9 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
From the vast vault of Marvel - via Clear Vision - comes the animated series The Super Hero Squad Show. This is Hero Up! (effectively volume one) which incorporates six episodes over one disc, with a total running time of 2 hours, 13 minutes. From their base on Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D. sky ship, Iron Man heads a team of super-powered heroes dedicated to finding and recovering the pieces (or fractals) of the Infinity Sword - the most powerful object in the universe - which has been splintered in a mighty battle between Iron Man and Doctor Doom. Making up the regular squad are Thor, the Hulk, Wolverine, the Silver Surfer, Falcon and Wasp - with appearances by the Fantastic Four, Captain America and Dr. Strange.
In And Lo, A Pilot Shall Come, a city-wide battle ensues over possession of a shard of the Infinity Sword; in This Silver, This Surfer, the Silver Surfer inadvertently causes problems with his cosmic power and is sent away, but only he can prevent Doom assembling an Infinity Dagger; in Hulk Talk Smack, contact with an Infinity fractal leaves the Hulk grey-skinned, intelligent and cultured; in To Err is Superhuman, a new member who can turn parts of his body into any dinosaur is introduced to the team and saves the day; in Enter Dormammu, the powerful other-dimensional being is combated with help from Dr. Strange and the Fantastic Four; in A Brat Walks Among Us!, a little girl wearing a fractal in a tiara is given phenomenal tantrum powers. Heroes and villains alike race to recover the shard without upsetting her.
This is like a toy town version of the Marvel universe, where everyone appears to be tiny, and the 'good' people live in Hero Ville and the 'villains' live in an industrialised complex dominated by a huge eye. Don't these people know that life isn't as black and white as that?
However, childlike naivety apart, this series has a lot to offer. The central theme of the Infinity Sword does not sustain itself very well, but does lead to interesting situations.
Where this concept really succeeds though is with characterisation. There is constant exploration of the main player's psyches. Like all good friends they continually make fun of each other, and it's this that predominantly makes for an enjoyable viewing experience.
Furthermore, the ever-present humour is significantly less childish than that in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. I look forward to the next volumes.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
Next up, from Clear Vision and the bottomless vault of Marvel, comes The Super Hero Squad Show - Volume 2 (in this instance named Hulk Smash!), the humorous animated series. This time there are five episodes on one disc, with a total running time of 1 hour 51 minutes. For anyone who missed my review of volume 1, the premise follows Iron Man, Wolverine, Thor, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Falcon and Reptil who protect Heroville from their S.H.I.E.L.D. carrier headquarters. Their primary goal is to recover the fragments of the all-powerful Infinity Sword, also sought by Doctor Doom and his cronies.
In Oh Brother!, Loki, Thor’s evil half brother starts a battle in Asgard as a distraction whilst he recovers a fragment of the sword; in From The Atom...It Rises!, a super criminal called Scorpio steals information on an atomic particle collider from Stark Industries, but who is he?; in Night in the Sanctorum, the Enchantress causes Falcon to crash the carrier, and the Squad are forced to look for somewhere else to spend the night; in This Forest Green, Doom uses a scientist’s shrinking ray to send his cronies on to the carrier to steal a fractal; in O, Captain My Captain, Wolverine leaves the Squad and joins Captain America’s team - only to find they do things more than a little differently.
Once you get used to the extremely unusual format of this show, and in particular an almost toytown visage to all proceedings, you soon realise that this is more than competently put together. In fact, the balance is very clever. The probable reason why Spider-Man is absent from The Super Hero Squad Show is that all the other characters wise-crack in a similar manner. The humour hits the mark far more often than it misses it, and the characters are very well realised, with Thor being vain and long-winded with his ancient speech (thees and thous), Hulk being a likeable but destructive big kid, and a perpetually brooding Wolverine. Night in Sanctorum is the best example of a perfect episode; very funny, with each hero showing his true character. This series has really grown on me.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
As part of their high quality on-going animated films, Warner Bros. in conjunction with Warner Japan releases Batman: Ninja on Blu-ray, Steelbook and DVD. This 85 minute anime feature is written by Kazuki Nakashima and directed by Jumpei Mizusaki. Gorilla Grodd has developed a time displacement machine. Batman is after putting it out of action, whereas his arch enemies are desperate to secure it for very different and nefarious reasons. The resultant clash zaps them all off to ancient Japan. The Joker seeks overall power, forcing the Batman to make reluctant alliances in order to get them all back to contemporary Gotham. He soon realises that technology can’t help him here; only ingenuity and a willingness to change to suit this new environment...
Batman: Ninja is a difficult one to quantify. The plot device used to place Batman in a period Japanese setting is a little contrived, to say the least. The likelihood of the time displacement machine transferring not only Gorilla Grodd and the Batman, but top villains The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Deathstroke, Two-Face and Bane is unlikely. Whilst the chances of Catwoman, Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, and even Alfred extend that to the point of being ridiculous.
The idea is that The Joker has taken over the machine, but is missing some of the power rods, one each of which is held by opposing Feudal Lords Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Deathstroke. Although these villains are adorned with Shogun-like armour of real Japanese history, we see very little of them. The main characters are undoubtedly Batman and The Joker, so why not just have these two? It would have made a tauter and more realistic battle. The point is proved with the one-on-one Samurai sword fight on a rooftop at the film’s finale. As for the Sumo Wrestler version of Bane: Batman sees him off in about ten seconds! Conversely, Catwoman looks really good, but is under utilised, except for the odd skirmish with Harley Quinn. Other than that she stands near The Joker pretending to be a reluctant ally.
I realise the idea is to strip Batman of his technology; certainly, the moment when he goes to use his grappling gun, only to realise there are no tall buildings, is priceless. However, everyone else seems to possess anachronistic tech. Where does The Joker’s robot temple and vast array of firepower come from? Recent Japanese anime culture dictates the appearance of a robot or monster somewhere along the line. But Transformers and warring robots?! Batman leads the good guys without doing much but a little fighting and exerting of his presence. Red Robin and his associate monkey do more by calling together hundreds of armoured monkeys – which looks impressive until they form an opposing robot (which looks like a rubbish Teddy Bear) to go up against The Joker.
In between the manic, in-your-face, action (punctuated by mad visuals in the vein of Pokemon character screens) are quiet introspective moments. Here the animation changes to a likeness of watercolour paintings: two birds singing on a branch or seeds floating on the breeze. This portrays a culture of peace and harmony amidst the chaos of warring factions.
Although Batman: Ninja has its fair share of nice original moments, this iconic American hero doesn’t sit well in an historical Japanese setting. I suppose that is the point Warner Japan is trying to make. Compare it with the stylistic Victorian setting of Gotham By Gaslight, for example, and you’ll see what I mean. Much of what happens in this film is quite obviously for the sake of convenience eye candy. Am I being too fussy about loose plot strands? Technology which has been damaged or discarded is carelessly left behind with no consideration of how it could affect the historic timelines. Perhaps the reality should be changed when they return to Gotham City.
Nevertheless, you’ve got to appreciate the attempt to do something different with these characters and situations. I am a dedicated follower of these animated Batman films targeted at a more adult audience. I have Batman Year One, Mask of the Phantasm, Under the Red Hood, Gotham By Gaslight, Mystery of the Batwoman, Gotham Knight, Assault on Arkham, Batman Vs Robin, Son of Batman, Bad Blood, The Dark Knight Returns – Parts 1 & 2, The Killing Joke, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and a few of the Justice League titles in which Batman is prominent in the storyline. They are generally of very high standard; certainly, a line that DC excels in. Okay, this one is noBatman Year One, or The Dark Knight Returns, but is a slightly above average release and worth seeing.
Extras include: East/West Batman and Batman: Made in Japan featurettes; and New York Comic Con Presents Batman Ninja.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
The Justice League, adapted from the DC Comics adventures, follows a group of superheroes based on a space station as they fight against evil from the Earth and beyond. Here we have three episodes from the Unlimited series...
In Initiation, Green Arrow is invited to join the Justice League but gracefully refuses. The Green Lantern, Supergirl and Captain Atom (please!) agree to drop him off after they have helped with a reported nuclear accident. They are turned away by the military, but Green Arrow discovers there is a nuclear-powered robot on the rampage and only he can get close enough to pierce its weakness.
In Hawk and Dove, two sets of warring factions in a country are further divided when one side is given an unstoppable robot by a mysterious shape-shifting character. Recognising a symbol on the robot's armour, Wonder Woman visits the individual who created her own suit. He tells her he made the robot for Aries, and that he leaves a small weakness in each of his creations. Justice League members Hawk and Dove try to convince the warring leaders to talk peace, but Aries has taken over one of their identities. It takes Dove to realise the robot is fuelled by hatred and prejudice.
In Kid Stuff, Morgane LeFay shows her young son Mordred the Amulet of First Power, with which he will one day claim his kingdom. But the impatient youth snatches the amulet and uses it to banish all adults. Consequently, Batman, Wonder Woman and countless others find themselves deposited in a shadow realm. The only way to get back is to allow Morgane to turn them into children.
I'm sorry to say that, whilst the animation remains good, this new Unlimited version of Justice League has gone right down hill. When I reviewed some of the original Justice League show it concentrated on the main characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and the Green Lantern. Now we not only have a cast of thousands (superhero overkill), but the entire format seems to be aimed at young kids who they would have you believe care nothing about characterisation or good storytelling, only whizzes and bangs. Furthermore, is three episodes amounting to seventy minutes good value for money? Probably not.
Extras consist of: Justice League Watchtower Database (spoken information on Green Arrow, Supergirl, Captain Atom, Hawk and Dove); Save Gorilla City (help Flash catch an armoured van by using arrow keys on your remote - which didn't work on mine); Rate a new cartoon called Keeping Up With the Joneses; and a short trailer for Tom & Jerry Blast Off to Mars.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2005)
Brainiac, the composite of all knowledge on the planet Krypton, decides to dispute Jor-El's scientific findings that the increasing seismic activity will cause the planet's destruction. While Brainiac uploads itself to a mobile satellite, Jor-El places his infant son Kal-El in a lifeboat escape pod and fires it off to Earth as a mighty earthquake signals the end. From then on it's the standard Superman backstory (Smallville, Lana Lang, Metropolis, Daily Planet, Lois Lane, etc.) until the super-powered benign alien goes up against the ultimate battlesuit engineered by Lex Corp...
Superman The Last Son Of Krypton is an hour-long animated feature produced by the same team who won an Emmy award for the Batman animated series. On first viewing that's surprising because this isn't a patch on Batman. Only on reflection does it become apparent that it's the concept itself which is at fault.
Whereas the majority of Batman action takes place at night in the grand but sinister setting of Gotham City and features a host of mentally-deranged psychotic villains which counter Bruce Wayne's own unbalanced mental state, in Superman everything is too bright and happy, and the idea of somebody flying around in bright blue and red spandex would be open to extensive ridicule, no matter how powerful he was. The costume of Batman is designed to instil fear in the hearts of the criminal fraternity, giving him an advantage for those vital first few seconds. The main difference here is that Batman is human; he can be hurt or killed, and relies on his money, ingenuity and physical prowess.
When a character like Superman is impervious to practically anything unless the plot demands someone wave a chunk of green rock in his face, then you have no depth and so grow bored with proceedings. There is a nice reference to "that nut in Gotham City" but the truth is this DVD will only appeal to a very young audience.
Extras include the interesting but short Portrait of a Hero: How to Draw Superman, demonstrated by character designer James Tucker; Superman: Family, Friends & Foes, a low-down of the characters using clips; Escape From Planet Krypton, a game which stubbornly refused to work properly on my machine; and Trailers for other Warner animated shows, one example of which (Batman: The Mystery of the Batwoman) was more entertaining than the entire Superman feature.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)
For anyone out there who hasn't seen the Marvel comics, graphic novels, previous animated series, or the two Hollywood blockbuster films, the X-Men are a group of people who have a mutating gene which allows them individual gifts or special abilities. They live and train under the guidance of Professor Xavier, who possesses remarkable mental powers, at his school for the gifted. The team's mandate is to seek out and help new mutants and to fight those who use their abilities for selfish or destructive gain...
X-Men Evolution is a modern-looking traditional animated series which is set early in the timeline of these popular characters. Mainstays here are Professor X, Cyclops (alias Scott Summers, who can unleash powerful optic blasts), and Jean Grey (who possesses telepathic and increasing telekinetic abilities). The suitably gruff, abrupt and bad-tempered Wolverine is a member, but comes and goes, clashing sporadically with his arch-nemesis Sabretooth. However, this series is more about the youngsters. The first six episodes, three of which are on this release explore the entry of newcomers to the fold.
In Strategy X, Kurt Wagner is brought to Xavier's mansion. Originating from Germany, Kurt (alias Nightcrawler) is blue-skinned, has pointed ears and a prehensile tail, but his astounding gift is that of teleportation and uncanny agility. Toad is a rather ugly and smelly boy with amphibian abilities who the X-Men try to welcome, but he rejects the offer. The school principal, who in reality is Mystique working for Magneto, tries to extract information from Toad; however, Xavier has already mentally wiped the boy's memories.
In X-impulse, Avalanche,who can create minor earthquakes, tricks Kitty Pryde into using her new-found powers to pass through solid objects, to help him steal the exam questions from a locked room computer. When she realises his objectives Kitty (alias Shadowcat) refuses to help him further. In anger, Avalanche causes a section of the school to crumble, but Kitty uses her abilities to get the people out safely.
In Rogue Recruit, the goth girl recluse Rogue is introduced. When her powers of temporary memory and ability absorption through touch emerge, Mystique lets Rogue slip through her fingers. The battle is then on between Mystique and the X-Men to get to her first. Rogue doesn't know who to trust, and this fear is heightened when Mystique takes on the shape of various X-Men. Taking on people's memories and abilities also confuses Rogue, and as a teenager too she is uncertain of her own identity.
Though quite short, these are very enjoyable stories. The physical shapes of the characters look a little elongated to begin with, but this is a purposeful attempt to capture the look of the old Jack Kirby comic illustrations, and you soon get used to it.
Extras include optional introductions to each episode and a short Evolution of X-Menfeaturette. I am confused as to why this and the next intended release contain only three tales, when X-Men: Evolution - Mutants Rising, which has already been released contains five, as well as audio-visual information on the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm and Wolverine return with a new batch of three adventures. As with volume 1 the emphasis is heavily on the new and younger members of the Xavier Institute: Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Rogue and Spyke and their mischievous counterparts...
In Mutant Crush, the Blob (couldn't they have thought of a better name?) is a super-strong teenage mutant with an extremely short fuse. When Jean Grey attempts to befriend him, the formerly friendless Blob takes the relationship too far by kidnapping her. Jean uses her mind powers to call for help from the X-Men, but it is the loner Rogue (who temporarily takes on the abilities of others by touch, and was recently the subject of a power struggle between Xavier's team and the evil Mystique) that saves the day.
In Speed and Spyke, Evan Daniels is introduced to the Xavier Institute when his mutant gift of shooting bone spikes from his body materialises with unpredictable results. There is a further shock when he discovers his friend and basketball team mate is also a mutant calling himself Quicksilver. The friendship is short-lived when Quicksilver uses Spyke as a scapegoat in a crime. Now Spyke seeks retribution, but it comes unexpectedly at the hands of the X-Men.
In Middleverse, Nightcrawler inadvertently triggers a booby-trapped lab, and the only piece of equipment left intact sends him into a universe where everyone appears as insubstantial ghosts but don't see him at all. Here he meets the inventor of what turns out to be a transdimensional projector and they try to devise a means of contacting the outside world. While the X-Men search for Nightcrawler, Toad gets hold of the projector and uses it as a weapon. Again the reclusive Rogue helps out, but affiliates herself neither with the X-Men nor Mystique's henchmen.
As mentioned in my review of volume 1, this is modern-looking traditional animation with enjoyable, well-constructed storylines. The costumes and characters have been revised to make them more personable and this shines through in their very different mannerisms.
Again there are only three episodes (the six episodes comprising volumes 1 and 2 would have sat comfortably on one disc and been a more attractive package), each with the optional producer/director introductions. The one documentary relating to the artwork is interesting, enhanced by demonstration animated sketches and designs, but at only four minutes I'd barely settled in the chair before it was all over.
So here we go with another batch of episodes from this modern-style series which makes good use of conventional animation. This time the stories are from season two. I have to admit to a growing admiration for this work; the more of these I see the better I seem to enjoy them. The characters are well fleshed-out, each possessing their own idiosyncrasies which made me warm to the people rather than their superpowers. There is also a good balance between tales concentrating on the new arrivals and those centring on the more established heroes. This flexibility extends to the emotional aspect of the show too. Serious rescues or clashes with powerful villains are interspersed with light humorous touches.
In The Beast of Bayville, Hank McCoy, ex-American football hero and now respected teacher at Bayville High School, suffers from Jekyll and Hyde moments as the beast inside him attempts to assert itself. Personally-concocted serums no longer have any effect in keeping it at bay. However, help comes from an unexpected source. When Evan Daniels (alias Spyke) cuts class McCoy is lenient, appealing to the boy's teamwork nature, and so when the other X-Men are battling McCoy's alter ego Spyke simply talks him into accepting the nature of the beast.
In Adrift, Scott Summers (Cyclops) attempts to rescue his brother Alex caught surfing in a virulent storm. They are both cast adrift, and even a rescue helicopter is struck by lightening and crashes, dumping its pilots into the sea. When the coastguard picks up the helicopter crew there is no sign of Scott or Alex, and it is left to the X-Jet and its occupants, Storm and Jean Grey to save the day.
In the Christmas episode, On Angel's Wings, a mutant with wings saves a crippled woman from a burning building and thwarts a mugging. Rogue, who is rather taken with Scott Summers, accompanies him in investigating the sightings. Magneto causes some mischief to turn the public against Angel after he saves the life of a little girl. When Angel refuses to join Magneto, Cyclops and Rogue help battle the arch nemesis of the X-Men.
In African Storm, Spyke fails to protect Storm in an X-Men training simulation. An African shaman, whom she had years ago justifiably turned the tribe against, captures her spirit in his staff. The X-Men come to her rescue, but it is Spyke who proves his worth.
Disc extras include: Stan Lee - The Original X-Man, in which Stan the man talks about his original creations and how they have been adapted for this animated series; and Inside Xavier's Institute, which has the voice of Wolverine give a guided tour using clips from various episodes. There is also an extended trailer for the season one DVD releases.
This DVD contains four episodes, as opposed to the three of previous releases, and would have gained an extra point if not for the fact that The Beast of Bayville has already appeared on the region 2 disc Mutants Rising.
Here we go with another batch of episodes from this excellent animated series. For those of you who didn't get a chance to check out my previous reviews (shame on you!), this interpretation of the popular X-Men comics from Marvel is set earlier in the mutants' progression. They are nurtured by Professor Xavier at his mansion house, where they are taught to discover the full limits of their powers and to act as a team. The main characters are Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Spyke, Shadowcat, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast and Storm. Regularly returning villains are Magneto and Mystique, and Sabretooth. These five episodes are the last of the second season...
In Shadow Dance, Nightcrawler is fitted with an experimental contraption which could extend his teleporting abilities. The theory is that he passes through another dimension when moving instantly from place to place. His timing is slowed down so that he can witness the environment he passes through. Ravenous beasts almost kill him, so Professor X decides to postpone the experiments indefinitely. However, the portals have not properly closed, allowing the beasts to slip through and make an entrance at the high school dance.
In Retreat, Mr McCoy (a.k.a. Beast) has a brush with the law during a night excursion into the streets and refuses to trust himself to leave the house again. Professor X suggests a nature field trip in a national park for those students a little behind with their Natural History. However, a group of hunters on the trail of Bigfoot captures Beast, forcing him and the mutant students to teach them a lesson in humility and respect - but not before they are obliged to save their lives in a flash flood.
In The HeX Factor, there's a new mutant in town. Professor X visits Wanda in an institute where they try to teach her to control her powers, which are like those of a witch. Mystique breaks her out to use as a weapon to go up against the might of Magneto, but as a test prompts a battle between the Brotherhood (the bad guys) and the X-Men, who have to learn to deal with defeat for the first time ever.
In the 2-part story Day of Reckoning, Professor X forces the X-Men into parnership against Magneto, but Cyclops hates the idea and leaves. Whilst at the mansion house Mystique manages to set a self-destruct countdown. The institute locks down; only one young student escapes and goes looking for Cyclops. Meanwhile, Wolverine has been captured and is forced to go up against the Sentinel, an unstoppable mutant-killing robot. The X-Men arrive at the scene and are forced into battle while the whole world looks on via the media. Back at the mansion Cyclops has to find a way into the building and save the young mutants, but there's only seconds left before destruction.
Extras are X-Men Evolution: Turning Point, a featurette explaining the plot differences between seasons one and two; and Toad's Test, seven easy questions which are answered before you've finished reading the question.
This is a good example of what can still be achieved with traditional animation. It's fresh, fast, exciting and quirky. Newcomers to the series might feel cheated here with the unresolved season two cliffhanger, but they can't say they're not getting their money's worth - well, not until the complete season discs arrive anyway.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)