Author: Wayne D. Chang

Wayne D. Chang: Judging “Joker” on Its Merits

Wayne D. Chang: Judging “Joker” on Its Merits

There are several ways to look at Todd Phillips’ 2019 movie Joker. It is obviously grounded in DC Comics’ vast history, however it is not what most comic book aficionados would consider a “comic book” movie. Yes, it is set in Gotham City. Yes, there are references to Arkham Asylum as well as characters like Thomas Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, and even a young Bruce Wayne. However it would be grossly unfair to judge this movie as a Batman movie or even consider it in the same frame of mind as the introduction of the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman or Christopher Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight (and hinted at the end of Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins). Both movies featured The Joker as the villain, and there was a clear relationship between him and Batman, but as I suggested, this does not appear to be a typical comic book movie.

For the record, I have not actually seen “Joker” yet. I am basing this op-ed piece on what news is currently available, video clips, trailers, etc. This piece may be flawed, but it is my opinion, and you are welcome to take exception with it if you choose to do so.

We see Arthur Fleck as someone akin to Arthur Miller’s “Willy Loman” in Death of a Salesman – a man of little perceived significance and yet to come to terms with who he is. Arthur Fleck is the kind of guy who gets the crap beat out of him in viral videos. He is a stand-up comedian who has had more bombs than Dresden. From what we see of him, there is a slow progression into madness or at the very least, we see him come to terms with his madness and rebirth as the Joker, something more than a stage persona. Arthur Fleck has accepted this as who he is as he becomes visible to a wider audience thanks to an appearance on “Live with Murray Franklin.” The fact that “Murray Franklin” is played by no less than Robert De Niro lends a gravity to what could have been a simple comic book movie, but even saying that is doing a gross disservice to Joker. The movie is a love note to Martin Scorsese’s 1982 masterpiece The King of Comedy.

Joker is as Warner Bros Publicity has stated, “a cautionary tale.”

So far Joker has enjoyed unprecedented critical acclaim and response from international film festivals, however it has also endured pre-judgment from comic book fans who are quick to dismiss it as NOT a comic book movie. A friend of mine was excited to see this when the teaser first hit social media, however recently he said he wouldn’t bother seeing it as it was not in his estimation a legitimate telling of the origins of the Joker as generations of comic books, TV shows, cartoons, and movies have portrayed it. There was Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s timeless Batman: The Killing Joke (from which Joker seems to draw inspiration). There is also the older story element of Batman chasing a man in a red hood who falls in a vat of chemicals. Being immersed in chemicals apparently rendered this man’s hair green, his face white, and his lips red giving Gotham City the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker. While the red hood was not integral to the Joker’s origin in some cases, Batman was, and in the case of  The Dark Knight, the Joker existed as a response to Batman establishing a symbiotic relationship.

A lot of dissatisfaction from comic book aficionados seems to come from the basic question of “Where’s Batman?” It is bad enough that adaptations of stories sometimes play fast and loose with established mythology, and some fans seem quick to voice that they’re not going to see Joker. I confess that I was one of these fans, however after deeper consideration, dismissing Joker as not a Batman movie would be just the same as what happens to Arthur Fleck in the movie – dismissing him as insignificant. Joker appears to be a frighteningly intimate portrayal of a man’s descent into madness and embracing it as others have not accepted him or his true nature. As such, I could easily see how this could and should receive massive amounts of critical success, however it is not what I would consider or accept as a comic book movie or a Batman story. Perhaps this version of the Joker would appear in an adaptation of DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that certainly would be interesting, but I have reservations about that. It would be better to judge this as a character study.

Review: Dissidia 012 [duodecim]

Drawing upon their rich history, Square Enix’s Dissidia 012 [duodecim] places a “Who’s Who” list of well loved characters from their “Final Fantasy” games into a novel setting – a combination of a role-playing game and a fighting game. Any “Final Fantasy” veteran may think about who would win in a fight between Lightning and Sephiroth, and now you can find out.

This may seem like an uneasy marriage, but it works. If you’re used to traditional fighting games like “Street Fighter” or “Tekken,” this is very different. First off, combat is in three dimensions with aerial attacks as well as ground-based. Direction is automatically locked on to your opponent or power-ups. The RPG side of this pits characters in the middle of an eternal battle between Cosmos and Chaos. The focus is on combat, and you’ll have to go through different offensive & defensive techniques, as well as evasion. While the fighting engine is simple in principle, because of the high number of variables, execution can be tough. Along the way, you’ll be able to upgrade your weapons, armor, as well as swap out different attack techniques.

There’s also a “fighting only” option, but if you’re looking at this in the same frame of mind as a traditional fighting game, you’ll be slightly disappointed. You choose which character you want and match by match (no “best out of three” stuff here), you select your opponent. The opponent’s skill level is evenly matched to yours, and while this is fair, fighting games are usually not fair. There’s also no sub-boss or boss opponents, but any shortcomings Dissidia 012 [duodecim] may have as a fighting game are made up by the fact that any experience you rack up in the fighting area carries over in the RPG.

Square Enix graciously provided a free copy of this game for review. Thanks, guys.

Review: “Thor”

Review: “Thor”

Chris Hemsworth as Thor as depicted in the upc...

Image via Wikipedia

For a Marvel movie geek, three things were inevitable about Thor: 1) The Stan Lee cameo scene, 2) the post-end credits scene, and 3) nitpicking. Nitpicking is going to happen with any comic book related movie, and I’ve grudgingly accepted it as a necessary evil that certain sacrifices would need to be made in any translation of a story from one medium to another. Thus, certain things will have to be overlooked IF the end result is successful.

Marvel’s version of Thor in its many incarnations has tread a delicate balance of Norse mythology and something flashy thanks to Jack Kirby’s glorious art. In Kenneth Branagh’s movie adaptation of Thor, there are elements of the Prodigal Son, Arthurian mythology, and of course, grounding in Marvel history.

For his arrogance and defiance of his father Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), King of otherworldly Asgard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stripped of his considerable power and warhammer Mjolnir and banished to Earth. Making matters worse, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is beginning to discover things about himself, and let’s say he starts some trouble, now that Odin is in a coma. While on earth, Thor is tricked into believing that his father is dead (and three guesses as to who tricked him).

There was the requisite love interest in Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist investigating atmospheric anomalies. As with recent Marvel movies, the shadowy government agency SHIELD was behind the scenes, and this being a Summer movie, there was the requisite amount of wholesale property damage.

While formulaic, Thor is refreshingly entertaining. Comic book movies rely heavily upon reverence for and adherence to the source material. The result must look and more importantly feel like the comic books. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor succeeds and entertains although the progression from arrogant bastard to superhero wasn’t deep enough, and I could have done without Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Dr. Jane Foster’s ultra-annoying assistant.

If you still have no idea what the movie’s about, here’s a brief featurette:

Henry Cavill Forced Out of ‘Superman’… Guess Who’s Wearing the Cape Now

Henry Cavill at the Vanity Fair celebration fo...

Image via Wikipedia

In a bizarre turn of events, Henry Cavill has been pushed out of Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Superman: Man of Steel.” Mr. Cavill’s name had first come up as a likely candidate for Superman when McG was slated to direct in 2002, however as fans remember, McG cancelled out to direct Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and Bryan Singer was locked to replace him in 2004 to direct Superman Returns with Brandon Routh wearing the eminently recognizable red cape and blue tights.

When Henry Cavill was locked as Superman, he was seen as very appropriate and incredibly humble in casting as reported by MTV.com. Between his casting, Christopher Nolan producing and Zack Snyder directing, the “Superman: Man of Steel” movie was going to be what Batman Begins was for the Dark Knight. Further casting details like actors Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent shaped this revitalized Superman movie into a projected fan favorite, but all of that changed this ominous morning. Dallas Smith, Henry Cavill’s agent at United Agents, was unavailable for comment. Repeated calls and emails to producers Chris Nolan’s and Charles Roven’s offices have not been returned, however an anonymous source directly involved at Chris Nolan’s production company Syncopy said that a formal statement would be forthcoming about Mr. Cavill’s abrupt departure as well as something more odd– a new producer and who would be returning to wear the cape.

Excuse me? RETURNING?

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Playing with Toy Fair 2011: Recap, Part III & The Coolest Thing There

Lego Mini FiguresThere was a lot of cool stuff to see at Toy Fair 2011, and unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to see everything. I made a point of asking the nice people at Lego for info on some of their goodies, and they were very forthcoming. If you’ve ever picked up a Kubrick figure, you know that part of the fun is the mystery of not knowing what figure you’re getting in the box. Lego builds upon this with their third wave of minifigures.

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Playing with Toy Fair 2011: Recap, Part II

I wanted to show off some of the other cool Minimates that Diamond Comics Distributors had at their booth, but as is often the case with trade shows, photos were not permitted yet.

Something of note at JAKKS Pacific was a considerable line of goodies from the Dreamworks movie, “Real Steel.”

A 5″ line of figures will have interchangeable limbs and light up heads & bodies for customization. A larger 7.5″ line will have signature moves from the movie, but there’s gonna be something even more dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks – a variation (and a necessary one at that) on the childhood favorite, “Rock’em Sock’em Robots” (note to younger readers: ask your folks about this. It’s really cool. trust me).

DC Direct had some very well made busts & figures from the upcoming “Green Lantern” movie:

But the thing I was most looking forward to was goodies to “Batman: Arkham City,” the video game sequel to the 2009 hit game “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” So far, only one figure had been shown off, and it’s a doozy.

Harley Quinn keeps getting nuttier and nuttier. And that’s a good thing.

Mezco Toyz showed off a 6″ Scott Pilgrim figure from the movie and fan fave graphic novel series. Hopefully more figures will be coming.

I love that “Little Big Planet” brings a lot of user-creativity into video games, and to celebrate that, Mezco showed off their second wave of “Little Big Planet” action figures.

McFarlane Toys never fails to impress, and they had a couple of great highlights including this guy

Now Bungie may have left Microsoft, but that does not mean that “Halo” is dead. Far from it. More video games are being planned, and one can only hope that a movie might actually happen.

McFarlane Toys also had shown off figures from “The Walking Dead.” Take a look at these two guys.

Now note that “Officer Rick Grimes” doesn’t look like Andrew Lincoln, the actor who portrays him in the AMC TV series. There’s a reason for that. McFarlane Toys’ goodies for “The Walking Dead” is both for the Robert Kirkman graphic novel series as well as for the AMC TV series. This can create some issues as one of the figures in the first wave “may” actually appear in the 2nd season of the TV series (“Daryl Dixon,” everybody’s favorite crossbow-wielding hillbilly, will be in the second wave of action figures).

That’s it for now. In the third part, I’ll talk about some of the stuff I was unable to see as well as what I consider to be the coolest toy at Toy Fair 2011.

Playing with Toy Fair 2011: Recap, Part I

Having fun at Toy Fair is hard work.

OK, So I’m not likely to get much sympathy about the “hard work” bit, but Toy Fair is an overwhelming experience at which toy manufacturers will show off their wares for retailers, wholesalers, and the press from around the world. Anything and everything from yo-yos to high ticket collectibles and everything in between. But on to the fun stuff.

The venerable cartoon “Thundercats” is getting  a reboot soon, and Bandai showed off a complete line of  4″ figures. They also had 8″ figures done of classic “Lion-O” and “Tygra.” Take a look at the difference between new and classic “Lion-O” (again – keep in mind that the Classic figure is really twice the size of the New one).

The 4″ figures have a magnet embedded in their backs that activate features in  other playsets & accessories. Of course, if you want Snarf, ya gotta get the ThunderTank. Ain’t that always the case?

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‘Spider-Man’ Producer: Turn Off Your Mouth

‘Spider-Man’ Producer: Turn Off Your Mouth

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 22:  The scene outside...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

As I’ve stated before, I have serious issues with what I’ve heard about Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark as well as what people I know and trust have said about it. My previous article was based primarily on news reports as well as a Wikipedia entry for the musical. Some have taken me to task for what they assumed was my perspective—which they assumed was based on the staggering cost of this musical and hearsay—and while I said otherwise in the comments, the issue still stands as one of note in recent reviews. I will say this again: I genuinely don’t care how much it costs. If it can be done well for any amount, it’s money well spent.

However, recent comments that Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark producer Michael Cohl allegedly made in an interview with Entertainment Weeklylead me to question Mr. Cohl’s understanding of what has happened, both under his watch as a producer and as a witness to the torrential waves of negative press. Is it bad form to review and judge a work before it is finished? Yes. Anything I have ever read about this has been under the explicit understanding that it is still in previews. Issues have been raised about just how unfinished it is, given when it’s supposed to open. Issues have been raised about how many people have been seriously injured, as well as in-performance delays that occurred due to technical difficulties. Yet these were all prefaced by the fact that it is still in previews and not judged as a final product.

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ComicMix Six: Things That Must Happen Before I See ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark’

This article may be apocryphal considering that the most expensive Broadway production is still in previews, and its start date has been held up by a litany of horrendous accidents, injuries, and plot elements that would make Scooby-Doo go “Aroo?”

As a die-hard comic book geek and as someone who loves a Costco-sized serving of schadenfreude, I have been following news about Julie Taymor’s musical fiasco, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. I’m sure I’m not the only one who upon reading report after report of injury or “WTF” reviews would come to the conclusion “How the HELL can this continue?

In the event that it does continue, here’s a list of things that must happen altogether for me to see Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark:

  1. Julie Taymor, Bono, & The Edge must issue a formal apology for the accidents, the ridiculous plot elements, uninspired songs, and a second act that makes about as much sense as Nick Nolte and Tom Waits on a bender.
  2. There must be a permanent restraining order forbidding Julie Taymor, Bono, and The Edge from ever working together again. The restraining order must further stipulate that Bono and The Edge must never work in musical theater.
  3. Get rid of the Greek Chorus of Geeks. It’s an interesting device, and a nod to fans, but it’s a bloated appendix: superfluous and in dire need of being excised immediately.
  4. Get rid of Arachne. It’s one of the first things to screw with comic book canon. Ms. Taymor may think it’s adding a new dimension to the story, but the inclusion of the Greek mythological figure is little more than an elaborate, long-winded non sequitur.
  5. Rewrite Uncle Ben’s death. In changing Ben Parker’s death, a huge part of Spider-Man’s impetus has been changed as well. Spider-Man is driven by guilt for not doing the right thing. In Julie Taymor’s version, the impetus is in less direct fashion that has no obvious bearing on Peter Parker and what he should have done. In ANY version of the established origin, Spider-Man is a better hero for having incorporated this guilt.
  6. Remove all the superfluous villains in the second act including Swiss Miss. The inclusion of so many villains lessens the importance of any one of these famous bad guys. Carnage, Electro, The Lizard, and Kraven are no minor figures to Spider-Man. Grouping them altogether makes it seem like Spider-Man is Moe against a group of Shemps. And how the hell do you have a character like Carnage without first explaining who Eddie Brock was? It’s almost like Julie Taymor never heard about one of the most fundamental rules of superhero movies: NEVER load up a project with a buttload of villains. Then again, maybe she thought she could pull it off.
ComicMix Six: Who You Want On Your Side When Zombies Attack

ComicMix Six: Who You Want On Your Side When Zombies Attack

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching and reading
enough stuff about zombies, it’s that you need a good bunch of guys with you
when the crap hits the fan. Guys who will last. Guys who know how to handle
themselves.

So in light of The Walking Dead marathon on AMC today leading up to the season finale, these are the guys I want with me when Hell is full up, and
the dead walk the earth.

1. FLINT MARKO/SANDMAN
Zombies love munching on flesh, but what if you put them up
against a guy who’s made of sand? What the Hell are they gonna bite into? While
sensitive to moisture, he can turn his body into glass. That’s gotta come in
handy in close quarters. Flint is super strong and can take on crowds and send
them reeling with a giant sledgehammer fist.

2. SOLID SNAKE
A veteran of many armed conflicts, this iconic video game
character has proven himself to be a top covert operations and infiltration
operator. He is a master with melee weapons, hand-to-hand combat, firearms, and
high explosives. Snake is one of the best guys to go to when you have to take
out a zombie quietly.

3. TED KACZYNSKI
Everyone’s favorite anarchist may not be the first guy you’d
want to get mail from, but he’s proven that he can live off the grid. When
electricity and running water are unavailable, knowing how to live and survive
become the same thing. He’s also pretty good at making dandy booby traps, so
that can come in handy with setting up a camp perimeter better than empty cans
on string.

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