I’ve been watching a lot of animated comic-based movies lately for a top secret project (not really, it’s a list of good and bad straight-to-DVD superhero cartoons). With the holidays and Netflix not being able to ship me the Christmas movies I wanted to check out like Santa Claus: The Movie, I ended up with a stack of these things and figured today would be a good day to go through some of them. Hey, the sooner I turn the article in the sooner I get paid.
I actually used to have a copy of Hellboy Animated: Sword Of Storms (2006) in my possession from my Wizard days. I thought I still had it, but must have passed it to someone else or put it on the free table. Anyway, after not really liking Hellboy 2, I wasn’t too interested in delving into that world anymore (yeah, I know this DVD came out before the sequel, but I hadn’t watched it yet), but I want to be complete any time I work on one of these lists, so I gave it a shot. And, as it turns out, I like this animated feature more than either movie.
Sword Of Storms captured the character of Hellboy who I love from the comics much better than the films, even though the voice cast carries over from the movies with Ron Perlman, Doug Jones and Selma Blair coming back to voice Hellboy, Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman respectively. Oh, plus, you get a nearly panel-for-panel interpretation of the “Heads” story from the Chained Coffin And Other Stories TPB, which was a nice surprise.
The animators also did a pretty good job of nailing Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s style when it came to a few of the background and attacking characters like corpses and mummies. Aside from that, though, the animated versions of our well known heroes all looked pretty different from the comics. There’s a lot of good, weird Hellboy moments like a woman playing a stringed instrument until her fingers bleed and a talking fox that remind me more of the comics than the movies, which is nice.
Plus, Kate Spencer is actually in this one and she’s voiced by Roz from Frasier, also known as Peri Gilpin. I will say that the movie felt a little long and somewhat aimless at times, though that might be more a product of the comic-like story and Hellboy’s wandering journey through some kind of ghost dimension. Oh, and there’s a psychic B.P.R.D. agent who I wanted to punch in the face because he was too cartoony and over-the-top. Had they toned him down a bit, I think the overall film would have been much better.
Up next on the double feature was Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman from 2003, which I didn’t find nearly as fun or entertaining as Sword Of Storms. See, the plot almost exactly follows that other Batman animated movie Mask Of The Phantasm, which I didn’t like much either.
See, Batwoman’s out there causing trouble and it just has to be one of the three new female characters introduced in the first 15 or so minutes of the movie. Batman also seems to fall for the most obvious person potentially responsible without really questioning it or looking into it too much. And guess what, he’s right because SPOILER WARNING it’s all three of the new female characters wearing the costume. I didn’t see that coming by any stretch, but it also wasn’t that surprising because you KNOW it’s got to be one of the three female characters.
There were some fun fight scenes and action sequences, but overall it just wasn’t all that fun to watch. Plus, they decided to cast David Ogden Stiers as the Penguin and redesign him while all the other characters retained their voice actors and the appearance they had in the Animated Series’ later relaunch. I will say that the design on the Batwoman costume was fun, even though it’s really really similar to the on from Batman Beyond. It should be noted that TAS masterminds Paul Dini and Bruce Timm had nothing to do with this movie, at least as far as the credits on IMDb go, so that might explain why the quality isn’t as high as those cartoons. Ah well, it wasn’t a complete waste of time and definitely isn’t the worst of the animated bunch I’ve ever seen. Hopefully everything from here will at least be a little better though.
A few more trade reviews for your reading pleasure, BAM:
ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING VOL. 1 (Dark Horse)
Written by Mike Mignola
Drawn by Jason Shawn Alexander
Like I said the other day, I love the Hellboy-verse and a big part of the world is Abe Sapien. This trade collects the very first Abe mini which also recounts his first Hellboy-less mission back in 1981. Remember how I said that even stories like this that take place in the past refer back to other stories? Well, there’s a quick look at Abe’s origin, but again, you don’t need to know anything about that to enjoy this story. It’s really fun trying to work everything out because, while this story came out after the B.P.R.D. trade which explained Abe’s past, The Drowning, chronologically speaking, comes before that. I’d like to see a huge Hellboy timeline laying everything out (maybe even with the order you’re supposed to read them in).
I’ve got the same complaint about this trade as the B.P.R.D. Vol. 9, though, in that we don’t get treated to a Mignola intro (though there still is the requisite sketchbook). And speaking of the art, Jason Shawn Alexander is awesome. I have no idea what else he’s done, but the way he draws the creepy little ghost things with the writing all over them is pretty damn creepy. Well done Jason, someday I’d like to have you contribute to my Green Lantern or eventual horror movie themed sketchbook.
I guess I haven’t really talked about the story, so here goes. Abe’s on an island looking for a magic spike in a demon, but soon enough these short demon dudes show up and everyone on the island dies! So, it’s up to Abe to save the day. I don’t want to get too much more into it without giving stuff away, but it’s another great Hellboy-verse story that any fan or novice can pick up and love.
NIGHTWING: FREEFALL (DC)
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Drawn by Rags Morales & Don Kramer
I’m not the biggest Nightwing fan in the world, though I did enjoy most of the Devin Grayson and Chuck Dixon issues I read back in the day. Of course, things haven’t been so great in recent memory. But no more! I’ve been loving former editor Tomasi’s run on the book. Tomasi has boiled the character down to his essence, added his own spin and really cemented him in his post-One Year Later setting of New York City. In this book we get to see Dick taking up skydiving, getting a new job and home and trying to track down a villain who’s stealing super-corpses. What Tomasi does that I love is, he shows how much a part of the DCU Nightwing really is (remember, he lead the JLA at one point when they were stuck in the past). Not only does Flash (Wally) stop by for a beer, interact with Batman and Robin and confab with Superman on a case, but he also ha the JSA help set up his new pad (they’re not too far away, also being located in NYC).
I also have to admit I’m fond of Peter’s use of the New York area. I’m not as familiar with the city itself, but I totally geeked out when Nightwing flew under the Bear Mountain Bridge, which I pass every day on my way to work. There’s also a few other locations that I think I recognized (hey, I’m still learning). Aside from the locations, I appreciate the writer’s creativity and logic when dealing with the superhero world. Nightwing flies around on a ‘Wing wing (a kind of jetpack with wings), but he also asked Bruce Wayne to purchase various buildings placed strategically throughout NYC to give him plenty of places to get to if he needs to hid out. Brilliant! Does Batman even do that?
There are a few downsides though. There’s a bit of wordiness int he first few pages of the trade explaining how much Dick loves skydiving. It’s not poorly written by any means, but it’s a little bit dense and I know it turned a few guys at the lunch table off from reading the book (though I convinced them too soon enough). I’m also not sure what’s up with Rags’ art. I much prefer Don Kramer’s work in the book. It’s a lot cleaner and crisper and I kind of hope he becomes the regular artist.
So, if you’re even a cursory fan of Nightwing or Batman, you should definitely check this trade out as it, in my opinion, greatly represents the character as well as the logical standing he has in the DCU as one of the very first sidekicks who has literally grown up in the superhero world.