Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Pitch for the Next Batman Trilogy

Jason Book and I discuss our idea for a Batman trilogy of films that could work well in the Warner Brothers Justice League Universe.

It's a new exploration of Bruce/Batman that we haven't seen on film before, it draws from famous comic book storylines but is not a direct adaption of them, and in the end it really is a story of Jason Todd just as much as it is of Bruce Wayne.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 55-58

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on all the short scenes in between Lex's helipad scene and the big Batman-Superman fight.

  • Scout ship activated
  • Superman and Lois, "No one stays good in this world."
  • Wonder Woman before the fight
  • The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg
  • Lois and Perry's character arc
  • Bonus: Additional thoughts from listeners on Lex's helipad scene
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

<Transcript of the episode>

Man of Steel Sequel: Top 5 Villains

Jason Book and I run through some ideas for who could be a villain in the Man of Steel sequel that is reportedly in active pre-production.

Our discussion includes Brainiac, Mongul, Metallo (my personal top pick!), Parasite, and a surprise final antagonist.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Comparing Film Series Box Office Performance

EDIT 9/15/2016: Updated with increased projection for Suicide Squad (from $675M to $715M).

With Suicide Squad overcoming critical negativity to post a huge record August opening and then showing strong legs with only 52% and 42% drops the last two weekends, it now looks clear that the DC Films Justice League Universe (often referred to as the DCEU) is three for three in terms of financial success. Suicide Squad should safely clear $675 Million worldwide. Movie finances are notoriously hard to pin down, but here are two quick pieces of evidence that Suicide Squad, like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman before it, are financially profitable:
  • Even if we assume SS went over budget by $10 Million or so (maybe because of the reshoots), it is still going to post a worldwide gross more than 3.6 times its production cost (for comparison, the hugely successful Guardians of the Galaxy had a worldwide gross 3.3 times its production cost);
  • Warner Brothers is expanding its DC Films slate by adding a Man of Steel sequel and Justice League Dark. This is on top of its already ambitious slate including Wonder Woman, Justice League, The Flash, Aquaman, and The Batman.

The films in the Justice League Universe have also had incredibly strong home media sales thus far, and Suicide Squad also managed to support the number one album in the country with its soundtrack. But focusing just on the worldwide box office totals, we can also put this new film series into context by comparing it to many other film series of the 21st Century. Below is a graph that shows the DCEU in pink but also shows 8 other film series -- The Dark Knight trilogy, The Hunger Games, James Bond, Transformers, Fast & Furious, Harry Potter, the X-Men universe, and of course the Marvel Cinematic Universe (13 films and counting). This graph uses a $715 Million estimate for Suicide Squad, which is probably low.

Some things that stick out to me from this graph:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Batman: Top 5 Villains

Jason Book and I share ideas for The Batman film, forthcoming from the DC Films division of Warner Brothers, written by Ben Affleck and Geoff Johns and directed by Ben Affleck.

Affleck has said the film will not be a direct adaption of any comic book, but it will draw inspiration from a few different comic book sources, kind of like Zack Snyder has done with Man of Steel and BvS. Anyway, here are some reading recommendations that can go along with some of the villains we discuss:
  • Hush -- "Hush" by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee
  • Black Mask -- "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" by Tony Daniel
  • Joker -- "Death in the Family" by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo, and "Joker" by Brian Azzarello (the latter is already a great read to connect with Suicide Squad)
  • Court of Owls -- "Court of Owls" and "City of Owls" by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
  • Arkham -- Hugo Strange in "Batman and the Monster Men" by Matt Wagner or "Batman: Arkham Unhinged" by Derek Fridolfs, prequel to Arkham City video game, and then of course "Batman: Arkham Asylum" by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean

Friday, August 26, 2016

Batman 5: Gotham Girl to the Rescue

Jason Book and I discuss issue 5 of Batman (DC Comics), by Tom King and David Finch. This wraps up the first story arc, "I Am Gotham."

Thus far the first issue may have been the best, so that set up a little bit of unmet expectations, but overall it was a solid story arc. King has established a nice thematic basis about Batman's ability (or not) to always protect Gotham and this issue has a fantastic and memorable scene with Alfred. It also has a significant ending and then a bit of a tease on the final page that Tom King will have to follow up on in future arcs. For me, I'm definitely enjoying the series and I think it's highest heights are still ahead.

Also, check out this Newsarama interview with Tom King where he talks about his future plans for the series. He also reveals that this first arc was not actually about Gotham, as it may have seemed, but was about Gotham Girl next to him, and her origin.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Omega Men Graphic Novel

DC Comics just released The Omega Men: The End is Here graphic novel, the collected edition of Tom King's 12-issue run on the series. It features art by Ig Guara, Toby Cypress, and Barnaby Bagenda. It is a space-based story that involves rebels (or are they terrorists?) trying to resist an overwhelming and oppressive force called The Citadel. This book shows that comics are capable of taking on issues of direct relevance to today's society, and it is merges exceptionally insightful and sometimes brutal writing by an ex-CIA officer who knows what he's talking about with a keen art style that is consistent throughout and that involves both striking figures and memorable settings. This graphic novel really is the total package and I recommend it to anyone who is willing to take comics seriously.

Two more good reasons to check out this book: it was of such high quality that Tom King's work here (together with his runs on Grayson and The Vision for Marvel) landed him the top gig at DC Comics -- writing the Batman ongoing series. Furthermore, this book is a great example of the art not only making use of what's inside the panels but actually structuring the panels in ways that support the story. It is consistently based around a nine-panel grid and, at times, it gives the sense of prison bars while at other times the panels gradually build up to climactic moments -- from 9 panels to 8 to 7 etc., finally landing on a full splash page and then resolving back through 2, 3, etc., to 9 panels again.

It is basically a master class in comic book storytelling and it has a great deal of relevance to our relationship to leaders and our perceptions of war and violence. It is definitely one of the most affecting books I've read over the past year.

All-Star Batman 1: Batman and Two-Face Hit the Road

Jason Book and I discuss the first issue of All-Star Batman by Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr.

As expected, I wasn't too thrilled with the art -- at least not the renderings of Batman -- but the premise of the story is intriguing and this issue has several great scenes. We are both definitely excited to see what Snyder has in store.

Monday, August 22, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 54

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Lex's helipad scene with Lois and Superman.

  • Lex's use of Lois
  • Triangle inequality
  • Superman came back
  • High and low motif
  • Lex's villain monologue
  • Lex's wordplay and cultural references
  • Is good a matter of perspective?
  • The problem of evil
  • Editing, music, and Superman and his mother
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>

Friday, August 19, 2016

DC Entertainment Success in Summer 2016

For years, DC has run a distant second behind Marvel with regard to box office success and comic book sales. I have nothing against Marvel, so this post is in no way meant to disparage their good fortunes, but personally DC's characters have always been closer to my heart. That's why it has been rewarding for me this summer to look beyond the mixed critical reception of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad and to see the widespread success that DC/WB has been having recently.

Despite the naysayers, BvS was an unequivocal financial success. And now Suicide Squad is on a very successful path as well, heading for more than $600 Million worldwide -- more than enough to be profitable beyond its $175 Million budget and $125 Million marketing campaign. It opens this weekend in Germany and then Japan in the near future, which will boost its international numbers even higher. As the figure below shows, Suicide Squad is also keeping pace above the wildly successful Guardians of the Galaxy, which still reigns as by far the most successful August movie ever.

But DC/WB's success goes well beyond the box office...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Batman 4: Gotham gets dark

Jason Book and I discuss issue 4 of Batman by Tom King and David Finch (DC Comics).

Unfortunately, I had some technical difficulties and so my video cut out near the end. What I didn't get to say was that I LOVED the scene between Waller and Batman (you can see it in the video around the 3:18 mark) and I thought the art was solid throughout. I liked the scene with Duke Thomas, and I also think we're in store for some good action in the next issue

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Superhero Movies: Critics' Influence on Box Office

With the release and continued success of Suicide Squad, I got curious about what the data would say about the relationship between critic ratings (as aggregated on Metacritic -- I don't use Rotten Tomatoes anymore) and box office performance for superhero movies. To reduce the scope to something manageable, I decided to just look at the Top 40 superhero movies by worldwide box office performance. (And I haven't included Suicide Squad yet, even though it's already in the Top 40 after just one week. But at the end of this post, I will speculate on where Suicide Squad might end up.)

Here is the scatterplot of Metacritic rating (x-axis) and worldwide box office total in millions of dollars (y-axis), with the box office totals roughly adjusted for inflation.

First of all, we can see a positive but weak relationship between the Metacritic rating and box office performance. The correlation coefficient is approximately 0.32, so there is definitely some predictive power based on critical reception but there are many other factors that also go into the final box office total. Some of those other factors (e.g., audience reaction, word-of-mouth) are certainly associated with critical reception while others (e.g., marketing effectiveness, MPAA rating, 3D screenings, international markets) are independent of critical reception.

Critical reviews do not determine box office performance

Friday, August 12, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Scenes 1 and 2

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on the first two scenes of Suicide Squad -- the introductions of Deadshot and Harley Quinn in Belle Reve Penitentiary.

  • Belle Reve and "The House of the Rising Sun"
  • Deadshot doesn't have any friends
  • Griggs portrayed by Ike Barinholtz
  • Vengeance and holy ghost motifs
  • Harley Quinn's gymnastics background
  • Initial set-up of Harley's character
Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>

Box Office Success: Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy

Apparently today is a day to crunch sales numbers. In addition to the strong comic book sales for DC, we can also take a look at the very good week that Suicide Squad had at the box office. In addition to August records for opening weekend, it also posted some of the best weekdays ever for a superhero film.

Some of those prior records were held by Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel Studios, and GotG is a good comparison for Suicide Squad because both movies were released in August (typically a much weaker box office month than May, June, and July) and both featured ensembles in a shared superhero universe. So let's take a closer look at GotG and Suicide Squad in terms of domestic box office performance (the Skwad hasn't opened yet in all international markets, and won't ever be opening in China, unlike GotG). The graph below shows cumulative domestic totals for both films.

EDIT: See bottom of this post for an updated graph with the second weekend estimates included.

Many of the blog posts about Suicide Squad have focused on the negative critical reviews or the disconnect between reviewers and movie fans. And appropriately, there were also a fair number of headlines pointing out the August opening record ($133.7 Million) set by Suicide Squad over the previous record holder GotG. (Before GotG, August movies were happy to hit $60 Million domestic.) But it's been unfortunate that more headlines have focused on the Friday-Sunday decline for Suicide Squad than the amazingly strong week Suicide Squad just posted. Its daily totals were consistently above mega-hits such as Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

All of that is to say that we should take a moment to appreciate at least the box office success of Suicide Squad, even if we have differing opinions on the quality of the movie. In the graph above, bear in mind that the blue line for GotG is the most successful August movie of all a wide margin. Let that sink in, and then take a look at the pink Skwad line. You'll see that the Skwad has already posted $179.1 Million before the second weekend, and GotG only had $176.4 Million after its second weekend. But what if Suicide Squad nosedives like Batman v Superman did? Well...

DC Comics Strong Sales for July 2016

DC Comics overtook Marvel Comics in comic book sales for July 2016 -- something that doesn't happen very often. As pointed out, DC has only led Marvel for 57 months out of the last 227 months, so only 25% of the time since 1997 when Diamond began releasing this information. And DC on top as been even rarer lately with Marvel's recent incorporation of the Star Wars comics and the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last 8 years. The last time DC posted a higher sales month than Marvel was October 2013 when Forever Evil was getting started and Superman Wonder Woman #1 and Sandman Overture #1 were released. Batman #24, of course, was solid as well. DC also led sales in September 2013, which as "Villain month" (a Forever Evil tie-in) and had many extra issues that shipped.

Last month, DC posted 35% of the dollar share and Marvel had 34%, with Image trailing in third at 8%. Fans seem to be appreciating the new $2.99 price on all the main DC books because DC's unit share was actually 40% to Marvel's 36%, so comic readers bought substantially more issues from DC but did so at a lower average cost per issue.

Below is my previous graph that looks at market share on the year-to-year basis. You can see that in 2015 Marvel posted a 39% dollar share to DC's 26%. In June 2016, the first full month of DC's Rebirth, DC took a step forward with 29.9% dollar share, but things really seem to be paying off for DC in July, with the move up to 40% dollar share.

If DC can sustain at least a substantial portion of this gain, then there will be an uptick for 2016 in that year-to-year graph. They won't be able to overtake Marvel, because Marvel has already led for the first 6 months of 2016 by more than DC will be able to make up in the back half of the year, but it is still a good direction for DC. In short, the financial projections for DC Rebirth seem to be paying off, at least in the short term.

Let's look at some of the books that did particularly well.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Villains of Suicide Squad

Jason Book and I discuss the villains in Suicide Squad, including Amanda Waller, Enchantress, and the Joker. SPOILER WARNING

See also our non-spoiler review of the movie. I have since seen it again and raised my score to a 7.5/10.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Jason Book and I share our (spoiler-free) reactions to Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer. Overall we both thought the movie was really good, but not great. In this video, we go through our opinions about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The video contains more content, but in short, I thought the good aspects were the characters (especially Deadshot, Harley and Joker, El Diablo, and Amanda Waller), the opening introductions, and the character-based denouement. Elsehwere, I have also started to unpack some of the movie's themes, and there is more there than I initially thought.

For me, the bad was that there were a few too many music cues with rock songs, the middle section dabbled in generic action territory, and I thought a couple emotional pay-offs were set up but not set up thoroughly enough. The ugly was probably just the mystical Enchantress in Midway City (not the smoky witch version... I liked those parts), but luckily Enchantress was actually just the tool of the real villain, Amanda Waller.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Themes and Characters

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast contains my initial reactions to Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer.

  • Themes versus Subjects in Literature
  • Initial thoughts about themes in Suicide Squad (recognizing love as a human connection, friendship over leverage)
  • Waller as the villain
  • Comments on characters
  • Connections to the broader Justice League Universe
John Ostrander review
Mark Hughes review
Themes in the JLU
Thanks to @theLupeXperienc and @NickdeSemlyen on Twitter
Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>

Friday, August 5, 2016

Quick Reaction to Suicide Squad (No Spoilers)

Below are my quick, spoiler-free thoughts on Suicide Squad. But first, just before I went in to see Suicide Squad, we got the very strong numbers from Thursday night, with $20.5 Million domestically and it set several records in other countries. (Unfortunately, it looks like SS will not be showing in China, similar to what happened to Deadpool. This is probably a loss of about $70-80 Million in their worldwide total.) That $20.5M number is the largest for an August release and 13th largest ever. This, plus the strong presale numbers (locked in before the reviews were released), bodes well for the opening weekend.

Even if Suicide Squad has a similar Friday to Sunday drop as did BvS, the $20.5M Thursday still predicts a domestic opening of $122.9 Million! That would set a new August record by almost $30 Million. (BvS had $27.7M on Thursday and $166M for the weekend.) If it maintains a bit better than BvS, it could approach or clear $130 Million.

Quick Reaction:
I really enjoyed the movie, but it didn't hit me at the deeper levels that I appreciate in movies and novels. I do think there's an interesting theme to explore upon multiple viewings about love being a humanizing force that can connect people (they don't have to love one another, but if they recognize the love in the other, that can be the basis of a bond) and if one still has love, they still have a reason to live and are, in some sense, redeemable. But I'll have to give that more thought.

The movie definitely presents some memorable characters, some memorable scenes, and it has a unique visual style (if not a unique action/choreography style). I found myself fully engaged in the first 15-20 minutes with some very comics-inspired set-up, and I also really like from the bar scene onward, including an emotionally effective denouement. But in some of the middle sections, it flirted with generic action territory where the momentum seemed a bit forced.

I really liked Harley and Joker's storyline, and Will Smith worked well as Deadshot, in my opinion. It's hard to say much more without getting in to details, and I like to process movies for awhile, so I'll wrap it up here, but right now I feel like I could list a lot of things that I thought worked well about the movie but I could also list quite a few things that I thought were a bit off the mark. For example, Katana was underutilized and one villain (Waller) was much better than the other.

Overall, based on my first viewing and only a little bit of process time, I give Suicide Squad a 7/10, and I can't really see it going much higher than an 8 for me because I don't give many 9's or 10's (I've probably only given 25 out of 1000+ movies) and to reach that level, I would've needed to see some more literary motifs and more fully developed themes.

Addendum: I got to see it a second time and I caught many more foreshadowings and setups, so I'm increasing my rating to 7.5/10.

Justice League Comic-Con Footage

Jason Book and I discuss our reactions to the footage from Justice League that was shared at Comic-Con.

First of all, it was amazing that they showed this much footage for a film that is not being released until Fall 2017. Second, we were both pretty excited by what we saw, with the main purpose of this clip being to introduce the team and show some of Bruce's efforts to pull the team together.

Below is the clip from Warner Brothers. Justice League is directed by Zack Snyder and written by Chris Terrio.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 51-53

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Martha's abduction, Batman and the bat signal, and Lois's abduction from Batman v Superman.

  • Martha Kent and Nancy Grace
  • Batman's meticulous fight preparation
  • The batsignal as an instigation for Superman
  • Batman as Lex's Knight
  • "Every time we say goodbye" song connection
  • Everything coming up Lex
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Suicide Squad Reviews

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>

Processing the Suicide Squad Reviews

The review embargo for Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer for Warner Brothers and DC Films, was lifted today. So I am going to use this blog post to process the reactions to this film from the movie critic community, similar to what I did with Batman v Superman. Please note that I will be focusing on Metacritic as a review aggregator, because Rotten Tomatoes is so misleading and misunderstoond, and I will also try to reference specific reviews as I am able to read and react to them.

Here's my prediction about Suicide Squad's success (prior to reviews).

4:49pm Central
Thus far Metacritic is registering 26 reviews and the average score out of 100 is sitting at 47. Thus far it is looking like a solidly average critical reception, with 7 positive reviews to 5 negative reviews, but a lot (14 out of 26) sitting in the middle and favoring 40 or 50 out of 100 instead of 50 to 60.

Bear in mind that there will probably be close to 50 total reviews when all is said and done, so we're only a little over halfway to a final average... but chances are very high that the average will end up somewhere between 40 and 55. In other words, we can be very confident already that it will be a middle to low reviewed film and it is NOT very likely that it will be in the red (below 40) or in the green (above 60).

I'm going to take a look at a few fairly reputable critics now...

5:01pm Central
Peter Travers from Rolling Stone seems to key on the fact that the "worst of the worst" are too redeemable and too likeable. This may be a matter of taste -- how bad does each audience member want the bad guys to be? In his review, he positions this as the filmmakers taking the safe way out rather than being truly daring with the movie. He loses respect from me quite a bit by the end, though, when he lobs needless insults at Ayer ("limp-dick") and says that Suicide Squad is worse than Fantastic Four. Now, I haven't seen the movie yet, but that still seems like hyperbole to me. He awarded a 25/100.

Brian Truitt from USA Today had a much more positive spin (88/100). He views the characters as rich and as having souls, even if they're villains -- and he views this as a good thing. This seems to confirm to me that the sympathetic take on the members of the Squad may really be a matter of taste. The main drawback that Truitt mentioned was simply wanting to see more of certain characters (e.g., Katana, the Joker), though he specifically praised Will Smith's performance, calling it his best in years.

5:37pm Central
No new reviews have been added to Metacritic in the last half hour, so the average is still 47/100.

Let's look at Richard Roeper, who is right around the average, giving a 50/100. He criticizes the movie for actions scenes that are non-innovative, some overly sentimental backstories, and he was not a fan of Robbie's performance as Harley Quinn. He also didn't seem to connect with Enchantress's character, but he gave some nods at the end of his review about some of the visual moments and some of the dynamics between characters (e.g., Deadshot and Flag). But overall, the review made it seem like he was going to give a worse score than 2 out of 4 stars.

Jamie Graham gave a 60/100 and called out the movies marketing as promising a more daring and unhinged movie than it delivered. Some of the character arcs are predictable, even if there are some good interactions between characters.

5:44pm Central
As usual, the reviews really seem to depend on what expectations the reviewer brought into the movie. If the expectations are met, then a film is reviewed more highly (and this is related to, but somewhat independent of the straight-up "quality" of the film). A pattern that I'm detecting in the reviews that I've read thus far is that people were expecting Suicide Squad to push the envelope farther than it actually did. They are dinging it for playing it relatively safe. Now, safe can still be well executed and good, but it may not be what some people were hoping for from this movie.

9:04pm Central
Only two more reviews have been added to Metacritic over the last 3 hours. There are 28 reviews in our of probably around 50 eventually, and the average is now 46 out of 100. One main thing I'm noticing is that a narrative is forming where Suicide Squad is being perceived by fans and opponents as being blasted by critics, or taking in overwhelmingly negative reviews. But it is not correct to talk about this as a negative reception --- thus far, it is a decidedly MIXED reception from critics. More than half of the reviews (15 out of 28) have given a mixed review, and there are more positive reviews (7) than negative (6). This, together with the average, paint a very clear picture of mixed reception.

A negative reception would have a plurality of reviews in the negative category, whereas SS has the least number of reviews in the negative category. A negative reception would lead to an average below 40, if not below 30. Instead, SS is mixed, which means rather than being a poorly made movie, it is very likely that it will be a matter of taste -- some people might connect with the tone, characters, and plot, whereas others might not connect with it at all. That means, for me at least, I am going to want to see it to find out for myself.

Monday, August 1, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 49 and 50

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Batman v Superman, scene 49 with Jonathan Kent and scene 50 in Wayne Manor.

  • Clark's solitude
  • The cairn on the mountain
  • Jonathan Kent and his story
  • Are humans inherently good or evil?
  • Bruce in Wayne Manor 
@FrasesBR shared
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco and also Trent Osborne and Casper Richter.

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>