Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 Cartoon

Continuing the celebration of the 30th anniversary of TMNT, I moved on to re-watching the first season of the 2003 cartoon.  While this cartoon didn’t do all that great on its own, I really liked it.  Staying closer to the Mirage origins, the 2k3 TMNT maintained a bit of a more serious and gritty tone, even bordering into dark territory in some episodes. The first season, however was pretty accessible with a few off base adventures spiritually true to the comic while main stories often were drawn direct from the comic itself.

While I don’t like voice actor for Splinter nearly as much as the original Fred Wolf cartoon, the turtles themselves are good and I actually like Michaelangelo particularly better than the original surfer dude style.  Their personalities are well defined and each turtle does get their share of episodes focused on them through the first season.

April’s back story as Baxter Stockman’s assistant is straight from the Mirage comics as well as Splinter’s origin as a rat pet to Hamato Yoshi.  Shredder and the Foot are the primary nemesis for the first season, though there are a few side stories involving criminals or rarely other mutations with most side stories being more of a sci-fi element.

The one thing I didn’t care for through the first season was the mysterious Guardians watching the turtles and keeping tabs on Oroku Saki.  By the end of the season, Splinter disappears and is found in suspended animation, held by the ones behind the guardians: the utroms.  The season cliffhanger is the turtles being teleported, just like the comics.

I got into the 2k3 series after it had been out a while and was airing the Fast Forward episodes.  I started with the DVDs, which were already a bit pricey and hard to find, but I wasn’t able to pick up anything past Season 1 as the prices have skyrocketed to madness in recent years.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a complete series box set in August when the movie comes out. I would expect Nick would be more than happy to cash in on as many different releases as possible, though the dark tone of the 2k3 series might be something they don’t particularly want to release with the current series doing so well.

I would be particularly happy if they did release it, though.  I’d like to see more of the series, despite the later, rather confusing, revelations surrounding Shredder as an utrom named Ch’rell, though there was a Tengu Shredder in the past, as well as an Oroku Saki separate from the current Saki-Ch’rell-Shredder, and then the Cyber Shredder, and….well, yeah, it seemed they ran out of ideas outside of “keep using Shredder.”  Still, for the first few seasons at least, the 2k3 series seemed pretty good.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Movie

After the original Mirage comics had their cult following and the cartoon had made the turtles a worldwide phenomenon, we got the first live action movie.  A damn good movie.

Who remembers this teaser poster? I do!

The movie mixes a few elements of the Mirage comic with the cartoon of the time for a fantastic result.  April O’Neil remains a TV news reporter, and the turtles keep their intense love of pizza, but otherwise there are a lot of nods to the Mirage comics and the movie strikes a near perfect balance of taking the property seriously while remaining light hearted and just simply fun.

Visually, the movie is one of the greatest testaments to Jim Henson’s creature shop, who developed the suits for the turtles and Splinter.  24 years after the movie’s release, the costumes still hold up and are pretty convincing.  The eyes look believable, the bandannas have a bit of an eyebrow shape that move enough to give some impression of expression without being too distracting when they move.  The mouths move well and can shape to give smiles and mouth movements, though they don’t perfectly match up to the spoken words with exact syncing.  Despite the limitations of the animatronics in the mask, the facial structure and the heads are able to do a lot to convey their speech and emotion.  Peter Laird, co-creator of the series, has said more than 20 years later that these are still the most accurate representation of the turtles in live action to date.

From the neck down, things only get more impressive.  The turtles stand just a bit shorter than 5’7″ April, played by Judith Hoag, and Casey, played perfectly by Elias Koteas at 5’11” tall.  The turtles limbs have a good look of being skin rather than rubber, with the sculpted but not oversized muscles showing definition and veins and giving the actors a good bit of movement.  The fight scene on the roof with Raphael against the Foot is a particularly nice display of how much motion and maneuverability they had in the suits.  Best of all, the turtles’ shells look just plain awesome, both shell and plastron at the front.

The turtles hanging out with the late, great Jim Henson

The turtles and Splinter are voice acted well and the movie properly focuses on the turtles as their main characters, though admittedly Casey Jones steals a few scenes as well.

My one complaint I’ve had since it first came out to today is that, to maintain a PG rating and being a movie for kids, Leonardo is largely restrained and unable to use his weapons for any actual offense.  He attacks, but can’t actually make contact, keeping most strikes to punches and kicks.

The film establishes a crime wave in New York being reported by April right off the bat, showing teenagers stealing throughout the city and giving a first glimpse at Foot ninjas as the stolen goods are handed off.  Looking back, I wouldn’t mind a bit more explanation of Shredder’s ultimate goal since petty theft and teenagers doesn’t exactly indicate a larger criminal empire, but it worked to establish the Foot as a criminal organization.  Within the first 5 minutes we meet the turtles after they save April from being mugged and Raphael leaves a sai behind, giving the first shock of the film when it was released as the first word heard from any turtle isn’t “cowabunga” but “damn.”

The turtles return to their lair and are reminded by Splinter the importance of remaining hidden. Frustrated by the loss of his sai, Raphael goes to see a movie while the others stay home for pizza.  After the movie, we meet Casey Jones as Raph faces off with him over his method of teaching purse snatchers a lesson.  My friend and I still, to this day, will quote “you gotta know what a crumpet is to understand cricket.”  Raph returns home angry from his overall loss to Casey and has a bit of a father/son moment with Splinter.

The next day, April is confronted in a subway after Shredder sends the Foot to silence her since her investigative reporting is starting to find the threads that might uncover them.  She’s knocked out, Raph saves her and brings her back to the lair, trailed by a single foot soldier.  When April awakes and is told their origin, the foot ninja looks on and reports back to Shredder.  The turtles return to April’s apartment and stay for frozen pizza and hang out a bit, but upon returning to the lair, they find Splinter missing.

Returning to April’s, they stay at her apartment a while and she continues reporting on the Foot.  Raph grows frustrated and impatient and after an argument with Leonardo, heads to the roof for some air where Casey spots him from another building’s rooftop just as Raph is about to be jumped by Foot ninja.  Inside, April gets home from work and takes the other turtles on a tour of the 2nd Time Around antique shop, which is the same name as the shop from the comic.  From here we start to really get a lot of Mirage comic references.

Raph replaces Leo from the comics in facing off against ever growing numbers of Foot until he’s thrown through the ceiling and crashes into April’s apartment beaten within an inch of his life. The turtles fight the foot swarming into the apartment and carry on the fight in the antique store after the floor gives way.  Casey arrives to help the turtles, fire breaks out and the turtles escape with the Foot vanishing as the police arrive.

Following the comics, they head out to April’s family’s farmhouse (presumably in Northampton but not stated in the film).  The turtles are suffering the defeat of losing Splinter rather than being defeated and driven out by a returned Shredder, but there are still a lot of nods to the comics on the farm.  The farm has a windmill like the comics, Raph is replaced by Don working with Casey to repair a truck. Once Raph recovers from his injuries, Leonardo spends most of his time in the woods when we see him, we get a scene of Mikey working a punching bag in the barn, and we get a scene of Raph on the rooftop (though he cries out for Splinter rather than keeping silent guard).  A lot of nice references to the comic for those aware of them.

Leo makes a connection to Splinter and brings his brothers out to a campfire one night where they all meditate and are met with a vision from Splinter.  It’s not really explained, but suffice to say it’s just movie ninja mysticism, though the comics were full of that as well with Splinter swapping bodies through astral projection in an issue.  With training and Splinter’s words preparing them, the turtles head back for the show down.

Back in New York, the turtles get some rest before planning to take on the Foot and Danny (son of April’s boss who ratted the turtles out in the first place) heads back to the Foot headquarters, followed by Casey Jones, and seeks out Splinter.  Shredder learns the turtles have returned and sends the Foot after them, going himself to finish them off.  Casey and Danny rescue Splinter and deal with Shredder’s second-in-command while the turtles fight the Foot through the sewers, to the streets, and onto rooftops.

We get a lot of enjoyable fight sequences, my favorite of which might be Donatello skateboarding through the sewer using his bo to take out Foot ninja as he goes.  The fight culminates on the rooftop where the turtles face off against Shredder one on one, each getting beat, until he gets Leo pinned at the point of his spear.  They give up their weapons to save Leo, but Shredder moves to strike until Splinter appears on the ledge of the roof to distract him.  Realizing its the same rat that scarred him years ago in Hamato Yoshi’s home, Shredder attacks Splinter instead, who reacts defensively.  Ultimately, Shredder falls into a garbage truck below where Casey activates the crushing mechansim.

And Shredder was awesome in this movie too

April gets her big story at the end, Casey and April share a kiss, and the turtles celebrate on the roof top.

Honestly, though critics weren’t crazy about the film, I still find very little weak or wrong with it to this day.  The costumes and animatronics hold up so well where a lot of special effects in the last 5 years don’t age well at all.  Poor CG doesn’t age as well as quality props, costumes and animatronics it seems. Similar can be seen in Jurassic Park where the animatronics still hold up today as well.

Unfortunately, the thing that made TMNT such a great movie was the passion from the people working on it, something that often comes from films made by independent studios.  After the first movie’s success, the sequels came under more scrutiny by studio bigwigs and we got more and more decisions to lighten the movie and make it fun for kids where the original film was more apt for both kids and adults to enjoy with attention given to those connections to the original source material.

It remains the definitive TMNT movie and the one by which other live action adaptations are measured by.  It remains to be seen if the new movie set for August 2014 will hold a candle to it, but in my opinion it’s a very large set of shells to fill.

30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Like most children of the 80s, I grew up steeped in everything I could get my hands on related to TMNT.  Of course, as a child in the 80s, and not a teenager, that mostly meant the original Fred Wolf cartoon and the plethora of associated toys.  I had no childhood knowledge of the gritty, more violent Mirage Comics from Kevin Eatman and Peter Laird at the time, but I still loved the turtles dearly.

I’ve been reading the IDW comics and have wanted to write some blog entries for a while.  My thoughts on story arcs, a piece on the Alopex character, some things I particularly like, and chances to talk about the mainstay characters. And, of course, I’ve been wanting to compile all my thoughts on the upcoming movie “from producer Michael Bay” (honestly, if you’re the only guy behind the camera getting billed on trailers, then you earn all the flak and ire from those unhappy, so yeah, it’s “Bay’s turtles” to me so long as he’s getting top billing over the director).  So far, however, I’ve waited to write about the turtles.  Waited for this month. For May 2014.

For this month, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first appearance of Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, Shredder, and Splinter.  A comic series that still inspires today, a comic series that has no small part in my own ideas for a comic book or webcomic that I’m still working to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.  Two guys took influence from their favorite comic creators of the time and released what has to be the most successful independent publication in the history of comics.  That’s a really cool story.

So I decided I would dedicate the month of May largely to TMNT.  Oh yes, I’m going to see Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past and I’m going to read other comics and play some other games. But largely, this month is dedicated to comics, games, cartoons, and movies involving four mutated turtles trained as ninja as well as pizza. Lots of pizza.

I actually spent last night watching the first five episodes of the Fred Wolf cartoon again.  The classic intro theme is still catchy as ever and the animation for the opening theme still holds up today.

The cartoon’s take on the turtles origin, with Splinter being Hamato Yoshi actually works pretty well and is still used in today’s incarnations in some way or another.  Cam Clarke and Barry Gordon are still the voices I most associate with Leonardo and Donatello, though I like later voice actors for Mike and Raph more, particularly Raphael.  Since the cartoon was for kids, Raphael’s personality took the largest change into one of more of a wise cracking sarcastic character rather than the most anti-hero archetype of the group.  Shredder was pretty cool in the first five issues with only occasional childish antics that grew more pronounced as the series continued.  And while Peter Laird is known to have not liked them, I think Bebop and Rocksteady were fantastic additions to the turtle continuity.  They suffered from bumbling henchman syndrome of a children’s cartoon, but the character have a lot of potential to be a serious threat, as IDW has been showing with their development of them.

I don’t know that, even with nostalgia encouraging me, I’d want to pick up the full 10 season run of the original cartoon, but going back and watching the original 5 episodes is still a lot of fun.  While I have my share of complaints with what has been seen and what’s known of the upcoming movie from Platinum Dunes, I do think that taking elements of the original cartoon could definitely work for a more updated and seriously toned film, but I’ll get into that later.

Happy birthday TMNT, here’s hoping to many more. Cowabunga, dudes.

May 3, 2014 – Free Comic Book Day!

Every since the first Spider-Man movie came out, the first Saturday in May has been Free Comic Book Day (click the link to learn all about its history!).

I found myself doing a lot of driving around today, starting with a 5 AM wake up call to drive a friend to the airport followed by a stop at a garage sale where I got a few nice games, namely Donkey Kong 64, Donkey Kong Jr., Gauntlet II, RBI Baseball 2, and Tetris 2 as well as about 32 NES and N64 manuals.  I returned home and caught about 30 minutes of sleep before getting back up and taking a shower before driving over to FX Games Exchange in Plano, TX where they, too, were celebrating Free Comic Book Day with Free Game Day!

I snagged a free copy of True Crime: Streets of LA and bought Mega Man X and Super Punch-Out with their Buy One, Get One 1/2 off sale.

After that, I stopped by Madness Games and Comics to get my grab of free comics.

Picked up:

Mouse Guard: Labyrinth and Other Stories (hardcover)
Guardians of the Galaxy
Soulfire (Madness Games & Comics limited edition)
Fathom (Madness Games & Comics limited edition)
Street Fighter #0
Worlds of Aspen (Damsels in Excess and Zoohunters flip side book)

Now, I have to say Free Comic Book Day is a little dangerous if you’re into comics.  It can quickly have you spiraling into new titles your wallet has not approved of, but it’s a great way to check out a preview of some new titles and this year it may have gotten me interested in looking into some further.

With the new movie coming out, I’ve been curious about Guardians of the Galaxy.  I’m not sure I’ll be picking it up monthly, but reading the free issue definitely has me leaning towards considering this in graphic novel format.  The new run helmed by Bendis looked pretty good with Iron Man among the team and upon his return, it looks like Agent Venom will be joining them for a while.  I have to say I do miss the old, dangerous, legitimate and serious threat of Venom as a Spider-Man villain, but the new direction they’ve taken the character bonded with Flash Thompson is pretty interesting.  Though I still think the symbiote’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity being wiped by Mephisto is stupid.  Then again, I think everything tied to One More Day/Brand New Day/One Moment in Time is pretty stupid.  Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely on my radar for graphic novels, though.

Street Fighter.  I was actually picking up Udon’s Street Fighter and Darkstalkers series for a while, but it got hard to predict when the next one would come out and when each series would end.  Street Fighter, then Street Fighter II, Super Streeth Fighter, Street Fighter Alpha, and so on.  I like the idea of each series being a set number and then the next story following other game titles, but it wreaked havoc on my monthly subscription at the local store.  Skimming issue 0 here reminded me that it’s still a good series from Udon and I was already thinking of going the graphic novel route with the Street Fighter books anyway!

Soulfire.  I remember when Soulfire first published.  I loved the scene of a military helicopter flying through a smokey, clouded sky only to find itself dealing with a dragon atop a modern skyscraper.  Soulfire, however, also seemed erratic in publishing and it often felt like it was getting dropped and restarted with new titles often.  Reading the free comic still makes me think there’s a lot of potential with this one, but I don’t know if I can keep up with it.  Anyone want to persuade yay or nay?

Ironically, the Worlds of Aspen drew my attention to a potential new title as well, though neither of the ones featured in the issue itself. Well, okay, the little creature on the cover of Zoohunters does make the series appealing in a Lilo & Stitch kind of way, but I was more intrigued by the poster image for a comic title Jirni.  I can tell you exactly why I dig the look from the image too…. it’s World of Warcraft.  Oh, I’m sure it’s an interesting story in its own right, but c’mon, a busty half naked purple skinned warrior woman with blue hair and a sword riding a feline-esque mount?  That’s a night elf for all intents and purposes.  And I’m intrigued.  I’ll be looking into Jirni and deciding if it will become a regular pick up.

My comic subscriptions have dwindled in recent months to the last year or so.  I used to pick up X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, Amazing Spider-Man and for a while Astonishing X-Men, Wolverine Origins, and I think another Spider-Man title.  I was reading Avengers for a while too, leading up to X-Men vs Avengers.  Really, the whole Marvel Now! movement just sort of drove me away from most of Marvel’s titles.  I just lost interest in the story direction.  Even Wolverine is making me struggle to stick with it after the Killable storyline, but I have every issue of Wolverine from each volume, so I’m loathe to break the collection just yet.

X-Titles became just Wolverine and the X-Men and Wolverine along with Amazing Spider-Man and IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but now I’m down to just Wolverine, Spidey, and TMNT.  With Wolverine dying later this year, perhaps that will open yet another slot on my dance card, though I expect X-23 might take over the solo title for a while until Logan is revived with his healing factor in tact (hopefully he’ll be back to his 90s self and X-Men as a whole will get back on track).

So what comics did you pick up at Free Comic Book Day?

And, it’s a little early, but May the 4th be with you tomorrow. And don’t forget Monday is the 30th Anniversary for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! I’ve got some special blog entries planned for Monday!

Amazing Spider-Man 2; Good, but not Amazing (Spoiler Free)

Fair warning, I say “spoiler free” but there are two minor spoilers regarding what I’d say is more of an Easter egg than a plot point.

I saw Amazing Spider-Man 2 on opening night, or apparently on preview night as the showings prior to midnight are apparently called, and while I’ve seen a lot of people hated the movie, I really enjoyed it.  Is it one of the best comic book movies? Probably not. Is it the worst? Absolutely not.  It’s a good movie, it’s fun, and it’s the best version of Spider-Man himself on film thus far.

The first thing I knew from the trailer proved to be accurate; I love the costume.  They finally managed to bring the classic Spider-Man costume to screen in complete accuracy (well, except the stylized spider emblem, but I’ll forgive that).  It looks like cloth, it folds and creases with his movements, it ripples in the wind as he’s free falling, and it looks fantastic with the large white eyes. Hopefully they don’t try to tweak the costume going forward and they just keep this one from here on out.

Seriously, it looks really freakin' awesome.

Seriously, it looks really freakin’ awesome.

Peter Parker is well presented as well, his inner conflict, his hesitation to get close to people out of concern for them, but unable to stay away because he genuinely cares for people.  This is also the semi absent-minded Peter that will ramble a bit before realizing his surroundings when he’s excited or upset.  Honestly, I think Andrew Garfield nailed both Peter and Spider-Man in this film.  He’s got Peter’s emotional anguish as well as his compassion, but foremost, he just seems like a fun Spider-Man.  Cracking jokes, making quips at the expense of his enemies, even just sort of talking to himself while he’s web swinging.

Emma Stone still plays a fantastic Gwen Stacy and the relationship between her and Peter is still perfect on screen. Aunt May is good, though I still can’t quite get over her still having color to her hair, but she’s definitely the caring aunt who still worries but also has her own strength (as she should be).  The only supporting cast member we haven’t seen that I am still looking forward to is J. Jonah Jameson, though I wonder if they’re delaying to set themselves apart from Raimi’s trilogy or if they can’t decide on an actor.  Minor, very minor, spoiler: Jameson does “appear” in the movie in the form of an e-mail response to Peter who is starting to freelance photos for the Bugle.  Personally, I don’t care that it’s a new continuity, I want J.K. Simmons to reprise the role.

Now for the reason the movie was good and not great.  The villains.  Electro is perfectly adapted to screen in terms of his powers and the visual portrayal of them. The fight with Spider-Man is pretty cool and seeing him at full power “living electricity” Electro is pretty cool (unless you’re a purist who wanted the Earth 616 Electro, but remember the movies are, like Marvel Studios films, largely influenced by Ultimate Universe of the comics).  The problem with Electro was Max Dillon.  I don’t fault Jaimie Foxx for a bad performance so much as the writers.  It just felt like he had poor motivation for becoming a villain against Spider-Man.  I kind of dug the origin of him being a nobody that everyone overlooks. Electro has always been a second rate villain in the eyes of many of the rogues’ gallery in the comics and he’s often had stories where his goal is to prove himself a legitimate power player as much as accomplishing whatever scheme he has in the works, so the basic premise of his arc was fine.  It’s just that the build up just seems decent, then the “moment” of going rogue seems fairly forced.

It also felt like the music for Electro’s first fight had this sort of “hearing voices” effect to it, which I felt seemed off for Electro, particularly in a movie with Green Goblin, who is supposed to pretty much be outright insane.  Speaking of Goblin, he also didn’t have the greatest development. Harry had a much better motivation as a foundation for his actions, but it still felt a bit rushed.  I think I also missed a single line that explained why Harry decided to put on the military suit thing that goes with the glider after becoming Goblin.  No spoilers, so I won’t go into detail there.

I will say I didn’t care for Goblin overall, though. It’s one thing I really don’t like from Ultimate Universe being used in film. I really want to see Norman Osborn, completely batty out of his mind, dressed up like a fairy tale goblin with green and purple.  It’s not like it has to be total spandex. Green Goblin has had enough iterations that his traditional look should be able to be pulled off instead of some quasi-pseudo-military/paintball suit.  There are plenty of versions of Osborn’s Goblin costume that has a bit of a scale mail design to it, so I’m just not clear on why they can’t go with that for a movie.

Because this could actually look cool on film

Because this could actually look cool on film

Instead we keep getting all green robo-suits for some reason. Osborn, either Harry or Norman, is crazy as a loon. There’s really no reason someone that far off their rocker couldn’t rationally, in their mind, dress up like this actual goblin to terrorize people and Spider-Man.  On top of that, is it just me or does Dane DeHaan look more like he’s supposed to be Hobgoblin than Green Goblin?

Looks more like Hobgoblin to me.

Looks more like Hobgoblin to me.

Add to the rushed, rather weak, development of the villains with a terribly short fight against Green Goblin and you’ve got a rather disappointing film in terms of villains.  There’s also Rhino, who is really used more as a set up to lead into the Sinister Six film, or Amazing Spider-Man 3 (I’m not sure which they plan on doing first), which Paul Giomatti seems underutilized for.  Mickey Rourke seems like he would have been a better choice after his role as Whiplash to play the Russian Rhino.

All in all, I still enjoyed the film. I know critics hated it, though the review I read from a critic seemed overly critical to me, even suggesting that the movies staying true to their source material is a detriment because it takes away some possible surprises.  Critics aren’t comic book fans, it seems.  I don’t know of any fan who WANTS the movies deviating from the source material.  A Spider-Man movie where Gwen and Peter move to Europe and live happily ever after isn’t what fans are looking for.  We want to see our comic stories brought to life and while I’ll agree adaptation does not mean scene by scene replication, the general direction of the films should be true to their origins.

"I would look across the tables and I'd see you there with Gwen, maybe a couple of kids" --wait, wrong movie!

“I would look across the tables and I’d see you there with Gwen, maybe a couple of kids” –wait, wrong movie!

 

Honestly, though, my favorite addition to the Amazing Spider-Man trilogy came in the form of Norman, then Harry’s, personal assistant at Oscorp.  A pretty raven haired young woman by the name of, spoiler, Felicia.  I’ll leave you to guess her last name, which is not stated nor listed in the credits, but I think we all know what the plan is for her.  I think it would be interesting for Peter to have an ally in ASM 3 myself.

Now, that said, I spent a bit of time playing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 game on Playstation 4 today as well.  Honestly, it seems like it would have been a better overall script, but you’d need a lot more time, even trimming it down from game length.  I’m well into it and dealing with a gang war, Russian mafia, Kinpin’s presence, and Kraven the Hunter thus far as an ally and I’ve only met Max Dillon once.  I’m interested to see how they develop Dillon into Electro in the game’s story, which may be able to flesh him out further than the film.  He just seemed so sniveling in the film…

The game, however, is pretty fun but nothing new.  The combat is fun, but not as sharp as the Arkham series and I’m beginning to wish, like many, that Rockstar could get a crack as Spidey since Activision seems happy to recycle every previous iteration of free roaming Spider-Man with a few tweaks.  I do like that the game finally returns to the style from Spider-Man 2’s game where you actually have left and right triggers for web swinging. If there’s a building on the left, a right trigger isn’t going to do anything if it’s just open air and you can’t snag a web line to the sky.  I’m still unlocking things, so I’m not sure if it gets as detailed as Spider-Man 2, which is currently still the best free roam web swinging – being able to do different tricks while swinging and such was a nice addition.

Overall, the game doesn’t seem too ground breaking over Amazing Spider-Man, though there’s a few new random crimes to help with.  Since there’s a crime wave, I’d like to see the petty crimes getting so out of hand that there’s almost no way to manage them all and have that reflect on the city’s opinion of you.  Mostly, though, I just wish Marvel and Activision would develop a free roam Spider-Man game with a lot of thought into it and set firmly in the Marvel comics world.  Let players swing out to the Statue of Liberty and hang out with Johnny Storm.  Have Wolverine cameo.  Contact the Avengers for help to find they’re off world or out of the country.  Iron Man cameo would be another nice touch (get a good Robert Downey Jr impersonator and let the game indulge our fantasy of the merged cinematic universe).  Still, if you enjoy Spider-Man games, this one doesn’t have too much to disappoint other than a general lack of new or groundbreaking features.

So far, at least the story has been interesting and Stan Lee is always a welcome addition to any game (it’s still the same “Stan” you were house sitting for in the first game, who owns a comic book store, the “Comic Stand” with the neon D burned out).  The store is where you can view the statues, comics, art, and access the fight challenges on the arcade machine. I also was amused to bring up my camera and zoom in to look over the comics on the stand, t-shirts on the walls, etc.

All in all, I’d say Amazing Spider-Man 2 is worth the look, either in theaters or on your console.

Justice League Coming Faster Than a Speeding Bullet!

So this week Warner Bros. confirmed that they will be doing a Justice League movie with Zack Snyder at the helm and he will be filming it back to back with Superman vs Batman (tentative title, I’m still expecting Superman/Batman or Superman/Batman: World’s Finest or the like).

The Internet, being the Internet, has decided this is a stupid move that will explode in Warner Bros. faces or the most brilliant thing a comic fan could ever hope for, with some arguing so long as we get our comic book heroes on film, the sooner the better.

I fall somewhere in between the extremes.  I’m looking forward to seeing many of the Justice League members on film, but I’m not sure I feel they’re giving it it’s proper treatment.  Part of my reservation comes from the fact that I wasn’t a fan of Man of Steel.  I didn’t hate the film and my reasons for disliking it are probably not the ones people have often repeated since it released, but in the end, I didn’t think Man of Steel was a very good movie and I feel like its weaknesses are going to only become more glaring with each film from Snyder unless he seriously reels himself in.

As for Man of Steel, I liked the beginning well enough. I liked seeing Krypton, though I wish they had made use of past iterations using a bit more crystal motif suggesting that was a common minerals they made use of in their society, but overall I liked seeing it.  Imbedding Kal-El’s DNA with the…DNA of all of Krypton seemed like a strange and unnecessary subplot to me, but I could roll with it.  But soon enough the inevitable happens and we send the baby of steel to Earth.  Now, I actually liked Clark’s scenes on Earth as a child through drifting young adult best.  It showed the challenges Clark’s had growing up as a true outsider on the planet, not belonging and struggling to adapt to all the powers that overwhelm him.

Most of all, though, I liked how Clark had this inherent moral code.  He’s told he should expose his powers because the world wouldn’t be ready to accept it so above all else, he’s taught that he needs to hide that side of him and the fact that, even as a child, he struggles with that idea because he feels he has the ability to help people and he should use it.  To me, that’s the foundation of Superman – he helps those in need.  The movie did a good job establishing that with him saving the bus of children, restraining himself from abusing his powers in the diner by using them against someone, and then saving the men on the oil tanker.

Beyond that, however, I felt the movie lost any sense of character development and even avoided a lot of pesky plot for the sake of disaster porn.  Lois Lane discovers his ship and he saves her from the automated sentry, but then leaves her to die in the ice.  And yes, the scene prior establishes that the temperature should drop so low she’d be dead before anyone found her.  Despite that little nuisance, she returns to the Daily Planet, where Perry won’t run her story, despite some indication he might believe her.  She gets a web news site to run it instead, but we don’t really explore much more of the Daily Planet or Lois’ job so much.  We rush through Lois figuring out who Superman is right off and from a single meeting, we establish…an interest for Lois, I guess?  There’s really no development between Lois and Clark, yet we get plenty of decisions and actions that would need to be rooted in said relationship like Clark turning himself in, but wanting to speak with Lois, Zod choosing to bring Lois to his ship (which isn’t really explained why, I might add).

But once we get back to Earth, well, abandon all hope of characters or plot all ye who watch.  At this point we get the destruction of the world with reminders of where to buy your products.  I’d say the actual town of Smallville is essentially wiped off the map, though the fight in Smallville isn’t as bad as what’s to come.  Superman destroys one of the (I’m just going to call it what it is) terraforming machines and then heads to Metropolis to destroy the other one.  He takes care of that and Metropolis is already pretty devastated from its impact.  With nothing left to lose, Zod decides his only remaining purpose is to destroy Superman himself.  Nothing ground breaking there, but what comes next just really killed it for me…

Superman fights Zod through the crumbling Metropolis.  People flee for their lives, skyscrapers are collapsing, there are quite likely people still in them, there’s destruction all around, explosions, chaos, mayhem, MASS HYSTERIA…..and Superman’s only real action is to keep…hitting…Zod.  Like the whole fight, the entire time, Superman’s focus is attacking Zod.  He doesn’t try to save anyone!  This was my biggest complaint about the film. They completely ignored a prime opportunity to solidify Clark as the protector while building up the hopelessness of the situation and the inability to stop Zod without resorting to desperate measures.  To play keyboard script writer a second, why not have scenes where Superman saves someone from falling debris only to have Zod come smashing down behind the debris, pummeling him into the ground?  Why not have Superman focus on Zod only for someone to get injured by the result of the fight?  There was a chance to show this fight as a truly no-win situation where every decision Clark makes results in a failure on one side or the other.  Fight Zod, people get hurt. Help people, Zod gets the upper hand.  This would have built the tension up to the final scene and offered more weight to the struggle and the desperation Clark is under when he makes that final controversial act to end the fight.

I actually had no problem with him killing Zod, by the way.  I had a problem, much like Mark Waid, writer of Superman: Birthright, with the fact that the movie failed to establish Superman’s connection to humanity enough to make this final act seem like it had weight.  I understand this is pretty much Superman’s first day on the job, so I don’t expect him to be the Superman we know from the comics and I expect him to fail and I expect people to die, but the wanton destruction in this film was just awe inspiring.  Snyder stated he would think about 5,000 dead and he wanted a mythic proportion of destruction like the Greek gods waged war on one another in a mortal city, but science suggests it’s closer to 100,000+ dead with over a million injured and many more missing and presumed dead.

So with a 2 hour and 28 movie exclusively about Superman, we got fairly little character development on this iteration of Superman, almost no development of Lois Lane or the Kents, and completely no development of Perry White or Jimmy Olson.  Superman vs Batman is going to have Superman, Batman, Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend apparently, Alfred, Lex Luthor, and apparently slipping in appearances by Wonder Woman and Cyborg (likely as their civilian identities).  How little character development do we expect there?  Granted, we might not need as much for Batman and Alfred at this point, particularly as they’ll likely have a solo film to do that, but will we get a full exploration on Bruce’s angle in this film? Lex Luthor’s motivations?  Is Lex going to be a sympathetic villain? If he hates Superman because of the destruction of Metropolis, can you blame him?  Did Superman really do anything to indicate he’s our savior in Man of Steel?

And now Warner Bros. announces Snyder will be directing Justice League immediately after Superman vs Batman.  So we’re going to jump right into a team of 18 possible characters, only two of which have any recent exposure whatsoever outside of the DC animated films and series.  No movie to establish Wonder Woman and we expect the general public to just go with Aquaman, Hawkman or Hawkgirl, Plastic Man, Flash, or Green Lantern, who many will associate with the more recent box office bomb?  Perhaps you introduce them and then spin off their own films, but you don’t even establish Wonder Woman?!

I’ve seen some people claim that Justice League is more well know and doesn’t need the build up that Avengers did to introduce the characters.  I just…can’t fathom that line of thinking. Wonder Woman’s last time in the spotlight of the public eye was about the same time as Hulk on television.  Both Avengers and Justice League have been in cartoons in various incarnations in the last few years.  To think the average non-comic reading public movie goer is going to know these characters is just asking for trouble.  Without the time to craft this film, I really worry about a disaster on our hands.

And again, keeping it small, we expect any resemblance of character development in Justice League for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Hawkman plus the villain, establishing the plot, and then dealing with it all in 2.5 hours?  It’s just a challenge I can’t understand building for the sole purpose of having to face it.  I understand building them up separately risks being compared to Marvel, but I’d expect you’d rather be compared to Marvel with similar success than take such wild risks that you have all the power to avoid.

Justice League

You can explore all of our personalities and motivations in 2 hours, right?

And to top it all off, Warner Bros. is still claiming they’ll be sticking to their date to release head to head against Captain America 3 after The Winter Soldier is basically coming off being the most critically favored comic book movie of all time and is well on its way into the record books.  On top of that, Marvel will be well on their way into Phase 3 towards Avengers 3 and things will likely be coming to a boil.

Warner Bros. just seems to be stacking the deck against their favor right now and I’m not sure it’s going to pay off for them.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t backfire and blow up in their face.

At the very least, I think Affleck will make a great Batman.  Hopefully in a few years, we can say “Affleck was the bomb as Batman, yo.”

Illidan Stormrage Should Really Stay Dead – Part 2: Illidan’s Fall

Last time I detailed the history of Illidan’s story through the events of War of the Ancients, told in the Warcraft III manual and the War of the Ancients trilogy of novels, and Warcraft III.  Now we’ll take a look at Illidan’s final chapters to his story as they played out in World of Warcraft’s first expansion: The Burning Crusade.

Some players "were not prepared" for Illidan's fate in the expansion.

Some players “were not prepared” for Illidan’s fate in the expansion.

After the fight with Arthas in Northrend, Kael’thas and Lady Vashj brought Illidan back to Outland where he gathered followers and declared himself Lord of Outland, again feeding his lust for power and ego.  Having already imprisoned Magtheridon, Illidan begins building an army in Outland to defend against what he believes is an inevitable attack from the Burning Legion for his failure to destroy the Lich King.  With Magtheridon defeated, Illidan claims the Black Temple as his fortress and sways demons to his side against the Burning Legion by using the Shrine of Lost Souls.  He also begins using Magtheridon’s blood to create the fel orcs.  Essentially, the demon infused Illidan begins building an army of fel tainted warriors to protect him from Kil’jaeden.

For reasons not entirely explained, Illidan authorizes an attack on Shattrath City.  It’s possible since the draenei and eredar are in fact the same race, Illidan perceived the draenei as a threat.  It’s also possible Illidan believed that wiping out the draenei would lower the chances of the Burning Legion coming to Outland and finding him as a result (though Kil’jaeden found him there last time).  As stated, it’s not entirely clear why Illidan chose to wage war against Shattrath. Perhaps Kael’thas had already defected and sided with Kil’jaeden and was instrumental in convincing Illidan it was a good idea, the result putting more forces against the Betrayer and weakening his defenses without the Legion lifting a finger themselves.

After defeating Illidan’s Crimson Sigil guard, Illidan claims not even Arthas could defeat him.  This supports what Blizzard revealed in Classic WoW where after defeating the Dragons of Nightmare, players could access a scene where Malfurion speaks to Remulos regarding his brother and states “Illidan sits atop his throne in Outland – brooding.  I’m afraid that the loss to Arthas proved to be his breaking point.  Madness has embraced him, Remulos.  He replays the events in his mind a thousand times per day, but in his mind, he is the victor and Arthas is utterly defeated.  He is too far gone, old friend.”

Players often say “he went crazy” is Blizzard’s lazy way of writing a villain, but I feel players tend to overlook a lot of details regarding character development through the game (and many have strong lore opinions while openly, proudly, declaring they never read quest text or pay attention to the lore outside game).

Remember Illidan has always been power hungry and has pursued any means necessary to strengthen his power.  He was touched by Sargeras, granted a “blessing” in his magical eyesight and the tattoos covering his body, which glow green from fel energy.  It’s well established that exposure to fel magic slowly drives mortals insane in the Warcraft world.  Next, he’s imprisoned for 10,000 years in solitary confinement, though he does have the Wardens around, Maiev likely conversed with him (probably not very nicely), and Malfurion visited him, but still in solitary confinement.  Next is Illidan’s consumption of power from the Skull of Gul’dan, making him more demonic and further tied to the fel energies associated with demons.  Next, he surrounds himself with demons.  His pride has always been his greatest weakness, his ego more fragile than many care to admit and twice he fails to defeat Arthas.  And then on top of everything else, you factor in the possibility that during the War of Ancients, he may have had Old God influences affecting his mind and you’ve got a character who is well steeped in a slow, but steady descent into madness.

Now players do say that the story surrounding Illidan and his motives weren’t well explained in The Burning Crusade, but I think there’s enough to connect the dots. It’s just not slammed in your face like Blizzard started doing after the expansion.

Illidan is somewhat insane. He’s not outright raving lunatic, but he’s definitely not all there.  He knows the Burning Legion is likely going to come for him for his failures and he’s building an army to fight against them, but the one thing Illidan needs most to defend himself is more power.  Everything in Burning Crusade is centered on Illidan’s building defense against the Burning Legion.  In this alone, he’s not exactly a villain and why would the player really want to do anything to stop him?  He’s more likely a friend as the enemy of our enemy.

But Illidan’s also blind to everything but his obsessive goal.  He’s dangerous. He’s essentially training a pack of thousands of rabid wolves to defend him with no leash or perimeter to stop them from killing anything they come across.  You’ve got the fel orcs, who are openly waging war against the Alliance forces from the Second War and the draenei and are happy to fight the Horde as well.  You have demons who aren’t exactly trustworthy allies to begin with. And you have Illidan outright waging war against the naaru and Shattrath City to destroy the remaining draenei on Outland.  He may not be outright evil, but he’s definitely a loose cannon that needs to be stopped.  But there’s one other thing I always interpreted that he was doing.

He’s preparing to create yet another Well of Eternity.

Think about it.  Lady Vashj and the naga in Zangarmarsh have built all these pumps and their draining all the marsh in the area, siphoning it all into one lake, one very large body of water in the center of the area.  And what does Lady Vash (and Kael’thas) drop for the questchain leading towards Black Temple?  They each have one of the remaining four vials of the Well of Eternity.  Why else would Illidan have Vashj create a large body of water and entrust vials from the Well to her and Kael’thas other than to create a new Well of Eternity, the thing he’s been most obsessed with for over 10,000 years, the thing that first gave him his magic, the thing he knows can enhance his magical strengths more than anything else? What better way to fight off the Legion than to increase his power through a new Well.

So we’ve got dungeons fighting the fel orcs where we learn Illidan was creating them to build an army of his own.  We have dungeons fighting the naga who are potentially building a Well of Eternity.  We have Magtheridon in Tier 4 which stops Illidan’s source of creating fel orcs. We stop Lady Vashj in Tier 5, which cuts off his plan to create said Well of Eternity.  We fight Kael’thas who we learned had allied himself with the Burning Legion in betrayal of Illidan.  Then we head into Tier 6, which is to stop the leader that’s been setting everything into motion and causing chaos and strife in Outland, freeing Akama and his broken ones in the process, who I’d say is a bit questionable that his soul is trapped. Seems like they were slaves to Illidan more than allies.

Eventually players reach the top of the Black Temple and find Illidan himself.

Kind of creepy he STILL holds onto the Skull of Gul'dan

Kind of creepy he STILL holds onto the Skull of Gul’dan

And upon defeating Illidan, the following plays out:

Illidan falls to one knee, holding himself up on his fists, with the Warglaives of Azzinoth still clenched in them.
Maiev Shadowsong yells: It is finished. You are beaten.
Illidan Stormrage yells: You have won… Maiev. But the huntress… is nothing without the hunt. You… are nothing… without me.
Illidan collapses and dies.

There you have it, right there in the game.  Illidan collapses AND DIES.  There is no “he didn’t actually die” or “he managed to survive.”  Illidan died in Outland atop the Black Temple. He’s definitely dead.  Yet players clamor for his return to World of Warcraft, so much so that Chris Metzen has teased the idea at two Blizzcons and other appearances, suggesting that he would love to do a redemption story for Illidan.  But there’s just one problem….by this point he shouldn’t be redeemable.  You’re asking Blizzard to write a story to redeem over 10,000 years of selfishness.

I get it. Illidan’s so cool, he’s a bad ass.  Yeah, he’s the Wolverine of World of Warcraft and players think he’s so very important that he just has to be brought back, but there’s so many problems with this idea.

First, it belittles his story.  Illidan is a pretty good example of Blizzard doing a good character.  Illidan isn’t evil, I’ve never said he’s evil, he’s just very selfish in his thirst for power, but he does have some good intentions. He has taken action to protect his people, to save Tyrande, and to prove himself to his brother.  He’s a very flawed character with a pretty good story that presents “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  I don’t think he’s the anti-hero people claim him to be because he’s honestly not very heroic.  Batman is an anti-hero and while he’s driven by personal motivation, the death of his parents and an obsession to end crime, he takes action to help people, to protect his city.  Illidan’s primary motivation is usually acquiring power and if along the way he finds an opportunity to help someone he cares about, he’ll do that as well.  So I don’t think he’s an anti-hero, but I think he’s one of Blizzard’s best flawed characters who isn’t straight up good nor evil. He’s simply pursued his path, sought what he wanted, and made the decisions when they presented themselves.  To bring him back now would be akin to writing an extra chapter to Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet where the protagonists get up and were faking it the whole time.  It eliminates the tragic ending to the tragedy.

Second, how would it make sense?  Illidan didn’t dissipate into a flock of bats or smoke. His body fell to the ground and stayed there when he died. He’s transformed and demonic, but he’s not a pure demon, he was still a kal’dorei.  What, after five years of decomposition his body just comes back together?  Someone snuck past Akama’s forces and dragged the body off to Auchidoun to preserve it so they could resurrect him years later and he’d suddenly be a good guy?  It’s very difficult to properly bring Illidan back into the storyline at this point.

Third, do we really want another “I didn’t really die!” storyline?  Players were making fun of Kael’thas not really being dead as soon as it started with Magister’s Terrace (because apparently they ignored the cut scene in Shattrath after you turn in the quest for defeating Kael’thas).  Cho’gall has died and come back for use again (twice even).  Kel’thuzad is defeated twice (though that one made sense by typical lore standards).  Sure, World of Warcraft is essentially a comic book story in video game format, but do we really want to get to the point where we think “oh, they killed X, wonder how long before he comes back to life” like we do with comic books?

And fourth, and finally, do we really want to keep rehashing old characters?  Do we need Illidan back?  Isn’t his story complete and couldn’t new characters rise up instead?  We already have a demon hunter in Felwood in Cataclysm, we had two demon hunters named in Burning Crusade, and we had more training outside Black Temple.  Couldn’t a new character come into the storyline, one of Illidan’s first disciples who have trained under him to be a demon hunter longer than the others?  Someone who embraced Illidan’s belief in fighting the Legion with the Legion’s own fire and believed that, while ugly, the demon hunters are necessary?  A character not afraid to walk openly into Darnassus, boldly into the Temple of Elune, and tell Tyrande and Malfurion to their face that they’re wrong for shunning his order and that Illidan could have been the kal’dorei’s hero if he hadn’t been so quickly condemned, and despite their reaction, is able to safely make his way out of Darnassus as well.

Personally, I’d much prefer to see a new character like this, one who represents the aspects that made Illidan interesting, but doesn’t deny his mentor’s flaws either.  We, as players, complain that Blizzard has run out of ideas, but we then shackle them to reusing the same characters they’ve already used and completed the story for rather than urging them to create new characters with the themes we like best.  World of Warcraft has comic book themes, but it shouldn’t get caught up in the comic book tropes like this.  Old characters can still shine, some are long overdue for their moment in the spotlight, but characters who have had their story start, climax, and resolved should stay buried and whether you agree with how their story ended, it’s still best that it stays ended so that new stories and new characters can rise in their place.

There’s simply too much to lose and very little to gain with a needless resurrection.  Illidan Stormrage should really just stay dead.