Review: Marvel’s THE PUNISHER

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Since 2004, Thomas Jane was Frank Castle to me. He was the first actor since Dolph Lundgren to portray the deadly vigilante on screen and while his film had its flaws, I enjoyed his performance. I had no interest in the sequel featuring Ray Winstone as Castle and have wanted to see Jane back on the big screen as this character. I even shared the short film Dirty Laundry on the internet, a Punisher short that features Jane as Frank Castle, in what he called a “thank you” to his fan base. I remained on the “Jane Train” for quite a while... until Netflix released Daredevil season two, and I was introduced to Jon Bernthal’s representation of The Punisher. In that one season, my mind was altered and while I still enjoyed Thomas Jane as Frank, having read more Punisher comics and seeing Bernthal on screen, I was convinced that Bernthal nailed the character.

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Then, Frank Castle was granted his own series... and the series is superb.

Taking a week to binge the series, Marvel’s The Punisher picks up where Frank’s story ended in Daredevil, with Castle hunting down those involved in his family’s murders. However, this series delves deeper not only into who was pulling the strings in the deaths of Castle’s wife and children, but also in the actions taken by a covert mission in Frank’s past and the lasting effects it has created. The series also focuses on the sacrifice soldiers make in war and how coming home isn’t as easy as it may seem. Inner demons, PTSD, honor and a misplaced sense of loyalty are topics brought up in this series. Blended in with Castle’s arch is the saddening, angering and tragic story of the character of Lewis Walcott. Lewis represents the mentally-tortured soldier who is haunted by the ghosts of war and plagued by extremist ideology.

Lewis represents what happens when we as a society do not care for our veterans. He is the example of allowing them to either suffer in their own pain or be influenced by those who only think politically and not morally.

And then, there’s Jon Bernthal. Bernthal took what he gave us in Daredevil and perfected it. Performing as the physically-violent and emotionally-pained Castle, Bernthal’s face alone shows the pain and anger that resides in this character. He gives the performance of a lifetime, surpassing his work on The Walking Dead and The Wolf Of Wall Street. With every near mental breakdown, rage-filled yell and extreme but tactical attack, Bernthal makes you believe he is not acting; that he is actually Frank Castle, waging his own personal war on all those connected to the assassinations of his family. 

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To put it quite simply, Jon Bernthal was born to play this role. He is Frank Castle. He is The Punisher.

Surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, including Amber Rose Revah, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ben Barnes, Jaime Ray Newman, Paul Schulze, Daniel Webber, Daredevil’s Deborah Ann Woll and screen veterans C. Thomas Howell and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (yes, Maid Marian from Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves), Marvel’s The Punisher excels. Created by Steve Lightfoot, the writing is superb, blending extreme vigilante violence with a wide-range of emotion featuring believable characters with realistic intentions. One moment, you’ll be cheering on Frank’s vengeance. The next moment, you’re hoping that someone hugs the guy. This is presented perfectly.

For the longest time, Daredevil has been my favorite Marvel series, with Luke Cage as a close second. Now... I have The Punisher tied with Daredevil as Marvel’s absolute best. I fully recommend this series to the masses, whether you are a comic book fan, action movie lover or someone who looks for art with a valuable message. Marvel’s The Punisher delivers on all fronts, fires on all cylinders and leaves you wanting more from the tortured, vigilante Marine. The Marine known as Frank Castle.

Score: 10/10

- "The Azorean One" Anthony Esteves of The Capeless Crusaders

Review: Doomsday Clock #1

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The Watchmen. Easily one of the greatest graphic novels written. A story that shows us the human sides of masked heroes. Alan Moore’s epic is a controversial and revolutionary look at the superhero genre. One that turned a focus not only on the flaws of these vigilantes, but on our very own society. Zack Snyder’s film based on Moore’s comic is in my opinion the closest comic-to-screen adaptation ever made; I’ll debate that with anyone who dares to. Now, DC’s President and CCO Geoff Johns has started a new arch in the DC Universe. One that looks to blend the world of The Watchmen with the comic publisher’s pantheon of superheroes... and this first issue has set things up beautifully.

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The year is 1992. Rorschach’s journal has been published. The great lie has been exposed. Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, has been revealed as the man behind the attack on New York. His attempt to create peace built on a lie has failed and the city, nation and world has plunged further into chaos. Lines have been drawn in the sand between the US and other nations, while within the US, it’s people are at war with themselves. In the middle, someone posing as the deceased Rorschach has broken into a prison and freed The Marionette and The Mime. The purpose: to bring them to Veidt in order to assist him in finding Dr. Manhattan. The last few pages show us the potential connection between the search for Dr. Manhattan and a Kryptonian residing in Metropolis.

 

Within the first few pages, one can easily see the comparisons Johns is making between the chaos in his fictional world and the current events in our society today. It is a critique on the “fake news” world, pushing it further with such elements as a news organization focusing only on promoting the lies of the US president and Russia capitalizing on a fallen European Union. Johns paints the world one would expect after the final pages of Moore’s classic. The world torn apart after “the great lie” has been revealed. This setup also leaves us hanging with questions. Who is the new Rorschach? Where are Nite Owl, Silk Spectre II and Dr. Manhattan? And of course, how does this all connect to Kal-El and his nightmare? This is issue of course leaves you hanging, but in an extremely good way.

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Doomsday Clock #1 is a great setup to what is bound to be one of DC’s most intriguing and ground-breaking stories to date. An event set to combine two of its great worlds. A tale that will make readers take a look in the mirror and realize what could be if the world continues on its current political path. Some of the greatest stories told mimic the reality of the era they were released in and Geoff Johns seems set to make this story arc one of them. I, for one, applaud this arc and am excited to continue on when issue 2 is released.

Score: 10/10

- "The Azorean One" Anthony Esteves of The Capeless Crusaders

Justice League: The Verdict

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First thing's first. I grew up on D.C. Comics' characters. Batman and Superman were the
heroes that shaped my youth through both their live action interpretations (played by
Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve, respectively) and their animated
representations (voiced by Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly, respectively). Many of the
decisions I made in my youth would fall along the lines of “is this what the World’s
Finest would do?” With that said, I have no qualms in admitting the truth: as of last
Friday, Marvel was at the top of the mountain when it came to comic book cinematic
universes; However, the D.C.E.U.’s latest installment has arrived and things may have
changed.


So, in my opinion, did Justice League end Marvel’s reign?... No, not a chance. Are you
kidding me? Come on. Stop it.


With that said, I personally enjoyed the film. I place it in a tie for second on the list of
D.C.E.U. films, sharing the silver medal ranking with Man Of Steel: both films settled
behind the far superior Wonder Woman. However, my placement does not come
without some critiques. For every moment that I enjoyed, there were moments that I
cringed at, or at the very least would have done differently. Below, in two separate
paragraphs, I’m going to explain what I disliked about the film and what I enjoyed.
First, let’s get the bland salad out of the way.


What I disliked:


Right off the bat, the C.G.I. was shaky in this film. For every moment that looked really
cool, there’d be a scene that just looked cheap. Seeing Aquaman riding a parademon
like a surfboard through the air was a thing of beauty, yet something about his slide
out of the building after crashing through seemed clunky. Every amazing moment of
The Flash using the Speed Force would be followed by an adequate appearance of
Cyborg. Moreover, the C.G.I. work on Henry Cavill was just... not good. I was aware of
his obligations to Mission: Impossible 6 and was able to look past it, but that doesn’t
take away the fact that artists found a way to make handsome Henry Cavill look
slightly like Shrek. Finally, Steppenwolf was a weakly written character. He’s a
forgettable villain. A placeholder to give the League a test run before the eventual
appearance of Darkseid.

Alright. We got through that. Now, to the main course.


What I enjoyed:


The characters were perfectly cast. Each actor embodied their characters just as I had
hoped they would. Ezra Miller kills it as Barry Allen/The Flash, showcasing a hysterical
blend of genius nerd and Batman fanboy. Jason Momoa did the unthinkable: He
made Arthur Curry/Aquaman a badass through his color-changing piercing eyes, hair
and beard that resemble a Lion’s mane, and a physique that may, or may not, have
seen a few days at the gym. He displays the ego and presence one would expect from
someone who is Atlantean royalty. Gal Gadot is, without question, comfortable in the
boots of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Her perfect balance of elegant princess and
warrior goddess are undeniable, and she plays well off of Ben Affleck’s rejuvenated
and hope-restored Bruce Wayne/Batman. Whereas Bruce was portrayed as dark and
vengeful in B.v.S., Affleck plays him as a man who recognizes the downward spiral
he was on, and resorts back to the heroic Caped Crusader he was decades before.
Even with shaky C.G.I., Ray Fisher channeled the conflict that rests inside Victor
Stone/Cyborg well, and Jeremy Irons is superb as the sarcastic, wise-cracking Alfred
Pennyworth. And, while limited in screen time, J.K. Simmons was a great touch as
Commissioner Jim Gordon.


Last, but certainly not least, is the Man of Steel himself. After two films of the last son
of Krypton questioning himself and not fully confident in what he is supposed to be,
Henry Cavill is gives us the Superman we’ve been waiting for. Cavill already
portrays the perfect physical appearance of Superman, but now we see him fully
embodying the confident, selfless protector he is meant to be. Cavill’s presence in this
film reminded me of when Christopher Reeve first appeared on screen in the red and
blue outfit. I looked past that horribly C.G.I.’d upper lip and saw the Superman I’ve
been waiting to see in this universe.


Please don’t be mistaken. In no way is Justice League a perfect film: It has its flaws.
Flaws that were either overlooked or deemed not important. The trail that led to this
film seems as though Warner Bros. wanted to quickly catch up to where Marvel/Disney
is, therefore possibly putting more importance on timeframe and established
characters again instead of taking the time to develop them fully. If you know your superhero flicks, you can see the additions made in this film by Avengers' captain Joss Whedon: D.C./
W.B.’s newly acquired talent who took over the helm for Zack Snyder (sincere
condolences to the Snyder family). With that said, and having read an article that
described the Snyder-helmed scenes that were cut out of the theatrical release, I
believe it is quite possible that the suits at the W.B. may be strangling the creativity
over at D.C. Studios. I found the Director’s Cut of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice to be a better paced film than what was released in theaters, and I wouldn’t be
surprised if the same stands for this film.


With all the flaws that exist in this film, there was just enough good to
make me enjoy it. The actors portrayed their characters wonderfully, and while the
story wasn’t the most complex of adventures their interactions drove the story for me.
I give the film a seven of ten. Situated behind Diana’s origin, and alongside Kal’s
reimagining, I feel that while this film does not hold a candle next to Marvel’s best, it is
an overall positive step forward for the D.C.E.U.. Here’s hoping that in future outings
Warner Bros. worries less about copying and catching up with Marvel and just focusing
on taking the time to tell their stories in their own way. Here’s hoping for some
exciting originality in storytelling when it comes to upcoming projects like The Flash,
Shazam!, and Aquaman. Here’s hoping for focus on characters deserving of the
spotlight: Batgirl, Nightwing and, oh I don’t know... Booster Gold (Read my
previous article in him)!


In the end, here’s hoping for two or more successful comic film studios in the industry.
The more competition, the more they succeed, and the more entertainment for all of
us.

The Verdict: (7/10)

- "The Azorean One" Anthony Esteves of The Capeless Crusaders

The Bendis Departure

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If you are living under a rock (or don’t care about comic books at all) you might not be aware that writer Brian Michael Bendis has left Marvel and signed an exclusive deal with DC. I’m here to explain a few things to you: who he is, why this is significant to the industry, and my personal feelings on the matter.

BMB has been with Marvel for over 17 years, which means he joined the company when it was still recovering from the comic industry crash of 1996. At the recommendation of Joe Quesada, Marvel hired Bendis for “Ultimate Spider-Man”, which debuted in 2000, becoming a best seller of the company. What followed was a long string of successful titles, diversifying Marvel’s content and leading into legendary events like “Secret Invasion” and “House of M”. During his tenure, Bendis would create characters that would rise through the ranks of the marvel universe, and solidify themselves as A-listers; characters like Jessica Jones and Miles Morales, and more recently Riri Williams. That, in a tiny nutshell, is Bendis’ Marvel career. Dozens of titles over the course of nearly 2 decades made him a driving force for Marvel’s rise back to the top of the pile, and through its growth into the TV/Film realm and acquisition by Disney. 

So why is this important? Writers and artists move from company to company all the time. While this is true, Bendis has been a sort of spiritual rudder for Marvel comics for most his career, and to suddenly leave that for the company’s biggest competitor and sign an EXCLUSIVE contract with them is definitely a big move and will have long term effects on both companies over the next few years. 

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Which leads to my next point…my personal feelings on the matter.

There are *some* comic fans who are hardline on their comic choices. They support one company, or the other. Batman or Ironman. No in-between. For a long time you could count me in that camp, but no longer. But because these people exist, a lot of voices on the internet claimed that this move is a death sentence for Marvel, which I disagree with wholeheartedly. Bendis is an excellent writer, yes, and his loss will most certainly leave a void at Marvel that will be tough to fill. But the amount of young, talented writers they have is nothing to scoff at, and their veterans are hardly going to suddenly stop producing strong content because a peer has left. 

And you can’t forget what this means for DC; a company with plenty of powerhouse writers has another legend in its pantheon, when DC is at the strongest its been in years. But Bendis isn’t just a good writer of existing characters, he is also brilliant at reimagining a character and adding a fresh take or voice to a mythos. He can shake up the status quo. Can you imagine a Bendis headed Martian Manhunter? Or Legion of Superheroes? I personally really want him to take on Superboy Prime myself. These are all things we can have now, and they are good things. When a comic company does well, we all benefit from the residual effects. 

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My only complaint with the move is the “exclusive” part of the contract. I understand the need for stability, from both an employee and employer stand-point, but one of my favorite things about comic creators is that they can work for whoever they like. An excellent Marvel writer can create and independent book with Image. A great DC artist can go to Boom! Studios. Dark Horse, IDW, Heavy Metal, everything in between. All options for writers and artists unless they are in an exclusive contract. While Bendis has been with Marvel for such a long time, great work came from him before that in the form of Sam and Twitch with Image Comics (detectives from the Spawn universe) and Powers (which would eventually be folded into a Marvel imprint) to name a few. Not that it really sours my opinion of the move but I always love seeing a creator do an independent book that they’ve always wanted to make. The passion projects can be some of their best works.

Some people have treated Bendis leaving a 17 year long career with Marvel like Brett Favre going to the Vikings, which strikes a chord with me as a Packers fan. But while football team rivalries are steeped in mutual hatred, comic book companies don't need that. If it’s good, it’s good, and we are all better for it.

For more on our thoughts and feels on the matter, check out our latest episode, The Bendis Exodus, available now on Youtube or iTunes.

- Dr. Barrie (not a real doctor)

Booster Gold: The Selfish Hero We Don't Know We Need

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When Marvel started their journey into cinema, they chose to go with the least obvious choice. They didn't present us with Captain America right off the bat. Instead, they gave us Tony Stark, a known character but not one that had the popular status of Spider-Man or The Hulk. They chose a character that the mainstream may not be aware of, placed an actor-turned-director behind the camera and an acting prodigy looking to make a comeback from numerous mistakes in front of it. What they gave us was 2008's Iron Man

What resulted was a major success. The film grossed over $585 million worldwide, solidified Jon Favreau as a visionary director and returned Robert Downey, Jr. to his A-List mantle. It also opened the door to Marvel's Cinematic Universe. One that continues to dominate the comic book movie world practically every year. All this on the shoulders of a character that many understood very little about, including this writer. Unknown to the mainstream, Iron Man became a key figure in Marvel films, including the formation of The Avengers.

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While DC Studios chose to start their cinematic journey with their holy trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, they can still learn from Marvel's debut and present the public with a character they don't know they need. One that can give the audience a different perspective when it comes to beings with special abilities. One that will make the audience scoff and chuckle at the main character while also eventually cheering him on to do what is right.

Whether they know it or not, the audience needs Michael Jon Carter, the man who becomes Booster Gold.

Unlike other heroes in the realm of DC, Carter's story starts centuries after the reign of the Justice League. Residing in the 25th century, Carter is a failed football star who is now a security guard at a museum that houses artifacts from super beings and vigilantes of the past. Destined to correct his mistakes and make a name for himself, he uses these artifacts to go back in time to the 20th century and become a super hero... for hire.

From the start, Carter is a relatable character not because of his attained super abilities, but because of his deep flaws. He's selfish. He has an ego. He wants to be in the spotlight and be the big name he was destined to be before he was tarnished by gambling and throwing college football games for money. He is a tainted, complex character who takes advantage of his situation and uses the tools he has attained to create a business where he is hired to do good deeds. These aren't the actions of what we consider a hero. However, it is just the beginning of this character's arc. He eventually reaches a point where he realizes he must put aside his selfishness and ego and do what's right. While he's not perfect, he attains that glimmer of the hero we want him to be. We end up cheering for him, no matter how much of a loud-mouthed ass he can be.

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Imagine a film that features a character with the wise-cracking humor and swagger of Tony Stark in a time-traveling adventure on the same level as Back To The Future. A guy who has Scott Lang tendencies only to eventually learn he needs to step up and take the Steve Rogers stance. That is what Michael Jon Carter is. That is what Booster Gold is.

A Booster Gold film would present an original and groundbreaking angle for the DC Cinematic Universe. A story balanced in comedy and adventure, with a complex antihero anchoring it.  A con man who ends up placing himself in the world of Earth's mightiest heroes. A swindler the audience can't help but root for as he realizes that he's more than just a con artist; that he's more than just a guy collecting a paycheck for rescuing cats from trees.

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This is a character deserving of being added to the pantheon of DC's cinematic superheroes. This is a character whose film has the potential of revolutionizing the superhero film once again. This is a character who will make the audience laugh at him at the start and then have them cheering for him before the final scene.

This is Booster Gold: the selfish hero we don't know we need.

 

- "The Azorean One" Anthony Esteves of The Capeless Crusaders

The Thunder God’s Awakening

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28th October: the Year of Our Lord 2017

 

Foolish Mortals,

 

Unlike SOME other deity-type figures (lookin’ at you, Tyr…), your Mad Piper has experienced the Ragnarok unscathed, and has seen the other side. Now, I have waited a bit later to write this as I did not feel that I could accurately convey my thoughts and assessments of Thor: Ragnarok without spoiling many integral portions of the movie. Having made that disclaimer, you should herefore know that this will be written with no care or regard for spoilers. Read at your own risk.

 

    Thor has always been a special character to me. I have forever been enamoured with pantheons, sagas, gods, epics, monsters, and magic; In fact, those all have shaped, in large part, who I am as a media consumer: a driving factor in why I buy and read comic books, even! It was Greek myth which captured me initially, and I still remain actively fascinated by it, but since my senior seminar at University, Norse myth and saga have seized a new corner of my heart. I was made to buy nearly every piece of literature that exists on Norse myth to take the class: The prose and poetic Eddas, Gylfaginning, Volsungasaga, what Tolkien wrote on Sigurd and Gudrun… We learned Skaldic poetry, kennings, examined each saga and story for weeks at a time. I wrote three 40 page essays on themes and stories of my choosing: All of this, and I have never once looked back in regret.

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    The reason I lead with such a personal history while merely writing on Marvel’s newest Thor offering is manifold, but mainly in hope of setting a scene of expectation and, more importantly, providing a context for my inevitable criticism. 

    I was as excited as anyone else (and with that strong Norse background in academia, possibly moreso) to watch a movie called “Thor” with the subtitle “Ragnarok.” That is, for any comic or myth fan, the end of days for the pantheon. A destruction. An action-packed culling. A reckoning of all deities and the world. It is Revelations. It is Judgment Day: The climax of every saga and the rebirth of the realm entirely. 

Now, with all of this in mind as a mythology fan, I did also have the understanding that Marvel would not stay true to the Eddas and other literature, as they have traditionally not done. I was fine with it, as Marvel is its own brand of mythology, and I would not expect them to cling too incredibly closely to the Norse tradition in a franchise where they merely borrowed some characters: Many liberties had already been taken by the time Thor was first written.

    Instead of upon the Norse myth, Thor Ragnarok stands on the back of the two films before it, though it does not much act like a spiritual successor. The tone of the movie is very light-hearted, quippy, fun, gag-reliant, aesthetic driven, and impossibly 80’s nostalgic. From the very first scene in the movie, beginning with the comedy of Thor in a cage and continuing in a classic “three gag” chain spin with Surtur, Ragnarok maintains the air of fun even throughout heavy scenes. With such a tonal genesis in absurdity in a movie about the destruction of a society and land, it was very difficult to forgive much of the writing and delivery of anything serious or set up from the previous films. Many of the jokes felt campy and set up, and not in the “Rocky Horror Picture” way… Poor Hemsworth and Hiddleston were often stuck trading lines that felt delivered out of a high school script from a freshman who thought they were clever. This impacted their relationship from very early on, even through the death of Odin, which lost so much potency as a result.

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    In my esteem, this was not Hopkins’ finest hour either. His demeanor and delivery felt rushed and flat, and I understand that he was at Valhalla’s door, but his part felt a bit superfluous. Even his line “No, my time has come,” felt nonchalant. Outside of a couple of repetitive reminders for Thor and the new fact that he has been the only thing shielding Hela (apparently his, and not Loki’s, daughter) from this realm, Odin may as well not have been in the movie at all. 

    Apart from some of the more ham-fisted and graceless aspects of the film, like those listed above, Thor: Ragnarok is an absolute delight. Aside from the many hackneyed jokes which don’t land, SO many of them DO. Sight gags, one-liners, references to the Marvelverse: After the first fifteen to twenty minutes, the movie opens up. I will say just after Doctor Strange (which was such an anticipatory setup for me… so good) the movie establishes its groove and stays there, mainly. The banter is consistently humorous, the technology and worldbuilding is confusing in many parts but always amazing, and let us not forget the most pivotal part to any Thor story, myth or comic… the boundless action.

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    Marvel set us up with some really good scenes in their trailers. We all anticipated some World War Hulk together. We all saw the spiky goodness that was set up as Hela. That Surtur scene. That arena scene. That spaceship chase scene. That Valkyrie flashback in slow motion. So much of the action in Ragnarok was artfully done. There was not nearly as much action as I would have expected or liked, and the destruction of the Asgardian realm seemed a bit small in scale and rushed at that, but it did not truly impede the flow or investment of the movie for me. I have to say some of my favourite action, however, tied in character building.

    As Thor 2 was Loki’s big character development movie, Ragnarok is certainly Thor’s; Potentially even more so than the first. To the detriment of literally every other character, none of which I was made to care much about, Thor experienced an actual character renaissance in this movie. There were questions in the first film of what it meant to be “worthy,” which resulted in him regaining the hammer, but this story complicated the god in the most meaningful way by taking the hammer away from existence. 

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Left with the eternal question, “What is Thor without Mjolnir?” the movie legitimizes Anthony Hopkins for one scene alone in asking the Odinson if he is the god of hammers. This awakens the thunder god into a realisation of his innate and namesake powers, as well as hands-down the best action sequences of the movie. The ability to channel lightning and lay the Hulk out is a true spectacle. It made that arena scene. Jumping into a fray of warriors with no weapon but his element to the drop of Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song may be the centrefold of the movie for me. It strikes such a powerful image, like the cover of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight novel.  It was scenes like these, tied to meaningful character progress, which made the movie for me. The rest was fun, but it was just that. 

As much as this review began a scathing indictment of everything that Thor: Ragnarok did wrong, I do hope that you go and see it for yourself. You will like different parts, you will potentially laugh where I did not; but regardless of the similarities or differences between us, Ragnarok shone, despite its shortcomings, and was a movie worth making. Certainly worth watching. I do not own every Marvel movie. I don’t own Iron Man 3. I don’t own Age of Ultron. I may eventually come to buy these, but I will certainly buy Ragnarok upon release. 

 

That is all.

 

H.M. The Mad Piper

 

Loeb & Sale's Dark Knight Trilogy

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Two decades before one became the head of Marvel television and the other became a renowned comic artist, two men were given the opportunity to work together at DC Comics. Teaming up in 1993 with the annual issue Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special #1, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale would go on to create a memorable three-part story arc. That arc would not only become one of The Dark Knight's legendary comic adventures, but go on to become a strong inspiration to possibly the greatest comic book trilogy in film history. I am of course speaking of DC Comics' Batman: Haunted Knight, Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory. I refer to them as Loeb and Sale's Dark Knight Trilogy.

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In 1996, after having their stories first presented in DC's annual Halloween specials, the three tales (Fears, Madness and Ghosts, respectively) by Loeb and Sale were bundled into one anthology trade paperback released just in time for Halloween. Each story takes place on different Halloweens, each featuring a member of the Rogues Gallery attempting to defeat their common enemy, the Batman. In Fears, Batman faces Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow. Poisoned by his fear toxin and stuck in a large, poisonous, thorn maze, Batman must survive his greatest fears and stop Scarecrow from continuing his reign of terror. In Madness, Mad Hatter kidnaps Barbara Gordon and forces her to take part in his twisted tea party with other kidnapped children. In order to save his daughter, Commissioner Gordon must rely on the skills of the Caped Crusader to rescue her. Finally, in Ghosts, the legendary A Christmas Carol is given a haunting, Batman universe treatment as Bruce Wayne battles with the potential outcome of allowing his alter ego to take over his entire life.

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The success of these works would lead to an offer from group editor Archie Goodwin, who approached Loeb and Sale at San Diego Comic Con and asked them if they were interested in more Batman stories. This moment would lead to the iconic thirteen-issue story arc Batman: The Long Halloween.

Taking place shortly after Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween (1996-1997) is set in the early days of Batman's never-ending war against crime and corruption. He is following the case of a mysterious killer named Holiday, who's MO is murdering people on holidays, once a month. Teaming with District Attorney Harvey Dent and Captain James Gordon, the three of them attempt to track down the Holiday killer while also attempting to stop a crime war between Falone and Maroni. In its third act, this compelling and gritty story shows the reader what steps were taken in turning Harvey Dent into the infamous Two-Face. With its fourteen-part series follow-up Dark Victory (1999-2000), Batman and Gordon, now Commissioner, must deal with a territory war between what's left of the Falcone mob and Two-Face, while also investigating a series of murders involving Gotham City police officers by a serial killer known only as The Hangman. This arc also features a re-telling of the origins of Dick Grayson, focusing on the death of his family, his adoption by Bruce Wayne and the beginning of his journey to become Batman's sidekick, Robin.

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Jeph Loeb's writing is immaculate in these stories. His stories delve deep into the psyche of Bruce Wayne and the forces that drive his undying commitment and devotion to taking the fight to those who seek to impose fear and injustice upon the innocent. He builds these complex and interwoven scenarios for The Bat and Commissioner Gordon to face. It isn't just "stop the bad guy, save the day" in this trilogy. Each decision Batman, Gordon and Dent make affect the other stories happening concurrently in the same city. Meanwhile, Tim Sale's artwork brings a mixture of quick-sketch doodle and deep, gothic detail. There are key drawings where Batman's cape seems to be flowing, taking on a life of its own much like Todd McFarlane's Spawn designs. Those additions to his look add a Dracula-like presence to The Dark Knight, adding to the fear he looks to instill upon his enemies. With these incredible elements working together, it is no surprise that Loeb and Sale would go on to win the 1998 Eisner Award for Beat Limited Series for their work on The Long Halloween.

Upon becoming a Capeless Crusader, The Long Halloween was my very first comic book purchase. I purchased it because of its influence on director Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. From the very first page, I was glued to the story. I was intrigued by the complexity of the story. I was drawn to the dark artwork. As Nolan once put it, "The Long Halloween is more than a comic book. It's an epic tragedy." This statement rings so true. Upon completing it, I learned of its follow-up and Halloween-themed prequel. Within a couple of weeks, I owned the entire set. I credit the work of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale with fueling my current steady reading of comics. Their books set the tone for me. They showed me how intriguing and compelling a comic book can be. 

To this day, whenever I am asked by someone new to comics "What Batman comic should I get?", my answer will always be these three collections by these two incredible talents. Haunted Knight, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. 

Loeb & Sale's Dark Knight Trilogy.

- "The Azorean One" Anthony Esteves

Hack/Slash: My First Maniac

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In 2004, the comic world was introduced to a young woman turned vicious hunter. Created by Tim Seeley under Devil's Due Publishing, Hack/Slash tells the story of Cassie Hack, a horror victim who decides to strike back at the "slashers" who prey upon teenagers. Imagine Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode not only surviving her first altercation with Michael Myers, but then waging a "one woman war" against him and all other sharp object-wielding psycho killers in the world. Add a bit more vulgarity and a lot more bloody vengeance and you have the woman I refer to as my Horror Goddess.

Cassie is a profane, sarcastic, cynical anti-hero. She is the Jessica Jones of the indie-horror genre. Her attire is a balance between loner goth and the school girl outfit worn by Britney Spears in the "Baby One More Time" music video. If Trent Reznor and Olivia Munn had a daughter, Cassie Hack would be that girl. She is not a woman of faith, yet she is fully aware that there is something on the other side. What else could explain the phenomena she has experienced? Eventually, her adventures will lead to her meeting with Vlad, a muscle-bound, but disfigured, behemoth whom Cassie mistakes for a slasher. Seeing his kindness and good heart, Cassie offers a partnership with the big man and Vlad quickly becomes Cassie's loyal and faithful Herculean sidekick in her never-ending war against horror. Hack and Slash.

 

After the end of its initial run and a financial disagreement involving nonpayment by Devil's Due Publishing, Tim Seeley took his creation to Image Comics. In 2010, Image published Hack/Slash: ‘My First Maniac’ (written by Seeley, art by Daniel Leister and coloring by Mark Englert), a four-part mini-series telling the story of Cassie's first hunt in her bloody war defending the innocent against the slashers.

The story opens with Cassie narrating from her own diary, explaining her past. Fatherless and picked on continuously in high school, Cassie's mother Delilah, the school lunch lady, decides to protect her daughter the only way she sees fit: by murdering the teens who mock her, chopping them up and feeding them to the students at lunch. When Cassie discovers what her mother is up to, she informs the authorities, who then corner Delilah in her own school kitchen. With a final "I love you" to Cassie, Delilah plunges her head into the pot filled with boiling gravy, killing herself. However, much to Cassie's surprise later on, her mother has returned from the dead, now as a soulless, killing monster continuing her terror. Cassie has no choice but to unload two rounds into her own mother's head. Retuning her body to the grave, Cassie pledges to no longer live in fear and take the battle to all slashers that may exist. She makes the choice to become the hunter instead of the hunted, and what drives her is not only her devotion to stalking down the slashers who prey on the innocents, but the pain and heartache of turning her mother over to the authorities, watching her kill herself, and then having to kill her mother again when she became a maniac herself. She is cursed with sinking her hands into the inexplicable without hesitating or wavering.

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Cassie learns about the tale of Farmer Fig, a farmer in Iowa who was extremely protective of his property, including his only daughter. Any young men who would attempt to sneak onto his property and take part in "extra-curricular activities" with his daughter would find them themselves gutted and posted up as scarecrows in Fig's crops. Before the town could implement its form of mob justice, Farmer Fig and his daughter took their own lives. However, it is believed that Farmer Fig still roams the property, killing any teenagers who decide to have late night parties on his land. With this knowledge, Cassie heads to small town Iowa. Concealing her identity, she gets a part time job as a bar-back and enrolls as a new student at the local high school. She researches the town, the different cliques at the school and aligns herself with them, making friends and getting invited to the parties. Eventually, Cassie is invited to the party on Fig Farm. Ready to take on whatever evil plagues the farm, Cassie quickly learns there is more behind the tales of the farm and the slasher who roams it.

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This series marked the beginning of Cassie Hack's run under the Image Comics banner; a banner she remains under to this day. After over a decade of one-shots, volumes and omnibuses, the story of Tim Seeley's Cassie Hack continues later this month when writer Tini Howard and artist Celor helm the upcoming Hack/Slash: Resurrection, beginning with the release of issue #1 on October 25th; just in time for Halloween. As a huge fan of Hack, I am excited to not only read the upcoming series, but to also go back and read her past adventures. ‘My First Maniac’ was my introduction to Cassie, and I am happy I came across this memorable character. She is a lone warrior: A vicious heroine wielding unforgiving vengeance in a beautiful and bloody manner.

As I wait for her well-deserved arrival into the mainstream, whether it be on the big screen or a digital streaming service, I will continue to promote her and introduce anyone I can to the memorable Queen of Slasher-Hunting, Ms. Cassie Hack.

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