Monday, September 27, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - "Clone Cadets" and "ARC Troopers"

Spoiler Level: Low

"Clone Cadets": Hey, this episode reminds me of that other episode they did that focused entirely on that one squad of clones!

"ARC Troopers":  Ohhh, that's because it's the same squad...!  Now I get it.  Geez, nobody told me they were going to start jumping around in the timeline!  Well wait a minute, I seem to recall Steve mentioning that they were going to do that eventually... geez, I guess I need to start paying closer attention.

I enjoy episodes like this because they really flesh out the Star Wars universe, and humanize the clones.  It's probably just as well that I didn't remember these were the same clones from "Rookies" because then I'd realize what their fates would be.  Still, now that I know, I'd like to watch all three episodes in a row someday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Spoiler Level: High

Wow, and I thought the Wonder Woman one was violent!

This is another case where I was only vaguely aware of the source material.  I was aware that Jason Todd was back from the dead in the comics because he was alongside Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and Donna Troy in Countdown to Final Crisis.  So I asked some friends how he came back, and the general answer I got was that when Superboy Prime was smashing at the walls of his little pocket universe bubble it was sending ripples through the New Earth universe, which led to several characters being resurrected.  Which is a bit convoluted, but hey, it's comic books.  And apparently Judd Winick felt the same way, because he crafted this tale to give it a more straight-forward and Batman-centric reason.

I can imagine that for people who read the original comic there was more of a mystery who the Red Hood really was, but any suspense on that part is completely lost here by the need to explain to the general audience just who the heck Jason Todd is in the first place.  So the film needs to open with the conclusion to "Death in the Family" where we're shown one of the most shocking moments in Batman history-- the scene where the Joker beats the second Robin to death with a crow bar and then blows him up.  Although it wasn't handled quite the way I would have done it, it still comes across as properly shocking and harsh as it needs to be.

After having set up just who Jason Todd was, the suspense that the Red Hood is Jason back from the dead is pretty much a give away right after Batman and Nightwing's first fight with him, and the center of the story becomes the question of how he came back, and are his more severe tactics better than Batman's.  It raises a lot of good questions and creates a lot of good character drama between Batman, Nightwing and the Red Hood. Batman is blaming himself for failing Jason, but at the same time we also see the stable, self-confidant man that Dick Grayson has grown into because of Batman.

All in all, this is possibly the darkest Batman film I've ever seen, live action or animated.  It may be a bit gratuitous at times, but that helps to convey why Batman has a line he won't cross, and why Jason Todd felt it needed to be crossed.  Jason's side may even be a valid argument, but Batman reminds us why it's important to not let the heroes be reduced to the villains' levels.  And I for one am glad to see that even one of the DC's darkest heroes has never forgotten the difference.

DC Showcase: Jonah Hex

Spoiler Level: Low

Batman: Under the Red Hood also includes the second DC Showcase short, this time focusing on Jonah Hex.  It's a pretty straight-forward western tale, although just like the Spectre short it's very dark.

This time we also get a little sex in the form of saloon girl prostitutes. Nothing too graphic-- we are sticking to the PG-13 rating, after all-- but I could have sworn I saw a guy getting a motorboat in the background at one point!

"DC Showcase: Jonah Hex" will also be collected with the other two shorts and released in an expanded version in November on the Superman / Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam DVD.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Star Wars: Cloak of Deception by James Luceno

Spoiler Level: Medium

James Luceno's tale of the Prequel era picks up at the same planet where Darth Maul: Saboteur left off, albeit months later, and we see how the manipulations in that short story set the stage for even bigger manipulations in this novel, which set the stage for the even bigger manipulations of The Phantom Menace.  Which of course also set the stage for the manipulations of the next two films.

Luceno has a complete and total grasp of Palpatine, and the intricacies of his machinations that we become privy to here are really at the core of the lessons that the Prequel trilogy was trying to show us.

I remember as a kid, I always found the boardroom scene in the original Star Wars to be the most boring part.  But then I saw it again as a young adult and the dialogue talking about how "The Emperor has disbanded the Senate..." totally fascinated me.   I really wanted a deeper look at this pre-Empire version of the Star Wars Galaxy.  I guess that's part of why I wasn't as disappointed with the film as everyone else was; when I finally got to see the Senate, it exceeded my imaginations of what it was.

And that's where this book excels-- it shows us how far the Republic has fallen, how deeply the corruption has taken hold, and how cleverly Palpatine is able to play that to his advantage.  And it takes on an even deeper meaning now that the Prequel Trilogy is over, and you absolutely know that these failings are leading to not just the end of the Republic, but the Republic itself letting go of all it was supposed to hold dear and becoming the Empire.

In the Senate, politicians are not concerned with the welfare of the Republic or their own people; they're concerned with taking down their political opponents, or making sure things go smoothly for the ones with the money, such as the Trade Federation, because that will benefit them.  The parallels between this and our own government, which often seems more concerned with helping the corporations than helping the people, are obvious.  And so is the warning-- if we don't turn back now, this could happen here.

It's also nice to get to see another story with Qui-Gon, who was such a wonderful part of Phantom Menace but has so few other stories.  And this story also introduces Vergere, who becomes a very prominent character in the New Jedi Order series, so I found that to be a very pleasant connection.

All in all, while we the fans were busy whining about Jar-Jar and little Anakin yelling "Yippie!" we should have been focusing on what Episode I got right-- the corruption that could allow evil to take hold without anyone noticing.  And that's what this book delivers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Star Wars: Darth Maul - Sabotuer by James Luceno

Spoiler Rating: Medium

And now, with the Sith Era books completed, I move forward into the Prequel Era...

It's one thousand years after Darth Maul has established his Rule of Two, and the current two Sith are Darth Sidious and his apprentice, Darth Maul.  But of course, we all already know that.

Darth Sidious has decided to send Darth Maul on his first solo mission:  to sabotage two mining companies that are already doing a pretty good job of sabotaging each other.  But Maul's goal is in manipulating the situation to suit the Sith's needs, and in doing so, we see Darth Sidious put another game piece in place for his rise to power.

This is an ebook, so it's fairly short.  It doesn't go into depth on Darth Maul's history at all, although it does give us a good look inside his mind, and serves as the lead-in for the first full-length novel of the Prequel era, Luceno's Cloak of Deception.  As such, I think it would have made the most sense if it had been reprinted with Cloak of Deception, but the powers that be chose to include it with Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter instead.

I enjoyed Luceno's writing style, as I always do.  He has a great way of describing the visuals that really bring home the cinematics of watching a Star Wars movie, and this book serves as good introduction to the current Sith Lords, even if it doesn't go into much depth about them.  But then again, it really can't; having been written between the release of Episode I and Episode II, that ball was still very much in George Lucas's court.  But it still gives us a taste, and works as a great prelude to Cloak of Deception.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Star Trek: Klingon Empire - A Burning House by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Spoiler Level: On the higher side of Medium

Star Trek: Klingon Empire was an attempt by Pocket Books to "relaunch" the IKS Gorkon novels.  According to the author, the previous Gorkon book hadn't sold that well, and this was an attempt to give the line a new jumping on point and hopefully boost the sales up.  Sadly, no Klingon Empire books have been published since this one, so I can only assume that Pocket wasn't happy with the sales.  Which is a real shame.

This book picks up directly after the end of IKS Gorkon Book 3: Enemy Territory as the Gorkon is called back home to Qo'noS.  From there we get to meet many of the families of the Gorkon crew.  The ususal Klingon politics abound, but there's also a very fresh look at the Empire.  We get to see the slums of the Empire, a Klingon opera along with the kinds of Klingons who put on such a show, and one of the Klingon farming colonies.  It's a great look at how the Klingon attitudes we know are shared (and sometimes not shared) among the different classes of Klingon society.  In many ways, the wonderful characters of the 15th Squadron are used as the lense to show us the rest of the Empire, a view we've never seen in any other Star Trek before.

But best of all, the subpolt of Rodek's lost memories-- those that we the reader know to be his original memories as Worf's brother Kurn-- finally comes to the forefront in this book.  Which is good, because I was never completely comfortable with what Bashir and Worf did to Kurn (even if they did for what they felt were very necessary reasons), and this gives the subject a much deeper examination, pro and con, which I think it deserved.  And the outcome was never once predictable, which I really enjoyed.

There's still a few Gorkon short stories out there-- I know there's one in the Captain's Table anthology that I haven't read, and I think there's one in the Mirror Universe anthology as well, so I still have a few stories to look forward to, but all in all I'm sorry this series didn't run longer.  DeCandido really knocked it out of the park with this series, and hopefully we'll see more of the Gorkon and its crew in the future.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

DC Showcase: The Spectre

Spoiler Level: Medium

"DC Showcase: The Spectre" is the first in a series of animated shorts that are being included on the DCU Original Animated Movie DVDs.  The wonderful thing about this is that characters who probably wouldn't be able to sell their own DVD can now get the beautiful animated treatment that Batman and Superman have been getting, even if it is only for about 11 minutes.

First off, I have to say I'm impressed with how well this short was made.  It's given a scratchy film look and an awesome 70's pulp-noir inspired soundtrack.  The animation itself is very fluid and fantastic to watch.  And The Spectre himself is in true Wrath of God form.

Having said that, I'm reminded why I tend to only like The Spectre himself as part of the Justice Society and could never get into his solo comic, even when he was Hal Jordan.  The Spirit of Vengeance is just too damn dark for me.  Rich commented that this story was pretty much a horror story, and I've never been very big on horror.

But I can still appreciate it for what it was, and it makes me really look forward to the other DC Showcase shorts that are on the way.  This one is currently available on the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths DVD, but will be gathered with "DC Showcase: Jonah Hex" and "DC Showcase: Green Arrow" in November along with a new 22 minute short, Superman / Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam on DVD in November.