Author: Robert Greenberger

REVIEW: Static Shock: The Complete First Season

Animated fare was very slow to integrate, largely because there was a paucity of useful source material to mine from. In the 1990s, that began to change, largely thanks to Milestone Media, a multicultural operation that had a line of comics distributed through DC Comics.

Milestone’s best known character is Static, a young urban teen with a definite modern-day Peter Parker vibe to him. Virgil Hawkins just wanted live his life when he was accidentally exposed to mutagen gas, giving him electromagnetic powers. Donning a self-made outfit, he protected his corner of the ‘Hood as Static.

The show arrived in 2000 with a bang and became a cause because it not only featured a positive image of a black male, but closely resembled the source material thanks to Milestone co-creators Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan being heavily involved in the show. Static has been back every now and then and the 52 episodes remain well-regarded even today. Thankfully, Warner Archives has released Static Shock: The Complete First Season.

For those unfamiliar, McDuffie started on staff at Marvel, rising to be a writer with a distinct voice. At much the same time, Cowan broke in to DC, training under the last full generation of master editors, allowed to develop his own, gritty style where he blossomed on The Question. Joining them on the production side was producer James Tucker under the guidance of supervising producers Alan Burnett and Scott Jeralds along with executive producers Jean MacCurdy and Sander Schwartz.

The subject matter was certainly different for cartoons as we meet Virgil (Phil LaMarr), who lost his mom to gang violence, being recruited to join one of the gangs that rule Dakota City. When the gas explodes, not only does Virgil gain powers but so do others and they are all dubbed “Bang Babies” whether good or bad. As Static, he tries to do what is right, despite the complications and obstacles. He also pines for her best friend Frieda (Danica McKellar). Thankfully, he has a faithful best friend in Richard “Richie” Osgood Foley/Gear (Jason Marsden), who covers for him and helps make equipment as needed. During the season, he also befriends Daisy Watkins (Crystal Scales), who becomes a confidant.

There are complications aplenty starting at home with his father, Robert Hawkins (Kevin Michael Richardson), who runs the Freeman Community Center and disapproves of the Bang Babies and their antics. This is contrasted by Ivan Evans/Ebon (Gary Sturgis), leader of “The Meta-Breed”.

The show is grounded in ways most other super-hero fare has not been and did not shy away from social issues such as the gangs and gang violence that was there from the beginning. A strong episode in the first season also dealt with racism while another dealt with responsibility after he took a job but had to leave it to save the day, only to be fired. There are ties to the Milestone universe as he comes under the watch of Edwin Alva, from Hardware.

While the animation is occasionally stiff, the storytelling, writing, and soul more than make up for it. The first thirteen episodes, included here with a smattering profile-style extras, allows you to watch the series and its diverse cast grow and mature.

REVIEW: The Zeta Project

Lost amid the hubbub over the animated series based on the traditional DC Comics was The Zeta Project, a fun spinoff from Warner Animation’s first original creation, Batman Beyond. Thanks to Warner Archives the two season series, spanning 2001-2002, is being released on DVD.

The series is focused on Zeta (Diedrich Bader), formally known as Infiltration Unit Zeta, a synthoid, who works for the NSA. The machine was introduced in the season two Batman Beyond episode “Zeta,” written by Robert Goodman, who developed the spinoff.

He violates his programming when he is asked to kill an innocent and goes on the run, vowing never to kill again. Of course, the NSA wants him back and sends a team, led by the clichéd obsessive, Agent James Bennett (the well-cast Kurtwood Smith), convinced Brother’s Day, the terrorists reprogrammed the agency’s machine. He’s often accompanied by the arrogant Agent West (Michael Rosenbaum). Only Agent Lee (Lauren Tom) considers Zeta may be telling the truth. Exasperated, she will eventually leave the NSA at the end of the first season and is replaced by Agent Rush (Erika Alexander, later Dominique Jennings).

Thankfully, Zeta has 15-year-old runaway, Rosalie “Ro” Rowan (Julie Nathanson) to help him navigate the civilian world and find Dr. Eli Selig, his creator and the one person who can prove his innocence.

Being in the near future of Batman Beyond, everything is high tech, glossy, and interesting to look at. The episodes explore different settings and locales, and you can always count on an explosive action as Zeta uses his holography to disguise himself. After disposing of the weapons he was left with non-lethal tools including handheld welding lasers and extensible limbs.

Unlike its host series, Zeta was definitely aimed at a younger audience so the characters were flatter and the action more frenetic. As a result, it never found the same enthusiastic crowd, even after a dramatic shift in look and tone began with the two-part “Wired” during season two. It might have been too late which is one reason why the show ended after two seasons and it’s taken this long to collect the second season at all.

The series ended without a conclusion so Zeta is still on the run with Dr. Selig seemingly killed. He did make two appearances on BB, “Shadows” and “Countdown”, both of which originally aired on the same day and are included as bonuses in the two-disc Season One set.

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

J.K. Rowling did a superb job creating her magical universe, populating it worldwide with schools, wizards, prisons, creatures, and muggles aplenty. She also gave her world a rich history and then has been mining it with spinoff works of varying lengths and media. One of the more popular has been Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, taking a reference book mentioned in her Harry Potter novels and telling the story of how Newt Scamander managed to pen such a fascinating work.

Warner Bros, seeking ways to continue to profit from the film series, optioned the title and has created a trilogy with Rowling taking her turn as screenwriter for director David Yates, who directed four of the eight films. He did a far more immersive and coherent job on last year’s Legend of Tarzan.

The resulting film has grossed over $800 million worldwide so the gamble seems to have paid off and yet, the film adaptation was surprisingly lacking in charm and, well, magic.

Wisely, the story is set in America so we can see a different attitude and approach to magic as Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has come to the States in search of more magical beasties to preserve. He has the misfortune to arrive as 1926 New York City is under attack and magic exposed to the No-Maj populace. Fanning the flames is Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), peddling the New Salem Philanthropic Society. The overly complicated plot also has a search going on for dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald and schisms within the Magical Congress of the United States of America, allowing its director Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) to conduct some extracurricular work of his own.

Coming to Newt’s aid is disgraced Aurora Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and would-be baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a non-maj. The Queenie-Jacob relationship is the film’s real heart and soul and I wish there was far more of that rather than sound and fury signifying how large their budget was for CGI. Everything is loud and overly prolonged without necessarily advancing character or story.

Visually, this is a dreary version of Jazz Age Manhattan which was flying high just prior to the 1929 Stock Market Crash. There are dark clouds and somber tones permeating the film, all the more to contrast with the realm where Scamander has been housing his finds, preserving them from a magical community that misunderstands and mistrusts them.

Frankly, the film, out now for home video consumption from Warner Home Video, is a messy disappointment, missing the essential elements that made the host series a cultural event. It looks good, is very well cast, and has some nice moments, but too little is explained, and there is little genuine emotion found in the overall story. Newt comes across as a brave bumbler, far from heroic, and is remarkably uninteresting compared with Jacob or even Tina.

The film is available in all the usual formats and combo packs with the Blu-ray’s high definition transfer superb enough to make every sparkle shine. The audio is a good match so families watching at home will be entertained by the light show.

The disc offers up over an hour’s worth of extras that feel more perfunctory than special. We start with Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins (15:31), focusing on Rowling’s process; Characters (24:19), split into five featurettes (The Magizoologist, The Goldstein Sisters, The New Salemers, The No-Maj Baker, The President and the Auror) complete with actor interviews; Creatures (20:59), divided into seven featurettes (Bowtruckle, Demiguise, Erumpent, Niffler, Occamy, Thunderbird); Design (34:33), spotlighting each location (Shaping the World of Fantastic Beasts, New York City, MACUSA, Newt’s Magical Case, The Shaw Banquet, The Blind Pig); and finally eleven Deleted Scenes (14:33), none of which would have improved the film’s messy feel.

REVIEW: Moana

“You’re wearing a dress and have a pet sidekick. You’re a princess.”

Truer words have never been spoken in a Disney film and possibly for the first time, we have a Disney Princess film that breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges that their characters pee. In so many ways, the delightful Moana is a refreshing take on the classic kids fare. It is funny, the CGI animation is charming, and the songs have a fresh sound to them.

Now out on disc and Digital streaming from Walt Disney Home Entertainment, the film plays well and will withstand repeated watching, a requirement given the target audience. What’s interesting to note is that this continues a trend, started in The Little Mermaid where the characters interact with one another in song, as opposed to the usual assortment of lullabies and I Want songs that fueled the original era of Princess tales.

It is certainly refreshing that the army of writers and directors behind Moana left European legends behind to base their culture on a mixture of Polynesian Islands with dollops of Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori, Tokelauan, Fijian, and Tahitian found within the societies depicted. The people are at peace and live in harmony with their lands until a supernatural blight threatens Moana’s people. The next-to-be-chief has been chosen by the ocean itself to set things to right and in a delightful prologue sequence, we see that this has been a decade or more in the making.

Essentially, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) needs to seek the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) convince him to restore a magic jewel he stole ages before in the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. He has been in self-imposed exile since being nearly defeated by the fiery Te Kā. As in the current era, Moana must defy her parents and cultural expectations – in this case, not paddling beyond the barrier reef – to do what must be done in order to save everyone.

Accompanied by her demented chicken Hey Hey, Moana goes on the Hero’s Quest, collects Maui, dodges some animated coconuts, and goes on to battle Te Kā. We discover how plucky she is and resourceful and talented, everything one wants in a Disney protagonist. In this regards, the film does too little original as it checks the boxes and adults and some older kids can predict what happens next. The worst such moment may be when a defeated Maui abandons Moana to her fate when we all know he will return. Audiences have been so conditioned since the Millennium Falcon returned to hold off the TIE Fighters so Luke Skywalker could blow up the Death Star. A little variation to the trope would be appreciated.

That said, I laughed and thought the animators superbly gave Moana some terrific body language and facial expressions, enhanced by Cravalho’s performance. Johnson’s Maui is also entertaining and they form a fine buddy team. They are surrounded by engaging supporting characters led by her grandmother Tala (Rachel House).

The 1080p high definition transfer is gorgeous, which is necessary given the rich, bright colors found throughout. It is accompanied by an only slightly wonderful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack.

The Blu-ray comes packed with the usual assortment of extras adults have come to enjoy with these releases. The combo pack comes with the Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD code.  We get the bonus short “Maui Mini-Movie: Gone Fishing” (2:29) which the kids will enjoy. They will also get a kick out of the Deleted Song: “Warrior Face” with Introduction by Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda (3:41), presented with the basic animation. They may also appreciate the Deleted Scenes (25:56) and the music video for “How Far I’ll Go”, performed by Alessia Cara (3:04) and “How Far I’ll Go” Around the World (2:44) as the song us seamlessly performed in multiple languages.

There is also Theatrical Short Film: Inner Workings (0:48): The filmmakers discuss the short film ((6:26) that life and daily routine; Voice of the Islands (31:13); Things You Didn’t Know About…: co-directors Ron Clements, John Musker, Auli’i & Dwayne (2:02) and Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i , & Lin-Manuel Miranda (1:57); Island Fashion (1080p, 5:13): Neysa Bové discusses the challenges and specifics of costuming the characters; The Elements Of…: Mini-Maui (3:34), Water (4:38), Lava (2:56), Hair (3:05); They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (12:37); and Fishing for Easter Eggs (2:52).

Finally, there is some interesting Audio Commentary from Musker and Clements.

REVIEW: The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania

Everywhere you turn, there are odd mashups occurring throughout comics, especially at Warner Bros. and DC Comics where the wall separating properties has crumbled. The latest example is the confounding The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania direct-to-video film. Apparently they must have had a success with The Flintstones & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania because here’s a sequel.

Thankfully, WWE World Heavyweight Champion Big Show has been frozen in ice, like a certain star-spangled Avenger, and when George Jetson thaws him out, the wrestler wants title back. He does this by vanquishing that era’s wrestle-bots and once he takes the throne, decides he wants to take over the universe. Coming to the future’s rescue as Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Alicia Fox, the Uso Brothers, Sheamus and WWE impresario Vince McMahon.

George, his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, and Jane, his wife, have to save Orbit City when it’s invaded by a wrestle-bot army en route to the conquering all of space. Good thing Elroy has a handy time machine so Big Show’s greatest opponents are brought forward in time to save the world, the universe, and beyond.

For kids who thrive on mayhem and plot-light entertainment, there’s plenty of antics. For their parents and grandparents, there is a certain comfort in seeing the tried and true tics of the original animated Jetsons one more time: from George’s ineptness to Mr. Spacely’s temper. However, at nearly 80 minutes, this can quickly grow tedious because there is just not enough content for the vast majority of the viewers, especially those unfamiliar with the current generation of WWE superstars.

As a crossover, this is weak stuff, more along the lines of when the Harlem Globetrotters got (briefly) stranded on Gilligan’s Island rather than smarter fare such as Batman ’66 Meets the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

There are times its feels director Anthony Bell is going through the motions and the animation quality is so-so at best. Jeff Bergman’s George Jetson and Mr. Spacely works because he’s had 20 years to get them right. Grey Griffin’s Jane is acceptable but Danica McKellar’s Judy is spot on (goodbye Tiffany) and topping her work is Trevor Devall’s Elroy. And it’s always good to hear Frank Welker’s Astro. The WWE stars play themselves so they sound right and look silly and seriously out of place – although the script doesn’t play enough with that.

REVIEW: Doctor Strange

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been very careful and deliberate as it introduces mass audiences to over 75 years of comic book continuity and conventions. Wisely, we had a handful of super-heroes before we had a team and after some hints about outer space, we had a specific look with Guardians of the Galaxy. Sooner or later, once “Stephen Strange” was name-checked in Captain America: Winter Solider, we knew a peek at the supernatural side was coming.

When Doctor Strange finally arrived last November, it was an amazing visual triumph that nicely walked us through some of how magic worked while offering up an origin story that showed a man’s hubris turned into something better. While the broad strokes make Strange and Tony Stark nearly identical, their journeys are vastly different with the former far slower to accept the consequences of his actions.

But the film, out now on disc from Disney Home Entertainment, is also the study of conflicting ideals as Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) comes to accept his new role and responsibilities while an ally, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), sees things vastly differently and sets up a future conflict.

The film, from writers Jon Spaihts and Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill and director Scott Derrickson, leavens the heavy supernatural with doses of humor, usually offered up by Wong (Benedict Wong). We also get to see how much Strange has changed and how accepting denizens of Marvel Earth have come to accept the fantastic through Strange’s colleague and former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).

While drawing much from the early Stan Lee-Steve Ditko issues of Strange Tales, there are pieces unique to the film, from Palmer to the silly sling rings needed to remain in another location. Disappointingly, the relationship between Strange and his teacher, the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), is all-too-brief.

Strange’s search for healing is also one of redemption, counterpointed by Kaecilius’s (Mads Mikkelsen) fall from grace. He and his cypher disciples seek enlightenment and power from the Dark Dimension, exposing the connections the Ancient One has with its ruler, the Dread Dormammu (Cumberbatch). There are rich complexities in the story even if Kaecilius’ personality is two-dimension in comparison with so many of the other characters.

The visually sumptuous production fits in nicely with the rest of the MCU although it is let down by a rote Michael Giacchino score that doesn’t enhance the story nearly enough.

The post credits sequence with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) firmly connects this film to the greater MCU and apparently sets up his appearance in November’s Thor Ragnarok and next summer’s Avengers Infinity War. How supernatural, mythology, and super-science blend should be interesting.

The film has been released in a variety of formats but the Blu-ray has a fine high def 1080p transfer. Given how much goes on through visual effects, it’s good to be able to discern all the detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack is a fine companion and makes for a good viewing experience.

The amount of bonus features is pleasantly surprising starting with the commentary. There’s a multipart look at the making of the film that is a little more surface than depth but has good information and BTS footage including A Strange Transformation (9:42), Strange Company (12:37), The Fabric of Reality (12:32), Across Time and Space (13:21), and The Score-Cerer Supreme (9:51).

There is also a brief Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28) that tries to put things into perspective with a distinct lack of specificity.

For those who liked the Team Thor short, we now get Team Thor: Part 2 (4:38), the best being Thor explaining Civil War to an elementary school class.

There are some interesting Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52) and a nicely edited Gag Reel (4:12).

REVIEW: Nocturnal Animals

The line between reality and fiction is often blurred by the author, who plumbs his or her life experiences to work through anger, grief, remorse, love, etc., pouring those experiences into thinly veiled versions of themselves. But, to use those characters as a blunt instrument in an act of revenge is something different.

Fashion designer cum part-time director Tom Ford explores those themes in his visually perfect, emotionally sterile Nocturnal Animals. He wrote, co-produced, and directed this adaptation of the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. It opened to fairly positive reviews in November but given the heady subject matter, it didn’t find its audience and vanished quickly only to remind audiences of its worthiness when Michael Shannon received an Oscar nod as a Best Supporting Actor nominee.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) was once married to Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), a budding novelist. They became lovers during grad school, married, and then parted as she lost faith in his ability and chances for success. Instead, she had an affair with Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), eventually marrying him and becoming a wealthy art gallery owner in Los Angeles. However, now time has not been kind to the marriage and they are rapidly drifting apart leaving Morrow alone and lost in a world of opulence.

Then, a manuscript for a forthcoming novel arrives from Edward, dedicated to Susan. She begins reading it and loses herself in his beautifully written world and its’ tragic inhabitants. We then are taken into the novel and meet Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura (Isla Fisher), and their teen daughter India (Ellie Bamber). Driving along the Texas highways, they are set upon by a gang led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). After terrorizing the three Hastings, the women are spirited off to be raped and murdered, leaving Tony thoroughly abandoned.

With the help of Detective Bobby Andes (Shannon), the hunt for justice and vengeance begins.

The film cuts between real world flashbacks and contemporary settings with the novel’s narrative taking up the largest portion of the film. It’s not hard to follow and it does nicely reveal Susan and Edward’s past, explaining why he wrote this story and then, in the film’s final minutes, we understand his act of revenge.

It’s chilling and terrifying at times, gorgeously shot at other times, and it’s telling that the most riveting performances come during the novel sections. Adams’ Susan is cold, frozen with uncertainty and regret, certain her second marriage is crashing.

With all that said, its remote tone keeps audiences from getting fully invested in the characters (we know the more interesting ones aren’t real) which may be why the movie failed to find its audience.

There’s a chance now with the film out on Blu-ray from Universal Home Entertainment. The 2.40:1 high def transfer is crisp so you see through the shadows and experience the gorgeous Texas settings. The DTS-HD Master Audio is a superb companion.

The disc’s scant extra is a three-part The Making of Nocturnal Animals: Building the Story, the Look of Nocturnal Animals, and The Filmmaker’s Eye: Tom Ford. These provide a thorough examination of the adaptation process and bringing the themes, if not the characters, to full life.

REVIEW: Justice League Dark

The concept of the DC Comics’ mystical characters gathering to combat occult evil always sounds good but of course, execution is everything. When it was done sparingly, as in Swamp Thing #50, it was quite effective. As an ongoing series, it proved tough to manage since each player was plucked from a title that had a fairly unique look and feel.

That said, the newly released animated Justice League Dark film is incredibly entertaining and certainly a cut above the last half-dozen releases. From a story by JLD writer J.M. DeMatteis and Ernie Altbacker, Altbacker’s script shifts the super-heroic DC Universe to supernatural threats that Superman (Jerry O’Connell), Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), Green Lantern (Roger Cross) and the others are less equipped to handle. Altbacker is no stranger to heroes and magicians with credits including Spooksville and Green Lantern: The Animated Series and he does a fine job weaving the various threads.

A series of disconnected people around America and then the world think they are seeing demons and a puzzled JLA feels a bit out of their depths. Batman (Jason O’Mara), the logical character to bridge the worlds, is at first skeptical until Deadman (Nicholas Turturro) arrives to possess him and insist he seek out John Constantine (Matt Ryan). To find the Brit, he reconnects with his old friend Zatanna (Camilla Luddington) and from there, the path takes them to Constantine, living in the House of Mystery. Along the way, they collect Jason Blood (Ray Chase), which means we get plenty of doggerel from his counterpart Etrigan the Demon,

Thankfully, the story pauses now and then to give us brief origins which will certainly help introduce these lesser known players to a wider audience.

To locate the cause of the supernatural infestation, Constantine once again uses and abuses friends in trademark fashion. There’s a nice exchange when he must summon Swamp Thing (Roger Cross) for help.

The DC Animated Universe differs sharply from the DC Universe and Cinematic Universe not just in how characters look but also their back stories. The biggest change here is Black Orchid (Colleen Villard), now a spirit protecting the House of Mystery’s artifacts. There’s another substantive change at the end which I won’t mention.

Amped up beyond anything we’ve seen in the comics is Felix Faust (Enrico Colantoni), who seems super-charged as he magically duels the entire team. Later we get an almost unrecognizable Doctor Destiny, here a centuries-old being called only Destiny (Alfred Molina).

The movie moves along at a lovely clip and director Jay Oliva excels with the magic battles, refreshed after growing a tad tiresome of the superhero fights. He brings a nice moody look and feel to the entire production which is most welcome.

Vocally, the cast is strong, of course, and the banter between Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy) and Ryan (live-action’s Constantine) is a highlight.

The two-disc gift set comes with a Constantine figurine. Special features on the Blu-ray include an enticing look at this spring’s Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, also from Altbacker. There’s a very nice featurette on The Story of Swamp Thing, featuring cocreator Len Wein and artist Kelley Jones address the creature’s origins and the stunning art from cocreator Bernie Wrightson. There are a series of short, almost pointless, Did You Know?s including Constantine origin, Color of Magic, Black Orchid, and Deadman. A 2016 NY Comic Con Panel is included. Finally, From the DC Vault offers up Batman: The Brave and the Bold, “Dawn of the Dead Man!” and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, “Trials of the Demon!”

REVIEW: Frankenstein: The Real Story/The Real Wolfman

REVIEW: Frankenstein: The Real Story/The Real Wolfman

The History Channel has occasionally explored the roots of the monsters that thrilled and chilled our childhood and Lionsgate Home Entertainment has dutifully released them on disc every now and then. Coming Tuesday is a nice little double feature package collecting the previously released Frankenstein: The Real Story and The Real Wolfman on a single standard DVD for the bargain price of $12.98.

While overwrought and overly dramatic with some cheesy music and effects, both creations are worth a look if only because it gives us a chance to look at things in context.

We begin with three pieces exploring Frankenstein and his monster. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel, as many know, was written as a result of a ghost story contest among her literary peers. What the In Search of the Real Frankenstein does is explore the quickly evolving world of science in the early nineteenth century. Scientists had used electricity to animate animal limbs and others tried shocking humans as well. And while touring Europe with Percy Shelley, she is likely to have heard about Konrad Dippel, who conducted unsavory experiments in the real Frankenstein castle. All of which acts are prelude to the second piece, Frankenstein, which is more biographical about Shelley herself. Her scandalous affair with Percy, who left his pregnant wife to tour with her, and life after his death are nicely covered along with the novel itself, which first appeared without her byline. She finally affixed her name to it five years later for the second edition.

The final piece is It’s Alive! The True Story of Frankenstein, narrated by Roger Moore (one wonders why he was chosen). Here, the many stage and screen adaptations of her work, are examined and I am pleased the Hammer films get their due so the focus isn’t just on Universal’s output. There are nice interviews with Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, special effects wizard Rick Baker, film historian David Skal, Sara Karloff, Kenneth Branagh, and, Peter Bogdanovich. While the most familiar of the three, it is satisfying.

What most fans may be less aware of is covered in The Real Wolfman, a 90-minute exploration of the thing called Gevaudan that is credited with killing 100 people in France at the end of the eighteenth century. Similar to Ghost Hunters, the film features George Deucher, a retired policeman and criminal profiler, and Ken Gerhard, a crypto-zoologist as they journey to France in search of the truth behind the legend. They come off as somewhat clueless and at times erratic as they interview historians and descendants of the people who were there during the attacks. Most interesting is the story of Jean Chastel, credited with ending the threat, possibly using silver bullets he made and then had blessed by a priest. Some coverage is devoted to the history of werewolves, which puts Gevaudan into perspective. The reenactments are nicely done and add a quality touch to the production.

This disc is a representation of the previous releases and appears in 1.33:1 standard ratio with Dolby digital 2 channel audio. As a result, everything is perfectly acceptable for home viewing.

There are no extras presented with this fun double-feature.

REVIEW: Newsprints

Newsprints
By Ru Xu
208 pages, Scholastic Graphix, $12.99

A world eerily familiar to our own but not, a time of war between two neighboring nations, and a girl masquerading as a boy because she loves selling newspapers. Toss in some steampunk, some science fiction, some gender roles and identity issues, stir vigorously and you have Newsprints a refreshingly original graphic novel from Ru Xu.

Best known for her webcomic Saint for Rent (http://www.saintforrent.com/comic/the-cloverhouse-inn), the SCAD graduate moves from serialized storytelling to a done-in-one adventure that breezily moves along. Lavender Blue has come to work at the Bugle, living with her fellow newsies and keeping her sex a secret because, for some inexplicable reason, girls can’t sell newspapers.

On her website, Xu states, “I’m really excited about the first book because it explores a lot of eye-opening feelings I had toward fitting in while growing up, gender identity, and dealing with the expectations of adults. I got to draw a backdrop inspired by the early 20th century and dieselpunk,”

Adolescent Blue is content for now, although she is aware her body will betray her soon enough. She winds up meeting Jack, an inventor of some sort, working in secret. They become friends and she apprentices herself to him. As a result, he brings her with him on his travels which leads to her accidental meeting with the muffled figure who only names himself Crow. She warms to the odd figure and they spend time together but slowly, we learn, that Crow is a robot, a product of Jack’s intelligence and early use of Artificial Intelligence. He was a prototype for a war machine but he chose to leave his country Grimmaea for refuge in Nautilene.

There are chases, secrets learned, relationships altered, and the like before things reach its anticipated climax and resolution. Xu tackles lots of issues and themes here and for me one of keenest was her sense of betrayal when she comes to realize the truth is the first casualty of war. Gender politics comes into play with Blue but also with an adult, Jill, who comes to play a pivotal role.

It’s 1924 and there are phrases like AI that get used so this alternate reality isn’t totally divorced from our world but the worldbuilding is sketchy at best so we don’t understand why things are the way they are or what is at stake during the prolonged war. Blue, Jack, and Crow are the only characters to move beyond two dimensions which is shame since the others, Hector, the Mayor, and Jill among them, who could use some depth and complexity.

Visually, Xu’s work is minimalist with a strong sense of design. Still, the broad strokes and spare use of line means expressions can lack subtlety when called for. Sometimes figures are moving in a panel and you can’t quite tell what is happening. Xu fills the pages and paces things nicely, sparing with splash pages or complicated designs. Xu’s color, done with her brother Eric and Liz Fleming, does a nice job with a limited palette. In Saint for Rent, she has been very disciplined with color because she embeds GIFs to enhance the webcomic and the colors have to be harmonious. Here, she works with broader colors without getting garish, helping give us a sense this is not our world.

The 8-12 year olds this is aimed at will find plenty to like and hopefully read some things that gets to them to think a bit. This nice debut work shows plenty of promise for the future.