Mini-Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows

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The four turtles in NY.  Image Source: YouTube

Okay, so I’m an original TMNT aficionado.  I grew up during the first independent comic craze of the mid 80s and then watched as TV struggled to get to grips with the new resurgence of comic mania (the original Flash TV show mania and hype (and letdown) in the 80s is probably a reason why I never got super invested in the hype for the current slate of DC/Marvel TV shows).  I didn’t have access to a (dedicated) comic shop at the time (I had to buy my comics from the spinners at Waldenbooks or Eckerd Drugs–now Rite-Aid), or I probably would have picked them up as I was into all things ninja/martial arts at the time.  I’ve seen the original trilogy, the multiple incarnations of animated series, and own the animated movie version that existed before this current reboot of the franchise.

So, coming from a TMNT aficionado (won’t say fan), is this movie any good?  In a word, no.  This is from Nickelodeon films and it all but screams “kid movie.”  It is if they took the cartoon (from the 80s), mixed it up with the original movie with the goofy suits, changed the goofy suits to slick CGI actors, and threw in an 80s/90s mixtape because, hey that’s what Guardians of the Galaxy did and it worked for them, so it’ll work for us too. There are so many elements that don’t work in the movie–the dialogue, the shift in tone from goofy to serious and back to goofy.  The motivations of characters or lack of motivations.  The forced plot lines and betrayals that seem forced.  And so on.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to suspend my disbelief in order to keep watching the movie.  Even from the opening sequence where the Turtles are “skating” across the buildings of the NY skyline–which seemed like a good, cool intro.,–had me wondering about all the damage they were causing.  There’s a reason why city officials go out of their way to build skate-parks and encourage skaters to use them instead of city streets and curbs–the damage skateboards can cause is enormous, and that’s on cement.  I don’t think the glass that most skyscrapers are made of would fare any better–yet, the filmmakers didn’t even take that into account when designing, planning, or displaying that scene.  And it just goes on from there.

Yes, TMNT is supposed to be campy (they are teenage turtles who know ninjutsu), but Eastman and Laird were able to find the right balance of farce and heart in their depiction of the characters.  This one is all farce, right down to the “flatulence jokes” of the henchmen, which begs the question of why the “baddest” villain of all time (aka Shredder) would tolerate his newest henchmen if that is all they could do.  It would have made a better movie, had the two henchmen been created within the first ten minutes of the movie and hunted the turtles “to extinction.”  Sort of like what Kraven the Hunter does to Spider-Man in several of his storylines.  Then it would have made the “moral crisis” of the movie (manufactured as it was) at least relevant: “hide among the humans as humans to save ourselves or stay true to our turtle forms and find a way to beat these two hunters as a team/band of brothers.”  As it stands, the way this actually plays out in the movie is very weak and not very convincing.

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Character Sketches for BeeBop and Rocksteady.  Image Source: TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com (a TMNT fan site).

On the whole, I only finished the movie because: 1) for completeness sake–I’ve seen most everything else Turtles-related, so I might as well see this since it is on streaming and 2) I’m trying to stop abandoning movies mid-stream (I have at least four movies–Terminator: Genisys–I looking at you that I started, but did not finish because of the overall hokiness to them) and I’m trying to stop doing that (although this movie sorely tested my resolve).

OVERALL GRADE: D  (My suggestion–watch this ONLY if there’s nothing else to watch and make sure that you understand that you are going to most likely need to metaphorically “dive into the kiddie pool” in order to get through this one.)

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Leave It To Chance

Leave It To Chance is a young adult graphic novel that I really, really like.  I wanted to take a moment to highlight this great (& short) graphic novel series.  I just finished rereading the first volume this week (I’m trying to read all my graphic novels as a way to remind myself of the graphic novel format since I’ve been away for so long).

Leave It To Chance was published in the early 2000s (2002) and it was written in the height of the GrrlPower movement (James Robinson’s Forward is dated 3.25.97 and this is in the height of the movement, but as the hardcover collection wasn’t published until 2002 which, by then, was the tail-end of the movement).  The protagonist is Chance, a young girl who is the daughter of Falconer, a mage of eminence and importance in the city of Devil’s Echo.  She is “protected” from the magical intrigue and derring-do by her father, but she is of age to take up training to become the next in the line of Falconers who are sworn to protect the city.  Her father refuses to train her simply because of her gender (noting that this “burden” of training is passed from male heir to male heir).  Chance decides that this is horribly unfair and seeks to rectify this (& gets into adventures on her own).

James Robinson and Paul Smith collaborated on the story and art.  This is actually my first (and I think, my only) examples of their work, but I really enjoyed the story when I first read it at the Public Library–so much so, that I bought a copy for my personal collection.  I like Chance’s character–they made her very much like a Nancy Drew detective and set the world in a Neo-Noir setting (grim, dark alleyways merged with aircars).  Chance also has a “Jubilee”-vibe to her and dresses similarly (who in turn, has bit of the Frank Miller’s female Robin from the Dark Knight look) as well.  You can almost see a direct progression from Miller’s female Robin to Jubilee from the X-Men, to Chance.  I own all three books in the series (will be doing reviews of the other two as well), but as a pure story, I think this first volume, “Shaman’s Rain” holds up the best storywise.

I think too, that the setting of Devil’s Echo was very well used.  It definitely precedes the entire Urban Fantasy craze that authors like Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Kim Harrison (to name a few) helped popularize in the mid-to-late 2000s & early 2010s.  I personally love the fact that Chance has her own (mini-)dragon–as it recalls to mind Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger books of the 1980s.  This one is a great series for both Young Adult Readers (& younger children), but has enough complexity, character development, and setting that will at least keep older readers from being completely bored with it, even if it doesn’t completely captivate them.

OVERALL GRADE: B

Batman/Superman: SuperGirl

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Superman Batman Supergirl Cover, Image Source: DC Fanbase

Last week I finished rereading a graphic novel in the DC Universe.  It was in the Batman/Superman universe and it told (or more accurately) retold the SuperGirl origin story and the first meeting of Kara Zor-El.

I really liked this Graphic Novel a lot–although I think it one me over in large part due to Michael Turner’s artwork (an artist from Crossville, TN who died way too soon & who will be missed).

STORY
I like the way that the story was told and I also liked the dual-inner monologue that allowed the reader to see the story from both Batman’s and Superman’s point of view.  I also liked the actual narrative of the plot and the way that the story unfolded.  Kara’s “capture” and subsequent turn to the dark side seemed a little forced, but considering the time constraints of the story and the compressed nature of the narrative, I was able to look past this minor flaw.  I did think that they made too much of the dislike of Krypto (the Super-Dog) of Kara as it seemed to be going somewhere, but doesn’t actually pay-off.  I think it could have been rectified had their just been a panel or two showing a reconciliation or acceptance of Kara by Krypto at the end.  It wasn’t major, but no resolution of it did bother me a small bit.

ART
Michael Turner was an extremely talented artist.  I have another graphic novel by him that I will also be rereading and responding to later, but I enjoy reading stories that have his artwork.  His style is very bold and expressive and he reminds me of my favorite comic/graphic artists–Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee.  His style was very mature and I’m glad that his work became popular and got a wider exposure before his untimely death.  His style has that element of vivaciousness without devolving into “cartoony” that some artists seem to slip into when they draw.  His two page spreads were among the best in the business as they seemed among the most readable–either visually or when paired with words.

GRADE
A+.  If it isn’t apparent, I really like this story and this graphic novel.  The art and the story come together and produce a very strong narrative that I could (and have) read over and over again.

ReReading: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague (Graphic Novel)

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Book Cover: Five fantasy adventures ready to do battle.  Image Source: OgreCave.com

So, I’m in the process of moving all my academic books to a bookshelf (looks like it actually be a bookshelf and a half or perhaps two bookshelves total) with me as I work on my degree.  However, this leaves me with a fairly large gap of three to four shelves that I probably should fill.  I already have my graphic novels (& comic books) on my main bookcase, but I’ve decided to reread my graphic novels (& comics) and place them on those free shelves.  I have several fairly large graphic novels that don’t fit on the shelf with the other graphic novels on my main bookcase, but this secondary bookcase has more than enough room for them.  If I can remember, I will try to take a picture at the end of the project and post it here.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: SHADOWPLAGUE

This is the first of a “new” series of graphic novels with original characters in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.  I say new because this was tried in the late 80s/early 90s with a different group of characters written by Jeff Grubb, a prolific writer of D&D novelizations of the time.  This book is written by Jim Rogers and is full of post Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson) adventure/banter.  While not a comedy, Rogers does the “witty banter” so often found in comics and comic book movies that irked my late creative writing professor, Ken Smith when I tried to present stories in his fiction class with this same type of banter.  For Ken, the banter trivialized the drama and lowered the emotional stakes for the characters.  His argument (loosely speaking) was that if the characters are joking around during a life-or-death situation, then we get the feeling that the characters aren’t really in any danger.  I can plainly see that here as I didn’t get the sense that any of the characters (protagonists) were any in real danger, per se.

This sounds like I don’t like the story and that’s not true–I do like the book, but this is a fun, rip-roaring comic book adventure, but it doesn’t have a sense that the characters are ever really in jeopardy.  This book introduces and follows a team of intrepid adventurers of the mostly standard races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and newcomer race, Tiefling) as they go through various adventures to discover the secret of the Shadowplague, a magical plague that turns ordinary people into zombies.  Abundant fight scenes, magic, and characters who all display a penchant for witty banter and sometimes painful backstories make this a fun and interesting story.

I did not happen to buy the other graphic novels that make up the rest of this series, but you can bet that I’ll definitely try to grab them as time and money allow.  The cover price of 24.99 is a bit steep for the product.  It is hardcover, but still it is really only worth about 14.99 to 17.99.  If I can find it for under 9.99, then I’ll definitely pull the trigger.  The problem is, the last I checked, it had gone out of print and Amazon 3rd party “scalpers” had driven the cost to above $30 dollars.  Sad days, indeed.  This is a fun little series that I wouldn’t mind getting a complete collection for myself–but if the remaining volumes stay out of reach, then this one volume will have to suffice, witty banter and all.

 

Comic-Con Week: Thor Ragnarok

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So, just like DC, Marvel also released a trailer for Comic-Con.  Their big focus this year, now that Spider-Man: Homecoming has been released, is Thor.  Thor Ragnarok seems like it is going for fun over a dark gritty storyline (which was the mistake that Thor: Dark World made).

As you can see in the trailer–Thor Ragnarok Trailermuch of the action is peppered with quips and fun set-pieces.  This trailer seems to bring back the fun characterization that made the first Thor movie such a surprise.

The only problem (if you can call it a problem) is that it releases in November (the same month that Justice League releases) so both of these movies are going to be fighting for much of the same audience.  Assuming that school and classes go well, I’m most certainly going to try to see both movies.

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Comic-Con Week: Justice League Trailer

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Image Source: SDCC Blog

Readers of the blog will remember that I didn’t dislike Batman v. Superman like many other reviewers did.  I was engaged and thought that, while darker than the Marvel movies in both tone and style, it was a worthwhile movie-going experience.  DC released a new trailer for their upcoming Justice League movie and it has me excited.

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Image Source: NME.com

The trailer–The Justice League Trailer–seems to contain much of the same gravitas as BvS, but it works to lighten the mood through quips.  There are quite a few lines that are either amusing or laugh-out-loud funny, whereas BvS was light on those elements.  For this reason alone, I’m cautiously optimistic that this movie will be received better than BvS.  I’m also interested in seeing the interaction of various super-heroes on-screen together.  The idea of the ensemble is not new, but the idea of clashing personalities along with clashing powers is what, I think, makes the superhero genre so compelling (well, that and the cool special effects that help aid in the “suspension of disbelief.”)

I’m hoping that this movie will be as good as Wonder Woman in terms of both story, characterization, and visual effects.  A great Justice League will a shot in the arm, I hope, for a public that is beginning to tire of the “comic book movie” as a genre.  Me, I’d like this genre to continue as long as possible and hopefully, JL can help continue the trend.

Comic-Con Week–Stranger Things Season 2

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Image Source: SDCC Blog

So the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) or Comic-Con as it is usually referred to, happened this week and this is a celebration of all things comic book related, but also it is a huge intersection for Science Fiction and Fantasy.  While I’m not really a “con” guy myself, I still have found myself drawn to Comic-con because of all the announcements and trailers of upcoming Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Comic Book movie properties in the past few years.

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Stranger Things Season 2 (Image Source: CNN)

So this week, like E3, I’m going to take a moment to highlight some of my favorite announcements/trailers from the convention.  Today it’s going to be Stranger Things, Season 2.  My understanding is that this series (Netflix only) appears on Halloween (Oct. 31) and I’m pretty stoked about it.

Even though I’m linking the trailer in this blog post–Stranger Things, Season 2 Trailer–I haven’t watched it all the way through.  In fact, I’ve only seen about the first 10 seconds (the very first scene in the trailer).  If you watch those 10 seconds, you’ll see the kids peering into an arcade cabinet and playing a video game, Dragon’s Lair (pictured above).  That video game is one that I played when I was a kid (& bought on my PS3 when it was offered for sale digitally). To steal a line from popular culture, “They had me at Dragon’s Lair.”  I’m in.  I’m hoping that it won’t veer too far into the realm of horror and that it will stay creepy and thrilling without getting to gory, but we’ll see.

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Image Source: Steam

I’m excited for show and based on just the first 10 seconds of the trailer.  Job well done, Netflix marketing department.  Well done.  *Slow clap.*