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.

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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.

The Importance of the Minutiae

I wrote this piece about why it kind of irritates me how quick we all are to refer to movies or TV shows as groundbreaking, and it made me think of something else: who says something needs to be revolutionary to be important? Hell, things don’t even have to be good to be important.

In that post, I brought up Harold and Kumar. And as I said, I don’t think that can be called revolutionary at all. But if you look at Kal Penn, one of the lead actors, you can see the clear progression of his career throughout the history of Hollywood movies with Indian leads. I remember reading an interview that he did once. It was part of the lead up to the release of The Namesake. And in it, he said that he was so happy to be working with Mira Nair because it was partially a movie she made in the 90s – Mississippi Masala – that inspired him to become an actor. The reason she chose him to play the role was that her son had seen Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and asked her to give him a shot because he was great. You would think that his image from that movie would have damaged his chances of getting the role, and in fact, it did. It made Nair think he was the wrong choice for the role. But he was only in a position where she was aware of him enough to both think he wasn’t a good fit and to have her mind be changed because of that ridiculous movie.

A movie directed by a brown woman with a brown lead inspired Penn to start acting, and a silly comedy where he played the lead launched his career and paved the way for his roles in The Namesake, Superman Returns, How I Met Your Mother, Designated Survivor, and more. From that perspective, Harold and Kumar may not have been revolutionary, but it was certainly important. But that wasn’t something immediately obvious. When it came out, it was just a dumb stoner flick with gross comedy that didn’t do well at the box office. It still helped the careers of its leads. It still mattered.

Sure, sometimes it’s clear when a work is important. Mississippi Masala was pretty clearly crossing boundaries and addressing topics few other movies did. It was a romance…but it was one that tackled the challenges of interracial relationships and intercommunity racism. It wasn’t clear what – if any – impact it would have in the long run, but it certainly was something new. Maybe you could call Harold and Kumar important at the time. I’m not sure anyone would, but you could say it. And it did have an impact. But the real impact isn’t something that could be seen until a few years later. It’s kind of like Star Trek.

Star Trek was a campy sci fi political drama that, in hindsight, looks hilariously terrible, despite the political allegories and moral questions. It was a trailblazer for representation even as declining ratings put it at risk of cancellation multiple times. But Nichelle Nichols as Uhura inspired Whoopi Goldberg to become an actress. She inspired Mae Jemison to study science. And Goldberg and Jemison proceeded to inspire countless people themselves. It goes to show that it takes years for the full impact of something to be seen. We need to give things more time before we decide what their place in history is. There are ripple effects for everything. Something may matter for one person, but that one person may matter for countless more. Something minor – the most trivial seeming of roles – can turn out to be more important than we could imagine. So maybe we should just take things as they are without rushing to declare it either the best thing or the worst thing in the world. Because if something is important, we’ll find out eventually. Why insist we can tell immediately?

The Importance Of Dreamer To ‘The Gifted’

I saw a post on Tumblr a while back by someone discussing The Gifted and why Dreamer matters. He identified it as something I hadn’t considered before but immediately recognized as true: Sonya was the heart of the mutant underground. You might think that’s weird at first. After all, she was the one doing whatever she had to and using her powers in ethically dubious ways. But it’s undeniably out of love. More than that – it’s out of faith.

To save the others, she gave Clarice her memory and feelings for John. She was the first non-lead character to agree to help stage a rescue and break Lorna out of custody, even though she was the only one whose powers wouldn’t help keep her safe. She reassured John that she believed in their mission and its importance when he was worrying about how they were losing ground. The second Lorna asked her to go find Marcos, she agreed. When Clarice asked her for help, she went with her immediately. Her impulse being to protect mutant children before herself meant that she let herself get caught by the Sentinel Services to buy Lauren and Andy some more time. Out of belief in the importance of mutant safety, she told them not to demonstrate their powers for Campbell. Sonya cared for individuals, but what’s more important than that is how she cared for mutantkind. She’s flawed. Not all of her decisions were good ones. But she was trying, and that leads to a character with a huge amount of potential.

Sonya was arguably more decisive than any of the other main characters. John is concerned with ethics, while Sonya cared more for the morality – a shifting,  changing idea. While John debates what he has to do unless circumstances are actively pushing him towards making a decision, Sonya just acted. And in doing so, she reminded John and Lorna both of what’s important in different ways. With John, she did it by doing what he wouldn’t. Lorna, by telling her what she shouldn’t do.

Despite not being a main character, Sonya was a core member of the underground. Everyone there trusted her. It’s more than just being present. She was the one John called to figure out how to get them to safety, despite the fact her powers were probably the least conducive to directly solving the problem at hand. Because on a subconscious level, John trusted Sonya to find an answer just that much.

Sonya believed in the mutant underground. She believed that her actions had weight, that what she did mattered. She believed that there were things more important than herself or any individual person. And when she gave Clarice her memory, she did so because she recognized the simple fact that she did have a choice – a Hobson’s one. It was do it or let the others die. A huge part of Sonya’s importance to the underground was her ability to see all those things and act on them. She didn’t hesitate. She knew who she was and what was necessary.

She did morally questionable things out of love. She felt guilt about it – when Turner told her that it was personal and he wanted to see her suffer, she was clearly horrified at the impact of her use of powers. She never wanted to hurt anyone. She’s more opposed to violence than any of the others, including Thunderbird, Blink, and Eclipse. She was upset when Lorna punched the guy in the bar, even though he’d been talking about the enjoyment he got from abusing mutants. That would have made her angry, too, but even so, she never thought of hurting him. She didn’t hurt or kill the guard that encountered them in the power station, when she could have easily done so. Instead, she made him throw his gun in the trash and let them pass.

Lorna is the drive, the rage, the sense of purpose. Her actions stem from passionate feelings about protecting mutants. In contrast to her, John and Marcos are different aspects of the logic, John through the way he perceives the world as “this is right and that is wrong and it doesn’t matter if doing this right thing will result in a future bad thing, because we can’t do the wrong thing”. Marcos through his perception that action will make things worse. Sonya, though, she’s somewhere in the middle, and that mix of ethics and necessity, passion and reason, is what makes her the heart.

Caitlin is frequently pushed as the heart of the show through her role as team mom. But it’s not the same at all. Caitlin is an outsider lecturing the underground. Sonya was one of them, and she chose to stay, unlike Caitlin being cornered into it. Sonya could have gotten out of there before the whole mess with the Struckers left them trapped, but she didn’t, because she wanted to help others.

We don’t know much about Sonya’s circumstances, but everything we do and can observe tells us that she was living a pretty comfortable life. She had enough time to volunteer, and the extent to which the things the women there had been through stuck with her suggests she’d never experienced anything remotely like that. She said she joined the mutant underground as a refugee and decided to stay, and at her funeral, Polaris said she could have disguised herself amongst humans forever, but chose to stay with them. The combination of these things suggests that she figured it would be safer to skip town and went to stay with the mutant underground on her own terms, not because she was forced to. It seems like she intended to move on, but realized that they needed help and stayed.

This is backed up by the costuming choices. Her clothes and hair were always noticeable more elaborate than anyone else’s. When episode 10 aired, I had a Twitter exchange with someone about the jacket she was wearing to go break into that facility. We  were laughing a bit, because it was a nice jacket but it was also such a statement piece and it seemed so out of place for the task at hand. The hair can be dismissed as her having a bit more time than the others because she doesn’t have an offensive power, but not the clothes. Her wardrobe being so extensive and elaborate indicates that, not only did she probably have a decent income, she didn’t leave in a hurry. She had time to pack. That means there was no one after her, that she could have gone anywhere she wanted. But she still chose to join the mutant underground to help people.

Caitlin and Sonya both came from a fairly privileged background, even if it’s more implicit with Sonya. But Sonya was a mutant,  whereas Caitlin is just a parent to mutants. And that provides a much different context for their actions. Caitlin didn’t care about mutant issues until it started to affect her – she didn’t care that her brother worked for Senator Montez, that her son referred to mutants as “muties”, she didn’t care about all the issues mutants were facing. Not until Andy manifested and they had to get out of there. Sonya’s sense of responsibility towards others was a much more genuine thing.

When she took away memories from those women in the shelter she volunteered at, that was risking outing herself as a mutant. But she decided that there were some things more important than her and her personal safety. The needs of the many, after all. You see the other side of that idea when it comes to how she argued that it made more sense to move Clarice when she lost control of her powers than to evacuate headquarters. Yeah, she cared about people and preventing strangers from coming to harm…but when she had to make a choice between one and many, she’ll choose the many. Especially because she saw the members of the mutant underground as her family. Clarice was still an outsider. Sonya might have wanted to help her…but not at the expense of everyone else there. Not at the expense of people she knew and loved. Sonya was willing to risk herself to help someone. But she didn’t want to ask that of anyone else. A little selfish? Maybe. But her heart was ultimately in the right place.

There were so many ways she could have been used. I don’t think her story was over. I don’t think her death really served any purpose. To an extent, I think that was kind of the point. She was killed for no reason at all. It was unfair and unjust, it was a white man murdering a woman because she was standing in the way of him getting what he wanted. Death isn’t fair. Not all deaths are going to be satisfying, like something has just been completed. Some will just be tragic and brutal and leave an entire life unlived. But you know where we already saw that? With characters like Pulse and Chloe, the Hounds that died just because. We don’t need more examples of that, we need deaths that matter and feel earned.

I’m going to miss Sonya so much going forward. I’m probably always going to be a little bitter about her death. I’m not going to stop watching the show because as much as I sometimes complain about it, I still think that it has more positives than negatives, and I don’t think there’s a show in the world where I’ve always liked the writing. Sonya may have been treated poorly throughout, but that’s really not the case with the other characters. Besides, if I stopped consuming a bit of media every time I didn’t like how it handled a character, I’d only have about three things that I could read or watch. And there are plenty of ways to handle the issue in the future:

  1. Bringing her back. Her death was unnecessary, and she could contribute far more to the show alive. She had a lot of unrealized potential, especially when you consider how much she acted as the link in the chain in the underground.You could make a case that John connected all the members, and that’s certainly true, but I think Sonya did so just as much. She was Lorna’s best friend and John’s girlfriend. The character that had most of the meaningful interaction with Clarice. Clearly close with Marcos, given that he spoke at her makeshift funeral.
  2. Obviously by not letting Dreamer become a Forgotten Fallen Friend, and acknowledging that something is missing, that losing her changed them all and played a role in their decisions. The team fractured after Sonya, and while that was about a lot of things, and the writers brushed her off and made the Cuckoos the takeaway of the episode featuring her death, Sonya’s absence was one of the major reasons why the last couple episodes felt so different.
    1. Using her as a sort of point of contention between Lorna and John. John could point out that Sonya wouldn’t want this. I can imagine Lorna retaliating by telling him not to tell her what Sonya would want, questioning how much he’d ever loved her if he was saying Lorna shouldn’t retaliate against the people that had killed her, pointing out that she’d been dead for a day before he’d moved on with Clarice. He could respond by pointing out that she allied herself with Esme, who was indirectly responsible for getting Sonya killed. And so on.Aside from their debate as to what Sonya would feel about the division between them, I can imagine Lorna perceiving John as disrespecting Sonya’s memory with how quickly he began a relationship with Clarice. Supposedly, the entirety of season one took place over eighteen days, part of which Lorna was in prison. Lorna knows Clarice even less than the others, even if she called her a friend in the finale. They had precisely one scene that was just the two of them.

      It would be kind of crazy if Lorna didn’t feel defensive on Dreamer’s behalf after seeing John so easily get past her death without even a discussion about it. It won’t be about Clarice, really – it would be about the history between Lorna, John, and Sonya. It would only tangentially pertain to Clarice. Lorna likes her, Lorna considers her a friend, but at the end of the day, Lorna’s only known her for a couple weeks as opposed to however long she knew Sonya. In Lorna’s eyes, looking at John and Clarice’s relationship, Clarice would be the other woman. Even if season two shows John mourning Sonya, that won’t change the fact that he and Clarice kissed pretty much as soon as Sonya was out of the picture.

      We don’t know why John originally fell for Sonya or any of the details of what happened between them. We just have the gist of their history, and can logically conclude that Sonya loved him more than he ever loved her. It makes sense to me that Lorna would bristle at that.

    2. Mentioning her when they meet the Morlocks. Yeah, it wouldn’t make sense to have her having been one of them once, but some of their members could easily be people she helped out when she was working at that shelter. It would be a nice mythology gag to bring up her connection to the Morlocks.
  3.  Placing more emphasis on the similar traits Marcos has. Not trying to replace her, of course, because that wouldn’t work, but instead having it done intentionally in universe – him recognizing her role on the team and making an effort at filling it, because he’s closer to that than anyone else. More emotional than John. More reasoning than Lorna.

Unfortunately, I doubt any of these are likely. The writers don’t seem to care as much about her as I – and many other viewers that I’ve seen comment – do. From not giving her a character arc, to inconsistency in her writing, to considering her a way to add drama to other characters’ storylines rather than as something with its own value, they’ve demonstrated that to them, she was more a tool that they don’t need anymore than a character. I think that’s a mistake.

Lorna may be the emotional core of the show, the driving force that moves the story along. The Struckers may be the supposed lead characters with the most attention given to them in terms of subplots. But Sonya guided them and provided something that helped hold them together. It’s not easy to articulate just what that something was, but it’s best described as balance. She was the team’s heart. She kept the show centred. And it won’t be the same without her.

My Immense Frustration With ‘Quantico’

I genuinely enjoyed season one of Quantico. As I said in this post, for all its silly soap operatic drama, it mattered. Season two was iffier. But season three got to the point where I actually wrote a post about my relief at the show being cancelled. Now that it’s over, I can say with certainty: season three was a huge waste.

The way they handled their renewal was by essentially using the same characters in a new show with a new setting. They disregarded the events of the previous seasons. I wrote about how season three was disregarding the show’s roots earlier, which does still bother me, but I think one of the primary reasons that it didn’t work for me was simpler than that – what would work as a way of starting a new story in the middle doesn’t really work when you’re talking the third season in an existing show.

What I mean by that is this: A show about a group of FBI agents with long, complicated histories with each other, including a woman, her best friend, and her best friend’s husband that happens to be the first woman’s ex-fiancé, could have solid procedural. But season three isn’t the first season of anything. We saw that history. And having it shift just feels like a slap in the face, especially when it didn’t shift for a clear purpose. It’s not that I was ever invested in Alex/Ryan – or, for that matter, Ryan in general. But I was still kind of rooting for that happy ending. Because as irritating as Ryan was throughout the season, as much as he had the personality of wet cardboard, the bookends of the pilot and second season finale had an air of finality. It had an air of Alex and Ryan are finally going to be together. It felt to me like a moment of, ah, yes. This is how this is supposed to end.

Two years ago, I would have been devastated that Quantico got cancelled. Or maybe not – the plot had been wrapped up while also leaving a vibe of the adventure continuing. I can’t be sure. But either way, I wouldn’t have been relieved. It would have been satisfying, but sad. Now, I’m just glad. Season three? What even was that?

It was an episodic finish to something that was once a heavily serialized story, and it felt so clumsily written. No one got anything that could be defined as a character arc. There were good moments that were promptly negated by the lack of follow through. Andrea and Isabella were plot devices that it never seemed like Alex actually cared about. The finale wasn’t really anything to me. It was the show going out with a whimper, not a bang. Nothing about it felt satisfying to me, much less like an ending for a series that lasted three seasons. Nimah and Raina didn’t get so much a mention, despite being regulars in both seasons one and two. None of the other characters got brought up, even when Shelby started talking about how much had changed since they were at Quantico.

Shelby ended the show crying over Ryan (after the entire season treated their relationship as something we should just go with, rather than ever making an effort to convince us of it) and telling Alex how true love is everything. Alex had a dumb plot featuring abandoning Ryan in the middle of the night, settling down in Italy with some random other guy and his daughter, and deciding she wants children after having a miscarriage, culminating in the aforementioned random other guy dying and her raising his daughter like some kind of weird Replacement Goldfish situation. Owen, McQuigg, and Jocelyn were all somewhere there not really doing anything meaningful.

If you strip away the muss and fuss of season one and two, they actually meant something. You had Alex learning in season one what being an FBI agent means and how to deal with the fact that people were so quick to believe she would blow up Grand Central, and in season two, coming to terms with the fact that she’s just not cut out for the CIA. You had Simon’s story about bravery, about trying to find what the right thing was. Raina’s about having to live her life for herself and not her sister as well as the two of them together learning to work as a team. What can you say about season three? That Jocelyn felt guilty about her role in Celine’s death for about a minute? That Deep left the team because of his disgust at how easily they could all move on, except he showed up again with no worries two episodes later? The writing was worse and it took away pretty much everything I enjoyed about the first two seasons.

Joshua Safran, the creator and showrunner for the first two seasons, Tweeted that he had the word “Quantico” muted and would always consider the real end to be the end of season two. I completely understand that. Season three might have had the same characters, but disrespected everything the first two represented. It lacked the meaningful diversity and backtracked on the character development and established dynamics for no reason. Season two wasn’t great. But season three was just bad.

The ‘Titans’ Trailer and My Complicated Feelings About This Show

As I say a lot, Dick Grayson is my favourite comics character. Ever. So my initial reaction to the announcement of Titans was much the same as my reaction to the announcement of his solo movie – a healthy mixture of excitement and apprehension. And time – along with information – has only increased that feeling for me.

I want to go into this open minded. By that logic, I shouldn’t say anything – if I have a negative opinion going in, a confirmation bias might prevent me from enjoying something great, and it’s not like we’ve seen much yet. But that’s difficult when this is the first real adaptation of my favourite character, where he’s going to be taken totally seriously. I have a lot of opinions.

I saw a Tweet that was something alone the lines of, “people that don’t like this portrayal of Dick are usually not familiar with the post-Crisis version of the character” and that just set me off. I myself am guilty of doing the same sometimes – I occasionally pull out the comics when I’m making a point. I shouldn’t, usually, but it’s become a habit. And it is true that people are trying to use the Teen Titans cartoon as “evidence”  that Titans  doesn’t respect the source material, which is utter nonsense. But – ready for a controversial opinion? Here goes. Nobody “knows the comics”. I’m a comics fan. I have a decent amount of knowledge of a lot of characters. But superhero comics have existed for decades, it’s not possible to read them all, and what one writer says will be blatantly contradicted by another. There are different, equally valid interpretations. That’s not to say there aren’t common traits that should be kept consistent. But it is to say that it’s condescending and stupid to suggest that the reason people don’t like a portrayal is that they don’t know the comics. Maybe for some. But certainly not all.

For me, part of the reason I’m not sold on this is a simple matter of the fact they aged up Dick. Brenton Thwaites is twenty eight. And yet the Dick Grayson he’s playing is still Robin, not Nightwing. And that casts a whole different light on his, for lack of a better term, rebel period. I talked a little bit here about what I find off about the portrayal of Bruce and Dick’s falling out, and all that is still true, but now that the trailer has been released, I see a different issue – behaviour that would be believable if this Dick were, as is traditionally the case, a teenager comes across as just childish and immature.

At first viewing, I thought the “fuck Batman” line was pretty silly. But I didn’t know why. I figured it was just stilted delivery. Then I watched it again. I didn’t change my mind about the delivery – though it may sound better in the actual episode – but I came to realize that I’m just not a fan of the line. We’re talking about a grown man that’s been away from Bruce for years talking about him like a petulant child. Context suggests that there will eventually be a reconciliation between the two. After all, Jason is supposed to appear – in an important enough role that he has an episode named after him – which indicates Dick will move on to become Nightwing and presumably get past his issues with Bruce. That, coupled with the fact people will be furious if they completely set fire to Bruce and Dick’s relationship, makes it seem like Dick has spent a decade pouting because he wants to be his own person and was chafing under Bruce’s need to control him. I understand their relationship being strained. I understand Dick being mad at him from time to time. But this feels over the top and ridiculous.

On the other side of the issue, I vehemently disagree with those that are calling this show “too dark and gritty” or suggesting that Dick is acting more like Jason, whether because Dick is fighting brutally or because he said “fuck Batman”. Dick Grayson is the original rebellious Robin. Jason did not invent the concept. Dick was disobeying Batman and having screaming disagreements with him long before Jason ever existed. And as for the fighting aspects of it…Dick became Robin as a child. He has no powers and frequently fights villains that do. Even when his opponents are regular humans, when he first started fighting crime, he was much smaller than them.  It absolutely makes sense that his fighting style will be violent. Dick is an excellent character and a very good person, but he’s not just there to be the fun, light, non-action guy to Bruce’s muscle.

It seems to me that both people that like the trailer and people that don’t are flattening Dick’s character to justify their position. But the way I see it, both perspectives are true. That’s what makes him such a good character. Canonically, yes! Dick has a bit of a temper. He lashes out at and pushes away the people he cares about. He was trained by Batman, so, yeah, there’s going to be some amount of “do whatever keeps them down” in his fighting style. But he’s also a fundamentally positive character that’s admired and respected by heroes all throughout the DCU. He’s charming and likeable and good hearted. He’s been an older brother and a mentor figure to both Tim and Damian. He keeps Bruce from descending into the dark. He’s suffered and lost people, but he’s still found happiness and a family and loves the life he’s had. As he once put it, “I wouldn’t trade this for the world”. It’s one of the many reasons I love Young Justice. It managed to balance the different aspects of Dick’s character better than just about anything else.

Dick's Letter To Bruce

At first I thought Dick had crushed that one guy’s neck, which I wasn’t a fan of, because that doesn’t ring true to me – while one of his flaws is his anger and while angry, he does things he’ll regret, it takes a lot to get him there. He stopped himself from killing the man that murdered his parents. Even the Joker – Dick only beat him to death with his bare hands when he thought he’d killed Tim. So that made me worried. But then I looked closer and saw that he broke the guy’s jaw instead, which is a whole different matter. So that much I’m okay with.

On the whole, I fully support new takes on characters, but this doesn’t feel genuine. It feels contrived. The only way I can see it working is if Dick starts understanding Bruce better through his relationship with Raven. It would be similar to the way comics Dick learned to control his anger when Bruce was presumed dead and he’d been left in charge of Damian – a great dynamic and source of character development for both of them.

Moving on from Dick, not much is catching my attention about this. I’m liking the looks of the flashbacks to the Flying Graysons – maybe we’ll also get some more to Bruce and Dick in happier times? The burgeoning Dick Raven dynamic is interesting, and I’m curious as to what Dick and Kory’s relationship will be like. Aesthetically, though, it’s not doing much for me. Beast Boy and Raven’s looks aren’t appealing to me very much yet. Starfire is a little better – ironic, considering the backlash to her wig and dress a while back – but I don’t love it. So far, the heavy colour splashes feel a bit Suicide Squad-esque, and while I do think that was an entertaining enough popcorn movie, I wasn’t big on its visuals.

It’s impossible to tell what the show is going to be like from a few posters, a less than two minutes long trailer, and a single article of story details. But I didn’t love the trailer, and it hasn’t sold me on the show. Sure, it’s possible – even probable – context will make it more palatable to me. But as of right now, my expectations aren’t high.

Children’s Fiction And Why Two Of The Best Works Of The Past Two Decades Were Made With Kids In Mind

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the most universally beloved shows I can think of. Prince Zuko is the go to example for countless people when asked asked about a good redemption arc. Likewise, Animorphs has a fiercely dedicated fanbase and fans – more than just me, I mean – who are quick to explain why each of the leads is so multidimensional. So why is that? What is so special about these children’s works that they attract so much dedication amongst people far older than the target audience? Well…it’s a lot of things.

Brilliantly Written Characters

Hey, guess what – well written characters aren’t exclusive to adult fiction! Oftentimes, I actually prefer those in children’s fiction. I think it can partially be attributed to how when a work is targeted at children, authors feel less of a need for a complex plot. That gives the characters more of a chance to shine. Both ATLA and Animorphs stand as excellent examples of this.

Zuko from ATLA and Jake from Animorphs had two of the absolute best written character arcs of all time. Which is funny, seeing as they probably couldn’t be any more different. Zuko’s character arc is essentially Jake’s inverted, because ATLA is more idealistic than Animorphs ever was. But despite their differences, they’re both pillars of their respective works – Jake is the leader of the Animorpsh, and Zuko is arguably more of an emotional anchor in ATLA than even Aang.

Zuko’s story was a beautiful story of redemption, about struggling and becoming a better person that can help lead the world into a better tomorrow. He was a not so good guy when we first met him that, over the course of three seasons, grew up and proved to his former adversaries that they could trust him, which is essentially the opposite of Jake, who began with ideals. Jake started off believing in concepts like honour in war. He believed in leaving no man behind. There was a reason people trusted him to lead, and that was that he was a good guy. Yes, it was partially because he was the link in the chain, the one person every character had a preexisting relationship with before the construction site. But it was more that their preexisting relationship with him made them all aware that he was a good guy whose decisions they could believe in. Jake’s arc was one of someone with too much responsibility placed on his shoulders who started to make tougher and tougher decisions and whose team became more and more aware of how much he was faking it.

I read a post on Tumblr a while back, from a person that always has intelligent things to say about Animorphs, and it included something that really stuck with me – Jake is a good kid and brilliantly written character, but he’s not an easy person to love. I think the same applies to Zuko (from the point when we first meet him, not the flashbacks to before he was banished). They don’t have the same flaws. They’re very different people. But as much as the audience can love and appreciate both of them, they’re not easy for the people around them to deal with.

Take Mai. Mai loves Zuko, enough to stand up to Azula so he could get out of there. And he loves her back. He misses her when he leaves. He wants her to be happy. He’s delighted to see her again at the end of the finale. But he also has anger issues galore that results in him lashing out at her. He’s socially awkward and terrible at expressing affection. During the episode when they were on Ember Island, he yelled at her for exchanging like six words with some random guy. He also gets so caught up in his problems that he doesn’t spend much time considering her feelings. It’s not his fault that he has other stuff to prioritize. But it does mean that he’s not great at the whole relationship thing. Similarly, there’s Zuko’s relationship with Iroh. Iroh loves him, spent a lot of the series trying to tell him what he was doing was neither morally right nor healthy, but Zuko didn’t listen. Zuko’s arc is, in part, about overcoming these issues.

When it comes to Jake, while his friends love him and are loyal to him, they’re also deeply aware of his flaws and the way that, in order to win the war, he has to be willing to manipulate and use them. That coupled with how his method of dealing with emotion is to repress the hell out of it (in himself) or send Cassie to deal with it (in someone else) means that by the end of the series, Cassie, who spent the entire series loving him, knows she has to walk away. She has to move on, because staying with him would be self destructive. It would have probably killed any chance of them ever coming back together, whether as friends or as a romantic couple. Again, we’re talking about a similar principle as with Zuko, but inverted.

Zuko and Jake are both amazingly written characters with wonderfully complex relationships with other characters, and I think they very much benefit from the target audience of the works to which they belong. Both ATLA and Animorphs have simplistic plots. Neither character was ever involved in much romantic drama. The characters themselves were the focus, and they shone.

Format

The first Animorphs book came out in 1996, the year before a certain boy wizard took over the world and revolutionized children’s literature. I imagine if it were coming out today, instead, there would be a lot fewer books that would probably be longer, each book being closer to one of the Chronicles or Megamorph books, rather than the main series. In a way, I think it’s pretty lucky that it came out when it did, because the format works.

Sure, Animorphs is trashy sci fi for kids that was used as a tool to sell a lot of merchandise to children. Sure, the book a month for years schedule was a way of pushing out a lot of content, regardless of quality. Sure, that’s not normally conducive to a particularly thought provoking franchise, or anything with literary merit. But fortunately, in this one circumstance, it all came together to work in the books’ favour. The brilliance of Animorphs is that the large number of instalments show off how the characters develop, how they perceive themselves, and how their friends see them over the entire length of the series. Most books in the series do the remarkable job of making the reader feel the full gamut of human emotion in about a hundred pages. Even the worst written Animorphs book, the most nonsensical or pointless one – it still has something about it that I’d consider worth reading. I think the same thing can be said about ATLA: most episodes make full use of its twenty minutes in a many other shows – of all lengths and genres – don’t, and even the weakest have value.

Adult – and young adult – fiction wanders. It’s usually longer, giving more time for asides. That’s not the case with most children’s work, especially pre-Harry Potter. There has to be a focus. They have to be tightly plotted in order to be appealing. Each twenty minute ATLA episode, each, say, 120 page Animorphs book did an excellent job of doing that. Both ATLA and Animorphs had breather “episodes” that give the audience time to recover and not descend into Darkness Induced Audience Apathy. Humour and seriousness coexist without intruding on each other. It might occasionally verge onto heavy handed, but both works generally handle it well.

When a work is targeted at an older audience, oftentimes, subtlety will fly out the window. It’s funny – subtlety isn’t really a word I’d think at first to apply to either ATLA or Animorphs. What I’ve always said about the narration of the latter is that it’s simplistic, childish, kind of repetitive, with occasional moments of utter brilliance. It doesn’t get bogged down in the same kind of flowery language present in a lot of books, nor is it the barebones, beige prose style of a lot of adult fiction. It’s just simple and blunt. Despite that, we see nuances that go well beyond what I’ve seen in many works targeted at adults. ATLA might not be quite at that level of carefully illustrated development, but it gives it a fair shot.

When I talk about a lack of subtlety in adult works, it’s not at all a question of violence. I can handle that. You’d be surprised at how horrifyingly violent Animorphs got. But other books, shows, movies, whatnot, they get needlessly graphic with their violence, to the point where it’s gratuitous rather than serving a purpose. Instead of being “gritty” through exploring people and issues, they bring in things like rape or incest or illustrating abuse in painful detail.

In ATLA, we’re explicitly told every realization Zuko has. We see him confront Ozai and call him out for being a terrible parent, we hear him talk through his issues with Azula. Even though his coming to those realizations is more subtle and far from immediate, the culmination of it is very direct. But what we don’t see is every example of Ozai’s abusiveness throughout Zuko’s childhood. Showing us that would be unnecessary, and might even distract from the point. We don’t need to see the abuse itself to see its effect.

It’s kind of similar to the episode of Batman: The Animated Series where the Graysons die. We see the shadow, we see the frayed ropes, and we see Bruce’s face, but we don’t see the corpses. From what I understand, that wasn’t the original plan, but censors insisted the scene be changed to make it less graphic. And while I’m usually disappointed when creators have to change things to get past the censors, I think that when it comes to  Robin’s Reckoning, it was for the best. I think it made the scene a lot more powerful.

When it comes to adult fiction, Westworld strikes me as an example of a show that does it right – at least some of the time. It’s filled with violence and abuse, but it’s not fetishized. Gruesome, horrifying things are portrayed as gruesome and horrifying. In the pilot, Dolores’s rape is off screen. It’s not the Game of Thrones style violence against women for shock value and prolonged scenes of graphic abuse. Do I think all of the violence it does have is necessary? No. But I much prefer it to the style of gratuitous sexualized abuse in other works.

Thematic Ideas

Animorphs is a brutal deconstruction of countless tropes. And part of what makes it compelling is that there is very, very rarely an easy out.

Jake is the closest thing to the central main character. The first book was his. He led the team. He was essentially every other main character’s most important relationship. So you’d think he’d be the counterpart to Aang. But no, he’s Zuko’s, because as much as I do like Aang, as much as I’d defend his stance that he couldn’t kill Ozai, that was the easy way out in terms of now he ultimately had something else he could do. Zuko didn’t get the same kind of easy answers Aang did. Aang faced a lot of difficulties, but he never had to make the choice to kill Ozai. Zuko, on the other hand, was ready for that to happen. He was prepared for his father’s death, his sister’s. Was it easier for him than for Jake, because Jake’s childhood was so much happier? No doubt. Which is why the different outcomes in their respective stories worked so well.

Zuko and Jake have different relationships with their siblings. They’re both the less talented sibling at something that’s important to them, but their place in the birth order informs how that affects them. Zuko is older, with a baby sister that surpasses him. So he’s jealous about it. He’s bitter and envious and spends years trying to prove himself. Jake, on the other hand, starts off idolizing Tom, the big brother he wants to be just like. It makes so much sense, from this perspective, that by the end, Zuko has let go of his anger and is in a place where it’s possible to repair his relationship with his sister, while Jake’s family has completely fallen apart.

ATLA is a story about hope, peace, redemption, friendship. Through Zuko, we see someone misguided and confused finding his way. He stands up for himself to his father. He decides that he doesn’t like the path he’s on and changes direction. He learns to appreciate and understand Iroh’s love for him. He chooses his family. Even though doing so means he has to go against everything he’s ever known, he does it, choosing to fight with Aang against his own family. And at the end, even after that, there’s recognition of the fact that Azula may not be nice, she may not have learned the same lessons Zuko did, but she still grew up in the same abusive environment he did and deserves a chance to redeem herself. She didn’t, in the show, but she also didn’t die. Azula didn’t die. And where there’s life, there’s hope.

Animorphs is a story about the horrors of war. It’s about how utterly unfair it is – there isn’t any vengeance. Not really. The story ended with Rachel dead and Tom dead and everyone traumatized. Visser Three lived. Most of the Yeerks that enslaved innocent people weren’t punished. The people that were hurt throughout the series were largely the innocents. By the time he joined the Gaang, Zuko was prepared for the deaths of his brother and sister. He’d come to believe it was necessary because they were hurting people. That wasn’t what Jake  had to face at all – he had to send his cousin to kill his brother, even though it wasn’t his brother hurting people. Tom was an innocent that Jake had spent years refusing to give up on. The story didn’t have a happy ending – it wasn’t all tragedy, but it was still a whole lot of pain.

I used to consider the ending in ATLA to be a little bit of a cop out, what with the energy bending solution coming out of nowhere, seemingly just so Aang could get out of killing Ozai without future consequences. And I still kind of do, primarily because of how influential Animorphs was to how I interpret fiction. But I also think it fits with the rest of the story.

I’m a big believer in earned endings, happy or otherwise. I would have liked more setup to the “take away his bending” outcome than we got, but I’m not actually mad about how ATLA ended. If anything, giving it the tragic ending Animorphs got would be a departure from the positive themes the show was rooted in.


ATLA and Animorphs are completely different stories. They pretty much only have two things in common: they were targeted at children, and they are fantastic. Children’s fiction often gets dismissed because of the target audience. But when handled with care by people who respect children and their intelligence, it can be excellent. Any good children’s work matures as it progresses, matures as the characters and audience alike develop, allowing people of different ages and experiences to get something different out of it. ATLA and Animorphs do just that. As such, everyone – of all ages – should watch ATLA and read Animorphs. Regardless of what specifically you get out of it, they’re both worth the time.