growing up, i was a big batman fan. the first tim burton movie was one of the few movies we had on vhs that i was allowed to watch during my younger days, i saw all the subsequent live-action movies (plus mask of the phantasm) in theaters, i was a religious viewer of the animated series, and you could scarcely walk through my bedroom without tripping over batman action figures.
thing is, batman was never my favorite batman character? it was robin. (and nightwing.) more recently, i discovered the character of bluebird and i freaking love her. so now that i’m getting back into comics, i figured i should do a sidekick-centric readthrough of batman over the years. i’ll hit all the major solo batman stuff, too, but i’m going to be extra sure not to miss any quality sidekick content.
batman: year one (1987)
the nice thing is, the whole story is kind of batman punching cops. and yeah, ok, it’s the “these are bad cops” bullshit (i remember there being some kind of throwaway line about gotham’s pd just being extraordinarily corrupt)… but it’s still like almost 100% of the cops that are bad? even jim gordon’s “i’m gonna fix it from the inside!” kind of story was kind of good?
even though it’s been shown over and over again that that isn’t a thing and we need abolition… there was still plenty of stuff in this story line that i highly approved of. like the commissioner dismissively telling him “you kept the media away from it, that’s all that matters” when gordon references a past mistake, and when gordon vows that he won’t have to worry about dishonesty from him, the commissioner says it’s “the last thing on [his] mind.” which makes even more sense when we later see the commissioner dining with literal mob bosses.
gordon’s primary antagonist is even the perfect representation of the worst kind of cop, a white guy who peaked in high school. dude’s off-duty uniform was a letter jacket for the gods’ sake.
the only real frank miller bullshit on display here was his misogyny. well, ok, and also his usual weird depictions of masculinity (like gordon randomly using the barbell in harvey’s office in the middle of a formal conversation where they’re both dressed in suits???), but those are surely related.
as far as misogyny, there’s especially a lot with how sex workers are portrayed here that’s just… ick. but probably the most frustrating thing is when gordon’s hypercompetent coworker detective essen looks like she’s gonna be a great supportive friend for him but they end up having an affair because of course they do. it’s just so frustrating.
also, on a very petty/whiney note: thisneededmorecatwoman!!!
but, yeah! i think this is the least bad frank miller story i’ve ever encountered. so that’s something. c–rank
batman: the man who laughs (2005)
early on, while he’s trapped in a conversation with another billionaire, bruce expresses disgust that he’s the kind of man who’s “had everything in his life handed to him and who still manages to find ways to make poor people poorer.” it’s absolutely a fantasy that bruce can be a billionaire andnot do those things even incidentally, but i still appreciate that these are at least his stated values.
as for the main body of the story, it’s a modernized retelling of batman’s first encounter with the joker. i’m generally not the hugest fan of batman solo stories (not that there aren’t great ones, they just aren’t my preference) or the joker, but this is pretty well done. it’s just a pretty straightforward story of the joker trying to cause chaos and murder a bunch of people with his characteristic death smile-inducing poison and batman stopping him. just a pretty good all-around story. b–rank
batman: four of a kind (1995)
this graphic novel collects four year one annuals featuring batman’s first encounter with four different villains.
the first comic featured is batman:shadowofthebatannual#3, chronicling batman’s first encounter with poison ivy. if you happen to know that poison ivy is absolutely on the list of characters i would simp myself into oblivion for (and if you don’t, trust me, it’ll come up later in these reviews), you probably expect me to like this one.
unfortunately it’s written by alan grant, who i know was in the news recently for tragically passing away, so this is very awkward timing. but it’s just… look, i don’t know anything about his non-batman career, but his writing on batman has been… unenlightened on social issues and diversity to say the least.
this comic in particular is painfully heteronormative, which is always a shame with poison ivy. it’s also extremely unsympathetic to ivy. she comes off more as petulant and moody than righteously angry like she does in other appearances. the whole thing feels way more about men’s anxieties about women than it does about anything else.
like, don’t get me wrong. i enjoyed it in spite of the bad writing. even someone doing an awful job of writing ivy being dommy and threatening can’t make her completely unsexy. and the art was frequently… extremely nice. definitely a lot of feminist brain/dumb lesbian brain dichotomy happening here.
unfortunately it was just all kinds of distractingly male gazey, and hard to really enjoy as much as i would have liked to have. let’s generously give this a c–rank, because again it’s hard not to enjoy poison ivy even when she’s handled badly.
mercifully we get an immediate change of pace as the second issue collected here is detectivecomicsannual#8, the riddler’s origin story as written by the amazing chuck dixon. this is not going to be the last time in this marathon that a graphic novel makes me slog through an alan grant issue or arc only to deliver a sigh of relief in the form of a chuck dixon issue or arc.
it’s funny how this issue manages to include overtly sexy women without it feeling like it’s leering at them? when riddler–having been laughed off by everyone he’s tried to recruit for muscle and/or funding–has resigned himself to being a solo criminal, he ends up finding two accomplices in a rather unlikely way.
the two ladies who would later be known as query and echo actually show up to mug him wearing bondage gear and fishnets, each pointing a gun at his head. he apparently talks them into joining him, and their manner towards both him and their victims continues being very dominant without much being made of it. it’s just very matter of fact. there’s a panel of them casually looming over him and touching him while they plan, and another later of them bullying a tied-up victim. just really great stuff if you’re, y’know, like me (aka a subby little bitch).
the comic as a whole is narrated by riddler, and it’s told in a series of flashbacks dating back to his days of being bullied in school, continuing through how he became a criminal and how he ended up on batman’s radar. there’s a brief mention of the fact that the riddler considers batman a worthy adversary when it comes to matching wits with him, and i really do enjoy when writers go out of their way to emphasize what it is about batman that each villain challenges, since all of them really do serve as foils for a particular aspect of batman’s personality. it’s just always nice when a writer gets that.
on the whole, this is a pretty great read. not the best dixon comic i’ve read or anything, but pretty easily at least a b–rank.
the penultimate issue collected here is batmanannual#19, relating batman’s first encounter with scarecrow. it’s not awful or anything, but it’s for sure not one of my favorite scarecrow stories. i actually don’t have much to say about it, so let’s just give it a c–rank and move on.
the graphic novel concludes with batman:legendsofthedarkknightannual#5 which gives us man-bat’s origin story. man-bat is not really a villain that has ever interested me, but fortunately this story was in the capable hands of chuck dixon, so despite my lack of interest in the subject it was still a pretty pleasant read. i’d still probably give it a c–rank, which i hate doing to a chuck dixon story, but i just find man-bat pretty boring, i’m sorry guys.
batman: haunted knight (1993-95)
this collects the three legends of the dark knight halloween specials written by jeph loeb and illustrated by tim sale, both of long halloween and dark victory fame. in fact, this was more or less what inspired them to go on to make the long halloween, so at the very least batfans owe these specials a debt of gratitude for that.
if you know anything about me you know i love halloween, it’s not only my favorite holiday but there’s quite a bit of daylight between it and my next favorite. so it’s probably no surprise that i really enjoyed the theming in these specials. the first and third are also thematically linked as they both deal in one way or another with bruce’s bat/life balance.
the first story is a fairly straightforward scarecrow story with the usual ruminations on the nature of fear and whatnot. the second is an alice and wonderland-themed story featuring the mad hatter kidnapping various children including a young barbara gordon. one thing i loved about this is that we actually got some flashbacks about martha wayne and some details about bruce’s relationship with her for once, which is so refreshing compared to the neverending parade of details about his daddy issues.
the third story has got to be one of the most unique a christmas carol pastiches i’ve ever seen considering it sets it on halloween rather than christmas. i suppose that works rather well for batman given that halloween is for sure the holiday that fits our angsty cosplaying goth boy’s vibe quite a bit better. it was kinda corny doing as direct an adaptation of dickens’ novella as this did, but i actually really enjoy that kinda stuff sometimes. ymmv.
overall, while this certainly doesn’t hit the heights of the long halloween or even dark victory, it was a perfectly enjoyable read and one i’m glad to have finally gotten to. b–rank
batman: the long halloween (1996-97) & batman: dark victory (1999-2000)
i went through a phase in the mid-2000s (which i seem to be going through again) of wanting to actually properly get into comics instead of just watching all the cartoons and half-remembering a few well-marketed issues i read as a kid. i was mostly into x-men and spider-man at the time, but given that i had been a massive batman fan as a kid i did find time for a few major batman storylines and the long halloween and its sequel dark victory were two of them.
i remember finding them exceptionally well-written and thinking “wow these would make better batman movies than most of the actual batman movies,” considering long halloween was basically a better version of the dark knight and dark victory seemed like the perfect way to get the batman movies over the idea that they were too serious and dark to have robin in them.
revisiting them now, while i am certainly less than thrilled with the undercurrents (overcurrents, really) of copaganda i am pleased to find that yeah they still totally kick ass. batman doing an actual murder investigation is always going to be fun for me given that him being a detective first and foremost is one of my favorite things about his character. him having to run through basically his entire rogues gallery in the process, while occasionally aided and abetted by an enigmatic catwoman and briefly enslaved by poison ivy to boot just really pushes these over the top as two of my favorite batman stories.
not to mention that the art is just freaking fantastic. everything is so highly stylized, so much story is told through color and lighting choices. there’s nothing subtle about it, but there doesn’t have to be. it is iconic.
as far as robin specifically, dark victory retells the origin story of dick grayson. he’s actually only in a few issues of the limited series, but he’s nevertheless a massive part of the story. one of the things that keeps coming up is that batman can’t keep doing this alone, he’s just one man, etc. alfred is trying his best to help, but he knows batman needs a real partner. so when dick grayson comes along, him becoming that partner makes a lot more sense than if it had just happened out of the blue.
dick’s introduction in dark victory is as skimpy on characterization as the robin costume is on covering skin, which is definitely not my preference (the characterization thing that is), but i think it works really well for the kind of story being told in this comic. and my original opinion holds: chris nolan and all the other people who want a very serious batman just need to read this to see how robin can fit in literally any kind of batman story. a–rank
batman chronicles: the gauntlet (1997)
i used to have this comic as a kid!! like, before i even got into my aforementioned “wanting to get into comics properly” phase in the 2000s. i got this around when it came out because i saw it at a comic shop and, as already mentioned, i’m a huge robin fan.
this is the story of robin’s “final exam” before becoming batman’s full-time partner. the idea is originally to basically play a high-stakes, citywide game of hide-and-seek with batman, and robin adds a twist of taunting him with clues that would theoretically have batman criss-crossing town in search of him if bruce didn’t characteristically find a way around playing robin’s game. but all of that becomes moot when robin finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a much less friendly adversary, the mob.
robin kicks all kinds of ass in this, and it’s great seeing him be the primary antagonist the mobsters are focused on. he effectively needles them to frustration, with a lot of great moments of them growling in frustration about the “little brat” or “twerp” besting them. even once they manage to capture him at gunpoint and–they think–bind him securely, he wiggles out when they’re not looking (according to batman it takes him less than 90 seconds thanks to his training) and uses the rope they used on him as a weapon against them. a lot of this story is absolutely carried by robin’s bratty, exuberant personality. i love it, and i wish i still had a hard copy of it. a–rank
robin: year one (2000-2001)
i thought i had read this before, but it turns out i hadn’t! large portions of this one are narrated by alfred, and we see the depth of his care (and concern) for bruce and dick. it’s clearly trying to be something of a spiritual sequel to long halloween and dark victory, but it’s much more robin-centric than dark victory was. the broad strokes of the plot weren’t my favorite, especially batman temporarily firing robin, but i really appreciate where everyone lands by the end of it.
out of all three of these modern reintroductions to dick grayson’s robin, though, if i were going to recommend any it would probably be the gauntlet. despite being by far the shortest, and not dealing with any of batman’s rogues gallery, i think it’s the one that showcases dick’s personality and his relationship with bruce the best. a–rank
batgirl: year one (2003)
i wasn’t really expecting this to overtly be a sequel to robin: year one, but it actually kind of goes out of its way to establish itself as that. there are several specific incidents from robin: year one that are referenced here, and towards the beginning we even get some continuation of alfred’s diary from robin: year one to further drive the point home.
there are a lot of things i liked about this, but i think my biggest frustration and what makes me like it ever so slightly less than its robin-centric cousin is that batgirl is constantly struggling. i know that that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can help you empathize with a character more when things don’t go right for them, but given that one of the big narrative thrusts is that she’s fighting to be taken seriously and she’s justifiably upset about being dismissed as a “silly little girl,” it would be nice if she were given a bit more narrative cover on that front.
granted she does eventually rise above all that, and ends up becoming a part of the bat family, but i don’t know. it just felt like the way we got there undermined her quite a bit and i would have liked a slightly different approach.
like, a lot of other versions of batgirl (think batman: the animated series) have done a better job of showing her as an ally of batman and robin’s, and even sometimes pretty directly part of the bat family, while still retaining a lot more independence than she seemed to have here. i just would’ve liked to have seen something more along those lines, i guess.
something i have mixed feelings about is firefly being heavily implied to have sexually sadistic feelings towards her. i mean, on the one hand, hot. (get it? hot?) on the other hand, despite everyone joking about dick running around in a skimpy costume there’s never nearly as much direct sexualization of him or batman by villains. even the ones that clearly have some psychosexual shit going on with batman are never so straightforward about it, and i’m not saying that i don’t want firefly to be this way because again i find it kind of hot, i just hate that it’s such a double standard y’know?
at least batgirl gets to point out that robin has sexy legs, though. i really liked that.
oh also robin totally steals a kiss from her and i had feelings about it. good feelings about it. jealous feelings about it.
it’s okay, though. i ship them. b–rank
batman: tales of the demon (1971-1980)
this graphic novel collects batman’s first several run-ins with ra’s al ghul. i won’t discuss all of the comics because a lot of them are just adventure yarns where batman has an uneasy alliance with ra’s and ra’s is being sneaky or betraying him in some predictable way, or else it’s talia doing that, and a lot of them are kinda samey.
only talia appears in the first issue collected in the graphic novel (detective comics #411), with ra’s’ first appearance coming in the second story (batman #232). i think there’s a batman: the animated series episode based on this issue if i remember correctly? this story sees robin kidnapped, and talia supposedly kidnapped by the same people, but ra’s staged the whole thing to test batman to see if he’s a worthy heir. of note in this one is ra’s’ first actual appearance, where he just shows up at the batcave having deduced batman’s secret identity, which is a pretty serious power move.
the fourth story (batman #240) actually has kind of a lot in common with the star trek tos episode “spock’s brain,” so that got a good giggle out of me. also collected is an underwhelming three-issue arc (batmans #242-244) where batman goes to war with ra’s al ghul. this arc does introduce the lazarus pits, so it is of some historical importance to the franchise, but the story as a whole is just kinda nothing.
the only remotely interesting part was batman being stung by a scorpion during his duel with ra’s, and talia saving him by kissing him with the antidote on her lips. the rest of the graphic novel is kinda more of the same. my attention honestly wandered. there was one subplot where talia kidnapped batman and ra’s performed a wedding because apparently only the bride needs to consent to a wedding in his (unspecified) country. that was pretty hilariously bad. but it was also weirdly half-hearted, like the comic didn’t even really try that hard to make it a whole thing.
given that these stories largely spanned the 70s it’s perhaps unsurprising that the writing is a bit corny, even in the better issues. more annoyingly, there’s (also unsurprisingly) enough orientalism in these pages to choke a camel.
there are nevertheless the occasional flashes of good action and story in the first few issues, and it’s understandable that ra’s and talia became enduring adversaries for the dark knight. i do like some of ra’s’ quirks, like referring to batman as “detective.” i wish we got to see more of him being an eco-terrorist in this rather than just being kind of generally all-purpose evil and scheming, but i guess that aspect of his character developed later.
on the whole, the first few issues are probably the most enjoyable, but it rather quickly turns into a slog and at the end of the day i just really don’t think it’s worth anyone’s time. d–rank
batman confidential, vol. 4: the cat and the bat (2008)
this graphic novel features batgirl’s first encounter with catwoman. i enjoyed it for the most part, mostly because i really love both of these characters. the narration style is sort of similar to the batman/superman comics where you get both characters’ internal monologues and oftentimes they’re basically having metatextual arguments with each other and/or thinking about similar things at similar times such that their thoughts play off of each other well.
i also enjoyed the riddler appearing in this as a villain, especially him taking over arkham asylum and having batgirl run a gauntlet through it, only to have catwoman take him out before batgirl could get to her.
my biggest complaints largely arise from this being a spiritual sequel to batgirl: year one, and it continued batgirl: year one’s rather frustrating habit of trying to make batgirl more “relatable” by having her constantly getting humiliated, including in explicitly sexual ways. at one point she has to strip off everything but her mask to follow catwoman into a “hedonism club.”
just… i like stories having a lighter tone and having heroes face “peril” that amounts to embarrassment rather than gritty painful stuff. i really wouldn’t mind this kind of thing if it didn’t only happen to batgirl. the comics just don’t put batman and robin through this kind of stuff, so it’s frustrating that they keep inflicting it on batgirl.
on a positive note, another thing this inherits from batgirl: year one is that robin gets objectified (despite not even appearing in this arc). when batman asks catwoman her opinion of batgirl, catwoman gives her a glowing review, but adds, “robin has better legs.” having overheard her, batgirl expresses vehement disagreement in her internal monologue, but adds that robin does have a “tighter butt.”
yeah, it’s annoying that the writers probably think this “balances out” the much more egregious treatment they consistently subject batgirl to, and it super, super doesn’t. nevertheless, i demand more objectification of boy sidekicks. it’s really the least they can do imo. b–rank
batman: batgirl (1997)
so in 1997 they released four prestige-format comics to promote the release of the batman & robin film. these comics took place in the standard comics continuity, not the movie’s, but they all showcased characters that were making their first batman movie appearance in batman & robin. specifically, the film’s three villains (mr. freeze, poison ivy, and bane) and batgirl.
i didn’t realize they had done the same thing when batman: forever came out in 1995, releasing prestige-format one-shots starring the riddler and two-face. sadly they didn’t do one for robin (which would be the equivalent of doing one for batgirl for batman & robin), but oh well.
i read the four that were released for batman & robin, and i was feeling nostalgic for them, so i decided to go ahead and order all six on ebay. and i’m pretty glad i did! because they’re all actually pretty great stories in their own ways.
the rest of these will be covered in the next part of this megareview–they all seem to have happened much later in the timeline, closer to when they were all released–but there are several context clues that the batgirl one is set very early in her crimefighting career, so i’m placing it here.
anyway, yeah. this is a pretty good story with a pretty big scope. in a way i’m a bit annoyed that a comic that’s meant to showcase batgirl has her ending up as a damsel in distress that needs batman’s help to escape, but also if you know anything about me you probably know i like bondage and peril, so obviously on that level i enjoyed it regardless? and yeah, having her take on the joker early on in her crimefighting career is a pretty big deal to put in a promotional one-shot, so that’s pretty cool to get here. it would have been nice if batgirl had gotten to kick a bit more ass, but i still enjoyed this well enough. b–rank
teen titans: year one (2008)
this one was extremely meh. it’s all rather superficial. i don’t mind that the villain is kinda nothing, you’ll often get that in an origin story like this, but usually you do that so you can spend extra time characterizing the team and making it more about them. that… didn’t happen here. at all. all of the characters are painted with very broad strokes (when they’re painted at all).
i don’t hate it or anything, but i don’t really feel like i got much out of it. it’s just sorta there. c–rank
nightwing: year one (2005)
i used to own a copy of this and was happy to reacquire it. i really enjoyed it back when i first read it, to the point where it actually led to me writing some embarrassing dick/jason slash.
as a fan of batman’s sidekicks, this had pretty much everything for me. this retells (and modernizes) the story of dick grayson becoming nightwing (and imo does a much better job than new teen titans: the judas contract) and the story of jason todd becoming robin.
the interactions between nightwing and the new robin are pretty great, and we get a bunch of nightwing and batgirl stuff on top of that. it even references batman chronicles: the gauntlet, a fairly obscure one-shot that i happened to read as a kid because i love robin. it feels like this comic was directly targeted at me, guys.
i’d really like to see a direct sequel to this that was just all of batman’s sidekicks kicking ass together with the man himself playing only a peripheral role. s–rank
batman: the killing joke (1988)
i mean, there’s not much i can really say about this one at this point that’s going to be remotely surprising, right? it’s well-written enough for what it is i guess. i’m glad joker’s “one bad day” theory is resoundingly defeated, though there are times when lesser writers seem to buy into it wholeheartedly. the actual confrontations between batman and joker are pretty good.
but, y’know. there’s the treatment of barbara gordon. the way she’s literally objectified by the story. i think a lot of people associate this story with her, but the story treats her as nothing more than the knife to be twisted in her father as part of the joker’s plan.
i also think a lot of people who haven’t read this are under the impression that this story is oracle’s origin story, but again nope. alan moore was under the impression that he was writing a non-canon side story, and had no plans for what would happen with barbara after the story. he has publicly stated that he thought canonizing the story was an absolutely awful choice. which is nice, but it doesn’t actually make the way he treated her in this not horrible? so, you know.
again this isn’t the worst batman/joker story if you look at their actual interactions in it, but on balance there is just pretty clearly more bad than good here. c–rank
batman: a death in the family (1988)
i’ve read this before, so i didn’t really expect to tear up when i got to the third part–batman discovering robin’s body and just completely coming apart for a moment. but i did. no matter how cynical you want to be about the circumstances surrounding jason’s death, the death itself and the way it just totally destroys batman is some of the most effective writing i’ve ever seen in a comic book.
i remembered that there was some political weirdness that i noticed even when i was less politically aware, but wow i was not prepared for exactly how bad it was. by the time the joker became iran’s u.n. ambassador (i repeat because it bears repeating: the joker becomes iran’s u.n. ambassador) the bad politics were so intrusive you couldn’t ignore them no matter how hard you tried.
that this manages to be a pretty good story in spite of all of that is something of a minor miracle. this is basically the worst backdrop you could give this story, but in spite of that it’s perfectly understandable that it remains one of the most enduringly memorable batman stories. b–rank
Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy are the two Marvel franchises I still mostly (mostly) uncomplicatedly like, which probably isn’t the most surprising, right? That I would continue liking the space bullshit ones? I really hope that isn’t surprising, otherwise I’ve done a very poor job of establishing my brand. What I’ve always liked about Thor specifically is the way it combines high fantasy and science fiction tropes. I’ve written previously about how that doesn’t make it immune to reinforcing the sort of hegemonic narratives that the rest of the MCU reinforces, but it’s still different. It’s Tolkien-style ruling class apologia rather than just literally U.S. Army: Be All You Can Be or The Few, The Proud, The Marines with the branding removed. I’m not saying that makes it okay, but it does at least make it less grating.
Thor himself is a big part of the appeal. They figure out how to write him even better as the MCU goes on and he interacts with all the other characters, but even in the first movie his personality is basically “cheerful himbo” and it rules. He needs to learn some humility, but there’s a reason he’s able to learn that lesson and become a true hero. I know the MCU likes telling stories with this general shape, and I know there’s a superficial resemblance to one Anthony Edward Stark, but I think it feels more authentic with Thor. Even before he turns a corner there, you can clearly see that at his core he’s an extremely good boy, especially in all his interactions with Jane, Erik, and Darcy. He’s just so bright and sunny, but it isn’t toxic positivity like you sometimes get in Marvel, you really do feel like this is him being true to himself. It makes him putting everything together to blossom into the self-sacrificing hero he was always meant to be so satisfying to see.
Although Thor undeniably needed a lesson in humility, I would argue that Odin is the absolute last person who gets to make that judgment. And the way he goes about it, if that’s even what he’s trying to do, is just awful. Just casting him out the second he makes a huge mistake without even trying to help him is just the fucking worst kind of parenting. Yeah, maybe strip him of his powers. In fact, probably do that. But keep him home while he works on making things right. Make yourself part of the solution. What Odin does instead is a total abdication of his responsibility as both a parent and a leader of his people. It’s honestly pretty fucking abusive, and the fact that he doesn’t get taken to task for that at all pisses me off. Thor succeeds in becoming a better man and a better hero in spite of Odin’s actions, not because of them. It would be nice if the movie acknowledged that at all, but oh well.
If I look at this movie selfishly, I would’ve liked more realm-hopping Lord of the Rings-style bullshit with Thor, Lady Sif, and the Warriors Three. I wouldn’t even bother bringing that up, except my boyfriend pointed out that the movie kind of super sets up like that’s the kind of story it’s going to tell? And we only ever get tiny tastes of it between this movie and like the first five minutes of The Dark World. Like, this movie is fine. It’s one of the better MCU movies in my opinion (though, again, I have a fairly low opinion of the MCU), but it really does feel like a lot of more interesting stuff was left on the table.
I do like what we got, though. And Loki is a great villain, not necessarily because he’s a particularly great villain here but because he’s so amazing for the rest of the series and it’s nice that he got slotted in as the big bad in his first appearance (okay also in The Avengers but whatever) to get that out of the way and have him be a more interesting and complicated character going forward.
Oh last thing. I don’t… super care about this necessarily? but the CGI in this aged so poorly, oh my gosh. Which isn’t to say I didn’t love a lot of the visuals, especially at night on Asgard, but it was still pretty distracting how poorly it held up.
Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011)
This is exactly what I was asking for!! Thor and Loki go on a hecking adventure with the Warriors Three. There’s a tavern and what looks like orcs and goblins and there’s some animal people. Jotunheim is way more interesting than it was in the MCU movie. Thor feels remorse after killing two frost giants in battle. Odin is slightly less of a dick (still a huge dick, though). Sif has an actual, like, story and stuff. This rules!
I also appreciate that instead of having a magic teleporting bridge that takes you literally anywhere you want, everyone travels around on winged horses and flying boats and shit. On the flying horses note, yeah I’m hella thirsty for the Valkyries being all “on your knees, male” and “silence, male” and whatnot. I don’t consider myself male, though, so hopefully they’d have the same attitude towards an enby boy.
I think this story also made way more sense with a younger Thor, and I appreciated seeing him and his brother palling around. Loki is an adorable femboy in this, and instead of having him just constantly plotting against Thor there’s a setup that shows him as a more conflicted character that could pretty easily go in a bunch of directions if this had ever gotten a sequel. For that matter, there’s a dark elf hanging around Asgard the whole movie and you’re just constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop with him, and when it inevitably does his motivations make perfect sense and he hasn’t just been biding his time waiting to do a betrayal, he’s presented with a powerful temptation and he succumbs. There is just so much more pathos to the villains in this little movie than anything you get in the MCU.
Honestly, although I have a pretty low opinion of most of the other movies I’ve seen in this line, I really wish it had continued if only to get sequels to this one! I think it’s decently likely I would’ve liked this series better than the MCU’s Thor if it had continued. It’s just such a shame this was the only one.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
I used to pretty consistently defend this one when I was a dumb MCU stan (would that be a Stan stan?). When I reevaluated all the Marvel movies back in the day when I was experimenting with how much to integrate my reading of a movie’s politics into my evaluation of how much I enjoyed said movie, I wrote a much more scathing review of it. The one part of that review I still absolutely stand by is this movie has a ton of problems with women. Natalie Portman has to show up to work for this movie just to be blatantly shoe-horned into the plot because She Had To Be There and not because anything that was happening was remotely motivated by her character. Darcy is nearly the best thing about the movie but it’s entirely because of Kat Dennings’ performance. All the script really has for her is some compulsory heterosexuality because Sure, Why Not. Lady Sif is in the movie for about five minutes and it’s just for Odin to literally dangle her in front of Thor as a consolation prize, so that’s lovely, thanks for that.
Most glaringly, though, Frigga gets fridged (there’s a pun in there somewhere) in one of the most textbook examples you’ll ever see of the awful trope. Everyone talks about their Feelings about her being dead for the rest of the movie but no one talks about her. Her funeral is a silent affair with sad music blaring over a bunch of boys looking sad. Gag.
Today, I mostly look at broadly entertaining blockbusters (especially superhero movies) as silly, disposable entertainment and while I still think it’s necessary to explicitly call out their awful politics, I don’t take them too too seriously. As long as they’re entertaining, not genuinely hateful, and their bad politics aren’t too intrusive (most of the MCU fails on this last point), I just let myself enjoy them. And The Dark World does continue the Tolkien-style imperialism of the first movie (I jokingly called it Asgardian exceptionalism in an earlier review), but it’s just normal Fantasy Written By White People stuff, not exactly a high bar for awfulness in the MCU.
So, with that in mind, the place I land with Thor: The Dark World is basically “yeah it’s kinda bad?” But like. It’s not the worst way to spend two hours, and you’re largely spending it with a radiant himbo, Natalie Portman, and the radiant himbo’s scheming genderfluid sibling, so like? It really isn’t the worst.
The effects in this one aren’t as glaringly bad for the most part, either. A lot of the Aether effects are super, super bad, but Asgard doesn’t look like it was built for a sixth-generation video game cutscene, and that matters.
The finale in London is aggressively bad. One cute gag about Thor having to ride the subway aside, it’s just so boring it’s like watching paint dry. The movie definitely peaks around Loki’s fake death, they probably should’ve retooled the script and found a way to make that the actual climax of the movie, then it would probably be a lot better. Maybe do like a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style thing with the Aether and have it kill all the dark elves instead of having Malekith absorb it.
Idk, there’s obviously problems with my suggestion too, but it would still be way better than what we got? The way things are, it feels more like “oh okay this is still happening?” for basically the whole third act.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
I think this narrowly edges out the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie as my favorite MCU movie but it honestly usually comes down to which one I’ve watched the most recently. And these two movies are in a class of their own when it comes to MCU movies. It just honestly doesn’t even make sense to compare them to any other MCU movies, just other superhero movies, and other movies in general. Except maybe Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? I want to rewatch that one sometime (probably right before Vol. 3 comes out) before I decide for sure.
Despite being saddled with the usual MCU movie problems, principally the fact that the studio insists that all these movies basically just be commercials for the next movie, Waititi & co managed to make something really different and fresh, and largely self-contained. That last point is a bit bittersweet because part of what makes this movie so self-contained is that Infinity War effectively used all of Thor’s screentime to take a sledgehammer to everything that happened in the third act of Ragnarok, but y’know. MCU gonna MCU.
I’d be lying if I said that Thor blasting onto the field in Wakanda and defiantly shouting “BRING ME THANOS!” while the Avengers theme blared and Thanos’s minions (the ones he didn’t cleave in half on his way in) cowered wasn’t an awesome moment that I think about in a positive light more frequently than I think about most of the rest of the non-Thor/Guardians MCU combined. The only things that might beat it are Hulk’s “that’s my secret: I’m always angry” from the first Avengers and Iron Man’s helicopter suit-up in Civil War. And I like Infinity War way better than I like either of those other two movies. But the thing all of those moments have in common (besides a great score behind them) is that I enjoy them only in isolation. Ragnarok actually told a great, character-driven story. It had consequences that made sense. It had hope triumphing. It was emotionally satisfying. And half of it was swept away between Ragnarok’s mid-credits scene and Infinity War’s opening credits while the other half was jettisoned by Thor’s entire deal in Infinity War being “me need big, strong weapon to be big, strong boy.”
Just. Fellas. What the heck. Why can’t we have nice things? (Oh right because it’s the fucking MCU.)
All I’m really saying is that Thor: Ragnarok’s awesomeness being self-contained is a, uh, double-edged… hammer? Is that anything? I’m not sure if that’s anything. I know the MCU frequently gets too much credit for being quirky and “weird,” or my personal favorite (which I am guilty of parroting in the past) “risky.” The fucking audacity of calling any of the vanilla soft serve ice cream cinematic universe movies “risky.”
What I will say in the case of Ragnarok is okay wow thank you a movie that has a fucking personality. But now I’m sliding back into negging the MCU instead of talking about what I like about this movie. I know “funny and lighthearted but with 80s arcade music for a soundtrack” might not sound like the most radical departure, but I promise you, it’s all in the details. Like The Dark World setting up Loki on the throne and pretending that’s going to be a big deal and we’re just going round and round with the whole Loki betraying Thor carousel, and Ragnarok just straight up says “no we’re not gonna do that” and makes Thor exposing Loki’s treachery into a fun comedic moment before quickly moving on to something else. Thor could have basically turned to the camera and told the audience directly, “We’re done with this shit, do you hear me? We’re moving on to something more interesting.” Thank fuck.
In case you didn’t get it, the movie comes right out and says it when Loki tries to betray Thor one last time by thwarting his escape in exchange for the reward money the Grand Master is offering, and Thor is actually one step ahead of him. “Dear brother, you’re becoming predictable. I trust you, you betray me, round and round in circles we go. See Loki, life is about… It’s about growth, it’s about change, but you seem to just want to stay the same. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ll always be the god of mischief, but you could be more.”
And it’s not just talk! Which, you know, I thoroughly enjoy Thor embodying the trope of “surprisingly insightful himbo who understands psychological health” trope, but it doesn’t stop there. Loki does change! He helps Thor save the people of Asgard, and he actually goes with him to help with whatever comes next.
It’s like the creative team here decided to base this movie on all the nerd press’s voluntary propagandizing about the MCU being character-driven and interested in showing people growing and hope overcoming trauma and disillusionment instead of just quipping every five seconds and aping their own memes.
Look I’m sorry this keeps looping back to “the MCU sucks,” but let’s just look for a second at all the things this movie does and that the rest of the MCU squanders almost immediately. You probably think Thor is out of lessons to learn at this point but he learns a big one in the form of “Asgard isn’t a place, it’s a people.” Armed with that perspective, he makes the incredible choice to sacrifice the realm of Asgard without a second’s hesitation.
Attendant to this, Thor also learns to trust his power without Mjolnir. This is largely summed up by Odin’s line, “Are you Thor, god of hammers?” and Hela’s “What were you the god of again?” I hate, hate, hate that Odin gets this moment, but oh well. It’s still great to see Thor come into his own even more than he already had.
Where this falls short, though, is that after all of that, and after agreeing with Valkyrie that the monarchy sucks… Thor just takes the throne anyway, and Valkyrie seems to fully support him in this. Just… why? Your people are literally starting over, this is the perfect time to enact change. Why cling to an institution that you paid lipservice to understanding is inherently immoral? I just hate this choice for them. And there are echoes of this in the movie’s inch-deep anti-imperialism. It doesn’t earn the moment when Hela breaks down the ceiling of the throne room to reveal the mural of her father’s “peaceful” reign has been built over a mural depicting Asgard’s bloody conquests which her father presided over and she executed. Nor is Hela the right person to be calling attention to this. As often happens in the MCU, the audience isn’t really forced to grapple with any of this because the well is poisoned by putting these words in the lips of the film’s big bad, and Thor himself basically shrugs it off. It’s a stirring visual but the movie around it needs to treat it with more weight for it to be really effective.
In a more consensual scene, though, I would absolutely kneel before Hela as she keeps demanding of everyone. (It’s literally like her second line and she never stops for the rest of the movie.) And that was before she had a giant wolf and a skeleton army. I also badly need Valkyrie to step on me (she seems pleased with herself for beating up and chaining Loki so I’m pretty sure we could have fun together), so yeah. Thor isn’t really my type physically, but his personality is so radiant that I would absolutely go there. I’d probably let Loki do problematic things to me. Okay sorry we got to this part of the review.
Since we’re into the superficial stuff, so many people get tied up in this movie, you guys. Okay, not exactly tied up, but like. Thor opens the movie in a cage in chains basically doing a “so you’re probably wondering how I got here” monologue. And then he’s hanging in chains in front of a big, scary demon thing sitting on an ancient throne and I’m thinking “that’s how I’d like to spend my summer vacation, dude.” (Yeah, I’m a little fucked up.) And yeah, that joke where he was slowly spinning because of the dangling chain so he had to keep interrupting Surtur’s speech to ask him to wait when he was facing away from him was pretty damn hilarious.
Anyway, because this movie loves me and wants me to be happy, Thor isn’t free for much longer before he’s told to kneel before his queen (which he refuses because he’s some kind of weird idiot), escapes, immediately gets captured by a gang with some kind of awesome net gun thing, only to be “rescued” and immediately captured by Valkyrie. Who is amazing, by the way. And then he wakes up in a glass cage literally beneath her feet, and just… okay, I don’t want you to think that the only reason I enjoyed this movie is because it kept putting its hero in bondage peril, but guys, come on.
It really, really isn’t just the bondage, though. I mean, it definitely helps, but I just love this weird space techno bullshit so much.
Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
(CW: Spoilers, horny)
I gotta say, I really don’t get the hate. This is like a tweak away from being pretty easily my favorite Marvel movie ever. Basically if Mighty Thor and Valkyrie hadn’t been sidelined for the final battle it would have been.
This is exactly the kind of weird space shit and weird mythology shit I love from this franchise. The fights were fantastic. The penultimate fight where Thor, Mighty Thor, and Valkyrie are teaming up to fight Gorr and his shadow minions was definitely better than the final fight, but oh well.
I’ve seen a lot on Twitter about queerbaiting in relation to this movie, and like… yeah, okay, it’s not a super gay movie or anything, but there are explicitly gay characters in it? Korg literally has two dads, and literally marries another guy at the end of the movie? Valkyrie is explicitly primarily interested in other women? I’m going to be pretty upset if they don’t give her a girlfriend soon, and also if she doesn’t get a spinoff solo movie at some point that’s much gayer than this. I mean, not really upset because this is the MCU I expect literally nothing from them, but I’m just saying.
There is, uh, quite a lot of extremely good bondage in this. I just. Yeah. I just felt I needed to mention that.
They kill Zeus for being a big, dumb idiot. (Yeah okay fine he ends up being not dead in the midcredits scene, whatever.) They fly around on a boat that’s pulled by giant goats. The goats yell. The goats are extremely good. I love the goats. And hey wait a second wasn’t I complaining during earlier movies that the bifrost was really boring when other versions have flying horses and flying boats and shit? Well, wish granted!
I liked literally every part of this movie except the last fight, and even then there are things I liked about it? I mean, the fight itself was fine, I just didn’t like Valkyrie being abruptly sidelined. And ultimately the conflict is literally solved by Thor talking the bad guy into… not being a bad guy anymore. And he gets there through empathy, not browbeating. I’m sorry, but that’s way better than everyone having a big stupid fight while a giant blue beam shoots into the sky.
I don’t know. I’m being pretty uncritical here, but I just don’t know, guys. This was almost exactly what I wanted. It’s possible I’ll like it even more when I rewatch it and have time to digest it.
The second (so far) era of the DC Universe Original Movies was introduced by Flashpoint Paradox, a pretty faithful adaptation of Flashpoint. This led to a continuity known as the DC Animated Movie Universe, which was basically a series of fairly faithful adaptations of the New 52 line of comics. I actually like most of these, but it was admittedly a little disappointing to see these direct-to-video animated features go from kind of all over the board to frequently being very predictable.
There were a few movies that didn’t follow the DCAMU continuity here and there, but the bulk of the team’s resources was clearly devoted to this new continuity. It’s not difficult to understand why. From a business standpoint, it’s probably easier to get people to come back over and over when they more or less know what they’re getting, and also harder for them to skip individual entries that might not otherwise capture their interest if it’s all part of a series. I mean, that’s basically the MCU’s entire business model, right?
What was pretty frustrating for me as a fan, and probably a big part of why I got disenchanted back when I was watching these as they came out, is that this was also when they decided that almost every movie needed to be either a Batman or Justice League movie. There was even a non-Batman movie that had “Batman” cynically slapped on the title just because he appeared in that movie for like… probably a grand total of five minutes if you add all his scenes up.
You probably got used to hearing me say this in my review of the first batch of DC Universe Original Movies, so it’s only fitting that I start my first review by offering for context that I saw the movie long before I read the comic it’s based on. I’m pretty impressed, as I often am by these, by how closely this actually follows the comic it’s based on.
The story in both versions goes to some pretty grimdark places I’m not wild about but am a lot more forgiving about given that it’s an alternate future a la X-Men’s Days of Future Past. And the action was pretty great and it was a very satisfyingly pulpy storyline.
The movie followed the basic storyline of the comic, but it streamlined a few things, eliminated some minor characters, and expanded on the core scenes it kept. In the end I think the movie is, for the most part, actually noticeably better than the comic.
Also it… uh… well, there’s no way around this: there’s a lot of stuff in the movie I was extremely horny for. So. Uh. Yeah. Like. Yo-Yo almost murdering Batman with her thighs and choking him with one of her eponymous yo-yos. Or Wonder Woman choking and/or lassoing so many bitches with her lasso. And stepping on people. And so many people getting stepped on in general. And I think at one point Wonder Woman literally demanded, “Submit!” like that was the actual word she used and just… heccccccc.
(Comic: B-Rank, Movie: A-Rank)
Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (comic, 2011-12) & Justice League: War (movie, 2014)
Another one where I saw the movie before I read the comic, though I was more or less generally aware of what was going on with the New 52 since that was when I was following the nerd press. The comic is again virtually identical to the movie, with the exception that the movie switches in Captain Marvel for Aquaman. I don’t mind Captain Marvel, but I like Aquaman a lot better in general, and his part in the comic was pretty important.
The fight with Darkseid is definitely trying to take itself way too seriously and this is around when I started feeling like the movies were getting too monotone back when I was watching them as they came out. I think my feelings are a bit more forgiving now, but yeah, I see where past-me was coming from.
This is kind of way better if you just don’t take Darkseid seriously at all and don’t buy into the narrative’s attempt to tell you This Is Really Serious And Intense, Guys. But yeah. It’s kinda fine if that’s how you approach it.
A lot of my favorite parts of this story actually happen towards the beginning, when they’re setting everything up, moreso than in the actual main action. The bit with Wonder Woman trying ice cream for the first time is precious, and we get lots of flirting between the boys–Bats & GL, Bats & Supes, GL & Flash. And all of it culminates in Bats getting captured on purpose to save his future boyfriend! And he’s so extra about it, throwing on his disguise in the middle of explaining his plan, and then holding out his arms and whistling for one of Darkseid’s minions to scoop him up.
Big-picture wise when it comes to the movies, I do still kind of wish the looser, more lighthearted continuity from before Flashpoint Paradox had continued, but this thoroughly doesn’t suck. And when it comes to the comics, I really have enjoyed what I’ve read of the New 52 so far.
Son of Batman (movie, 2014)
(CW: Frank discussion of sexual assault and child abuse)
This is another one where I watched the movie first, which is a familiar refrain for these reviews. But what is much less familiar is that the comic and movie are actually drastically different. So different that I actually don’t think a combined review makes much sense in this case! We’ll arbitrarily start with the movie since it’s what I saw first!
So, I’m gonna say upfront that this one is actually extremely good, like maybe one of my favorites of the series. It also badly mishandles one of the two extremely sensitive issues it depicts. That might be disqualifying for you, and it’s totally fair if that’s the case.
So. First off, the “Son of Batman” in the film’s title is not in any way metaphorical. He’s Damian Wayne, Bruce’s biological son with his on-again/off-again enemy/lover Talia al Ghul. Bruce is surprised to learn of his existence, so Talia fills him in:
“If I remember correctly, I put a little something in your drink.” “Same way I remember it.” “It made you romantic.” “It made me do what you wanted.”
So. We have a word for that kind of thing. It’s rape. That’s a rape they’re talking about there. But then it actually gets worse, because Talia asks, “Was it all bad, beloved?” And Bruce responds, “No. It wasn’t all bad.”
Put me down for a YIKES.
Like, look. I’m not innocent of any number of fantasies including rape fantasies, but this is a mainstream superhero movie. The standards for what you want your characters to communicate to large audiences are much, much different than the standards for what’s okay between consenting adults in private. Especially given the fact that male survivors of sexual assault are still not taken seriously by a lot of people, the least you should do in a mainstream story like this to be any kind of responsible is have Bruce at least say “it doesn’t matter if I enjoyed it, it wasn’t okay.”
Then there’s the child abuse.
This one actually sees Bruce pretty firmly on the right side. When Damian says his grandfather and mother “taught him how to fight,” he snaps back, “And I take it not much else.” And later, relating their childhood experiences to each other, he tells him, “I had my traumas, but I also had people around me to help. Alfred, Dick, others. I had friends. As far as I can tell, all you’ve had are trainers. There’s a difference, Damian.” I actually really like how this was handled!
As for why I love this movie so much, well. Part of it is just that it’s really tight and clean, and the action is very character-driven. And I love all the stuff Damian shakes loose just by going around being a snotty little brat. He brings out Alfred’s maximum amount of sass, he has a wonderfully antagonistic relationship with Dick that I think borrows heavily from Dick’s relationship with Jason Todd, and for all he’s fighting to rein him in, Bruce is just so damn proud of him and it’s so adorable.
And, y’know, there’s also some superficial reasons. I’m a notorious Nightwing simp, so seeing him so involved is always nice. And there’s a ton of bondage in this!! And I love all Damian’s cracks about how effeminate the Robin costume is (it is, that’s why I like it damn it).
And above all… I just love Robin-centric stories! Batman has never been my favorite thing about Batman. It’s always been Robin. And even though Robins like Dick Grayson or Tim Drake are more my speed, I still love anything that builds more Robin lore. So, yeah. This is really well-done, and it’s just completely up my alley.
Batman and Son (comic, 2006)
The one thing this comic has in common with the movie is Talia being very blasé about her sexual assault of Bruce Wayne. Several lines of the movie’s version of that conversation are just lifted directly from the comic. There are things that are worse in the movie, and things that are worse in the comic, but in both cases just, y’know, ew.
Damian isn’t nearly as likable in the comic as he was in the movie, which I imagine is largely attributable to subsequent comics figuring out how to make him work, and the movie having the benefit of those experiments. It could also be because this story was originally in the pre-New 52 continuity and it’s being adapted into a continuity that is based on New 52, I honestly haven’t read enough of Damian in non-New 52 stories to know if there’s a significant difference in characterization. Though I guess that would arguably amount to the same thing?
Whereas the movie has a fight between Nightwing and Damian that’s somewhat reminiscent of one that Nightwing had with Jason Todd in the Nightwing: Year One comic, the comic has Damian feel threatened by Tim Drake (who doesn’t even appear in the movie) and beat the everloving shit out of him because he thinks he needs to beat up Batman’s surrogate son to claim his rightful place as his real son or whatever. And while Damian pretends he doesn’t want to be Robin in the movie, he tries to claim the role by force in the comic and Bruce never makes it official.
I liked the overall story in the movie better than the comic, clearly, but that isn’t to say there weren’t things about the comic that I liked. For one thing I, as usual, really enjoyed Morrison’s dialogue and narration. The stuff where Bruce is trying and failing to take a vacation before Talia shows up with Damian was also pretty cute. The stuff at the beginning with the Joker was super weird, though? Not really sure what was going on there.
Batman: Assault on Arkham (movie, 2014)
You know what? I liked this one a lot better this time around than the first time I saw it! It’s not amazing or anything, but it’s fine!
Yeah, it’s still annoying that they made a Suicide Squad movie but slapped “Batman” on it even though he’s in like three scenes to make it more marketable. Yeah, I have no idea why this has to be set in the Arkham games’ universe, or why you wouldn’t just do a more straightforward adaptation if you really wanted to do a movie in that universe, but whatever!
Honestly, the only point where I got truly annoyed with this is when all the Suicide Squad members just started betraying each other to get to the helicopter like it was some kind of race only one of them could win. Y’all coulda just gone together, folks! Plenty of room on those things, generally.
I also didn’t really love King Shark’s design or the fact that he died, but I realize that’s a me problem. And I did admittedly love the part where Killer Frost rode him like a horse. That is a crackship I can get behind!! What’d you go and kill them both off for???
But yeah. What I was mostly struck by upon revisiting this was that I was just thoroughly wrong about it being monotone and personalityless. It’s actually got all kinds of personality! It still isn’t my favorite version of any of these characters by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s fine! It’s fun. It’s fine.
Justice League, Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (comic, 2012-13) & Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (movie, 2015)
Much like Batman and Son, the DCAMU’s adaptation of Throne of Atlantis actually diverts quite a bit from the comic it’s based on, despite this one actually being a New 52 title. It does follow the broad strokes of the narrative, but the way it gets there is a lot different.
Both versions are certainly not my favorite version of Aquaman or his world, but given how little love he gets I’m pretty much always onboard for Aquaman-centric stuff even when it isn’t exactly my speed. And I did enjoy both versions moment-to-moment regardless of them not quite fitting my preferred Aquaman flavor. Speaking of not liking broad strokes, I hate Clark and Diana together but it’s done a bit better in the movie imo. They’re actually kinda adorable there.
The movie also has a lot of neat little stuff like a sloppily drunk Arthur saving a lobster from a tank and ending up in a barfight over it, and a John Henry Irons cameo!
I do wish these movies had eventually gotten back to the new Legion of Doom the post-credits scene seemed to be hinting at, but oh well.
Batman vs. Robin (movie, 2015)
(CW: Child abuse)
Once again this movie has only a little in common with the storyline it was based on, and once again I will be reviewing the movie first because I saw it long before I read the comic. What the movie basically does is takes some of the broad strokes of the fan-favorite Night of the Owls storyline and uses them as a vehicle to continue the storyline with Damian that started in Son of Batman. It’s honestly not a bad direction to go!
If you find yourself siding with Bruce over Damian in this one, which a lot of people I’ve seen comment on this movie have, I genuinely do not think you should ever be left unsupervised with a child. You’re scary. Damian is an annoying little brat, but he’s doing his best, and Bruce is the worst father in this until he isn’t.
So, let’s get the bad shit out of the way first. The Dollmaker stuff at the beginning was just so unnecessarily grimdark. I’ve seen extremely creepy versions of this character where he’s victimizing adults instead of children, and this depiction added nothing to the movie other than “oooh look how edgy we are!” And giving him a line of throwaway dialogue indicating he himself had been victimized as a child did nothing. You weren’t trying to make this character three dimensional, it’s not like you were keeping him around long enough for that. So why the fuck even go there? This whole intro is just gross. And, for what it’s worth, is not featured in the comic in any way, shape or form.
I mostly like the rest of the movie? I’ve mentioned before that I’m always an easy mark for stuff involving Batman, Robin, and Nightwing. It’s understandable that they didn’t do a straight-up adaptation of the Court of Owls storyline, but I do like this simplified version and I’m really glad they brought it onto the screen in some fashion.
One thing that the movie adapted pretty straightforwardly was the flashbacks where Bruce was searching for the Court of Owls as a child. I was initially making fun of them for how heavy-handed they were but I actually ended up really liking where they went? They showed him actually learning how to be a detective, failing, and more importantly it set the Court of Owls up as a massively ominous big, bad threat when they turned out to be real. All of this ruled, honestly.
And I even liked Bruce and Damian’s story! … to a point. I appreciated that the point of it was that Bruce was in the wrong. I enjoyed Damian’s continued antagonism with Nightwing, and banter with Alfred. And I especially appreciated Alfred and Nightwing trying (and failing) several times to be the voice of reason. This entire conflict could’ve been avoided if Bruce had listened.
I hated how Bruce was interacting with Damian for 90% of the story, and when Damian and him came to blows I was rooting for Damian to beat the shit out of him, but that ended up being the point. And Bruce realized he was wrong. I would’ve appreciated a heartfelt onscreen apology between them instead of Bruce realizing he was wrong and apologizing to a hallucinatory avatar of Damian and never actually apologizing to the real him onscreen, but it’s reasonable to assume that that might have happened offscreen. I’m nitpicking here.
But what really saves this for me is that Damian had to save Bruce, not the other way around. Because for all its missteps, this movie is smart enough to realize that Damian is the hero of this story, not Bruce. Bruce fucked up. Bruce majorly fucked up. And he doesn’t get to be the hero. Not this time.
But at least he admitted he was wrong. A lot of fathers like him never do.
Batman: The Court of Owls (comic, 2012) & Batman: The City of Owls (comic, 2012) & Batman: The Night of the Owls (comic, 2012)
I’ve heard that this storyline was incredible since all the way back when it was first coming out, so I was pretty excited to finally read it! And it honestly didn’t disappoint.
Regardless of whether Lincoln March was really Thomas Wayne Jr or not, his claim gave his confrontation with Bruce so much extra sizzle. And the battle for Gotham was already plenty epic even before that.
The biggest difference between the movie and the comics is that Damian’s role in the comics was super deemphasized. In fact, he mostly only appeared in a solo story in volume 3. The basic format of the volumes was that volume 1 set up the scenario as a whole, who the Court of Owls were and Bruce’s investigations into them. Volume 2 is the night the Owls tried to take Gotham, and some additional stuff which we’ll circle back to later. Volume 3 is all the tie-in stuff like Nightwing, Batwing, Batgirl, Robin, etc.
What made Volume 2 so special is not just that it was the epic confrontation between Batman and the Court (and possibly his long-lost brother). It also had two side stories, one that showed that the New 52 version of Mr. Freeze is kind of a unique twist on the character, but I’m actually way more interested in the last issue of the volume. This issue featured a pair of super gay siblings named Harper and Cullen Row. Harper will eventually become the hero Bluebird, but for now we just see her civilian life and how she first comes into contact with Batman. And honestly, just seeing these two low-income queer siblings existing and being extremely relatable was such a joy.
This whole storyline was aces, but The City of Owls is pretty easily one of my favorite Batman graphic novels ever now. It legitimately might be my favorite.
(Court: A-Rank; City: S-Rank; Night: B-Rank)
Justice League: Gods and Monsters (movie, 2015)
This coulda been much worse, but at the end of the day I’m just not that interested in the core concept so it just didn’t do much for me.
Batman: Bad Blood (movie, 2016)
This ruled before it had nunjas, and then it had nunjas.
Ok, but let’s get my big complaint out of the way first. Talia is just uncomplicatedly, one-dimensionally evil in this one, so that’s… not great. It kinda ruins her entire dynamic with Bruce and with Damian. Not that I was a fan of either in the first place, but it feels like there’s so much connective tissue missing from where they left things to where they are in this movie. Even some kind of frank acknowledgement after the fact of like “look, she was a sexual predator and an abuser, it sucks but of course this is where she ended up” would’ve helped a lot.
Like, you kind of fucked up by not framing it this way all along? I know these movies aren’t typically willing to go into that kind of depth on these kinds of serious issues, which is fine. You get to decide what the scope of your story is. But if you’re not willing to really deal with this kind of stuff you can’t just halfway go there in order to be edgier or grittier or whatever. You either have to be willing to deal with it or you need to leave it out. What we end up with instead rushes to the mostly correct conclusion but doesn’t show your work at all, so it just ends up falling completely flat and not really saying anything, and that’s just kind of depressing.
Oh, petty complaints department: Batman telling Batwoman “using a gun makes you just like them” when she was trying to save a dude from being tortured demonstrably does not??? But that’s not even where I’m going with this. No, my issue is that in this continuity Batman has repeatedly used vehicle-mounted (likely high-caliber) guns and fucking missile launchers, so he can get all the way off his fucking high horse thank you ever so much.
So, yeah. I actually liked this movie? But my review might end up a bit lopsided in favor of the one or two things I really, really didn’t like. And that’s largely because by the very nature of what the movie wanted to be and what I wanted out of it, the things I liked about it were pretty superficial.
The Heretic was a pretty interesting villain and figuring out his whole deal over the course of the movie only to have him carelessly tossed aside was actually a pretty effective way of establishing where Talia was at these days. And while I still have all my abovementioned issues with it in terms of what it’s saying thematically, it’s been a minute since we had a good “Talia is controlling everything from the shadows” story, so for pure entertainment value it really didn’t suck.
I’m a sucker for Bat Family stuff, as I’ve thoroughly demonstrated in these reviews. I’m less a fan of Bruce being as much of a dumbass as he often has to be in these Serious, Gritty ones, but at least he has to explicitly to outgrow it in this one! Getting to that final shot of the drastically expanded Bat Family gathering under the Bat-Signal ruled.
As for the members of said Bat Family, the guy calling the shots for a lot of this movie while Bruce was missing was Nightwing, and as the world’s foremost Robin I/Nightwing simp, hell yes I loved this. It’s always interesting when Dick has to temporarily take up the mantle of Batman, whether it’s in a more traditional portrayal where he really respects Bruce so filling his shoes weighs heavily on him for that reason, or in something like this where their relationship is more strained and Dick wants out of his shadow but gets pulled back in. There’s just always a lot of great character work. Add to that the fact that Nightwing is way better at playing with others, and I honestly just love this portrayal. They crushed it. I cannot say enough about how much I like him in this one. It’s probably the single biggest thing that elevates this movie for me.
I don’t have as much to say about Damian this time? He’s a nasty little brat, as usual. And it’s charming, as usual. And he’s doing his best, and he goes through a lot, and I’m so upset that a lot of people are so annoyed by him. Protecc the goblin sidekick!
Batwoman rules. I have no notes here. And her gayness is portrayed very frankly and just treated like as much a baked in part of her character as anyone else’s straightness. I fucking love her in this movie and we’d all be better off if her and Dick were in charge instead of Bruce.
Batwing is… fine. I got a good laugh out of how blatantly he’s just… he’s just Bat-Iron Man, guys. He has a suit-up scene that’s just straight out of Iron Man 1. He’s just… Bat-Iron Man. It’s hilarious.
Anyway, uh, yeah! A lot of this movie hinges on Dick deciding to trust people and Bruce being angy about it and Dick being right, so, yeah. It rules. Except the parts that don’t. But mostly it rules.
Justice League vs. Teen Titans (movie, 2016)
Yeah they knocked this one out of the fucking park. Just absolutely crushed it. I was actually a little sad to discover that this one wasn’t based on a comic, because I was really looking forward to reading whatever it was.
If one of these were going to get five stars, it would be this one. I still think the not-quite-movie length of these doesn’t give it quite enough time to breathe to really do everything it needs to do to get to that point (yes I am taking my stupid ratings that no one else cares about way too seriously I’m a nerd it’s kind of what we do and this movie would love me for it), but damn it does just kind of everything right.
Damian gets some sense knocked into him and stops being such a selfish little twerp without stopping being Damian, and it is such a joy to see because I am so protective of him and I am so over people just constantly hating on him. Hate on, haters! And I love how earned his developing relationships with the team feel.
Raven is the fucking best, and I need her civilian outfit omg. The choice to tie her story and trauma into the central villain/conflict of the movie is an inspired one and having that kind of character-driven conflict in a movie where you’re building a team dynamic from scratch is just such a huge asset, like usually this is the movie where you kind of throw an uninteresting villain in there because you need all the narrative space for the team but this movie is smart enough to understand that having the villain be actually meaningful to the characters helps create that space and I just wish storytellers would realize this rather obvious thing more often. And then tying Damian‘s relationship with his grandfather and personal growth back into it too to make it a double-whammy is just so inspired.
I love how lived-in the relationships between the already-established Titans feel. Jaime and Garfield channeling their gayness for each other into constantly trying to one-up each other obviously highlights, but the whole team really does feel like a family. I love how earned the relationships Damian forms with them feel. I love that he can actually play well with others now. I love, love, love Cyborg being unwilling to leave the Justice League but also just Boom Tubing in because it’s pizza night.
Dick checking in on Starfire because he’s the Daddy of the Titans and she’s the Mommy is the best thing and I’m kind of willing to concede at this point that my Dick/Barbara shipping has probably been too inflexible in the past, because these two are really good together.
Honestly, I kind of just want more of these movies forever. I know they rebooted the whole damn universe AGAIN after I stopped watching these, but please can you just give me like twelve of THESE? BEAST BOY KICKS A BAD GUY AS A KANGAROO AND LANDS ON HIM AS AN ELEPHANT, ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T WANT TO MAKE MORE OF THESE?
THIS MOVIE HAS A DDR FIGHT BETWEEN ROBIN AND BEAST BOY THAT IS PLAYED COMPLETELY STRAIGHT, I NEED THIS TO HAVE HAD MORE THAN THE ONE SEQUEL IT GOT. PLEASE, I ASK FOR SO LITTLE.
Batman: The Killing Joke (comic, 1988) & Batman: The Killing Joke (movie, 2016)
Was it morally reprehensible? Yes. But was it bad? Also yes.
So, obviously I have my problems with the graphic novel. And obviously a lot of those problems are going to be baked into any adaptation of it. I’ll grant you that. But to recognize that one of the biggest complaints about the source material is that it treats Barbara like a prop rather than a character, and to say “don’t worry, we got this” and add an extended prologue where Batman and Batgirl are fucking and think you fixed it is … yeah. That’s… a thing you can do, I guess?
You guys understand that the reason we have a problem with fridging is that it sacrifices female characters for the sake of male characters’ angst, right? And giving Batman an additional reason to be upset about the attack on Barbara … is not an improvement in that regard … right…? Right…??? Guys…????
Justice League Dark (film, 2017)
More like Justice League DORK amirite?
Batman recruiting spooky bois!!!! (And Zatanna.)
Lots of magic!!! I don’t always agree with how it’s depicted but I’m a slut for magic, and the imagery in this one at the very least is often cool and a nice change of pace at the very least. And Zatanna one-shots Supes AND Wonder Woman, which I’m HERE FOR, but I’m gonna need them to follow up on this by having her be canonically stronger than them or at least this being addressed in some form DO IT YOU COWARDS.
Swamp Thing is a good boy!!!
The Not So Good:
The beginning is ROUGH. Like, I’m pretty sure you coulda established the same stakes without showing a lady about to murder her baby or a dude about to murder his family etc. Seriously these movies go way edgier than they need to sometimes for the stories they’re telling.
Constantine is a HUGE dick which I don’t entirely mind because I have no particular attachment to the character, but the movie lets him get away with a few things I wish it hadn’t, especially mansplaining to Zantanna way, way more than anyone ever should.
Anyway, I mostly like it! Just feels like it wouldn’t take much to be one of the best in the catalog instead of just Another One.
The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (comic, 1984) & Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (movie, 2017)
(CW: Abuse, suicide.)
Another one where I saw the movie before I read the comic. When I finally read the comic it ended up feeling like a more bare-bones version of the comic with cornier dialogue. It was cool to see Dick’s debut as Nightwing, but that was actually kinda infuriatingly-written? Like, he decides he needs to sort out his whole superhero identity shit before he can go rescue his friends who are in mortal danger? Just… what the heck, Dick???
I liked the movie version a lot better, honestly. Mostly down to there being a lot more “there” there when it comes to characterization. The plot also feels quite a bit more coherent while still hitting a lot of the same landmarks. I also liked the team composition a lot more in the movie, which is basically just a continuation of the team and relationships from Justice League vs. Teen Titans. Having Damian there in particular really added a lot.
There’s also just… a lot in Terra’s characterization that I didn’t like in the comic, especially towards the end. Although it has its issues (which we’ll come back to shortly), having the general idea be that Slade was grooming her makes a lot more sense than going out of your way to say that she was evil the whole time and deserves no sympathy. People can do bad things and still be victims. You don’t need to be an angle to deserve the safety of not being preyed upon by gross older men.
I really could’ve done without the entire “pressure makes diamonds” bullshit in the movie, though. You are a movie that LITERALLY shows someone having PTSD flashbacks and having everyone else immediately get it because THEY’VE had PTSD flashbacks. Trauma doesn’t make people great. Trauma reveals the greatness that was already there, and which would have flourished in a nurturing, loving environment. And there are plenty of people who ARE destroyed by trauma, and that doesn’t mean they were weak or not special enough or whatever the fuck. It’s all circumstance. And there’s nothing good about it. I get that it’s tempting to see a silver lining in things that suck, but this kind of thinking can EASILY slide into abuse apologism, “I just wanted you to be the best you could be” etc and I think it’s really important to challenge it whenever it appears.
Showing Slade to be a grooming piece of shit is not necessarily automatically the wrong thing to do, but like a lot of these movies that get into edgier territory the movie just didn’t punish him enough if that’s where they were gonna go. His bullshit quip about there “not being a lot of grey” in Terra’s betrayal of the Titans applies pretty directly to him. Grooming is a kind of evil you just fucking don’t come back from. Taking someone vulnerable and knowingly manipulating and victimizing them… when you’re willing to do that kind of shit, you are the fucking worst kind of evil, and you need to be unambiguously ended, not buried in rubble and shuffled offscreen so you can probably come back in a few movies.
Having Terra kill herself after all that is just the icing on this Bad Idea cake. I fucking hate all of this.
… so here’s why I like the movie anyway.
Nightwing and Robin’s relationship has fucking ruled in all of these movies, but this movie takes it to a new level. Robin congratulating Nightwing on moving in with Starfire in a stiff, overly formal way was just so godsdamned precious. He’s trying so hard, he’s such a good boy! At this point I think I’m just the president of the Damian Wayne fanclub, at least in these movies.
Speaking of Damian being The Best, him bratting at Slade absolutely ruled.
Speaking of bratting, the movie basically confirmed multiple times that Nightwing is a bottom, and especially in the context of his relationship with Starfire. Like, she got him all flustered several times, and to top it all off at one point she literally tackled him onto a couch and called him a brat. Dick Grayson continues to be the most intensely relatable character for me.
I know she was basically the centerpiece of the last movie but the movie version didn’t have nearly enough Raven for my tastes? It did somewhat make up for that by having her deliver the final blow to Blood, but yeah. At least there was plenty of Beast Boy and Blue Beetle. They’re such good boys!
And, yeah, the fight scenes mostly ruled, especially Dick versus Slade. Which was lifted more or less directly from the comic in terms of scenario, but expanded upon and executed so well it was honestly one of the best fights of the entire movie series.
So like… as much as there are a few big picture things to complain about, I enjoyed probably 90% of the movie’s runtime? It’s just that the things I didn’t like were extremely deep tissue so it’s kind of always a little hard to figure out what to do with that.
(Comic: C-Rank; Movie: B-Rank)
Batman and Harley Quinn (movie, 2017)
Actually, I quite liked this one this time!
Actually, I quite liked this one this time!
Like, I still agree with a lot of the problems I had with it. It still woulda been better if it had been a Harley & Ivy movie. I still hate that Harley wanted Ivy to turn herself in. Her argument shoulda been “this plan sucks, let’s ditch these dumb boys, live to fight another day and come up with a better one.” And I still hate that it doesn’t acknowledge Harley and Ivy’s EXTREMELY OBVIOUS gayness for each other.
I also still really wish it had marginalized Bats and Nightwing more (and I’m still not convinced it needed Bats at all, but Nightwing can definitely stay), but it was basically a Harley movie honestly. They probably just didn’t have the guts to let it fully be a Harley movie because they’re still convinced they need Bats’ name on it to put butts in seats.
I reeeeally didn’t like the way Usually Good Boy Nightwing approached Harley for help, he gets put in his place pretty thoroughly at least. And wow every version of this guy is just the bottomiest bottom ever, huh? I guess I was still a little defensive from what they did to Barbara in the prologue of A Killing Joke last time I saw this, which is understandable, but yeah. The sex scene rly didn’t bother me this time.
So, yeah! Idk. I was a lot more grumpy about this on the whole last time. This time, while there were still a few things that really rubbed me the wrong way, I felt like it was a pretty terrific movie on the whole. One of my favorites of this series, even.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (comic, 1989) & Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (movie, 2018)
I saw the movie before I read the comic. It was way better than I expected it to be!! The entire idea of placing Batman in a different setting is a lot of fun, and “Batman vs. Jack the Ripper” is definitely an awesomely bananas direction to go with that.
The way most of the characters in the movie were integrated into the Victorian setting really added to the fun. Dick, Tim, and Jason as an orphan gang under the thumb of a criminal until Batman liberates and adopts them, Catwoman as a stage actress who moonlights as a masked avenger of women. I also love Ivy as a sex worker, but don’t love her being unceremoniously offed. I get that that’s kind of the entire thing with Jack the Ripper, but it feels like there are plenty of ways around that.
The comic, on the other hand, didn’t really have nearly as much going for it. I know the movie owes its overall idea to the movie, and it’s kind of the two stories from the comic smushed together into one story with more characters added, but I really liked how the movie fleshed things out. The comic just felt really lacking by comparison, and didn’t capture my interest in nearly the same way.
(Comic: C-Rank; Movie: B-Rank)
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (movie, 2018)
This was pretty good moment-to-moment, but also not really super memorable. Like, it kept me entertained while I was watching it, but I kind of don’t have anything to say about it? It was just kinda there.
Reverse Flash using the Speed Force to continue balling despite literally having a gaping hole in his head was badass, though. And Scandal Savage and Blockbuster are explicitly gay and are basically lesbian bullies and I kind of want them to lesbian bully me!!
Superman: The Death of Superman (comic, 1992-93) & Superman: Funeral for a Friend (comic, 1993) & Superman: Reign of the Supermen (comic, 1993) & Superman: The Return of Superman (comic, 1993) & The Death of Superman (movie, 2018) & Reign of the Superman (movie, 2019)
It was basically impossible to be a kid who liked superheroes in the 90s and not know about at least two storylines: Bane breaking Batman’s back, and Doomsday killing Superman. I was a much bigger Batman fan, so I read basically all of Knightfall and Knightsend, and bits and pieces of Knightquest. The Death and Return of Superman, though, I only really read the issue where Superman actually dies and a few issues of Reign of the Supermen. I also had a like… junior novelization of the whole arc? It glossed over a lot and streamlined the whole thing, but I got a general idea of the story as a whole from it.
So I finally read it, and… yeah, wow, it was rough at times. The actual fight between Supes and Doomsday is the only really good thing about The Death of Superman, and it was pretty good. Funeral for a Friend was just… kind of genuinely awful? Like, I frequently found myself bored and tempted to just skim through the issues just to get through them faster. Things got way better with Reign of the Supermen and The Return of Superman. Those were genuinely compelling, though I still found the Lex/Supergirl stuff extremely missable. I loved Superboy and Steel, though. I kind of want to go out of my way to read more stories about them in the future.
I still hadn’t read the comics when I sat down to watch the two newer adaptations for the first time, but I definitely enjoyed them. They were a much more faithful adaptation of this arc than Superman: Doomsday, though they still had their departures. I especially didn’t really like that they changed the fight between Superman and Doomsday to start in Metropolis rather than being an epic battle across America with Superman getting increasingly desperate to stop him the closer they got to his city.
Still, it was nice to see Superboy, Steel, Eradicator, and Cyborg, and a lot of other elements that were entirely absent in Superman: Doomsday. And I think they did a really good job of adapting the broad strokes of the story into a movie. I even like some of the changes they made, like replacing that weird Lex clone or whatever the heck was going on there with just the normal Lex, and kind of mushing Supergirl and Superboy’s stories into one story minus the sexual overtones.
I was a bit caught off guard by how bad the comics were considering how consistently great Knightfall and Knightsend were, but they had their moments. And I really did like the movies quite a bit. Even though I did miss some of the details from the comics that were left out, I’d go so far as to say the movies are probably the best way to experience this story.
(Death of Superman: C-Rank; Funeral for a Friend: D-Rank; Reign of the Supermen: B-Rank; Return of Superman: B-Rank; Movies: B-Rank)
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (movie, 2019)
I haven’t seen much of the Justice League cartoon series from back in the day, just the multi-part origin episode and a few other scattered episodes here and there. So this didn’t mean as much to me as any of the Batman: The Animated Series revivals they’ve done for a few of these. Heck, even if I had seen more of the series, I doubt it could’ve meant as much, but you know what I mean.
On that note, I do think the dream/memory sequence in this goes… way too edgy to be believably part of the same DCAU as the aforementioned series? If you’re going to do a revival of those, it just doesn’t make much sense to me to go so hard against the tone of the source material. And the movie had already done a perfectly fine job of establishing that Jessica was going through some shit. For as good as this movie is at times at showing characters struggling with mental health problems, it sure did fall into the trap that so often happens when shows/movies try to depict a character dealing with trauma. We don’t need to see the event that caused the trauma!
Still, I liked this a lot better than I thought I was going to! And I especially loved the characterization of the aforementioned Jessica Cruz/Green Lantern! It had a kind of depth I just don’t generally expect in stories like this. And while it is a bit surprising to see a DC animated movie like this do a good job of depicting a hero with PTSD, it was even more astounding to see it do a good job of depicting one with schizophrenia! I love Star Boy! And that is just… not a bridge I really usually expect these kinds of movies to be willing to cross? Even a lot of people who are very vocally supportive of neurodiverse people will often draw the line at “scarier”-sounding diagnoses like schizophrenia due to misunderstandings and the prevailing stigma surrounding them.
Before I get too carried away, I should say that I do hate that Star Boy had to sacrifice himself to save the day. It didn’t undo everything good about how his character was depicted or anything, but it sure did feel unnecessary.
But, yeah! I had basically 0 expectations for this one, and it’s probably one of my favorite Justice League movies! So that’s pretty cool.
I’ve been a Batman/Catwoman shipper since before I knew that shipping was a thing, so obviously I loved this. The movie makes a few departures from the comic to fit it in with the DCAMU continuity, but I think it does a pretty great job of adapting the spirit of the comic. The only change I disagreed with pretty strongly was using Bane instead of Killer Croc, but it didn’t ruin the movie or anything. It just felt like a pretty unnecessary change.
Ivy being blatantly femdommy, and bisexual at that, was extremely, extremely, extremely my jam. Yes please. More of that, please.
Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (movie, 2019)
Omg a Wonder Woman movie about her, y’know, just being Wonder Woman and stuff! We do get an abbreviated origin story crammed in there because of course we do, but it’s used to establish the purple healing ray and her relationship with Vanessa, so I’ll allow it.
This one sees Diana take on quite a few members of her rogues gallery, I think a total of six unless I’m forgetting anyone? But it nevertheless has plenty of time for some awesome characterization for Diana and a lot of the other characters. So that’s awesome.
I mostly like this version of Etta. I was so excited that she was thirsty for Amazons and ended up hooking up with at least two of them from the look of things! Her characterization did veer a little closer to Sassy Black Friend than I think is strictly advisable, but it honestly gels pretty well with how she’s often characterizated lately even when she’s white? And fuck, man, I’m not gonna complain too hard about having confident black lesbians in something this mainstream.
Seriously, though, this was awesome. This is basically the Wonder Woman movie I’ve been begging for for years.
Superman: Red Son (comic, 2003) & Superman: Red Son (movie, 2020)
I mean, you knew I’d have stuff to say about this one. Let’s not kid ourselves.
To dispense with the obvious, no this isn’t a fair portrayal of the Soviet Union. Not that that’s necessarily ever going to be the point of a superhero story, but look at how your average Superman comic treats the United States. Clark’s entire deal is “truth, justice and the American way.” You don’t get a lot of pages devoted to imperialist aggression or mass incarceration. Also like, yeah I’m not about to pretend the Soviet Union was perfect, but the version of “history” on display here is like Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation-level propagandizing.
The movie inherits a lot of the same problems as the comic, and even at times portrays some of the more problematic distortions of history in even more vivid detail… but in a lot of ways it’s actually drastically better until it isn’t???
For one thing, Superman’s dedication to actual communist principles is demonstrated much more effectively through changes both small and massive. Like, his public appearance early in the story is just some random demonstration in the comic, but in the movie it’s the unveiling of a new hydroelectric dam that Superman helped build. And when he’s given what he considers an undue amount of credit for the project’s success, he actively pushes the credit back on to everyone who was working with him. And throughout the film, we see him earnestly expressing actual communist ideals.
Quite a bit is also done to humanize Superman in the film. We see flashbacks to his childhood, which is completely absent in the comic. And we also get quite a bit more fleshing out in his relationship with Wonder Woman, which is way better than the comic… until it isn’t. But we’ll get back to that. Supes and Wonder Woman meet, immediately form a bond, Supes assumes Wondie wants him to bed her and she’s like whoa hi no when he goes to kiss her, and he’s actually relieved??? And she says “I come from an island of all women. Work it out for yourself,” which is just an incredible line, thank you for that! And the two agree to become friends and their relationship becomes even warmer from that point on.
Honestly, if you look at Superman as an actual expression of the highest ideals of communism struggling against some of the internal contradictions that–combined with Western interference–ultimately doomed the Soviet Union, this would be a good movie up until that point. Yeah, there were some pretty wild distortions of history to set up that conflict, but it’s not completely wrong? It’s… also not completely clear to me how he got from there to having dissidents turned into cyborg slaves. That jumped out less as weird in the comic because everything was weird and wrong, but it was kind of funny that early in the movie I basically said out loud “I wonder how they’re going to get from here to the whole cyborg slave thing” and they just… there wasn’t a “getting there.” It was just like, “oh, okay, we’re doing this now.” I guess the writers of both the comic and movie think it’s just a natural thing to put in your warped communism metaphor and there’s no reason whatsoever to explain it. I don’t know. It’s just kind of hilariously bad.
Even at this point, Superman isn’t entirely demonized by the movie? He refuses Brainiac’s urging to invade the U.S., and it isn’t until the U.S. attacks with their reverse-engineered Green Lanterns that he responds. And after defeating the Lanterns, he goes right to the White House, right to Lex. Right to the heart of the problem.
Oh, let’s talk about this movie’s incredibly strange brand of, uh, “feminism”? When Superman announces his intentions after rescuing Metropolis from the falling satellite, Lois demands “what about women?” And like, hey Lois? I think if we applied a fine-tooth comb we might find one or two or ten thousand ways in which the U.S. was far behind the Soviet Union in that department at the time? It’s a totally fair thing to fight for within the revolution, but an absolutely ludicrous thing to try to use to discredit it from the outside. And like… Wonder Woman, like Superman, devolves into a total caricature of herself late in the movie and fully like 90% of her lines become about how men are evil and it’s just… it’s just weird. And uncomfortable. And not earned by the narrative at all.
Honestly, even though parts of it are just ridiculously bad, even the latter portions of the movie could be read as a metaphor for how decisionmaking in the Soviet Union became increasingly centralized and the average person became disengaged with the revolution, until eventually they could only watch helplessly as the Soviet Union was dissolved, the revolution ended, with no recourse but to try to live in a world that suddenly had one fewer beacon of hope.
Superman was right when he and his comrades built that dam. We don’t need a single hero we can look up to to solve all our problems, we need to solve them together. And that’s why no matter what, we will keep fighting.
(Comic: C-Rank; Movie: B-Rank)
Final Crisis (comic, 2008-09) & Justice League: The Darkseid War (comic, 2015-16) & The New 52: Futures End (comic, 2014-15)
I read all of these in preparation for Apokolips War because according to Wikipedia it was based in part on all of them, and it ended up having basically nothing to do with any of them? Like, I genuinely have no idea on what grounds they consider it to have been based on these comics? It wouldn’t have even gotten a “suggested by” credit in my book.
Let’s start with Final Crisis. Y’all know I love me some Grant Morrison, but this was definitely not my favorite of his that I’ve read so far. There was stuff I liked about it, like especially some of the Green Lantern stuff and the stuff with all the main Justice League members becoming dark gods or whatever, but this is largely a case of me really enjoying the setup a whole lot more than the payoff. It just ultimately got a bit too esoteric for my tastes.
Darkseid War was awesome. It wasn’t on the same level as some of the earlier New 52 stuff I’ve read recently, but it’s easily my favorite of these three stories. And Grail just walking through the Justice League repeatedly is uncomfortably hot. She gave me several gay crises. I also really enjoyed seeing the Justice League just… doing a murder investigation towards the beginning. That was a really cool hook into the story, though I did appreciate them calling out the fact that normally they wouldn’t have the entire Justice League doing something that mundane. Again, I loved all the Green Lantern stuff, especially Jessica becoming a Lantern. Out of all of these, I’d say this one had the most “there” there.
While the first two were at least interesting and short enough to be digestible, Futures End was a 48-issue… they call it a miniseries, but I categorically refuse to call an event that long a “mini” anything. On top of that it is just a slog of repetitive storytelling that doles out information in a torturous slow drip and never really gives me a single good reason to care. It was published weekly, and it shows.
So, uh, yeah! Again, not really sure how Apokolips War was “based on” these. Like, they had Batman sitting in the Mobius Chair like in Final Crisis, but it didn’t turn him into the God of Knowledge, he was just kinda Darkseid’s right hand minion? Hell, Darkseid wasn’t even in Futures End. Shrug!
When I was a more serious superhero fan, I considered the MCU the gold standard for live-action superhero movies, and the DC Universe Original Movies the same for animated superhero movies. It’s not difficult to see why. And I don’t think it’s out of line to say that the storytelling of the DCAMU was heavily inspired by the MCU. (If I wanted to be out of line I would say the DCAMU is drastically better, which it is, but that’s not my point right at this exact moment and also these are not the kinds of arguments I care about anymore.) Moreover, I think Apokolips War in particular is pretty blatantly inspired by Infinity War and Endgame, which makes sense with the latter having come out just a year beforehand.
Given that the DCEU has never really managed to get its feet under it the way the MCU did, it makes sense that their less well-known animated films which have consistently impressed both fans and critics is where they got to have their Infinity War/Endgame. It’s a massive crossover with a dizzying number of characters having at least an extended cameo, it has impossibly high stakes, and every single hero needs to throw their everything into it. People die, people are depowered, relationships are consummated or sundered. It is, in every sense of the word, climactic.
Obviously some of the more grimdark elements of it are not precisely my cup of tea, nor do I particularly care for its apparent “it’s complicated” stance on abusive parents. But this is still drastically more interesting than any of the comics it’s based on? (Aside from its lack of Grail. How can you do a New 52 cataclysm and not give me the steppy queer-looking Amazon who steps on everyone???) And in spite of its aforementioned grimdark elements, it mostly maintains a hopeful tone? This is a story about people who are going to go down fighting no matter what.
Oh, and like. Damian Wayne is ultimately one of the biggest damn heroes of this entire continuity, suck it nerds. And I love, love, love his relationship with Raven omg. It was such a slow burn but seeing it culminate and seeing them be there for each other is just… yes!!
On a much more superficial note, it has That Scene with Constantine and King Shark, and King Shark is looking hot af. And the Suicide Squad is so much better off without Waller.
Seriously, this was awesome. I’m glad the DCAMU got a definitive ending, and while there are definitely movies in the series I like a whole lot more than this one, I really do appreciate a lot of the choices it made.
This replaces and abridges an earlier review I did of these movies. I decided to read all the comics these movies are based on to give me more context for understanding the movies. Some of these movies weren’t based on any comics, so in those cases I just lightly edited my original reviews. Oh, and I didn’t read the Death of Superman for Superman: Doomsday because I’ll save that for the more faithful recent adaptation.
The DC Universe Original Movies are a series of high-quality direct-to-video (with a few exceptions that received limited theatrical releases) animated features. I first discovered them when I was working at Target in the (probably-defunct) Music, Movies and Books department. I was basically the person in charge of putting all the new releases on the shelf every Tuesday. There were these TVs all over the department playing this endless loop of commercials for movies and albums and even books. I know, right? Commercials for books? Anyway, they barely ever updated it, and it was so repetitive you usually ended up tuning it out if you had to spend much time in that department, but every now and then a new trailer would be added to the loop.
That’s exactly what happened about a week before Batman: Under the Red Hood was released. The first time I heard it playing, it snapped my attention away from my boring work routine and I was immediately transfixed. I resolved to pick the movie up as soon as it came out, and my excitement was rewarded with a frankly pretty great animated superhero flick.
As soon as I found out that there was a whole series of one-shot movies of similar quality, I started watching them. I didn’t always like them as much as Under the Red Hood. In fact, it’s still at or near the top of my list for best movies from this series, but the overall model of releasing high-quality animated features two or three times a year is still a pretty exciting one, and I wish more franchises would follow suit.
The history of the DC Universe Original Movies (so far) can roughly be divided into three eras. The first era is characterized by a bunch of largely unrelated one-shot movies. There was a loose continuity between this era’s two Justice League movies (minus New Frontier which was its own thing), and we saw the last gasp of that continuity in the opening scenes of Flashpoint Paradox, which is when the second era began.
Now, I’ll defer more detailed discussion of those second and third eras to my eventual megareviews of them, but suffice it to say both of them are characterized by much tighter continuity than this first era. I actually kind of appreciate the directionless nature of this first clump of mostly unrelated movies, and in a lot of ways I miss it. So it was a lot of fun to revisit.
Superman: Doomsday (movie, 2007)
The first entry in the series emphatically benefitted from being revisited. I had only seen it once before, and at the time I was way too turned off by what a radical departure it was from the source material. I especially found the BDSM-adjacent relationship between Lex and the Superman clone off-putting. This time I just found it pretty hilarious (and slightly hot if divorced from its context). The first DC animated original movie involved Superman getting smacked around like a little bitch while Lex said “who’s your daddy.” Wild.
I have my obvious boring complaints about how this movie paints cops and America in general as the good guys, and Superman killing a child murderer who was absolutely going to escape and kill again (he escaped prison twice in just this movie, and murdered a child!!) as a horrifyingly immoral act.
But, yeah. It’s a superhero movie. It’s gonna have totally fucked morals. But it had some great Supes/Lois stuff, some great character stuff for Supes in general, and some great action.
What really got me this time around, though, was when Lois showed up on Martha Kent’s (why did you say that name–sorry) doorstep and they had a tense at first exchange but then Lois finally lost it and started sobbing about how everyone else was mourning him for what he was to everyone, but he was theirs in a way the world could never understand, and that only they could understand the loss each other was feeling.
So, uh, yeah. Superman: Doomsday is Good, Actually. Who knew.
DC: The New Frontier (comic, 2004) & Justice League: The New Frontier (movie, 2008)
For a lot of these I will have seen the movie before I read the comic. That was the case for New Frontier, and I have to say when I got around to reading the comic (which I was not excited for) I found that it actually made a much better comic than it did a movie, and that somewhat improved my opinion about the story as a whole.
Even when I had only seen the movie, I noticed that The New Frontier felt somewhat Watchmen-adjacent. It lacks Watchmen’s genre deconstruction, and its politics aren’t nearly as forceful, but that’s hardly surprising. There’s a reason DC wouldn’t allow Moore to use canonical characters to tell the story he wanted to tell. But the parallels are even more obvious when enjoying the story in its intended form. Seeing it on the page, with its thick white borders around each panel and impressive full-page spreads and intertextual elements like newspaper articles and investigation notes makes it feel like a much more literary experience. Its narrative consequently feels less “boring”/slow and more… measured? Deliberate? There’s a pretty big difference with this kind of pacing when it feels on purpose, like it has a point.
I think probably the most important element of the plot that comes across better in print than on the screen is that the menacing threat of the Centre, which isn’t even fully revealed until towards the end of the penultimate issue of this six-issue miniseries, feels a heck of a lot more genuinely foreboding and threatening instead of just being a kind of boring and weird antagonist that doesn’t show up until the movie is almost over.
The print medium also does wonders for the clash of style between Golden Age and Silver Age heroes, an element that frankly didn’t even really come across in the movie? I do wonder if I would feel differently about the movie if I had read the comic first, but I guess that’s something I’ll never know. And while the comic is a huge improvement (anachronistically, given that it came first) over the movie, it does share many of its shortcomings.
You probably already guessed where I’m going here. This story, in either medium, is some serious American propaganda. Like, it goes out of its way to be propaganda. It ends with a speech from President Kennedy for crying out loud. It mostly portrays the U.S. as the good guys in the Cold War, the most egregious example probably being the ridiculously contrived scenario where Wonder Woman rescues a bunch of Vietnamese women from Viet Cong soldiers. Because yeah, sure! It was definitely the Viet Cong soldiers menacing the women of their own country, not the foreign invaders who came to enforce imperialism on them. Sure. Sure. That’s totally real.
The comic, while still largely misguided, does have two pretty substantial advantages over its movie adaptations in this arena. For one thing, while the U.S. comes across pretty unambiguously as the good guys in the Korean War in the movie, the comic actually gives a lot more weight to Hal’s pacifism having a point to it, with him explicitly saying he doesn’t think what the U.S. was fighting for in Korea is worth killing anyone over. This is difficult to reconcile against the comic’s otherwise wholehearted endorsement of the U.S. labeling communism as “tyranny,” but it’s something, and the movie had a whole lot of nothing on this front.
But when it comes to politics, and storytelling in general, the beating heart of the comic is just totally missing. And that’s John Wilson, who took on the persona of John Henry. The tragic story of John Henry, and the iconic panel of a young John Henry Irons sitting by his grave, is probably the single most affecting thing in this entire comic. It’s the only time the comic’s politics have the vital force of truth behind them. And they just don’t include it in the movie at all.
It completely reframed my opinion of this story. Its politics are still deeply misguided, it still seems to buy that the U.S. is an essentially good but deeply flawed country that can Do Better, that while the government’s responses to communism threaten civil liberties communism is still Bad Actually. But in spite of that, John Henry’s story is something raw, something real. Something bigger than the supposedly larger text around him.
And they just didn’t include it at all. There’s like two blink and you miss it references to it. It would be like excising Valerie Page’s autobiography from V for Vendetta. It’s so much more important than the rest of the text around it, it’s just kind of nothing without it.
I mean, the comic would still be way better than the movie for all the reasons I already listed, but that just makes it unfair.
(Comic: B-Rank; Movie: C-Rank)
Batman: Gotham Knight (movie, 2008)
This one is just a series of shorts loosely set in Chris Nolan’s universe. I like anthologies in general, so I didn’t hate it, but it was pretty mediocre on the whole and there isn’t really much to dig into, so I’ll be brief.
Have I Got a Story for You
Have I got a significantly worse version of The New Batman Adventures’ episode “Legends of the Dark Knight” for you. With the worst art style in the collection.
Mostly copaganda with a large side helping of shitting on neurodivergent people, but the art style is acceptable and the part where Batman stands in flames while basically opera music blares seriously rules.
Kevin Conroy’s voice coming out of an anime twink they tried to vaguely make look like Christian Bale’s Bruce is weeeeeird. But the art style in this one is pretty good overall and it’s a very character-driven story, which is always a plus in Batman.
In Darkness Dwells
This one owns. Batman gets to rescue someone and take on Killer Croc and the Scarecrow.
Working Through Pain
There’s some psychobabble about how pain works that ranges from unhelpful to genuinely harmful, especially the bit about how you can control pain that comes from inside of you. YIKES. NOT how that works. But it’s another character-driven one, and it has some great music and that sunset scene is the most gorgeous thing in the entire anthology.
Say, whatever happened with Batman’s parents? Are they still around or?
I wasn’t the biggest fan of this the first time I saw it, and rewatching it did not change that. Nor did I particularly care for the comic it was loosely based on. They were both frankly… kind of boring.
The best parts of the comic were probably the fights with Decay, Deimos, and Ares himself. And the first one wasn’t in the movie at all, while the latter two were substantially different to the point of not really being the same fights.
Another big advantage the comic enjoyed over the movie, despite being written over 20 years earlier, is that it didn’t center Steve nearly as much. Steve was basically the audience POV character of the animated movie, which is a mistake the live-action DCEU Wonder Woman movie also makes? It’s just a bizarre choice considering, you know, everything. Relatedly, while there’s an awkward moment or two here and there in the comic, in the animated movie the gender politics are just a fucking mess that’s superficial white feminism in its best moments and just totally regressive in its worst.
The movie also has frankly some hella “yikes” stuff with the depictions of the Amazons themselves. Like Artemis bullying Alexa for her liking to read and not being the best fighter. And can someone please explain to me why Hippolyta is so dang thirsty for a nuclear family? And “the Amazons are warriors, but we are women too” is the worst way to phrase that, just, yikes.
There is some good stuff in the movie, though! Like Wonder Woman teaching that little girl how to swordfight. That ruled. And her just totally drinking Steve under the table.
But mostly my favorite part of the movie was the ending. And I just wish the entire movie had been Wonder Woman being a superhero, and Steve being a boywife, rather than us getting nothing but her origin story. I just want to see her being Wonder Woman. Is that so much to ask for?
Green Lantern: First Flight (movie, 2009)
As far as I’ve been able to determine, this one isn’t based on any specific comic story, just kind of a general stab at Hal Jordan’s early days as Green Lantern. It’s a pretty solid by-the-numbers Green Lantern origin flick.
Green Lanterns are close enough to space cops that it’s hard for me to be as uncritically enthusiastic about them as I used to be, but there is still quite a bit appeal to a diverse team like this with cool superhero uniforms IN SPACE, so yeah. And all the different color-coded Lanterns having different powers based on different emotions. It’s kinda brilliant, honestly. Well, it would be if it weren’t for the assigning of some emotions as “good” and others as “bad” but y’know.
Superman/Batman, Vol. 1: Public Enemies (comic, 2003-2004) & Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (movie, 2009)
For the sake of context, this is another one where I saw the movie before I read the comic. After reading the comic, I can say that the movie is a super faithful adaptation, though it’s obviously trimmed quite a bit. The biggest change is that it totally removed the subplot where Angsty Future Superman tries to kill Superman and Batman to stop them from making the same mistakes they made in his timeline, which is a bold choice when he also could’ve just… told them what went wrong? So I kind of don’t mind that part being cut out.
There’s a few other tangents that get cut out, probably the most consequential of which are the Batkids and Superkids busting into the White House to try to break out Supes and Bats because they think they’ve been captured. It didn’t really add anything to the main story, so I don’t mind missing out on it in the movie, but I’m a huge Nightwing stan and big Robin fan and fan of all the other “hero, but kid” characters, so on a personal level obviously I missed them a little bit.
My favorite thing about the movie–which my boyfriend pointed out while we were watching it together–was that Bruce and Clark are just blatantly boyfriends in it. But that’s actually even more super obvious in the comics? So that rules.
Honestly, this whole offshoot universe where Lex is president and everything is a little Off is kinda weird and I don’t hate that it only got two movies, but I nevertheless actually kinda liked the comic kind of a lot? And can see myself reading more of it just for the heck of it. It just hits exactly the tone I’m looking for in DC stuff.
Justice League of America #29-30 (comic, 1964) & JLA: Earth 2 (comic, 2000) & Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (movie, 2010)
For the record, this is another one where I watched the movie before I read the comics it was based on.
Justice League of America #29-30 are from 1964, and they are… very from the 60s. Not that there’s necessarily a lot of outdated slang or anything, or at least it didn’t jump out at me much if there was. The plot is just extremely straightforward (and kinda repetitive despite this “arc” only lasting two issues?) and quite a bit of the dialogue is either exposition that a modern comic would likely use visuals to dramatize or the respective sides in the conflict boasting that they’re gonna win. Honestly if you’ve ever read the first appearance of the Reverse Universe in the Archie comic series, this is a dead ringer for that. I wouldn’t be shocked if this was that comic’s inspiration.
Before I talk about the JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel, I should say: GRANT MORRISON IS NONBINARY??? HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT??? I really enjoyed their run on X-Men, so this wasn’t my first time enjoying their work! And knowing this kind of makes me want to check out more of their other work!
All that aside, JLA: Earth 2 is also just a drastically better comic. It has more complex and sophisticated storytelling, but it preserves the core aspect of the original story which is that it’s just really hecking cool to see all these heroes fighting evil versions of themselves. The idea that good is always fated to win in our universe and always fate to lose in the other universe felt a bit silly, but it was a nice homage to the original story’s “we have to lose to win!” strategy.
The movie has a lot in common with the comics, but is essentially a streamlined version of the story. One kind of weird change is that the evil counterparts of the Justice League were literally just mobsters. There are definitely some elements of that in JLA: Earth 2, but it’s really ramped up in the movie. Hearing that kind of stereotypical diction was just weird. I would rather they had just talked and acted like supervillains. Just my take, though.
It was undeniably satisfying seeing Batman fight Owlman, Wonder Woman fight Superwoman, Superman fight Ultraman, etc, though. I mean, that’s what we all came to see, right?
I have mixed feelings about the subplot where these animated features give us the vital information that Bruce Timm is kinky. But seeing Batman get smacked around by Superwoman and having it be pretty explicit that she was a sexual sadist… really didn’t suck, honestly? I think it was the biggest thing from the movie that I was missing when I read JLA: Earth 2, where they’re just straightforwardly having an affair behind Ultraman’s back as far as we know. And when Wonder Woman finally wrangles Superwoman and demands, “Submit.,” I got all subby and thirsty, so.
Ultraman was fine in the comics, but was probably the most boring one of the big three’s counterparts in the movie. And he was also the one whose personality was the most just “he’s literally a mob boss.” So. Probably not a coincidence there. But aside from Superwoman’s explicit sexual sadism, Owlman being a philosophy-obsessed nihilist was probably my favorite change the movie made. A+. Epic. 10/10. Loved his overwrought arguments with Batman. Loved how much he resembled angsty Batman fans who think they’re smarter than everyone. Seriously, this was brilliant.
It’s probably pretty obvious that JLA: Earth 2 was my favorite version of this story (and my ratings reflect that), but all of them had their charm. The 60s comics are probably the only one that doesn’t have any specific, unique elements to recommend it, but it’s also the source the other two are drawing from, so you know. Something to be said for that.
Batman: Under the Hood (comic, 2005) & Batman Under the Red Hood (movie, 2010)
So, yeah, as previously mentioned this is the movie that really got me into this series. The obvious things working in its favor are that I freaking love Robin, Nightwing, and villains who are either corrupted good guys or evil versions of good guys or whatever. I just always find those kinds of conflicts compelling thematically and because they’re so evenly matched. We also get three other major villains in Black Mask, the Joker, and Ra’s al Ghul, and a brief recap of A Death in the Family, so yeah there’s kind of a lot here. Plus Christopher Drake’s soundtracks always slap, and there are some fantastic action scenes.
Jason Todd isn’t my favorite Robin by any stretch of the imagination, but uh, I did write some embarrassing crackship slash fiction of him and Nightwing as a teenager so clearly I found him at least somewhat compelling. (For the record: I wrote Jason as an extremely bratty power bottom and Dick as a very befuddled service top and this is objectively correct I will not be accepting feedback at this time.)
Anyway yeah this movie rules. There are parts of it that are emotionally difficult like Jason’s death and his tirade at Bruce for not killing the Joker after he killed him, which really drives the overall drama of the piece. And I feel a lot of empathy for everyone involved even Bruce even though he’s a dumbass and should kill the Joker for so many reasons, but especially for what he did to Jason. There’s just no coming back from that, and he’s shown time and time again that locking him up isn’t going to do shit, he’s just going to escape and murder more people again and again.
As has been the case for most of these I saw the movie before reading the comics, but yeah the comics kicked ass. The narration, the art, the action, and the dialogue were all top notch. There were a few diversions from the main plot that seemed kind of unnecessary (what was even going on with Mr. Freeze), but I still don’t have any real major complaints. And wow the fights kicked ass.
It was pretty novel this early in the DC Universe Original Movies line to get a direct sequel! In fact I think this might be the first one? So that was pretty cool! There were a lot of moments that worked really well in isolation but it felt kind of like there were more moments that were infuriating in isolation, and on the whole it just doesn’t cohere as something nearly as good as Public Enemies. But still, Batman gets vored (briefly), and goth Kara can absolutely step on me.
The movie is also exceptionally faithful to the source material, so that’s pretty cool! Although, I was kind of hoping I’d like the comic better than the movie since I liked the first comic so much, but seeing as it turned out the movie was basically a panel for shot remake of the comic, I had many of the same problems with the comic that I did with the movie. Worse, instead of helping like it did with the first story, Bruce and Clark’s narration actually emphasized further that this story wasn’t really about Kara, it was about Clark. And I just think that’s such a waste. I know that’s kind of this series’ whole deal, but they probably should have reintroduced her to the DC canon in a different title.
I never quite knew what to make of Jimmy’s cross-dressing in the movie. Like, my gut reaction was that it was a positive/neutral portrayal, but I just didn’t trust it? Like, it was hard to imagine D.C. having someone just casually be genderfluid and not making a big deal of patting themselves on the back for it? But having now read the comic where it’s portrayed exactly the same way, and knowing now that Grant Morrison is nonbinary, it makes a lot more sense that it was so positive and chill.
I do have some complaints. Most of them are for the movie specifically, but one that crosses over to both is that the entire premise of Superman overdosing on sunlight just seems completely ridiculous to me? But I guess that’s ultimately a matter of personal taste? And, again, now that I know this was written by a queer person it does make hella sense that they wanted to tell a story where Superman knew he was dying of a terminal illness, and was running out of time to accomplish everything he wanted to accomplish.
As previously alluded to, I have additional complaints about the movie specifically. And these are much less a matter of personal taste. Not telling his mother he’s dying is reprehensible, for instance. But nothing is as egregious as the additional details added in the movie’s expansion of the prison riot scene.
In both the comic and movie, Superman visits Lex Luthor in prison as Clark Kent to interview him. In the comic, he saves his life several times when a full-blown prison riot breaks out. He also rescues all of the guards. And he lets basically all the prisoners except Lex die.
What good is a “hero” who defends the blunt instruments of our oppression at the expense of their most immediate victims? Of course, this is consistent with Kal-El’s paradoxical commitment to “truth, justice, and the American way.” How he can even begin to think he can square the former two with the latter is anyone’s guess.
To be fair, there are also actually a couple things I like better about the movie!
A few of the adventures from the comic had to be trimmed down, but I actually think that worked in the movie’s favor at times? The movie deleted the Bizarro world stuff entirely, and while I didn’t mind it exactly, the movie doesn’t really suffer from its absence. But that means the movie needed a different reason for Superman to be absent from earth when Bar-El and Lilo show up. They solved this by having Superman embark on a long, interstellar journey to find a suitable planet to release the bottle city of Kandor on instead of just anticlimactically plopping it on Mars. This streamlines the narrative and keeps things more on theme, so I think it worked super well.
This scene also streamlines the process of Lois finding out that he’s dying. Instead of her finding out from someone else and being mad that he didn’t tell her, he volunteers the information before heading out on his interstellar journey. It’s a pretty moving scene, and it also includes the line I opened this review with which is a line I really missed in the comic.
What I love about both the movie and the comic are their willingness to be dorky. And how episodic they are. And most importantly, the Big Question at their core.
How does a god deal with the news of his impending death?
I don’t want to die, nor do I particularly want to grow old. I have never felt particularly sympathetic to the argument that life’s brevity is what gives it meaning. I don’t have enough time in the day, in the week, in the month, in the year, in the decade, in my entire godsdamned life to get my fill of holding my partners close, of learning new things, of bettering myself. I could live a thousand years and never get enough of any of these things. I don’t want the curtain to come down. It isn’t the end that gives meaning. It’s the end that takes that meaning away. And I will never be ready.
The writer of the movie adaptation died a few days before it was released, you know. He was 49. What kind of cruel joke is that.
So what the fuck does a god do when he finds out he’s dying? That his functionally immortal life has been cut shorter than the average human’s. That a fucking god is going to die young.
The stereotypical Superman Problem is that he’s too powerful, too invincible, too hard to relate to. That’s always been bullshit because his vulnerability has always been the entirely too squishy humans around him that he cares about so much. I heard about a Superman game where instead of having a health gage for yourself, you have one for the city of Metropolis, and even though the game was apparently not that great that concept is just fucking perfect.
But what this story does is take the ultimate vulnerability, the news of his own impending death… and instead of using it to humanize him, he becomes even more intensely himself. He tries to finish as much of his work as he can, work that only he can do. Work that makes him as remote from us as he can possibly be.
I mean, fuck, his last act as his body is starting to convert to pure, brilliant energy (he doesn’t even die like the rest of us) is flying to the fucking sun to fix it by becoming one with it, easily his most herculean feat yet.
A god doesn’t become one of us just because he takes on our most defining vulnerability.
The work doesn’t stop just because he’s dying.
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (movie, 2011)
“Once again, the diversity of the corps has proven to be its greatest asset.”
I liked this a lot better before I started paying attention to the specifics of some of the stories.
I mean, the Corps is basically space cops, so I’m kinda always gonna have mixed feelings. But I think this kind of structure is kind of the perfect way to do a Green Lantern movie. Having all these different stories starring different Lanterns plus a framing narrative that is itself a pretty big deal with several action setpieces. Yeah! This structure kinda rules.
As for the individual stories themselves? The first one is about the origins of the Corps and I genuinely enjoyed it and don’t have any huge complaints about it. Kilowag’s is pretty much Whiplash but with Green Lanterns instead of jazz drums. The absolutely upfront abuse apologism is just hard to stomach, and it’s frustrating because I really want to like Kilowag. Laira’s story was actually pretty great right up until its ending which is a totally unnecessary suicide. Mogo’s story rules and I have zero complaints about it. And Abin Sur’s story isn’t much to write home about but is fine.
Anyway, yeah. Even if the specific content of some of the stories infuriates me, I still really love the structure of this, and really enjoy it as a whole. Again, I think this is kind of the perfect way to make a Green Lantern movie, and wouldn’t mind seeing something similar in the future.
Batman: Year One (comic, 1987) & Batman: Year One (movie, 2011)
Another one where I saw the movie first, but it kind of didn’t really matter because the movie and comic were basically identical!
The nice thing is, the whole story is kind of Batman punching cops. And yeah, ok, it’s the “these are bad cops” bullshit (I remember there being some kind of throwaway line about Gotham’s PD just being extraordinarily corrupt)… but it’s still like almost 100% of the cops that are bad?
Even Jim Gordon’s “I’m gonna fix it from the inside!” kind of story was kind of good? Even though it’s been shown over and over again that that isn’t a thing and we need abolition… there was still plenty of stuff in this story line that I highly approved of. Like the commissioner dismissively telling him “you kept the media away from it, that’s all that matters” when Gordon references a past mistake, and when Gordon vows that he won’t have to worry about dishonesty from him, the commissioner says it’s “the last thing on [his] mind.” Which makes even more sense when we later see the commissioner dining with literal mob bosses.
Gordon’s primary antagonist is even the perfect representation of the worst kind of cop, a white guy who peaked in high school. Dude’s off-duty uniform was a letter jacket for the gods’ sake.
The only real Frank Miller bullshit on display here was his misogyny. Well, ok, and also his usual weird depictions of masculinity (like Gordon randomly using the barbell in Harvey’s office in the middle of a formal conversation where they’re both dressed in suits???), but those are surely related.
As far as misogyny, there’s especially a lot with how sex workers are portrayed here that’s just… ick. But probably the most frustrating thing is when Gordon’s hypercompetent coworker Detective Essen looks like she’s gonna be a great supportive friend for him but they end up having an affair because of course they do. It’s just so frustrating.
Also, on a very petty/whiney note: this needed more Catwoman!!!
But, yeah! Regardless of which version (again, they’re virtually identical), I think this is the least bad Frank Miller story I’ve ever encountered.
Another one where I saw the movie multiple times way before I read the comic.
I actually super prefer the movie version of this? I knew going in to reading the comic version that instead of Cyborg I would be getting Plastic Man and Aquaman. This one is resoundingly in the minus column for the comic. Plastic Man is a C-Lister and I got my fill of him watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Under most circumstances I would keenly feel Aquaman’s absence, but he did basically nothing in this arc.
But the biggest difference, and one I didn’t know about, was that Tower of Babel didn’t involve the Legion of Doom at all. Ra’s al Ghul is a drastically better villain than Vandal Savage, don’t get me wrong, but the story felt so much smaller with it just being a League of Shadows thing instead of the Justice League clashing with some of their worst adversaries in a sort of anti-Justice League.
The movie’s Legion of Doom is pretty awesome aside from Metallo and Mirror Master being kind of weird choices when Supes and Flash have much more iconic nemeses. The overall idea of Batman’s contingency plans being used against the Justice League and them feeling betrayed is pretty great! Not to mention all the awesome fights we get. Batman vs. Bane, Wonder Woman vs. Cheetah, Green Lantern vs. Star Sapphire. Oh, and while we’re here, wow I’m gay for Cheetah, help.
(Comic: B-Rank, Movie: A-Rank)
Action Comics #775 (comic, 2001) & Superman vs. The Elite (movie, 2012)
“I’m not an idiot. I know there are bad men in power.”
Then maybe you can stop having your whole thing be “truth, justice, and The American Way“?
Someone who literally brags about having a Union Jack tattooed on his chest is probably not the right guy to call out U.S. imperialism. I mean, he’s right, but come on.
Saw the movie before reading the comic, yada yada. I like that the movie just has them fight on the moon rather than on Io (one of Jupiter’s moons)? Picking a specific Not The Moon moon like the comic did feels weird when the moon is such a huge part of Superman’s iconography. Just a silly thing I noticed. Wild that the comic was referencing Western saber rattling against Libya all the way back in 2008. Was that a thing in 2008 and I just don’t remember it? (In the movie it was two fictional countries at war with each other.)
I kinda hate the character designs in the comic, especially Manchester Black’s. I like the movie’s design way better. Apart from that, I’m kinda surprised by how similar the movie is to the comic, but the movie really doesn’t spread too thin despite being a 76-minute movie adapting a single, 32-page issue.
As far as things that were added to the movie, “I killed a guy who has escaped from supermax prison twice in the first half of this movie and murdered multiple bystanders in the process both times” being treated as equally horrifying as “I murdered the governments of two sovereign nations” is… a choice. Oh and while we’re here, how’s that Definitely Not Imperialism going for you, Mr. Union Jack full chest tat.
Superman’s position is full of shit too, though. The embodiment of “the American Way” is the one lecturing about checking for innocent bystanders and not torturing? Please.
One of the things the movie did to add runtime to the movie was include way more Supes/Lois stuff, and I loved the dynamic between them. Keep him in line, girl.
As far as things that happened in both the comic and movie, Superman pretending he went off the deep end was pretty cool, tbh. And in a story where I didn’t find both sides’ positions completely infuriating it might’ve been pretty cathartic.
… ok, it was still kinda cathartic. Manchester Black is a little shit.
Anyway, I know I’m harshing on this a bit because Bad Politics in a Superhero Sotry Details at 11. Both the comic and movie were both alright. Extremely so-so. I know that’s kind of a hot take in the case of the comic, but it’s just how I feel.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (comic, 1986) & Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (movie, 2012) & Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (movie, 2013)
Finally one I read before I watched the movie!! Whoa!!
I remember thinking as I read The Dark Knight Returns that it would be pretty easy to adapt into a movie because a lot of its framing already had a very cinematic quality to it. I also hated it, and still do, but it’s Frank Miller writing a superhero who is frequently explicitly fashy even when Frank Miller isn’t writing him. There wasn’t much chance I was ever gonna like it.
Ronald Reagan wouldn’t hate Batman. He’s literally a billionaire who beats up poor people. They would play golf together. Superman might have a misguided belief that America is good but he would not be such a fucking lackey at the beck and call of the transparently slimey Reagan. The Soviet Union would not launch nuclear weapons because they lost a proxy war, they literally had a no-first strike policy for fuck’s sake!
When you split this into two parts it’s kind of unfair to Part 1? All you get in Part 1 is Batman vs. Two-Face and Batman vs. Some Gang That Didn’t Exist Before This Comic And Will Never Be Heard From Again. Part 2 gets Batman vs. Joker AND Batman vs. Superman.
Honestly I don’t mind revisiting this as a curiosity/change of pace. If you don’t take it too seriously it’s kind of silly to see all this broody & gritty nonsense every now and then. But it’s still just very anathematic to what I want out of superhero stories, and stories in general.
And for our last entry in this era of the DC Universe Original Movies, we reboard the Saw The Movie First train. And I did like the movie quite a bit! Lois kicked all kinds of ass, Clark learned a valuable lesson and stopped being a dumbass (for now at least), Kara worked through some trauma and kicked all kinds of ass, and Brainiac was an awesome villain.
Only the latter two were also a part of the comic this was based on, but that’s okay because they were definitely the A-plot. I really loved how Matrix/Alieny all the stuff on Brainiac’s ship was, and obviously I did not have a lot of complaints about the frequency with which Supes ended up bound by metal tentacles.
It’s funny, of the things the movie changed I actually preferred the movie’s choices for pretty much everything? But on the whole, I actually think I liked the comic better in its entirety?
The biggest change was Clark/Lois were the movie’s B-plot instead of Clark’s parents. But there’s also a new opening scene where Lois volunteers to be a hostage because she knows she’s safer than anyone else. But instead of her anticipated savior, Supergirl shows up! And she just shows off how completely OP she is, at one point using a literal finger flick to down a bad guy. It made me 10 kinds of gay.
I think the biggest thing working in the comic’s favor is that even though Kara’s part in the A-plot was virtually identical, for whatever reason she came across as much more of a badass in the comic? Like, the part where she stopped the missile from hitting the sun felt less like her being sidelined and more like her being a Big Fucking Deal, probably because the art and page layouts were able to be more intentional about expressing emphasis, whereas in the movie it just kind of cuts away to her flying to the sun and you’re like “oh, okay, she’s flying to the sun I guess?” I just don’t think the intention of these pages really came across in how they chose to adapt them.
But yeah, either way both versions of this story totally rule. Just an exceptionally good Superman story.
My thirst for Morebius led to us marathoning all the animated episodes with him in them prior to seeing the movie, and I also picked up the two Morbius: Epic Collection graphic novels, which are super long and full of great content, so it took me until quite a while after seeing the movie to finish them.
The Amazing Spider-Man #101-102
I didn’t realize that the whole “Spidey has 6 arms” plot being connected with Morbius’s emergence was actually a thing in the comics! But yeah, this is pretty straightforward stuff. And Morbius’s origin story as told in the flashback in the second issue is a bit more expansive than it is in the cartoon, actually kind of a bare bones version of what we end up seeing in the movie! Lizard’s involvement also spices things up a bit. The three-way fight at the beginning of #102 and Spidey and Lizard teaming up against Morbius at the end of the same issue were both pretty enjoyable, and to no one’s great shock I enjoyed Morbius’s stock villain dialogue about his superiority and everyone else being beneath him etc etc quite a bit.
Marvel Team Up #3-4
This was also kind of true of the two previous comics, but: seeing Spider-Man using 70s slang was kind of adorably weird.
#3 was arguably a bit better since it had Morbius making another vampire to be friends with, which I really wish would happen more often!, but he’s a black guy in a 70s comic book with a speaking role so of course he isn’t long for this world. But also Spidey’s titular team-up in this one is Johnny from the Fantastic 4, so… eh. #4 starts out more Spidey vs. X-Men than Spidey teaming up with the X-Men, and then becomes X-Men vs. Morbius. The X-Men vs. Morbius parts were pretty good, Spidey stealing a kiss from Jean at the end for no particular reason was not.
Giant-Size Superheroes #1
This is probably my favorite story in the first collection! Morbius basically enslaves Man-Wolf and the pair of them just whale on Spidey, true I Want This Twink Destroyed style. This is pretty much exactly what I would want out of a movie with Morbius as the villain rather than an antihero.
Adventure Into Fear #20-26
In a lot of ways this is the real meat of this collection. These issues of the Adventure Into Fear ongoing series were effectively Morbius solo comics, with all of their titles being stylized “Adventure Into Fear with Morbius The Living Vampire.”
The adventures Morbius gets up to in these are weird as fuck, and while the writing wasn’t always top notch I remained thoroughly entertained throughout. #20 sees Morbius escaping from the X-Men and enslaved by a hypno dommy Satanic cultist guy. He isn’t hot, sorry. But the dialog kinda is, as usual.
Oh, it’s worth noting that there’s a… kind of awkward depiction of a rabbi here? It’s not your usual brand of antisemitism, just… kinda weird? Like, they have him say “Isiaha’s beard” the way you’d have a wizard say “Merlin’s beard”? And I just don’t know what that’s about. Also his dying thoughts are that Morbius’s first name (Michael) is a Hebrew name, which is definitely what I’d be thinking as a vampire finished sucking the life out of my veins.
#21 finds our antiheroic vampire given the hard sell by a group of technologically advanced aliens called the Caretakers who are, I believe, approximately the zillionth powerful, mysterious force revealed to have influenced humanity’s evolution by Marvel comics. Morbius is loath to take part in their very eugenics-sounding scheme to “save” humanity not because of the principled opposition to eugenics you might expect from a scientist who accidentally turned himself into a vampire while doing genetic research, but because of some Social Darwinist Lite philosophy that he proclaims in a single throwaway line every time the subject comes up here and in future issues. I super hate it?
Anyway, Morbius goes to try to fight the Satanist hypnodom guy only to find out that he’s dating his ex or something, and then the hypnodom summons a catboy to fight Morbius because sure, why not. #22 finds that catboy trying to kill Morbius by just keeping him pinned to the ground until the sun comes up (the art is very horny), which won’t work because Morbius is a science vampire or whatever. Anyway, the catboy ends up getting summoned back to his world of catboys and the king makes up some bullshit about wanting Morbius around to thin the herd due to overpopulation when clearly he should just admit that all the subby catboys are horny for vampires.
#23 finds Morbius on a planet populated by humans, androids, and mutant aliens and it gets super eugenics-y and I kind of just don’t even want to dwell on it because ugh. #24 pits Morbius against Blade, and its coverart is actually used for the first volume of the Epic Collection even though it’s a super short confrontation, like it’s one of the least consequential things that happens in the entire collection. Personally I would’ve gone with the Morbius and Man-Wolf vs. Spidey cover from Giant-Size Superheroes #1 (which they did actually use on the back cover), especially considering that cover art would set the tone for how unbelievably horny a lot of the comics in this collection are.
#25 and #26 finish off this arc by having everyone (except for the actually-interesting catboys) come back and fight each other and switch sides a bunch of times. Probably my least favorite part of the entire arc tbh, but it gets the job done.
So, yeah! These are oftentimes terribly written, but the concepts in them are just so silly that I’m entertained wondering what will happen next. But the main thing that keeps me coming back is they are just super horny, with the lurid details of Morbius sinking his teeth into so many necks being lovingly presented both with vivid art and lovingly lingering narration. “Razor-sharp fangs part the smooth fur on the catwoman’s neck and plunge deep into her soft, warm flesh!” “The irresistible drive to feel teeth sinking into soft flesh, to feel steaming liquid on his tongue…” This is just vampire porn. Y’all wrote vampire porn. I’m not judging, it rules.
Vampire Tales #1-8
The Epic Collection only includes the Morbius stories from these comics, which is a shame because a lot of the other stories sound rad as fuck ngl.
These were in black and white, which was usually fine (and even kinda fit the tone) but the last page of issue 7 had one really weird panel where they had black text on a dark background that was just kinda impossible to read and I don’t really get how that happened? (The best I can guess is the thing was originally done in full color and then printed in black and white, but like… why would you do it that way???) Issue 8’s first page is a literal reprint of that page with white text boxes around the offending narration, which seemed like the printing equivalent of an “oops, our bad.”
But, yeah. These stories vacillate between being wonderfully pulpy and being… kinda plodding and boring? I do enjoy the more indulgent elements when they come up, and honestly just when I was starting to lose patience with this series the aforementioned issue 7 has a scene where a demonic skeleton that is on fire who wears a cloak and rides a horse that is also a skeleton and on fire catches Morbius with a barbed-wire noose and drags him around for a minute, so like… consider me bought back in, obviously???
There’s also plenty of horny bloodsucking in these, which like, you know I’m totally onboard with.
Giant-Size Werewolf #4
The Epic Collection closes out with this pretty straightforward issue pitting the very originally-named werewolf *checks notes* Werewolf against Morbius. Both Morbius and Werewolf are portrayed pretty sympathetically, and their fights are pretty decent. This also picks back up the storyline of Morbius’s ex-fiancee Martine from his arc in Adventure Into Fear, I’d actually say that their interactions take up the vast majority of the pages of this issue.
Adventure Into Fear #27-31
This arc opens the second volume of the Morbius Epic Collection. I wanna say it mostly wasn’t quite as good as #20-26, though it ended well in the last two issues with the vampire manor bloodbath and Martine as a vampire. But the preceding stuff with Hellseye was just weird in a less fun way than the previous arc.
Oh, and this arc is also way less horny, though there were flashes of brilliance in the dialogue at times.
Vampire Tales #10-11, Marvel Preview #8
Well, aside from the last of the three, this was a huge improvement over the Vampire Tales comics from the first volume! It’s kind of like this and Adventure Into Fear swapped places in this volume in terms of quality. These had plenty of quality vampire carnage and moody pulpiness. Just a lot of fun all around.
Marvel Premiere #28
Ghost Rider! Man-Thing! Morbius! Werewolf by Night (the guy who was called just “Werewolf” in Giant-Size Werewolf #4)! Avengers whomst?
It looked for a minute like they were gonna just straight up do the plot of the movie Volcano 20 years before it came out, but starring all these weirdos. I had no idea how it was gonna work, but I was here for it. Sadly they just sort of encountered a dude who is thematically positioned as being just as perfect and innocent as they were monstrous and depraved. Shrug.
Honestly, this is some of the weakest stuff I’ve read either volume of this collection.
Marvel Two-in-One #15
This was so dumb and boring, and the Living Eraser is such a dumb and bad villain. Not even sure why they bothered including this.
Spectacular Spider-Man #6-8
So-so arc. #6 is literally three new pages of framing narrative around a reprint of Marvel Team Up #3, presumably to reacquaint readers with him before his reemergence for this brief arc. #7 picks up from where we saw him last in Marvel Two-in-One #15, and then he and Spidey slug it out while Pete’s coworker Glory Grant is repeatedly imperiled to raise the stakes. It’s pretty easily the standout issue of the three. But we see throughout that Morbius is being controlled by some weirdo called the Empathoid, and Peter ends up possessed by him in #8 and has to go to some creative lengths to rid himself of his cranial stowaway.
Oh, and there’s like a bit of an overlapping arc with Flash Thompson I guess where he’s just gotten back from fighting in the Vietnam War? So that was… pretty weird, tbh, but we only get a tiny bit of it here.
All in all, a pretty alright arc, if unremarkable.
Spectacular Spider-Man #38
I liked this one quite a bit! It’s set on Halloween, the Spidey vs. Morbius fight is pretty great, and we finally actually see the Living Vampire peel up that mask and sink his fangs into that Spider-twink’s juicy neck!
Oh the part at the beginning with the three teenagers was pretty hilarious, though. Like, them getting attacked by Morbius was a cool way to open the issue, and I especially enjoyed the explicit Halloween vibes, but the jock freezing up and the nerd with incel vibes being brave felt like a serious case of wish fulfillment for the writer lmao.
Savage She-Hulk #9-11
Seeing She-Hulk defend Morbius in court was pretty cool, but I’m not really sure this collection needed this. It was like 75% the unrelated stuff She-Hulk had going on. I guess it was cool to see Morbius get a sort of mini-redemption arc, but I don’t know, I just don’t really feel like this added a lot. Like, it was actually pretty good taken on its own merits, but I don’t really feel like it sated my thirst for Morebius as much as most of the other stories in these collections.
Spider-Man (Animated Series), 2×06-2×10
A few years ago I rewatched the entirety of Batman: The Animated Series and its successor The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and although I loved them growing up I was frankly astonished by how well they held up when revisiting them as an adult. I tried to do the same with the Marvel/Fox Kids X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons and found that that was not the case for them. Like, they were genuinely kinda hard to watch.
I remembered the arc involving Morbius (which was apparently called “Neogenic Nightmare”) pretty well. Their clashes in these episodes were actually fairly similar to the comics! With the obvious exception of the fact that due to extremely silly censorship issues, instead of drinking blood with his fangs, Morbius has weird suction holes in his hands. It’s… yeah, like I said, incredibly silly, in retrospect.
Oh, and also instead of dating Gwen Stacey, Peter is in that weird awkward period where he’s kinda sorta into both Mary Jane and Felicia Hardy. Also, Lizard doesn’t team up with Spidey to fight Morbius, not that… that would’ve been pulled off very well.
Hoookay, I guess it’s also noteworthy that Morbius is meant to be Peter’s rival in college in this one. Which… I just don’t buy him as a college student at all? And he’s dating Felicia Hardy, which is just… weird!!! Idk!!! It feels weird!!! Like, you can’t picture them having a “so how’d you meet!” conversation with their friends or parents or whatever, it seems like the kind of relationship that only happens in a superhero cartoon because the guy is the hero’s rival.
Probably my favorite thing about these episodes is Morbius’s dialogue. When describing his evil plan, he threatens “the whole world will be vampires!” and I said that I’d be really upset if that line wasn’t in the movie. It wasn’t, for the record!! Really mad!!!! Also pretty upset that he doesn’t get the awesome blue hair, but oh well.
The other contender for my favorite thing in these episodes is the fact that Morbius ends up accidentally turning himself into a DOUBLE VAMPIRE with his genetic recombinator ray, and the result is that he’s this frankly super hot bat furry. Like, seriously, this is easily the hottest version of Morbius.
I also said I wanted that to be in the movie, and, well, take a wild fucking guess.
No “the whole world will be vampires”!!! No blue hair!!! No accidentally turning himself into a DOUBLE VAMPIRE which ends up being a super hot bat furry!!!!!!!!!
I still genuinely love it, though.
Like, okay. I don’t love that this forces me to like a Jared Leto movie. I understand that he’s gross af. But, y’all. Since the first time we saw the teaser trailer for this, my boyfriend and I have been cackling gleefully about the fact that they were making a Morbius movie??? Like, it never stopped being kinda hilarious and kinda awesome like this extremely weird slice of childhood nostalgia that you really wouldn’t expect to get a full-blown, big-budget motion picture in fucking 2022 and just… there it was!!!
I have no fucking idea who they made this movie for if not us specifically? I have no idea why they thought this was a good idea but I am so fucking glad they thought it was a good idea??? They made a Morbius movie??? They made a Morbius movie??? And it was exactly the level of “kinda good” that it could possibly be. It’s trashy fun. It’s… I mean, fuck, guys, it’s a Morbius movie. This was the ceiling. What the fuck do you want me to say?
Here’s a hill I would absolutely not be expecting to die on in like 2012: Sony’s “Spider-Man but without, you know, Spider-Man” movies are like 10,000x more interesting than the MCU. I’m not even talking about Spider-Verse because that would make this a really boring argument. I mean, the MCU was obliging enough to give us their own, much boringer version of Spider-Verse just to demonstrate their inferiority.
This isn’t as good as Venom but it’s like right behind it, and fuck, man, “this isn’t as good as Venom” is a thing I can say about a movie I liked, what a time to be alive.
I’m gonna want to rewatch this one a few times, in fact I’m already kinda itching to do so despite it being 3 hours long, so that’s immediately a great sign. I feel like this is one of those movies I’m going to get something new out of each time I rewatch it. What I can safely say after one viewing is that this is my third favorite Batman movie, behind Returns and Mask of the Phantasm.
This is basically a weird, lurid murder mystery, and I’m super here for it? And populating that weird, lurid murder mystery with a kinky serial killer version of the Riddler (seriously there’s so much bondage and sadism in this), an explicitly bisexual Catwoman who’s walking around in fucking goth domme boots, and one of the least annoying versions of the Penguin this side of The Animated Series who runs a seedy, loud EDM club is… yeah! Yeah, that’ll work!
And then you throw a goth twink version of Batman at them. A goth twink version of Batman who answers one of my biggest criticisms of the live-action movies by still fucking having his eye makeup on when he takes his mask off, thank you!! And you have him doing actual, y’know, detective work!! Which works really well with the slow, deliberate pace and long runtime of the movie. This thing is three hours long and I still kinda wish it were longer!!
This is a Batman movie so, y’know. It’s got its downsides. I was willing to let the usual copaganda slide but then it goes to a hella aggressive copaganda place when a huge army of cops is waiting to arrest that mobster and one of them says something like, “I guess some of us don’t work for you.” Puke. Also the movie seems like it’s doing something hella badass by having Bruce find out his father was actually corrupt and likely involved in the murder of a journalist. I mean, he’s a billionaire! That’s just being realistic. But Alfred reveals to Bruce that the mobster exaggerated and Thomas only actually wanted them to scare the reporter.
I mean… A) WHATEVER, B) glad we resolved that, like, immediately, and C) WHO GIVES A FUCK, he still went to an organized crime boss to try to intimidate a reporter. Why are we acting like that’s Fine, Actually???
But, yeah, I think the things I enjoyed about this movie outweighed the things that made me roll my eyes. I mean, again… it’s a Batman movie. There’s gonna be some of those.
But I love this grimy city. I love this slow-paced murder mystery. And I love that we finally did the hella obvious thing and made Batman a fucking goth.
You are not allowed to call Spider-Man 3 a bad Spider-Man movie unless you’ve seen this TV movie. I am SO glad I was high for this.
Spider-Man Strikes Back
Ok but seriously what is with the whole thing where old “superhero” movies are just murder mystery movies but with the detective dressed in his pajamas?
You simply do not get the unstoppable juggernaut of the modern superhero movie scene if it isn’t for Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies, but despite any surface-level similarities and causal relationships these movies could scarcely have less in common with the relentless Marvel/Disney engine spewing out three to four largely interchangeable movies a year.
These movies defined the way a generation saw Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson and all the other characters in their orbit, but if somebody tried to bring their own weirdness into the proceedings to this degree today they’d get Edgar Wrighted. Admittedly, I think Edgar Wright is severely overrated and that not enough people are talking about the fact that the man CANNOT WRITE WOMEN, but somehow I don’t think the studio that propped up Joss Whedon and took almost three Phases to get to a female-led flick and fridged Black Widow gives a damn about that? Pretty sure it was the whole wanting to make a movie that was recognizably his thing that was the sticking point. And, you know, in spite of the extremely famous studio interference in the third and final act, wow, these movies are so recognizably Raimi’s.
These movies made me care about superhero movies. That passion couldn’t survive my increasing political education opening my eyes to the fact that the MCU-led modern superhero movie landscape is an evaporating layer of paint over the most blatant U.S. imperialist propaganda this side of Radio Free Asia, but watching these really does take me back to a more innocent time.
It’s also impossible to really go back, though. And while that observation is often made wistfully or mournfully, that’s… very much not the place I’m coming from. Because gods, I do not want to go back to not noticing that it’s pretty fucking weird that this movie wants you to sympathize with Peter when after watching M.J. chased out of her front door by her drunk father’s shouted abuse, he trails after her and bemoans his inability to approach her and try to chat her up??? Not to ask, you know, whoa, hey, are you okay??? But to ask her if she fucking wants to go on a date??? Yeah. YEAH. Do not want to be blind to that shit anymore, sorry.
Look, much like Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi’s movies having their own personality doesn’t mean I always like the personality they have. His Spider-Man movies are the movies of his I mostly like, though. I never cared for the Evil Dead movies, and I didn’t like the few smaller horror movies of his I’ve seen either. I just… don’t really go in for gross-out horror? It’s never been my taste. But seeing the weirdness and quirkiness and blunt showiness of his style applied to something as clean and broadly entertaining as fucking Spider-Man??? Yeah. YEAH. That’ll WORK!
It doesn’t hurt that these things are just fucking pitch perfectly cast. Mary Jane is tragically underwritten, but fuck if Kirsten Dunst doesn’t make you believe this dumbass twink would walk through fire for her. Are you kidding me? Of course he would! And speaking of that twink, Maguire is a perfect choice to play a guy that goes everywhere from nerdy loser to earnest hero without straining credulity to its breaking point.
But probably the biggest asset in the acting department for this first film is Willem Dafoe. Gods. GODS. His scenery-chewing Gobby and his Aw Shucks Trying So Hard dad/surrogate dad are both just… YES! Yes.
Anyway, yeah. My eyes are much more open to their flaws now and I’ll never uncritically love them to the extent I used to, nor will I ever assign them the kind of importance I used to, but as highly disposable forms of entertainment go you can do a lot worse especially in this genre.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Soooooo yeah this used to be my favorite movie of all time and it isn’t especially difficult to see why. And, yeah, it does hit me right in the nostalgia. I mean. I owned the soundtrack, and listened to it often. I owned and read the novelization for crying out loud. (Admittedly, Peter David KICKS ASS at media tie-ins. His Star Trek: New Frontier series was a favorite of mine back in the day.)
I’m higher on Spidey 3 than a lot of other people, but heck, we were so spoiled with the villains in these first two Spidey movies, it’s really easy to understand why Spidey 3 felt like such a letdown. Seriously. I’m now of the opinion that Dafoe’s Gobby is actually a better villain than Molina’s Doc Ock, but that’s like saying that I like ice cream better than pie. I mean, it’s true, but WHO GIVES A FUCK, I’d fuck either one up and there will be a not inconsiderable number of days when I really would prefer a slice of pie.
The moment where an unmasked Spidey and M.J.’s eyes meet and she’s grinning with a combination of radiant joy and “I fucking KNEW it!” as the music swells… yeah, that’s an all-timer for me.
Actually, that moment kind of encapsulates how I feel about the movie as a whole… Peter has a lot of rough edges, especially in how he deals with his feelings for M.J…. but for that one beautiful, perfect moment, all that goes away. All she sees is the heroic, deeply caring boy she’s always known he was. When this movie soars, it soars. And it’s easy to forget all the times it falls short. Even if just for a moment.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
I’ve always been higher on this than most people. Basically I kinda used to flat out ignore all the Venom stuff because I know the studio strongarmed him into including him and his heart just blatantly wasn’t in it? Now, I’m way more torn. Maybe it’s just because we’ve actually seen good Venom movies now? But I think Raimi bore some level of responsibility to tell the studio, “Look, I’m not the right director to do this. If you would rather have Venom than have me, I understand, but I’m not going to do this justice.” That’s just my largely uneducated opinion, but there it is.
Then again, the ill-fated X-Men 3 might give us a pretty good idea of what’s behind Door Number 2, so it’s entirely possible there was just never going to be a happy ending here.
I… also really can’t stand how shortchanged Harry’s story ended up getting as a result of all of this. I used to defend this bit because of how genuinely emotionally moving his death scene is, it makes me cry every time… but watching it again I’m forced to admit the movie just really didn’t earn it.
I know all of this is largely just me coming around to the general consensus, so it’s not really worth belaboring any of it, but yeah. I guess the one thing I really can say is that I do still mostly enjoy the experience of watching it? Like… it’s a disappointing Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, but it’s still a Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie? So regardless of its shortcomings it’s probably still one of the, say, 50 or so best superhero movies of all time? So like. The question of whether it’s good or not just kinda depends on what you’re using as your measuring stick, I guess.
If I had come around to these opinions back when I took superhero movies more seriously maybe I’d be up in arms about Spidey 3 right now? But now that I see this genre as a whole as nothing more than disposable (extremely disposable) entertainment that frequently engages in materially harmful propagandizing, I guess it’s just kinda hard to get worked up about it?
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
I liked Peter and Gwen a lot better this time around, but I still don’t especially care for Garfield’s version of Peter Parker. The stuff about Peter’s parents is aggressively dumb. I just don’t care and I can’t imagine anyone else does either. Martin Sheen is badly miscast as Uncle Ben, it’s so distracting.
Probably the worst part is the visuals? They range from “eh whatever” to genuinely detracting from the proceedings. Especially when Spidey is doing epic webswinging stuff and you just can’t fucking see what’s happening because it’s lit so strangely and there’s no color saturation. I kind of wonder if it’s a side effect of how blatantly this movie was made to be seen in 3D… but like, James Cameron’s Avatar is considered one of the best 3D movies of all time and it looks fine in 2D? Obviously this isn’t an area I have a lot of knowledge about, it just feels worth mentioning.
On the polar opposite is James Horner’s score, which absolutely carries this movie. I still think I prefer Elfman’s scores in the Raimi movies, but I think Horner’s work here is pretty easily the most memorable thing about the movie.
And, you know, I kinda relate to Lizard wanting to turn everyone into scalies! I get it! But wow is his design ugly??? He doesn’t even have a muzzle??? I know you don’t want to be an obnoxious commissioner, but you gotta send that one back for revisions, man. You deserve a hot scalie fursona!!! I believe in you.
On the whole… it’s fine. I liked all of Raimi’s (yes, even 3) better, but it’s fine. It’s completely… fine. I don’t get bored watching it. It’s… yeah. It’s… extremely okay.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
I don’t think I’ve seen this one since it was in theaters, and at the time I took superhero movies way too seriously, so basically any big picture thing about one being bad ruined the entire movie for me… and this one has more than one big picture thing that’s bad.
… but aside from the things about it that are very, very bad… it’s actually kinda… good???????????
All the stuff about Peter’s parents continues to be aggressively dumb. No one cares. And this narrative dead end ate up way more screentime and written even worse because of course it was, one of the screenwriters is literally, famously a conspiracy theorist. So like. The first thing you do to fix this is just cut that all out.
I kinda love Electro’s design but they do that Dr. Manhattan reforming shot so many times and it’s so distractingly a ripoff and I really wish they hadn’t even done it once let alone as many times as they did? But much worse is the fact that the way he’s written is kinda super racist? Like, he starts out as basically comic relief, flips a switch to Angry Black Man… and honestly he’s super right but the movie doesn’t really seem to know he’s right??? And it squandered several glaring opportunities to make it obvious that it knew that, not the least of which is when Spidey is doing a pretty good job of deescalating the standoff between Electro and the police but a trigger-happy cop takes a shot, but aside from Spidey yelling “no!” this isn’t followed up on at all, and I’m sorry but if your movie features a standoff between a black guy in a hoodie and the police you’re going to need to make it pretty damn clear which side you’re on otherwise you’re pretty effectively on the side of the cops.
Yeah, I know, shocking that the biggest problem with an Orci/Kurtzman-penned blockbuster is the, uh… writing.
Okay, that’s harsh, but when the shoe fits please step on me. Er, wait, sorry, got distracted. And yes, to be completely fair they did inherit the whole Peter’s parents thing from the previous movies, but it’s a conspiracy plot involving someone’s completely irrelevant tragically dead parents (hi George Kirk), hopefully there were some copies of the script that didn’t have Orci’s drool all over them.
I finally figured out what it is about Andrew Garfield’s Spidey. I do not like his Peter Parker at all, but I love his Spider-Man. Like, I think I might like his Spidey better than Maguire’s! (It’s a near thing one way or the other.) Maguire is still better overall because his Peter Parker is miles better than Garfield’s, but still.
Garfield’s Peter is just… too cool, basically? Not different enough from his Spidey. Like, you really don’t get the vibe that this kid has ever been bullied (his conflict with Flash in the first movie was literally Peter getting beat up because he was trying to stop somebody else from getting bullied), so you kinda lose a big part of the character’s enduring, cross-media identity imo?
But his Spidey is pitch perfect. A bit childish, wise-cracking, but just so damn genuine and good-natured in all his interactions with his adoring public? One thing both movies have in common is he spent his entire first encounter with both villains not really directly fighting them, but running around frantically saving people from harm’s way. And in this one, he actually tried to directly deescalate and empathize with Electro, and did a damn good job of it honestly! Yeah. I just love him as Spidey.
Meanwhile, I loved Paul Giamatti as Rhino??????? Yeah, their design for Rhino sucked, but I kinda don’t care because IT’S PAUL GIAMATTI AS RHINO???????? That’s just wild.
Maybe the biggest movie-wide improvement was the visuals. It was really nice getting to see, you know, color. And actually being able to see Pete when he was swinging around being awesome was much appreciated, considering that’s kinda the entire point?
Also, the two fights with Electro (or rather, the one non-fight fight and the one fight fight) were incredible. Just. Dang. They looked spectacular, and Electro playing Itsy Bitsy Spider on tesla coils while knocking Spidey around and Spidey saying “I hate that song” made me giggle way too hard.
And I LOVE THAT PETER WAS WILLING TO GO TO ENGLAND TO BE GWEN’S BOYWIFE, and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is one of the best things about these movies. I really wish they hadn’t been in such a hurry to kill her off.
… which, yeah, okay, I guess gets us to… sigh. This movie’s take on Harry is honestly kinda fine… untilllllll they’re in such a damn rush to get him on that damn glider. And his design sucks. It’s just… it’s just butt-ugly. And that whole subplot also shows us that apparently Doc Ock’s arms and Vulture’s wings and I forget what else are just… sitting in the basement at Oscorp, and I just… I just hate it. It’s such bad storytelling, if the series had continued it woulda made the villains so boring and interchangeable, I honestly don’t know what anyone involved was thinking.
But, like… that’s the kind of stuff that used to be enough to shape my entire opinion of a movie? And now that I don’t care way too much about superhero movies, I can just enjoy the things about them that are good and shrug off the things that are bad, because honestly at the end of the day who cares? And to my genuine and delighted surprise, I think the things that are great about Amazing Spider-Man 2 outweigh the things that suck.
So, I guess basically: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” “It RULED omg”
And then there’s this fucking guy.
There’s a throwaway line from Stark towards the end about Pete being a “working-class hero,” and that does definitely describe most versions of Peter Parker, but that guy is nowhere to be seen in these movies. This guy goes to what appears to be a prestigious private school. This guy is bankrolled and watched over by a billionaire superhero. This guy doesn’t have any time to come into his own because they had to cram him into an MCU that was well past superheroes having any kind of individual story before they have to find their place in the larger scheme of things.
Yes, Spidey has plenty of entanglements with the larger Marvel world in the comics, but that’s never been what his whole damn story is about. And by the time he was doing a lot of that, he was already an adult. But all of these movies have to be commercials for each other so here’s your high school kid whose story has more to do with Tony Stark than it does anyone else, and that’s only gonna get worse as the series goes on.
Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker is disarmingly great, which makes it even more the pity that he didn’t have a less Disney/MCU-friendly script that’s more interested in getting the #brand over than bringing something resembling the source material to the screen. Admittedly, I was among those who thought bringing yet another Peter Parker to the screen was just extremely unnecessary at this point and for heaven’s sake let’s have Miles Morales already! But, you know, given that I loved Spider-Verse and am largely indifferent to the MCU, I guess I kinda got my wish? But like… there’s no mistaking the fact that the live-action Spider-Man is gonna be the one most people think of when they think of Spider-Man.
On a plus side that we’ll get into more in the next two movies probably, Zendaya’s Michelle Jones-Watson is the best version of MJ and it isn’t especially close? Just, you know, wow.
If we had to have Tony have as large of a role as he did in the movie, I did kinda like the idea of him being a father figure to Peter and trying to do a better job than his own dad did. It wasn’t executed super well, but it’s an idea at least. Though, honestly, I like it more for Tony’s character than I do for Pete’s, which given my repeatedly stated feelings for the MCU I guess kinda pushes me back into just… kinda not caring?
I hate how Tony handles… basically everything? And while the movie mostly sides with Peter, it also explicitly has Tony’s unfair berating of him as his motivation for persevering??? Which just… yeah… NO… nope. No thank you. None of that please. I will take my superhero movie without a side of borderline abuse apologism please and thank you. (Tony’s behavior does not rise to the level of abuse, but the ideology being conveyed here gives so fucking much cover for abusers, and can we please just not.)
Which kinda loops nicely back around to me not wanting our “working-class hero” to be explicitly motivated by needing to prove himself to a fucking billionaire. But, you know. Disney gonna Disney.
Say, come to think of it, you know who was working class, and fucking class conscious to boot? Fucking Vulture. They did that thing where the villain is basically completely right, which they do with basically every villain except Thanos but Thanos is the only one to inspire a bunch of weirdos to form a bizarre pop culture cult around him supposedly being right. Go figure. I think from context that this movie expects us to see Vulture as bitter or delusional or something, but he’s just kinda… right. And by putting him in conflict with a “hero” whose entire deal is sucking up to a billionaire, they basically say the quiet part out loud. Disney doesn’t want class consciousness! They want the poors to know their place and simp for the nearest billionaire. Guys I’m starting to think these movies bankrolled by a rapidly-expanding near-monopoly on mass entertainment and backed by the U.S. Defense Department might have an agenda that’s diametrically opposed to our wellbeing or something. Wild!
So, yeah, bad politics in a superhero movie details at 11. I know, I know. And honestly this movie is fun to watch in a mindless entertainment kinda way if you can get past that, which for some reason I can. But it’s funny that a lot of people saw this as a marked improvement from the likes of Spidey 3 and the Amazing Spider-Man movies when it’s basically… the same? A movie you can enjoy largely in spite of itself if you ignore the many (many) infuriating things about it. Seriously, weren’t we just here? Maybe that’s the Homecoming they’re talking about in the title. I guess that makes sense.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Peter just trying to have a fun vacation and ask MJ out but the MCU just won’t leave him alone for two seconds is such a fucking perfect metaphor for how I feel about these movies as a whole.
In this installment our “working-class hero” inherits a multibilliondollar mass surveillance/drone strike network from everybody’s favorite dead benevolent billionaire (who has a multibilliondollar mass surveillance/drone strike network). The peril this time is that he gets tricked into turning said network over to The Bad Guy, not… y’know… the fact that it exists at fucking all.
These movies’ mouths must just constantly taste like boot leather. And like, you know, I get it, believe me I do, but maybe pick someone better to simp for than the U.S. empire? Just a thought.
All the Peter/MJ stuff (and Peter/Ned stuff, and Ned/Betty stuff, and school trip in general stuff) ruled, and I didn’t hate Spidey and his friends vs Mysterio when it was just Spidey and his friends vs Mysterio. Honestly, this was a really fun and good movie aside from the parts that sucked and were terrible. So, it was a live-action Spider-Man movie made after Raimi’s first two movies.
Circling back to what I really liked about this, Zendaya’s MJ is so good, fuck. I’m so glad she has such an expanded role in this, basically becoming the deuteragonist. Because she just knocks it out of the park. She pretty much makes this movie worth seeing by herself.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Store-brand Spider-Verse. Diet Spider-Verse. Spider-Verse Lite. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Spider-Verse. We have Spider-Verse at home. Oops! All Peters.
But also, Spider-Man: Days of Future Past. Spider-Man: Generations. Spider-Man: The Force Awakens. Spider-Man: Afterlife.
It’s funny how you don’t have the whole Peter 1/Peter 2/Peter 3 problem when you don’t only do the most missionary position version of Spider-Man over and over, with the most recent incarnation even losing many of the features that make that guy worth a damn as a protagonist. But I’m saying this like I didn’t shriek like a little kid when all three of them were together on screen. And I did love how the three of them interacted. I just… you know… I want the damn Spider-Verse sequel already. Put it in my damn eyeballs.
On that note, having Electro tell Garfield’s Spidey that he always figured he was black because he fights to protect poor people was a nice touch if Jamie Foxx ad-libbed it but kinda infuriating if it was in the script because you guys can literally do something about that instead of making a joke about it, fuck. You literally had at least one very bankable black actor who woulda been perfect publicly lobbying to be Spider-Man.
But, yeah. This would be the best live-action Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2 (but much more narrowly than you might think) if not for the hot take I’m about to drop. And that’s that the Venom movies are drastically better than any MCU Spider-Man is ever gonna be. @ ME.
But seriously. I did enjoy the heck out of this one. The villain family reunion ruled. So did the fact that Spidey genuinely wants to help people and will go through great personal risk and sacrifice to do so.
There were some genuinely infuriating things about this. I’m a little conflicted about how I feel about Aunt May’s death basically being a beat-for-beat reprise of the various versions of Uncle Ben’s death. On the one hand, it’s nice having her be the parental figure that Spidey has the most feelings about. On the other hand, having to give her a beat-for-beat reprise of a male character’s death to make her important is… telling. Like I said, conflicted.
The whole “everyone forgets Peter” thing is something I more unambiguously hate. It was dramatically effective in that it made me sob like a little baby, but it still feels like really dishonest storytelling. Yeah, maybe it’ll create some distance between Spidey and the rest of the MCU which is obviously something I’ve been wanting, on the other hand there’s some saying about babies and bathwater that comes to mind? And like. Spidey’s relationships with Ned and MJ, and this version of MJ in general, were the best things about these movies and it feels like they’re all now in jeopardy of not continuing to be a part of them, or at the very least it’s going to take some amount of time to reestablish them and just… I don’t know, guys. I think just leave well enough alone with the things that are actually working about your movies. Just a thought.
But, yeah. The reason butts are in seats is to see three generations of Spider-Man take on two generations of Spider-Man villains, and that… yeah. That worked. 9/10, would Spider-Man again.
I just might skip the ending the next time I watch it.
Didn’t hate this nearly as much this time around! There were some pretty serious missteps, to be sure. Kal-El’s birth scene felt weirdly stiff and emotionless. It’s not the kind of moment a Zack Snyder-directed/Chris Nolan-produced flick is ever gonna nail. And having that be what sets the tone really informs a lot of the other problems this movie has, especially early on.
Honestly? All the problems that used to make me way more critical of this movie are still there. What’s really changed is me. I just don’t have time to be angry about that stuff anymore. Was this entertaining? You betcha. Did it hold my interest? Sure did.
It had some of your usual USA propaganda that all of these things had, but it wasn’t nearly as thick as say, Nolan’s Batman trilogy or the Marvel movies. It’s annoying, but you kinda know what you’re getting into here.
It’s fine. It’s not amazing. But it’s fine. I can live with it. I don’t feel like bitching about freaking Man of Steel anymore, okay? It’s fine. Just let it be.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Thomas, as he’s dying in the opening credits: “Martha.” Me: [deadpan] “Why did he say that name?”
The more times I see this the more I like it, actually. So that’s something.
Especially structurally. This movie is very uncompromisingly itself, and it really kinda does feel like it has the rhythm of a long graphic novel. It also helps that a lot of the indivual shots (especially in fight scenes) are composed like comic panels, which has been a strength of Snyder’s comic adaptations since Watchmen.
Also the more I think about it the more the whole “Doomsday being tacked on at the end is too much” complaint just doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. Doomsday is a non-character that it’s hard to tell a story about other than “he punch Superman a lot.” If you ask me, this was actually the perfect way to handle Doomsday in a live action film franchise.
Mostly I think I just am increasingly appreciating that this movie is something, rather than the carefully crafted bland nothing of the MCU. That matters to me more than whether my tastes entirely line up with Snyder’s. Just actually bring something to the table, that’s all I ask.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Okay what the HELL.
I actually liked it. I actually LIKED it this time!!!
Was I just such a fucking Marvel fanboy before that my view of all the DC movies was warped? Or is it just because I’ve calmed the hell down about all of this and just see them as movies that are kinda fun?
I find myself wondering sometimes about how I would feel about the Marvel movies if I tried watching them again and I find myself just not wanting to expend the effort to do so? But I’m actually really enjoying these DC movies that I bitched and moaned about so much before.
Wonder Woman (2017)
“I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”
It’s extremely hard to see Gal Gadot in the lead role and not think of her outspoken praise of the IDF, especially at this particular moment in time. And in case you’re wondering, yes, she has publicly spoken out recently to reaffirm her uncritical support of Israel, and implicitly of their ethnic cleansing of the displaced and terrorized people of Palestine. Because of course she has. So for whatever it’s worth: victory to Palestine. It just feels wrong not to lead with that right now.
The Themyscira stuff was pretty great, and the no man’s land scene was extremely obvious but also extremely good. It’s really the only reason setting this during wartime was any good. Steve is centered way too much, but I will admit that his death made me sob like a baby because of course it did.
I still find myself wanting a Wonder Woman movie where she’s just going around doing superhero stuff, but oh well. Maybe that’s 1984? I guess I’ll see when we get to that one.
On the whole this is a few really good moments with a lot of “this is kinda dragging” strung in between. And it’s a superficial “anti-war” movie that doesn’t engage with the root problem of imperialism at all, and in fact oftentimes makes arguments that reinforce cognitive distortions that imperialism relies on to make itself invisible.
Justice League (2017)
This isn’t the worst thing ever or anything but wow Joss Whedon’s changes are often glaringly obvious and I haven’t even seen the Snyder Cut yet.
The whole subplot with Batman trying to goad Wonder Woman into being a leader is clearly like 900% Whedon and I hate it. That’s the biggest one that jumped out at me but there were just plenty of times that all I could do was say “Whedon” out loud at the screen.
Flash is ADORABLE, strong desire to protecc the speedy cinnamon roll. Aquaman… y’know what, I wanted to say I prefer a more boisterous Aquaman to broody Aquaman, and I suppose that’s true in a vacuum, but Jasom Momoa is just so hot, you guys. Like. SO hot. I can’t help it.
On the whole, just… this could’ve been worse. Much worse. But it’s still very clearly a Frankenstein of a movie and this is where I stop and remember that I used to love Joss Whedon superhero movies and hate Zach Snyder superhero movies (except Watchmen) and just… hit pause and think about that for a minute.
The thing about Joss Whedon’s Avengers movies is they are extremely good at being bland, inoffensive crowd pleasers and I honestly wouldn’t have the biggest problem with that if they weren’t funded by the Defense Department, but if I thought about it harder it never would’ve been my jam. It’s merchandizable “nerd” stuff. It’s the “I ❤ nerds” shirt of superhero movies. It’s just… nothing.
I didn’t hate Man of Steel the recent time I rewatched it nearly as much as the first few times I saw it, and even the stuff I didn’t like it’s really hard to know whether to attribute to Snyder or extremely hands-on producer Chris Nolan, and… honestly there’s a lot of Nolan in there. And it’s not difficult to imagine that the studio would be mandating it be as Nolany as possible given the (at the time) fairly recent financial success of his Dark Knight trilogy.
Then there’s Batman V Superman. Like. I have some issues with it still, obviously. Not the least of which is how Frank Millery the A plot is. (Honestly, how many of Snyder’s issues boil down to liking Frank Miller too much?) But structurally… I kinda love it? It’s a much dorkier movie, and it is cramming a lot of stuff into it… and even though I have profoundly mixed feelings about it, I kind of love that it’s swinging for the fences like that? And at the very least I prefer it to the Bland Nothing With Defense Department Funding that is most of the MCU.
All of this is basically a long walk to say I’m extremely ready to see the Snyder Cut. I might not like it, but if I don’t like it it won’t be because it’s bland and inoffensive. Which this is, aside from how fucking offensive it is for Joss Whedon to ever get work.
“My father was a lighthouse keeper. My mother was a queen. They were never meant to meet. But their love saved the world.”
Oh my GOSH???? This is SO GOOD??? I was not prepared for this??? If it weren’t for Birds of Prey this would EASILY be the best DCEU movie???
A big part of this is that it isn’t afraid to be a silly superhero movie, but it’s more than that. The action scenes are incredible. Atlanna and Thomas’s epic love story is such a wonderful emotional core to build around, and bookending the movie with it is so sweet. And I cried so much when Arthur got his mommy back.
I was told this movie is “fun,” and it is. But I wasn’t told that it’s resoundingly good! Y’all are sleeping on this one.
Wonder Woman (1984)
There were things that could’ve been better, and the parts that were always gonna be racist sure were racist. Though there is something especially perturbing about a movie staring Ms. Israeli Defense Force being racist against Egyptians, naturally.
Other than that this was… fine, I guess? I liked the setup a hell of a lot better than the payoff. It made it look like Diane and Barbara were gonna be HELLA gay together, and I was extremely there for it, but oh well. And bringing Steve back felt totally unnecessary but at least he got to be the bewildered fish out of water this time around.
I would’ve liked Cheetah to be sexier, but that’s a minor gripe. I found the other villain insufferable and really wish Cheetah hadn’t taken a backseat to him, but alas.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Yeah this is a HELL of a lot better than the Frankenmovie the studio and Whedon assembled. I actually really enjoyed this.
Also, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman can do whatever he wants to me. WHATEVER HE WANTS. Seriously. DAMN he’s hot.
(Strong boy pretty. Miles dumb now.)
The Suicide Squad (2021)
“We’ve got a freaking kaiju up in this shit!”
So, I liked the first Suicide Squad movie a lot better than most people seemed to, but it was still extremely obvious that they had decided pretty late in production to make it a sort of embarrassing Guardians of the Galaxy retread despite not really having the material to support that? So then they get the director of Guardians of the Galaxy to do the sequel and it doesn’t really follow that path at all and totally has its own identity? So that’s awesome.
And then you add in the fact that this movie is unbelievably dorky, like omg. I did not think we were getting anything nearly as weird as Starro in these movies anytime soon??? And King Shark is in this??? And he’s just the goodest boy???
Speaking of good boys, Ratcatcher has a rat named Sebastian and he’s so good and I’m sorry but this was very important to specifically call out thank you.
It was a little distracting how obviously Idris Elba’s Bloodsport was just a replacement for Will Smith’s Deadshot, but I still liked his performance and how he was written. And John Cena’s heel turn and everything surrounding it was brilliant… mostly. We’ll come back to it in the politics section.
Another highlight for me is when Harley applies the lessons she learned in Birds of Prey and just straight up murders General Luna instead of ending up in another toxic relationship, and then she escapes from prison and is just a huge badass, and then her team shows up to rescue her and she’s like astonished that they wanted to rescue her and everyone hugs it out. And I love the team dynamic in general and all the little relationships, especially the ones Ratcatcher formed with Bloodsport and King Shark. And the whole subplot about Bloodsport getting over his phobia and becoming friends with Sebastian is so good!!!
There’s also a fun little masculine posturing rivalry between John Cena’s Peacemaker and Bloodsport where they’re constantly one-upping each other, and later when Flag gets added into the mix you’re kind of like “wait you have three boys here who basically do the same thing how’s this supposed to work?” but weirdly it totally does? And it also lets them do awesome things like let themselves be captured to draw attention away from more vulnerable members of the team and just immediately bust out of captivity with their Strong Boy Powers.
So, yeah, you knew I was gonna get to the politics eventually and here we go. Actually pretty damn good for a superhero movie!! And yeah that’s a very generous curve, but it’s still really refreshing not to tag one of these “imperialist” for once. And it’s pretty difficult to imagine that the Department of Defense supported this movie like it does the majority of MCU movies.
The bulk of the movie takes place on the fictional island of Corto Maltese, which was actually featured in The Dark Knight Returns and mentioned in the 1989 Batman movie! So that was a pretty cool reference. The island has recently had a military coup against their U.S.-backed dictator, but the new military regime is just as repressive, the only real difference is that they’re belligerent to the United States. But there is also an armed rebellion going on that wants free elections.
So, while she’s briefing the team, Amanda Waller is actually pretty upfront about the fact that the only reason the U.S. cares about the change in regimes is because the new regime is hostile to U.S. interests. This is reiterated much later in the movie when Starro is rampaging through the capital city and she tells her team to pull out and that if anything the White House won’t mind the wholesale destruction of Corto Maltese since they’re no longer a U.S. ally.
But that’s not even the limit of this film’s imperfect but still surprising and welcome anti-imperialism. So, in this version of the story, Starro is being held captive in a building called Jötunheim that was built to house the unethical experiments of fugitive Nazi scientists, and later the Thinker who isn’t a Nazi but sure has similar experimental methods. So obviously the creature is subjected to a series of cruel experiments. Not only that, but whatever dictator has been in power at any particular time has been sending their “enemies” (political rivals, dissidents, journalists, and even family members of the same) to get mind controlled by Starro. And then some of those unlucky prisoners are dissected alive or experimented on in plenty of other horrifying ways.
So, that’s lovely. But towards the end of the movie the team finds out that their real mission, unbeknownst to everyone but Peacemaker, has been to eliminate evidence that the U.S. actually has been running these experiments all along. Waller doesn’t even care when Starro escapes and terrorizes the people of Corto Maltese, and is even ready to blow the Suicide Squad’s heads off until one of her subordinates literally knocks her out with a blunt object and her subordinates then proceed to help the Squad take down Starro and save the people of Corto Maltese.
Basically everything good that happens in this movie is explicitly an act of insubordination by the Suicide Squad and Waller’s other underlings, and is explicitly against U.S. interests. Which gels nicely with the fact that the heroes of this movie are literally prisoners doing forced labor. (There could have been more done to explicitly call out this aspect of the U.S. “justice” system being a widespread, real-life problem, but you know. It’s not not there!)
So, remember that armed rebellion I mentioned earlier? They actually end up rescuing Rick Flag from the dictator’s forces. And when Flag is getting ready to take his team into the city, he points out that they’ll be drawing so much attention to Jötunheim that the generals will be relatively unguarded. Which they end up taking advantage of. And Flag himself ends up sacrificing his life in a fight to the death with Peacemaker over the harddrive that has proof of the U.S.’s role in the experiments on Starro and the people of Corto Maltese. So this movie basically positions him as an Edward Snowden-type whistleblower and supporter of a people’s rebellion. So… that kind of rules, honestly!
There are obviously a few shortcomings to this film’s anti-imperialism. We’re still talking about a superhero movie with a massive budget here. For one thing, the Suicide Squad are given far too much credit for Corto Maltese having free elections for the first time when the leader of the rebellion literally says it’s because of them. They should be acknowledged as very important allies, certainly. But the bulk of the credit should have gone to the people of Corto Maltese and the popular uprising there.
Also, Bloodsport’s decision to use the harddrive as leverage to gain the team’s freedom rather than releasing the information is understandable but pretty disappointing. I would have drastically preferred a resolution where the new government of Corto Maltese removes the chips for them (surely they have scientists capable of doing this) and grant them sanctuary while continuing to be belligerent to the U.S. and bringing the information of their crimes against humanity to light. I know this isn’t the direction a big budget superhero movie is ever going to go, but it would be thematically consistent, dang it!!
Finally, and this is admittedly super nitpicky, but when Corto Maltese’s dictator is complaining about countries that don’t take them seriously, he rattles off the U.S., Russia, and China. And, whatever your opinion of China, any remotely honest and educated observation of their foreign policy would conclude that they absolutely take smaller, less powerful countries seriously and engage with them in a much different way than the other two countries. But, you know. Hollywood gonna Hollywood.
So, yeah! I kinda loved The Suicide Squad!! … hey uh not to be a pest but I’m guessing this is gonna make some money so does this mean we can do Cathy Yan’s Harley/Ivy movie please and make them explicitly gay please pretty please with sugar on top?
I’m always soooooo tempted to say this is my favorite batman movie, it used to be such a reflexive thing? It still might be. Like… Batman Returns does a lot of things better imo, but the Animated Series Batman will kind of always feel like “my” Batman? If that makes sense? And seeing him get to inhabit something with the scope & resources of a theatrically-released feature is just so dang rewarding.
The Animated Series rules, but it’s kind of incredible seeing what it could be when scenes are given more time to breathe, mysteries are given more time to unfold, stakes are raised. On top of that this is quite possibly my favorite Batman movie score? Like they’re pretty much always great, but this one is kinda wow.
Anyway, yeah. This rules. Regardless of the fairly arbitrary distinction of whether it’s my favorite Batman movie of all time, it’s easily top two. and for better or worse, this franchise means a lot to me (or at least meant a lot to me and still has a very strong tug of nostalgia), so that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
This doesn’t hold a candle to Mask of the Phantasm, but I still love it.
I love that Robin gets a chance to shine, and I love that Batgirl is in it even though she’s a damsel in distress for most of it. And I especially love that we explicitly see them dating. I’ve always been a pretty hopeless Batgirl/Robin shipper.
I especially love the hella dramatic climax on the burning oil rig. Up until then it just felt like a long and especially good episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but the escalation there really gave it the proper scope for a feature.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
“Crazy hyena boy nearly took a bite out of me.”
One of the first things we see is a building called “Gotham Shipping,” immediately followed by the Jokerz. This version of the gang includes a lanky boy in a witch hat and jack-o-lantern shirt carrying a plastic Halloween pumpkin (Ghoul), a furry boy (Woof), and two scantily-clad girls in boots who double team and bully their opponents (Dee Dee). In other words, several people I’d ship myself with. (Sorry, you can’t show me something that gay with the word “shipping” literally in the background and not get that joke from me.)
Yes, I’m gay for most of the Joker’s henchmen in this. Shut up.
I never really got into Batman Beyond. I watched the pilot as a kid and it just didn’t grab me. But I did see this when it came out. I was way more into it than what little I had seen of the rest of the series largely thanks to the inclusion of Robin and Batgirl in the story. Robin was kinda always my favorite. Since then I made another attempt to watch the show but I think I ended up ADHDing it. I’ll have to try again at some point.
Anyway, yeah. This is pretty good! I’m really gay for most of the Joker’s extremely queer-coded gang and I like the story and action kind of a lot. Obviously the extended flashback to the Animated Series era was a big draw for me since that is very much the version of these characters I prefer, but there’s some good stuff in the present…?- future…?-day main story as well. Mostly Bruce getting over some of his bullshit, and also him telling Terry this:
“Terry, I’ve been thinking about something you once told me, and you were wrong. It’s not Batman that makes you worthwhile, it’s the other way around. Never tell yourself anything different.”
Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman
I didn’t love Batwoman’s jazz theme. It made her (and this movie) feel separate from the world of The Animated Series (well, The New Adventures at this point). And was that phone call between Bruce and Babs supposed to imply romantic tension between them? Ick.
Other than that I don’t have many complaints? It’s a pretty big step down from Mask of the Phantasm and even SubZero, but it’s still always nice to return to this world.
Kinda boring and repetitive, as these serials usually are. Less boring than like Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers I guess, but still definitely a chore to get through.
(CW: Racism, ethnic slur, concentration camps.)
Narrator: This was part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America, and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs it’s become virtually a ghost street.
Yeah that’s gonna be a DNF for me. I’ll put up with quite a bit of racism/etc in movies, but sometimes something is so egregious that it tells me everything I need to know about a movie. Narrator Word of Author cheering on concentration camps is gonna fall into that category.
Oh hey, that reminds me, happy The United States Shouldn’t Exist Day.1
Fleischer/Famous Superman Cartoons
Iconic animation, even if Superman fighting a laser by punching it was pretty unintentionally hilarious. And that score, heck. We used to have these on VHS so these shorts really informed a lot of my early understanding of the Man of Steel.
Also, while I’m sure it wasn’t intentional (especially given how propaganda-y these get later), I kinda loved that when they said what Superman fights for they said “truth and justice,” but no “American way.” Idk if that was a later addition or if they just omitted it, but once again, happy the U.S. Shouldn’t Exist Day.1
Oh, in Things That Matter To Me news, this had some pretty great bondage in it. You see the shadows of Lois getting tied to a chair, and she’s bound and gagged for most of the latter half of this short.
Also come to think of it when the fuck did she get a plane???
The Mechanical Monsters
Decent, generic Superman short where he punches a bunch of robots. Superman punching robots looks a bit less silly than Superman punching a laser, even if The Mad Scientist is a bit more iconic. Lois gets bound and gagged rather fetchingly again, this time suspended over a pit of molten metal by the villain.
Billion Dollar Limited
Were mistakes made? I don’t think anyone could or would say otherwise. In retrospect it does seem that sending a billion dollars in gold on a single train and publicizing it on the front page of the newspaper had some conceptual shortcomings, no one’s trying to deny that. And with the full benefit of hindsight perhaps the vast majority of the guards protecting the train shouldn’t have been in a single, easily-detached car. And possibly the train should have been monitored or escorted in some fashion.
And Lois not getting bound and gagged even once? Serious oversight. Let’s not kid ourselves.
But I think taking all of that into account, we can take the lessons we learned here, and move forward. I don’t want to get into fingerpointing or casting blame. I just don’t think that’s productive right now.
Thank you all for coming. I will not be taking questions at this time.
The Arctic Giant
Tyrannosauruses lived in what’s now North America, not Siberia. And this big guy didn’t look anything like a T-Rex, so I’m gonna say he’s some kind of kaiju and he’s a big cutie and I would date the heck out of him.
Lois doesn’t get bound and gagged in this one but she does almost get vored by the giant not-dinosaur, so I’ll let it slide but it’s on thin ice.
GET IT??? “THIN ICE”??? … I’ll show myself out.
Perry calls for Lois and Clark to come see him in his office and they enter from two separate doors on the opposite sides of the office and it’s really silly and I have so many questions about the architecture of this office.
No see it’s good when Superman does a sabotage.
More wartime propaganda but at least not racist this time. And Lois gets bound and gagged and stuffed in a torpedo which is probably the best bondage peril of the entire series if you’re into that kind of thing (and I clearly am).
The Mummy Strikes
Wow these things had even more racism per capita after Famous Studios took over huh?
The Underground World
This is the best one of these after Famous Studios took over and it’s not close. Lois and some old guy explorer get kidnapped by some buff bird furries, and yeah I’m pretty jealous tbh. They’re tied up and dangled over a pit of molten gold, and when they see a golden “statue” of another outsider proudly displayed it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen to them if Superman doesn’t save the day.
“When you wake up you’ll be at the mercy of the Spider Lady!”
This one starts a lot stronger than other serials I’ve seen, and it really takes past the first hour for it to start dragging like serials pretty much always do. The destruction of Krypton is done fairly well, it’s really only once Martha and Jonathan Kent become involved that things get a bit corny. They have a pretty wooden conversation that leads to Clark leaving home to be a superhero, and then the narrator literally says something like “Ma and Pa Kent died soon after this” which just felt pretty unnecessary. But after that Superman’s first few adventures are actually pretty good, and I like the Spider Lady and her gang as adversaries. And I’m maybe a little gay for the Spider Lady.
There’s also some pretty good bondage throughout, which is obviously always going to be something I’m looking for in a serial. But yeah. Eventually this gets pretty repetitive and back and forth, but that’s kind of normal for the genre, and like I said it takes a lot longer to get to that point than most serials! Admittedly I can’t compare it to the Batman serial since I abandoned that one after it literally endorsed concentration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II, so it’s possible that one was of a similar quality. But yeah, I’ve seen the little bit I saw of that one, Adventures of Captain Marvel, and one each of Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers, so I’ve seen a decent number of serials compared to the average fox and this is pretty easily the best one I’ve seen so far.
The thing is, it’s still kind of just not that fun to watch after a point? So even though it’s the best serial I’ve seen so far that doesn’t make it good by any stretch of the imagination, and I think that just speaks to the limitations of this format. But still, I do definitely enjoy a lot of the more pulpy aspects you often see in these even if the experience as a whole does tend to end up wearing thin before too long.
Batman and Robin (1949)
I’ve had more fun watching paint dry.
It’s still pretty funny watching Batman and Robin just driving around in a regular car.
I think it’s hilarious that Batman has a house in the suburbs because the movie couldn’t afford a house like Bruce’s
The opening montage had some thick copaganda (the usual stuff about them being undermanned and helpless etc), but I giggled when the headline “Police baffled!” was followed by the headline “Citizens demand more police.”
At one point Robin gets beaten up and kidnapped but they don’t tie him up at all and he easily runs away. They really need to work on their sidekick subduing technique. Vicki Vale gets bound and gagged nicely though!
The Wizard is such a boring-ass villain.
Captain America (1944)
“The vibrator! If it isn’t shut off the building will collapse!”
Look I think we’ve all been there.
Superman and the Mole-Men
The only good part of this movie is the part where Superman calls a bunch of small town white idiots Nazis and takes away their guns. And I’m making that sound slightly more awesome than it actually was, but it was still pretty fucking cathartic.
Stamp Day for Superman
If only I had seen this sooner and bought U.S. savings stamps and bonds I wouldn’t have turned out to be such a gay trans pervert stoner commie.
1. I watched these on the 4th of July, ironically.