Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ma Parker | Batman '66 | vlog #44

Season 2, Episode 10. Originally aired October 10, 1966.
Written by Henry Slesar. Directed by Oscar Rudolph.
Ma Parker and her criminal cohorts now have the perfect cover and base of operations. It will take all of Batman and Robin's deductive powers to crack this case, but Ma Parker is ready to sentence them to the electric chair.
RATING: 1/5

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Greatest Mother of Them All | Batman '66 | vlog #43

Season 2, Episode 9. Originally aired October 9, 1966.
Written by Henry Slesar. Directed by Oscar Rudolph.
When Ma Parker (Shelley Winters) and her corrupt kids go on a Gotham crime sprees, Batman and Robin soundly round them up. It was all too easy, though, as Ma's gang takes over the prison and the Batmobile is rigged to become spare parts!
RATING: 1/5

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Anvil and The Hammer | Gotham | vlog #21

Season 1, Episode 21. Originally aired April 27, 2015.
Written by Jordan Harper. Directed by Paul Edwards.
Gordon and Bullock track "The Ogre" down by going undercover to a creepy BDSM sex club. Bruce visits Wayne Industries and is told by Mr. Bunderslaw that his father and grandfather knew of the company's illegal activities and did nothing about it. Riddler disposes of the body of the man he killed. Penguin pits Maroni and Falcone against each other via a "botched" assassination attempt and causes an all-out war between the two gangs.

Watch this episode online here: http://www.fox.com/watch/435046979920...
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Daredevil is the show comic books have always deserved (spoilers)

Daredevil posterNo doubt by now you’ve at least heard about the new Daredevil show available only on Netflix. It’s been getting rave reviews across the board, and for good reason – it’s the show comic books have always deserved. That’s not to put down any of the other comics-based shows that have been a critical and commercial success, such as Gotham, Arrow, The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Constantine, etc. I think what makes Daredevil stand apart from the others is because of its non-network, commercial-free, and generally censorship-free approach. This is a relatively realistic (e.g. “earnest”) depiction of a relatively realistic superhero fighting a relatively realistic war on crime. So, yes, it’s much more violent and profane than those other shows, but it in no way comes across as exploitative – and that’s what makes it great.

Now, there are already a plethora of spoiler-free reviews of Daredevil across the web, but I’m not interested in jumping on the dogpile. I’d rather take a more introspective/deconstructive approach intended for audiences that have already seen the show. So if you haven’t watched it yet (and really, what are you waiting for!?), I’d highly recommend reading Anthony’s blog from last week instead. Otherwise, be aware you are about to enter a veritable minefield of spoilers. Let’s get started:

The Influences

Daredevil definitely has a look to it that’s quite familiar. It’s dark, moody and violent, with fairly typical tropes often seen in other live action comic book movies and TV shows. That being said, it in no way comes across as cliché or pandering. You can quite literally see where it has drawn its influences from. I’d say Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are probably the biggest source of inspiration considering its earnest approach, and also considering there are certain action scenes that are very Nolan-esque (e.g. the first battle at the docks against the human traffickers is eerily similar to Batman’s first appearance in Batman Begins). Even the music sounds a lot like the Nolan trilogy score. Some other sources of inspiration I suspect are: The Godfather, The Crow, The Wire, The Matrix, and various Martin Scorsese, films (the massive arrest of Fisk’s mob by the FBI in slow motion was almost identical to a similar scene in Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street).

Daredevil_171And of course let’s not forget the actual comic books themselves. It’s pretty obvious that the entire premise of the show is heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil in the early 1980s. In fact, I started reading the first of three trade paperbacks that reprint those comics and it was uncanny how similar in tone the show is to the comics, especially Wilson Fisk as the maniac-depressive mob boss with a heart of gold (more on this later).

The Cinematic Approach

I was listening to Kevin Smith’s latest episode of his “Fat Man on Batman” podcast and he and co-host Marc Bernardin analyzed the entire Daredevil series in detail. Smith and Bernardin pointed out that since the show doesn’t have to account for commercial breaks, it doesn’t have to employ typical TV show rhythm. I noticed this as well. Consider that each episode is between 53 and 58 minutes long – that’s essentially a mini-movie. Often I would be watching an episode and by the time it was over I’d felt like I had just watched a three-hour movie because so much had happened. I suppose that’s where its TV roots come into play: they’ve got an epic story to tell but only about half the time to get through it all compared to a theatrical movie. Yet, I never feel that any episode is rushed or taking shortcuts to execute the plot.

And since they take a cinematic approach to a format that is inherently episodic, it makes for a unique viewing experience. You might almost call it the 21st century’s equivalent to those old movie serials which were both cinematic in scope, but episodic in story-telling. Nearly every episode ends on a cliff-hanger and because it’s captivating I found it difficult to not binge watch the entire series (about three episodes at a time was sufficient).

The Cast and Characters

I enjoy it when lesser-known (or completely unknown) actors are cast in a show or film that is bound to be a hit. It helps keep the tone more grounded and less glamorous since you’re watching the character rather than the marquee-name actor (that’s one of the reasons why the Daredevil film with Ben Affleck and Colin Farrell didn’t work). With the exception of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, I wasn’t familiar with the majority of the cast here aside from vaguely recalling seeing them in small roles elsewhere.
  • Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil: I enjoy his fairly humble approach to the character. In fact, I can’t recall anyone playing a “superhero” with less flamboyancy than Cox does here. He never snarls or delivers cheeseball lines about revenge or justice or boisterous B.S. in order to intimidate the villain (though sometimes I wish he had). I absolutely can buy him as a blind lawyer, though I think his character does need a bit more of a backstory. It’s easy to just accept a superhero at face value (they have super powers, therefore they must fight crime); but this show isn’t a typical superhero story but more of a drama that happens to be about a superhero. I think he needs a bit more depth to make him completely sympathetic.Mattmurdock
  • Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson: I feel like we’ve seen this character before: the snarky sidekick always quick with the one-liners. I buy him as Matt Murdock’s friend, but I’m not quite I believe him to be a bleeding heart lawyer who really thinks he can right wrongs through the criminal justice system. When he finds out Matt is Daredevil, his reaction is strange – he turns into a blubbering baby. I don’t believe Foggy ever figured out Matt’s true identity in the comics, so I’m not sure why they chose to go that route here.3-Karen3
  • Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page: Again, this character seems familiar: the bombshell who’s a magnet for bad luck and terrible circumstances. She’s essentially a version of Lois Lane, but (thankfully) without the schoolgirl-like attraction to the hero (though Karen and Foggy do flirt pretty heavily). She’s the constant damsel in distress, though she rarely needs anyone to save her – she manages to escape plenty of dangerous situations on her own (I couldn’t believe she actually killed Wesley!).
  • Toby Leonard Moore as James Wesley: I wasn’t familiar with this actor before the show, but I must say he gives probably the most impressive performance of anyone on the show. He is the consummate slimeball consigliere. He rarely raises his voice; it’s simply his tone and the words he uses that are chilling and intimidating. Moore reminds me a lot of Liev Schreiber – but manages to be much scarier in simply glasses and a suit that Schreiber ever was as a mutant (I can’t believe they killed this character off. Nor can I believe he was dumb enough to leave his gun on the table like that).wesley
  • Vondie Curtis Hall as Ben Urich: Journalists are too often written, cast and performed as larger-than-life, do-gooders who know everything about everything. Though there is a definite heroic component to this character, Hall plays him in such a way that he’s kept grounded and restrained at all times. I thought they went a little overboard depicting his personal life, though. He should have been the Jim Gordon equivalent in this show, but they decided to make him a tragic character instead. And yet again, this is another character I could not believe was killed off when he would’ve made a great supporting player throughout the series. I thought that was a melodramatic choice on the producers’ part.urich
  • Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple: Now this is an under-utilized character if ever there were one. Dawson is probably the most recognizable name on this show next to D’Onofrio, but she only appears in five of the 13 episodes (and thankfully they don’t kill her off). She serves several important roles – Matt’s confidant, romantic interest and literal stitcher-upper and she absolutely is believable in every aspect. Perhaps she’s a bit too glamorous for a lowly nurse living in the bad part of town (with a heart of gold, no doubt). Having her appear only occasionally makes this easier to overlook, though. The chemistry between Cox and Dawson is good, but it’d be difficult to buy them falling in love with each other so quickly and easily. I’m sure she’ll be back in Season 2 and I’ll be curious to see where it goes.dawson
Kingpin: Brilliant crime boss or sad sack?

I didn’t mention Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (aka “Kingpin” – even though he’s never referred to by that name) because I wanted to discuss this character individually. It seems like most people are raving about both the character and D’Onofrio’s portrayal of him, but I have mixed feelings.

First of all, a mob boss should always be intimidating both physically and psychologically. Fisk definitely has the former down, but not the latter. We’re only given a small glimpse into his past where we see him as a chubby 12-year-old raised by an abusive father with delusions of grandeur. This “origin story” isn’t what I associate with that of a crime lord, but rather a serial killer (especially considering he off’ed his other father as a child and his mother helped him cover it up!). There’s a huge section of his biography that’s missing – we need to know how he rose to power and why people continue to take him seriously because he’s so soft-spoken and clearly an introvert.

kingpin-netflix

I’ve heard many fan theories about this character. Nearly everyone agrees he has some sort of mental handicap – autism, Asperger’s, or maniac-depression. You don’t have to be a foul-mouthed violent sociopath to be taken seriously as a mafia don (i.e. Marlon Brando in The Godfather); however, if you lack basic social skills as people with those mental handicaps often do, it’s difficult to believe you’ll not only rise to the role of Alpha Male, but be an imposing, unquestioned, iron-fisted Alpha Male.

I will say that D’Onofrio is completely unrecognizable when compared to his more famous performances such as in Full Metal Jacket, Men in Black, or Law & Order. He certainly has the look of Kingpin down; though the character in the comic was unrealistically huge, D’Onofrio definitely translates that large, intimidating presence to live action. When he has his occasional violent, rage-filled, blow-up it usually catches me off guard and makes me nervous. He’s very Darth Vader-like in that even his henchmen are afraid of him and he doesn’t tolerate failure.
Lastly, his romance with Vanessa the art dealer, was difficult to buy. Mostly because they don’t give her a reason for liking him. For a woman to fall in love with a villainous character like this, she usually must be already from that world, or attracted to power, or never discover his true identity (or maybe just a little crazy). Fisk non-nonchalantly tells Vanessa he’s a mob boss and she essentially just shrugs it off. WTF?

So, on one hand this villain is unique in that he’s not a total cliché and that he’s scary for different reasons than most villains. But at the same time, he comes across a little pathetic to truly buy as the master kingpin of a vast criminal enterprise. He seems more like a corrupt politician, banker, or other powerful elitist.

Final thoughts

I must say that I haven’t been as captivated by a new television series like this since the first season of Lost or The Walking Dead. It’s well-written, well-paced, well-acted, well-directed, authentic, earnest, exciting, suspenseful, humorous, and just plain fun to watch. As Marvel’s successful Iron Man and Avengers movie franchises have proven – you don’t have to be familiar with the comics to enjoy these adaptations. The major difference is that Daredevil is deliberately trying to be adult-oriented. It definitely earns its TV-MA rating (seriously, this is not a show for young children).

I can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2. Will Fisk be acquitted? Who will take his place atop the criminal underworld? Will there be a mob war? Will we see Elektra? Will Bullseye appear? Will Matt hook up with Claire? Will Foggy and Karen get together?

Tut's Case is Shut | Batman '66 | vlog #42

Season 2, Episode 8. Originally aired September 29, 1966.
Written by Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barret. Directed by Larry Peerce.
King Tut deploys his injurious bug juice, slipping scarab mickeys to law enforcement! Our Peerless Pair must nail this nefarious no-good before the powerful potion gets in the water supply. Got buttermilk?
RATING: 4/5 

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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Spell of Tut | Batman '66 | vlog #41

Season 2, Episode 7. Originally aired September 28, 1966.
Written by Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barret. Directed by Larry Peerce.
In a sinister scheme, Tut pursues ancient scarabs in order to produce a potion that will slap human will. Batman and Robin have a plan to foil the Pharaoh, but Robin wins up walking an ever-shrinking plank over a pit of crocs!
RATING: 4/5

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Barbequed Batman | Batman '66 | vlog #40

Season 2, Episode 6. Originally aired September 22, 1966.
Written by Francis & Marian Cockrell. Directed by Murray Golden.
Minstrel fine-tunes his evil efforts to extort, instituting plan "High C." His final threat doesn't resonate with the Dynamic Duo, but Minstrel is on a real power trip.
RATING: 2/5 

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Minstrel's Shakedown | Batman '66 | vlog #39

Season 2, Episode 5. Originally aired September 21, 1966.
Written by Francis & Marian Cockrell. Directed by Murray Golden.
There's a new threat in Gotham, the electronic genius and talented lute player Minstrel (Van Johnson). His devious plot is to sabotage the Stock Exchange. When Batman and Robin close his circuits, the heat is on.
RATING: 2/5

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Friday, April 24, 2015

The Cat and The Fiddle | Batman '66 | vlog #38

Season 2, Episode 4. Originally aired September 14, 1966.
Written by Stanley Ralph Ross. Directed by Don Weis.
When Catwoman pounces on priceless violins in a shameless penthouse ruse, Robin and Batman team to foil the feline. At dizzying heights the chase is on, and it will take a miracle to capture this Cat!
RATING: 5/5 

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hot Off The Griddle | Batman '66 | vlog #37

Season 2, Episode 3. Originally aired September 14, 1966.
Written by Stanley Ralph Ross. Directed by Don Weis.
Catwoman is back on the prowl, slinking for prizes to purloin and equipped with cat darts filled with Catatonic for our dauntless duo. Its effects leave Batman and Robin hotfooting and broiling mad.
RATING: 4/5

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Walk the Straight and Narrow | Batman '66 | vlog #36

Season 2, Episode 2. Originally aired September 8, 1966.
Written by Stanley Ralph Ross. Directed by Sherman Marks.
Our heroes spring back into action, but Archer is using arrows that fly around corners to nab Bruce Wayne's $10 million earmarked for charity. All might be lost if not for quick thinking and the Batboat.
RATING: 3/5 

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: Issues 41-50



Sunset (issue 41)
Written by Tom Joyner and Keith S. Wilson. Drawn by Jim Fern.

I’ve always said Batman does not fare well against the supernatural. His whole premise is that he’s a normal man without superpowers who fights villains who aren’t super-powered, either. So why introduce a vampire villain out of nowhere? This story doesn’t even make sense: Batman eludes the police and hides out in an abandoned movie studio lot. Then somehow he gets captured by a couple of vampires – one of whom is apparently a silent-era movie star. And then it’s Alfred that has to track him down (in Sherlock Holmes’ outfit no less).

The art is okay, but the story is dumb. Reading the editorial disclaimer by Archie Goodwin at the end it seems that this entire comic was basically just a plug for another vampire-themed comic DC was launching at the time by the same creative team. For shame, DC.

Score: 1/5

Hot House (issues 42-43)
Written by John Francis Moore. Drawn by P. Craig Russell.

Usually, Poison Ivy is one of my least favorite villains. The character is pretty one-dimensional. She’s always portrayed as a man-eating succubus and little more than that. And while that’s how she is portrayed in this two-part story, at least there’s a lot more story and characterization to make it work. The plot is a little contrived and convoluted. It attempts to take the approach where Ivy claims she is clean and reformed and that she’s being blackmailed by a criminal elite who are using her to create a designer drug. There’s some forensics and detective work in this story that actually adds to it rather than creating for cheesy pseudo-realism.

I really enjoyed the art and the layout of pages by P. Craig Russell. Usually, his art is a little more detailed, as he takes an overtly cartoon approach here. Still, there’s nothing light-hearted or campy about the story, so the contrast is quite interesting. This reminds me a lot of a Matt Wagner story, though it in no way comes across as derivative.

Score: 4/5

Turf (issues 44-45)

Written by Steven Grant. Drawn by Shawn McManus.

So apparently every cop on the GCPD – in addition to being corrupt as hell – is also a card-carrying member of the KKK!? Good Lord, is Turf preachy! Actually, it’s not so much preachy as it is simply rage-induced. This came out about a year after the infamous Rodney King verdict and subsequent riots. There was a lot of blowback against police after that incident (and rightly so). And as much as I personally dislike and distrust police, I don’t think 99% of cops are rabid, vicious racists. That’s essentially what Grant is trying to say with this two-part story, but he just goes way overboard with a convoluted plot involving a massive conspiracy among several GCPD top cops who just hate minorities with a passion. It’s probably a subtle commentary on a lot of the Republican right at the time too.

I think this story could’ve worked had it been toned way down and not been so full of vitriolic hatred on every page. It’s just too over-the-top to take seriously. Sure, there are some decent action scenes, but they all involve wanton destruction and grisly murder. Grant is obviously emulating Frank Miller with his outrageous tone here. I will say that McManus’s art is pretty interesting – detailed and well laid-out as far as page design. However, he seems incapable of drawing faces. Everyone’s face is cartoonish and distorted – always in a state of outrage, panic, wrath or blood lust. How about some subtlety, guys? Sheesh.

Score: 2/5

Heat (issues 46-49)
Written by Dough Moench. Drawn by Russ Heath.

It’s been a long time since LOTDK last ran a 4-part story arc (Venom from issues 16 to 20). It’s also been a while since there was a fairly nominal, straightforward-style story in this series. Thankfully, Heat is a nice return to form and it’s long overdue.

I suspect this story is heavily inspired by the real life serial killer “Son of Sam” who terrorized New York City in the summer of 1979 during a heat wave. This villain is pretty standard in the serial killer department: he hates women and goes after only thin, attractive, scantily-clad ladies. It’s amazing how much gratuitous T&A is in this comic. It also features Catwoman, who of course is portrayed as nearly orgasming every time she’s in Batman’s presence. This is nothing new, but it’s a well-worn trope by this point.

Just like Turf, Heat also has a racial aspect and heavy-handed social commentary to it. This starts out very abrasive and obtuse with the mayor of Gotham City about to drop an N-bomb right to Jim Gordon’s face. This makes no sense! This is supposed to be the present day North, not 1959 Birmingham! There are also apparently packs of neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups roving Gotham. I’m sure this was some kind of response to the Rodney King riots of 1992, but it just comes across as pandering. Additionally, it’s hard to take seriously with the constant T&A parade happening in the background. It’s like a cross between a Spike Lee movie and a late night softcore porn – it just doesn’t work. Well, those aspects together, that is.

Overall, Heat is a decent crime story that’s a pretty fun and breezy read even though it’s a little long.

Score: 4/5

Images (issue 50)
Written by Dennis O’Neil. Drawn by Bret Blevins.

Part of the appeal of this series is that it doesn’t tend to use A-list villains and instead opts for specially-created villains and lesser-known rogues. I suppose it’s appropriate for The Joker to eventually make an appearance in this comic though. After all, he is one of Batman’s oldest foes, first appearing in Batman #1 in 1940.

What’s interesting about this story is that’s a variation on his original debut in which he pre-emptively poisoned someone and announced that person was going to die at an exact moment in order to trick the authorities into thinking he had gotten past their security. There’s some of that here, though it opts for The Killing Joke-style Joker who’s an evil genius and a complete psychopath. In fact, there are subtle Killing Joke references peppered throughout the issue (which is something Batman writers and editors haven’t stopped
doing even to this day).

I liked Denny O’Neil’s breezy, straightforward story, but Bret Blevins’ art left much to be desired. It’s a messy hybridization of Neal Adams and Sam Keith. His page layouts are interesting, but the actual composition (use of pictures to tell the story) is muddled. Some of the actual line art is just plain ugly.

The “pinup gallery” by some of the hottest comic book artists of the day is actually underwhelming. Brian Bolland’s cover is nice, but the subject matter is an odd choice.

Score: 3/5

Shoot a Crooked Arrow | Batman '66 | vlog #35

Season 2, Episode 1. Originally aired September 7, 1966.
Written by Stanley Ralph Ross. Directed by Sherman Marks.
The Archer (Art Carney) manages to loot Wayne Manor with his band of merry malefactors, flaunt justice and become a hero to Gotham's poor. Aiming for the location of the Batcave, Archer sets up Batman and Robin to make his point!
RATING: 3/5

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Under The Knife | Gotham | vlog #20

Season 1, Episode 20. Originally aired 4/20/2015
Gordon and Bullock get a break in the Ogre serial killer case. Nygma is concerned for Ms. Kringle's safety. Don Maroni flirts with Penguin's mother and tells her he's a criminal. Bruce and Selina attend a black tie charity ball. Barbara is seduced by the serial killer.

Batman: The Movie | Batman '66 | vlog #34 1/2




This movie was released between seasons 1 and 2 on July 30, 1966. I'm including it among my Batman '66 vlogs because it's essentially one extra-long episode of the TV show.
Credits:
Written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Produced by William Dozier
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson

Back in November, I wrote about the recent fascination with the 1966 Batman television series by modern pop culture. A lot of that is due to the fact the show has finally been released on DVD/Blu-Ray, as well as the publication of many comic books based on the series. The thing a lot of people forget when discussing that series is that it spawned a feature film which actually has been available on home video for years; namely, Batman: The Movie. Since this was the only legitimate video of Batman ’66 available, it’s been largely ignored and relegated to the discount bin. Funny how now that the show is seeing a resurgence in popularity, the movie is too.

batman_1966

I never really watched Batman ’66 as a kid, so it has no nostalgic or sentimental value to me. Until recently, it was something I, and a lot of fans of the Batman comics, disowned because of how radically different it is from the badass we consider the character to be today (it wasn’t too far removed from the Silver Age comics at the time, though). But I’ve come to appreciate the 1966 TV show for its place in pop culture history, even artistic history. And when viewed within that context, Batman: The Movie is actually really fun.

1966moviemediagroup

I suppose the timing couldn’t have been better for me to have watched this, considering I recently reviewed the very campy Batman Forever and Batman & Robin (even though they shouldn’t have been) and the 1943 Batman and 1949 Batman and Robin serials. This story of this film is told almost like that of a serial as there isn’t exactly one central plot that runs from beginning to end, but rather a series of smaller adventures that add up to one big one. I think it actually works well because of this format; as the hijinks, shenanigans, pratfalls and other comical elements are fine in sporadically small doses rather than anything continuous.

batman-66-01

Much like the Batman movies of the 1980s and 90s, Batman: The Movie is too silly to be viewed as a genuine thriller or adventure of any kind. I doubt anyone other than a small child was on the edge of their seat while watching this. This is a comedy first and foremost and it works quite well as such. Actually, it’s more a work of intellectual pop culture satire; I would consider the film “cute” rather than laugh-out-loud funny. For example, consider the infamous Batman-versus-the-shark scene. It’s so clearly obvious that it’s a rubber shark, but that the Batcopter would happen to have a can of shark repellent spray on board is either ridiculously corny or completely brilliant. Another scene later in the movie involves Batman and Robin about to crash in the Batcopter but just happen to land on a pile of foam rubber. This isn’t really the kind of comedy that inspires belly laughs authentically, but does make me smirk because of how unapologetic it is for this cartoony nature.


Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!
Shark repellent: ridiculously corny or secretly brilliant?
Batman: The Movie isn’t the type of film that can or should be critiqued on its merit as a film. Either you get the joke or you don’t, so either you’ll like it or hate it. And while I’m not saying it’s the funniest movie of all time, it still holds up after all these years because it’s so unique and memorable. Even though the entire Batman ’66 phenomenon was well before my time, it’s a craze that pop culture refuses to forget (and for good reason). Any Batman fan worth his or her salt owes it to themselves to add this movie to their collection.
Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!
Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!

The epitome of 1990s comic book ads

Something I’ve been meaning to do since we started this blog was to occasionally spotlight old comic book ads. I don’t know what it is about advertisements, commercials. and marketing campaigns in general but they tend to capture the essence of their time better than actual artistic works. What is it about them that inspires such gleeful, unmitigated nostalgia?

I wanted to start the first installment of retro comic book ads by looking at some really old examples from the Golden and Silver ages. But I was reading Legends of the Dark Knight #42 (dated February 1993) and I was amazed by how each and every ad contained within the comic so epitomized the 1990s. Let’s look at each of them:

Macho Man ad

Remember when pro wrestling was called the WWF instead of the WWE? Remember “Macho Man” Randy Savage? He was one of the most flamboyant and memorable characters. He was usually a villain, but for some reason you would see him hawking products to kids during Saturday morning commercials and similar time slots. Apparently someone thought that teenagers loved wrestling so much that they would be willing to drop a mere $339.95 on a bare bones home workout gym that you could’ve got at K-Mart for probably a quarter of the price.

What’s also great about this ad is that it pays homage to those old Charles Atlas ads for his home workout training manuals. Note the bully kicking sand in the face of the wimp. Is this really the wisest approach to take in trying to sell a home gym? Simply being muscular doesn’t mean you’re adept at fighting. Likewise, it also teaches children that violence is always the answer. And of course there’s a hefty layer of chauvinism contained within. According to this ad, men are just cavemen who win women’s affections by pure animal dominance.

P.S. How is that guy going to gain any muscle when there aren’t any weights on the machine!?

DCC ad

Now this is a pretty obscure reference, but if you were big into consumer technology in the 90s you might remember Philips’ attempt to re-invent the compact disc with the “Digital Compact Cassette.” The selling point was that CDs were too fragile and skipped too easily when mobile (anyone who’s ever owned a handheld CD player remembers this). But if you could have the same quality sound in the form of a cassette – which was smaller and more durable – that’d be the best of the both worlds, right?

Not surprisingly, this product never took off. So few record companies had faith in it and I believe it cost even more than CDs did. The 1990s was full of consumer electronics that bombed miserably; most notably…..

laser discs ad

Ahh! Laser discs – remember those?! They were the size of a vinyl record and cost ten times as much as VHS tapes. I remember browsing the laser disc section at various video and music stores and being floored by the price tags which would usually start at around $50 and go as high as $100 or more (and that’s in 1990s dollars!). Who loved a movie enough to spend that kind of cash on the better picture? Not that it would’ve mattered anyway, since the old cathode ray tube televisions of the time didn’t have the crisp, colorful, high definition capacity for output we know today.

I didn’t know a single person that owned a lased disc player, mostly because I didn’t have any friends or family members that were both wealthy enough to afford one and had the passion for movies that they needed to see the higher quality resolution and the then-new “bonus materials.”

Though laser discs were technically launched in 1978, I always think of them as more of a 1990s product (especially the first couple years of that decade). Then, DVD arrived in the middle half of the decade and laser discs went away forever. Now we have Blu-ray. I really hope that’s the last upgrade to home video technology because I can’t afford to keep replacing my movie collection every ten years!

Lynx ad

The home video game market was absolutely chaotic back in the 1990s. In the span of ten years we went from the 8-bit technology of the Nintendo NES to the 16-bit technology of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis to 32-bit technology of Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation (and a slew of failed consoles like the Philips CDi) to the 64-bit technology of the N64, PS2 and Sega Dreamcast. Video games had the addictive properties of narcotics back then, and the constant launch of new consoles and platforms meant everyone was getting another fix constantly.

Ironically, it was Atari – the company that pretty much single-handedly created the home video game market as far back as 1977 with the Atari 2600 – that was the laughingstock of the industry. Throughout the late 1980s and early 90s they attempted to beat the market to future technology with their handheld 16-bit console the “Lynx” and the first-ever 64-bit home console, the “Jaguar.” Both bombed terribly, yet Atari advertised them with such veracity in order to trick the market into thinking they were ubiquitous when in fact they were quite scare. Everyone I knew had a Nintendo GameBoy, and a few people had a Sega GameGear, but absolutely no one owned an Atari Lynx.

Swing by a flea market or a used video game store and you can pick up an Atari Lynx and a handful of games for chump change. Even though they’re rare, there’s no demand for them.

P.S. Was it really wise to use the tagline “The most fun you can hold in your hands” in a comic book ad aimed at teenage boys?!?! So…. many… snarky… responses… to make! Most…. resist… obvious… jokes!

DC universe ad0002

Of course what’s a collection of comic book ads without the obligatory house ad? This comic came out just a few months after the “death” of Superman in late 1992 and DC was riding high on the publicity, their new found popularity, the major increase in sales, and of course the ripples of Superman’s “death” throughout the entire DC continuity at the time.

This house ad looks like it was cobbled together by a 13-year-old intern. Look at the corny jokes in the green column on the left: “Kevin Dooley paid us $10 and a ham sandwich to get his name on the first DC Universe page” – oh man, that is some brilliant, knee-slapping comedy right there. Also, look at the “How to draw Lobo” segment. Though intended to be tongue-in-cheek (I assume), is it wise to tell your audience that their artwork sucks and to just buy their comic instead?

Lastly, anyone remember Travis Charest? He was one of the Jim Lee imitators of the 1990s. Not surprisingly, he was brought onto Lee’s Wild C.A.T.S. comic as a staff artist. I remember first discovering his work as far back as the 1992 Flash annual. It looks like his art has evolved considerably well in the last 20+ years. But I’m curious as to why he never became a “rock star” of the industry like those Image guys when his style was so similar.

World Without a Superman ad0002

I’ll admit it: when DC “killed” Superman I did jump on board the bandwagon and start buying all the Superman titles for a few years. I’ve never really been a fan of the character – he’s just too powerful, so you never really believe he’s in any real danger. Plus his costume is silly, he’s a little too obvious in his “family values” persona, and Clark Kent himself is just too pious. But those comics before, during and after his “death” were actually pretty well-written and fun to read. The secret to Superman’s success in comic books is the ability to form a massive ensemble of characters around him, which is what drew me in and kept me on board for so long.

These types of ads ran in every DC comic throughout the 1990s. Not even Batman’s “Knightfall” saga was as popular or as memorable as the Superman dramas of the time.

Time Trax ad0002

The 1990s was lousy with time-traveling sci-fi action movies and TV shows (you can pretty much credit that all to Terminator 2). This show “Time Trax” is just one of the many attempts to capitalize on that very specific genre. I remember seeing these ads on the back of every comic throughout the early/middle 90s and yet I never saw an episode of this show. In fact, I don’t even remember when it aired, which channel it was on, or if anyone I knew actually watched it. I always figured it bombed, but a quick Google search reveals that it ran a whopping two seasons for 44 total episodes. Pretty impressive for a show whose only advertising outlet was the back of superhero comic books. Anyone remember this show?

What other comic book ads from the 1990s do you remember?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Batman Makes the Scenes | Batman '66 | vlog #34

Season 1, Episode 34. Originally aired May 6, 1966.
Written by Sheldon Stark. Directed by: Tom Gries.
The Dynamic Duo is left for dead, but not so fast. Penguin thinks he'll just fly off with the loot meant for charity at the Annual Dinner, but this bad bird is about to find himself all tied up in a net!
RATING: 4/5

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