Review: Injustice

Imagine what would happen if Superman went bad. Not a mustache-twirling villain, but a frighteningly powerful fascist who demands loyalty and obedience from…. well, everyone. Sort of like a Twitter warrior with godlike powers.

Hence we get “Injustice,” an animated movie loosely based on the hit video game and the long-running comic-book series that served as its prequel. Sadly, it’s a bare-bones, rather shapeless kind of film, and it’s kind of shallow both in plot and theme – the moral issues raised by the source material are boiled down to “taking away people’s freedoms and rights is bad.” The voice acting is lackluster and the need to fulfill a three-act structure leads to a very rushed and somewhat anticlimactic ending.

The Joker decides to give Superman the “one bad day” treatment – he kidnaps the pregnant Lois, attaches the trigger of a nuclear bomb to her heart, and tricks Clark into killing her. The bomb goes off, destroying all of Metropolis. Enraged and grief-stricken, Superman murders the Joker in front of Batman. Then, with the support of Wonder Woman, decides that he is going to bring peace and order to the world…. whether the world likes it or not.

Only a few heroes, antiheroes and Harley Quinn dare to oppose Superman’s new regime, with Batman as their leader. But as their resources and numbers dwindle – including a loss that forever fractures Batman’s family – Superman makes a Faustian alliance with a villain who promises to help him achieve his dream of peace, and descends further into murder and tyranny as he kills those who offend him. The only hope that this Earth has is for Batman to free Mr. Terrific, and find someone who can stop Superman.

It was always going to be a challenge to reduce a long-running, years-spanning comic series and a full-length video game into a movie that isn’t even ninety minutes long. That’s a lot of character development, subplots, battles and important events that need to be trimmed away. So needless to say, the story is very bare-bones and loses a lot of its narrative oomph – as well as the expansive cast of characters one would expect of the Justice League. I’m still not entirely sure why Harley Quinn is involved except as comic relief.

The story also seems to not have much depth – the main message of “police states and fascism are bad” is a good one, but it isn’t presented with much complexity or nuance. The movie also suffers from having to neatly wrap up everything in a bow after a third-act battle… which it utterly fails at. Lots of plot threads are left hanging when it slams into the credits, only seconds after the whole superpowered-tyrant-controlling-the-world issue is resolved in a very, very anticlimactic way. And whenever a hero is killed – which happens frequently – there’s barely time to register it. Most of the many deaths just don’t matter, and some characters just walk right out to never be seen again (such as Aquaman and Shazam).

It also inherits some original sins from the source materials, and despite many changes, it makes no attempt to explain them. For instance, Wonder Woman is strangely hostile to Batman and all-too-eager to turn Superman into a super-tyrant, apparently being too stupid to see how all this could escalate. Why is she so different from the usual Wonder Woman we know and love? No idea. She just is.

The animation is…. okay. Not the best I’ve seen, but not offensively bad. The voice acting is resolutely mediocre, through – most of the actors range from okay-but-not-very-good (Anson Mount, Justice Hartley, Gillian Jacobs, a strangely stiff Janet Varney) to this-is-just-really-bad (Faran Tahir, Kevin Pollak’s Joker). Derek Phillips is admittedly quite good as Nightwing, and Oliver Hudson is pretty fun as Plastic Man.

The one good aspect of “Injustice” is that it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to watch “Superman Vs. The Elite,” an animated movie that delves into the morals of superheroes and what happens when they throw aside laws. Consider that a recommendation, and give it a watch instead of this halfhearted, fatally-flawed adaptation.

Recommendation: Ghost Hunt

Like many people, I like anime. I’m not one of those people into super-obscure or niche stuff, but I enjoy anime like My Hero Academia, Bleach, Inuyasha, Fruits Basket, Fairy Tail, etc. I used to be into Naruto and Dragonball, until I realized that both of them were ass-numbingly long and I didn’t really like the characters very much.

And one of the lesser-known anime I love is Ghost Hunt, a series that adds a more professional, sometimes more factual aspect to the usual supernatural shenanigans of Japanese urban fantasy. It gets a little silly towards the end (one of the final episodes has a Catholic priest PUNCHING GHOSTS), but it’s an overall enjoyable series that mingles urban fantasy, horror, and a hint of romance.

It follows a young girl named Mai, who accidentally runs into a supernatural detective agency who are investigating a supposedly-haunted building at the school she attends. She accidentally wrecks some of their equipment and injures the assistant, so she ends up working for the paranormal investigator Kazuya Shibuya, whom she nicknames “Naru” because she thinks he’s a narcissist. There are also three other exorcists called in: the not-very-monkly Buddhist monk Hosho, the rarely-successful Shinto shrine maiden Ayako, and the perpetually mellow Catholic priest John Brown. Oh, and there’s a TV medium named Masako, who’s condescending and nasty and can’t take a hint that a man is disinterested in her, and Naru’s assistant Lin, who’s kind of weird and distant from Mai.

As a group, they investigate a number of paranormal cases, including a haunted doll and a child being terrorized, the seemingly-haunted school, a strict school where a girl threatened to curse people, a school game with potentially deadly consequences, a labyrinthine house, and a family being haunted by ancient spirits. There are also some slightly lighter stories, one of them about a child’s spirit possessing Mai, and a ghost that splashes water on couples. The last one is more funny than spooky.

Be forewarned: this series is in fact quite horrific at times, ranging from merely being uncomfortably eerie to having bloody ghosts emerging from walls in a cursed mansion. It’s also a slow-burner for most of its run, with long stretches of talking about equipment, psychic phenomena (and sometimes the fakery of it), psychology, Japanese folk magic, and so on. It’s not boring – there are strange occurrences fairly frequently, and the banter between the characters keeps the energy moving – but it’s not a big splashy anime. It takes its time, as it is a mystery show of sorts.

Recommendation: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

The Avengers film series is about as mainstream as you can get today – I could argue that Avengers: Endgame was one of the most anticipated movies of all time.

But back in 2010 the MCU was just getting started, and at that time, we got the best Avengers show – and possibly one of the best Marvel shows – to date: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. While it has some obvious influence from the recent Iron Man movies, this is mostly doing its own interpretation of Marvel’s comics, and it is glorious. It also has one of the most wonderful theme songs of all time. If you don’t believe me, google “avengers fight as one” and check out the music videos people have made.

But aside from the awesomeness of “Fight As One,” this show is amazing. Part of what makes it amazing is that… it isn’t strictly a kids’ show. It’s more a piece of superhero media that happens to be appropriate for children, but it’s serious and intricate enough that adults will probably enjoy it just as much.

The first half of the first season is pretty much about bringing the team together “as one.” You’ve got Tony already established as Iron Man, since the Iron Man movies had already put him in the public consciousness. But it gradually introduces us to The Hulk, Hawkeye, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Widow (who is a recurring ally/enemy rather than a full-on Avenger), Captain America, Thor, and sometimes Black Panther.

And for big Marvel buffs, it does indeed have characters that Marvel didn’t have the movie rights to in 2010, like the Fantastic 4, Wolverine, Spiderman, etc, as well as less prominent Marvel characters like Iron Fist and Power Man/Luke Cage, who are absolutely wonderful and deserved their own spinoff show. And it had the Guardians of the Galaxy before that group became big, as well as now-established characters like Vision and Miss Marvel (now known as Captain Marvel, and much more likable and relatable than in the live-action film).

Anyway, after a supervillain nearly destroys New York, Tony Stark decides to assemble the Avengers, a team that can recapture the 75 superpowered bad guys who have just escaped from SHIELD. So they all move into his urban mansion, and have some personal friction with each other. Just because they’re heroes doesn’t mean they all get along at first – the Hulk is grumpy and a little paranoid, Cap and Tony have differing ideas about technology and what’s important, Ant-Man despises Tony because he fights instead of rehabilitating criminals, and Hawkeye is a little pissed at SHIELD because he was framed.

But those rough edges, that friction, those personality quirks are what make the characters feel so likable and real. They’re not perfect, but they are likable, relatable and heroic. When they’re hanging out, or having conflicts, or making jokes, it really feels like they’re reluctant but fast friends.

The story arcs that follow include a lot of really fascinating conflicts, like a time-warping conflict with Kang the Conqueror, a gamma dome that mutates everyone inside it, invasion by the Kree, the Masters of Evil, the murderous android Ultron, a trip to Thor’s home realm of Asgard, etc. The second season has an overarching conflict with the Skrulls, who sow confusion and mistrust among Earth’s mightiest heroes and make things a lot more difficult for them, both amongst each other and towards the world.

Sadly, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes ran for only two seasons, when it was clearly laying out plotlines and groundwork for much more. Apparently Disney didn’t want a story with good writing, intelligence, all-ages appeal, great stylized animation and well-developed characters, so they gave us the bland, simplistic, messy and juvenile Avengers Assemble instead. Bleah.

So yeah, if you can find this series, definitely watch it. It’s packed with plot, excellent writing, and it’s as rewarding a watch for adults as for kids.

Review: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

Some movies about Superman are excellent. Some are… rather ungood. And “Superman: Man Of Tomorrow” is intensely, spectacularly, memorably…. okay.

It’s just okay. It’s hard to really find anything to love or hate about this animated origin story for everybody’s favorite blue-and-red Boy Scout — nothing about it is too bad or good, from the serviceable but unexciting animation to the pleasant but not particularly gripping characterizations. It dabbles with some deeper stuff, like Superman’s temptation to live a quieter and safer life, but ultimately it mostly focuses on explosive spectacle and a bit of horror.

Clark Kent has just come to Metropolis to work as an intern at the Daily Planet, where he discreetly uses his superpowers to just kind of fly around in a thrift-store disguise. But after he saves the city from a runaway spacecraft, budding journalist Lois Lane becomes fascinated by “the Super-Man” and is determined to corral him into an interview, on HER terms.

But then Star Labs is attacked by a yellow-toothed space-motorcycle-wearing thug named Lobo, who reveals he is here to nab Superman in order to secure a massive bounty on the last Kryptonian. Who put forth this bounty, and therefore knows that he exists? We never find out. It’s actually just kind of forgotten. Supes doesn’t even seem interested in knowing who wants him captured and/or killed.

This battle is a turning point for Superman in several ways: his costume is destroyed, a Martian appears out of nowhere to defend him, and an innocent janitor is accidentally consumed by purple alien goo. Before long, a new enemy is stalking through Metropolis, sucking the very life-force from everyone it comes across. To stop it, Superman will need to ally himself with a man who may just become his greatest enemy… and also Lobo.

“Superman: Man of Tomorrow” aims to tell the story of Clark Kent’s formation into Superman – how he got his costume, how he got his name, and how he made the conscious decision to be Earth’s protector. None of it is too deep or dramatic; don’t expect lots of introspection and contemplation here. The choice is simple, and we know more or less what he’s going to choose, but the question is HOW Supes is going to make his official debut. And it’s kind of cute to see him do things like tie a blanket around his shoulders to see how he’d look with a cape.

The story itself is a pretty straightforward one, confronting Superman with obstacles – he keeps encountering stronger and stronger foes, both physically and mentally. But it occasionally gives us quieter interludes with the Kent family, or the janitor’s family. Perhaps the biggest problem is that during the climactic conflict, Superman decides to introduce himself to the entire crowd watching it, rather than dealing with the horrifying potential-world-ending threat behind him.

At the same time, we see him getting to know Lois Lane, who’s exactly what you’d expect – she’s kind of arrogant and convinced she’s already the best, but it’s intriguing to see her interact with Clark, growing closer to him even as he grows in confidence. Clark also contrasts wildly against the amoral, crazed Lobo, who livens up the script with his antics (such as telling Lois stories that reduce her to screaming, “Stop! What’s WRONG with you?!”).

As for the animation, it’s a mixed bag. It looks very simple and kind of cheap at times (I was reminded of “Archer” during some scenes, and that show isn’t exactly known for its beautiful animation), but I suppose they were saving the money and skill for the fight scenes, which are sometimes pretty dynamic and fluid. It’s not bad exactly, but it’s not particularly good.

If you’re hoping for greatness, “Superman: Man of Tomorrow” will surely disappoint you with its profound okayness. It’s just okay. If watched for a just-okay everything, it will probably satisfy.

Recommendation: Batman: The Brave and the Bold

I love Batman. I love Batman media, from the Adam West TV show to the dark gothic animated series, from The Batman from the early aughts to the Christopher Nolan trilogy. I fully expect to love The Batman (movie, not series). No, I do not love, or even like, the Joel Schumacher movies, but I do sometimes watch them if I want to laugh and cringe at the same time.

But one show that seems to get overlooked sometimes in the world of Batman media is Batman: The Brave and the Bold, an animated show that aired from 2008 to 2011, before being sadly cancelled in order to make way for Beware the Batman. Not that Beware the Batman was bad, but it didn’t have the heart and soul of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

And this heart and soul are easy to identify: the people who made this movie not only love Batman and his history, they love the entire DC Comics universe. Not just the major heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman (who are only introduced in the final season), but characters obscure (the Metal Men) as well as iconic. And old as well as new – lots of characters from decades ago (Adam Strange, Wildcat), alongside newer characters like the third Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes (who has many appearances as a fledgling hero who needs Batman’s guidance) and Ryan Choi (the third Atom).

And it’s all done with immense respect and liking for these characters, whether they’re good or evil. For instance, one of Jaime Reyes’ first episodes sees him trying to investigate the legacy of past Blue Beetles, which allows the makers of this series to pay homage to the previous iterations, especially Ted Kord. You can feel all the love they have for DC’s whole history and all their characters, including the goofy and weird ones. Like, I had never heard of Gentleman Jim Craddock before this – I know technically he appeared in one of the DCAU series, but I honestly don’t remember him because he wasn’t put center stage. Or Red Tornado, who just doesn’t get as much attention as his earnest little robot self deserves. Or the Weeper. There’s actually a supervillain whose signature is CRYING.

Basically, every episode features Batman teaming up with some other superhero (sometimes a group of them, like the teen rebels known as the Outsiders) and dealing with a problem on other planets, or in another time period, or on Dinosaur Island, or England, or parallel universes, or in Batman’s own body (Aquaman and the Atom go on a Fantastic Voyage to cure Batman of silicon-based critters). Sometimes we don’t even know how Batman came to be where he is, such as when he pops up in the Old West to save Jonah Hex (who promptly insults his supersuit).

Okay, the focus isn’t always 100% on Batman and his team-up. One whole episode is about Aquaman going on a family vacation, during which he is forbidden to superhero. It even highlights the nature of Batman’s mythos and his fandom in some fourth-wall-breaking encounters with Bat-Mite.

And it’s wonderfully bonkers, and very much embraces the corniness (Diedrich Bader says the most hilariously cheesy things) of old comic books. It wants to be fun, and it IS fun, balancing out plot and characterization with the need to entertain. I mean, one episode has a sitcom version of Aquaman’s life! Another one was clearly dreamed up just because they wanted Batman to team up with Sherlock Holmes.

But it’s worth noting that not all is funny and goofy. There are serious conflicts in here, such as the invasion of Starro that spreads across the second season, and which ends with a truly heartrending loss. Or the ongoing battle against Equinox, a force that seeks to balance out order and chaos, and is willing to do horrifying things to make that happen. There’s also Chill of the Night, a really magnificent and totally serious episode in which Bruce Wayne’s soul is literally held in the balance, as he discovers who was responsible for his parents’ death.

It also has a great voice cast – you’re guaranteed to be a big fan of at least one person who had a hand in this. Diedrich Bader is an outstanding Batman (probably why they brought him back for the Harley Quinn show), and it has homages to Batman’s past by having Adam West and Julie Newmar play the Wayne parents, as well as Kevin Conroy playing an alternate-universe Batman.

So if you’re a fan of Batman, or even just of DC comics and its history, then this series is one you definitely need to see. Even if you don’t normally watch lighter incarnations of the Dark Knight, this is clever and well-written, and its love and joy are infectious.

Review: The Secret of Kells

The Book of Kells is Ireland’s greatest treasure: an ancient book filled with exquisite illuminations.

Technically, “The Secret of Kells” is a fictionalized account about the making of that book. But it’s far more than that — it’s a visual hymn to Ireland’s history, a coming-of-age tale, and a parable about Christianity coming to Ireland. Modern animation is suffused with exquisite Celtic art, music and a sense of fairy magic, and wrapped around a seemingly simple story about a boy learning about the power of art.

Abbot Cellach is determined to save the Abbey of Kells from the Viking invaders, so he’s having the monks (including his nephew Brendan) build a vast wall around the abbey. But when the illuminator Brother Aiden arrives, he brings with him the legendary Book of Iona. Brendan is fascinated by the Book, and ventures out into the forest — against the abbot’s orders — to fetch ink-making supplies for Aiden.

He befriends a strange fairy girl named Aisling, and nature’s beauty inspires his art — until his uncle discovers that he’s sneaking out, and forbids him to have anything to do with the forest or Aiden. But Brendan still wants to become a true master of illumination. And to finish the Book, he must go outside the abbey once more, and snatch away the magical Eye of an ancient sleeping evil…

You can see this movie from many angles — it’s a coming-of-age story, a homage to Irish culture, a story about the importance of art, and a parable about Christianity supplanting Celtic paganism (whilst drawing on its beauty and richness). But however you see it, “The Secret of Kells” is a beautiful story with a calm simplicity, and a slightly quirky sense of humor.

It also tackles some darker, more mature themes — Brendan is exiled to a dungeon for disobeying his uncle, and he ventures into the cave of an ancient god surrounded by wriggling black roots. But directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey drop in lots of beautiful little moments as well, such as Aisling magically “singing” Aiden’s cat into a floating spirit.

It also has a truly unique style of animation: “Kim Possible” style (simple designs with lots of sharp and/or rounded edges) with vibrant jewel-toned backdrops (the sunlit emerald hues of the forests). The best parts are when Celtic symbols and art are woven in, especially since they tend to float through the air like butterflies.

The writers also give great care to sketching out characters — Brendan, the little monk who discovers the “miracles” of the world; Aisling, the elusive wolf-girl who assists him; and the grandfatherly Brother Aiden. On the flip-side we have Abbot Cellach, whose obsession with keeping Kells safe causes him to shut out art and beauty. No, he’s not a 2-D bad guy — he’s just desperate to preserve his community against the onslaught of their enemies.

Obviously it’s not on the level of the Book of Kells, but “The Secret of Kells” is still a beautiful work of cinematic art. Adults will love it, kids will love it, and anyone with the blood of Ireland will marvel.

Review: My Hero Academia Season Four Volume One

The world of superheroing has changed forever, because the Symbol of Peace has stepped down into retirement… and his successor isn’t really ready to take up his mantle. In fact, Izuku Midoriya is only just entering the world of professional superheroes, and he has a lot to learn.

And he jumps into the deep end in “My Hero Academia Season Four Volume One,” which follows a handful of the Class 1-A students onto Hero Work Studies. No, not like their last internships — these ones take them right into the thick of superhero action, while also introducing a sinister new enemy with a very different kind of evil plan. And, you know, a colorful array of new superhero characters.

Izuku becomes determined to do his Hero Work Studies internship with Sir Nighteye, the straitlaced and grim former sidekick of All Might. Unfortunately, Nighteye has a personal dislike of Midoriya, believing that he is an unworthy successor for All Might; though he allows the boy to join his agency as an intern, he is still convinced that the talented and disciplined Mirio is the right kid for the job.

This puts Izuku in the middle of Nighteye’s investigation into the Shie Hassaikai, a yakuza organization run by the sinister Overhaul — and it becomes personal when he stumbles across a small girl named Eri, whom Overhaul is keeping captive. At the same time, Kirishima encounters bullets that can temporarily erase people’s quirks, which Nighteye believes are connected to the Shie Hassaikai and the little girl.

This investigation leads to a massive team-up of heroes and their interns — including Izuku, Ochaco, Asui, Kirishima and the Big Three — attempting to take down the Shie Hassaikai and rescue Eri. But they find that Overhaul is prepared for their attack, with the vicious Eight Precepts of Death ready to kill anyone who tries to stop their master. And that’s not even taking into consideration that Overhaul is ridiculously powerful himself, or that he has a connection to the League of Villains.

Just a warning: if you’re a big fan of the Class 1-A students other than Izuku, Ochaco, Asui or Kirishima, you’re not going to have much of your favorites this half-season. It focuses far less on school-related antics and more on professional superheroing with actual pros, which gets moderately dark, graphic and violent. You can tell things are going to get nasty when Overload casually liquefies someone’s upper body (and no, I won’t say whose).

The first half of the arc is a relatively slow burn, balancing between the mundane detective work the heroes are doing and the complicated relationships between All Might, Midoriya and Nighteye. And once the infiltration starts, the series goes full shonen, focusing on a series of fights between Overload’s powerful goons and the various heroes and teenagers. Lots of punching, lots of blood, lots of giant octopus tentacles, lots of weird wibbling wobbling corridors.

Izuku also has to face some personal obstacles in this arc, discovering that Nighteye dislikes him as the One For All holder, and wants him to fail. This also leads to some friction with All Might, and the discovery that his mentor has been keeping a dark secret about himself. Kirishima also experiences some growth as a character, as we see him struggling to use his abilities to fight villains, even as we see what spurs him on to be a hero despite his lack of a flashy Quirk.

And there are a number of smaller stories being juggled — Sir Nighteye’s tragic fallout with All Might and the present distance between the two men, Mirio’s conflict with Overhaul to save Eri, the presence of the friendly and orb-shaped Fatgum, and Tamaki’s struggle to overcome his crippling social awkwardness and turn his Quirk into a devastating power. You know he’s a brilliant hero when he can take on three powerful Quirk users at the same time.

Compared to the arcs that came before, “My Hero Academia Season Four Volume One” is focused less on school and more on the dark and bloody business of pro superheroing. A great balance of powerful emotion and explosive action.

Review: Hellboy Animated

Folklore and legend are rich with plenty of ghouls, gods and monsters that fit nicely into the “Hellboy” universe. And “Hellboy: Sword of Storms/Blood & Iron” deals with some of the supernatural nasties in a pair of animated spinoff adventures. These two stories are solid if not brilliant, and they have plenty of Hellboy quips, weird creatures, and a healthy splattering of gore, fire and magic.

In “Blood and Iron,” the BPRD is asked to investigate a haunted mansion, and Professor Broom insists that Liz, Hellboy, Abe and himself go on the mission. Though the hype-happy owner is only interested in using the investigation to make money, the place is really haunted — bluish ghosts drift around, statues weep, and a witches’ magic circle is on the floor.

It soon becomes obvious that a pair of harpy-witches are trying to resurrect the evil Erzsebet Ondrushko, a horrendous vampire who was abducting young girls so she could bathe in their blood. Decades ago, Professor Broom defeated her and seemingly killed her. Now with Abe captured by the hags, Liz and Broom are in a race against time to stop the vampire’s resurrection — and even if they succeed, there’s still their witch-goddess Hecate, whom Hellboy must somehow stop.

And in “Sword of Storms,” first the team ventures into a green, slimy, root-filled underground temple, where they must battle an ancient bat-deity and a small army of Aztec mummies. Then to the main plot — a history professor receives an ancient scroll that tells the story of the demonic brothers Thunder and Lightning, and a doomed love between a princess and a young samurai. And when the professor finds the samurai’s sword — surprise! — he gets possessed by the demons.

But when the BPRD is called in, Hellboy touches the sword as well — and is sucked into a bizarre otherworld full of monsters, ghosts and magical creatures. In the meantime, Abe and Liz are caught in a typhoon that strands them in the middle of nowhere — and it turns out that dragons are on the way. To save civilization, Hellboy must not only escape from the otherworld of Japenese legend, but also deal with the demons and ghosts….

“Hellboy: Sword of Storms” and “Hellboy: Blood and Iron” are somewhat different beasts from the movies made by Guillermo del Toro — they have some characters and plots that were from the original Mike Mignola comics, and the art is more reminiscent of those. They’re fun additions to the Hellboy mythos, but they do have some flaws in there (the pallid ghostly romance in “Sword of Storms,” which is utterly unegaging because we don’t know or care about these people).

They are also quite different from each other — “Sword of Storms” is a very straightforward and simple storyline that travels along two parallel paths, while “Blood and Iron” branches out into multiple storylines (and even goes backward!). And they have plenty of dark facets — gore, slime, thunderstorms, creepy forests, haunted mansions and the various monsters that arise, ranging from harpies to headless goblins. And the writers do a pretty good job adding in that little humorous edge to the stories as well (“He really likes cucumbers… WHAT IS YOUR NAME?!”).

Ron Perlman’s vocals make this Hellboy absolutely perfect — he’s sarcastic but good-hearted (“You’re lucky we let you be seen with us!”), practical, and usually ends up dealing with all the messy stuff. Doug Jones provides an intellectual slant as the resourceful, mellow fish-man Abe, and Selma Blair has a little trouble bringing the sharp-witted pyrokinetic Liz to life. And John Hurt gets to be the star of “Blood and Iron,” where Professor Broom comes face to face with an old nemesis.

“Hellboy: Sword of Storms/Blood and Iron” have a few flaws, but they are solid animated adventures with plenty of monsters and dark twists. Just remember: These are definitely not for kids.

Review: My Hero Academia Season 2

Izuku “Deku” Midoriya has done the impossible — he has gained a powerful Quirk and made it into the top hero school in the world. He’s even fought villains, even though his Quirk shatters his bones when he uses it.

But his life promises to get a lot more complex in “My Hero Academia Season 2,” which crams together a few shonen anime standbys (a tournament, strength training with an old master) even as it spins up a truly harrowing, bloodsoaked subplot. Not only does the anime show Midoriya growing as a combatant, but it also fleshes out the history of his Quirk and the superhero world as a whole.

Mere days after the USJ attack, UA holds its annual, world-famous sports festival — a competition for the students that will allow them to show their Quirks to the pro heroes. All Might encourages Midoriya to show the world what he can do, but the boy is still struggling to use his Quirk without injuring himself. To make matters worse, he is competing not only with his classmates, but the other hero class AND the general studies students.

So on the day of the competition, Midoriya does everything he can to succeed without using his Quirk. But when he learns more about his reclusive classmate Shoto Todoroki, Midoriya is spurred to help the other boy with his… well, family issues. Let’s just say Shoto hasn’t had the best childhood, and he hates his abusive father with a passion.

Then the hero course students are faced with a new challenge: they have to intern with pro hero agencies. Midoriya is sent an offer by All Might’s old mentor, Gran Torino — and he soon discovers that Gran Torino might be just the teacher he needs to get One For All under his control. But he’s soon pulled into a chaotic attack on Hosu City, where Shiguraki has unleashed a trio of Nomus. Even worse, a vengeance-fueled Tenya Iida is on the hunt for the fanatical hero-killer, Stain — and even multiple UA students may not be able to take him down.

And no sooner have the UA students returned home from their internships than they are faced with the most terrifying threat yet: finals. Though they think they’re up against more mindless robots, the students quickly learn that they’ll be up against the UA faculty, all trained heroes with powerful Quirks. Worst of all? Midoriya has to fight All-Might… with Katsuki Bakugo as his partner.

If the first season of “My Hero Academia” was about Midoriya achieving his lifelong dream, than the second season is about how he’s going to live that dream now that he has it. He’s in UA, he has a Quirk, and he’s being mentored by the greatest superhero in the world. Now he has to tame that Quirk, and is thrown headlong into some extremely serious training and competition, as well as more encounters with actual villains.

And this season fleshes out the world of UA considerably, partly because it also fleshes out the students around Midoriya. There are a LOT of students in the UA hero course and beyond, and we see more of what makes them tick — Asui’s adventure on the high seas, Yaoyorozu’s collapse of self-confidence, Kirishima’s friendship with Tetsutetsu, Ochaco’s realization of her own limitations and her attempt to learn combat, and Tokoyami’s sensible and serious nature.

This development even extends to minor characters, such as a boy with a brainwashing Quirk who desperately wants to prove that he can be a hero. And we get some new characters, such as Todoroki’s cold and abusive father Endeavour, who sees him as nothing more than a project that he’s going to use against All Might. No wonder the poor kid is socially stunted and has major issues.

There’s also a lot of energetic and colorful fighting, Quirk against Quirk, even as Midoriya learns more about his own abilities (“The frozen pastry in my hand… is me!” “No, it’s not. Are you okay?”). The shonen cliche of the tournament is here, but it moves along much faster than most anime tournaments, blasting through major rounds in less than an episode. And the same goes for the internships and the final exams, which provide us with plenty of interesting fights, often with teachers that we haven’t really seen much in combat situations (like Mr. Cementoss or Midnight).

But the heart of the second season is the presence of the Hero Killer Stain, a freakish noseless fanatic whose hatred for “fake” heroes leads him to slaughter or disable them. The most piercing aspect of this character is not only his ideology, but the fact that it begins to subtly creep into the society around him with just a few videos on social media. And to make matters even worse, the League of Villains is still in the mix, with some unpleasant revelations about its leadership.

The second season of “My Hero Academia” springboards off the first season, and flowers into an action-packed, dynamic adventure streaked with darker moments. It relies a little too heavily on the sequential-fighting-episodes of shonen anime, but that’s a small price to pay for such a solid season.

Review: My Hero Academia: Season One

In most superhero movies and fiction, people with exceptional powers are a tiny minority. But imagine for a second that there’s a world where superpowers – called “Quirks” – are a part of life for most of the population. What would it be like to be one of the minority who have no powers, and what would it be like if somehow that changed?

That’s the premise behind “My Hero Academia: Season One,” a vibrant and quick-paced anime that takes place in just such a world, which follows a steadfast underdog that wants nothing more than to save others. It has the feel of a classic shonen anime – lots of protracted fighting, a steadfast hero with an inspiring amount of courage who really needs to level up, and a colorful array of superpowers that get used in… interesting ways.

For his entire life, Izuku Midoriya idolized heroes. When he was small, he was found to be Quirkless in a world where the superpowers are commonplace. But rather than giving up, he dedicated himself to following and observing the superheroes – especially the beloved All Might, a seemingly invincible hero overflowing with positivity and heroism. And despite being bullied for his lack of a Quirk by his powerful classmate Katsuki Bakugō, he dreams of being a hero.

One day, he is saved by All Might and learns the superhero’s rather undignified personal secret. And after All Might witnesses the weak, Quirkless boy dash into danger to save his bully, he makes Izuku an offer: he will pass on his power to Izuku, allowing him to attend the hero-training U.A. High School. After months of training, of course. Can’t have a shonen series without training!

And that’s just the beginning of his woes – he has to actually make it past U.A.’s rigorous entrance exams, encounter U.A.’s eccentric faculty, and deal with the fact that any use of his powers immediately breaks his bones. But he may be forced to do some superheroing before he’s really ready – a force of supervillains (some more super than others) invade U.A., and the students end up having to defend themselves.

“My Hero Academia: Season One” is entertaining in multiple ways. On the one hand, it’s a shonen anime in the classic mold, though it moves substantially faster than many of its brethren (All Might’s training takes just one episode). On the other hand, it’s also a rather quirky (pun intended) examination of the Japanese take on the superhero genre, with superpowers ranging from the ordinary (ice, electricity) to the more eccentric (nitroglycerine sweat, belly-button laser, engine-powered legs).

The story whips by at a pretty fast pace, and things are kept energetic and colorful through the constant use of Quirks – the battles between the superpowered people is a pretty spectacular event whenever it shows up, and their weaknesses and strengths make for some pretty splashy fights. But the writers also don’t hesitate to pluck at the audience’s heartstrings whenever they have the chance, mostly focused on Izuku’s teary-eyed struggles to realize his dreams against all odds. At times, it’s really heartbreaking.

The character of Izuku reminds me a little of Marvel’s Captain America – he’s a weak, ordinary boy with a powerful, courageous heart and a real desire to save others, who is given superpowers artificially. He’s also shown to be quite bright, since he has to think strategically when “Kacchan” tries to actually harm him. The supporting cast is pretty compelling but not very developed just yet – all we know of Katsuki is that he’s violent and almost pathologically proud, Uraraka is the perky and kind love interest, and Iida is dutiful, composed and extremely conscientious.

“My Hero Academia: Season One” is a bold, colorful and energetic start to this entertaining series, and its likable protagonist makes it easy to get invested in his superheroic journey. Smash!