Joker’s Asylum 2’s line-up leaves much to be desired.

April 16, 2010

I was looking at the June 2010 solicits for DC Comics yesterday and saw that a follow-up to the late-2008 mini-event “The Joker’s Asylum” is in the works. The first ‘Asylum’ series featured five one-shots each with a story about a different Batman villain and each by a different creative team. I know I read the one about the Scarecrow but I really don’t remember anything about it, so it’s fair to say it didn’t make much of an impression on me. I remember a little bit more about the Poison Ivy one but I didn’t enjoy that one at all. The Joker and Two-Face issues were both pretty decent but the real stand-out of the bunch was the issue about The Penguin. I’m no even that much of a Penguin fan but this issue was a great read and genuinely shocking and emotional. Every time I’ve thought about the Penguin since I’ve remembered that issue and just writing about it makes me want to dig it out over the weekend and read it again.

But what I really want to talk about is the new set. I can’t say I recognise any names of the writers and artists attached to this new series but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it could lead to a new talent getting a bit of a following if they do good work. But this second series of one-shots features five different Batman villains and some excite me more than others. I’m pleased to see we will be getting a Mad Hatter issue and a Riddler issue seems so obvious that it should have been included in the first series. As for Harley Quinn, I like the character a little bit, but I’m never too keen to read a story with her as the lead. But I can see why she was one of the chosen five, she has a sizable fan-following after all. The other two characters featured will be Killer Croc and Clayface, not characters I care much about and not ones that are terribly popular either, so a strange choice perhaps.

But what of the other characters DC editorial could have chosen instead of Clayface and K-Croc, or could possibly use for a future instalments?  Well here’s a few that spring to mind…

I could use any number of the Schwarzenegger puns right here...

Perhaps the most obvious omission is Mr. Freeze, possibly the most iconic villain not mentioned above. The one obvious benefit to not including him is that if ‘Asylum’ somehow gets a third quintet of one-shots next year they have at least one A-list character yet to play with, which, come to think of it, may be the reason the Riddler was never used instead of, say, the Scarecrow in the first series. Would a Freeze story with little or no Batman be a good read? Maybe. The Joker story worked because that guy doesn’t need to be around Batman to show up some place and cause a lot of trouble. And the Penguin story had a number of strong elements working for it, including his current lifestyle and bits of his backstory (and Penguin’s backstory hasn’t been explored quite as extensively as some other Bat-villains) as well as some truly chilling moments where we get to see just how vicious Oswald Cobblepot can be. Mr. Freeze does have an emotional angle to play with, but it’s one that is used in most stories about the character, so a writer would really have to be at the top of his game to bring us something new and interesting for a Fries one-shot. Would have still been better than reading about Killer Croc though.

On Guard? Was it against the Comics Code to include French on the cover back then?

The Cavalier is a great, if underused Bat-villain. He likes expensive things, eventually resorts to crime for money so he dresses up like a Musketeer and goes on a crime spree. How could that NOT be more entertaining than Killer Croc?

I remember before his debut in last year’s ‘Batman and Robin’ #4 that Grant Morrison was talking a lot about how much he enjoyed coming up with this particular villain and that he hoped that he might become a fan-favourite. And by #6 he was (seemingly) dead. But that is what would make him a great choice for ‘Asylum’, as all of these stories have included very little interaction with Batman and other heroes, so a gifted writer could give a Flamingo story set before his (apparent) death and show us just how sick and twisted this guy is, and maybe even how he got that way. Mind you, any fans that don’t like Morrison’s Batman work (and there are a few) wouldn’t want to buy/read a story about him, and those fans who love Morrison might not want to read a Flamingo story that was scripted by someone else, and Morrison already has three Bat-titles released in June. He’s not a big name villain like Joker or the Riddler, but still more enjoyable than reading about Killer Croc.

You cannot escape me. You are puny, you are small, you are nothing.

Who wouldn’t want to read a comic where Batman takes on Frank Miller, as written by Frank Miller. Frank has spent a good chunk of his career writing and drawing ultra-masculine types and his work on Batman has made the character super-manly and super-violent. But I don’t believe for a second that Frank could stand to make himself the second manliest character in a comic, so I would fully expect this issue to end with Miller killing Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson and taking on the Batmantle for himself. And then hunting and killing Killer Croc.

So that’s how I would fix this event. And if you’re reading DC, don’t let the fact I ended on a joke entry take away from the true message of this post, that message being that every last person who buys your comics wants to see more of Mortimer ‘Cavalier’ Drake in every comic you publish.

Other thoughts:

Writing about the Riddler makes me want to talk more about how he should be portrayed if he was to appear in the eventual, inevitable follow-up to The Dark Knight. More than a few people have speculated that Johnny Depp could take on the role. I would be happy if that does end up being the case, but my number one choice for the role would be Will Arnett. I wouldn’t expect that Christopher Nolan (assuming he wants to direct the next Batman film) would someone hamming it up as the Riddler, but I believe that Arnett has the capacity to rein in the theatrics just enough to make the character just as chilling as a Nolan-directed-Riddler should be. Join the Facebook group to show your support if you too want to see Arnett in the role.

Parallel Lines

April 12, 2010

Over the weekend I learned about the Parallel Lines project, where five filmmakers have each made a short piece in a different genre. What links the shorts is that they all contain the same six lines of dialogue. I’m a sucker for ideas like that, so I knew I’d find it interesting to watch the films even if I didn’t like every piece.

Five of the six lines of dialogue leave a lot of wiggle-room as to what a character could be reacting to and there is one line, if you have seen the films already you’ll know which one I mean, that begs a little more inventiveness from each filmmaker. That line can still be interpreted a lot of different ways and I’m pleased to say for the most part, each film did use that line, and the others, in a number of different ways.

I’ll try and keep it as spoiler-light as possible, but it’s not that easy to review such short stories without including any plot details, so you may want to go watch the films first.

The Hunt by Jake Scott features two men out hunting… something in a wooded area. I loved all the scenery shots of the piece and it was a neat little idea for a short. My main criticism would be that they didn’t bring a lot of imagination to the pre-prepared lines they were given, something which every other film here did quite well. They did use the last line of the film in a way no-one else did though, so credit to them there.

Sci-fi fans and general tech junkies will love Johnny Hardstaff’s offering, Darkroom. A man is looking out over a futuristic yet gloomy Japanese city with some very advanced surveillance equipment. I really enjoyed the look of the whole film, not just in the special effects used and the great shot that leads us into the room with the spy but the set dressing in the target apartment is very stylish and detailed and it’s a joy to be taken through the procedure of using a super-camera to manipulate reflections and long-lenses to get the difficult shot the character wanted. Also, gratuitous female butt ogling always goes down well with an audience so bonus points there.

Apparently, there is already a lot of Hollywood interest in expanding The Gift (Carl Eric Rinsch), with many studios hoping they have another potential District 9 in the making. Like Darkroom, this features some pleasing computer effects but the sets and locations are just as pleasing and really add to the film. I very much liked the design of the underground train station. The costume work adds as much to the character of the short as well, especially the uniform of the masked men policing the streets. The chase scene is thrilling to watch although I was a bit irked at having a MacGuffin with no obvious significance leading the motivations of the chase. I realise there is a certain economy of storytelling in a story this short, but I prefer to know chases, and action sequences in general, when I’ve got good reason to want one to prevail.

el Secreto de Mateo is my favourite of the bunch. As someone who thinks a lot about writing fiction I was very impressed with the way Greg Fay took the challenge of adapting such ambiguous dialogue and carving something sweet, poignant and original from it. As well as the great establishing shots throughout the film I especially enjoyed the slow lead-up at the beginning as more is slowly revealed to the viewer until we get to the payoff of the secret. Fantastic performances from the two young leads as well. Loved it.

Jun & the Hidden Skies (Hi-Sim) is a great animated short film that explores the imagination of two young children playing in an attic. Again, I liked the way the script was interpreted in a different way, especially near the end where the interaction between the young siblings rang really true for me. As for the combination of varied ideas in the make-believe of the youngsters, it really took me back to my own hyperactive youth and the sense of wonder at becoming part of ones own fictional world.

Overall, they are all worth a watch and I’ll be interested to see the results of the attached competition, where the sponsors invite any would-be auteurs to make their own short film using the same dialogue. I may even comment on some of these pieces although I won’t necessarily build a whole blog post around it.

Other thoughts:

-It’s not often I have praise for an ad campaign but I do have to give credit to Philips for the way they handled this. For the most part, being bombarded by advertising in all its myriad forms really doesn’t sit right with me, but I understand that it is necessary for a lot of the things that I enjoy to reap the benefits of ad-funding. But instead of ads that are obnoxious and pointless or just plain annoying this campaign is non-invasive and has the positive outcome of getting some smaller name filmmakers a chance to share the work with the world. So props for doing the ad game right Philips (sendmeafreetv sendmeafreetv…)

-On the subject of imaginative children you MUST read the Axe Cop webcomic if you haven’t done already. Seriously, I can’ praise it high enough and I’m only one of many new fans all over the internet. A very imaginative six-year-old American boy dictates story ideas to his 29-year-old brother Ethan Nicolle, a professional comics artist. About a cop who lives for nothing more than to take on bad guys with an axe and an ever-expanding cast of allies. The story begins here and Axey meets Honest Abe Lincoln here. But seriously, read the whole thing and thank me later.

Lizzie and Sarah, or when the last straw is long overdue.

March 26, 2010

Last Saturday, BBC2 aired the pilot episode of Lizzie and Sarah, a 30-minute dark comedy written by Julia Davis and Jessica Hynes. They also play the title characters in a cast that includes Mark Heap and the actor Kevin Eldon.

And when I say dark, I say it in the same way you might claim that the International Space Station is ‘a bit high up’.  The title characters are middle-aged housewives who are posh, dowdy and not the types to make much of a fuss. Over anything. At all. Well okay, anyone who has seen the pilot will know that do they have a line, a last straw, but it lies very, very far away from where it lies in most of us.

Within the first two minutes of the programme, its made very clear to the viewer that Lizzie’s husband John doesn’t give much in the way of respect or courtesy to his wife and that Lizzie’s best friend Sarah doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary in his rudeness after being denied a sandwich.

Like I said, dark.

Over the next twenty minutes or so we get to see more of how the pair are mistreated by their husbands, a Brazilian housekeeper, criminals in a pub and the husband of a grieving mother. And through it all I was struck that L&S dealt with everything they did in this way because it was the only way they knew how to, that they had learned over many years that acceptance of a small transgression here and there was the easiest way to keep everyone else happy, until everyone in each of their lives thought nothing of living however they wanted. Why worry about keeping on your wife’s good side when she never responds in anger?

The programme starts dark and gets darker. Dead teenager not shocking enough for you? What about her close friends trying to turn her memorial service into a chance at stardom? Or finding out that she was killed by her own father, who took his eyes off the road to ogle same friends changing out of netball clothes? Or the heartbreaking “thank you” Sarah gives after the most unromantic marital sex scene you’re likely to see on a BBC comedy show on a Saturday night.

But I couldn’t accuse the show of trying to be shocking for cheap laughs, like any number of other modern-day comedies. When the duo do snap – and believe me, it takes longer than I expected it would do – you see that the they still are essentially the same people, not wronged women on a rip-roaring-rampage-of-revenge, but still overly keen to apologise and live under the rules they are expected to live by. Sarah apologizes three times after – sorry people, hard to avoid spoilers here- shooting the man who stole her wallet and worries about breaking into her husband’s office because she “isn’t usually allowed in there.”

The last scene shows that the duo have developed a taste for dishing out long-overdue vengeance and that Rick, played by Eldon, could be the next one to feel their wrath. Except, it’s looking unlikely, despite strong reviews, that the BBC will want to commission further episodes. The beeb don’t normally air pilots without greenlighting a series first and this pilot was aired in a very poor slot. The strong subject matter does warrant late-at-night airings, but Saturday night isn’t a great time to attract the sort of audience Davies and Hynes were likely aiming at. Simon Pegg tweeted much the same opinion last week. I honestly do hope we do get to see more of this; the end suggests the writers know where they want to take the next episode and it left me wanting more. But I can see why the beeb might be anxious. If other British comedies like Peep Show and The Office make me want to cringe at times with embarrassment, Lizzie and Sarah made me gasp at the implied horror of the lives of the central characters.

Other thoughts:

-And I didn’t even talk about the performances. All the actors I’ve named above did very well, as did Claire Rushbrook. But special praise to Hynes, she really did put across a lot of emotion and depth while still keeping up an incredibly middle-class accent and seeming natural all the while.

-Yes, The Office might not have been the most contemporary reference to make my point, but apart from Peep Show, I can’t think of another current UK show that does shocks-as-comedy quite so well.

-Seen the Scott Pilgrim trailer? Wow. It sure does promise a lot, and I hope that Edgar Wright can deliver. Previous examples of his work suggests he can, but it’s a hell of a work to try to adapt for film.