Monday, October 20, 2014

Greatest Batman Stories: Grant Morrison’s Batman Saga

Grant Morrison is easily one of the most influential and unique comic book creators in the history of the medium. Combining powerful stories with a focus on out-of-the-box thinking, Morrison has created some of the weirdest and most high concept comic book storylines ever. While the author has shown his ability to take psychedelic thinking and push the comic book medium in new directions in stories such as The Invisibles and Flex Mentallo, Morrison also showed a flair for new forms of superhero storytelling through his work on Justice League, Superman, and more.

When Morrison returned to the world of Batman in 2006 with Batman #655, his first solo Batman story since Arkham Asylum in 1989, the author kicked off a story that would span almost a decade. His new take on the character of Batman and the creation of an engrossing storyline that would wrap around the world and centuries of human history became a defining saga. Including international heroes, time travelling, murder mysteries, the apocalypse, and more, Morrison’s Batman tale shows the unmatched power of comic books.

A Deep Dive into Batman’s History
From the very beginning, Morrison had one unique aspect to his take on Batman that previous authors had not considered: everything in the nearly 75-year history of The Caped Crusader was cannon. This means brooding vigilante tales of the 1940s, trippy 1960s cosmic adventures, psychotic 1980s detective stories, and more all truly happened to The Dark Knight featured in modern DC Comics. How did all of this happen? According to Morrison, each decade could be taken as a year or two in the hero’s superhero career.

Starting off as a dark and deadly vigilante powered by his anger and hate, Batman eventually became a hero in need of the levity brought by Robin. The many chemical exposures caused by Joker, Scarecrow, and more led to lengthy hallucinations, explaining the trippy tales of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Of course, all this took a toll, leading to a much darker Batman represented in later stories. Together, they form a diverse and highly-prepared modern Batman.

This also means that characters and story developments long ignored by authors and editors were now up for grabs once again. Faced with a reunion of The Club of Heroes, Batman and Robin are pulled into a classic murder mystery that leads to the death of many colorful and strangely dated adventurers. A hallucination of Robin’s death from 1963’s “Robin Dies at Dawn” leads to the inclusion of Dr. Hurt, a megalomaniac who is devoted to the destruction of Batman. These many different elements create a dynamic take on Batman that allowed Morrison to spread his wings and keep from being stagnant.

The colorful and wild result was nothing short of brilliant.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why Do Original Movies Fail at the Box Office?

If there’s one complaint about movies that has been repeated more often than ever by audiences across the world in recent years, it’s about the stunning lack of original material on movie screens today. While that complaint may have some validity, especially when it comes to blockbuster films, it’s a far more complex issue than it seems on the surface.

Yes, adaptations and sequels are in a greater abundance than ever, especially with superhero movies spreading like wildfire. That is not to say that these franchises are lacking in quality. But the monotony of another adaptation or entry in a franchise can grow tiresome quickly.

So where are all the original concepts?

They are out there. And they are failing. While there are still some films formed around original concepts that succeed every year, they are fewer are farther between than ever. This failure of high quality original film is making Hollywood executives hedge their bets more than ever. Why invest hundreds of millions of dollars in an unproven concept when they can create another entry into a franchise or an adaptation of a loved book series or television show (or board game or forgotten ‘80s property) that has a much higher success of returning a profit?

There’s no denying that money talks in Hollywood. The real question is, why are so many great original movies failing at the box office?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Comics You Should Read: Walt Simonson’s Epic “Thor”

Ever since his creation as a Marvel Comics superhero in 1962 by Stan Lee, Thor has taken part in some of the most epic stories to ever come to life on the comic page. While Stan Lee, John Buscema, Jack Kirby, and more artists helped to bring Thor to vivid life and create the many elements that would forever define the Norse God hero, there is one creator who left the greatest stamp on Thor: Walt Simonson.

As both writer and artist, Simonson crafted an epic tale for Thor, one that spanned more than 40 issues. In his time as the brain behind Thor, Simonson pushed the Avenger in exciting new directions. Not only did he create a massive storyline that smoothly transitioned between minor arcs, but he created new wrinkles in the Thor mythos, many of which have heavily informed the decades of comic book stories that have followed.

In the years since, writers and artists have followed in Simonson’s steps, but none have been able to reach the dizzying heights that he sent The God of Thunder to during his run. Not even the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have a chance at equally the massive storyline cooked up by Simonson.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cinema’s 40 Greatest Fight Scenes (Part 2 of 2)

Sworn enemies, armies, heroes, and villains are destined to clash in films made over the decades. These climactic battles have created some of the most memorable moments in all of cinema history, featuring mind-blowing stunts, special effects, and character moments that can never be forgotten once seen.

While Part 1 featured some of the most memorable fights of the last several decades, the fights featured in the Top 20 are the greatest action pieces that have been made. From hard-hitting martial arts combat to dashing duels to massive battles, these fights encompass decades of movie magic.

20. Mirror Fight - Enter the Dragon

Chasing after Han, the evil creator of a fighting tournament, Lee (Bruce Lee) confronts his foe in a museum filled with weaponry. While Han has replaced his missing hand with a deadly claw, Lee proves his better with his martial arts skills, sending his signature strikes through him again and again. Shrugging off deep gashes, Lee chases Han into a room filled with mirrors. While the dizzying display allows Han to sneak in several vicious cuts, Lee fights back by shattering every mirror with his fists and feet. At last, a kick to the jaw sends Han fatally flying onto a spear.

Best Moment: Spinning around, Lee delivers a furious punch to the side of Han’s head, smashing him around like a punching bag in a display of Lee’s real life martial arts capabilities.

19. The Battle of New York – The Avengers

With Loki breaking up the already troubled Avengers, the Asgardian villain opens a portal in the middle of Manhattan, sending a legion of aliens pouring out into the city and ready to conquer the Earth. Recouperating from their earlier setbacks, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, and The Hulk arrive in New York to fight back the army. With five films leading to this moment, our already loved heroes leap into their greatest battle yet. The reveal of Hulk’s secret, Thor’s might lightning strikes, Cap’s battle strategies, Iron Man’s sacrifice, and the sheer joy of seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes gathered together make this a comic book dream come true.

Best Moment: Geared up, ready for battle, and surrounded by an alien army, The Avengers finally assemble in a 360 degree shot. This is the moment that this film was made for!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cinema’s 40 Greatest Fight Scenes (Part 1 of 2)

Movie history is filled with fighting. From mortal enemies locked in perilous combat to giant armies clashing swords in ancient lands, fight scenes are some of the most memorable pieces of cinema ever created. These showdowns are often the climaxes of epic narratives that put everything on the line in one final battle. The style, acting, choreography, story, and characterization on display in cinema’s best fights make these scenes some of the best examples of the power of film.

Whether they are the result of amazing stunt work, a piece of well-loved fiction brought to stunning life, or an absurdist moment in a comedy, everyone has his or her own favorite fights. But what are the greatest of all time?

These are the 40 fight scenes that are unmatched in the execution, delivering thrills and burning themselves into the memories of audiences everywhere. Combined, these make up some of the most cheer-inducing, shocking, and thrilling moments ever put on film.

A few rules for this list. A qualifying fight can involve fists, knives, swords, or any other type of close contact weapon. Should a fight mostly involve guns, it cannot be on the list. Stay tuned for Cinema’s Greatest Shootouts coming soon!

Read Part 2 for #20 to #1! For Cinema’s 30 Greatest Chase Scenes, read Part 1 and Part 2

40. Mickey’s Big Match – Snatch

An entire film of interweaving plot threads, stolen diamonds, and general criminal activity all culminates in a bare knuckle boxing match. In over their heads, Turkish and Tommy recruit Pikey bareknuckle boxer Mickey to throw a match in order to square their debts with terrifying mobster Bricktop. Mickey is supposed to go down in the Fifth Round. The only problem is, Mickey is uncontrollable and can knock a man out with a single punch. Backed by a rollicking soundtrack by Oasis, this is a rollercoaster match that has more in common with a back alley brawl than any legal championship bout. Slam cuts, speed ramping, and a twist ending make this one of director Guy Ritchie’s greatest scenes.

Best Moment: Mickey gets hit so hard the film shows him sinking into deep dark water. Of course, he gets right back up and knocks his opponent out in one punch.

39. Sing vs. Axe Gang & The Beast – Kung Fu Hustle

After an entire film of comedic and over-the-top kung fu action, unexpected hero Sing embraces his inner hero to face The Beast, an unbeatable monster in the form of an old man. Like all of Kung Fu Hustle, this is a battle that deftly mixes the comedic with the brutally thrilling. Sing is the only man who can defeat The Axe Gang and the uncontrollable killer who has taken over. Using Looney Tunes-like CGI, this apartment complex battle takes fantastic martial arts choreography and enhances it with flight, speed, and spectacular supernatural feats that make this an incredibly satisfying ending to one of the most unique kung fu films in years.

Best Moment: With The Beast still coming back from attack after attack, Sing pulls out the mythic Buddha Palm technique that he learned from a little book as a kid. It’s super effective.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Greatest Fictional Weapons: The Infinity Gauntlet

Some weapons become more iconic than the fictional characters that use them. Others are a vital aspect of a character’s personality. In this column, we take a look at some of the greatest fictional weapons of all time.

It’s one of the most iconic weapons in comic book history. It’s destroyed billions and resurrected millions. It’s saved planets and empowered crazed galactic titans. And it’s coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nothing will be the same.

It’s the Infinity Gauntlet. A weapon so powerful that its power is split between six Infinity Gems, each with control over an aspect of reality. Combined, their wielder can reshape the universe with his or her mind. With so much power literally in the hand of one person, it’s a weapon that no one should control. Of course, this awe-inspiring armament is synonymous with the Mad Titan, Thanos. His obsession with death and his all-consuming desire to rule the universe has set him on a collision course with The Infinity Gauntlet, the one thing that can help him achieve his dreams of conquest.

While this multi-colored weapon has been known and loved to comic readers for decades, it is only now that The Infinity Gauntlet is coming into the mainstream consciousness. While not divulged by producers, the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be on a collision course with Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet storyline written by Jim Starlin and published in 1991. With the seeds of this universe-shattering story set to come to life on the big screen in the near future, now is a better time than ever to dive into what The Infinity Gauntlet means for Marvel Comics’ heroes and villains alike.