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As DC fans will now tell you, it's always darkest before the "Dawn of Justice"

As DC fans will now tell you, it's always darkest before the "Dawn of Justice"

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Superheroes aren't the feel-good characters they used to be.


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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.


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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 wrong.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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"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.


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"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.


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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.


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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).


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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?

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