The Rock and DC Comics- Tonal Change

Two days ago, The Rock posted to Instagram about a meeting he had with DC Comics concerning the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). The Rock was announced as a lead for the DCEU’s Shazam (yes, the hero is actually called Captain Marvel but due to copyright issues he is just Shazam at the moment) adaptation, playing the role of the villain Black Adam.

However, there has been little word on the project since then. Henry Cavill posted a picture of he and the Rock sharing a drink in late December, fueling speculation that The Rock would make an appearance in the next Superman solo film, especially since Cavill hinted at bright things for the future.

The Rock is one of the few stars who can engage audiences off charisma alone. He is not the greatest actor, but his work on Ballers shows that he is developing. I am excited to see that the project is coming together slowly but The Rock’s summary of the meeting leaves me slightly worried.

“Had a very cool and strategic meeting with the heads of DC about their entire universe. As a hard core DC fan, to get a real sense of the tonal shifts and developments coming in these future movies has me fired up. Something we, as DC fans have all been waiting for for a very long time.

Hope, optimism & FUN.

Even when talking about the the most ruthless villain/anti-hero of all time finally coming to life. Prepare yourselves DC Universe.”

I have discussed the obsession with making comic book films “fun” before and how this belief is founded on nonsensical assumptions.

“I am not anti-fun or anti-humour. I simply do not like it when the device is overused. While some Marvel films have juggled it well, such as The Winter Soldier (2014), the Thor series has been severely brought down by terrible and consistent one-liners imho. While Loki’s humour is handled well, Jane’s (Natalie Portman) and Darcy’s (Kat Dennings) end up being the Jar Jars of the franchise. My problem is not only the overuse of humour, but how Marvel has successfully conditioned people to believe that this humour is the mark of a good comic book movie. Nowadays, any film that lacks the same level of levity is deemed too “dark”, “gritty”, “depressing, “brooding” or “pretentious”. A lot of the criticism levied towards Man of Steel (MOS) before it was even released came from this misconception. The trailers were serious in tone, nothing about them screamed “dark” or “brooding”, but people were so used to Marvel’s marketing by this point. The MOS trailers did not have enough one-liners, enough levity in comparison to Marvel’s trailers, so people were thrown off. Everything is relative, and since the MOS trailers were found to be lacking in humour, they were immediately deemed too dark.

This brings up another issue I have with Marvel’s brainwashing. I often hear people throw around the word “dark” like it is an insult in itself. As if saying a film is dark is as bad as saying the acting was terrible, the writing was terrible etc. A film can be “dark” and also be good… While Marvel has darker material in some of its films, and has Netflix shows with much darker tones (Daredevil, Jessica Jones) it appears that Marvel’s status gives it more room to experiment than any other property has. Marvel’s trailers, films and tv shows can have darker tones without people complaining about them trying to “copy Christopher Nolan”, “not being fun” etc. While Marvel is allowed to experiment, change and adapt, DC is now forced to appeal to Marvel sensibilities in order to be less divisive among audiences.”

You don’t have to tell me that BatmanvSuperman (Bvs) of Suicide Squad (SS) had issues. The villains and third act for both films sucked. Some dialogue was weak, some acting was weak, Eisenberg was a terrible Luthor etc. I am not a DC “fanboy”. I don’t think that DC can do no wrong. I just hate the fact that people believe that the solution to these films is to make them more “fun”. Some of the things added to SS to make it more fun, actually made it worse, such as the overly abundant musical segways. The emphasis on adding more “fun” in could cause the writers, directors, studios etc. to overlook other issues, such as a weak villain or weak storytelling (which is not always tied to tone). Like this writer says, “‘Justice League’ Is Reportedly “A Mess” & That’s Fine, As Long As It’s a Fun Mess.” Words can not describe how much I detest this mentality. Sadly critics and audiences will probably love the film more for its tone even if everything else is terrible.

The Justice League trailer already had me worried that the studio is putting even more pressure on the directors and writers to lighten things up. Bruce Wayne seems completely out of character, and so does Barry Allen. Wally West (Allen’s nephew-in law) is the version of The Flash that is known for being comic-relief. Allen is a more serious character, but it seems like the writers have just changed Allen completely in order to get more room for humour. Wayne can be funny as well, but I find his humour is best when it is done similarly to the dry humour we’re familiar with from Alfred.

One of the best examples of Batman’s humour, in my opinion, comes from the animated film Superman/Batman Apocalypse. After a newly arrived Supergirl damages $50,000 worth of batcave equipment, Superman asks Batman to send him the bill.  Batman then says: “On a reporter’s salary, right.”

That kind of humour adds levity, without coming across as out of character. Unlike the “more or less” exchange in The Justice League. That is the issue I have with some of the “fun” people insist on, especially because people normally ask for fun because DC is dark relative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). When there is an insistence on having “fun” in every scene it can just kill dramatic tension. As Jeremy Jahns said in his review of Doctor Strange, “Sometimes I want an epic moment instead of a funny one.”

 

 

 

Comic Book Stigma

Warning: Spoilers for BatmanvSuperman

Henry Cavill recently posted a picture on Instagram that revealed a close up of a black Superman suit. Superman was killed by Doomsday in BatmanvSuperman, but the film’s last scene implied that Superman will return. Following his death in the comics in the early 1990s (also at the hands of Doomsday) Superman returns with a black suit, with a white S logo. This new suit allowed him to absorb more solar energy and regenerate faster, since he needed to regain his strength. I know this latter piece of information from comic book fans online, whether it was through comments on articles or on Facebook.

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I avoid reading articles on Facebook since all the links to related material can lead to a social media spiral that takes up too much time. However, I gave in and finally decided to check out the comment section of one of the articles discussing Cavill’s picture. Since comic book films are so popular nowadays, I honestly thought that the stigma of comic books; the belief that readers are all basement dwelling, vampiric virgins was somewhat diminished. Obviously I knew the stigma still existed but the comments I read show the extent to which people still look down on viewers who actually know or care about the source material for their beloved films.

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Several people complained about the black costume as expected, some said it ripped off Batman, some said it only made Superman even darker (literally I guess, even though people complain about Superman not being “fun” enough). Comic book fans or people who were bothered to use Google, then advised the uninformed that the suit comes from a storyline in the comics.

The responses to this information? If I had to take a shot every time the word “virgin” popped up I would be passed out by the 25th comment. These people obviously care about the film enough to comment on the article, but they can’t take the time to use Google or heed the information they are given by comic book readers. To them, the comic books don’t matter. Who reads those things anyway? They are here about movies, the things that cool people watch.

This mindset reminds of me of Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder, and the infamous “never go full retard” scene. In case you can’t watch the clip, and if you haven’t seen Tropic Thunder (get on that ASAP) Ben Stiller’s character is frustrated that his portrayal of a mentally challenged boy in one of his films was critically panned. Downey Jr. then explains that the critically lauded performances of mental disability, such as Rain Man, weren’t “full retard”. In more polite terms they didn’t have conditions that made them unable to function for the most part. In the case of Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman’s character was autistic.

It is now acceptable to love comic book films, but  actually reading and knowing about comics is deemed “full retard”. Never mind that the movies wouldn’t exist without the comics, and that the comics can often be better written than the films.

 

Suicide Squad Review- 6.5/10

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Before I began, don’t be discouraged by the number that I have to give. Suicide Squad has a lot of things to love, but it also has a list of things that I thought could have been much better. It is an entertaining film, but falls short of being a great one.

The film follows Task Force X, a group assembled by government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Task Force X is assembled to tackle dangerous missions, in return for reduced sentences. With bombs implanted in their necks, the group are nothing more than pawns who can be used and blamed for any government failures if need be.

Suicide Squad was one of my most anticipated films for this year and my most anticipated comic book film. We would get the first live-action, silver screen Harley Quinn and a new take on The Joker, one of my favourite fictional characters. Since so much of the film’s hype surrounded these two I figure I will start with them. Not only were they prominent in the marketing but they are also two of the film’s biggest highlights.

As a disclaimer, The Joker does not have that much screen time. I am not faulting the film for this since he is not a central part of the story. His screen time fits the grander narrative without overloading it. However, it appears many people felt misled by the marketing and see the short screen time as another fault of the film. A good portion of The Joker’s screen time comes from flashbacks, showing the transformation from Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn. These scenes are some of my favourite ones in the film. I can’t say whether I like this Joker as much as Heath Ledger’s but it is a tough comparison since I only have about twenty minutes to judge from this film. Additionally, this version of The Joker is much different.

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The tattoos and the grill aren’t explained here, but I hope they will be in future installments. Maybe there won’t be one cohesive explanation, maybe this version of The Joker is simply one that gets tattoos. While Heath Ledger’s was an anarchist who was willing to light a mountain of money on fire, this one appears to own a club as a revenue stream and a front for more illegitimate business. Brian Azzarello’s graphic novel Joker also had its main character involved in club management for revenue, so this change didn’t bother me. When it comes to this Joker’s appearance, you can either accept it or you can’t. If you can’t accept the look you’ll probably view the performance through a biased lens.

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From the limited screen time I did enjoy Leto’s take on the character. With the time we get, The Joker is more serious than some may be used to, but we have to realize that the Joker’s moments of pure insanity are best when they are balanced out with calmer ones. We get calm and we get mayhem. Deleted scenes will likely show more as well, there were about ten more minutes of Joker footage cut from the film from what I have heard.

Since The Joker’s plotline is intertwined with Harley Quinn in this film, we needed a strong Harley Quinn in order to strengthen the arc for both characters. Robbie delivered. Some people seemed worried that she didn’t have a Brooklyn accent but I can assure you she does. Also, she delivers much more than a Brooklyn accent. She is captivating, charismatic, funny while also displaying the violence and psychosis that makes her a villain. The Joker and Harley relationship has often been portrayed as one where Harley genuinely loves The Joker, while he often manipulates or abuses her. We get hints of that here and I look forward to seeing what the filmmakers do with the characters from this point on. While this film does still leave me excited for future DC films, it stands as a solo film better than the theatrical version of BatmanvSuperman does. Cameos and references to other DCEU characters are much more streamlined than some of the ones we had in BvS.

Aside from Harley, Will Smith is also great as Deadshot. People complained about a black actor getting the part, but as I’ve discussed before, people always defend whitewashing. If you don’t like white characters getting taken away, don’t just sit on the sidelines and tell me “It’s just a movie” when white actors portray minorities. Will Smith brings the same charisma and attitude from early roles like Men in Black and Independence Day, which may annoy some viewers. However, he still inhabits a new character well and doesn’t simply turn Deadshot into another role we’re used to.

Jay Hernandez is another memorable addition as El Diablo, who has one of the most interesting backstories in the film. Jai Courtney, who receives his fair share of hate online, also provides a great take on Captain Boomerang.

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Viola Davis is the reason I started watching How To Get Away With Murder and she is pretty good here as well. I loved how her character was written, embodying the Machiavellianism I remember from the Justice League television show.

Aside from these four, a lot of the other main characters are somewhat forgettable. I loved Joel Kinnaman in The Killing and House of Cards but he falls flat here for the most part. Katana is a cool character but has very little screen time. She is not a villain here, but is a bodyguard of sorts for Rick Flagg. Despite this association with the main group of the film, her and Killer Croc both have few lines. Most of their screen time comes in the final battle of the film. Speaking of Killer Croc, he was almost a caricature of a black person.

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Of course, Croc is mutated but the comics depict him as being a mutated black person. In this film we get a “black” character who calls Harley “shorty” and makes only one request from the prison guards, “BET”. Yeah, more pressing issues in the world but could not help notice.

Like X:Men Apocalypse, this film brings up the issue of how to introduce and handle multiple characters in a team film. Apocalypse struggled with developing The Four Horseman (with the exception of Magneto) and the younger versions of Jean, Jubilee and Nightcrawler. Suicide Squad struggles with Croc, Katana and its villain. Many people expected Enchantress to be the main villain. She is one of them, but there is another one introduced who is poorly developed and also sports the worst CGI in the film.

This ultimately makes the third act somewhat dull in comparison to what came before. The third act does have some highlights, mainly from El Diablo and The Joker. However, it left me underwhelmed the same way the third act in BatmanvSuperman did.

Suicide Squad also brings up the issue of forcing a film to be lighter or more “fun”. The company that edited the trailer was brought in to make the film less somber, and the film ends up bloated with songs, especially in the first hour. When I say songs I don’t just mean the score. A good chunk of the film ends up being a music video. There is a ten minute stretch where there are two different montages with two different songs. First, there is Eminem’s Without Me, and then The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. It honestly might have been less than ten minutes. This frequent song use continues for the most of the first half of the film, dying down to a reasonable level near the climax. It was entertaining at first, but became excessive pretty quick. My friend wondered if the film spent half its budget on song rights. I could not help but think that some scenes would have been better without music blaring over them.

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The use of purple Lamborghini was perfect though, that song is fire.

Coming from someone who loves musical interludes in films, I have to say that this work of post-production editing damaged the final product. The same thing happened with BatmanvSuperman. It seems like the studio needs to have more faith in its directors.

There is a lot to love in Suicide Squad, but also a lot that needed to be improved. Maybe I am a fanboy but I am still excited for Justice League. I only hope that it doesn’t have the same issues with post-production that BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad had.

Kingdom Come: Gods and Humans

Hello everyone,

Check out my latest post on comicommand.com or read it below:

Kingdom Come

Written by Cadeem Lalor

I started reading Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come (1996) just earlier today. Kingdom Come follows an alternate reality where a new hero, Magog, became a revered figure after killing The Joker. Meanwhile, the public’s long gestating fatigue with Superman’s “boy scout” persona led him to go into exile. With Superman gone, the rest of the league followed. Ten years later, the world is overrun by a new legion of super-powered beings that lack the moral fortitude and care for human life that the Justice League had. It was a title that came with a lot of hype, but I believe it has managed to live up to expectations. Within five pages, it got me thinking about something.

In the story, Norman McCay acts as a vessel for the Spectre, and also serves as a narrator of sorts. As he ruminates on the past he remembers a friend who recently passed away. He remembers his friend missing the human desire for achievement, manifested through competitions such as the Nobel Prize or the Olympics. In this world, where people are surrounded by god-like beings, it makes sense that human achievement is no longer as valued. Yet I don’t believe the question has ever been approached in such a way. Many comic books and adaptations bring up the issue of humans admiring, mistrusting or fearing super-humans. Yet none of the ones I have read have examined how social and political institutions or functions could change due to a new breed of people. Humans are used to being the center of life on Earth. Our collective achievements are what give everyday life meaning. Would we be as motivated to work out, knowing that there is a race of people whose strength we can never attain. Would we be as motivated to achieve academically if we know that the end goal, a lucrative career or recognition likely won’t come?

Competitions like The Olympics and Nobel Prize can be mired by a host of issues, but they are fundamentally meant to celebrate competition and human skill. Each event is a testament to the will and training of the people competing. Meanwhile the Nobel Prize serves as a chronicle of scientific, economic and literary advancement. With these events, we see humans striving to understand more of their world and attempt to take away power from gods, giving more power to the people. In the world of Kingdom Come, humans have given up on deciding their own destiny. They are at the mercy of super-humans. Even when Superman and the Justice League return, the public does not immediately feel empowered, they only shift their burden to new figures. Perhaps one group of super-humans makes the issue more obvious, but the issues persist either way. While the humans seek hope, there is little to come.

 

Is Batman An Anti-Hero?

Hello everyone,

Below is a piece I did for comicommand last week. Writing a new piece for them today that I’ll repost here as well. Feel free to check out the article on comicommand as well.

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I was recently reading a blog post detailing the author’s favourite anti-heroes. As expected, characters like Rorschach and Wolverine were near the top of the list but the author stated that he doesn’t consider Batman to be an anti-hero. The term “anti-hero” is a broad one, but generally it refers to a character who functions as a force of good but displays traits and moral ambiguity that is more typical of villains. For example, Wolverine is considered an anti-hero due to his violent methods of eliminating his enemies and character traits such as his aggressiveness and anti-social personality.

Of course it is easy to see Batman as a hero when compared to characters such as The Punisher, or more drastic examples like Alex from A Clockwork Orange. However, many anti-heroes are best presented, or fleshed out, when presented in contrast to the other characters in their universe. Wolverine’s loner tendencies are in contrast to Cyclops’s or Jean Grey’s role as leaders of the X-Men, Rorschach’s moral absolutism and anti-social persona are in contrast to Nite Owl’s morals and personality. In a sense, the term anti-hero can often be relative.

In the case of Batman, his qualities are best viewed in contrast to Superman’s. Although there are popular variations in the comics, Superman’s typical characterization makes him a symbol of light and hope. Superman’s world can be grim but it is his optimism that makes him a symbol of hope. Superman is also a figure who is less afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, being able to quickly form relationships with other heroes and present an air of compassion to civilians.

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One of the best examples of this contrast is a clip from the old Batman Animated Series. We first see Superman save a child who was stuck on a transmission tower, after climbing it for a dare. After saving the child, Superman gives him a pep talk about responsibility, encouraging him to be more careful. After Batman pulls two teens from the roof of a train, he only warns them that they’ll fry if they keep playing chicken.

Both characters are heroes, and have compassion for human life, but Batman’s much colder personality generates fear instead of the admiration that Superman receives. Here we can see Superman as an archetypal “good guy”: noble, courageous, and compassionate.

Batman is also a stark contrast to Superman due to his Machiavellian tactics.BatmanvSuperman was heavily criticized for the justification it gave for Batman to want to fight Superman, but the film did touch on the paranoia that defines the character. While Superman openly tries to build relationships with other members of the Justice League, Batman uses his time to analyze their strengths and weaknesses and form contingency plans. It is a noble cause, but the betrayal of his teammate’s trust takes him out of the territory of a conventional hero. The Injustice comics demonstrate this further when Batman disables Cyborg by planting a virus on him. Cyborg later discovers the virus was created the day that he and Batman met.

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Speaking of methods, Batman’s use of torture to gather information from criminals is also a sharp contrast to Superman’s. Batman may not kill, but he is willing to break teeth and bones in his pursuit of justice. Superman may end up doing the same thing when fighting an enemy, but he disproves of using these methods to interrogate criminals.

Although Batman can be seen as an anti-hero by these standards, it is also true that conceptions of what a hero are can change. I have spoken to people who see “boy scout” characters like Superman as boring characters, who lack as much complexity and depth as characters like Batman. This can then lead people to see Batman as simply a darker hero, but still a conventional hero. It was easier to label Batman as an anti-hero when he initially debuted, the shadow to Superman’s light. As time goes on and audiences become more inundated with anti-heroes in several mediums, maybe Batman can pale in comparison to his alternatives.  We now have Lobo, Deadpool, Constantine, The Comedian and so on.

Batman may be an anti-hero when we compare him to more conventional heroes like Superman and The Flash, but if we go to the other end of the spectrum, does he still belong in that category?

Batffleck Movie Will Be An Original Story

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You can also watch my video on this topic.

BatmanvSuperman definitely got its fair share of hate but even some of the most vitriolic reviews praise Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman. I gave BatmanvSuperman a 6.5/10 but Ben Affleck is a big part of its re-watchability and once the film was done I remained excited about the batman solo film.

Anyone following my Twitter or Instagram will know that I was hoping for an adaptation of the Red Hood storyline. However, Ben Affleck confirmed that if he were to write the film (which he is), that he would make the story an original one.

Geoff Johns, DC’s Chief Creative Officer, is co-writing and will likely have a great deal of influence on the script as well.

The desire to go with an original story does bring up two issues for me.

1) Ben Affleck’s Main Justification

Affleck stated that he would want to use an original story due to the element of unpredictability. Like BvS, the Batman film will borrow elements from other comics and combine them into a new story. The audience would not know exactly what to expect. This logic does fall flat for me since the excitement of most book adaptations is the anticipation of seeing certain characters and events play out in a different medium. For example, many Game of Thrones fans eagerly awaited the television adaptation of moments like The Red Wedding and a big part of the excitement was the predictability. The predicability can also give way to suspense.

If story lines or characters are being excluded simply to make the story less predictable, then the changes may not always add value to the character and story.

2) Characters/Story Lines Could Be Prematurely Used

One issue that many fans of the film, myself included, had with Doomsday was that his inclusion felt poorly developed. Obviously Doomsday does not need to recite a soliloquy detailing his murderous intentions, but his origin is more interesting in the comics. Also, some poorly rendered CGI took away from the gravitas of the final fight. Now that Doomsday and Superman have already died in this film’s universe, this removes the option of seeing a full Death of Superman arc on screen. The storyline was used (arguably too early) and now must be retired.

I worry that the same thing could happen if pieces of story lines such as Red Hood or Injustice are cobbled together.

Affleck has proven himself to be a good writer. I know reception of the New 52 has been mixed, but I do hear that some of John’s work with DC is amazing so I am hoping that the solo Batman film still delivers an engaging DC story.

The Irony of the MCU

 

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I saw Captain America: Civil War recently and I currently rank it as my second favourite MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) film, with The Winter Soldier still being #1 for me. Despite the love I have for some of the MCU, I can’t help but notice the criticism people always levy at DC films. I am no DC “fanboy”, I recognize that they don’t have as solid a film universe, since they got a later start on it. However, I have previously discusses my disdain for people who say that DC movies have a problem with their tone. Many negative reviews will at least mention the darker tone of the DC universe films as being a problem, as if darker=worse.I realize that Marvel has dark properties on Netflix, like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but I made this post specifically to discuss the MCU on the big screen. Reading comprehension is a dying art, so let me break this down a little further. I am not saying that BvS or Man of Steel are amazing. MOS was a 7.5 for me and BvS a 6.5. I am not saying these films have no flaws. I am saying that I don’t think their tone is one of their flaws.

Obviously BvS had issues aside from its tone (I’m looking at you Eisenberg) but I can’t stand this relatively
new idea that darkness is a bad thing in itself, and that “dark” and “good” are mutually exclusive. Of course, there have been dark comic book films that have been relatively well received, like The Dark Knight and the more recent example of X-Men: Days of Future Past. However, times are changing. Go to Rotten Tomatoes and see how many negative reviews of Apocalypse mention the “dark”, “grim”, “joyless” tone as being an issue. I’ll wait.

There is a pervasive mentality that a comic book movie must be “fun”. It shouldn’t take itself too seriously and should have plenty of comic relief, otherwise it has failed as a film. The MCU is now held up as the standard of comic relief and as the benchmark for the tone that a comic book film should have. It is easy to see why people latched onto them since they have had the most prolific comic book film output of any studio.

What I find ironic, is that the “fun” mentality is what held comic book films back for so long. Many critics and members of the general public who flock to see MCU films now would have once scoffed at the idea of a critically revered comic book film. Of course there are classics like Superman (1978) but Superman did not usher in an era of consistent comic book films and box-office domination by comic book films. This era started slowly with films like Blade, then X-Men and then Spider-Man. Then came Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and then the birth of the MCU with Iron Man.

Many critics once thought comic book films would never have the success they do now. They might be silly fun, but no one would take such films seriously. The idea of Oscar winners or nominees regularly starring in comic book films would have been deemed preposterous. Marlon Brando’s appearance in Superman was such a big deal due to the pedigree that he brought to the film. The first big successes of the modern era (Blade and X-Men) used a tone that many would now view as overly dramatic, “dark”, “pretentious” etc. but that is what allowed comic book films to gain more popularity and critic recognition. If it weren’t for these films we might not have the MCU. Yet everyone now forgets the stigma comic book films had to overcome and wants everything to be “fun” and “colourful”. There was a time when people thought that was all comic book films would have to offer, and it seems like fans now want history to repeat itself.

 

Injustice: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Good morning everyone, have another blog post up on comicommand. Feel free to check it out there, but I’ve also copied it below. As I’ve mentioned before, comicommand is always looking for new writers so feel free to reach out for a chance to share any original comic-book related articles.

 

Posted on by

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Written By Cadeem Lalor

In 2013, NetherRealm Studios (best known for Mortal Kombat) released Injustice: Gods Among Us. In an alternate universe, The Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane and his unborn child. The Joker uses scarecrow’s fear toxin to make Superman think he sees Doomsday. Superman responds by pushing Doomsday into space, and it is too late by the time he killed a pregnant Lois Lane.  Superman kills The Joker and then establishes a new world order. Five years later, Batman summons the Justice League from the mainstream continuity in order to defeat his Superman.

The game also had a related comic book tie-in that details the five years leading up to the game. When I first heard about the series I thought it would be a cheap cash-in, but a friend recommended the comics and I was soon hooked. The comics are currently in year five, but the writing has been weaker since writer Tom Taylor left the project mid-way through year three. Taylor’s work is sorely missed and I want to take a look back at what made his work on the series so great, namely the characterization of Superman and Batman.

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Firstly, the writing itself was amazing.  Like The Walking Dead, I found that the artwork took a little getting used to, but it was this line that convinced me I should give the comic a chance: “Our world is now ruled by the iron fist of a Man of Steel.” Maybe it’s simple, but it’s also an eloquent way to introduce a version of Superman that is so far removed from the one we are used to.

The strength of the prequel hinged on the believability of Superman’s transformation into a murdering dictator, and Taylor’s work captures it well. I remember watching Batman: Under The Red Hood and hearing Batman say why he chooses not to kill The Joker. Batman knows that if he allows himself to kill just one person, even someone as despicable as The Joker, it becomes too easy to justify making the same decision for every other criminal: “If I go down that road, I’m never coming back.”

I never really understood Batman’s point at the time. I thought it would be easy to make an exception but I see the moral of the story play out with Superman. The Joker had been playing games with Batman for much longer, trying to get Batman to snap. Superman was “easy mode”.  While Superman has faced loss, it is implied that Batman may be mentally tougher. In the comics, Superman has lost his biological parents, his adoptive father, his cousin and an entire planet, but he does not have memories of those people to mourn. Meanwhile, Batman was a witness to his parent’s murder from a younger and highly impressionable age.

Taylor’s work also demonstrates how Superman doesn’t initially become a dictator due to the desire for power. Ultimately, he feels betrayed by Batman. He blames Batman for not killing The Joker earlier and even accuses Batman of loving The Joker. Superman feels as if his best friend cares about a psychopath more than him. Even when the two come to blows over Batman’s attempts to bring the regime down, Superman can’t bring himself to kill Batman, opting to paralyze him instead.

In this fight, we also see Superman resort to torture to get information out of Batman. This was always one of the biggest differences between the characters, and Batman is quick to point out how far Superman has fallen.

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Superman and Batman have always differed in their methods of crime fighting, with Batman being the morally grey figure who was open to torturing criminals. This conflict between the two characters also seems to imply that while Batman may embrace his anger and vengeful side more often, that is what prevented him from truly becoming like the criminals they fight against. Batman had his outlet for his issues, while Superman held himself to a higher standard that only made it easier for him to fall.

As the series progresses, we see that Wonder Woman is eager to step in to replace Lois Lane. She is a key figure that whispers in his ear and guides him to embrace his violent tendencies. Her ancient military background makes her more open to the idea of a dictatorship and her admiration for Superman, as a warrior and friend, makes her more likely to support him. Overtime, we see Superman’s unresolved grief for Lois, and his anger towards Batman transform him into a fearsome dictator.

Since leaving Injustice, Taylor has worked on Superior: Iron Man and several independent titles. The current state of the comics makes it clear that DC suffered a big loss, especially since Taylor could have also transitioned into working on other titles. Fortunately, the first two years of Injustice will always be there as a testament to his work.

 

Archetypes Creating Archetypes

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This post was originally written for comicommand.com-

https://comicommand.com/2016/04/24/archetypes-creating-archetypes/

Written By Cadeem Lalor

My last article examined how films can impact the comic book industry and since I have posted that article, I have also thought of how comics are impacted by other media. Aquaman is one of my favourite comic book characters and a great deal of his backstory is rooted in pre-existing mythological elements, such as Atlantis. The same goes for Wonder Woman, who is heavily rooted in Greek mythology. Additionally, Marvel and DC comics both have their own version of Hercules. Comic book creation as a whole is a cycle where pre-existing archetypes are often altered to create something that is either (arguably) new or a hybrid of other elements.

The character of Superman himself can be seen as a superhero archetype, with his morals and some of his powers being found in numerous superheroes that followed. Yet Superman also takes inspiration from previous works, begging the question of where homage and inspiration can really be traced.

In Man of Steel, Dr. Emil Hamilton warns Superman that he could possibly be carrying an alien pathogen, to which Superman responds that he has not infected anyone in his thirty-three years on Earth.  I am not a religious person by any means, and although I was raised Christian I no longer practice. Yet I couldn’t help but notice that was the same age Jesus dies.

The Superman/Jesus allegory is also clearly present in Clark’s backstory. A man sends his only son to Earth, who is then adopted by Mary (Martha) and Joseph (Jonathan Kent). Of course the names aren’t identical but the similarity is still undeniable. Superman Returns also slapped audiences across the face with Christ imagery when Superman falls to earth in the final act, with his arms spread wide. Returns also focuses on the importance of Superman’s return, with Superman referred to as a “savior” throughout the film. Dawn of Justice(spoilers) also depicts the Death of Superman, which will be followed by his resurrection. Death and revival are universal themes, but when combined with all the biblical similarities, the Jesus comparison is the most obvious one. Interestingly, the marketing for Man of Steel even includes a website where pastors can access more information on the similarities between Superman and Jesus, in order use the universal themes to teach their congregations. Author Stephen Skelton, also claims that a non-Christian friend told him that Superman Returns “…spoke more to me about Jesus than The Passion of the Christ.”

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Since the Jesus allegory is clear and also well documented I will move on to creative influences that are probably not as well known. Some may remember the film John Carter, or maybe not since it was a box-office flop (relative to its budget) and got average reviews at best. Its source material, The Barsoom Stories feature John Carter, a man who is transported to Mars. Once on Mars his strength and speed outstrip those of the native Martians due to Mar’s reduced gravity. Sound familiar?

Philip Wylie’s Gladiator (1930) is also viewed as another influence on the Superman mythos (Feeley 177), despite the creators of Superman never publicly acknowledging its influence (Feeley 179). Gladiator depicts the life of Hugo Danner, a man with Superhuman abilities acquired after his father injects his pregnant mother with a serum (Feeley 178). Danner’s abilities include superhuman strength and invulnerability and the book focuses on his desire to find his place in the world (Feeley 178). Aside from these general similarities, Danner also adopts a costume and a secret identity throughout his life and his moral compass also mirrors Superman’s (Feeley 178). If such a character were created now it would be difficult to ascribe the creation to a single, or even a few different characters. However, Gladiator’s publication a year before Superman’s, at a time when such stories were relatively uncommon does make it more likely that Superman’s creation was influenced by Wylie’s work.

An amazon review of Skelton’s book, The Gospel According to the Greatest Superhero in the World, is quick to criticize Skelton for making great leaps in his analysis: of seeing allegories and comparisons where there are none. As the reviewer says ” Superman is, and has always been, primarily a pop culture icon intended to entertain, not a symbolic figure meant to remind us of Christ.” This review goes on to argue that the nitpicking comes at the expense of some of the most obvious allegories. This “nitpicking” includes some details such as Superman being an only son sent to Earth.

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I can’t argue that every point Skelton, or any other author will make, was an intended reference by Superman’s creators. However, I think it is also important not to think that fictional characters are created in a vacuum. Our fictional creations are shaped by our desires and our circumstances. Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster may have been Jewish, but it’s possible that omnipresent stories of Jesus could affect their writing. Especially since the authors cite the biblical stories of Moses and Samson as being inspirations. Terrible creations like Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t exist if the author didn’t write out her fantasies. Was she intending to entertain too? Of course, but the material she released for entertainment came from somewhere. The same logic applies to comic book characters such as Superman.

Superman is a pop culture icon, and I did not write this piece to argue that he is a sign of the second coming or a rip-off. I only state the fact that previous works, ranging from the bible to early science fiction led to the creation of one of the most popular characters ever created.

To see and hear more from Cadeem, please check out Moviegrapevine.com and follow @CMoviegrapevine on twitter.

Works Cited

Feeley, George. “Review: When World-Views Collide: Philip Wylie in the Twenty-First Century.” Science Fiction Studies 32.1 (2005): 177-182. Print.

Batman v Superman Review

Like Star Wars: Episode VII, this was another review where I had to seriously collect my thoughts before putting words to paper. Initially, BvS was my most anticipated comic book film of 2016. The teaser was tense, dramatic and set the film up perfectly. Then the second trailer came, showing more of Luthor and revealing doomsday. I know many people argue that the doomsday reveal wasn’t a spoiler since we knew there would be another villain in the film, but that is no excuse to give away the villain early. There are some reveals that are best saved for the film itself. The doomsday CGI looked sketchy and had me wondering how good the final fight would be.

Then the third trailer came along, showing more of Batfleck, especially the warehouse fight scene. This film became highly anticipated again, below Suicide Squad but above Captain America: Civil War. I saw it one day after its release and the news of the poor reviews was prevalent by then, but since I liked Man of Steel and knew how poorly reviewed that film was I didn’t let the negative reviews bother me. Even the editor of Rotten Tomatoes, was baffled by the poor reviews Man of Steel received and pleaded that it was a good film.

 

With all that said, I simply want to say that I did not let negative reviews of this film affect my perception of it: Especially since a lot of criticism revealed around the film being “too dark”. I have explained why this is simply factually incorrect and is a product of people simply being too used to Marvel films.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRKy226tmCk

 

I explained my argument about darkness in depth in that video but I will go over it again here. 2008 saw The Dark Knight become a critical hit, with its dark and serious tone that contributed to many critics seeing it as the pinnacle of comic book filmmaking. Since then it seems like there has been a huge backlash against darkness in comic book films. With the exception of The Dark Knight Rises, most of the critically revered comic book films that followed were marvel studio properties. Marvel began to establish a dynasty; starting off small with Iron Man and cementing a solid reputation by the time The Avengers (2012) came out. Before I come across as a DC fanboy I want to say that I love both universes and the prospect of a shared universe in the Marvel films made me feel like a kid again.

 

However, as time has gone on I have also noticed a pervasive similarity among the Marvel films: A light tone, with plenty of humour. There is nothing wrong with a light tone or humour. Some Marvel films handled it well, with the best examples being the Captain America films and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, some handle it poorly, with the Thor films being the best example. Loki brings good humour to the stories but then we also get Kat Dennings’s and Natalie Portman’s contributions.
When a comedy writer was brought in to lighten the tone of Thor 3: Ragnarok, it became obvious that the insistence on humour could be a problem sometimes. Marvel studios president Kevin Fiege argued that they didn’t want the film differing too much in tone from the other marvel properties. Therein lies the problem. Ragnarok is a doomsday story; it should be darker than the other properties. The real reason it needs to stay light is so that it stays appealing to Marvel’s audience of kids and families.

 

In the comics, some character stories will have lighter issues than others. The same character may even fluctuate between darker and lighter stories. Good writers are able to handle these tonal shifts and make them feel natural. A great example was the Justice League animated series, which balanced different character personalities, villains and storylines in expert fashion. That is what Marvel studios should strive for as well, instead of trying to turn every character into a comedian who spouts one-liners every five minutes. If every Marvel or DC film had the same tone I think the properties would get stale.

 

Obviously Marvel has darker properties, like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. However, those are Netflix shows, which are cheaper than Hollywood films and target a more mature, niche audience. Marvel can take more risks with the tone since they don’t have to worry as much about scaring away families and kids. If Thor 3 gets rewrites for being too dark, there is no way Marvel would give us the same R-Rated version of The Punisher in a big screen adaptation. The Netflix shows do help to add variety to Marvel’s offerings but I wish we could see a darker property like Blade back on the big screen instead of having to either settle for a Netflix show, or a Disney-fied version of the character on the big screen.

 

Another example of the disneyfication is the character of Tony Stark in Civil War. At the very end of the trailer he calls Spider-Man “underoos” before Spider-Man swings into the mcu for the first time. I do not mean to nitpick or bash the movie for one line. The line is fine. What I want to say is, that line would seem very out of character for the version of Tony Stark we see in the Civil War comics. The comics version of Tony Stark (in these specific comics) is much more quiet and introspective. He does not spout a single one-liner throughout the story arc and might come across as “too dark” “brooding” etc. for people who get their idea of the character from Marvel’s films. That simply illustrates my point about the “Disneyfication” of characters and how audiences can get too used to seeing these versions of the characters and then compare all other adaptations to the same tone. Hence all the talk of MOS and Bvs being “too dark”. Marvel has had time to stamp itself onto the public consciousness, setting themselves up as the benchmark that all other comic book films will be compared to. Everything is relative, and if people are used to Marvel’s tone then obviously a film like Bvs will come across as too dark. That is why I did not pay attention to criticisms of the film being too dark and that is why I don’t personally agree. As soon as someone criticizes Bvs for its “dark” tone it makes it clear that they have very little knowledge of the characters and are simply brainwashed by Marvel’s films.

 

Review
The Good

 

Firstly, Batfleck was awesome. I was on the fence about his casting, but he killed the role as Bruce Wayne and Batman. The suit was the best we’ve seen on the big screen so far in terms of its aesthetics and functionality. The batman voice is created by a microphone in the cowl and is the best one we’ve heard yet.

 

This version of Bruce Wayne is an older Batman who routinely suffers from nightmares and is pessimistic about human nature and his significance in the fight against crime, which factors heavily into his conflict with Superman. The nightmare scene in the film may cause confusion for viewers who are not familiar with the character of Darkseid and the injustice comics. Although the references to these characters and storylines were a treat for me, I can see why they would be confusing for other viewers.

 

Jeremy Irons was great as Alfred, which was expected since he was the only casting decision I had no reservations about. I wish we could have seen more of his Alfred, but that is probably an indicator of his success with the role. This version of Alfred has a more hands-on role in Batman’s crusade but is also a figure that makes it clear he would rather see Wayne hang up the suit permanently.

 

Henry Cavill exceeds his performance in the first film (which was decent) with his portrayal of a Superman who is now the center of controversy and criticism from the public, the media and the government. More than ever, he questions his role in the world and his doubts have led some viewers to consider him “too moody” “too dark” etc. However, I think the character’s outlook fits the story and the events he goes through. However, I do hope that in the next installments, we start to see more of the optimism people typically associate with the character. Superman is not a lighter character than Batman because bad things never happen to him, he is lighter because of his attitude about human nature and the future.

 

Gal Gadot was a pleasant surprise as Wonder Woman and leaves me more excited for the solo film, although carrying a solo film is obviously a much bigger task. Aside from a line or two that seemed wooden, I thought Gadot had great screen presence and brought amazing strength and appeal to the character.

 

I have heard some people say that the set up for the Justice League could have used more than one film, and I can agree with that. All the news of cameos had me worried the film would be far too packed. Ultimately, the cameos were worked in well.

 

Minor Spoiler

 

The cameos are archived footage that Luthor has been collecting on metahumans. In total, the clips are less than five minutes but give us our first glimpse of some of the Justice League. I thought this was a great way to introduce the characters that took little screen time and also did not come across as too tacked on. There is some criticism that the cameos were too short, or seemed like the type of footage you would get on a dvd extra. Yet some of these same people also complain that the film tried to do too much. BvS simply can’t win sometimes.

 

The Bad

 

When Jesse Eisenberg was cast as Luthor, many hopeful fans said that he would surprise us with a great performance, just like Heath Ledger did as the joker. People forgot tat Ledger was an exception to the rule. Eisenberg proves that a questionable casting decision does not work out well. Batfleck impressed but it seems like we asked for too much with Eisenberg.

 

The version of Luthor we see here is Lex Luthor’s son, which just begs the question of why we don’t get Lex instead. The character could have been interesting. The writing implied that he did not have a good relationship with his father but is still trying to fill his father’s shoes. The writing itself was actually pretty good, in terms of dialogue at least. The issue is Eisenberg’s acting. In terms of Luthor’s behaviour and mannerisms it seems like Snyder was aiming for a character like Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Nightcrawler.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18ZDiRsbEZA

 

Instead we get a hyperactive spaz who brings a level of campiness to the movie whenever he is on screen. Since Luthor has a decent chunk of screen time and sets up the third act conflict his presence greatly contributed to the 6.5/10.

 

Speaking of the third act, the trailers showed that Doomsday would be the villain for a final fight with The Trinity (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). This fight was also one of the weaker parts of the film for me. It had great elements, such as Wonder Woman and her contribution. However, it also had spotty CGI. Doomsday does not look any better than the footage we saw from the trailer and the CGI detracts from the tension and enjoyment of the fight. The Batman warehouse fight (partly shown in the third trailer) was far more enjoyable and memorable in my opinion.

 

Overall, the film sets up the Justice League pretty well but I do not want to give it extra points just for that. A movie ultimately needs to stand on its own. Of course, a film can hint at events to come but there also needs to be a solid foundation that makes the film enjoyable as a solo piece. BvS is not amazing, but it is also not the cinematic abomination that many people label it as.

 

Spoilers

 

The Martha Scene

 

This scene has already spawned heated criticism and memes. I just want to add a quick note on why I actually liked it and that all the criticism seems to miss the point of the scene. Batman does not spare Superman’s life because “Your mom has the same name! Besties!” Although people like to rant about how movies spoon-feed them too much, this seems like a case where people need to be spoon-fed. The scene isn’t about Superman’s mom having the same name. It is about a terrifying god-like figure (in Batman’s eyes) being reduced to a man that wants to save his mom. The common desire to protect their families is what makes Batman spare Superman’s life. If you can’t understand that scene, then I think that is your problem and not the film’s.