X-Men Adaptations And The All But Inevitable Disappointment

I’ve brought up my issues with The Gifted repeatedly. And almost every time, it’s been through the lens of I love The Gifted, but…Not this time,though. After “afterMath”, I’m out. I can’t defend this anymore.

I’ve been iffy on this season from the beginning. The writing hasn’t been good, the character work has been sloppy at best, and the themes became a mess when they started trying to make the classic X-Men vs Brotherhood conflict work in a setting without either the X-Men or the Brotherhood. I kept watching, though, because I love the X-Men, Emma Dumont was doing an awesome job as Lorna, and the quality of the first season gave me hope that it would improve. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and while I can forgive moments of bad writing, I can’t forgive comparing people fighting against oppression to Nazis.

It’s really fucked up to compare the Inner Circle’s goals of a mutant homeland where members of a persecuted minority aren’t getting murdered on the streets to “Hitler’s big dreams”. Especially when one of the members is Lorna – you know, the half Jewish daughter of a man whose entire family was murdered by Nazis. Under some circumstances, I would probably assume this was intentional – an example of the members of the underground being so caught up in their issues that they got distracted from who the real enemy was – and give the writers the benefit of the doubt for another episode or two. After all, this comparison occurred in the same episode where Purifiers stormed a clinic looking for mutants and threatened the staff. The same episode where a roomful of those Purifiers started chanting “they will not replace us”, a sentiment that was instantly and terrifyingly recognizable. But if this season of The Gifted has proven anything to me, it’s that I shouldn’t give the writers any such benefit.

So much of this season has been about why the Inner Circle is wrong, even though they haven’t done much to be wrong about, or why their methods are evil. And sure, killing people is obviously bad. But that’s one of the biggest Captain Obvious Aesops I’ve ever heard. It’s the smug cowardice of centrists, the idea that “oh, taking a stand against oppression just means we’re sinking to their level!” Every time someone has been uneasy with what the group they’ve allied themselves with is doing this season, it’s been a member of the Inner Circle. The underground is still too busy being self righteous to consider the fact that they aren’t helping. If that weren’t the case, I’d be willing to wait for the season to play out. But it’s not. So I’m not.

you tell 'em magneto
Magneto (AKA the most famous Jewish character in comics) not down with murderous gas clouds.

We’ve seen this same thing in comics for years. Characters referred to Cyclops as “mutant Hitler” for destroying a toxic gas cloud that was killing mutants. Very obviously not Hitlerian at all, right? You would think so. But the writers, despite obviously recognizing what that whole storyline brought to mind, continued to behave as if Scott was a genocidal terrorist, rather than the guy trying to save lives. I am not even remotely down for watching a similar story play out with Lorna in live action.

It’s disappointing. The Gifted began with a huge amount of potential. And even this episode had a lot going for it – the themes of police brutality, the Purifiers, Jace Turner, the contrast between Rebecca’s desire to see the world burn after gaining her freedom and the other mutant’s forgiveness of the jury that put her in the mental hospital. But that one line, casually comparing the Inner Circle to Nazis, on top of the way there are more PoC as extras in the Sentinel Services and Purifiers than with any mutant group…it just goes to show that the writers don’t really understand the issues they’re trying to represent. And I’m done hoping that’s going to change.

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World Building And Lived In Universes

When the second episode of Titans – “Hawk and Dove” – came out, one of the things I thought was that it felt like Batman v Superman. Coming from me? That’s about as high of a compliment as I can give something.

It’s strange, because in a lot of ways, they’re very little alike. Batman v Superman was a sequel, not the start of a new universe that Titans is. But they still feel similar, because they’re both set in already established worlds. In Titans, there were obviously the big details, like how Dawn, Hank, and Dick all knew each other prior to the series and the fact that Dick isn’t working with Bruce anymore. But there were the smaller things, too – Dawn’s Superman T-shirt. The photograph of what was presumably this universe’s first incarnation of Titans. Dick’s contacts list, which included not only Bruce and Alfred, but Donna Troy and Lucius Fox, as well as an assortment of minor characters – Bridget Clancy, Bonnie Linseed, Lori Elton. This is a continuation of the same pattern in the pilot, where Dick’s coworkers are talking about how he’s from Gotham, and how it’s anybody’s guess what happened to his old partner – he could have even been gassed by the Joker. That’s how everything about Gotham feels in BvS.

Like I said, Batman v Superman was a sequel. But while it continued plot points from Man of Steel, it introduced Batman as an already established hero that’s gotten much more brutal recently. He’s twenty years into his career. Losing everyone that’s ever mattered to him has left him jaded and brutal. We don’t see much of Gotham, but we know it’s a crime ridden cesspool with a pretty bad reputation. The Joker doesn’t play a role, but we know that Gotham has a history with him. Even in regards to Superman – we know how he started off – we saw that in Man of Steel. But we weren’t shown all the details of his life since then. We see the gist of it, not the details – he saved a bunch of people, moved in with Lois, is in a good place.

By contrast, there are shows like Gotham. That’s my favourite comic book show. I love it with all my heart. And it has a very different vibe. The city feels like one with a lot of history, like a city that was holding on by a thread until the Wayne murders. But the show, the characters…that all feels fresh and new. However lived in the world may be, there’s a new world order coming and a new status quo that the residents will have to live with. That’s because the show is a prolonged origin story, and over the seasons, we’ve been there for just everything that makes Bruce Wayne who he is.

We were there when he watched his parents’ murder. We were there when he failed to deal with it. We were there when he met Jim Gordon, when he met Selina Kyle and found a reason to smile. We saw him train and grow and confront villains, saw him regress and pick himself back up and start fighting crime for the first time in a world where the new phenomenon of supervillains is emerging. That’s not at all what it’s like in Titans or Batman v Superman, because they start in the middle, not at the beginning.

Sure, we see the basics of Dick and Bruce’s lives and traumas in those stories. In the case of the former, we’ll probably see more as Titans progresses. But how we see that is very different. In both cases, it’s through flashbacks, not what’s occurring in the present. More than that – with many shows and movies, flashbacks are just regular scenes set in the past, sometimes with a different colouring to indicate that it’s not the usual timeline. Not so in Titans and BvS. There, there’s a separation. Stylistically, it comes across as a memory.

In Titans, the first flashback to the Flying Graysons is from Rachel’s perspective, not Dick’s. We hear voices as echoes, we don’t see every detail of what happens, it’s more like flashes of images than a scene. And in one of Dick’s very first scenes, we see him years older wearing a costume we never saw him put on, much less for the first time, and confronting criminals who already know who he is, even though we didn’t see when he got that name. We know that he had a life before this show, one that we’re never going to know all the details of. In Batman v Superman, it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s a compressed telling. It’s stylized. We don’t hear voices or see every frame, we just hit the main points – what Bruce is never going to forget.

This particular brand of storytelling appeals to me so much – sure, it’s great to be with characters through the entire journey, but when flashbacks are a major part of it, I like not seeing all of it, or piecing it together slowly. It’s not all thrown at us at once. It’s enjoyable.

‘Titans’: Reservations Withdrawn, I’m All In

Okay, so the Netflix trailer for Titans came out a few days ago, and it’s been a really  packed week for me, so I’m finally getting around to talking about it now: it was  awesome.

I’ve gone back and forth a lot on how I feel about Titans. When it was first announced, I was both excited and apprehensive. When the initial story details came out, I was like, what? When more characters were revealed, I was all ahhhh! At the leaked set pictures, I was chanting at myself to refrain from judgement until we got something official. And when the first trailer came out, I just blinked in confusion.

My reservations were not at all about things being “grimdark” because, frankly, that’s a nonsense claim that doesn’t mean anything. They were more me being unsure of how it looked or what direction they were planning on going in with it because of how it seemed like a strange cross between the comics and the cartoon. Now that we’ve seen more – the promos, the second trailer, posters – I have more of a concrete idea of what this show is going to be like, and I can actually be excited for it.

As Batman v Superman taught me, I should never listen to reviewers, because they don’t know jack. The fact that most of them seem to have enjoyed what they saw of Titans  doesn’t actually say anything – though the fact that Collider called it “joyless” and said it was awful might actually indicate that it’s awesome. Those guys never know what they’re talking about. But the trailer, with all its indications of a found family that chooses to fight together and take care of each other? That makes me think that this is the one thing about which the critics might actually be right. Some good action sequences, compelling character interactions, and – my absolute favourite thing of all – focus on the relationship between Bruce and Dick? It looks incredible.

If there’s any problem I still have, I think it’s that as of now, I don’t really care about the characters that aren’t named Dick Grayson. Maybe that’ll change once I actually see them, but from the trailers, the parts involving Dick were the most interesting to me. At first, I figured that was just my love for Dick biasing me in his favour, until I remembered that that’s crazy – after all, how many posts did I make that were basically me blathering on for a few hundred words about how important he is and how I’m terrified Titans will screw him up? I don’t know, but it was a lot. Strange, right? I started off so wary about this show and how it was going to treat him, more concerned about him than any of the other characters, because those other characters really don’t mean much to me. I like them just fine, but they’re not Dick. And now, I’m more looking forward to seeing him than I am any other character, somehow much less wary than I was when this started out. Even if the rest of the show doesn’t do it for me, I think Dick alone will be enough to make it worth it. So I’m totally done being nervous. Now I just can’t wait.

I’m subscribed to DC Universe. I’m bouncing up and down waiting for Friday. I’m already planning on making nachos to eat while I watch. Anyone want to message me after the release so we can geek out together?

‘eMergence’: I Continue Trying To Figure Out How I Feel About ‘The Gifted’

So last night was the season two premiere of The Gifted. I thought it was pretty good…but some of the issues I had with season one are definitely still there. So what’s a girl to do but make a list?

The Good

  1. Lorna was, as always, wonderful. Emma Dumont’s performance in the first season was better than anyone else’s; Lorna was the standout character; and it’s nice to see her continuing to be great. I may not be a fan of the baby storyline – and I’m kind of annoyed she didn’t name her Sonya – but this ep as it pertained to Lorna gave me a great performance, an awesome demonstration of powers, and was just all around fun to watch.
  2. Reeva Payge! She’s got the charm, a great wardrobe, and right now, is the only thing keeping the new Inner Circle from being painfully white (Hahaha, White Queen, only one not white, sorry). I really liked watching her. I especially liked how she explicitly brought up the variety of other things she’d been hated for in her life aside from her powers – her poverty, the colour of her skin.
  3. The Struckers may have all taken turns in being annoying in season one, but Andy’s really improved. There was no whining in 2×01, just him trying to help Lorna. I cracked up at his “she just needs to keep pushing” when she was in labour after he’d said earlier that if she got preeclampsia, he’d do his best. I mean…points for effort? Negative points for lack of helpfulness.

The Bad

  1. The episode still felt kind of choppy and unbalanced. Sage was there, but not really doing anything. Pretty much everything involving Caitlin, Reed, and Lauren was clunky, awkward, and could have easily been excluded, or at least streamlined. I didn’t like how it kept cutting back to them when Lorna was in the middle of having a baby. The Cuckoos still haven’t gotten the chance to behave as individuals, rather than as a collective unit – and seeing as three in the show are Esme, Sophie, and Phoebe, who have the most similar personalities of the five Cuckoos in the comics, I’m questioning whether they’ll ever get nuanced and unique characterizations.
  2. The Inner Circle isn’t behaving much like the comics Hellfire Club. It seems more Brotherhood than anything. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s kind of disappointing.
  3. John and Clarice as a romantic thing just doesn’t do it for me. In concept, it’s fine, but they were thrown together in such a clumsy way in season one, and now skip ahead six months and they’re happily living together, no issues? No Clarice still being a little uncertain as to what’s her and what was Sonya? No John being hesitant about jumping into another relationship so soon after Sonya, who he’d been with for a substantial amount of time? I don’t know. I don’t find it interesting or well written.
  4. For fuck’s sake, why am I the only one that cares about Sonya?! A mention, please?!

The Ugly

  1. Andy’s dye job. That is so bad.
  2. I don’t know what Andy’s name suggestions were, but Lorna, I don’t think you have much room to judge when you named a kid Dawn Dane.

Overall, I quite liked the episode. It was entertaining. I didn’t love all of it – especially how the Strucker family still isn’t working for me and it was detracting a lot from Lorna and Reeva, the best parts of the episode – but it was good enough to keep me watching for now. Next week, we’re going to see the Morlocks, which really excites me. If handled well, they could really drive home the message that neither the underground nor the Inner Circle are actually helping mutants. It’s not ideal, seeing as that message was what the underground itself was supposed to be to conveying last season – the X-Men and the Brotherhood could have their ideological conflicts, but the underground had to actually do help people without those resources – but maybe it’ll actually come through this time.

…a girl can hope.

‘The Gifted’ And Righteous Anger

I have mixed feelings about The Gifted. Acting-wise, the disparity between the quality of some of the performances is jarring. Writing-wise, it’s so inconsistent my general reaction is meh. I’m still bitter about Sonya and all the ways she could have been used.  My feelings about the Struckers are best left unsaid. But when it first came out, I loved it.

The Gifted started off as smaller, more intimate look at the X-Men universe. That was why I was so excited to watch every episode. The marketing for the first season revolved entirely around the point that these people aren’t special. They’re, for the most part, mutants without any kind of extraordinary powers or ties to any of the major factions, no access to the resources those factions have. They’re people that have to get by in a world that hates them for existing. Each episode explored a different aspect of discrimination against mutants, all of them relevant to the real world. It was a nuanced take on what it means to live in a society that discriminates against you. Now it appears to be falling more into the same trap most X-Men material eventually falls into – trading substance for bombast. Because these people are special! They do have extraordinary powers! And those factions are involved in the show, and their resources, too!

Andy and Lauren are descendants of the von Struckers, who in this universe, were members of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle and are so super duper powerful that everyone wants them. Reed is coming into mutant powers late in life. Caitlin is a nurse that can perform field surgery without breaking a sweat. The Inner Circle is going to be playing a major role in the upcoming season. And all the promotional material for said season is focusing on mutant underground vs Inner Circle, good vs bad, rather than the wide range of ideas in between. Which I think is just missing the point.

What I loved about season one was there was some element of moral ambiguity. Lorna was treated as Lorna, not Magneto 2.0.  But by the end of the season, Lorna was isolated as the “angry” member of the underground, which I find deeply unfair, because part of what I enjoyed about the show was how much it showed that none of the characters were into passively sitting around to ~show humans that they don’t mean them any harm. They weren’t “ideal victims” by any means. They were full of righteous anger and even if they weren’t “fighting back” in the sense of planning assassinations and killing the people that attacked them, they were still resisting. They were going out to rescue mutants from people that were hurting them and fighting those people in the process. They were breaking laws and protecting fugitives. Sentinel Services classified them as a terrorist group.

Marcos revealed plenty of his own aggression, to the point where Lorna was bothered by how much he’d enjoyed torching a truck for Carmen. Sonya may have been more pacifistic than the others, with no desire to physically harm anyone, but she also had no qualms against using her powers against someone if it meant keeping more mutants alive. Clarice was obviously ready to fight, because her reaction to meeting Lorna, Marcos, and John for the first time was to throw stuff at them. John physically broke things or shouted at people on multiple occasions when he was mad and he allied with the Cuckoos to go after Campbell partially because he wanted to avenge Sonya. And that’s just the core characters, not getting into characters like Fade, who also demonstrated their anger at baselines. Lorna was not even remotely the only one. She may have been angry, but her anger wasn’t treated as something that made her a bad person, because everyone else understood it and felt the same way.

Exploring Lorna’s character and darker impulses could be fantastic. Because it makes sense that her learning she’s pregnant would lead her to be more ready to fight for her baby! But the way the writers seem to be going about it is by taking it to the extreme. They’re taking a very broad, complicated topic that encompasses a lot of smaller problems and a wide range of perspectives, and looking at it as a single black and white issue. They’re ignoring how much the mutants resonate with minorities that are angry to instead focus on the simplistic idea that Lorna giving up on hiding and choosing to fight back is her crossing the moral event horizon, not her being justifiably done waiting for more mutants to be killed and bringing down a private plane where the only people on board were those that were associated with Montez and Campbell, not random civilians.

It’s been a longstanding problem in the comics where anyone that gets angry and starts to actually do something to stop mutant persecution is claimed to be acting just like Magneto. This was most obvious with Cyclops – after fighting for years for peace and coexistence only for more mutants to be experimented on or murdered, he decided enough was enough and founded Utopia. He drew his line in the sand and stuck by his principles – sure, he’d still protect humans from mutant criminals and fight for those that valued mutant lives, but he refused to sit by and let his people be slaughtered. Seems perfectly reasonable, but according to comics writers, that means he’s essentially Magneto. That’s what the writers on The Gifted are doing with Lorna – they’re so desperate to have her be in the wrong, they’re not exactly doing a good job proving she is wrong.

Lorna is by far the most interesting and well written character in the show. She’s layered, she’s consistent, and out of the characters in the show that originated in the comics, she’s probably the closest to her comics counterpart. Even though the writing that’s supposed to convince me she’s in the wrong is weak, the writing for her and her decisions is still believable. Without her? I wouldn’t bother to watch season two. As it stands, the only reason I’m still watching is that it has to do with the X-Men. Had it been an original property, I’d have probably given up a long time ago, but I love the X-Men and have to hold on hope that it can improve.

Substance and bombast don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And stories where factions are pitted against each other can be great. There could be a wonderfully layered story featuring different groups that disagree on the how but agree on the what – mutants deserve safety and freedom from persecution – coming together to get things done, where both sides realize that neither militant pacifism nor offensive violence is the solution they need. They could do all of that with bigger action sequences and dramatic uses of mutant powers than in season one. But instead, the season is being marketed as a pick a side, underground or Inner Circle. It’s veering away from the actual point and into the cliché of infighting.

img_2129

I saw the Tweets to the left a while back, and it strikes me as very relevant to this discussion. The way Lorna – and, to a lesser degree, the other members of the underground – behaved for most of the first season was like Emma, not like Xavier or Magneto. She started teaching combat so the kids would be ready for a fight because the world is a dangerous place for mutants. She wasn’t portrayed as in the wrong for that. Even when Caitlin got mad, she pushed back, rightfully pointing out that Caitlin had no right to be criticizing her for teaching mutant children to protect themselves, that Caitlin had no right to come into their home and tell them how they should be behaving. By the finale, she was veering away from that practicality.

The plane made sense to me. It felt true to Lorna’s established character, and it was easy to understand why she did it and support her. But after that? Ending up in a more subservient role to Reeva Payge, rather than as a leader in her own right, while still veering towards the Magneto side of these four options? Less so. What would be more interesting to me is a Lorna, disgusted both by the underground being so passive and the “Inner Circle” – who’s more Brotherhood than Hellfire Club here –  not helping matters. going towards the Cyclops end of the scale. Where she decides she’s going to change the world while still training kids to defend themselves. Where she has complex goals and ways of achieving them. That more than anything would prove to me that they care about Lorna and aren’t just using her because they’re not allowed to use Magneto. Her actions so far have felt authentic enough…but they’re also those that Magneto would take. They don’t feel unlike her, but they feel more like him. I want to see Lorna, see where she falls in between the poles of the “how we live our lives when people want us dead” spectrum.

My feelings towards the show are pretty much the same as my feelings towards the X-Men movies – just about every episode is good for at least a watch, and I don’t realize the problems with it until I start really thinking about it. But once I start thinking about it…it makes me seriously question whether I’ll be able to enjoy future instalments. The Gifted still has room to recover. For all my complaints, the first season still had enough that I enjoyed that I know it’s close to something great. But with all the focus on the Hellfire Club standing in opposition to the mutant underground…I’m not sure it’s going to get there.

What Happens When An Adaptation Displaces The Source Material In Public Memory?

As we get closer and closer to the debut episode of Titans, I’m getting more and more perplexed about some of the complaints I’ve seen about it. I have my own share of apprehensions about this show. I’ve been vocal about that. But what I don’t understand is the people whose complaints stem not from the show itself or how that translates from the comics, but from the knowledge of the cartoon.

While there’s nothing wrong with watching adaptations, but not reading comics, it’s not right or fair to insist that those adaptations are how the material either has been or should be. The Teen Titans cartoon – something that I genuinely enjoy, when I look at it as something other than an adaptation – has very little to do with the comics bearing the same name. The roster – Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, and Cyborg – has become so cemented in people’s minds that when the show roster was revealed, the question didn’t become where’s Kid Flash or any of the other members of the comics roster, but where’s Cyborg. 

Even setting aside Twitter and Tumblr, sites well known for being a mess, look at the TV Tropes page for the show. While some of the people editing it clearly have knowledge of the comics, there are just as many from people whose opinions are coloured by the cartoon. Supposedly Starfire is out of character for not being an all loving hero, even though the original Star was a complete hothead that was far more violent than the version of the character that appears in the cartoon. Supposedly Dick is behaving more like Jason or Damian for being angrier than the bright spot people expected to see, even though good characters are always more complicated than can be defined by an attribute like “violent” and the Titans version of Dick is in a stage between the initial “bringing light and hope to Bruce and Gotham” stage and the later “knowing himself and what he has to do and in control of his anger” stage. It’s silly. There’s plenty to be nervous about, but that’s not the same as dismissing something altogether without seeing it because it’s not like another adaptation.

It wouldn’t bother me that much under most circumstances, but I’ve seen what people growing too attached to one adaptation can do. This backlash is painfully reminiscent of the backlash to Man of Steel. The Christopher Reeves version of the Superman – nerdy, clumsy, awkward, all country bumpkin out of place in the big city – has been so formative to the public perception of the character, people flat out forget that he’s been portrayed very differently in the comics and cartoons. The idolization of the Reeves Superman, coupled with the poor memory of what those movies were actually like, makes it impossible for creators to move on and try a different interpretation that’s still supported by the source material without “fans” jumping down their throats and saying they’re doing it wrong.

There’s no easy solution to this, because adaptations that make that much of an impact are a good thing. There’s no one out there that would deny how important Superman: The Movie was. And it’s gatekeeping nonsense to say people can’t have adaptations be their introduction to these characters, especially because at this point, as much as I’m loathe to say it, these adaptations are aimed at the so-called “general audience” because comics fans alone aren’t a big enough market. I just hope more people start to remember that superhero comics are a decades old medium in which there have been countless interpretations, none of which is inherently more valid than the others.

The Awkwardness Of ‘Titans’

I’ve talked before about my mixed feelings about Titans. I’ve talked about its interpretation of Dick Grayson and why I’m apprehensive of how my favourite comics character is going to be portrayed. I remember telling a friend a while ago – like, before the trailer – that every piece of new information we found out about the show was making me more and more conflicted about whether or not I wanted to see it. Like, they’d tell us that we were getting Donna, but then say that Dick blames Bruce for ruining his life. They’d tell us Jason is going to have an episode revolving around him, then the set photos featuring Kory’s ridiculous wig leaked. And then of course, there was the trailer, to which my reaction can been summarized as what. On the whole, this show, while something I’m definitely going to give a chance, confuses the hell out of me. I feel like I’m getting whiplash.

Maybe it’s stupid to try to analyze this before the show actually airs, but the overall vibe I get is of a show that’s unsure of what it should be. It’s using the cartoon’s roster. It’s drawing inspiration from the comics run. While it’s hard to tell from stills from before the other characters suit up, it seems like they dropped all their budget on Dick’s cape and ran out of money for everything else. It’s only thirteen episodes and supposedly has a central plot, but it’s going to have all kinds of character introductions, including an episode that’ll be the launching point for a Doom Patrol series, threatening to render the whole show overstuffed from trying to do too much at once. The age lift makes it seem like the Bruce Dick relationship may be shifting from a father son dynamic to a brotherly one. It sets off my internal alarm bells. As excited as I am to see it, it’s more because it’s happening – that a show, featuring my favourite character is actually going to exist, regardless of quality – than that it looks like something I’ll wholeheartedly love.

I’m going to watch it. I’m going to try to let go of all my preconceived notions of what it should be and figure out if I like it for what it is. How can I not? We’re talking about the Batfamily here! But I’m still going to be chewing through my lip and trying to reserve judgement until the end of the season.