I Love ‘Harry Potter,’ But It’s Time to Let It End

This is basically how I feel about it, and why I haven’t really every written about Potter fandom here. Also, Potter fandom terrifies me. Like really, a lot. They make Whedonites and Twihards look sane.

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Six years after its final book and two after its final movie, the Harry Potter series has started showing some not-entirely-unexpected signs of life in 2013. Back in September, we learned that J.K. Rowling will write Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Themthe first in a series of films set in Harry‘s canonical universe. And yesterday, news broke that a Potter prequel is set to hit London’s West End in 2015, co-produced by Rowling herself. But as one of the many superfans expected to hit the (magical, weather-replicating) ceiling at the idea of an expanded Potterverse, I’m concerned Harry Potter might be best just the way it is: iconic, massively popular, and definitely, conclusively over.

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DC Animated Movies: Batman: Gotham Knight

Gotham Knight

When I read what the deal with Batman: Gotham Knight was, I was prepared for it be kind of slow going. A series of shorts meant to bridge the time gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, thought not quite in continuity with those films and all done in different anime styles.

There are like five or six things in that description that just do not work for me in concept, but I’m always open to being surprised. My first thought was that it would probably be pretty dull. I love Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. But their style does not really lend itself to animation. They’re slow, and gritty and dark. They hinge in big ways on the exceptional performances and characterizations of their casts. While Gotham Knight is a cool experiment in story telling, and brings back Kevin Conroy, it’s still well, difficult in a lot of ways.

It is pretty dull. Especially compared to Doomsday and New Frontier. Maybe I’ve watched too much Batman in the past two years, but I found most of the action predictable. The character models, of course being anime style weren’t to my taste, thought they were very cool to look at. In the middle shorts “Field Test,” “In Darkness Dwells,” and “Working Through The Pain,” we see pretty much animated interpretations of Christian Bale. Hearing Conroy voice Bale? It’s confusing. Also, I just watched Swing Kids, and I’m not loving Christian right now. (He’s awesome in that movie but he plays a Nazi.)

The settings and animations for all four shorts are exceptional. They capture the scope of Nolan’s Gotham (A city so big that it’s New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh all in one!) and it’s rotting gothic feel. The first short, “Have I Got a Story For You,” is about a group of kids telling their, “I’ve seen Batman” stories. It’s a fun plot device, but isn’t done as well here as in “Legends of The Dark Knight,” a particularly killer B:TAS episode. If you’re going to take on the same subject matter as B:TAS you better either twist it enough that you’re doing something new, or knock it out of the park. This does neither.

The second short “Crossfire” introduces Detective Anna Ramirez, who will go on to sell Gordon and Rachel Dawes out to the Joker, but here she’s just a good cop, trying to convince her partner that Batman is one of the good guys. There’s some decent explosions, and we see hints of the gang war that the cops are trying to quell.

“Field Test” is about a new gadget that Lucius Fox gives Batman. It’s fun, and cute, and totally weirded me out due to the whole Bale/Conroy division. I know I’m harping on this. I just really, can’t deal with it. It broke my brain a little.

Anyway, it was better than I expected, it was nice to hear Conroy again, there we go. Up next is Wonder Woman. I’m excited, and I should get it in soon, because it’s on Amazon Prime. Hooray!

DC Animated Movies: Justice League: The New Frontier

justice-league-frontier

Sometimes the universe lines up in a really cool way. I sent back the Superman: Doomsday DVD this morning and was prepared to move on to Justice League: New Frontier aka DC Assembles The Greatest Voice Cast EVER! this weekend after receiving the DVD, when I was flicking through the movie channels while hiding from our cleaning woman because whenever I’m in the house at the same time as her I feel really guilty, (I know, I know, First World Problems!) and lo and behold, in 20 minutes, on Starz: Kids and Family Justice League: HOLY SHIT THIS IS SO GOOD YOU GUYS was going to begin. So, I get to get a few days’ head start on this one.

And I am so glad that I did. Wow. I also really can’t wait to read DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. This movie is great. Seriously. If you have any interest in superheroes, particularly of the animated variety, watch it. 

Basically, The New Frontier takes place in the alternate 50’s and 60’s of the DC Universe. Since World War II, the Justice Society has broken up and Batman is on the run for reasons that are not made quite clear, but I’m guessing because he’s Batman? Superman and Wonder Woman are feeling at a loss, not sure why they bother defending America, a nation that has lost it’s mission statement. Meanwhile as the Korean War ends, Hal Jordan tries to fulfill his life long dream of going to space. The Flash fights Captain Cold in Las Vegas, and J’onn J’onzz tries to blend in on Earth after a terrifying arrival.

In the end our heroes and many others, join forces to defeat an ancient evil called The Center that has decided to cleanse Earth of humanity. They do, and it’s great.

The animation style is gorgeous. Because I haven’t read the GN, I don’t know how it matches up, and I love the story and style. It feels a lot like if Watchmen had been written instead of by a cranky Brit who thought that superheroes were on the fall but by an American who think’s they’re kind of rad. I also enjoy the period piece aspects which made it feel like an episode of Mad Men with superheroes.

But wow, does this one in particular hinge on the exceptional cast that Andrea Romano put together. As I look down the list, I don’t see a single actor who isn’t a flawless match and actually could have, at various stages in their careers played the characters in live action as well. David Boreanaz takes the cake as Hal. There’s always been the air of a super hero about him and GL is actually a really good match for him. He captures Hal’s brash confidence but also his wide eyed dreaminess. Not far behind in second is Lucy Lawless in the role that should have been hers in live action if there was any justice in this world, Wonder Woman. In this story Diana is disconnected and aggressive, which frankly, just describes Xena as far as I remember her. Neil Patrick Harris is Barry Allen. This needs no further explanation except, please give him the role in live action. Just, please. Do It. Thanks. Kyle MacLachlan is Superman, and I like the idea of him, especially as an older Superman, who has just been through 2 wars. This version is fighting for Truth and Justice, and wants to fight for The American Way, just isn’t sure what that is anymore. Jeremy Sisto clocks in as Batman this time. I have much love for Sisto, because of Clueless and Suburgatory and his scene and a half as Joey Potter’s new boyfriend in the finale of Dawson’s Creek. And he’s Batman, so he’s a winner. The Batman/Superman scene in this one hits because it focuses on the problem at hand while tonally touching on the history between these two friends. Also Robin shows up and does a handspring over the Batmobile. That’s my boy! Kyra Sedgewick and Brooke Shields put in great performances as Lois Lane and Carol Ferris respectively, and much how I could see Boreanaz taking on Hal in real life, I could see Brooke taking Carol. I know this won’t ever happen but hey, a girl can dream.

The closing sequence really got me choked up, set to a speech by President Kennedy and some pretty cool images of the “future” of the DC Universe with Rick Flagg JR and John Henry Irons mourning their fathers, and the teen heroes (and Black Canary!) looking to their mentors. Not gonna lie, it got me welled up.

So glad I got to watch this one earlier than expected. Up next is Batman: Gotham Knights, which is a group of shorts that apparently take place in the Nolan-verse. Animated Nolan-verse seems like it would be kind of boring, but I’m intrigued and after the past few movies, I’m psyched for another Batman story. (Few, I was nervous for a while.)Also the release date for Son of Batman has been announced. June 20th everyone’s favorite comic book brat will be coming to our DVD players.

I hope it’s so popular that DC has no choice but to bring him back to life ASAP!

A New Stage in Fangirling (for me…)

So last night I realized that there are going to be two comic series that I’m so excited for this year that I’m not going to be able to wait for their bound trade versions to come out. This is how I’ve been consuming comics in the past six months when I really started reading them. But when it comes to Marvel’s new Miss Marvel series, I’m not going to be able to wait, and it’s for two reasons.

  1. I want it to do well sales wise, so I’ll do my best to help that. I don’t want to feel sheepish when I hear, “Well no one was buying a comic starring a teen age girl from Jersey City who’s being raised in a traditional Muslim family.” I can say, “I BOUGHT IT!”
  2. It’s really about time I had this experience. I know feel like I have enough of a knowledge base and self confidence to walk into a comics store once a month without feeling like I’m instantly being judged.

The second one isn’t a great reason. But the first one is a really, really great reason so I think that that makes up for it. When I first heard about Kamala Khan and the relaunch of Ms. Marvel, I almost cried. With joy. I don’t know much about Ms. Marvel, except that she’s different from Captain Marvel, and that there’s a difference between Captain Marvel from Marvel and Captain Marvel, the Superman but with Magic guy that I love a whole lot. So a relaunch of this character isn’t something that’s going to rock my world. But a mainstream, Big 2 female Muslim character is a huge deal, and I hope it leads to more.

And then there’s the other one.

Remember how when I was talking about Veronica Mars I said that I got so excited that my brain broke? That’s nothing compared to how excited I am for Translucent, the new comic project from Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert.

You may remember them from this time that I met them at Comic Con!

You may remember them from this time that I met them at Comic Con!

Basically the husband and wife duo who are also responsible for making most of my favorite music of the past decade are now “deconstructing the relationship between Batman and The Joker.”

Everything about this idea makes me brain-breakingly excited. Not least of all because Coheed & Cambria have already brilliantly examined this relationship in the song “Deranged” which was written for the Arkham City soundtrack.

I was trying to explain it to people this weekend, and what came out of my mouth was something like, “Claudio, Chondra, superhero, KABOOM! WAHHH!!!!!” Followed by a high pitched squee that no one heard but my neighbor’s dog and broke a couple of windows. I’ve never been a big comics reader before the past six months, and I’ve never subscribed to anything. I will subscribe to this and I will love it and I will buy the fully bound commemorative edition.

So, I’m about to cross a fangirling threshold, I’m excited, are you?

That’s what story tellers do

Saving Mr. Banks

I’ve seen Saving Mr. Banks two times now. Both times I really enjoyed it. But then again. I’m a Disney fan.

I’m not a fanatic. But I’m a fan. I went into the movie skeptical, because I’d heard so many negative things about it. I’d heard about how it whitewashed the conflict between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, making him look like a hero, and her unreasonable. I’d heard that the flashbacks to Travers’s childhood in Australia were clumsy and emotionally manipulative. I hadn’t heard anything about the part of the movie that I was most looking forward to, the performances of Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as Richard and Robert Sherman.

Here’s the thing that I figured out about all of that. The movie does have those flaws. But, the people who pointed them out clearly aren’t Disney fans, and probably don’t get the point of Disney.

Disney is all about getting pixie dust in your eyes while it paints over the world with a brush of magical nostalgia to create a memory of a world that never existed. There is no real place like Main Street, U.S.A. but when you walk down the middle you still feel that it’s the heart of America and the heartbeat of a holiday.

Walt Disney was a brilliant man and a talented artist. But he was a man. And at that, a man of his times, so whenever people say, “Disney was a racist,” “Disney was an anti-semite,” “Disney was a sexist,” and “Disney was a right-wing nutjob who wanted us all to live in future pods in the Florida swamps!” I say, well, yeah, I mean, except for the whole he wanted Epcot to be his weird Capitalist Libertarian Utopia those are fairly run of the mill characteristics for a powerful white man from the first half of the twenty first century. (Also, to quote my friend Kevin, “he just wanted a wholesome family community near the park. It was about land development…with a slight fascist undertone…”) It doesn’t really take away from the fact that what he built has employed thousands if not millions of artists over time and brought a little joy and light into the lives of the people that enjoy that art.

So how does that effect my interpretation of Saving Mr. Banks? Well, see, the film is the Disney treatment of those events. So yes, they are made sunnier and simpler than they actually were, and yes, it’s emotionally manipulative. But that’s the point. The movie even outright says that. As Walt and Mrs. Travers discuss their fathers in her parlor in London. (Did this happen? I don’t know, nor frankly, do I care. It’s a beautiful scene.) He explains, what to me, sums up the philosophy of Disney as an entity, if not as a man. Basically, he says he’s tired of remembering his difficult childhood, so instead he’s going to idealize it. Even if he knows the truth, he can still enjoy the idealization, that’s the point of telling stories.

I once told a professor that I wanted to be a writer because I’d grown too old to have imaginary friends. Saving Mr. Banks makes the case that Mary Poppins was P.L. Travers’s imaginary friend and Mickey Mouse was Walt Disney’s. It’s as simple as that. We see the origins of Mary Poppins in P.L. Travers’s father and aunt, the ghosts of her childhood. What created that imaginary friend was one woman reconciling these two people who effected her profoundly.

At it’s heart, Saving Mr. Banks is a story about storytelling, so of course thing get twisted. Walt says to Mrs. Travers, “Aren’t you tired of remembering it that way?” That’s the current incarnation of Disney being tired of remembering that one of their most classic treasure was made at the expense of one woman’s artistic integrity.

But if you let the pixie dust get in your eyes, as the film version of Travers does at least twice (when she hears “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” for the first time and as Mickey walks her to her seat at the premier), you can see a different world, the one that never existed except in the imagination of one man.

Oh and Schwartzman and Novak were enchanting, particularly Schwartzman. I want a spin off movie about how much the Shermans hated each other, where Dick winds up looking like the good guy because Jason Schwartzman is so damn charming in this part.

DC Animated Movies: Superman: Doomsday 

Doomsday

Here’s the thing about The Death of Superman and adapting it. It’s a story that only happened because comics writers were annoyed at an adaptation. When The Death of Superman happened, Clark and Lois were very, very much engaged, she knows who he is, things are good. The writers and artists handling the comic at that point, had planned on their wedding being the big Superman event of the year.

Warner Brothers didn’t let that happen, because Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was not at the point where Lois and Clark could get married.

So instead they said, “then we’ll kill him.” And kill him they did.

Anyway, Doomsday adapts that storyline and streamlines it, which is nice, because, God, I’m not a huge fan of it. Basically, Lex Luthor is drilling for new energy alternatives and finds Doomsday instead. This is so much better than the convoluted origin for the monster in the comics, and world ahead of the Smallville origin which was something about Brainiac and Chloe and I don’t really remember it. Meanwhile, Clark Kent is off to Afghanistan, and Lois and Superman are having a quiet weekend of shower sex and fighting about his secret identity at The Fortress of Solitude. Then Doomsday attacks Metropolis and he and Superman fight and Superman dies.

This leads to lots of stuff, my favorite being that Jimmy loses all sense of direction and becomes a paparazzo, because why not? Also, there’s a sweet emotional moment between Lois and Martha Kent where they talk about mourning him. Lex loses his mind, and clones Superman and kills Mercy and it’s all a little strange. The cloned Superman starts fighting crime and doing Lex’s bidding also, Lex locks him in a red sun room and beats the shit out of him with Kryptonite gloves and again, it’s pretty dark and very bonkers.

I obviously don’t mind a dark Superman story. I love Man of Steel, and Final Crisis, but there’s something intentionally twisted and dark in Doomsday that I’m not crazy about. I do like the scene where Superman defeats Toyman, because there’s a super inside joke and a Kevin Smith cameo. (I’ll write about my love for Smith someday.)

Anyway, Superman comes back, wearing the black suit and with the mullet, he and Lois get back together and all is right with the world.

The point of Doomsday was to dispense with the DCAU and move on. It does that, both with tone, design and most importantly with it’s brandy-spanking-new voice cast. Superman/Clark is Adam Baldwin, which is great. Because actually, Adam Baldwin would make a kick ass Superman, even in real life. Or he would have 10 years ago. Anne Heche takes on Lois, and it’s a cool and interesting take and the best part is that James Marsters voices Lex Luthor. It’s awesome.

There’s even a part you assume that the Superman clone kills Luthor, but of course in the end, he turns up alive because, you just can’t kill James Marsters.

Up next is Justice League: The New Frontier, which I have never seen, and isn’t rooted in anything else. This is going to be fun.