"Superman/Batman: Apocalypse," released this week, is the ninth straight-to-video DC Comics animated movie since the series started in 2008, and one of four in 2010 alone. Comics fans should be cheered by the movies' fidelity to the source material, but animation fans might want Warner Bros. to slow down and craft them a bit better.
"Apocalypse" adapts six issues of "Superman/Batman" from 2004, a story written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by the late Michael Turner that introduced the current version of Supergirl. And, as noted, the comic book moves almost entirely intact to the screen. Not only is every beat of Loeb's story lifted, but the animators even attempt to mimic Turner's art style on Supergirl, giving her the artist's signature long waist and big eyes.
And as stories go, this one is an action-packed characterpalooza. Not only do we get the introduction of the Maid of Steel, but we get classic friction between Superman and Batman over the girl's trustworthiness, a star turn by Wonder Woman (whose Amazons train the young Kryptonian), Big Barda of the New Gods and even an obscure heroine named Harbinger whose backstory is so difficult to explain that the movie doesn't bother to try. Barda appears because the evil New Gods do; Granny Goodness kidnaps Supergirl so Darkseid can corrupt her, leading to an all-out brawl between the good guys and the "gods" of Apokolips -- not only the Big Bad himself, Darkseid, but also Steppenwolf, the Furies (Gilotina, Lashina, Mad Harriet and Stompa) and Parademons o'plenty.
To tell you the truth, though, there was so much heat vision, Omega beams, fistfights, explosions and macho posturing that it kinda got repetitive and boring after a while for this aging fanboy. That wasn't helped any by the mediocre animation, which didn't quite rise to the level of a "Justice League Unlimited" episode.
Still, there's a lot to like about a cartoon in perpetual, breathless forward motion, especially for kids. And it's not nearly as dark -- and therefore more kid-friendly -- than the last outing, "Batman: Under the Red Hood." Plus, the voice casting (by the ever-reliable Andrea Romano) was giddy fun: Tim Daly reprising the Man of Steel, Kevin Conroy doing his growly Bat-bit, Summer Glau (the terminator in "The Sarah Connor Chronicles") as Supergirl and the wonderful Ed Asner bending gender again as the incredibly evil Granny Goodness.
The single-disc edition of "Superman/Batman: Apocalypse" is only $19.98, but you don't get the backup short feature. "Green Arrow," which will also be included in the "DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection" later this year, is available on the two-disc DVD ($28.62) or two-disc Blu-Ray ($29.99).
-- As the ongoing Dark Horse hardback reprints of "Creepy" and "Eerie" are demonstrating, original publisher Warren Publishing ran into financial trouble in the late 1960s, and was forced to make do with less-than-stellar creators. But "Creepy Vol. 7" ($49.99) shows that a new decade brought hope for better work to come.
This volume, which reprints "Creepy" Nos. 33-36 from 1970, is still sub-par, especially compared to the mid-1960s "Creepy," which boasted major A-list names. But by 1970 a new cast of talent was coalescing at Warren, especially Pat Boyette, Ernie Colon and Tom Sutton, along with old pros like Reed Crandall and Syd Shores. None of them were Frank Frazetta, but hey, they're not bad.
Unfortunately, some of the stories age poorly, especially the sword-and-sorcery stuff, which was trying very hard (and failing) for a Conan vibe.
-- Hermes Press has done me a great service with "Land of the Giants: The Complete Series" ($49.99), which collects the five issues of that title published by Gold Key in 1968-69. It reminded me why I didn't watch "Land of the Giants" when it was on TV from 1968 to 1970: The young Captain thought it was incredibly stupid, what with the tiny heroes surviving only by defying physics and chance on a routine basis.
Although I kinda wish I had, just to see if the TV-show writers were as enamored of Valerie, the "mod jet-setter," as the comic-book writer (probably Paul S. Newman) clearly was. Her dialogue, of which there's a lot, is painfully "hip," sometimes British and sometimes not, and therefore fun for those reasons alone.
(Contact Andrew A. Smith of The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal at capncomics(AT)aol.com or on his Web site, http://captaincomics.ning.com.)
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