Thursday, June 24, 2010


John (yeah, that's his real name) invited me to write some guest articles for his blog. Being asked to write on someone else's blog is an honor. Most bloggers guard their commentaries and venues like a guy guarding his jugular at a Twilight convention. So far, I've written two articles for SandwichJohnFilms, the most recent being Tomorrow, Our Heroes Will Be Digital. Besides the fact that I'm obviously doing some shameless self-promoting, John works hard to post the latest buzz on upcoming and just released films in a variety of genres including the superhero/fantasy realm. It's worth the read. Check it out.


Lately I've been reading the hardback collections of the Dark Horse Comics version of Conan the Barbarian. This rough, unsophisticated, yet strangely compelling character was originally created by writer Robert E Howard in 1932 and presented in a series of short stories in Weird Tales magazine.

The 1930s spawned a number of classic fantasy stories and besides Howard, the most well known author published in Weird Tales is H.P. Lovecraft. This era was also the breeding ground for what is referred to as pulp fiction (not the movie), which describes a large body of cheaply written and published escapist stories designed to appeal to teen boys and young men. The best of these humble stories have gone on to inspire and entertain generations.

Batman was almost certainly born from this genre as a mysterious "hardboiled detective", half-Mike Hammer and half Sherlock Holmes at least as originally conceived. Pulp fiction stories were simple, involving a tough hero who often wasn't particularly nobel out to foil a definitely not-nobel bad guy, usually to solve a crime, rescue a girl, attain a treasure, or sometimes all three. Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and his somewhat lesser known "cousin" John Carter of Mars came from this body of literature (though some wouldn't use the term "literature" to describe these adventures). Why does this stuff endure?

The first Tarzan story was published as a magazine story in 1912 and the last known version of our ape man was a film produced by Disney in 1999. While I've heard of no recent attempts to further present Tarzan in any medium, we have a history of almost 90 years in which Burroughs' most famous creation thrived. Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939 and I think it's safe to say that the Guardian of Gotham is as popular as he's ever been. And although it's been decades since Howard's Conan has "graced" the silver screen, he is being reborn next year in a film directed by Marcus Nispel.

Why am I writing this? Why should you care?

What's amazing is the longevity of a character who it's hard to imagine would attract much of a following. Conan is a Barbarian; a man from an ancient land called Cimmeria, born into an antediluvian world of the snowy northlands, where living is hard and live is cheap. A man lives by his wits and his sword and if he lives long, it's only because others have died.

Conan also belongs to the sub-genre of pulp fiction called "sword and sorcery", which usually pits such rough hewn men against ancient and evil magicians and creatures best left in the realm of nightmares. The stories always depict the barbarian overcoming sophisticated, civilized magic or dark and sinister entities from shadowy worlds by brute force, a sharp sword, and occasionally, a bare hint of intelligence. Conan's career spanned from wandering youth to mercenary, thief, assassin, soldier, general, and finally King. In the course of his journeys, he has encountered a Frost Giant's daughter, a "god" in a bowl (boy, do I hate snakes), and an ancient "elephant" and his heart as prisoners in a crystal tower. What makes Conan and his tales so special? It's been almost 80 years since he was "born". Why does he still exist?

Beyond the sheer thrill of his saga and the lure of escapism, Conan does what we can only dream of...flaunt the rules of civilization and live by his own rough code. Even in the cities of his own age, he often commits capital crimes by obeying his particular morals and ethics (if a man insults you, hit him...if he does so again, kill him). Remember, Conan's the good guy.

Think of him as a sort of House, M.D. who thinks what he likes and says what he likes, regardless of social convention. Conan goes further by doing what he likes and sees "civilization" as almost always weak and corrupt. His own "god" Crom creates men with the strength, skill, and wits to conquer their enemies and then leaves humanity alone. It's on those terms that a person lives and dies. No rules, no theology, no prayers. Hope is in a strong arm and a sturdy weapon. Life is cruel and simple.

I don't think Conan's fans want to really "be" him as much as they (we) want to temporarily escape into him. We have no desire to disembowel a person or to fight the demons of Thoth Amon, but it's really cool to read about Conan doing all that for a little while. The Dark Horse Comics rendition of Conan brings back the flavor and character of the original Howard storytelling as well as some of the magic of the Marvel comics version first published in the early 1970s.

Most of us aren't barbarians nor do we wish to be, but for awhile, as with our other fantasy outlets, it's fun to pretend. Just get over it by the time you have to face the morning commute to work.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I'm OK! You Suck!

In 1969, Thomas A Harris MD published his famous book titled I'm OK - You're OK. I won't go into the long and probably boring details about Transactional Analysis, if for no other reason than it's the title that's the main point. While the Harris book suggests that people go through different "life positions" the final and most desirable is a general acceptance of yourself and people around you, in reality, it seems not to work that way.

It seems more like we can only be "OK" if someone or something around us gets to be "not OK". Batman has no reason to be Batman if there's no Joker, or Two-Face, or Riddler around to battle, beat, and put in prison/Arkham. If the world of Gotham were reduced to petty pickpockets and shoplifters, Bruce would have to hang up his cowl and take being a billionare more seriously.

Superman's probably a bit better off since, even in a world devoid of villains (super or otherwise), he's still good for rescuing people, cats stuck in trees, averting natural disasters, and that sort of thing. Yet a comic book, film, or TV show of Superman only rescuing people and never facing an adversary would probably not attract much of an audience. For some reason, we really need to see the Man of Steel beat the living crap out of someone. It's even more satisfying if we see Batman do it, since the Caped Crusader has fewer inhibitions about drawing blood and breaking bones.

What does this say about us, the audience? Are we a bunch of blood-thirsty thugs who get pleasure out of seeing someone hurt (if you're a fan of the Twilight books/films, I suppose "blood-thirsty" has a somewhat different meaning)? Maybe, but it's not the most likely explanation.

People, when they get angry, generally don't stay angry for very long. It's tough to feel hurt enough for hours on end. Eventually, we cool off. But frustration that breaks out into occasional anger can last for years. Just look at Batman. Decades after witnessing his Mom and Dad being gunned down right in front of him, Bruce is still putting on his cowl at night and having it out with whatever punk that's unlucky enough to cross his path (Go ahead, make my day...uh, night).

In previous articles on this blog, I've suggested a variety of reasons why we are attracted to superheroes. Reasons going from the desire to be entertained to seeking the best in us by seeing it in our costumed heroes. The reason I'm citing now is not so nobel...but it's very human.

When we're hurt, we can't always retaliate. Unlike Batman, if we try to beat someone up, even if they deserve it (by virtue of robbing a bank or hooking a 12 year old on drugs), we'll either get beaten up instead or get tossed in jail. We can however, get a vicarious thrill out of seeing Batman or some other comic book character do it for us. It doesn't change the nature of the world and it doesn't put real "bad guys" away, but for a little while, we can experience a sense that someone is out there, delivering the type of justice we wish could really happen...

I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? -Harry Callahan

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Killing Knight

OK, I couldn't think of a better way to combine Moore and Bolland's The Killing Joke (1988) with the Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight (2008). This will have to do.

The two stories are only vaguely alike. Sure, Batman, the Joker, and Jim Gordon appear in both works, but that's where the similarity ends. Certainly how the Joker is portrayed in each production is radically different, but wait! There's an underlying similarity. Both Jokers are trying to prove the same point.

The graphic novel's Joker is trying to prove that you can push anyone, no matter how stable and well rounded, into insanity (the Joker's version of craziness) if you just damage their lives enough. To get to that point, he shoots and cripples Barbara Gordon, strips her nude, photographs her body, then runs her Dad through a sick carnival ride where these photos are the feature attraction.

The Joker in this story seems obsessed with nudity, because he strips Jim Gordon down to his skin, too, but then, we all feel especially vulnerable when we're in public nude.

The story's counterpoint is the Joker's origin story (or one possible story bouncing around inside the Joker's rat's maze of a brain) in which a seemingly nice guy with bad judgment, gets mixed up in a crime in order to try to make enough money to support his pregnant wife. Hours before the crime was to be committed, he learns that his wife and unborn child were killed in a freak accident. Comic book criminals are not known for their compassion, and they expect the unnamed fellow to keep up his end of the deal. During the commission of the crime, this guy jumps into some chemical soup (yeah, you've seen this story a million times) to escape Batman and comes out the Joker.

In Nolan's the Dark Knight, the Joker has pretty much the same goal: to show society that, when push comes to shove, they'll eat their own young just to survive. He does lots of horrible and scary stuff and finally wires two ferry boats with high explosives and puts the detonators to each on the other boat. "If you don't blow the other guy up by midnight, I'll do you both. If one of you does blow up the other guy, I'll let the survivors keep on living".

In the end, both Joker's fail to prove their point. Despite the fact that the Joker dragged Gordon through the psychological sewer, including shooting and seriously injuring his only daughter, Gordon not only doesn't crack, but he urges Batman to bring the Joker in "by the book". Also, despite the fact that Batman has every reason to beat the Joker to a pulp and maybe even kill him (Batman admits that their conflict will eventually become mortal), he stops at just capturing the Joker who becomes almost incomprehensibly docile in the end. Not the "homicidal-full-of-surprises-kill-till-you-drop" Joker that I know.

Same result in the Dark Knight. In one of my favorite scenes in the entire film, a huge prisoner takes the detonator from the head guard/warden/whatever, and instead of pushing the button as we all expect, he tosses the thing out of the window and presumably into the water, then sits back down and awaits the end. The annoying little button down jerk on the other ferry eventually realizes it's one thing to talk big and quite another to actually, deliberately kill a bunch of other people, even convicted felons. Human nature says that the populations on each ferry should kill each other in order to survive, but in the film's reality, they don't.

Tough luck, Joker.

The moral of the story is that there is a difference between good and bad people; between sane and insane people. It seems to say that the comic book Joker went crazy, not just because bad things happened in his life, but that because on some level, he decided to go crazy. Jim Gordon decided to both stay sane and maintain his values and morals, when he had every reason to demand the Joker's head on a platter.

Batman seems to be the split between the Joker and Gordon. He's crazy enough to dress up like a bat and hunt criminals by night, but still sane enough to know he's Bruce Wayne and sane enough not to kill. He still knows where to draw the line.

The film Joker didn't make things quite so personal, at least for Gordon. He did with Harvey Dent and it worked like a charm. The Joker puts both Dent and his fiancee (well, they were engaged for about five minutes) Rachel Dawes in mortal danger in separate locations. Only one could be saved (well, if Gordon had left five minutes earlier, both could have been saved). Batman saves Dent and Dawes gets blown into a million pieces. As a bonus, Dent is disfigured, like the original Joker, both physically and psychologically.

When Dent has the chance to blow the Joker away, he instead focuses his anger and blame on Batman and Jim Gordon, going so far as to attempt to murder Gordon's son for revenge. In Dent's case, the Joker does prove his point, but that's an isolated occurence. We see earlier in the film that Dent has an unstable and violent side, at least as far as protecting Rachel is concerned. Something inside makes it almost certain that when he's pushed, he'll fall all the way.

What does that mean for us? I'm not sure. These are both works of fiction in which the basic assumption is that most people are stable and good. I say "assumption" because the vast body of recorded human history seems to indicate that people aren't particularly good. If humanity has been progressing from less to more evolved; from less to more moral, then we should be in fantastic shape by now, at least compared to say, the abuses of the Roman empire. Have a look at the latest news. Are we?

I think both of these stories are saying we have to believe we are basically good. I think these stories are saying, if we don't believe people are basically good and can get better, what's the point of living, right?

Fiction, if it works right, is supposed to connect to the audience across a bridge of relatable experience. No, we're not put in mortal peril every day by a madman painted to look like a playing card, but we do make moral decisions every day and occasionally, we make really big moral decisions.

Both stories, and especially Jim Gordon's story from The Killing Joke, says that we make those decisions ahead of time. If Gordon's basic values and morals hadn't been cemented into place decades before and re-enforced by the numerous moral decisions he's had to make as a police officer, he might have cracked under the pressure, but he had already decided who he was and what he was going to do. Someone not as stable, say like Harvey Dent in the Dark Knight film, hadn't gotten that far. Maybe he never would have. When the big moment came when his values, morals, and maybe his soul were on the line, he caved.

If we can take anything from these works of fiction, and let's assume that people are, more or less, as these stories portray, then we can make lots and lots of small moral decisions in our lives, using them as the cement to glue down our personalities and our behavior patterns. So when the "big one" comes along and we maybe have to make a life or death decision, based on this cement, we can be true to what we say we believe in, even when we have every reason to toss it all away and demand the head of the "Joker" on a platter.

Both stories are violent. Both stories are disturbing. Both Jokers are unpredictable and scary, even as we realize they're fictional. But violent, disturbring, unpredictable, and scary things happen every day. One day it might even happen to you. What will you decide to do when your finger's on the button or on the trigger?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Super Control Freak

This is probably one of the reasons why people like superheroes and want to be a superhero...control. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda chides Luke, "Control! Control! You must learn control!" Luke "feels" the force, but he can't control it to get the desired result. In many ways, we're striving for the same goal: control over our environment and our lives so that we can get the desired result.

Maybe your favorite hero can tell you something about yourself and your goals. Let's look at just a few:

Superman. Except for kryptonite and magic, Superman is vulnerable to very few things. True, he has his limitations, at least as compared to the Silver Age Superman who could move planets through space just by pushing them, but he's still the strongest guy around. Superman is often depicted as a "savior-like" character from another planet come to Earth to save us from ourselves, but I've known people who see him as just an extension of our desire to solve our problems by overwhelming them with force.

If something is in your way, you can just push it out of the way, crash through it, burn through it or fly over it. No need to be subtle. All that power and muscle and a bright blue and red suit can let you do just about anything.

I'm not trying to capture the essense of Superman as such, but the more "obvious" reasons why we want to be like Superman...few things can hurt us and we can knock over just about anything. No worries.

Green Lantern. Like Superman, he's kind of a boy scout. "No evil shall escape my sight". The original GL Corps was a bunch of interstellar police officers assigned by the Guardians to enforce whatever "law" the little blue guys decided to apply to the various space sectors within their jurisdiction. If you're rule bound and want to overcome "lawlessness" with will and a "magic" ring, then GL is the hero for you.

Batman. Definitely not a boy scout, but still has the same idea. Overwhelm lawlessness with force...and be scary doing it. Instead of wearing a bright costume and working by the light of day, if you want to be as dark or darker than whatever you want to control, Batman is your hero. You've got all the money in the world but you're never happy. There's always that secret hurt you nurse inside. Rather than seeking help and getting past the pain, it's the pain that drives you to do amazing and sometimes sinister things. You are probably one of the smartest guys around, but that's twisted, too. As much as you'd like to give up the mantle of the bat, face has you. You'll never give up.

Wonder Woman. This is sort of unfair, since she's really the expression of all the sexual fantasies of all the male artists who've ever drawn her. Bigger than life...bigger than the biggest triple-D cup...a woman who almost would have to be a dominatrix because no ordinary man could "tame" her. She's the woman who guys want to be tied up by, with that golden lasso what makes you tell the truth (about how bad you've been...and how much you need to be punished...and...). Wonder Woman is a guy's desire to be controlled and have a blast doing it. Most women say a bust size like that just gives them backaches.

There are a lot more heroes we could cover, but except for Wonder Woman (no woman really fantasizes about being her, do they?), we can see a pattern. Being a superhero at it's most basic level means having strength to control an externalized "bad guy". In Batman's case, there's a certain amount of control by being smart, but in the end, you still get to beat your opponent to a pulp.

Look at your own life for a second. Chances are, there are some things (or people) over which you'd like to take control. Chances are, there are some things you feel you have no control over at all. A simple example is how you'd really like to respond to the driver who cuts you off during your commute to work. Think of anything that frustrates you in life. How would you like to deal with it if you could? How would you like to deal with it if you had "the power"? Is this one reason we like our superheroes...because they can control things in a way we can only dream of?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Super Cowards

This isn't to put superheroes down, but don't you find it interesting that everyone who just happens to get superpowers turns out to be a hero or a villain? Good guys and bad guys...or gals. What if the person who got powers wasn't particularly courageous. Does getting powers automatically mean you have to do something either good or bad with them? What if you got superpowers?

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "If I got superpowers, I'd become a great superhero." Sure you would. I suppose if you became Superman or Superwoman or something, and your powers meant that nothing could hurt you short of kryptonite (and assuming you were the only superpowered being in the world, which means no serious challengers), it would be easy to have "courage".

You could dive into a burning building, rescue a bunch of people, and not risk getting burned or choking on the smoke. You could stop a bank robbery cold and if someone shot at you, the bullets would just bounce off your chest (sorry about the innocent bystanders who got hit by the ricochets). But what about other, less "perfect" powers?

Say, if you were bitten by a radioactive spider. Sure, Peter (in the origin story) went into entertainment and didn't think a thing about helping other people, until a bad guy he could have stopped but didn't ended up killing his Uncle Ben. If you suddenly had the proportional strength, speed, and climbing ability of a spider, what would you do with it? No, seriously. Not what would you fantasize doing with such powers, but what would you really do?

Would you make a costume and patrol the city by night? Chances are, you don't have the science and engineering skill to make web shooters, so unless you came by web spinning "naturally", as part of the process (like the Spider-Man films), you'd be out of luck there. Would you really dive into a burning building to save some kid, risking burns, smoke inhalation, and even death? Maybe you would. Most people wouldn't.

What if you were hiking alone on some nature trail and you happened to see an alien spaceship crash nearby. If you found a dying alien inside the ship and he gave you a green ring and a lantern to charge it with, then explained what they were and how to use them, would you really become Green Lantern and fight evil and injustice and dance on the ends of the Guardians' strings? Maybe so, maybe not. After all, you didn't ask for the responsibility. You didn't want the job. Why should you risk your neck?

Let's take a look at power rings for a second. You can't just activate one with a casual thought. It takes will power and lots of it. The original Hal Jordan GL had loads of will power but not a lot of imagination. He'd hit bad guys with giant boxing glove, made of green energy. He could fly. He could do long as he focused all of his will and told the ring what to do. It must have taken a lot of practice.

When Kyle Rayner took up the ring, the rules were different. No more 24 hour time limit on a charge. No more vulnerability to yellow. No requirement to be really honest or brave, which is why Kyle was chosen in the first place, but he grew into being a hero (and good thing he had a lot of imagination). Would that always happen with everyone, or would you toss the ring and the battery in the back of your closet the first time you got your butt kicked? Would you even try to go up against a bad guy or rescue people from a burning building in the first place?

Most people are OK to fly in an airplane, but if you really had the power to fly all by your little lonesome, would it freak you out? If you had spider powers, would jumping off a 50 story high building be even a little scary (this isn't the Matrix jump program...if you splat on the street, you really splat)?

Comic books are unrealistic because people can do impossible things in the comics. We overlook that because it's fun and it's entertaining. However, another piece of the unrealistic we never even think about is that, whenever anyone gets superpowers, no matter who they are or where they're from, they always make the decision, at least eventually, to become a hero or a villain. There's no in between. There's no one who decides it would be too dangerous. There's no one who even considers not making a costume, which always looks OK in comic books but almost always looks ridiculous in real life (put one on, go out in public, and see how people react, if you don't believe me).

One of the reasons superheroes don't exist in the real world is that various natural laws prevent people from getting a spider's natural abilities by being bitten by a radioactive arachnid. As far as we know, no aliens have visited our planet, especially ones with magic green rings to give away to the casual passerby. As far as we know, no alien from another planet has grown up on Earth and gets incredible superpowers just by working on his tan.

Another reason why there are no superheroes is, even if we severely bend the laws of physical reality, no one, or almost no one, who got superpowers would really do what we see people in comic books do...decide they have a moral responsibility to the rest of humanity to use those powers to help. I guess we'll never know if I'm right or not but consider one more point.

We do have heroes. A hero is someone without special powers who dives into a freezing river to help a Dad pull a kid out of a car that drove off the side of the road a minute ago. A hero is a firefighter who runs into a burning building, risking getting burned, choking on smoke, and even killed, to pull out someone who would otherwise die. A hero is someone who joins a group of passengers on a hijacked aircraft to stop the hijackers from crashing the plane into a populated area, dying in the attempt. These heroes are ordinary people. These heroes are your neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends. One of these heroes could even be you. What made them heroes wasn't any special power. What made them heroes was that, when the circumstances called for it, they put whatever fears they may have had aside and made a decision to make a difference.

I could be wrong. Maybe getting superpowers would be like one of those circumstances, but the situation wouldn't be comic book nice and neat. Your life and the people whose lives are in danger aren't just two-dimensional characters on the printed page. They're real. You're real. Powers or not, you may face a situation where you have to decide if you can make a difference. Your name won't be Clark Kent or Diana Prince. They're just examples of what the best of us could be. We're the real life expressions of who we are and the hero we could possibly become.

What if you got superpowers? You probably never will. But that doesn't mean you won't ever have a chance to be a hero. When your chance comes, what will you do?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My name is merely Raven

Took me a long time, but I finally found a "look" for the woman, the mysterious guy's counterpart. I have a basic storyline plotted out but need to nail down some details. In some ways, this woman is the narrator of the story and probably the anchor when everything else seems to go wild.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wearing the Reboots: Reinventing Superhero Movies

Ever since (at least in my case) the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, all I seem to be hearing is how a bunch of "reboot" films are coming down the pike. I don't mean new films that haven't been done before such as Iron Man or the upcoming Thor and Captain America films. I'm talking about superhero/fantasy films that have already been done and either flopped or have gotten too old and need to be updated (speaking of Star Trek).

Superman seems to fall into both categories. The original film starring Christopher Reeve was made in 1978, which in terms of the superhero/fantasy genre is eons ago. While the first film was revolutionary for its time and reasonably watchable (minus the "Can you read my mind" sequence), each successive film became more campy and, dare I say it, dull (and I know I'm going to get hate comments for that). Warner Bros didn't exactly try for a reboot with Superman Returns (2008), but rather described events that should fit between Superman II and Superman III. The general consensus is that the Brandon Routh rendition of Superman was ghastly. I haven't been able to force myself to watch it after my first viewing.

The Smallville TV series by comparision, has been wildly successful. It departs significantly from the established Superman canon, but has managed to incorporate significant elements from the Reeve film series lore and the extremely large body of comic book content (JLA, JSA, the Martian Manhunter, the Phantom Zone, and on and on and...). All and all, Smallville is extremely entertaining and Tom Welling is a delight to watch as Clark Kent pre-Superman. The problem is, I can never figure out how Welling's Clark will ever pull off the transition to the costumed Superman. Lex Luthor knows his face so well (being such good buds for years before having their falling out), that a little thing like wearing glasses won't prevent him from figuring out that Clark is the guy wearing the big red cape. For that reason, Smallville has to die so Superman can be born, or reborn.

Enter the numerous rumors and half stories about a Superman reboot film with Christopher Nolan at least offering some creative assistance. Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past five years, you've most likely seen Nolan's landmark Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) films. While Batman Begins was incredibly good, The Dark Knight virtually blew my socks off, it was that much better (and a sequel as well). If Nolan can do for the Superman film franchise what he did for Batman (and the prior Batman series launched by Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader just didn't "do it" for me), then the Superman reboot is in very good hands. I feel secure.

Daredevil (2003). What can I say. It's watchable and I've seen it more than once (better than Superman Returns, apparently). Ben Afflick is hardly my favorite actor, but the film was more or less true to canon and the "radar sense" effects were awesome. However, there's a reason why no one has made "Daredevil II, III, and so on". It wasn't particularly good. Better casting would have helped. In addition to Afflick not being a good model for Matt Murdock/Daredevil, who in their right mind would consider Jennifer Garner as a woman born and raised in Greece and a master assassin? Not me. Why anyone bothered to do an Elektra (2005) spin off is beyond me. Total waste of money. Rumor has it that a Daredevil Reboot is on the way, but nothing is confirmed.

Actually, I should probably mention that Ang Lee's rather lackluster Hulk (2003) film (and 2003 doesn't seem to be a good year for superhero films) was already rebooted as The Incredible Hulk, a much better film thanks to the stellar acting and multiple uncredited re-writes of the exceedingly talented Edward Norton. It was still not well received, but I think it did well enough to warrant a sequel and even if that doesn't happen, the Hulk should make an appearence in the upcoming Avengers (2012) film. After all, the reason the Avengers became a team in the first place was to stop the Hulk (though it was really a ruse by Thor's half brother Loki to "get" Thor).

X-Men First Class isn't exactly a reboot but more of a prequel. The original X-Men film trilogy was made between 2000 and 2006 and showed the original team as rather long in the tooth to be students. Hank McCoy (the Beast) had already left the "nest" and both Scott (Cyclops) and Jean (Marvel Girl/Phoenix) were teachers. The prequel gives us an opportunity to see what the team was like when Professor X first formed them. Of course, the timeline departs significantly from the comic book canon since Warren (Angel) first meets the X-Men in The Last Stand film in 2006 and Bobby (Iceman) only finally figures how to "ice up" in that same film. Nevertheless, exploring the early days of Xavier's school promises to be a treat.

The Fantastic Four (2005) is in desperate need of a reboot. Although someone thought the storyline and cast deserved a sequel, both films quite frankly sucked. Someone should tell the film makers that, just because modern special effects including CGI make it possible to create realistic stretching, flaming, and rock-skinned Thing images, it doesn't mean the film will automatically be good. Also, as much as I admire Jessica Alba's body, the comic book version of Sue Richards never depicted her as an air-headed blonde (Alba's chronic role, whether she means it to be or not) with almost no clothes on.

A Fantastic Four reboot is also confirmed but no timeline has been set. I hope Marvel/Disney doesn't screw this one up. The FF was one of my favorite comics as a kid and there's a vast wealth of sagas that could be adapted to make excellent films. Now all someone has to do is create the right team to build on what's already there and make a movie to be proud of.

While the Spider-Man (2002) films starring Toby Maguire were generally good, it was decided to "take it back to formula" by doing a complete reboot of the film franchise. What was handled well before can only (hopefully) be handled well again...and perhaps improved upon. Word on the street has it that the reboot will be based more on the Ultimate Spider-Man incarnation rather than the original canon, but I'd like to see a more Steve Ditko look, which tended to be darker and more mysterious than later versions of ol' webhead.

What else? Should I mention the horrible Supergirl (1984) film? What about Swamp Thing (1982) or (yuk) Catwoman (2004)? Not that Halle Berry isn't both beautiful and talented, but this was not the film for her.

DC Comics has largely had its successes on the silver screen thanks to Superman and Batman. Other DC character films were of lesser value or no value at all. I doubt anyone is dying to see either of the aforementioned movies rebooted in any sense. If we see Catwoman again, let her be within the context of a Batman film.

Marvel has only come to the silver screen in the last decade or so. That's not absolutely true, but you have to go back a ways (like 1944) to see the original Captain America movie serial. Hardly modern film quality in any sense, but fun if you like the history of film. Wikipedia has a list (not complete) of superhero films if you're interested.

Departing from reboots, and besides the new Marvel Avengers-related films, DC is going to be coming out with a series of new movies including Green Lantern and The Flash, so can Aquaman, Hawkman, the Atom, and Wonder Woman be far behind (and I still think, at least physically, Megan Fox would make a great Wonder Woman)? Actually, we've seen at least some of these characters in the Smallville TV series, and it was really fun to have them included in the mix. I should also mention The Flash TV series (1990) which starred John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen. I thought it was done well, with just a bit of an art deco feel. Mark Hamill even got in on the fun playing one of the classic Flash arch-foes, The Trickster.

What superhero films would I like to see made? Ones based on the characters I just mentioned in the previous paragraph would be great, but of course, they have to be handled well. A lousy film is worse than no film at all (and I could have lived without seeing the Fantastic Four dragged through the mud by the last two filmed versions).

I often wonder how Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner would look like on the big screen (now in 3D). He was originally created in the late 1930s and reintroduced as one of the early anti-heroes/villains battling the Fantastic Four. He also fought the Nazis and Japanese during World War II (he's rather long lived), so there's a Captain America tie in.

If you're into the mystical, Doctor Strange would be an interesting choice. Film makers could explore darker and more occult themes than would be possible for most other comic book characters but would need to avoid the temptation to turn the movie into a horror film.

If I missed any candidates for superhero reboots or "wish list" films, let me know. I can always include your ideas into a "part 2" blog.

Addendum: The latest quote from Chris Nolan about the Superman reboot.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Trying out Xara Xtreme on Linux, which is a powerful vector graphics tool that can do just about anything. I'm still at the novice stage, but having fun. In this case, I decided to show Ant-Man shrinking (couldn't find a decent image of The Atom online. I'll let you know how things progress as I learn more.

Heroes like Gods

I recently wrote a blog called Myths comparing our modern comic book superheroes to the mythic heroes and gods of various ancient cultures going back to the Greeks and Romans. I was wondering this morning why we have heroes at all, particularly "super" ones? What do we get from heroes that we don't get from the regular people in our lives?

The immediate answer is that people are flawed. I don't know anyone (me included) who isn't screwed up or bent out of shape in one way or another. We all have our biases, perspectives, issues, and angst. We used to look up to celebrities such as actors and politicians, but history tells us that those people, in real life, were just as human as anyone else and had just as many problems as the rest of us...maybe more. It can be a real let down to admire old time heroes of the movies and TV like Roy Rogers or the Lone Ranger, only to find out that these heroes are no different than you and me. Acting is a job, not a calling and Clayton Moore was an actor who played a hero, not the hero himself (and I should mention that both Rogers and Moore were very fine men who I admire greatly...I'm not criticizing them at all).

Admiring politicians is even a worse option. I can't think of any political figure who, admired during their time in office, wasn't subsequently found to have engaged in very human behaviors that at least potentially could have tarnished their reputation. Up until Richard Nixon, the Office of the President of the United States was well respected and the infrastructure around the President works to make sure that any of the more "common" activities of the President never reached the public. Watergate changed all that.

During our last Presidential election, Barack Obama was so admired, his public image verged on Sainthood and Messianic. Even though he remains fabulously popular among his hard-core "fans", the past 16 months of his time in office have shown that, "audacity of hope" or not, he's still just a man.

The answer to why we have fictional heroes then, is that real life people can be a bit of a disappointment. Any time you fix your eyes on a person and decide to use them as a role model, they'll say or do something to knock themselves off the pedestal you've placed them on. Real life heroes may start out well, but like Icarus, they eventually fly too close to the sun, get burned, fall from grace and back to earth. The irony of the Greek and Roman gods (since I'm on the subject more or less) is that they tended to act just as human as anyone else, and even worse than most (and Zeus was a very bad boy...uh, "swan" in his "encounter with the mortal woman Leda).

In the modern age, we have heroes like Superman, a "strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men!" Of course, in his first appearence in Action Comics #1, he acted more like Batman in some ways. In order to get a corrupt politician to confess to his misdeeds, Superman hung him from the top of a lamp post (I'm writing this part from memory, so if you have a more accurate version of the end of Superman's first adventure, let me know) to "loosen his tongue", so to speak.

In 1938, the "tough guy" good guy was very popular, but eventually, Superman shifted into the classic "nice guy" good guy, almost all-powerful, but equally incorruptable. This version was best portrayed on the silver screen by Christopher Reeve who developed both Clark Kent and Superman as two separate identities. Both were still very good and admirable men (though Clark by necessity, had to be a bit of a coward). The George Reeves Superman of 1950s TV by comparison, though played lightly through most of the series, had his darker moments, such as the time when he dodged a crook coming at him with a knife (this is Superman, remember) so that the crook would trip and fall over a cliff to his death.

The Silver Age Superman was clean cut, pure of heart, and a really nice guy. Just what a bunch of boys around the age of 10 or 12 would want and need for a role model. Be strong, be good, help people, and don't smooch too much with your good looking reporter girlfriend.

It seems we may have come full circle though. Our comic book heroes have become more tarnished of late. Actually, since about the early 1970s. I've mentioned before about the iconic two-part Green Lantern/Green Arrow tale from 1971 titled Snowbirds Don't Fly where it's shown that Green Arrow's former "trusty sidekick" Speedy (Roy Harper) has become a heroin addict. Hardly the role model for impressionable pre-teens.

As I said in my article Reflections, comic books, like any other entertainment medium, are a reflection of the desires and morals of the age that produced them. It's not that people were really "goody-goody" in the 1950s and 60s, but, as a society, we needed our heroes to be that way. Even the "Dark Knight" was so clean cut and sappy that modern audiences would probably puke if they read some of the Batman comics from that time (or watched the 1960s Batman TV series that starred Adam West and Burt Ward).

While "nice guy" heroes are an inspiration, we always fail them because, as real human beings, we can never be perfect. In a sense, both the ancient and modern heroes are easier for real people to relate to because they more or less act like we do, only with super powers. If that's the case though, isn't it a bad thing to have a flawed, corruptable human being be so powerful that bullets bounce off their chest and they can incinerate an entire city with heat vision?

It's not that bad. Our superheroes are heroes because they face their "demons", the dark side of their personalities and struggle to do the right thing. The "Dark Knight" Batman walks the edge of the abyss each night, in danger of becoming that which he fights against, but never actually falls least not for very long. Our heroes are heroes because they are like us, but they struggle and overcome their problems. They're super, because the amplification of abilities makes the struggle larger than life, drawing our attention into that world so that our existence can too seem more nobel and less mundane.

Like the gods of old, our heroes act like we do, but unlike the ancient gods, Superman, Batman, and a score of other superpowered beings do not give in to tempation to become as totally corrupt and self-indulgent as their powers would allow them to be (imagine a completely narcisstic Superman, for instance).

While we, in real life, can never be super, we can use our heroes as an example of what it's like to fight against the odds and win. Like our heroes, we can have set backs and reverses, but we're shown that we don't have to just give up. Like our heroes, there's always another issue and another chapter in which, even after the bitterest defeat, we can rise again, Phoenix-like from the ashes of our failures, and fight another day.

Our spirits, like Superman, can even fly.