Category Archives: Comic Books

Free Wolverine Ideas!

Marvel comics is going to kill Wolverine. Wow! That is a really big deal. He’ll come back, though. This is comics. People come back. Wolverine will probably just take a really, really, really, really long time doing his healing factor and then be like “Hi guys, I got better.” Knowing what to do with a character when they come back to life can be hard. Like, they just died! How do you top that? What new adventures can they have? It is difficult to think of things!

This is a real Wolverine! It does not have an adamantium skeleton.

This is a real Wolverine! It does not have an adamantium skeleton.

To help Marvel out, I’ve decided to post my Free Wolverine Ideas. You guys can just go ahead and use these, okay? Okay. Here goes:

-Wolverine insists that all Canadians say “bub.” Northstar says “I don’t say ‘bub'” and then Wolverine says “Well, maybe it’s an Alberta thing” and Northstar says “You’re from Alberta?”

-An issue just like Hawkeye’s Pizza Dog issue, except from the perspective of Wolverine’s hair.

-Wolverine and Cyclops get drunk at the Hellfire Club and then get into an argument about metric versus imperial units. It gets heated, they start fighting and then there’s a quiet moment where they lock eyes and say “None of this will bring Jean back!” (Oh yeah: Jean Grey is dead in this story) They look at each other and then both get really sad and then hug.

-Wolverine tries to start a hockey team at the Xavier school. Only Beak shows up.

-Storm says that she’s really proud of Wolverine for quitting smoking. Wolverine says that it wasn’t that hard, just took a bit of willpower, but Storm knows better and is still really proud of him.

-The Xavier School has a World Cultures Fair and Wolverine makes poutine. Jubilee says that it’s really good poutine and Wolverine is all like “I’m the best there is at what I do.”

-Colossus and Wolverine start a craft brewery at the Xavier school. Colossus wants to make a Russian style stout. Wolverine’s more into lagers. Nightcrawler says that he had a really good kolsch the other day.

-Wolverine reminds everybody that the US tried to invade Canada once and it didn’t work out too well. “Wait, that happened?” says Rogue. “Yeah, exactly,” says Wolverine.

-X-23 and Daken hang out at the school during Bring Your Kid to Work Day. Iceman and Daken don’t get along. X-23 and Kitty Pryde have a rousing game of squash.

-Emma Frost and Wolverine get into an argument about the central message of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Wolverine is like “I met Hemingway! I am over one hundred years old and fought in World War One!” and Emma Frost is like “It doesn’t matter, authorial intent is irrelevant!”

That should be enough for a few issues after Wolverine comes back, and I look forward to seeing Marvel running with these ideas in another year or so. Wolverine, guys! He’s a cool dude. SNIKT!

More Shows Like Gotham That Fox Can Do!

Fox recently announced Gotham, a Batman show that does not have Batman in it. In that show, Batman and Penguin and Catwoman will be kids, and all of the cool crime-fighting and crime-doing will be done by other people. It’s all of your favorite things about Batman, kind of! I think it’s a great idea for a show. Here are some other shows that Fox can do:

Westchester

Scotty summers and his brother Alex like to hang out with their friends Jean, Bobby and Hank. They play pirates sometimes. Every so often they go over to their friend Warren’s house. Warren’s house is really big, and it has a lot of rooms where they can play pirates. Every so often the TV news says something about “mutants.” Scotty and his friends don’t know what mutants are because they are small children.

Krypton

Jor-El is a respected scientist who does science things at the University of Science on Krypton. Lots of other people don’t like his science. Jor-El thinks bad things will happen. “Nah,” say the bad guys, “bad things won’t happen.” This goes on for eight seasons, and in the last episode Jor-El’s planet explodes.

Rogers

Steve Rogers is a short, underweight guy during WWII. He really wants to be a soldier, but he can’t because he is small. This is the plot of every episode for all seven season of the show, which lasts longer than actual WWII.

Paradise Island

Princess Diana and her friends grow up together on Paradise Island, which is a nice place. Every so often the adults fight cyclops’ and minotaurs, but Princess Diana and her friends don’t. They are kids and they stay at home during the monster fighting. Sometimes Princess Diana thinks about leaving the island, but then she doesn’t.

Air Jordan

Hal Jordan is a guy who wants to be a pilot. (See? You thought the title was about basketball, but it wasn’t!) He goes to airplane school, and in later seasons he becomes a real, actual pilot. The entire show is about airplanes. In the last scene of the last episode of season nine Hal Jordan gets a weird ring. He says “In brightest day…” and then the credits roll and then the show is over forever.

Stark

Tony Stark is a wealthy guy who likes to drink wine and date ladies. He is also secretly unhappy. Every so often, for six seasons, he looks wistfully at a robot arm.

Speedster

Barry “Speedster” Allen is a high school cross country runner, except in the spring when he’s a high school track and field runner. Barry Allen likes running. He has a coach and teammates. They are teenagers and the show is about how much they enjoy running together.

Those are my ideas for shows! Superheroes!

Gotham City, DPRK: The Big, Thumpy Politics of The Dark Knight Rises

Here, everyone. Have another post about Batman!

Major spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go away, see it, and then  feel free to shove this post into your eyeballs.

This isn’t a review. I greatly enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises, though thought it had some pacing problems. Despite being almost three hours long, it felt a little rushed in some places, and there were a few plot holes that just had to be waved away by saying “because Batman.” It wasn’t as good as either The Dark Knight or Batman Begins, but still excellent. If nothing else, I loved how amazingly gigantic Nolan made the final chapter of the trilogy.

The Dark Knight Rises is a hugely ambitious movie that definitely wants to be about something. The film acknowledges the existence of poverty again and again with scenes of an orphanage and Selina Kyle’s impoverished friend. We’re also reminded of the decadent corruption of the corporate class when we see Bane initially working with Gotham’s business elite. The Dent Act, the thing that put thousands of criminals behind bars, is based on false pretenses. At the outset of the film, the social order is not ideal. It is ripe for upending. However, the shape that that revolution or reform takes is of vital importance. Bane, storming into Gotham, offers a new way. Over the course of of the movie, the various characters cavort and bellow in front of the camera, and I couldn’t help but think of which real-life political figures the characters were most like. For instance:

Bane is Kim Jong Il

Bane is a tyrant with a horde of dedicated followers who clearly adhere to a kind of cult of personality. He values martial strength as a virtue in and of itself, and the society that he leads, occupied Gotham, is bereft of any kind of infrastructure, culture, or way of being not directly related to its own militant self-perpetuation. Like almost all totalitarian regimes, Bane takes power in the name of “the people,” exploits popular discontent with the existing system, and gives his militaristic rule only the barest patina of rule of law (One of my favorite parts of the film was the Scarecrow playing the part of Robspierre).

The fear of nuclear annihilation is the trump card that keeps the rest of the world from streaming into Bane Jong-Il’s impoverished hermit kingdom. The bridges of Gotham echo the perpetual standoff of the Korean DMZ, and past an arbitrary line known as a “border” Bane can preside over decay as he pleases, parading his dystopia in the face of the world.

Catwoman is George Orwell (kinda)

I will admit this is something of a stretch, but bear with me for a moment. Orwell was a socialist who hated communism. He longed for change, equity, and greater fairness in the political and economic systems of his time, but when he saw Communism distort the ideals of him and his fellow leftists, he denounced it as tyranny. Selina Kyle is not happy with the inequality or unfairness of Gotham, and says as much to Bruce Wayne. (By the way, I absolutely loved Anne Hathaway as Kyle- she nailed it. That being said, I did think her “storm is coming” speech was a tad too heavy-handed.) However, she rejects the false populism of Bane, knowing that even though an unfair social order has been upended, it did not happen in the right way. Catwoman blowing away Bane with the guns on the Bat Pod was as potent a denunciation as Orwell gave to Stalinism in 1984.

Batman is George Washington and/or Nelson Mandela

Nolan ends the series with Bruce Wayne faking his own death, hanging up the cape and cowl, and disappearing. He willingly gives up power, prestige, and position that others would clamber and fight over, and bequeaths the identity Batman to another at the end of the film. Both George Washington and Mandela did a great service to their respective countries by willingly giving up power. Both of them could have held on to the title “president” for the rest of their days, but neither of them had an interest in their person being synonymous with the ideals of their country. Batman also does not want his legacy to be entangled in the person of Bruce Wayne- he wants it to be universal. This puts him far away from the Kim Jong Ils, Fidel Castros, Moammar Qaddafis and Mao Zedongs of the world. He’s more in keeping with Washington or Mandela who declined to make a position explicitly personal, and therefore potentially more tyrannical.

All that being said, I don’t think that The Dark Knight Rises had a singular political thrust to it. It wasn’t Animal Farm. Instead, it used various political fears and attitudes as backdrop and coloration for the story it wanted to tell. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Nolan’s trilogy very much is of its time, and very freely uses characters and people as broad representations for things that he knows are sources of anxiety for the audience.

(Case in point- the Gotham City PD. If the Nolan movies were actually “realistic,” as people seem to be fond of calling them, several of the cops would have probably joined Bane’s thugs. When freed, they probably wouldn’t have strode bravely into battle- instead, they probably would have wandered about filthy, broken and malnourished. However, I didn’t see them as representing literal cops. The big, final street battle was all about the rule of law finally confronting tyranny. Nolan’s movies are as sleek, stylized and unrealistic as anything from comics- that style is simply better at passing itself off as realism.)

I wonder how much of Nolan’s trilogy will look dated in ten or twenty years. Or, I wonder how much of it will be seen as a kind of time capsule for our era. Either way, the trilogy is mainly about the politics, crime, fears, terrors, and social welfare of a place called Gotham City. It does not necessarily work as a human drama or as a series wherein superheroes are put into a “realistic” environment. What makes it work, though, is that it makes visible very real, often unformed fears of terrorism and tyranny. The trilogy gives its hugeness the room it deserves, allowing its characters to be broad avatars who parade loudly before us as inspiring or terrifying symbols, the most prominent of all being Batman himself.

My Completely Unsolicited Ideas About The Next Inevitable Batman Movie

Via: http://davedrawscomics.blogspot.com/2008/08/batman-robin-and-nightwing.html

Like most of America, I’m going to see The Dark Knight Rises this evening and am quite excited about that prospect. Given that Batman is an intellectual property that basically prints money, it’s inevitable that Warner Brothers is going to reboot the series in a few years in some way, shape, or form. Retreading the Nolan movies would be a mistake- if they try to out-Nolan Nolan, it’s just going to be embarrassing for everyone involved. If they try to go all Adam West on us, fans will rebel. If they rehash Batman’s origins, that will just be boring.

What to do?

My wholly and completely unsolicited idea: Make it all about the Batman/Robin dynamic.

We’ve already seen Batman become Batman, fight dudes, brood, all that other Bat-stuff. One thing we haven’t seen him do yet is be the Bat-dad of the Bat Family. Seeing an actually good movie where Batman has to deal with having a partner, working with people, etc., would be a something new. Here’s the pitch-

Act I:

Dick Grayson grows out of his role as Robin, and takes up the Mantle of Nightwing. Grayson goes out on his own, punches some dudes, and has a great time being a vigilante without any help from Dad/Batman. Meanwhile, Bats is still in Gotham, feeling kind of like an empty nester and, despite his insistence otherwise, isn’t dealing with the loneliness well. Meanwhile, a young photojournalist/hacker/Robin wannabe named Tim Drake is spying on Bats.

Act II:

A villain (someone uncomplicated- let’s say Killer Croc) messes up some stuff in Gotham. Bats gets clobbered, but is saved at the last minute by Tim Drake. Who insists that he’s the new Robin. Batman grumbles and makes lots of cantankerous old man sounds, but eventually gives in accepts the new kid. He’s also secretly relieved, because he knows that he actually needs a partner in crime(fighting).

Meanwhile, Nightwing uncovers an Evil Plan and realizes that he alone can’t stop it. He contacts Bats, and they make a plan to stop whatever evil MacGuffin is about to happen.

Act III:

Batman, Robin, and Nightwing get together and punch evil.

I’d love to see a movie like this. It would be necessarily different in tone from the Nolan movies (sort of a necessity when you have Robin), wouldn’t be about Batman’s origins or lonely struggle against evil-ness, and the plot wouldn’t be villain-driven. Like The Avengers, the central conflict would be about the heroes negotiating their relationships, overcoming their own conflicts, and then coming together. It would be fresh, new, and would potentially make up for that other horrible Batman and Robin movie. It could be great. (And yes, I know it doesn’t have Jason Todd. Let’s just stick to the actually good Robins.)

So there’s my idea. If anyone at Warner Brother is reading this, you now owe me five million dollars. You’re welcome.

Die, Continuity, Die!

In an announcement that has the geek world’s knickers in a bunch, DC announced that they’re completely rebooting their continuity. Many nerds have been seemingly transformed into mouth-breathing bags of aggression because of this. I’m very happy with it, though. In fact, I think that DC and Marvel should do this sort of thing more often.

I love comics. I also really hate DCU and Marvel continuity. It’s not that I dislike big, serialized stories. I don’t. But with long-running continuity, nothing ever really sticks and that makes everything matter less. When dramatic changes happen in either comics line, they don’t feel real because they’ll inevitably get erased or smoothed over.

Superheroes have a sort of “zero point” that they always have to bounce back to. Spiderman’s zero point, for example, is that he wears a red and blue costume, keeps his identity secret, and has a girlfriend named Mary Jane. Some years ago he donned an Iron Man-esque costume, publicly revealed his identity, and was married to Mary Jane. All of those elements have been erased- he once again wears the red and blue, keeps his identity secret, and Mary Jane (I believe) is his girlfriend again in current continuity. Everything reset- I think Marvel blamed it all on Mephisto or something stupid like that.

This happens to every superhero. They bounce back to their set point of pop-culture expectations. This is aggravating, and robs the drama from comic book stories. I didn’t care when Captain America “died” because I knew he’d be back in a few short months.

This is why I actually like superhero reboots. One of my favorite Superman stories is Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” because it wraps up a given continuity. It was a rare time in the DC Universe where it seemed that things actually mattered because there wouldn’t be a story later that reversed it. It has a climactic tension that is sorely lacking in most superhero comics.

Here’s what I’d like to see: DC and Marvel rebooting their continuity all of the time. Every five years or so. This would allow changes to actually stick inside smaller, more self-contained continuities.

Let’s say that DC reboots their universe now, and then ends it five years later. In that five years, they can introduce us to Batman, Wonderwoman, the Flash, etc., and then actually put them through some pretty dramatic changes. Inside that continuity, let’s say they killed the Flash. Not temporarily killed him- killed him for good. For real. Lets say the Flash were allowed to be as dead as any other character in any other book or movie.

That would actually make me care about what’s going on and actually worry about what happens for a change. There would be tension and suspense where there’s now none whatsoever. If the Flash could die, that means that maybe Hal Jordan could, too. Or Hawkman. I might actually start to care.

This continuity could continue for a while, and then DC could wrap it up. Superman, Batman and the rest could have a big, climactic finish and the whole line of comics could come to a conclusion. Then, DC could relaunch everything again and re-introduce their characters back at the zero-points where we’re used to them. In the new continuity, the Flash would be back and maybe they could kill Batman or something.

This wouldn’t be that different from what they’re doing now with superhero movies. In the Christopher Nolan Batman continuity, Ra’s Al Ghul and Two-Face are both dead. This doesn’t negate all the other things with Two-Face or Ra’s out there- those media stand on their own. In the Nolan continuity, though, things matter way more than in any Batman story wedded to the zero-point that all superheroes inevitably get dragged back to.

So, DC, thank you for rebooting your continuity. Make it end with a blast, and go ahead and kill off a few beloved characters. A few years down the line, though, I hope you do it all again.

Hooray For Context!

First: “Why can’t you just enjoy it for what it is?” this has been a common complaint levied at me and other people who get overly analytical about popular entertainment. My father said precisely this when he complained about my comparisons of Avatar to Dances With Wolves. He contended that movies need to be viewed as separate, independent entities. (This was also something I heard a lot from an ex who liked fluffy romantic comedies.)

Second: “All it has going for it is character recognition.” This was a gripe by a member of a book group I go to. He said it in reference to two things. The first was Fables, a comic book series about fairy tale characters in the modern world, and then about the new Star Trek movie. “If you were to present these stories without their popular characters,” he said, “they wouldn’t work.”

In both of the above examples, it seems that people want to experience art or entertainment as singular and unrelated to the cultural context around it. Each thing must be taken on its own merits without prejudice or stereotype, seen on its own terms. This attitude is oddly noble but ultimately impossible to realize.

This attitude of experiencing art and entertainment as singular and context-less is noble because it is open-minded, and wishes to find the potential good of a given work. To attempt to see something without context or connections is often an attempt to see it as something intrinsically good. Or, in the case of my book group companion, it is to demand intrinsic goodness only in a work. In either case, there is a deeply held belief that cultural objects should carry some spark of inherent awesomeness, and that spark must be searched for without prejudice.

To some extent I think that is a good thing, and abandoning prejudices about art and entertainment is often a good idea. However, one cannot really abandon context and really see cultural objects as singular. Ask yourself: Could you have gone into the new Star Trek movie and pushed aside all of your visions and notions regarding Kirk, Spock, the Enterprise, etc.? Could you have seriously said “For the next two hours I will forget all of the reruns I saw as a kid, all of the movies, everything I know about Star Trek“? Unless you have a pathologically selective memory, the answer is probably no.

Good artists and entertainers know this. When they know that an audience will see everything in context of everything else, they will play with that and use that. Star Trek was great because it used audience expectations effectively, exploiting the feeling of recognition and connection to wonderful effect.

Two entirely different examples of artists exploiting context for effect are Psycho and Scream. Both of these movies placed prominent actresses, Vivian Leigh and Drew Barrymore, front and center on their movie posters, precisely where you would expect the main character to be, flanked by supporting casts. In both of these movies, though, the top-billed actresses are killed off before the major action takes place, confounding audience expectations. Would the shock in either of these movies have worked if the audience hadn’t seen the movie posters or didn’t know who the actresses were? No, but they didn’t really have to. Hitchcock and Craven knew what people would be expecting because of ad campaigns and movie conventions, and exploited those expectations for effect.

(Tangentially related: My enjoyment of Inglorious Basterds was greatly hampered by the difference between the movie’s trailer and the film itself. I was expecting lots of fun violence a la Kill Bill, but got a spaghetti western. A pretty good spaghetti western, yes, but I kept waiting for the grand guignol promised by the trailer.)

Embracing context and expectations, though, is wonderful. Instead of seeing a pile of things not judged on their own merit, one sees a grand interrelated network of things. Every action movie is related to every other action movie. Comedies are connected to other comedies, horror flicks to other horror flicks. Cognates, similarities, and variations abound. One can see the same convention tweaked over and over again, sometimes badly, sometimes well. Embracing context means that you like synthesis and variation, you accept that things combine and mutate. One can never really see something “on its own terms,” and I, for one, have no problem with that.

Re: Superheros. More Being, Less Becoming.

There’s a Wolverine movie out. I’m not going to see it.

Normally I would be all about this sort of thing. I’m a shameless fan of things geeky, and I quite like superhero movies. I loved the first two X Men movies, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have been excellent, and the first two Spiderman films were great. I even liked Ang Lee’s Hulk, which I know puts me in the minority, but I found it a nice take on the genre, and, say what you will, the Hulk-dogs were pretty nifty.

However, I have no desire whatsoever to see the Wolverine film. It’s not just because it’s gotten terrible reviews, though that’s a big part of it. The thing that really puts me off is the fact that it’s an origin story. I’m sick of origin stories in superhero movies. I know, I know, the director has to get the characters’ backgrounds and motivations out of the way and such, but, really, I would like to see something other than a variant on the whole “journey of self-discovery” thing. The origin story is something of a cop-out for writers and directors. Really, it has a simple formula: 1: Oh shit! I have superpowers! 2: Oh my god! Having superpowers means that my life is different from and in many ways more difficult than the average person’s! 3: Wow! I must use my powers to get out of a nasty situation, resulting in a certain equanimity about my newfound sense of self! Woo!

It pretty much writes itself. Telling a story about people who already are different though, and talking about what they do about it after they’ve come to terms with it is a far more difficult task. One of the best things about The Dark Knight was that Nolan didn’t bother with giving the Joker an origin story. He recognized that the Joker is an iconic character, a force sadism and clownophobia. Giving him an origin story would have robbed him of some of his power- it would have turned him into something of a person, rather than the frightening icon he is. I don’t care where the Joker came from. What I want to see is him embody fear, anarcy, and cunning. His origins are utterly and completely irrelevant.

Wolverine is much the same way. He doesn’t work because he has a compelling backstory- he works because of what he represents. When Logan says “I’m the best there is at what I do,” we know exactly what he means. He’s a pissed-off tough guy, a cigar-chomper, a guy who can feel pain but doesn’t give a shit. He’s not a prettyboy priss like Cyclops or a cartoonish muscle man like Colossus. Wolverine is a certain kind of sideburned masculinity that’s not pretty, not admirable, and not even all that functional. He feels pain and doesn’t care, doens’t bother to really make connections with anybody, and snarls dismissively at just about everyone. Yet he somehow works. Like Dirty Harry, he’s a nasty asshole, but he’s a nasty asshole in a way that inspires you for some ineffable reason.

And I really don’t care how he got that way.

I’d rather see Wolverine being “the best he is at what he does” than becoming that. It would be like a whole movie of seeing the Joker go crazy, but only seeing him put on a purple suit at the end. Really, it’s the representation and the iconicness that’s important. Unless the origin story is particularly unique, I’m fine with it being hand-waved away.

What’s more, origin stories are utterly perfunctory. One of the nice things about Hellboy was that even though it had a lot of origin stuff in it, it was mainly concerned with an actual plot. We got to see Hellboy and his associates doing what they did on a regular basis, rather than being subjected to a grueling sequence in which they all awaken to their powers in an awkward metaphor for puberty. Instead of that, we got an actual story. Yes, it was a little silly, but I appreciated it for what it was.

That’s what I want. I want to see superheroes be superheroes. I want to see people who emobody ideas of awesomeness, not another movie where the protagonist goes “Holy shit! I can suddenly shoot fire out of my eyes! Zowie, my life is forever changed!” As much as I like Wolverine, I’m giving his movie a pass. I would be happy to see his whole origin hand-waved into vagueness, not trotted out in front of me.