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.

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‘Aquaman’ and a Fresh Take on the Classics

So today the second trailer for Aquaman was released, and all I could think was, holy shit.

What I find most interesting is that it’s not at all pushing the idea that it’s somehow “unique”. By that I mean that when it comes to a lot of movies’ marketing, there’s a lot about what’s special about it, what it’s doing that has never been done before. Aquaman  doesn’t seem to be doing that. Instead, it’s focusing on presenting the same classic tropes we’ve seen really well.

From what we’ve seen so far, it’s a textbook example of the hero’s journey. There’s a call to adventure and a refusal of the call. There was the unusual circumstances surrounding Arthur’s birth – which may have gone a little out of vogue, but is still very much a part of the classic hero’s journey. There’s Mera acting as a mentor. There are a series of trials that they go through together. We understand the arc of this type of movie going in. It’s not about plot twists and surprising the audience with what happens, it’s about using the tools and plot elements we’re well acquainted with to tell a compelling story. It looks like it’s going to do an amazing job at that.

A hero’s journey. A protagonist torn between two worlds and deciding for himself the kind of man he wants to be. Two separate love stories that I’m sure will be great. And all of that wrapped up with spectacular visuals and a probably brilliant score. I seriously cannot wait.

The X-Men Movies And The Case They Make For Self Contained Stories

The X-Men film universe gives me a headache.

I know intellectually that I should take them in in the same way I do comic books – not worrying about the timeline, just relaxing into the story and not questioning it – but there’s something about having an adaptation, live action or otherwise, that makes that harder. Even though I know it doesn’t make sense, I find myself questioning timelines, questioning how the thing that happened in one movie ties into what happened in the previous one, trying to find in-universe explanations for retcons or inconsistencies. I get a little tired of the constant debate of how different things – even those that are explicitly not in the same universe, like The Gifted and Legion – fit into a timeline that at best can be interpreted loosely. And that doesn’t even get into how exhausting continuity lockout can be. A movie should be a complete story on its own. It should stand alone without needing to watch three other movies and read all the companion material. A multiple part story is one thing, but even then, that story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, based on a pre-existing plan, not an endless number of instalments tacked on, because comic book movies are not comic books. Having more self contained stories, rather than pushing the idea of a “cinematic universe”, would solve all these problems.

Having a predetermined number of movies with a clear overall arc would lessen the debate of how things fit together, because there’d be a clear answer: they don’t. If it floats your boat, you could make a case for how they could, but when it comes to the actual story, the answer is they don’t. It would allow for viewers to just go in and watch the movie or the series without having to watch a bunch more movies to avoid confusion. It would allow for more creator freedom, because their work would depend on, at most, a couple other movies in a series, not a dozen of highly variable quality and comprehensibility. For the viewer, it makes it easier to just reject what you didn’t like. It seems to me like a much more enjoyable experience.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t enjoy Logan. From my perspective, it relied too heavily on existing fondness for the Hugh Jackman Wolverine and Patrick Stewart Xavier, because neither of them were very sympathetic in the film itself. It was more manipulative than well written. I didn’t like the concept, because it felt disrespectful to all the other X-Men and Old Man Logan doesn’t do it for me. And it wasn’t particularly well thought out, either, because when asked if it was in its own universe, everyone involved gave a different answer. But you know what? If it had been explicitly an separate story – with different actors, maybe, something to show that it’s a different universe – all that could have changed.

Part of the reason it bothered me so much was because of what it means for other X-Men movies. It wasn’t all of it, but it was certainly some of it, because it meant we were never going to see the original cast again. They’re never going to get the sendoff they deserve, that I was hoping for after we saw them again in Days of Future Past. So I’ve thought a lot about what it would be like if Logan were in a different universe and hadn’t slammed that door closed. In that case, it wouldn’t have turned a whole franchise into something even more annoyingly Wolverine-centric. It wouldn’t have turned the whole franchise into a giant Shoot the Shaggy Dog story where nothing the X-Men did in past movies or will do in future ones matters. It wouldn’t have presented Logan as the most important X-Man, despite the fact he’s arguably barely an X-Man and doesn’t fit at all with the metaphor for the oppressed that they’ve been since Chris Claremont defined them. Saying, hey, this is a movie about Wolverine and Professor X that has nothing to do with those other movies about them would mean it could be judged as a story, not as an entry into a franchise, on its own merits, rather than being Hugh Jackman’s swan song. In that case, we could have learned if it was actually good beyond the emotional manipulation. I might have actually liked it.

On a similar note, we have Days of Future Past. Now, I love this movie. I think it was one of the peaks of the franchise. But it also has a lot of glaring flaws. Some of these, I think, would have been fixed by making it and First Class a separate duology, or maybe even adding a third movie to put it into a trilogy that had nothing to do with any other movie. What’s one of the biggest complaints about that movie? That’s easy: Kitty Pryde being sidelined from being the lead character of the story to being Wolverine’s Uber driver. But every time that gets brought up, people jump to defending why it “had to be Wolverine”. There are two ways they use to argue this – Watsonian or Doylist. Intradiegetic or extradiegetic. In-universe or real world.

The in-universe answer is that Wolverine was the only one alive at the time they had to go back to that could handle the trip and for the way the story’s version of time travel worked, they couldn’t send someone else. For argument’s sake, let’s ignore the fact that the writers could change those time travel rules. Setting it in a separate timeline from the other movies could make that not true – boom, done, Kitty was alive in the time she needed to go back to, she could go.

The other argument for why it “had to be Wolverine” is the real world answer – people were attached to Wolverine, not Kitty, who only had about fifteen minutes of screen time in the series. So sending back Wolverine made for a more poignant story. You know what that indicates? Precisely my problem with Logan – a story that’s manipulative and relying on existing fondness for a character, rather than actually giving them an arc that we can be invested in. If DoFP was a “standalone” (though part of its own, shorter series), none of this justification for not sending Kitty would be valid, because Wolverine wouldn’t have any more history in the story. All history would have to be built in the movie itself. Every minute would have to count. And that’s how you can tell a good story from something that’s not – a good story can make the audience sympathize and root for and feel attached to the character on its own. It doesn’t need a whole preceding series.

It’s funny – the original X-Men trilogy was hugely important for the development of superhero movies. They demonstrated how great sequels to these movies could be. They very probably paved the way for shared universes as it pertains to superheroes, all of them existing together. Without them, there would be no MCU or DCEU. It doesn’t matter whether or not you love them, you have to acknowledge that they matter. But I think they also have reached a point, eighteen years in, where they make it clear that this really isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Logan  and Days of Future Past clearly demonstrate the value of standalones.

It reminds me of something that there was a lot of debate about which on Twitter recently – Zack Snyder’s comment that, in his five movie plan, he would have killed Batman. A lot of people were shocked and glad that didn’t come to pass. But I think that’s just another indication of what Snyder’s preferred method of storytelling is. And I think that method of storytelling would work amazingly for the X-Men.

Snyder believes in story arcs, not universes. He draws inspiration from various sources, blending them into one coherent story, where instalments connect to each other, but there’s also an end in sight. His movies have very little excess bulk, with every minute of footage serving a specific purpose. He makes bold choices, such as killing off iconic characters like Bruce Wayne, in a way that all Snyder fans know would be respectful and poignant. Some people were talking about how Dick Grayson could become Batman after Bruce’s death- an idea which I love, Dick as Batman is one of my very favourite things – but I don’t think that’s the point here. The point is that Snyder’s vision wasn’t more and more instalments with more and more characters that ended up all sharing the screen. It was thinking through all the details, planning ahead, and making a story that doesn’t go on forever. It’s not really a style loved by executives in this age of sequels and remakes. It’s very different from the MCU brand. But it’s fascinating to watch. It’s a beautiful style from someone that believes in self contained stories, the kind that would be perfect for the X-Men.

The X-Men movies have felt a bit like the result of a bunch of unplanned sequels being tacked on to a finished product, for no reason other than they make money. For someone that loves the X-Men and loves quite a bit of what’s in the X-Men movies, it’s kind of heartbreaking. I know they’re going to reboot. And presumably pretty soon. I just wish that when they do, it would be in a way that follows the tradition of self contained movies or trilogies, rather than the MCU brand of sticking everything together, because who cares about art when there’s money to be made.

It’s unlikely that we’re going to go back to the age of standalones any time soon. Not after the MCU has demonstrated how much money there is to be made like this. But I hope someday we do. The cinematic universe model has been a great experiment, and it was fun while it lasted, but I really would like to go back to self contained series now.

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 Strange Sense Of Elitism In Film Criticism

There was a debate all over my Twitter timeline a while ago about something Ethan Hawke said about how superhero movies get overpraised and that Logan is a fine superhero movie, but not a great movie. And regardless of my feelings towards Logan  specifically, I think this betrays the typical genre elitism that does more harm than good by preventing excellent works from being recognized as excellent and thus keeping standards from getting higher.

There are countless counterexamples to Hawke’s point. So instead of listing all of them, let’s focus on three main points: the literary merit of commercial entertainment, the dismissal of the superhero genre, and the pretentiousness behind the idea that literary fiction is its own category.

Meaningful Stories In Popular Media

If you pick out any member of the Animorphs fandom and ask them about the series, I doubt you’d find a single one that would argue that it isn’t kind of trashy sci fi aimed at children. Because it is. They were cheap paperbacks pushed out at a breakneck pace to sell toys to kids with a lot of lighthearted, funny scenes largely centred around fish-out-of-water comedy. No one will deny that. But that absolutely does not preclude them from having literary merit.

It’s a story about child soldiers and trauma and galaxy wide imperialism. Sure, there are moments where the lead characters argue over Teletubbies and an alien eats chocolate off the floor, but that doesn’t negate the themes of genocide, slavery, and depression. They coexist. They work together to build multifaceted characters. Anyone is free to not like it, or think it’s not well written, but if your argument for why it doesn’t have merit or why those themes aren’t meaningful is it’s about kids turning into animals, you’re not making a good case.

“It’s written in a simplistic style targeted at children and lacks the sophistication necessary to appeal to me” is a fair enough statement. I can’t say I’ve ever felt the same way about a novel – sure, I like things that sound good, pieces of literature that can flow over me where how it makes me feel is somewhat more important than what specifically is happening, but I’ve always felt that that is best suited for poetry and short stories than for a full length novel – but I can understand why someone would feel that way. I don’t agree, but it’s an infinitely better case than “it’s not a great book, it’s a fine adventure story, it’s still about kids turning into animals”.

I don’t have much use for media that doesn’t tell me a compelling story. Characters, plot, themes, and style all work together to create a story. No amount of interesting style or themes or both of them put together is enough to make up for boring characters or a nonexistent plot. Animorphs? It does a great job handling all of them together. The books take themselves just seriously enough. They’re a perfect example of how meaningful and pretentiousness don’t have to go hand in hand, how there doesn’t have to be a trade off between developed characters and a developed plot, how themes in children’s literature can be handled more subtly than by dropping an anvil over the reader’s head, how a blunt style isn’t inherently worse than anything else. Most of all, they demonstrate how it doesn’t even matter what the plot is – any plot can be the plot of a meaningful story.

Dismissal of Superheroes

I genuinely don’t understand this need to be all it’s not a superhero story, it’s a whatever story with superheroes! “Superhero” isn’t a genre, it’s an archetype. A wide range of stories can fall into the superhero category. It comes across as people trying to separate something they enjoy from other things with similar elements, not for the sake of describing what it is, but for the sake of making it sound more “high brow”. This extends far beyond superhero stories. Like, what does the phrase “genre fiction” even mean? Nothing. It means nothing.

It becomes a vicious cycle. People expect superhero movies to be straightforward, so people go watch them when they want some shallow entertainment. That results in those that try something new not doing as well, which in turn results in less creative movies, which solidifies people’s belief that superhero movies should be straightforward entertainment. Then you have Batman v Superman, which is a whole different thing altogether.

Never once does it shy away from being a superhero story, because there’s no denying that’s what it is. It’s based on a comic book. It’s about the most iconic superheroes of all time. But that doesn’t preclude it from being a layered story, filled with allusions and themes. It’s the most high budget arthouse movie ever made. All the political themes are interwoven into the story. It’s more than just pseudo-deep quotes, all the themes are rooted throughout the movie. That the characters are public figures and heroes mattersIt’s thoughtful and unique. But critics expected they didn’t have to pay much attention because it’s a superhero movie and didn’t get nearly as much out of it as people thought about what they were watching.

If our expectations for superhero movies included that they must mean something, and critics actually thought critically, the reaction to Batman v Superman would have been hugely different. If you took the same movie and didn’t tell them it was directed by Zack Snyder – because critics clearly have something against him – it would have just as much action and bombast, but critics would be more receptive to the themes and quiet drama of the whole movie. They’d call it – rightfully – a work of art and a political statement. They might even go so far as to make the mistake in saying it’s not a superhero movie, it’s a drama about our relationship with power. It is that. But it matters that it’s told using superheroes. Pretty much the only reason that critics didn’t analyze it through that lens is because it’s a superhero movie. This goes back to the “superhero movie” as compared to “movie with superheroes” issue. If you extend that further, you get the frequent argument that something is not part of a given genre, it just has elements of that genre. That takes us to the “literary fiction” debate.

Genre Fiction vs. Literary Fiction

Perhaps the reason a certain demographic claims “genre fiction” is a lesser art form than so-called “literary fiction” is that they’re constantly redefining the best works in any genre as something other than what it is – especially in retrospect. Consider – The Book Thief has beautiful characterization and striking prose. It’s a piece of historical fiction set in Nazi Germany, and it’s widely considered to be an excellent book. It’s also narrated by Death – that makes it a fantasy. But I’ve seen multiple critics ignore that fantasy aspect and focus solely on the historical setting. Similarly, I saw an article once about literary fiction that claimed All the Pretty Horses is not a Western and 1984 is not sci fi. I think most of us can agree those claims are absurd. Style doesn’t change the genre. Being well written or memorable or having literary merit for whatever reason doesn’t stop something from fitting the conventions of a given genre.

It especially irks me when it comes to the topic of science fiction, because some of the core tenants of sci fi have always been questioning the world and society. It’s a weird kind of self-importance to suggest that only literary fiction addresses those themes, and even weirder to pitch your work as literature, as if that’s something you or critics get to decide and not time. There are lots of movies and novels that have literary merit. But that doesn’t change the fact that they belong to different genres. It reminds me a bit of the way some Game of Thrones fans try to talk about how much it transcends a genreThere’s a line about it in Parks and Recreation that’s something along the lines of “they’re telling human stories in a fantasy world”. Is there something about fantasy which means fantasy writers don’t tell human stories? No, because that’s stupid. Everyone tells human stories. Saying that it’s not a fantasy story, it’s something else in a fantasy setting doesn’t actually mean anything.


Hawke had a very valid point in that when it comes to superhero movies, most aren’t very good, and they’re praised for being mindless entertainment. But the reason for that has nothing to do with what they are. It has nothing to do with “people wearing tights” or “having metal coming out of their hands”. I’ve been vocal about my issues with Logan as a movie, but something I will never say is that one of the problems with it is the fact it involves people with metal claws. You can make anything sound silly if you talk about it like that – Slaughterhouse-Five is about a man who gets put on display in an alien zoo.

With live action superhero movies, we’re talking about a fairly small sample size. Sure, that’s expanded a huge amount in the past fifteen years, but we’re not talking about anything so broad as “fantasy” or “science fiction”. So we can say things like most superhero movies are lazy without generalizing, because a lot of people have seen a significant percentage of the movies that fall into that category. If that’s what Hawke meant, that’s what he should have said. But what he did say was dismissive of entire genre based on what the genre is, rather than what it’s produced. We have to judge people’s statements for what they are, not bend over backwards trying to find a way to justify them as correct because we agree with something kind of relevant to what they’re talking about.

Logan isn’t a great movie and most superhero movies are overpraised and carefully calculated to sell rather than actually make a point. Yeah. True. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the science fiction and fantasy elements of those stories.

Superman and the X-Men: A Sense of Inclusion In Superhero Stories

Just about any good character is relatable in some way to the audience. Superheros are a form of escapism, that much is true, but stories of all kinds matter because they allow us to connect to other people. With Batman, it’s trying to reclaim some sense of control in a world where you feel powerless. With the X-Men, it’s the concept of being hated, not because of anything you’ve done, but what you are. With Superman, it’s the desire to do the right thing, the idea of lost culture, being a good person – it is and always has been an immigrant story. With DCEU Clark specifically, it’s all of that plus that feeling of isolation, of being alone.

The DCEU version of Superman reminds me a great deal of classic X-Men stories. After all, the idea of him being an immigrant is heavily highlighted. The X-Men represent persecuted minorities that do just what Clark did throughout all of Batman v Superman. He saves the world, but gets criticized and berated and treated as the other for it. The motto of the X-Men has always been to protect those that hate and fear them.

I saw a debate on Tumblr recently over the use of the word “uniform” vs “costume” to describe what the X-Men wear. One person took the fact Scott prefers “costume” as classist and lacking respect for blue collar workers that wear uniforms, but several other people pointed out that that’s not it at all, because Scott wasn’t raised at the school. He spent his childhood on the streets and in an orphanage, told no one would care about him. His preference for costume over uniform isn’t that he considers janitors or fast food workers beneath him. It’s ideological. It’s tied with his identity as a mutant. Being an X-Man isn’t a job for him. It’s not a choice. I’d argue that it’s even more than a calling, because Scott can’t stop being a mutant. It’s to be recognized as someone not dangerous, someone that can and will help.

Costuming is an interesting thing to consider. The X-Men movies are the codifier for the Movie Superheroes Wear Black trope, right? And I get why that’s how they were costumed. It served a purpose. The first X-Men movie was a new, darker take on the genre, and they figured that that would be a good way to distinguish them from previous superhero movies. The X-Men are a team, not just a single person, so it made a degree of sense to put them in matching suits that looked like they could offer some amount of protection, like a military unit. But that’s not what the X-Men are. They’re not a military organization. Sure, not everything they do is out in the open. But that’s for the safety of both them and their students. Their primary goal is to help mutants learn to control their powers, not fight anyone. They’re not supposed to scare people, they’re there to help. They’re there to be unashamedly mutants, to show people that the majority of mutants aren’t bad, aren’t there to hurt anyone. They stand as an example and a symbol of hope, to mutants and baselines alike.

From what I understand of a certain Justice League deleted scene, Clark looked past a black suit – pretty similar to what Jor El was wearing under his armour in the Man of Steel opening scene – and chose his traditional blue and red over it because that’s the symbol of hope. That suit and emblem are what people recognize. When he’s flying through the sky, too far for people to tell what he looks like, they first see movement and then they see colour. Zod was wearing black during their fight in Man of Steel. Choosing the blue and red suit gave the humans on the ground – including the ones who’d feared and hated him to the point of waving signs saying he didn’t belong on the planet – a clear way to recognize him and distinguish him from Zod and the other Kryptonians that invaded. Clark cared about the people that hated him enough to reassure them, and on a meta level, the fact that those people were reassured by that choice says a lot about the maliciousness of their attitude towards him in Batman v Superman. Most of them do recognize the difference between him and Zod. They were just being assholes, hating the different.

Bruce uses fear as a tool, unlike Clark or the X-Men. He can do that because he’s human with no special powers. He doesn’t want the innocent to be afraid of him – as the woman Clark spoke to in Batman v Superman said, “the only people scared of him are the people that got reason to be.” But he’s not afraid of being perceived as a soldier rather than a superhero, because a superhero isn’t what Gotham needs. Batman is a crusader in a war against crime. He doesn’t have powers, there are just rumours. He’s a threat to a corrupt institution, but innocents aren’t afraid of him.

Bruce Wayne can be reassuring. He can run through a disaster zone and tell a child he’s going to find her mom. He can act like a harmless rich guy with no day job at a party. But Batman has to be scary because fear helps him keep crime in check. It works because of the kind of place Gotham is – a corrupt cesspool that can’t be fixed with superpowers, because many of its problems are deep rooted, system issues involving people taking advantage of those that can’t protect themselves. Gotham doesn’t trust idealists. It’s a city that at times seems designed to chew people up and spit them back out. As Bruce himself said in Batman v Superman, “Twenty years in Gotham, Alfred; we’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” Good guys die. They get corrupted and become villains. And because of that, the people of Gotham don’t so much want a symbol as they do an example. An example of a good guy that doesn’t give up on them, even when it’s hard and seems like a struggle that never ends. Yes, the bat is a symbol of hope to Gothamites, but what matters is why: Batman is trusted in Gotham because he’s still there. All these years, and he’s still fighting for the people that live there. That can also tie into the X-Men – because even if baseline humans don’t, mutants trust them for continuing to fight for them – even if you can look at it as the opposite of Superman’s  idealism being what people respect and admire.

Xavier had an enormous influence on Scott’s worldview, and Scott was devoted to his dream. Even when everyone accused him of straying away from it, he was still fighting with the same end goal in mind: building a world where mutants can be safe. The X-Men fight to protect those that hate and fear them, both because that’s the right thing to do and because of their goal of peaceful coexistence. In recent years, Scott has become known as a mutant revolutionary. Before his death, he drew a line in the sand and refused to not fight back when humans tried to harm mutant children. But even then, his defence of himself and his people had nothing to do with stopping defending humans. Helping people is not a zero sum game.

Even if Scott’s power was something less destructive, something he could control, he’s still been doing this for so long, it’s not an option for him anymore. He was a child soldier. He became a teacher. Caring for, teaching, and protecting young mutants is what he does. It’s pretty much his entire identity. He’s a crusader, dedicating to protecting mutantkind, because someone has to, and no one else is good at it. He’s lost everything that matters to him because of what it means to be a mutant and what it means to be a mutant leader. Jean, multiple times. Madelyne. His relationship with his friends and family. His life. He keeps at it because he has to. Because he’s a good guy that can’t not help people.

In that regard, Clark is very much like Scott. As Lois said in Man of Steel, not helping just isn’t an option for him. He can’t sit back and not do anything when there are people that need him, when he can see and hear so much that he can prevent. Both Superman and the X-Men are torn between a feeling of responsibility to protect other people and a need to take care of themselves.

Clark blocks out some of the stuff he could hear and see. He has to, because otherwise, he would probably be unable to help anyone. In Man of Steel, we saw a younger version of him in a flashback, overwhelmed by his senses and terrified about the world being too big. What that scene really reminded me of is a scene from X-Men: Evolution, when Rogue was overwhelmed by all the personalities she’d absorbed. Both these scenes are a sobering reminder that saving people isn’t easy. And we don’t have a right to demand it of anyone. It’s easy to say that people who can help others should be obligated to, that we all have responsibility towards our fellow man. And to an extent, it’s true – humans are social creatures, we’re in this together, and we’ve survived this long because we help each other. Doing that is the right thing to do. But in practice, it’s not that easy. It’s one thing to help someone up when they fall or give the homeless guy on the corner a few bucks, but having to constantly be aware of everything, every bit of suffering? That’s a horrifying thought. Even people that work with amazing organizations like Doctors Without Borders can’t spend all their time and energy on other people. It’s unsustainable at best.

Even if Superman dedicated every minute of every day to saving people, he still wouldn’t be able to save everyone. If there were two people drowning on opposite sides of the world, he’d have to pick one. And knowing that would destroy him. He’s just a guy that wants to do the right thing. He’s not a god. He’s not omnipotent. Clark does help people. He’s even glad to. He’s willing to give his life for others, as he demonstrated in Batman v Superman. He’s willing to come testify before Congress to justify his actions even though none of the deaths were his doing. But asking him to give up his relationships with other people, any semblance of a life, his very sanity? That’s asking too much. Of anyone. No one is obligated to set themselves on fire to keep you warm.

There is a scene in, I think, Civil War, where Cyclops confronts Iron Man. Tony tells Scott that the government wants the X-Men registered, and Scott counters by pointing out that being a mutant isn’t what they do or a choice, it’s what they are, and that what he’s asking is for them to register for being born.

Scott and His Armour Piercing Question

He disbands the X-Men, leaving all the former members as just citizens with no secret identity. He limits their ability to help people for the sake of keeping them safe and free. And that’s not a particularly difficult choice for him, because it’s not just about him. He has to make decisions with his entire species in mind. That’s something a member of any minority can understand – we get judged as a group. We’re treated as a monolith, not as individuals.

At the end of Man of Steel, Clark destroys a drone, saying that while he wants to help, it has to be on his own terms. That’s not an option for the X-Men, because they don’t work alone. They do what they do to protect people, yes…but it’s about more than that. It’s about mutant children. It’s an interesting contrast – Clark doesn’t have the same support or sense of security of knowing there are other people like him out there. His abilities isolate him. But to an extent, it’s also freeing. His decisions are simpler than those of the X-Men. He doesn’t have to think what doing one thing could mean for all the people like him around the world. Knowing what the right thing to do is isn’t easy…but it’s easier when you don’t have to consider the political ramifications of it and what acting would mean for your people.

Remember the old joke about the Superman comics and how no one would be surprised if it turned out nobody died on Krypton but Jor El, because of all the Kryptonians that kept showing up alive? Well, seeing as that’s not really the case in the DCEU, Clark being alone is arguably the primary difference between his story and that of the mutants. Kara isn’t around in the DCEU yet – maybe never, what with the whole scout ship thing – and neither is Kon, so Clark doesn’t have to worry about them in the same way the X-Men have to worry about their students. But you know who in the DCEU did have that same worry? Clark’s parents. Jonathan and Martha may be human with no special powers, but they faced the same primary concern Scott and other adult mutants did: fear for their child. Fear of what would happen if people found out about his powers. It was the same fear Lara had before launching baby Kal into space. He’ll be an outcast. A freak. They’ll kill him. The mutants have additional concerns, like registration and having to find children with the X-gene and train them before they can get hurt.

In BvS, Clark is hated for being an alien, for being different, but he’s not the one that brought Doomsday into the world. He’s not the one that wreaked havoc while trying to kill an innocent man. Lex is a human that decided he didn’t like Clark’s power and that he needed to die so that his world would make sense to him again. Bruce is the one who appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner. Clark? He’s just the one that saved people from fires, aliens invaders, oil rig explosions, and more. One of the single most poignant scenes in Batman v Superman was Clark landing in front of the Capitol and turning to see a mob waving signs telling him to go home, despite all he’d done to help people. It reminds me of that one storyline in X-Men: Evolution, where the existence of mutants was revealed to the world. They wound up with the police and the military trying to arrest them. Even after they’d stopped Juggernaut, they were still regarded with suspicion.

Threats don’t come from people that look different. Nightcrawler is blue. He has a tail and fangs. He’s a hero. Mystique can look like anyone under the sun. She’s a villain. The Morlocks are feared and forced to live underground, not because they’ve done anything, or even because they’re powerful mutants, but because people don’t accept them since they look different. Lex and Bruce have no powers whatsoever, but still caused huge amounts of damage in Batman v Superman. The most dangerous people among us are not the ones that look different, that are obviously unlike he supposedly “normal” people. Anyone can be dangerous. It’s not something you can identify from appearance or abilities. It’s actions that matter.

If Clark is analogous to the X-Men, that makes Zod and the like analogous to the Brotherhood. They believe that might makes right. They may have noble goals, but they’ve been twisted and distorted. Zod wanted to rebuild Krypton on Earth and didn’t care how many humans he had to kill to do it. Magneto – sometimes, anyway – wants to protect mutantkind from persecution, but goes so far that he believes baselines should all be wiped out and does more to increase fear of mutants than he does to help them. It’s not a question of appearance. Magneto and Zod look just as human as Clark does. And it’s not a question of abilities. Zod has the same abilities as Clark. Magneto is less powerful than some X-Men, more powerful than others. It’s a matter of what they do with their powers. It’s a choice.

One of the things I have to appreciate about movies based on comic books over the comics themselves is that there can be an end. A happy ending isn’t just until the next terrible thing in the next instalment. Comics can get kind of depressing after a while because of how rarely there are major changes to the status quo. Like, the X-Men have spent the past, what, sixty years fighting oppression? And they never get a victory that lasts because if they ever got to a point where mutants weren’t facing constant existential crises and weren’t feared by a significant chunk of the population, the entire premise of the X-Men comics would have to change. The same holds true for Batman – Gotham City must remain a crime ridden terrible place to live, otherwise Batman no longer needs to exist. But people can change. People can improve. That’s present in both the DCEU and, on a smaller scale, the X-Men comics. Clark inspired Bruce to get back to being a hero in Batman v Superman. In the comics, Senator Kelly eventually started supporting mutant rights after the X-Men saved him a bunch of times, up to the point of seeking legal action against the Sentinel program.

Clark becomes reminiscent of the mutants not because of his powers, and not because of how he’s ostracized because of them – at least, not entirely – but because he’s a good guy. He goes out and saves people, regardless of how they feel about him. He does good and eventually, that inspires other people to do the same, to stop regarding him as a threat. Superman and the X-Men both resonate with minorities because of that sense of ostracization. Superman and the X-Men are two sides of the same coin and demonstrate different aspects of being a minority. As we saw from the reaction to DCEU Clark, this may make their stories seem “gloomy” or “no fun” to a lot of people, but to a lot of immigrants and  other minorities, it’s instead instantly recognizable and beautifully relatable.

My Dislike For Breaks From Canon vs My Love For ‘Gotham’: Deciphering My Own Mild Hypocrisy

I absolutely love Gotham and its wild, unashamed love of comic books. Despite that love, it doesn’t follow any canon. It takes bits from different comics, from one offs, from cartoons and movies, and blends it with new material, capturing the spirit and feel of reading a comic perfectly as it does so. And even though I love the comics, I adore these changes. It makes the show feel fresh and new.

The X-Men movies, on the other hand? Not quite. For me, most of the X-Men movies don’t feel like they were made by people that even like comics, much less love them. They’re not the product of people that love the characters and respect all of them.

It kind of reminds me of something Guillermo del Toro said once about Pacific Rim: it was inspired by Kaiju movies, but by his memory of them, his nostalgia for them, rather than how they actually are. That’s how this feels, except minus the nostalgia. The X-Men movies feel like the product of someone that knows a little bit about the X-Men – that read a couple comics, or watched a few episodes of the cartoon, and has learned a bit through pop culture osmosis – that tried to recreate it in movie format. And while the resultant product is something that’s usually good for at least a watch, in the long run, they don’t do it for me. In my eyes, it’s very similar to The Dark Knight trilogy. Many of these are great movies. I’m not denying that. But something feels missing, and that’s the love and passion for comics.

It’s not even just about love and respect for the source material, it’s a question of what we’ve already gotten. Batman has had decades worth of adaptations, ranging from the dorky and cheap to the serious and high budget. He’s a pop culture icon whose place in our collective memory has long been determined. So I’m totally up for seeing changes, for seeing new and fresh takes on the heroes and villains. But that’s not  the case for the X-Men. They’ve had cartoons, yes. But they’ve only had one movie franchise, one that’s longer running than any other superhero franchise. It has been going on for nearly twenty years, and because of that, hasn’t really evolved in the same sense as other superhero movies have.

A lot has changed when it comes to superhero movies in the past several years. We can see that in the contrast between the Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy and the one in Batman v Superman, or the Superman in Superman Returns and the one in Man of Steel. People have learned how to combine realism with the sense of comic book come to life. Since the X-Men movies we get today are still an extension of the one from 2000, when the clear goal was making a statement of being different from other superhero movies. That movie was different and highly appealing at the time, but not so much anymore, and that goal resulted in the X-Men never getting a comics accurate adaptation. As a comics fan, it’s frustrating.

In July, the X-Men film franchise will turn eighteen. If it was a person, it could vote. But in all these years, in the nine (?) movies, only about four characters got real attention and development, with one of those four (Mystique) being absolutely nothing like her comics counterpart, to the point where I’m so sick of them, I kind of need to not see them again for the next decade. Other characters not only didn’t get development, they got their backstories actively erased.

Jubilee was at the school before Scott in the alternate timeline. Do you realize how crazy that is? That’s like…I don’t know, like Robin existing before Batman. And that’s minor compared to making Scott the younger brother that grew up in the suburbs with his parents alive. To cutting out all of Warren’s history with the X-Men. To ignoring the fact that the Dark Phoenix wasn’t just Jean going crazy and having more power than she could handle, but the Hellfire Club manipulating her and screwing with her head until she didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. None of these changes were necessary. None were a fresh take on a story that’s been done to death. All they did was make the incarnation of the characters that’s a lot of people’s introduction to them completely different from who they really are and have been.

I’ve watched the various cartoons, read the comics, watched the movies. I have a deep and undying love for most of these characters. But there are kids out there today whose exposure to them will just be the disrespectful treatment they’ve gotten in the movies. I hate it. I fully support exploration of the way characters would be if put in a different situation…but that doesn’t apply on the very first version.

Scott was Xavier’s first student, Alex’s older brother, the object of Sinister’s obsession, an abused child that grew up in an orphanage and on the streets, the leader of the X-Men, the first X-Man, a respected teacher, the ultimate good guy and biggest adherent to Xavier’s dream until years of losing made him realize that it was time to draw a line in the sand. Are all of those things really essential? All of them? No, probably not! What the hell do I care if he’s younger or older than Alex? But when all aspects of his character are stripped away from him and handed out to other characters on his first live action adaptation, I draw the line.

This same thing can explain my adoration for the DC Extended Universe: it doesn’t follow canon exactly. It interprets it creatively while still demonstrating both a love for and knowledge of the source material. It doesn’t change the core of the characters or stories. I don’t think it’s hypocritical, really, or a double standard, to enjoy some works that deviate from canon while being bothered by others. Because it’s not actually about deviations from canon. It’s about how knowing when to make changes is a sign of respecting viewers and source material. Gotham does. The X-Men movies don’t.