Sgt. Rock is a bait and switch. But what’s got to be a pointless one. The bait is a fifteen minute “violent” Sgt. Rock cartoon with Karl Urban doing the voice. Only the character doesn’t get many lines and when he does, they’re usually barking orders lines. So basically it’s like Karl Urban doing the voice of an action figure. Could be a Sgt. Rock figure, could be a Judge Dredd figure, doesn’t matter. As far as delivering on Karl (“Make Dredd 2”) Urban as famous DC Comics WWII war comic Sgt. Rock? Fail.
Only it’s not some cartoon about Urban doing war things. It’s about the Creature Commandos. It’s a Creature Commandos cartoon. It should be called Sgt. Rock and the Creature Commandos. Maybe His Creature Commandos if you want to kick dirt at the competition but Rock doesn’t really have the gumption to kick dirt. And shouldn’t. The best thing about it is how writers Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, and Tim Sheridan plot the big fight scene. Rock’s a really simple fifteen minutes—war battle scene, hospital and assignment, Creature Commandos reveal, Creature Commandos vs. Zombie Wehrmacht. There’s no character development, the Frankenstein Monster doesn’t get a line (or a direct name), the werewolf gets even less (though he’s scared of shadows), and vampire guy gets a name and a hiss. Oh, and Urban runs into his German nemesis, “The Iron Major” (William Salyers), because it’s a comic book.
As amusement, Sgt. Rock flops. Timm’s direction is lousy. The animation’s cheap and whatnot, but the direction’s lousy. Whenever Timm runs out of ideas, he does slow motion. There’s a lot of slow motion. As a pitch for a “feature” sequel, Rock flops. As a violent cartoon, Rock flops—there’s some creative violence, but the animation’s so cheap the impact’s all lost. As an encouragement to read Sgt. Rock comics, fail. As an encouragement to read Creature Commandos comics… incomplete. It’s feasible Rock could get one interested in the comics. I’m curious (though more because of the Commandos creative team).
As a reminder it’s sad there’s no Dredd 2? Well, on that level, Sgt. Rock might just be a success. But only if you lose interest enough to daydream.
Directed by Bruce Timm; screenplay by Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, and Tim Sheridan, based on the DC Comics characters created by Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, J.M. DeMatteis, and Pat Broderick; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, and Kristopher Carter; producer, Amy McKenna; released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Starring Karl Urban (Sgt. Rock), Keith Ferguson (Lt. Shreive), and William Salyers (The Iron Major).
Dave Gibbons does the most art on World’s Funnest. It’s not exactly the standard Dave Gibbons art, either, it’s Dave Gibbons doing Silver Age and it’s awesome. What writer Evan Dorkin taps into with World’s Funnest is the experience of being a Batman and Superman fan in the late eighties and early nineties; it’s practically a companion piece for those Greatest [insert DC character here] Stories Ever Told. The hardcover ones with beautiful reprints of the old stories, which weren’t cool in any modern sense, but you had to do the work to appreciate them because you want to be a good fan. You want to understand. And Dorkin’s trip through the DC multiverse is all about understanding, both the multiverse and the way it presents to the reader. Even though the first eighteen or so pages are all set in the Silver Age, Dorkin’s observations about the tropes make it all very modern. It never feels wrong to the characters, but it’s rather self-aware, from injured villains to Robin’s constant need for approval; Dorkin could’ve stopped World’s Funnest with a Silver Age riff and done something awesome, but then he keeps going.
I didn’t know what to expect from World’s Funnest. I missed it when it first came out, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to open it to discover an impressive list of creators. Unfortunately, it’s an alphabetical list of creators. So I sorted them out in order of their contributions.
First up after Gibbons is Mike Allred, who also comes first alphabetically, so he’s a terrible example. Oh, wait, I probably need to at least acknowledge the premise of the comic, which I wasn’t familiar with either. Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite battle across the DC multiverse and its various time periods and dimensions within universes. Dorkin doesn’t get into the science, which is both awesome and surprising. I can’t believe they got away with some of this stuff.
Allred handles the Phantom Zone, but an Earth–2 Phantom Zone? Like pre-Crisis Earth–2 Phantom Zone. Or maybe just a Silver Age Phantom Zone. Again, Dorkin’s not interested in the locations for narrative purposes, just for homage. It’s a violent, pseudo-cynical homage, but it’s never mean-spirited. World’s Funnest is enamored with the comics it comments on. With the possible exception of some nineties references.
Then Sheldon Moldoff handles the actual Earth-Two visit, Stuart Immomen and Joe Giella on Earth-Three. Frank Cho’s got some lovely art for the Quality Comics universe. Jaime Hernandez does Captain Marvel’s universe, which is a hilarious visit for the battling imps. Dorkin never directly contrasts the different universes, but lining them up and inspecting each does reveal a lot of amusing details. Scott Shaw gets Captain Carrot, Stephen DeStefano does some fumetti, then Jim Woodring gets to do the trip to the Fifth Dimension.
Now, it’s hard to imagine not being familiar with Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite as a DC Comics reader, but it gets more possible with each passing year and each rebranding and each reboot. Dorkin approaches the story with just the right mix of nostalgia and commentary; there isn’t time for introducing the various worlds though–which might actually make World’s Funnest a great primer for DC Comics history. There’s a familiarity curve to the comic book. A daunting one.
After Woodring, David Mazzucchelli does an amazing Jack Kirby trip to Apokolips. I didn’t think it was Mazzucchelli when I was reading it. I’m even more impressed now and I was rather impressed while reading it. Dorkin and Mazzucchelli match Kirby’s enthusiasm and outlandishness without letting it go absurd. Darkseid’s one of the best supporting players in the comic.
Jay Stephens does “Super Friends,” Glen Murakami and Bruce Timm do a storyboard for the animated series, then along comes Frank Miller to do a Dark Knight bit. It’s freaking amazing. And really good art from Frank too; I think the good art from Frank Miller in 2000 was what surprised me the most about it. Doug Mahnke and Norm Rapmund do the nineties flashback, which is the closest the comic gets towards being nasty about its reference points. Then Phil Jimenez does an awesome Crisis section, very Perez. Ty Templeton does a few pages of general universe transporting before the Alex Ross finale. It’s only a few pages, a few panels, but it’s awesome to see what a “Batman: The TV Show” Bat-Mite would’ve looked like (albeit in superior lighting to the show).
And it’s funny. All of it’s really funny and really smart about how it’s being funny. Dorkin doesn’t have one joke not connect, even the handful I might not have fully appreciated. It’s a lovely tribute to a lot of comics and a lot of comic creators. I’m embarrassed not to have read it until now.
Last Imp Standing!; writer, Evan Dorkin; artists, Dave Gibbons, Mike Allred, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Cho, Jaime Hernandez, Scott Shaw, Stephen DeStefano, Jim Woodring, David Mazzucchelli, Jay Stephens, Frank Miller, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton and Alex Ross; pencillers, Stuart Immomen, Glen Murakami and Doug Mahnke; inkers, Joe Giella, Bruce Timm and Norm Rapmund; colorist, Chris Chuckry and Mazzucchelli; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.
There are a lot of excellent things in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but maybe my favorite thing is the end credits music. It’s smooth jazz. It’s this smooth jazz love song over the cast and when you see names like Abe Vigoda and Dick Miller and John P. Ryan in an animated Batman movie, you want to enjoy the moment. With smooth jazz.
But, just wait, it’s not only smooth jazz. It’s a Tia Carrere song. Who knew there was such a thing as a Tia Carrere song but there is in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which makes it special. It’s not bad, either. It’s fine. Phantasm is this fifties melodrama style mixed with impossibly big buildings–which matches the lushness–and it’s a perfectly reasonable way to end the movie.
I wish they hadn’t done the “and Batman’s adventures continue” tag, but the finale of Phantasm has a number of problems. The movie starts exceptionally strong but the writing in the first act is stronger than the second and momentum runs out. It’s still really good–there are frequent action scenes and they’re phenomenal–it’s just not as good as it seemed like it might be.
Because Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is breathtaking. The designs are gorgeous, the animation is gorgeous. And it’s a solid outing for Batman; Kevin Conroy’s Batman is far more likable than anything else. He’s got personality, but not too much and not jaded personality either. It’s accessible to the kids, which is an inevitable.
But the screenwriters do a good job getting everything onto that chastened level–Conroy’s romance with Dana Delany, Hart Bochner’s sliminess. Not Mark Hamill’s Joker, however. It’s the one thing Phantasm never backs down on. It’s a very strange sensation because you’re watching a cartoon and somehow Hamill makes the character into a show-off. It shouldn’t be possible, but he’s so good, so well-timed. It’s kind of freaky, especially the editing on the Joker’s murder sequences. Al Breitenbach’s editing is great throughout, but it’s something special on those Joker sequences. It’s scary.
Good music from Shirley Walker. She has some cute nods to the Tim Burton scores.
Almost all of the acting is good, Delany and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in particular. In addition to Hamill, of course. And Conroy’s real good. Stacy Keach doesn’t impress though. It just doesn’t work.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is pretty darn good. It’s got a beauty pace–directors Radomski and Timm take their time with the shots, it’s cinematic through its pacing, not just its action sequences. It’s got some great acting. It just has some second and third act problems. But it’s pretty darn good; it’s often spectacular.
And it does end with a Tia Carrere ballad, which defies reality–a perfectly fine and appropriate Tia Carrere ballad too, which defies reality even more.
Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm; screenplay by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Paso and Michael Reaves, based on a story by Burnett and characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; edited by Al Breitenbach; music by Shirley Walker; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Kevin Conroy (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Dana Delany (Andrea Beaumont), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Alfred Pennyworth), Bob Hastings (Commissioner James Gordon), Hart Bochner (Arthur Reeves), Stacy Keach (Carl Beaumont), Robert Costanzo (Detective Harvey Bullock), Abe Vigoda (Salvatore Valestra), Dick Miller (Chuckie Sol), John P. Ryan (Buzz Bronski) and Mark Hamill (The Joker).
Rocketeer Adventures really needs some editorial guidance. Or at least the stories need to make sense in relation to one another.
The first story, from Ryan Sook, is pretty good. But Sook makes a big point of how Cliff gets the fame Betty so desperately wants, only he never indicates whether she’s jealous about it. His finish, while beautifully done, could go either way.
Then there’s the Joe R. Lansdale short story. Lansdale writes a pulpy text–nothing particularly special and he doesn’t describe the action very well. Bruce Timm’s occasional illustrations ignore the pulpy quality. Timm does G-rated art for an R-rated story. It’s a complete disconnect.
The final story, from Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards, is easily the best. Ross has a fun setup and, refreshingly, concentrates on the female characters. Edwards’s stylized art suits it well.
Even with the pluses, the issue feels unsubstantial.
A Rocketeer Story; writer, artist, colorist and letterer, Ryan Sook. Heaven’s Devils; writer, Joe R. Lansdale; plotter, artist and colorist, Bruce Timm. Junior Rocketeers; writer, Jonathan Ross; artist and colorist, Tommy Lee Edwards; letterer, John Workman. Editor, Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.