Episode recap: Gotham S.1., Ep. 1 — The pilot flutters, but doesn’t sputter


Gotham CastRight off the bat (no pun intended), I will fully admit that I am not the biggest Batman fan.  He isn’t my favorite for a variety of reasons.  However, I don’t detest him and I have read quite a bit of the lore due the sterling influence of my wife (although Cap is slowly digging his shield in further…yay!).  I think that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is superb filmmaking and perhaps the best rendition of the Caped Crusader to date, and if the UK’s Rocksteady has any say in my video game habits I will (once again) be purchasing the CE of next June’s Batman Arkham Knight and blitzing through a spectacular campaign and all-around awesome game.

Nevertheless…I digress, my hate/love relationship with Batman is rather moot, considering that Fox’s Gotham is the Bat media in relative question.  I was trepidatious about the whole affair.  I felt that the media gurus at DC and Fox were pushing for something that couldn’t be successful.  It was announced early on that none of the DC properties would relate, so there was no hope for an Arrow crossover or any bleed through to the films, and the castings are mostly unknowns…and comparatively young— Taking a page from the casting news of Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot, releasing 2015.

Gotham - Poison IvyIf I was going to watch Gotham I wanted Batman, not boy Wayne and the teen villain brigade.  However, what I did not expect…happened.  Instead of focusing on Bruce Wayne and the Batman, Gotham focuses on a young (not yet, Commissioner) Gordon and the exploits of the Gotham Police Department.  Throughout the GCDP’s ongoings and happenings audiences are privy to a plethora of Gotham City easter eggs.  This was a pleasant surprise because it takes a well-worn and critically acclaimed page from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (1987).

We get to see Poison Ivy as a girl, Catwoman as a thieving teenager, the Penguin as a conniving subordinate, a young comedian yet touched by chemicals, and a host of other side characters in the Gotham universe.  It is quite interesting, and I found myself giddy guessing who was whom and how their futures would eventually intertwine within Gotham.

Ben McKenzie plays a fantastic young, Detective Gordon.  His voice is just gravely enough, and he plays the part of the outsider trying to do good in a corrupt city.  The show primarily follows Gordon and his partner, Harvey Bullock (played by the talented Donal Logue).  The pilot starts out strong and in manner that I did not expect—  It was almost surprising.  Throughout the pilot’s plot (a murder investigation), Gotham sets the tone, mannerisms, and host of characters to be fleshed out in future episodes and seasons.

Gotham - SceneThe only downfall to Gotham is that it seems geared to fans who know a little bit more about the comic book lore and healthy does of knowledge concerning all of the nuanced characters of Gotham and how they relate.  This is great for an old school comic book fan like myself, but in inquiry I found that quite a few people found the show corny at moments and not as cohesive as Arrow, or its older, quality counterpart, Smallville.  More often than not, these individuals are willing to give the show a couple more episodes to see if they’ll warm up to it, but the general consensus is that was good but not great like comic book fans are making it out to be.

Nevertheless, I am willing to give it more time to come into its own.  It hooked this anti-Batman fan, and I am curious to see if Gotham can be groundbreaking or not— Time will tell.  Check back here next week for a recap of the second episode of Gotham airing on Fox on Mondays at 8/7c.

Book review: “Words for Pictures” by Brian Michael Bendis, foreword by Joe Quesada (2014)


Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic NovelsWords for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Words for Pictures” is an interesting text— More-so because it is exactly that: A textbook. The author, Brian Michael Bendis, is a writer that I have read for years; he has written some of my favorite superhero tales from the modernization of the New Avengers to his current X-Men runs to the stellar Secret Invasion and Age of Ultron Marvel events. He is the quintessential rockstar of the comic book world, or as he would put it: Comic book famous.

Rarely do audiences get to see the man behind the curtain. We get see their art, but we are removed from their perspective and upbringing. How did they get into the comic book industry? What drives them to write or draw? Where did they go for schooling? How does the editorial process work? How do I become published in the comic book industry?

There are a myriad of questions that get lost in the shuffle of the work, which is not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes there are people who want to know more. The final product, whether it be a piece of writing and/or art or an amalgamation of the two such as comic or graphic novel, should be viewed in the most holistic light as possible, but there are some of us who want to peel back the layers and learn more about the industry and the process to better understand the human experience.

Luckily for us, Brian Michael Bendis followed in the footsteps of the greats before him and created “Words for Pictures,” which is along the same lines as Dennis O’Neil’s “The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics,” Alan Moore’s “Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics,” and Will Eisner’s “Comics and Sequential Art.” It is a modern guide for the aforementioned who want to learn more about the industry. Whether you are curious about breaking into the business or are merely a perspective reader, “Words for Pictures” strikes a chord.

The book covers all aspects of the industry. It begins with a thoughtful introduction by Joe Quesada praising Bendis for his work and ability to create such a guide whilst anecdotally speaking of his own career. The book then segue-ways into the basics and career of Brian Michael Bendis as a writer and educator, as described by him. As he starts to get into the nitty-gritty of script writing he begins to have fellow writers interject and describe their own writing processes and collaborative efforts with fellow artists. This is a unique and clever structure, because it allows the reader to see Bendis’ methodology as well as several others which begins to coalesce into working idea of the readers’ own take on the writing process.

The middle of the text unfortunately becomes a little dry. The narrative shifts abruptly to focus on the artists. This normally wouldn’t be a negative, but the information is conveyed poorly. Essentially a large group of artists were gathered (or at least their responses were) and given a series of questions. This style was executed poorly because as a reader you are subjected to a main question and then the artists’ dozen or so follow-up answers that were merely the same ones reiterated over-and-over again. After the first ten-pages or so of the interview responses they began to blur with another and I was loosing sight of the information being presented. I ended up taking a breather and coming back to it, to finish that particular section.

However, the final portion of the book closes out with a bang and ticks up wonderfully. It is chalked full of helpful inspiration for writers at all stages in their career. There is an entire section devoted strictly to the editorial and submission process, another focusing on the business aspect of writing as told by Bendis’ wife and business partner, a FAQ, and finally tips and tricks of the trade which includes what it truly means to be ‘a writer’ as described by Brian Michael Bendis.

All-in-all, “Words for Pictures” is a fantastic text. It comes from the heart of an educator, but more importantly, the mind of a writer. It touches base on all the important facets of the comic book industry and creative process. Save for a brief dry spell in the middle, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of the craft and business of making comics.

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Film review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)


“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” with Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, and Cobie Smulders

Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Written by Christopher Markus (Screenplay), Stephen McFeely (Screenplay), Ed Brubaker (concept and story), Joe Simon (comic book), and Jack Kirby (comic book)

PosterThe Marvel Cinematic Universe, otherwise dubbed as “MCU,” continues to expand and impress with each new film introduced into the respective universe and the newest Captain America film, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” exceeds expectations more than ever.  Marvel Studios seems to now uncover pieces of a puzzle to us one at a time, letting audiences dive into the action and lore of the current generation.  Some pieces have several adjacent pieces already exposed in prior releases, while on other sides we have only film titles, future release dates, and a handful of factoids.  Regardless, the amount of cohesion that is the MCU puzzle is impressive and never before been done; Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige have pioneered the film industry and what it means to be a franchise.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” fits into the puzzle so well, its quality is on par with or even exceeds Joss Whedon’s 2012, “The Avengers.”  Gone are the days of the cheesy Marvel films, audiences now get to enjoy comic book films that are deeply entrenched in nerdery but so well-crafted it is as-if we are watching the newest high-caliber thriller, espionage film akin to the likes of Ludlum’s Bourne or the grittiness of a Ridley Scott drama.  “Captain America: Winter Soldier” is no exception, and while uncovering a new piece of the Marvel puzzle to us, it also pulls from the rich genre well of the great conspiracy films from the 1970s— Bits and pieces elegantly placed together to create a modern retelling of some of the great genre films of the past.

If curious check out this great article by IGN’s Daniel Krupa, “5 Films You Should See After Captain America: Winter Soldier.”  Krupa details out specifics references of Winter Soldier’s obvious respect to cinema history and recommends some of the best espionage films of the era that “Captain America: Winter Soldier” most-likely pulls from.

05Picking up after the events of the first Captain America as well as “The Avengers,” the newest entry into the Marvel series places Captain Steve Rogers in a new world, specifically a new world order.  The inside jokes and technological marvels of the second modern millennium are not as confounding to the Captain as they were in “The Avengers (2012),” but he still lives as a man out of time.  He is conflicted, but at an ideological level.

He pulls upon the threads of a lost life by finding lovers and compatriots of the old.  However, more important than his lust for a forgotten time, he is torn between the ideologies of the time.  Forcing good and evil into a black and white spectrum, just doesn’t seem as easy as it was back in the day, and the idea of secrecy and espionage being the mainstay in a constant struggle tears at Captain America, which is essentially the driving force behind the film.

Captain America is in a brave new world and he knows nothing else than being a soldier.  He is at service to his country, and is trying to find his footing in a different type of war.  The film opens with Cap making a connection with a fellow soldier as they run laps around the mall in front of the Washington Monument.  This seemingly small connection expands throughout the film because it provides Cap a connection to the era; war is eternal and the two can relate even across the decades.

10Captain America’s newfound running mate is later introduced as Falcon (aka Sam Wilson) played by the talented Anthony Mackie.  Alongside Captain America and Falcon, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders); and Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) round out the primary protagonists, subsequently pitting them against a villain from Cap’s past and present in a sweeping plot that will have long lasting consequences upon S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, and the entirety of the MCU.

The action scenes are tightly shot and fluid.  Captain America is finally given the chance to prove his dynamism in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”  He is agile and more gymnastic than he has ever been— Obviously refining his skills and training in order to adapt to Norse Gods, men in Iron suits, and, well…Hulk, along with a new world paradigm.  Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who stands by Cap throughout the narrative, is just as fluid and badass as she has been in the prior Marvel films.  This time around we get to see Natasha more in the raw— A little bit of backstory and vulnerability are exposed along with a dash of flirtatiousness thrown in for good measure.  Nick Fury remains stoic and secretive as always, but his role within the MCU also is called into question similarly to that of Captain America’s place.

09The cinematography and art style is at its best in this film.  Not only does Marvel Studios manage to keep an atmospheric cohesion between two films set seventy-years apart, they also manage to tie the two plot lines to one of Caps greatest villains as well as the massive juggernaut of “The Avengers.” This is an incredible filmmaking feat and a tricky endeavor on multiple fronts— “Finesse” is the word that comes to mind.  Continuity is tricky, especially when dealing with comics and an expanded film universe that now encompasses nine films and counting, but like aforementioned “Captain America: Winter Soldier” is merely a new puzzle piece being revealed to audiences.  It fits perfectly in the overall scope of things, and doesn’t deviant anyway from the big picture.

The acting is superb in “Captain America: Winter Soldier.”  Chris Evans is excellent as always and is a more believable Captain America than he ever was a Johnny Storm.  Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow seems to improve every time she stars in a new Marvel film, and the vulnerability and rawness that Johansson brings to the character was particularly believable and refreshing.  It is honestly coming to the point where she could probably handle her own, standalone “Black Widow” film and Marvel would see the return that they would need to film another.  Anthony Mackie is a standout actor that brings a certain modernity to his role as Falcon and ultimately one of Captain America’s closest friends.  The Winter Soldier was excellently cast and written; the presence, shock and awe, and gravitas that Sebastian Stan brings is impressive.  Villains have always been a comics mainstay, and (as Loki has proven) can be incredibly popular and successful in their own right, and with further backstory and films the Winter Soldier can perhaps reach the lofty height of Hiddleston’s portrayal as Loki.  Watching Robert Redford on screen was fantastic.  He played Alexander Pierce wonderfully and his inclusion added another layer of sophistication that rounded out an already stellar cast and well-constructed plot.  Redford’s inclusion was very much akin to Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Colonel Chester Phillips in “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

The film was impressive to say the least.  The plot line was impressive for its continuity and level of construction; the castings and overall acting were topnotch and more than a couple of decades ago would have been unheard of for a comic book film; the atmosphere, art direction, and cinematography managed to tie in numerous elements of prior films while remaining cohesive is the film’s high point among many highs.  At the moment, it is difficult to imagine a film franchise reaching such heights, except for maybe Star Wars.

Fan Art

As an aside, I had the pleasure of seeing two different showing of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”  One was opening evening (but was a standard theater showing), however the second viewing was an IMAX 3D one.  I usually don’t prefer IMAX 3D presentations due to issues with my contact lenses, but this time around I preferred the experience because it was more enveloping.  The IMAX presentation showed quite a bit more peripheral action in the extended sequences and the 3D was not harsh upon the eyes, actually translating quite well to the viewer.  It was visually stunning and added to an already great cinematic experience.

To cap off such a film, movies goers were shown a brief glimpse into the franchises with not one but two after the credit scenes, so make sure to check out the post-credits before leaving the theater.  The first scene gives audiences as glimpse into “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” while the second is little more specific to Captain America.  Nevertheless, they’re both worth checking out, so if you plan on seeing “The Avengers 2” and/or “Captain America 3” stay seated till film stops rollin’.