In this week’s special Halloween edition of the Lunch Breakers, we take on the timeless horror classic series Silent Hill. We follow James and Alex as they guide Heather through some spooky environments.
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Comic book writers looking for new source material often draw from the large pool of other forms of media, like movies, TV shows, and video games. This has been evident with several recent video game related comics such as Mass Effect, Injustice: Gods Among Us and the now recently announced Witcher comic. Dark Horse Comics has taken CD Projekt RED’s concept, which is itself based on a popular fantasy novel series franchise in Poland that focuses on monster-hunters who receive special training and body modifications at an early age. Now a new team, consisting of comic book writer Paul Tobin and artist Joseph Querio are making their own mark on the Witcher legacy.
“Good stories. That’s what Dark Horse stands for,” said Tobin. “I’ve worked for a lot of companies, and Dark Horse is the company that always takes a step back, when looking at new projects, and asks, ‘Is there a story, here?’”
Tobin sees the Witcher’s established universe as an opportunity to tell more stories. From the dark and violent tone that encompasses the series, alongside the heavy emphasis on magic and monsters, to the women who fulfill many roles in the land Rivia, there’s a lot of potential for new adventures. These adventures won’t be accompanied by specified timelines, and will allow readers without an intricate knowledge of The Witcher universe to dive right in. However, what matters most is still intact. Geralt is a witcher. He has abilities. He hunts monsters.
“For the comics, we’re staying away from the greater political turmoil,” he said. “Geralt is the link, but we didn’t want to do any hard crossovers with the novels or the game, because we wanted the story to stand on its own.”
He added, “Hope within darkness” is a fairly universal emotion, one that is repeated not only in his work with The Witcher, but also with Dark Horse’s big upcoming Prometheus, Aliens, Predator, Aliens vs. Predator crossover, which he happens to be writing. When asked if the increasing popularity surrounding video games are supplanting movies’ ability to contribute new stories, Tobin said the breadth of stories from games does open things up a little more for writers.
“Imagine if the original Alien movie had been 70 hours long! Think of how much the director could have explored, in turn leading other writers to have more of a well to draw from,” he said. “So, while I think both movie and game-based comics are equal in viability, it’s easier to hit the ground running with a game based comic.”
Querio, who admits to not playing a lot of games, was contacted by Dark Horse to do the line art for The Witcher.
“I did some research and discovered its heavy folklore roots and decided to dive into the project. I absolutely love folklore,” he said.
His inspirations come from music, a nice walk in the woods with the family, driving in a snowstorm and old time radio programs. Video games Querio explains don’t influence him at all.
“I know this answer sounds very pretentious – but, it’s truly not. These are things that really allow my brain to relax and think stuff up.”
His greatest challenge has been creating a realistic aesthetic, specifically with Geralt. Finding a balance between his art style – lots of black, lots of shadows and abstract inking – and the realism of the game is something that took a while to get down.
“He’s such an iconic character and you have to get him right or there will be hell to pay,” Querio said. “The Witcher fans are very passionate and deserve a comic that meets their standards.”
Alice Quinn, founder of tdotcomics.ca, said storytelling elements in a game often take a back seat to gameplay, and enjoys the unique storytelling comic books offer. She added additional info found in comics that tap into a game’s backstory is always welcome.
“You can easily expand on a video game’s settings and character back stories with a 26-page comic,” she said. “People who like video games are often people who like comic books as well, or are at least open to the idea of it. I would love to see the mediums continue to cross over.”
Roles are sometimes reversed, and developers will take concepts or characters initially found in a comic and use them to create a game. The Wolf Among Us, Telltale Games’ game adaption of the popular Fables comic series, is another comic she believes successfully manifested itself into a video game, and is pleased with its heavy focus on storytelling. The same can be said of The Walking Dead, which has found success in its episodic game structure – also developed by Telltale Games – shared by The Wolf Among Us.
“I thought it was really cool in the way it’s episodic, and how your actions from previous episodes affect the next one,” Quinn said. “If the story is good, and the storytelling elements are the same within the medium it occupies, it will still be entertaining whether it’s done through a comic, a movie, or a video game.”
She adds fans of comics usually enjoy watching their favourite characters interact with the world through gameplay. She mentioned how Marvel takes this route frequently, their most recent addition to the gaming industry being Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Its surprising attention to detail combined with the iconic Lego charm has been well-received by most critics, and comic book fans alike.
Quinn, who also works at Dr. Comics in Toronto, said the first issue of The Witcher will most likely hit their shelves when the comic launches in 2014 on March 11. The store will then order more issues or discontinue it altogether, depending on how well it does.
“Huge fans of the game will come to the comics,” she said.
Though the concept of turning a game or movie into a comic isn’t new, it’s always refreshing to know that game companies and writers are teaming up to expand certain universes that clearly have some creative aspects and characters waiting to be further explored.
I love October. I love the autumn weather, the colours on the trees, and, most of all, Hallowe’en. To celebrate this most spooky of holidays I’ll be discussing topics related to horror each week of the month in a series of editorials called . . . OCTERROR!
I’d like a 10-year break from zombies. I’d like every developer currently planning their new zombie videogame to go through their design documents and carefully consider whether that particular monster couldn’t be replaced with something a bit more inspired. I’d like, at least, for the typical zombie to give way to weirder variations on the concept. It would be great if artists and animators didn’t just add more detail to the shambling corpses advancing toward players, but instead changed the very nature of these creatures in a memorable way.
I am, at heart, a great fan of zombies. George Romero’s first three . . . of the Dead movies are some of my favourite horror films ever made and a younger version of me was appropriately spooked out by the undead enemies in the early Resident Evil games. What has happened for me (and I’m sure many others) in recent years, though, is a general malaise regarding how predictable the zombie has become. There just hasn’t been much change in how the monster is depicted since 28 Days Later and Left 4 Dead gave us “runners” that changed the nature of the threat in a substantial way. Since then each media representation of zombies has drawn from an increasingly dry well of overly familiar genre tropes. Even Telltale Games’ excellent The Walking Dead does this. It only manages to get away with having traditional zombies as enemies because, given the larger focus on the tension between groups of survivors, the monsters rarely get used as more than a catalyst for the more exciting human drama that characterizes its stories.
Does this mean that zombies can never be a threat in their own right again?
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us seems to disagree. From the outset the “infected” that cause the game’s world to slide into apocalypse mode look an awful lot like the kind of zombies we’re all used to. They run around making creepy, barely human noises, are most dangerous in hordes, and can spread their condition to others by coming in close contact with them. But a little bit of creativity sets them apart from their Romero-inspired brethren.
The fungal infection that is responsible for The Last of Us‘ outbreak is used as more than a forgettable excuse for the game’s epidemic: it also informs the creature design. The game establishes a set of stages that each infected person passes through, each transition making them more and more inhuman. Aside from the spin on traditional zombie aesthetics that makes The Last of Us‘ undead look less like animated corpses than bizarre plant monsters, the game’s monsters also behave differently. Sure, there are familiar types (like the running variety and grotesque, Left 4 Dead inspired bloated types), but there is also the Clicker. The Clicker’s face is obscured by fungal growth, making it impossible for them to see their environment. While their appearance is unnerving enough, it’s the act of actually trying to avoid or fight a Clicker that makes them so memorably scary. The player must carefully move around the Clicker while it makes the otherworldly, dolphin-like clicking sound that gives it its name. Make too much noise and the Clicker screeches, rushing at protagonists Joel and Ellie and instantly killing them if it manages to get close enough to them. The Clicker’s blindness and reliance on echolocation makes it a fantastically frightening enemy. Moving around the monster, trying to avoid making any sound at all while it shambles about uttering strangled, barely human noises is extremely tense. The quick death that comes from encountering one of the creatures makes every run-in with Clickers throughout the campaign blood-chilling.
The Clicker is a great bit of design that shows how a savvy developer can feature enemies that, while still serving much the same gameplay and narrative purpose as a traditional zombie, are set far enough apart from established tropes to be memorable. Over-familiarity inspires boredom and, perhaps worst of all, a lack of fear. The Last of Us‘ Clickers, with their unique appearance and behaviour, are a new sort of monster. They represent the kind of innovation that videogame zombies need if they’re ever going to be scary again.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a tough game to review. If it were possible to divorce the game from the rest of the Arkham series, it would be impossible to deny just how much bat-tastic fun the title provides. However, that’s just not possible. The game is the third entry in the arguably finest superhero video game franchise ever produced and it is very much a sequel that was cranked out to feed a demanding marketplace rather than the next evolution in an evolving series. Without Rocksteady’s guiding hand, this very much feels like the product of designers who showed up late to the party trying to keep things going. It’s still a great deal of fun and something every Batman-obsessive must take for a spin. However, Arkham Origins is undeniably also a mild disappointment. Thankfully, the series is so popular that it goes without saying that a next-gen evolution is on the way that will right all the wrongs here. This is more of a stopgap release to tide fans over before they shell out for a new system that will deliver the next proper Batman game. That’s far from ideal, but it’ll definitely do for now
As the title suggests, this Batman outing is a prequel. However, unlike the title suggests, it is neither an origin story nor does it take place at Arkham. Nope, this is kind of a late Year One or maybe even Year Two Batman adventure. Good ol’ Bats already has the suit, the cave, the batwing (but amusingly the batmobile seems to be under construction. You’d think you’d shell out for a car before a plane, but then you’re not a crimefighting billionaire nutjob, now are you?), the reputation, the toys, and all the moves. However, he’s not yet a partner with Gordon or Robin, nor is a certain evil clown part of his life. As you’d expect, all of those elements come together before the end of the story. It all kicks off with Black Mask hiring a team of assassins including Deathstroke and Bane to kill Batman in a single night (and on Christmas no less! What a jerk). It all ends with… well that would be spoiling. But honestly, if you can’t see the twists in this story coming a mile away, you just aren’t trying. Sadly longtime Bat-scribe Paul Dini (he of Batman: The Animated Series and Mad Love fame) didn’t write this chapter in the Arkham series. So, the story is not nearly as reverential to the mythology or as intriguing on its own. Still, it works well enough and offers plenty of treats for fans. By ditching such a key member in the creative team, this game should have been a disaster. However, the new guys did well enough, including the Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy impersonators hired to voice Batman and the Joker.
What works best in Arkham Origins is, unsurprisingly, exactly what worked in the previous titles. The WB Montreal folks inherited one hell of a template when they set out to make this title, and they were wise enough to know not to fix what wasn’t broken. The combat system remains a joy. Beating up a few dozen henchmen happens with ease and impressive animation variation. Flying around the city with your extended cape also continues to be a blast and the design of Batman, the side characters, and the world remains undeniably detailed and impressive. Most of the changes made were cosmetic and work quite well. There are more dynamic camera angles to the fights and cutscenes. The boss battles are massively improved by seamlessly mixing quicktime events and brawling mechanics into a series of unique fight scenes that offer plenty of visual pizzazz without sacrificing tight controls or going on for too long (in particular an early round of fisticuffs with Deathstroke is pretty damn amazing). They’ve also added an amusing twist to the crime scene investigations. You’re still essentially just pointing at evidence and waiting for Batman to tell you what it means, but now his Bat computer features fully animated crime scene reconstructions that can be played forward and backwards in a really nice touch. Hopefully these small tweaks make it into future entries in the series because they build on the already stellar Arkham City designs in quite fun ways.
Now what doesn’t work. As I said before, Arkham Origins is definitely the work of designers playing in an established sandbox and that inevitably leads to problems. First off, the game is filled with bugs and frame drops. Clearly this was a rushed production and it shows both in big irritating ways (at one point I made a wrong turn in the narrative and trapped Batman in the GCPD headquarters in a way that forced me to restart the entire campaign to set right) and also in smaller ways. In particular, the game takes place on a single night in Gotham and the whole city can be explored as Batman’s playground. However, since the Arkham City engine is used, there are absolutely no citizens anywhere in Gotham. The city is a ghost town other than thugs for smashy-smashy. That was fine in Arkham City since it was supposed to be a quarantined island used as a prison. However, it just feels weird here and often the city is so large to traverse between missions that it can even be boring to explore. Sure, you can use the Batwing to move to established checkpoints, but if you want to skip large sections of the map in a sandbox game, it’s a sign that something is broken. Perhaps I’m just spoiled from the wonderful open world of GTA V, but it was certainly a distraction here that needs to be addressed in future entries.
WB also added an online multiplayer in which you’re either a gang member in a third person shooter fighting for real estate or Batman and Robin beating up said gang members. It’s a fairly clever idea, but doesn’t work well enough to be more than a novelty. The button mash challenge maps are also included (including a playable Deathstroke). Yet just like in previous Arkham games, they’re more pleasing distractions than anything substantial. Actually, insubstantial is probably a good word to use to describe Arkham Origins as a whole. The game does everything you’d expect from the series and offers that sugar rush of fun that you enjoyed before. However, aside from a few cosmetic tweaks and some all-new problems, there’s really nothing fresh here. The game is still worth picking up because it offers the comforting hug of an old friend, just don’t expect that jolt of excitement you felt when you realize how much Arkham City had built upon an already stellar design. This one is a retread, but thankfully it’s a retread of one of the greatest franchises of the last generation. Consider it a victory lap for the guys who finally did a Batman game right and hope that the reason they didn’t kick it up a notch this time is because the inevitable next gen sequel will be kicking things up by at least 10 notches.
Last Tuesday, a game about musical environments called Proteus arrived on PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3.
The title was originally released on Steam earlier this year, but no Xbox 360 or Wii version was announced.
When asked why the game didn’t make it to Xbox, creator Ed Key said “basically because Curve approached me and they already have a good relationship with Sony. And because Sony seem to do a way better job of building and maintaining those relationships with small studios and indies (for example, funding ports).”
While many developers release on most platforms to gain a higher profit, Key says he doesn’t have to stress about maximizing sales. “I personally don’t try to hit every platform, its just what opportunities arise. I guess it would sell more on additional platforms, but it would be offset when you include the costs of porting it and certification.”
Proteus is available now on PC, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. You can check out a trailer of the audio discovery game below.
Skylanders is a series that is built on a feature. And while that feature appeals to many kids and their parents, it only slightly appeals to a 21 year-old like myself. For anyone new to the series, this feature is the portal of power. You see, Skylanders revolves around purchasing certain action figures. These figures are then put on an electronic device that transports a digital likeness of the character to the game. This alone pushes the price much higher than its quality. And kids love it. The series has already sold over eight million copies. Those issues aside, the game does come with a starter pack of three characters, but that doesn’t fully mend the wound. Certain side-sections of the game require a certain element of Skylander, and the Starter Pack only gave me three of the many types used in the game. It’s like giving me half a game, and asking me to buy more. Fortunately, the main quest is still accessible, but this kind of DLC really should make players feel cheated. Luckily, it’s not all bad.
The newest entry in the franchise, Swap Force, adds the ability to switch tops and bottoms with certain figures, allowing the characters in game to have much more variety. And what’s great about the Nintendo 3DS version is that once you bring the Skylander into the game, you have the character on the go.
Except the game isn’t as intriguing. The gameplay is that of an action-adventure platformer, a la Jakand Daxter and Ratchet and Clank. The difference is, while Jak and Ratchet brought in challenging platforming and creative weaponry to the mix, Swap Force brings nothing but generic action. Throughout my four hours of playing through Swap Force, I ended up doing the exact same things over and over: collect coins, fight bad guys and jump…a lot. None of this felt fun or unique. And most of it was very simple, to the point where even a 10-year-old must want a little more challenge. See, the reason games like Jak and Daxter were great is because they made gamers forget that they were just collecting things. Missions like collecting all precursor orbs by driving a vehicle were fun and exciting; even more importantly, they were creative.
If Skylanders wants to make more kids buy their game, they have to make the game more exciting. One addition that could have been better taken advantage of is the story. The 3DS comes with its own exclusive story, and while there are some laugh-out-loud moments, cutscenes and dialogue feel choppy.
In the end, this is the sort of title that could have been a solid experience. The creatures are interesting, the swapping of tops and bottoms adds customization, but this serves little purpose unless the actual game itself has depth. With a silly story that adds little reason to stay, this game is only for the collecting maniacs. Or as I like to call them: kids.
There have been many, many attempts to bring the classic British comic hero Judge Dredd to American markets. Failed comic adaptations, one completely underrated movie, one terrible movie, and more have tried, but American audiences just aren’t biting like they should. At first look, Judge Dredd seems like the perfect character for American readers and viewers. He’s an American cop with a heavy hand for violence in a post-apocalyptic world. All these aspects fit in with what’s popular in the media today, but still nothing has taken hold.
In the last few years IDW has tried their hand at publishing new Judge Dredd stories. Currently they have three different series under their belt, an ongoing series by American writer Duane Swierczynski (Punisher, Cable), reprints of classic Judge Dredd comics, and the now complete mini-series Judge Dredd – Year One, which came out in trade paperback for on Wednesday, October 23rd 2013. This series, while published in North America by a North American publisher, is written by Matt Smith, the longtime editor of 2000AD, the pillar of British science fiction comics for decades and the birthplace of Dredd himself.
As the title indicates, Judge Dredd – Year One takes place during the first year of Dredd’s tenure as an official Judge. For those unfamiliar with the dystopian future of the Dredd universe, Judges act as police officers, judges, and, when the sentence calls for it, executioner. The Judges are responsible for trying to bring law and order to Mega-City One, a wasteland of a city that spans much of the east coast of the United States. It takes fifteen years of school to become a Judge, and though Dredd is still ‘new’, he’s got a lot of experience under his belt and his take-very-few-prisoners attitude is still apparent. To Dredd, nothing is more important than upholding the law.
The story is crisp and moves quickly without any sluggish down time or lack of action. Like its UK counterpart, this Dredd follows the high action, heavily violent storytelling style that has made the original such a standout. The story features many locations, terms, and aspects that even casual Dredd fans will recognize. And like many Dredd stories, it features a surprise ending that might not leave you gasping, but will make you say “Drok!!”
Simon Coleby’s art is reminiscent of classic Dredd stories without feeling dated or old. Mega-City One looks like a wasteland, but not as bad as the current Mega-City One. It’s like some of the grime has been peeled back to reveal a still scummy, but not quite as desolate city that a young Dredd would have called home. The juve villains of the story look creepy, haunting, and strangely pitiable, a very hard mix that Coleby creates with ease. The effect is to bring Smith’s fast paced story to amazing life and it’s a great writer/artist team up.
Judge Dredd – Year One definitely captures what makes a Dredd story great. It’s apparent that the creative team loves Dredd as much as the reader and they’ve crafted what is on track to be an important part of the Dredd mythos. They’ve taken the idea of a ‘year one’ and made it their own. This is a great starting point for anyone looking to get into the world of Dredd.
After disappearing for a year and leaving his tattered face on the wall of Arkham Asylum as a goodbye present, the Joker finally returned to Gotham in 2012. Since he’s not just the greatest villain of that franchise but of comic books as a whole, DC decided to make a whole event out of it. For a huge junk of last year, The Joker went after the entire Bat Family in a massive crossover event masterminded by current Bat-guru Scott Snyder. While Snyder’s story was a new masterpiece (see my review of the upcoming Batman: Death Of The Family trade next week for more), the crossover event was a bit of a mixed bag. It’s always nice to see the Joker step up to the forefront, but Snyder’s tale was fairly self-contained and the Joker’s attacks on Batman’s gallery of sidekicks felt incidental to the central narrative. The house writers of each bat book essentially got a chance to weave their own Joker story that loosely tied into Snyder’s. As you’d expect, the results were hit and miss. None of the spin offs lived up to the main story, and as a result the event was considered a minor letdown overall. However, looking at all the Death Of The Family tales again in DC’s gorgeous new trade paperback, it’s clear this event was far from a failure. There were a number of wonderful stories as well as the clunkers. The best approach is probably to look at them all separately since that’s how they were written.
Detective Comics 15-16 Rating: 73
Writer: John Layman
Artists: Jason Fabok and Andy Clark
With Snyder weaving a new classic Joker tale in the issues of Batman, it seemed pointless for John Layman and his Detective Comics team to do the same. So instead they came up with a clever side-story. Detective Comics 15 and 16 instead focused on the effects Joker’s return had on the criminals and citizens of Gotham. Taking a brief break from their ongoing storyline, these issues see gangs painting their faces like clowns to celebrate the Joker’s return as well as a look at how treating the Joker turned an Arkham doctor insane. It’s a clever little story and boasts some nice artwork. Ultimately, though, it adds nothing to the Death Of The Family narrative as a whole. You kind of have to take this story on its own terms, and it is certainly an interesting examination of the Joker’s relationship to Gotham. It just feels like a concept forced into the Detective issues to fill out the event, and it’s not particularly essential to the overall event.
Catwoman 13-14 Rating: 55
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Rafa Sandoval
From there, the trade moves on to easily the worst arc in the entire event. In a move that feels more like Silver Age Joker silliness than the psychopath at the center of Death Of The Family, the Joker challenges Catwoman to a citywide game of chess. The story is just as silly as it sounds and was clearly created simply so that all Batman-connected titles featured the Joker. The weird thing is that in Snyder’s tale other Batman rogue villains were central and Catwoman easily could have been a part of it. Instead, Ann Nocenti eventually meanders to a finale in which Catwoman declares she has no real loyalty to Batman and is not part of his family. So… probably no need to even write this story in the first place then, right? You may as well skip over this chapter in the trade. There’s little of interest here.
Suicide Squad 14-15 Rating: 77
Writer: Adam Glass
Artist: Fernando Dagnino
Finally, three stories into this trade we get to a tale that actually connects to the Death Of The Family arc. Harley Quinn played a small role in Scott Snyder’s narrative and even got her own back-of-issue B-story (which is included as well). Adam Glass expands on that here with a vengeful Joker coming after Harley for her decision to fight for good as part of the Suicide Squad and to take up a new lover without a speckle of clown make-up on his face. The Harley/Joker relationship is of course one of the great twisted love stories in comics, so it’s always nice to see a new chapter. Glass even adds a few intriguing twists their relationship like the Joker’s claims that she is but one of a series of Harleys that he’s had throughout his life. Harley gets some wonderful moments here that continues her redefining arc as part of the Suicide Squad. It’s an interesting tale with some wonderful art from Fernando Danino. Sadly, the whole thing is dragged down by useless side-plots involving the rest of The Suicide Squad and an irritating twist ending, neither of which have much to do with the central Harley tale and seem to be there purely to try and coax new readers into continuing the series after picking up these issues as part of the Death Of The Family arc (a good decision for business, but a bad one for storytelling).
Batgirl 13-16 Rating: 92
Writer: Gale Simone
Artist: Ed Benes, Vincente Cifuentes
Gale Simone’s Batgirl Joker arc is so good, it justifies the entire crossover event as a whole. It makes sense too. After all, Simone helped transform Batgirl into one of the finest DC books currently on stands and the character has a bit of a history with the Joker thanks to that whole Killing Joke fiasco. The Joker’s return obviously shakes Barbara deeply, and that only worsens when the clown prince of crime makes kidnaps her mother. Why you ask? Well, the Joker is hoping that Barbara will marry him to set the mother free. It’s a sick and twisted little plot that could only come out of this iconic villain’s brain and Simone nails his psychotic voice perfectly. The way Barbara finds the courage to fight back is oddly moving, and the Joker’s plan is suitably sick, even bringing in a fan favorite Gordon family member who Snyder famously reworked in his first Batman arc. Simone’s Joker tale is so strong that it would have been a wonderful run on its own divorced of this series and features some of the more disgusting art of the Joker’s new skin mask in the entire trade paperback. The collection is worth picking up for this story alone (which is probably why it also got its own solo release)
Nightwing 15-16 Rating: 87
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Eddy Barrows
Kyle Higgins’ Death Of The Family story is just downright harsh. This is by far the most vicious of the tie-in tales and the one with the highest body count. Without getting into spoiler territory, major characters in Higgins’ Nightwing mythology die in the midst of a Joker plot so elaborate, it’s remarkable that even a master criminal like him could have pulled it off in addition to all the other crazy tales in this event. Higgins has a strong grasp of what makes the Joker so frightening, and his unapologetically nasty tale feels very much in line with Snyder’s version of the character. If all the Death Of The Family side stories had been this strong, the whole event would have been a major success. That didn’t happen, but at least there are a couple of great Joker stories in this trade. A deliciously dark tale well worth a read.
Red Hood and The Outlaws 15-16 and Teen Titans 15-16 Rating: 66
Writers: Scott Lobdel and Fabian Nicieza
Here’s a weird one: a crossover within a crossover. For whatever reason, the Teen Titans and Red Hood and The Outlaws teams decided to combine their Death Of The Family narratives together. The central premise isn’t bad: The Joker kidnaps the two former Robins together and forces them to fight each other. The execution, on the other hand, is muddled. With the Joker also having to deal with each former Robin’s new crimefighting team, there are just too many characters that the writers struggle to spin at once and in the end this mini-arc feels overstuffed and confusing. Combining the two former Robins and current team leaders was a clever idea, but it also sadly robs the Red Hood writers the chance to write a story drawing deeply on the Death In The Family series in the same way that Gale Simone echoed The Killing Joke in Batgirl. Still, the story has its moments and at least it’s not a complete waste of time like the Catwoman storyline. So that’s something.
Batman And Robin 15-16 Rating: 85
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason
One of the most underrated runs in the New 52 Batman line has been Peter J. Tomasi’s excellent Batman And Robin series. So it should come as no surprise that he does his Death Of The Family tie-in justice. The story is fairly simple. Robin sets out to find Alfred and ends up kidnapped by the Joker in a zoo where the clown prince of crime enjoys doling out some physical torture and psychological torment. It’s a creepy little tale that feels like part of Snyder’s overall arc rather than a separate Joker story that the writer wanted to tell that got folded into the event like so many other stories in this collection. Patrick Gleason’s art also deserves special mention, it’s a nightmarishly dark vision that features some of the most terrifying images of the Joker in the entire event (particularly when he taunts Robin with his face on upside down and his tongue poking through the eye holes…. eck!). This is what the entire event should have felt like.
In addition to compiling all of the above storylines, DC included the final issue of Snyder’s Death Of The Family storyline and Batman And Robin 17 as an epilogue. It’s a bit weird that the entire Snyder storyline wasn’t included to make this a definitive collection, but I suppose less books would be sold that way. The final issue is the most appropriate to include since it pays off the cliffhanger at the end of all other Death Of The Family stories and ties together Joker’s ultimate plot involving the Bat Family. It’s weird that early scenes in Snyder’s run that brought the family together and set the story in motion weren’t included, but maybe the collection was getting too large already. Regardless, including this issue highlights the major problem of the event, which is that with few exceptions none of the Death Of The Family side stories had much to do with Snyder’s arc and made his final issue feel a bit anticlimactic because it was so specific to one story rather than the event as a whole. Regardless, Batman 17 was a great issue filled with disturbing revelations and eye-meltingly good art. The inclusion of Tomasi’ Batman And Robin 17 was a nice touch as well. It’s only very loosely connected to the event, but it’s a wonderful standalone issue showing what Batman, Robin, and Alfred dream about at night that should tickle fans and send readers of the collection out with a smile on their face (which is no easy task given all the Joker-flavored horror witnessed in the proceeding pages).
Overall, this is a big, pretty book that deserved to be released to honor DC’s big ol’ Joker event. The entire collection might have been brought down by some stinker storylines, but Joker fanatics will want to pick it up for the Batgirl, Nightwing, and Batman And Robin arcs alone. All of them were excellent Joker stories that probably would have been considered the best representations the character received in years, were it not for the fact that Scott Snyder was crafting one of the greatest Joker stories ever told at the same time (more on that next week). Joker: Death Of The Family is definitely worth picking up for fans of the character, but don’t judge the entire series on this collection alone. This is more of a companion piece to Snyder’s masterpiece and a nice collection of Joker tales for fans. It’s a shame the whole event couldn’t live up to the twistedly brilliant work being done at the center, but I suppose that was inevitable. Getting this many great Joker yarns at once and complaining that they aren’t all masterpieces may sound a bit greedy. But with the incredibly high standards that Snyder has set for Batman lately, that seems to be a problem that Bat fans are facing as they thumb through the new release rack every week.
When done right, few things are more entertaining than a horror comedy. When done wrong, few things are more insufferable. Dead Before Dawn falls somewhere in the middle. It’s a perfectly pleasant little indie flick made by people who mean well and even have a few decent ideas. It probably even could have been a rock solid 30-minute short film when cut down to only its best scenes. But it’s not a short, it’s a feature and so quality gags are padded out with any other gag that would fill in the script, and that kills off the good will earned elsewhere. Still, enough works to keep this thing from being a total disaster. That ain’t much, but it’s something.
Devon Bostick stars as one of those awkward young folks who star in horror movies. He can’t seem to get the girl, he’s easily rattled, he’s never gotten over his father’s death, and now he has to watch his grandfather’s creepy old occult shop! Golly gee! What a day! The good news is that his friends show up to make the night in the shop a little more bearable. The bad news is that they crack open an old skull and release a demon. As if that weren’t bad enough, they also start joking about silly rules that could be associated with the demon’s release if it were an actual curse and they all come true. So, for the rest of the night everyone they make eye contact with commits suicide and is transformed into a zombie/demon (or “zemon,” as they’re cleverly dubbed) determined to kill our heroes. The gang has until dawn to set things right, or the curse will go on forever. Can’t let that happen, right?
The trickiest part of Dead Before Dawn is that the filmmakers can’t seem to decide which type of horror/comedy they’re making: a straight up silly parody or a 80s-style flick that occasionally mixes in a few creeps with the laughs. At times, the film is broad slapstick, and at times, we’re supposed to treat the zemon threat seriously, but you just can’t have it both ways. The best material comes early on when the future-zemons start killing themselves and coming back from the dead. It’s far funnier than it has any right to be and at times approaches creepiness. As the film wears on, the filmmakers seem to lose interest in any sense of horror atmosphere in favor of cramming in as many jokes as possible whether they work or not. There are some hits, but there are plenty of misses and the movie never really settles into a consistent enough rhythm of good gags to gain much momentum.
Still, the performances are all fairly strong and engaging. In particular, Devon Bostick does his nerdy scaredy cat thing well, and Martha MacIsaac is consistently adorable as the requisite love interest (while Kids In The Hall vet Kevin MacDonald and the great Christopher Lloyd pop up in cameos to snipe in a few laughs and add B-movie credibility to the poster). The film also looks impressively slick despite the low budget and particularly rough CGI. There’s clearly talent involved here, however misplaced.
Dead Before Dawn is the brainchild of writer Tim Doirin and director April Mullen who also play small roles and made the mockumentary Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way Of The Tosser and the goofy cop comedy GravyTrain. All three movies share the similar mixture of clever promise and tiring mediocrity. Doirin and Mullen are clearly talented, they just might be a little too in love with their own jokes and could use a third set of eyes for quality control. Their latest effort Dead Before Dawn isn’t a disaster. There are certainly far worse horror comedies shoved onto streaming services every day. It’s at least an enjoyable romp that doesn’t take itself seriously or demand that viewers do either. There are worse things to do with your time than watch this movie as well as far better things. So that’s that.
Welcome to the Realm of T’Rannah, a world familiar yet fantastical! The world is still recovering from the savagery that the Evil Sorcerer “Drofbor The Terrible” has wrought upon this once peaceful Realm. Join us as our Terrible Warriors Steve and Justin and members of the Bad Dog Theatre Comedy troupe Molly Davis, Ted Hambly and Seann Murray must band together to stop the threat of Drofbor again!
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