Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The 25 Best Comic Book Covers of the 1970s

The 1970s was an amazing time for countless comic book creators and characters. Instant-classic characters created in the ‘60s were hitting their heyday and the ideas of comic book art were slowly expanding to encompass new styles. In addition, some of the all-time greats of the medium were getting their chance to shine.

It was during this time when Marvel Comics produced many of its most classic stories and DC Comics took major steps away from their extremely campy style that took up much of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The best comic books of the 1970s are just as well known for their plots as they are for their art. It was here that stories such as “The Death of Gwen Stacy,” “The Phoenix Saga,” and “The Fourth World” began. Not only that, but characters like The Punisher, Ghost Rider, and even Howard the Duck made their debut. Fresh ideas, new creators, and colorful new characters always inject more exciting opportunities in comic books, and this era was chock full of them.

There’s a certain blend between the more realistic and detailed style brought by many artists and the colorful and bombastic cartoonish ideas in the 1970s that results in countless images that are quintessential comic books. The art produced here would go on to influence countless artists and styles in the years to follow. As artists grew and expanded the style, the medium would only go on to be more diverse and artistically explosive. But the comics off the ‘70s are still incredibly fun.

For a rundown of the best comic book covers from the ‘60s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s, check out The Best Comic Book Covers by Decade.

25. The Defenders #10 by John Romita, Sr.

The Avengers/Defenders war crossover from 1973 was the first ever event comic, pitting two teams of heroes against one another in a giant battle. Here, Hulk and Thor are locked in a titanic clash with one another. Like the series itself, this cover is all about gigantic action. These two superheroes are some of the strongest in all of comics and seeing them locked in battle with one another is guaranteed to draw in fans. Romita makes the kinetic energy palpable, with both straining and fighting for control in the midst of rubble.

24. Marvel Spotlight #5 by Mike Ploog & Morrie Kuramoto

Ghost Rider is one of the more visually stunning heroes in comics, with the character’s flaming skull head and motorcycle capturing the imagination in a raw and thrilling manner. Here in his debut, the Spirit of Vengeance rides through criminals and low lifes in the night. Ploog and Kuramoto really know how to sell and entrance, casting shadows and fiery light as this fierce character leaps out of the page. The title styling and art may be clearly from a bygone era, but having Ghost Rider leap off the page makes this a classic that still resonates.

Monday, March 23, 2015

"Insurgent" is a Directionless Heroine's Journey

Young adult novels have remained fertile ground for film series ever since the Twilight series began in 2008. While there have been numerous notable failures in the years since, Hollywood has found new life in a subgenre of this subgenre – the post-apocalyptic young adult novel. While The Hunger Games remains the crossover flag bearer of the genre, The Divergent Series is making waves in its wake. But the series has some clear issues that keep it from being a real success. Most of these weaknesses are on display, if not exacerbated, in the sequel Insurgent.

Based on the second book in the series by author Veronica Roth, Insurgent follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) as they run from Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and the faction that is trying to take over post-apocalyptic Chicago. Tris and Four are Divergent, meaning they fit into more than one of the five factions that people are separated into based on their personalities and can overcome mental simulations that can control others. Now they are fighting to save their own lives, stop Jeanine, and protect the many people who may be targeted in her path toward domination.

The world of Insurgent is meant to show the power of Divergents and their unique nature through dream simulations, high stakes, and strange technology that is based on thoughts and fears. It makes for a strange blend in an ill-defined world where sometimes people shoot each other with real bullets. Other times it’s with knock-out injections. Sometimes everything is a dream. Sometimes it’s a simulation. Above all, the themes of becoming a unique individual and the importance of growth are what these films seem to be centered on in the end. However, the narrative, characters, and overall quality of Insurgent is simply not strong enough to make these themes hit home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The 15 Best Movie Opening Title Sequences

Movie title sequences can get easily overlooked in the overall scope of a film. But the introductory credits play a crucial part in the quality and cohesiveness of a movie. Not only that, but movie title sequences can be amazing works of art on their own. These pieces are the result of artistic genius let loose in cinema. As if creating a moving work of art centered around showing audiences the names and positions of a film crew wasn’t hard enough, opening titles also have to line up with the overall themes and ideas of the film in order to strengthen the movie’s message. Finally, they also have to gel perfectly with the music that is chosen.

But when an opening credits sequence gets it right, the result is magical. The best opening titles use everything from live action to hand drawn animation to cutting edge computer graphics, and sometimes all three in one sequence. In any case, the best of the best create wonderful and memorable sequences that last in the memories of viewers for just as long as the rest of the film, and sometimes even longer.

The 15 title sequences chosen here represent what makes movies a truly special art form that grows and changes across the decades. One rule, all of the sequences chosen here are opening titles, meaning that end credits sequences are not included. Stay tuned for another entry spotlighting the best end credits sequences in film history. Have your own personal favorites? Let me know in the comments section below!

15. 101 Dalmatians

Old Disney movies knew how to start off in a classy way. Here, the beginning of 101 Dalmatians shows several vital elements of the film that is about to come. First, the high energy jazz soundtrack really stands apart from the fairy tale stories done by Disney previously. Second, the art elements put on display show the departure in terms of art, as this was the first time Disney had used xerography during inking and painting animation cells creating a sketchy look to much of the art. Finally, it puts the Dalmatians themselves front and center, showing off the colorful and fun pets in their London homes. This is a lovely way to get audiences ready for an instant classic Disney movie.

Monday, March 16, 2015

"What We Do in the Shadows" Injects Fresh Comedic Blood into the Vampire Genre

The vampire subgenre of horror films has hit a major low in recent years. So has the found footage film. So a combination of these two played for laughs seems like a recipe for a stale movie. But What We Do in the Shadows, which takes these two concepts and spins them on their heads through the lens of a comedy horror mockumentary, is fresh and incredibly funny.

The setup is fairly simple, a documentary crew has been given permission to film the lives of four vampires living together in Wellington, New Zealand, in anticipation of an annual masquerade ball for supernatural beings in the area. Along the way, the crew captures the minutia and challenges of being one of the living undead and the strange world they inhabit. From the difficulties of getting into a club (they have to be invited in) to the petty squabbles they have (like who is in charge of cleaning all the blood off the dishes), life as a vampire is only a little more extreme than everyday human experience.

Written and directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, who helped create the indie smash hit Flight of the Conchords for HBO, What We Do in the Shadows has all the low dry key and absurdist humor you would expect given their pedigree, but with the layers that come from a well-worn genre that could use some fresh blood. The film drips with humor and satire from the first frame to the last, but the strength of it all comes from the characters at the center, each of whom have distinct personalities and eccentricities that lend to a variety of pathos and pay tribute to the many aspects of vampire lore.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dark Knight Discussion: Alternate Reality Batmen (Part 2 of 2)

There are enough alternate reality Batmen to fill up an entire planet of people. Or at least that’s what it seems with all the parallel universes floating around in DC Comics. From far flung future tales to inverted realities to people with very misguided ideas on what makes Batman cool, alternate reality tales have given rise to a wide array of Dark Knights. And that’s not even including the many versions found in movies and television, each of which could be considered as their own separate universes.

Whether it’s due to a desire to break out of the confines of a structured DC Comics universe or just a fun whim, writers and artists have given rise to unique versions of Batman that take the core of Bruce Wayne and twist him or put him in a strange land for a fresh and surprising story. These alternate versions run the gamut from instant classics to “what were they thinking?” But at least they’re original. Well, except for the Frankenstein one.

For the first half of the list, including Flashpoint, Red Rain, The Dark Knight Returns, and many more, read Part 1 of Alternate Reality Batmen. For more in-depth looks at Batman, visit the Dark Knight Discussion section.

All Star Batman and Robin

A daring new look at the psychosis of Batman? Or the last ravings of a madman someone given the reigns of a character he once did wonders on? Maybe writer Frank Miller’s All Star Batman and Robin is a bit of both. This miniseries (which was never finished), tracks the first days of Robin’s partnership with Batman. But this Batman isn’t just a complete psychopath, he’s a total jerk to everyone around him. After the death of his parents, Batman kidnaps the traumatized boy who would be Robin and dumps him in The Batcave to fend for himself until he gets tough. He also introduces himself as “The Goddamn Batman.” But in Batman’s defense, everyone’s kind of a homicidal maniac in this comic. Miller says this version of Batman is just the younger years of the one in The Dark Knight Returns. Let’s just refuse to accept that.

The Biggest Difference: He’s a total lunatic. Kidnapping and abusing Robin, lighting criminals on fire, and cursing his head off in the midst of battle, he’s basically like the real life Frank Miller in a Batman costume.

Batman 666

Damian Wayne is a potent blend of good heart and dark tendencies as Robin, but in a premonition of the future, his ascendancy to the mantle of Batman brings the apocalypse to Gotham. While this dark vision of the future first appeared in Batman #666 by author Grant Morrison, it was not revealed until much later that this was a premonition seen by Bruce Wayne on a trip through time and a future he is desperately trying to avoid. Here, Bruce is long dead and Damian has ascended to the mantle of Batman. But Gotham is slowly falling apart despite his brutal methods and a deal with The Devil to not die until the Apocalypse. But it all ends when the city of overrun by Joker Venom-poisoned crazies and Gotham is destroyed by a nuclear bomb. It’s incredibly dark, but adds many layers to the larger story at play.

The Biggest Difference: This is a far more brutal and sinister version of Batman who has absolutely no friends or allies. He not only maims his enemies, but he’s definitely willing to kill, but he’s still trying to save Gotham every night.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dark Knight Discussion: Alternate Reality Batmen (Part 1 of 2)

Alternate reality tales have been a long standing part of fiction. When a character or world has been explored for long enough, its creators and contributors are bound to explore a different take on well-worn material. However, making drastic changes to worlds and characters may be impossible when familiar elements are what have made those continuing stories work for so long. So creating an alternate world when anything can be different not only allows unfettered freedom, but it can even explore nuances and aspects of characters that were inaccessible before.

Of all characters in fiction, even beyond comic books, Batman may be the character with the most alternate reality stories. That’s because he’s not only 75 years old with multiple stories published every month, but also one of the most beloved characters in modern popular culture. While DC Comics may have strict policies concerning what can and cannot be done with its characters in canon storylines, they allow a large amount of freedom when it comes to alternate reality explorations. Whether these stories take place in established alternate universes, the one-off brand of Elseworlds titles, or in some time travel tales in the main universe, Batman has been changed into a vampire, serial killer, old man, and even a Russian!

This two-part exploration of alternate versions of The Dark Knight is not a complete list (that would go on forever), but it covers some of the most notable twisted iterations. From the classic to the shockingly bad, these Batmen of parallel worlds are each fascinating in their own right.

Read more on the weirdest alternate versions in Part 2 of Alternate Reality Batmen! For more in-depth looks at Batman, visit the Dark Knight Discussion section.

Gotham by Gaslight

What if Bruce Wayne was born in the 1800s and took on Jack the Ripper? It’s a fairly simple conceit, but it really injects quite a bit of life and style into the story of Gotham by Gaslight, which has been cited as the first DC Comics “Elseworlds” story. Gotham City has always seemed like a strange blend of the Victorian Era and modern Manhattan, so it’s easy to picture Batman lurking amongst the shadows in the 1800s. It’s a fun and simple setup that casts the character in a slightly different light. All the same elements of the character and his origin are still there, but the old timey setting gives it a fresher vibe. Mood, atmosphere, and quality art by Mike Mignola make this one of The Dark Knight’s best alternate tales. A perfect jumping on point for anyone new to the parallel worlds stories in comics!

The Biggest Difference: Since the story is set in 1889, this version of Batman does not have nearly as many gadgets as the normal version. He’s also not nearly as unbeatable, making him far more fallible.

Kingdome Come

Decades into the future, the rise of extreme heroes willing to murder has changed the landscape of the world. Every hero has been impacted the change and Batman is no exception. The world of Kingdom Come is set in a future where a new generation of extreme and violent heroes has taken over, leaving the old guard like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman questioning their place in the world. But Batman still protects the people of Gotham. However, his body has broken down, leaving him seriously crippled without the use of an armor exoskeleton. But Bruce has given up life outside of Batman and decided to be The Caped Crusader at all times. To make up for his limited abilities, he’s created giant robotic Bat Sentries, which stand guard over Gotham at all times in an almost totalitarian regime.

The Biggest Difference: Age and ailments aside, it’s this Batman’s abandonment of the Bruce Wayne persona that changes him the most. He’s 100% dedicated to the war on crime at all times.