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Superheroes aren't the feel-good characters they used to be.
Copyright Warner Bros. All rights
In recent years, many of the superhero films have taken a
dark and somber turn. Blame it on the success of the "Dark Knight" trilogy but
the truth is rooted in comic book tradition. Long-time comic book fans know
that there have been graphic novels featuring characters from both Marvel and
DC that have dealt with serious issues for decades. Racism, cancer, addiction,
suicide and even rape has been tackled by one or more of the biggest heroes
over the past few generations.
Copyright 2016 Marvel. All rights reserved
Some of these stories are only now being told in live action
and animated form. This is not a bad thing. Casual fans are now beginning to
see the real appeal of these 2D heroes. They can now see the elements that
makes fans keep coming back month after month. Well written heroes and villains
are complex, multifaceted beings. In some cases, there is no ultimate good or
evil but simply characters trying to survive as best they can. In many cases
they try to do the right thing even when everyone else thinks they are in the
When a film is done right (see "Captain America: Civil War")
then audiences understand why heroes sometimes have to fight against each other.
When a film is done wrong (see "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), then
audiences are often left confused. The good-guy-versus-good-guy trend in those
movies has been a long time coming. People that read comics and even play video
games are ahead of the pop culture curve. They know when a battle is brewing
years before Hollywood gets in on the act.
Copyright Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. All rights reserved
For example, did you know that Superman has been written and
presented as a villain in a few stories? Most recently he was the villain in
the video game, "Injustice: Gods Among Us." The game was released by Warner
Bros. Interactive Entertainment in 2013. The Superman in that game was a far
cry from the boy scout character featured in the 1941 Fleischer Studios
cartoons, when he debuted in animated form. The modern Superman was willing to
do things in that game that would send shivers down your spine.
Copyright Warners Bros. Interactive Entertainment. All rights reserved
Superman was a sympathetic villain. While battling Lex
Luthor and several other super-powered beings, Metropolis was destroyed and
thousands -- if not millions -- died.
Superman had been pushed beyond the breaking point by the Joker. He had been
tricked into killing Lois Lane and his unborn son. Superman wanted to prevent
the tragedy from happening again so he established a totalitarian government.
Batman recruited a team to help him stop the Kryptonian.
Copyright DC Comics. All rights reserved
"Injustice: Gods Among Us." was very dark and violent. It
told the story that the film "Dawn of Justice" failed to frame properly. It
stood to reason, the game was directed by Ed Boon. He was one of the creators
behind Mortal Kombat, one of the most popular arcade and console franchises of
the '90s. It sold millions of units over the decade. Ed Boon, and John Tobias
created a dark and twisted dystopian world filled with heroes and villains that
fought for survival. The template they laid out worked perfectly for a game
where good guys and bad guys had to fight their peers.
"Injustice" was developed by NetherRealm Studios, the
company that had produced the last few Mortal Kombat games. The game sold over
400,000 copies in its first month of release, won several awards and had made
Warner Bros. untold millions over the past few years.
This week Sony announced the sequel, "Injustice 2," as an
exclusive for the Playstation 4 home console. They did this by
way of a teaser trailer that features the heroes fighting against
each other. New game mechanics are unveiled, where the founding members of the
Justice League now have power armor similar to Iron Man. It would explain how
human characters are able to survive a punch from Superman or the other
super-powered beings. The trailer did have returning heroes including Batman,
Aquaman and the Flash and introduced us to Supergirl as well. The versions of
the Flash and Supergirl in this game are a far cry from the warm personalities
featured on the television shows.
This game, just like the previous, is not for everyone.
Expect it to get a T-Teen rating from the ESRB, the rough equivalent of a PG-13
rating for movie goers. It is certainly is not meant for young children. The
subject matter is far too dark and severe for most casual fans. Many of you
might be wondering what the appeal of dark versions of the classic DC heroes
is. I would recommend viewing one or more of the recent animated features from
Warner Bros, see "Justice League: Gods and Monsters" (2015), "The Flashpoint
Paradox" (2013) and "Crisis on Two Earths" (2010).
Copyright Warner Bros. All rights reserved
These were based on or inspired by story arcs from recent
years. To be fair, just about every
animated release Warner Bros. has created is exceptional. The live action
features from Warner Bros. may be struggling compared to the stream of hits
from Marvel but in animated form the opposite is true. The studio created a
following with the "Batman Animated Series" in the early '90s. Artist Bruce Timm
and writer Paul Dini were responsible for most of the successful shows. They
had an eye for great storytelling and great character designs; including some
rarely-seen retro characters.
Their follow-up the "Superman Animated Series," "Justice
League" and "Justice League Unlimited" set the bar for superhero cartoons.
Kevin Conroy did the voice of Batman and Mark Hamill did the voice of the
Joker. The two would reprise their roles in many different television and
direct-to-DVD features over the next two decades. When the studio went into
direct-to-DVD releases they were able to do things that they couldn't get away
with on network television.
Audiences will have to put up with dark and serious superhero
films and games for the next few years. The highly anticipated "Suicide Squad,"
which is all about the bad guys fighting other bad guys is slated for an August
5 release. "Injustice 2" will come out sometime in 2017.
The good news is that not every comic book game or movie has
to be dark and serious. Audiences that are getting burned out on the heavy
comic book movies might want to check out "Justice League: The New Frontier."
The DVD came out in 2008 and was based on the 6-issue series released in 2004.
The story was written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke. He won an Eisner, Harvey and
Schuster Award for his work, cementing his status among the comic book
immortals. The film was set in the post-modern era, the birth of the atomic age
and the end of the Golden Age for heroes. The story featured the DC icons the
way you want to remember them. Shining examples of what we should strive to be,
never brooding or cynical. Practically the opposite of everything in theaters
and game screens these days.
The title of the story was based on the famous speech that
John F. Kennedy delivered while accepting his 1960 DNC Nomination. Hollywood
could have learned a thing or two from Darwyn on telling a positive story
featuring Batman and Superman. I only wish that he had lived long enough to
give us a story inspired by Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech. Mr. Cooke
passed away less than a month ago, May 14, 2016. He was 54-years-old. I hope
you get a chance to read his stories, now available on Trade Paperback form or
catch up on some comic book films or animated features. As for myself, I hope
to get some hands-on time with "Injustice 2" if Warner Bros. shows it at the E3
Expo next week. Until then what are your favorite comic book films or games?