Comics Ate My Brain

January 31, 2005

New comics 1/27/05

Filed under: batman, fantastic four, flash, justice league, legion, nightwing, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 7:16 pm
This almost turned into another “theme week.” It may be that I just read the same things over and over again, but these weird synchronicities keep popping up. Batman and Nightwing featured the Bruce/Dick relationship. Planetary focused on the ancestry of its Johnny Storm character, and Fantastic Four featured Johnny actually behaving like a mature adult. Legion of Super-Heroes and JLA both tried postmodern takes on classic superhero tropes, and Flash tried yet again to update a goofy Silver Age supervillain. LSH and Fantastic Four were both written by Mark Waid, who used to write Flash. Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, and Kennedy had … oh, okay, the horse is dead now.

Batman #636, written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen: Part 2 of the Black Mask/Red Hood (what, no Mad Hatter?) storyline advances the plot nicely, while throwing in some not-very-cliched interaction between Batman and Nightwing. It veers sharply away from the gritty urban realism to which the entire Bat-line had aspired, and more into “superhero reality,” acknowledging that Batman exists in a world of (for example) superintelligent gorillas.

Winick is approaching how I would like Batman to be handled — not so grim, or at least knowing how grim he can be; and with someone around who can call him on the grimness. The Nightwing/Batman banter is appropriate, and Batman even gets to smile grimly at the nostalgia of having Dick around again. However, for some reason Winick has turned Mr. Freeze into a psychopath who murders cavalierly, getting away from the more tragic figure the character had become. The art continues to be good, with Mahnke giving Batman some very dynamic, almost Neal Adams-esque poses; but my one complaint about it is that Nightwing’s costume isn’t black enough. The grays almost blend into the blues, which makes the overall effect very bland. Still, these are minor complaints, and I have to say I’m enjoying this creative team.

The aforementioned superintelligent gorilla is, of course, a nod to JLA Classified #3, finishing up the arc by Grant Morrison, Ed McGuinness, and Dexter Vines. I was slightly disappointed in this issue because the first two had been so good; and this one is just a big fight among the JLA, Grodd, and Ultramarines. Morrison’s commentary on “whatever it takes” crimefighting also has the JLA “punish” the U-Marines in a screwy, if not irresponsible, way. It’s all high-concept action, which in Morrison and McGuinness’ hands isn’t all bad, but there are fewer wild ideas flying around in this part. It might work best as a commentary on the Super Friends — certainly, anyone only familiar with the JLA through that show/comic would get a kick out of Aquaman and Wonder Woman looking very familiar but kicking serious tail.

The Batman/Nightwing relationship permeates Part 2 of Nightwing #102‘s “Nightwing, Year One” (written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, with art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens). First, though, I must admit my shame at having this story spoiled for me by its big continuity violation. The issue, which is pretty decent, has Dick Grayson heading to Metropolis for a chat with Superman about what to do in his post-Robin career. The problem is, in the current DC timeline, Batman and Superman didn’t learn each other’s secrets until well after Dick had become Nightwing. (It was right before Supes’ first date with Wonder Woman, in fact.) Now, it would have been cool if Dick — trained by the World’s Greatest Detective, remember — had deduced that Clark was Superman, and genuinely surprised him; but that’s not what happens here. Anyway, Dick and Supes stop a couple of terrorists from assassinating the President, and Supes tells Dick about the ancient Kryptonian hero Nightwing. (Dick’s super-hero disguise is a red-and-blue hoodie and blue jeans, which seems like an obvious, but bizarre Spider-Man movie shout-out.) Dick then goes back to the circus to work as an acrobat. The Metropolis and circus sequences are fine, but Krypto-Nightwing’s situation fits Dick a bit too closely. (Not to mention raising all kinds of other Superman continuity wrangles, which I am choosing to ignore.) The jury is still out on this story for me, although I would probably have enjoyed it more if I were further away from the source material.

More retroactive continuity is explored in The Flash #218, featuring the origin of Heat Wave as told by writer Geoff Johns and artist Peter Snejbjerg. This villain profile is a bit more tolerable than the earlier ones, because it advances the larger plot, but it was still annoying to find that Heat Wave — one of the original Rogues’ Gallery members — has just as twisted a past as the second Mirror Master or the more recent Murmur. I mean, can’t we just have a villain who decides to use fire for his motif just because, and skip all the weird psychobabble? What would Johns do with Paste-Pot Pete?

A Silver Age super-team is the inspiration for Legion of Super-Heroes #2, by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson, but this issue that team was the original Teen Titans. See, back in the ’60s, the Titans would hear about some super-crime that particularly affected teenagers, and after dealing with it, would explain to the adults that teens were people too, etc. While Waid and Kitson do a great job with it, that’s basically the plot of LSH #2. It’s not a bad issue — the comparison and contrast between Brainiac and Dream Girl is the highlight — but it came dangerously close to having a “meddling kids” ending.

Waid is much better on Fantastic Four (#522), so naturally it’s his next-to-last issue. Johnny Storm has never seemed like the most logical person to lead the team — not even in the alternate future of Fantastic Five, when he was the leader — but here Waid manages to make him both smart and smart-alecky. Another fun read, and I am dreading the possibility of a deadly-serious J. Michael Straczynski run.

A note about e-mail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 3:20 pm
I’ve noticed some issues with how Eudora (my e-mail program) filters the “brainallgone” e-mail — basically, sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t. This has only come to light in the past couple of days, now that I have returned to the home computer.

It’s not like I get a lot of e-mail anyway, but then again, if Eudora is screwing it up, how would I know? Therefore, I apologize for not replying to any of you who have sent unrequited e-mail. I’m working on fixing the problem.

January 27, 2005

Notes From Afield

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 4:53 pm
This post is brought to you through the good graces (and public-use computers) of the Newport News Public Library (serving all your library needs since … I don’t know). Big ups to the library for giving me a sweet, sweet blogging fix after what seems like an eternity away.

I have been able to do some surfing over my cell phone, but it has really screwed with my eyes. They still cross involuntarily.

During said surfing, I was able to look at the Ninth Art shipping list and send an e-mail to my local comics shop to reserve this week’s books. However, JLA Classified was on the Diamond list but not the Ninth Art list, so I might not have it reserved. Not a big deal, but just one more thing to think about. (There are quite a few shops here, but we have been more occupied with finding a house.)

P2 over at Hey Grownups — Comics! was nice enough to put me on his linking list (notice how I avoided the obvious “linkin’ log” pun?) so I shall do the same, once I get back to the home computer.

Finally, I know it’s a little late, but it was very sad to hear about the death of Johnny Carson. Johnny was one of my heroes growing up, because he always seemed to be just a regular guy who happened to interview famous people. As a kid, I’d have to stay up real late to see Tom Snyder (who was boring) or David Letterman, but more often than not I could catch at least Johnny’s monologue and maybe even a Mighty Carson Art Players or Carnac sketch. When my family got a VCR in the mid-’80s, I made a point to tape Letterman, but I didn’t forget about Johnny. He was a big influence on my attempts to be funny and cool, and since those appear to have borne at least some fruit, I’m in his debt. Rest in peace.

January 20, 2005

Up, up and away

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 2:15 pm
Just a quick note to say there will be periodic interruptions in service over the next few weeks. The Best Wife Ever has gotten a new job and we are moving 600 miles to Newport News, Virginia. We’re very excited, but it is a big move for both of us and we have a lot to do before we are settled (finding a new house, for example).

Any comments, observations, etc., regarding the Newport News/Williamsburg/Hampton Roads area would naturally be appreciated. Talk to you soon.

January 14, 2005

New comics 1/12/05

Action Comics #823 (written by Chuck Austen, with art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos): Continued from last issue, Superman, Superboy, and Krypto defeat a hulked-out redneck with an inferiority complex. There’s really nothing else to the plot, except for a gratuitous shot at Lois (and at Lana too, but Lois comes off worse) and a setup for next issue’s showdown with Preus.

(You may remember that Superman fought a villainess named Maxima, designed by no less than George Perez. Now there’s Preus.* Who’s next, Corolla?)

Reis and Campos turn in their usual clean, dynamic performance. Ma and Pa Kent look younger every day, although in a bizarre nod to the Reeve movies, Lana looks more like Annette O’Toole than Ma Kent does. (Ma resembles K Callan, her “Lois & Clark” TV counterpart.) As for the script, how long until Gail Simone comes on board?

Gotham Central #27 (written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Jason Alexander): The Catwoman/Josie Mac story is concluded satisfactorily, although there are some unsurprising revelations about the victim’s sexual fantasy life. I suppose the point is more for Josie to deal with hiding her psychic abilities, and Catwoman gives some knowing advice about keeping secrets from those close to you. Still, having read Brubaker’s first two Sleeper paperbacks this weekend, Gotham Central almost feels like he’s slumming. It’s not bad by any means, but Sleeper was much better. As for Alexander, his art reminds me of Randy DuBurke — sort of scratchy and shiny, with lots of thin lines and blacks. It’s easier to follow than last issue, and hopefully it will keep improving.

Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #187 (written by Shane McCarthy, with art by Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos): It’s Hump Issue for the 5-part Riddler story, and this part goes a long way to having the thing make sense. The first page finds a flaming Batman falling off a bridge, which is a good start to any Batman book. Anyway, the storytelling is sorted out between the present (with the Riddler hologram) and the past (in which we discover E. Nigma’s dark childhood secret — very close to being a cliche, but thankfully not quite). Still not quite sold on this story, but perhaps it will grow on me. Also, Riddler’s hologram looks less like Freddie Mercury.

JSA #69 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Don Kramer & Keith Champagne): Time-traveling Socialites Stargirl, Mr. Terrific, Hourman, Atom-Smasher, Dr. Mid-Nite, Sand, and J.J. Thunder meet their inspirations and try to convince them to re-form the Justice Society after Congress forced it to disband. There are complications and mysterious circumstances, and honestly it doesn’t add up to much. Starman’s situation was established by writer James Robinson, who used it in The Golden Age and Starman (1994) before helping kick off this title. However, Robinson made it an organic part of the character, and here Johns uses it more as a gimmick. Stargirl and Starman get the bulk of the issue, and the rest feels like a continuity checklist. This will probably play better in the paperback, which is how I’m thinking about buying JSA in the future.

JLA #110 (written by Kurt Busiek, with art by Ron Garney and Dan Green): Hilarity ensues when the Kryyme Syndicate impersonates the Justice League. Somehow the League doesn’t catch on right away, even though the Syndicate does some high-profile things. Because the Syndicate and the Qwardian subplot have crowded the JLA out of the book the past couple of months, honestly I didn’t notice that the League was missing. Anyway, the Syndicate’s impersonations are both darkly funny (especially Johnny Quick’s stilted “Flash” dialogue) and infused with a ticking-time-bomb suspense. There’s also a bedroom scene with Owlman and Superwoman which cleverly inverts and subverts the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman “trinity” DC’s been pushing for the past few years. It’s three issues into the storyline without a JLA/CSA fight, and I feel neither shortchanged nor decompressed.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #1 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Ty Templeton and Nelson): This 5-issue miniseries takes a look at the Spidey/Torch relationship through the years, which means it’s a healthy dose of Mighty Marvel nostalgia, and that ain’t all bad. Slott and Templeton do a perfect-pitch impression of a ’60s Marvel book, hitting all the right beats while emphasizing Spidey’s troubles and the Torch’s comparatively easy life. (It doesn’t hurt that Slott’s Torch isn’t too far removed from Mark Waid’s.) Ty Templeton’s pencils are clean and efficient, and while his normal “cartoony” style might have worked better, Nelson’s inks make the pencils look more like Paul Smith’s (who, coincidentally, does the cover). It doesn’t matter — this was a joy to read.

Finally, I read Nightwing #101 (written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, with art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens). It’s Part 1 of the 6-part biweekly “Nightwing Year One,” telling the story of Dick’s metamorphosis from independent sidekick to independent leader of his own teen group. Never mind that the story was already told in the 1983-84 issues of New Teen Titans, Batman, and Detective Comics — this is the Post-Crisis! version and the What Titans Didn’t Tell You! version to boot. Unfortunately, it’s also the Batman Is A Jackass version, which makes it pretty much predictable from page one. McDaniel and Owens do a fine job with the art, however, making it much less cluttered than I’m used to from McDaniel. Most of the issue is a fight between the Dynamic Duo and Clayface, and while Clayface’s “personae” are confusing at first, the artists make everything clear.

I’m interested to see whether Beatty and Dixon really bring anything new to the story, since it’s already been covered pretty well. I’m not saying they can’t do it, but if their characterization continues to be of the “Bruce yells at Dick” variety, it’ll be a long three months.

*Yes, I know the car is “Prius.” Let an old man have his fun, eh?

January 10, 2005

Marcia Cross vs. Geoff Johns

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 9:48 pm
Last night’s “Desperate Housewives” illustrated for me one of the tenets of soap opera — namely, that it’s investment in the characters, and not the plot, which sustains interest. A good character can carry a lousy plot, but not vice versa. With that in mind, let’s examine last night’s subplots individually.

1. Gabrielle has to use her modeling skills on the cheap, hawking Buicks at the mall, and when she sees Lynette tries to hide her shame. I can understand how this would be humiliating, but a) Lynette — who also had to give up her high-paying job — should understand Gabrielle’s situation and be supportive; and b) if Lynette and Tom are the only people at the mall from whom Gabrielle wants to hide, how humiliating is it really? It only provides an opportunity for Gabrielle to act spoiled and entitled, which is arguably at odds with her previous “I pulled myself up from nothing” statements of empowerment. Bah.

2. Susan tries a truce with her cruel, doltish ex-husband Karl. I liked this one, especially since it connected Karl and Edie — the Luthor and Brainiac, if you will, of Susan’s life. I really enjoyed the karaoke scene for turning what could have been yet another public humiliation into a public triumph. Of course, Susan’s happiness will be mitigated somewhat by the frame-job Paul is trying to lay on Mike, but still. Good for you, Susan!

3. Lynette learns that Tom accidentally saw the nanny naked, and ends up firing the nanny for it. While I understand the mechanics of this plot, and they make sense, it still seemed forced. Technically, Tom only saw the nanny covering her boobies, which is about a Janet-Jackson-level exposure (specifically, this one). Granted, perhaps he should have told Lynette immediately what had happened, and explained then that Lynette was his lobster, and who cares about the nanny since she’s just a guest-star, but I thought Lynette was a little rough on him. What do I know? I am but an ignorant, good-intentioned male. Anyway, I like Felicity Huffman a lot (r.i.p. “Sports Night”), but Lynette still needs to lighten up and get that homely nanny in place, or her character will get even more frustrating to watch.

4. Finally, Bree decides to have her own affair, with George the pharmacist. This subplot was played so well by Marcia Cross, Steven Culp, their son Andrew, and George, that I can’t do it justice with a one-sentence summary. Marcia Cross completely rocks this show and consistently turns in fantastic performances — all the more amazing considering how ripe the character is for one-dimensionality and broad parody. Cross/Bree is the Spock of “Desperate Housewives,” getting the most out of a person who adheres strictly to particular codes of ethics and conduct. She is the best reason to watch, and some weeks the only reason to watch.

To me, a kind of alchemy happens with a new show — it becomes less about situations and more about character. A viewer has to be entertained by the show’s characters, because after a while the situations will start repeating themselves. Just as there are only so many times James T. Kirk can talk down an omnipotent entity, there are only so many pratfalls Susan can take.

Apparently the same principle governs my comics reading. I’ve been frustrated with Geoff Johns on The Flash for a while, but I’m not considering dropping the title as much as I am his Teen Titans and JSA. I have been a Wally West fan since his New Teen Titans days, and there is too much emotional investment in the character for me to drop the book entirely. Johns also writes a passable Wally and manages to keep the rest of the book from being unreadable, so my frustration comes from Johns’ overall tone and the direction of the larger plot. The art is a redeeming factor too, so it’s not like I don’t get anything out of the book.

If the Waid/Wieringo Fantastic Four or the Morrison JLA is the Marcia Cross of recent comics, Flash is now the Felicity Huffman. Basically I keep getting Flash because I would miss not getting it, and I haven’t become frustrated enough with it that I wouldn’t miss it. Maybe not the best comics-buying strategy, but at least I recognize the problem.

January 7, 2005

New comics 1/5/05

Filed under: batman, captain america, firestorm, flash, hulk, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 8:22 pm
The guys who do the Tony Kornheiser show have food delivered to them in the studio. This morning, they had ordered pizza, and Mr. Tony was wondering where it was. When told it was on the way, he then asked, “Did I get the same thing I like?” The response came back, “Yes, Grandpa, you did.”

So, it’s a new year. Did I get the same things I like? Just call me Grandpa….

First up is The Flash#217 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay). The issue picks up on the events of Identity Crisis in several ways. Flash’s wife Linda comes back and the Rogues’ Gallery holds a funeral for Captain Boomerang. It’s equal parts epilogue and setup, in other words, even containing a scene with Zoom that follows up on the similar scene in the last Wonder Woman. (Nice bit of dovetailing there; presumably the two scenes will flow together in the paperback.) Flash also gets to give advice to Batman, who comes very close to having an actual emotional moment. Anyway, this was a good momentum-building issue, but next month is yet another villain biography, so what’s the use?! Seriously, what has been the macro-plot of Flash for the past 17 months? Wally gets his secret identity back, and then all this Rogue stuff gets BLEARGH-vomited forth, with a little Grodd and Identity Crisis mixed in. Ye gods.

The second issue of writer David Lapham and artists Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill on Detective Comics (#802) wasn’t as tight a story as the first, but it was still very good. Picking up from last issue’s tenement fire, the victims’ identities spur Batman to avoid a similar tragedy. There’s not much more to say about the plot without spoiling it, but as with last issue, Lapham has Batman interact with a “civilian” in order to show how ordinary Gothamites feel about him, and he about them. It ends on an unusual, almost absurd, image, but that image seems to summarize Lapham’s intentions with the storyline. The art and colors continue to be excellent, handling this more personal story just as well as last issue’s more panoramic moments. Finally, Lapham uses Robin to good effect, giving him a bravado which is entirely appropriate for the character.

I hear that Jamal Igle is the new regular penciller on Firestorm (#9). That’s good, because he and writer Dan Jolley have turned in a suspenseful, action-packed issue. However, one of the book’s unsung heroes has to be colorist Chris Sotomayor. Igle paces the art well, and his inkers (Rob Stull & Lary Stucker) give his pencils their proper weight, but Sotomayor really brings the art to life. The figures have three dimensions; the characters’ powers are given special effects; and because the action all takes place at night, the use of light is excellent. There’s a last-page surprise that anyone who reads Previews should be able to predict, but Jolley has set up the surprise in a very fun way. I’m really looking forward to #10.

The flashback pages of Captain America #2 reminded me — why didn’t Bucky, Cap’s World War II sidekick, ever have some kind of bulletproof doohickey? Cap was the Super-Soldier, with muscles and abilities enhanced by science, and an unbreakable shield made of a unique alloy which would probably outlive cockroaches. Bucky? Bucky wore a blue-and-red suit and occasionally got to carry a rifle.*

Come to think of it, sidekick du jour Sharon Carter gets pretty much the same deal in this issue, except she can call for backup and she’s always armed. Agent Carter starts the plot rolling by alerting Cap that his old foe the Red Skull is dead. The two investigate, foiling what looked like the Skull’s last evil plan until a new wrinkle is thrown in at the end.

Steve Epting’s pencils move things along effectively, especially in the fight scenes where Cap uses his shield imaginatively in close quarters. Nice use of computer graphics on the SHIELD helicarrier too. Still, the issue is dark — lots of scenes underground, and lots at night, so kind of hard to tell who’s who at first. (The villain’s mask reminds me of an old Spider-Woman baddie from the ’70s, or maybe the Taskmaster, but those are probably coincidental.) I also have to say that writer Ed Brubaker has come up with a dumb acronym for a criminal organization. (I won’t spoil it, but do they have a Mechanical Organism Designed Only for Wuv?)

Finally, I picked up writer Peter David’s return to The Incredible Hulk (#77), joined by artists Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer. I haven’t read a Hulk comic since David left the title about six years ago, but this story doesn’t need much setup. It’s a moody, atmospheric affair which mostly takes place underwater, as the Hulk walks along the bottom of the ocean to a mysterious island. Along the way he deals with various predators and flashes back to Bruce Banner’s repressed-rage high school days. Because the arc is titled “Tempest Fugit,” I’m guessing there will be more surprises on the island, even beyond the surprise on the last page. All told, a good beginning — but I hope the later chapters are less decompressed.

Wow, two more Marvel titles added to the list! Looks like Grandpa is branching out.

* Reminds me of the old Batman joke. He’s asked, “So you wear this dark-colored costume — why the bright yellow oval on your chest?”

He replies, “The oval covers a bulletproof plate. It’s a target, so crooks shoot at the plate and not my head. I don’t like to get shot.”

Interviewer: “Then what’s up with Robin’s costume? It’s all bright colors!”

Batman: “I don’t like to get shot.”

January 6, 2005

This Show Stinks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 3:35 pm
No doubt many Batman fans are excited about the two announcements made yesterday — Dark Knight auteur Frank Miller writing the Jim Lee-drawn All-Star Batman & Robin; and the reunion of writer Steve Engelhart, penciller Marshall Rogers, inker Terry Austin, and letterer John Workman on a new Batman miniseries, Dark Detective.

Oh sure, I’m excited too, but I’m ecstatic that Tony Kornheiser (star of TV and newsprint) is back on the radio, streaming online (free registration required) through SportsTalk 980 in Washington, DC (and on XM Radio in February)! All your favorites are back — Andy Pollin (“Andy Polley”), Old Guy Radio, the “thisshowstinks” e-mail, and even Tony’s raise-the-roof theme song (“Tony-Tony, hey-hey”)!

If you love sports, you owe it to yourself to check him out.

January 4, 2005

Will Eisner, 1917-2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 6:25 pm
Will Eisner, one of the true giants in comics, passed away yesterday. He was most famous for his masked detective called The Spirit, but he was also arguably the author of the modern graphic novel. He literally wrote the book — Comics & Sequential Art — on graphic storytelling, something not even Jack Kirby could claim to have done. He will be missed.

As it happens, David over at Yet Another Comics Blog was encouraging people to treat themselves to an Eisner book, so I’ll second his suggestion.

The End Of The Beginning, or Look Ma, No Han?

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 6:10 pm
Naturally I was excited when the Star Wars prequels were first announced, ‘way back when. Surely they would focus on the Jedi Knights, and I really dug the Jedi — even more so once I read the spooky post-ROTJ Luke of Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s Dark Empire comic. The prequels would deliver more flashing lightsabers and Force powers — but how would that go over with the general public?

While one could argue that Star Wars and Empire were successful because they tapped into a collective mythic blah blah blah, a big part of that success was Han Solo and his roguish charm. However, by the time of Return of the Jedi, the overall plot had Han practically domesticated, with his role in the story clearly less important than Luke’s. Luke is the hero on a macro level, but he’s also more of a straight man than Han or even Leia. I figured the prequels wouldn’t have a Han-figure because they must set the stage for Luke’s heroics.

Han also spent a lot of the original trilogy scoffing either at the Force or at Leia’s royalty, two things with which the prequels are abundantly concerned. As a Princess and a Senator, Leia represents the politics of the Old Republic. With both the Jedi and the Republic sliding down the tubes in the prequels, and nothing getting any better, why have a character making sarcastic comments during the decline?

The prequels’ focus on the Jedi Knights and Old Republic politics has been fascinating for me as a fan, but from an entertainment standpoint the movies really could have used a dose of Han-type humor and skepticism. Ewan McGregor has tried hard, and maybe Jimmy Smits can make something out of Bail Organa, but I doubt it.

I’m afraid the same logic will apply to Batman Begins. After seeing the BB trailer on the big screen (before Ocean’s Twelve), I’m more impressed than I was watching the comparatively tiny Internet version, but I’m still worried that the movie will be so much fan-attractive trivia and not enough audience-friendly Bat-action.

How valuable is the superhero origin sequence to the general public, really? The Incredibles didn’t dwell on anybody’s origin. Neither did X-Men (which didn’t deal so much in origins sequences as it did character introductions; and the flashbacks to Wolverine’s past in X2 similarly advanced the larger plot). 1998’s The Mask Of Zorro showed Antonio Banderas’ Zorro origin, but in the context of the original Zorro training him. The first Batman showed the Waynes’ murders in flashback, and Batman Forever showed Robin’s origin; both again in service of the larger plot. Each of these jumped right into the superheroics, and each was pretty well-received.

Movies which start off devoting a lot of time to origins are arguably more of a mixed bag. Hulk used what felt like the first half of the movie to set up Bruce’s irradiation and the consequences thereof, and my wife fell asleep. Superman spent a good bit of time on Krypton and in Kansas, but at least the audience got to see an alien world, and then Clark using his powers. Those settings also gave the movie an epic sweep that made it feel bigger and grander than just another action movie. Finally, Spider-Man almost couldn’t avoid the origin, since Peter’s guilt drives how he uses (and for that matter values) his powers. It doesn’t hurt that his origin is so powerful, and the movie sequences were well-dramatized. With Spider-Man, understanding the origin is essential for understanding the character.

This is apparently the tack that David Goyer and Christopher Nolan have taken in writing and directing Batman Begins. The question is whether audiences will find Bruce Wayne’s story sufficiently compelling for the time it takes. Again, the first Batman didn’t linger over the Wayne murders, and said nothing about Bruce’s training or even the choice of motif, and it made a skillion dollars. Thus, the public at large may have a very different set of expectations from a Batman film than even the average comics fan. As much as fans hated Joel Schumacher’s over-the-top approach, he might well have had solid reasoning behind it.

At the very least I will probably find something to like about this movie, just like I found good things about each of the four previous ones. However, as a fan I’m disposed to like it. My fear is that it will be too fan-friendly and thus bore anyone who’s not excited about the minutiae of Batman’s origin. We fans have been waiting for that one perfect vehicle which will at last convince the masses that our hero is neither a ’60s joke nor a ’90s parade of neon and nipples. The question is whether this movie, like Spider-Man before it, will find its Han Solo — namely, that elusive balance between fidelity to the stories and commercial appeal.

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