Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Ever since Justice League: The New Frontier, the animated movies from DC have just disappointed me. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed them, but they didn’t really live up to my standard or the standard set by New Frontier. However, just as I was beginning to lose faith in DC, they release Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. While it still doesn’t meet the standard that New Frontier set, Crisis on Two Earths has been the best full-length animated feature DC has put out in a while.

Despite its name, Crisis on Two Earths is loosely based on the 1999 series Earth 2, written by Grant Morrison, as well as a short storyarc from 1964. It was originally planned to be released years ago under the title of World’s Collide and meant to bridge the gap between the television series’ Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited. However, due to staffing issues, it was shelved and later reworked to what we have here.

The story itself is fairly straight forward, serving as little more than a device to string together overblown fight scenes. A heroic Lex Luthor travels through to an alternate Earth to seek help from the Justice League to bring down his world’s Crime Syndicate, whose members happen to be evil versions of the Justice League. However, Crisis gets into some of characterization that was sorely missing from DC’s other animated outings, most specifically with the Batman counterpart, Owlman. Through this character we see the kind of person that Batman could have been, and in many respects should have been, given the trauma of his past. Unfortunately, Owlman is the only character that is privileged with any sort of depth, which is disappointing.

The voice actors were mostly well played. James Woods performed Owlman superbly; though I’m not a fan of Woods, his talent lent a nice touch to the character. William Baldwin also surprised me. Cast as Batman, Baldwin was able to portray the brooding hero as I never expected him to. I’m sad to sad I was disappointed with Mark Harmon. I love Mark Harmon and his work on NCIS, but I don’t think his voice was a good pick for Superman. Though he did what he could with the character, he failed to command the admiration and authority that other actors were able to depict. My favorite, however, was Brian Bloom in the role of Ultraman. With the Crime Syndicate being a super-powered version on the Mafia, Bloom brought the right amount of commanding resonance of Superman with the New Jersey-cynicism of Tony Soprano. A very nice touch indeed.

Where Crisis on Two Earths falls flat is in the characterization. We are given a set of six all-different characters that are similar to heroes we know, but completely different, yet the writers go into no detail about them. DC continues to choose action over exposition and it’s becoming dull. What happened to these characters to make them choose the wrong path? Owlman explains that the multiverse sprang forth from all outcomes of every possible decision; so what decisions did these villains make? Why is Super Woman the psychopath she claims to be? At what point did Ultraman decide that humanity should fear him? Ultraman is the perfect example. Judging by his accent, he more than likely landed on the New Jersey Turnpike as opposed to Smallville, Kansas, and didn’t have the small-town, do-gooder upbringing that Jonathan and Martha Kent could provide. So, what happened to him? The writers don’t care to go into it.

Even though it surpasses the features that preceded it, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths could have been so much more than what it became. It’s a good movie for anyone who is not a huge fan of the characters (admittedly, myself) to jump on board and enjoy. Since it doesn’t tie into any continuity, viewers aren’t likely to get lost or confused. But this also should have been the excuse the writers needed to actually do something with the characters.

While it was better than the rest, Crisis on Two Earths, for all intents and purposes, should have been better.

DC used the release of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths to present a sample of their newest series, DC Showcase by adding a short feature of The Spectre to the disc. After everything I’ve seen, I’d have to say that this was a good choice.

The animation for The Spectre is the most interesting thing DC has put out in a while. Clearly styled like a Japanese anime, is has a lot of quick cuts and obscure close-ups. The style also imitated a damaged film reel, with lines, dirt, and watermarks superimposed over the image to make it look much older than it is.

Clearly DC was looking to create some sort of throwback animation, an aspect that shows through the music as well. The soundtrack sounds like it was taken from a Blacksploitation film from the 70s, with some funky reverb straight out of the old-time horror movies. I certainly approve.

The Spectre is also a lot more graphic than I would have expected from a mainstream animation studio like Warner Brothers. It caught me by surprise somewhat, but I liked seeing a grittier side to DC. Judging by this, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the PG-13 rating on the disc is because of The Spectre.

The inclusion of The Spectre on Crisis on Two Earths really salvages the special features section, which has been lagging on their past few films. The other special features include first looks at Green Lantern: First Flight and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (first look? We’ve already seen these) and trailers for Naruto Shippuden: The Movie and Halo Legends (no, thanks). The only other original content is Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess, which shows a history of the character of Wonder Woman, and a first look at Batman: Under the Red Hood. Judging from this featurette, Under the Red Hood looks awesome. I just hope DC doesn’t screw it up.

Though I would recommend Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths to anyone interested in these kinds of movies, the inclusion of The Spectre really makes the purchase worthwhile.


Shutter Island

Originally, I was excited to see Shutter Island based on the crew creating it. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill Martin Scorsese movie, which definitely intrigued me. Add to the mix some Leonardo DiCaprio, who I’ve grown to respect over the past couple of years, and Mark Ruffalo, an over-looked, under-respected actor in my opinion, and you have the recipe for a good movie.

And for the most part, Shutter Island was good. Scorsese does a great job building suspense throughout the entire film. He gives his characters understandable motivation, and evokes believable performances from his actors. But even with all of this, something is missing.

DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a detective who goes to Shutter Island, home to a mental hospital for the criminally insane, to investigate a missing persons report. Mark Ruffalo accompanies him as his newly assigned partner. During the investigation, things start getting bizarre for Daniels. He begins to have weird visions/dreams of events that occurred in his past, and these visions begin to take their toll on him physically.
Scorsese makes Daniels an interesting character. As a World War II vet, Daniels has seen some of the most horrifying events. Couple that with the violent death of his wife, and he becomes a tortured man. However, he has a mission that he intends to fulfill at any cost. DiCaprio gives Daniels that touch of human he needs in order to be believable and not just another theatrical caricature.

Shutter Island wasn’t written for a director like Scorsese. Scorsese has managed to make brilliant films from even the most boring premises (has anyone else seen Kundun?) but he lacks something in Shutter Island. Toward the middle of the film, you begin to wonder if it’s Scorsese behind the lens, and by the end of the film, you’re convinced it was actually M. Night Shaymalan. Unfortunately, this is what Shutter Island feels like. The movie thinks it comes to a respectable conclusion, but it doesn’t. Its finale answers questions, but then forces the audience to questions some things that made sense earlier.

While I can’t say that Shutter Island was bad, because I did enjoy the build up and the suspense, I can’t say that it was good, either. It was meant to be the kind of film that makes you say ‘whoa,’ but sadly, it’s a film that makes you say ‘wha…?’


5 Useless Inventions

Have you ever stayed up late at night watching infomercials on cable? Have you ever seen some of the useless shit out there? I have, and it irritates the hell out of me. Here are the 5 most annoying products being sold on TV.

5: Shoe Stands
While maybe having some validity to help organize the bottom of your closet, Shoe Stands just look ridiculous. While I concede their practicality, I feel that Shoe Stands are more of a nuisance than a help. Imagine having to take something out of your shoe each time you want to wear them. Then, at the end of the day, you have to place the thing back into the shoe. Where do you store that thing until the time you need it again? It’s just too much work just to wear a pair of shoes. Go with the Shoes-Under or one of those things that hang on the back of the closet door with pockets big enough to put the shoes in. This makes more sense to me.

4: Pasta Pronta
The act of boiling water too difficult to master? Like using just one cylindrical tube to make your dinner? Then the Pasta Pronta is for you. Put the pasta in the tube, add boiling water, and dinner is done. Seriously? It’s too difficult to boil the pasta in the water? See, I have to boil the water to add to the tube. So, if I’m boiling the water, I can make the pasta in the water. What do I need the Pasta Pronta for? It seems like a middle man to me. But what if I need to make sauce? I can’t add boiling water to my sauce in the Pasta Pronta; that would water down the sauce and ruin the flavor. So do I need to buy the Sauce Pronta too? How much will this cost me? I mean, besides my self-esteem and rationality. But, if I can’t cook pasta then I must not have these things to begin with.

3: The No-Touch Hand Soap System from Lysol
According to Lysol, makers of quality germ killing products, there are hundreds of bacteria living on my soap dispenser. Their solution to this problem is that I purchase a motion-activated soap dispenser that ensures I don’t have to touch anything and transfer those nasty bacteria to my hands. Is this supposed to make sense? Because it doesn’t. By touching the soap dispenser, I have pretty much committed to the act of washing my hands. Were I to transfer and bacteria to my hands through physical contact with said dispenser, those bacteria would then be killed by that act of washing. So why do I need a touchless soap dispenser? Easy answer; I don’t. This is clearly Lysol’s bid to cash in on the anti-bacteria hype/psychosis spreading throughout the country.

2: The Grill DaddyYet another invention playing on the fears of the American public. The Grill Daddy claims, by filling it with water and spraying it on the grill, that it will sanitize the grill as it cleans away the grime. Now, correct me if I’m wrong (which I am not so there is no need to correct me) but doesn’t water turn to steam at 212 degrees? Meanwhile, a grill can heat to 600 degrees and above. So it is not the steam that sanitizes the grill but the grill that sanitizes the grill. So why does the Grill Daddy insist on misleading me? Yes, it ma clean my grill wonderfully, but don’t lie and say that the steam will sanitize my grill. That’s just wrong.

1: The Snuggie
Yes, I’ll admit there are plenty of good features about the Snuggie. Having your hands free to do things is useful, as opposed to them being trapped under a blanket. So why is it on my list? Because it’s designed to be a backwards bathrobe, a nifty piece of clothing that has been around for years. So what’s the deal with this Snuggie craze? One idiot decides to wear his bathrobe backwards then sells his idiot friends similar bathrobes, instructing them on the intricacies of wearing them backwards? I mean, I guy John Q. Snuggie, or whatever the guy’s name is, all the credit in the world, seeing as how he probably made a mint by reversing an already existing patent. I just wish that people would be able to recognize the Snuggie for what it is.


Butler Toilet
I don’t even want to know why someone thought of this. Also comes in Flamingo.


Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

In November of 2008, Marvel announced to the world that they will be producing a new animated series starring the Avengers. After the last animated Avengers outing, “The Avengers: United They Stand,” it’s difficult to wonder why they would try again. But, with popularity of the Avengers in the comics, as well as the Avengers movie coming in a few short years, it seems Marvel feels that the franchise is strong enough to try again.

I think they are right. It seems that they are putting a lot of effort into Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, as it’s officially being called. For starters, Marvel is taking a lot better care of their animated properties. Just look at Wolverine and the X-Men, for example. The animation is much more fluid and cleaner than in past incarnations. And the storylines are more comprehensive, being more exciting and attention-grabbing, as well as staying open-ended enough to add possible details in the future. Past cartoon shows were just entertaining for a half-hour, and left it at that. But now, Marvel wants to give viewers a reason to tune in next week, which is a model that I enjoy.

Secondly, Marvel decided to stick with the core team of Avengers. Avengers: United They Stand was full of B- and C-list team members; basically, characters that the audience couldn’t really care about. Wonder Man? Vision? Yeah, these are the faces the fans like, but your not gonna get a lot of newer viewership with characters no one knows about. But Earth’s Mightiest Heroes takes a different turn. The team consists of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man, Wasp, and the Hulk. All of Marvel’s heavy hitters. And though I’ve said in the past that I’m getting tired of the Hulk, I think he will be a good fit here.

Take a look at the trailer for the show.

The animation looks good. Nothing spectacular, but definitely on par with Wolverine and the X-Men, which is a style that I’m pleased with. There’s been talk that the core team will consist of 8 Avengers, but the trailer only shows us six. I’m excited to see who else will round everything out. I would like to see Hawkeye and Black Widow.

I’m not sure how Marvel will approach their storytelling style on this show. I would like to see as a serial drama, with a deep, over-reaching story arch weaving its way through each episode. But if they decide to go with full-encapsulated, half-hour long stories, I hope they treat the show like DC treated Justice League: Unlimited. If they story is being told in thirty minutes, there’s no need to be concerned with continuity. Introduce new characters. Have a villain blow up a building. Ignore everything and make it fun. Granted, I don’t prefer this style, but if I’m stuck with it, I want it to be fun.

Anyway, I’m very excited for Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. From the looks of the trailer, it’s a show I can get behind. I’m glad to see that Marvel is upping their game in the animation department. They are really giving DC a run for their money.


Smallville: Absolute Justice not absolute.

Though I haven’t watched Smallville in about 3 years, I was totally excited when I saw the commercial for the two-hour Absolute Justice special. What excited me the most was the possibility of seeing all of the super heroes, the entirety of the Justice Society of America, in action in the span of two hours.

Well, I didn’t get that.

Absolute Justice was written by Geoff Johns, an excellent choice for the special since he began writing the JSA comic in 2000. Since then, Johns has worked on a plethora of comics for DC, including The Flash and Green Lantern. The irony of this is that neither of these characters, in either their Golden Age or Modern versions makes an appearance in Absolute Justice, much to my chagrin.

The episode begins with the murder of two people, who appear to have some kind of connection with each other, but not much else. As Clark and Chloe do their research, they discover a team of “criminals,” whose ranks include the two dead guys. They call upon Oliver Queen to help dig a little deeper, and find that they have discover may not be the full truth.

The search leads to Carter Hall and his not-right-in-the-head friend, Kent Nelson. Hall runs a museum of some sort, though one can pretty much guess what it contains way before the big reveal later (it was in the commercials, remember.) Hall is pursued by Courtney Whitmore, a pesky blonde girl who has some sort of connection to one of the dead guys. At this point, things are a little cloudy, but everything gets explained in time.

Carter Hall is Hawkman. Kent Nelson is Dr. Fate. Courtney Whitmore is Stargirl. All of them are annoying in their own right, but some less than others.

Hawkman plays a central role in the episodes. As the original leader of the JSA, Hawkman is the most conflicted as to the decision to get the team back together. He feels guilty for the deaths of Sandman and the Star Spangled Kid. After all, he ignored their warnings of the return of one of their enemies. Hawkman also feels guilty over the death of his wife, Hawkgirl. He chooses to air his guilt in the form of raspy speech and stupid one-liners (“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Really? You’re going to dredge up that old line?) And even though is delivery is more annoying than Tom Welling’s jaw-clenching in almost every episode, I have to say that Hawkman was played rather well. In the comics, Hawkman is an arrogant dick. Well, he’s the same here. So, all in all, this was rather spot-on.

Dr. Fate, on the other hand, was nothing but irritating. He speaks in the cryptic tones about everyone’s involvement in the future. He serves very little to the storyline besides convincing Clark to don the mantle of Superman (not in so many words, mind you) and to open a few doors with his spectacular powers. OK, maybe he does a little more than that, but not much. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to stifle a smile after he took an icicle through the chest.

He looked stupid, too. The design team takes artistic license when it comes to the costumes. Green Arrow has a very sleek look. They outfitted Clark in an all-black number, a far cry from his blue and reds. Even tertiary characters like Black Canary are given slight makeovers so as not to come off as tacky. So why directly translate Dr. Fate’s look straight from the comics? The helmet looked good, I’ll grant that. But the rubber suit and cape? It really gave me flashbacks to Shuemacher’s Batman and Robin.

Surprisingly, Stargirl was the least annoying of the JSA. Headstrong and impetuous, she was everything that I expected her to be. She had quite a bit of dialogue, but not enough to give her an excuse to formulate a particular speech pattern, which kept the frustration to a minimum.

Johns chose these characters for a reason, but these weren’t the characters I wanted to see. What I wanted were the more commercial characters, like Flash or the Green Lantern. Hell, I would have taken Wildcat or the Spectre. Sadly, none of these guys make a super hero appearance, but the gears start turning for a possible future development. And, to be fair, I’m not going to complain about the lack of characters. I do understand that to have twenty super powered people would be severe overkill. Including the entirety of the JSA, as well as Clark’s team? I wouldn’t even want to think of the carnage.

Most of the story fit into place. Johns does a fantastic job of creating a noir-style whodunit mystery for Clark, Chloe, and Oliver to muddle through. What I especially liked was the way the fall of the super heroes back in the day paid homage to the fall of the super heroes from DC’s Watchmen. Johns does well having Hawkman struggle with his guilt, paralleling him with Clark and the differences in leadership. Johns even wraps up the Icicle storyline nicely, and how the death of Dr. Fate basically means nothing. But he does bring up a number of questions.

First of all, what is Checkmate? As I admitted earlier, I haven’t watched the show for almost 3 years, so this may have been something that I missed. But, from the set-up, it doesn’t seem like it. So how does this secret group fit into the future? And when did Foxy Brown put on all of that weight?

I know it sounds like I’m tearing Absolute Justice apart, but I’m really not. I have a few issues with it, but I did enjoy it. Of course, it was corny, but, so far, the entire series of Smallville has been corny. I like how they decided to take the risks by adding the other super heroes into the mix. And I can’t wait to see where the writers go after this, and who else they will introduce. Will I finally be placated with The Flash or Green Lantern?

I frigging hope so.


Planet Hulk and the future of Marvel Animation

Marvel has hit quite a few homeruns with their direct-to-DVD animated movies over the past few years. Starting with the Ultimate Avengers films, through Iron Man, and Hulk Vs., it seems like Marvel keeps upping the ante with each consecutive movie. Their latest outing is Planet Hulk, an animated interpretation of the comic storyline of the same name.

I started this post with the intention of giving a review of the movie, but, as I wrote, I found myself at a loss for words. This isn’t because I have no opinion on the film. Anyone who knows me knows that I have an opinion on most everything. And while I did enjoy Planet Hulk, I don’t feel it’s as good as some of the previous Marvel animation movies.

Anyway, I found myself being pulled more toward writing about how I am tired of the Hulk. I know that he is one of Marvel’s more popular characters, but it seems he has been the focus of most of their latest animated movies. He was in the first Ultimate Avengers movie. He made a major appearance in Next Avengers. Hulk Vs pretty much speaks for itself.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of the Hulk. I’ve read a bunch of the comics. I’ve seen the movies. I know the origin. But he’s just not a character I can get behind. (Although, the Planet Hulk movie did get me interested in the comic, so I will check that out some time in the future.)

Marvel has so many characters at their disposal, but they keep choosing to showcase the Hulk. I can understand why, but I want something different. I would love to see some X-Men or Spider-Man stories, but Marvel probably won’t do something like that. Spidey and the X-Men both manage to be successful with half-hour cartoon series’ so there is no point to showcase them in animated films. Hulk and the Avengers, on the other hand, have been proven to be less successful in the Saturday Morning venue.

There are likely legal reasons why Marvel won’t make animated movies based on Spider-Man or the X-Men. While I am not 100% sure of this, nor am I knowledgeable of things such as movies rights, I feel this is a major factor in the issue. (I would love an X-Babies movie. Please, please, please that would be so awesome.)

But, Marvel has an entire library of characters to choose from. Why not do something a little different? They took a chance by giving Dr. Strange his own full-length film. Yes, Dr. Strange is one of Marvel’s oldest characters, and while he does have a decent fan base, he isn’t very popular. So why not take a chance on another character?

Moon Knight certainly deserves his own movie. He has a rich background and is a very interesting character, and the recent revival by Charlie Huston gave him an edge and showed how marketable he can be. Though the new Moon Knight is extremely violent, it wouldn’t be anything that Marvel couldn’t pull off. Between Planet Hulk and Hulk Vs, I think Marvel would be willing to tackle some of that violence. Most people think of Moon Knight as a Batman knock-off, but perhaps a film can prove them wrong. By delving into the issue of multiple personalities and how it affects his relationships, Moon Knight can have a depth that Batman never had.

Another adaptation I want is Cloak and Dagger. I know I’m definitely in the minority here, but Cloak and Dagger are two of my favorite Marvel characters for reasons I can’t explain. Though their history has been little more than a PSA for drug awareness, Cloak and Dagger have an intensity that hasn’t been fully evolved yet. Their main goal is to fight back at the people who hurt them, the people who gave them their powers through the experimental drugs. They don’t ask for help from anyone and would rather become fugitives than team players. Though they treat each other as siblings, there’s a weird sexual tension to their relationship. Cloak and Dagger have starred in some shitty stories in the past, like when a police officer becomes a ghost and helps them take down a drug cartel. But, given the right writer, there could be some substance to the characters, not only in a film but also the comics. If Marvel were to make a movie, and make it good, they could revitalize their property in the comics, and open the characters to a new audience.

I want to see Marvel take a few chances. Yes, they won’t do anything if there isn’t the possibility of profit. But, let’s be honest; they took a chance with Next Avengers. They introduced a bunch of new characters with only Iron Man and the Hulk to tie them together. While it didn’t do as well as their other movies, the DVD grossed over $3 million in sales, which isn’t bad for a completely new idea. (Meanwhile, Dr. Strange, a character almost as old as Spider-Man, grossed $3.8 million.) Would it make sense for Marvel to try something different rather than dredge up the same old characters time and again? I certainly think so. Not everyone will be interested in the Hulk. Or Thor. Or even the Avengers. While these movies are made for the fans, there is also the opportunity to convert a non-fan or two. Why wouldn’t they take that chance?
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