Detective Comics #1027 Review

One week removed from worldwide Batman Day celebrations and the dust has now well and truly settled on the anniversary issue which marks the occasion. One thousand issues of Detective Comics have come and gone since the most popular caped crusader first graced its pages, and the question now on everybody’s lips is how does such an oversaturated character stay so popular and culturally relevant?

The answer to this question is quite simple really – although a thousand issues have come and gone (and many, many more if we include his other series), the character of Batman has undergone so much change and evolution that he would make even the scriptwriters of the Jurassic Park franchise blush. It is that state of constant flux, that flourish of individuality brought to the table by an army of different writers throughout the years, which makes Bruce Wayne the world’s most popular superhero. It is for that precise reason that a landmark issue such as this one is not an action-packed extravaganza, but instead a collection of a dozen short stories from a dozen all-star creative teams who all tackle a different element of the Batman mythology.

From an impressive feat of escape artistry in the first story “Blowback” to shepherding the rest of the Batfamily through a murder mystery in “The Master Class,” Batman’s prowess is on show right from the very beginning. As entertaining as these stories are, true value is found in those such as “Rookie” which tackle the idea of Batman, in this case how much of an inspiration he can be to the people of Gotham. This is then humorously twisted in “Detective #26” when the emergence of the Bat forces a would-be vigilante to seek early retirement when he realises just how ineffective he is compared to The Dark Knight.

That is not to say that more straightforward and traditional, albeit shorter, tales of the bat are not entertaining. Stories such as “Odyssey” manage to spin a complete and satisfying narrative, the dozen-page constraint having no bearing on its ability to be compelling. Whereas “Legacy”, which could very easily just have been a standard Batman vs. Dr. Phosphorous battle, instead looked to the future and reminded us all why this slightly-mad, night-prowling costumed character is unequivocally on the side of the angels.

The final two stories, “Generations: Fractured” and “A Gift”, being drawn-out advertisements for future stories feels inappropriate in a celebration of Batman’s past. However, others such as “Many Happy Returns” and “As Always” balance this out by reminding us how tirelessly the Bat fights against evil, be it the Joker or any number of cosmic entities. While we don’t meet the likes of Darkseid or the Anit-Monitor face-to-face, it would have been a missed opportunity to not have a story featuring the Clown Prince of Crime relentlessly tormenting the yin to his yang.

In conclusion, this issue is a tremendous publication from DC and while not every story included has been mentioned by name they all come together to feature something for everyone. Whether you are an old-school Batman fan or a relative newcomer, this is one collected edition-sized anniversary issue that deserves its place on your shelf rather than inside a bag and board.

Final Score: 10/10

The New Mutants Review

Stuck in development hell after numerous delays spanning several years, Josh Boone’s The New Mutants finally hit theatres this month and is one of the first to do so during the global pandemic. Breaking the traditional superhero mould and fusing X-Gene mayhem with YA horror, the biggest question hanging over its head is was it worth the wait?

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

It feels like a lifetime ago when Thor: Ragnarok landed in theatres across the world back in October 2017, accompanied by the first trailer for what would be the final entry in the FOX-Men series of cinematic outings. Had this movie released in April 2018 as originally planned its target audience would still be gushing over Stranger Things and one of its stars Charlie Heaton, they would not yet have been disappointed by Maisie Williams’ final season of Game of Thrones, and they would be eagerly awaiting Anya Taylor-Joy’s next blockbuster outing between the one-two punch that would become Split and its sequel Glass. Instead those ships have all left the harbour a long time ago, and since the planned reshoots never actually happened we have to wonder what was the point of keeping this ensemble of talented young actors on the shelf for so long.

A couple of minutes and one disaster movie intro later after the lights dim and the projector powers up, the audience follows Blu Hunt’s Dani Moonstar to the mysterious medical facility in which she has woken up. Far from a traditional hospital, she finds herself handcuffed to the bed and under constant observation by biometric-scanning CCTV cameras before the initially-soothing Dr. Reyes comforts her new patient and explains her new set of circumstances. Soon joined by her four other fellow patients, or rather inmates, Dani discovers that she is being kept in an off-the-grid facility which teaches dangerous new mutants how to control their powers and reintegrate into society. However, doctoral qualifications aside, Reyes shares very few similarities with the altruistic Xavier over in Westchester.

It isn’t long before the sinister underbelly of Dani’s new home is revealed, with her housemates being kept there mostly against their will long-term with no release in sight.

The exact circumstances of her arrival uncertain, all that is known is that something devastating tore through Dani’s ancestral home and killed all of its inhabitants. She, however, is relatively unharmed and strange things begin to go bump in the night when she becomes agitated during her nightmares. With a healthy dose of dramatic irony at play by keeping the movie’s six characters in the dark until the final act, it is immediately apparent to the audience that Dani has the ability to make a person’s worst nightmare manifest in the real world. This leads to a destructive final confrontation with her inner demons as it takes the form of the Demon Bear from her childhood folklore, killing Dr. Reyes and freeing these five new mutants from under her boot. But not before they get the chance to work together as a team and embrace rather than fear their superpowers to defeat it, of course.

Things don’t look good for the new mutants heading into the final confrontation

In many ways the movie works, making the audience care for each of the teenagers in turn except for Roberto ‘Sunspot’ da Costa, who is an unfortunate victim of sequel setup which will now never happen.

This disappointing oversight aside, by and large Boone has made great use of a short runtime to cover the backstories of four other troubled teenagers whose origin stories contain a mix of survivor’s guilt, Catholic shame, penitent mourning, and repressed sexual trauma. Far from the usual radioactive spider or gamma rays, one thing which Boone does not do with this cast of comic books characters is shy away from what makes them tick. Although it is for the most part implicit context rather than explicit content, the narrative is still served well by the gradual reveals of their individual histories.

That being said, what The New Mutants needed more than anything else is more room to breathe. Claustrophobia aside, which in fact ups the tension as the characters never leave the facility, events and exposition happen one after the other and after another like clockwork, as if a checklist of things to cover is being ticked off one by one. If the rumours of the planned reshoots being used to incorporate more horror elements are true, they would have been a welcome addition if they also brought along with them enough extra footage to bump the runtime up to two hours and allow a world to develop onscreen. Rather than escaping to the world of cinema and becoming immersed in the FOX-Men universe one last time, instead we feel more like casual observers who are simply viewing quick-cut snippets of the characters’ lives.

To make matters worse, even though she is the closest thing to a main character in this ensemble, Dani is overshadowed by Illyana Rasputin in almost every way.

When the armour and sword come out, you run

With the most explicit backstory and substantial script material to work with, Anya Taylor-Joy easily puts in the best performance of the bunch and makes this another successful footnote in her growing filmography. Not that fellow sci-fi franchise veterans Charlie Heaton and Maisie Williams are pushovers, nor are the rest of the cast, but it is a simple case of another character ultimately being more compelling and entertaining to watch than the one who is supposed to be the audience’s eyes and introduction into this new world. Add in miniature dragon Lockheed, a gigantic glowing Soulsword, teleportation portals into Limbo and suddenly you find yourself just lamenting the fact that we will likely never see Magik link up with her famous metallic brother Colossus of Deadpool fame.

Rahne ‘Wolfsbane’ Sinclair midtransformation – try to scorch her with a hot brand at your own peril

The aforementioned Williams also produces some of the best acting in this outing, her strong Catholic faith contrasting nicely with the real-life horror movie unfolding in front of these fictional characters. Sharing a number of touching scenes with Blu Hunt’s Dani as they explore their sexual identity and budding romance, in many ways they link up to form the heart of the movie.

Tragically, this great performance is overshadowed in some scenes by shockingly bad special effects in an otherwise impressive movie CGI-wise. Made famous for being a werewolf in an X-Man suit in the source material, here Rahne Sinclair deviates between being a regular wolf and Maisie Williams with extra tufts of fur around her neck and longer nails. In a project which contains a building-sized nightmare bear, a teleporting girl with a sword and a pair of boys who can spontaneously combust and charge through the air at extreme speeds, this is unfortunately a distractingly disappointing effort which will not age well for a character who the audience spends a lot of time connecting with and is portrayed by such a fan-favourite actor.

Also disappointing is the absence of the true villain behind Dr. Reyes and the facility, implied through context to be the infamous X-Men villain Mr. Sinister when it is revealed that Essex Corporation is the governing body. No doubt setup for the rest of the trilogy along with the pleasantly surprising connection to Logan, given that this movie is now just a one-and-done affair it instead reeks of unfulfilled opportunities.

A little worse for wear and severely traumatised, but at least the world is now their oyster

Plagued by studio-mandated pushbacks and delays that killed any momentum the project might have had in the first place, The New Mutants caps off the FOX-Men Cinematic Universe with a whimper rather than a bang. Although it is full to the brim with young and talented actors, an appropriately eerie atmosphere, mostly-perfect special effects and a drive to do something different, this outing is weighed down by failings which are too glaring to ignore. It’s hurried runtime robs the audience of the quieter moments which are well-executed when present, its traditionally superhero-esque third act marks a tonal shift so out of left field that it gives the audience whiplash, and its efforts to tie together other projects containing an X-Gene are unfortunately too little too late and leave longtime fans of the franchise craving something that is now never going to see fruition.

Final Score: 6/10

Stargirl Season One Review

The first live-action outing from the DC Universe streaming service to be classed as “child friendly,” Stargirl proves that you don’t need strong violence, gratuitous swearing, or body horror to tell a compelling superhero origin story.

When a television series based on Courtney Whitmore, a.k.a. Stargirl, was announced in the summer of 2018 it was met with some confusion. Namely, how it would gel against the otherwise-mature content being produced on DCU. Thankfully it purposely does not gel, and instead finds its own tone, niche, and balance of wholesome teenage superhero shenanigans versus nefarious adult supervillain machinations. Although it benefited from a next-day broadcast on American network The CW, Stargirl takes a leaf out of its fellow streaming series’ playbook and consists of just 13 episodes compared to a network standard of 22. But just how well does it utilise a concise runtime?

Where the likes of Titans and, to a lesser extent, Doom Patrol stumble and sometimes spend too much time flashbacking to the past, this series strikes a perfect balance between supplying the audience with all of the context they need regarding the Justice and Injustice Societies of America while also setting up the successors to these mantles in a satisfying way. By the time the season has reached its halfway point the stage is set, the second incarnation of the JSA has been established and developed, and the ISA have already committed enough atrocities to make us want to see each and every one of them suffer a beatdown from the ever-impressive S.T.R.I.P.E. mecha.

Stargirl and her Cosmic Staff

Speaking of the invention of legacy sidekick Pat Dugan, the CGI budget and SFX wizardry present throughout the series is something to behold. Be it the emotive Cosmic Staff, the chilling villain Icicle, or the stunning action set pieces, it can never be said that Stargirl does not impress on a visual level.

That is not to say that the actual drama and emotional punch found here is lacking in any way, as nothing could be further from the truth. What many comic book-based series fail to do is convey a sense of risk, with the audience generally safe in the knowledge that the hero will triumph in the end and the status quo will be reinstated. Without giving away the plot of the finale, what can be safely revealed is that throughout the series enough tragedies and pitfalls dash the hopes of our young cast of heroes to assure the audiences that the gloves are off and as far as Season Two is concerned, no one is safe.

There is also enough emotional baggage associated with our heroes that you would need S.T.R.I.P.E. itself to carry it all. From dead parents to invasions of privacy to teenage angst, they’ve got it all.

The new crop of Blue Valley JSA heroes do justice to their predecessors

Hourman is haunted by the deaths of his parents, initially thought to have died in a regular car accident. It is revealed throughout the course of the series that the accident was in fact caused by Solomon Grundy on the fateful night which eradicated the original JSA, a revelation which motivates him to take down the ISA. Wildcat regressed from a sociable, straight-A student to a forced recluse at the behest of her parents after intimate pictures of her were leaked by her then-boyfriend’s jealous ex. In one of the series’ many plot conveniences, both of these teenagers are the children of ISA members. Dr. Mid-Nite, meanwhile, is more or less just along for the ride and is enjoying getting to know the AI replica of her predecessor which inhabits her high-tech goggles. Last but not least, Stargirl herself is determined to vanquish the ISA after learning that her father, supposedly the original Starman, was also killed alongside the parents of the new Hourman.

The real superpowers of the Injustice Society of America members are their anti-aging techniques

On the other hand, by comparison the vast majority of the Injustice Society members are disappointingly one-note, with the exception of scene-stealing Icicle and Brainwave who are determined to brainwash the American population and force them to conform to their ideals.

Nevertheless, stereotypical moustache-twirling villains aside, every episode in the series adds another piece to the puzzle that is the mysterious happenings in Blue Valley, with not a minute of screentime wasted. By the time the final confrontations take place in the two-part finale large dollops of vindication and justice are dished out to the audience’s glee, while also laying an intriguing foundation for Season Two.

In conclusion, Stargirl is a wonderful antithesis to the grimdark standard which has been set by other live-action series on DC Universe. Its main star is a delight to watch navigate the superhero realm, her co-stars are suitably fleshed-out and grounded in reality, and the classic superhero action is second to none in the television arena. While some of its villains hold it back from being the perfect series, their comeuppance will have to satisfy audiences for now before the survivors return to plague the JSA next year.

Final Score: 9/10

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