The superheroes of spring 2012

I’ve fallen behind in blogging again, but here’s the first in what I hope will be a series of posts to catch up on what I’ve been up to as spring slides into summer. Now that the genre television season has wound down, let’s look back at some shows that I liked.

As I’ve mentioned before, there has been a lot of good animation to enjoy this past year. Avatar: the Legend of Korra is my favorite of the recent batch of cartoons. Nickelodeon’s sequel to its successful Avatar: the Last Airbender continues that show’s Asian-style artwork, inspiring world-building, and escalating intrigues. (Note: some of the enclosed links have “spoilers.”)

Korra wallpaper
Nickelodeon's new Avatar TV series

As fellow blogger Thomas K.Y. has noted, Korra‘s adolescent characters are a bit harder to sympathize with than Avatar‘s wandering children. However, the setting and story more than make up for that to me. Republic City resembles a dieselpunk/fantasy China of the early 20th century, and the conflict between people who can “bend” or control the elements (air, earth, wind, and fire) and those who can’t has led to some tense moments.

I’ve also been impressed with the first episode of Disney’s Tron: Uprising, which may join the Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: Clone Wars in using computer animation to flesh out a cinematic sequel that initially underwhelmed critics. In contrast, Kung-Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Transformers: Prime, and G.I. Joe: Renegades are entertaining, but they’re not as memorable as additions to their respective franchises.

Cartoon’s Green Lantern: the Animated Series started out slowly with simplistic designs based on Bruce Timm’s, but it has steadily incorporated elements of recent comic book storylines, including the proliferation of cosmic factions based on different colors and emotions. How to Train Your Dragon: the Series will joining a competitive field.

In more traditional animation, the Cartoon Networks’ Thundercats revival has also mixed retro nostalgia with more modern animation and world-building to good effect. It’s friendlier to younger audiences than Korra or Tron, but I’ve enjoyed the reboot so far. I hope that the next Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles can do the same.

I wasn’t sure about the five-year jump within the Cartoon Network’s Young Justice, but seeing the pre-“52” reboot “Batman family” and returning favorites such as Beast Boy and Wonder Girl has won me over. On a related note, I enjoyed the direct-to-video Justice League: Doom, which had favorite voice actors and lots of fights between superheroes and supervillains, if not a plot accessible to non-fans. Superman vs. the Elite comes out next week, to be followed by the long-awaited Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. I also look forward to next year’s Beware the Batman.

Disney XD’s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has also incorporated bits and pieces of classic and recent plots, from Loki’s treachery (also seen in the live-action Avengers movie, which is still doing well with critics, fans, and the box office) to the infiltration by the shapeshifting Skrulls (“Secret Invasion”). The animation and writing aren’t quite as tight as for Young Justice.

Avengers‘ companion, Ultimate Spider-Man, has several snarky nods to the movie continuity, but I still miss the four-color Spectacular Spider-Man and am not thrilled by the silly humor or de-aging of characters such as the Heroes for Hire.

Cartoon Network’s “DC Nation” animation block of programming on Saturday mornings — Green Lantern and Young Justice (followed by Korra on Nickelodeon) — includes very funny shorts with “Super Best Friends Forever” and Aardman stop motion, as well as glimpses of past favorites such as the Teen Titans Go!

Disney Channel’s “Marvel Universe” block on Sundays (Avengers and Spidey) does give some nice glimpses into the art and characters of its shows, plus how real-world athletes can approach comic book moves. I don’t particularly like the “Marvel Mash-ups,” which dub modern jokes over weakly animated scenes from the 1960s through early 1980s. I may be in the minority of people who prefer the gags of The Looney Tunes Show or Metalocalypse on weeknights to most of Fox’s Sunday night programs.

Coming soon: Police procedurals, supernatural series, and movie reviews!

Boston Comic Con 2011 report

Cosplaying fans
Some of the Justice League

On Saturday, 30 April 2011, I attended the Boston Comic Con. The show moved from the Westin Boston Waterfront to the larger Hynes Convention Center downtown. There were numerous artists, vendors, and costumed fans, and I’m glad the modest show moved to a larger venue.

Among the artists I spoke with were Frank Cho, who I’ve followed since The Washington Post ran Liberty Meadows; Joe Quinones, whose expressive and retro renditions of Green Lantern were phenomenal in Wednesday Comics; and Stephane Roux, whose work I’m currently enjoying in DC’s Zatanna.

The comic book writers and graphic artists were accessible, the back issues were fairly well organized and priced, and there were also panel discussions. It may not have had the attendance of last month’s Anime Boston, but I hope that events such as the Boston Comic Con and Wizard World’s New England Comic Con continue to grow and prosper.

Hollywood has kept mining comic books and graphic novels for ideas, and I look forward to this week’s opening of Thor, as well as Green Lantern and Captain America: the First Avenger. Janice and I had hoped to get to Dylan Dog: Dead of Night last weekend, but the movie (based on an Italian supernatural horror/comedy title) wasn’t playing anywhere nearby.

I’m less interested in X-Men: First Class and the Spider-Man reboot, since they take more liberties with the continuity established in both the source material and the previous films. They and the planned Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, and Hulk movies seem more intended for Sony and Fox to hang onto their licenses rather than let them revert to Disney/Marvel control. Other than Chris Nolan’s profitable Batman series, Warner Bros./DC Comics has some catching up to do!

On the animation side, I still recommend Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Young Justice, and it’s too bad that the campy Batman and the Brave and the Bold has been canceled, but at least Bruce Timm and company are working on a Green Lantern television series.

Back in print, I’m also looking forward to Free Comic Book Day, which is this Saturday, May 7. I’ve thinned out my monthly “pull list,” or subscription, at New England Comics in Norwood, Massachusetts. I’ve dropped The Avengers, Batman, Batman and Robin, Streets of Gotham, and the proliferating Green Hornet titles, but I’m still reading many others, which I’ll try to review in the coming months.

Wonder Woman!

New WW togs
New and classic TV Wonder Women

Warner Brothers recently released a photograph of Adrianne Palicki in costume as the lead character in the upcoming television revival of Wonder Woman. Predictably, message boards were full of nerd rage at the changes to the superheroine’s look, but I agree with original actress Lynda Carter, who said that viewers should give the new show a chance.

Palicki’s costume is similar to the redesign found in current DC Comics issues, which I’ve been reading. Jim Lee and JMS’s alterations were also controversial when unveiled, but they may be only temporary. I think that leggings are more modern than a bikini bottom, and I’m surprised that the TV version doesn’t have shoulder straps rather than a probably uncomfortable corset.

The blue and red color scheme is mostly unchanged, although I would have gone with a darker blue for the pants and red or black for the boots. The bullet-deflecting bracelets, tiara, stars and eagle motif, and Lasso of Truth are still present.

Fox News wags promptly declared the Princess of Themiscyra‘s new togs as “unpatriotic,” but that’s an overreaction. If Dick Grayson can wear Batman’s cape and cowl alongside Bruce Wayne or Bucky Barnes can fill in for Steve Rogers in a modified Captain America uniform, why can’t Wonder Woman tweak her wardrobe after 70 years?

I’m more concerned with the writing and direction of the new TV show. Ally McBeal‘s David E. Kelly and the leaked script excerpts and auditions haven’t inspired confidence, and NBC’s track record isn’t much better. I didn’t mind camp in the 1960s Batman or 1970s Wonder Woman, and not every metahuman series should be an angst fest like the X-Men or Spider-Man, but a balance of tones, villains, and action would be nice.

To be fair, the network has at least tried to launch superhero shows, such as Heroes and The Cape, but weak writing and weaker ratings did them in (ABC’s No Ordinary Family might be next). For each surprise hit like Smallville, there have been short-lived shows like The Flash, M.A.N.T.I.S., and Birds of Prey.

As I’ve noted before, DC Comics has been more successful than Marvel lately with adaptations from print to animation. Despite their cinematic blockbusters, neither has been lucky with live-action TV. Let’s hope that Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk not only bring back fond memories from 30+ years ago, but also earn a new generation of fans!

All-Star Superman review

Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's Superman
All-Star Superman

Just over a week ago, Janice and I watched All-Star Superman, the latest in DC Comics/Warner Brothers’ direct-to-DVD animation line. It’s based on a well-received story by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly, who respectively also wrote and illustrated runs of the X-Men, Justice League, Doom Patrol, and Batman.

The cartoon adaptation is fairly faithful to the source material, including its concise retelling of Superman’s origin and allusions to the character’s science fiction adventures of the 1950s and 1960s. While I’ve found some of Morrison’s writing to be too densely self-referential, the 12-issue All-Star Superman is much more successful as a timeless tale of our would-be savior than Frank Miller’s over-the-top and incomplete All-Star Batman.

The animation captures some of Quietly’s style, especially in farmboy/reporter Clark Kent’s slouch or Lex Luthor’s egotistical posturing. The action scenes are well-choreographed, and like in Young Justice, the urban landscape of Metropolis is ironically more realistic than its current Marvel animated counterparts.

As usual, Andrea Romano has assembled a strong voice cast, including James Denton as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, Christina Hendricks as Lois Lane, and Ed Asner in the role he was born to play, Daily Planet editor Perry White. Anthony LaPaglia doesn’t have the menacing gravel of Clancy Brown, but he’s a decent Lex Luthor.

I’d give All-Star Superman three stars, a B+, or an 8 out of 10. It’s rated PG for some violence. I like Justice League: the New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight, and the Green Arrow short that was packaged with Superman/Batman: Apocalypse more.

I’m also looking forward to Green Lantern: Emerald Knights and Batman: Year One. Miller’s oft-praised Dark Knight Returns would be better as an animated feature than a live-action movie, even though his vision of Gotterdammerung has influenced many Batman depictions in the past 25 years.

Coming soon: Belated Megamind review and Rango!