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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #59-61 – Children of Chaos/Mother of Madness/Brothers in Darkness (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode The Battle.

Continuity is a funny thing. Star Trek: The Next Generation would develop its own internal continuity as it went along. The  episodes featuring the Klingons and the Romulans (and the Borg) all fit together in a somewhat logical and progressive pattern, even if the show lacked the clear story arc structure of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While the show did offer background information on the members of the Enterprise crew, it never felt particularly beholden to them.

Picard’s time commanding the Stargazer was one of the earliest parts of his history to be established, in the first season episode The Battle. Picard’s tenure on the ship is alluded to several times over the course of the series, and there’s a sense that it was a formative experience for the commander. While it’s never stated outright, it’s suggested that the death of Jack Crusher and the loss of the Stargazer may have turned him into the somewhat aloof and distant superior we met in Encounter at Farpoint.

The slingshot manoeuvre...

The slingshot manoeuvre…

And yet, despite that, The Next Generation never delves too deeply into Picard’s past. There’s the occasional reference to his time serving on the Stargazer, or a reminder of his complicated relationship with Wesley and Beverly Crusher, but The Next Generation is a television show that seems to move forwards. Even the events that happen to Picard in the context of the show – his abduction by the Borg in The Best of Both Worlds or his alternate life in The Inner Light – don’t seem to have affected Picard too much.

So it seems appropriate that this bit of future history should become fodder for the comic books and tie-in materials, delving mroe deeply into the history of The Next Generation than was possible (or even desired) on screen.

Stargazing...

Stargazing…

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Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

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

Silver Age comic books are, by their nature, different from modern comics. It’s more than just evolving social norms, or even shifting artistic sensibilities. There’s a massive world of difference between a fairly average comic written in the mid-sixties and a similarly average comic produced today. While I’d be reluctant to describe the comics contained in Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives, Vol. 1 as “great” or “brilliant”, they have a certain charm or novelty to them. They feel alien and unique, as if offering a raw and unrefined sample of a mood that Superman has been chasing for the past two or three decades.

While I don’t think Batman was as well-served by the sixties as he was by later decades, there’s a surreal innocence to these comics which speak to Superman as a character. These are the comics that probably inspired Richard Donner’s Superman film, and though artists like Al Plastino, Curt Swan or Dick Sprang might not have drawn a Superman who resembled Christopher Reeve, it’s very easy to imagine him fitting in among these stories quite easily.

The Silver standard?

The Silver standard?

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Non-Review Review: Man of Steel

There are moments of brilliance in Man of Steel. I like the golden-hued Malick-esque glimpses of Middle America, evoking the work of Norman Rockwell. (Indeed, the earliest glimpse of Clark Kent’s life on Earth seems to evoke Teacher’s Birthday.) I like the decision to cast Jor-El as a pulpy science hero rather than a stand-in for God. I like the way that the movie embraces the concept of exceptionalism, and doesn’t shy away from the American ideals embodied in Superman’s mythology. I appreciate the development of the Kents into more than generic slices of apple pie.

However, for all of these lovely moments, there’s a sense that Man of Steel resents the fact that it is a superhero origin film. It’s easy to understand why. Superman origins are a dime a dozen, and it’s hard to imagine anybody could be unfamiliar with the broad strokes of the story. However, Man of Steel does find an interesting and nuanced angle on that first crucial Superman story… only to become something radically different. A little under half-way through, the film morphs into a big budget superhero spectacle, sandwiched between the outline of an origin story and chunks peppered throughout like some form of tossed salad.

Man of Steel suffers because it’s a lot less interesting than it might have been, and it revels in that comfortable blockbuster mediocrity.

High flyin'...

High flyin’…

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Superman: The Animated Series – Last Son of Krypton (Parts 1, 2 & 3) (Review)

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

After the success of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series must have seemed like the most logical choice. Bruce Timm had already assembled a team of writers and production personnel who had collaborated to produce one of the finest distillations of one of DC’s most iconic characters. Giving Timm a chance to work with Superman seems only reasonable. After all, Superman is a character that Warner Brothers has always had a bit of difficulty exploiting to his maximum potential.

However, Superman is not quite Batman. Despite the fact that he’s older and (at the very least) just as iconic, Superman hasn’t been quite as popular as Batman for quite some time. He doesn’t have the same depth of supporting characters, and his iconography isn’t as thoroughly integrated into popular consciousness as that of Batman. Superman didn’t have a live-action technicolour sixties television show to introduce an entire generation to the Parasite, Metallo, the Kryptonite Man or many others.

Opening with a three-part pilot, it’s immediately clear that Timm knows that Superman is a very different character than Batman, and that he can’t simply apply the same formula which made Batman: The Animated Series such a high-profile success. From the opening episode of Last Son of Krypton, it’s clear that Superman: The Animated Series is going to be a very different animal.

Up, up and away!

Up, up and away!

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Superhero Movie Fatigue? I Tire of This Argument…

It’s becoming a frequent complaint that there are “too many” superhero films. When Green Lantern crashed and burned last year, there were a rake of articles lauding it as “superhero fatigue.” Even before this summer kicked off, people were asking if “fatigue” had kicked in. Ignoring for a moment that The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises are the two most successful films of the year, I’ve never quite understood that argument. There were, after all, three (or four, if you count the dire Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) superhero-themed blockbusters this year. Do audiences get “period drama fatigue” if more than four high-profile period dramas are released in a year? Are there widespread cases of “cop movie fatigue” if more than half-a-dozen movies feature a law enforcement official in a lead role? Is there a cap on the number of films that Ryan Gosling can produce, lest he inspire an epidemic of “Ryan Gosling fatigue”?

Twilight of the superheroes?

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Flashpoint (Review)

This January, I’m going to take a look at some of DC’s biggest “events.” I’ll be starting with the most recent one, Flashpoint, following a week full of Flash stories.

Our world is in a violent transition of great change.

– President Obama tells us how it is

I really liked Flashpoint. I liked Flashpoint almost as much as I enjoyed Blackest Night, and far more than I enjoyed most big blockbuster “event” comic books. I think that Flashpoint buckles under the weight of the relaunch that followed – I find it quite sad that so many fans initially ignored the event only to jump on at the last minute because it was “suddenly important.” Does Flashpoint offer a fitting send-off to a version of the DC shared universe that dates back to Crisis on Infinite Earths? It doesn’t really, even if it offers some compelling arguments in favour of the relaunch that followed. Still, it’s a fascinating story about the icons who populate this shared universe, and what makes these enduring characters such heroic figures. Or, rather, what doesn’t make them heroic figures.

Flash sideways…

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Non-Review Review: Superman II (The Theatrical Cut)

I kinda feel sorry for Superman II. As a film, it’s overshadowed by the enormous controversy over the firing of director Richard Donner. Donner, who directed the original film, had begun work on the follow-up, when he was dismissed by the producers – reportedly for resisting the “campy” direction that the Salkinds where trying to force on the film. Richard Lester (who worked with the Salkinds as producer on The Three Musketeers, The Fourth Musketeer and as an uncredited producer on the original Superman) stepped in to fill the vacant position, and was ultimately credited on the finished product. While the film works relatively well, it suffers from the simple fact that Lester is nowhere near the craftsman that Donner was.

You'll believe a man can make a woman forget his secret identity!

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