The Strange Need For Adaptations Of Specific Storylines

Every time a rumour about the Batman movie surfaces, I see countless Tweets saying that it absolutely has to be an Under The Red Hood adaptation. This has been going on for years – ever since the picture of the Robin suit from Batman v Superman was released, people have been jumping up and down about Jason Todd. There are constantly people that don’t like the DCEU whining that it’s not just like the animated universe and that they should just make live action versions of those movies. I don’t get that.

One of the reasons I love Batman v Superman is that while it’s loosely based on a specific story – that being The Dark Knight Returns – it’s not chained to it. It takes liberties with the source material and makes it something unique, while still lovingly bringing to life certain panels and the rough plot and referencing countless other comics. It may get criticized for making those changes, but what’s the point in watching something that’s just slavishly devoted to depicting something with complete accuracy that already exists without any imagination or creativity?

I’d love to see Jason Todd in live action as much as the next girl, but if I wanted to see Under the Red Hood, I’d watch the animation. It’s an excellent movie. It’s well worth a watch. But if that plotline were included in a live action movie, I’d want to see more than just Jason and Bruce. I think the rest of the Batfamily should have a role, especially Dick and Tim, because Jason becoming Red Hood had a lot to do with the legacy of Robin and the feelings of being replaced. The DC animated movies are good, but also very simplistic, without complex character arcs. Live action movies can elaborate on all those things.

The upcoming Dark Phoenix movie bothers me for different, but related reasons. Let’s set aside the retcons and continuity issues and the Phoenix Force for a minute. As iconic as that comic arc is, as much as it was an excellent story, the way that it’s remembered is a fundamentally sexist premise based on the idea that the most powerful character in the universe can’t possibly be a woman, because women are temperamental. That’s not entirely accurate – people tend to forget that in the actual comic, Jean did maintain control for a very long time. It was the Hellfire Club messing with her head and manipulating her that made her lose her hold on her powers. But at this point it doesn’t matter, because like the phrase beam me up, Scotty, it’s so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that Jean Grey went crazy and couldn’t control the Phoenix Force, no amount of pointing out that that wasn’t really what happened will be enough to make people forget it. I’m not interested in seeing that committed to screen. I want to see creative changes made to the source material, challenges to how we perceive stories and characters.

So many Superman stories revolve around locking Lois out of the loop and either insulting her intelligence by making her, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, suspecting but incapable of proving that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person; insulting her intelligence by making her so oblivious, she can’t see what’s right in front of her; or turn Clark into an asshole that lies to and tricks her. Sure, maybe that’s historically a major part of the Superman mythos. Doesn’t mean it’s right, or a good plot element. Man of Steel didn’t include any attempt at lying to Lois, and that was one of the best decisions it made.

Adaptations are great because they’re adaptations. After all, translations themselves can be works of art. This NPR article does a fantastic job of explaining how that’s the case. Works based on another don’t need to follow a specific storyline, or adapt them word for word, image for image. The creators get to make their own choices about what it should be like, what story they want to tell, what needs to be there and what doesn’t. And we can disagree on whether they made the right choices, or whether their choices made for a good movie, but it’s important that they get to make those choices. I disagree with many of the creative choices in the X-Men movies, and I’m completely free to discuss that, but that doesn’t matter, because their job is to make the movie they think they should, not what I do. I don’t get to tell them how to do their job or what they should write. They can’t stop me from expressing what I do and don’t like.

It’s not just about comics – the same thing holds true for the live action versions of Disney movies. I don’t understand why we need them. Animation isn’t some lesser form of art that’s just a trial run for a story before it gets made into live action. It’s great and gorgeous on its own merits. You don’t see people trying to claim that Impressionist paintings aren’t important works of art because they aren’t photorealistic. The Impressionist movement was shunned and dismissed at the beginning, but over time, we’ve come to recognize the value and beauty in their work. Animation involves just as much skill as live action films. It needs excellent actors and a whole lot of time and effort. It’s disrespectful to everyone involved to suggest that a live action movie must be exactly the same as an animation. To the people involved with the live action movie, by saying their talents should be used to make a paint by numbers instead of an actually creative work. To the people involved with the animation, by saying their work has to be remade, usually with singers less skilled than the original ones.

The difference between the live action Disney movies and comic adaptations is that I don’t even think the former should exist, at least not as they are. I’m not a fan of remakes that don’t make any kind of meaningful change to the story. If they do, viewers can either like the change or not, but otherwise, there’ll just be comparisons to the voice actors, and the voice actors are almost inevitably going to be better at singing/emoting vocally, just because their job requires a different skill set than actors that are used to being seen and being able to rely on non verbal action. There’s plenty of reason to make comic adaptations still, because there’s a wealth of unexplored material, but only if they’re genuine adaptations, not just blind reconstructions. Being inspired and holding true to the spirit of the source material is good. Using it as a crutch and being utterly dependent on it is bad. Drawing upon what’s not in the actual source but in an adaptation, or that’s somehow made it into our collective memory of the story? That’s the worst of all.

Why I Want Mira Nair To Direct An X-Men Movie

I love the X-Men with all my heart, but the film universe exhausts me. As much as I enjoy aspects of it, on the whole, we’re talking about two decades of tokenism and cynically exploitative use of minorities. The post I linked to was about Jubilee in Apocalypse, but the issue is so much broader than that – the treatment of Storm, Darwin, and Psylocke. The shameless queerbaiting and use of scenes reminiscent of a person coming out without ever including an LGBTQ character, to the point of going out of their way to exclude one (Karma, in The New Mutants). Turning the universe that has traditionally been about oppression and discrimination into what’s mostly just a set of generic action movies and focusing excessively on Wolverine, the one character that’s doesn’t fit into that theme. It’s a clear sign that Fox needs to let minorities tell their own stories, and one of the directors that I think would be well suited to do so is Mira Nair.

Nair has been producing consistently good work for years, and she’s been doing it completely unapologetically. For whatever reason, despite her long career and good work, she’s not a huge name. Possibly, it’s because of the type of movies she directs – even when she’s working with a big studio, her works come across much more indie than anything else. She doesn’t do the big, blockbuster type things. She turned down directing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because it interfered with The Namesake. She’s worked with Reese Witherspoon, Lupita N’yongo, Denzel Washington, and several other big name actors, but her movies are the sort of low budget, understated pieces that fly under the radar, even if she doesn’t have much of a specific “type” of movie. All of that means that her making an X-Men movie would be unlikely, but also that she’d be perfect for the job.

Nair isn’t a huge name to the general public, but her work matters – her 1992 movie, Mississippi Masala, was one of the reasons Kal Penn started acting, because it was through her that he could see people that looked like him on the screen. Her movies are filled with heart without being saccharine or overly sentimental. She doesn’t shy away from hard truths, nor does she present grim, hopeless stories. As such, she’d be able to capture what the X-Men and the mutants mean to a whole lot of comics fans and depict the seriousness of the mutant metaphor without making a movie that’s just more of the allegorical minorities suffering endless persecution.

Nair has demonstrated repeatedly that she’s capable of telling this story, because the core of the X-Men is supposed to be civil rights, discrimination, oppression, family, and Nair’s body of work shows off her ability handle those issues very well. The Namesake is a story about family and a character struggling to find himself, just like most stories of new people joining the X-Men or manifesting their mutation. Mississippi Masala is a romance that also takes on race relations and intercommunity racism without ever falling into the trap of treating any group as a monolith – if Nair were to direct an X-Men movie, she’d be well suited to illustrating the perspectives of the different factions without glossing over any of the flaws.

Give me more personal, emotional, human X-Men stories. Take a step back from destruction and the deaths of all the X-Men (twice was too many times, I can’t take that again) and go back to the stories teammates and friends, students and teachers, found families. The X-Men were built on relationships between characters, and Mira Nair bringing them to life in a movie would be a delight to watch.

 

 

‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ And Shying Away From Trying Something New

I didn’t want the Dark Phoenix movie to begin with. I talked before about some of the reasons I’m unenthused, and I’m still not pleased about it. Now another reason why has occurred to me, one that doesn’t have anything to do with what the story is – it’s just another example of how Fox is just regurgitating tired storylines that we’ve already seen because superhero movies make a lot of money and they’re putting that, putting safe blandness, above creativity and artistry without learning from their mistakes.

What Went Wrong The First Time

The Last Stand had some excellent action sequences and the occasionally funny or heartfelt moment, but it was overstuffed, it didn’t respect the characters, Logan ended up taking Scott’s place as both the team leader and the romantic lead of the Dark Phoenix story, and Jean wasn’t even the main character of what should have been her story. It wasn’t an accurate adaptation of the comics arc, either, which would have been fine, if it had at least captured the spirit of the story. It didn’t.

I talked a lot about some of the issues I had with the handling of Scott and Jean here, mainly focusing on their treatment in The Last Stand. I’ve heard it said a lot that the reason they killed off Scott with the first thirty minutes of said movie was that James Marsden was doing Superman Returns, but I’m not actually convinced that’s what it was. It probably wasn’t the exact opposite of that, but it might have been at least partially the other way. I’d be willing to bet that even if he had stayed, much of Scott’s role would have still gone to Logan, and he’d have been cast aside again, if not killed off anyway. This is just speculation, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason Marsden wanted to do Superman Returns was that he knew he’d get more to do in that movie than he did/would as Cyclops. I wouldn’t blame him at all for that. It’s remarkable how much better Richard White – the character that does not exist in the comics, and as such, had no protection by canon, the character that was created to be the disposable fiancé – got treated than Scott Summers, the leader of the X-Men.

Magneto and Mystique

I have absolutely no idea why Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender are coming back for this movie. None. This is supposed to be a Dark Phoenix movie. They don’t have any place here, aside from taking up valuable time and space. X-Men should absolutely be an ensemble story, but these aren’t characters that need to be there.

With Magneto and Mystique, they’re doing the same thing they did with Wolverine – they’re taking the lead in stories that they absolutely shouldn’t be. Lawrence very clearly doesn’t want to even be there. While Fassbender is a fantastic actor, and Magneto is a great villain, he’s been overused and been relied upon way too much. It was almost a different thing in the original trilogy, with Ian McKellan’s portrayal, because while he did play an antagonistic role in every movie, it wasn’t the same thing recycled. That can’t be said about the alternate timeline. How often are we going to replay the same old thing where Charles tells Erik that there’s still good in him? If I see it again, I’ll scream.

I heard a rumour a while ago – possibly confirmed by now? – that Genosha will feature in this. And had it been in any other movie, I’d have been delighted. But it isn’t. It’s in the story that’s supposed to be centred on Jean. If any mutant sanctuary should feature in it, it should be Utopia – the  one founded by Scott where the Phoenix Five once resided. But no – it’s got to be Magneto, because what’s an X-Men movie without Wolverine if Magneto isn’t there?

This version of Mystique isn’t anything at all like the comics version. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as characters should adapt when placed into different situations and be looked at through different perspectives, but Fox clearly isn’t doing it for the story or to explore the character – they’re doing it because they like Lawrence, and it’s easier to place her in the focus when she’s not playing the villain. Apocalypse  should have been the introduction of the X-Men that we know and love, but instead, it focused on Mystique training and leading them – something she had absolutely no business doing.

This is Jean’s story. Or at least, it should be. They have a chance to do things right. I can’t even tell you what The Last Stand was really about, but it definitely wasn’t Jean. Even without the cure storyline, the movie was more about Logan and even Xavier than it was Jean. Jean was an afterthought in a movie partially based on the most famous Jean-centric comic arc. The Dark Phoenix arc is supposed to be about her and her relationship with the people important to her. It’s not about her “going crazy” or being unable to control her powers. It’s about her being manipulated and scared and sacrificing herself for the people she loves.

The X-Men movies need to let other characters shine. Jean is pretty much the most powerful character in all of Marvel. She’s compassionate, she’s intelligent, she’s capable, and she deserves a hell of a lot more than a story about her “going crazy”. Scott’s my single favourite Marvel character by a huge margin as I discussed in this post, he’s arguably the lead character in X-Men as a whole, and he’s gotten shunted to the side for the past 17 years. I’m sick of it, and I want him to finally get a chance to shine. The movies have mistreated both him and Jean in a myriad of ways, and I’m really not keen on going through that again with a storyline that’s already been badly handled and that treated them terribly.

Setup in Apocalypse

We got our introduction to the Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan versions of Scott and Jean in Apocalypse, but we didn’t see much of them at all – by the end, they were newfound friends. They didn’t have the basis for their most iconic story.

In order to do the Dark Phoenix arc justice, the movie needs to be tragic. It has to rip out hearts and make the audience cry. Apocalypse didn’t build enough on the Scott Jean relationship. That’s the only time we’ve seen this version of them, and it didn’t lay the groundwork enough to make me really feel for the characters, especially when they’re so far from their comics selves.

Jean was, at least, vaguely like comic Jean – pretty nice to other people, close to Xavier, and so on. Scott, though? Scott has to be someone that’s a genius tactician, a highly skilled fighter, and the clear leader every time he’s in any group, while also being someone that wants more than anything to do the right thing and protect people. He’s got to be totally responsible and reliable and trustworthy. He needs to be a wonderfully compassionate individual, while also being the most awkward dork in the world. He has to be able to deliver the line, “Jean, you are love!” completely sincerely. He’s not that person yet, and the choices made in Apocalypse mean that Dark Phoenix will have to balance character development that makes sense in the context of the series with development that makes the movie itself work. Just like in the original trilogy, here, the characters haven’t gotten enough development for this movie to feel earned.

It’s not a question of romance. I’m not saying Jean and Scott had to begin a romantic relationship in Apocalypse to make the Dark Phoenix arc meaningful, but they needed a more profound connection, a deeper friendship, or another movie with them before the Phoenix arc. They needed to be developed as individuals. The beauty of Jean and Scott to me is that when well written, they’re best friends first. I didn’t get that impression from Apocalypse at all. Is it possible to build a powerful relationship in one movie? Sure. We’d definitely be able to care about Jean’s death, about how Scott felt about it. But with how much is going to be stuffed into Dark Phoenix, I doubt it’ll be done as well as it should be.

Release Date

The movie was announced in June of 2017. It was originally slated to come out in November of this year, but was recently delayed to February 2019. The fact that it’s being delayed is a relief to me, not a disappointment, and that’s kind of a red flag. I take it as a good sign that they’re not trying to force it to meet a release date it won’t be ready for, and they’re giving themselves more time to finish the visual effects. But I feel like I should be, on some level, disappointed that I won’t get to see it sooner. I’m not.

It’s not a question of superhero fatigue, or X-Men fatigue, it’s a matter of being tired of this particular film franchise. The X-Men movies have been ostensibly in the same universe for nearly two decades. In those two decades there’s been cast changes, timeline changes, and a whole lot of continuity issues. It’s exhausting and makes very little sense (Oh, hey – it’s been running for so long, it’s started having the same issues as actual comics!). I think it’s time to start fresh.


X-Men (2000) was a genuinely bold move. It was responsible for reviving comic book movies. There’s an argument for Blade, but that had a limited audience. X-Men was much more accessible. It was a strange combination of handling a comic book movie completely seriously and being ashamed of the fact it was a comic book movie. I’m working  on another post about that issue now, because there’s a lot to be said about how the movie has aged, but one thing that I don’t think can be denied is that it was revolutionary at the time. It opened in a concentration camp. It involved characters with a wide range of different powers. It paved the way for superhero movies about characters beyond Batman and Superman. But since then, Fox stopped making bold choices, stopped experimenting and trying new things. They found that centring their story around Wolverine worked for people, so they continued doing that for years. It was a waste of a lot of great casting and interesting characters. They’re inching towards going back to the type of bold storytelling that made X-Men a success, but Dark Phoenix doesn’t look like it’ll be doing much of that.

It has a lot going for it – all the goodwill from the franchise, Hans freaking Zimmer composing the score, some very popular actors. But they’re also making the same mistakes they always do, and it’s getting frustrating: giving unnecessary focus to the same few characters, even when the movie is supposed to be about someone else; cramming too much into the story; not respecting the history of the characters; telling, rather than showing. I think I’ve finally reached my limit with this franchise. Sure, I’ll watch Dark Phoenix. But it won’t be opening night, and it might not even be in theatres.

The Tragedy Of Cyclops: Why Fox Is Trying To Take The Easy Way Out With Characterization

Scott Summers: boring, rule following, dedicated. Sure, sometimes that gets flanderized in fanon, and he isn’t canonically nearly as much the naïve goody two shoes to Wolverine’s experienced bad boy that so many people consider him – and certainly not the jerk other people portray him as – but it’s an important part of his character to start off as the responsible one who controls his temper, who works hard to protect humankind as well as mutantsbecause he believes that’s his responsibility.

Apocalypse Scott wasn’t any of that. He was kind of generic, and a jerk to everyone, including Jean before he saw her and realized she was pretty. Comics Scott was always a good character, but he became great once he decided, hey, I’m done with this. I’m going to keep believing what I’ve always believed, but I’m going to actually take steps to prevent my species from going extinct. That felt like the payoff from the years of worse and worse things happening to him while he kept doing what he was doing. Apocalypse Scott seemed to me like an attempt to get to Scott’s later characterization without putting in the work to develop the character to the point where it felt earned and heartbreaking. But that doesn’t work. You can’t skip ahead to the end. You can’t get to Cyclops-the-mutant-revolutionary by trying to make the teenage version of him a “rebellious bad boy”. Or, rather, you can…but it won’t be nearly as compelling a story.

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What makes Scott’s story so devastating, is that it’s slow. Sure, there are plenty of bad writers and what not, and many of them try to make it seem like he’s the villain of the piece and everything that’s ever happened is his fault, but his general character arc is going from a kid that thinks, yeah, if we show that we don’t mean any harm, they’ll eventually accept us to a grown adult that’s learned that that’s not true at all.

We first meet Scott as a kid that wants to do what’s right. He wants to be good and do good, in a world that’s never been great to him. He’s lost his family, spent time on the streets, been abused and manipulated by Mr. Sinister, but still, as an adult, he’s an awkward dork that deeply, fundamentally believes in Xavier’s dream of carving a future where mutants are accepted, of building a better world. And what does the existing world do? It beats the hell out of him. It hurts and kills the people he loves again and again.

He swore to protect a world that hates and fears him, because he believed in a world where all of Earth’s children, both mutant and baseline human, might live together in peace. But you know what happened instead?

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No matter how many times he saved the world, people were still afraid of them. The government tried to pass registration laws. They were experimented on, tortured, killed. Genosha died, and where were the Avengers when mutant babies were burning? Scarlet Witch depowered nearly all the world’s mutants, and when a bunch of depowered kids were packed onto a bus to go home where it was safer, it got blown up by Purifiers. Where were the Avengers at all the funerals? X-Men without the Avengers is still scary and heartbreaking, but that’s infinitely better than when they exist together. In a world with the Avengers, they might be the nightmares and horror stories told by mutant children, because the Avengers aren’t heroes to the mutants. They’re the bogeymen in the closet.

Now, I don’t buy into the idea that you have to show all the past to tell a story. I don’t think you necessarily need a Batman origin to tell a Batman story, or a Nightwing story, or a Batgirl story. But if you want to get to a point where Scott is a mutant revolutionary, you have to, because he’s not Magneto or Wolverine, he’s Cyclops. He’s not any of the angry or cynical characters, he’s the character that loses faith. He’s the character that questions why he keeps asking his oppressors nicely to stop killing mutants. He’s the character that ends up sick and tired of being pushed around, of watching his people be discriminated against. So what does he do? He becomes willing to do morally grey things because nothing else works. He turns around to stand his ground and draws a line in the sand: stop hunting us or we’ll give you a reason to be afraid. And it’s important to depict how he got to that point.

What Apocalypse did was strip him of all his backstory. No plane crash. No manipulation by Sinister. Grew up with his parents and brother, who’s older than him now. Not the first X-Man by a long shot – First Class took place two decades beforehand. No context for why he can’t control his powers, they’re just like that. He wasn’t even the leader of the X-Men, because someone decided Mystique had to lead and train them. You know what that is? That’s a Batman story without his parents getting murdered and with him deciding he needs to become Batman for an entirely different reason, if someone else started fighting crime in Gotham first, with an additional let’s have him learn to fight from the Riddler just for spite. At that point, it’s not Bruce, it’s just a character with his name, just like Apocalypse Scott isn’t really recognizable.

I’m not saying that a movie has to show all of everyone’s backstory. X-Men (2000) has aged surprisingly well, and I think one of the reasons why is that it wasn’t an origin story. We got to know Scott not by seeing his past, but by watching him in the present. How he interacted with his students, with Xavier, with Jean. He didn’t get nearly as much screentime as I would have liked, but he was depicted as a responsible adult that cared about his students and doing the right thing, with a lot of bad things happening to mutants. A scene even included Jean trying to explain to Congress that mutants mean no harm to anyone. The movie was a good set up for a future one that revolved around Scott –  obviously, we never got that, but it could have worked. What Apocalypse did doesn’t.

Scott's Utopia Speech

If, in a future movie based in this timeline with this cast, Scott founds Utopia, becomes one of the hosts of the Phoenix Force, forms X-Force, kills Xavier…it won’t have the same emotional impact as it did in the comics, because it won’t be the story of a good, honest man that’s always tried to do the right thing and help people forced, over the years, to become a brutally pragmatic chessmaster that manipulates friends, allies, and enemies alike to keep his people alive. It’ll be a guy that was pretty obnoxious stepping up to the plate and becoming a more responsible person that does what he has to do to protect mutants. That’s not a bad premise for a story. But it’s not Scott Summers.

Canon Foreigners in Comics Adaptations

There are plenty of reasons to create a new character in a comic book related work – to add diversity, to tell a story set in the universe but separated from the main characters, to flesh out the cast, to make a distant prequel or sequel, and so on. But opinion on these original characters tends to be polarized. While there are plenty of people that like them without hesitation – usually non-comics fans – there are many that cling to their source material so much that they hate them for existing.

We need new characters, but therein lies the rub – oftentimes, the audience doesn’t like said new characters. And they continue to dislike said characters for not being canonical. With time, these characters could get redeemed in the eyes of the audience, especially if they were introduced into the comics and became a canon immigrant, but why introduce a character in the comics when they weren’t liked? We need new characters to appear in comics and their adaptations, because how boring would it be if the only characters we ever encountered were the original casts? Without new characters in adaptations, we wouldn’t have Harley Quinn. We wouldn’t have X-23. We wouldn’t have Kaldur’ahm. Hell, we wouldn’t even have Jimmy Olsen or Barbara Gordon. Not all new characters are as immediately liked like these were. But they can be redeemed, and it’s better to have the conviction to try to make that happen than to just cram already canon characters in roles they don’t fit.

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Sometimes, writing a new character is just easier. That’s not bad. It just is. In The Dark Knight trilogy, Bruce’s love interest for the first two movies was an original character. Rachel Dawes. She was okay. I personally found her a little bland and forgettable, as well as being bothered that her primary role was to die, but that’s fine. My opinion. What I found more interesting than her as a character, though, is that she existed at all.

rachel dawes

Batman’s iconic love interest is Catwoman. She’s the one most people think of when asked to name Bruce Wayne’s love interest. She appears consistently throughout Batman related media, because like Superman and Lois Lane, there’s Batman and Catwoman. And yet she doesn’t appear until the third film in the trilogy. Rachel was introduced because the writers wanted a romantic subplot in the first two movies, but didn’t want the complications that would arise as a result of using Selina or Talia or any of Bruce’s canonical love interests. She was new and therefore malleable. She could be anything. She could be anyone.

I fully support the creation of new characters. Comics and their adaptations are a unique medium/form of storytelling. It’s just as valid to introduce a new character in an adaptation as it is to do so in a comic. Comics aren’t static, and new characters and new interpretations of old ones are how they evolve. It even makes sense to do it for a specific purpose. Marcos Diaz from The Gifted; Laura Kinney from X-Men: Evolution; Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series; everyone from Powerless, that gorgeous comedy that was cancelled far too soon. All likeable original characters, created to serve a purpose in the plot, but more than just plot devices.

But when the creation of new characters is handled poorly, you get Sara Lance, who could be a good character, except for how much she embodies white feminism. I want to like Sara much more than I do, to the point where she pushed me away from a show I used to enjoy. You get Felicity Smoak, who started off well and with potential, but then had everything good and interesting stripped away from her when the writers turned her into a love interest at the expense of her character. While I can’t say Felicity is the reason I stopped watching Arrow, she was definitely one of them. You get characters that are boring and forgettable – like the previously mentioned Rachel Dawes, more plot device than person.

What I hate more than the creation of new characters, though, is when an already canonical character is completely changed in a new medium. I take issue with the changing of random aspects of a character to fit them into a premade box. Call me crazy, but Arrow turning Dinah Lance into a lawyer felt like a terrible move to me. It was fine when we were just talking about her working for a nonprofit. That was fine. That was good. We were talking about a woman using the legal system to fight for the marginalized. But then she became a prosecutor, and while she was a prosecutor, she was also breaking the law through the pursuit of vigilante justice. I didn’t like that change. I could accept it, though, because her personality was identifiable as Black Canary.

There are changes that I get and accept, even if I don’t necessarily like them – take Laurel instead of Dinah. Yes, it’s weird to have a name change for such an iconic character. But it also makes some amount of sense. Dinah is quite an old fashioned name, Laurel is a gorgeous one, and you’re much more likely to encounter a Laurel today than a Dinah. But Arrow‘s version of Oliver Queen shares a name with his comics self and little else. Zari Tomaz from Legends of Tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with her comics counterpart. Scott Summers from Apocalypse has none of comic Scott’s backstory or personality. It’s lazy. It’s a clear sign that someone isn’t actually interested in writing the character they were given. If that’s what a writer does, it seems like they want to have it both ways – they want the freedom to write a character however they feel like doing it, but they want to take the already paved road to get there by using one that’s already canon and thus has a fanbase/name recognition.

New characters aren’t fundamentally good or bad, they just are. But they’re much easier to accept in original properties than adaptations, where viewers go in with a set of preexisting expectations and opinions. And the visceral dislike for them that so many people have results in writers altering canon characters to avoid it, which may end up being even worse. I’ll admit that I’m not always quick to embrace the original characters myself. But I think we all need to work on getting better at it, because I’d rather see any number of poorly written new characters that could get better eventually than an already established character twisted beyond recognition to fit a role that they shouldn’t be in.

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.

Love Triangles and Killing the Hypotenuse

I love The Gifted. I do. I have my issues with it, and I don’t always love the writing, but I think that overall it’s a very enjoyable show that often handles the issues marginalized communities face well. However, as much as I love most aspects of the show, I’m not a fan of some of the relationship drama.  Lorna and Marcos tend to be handled well – even when there’s some amount of tension between them, they resolve it quickly enough. But the love triangle between John, Clarice, and Sonya bothered me immensely. It was shoddily introduced, and the resolution was even worse.

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The love triangle didn’t emerge as a result of Clarice and John getting to know each other and her realizing she had feelings for him while he was still involved with Sonya. It  came about because Sonya gave Clarice her memory of kissing him, and Clarice’s own feelings ended up blending with Sonya’s.

Sonya giving Clarice her memory to help Clarice focus her powers made perfect sense. Sonya had to come up with a solution fast, and this is what she does. She doesn’t have an offensive power, not like any of the others. She couldn’t save the others directly, but she could get Clarice to a point where she could. The less reasonable thing was what happened afterwards. Sonya had every reason to remove the memory from Clarice’s head. Sonya loved John. That much has been made very clear. He may not feel the same way about her – or at least, not as strongly – but she loved him. The memory she gave Clarice was one of her own. It was personal to her. She wouldn’t want Clarice to have that. We were never given an actual reason why she didn’t, leaving it as just drama presented for the sake of it.

Sonya’s death was predictable. Likely, in fact. She was a significant enough character that it would have an emotional impact while not being billed as a main; she had important relationships with multiple leads; and, most of all, she was the other woman in a love triangle. Killing the other love interest happens painfully frequently, especially when the other love interest has been established as a sympathetic character and the writers are trying to up the stakes. So the second Sonya went with Clarice on the mission to the power station, I was on edge, and the instant she started talking about how she used to volunteer at a shelter, I knew she was gone.

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This is a show filled with original characters and minor comics characters. John and Esme were both killed off quickly in the source material, but got expanded roles in the show. Not so with Sonya. In the comics, Beautiful Dreamer is a very minor character, to the point where The Gifted writers got to name her. That left the writers free to do pretty much anything with her. So what did they do? They used her as part of a love triangle, then killed her. Sonya’s death was wasteful.

A lot of people have tried to justify the decision to kill her. Some have argued that it was necessary for Lorna to make the decision to kill Campbell, others that it was great because it meant she stopped standing in the way of Clarice and John’s potential relationship. I firmly disagree on both counts.

I deeply, fundamentally disagree with the idea that the only way to raise the stakes and to make a villain appear dangerous is to kill a character. It can be effective, but oftentimes, like in this case, it comes across as more lazy than anything else. Death as a motivator can be a powerful tool, but Lorna already had plenty of motivation. Protecting her baby. Fear of the Hound program. Doing the necessary thing so that the others in her family didn’t have to. Everything that happened in the finale could have happened with Sonya alive.

Think about the Nightmare Fuel that is the entire concept of Hounds. How much more of an impact would they make if we actually knew any of them? A name, a personality, a backstory. Gus may have been an attempt at that, but we know very little about him, other than that he was once a member of the Underground and John’s best friend. Had Sonya become a Hound, that whole idea would become even more horrifying, Campbell would have become an even scarier villain, and Lorna would have increased personal investment in ending the program. Or something like having her powers eliminated – that could have worked as well.

Had her death really been to motivate Lorna, we’d have gotten more than a passing mention of it in the finale from John in a different conversation. Sonya was Lorna’s best friend, and not only did she not bring her up when trying to explain why she had to kill Campbell, John didn’t do it either. He didn’t tell Lorna that he understood, because he’d lost Sonya, too, but they couldn’t just accept killing innocents as collateral damage. He mentioned her death in passing, then kissed Clarice. And the only conclusion that I can draw from that is that the primary reasons for killing Sonya were shock value and resolving the love triangle.

Her character was so often reduced to her relationship with John, but in addition to serving as the link between him and Clarice, she served as the link between Clarice and Lorna. Clarice started off helping the mutant underground because she felt like she owed Lorna, but we didn’t get any scenes between them between the first episode and the finale. Lorna said they were friends, but we never saw that develop. Sonya, on the other hand? She was Lorna’s best friend, and we saw them working together – when they went after Marcos, when they went into the bar. She was the first – and only – person Lorna thought to ask for help. Sonya and Clarice were in prison together and shared the connection of Sonya’s memory.

That friendship – Lorna, Sonya, and Clarice – had a huge amount of potential, especially when you consider the contrast that could have been made between Sonya and Esme’s influence. As this post points out, if Sonya ultimately went with Lorna, she could have been the one with the less hardline, more moderating stance in contrast to the Cuckoos’ extremism, with Lorna torn between them. If she didn’t, she could have been another voice trying to draw Lorna back from the dark side with a different perspective than Marcos. But by killing Sonya to get her out of the way of John and Clarice’s relationship, and to give Lauren and Andy approximately five minutes of angst, all that potential was thrown away.

It was an enormous waste of a good, potentially great, character. I’ve said before that if you feel the need to change a character’s characterization to resolve a relationship, it’s not a well written relationship. The same principle applies to killing a character. The Death of the Hypotenuse page contains a list of characters that were part of a love triangle, then killed off. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to like this trope. Especially not when it’s a female character being killed, as if they have nothing to contribute on their own merits, as if all that matters is their status as a love interest.

I don’t always agree with character deaths that occur for reasons other than removing the obstacle from a romantic relationship. I’ve thought a lot of characters that the writers killed off would be more valuable alive than dead. But that’s a matter of different perspectives on what makes a good story. I can respect people with their own strong vision as to what they should do. In general, tropes are tools, not fundamentally good or bad. But tropes like the Death of the Hypotenuse? For me, they often demonstrate a lack of effort. I have more respect for writers that kill off characters for shock value than I do for those that do it because it makes writing the story easier.

Part One
Part Three

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.

X-Men, Avengers, and Discrimination

In both the comics and the movies, Marvel has spent years pushing the idea that Captain America is a righteous hero that stands up for all that’s good about the United States. From my perspective? Captain America doesn’t represent the best of America, he represents it as it is. He simultaneously represents white liberalism and American imperialism.

In Avengers vs X-Men, he invaded a sovereign country that was also a sanctuary of mutants that had faced relentless persecution with an army because of the Phoenix Force, which he knew nothing about, to arrest a teenage girl that hadn’t committed any kind of crime. He says a lot of pretty words, but never does anything to actually help the mutants that need it. He talks a big game about freedom, but that never applies to people that oppose him and American interests. He supports mutants – but not mutants fighting for their rights in a meaningful way.

Steve has killed people. One of the people he brought to Utopia was Logan, who has killed hundreds of people and never faced any consequences for it. His team includes Black Widow, a literal assassin. He forgave Wanda for decimating the mutant population no questions asked. But Scott? Scott, while possessed by the Phoenix Force, killed one man that was attacking him and his nation full of a persecuted minority. For that, Steve decided he was a criminal and a terrorist that deserved to go to prison for his so called crimes. Steve seems to honestly believe that the life of one single soldier on his side is worth more than those of sixteen million children and civilians. He uses mutants as tools and only likes those that take his side or don’t actively work to make the world a better place for other mutants. That’s why he likes Beast, Wolverine, Scarlet Witch, Professor X – they’re either on his side directly, or ignoring the fact that their methods to “help mutants” aren’t helping.

He claims to not be a bigot because he sometimes has mutants on his team. But that’s a question of power, not giving a damn about mutants. He only cares about damage caused by mutants by mutants that stand against him. The damage that he and his team cause don’t matter, because they’re government sanctioned. They can go wherever they feel like and wreak whatever havoc they want, because they’re doing the right thing. That there has been the American justification for military intervention for decades.

Scott has called Steve “Captain Hypocrisy”, and that there was one of the truest statements anyone has ever said. Steve reminds me more than anything of all the times the US has propped up dictators around the world for supporting American interests, of the coups staged by the CIA. Of the proxy wars and illegal actions carried out due to a lack of regard for minorities and people from different countries. Of the way politicians that approve said actions are still looked at positively, praised, and admired for doing it with charm, or being likeable, because too many citizens don’t empathize with the people being harmed.

Maybe Steve’s actions in stories solely about him or the Avengers show a more positive side of him. But the way in which he acts in all the stories involving the X-Men or mutants in general paints a picture of a character that I can’t bring myself to like or respect. His actions don’t support humanity, they support a specific subset of people in one country. And it horrifies me that this is the character we’re expected to believe is the pinnacle of morality.

‘The Gifted’ and the Mutant Metaphor

The X-Men and mutants in general have always represented the oppressed, the persecuted minorities. The movies address the big picture of what that means and sweep over the details. But what The Gifted does, and with startling competence, is address how bigotry and anti-mutant sentiment would affect the life of an average mutant that doesn’t necessarily have a powerful mutation and that doesn’t have the resources of someone affiliated with the X-Men. That is to say, it takes the perspective of a minority without fame, money, or powerful friends. Health care. Criminal justice. Civil rights. All of these are issues that marginalized communities face every day, and The Gifted has been addressing all of them.

Health Care

The second episode pointed out that mutants don’t have access to good health care. Some healthcare providers don’t even know how to treat them. The first is applicable to many minority groups, while the second is somewhat more specific to the disabled. It’s been more than a throwaway line, as well – even outside of the episode where Clarice got sick, which focused quite a bit on mutant health care, the show hinted at the issue of health care in prisons through Lorna. She was assaulted, then thrown into a cell without medical treatment, despite being pregnant.

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Prison System and Mass Incarceration

In both Marvel and DC, inhibitor collars cut off any powers the wearer might have. The prison Lorna is in in The Gifted uses a different type of collar to stop mutants from using their abilities. Unlike the traditional inhibitor collars, they don’t prevent the wearers from accessing their powers – instead they just discourage the usage of them by electrocuting the wearer. That’s torture. That’s inflicting unnecessary and intentional pain. Legally, that’s cruel and unusual punishment. And they didn’t even tell Lorna what it did before putting her in a cell.

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Lorna is an adult with full control over her powers. She can stop using them. She shouldn’t have to, but she can. But what happens to other people? Take, for example, children in juvie that don’t have full control of their powers yet. The show established that any damage caused by mutant powers, whether to a person or physical property, accident or not, is a major crime. These mutant children would be electrocuted, not because they did anything, but because of what they are. And they’ll continue to be hurt, because they’re locked in a prison being punished for something they can’t help, not in the outside world where they should be growing up and learning how to use those powers.

In the fourth episode, Reed explicitly brought up mandatory minimums. This demonstrates how mutants in universe are treated very differently when it comes to the judicial system. If a white baseline human committed an act of intentional vandalism, they would be treated more leniently than a mutant destroying something unintentionally, especially if said baseline human had the money for a good lawyer. This is full on institutionalized racism, and is clearly inspired by the causes of criminal recidivism, especially in the US.

Civil Rights

When people are afraid of the other, they stop seeing civil rights as being of paramount importance. In our world, we see that in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. The fear after 9/11 resulted in Congress pushing through the Patriot Act. All Muslims became viewed as potential terrorists, and the fear of the unknown and of what might happen resulted in people voluntarily giving up their rights and freedoms for more perceived safety. The Patriot Act was directly mentioned in the first episode, and a huge part of the show revolves around how non mutants don’t care what civil rights violations are happening, just so long as they’re happening to mutants.

In the universe of The Gifted, mutant children are separated from their parents and tried as adults in a biased court system. Mutants are taken to secret locations and not allowed contact with their families or lawyers. They’re called terrorists regardless of what their crimes are. The parallels to the so-called war on terror, to Guantanamo Bay, to the reporting of crimes in the media, are clear.

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The X-Men comics and movies are often criticized for being allegories for racism, but not featuring many people of colour, much less in prominent roles. The Gifted isn’t like that. Outside of the Struckers, the four main characters are Marcos Diaz, John Proudstar, Clarice Fong, and Lorna Dane. Out of those four, three are people of colour. It adds a level of realism to the metaphor in addition to providing valuable representation. Nearly as importantly is how the characters of different backgrounds are used.

Out of the four adult mutants, the one that faced violence in prison was the only white one. Lorna was the one that got punched and kicked on top of the electrocution from the collar. People of colour face enough violence in reality – there’s no need to add fictional violence to that. In the context of the show, Lorna is an oppressed minority, while outside of it, she’s not. Using her to illustrate inmate abuse and injustice in the legal system while including mutants of colour in other roles was the most sensitive way to get the point across.

What makes mutants as presented in The Gifted a good metaphor for marginalized groups is that they have aspects of many different marginalized groups. They manifest at different points in life, and oftentimes are ostracized after that, which is reminiscent of LGBT people coming out. They’re seen as criminals to be suspicious of even when they haven’t done anything, like people of colour everywhere. And they don’t have access to the type of decent healthcare they need, like many disabled people. They’re an imperfect metaphor – unlike mutants, who can be unintentionally dangerous, there’s absolutely no reason to fear people of colour, immigrants, the disabled, LGBT individuals – but they’re our power fantasy.

I don’t love all of The Gifted. I don’t think it looks aesthetically great, and some of the effects are pretty cheesy. Some of the performances aren’t very compelling. Caitlin and Reed have somewhat more nuanced characters, but Lauren and Andy seem flat, especially when compared to the adult mutants. I’m willing to give them a chance to develop over the next few episodes, especially as they’re original characters that have potential in principle, but I’d be more lenient if the writers hadn’t already demonstrated through Marcos that they’re capable writing a compelling new character from the beginning. Despite these issues, I think the show itself is valuable. Out of all X-Men related media, it is the most well thought out and intelligently crafted. It combines excellent world building with compassion for individuals, especially the marginalized, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.