Tag: comic books

Justice League: Good Heroes in Need of a Good Movie

The timeline of the DCEU (or DC Extended Universe, as Warner Bros. Pictures refers to its cinematic universe based on the works of DC Comics) has been a spotty one. First starting with Man of Steel back in 2013, this movie universe started with a film that was alright, if slightly misguided in applying a darker tone to Superman, a character more noted for his hope and optimism. Later, a major misstep arose in the form of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which misunderstood the core of its heroes alongside plenty of other errors and weird questions. Suicide Squad similarly had issues, such as a clean split in tone between an overstylized first 45 minutes that then deflates into generic action. It was not until this past summer that the DCEU had its first major success with Wonder Woman, capturing the core spirit of its legendary heroine in period piece action. Now, at last, one of the most iconic teams in comics has hit the big screen with Justice League. Is this another hit, or yet another stumbling block in the DCEU? It certainly is not as bad as some may say, but it sadly does fall shorter than one would like.

It has been six months since the death of Superman. With the loss of such a figure for good, crime and terror have been on the rise around the world. Among all of this, however, a stranger threat as begun to emerge. Parademons, bug-like alien soldiers that target those who feel fear, have been turning up around the planet. After Batman has a battle with one such Parademon on the rooftops of Gotham City, he realizes that it is time to prepare. Reaching out to Diana Prince, in truth the legendary warrior Wonder Woman, the two realize the source of these scouts. An alien warlord known as Steppenwolf is coming to Earth, in search of three devices known as Mother Boxes that could potentially destroy all life on the planet. To stop him, they seek out others who can aid them in their fight. These include Barry Allen, a quip-making young man capable of moving at super speed; Arthur Curry, a protector of the seas who possesses great strength, incredible swimming prowess, and the ability to communicate with sea life; and Victor Stone, a former high school football star who has become a cybernetic being ever since a tragic car accident. Can these disparate characters come together to save the world, or shall the Earth fall to the forces of Steppenwolf?

Now, there are some good points to this film. For instance, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot still show their prowess as Batman and Wonder Woman respectively. As for the newcomers, J. K. Simmons is a great match with an all-too-brief appearance as Commissioner Gordon while Ray Fisher works fine as Cyborg, even as he is chained down with a brooding attitude and poor special effects. However, the film has plenty of flaws that do burden it. For instance, the first half of this film is something of a pain through which to wade. The film is almost precisely two hours long, meaning that the movie with tasked with introducing its three new heroes and establishing its conflict while still delivering action within that run time. The result is that the movie, for a long time, rushes itself through blunt exposition and sudden bits of action at a breakneck speed with little time for real character development. Once the team comes together, it settles into a better pace that allows for room to offer character insights and show the team working together. Still, one must sit through agonized storytelling to get there. Along with that, it is surprising that such a big budget film would have middling-to-poor CG for its effects. It is particularly apparent with Cyborg, whose over-designed CG body sticks out when a practical body with CG enhancements could have looked better.  Still, despite my complaints, Justice League is not the total wreck that some fear and it is an alright film. That is the problem, however, and why so many people are dismissive of it. A movie about the Justice League should not simply be okay.

Throughout the process of these films, Warner Bros. Pictures has been using a rather broad strokes approach to its management of the DCEU. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice had been given a “no jokes” guiding approach, specifically to be a contrast against Marvel’s lighter tone. When they found that audiences had responded well to Suicide Squad‘s more light-hearted trailer, the studio had the film go through reshoots to put in more humor and then recut it by the team that did the trailer. Even Justice League has had its share of brute management, such as first starting as two separate films and being condensed to one and then being given a mandate to be no longer than two hours. This sort of heavy-handed management has been plaguing the DCEU ever since the start. Now, I am not saying that Warner Bros. has to copy Marvel Studios’s exact methods. However, Marvel has put in careful planning and tailored each film to best fit their particular heroes. As a result, they took heroes that most of the general public were not familiar with and made them stars. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has taken some of the most iconic superheroes in the history of comics and has gotten a response not much greater than “meh”. It is truly a shame that such great characters should be weighed down by such poor management. The Justice League deserve a movie that is better than “meh”, and Warner Bros. needs to open up to more careful management instead of continuing this reactionary broad strokes approach.

The DCEU has been a spotty affair, though there was a glimmer of hope with the success of Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, Justice League falls on the lesser end of the spectrum, not quite as bad as other DCEU misses though still disappointing in its mediocrity.

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Flex Mentallo – Man of Muscle Mystery: Dynamic Tension in the Comics Medium

During the British Invasion of Comics back in the 1980s, one such writer who would gain prominence in the movement was Grant Morrison. His skilled writing has helped to keep him in the spotlight, but there are many parts of him that help him shine. For instance, there is his knack for writing bizarre, fascinating concepts. For example, his revamp of Doom Patrol as part of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint reinvigorated the obscure title with a fascinating and bizarre range of characters, such as foes including the Brotherhood of Dada (a collection of super-villains waging war against rationality) and the Scissormen (beings with scissor hands capable of cutting people out of reality). In addition to his out-there ideas, however, is his knowledge of the comic book medium’s history. It is something not just demonstrated by the variety of lesser-known figures he has plucked out from obscurity. He has also demonstrated this knowledge in works like Supergods, a non-fiction book that serves as both memoir of his life and an analysis about the history of superheroes and their impact. Both aspects of Morrison came together when he teamed with artist Frank Quitely for a comic book miniseries known as Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery. Centered around a character he had introduced in Doom Patrol, Grant Morrison takes this mind-bending miniseries and uses it to explore the development and change in superhero stories.

In the world of fiction, a strongman superhero named Flex Mentallo witnesses a potential bombing at the airport. He manages to intervene, but the bomb turns out to be the latest fake in a series of attacks designed to shatter people’s sense of safety. Orchestrated by a shadowy group known as Faculty X, the police seem to have no leads into why they are launching this bizarre crusade. The only clue that grabs Flex Mentallo’s attention is a single card, one that had belonged to a fellow superhero known as the Fact. Perhaps if he can find the Fact, then Flex can find the answer to this weird crime wave. In the world of reality, rock musician Wallace Sage has taken a bunch of pills in a bid to kill himself. Feeling his life slipping into the abyss, he gets a phone and calls up a good Samaritan. He spends what may be his final moments talking to this good Samaritan, discussing his life and his own interest in comic books. Though both threads seem separate, they will eventually wind together in a mesmerizing finale that brings a hopeful hero against a grim reality.

Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery is a good example of the sort of bizarre craftsmanship that Grant Morrison can deliver. In this case, he uses the multi-layered story to explore the history and then-current state of superhero comics. For instance, Flex Mentallo is a character very much rooted in the Golden Age of Comics (generally regarded as being the late ’30s through early ’50s). His Charles Atlas-inspired aesthetic and idealistic attitude work well to mark him as a figure of that time, especially in the fictional world he lives. It is a darker world than the one he knew, both figuratively and literally. Among the shadowy corridors and the cynical or corrupted figures he encounters along the way, he can’t help but think about how much simpler his life used to be. Likewise, Wallace Sage’s chat with the good Samaritan winds through his experience with comics and moments in his own life. He rambles and winds through the call, from writing and drawing childhood comics to letting his life fall apart as he wrapped himself in his work. Really, both threads are used as part of one united point: a strike against the Dark Age of Comics.

At the time of this comic miniseries’s original release, American comic books were going through the Dark Age of Comics. This was an age brought on by the success of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel Watchmen, which is a well-crafted deconstruction of superheroes with mature themes. Unfortunately, that success led to a flood of poorly conceived comics that sold themselves on anti-heroes, brutal violence, and greater sexuality. It was an attempt to swing away from the silliness of older superhero tales, but it pushed the contents to absurd extremes of cynicism and grit. Essentially, those trying to make superheroes into more than so-called “kid’s stuff” merely wound up making immature brutes. It is that attitude which Grant Morrison challenges with this series, coming to the defense of the sillier side of superheroes. Sure, the adventures could get silly and there is something inherently absurd in a character like Flex Mentallo. However, what is important is what a character like Flex Mentallo represents: the light against the darkness, the idea that goodness and justice can prevail. They offer figures that can help to inspire us, to show a way towards a better world. In fact, it is even brought up that perhaps that is the reason why people write superhero comics: that the world does not have to be like it is, and that we can be like them.

Among the many works of Grant Morrison, his writing can demonstrate oddball ideas and a skilled knowledge of the comic book medium. Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery is a fine merger of these aspects, using big ideas and comics history to tell a tale that defends the somewhat goofy nature of superheroes and their optimistic core.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A Flaw in a Fun Future

The most frustrating kind of artistic failure, at least to me, is not the sort that is a complete wash-out. For me, the most frustrating sort is when a work can be good and touches the edge of good, but one key flaw hobbles it from fully reaching that greatness. For instance, a novel might have a good kernel of an idea but the writing and presentation of it can turn a reader off. A song might have a beat and rhythm that cuts to the core, but its lyrics might be troubling and problematic when actually understood. One such example of this kind of failure is present in filmmaker Luc Besson’s newest movie, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Written and directed by Besson and based upon the Valerian and Laureline series of French comic books, the film was rife with potential as his big return to sci-fi since The Fifth Element. Indeed, it has all sorts of visual splendor in its futuristic setting, along with an interesting cast of side characters. However, there is a central flaw that knocks down the film from fully becoming the fun, old-school pulp adventure it was meant to be. Namely, it suffers in the writing and its leads.

In the twenty-eighth century, Valerian and Laureline are a pair of special agents who work for the United Human Federation. Valerian is a more libertine rogue while Laureline serves as a more conservative counterpoint, but both work together well in tackling all sorts of dangerous missions. After a risky mission to retrieve a creature known as a Converter from the clutches of an alien criminal, the pair are given a new mission. They are to serve as bodyguards for Commander Filitt during an important meeting on Alpha, a massive space station home to so many species from across the universe that it is regarded as “the city of a thousand planets”. The purpose of this meeting is to reveal a threat laying within the depths of Alpha: a toxic infection from an unknown source, and one that is spreading. Unfortunately, the meeting is cut short when a group of aliens burst in and kidnap the Commander. Valerian and Laureline set out to get the commander back, but find themselves challenged not only by malevolent aliens but also suspicious gaps in Federation records. As time ticks down, they find that there might be more at work here than what they have been told.

Before getting into the faults, it is worth discussing the positive points for this film. For instance, the world of this film is a visual feast. There is a striking variety of locations on display along with tons of alien species, with distinct appearances for all of them. From a desert world home to a multi-dimensional marketplace to a beautiful seaside-inspired planet to a pulp adventure-style ancient temple, the locales and characters work will in conveying the variety within this film’s universe. These locales also serve as home to inventive action sequences, such as a multi-dimensional shoot-out and chase that unfold at the aforementioned marketplace. The side characters also fit in with the fun variety of this film, offering nice slices into the other parts of this world. For instance, there are the Shingouz, a trio of gargoyle-like aliens who serve as information brokers and offer a solid slice of comic relief. Another interesting side character is Bubble, a shapeshifting performer who dreams of being a great actress but is reduced to burlesque performances under the thumb of a controlling pimp. However, even as there are all of these interesting components, their standing is unfortunately knocked down due to the film’s biggest fault: the leads.

Part of the problem with Valerian and Laureline, the movie’s two lead characters, is that they are miscast. With Laureline, Cara Delevingne’s performance comes across as a tad wooden. Despite that, at least she somewhat seems to fit as Laureline. Dane DeHaan, meanwhile, does not fit in the role of Valerian. With Valerian, the character is supposed to be this libertine, playful rogue. What would come across as charming in another actor instead reads as somewhat whiny in DeHaan’s delivery. Of course, even if one were to have replaced these actors, there is a greater weakness to these characters: the writing. The writing does no favors to these two leads, giving them generic dialogue and inconsistent personalities. The result is that, in a world that features so many interesting parts, the audience is left following the two dullest characters in the whole movie. That is what is so irritating about it. If they had cast better-suited actors and did a stronger job on writing the two leads, the film would have firmly been good and served as a fun slice of old-school, pulp sci-fi adventure. Instead, it is brought down at the knees because such an important part of the movie is one of its weakest aspects.

One of the worst forms of artistic failure is when everything falls apart, but instead one big flaw takes down a work that would have otherwise been good. Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets is an example of such failure, as its two poorly-written and miscast lead characters drag down a film with wonderful visuals and interesting side characters.

Spider-Man – Homecoming: The Boy is Back in Town

Of all of Marvel Comics’s many superheroes, none have had quite the media presence as Spider-Man. Tons of adaptations have been done of the iconic web-swinging, wall-crawling hero. With numerous video games, cartoon shows, and even a Broadway musical, there is no shortage of stories in different media about Peter Parker. In fact, one of the biggest spots where he has held the spotlight is in movies. First, there was director Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Spider-Man films, which helped to show the great potential in good superhero films before suffering with a weak third entry. Following that were the Amazing Spider-Man films, whose first film was alright before being sunk down with a dreadful sequel. Well, the third time has arrived, and it does so with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before getting his own film again, Spider-Man first appeared in Captain America: Civil War, played by Tom Holland with a masterful capture of the nerdiness of Peter Parker and the wisecracking charm of Spider-Man. Now, Tom Holland turns up again to star in his own film, with Spider-Man: Homecoming. This newest film iteration of Spider-Man is one of the strongest done, delivering a good story that captures the core spirit and appeal of the character.

Ever since his part in the battle of Avengers during the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker has been riding high on the idea of being mentored by Tony Stark. Covering up his activities with excuses about being in “the Stark internship”, Peter Parker has been fighting low-level crime and helping out those in need as Spider-Man. In fact, his continuing battle against crime has given some challenges to his own life, as he tries to balance it with his teenage life at the Midtown School of Science and Technology. However, his world gets shaken up when he discovers criminals armed with high-end weaponry. These criminals even turn out to be linked to a bigger threat: Adrian Toomes, whose flight suit and hi-tech wings evoke the image of a vulture. Peter Parker sees this as his big chance to earn a place among the Avengers, but Stark wants him to stand down and leave the threat of the Vulture to the big guys. Tired of being treated like a kid by Stark and his assistant Harold “Happy” Hogan, Peter sets out to stop the Vulture, but he might just end up in over his head.

As the latest film centered around Spider-Man, this particular film proves to be one of the strongest entries about the iconic hero. Firstly, Tom Holland once again delivers a great performance as Peter Parker, but it is more than just his performance that works. The world around Peter Parker is a far richer one that previous films have presented. For instance, Peter’s high school life does not feel chalked up to the classic high school stereotypes. Character have a more believable sense to them, whether in their actions or how they are presented (such as reimagining “Flash” Thompson, a classic jock bully in the comics, into a rich and preppy jerk for this film). In truth, the presentation of teenage life in this film feels akin to a John Hughes movie. Also, Michael Keaton shines as the Vulture, who comes across as one of the best villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though his evil is on a lower-scale compared to some of the other threats in the MCU, his motivations are understandable. In short, Adrian Toomes simply seeks to make money to support his family, now turning to stealing and selling advanced tech after being driven out of legitimate business. With the combination of this relatable motivation along with the menace that Keaton brings to the role, it takes one of the more lesser-known Spider-Man villains and truly makes something out of them. Among these and other strong elements, however, is the key point to it all. Namely, that it captures the overall core of Spider-Man.

In the previous films that had been made about Spider-Man, they tended to capture certain aspects well while dropping the ball in other areas. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, for instance, were able to capture (with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker) the sort of picked-on nerd for whom life uses as a punching bag. However, the version of Spider-Man from those films lacked the quips and sense of fun that come with the web-slinger, who is almost Parker’s pressure valve for all the frustrations in his life. In addition, those films definitely captured elements of the classic Spider-Man comics which, while there is still a definite charm in them, do not feel as natural in today’s world. On the other end of the spectrum, the Amazing Spider-Man films delivered more of that wit to Spider-Man and also made a good attempt at displaying the intelligence of Peter Parker. That said, the actual presentation of Parker himself comes off as too cool, along with complicating his origin in a way where it has to be him getting the powers, instead of it being truly a simple accident. Part of what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so good, then, is that it hits the mark in capturing both sides well. As Peter Parker, he is this smart nerd living in Queens who finds himself put-upon by life. As Spider-Man, he is a thrilling hero ready with quips and an eager sense of excitement. Though the lives of both sides may conflict with each other, both are united in one simple ideal: that with great power, comes great responsibility.

Spider-Man has been the subject of all sorts of media over the years. In terms of movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming has done the best job of capturing the character along with delivering a more relatable world and interesting villain.

The Vision: Ultron Made Him, and Therefore Let Him Pass as a Man

In the realm of fiction, the subject of artificial intelligence is one that has a mixed history of interpretations. For instance, there are plenty of stories where robots are a regular part of the world, serving and helping out people. Just as often, however, there are stories of robots becoming violent, turning against their creators and seeking to exterminate mankind. This split of approaches is also something that turns up in the world of Marvel Comics, though there is an interesting line in this conflict. When scientist Hank Pym took a try at creating a robot, the result became Ultron, a classic foe of the Avengers who seeks to destroy all mankind and take over the world. However, when Ultron attempted to create his own robot to kill the Avengers, the resulting creation broke away from him and became the hero known as the Vision. This recurring theme, of robots breaking away from their intended purpose for good or ill, is a fascinating idea to examine. In fact, it serves as an influence on Marvel’s recent comic series The Vision, which explores the idea as part of a sharply-written psychological drama.

Though the Vision has certainly proved his humanity in saving the Earth time and again, there is a part of him that still yearns to feel human. Well, what is more human than family? Returning to the lab where he was once created, the Vision sets upon his plan. First, he creates a wife for himself that he names Virginia. Then, he creates mixed brain patterns from the two of them to use as the templates for their children, a boy named Vin and a girl named Viv. With his family now made, the Vision sets up their new life in Washington D.C. as a liaison between the Avengers and the President. Vin and Viv spend their days like normal teenagers going to school, while Virginia remains at home to fill the role of wife for which she was built. However, there is something the reader learns early on: everything is going to go wrong. Something will happen that will bring ruin upon the family. Now, as they deal with the fears and prejudices of neighbors afraid of their robotic nature and tensions rise in the roles of their family, the Vision does what he can to make this family work…by any means.

This series makes for a gripping read. Tom King’s writing is top-notch as he unfolds his tale of failed intentions. He takes his time to weave his story, building from small moments that add towards the major incident. Small key details are crafted not only for world-building, but to pay off along the way. The atmosphere is tense, not only through the narration which warns of the eventual fate, but also through the growing prejudice and concern aimed squarely at Vision and his family. This mood is complimented by Michael Walsh’s artwork, which offers a clean and clear approach. The clean sketchwork and more natural colors offer a visual that would fit normally for a suburban location like that in this series. However, the approach also lends the series a certain coldness, fitting with its robotic main characters and lending the more horrific moments more punch in their execution. In fact, those horrific moments burst with a pulse of emotion that make them stand out in that clinical art style. It goes along with a central theme that seems to present itself throughout the story: the conflict of being machine and being human.

For the Vision, he sees that what makes humanity human is the “illogical pursuit of the unobtainable”, the drive to bring meaning to a meaningless existence. For instance, his current pursuit of fighting crime as a superhero is something that might be perceived as illogical. After all, crime will still happen and arise time and again. However, that does not stop him from trying to improve the world by battling evil. Likewise, the Vision’s pursuit of becoming human by having this family falls into this illogical pursuit. He believes that having this family, of following the societal idea of what a family is, will help him to be more human. In truth, creating this family will not instantly make him feel more human. For one, they must contend with the hatred from their neighbors that stem from fears about these robots next door. More than that, however, is that the members of the Vision’s family have their own feelings and concerns in all of this. Virginia is stifled in her role as housewife, while Vin and Viv’s schooldays bring them face to face with the prejudices that others have. These factors, along with Vision’s own attempts to maintain this perfect image of family, threaten to bring the series’s ticking time bomb to a frightening reality. Of course, in trying to create this perfect family and coming face to face with its result, the Vision might just be more human than he thinks. After all, the idea of a perfect family is a lovely, but it is just as unobtainable as a world without crime. Still, a good family, if not necessarily a perfect one, might be worth fighting for.

Throughout fiction, robots have had a way of working free from their creators, for good or for ill. In the case of The Vision, the titular hero’s encounter with this as he pursues the idea of family helps to show that he is more human than he thinks.

Wonder Woman: Wonderful Idealism Versus Accepted Injustice

In the history of comics, there has been no female superhero that has had a lasting impact on popular culture quite like Wonder Woman. First created by William Moulton Marston back in 1941 as a hero who would fight with love rather than being solely focused on fighting, Wonder Woman has since become a major source of feminist inspiration. Skilled in the art of war but with a mission devoted to peace and love, she stands as one of DC Comics’s greatest heroes, right alongside Superman and Batman. However, even as she has her place in popular culture, Wonder Woman herself has not had a lot of material of her own outside of comic books. Aside from a 1970s television series that starred Lynda Carter and appearances in several cartoons concerning the Justice League, Wonder Woman has not had much to call her own. At long last, she finally has been brought to the big screen as part of the DC Cinematic Universe in her own film. Thankfully, the wait has been worth it. Wonder Woman captures the appeal of its hero, delivering not only on good action but also viewing her idealistic desire to help in the face of grim and commonplace evil.

On the island of Themyscira, the Amazons live hidden away from the rest of the world. Chief among them is Diana, princess and daughter of Queen Hippolyta. She yearns to live like the other Amazons and learn the ways of combat, something Hippolyta is hesitant about. Though she does give in and let Diana learn under the tutelage of their chief general Antiope, something arrives that shakes their peaceful existence: the accidental arrival of Steve Trevor, an American spy. He reveals that the world is consumed in the midst of the Great War, with millions suffering and dying. Believing that Ares (the God of War) is behind this wide-scale slaughter, Diana decides to leave her peaceful home behind so that she can get Steve back to his superiors and hunt down Ares. Thus, Diana finds herself in the world of mankind for the first time, encountering its very different ways. In particular, she finds herself confronted with the sorrows of war and the cruelty inflicted by people like the victory-obsessed General Ludendorff and the psychotic Dr. Poison. Still, even as the suffering seems so widespread and immeasurable, Diana will do what she can to battle against this injustice and bring peace back to mankind.

Wonder Woman’s first film of her own is a very good first entry. In the title role, Gal Gadot delivers an excellent job as Wonder Woman. She captures both the power that she delivers in her fight against evil, but also the heart that cares for people and seeks to bring peace. The rest of the cast also works well, in particular Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. He works as a nice complement and counterpoint to Wonder Woman, similarly wanting to bring peace but more beaten down by the war’s cruelty. As for the film itself, it delivers on plenty of elements. For instance, it is able to take Diana’s fish-out-of-water qualities and explore them for both serious and comedic elements, such as showing her serious condemnation of the war in a grave moment or playing with her reaction to societal gender views in a more comedic beat. Along with that, the film delivers on some very good action sequences. In particular, a sequence of Wonder Woman charging through No Man’s Land to save a village from potential destruction not only offers thrilling action as she battles against these military forces, but it also shows her actually being a hero and saving lives. In fact, that brings up a big and interesting point the film explores: her battle against banal evil.

Even though there are specific villains in the film like General Ludendorff and Dr. Poison, it almost feels as if the true enemy is that of banal evil. By this, I mean the cruelties and injustices that occur simply because people accept that is how things are. In the case of this film, it displays the cruelty of war as shown with its setting in World War I. It is widespread and awful, and it is not the sort of evil that can simply be extinguished by taking down one foe. Its sheer scope is enough to wear down most, such as Steve Trevor’s initial insistence on just sticking to a core mission. For Wonder Woman, however, each act of suffering she witnesses breaks her heart and she cannot simply stand by. She must battle this injustice. In turn, her courage in fighting this injustice inspires Steve Trevor and a band of other soldiers to aid her in this fight. True, this banal evil is widespread, even accepted by many as simply part of the more cruel part of mankind. However, Wonder Woman does not simply accept that cruel half. Sure, mankind has the potential for great suffering, but they also possess the capacity for great compassion and love. That is what she fights for, and that is what she stands for: a light of hope, beaming through the darkness of despair and cynicism.

Though the DC Cinematic Universe may have begun on rocky footing, it at last has a strong entry of its own with Wonder Woman. Not only is it a fun and thrilling ride, it captures the spirit of its hero well with her battle against the banal evils of wartime.

Deadpool – Bad Blood: Party Like It’s 1991

Rob Liefeld is a controversial figure in the world of comic books. A self-taught artist who would propel Marvel titles like New Mutants and X-Force into newfound levels of popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s,  he would also go on to co-found Image Comics, a company that has since grown to become one of the premiere independent comic book companies. However, the man himself has become one of the most divisive figures in his field. On one hand, his work presents an evocative storytelling style, one that grabs the attention and was certainly like lightning in a bottle when he struck in the late ’80s. On the other hand, his art is generally seen as terrible, his character designs suffering from such flaws as over-muscled and with miniscule feet. There are also complaints about his use of multiple splash pages instead of multi-panel sections, leaving a feeling like he is drawing pin-ups instead of truly presenting the story.  Of course, it is not as if he stopped working after the ’90s. He has still been working on plenty of titles. In fact, he has recently teamed up with writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers (who had worked on the short but fun X-Men ’92 comic series) to work on a graphic novel, centered around a character that Liefeld co-created. That character is Deadpool and the graphic novel is Deadpool: Bad Blood, a solid story that reads like a better-written title from the ’90s, warts and all.

Ever since going through the experimental procedure that gave him an incredible healing factor yet riddled with tumors, Wade Wilson has been spending his days as the infamous mercenary known as Deadpool. For the right price, he will take on any job and he is ready to face whatever pain might come his way. However, there is a certain thorn in his side that is really beginning to irritate him. It is a huge bruiser by the name of Thumper, and he seems singularly focused on one goal: beat Deadpool into a bloody pulp. After having healed from certain death several times now, Deadpool is ready to finally put this to an end. Of course, he wants to know just how to stop this brute, and he decides to find out just where he came from. However, this pulls on a thread from his own past, one that could make the fight with Thumper tougher and more personal than expected.

This graphic novel reads like a better written comic book from the ’90s. I mean this in both good and bad ways. For instance, Rob Liefeld’s art style does have some quirks and weaknesses that have remained from his early days. His work with feet is still iffy, though better than it had been, and there are portions when he relies a bit much on splash pages. There are even portions where there is a full character on display in front of a blank white background, as if it were an art display and not part of the story. That said, there are definitely improvements to his art. His character design is less exaggerated and unnatural and his costume design is less cluttered, pulling back from his excesses while maintaining the strong appearances he offers. The results are characters that feel more streamlined and naturalistic, while still recognizably drawn by him. That, in turn, helps his own sequential storytelling to be clearer and more concise. Complementing that is Sims and Bowers’s writing, which captures the rhythm and pace of an early ’90s comic book while avoiding a lot of the pitfalls and problems that plagued those stories. Really, the main thing that might turn people off of this story is its version of Deadpool, which hews closer to what Liefeld has co-created.

When most people think of Deadpool, they think of the jokes and the fourth-wall breaking. However, those aspects of Deadpool were not always there. When Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza co-created Deadpool back in 1991, he was envisioned as a character that was somewhat like Spider-Man with swords and guns. True, there were wisecracks and one-liners that he would deliver, but that hardly meant that he was a comedic character. Plenty of action movie heroes from the ’80s were known for one-liners, but their core was still in a serious place. Such was the case for Deadpool. It was not until later writers like Joe Kelly and Christopher Priest got their hands on Deadpool that he was injected with the humorous components that have since become core to his character. Those expecting that more humorous anti-hero, however, might be disappointed. This graphic novel is based moreso on that early version of Deadpool, a more serious assassin who could spit out one-liners while he mowed his foes down. It goes along with the early ’90s feel that permeates this graphic novel, but it is also a factor that might not fit for some people.

Depending on who you talk to, Rob Liefeld is either an eyesore in the comics scene or an artist that was the man for his moment. His artwork definitely shows improvements in the solidly-made graphic novel Deadpool: Bad Blood, but some of the quirks in his artwork and the book’s version of Deadpool might turn some off from it.