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Greatest Batman Stories: Beware The Gray Ghost

beware-the-gray-ghost-btasWhat happens when a foundational memory from Bruce Wayne’s past plays into one of his current investigations as Batman? The trail leads him an actor and television hero whose knowledge and support are the only way to crack the case in the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode The Gray Ghost.

When reviewing the series as a whole, the strongest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series typically focus on iconic villains (like Almost Got ‘Im) or do something really out of the ordinary with the plot (like Over the Edge). On the other hand, the weakest episodes most often focus on original villains that are fairly bland and forgettable, which is unfortunately a trend with the first season of the series (like The Underdwellers or Prophecy of Doom). However, Beware the Gray Ghost is one of the few episodes that completely bucks the trend, using one-off original characters to tell a touching and meaningful story that resonates through its real world connections.

At its core, Beware the Gray Ghost is a story about nostalgia and human connection, as well as their positive and negative effects on others. The episode opens with a flashback to young Bruce Wayne watching his favorite television show “The Gray Ghost,” a series about a pulp hero fighting crime, which clearly has parallels to modern Bruce’s adventures as Batman. However, a series of bombings in Gotham City by “The Mad Bomber” has distinct connections to a previous episode of “The Gray Ghost” that also followed The Mad Bomber and his ransom demands. Bruce’s search for the old television episode leads him to Simon Trent, the now-washed up and desperate actor who once played The Gray Ghost.

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The Breathtaking Fantasy of “Spirited Away”

best-miyazaki-movieAnimation icon Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 fantasy film Spirited Away is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Given the powerful legacy that this relatively recent film has created within the film world since its debut and the sheer wonder of Miyazaki’s film, it’s a celebration that is greatly deserved. Just one of the many acclaimed films created by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away is one of the animation studio’s crowning achievements. A masterpiece of stunning visuals, moving music, and unforgettable characters, Miyazaki’s 2001 feature film is a master class in fantasy storytelling.

That is thanks to its use of classic fantasy storytelling techniques like The Hero’s Journey, the enrapturing nature of the unique fantasy world seen throughout the film, and the tender human heart that informs its storytelling decisions and character arcs.

Following the 10-year-old Chihiro, who is moving to a new city with her parents, Spirited Away finds the young girl quickly transported to the spirit world after her parents accidentally find an entrance to the other side and are transformed into pigs. Caught in a strange and sometimes dangerous world where she doesn’t belong, Chihiro must depend on her wits and the wisdom of a few unexpected friends in order to survive and save her parents. But the spirit world of Spirited Away isn’t some mystical afterlife or gloomy purgatory. It’s an intricate and busy home to countless wild and colorful spirits who walk among humans unseen, a place that captures the imagination and lingers in the minds of viewers long after the film has come to a close.

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“The Lobster” Review

An Uncompromising, Disturbing Look at Relationships

the-lobster-2015-filmWhat if your romantic relationship defined every single aspect of your life? What if you lived in a society that based all forms of judgment upon whether you had found a partner or not? What would you do if forced to find a mate in order to avoid the slings and arrows of others? That all may not be far removed from real life, but these ideas are given a far more heightened and often disturbingly absurdist bent in writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, which seeks to scrutinize society’s approach to relationships through an original and often challenging approach to a wildly offbeat idea.

Set in a dystopian future where society has based everything on the idea of coupling, The Lobster focuses on David (played by Colin Farrell), a man whose wife has recently left him and must now find a new mate. In the world of The Lobster, all single people are sent to a special hotel where they are given 45 days to find a mate and fall in love. If they do not do so in time, they are turned into an animal of their choosing. David’s choice in the event of failure is a lobster, and his time at the hotel and within the confines of an extremist, emotionally stunted society allow him to examine himself and his own needs as a person.

Lanthimos’ film is in parts a black comedy, a pointed satire of contemporary culture, and a quiet examination of love and its shortcomings. However, Lanthimos approaches every aspect of his story with an extremely reserved yet highly confident approach. The last thing a person could call The Lobster is visceral. Above all, the film is restrained in emotion and flourish, much like its highly stunted characters. However, there is an unshakeable understanding of the human condition at the core of the film that infuses its many uncompromising choices with a resounding sense of truth. Lanthimos forces the viewer to engage with his material and constantly work through what the actions of a character truly mean, which in turn elevates the meaning of his story.

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The Romantic Melancholy of “Spider-Man: Blue”

loeb-sale-comic-booksComic books have a penchant for killing off love interests for the sake of torturing their heroes and causing ever-escalating levels of dramatic tension within their stories. And of these countless deaths, the murder of Gwen Stacy and the subsequent grief and rage experienced by her boyfriend Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, is one of the defining deaths in comic books.

But for many, the death of Gwen Stacy is a more momentous and famous event in Marvel Comics history than it is a tragic loss of a beloved character. However, all that was redefined in writer Jeph Loeb’s Spider-Man: Blue, a six-issue limited series that ran from July 2002 through April 2003. The series sees Peter recording his spoken memories of the early days of his romance with Gwen, simultaneously processing the grief and happiness of falling in love through the prism of losing her years later.

Spider-Man: Blue was one of four collaborations between writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale for Marvel Comics that focused on a past loss for one of the comic publisher’s iconic heroes. Included in the series are Daredevil: Yellow, which saw hero Matt Murdock reflecting on when he began to fall for Karen Page during his very first days as a hero, Hulk: Gray, which involved Bruce Banner processing his beginnings as The Hulk and tumultuous relationship with Betty Ross, and the long-delayed Captain America: White, which saw Steve Rogers reflect on his time in World War II with friend Bucky Barnes.

In each of these tales, the central protagonists process their long-simmering grief in different ways as they seek to understand their losses and how they can still cherish their time with someone who died in part because of them. Some grow stronger, some wallow in their misery, but each are defined in some way by the departed loved one and the hole left in their lives in the aftermath.

In Spider-Man: Blue, Loeb and Sale strike a balance between very real grief and the joy of falling in love.

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The Three Kinds of Healing Love in “Beauty and the Beast”

beauty-and-the-beast-poster-originalBeauty and the Beast is a seminal Disney work, defining not only the animation studio’s renaissance in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but the ideas of love, healing, and marriage within the studio’s animated output as well. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary and set for a live action remake, Beauty and the Beast has cemented itself as an animated classic whose artwork, music, and themes have continued to resonate with generations.

Much has been made of Beauty and the Beast’s magnificent animation style, which was created on a shorter-than-normal two-year timeline and used Computer Animated Production System (CAPS) to digitally scan, paint, and composite the film’s art. Just as much focus is paid attention to the film’s iconic score and songs, which were composed by the prolific Alan Menken with lyrics written by the late, great Howard Ashman. However, these exquisitely crafted elements resonate because they are informed by the film’s deeply loving, gentle heart, which crafts a resonant reflection on romance and healing and gives life to some of Disney’s greatest characters.

These elements come together to form something greater than the whole. While the film’s music, animation, performances, and writing can all be studied and praised on a piece-by-piece basis (and truly deserve such detailed appreciation), they form something magical when brought together. Beauty and the Beast is an experience. A rapturous fairytale of healing love that harkens back to classics of the genre while giving a more modern polish that never breaks the movie’s timeless quality.

This healing love comes in three forms, each as important as the next and playing a crucial part in the healing process: family, friendship, and romance.

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Comics You Should Read: Superman vs Muhammad Ali

superman-vs-muhammad-ali-by-neal-adamsSuperman vs Muhammad Ali – A concept so high, it’s illegal for it to drive. But what if I told you that this 1978 one shot comic book that pitted DC Comics’ Superman against legendary boxer Muhammad Ali in a fight for the very survival of the Earth isn’t just an outlandish good time, but a truly fantastic comic book in and of itself?

Because it really is that good.

Written by Neal Adams and partially Denny O’Neil with art by Adams, Superman vs Muhammad Ali was originally pitched by Ali’s promoter Don King, who sought to gain new ground for Ali in the comic world and was inspired by the success of the recently published Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century. By the time the story was approved by DC Comics and Ali himself in 1976, the heavyweight champion of the world had not only cemented himself as one of boxing’s greats, but a worldwide legend whose personality and beliefs had left a permanent mark on culture outside of his sport.

So who else could really challenge Ali as not only a powerful fighter but a champion of the people but Superman himself? The result was a comic book that not only appealed on the level of flashy stardom and wild fights, but a strong undercurrent of social and racial equality whose real life hero helped this message cross over from the multi-colored page and into the real world.

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The 30 Greatest Antiheroes in Fiction (Part 2 of 2)

We’ve arrived at the top 15 antiheroes in film, books, comic books, television, and videogames, with only the best of the best facing off here. From unrepentent criminals to stoic samurais to post-apocalyptic warriors, these 15 heroes define the greatness of the antihero character type.

The dangerous, heroic, and difficult character listed hero are among the greatest characters ever seen in fiction, with their unforgettable stories inspiring legions of fans across decades. These 15 antiheroes are unmatched. And if you have your own personal favorites, put yours in the comments section below!

For #30 to #16, Read Part 1 of The 30 Greatest Antiheroes in Fiction.

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The 30 Greatest Antiheroes in Fiction (Part 1 of 2)

The antihero captivates in a way that encapsulates why audiences love both heroes and villains. Their often tragic pasts, murky moral codes, and unconventional story arcs can often enrapture audiences in deeper, more human and relatable ways than traditional heroes while still giving them a reason to root for them to win. From bounty hunters to killers to criminals, antiheroes in films, television, and books are some of the most beloved and memorable characters ever created.

The following 30 characters are the best of the best, representing all sides of the antihero character archetype and showing what makes them truly special. Have your own personal favorites? Let me know in the comments section!

One point of clarification, some antiheroes eventually change into full-fledged heroes. Those that have spent the majority of their time in fiction being heroes are not included here, such as Han Solo. For some of these heroes, read The 50 Greatest Heroes of All Time.

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Snake Plissken: The Antiestablishment Hero The World Needs

Writer and director John Carpenter infused political and social messages into countless films he made throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But no character in Carpenter’s oeuvre is as politically charged as Snake Plissken, the former war hero turned dystopic future criminal played by recurring Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell in 1981’s Escape from New York. A callused, deadly man with little compassion toward others, Snake is as big of an antihero as they come. While it may seem difficult to root for a man as hardened as Snake at first, the combination of Russell’s charisma and the clear justification behind Snake’s stiff middle finger to the establishment make him a modern hero that is as relevant today as he was back in 1981.

Set in the dystopic then-future of 1997, Escape from New York sees an America that has well and truly gone to hell, with the crime rate having risen 400 percent and all manner of global conflicts throwing the country into chaos. In reaction, the island of Manhattan is turned into a maximum security prison, into which criminals are permanently thrown and left to their own devices. It’s a wild and exaggerated premise, reflecting then-current fears and the trends of governments taking ever-greater control of both countries and their people.

While the vast majority of Escape takes place within the New York island prison, its hero and its ultimate ideas are an indictment of a government gone far beyond reason and rights. While fears of crime gone rampant may not resonant as strongly today, the ideas of a government that has taken ever greater control of its people may never stop being relatable.

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