The JLA Blog

Thomas McLaughlin R.I.P.

It is with sadness that we read that Thomas McLaughlin — the Animation Timing Director* on a number of Superman, Batman, Batman Beyond, and Justice League episodes — has passed away. A fundraising campaign to support his family, a wife and 3 children, has been established on You Caring. My condolences to them and the people who knew Thomas.

On Animation insider, Mike Milo describes Thomas as,

Some of you may have known him from the old Warner Bros days and others from his days at Cartoon Network. Tom, if you knew him was like an M&M, he had a hard shell but was all soft and sweet inside once you got past his Brooklyn bravado. Most only knew him as a sheet timer but he was much more than that being a talented painter and designer as well.

His last DC work was for Superman/Batman: Public Enemies in 2009. He had also been working on the Ben 10 franchises and Kaijudo series.

When I write my (now too infrequent) animation reviews I try to transcribe a block of the credits and Animation Timing Director has always been one of those. Thus, even though I little nothing about him as a person, the name Thomas McLaughlin was very familiar. RIP Tom.


*This has been described as “probably the least understood job in animation”. These are the guys who sit between the storyboard and the full on-animation. It’s their job to measure and tweak the pacing of what is in the storyboards so that the animators create the right number of frames for each sequence. They are the people who make sure that gags hit on time and that there is enough screen time to allow for the recorded dialogue.

Justice League Dark #18

Justice League Dark #18

Issue Credits

Writer
Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire
Artist
Mikel Janin
Colourist
Jeromy Cox
Letterer
Carlos M Mangual
Assistant Editor
Katie Kubert
Editor
Brian Cunningham
Cover Artist
Mikel Janin

Quotes

Alkion
Hunter. The Hunter walks the wood.

Synopsis "The Death of Magic Part 4 The Last Stand" (20-pages)

Previously in Justice League Dark #17 (April 2013): The JLD have journeyed to a dimension called Epoch to rescue team-mates who are stranded there. However, excess magical energy from Epoch is bleeding through the portal to Earth creating a magical storm that threatens to destroy both worlds. Amid the chaos, Epoch’s native magical creatures have recognised Timothy Hunter as their returning king. He is leading army in an assault against Epoch’s scientists in the hope that he can free his captured friends.

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Justice League Dark #17

Justice League Dark #17

Issue Credits

Writer
Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes
Artist
Mikel Janin
Colourist
Jeromy Cox
Letterer
Rob Leigh
Assistant Editor
Katie Kubert
Editor
Brian Cunningham
Cover Artist
Mikel Janin

Quotes

John Constantine
No! I won’t leave anyone behind!
Madame Xanadu
You will. You do. But heed my words. In the days to come… hands clasped around a fire… a fire that does not burn. An evil voice whispering your name and Zatanna. Zatanna dies at your word. You give the order. You will lead her to her death.

Synopsis "The Death of Magic Part 3 Prisoners of Epoch" (20-pages)

Previously in Justice League Dark #16 (March 2013): Zatanna and Timothy Hunter have been transported to a world called Epoch where magic is outlawed. Woodland magical creatures seem to recognise the name “Hunter” and proclaim that Timothy is the returning descendant of their fabled lost king. Meanwhile John Constantine, Madame Xanadu, Frankenstein, and Black Orchid have been captured by an anti-magic Enforcer called Vikar. The heroes on Epoch and their allies on Earth are given pause when earthquakes and storms herald potential disaster for both worlds.

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Justice League Dark #16

Justice League Dark #16

Issue Credits

Writer
Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes
Artist
Mikel Janin
Colourist
Jeromy Cox
Letterer
Rob Leigh
Assistant Editor
Katie Kubert
Editor
Brian Cunningham
Cover Artist
Mikel Janin

Quotes

Vikar
You dare speak of blasphemy, fire elemental? This is Epoch territory. This is a pure land of science and logic. None of you have a place here.

Synopsis "[The Death of Magic Part 2] Night of the Hunter" (20-pages)

Previously in Justice League Dark #15 (Feb 2013): Zatanna and Timothy Hunter have been transported to a parallel-dimension called Epoch where human authorities have outlawed magic. Woodland magical creatures seem to recognise the name “Hunter” and save the pair from an anti-magic enforcer called Vikar. John Constantine, Madame Xanadu, Frankenstein, and Black Orchid follow them as a rescue party, but find that their magical abilities and natures are randomly boosted or cancelled out by Epoch’s magical field. They are still reeling from the after-affects when Vikar challenges them to surrender.

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Justice League Dark #15

Justice League Dark #15

Issue Credits

Writer
Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes
Artist
Mikel Janin
Colourist
Jeromy Cox
Letterer
Rob Leigh
Assistant Editor
Katie Kubert
Editor
Brian Cunningham
Cover Artist
Trevor McCarthy

Quotes

Constantine
Expect the worst and you’re never disappointed.

Synopsis "The Death of Magic Part 1 Up Is Down" (20-pages)

Previously: Nick Necro, John Constantine’s former mentor, had conspired to seize control of the fabled Books of Magic. Legend and rumour held that the Books were the source of all magic and could only be opened by a boy called Timothy Hunter. Constantine’s “Justice League Dark” defeated Necro, but Hunter and Zatanna disappeared after Tim touched the Books.

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Injustice: Gods Among Us

Injustice: Gods Among Us -- Reviewd by ()

Injustice: Gods Among Us is the latest DC Universe fighting game and is part of, what is so far been for the DC characters, a rather uninspired lineage. The high point for this genre (so far at least) would probably be Capcom’s 1990s Marvel franchise from the PS1 era. These games were based on the 2D Street Fighter 2 game engine. The already bombastic Street Fighter template worked well for the larger than life superheroes. The games were a flurry of quick attacks, overdone special moves, and snappy dialogue. DC fans never really had anything equal to those Street Fighter based Marvel games.

(Those of you with good memories will remember the disappointment of Justice League Task Force, but the less said about that the better.)

Back in the 1990s the two biggest fighting franchise were the cartoony Street Fighter and the bloody Mortal Kombat platforms (I preferred Tekken, but there you go). So it was then rather ironic that, a decade after the peak of the Marvel based Street Fighters games,  Midway Games (the developers of Mortal Kombat)  picked up the license to the DC characters. Thus in 2008 we were treated to Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe (MKDC). WB must have liked the result as they subsequently acquired Midway.

What was obvious from that start was that MKDC was a Mortal Kombat (MK) game into which a group of DC cosplayers had inadvertently wandered. It was an average MK game with the DC elements really just serving as window dressing. Even the MK elements had been neutered as DC obviously would not allow MK’s famous “finish him” ending moves. Nevertheless, MKDC is still recognizable as the game that set the template for Injustice: Gods Among Us. First announced in May 2012, the game shipped in April 2013.

Injustice and MDKC both feature linked arenas which battling characters can transition between, a story mode that makes use of parallel universes, and a grappling/challenge feature. However, the game play in MKDC was a little too sedate for a superhero game as it stuck a little too closely to its roots as a martial artists fighting game and didn’t really embrace the furious over-the-top elements that worked so well for Capcom and Marvel.

Injustice takes the MKDC template and turns every dial-up to 11. Attacks in Injustice are faster, characters feel more individualistic, and a lot more of the attacks are based on the character’s powers/gimmick. This means you feel like you are fighting with (say) Green Lantern rather than a martial artist dressed as Green Lantern. The lighting, effects, and textures in Injustice also feel like a generation ahead of the older game. Indeed it’s hard to believe  that both games are running on the same console (I’m reviewing the PS3 version).

The plot device for both games is the same – two different parallel worlds coming into conflict. Injustice features a relatively normal Prime Earth where there is a recognizable Justice League and their enemies. There is then an Alternate Earth (or Earth V as its called in some of the concept art). This Earth was virtually identical to the Prime Earth until the point that the Joker destroyed Metropolis with a nuclear bomb killing Superman’s wife (Lois lane) and their unborn son.

The Alternate Superman then went off the deep end and made himself a virtual world dictator in the name of “order”. There are obvious parallels with the Superman TAS episode Brave New Metropolis and several Elseworlds tales. The Injustice story mode involves the Prime Justice League being pulled into the Alternative Earth by the resistance who hope they can bring down their increasingly insane Man of Steel. The two worlds gives an in-universe logic to the variant costumes used to differentiate players when the same character is fighting himself. And these costumes are busy.

Comics books, even the New 52 versions with all their seams, tend to be limited in detail so that an artist can draw them in a realistic amount of time. The Injustice costumes don’t suffer that problem and the designers have gone for as much extraneous detail as possible. This works really for some characters — Green Arrow in particular looks good — but, it looks done right silly on others. The prime example of this is the Flash — why the hell would a runner carry around that much extra weight?

The voice talent on Injustice reads like a who’s who of DC voice talent. George Newbern (Superman), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), and Kevin Conory (Batman) reprise their roles from Justice League Unlimited. Alan Tudyk (Green Arrow), Mark Rolston (Lex Luthor), and Phil LaMarr (Aquaman) also reprise their roles from Young Justice. Tara Strong (Raven) and Khary Phayton (Cyborg) reprises their roles from Teen Titans. Grey Delisle (Catwoman) returns from Arkham City. Even Adam Baldwin (Green Lantern), who played Hal Jordan for his one brief appearance in JLU, makes a comeback.

injustice-screenshot1

While Injustice looks better, it has simplified some of the game mechanism inherited from MKDC. In both games you can hit a character hard enough to break through from one arena into another. The difference is that the transitions in MDKC are active (the fight continues as a short button matching mini-game), whereas they are passive (just cut-scenes) in Injustice. The cut scenes are more dramatic, but less interactive.

The challenge element from MKDC is carried over, but is also simplified. In MKDC it was a simple wrestling lock that was resolved by another button matching mini-game. However, Injustice is much more furious with each character “betting” a certain amount of their specials bar on the clash. The winner does enhanced damage if he was the initiator or has damaged healed if he was the defender. It’s a nice technique and goes make the specials bar more integral to the game.

One thing I do miss is Arkham City‘s very forgiving fighting controls. They went to a lot of effort in that game to make even a novice player look good. Not so in Injustice. This game can be very unforgiving on even the default difficulty setting. Particularly in the later stages of the arcade mode, some opponents can he devastating and you only have a chance if you can keep them off-balance – let them recover even for a moment and you’re toast.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is definitely the high-point of the DC fighting genre. It takes the MKDC template and ramps everything up to the point where it feels more like one of the old Capcom Marvel games. Mostly this works okay, but the game still has an unforgiving edge and you’re mileage may vary depending on how you get on with the MK franchise’s control system.

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New 52: “vaguely mordant and grisly”

And yet this is how the DC universe works. There is a God in Heaven, his angels oversee creation, and the devil is real – and yet it also somehow matters that a bunch of blue dwarves set up a massive law enforcement bureaucracy at the center of the universe, and that the Earth is home to multiple pantheons of immortal (small-g) gods who are not somehow all presumptuous demons committing blasphemy against the one true God, and that there is another group of gods in a pocket dimension who believe in an all-powerful Source and keep watch over the end of the universe, and that there’s a kindly wizard bestowing the wisdom of a Biblical King of Israel alongside the powers of various pagan deities on random street urchins

The above is from a thought-provoking post by Tim O’Neil who outlines what the DC Universe actually is. Tim then uses that to underline the problems with the tonality of the New 52 and how DC has really veered away from their zenith (strong creator lead stories) towards a corporate blandness. He hits it right on the head by calling the current corporate tone “vaguely mordant and grisly (in a sanitized way)” — too dark for Shazam, too light for John Constantine.

I like a lot of what is going on with the New 52, but I also agree with a lot of what Tim says. Where I personally think the New 52 failed was by launching too many titles too quickly. DC would have been better to have a small team of creators working two-years ahead of the pack to create an amazing and tightly coordinated set of 4-6 mini-series. Flashpoint would have shut down the DCU, those mini-series could have run weekly for a month, maybe two, and then we have the full launch of the full New 52 titles.

Without that consistent set of foundation stories the 52 launch titles were all over the place and the more interesting world building has since been lost (Wildstorm is MIA, Blackhawk espionage stuff it toast, the original present day Superman status quo). They only thing that has survived is the Geoffverse around Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Justice League. So that’s corporate tone we get, the tone of a Geoff Johns story.

Justice League Dark #14

Justice League Dark #14

Issue Credits

Writer
Jeff Lemire
Artist (Layout)
Graham Nolan
Artist (Finishes)
Victor Drijiniu
Colourist
Jeromy Cox
Letterer
Rob Leigh
Cover
Ryan Sook
Assistant Editor
Katie Kubert
Editor
Brian Cunningham

Quotes

Phantom Stranger
War is coming among the three, Constantine. And it is time you picked a side.

Synopsis "Enter the House of Mystery..." (20-pages)

Previously in “War For The Books of Magic”: Nick Necro, John Constantine’s former-mentor and now enemy, gathered together his own coalition of corrupt mystics. They manipulated A.R.G.U.S. and Constantine’s group into leading them to the fabled Books of Magic. The two groups raced to a confrontation in Nanda Parbat. Along the way Doctor Mist was revealed as a traitor and Madame Xanadu recruited Tim Hunter to their side. Necro was ultimately defeated. Afterwards, Tim touched to the books causing both himself and Zatanna to vanish, transported to some unknown place or world.

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Superman & Batman before JL film

Superman-Batman-movie-hi-res-logo

The announcement at San Diego Comic Con 2013 that Warner Brother’s next DC Superheroes film will be Superman & Batman can’t have escaped many people’s notice. Although, that title is pretty much all we know at the moment. From the press release:

Snyder is co-writing the story with David S. Goyer, who will then pen the screenplay. Production is expected to begin in 2014, with an anticipated release date in Summer 2015.

[...]

Zack Snyder, who made a surprise appearance at Comic-Con today, breaking the news to audiences there, later said, “I’m so excited to begin working again with Henry Cavill in the world we created, and I can’t wait to expand the DC Universe in this next chapter. Let’s face it, it’s beyond mythological to have Superman and our new Batman facing off, since they are the greatest Super Heroes in the world.”

The new film brings back Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder as producers. This time, Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas are serving as executive producers, along with Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan.

The “this time” note about Christopher Nolan signifies that he’s stepping back from the full Producer role he had on Man of Steel and the Batman Begins franchise. We already know that Christian Bale won’t be back as Batman so this will be a new man in the cowl.

Earlier in the day rumours swirled around the internet that WB was about to announce a Flash film and a Justice League film, but it was ultimately only Superman & Batman that was officially announced. So what does this mean for the Justice League film? Not much really. A lot of folk had hoped that WB would jump straight into a full Justice League adaptation. Scott Mendelson on the Forbes website voiced his disappointment by saying that :

 And who will Superman be teaming up with? Why, Batman, of course! From a commerce point-of-view, this makes some sense, at least in the short-term.  From an artistic point-of-view, as well as a financial long term perspective, it’s genuinely disconcerting and a symptom of an over-reliance on the Caped Crusader.

I respectfully disagree. Superman & Batman meeting for the first time in a new medium is a big deal. There is an obvious tension to that relationship that is ripe for exploration. By jumping straight into an ensemble Justice League film WB would lose the chance to really explore these two character’s meeting as near-enemies — or at least as unwilling partners — for the first time.

Green Lantern was good, but it didn’t quite catch. If the same thing had happened with an ensemble Justice League film it’d have killed off the entire franchise in one go. Better to try out a team-up with the two characters who do work. It also allows Snyder & co. to better explore this nascent film universe they are creating. Sci-Fi Superman and Pulp Batman define the full range of possibilities in that world. Getting them right and balanced properly against each other makes for a far more solid foundation.

I’d rather wait for the franchise to grow organically than rush into something too soon.

The Rise and Fall of Justice League: Mortal

The-Justice-League-Screen-3The-Justice-League-Screen-8

Justice League: Mortal has the potential to remain one of those great unmade films. The script was finished, the crew were in place, pre-production was well developed (if not essentially over), the costumes were made, the cast had actually been shipped out to the studio in Australia, and the spin-off computer game had started development (it’s game artwork shown above). However, at the eleventh hour everything collapsed. A writers strike meant that script rewrites were impossible and a tax-deal with the Australian government evaporated.

Even then it may have been possible to salvage production, we may never know, but at the time DC Comics a Warner Brothers was undergoing its rapid evolution towards what we now know as DC Entertainment. It appears that Justice League: Mortal stumbled at exactly the wrong moment during the film strategy review. Whatever momentum it may have had vanished and like so many projects before it was allowed to simply evaporate.

It Begins with The Script (2007)

The news that a Justice League film was to be made came in early 2007 when Warner Brothers announced that the husband and wife writing team of Kieran and Michele Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes 2) had been hired to write a script.

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