Friday, August 27, 2010

Lana and Clark as you've never seen them before!

What if Lana were a manga character and Clark were a vampire? Wonder how they'd look? Wish granted!

Kristin Kreuk as a Manga character.

The original source is

If Tom Welling were a vampire...lot's of Tom fans everywhere will start saying, "bite me".

The original source is

If I run into a Chloe zombie, I'll let you know. ;-)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Superhero Role Models, Part I

Today's media superheroes -- including Batman in The Dark Knight and the Hulk in Planet Hulk -- as well as the ''slacker'' characters often portrayed in TV shows and movies offer boys poor role models, says a University of Massachusetts professor who polled hundreds of boys up to age 18 to find out their favorites.

The poll results suggest boys hear two ways to be masculine, says researcher Sharon Lamb, EdD, distinguished professor of mental health at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, who presented the findings Sunday at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in San Diego.

"One was the superhero image, created as someone who shows their masculinity through power over other people, through exploiting women, showing their wealth, and through sarcasm and superiority," she says.

Superheroes: Bad Role Models for Boys?

Superheroes, in the modern sense, have been around for over 70 years (Superman made his debut in Action Comics in June 1938). Every once in awhile, some expert or authority decides to criticize comic book and movie heroes as bad "role models" for the youth of our country/the world. On the other hand, if they were always good role models, they'd probably be pretty boring and nobody would read their comics or want to make movies about them (the Amazing, Spectacular Dali Lama!).

I thought I'd perform my own analysis because I grew up on comic books and have a love for their classic incarnations. It would be too difficult and time consuming (and my time is precious) to go through all the different permutations the various heroes have endured over the decades, so I'll try to stick as close to their original personas as I can. Remember, nothing's perfect, including heroes and this review.

Superman. I figured I'd start with the superhero. As far as role models go, you'd think he'd be the best. He's basically a boy scout in a cape, paying equal attention to saving the President's plane from crashing and saving a cat stuck up in a tree (citing the 1978 Superman film). He was originally an American role model (..."truth, justice, and the American way"), at least in the 1950s, but political correctness has resulted in expanding his role to be more "universal".

The dark side of this role model is that he isn't that universal. He was created in 1938 to appeal to the likely readership of the day, which were 12 year old white boys. Forget it if you were a girl or a person of color. Even his Jewish origins (Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster were both Jewish and modeled Superman on the concept of the Golem, a large, anthropomorphic being who overwhelmed problems with shear might and had the word "truth", in Hebrew, on his forehead) were obliterated to make him attractive to the majority of American kids in the depression era.

Superman does teach that you can have great power and manage it responsibly, never using it for your own gratification (like most of us would do in real life) by peaking through Lana Lang's bra when she's 15 year old (and what high school guy hasn't thought of the advantages of X-ray vision?) or conquering the world just for giggles.

He loves his mother, married his girlfriend, holds down a steady job and regardless of whether he's Superman or Clark, is always someone you can depend upon. On the role model scale, Superman gets an A+.

Iron Man. Originally, in the early 1960s, Tony Stark was a rich, handsome, millionaire playboy who just happened to make weapons for the military. One day, while strolling through Vietnam, he's injured mortally, captured by the bad guys, and in order to escape, has to invent Iron Man, to free himself and save his life...literally. The film version starring Robert Downey Jr, is pretty close to the original as far as origin stories go, except they make Tony much less clean cut, and more of a spoiled brat. The process of becoming Iron Man tempers him and redeems him from his "lost" image, though he doesn't exactly get a personality transplant.

Tony does learn that, dying with the most toys doesn't mean you win and what life really means is saving those people who you hurt, even if you didn't mean to. He's beat (or is in the continual process of beating) alcoholism and repeatedly puts his life on the line, risking a fatal heart attack every time he puts on the Iron Man armor, in order to help others. Joining the Avengers means he's learned to be a team player. Yeah, he's a thrill seeker and it's an emotional power surge just to be Iron Man, but he's a better person than he was before. No, not perfect by a long shot, but with just enough flaws to keep him interesting.

Iron Man comes in on the role model scale as a C+.

Spider-Man. Originally a shy and very smart teenager who could never make it with the cool kids and was always picked on. He got to live out every kid nerd dream by becoming physically powerful enough to pound the bullies, which is more or less what Peter Parker did back in the early 1960s. No, he didn't beat Flash Thompson to a pulp, but he did tell everyone to go take a flying leap into the toilet and, instead of immediately using his powers to become a hero, became a TV star. He probably would have gone on in that direction, having loyalty only to his aunt and uncle, except that his arrogance cost his uncle his life. That's what turned Peter around, but his life is hardly enviable.

Spider-Man is sort of the comic book world's version of a dog's chew toy. He always has one problem or another to overcome, but his shining virtue is, no matter how much he wants to give up on everyone and everything, he hangs in there, probably more for guilt's sake than anything else, but out of great suffering comes great perseverance, to twist a classic phrase.

As a role model, he gets his revenge on being bullied by beating up the bad guys and sending them to jail. OK, ok, he really does love his aunt, has girlfriends, but they either die or divorce him, gets mad at the world half the time, but manages to recover to do the right thing in the end. In some ways, he's the most "human" guy in this review so far. Stan Lee created a number of superheroes back in the day to break the mold of the "perfect person" hero, and it worked. Spider-Man was the poster child of this new hero...the guy the rest of us could relate to. Role model? Maybe not a perfect one, but Peter is a role model we can understand.

Spider-Man gets a B+ on the role model scale.

Last but not least (for this entry) Green Lantern. Hal Jordan was originally one of the most perfect of the perfect heroes. In fact, to get the power ring, you had to be. The qualifications were to be completely honest and completely fearless. That lets him out of being a politician right from the start. If Superman was the boy scout of heroes, Green Lantern was the police officer, but in the best possible sense. As he develops into the 1970s, we discover that Hal's "cop on the beat" take on life also makes him perfectly inflexible and his sense of "right and wrong" is absolute. Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) buddies up with him for awhile to teach him that life has infinite shades of gray.

Actually, you can't blame Hal too much. His bosses, the Guardians of the Galaxy (Universe...whatever) are just as inflexible and Hal has to teach them a few lessons, too.

Reinvented, Hal was a cocky, self-assured test pilot with a chip on his shoulder, put there by his old man who was even more "perfect". In the reinvented version, Hal gets the power ring but also a DUI and has to work off both, one in jail and the other taking humility lessons from master Green Lantern Sinestro, ultimately having to overcome his obsession over himself in order to take on the corrupt "perfect" Sinestro and take his place (eventually) as the galaxy's greatest ring bearer (OK, this side of Frodo).

As far as "super cop" goes, he makes a great role model, but like Superman, his clean cut white guy image made him pretty dated and unrelatable beyond a certain demographic.

These days, he isn't infinitely honest or fearless, but to use the ring, he does have to become the type of hero the ring demands. He's had his dark becoming Parallax and destroying everything to try and recreate the perfect world (that seems to be a reoccurring theme in his life), but goes through a series of salvational experiences and eventually is the Green Lantern again.

Green Lantern gets a B- on the role model scale, and given the fact that he's killed a lot of people (like the universe), that's generous.

I could go on and on, but this is an analysis that could be taken through a series of blog posts. My ratings are pretty arbitrary, but are superheroes really meant to be role models or are they strictly entertainment? Do kids really try to become like the people they read about in comic books or maybe the comic book heroes are becoming more like us?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

This isn't a review of The Expendables. Frankly, I haven't even seen it yet. I did hear that it has completely blown away the Julia Roberts film Eat Pray Love. It's not that I don't love Julia Roberts and it's not like I don't like a good "self-discovery" film, but my heart will always belong to the action, explosion-packed, car chase, gun shooting film genre. Heck, I watched Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and Blue Thunder (1983) over the weekend just to get my fix.

But let's face it, Bruce Willis is 57 and Roy Scheider died in 2002 at the age of 75. Our classic film heroes from the 1970s and 80s aren't getting any younger. For that matter, Sly Stallone is 64 (and up until the Expendables, his more recent films haven't been doing so well) and Arnold Schwarzennegger, who along with Bruce Willis, had a cameo in The Expendables, just turned 63 a few weeks ago. Why are old guys still making action films. Is it because there are no young guys to step up to the plate?

The younger action heroes that immediately come to mind are Christian Bale from the Batman films and Terminator Salvation (2009), Johnny Depp from the various Pirates of the Caribbean films (On Stranger Tides comes out next year), and Leonardo DiCaprio from the recent hit film Inception. Also, with the power surge of super hero films that have been recently released and those coming at us in the next few years, we can hardly say that we have no young, kick ass actors out there to play these parts, so why haven't people like Stallone and Willis either retired or gone on to play older guys in character roles (imagine Stallone as Don Vito Corleone in a remake of The Godfather (1972))?

We have young guys playing action roles but frankly, they're not legends. Maybe the concept of the legendary action hero has disappeared. We used to consider action heroes with a sense of awe. Not in the way that people might drool over Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio, but these heroes were "men". I know that sounds sexist, but they were a sort of role model for the inner hero in the average, ordinary guy. Sure, we weren't about to grab a gun and go blow away an army single handedly, but these were the "ideal" men. Men of courage against overwhelming odds and often, saving the world, even while half bleeding to death, with a sense of humor and some "killer" one-liners. These guys used to be everywhere. Who didn't admire John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas (yes, Michael's Dad), Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, and on and on and... Where did they go?

The actors are there but perhaps the allure has disappeared. Today's action hero is less a hero and more a guy in a suit doing heroic stuff. We are entertained but we're not awed.

However, we're still awed by our aging classic heroes.

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll and even people who weren't even born 33 years ago are commemorating his death and celebrating his life. Did we run out of musicians in the 21st century? No, but we may have run out of legends.

I don't think you have to die to be a legend and I don't think you have to get old before you become a legend, but you have to possess something that younger actors and other celebrities just don't seem to have today. Yet, is it a lack in them or in us? Maybe as a society, we've lost the ability to generate those feelings any more and we only feel them for older stars by way of nostalgia (and a weird sort of nostalgia if you are in awe of someone you never experienced while they were alive). I can't really decide which way it runs, but there must be a reason that a film like The Expendables not only gets made in the first place (and studios don't make films unless they expect to make a lot of money on them) but does amazingly well at the box office.

Has Elvis left the building?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Unlocked Fortress

Having Lex break into the Fortress of Sucktitude for a SECOND DAMN TIME, know all about its secrets, and pimp the A.I. for even more information is just ridiculous. Superman should know better than to leave the Fortress open and unguarded, with absolutely no security system of any kind, and foreaven’s sake, those crystals and the Jor-El A.I. shouldn’t respond to anybody but Kal-el. How hard is that to understand?!?
from the Flame On blog.

This idea has crossed my mind before but I never thought to give it voice. The problem with "Fortress security" isn't just in the Superman Returns film but in quite a few episodes of Smallville. Who creates a monument to a long-dead, highly technologically advanced civilization just full of world-destroying artifacts and forgets to put a door on the thing? Clark might as well put a sign on the freaking place saying "Come on in and raid my advanced Kryptonian technology! Really! I don't mind a bit. It's like Homer Simpson from another galaxy.

Actually, both the Silver Age and modern age comic book versions of the Fortress have unique security features. The Arctic lair of the Silver Age Superman has a door; a giant door, with an equally giant-sized key hole. One wonders why someone, discovering a great, golden door in the middle of an arctic ice cliff just wouldn't walk through the key hole? The answer (and I can't find the source, but I remember reading the comic book explaining this) is that Superman put sensors in the key hole. Anything but the key (which is "disguised" as an airplane directional arrow) entering the lock will trigger a force field, repelling the intruder (except Batman, who beat Superman's security in a comic book story 40 (or so) years ago, but hey, it's Batman.

In more modern times, the Fortress is under the Antarctic ice, floating as it were, and thus never being in a permanent location. When Superman wants to visit the Fortress, he has to use his X-Ray vision to see where it is below the ice and then use his heat vision to burn a temporary tunnel to the entrance (the melted ice refreezes after him). Only highly sophisticated detection and boring techonology could locate and invade the Fortress (unless Global Warming proves to be Superman's undoing).

What you may not know is that Superman stoled the Fortress. Well, not actually, but the idea was clearly not an original concept of the Superman comic book creators.

Pulp fiction hero Doc Savage built his own arctic "Fortress of Solitude" (yes, he even called it that) back in 1931, though the fortress didn't debut in fiction until the Doc Savage story Fortress of Solitude was printed in 1938, the same year Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1. By contrast, Superman's Fortress didn't appear in comic books until 1958, 20 years later. The astute fiction reader of the day couldn't help but notice the similarity ( or "rip off" depending on your point of view), but in the 21st century, it's not nearly apparent.

One of my desperate hopes, like in the Flame On blog, is that the Christopher Nolan Superman Reboot film will create a more "realistic" rendition of the Fortress (assuming it appears in the film). Neither Clark nor Jor-El are (supposedly) idiots. If mere mortal Earth people can invent the door, door lock, and key, so can Kryptonians.