Look up in the sky. It’s bird. It’s a plane. It’s a couple of Super Friends. That is the essence of Supergirl’s first two episodes for Season 2. Supergirl’s fun, often campy, appeal of Season 1 is brought back for its second year. And it’s helped along by the Man of Steel himself.
Superman finally makes a triumphant return to the small screen. Supergirl’s Superman is surprisingly good both as the Last Son of Krypton and his bumbling alter ego, Clark Kent, and it’s perhaps with Clark that this new incarnation of Superman works best. Actor Tyler Hoechlin does a terrific job playing a type of Clark Kent that has been missing from DC’s most recent film versions of the character. While Henry Cavill in Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice gives superior performances, there is an element missing and it has to do with the past. If you’re old enough to remember (and I’m happy to admit I am), audiences were treated to the ultimate Superman / Clark Kent in 1978’s Superman the Movie. Hoechlin’s performance on Supergirl is reminiscent to Christopher Reeve’s Clark—a loveable awkward butterfingers who had audiences in his hands.
I have to admit, Hoechlin’s performance brought me back to the Superman of an age ago and made me enjoy his performance that much more.
As for the episodes themselves, they are full of action, lively characters and witty banter. But most of all, these were two episodes for middle-aged fans whose inner geeks were awoken with the homages throughout. From Crisis on Infinite Earth to Superman the Movie and even a few sprinklings of Star Wars, the tributes were well crafted and timely. There were just enough to rekindle that nerdy feeling.
In Supergirl’s opening episodes, the series sets up two new villains. The first episode, titled The Adventures of Supergirl, sees Lex Luthor behind bars and his sister coming to the fray, wanting to put a new face to Lex Corp, now called L Corp. She is seemingly on the side of good, as even Clark apologizes for his mistrust of her in the beginning. Odds are, Superman’s initial feelings of her will be dead on. In the second episode, The Last Children of Krypton, Superman has decided to stay a little longer with Supergirl and National City is lucky he did. A new villain has emerged. A Superman villain from comics past, Metallo, wreaks havoc on the Krypton cousins and sets up a larger threat at the episode’s conclusion.
So, how did Supergirl perform in the shadow of her more famous Super Friend? Frankly, quite well. Actress Melissa Benoist is still her perky self. To this reviewer, Supergirl is essentially the female version of The Flash. She’s quirky, a little clumsy and completely adorable—all the attributes Grant Gustin brings to The Flash. Benoist brings tons of vibrancy to Kara Zor-El and her secret identity. However, her being both a jittery bumbler and now a reporter are too similar to Clark’s character.
Too on the nose DC.
But now I’m just splitting hairs.
Supergirl Episodes 1 and 2 kicked Season 2 off with a bang. They were more than enough to keep me salivating for next Monday night!
On this week’s Pixels & Ink podcast, the PS4 has been hacked in Brazil, and so the great circle of piracy life begins. Supergirl has gotten a trailer for her upcoming TV series and it pretty much negates the need to watch the first episode. Finally, Phil has seen Mad Max: Fury Road and it’s the action film of the summer, possibly the decade.
Anyone that’s been following the media treatment of that other Kryptonian knows that Supergirl is getting her own, Snyder-Free television series courtesy of American network CBS. But just today, we got news of some interesting additions to the ongoing cast. In addition to Calista “Ally McBeal” Flockhart as Cat Grant, we now have a serious blast from the Kryptonian past in form of Dean Cain and Helen Slater.
For those too young to remember—or exist during—the 80s, Helen Slater was the first and original Supergirl in the 1984 movie of the same name. Similarly for those too young to remember—or exist—during the 90s, Dean Cain is the one, the only, the original Superman/Clark Kent during the successful run of the ABC series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
There’s been no mention at this time about what roles Cain and Slater will playing, but it’s pretty clear that someone in production for this new series is familiar with the media legacy of the Superman Family. And is willing to give a nod of appreciation. That’s still no guarantee that the show will be a success, but it’s hard not to get hopeful about the idea of a beautiful blonde tossing cars and bad guys around.
On this week’s CGM podcast, Ragnar Tornquist and Red Thread games try to run a contest for music fans to donate a tune to their game… and get shut down by angry musicians claiming they are exploiting artists. Supergirl might actually be getting a TV show, but the logistics of networks, licensing and who gets to broadcast what make it dicey. Also, people might not be all that hot on Kara Zor-El anyway. Finally, Destiny is out, and it’s good! Not change your life forever good, but pretty good!
With Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice already getting a heavy push through the hype machine two years before release, DC Comics has unsurprisingly decided to reissue the first half of Jeph Loeb’s beloved Superman/Batman run that first hit shelves a full decade ago. It’s easy to see why. Loeb was a master at both characters having penned the Bat-masterpiece The Long Halloween (which Chris Nolan frequently named dropped as the primary influence on his Dark Knight trilogy) and the deeply moving Superman For All Seasons. While both of those books delved deep into the psychology and lasting appeal of their iconic characters, his Superman/Batman run was more of a glorious romp. Fair enough, superhero team-up books aren’t generally known for being the artistic peak of the comic medium. They’re more about pure balls out entertainment and lifelong comic fan Loeb knows a thing or two about delivering that (see Batman: Hush). This book collects the first 13 issues of the series, comprised of two major arcs and a one off issue, and it feels like a buttery comic book movie blockbuster ready to go before cameras. Sadly, the chances of Zack Snyder turning these stories into a glorious blockbuster are about as lightly as him not using a dark color palate or slow motion action in the movie, but at least the stories are now available in a definitive edition.
The first six-issue arc in the book is by far the best. Titled Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, it’s a glorious action fiesta that pits the two iconic heroes against most of the DC universe. The story takes place during that weird period of DC history when Lex Luthor was the president of the United States. Luthor and his crop of scientists spot a gigantic Kryptonite meteor (leftover from the explosion of Krypton, natch) hurtling towards earth. Since Luthor hates that Superman guy, he puts a massive bounty on Supes’ head for anyone willing to bring the hero to the White House for questioning. Luckily, Batman just happens to be with Superman at the time and decides to help his old buddy out of a jam. They decide to head to Washington to figure out what’s what and have to fight a series of DC villains and heroes along the way.
It’s a simple story that Loeb crafts as an action packed blockbuster. Few writers in the comic book medium write with the same intense narrative drive of Loeb when he’s on his game. Like his Bat-masterpiece Hush, the action for Public Enemies kicks off immediately and doesn’t let up until the final issue. Each panel drives the story forward dramatically and every issue ends with an insane cliffhanger that somehow tops the last. Sure, it’s a bit loopy (Luthor’s kryptonite/venom cocktail pretty silly), but it’s also undeniably an incredibly exciting bit of superhero daring-do filled with just enough characterization, tragedy, and drama to feel like more than empty calories. The best aspect of the run (and this comic book series as a whole) is the way that Loeb frames the story through the dual narration of Batman and Superman. The text boxes are colour-coded for each character, but honestly, you’d never question who is speaking without that visual aid. Loeb understands the fundamental differences and similarities between DC’s two flagship characters with a depth and clarity that few other writers possess. It’s endlessly entertaining and enlightening to read how Loeb relates the two drastically different heroes varying perspectives in every situation flung their way. For fans of the characters, it’s like comic book crack. There’s no high quite like a great Batman/Superman crossover and you can never get enough.
Public Enemies might be the masterpiece of this trade paperback, but the other seven issues are hardly a waste of time. The single issue narrative plopped in the middle of the collection follows an adventure with Robin and Superboy that offers a similar compare-and-contrast study of their personalities. Neither sidekick is as compelling as their boss, so it’s not as rich of story, but it’s only a single issue, so it gets the job done. The second half of the book might be told once again from Supes and Bats’ perspectives, but it’s actually a backdoor Supergirl origin story from Loeb that reintroduced the character into DC continuity following her death in Crisis On Infinite Earths. A naked Kryptonian falls from the sky following the events of Public Enemies and Superman quickly works out that she is his cousin. From there, Superman becomes an oddly protective father with Batman desperately whispering in his ear about the potential danger. Wonder Woman shows up demanding that the girl head to Themyscira in an amusing twist and it all wraps up in a nasty brawl with Darkseid. Batman takes the role of a conscience in this story, and Loeb uses it as a means to explore Superman’s endlessly optimistic and trusting nature as a weakness. He also manages to revive Supergirl without a whiff of silliness, which is not at all easy for that character. Overall, the second arc is a slight step down from Public Enemies, yet still pure fun from a master comics conductor.
Superman/Batman Vol 1 is as gorgeously printed as we’ve come to expect from a trade paperback and though there aren’t any extras in this repackaging, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Aside from some sketches or Loeb writing yet another essay about loving these characters, there’s not really that much to say. Though this book offers big heaping piles of entertainment, it’s not exactly a deep bit of work. This is bright colorful fun, a collection of masterfully constructed action storytelling written with compassion and understanding for the central iconic characters. Sure, Loeb sprinkles in a little commentary about the perils of government control, but for the most part it’s a crossover romp that offers the same pleasures of Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie. That’s ultimately the appeal of the Superman/Batman relationship, the grittiness of Batman’s world and the mythology of Superman’s world meet in the pulpy middle. A great crossover between the two characters like this or Bruce Timm’s World’s Finest plays as light as a feather even with high drama. It would be nice to live in a world where we could all count on the blockbuster movie that will finally unite the characters on the big screen following a similar path. Sadly, it’s safe to say that with Zack “murderous sad sack Superman” Snyder in charge, that won’t be happening. Let’s just hope that the inevitable reboot comes soon.
Warner Brothers Animation’s DCU productions reached a creative and commercial peak with their epic two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, dripping in fan service and arguably the best Dark Knight epic of 2012.
They may not have realized it at the time, that put considerably higher expectations on the company’s follow up project. However, rather than trying to top themselves with another beloved graphic novel adaptation, WB Animation just went back to doing what they do best: adapting a fan favorite comic book runs into an impressive direct-to-home-market feature. With Superman: Unbound, the company has turned their attention to Geoff Johns’ 2008 arc Superman: Brainiac, which many fans consider to be the definitive take on Supes iconic alien foe. The movie might not have the immense crossover appeal of Dark Knight Returns, but it just might be the finest DCU Supermanmovie yet and is a perfect introduction to the villain for Superman noobies. With that Man Of Steal thing coming out later this summer, that should be a growing market.
The film picks up with Lois Lane (Stana Katic) kidnapped by some generic masked villains in a helicopter. Unfortunately for the baddies, she’s friends with both Superman (Matt Bomer) and Supergirl (Molly C. Quinn) who quickly save her. From there, Lois starts chewing out Clark for keeping their relationship a secret, which he calmly explains is a result of all that intergalactic fighting he does on the side. Speaking of which, a new alien menace arrives with Brainiac (John Noble) in a compilation version of both his alien and robot origins. This Brainiac travels the universe in a flying skull ship run by his consciousness, sucking up the knowledge of entire worlds, miniaturizing a capital city for his private collection, and then destroying the world so that he can be the only creature in the universe with knowledge of the planet. So, he’s a bit of a jerk and with limitless knowledge, a viciously cold logic, a handful of superpowers, as well an army of robots on his side, he’s a formidable threat for our trusty hero. Superman is, of course, disgusted by Brainiac’s way of life and watches with fear as he destroys a planet. He also learns that the Kryptonian capital Kandor is one of Brainiac’s trophies, which depresses and distresses both Superman and Supergirl, who actually has memories of her former home. After learning of Earth’s existence by sucking on Superman’s brain, Brainiac targets the planet and Metropolis for his next annihilation. Do you think Superman and Supergirl will stand for that? I doubt it.
Superman Unbound is the first DCU feature made without the leadership of DC Animation guru Bruce Timm (who has had a hand in literally ever DC cartoon project since the 90s Batman: The Animated Series), but thankfully the remaining team including Timm’s longtime partner Alan Burnett don’t miss a beat. The big budget Timmverse aesthetic of DCU animated features returns with only a few new hyper-stylized anime touches made without Timm’s watchful eye that add rather than detract. It has to be said that that Superman Unbound isn’t nearly as artistically or thematically ambitious as some of the wonderful Batman features the studio has cranked out, so set your expectations accordingly. This is more of a surreal Silver Age adventure with intriguing sci-fi concepts than any sort of character deconstruction and there’s nothing wrong with that. Superman isn’t really a character capable of deconstruction: he’s a noble hero designed for epic adventure, which is exactly what the film offers. This is a blazingly entertaining 75-minute action feast filled with epic battle sequences that establishes Superman’s second greatest villain who has never really gotten the attention he deserves outside of the funny books.
Brainiac is the reason for this film existing and the show delivers on the legacy. In this version, the character is a brilliant, all-powerful alien force whose planet-destroying powers genuinely challenge the Man Of Steel’s skills. Voiced by Fringe/Lord Of The Rings veteran John Noble with chilly precision, Brainiacis a terrifying creation who can never be reasoned with. The film sells the character well and hopefully this vision of Brainiac will have an influence on his inevitable big screen debut. Beyond the robot-bashing good vs. evil action of the Brainiac A-plot, the writers found time for an intriguing examination of an awkward teenage Supergirl coming into her superpowers like a high school gal with raging hormones. Unsure of her own abilities, lacking a home, and with only the relative strangers Supermanand Ma n’ Pa Kent to count as friends, she’s an intriguingly conflicted hero to contrast with Superman’s perfection and adds quite a bit to the film. In Geoff Johns’ original comic run, the dark tale climaxed with the death of Clark Kent for one of the harshest Superman tales of all time. In the one misstep in the entire adaptation, the filmmakers instead decided to instead frame the tale’s intergalactic action around Superman’s relationship woes with a particularly sassy Lois Lane, leading to a sentimental finale. It’s a bit of a shame and doesn’t quite work, which robs the story of a satisfying final note. However, given all that went right in Superman Unbound and the fact that the film would be a darkly miserable tragedy without the change, I suppose it’s forgivable.
Warner Bros’ Blu-ray presentation of the film is as stellar as always. This animation studio has only gotten better as these direct-to-video features have progressed. While some of the early efforts like Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths looked and felt like extended episodes of the animated series, Superman Unbound feels like a polished feature animation filled with gorgeous images perfectly suited to an HD glow. The visual style is still angular with limited detail in the Bruce Timm style, but the scale of the action and settings on display is above and beyond anything DC ever did on television. It would be a stretch to say you could release it theatrically, but it’s certainly above and beyond the usual direct-to-video standards. The disc is also overflowing with fantastic special features. First up is a commentary with producer/director James Tucker, screenwriter Bob Goodman, and DC Entertainment creative director Mark Carlin filled with entertaining production details and insights (including a hilarious comparison between Brainiac and comic book collectors). Then there is a wonderful 25-minute documentary about Brainiac that delves into the entire history of the character exploring all his incarnations over the years, with a particular focus on Geoff Johns’ take. It’s a perfect intro for the unfamiliar and a nice overview for the Supergeeks. A 17-minute featurette on the miniaturized Kandor is also quite interesting, but not as rich as the Brainiac feature. Next up are for episodes from the late 90s Superman: The AnimatedSeries focused on Brainiac and Supergirl. Given how strong these shows were, they’re always welcome extra features on the DCU feature discs. Finally we get an excerpt from the digital Superman: Brainiac comic and a 10-minute sneak peek at the upcoming Flashpoint feature that even in rough animatic stages looks friggin’ spectacular. So, overall, this is one heck of a Blu-ray set well worth a purchase. If you’re a DCU animated feature junkie, you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve never delved into this world before, but are anxious for a little extra Superman this summer, it’s well worth a look. Outside of the comic books, this is now the definitive treatment of Brainiac and hopefully this won’t be the last feature film to use Superman’s #2 villain over the next few years. I’m looking at you Snyder/Goyer!