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New Escapist Column! On Harley Quinn and Brand Conscious Self-Awareness…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. I don’t really have anything major to tie this one to, aside from the fact that I’ve been watching some television.

The DC Universe cartoon Harley Quinn is a fascinating piece of television. It’s immediately recognisable as belonging to a certain kind of adult-focused animation, shows like Rick and Morty or The Venture Bros. However, it’s rare to see this approach taken with an established brand, let alone an established brand tied to a blockbuster shared universe. After all, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law was hardly working with a smashing success and Deadpool didn’t emerge in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As such, it’s interesting to see a television show in which Diedrich Bader can reprise his role as the Caped Crusader from The Brave & The Bold, which also includes fans wearing “Release the Snyder Cut” t-shirts. You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is an immensely charming and high-energy romp, that is as unfocused as its central character and suffers more than a little bit from a non-linear narrative style that it never really justifies or employs effectively.

There is a lot to love in Birds of Prey, but perhaps the most charming aspect of it is the intimacy. Birds of Prey is bereft of the sort of city-, planet- or galactic-sized stakes that have come to define so much of modern superhero cinema, from Thor: The Dark World to Man of Steel to Avengers: Endgame. The bulk of Birds of Prey consists of a wrestling match over a diamond that happens to contain bank account details that point to an even larger payday. Its climax is on the scale of an eighties or nineties action movie, which means it involves anonymous henchmen rather than a literal army.

A cutting retort?

This consciously low-stakes approach allows Birds of Prey to simply enjoy itself, to revel in the charm of the cast and the relatively straightforward journeys of the central characters. Warner Brothers have been pushing their DC properties away from the MCU-emulating shared universe model that led to the spectacular disaster of Justice League, instead focusing on affording creators the freedom to do what they want to do. Joker rejected the modern superhero template to offer a throwback to films like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. In contrast, Birds of Prey seems to hark back to The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Birds of Prey is perhaps a little too messy and unfocused in terms of narrative, which affects the movie’s pacing and rhythm. However, it also trusts its cast and its energy to carry it a long way, working best when it feels confident enough to play as a live action Looney Tunes cartoon.

Girl gang.

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Dan Slott, Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett’s Run on The Batman Adventures (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

More than two decades after its original broadcast, Batman: The Animated Series remains one of the most insightful and most elegant distillations of the Batman mythos. While the show was on the air, DC published a variety of tie-in comic books featuring a variety of talent. Some of these count among the best Batman stories of the nineties, and it is a shame that DC has not done more work to keep these in print.

Indeed, it is a surprise that DC has never thought to produce a suitably deluxe or high-profile collected edition of the work that Mark Miller did on the tie-in to Superman: The Animated Series. However, it is worth noting that DC did make a nice gesture by offering the first issue of The Batman Adventures as their free comic book day issue in 2003. It is much more appealing free comic book day than a collection of promotions or previews.

Batman. In a nutshell.

Batman. In a nutshell.

The Batman Adventures was a tie-in comic published within the animated continuity while the animated Justice League was still on the air. However, it was written after the end of The New Batman Adventures. As a result, it had a lot more freedom than the comic books that had been published in tandem with the animated series. The Batman Adventures was no longer a supplement to a television show set in Gotham, it was the only continuing glimpse at this version of Gotham.

The Batman Adventures was a wonderful inclusive comic book – it was appropriate for children, it was accessible to people with only a casual familiarity with the world of Batman. In many respects, it was the perfect “free comic book day” comic. A light, fun read with a clever take on Batman and his world. The Batman Adventures is a fantastic little book that ended far too soon – a demonstration that comics don’t need to be “adult” or “mature” in order to be smart or fun.

Deadshot is dead to the world...

Deadshot is dead to the world…

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Superman: The Animated Series – Ghost in the Machine (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Ah, Lex Luthor. Luthor is, in the right hands, an absolutely fascinating character. The arrogant, ruthless, egocentric hero of his own story – the man who resents the world for not acknowledging his genius are recognising his boundless compassion. He’s a crusader against the alien threat that has lulled his city into a false sense of security, and he’s willing to make untold sacrifices in order to expose Superman as the menace that Luthor knows deep down that he is.

Well, not really. Luthor is a greedy and manipulative sociopath with delusions of grandeur and a ruthless streak a mile wide. However, there’s something quite intoxicating about the romantic mythology he’s created from himself. Ghost in the Machine is really the first time we’ve focused on a character taken in by that mythology, somebody won over by Luthor’s propaganda and his alpha male charisma.

Mercy Graves was never the break-out character that Harley Quinn was, but she’s another valuable addition to the DC universe made by Bruce Timm and the rest of DC animation. Ghost in the Machine is as much her story as Superman’s or Brainiac’s, as she finds herself caught in the middle.

Another day in the body shop...

Another day in the body shop…

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Batman: Mad Love & Other Stories (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

If you asked me to name the best adaptation of the Batman mythos, I would hesitate. I think Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy does a wonderful job of distilling the character to his core, and contextualising him within the cultural landscape of the twenty-first century. However, I’d also argue that Batman: The Animated Series is the most wonderfully comprehensive examination of the Caped Crusader’s mythology, and so perfectly captures a large volume of what the character is, has been and should be. Paul Dini would be on any shortlist of my personal favourite Batman writers, and Bruce Timm among my favourite Batman artists. So there’s something quite appealing about Mad Love & Other Stories, a collection of the pair’s work on comic books related to the nineties animated series.

Happily never after...

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Recommended Batman Comics 102: Batman – The Animated Series…

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

I know that movies traditionally have a minimal impact on comic book sales, but to celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I thought I’d make a list of accessible jumping-on points for fans of Batman in mass media. There are several wonderful things about Batman. There are two especially relevant to this article. First, Batman is an infinitely adaptable character. He can literally be anything to anybody. It is entirely possible for somebody to love one interpretation of Batman while loathing others. So I’ll be breaking down my recommendations by source, so you can look at your favourite interpretation of Batman and find the most thematically and tonally relevant jumping-on points:

The second factor is that Batman is one of the few characters blessed with a back catalogue of accessible runs and stories, so there’s quite a few recommendations for each. It’s as simple as finding one that works for you.

We’ll continue with perhaps the most comprehensive and consistent portrayal of the character in mass media, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s Batman: The Animated Series.

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Non-Review Review: Batman – Mask of the Phantasm

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

There is a legitimate argument to be made that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the best Batman movie produced prior to Christopher Nolan taking over the film franchise. While I narrowly prefer Batman Returns, it’s hard to deny that this animated take on the character from the creator behind Batman: The Animated Series isn’t a superb exploration of the Caped Crusader and his world. Kevin Conroy is still, after all these years, my favourite actor to play Batman, and I can’t help but feel like the movie deserves a lavish re-release to celebrate the pending release of The Dark Knight Rises.

You’d have to finally go batty to do this in the long-term…

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Batman: The Dark Knight Archives, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

I figured, what with Christopher Nolan releasing the final part of his Batman trilogy this month, it might be worth going back and taking a look at the early days of the Dark Knight. DC have done a rather wonderful job collecting classic material featuring their iconic heroes as part of their “Archives” line, a line that seemed to have died last year, but I am very glad to see undergoing a resurgence. The idea is that each archive edition collects roughly a year’s worth of classic comics. The premium format pays for the restoration of the material, with DC then making it available in more cost-effective packaging, like their paperback “Chronicles” line that collects every appearance in order, or their “Omnibus” line, which collects larger chunks.

Batman: The Dark Knight Archives, Vol. 1 doesn’t collect Batman’s very first appearance in Detective Comics. However, it does collect the first four quarterly publications of his self-titled Batman comic book in 1940, each collecting several stories of Batman’s crusade against crime.

Batman Begins in six panels…

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The Cat’s Out of the Bag: Catwoman and Bane Confirmed as Villains of The Dark Knight Rises (Batman 3)

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

Yesterday was a big day for fans of superhero cinema. Along with photos from X-Men: First Class (and an interview with Kevin Bacon which suggests he’s having a lot of fun, so I likely will too), Warner Brothers released some more photos of Green Lantern and a little bit of news concerning The Dark Knight Rises. Tom Hardy will be playing the steroid-fueled villain Bane, while Anne Hathaway will be playing Catwoman. I’ll just let that sink in.

“Tell me who the villains are!”

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Batman: The Animated Series – Heart of Ice (Review)

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. While most of the episodes and comics I look at will tie into the feature-length animated movies, I thought I’d start with perhaps the most beloved piece of animation that the studio produced using DC characters.

I believe that Batman: The Animated Series sorely deserves a place on list compiled of the “best animated series of all time”. It’s certainly perhaps the single best distillation of the Batman mythos into one pure form (although Christopher Nolan’s film series – and especially The Dark Knight – also deserve some acknowledgement). What made the series unique was that, instead of simply borrowing from the comic books, it also actively contributed to them – and not just in a “we need to tie into a popular adaptation” sort of way. Lasting changes to the Batman mythos can be traced back to this particular animated series – the fan-favourite character of Harley Quinn, for example, or several sympathetic origins to well-established characters. Heart of Ice is perhaps the most successful and well-executed of these revisionist takes on Batman’s iconic selection of bad guys – offering as it does an origin for Mr. Freeze.

Dude needs to chill out…

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