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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

X-Men: Apocalypse – I loved it!

I saw “X-Men: Apocalypse” at the movies yesterday and loved it. Before going for the movie I had a headache; by the time I came out I was a cured man. :)

I feel conscious saying I enjoyed “X-Men: Apocalypse” because most reviews I chanced upon seem to hate it. They don’t like its villain, or the themes, the continuity with other X-Men movies, it’s plot, etc – but I liked it, and probably for these same reasons really (except the continuity mess-up).

It was such a relief watching “X-Men: Apocalypse” after all these complicated superhero movies like “Batman vs. Superman” or “Captain America: Civil War”. None of this heroes fighting heroes stuff – particularly for not much reason – none of this gray area-ness or questions of right & wrong and morals and whatnot. Just a simple straight-forward good vs bad superhero movie – wow, I missed those!

Most superhero movies try to be dark and realistic nowadays, inspired by “The Dark Knight”. I loved “The Dark Knight” – probably my favorite super hero movie of all – but that too was more or less clear in terms of sides. Batman was good, Joker was bad, but Joker’s reasons for being bad was the cool deal as was the way he went about being bad. But there was no question in your head of choosing sides or any other issues. Simple.

I wish “X-Men: Apocalypse” didn’t bring in Wolverine to confuse the timeline, but apart from that niggle it was good. I guess the best way to ignore that niggle is to ignore the Wolverine movies altogether – which is easily done as the two Wolverine movies have not much continuity between them anyways!

I liked the villain Apocalypse. There have been comments of him focusing too much on dressing up or not being menacing enough – that didn’t bother me much. Yes he was dressed all grandly, but he’s from the Egyptian civilization era and they were grandly dressed back then so that’s just how he is. He was not menacing enough – I don’t know, I enjoyed watching him. The plot made sense to me as did what Apocalypse wanted. The ending was a bit of a we-need-to-destroy-him-somehow-so-the-movie-can-conclude, but that’s fine too – we get to see Phoenix and her introduction makes sense with the ending.

I enjoyed the opening sequence that introduced Apocalypse. I enjoyed the title credits. I enjoyed QuickSilver and his amazing sequence. I enjoyed most of the plot. Professor Xavier going bald didn’t make sense :) but then what the heck, he had to go bald eventually and this seemed like a good place. I enjoyed Jean the subtle hint/ reference to Phoenix (without saying the name but just through the imagery). The amount of destruction in the end was a bit over the top and and repetitive (like every other mass destruction movie sequence you have seen), but you can’t call a movie Apocalypse and not have some apocalyptic stuff happening.

So yeah – that’s it I guess. I loved “X-Men: Apocalypse”. A simple old-fashioned superhero movie. Good heroes vs Bad villains. No other drama. :)

Gotham

I started watching Gotham expecting to be let down by it. Everyone had great reviews about it based on the trailer and pilot, but I figured that was all just hype. After all what could a TV series about Gotham and Jim Gordon really bring to the table? Batman’s the big deal, and Jim Gordon and all the villains are important, but come on – a TV show just about these!? – will that work?

Boy, was I mistaken! Gotham is awesome. I was hooked from the start itself. It gets Bruce Wayne’s parents murder out of the way right at the beginning and then moves on the Jim Gordon and the cesspool that is Gotham. It reminds me of the Batman comics like “The Long Halloween” which is about the Gotham criminal enterprise as Italian mafia and has a dark noir feel to it. Gotham has a similar feel though not too dark noir. And it mixes it all up with how corrupt everyone in the city is, and how Jim Gordon is an honest cop trying to make his way there being badgered by all sides and losing hope but not quite losing it, and it has future Batman villains like the Penguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Riddler, and so on strewn through out. And these villains are portrayed wonderfully! The Penguin, for instance, is amazing – evil! – and Catwoman is great, played with the right balance of good vs bad. The Riddler and Poison Ivy don’t have much screen time yet.

Apart from the usual mafia families such as the Falconi and Maroni there is a new character – Fish Mooney – who is so evilly played by Jada Pinkett Smith. I mean she is evil. The character has a strong personality and that’s someone you just don’t want to cross with. And Jada Pinkett Smith brings out all these qualities so well, it’s just a pleasure to watch her and be awed by Fish Mooney.

I am also impressed at how Bruce Wayne isn’t sidelined among all this adult stuff. He is very much in the show and every episode has him developing his character and offering more insights to his self. Am glad about that.

Three episodes down so far! Fourth one was out yesterday, yet to watch it.

Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Read “Batman: The Man Who Laughs” over the past few days. This is a comic intended to be a sequel to “Batman: Year One”, introducing the Joker, and was a good read. It wasn’t as awesome as Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” but is worth a read nevertheless.

The Joker artwork is a close second to “The Killing Joke”. It isn’t as smooth or stunning as the latter, but is good anyways. There’s more story in this comic too and I felt Gordon’s character was more fleshed out.

“The Killing Joke” included another comic called ” Made of Wood”. This was a pleasant surprise. It’s by the same writer (Ed Brubacker) but by a different artist and both the story and artwork were miles ahead. The story in this one is a detective mystery and Batman is accompanied by (surprise!) Green Lantern. I loved the artwork – the details, the colours – and also the plot. I liked the mystery investigation stuff. It was great and a must read for any Batman fan. In fact, the story and artwork reminded me of the Batman comics I used to read as a kid. The way they used to be simple and straightforward and less dark and broody (although I like dark and broody now). Good one!

The Dark Knight Returns (animation)

Saw the first part of “The Dark Knight Returns” animation movie. It was excellent. Way better than the comic. The story is similar or the comic but better presented. It made a lot more sense and I liked the way it was taken. The direction, dialogues, background music, and so on. The first part ends well too – with the Joker awaking from his catatonic state. Yum!

The Long Halloween

Just finished reading “The Long Halloween”, another excellent Batman comic. This one’s by Jeph Loeb with artwork by Tim Sale.

It seems that every other Batman comic apart from “The Dark Knight Returns” is excellent! The artwork and story of this is miles ahead of the latter and yet every one seems to hold “The Dark Knight Returns” as some sort of gold standard. To me, “The Long Halloween” is way better. Yes it’s not as dark as “The Dark Knight Returns”, and there’s less inner monologue and doubts from Batman. There’s also no build up to a major even like a (unnecessary, in my opinion) Superman Batman clash to spice things up, but I still prefer “The Long Halloween”. The artwork too is much pleasing and fits the story. “The Dark Knight Returns” had a hugely muscular Superman and Batman and everything was presented very grotesque and exaggerated.

Hmm, I am conscious how every other comic review of mine mentions and contrasts with “The Dark Knight Returns”! Must stop doing that.

“The Long Halloween” continues from “Batman: Year One”, which is a good comic penned by Frank Miller (same author as “The Dark Knight Returns”, in fact “Batman: Year One was written after “The Dark Knight Returns”). “The Long Halloween” tells the story of a series of murders targeting members of the Carmine “The Roman” Falcone family. The murders happen on holidays, starting from one Halloween and ending on another. Batman, Gordon, and Dent try to uncover the killer. Side by side Dent tries to get Falcone behind bars legally, and that sub plot ultimately leads to the creation of Two Face.

Many Batman villains are present in this one, including the Joker. I didn’t find the artwork and colouring of the Joker as stunning as that in “The Killing Joke” though. For me the latter is the gold standard for Joker artwork. The Joker has the most presence, while villains like Scarecrow and Mad Hatter have a blink and miss presence. These latter villains are presented as working for Falcone in investigating the holiday murders and so their presence is incidental. The Catwoman continues her role from “Batman: Year One” and in this one her alter ego and Batman’s alter ego seem to be dating. That is a jump from “Batman: Year One”.

Apart from the story I loved the artwork, colouring, and text of this comic. Everything gelled together well and it was a pleasure reading it. As I mentioned, the story isn’t dark nor does it have any layers to it (at least none I could discern). So this puts it in the easy reading category. A cool thing about the “The Long Halloween” is also its gangster focus. You could say this is a Batman story set in a Godfather environment. Gotham City is in the control of the mafia and Batman, Gordon, and Dent are working to bring them down. The artwork depicting the mafia is super cool! Fits the mood perfectly and I wish the authors would create a Godfather series in comics. That would be awesome!

Overall, a great comic, and now I must check out its sequel.

The Killing Joke

Today I read “Batman: The Killing Joke”, a 46 page short comic on Batman and the Joker. I love the visuals in this! They are absolutely stunning and it’s such a refreshing change from those in “The Dark Knight Rises”. Brighter, better colors, yet dark so not to be too colorful or light, and with amazing detail and good quality. The characters have more life and detail too. The Joker looks so life like and the Batman has a Sean Connery look to him!

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The story is short but filled with punch. Makes you think. Batman and the Joker are a match with a special relationship, and that’s explored here. And so is a question of what makes one a villain? Is it just “one bad day” – a series of ill timed events that unhinge your mind and morality and you turn into someone else? If so, can any rational person be subjected to such pressure and forced to change? That’s what the Joker explores here. Neat idea, I must say!

The Joker’s dialogs are just like one would expect from, along with his typical sense of humor. Batman looks just like he used to in the comics of my childhood. And the focus is on the story for the story’s sake, no unnecessary melodrama here.

I read the deluxe version and that included an afterword by the artist Brian Bolland, as well as a short piece by him called “Innocent Guy”. That too was a fun read with the same stunning visuals and detail – I just love the visuals!

A must read for any Batman fan!

The Dark Knight Returns

I have been reading “The Dark Knight Returns” (comic) past few days. It’s a good read but I wasn’t as blown away by it as I expected. Maybe it’s just me – the comic has a high rating and huge fan following after all.

I liked the idea of the story. And I liked the old Batman narrative. That was some great story telling. His fears, his reasons, the challenges he has to face and overcome. That was great and dark! What I didn’t like much though was the overall plot. There didn’t really seem to be much to it except setup for this fight between Superman and Batman and Batman’s eventual fake death. The story seemed to involve unnecessarily releasing Batman’s old villains and then blaming Batman for whatever wrong they did. I enjoy the twist there – that the villains were bad because of Batman and so he is to blame here, and I can see the influence of this in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (especially the second one) – yet the way it was told in the comics didn’t resonate much with me. It felt superficial and fast. Too many villains, too many blames, no time to convince me that perhaps Batman could be at fault here or that the Doctors and public point if view is worth thinking about.

The fight sequences were beautifully drawn. And I liked Commissioner Gordon a lot more in this compared to “Batman: Year One” – there was more depth to his character. In fact I liked the Joker too here. The way he escapes and then incriminates Batman by killing himself – typical Joker stuff! Which is why I am confused about my feelings for this comic because I seemed to have enjoyed the individual elements but just didn’t like the overall pointless story.

The culmination of this story – the grand fight between Superman was well done too, and I enjoyed the dialogues as well as the fake death idea. That was a good resolution.