Justice League The New Frontier

  • Title: Justice League The New Frontier
  • Director: David Bullock
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2008
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Animation, Drama
  • Cast: David Boreanaz, Neil Patrick Harris, Kyle MacLachlan, Lucy Lawless, Phil Morris, Kyra Sedgwick, Brooke Shields, Jeremy Sisto, Miguel Ferrer, Robin Atkin Downes
  • Format: Widescreen, Color Animation
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“It was Korea — it changed everything.”— Hal
“Wars have a tendency to do that.”— Ace

“We’ve got to know what these Martians want from us. And since we can’t find them here on Earth, we’re going to Mars.”— Col. Flagg
“Outstanding.”— Hal

“I thought I could make a life for myself here among you humans. I thought I didn’t have a choice. But there is one now. There’s just too much hatred here, too much ignorance, too much mindless conformity, I’m leaving.”— Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz, John Jones)
“Have a nice trip, some of us don’t have that luxury.”— Batman

Set in 1952 – 1954, the Korean War has just ended, and McCarthyism is in full swing. And Super Heroes are at the top of McCarthy’s persecute list. Superman and Wonder Woman sign loyalty oaths, but after witnessing a brutal attack on the women of a Korean village towards the end of the war, Wonder Woman quits and returns to Paradise Island.

Meanwhile, Hal Jordan is on the journey to becoming an hero.  Justice League – The New Frontier briefly gives us Hal Jordan’s Silver Age Origin story. It also gives us Martian Manhunter’s origin story and weakness (fire). But, Wonder Woman leaves, Barry Allen publicly gives up being the Flash, though he doesn’t reveal his secret identity, Batman’s a fugitive, and Superman’s a government tool.

Meanwhile, a new villain called the Center rears it’s ugly head. Eventually the Justice League heroes will have to work together to defeat the menace (the living creature once known as Dinosaur Island), and with this defeat, they are able to form the Justice League. It other words, this is a origin story for the League too.

I really enjoyed this story — the characterizations were perfect Silver Age DC Heroes: Superman, Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. Even Robin briefly appears. Sufficient time was spent on each hero, telling us precisely who they were and who they care about – as well as their methodology.

That the villain is called, “The Center” (or possibly the Centre), seems weird these days with such polarization pushing the political spectrum to radical thinking, especially on the right. But I couldn’t help but think of a line by Yeats, “the Center cannot hold”. I Googled it, and here’s the first stanza of the poem:

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

Man, was Yeats depressed. Anyway, in New Frontier, the center is a giant blobby thing, a living island, with dinosaurs on it that it consumes for food. During it’s attacks on Cape Carnival the dinosaurs become very handy weapons. But it’s the heroes of the Justice League, including new hero, Green Lantern, and The Flash, working together that unite to defeat the villain.

Overall, I really liked it. Great cast (though Lucy Lawless has a really bad American accent as Wonder Woman when she fights one of her Amazon sisters on Paradise Island). Superman seems rather taken with Wonder Woman by the way, though he is also close to Lois Lane – who knows who he is.

I bought the two disc special edition, and there are some excellent documentaries on the DVD. The history of the Justice League (aka Justice League America, or simply, JLA) from the Golden Age to the Modern Day was pretty much priceless – I always love learning comics history. The villains history could have been a bit better documented and flushed out. But at least there was some nice documentaries on the discs.

Recommendation: See it! A must for DC fans.
Rating: 4 of 5

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Batman Under the Red Hood

  • Title:  Batman Under the Red Hood
  • Director: Brandon Vietti
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2010
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Mystery, Animation
  • Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Cole, Jason Isaacs
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Could you just once say – ‘Let’s get in the car’, Is that so hard?” — Nightwing, as he finds himself talking to thin air

You really think I would stir up so much trouble and not make sure you knew it was me?” — Joker

Under the Red Hood is a major departure from previous WB Animation Batman films. Where those films (Mystery of the Batwoman, Subzero, and Mask of the Phantasm) felt like longer episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, this film is cinematic, full of action, and also tragic. In short it feels like a film. It’s also very grounded in Batman graphic novels published by DC Comics, especially A Death in the Family and Under the Hood (Also collected as Under the Red Hood). And this film is violent. People die. Granted, most are criminals, but still – not for the under 15 set. This is a film for adults, which, again, is more in the same tone as the more adult Batman graphic novels.

The film opens with a scene from the end of my favorite Batman graphic novel, A Death in the Family, Joker beating Jason Todd/Robin nearly to death with a crowbar and then blowing him sky high. Batman arrives, but too late to save Robin. The shot of Batman, standing in the rain, holding Jason’s dead body is nearly as effective as the still in the novel – where Batman is kneeling clutching Jason, and has his head bowed. Jason’s death would haunt Bruce nearly as much as his parents’ death.

DeathofRobin1

The film then moves forward five years. Batman is out on patrol and ends up fighting Amazo (a killer android), Nightwing arrives and the two work together flawlessly. Nightwing (aka Dick Greyson), voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, I really liked. And I actually thought the re-casting worked. I preferred him to Loren Lester who had voiced Dick/Robin/Nightwing in Batman: The Animated Series. But what Batman discovers is that two new players are at work in Gotham:  Black Mask and the Red Hood. Black Mask is a gangster, similar to what we’ve seen before in Gotham City, but grotesquely disfigured with a skeletal black head. Red Hood is both attacking, and killing, criminals in Gotham, and taking a percentage of their take. Batman, at first with Nightwing’s help, goes after Red Hood. Since Red Hood was once upon a time an alias of the Joker, they pursue a lead to Arkham Asylum, checking in on the straight-jacket restrained Joker. But, Joker has been held tight, and even more convincingly, says he wouldn’t keep it a secret if he was causing chaos in Gotham.

After their first confrontation with Red Hood, Batman and Nightwing, now suffering a broken ankle, are in the Cave with Alfred (who’s bandaging said ankle) going through Batman’s video and audio recordings of the fight. Nightwing notes that Red Hood isn’t just some hood or gangster – he’s trained. Batman points out that even the ability to have knives that can cut his lines is unheard of. However, Batman also sends Nightwing away, asking Alfred to bring Dick home. In part, because Bruce still sees a need to protect Dick.

Once Dick is gone, Bruce reviews the audio, and thinks he hears the Red Hood call him “Bruce”. Only a handful of people know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. After another confrontation with the Red Hood, Bruce is able to get a blood sample for analysis. He’s running the sample through the computers in the cave, running a comparison. The results come back just as Alfred walks in. The result: a match between Red Hood and Jason Todd, startles the normally unflappable butler so much he drops the coffee service he’s carrying. But he also, immediately, tries to console Bruce, while trying to figure out what’s happened. Together, they dig up Jason’s grave. Bruce realizes he’s buried a latex dummy. Alfred tries to comfort Bruce, reminds him how distraught he was, but Bruce is angry with himself and insists he should have realized.

Bruce flies off to the middle of nowhere and confronts Ra’s al Ghul. Ghul explains exactly what happened. During a confrontation between himself and Batman five years before, in desperation, he had hired the Joker to provide a distraction. But, he hadn’t counted on the Joker’s madness or savagery. Ra’s, in short, actually felt bad about Jason’s death.  He arranges the switcharoo with the bodies, and takes Jason’s body to a Lazarus pit. But, the resurrected Jason is quite literally, quite mad.

After he’s discovered the truth, Batman heads back to Gotham in his jet. Alfred talks to him over the video link.

“Sir, please take this to heart. Who Jason was before, how we lost him, and this dark miracle or curse that has brought about his return, it is not your fault.” — Alfred

“Then I got him killed. My partner. My soldier. My fault. I own that. I’ll carry that like everything else.” —Batman

The conversation is filled with everything I love about Bruce and Alfred’s relationship, and nearly brought me to tears. Alfred cares so much for Bruce, the man he sees as a son. Bruce, however, can’t really accept that caring in any way. (He has the same problem accepting how Dick feels about him). And Bruce is, oh, so ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Brilliant writing.

The conversation is cut short, however, by Alfred’s discovery on the news that Joker is causing trouble. Batman needs to rush to the scene. Red Hood shows up where Joker is (who’s taken all of Gotham’s criminals who work for Red Hood hostage) and reveals everything was a plan to get an audience between himself and Joker. Joker scoffs, but is then impressed. Then he’s on the run for his life. (Imagine — someone scarier than Joker chasing the Joker. And in this film, it works.) Red Hood catches the Joker, takes him to a room, and starts to beat the crap out of him with a crowbar — using the exact same taunting words Joker had used five years ago. Formerly confused as who Red Hood was, now Joker gets it, and still manages to insult Jason.

Batman does arrive and tries to stop Jason. In the fight, Jason tears off the cowl, then removes his own red helmet. (He does return the cowl to Bruce) He leads Batman to Joker. Their conversation, again, is heartbreaking. Bruce tries to apologize and tries to make things right, but it doesn’t work. Finally, Jason tells a startled Bruce that he forgave him for dying (that is for Jason’s death). But he doesn’t forgive him for not killing the Joker. Batman tries to explain that he has thought about it, but that’s a dark pit he’d never crawl out of. Jason continues with — “I’m not talking about Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Dent — just him!” But Batman is adamant – he will not kill. So, Jason gives him a choice — kill the Joker or kill Jason (as he puts a gun to Joker’s head). Batman turns, slowly walks away, then after Jason’s fired at him, he ducks the bullet as he turns back and throws a batarang into Jason’s gun, which explodes and so does the room, with charges that Jason has set. Batman isn’t able to get everyone out safely.

This is a dark, violent story. But vintage Batman. Well, new Batman, to be precise. It’s an excellent, excellent movie, dealing with dark themes. The voice actors are good, especially Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing and Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd/Red Hood. I was very disappointed that Kevin Conroy, who was so excellent as Batman, and in many ways is my favorite Batman actor, (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and old Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, plus various DCAU movies) is re-cast with Bruce Greenwood. However, Greenwood does do a good job. And oddly enough, Batman, Alfred, and Joker, all sound very much like their counterparts in the Warner Brothers live action movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

But, I also cannot stress enough just how good this film was. It’s cinematic, it’s shot or filmed like a film — with some really great shots (the close-up of Robin’s eye as he realises the Joker’s rigged the place in Sarejevo to explode; Batman holding Jason’s broken body, etc). I also loved how flashbacks were introduced with ghost images that then became solid. The storyline is great, and based in the books (always a plus for any filmed version of Batman). And, Warner’s has gotten away from the “no one can really die” code that makes it’s animated television shows occasionally resemble The A-Team (the original TV series, not the movie).

Recommendation: See it! Buy it! Appropriate for children over 15 and adults.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

  • Title:  Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  Mutant Enemy Productions
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy
  • Music:  Joss Whedon & Jed Whedon
  • Lyrics:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen
  • Cast:  Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“Destroying the Status Quo, because the status is not quo.”  — Dr. Horrible

“She talked to me!  Why did she talk to me now?”  — Dr. Horrible (Billy)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is what happens when creative people are told they can’t work.  The project was made during the writer’s strike.  Whedon, who as a member of the writer’s guild, couldn’t write for pay, got together with a bunch of his currently unemployed actor buddies, and produced this – and put it on the Internet for free.  Which is both why it’s so short (roughly 42 minutes) and why it’s in three “acts” (the parts would have been posted separately to allow for easier streaming and download on-line).  Later the movie was edited together and put on DVD.  The DVD also includes “Commentary – The Musical”, which is a full-length musical commentary.  And yes, it is as fun as it sounds.

Plot is actually very much something the average geek, nerd, or dork can identify with — though I mean that in a good way.  Dr. Horrible, aka Billy (Neil Patrick Harris), hosts a video blog, and is very shy around girls, especially Penny (Day) — the girl he sees at the laundromat  twice a week.  Penny is sweet and kind, and works with the homeless.  Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), Dr. Horrible’s nemesis, is built, handsome, and totally clueless about the way he actually treats people.

Dr. Horrible is trying to get into the Evil League of  Evil, run by Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin.  He’d also like to win over Penny, but is too shy to really talk to her.  He also manages to accidentally introduce Penny to Captain Hammer — and they start dating, much to Horrible’s chagrin.  He develops his Freeze Ray to freeze time, and a Death Ray, but is about to realize he can’t kill a defenseless and frozen Captain Hammer, when the freezing stops working.  In the ensuing fracas… well, buy the DVD.

The music is fun, and full of some very amusing lyrics.  If you’ve seen “Buffy:  The Musical”, you’ll recognize some of the techniques used here — lots of over-lapping sung lyrics, duets and even trios between the three main characters, and returning themes in the music.  Overall, the storyline doesn’t have a happy ending though, unlike most musicals – but it is 80-90 percent sung, with very little dialogue. The dialogue is only used to connect the various songs; and it’s the songs that actually move the plot along.

Overall, a fun, amusing, and somewhat strange short film.

List of  Musical Numbers (Titles approximate)

  • Laundry Day — Billy
  • Bad Horse Chorus
  • Caring Hands for Homeless Shelter — Penny
  • A Man’s Gotta Do, What a Man’s Gotta Do (Dr. Horrible)
  • A Man’s Gotta Do — Captain Hammer
  • Thank You for Saving Me — Penny
  • Evil Inside me Is On the Rise — Dr. Horrible
  • Some Kind of Harmony is on the Rise — Penny
  • Story of a Girl — Penny
  • A Brand New Day — Dr. Horrible
  • So They Say — Captain Hammer
  • Everyone’s a Hero in their Own Way — Captain Hammer
  • Society is Slipping / Say It Was Horrible —  Dr. Horrible
  • Here Lies Everything, the World I Wanted at My Feet – Dr. Horrible

Recommendation:  A Must See
Rating:  4
Next Film:  Dr. No (James Bond)