Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Batman - The Complete Fourth Season


Written by Musgo Del Jefe

The Batman's been around since 1939. In almost 70 years, he's existed in print, on the silver screen, on the television, in video games, and loads of other mediums. It's hard to imagine someone that hasn't interacted with Bruce Wayne's universe in one way or another. The character has essentially remained the same in every incarnation and reboot; it's usually the themes, surrounding cast, and tone that change. I first encountered Batman as a young child, just getting home off the bus and running in to catch reruns of the campy TV show from the Sixties. Batman existed for me in the various incarnations of the Superfriends on Saturday mornings also. The character had never truly crept into my imagination until my college days when I came across The Dark Knight Returns in 1986. This Frank Miller take on the character struck a chord with this young adult at the time. That dark vision of Batman's future was a heavy influence on the Tim Burton Batman films and I was hooked. That fandom led me to the ultimate comic adaptation of this character in the Bruce Timm-produced, Batman: The Animated Series. While following the different incarnations of this universe through the Justice League Unlimited project, another Batman project flew in under my radar.

Since 2004, an animated show called The Batman has been airing on Kids' WB (now The CW). I came to this show fresh with no prior knowledge of the show with the latest DVD release, The Batman - The Complete Fourth Season. As a relatively knowledgeable Bat-fan, I immediately knew that I had dropped into a fan-friendly universe. The Fourth Season starts with the episode "A Matter Of Family." This episode introduces us to Dick Grayson, who'll become Robin by the end of this story and a mainstay for the whole season. It's the little nods to the rich tapestry of Batman's history that make this so accessible. Dick's father is voiced by Kevin Conroy (voice of Batman from Batman:TAS). Tony Zucco is voiced by Mark Hamill (voice of The Joker from Batman:TAS). Dick's origin mostly follows the initial DC Comics story with a slight nod to the wonderful Batman: Dark Victory mini-series, but the core of story remains strong, Bruce and Dick both lose their parents in front of their own eyes and initially seek crime-fighting as a way to find revenge. This link, this understanding is the basis of their relationship. In the end, Robin saves Zucco's life, but the question of "justice" remains.

There are two episodes in this season that illustrate the power of good storytelling. The power of not talking down to kids. The first is "Strange New World." The episode starts with a shot of helicopters, reminiscent of the opening sequence of Batman:TAS. The story starts with Batman surrounded by zombies and we are taken back 48 hours to see how we got to this point. Dr. Strange is behind bars at Arkham Asylum and threatens to turn all of Gotham into zombies. Slowly, Dr. Strange's prophecy starts to come true. Eventually, Batgirl and then Alfred and eventually Robin are turned into fast-moving zombies and Batman is all alone. By starting at the end, we know that Batman is going to come to a point in which he's surrounded by zombies. He has what he thinks is the antidote, but he's not sure. The delicious detective work he pulls and the "Twilight Zone"-ish ending are worthy of some of the best issues of the comic series. It's a rare episode of any superhero series that pulls in both the fun villains like zombies in combination with the great Moriarty/Holmes relationship that Dr. Strange and Batman have.

This episode is followed by the strongest episode of the season, "Artifacts." This story is a fresh break even in a 13-episode season. The story starts in 3027 and flashes back to 2027. In the far future, the Batcave has just been discovered. Investigators follow the clues in the cave to reconstruct what happened in 2027. This episode shares many elements with The Dark Knight Returns. The Batman of 2027 has the same scar as in the book, drives a tank-like Batmobile that's similar to the book and Batman Begins, and Mr. Freeze even utters the line, "the Dark Knight returns." But the plot isn't beholden to the story of the book, nor does it expect the viewer to necessarily have knowledge of that story. It's a testament to the writers that the story is influenced by other projects, but it commands the characters in a way that fits the universe that it exists in. Dick Grayson is now Nightwing and Barbara Gordon is now the wheelchair-bound Oracle.

Like in "Strange New World," there's a time element to add to the suspense. The investigators in 3027 need to find the right clues or New Gotham will be destroyed. As their investigation unfolds, so does the parallel story in 2027 with Batman battling a more powerful Mr. Freeze. The viewers are assembling the clues along with the future cops. And once the 2027 storyline is completed, there's a solution to the problem in New Gotham. Yet, there's a way that Batman, even 100 years later shows us that his "legend" lives on.

The Fourth Season has a nice variety of villains - Joker, Penguin, Clayface (two of them), Killer Croc, and more. The weakest of the bunch is Black Mask (in "The Breakout") who comes across as a very poor man's version of the Red Skull. Some stories are straightforward: bad guy commits crime and Batman and family catch them. There are also a good balance of stories that require more detective work to solve, which has always been an important part of the Batman mythos. This season introduces Harley Quinn in "Two Of A Kind", interestingly written by Paul Dini who created her in Batman:TAS. Here he has the rare opportunity to reboot his own character and does so by making her more of an equal to the Joker instead of his lackey.

The season ends with an interesting two-parter that introduces J'onn J'onnz as the Martian Manhunter. "The Joining Parts 1 & 2" tells the story of an alien invasion of Earth. While a good story, the core invasion story seems to get ignored in order to characterize the great chemistry between Batman and J'onn J'onnz. The aliens are a boring combination of The Borg and War Of The Worlds and their downfall is too easily predicted based on that comparison. All this leads to Batman's invitation to join the Justice League of America in an orbiting tower that looks much like the Hall of Justice from Superfriends.

Season Five will no doubt take place on a grander scale with Batman teaming up with other superheroes and fighter bigger battles. But, for me, it's those little moments in "Strange New World" where Batman is surrounded by zombie versions of his "family" and there's that moment of indecision. Has he solved the mystery, can he save his "family," or will they face the same fate as his parents? This series isn't a dark, adult version of Batman, but it is smart. The Batman doesn't have the best soundtrack, nor is its animated look the most desirable (why does The Riddler look like Marilyn Manson?), but it has something that I didn't expect to find. It has a heart.

BRAVEHEART: SPECIAL COLLECTOR'S EDITION



Written by Fantasma el Rey

Braveheart is one of the finest Hollywood epics to hit the screen, sparking a new wave of historical battle films centered on legendary heroes. Whether your veins pump Scottish blood or not, you can’t help but cheer and wish that the outcome of Braveheart’s true events were a bit different. The film does stray at times, giving way to dramatic license but again it works and pushes the movie, adding to the allure of William Wallace and the fight for Scottish freedom. It’s a well-rounded film that’s story drives it far beyond scenes of battle and blood, drawing you deeper into its tale of love and honor.

Director and star Mel Gibson delivers a fine performance in both roles telling the story of William Wallace, c. 1270-1305, through his mind’s eye and cinematic vision. Wallace was a Scottish hero/rebel outlaw that plagued the life of one of England’s most respected kings, Edward I, known as “long shanks.” Edward I is the epitome of evil in this tale and to the Scots I’m sure he was, but we must remember that the man used what became known as the English longbow so effectively in battle that this weapon changed the way large armies fought and is considered by some as the modernization of warfare. We can’t forget that parliament took its modern form under his reign as well. Yet as with all men of power, he’s one man’s hero and another’s devil. From 1297 to about 1305, Wallace was a thorn in Edward’s side, fighting a few pitched battles while doing the majority of damage with his guerilla tactics.

The battle scenes in Braveheart are huge indeed, packed with action, excitement, and blood, a necessary evil in bringing the horror of the age’s warfare to life. Now for a round of fact vs. fiction and that dramatic license mentioned earlier, let’s focus on the events at Sterling (Bridge). In the film the battle is a big affair with both sides charging at one another. In reality the fight was on a bridge that Wallace had his men weaken, giving him the chance to attack as the English troops came off the bridge disorientated by its collapse. At this time Wallace was co-captain of the Scottish forces along with Andrew de Moray, who was left out of the film entirely, which is understandable since the film is about Wallace and Moray did die from the wounds he suffered on the bridge. Even with these discrepancies the movie works as far as historical dramas are concerned.

Braveheart is well written thanks to Randall Wallace, who wrote the script while researching his Scottish heritage. Randall’s script is filled with humor and moments of light-hearted laughter brought on by believable supporting characters. This humor fits and matches the brutal/ beautiful world which we are locked into for nearly three hours, lost in the story and Scottish/Irish landscapes where Gibson filmed. The story of love is a big part of the Wallace epic and has been ever since Blind Harry wrote it down in the epic poem over a hundred years after Wallace was captured and quartered. Wallace’s love for his murdered wife, his love for his friends, his home, and freedom for generations to come is what lies at the center of the tale.

Another fascinating aspect of Braveheart and Wallace’s life is his relationship with the Scottish nobility and one noble in particular, future King of Scots, Robert Bruce, younger Earl of Carrick. Bruce is said to have sold out his friend Wallace in order to secure his seat on the throne, and it is also speculated that at one time Bruce may have fought for the English. Nobility at any time is known to have their own favor in mind and it’s easy to believe these stories to be fact. Yet as wonderfully illustrated in the film Bruce went on to lead the Scots in the Battle of Bannockburn, which become the cornerstone for Scottish independence. Wallace’s loyalty and leadership is what motivated Bruce to push to be a true king, something more than simply being recognized as such by the English and holding the title in name only.

In the Special Collector’s Edition, Braveheart’s picture has been digitally remastered and some good special features have been added to further explain the film and the Wallace legend. Gibson does a fine job on his commentary, speaking when necessary and not just rambling, giving a good feel for what inspired him along the way. There is also an hour-long look at the making of Braveheart that features interviews from the time of filming and editing back in 1994-95. Two features I enjoyed most were “A Writer’s Journey” which gives Randall Wallace a chance to tell his story about his connection to William Wallace and the spark that set the script in motion. The second being an awesome 30-minute documentary on the life of William Wallace himself and is a good way to clear the fiction from the fact, although Gibson does a good deal of that in his audio commentary.

So for fans that already own a copy of Braveheart on DVD go out and put the money down for this version, which is far superior to previous editions. I know the film studios pull this stunt often, but in this case it has been awhile since the original release and there are many great special features to make the purchase worthy of your hard-earned cash.