Deathstroke as a Nightwing Villain

Arrow is often ridiculed – and rightly so – for trying to co-opt the Batman mythos and trying to make it fit with Green Arrow. This includes using characters and concepts primarily associated with Batman, like Helena Bertinelli and the al Ghuls; giving the lead character Bruce’s dark, brooding, obsessive personality that lightens up around his family; and so on.

It doesn’t work. That’s because every comics fan knows that these concepts are tied to Batman and that the show twisted Green Arrow’s characterization beyond recognition because they weren’t actually interested in making a Green Arrow show. But what happens when a villain that debuts as one for the marginally less well known heroes becomes hugely popular?

Deathstroke started off as a Teen Titans villain. More specifically, there was a period of time when he was regarded as the first Robin’s nemesis. I find this fascinating, because of just how great a character he is. Usually, the characters known for being sidekicks don’t get the best villains. They basically get a subset of their mentor’s or, when they eventually strike out on their own, less iconic ones. Dick Grayson is an exception to that.

Dick was the first sidekick, and a trailblazer in terms of the sidekicks getting to graduate and move on to being their own characters. He’s just as central a character to the Batman mythos as Batman himself. He’s led the Justice League. He’s been Batman. He has his own city that he protects. He has his own Rogues Gallery. Despite all of that, though, he’s still perceived as a Batman sidekick, rather than his own character.

Despite the fact that he hasn’t been Robin in the comics since the 80s, both the Teen Titans and Young Justice cartoons depicted him as such, even if season two of Young Justice had him as Nightwing. The upcoming Titans live-action TV show is going to do that as well. He hasn’t been a sidekick in decades to comics fans, but as popular as he is as Nightwing, as much as he can be considered one of the A-List, adaptations keep reverting him to his younger self, the hero primarily known as Batman’s sidekick.

The DC Extended Universe is going to be making a Nightwing movie, which is huge. This is a movie that’s been anticipated by an enormous number of people for years. But it does raise the question of how Deathstroke – a character that’s already been cast and already appeared – will be used.

We don’t know much about the future interpretation of Slade Wilson yet. What we do know is that he’s in contact with Lex Luthor and has been invited to join the Injustice League; he was cast for the Batman solo, a movie for which we know nothing about, back when Ben Affleck was still signed onto directing it and before the Nightwing movie was announced; and he’s played by Joe Manganiello.

All of it suggests to me that the plans are to adapt Deathstroke as a Batman villain, probably without Nightwing costarring, even if he does appear. To an extent, I understand why: Batman has been adapted a lot. He and Superman have had the most adaptations of any comic book characters, and just about all of his best villains have been seen already. Deathstroke hasn’t been. It would be a fresh change. But Arrow used Batman villains because they couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort to building up the Green Arrow mythos and making villains iconic that creators have already done for Batman. They wanted to skip to the end. There’s no need to do that with Batman, because his villains are already iconic. A fresh take on one that’s already been used would be better than taking the lazy route and using someone else’s.

While I certainly think that using Deathstroke could be done well, I’ll be very much disappointed if it occurs without Nightwing. If Slade is the primary villain of the Batsolo, it’ll be insulting to the character’s long history for Nightwing to not be included. For all that Dick is a hugely popular character, he’s not a Batman level cultural icon. Robin is, but not Dick himself. Not to the general public. The DCEU could put him on that level, but that won’t happen unless he actually gets to face off against great villains. A good writer can certainly make a villain like Blockbuster or Tarantula memorable and awesome. But taking Slade off the table for the Nightwing movie while using him for a different movie will be tying one hand behind the writer’s back and making it clear that they’re not the priority – that Batman media will always take precedence over Nightwing, even if it means co-opting his best villains.  If that happens, the people behind the DC movies will be saying clearly that to them, Nightwing is just a second stringer and always will be, and to me, the message behind that will be that they don’t actually care about developing new and interesting films. They’ll be content to make and remake the same Batman stories for an eternity.

Advertisements

The Jubilee Problem in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

It’s been a year and a half, and I’m kind of still bitter of the way Apocalypse handled  Jubilee. Not even because she was basically a glorified extra, but because of the sheer exploitativeness of it all. No one would have had any objections to Jubilee not being in Apocalypse. She was in the original trilogy, however briefly. She’s always been a part of the younger generation. She should be a contemporary of Kitty, not of Scott. She’s one of the older X-Men’s students and future teammate, not their peer. There is plenty of canonical basis for her not being around yet. No one would have expected her or been upset that she wasn’t included. But she was.

She was brought into Apocalypse, which also could have been fine if handled properly. But it wasn’t. They brought in Lana Condor, who was very excited about the role, and advertised the hell out of her to get other people excited, too. To an extent, that’s how the film industry works. But it also felt tasteless to exploit a group’s thirst for representation so blatantly. She didn’t have a big role. She was in the movie for a few minutes before being left behind, without even using her powers once. That didn’t stop the studio from promoting her as if  she were a main character.

There’s a whole page on TV Tropes dedicated to the concept of advertising a character that doesn’t end up appearing much. Most of the time, though, that happens because said character is played by a popular actor, or, in the case of comics/their adaptations, are themselves a popular character. In Apocalypse, it wasn’t either of those. Jubilee was Lana Condor’s first role, and while she’s a well known and reasonably well liked character, she’s not really one of the A-List. In fact, opinions of her tend to be highly polarized. She was essentially the attempt at creating a Kitty Pryde of the 90s, and Kitty Pryde is one of the most popular X-Men. So the advertising in the film? That was pretty clearly an attempt at capitalizing on the lack of and desire for Asian representation.

I personally can’t say I really care about Jubilee one way or the other. For a variety of reasons, she’s never really resonated with me. But she’s an Asian female character in a film universe dominated by white people. She’s a character a lot of people have grown up with. She’s a character that a lot of people were excited to see. The X-Men film franchise has a diversity problem despite being about diversity. The Gifted has handled said issue much more competently, and the contrast is painfully clear. Diversity is more than just black and white. We can’t keep having X-Men movies with an all white cast except for one token black character. It’s time to move past that and actually embrace the spirit of what the X-Men have represented for decades: diversity and civil rights.

Villainy in ‘Batman v Superman’

No other superhero movie can hold a candle to Batman v Superman for me, and a major part of that is because of how great a villain this interpretation of Lex Luthor is.

Lex is a very well developed villain. He’s spectacularly intelligent, enough to manipulate both Clark and Bruce into doing exactly what he wanted them to do. Lois is a brilliant journalist, and she had both the intelligence and the connections she needed to fit the pieces together, but she only had the pieces she needed out of pure luck – a bullet lodged in her notebook giving her something to go after. Lex’s plans were effective enough that even after Lois figured it out and intervened in the fight, after Clark and Bruce joined forces, after Bruce rescued Martha, he still got what he wanted in that Doomsday killed Superman.

What’s even better about this interpretation of the character? Lex drives the plot. He’s undeniably the villain. But what tips him over the edge into being a great villain rather than just a good one is that throughout the movie, he forces the characters to develop through the way he influences the others that exist in the universe. He pushes others to become villains.

Lex represents all of humanity’s worst instincts. He brought out the worst in Bruce, in random citizens – the xenophobia, the hatred, the cruelty. He manipulated Wally and used his anger at Superman to push him into going to the Senate hearing. His own hatred of Clark doesn’t stem from fear of the unknown at all. It isn’t due to ignorance or stupidity, it’s about him wanting to demonstrate power and inspire fear. It’s about him hating not being the most powerful person in the room.

He brought out the bad within us, and gave Clark a chance to demonstrate the best – Clark still saved Lex’s life even after Lex kidnapped his mother, shoved his girlfriend off a roof, and tried to make him a murderer. Clark tried to negotiate with Bruce rather than fight, despite the fact that he thought Bruce was a killer and had no reason to believe in his goodness. So much of the movie was devoted to breaking Clark down: the angry mobs telling him to go home, news reports accusing him of being a murderer, the Senate holding a hearing about him, Batman physically beating up. But even after all that, he still had enough faith in people to think that reason might work, that Bruce would help him save his mother. Clark is the single most heroic character in the movie.

Lex failed in large part by underestimating the women. He knew that Martha and Lois were important to Clark, but he couldn’t grasp just what that meant. He was so caught up in his refusal to see Clark as human, he never thought that Lois could love him enough to put herself between him and the maniac with a spear that was trying to kill him. He never considered Bruce loved his mother so much, was so traumatized by her death, that her name would help him forge a connection with the alien he hadn’t seen as a person. He never thought that Bruce and Clark would both have enough decency to stop fighting and work together. Lex understood human hate and human fear. He didn’t understand human love or compassion or mercy. The concept of heroism is one that he couldn’t grasp.

Lex is a scary villain because his plans didn’t fall apart due to holding the idiot ball, or because he wasted time to gloat or explain every aspect of his plan. He’s terrifyingly reminiscent of people we see in the real world, of leaders of hate groups. His plans failed – loosely, as I said before, his actions still resulted in the death of Superman – in arguably the most optimistic way possible. He was ultimately wrong about human nature. After an entire movie of bringing out the worst in people, those people proved him wrong when they decided to be better. He manages to be a terrifying villain and win while at the same time, helping demonstrate a hopeful message about good triumphing over evil. Now that is quality writing.

Prince Edward: The Greatest Disney Prince of All Time

I’ll admit, I’m not all that big a Disney fan. I thought Tangled was beautiful, and I appreciate the Hamlet with lions and singing that is The Lion King, and I found several others quite enjoyable, but I’m not nearly as into them as others I know. I still haven’t seen the entirety of Frozen. I don’t know why, but the only time I ever saw Beauty and the Beast was in French class, and I might have fallen asleep. Everything about Pocahontas makes me mad. And so on. Enchanted, on the other hand, is one of my ultimate feel good movies – partially, of course, because I adore Amy Adams, but also because of Prince Edward of Andalasia.

JAMES MARSDEN

This guy.

He is absurdly endearing. Maybe part of the reason I love him so much is that he’s played by James Marsden, but he’s also a legitimately great character. He may not be all that bright, but he’s charming and friendly and supremely talented at going with whatever happens. Most of his dimness is just that he comes from a different world, but even aside from that, he’s kind of lovably dumb, enthusiastic, and melodramatic.

He stabbed a bus! Got run over by a swarm of bicyclists! You sure don’t see Prince Charming doing any of that. Enchanted as a whole is a loving parody of itself, and Edward is a huge part of what allows that to work well. He’s not Giselle’s ultimate love interest, but he’s very far from a villain.

There was no entitlement in him. No toxic masculinity. No “You can’t dump me, I travelled to another world and got run over trying to find you”. Even when he was pointing a sword at Robert, it was never a question of fighting him over Giselle. He legitimately thought Giselle was in danger, and the second she told him that Robert was a friend, he calmed down and put his sword away. When he kissed her and she didn’t wake up, he immediately turned to Robert and told her to do it, because his concern was her life and not his pride. And when it worked, he was off in the background smiling, because he just loves love.

He’s funny, he’s brave, and a large part of the movie is dedicated to affectionately mocking him and the archetype he represents. What Disney prince can top that?

5 of the Best Fight Scenes in Superhero Movies

Mostly when I talk about superhero movies, I’m talking about one of two things. One, the X-Men, with all that goes along with a superhero story featuring characters analogous to persecuted minorities. Or two, Zack Snyder’s work, filled with philosophical questions and allusions to mythology, art, and literature. But the most recent superhero movie I saw was Justice League, which while credited to Snyder, screamed studio interference so loudly, most of it didn’t feel like his movie anymore.

I’m still disappointed about that. I had a good time watching it, I did, but for me, it didn’t come close to measuring up to Batman v Superman or Man of Steel. But in the spirit of positivity, I figured instead of talking about why Justice League disappointed me, I’d instead discuss something I think we can all agree on: modern comicbook movies have awesome fight scenes. And everyone loves a good fight scene, right? So in no particular order, here are five of my favourite of such scenes.

1. Nightcrawler in the White House (X2: X-Men United)

A fantastic demonstration of Kurt’s mutation, set to Mozart. I loved this scene. X2 and Days of Future Past are my two favourite X-Men movies, and by a huge margin. None of the others even come close. This opening sequence was one of the contributors to that. It’s absolutely stunning. A great choice in music, beautiful choreography – what else is there to say?

2. Batman Warehouse Fight (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

Brutal.

This is the most Batman fight scene ever. This is a version of the character that’s lost everything that’s mattered to him, and he’s just found something worth fighting for again. This was just a no-holds-barred beatdown. And it was the precursor to him saving Clark’s mom, which just makes it more awesome.

3. Quicksilver at the Pentagon (X-Men: Days Of Future Past)

Does it count as a fight scene if it’s really just Quicksilver running around the room and moving things to less dangerous places? Probably not, no. But I’m counting it anyway, because it was close enough, dammit, and  it was awesome. Quicksilver got a couple people to hit themselves in the face – that’s good enough for me. It showed off his powers well. It had great music. It was a whole hell of a lot of fun to watch. In short, I love it for the exact same reasons I love the Nightcrawler scene.

4. Batman vs Superman (Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice)

So I know I probably shouldn’t give the same character in the same movie two of the slots on my list. But everything about Batfleck in BvS was so awesome I had to.

This was the fight we all signed up to see. I adore Batman v Superman. I could make a case for that being my favourite movie ever – I can’t think of a single other film that has impacted me as much as BvS. The reason for that wasn’t the fight. But the fight was what got most people to the theatre in the first place, and as divisive as the rest of the movie still is, it delivered.

This fight is why Batman belongs in the League. He’s smart enough and skilled enough to disable Superman. His superpower is sheer determination. We got to see Batman prepping. We got to see how dangerous he really is when he has a goal. We got to see Superman not initially wanting to fight, but Batman being so unwilling to listen that he had no choice. We got the brilliance of the moment where Superman loses patience with the guy that keeps attacking him when he’s trying to ask for help. It was fast paced, violent, horrifying, and absolutely amazing to watch.

5. No Man’s Land (Wonder Woman)

The last one was a tough slot for me. A large part of me wants to go with the Superman Zod fight from Man of Steel, or maybe the one with Clark facing off against Faora. I could fill this list with Superman scenes alone. But in the honour of the first live-action Wonder Woman movie, and because Clark already has a role in one of the fights on this list, I thought I should show some appreciation for the Amazon princess.

The No Man’s Land sequence is the most instantly recognizable scene from Wonder Woman, and I loved every part of it, from the colour palette to the music to the slow climb out of the trenches. The other action scenes in the movie are fine. They’re good. But this one is by far my favourite.

When it comes to the DCEU, Clark had his first flight, Bruce had the warehouse scene, and Diana has No Man’s Land. It’s easy to see why. This scene is fantastic. It might be too soon to call it iconic, but I suspect that’s what it’ll become. It’s spectacular, and it absolutely deserves to be remembered for being as  brilliant as it is.

Thanks For The Ride: An Open Letter To Zack Snyder

I saw Justice League for the first time last night, and for a solid hour after I got home, I couldn’t stop smiling because of the joy of having my childhood brought to life, of having finally seen the movie I’ve been waiting for for years. I still need to gather my complete thoughts about what I actually felt about it, but before I can do that, I need to express how thankful I am for the DC movies that came before this one.

Batman v Superman came out when I was in my first year of college. I was stressed, I was lonely, and I was having a lot of moments of apathy towards everything. I was home for spring break that week, and I watched it on opening night with my best friend. What that movie did, more than anything? It made me feel less alone.

I barely remember the theatrical cut now. I haven’t seen it since the movie was in theatres. I have no idea what scenes don’t exist in the movie I first saw. I know I prefer the ultimate edition, and that’s the one I always watch, but I also remembering loving the theatrical when it first came out, because even though I don’t remember what specifically the ultimate cut included to make it a more fleshed out story, I know that the spirit of it was the same in both incarnations. And the spirit of that movie was exactly what I needed. Every single time I watch BvS, I love it more. Every single time, it helps me appreciate Man of Steel more. It helps me appreciate that no matter how often it feels like I’m alone and like the state of the world is overwhelmingly bleak, there’s still good out there, if I’m willing to help fight for it.

I hate the way film criticism has become about a select group of people trying to turn their subjective opinions into something perceived as objective truth. It’s a strange form of gatekeeping. Film critics seem to have declared themselves the arbiter of good when it comes to all movies, not just the ones of which they are the target. They seem to have decided that they get to decide what means something, and that if it doesn’t appeal to their perceptions of what a comic book movie should be, it’s objectively bad. But that’s not how art works.

Art is a human experience. I’m an engineer. I appreciate the need to quantify things. But that does not apply to fiction. I don’t appreciate having things that have made an impact on my life diminished to how many jokes they had, or a number on an arbitrary scale. Film is subjective. Something that matters to me won’t necessarily matter to someone else, and vice versa. That’s okay. I fully support people not liking things, and even discussing why. What I hate is people dismissing others as being completely wrong about a subjective medium and claiming that anyone who likes a work they don’t is stupid. BvS matters to me in a way that few films can touch. No amount of critic snark is ever going to change that.

 

Through your films, you inspired me – the atheistic Hindu STEM girl that can’t string words into a sentence to save her life – to not only research Christian philosophy, but write a detailed analysis about how it pertains to a superhero movie.  BvS is one of those stories that reminds me why I love stories. It’s full of rich, beautifully layered and complex ideas and characters, but beyond that, it’s real, it’s honest, and it has more heart than any other comicbook movie I’ve ever seen. Watching your movies – especially BvS -makes me happy. It makes me feel safe and valued as a person. It helps me believe in a better world.

I’ve been a fan of DC since I was six years old. My fondness for it began with Nightwing, and through him, I discovered everyone else. Seeing these characters brought to life so well is like a dream come true. That alone would have made me love your movies forever. But you didn’t stop there. The way you handled BvS made me feel seen. As a woman of colour from an immigrant family, you let me see myself in Superman in a very real way. Your version of the character will forever be my Superman. He’s a superhero that’s completely relatable, because for all his powers, for all his alien heritage, he’s human. He’s an immigrant and a refugee. He’s adopted. I’ve never loved any version of the character as much as this one. In Man of Steel, for the first time, all of those aspects of his character that have always existed and been taken mostly for granted are explored in depth. In Batman v Superman, you acknowledged that struggles that immigrants face and confronted prejudice with tact and compassion. In a time when so many people question our humanity, that means a lot.

So from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Snyder, thank you. Thank you for making great movies and telling wonderful stories. Thank you for refusing to choose between awesome, epic, entertaining superhero flicks and intelligent art. Thank you for always being graceful and classy, even in the face of bloggers and critics attacking your work and your character constantly for years. You’ve worked to create wonderful, lasting stories, and I’m forever grateful for the chance to have seen them. I can’t wait to see what you make in the future. Thank you.

The Home Stretch: Why ‘Justice League’ Is Coming At The Perfect Time

Justice League is coming out in just a few days, and it still doesn’t feel real. I’ve been avoiding the clips and TV spots, because I want to save as much as possible to see in the theatre. I’ve been avoiding Twitter because I’m terrified of spoilers. There has been a huge amount of debate and worry and irritating think pieces putting every aspect of production under a microscope. And yes, I don’t like everything I’ve read. But when I put all of that aside and think about how in less than a week, I’m going to be sitting in a theatre to watch the first ever live action Justice League movie, I feel both excitement and a sense of relief.

This has been a rough year. Personally as well as in terms of the state of the world. But Justice League is my childhood being brought to life, and it’s almost time to see it. As I’ve talked about time and time again, Batman v Superman was the dark, serious story that highlighted a lot of the bad in the world while offering a positive way forward. Justice League will be the hopeful light, and I can already tell it’ll give me a wonderful feeling of catharsis. It’s a warm, optimistic story coming at a time when we all really need it.

We’re jaded. All of us. We’re so used to wars, mass shootings, bigotry on all levels, horrible abuse, corruption, lies. The world is filled with so much hate and negativity, every positive story feels good for a split second, before we forget about it to wallow in misery again. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Justice League is a story of heroes coming together and making the world a better place. The first word that enters my mind when I think about the DCEU is compassion. Clark’s story is that of an immigrant and a refugee, perceived differently and feared because of what he is. He wants to use his abilities for good, but people hate him just for what he is. I’ve talked about him and why he matters again and again and again. It can be summed up by pointing out the fact that he keeps trying to do good. He sees the bad. He’s affected by the bad. But he never stops believing in a better world. The Justice League itself forms in his honour, to fight for that better world. And everything about that story reminds me that we can do the same.

It may be fiction, but it matters. There’s a lot of bad in this world, and I’ll take my inspiration where I can get it. Real people are horribly flawed and exhausting. But in fiction? That can be simple. That can show us people coming together, people struggling to overcome evil. We can’t ignore or forget about the bad in the world. If we do, we can’t improve it. But we also need to remember the good, because that’s what we’re fighting for – to make the world a better place in whatever ways we can, for all the people t hat we can. It’s not easy. But nothing that’s worth having comes easily.