Monthly Archives: July 2014

Batman Mask of the Phantasm

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Yesterday was Batman day, and since I’m late to the punch on everything, I decided to celebrate the Caped Crusader’s 75th birthday today with my favorite Batman film ever out to theaters.

(Owned by DC comics)

(Owned by DC comics)

Batman Mask of the Phantasm centers around a new villain in Gotham, one who kills mobsters corrupt politicians. Batman is accused of these murders and must clear his name while also being confronted with a woman from his past. In flashback land, a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne struggles between his vow to avenge his parents and his budding romance with an heiress named Andrea Beaumont. The plot thickens when the Joker is involved in the present day murders, and we get a little backstory on his character; not much, but it’s there. This movie is one part film noir, one part tragic romance, one part gothic horror, one part superhero film, and all beautifully scored and animated.

The dynamic between the young Andrea and Bruce is really interesting because it’s a part of the origin we rarely see. Usually, when we flashback to a Batman early in his career, he’s completely convicted. He only struggles to decide on a motif and nothing else. Here, we see him nearly give up the mask before he even dons it because he has one shot at happiness that he’s afraid to squander. This leads the the most beautiful scenes in the movie where he’s at his parents’ grave, begging them to let him out of his vow because he’d never expected to fall in love and for the pain of their loss to lessen. It’s a genuine tearjerker that gave me chills even after I’d watched it for the third time. Everything about the scene works beautifully, the voice acting, the confusion and despair in Bruce’s eyes, the crackles of thunder, the sad and foreboding score, and the ending. The biggest tragedy in the movie is their romance. Bruce has one chance at happiness, but fate intervenes and their love is never meant to be. I also liked the symbolism of the World of Tomorrow. When Bruce and Andrea are young and visiting the fair, it is bright and shiny, much like their future together. In the modern moments, it it derelict and a ghost town, indicating the crushed hopes of the two lovers and how life has affected them. At the very end, it is destroyed, marking the point of no return for their relationship.

The Phantasm is your typical dark Batman foil character.You know the one: he or she dresses all in black or dark grey, seems ethereal and  supernatural, but unlike Batman, actually kills people. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say that what makes Phantasm interesting is the twist and the motivations. It brings up great themes of revenge and how far one should go before it becomes harmful. It also paves the way for the beautiful speech by Alfred at the end. This and the last two lines of the film fully encapsulate the arc of the Phantasm and the bittersweet ending.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this to any Batman fan, kid or adult. There are a few intense scenes, and a bit of a downer ending, but it is amazing. The animation is moody and beautiful, the action scenes are pulse pounding, young Bruce and Andrea’s romance is tragic, and, thanks to the fantastic VA director, Andrea Romano, the voice acting is amazing. Because of this, I actually like Mask of the Phantasm movie better than the Nolan trilogy.

You what?!

I like it better than the Nolan Trilogy. Shoot me.

With pleasure…*pulls out a tommy gun*

Where’d you get that gun?

It is the gun of fanboy righteousness that you just now decided to write me having. KNEEL BEFORE BOX!!

Uh Oh…*Dodges behind the bed as the gun goes off* So what are you waiting for? Watch it now, and Happy Belated Batman day!

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Movies

Usagi Yojimbo Volume 28: Red Scorpion

Hello, I’m a unicorn. It’s that time of the year again! Christmas for all Usagi fans, a special time of the year where we rush to Amazon and get the latest trade of everyone’s favorite rabbit ronin.

(Owned by Dark Horse)

(Owned by Dark Horse)

The trade, of course,was awesome. It’s everything you’d expect from the master that is Stan Sakai: great art, memorable and well rounded characters, and fascinating historical and cultural notes. In this volume, we have the return of  Kitsune and Kiyoko, two thieves and friends of Usagi, and a mysterious swordsman known as the Lord of Owls. We also have new villains in the form of the Red Scorpion gang. In all honesty, the subplot involving the Red Scorpions was one of the weaker ones. For the majority of their appearances, I could easily replace the gang with a group of generic brigands and literally nothing would be changed. The leader of the gang barely interacts with Usagi, and they don’t even fight. He was made out to be a great criminal mastermind, but his defeat is somewhat anticlimactic. Compared all of the great villains in this series, he falls short. The leader never does anything truly despicable or monstrous, so he’s not too memorable. Sure, he makes the lives of farmers and peasants miserable, but compared to the mass murdering Jei and the “blood princess” Noriko, he’s just small potatoes. The red herring was actually much more interesting than the actual villain because he interacted with Usagi and was more complex. As much as I harp on the big bad though, the fight between the red herring and the Red Scorpion was still very well done, and the ending was beautifully bittersweet.

Overall, this is definitely worth a read. The villain may have been a bit weak, but the stories themselves more than make up for it. They’re all hopeful, clever, sometimes sad, and very entertaining. Like every volume, it’s a great jumping on point for new readers because each of the stories are self contained  and there is adequate introduction to the recurring characters. You don’t have to read the previous volumes to know what is happening. There are allusions to past events, but they don’t distract from the current plot. As usual, the story notes in the back are very interesting and a must read for that reason. You won’t be lost without reading them but it is helpful. So what are you waiting for? Read it now! And happy thirtieth anniversary Usagi. May you spend another thirty years on your journey. I will be there all along the way with your every triumph, failure, and adventure. You were the hero that got me into comics and the hero that kept me coming back. I’ve been avidly reading about your travels since the fifth grade, and my love for them has never left.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books

Unconscious The Grim Sleeper Volumes One and Two

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Scott Markley is one of the few creators I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in real life. Unfortunately, at the time that I’d met him, I hadn’t heard of his Web Comic, but I wish that I did, because it is fantastic. I’m not an expert on Web comics, and probably wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t gotten my start by reading the trade paperbacks. That being said, I’ll break down the trades to the Good, the Bad, and the Itchy. Because that’s the name of the first trade volume. Get it? Get it?

Wow, that was lame, even for you.

I know. I’m ashamed. Anyway, here’s the Good: The writing and characters are fantastic. Even when the art was at its weakest, the humor made up for it in spades. You can have it many different ways, the dry sarcasm of the protagonist, Uncy, the insanity of Itchy, or just gape at the wackiness of the world itself. The premise is that there is a magical realm not visible by humans, and Grims are the enforcers. They are the physical representations of death, dream, and itchiness. There are other Grims, but those three are the main characters. They take out the rule-breakers such as people who try to stay up too late or cheat death. It’s a world of hundred year old bears, Italian leprechauns, foolish angels, cowboy dragons, goat men from Venus, and a hero who dryly comments on the insanity of it all. All of this wackiness is meant to disarm you though, because, out of nowhere you’ll be hit right in the pathos. For example, the first trade volume ends with a very important death that had me running to the second volume as soon as possible. Right now, I’m still mourning the death of another major character. It helps that all of the characters are well rounded and interesting. I especially love the brother dynamic between the three leads, with the Cain and Abel like relationship between Death and Uncy and the big brother/little brother dynamic between Uncy an Itchy. Markley described the dynamic as being like Pinky and the Brain, which I agree with, but would also add that Uncy also suffers from severe middle child syndrome in the first volume. Speaking as a middle child with couple of Itchys of her own, I can identify.

Aww, I love you too.

The Bad: The artwork isn’t the best. Maybe it’s just the web comic format, but for such a sophisticated story, it suffers in the art department. I think that the main protagonists look fine, but the humanoid characters look a little off. The  art does improve a lot over time, which is why I suggest reading from the start. It’s interesting to watch him evolve as an artist. There is truly a stark difference between his most recent story arc and the first arc. I really like the artwork when the Markley experiments with different styles such as the stories told from Itchy’s perspective and the dreams of the Necromancer and the goblin. The artwork is a minor complaint though, I’ve certainly seen  and drawn much worse, and it doesn’t distract from the great storytelling.

The Itchy: I love this character so much. He’s crazy, a bit of a woobie, and just plain adorable. Out of all the wacky characters, he’s my favorite for being so innocent and optimistic. If he didn’t set himself on fire so often and if his touch didn’t make people break out in a rash, I’d definitely want to give him a hug. In the wrong hands, this character could have been very irritating, but his randomness, love of pancakes, and hidden depths make him my and my favorite character.

Overall, this web comic is definitely worth checking out. While the artwork might not be the greatest, the humor and story makes up for it in spades. The world is creative and funny, stories are interesting, and I really care about the characters. It even appeals to non-comic readers. I also suggest getting a trades because each page has Markley’s commentary on the creative process, plus more Itchy comics and I cannot get enough of Itchy. So what are you waiting for, either go to Timeforhugs.com or buy the trade paperbacks, and read it now!

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books

Top Ten Underrated Female Characters

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Zoey Redbird from Marked is a terrible protagonist. I’m just throwing that out there. I know, I was really subtle about it in my last few posts, but it’s true. She’s a terrible character in a terrible book full of so much hatred. There is so much woman on woman hatre in that book that I need a palette cleanser, something that celebrates a variety of women in all shapes and forms. I needed a reminder of my old role models, but there are so many lauded by critics that it would be redundant to list them here. So, in no particular order, here are my top ten female character that don’t nearly get enough attention, whether they are heroes, villains, or somewhere in between.

10.  Starfire– No, not that one:

*Sigh* (Owned by DC comics)

*Sigh* There is so much wrong with this image, I don’t know where to begin. (Owned by DC comics)

This one:

(Owned by DC)

(Owned by DC)

Teen Titans Starfire is the one I grew up on and one of my favorite characters on the show. Even when it had been several years since I’d seen an episode, I still remembered her. There was something so charming about this fish out of water and her unerring optimism. In a culture where women are considered weak and condemned being emotional, she wears her feelings on her sleeves. Her powers directly come from her emotions, and she’s never criticized for that. She’s unafraid to be quirky and goofy, but when she gets serious, she is amazing. I just wish the comics would follow the example set by the show and give her this adorably quirky personality as opposed to the one in Red Hood and the Outlaws.

What personality?

Exactly.

9. Joss Carter from Person of Interest– (Spoilers) She’s a tough, no-nonsense cop who started out as the Inspector Javert to the two protagonists, but over time, she slowly saw their side of things. For a while, she was the only regular female cast member, and an awesome one at that. She’s a veteran, a single mother, one of the few non corrupt cops in the NYPD, and a brilliant strategist. In her final episodes, she single-handedly took down the group of dirty cops called HR, which had been a problem for the team from the start.  She acted as the team’s moral compass, preventing them from going too far and crossing any morality lines. By season three, I was sad to see her go. Whether or not she was stuffed in the refrigerator is something I’ll leave up to you to decide.

8. Stahma Tarr From Defiance– She is the resident Lady Macbeth of the show, the snake in the grass, the taste of bitter almonds in your meal, and the epitome of the saying, “behind every great man is an even greater woman.”  Stahma comes from a very patriarchal society that would not respect her intellect, so she schemes from behind the scenes while maintaining the image of the perfect wife. Her demure nature hides her dangerous ambition, and I just love her for it. She’s never shown to be physically strong enough to fight, but she’s easily the most clever character on the show. She’s smart enough to stay on the good sides of the heroes and the villains and to run her husband’s criminal empire without him even realizing it. She just has an incredible presence to her, making her such a memorable villain.

7. Captain Holly Short From Artemis Fowl– She is the first female member of the  Lower Elements police reconnaissance unit– or LEP Recon unit– of the fairy world and certifiably awesome. In her first appearance, she defeats a troll on her own while running out of magic. Even though she spends the majority of the first book a prisoner, she escapes pretty quickly from her cell, and practically rescues herself. This is the only time she needs to be rescued. She’s a great pilot, an expert markswoman, has an acid tongue, and in universe, paved the way for other women to be members of LEP Recon. All in all, she’s one heck of a role model.

6. Countess De Winter From the Three Musketeers– I would be remiss without mentioning one of my all time favorite femme fatales, Milady De Winter. She is easily the most evil character that the Musketeers ever faced and is definitely the true antagonist of the book. It’s obvious why Cardinal Richelieu chose her as one of his top agents. Her cunning is legendary. There is a part of the book where she is held prisoner by the Duke of Buckingham and guarded by a straight laced Puritan who they thought would never be seduced by her. She instead convinces the man that she is also Puritan and being held prisoner for rejecting the Duke’s advances and has him kill the Buckingham. Ever since the age of sixteen, she’s used her powers of seduction to achieve her own ends, and all of it in a time where women had very little power. She, like Stahma, is one of those characters that I don’t necessarily like, but I definitely respect for her cunning, her strength,  and paving the way for other femme fatales.

5. Thirrin Freer Strong in the Arm Lindensheild From Cry of the Icemark– Thirrin is a princess who, after her father dies in battle, must make peace with her kingdom’s former enemies and create an army to protect her land from an invasion. She, of course, wins the day, and is a skilled enough warrior to defeat the invading army’s most feared general in single combat, and all at the age of fourteen. In the opening of the book, she is pinned by a werewolf, and reacts by punching it in the nose and telling the creature to “make it quick wolfman, and make sure all the wounds are in front. I don’t want anyone saying that I died running away.” This is the second line of dialogue she has in the book, and makes Merida from Brave look like your run of the mill damsel in distress. Unlike Merida though, she does have a romantic interest, but for once in a YA book, the romance is downplayed. Thirrin actually has her priorities straight, and her priority is the fact that her kingdom is about to be invaded. Even when her love interest nearly dies, she continues onward, knowing that others would die if she didn’t keep it together. I honestly can’t think of very many pubescent YA female characters who would do that without having some sort of freak out. So, Thirrin Freer strong in the Arm Lindensheild, Wildcat of the North, Queen of Impossibly long names, I salute you, for having your priorities straight, and for being an all around awesome protagonist.

4. Renee Montoya From the Pre New 52 DC Comics– Renee is a good cop in a city full of corruption. She started out as a cop from Batman the Animated Series, but her she was just too great a character to be limited to that show, and moved to the comics. She’s also one of the most prominent Hispanic and LGBT characters in the DCU. Over the years, she’s been put through a lot– alcoholism, losing her partners, being forcibly outed as lesbian, being rejected by her family, and having the mark of Cain put on her– but still came out stronger. She even became a superhero in her own right. I admire her so much for her ability to overcome all of those hardships.

3. Amanda Waller From The DCAU– She was 5’1″ and 200 pounds of pure intimidation. Here she is telling off Batman:

(Owned By DC)

(Owned By DC)

And fighting Granny Goodness:

i3v11s

(Owned by DC)

I mostly know her from Justice League Unlimited, where she was the leader of Cadmus and every bit as brilliant and ruthless as a pragmatic villain should be. She’s also indirectly responsible for Terry McGinnis ending up the hero that he did, so we can also thank her for Batman Beyond. A part of the reason why I chose this version of “the Wall” instead of the New 52 version is her unique body type. This is a world where every main female character is a young twig, so she stands out as a character who is middle aged and had a different body type, but never fat shamed, used as comic relief or portrayed as insecure about her weight. She is who she is, and she is cunning, ruthless, and intimidating enough to quell Batman.

2. Karai From TMNT 2003–

Wow, I totally did not see that coming.

I know, I’ve talked a few times before about one of my favorite characters on my favorite cartoon, but she really deserves mentioning again, because this was one of the first characters I had ever seen in an anti-villain role. For a while, she was the most complex villainess I had ever been exposed to, and I just loved her for it. The conflict between her undying loyalty to her adopted father, the Shredder, and her sense of right and wrong made her character arc fascinating. She manages to stay on the good sides of the Foot and the Turtles for two seasons, even gaining Leonardo’s respect as a warrior. In the five seasons where she was a major player, she only needed to be rescued twice, and still managed to get a few blows in. The rest of the time she was either a fair weather ally or as seen in season four, an enemy nearly as dangerous as the Shredder. Next to the Turtles, she was easily the most well rounded character, and still one of my all time favorite anti-villains.

1. Barbie: Just Pick One of Her Direct To DVD Movies– Yes, believe it or not, Barbie is an underrated female character. She’s one of the most iconic dolls in history, but when she gets attention, it’s usually bad. The flack she gets ranges from well deserved–like the Oreo and Ritz Cracker doll line– to strange, like the controversy over a doll not having realistic body proportions or the overuse of the color pink. Very rarely do we hear about the good she does and the fact that her movies are actually pretty decent. So what if she likes pink and wears dresses? Every single movie passes the Bechdel test, stresses friendship and compassion, and always has Barbie play an active role in the plot. Barbie is presented as a clever character who would go to the ends of the earth to do what is right, follow her dreams, and help others. In the Princess and the Pauper, she even foregoes marriage to pursue her singing career. In her movies, she shows the young girls that compassion isn’t weakness, and strength is found in kindness, cleverness, and tenacity. She teaches through example that you should always follow your dreams, but to also be willing to sacrifice your own happiness for the good of the world, and teaches us to never act out of anger, but to act out of love.  How does that make her a bad female character? I am by no means the type of girl who likes make-up and dresses, but does that make me a stronger woman than the one wearing a pink dress that would give up her one chance at happiness for the good of the world? We live in a culture where women are condemned for expressing their femininity, where they think that being “girly” is somehow wrong or inferior to tomboys, and where women look down on each other for being feminine. It’s a culture where femininity equals shallowness, and being called a girl is considered an insult. And here is Barbie, a woman who loves fashion and celebrates all the often reviled aspects of being a woman, teaching young girls to be who they are, to follow their dreams, show feminine solidarity, and to be the heroes of their own stories. Again I ask, so what if she likes pink?

Great female characters come in many different shapes, sizes, and flavors. They can be cunning, kind, compassionate, ambitious, tenacious or just plain quirky. They can be black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or even aliens. They all have one thing in common. They all overcome whatever challenge that is presented, whether it’s their culture, the acceptance their sexuality, their conflicting loyalties, or just simply having life give them a few hard knocks. These are all characters that I like and respect, whether for their goodness or their less than admirable qualities. I’m sure I missed many great leads and side characters, because there are too many to mention. These are just a few of my favorites. Feel free to mention your own in the comments below. I’m always willing to hear about awesome women. So what are you waiting for? Celebrate the strong women in your own life, because fictional or not, they are all amazing.

4 Comments

Filed under Comic Books