Black Orchid Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Black Orchid, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, begins with a twist that, while not entirely novel in comic books, is still shocking, especially as an opening scene – the death of the title character. In this graphic novel, Neil Gaiman is tasked with taking the titular niche DC Comics character, giving her an origin story and completely revamping her in the process.

Susan Linden, the Black Orchid, is a super-heroine who is captured and brutally murdered by a henchman of Lex Luthor. Unbeknownst to her murderers, elsewhere, a strange purple woman – a plant and human hybrid – is birthed from a large bulb in a secretive greenhouse lab. She is confused and curious, carrying the scattered and tattered remnants of Susan’s memories.

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This strange new woman immediately meets Doctor Philip Sylvian, her creator. He begins to tell her more about herself, and her former self. How much of her is Susan, and how much of her is new? She begins a journey of self-discovery to learn more about herself – who and what she really is – in a journey that echoes those of the ancient Greek myths. At the same time, dark forces from Susan’s past, the previous Susans’ pasts, learn of her and seek to do her harm.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

It may be written by the same author as Sandman, and it may star a superhero – or the shadow of one, but I think that the first and foremost audience who would enjoy Black Orchid would be fans of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing (of course fans of Sandman would most likely enjoy it too!). Many of the themes and aesthetics are the same, and without spoiling too much, there are story connections between the characters of both books.

For readers completely new to the comic landscape of DC, this is a very dense read that might very well be too opaque. That is not to say that the uninitiated cannot find the story interesting, but there are references to characters and places that mean much more if you know what they are and what they represent.

For both familiar readers and new readers, an appreciation for dream-like and murky storytelling and the art is necessary. This is not a plot, nor is there a character, that builds off of action and excitement. Instead, the appeal is in the surrealism, the grim noir elements, and the dark wonder and atmosphere that Neil Gaiman creates.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

One of the hallmarks of Neil Gaiman as a writer is the way he manages to blur the lines between the mundane or the ridiculous, and the mythic. In Black Orchid, he does that very thing yet again. He takes a fairly campy side character in the DC universe and reinvents them in such a way as to make it feel as at home in Greek myth as it is among the tights and capes of modern superheroes, perhaps even more so. The story borrows elements of Frankenstein, mixes it with noir, and lays the mixture out across a journey not unlike those taken by epic heroes like Odysseus and Orpheus. It’s a strange, but somehow seamless blend. I know we’re talking about the author of Sandman and the artist who produced that work’s iconic covers, but I hope it’s not too on the nose to say that the whole thing feels like a dream.

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That isn’t to say that this is anywhere near as good as that seminal work. Sandman’s ideas and imagery felt more complete and fleshed out. Both Black Orchid and Sandman had intelligence and wit behind them, but Sandman felt like it had more heart and love for its characters and world, whereas Black Orchid felt much more cynical of humanity in general.

Black Orchid’s strengths lie in the atmosphere of the plot and the beautiful murkiness of the art. It lies with the core ideas and mythic tropes. It does not lie in emotional investment with its characters, or relatability. This isn’t a story meant to make you cry or laugh. It isn’t a story meant to take you on a rollercoaster of emotions and thrills, nor is it a story to make you think about heartfelt reality. Instead, it is a story that works its way under your skin and makes you feel both uncomfortably grim and yet full of wonder. Not a childlike wonder, but rather the kind of wonder one one feels when they are lost in a beautiful jungle – the kind of wonder one gets when staring into the eyes of a tiger. It is a dangerous wonder.

While Black Orchid never had a moment that made me truly fall in love with it, I find myself appreciating it more and more as I think back over its artistry. There is no doubt Black Orchid is worth buying at full price.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

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The Jungle Book (2016) – Movie Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Mowgli is a young child, or “man-cub,” orphaned in the jungle as a toddler with the death of his father. He is soon found by the compassionate black panther, Bagheera, who takes him to be raised by the wolf pack under the eye of their leader, Akela. There he grows up alongside the wolf pups with the loving guidance of his surrogate mother Raksha and learns the laws of the jungle, what it means to be a wolf, and how to suppress his human cleverness and his inventions and tools, his “tricks,” as the animals call them.

Drought comes to the jungle, bringing with it the “water truce” wherein no animal must eat another. At the watering hole, Mowgli first meets the intimidating tiger, Shere Khan, who hates humans and threatens to kill the boy the moment the truce ends. When the rains come, Mowgli finds he must flee to the man-village to avoid death by his menacing claws.

What follows is an adventure through the jungle as Mowgli makes friends, faces dangers, and learns who he really is.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“The Jungle Book” is full of adventure, wonder and thrills, but it also does an excellent job of building characters and drama. There are valuable themes of identity, responsibility, family, and bravery throughout the film that kids and adults alike can benefit from. This is a film that almost anybody can enjoy unless they have something against talking animals or adventure stories. Beyond that, people who love to see the advancements of CGI technology and artistry would no doubt find the movie fascinating.

However, the movie would probably be scary for very small children. Forget how cheery and lighthearted the animated film from 1967 was. This movie, while still having moments of light-hearted fun, does not pull back from showing just how dangerous and scary the jungle can be. There is at least one jump scare, and the “villain,” Shere Khan, is a real monster. He is not afraid to kill or threaten violence, and proves to be a terrifying threat to all of the characters throughout the film.

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The movie is still made primarily for kids, certainly, but I would put the viewing age-range a couple of years later on than the animated film it shares DNA with. That said, I believe that kids should watch movies that can scare them, and all of the scares in this film are of a good, thrilling sort. It is simply something to keep in mind for those of you with younguns.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“The Jungle Book” is a beautiful movie. The CGI work is top notch, and after about five minutes into the movie I never questioned the reality of the creatures talking on the screen, and the jungle itself is vibrant and lush.

The film has much more than simple appearance to speak for it, however, as the voice acting is fantastic with terrific performances in every role across the board. From Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, to Bill Murray as Baloo, to Idris Elba’s Shere Khan, they all inhabit their roles. The young child actor playing Mowgli, Neel Sethi, is not perfect. However, I give him a lot of credit for acting when he is literally the only non-CGI character in the whole cast.

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The plot has many of the same beats as the 1967 animated Disney film of the same name, but tight writing links the events together in a strong narrative that makes every scene carry a weight and importance that simply wasn’t there in the original animation. This film also plays on the nostalgia of the audience for the animated film through the reappearance of a couple of its classic musical numbers, but only one of them really worked with the tone and purpose of the scene it appeared in.

The strong writing of the plot and dialogue comes together with the beautiful CGI and fleshed out characters to create a stellar product with only a few minor flaws. “The Jungle Book” is not only the best live-action remake of a Disney Animated movie so far, it is very possibly the definitive version of this classic tale. “The Jungle Book” is worth buying brand new.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Following the events of “Man of Steel,” the United States government sets out to determine to what degree Superman should be held accountable for the destruction and loss of life in Metropolis during the invasion of General Zod. Lex Luthor Jr. doesn’t need an investigation, however, as he already made up his mind and firmly believes that Superman is a menace. Batman similarly believes Superman is a threat and begins planning for how to deal with him. The tension between Superman and Batman, as amplified through the machinations of Luthor, leads to direct conflict between the two legendary heroes. Who will come out on top – the Man of Steel or the Dark Knight?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

You would think saying that this is a comic book action film would make it fairly clear who this film is aimed at, but that doesn’t really work this time around. I’m torn over deciding who this movie is for.

Comic Book fanboys will probably not be pleased with some of the character modifications in this film. They will say it betrays the characters in the exact same manner they said “Man of Steel” betrayed them. Casual comic film fans, meanwhile, might find the very grim and dark tone to be off-putting, especially if they bring their children. Regular film-goers might find the lack of background for some characters confusing, and there are plot issues and obscure comic-book references that would further cloud their experience.

I think this film is for people who can accept that this is Zack Snyder’s unique vision, which includes some variation on classic characters and a gritty tone, who want action and spectacle, but have no burning desire for humor or deep characterization in a comic book film. I think these people will be relatively few. Almost everyone else will find something to dislike, and, if I know the internet, there will be some who actively hate it.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I liked this movie. I think this will be a controversial statement. Those that hated it will think I’m stupid for not seeing how bad it is. For a lot of people in the middle, they will just be slightly disappointed, but not offended. They will forget it shortly afterward. For the few people who truly loved this movie, they will think I’m way too picky. In the end, though, for me, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is good.

The film has excellent actors doing a great job with the parts they are given. I completely buy into these actors as these characters. Henry Cavill is a great Superman. Gal Gadot is a convincing Wonder Woman. Ben Affleck, whom everyone was worried about beforehand, is a scene-stealer as Batman. While I don’t agree with Snyder’s choice for Luthor’s characterization (I can’t stand it, actually), Jesse Eisenberg still does justice to that choice.

There are cool action scenes that are impacting and enthralling to watch, even when some turn into a CGI fest. The motivations, while thin, make sense. The music works well. The costumes are cool. Batman has just the best toys, you guys. There is plenty to like.

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There is plenty to dislike as well. While the main characters are good, they are thinly portrayed. What they are given is a script that is overstuffed, slim on character building, and poorly stitched together. In fact, some plot elements are poorly explained to the point that they feel like plot holes, even if they aren’t. Some of the side characters are pathetically written. There is a lot of wasted potential.

Still, in the end, I feel that “Batman v Superman” had enough good to outweigh the bad. It was flawed, and it didn’t live up to what it could have been, but there was still plenty to enjoy. In fact, when it comes out on blu-ray, I think…

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

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