Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman vs. Superman: The Dawn of Mediocrity

[WARNING: Thar Be Spoilers Ahead. It's sort of necessary for me to make some basic points.]

This is one of those movies no one wants to review.

The quickie version: Lex Luthor wants to take Superman out and so acquires soe kryptonite. He has a problem getting the kryptonite into The States, and so manages to sneak it in while killing off the senator opposing it and making things even worse for Superman's reputation. Batman figures out what's going on, snags the kryptonite and weaponizes it. Lex sets up a confrontation between the two and they fight. They of course end up teaming up, and Wonder Woman decides to skip a flight to help out against Doomsday. Superman "dies" and Batman and Wonder Woman decide to start up a team of metahumans. And of course it's a lot more complicated than that, but that's the gist.

So....the question is whether or not it's worth the 2-1/2 hours or so. And that depends on how you feel about "Man of Steel". There's a lot of good news: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Jeremy Irons knock it out of the ball park as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Alfred respectively; Wonder Woman even has her own heavy metal/Greek theme that's worth the price of admission alone. You get to see some of the future Justice Leaguers in action, and there are a lot of great little Easter eggs.

Jesse Eisenberg deserves some special praise. As Alexander Luthor, he plays one of the creepiest psychotics ever, and he is easily the mental match of the two titans. There's even some debate as to whether or not he allowed Batman to steal the kryptonite in order to facilitate the titular disagreement. There is the problem of his motivation, which seems to change from scene to scene ("Superman must die!", "I have daddy issues!", wait no, "I hate gods!"..."Nope: I did it to protect the planet from an incoming threat! Yeah, that's it!"), but overall he takes the role and makes it his, just as Heath Ledger did with The Joker. It's actually a great performance.

The rest of the cast, however., could have been dropped and no one would have noticed. Lois Lane is chasing a story to prove Superman is a good guy, but the news story ends up not being needed. Ma Kent gives Clark some unnecessary cheerleading, as does the deceased Pa Kent (don't ask), and she also provides the victim that forces Superman to fight Batman. And the Daily Planet scenes could have been omitted altogether and no one would have missed them.

And then there is the Man of Steel. Perry Grant says it best with his "this isn't 1938" speech: This is not the Superman you know from virtually every other source, and is a jerk. He's had almost 18 months in order to deal gain some maturity as a hero, and hasn't. He's flying around doing good deeds, usually centered on Lois Lane, and he hasn't really learned anything from his helping to take down Metropolis. I'd love to allow that this is the beginning of his career, but anyone with kind of real conscience would have at least taken a step back and tried to figure out what he's doing based on the sheer amount he did; he apparently didn't even bother helping with the clean-up, resulting in some serious split opinions on his presence. He is seen as angel or devil depending on how one sees the events in Metropolis.

In short he's helping people but lacks the maturity he needs to be a real hero, and the Daily Planet puff pieces do little but feed his ego. And it's not the immaturity of a rookie hero but the arrogance of someone who just doesn't really care about those he's helping.

Adding to the mess is that the movie is trying to crib as much as it can from "Dark Knight Returns" and "Death of Superman", with added bonus religious material. He's being made out to be a messiah, including basically two resurrections (one after a nuclear strike and another after Doomsday kills him). If the movie had just decided to stick with a single source the movie would have been an hour shorter, at least, but combining the two with an extended set up for the Luthor basically siccing Superman on Batman and Lois' fruitless quest to prove her man innocent makes for a more muddled film than anyone should be forced to sit through.

There's also a lot of scenes that just don't make any sense beyond moving the plot along. Luthor should have needed a lot more than cut off finger-tips to fool the ship's biometrics and he should not have been able to over-ride the computer's safety protocols wth a simple bluff; they must have had the worst programmers on Krypton. The dream sequences are neat, but not really needed; they are more director's conceit than really needed. Even the conclusion of the fight should have gone better: Superman needed to be made aware that he can be beaten rather than yet again being allowed to get off. Even the explosion that killed off the senator Lex was having gave him an out as he didn't have to really deal with the consequences of his powers. it worth it? The Batman and Wonder Woman scenes are definitely worth it, as are the fight scenes. The special effects work, and there is a lot of fun with different camera angles. However, the scenes that concentrate on Superman are pretty much a waste of time; they tend to come off as, depending on the scene, either bad pop psychology or messianic mythology as told by an atheist who is mad at his dad. The movie needed a serious script editor, and someone needed to slap Snyder down a lot. So it's not a bad movie, but it's not a great one. This makes a great rental, especially as it allows the Easter eggs to better shine, but should be seriously debated before you go see it at the theaters.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Some Terms I'd like to See People Stop Using

In the debate over the alternate Batgirl cover, some terms kept coming up that made for some great button pressing, but didn't really belong in the debate. Rather than adding to the debate, they detracted from it as some people were more interested in stirring things up and keeping them that way rather than engaging in an actual debate; the terms amounted to emotional hand grenades that effectively obscured the debate and made it harder to discuss the matter at hand because they needed to be dealt with. As such I think it may be interesting to look at these terms and why I don't feel that they didn't belong in the debate.

[Slipping into writer mode for a moment: Joker's crimes against Barbara were nothing compared to what he planned to do to her father and were a necessary prelude. The crimes were heinous, sure, but she would have survived with a chance to come out stronger. It needed to be shown to what degree Joker was willing to go to make his point, and to make us honestly worry about Gordon. What he wanted to do was much more worse than merely killing him: The Joker was shooting for Gordon's very soul, and through it the death of the souls of both Gotham and Batman. By attacking Barbara, we were given a prelude to what Gordon was in for; the stakes needed to be shown so we could appreciate them. Back to the commentary...]

Rape: Although a rape scene was originally planned in "The Killing Joke", the scene was deleted during the writing phase by the editor. Although Joker could be charged with sexual assault (it could be upgraded to "aggravated" if it could be shown that he touched her intimate parts during the stripping), too many concentrated on the sexual act itself when they should have focused on the significance of what Joker was doing, and how it was but part of a greater crime.

The planned crime was concentrated on instead of the actual crime, and so the conversation became obfuscated rather quickly as it needed to be explained to those that had apparently never read the actual book that not only was rape not in the book, but that an arguably worse crime had happened, as Barbara was tossed away once she was assaulted as a mere object lesson. The conversation quickly became mired as some condemned a crime that never happened while ignoring the greater crime, and so those conversations died quickly. Just making the observation that when you're discussing something that happened in a book, it helps to know what happened exactly so as to ensure that you make intelligent conversation.

It's weird: You know you're writer when you're more interested in debating which crimes are acceptable to inflict on your characters than the political issues caused by those crimes.

Women In Refrigerators: I think that this is officially a term that has evolved past any point of usefulness. Originally it referred to the lazy writing technique of introducing a woman to be killed or otherwise hurt in order to raise the emotional stakes for a male protagonist. However, somewhere along the line it came to mean any attack or damage to a woman, regardless of the source. Not only has it come to mean killing or raping a woman, but it also, according to the site, applies to any form of cancer, sterilization (even that due to the character's own abilities), and generally any calamity that befalls a woman. The problem is that once you get to that point, it becomes a bit sexist; one of the basic tenets of writing is that characters should be tortured, and torture is not limited to just female characters. Once it just becomes general problems regardless of the cause, there is the problem is that it's no longer a form of misogyny, and just general character development: There is the question of why Firestar's sterility counts while Wildfire's doesn't, and "she's a girl!" just isn't a sufficient answer.

Making it worse is that that provides an interesting barrier to equality. In order to be considered equal women need to be able to take the same risks as men; if a woman can serve on the front lines she needs to be just as likely as a man to suffer an attack. There needs to be recognized that there is a difference between an attack on someone because she is a woman and an attack simply because she is in a position that is it at risk for taking some sort of damage. Women should not be immune to damage simply because they are women.

This is why the attack on Barbara Gordon does not constitute a misogynist attack. She was not attacked because she was a woman, but because she was the only child of the police commissioner. Joker needed to destroy Gordon's sense of security, and an attack on his only child, one that had permanent effects, fits that bill. Removing someone's clothes as a form of humiliation applies to either sex; it makes the person feel vulnerable and puts them at the advantage of the person forcing the stripping. It's easy to say that it's more humiliating for your sex to be stripped, but that's not relevant here. All that matters is that even had it been a son, the same shot, the same stripping, and the same photos would have been taken for the same reasons. We need to get past that a woman is immune to the risks of her position because of some fear of offending the politically correct.

Censorship: When the cover was pulled at the illustrator's request, a request made in response to threats of violence against those requesting the pulling of the cover, cries of censorship went up. First off, threats of violence from an anonymous internet shouldn't scare anyone: They are an unfortunate part of allowing freedom of speech, as anyone thinks that just because they have something to say they should be allowed to say it regardless of how vile it is. However, I can respect pulling the cover in this case, as it was in protest of sort against the people threatening the others.

However, an illustrator removing the cover is not the same as censorship. The government did not step in and have the cover removed, nor was there even the hint of that. Censorship is solely under the purview of the government; it is meant for when an idea is threatening the government and the government eliminates the idea to the best of its ability. A government should not restrict the flow of ideas, no matter how dangerous they are to the government. A company, on the other hand, should not feel as if it needs to publish something just to make its fans happy, unless that happiness equates to profits. If it feels that something will besmirch its reputation or waste its resources, or even just create any number of long-term problems, then it has no reason to publish the item in question. Choosing not to publish something due to business reasons is not censorship by any stretch, and they know that public outcry is not the best way to make business decisions.

[There is the feeling from some that DC created the cover specifically for the controversy, especially after seeing the effects of the Spiderwoman cover. I know it's a straight conspiracy theory type of thing, but it just feels like something DC would do....]

The bottom for me is that while I can see while others would be offended by the cover, it was a good homage to the events in "Dark Knight Returns". We need to be reminded that there are dragons out there so that we know why the hero is so brave. We need to be reminded that the heroes have villains to fight, and why. We need to be reminded that the villains are not nice, and that there are possible penalties for fighting them. This cover does that, and it should have been produced.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Bad Cover for Batgirl

For those few that keep out of the usual circles, a variant Batgirl cover created a lot of fuss. While the illustrator asked for the cover to be pulled, and that request was approved, the cover made for some interesting debates, first over what kind of images should be allowed on covers and then over censorship. While the censorship argument was pretty weak, it did demonstrate the power of the fandom, and that it could be a force to be reckoned with. What was of interest was the debate over what content should be allowed on comics, and how it should be determined.

DC published a variant that was a homage to "The Killing Joke" where the Joker had a frightened Batgirl and was painting a Joker grin on her. When an image of the cover was posted, fan response was fast and usually brutal; a number of feminists were enraged as they saw a woman being attacked just for the sake of a cheap publicity ploy. The cover was eventually pulled at the request of the illustrator when those protesting the cover were threatened with death and worse.

The issue was that Batgirl was helpless, and was subject to the whims of the Joker, and that this was simply unacceptable, especially as it was her comic where the cover appeared. The catch here is that it was one of the definitive hero moments: As a result of the events of "The Killing Joke", DC gained one of its strongest heroines, and one that was able to speak to its handicapped audience in a way that few heroes or heroines have ever done. Batgirl died as a result of that comic to be replaced by Oracle, information broker to heroes and leader of the Birds of Prey. It can be argued that she became stronger through her metamorphosis, and was finally able to step beyond the shadow of the Batman. That was not a minor feat.

While the cover could be seen as an exultation of the Joker and a tribute to how women are degraded in comics in general, it ignores the heroism of Barbara Gordon herself. She survived a harrowing experience in order to become something bigger and more powerful than she had ever been, to step beyond the shadows in which she began. If every hero requires a single event to temper them, to create a metal far stronger than that from which he was originally forged, the savage attack at the hands of the Joker was Barbara's tempering. Without that event, she no doubt would have stayed safely within the confines of Gotham City, forever under the cape of Batman.

Instead, she was forced to look deep within her own shadows, and discover her own strength. She found reserves of strength that she never suspected existed, talents and abilities that had been allowed to fester under the tutelage of someone who preferred to do things himself and while he fostered those abilities he placed limits on them. While she had become a world-class heroine, she had hit a limit. She would never advance further until Batman was forced to retire. The attack by the Joker forced her to step out on her own, and she took off like a proverbial comet. She became a power unto herself, and one of the scariest forces for good in the DC Universe.

The cover should have been seen as a celebration of that, not of the Joker's savagery. It needed to be seen as a snapshot of the moment in which Barbara Gordon became a force to be reckoned with, and the moment form which Oracle arose. Violence against women should not be condoned, and I'm not saying that the act should be forgiven because of the good that was eventually wrought. I am merely saying that we need to recognize the heroism of the moment, especially given an experience from which most women do not recover. They need to be shown that they can recover, that they can become stronger than they were before, and that it does not mean that their lives are over. Barbara Gordon became a hero that day not for overcoming a mere physical handicap, but by overcoming a blow most women do not recover from.

So while I can understand while I can see it could be seen as a glorification of a particular heinous act, as a survivor of domestic abuse myself I can see the heroism of just surviving and then coming back stronger. I saw the variant not as the Joker winning, as he ultimately won nothing from that situation, but as the beginning of Barbara Gordon truly becoming herself. As such I can see the darkness of the picture, the pain and the despair and the gloating of Evil itself, but I can also see light in that tunnel. And while it may be easier to see the darker, we need to remember to look for the light. We need to not forget nor forgive the act of violence that happened, but to also hope that when it does happen that we can emerge just as victorious from our own tempering. 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Recipes and Cooking Up A Comic

Recipes help keep things on track when you are planning to bake a cake, and planning can help in more than just cooking. No matter how skillful you are at improvisation you'll find that having a plan will make things easier for you later on, and when you need to change things you'll be able to see what changes need to be made to allow for the modifications. It doesn't matter if the plan is an outline, a diagram, or a detailed story: Having one should be paramount. Here are some tips on creating a plan for your comic; hopefully they will help.

1) Set goals. Not only should each character have their own goal, but the group as a whole needs to have some endgame. It doesn't matter if it's as simple as finding acceptance to as abstract as finding peace for his world; characters need to be working for something as it helps set their characterization in your head. The more concrete those goals, the more solid their characterizations. The goal of the group provides more than a finish line for you; it also provides a reason for the group to act as a team, as well as provide conflict if each member decides a different solution will work. Goals are thus important for more than just the story, but for characters as well.

2) Determine how you need to accomplish each goal. You need to figure out not only what tools each character needs to accomplish their goals, but how those tools need to be used. You need to figure out those individual steps work together when it comes to solving the Big Goal. It's sort of like making a cake: You need to bake the individual cakes, mix the frosting, and prepare the filling. In order to make a great cake you need to know how each component works together; without that knowledge the cake can get really scary.

3) Mix all of this together. Once you have all of the individual components worked out, you then need to figure out how they will mix together. You need to figure out which scenes should follow each other, looking for things like counterpoints and complements; sort of like playing sweet off of savory you need to decide which scenes will work together and which need some space between them. It's fine to cut some scenes if they don't work; you shouldn't wedge scenes in just because they are on the list. You may find that you need to add some scenes for better transitions and bridging, as well as to explain situations as they come up. Do whatever is needed.

3) Charge in.

If you go into something with at least some planning, the writing will go a lot easier and a lot quicker. You may need to throw in some additional scenes and find that others don't work as well as you thought they would, but at least you have some structure to work from. You can allow inspiration to take over at any time, and just go for it; at least you know what needs to be changed. It always helps to have a recipe to go off, and this should help you build one for your script.