Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting Animated

Most of my readers are probably not severe comic book geeks, like myself. But I'd be willing to bet that more of you happen to spend time watching movies from time to time. Chances are, you don't watch or obsess over quite as many films as I have, but I'm hoping you won't just click away when you discover what the subject line is really all about.

I've mentioned a number of times that, when it comes to comics, I consider myself a hardcore DC, not so much a Marvel. If I were made of money, I'm sure I'd invest some cash in more than a few of Marvel's monthly titles. As it is, I can barely afford to keep up with my DC stories. But I do. And I love them. I love the characters and have since I was old enough to hold a comic book in my hands.

If you're a Marvel fan, then you've been really excited over the last few years by the quality and quantity of amazing movies that have been released featuring your favorite super-heroes. If you're a DC, like me, you've probably been disappointed by the lack of stellar films. It seems that, in the DC Universe, unless you dress like a bat, your fate is to fail at the box office (if you're lucky enough to make it that far).


The Wonder Woman feature film lost momentum somewhere along the way. And, for a while, it was supposed to be written and directed by lord of the geeks, Joss Whedon (of Avengers and Buffy fame). If anyone could have given a super-heroine like Wonder Woman an awesome movie, it would have been him. But now he's turned to the Marvel side. Lost to DC forever.

Green Lantern had a shot at box office glory. But that light sort of fizzled under too many special effects and not enough quality story. Let's not even talk about Halle Berry's Catwoman or Shaquille O'Neil's Steel.

Then we come to my favorite. The super-hero that started it all. Superman. He had a good run there in the late '70s and early '80s. Then Richard Pryor headlined Superman III and it hasn't exactly been uphill for the Man of Steel since then. I'll admit, I enjoyed Superman Returns, but it wasn't a great movie. It had a lot of problems. It certainly didn't run as smoothly as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Superman's getting another movie this summer with Man of Steel. I'm trying to be optimistic, really. But I can't help but wonder what happens if it fails.

Justice League as drawn by Jim Lee. Via
Here's the thing, DC Comics and Warner Bros. are basically under the same roof, right? That means a major movie studio has access to an incredible stable of heroes with stories that stretch back 75 years. That should give them a proverbial cornucopia of movies for years to come. But they just can't get it right. Unless, again, it's a movie about the Batman.

But I've noticed something interesting. In the last couple decades, Warner's animation department has been doing something right. If we start with Batman: The Animated Series and move from that success through their most recent endeavors, things are looking pretty good. Over the last few years, DC has released a number of quality straight to DVD animated features. Several of them are Superman- or Batman-centric, but there are others that focus on other heroes, like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. There are also several which feature the heroes working together as the Justice League.

And then there's the DC Nation block of programming on Cartoon Network. This is an hour of TV that has me looking forward to Saturday morning cartoons, something that hasn't been true since I was a kid and we actually had good cartoons on Saturday mornings. Cartoons, these days, suck. There's Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which, despite being CGI, has a feel that's very similar to the '90s Batman series. The second half of the DC Nation is filled in with Young Justice, which I consider some of the best super-hero storytelling outside the comics themselves (and better than some of the stuff DC is currently putting out).

As I said, I want to be optimistic about Man of Steel. And I want to be optimistic about the announced Justice League film that's supposedly coming in 2015. But there's a chance that things will just fall apart again. Because, despite having these awesome characters to work with, Warner Bros. seems completely unable to do it right. At least, when it comes to real live action.

If live action fails, why not lean on your animation department? Why not release your animated super-hero films to wide audiences instead of immediately putting them on a disc? Just a thought.

And hey, if you're looking for a good animated super-hero movie and happen to have Netflix, check out Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Justice League: Doom, Batman: Under the Red Hood, or All-Star Superman (which is possibly the best Superman story ever written). In the meantime, I leave you with the trailer for Man of Steel (which better be awesome).

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