Tag Archives: Batman

Miserable isn’t Cool

There are lots of good comedy TV shows and films out there, so this doesn’t apply to everything, but in the last seven to ten years or so, there has been a noticeable growth of grim, depressing and gritty output on TV and at the cinema. Now, some of it is distinctly linked to the character to some degree, so I’m only going to mention Batman and Dexter in passing. The former doesn’t have much to laugh about in the Nolan films, but there is definitely a delicious dark river of humour and laughs in the latter. So putting those to one side, I’ve found myself walking away from certain TV shows and absolutely ignoring some film franchises because they’re just depressing and will sour my mood.

I’m not sure if the wealth of this material can be blamed on the current world climate being in the toilet, but in some ways I think it is linked to it. During a recession and times of hardship, the sale of chocolate tends to increase. People want a brief temporary boost to lift their mood. In the same way I think on some level we like to see other people being a bit miserable and upset, because we’re all feeling it. I’m not saying we like seeing people being injured or hurt, but I think seeing people share in our collective misery is somehow soothing. Misery loves company is a well worn saying and very true. Again, I feel I should stress, not everything is like this, and we don’t all want to feel this way all of the time. We want to watch stuff that will make us laugh and cry, that will lift us up, make us think about the future, family and believe in heroes. Films that will inspire, make people look up at the stars in wonder and imagine the possibilities and consider taming the impossible and making it into reality. I still want all of that, but sometimes, I also want to watch the darker content.

For whatever reason, I think I’ve moved out of that phase in my head and I don’t enjoy swimming in that collective pool of misery anymore. I’ve purposefully avoided certain TV shows because they’re just too bleak, despite all of their critical acclaim, such as Breaking Bad. I watched the first series about a year ago and haven’t gone back to it, despite the amazing performances, particularly by Bryan Cranston. I may not know the definite end of the series, but the show is a train wreck in slow motion over several years. You can hear the whistle and thrum of the engine, feel the vibrations while still lying on the tracks. I’ve no desire to witness the destruction of a man as he sinks deeper and deeper.

I’ve also become reluctant to watch some TV shows that I previously enjoyed a great deal, such as the Walking Dead because there’s no relief, no real joy, and no hope. I watched a few episodes last night, but found myself doing something else at the same time, and only keeping one eye on the screen. The acting was great, the sets and location were amazing, but it was just more of the same. I fell out of love with the comic a couple of years ago but have continued to read the trades when they’re loaned to me by a friend. Even so, I recently told him to stop passing them to me, as it’s just more of the same, misery, death and destruction as mankind tears itself apart in the shattered remains of the old world. Sometimes there are brief moments of joy or sparks of hope, and that can make them all the more poignant, but at the same time it also means wading through a lot of smelly brown stuff to get there for a few seconds of relief. I’ve already written about Man of Steel, so I won’t repeat myself, but for me the film was a huge let down on some levels, one of which is there was very little to inspire. The symbol on his chest stands for hope, but there was very little in the film that gave me hope for the future.

I’m also becoming very tired with snarky journalists and columnists who tear things apart and seem to relish it. Whether it’s a book, TV show, film or even a celebrity in the public eye, there seems to a feast of people queuing up to destroy them and tear them down. Recently critics have ripped into the new Lone Ranger film and before that they went to town on John Carter, which was actually a lot of fun. I’ve not seen the Lone Ranger, but I doubt it is as bad as they claim and even so, it’s not meant to be anything other than a light, enjoyable summer romp for all the family. I mean look at the main character and Johnny Depp’s costume! It’s not a historical representation of anything. It’s also made by the same people as Pirates, so that gives you an idea of what to expect and yet they seemed to love filling entire pages with venom. The celebrity thing, well, people seem to enjoy that, so you could argue the media are just giving the people what they want. I still think it’s shameful and actually none of our business. Personally I have no interest and don’t care about who slept with who, or how many pounds someone put on, or their new haircut.

I’m not going to go into the grimdark fantasy thing too much as people have written about that a lot elsewhere, but I will say when every character is grey in a book it’s hard to find any heroes and you may come away feeling a bit grimy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing about heroes, people that inspire and lead by example. The black hat and white hat fantasy books of my youth are gone, Eddings and Brooks etc, but I’m now more interested in reading about good guys trying to help people, whatever that means in 2013, and I use the term good guys very loosely.

So I think I’ve turned a corner somewhere in my head. Things are still pretty grim, we’re still in a worldwide recession, but I don’t want to add to that anymore. I’ve no desire to go back to pouring more of the really bleak stuff into my head that doesn’t need to be there. I might be missing out on some great stuff, but I’m ok with that.

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Man of Steel

I’ve held off writing a post about this, mostly because I wanted to get some distance from the film, so I could write about it with some perspective. In the end I managed to say everything I wanted to on the latest episode of the Comic Book Outsiders podcast I co-host with Scott Grandison. We’re now putting out episodes as and when we feel the need, although we used to be fortnightly. So if you’ve only just heard about this now for the first time, there are 5 years of podcasts on iTunes to get through. I’ll wait here until you’re finished.

I ended up speaking about the film it a fairly calm and mostly wounded manner, although I did have a good rant about some fans reactions to the recent Doctor Who casting news. So if you’ve not seen Man of Steel or don’t want to know who the new Doctor is, then I’d skip those bits.

Looking ahead to Man of Steel 2, or whatever they end up calling it, I remain nervous and anxious. I’m worried because the same director looks set to sit in the chair, and I sincerely hope all of those involved in making the big decisions about the new film listen to the genuine concerns that have been raised. Not the fanboy moans about the shield being the wrong shape, or Jimmy being Jenny, or a thousand other tiny things that don’t actually matter. I mean the big things. The contradictions. Clark apparently not caring about the wanton destruction he inflicts upon humanity in one breath and then doing something totally against character to save a single family. The big stuff, the character issues that sit at the very heart of the character and the message he stands for. It may not be what Siegel and Shuster intended when they created Superman, but that is what he has come to mean over the last seventy years. Hope, caring for your fellow man, that every life counts, that there is good in every person and that we can be great as a people in time.

Dark and gritty and humourless doesn’t work for Superman. He’s the light, Batman is the shadow. They work so well together, sometimes, because they are so different. He wants to bring Batman into the light, he wants Batman to believe more in humanity and the belief that there is good in every one. Naive, perhaps. Inspiring, absolutely. Batman experienced first hand as a boy the evil and desperation that lurks in the hearts of men. He doesn’t always see the best in them. That’s one of the many differences between them. Right now, in the new Superman film world, they’re both different shades of grey.

Casting wise for Batman, I hope they go for someone older, with an edge. Like John Hamm, or Josh Brolin, not someone who is young dandy with a chiselled jaw. We need acting chops, we need gravitas, not dreamy eyes and great abs. Time will tell if they listen at all and who they cast, but rather than being excited, as I am by the prospect of more Avengers films, I’m just worried and nervous, which isn’t a good thing.

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DC Comics 52 relaunch – Something is missing

Just some further thoughts on DC comics new 52 relaunch. Now that some of the dust has settled and issue 3 of most titles has come out, people are starting to find out which titles they really love and settle into various camps such as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Horror (Swamp Thing, Animal Man), Teen, and so on. I’ve recently been watching some of the Young Justice animated series and it made me think about what I think is missing from the 52 relaunch. It’s mentors and teachers. It’s books about young people learning how to be heroes from the start.

Fantasy books are full of farm boys and stable boys growing up to become great warriors and heroes. They feature an epic journey where the fresh faced nobody must overcome numerous impossible obstacles and eventually they succeed and are stronger for it. Over a long period of time they become someone other boys with dreams look up to; an icon and hero in their own right. So far I’ve not seen this from DC which is very surprising given some of their popular successes.

Peering across the street, Marvel has a school for gifted youngsters, now the Jean Grey school, where some of the most dangerous and famous X-men as now the teachers, including Wolverine. They’ve also had the extremely popular X-Men movie franchise. Just so we’re clear, this is not me being negative about DC at all because right now I’m buying more DC books than ever before and very few Marvel books. I just think there is still room for new titles from DC comics that could potentially cover areas not currently being explored.

Think about the Christopher Nolan Batman films and put to one side the actors, directors, special effects and so on. If you focus on what made the films really interesting and enjoyable, then for me it’s the story and the heart of that adventure. It’s the journey of Bruce Wayne from naïve wounded puppy to seriously dangerous and extremely threatening and scary menace of the underworld. I loved seeing him learn different skills from a wide range of different Masters. Be they low criminals and thieves, crime bosses, leaders of ancient cults or dangerous psychopaths like the Joker. I loved seeing him absorb all of those skills and all of that knowledge, learn from his mistakes, sift through the information and shape it into a weapon that he could use for his mission. Something that would bring together all of his new skills together with his fear of bats. He didn’t start out as someone who was born to that way of life, nor was he gifted with special powers, nor did he come from another planet or gain superpowers in some freak accident. This is something he chose. Something inside him broke when his parents died and the only way he knew how to cope (I’m not saying it’s a healthy or recommended way of dealing with loss!) was to become something terrifying and fight an endless war on crime.

If you look at all of the new 52 titles you could argue that Bruce Wayne is training and mentoring Damian, his son. But let’s be honest, Damian was trained practically from the second he was conceived. He is already a devious and extremely dangerous evil genius who was left to fend for himself in some of the most hideous ways imaginable. In some ways Bruce is trying to teach Damian how to be a real human being and to care rather than let him develop into an evil megalomaniac like his grandfather. So Damian is not just a kid off the street like Jason was a long time ago. He’s not even like Dick or Tim, both of who had no formal training at the start in being a crime fighter. They were trained over many year by many masters, including Batman, before each became a hero in their own right.

The new Teen Titans comic is not about the youngsters learning how to be heroes like the animated adventures, and in Batgirl she is already someone who has been trained and is coming back to the cowl after some time away. The closest I can probably find is Bette Kane, who in the pages of Batwoman, is being trained by her cousin. She is not given a proper costume and is being tutored by Kate, but it’s not exactly the same thing. The book is very much focused on Kate not Bette.

Some of the other titles feature young heroes but they are either accidental heroes who have to learn what they are how it all works (Blue Beetle), aliens who have crash landed and are the stranger in a strange land (Supergirl) or experiments (Superboy) being programmed to be a weapon at someone else’s behest. One of my biggest complaints about the TV series Smallville was that Clark whinged all the time. Every single episode he probably made at least one comment about wanting to be normal and he never seemed to enjoy his powers and what they allowed him to do. What I’m talking about is someone who wants to be a hero or crime fighter, who has sought it out and is pushing themselves beyond normal human limits because they have a driving need and urge that is not quenched by a normal life.

I think all of the tools and pieces are already there for a comic like the one I’ve described which is focused on a student and mentor relationship. All it requires is that DC dust off certain toys currently sat in their box and wrap them up in new clothing as they’ve done with a lot of characters in the new 52. Maybe something like this will be coming in the second wave of titles from them. I certainly hope so, because if not, I think DC are missing a trick, especially given how popular such themes are across the street in comics and at the movies.

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Where is Wonder Woman at 70?

Next month marks the 70th anniversary of the first appearance of Wonder Woman. She is one of DC comics Trinity, that is their best of the best, biggest, toughest and, in theory at least, most popular flagship characters. Like all comic book characters with such a long history, Diana has gone through many iterations over the decades and has been in the hands of dozens of writers, artists and editors. As well as comic books there have been animated versions, thousands of tonnes of merchandise, and of course the famous 1970s TV show starring Lynda Carter. There have been several attempts to develop a live action movie, but none have taken off. The most recent was going to be written and directed by Joss Whedon (who is currently directing The Avengers for Marvel) but sadly Whedon and those in charge couldn’t agree on the direction for the project so it was shelved. Earlier this year there was an attempt to develop a new Wonder Woman live action TV series. It was so badly received, and quite frankly utterly awful, that it was cancelled and mercifully never went beyond the pilot. One of the many reasons it was so poor is that those who developed the show didn’t understand the character. You don’t have to be a slave to the details but if you miss the heart of the character it will always die an early death.

Over the years I’ve known several women who wear Wonder Woman clothing because of what it symbolises to them and they only knew about the character from the TV show. They’ve never picked up a Wonder Woman comic book and have no real interest in doing so. The Wonder Woman symbol is not quite as well known as Superman’s shield, which has become synonymous with hope and the tenets he upholds, but her symbol is a cultural icon. If you ask people what Batman stands for they will be able to tell you something about his endless war on crime and his thirst for vengeance. If you ask them about Superman they might cite the phrase ‘truth, justice and the American Way’. Ask the same person what Wonder Woman stands for and you’re likely to get one of several responses. Either it will be a blank stare, or you might get something about girl power, or more accurately something about a message of equal rights and equal opportunities for women.

In the hands of a poor writer Wonder Woman becomes a blunt instrument with which they bludgeon readers over the head about issues in society. Topical issues should and can be part of a comic book story, where appropriate, but it should never be the entire story. It’s a comic book, not a political lecture on human rights violations. Equally those who make her into a cold hearted and brutal warrior, to make a point about her being able to stand toe-to-toe with male superheroes, to show that she is just as capable as them at beating up the bad guys, is doing the character an enormous disservice. She is an elite warrior but also a symbol for peace and love. She is a powerhouse who possesses great physical strength, but she’s also capable of great compassion and kindness. She is a leader and a battlefield general that was trained to fight, almost from birth, but she is also a warm and caring woman. Ignore any part of that and you end up with something hideous, hollow and probably callous.

Wonder Woman might be the most popular female superhero in comics, but despite that, there is an imbalance. DC comics recently relaunched all of their ongoing monthly mainstream comics, which are predominantly superhero titles. There is an ongoing monthly Wonder Woman title, but just the one. Taken from DC comics own ‘The New 52’ web page, there are 4 Superman related titles and 11 Batman related titles, but only one Wonder Woman ongoing monthly. To maintain full disclosure and to be fair to DC comics, I should point out that Wonder Woman is a member of the Justice League and will therefore feature in that comic, but so are Batman and Superman. Justice League is a team comic book and even though she will have some time in the spotlight, it will be shared with the other well known characters. Given all of that, I feel that there is a serious imbalance by only having one Wonder Woman title.

If you look on DC comics website they have a list of 30 essential graphic novels. These are best-selling titles that are great places for newcomers to get a flavour for DC comics and also appropriate for older fans looking to expand their knowledge. Five of them are solo Batman titles, two are solo Superman, and four or five others feature both characters in a team up or Justice League scenario. Four of the team books feature Wonder Woman, but there again there are no solo books. I realise this is a slightly different point, as the list only contains best-sellers, but it does indicate an imbalance in public opinion as well. I believe some writers have captured Wonder Woman’s essence incredibly well and there are some great stories, but they just aren’t selling as well as other titles.

The new ongoing Wonder Woman title is being written by Brian Azzarello and he has described it as a horror comic. That is to say, this is not a slasher comic with vampires or people being chased by a maniac in a hockey mask. To clarify, Azzarello has said in interviews it will be horrific only in terms of what the Greek gods get up to as they interact with the modern world. The gods are capricious beings that play with people, plot and scheme to their own ends, and to them people are objects to play with and do with as they wish. Peering across the street, I would guess that it is similar to what the Norse gods get up to in the Marvel universe where Loki is a dangerous and sneaky adversary who causes all sorts of problems. He was the main threat in the first Thor movie and is also the lead villain in The Avengers movie due out in 2012. This indicates those storylines can be interesting and broad enough that they appeal to a mainstream audience, so there is a thirst for this type of story if it is done well.

In her own comic book Wonder Woman will be caught up in the middle of the games the Gods are playing and will have to deal with the fall out from their plots. She will be facing powerful beings that have the power and capacity to cause her serious harm, which will put her in genuine peril.

So the Azzarello written comic book covers the mythological side of Wonder Woman, effectively dovetailing nicely into her origin and it involves her dealings with the gods. But for one of DC comics Trinity characters I think there should at least be a second ongoing monthly comic book which focuses on other more human and earthly aspects. For example a second title could look at how she is perceived by the general public. This aspect is being touched on in several DC titles including Action Comics (Superman as an alien outsider and an unknown quantity), Aquaman (a bit of a joke and misunderstood superhero), JLA (Batman as a myth) and so on. How does the average person on the street see Wonder Woman? What does she mean to them? There is also the fact that she is a powerful superhero in the twenty first century, a role model and an icon, in an era where fame and celebrities dominate the media. Also she doesn’t wear a mask, which makes it a bit more difficult to have a secret identity. I guess I’m more interested in the character and her role in today’s society than exploring her origin, which is being covered elsewhere.

I’ve often looked at comic book characters and thought about which ones I would like to write and which I think could write. There are some that I would actively avoid, not because I dislike them, it’s more about not understanding or being able to relate to them. I like reading about Superman but at the moment I don’t have a single Superman story floating around in my head. Some characters are easy choices because I understand them, or I’m very similar to them on some level. But every now and then a character sneaks up on me and I find myself drawn to them. I never thought Wonder Woman would fit into that category but there she is. And now the ideas are rattling around my head.

I sincerely hope DC comics does all it can to promote and improve Wonder Woman’s profile because I think she is a very interesting and special character that deserves more attention.

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