Superman: Red Son. Made-for-Video Animation, 84 minutes. Directed by Sam Liu. Written by J.M. DeMatteis. Executive Producers: Bruce Timm and Sam Register. DC Entertainment. Release Date: March 17, 2020
The timing could not be better for one of the great Superman stories. DC Entertainment presents the 2020 animated feature adaptation to Mark Millar’s 2003 Superman: Red Son. This time around, the script is by another DC Comics stalwart creative, J. M. DeMatteis. This is a great time for the alternate-history genre. There’s For All Mankind on Apple TV, a what-if about the Soviets landing on the moon first. And there’s The Plot Against America on HBO, a what-if about a Fascist America. Now, make room for a what-if about a Soviet Superman. This is about what would happen if the future Superman never crash-lands in some corn field in Kansas. But, instead, baby Superman crash-lands in the heart of Cold War-era Russia.
This is arguably the very best of DC Elseworlds adventures. In this very heated and confused time for U.S.-Russian relations, a story like this provides refreshing perspective. What would Superman do if he found himself part of Mother Russia and developed a loyalty to Communism? Apple pie and baseball don’t mean a thing to the Man of Steel. Superman is more loyal to the latest five-year plan for the people. Capitalism is just a funny concept and the U.S.A. is more suspect than respected. And leading the “greed is good” pack is, of course, Lex Luthor.
What will appeal to a lot of viewers is the clever look at how the world works. No sooner does Superman, innocently enough, prove to be the strongest man at the Kremlin than he’s elevated to the post of supreme leader. To Superman’s way of thinking, he is genuinely compelled to do good. That’s just how he’s built. But he has to do it within the confines of the Soviet Union. Conversely, Lex Luthor, not so innocently, proves to be the strongest capitalist, riding an “America First” campaign, that lands him in the White House. Along the way, we have different versions of the Korean War, the Berlin Wall, and even a taste of Dr. Strangelove thrown in for good measure.
If you’ve never read the original comic book or collected graphic novel, then you’re in for even more of a treat as this story unfolds. I think the animated feature hits all the right marks and could not be better. Voice actors like Jason Isaacs, as Superman, and Vanessa Marshall, as Wonder Woman, lead a lively cast. This is something that I could even see as a major live action movie version. It is certainly a compelling example of what can be done within the formidable world of the DC Universe.
A recap of current cool stuff, posted 13 March 2019
When people find out that I’m a cartoonist and especially that I write about comics and pop culture, the first question that is asked is, What do you recommend? Here are some answers. Over the weekend, as I escaped the heat, I decided to make a dent in my already unwieldy stack of review material. In the video below, we take a look at The Otaku Box, a new crate box service focusing on anime and manga plus a recap on some current hot comics titles: Invisible Kingdom, Little Bird, Captain America, Man and Superman, and The Wrong Earth.
I hope you enjoy this video and I invite you to like, comment, and subscribe to my evolving YouTube channel. I feel pretty good about it and any additional motivation from you folks is always appreciated. I will continue to add videos as time permits.
DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman is another entertaining and informative title from Insight Editions. This is something that will appeal to teen readers and up. Whatever your level of knowledge of superheroes, particularly from DC Comics, this book is quite appealing. A “metahuman” can mean a lot of things and, in the DC Universe, it is a superhuman power. That includes the most prominent names like Superman and Aquaman as well as lesser know characters like The Cheetah and Martian Manhunter.
This book examines in detail, with bold illustrations, the powers of twelve characters. It’s an investigation carried out by, none other than, Bruce Wayne. So, Batman himself guides the reader through this top secret dossier. You never know what to expect with these metahumans, friend or foe. For the most part, these are villains. Some have gained in prominence since gracing the silver screen, like Bane and Doomsday.
Bruce Wayne doggedly pursues the secrets to Superman’s superpowers.
In the hierarchy of metahumans, it’s hard to judge the order of significance. Each can become a star within context. And often the most interesting things are going on with the least known. And, with that in mind, this book makes for an intriguing collection.
There is a fun and natural flow to this book. The reader will be delighted with the meticulous reporting by Bruce Wayne. He definitely gives it his all in attempting to dissect Superman. The reader will enjoy following Wayne’s obsessive search and question alongside him as he ponders such things as: “While it would explain many of his feats, is negative mass effect even the likeliest reason for his abilities?” In a sense, this dossier is a story within a story.
Wayne goes on to turn his attention to The Cheetah, Aquaman, and on down the line. This is a wonderful way to become more familiar with the DC Universe, all under the metahuman theme. Without a doubt, this is another great title from Insight Editions.
DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman is a 160-page full color hardcover available as of September 18, 2018. For more details, visit Insight Editions right here.
When it comes to fighting for the share of a film audience, the battleground is extremely tough. However, amidst the blockbusters, period pieces, and Oscar fodder, one genre has risen above all others and against all odds reigned supreme both in terms of commercial success and cultural reception. That’s right, superhero movies provide us with some of the most lucrative and successful films in recent years, and their star is only going to continue to rise. But what does the future hold for superhero films? And will the current trajectory ever slow down?
2017 was a good year for superhero flicks. According to Box Office Mojo Wonder Woman grossed $412,563,408, and was the 3rd highest grossing film of the year, while Thor: Ragnarok achieved $312,641,320 and 7th place, and Justice League closed out the Top 10. The success shows that superhero movies are still drawing in the public and achieving box office targets. As long as the targets are being met, the studios will still continue to produce films about superheroes. The first female-led superhero movie bolstered the position for DC, with Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman being highly praised – and with that success comes a possible new subgenre for countless other female superheroes who may have been overlooked over the years.
Hope for the Future
2018 looks to continue the rise of the superhero movie genre, with Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Ant-Man and the Wasp providing sequels of previously successful films. Based on the eponymous villain, Venom will offer an alternate view of the Spider-Man series – which itself received a revamp in 2017, replacing Andrew Garfield with Tom Holland for the Spider-Man Homecoming origin story. Revamps are common in the genre and actually in fitting with the comic books they are based on, which regularly kill off characters, such as when Spider-Man was killed in 2012 only to be revived again. The trick the studios have to pull is to stick to the genre’s roots while finding new and exciting ways to explore superhero backstories and mythos.
But with the regurgitation of heroes in sequel after sequel (Iron Man and Captain America both have 3 films each, with appearances in crossovers and the everyone-involved Avengers films), and the retelling of the same story (Spider-Man has had 3 different actors; Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland in only 15 fifteen years), there leaves little space for new superheroes to change the genre up. However, one hero, whose exploits were documented in the 1986 movie Highlander, is in the pipeline for a remake. The remake will introduce newer fans to the character, who already has a fan base and in niche areas even appeared as a popular game on the homepage of Betway Casino, featured as an online slot game. The game features content from the classic franchise and can give you a sense of how popular the movie (directed by Chad Stahleski of John Wick fame) will be.
Superhero movie franchises abound.
Franchise and Fans
The superhero movie continues to see a positive return at the box office due to the franchise nature of the genre. The films are based on premises, not plots, which are conducive to expanded arcs, backstories, and fleshed out worlds of characters long forgotten in comic books. As many are based on comic books, which have established audiences, and come from a genre, which also has dedicated fans, studios are more likely to produce superhero movies due to the likelihood of a higher turnout. The established fan base could explain why so many superhero films are given the green light, but easy fans wouldn’t account for the genuine financial success the films achieve.
Marvel vs DC
The Marvel vs DC battle, which dominates the comic world, and has begun to dominate the world of cinema, is another factor that keeps superhero films alive. If only one franchise existed, filmmakers could grow complacent and produce subpar stories knowing people will watch them. The healthy competition and so-called battle the companies are involved in helps keep each franchise fresh in order to stay ahead of the competition. With DC’s release of the Wonder Woman film, Marvel are already considering further exploring Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in her own feature. The character starred in many of her own comics, which explored the backstory revealed in Age of Ultron. The opening of major action movies to female leads provides a wealth of avenues that the superhero films can go down – just don’t mention Halle Berry’s 2004 flop as Catwoman!
The Comic Book Industry
The superhero genre of films also helps keep the comic book industry alive. By introducing fans to a character, they can then delve into the entire back catalogue of that character, and everything they have done before. Given that many started in the 1950s, fans potentially have a large amount of material to sift through, helping to build the franchise effect that keeps audiences interested film after film.
The superhero genre, after years of hard work and failed attempts, has finally solidified itself as the head of the box office and a creator of sure-fire hits. The future of the genre looks bright, and filmmakers have to just decide which aspect to focus on. While flops can still occur, the unwavering success of the last spate of films shows just how successful the genre actually can be.
I have some treasures to give away. Here is the plan: I will mail out any of these treats to you in return for a little good cheer back. My prime objective is to get more folks to become aware of my book of collected works in comics, “A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories.” What I ask of you is to read the book and give it a review on Amazon. Of course, say whatever you like. I will truly appreciate the feedback. And it can be as short and sweet as you like too. You can easily purchase my book (or read for free) at Amazon. Just go right here. I think this will be a natural fit for my thoughtful readers.
“Wonder Woman” is simply the movie to see rounding out its third weekend with U.S. sales at $275 million and $570 million worldwide. You may have noticed there are a lot of showings, including 3D and 4DX versions, and they sell out quickly. All of this is for very good reason. This Wonder Woman movie is very sharp and Gal Gadot in the main role commands the screen at all times, even more so, I dare say, than a Ben Affleck or a Henry Cavill. That had to be part of the thinking behind this first ever Wonder Woman major motion picture. The stumbling block all these decades was supposed to have something to do with whether or not a Wonder Woman movie could ever deliver the box office of a Superman or Batman movie. The answer is YES!
Yes, Wonder Woman can Kick Ass!
“Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is certainly one of those exceptional movie events. It comes out of that urgent need to get it right. The most brilliant step in getting it right was to set the story during World War I. When was the last time you saw a major motion picture set during WWI? Any young person walking in to see this movie would shrug. There have been a select few, including 2004’s “A Very Long Engagement,” starring Audrey Tautou. The original Wonder Woman comic book was inextricably linked to World War II since it came out during that era. But to rework that same terrain would have been dreadfully tiresome for many a fan. Setting things back to an entirely different epoch opens up different and more compelling options, bringing it all back to basics in a very intriguing way. What could be better than to have a young and idealistic goddess confront “the war to end all wars”? I can imagine that being the pitch to the story by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) that was fleshed out in the screenplay by Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy).
HOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 25: Actors Gal Gadot (L) and Lynda Carter attend the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Wonder Woman” at the Pantages Theatre on May 25, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
The beauty of “Wonder Woman” is how purposeful it is. Yes, we are dealing with the inevitable origin story. But that becomes a big plus as this is used to full advantage. The opening scenes set in Themyscira, the idyllic world that Wonder Woman comes from, have a refreshing vibe to them. There is a certain amount of dutiful explaining going on but, right from the start, we see quick and steady progress from our main character. We see Diana, the little girl, get the early training she demands. In no time, she has grown into a young woman more powerful than even she could imagine. And, all the while, this phase of Diana’s life, comes across not as merely backstory but as essential. Most importantly, there is a sense of urgency and suspense. In a different era, not too long ago (not exactly over with), this depiction of a female paradise could have easily fallen prey to titillation. More harmful than any supervillain, that would have been the worst sucker punch Wonder Woman could have endured.
Yes, a Wonder Woman can be VERY SUCCESSFUL and POPULAR!
So, let me jump to my big point. I went to see this movie with my 21-year-old daughter. She was not really all that aware of the Wonder Woman TV show, starring Lynda Carter. I tried to explain that it was part of its era, the ’70s, and less enlightened. It was too easy to make Wonder Woman a sex symbol for that show. And my daughter quickly picked up on that and said she appreciated how this new Wonder Woman was not sexualized in that way. I also mentioned that I have read more than one account, over the years, of women claiming to have been inspired as little girls by the spinning Lynda Carter did on the show to magically transform into a superhero. Girls would spin and spin and spin. Again, my daughter picked up on that. She said she was more interested in Gal Gadot’s impressive Taekwondo kicks. I am sure that Lynda Carter would understand.
“Wonder Woman” offers a whole new way for girls to be inspired. They no longer have to just spin and spin and spin. What a remarkable job this movie does in playing catch-up. Had a movie just like this come out in Lynda Carter’s heyday, it would have been hailed as nothing short of revolutionary. Superman and Batman movies have dominated the pop culture landscape for decades having left a Wonder Woman movie at a considerable disadvantage. How this movie overcomes that, with a genuinely inspiring main character, clearly demonstrates that there is a demand of strong and powerful female characters. In fact, the revolution continues and this movie manages to depict Wonder Woman as leading the way.
“Wonder Woman” is distributed by Warner Bros. Visit the official Wonder Woman movie site right here.
I still remember the sting and utter humiliation during an improv class when I was asked to tell a joke and I froze. I thought I knew what to expect from acting and improv but I wasn’t ready that night to tell a simple joke! Now, I have discovered a fine book that I wish I had with me all long: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK! This book will save your comedic bacon no matter what your age and is published by Downtown Bookworks.
Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK
There are more than 600 puns, knock-knocks, one-liners, riddles, gags, and tongue twisters! Use it at parties. Use it on dates, depending on the date, of course. And definitely use it to bring a smile to anyone’s face. How about a way to get a rambunctious kid’s attention? Everyone loves a good joke. This book is chock full of them in an eye-popping colorful presentation.
Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK
As you can see from the samples, these are smart and funny jokes. A little here about the authors: Noah Smith is a comedy writer who has worked for Saturday Night Live; Sarah Parvis is a children’s book author; and Michael Robin is an author and librarian.
THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK is a full color 176-page trade paperback for ages 6 and up, published by Downtown Bookworks. You can also find it at Amazon right here.
“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins
I want to share with you a book that really speaks to me as an artist and storyteller. I’d been meaning to write a review of it for quite some time and then it struck me last night as to what to say here. This is one of those books with the goal of art instruction that really gets it! And it is considerably helped along by its niche focus! Are you into science fiction? Would you like to draw work that perfectly fits into that genre? Well, then, here’s the book for you: “How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins, published by Monacelli Press.
This is the ultimate guide for illustrators at all levels on how to fine tune their sci-fi imagery. You get the very best advice from Prentis Rollins, a DC Comics veteran (Rebirth, Supergirl, and Batman: The Ultimate Evil). Given the opportunity, I would love to pick his brain. But, let me tell you, this book is the next best thing as Rollins takes a very accessible and conversational tone throughout his instruction filled to the brim with examples. There are 32 step-by-step case studies in all created and imagined especially for this book.
Whether you are attempting to create a compelling utopia or dystopia, it all comes back to basics. Here is a book that goes through the building blocks all the way to sophisticated techniques to really rock your world. Rollins is certainly not alone in stressing a need to master the fundamentals before veering off to pursue your own thing. In fact, he implores you to not rely too heavily upon emulating the work of others. However, he also emphasizes the very real need to be inspired by others.
For Rollins, he has two main influences: American artist Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture); and the Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger (Alien). As Rollins is quick to point out, these two artists could not be further apart from each other. Mead is logical, clean, and rational. Giger is morbid and nightmarish. You could place one in the utopian camp and the other in the dystopian camp. And that falls well into the theme that Rollins pursues: a close look at science fiction imagery, both utopian and dystopian.
A utopian scene
Consider these examples, among the many you’ll find in this book. One shows you a scene more in the vein of Syd Mead.
A dystopian scene
While the other shows you a scene more in the vein of H.R. Giger. And, yet, both resonate a certain way of doing things that is all Prentis Rollins. And that, my friend, is the whole point of the book. I hope you’ll get a chance to pick up a copy for yourself or for someone you know who would get a kick out of such an impressive art instruction book.
“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” is a 208-page trade paperback in full color. For more details and how to purchase, visit Monacelli Press right here.
Max Landis broke onto the scene with his indie cult hit movie from 2012, “Chronicle,” a subversive take on superhero tropes. That ultimately got the attention of DC Comics. Or maybe it was the parody short film Landis did that same year, “The Death and Return of Superman.” Landis has a take-no-prisoners approach in his critique on how DC Comics has managed Superman over the years. That led DC Comics to invite Landis to try his hand at writing a bit on ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN in 2014. And now, Landis presents his own limited series, SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN, which just completed its 7-issue limited run on May 18th. Let’s take a look at the last issue.
Granted, Superman is a very special case. As the most venerable comic book icon of all time, he is susceptible to being treated like a rare triple-mint (still in the box) action figure. You can easily end up with stories that are NOT stories but just confirmations on how awesome Superman is. That will placate a die-hard fan but it’s not worthy of a character with unlimited potential, right? You can place the Superman character is any number of situations, modulate the tone, get a little crazy too. In the end, without forcing it, focusing on a good story is how Superman stays fresh and interesting. That said, I really enjoyed reading the last issue to this limited series and I tip my hat to Max Landis and to the always dapper and cool artwork by Jock.
What I like here is the looseness and irreverence. The series is seven stories in various times in Clark Kent’s life. For this last story, Landis and Jock work as a tag team to bring you a classic final showdown between hero and villain. In this case, Superman battles Lobo from the planet, Czarnia. Lobo from Czarnia? It sounds snarky badass as well as whimsical, something a child might say while playing with a battered action figure. That alone tells you that Landis is playing with a fictional character, not a prized trophy, and trying to shake things up. And that’s really what we want to read more of with our Superman stories. Here’s to reading more Superman stories that challenge the status quo in the future!
SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN is well worth picking up when it is available as a trade paperback or, if you prefer, read the singles! For more details, visit DC Comics right here.
There is no Lois Lane without Superman. Okay. But is there no Superman without Lois Lane? That makes sense too but it’s more complicated than that, as Tim Hanley points out in his new book, “Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter.” Lois Lane. Who is she? What Hanley concludes is that the general public has got a good handle on this: Lois Lane is a smart, capable, and determined journalist. But it took DC Comics a very long time to come around and understand this.
Lois Lane and Superman, circa 1970
In a book that is brimming with facts, Tim Hanley provides a highly accessible read on an iconic character that has been put through the wringer. Hanley’s 2014 book, “Wonder Woman Unbound” was highly insightful and entertaining. With this new book focusing on Lois Lane, I think he’s really hit the nail on the head. Here is a female character who has been a part of DC Comics right from the start and holds a unique position as the key partner to Superman, the most celebrated superhero of all time. As a significant female character in pop culture, we have in Lois Lane an informative gauge of how women have been depicted and treated in media and society in close to a century in America.
Superman and Lois Lane, circa 1938
Lois Lane began as a “sob sister” on The Daily Planet in 1938. As a woman, she was initially relegated to answering letters from women readers seeking advice on love and relationships. But Lois was persistent and it wasn’t long before she was holding her own with other newspapermen. She had to not only be tough, she had to be exceedingly single-minded. No fiancé for her. Along comes Superman and he sort of spoils things for Lois since she now finds herself more often the damsel in distress than the self-controlled ace reporter. This is a holding pattern that Lois will not break free from for the next thirty years. And, when she does, Lois is subjected to some pretty cringe-worthy attempts to revamp her character as a new feminist seeking justice for women, minorities, and any and all causes.
Superman and Lois Lane in “I Am Curious (Black)!”
The jumping the shark moment for Lois comes when she decides to go undercover as an African-American woman in 1971. This is a story I was not aware of by any means. Hanley, I’m sure, does not expect readers to be familiar with this. Instead, I’m sure, he relishes in revealing these gold nuggets that have been lost to time. We come to see just how ill-conceived this story was and just how desperate DC Comics was to catch up with Marvel Comics that seemed to effortlessly keep up with the times. This particular story was entitled, “I Am Curious (Black)!” It is referring to a popular subversive Swedish film, “I Am Curious (Yellow).” That is provocative but decidedly tone deaf too as that film’s greatest notoriety was as pornography. Hanley goes on to say that the whole idea of having Lois Lane in blackface is bizarre and repugnant. I can see where this story might have worked had it attached itself to “Black Like Me,” the 1961 true account of journalist John Howard Griffin, a white man going undercover as a black man.
Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in “Superman: The Movie”
Hanley’s strength is in enthusiastically retelling each Lois Lane story as it rolls out. In Hanley’s hands, even the most popular stuff feels fresh and alive. With clarity and nuance, he brings to life the behind-the-scenes aspects to “Superman: The Movie” and how Margot Kidder would go on to provide the definitive template for Lois Lane. We come to see that, when it comes to Lois Lane, every step in the right direction is highly significant since they happen sporadically. What does the future hold for Lois Lane? Well, from what I found in this book, Margot Kidder remains a viable model to follow. Lois Lane can be as brash, and relevant, as writers can make her. Perhaps she’d be a bit like Tina Fey in “Whisky Tango Foxtrot,” which is an imperfect example at best, but the point is that we have barely scratched the surface on the character of Lois Lane after nearly a century. It’s time to pick up the pace. As Hanley’s book makes clear, Lois Lane remains a character full of potential who continues to resonate with potential fans.
“Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter” is a 288-page trade paperback, published by Chicago Review Press. For more details, visit Chicago Review Press right here.