes of the Silver Surfer, Thanos2 and Galactus are. Don’t expect to see Marvel heroes such as The Hulk or Iron Man here, this gig is strictly for the characters who work in space, and can cope with planet sized disasters.

Annihilation is a war story on an inter-galactic scale, so the plot is anything but straight forward, but here goes: Alien bug monster Annhilus decides that his own domain, the so-called ‘Negative Universe’ could do with some expanding, and thus decides to invade normal reality, with a space fleet composing of billions of horrible bug-eyed monsters. At the same time, Thanos3, intergalactic badass, is aiming to misbehave again, and cause mayhem and devastation.

This giant purple planet eater is called Galactus. He ends worlds. And wears purple pants.

Caught up amidst this apocalyptic nightmare are entire world’s worth of innocent lives and a small band of unlikely heroes. What’s fun about Annihilation is that some of the main protagonists are out and out villains, whilst others are good men doing bad jobs, or well meaning types in way over their head. We get a real sense of depth here, and the vibe that the galaxy is indeed a big place full of people. It’s a war story, pretty much, and focuses mostly of the efforts of the heroic few against impossible odds. Like all good war stories do.

It’s worth noting that Annihilation is written by multiple authors, and comes in multiple books. Though none if it is below par, the parts I enjoyed the most tended to be written by either Keith Giffen or comic book duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Abnett and Lanning wrote the sequel to this series, Annihilation : Conquest, which in turn lead to a reboot of the Guardians of The Galaxy series, which is also worth a look, but is more a book about a team of super-heroes than massive spaceships crashing into other big things.

If you don’t mind having super-heroes in your comic books, and you like big space battles, keep an eye out for the Annihilation series. It’s a pretty big story, but a very well realised one.


1: They are tonnes of stories produced by Marvel, and the company proudly boasts to have produced the largest shared world in the world. This means that stories like this, that bring together decades of back story can be massive amounts of fun. The trick is to do this without alienating new readers, which the Annhilation series does incredibly well, without boring existing fans with stuff they already know. Marvel understands that most people will dive in and out of their books, and have become good at not bogging down stories in continuity, whilst at the same time keeping the world consistent and strong.

2: Now, I’d be the first to admit that I tend to favour Marvel over DC, but in this case, Marvel wins, no contest. The DC equivalent of Thanos is Darkseid. Whilst both look quite similar, and both are cosmic level bad asses. The thing is, Darkseid’s schtick is that he wishes to suppress all free will. Thanos, on the other hand, wants to end everything. The entire cosmos. And why? So he can court the personification of Death. That’s right, the dude is in love with Death itself (who rarely appears as a cute goth girl, just so you know).

3: Another thing I like about Thanos is the fact that he’s typically ran as an incredibly savvy villain who always has a back-up plan in case one of the plans fails. (A feature TV Tropes calls The Xanatos Gambit. ) He always wins in some way, and every plan he has to destroy all things always ends in the cosmos losing something vital (though they may go unnoticed.)

Categories: Comic Books, Reviews Tags:

The Avengers, assembled once again

November 10, 2011 1 comment

One of the fascinating things about Marvel Super Heroes is the way it constantly re-invents itself; for example, though the origin story of Spiderman has been told endlessly on the screen, stage and indeed in comic books, The House of Ideas1 likes to mix it up a lot, retelling the same ideas in different ways. In recent years, this has applied to Marvel’s foremost and best known superhero team, The Avengers2. Stories with teams in them are a bit of a bargain, you get to enjoy the adventures of multiple characters, rather than just the one, and if you’re promoting a brand3, it has the added advantage of exposing the audience to characters they may not have met yet.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a recent cartoon TV series, that yet again re-invents the classic Marvel Super Hero team. We can see elements of previous versions within its structure; Iron Man resembles his recent movie incarnation more than ever (he even looks like Robert Downey Junior), Captain America’s origin resembles both the version seen in The Ultimates comic book and the recent movie. Each episode has been plugged together with a great deal of love and care for the mythology surrounding these heroes, and each one has been re-imagined in a way that’s fresh but also familiar.

(c) Marvel

The main problem with the show is that, in parts, it’s a retelling too far. Every time Marvel redoes a story featuring the Avengers, it always starts the same way; the band gets formed in a way that generates a lot of tension and then they unwittingly face a conspiracy of mystically manipulated villains, almost falling apart in the process but ultimately becoming stronger because of it. If you’d never heard that story before, then I’m sure it would be fresh and exciting, but for me, I’ve already been there, many times.

Part of the reason for my fatigue is actually one of the strengths of the franchise, as this particular story is one of human frailty. It’s an examination of what happens when you thrust power and responsibility into the hands of flawed people.4. This is great, but I want to see the character development go beyond the first handful of stories. I want to see this aspect of the myth evolve in different media as well.

I want to see other, more obscure, stories about The Avengers retold in different ways; the comic books are filled with amazing weirdness and fantastic ideas. I want disassembled robots, the scattered souls of twins, world conquering androids and alien war zones; some of this is hinted at in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but I’m greedy and impatient, and am never sure how long a show like this will run for before it gets cancelled.

I’m sure it’ll get a lot of attention in the run up to the forthcoming movie The Avengers, and if you’re in the mood for cartoon action, it’s worth a look.


1: Marvel Comics prides itself on the creativity, hence the self-styled ‘House of Idea’ sub-title. After all, you take away the amazing stories that Marvel has brought us over the years and you’d have nothing.
2: Not to be confused with the classic British TV series of the same name, which features super spies with vengeance in mind. That’s a wholly different kettle of fish, and I’ll talk about that some other day.
3: It isn’t soul-less to to think of superheroes as brands, provided you remember that the story should come first. This is storytelling as a business, and Marvel has proven time and again that thinking about the money makes a story no less valid. Disney bought Marvel for $4.24 billion. A business founded on comic books. Frankly, anyone who doubts the worth of storytelling through the comic medium is woefully misinformed.
4: The battle cry of The Avengers is ‘Avengers Assemble’. I often wonder if that’s because so many of the heroes are so interestingly broken.

Categories: Comic Books, Geek, Reviews, TV

Batman: Brave, Bold and timeless.

September 26, 2011 8 comments

Batman is the David Bowie1 of super-hero comics. By which I mean that Batman is constantly re-inventing itself to appeal to a newer generations, whilst maintaining a core appeal and creditability, rather than anything to do with laughing gnomes.

This does mean that Batman has a different sort of appeal to different sorts of people. Some prefer the grim, brooding Batman of the Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight, other’s the tongue in-cheek campiness of the 60’s TV show. Over the years we’ve seen Batman as a cowboy, as an eco-warrior, as a brooding psychopath and as a jolly policeman. Each iteration is instantly recognizable as Batman, but surely, all this identity shifting would make it hard to retell the classic Batman stories?

Not really, as it turns out. The trick is to bring together all these different facets of everyone’s favourite crimefighter into one bundle. To bring a lighter tone but still draw upon the vast wealth of storytelling that come under the label of Batman.

(c) Time Warner.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Animated in a style that reminds you of 60's comic books.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold squares this circle quite neatly. Not only is full of two-fisted super hero fun, suitable for children of any age, it also uses the full range of the world Batman inhabits to bring rip-roaring stories. The Brave and the Bold prefers to use less well known characters from the DC Universe (the world Batman inhabits), so we get to meet villains such as Kite Man, Eraser and Planet Master as well as the more familiar villains such as Catwoman and The Joker.

Most of the shows work on multiple levels. In addition to excellent animation and some fantastic vocal talent2, the show re-tells classic Batman tales in new ways. Those who are new to Batman won’t notice or care, and most fan-boys will make a little happy sound.

Of course, I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. Without giving too much away, one of the recurring villains in the second series is one of my all time favourites: Starro. For those who don’t recognise the name, I don’t blame you. Starro, a giant starfish from outer space. Sound ridiculous? Maybe, but silly looking things can disarmingly horrible. Starro’s gimmick is to spawn thousands of tiny, face sized starfish that attach to its victims faces, turning them into mindless drones. Sound less silly now? As a child, Starro horrified me. A thing that doesn’t take away your possessions or home, but takes away your sense of self? Scary.3.

So how does this horror fit into what’s essentially family-fare? Very well, and again, on multiple levels. The truly scary ideas keep the adults amused whilst those not reading too deeply into the tale get to see a tale of heroism and two-fisted justice. The result is a show where one week we have Batman battling monsters from a future-gone-wrong one week, and then the following episode having a sing off with Doctor Horrible, Doogie Howser, the Music Meister, without it seeming odd or jarring, which is credit to the show’s producers and the timelessness of the lead character.


1: They are of course, more differences than similarities. As far as I am aware, Batman has never worn a ridiculous blonde wig and a codpiece. At least not yet.
2: Both Kevin Conroy and Diedrich Bader nail the voice for me. Batman has husky yet firm voice, one that is as comfortable telling villains to stop being evil but could also stop a child from eating too many cookies. The ultimate in firm, fatherly voices.
3: At least Zombies get to be dead. Being a mindless drone gives me the heebie-jeebies far more than the body horror of being walking dead.

Categories: Comic Books, Reviews Tags: ,