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Thoughts on the Two BOMBSHELLS in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

winter Soldier 2

**WARNING** If the title wasn’t enough to clue you in, this post contains massive spoilers about “The Winter Soldier.” SPOILERS SPOILER SPOILERS ahead. You’ve been warned nerds!

Still with me? Alright, let’s jump in…

I got to see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” on opening weekend and I loved it. In my humble (yet correct) opinion, it was one of the best films Marvel has done to date and it was pretty spectacular seeing The Winter Soldier himself come to life on the big screen. I was a big fan of Ed Brubaker’s arc where Bucky made his debut as the Winter Soldier, (grab it on ComiXology) and that added a lot to my enjoyment as I watched this movie. Plus, seeing Bucky’s bionic arm catch Cap’s shield in mid-air is such a cool fandom moment.

Winter Soldier Comic

Many cool things happened in this movie, but rather than give a summary of the whole film I wanted to share my geeky thoughts on the two GAME CHANGERS for the future of Marvel’s movies that took place during “The Winter Soldier.” Therefore without further adieu…

1. HAIL HYRDA

What we now know as the Marvel cinematic universe, the films that were developed by Marvel Studios (unlike the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, which belong to Sony and Fox), began with “Iron Man.” That movie set the foundation for the eventual coming of the Avengers and introduced us to the “glue” that would hold all the Marvel films together – SHIELD. From introducing Agent Coulson to the very first “after credit scene” with Nick Fury teasing that this was the start of something big, SHIELD has made it’s presence known in every film since and has been the one constant in all the Marvel movies. Heck, SHIELD has become almost as popular as the superheroes themselves. You can buy SHIELD branded merchandise just like you can for The Avengers and SHIELD is even the premise of Marvel Studios’ first jump into television- ABC’s “Agents of Shield.” As we continued to move deeper into “Phase Two” of the cinematic universe I happily expected SHIELD to continue in its support role of the Marvel movies for years to come.

Then Marvel decided to change EVERYTHING…and it was awesome!

Turns out, Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD since it’s inception, meaning SHIELD has really been nothing more than a front for Hydra since after WWII. You know Hydra, right? That villainous organization founded by the Red Skull? That’s who Nick Fury has unknowingly been serving his whole career. To quote Fury from the “Secret Warriors” comic that dealt with this same twist, “I’ve been working for  the bad guys the whole time!”

Hydra

Hydra had operatives at all levels of SHIELD, including at the highest ranks and in “The Winter Soldier” they made their presence known. There was no saving SHIELD and Cap makes the decision to burn SHIELD to the ground. The movie ends and the only thing left of SHIELD is ashes. Nick Fury has gone underground and is completely off the grid. Agent 13 has joined the CIA and Maria Hill now works for Stark Industries. Moving forward, SHIELD is (seemingly) dead and buried in the Marvel movies.

I did not see this coming and I love this development for many reasons, but the big one is that this was a BOLD move by Marvel! Destroying SHIELD definitely wasn’t the “safe route.” Marvel could have kept doing the “same old, same old” with SHIELD and it probably would have been fine. Yet in a move like this, we clearly see that Marvel isn’t okay with just “fine.” They want to continually keep the audience on the edge of their seats and doing that means taking risks. No longer having SHIELD has massive implications for the movies going forward.  What does this mean for characters like Fury, Cap and Widow? SHIELD defended the Avengers to world governments, without them could this mean harsher legislation towards the Avengers (setting up the superhero Civil War perhaps)? Will an organization similar to SHIELD take it’s place? There are numerous questions such as these for the future slate of movies (and the TV show) to now address.

I just love that the company that staked it’s reputation on a huge risk (individual movies leading to “The Avengers”) is still very willing to take unexpected, crazy plot-twists for the sake of telling an engaging and unforgettable story. Then again, I should have expected no less from the studio that is bringing me a movie starting a gun-toting raccoon and a living tree (sincerely, I can’t wait for Guardians). Now, onto the second bombshell…

2. ARE THOSE MUTANTS?

I love Marvel’s “mid/after credit scenes!” At their best, they tease big developments that get you excited for the movies to come. What has become a great Marvel film tradition started after “Iron Man” with our first glimpse of Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury talking about the “Avengers initiative.” Peed my pants with excitement when that happened by the way. Then there was the Thanos reveal at the end of “The Avengers” (pooped my pants with excitement at that one) and most recently we had the Infinity Gauntlet teased at the end of “Thor: The Dark World.” Following suit, there was a mid credit scene in “The Winter Soldier.” And boy…it was a doozy!

We were introduced to Baron Strucker, which comic geeks knows as one of the big Hydra baddies in the Marvel world. In this mid-credit scene, Strucker walks through some sort of laboratory and we see that Hydra has Loki’s staff from “The Avengers” and are experimenting with its power. Strucker and his aid dialogue about conducting experiments on people and imply that some of these tests are resulting in “abilites.” Then we got the money shot – as they talked about “the twins,” we were given our very first look at Quiksilver and The Scarlet Witch.

Quick and Scarlet

Not only was this huge because we got a brief look at two characters we didn’t expect to see until “Age of Ultron,” but the bombshell here is that Marvel Studios may have indicated at how they’re getting around their mutant problem. If you don’t know – Marvel Studios does not have the movie rights to many of their mutant characters, which is why we haven’t seen or heard mention of the X-Men in the Marvel Studios slate, and potentially why we never will. To make matters worse, Marvel Studios doesn’t even have the right to use the word “mutant.” Crazy isn’t it that the company that popularized the idea of mutant characters sold away the right to be able to use it themselves?

That’s what made the fact that the Avengers sequel was debuting Quiksilver and The Scarlet Witch so interesting. In the comics, they’re both mutants and the twin children of Magneto. They originally joined The Avengers as a way to atone for their sins (they were originally members of Magneto’s evil brotherhood of mutants) and to help ease human/mutant relations. We’ve known that they would need a new, non-mutant origin and there was much speculation as to what it would be: super solider serum? Inhumans? Related to ALF? But if I understand this mid-credit scene correctly, then they’ve aquired their powers as a result of Hydra experimentation. Plus, Strucker indicated that there are many others being experimenting on by Hydra, which begs the question – is Hydra the origin for the cinematic universe’s equivalent of mutants? Time will tell, but regardless, this was yet another game changer featured in “The Winter Soldier.”

Alright nerds, what did you think of “The Winter Soldier?” Do you think SHIELD is gone for good? Did we just witness the dawn of mutants under a different name? Have you seen a great “Hail Hydra” meme? SOUND OFF in the comments below.

This has been a NERD ALERT!

 

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My Top 10 Video Games of All Time

Retro NES add

Recently IGN have been running a series of great articles in which different editors list out their personal favorite games of all time. As a proud gamer who’s been playing since the original NES (I don’t like to brag, but I am a “Duck Hunt” legend. Kneel before me!), I thought I’d get in on this and write up my top ten favorite games of all time. Now, I’m not necessarily contesting that these ten are the greatest games ever made (even though they are), and while I’ve played MANY incredible games over the years, these are the games that have most impacted my gaming life.

Alright nerds, let’s jump in…

10. MEGA MAN 2 – NES

Mega Man 2

This was the first game I ever rented from the late, great Blockbuster Video and my first experience with the Blue Bomber. From the start, Mega Man 2 was radically different in that it let you choose which level you wanted to start on, and then you could play the other levels in any order you liked. That was revolutionary! Additionally, the level design ruled! Each robot master (“Wood Man” was my favorite, BTW), had a level designed around their characteristics, so even though the purpose was the same in each (fight your way to the fortress, fight the evil robot, rinse and repeat), it never felt stale. Finally, I’m fond of Megan Man 2 because it was my first “rage quit” in gaming. After defeating all eight of the robot masters and finally making it to the evil Dr. Wily’s fortress,  you’re forced to fight all eight bosses AGAIN! As a kid I never caught on that each robot is particularly weak to the weapon of one of the others, which is why I failed and my controller ended up embedded in the wall.

9. Mortal Kombat 2 – SNES

Mortal Kombat 2

These days I don’t particularly love fighting games, but growing up in the Street Fighter 2 era, they were my jam! While it was a close “fight” between this and SF 2 (get it? Because they’re both fighting ga…never mind…), MK 2 earned its place on my list. The original Mortal Kombat was popular due to the controversy around its violence and fatalities, yet it wasn’t that great of a game. But they pulled out all the stops for part two and delivered a game that devoured many hours of my junior high life. I saved up allowance FOREVER to buy this game. It was a big day when I finally got to walk into Circuit City (RIP) with a brown lunch bag full of money, plop it down on a counter and point to MK 2.

MK 2 was everything a sequel should be – bigger, better mechanics, and a fresh experience. The roster grew with fighters that were unique in both look and play style (but I only ever played as Scorpion because he’s the best). Story wise, I was hooked by the “Empire Strikes Back” turn compared to the first one, in that our heroes are one step away from being crushed by the emperor Shao Khan and the forces of Outworld. I also loved how MK 2 hid numerous secrets and easter eggs, which in a pre-internet era made solving these riddles quite the adventure. And yes, they had stepped it up with the fatalities as well. They were inventive, gory and in some cases, frustratingly hard to pull off. I bought the strategy guide that contained each character’s move list and studied that thing religiously! All in all, a great game and my favorite fighter ever.

8. Super Mario Bros. 2 – NES

Super_Mario_Bros_2

I was pretty young when this game came out, yet I remember it being my first memory of a game’s release being an event! You couldn’t escape the promotions declaring that a new Mario adventure was coming out. I loved the original Super Mario Bros and like any kid with an NES, I played the crap out of that game. What was so cool about part 2 though was how different it was from the original and how it all worked to provide a seriously entertaining game.

For the first time, you could choose one of four characters to play as including Princess Peach, and each had a slightly different ability (Luigi was always my go to). Gone were the Goombas and turtles, replaced with those weird mask wearing little guys and a giant frog king instead of Bowser as the “big bad.” Also gone were the power up mushrooms and stars. Instead, you could now pull items from the ground such as turnips. That’s right, your weapon of choice in this game was a stinkin’ turnip!  The level design was different as well, going vertical in most cases, meaning you had to climb up to finish many levels. And this was the first time on the NES that I noticed an improvement in graphics from one game to the next.

I’ve come to read articles since about how this was originally meant to be released as a different game entirely and the Mario characters were inserted in at the last minute (which probably explains the “it was all a dream” ending), but regardless of how we got it, I love that SMB 2 took a risk in being radically different. And in my humble (yet correct) opinion, it paid off.

7. WWF NO MERCY – N64

WWF No Mercy

As a huge wrestling fan growing up, I had often imagined being in the ring myself and winning the WWF championship. This is the game that let me live out that childhood dream because of its “create a character” feature. Sure, many wrestling games since have given you that option and while they’ve been entertaining, none have made me smile quite like No Mercy did during the countless hours I put into this game. It was pretty cool to see a blocky, polygon version of myself staring down a 1990s Rock. I smelled what he was cooking…then hit him with a steel chair!

And I didn’t just create myself in this game. I made all my friends! No Mercy basically let me create my own personalized WWF with everyone I knew and I lOVED that! It was so much fun giving friends a hook for a hand, tutus, and unnecessary scars as their wrestling attire. I loved working out the entrance music and moves for each character. In fact, creating the characters was much more fun to me than the actual game play (which was fun too)! Oh, and not only did I live out my dream of being the WWF champion, but my guy soon found himself the wielder of every championship belt this game had to offer. Like many games from the N64, if you look it up today No Mercy’s graphics do not hold up at all, but I’d play it again in a heart beat!

6. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64

Ocarina of time

This game absolutely blew my mind! As a huge fan of “A Link to the Past,” I eagerly anticipated Link’s first foray into the 3D world. I excitedly went to Target with a pocket full of birthday money, got my copy of Ocarina and then proceeded to cut off the outside world for a number of months as I got sucked into this game. Ocarina was huge and I loved exploring Hyrule while riding on a horse (you are a majestic beast Epona). This was one of the first games where I didn’t rush to get to the main quest because I enjoyed exploring my surroundings. True to form for Zelda, the dungeon crawling was incredible. The different temples were enormous, each with a different look, feel, and puzzles. And they were tough! Some more so than others – I’m not the only one who rage quit that stupid water temple right? Plus, the time travel mechanic with the Master Sword, which allowed you to play as both young and older Link was awesome! Bottom line, this game was EPIC.

This may sound odd, but something I loved about this game was the instruction manual. The first half read like a historical excavation recounting the history of the different Zeldas and Links. I had never thought of the different games/Links being separate heroes and it blew the mythology wide open for me. Any entry in the Zelda series had always been a game I looked forward to, but this was the one that made me a life long raving fan.

5. GEARS OF WAR 2 – XBOX 360

Gears 2

I really enjoyed the original. I mean, how can you NOT enjoy a game where your primary weapon is a gun WITH a giant chainsaw? The single player story hooked me in; I liked the premise and the characters. Additionally, the online multiplayer was fun, however since I was late to the Gears party there wasn’t much of an online community left to play with. Still, I was excited for another installment. Gears 2 was bigger, badder, and I absolutely loved it! The first game was all about a small group of soldier’s survival. The second expanded to be all out warfare to prevent human extinction at the hands of the Locust. The universe got much bigger, the screen was maxing out the amount of enemies it could throw at you, and bosses got bigger and creepier. At one point you get swallowed by a giant sea snake thing and have to fight your way out from the inside. That’s dumb action movie awesome!

While I did enjoy the single player, what puts Gears 2 on this list is the online component. I’m not a Call of Duty guy. I like Halo well enough, but I’m not over the top in love with it. Gears 2 is the game where I fell in love with online multiplayer. I had a squad of three other friends and there was a calendar year where we played together almost every night. Gears had your standard collection of game modes such as: deathmatch, capture the flag, last man standing, etc. And while these modes provided a lot of entertainment, one thing that set Gears 2 apart from everything else at the time was “Horde Mode.” Four players would try to survive thirty waves of enemies that got annoyingly harder to kill the farther you made it. Many games have copied that model since, but few have come close to how incredibly fun it was in Gears. One of the friends in my squad bought us all actual COG Tags off of Amazon, and I wear mine proudly to this day.

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game – NES

TMNT 2

For a long time this was my favorite game to play at my local arcade. I pumped a ton of quarters into that cursed machine in hopes of finally defeating Shredder – and I did eventually accomplished that. I know I know, I’m awesome.

I was very excited when this was released on the NES (especially since the first “Turtles” games was rather lame), but for whatever reason my video store never had it in stock. Finally, late one Friday night my father surprised me by bringing it home and I lost my mind! It was the first time I had an “arcade experience” in my very own living room. Sure, the graphics were a lesser quality but I didn’t care! There it was – the actual arcade game in my living room. The burning building, the mousers in the sewers, the surfing level, Krang and the Technodrome…it was all there! You picked your favorite turtle (Donatello all the way) and fought your way through the game just like you would in an actual arcade. And without having to feed it more quarters when you died. It doesn’t get much better than that!

3. GoldenEye – N64

Goldeneye

Two summers. I spent two entire summers playing this game with my friends. Sure, we ate and used the bathroom every so often, but the bulk of those summers were spent playing the License to Kill mode and banning anyone from being Oddjob because he was too short to be chopped by an unarmed player. GoldenEye was my first “Killer App,” , meaning a game you buy a system for. I had many incredible experiences with my N64, but I bought it so I could play GoldenEye. There had been many games before that you played with your friends, but GoldenEye was the foundation of what became the First Person Shooter/Competitive Multiplayer experience. Remember, GoldenEye came out in the Stone Age, before consoles had online capabilities. Yet every shooter since then has pretty much modeled itself after GoldenEye’s multiplayer.

Back then, playing “online” meant cramming all your friends (and a few strangers) into a living room or bedroom and passing the controllers to your right controllers when you lost. I know that GoldenEye had a single player and I’m fairly sure I played it, but I can’t really tell you anything about it because my experience and love for this game is all from the multiplayer experience. GoldenEye comes from a gaming era long gone now, but without it we wouldn’t have the FPS landscape we have today. Thank you Pierce Brosnan!

2. Bioshock – Xbox 360

bioshock-360

If you have never played this game, please stop reading this post IMMEDIATELY, proceed to you local store and buy this game. You’re welcome nerds! This was the first game I bought for my 360. It had just been released and I knew nothing about it other than it was getting rave reviews. I popped it in and within the first ten minutes I knew Bioshock was going to be one of my favorite games of all time. It wasn’t because of the game play (which is great, BTW), but I ADORE Bioshock because of its story. Bioshock takes place in an alternate 1960 where an Ayn Rand acolyte named Andrew Ryan has done the impossible – built an underwater city named Rapture where “no gods or kings, only man” is the creed. As Jack, the silent protagonist, you find yourself in Rapture piecing together the mysteries and tragedies the city hides, as well as trying to discover what has caused Ryan’s utopia to spiral into decay.

Bioshock excels at environment. Rapture is the main character and exploring the city is simultaneously awe inspiring and creepy beyond belief. Rapture is a beautiful 1950s art deco vision of a technologically advanced future where human empowerment and eugenics is the law of the land, but comes with a terrible price. The citizens you meet have been driven insane by the gene-altering drug known as “Adam” and giant behemoths clad in undersea diver suits called “Big Daddys” roam the streets protecting wraith like “Little Sisters” who collect “Adam” from the blood of the corpses that litter the street. Not exactly a “sunshine and rainbows” experience, but it was great, none the less. Bioshock was a game I didn’t want to see end, mainly because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Rapture. I took my time exploring every nook and cranny because there was a story hidden in even the smallest corners.

Finally, I love this game because of Andrew Ryan. He communicates with you throughout the game via radio and is one of the most fleshed out and nuanced characters I’ve ever experienced in any game. You learn about the passions and ideals that drove him to build Rapture and as the game progresses, Ryan becomes one of the few villains that causes you to wonder, “what if he’s actually right about all this?” The story takes numerous unexpected twists and turns and had me audibly exclaiming “holy crap” multiple times. My wife doesn’t like video games in the least, but she was sucked in by Ryan and his city and enjoyed watching me play Bioshock. In short, it’s a gaming masterpiece!

1. Final Fantasy 3 – SNES

FF3

I have a deep love for the older Final Fantasy series. Many of those FF games are my favorite gaming experiences of all time. For this list however, I didn’t want a single series to dominate, so I decided to select just one. Initially, I expected FF 7 to take my top spot. It’s a legendary game that has hardly any equals in my eyes (and I’m currently replaying it on my Vita) Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that as incredible as 7 is, I wouldn’t be into the Final Fantasy series at all, or role playing games in general if it wasn’t for Final Fantasy 3. It was a game changer for me in so many ways and I wouldn’t have enjoyed 7 (or 10, or 12) in the way that I did without it. I had never played an RPG before (this was before Zelda and Chrono Trigger for me) and didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. FF 3 wasn’t simply a game, it was an immersive experience.

Never before had I played a game with so many characters, each with a distinct personality and move set. In fact, this was the first time I played a game where I could miss recruiting certain characters entirely if I didn’t actively search for them. Again, in a pre-internet world, secrets such as these were a welcome challenge! Never before had I experienced an open world game. I remember my first time on the world map. I knew what city I was supposed to travel to, but I remember thinking, “Wait…I can go anywhere if I want to? Cool!” Never before had I experienced the “game over fake out.” You hit a point in FF 3 where you’re sure you’ve just completed the game, only for the game to go, “psych” and have everything fall apart, thus opening up an entire second half that’s even cooler than the first. Never before had I fallen in love with a game’s music. SNES music was done on simple “midi” players, yet what they got out of it for FF 3 was spectacular and still one of my favorite gaming soundtracks ever. The opera house sequence and the final battle against Kefka being two of my favorite tracks. Never before had I experienced a game that made the experience personal. FF 3 offered a very simply mechanic that isn’t around anymore in most modern games due to voice acting – you could rename each of the hero characters. Meaning, I was a character in the game. My friends were characters in the game. That made me emotionally invested in how the story progressed. That simple name change made the defeats harder and the celebrations sweeter.

And finally, I had been gaming for years before FF 3, but the game’s ending was the first time I experienced an ending that was both moving and “worth it” compared to all the time I had put in. Including the last boss fight, FF 3′s ending is almost half an hour and gives you an epilogue for each character. Check it out for yourself, it’s pretty epic:

There you have it, my top ten games of all time. Now I want to hear from you – what are your favorite games of all time? Upset that I left NintenDOGS off the list? SOUND OFF in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

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The BEST Batman movie is the one you HAVEN’T seen…

I recently came across an article celebrating the twenty year anniversary of the animated film, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.”

Phantasm Poster!

My first thought was, “Has it really been twenty years? Good grief! I am getting old!” Then I promptly got in my car to go enjoy a delicious early bird dinner.

That article did get me thinking about the Batman film franchise as a whole, and specifically how I would rank each film. There have been some definite stinkers in the line up (looking at you “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin”), but for the most part the Batman movies have been a very positive experience. I really like the Tim Burton films (“Batman Returns” gets a lot of hate, but I dug how disturbing it was) and I’ve often expressed a deep fanboy love for the first two Nolan movies, particularly Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker in “The Dark Knight” (“The Dark Knight Rises” makes me sad in numerous ways, but that’s a topic for another time).

Yet, if asked which Batman movie is my ALL TIME favorite, it isn’t any of the live action ones. My answer has been and still is, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” which is funny because it’s the least known on the list. When I say that title to most people the response I get is usually a polite “what’s a ‘phantasm’?” In fact, Adam West’s “Batman: The Movie” seems to better known than “Mask of the Phantasm.” ADAM WEST PEOPLE! “Holy lack of promotion Batman!” So for the sake of Batman fans everywhere that are missing out on sheer greatness, let’s talk about MOTP and more importantly, why you NEED to see it. Activate Nerd Rant…

Any good geek growing up in the early 90′s watched the INCREDIBLE “Batman: The Animated Series.” As a kid, I’d get home from school, do some homework then stop everything when Batman came on. It was my usual afternoon routine (although the actually doing homework part was hit or miss).

Batman Animated Series2

TAS was everything you could ever want from a Batman show – it had a dark tone that rarely showed Gotham City in daylight. It featured incredibly well written episodes and characters – in particular, it absolutely nailed the rouge gallery (Mr. Freeze and Clayface being two of my favorites). The show introduced Harley Quinn into the Bat-mythos (come on…who didn’t love that voice?). And of course, TAS gave us Mark Hamill (that’s right, Luke Skywalker) voicing The Joker. There is no better Joker laugh than his, PERIOD!

In my humble yet totally correct opinion, no Batman series since has even come close to how awesome TAS was. I’ve recently been re-watching the show through Amazon Prime streaming and if you’ve never experienced TAS, then YOU MUST have a binge marathon with your loved ones. Even after all this time, it’s STILL very good! Because of the show’s massive popularity, Warner Bros. put together a feature film from the series, “Mask of the Phantasm.” It opened on Christmas day 1993 and you better believe that I was there for the earliest showing my brother would take me to, wearing the brand new Star Wars t-shirt I had been given that morning. My nerd roots run deep!

Phantasm 3

The plot: A mysterious vigilante who looks an awful lot like the ghost of Christmas future begins killing off some of Gotham’s more prominent gangsters and, as these things often are, the killings are blamed on Batman. As Bruce attempts to uncover the identity of this mystery killer, his personal life is rocked by the return of the girl who got away, Andrea Beaumont. Through flashbacks MOTP also gives us a re-telling of how Bruce became Batman and to top it all off The Joker gets involved in this whole mess, complicating matters even further.

There are many reasons why I adore this movie and while it was difficult to narrow it down,  I’ve listed out my top 4 reasons why MOTP is my absolute favorite Bat-flick…

1. THE MUSICAL SCORE

Through the Tim Burton movies, composer Danny Elfman gave Batman a great musical score. TAS put much of that music to good use, which added wonderful atmosphere to each episode. In continuing to give Batman great music, Warner Bros. had Shirley Walker step in to compose the score for MOTP. And in a word, it was EPIC! Even as a kid, I was enchanted by the music in this movie. When the lights in the theater first dimmed and the opening credits rolled, the musical intro immediately grabs you emotionally in a way that tells you you’re about to experience something very special. Check out the opening for yourself, which is just a taste of the great music all throughout MOTP:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgDpesd428

2. THE STORY

MOTP was very well written! It’s simultaneously a Batman origin movie, a love story and a mystery-thriller. And the shocking thing is that it balances all of that very well! You forget very early on that you’re watching a cartoon. The voice actors, (Kevin Conroy and Dana Delaney in particular) do an incredible job voicing a range of emotions. Futhermore, the plot itself takes numerous twists and turns that keeps you guessing up until the very end. Even after many viewings, I still find myself emotionally moved during the final scene as the music hits it’s last crescendo. A great story was something TAS was always known for, and this movie was no exception. Well done to all involved!

Phantasm birth of batman

3. THE VIOLENCE

This may seem like a strange reason to love this film, but track with me. TAS was always pretty violent for a cartoon, but this film took it to a more realistic level while not being gratuitous. MOTP was given a PG rating, which at the time wasn’t too common for animated features and it made good use it. People actually died in this movie. Batman and many others bled or suffered other injuries as a result of actions taken. Not everyone has a happy ending, and all of that combined added a gravity and immediacy to the movie. In an afternoon cartoon you know that no matter what, everyone would end up being okay. MOTP however early on establishes that no one is safe and you are kept guessing as to what a character’s final fate will be. When a character does die, you feel the weight of that loss. When Batman jumps into a fight still battered from the last one, it adds a hopelessness to his situation. It wasn’t violence for the sake of violence, but it moves the story forward and was tastefully done.

4. THE JOKER

Phantasm Joker 2

Mark Hamill was always amazing in this role and if you’ve checked out the recent “Arkham” series of video games (Arkham Asylum and City), then you know that he’s STILL amazing as the Clown Prince of Crime. But for my money, this film was his Joker masterpiece. The Joker wasn’t shoehorned into MOTP because they HAD to have The Joker in a Batman movie, but rather The Joker is an essential part of the plot. And dude…Hamill takes it to a whole new level! In TAS, The Joker is creepy, dark and does push boundaries you wouldn’t expect in an afternoon cartoon. But there was always some restraint placed on The Joker. TAS was still a kids show after all. In MOTP though, this Joker is dark, vindictive and sadistic. He’s not racking up a massive body count or anything, but this was a far more “adult” Joker. The film takes a few liberties with his origin and while anything that deals with a “definitive” Joker origin can be a risky move, they totally nailed it! The best compliment I can give is that I remember leaving the theater as a kid being haunted by his laugh. In this film, the Joker’s laugh didn’t signify goofy fun, rather it meant that Batman and the others were in serious trouble. And that’s the way I like my Joker!

You’ve heard me rant, now I want to hear from you! Have you seen MOTP? Did you see it because of this post? Wanna talk about your favorite TAS episode? Still waiting for a Wonder Twins movie? SOUND OFF in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

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GUEST POST – “The Desolation of Smaug.”

Smaug poster

Quick note from Dre, the GEEK IN CHARGE: For whatever reason Lord of the Rings was something that never grabbed my interests. I never read the books and while I did see the Peter Jackson movies and enjoyed them, I have no interest to ever revisit them or watch the 500 hour long extended editions. Last Christmas I never made it out to see “The Hobbit,” and I still haven’t gotten around to watching it. LOTR may not be my jam, but I also know that many of you in geekdom adore this world and since I’m not qualified to speak about it I’ve asked my dear friend Carissa Faulk, who loves all things Tolkien, to share some thoughts on the recently released movie. What follows are her charming words. Oh and by the way…she went to the midnight premier of this dressed as a character (I don’t know which one. She told me and I forgot, so I’m going to say Iron Man. She went dressed as Iron Man). What a nerd right? And that’s why she and I are friends! Enjoy!

My dear Bagginses and Boffins, Tooks and Brandybucks, Grubbs, Chubbs, Hornblowers, Bolgers, Bracegirdles and Proudfoots,

(WARNING: this post contains spoilers)

I, like many of my fellow Tolkienites, have been anxiously awaiting, for a good majority of my life, the glorious day when some brave soul would bring my precious childhood favorite, the Hobbit, to the big screen. And, also like many of my fellow Tolkienites, I was sadly disappointed by the first installment of the films, the Unexpected Journey. While there were certain scenes which it definitely nailed (Riddles in the Dark, anyone?), the film as a whole felt almost schizophrenic. Was it a children’s fairytale, another Lord of the Rings, an animated cartoon series, a 300-style bloodbath? I got whiplash. Where was the delightful and frightful and wonderfully whimsical tale that captured me so in my youth?

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However, despite my disappointments with Unexpected Journey, I was there again at the midnight premier of the Desolation of Smaug, and yes, I was in full hobbit garb, hairy feet and all. And maybe it was just my lowered expectations that made me think so, or maybe it was the sleep depravation, but I must say, I have officially forgiven Peter Jackson for the Unexpected Journey. Desolation was phenomenal.

For one thing, the ridiculous abuse of CGI which we saw in Unexpected Journey had been mercifully toned down. Though there still was more than was entirely necessary, it was much less than in the last film, and it was all much higher quality. This, along with a better script, helped eliminate the fairytale/300 flip-flopping effect. The movie felt consistently epic, closer to a Lord of the Rings than a Brothers Grimm, though it still had some of the lightheartedness of a children’s book.

This film also did not abuse the Silmarillion and the Children of Hurin as violently as Unexpected Journey did. Of course, we all realize that it’s difficult to transform a short children’s novel into three full length films, but that’s no excuse to go vivisecting another of Tolkien’s great works! As happy as it made me to see Radagast (especially when portrayed by Sylvester McCoy!), and as epic of a character as the White Orc is, they just don’t belong in the Hobbit. Radagast’s appearance I can forgive because, well, he was just beautifully portrayed, but the White Orc was turned into an almost laughable combination of Captain Hook and the Pillsbury Dough boy. Was that really necessary?

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Anyway, Desolation continued with the elements from Silmarillion which had already been introduced, but didn’t really add any new ones, and they continued the ones which had already been introduced in a very satisfying manner. I mean, that scene with Gandalf and Sauron? I fangirled so hard.

Obviously there are a few more things I could nitpick, such as Evangeline Lilly’s somewhat underwhelming acting skills in certain scenes, and the completely unnecessary love triangle which she centered in, but honestly, the rest of the film was so beautiful, they really didn’t bother me as much as they probably should have. Benedict Cumberbatch, and the animated Smaug whom he voiced, were precisely how I pictured them growing up. The dark magic of Mirkwood, the terror of the spiders’ webs (though what happened to the Stinging Fly?), and the freedom of that moment when Bilbo gets above the trees, and the blue butterflies float around him, and he sees the Lonely Mountain; oh, the wide-eyed child in me just wriggled with horror and delight!

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So, no, the Desolation of Smaug wasn’t all it could have been, but it was certainly a huge step up from the Unexpected Journey, and it is finally a Hobbit film which I can watch without cringing. I left the theatre feeling legitimately delighted and thoroughly fangirled, and that is quite an improvement from the last time. My only real big beef with the film is this: while I love that Jackson finally found his grove with the feel of the movie, I felt that he lost sight of the fact that it is, after all, a children’s book he is portraying. I’m glad he finally settled on an aesthetic for the film, and because of that consistency it is a beautiful and wonderful movie in its own right, which is more than can be said for the Unexpected Journey, but I felt that that was gained by tragic sacrifice.

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This story, which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to delight and enchant little children, is no longer appropriate for young eyes. And, worse than that, it is no longer loyal to the feel of the original story. I understand that Jackson wanted to make a film which adults would enjoy since that is the majority of his fan base, but in so doing he failed at one of the things which he did best with LOTR; preserving the experience of the book. When I watch LOTR, I feel the same epic thrill that I get from reading the books. The Desolation of Smaug is an incredible film, and I will definitely be re-watching it more times than I probably should, but it does not even come close to capturing the delight and mystery and childish wonder which the book inspires in me, even after all these years.

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This has been (I’ve always wanted to say this) a NERD ALERT!

Carissa Faulk, at your service.

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Herobear and the Kid – Pick up this book!

Well over a decade ago, when I was but a young college freshman (I’m an old coot now. I’m lovable…but I’m a coot!), I was hanging with a fellow geek friend of mine who happened to be wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a large, heroic looking polar bear in a red cape.

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I asked him what the shirt was all about and he told me about a comic that Mike Kunkel, his brother in-law, had written and drawn called “Herobear and the Kid.” He described it as a fun hybrid of Calvin & Hobbes and the classic superhero stories we all grew up on, drawn in a very Disney animation like style (I found out later that Kunkel had been a Disney animator). I was very intrigued and ordered the first issue.

As soon as I read the tag line, “Remember your childhood…and pass it on,” I knew I would enjoy the book. What blew me away was just how much I fell in LOVE with Herobear. After that first issue I was completely hooked! Sincerely, “Herobear and the Kid” is one of the best comic experiences I’ve had in my entire geeky life. I’ve talked it up to many over the years and with the first storyline being re-released through Boom! Studios (you can download the issues on ComiXology), now seemed like a good time to get on my soapbox and profess my love for Mike Kunkel’s “Herobear and the Kid.”

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The premise – After the passing of his grandfather, a young boy named Tyler (the titular “Kid”) and his family move into his grandfather’s home to begin a new chapter in their lives. On top of dealing with normal kid issues: starting a new school, making friends, bullies, a first love and little sister drama, Tyler has also inherited his grandfather’s stuffed bear and broken pocket watch. After a run in with the local bullies (the lovably dumb Bullio brothers), Tyler accidentally hits the stuffed bear in the nose, transforming it into a ten foot tall talking polar bear superhero named Herobear. With this discovery Tyler realizes that when it comes to his grandfather, there is much that isn’t what it seems. Through this arc (“The Inheritance”), Tyler begins a fun journey of discovering the secrets his grandfather left behind, all while discovering that Herobear is the best friend he’s been waiting for his entire life.

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If I had only one word to describe the tone and feel of this story it would be SWEET. Kunkel writes each character – both primary and secondary, each interaction, and particularly Tyler and Herobear’s friendship with such a sweetness that anyone, even you Grinches out there that have a heart three times too small, won’t be able to help but sport a HUGE smile while reading “Herobear and the Kid.” Every aspect of this story oozes this sweet tone, making it obvious to see and feel on each page. One great example of this is in how the characters on the “bad” end of the spectrum are written. The bullies and the villains (an old toy maker/villainous mastermind with a crazy robot) never come across as irredeemably mean or evil. There’s always hope for them and not only do Herobear and Tyler both see that, but the reader does as well. You never find yourself really rooting against anyone, but rather rooting for the “bad guys” to be the better people the heroes see in them.

Another core reason why I adore this book is because of the character of Tyler himself. What I’ve realized is that I connect so deeply with him because I was Tyler growing up. In fact, ALL OF US have at one point or another in our childhood been Tyler. We’ve all been that young dreamer. We’ve all dealt with the loss of a loved one. We’ve all had that first crush. We’ve all seen the world through innocent eyes, and so on. Tyler’s story is very much our story too and that makes it so easy to connect emotionally with his journey. Kids of all ages will love this book because they are currently walking in Tyler’s shoes and see the world much as he does. Adults will love this book because Herobear takes them back to when they were Tyler and they will recall that sense of childlike awe and adventure. It’s a book that works so well, regardless of age.

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There is much more praise I can give this book, but the best compliment I can give is deeply personal to me. I was 18 when I first read “Herobear and the Kid” and even as a young nerd that didn’t look into the future much farther than what fast food I’d eat the next day, one of the thoughts I kept coming back to while reading Herobear was, “I cannot wait to share this story with my own children one day!” Fast forward many years to now. I’m happily married to a girl WAY out of my league and I’m a father to a bouncing lil’ Avenger boy. Additionally, I’m blessed to have a beautiful geek girl on the way. I’m older (early bird dinners are my jam) and a much different person than I was when I was 18, yet I’ve never forgotten that thought I had when I first experienced this book. I’ve sincerely been waiting many years for this and now…my little boy has a stuffed Herobear guarding his room and both my kids will be spending MANY nights joining Herobear and Tyler on their various adventures.

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That’s a gift Mike Kunkel has given me through “Herobear and the Kid.” And one day many years from now, I hope that my kids remember their childhood…and pass it along to their own “Tyler.” Like the title of this post says, PICK UP THIS BOOK!

What was your favorite part of the first arc? What aspect of your childhood did Herobear remind you of? Would your head explode if Herobear and Hobbes hung out together? Sound off in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Trailer

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Sony Pictures released the first trailer for the anticipated Spider-Man sequel today. If you haven’t seen it yet, or want to watch it for your 100th time, then check it out below:

As one of the biggest Spider-Man geeks in the universe it is my sworn duty (heh…”duty”) to analyze it for the greater good of the geek community. Once again, you’re welcome nerds!  I feel obligated to declare a  **SPOILER ALERT** for what follows because what I discuss/point out/rant about may take some of the surprise out of the movie.

Still with me? Alright, let’s jump in…

First, a little history: I really enjoyed the first two Sam Raimi directed Spidey films. The first one had it’s problems, sure (the Green Goblin looked like a rejected villain from a Power Rangers episode) but I loved the overall tone and, come on – how do you not love a spot on rendition of J. Jonah Jameson? I especially thought that the sequel with Doc Ock was FANTASTIC! It’s still one of my favorite movies.

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Like many though, Raimi lost me with part three. Far too many issues to get into in this post, but it was a hot mess (Topher Grace as Venom? Really?). When word came that Sony was rebooting the franchise (Amazing Spider-Man), I was less than enthused. Nothing – not the casting, story, look/feel, etc. excited me. I did see it in theaters, though I walked in expecting a complete and utter disaster.

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What I was NOT expecting, was walking out having really enjoyed it. Much of what I thought I was going to hate, particularly Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter/Spidey, turned out to be what I really enjoyed! Again, not a perfect movie, but I left really excited to see a sequel, of which we got the trailer for today. BOOM – SEGWAY…

I’ve watched the trailer a few times now and the one word to describe how I feel at this point about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is NERVOUS! Why am I nervous? I’ll get into that later. First, let’s talk about what did get me excited:

POSITIVES FROM THE TRAILER:

1. The Powers - The trailer is only a short peak, but Spidey looks like his comic came to life and I LOVE IT! We see him web swinging, holding up cars, dodging bullets and more. Even the short glimpses we’re given of Electro make him look visually awesome and very “comic booky,” (If no one has called “dibs” on that phrase I do. DIBS!), with him shooting electricity and flying around. If nothing else, this movie will at least look awesome.

2. Harry Osborn -The Harry/Peter relationship from the comics has always been one of my favorites and I’m excited that the movies are giving their tragic friendship another shot. The Raimi movies did an alright job with it, even though I dislike everything that is James Franco (stop reading this blog Jimmy!). From the brief scenes we saw, Dane DeHaan seems to be bringing a darkness to Harry that differs from being “angsty,” which has me intrigued to see Harry’s “dark side” develop into his eventual turn as the Green Goblin.

3. The “Easter Egg.” – Did you see it? A brief scene in which a shadowy individual walks by two display cases. One with what looks like Doctor Octopus’ tentacles and the other with what seems to be The Vulture’s wings. There have been multiple rumors that these movies are building to The Sinister Six. Looks like a clear indication that Spidey will be throwing down with some incarnation of the Six soon.

So, definitely things in the trailer I’m pumped for. Now let’s hit the concerns. In one word, my anxiety stems from this movie looking very BUSY. In fact, it seems as if this movie may be overreaching and trying to do WAY TOO MUCH in a limited amount of time, resulting in the life being choked out of the film. Here are a few things that rattled my nerves:

1. Multiple Villains -The death sentence for many superhero movies has been the inclusion of a bunch of villains instead of intentionally focusing on one. More does add to the spectacle, but often at the expense of story and really caring about who the villain is. We saw that juggling  two, Sandman and Venom, really hurt the last film and in this trailer we’re shown THREE villains: Electro, a new Green Goblin (which looks to be Harry) and a mech-suited Rhino. I don’t imagine they’re all meant to have equal roles, but still it gives me reason to be concerned. Also, all of the promo photos and interviews up to this point had made Jaime Foxx’s Electro come across as the primary antagonist, yet he took a backseat in the trailer. That was weird to me. Lastly, the inclusion of a Green Goblin does raise the concern of his story simply being “tacked on.” The Goblin is such an important part of the Spider-Man mythos and I would hate to see the movie pull out a Goblin for the last 15 minutes with no set up and waste the character (like part 3 did with Venom), instead of giving us the incredible Spidey/Goblin/Gwen story we’ve been waiting to see on the silver screen.

2. Convoluted Story - The Amazing Spider-Man had a lot story wise that it attempted to accomplish. It did feel packed trying to deal with origins, villain intro, etc., and while certain aspects felt rushed and shallow (ex: Peter and Gwen’s relationship), I never felt that the pacing was horrible. Now, one dangling plot thread that the trailer highlighted for the sequel to pick up is the mystery of what really happened to Peter’s parents. Granted, that could be a really interesting story, but why it concerns me is that you have that plot to resolve, on top of an Electro intro/origin, on top of an intro/origin to the Osborns, on top of establishing the new Spidey status quo since the last film, and much more I’m sure. My concern is the possibility of attempting to do a lot poorly rather than spreading certain plot lines out throughout multiple movies and doing them well. And on that note…

3.  Gwen - Any good geek knows how Gwen’s story ends. I love that these movies have featured her and I have envisioned her eventual death being a powerful part of a third film. I don’t know why, but the trailer made me worried that they would kill Gwen off in this one adding to the crazy business of it all.

4. Early Surprises - We’re still a long way out from this movie’s release. It’s odd to me that they’ve gone ahead and revealed so much already, namely the Goblin and the mech suit for the Rhino. We’ve known Harry was in the movie, but it could have been really cool to be in the dark about his (potentially) becoming the Goblin until we saw him pick up the Glider in the film, providing a rad “holy crap” moment. I feel like all the cats have been let out of the bag so soon and I don’t understand why. Do they have more surprises up their sleeves? Maybe they saw that J.J. Abrams holding on to the Khan secret for “Into Darkness” actually hurt that film’s box office and they wanted to avoid that? I don’t know.

You’ve heard me rant about the trailer. What do you think? What did you like? Anything make you nervous? Wish they would give us a movie with nothing but Aunt May playing Bingo? Sound off in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

4

Batman vs. Superman – Who would win?

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A question fiercely debated in all of Geekdom is who would be the victor in a fight between Batman and Superman. Many playgrounds, dinner parties, weddings and corporate lunch rooms have been torn asunder by fiery rhetoric from each side of this divisive issue. I too, like many nerds before me, have discussed and vehemently debated this question since I was but a young lad.

Yet my heart breaks to see the Geek Nation tear itself asunder over who would win this DC comics grudge match. Therefore my friends, for the sake of unity I have decided to end this argument once and for all by providing the DEFINITIVE answer to this timeless question. I know, I know, I’m a hero and there should be parades in my honor. You’re welcome, nerds!

Let’s settle this, once and for all – Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman? **drum roll please**

There is no doubt in my mind that the winner would be…

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Aquaman? How did that loser get in here? Unless there’s a toilet that needs unclogging this guy is useless. **ahem** Let me try this again…

The winner of this fight would definitely be…

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The Batman. Boom!

I can hear the pro-Superman crowd shutter in rage and disgust. “But Superman is basically a god! Batman is just a man with toys! Superman could crush Batman faster than a speeding bullet blah blah blah.” Calm down. Don’t get your capes in a huffy twist. Let me explain…

You’re right, Superman is…well, super! I’ll give you that. I’m not saying it would be an easy fight for Batman. However when you look at what The Dark Knight is capable of at his best my money would definitely be on Bruce for the win and here are my three reasons why…

REASON # 1 – Batman is MUCH smarter than Superman!

We can all agree that Superman is an idiot right? Need proof? The best idea he came up with to protect his secret identity is to wear a pair of glasses. GLASSES! I have yet to encounter the day when I suddenly don’t recognize a friend simply because they put on a pair of reading glasses. Not only is Clark dumb, but obviously the citizens of Metropolis are even bigger morons because unbelievably HIS DISGUISE WORKS! And even though Clark works in a career where he is surrounded by “reporters” whose day job is supposedly to uncover secrets, nobody ever makes the “Clark is Superman” connection even though that bright yellow and red “S” is clearly bleeding through his white button up shirts. Living in the dumbest city on earth has got to lower your IQ at least by a few points.

Batman on the other hand is the WORLD’S GREATEST DETECTIVE! Thinking strategically, exposing weaknesses, outsmarting his enemies, that’s what the Batman excels at! His most powerful weapon has never been the gadgets or the vehicles (although the car is undeniably awesome), but his mind!

Remember the Justice League “Tower of Babel”  arc from a few years back?

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Turns out Batman had been keeping secret files on how to defeat his teammates just in case they ever lost control and needed to be put down. Ra’s al Ghul gets a hold of these files and takes down the entire Justice League, proving that Batman’s strategies worked! Granted, jerk move on Batman’s part, but still his plans worked. Can’t blame a guy for being prepared right? The reason why Batman is a terrifying force in a world filled with meta-humans, heck the reason why he’s part of the JLA’s trinity is because he’s always the smartest person in the room. He has out thought Clark before, and he’ll do so again.

REASON #2 – Batman isn’t afraid to fight Dirty!

Superman is the world’s biggest boy scout. He helps old ladies cross the street, gets kittens out of trees, tells kids to eat their vitamins, etc. He’s looking to take a threat down quickly and gently, without necessarily getting his hands dirty. Bats on the other hand was the kid that would throw dirt in your eye, bite your ear then kick you in the groin to get the win. It was the only way to survive simply living in Gotham city, let alone facing a rouge gallery with the likes of The Joker, Two-Face, etc. When it comes to fighting Superman, Batman has already shown that he’s not afraid to do WHATEVER it takes to win and that usually entails the use of good old fashioned Kryptonite. You know, that little green rock that can KILL Superman. In “The Dark Knight Returns” Batman gained the upper hand against Superman through synthesizing a Kryptonite arrow and having Green Arrow shoot Clark with it. In “Hush” Batman wore the Kryptonite ring Superman had given him for safe keeping to punch the crap out of Superman.

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Batman risks killing Superman by using kryptonite, but it’s a risk he’s willing to take. If the situation was reversed, I can’t say that Superman’s honor would take the same risk. Unlike Superman, Batman wouldn’t hesitate to get his hands dirty if it meant victory.

REASON #3 – Superman believes that Batman could take him!

After Superman confiscated the kryptonite ring Lex Luthor had made to kill him, he entrusted it into Batman’s hands for safe keeping.

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But there’s also another reason why Clark gave this ring to Bruce – He knew that if something ever happened to him where he lost control and needed to be put down, the only person in the DC universe with the intelligence and the guts to do so would be Batman. Superman knows that Bruce could beat him if it ever came to that. I’ve even got Superman himself supporting my position. Beat that!

There you have it, three reasons why Batman would win. You know, when it comes to Batman’s triumph over Superman, I always think of one of my favorite comic sequences of all time, the conclusion to their fight in “The Dark Knight Returns.” Bruce’s final words to Clark still send such a shiver up my spine.

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“…I want you to remember Clark…in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember my hand at your throat…I want you to remember…the one man who beat you…”

Make your fellow geek voice heard in the comments – Agree? Disagree (how dare you)? Think Plastic Man could beat them both?

This has been a NERD ALERT!

2

Star Wars: Episode VII – Five Things I Want to See

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When Disney bought Lucasfilm they promptly announced that we’re getting a new trilogy in the Star Wars saga (plus stand alone character films), that takes place after “Return of the Jedi.” Geeks worldwide were set ablaze with speculation about Episode VII. Questions such as, “What would the story be? Would it follow known characters? New ones? Would it feature Jar Jar Binks finally getting stepped on by an AT-AT walker?” ran rampant.

I don’t have much love for the prequel trilogy (a topic I’m sure I’ll write about eventually), but I am very excited for these sequels. I like J.J. Abrams (the director) quite a bit, lens flare and all. I never liked any of the Star Trek series’ or movies (calm down Trekkies), but I’ve had a blast with his reboot. Mainly because I feel as if he’s made it more like Star Wars. Also, I’m hopeful for this new trilogy because Disney likes making money. Sure, a Star Wars film would make a decent amount of change regardless of quality, but my hope is in Disney noticing that a little movie called “The Avengers” dominated the box office, not just because of the characters involved, but because it was a PHENOMENAL film ( it still holds a 93% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). If “The Avengers” had been garbage, I seriously doubt it would have shattered all the financial records that it did. I guess you could say that I’m banking on Disney’s corporate greed in desiring the maximum amount of revenue possible out of this new trilogy to ensure a great product.

While I have nothing to do with the creative side (or any side) of Episode VII (still waiting for that phone call from Abrams), as a life long Star Wars geek, here are five things I’d love to see in the new trilogy:

1) FOCUS ON A NEW SET OF CHARACTERS

There’s been much chatter about Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford reprising their iconic characters and I’m cool with seeing them in smaller supporting roles (although I’m not sure I want to see a senior citizen Han Solo piloting a broken down Millennium Falcon). However I don’t want Luke, Leia and Han be the primary focus. It’s been 30 years since “Return of the Jedi.” A lot has changed in this “galaxy far far away,” and I want to explore these new digs through a fresh set of eyes. I feel that by putting new characters in the primary roles, it’ll make this entry in the Star Wars saga feel new and exciting.

2) CAST  ACTORS THAT CAN ACTUALLY ACT

I want to be as respectful as possible, but one of the BIGGEST issues with the prequel trilogy was actor Hayden Christensen being horribly miscast as Anakin Skywalker. He didn’t look the part (in my humble yet correct opinion), but even worse, he was a terrible actor in Episode II and III. Now granted, I haven’t seen him in anything other than Star Wars. For all I know, maybe he’s fantastic in other films. But in the prequels, his performance diminished much of the impact the audience was supposed to have in regards to two vital aspects of Anakin’s story: his love story and his eventual turn to the dark side. I never felt anything close to a romantic connection between Anakin and Natalie Portman’s Padme. In their interactions he seemed disengaged and wooden. Nor did Anakin ever come across as dark and brooding as you’d imagine someone becoming Darth Vader would be. His Anakin was often nothing more than a whiny brat. I feel Ewen McGregor (Obi-Wan) and Natalie Portman gave their best attempt, but unfortunately Hayden’s acting had an irreparable negative impact on those films. My hope is that Abrams and company learn from that and take their time in the casting process to ensure great performances.

3) BRING BACK THE  FUN AND ADVENTURE

Ready for a truth bomb? The prequel trilogy was boring!  Sure, there were some bright spots that included epic fights and action set pieces (that incredible Darth Maul lightsaber sequence being one example). But in attempting to make the prequels  a “galactic political drama,” the result was A LOT of uninteresting talk about trade federations and what not. When you watch the original (and far superior) trilogy, you can’t deny that those films are a lot of fun! Let’s take a quick look at the middle of Episode IV: Luke and Obi-Wan get into a bar fight, meet Han and Chewie, escape from Stormtroopers, “let the wookie win,” get tractor beamed into the Death Star, “That’s no moon,” rescue a princess, get stuck in a trash compactor, and much more. It was fun! It was an adventure! And it’s what was missing from the prequels. I truly hope the new trilogy returns to these roots.

4) TAKE RISKS WITH THE STORYTELLING

The original trilogy was fantastic at this! Look at “A New Hope.” Obi-Wan is going to “Mr. Miyagi” Luke and teach him to be a great jedi right? Nope! He dies (or disappear or something) fighting Darth Vader so the heroes can escape on the Falcon. There’s no way the bad guys will actually blow up Alderann right? Yup, the Empire will destroy an entire planet filled with people! Let’s jump ahead to “The Empire Strikes Back.” Given how “A New Hope” ended, we all expect Luke and Leia to continue their romantic subplot right? No! It’s her and the scoundral that are all lovey dovey (“I love you!” “I know.”) How about this one – Hey Luke, your Dad is still alive! Bad news though, turns out he’s the Sith Lord that’s been trying to kill all your friends. Surprise! And how does it end? With the heroes losing BIG TIME (carbonite anyone?) and the Empire on the verge of crushing the rebellion. How about “Return of the Jedi?” Guess what? There’s another Skywalker and it’s the girl Luke kind of made out with.

My point being, these unexpected twists and turns in the original trilogy kept you on the edge of your seat. You didn’t know what would happen, who would live, die, win, etc. and that element of surprise is so much fun when watching a movie. With the prequels, we pretty much knew how it was going to end from the beginning. It’s that lack of surprise that makes a prequel to any story difficult to tell. I hope that the new trilogy takes some unexpected turns and perhaps evens gives us that one incredibly special “No, I am your father” moment.

5) THANOS

“Wait…are you talking about the big purple guy teased during the credits of ‘The Avengers?’ The Marvel Comics cosmic villain?” Yes. Yes I am.

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Did you see that fabulous mock filibuster Patton Oswalt did last year on “Parks and Recreation?” Watch it! It’s a nerd fantasy and it’s where I got this idea.

I realize this is not in the realm of possibilities AT ALL, but let’s have a little fun and dream. Geek out with me – comics are all about different universes and dimensions right? Imagine the Avengers believing that they’ve defeated Thanos but in reality the Infinity Gauntlet sends him to another reality. One guarded by Jedi instead of Avengers. Imagine a race between the New Republic and the remnant of the Empire to find the Infinity Gems with Thanos siding with the Sith in hopes of conquering this new universe. Imagine Chewbacca and Thanos having a chess match together on the Millennium Falcom. Awesome huh? While this will never happen, there’s always fan-fiction right?

Sounds off in the comments fellow nerds! What do you want to see in Episode VII? Epic space battles? A return to Tatooine? A Soundtrack by Aerosmith?

This has been a NERD ALERT!

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The Spectacular Singing Spider-Man

I’ve read and watched Spidey’s origin told and retold countless times. He’s my favorite, so I can’t get enough! Yet never once have I thought, “You know what would really spice this story up? If Peter’s powers were loosely tied to a singing Greek and/or Roman goddess name Arachne!” While I’ve never thought that, someone did and the result is the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.”

Spidey Playbill

I’ve long held a deep belief that superheroes and musicals should not mix. And this is coming from a fan of both! I passionately love comics  and I have a deep enjoyment and appreciation for a good musical (“Music of the Night” is playing in my head right now, FYI). Yet blending these two genres never seemed like a good idea to me. Granted, maybe it is a lack of creative vision on my part but even when I was younger and first heard of the attempts to make “Batman: The Musical” (no joke by the way. Google it), I could never see the genres meshing in a way that didn’t result in disaster.

I first heard of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark a few years back when they started pre-production. Anything Spidey related tends to get my attention and my initial response was, “please don’t make Spidey sing!” I’ve already made my feelings on the hero/musical hybrid clear, but I do admit that it looked as if they were putting legitimate effort into doing this well. They brought in Julie Taymor, a Broadway expert to direct and the music book was being written by Bono and the Edge from U2, so already there are two “heavy hitters” on the team. What could go wrong right?

Apparently, a lot! The journey to bring Peter Parker to the Great White Way was filled with notorious problems: numerous delays in opening, terrible preview reviews, stunts failing and injuring performers, and finally Julie Taymor stepping down as director following a massive rewrite of the entire story (cutting out much of the Arachne character Taymor had introduced). And this all took place before the show officially opened!

Yet despite all the various problems, Turn off the Dark  eventually did officially open (June 2011) and has been on Broadway since. So, on a recent trip to NYC I decided to catch a performance at the Foxwoods Theater. I had heard mixed things from reviewers and even a friend that had seen it. But it’s Spidey, so I had to give it a shot! I was excited and went in with an open mind.

"Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark" Original Broadway Cast Final Preview Performance

Is it any good? In my humble (yet always correct) opinion, nope! But did I have fun watching it? Surprisingly I did! I had a blast! But it was fun in the way that makes a film like “Sharknado” fun; it’s not good, but you love the cheese of it all. I got day of tickets at a discount booth and my seat was in the very front row. At one point I was spit on by the actress playing Aunt May. How many people can say that? If we’re friends then you have my permission to introduce yourself as the person who is friends with the guy that was once spit on by Aunt May. Boom! Just changed your life forever!

Anyway, the musical starts with the origin of the Arachne, who is hanging from the ceiling. You know, like a giant spider goddess type person does.

Arachne

What’s weird (aside from the spider goddess lady) is given how “big” this introduction to her is, the Arachne character doesn’t make many more appearances in the show (at least that I can remember). She makes a quick cameo here and there and does have one super awkward song with Peter near the end, but you can tell that the original story (what I assume was Julie Taymor’s script) was for her to have a much more substantial role.

After being introduced to Arachne, what follows is a surprisingly straight forward telling of Spider-Man’s origin: being bullied by Flash, MJ, spider bite, Uncle Ben, Norman Osborn, JJJ and of course “with great power must come great responsibility.” While I did enjoy the classic Spidey elements, there were two big aspects about the show that never connected with me.

The first was the music. To enjoy musicals one has to get passed the weirdness of people breaking into song and dance numbers while doing regular every day things. Still, was it kind of weird for Flash Thompson and his gang to be singing the ways they plan to torment Peter? Yeah, but not in a way that hampered my enjoyment. What I mean in regards to the music is that I personally did not feel that the songs in the show were very good. I never had that emotional experience of listening to a showstopper. The songs serve the plot but I never found them to be particularly memorable. Often after a musical I want to by the soundtrack. This was one of the only times where that was not the case.

Throughout the show you encounter classic Spidey characters that differ from their comic counter parts. I completely understand having to take creative license with certain characters to fit the story and the medium of a live stage show, but some of what was done did not work for me. For example, J. Jonah Jameson didn’t feel like JJJ. Sure, he yelled at Peter while running the Daily Bugle, but his look and feel was more of a 1950s journalist  from “I Love Lucy” than the curmudgeon we all know and love. Also, this show features the Sinister Six, or rather a version of them: Kraven the Hunter, Carnage, Swarm, The Lizard, Electro and Swiss Miss (no, not an evil cup of hot chocolate but an original creation for the show. She’s a lady with a lot of knives). They don’t do anything but run around in large costumes and get captured. Two examples where the characterization was off for me, but they weren’t deal breakers. But that does lead me to the second issue I had with TOTD, Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin.

In TOTD Norman is a scientist at his company Oscorp alongside his wife Emily. Their dreams and intentions for experimenting with genetics are noble, but  after experiencing severe financial hardship and a developing jealousy of Spider-Man, Norman experiments on himself (note to all crackpot scientists – this never ends well) which results in the accidental death of his wife and his transformation into the Green Goblin. Now, Marvel universe Norman Osborn has always been a dark, intense and worthy arch-nemesis to Spider-Man. This is the guy that killed Gwen Stacy after all. But Broadway Norman was a combination of Doc Brown from “Back to the Future” (Great Scott!) and Foghorn Leghorn. He seriously spoke with a very overdone southern accent and his jokey/punny nature made him better suited for a melodrama. You never took the Goblin seriously. Not that you can’t have fun with the character, but this was a really tough aspect of TOTD to get over.

Despite a lackluster story, what makes the show fun is Spider-Man being Spider-Man! The stunt work that has him web-swing around the theater is awesome! And the show does a cool sequence with Spidey engaging the Green Goblin in an aerial chase around the theater.

Turn off the Dark Fight

TOTD also uses various creative props and set pieces to give the illusion of Spidey crawling up NYC skyscrapers. The little kid in me lit up every Spider-Man swung or crawled around! What added to my enjoyment was sitting next to a family with a kid (probably age 8) and seeing his excitement every time Spider-Man appeared. He didn’t care about the story. He just loved seeing his hero come to life. When my son is a little older I would be more than happy to bring him so he can have that same reaction.

Turn off the dark bows

I may not have loved it, but I’m glad Marvel isn’t afraid to take a risk. What do you think? Does seeing the show interest you? What other character do you think should get the musical theater treatment? Do you think we’ll next get “Groot: live and singing the hits?” Sound off in the comments.

This has been a NERD ALERT!

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Death of the Devil – Daredevil: End of Days

Daredevil end of days

**Spoilers Ahead**

I’m a sucker for stories that present a possible “end” for an ongoing character. It started years ago when I first read “The Dark Knight Returns,” which is a FANTASTIC “end” to the Batman character. From then on I found myself fascinated by questions such as: “how would a particular superhero retire or die? What would be their final story?” That’s what drew me to End of Days.

Growing up, I had known of Daredevil. He made regular appearances in the Spider-Man and Punisher comics I was reading. I dug the idea of a blind hero/ninja running around Hell’s Kitchen dressed like the stinkin’ devil beating up bad guys, but I didn’t follow Daredevil regularly until years later when the writer/artist team of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev took over the monthly book.

Bendis DD

On a whim, I picked up the first issue in the arc that had Matt Murdock outed as Daredevil and I was hooked for their entire run. I never had anything against the character, but I was genuinely surprised that Daredevil became a book I truly enjoyed, and that was because of Bendis’ writing. If the only experience you have of Daredevil is guest appearances in other comics or that beyond awful Ben Affleck movie (thanks a lot Gigli), then jump on Comixology and download the trades from Bendis’ run. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

When I heard that Bendis was writing this limited series, I got REALLY excited! In my humble (yet always correct) opinion, I feel that Bendis understands the right heart and tone for Matt Murdock, his supporting cast and Hell’s Kitchen itself. I was very intrigued to see his take on how Matt’s life as Daredevil would end. And I was NOT disappointed!

So what does Bendis do to begin his story? He brutally murders Matt Murdock within the first few panels. Boom!

Daredevil murdured

Technically you could say it was Bullseye that killed Matt, but Bullseye was simply carrying out Bendis’ diabolical will. I wonder if Bendis wrote Daredevil’s death, picked up a microphone then dropped it and stormed out of the room like a rapper. Seems like something he’d do.

End of Days takes place in a not too distant future and follows Daily Bugle reporter and legendary supporting character for Marvel’s “street-level” heroes, Ben Urich, as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind Daredevil’s last stand. We see through Ben’s flashbacks that Matt had been missing for months. Having last been seen when he pretty much snapped ( I mean, how put together can a guy that dresses like the devil be in the first place?) and murdered Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin in public. To all you long time Marvel fans, let that sink in – in this story Matt Murdock murders the Kingpin of crime with his bear hands! Crazy awesome right?

After killing Fisk, Daredevil disappears without a trace until he’s murdered by Bullseye. Right before Bullseye administered the killing blow, Matt utters the mysterious word, “mapone.” At first, Ben sets out to discover who or what “mapone” is, hoping that will provide some sense of closure towards Matt’s death. But Ben’s news story soon evolves into a quest to try and piece together what the last few months of Matt’s life had looked like, desperately seeking any clue as to where Matt had gone and why return now just to die.

Ben’s investigation leads him (and us) to aged versions of various members of Daredevil’s supporting cast: Elektra, Typhoid Mary, The Punisher, Bullseye, Peter Parker, and many others. End of Days serves as a final story for many of them as well by giving those characters a send off alongside Matt. On that note, what was a bummer though (to me anyway), was that Foggy Nelson, Matt’s longtime legal partner and friend is no where to be seen other than a super brief appearance at the end. It is implied throughout that they had some sort of falling out, similar to how Batman Beyond (great show by the way) originally danced around what had happened between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. But because Foggy has been such a big part of the Daredevil mythos, I would have liked to have seen him have a bigger role in Matt’s last story. What is a lot of fun though is that throughout the adventure, Bendis drops little hints as to the state of the entire Marvel universe in this future. Phrases such as “Vice-President Osborn,” and “when there were Avengers” are great Easter Eggs.

To sum up my feelings – I loved End of Days! Was it perfect? I don’t believe so. The resolution of the “mapone” mystery wasn’t as strong  as I would have like and there were a few questions raised that I was disappointed to not get answered. But overall, I had a blast and highly recommend it.

Quick note though – End of Days isn’t for everyone. This was a love letter to Daredevil fans and without at least a good understanding of the Daredevil mythos and characters, it could be difficult to enjoy End of Days because you may feel left out with all the history that’s referenced. Again, download some Daredevil trades (Bendis’ run, Ed Brubakers’ and the classic Frank Miller run are great starts) and then read End of Days.

What do you think? Was End of Days a fitting end to Daredevil? Would you have written Matt’s end differently? Should he have grown old and retired? Opened a daycare with Spider-Man? Rode a unicorn into the sunset?  Sound off in the comments!

This has been a NERD ALERT!