Small Change – Batman

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Here’s a little something left over from the “…I’m Batman” series.

If you’ve been checking in, and aren’t as totally obsessed by pop-culture as I am, then you may be forgiven for thinking that a regular comic, a couple of TV shows, games, and epically profitable films are the only places you can enjoy the exploits of the Dark Knight.

…well, ok, that’s about right.

But there are a few hidden gems amongst the seemingly limitless supply of stories that kind of got lost over time. Here’s some alternative Bat-snacks between your major motion meals.

(Note: These have all been chosen because, unlike so much else in comic books, you can enjoy these completely as a stand alone treat. The only prior knowledge you need for any of them is that, obviously…he’s Batman!)

Batman versus Predator

This is a real thing.

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Originally released in 1991 as a three-issue prestige-format mini-series, Batman versus Predator was one of the earlier collaborations between DC and Dark Horse Comics, and is to date one of the few that’s any good. In fact if this had taken place instead of Predator 2, the world may be a much better place now.

It’s not hard to surmise what’s going on: A Predator (alien hunter for those who don’t know any pop-culture and therefore don’t care anyway) comes to Gotham City and starts killing violent people for sport. Batman needs to stop it. The game’s afoot.

Written by Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke) with art by Andy and Adam Kubert, this mini-series (available in a collected edition) stands heads and shoulders above other crossovers precisely because of the talent involved. It’s not overly complicated, it has moments of tension and real drama, it looks great and it takes about 20 mins to read.

The series was followed by two sequels – Batman versus Predator II: Bloodmatch and Batman versus Predator III: Blood Ties – but both are just dull retreads that involve more characters from the Batman mythos.

A two-issue Batman/Aliens crossover was released in 1998, but I was done with it the moment this happened

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“Gotcha tongue…mouth…thing!”

Batman: Gotham Knight

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Created as a tie-in to the Nolan films, this rather superb, direct-to-dvd animated movie perfectly encapsulates everything I was talking about in the “…I’m Batman” posts.

Consisting of six short films, with art duties shared by four studios and writing by six of the best Bat-scribes, Gotham Knight links the stories by exploring people’s differing perceptions of who or what the Batman is, including the Dark Knight himself. Featuring appearances by some of the second-tier DC villains, the shorts never get bogged down by having to introduce them. My favourite short is easily the first, “Have I Got A Story For You”, but that’s not to say the other five don’t come close.

The Further Adventures of Batman

“Nananananananana…Bat-cramp!”

Compiled to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Batman in 1989, this anthology consists of 14 short stories by 14 writers.

This book has no ties to Batman’s continuing stories, and every writer builds their little slice of Bat-land out of whatever elements clearly appeal to them. In short, none of the stories connect to each other, and some would outright contradict each other.

What’s fun and memorable about these stories is that they explore aspects of Batman that rarely get looked at in other media, and the fact that the authors have no investment in the character actually works as a strength.

A very fondly-remembered tale is Mike Resnick’s Neutral Ground, detailing a night of business in the shop of Kittleheimer – the man who outfits both Gotham’s heroes and criminals with the themed uniforms and tools they desire.

I was never as convinced by the story Northwestward. Written by the late legend Isaac Asimov, this tale of Bruce Wayne at a police charity function revels in the conceit that the character in this story inspired the writer Bob Kane to create the fictional Bruce Wayne/Batman. So, in short, when Asimov was invited to write a Batman story, he chose to write a…guy-with-the-same-name-as-Batman story.

And last, but by no rational methods the least:

Yarasa Adam (“Bedmen”)

It’s the Turkish Batman.

I need add nothing.

He’s Bedmen!

Cash Cows – “…I’m Batman” Part 5

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It would seem that in the intervening period between this and the previous installment, the folks at Warner Bros. have illustrated better than I ever could the dependability of their Cash-Bat. On this the suits at WB and the MegaZord behemoth that is Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm/YourChildhood seem to be in total concert, as they definitively prioritise what I hereby establish as Superheroes First Principle:

More on that in a bit. Right now?

Batman – The Un-Real World

While he will have the distinction of taking not one but two passes at the cinematic Caped Crusader, let us consider what has become firmly known as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

“Winged freak? terrorises?… Wait till they get a load of me!”

To briefly recap the previous entries into this semi-historical survey, the only thing that remains common to Batman in the seemingly endless incarnations and reinventions has been the capacity for the writer, director or show-runner to invest the character with a unique personality.

Ok, that and the thing with bats. The bats have been the same.

And the story… that’s always pretty much the same.

But the Bat, just as the Devil, is always in the details, and let’s face it, details are Nolan’s strong suit. Being released in the online age, the Dark Knight Trilogy has been critiqued beyond all reasonable consideration – the combined run time of all reviews and editorials would rival the four seasons of The Animated Series – so let’s consider the details. What did Nolan and Bale bring that made the films unique in the Batman mythos?

With Begins, for the first time, Bruce Wayne’s years of wandering and oft referenced but vaguely defined “training” are given pride of place in the narrative. The man who moulded a young and angry Wayne is fleshed into a real character. The meticulous and gradual accumulation of the cave, the suit, the gadgets and, of course, the car, are explained – right down to giving real purpose to the pointed ears on the cowl.

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Pictured: Superheroes Second Principle

The great film-alchemy that takes place here, truly, is in how Christian Bale perfectly embodies the character that Nolan is shaping out of the raw material that is Batman, and how perfectly that character reflects the way in which people perceive, receive, and respond to symbols. And for the purpose of crafting a film, those ‘people’ include Bruce Wayne himself.

What is the effect on a human being of being Batman? Plenty of the stories – in comics, tv & movies – have spent lots of time on the effect that a Batman has on the world around him, but I think the long-term effect of being Batman hasn’t really been explored as well as it has by Bale and Nolan. And as Nolan’s Gotham wrestles with the reality of a vigilante dressed as a bat making their city a better place, we the audience are challenged to consider our attitudes to iconic characters.

Put simply: Being Batman is deadly. While it’s already been mentioned by others that remaining in the suit is indicative of Bruce Wayne’s unbalanced psyche, if we’re being realistic, the human body just can’t withstand the stress of violence that Batman endures for long. Scientific America did an article on it here  - simultaneously helping me demonstrate my point, and reigniting my passion for scientific theory.

So, Batman fans, let me ask you this: If this is what it costs a man to be Batman, what does it say about us that we want him to never stop?

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“Six nights a week plus four matinees…what was I thinking?”

Nolan’s contribution to Batman is to state that people must change or die, and that stories must end.

You see, Alfred was right in The Dark Knight Rises when he said that Bruce wasn’t the man he used to be, that Bane was beyond him. In fact, he was right in Batman Begins when he said “You’re getting lost in this monster of yours.” Bruce becomes Batman to make his parents death mean something, because  his parents death has become his whole life. He never moved on from that moment. And as he builds a legend out of his psychological trauma, he convinces himself that the city cannot survive without him. Therefore he has convinced himself that he never has to change, he only has to be more forceful in what he already does. And if he dies in his efforts? Well, firstly it’s heroic, and secondly, it’s just an end to his pain.

But if we, the audience, are supposed to identify with characters in films, TV, or comic books, then how do we identify with this? If Batman is a child who refuses to grow up, and we refuse to watch him grow up…

The most common complaints I have read about Dark Knight Rises seem to revolve around the one statement: “Batman wouldn’t act like that.” The towering, dark and infallible hero wouldn’t disappear for years at a time, wouldn’t misjudge his own capability, wouldn’t lose etc.

I think Nolan and Bale have finally given us a complete character – one who grows, changes and is capable of moving on.

And that is a hero I can believe in.

Batman Born Again… And Again… And Again…

So we all know about this:

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“But you know what the best part of my day is? It’s for about ten seconds from when I pull up to the curb to when I get to your door. Because I think maybe I’ll get up there and I’M BATMAN!”

I have no problem with this.

I am curious as to how Batman will be portrayed in the upcoming money-machine (because, let’s face it, everyone is going to see this). Will he be the classic brooding vigilante – a one-man-army-corps of justice? Will he be a government agent – a throwback to the very first serials? Will he be primarily an urban legend figure – keeping the peace by sheer force of reputation?

I’m keen to find out.

But just for fun, there are some incarnations that I think I’d love to see from the Batfleck.

The Unseen Batman

It’s been referred to in the comics by a number of writers over the years (notably, in my eyes, by Grant Morrison on his epic JLA run), but surely Batman’s greatest weapon is that everyone thinks he is more terrifying than he is.

Criminals believe he may be an actual monster in the dark; cops only ever arrive in the aftermath of the chaos he causes; other heroes know nothing about him or what he’s capable of… and so they all assume the worst.

Wouldn’t it be cool to see almost nothing of Batman in the upcoming Superman vs Batman or World’s Finest or Whatever The Movie is Going to Be Everyone is Still Going to See It? Instead of watching him operate throughout the movie, we see the broken bodies of those who crossed his path; we meet the people who are afraid he might actually be able to walk through walls in the night; we watch Superman, unable to get a bead on the guy, become increasingly worried that this may not be a man, but some supernatural being that could end him.

At least, that’s what I’d love to see. Failing that, how about:

The Unhinged Batman

Who else wants to see Frank Miller’s Batman cranked up to 11?

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“He’s giving us the eyeEEE OH MY FREAKING HOLY CRAP!”

This is the kind of man who enjoys going out of a night and beating criminals to a bloody pulp. This is the kind of man who dressed a pre-teen in a brightly coloured costume and sends him into a room full of men with guns to serve as a distraction. This is the kind of human being who honestly believes he has a chance at taking on an alien who is capable of breaking the moon in half.

Not so much a tame psychopath, but one who is pointed in a convenient direction for law enforcement.

Though that Batman may be better played by Nic Cage.

Nicolas Cage as Batman. . Nicolas Cage,, 5' .. Nicolas Cage as Batman

“I’M A VAMPIRE!”

The Dark Road Ahead

So we finally come to the end of it: Batman through the ages. He’s been many things, but “popular” has been most consistent amongst them.

It’s inevitable we will see him on the big screen again (post Affleck), and the small screen, and hell, probably even in a podcast one day. The question is: Who will he be, and what will he have to say?

Well, actually, that’s pretty much writ.

A note of apology: I’m late, and I’m sorry. While there are probably very few left who feel the need to wrap this up, it seemed right to finish. A particular apology to my friend and editor, who has been waiting for this. Al, sorry – know that you inspired me to finish this though. Thanks to those who got through this.

What We’d love is to hear from you: What kind of Batman do you want to see come to life in the future?

Escape Plan – Mini Review

Escape_Plan_BannerEscape Plan is one of those movies that seemed like it was fun when you finished watching it, but is almost entirely forgotten by the following day. There’s nothing especially bad about the film, the premise is interesting and the execution is competent – but there is nothing that really stands out as being particularly good either.

The only reason that this is likely to be of any interest to people is that it puts Stallone and Schwarzenegger together on-screen, a relatively rare occurrence. Both actors put in a good performance here, without the painful callbacks featured in stuff like The Expendables – but neither of them is bringing their A-Game either. It’s hard to really pin down what Escape Plan could have done to better live up to the intriguing premise, but at the end of the day this is a pretty forgettable film. If it happens to come on the TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon I wouldn’t avoid it, but I certainly wouldn’t suggest going out of your way to watch it.

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Minecraft: The Story of Mojang – Mini Review

Minecraft_Story_of_Mojang_HeaderMinecraft: The Story of Mojang is a documentary that contains a lot of fascinating behind the scenes detail; provided you know quite a bit about Minecraft and gaming already. 2 Player Productions have created a film with some great tidbits for fans, but haven’t really done anything to help non-gamers understand what all the fuss is about. A non-fan will probably get the idea that Minecraft was a successful game, but they will constantly be asking questions like: ‘Why is that guy’s face always covered with an animation?’  ‘Who are all these people being interviewed?’ There’s some fantastic material here, but it will be lost on everyone outside of the Minecraft fan base.

There is merit to the idea of making a documentary for a limited audience, but even casual fans of the game will have a hard time diving in. One other annoyance was the number of artistic landscape shots that are littered throughout the film. They’re beautiful, don’t get me wrong – but they serve no actual purpose other than to distract from the main narrative. In a documentary where the narrative is so thin already, this is a major problem. Ultimately, even though there’s some good stuff here, I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone who wasn’t a hardcore Minecraft fan.

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The Wolf of Wall Street – Mini Review

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The Wolf of Wall Street is sure to be a divisive film. There will be those who say it’s glorifying terrible people responsible for defrauding thousands of customers, while others will portray it as an indictment of the system that allows such things to happen. I fall into the second category. The film doesn’t glorify these people in the same way that Casino doesn’t glorify organised crime; Scorsese recognises that the audience needs to see exactly how crazy Jordan Belfort’s lifestyle actually was in order to understand him and his motivations.

In a time where we’ve seen how flimsy the worldwide banking system really is, The Wolf of Wall Street is more pertinent than ever. We live in a world where money talks, and where (Spoiler Alert) the bad guys don’t always get what’s coming to them. The brilliance of this film is that it shows us the human behind the stories and all of his flaws, without compromising the important message that Jordan Belfort is a very bad man. The movie is crammed with fantastic performances, making it even more impressive that Leonardo DiCaprio manages to steal the show. This is a must see.

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Riddick – Mini Review


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Riddick is a ‘B Movie’ and makes absolutely no apologies for it. This is a good thing. There has been a trend in recent years to try to make action movies far more complicated than they really need to be. Riddick on the other hand is a nice simple tale of one man trying to survive in a hostile world with all the odds against him.

The first 30 minutes or so of the movie are almost entirely without dialogue, evoking memories of Conan the Barbarian. Like Conan, the cinematography and sound are absolutely beautiful, and Vin Diesel is perfect for the role of the modern-day fantasy hero. There are a number of great scenery chewing supporting performances, but this is Diesel’s movie and he doesn’t disappoint.

I actually enjoyed The Chronicles of Riddick, which seems to put me in the minority – but I think with Riddick, Vin Diesel has proven that this franchise has plenty of life left in it. This is a Conan for the modern age, and I hope we see more of him.

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This is the End – Mini Review

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This is the End is a moderately funny movie that thinks it’s a lot more clever than it actually is. It’s a movie for Hollywood, by Hollywood. Film stars are popping in left and right to make fun of their public personas, some more successfully than others. The cameos littered throughout the early portion of the film provide a few laughs here and there, but it begins to establish the film’s major flaw of feeling self-indulgent.

As anyone who has seen the trailer knows, the main conceit of the film is a bunch of movie stars left behind on earth during the biblical apocalypse. The plot doesn’t really get more complicated than that. This is primarily a film with six actors saying: ‘Look at me! Isn’t it cool how I can poke fun at myself and my movie roles?’

There are some genuinely funny moments throughout the film, but they only really serve to highlight how dull and predictable the rest of the film is. I wanted to like the movie, and kept hoping it would get better, but it never managed to rise above ‘meh’.

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