Visions of Paradise

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Showcase Presents

I have been a huge fan of comic books since the late 1950s when I started reading Tales of the Unexpected regularly. For some reason, those comics are all gone now, but my brothers and I still have the super-hero comics which followed it: Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman and Justice League of America. Shortly afterwards we expanded to several Marvel titles, especially X-Men. We did not stop buying comics until the late 1980s when we found our reading time so diminished that it was almost impossible for any of the three of us to keep up with the comics we were buying.

I still go back and reread old comic books though, especially my favorite ones. Those include:

• Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams’ great Green lantern-Green Arrow series;
• Mike Grell’s Warlord series of sword and sorcery adventures beneath the Earth’s surface;
• Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar space opera adventures;
• Alan Moore’s classic Watchmen;
• Steve Englehart’s Batman series;
• Roy Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian, based on the original Howard stories.

Lately I’ve been ordering DC Comics’ series of Showcase Presents, which are 500+ pages of comics from their so-called Silver Age in the 1960s. Already I have The Phantom Stranger, House of Mystery, Challengers of the Unknown and Adam Strange. They run the gamut from fair to good, the comic book equivalent of reading light pulp adventures from the 1930s-1950s, which I enjoy doing periodically.

What I generally do not enjoy though are movies based on comic books, since they generally have the same flaws as movies based on science fiction: all thrills and special effects to the exclusion of good storytelling and characterization. There is a handful of exceptions though, particularly the first X-Men and Batman Begins. I did not find either of the sequels as good as the first movies in those series. I realize that most people absolutely loved The Dark Knight, but I have a few complaints with it:

The Dark Knight was much less of a coherent story than Batman Begins, being almost entirely action-adventure interspersed with Heath Ledger’s scene–chewing. And while he did an excellent job of portraying the Joker as the psychopath he really was (as portrayed in the single best Batman story I’ve ever read, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke), keep in mind that he had a role ideally-suited for such a portrayal. Liam Neeson had a much more difficult role in Batman Begins since his character was low-key and much less exuberant, but he probably did as excellent an acting job as Heath Ledger overall;

• Christian Bale is a terrible actor and does not make a particularly effective Batman. I’ve seen him in four movies now (the others being The Prestige and 3:10 to Yuma) and he has not showed me he can do anything but play himself repeatedly. I feel that he was out-acted by his four co-stars: Neeson, Ledger, Hugh Jackman in The Prestige, and Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma. I still feel that Michael Keaton portrayed the best Batman.


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