Around the DC Universe Week One
Welcome to the first installment of Around the DC Universe, a regular guide to what’s available this week on DC Entertainment’s new streaming service. Last time I focused on the ins and outs of the service itself. From here on out though I will be focusing on content and helping you to make the most of your subscription.
Movies and TV
Most of my viewing time this past week was dominated by the four entries in the original Batman film canon beginning with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. These were movies I had grown up with but it had been a while since I had the chance to revisit them. For all their many flaws, they still manage retain a certain charm that takes me back to when I first encountered them as a kid and remain enjoyable superhero fare. Watching as an adult Batman Returns is my favorite of the bunch. Michael Keaton comes out of his shell, portraying a Bruce Wayne that’s a bit closer to the version from the comics than what was on offer in the original while remaining one of the best actors behind the cowl. Michelle Pfeiffer also gives us what is arguably the finest interpretation of Catwoman in any medium. Her Selina Kyle is a sensual yet ultimately feminist femme fatale and she is well matched by Danny DeVito’s grotesquely masculine Penguin. The movie that surprised me the most was Batman and Robin. Often derided as one of the worst superhero films ever made, it’s hard to hate this movie in light of the obvious affection that Joel Schumacher has for this franchise. Batman and Robin is not a great movie but if you watch it as an homage to Bill Finger/Dick Sprang comics of the ‘40s and the Adam West TV show it’s still a fun romp through a darkly campy rendition of Gotham City. George Clooney is great as Bruce Wayne and both Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver their lines with scenery chewing relish. Make sure to watch these soon as their leaving the service on September 30th (a disappointment since they were heavily billed as a selling point in early promotional material).
DC Daily is also well worth your time. Billed as daily roundup of DC related news it’s far more than just hype. In addition to providing glimpses of upcoming comics, shows and movies, there are also some good discussions about what’s available on the service. Of particular note this week is their three part discussion with the legendary George Perez where he talks about his role in crafting The New Teen Titans, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Wonder Woman. While much of DC Daily is available free on YouTube, the panel discussion at the end is exclusive to subscribers with a rotating selection of guests discussing DC related topics including Batman Day, the ‘90s Flash show, and Identity Crisis. In and of itself its not enough to justify subscribing but if you’re a subscriber and you’re not watching, then you’re missing out.
I bought the third issue of Lonely Place of Dying as Batmania was winding down in the fall of 1989. It’s one of the stories that cemented my love of Batman in comics but unfortunately I was never able to read the whole thing before. This Batman/New Titans crossover fleshed out the character of Tim Drake (previously introduced in Batman Year Three) and put him into the Robin costume for the first time. Tim seeks out former sidekick Dick Grayson because he feels that Batman needs a Robin to help pull him back from the edge that he’s been skirting ever since the death of Jason Todd. Meanwhile Batman and Two Face are slowly circling one another in a what we are lead to believe may become a death spiral. Lonely Place of Dying is great because it makes the case for why Robin is an essential part of the Batman mythos; he serves to keep Batman grounded and more focused on justice than revenge. The artwork by Jim Aparo (on the Batman issues) and George Perez (on the New Titans), both working close to the peak of their artistic powers, certainly helps in this regard. Marv Wolfman’s writing does show its age a bit but its a solid, underappreciated entry in the Batman annals and could make the basis of an amazing Batman film. Available in DC Universe in Batman (1940-) 440-442 and New Titans (1994-2001) #60-61.
I first read A Death in the Family in its original trade paperback presentation around the same time as Lonely Place of Dying was being serialized and it has not aged well at all. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the most overrated Batman stories ever written. While its not as egregious as its contemporary, The Killing Joke, it’s still a problematic arc that highlights many of the problems of mainstream superhero comics in general and Batman in particular. In this story Jason Todd, the second Robin, goes to the middle east and Africa on a quest to find his real mother and runs afoul of the Joker who beats him senseless with a crowbar and blows him up. Technically the book is well written. Jim Starlin does a good job channeling Batman’s feelings for his young charge, taking concern and affection and metastasizing into grief as the story reaches its tragic climax. Jim Aparo’s art is superb though it does pale when compared to the covers by a young Mike Mignola. The problem with A Death in the Family is the fact that it uses its tropes so artlessly. Talking about this arc on Facebook a friend remarked that it was like a “Canon film” and the comparison hits the mark. Its portrayals of Shiite terrorists and runaway abortion doctors that are completely lacking in nuance. The final chapter, in which the Joker is given diplomatic immunity by the Iranian government as part of a plot to murder the entire UN, is so absurd as to be almost insulting. It’s too grim to be goofy and not goofy enough to be good. While it lacks the aspect of sexual violence found in The Killing Joke, it doubles down on the earlier books flaws by embedding it in continuity (a mistake that DC has doubled down on ever since). It also lacks the technical excellence of Alan Moore and Brian Boland’s work making it worthwhile for only the very curious or the very bored. Available on DC Universe in Batman (1940-) 426-429.
If you’re one of those readers who wants to return to a time before comics were made by liberal social justice warriors than do NOT read the first ten issues of Action Comics Superman stories by Man of Steel creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In these short yarns, first published between 1938 and 1939, Superman takes on a variety of nefarious no-goodniks including wife beaters, war mongering arms manufacturers, corrupt mine owners, and a college football coach with dreams of cheating his way to a win in the big game. Siegel and Shuster’s Superman may seem quaint and old fashioned by today’s standards but they were creating stories that tackled the issues that were important to them as lower class Jewish kids of the New Deal era in the years before the United States entered World War II. The handful of issues available on DC Universe are not their best but they do provide a nice introduction to their run, one of the best in the character’s history. Available on DC Universe in Action Comics (1938-)1-10.
In my initial review I noted that there was a fair amount of slow down and buffering when watching videos. Unfortunately this has not improved and if anything has gotten worse, at least when watching longer movies (anything shorter than a half an hour is okay after some stuttering at start up). Whether this is a problem with the app or with the downfall of net neutrality is hard to say but my opinion is trending towards the former.
The biggest problem with DC Universe, however, continues to be a lack of alerts and/or consistency with the addition of new material. At the very least a section of new releases or a consistent and public release schedule would be nice. I shudder to think how difficult it’s going to become to track what comics are available to subscribers and when once the full digital library is added in October. The good news is that DC does seem committed to adding complete arcs as both the full run of Identity Crisis and Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow were uploaded.