Category Archives: comic books

Joss Whedon Answers the Bat-Signal

By Tom Holste

Apr. 1, 2017

Hey, folks! Sorry it’s been such a long time between posts. I’ve been working, which is great, but it left me with little time or energy to write. Thanks to everyone who liked my posts or started following my blogs in the past year.

Anyway, something popped up yesterday that surprised me enough to inspire writing: Joss Whedon (of the two Avengers films, among other projects) plans to make a Batgirl movie.

Batgirl

Whedon’s goal: give us a better Batgirl than Alicia Silverstone in BATMAN AND ROBIN. Yeah, I think that’s doable.

The move is surprising, as during interviews for Age of Ultron, Whedon repeatedly expressed a desire to get back to making original projects. In five years, he had worked on two comic book movies and an adaptation of a Shakespeare play, and he was feeling the itch to try something new. Additionally, there was some heavy backlash for Age of Ultron that I thought would keep him away from high-profile projects for a while. (Even though I found Ultron unsatisfying, even I’ll admit that some of the criticism was too harsh.)

All recent mentions of Whedon indicated that he was working on a horror movie set during WWII. So this announcement really came out of left field.

(And for those concerned that I’m posting this on April Fool’s Day, keep in mind that the news actually broke on Thursday. Also, the announcement of Whedon making The Avengers happened to come out on Apr. 1, 2010, even though that news was real, too.)

I don’t blame DC for wanting Whedon in their camp, though. When Marvel brought Whedon on board for their Cinematic Universe, it was still just an experiment with a successful movie or two under its belt. But would audiences really accept seeing multiple different movies until the characters were brought together in one unprecedented team-up movie? Avengers was the film that proved that the idea had paid off.

And for those who think that what Whedon did was easy, I would point you to 2006’s direct-to-video animated release Ultimate Avengers: The Movie that has almost the exact same lineup of characters. If the live-action Avengers had been as “meh” as that movie, I doubt we’d still be talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe today.

So DC definitely had good reason to court Whedon now that he was a free agent. While DC’s own attempts at making a combined cinematic universe have made lots of money, critics and fans have largely expressed their unhappiness with the results. It’s very telling that, last year, the long-awaited, first-ever meeting of Batman and Superman in an official live-action project made less at the box office than the relatively unknown Deadpool.

Meanwhile, what was the incentive for Whedon (other than the probably large paycheck) to put his more personal projects on hold? Word on the street around the time of Age of Ultron was that Whedon and Marvel had frequently clashed on the direction of that sequel. For better or for worse, DC is known for giving its directors more free rein. If DC offered Whedon the opportunity to tell the story however he wants to, that probably sealed the deal.

For fans of DC’s darker approach to their characters who worry that Whedon will make the movie too lighthearted, I would assure them that there are plenty of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly that would convince them that Whedon can go dark when he wants to. Whedon fully admitted that the first Iron Man movie, directed by Jon Favreau, was his template when making The Avengers. I think he’ll be able to adapt well to the tone of DC’s movies, and in fact, do them one better.

So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I don’t agree with Whedon politically most of the time, but I know he can deliver great entertainment. He’s written croud-pleasing projects as varied as Toy Story and Speed, and he did a fine job on an X-Men comic series in the early 2000s. If anyone can answer the call to get DC’s movie series on track, it’s him.

 

Yabba-Dabba-Doo or Don’t?

Part 3 of my series “Everything Old is Old Again”

By Tom Holste

Feb. 17,2016

When talking about reboots the other day, I mentioned that DC Comics is planning on rebooting several Hanna-Barbera properties in their comics later this year. (Warner Bros. owns both DC Comics and the entire old Hanna-Barbera catalog.)

The new Scooby-Doo is set during a zombie apocalypse. (The new comics will not affect the continuity of DC’s other Scooby-Doo books that it currently produces, or the current TV series Be Cool, Scooby-Doo.) The Flinstones is being turned into a series with more realistic artwork. Wacky Races is getting a post-Mad Max apocalyptic makeover. And Johnny Quest and many C-list superhero characters from the H-B universe are being brought together Marvel’s Avengers-style for a series called Future Quest.

Scooby-Apocalypse

This is not a drill, people! This is also, apparently, not a joke.

 

Personally, I’m torn about the updates. On the one hand, several  friends have aptly described some of the updates as being very “DeviantArt.” For those not in the know, DeviantArt is a site where fans post their artwork that usually has a strange or unusual take for a character or fandom. It’s all considered to be in good fun, but not something that should be done on a serious professional level by the rights holders.

scooby_DeviantArt

An actual contribution on DeviantArt — and again, as far as I know, not a joke.

An apocalyptic Scooby-Doo and Wacky Races both indeed come off as very DeviantArt, and not in a good way. The new Flinstones art is kind of creepy-looking. Future Quest looks the most promising to the fans of the classic material, but even at that, did the world really need the return of such characters as Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles?

Flintstones-new

It never USED to bother me that Barney didn’t have pupils…

Often attempts to update classic characters feel very forced and awkward, and look very dated within a decade. “Hey, let’s bring back some beloved cartoon characters, only this time they’re all babies / teenagers / skateboarders / ninjas!”

However, having said all of that…

When it comes to Hanna-Barbera, many of the productions weren’t artistic masterpieces to begin with. I have nostaglic fondness for them as much as anybody else, but are they really untouchable works of art? In fact, many of them were cheap, formulaic knockoffs of other, more popular things in the culture at the time.

For instance, it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that The Flintstones (an excellent series) was a knockoff of The Honeymooners, and when other fads came along, the creators were more than happy to jump on the latest trend. And I’m not even talking about the bizarre spinoffs featuring the Thing from The Fantastic Four or the Shmoo from Li’l Abner. Within the classic original 6-year run, there was a Bewitched-centered episode, an Addams Family takeoff, and a recurring alien character called The Great Gazoo that might have been based on My Favorite Martian.

Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix.Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix.

Great-Gazoo

Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to add an extraterrestrial to the mix.

Again, though, everybody already knows about The Flintstones. But did you know that Scooby-Doo was a combination of an old radio show called I Love Mystery and the sitcom The Dobie Gillis Show? That’s right, Freddie was based on Dobie, and Shaggy was a copy of Bob Denver’s beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebbs.

Dobie_and_Maynard

Now that you’ve seen it, you’ll never be able to unsee it.

Dobie Gillis itself has largely fallen out of the public eye; does the current version of its imitation still need to follow in those footsteps? If a supernatural series for youngsters were indeed being designed from scratch today, wouldn’t its more likely inspiration be The Walking Dead and other zombie movies and TV shows?

As for The Flintstones, drawing them in a more realistic style (however uncanny it is) at least made me recognize some of the wonderful absurdity of the show all over again (“So that’s what it would look like if somebody actually had a pet dinosaur”). This franchise has been languishing since the terrible live-action movies of 1994 and 2000; an ill-conceived direct-to-video animated movie inexplicably featuring WWE wrestlers failed to ignite any interest last year. This new project may not be what The Flintstones needs, but these characters clearly need some kind of a fresh approach.

I had a bigger problem with Loonatics Unleashed from a few years ago, which bafflingly reimagined the Looney Tunes characters as futuristic superheroes. In the first place, the original Looney Tunes are brilliant and still hold up as high-water marks in animation and comedy. So there was no need to change the premise so radically. In the second place, while I can see at least a tenous connection between Scooby-Doo and modern spooky shows like The Walking Dead, there is nothing at all about Looney Tunes that makes me say, “These characters need to be fighting aliens.”

So there’s at least potential for some of these projects to turn out really good. It’s not a definitive truth, of course, but I’m going to keep an open mind. After all, Frankenstein Jr.’s phone hasn’t rung for a while. I think he’s probably happy just to be working again.