Comic Book Brain

Last Update: February 21, 2020

Short review: Harley Quinn / Birds of Prey

As a continuation of Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey fails to give the audience what the earlier film did. The 2016 film was plagued by a lot of the same problems this 2020 offering has: jumpy editing, a sound track crammed with too many pop-tunes, and the flat unreality that superhero movies absentmindedly fall into when the fists and the kicks start flying, and though the visual styling is similar, these two films are quite different.

The irony here is that Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn was the heart of Suicide Squad (along with Will Smith as Deadshot), and despite the fouled-up story construction in that film, the characters (courtesy of a good cast) triumphed over the impediment of everything else (which may be from DC/Warner's meddling with that movie after director David Ayer made his cut. Supposedly Ayer's cut was darker and less "funny").

The hyperkinetic style of Suicide Squad wasn't something that ought to be imitated, I would suggest, but here it is inside of Birds of Prey, but this time the script doesn't compensate for it like Ayer's script did for the earlier film. Instead, here's a circular time-swapping storytelling that might have been an initially clever attempt to express the ADHD personality of Harley Quinn talking to the audience (she narrates quit a bit of the tale), but instead the end result is fragmentation of the storytelling with a narrator butting in trying to straighten out what the movie-watcher shouldn't have to be wrestling with if the director was telling the story coherently. It isn't the ticket-buyer's job to decode the story progression.

In Birds of Prey, there's too much humanity missing, and in the main character particularly. Where Suicide Squad presented her as a person trying to deal with the struggle for self-responsibility (and thus independence) in Birds of Prey she is a garbage-littering juvenile who has flashes of epiphany about her self, but then it gets buried under the tread-mill plot.

Robbie aggressively attacks the screen, as if she's trying to pull the whole movie by herself, a berserk salesman determined to close the deal with the audience. She dominates the presentation of Birds of Prey like no one else, though Ewan McGregor tries to balance the film with a psychotic Black Mask as the nefarious villain. He's not given enough room to achieve this, though. It's as if Birds of Prey was supposed to be a team movie (hence the title) but it veered sideways. If the script had been a symmetrical division between the two characters of Harley and Black Mask maybe it would have helped. Well, who knows.

A certain amount of sadism seems to have infiltrated this movie, too. Chris Messina as knife-wielding henchman Victor Zsasz provides us with the visual of a family being murdered by having their faces removed via his blade (one of the family is apparently a child or teenager). With that sort of element in the story, you'd think by the end there'd be an eye-for-an-eye retribution on Zsasz to balance the earlier grisly killing of the family, but nope, the sadism of that earlier killing is in the story as decoration. Is it there to help get the R-rating? I don't know.

Besides imitating Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey also ends with a swipe from hitman movie The Professional (and that film itself is borrowing it's ending from other earlier stories, too, but it's smart enough to integrate it deep into the story so that it works effectively). The ending for Birds of Prey made me wonder, in this beating of the bad guy (which also has another ridiculous flash of sadism to it), was this really all they had in mind when they started production on this film? Minus the CGI, it comes off as the end scene to a TV cop show just going through the motions.

Disappointing scripting, dialogue that isn't exactly illuminating (though McGregor and Robbie try to pull whatever they can from their lines, still it is mostly mundane stuff they're saying), and the onslaught of pop tunes, songs so buried into the other sound effects you can't make out the words being sung, which simply makes no sense since this alienates the audience not familiar with the song to know how it connects to what we're watching, the end result being more distracting detritus in a film that's already distracted with itself. Is it there to promote soundtrack sales? No idea.

Margot Robbie is fun to watch as she goes through the paces of showing us the crazy mind of Harley Quinn, and McGregor is good when he is allowed to be on the screen. Rosie Perez (as Renee Montoya) is also good, and even though she is given more room in the film than many others, Birds of Prey would have benefitted from more.

Art direction is very good, Birds of Prey being one of those films that looks so much better than it really is. Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin had a similar color scheme and made it seem dismal, but Birds of Prey is the opposite, making neon interesting instead of deadening. If only the script could have had the same skill and the direction less frenetic, not so completely compromised between human and carnival without heart. I believe the cast was short-changed by the script.

Harley Quinn Birds O'Prey not buoyed by critics

Efforts to "gaslight" the film by boosters not succeeding according to Hollywood in Toto

Superman fights the KKK

Newsweek describes how the three-issue series derives from the 1940s Superman radio serial Clan of the Fiery Cross.

Too much on the shelves

Article on Boom! Studios leadership saying the marketplace is flooded with too much product, comparing it to going to a supermarket and wanting to buy BBQ sauce, but getting paralyzed because there's too many brands to choose from. Boom! also claims that they cut their line by 12% and this benefited their overall picture.

(The obvious question is: if the direct market is a sum game of X-number of titles, then having competition close up frees dollars to be spent on the titles left. BBQ sauce notwithstanding, diversity of publishers might be the only thing that could help rejuvenate the industry, based on the idea that the established publishers don't know how to do it, so an outside publisher might be able to crack the dilemma of attracting audience. Fighting over the buyers still in the market is an obvious concern for any publisher, let alone Boom!, but the reality is the big question of how to bring in new readers is the main, long range issue, and if anything has been proven thus far it is that the main "big" publishers haven't figured out how to achieve this. Pushing out the little publishers isn't going to bring about change, it probably only consolidate the existing problem.)

Story at Newsarama

Eternals movie may resurrect Thanos

Thus spake MSN News

Why'd Affleck quit Batman? Alcohol

Or so says Deadline Hollywood

Margot Robbie and Suicide Squad 2

Despite the underwhelming performance of Harley Quinn - Birds of Prey at theatres, and some folks speculating Margot Robbie might be abandoning the role, James Gunn is talking about Suicide Squad II and the prominence Harley will play for that forthcoming film. This from Movie Web

Beyond that, very little had been revealed. It has been billed as more of a reboot as opposed to a sequel, but several characters from the original will return. Aside from Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang) and Viola Davis (Amanda Waller)"

A certain irony regarding the fortunes of Harley Quinn Birds of Prey is that Will Smith's Bad Boys for Life sequel is now competing in theaters for tickets (Smith was Deadshot in the 2015 Suicide Squad).

Harley Quinn's total world wide take is now at: $145,618,302

Feb 18, 2020

Comic artists of tomorrow

Video of TODAY’s Al Roker and Joe Einhorn talk about a Brooklyn comic book store that sells books but also trains the "next generation of artists."

Story at

Selina Kyle is Zoë Kravitz is Catwoman - Article points out that Robert Pattinson is probably the only cast member under more scrutiny than she is in the coming The Batman movie. Story at MSN News

Rumors about the lineups on coming MCU movies

In particular, Doctor Strange and the Marvelous Madness (probably not the exact title) will have a large roster, in the same vein as Captain America Winter Soldier which functioned as a kind of junior Avengers movie.

More about this at MSN News

The Batsuits

CHanging the suit

Article covering what Batsuit is the best at IGN News

Wonder Woman issue #750 topped January sales

This article on sales figures includes the word "worryingly" which means sales numbers continue to fail to support optimistic hopes for a turnaround in the industry.

Story at Bleedingcool

On the other hand, numbers say digital purchases of comic books rose 4% in 2019 - story at Goode Reader

The new Batman teaser trailer

Features a slow inspection of the Batsuit with Robert Pattinson immobile, mostly, with some piano throbbing out some low notes. Speculation is that the bat symbol on the chest is made from the weapon that killed Bruce Wayne's parents.

Indiana Jones #5 to start filming summer of 2020

Story at Newsarama

Nobody apparently likes the Sonic Hedgehog movie

Story at BBC News

Harley Quinn / Birds of Prey drops 50% on second weekend

World wide total at $160,667,690 [Boxofficemojo]

The once booming Romance Comic Book genre

Story at Yahoo

Secret Romance Number 1

Pencils: Nestor Olivera | Inks: Nestor Olivera (reference: ComicBooksPlus)

How many Spider-Man movies will there be in 2021?

Story at BGR


How indie comics changed in the last decade. Story at CBR com

Birds of Prey leads weekend boxoffice, gets tagged as a bomb by press

February 9, 2020

Interesting phenomenon is when a "big" movie tanks, the press helpfully chimes in to describe how they knew this would happen all along.

Washington Post - “fantabulous” they've changed the title

Uproxx - ‘Birds Of Prey’ isn't 2020, but Harley Quinn is

MSN News - They shoulda said it was "Harley Quinn" in the first place

Cinemablend - Will Margot Robbie do 'Sirens' with Birds O' Prey bombing?

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) had a reported production cost of $84 million. After the poor opening weekend the worldwide take is $79,510,017 million. Roughly speaking, the film needs to gain twice its cost of making it in order for the production company to earn a profit, so there's a need to generate another $90 million in box office ahead.... which may not be possible. (Consider how Dark Phoenix appeared last year and sank, though it was another sequel in a long line of X-Men movies so there wasn't any branding incomprehensibility working against it. DP produced a total box office worldwide of $252,442,974, but it's production budget was a gigantic $200,000!)

Will the hurried effort to rebrand Birds of Prey help? Suicide Squad in 2016 made $133.6 million in its domestic market opening weekend, and $746,846,894 million in total during its world wide run. Its production budget was $175,000,000. Suicide Squad was beaten badly by critics (for various reasons), but still pulled in a lot of dollars. For the rebranded Harley Quinn to "grow legs," as they say in the cinematic arts, some good word of mouth needs to spread, and there is mostly positive feeling out among the web sites that rank audience reactions, so its not an uphill challenge like Suicide Squad posed, but the future looks kind of dim considering the odds.

Bloodshot comes out March 13, The New Mutants on April 3, so I expect worries about a relapse of "superhero fatigue," that all-purpose condition to explain box office failure, will be confirmed if these two also fail. That would put a lot of added pressure on Black Widow on May 1 and Wonder Woman 1984 on June 3, especially since the female-leading Dark Phoenix from last year failed, and if Harley Quinn does also, then eyes will be watching these two big Marvel and DC female-lead films for 2020 with extra scrutiny.

The "contagion of gritty" leaping from Logan to Joker looks to be (theoretically, at least in terms of marketing) clamping onto the Pattinson/Matt Reeves The Batman movie

Claim of "rawness" for this version comes from The Batman cast person Peter Sarsgaard - story at IndieWire

"...the comics medium - certainly when it comes to DC and Marvel - is still relatively inaccessible"

Speaking of inaccessible

Another article (on a needed subject) trying to explain why the comics medium is simultaneously a seedbed for enormous success in other mediums (particularly film adaptations) but can't grow its own audience.

But for all the reboots, retcons and relaunches, there's one glaring problem neither publisher seems particularly enthused about confronting. Those who don't read comics probably aren't even aware of its existence, but for longtime readers it's a name that needs no introduction - the 'direct market'. The point is that the way comics are actually sold is holding them back..."

My first reaction on reading that accusation is to say: delete the 'direct market' and the American comic book industry virtually disappears.

Article at whatculture

Comic books against readership?

The article doesn't say this, but just to point out the obvious, of the various problems facing comic books as they compete in the 21st century world of reading-habits, its not the medium itself.

Nor is it whether a print copy or a digital copy is able to make its way up under the eyes of a new reader and then fails to capture a new comic book medium aficionado. Readers can easily leap from one delivery system to another for the story and characters they're interested in, hence the droves of ticket-buyers at a movie theater complex for popular "properties," as they say in the corporate world, which generates all that ancillary licensing money.

The dilemma facing comic books is the one it always faces, whether the stories can be read with interest and provoke further interest afterward so that future issues of a story (however it is provided) are sought out.

I've been reading comic books all my life, and in the last decades I have found, often, it is too time absorbing to assimilate a story line that looked good on the cover (and breezing through the inside pages) only to have no enthusiasm for untangling the story knots to understand what's happening, who the characters are, why they're acting how they're acting. Without any backstory built in to the new readers memory, it is too often like deciphering a foreign language badly translated into English. That is, unless it is issue #1, which seems to be the only place the writers (and especially editors) take care to "onboard" a reader. (A big part of this is perhaps the expectation the stories will be collected into a single volume - the "binge" version, negating the need for story recaps and re-affirmations of what a character is in the story. But, naturally, that expectation of a future collected version is damaged if single issue stories cannot maintain readership via the shorter episodes.)

It would be interesting to know if the constant need for reboots to issue #1 for a series is in direct proportion to the inability of the story line to make sense to new audiences as issues roll out further into double-digit issue numbers. Reboots are generally considered easy ways to goose sales, but it is also an apparent effort "to take another bite at the apple" in bringing in audience that is otherwise inaccessible. I suspect this works in both directions: new audience is inaccessible because the series has become inaccessible to them.

Another problem is that comic books have accumulated a vast library of clichés and storytelling tics that, unless you're rather forgiving, send away potential new readers. Clear storytelling in words and in pictures is just the craft of the medium. There was a reason comic books were using those cookie-cutter 9-panel grid pages in the 1940s and 1950s, and it had to do with sequential clarity in telling the story. Since the revolution in graphic design of pages beginning in the 1960s, comic books turn into, too often, puzzle-pages, with the sequential storytelling subservient to dramatic drawing flourishes. And there's the irony: "cool art" sells the book, but incomprehensible storytelling, even if it only happens in a limited way within a particular story, is a readership killer.

And the reason for that is simple: readers like to be passive. The great advantage of movie theaters is how a darkened room helps to compel attention to the story projected on a screen, and in a setting in which crowds help create the conformity of a classroom: all eyes go to the 'teacher' at the head of the room. A living room with a home video presentation on a TV screen is a much lessor environment for this spell-like compulsion toward attention, but it achieves this through the selection process of the watcher picking the story they're interested in. They may be engrossed by one story, and despite the ready distractions around them, give that story attention. (And much less so when the story on the TV is less engrossing, hence the phenomenon of the big screen of a TV in a room being blotted out by the tiny screen of a phone or tablet - - they're both on simultaneously in a room, and the smaller one has the bulk of the attention.)

Comic books are a sequential medium just like theaters and TV sets. Passivity in the reader means the storytelling needs to be delivered to them with minimum difficulty for the reader. One of the hallmarks of "bad movies" is not just boredom, but the confusion they engender. Things that don't make sense within the story, characters that are so inconspicuous to the tale that they are irrelevant in any given scene, dialogue that is so flat it contains the characters saying out loud what we are already seeing (and therefore know): "Look, a giant monster!" (we already saw there's a giant monster); "you're so upset!" (we already saw the person is upset); "I must get revenge! (we already saw that you must get revenge). Repetition kills storytelling. The dialogue needs to be entertaining and informing in its own right, adding to what's happening. Comic book dialogue too often follows into the same mode of words telling us what we're already seeing.

It is not the job of the reader to untangle convoluted stories, or to sort out what's happening on a page, or to fight their way through boredom. They give attention (and money) to be entertained and informed, not to do the work the writer and artist (and the editor) hasn't bothered to do.

First Yellow Kid, 1896

Yellow Kid Outcault 1896 First Appearance

The Yellow Kid and his first phonograph, by Richard Outcault, Oct 1896

Click burger: "5 Marvel Villains That Could Easily Defeat Batman"

The writer lists out five Marvel villains that can beat Batman, ends the article with "...if Bats were to find himself in the Marvel universe, he might want to steer the Batmobile out of their way."

After considering the criminal cast in the article's five-point list, the obvious question comes: if these guys (its all guys) can beat Bats, then why can't the equivalent villains in the DC Universe do the same?

Story at Cinemablend

Sam Raimi coming back to Marvel ?

He's going to (maybe) direct Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness. This would be his reconnection to Marvel after being the director on the original three Spiderman movies (which made a combined worldwide box office of $2.5 billion).

Also, coming on board for Doc Strange would mean he'd be back to work for Marvel's boss, Disney, who employed Raimi for the 2013 Oz The Great And Powerful.

Also hopefully it means Bruce Campbell will show up, too.

Apparently, included with the Raimi news is that Rachel McAdams won't be back for the sequel as Strange's (sort've) girlfriend.

More about this at International Business Times [English]

More Sam Raimi

Feb 7, 2020

Batman declared ‘most handsome man in the world’

I mean Robert Pattinson.

George Clooney, who played Batdad in the best Batman film ever made (if you hate Batman) Batman and Robin 1997, has slid to fifth place in this absurd article on male beauty comprised of using the ancient "Greek Golden Ratio of Beauty" - - see the rankings at Entertainment Weekly

Disney has put Star Wars the Endless Movie Franchise on "pause"

Story about this at Digitalspy

DC Comics lists their Free Comic Book Day releases

"One issue will prepare for a redefinition of DC's comic book timeline"

Prepare who? Apparently the headline writer at HR meant "prepare the reader"?

Story at Hollywood Reporter

February 6, 2020

Kirk Douglas 1916-2020

Kirk Douglas the Vikings

Harley Quinn and the Birds O' Prey

Possible surprise move at DC/Warners with the new Harley Quinn Birds O' Prey movie: early word seems to say the film is good.

Massive collection of bound copies of old National Periodical era comics pulled from auction after phone call from DC itself

Books could be stolen archival copies from their library?

Story at Bleeding Cool

Lynda Carter Wonder Woman

Comic book sales expectations for 2020

The End of the Retail Apocalypse... It’s easy to get lost in how quickly retail is transforming, but there are plenty of opportunities, and the past has shown us examples of how to survive in this new world. Here are my predictions for retail changes in 2020 and how to adapt. The good times are far from over, there’s light on the horizon, and there is plenty to be optimistic about."

Story at Bleeding Cool

World favorite superheros

Article with focus on film heroes, produces list without Batman or Superman - story at Cheatsheet

Howard the Duck cancelled

Hulu show kaput - AV Club

Wonder Woman Fleece Kit

"Captain Marvel II has a Superman problem: the hero is an overpowered, unrelatable character"

Carol Danvers has already been established as one of the most powerful heroes in the MCU, a hero so incredibly important, that she doesn’t have enough time to protect Earth; she’s got the entire universe to worry about."

– Forbes article by Dani Di Placido Art . Article at Forbes.

The article goes on to describe that Cap'n Marvel essentially doesn't change during the course of the story of the first film, so there's no "story arc" for the character.

This isn't necessarily a problem, there are many instances in Hollywood story construction where the hero doesn't change - - a number of John Wayne cowboy movies feature a character where the "Duke" isn't altered by the events around him, but everyone else is, and at the end he has to decide to stay put under the new conditions his actions have created, or he exits (usually he exits, the situation now one where law and order prevail and he is no longer needed. Also, it is now a situation where his character cannot thrive, so the screenwriter has him ride off alone away from the conformity of settled civilization.)

The solution for the ultra-powerful Cap'n Marvel, according to the piece from Forbes, is "... what if there’s something out there that she isn’t equipped to deal with?" That's the premise for a hundred-thousand comic book stories, and if well written into a script, could certainly serve for a story premise. But it also just repeats the cycle of the superhero being powerful, then overcoming the momentarily undefeatable enemy by deploying even more power, often in the guise of:

  1. sheer brainpower
  2. organization of a brilliant, well-timed plan
  3. displaying a ferociousness in action that the character, we are told to believe, had never displayed before
  4. rounding up friends, usually ones where there has been some alienation, and then together this reconvened unit defeats the enemy
  5. blind luck

The major issue that confronts superhero movies is one that doesn't go away for any genre: how to tell an entertaining story where it doesn't matter too much who or what the hero is, but whether the tale in combination with the character can carry an audience. If the character is fascinating, together with a "good story" it is an effective box office combination.

Unfortunately, often the Hollwood solution to the dilimma of the sequel is instead drawn from a list of options that are:

  1. repeat the first story but in a bigger way with new subsidiary characters
  2. add more CGI effects
  3. give the character a sidekick, often one meant to be a psychological mirror of the audience the movie-makers imagine is out there. (This is flattering the audience, a strategy that is usually a reflection of salesmanship skill instead of story craft.)
  4. radically altering the character into a new direction (this is also clearly an abandonment of the character's "character." Gutting the personality of the hero, inserting something new, then demanding the audience respect the new character under the banner of the old character, i.e., bait-and-switch.)
  5. add even more CGI effects for a longer periods of time on the screen

The expectation at Comic Book Brain is that a great deal of creativity will go into making the production deal for Captain Marvel II, hopefully that same energy will go into solving the problem of an audience-viable story.

Catwoman to have ‘Strong Femininity’ in coming Batman movie

Zoe Kravitz

Isn't the claim kind of redundant? Story at Indie Wire

Quarter million dollar comic book collection stolen, arrests made

And they were all copies of Crash Helmet #1 [just kidding]. Story at Miami Herald

Spider-Man robot "sucks"

Researchers Xin Li and Kaige Shi from Zhejiang University in China have created a wall-climbing robot using a specially designed vacuum suction unit. Until now, climbing surfaces using suction required the surface to be unbroken, such as glass or marble. This was a requirement because the vacuum would leak through the gaps in the texture of the surface, leading to a complete loss of suction.

Scientists have solved this problem by implementing a high-speed rotating water ring that coats the space between the surface and the suction cup. This film of rotating water allows for the vacuum's suction to be unbroken, which means that suction levels are kept at an optimal rate for climbing. Li said,

Climbing walls by "sucking" - Story at Tweaktown

Batman film to ape Joker?

With Joker piling up the Academy Award nominations (beating out the previous most nominated superhero film which was The Dark Knight) and considering Jokers $1 billion dollar boxoffice, the impact it is having on the future of superhero movies, particularly and obviously DC/Warner superhero movies, is becoming evident. Declarations that the next Batman movie will be going in Jokeresque directions seems to be manifesting with the people attached to the project driving media headlines like "Robert Pattinson Is Ready to Push The Batman in a Really Crazy New Direction - Movieweb."


Peter Sarsgaard says The Batman has an edge - MSN News

Peter Sarsgaard says The Batman filled with the power of chaos - Comicbook Movie

Review: Unstoppable from Batman Giant #1, 2019

Batzwoman and Lord Death Person from Batzman Giant 1

Batwoman is concerned about the due process rights of homicidal killer Lord Death Man, and shrugs off Bruce Wayne's concerns, who, as the short eight-page story unfolds, is cautioning Batwoman, "Lord Death Man can't be killed, Batwoman. Do you think I'd trust anyone else to monitor him?" as his explanation for sending the fiend into orbit (where, it is presumed, monitoring would not be necessary), only to have the capsule containing LDM to crash back to earth right in front of the Wayne Enterprises Building.

This story by writer Steve Orlando is rather rushed, as you might expect for only eight pages. It does provide several basic points: you can't outfight Batwoman, even if you are a deathless creature that survives bullets, getting run over by a motorcycle, explosions and fisticuffs. This still makes you no match for Batwoman's cunning, because she will drop you into hardening concrete, immobilizing you. (How does it get hard so suddenly? It's like Star Wars carbonite instead of concrete.)

While Batwoman is concerned with the fine points of law concerning a proper trial for LDM, the question arises to this reader of whether Lord Death Man would have any legal standing in Gotham City (isn't LDM a Japanese citizen?)

The low point of "Unstoppable" is the absurdity of how communication is carried off in these eight pages. As the story starts, electronic communications between Bruce Wayne and Batwoman seems to be happening via the word balloons emitting from her cape, initially misleading the reader to think someone (it takes a moment to realize it is Batman speaking) is behind Batwoman's cape. This problem is just the limitation from the word balloon designer and placement. The worst example of communication problems is the last page where Batwoman is explaining herself to Gotham Detective Montoya, the two separated by a significant distance, with Batwoman on the upper floors of a building under construction at least a hundred feet away. Around them are police officers using a crane (quite noisy it is assumed) to lift the frozen Lord Death Man and the slab of concrete foundation he is trapped inside of. "I've seen war, Renee," says Batwoman, "The danger doesn't stop when the fighting's over. It stops when you, your officers, everyone touched by an attack can feel a safe again." I wanted Montoya to respond (by mobile phone, I don't see how they can talk over the crane and the distance) and say to Batwoman "feeling safe and being safe are not the same thing," and then maybe shoot Lord Death Man right back into orbit.


Super History

Super-history: Comic Book Superheroes and American Society, 1938 to the Present

The Spectre - Volume 1 (DC Archive Editions)
Tokyo Mix