Top 5 on The Strip: Animated superhero cartoons

Batman animated series

1. Batman: The Animated Series

The standard bearer for modern superhero cartoons, Batman: The Animated Series was gritty, dark and fresh off the success of Batman Returns. It’s well-drawn with a neat art deco style and the voice acting set the standard for future series. If you weren’t watching this every day after school, you missed out. Immediately go back and watch this from beginning to end.

Teen Titans

2. Teen Titans

Teen Titans took a different tack when talking about Robin’s squad of heroes. It’s a great look at the younger superheroes of the DC universe in a group that still stands today. Featuring Robin, Starfire, Raven, Cyborg and Beast Boy, the show focuses on the group being young superheroes while also being teenagers with typical teenager problems. The voice work is fantastic and the animation is top-notch as well.

tmnt 1987 series

3. TMNT (1987 series)

We’re well-known TMNT fans here at GI and that love stems from the old black-and-white comics as well as the original animated series. That series, with its ’80s attitude and charm, managed to get us into the Turtles to start and paved the way for the juggernaut that was and still is the Turtles franchise. Outstanding voicework — featuring the likes of Jim Cummings and the late James Avery — make it one of the best ’80s animated series and a good introduction to the TMNT universe at large.

X-men fox animated

4. X-Men: The Animated Series

Aside from the classic theme, X-Men: The Animated Series featured a stellar voice cast and stories that mostly stayed faithful to the comics. At the time of its 1992 inception, this was unheard of in comic properties translated to TV. X-Men established several characters as favorites: Storm, Wolverine, Professor X, Jean Grey, Cable, Bishop, Gambit and Jubilee. It was so great that incarnations of the characters featured in the show have been used in multiple video game properties since.

spiderman-1994

5.  Spider-Man (Fox)

Another great Fox animated series, Spider-Man was a fantastic showcase of the web-crawler’s style and storylines. It featured quite a few of Peter Parker’s rogues gallery and touched on a lot of his story arcs with accuracy and maturity not usually seen in comic book shows. As with X-Men: The Animated Series, Spider-Man had great voice acting that carried over into video games produced thereafter, such as the Marvel Versus series.

Property review: Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War
Marvel Studios, 2016

A civil war worth fighting

No, this isn’t the “Late Unpleasantness,” but Captain America: Civil War is a bitter battle waged between brothers in arms. And it’s a fascinating look at that battle that has moral complications and implications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large.

Civil War starts out shortly after the end of the excellent Winter Soldier (editor’s note: Read our review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 4Q2014) and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The titular assassin is shown in a flashback to a pivotal event in an Avenger’s history and is, in the present, on the loose after rescuing Captain America from the murky depths of the Potomac River. Also, the Avengers have been bolstered by the additions of new recruits with a few losses in the lineup because of events in Age of Ultron. They’re on a mission to stop Crossbones (also new after the Winter Soldier) when everything planned goes horribly awry. The aftermath is swift: The Avengers are called on the carpet and told to shape up, join the government’s version of oversight or be hunted and thrown in jail with no foreseeable release. Sides are chosen and the lines are drawn as to who is going to remain with no oversight and who will work with the government’s registration act.

We have to acknowledge the powerful secondary tale that springs up among the Winter Soldier, Captain America and Iron Man. The civil war really comes down to the layered conflict between Cap and Iron Man. This is what’s really driving the overall arching fight between teams, but on a personal level, these two friends are hurting on different levels because of each other. Tony can’t understand why Cap doesn’t get the need for oversight and he feels jealous because of the relationship between Cap and the Winter Soldier. Not to mention, a plot twist late in the game brings the latter relationship to the forefront and is essentially the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Tony. Cap can’t understand why Tony doesn’t want to operate as is, given that Tony is a past weapons manufacturer and operates well without someone standing over his shoulder and the follies that were S.H.I.E.L.D and Hydra. Civil War’s excellent and tight writing basically boils down a conflict between best friends whose visions have grown apart.

Despite Civil War being one of the longer films in the MCU, it never feels like it. The pacing is excellent from the beginning to end, and you’re drawn into the action quickly and efficiently, which there’s plenty of. The flow of story to action is great, the humor is deftly weaved in with a lot of inside jokes and nods to past events and easter eggs, and it’s the perfect mix to keep you interested in what’s going to happen next. The fight scenes alone are worth watching just to see the choreography and stylish nuance found in recreating the ensemble’s various super powers and abilities. Every fight scene — from the brawl at government headquarters, to the chase at the Winter Soldier’s apartment and the giant brawl at the airport — is worth watching repeatedly.

Character development is also handled extremely well. New superheroes are introduced and older characters are further developed, which makes the characterization easy and natural and their interaction believable. You grow to care about the new characters, which is relatively hard to do with a large ensemble such as Civil War. You also get a sense that you would immediately know what each Avenger would decide to do because you already know these characters, and the ones you don’t know, you learn who they are and why they make their personal choices.

There are several additions to the cast that make Civil War stand out. The first is Black Panther, who becomes an Avenger at a later point in the comics. Here, the character’s introduction was handled so well that we’re eagerly awaiting the announced spinoff film for him. The second is Spider-Man. Yes, the web crawler’s recent film outings have been done to death, but it’s his introduction here that is nicely done. It serves two purposes: to finally bring him home to the Marvel brand once again and set him up correctly within the MCU.

The story, by itself, is an interesting tale of freedom and choices. We understood why both sides chose their positions in the Civil War, and we could easily empathize with both sides. While the comic version of this story is similar in forcing a stance on issues related to freedom and responsibility, the change made to the incident that causes the conflict between superheroes in the film is a welcome one and more relatable.

Where the MCU goes from here is debatable because of the many angles that can be taken in Infinity War, but it’s a going to be a great ride thanks to the fantastic build up in previous films such as Civil War.

Like the comics?: 6
Casting: 10
Storyline: 10

Score: 26/30 or 8.6

HOW WE GRADE
We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Otaku Corner: Death Note Vol. 9

Death Note wrapping up in its usual suspense-filled way

Brandon-2012-cutoutScholarly. Resourceful. If I had to describe Light Yagami, I would use these words to characterize him as well as to say that I could see him becoming a future minister of justice for Japan. However, since Mr. Yagami (aka Kira) has possession of the Death Note, I could only think of two words to describe him: tyrant and murderer. In the ninth volume of “Death Note,” Light’s actions fit my latter descriptions of him as his actions continue to have devastating reactions on the United States and Japan.
At the end of Volume 8, Light’s plan to use U.S. Special Forces to attack Mello’s hideout failed greatly because of the involvement of the shinigami Sidoh, the use of the ransom Death Note and use of the Shinigami Eyes by one of Mello’s henchmen. As a result, the Special Forces members along with current U.S. president David Hoope were killed. Reeling from Mello’s brilliant attack, Light devises an attack plan using Misa’s Death Note and having Soichiro make a deal with Ryuk for the Shinigami Eyes. Light’s plan worked successfully in eliminating Mello’s henchmen in addition to recovering the Death Note and finding out Mello’s true identity, but Soichiro was killed by one of Mello’s men, who faked his own death.
During these events, the SPK discovers that they are being disbanded amid a declarationDeath Note Vol. 9 cover of surrender to Kira by acting U.S. President George Sairas. This forces Light to go through a combined barrage of attacks by  Near and Mello in order to disrupt and expose Kira within the Japanese task force. During this three-way battle, Light’s, Mello’s and Near’s tactics result in  decisive wins for each man. In the final chapter, Light ultimately comes out on top by using Demegawa and Sakura TV to reach Kira supporters and rally them to siege the SPK headquarters while taunting Near to escape while he is able.
Like all of the other Death Note volumes I’ve read, Volume 9 still keeps the intriguing mix of supernatural horror and mystery. However, this volume had me thinking that Ohba-san and Obata-san wrote and drew this volume while watching a marathon of the show “24.” While reading, I noticed that while Light has his keen ability to take on many challenges, he also knows that he has Near and Mello standing in his way. I also like how Ohba-san and Obata-san set up Mello and Near as cooperative rivals. Mello tells Near that he is not a tool to capture Kira and threatens to shoot him, but they exchange clues regarding the Death Note when Near gives Mello the only picture available of him. As the Death Note saga begins to close, Light is so close to his dream, yet so far with Near and Mello on his heels.
Credit again goes to Viz Media as they continue to do an excellent job of translation and adaptation, this time assigning the tasks to Tesuichiro Miyaki. Miyaki continues the challenging-yet-successful task of presenting Death Note to the English audience.
I’m getting close to the end of reviewing the Death Note manga series. With only three volumes left, I’m kind of torn between rooting for Light’s noble cause to eradicate evil and L’s heirs continuing his legacy of genius. However, after all that Light has done to criminals and non-criminals alike, I can only take one side: Team Ryuzaki.

Brandon Beatty is editor at large of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at brandonb@gaminginsurrection.com

Marvel character highlight #22: Iceman

Name: Robert Louis DrakeIceman - fix

Alias: Iceman, Bobby Drake, Frozen One, Frosty, Drake Roberts, Iceface, Iceheart

Affiliation: X-Men, X-Factor, Murder Circus, Excelsiors, The Twelve, Chosen, Defenders, Secret Defenders, Champions

Special abilities: Iceman is classified as an “omega-level mutant.” Iceman can lower his body temperature and generate intense cold from the atmosphere around him. With his body temperature lowered, he can produce ice structures, generate and fully control ice, and freeze  and unfreeze anything. He can manipulate ice on a cellular level, use thermal vision as well as generate clones and freeze the Earth and spread his consciousness throughout the ice on a global scale.

Background: Robert Drake lived a normal life until one day, as a teenager, he was on a date with a young woman when a bully from school attacked. He pointed his hand at the bully and the attacking boy was encased in a block of ice. A local mob heard of the incident and gathered to lynch Bobby. After being placed in jail to keep away from the mob, fellow founding X-Men member Scott Summers came to rescue him. He and Summers fought until Charles Xavier arrived to save both teens. He joined the team with other founding members Jean Grey, Warren Worthington III and Hank McCoy and battled early X-Men foes Magneto and Juggernaut. While on the team he further developed his powers and gained control of them. As a founding member of the X-Men, he was captured by the sentient island of Krakoa and was rescued by the next generation of the team. He later quit the X-Men and founded X-Factor with the other original members of the X-Men.

Relationships: Opal Tanaka (girlfriend); Annie Ghazikhanian (girlfriend); Lorna Dane (Polaris), girlfriend; Raven Darkholme (Mystique), girlfriend. Note: Robert Drake’s sexuality has been confirmed as gay.

First Versus appearance: X-Men: Children of the Atom

Appearances in other media: The Marvel Super Heroes (animated), Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (animated), X-Men: The Animated Series (animated), X-Men: Evolution (animated), Wolverine and the X-Men (animated), The Super Hero Squad Show (animated), X-Men (film), X2: X-Men United (film), X3: The Last Stand (film), X-Men: Days of Future Past (film), Fantastic Four (1997, video game), X-Men: Children of the Atom (video game), Marvel vs. Capcom (video game), Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (video game), X-Men Legends (video game), X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (video game), Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (video game), Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (video game), Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (video game), Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (video game), X-Men: Destiny (video game), Marvel Super Hero Squad Online (video game), Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth (video game), Lego Marvel Super Heroes (video game), Marvel Heroes (video game)

Strip Talk #24: Get ready for the deluge of comic book movies

Lyndsey-2013-cutout-onlineThe deluge of comic book movies these days is like heaven-sent mana for a geek like myself. The sheer volume alone is overwhelming, and the majority of them happen to be good. I will properly confess that I wasn’t anticipating the quality of the majority, but it’s a welcome problem to have because it could always be worse.

If your name is Marvel, you have done extraordinarily well. Basically, everything they touch is gold. Captain America: Civil War was HUGE; we’re talking billions in box office receipts. Even the B-Team movies (i.e. the spinoffs) such as Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy have exceeded expectations and made buckets of money for the Marvel brand. So, we’re good here because just about everything about Phase III is going to translate into critical acclaim and financial windfall.

If your name is DC, you have some issues and we have concerns about you going forward. DC’s cinematic universe just can’t seem to get it right, whether it’s the poor characterization of Superman’s solo film, the tepid Batman vs. Superman or the silliness of Suicide Squad. It seems that DC is struggling to tell even the most basic stories about its legendary stable of heroes. Superman’s movies have been mostly miss since the ill-advised reboot attempt in 2006 with Superman Returns. Batman has been mostly good since the Christopher Nolan trilogy wrapped up with Dark Knight Rises, but there is yet another new face under the cowl — Ben Affleck — that’s going to have to carry major burdens. Suicide Squad has been hit or miss, with either enthusiastically great or horrible reviews. DC has got to get its act together if it’s serious about competing with the Marvel juggernaut in any way, shape or form.

If you’re not named either DC or Marvel and you’re producing a comic property, chances are you’re the X-Men or Wolverine. Fox handles the X-Men and it shows immediately that they’re not Marvel (despite being a Marvel property in ink). While First Class and Days of Future Past were wonderful and a great restoration of the X-Men name from the horrific days of Last Stand, the more recent Apocalypse nearly destroyed the goodwill that the franchise has managed to earn back. Poor pacing and character development of prominent X-Men such as Storm and Psylocke does not endear the series to anyone looking to see the merry band of mutants make a comeback. While Deadpool did extremely well for Fox, it’s hard to see where they’re going after this except for more X-Men/Wolverine and more Deadpool.

I’m all for the gaggle of movies expected to release in the next months to few years. By the time you read this, Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok will have been released and we still have on the horizon Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Justice League, Avengers Infinity War, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Shazam, The Flash, Aquaman, Justice League 2, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps, Spider-Man: Homecoming, an Old Man Logan/Wolverine final movie, Ant Man and the Wasp, and several TV properties such as Luke Cage, and future seasons of Jessica Jones, Arrow, the Flash, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Cloak and Dagger and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If that doesn’t keep you busy and informed on comic adaptations, you’re missing quite a bit.

You can’t escape the prevalence of comic books in cinema, especially now that the mainstream public at large is invested in either Marvel or DC and second-tier characters like Groot are household names. You know you’ve jumped into mainstream consciousness when the bandwagon fans are sympathizing with the Winter Soldier without knowing his background and up-to-date biography. But it’s not really for the bandwagoneers, is it? It’s more for us, the comic book faithful who won’t turn down a movie about a superhero because, well, superheroes. I don’t know about you, but I’m about to be a little kid on Christmas morning once again.

Lyndsey Hicks is editor-in-chief of Gaming Insurrection. She can be reached by email at editor@gaminginsurrection.com

Anime Lounge #14: Death Note Ep. 1-6

Death Note-animeAnime-LoungeSeries: Death Note

Episodes: 1 to 6

Premise: A young man named Light Yagami is bored and incredibly gifted mentally. He’s looking for things to do outside of hacking the national police database and is preparing to go to law school for a career in criminal justice. One day, while in school, he happens to notice a strange book appear outside. He opens it and finds a shinigami, named Ryuk, that’s bound to follow the person who finds it. Light’s discovery and subsequent dealings with Ryuk and his Death Note begin the twisted tale of justice as a means to an end.

Is it worth watching?: YES. This is one of the best anime to be released in the past 20 years. It’s got everything you could want: Suspense, drama, several murder mysteries, a plot that makes you question life choices and characters to root for.

Breakout character: There are four: Light, Misa, Ryuk and L. Each of the four is central to the story and yet, all manage to steal the show in their own way.

Funniest episode: Episode 1, “Rebirth.” The opening episode finds Light interacting with Ryuk once he obtains the Death Note, which is hilarious for several reasons. Light doesn’t seem to be that enthralled with a death god near him and he immediately uses his powers of deduction and reasoning to come to several conclusions about the Death Note and its usage. Their interaction is always fun and serves to set up the way the rest of the series flows ultimately.

Where it’s going?: Light is in control for the first few episodes. He’s still learning the ropes with the Death Note and understanding how it works, and what kind of justice he can enact: Righteous or malicious. How Light continues to succeed in staying hidden and not getting caught is the name of the game going forward. It’s worth it to watch to see just how Light stays ahead of the game and avoids suspicion from the most talented investigator in the world, L.