Superman and Achilles

One of the many pieces of symbolism that’s everywhere in Batman v Superman is the horse. It serves as a clear symbol of death. This includes the metaphorical horse – Wallace Keefe, used as a Trojan horse to smuggle a bomb into the Capitol. And that Trojan horse reminded me of another aspect of The Trojan Cycle: the story of Achilles (Ha! I promised I’d stop talking about Christianity and classic Christian literature as it pertains to Batman v Superman, but I never said anything about Greek mythology and the associated epic poems!).

To today’s audience, Achilles is pretty unlikable. At the best of times, he was kind of a sociopathic nightmare. Personality wise, not at all like Clark Kent. But they were both invulnerable, with one physical weakness – for Achilles, his heel; for Clark, kryptonite. That weakness was exploited by a weaker character. In Achilles’s case, that was Paris, making an impossible shot through godly intervention. For Clark, that was Bruce, forging a weapon from a material Lex had found and proven to be dangerous to Kryptonians. Both were separated from humanity in some way, Achilles because of his divine parentage and Clark because of his alien birth and role as Superman. They both could be hurt by someone hurting a loved one – Patroclus, for Achilles, and Lois, for Clark.

As much as Clark is a much better person than Achilles, his behaviour in the Knightmare sequence was highly reminiscent of Achilles after Patroclus’s death. The loss of Patroclus left Achilles devastated and furious. Losing Lois did the same to Clark. Achilles went to fight everyone he deemed responsible, ultimately killing Hector, who’d killed Patroclus. Clark became a full on tyrant, claiming Bruce took his world away from him, then killed him. A similar concept applies to Clark’s trip to the Arctic. Achilles spent however long sitting in his tent and refusing to fight because of his argument with Agamemnon (an incredibly horrifying argument over ownership of a sex slave. Christ, I hate everyone involved in this stupid poem). Clark walked away for a much more heroic reason – horror at being unable to stop the carnage that was the Capitol bombing and fear that it was his fault for not looking, not facing the person whose life was forever changed by his actions – but as a plot device, it mostly amounts to the same thing: he was gone, and while he was, Lex could kidnap Lois and Martha. Achilles being gone allowed for Hector to kill Patroclus. But whereas Achilles and Knightmare Superman’s arcs revolved around not being able to save someone they cared about, the real, present day Clark came back from his self imposed exile in time to catch her when Lex shoved her off the roof.

Clark falls far more into our modern perception of a hero than Achilles because beyond being the protagonist, he’s a genuinely good person. That being said, it’s fascinating to compare him, as written in Batman v Superman, to Achilles, because there are plenty of similarities in their stories. Christian mythology clearly had a large influence on the movie, but the story elements are so classic, we can also connect it to stories that predate Christianity by centuries (If I can overcome my distaste for this nonsense later, I’ll try to write a post on how Bruce’s character arc in the same movie parallels Odysseus’s journey in The Odyssey. I probably won’t, because there are few groups of characters that I find as irritating to read or think about as everyone involved in this).

 

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‘Arc Of A Scythe’: An Interesting Addition To The Speculative Fiction Genre

Dystopian fiction is generally taken as a deconstruction of the idea of a utopia, where the society is flawed on a fundamental level. Scythe takes a different approach and portrays the consequences of a genuine utopia – the world is at peace, humanity has conquered death, everyone is free to pursue whatever they choose to pursue. It’s not a dystopia, because from a perspective, it actually is pretty idyllic.

Because there’s no longer a natural lifespan for humans, someone has to keep the population under control to avoid overcrowding the planet. That someone is the Scythedom, an order of people known as scythes whose job is to kill people to prolong the existence of humanity. The book follows Rowan and Citra, who are chosen to be apprentices of Scythe Faraday, despite the fact neither of them really wants the job. Their exposure to the inner workings of the scythedom leads them to understand the darker side of their world.

The Thunderhead, a benevolent AI that runs the world, takes care of every citizen’s needs, resulting in people losing the drive to improve and doing things to try to stave off boredom than out of interest. Horrifyingly, this extends to the scythes: “gleaning”, as they call it, is supposed to be an honour and responsibility, a serious and important task handled with compassion, but younger generations of scythes start enjoying the power stemming from their position and seeing themselves as gods, killing huge numbers of people for the fun of it.

Pros

  • Interesting world building that avoids many of the most common tropes in the genre.
  • Engaging characters with clear motivations and different personalities.
  • Solid and entertaining plot.
  • Avoids sequelitis – Thunderhead manages to improve upon most of the flaws of the first book.

Cons

  • Rowan and Citra are both reasonably compelling characters, but they didn’t get much development until the sequel, world building taking precedence. Their romance was one of the weakest parts of the story. It felt unnecessary and a bit out of place, but fortunately, it was a minor enough aspect of the book that it didn’t detract too much from the rest.
  • The timeline didn’t seem to make much sense, especially in regards to Scythe Curie’s past – a shame, considering I found her to be the most interesting character.
  • Predictable plot twists.

Scythe is a refreshing take on a genre that’s been increasingly characterized as books that are all rehashes of the same thing – the YA speculative fiction genre. YA fiction includes a lot of great books, but it’s such a broad category that it also has a lot that’s not as well thought out or written. This could well just be my perception, but it seems that publishers think that YA readers are less inclined to be choosy about what they read than adult fiction readers and will instead be okay reading countless variations of the same book, published in rapid succession. That’s  not to say adult fiction doesn’t have trends – clearly it does. But for whatever reason – because a YA book can often go in and out of fashion faster than an adult one, maybe? – they’re much less obvious than in adult fiction. In Scythe, Neal Shusterman does a great job on trying new things instead of just relying on the expected archetypes for YA speculative fiction. Because of that alone, I’d recommend giving it a try. Everything else is just a bonus.

It’s not exactly what I would call great, but Scythe was good, entertaining read. Its sequel, Thunderhead, is even better, with more moral ambiguity and character development. Give them a read and see what you think!

The 8 Things I Want To See Most In Season Two Of ‘The Gifted’

The Gifted is everything to me. It may not have the production value of shows like Gotham, Legion, or Krypton, or the lighthearted fun of Legends of Tomorrow, but it’s a rare example of a comic adaptation that, as unlikely as it is, manages to be well executed and faithful enough to the spirit of the source material to please the fans. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I’m hoping to see in season two.

8. Rachel Summers

Rachel_Summers_(Earth-811)_from_Civil_War_II_X-Men_Vol_1_3_001.png

Before the first episode with Esme came out, all we knew about Skyler Samuels’s character was that she was a telepath, and that, combined with the fact that the Hound program had already been introduced, made me think something along the lines of, oh my God, Rachel-Rachel-Rachel, yeeesssss, remember how to breathe. Guys…It wasn’t Rachel.

I was talking to someone a while ago about both The Gifted and the X-Men movies, and we bemoaned the lack of Rachel and the disrespect for the Summers family. She didn’t appear in Days of Future Past, despite the fact that was her first appearance in the comics and she had a central role. Here, they actually went with a Roderick Campbell and the Hound program plot without bringing up Rachel, the most famous Hound. If Rachel doesn’t show up later, it’ll be a travesty of justice.

7. Utopia

Yes, I recognize that I’m demonstrating a trend in what I want here. Shut up.

Supposedly, the Struckers spent the season trying to get to Mexico, where the anti-mutant laws are looser. You know where else those laws would be looser? The country Cyclops founded to give all mutants a safe place to go when he got sick of waiting and asking nicely for baseline humans to stop persecuting them. Polaris bringing down the plane could be a catalyst for broader mutant persecution, prompting the need for a country for mutants.

Matt Nix said in an interview that season two will focus more on mutants out in the world and the idea of the mutant underground as a network, rather than a place. This makes it unlikely that the lead characters would actually go to Utopia, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of a running plot of the characters hearing rumours about the X-Men still being alive and getting ready to actually stand their ground. I know this one is unlikely, especially because Cyclops will probably be considered “movie territory”, but I think they ruled out any possibility of cleanly dividing who got what once they made Polaris – Magneto’s daughter, who’s also the woman that nearly became Scott’s sister in law, – a main character.

6. Dreamer Back

dreamer and thunderbird the gifted

I loved Sonya and thought she had a lot more potential, but her death was very poorly handled. We were told about her backstory, rather than had it shown through flashbacks the way we learned about every other character. It was pointless, because Andy and Lauren did what she told them not to thirty seconds later anyway. We saw her funeral, but not how her death actually affected any of her friends. No one mentioned her when trying to get through to Lorna, and nor did Lorna bring her up as part of her justification for killing Campbell.

Even before her death, she was treated more as a tool than a character, pushed into situations that didn’t actually make sense but were for the sake of moving the story along to where the writers wanted. There was no reason for her to not take away her memory from Clarice once Clarice regained control of her powers or tell Clarice what she’d done, but she didn’t do either of those things because the writers wanted to cause conflict between the two of them, introduce the love triangle between them and John, and provide justification for Clarice to take off later. She was an awesome character, Elena Satine is a great actress, and she deserved way better than to be pointlessly killed off. Bring her back.

5. Fewer dropped plotlines

Remember how when Caitlin went to her brother for help, the episode ended with Agent Turner ordering the shut down of every mutant sympathizer and safe house? I’d understand if you don’t, because it was never followed up on. I kept anticipating that coming up again, but it never did.

4. Deeper exploration of mutants as a metaphor for persecuted minorities

To be fair, The Gifted started off really well in that regard. In the beginning, it was as if every episode explored a different aspect of how that was true. The later episodes veered away from that in favour of more action scenes, which I find sad – there’s plenty of that in other X-Men related media. The Gifted was unique because of its focus on the “lesser” mutants, on characters without the resources that go along with being one of the X-Men.

People tuned into the show for different reasons. Maybe some did it because of how it was promoted as being family story, others because it was X-Men related, and so on. I did it for a variety of reasons. One of them was Polaris, who in the comics, has been the victim of frequent terrible writing. But the primary reason I watched that first episode was because it was in its own universe and promised to dive into how mutants are an analogy for marginalized people in a way that the movies didn’t, focusing on the characters as people more than just a way to show off cool powers and fight scenes. I was delighted by the first few episodes. Later? Not so much. I’m hoping season two remembers what mutants are supposed to represent.

3. The Morlocks

The literal mutant underground. This one is unlikely, I know, what with the whole the next season is going to focus on mutants interacting with the broader world thing. To be clear, I am very excited about that. One thing about the movies, not so much a flaw as a different focus, is how insular they are. They focus on the same few characters over and over again in the context of the school. We don’t see much of regular, non-politician humans or mutants that, for whatever reason, don’t join the X-Men or the Brotherhood. It’ll be awesome to get to see that. But the Morlocks could add a new level to the range of perspectives on how mutants should act that we’re seeing.

The mutant underground is, in a way, the reincarnation of the Xavier Institute. There are differences, of course – fewer resources, generally less impressive powers, the fact that they’re not actually a school – but they’re the spiritual successor in that they were founded by the X-Men to have the same values. The Hellfire Club has been and will continue to be more militant and goal oriented. The Morlocks have traditionally been the visible mutants that can’t fit in with human society and mostly just want to be left alone.

Sonya’s comics counterpart, Beautiful Dreamer, was a Morlock before she was killed by Purifiers. She was such a minor character, I don’t think anyone expected her to appear here. The Gifted‘s version of Sonya isn’t a visible mutant, but the fact that she appeared suggests to me that the writers have at least considered bringing in the Morlocks. I’d get why they might decide against it – adding a faction of visible mutants could mean overstuffing the cast and being forced to spend a significant chunk of the budget on makeup – but I think alluding to their existence would help flesh out the world in which the show takes place.

2. LGBT characters

Mutants aren’t a metaphor for any specific type of marginalized person – they have aspects of many. This includes people of colour, the disabled, and LGBT people. Several of the characters in the mutant underground aren’t white. Lorna is, but also mentally ill and living without access to health care and medicine (it was also implied that she’s bi through the whole “Tinder is full of girls that are into mutants thing”, but that probably wasn’t intended like that). The Gifted has done a much better job in regards to diversity than the films, which are almost absurdly white, but it’d be nice to have that extend to LGBT characters.

1. For God’s sake, let the Struckers actually learn the lesson

the gifted poster

  1. The Struckers complain about how the leaders of the mutant underground are handling things.
  2. They learn that they’re being naive to the point of stupidity and that they don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a mutant.
  3. They resolve to start pulling their weight more.
  4. Rinse, repeat.

The Struckers may be the focus of the show, but it really doesn’t work. I’d love them getting reduced screentime, but I’m smart enough to know that probably won’t happen. So I’d at least like them to not have the same yo-yo plot for another season. The show has been pushing the idea of the Struckers as leaders in the mutant underground which I find a fundamentally gross concept. Even setting aside the fact that they’re not mutants, ninety percent of the issues the mutant underground faced throughout the season were their fault, but their response to Fade and Sage pointing out how much harm they’d caused was to completely deny all responsibility, like it was absurd and petty to even suggest it.

Here’s the issue with the Struckers: they’re fundamentally selfish. You could make a case that it’s just them coming to terms with not having the privilege they’re used to anymore and struggling to get used to what the mutants have always known, but that doesn’t excuse their frequent oh, it’s okay for you to risk your lives for us, but it’s asking too much to ask us to help out. Caitlin complained about Lorna teaching her kids how to survive.  They see the world as all about them. Reed had no qualms about prosecuting mutants until it turned out his kids also had active X-genes. We were supposed to consider him not calling the police on a girl that couldn’t control her powers while being taunted and instead just telling her and her father to leave an example of him being a ~good guy. Caitlin didn’t have any issue with her husband’s job finding out about their kids’ powers and considered Lauren and Andy’s argument over the use of the word “mutie” as them having an argument over social studies class. Marcos called them out on that in the second episode, and they still didn’t seem to get it by the end.

Lauren is seventeen. She’s not some child that needs her mother to make all her decisions about her life for her. I think someone mentioned that the first season took place over about three weeks, and if that’s the case, then Lauren definitely needs her parents to stop speaking for her, because she mentioned that before Andy’s powers manifested and they went on the run, she’d planned to move somewhere far away once she turned eighteen. She spent years hiding her powers, genuinely afraid of how her parents would react, but is somehow content with letting them tell her how to use them. It’s not logical. Season one had the kids mostly used as a way to keep the parents involved with the plot. The finale changed the status quo a bit by tearing down the HQ and having Andy decide to leave, so I’m hoping that season two will involve the characters actually progressing.

As much as I adore the show, I think the Struckers are the weakest link. They have potential to improve, but they’re really going to have to be less static as characters for me to care about them as much as I do the others.


Anyone else have anything they hope to see? Let me know!

Zack Snyder Ruined Popcorn Comic Book Movies For Me (In The Best Way Possible)

Quick – a comic book movie with a lead character as an older, cynical version of themselves that was once a hero, but was worn down by time and loss until someone inspired them to start acting heroically again. Am I talking about The Dark Knight Rises, Logan, or Batman v Superman? It recently occurred to me (I’m slow on the uptake, sue me) that those three movies had essentially the same storyline for the lead character (in the case of BvS, the co-lead). Pretty much everyone that has ever read one of my posts knows that I love Zack Snyder and his DCEU movies (If you’re reading this and you don’t, hi! I’m Keya. I’m a giant nerd). They’ll also know that I’m not a big fan of either Logan or The Dark Knight trilogy. Seeing the similarities in the movies got me thinking about why that was true.

The best thing about the X-Men movies, at least for me, was that no matter how I felt about them in the long term, they were good for at least one watch. I didn’t think about all the things wrong with them until later.  It was the same thing with the Dark Knight trilogy.  No matter how much I disliked their Bruce interpretation, I was able to set that aside and enjoy the movie. I didn’t think about that dislike until after I left the theatre. I remember sitting in the theatre to watch The Dark Knight Rises, and you know what? At the time, I was genuinely moved. Bruce becoming a recluse after losing Rachel, spending years in mourning, putting on the cowl to fight again, finding the will to move on with his life…when I first saw that, I was very touched.

When Logan – the kind of movie that, very much like The Dark Knight Rises, relied heavily on using an aged lead that’s lost the people most important to him to elicit an emotional reaction – came out in March of last year, though, I wasn’t into it at all, not even while watching. At first, I couldn’t figure out why – after all, the movies basically have the same principle and I had similar problems with both. But The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2012, and made me emotional, while Logan came out in 2017 and didn’t. At all. One obvious explanation is age, and the fact that in those five years, it became harder to elicit a reaction from me. But I think there’s another explanation, and that’s that Batman v Superman came between those movies.

It’s completely subjective whether you find a movie emotional, but objectively, BvS was a much denser, more thought out story than either The Dark Knight Rises or Logan, with constant references and allusions to classical art, literature, comics, and more. What  Batman v Superman did was force me to think about what I was watching while I was watching it, not after. And once I started doing that, all the aspects of movies that I don’t like started to pop out at me, from bad writing to disrespect for the source material. It took away the “good for one watch” thing that the X-Men movies had always had going for them. Popcorn movies are great. Not everything has to be deep,  and sometimes I just want to see a lighthearted adventure. But Zack Snyder movies have spoiled me – now I don’t have patience for movies that half ass the emotional aspects.

I respect Christopher Nolan’s directorial skills, but as a Batman fan, I think his work cut out the most interesting aspects of the character in favour of a pretty shallow, surface level reading. He didn’t get why Robin is important to Batman, and considered giving some random cop that worked with Bruce once the name as the same thing, or at least, a good shout out. He went the “loner” route, rather than acknowledge that comic Bruce has never been that and has more friends, allies, and children than just about any other superhero. It was disrespectful to the enormous cast of Batman characters that aren’t named Bruce Wayne and the whole world of comic books, because like X-Men (2000), The Dark Knight trilogy was afraid of being seen as comic book movies.

To be fair to Logan, I went in biased because of my Wolverine fatigue. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve complained about how the whole movie franchise revolves around him at the expense of other characters and how those characters get no respect just to make him look better or to advance his plot. I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out that the first two of his solo movies neither did amazingly at the box office nor were well received by critics, and as such, using the whole “Wolverine sells! Logan makes them money!” as an excuse isn’t actually valid. I’ve criticized the writing of the original trilogy and how everyone else got so little screen time, it was pretty much impossible for anyone that wasn’t Hugh Jackman to stand out. As a bitter Cyclops fan, I was mad about how the premise of the movie would have been perfect for developing him as the general of mutantkind that he is in the comics, but he was killed off screen instead. All of these things together mean that it was probably impossible to win me over completely, regardless of how it went. But before BvS, I could have at the very least enjoyed that first watch.

Logan was a movie that, had it come out just a year earlier, I could have liked. Maybe even loved. For the reasons stated above, I probably would have been a little bitter towards it, and my appreciation for it would have lessened with time as I thought of more things that bothered me, but I could have enjoyed it. But after BvS did such a fantastic job of fleshing out its characters and relationships so that everything happening to the characters meant something to me, to the point that the “Martha” scene was the closest I’ve ever come to crying during a movie, by the time I saw Logan, I didn’t have any more patience for a movie bashing me over the head to get me to feel what they want me to.

Logan felt more manipulative to me than anything else. It never once seemed to me while watching that it had earned the reaction it wanted. Everything about it was about making us feel bad for Logan. It was a further example of disrespecting the other characters for his sake after nearly two decades of doing just that – and that’s just in the movies. I never felt connected to the supposed emotional core. Logan coming to care for Laura felt rushed. It felt like most of his angst was about being old and in pain, with no actual grief for the X-Men – you know, those people that were supposed to be his friends that w ere ruthlessly killed off screen just to emphasize how alone he was.  A bunch of characters died, but I felt detached – the movie didn’t manage to get through to me why I should care. The closest thing to real emotion I felt the entire time I was watching was seeing Laura crying.

Despite how tired and broken down Bruce was throughout BvS, all the attention devoted to his perspective, it wasn’t about making us feel sorry for him, it was about us wanting him to stop feeling sorry for himself and realize what he’d become. It was about his cynicism being actively harmful. It was about trying to make the audience sympathize with him and understand his perspective, while also wanting him to realize that he’s become the bad guy. BvS is certainly a movie you’re supposed to think about – all the supposed “plot holes” and things that supposedly have no build up can be explained if you pay attention and think about what you’re watching – but it’s even more heart than head. It’s about human emotion, and the combination of acting, visuals, and the score made me feel everything it was trying to convey. I can’t explain logically why Logan‘s attempts at emotional scenes fell flat for me because it’s not an intellectual thing, but while watching, I just didn’t feel anything.

Logan and The Dark Knight Rises had many of the same pieces as BvS – a jaded hero past his prime meeting someone that forces him to get past his cynicism being the most  obvious – but none of the same respect for the mythos. I’m totally for broad strokes adaptations. But those broad strokes adaptations can’t just be for the sake of one character.

I get that Logan was very loosely based on Old Man Logan, but in order to do that, the movie had to ignore the optimistic end of Days of Future Past to basically redo the same idea. Regardless of whether or not this is in the main continuity – I seem to recall statements being made both confirming and denying that – it’s still a rehash of what’s been done before, and killing the X-Men off screen again was insulting to them, especially the ones that have existed as characters for years longer than Wolverine. And making Xavier responsible for their deaths instead of Logan may make more sense, because any number of X-Men could neutralize Logan in a fight before he killed them all, but takes away from the emotion that could have been there, the sense of responsibility.

The way The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises approached the story was to cut out Robin all together, and try to give two original characters the role – they made Rachel the Jason equivalent and Blake the Tim. The problem is, the Batman and Robin dynamic doesn’t work there. In the comics, Bruce felt heavily responsible for Jason’s death because he made him Robin. Had he not done that, Jason wouldn’t have been lured to Ethiopia and the Joker wouldn’t have beaten him to death with a crowbar. While the only one ultimately responsible for Jason’s death was the Joker, Bruce felt guilty for putting Jason in that position. That plotline doesn’t work when you replace the son that he trained to fight with a love interest that would have been targeted regardless of her connection to Batman. There was no ring of truth to Bruce’s guilt. It’s not the same kind of responsibility, and it completely erases the significance of multiple very important characters.

Snyder, too, took a broad strokes approach to his movie – BvS was a patchwork of bits taken from different comics and continuities that relied on Bruce being primarily alone, without his closest friends and allies. But it did that without disrespecting his cast of characters. While Batman v Superman didn’t have Robin, it never felt dismissive of the character. It honoured his memory by having his suit on display in the Batcave, by the implication of that and several lines of dialogue being that his memory haunts Bruce and losing him changed Batman. Bruce felt responsible and spent the entire movie fighting to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.

Both TDKR and Logan were the culmination of a series. Like I argued hereLogan relied upon years of built up affection for Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the character and knowledge that this would be his last time in the role. The Dark Knight Rises was similar to that – the audience wanted a happy ending to the trilogy, so they were invested in Bruce’s story and recovery. Batman v Superman was the first movie in the DCEU with Batman, and when it was released, we knew that Justice League was coming, so it didn’t rely on any sort of nostalgia or prior goodwill. It just let us feel things without long pieces of exposition telling us why we should.

The Dark Knight Rises, Logan, and Batman v Superman are all serious dramas in the superhero movie genre. That’s great. I didn’t find them equally effective, but in principle, I love people taking comic book movies seriously. It’s not that TDKR and Logan are bad movies, but they weren’t for me. I know that now because Batman v Superman gave me everything I didn’t know I needed or wanted in a superhero movie. No wink, wink, nudge,  nudge, we’re not like those comic book movies moments. It was itself without needing to deride the rest of the genre. It embraced the spirit of the source material. Every moment was completely sincere. After seeing it, I realized the way The Dark Knight Rises and Logan approached serious and emotional just doesn’t work for me.

TL;DR: Zack Snyder puts too much effort into his movies, and has thus ruined my ability to enjoy movies that are supposed to be intense and emotional but don’t go the full way to making them so. Thanks a lot, Zack.

The Dark Phoenix Saga And The Sexist Treatment Of Jean Grey: God Dammit, She Deserves Better

I’ve talked about how much I hate how the X-Men movies thus far have treated Jean Grey here and here, and I think a lot of that is rooted in the way the Phoenix has completely taken over Jean’s character, both in the comics and public knowledge.

Even though the actual Dark Phoenix saga was much less sexist and oh ho, ho, look at that crazy chick than people tend to remember it, the way the comics treated Jean after that was still gross. I don’t have a fundamental objection to an exploration of a movie about power corrupting, except it’s always the women. Throughout comics, heroic characters destroy a lot of things for a variety of reasons. But somehow, Jean is one of the only people that has ever had to pay a price for it. Everyone else? They’re forgiven incredibly easily, no matter what their crime. Jean’s death may have made The Dark Phoenix arc iconic, but it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right.

Xavier has the power to use people as marionettes and has canonically manipulated and gaslighted people for years. He’s never “gone crazy from too much power”. Magneto has been having a Heel Face Revolving Door in both the comics and movies for decades and the list of people killed by him on the Marvel wiki is five pages long. He gets immediately forgiven and hasn’t had to spend decades trying to make up for it. Wolverine has been a raging hypocrite that kills people whenever he deems it necessary, both when he’s been mind controlled and not. He’s never gotten called out for it (He once went on a self righteous rant about none of the people he killed mattering in front of one of the people that he killed. That guy didn’t call him out, either.)

Jean has expressed huge amounts of remorse for what she’s done. At times, so has Magneto, even if he’s never had to pay an actual price for it. Xavier and Logan, not so much. Every comic she’s been in since then has had references to that time she lost control and time dedicated to her guilt and need to atone for “what she’s done”. Even her younger self freaked out about not wanting to become her.

Pretty much no character can stand on the same level as Jean and beat her in a straight fight, unless you count her various children and other hosts to the Phoenix. Especially not when she’s at full strength. But no X-Men movie has had the courage to give Jean the full use of her power and let her use it without going into the gross sexism of the oh, this woman has too much power for her own good and can’t handle it! For all my issues with Apocalypse, that at least came kind of close – though it’s negated by the movie that immediately follows being Dark Phoenix. What I’d love is a movie about Jean Grey, who’s worth a whole lot more than just her powers, that gets to be more than Wolverine’s out of control, telepathic lust object, where the story is about her. The manipulation by the Hellfire Club would be awesome, if she got to survive! If she got to be the hero. In my eyes, the best way to adapt the Dark Phoenix saga would be to make changes to both the original comic and to the way we remember it. I doubt that Dark Phoenix will make those changes.

The Dark Phoenix saga was a well written,  interesting story that wasn’t originally about Jean having more power than she could handle. I agree with that. But she also deserves to be able to live that down. Jean Grey was one of the original five X-Men. She’s existed as a character for longer than Wolverine, Storm, Gambit, Rogue, Kitty. Longer than countless other popular characters. But the Phoenix has dominated her narrative for years. Her whole pop culture identity is based on it. It’s the focus of adaptations. She’s had other stories, but writers act as if the Dark Phoenix is the only comic she was ever in, and like I pointed out here, they often remember it wrong.

One of the reasons I find X-Men Red so refreshing is that it’s not about the Phoenix, it’s about Jean. It’s taking a step back from all of that nonsense and going back to the basic principle of X-Men comics – human mutant coexistence. Jean deserves more respect. She deserves to stop being regarded as the person that’s constantly coming back from the dead, because that’s not even true, it takes her years. Other characters have come back way more times. X-Men Red is providing me with good material for her in the comics, so now I just need a movie focusing on her as she is and demonstrating how much value she has aside from being the host of the Phoenix, the chick Wolverine thinks is hot, and a way for Xavier to show off how great a teacher and parental figure he is. She’s existed for 55 years – it’s time.

The Strange Need For Adaptations Of Specific Storylines

Every time a rumour about the Batman movie surfaces, I see countless Tweets saying that it absolutely has to be an Under The Red Hood adaptation. This has been going on for years – ever since the picture of the Robin suit from Batman v Superman was released, people have been jumping up and down about Jason Todd. There are constantly people that don’t like the DCEU whining that it’s not just like the animated universe and that they should just make live action versions of those movies. I don’t get that.

One of the reasons I love Batman v Superman is that while it’s loosely based on a specific story – that being The Dark Knight Returns – it’s not chained to it. It takes liberties with the source material and makes it something unique, while still lovingly bringing to life certain panels and the rough plot and referencing countless other comics. It may get criticized for making those changes, but what’s the point in watching something that’s just slavishly devoted to depicting something with complete accuracy that already exists without any imagination or creativity?

I’d love to see Jason Todd in live action as much as the next girl, but if I wanted to see Under the Red Hood, I’d watch the animation. It’s an excellent movie. It’s well worth a watch. But if that plotline were included in a live action movie, I’d want to see more than just Jason and Bruce. I think the rest of the Batfamily should have a role, especially Dick and Tim, because Jason becoming Red Hood had a lot to do with the legacy of Robin and the feelings of being replaced. The DC animated movies are good, but also very simplistic, without complex character arcs. Live action movies can elaborate on all those things.

The upcoming Dark Phoenix movie bothers me for different, but related reasons. Let’s set aside the retcons and continuity issues and the Phoenix Force for a minute. As iconic as that comic arc is, as much as it was an excellent story, the way that it’s remembered is a fundamentally sexist premise based on the idea that the most powerful character in the universe can’t possibly be a woman, because women are temperamental. That’s not entirely accurate – people tend to forget that in the actual comic, Jean did maintain control for a very long time. It was the Hellfire Club messing with her head and manipulating her that made her lose her hold on her powers. But at this point it doesn’t matter, because like the phrase beam me up, Scotty, it’s so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that Jean Grey went crazy and couldn’t control the Phoenix Force, no amount of pointing out that that wasn’t really what happened will be enough to make people forget it. I’m not interested in seeing that committed to screen. I want to see creative changes made to the source material, challenges to how we perceive stories and characters.

So many Superman stories revolve around locking Lois out of the loop and either insulting her intelligence by making her, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, suspecting but incapable of proving that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person; insulting her intelligence by making her so oblivious, she can’t see what’s right in front of her; or turn Clark into an asshole that lies to and tricks her. Sure, maybe that’s historically a major part of the Superman mythos. Doesn’t mean it’s right, or a good plot element. Man of Steel didn’t include any attempt at lying to Lois, and that was one of the best decisions it made.

Adaptations are great because they’re adaptations. After all, translations themselves can be works of art. This NPR article does a fantastic job of explaining how that’s the case. Works based on another don’t need to follow a specific storyline, or adapt them word for word, image for image. The creators get to make their own choices about what it should be like, what story they want to tell, what needs to be there and what doesn’t. And we can disagree on whether they made the right choices, or whether their choices made for a good movie, but it’s important that they get to make those choices. I disagree with many of the creative choices in the X-Men movies, and I’m completely free to discuss that, but that doesn’t matter, because their job is to make the movie they think they should, not what I do. I don’t get to tell them how to do their job or what they should write. They can’t stop me from expressing what I do and don’t like.

It’s not just about comics – the same thing holds true for the live action versions of Disney movies. I don’t understand why we need them. Animation isn’t some lesser form of art that’s just a trial run for a story before it gets made into live action. It’s great and gorgeous on its own merits. You don’t see people trying to claim that Impressionist paintings aren’t important works of art because they aren’t photorealistic. The Impressionist movement was shunned and dismissed at the beginning, but over time, we’ve come to recognize the value and beauty in their work. Animation involves just as much skill as live action films. It needs excellent actors and a whole lot of time and effort. It’s disrespectful to everyone involved to suggest that a live action movie must be exactly the same as an animation. To the people involved with the live action movie, by saying their talents should be used to make a paint by numbers instead of an actually creative work. To the people involved with the animation, by saying their work has to be remade, usually with singers less skilled than the original ones.

The difference between the live action Disney movies and comic adaptations is that I don’t even think the former should exist, at least not as they are. I’m not a fan of remakes that don’t make any kind of meaningful change to the story. If they do, viewers can either like the change or not, but otherwise, there’ll just be comparisons to the voice actors, and the voice actors are almost inevitably going to be better at singing/emoting vocally, just because their job requires a different skill set than actors that are used to being seen and being able to rely on non verbal action. There’s plenty of reason to make comic adaptations still, because there’s a wealth of unexplored material, but only if they’re genuine adaptations, not just blind reconstructions. Being inspired and holding true to the spirit of the source material is good. Using it as a crutch and being utterly dependent on it is bad. Drawing upon what’s not in the actual source but in an adaptation, or that’s somehow made it into our collective memory of the story? That’s the worst of all.

Every Insane Thing That’s Happened On ‘Gotham’: Bruce Wayne

Gotham was promoted as the story of city before Batman, and yes, I suppose it’s mostly been that. It’s not a prequel to the usual canon, more of a, “Make it up as we go along, throw in everything we can think of and blend it together” type thing. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. One of the times it does is with Bruce. He’s arguably the third most important character. If the show is primarily about Gordon and his rise to prominence (to the point that some random kid that Tetch once threatened to hit with a truck knew who he was – what was with that?), and secondarily about Penguin and everything that goes down in the underworld (why the hell is everyone so obsessed with controlling the underworld, anyway?), it’s tertiarily  (is that a word?) about Bruce and how he got to the point where he felt the need to become Batman.

Somehow, season one Bruce whose parents just died was a happier, more emotionally stable person than season four Bruce. This show has not been very nice to him.

  • Watched his parents be murdered. Duh, he’s Bruce Wayne, that was a foregone conclusion.
  • Decided that he needed to teach himself to conquer fear. This involved jumping into the pool and seeing how long he could hold his breath, holding his hand to fire and burning himself, and learning how to fight. Alfred, you’re a terrible guardian. Get this kid some therapy, damn.
  • Beat up Tommy Elliot for making fun of his mother.
  • Demonstrated his terrible aim by throwing things at the hired killers that came after Selina.
  • Invited Selina to a fundraiser and got her to steal Bunderslaw’s key. It managed to be both super awkward and really cute.
  • In a spectacular shot, found out that the fireplace in his father’s study slides back to reveal the Batcave. Very Flashpoint, Thomas Wayne Batman, I like it.

Season one Bruce didn’t get all that much to do, mainly because his storyline revolved around looking into the murder of his parents, which got tossed aside somewhere midseason. It got picked up again in season two, and he got much more involved in the show and all the nonsense that happens in it.

  • Freaked out Alfred by building a bomb when he couldn’t figure out the password Thomas had set. Spoiler alert: it was his name.
  • Met Silver St Cloud, Theo and Tabitha Galavan’s niece, who I don’t think ever came back after Tabitha shoved her out a window with a parachute that one time.
  • Turned down Theo’s offer to buy his shares in Wayne Enterprises and give him information as to who killed his parents.
  • Tried to con Silver into giving him the information Theo claimed to have on his parents’ killer.
  • Successfully pulled off the trope named after his future self for the first time, along with Selina, and gets Silver to tell them that it was an M Malone that killed Thomas and Martha.
  • Galavan attempts to sacrifice him.
  • Claimed he had everything under control when he got rescued. Wow, Bruce, way to  be ungrateful.
  • Tracked down Matches Malone and held him at gunpoint, intending to kill him, but realized Malone wanted him to do that, so didn’t. Malone ended up killing himself.
  • Left to live with Selina on the streets because apparently, that’s the way to better understand Gotham. Eh, seems reasonable.
  • Decided he doesn’t have a problem with stealing from criminals, and helped Selina rob some people.
  • Went home because he was worried the whole investigation into who ordered the hit on his parents would be dangerous for Selina.
  • Fought crime with money – provided a bag of cash to distract a prisoner transport driver.
  • Started investigating Hugo Strange’s experiments.
  • Recruited Selina to sneak into Arkham and figure out  what was going on.
  • Hit Azrael with a car. Not as amazing as Butch blowing him up a few minutes later, but still, pretty good!
  • Went off with Gordon and Lucius Fox to rescue Selina.
  • Wound up locked in a room with Lucius with Nygma taunting them with riddles over a loudspeaker.

…Look, I love Gotham, and seasons three and four have a lot of weird, fun stuff happening, but let’s be real – season two? That might well be my favourite.

  • Got stalked by, and eventually met, his clone.
  • Agreed to stop his investigation into the Court of Owls, provided they leave him and his loved ones alone.
  • Got jealous that Selina kissed his clone, irritated Alfred by obsessing over it, then concluded she must have thought it was him.
  • After however many episodes of being present at an absurd number of the weird events that happen in the city, managed to miss all the chaos Nygma and Butch were wreaking by hanging out on the roof with Selina. He confessed his feelings for her and got a kiss out of it, so that’s probably better than being around for all the people shooting at each other.
  • Made Selina dinner, then spent hours waiting for her.
  • Helps Ivy who got in way over her head when she stole a necklace containing a key.
  • Went  on a heist with Selina, demonstrating that he’s progressed enough that he can hold a rope tightly enough for Selina to walk across and break into a safe belonging to the Court of Owls. Well done, Bruce.
  • Met Selina’s mom!
  • Lied to Selina by avoiding telling her that her mother didn’t actually want to get to know her, resulting in Selina getting mad and storming out. Ouch.
  • Beat in Jerome’s stapled on face (Jim got the final punch). On the one hand, gross. On the other, he really had it coming.
  • Gets stabbed with a syringe by his clone, after which the clone takes his place while he’s kidnapped and taken…somewhere with mountains.
  • Trained with the Shaman who told him he’s been manipulating the Court to control Gotham. So…we’re talking the man behind the man behind the man? I don’t even remember how many layers to the whole “person giving orders to the other person” this thing has. And this is before the reveal that Ra’s al Ghul is the one behind the Shaman.
  • Met Ra’s! Stabbed Alfred! Brainwashed Bruce does not have a nice time.
  • Got offered the position as head of the League of Shadows. Hey, Barbara, how does it feel to be second choice when the first one is a sixteen year old?
  • Saved a family from being mugged in a proto-Batsuit for his first attempt at crime fighting. Have I said before that season three’s finale could have been a series finale? Yeah? Good. (It really could have been, while I love getting more episodes, I have to admit that the fact that it wasn’t meant season four had to do some backtracking.)

Season three could be where I started losing track of the plots that lasted more than an episode…

  • Went to an auction to buy the knife Ra’s wanted, and outbid Barbara – who is, just as a reminder, a known killer – twice by a dollar and once by a penny. Apparently, annoying villains is a lifelong trait.
  • Refused to give Ra’s said knife, resulting in Ra’s killing Alex.
  • Killed Ra’s, making him half disintegrate. Huh? That can’t be right.
  • Decided to embrace life as a billionaire brat. Can’t blame him for that. Gotham is a cesspool, bad things happen every time he tries to do something constructive, and  he has a lot of money – might as well enjoy his life.
  • Abandoned Alfred in the woods and threw a party.
  • Fired Alfred. Well, that wasn’t very nice.
  • Spent an episode not actually doing anything plot relevant, but hanging around at the Sirens club, leaning into the spoiled brat thing, and making mildly annoying comments everyone ignores because they’re actually doing stuff.
  • Hallucinated meeting Batman while wandering around without a face after being poisoned by Ivy. So…this universe’s Bruce Wayne decides he needs to become Batman because he was majorly tripping? You do you, Bruce.
  • Had Selina break into an office in the police station to steal Jerome’s file and burst into fake tears to keep Detective what’s her name from catching her. Buddy, if you want to be Batman, you’re going to have to become a better actor than that.
  • Stopped both Jerome’s uncle and Selina from killing Jerome. Uh, Bruce, you know I appreciate your code and sense of honour and all, but damn, you dumb.

David Mazouz started off good and has only gotten better throughout the seasons. Colour me impressed. And Bruce’s character arc? A+. Gotham may be a mess that’s filled with villains and people that are kind of unlikable, and it may treat its female characters really poorly, but the way they handle Bruce is so good, I’m sticking around.