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53. Man of Steel/Batman vs. Superman – w/ Speakin’ Geek (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturday at 6pm GMT. However, this week, we’re going a little off-format.

This week, a special crossover episode with Speakin’ Geek, an Irish pop culture podcast wherein Graham takes a look at whatever is happening in the world of geekdom.

With Justice League being released this week, Graham invited us to discuss the two previous films in Zack Snyder’s trilogy, Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman. Even though the films were not on the list, we thought it would be an interesting discussion. We are glad to share it with you as a bonus off-format episode.

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“My World Doesn’t Exist Anymore.” Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman, and the Rejection of Nostalgia

Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman are deeply flawed films. However, they are also breathtakingly ambitious films.

There are very few big budget blockbuster films that look and feel like Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman. Actor Henry Cavill has diplomatically described Batman vs. Superman as a “niche” film in order to account for the openly hostile fan and critic reaction to the movie. There is a sense that Cavill was trying to offer an apology without an apology, to appease certain vocal segments of fan culture without throwing his work under the bus. However, there is some truth in his words.

It is tempting to wonder how much of the vocal and aggressive online response to Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman comes down to the fact that these movies challenge popular perceptions of these iconic characters. Comic book writer Mark Waid was very vocal in his dislike of Man of Steel, not on the basis of the direction or the choreography or the framing or the craft, but because the film misunderstood “the essential part of Superman.” These complaints were echoed across the the blogosphere.

An unchallenged and unspoken assumption crept into discussions and debates around Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman. The primary argument seemed to be that this wasn’t really Superman and this wasn’t really Batman, because these characters were so impossible to reconcile with the popular image of these characters. Many criticisms of Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman measured them against other iterations of the characters, real and imagined. Man of Steel wasn’t colourful enough. Superman doesn’t kill. Lex Luthor is not Mark Zuckerberg.

The idea was that Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman violated some unspoken compact with the audience, that it offered a version of these characters and their world that didn’t line up with audience expectations. Indeed, this is perhaps most notable in the inevitable comparisons between Zack Snyder’s work and the output of Marvel Studios. Marvel Studios had spent the better part of a decade building a reputation as a studio that was faithful and respectful of its source material, to the point of slavishness. Marvel Studios offered uncomplicated, straightforward adaptations.

However, there is a sense that Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman were rather consciously rejecting the culture of nostalgia that has become so dominant and overwhelming in contemporary blockbuster cinema, that the films represented a conscious effort to challenge audience expectations and to push provocative and ambitious interpretations of these characters and their mythos. Indeed, it is hard not to see the audience’s vicious and aggressive response to Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman as a response to that.

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Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained (Review)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Superman Unchained is a big deal.

It arrives in the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary year. It is designed to tie into the release of Man of Steel, launching two months after Zack Snyder’s cinematic adaptation. It is also the flagship Superman title, launching three months after Grant Morrison finished up on Action Comics and existing free of the line-wide crossovers haunting the Superman line. It slots comfortably into the niche between the end of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run in May 2013 and the new direction for Superman dictated by the “DC You” re-branding in June 2015.

Let's get ready to rumble...

Let’s get ready to rumble…

Superman Unchained is also the work of an a-list creative team, written by superstar writer Scott Snyder and illustrated by DC co-publisher Jim Lee. The only higher profile team that DC comics could have assembled would have been to team Jim Lee with Geoff Johns, as they did launching Justice League back in September 2011. In fact, Geoff Johns would do his part to help revitalise the Superman line when he teamed up with John Romita Jr. on the Superman title, marking the artist’s first work non-crossover work at DC.

So Superman Unchained is very much a big deal for the character, and represents a conscious effort by DC to bring Superman to the fore. However, what is most striking about Superman Unchained is how old-fashioned and narratively conservative it seems, particularly when juxtaposed with Grant Morrison and Greg Pak’s work on Action Comics. In a way, this fits with the anniversary branding and the mass market push; this is very much your grandfather’s Superman.

Up in the sky!

Up in the sky!

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Spider-Man: Chapter One (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Man: Chapter One is a strange little comic. In context, it makes a great deal of sense. Spider-Man has always been one of Marvel’s most popular and iconic comic book heroes. In the late nineties, the comic book industry was trying to figure out how to push forward, following the sales explosion and implosion of the mid-nineties. With superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men primed for a transition to the big screen, revisiting the early days of these heroes made a great deal of sense.

And John Byrne was the logical choice for a book like this. Byrne was a unique talent. He had enjoyed incredibly successful runs on Uncanny X-Men and The Fantastic Four at Marvel. More than that, though, he had already overseen the successful relaunch of another classic character. In the wake of DC’s universe-altering line-wide Crisis on Infinite Earths, John Byrne had been the writer who re-drafted Superman’s origin as part of the Man of Steel miniseries in 1986.

Boundless enthusiasm...

Boundless enthusiasm…

And so, Marvel gave us Spider-Man: Chapter One. The comic was a reimagining of the earliest days of the wall-crawling superhero, spanning thirteen issues and covering many of the character’s earliest encounters with his classic foes. John Byrne was writing the script and providing the artwork for the comics, which seemed primed to introduced Spider-Man to a whole new generation of readers, giving audiences a back-to-basics take on Spider-Man that was fresh and accessible.

At least, that was the idea. In actuality, Spider-Man: Chapter One feels like a massive miscalculation on just about everybody’s part. It seems to be aiming for some middle ground between Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe’s contemporary Untold Tales of Spider-Man and Brian Michael Bendis’ pending Ultimate Spider-Man. It seems like Byrne is never sure whether he’s simply re-telling the classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run on The Amazing Spider-Man with a few bells and whistles, or trying to make it his own.

You are about to enter... the Spidey zone...

You are about to enter… the Spidey zone…

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Hannibal – Entrée (Review)

It’s nice that we got this far into the season before Entrée was necessary. It’s the kind of episode that a show like Hannibal was always going to have to produce relatively early on, allowing it to air the laundry, so to speak, and to overtly and clearly distinguish itself from a popular predecessor. In this case, it’s The Silence of the Lambs.

Although we haven’t met Clarice Starling yet, although the credit at the start of each episode cites Red Dragon as the show’s inspiration, it’s hard to escape the shadow of one of the most popular horror films ever made. Many argue that The Silence of the Lambs was the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Even today, it remains a cultural touchstone, and there’s an incredibly large number of people who are only familiar with the character of Hannibal Lecter through that story and – in particular – through the film adaptation.

Hannibal hasn’t been shy about referencing The Silence of the Lambs, nor should it be. Crawford’s office from the start of Aperitif seems arranged in homage to the film, while the arrangement of two of the victims in Coquilles couldn’t help but evoke Hannibal’s dramatic escape from his cell at the film’s climax. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Entrée exists mainly to allow the show to indulge and engage in the imagery and iconography of the film, so that Hannibal can truly distinguish itself.

"Oh, goodie..."

“Oh, goodie…”

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Digging the Claws In: The Wolverine, Superman/Batman, World Building and the Future of Blockbusters…

When you produce one of the most successful movies of all time, you change the rules of the game. The Avengers was the biggest box office hit of 2012, narrowly edging out The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall for the privilege. That means that all the other major film studies were taking note of what Disney and Marvel had done. So it’s no surprise that the majority of announcements trickling out of this year’s Comic Con feel heavily influenced by the success of that blockbuster.

Most notably, it seems like DC and Warners will be fully investing in their superhero world-building, with the sequel to Man of Steel broadening its focus from the Man of Tomorrow, announced as a Superman/Batman team-up feature that will build towards the inevitable Justice League film. It seems like The Wolverine might just be the most major stand-alone superhero feature film we’ll be seeing for quite some time.

The future is now...

The future is now…

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Superman: The Animated Series – Legacy, Parts 1 & 2 (Review)

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

It seems like I’ve spent far too long comparing Superman: The Animated Series to its direct predecessor, Batman: The Animated Series. However, it’s interesting how radically different Bruce Timm structured of the two shows. Batman came and went off the air with episodes that could only barely be described as a pilot and a finalé. On Leather Wings featured a Gotham still coming to terms with Batman, but it wasn’t an origin story. Judgment Day teased the possibility of closing Harvey Dent’s arc (and maybe killing off some recurring bad guys), but it didn’t offer too much else in the way of closure.

In contrast, Superman: The Animated Series opened and closed with two large-scale multi-part episodes designed to bookend the show, opening and closing the character’s arc. While Legacy doesn’t feel absolutely final, with plot points leading directly into Timm’s Justice League television show, it does offer a fitting end for Superman: The Animated Series.

He comes in peace.

He comes in peace.

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