So here’s the thing: I have not once posted in long form about the Justice League movie since before it was released in theatres. Sure, I’ve commented on social media and to friends, and yes, I have a number of drafts with thoughts on different elements of it. But because I was so disappointed with the released product, and because I knew full well it was not what Zack Snyder had intended to release, and because I just didn’t have it in me to write a full blown critique for the studio sanctioned version, I just…never actually wrote about it in depth. I never spoke about it on this blog again after I saw it. It was a big change from my level of excitement in 2017. It’s very different from how I can never ever shut up about Batman v Superman. But finally, that’s going to be able to change. 2021 on HBO Max. Finally.
I watched the Vero live stream two days ago and immediately began geeking out once Snyder made the announcement. This was and is a huge moment. 2020 has been a rough year, but this? A director getting to finish the project that was derailed by a whole lot of stuff? Awesome. Good news! Yay! Everyone loves that. But if we set aside all conversations of creator freedom and artistic vision and all that for a second because other people have undoubtedly expressed that better than I ever could…I’m just delighted at the prospect of this three and a half hour movie as chock full of allusions and literary references as BvS coming out because Giant Nerd is my middle name.
As anyone that reads my posts knows, I adore Batman v Superman. I rewatch it all the time. But I have not watched the theatrical cut since the ultimate edition was released, because the ultimate edition is just such a better movie. I used to write about it all the damn time. Two and a half years after the release of Justice League, I have still only seen it once. I originally had tickets so I could watch it with a friend after seeing it for the first time on opening night alone, but I didn’t go. I didn’t want to see it again. But now we’re going to see the version that we were sold initially. And that means my nerdiness is coming right back to where it was in 2017. So…you know how I promised I was done talking about philosophy, mythology, and religion as it pertains to superhero movies? PSYCH. Turns out that next year, all of that will almost certainly be coming right back.
What’s a girl to do in a time when everyone’s supposed to be self isolating as much as possible, and after that, when there’s a stay a home order? It seems…food. Here are some of the many things I’ve been making in the past month or so.
We begin at the very beginning of self isolation, when the staying at home was a little bit more casual – you know, before it became mandatory and everywhere started running out of paper products. At this point, food hadn’t really been very appealing to me for a while, so I was at the point of needing things that were easy to eat and boldly flavoured. So I made some pseudo-shakshuka. I did not have the patience to poach the egg, at all, so I fried it and put it on top of the tomato sauce and tossed some goat cheese into the mix. I cheated a bit by using tomato paste instead of just cooking down the tomatoes for however long it took, but I think it still tuned out pretty well!
You know when you finish most of a box of pasta, then have tiny quantities left of several different ones that aren’t enough individually to make an entire meal? I used the remainder of a couple boxes to make pasta salad! Some celery, red onion, half a tomato, and a whole lot of pesto and balsamic vinegar! Does it look good? Not even remotely. Was it delicious? Hell yeah it was.
You know what else is delicious? Chocolate chip cookies.
These cookies were awesome. I put them in a box and they stayed soft and chewy for the whole week and a half it took to finish them. You can’t go wrong with cookies! I mean, next time I make them, I’ll add a bit more salt, and maybe a little more maple syrup. But they were still great.
Confession: I put ridiculous quantities of garlic into absolutely everything I make. Because of this, when I came across the phrase “roasted garlic soup” in something I was reading…I immediately had to try it.
An enormous quantity of roasted garlic, some fried minced garlic, vegetable broth, herbs, a splash of cream, and bam! Soup! It was awesome. (I can’t remember if I included chopped onion or not. I don’t think I did? But I put onion in almost everything, so it’s hard to be sure.)
I almost always make avocado toast on fried bread. Sometimes, I include cheese or onions. This time, I had a bit more time, and I wanted something a little different, so I tried it on garlic bread instead, with crispy cheese.
I like to cook. But I’m really not often fond of recipes that take a whole lot of time or need precise measurements. I’m a fan of things that I can throw together quickly and get a tasty result. But when you’re sitting at home under a low buzz of anxiety, sometimes you need some foods that are a little more involved – so I made pierogi. They are not pretty, but they survived and they taste good.
They had a potato and cheddar filling. I boiled all of them, then fried some and froze the rest. They defrosted surprisingly well, too. I only had trouble with two of them – those two got stuck together and one tore when I tried to separate them. Luckily, they’d already been boiled, so frying them went fine.
And because we’re in quarantine…I think it’s time for the obligatory bread pictures:
The one on the left is garlic pull-apart. The one on the right is cheddar rosemary. The dough for both was your basic bread dough, plus the add ins. Like the cookies, this also needed a bit more salt. Other changes I’d make for the garlic one would be to add more butter and maybe even whole roasted cloves, instead of minced garlic. For the cheddar rosemary, I’m thinking jalapenos. I can never stay away from that flavour combo for too long.
I’ll probably post the recipes later. How’s everyone holding up in quarantine?
So. For the past month or so, I’ve been teaching small children chess on a weekly basis. It’s very good pay and it’s easy to fit into my schedule. I got word yesterday that the remaining two classes in the session have been cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, so while I’m hanging out at home with very little to do, I thought it time to reflect. Here’s what I learned.
First of all. I really need to work out more. I am not the most physically fit of people, I will admit. That made carrying the heavy box containing all the chess supplies from my car to the school rather difficult. I will deny that it was all due to me being out of shape – it was a very large box, I am not a large person, there was often quite a bit of snow on the ground, and opening a door while holding something that requires two hands will be a challenge no matter how strong you are. All that being said…I should have less trouble carrying a heavy box.
Second of all. I really haven’t grown since I was about ten. I’m not that short. I know that sounds like what most short people say, but really, I’m not – I’m about as tall as the average American woman, and that’s how it’s been since I was about ten. I taught this chess class in second grade classroom, and I had no trouble at all sitting on the chairs meant for seven-year-olds. I did have trouble reaching the heights necessary to hanging up the demo board, and that was while wearing heels, as I’ve done pretty much every day since graduating high school. I take that to mean adults make everything bigger than they need to be.
Third of all. Kindergarten teachers should be paid more. My class contained people in grades ranging from kindergarten to third grade, and even though I only had to deal with nine kids, it was a lot. I’d turn to work with one kid for a few minutes, only to be interrupted thirty seconds later by a dispute between two others about the legality of a move. When I went over to look at their board, I’d find that the problem went back much further than the disputed move, because there was no way the pieces should have ended up in that position to begin with. (A player can’t have both their bishops on black! Doesn’t make any sense!) And that’s far from the most chaotic a class can be. Kids shout at each other. And throw things (thankfully not at me). And refuse to listen when I’m trying to teach them something with the justification that “I’m great at chess” (even when that same kid has been involved with multiple disputed-moves-that-couldn’t-have-happened-anyway). I brought coffee in an attempt to look more authoritative, but that didn’t seem to help. I was just doing this for an hour a week. Kindergarten teachers do it every day. All I can do is shake my head and marvel.
Technically, I’m supposed to be eating as healthily as I can right now. But you know what, it was the holidays, so starch! Dessert! Things that are terrible for you but delicious! No regrets!
Now. We are not Christian. We do not believe in Jesus. Nonetheless, my mother is somewhat of a fan of Christmas. She likes presents and nice food and warm pajamas. She even got a set of very fancy toys for my sister’s cat. So on Christmas, I intended to make jalapeno cheese bread. Seasonal? Well, no. But it’s delicious. Who am I to question that?
I seeded and diced up my jalapenos, grated my block of cheddar, added some cream of tartar to a cup of milk for a buttermilk substitute…then realized that, unfortunately, the yeast did not make it out of the shopping cart. Well. There’s a bit of a disappointment.
So what do we do? We adapt! We use the other stuff in the kitchen to make some other form of bread that does not require a raising agent! The obvious answer here was gougères. Why is that the obvious answer? Well, I love them more than is healthy, I have made them enough that I have the recipe committed to memory (see here), and they come together quickly.
Because I am lazy, I used a muffin tin to make them. Unfortunately, the texture that you get when you do that is not nearly as excellent as when they have more of the surface area directly exposed to the heat, which you get when you spoon them onto a tray like you’re supposed to. They don’t have nearly as much of the wonderful contrast of that lovely toasty outside with the light and fluffy inside. But they still taste good, so. There’s that.
A couple days after that, I wanted a snack. And most things weren’t sounding very appealing. I briefly thought about getting some Ruffles and making a dip, but I wasn’t feeling it. I normally love chips and dip, but it didn’t sound right at the time. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll tell you – garlic bread. Cinnamon toast. Bruschetta. A weird thing with caramelized onions and goat cheese. A CROSTINI PLATTER. Or, you know. Not a platter platter, but an assortment. You know what I’m saying. I’ve been very good lately about cutting down my bread intake. But, as noted earlier, the holidays mean screw being good, it’s time for food.
You know how you should almost always add more garlic than a recipe calls for? My philosophy with garlic bread is to not only use a huge quantity of garlic, but to use multiple types as well – I make the garlic butter by adding roasted garlic, minced garlic, and garlic powder to softened butter and a little shredded parmesan. First baking it at a lower temperature to crisp up the bread, then turning on the broiler for a couple minutes to brown the surface…oh,my god. So, so good. To make the cinnamon toast, I do pretty much the same thing, except with cinnamon and a bit of sugar instead of garlic. As for the bruschetta…I sometimes make it using the same garlic bread described above. And instead of using raw tomatoes, I like to cook them with some garlic because I don’t really enjoy raw tomatoes. So, traditional? No. Delicious? Hell, yeah. Unfortunately, I do not have a recipe for any of that because those are entirely based on what feels right in the moment. Gotta embrace my inner hippie.
NEW YEAR’S EVE. You know what that’s time for? Something over indulgent, chocolatey, and covered in salted caramel! (Recipe here)
This was not the world’s brightest idea. The reason why it was not the world’s brightest idea is that I’m not really a big dessert person. Like, do I like things that are sweet and chocolately and good? Sure. But I hype it up in my head, and when I actually eat some…it’s not as good as I expect. It’s not satisfying. At heart, I’m a savoury snacks gal. My junk food of choice will always be the humble potato chip. But the problem with that is…chips on New Year’s? That’s just depressing.
I theoretically understand what I need to do in an interview. But I’m really bad at them.
It’s not that I don’t know the answers to the questions I’m being asked – of course I do. They’re either about me or reasonably basic technical questions about things I’ve done and know. But I get self conscious about everything – my voice is too high pitched, I can’t pull off a suit, do I have a giant pimple on my forehead preventing my interviewer from processing a word I’m saying, when are scientists going to develop technology that would allow me to be a brain in a jar – oops, was that another question? It definitely doesn’t help that I really haven’t done many of them. In August, though, I applied to a job that I really, really want. And the application process here? Well, it helped me get a lot more confident and a lot less clueless about the terrifying prospect of a job interview.
One of the things that I find discouraging is getting back a form rejection before even getting to a coding challenge, let alone the interview stage. I have no idea what that means – what specifically did they find unappealing? These are entry level positions, and so it’s rather unlikely that many candidates have much more to offer than I do. So what is it? There’s only so much I can change, and for all I know, the rejections stemmed from other candidates being from “better” schools! Luckily, this application process was not like that. A couple months after I sent in my application, they sent me a coding challenge.
Fine, I thought. This is good.
A coding challenge is something that I can control, far more than I could with if someone was deciding whether to call me based on my resumé. Some companies will send you a timed test, which are almost universally hated, but this was better. I got a problem and ten days to return my solution. And you know what? I do know how to program. I may not be the world’s best speaker. I may panic at everything. But I am good at getting things done. Good enough that a few days after I submitted my solution, I got an email from someone in HR asking me to set up a phone interview. That’s when my obsessive reading of the Glassdoor page started out.
Now. I am a giant nerd that thrives off having as much information as I can on any given topic. So I read every single review of the interview process and wrote down answers to every question people said they were asked. I read countless lists of interview questions and practiced my answers to those. I made flashcards. I even recorded myself talking so that I could get more confident with the sound of my own voice. And when the interview actually happened…it went well! So I got an invite to an in person interview.
This was far from perfect. I stammered through a few answers. There were questions to which I didn’t like my answers and that I wish I’d answered differently. But it went well enough. My preparations weren’t perfect, but they were good enough that I got an offer. It made me realize…I don’t have to be ready for everything. I’m probably never going to be the kind of person that’s effortlessly confident and always believes in her own ability. But I am capable of preparing for the most likely questions well enough that I’ll be solid, and sometimes, that’ll be enough.
As I say pretty much every time I start talking about comics, Richard John Grayson has been my favourite character forever. So now that Titans is on the verge of him putting on the Nightwing suit, I think it’s time I talk about how I feel it’s handled the journey to this point. Nightwing is about far, far more than the suit. I think I made that point before when it applied to Gotham – Batman is more than just a suit that Bruce wears. That means that I have a few issues with how Titans is going about that transition.
One of the things that was wonderful about season one was that it wasn’t about Bruce. Like, at all. Dick was at the lowest point in his life, but it was about him. Yes, Bruce plays a major role in his life, but as much as Dick blames him and resents him, it’s not really about him. But since they cast someone for the part, we’re being put into a position where Dick needs Bruce for everything. He needs him and a whole team of people to make his suit. He needs him to give him Titans Tower. He needs him to make decisions. Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. Everything comes back to Bruce in a way that just didn’t happen in season one.
Hallucination Bruce isn’t really Bruce. Duh. He’s Dick’s conscience, his way of working through information alone, the manifestation of his worst fears and insecurities and guilt. Everything hallucination Bruce says is something that Dick knows but doesn’t want to confront, or something Dick’s subconscious knows, but his conscious mind hasn’t actually figured out yet. So that fight scene? It has nothing to do with Bruce and everything to do with Dick. Fandom keeps trying to make it about Bruce – like, “yes, this is exactly Batman!” Except the entire point is that it’s not. It’s Dick projecting, it’s making his father into this larger than life figure that’s strong enough to throw him clear across the room, still seeing himself as the kid that couldn’t stand on equal footing with him. It’s not about any of that being true in reality. It’s about him knowing that he’s not Robin anymore, that he’s grown up into something more, something better. Titans does a much better job than I originally anticipated of balancing the different aspects of Dick’s character, but it still fails to grasp the full scope of why he matters, and the interpretation of that fight being about Bruce is a byproduct of how the entire season has ignored has ignored a lot of what makes Nightwing.
Nightwing is interesting in part because he’s a walking contradiction. He has more friends than Bruce ever will, yet he operates independently. He has been a part of countless teams, yet he’s more introverted at heart than Bruce has ever been. The Titans writers haven’t been doing nearly as good a job lately at handling that.
Let’s start with Rose – Rose and Dick’s relationship is hugely important in the comics. He trains her; he inspires her to break away from her father and become a hero; he’s the reason that she becomes a Titan. That’s a role in her life that no one other than Dick could have taken on – it requires the relationship with Slade as well as Dick’s idealism and determination, his insistence on looking for the best in other people. Titans glosses over all of that in favour of putting Rose alongside Jason. That’s tied to an issue that I pointed out in this post – with every additional Robin, more and more of Dick’s characteristics and relationships get leeched away from him to be handed to the new Robin. In this case, the writers had to give Jason Dick’s relationship with Rose to keep him relevant to the season. Yes, they made it romantic instead of the mentor-mentee dynamic that defines how Dick and Rose interact, but it’s the same basic principle – a relationship that pulls Rose away from her father and towards heroism.
In Titans, it ends up falling flat because we don’t see much substance to Rose and Jason’s relationship at all. It was Rachel that stood up for her in the beginning, and she was standing up for her to Jason. We don’t see them doing anything to inspire each other. Hell, there’s barely any reason they stuck together at all. Not only does it have to do with the way Jason ends up taking on Dick’s characteristics, it has to do with how even within this universe alone, Rose has been an afterthought. She showed up, we get some insight into her famijly dynamics, but it’s not part of the running theme of the show. It’s separable. You could remove it and the show would still make sense. That’s the same problem as with a lot of the subplots – all of them are included, but they’re so disconnected it doesn’t mean anything. In season one, the running theme was one of identity. But in season two…Kory. Rose. Hank and Dawn’s drama. There isn’t anything connecting any of those plots. They’re just there. Even Dick’s rivalry with Deathstroke, something that I love, is still a little bit lacking. As I said before, they’re still missing the full spectrum of the character.
Fighting skills are a very small part of the picture of what makes a character, so in most cases it wouldn’t bother me to see Dick depicted as not Deathstroke’s equal. But in the trailer, we see him knocked to the ground, seemingly in the same scene as initially confronting Deathstroke, so Rose can fight her father. While that’s obviously an important thing to see…the timing is frustrating. Dick putting on the Nightwing suit and taking on the Nightwing name is a huge moment. It’s important. Dick is the central character of the story. The plot of the first season may have revolved around Rachel; there may be a huge number of characters with subplots. But the constant is Dick. The entire show has been building up to him leaving Robin behind. And to have the moment where we finally get a visual recognition of how he’s moved on be undercut with an immediate shift towards someone else…well, that’s not great. It’s what Titans did last year all over again, in terms of fumbling at the end.
And then there’s the issue of the Stu thing. I get it – it was pretty funny. But that doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t make sense. For a start, is there a single person in this entire universe that doesn’t know Batman’s identity? But more importantly, Nightwing is about independence. It’s one thing for him to use Bruce’s money once he’s established – he does that frequently in the comics, and I have no objection. It’s an entirely different thing for him to need Bruce’s resources to become Nightwing at all. In Titans, not only does he need to go to Bruce’s guy to get a suit made, Bruce already had him start on it. It’s taking away so much of Dick’s agency in the matter. He’s being made into a perpetual second stringer, rather than a grown adult that doesn’t need Bruce’s help or permission to be a hero.
None of this really matters. Dick Grayson is my favourite comic book character of all time. I’m so ecstatic to see Nightwing finally exist in live action. That has been true and still is true. I’m just…a little displeased with how the leadup has been handled.
I’ve talked a lot about Batman v Superman before, including this post about how much I love its version of Lex Luthor. And I’ve talked about Young Justice plenty as well. But I don’t think I’ve ever actually discussed the differences between the two different interpretations of one of the few elements they have in common – Lex. That’s a shame, because it’s important. Especially as of season three. So here goes.
Let’s start with the reminder that Young Justice took eight years to release its three seasons. That is extremely important to this, because the first two seasons were very different from the third in a lot of ways. I…didn’t really enjoy season three. You might have noticed that from the fact I never actually wrote anything about it. Sure, episode four was the best episode of anything ever. But the season as a whole was trying too hard to lean into the cultural zeitgeist. It was trying so hard to be relevant to today that it a) felt instantly dated and b) didn’t actually delve deeply into any of the political themes it seemed to think it was exploring. A bunch of teenagers used social media as an organizational tool; there was a fissure between the heroes based on what they believed they should do; no one appeared to learn any lessons from the previous seasons and continued to lie, deceive, and abuse their powers to be met with no real consequences. None of that really went anywhere meaningful. They were just disconnected points without a coherent narrative connecting them and driving them forward. And arguable the biggest victim of that was Lex.
A very vocal group of people expressed a lot of hatred for the BvS incarnation of the character. He’s not physically intimidating, they said, he’s too goofy, he’s more like the Riddler than Lex! Let’s for a minute accept that premise. So BvS Lex is “too goofy”. And yet…season three Young Justice presented Luthor as an goof, blathering about fake news and far less competent and intelligent than the versions we saw in the preceding seasons. I didn’t see nearly as many complaints. How is that different? Well…I think that goes to what people really expect to see out of Lex. Just as with Superman, we’re talking about a character that’s been around for decades. There are many possible interpretations, each as valid as the last. Others might disagree, but I personally believe the version that’s best in a situation depends upon which version of what character he’s being pitted against. That’s something Batman v Superman did extraordinarily well. It’s something Young Justice didn’t really do at all.
Young Justice leaned into the idea of Lex as a fictionalized version of Donald Trump. It was the pinnacle of how season three sought to tell a more political story. And it’s understandable. Of course it is. We’re talking about a villain known for his hatred of an immigrant, real estate ties, and brief tenure as president of the United States. The problem isn’t the interpretation. What is…Trump is a symptom, not the real problem. Trump is not the be all, end all of racism and villainy. So taking shots at Trump is fine…but without actually taking that somewhere, in terms of him as a counterweight that reflects something in a different character, it doesn’t end up meaning anything. AndYoung Justice placed him in opposition to Gar, not Clark or Halo or M’gann, and did so without leaning into the idea that Gar doesn’t quite fit in. So making him a Trump analogue fell flat for me, because it didn’t mean anything, didn’t explore what’s actually terrible about Trump. Trump == Bad. Sure. True. But that’s not anything challenging. It’s not a real argument or a political stance. It’s lazy. It’s the easiest shot that can be made, the argument that there’s one bad guy that’s the real problem and not the systemic issues that led to that one guy. It’s the equivalent of Resistance Twitter, those signs at protests claiming that if Hillary won, we’d all be at brunch and reminiscing about Obama, professing to have strong opinions about politics when those strong opinions can be summed up as “I hate Trump”. It’s shallow. It’s empty.
This kind of political story does nothing to challenge some of the worst abuses of power in today’s world – CEOs paying starvation wages to workers whose labour built the companies in question while raking in millions themselves; tech companies that disregard all data privacy laws; the fossil fuel executives that gleefully set the world on fire and are doing everything in their power to stop anyone from putting it out. That’s what I love about the BvS interpretation – at its core, it’s a story about power and corruption.
What makes this version of Lex scary is he’s not over the top. He’s not at all laughable. He’s not a direct parody of any real world figure, but he brings many of them to mind. He’s unthreatening looking, but powerful beyond comprehension. Because it’s not about physical appearance or public image or any such thing. It’s Lex Luthor broken down to his base components – hatred for Superman, wealth, power – and an exploration of what that actually means and how those parts connect. That leaves us with someone whose money leaves him able to do pretty much anything he wants and threatened by the very existence of someone with a different kind of power. It gives us someone who can hire mercenaries and actors, bribe senators and kill them, do pretty much anything he pleases with no oversight…until people start to stand together in opposition of that. It’s a villainy that goes beyond a person and into systemic corruption.
BvS presents a much more compelling, nuanced, and meaningful take on a Lex Luthor for the modern age than Young Justice does. And it does that through not trying so hard to be relevant. By not giving into the temptation to reference current events through politicians or businesspeople, it yielded an enduring take on a villain. It’s one that was relevant when the movie came out, relevant now, and will continue to be meaningful as time progresses.