Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’ve been spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel by expanding Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 24 July 1987
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia-Cannon-Warner-EMI Distributors
Budget:
$17 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Mariel Hemingway, Jon Cryer, and Mark Pillow

The Plot:
When criminal mastermind Lex Luthor’s (Hackman) nephew, Lenny (Cryer), breaks him out of prison, he enacts a diabolic scheme to destroy Superman (Reeve) by creating his own super-powered minion, “Nuclear Man” (Pillow/Hackman). As if this threat wasn’t bad enough, Superman (and his alter ego, Clark Kent) is suffering a crisis of conscience and the heart as he struggles to keep the world from nuclear destruction and to balance his love life.

The Background:
Superman III (Lester, 1983) might have been a critical disappointment but producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind were happy to produce a fourth film if its predecessor made over $40 million at the box office. Somehow, it did, but the duo’s financial concerns and Reeve’s reluctance to return to the franchise ultimately saw them selling the Superman rights to the Cannon Group for $5 million in June 1985. Cannon managed to entice Reeve back with a $6 million payday, additional creative control (the anti-nuclear angle of the film was his idea), and financing for another project. However, the production was off to a rocky start almost immediately; Richard Donner turned down the director’s chair, Reeve clashed with Wes Craven and was unable to convince the studio to hire Ron Howard, and co-star Jon Cryer described the entire film as a “nightmare” to shoot. Thanks to Cannon’s ongoing legal issues, the film’s budget was routinely slashed, an entire sub-plot was cut, and the once-vaulted special effects took a dramatic decline in quality. Unsurprisingly, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a dismal box office bomb; the film fell short of $40 million, which is frankly pathetic after the success of the first film, and has been repeatedly touted as not only the death knell of the franchise but one of the worst movies ever made.

The Review:
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is another difficult one for me to revisit; as a kid, I remember being entertained by the film, which was full of bright colours, action, and another physical confrontation for the Man of Steel but, as many have stated in the years since, it can’t be denied that the series had taken a massive and unexpected dip in quality since the ground-breaking original and its influential sequel. The film opens with a poignant scene at the Kent farm where, following the offscreen death of his mother, Clark is preparing to sell his childhood home. Before doing so, he retrieves a glowing Kryptonian energy module from the remains of his ship, which is rendered forever cold and silent as a result, and Clark’s day-to-day life is made all the more complicated by the interference of David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker) and his daughter Lacy (Hemingway) in the running of the Daily Planet; annoyed at the Planet’s lack of profitability, the Warfield’s put pressure on editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper) to sex-up the traditional publication and the elder Warfield is so full of himself that he makes his daughter’s promotion front page news!

An odd three/four-way love triangle develops between Clark, his alter ego, and his leading ladies.

Although Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) is sadly missing from the film and no mention is made of her, an awkward love triangle (more like a love square, I guess) does become a sub-plot of the film when newcomer Lacy takes a shine to Clark Kent. This leads to such “hilarious” moments as Clark visiting a gym with Lacy and feigning difficulty with the machines, and a laughable sequence where Clark and Lacy double date with Lois Lane (Kidder) and Superman, forcing Clark to dive in and out of costume to keep both women happy before thankfully being called away by a greater threat. The film even unashamedly rips off the Superman/Lois romance from the first two films; having a crisis of conscience regarding the world’s nuclear crisis, Clark reveals his identity to Lois, takes her on a terribly composited flight around the world, and asks for her advice before wiping her memory once again. While there is a poignant moment to be found here when Clark laments how unfair it is that he is forced to share himself with the entire world rather than the woman he loves, this largely amounts to an uncomfortable bit of selfishness on Superman’s part since he freely toys with Lois’s emotions and her memory rather than finding a less invasive way of decided what he should do about the looming threat of nuclear war.

After a moral debate, Superman ultimately decides to rid the Earth of all nuclear weapons.

Indeed, perhaps the film’s most promising and appealing element is the question of worldwide nuclear destruction; I know a lingering fear I’ve always had about our world is the presence of nuclear weapons, just one of which could cause a cataclysmic disaster that could end all life on the planet, and tackling this issue with Superman has a lot of potential that really deserves to be in a better movie. When begged to intervene in the nuclear arms race, Superman finds himself torn between his morals since the ghosts of the Kryptonian council vehemently forbid him from interfering in human history. Ultimately, however, Superman decides that he loves the Earth too much to see it go the same way as Krypton and announces to the world’s governments that he is going to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. He does this by, of course, having them all shot into space so he can gather them up in a giant net and hurl them into the Sun, an ingenious solution that potentially means the world should calm down into a semi-utopia but actually gives birth to a supervillain whose powers match (and, in many ways, surpass) Superman’s.

Using Superman’s DNA, Luthor births Nuclear Man, a ridiculous supervillain capable of crippling the Man of Steel.

This Nuclear Man is the latest brainchild of criminal genius Lex Luthor; easily freed from his imprisonment by his loud-mouthy, goofball nephew Lenny, Luthor (now completely disregarding both bald caps and wigs for Hackman’s natural hair) hatches a plot to take advantage of Superman’s deeds and birth a superpowered minion of his own using a strand of Superman’s hair (also acquired with a ridiculous amount of ease) and some ill-defined genetic tissue attached to one of the nukes. The result is the violent but child-like Nuclear Man, a being born of both Superman and Luthor who exhibits incredible superhuman powers when exposed to sunlight but becomes useless and dormant when bathed in the slightest of shadows. Still, Nuclear Man proves to be a formidable threat; not only does he cause all kinds of chaos and destruction across the globe with his powers but he is also able to cripple Superman with radiation sickness using his talons. However, thanks to the energy module from his ship, Superman is able to recover and ultimately defeat Nuclear Man by shifting the orbit of the Moon and dropping his inert form into a nuclear power plant.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I find Superman IV incredibly fascinating in a lot of ways; considering both Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman were pissed at the treatment of Richard Donner, I find it mind-boggling that the two (especially Hackman) agreed to be in this absolute mess of a movie. While the film doesn’t have to worry about being dominated by the buffoonery of Richard Pryor, any drama and tension that might be felt by Nuclear Man is completely negated by the presence of Lenny. Thankfully, he’s nowhere near as prominent as Gus Gorman but he’s basically Otis (Ned Beatty) dialled up to eleven and infused with a lazy, surfer-dude persona and I never quite understood why these films felt compelled to lumber Luthor with halfwit accomplices (though I actually probably would have preferred to see Otis take Lenny’s place).

The special effects and film logic have taken a massive hit thanks to the miniscule budget.

Of course, one of the first things you’ll notice about Superman IV is that the once-lauded special effects have taken a massive hit; the budget cuts are apparent right from the off as the opening titles pale in comparison to the first film, John Williams’ score seems devoid of all its usual enthusiasm, and even Superman’s rescue of a runaway subway train is lacklustre. Rather than film dynamic and unique flying sequences, the film simply reuses the same shot of Reeve flying at the camera over and over again and, unlike in the previous films, it’s pretty much impossible not to spot that this is a poorly-composited effect. The film’s wirework is equally sloppy and embarrassing compared to the last three films; the fight between Nuclear Man and Superman on the Moon is a plodding affair the lacks any of the intensity seen in Superman’s battles in the second and third movies. Add to that the frankly ludicrous depiction of Superman’s powers (he can now rebuild the Great Wall of China using just his eyes) and concepts as simple as outer space (not only do Nuclear Man and Superman move around freely on the Moon but Lacy is somehow able to breathe in the great void, despite astronauts and space-faring equipment being seen in the opening sequence!), and it’s frankly humiliating to see just how far the series has fallen since the first movie.

Superman IV‘s few good moments would shine all the brighter in a film that was actually good…

Superman comes under fire when he initially turns down the heartfelt plea from schoolboy Jeremy (Damian McLawhorn) to step in and help with the nuclear crisis, something he feels compelled to do despite the urgings of the long-dead Kryptonian council. Feeling a deepfelt love for his adopted world, he feels morally obligated to step in but only does so after confiding in Lois once more. Truthfully, the nuclear plotline is something I’d love to see addressed in the comics some time; I get that it’d be “too easy” to have Superman simply solve the world’s problems but I feel like getting rid of the world’s nuclear weapons deserves a bit of a pass. Clearly attempting to leech off what worked in the first movie, Superman IV’s various call-backs (Superman and Lois go for a fly, Luthor impersonates a military officer and communicates with Superman on a special frequency, Lois gets flustered interviewing Superman, and his abilities are restored using Kryptonian technology, to name just a few) just paint it as a pale, low-budget imitation of better movies. While there are a few decent moments in the film (Superman addressing the United Nations and being accepted by the world’s different representatives is pretty inspiring, and Reeve and Hackman continue to elevate even the weakest of scripts), all of them belong in a far better film. As a kid, I was enthralled by the battle between Superman and Nuclear Man but as intimidating as Nuclear Man with his demonic voice (his declaration of “I am the father now” hints at the potential of him to be a significant threat) and own array of terrible superpowers, but he looks absolutely ridiculous in his little black-and-cold outfit and his menace is ultimately neutered with ludicrous ease (though I guess this makes sense and goes a long way to show how Luthor prepared for his “son’s” hostile impulses).

The Summary:
I mean…what can you say about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace that numerous others haven’t already said? The film’s been picked and critiqued and criticised to death and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone say a good thing about it beyond praising Reeve for maintaining a consistent portrayal of the Man of Steel. I think the one thing you can say about the film is that it’s probably a decent amount of fun for little kids who, if they’re anything like I was as a child, will be easily pleased by the bright colours, daft comedy, and fight scenes between Superman and Nuclear Man. Once you grow a old enough to recognise how cheap and lazy the film is, though, it’s hard to look past Superman IV’s glaring flaws. If there’s any concept that can’t be done on the cheap, it’s Superman, because the result is this; a whole mess of recycled, low-quality shots, poor special effects, and a lame rehash of concepts realised far better in even the third film. Ultimately, there’s a reason people avoid this film as it’s a pretty sad state of affairs to find the once-lucrative and ground-breaking franchise in and you should only check it out if you have kids to entertain or if you’ve got nothing better to watch and want to get drunk to a bunch of ridiculous nonsense.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

I don’t suppose you’re a fan of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace? I mean, probably not but it’s worth asking the question, right? What did you think to the focus on nuclear weapons and do you think Superman should tackle this issue more directly? Were you a fan of Nuclear Man and his ability to injure Superman? What did you think to the romantic sub-plot and the return of Gene Hackman to the franchise? How influential was Christopher Reeve’s turn as Superman on your perception of the character? Whatever your thoughts on Superman IV, and Superman in general, drop a comment below.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman III


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’m spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 17 June 1983
Director: Richard Lester
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$39 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Pamela Stephenson, and Annette O’Toole

The Plot:
Clark Kent (Reeve) returns to his hometown of Smallville and reunites with his old flame, Lana Lane (O’Toole). However, conniving industrialist Ross “Bubba” Webster (Vaughn) hatches a devious plot to control the world’s oil supply by corrupting Kent’s alter ego, Supermen, using the computer genius of bungling programmer Gus Gorman (Pryor).

The Background:
Although, as I mentioned in my reviews, both Superman (Donner, 1978) and Superman II (Lester, 1981) were critically and financially successful, their production had been not only expensive but also tumultuous; behind the scenes tensions between director Richard Donner and the film’s producers saw him replaced by Richard Lester despite having plans for a third film in the series. Development of a third film continued regardless, with both Vril Dox/Brainiac and Kara Zor-El/Supergirl considered as inclusions; elements of this story, which also featured Mister Mxyzptlk (as played by Dudley Moore) corrupting Superman, remained prevalent throughout the long scriptwriting process. By the time filming began, the production continued to be fraught with bad blood; both Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman had publicly opposed the treatment of Donner and were removed or significantly downgraded for the third film, which was much more focused on slapstick shenanigans. Nowhere was this emphasised more than in the casting of comedian Richard Pryor, who was paid $5 million for his substantial role after declaring his affection for the previous films. With a worldwide gross of barely over $80 million, Superman III was the least financially successful of the series at that point; the reviews were even worse, especially regarding Pryor’s tomfooleries (though Reeve’s consistent portrayal of the Man of Steel (and his turn as the corrupted Superman) continued to be praised).

The Review:
Despite the fact that I had some issues with the first two films, there’s no denying the quality on display in Superman and Superman II; even with all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, both films have pretty much the perfect balance of action, romance, intrigue, and humour and never veer too far into one element or the other. This means that they both manage to deliver perhaps the most influential portrayal of the Man of Steel while also including just the right level of camp, with both of these aspects being bolstered by some truly impressive and ambitious special effects. Here, things largely proceed as you might expect; with the status quo restored following the memory-wiping kiss of the last film, Clark continues to pose as an awkward, mild-mannered reporter while exuding confidence and reliability as the charismatic Superman.

Clark returns to his home town, reconnects with old friends and earns the town’s adulation as Superman.

However, in a change from the last two films, Superman III sees Clark return to his hometown of Smallville for a high school reunion; there, he reconnects with old friend Lana Lang but continues to right wrongs with his superpowers. Crucially, this includes preventing a nearby chemical plant from a potentially disastrous meltdown, which earns the Man of Steel the adulation of the entire town. One aspect about the film that I really enjoy is seeing Superman interacting with ordinary civilians and emergency services more often; when approaching an emergency situation, Superman always defers to whoever is in charge before offering his assistance, which goes a long way to showing how polite and willing to collaborate with others he is and is a great parallel to his later turn towards the dark side. With Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) absent for the vast majority of the film thanks to an assignment in Bermuda, Lana fittingly takes over as Clark’s new love interest. A childhood friend and former flame of Clark’s, Lana is a struggling single mother to young Ricky (Paul Kaethler) who is constantly fending off the unwanted advances of the bullish borderline alcoholic Brad Wilson (Gavan O’Herlihy) and dreams of escaping the suffocating confines of Smallville. Though she’s maybe not quite as loud and feisty as Lois, Lana is a capable enough woman in her own right but still laments that she’s stuck without a husband since all the “good” men in Smallville are taken. Crucially, unlike her Metropolis counterpart, Lana’s far less besotted by Superman and is more appreciative and interested in Clark, whom she sees as a kind and caring alternative to the likes of Brad. Lana admires that Clark has made a life for himself out of Smallville and is grateful for his positive influence on Ricky, who is often shunned for being the only kid in town to not have a father, but there’s really not a whole much for her to do in terms of the film’s overall plot beyond be a pretty face for Clark to converse with and to ponder Superman’s later change of character.    

Webster is willing to do anything to add more power and wealth to his already-vast empire.

Also absent from the film is Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman); in his place is Ross Webster, a wealthy philanthropist who is, basically, a poorly veiled stand-in for Superman’s traditional archnemesis. Alongside his spiteful and cruel sister, Vera (Annie Ross), and the voluptuous Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), Webster initially plots to avenge himself on the nation of Columbia after they refuse to do business with him but soon turns his attention towards the more profitable hording of oil, and makes destroying Superman his top priority after the Man of Steel interferes with his coffee plot. While Vera enables Webster’s ambitions and craves the acquisition of further power and influence (it’s her idea to target the oil, for example), Lorelei plays the part of an airheaded bimbo but is actually much smarter than she appears (it’s her idea to use Kryptonite against Superman). Unlike Luthor, who saw pitting his criminal genius against Superman as the ultimate challenge, Webster is largely dismissive of the Man of Steel and believes destroying him should be a simple task since they’re well aware of his weakness to Kryptonite. It can’t be understated how much Vaughn’s presence and allure elevates this film ever so slightly above mediocrity; thanks to him, Webster makes for a charismatic and manipulative villain. Webster is far more approachable and fair-minded than Luthor but no less dangerous and authoritative; he doesn’t care a lick for the lives he endangers with his schemes and is easily able to threaten and coerce the likes of Gus Gorman into doing his bidding thanks to the power and breadth of his wealth.

Sadly, the film is far too focused on Richard Pryor’s bombastic attempts at comedy.

That, of course, brings us to the ultimate underdog, Gus Gorman, who begins the film as an out-of-work buffoon who finds that he has a talent for computer programming when he lands a job at Webscoe. Gus is a greedy, bumbling fool who believes that the world owes him more than it’s given and who wants to enjoy life now, while he’s young. While it’s child’s play for him to embezzle Webscoe’s funds into his mediocre pay cheque, Gus immediately regrets this decision when he is brought before Webster; however, Webster is as impressed by Gus’s capabilities as he is despondent by the man’s foolishness. To get out of being locked up for this crimes, Gus agrees to redirect space satellites and oil tankers for the industrialist but soon comes to realise that his talents make Webster’s threats obsolete and thus demands that the villain fund and construct a giant super computer of Gus’ own design. A selfish and outlandish figure, Gus only realises the error of his ways when his supercomputer is perverted by Webster into a tool for killing Superman but, sadly, Gus mainly exists to flood the film with all kinds of ridiculous pratfalls; providing both physical comedy and outlandish, energetic rants that appear to be ad-libs on Pryor’s part, Gorman is like a living cartoon and sticks out like a sore thumb as the one buffoon in a film full of mostly straight men.  

Synthetic Kryptonite alters Superman’s demeanour and splits him into two beings!

When Webster orders that Superman be killed, he has Gus synthesise a chunk of Kryptonite but Gus is forced to make some compromises in the element’s construction due to its alien nature. The result is a green hunk of rock that, rather than weaken and kill Superman, affects him more like the red variant from the comics. Initially, Superman becomes distracted and disinterested in his usual duties, which causes him to arrive too late to help out in a minor disaster on a Smallville bridge. Pretty soon, though, he’s flying all over the world and causing all kinds of nuisances, such as straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa (brought to life through the finest green screens money can buy…), blowing out the Olympic Flame, and gulping shots at the bar. Soon, his costume and demeanour noticeably change for the worst; he wears a constant scowl, sports dark stubble and darker eyes, and his suit takes on a muddier, subdued hue. After being sexually manipulated by Lorelei to cause an environmental crisis with one of Webster’s oil tankers, Superman has a violent breakdown in a junk yard and literally splits into two beings! This leads to a violent brawl between the virtuous Clark Kent and his aggressive doppelgänger that ultimately results in Clark emerging victorious and returning as the one, true Superman. It’s quite a bizarre sequence, to be sure, and is mostly hand-waved away but I can’t deny that the fight between the two is a real highlight of the film.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Right off the bat, Superman III shows us exactly what it’s all about: slapstick, goofball attempts at comedy. Skipping the traditional title sequence (though I swear this was included when I first saw the film on television…), the film opens with this convoluted series of pratfalls and accidents as the people of Metropolis get into all kinds of madcap hijinx. These elements are only exacerbated every time Pryor is onscreen and we’re treated to such delights as him acting out Superman’s impressive feats; rather than spending the money on showing Superman stopping a tornado, we get to hear Gus tell us about it while wearing a makeshift cape which, as entertaining as Pryor can be, is never going to be as enjoyable as actually watching these events happen onscreen. Instead, we get to see Gus flailing around like a fool, falling from the roof of Webster’s skyscraper without injury simply because he’s wearing skis, and him getting into all kinds of scrapes such as impersonating a military officer, jumping at his own reflection, going off on wild tangents in an attempt at humour, and drinking Brad into a stupor to access his company’s computer.

The effects are surprisingly decent and the evil Superman gives Reeve more chances to shine.

These comedic elements are a stark parallel to the film’s darker elements; seeing Superman go from a virtuous paragon of truth, justice, and the American Way to an apathetic and mean-spirited villain is perhaps the best element in this otherwise ludicrous film and really belongs in a far better Superman movie. The dark Superman really gives Christopher Reeve a chance to show his range as an actor and he spits his lines with a real venom and spite and seeing him relish in causing trouble and indulging in his vilest whims really helps the film to keep its head above water. While Superman’s rescue of the trapped chemical plant workers and his solution to freeze a nearby lake and drop it on the inferno is ambitious and impressive, other special effects don’t hold up so well, especially the rendition of technology. Overall, though, the film’s special effects remain largely consistent with those from the previous two films; there’s far more in-camera shots of Reeve being propelled across through the air on wires (though there are some instances where the wires are a little too visible…) and the flying effects, in general, actually hold up a little better than in Superman II, potentially because the film’s budget is being used to slightly better effect or not being stretched across two films that are spiralling out of control.

Despite the awesome power of Webster’s supercomputer, Superman is able to triumph through his wits.

One of the main themes of the film is that of the growing reliance on computers and technology, which is depicted as being both mysterious and capable of almost anything. With just a few taps of a keyboard and a swipe of a screen pen, Gus is able to make all kinds of ludicrous stuff happen, and the depiction of computer “hacking” horribly dates the film since we know that there’s no way that he’d be able to issue the commands he’s making without utilising proper code. Later, Gus is able to manually reprogram everything from traffic lights to cash machines to send the city into a frenzy, the severity of which is, again, played to cringeworthy comedic effect (the traffic light men even inexplicably get into a fist fight!) Finally, when Superman heads off to confront the villains, Webster manually sends a number of rockets and a large ballistic missile his way using a crude videogame-like interface. While Webster is, in many ways, exactly the same as Luthor except without the same level of personal animosity towards Superman, what helps bolster him and make him slightly more distinct are his sister and lover and his commission of Gus’s supercomputer. Just as the dark Superman is basically a version of Bizarro, this supercomputer is kind of like a dumbed-down interpretation of Brainiac; sure, it doesn’t speak, or look or act anything like Brainiac, but it’s clear that the finale has some roots in the popular villain. The machine is capable of analysing and counteracting with a person’s weaknesses when it feels threatened and is constantly adapting to combat threats; this includes trapping Superman in an odd plastic bubble (that, somehow, manages to choke him even though he doesn’t need to breathe…) and bombard him with pure Kryptonite. Seemingly gaining sentience through its battle with Superman, the computer turns on its creators and even transforms Vera into a cybernetic avatar in a truly horrific scene. Ultimately, Superman takes a page out of Luthor’s playbook and opts for mind over muscle by utilising a highly corrosive acidic substance to fool the machine into destroying itself. Since Gus tried, in his own way, to help Superman in the finale, Superman spares him imprisonment (a favour that Gus immediately squanders) and Kent sets Lana up at the Daily Planet, ending the film with a hint towards a rivalry between her and Lois over Clark’s affections that, sadly, would be completely ignored in the sequel.

The Summary:
Honestly, this is a hard one for me. I remember really enjoying this film as a kid because it’s not like we had superhero films coming out of our asses like we do these days; however, as so many have said on many occasions, Superman III can’t be seen as anything other than a massive disappointment. There are some positives to be found here, though: Robert Vaughn adds a great deal of gravitas to the film and Christopher Reeve continues to be excellent in the title role and Superman III gives him some fantastic moments to show new sides of his personality; the fight between him and his dark self remains a highlight of the film, it’s just a shame that it’s wedged into this unfortunate mess of a film. There’s so much potential in Superman III that is sadly never fully realised because it’s more focused on giving the late, great Richard Pryor a chance to practise his stand-up routine; had the filmmakers exercised some restraint and pulled back on some of Pryor’s more outlandish outbursts and scaled back the slapstick comedy, and maybe even gone all-in with the supercomputer to bring Brainiac to the screen then there might have been something here. As it is though, what we’re left with is a film that’s probably enjoyable enough for little kids but is a bit of a slog to sit through unless you’re a big Richard Pryor fan.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of Superman III? What did you think to Richard Pryor’s inclusion in the film and his attempts at comedy? Did you enjoy the switch from Metropolis to Smallville and what did you think to Ross Webster as the film’s replacement for Lex Luthor? Were you a fan of the dark Superman sub-plot and the fight between him and Clark Kent or would you have preferred a more direct interpretation of Bizarro? What did you think to the themes of computer technology spiralling out of control? Where would you rank this film against Superman’s other live-action adaptations and how have you been celebrating the Man of Steel this month? Whatever your thoughts on Superman III, drop them down below and check out my review of the much-maligned fourth entry in the franchise.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman II


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’m spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 9 April 1981
Director: Richard Lester
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$54 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, and Gene Hackman

The Plot:
Having thwarted Lex Luthor’s (Hackman) maniacal plans, Clark Kent/Superman (Reeve) faces a new challenge when intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Kidder) manages to deduce his secret identity. While Clark prepares to give up his incredible powers to be with Lois, General Zod (Stamp) and his two followers escape from the Phantom Zone and begin terrorising the planet, leading Clark to choose between his happiness and his responsibilities to mankind.

The Background:
As I detailed in my review of Superman (Donner, 1978), producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler convinced Warner Bros. to produce a two-film adaptation of the character back in the late seventies. However, the production was fraught with issues, both financially and creatively; director Richard Donner frequently clashed with the producers and Richard Lester was brought in as a mediator to allow the filmmakers to focus on the first film, which was a financial and critical success. Despite having shot 75% of the sequel, Donner was replaced as director with Richard Lester, a decision that irked star Gene Hackman so much that he refused to return for the necessary reshoots. Lester shot an entirely new opening for Superman II in addition to making numerous changes to the tone of Donner’s original version to place more emphasis on slapstick silliness. Star Christopher Reeve returned to the project after negotiating a better deal with more artistic control for himself but Marlon Brando was excised completely from the film due to his unrealistic financial demands. Despite all the behind the scenes turmoil, Superman II was still a financial success; its worldwide box office gross of just over $190 million might’ve been less than its predecessor but it was still highly praised, with Stamp’s turn as Zod drawing particular acclaim. Many years later, of course, in the build-up to Superman Returns (Singer, 2008), Donner would finally return to the film to assemble a version that closely resembled his original vision of the film.

The Review:
As far as I can remember, Superman II is another of those instances where I actually saw the sequel before the original; consequently, the film had much more of an impact on my childhood and I remember being more entertained by it thanks to it having a far brisker, more action-orientated flow and featuring villains who could actually match Superman in combat rather than simply just outwitting him. Not that I have a problem with the “mind over muscle” concept, it’s just far more gratifying to me to see Superman getting into a superpowered scrap as Superman II definitely delivers in that regard. Thankfully, for those who haven’t seen the first film, the movie opens with both a quick recap of the first movie over the opening credits and a return to Krypton to show exactly how General Zod, Ursa (Douglas), and Non (O’Halloran) got themselves banished to the mysterious “Phantom Zone”. Basically, they broke into one of the Kryptonian council’s crystal chambers and destroyed one of their fancy little crystals; since Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is entirely absent from this film, the three are sentenced and imprisoned by the nameless Kryptonian council yet, as they’re being thrust into the void of space in their mirror prison, Zod vows revenge upon Superman’s birth father regardless.

Lois begins to suspect that mild-mannered Clark Kent isn’t all that he seems…

The film then picks up shortly after the events of the last film to find the Eiffel Tower overtaken by terrorists who are holding a bunch of people hostage and threatening to detonate a hydrogen bomb if their demands aren’t met. Being the feisty, fearless reporter that she is, obviously Lois Lane is right in the middle of the story and her boldness leaves her in danger of being killed; thankfully, Superman is again on hand to save her and disposes of the bomb-filled elevator by tossing it into space and unknowingly releasing the three Kryptonian criminals form their prison. Still playing the part of the lovable, bumbling goofball, Clark stumbles his way through his assignment with Lois in Niagara Falls but, after springing into action to save a young boy from a fatal fall into the waters, Lois’ suspicions are raised to the point where she willingly puts herself in danger in order to prove that the two are one and the same.

Luthor escapes from prisons, learns Superman’s secrets, and forges a fragile alliance with Zod.

Despite being arrested and locked up at the end of the first film, Lex Luthor (Hackman), the self-proclaimed greatest criminal mind of all time, quickly breaks his way out of prison with the help of a holographic projector of his own making and the assistance of Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), thankfully leaving the bumbling Otis (Ned Beatty) behind. Not only does Luthor now largely sport his traditional bald head, he also has a far better plan than simple real estate; having deduced that Superman has a tendency to travel north, he tracks the Man of Steel and discovers his Fortress of Solitude, boning up on the three Kryptonian criminals and using this knowledge to charm his way into General Zod’s good graces. There’s something disconcerting about seeing Luthor in the Fortress of Solitude and poking around in his private archives and materials; although Luthor doesn’t learn that Clark Kent is Superman from this excursion, he learns more than enough to be able to barter with General Zod and spare him from the Kryptonian’s unending wrath in exchange for being able to rule over Australia after the three Kryptonians consolidate their control over the entire world.

Led by power-hungry Zod, the Kryptonian criminals quickly claim dominion over the world.

Still, even Luthor is fearful of his new tentative allies; Zod, a verbose egomaniac who craves power and acknowledgement, strikes fear into the hearts of those around him with not only his sadistic and cold-hearted demeanour but also his inclination to fly into an intense rage when his power is defied. The alluring and callous Ursa revels in causing destruction and acquiring new badges and trinkets for her uniform, while the imposing brute Non is as childlike as he is silent and literally follows his General’s orders without question. The three quickly discover and reveal in the superhuman powers afforded by the Earth’s yellow sun, which immediately grants them all of Superman’s powers but with none of his moral compass. They start small, toying with a group of astronauts on the Moon and terrorising a small town in the United States before identifying where the true power of the U.S. lies and laying seize on the White House in a harrowing scene where he forces the President of the United States (E.G. Marshall) to transfer all control to their General.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, it’s difficult to talk about Superman II without addressing some of the film’s more ridiculous aspects; Otis might not be around but his status as the comic relief is usurped by Non’s infantile nature. While things quickly take a turn for the dramatic when Zod steps in out of boredom, it’s initially played for laughs when the three are causing trouble in Houston; similarly, when the three are terrorising Metropolis to goad Superman into a conflict, there’s an awful lot of slapstick and tomfoolery for what is meant to be an imposing scene. And let’s not forget the outrageous superpowers introduced in the film; while traditional Kryptonian powers like heat vision, super breath, and freeze breath are all on display to great effect when the three are causing destruction and fighting with Superman, there’s all kinds of crazy stuff added to the film. Zod is somehow able to levitate objects with a point of his finger, the three of them deface Mount Rushmore by simply blasting it, all four Kryptonians are all able to duplicate themselves in the finale (which I can only assume was originally supposed to be some kind of depiction of superspeed that was limited by the technology of the time), and don’t even get me started on Superman’s weird s-shield attack-thing! Yet, as mental as all of this, it’s actually nowhere near as insane as some of the stuff Superman was doing in the comic books at the time!

Superman willing gives up his powers to be with Lois.

While a romantic element was present in the first film (and gave us the God awful cringey scene of Superman and Lois flying together), it’s far more prominent here. Although Clark is able to momentarily quash Lois’s suspicions about him, his dual nature is ultimately revealed after an accidental stumble. Of course, bearing in mind that Clark is clearly besotted with Lois and was tempted to reveal himself to her in the first film, both Clark and Lois suggest that this was anything but an accident and that Clark subconsciously wanted Lois to learn the truth and made sure that it happened. Regardless, the two embark on a romantic tryst that sees Clark focus on her above all other concerns. Busy wooing her with flowers and food from the far corners of the world at his Fortress, Superman ignores the chaos caused by General Zod and his subordinates and makes the ultimate sacrifice when the consciousness/artificial intelligence of is mother, Lara (Susannah York), dictates that to live with a mortal, he must live as a mortal.

Superman immediately has to reclaim his powers to stop the Kryptonian criminals.

This wrinkle, which results in the destruction of the main control console in the Fortress, goes a long way to showing just how serious Clark is about his love for Lois; indeed, he willingly gives up all of his superpowers just to be with her despite the fact he can hear that people are pleading for his intervention. Clark’s adjustment to mortal life is a tough one; almost immediately, he feels the fatigue and pains of us normal folk and runs afoul of mouthy trucker Rocky (Pepper Martin). Humbled and humiliated, Clark is horrified to find that Zod has taken control of the world and immediately journeys back to the Fortress (from what looks like Canada…because I guess there’s a direct road from Canada to the Arctic now?) in a desperate bid to regain his powers. Although the Fortress appears dead and his father Jor-El doesn’t answer his son’s desperate plea, Clark finds the green crystal that birthed the Fortress and this, somehow, restores his powers. Although this whole sequence is a little sloppy, mainly thanks to the way the film was cut up and re-edited from Donner’s original version, I can’t say that I was ever really a fan of it; we’ve seen in the comics, and other adaptations, that Superman is fully capable of being in a relationship with Lois without having to give up his powers and it seems like this aspect was only included to give some humanity to the all-power Man of Steel. One part of it that does work for me was the emphasis on Lara; since Jor-El is entirely absent, Lara’s importance is greatly increased and makes Superman II an interesting companion piece to the first film by placing the focus on his mother rather than his father.

It’s clear the budget was stretched to its limit to depict a brawl between the four superpowered characters.

Armed with Luthor’s knowledge of Superman’s true heritage and affinity for Lois Lane, Zod, who quickly grows bored of having absolute power, relishes the opportunity to exact his revenge upon Jor-El’s progeny. To this end, the three ransack the Daily Planet and then cause destruction in downtown Metropolis in entertaining scenes of devastation that were certainly ambitious and in stark contrast to the first film’s slower, more subdued tone. It’s clear that the budget is being pushed to its limits to show all four characters flying and fighting in the skies and streets of Metropolis and, while the special effects and the quality of the fight does suffer a bit as a result (there’s a lot of awkward standing around, posturing, and slow, easily telegraphed attacks on show), it’s still a commendable effort for the time. Crucially, Superman goes out of his way to draw the fight away from the city and to save lives rather than mindlessly ploughing his opponents through buildings and causing as much damage as the film’s villains, which goes a long way to emphasising Superman’s selfless and heroic nature (something that arguably needed to be reinforced after he seemed to abandon his responsibilities in favour of getting laid).

Superman turns the tide on his foes but is forced to erased Lois’s memory of his dual nature.

Although the three have the numbers advantage, and are clearly better fighters than he, Superman manages to hold his own but, realising that continuing the fight would only endanger further lives (despite the commendable spirit of the Metropolis citizens in their willingness to stand up to the three after Superman appears to be killed), he flees from the city and lures them to his Fortress for a final showdown. The three are led their by Luthor with Lois as their hostage; when Zod declares that Luthor has outlived his usefulness, the criminal mastermind attempts to double-cross Superman in order to regain favour with the General and, in the process, unwittingly plays right into Superman’s plan. Having reversed the molecule chamber so that Krypton’s red sun rays erase the three’s powers, Superman and Lois are easily able to best their foes and send them hurtling to their deaths. However, in the aftermath, Clark and Lois split up since Superman can’t prioritise one life over the lives of the world and, to spare his love further pain from the burden of knowledge, Superman busts out another new power: the ability to erase minds with a kiss. With Luthor back in prison, the Earth saved, and the status quo restored, Superman promises the President that he’ll never abandon his responsibilities again and heads off for his victory lap.

The Summary:
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved this film; it was probably the closest and most accurate depiction of a live-action Superman I had seen and definitely set a high standard for superhero movies in general for its mixture of heart, action, and comedy. Even now, thanks to the ambitious and impressive special effects, the film holds up surprisingly well; once again, it’s the performances that help bolster the film, with Terrence Stamp putting in a scene-stealing turn as General Zod. The inclusion of three evil Kryptonians to match Superman blow-for-blow was a great way to raise the stakes from the first film and Superman II definitely builds upon the themes and standards of the first film. While I still have a lot of affection for Superman II and definitely prefer it to the first movie, it’s difficult for me to rate it much higher as there are a number of aspects of Superman II that don’t sit too well with me. The same can be said of the first film, and the rest in the series, but I’m still a little baffled by the idea of stripping Superman of his powers and then immediately restoring them and the absurd memory erasing kiss that is almost as preposterous as Superman turning back time at the finale of the first film. Still, it’s easily the best film out of the original four for me and, crazy superpowers aside, deserves to be rated as being at least on par with the influential original and is well worth a watch of only for Stamp’s iconic performance and the battle between Superman and his Kryptonian adversaries.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Superman II? Did you feel like it measured up to the first film or do you perhaps consider it to be superior, or inferior? What did you think to the introduction of more physically capable villains for Superman to fight and were you a fan of Terrence Stamp’s performance as General Zod? What did you think to Superman sacrificing his powers for Lois and then erasing her mind with a kiss? Do you prefer the theatrical cut of the film or do you think the Donner Cut is the superior version? What is your favourite Superman story, character, or piece of media? How are you planning to celebrate Superman Day today? Whatever you think, feel free to share your opinion and thoughts on Superman in the comments below.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’ll be spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 14 December 1978
Director: Richard Donner
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$55 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, and Marlon Brando

The Plot:
In the dying moments of the planet Krypton, scientist Jor-El (Brando) rockets his son away to Earth. After learning of his alien origins and discovering the limits of the fantastic superhuman powers afforded him by Earth’s yellow sun, the now-adult Clark Kent (Reeve) assumes the costume identity of “Superman” while disguising himself as a mild-mannered reporter. However, he faces his greatest test when genius criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Hackman) hatches a plot to cause devastating earthquakes west of the San Andreas Fault.

The Background:
In the years since his dramatic debut, Superman quickly became the subject of numerous adaptations and his 1940 radio drama even introduced many aspects that became synonymous with the character. The idea of a feature-length Superman film was first conceived of by producer Ilya Salkind in 1973; entering into a partnership with his father, Alexander, and Pierre Spengler, the filmmakers were able to convince Warner Bros. to produce a two-film adaptation of the character and paid screenwriter Mario Puzo (of Godfather (ibid, 1969/Coppola, 1972) fame) $600,000 to write the screenplay. Steven Spielberg was courted to direct but was unable to commit and, while Guy Hamilton was attached to the project, the producers eventually settled on Richard Donner, who immediately ditched the campy tone of Puzo’s 400-plus-page script. The first actor signed to the film was Marlon Brando (who had some pretty funny ideas about Jor-El’s appearance and characterisation and had a lackadaisical attitude towards the film) and Oscar winner Gene Hackman soon followed, with the two receiving top billing.

Superman’s early adaptations had a profound influence on the character for decades.

Many notable names were considered for the title role before relative-unknown Christopher Reeve was cast after a laborious casting process. Having bulked up for the role, Reeve’s experience as a pilot paid off when performing the film’s complex flying sequences, which were achieved through a combination of green screens, wire work, and other camera tricks while the striking Kryptonian suits were the result of a happy accident with a reflective material. Very quickly, the film’s budget ballooned and filming began to over-run, causing tensions between Donner and the producers; Richard Lester was brought on board as a mediator and work on the sequel halted to concentrate on the first film. After several delays, Superman (also marketed as Superman: The Movie) released to rave reviews and was an incredible financial success, making over $300 million. Although the producers continued production of the sequel immediately, the damage was done and Donner did not return, necessitating a series of expensive reshoots and raising the ire of many of the film’s actors. Still, the first film was an incredible achievement, massively influential on Superman’s comic books, and was eventually preserved in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry.

The Review:
Superman begins, as most Superman origin stories do, on the far away world of Krypton (or “Krypt’n”, if you’re Marlon Brando), a technologically advanced civilisation that inhabits a largely barren, crystalline world. In a fantastic seed for the sequel, Jor-El sentences three seditious criminals – Non (Jack O’Halloran), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and their leader, General Zod (Terence Stamp) – to the mysterious “Phantom Zone” for their treasonous and destructive efforts to usurp the Kryptonian council and subjugate the world to Zod’s will. Defiant to the last, Zod vows to avenge himself upon Jor-El and his heirs, no matter how long it takes and against all odds, before the three are cast into the strange mirror prison. Following this, Jor-El is unable to convince the council that Krypton is doomed to be destroyed by its red giant sun within thirty days; indeed, despite being a highly respected and rational member of the council, Jor-El’s claims are so adamantly refuted that he is threatened with being labelled a terrorist himself.

Unable to save his planet, Jor-El sends his infant son to Earth, where he gains awesome powers.

Apparently despondent (it’s hard to tell with Brando…), Jor-El resigns himself to ensuring the survival of his young son, Kal-El; his wife, Lara (Susannah York), laments that their son will forever be an outcast amongst the “primitives” of Earth but Jor-El remains confident that the powers bestowed upon Kal-El by Earth’s yellow sun will make him a symbol of hope and afford him physical advantages beyond all known understanding. As Krypton shatters around them, the baby is rocketed away and, guided by his father’s voice, slowly grows into an infant within his escape craft; Jor-El, who encoded all of his knowledge and wisdom into the crystalline form of the ship, stresses that his son is “forbidden” to interfere in Earth’s history and instead let his example inspire others. In time, many thousands of years after Krypton’s destruction, the ship crash lands on Earth and is stumbled upon by kindly, elderly couple Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter) who are awestruck by the child’s super strength and, despite Jonathan’s concerns, take him in as their own.

After losing his adopted father, Clark learns the extent of his powers and reveals himself to the world.

About fifteen years later, the boy has grown into well-meaning teenager Clark Kent (Jeff East, with Christopher Reeve dubbing his voice); though Clark is frustrated that he has to hide his physical capabilities from the world, Jonathan stresses that the boy was sent to them (and the world) for a greater reason than to simply score touchdowns or show off to the other kids. As he just wants to make his parents proud, Clark takes his father’s advice to heart but is left utterly heartbroken when Jonathan suffers a fatal heart attack. At his graveside, a devastated Clark laments that his awesome powers were ultimately useless in saving his father and thus learns a valuable lesson about the limits of his superhuman abilities. Drawn to the remains of his ship (which the Kents kept hidden in their barn), Clark discovers a glowing green crystal that leads him far north, all the way to the Arctic, where the crystal births a piece of his home planet on Earth. In this Fortress of Solitude, Clark communes with the spirit of his father, who lives on as a glorified artificial intelligence, and spends a further twelve years absorbing all of Jor-El’s knowledge and teachings of his newfound abilities. After his training is completed, Clark emerges as Christopher Reeve and garbed in a bright Kryptonian costume and ready to share his abilities with the world as Superman.

Clark poses as a mild-mannered reporter, which allows Superman to captivate Lois.

Clark sets himself up as a reporter at the Daily Planet (apparently it’s as easy as being able to type incredibly fast and being overly polite), meeting hot-tempered editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper), enthusiastic young photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), and feisty reporter Lois Lane (Kidder). Despite her inability to spell, Lois is a lively and fearless journalist and, consequently, she both despairs of Clark’s overly friendly nature and sees him as a bit of a dorky milksop and finds her curiosity sparked by some of his oddities. In comparison, Lois is immediately captivated by Superman when he not only catches her in mid-air as she’s plummeting to her death but also snags the helicopter she was falling from. Enamoured by his mystery, confidence, and the seemingly limitless superhuman abilities he possesses, her normally controlled and forthright demeanour is shattered and she’s left absolutely awestruck during (and following) her exclusive interview with the Man of Steel (where she names him and he also, curiously, divulges a number of secrets about himself that later come back to bite him in the ass).  

The maniacal Lex Luthor plots to destroy Superman in his quest to profit from real estate.

The villain of the piece, the enthralling Lex Luthor, has set up an impressive hideout beneath the city streets; there, protected by a series of cameras and deadly booby traps, he surrounds himself with the dim-witted Otis (Ned Beatty) and sexy but cynical Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine). Egotistical and arrogant in his intellect, Luthor sees himself as the world’s greatest criminal mind and is busy planning the crime of the century, which involves the acquisition of seemingly worthless land and profiting from it by causing a cataclysmic flood, endangering and ending countless lives in the process. Luthor immediately surmises that Superman is not of this Earth and relishes the opportunity to pit himself against the Man of Steel, and to both prove his intellectual superiority over him and destroy the very virtues that Superman stands for, seeing the Man of Steel as the ultimate challenge for his self-proclaimed criminal genius.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, you can’t really talk about Superman without mentioning John Williams’ bombastic and immediately iconic “Superman” theme that is rendered in full glory over the opening credits. While this theme has become so synonymous with the character that no composer or filmmaker since has come close to crafting a more suitable melody for the Man of Steel, I continue to be baffled by the absolutely cringe-worthy “Can You Read my Mind?” sequence. Like, I get it; it’s supposed to be this big romantic moment between the Lois and Superman and to showcase the film’s wirework, but it stands out like a sore thumb and is all kinds of different flavours of cheese.

While Reeve set the standard for Clark/Superman some of the other performances are a bit hit and miss.

If I’m being brutally honest, the film’s performances are a bit hit and miss; despite being a relative unknown, Reeve provides the quintessential portrayal of Superman and simply exudes confidence and sociability as Superman while masking his true nature as loveable, bumbling fool. Indeed, by simply straightening his posture and slightly altering his voice, Reeve effortlessly depicts the simple differences between his two persona and his performance so explicitly set the standard for the character that it continues to be emulated to this day. Once the story shifts to Metropolis, the film becomes a much more vivid and over-the-top production that emphasises buffoonery and comic book camp; nobody embodies this more than the bumbling Otis, who is mostly here for comic relief, but there’s also the suggestion that Luthor socialises with cretins simply to have someone to lord over. While Beatty and Cooper seem to have stepped out of a pantomime for their roles as the goofy Otis and bombastic Mr. White, respectively, Hackman brings a certain gravitas to the film that perfectly walks a fine line between camp and severe. Hackman seems to be enjoying himself in the role and commands every scene and room that he’s in; though he lacks Luthor’s bald head, he sports a variety of wigs and exudes a sadistic menace in his willingness to kill millions of innocent people in his quest for power, profit, and to have his matchless intelligence recognised by the world.

While some effects don’t hold up well, they’re all very ambitious and impressive for the time.

Obviously, you have to expect that some of the effects aren’t as impressive and haven’t aged as well as others, as ambitious as they are; the Arctic is clearly a set like something out of Star Trek (1966 to 1969) and I can only assume that Krypton is so barren and lifeless because it was cheaper and easier (though it also makes it cold and alien and a stark contrast to our lush world). The young Clark’s running effect and a number of the rear-projection and miniature shots leave a lot to be desired and almost every skyline appears to simply be a gigantic matte painting as the film is heavily reliant upon impressive sets the likes of which are akin to a James Bond film. While Clark’s super fast changes to Superman and his little spin down into Luthor’s lair aren’t that great, easily the weakest effects come in the conclusion as the San Andreas Fault is ruptured and painstakingly crafted models are washed away by water and dirt before Superman circles the globe at superspeed. To be fair, though, the film’s effects are still incredibly impressive; the helicopter sequence is an ambitious and remarkable composite of miniatures, rear-projection, and live-action wire work that makes for a suitable debut for the Man of Steel and, overall, the film has largely stood the test of time thanks to its practical effects and undeniable charm. As you might expect, Superman’s powers and abilities are the highlight of the film; Superman’s invulnerability, super strength, and superspeed are all accounted for and realised well enough and Superman’s first night on duty provides a great showcase of what he is capable of. No job is too big or too small for Superman, who does everything from rescuing a cat from a tree to apprehending jewel thieves as they clamber up the outside of buildings using sucker pads.

Superman comes up with a unique solution to save the day.

Naturally, it’s the flying sequences that are the true spectacle of the film; even now, the rear-projection holds up pretty well in these scenes but what really sells it is Reeve’s dynamic and believably movements. Reeve banks and turns with an elegant grace and really sells the illusion that we’re seeing a man fly and makes even the most ridiculous aspects of the film (from the 100% comic-accurate suit to using his own body to repair a broken train track to repairing the San Andreas Fault by ploughing through questionable-looking magma) seem entirely plausible thanks to his charming smile and undeniable charisma. Of course, when talking about Superman, you have address the ending. Thanks to acquiring a chunk of Kryptonite, Luthor is able to weaken and cause incredible agony to Superman and it is only thanks to Ms. Teschmacher’s change of heart that he’s able to recoup his strength and intercept Luthor’s missiles. However, while he’s able to stop one, he’s unable to keep the other from striking the San Andreas Fault and is so busy repairing the damage it causes that he’s unable to save Lois from being crushed to death by debris. Devastated and overcome with grief, Superman flies into the upper atmosphere and defies his birth father’s warnings of interfering in human history to favour his adopted father’s advice and is able to literally turn back time by reversing the rotation of the planet. This undoes all of the damage caused by Luthor’s missiles and prevents Lois’s death but remains the most ludicrous aspect of the entire movie and just ends up raising all kinds of questions like…wouldn’t there be two Superman? Why doesn’t he just turn back time all the time? Ultimately, it’s just one of those crazy, over-powered feats that we’ve come to expect from older versions of Superman and I guess it works to show that Superman is capable of overcoming even his limits by pushing hard enough (plus, Reeve’s anguished cry does make for an incredibly intense scene).

The Summary:
I honestly went into Superman ready to give it a lower score of two stars; it’s never really been my favourite superhero, or Superman, film as it’s just got a little too much cheese and cringe in it for my tastes. There’s an undeniable level of camp at work in the film that makes it very cartoony and over-the-top in places, to say nothing of long, oddly paced inclusions that seem decidedly at odds with the rest of the film. However, all of these elements are in perfect balance with the film’s more dramatic and spectacular sequences; this is a film that is, primarily, a showcase of ambitious and trend-setting cinematic techniques as much as it is perhaps the most influential interpretation of Superman ever seen outside of the comic books. While not every effect has aged too well, the majority have stood the test of time remarkably well and there’s just the right balance of goofy comedy, heart-warming charm, and exciting spectacle that simply scream “Superman”, a character who is often characterised as being the world’s biggest Boy Scout and embodying timeless (if slightly antiquated) ideals. There’s no denying that Superman is an absolute classic; while I cannot sanction Marlon Brando’s attitude and I may not be a fan of some of Donner’s choices (Luthor being a real estate maniac, the barren depiction of Krypton, and the time travel ending are all cons of the film for me), Superman remains a delightful and enjoyable little slice of camp goodness that is worth it for Reeve’s incredible and career-making turn in the title role if nothing else.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Superman? What did you think to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the character and were you a fan of Lex Luthor’s interpretation in the film? How influential was Donner’s film on your perception of Superman and are there any aspects you would prefer to see films and media move away from? What did you think to the film’s campier elements and were you a fan of the ending? What is your favourite Superman story, character, or piece of media? How are you planning to celebrate Superman Day next week? Whatever you think, feel free to share your opinion and thoughts on Superman in the comments below.

Game Corner [Robin Month]: Young Justice: Legacy (Xbox 360)


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Monday of April to celebrating the character?


Released: 19 November 2013
Developer: Freedom Factory Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo 3DS, PC, and PlayStation 3

The Background:
After debuting in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964, the Teen Titans had a relatively consistent presence throughout the 1960s and 1970s and acted as a way for DC Comics to appeal to younger audiences. The team arguably achieved their greatest mainstream success when writer Marv Wolfman and George Pérez breathed new life into the concept by introducing many characters who are now synonymous with the team but I actually became a fan of the group after reading the adventures of their later contemporaries, Young Justice. Although functionally similar to the Teen Titans, Young Justice brought together the then-modern incarnations of their predecessors, who had long since grown up and assumed other identities. Created by Todd Dezago, Todd Nauck, and Lary Stucker the team operated between 1998 and 2003 before disbanding (most likely so that DC Comics could captalise on the success of the Teen Titans cartoon (2003 to 2006)) before reuniting in 2019. Some four years after Teen Titans ended, the Young Justice concept was evoked for a new DC animated series that ran from 2010 to 2013 before finally receiving a long-awaited revival in 2020. Young Justice’s critical acclaim and popularity also led to the development of this videogame adaptation; unfortunately, the game suffered delays, ports to other consoles were cancelled, and it released to mainly negative reviews.

The Plot:
Taking place in the five-year gap between season one and season two of the cartoon, Young Justice sees the titular team joining forces against the combined might of “The Light”, a cabal of supervillains with intentions to take over (or destroy) the world.

Gameplay:
Young Justice: Legacy is a team-based beat-‘em-up with very light puzzle elements that sees players form a team of three (why it isn’t four is beyond me…) characters from a roster of twelve and fight their way through fifteen missions. If you don’t have one or two friends to play alongside, you can switch between the three characters with a press of left or right on the directional pad and, when you’re not playing as them, the computer will take over and batter any nearby enemies with a reasonable amount of competence. When selecting a team for the game’s main campaign, you’re unable to alter the story-based team leader, which can mean that you’re stuck with a character you don’t really like and limits the customisation options available to you, but that doesn’t really matter as, essentially, every single character plays the same way. Tapping X performs a light attack while pressing Y performs a heavy attack (you can also hold Y to charge this up) and you can mix up these button presses to perform a few clunky combos (although it has to be said that you can easily just run past the vast majority of the game’s enemies and not get bogged down in the monotonous combat). You can jump with A and certain characters can fly (more of a hover) with a subsequent press of A, perform an awkward dash with B that can help you move a little faster or dodge incoming attacks, hold the Left Trigger to block, and pick up and throw objects with B and X, respectively.

Combat is laborious and characters don’t really feel that different from each other.

Each character has four superpowers available to use; these are performed by holding the Right Trigger and pressing either X, Y, A , or B and can be performed as long as the blue bar on the heads-up display is full. This bar fills up over time and you’re able to pull off such ranged attacks as tossing Batarangs, shooting arrows, throwing fireballs, and blasting enemies with water, area blast attacks that may stun or knock back enemies, cast a healing spell or boost your attack, defence, and energy consumption, or freeze enemies, compel them to attack their allies, or turn your character briefly invisible. As you defeat enemies, you’ll build up your character’s “Hero Boost” meter; once it’s full, you can pull off a Hero Boost than defeats or heavily damages all onscreen enemies by holding RT and pressing the Right Bumper or build up all three characters’ bars and unleash a massive “Squad Boost” attack by holding RT and pressing the Left Bumper. Sadly, every character has the same Hero Boost attack and animation, which really limits the distinctiveness of each character beyond their individual superpowers. Combat in Young Justice: Legacy is mind-numbingly simple; as you run through painfully linear environments, you’ll be set upon by a near-endless supply of goons, all of whom might look a bit different area to area but basically attack in the same ways and can be put down with a bit of mindless button-mashing (or, as I said, avoided completely in some instances).

Combat is broken up by simple puzzles and a few tedious tasks.

Opportunities for exploration are limited; sometimes you can (and have to) smash through rock walls to access secret areas that lead to some collectibles or control panels and such but you won’t really find multiple paths through stages or areas that can only be accessed by certain characters and/or team combinations. The game also tries to mix things up with some extremely simple puzzles; these generally involve smashing something, usually a generator, activating a console to open a door, or pushing something big to activate bridges, open doors, or reach new areas. Stages are super linear but there’s a helpful mini map on screen at all times to point you in the right direction and you can look up your current objectives with a press of the ‘Back’ button but, while missions are split into three sub-missions at a time, the game’s monotony is made all the more frustrating by a serious lack of checkpoints. While you can’t pick anything up to refill your health, it will automatically refill once all onscreen enemies have been defeated and, if an ally is knocked out, you can revive them by pressing B. You can select from two difficulty settings (Normal and Hard) which, obviously make the game’s enemies a bit tougher and what-not but it can be extremely aggravating to get knee-deep into a mission only to have your health drained to nothing by instant-kill laser traps. Some stages are full of environmental hazards like this, such as flames and spikes from the floor and large statues that come to life as you progress through rooms. Other missions also prove unnecessarily frustrating, such as forcing you to clear out all onscreen enemies in a time limit (bizarrely without an onscreen timer to gauge your progress), rescue hostages, defend John Stewart/Green Lantern while health-sapping debris and waves of enemies attack you, avoid enemy-spawning search lights, smash engines or generators while avoiding missile-shooting turrets, or push forklift trucks to avoid being taken out by snipers.

Graphics and Sound:
I should stress here that I haven’t ever seen the cartoon that Young Justice: Legacy is based on but the game opts to use a variation of cel-shaded graphics to recreate the look of its source material and, for the most part, this works…unless you’re watching the game’s cutscenes. When playing the game, thanks to the skewed, top-down perspective, the lack of detail and rigidity of the character models isn’t as noticeable since you’re so focused on combat and the perspective is quite zoomed out but, when the game tells its story, characters are all very flat and kind of resemble lifeless puppets more often than not. While the main characters look fine for what they need to be, the enemies aren’t so great; you’ll fight the same goons and robots over and over, which all gets very monotonous very quickly.

Character models are okay but environments and cutscenes are a bit bland and stilted.

Environments are surprisingly big considering how linear and empty they are; there’s usually a lot of open room to manoeuvre and you’re rarely forced to fight down boring, narrow grey corridors. You’ll visit places like Siberia, Santa Prisca, Gotham City, and battle on LexCorp hovercrafts, all of which provide a decent amount of visual variety to the game. It’s just a shame, then, that there’s very little opportunity to explore; you can go off the beaten path but will often find only a dead end or useless boxes to smash, and there’s no opportunities to platform or utilise specific character powers outside of combat. At one point, Edward Nygma/The Riddler challenges you to solve a light-based puzzle in a neon-drenched sewer system-made-funhouse, which is quite a unique area, but there’s really not that much on display here to keep you that engaged, which only adds to the game’s repetitiveness. The music and sound effects are equally bland but, while the game appears to utilise the same voice cast from the cartoon, this is actually to its detriment; characters will spout the same quips and lines over and over again and I was about ready to snap the disc in half after hearing Dick Grayson/Nightwing moan about being “whelmed” all the damn time!

Enemies and Bosses:
A slew of generic goons will dog your progress in every mission. After playing through the first stage, you’ll basically have encountered every enemy the game has to offer as they simply get swapped out with different character models in each mission. You’ll battle teleporting, sword-wielding members of the League of Shadows, a variety of robots (Spider Bots and larger, more humanoid robots being the most common), Bane and David Hyde/Black Manta’s mercenaries, and the Riddler’s baton and shotgun-wielding goons throughout the game’s story. Things get interesting in the game’s final missions, where you’ll battle a larger mech, fight against mummies, and come up against gigantic statues that deal massive damage and get jumped by an assortment of enemies in enclosed areas.

Cheshire and Sportsmaster require a hit-and-run strategy to whittle down.

Each mission culminates in a boss fight against at least one member of the supervillain cabal known as The Light; the first mission ends with you battling Jade Nguyen/Cheshire, who teleports around the arena in a puff of smoke and throws projectiles your way but, while she’s the toughest enemy you’ll have faced at that point, she leaves herself wide open for an attack when she pauses to setup an explosive device and isn’t too difficult to whittle down as long as you keep moving, attacking, and reviving as necessary. This strategy basically applies to every boss but will become abundantly clear when you battle the second boss, Lawrence “Crusher” Crock/Sportsmaster. Sportsmaster is accompanied by a seemingly endless supply of goons, all of whom cause a massive headache when you’re trying to dodge Sprotsmaster’s health-sapping spinning and charge attacks. Thankfully, though, these enemies are finite and, if you quickly take them all out, you can focus on battling Sportsmaster using hit-and-run and ranged attacks.

Many of the bosses cannot be attacked directly and must be stunned first.

In Siberia, you’ll fight Crystal Frost/Killer Frost as Spider Bots attack you; Frost can’t be attacked head-on as she hides atop an ice column and blasts ice attacks at you, so you need to destroy her platform to knock her down and then beat on her before she can build a new one. Cameron Mahkent/Icicle Jr. takes over the ice-based duties for the next boss battle, where he teams up with Sportsmaster. You can utilise the same tactics to take out Sportsmaster and it’s best to focus on one enemy at a time; Icicle Jr. is different from Killer Frost in that he can freeze you and encases himself in an ice sphere that refills his health. After defeating them, you’re faced with a harrowing mission where you must battle through rooms of annoying enemies with no checkpoints and no refillable health as Clark Kent/Superman holds back an incoming avalanche, which was one of the most aggravating parts of the game on my first playthrough. Afterwards, in Santa Prisca, you’ll battle against Bane who, again, requires a little more strategy; when pumped full of Venom, Bane is invincible and you need to lure him into charging the nearby columns to stun him. He also busts out a big ground pound attack and can bash your brains in if you get too close for too long, so again it’s best to hit and run and use ranged attacks to whittle him down.

While you can bypass Black Manta, Psimon and Riddler require a more hands-on approach.

Next up, you’ll have a tough battle where you must disable Black Manta’s submarine; the game doesn’t make it massively clear how you do this but basically you have to fight off Black Manta’s goons and push these red bars near the large generators to overload his sub, all while avoiding his instant-kill lasers by taking advantage of the big metal shields that rotate around the arena. After that, you’ll fight Black Manta himself; make sure you avoid his massive eye beams but don’t worry about fighting him or his goons as you can simply attack and destroy the shield generators to end the fight that way. While at Haly’s Circus, you’ll have to fight through waves of enemies in a mini gauntlet before battling with Doctor Simon Jones/Psimon, who spawns in mirror versions of your team (who seem to randomly stun and defeat you without really landing any attacks) and then rains massive red energy lasers into the arena but if you simply mash the attack button, he’ll go down pretty easily. Finally, you’ll have to do battle with the Riddler, who randomly spawns bombs, poison gas, goons, and other hazards into the arena. To defeat the Riddler, simply ignore everything and attack and destroy the panels on his big circus-wheel-thing in perhaps the game’s easiest (if tedious) boss battle.

The final boss battle just goes on and on and even contains a game-breaking glitch!

The game ends with a gruelling and aggravating multi-stage fight against Klarion Bleak/Klarion the Witch Boy, Mark Desmond/Blockbuster, and the eldritch beast known as Tiamat. While Klarion and Blockbuster aren’t too difficult to best (simply lure Blockbuster into Klarion’s meteor attack to stun him and then beat on him until he goes down), the fight against Tiamat feels like it’s never-ending! In the first phase, he blasts the arena with water attacks that will basically kill you in one or two hits and he can only be damaged when he dips down into the water. In the second phase, he shoots a massive mouth laser at you and tries to swipe and squash you with his claws and fists; after avoiding his attacks, pummel the limb with everything you have until his health is drained. In Tiamat’s final phase, he flies about above you and comes crashing to the ground, unleashing a devastating series of attacks that will leave you “whelmed” in seconds. The only way to damage him is to attack the minions that spawn into the arena; after defeating two, you’ll build up your Hero Boost and you must unleash your Squad Boost to damage Tiamat, and then attack him immediately afterwards to whittle him down even more. This is easily the most frustrating boss battle in the entire game because of how tough Tiamat is; make sure to bring a healer like Zantanna Zatara or M’Gann M’orzz/Miss Martian or else you’re gonna have a bad time but be warned as there’s an almost-game-breaking glitch in this fight that can see the enemies stop spawning in, leaving you unable to finish the fight and forcing you to quit the game and try again but, thankfully, there are save points between each phase of this finale.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you defeat enemies, you’ll gain experience points (XP) that will cause you to level-up; each character has different statistics that affect how much health, power, and energy that have and levelling-up allows you to increase the power and range of each character’s superpowers. You can also find crates in stages and earn “Hero Points”, which can be spent on Wayne Industries upgrades, two of which can be equipped to each character after being purchased and will increase your melee or weapon attacks, energy consumption, and a host of other stats. Thankfully, these Hero Points seem to be shared amongst every character; so, if you have ten Hero Points, you can spend them upgrading Tim Drake/Robin’s superpowers and then switch out to Kaldur’ahm/Aqualad and spend the same ten Hero Points upgrading him, too. Sadly, though, there are no pick-ups on offer; yes, you can pick up and throw boxes and barrels and such, but you can’t pick up weapons or power-ups during gameplay, making smashing all those boxes pretty pointless.

Additional Features:
Young Justice: Legacy comes with forty-eight Achievements for you to earn; many of these pop simply by playing the main campaign and defeating a certain number of enemies, the game’s bosses, and finishing the game on Normal or Hard. You can also snag some G by destroying crates, finding collectibles, or playing the game in co-up but there are also some stage-specific Achievements, such as avoiding searchlights in the Gotham City docks and solving a puzzle in a certain way.

Additional collectibles, costumes, characters, and challenges are also on offer.

Every stage in the game has a few collectibles to find; these include dioramas, additional costumes for the game’s characters, and journals left behind by Roy Harper/Red Arrow. Playing through the campaign on Normal and Hard will see you unlocking additional characters, which is always nice, and there are four additional characters available to purchase as downloadable content if you like the sort of thing. Also on offer are an array of challenges; while these can only be played in single-player, these will pit you against ten waves of enemies that progress in difficulty, or have you battling against a time limit and you’ll unlock additional challenges and stages by playing the story mode. You can also view character biographies, concept art, and take part in a quiz that will test your knowledge of the cartoon to earn points.

The Summary:
I wasn’t expecting much from Young Justice: Legacy except some mindless, arcade-style beat-‘em-up action; I’ve played team-based, top-down fighters like this before and been perfectly satisfied with them but I have to say that this game is just a repetitive, tedious, aggravating experience from start to finish. There’s a decent amount of characters on offer and some of them have more appeal than others, but they all essentially play exactly the same way. Since they lack character-specific super moves, you may as well just pick anyone and it’s ridiculous how you can just run past enemies to progress or simply look away from the screen and mash the X button to win. There’s very little actual skill or intelligence needed for this game, which would be fine if it was actually fun but it really isn’t; it’s dull and down-right infuriating at times, with some bland bosses, linear and empty stages, and very little incentive to replay the game beyond mopping up any missed Achievements.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Have you ever played Young Justice: Legacy? If so, what did you think to it? What character and team combination was your favourite? What did you think to the combat and gameplay and which of the game’s missions and bosses was your favourite? Were you a fan of the cartoon and, if so, do you think the game did a good job of recreating the action and energy of the show? Would you like to see more videogames based on Young Justice and/or the Teen Titans? Feel free to share your thoughts on Young Justice: Legacy, and Young Justice, down in the comments.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.


Story Title: “Apokolips… Now!”
Published: January 1982
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Walt Simonson

The Background:
As I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions, DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a surprisingly collaborative and amicable relationship over the years that has led to some inter-company friendships, homages, and co-publications between the two comic book giants. By 1982, both Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and DC’s Teen Titans were seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to both teams featuring an exciting new creative and character line-up. Over in Marvel Comics, writer Chris Claremont had revitalised Marvel’s Mutant team by introducing a group of diverse and multi-cultural new characters while the New Teen Titans, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, had been aged up and also included some of the title’s most synonymous characters. With so many similarities between the two teams, and considering the success of the two titles were selling at the time, a crossover between the two was a smart business move for both parties.

The Review:
“Apokolips… Now!” begins at the Source Wall, an impossibly large stone wall that represents the edge of the known universe and which is comprised of the legendary Promethean Giants, who were turned to stone for trying to breach the boundaries of the cosmos. There, we find Metron, the generally impartial intellectual of the New Gods, conversing with all-mighty Darkseid, who gifts him with the “Omega-Phase Helmet”, a highly advanced crown that allows Metron’s Mobius Chair to achieve the impossible and penetrate the great stone wall in order for them both to achieve their heart’s desire (Metron for knowledge and Darkseid for power).

A normal day at the X-Mansion is interrupted by a vision of Jean.

The story then jumps to Westchester, New York where Professor Xavier’s X-Men are engaging in a training session within the Danger Room, an exercise that grates on Logan/Wolverine’s patience despite his respect for the professor. After impressing Xavier with their teamwork, the Mutants retire for dinner and the story takes the opportunity to catch us up not only with the current X-Men roster and their powers (the aforementioned Wolverine, Scott Summers/Cyclops, Ororo Munroe/Storm, Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat) but also the tragic rise and downfall of Jean Grey, who attained incredible cosmic powers as the Phoenix that eventually corrupted and consumed her. The X-Men’s memories of Jean are extracted by Darkseid and the Phoenix briefly assumes a corporeal form where she begs for help from Cyclops much like Barry Allen/The Flash did in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Raven and Starfire are spooked by Phoenix while Robin is jumped by Deathstroke!

Meanwhile, over at Titans Tower (yes, in this story, the Marvel and DC universes again exist in a shared world rather than being separate, parallel worlds), Rachel Roth/Raven of the New Teen Titans finds her dreams interrupted by a prophetic nightmare of a woman, taking the shape of a flaming bird, destroying their world. When Garfield Logan/Changeling assumes the form of a similar bird, Koriand’r/Starfire randomly loses control of herself and attacks him; well aware of the threat that the Phoenix poses, Starfire summons the remaining members of the team (Wally West/Kid Flash, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, and Victor Stone/Cyborg) away from their procrastinations, personal lives, and crimefighting antics to bring them up to speed on the Phoenix’s destructive power. Dick Grayson/Robin, however, is kept from joining his team mates when he butts heads with one of Darkseid’s Parademons only to be attacked by Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator, who not only reveals that he’s in cahoots with Darkseid but is easily able to knock Robin unconscious thanks to his superior physical and mental abilities. The X-Men discover that Jean’s parents and other areas across the world have also witnessed visions of Jean and mysterious incidents all linked to Jean’s past. After locating Robin, Starfire relates Phoenix’s legend as the “chaos-bringer” and a cataclysmic force; although Robin points out that cosmic threats are a little out of their league, and the more pressing issue of Deathstroke’s current plot, he promises Starfire that they’ll do everything they can to track down and stop Phoenix. The story then introduces us to Ravok the Ravager, another of Darkseid’s henchmen who he recruits as part of his plot to siphon the Phoenix’s vast cosmic powers.

Both the X-Men and Teen Titans are captured with a ridiculous amount of ease.

Weary from pushing himself too far, Xavier enters a deep sleep and barely has enough time to defend himself when Starfire bursts into the X-Mansion and attacks him in a rage. Xavier’s unparalleled psychic powers are subdued by a combination of Cyborg’s ultrasonic blasts and Raven’s dark “Soul-Self”, however Robin is disturbed and irritated at his team’s recklessness in breaking into the mansion and attacking Xavier without provocation. His reprimanding is interrupted by the arrival of Ravok and his Shock Commandos, who storm the mansion looking for the X-Men but quickly adapt to defeat and kidnap all of the Teen Titans but Changeling, who follows along undetected. While investigating New Mexico, the X-Men comes across Deathstroke and one of Darkseid’s “Psi-phons”; although they easily destroy the Psi-phon and are able to fend off the Parademons, Deathstroke quickly recovers from Wolverine’s initial attack to take each of the Mutants out with a “fear ray” that grounds Storm, a “toxi-grenade” that renders Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and even Wolverine unconscious while a Parademon blasts Cyclops, and overpowers even Colossus’ hulking metallic form. Deathstroke and Ravok bring their captives to all-mighty Darkseid, who waits at the Source Wall and immediately sees through Changeling’s deception to subdue him, and then kills Ravok for his ineptitude with his destructive “Omega Beams”.

Darkseid summons Dark Phoenix but the heroes quickly join forces to confront the New God.

Darkseid secures his captives to a gigantic machine, the “Psychon-Wave”, which painfully and forcefully draws upon their superhuman powers and the Mutants’ memories of Jean, concentrating them on the breach in the Source Wall to bring Dark Phoenix back to life. He then regales the inquisitive Changeling with the reason for this plot (basically, he wants to use the Phoenix to transform the Earth into a new Apokolips that will allow him to conquer first New Genesis and then the length and breadth of reality itself). Hungry for destruction, Phoenix willingly accompanies Darkseid through a Boom Tube to begin this plot but, quite ludicrously, the heroes’ restraints disappear when Darkseid departs! Freed from captivity, the Teen Titans and the X-Men immediately agree to work together to stop Darkseid and Phoenix despite Wolverine not being happy about working with kids. While Shadowcat tries to flirt with Changeling and Kid Flash comments on the diversity of the X-Men, Cyborg, Xavier, Starfire, and Cyclops locate and acquire the Mobius Chair, which Shadowcat and Changeling accidentally activate to provide them with a means of escape. Tensions are stirred when Colossus sees Shadowcat flirting with Changeling and when Starfire kisses Colossus in order to learn Russian, but the team are soon carried back to New York in order to fulfil Cyclops’ solemn vow to make Darkseid pay for violating Jean’s memory and peace. They follow Phoenix’s unique psychic trail to a series of underground tunnels beneath the city where they are attacked by Deathstroke’s Parademons once more. Rather than waste time in a pointless battle, Robin and Cyclops give the order to collapse the tunnel and blast an escape route for their two teams, which conveniently brings them out right at Darkseid’s main base.

Dark Phoenix threatens the Earth’s safety so is subjected to a psychic attack.

Impressed at the tenacity of his foes, Darkseid dispatches Deathstroke and Dark Phoenix to hold the two groups off while he complete his work; although Starfire attacks Dark Phoenix in a fury, her starbolts succeed only in further empowering the corrupted Jean, who vehemently resists Nightcrawler’s attempts to reason with her and equally overwhelms even Raven’s Soul-Self. Dark Phoenix then powers up Darkseid’s “Hellpit” and Darkseid boasts about how this will transform Earth into Apokolips within mere minutes. Interestingly, he actually offers the X-Men and the Teen Titans the opportunity to yield and join his cause, which isn’t something I’ve ever seen Darkseid do before, but Shadowcat and Changeling opt instead to use their powers to try and disrupt and destroy the technology powering the Hellpit. For their insubordination, Darkseid commands Dark Phoenix to destroy them but they are saved at the last second by the combined power of Raven, Xavier, and the Mobius Chair. After Cyclops subdues Deathstroke and Robin spirits Shadowcat and Changeling out of danger, Dark Phoenix is bombarded by a psychic assault that simultaneously drains her rage and hatred and overwhelms her with love and affection.

Darkseid is defeated when the Phoenix Force is unleashed against him.

Drained, and close to unravelling, Dark Phoenix is easily goaded into reabsorbing the blast she fired at the Earth to sustain herself. When Darkseid moves to intervene, he is assaulted first by Kid Flash and then the combined forces of Cyborg, Wonder Girl, Colossus, and Starfire, who force his Omega Beams back into his eyes and therefore keep him from stopping Dark Phoenix from empowering herself and thus sparing the Earth. However, still at risk from being consumed by her raging power, Phoenix heeds Darkseid’s advice to focus her energies through a physical form and bonds herself to Cyclops. This, however, proves to be her undoing as Cyclops channels her powers with his undying devotion to his lost love and then turns the full Phoenix Force against Darkseid. The chaotic, flaming energy blasts itself, and Darkseid, across the vast cosmos of the universe to return to the Source Wall and thus imprison the New God within the Wall alongside the doomed giants of yore. Victorious, the two teams revel in how close they came to being destroyed and how fantastic their triumph was, while Scott finds some solace in Storm’s suggestion that Jean’s good soul ultimately saved them in the end. Finally, Metron returns to his chair and bids farewell to the imprisoned Darkseid, commenting that everything has returned as it once was as is to be expected.

The Summary:
“Apokolips…Now!” is quite the chaotic story; considering how many characters it has to juggle, it’s honestly surprising how coherent the story ends up being. If there’s one thing that always puts me off about team-based comics, especially X-Men and the Teen Titans, it’s the sheer abundance of characters and lore a single issue has to deal with so to mash the two together is no mean feat. The result is that no one single character from either team really gets any focus; indeed, many of the characters have next to nothing to do and the focus is, instead, on the meeting of the two teams rather than a bunch of separate interactions between them.

There are a lot of characters who don’t always get time to shine and whose interactions are a bit limited.

This is best seen in the fact that neither Robin or Cyclops get much of a chance to act as a field leader; Nightcrawler is basically a non-factor, and Wonder Girl may as well not be there. Sure, most of the characters are assumed to be busy in fisticuffs with the Parademons and the Shock Commandos but we don’t really get to see much of this. Indeed, we’re even denied a proper fight involving Deathstroke; he takes out Robin with a ridiculous amount of ease, subdues all of the X-Men largely single-handedly, and his fight with Wolverine all takes place off-panel! These days, I like to believe that you’d never see that happen given how prominent Deathstroke and Wolverine are but, in this, Deathstroke is little more than one of Darkseid’s minions who gets taken out pretty quickly to continue the focus on Dark Phoenix. Indeed, Jean’s presence gets more play here than a lot of the other characters; her death was still relatively new at the time and hadn’t been driven into the ground yet so her reappearance is a particularly emotional moment for the X-Men, particularly Cyclops. However, while it’s pretty cool to see Dark Phoenix enamoured with Darkseid and willing to commit global destruction on his behalf, it’s not really enough to elevate this story for me.

While the art is great, the story is just okay and wastes a lot of potential.

I’m not entirely sure where Metron went or what happened to him when he breached the Source Wall and Darkseid’s plot basically boils down to every other plan he has (he’s either seeking out the Anti-Life Equation or trying to conquer the universe, it seems) and, again, he really doesn’t do all that much. This isn’t entirely out of character for Darkseid, who typically allows his underlings to do his work for him, but it’s kind of weird to see him team up with Deathstroke. Like…did Darkseid pay Slade off? I can’t help but feel Trigon might have been a more suitable villain for the New God to ally with. Overall, it’s a pretty decent tale; we don’t get to see the X-Men and the Teen Titans facing off against each other (the closest we get to that is when the Teen Titans attack a weakened Xavier), which is a shame, but it’s fun seeing the teams co-operate. There’s a little tension in the brief Colossus/Shadowcat/Changeling “love triangle” but that’s about all the dissention we get; I would have liked to see how Robin and Cyclop’s leadership styles differ and more interactions from Kid Flash, Wolverine, Wonder Girl, and Storm. Instead, the comic is all about the spectacle of seeing these different comic publisher’s heroes and villains interact in as unspectacular a way as possible. A fun adventure, to be sure, but maybe a little too “safe” and it could very easily be any one of a hundred other X-Men or Teen Titan stories with a few tweaks…but at least the artwork is good.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you disappointed that the two teams didn’t come to blows or were you happy to see them just working together with no issues? Would you have preferred to see different characters in each team’s line-ups? What did you think to Darkseid’s plan and the return of Dark Phoenix? Would you like to see the X-Men interact with Marvel heroes again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday for the final instalment of Crossover Crisis.

Talking Movies [Robin Month]: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?


Released: 4 April 2017
Director: Sam Liu
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Sean Maher, Kari Wahlgren, Stuart Allan, Christina Ricci, Gregg Henry, and Miguel Ferrer

The Plot:
Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Maher) rejoins his old team mates, the Teen Titans, who are now training a new generation of costumed heroes. Alongside their newest recruit, Tara Markov/Terra (Ricci), the Titans work to end the maniacal aspirations of Sebastian Blood/Brother Blood (Henry). However, things escalate when Blood hires mercenary Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (Ferrer) to kill the Titans and the team are faced not only with Slade’s burning desire for revenge against them but also a very real threat from within their ranks.

The Background:
The Teen Titans first came together in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964, some four years after the debut of their adult counterparts, the Justice League of America. The team was comprised entirely of the teenage sidekicks of DC Comic’s adult superheroes, potentially to appeal to younger audiences. The team had a relatively consistent presence throughout the 1960s and 1970s but was given new life when writer Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, who introduced characters like Victor Stone/Cyborg and Princess Koriand’r/Starfire who would become synonymous with the team for years to come. One of the team’s most celebrated stories was “The Judas Contract” (Wolfman, et al, 1984) in which they were betrayed by one of their own thanks to the machinations of the vindictive Deathstroke. An animated adaptation had been in the works for some time but, after a few false starts, finally came to life as part of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. The film, which was the third in this new animated continuity of films and iconic actor Miguel Ferrer’s last role before his untimely death, made over $3, 250,000 in home video sales and was modestly received compared to what had come before it.

The Review:
The film begins with the original incarnation of the Teen Titans – comprised of Dick Grayson/Robin (Maher), Wally West/Kid Flash (Jason Spisak), Roy Harper/Speedy (Crispin Freeman), Garfield Logan/Beast Boy (Brandon Soo Hoo), and Karen Beecher/Bumblebee (Masasa Moyo) – meeting Starfire (Wahlgren) for the first time. If you’ve watched the awesome Teen Titans (2003 to 2006) cartoon before then many of the Titans’ characterisations will be instantly familiar: Robin is the composed leader, Beast Boy is the comic relief, Kid Flash is impatient, and so forth. This version of Starfire, while still being somewhat naïve and innocent, is far less childish compared to her counterpart; however, she nevertheless forms an immediate bond with the team after learning to communicate through kissing.

After a random flashback, we rejoin the Teen Titans adjusting to their new team dynamic.

We then jump ahead to “NOW” to find Brother Blood and his lover and right-hand, Mother Mayhem (Meg Foster), packing up their most recent Hive base. Choosing to ignore Deathstroke’s warning, the cult are caught completely off-guard when the Titans – now made up of Nightwing, Starfire, Beast Boy, Rachel Roth/Raven (Taissa Farmiga), Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle (Jake T. Austin), Damian Wayne/Robin (Allan), and newcomer Terra – break into the facility using Terra’s power over earth and rock. Nightwing, who has only recently rejoined the team, finds it difficult adjusting to the new dynamic, which places Starfire as the field commander, but his experience and combat strategies are nevertheless appreciated by Starfire and his older teammates. There is, however, some discord within the team; not only are Nightwing and Starfire a little distracted by their intimate relationship outside of the team but she doubts her place as the team’s leader (despite Robin approving of her) and Robin constantly clashes with Blue Beetle over the unpredictability of Jaime’s alien Scarab suit. Still, the team takes out Blood’s goons and reconvenes at Titan Towers, where their teamwork and interpersonal relationships are developed a little more. Damian continues to have a somewhat disconnected and abrasive personality and remains fully committed to his role as Robin (he’s the only member to never appear outside of his costume during the film) and, interestingly, the film makes a subtle allusion to unpredictability of the Scarab to puberty during Jaime’s video call with his parents (Maria Canals-Barrera and David Zayas, respectively) and his interactions with a young girl he is attracted to that helps to highlight how, despite their superpowers or physical abilities, the Teen Titans remain just that: troubled teenagers trying to find their place in the world.

Blood is a twisted zealot who hires Deathstroke to capture the Titans and fuel his desires for Godhood.

Brother Blood is a ruthless zealot of a man; having organised Hive into a cult-like following, he believes that he has the gift of foresight and is fully willing to kill any who blasphemes against his beliefs. Regularly bathing in the blood of his enemies to maintain his youth and vigour and with a penchant for hanging out in graveyards, Blood has constructed an elaborate machine that is powered by the lifeforce of those connected to it that he plans to use to absorb the Titans’ superpowers and abilities to become a demigod. To that end, he hires Deathstroke to deliver the Titans to him, a task he takes great pleasure in given his past history with Damian and has prepared for by augmenting his already-impressive physical abilities by regularly bathing in a Lazarus Pit.

Deathstroke manipulates Terra into infiltrating the Titans to get revenge on Robin.

Terra constantly feels underappreciated by the team and perturbed by Beast Boy’s constant attentions and remains dismissive and bitter towards their personalities, hobbies, or issues. Aggressive and snappy, Terra has little interest in helping others in a way that doesn’t involve busting heads with her powers and is weary of the team’s constant attempts to reach and befriend her. Tormented by memories of her life in Markovia, where she was beaten and hounded and accused of being a witch, Terra has grown angry at and resentful towards humanity and has no interest in serving it for the greater good. Thus, she willingly infiltrates the team on Deathstroke’s behalf and allows him to capture Damian for Blood. Terra is absolutely besotted with Deathstroke after he saved her life in Markovia prior to the start of the film; devoted to him, she sees him as more than a mentor and father-figure and constantly attempts to seduce him in some truly awkward scenes that have her dressed in an overly provocative outfit. Although he rebukes her advances, he nevertheless commands her complicit behaviour by promising that they’ll be a couple and take command of the League of Assassins once the contract is fulfilled. Thus, begrudgingly, she returns to Titans Tower, now equipped with an audio/visual link up to Deathstroke, to continue her subterfuge. Though her anti-social personality begins to crack when she sees just how appreciative they are of her and she even shares a kiss with Beast Boy, she nevertheless lures each of the Titans into a series of traps that lead to them all being captured by Deathstroke and placed in Blood’s machine.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract shares the same quasi-anime, stilted animation as other DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Still, the animation and visual presentation is made more appealing due to the aesthetic distinctiveness of each of the Titans and their individual powers. Raven, for example, exudes dark, ethereal magic while Beast Boy cycles between a variety of amusing animal forms as part of his somewhat awkward and hyperactive personality. Unfortunately for me, many of the Team’s appearances are taken from their New 52 designs, meaning that Nightwing is wearing his awful red suit; however, Deathstroke more than makes up for this with his bad-ass outfit that is only made all the more intimidating thanks to Ferrer’s distinctive gravely tones. The voice acting, in general, is really good, actually; Stuart Allan is particularly great at capturing Damian’s dickish attitude, I’ve always had a soft spot for Christina Ricci (and it’s great to see her voicing Terra rather than someone more cliché, like Raven), and (though I’m not really his biggest fan) the film even includes a brief cameo by Kevin Smith.

Terra’s abrasive attitude begins to crack but she remains loyal to Slade … right up until he betrays her.

Having the reveal of Terra’s dual nature quite early into the film makes for a great bit of suspense as we see her emotionally and physically manipulate each of the Titans into Deathstroke’s traps. The relationship between Terra and Slade has always been an unnerving and disgusting one full of appalling sexual subtext and this remains largely prevalent in the film as Deathstroke manipulates Terra’s motions in order to craft her into the perfect double agent. Even though Damian, with his unique insight into both Deathstroke and the League of Assassins, attempts to reach her, Terra is ruled by her bitterness and anger and is thus completely blindsided when Deathstroke betrays her in order to fully deliver on his contract with Blood.

In the end, Terra shows her true colours and sacrifices herself to help stop Blood and Deathstroke.

In the finale, Nightwing frees his friends thanks to faking his death at Deathstroke’s hands and interrupting the party. Still, Blood is able to absorbs most of the Titans’ powers, which transforms him into a demonic creature and makes him more than a match for Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, and Blue Beetle while Nightwing and Robin attack Deathstroke head-on in easily the film’s most impressive fight scene. Despite his near-unstoppable new powers, the Titans are only able to overcome Blood when Raven unleashes the full extent of her supernatural powers to strip him of his abilities and render him helpless, though Mother Mayhem kills Blood before he can be brought into the Titans’ custody. At the same time Terra, enraged at Deathstroke’s betrayal, mercilessly attacks and kills him with her incredible powers by bringing the entire area down him. Unable to live with her betrayal and pain, she then destroys the entire temple, taking herself along with it in recompense for her actions but, while Beast Boy is left heartbroken, the team honour their former comrade as a Teen Titan to the end.

The Summary:
As an adaptation of the source material, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract does the best that it can in its limited time; obviously, the story has been changed a little, the team is almost completely different, and even Deathstroke’s motivations are very different compared to in the original story but a lot of this is to be expected from the adaptation process. The film’s main concern seems to be with telling another story in the  DC Universe Animated Original Movies series; however, while it might be beneficial to have seen Justice League vs. Teen Titans (Liu, 2016) for a bit of additional context, it works pretty well as a standalone story. I do question why the film went to the effort of including a prelude where an almost completely different version of the team first meets Starfire as this doesn’t really tie into the main story (maybe it would’ve been better to have the older team be comprised of grown-up versions of the characters seen in the prelude) and I also feel like the story might have been better served by removing Brother Blood completely and instead focusing on Deathstroke and his vendetta against the Titans as the primary antagonist. Still, it’s a decent enough animated venture and adaptation of the seminal storyline, with some engaging action and intriguing character beats and some great vocal work from Allan, Ricci, and the late, great Miguel Ferrer especially.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Teen Titans: The Judas Contract? Were you a fan of the changes that the film made to the story and the new team line-up? Have you ever read the original comic book the film is based on and, if so, where does it rank for you amongst other Teen Titans stories? Who is your favourite Robin and how are you celebrating the Boy Wonder’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on this film, Teen Titans, and Robin, leave a comment below and thanks for joining me for Robin Month!

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.


Story Title: “The Monster and the Madman”
Published: September 1981
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: José Luis García-López

The Background:
Although the two companies both publish stories of colourful, superpowered heroes in a cut-throat industry, the relationship between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has been surprisingly collaborative and amicable over the years (especially compared to many of the toxic fans” who argue on social media every day…) Sure, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both companies, but not only were the legendary Stan Lee and the disreputable sham Bob Kane actually good friends but both companies borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past.

DC Comics and Marvel Comics had a number of crossovers and joint ventures over the years.

Having already pitted Clark Kent/Superman against Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976), DC and Marvel brought these two characters together again in 1981. That same year, the two companies also produced a sixty-four-page “Treasury Edition” comic book that pitted Bruce Wayne/Batman against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk. At the time, graphic novels were nowhere near as commonplace as they are today and both characters were experienced a way of renewed mainstream interest off the back of a popular television series and moving away from the camp aesthetic of the 1960s, respectively. Like many of these early DC/Marvel crossovers, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk can fetch a pretty high price these days, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that their paths crossed in one form or another.

The Review:
One of the most reliable constants of many comic books, especially back in the 1960s through to the mid-1990s, was that many stories derail or pad out their narrative with a recap of their character’s origins and background. This seems to mostly happen to Spider-Man, who often interrupts whatever problem he’s having in the issue to recap his iconic origin and, don’t get me wrong, I get why this happens (you can’t expect every reader to be familiar with your characters, after all) but I much prefer it when comics simply have a bit of text before the story to catch readers up. Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk opts for this latter option and is all the better for it; before the story starts, we get a one page, two-column spread the recaps how Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot and trained his body and mind to become Batman and how Dr. Banner was bombarded with Gamma radiation and subsequently transforms into the rampaging Hulk whenever stressed or angry.

Banner raises the alarm when the Joker storms into a Wayne facility.

Like Superman vs. Spider-Man, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk begins with a prologue that establishes the villains of the story; the first is more of an abstract introduction as people all over Gotham City suffer from horrific and disturbing nightmares while the second is far more tangible as is shows that the Joker is back in town and has joined forces with a disembodied voice for nefarious reasons. The story then shifts to find Banner, under the pseudonym of “David Banks”, working a menial job for Wayne Research in order to get close to their “experimental Gamma-Gun”, and who is the only person to act fast enough to slip into a radiation suit and avoid the Joker’s debilitating laughing gas when the Harlequin of Hate and his goons show up to steal that same device!

Outmatched against the Hulk’s sheer power, Batman out-thinks the brute to take him down.

When Banner moves to raise the alarm, he is tackled and beaten by Joker’s thugs which, of course, causes him to transform into the Hulk! Quickly realising that their firepower is absolutely useless against the creature, the Joker orders his men to grab the Gamma-Gun and flee but their escape is impeded by the sudden arrival of the Batman! Unfortunately for Batman, the Joker immediately takes advantage of the Hulk’s child-like demeanour to convince the Green Goliath that Batman is his enemy and thus the two engage in fist fight! Batman initially holds back from confusing and potentially further antagonising the Hulk but finds his attempts to paralyse his foe by striking his nerve centres fruitless. Unable to harm the Hulk, Batman tries to keep his distance and out-think the creature and almost gets his spine snapped as a result! Batman is finally able to subdue the Hulk, however, by forcing him to breathe in a big lungful of his special Bat-gas but, though the Hulk is finally toppled, the Joker escapes with the Gamma-Gun. Batman returns to the facility as Bruce Wayne and immediately enlists the services of the grief-stricken Banner in the construction of a replacement Gamma-Gun.

The Joker and the Shaper conspire to capture the help using fake soldiers.

Back at the docks, the Joker activates the Gamma-Gun and allows his newfound friend, the Shaper of Worlds, to partially manifest in the real world and give us all a run-down on his origin as a parasite who feeds upon the dreams of others and bring them to life. He’s struck a bargain with the Joker (whose insane mind makes him “unique in all the universe”) to help restore the Shaper’s failing abilities, though exactly what the Joker is getting out of this deal is left unclear (and it is heavily implied that the Shaper scares even the Joker!) While Batman hits up Gotham’s underworld in search of the Joker, Banner finds the stress of his assignment putting him on edge. Although he’s briefly calmed down by a cup of Alfred Pennyworth’s tea, he continues to push himself without food or proper rest. Thus, when the Joker’s men arrive disguised as military officials charged with arresting Banner, it isn’t long before he turns green once again. When a specially-designed taser-rifle fails to have the desired effect on the Hulk, a massive blob-like creature enters the fray. Despite the Hulk’s increasing rage and best attempts, the creature is effectively able to absorb and contain the Hulk and spirit him away and Batman arrives in time only to hear Commissioner Jim Gordon receiving confirmation from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross that the soldiers were fakes.

When the Hulk escapes from them, Joker enlists Batman’s aid in tracking the Jade Giant down.

Back at the Joker’s warehouse, the Hulk goes on a rampage when he hears the Clown Prince of Crime’s plan to revert him to Banner in order to make adjustments to the Gamma-Gun; despite the Shaper’s best efforts to quell the beast’s rage, both he and the Hulk are tormented by disturbing nightmares that leave the two physically and emotionally drained. Bored by the conflict, the Hulk flees but the Shaper comes to the conclusion that the crippling pain and madness his condition brings him can be cured not by the Gamma-Gun…but by the Hulk himself thanks to his unique Gamma properties and orders the Joker to recapture the beast. To facilitate this, the Joker explains the bind he’s in to Batman and enlists his aid, which soon leads to a second confrontation between the two characters. Bored of Batman and being constantly hounded by “puny humans”, the Hulk chooses to flee but a fight soon inevitably breaks out.

Following another fight, Batman is finally able to get the Hulk on side.

Once again, Batman chooses to fight smarter rather than harder, rolling with and doing everything he can to avoid or survive the Hulk’s attacks while trying to talk sense into the increasingly-enraged Hulk. Batman’s tricks result in the Hulk demolishing the building the two were fighting in and once again fleeing in order to be left in peace. Batman is finally able to get through to the Hulk by posing as a harmless old blind man and offering the creature his friendship, which calms the Hulk enough to the point where he willingly goes along with the Joker to confront the Shaper. However, angered that the Joker is willing to let the Hulk face this foe alone, Batman slaps his archenemy down and finally joins forces with the Jade Giant to battle a legion of their enemies brought to life by the Shaper’s powers. Finally on the same page, the two are easily able to overcome the living nightmares and fight their way to the Shaper, who holds them at bay with an impenetrable barrier. Angered at the idea of anything being stronger than he is, the Hulk charges ahead at full speed and exhausts his Gamma energy, reverting to Banner and curing the Shaper.

Despite his vast cosmic powers, Batman is able to trick the Joker into leaving himself vulnerable.

Despite Batman’s pleas, the Shaper honours the bargain he made with the Joker and, having been cured, bestows the Joker with “limitless, infinite power”. Effectively acting as a genie for the Joker, the Shaper makes all of the Joker’s wishes come true, transforming him into a God-like jester who unleashes chaos and madness throughout Gotham City and uses his reality-warping powers to shape the city, its people, and even Batman however he sees fit. When the Shaper refuses to renege on his word, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and finds himself transported to the Joker’s increasingly mental world. Batman goads the Joker into pushing his powers to the limit by criticising his creativity and lack of imagination; although this results in things becoming even more warped and abstract, it also has the intended side effect of overwhelming the Joker, leaving him wide open for a knockout punch. In the aftermath, the Shaper takes his leave, the Joker is confined to Arkham Asylum once again, and Batman allows Banner to slip away in order to find the peace he so desperately desires.

The Summary:
Given that I grew up mainly reading DC and Marvel Comics and annuals published in the seventies and eighties, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk’s presentation is immediately recognisable to me and these are the quintessential representations of these characters at that time, in my opinon. Batman is much more of a stoic tactician and a fair-minded vigilante than a grim, overly paranoid avenger of the night and the Hulk speaks with a child-like demeanour and, while he just wants to be left alone, is more than ready to throw hands when provoked.

Batman and Hulk tangle more than once in a brain vs. brawn bouts.

Thanks to the Hulk’s unpredictable and explosive demeanour, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk features a couple of fights between the two characters that are instantly believable. It’s not the first time that someone/a villain has manipulated the Hulk into trusting them or going nuts on a specific target and Batman is smart enough to not try and match the Hulk blow for blow. Instead, their fights are more about Batman trying to outmanoeuvre his foe, trying to reason with him, and using his physical skills and gadgets to stay out of the Hulk’s reach and to subdue him. It’s definitely a battle of brains versus brawn, which isn’t unusual when characters fight the Hulk but it’s definitely a spectacle seeing Batman trying to take on such an overwhelming foe. Superman versus the Hulk obviously makes more sense on paper but I don’t think it would have resulted in as interesting a story and probably would have descended into a slugfest instead.

Joker plays a vital role as an opportunistic and manipulative villain.

I’m not familiar with the Shaper of Worlds but the story does a pretty good job of establishing his powers and what he wants; desperate to cure the crippling pain and madness caused by his fading abilities, he enters into a partnership with the Joker to use Gamma radiation to stabilise him. It’s unusual to see the Joker acting out of fear or subordinate to another but his characterisation remains completely on point and he never seems to be a diminished threat. Instead, he remains in control and a tangible menace throughout; he’s smart enough to manipulate the Hulk and even convince Batman to help him, and then obtains God-like power and goes berserk bending and twisting reality, forcing Batman to think of ways to outsmart him, which is always fun to see.

The story avoids being an all-out slugfest for some interesting character interactions.

Overall, it was quite a decent crossover between the two. The Hulk typically doesn’t have one set location so setting the entire story in Gotham City was a good idea; seeing Banner and Wayne (and Alfred) interact was a nice little inclusion and something missing from Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. While neither character’s supporting cast have very much to do, it was nice to see Gordon show up (and to have him communicate with Ross) and having the Shaper conjure up nightmarish visions of both character’s foes was pretty awesome, especially when the Hulk reacted to Batman’s enemies with disinterested rage. There could have been more interactions between Batman and the Hulk; entire pages and chapters go past without the two interacting at all, either in or out of costume/form, which is in contrast to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man but I think this was done to keep the story from descending into a series of one-sided fights. After all, there’s only so many ways you can show Batman avoiding being pummeled by the Hulk before it gets repetitive, and we do get to see interesting character combinations and interactions (and a pretty decent Batman story featuring the Hulk) as a result.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that Batman was pitted against the Hulk? Do you think he should have met a different Marvel character instead? What did you think to the team-up between the Joker and the Shaper and the Joker’s acquisition of phenomenal cosmic powers? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday as Crossover Crisis continues!

Talking Movies [Robin Month]: Batman: Under the Red Hood


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?


Released: 27 July 2010
Director: Brandon Vietti
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Wade Williams, and Jason Isaacs

The Plot:
Gotham City’s underworld is terrorised by a murderous vigilante known only as “The Red Hood” (Ackles). In investigating this new threat, Batman (Greenwood) is forced to face the greatest failure of his career as old wounds reopen and old, once buried memories come into the light.

The Background:
As I detailed in my review of A Death in the Family (Starlin, et al, 1988), readers were first introduced to Jason Todd in March 1963. With the original Robin, Dick Grayson, having grown up and gone away to college, Jason was initially almost indistinguishable from his predecessor until he was given an “edge” by writer Jim Starlin following the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986). Readers didn’t take kindly to the new Robin and, in a moment that went on to define Batman for years to come, DC Comics made the decision to kill the character off in the aforementioned Death in the Family storyline. For over fifteen years, Jason Todd stayed dead and his death haunted Batman; his monument in the Batcave served as a constant reminder of Batman’s greatest failure and he was long considered one of only a handful of comic cook characters who would stay dead. The character made a surprise return during the “Hush” storyline (Loeb, et al, 2002 to 2003) before being officially brought back to life (through cosmic, reality-bending shenanigans, of course) in the “Under the Hood” arc (Winick, et al, 2004 to 2005; 2005 to 2006). Jason’s resurrection was generally positively received and he has gone on to become a popular anti-hero as the Red Hood and, 2010, Winick came onboard to write the animated adaptation of his influential storyline. Batman: Under the Red Hood was the eighth animated feature of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line-up, which aimed to be more mature than the DC Animated Universe popularised by Bruce Tim and Paul Dini. Batman: Under the Red Hood was one of the most successful of DC’s animated ventures, making over $12 million in sales and being critically applauded; a follow-up even surprisingly landed in 2020 in the form of an interactive animated feature that was also quite well received.

The Review:
I never really had any strong feelings for or against Jason Todd as I read comic books so sporadically as a kid that, by the time I even read A Death in the Family, Dick Grayson had already become Nightwing and Tim Drake was already the third Robin so, if I didn’t like what happened to him, it was too late to be mad about it. I do feel, though, like the idea of bringing him back was great…on paper….but that DC Comics screwed it up in execution. Personally, I think Jason should have been Hush all along as his outfit in Hush was way better than the Red Hood look and, considering DC kind of retconned that Jason was present during Hush anyway, I think this would have made a lot more sense. Plus, it took DC a long time to find a way to mention Jason’s dramatic return without having to reference the reality-breaking shenanigans of Infinite Crisis (Johns et al, 2005 to 2006) and, in that regard, if feels like Under the Red Hood tells a far simpler and much more coherent version of events surrounding Jason’s resurrection thanks to the benefit of hindsight.

Still haunted by Jason’s death, Batman hears of a new player muscling into Gotham’s underworld.

Under the Red Hood opens with its interpretation of the events of A Death in the Family; in this adaptation, Ra’s al Ghul (Isaacs) allied with the Joker (DiMaggio) in his latest bid to disrupt Europe’s economy. He realises the error in his judgement all-too-late as the Joker captured Jason Todd/Robin (Vincent Martella) and was busy amusing himself by taunting Robin and mercilessly beating him with a crowbar. Although Jason remained defiant, even with a collapsed lung and having been beaten half to death, he was helpless against the Harlequin of Hate. Despite Jason struggles with all his failing might to hold out for Batman, who raced to aid his young partner, he was killed when the warehouse that he was trapped in explodes (again, take note: Jason is killed by the explosion and not by the crowbar!) The film then jumps ahead five years to find Gotham’s criminal figureheads lured into a meeting and confronted by the mysterious Red Hood. Red Hood delights in taunting the criminals and muscles his way into the operation, promising to protect them from both Batman and Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Williams) on the proviso that they don’t peddle their wares on young kids and proves himself a credible threat by presenting a bag full of the severed heads of their lieutenants. Meanwhile, Batman continues to operate within the city; however, his experiences with Jason have left him more of a loner than ever, to the point where he even out-right refuses Nightwing’s (Harris) help in taking down Amazo (Fred Tatasciore), a superpowered android with all of the powers of the Justice League. Nightwing, of course, completely disregards this and helps anyway and, in the process, the two learn of the Red Hood’s bid to muscle the Black Mask out of power and control Gotham’s underworld.

The Red Hood makes an enemy of both Batman and Black Mask through his violent actions.

When the Red Hood kills the thugs transporting Amazo, Batman gives chase in the Batwing but loses him in the Axis Chemical Plant (though not before having a flashback to his first encounter with the Joker, who, at that time, was hidden under the guise of the original Red Hood). Back at the Batcave, Batman and Nightwing analyse the footage of the biker-gear-clad vigilante and note that, since he arrived in town, crime has fallen significantly. Suspecting that the Joker may be behind the new Red Hood, they head to Arkham Asylum to interrogate the Clown Prince of Crime, who denies any involvement in his activities but takes the opportunity to rile Batman up over failing to save the former Robin. Meanwhile, the Red Hood’s activities have angered Black Mask, the ruling mob boss of Gotham City. In this incarnation, Black Mask is similar to Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull in that, rather than wearing a mask or a helmet, his head is literally a charred black skull. Apart from that, he’s a bombastic, maniacal gangster who viciously beats anyone who dares to stare at his gruesome appearance. His efforts to kill the Red Hood meet in failure as he is closely monitoring Black Mask’s meetings and movements so that he can steal his weapons and merchandise. Thankfully, Batman has also been monitoring Black Mask, correctly guessing that the Red Hood would hijack his latest shipment, and as a result comes face-to-face with Gotham’s newest vigilante once more after an exhilarating chase through a construction site, across the city rooftops, and even across the city’s famously impractical blimps.

Revived by the Lazarus Pit, Jason enacts a plan of revenge against the Joker.

Thanks to the Red Hood’s impressive skills, physical aptitude, and apparent knowledge of Batman’s weapons and tactics (all of which Nightwing, and even Batman, admit to being amazed by), this proves to be a trap as Batman and Nightwing are lured into an explosion that leaves Dick’s leg injured. Both of them marvel at the Red Hood’s physical abilities and skills and knowledge of Batman’s tactics but Batman is stunned when he reviews the playback of their encounter and hears the Red Hood calling him “Bruce”. Black Mask steps up his campaign against the Red Hood, beating, threatening, and killing all of those who have sold out to him and hiring mech-wearing mercenaries to hunt him down, but Batman interrupts the fracas and takes the mercs out alongside Red Hood. Although Batman is disgusted when the Red Hood uses lethal force to kill one of the mercenaries, he nevertheless attempts to offer Red Hood help but the helmet-clad vigilante angrily refuses, believing that his willingness to kill is making an actual difference as opposed to Batman’s more merciful ways. By analysing the Red Hood’s blood, Batman confirms, without a doubt, that he is Jason Todd resurrected. Realising that only one man could possibly have been responsible for Jason’s return to life, Bruce angrily confronts Ra’s and learns about what happened all those years ago: remorseful for allowing the Joker to kill Bruce’s young partner, Ra’s recovered Jason’s body (leaving a dummy in his grave) and revived him by submerging him in the restorative Lazarus Pit.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Aesthetically, Under the Red Hood greatly resembles many of DC’s other animated efforts; characters aren’t quite as exaggerated or cartoony as they are in the DCAU but are still quite stiff and rigid. Luckily, this allows the film’s many chase and fight sequences to shine even more, but it does make prolonged scenes of dialogue and exposition to appear a bit inflexible. The voice cast, however, is pretty stellar; Bruce Greenwood makes for a gravelly and intimidating Batman, even if he is imitating the iconic Kevin Conway somewhat, and the film does a pretty good job of showcasing the impact Jason’s death had on him and his rage at allowing himself to be so easily duped by Ra’s’ deception. John DiMaggio makes for a serious and menacing Joker who appears to be evoking both Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger’s take on the character, and Neil Patrick Harris makes for a great Nightwing as well and makes an impression despite being taken out of the film before long (although it’s a bit odd that common thugs know about his past as Robin) but it’s Jensen Ackles’ wit and biting tongue as the Red Hood and Wade William’s explosive portrayal of Black Mask that are the highlights of the feature for me.

Jason goes from carefree youth to violent and unhinged vigilante as he grows and changes.

The film is peppered with flashbacks to Batman’s time working alongside Jason; during the boy’s (Alexander Martella) first year as Robin, he was an excitable, carefree Boy Wonder who Batman first met as he was in the process of stealing the tyres off the Batmobile and delighted in being Batman’s brightly-coloured, hyper-chatty crimefighting partner. As he grew into a teen, however, he became and angry and bitter young man who constantly defied Batman’s orders and brutalised criminals without mercy. His dip in the Lazarus Pit saw him awaken from death half-crazed and unstable and set him on the path towards becoming a murderous vigilante and making both Batman, and the Joker, pay for their actions. Driven to the edge by the Red Hood’s disruptive actions, and the vigilante’s direct assault on his offices with a rocket launcher, Black Mask arranges for the Joker to be smuggled out of Arkham and sets him loose to kill the Red Hood on his behalf. This, however, was exactly what the Red Hood wanted as it allows him to get his hands on the man who murdered him and deliver a measure of payback with a crowbar.

Batman refuses to compromise his moral integrity and remains haunted by his failures.

Luring Batman to Crime Alley, the Red Hood finally reveals his face to his former mentor and demands to know why the Joker is still alive after everything he’s done but especially for taking Jason away from Bruce. He makes a damn good point, one that has been endlessly debated, and states that he can forgive everything Bruce has done and that he’s not talking about mass murder of every two-bit thug or supervillain, but he cannot forgive (or understand why) the fact that Batman hasn’t killed the Joker in recompense for his years of slaughter and for killing him (as in Jason). After a brutal fist fight between the two, Batman apologises but states that he could never kill anyone, not even the Joker, because it would be “too easy” and lead to him becoming just as bad as the criminals he hunts on a nightly basis. Enraged and distraught, Jason demands that Batman shoot him before he executes the Joker; when Batman adamantly refuses to betray his morals, Jason triggers an explosion and disappears once again. In the aftermath, Bruce refuses to have Jason’s monument removed from the Batcave as he never wants to forget how badly he failed young Jason and turned him from a cheery youth and into a damaged, violent killer.  

The Summary:
Batman: Under the Red Hood is an incredibly bleak and sombre examination of Batman’s greatest failure; one thing I always liked about Jason being dead was how this incident weighed heavily on Batman’s mind and that a constant reminder sat in the Batcave for years so that he (and the reader) would never forget those dramatic events. When Jason returns to life as a violent and unhinged vigilante and twists Batman’s teachings and moral codes into a spiteful vendetta, Batman is forced to confront his failure, and his past, head-on and the film does an excellent job of not only adapting the source material it is based on but also adding to it and, in many ways, improving it. Having Ra’s be the one responsible for Jason’s resurrection as opposed to an alternative version of Superman punching reality just makes so much more sense and seeing Jason snark, shoot, and muscle his way into Black Mask’s dealings was really great thanks to Ackles’ portrayal of the character. I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Jason’s youth and even the Joker’s origin, which helped add some additional context to those who may be unfamiliar with these elements, and overall the film is a great example of the unwavering commitment Batman has to his “no-kill” rule and the impact that has on his never-ending war against crime.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Batman: Under the Red Hood? How do you feel it works as an adaptation of A Death in the Family and Under the Hood and did you enjoy the changes that the film made to the story and Jason’s resurrection? What did you think to the voice cast, particularly Greenwood, DiMaggio, and Ackles? Were you a fan of Jason Todd when he was Robin, or do you prefer his anti-hero persona? Would you like to see elements of this story make their way into a live-action Batman movie someday? Who is your favourite Robin and how are you celebrating the Boy Wonder’s debut this month?  Whatever your thoughts on this film, Jason Todd, and Robin, leave a comment below and check back next Monday as Robin Month continues!

Game Corner [Crossover Crisis]: Injustice: Gods Among Us (Xbox 360)


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.


Released: 16 April 2013
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: Arcade, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Xbox Series One X/S (Backwards Compatible), Wii U

The Background:
When it was first released, Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) was a phenomenal success for Midway because of its focus on gore and violence, and it offered some real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. For a time, the series seemed unstoppable during the 2D era of gaming but struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena and Mortal Kombat seemed to be in jeopardy after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. The main reason for this was the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the first collaboration between Midway’s Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics characters owned by Warner Bros. Interactive, which was hampered by age-related restrictions.

Mortal Kombat‘s 3D struggles culminated in a disastrous crossover with DC Comics.

Luckily, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the team, now rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, immediately set about getting their violent franchise back on track; Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2011) was subsequently very well-received for its “back to basics” approach and, bolstered by the reboot’s success and eager to take advantage of the vast library of characters of their parent company, NetherRealm Studios sought to expand upon the game’s mechanics with a new, all-DC brawler. Although the game wasn’t as bloody and violent as its sister series, Injustice: Gods Among Us was a massive critical and commercial success that was followed up by not only a bunch of additional fighters and skins added as downloadable content (DLC) but also a sequel in 2017 and a critically-acclaimed comic book series.

The Plot:
In an alternate reality, Clark Kent/Superman has become a tyrant and established a new world order after the Joker tricked him into killing Lois Lane before destroying Metropolis with a nuclear bomb. In an effort to stop him, Bruce Wayne/Batman summons counterparts of the Justice League’s members from another universe to join his insurgency and end the totalitarian regime that threatens to subjugate the entire world.

Gameplay:
Just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a 2.5D fighting game; however, this time you’re able to select one of twenty-four characters from the DC Universe and battle it out in the game’s single-player story mode, one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent (both on- and offline), tackle numerous arcade-style ladders, or take on character-specific missions in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) training scenarios. Just as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat videogame, Injustice’s fights take place in a best-of-three format (although there are no longer announcements or screen text between each round) and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, such as the game’s difficulty) to your heart’s desire in the game’s options to suit your playstyle.

Attack with strikes, grapples, and combos to pummel a number of DC’s most recognisable characters.

If you’ve played the Mortal Kombat reboot then you’ll be immediately familiar with this game’s fighting mechanics and controls, although there are subtle differences: X, Y, and A are assigned to light, medium, and heavy strikes, for example, and may be either punches, kicks, or weapon-based melee attacks depending on which character you’re playing as. You can still grapple and throw your opponent with the Left Bumper (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from the opponent with a double tap of the directional pad (D-Pad), but now you must hold back on the D-Pad while standing or crouching to block, which can make blocking a bit trickier as sometimes you’ll simply walk or dash backwards when trying to block. If your opponent is crouch-blocking, you can land an attack by pressing towards and A for an Overhead Attack, and string together light, medium, and heavy attacks with directional inputs and your various special moves to pull off quick and easy combos. As is the standard for NetherRealm Studios’ releases these days, you can practise the game’s controls and mechanics as often as you like and take part in a very user-friendly tutorial to learn the basics of the game’s simple, but increasingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can also view your character’s moves, combos, special attacks, and “Character Power” from the pause menu at any time, allowing you to also see a range of information (such as where and how to pull of certain moves, the damage they inflict, and frame data).

Utilise Character Powers and the always-annoying Clash Breakers to whittle down your foe.

Each character has a range of special attacks that are unique to them; these mostly consist of certain projectiles or grapples and strikes but can also include various buffs for your character or to slow down your opponent. Each character also has a specific Character Power that is performed by pressing B; this sees Batman summon and attack with a swarm of bats, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow fire different trick arrows at his opponent, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn gain various random buffs, and allows characters like Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Rachel Roth/Raven to switch between different fighting styles and thus access different special attacks. While some Character Powers have a cool-down period, others don’t, but they can also be detrimental to you; for example, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke can briefly give his shots perfect aim but, once the Character Power is expended, he’ll miss every shot until it refills. Another new addition to the game is the annoying “Wager” system; when the Super Meter is filled up by two bars, you can press towards and RT when blocking an attack to play a quick mini game where you and your opponent select how much of your Super Meter to gamble. If you win, you’ll regain some health; if you lose, the opponent regains health; and if you tie then you both lose. Personally, if find these “Clash Breakers” even more annoying than the usual “Breakers” seen in the modern Mortal Kombat games as I never win them and they generally just unnecessarily prolong a fight (and, even worse, there’s no option to turn them off).

Different characters attack and interact in different ways according to their strengths.

In a bridge between the differing character movesets of Mortal Kombat and the “Variation” mechanic seen in Mortal Kombat X (NetherRealm Studios, 2013), Injustice features a limited “Class” system whereby characters are split into two camps: Gadget- or Power-class characters. Gadget characters are generally smaller, faster, and rely on various tricks and weapons in fights while Power-class characters are typically bigger, often slower, and rely more on brute strength. One of the main ways you’ll notice the difference between playing as, say, Barry Allen/The Flash and Cyrus Gold/Solomon Grundy is that they interact with the game’s fighting stages in different ways. As in Mortal Kombat X, you can press the Right Bumper when indicated to use (or attack your opponent with) various environmental hazards, such as firing missiles at them or knocking them into the background. But, whereas Superman will wrench a car out of the air and slam it on his opponent, someone like Dick Grayson/Nightwing will rig the same car to explode or somersault off the environment to get behind their foe rather than try to crush them with a wall.

In addition to powerful Super moves, you can bash your foe into new areas using stage transitions.

As you might naturally expect, there are no Fatalities or gruesome finishing moves in Injustice (not even “Heroic Brutalities”). However, when your Super Meter is full, you can still press LT and RT together to pull off a devastating Super Move; while you won’t see bones breaking and organs shattering like in Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves, it’s still pretty fun to see Hal Jordan/Green Lantern transport his opponent to Oa to pummel them with his constructs, Ares shower his foe with arrows and stamp on them while grown to gigantic proportions, Arthur Curry/Aquaman force his enemy into the jaws of a ferocious shark, and Bane demolish his opposition with a series of throws and grapples, culminating in his iconic backbreaker. Another way the game separates itself from Mortal Kombat is stage transitions; when near the far edge of certain stages, you can hold back and A to wallop your opponent through the wall or off into the background where they’ll be smashed up, down, or across to an entirely new area of the stage which often allows more stage interactions and new stage transitions available for your use.

The story involves multiverse shenanigans against corrupted heroes and features some QTEs.

You might wonder exactly how someone like Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost can survive being blasting through the brick walls of Wayne Manor or go toe-to-toe with the likes of Doomsday but the game’s entertaining story mode explains that, on this alternative world, the tyrant-like Superman has developed special pills that bestow superhuman strength and dexterity to his generals. As is also the standard in NetherRealm’s titles, the story mode is broken down into twelve character-specific chapters, which is again a great way to experience a wide variety of the game’s roster (though Batman does feature as a playable character in two chapters, which seems a bit lazy). You can replay any chapter and fight you’ve cleared at any time, which is great, and skip through the cutscenes after they’ve loaded a bit, and the story mode isn’t all constant fighting either as you’re asked to pull off a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) at various points, such as blasting cars with Superman’s heat vision. The story is a fairly standard multiverse tale of the main canon heroes fighting against their corrupted or misled counterparts but it’s pretty fun and easy to blast through in no time at all.

Fight to earn XP and level-up, unlock additional perks and modes, and take on a series of challenges.

Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn experience points (XP) that will eventually level-up your character profile. This, and performing a certain number of specific attacks, playing through the story mode, and tackling the game’s other modes and mechanics, unlocks icons and backgrounds for your profile card as well as additional skins in certain circumstances. You’ll also be awarded “Armour Keys” and “Access Cards” to spend in the “Archives”, which allows you to unlock concept art, music, more skins, and certain boosts that will increase how much XP you earn, to name just one example. Like in Mortal Kombat, you can also take on ten opponents in arcade ladders in the “Battle” mode; these range from the basic tournament-style ladder to specific challenges against heroes, villains, or battling while poisoned, injured, or with certain buffs (such as a constantly full Super Meter or health falling from the sky). We’d see a similar system be incorporated into the “Towers” modes in later Mortal Kombat games and similar scenarios exist here, such as a survival mode, battling two opponents, or being forced to fight against the computer set to the hardest difficulty.

Graphics and Sound:
Like its violent sister-series, Injustice looks fantastic; there’s almost no difference between the high-quality story mode cutscenes and the in-fight graphics (which, again, makes it all the more frustrating that NetherRealm Studios insist on having character’s endings represented by partially-animated artwork and voiceovers), though it has to be said that the graphics are much more palatable when in a violent fight. I say this purely because I am not a big fan of some of Injustice’s character designs: The Flash looks a bit too “busy”, for example, and Batman’s suit (and cowl, especially) look really janky to me, though I love the representation of Green Lantern and Thaal Sinestro.

In addition to various intros, outros, and Wager dialogue, characters also take on battle damage.

Each character gets a nice little fitting intro and outro for each fight and, between rounds, will perform and quip a variety of taunts to the opponent. In a nice little touch, different character skins get different intros and outros; when playing as the evil Superman, for example, he enters and exits the fight differently to his more heroic counterpart. When playing as different skins, like John Stewart or Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, you’ll also be treated to slightly different dialogue and animations, which is a much-appreciated touch on the developer’s part. Although there aren’t any character-specific interactions in the intros, there are during the Wager cutscenes and, even better, both characters and the arenas will accrue battle damage as the fight progresses! This means that you’ll not only see Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s cat suit rip and her skin be blemished by bruises and blood but arenas will degenerate or change around you the more damage you dish out, which can also allow different intractable options to become available to you.

Stages include a range of recognisable DC locations and take damage as you fight.

Speaking of the stages, Injustice really goes above and beyond to make the best use of the DC license; while it’s a little disappointing to see Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor feature twice in the game, they are made distinctive by having Joker-ised and night-time variants, respectively (and also being clearly modelled after, and featuring cameos by, the Batman: Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) videogames and villains). Additionally, the use of stage transitions really helps to add a whole new dimension to combat, with some stages featuring more than others (or even none at all), to help ensure that every fight can be a little different. Stages also feature a bevy of other little cameos and DC references, such as the Fortress of Solitude being clearly modelled after Superman (Donner, 1978) while also featuring a portal to the Phantom Zone and a cameo from Starro the Conqueror. Similarly, J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter floats in the background of the Watchtower space station, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot is just hanging out at Stryker’s prison, and Amazons are preparing a boat to launch on Themyscira. Every single stage has a number of intractable elements and changes as you fight, cause damage, or smash foes around, with Gotham City being my favourite as you can battle on the roof with the Bat-Signal and then down to the grimy streets below and then blast your foe back up to the roof using a nearby truck!

Enemies and Bosses:
Injustice helpfully separates its character-selection screen into heroes (on the left) and villains (on the right) but, despite their different alignments (and that their loyalties change due to the multiverse shenanigans of the story), every single one of them will be an enemy of yours at some point as you play through the story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs missions, and on- or offline. Consequently, it’s worth keeping track of which character suits your playstyle as some have easier combos and special moves to pull off compared to others, or more useful Super Moves and Character Powers.

Play as, and against, the game’s characters to learn their strengths, weaknesses, and skills.

Additionally, the Class system should also be factored in; Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Solomon Gundy may be powerful and capable of gaining armour to tank through attacks but they’re also a lot slower on their feet and with their jumps. Superman and Shiera Hall/Hawkgirl are much faster Power-class characters but can also have their own drawbacks at times depending on your playstyle (Superman’s Character Power, for example, simply powers up his attacks rather than being a more offensive move like, say, Areas being able to conjure massive magical weapons). Personally, I tend to lean more towards Gadget-based characters, like Nightwing (who can switch between using quick batons or a longer bo staff to attack) or Green Arrow (whose arrows and bow allow for both ranged attacks and blindingly fast melee attacks).

Take on the corrupted Superman and banish him to the Phantom Zone for his crimes!

Unlike Mortal Kombat, Injustice doesn’t really feature any secret or hidden fights or unplayable sub-bosses or boss characters; the story mode and basic arcade ladder culminates in a battle against the corrupted Superman that is a far fairer and more competitive fight compared to the finales of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games. While Superman is definitely a bit more of an aggressive foe, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, he doesn’t gain inexplicable armour, can be stunned, and doesn’t deal ungodly amounts of damage or spam his attacks like a cheap bitch. Additionally, he doesn’t transform into some monstrous final form and, instead, the final battle is a far better use of the skills you’ve built up through regular gameplay rather than forcing you to resort to cheap tactics and tricks.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Because it lacks a “Test Your Luck” mode and “Kombat Kodes” for multiplayer fights, there aren’t really any in-game power-ups available to you outside of the various status effects seen in the Battle mode. As before, though, some characters can gain in-game buffs with their special attacks and Character Powers: Lex Luthor, for example, can erect a shield, Doomsday can cover himself in impenetrable armour for a brief period, and Solomon Grundy slows time down and drains his opponent’s health with his swamp gas. However, you’ll earn yourself additional XP if you mix up your fighting style and take advantage of stage interactions and transitions, which will allow you to unlock further customisation options for your profile card, and you can also earn additional skins and rewards by playing and linking up to the mobile version of the game.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements up for grabs in Injustice, with three of which being directly tied to the story mode (50- and 100% completion and succeeding at all of the QTE mini games). Others are tied to the game’s online modes, levelling-up to specific levels, customising your profile card, and finishing Classic Battle with one (and every) character. There are also some character-specific Achievements on offer, including performing every character’s Super Move or a ten-hit combat and winning a fight using only arrows as Green Arrow, or landing at least twelve shots without missing as Deathstroke. Batman is the only character to have two specific Achievements tied to him, though, as you’ll get some G for winning a match using all of his special moves and his Super Moves and for defeating every villain as him.

Injustice included some surprising DLC fighters; even Scorpion showed up!

Another standard of NetherRealm Studios is their addition of further skins and characters through DLC; you can get skins to play as John Stewart, Cyborg Superman, and the Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) Batman, among others, and they’re all easily applicable when selecting a character (no need for extraneous “Gear” here). While the game’s DLC characters have no additional Achievements tied to them, Injustice included some fun and interesting extra fighters; Lobo, General Dru-Zod (who also sports his Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) look as a skin), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Zatanna Zatara, and the Martian Manhunter were all great choices to add to the roster and it was nice to see NetherRealm Studios exercise a little restraint and not overload the DLC with additional Batman characters. By far the most exciting DLC fighter was the inclusion of Scorpion, who sports a Jim Lee redesign and began a trend of DC and Mortal Kombat characters appearing in each other’s games.

Take your fight online or complete a series of increasingly tricky S.T.AR. Labs challenges.

When you’ve had enough of the story mode and regular battle options, you can take the fight online in a series of matches; here; you can participate in ranked and unranked fights and “King of the Hill” tournaments where you watch other players fight until it’s your turn and bet on who’s going to win. The S.T.A.R. Labs missions will also keep us offline, solo players occupied for some time; these are expanded upon when you download the DLC fighters, which is much appreciated and, similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Challenge Tower” mode, basically serve as extended tutorials for each of the game’s characters. You’ll take on ten character-specific missions, with each one getting a little bit of text and maybe a picture to set the context of the mission, and these range from performing certain combos or attacks, winning fights, or completing tricky challenges (such as guiding Catwoman’s cat through laser trip wires, avoiding damage or debris, or racing against Superman).

The Summary:
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a far better marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and a fantastic expansion of the gameplay mechanics and features NetherRealm Studios revitalised their violent fighting game series with in Mortal Kombat (2009). While Injustice is obviously not as gory or violent as its sister-series, that doesn’t make it any less fun and it’s still a very brutal fighter; the Super Moves, especially, and certain character’s outros (such as the Joker’s) are definitely in the Mortal Kombat mould. With gorgeous in-game graphics, a fantastic amount of variety thanks to all of the character’s different special attacks and gameplay mechanics and the stage transitions, and a simple to learn, easy to master fighting system, Injustice is an extremely enjoyable game for anyone who’s a fan of either franchise or fighting games in general. The story is a breeze to get through (thought it is essentially every basic multiverse story ever told in comics) and nicely varied with some QTE sequences; the S.T.A.R. Labs missions and different arcade ladders are much more enjoyable and challenging than in its sister-series and there are plenty of character options, variety, and unlockables to keep you busy. Best of all, the game isn’t bogged down by endless grinding to unlock Gear, skins, or other perks and is a much more user-friendly and accessible fighting game, and overall experience, than its sequel.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you a fan of Injustice: Gods Among Us? What did you think to it as a blend of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of a parallel world terrorised by a corrupted Superman? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or did you pick up the Ultimate Edition when it released later? What did you think to the additional DLC characters and skins? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Injustice, leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for more Crossover Crisis content!