My local library supplied me with two recent DVD releases of interest to comics fans: the new Wonder Woman animated feature and Frank Miller's big screen take on the Spirit. Let's start with the vastly superior of these two efforts.
Wonder Woman [Warner Home Video; $19.98], a direct-to-DVD animated feature, offers a new, extremely violent retelling of the Amazon's origin. It definitely earns its PG-13 rating and then some, but the violence isn't gratuitous. It's pretty much what you'd expect when the villain - Ares - seeks the deaths of every man, woman, and child on Earth. It's not a terribly far-sighted plan - What does a god who draws his power from fear and slaughter do once they are no humans left to provide that? - but he pursues it through the centuries.
Points for determination?
In a bonus feature on the making of the movie, DC Comics president and publisher Paul Levitz opines it's the best version of the Wonder Woman origin in any medium. I don't know I agree with that assessment, but I wouldn't loudly dispute it either. Here's some of the things I very much liked about the film:
The story moves at a brisk pace, but always makes room for moments that define its characters. With Diana [voiced by Kari Russell], we get to experience the good, the bad and even the wonder of our world. No version of Wonder Woman has ever given us a better Steve Trevor [Nathan Fillion] than this one. There's even a nice character turn with Artemis [Rosario Dawson].
The writing - story by Michael Jelenic and Gail Simone, screenplay by Jelenic - is terrific. Outside of a heavy-handed scene with a absurdly flirtatious Etta Candy that exists entirely to clumsily drive home a point, I'd almost call it flawless. Huge kudos must also go to director Lauren Montgomery, producer Bruce Timm - the movie looks great from start to finish - and a cast of exceptional performers that included Alfred Molina, Oliver Platt, and Tara Strong. This is one spiffy film.
Wonder Woman picks up the full five out of five Tonys. It's one of the best of the DC Comics animated features and that puts it with a very distinguished lineup.
Then we come to Frank Miller's The Spirit [Lions Gate; $29.95]. It's not so much that words fail me when it comes to reviewing this live-action. It's that I couldn't stomach more than 15 minutes of it. Yeah, it's that spectacularly awful. Whatever happened to the Miller of Daredevil: Born Again and Sin City? What will it take to drag Miller back from the dimension of suckiness that spawned this movie and the stink-tastic All Star Batman and Robin?
I can't give a "score" on The Spirit, but I can toss a couple numbers at you. When I requested this movie and Wonder Woman from my local library, I was 547 on the list for The Spirit and 8 on the list for Wonder Woman. I got The Spirit two weeks before I got Wonder Woman. My guess is I wasn't the only library patron who gave up on The Spirit after a few minutes.
My e-mailbox is always open to my readers and I'm always happy to answer your questions about my work or whatever else is on your minds. Today's e-mail is from Sean Howe...
I recently came across a comic you wrote in the early 1970s, Hero For Hire #16, which featured a villain named Stiletto. What's interesting about this character is that he predates the Punisher as a costumed vigilante whose methods are portrayed as morally questionable. In fact, I'm wondering if he might be the very first of his kind in comic. Do you have any recollection of the genesis for this character?
The name came first and was mentally filed away for future use. Then, when I was looking for something to enliven the final chapter of a Cage story started by Steve Englehart, I remembered the name.
From Stiletto, I thought vendetta, which led me to thinking about a foe who wanted to bring Cage down for personal reasons. I can't remember if I revealed in that issue that Stiletto's father had been the warden of the prison Cage had escaped from, but I know I had that in mind from the start.
When Ed Hannigan later showed me a sketch of another character called Discus and asked if I wanted to use him in Cage, I decided to make him Stiletto's brother.
As for whether Stiletto was the first Punisher-type vigilante in comics, I would say "no."
Right off the top of my head, there was a vigilante type in a Steve Skeates issue of Aquaman. I think it was in the last issue of the Skeates/Aparo series. And I bet there are other vigilantes I can't recall at the moment.
Later writers reduced Stiletto and Discus to common criminal mercenaries. I wrote them one more time in Power Man and Iron Fist #110, portraying them as young men who'd become born-again Christians in prison and who unfortunately fell under the mental domination of Nightshade. That unique characterization didn't take either; it was ignored with their next appearance.
Thanks for the question, Sean, and thanks to all of my readers for spending part of their day with me.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: