Tag Archives: DC

Wonder Woman (2017)

I finally saw Wonder Woman on Father’s Day. Which I suppose is a little weird[1]? But we hadn’t seen it yet, and my dad was down (even though he had seen it, which is its own kind of cool), so, like that. I cannot decide if it fulfills its hype. I mean, obviously it’s very good. It’s better, probably, than its current series of DC movies deserves for it to be.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.

But like, is it uniquely good? It’s on track to have the biggest box office of the summer[2]. And it’s the first superhero movie with a female lead. Those are both big deals, although obviously the latter is the bigger. Anyway, there are these immortal Amazon women, sworn to defend mankind from the depredations of the god of war. And once they learn of a new war outside their realm, Diana goes forth to fulfill that destiny. Or, I think more accurately, she goes forth to decide whether mankind deserves her intended defense. Also, there’s a lot of cool comic book action in which a person who will one day probably be called Wonder Woman kicks some serious ass.

Is that a thing we’ve never seen before? A hero, on her journey to greatness? In a way, obviously we have. Some heroes journey from a state of selfishness, others from a state of innocence, and still others are just born that way, but they all start somewhere and face a first challenge, whether of the physical, spiritual, or moral variety. Or, let’s be honest, usually more than one of these. In another way, that’s probably me being a bit broad of scope, or just finding a way to not give any more spoilers than I already have done. But my real point is one I already made.

It literally is a thing we’ve never seen before. Although there have been female superheroes, none of them have scored a cinematic lead before, and that’s a big deal. It doesn’t make the movie uniquely good, but it makes the movie unique; the good news is, it was in fact also really good! Because what we need is a theatrical landscape in which it doesn’t strike me as weird, even for the few seconds it took me to decide to go with that instinct instead of immediately quelling it as was my initial reaction to myself, that both my father and I would want to celebrate his day by seeing a movie about a lady superhero. I mean, that’s dumb, right? It’s a comic book action movie, what about this is even the slightest bit strange?

(I still think I’d rather not have had the thought and had to figure out a different way to come at this, all things considered.)

[1] Bear with me, I’ll get back to it.
[2] Final outcome subject to change, but that’s the trend I’m seeing right now.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad was a clusterfuck.

I should clarify, lest I be misunderstood. It was a magnificent clusterfuck, exactly as it was meant to be. See, there’s this military lady, and she is trying to gather power and prestige to herself (like you do), to which end she has this idea to recruit a bunch of imprisoned supervillains to form a last line of defense team in case of unexpected threats to America and maybe the world. Especially in these uncertain times.

Which, fine, whatever, that’s just a convoluted premise. The clusterfuck comes along when the unexpected threat does, because it turns out that being a supervillain means not subsuming your needs to the needs of the many. Instead, every single person has an angle, and okay, yes, they don’t want the world to end any more than you or I or (let’s say) a Batman or a Superman would. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want something for themselves out of the deal.

The thing that makes this not a grimdark movie is that the whole thing is played for comedy (nearly for slapstick) instead of evil chess (like I imagine No Country for Old Men to have been). It was definitely better than the last two movies, which is the kind of trend line I like to see

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

If they had not made a Wonder Woman movie, I probably could have happily lived out my days not watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I mean, the name alone makes me cringe, and the turning point at the end of the second act is the kind of thing you come up with smoking weed with your friends in the basement, and then say whoa at each other a lot. (To be fair, maybe it would have played better if I hadn’t been spoiled for it? This is a thing I doubt.)

Anyway, that is an extremely poor degree of preconception, and it is my pleasure to say that, going in with that opinion, the movie was not too bad. Like, yes it was unrelentingly grim, and yes the stuff I already said above, and also Lois and Clark are goddamn terrible at “secret identity”. But there were things to like, as well.

1) I’ve heard people hating on Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex, but I had no real complaints. I haven’t seen a gleefully sociopathic version of the character that I recall, and it definitely worked. Plus, his plans were legit.
2) This is the first time I’ve ever geographically understood the relationship between Metropolis and Gotham. I would literally never have thought of it that way, yet it is 100% the best explanation I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was always like this and I just never knew?
3) Wonder Woman is a bad-ass by any measure. I am looking forward to that movie more than before.
4) The spoiler at the end of the movie, although in keeping with Snyder’s dark vision, actually earned the destination this series of movies has been aiming for, and if I believed for a second it would become the new status quo, I would grudgingly respect the film in retrospect.

But that is not how things will be by the end of the summer, and I can resume being benignly annoyed by the whole prospect.

The Dark Knight Rises

I hate it when I have to review something that I want to reveal basically nothing about. Okay, let’s start with premise, that’s always safe ground. The Dark Knight Rises is set some eight or ten years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman has not been seen in all this time, after having been branded a public enemy for his alleged murder of district attorney Harvey Dent. On top of that, Bruce Wayne hasn’t been seen much more often, which hasn’t exactly spelt sunshine and puppies for his various financial holdings and charities. And then, of course, something intriguing happens and something terrible happens, and our various characters are suddenly knocked out of their stasis.

Okay, and that’s enough. As with my previous review, there’s nothing in there that doesn’t happen in the first fifteen minutes or so. I will say only a couple of more words before I send you on your way to the theater, unless you are wiser and more appropriately unbusy than I. Although the first one is a little bit of a story: someday, I may choose to re-read a series I first caught as a young teen, Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. People have left me with the impression that I may fail catastrophically, but I’m interested to see how it goes, so I may. Anyway, the point is that as the second trilogy opens, Thomas Covenant, storied “hero” of a faraway, possibly hallucinatory land, has a terrible life. Sure, he may have defeated some dark lord or other, but back on earth he’s still a miserable leper. And one of his foes has an opinion on how to strike out at him that has always stuck with me. “What do you do to hurt the man who has lost everything? Give him something back, broken.”

It seems to me that Christopher Nolan has taken that advice to heart here. He doesn’t give Bruce Wayne something back broken so much as he gives him everything back broken, starting with his body, continuing right through his city, and stopping…. well, in theory, nowhere. You’ll have to see for yourself, of course. While this singular focus leaves me with an impression that some pieces of the plot are contrived, none were so glaringly contrived as to detract from my overall enjoyment. Plus, he made that bleakness up to the audience by also giving us the second thing I had wanted to mention, Anne Hathaway in a leather catsuit.

Superman: Red Son

The upside to that random Frank Miller book I read today is that it broke up my otherwise back-to-back Mark Millar readings. (Although, of course, if they’re pronounced the same (as I suppose), it’s like a threepeat. Which is really a terrible word, so I hope it’s instead mill-are as I’ve always said under my breath when typing it.) I’m not sure what I would have read if I had planned ahead, but the graphic novel that happened to be sitting in my car, still uncategorized after my last trip to Recycled Books in Denton, was Red Son. And I’ve been wanting to read it for ages anyway, so there was really no question of anything like worrying about it not being one of my ongoing non-superhero series and therefore out of order.

The conceit, if the title does not make it obvious, is that Kal-El’s ship landed on the other side of the planet, where he was found by collective-farmers and raised as a Communist before developing superpowers (as one does) and becoming Stalin’s darling. And then, of course, the story proceeds.[1] There’s not a lot more I want to say, because things go in extremely interesting directions that should not be spoiled, but I will say that it presents one of the most compelling versions of Lex Luthor I’ve ever seen. And despite my avoidance of DC Comics, I follow really a lot of Superman stories on film. So.

One downside: I cannot find it in me to entirely approve of Superman having as strong of a moral center without having been raised by the Kents. I comprehend how that’s wildly unfair to millions of possible parents out there in the early twentieth century world, and especially to somewhat fewer millions of Soviet parents. Nevertheless, it’s a thing.

[1] Not that you can tell from where you are reading, but I have been paused for a very long time because the incredibly compelling Game Six of the World Series has distracted me from typing for a while. I’m not sorry or anything, just documenting.

Green Lantern

Going into Green Lantern, I knew very few things about the character. He does stuff in space, and he can do anything at all with his magic ring, unless what he is opposing is yellow, in which case he’s completely powerless. (DC, you know, about which I know little enough except for their very majorest characters.) My point is: yellow? Really? High budget effects or not, I wasn’t very hopeful. Yellow.

I’m not sure, but I think that may have been the movie’s saving grace. It had a lot of “gee, whiz” coolness going for it, don’t get me wrong, but the plot was really quite predictable, and the origin story fell flat for me when they spent half the movie establishing that Hal Jordan isn’t reliable and needs to grow up to realize his potential, and then had the turn-around occur on a dime for the flimsiest of reasons. So while I can’t say that it was one of the great comic book movies, it easily surpassed my tragically low expectations.

I mean, yellow!? I’m not saying yellow lameness was absent from the movie, but either they fixed whatever made it especially horrible in the comic, or else I’ve had a misguided notion of how things worked all these years. Either way, really. What’s important is nobody painted a baseball bat yellow to defeat the otherwise cosmically powerful good guy.

Batman: The Killing Joke

I wish DC would rip off the Marvel Ultimate universe idea and perform their own reboot for new readers. Alternately, I wish that someone would tell me this has already occurred, and what I should be looking for. I know that the constantly renewing TV shows serve approximately the same purpose, but still, something in the original format would be nice to have around. This is certainly one reason why I have found Marvel so much more accommodating than DC since I decided that superhero comics were pretty sweet after all. (The much broader availability of original run comics as data files was the larger reason, despite how much more Ultimate universe I’ve actually read.)

The upshot of this lack is that there are all kinds of DC storylines that I’ve heard people talk about but never gotten around to, while I’m coasting along quite nicely on the other side of the fence. But I did recall that one of the biggest deal stories I hadn’t read was Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, about the relationship between Batman and the Joker. Much to my surprise, it is a story that has consequences I’ve actually seen play out in one of those TV series I mentioned earlier, the short-lived Birds of Prey. So, in addition to my actual reaction to the story, there was that bonus feeling of getting to catch on to an underpinning moment that has defined the DC universe. I dig that kind of stuff, in exactly the unfortunately punning sense that makes me sometimes wish I had gotten my degree in archaeology.

But as to the story itself? First of all, it’s very short, only about the size of a standard annual comic. No run of issues here like you’d expect to find in an “important” story. It’s also very simple: Batman has decided that it’s time to really talk to the Joker, who is unique among the Batman’s adversaries in that nobody has any idea who he is; he is simply an enigma sowing chaos in the world. All Bruce Wayne does know is that they hate each other, and sooner or later one of them will die as a result of it, and being that he is a fundamentally good man despite his anger issues, he wants to try to solve it. Whereas the Joker… in his own words, he wants “[t]o prove a point.” To prove that he’s not really sowing chaos, or at least that any chaos sown is just a side effect. He wants to prove that his reaction to the world is not only normal, but inevitable. And the ensuing clash between these two conversations is dire, bloody, repercussive, and entirely horrible. And it sums up, in only about forty pages, the entire history and future of the relationship between the two characters.

Every voice was perfectly realized, every expression and motion had economy to it. Except for the unfortunate refrigeration of Barbara Gordon, there is really nothing about the story that is not concisely perfect. It should ought to be read by anyone that enjoys either lead character. And also? The joke was pretty good.

The Dark Knight

mv5bmzyxmze1nzy4nl5bml5banbnxkftztcwmtcxoti2mq-_v1_It is, I retroactively declare, a good weekend I think for seeing a new movie premiere. After spending a couple of hours around a pizza and an airing of Batman Begins, we rushed off to the theater for a Friday night showing. I’ve spent some time thinking about what I could possibly say about The Dark Knight in the subsequent 48 hours, and I honestly don’t have much better of an idea right now than I did walking out of the theater.

First of all, there’s the story route, but I refuse to do more than thumbnail it, because there are massive spoilers both for fantastic individual scenes and for the highly detailed and brilliantly executed plot. Anyway, a little time has passed and Batman hovers in a precarious middle ground between hated vigilante and police-sponsored hero. Gotham is gradually coming out of its dark age, and district attorney Harvey Dent’s hardline stance against the crumbling mob families is the best evidence of this fact. But there’s a bank-robbing clown who calls himself the Joker who has other ideas on that topic; and he has a plan.

All of which is stage-setting that’s clear within the first 15 minutes or so. If anyone wants to tell you more than that, don’t let them. Although Batman Begins was a lot more of a traditionally mythological hero’s journey, it had nowhere near the psychological depth of The Dark Knight. Christian Bale understands Bruce Wayne in a way that nobody but Michael Keaton has ever come close to, and Heath Ledger’s death was nothing short of a fucking tragedy for movie-goers everywhere, even if his portrayal of the Joker would have been the pinnacle of his talent. I would not have ever guessed I’d say someone surpassed Nicholson, but the writing was probably as much to blame as the acting. They really were two different characters, and the current one the darker and more insane by far.

My point being, with two such powerful leads, an equally strong supporting cast, and additional psychological elements from legal crusader Dent and returning ADA Rachel, Bruce’s love interest and Dent’s current girlfriend… with all of that going for it, there is a lot of room to play in and with a lot of interesting characters’ psyches. And this occurs in spades, to the point where it might be fair to describe the ride as an emotional wringer. But it is also the best movie I’ve seen all year, easily.[1] Juno and Iron Man come close, each in their own ways, but this hit all my buttons just right.

In summary: wow. Now go see it. (Yes, again. I know I would have tonight, if I hadn’t been at work instead.)

[1] Well. Zombie Strippers. But otherwise.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

61H8BOtqAbLThrough chronological coincidence, my next comic entry is an excellent choice to follow the previous one. Having seen where the Batman got his start, The Dark Knight Returns gives me a chance to see where he ended up. And where he ended up isn’t pretty.

One Robin, Boy Wonder has left him and a second has died in his arms. He has been retired for ten years, due to a nebulous agreement that retired or co-opted the other superheroes at the same time (save for Superman, who is now employed by the US Government). Gotham is overrun with crime, filled with gangs of teenagers who own the streets and can make and carry out threats at will. Commissioner Gordon is facing mandatory retirement, and among most of the talking heads on TV, the rehabilitation into society of such criminal masterminds as Two-Face and the Joker are cause for celebration at the success of the system rather than horror and fear at its failure.

Whether because of the declining morality of the youth population, because of guilt over his involvement in Harvey Dent’s (that is, Two-Face’s) inability to cope with his freedom and subsequent return to villainhood, or simply because he doesn’t feel like an entire man without the Bat, the re-costumed Bruce Wayne hits this socio-political climate like a thunderbolt, taking on the gangs, old enemies and old friends alike, condemned by cartoonish liberals for what he is doing to criminals and by cartoonish conservatives for what he is doing to law and order, and joined at an opportune moment by a new Robin. It’s a very raw take on an old man’s unstoppable crusade against everyone who brings society down instead of building it up.

Being raw, though, it does have its flaws. The stories are held together by the world around them, but seem pretty episodic in nature on their own. The art, while excellently frenetic, occasionally lends itself to being difficult to follow. It’s hard to really like any of the characters on a consistent basis (with the exceptions of Gordon and Robin). But flawed or not, it has the power of its rawness, and I’m not a bit surprised that the Batman mythos since this work has owed far more to it than to anything that came before, outside of those initial episodes that first set the character down on cheap pulp. (And which, frankly, were a lot like Frank Miller’s vision in this book. It’s much easier to imagine a straight line between the two graphic novels I’ve read that doesn’t go through Adam West than one that does.)

Also: as you’d probably expect, the Joker (newly revived from catatonia at the news that he once more has a nemesis worth committing senseless murder for) steals every scene he’s in, whether it be praising the media for being his own personal fan club, highlighting all of his criminal activity on the evening news so he doesn’t need to keep track of it himself or whether offhandedly promising to kill everyone within sight of his face and being laughed at for, well, joking (he was not, of course). It’s easy to make an argument that the Batman needs a Joker, an enemy that the forces of law cannot hope to cope with, that justifies his vigilantism. This story makes the far more compelling argument that the Joker needs a Batman; because, if there’s no chance of failure, is there really a point in proceeding on the basis of sociopathy alone?

[Late-breaking full disclosure: I actually read this in the Absolute format, but it contained two books, of which I still in 2015 have not read the second one. So it’s hard to produce a link and image for only half of a book, much less one that is by now long out of print.]

Batman: The Dark Knight – Archives, Volume 1

After the extensive silliness of the archival Superman collection, I was a little trepidacious at the idea of the cracking open the initial Batman collection from the same people. (Well, okay, the people are DC, so that’s kind of a dumb way to put it, I guess.) But for lack of a better system I’m reading them chronologically, and that one was next. Therefore, in I plunged.

I’m pleased to report that this was a much stronger entry off the bat. (Er. Sorry.) I found that I kind of missed the full magazine approach that the other one used; no text stories amid the comics and no X-ray glasses or Batman fan-club order forms for me. I think as much as the nostalgia factor, I missed them because it left me less certain that I was actually reading all of the first few Batman adventures. (It didn’t help that one episode referenced a previous encounter between our hero and the villain in question. I have no idea if it was an in media res device or an actual backward reference to a missing story.) And in one unfortunate occurrence, Batman stole a story directly from the Superman of the same period: a football player is kidnapped, so Bruce Wayne uses his make-up and disguise talents (which are, admittedly, a lot more palatable than contemplating Clark Kent’s, whose best disguise consists of a pair of unlensed frames) to render himself identical to the missing player and win the big game. That’s, uh, heroic.

But like I said, on the whole it was a much stronger book. For one thing, it had iconic villains from the earliest stories. While Superman is off fighting interchangeable industrialists bent on raping the middle class and poor countries around the world, Batman is fighting the Joker or Catwoman. Definite advantage here. I have to think the smaller scope in general is part of what makes him a better superhero for the ages. He can be hurt, he can face real setbacks, he has enemies that can make realistic plans to take him out of commission.

And, he has a sidekick that… well, okay, Robin bugs me a little bit, in that he seems to be as effective at sixteen as the full-grown man he’s working with, despite the latter’s drive to avenge his parents and past. (As I understand it, Robin has an equally grim past, but it was never delved into in this volume.) Plus, he’s always grinning widely. Artistic decision, sure, but it also bugged me a little. I guess it’s part of the propaganda portion. He doesn’t really have a character of his own besides ‘generically happy’. He is clearly there for no better reason than to stand in for the teenage boy reader, which isn’t so bad by itself, but then he’s constantly used in that role to teach moral lessons. And I know that’s probably more good than bad, but I’m here for the plots and the characterizations, and I’m simply not going to like it when things get in the way of that. So, less Robin, more Batman, please.

Anyhow, that was as minor of a concern as the football adventure, really. The point is, Batman is dark but likeable, easy to identify with, has excellent opposition, and is just downright fun. Plus, he seems more averse to leaving a trail of corpses behind him, which it took the (seemingly more moral) Superman a little while to accomplish. The misogyny, though, that’s still there. Sure, he keeps saving Catwoman from other villains and now and again from the law simply because he thinks he can get in there, someday. (And watching Robin be confused over that hidden motive was worth his character being present at all.) But that’s the kind of misogyny that I’d think a girl could get behind, if it means she gets away with thousands of dollars worth of jewels every so often.

It’s the other kind that made the book for me, based on the shocked giggles it provided. (I know it’s a double standard, but since it happened 65 years ago and is so, well, cartoonish on top of that, it just doesn’t feel real; as I know it couldn’t happen now, I permit myself some obviously morally defective enjoyment out of it.) I will now describe a single panel of the book, from Batman’s first encounter with the Cat. Awful, I know. But also kind of awesome? You be the judge.

He has just removed the old lady wig, revealing Scooby Doo-style that she’s the villain. Now, he is forcibly wiping the old lady makeup from her face. She cries out, ‘Let go of me!’ His response: ‘Quiet or Papa spank!’