Friday, October 24, 2014

Flashpoint of No Return

When can someone no longer be considered a hero? Are there actions that cannot be reconciled with common morality? This is not an easy question to answer. Anything can be forgiven, but some things cannot be undone and those things can demonstrate that a person does more harm than good or cannot be trusted. In some circles, there is a concept of a point at which a character has gone too far and all sympathy is lost, making the character irredeemable. This is called the Moral Event Horizon. I recently watched Barry Allen - TV's The Flash - run past this point at speeds faster than the human eye can follow in an animated movie called Flashpoint Paradox.

Heroes have certain standards that they uphold, often including certain things that they will not do. Batman and Superman, very famously, do not kill, except when they do. People have argued that heroes, as a general rule, do not kill, but this ignores the fact that, in real life, heroes definitely do kill. Sometimes, when defending one's country or fighting for an ideal, lethal force is regrettably called for. Certainly, none of us would enjoy the lifestyle we do if others were not willing to kill and die for it. However, the same standards and tactics that apply to soldiers in times of war cannot and must not apply to law enforcement officials. As for superheroes, not all of them serve the same function, so one cannot make a blanket statement about what behaviour is universally acceptable for them. Some superheroes are soldiers, some are police officers, some are vigilantes, and some are space adventurers. While space adventurers are not a thing in real life, I will go on record as saying that astronauts definitely should never kill, no matter what anyone else thinks.

What people generally mean when they say that superheroes should not kill is that vigilantes should not kill. This makes sense - if someone is authorized to take a life, there must be a system in place to hold people accountable when they do, which vigilantism as portrayed in superhero comics and movies doesn't provide. What they often fail to add is that in most cases, vigilantes shouldn't exist. Most superheroes are on shaky moral ground to begin with, considering that they are enforcing laws that they have no authority to enforce. Private citizens violently meting out their own interpretation of justice is a good way to get innocent people injured or killed. Even people who have the authority to kill should always avoid doing so. Respect for human life is essential for anyone who is meant to be seen as a good guy, and doubly so for anyone capable of killing. Anyone being killed is unfortunate, and any time someone is killed, people will question whether it was necessary. That is why if you want a character to unequivocally be considered a good guy, there are certain things that character absolutely cannot do, and that includes killing.

Not every story needs an unequivocally good hero, though. Moral ambiguity is a useful tool. Exploring the limits of morality allows us to examine morality. Questioning what our moral standards are and why is a good thing. In case you couldn't tell, that's what I'm doing right now. The problem with moral ambiguity is mostly just that most writers are really bad at showing it. Moral ambiguity arises when people on both sides of a conflict believe that they are doing what is in people's best interest or when a character is in a situation where there is no clear right course of action and these situations can raise fascinating questions about the nature of morality, but writers who are drawn to morally ambiguous antiheroes as protagonists are usually uninterested in posing any question deeper than, "Is murder justified if you look really cool doing it?" Take as an example Dexter Morgan from the television show Dexter, who is a murderer who works for the police force and murders murderers. People like to refer to him as a morally ambiguous antihero, but there really isn't any ambiguity at all. A bad guy who victimizes bad guys is not the same thing as a good guy. Saying that Dexter is morally defensible is like saying that gang violence is a good thing so long as gang members are being killed. Two wrongs do not make a right, and if you need to be told that, then you are way too young to be watching a show like Dexter.

Now that we have established that, even in a world where morality is not absolute, there are certain lines that heroes simply cannot cross without well thought out justification and most people have given up reading this, we can look at Flashpoint Paradox. In this movie, Barry Allen awakens to a world where he is not the Flash, Batman is not Bruce Wayne, and the world is about to be destroyed in the war between Atlantis and Themiscyra. Also, Cyborg is working for the President, which Batman thinks is terrible for some reason that we are supposed to understand without it being explained to us. Obviously, history has been changed, plunging the world into dystopia. Barry must search for the villain responsible for changing events in the past and dooming all of humanity. The spoiler that he finds is that he is in fact that villain. Barry himself had changed history by going back in time to his childhood and preventing his mother's murder. After this, the story valiantly pretends that Barry is still the hero as he goes back in time to stop himself from killing everyone.

Some of you may be shocked that I consider the Flash unforgivable when all he wanted to do was save his mother's life. I will admit that Barry's intentions were admirable, but that doesn't excuse how stupidly, homicidally irresponsible his actions were. His plan was to change something in the past, so he had all the time in the world to rationally consider his decision. Seeing how his decision would affect everyone in his life, he probably should have consulted other people before trying it. I know he didn't, because anyone could have told him how idiotic his plan was. Barry knew that becoming the Flash was an accident that occurred only because of a very specific set of circumstances, circumstances that a major difference in his life - like having a mother - would negate. It wouldn't be inconceivable that his mother's murder was a factor in him pursuing forensic science as a career. Even if it wasn't, he might have ended up going to a different school, living in a different city, working for a different precinct, or any other tiny thing might have been different. In short, he was basically guaranteeing that he would not become the Flash. Giving up his superhero life for his mother could be seen as a difficult choice or even a noble sacrifice if being the Flash was only for his own benefit or just helping out his community. It doesn't quite work that way if he had ever personally won or turned the tide of a fight where the fate of the world was at stake, which he knew had happened multiple times. Hell, any time after 1985, he may not even have had a reality to wake up to. For all he knew, when he woke up, the few survivors of the Crisis on Infinite Earths could be living as slaves to antimatter overlords or antimatter gorillas. Either way, Darkseid would definitely control multitudes of planets, possibly including Earth, and Darkseid may have also been turned into a gorilla. These would be logical, foreseeable consequences to Barry never becoming the Flash, but in all probability, everyone on Earth would just be dead. This is not an acceptable risk for a hero to take.

Consider Star Wars. Who is the hero of Star Wars? Is it Han Solo - the amoral smuggler who kills people over his own legitimate debts? Is it Obi Wan Kenobi, who gets a naïve farm boy on his side by blatantly lying about his own history and the boy's father? Is it Luke Skywalker, that same farm boy who blows up manned spacecrafts killing unknown numbers of people and ultimately overthrows a government that even more people likely depend on for their livelihood? The audience was on the side of these characters despite their questionable actions, and we know the heroes were on the right side because Grand Moff Tarkin blew up a fucking planet. Even though we have no idea of what the Rebels' plans were after the Empire was destroyed or how they felt a galaxy should be governed, the current government is run by a madman who condones planet explosions. Anyone who is willing to destroy the world is a monster that must be stopped.

Barry Allen is a monster that must be stopped. When the world is at stake, the bad guy is the one who is trying to destroy the world and the good guys are the ones trying to stop him. In the context of Flashpoint Paradox, that means that Professor Zoom is the hero and Barry Allen is the villain. If you are trying to argue that Barry is actually a nice guy and that destroying the world was an accident, you have to establish that he didn't know the world would be destroyed, which given what we know about the Flash, would make him staggeringly stupid. Even still, "Barry Allen is a hero because he is unbelievably stupid" makes much less sense than "Barry Allen should not be using his potentially reality destroying super powers because he is unbelievably stupid."

At the end of the Flashpoint Paradox, The Flash goes back to being a superhero as though nothing had happened and the audience is expected to be OK with this. I was kind of hoping that some magic or time based superhero would find out about what Barry had done and that he would be imprisoned or kicked out of the Justice League or depowered or forced to undergo extensive training, or that something would be done to make sure that this man who is a clear threat to every living thing is not able to do anything so stupid or harmful ever again. I think I understand why some people would think that Barry's actions were a simple mistake or even that they were noble. There is this idea that a hero is someone who is willing to go to any lengths and stop at nothing to save lives. That is a romantic idea, but you really should add to it the phrase "within reason." Nobody should be willing to make deals with the devil or destroy the world. People who are willing to do that are not heroes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spider-Woman's Butt and the Problem of False Equivalence

A while ago, a friend of mine brought up the problem with the Spider-Woman cover in conversation. I didn't even know there was a new Spider-Woman series, so I looked up "Spider Woman Problem" and Google immediately knew what cover my friend meant and what problem she was referring to.

I was a little surprised by my reaction, or rather my lack of one. Sure, I was a little disappointed in Marvel for going with this cover, especially since the issue of how female characters are presented has been so prevalent lately and Marvel has been aware of it, but I wasn't outraged by this image in particular. Of course, this is a needlessly sexualized image, but it isn't really much different from all of the other needlessly sexualized images I see all the time. Needless titillation is the norm in comic books - that's the problem. This one image doesn't change anything. This is not the smoking gun of women's treatment in comics. This is not the New 52 redesign of Amanda Waller (#3 in the linked article). I feel like acting like this cover crosses a line that comic books, magazine covers, movies, music videos, and video games don't routinely cross might minimize the larger problems in our culture.

The one thing this cover does bring to light is the seeming fact that erotic art is so close to mainstream comics art that one can be repurposed as the other. The message that a piece of art sends is usually as important as the technique. When you are working in a storytelling medium, the tone of the story being told is critically important. With that in mind, an action-adventure story should at least be visually distinct from a pornographic one. This is especially relevant because that alternate Spider-Woman cover drawn by Milo Manara is to promote a comic drawn by Greg Land and Greg Land may be the worst person to ever draw a woman. Still, I didn't think I had anything that relevant to say because I wasn't emotionally invested in the issue. I wasn't angry about this cover.

Then, a couple of weeks later, I saw a video posted of an Internet writer named Maddox responding to the controversy. Then I got angry.

Maddox may have misidentified the problem, but make no mistake - as far as I can tell, every point he makes in that video is factually correct. Sure, most normal people would probably view a person on all fours with a low head and ass in the air as inherently sexual, but that's opinion, not fact. She may be looking for a lost contact and then wouldn't you feel stupid.

You will notice that Maddox opened with the point on which, more than any other, he had the critics dead to rights. Yes, Spider-Man has been shown in similar poses. Don't deny that. Peter Parker's butt was spread wide open on a cover and nobody cared. This is why that Elle Magazine piece is an embarrassment. It's not because, as Maddox claims, they don't have the moral high ground (though honestly, if they want to be a feminist magazine, they have a lot of work to do), it's because they don't know what they're talking about. If you don't know about the editorial standards and practices in comics, you shouldn't rest your entire article's validity on that. When you pull misinformed, demonstrably untrue bullshit like this, you turn off everyone who wasn't already on your side and some of the people who were. They think, "These people are only upset because they don't understand the situation." You are giving your opponents ammunition. The subject of equivalent male treatment shouldn't have even been brought up, because that is not the issue at hand. If D.C. were to run 2 page spreads of Barry Allen dropping the soap in the shower, would it justify everything they've printed with Catwoman in it? No, it absolutely wouldn't.

The most painful thing about watching Maddox completely misread the motivation behind the outrage over the Spider-Woman cover is that I think I understand where he's coming from. To someone who hasn't had the larger problems of women in media explained to them the complainers sound like a bunch of ill-informed heterosexual women who are just pissed off because comic book artists aren't providing them with sufficient masturbatory aids. The problem is that I know these people, I have been incensed by comics' portrayals of women, and I can assure you that the people who are offended are not afraid of sex and are not opposed to sexual material in their entertainment. In fact, there are lesbian and bisexual women who are upset by this drawing. Even women who turn to women for sexual arousal and gratification do not necessarily look at that image and see a potential sexual partner or an Other presented for their enjoyment. Some of them see themselves, or rather men's perceptions or expectations of them. The thought process is more like, "When I am crawling on a rooftop looking for my contact lenses in my bright red lipstick, men are looking directly at my butt crack, which is only exposed as an unintentional consequence of the bodypainted outfit that I have to wear for my job." Not every woman views the image this way, but certain women have been very vocal and articulate about the underlying social situations, and the publication of this drawing can make it seem like nobody is listening to them.

The real reason that nobody cares if Spider-Man is in essentially the same pose is that men do not have the same perceptions and expectations on them. To say that women have no right to be offended if men aren't is an argument soaking in false equivalence, and that is a problem that infects both sides of the debate. Men and women have different roles imposed on them by society and different life experiences, and we really need to stop expecting them to respond the same way to stimuli that relate directly to gender and sexuality. Take for instance this video that has been passed around the Internet, which I think is making a point that I agree with, but is doing it so ineptly that it makes me question what point is being made. I think that woman is supposed to be an asshole because she only says the sort of things that only assholes say, but the worst that she does is question whether the guy is a real geek (Is that even a desirable thing to be? I was taught most of my life that it isn't.) and make references to situations that don't exist in our reality. If this happened in real life, I'm not sure most men would process having an attractive woman hit on them - even one who was being incredibly condescending - as a bad experience. I've seen other videos and articles and stories like this that try to turn instances of misogyny back on men and they never work because they think they're promoting empathy, but they're really just saying, "If all of society were different, as was the way you were conditioned to think and feel about social interactions, you would feel differently about the way you treat women," which, while undeniably true, is not particularly useful. In the same way, you can't expect men to feel the same way about men in ridiculous poses as women feel about women in the same poses. The images have different connotations. They mean different things.

Despite what you may have inferred from that last paragraph, I like the Hawkeye Initiative for drawing attention to a real problem without being preachy. Maddox seemed indignant that the Hawkeye Initiative didn't put its finger on exactly what the problem with the women's poses is, but the fact is that it's a difficult, complicated, and nuanced issue. Having Hawkeye as a benchmark helps people understand things on a more visceral level, because when you notice how ridiculous Hawkeye looks in a pose, you might get a sense that there was something wrong with the original drawing even if you don't fully understand why it was wrong. Just to address one specific aspect of the issue, in the articles I have read about Spider-Woman's butt, people are fond of pointing out that men are usually drawn in poses that convey power and strength, while women are usually drawn in poses that convey vulnerability and submission. The solution that people usually propose is for all characters, male and female, to be drawn to convey strength. While this would solve the problem, it would also result in comics that I have absolutely no interest in reading. As it is, too many men are drawn as interchangeable without women also being the same. Not all characters - not even all protagonists - need to be power fantasies. We need Forbush-Men and Ettas Candy and the Foggiest Nelsons you can provide. By all rights, a pose you draw for Conan the Barbarian should look ridiculous with Forbush-Man in it:

This isn't changing the subject. Some characters are goofy. Some characters are sexy. Sometimes, that is a character's sole narrative function in a work, and that can be okay. The problem arises when what character traits a character can have and what roles a character can fill are determined entirely by a character's gender. Some women should be silly. Some men should be sexy. Some women should be powerful. Some men should be submissive. We should have a variety of characters available to us and each one should be at least a little bit different. Keep in mind, though, that no matter how hard you try, there are certain archetypes that are going to show up again and again just because people really, genuinely enjoy them and that those archetypes include the hypermasculine hero and the seductive femme fatale. If you say that men shouldn't be idealized caricatures of masculinity and that women should have some redeeming social value, then you are essentially saying that Batman can't be Batman and Catwoman can't be Catwoman.

The solution to this problem is not in putting hard and fast rules on how female characters can be drawn, but for artists to seriously consider why they draw each character the way they do. Not sending a message isn't an option. Not trying to send a message usually means that you are unaware of what message you are sending. Consider who a character is, what her personality is, and what role she is playing in the story. Consider the story's tone, its genre, and its audience. If you are drawing a character whom writers and artists have worked hard to portray primarily as strong or intelligent or competent, ask yourself why you feel it necessary to reduce her to a sex symbol. You might have a reason, but I'm pretty sure that most of the time the answer is that you had better not.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's All Greek to Me

This essay is not a critique of what Wonder Woman comics are doing wrong right now. I can't provide that, because I don't know what Wonder Woman comics are doing right now. I'm beginning to think that my reluctance to pick up Wonder Woman comics isn't just my fault, it's the fault of a conscious decision on how to present the character. I'm not going to read the comics if every time I look in on what they're doing it looks like something I've already seen and didn't like the first time. It's quite possible that if I read them, I would find many things that I like, but I will ultimately fail to keep up because all of the elements of the stories that bore or frustrate me will continue unabated and unaddressed. The fact is, I shouldn't have to force myself to like something, it should make me want to read it. It's possible that Wonder Woman has a strong fan base that demands more of the same Greek mythology stories, but I can't help but wonder if there are more people out there like me who could be regular readers if the series just went in a different direction.

Some of you may think that if I am being turned off by Greek gods, then Wonder Woman just isn't the series for me to follow, but that shouldn't be the case. There has been so much of Wonder Woman and her stories that I have loved over the years. Wonder Woman is a super-strong immortal feminist who fights crime. In lieu of crime, Nazis or terrorists or monsters or any combination thereof can be substituted in a pinch. That premise in itself is rife with story potential and it doesn't have a damn thing to do with Greek mythology. Just the premise of the feminine feminist crime-fighter sex symbol provides more fodder for creative stories than a rich weirdo dressing up like a bat and punching the mentally ill. When you decide that she also has to be firmly rooted in Greek mythology it completely and needlessly limits the stories that you can tell with the character. Remember Richard Donner's first Superman movie? The main plot was about Superman foiling Lex Luthor's evil real estate deal. That had nothing to do with Clark being an alien raised in a farm in the Midwest, but it worked because a character's origin story shouldn't dictate what stories can be told about the character or even what stories will be his most iconic. Someone should have told that to the makers of Man of Steel.

I know that Greek mythology has been central to Wonder Woman comics since their inception, but it didn't really make sense then, either. Wonder Woman's primary purpose was to be a feminist superhero (and here I am using the word "feminist" just to mean promoting women's rights and female empowerment - I'm not writing this to debate the meaning of that word), so the idea that she comes from a matriarchal society made a degree of sense, but making it specifically the Amazons of Greek myth caused a number of problems, including the fact that the Amazons were not just matriarchal, but actually comprised entirely of women. No society on the planet could get far or last long by excluding a whole gender and it is insane that feminine separatism could be presented as an ideal, which, by the way, was the Greeks' point in their depiction of the Amazons. The Greeks never intended the Amazons to be seen as an example to follow or even a workable society. Even invoking the Amazons as Wonder Woman's background raises many problems, because by acknowledging the Greeks' depiction as being wholly accurate, you are making the Amazons the bad guys by necessity and engaging misogyny on its own terms rather than on yours - especially problematic since it makes a strawman out of actual feminists who do not advocate a society that excludes men. All of this could be handled well and used to portray a positive matriarchal civilization, were it not for the fact that "feminism" has become such a dirty word in some segments of our society that it must be avoided at all costs, leaving the only safe way to write Wonder Woman and the civilization she came from the same way that the Greeks did, with the ugliest misogynistic aspects still intact.

As much as writers who approach the character this way want to remain true to Greek mythology, I have to question how well they are doing that, since they seem to have all missed a very basic fact: The Amazons were not Greek. Of course, we have no record of an all-woman society in history, but the Amazons could have been based on a real civilization wherein women were of such a standing that they were allowed on the battlefield alongside men. Possibly seeing women in battle sparked fanciful ideas in the minds of Greek soldiers of a land ruled only by women, where men were just prisoners and sex slaves. Even if the Greeks' depictions were a complete fabrication not based on a real civilization, it doesn't change the fact that even according to Greek myth, the Amazons were not from Greece. They were a separate civilization from the Terme River and the Eurasian steppes - what is now Turkey and Ukraine. There is absolutely no reason they should worship the Greek gods. This oversight becomes more glaring with each reboot of the character that tries to streamline the national affiliations of Wonder Woman. They have already undone the decades that Wonder Woman spent as a patriotic American, although I don't really see how her efforts to stop the threat of the Nazis through her service in the U.S. Army was a mistake that needed to be corrected. Why is it that nobody found her devotion to a rival culture's gods troubling? Doing away with the Greek pantheon might not even be necessary to make this work. Since knowledge of Sarmatian mythology is so sparse, the Amazons' loyalty could be divided between the various gods of their region. It could be a good opportunity to shake things up by introducing the Turkic and Slavic gods into the mix. A rivalry between Zeus and Bielobog could result in some cool stories, though you might want to stop short of having more modern gods of that region (like Yahweh and Allah) join the battle. Still, that is just an idea for a way to make her background more colourful and interesting, not a permanent solution. If you remain as dependent on gods as the comics are now, they will keep running into the same problems of the same stale characters acting the same ways over and over forever.

A more permanent and satisfying solution to the religious plot blockages would be to handle Wonder Woman's background and gods the same way we treat real-world cultures and religions. The reason Wonder Woman's origin and the depiction of her relationship with her gods looks so stilted and rings so false to me is that it doesn't reflect any real world people's relationship with their God or Gods. We wouldn't handle any real-life cultures or present-day religions this way, so why should it be different for fictional cultures and long-dead religions? It would be like if the Scarlet Witch suddenly had to spend all of her time fighting dybbuks and golems or if half of Captain America's stories involved talking coyotes and thunderbirds. Catholics don't spend most of their time dealing with the interpersonal problems of Saints, not even the Pope, who, like Wonder Woman, was granted his powers by his God. Wonder Woman isn't even a priestess - she's a soldier and, in some interpretations, a diplomat. Her job involves combat and politics, but because of the mishandling of her religious background, her religion has become her biggest obligation and that's bullshit. She should have better things to do than clean up after gods that she doesn't really have a reason to worship.

The problem of Wonder Woman stories' fixation on Greek gods and myths may just be a symptom of the larger problem of not allowing Wonder Woman her own independent identity. Not only are creators afraid to let her be feminist, they are afraid to let her be feminine. Any sense of gentility in the character is greeted with suspicion or hostility, so she is instead written as a cliché of a proud warrior race - like Worf in a halter top. Did you know that she used to be a submissive? That is even more anathema than calling her a feminist, and understandably so, since the bondage-centric origins of the comic are uncomfortable for many people, though I think if you keep her signature weapon as a lasso, the cat is kind of out of the bag on that one. By having her express her sexuality the way she did in her Golden Age comics, you could show another side to Wonder Woman. You could show that an honest expression of sexuality or femininity doesn't have to be undignified or diminish your own strength. I'm not saying that Wonder Woman comics need to go back to her origins, which were sometimes downright offensive, but I do think it's necessary to flesh out Wonder Woman's character in a way that is not just an archetype. She doesn't have to be Conan/Tarzan/Xena. She could be something different. She could be something better.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Flash of Insight

I don't understand the Flash at all. He's one of my favourite members of the Justice League because he is the most entertaining (here I am thinking specifically of Wally West), but as much as I enjoy his antics, I have not been able to figure out how his powers work or how he works as a person.

To contrast, I would like to bring up Marvel's most famous speedster, Quicksilver. He has never been my favourite member of any team he was part of, but he was a member of both X-Factor and the Avengers (two teams I like a hell of a lot better than the Justice League), so I have read a great deal of comics that feature him, and I'm fairly sure I get him. Unlike the Flash, Quicksilver can only run at subsonic speeds - which obviates the questions asked about the Flash of whether his running creates deafening sonic booms or whether he goes shooting off the edge of the planet when he hits escape velocity. This isn't really that bad a limitation, though. Sure, over long distances, it is sometimes more efficient for him to take a train or plane than just to walk, but in close quarters (where close quarters are defined as being in the same county as his destination), he moves much faster than any human should need to move. In addition to his super-fast feet, he also has a super-fast mind. By that I mean that he reacts more quickly than normal humans and also that he learns more quickly. From what I have seen, he spends most of his time staving off the immense boredom that comes from one's mind moving too quickly, but in a combat situation, his speed translates into obvious advantages. If his teammates ever took an active interest in him, I'm sure they would find that he is more skilled and versatile than they give him credit for, but they don't because he keeps regular-speed people at a distance, which makes sense given how irritated he is with them for constantly slowing him down. So, his failure to excel as a superhero is because he is a smug, emotionally distant asshole, not because of the limits of his power. That actually describes a few people I know who stagnate at their jobs despite a surfeit of talent. I understand Quicksilver.

The Flash has neither Quicksilver's limitations of power nor his crippling emotional issues, yet he still seems incapable of doing anything right. I don't get it. On a basic level, I don't know what his powers are or what rules govern them and I'm not sure his writers and editors do either. On the surface, it seems so simple. He's fast. Really fast. No, faster than that. He runs fast, he vibrates fast, he does everything fast. He does everything so fast that the physical laws of our universe cease to function. I understand that, but there's a simple question that I have no answer to: Does the Flash react faster than normal humans? I'm sure that fans of the Flash have a simple, set answer to that question, and whatever that answer is, I call bullshit.

On a practical, storytelling level, it seems that people want the Flash to have normal human reaction times, just to give his enemies any chance at all against him. The Flash moves so quickly that his enemies would never have time to react, meaning that he would instantly and easily win any fight against any opponent who wasn't invulnerable, and if his opponent were invulnerable, he still wouldn't be fast enough to land a punch and the Flash could just vibrate past him. However, I just reread Barry Allen's original origin story, and it confirms that his mind does indeed work more quickly than a normal person's, and, although the Flash has been rebooted at least three times since then, that does seem consistent with how he moves. I have seen Flash run in the direction of a stationary object at such a speed that a person would not have been able to react in time to avoid hitting it. In fact, I have seen the Flash run at relativistic speeds, which should mean that whatever direction he runs in, there will be an object in that direction, which he will immediately flatten himself against. It also should mean that he shouldn't be able to see the object. If he's running faster than light can reach his eyes, he should be blind, right? I'm willing to accept that light and vision do not work the same way in the Flash's world as they do in ours. In his world, colours are emotions, the phrase "Speed Force" means something other than a methamphetamine law enforcement agency, and physics is dumber than hell. I can go along with that, on the condition that once a rule is established, it is not contradicted.

So we have established that the Flash must have super-fast reaction times in order for him to run as fast as he does. I call bullshit on that, too. If that were the case, then almost no villain ever would be able to hit the Flash. The Flash could only be hit unexpectedly from behind with a projectile traveling faster than the speed of sound that hits before any sound alerts him to the attack. By the way, in the aforementioned origin story, Barry dodges a bullet that was fired unexpectedly from behind him, so the projectile would have to be moving faster than an ordinary bullet. Also, the Flash would probably have to be standing still, because once he started moving, you'd have no way to aim at him let alone hit him. It wouldn't be impossible to hit the Flash, but some very specific circumstances would have to be met. Yet I have seen non-super-powered villains shoot, punch, kick, and even trip the Flash when they were right in front of him in his field of vision. How is that possible? Relative to the Flash, the villains' speed would be negligible, meaning that from his perspective, a villain's foot would be moving at about the same speed as the wall behind him and would be just as easy to avoid. No human villain, no matter how well trained, could possibly win a fight against the Flash for the same reason that sloth boxing is not a thing in real life.

Speaking of training, the existence of Batman also makes the Flash baffling. There is a persistent rumour going around that Batman doesn't have any super powers, but if that were the case, then he could never be called the World's Greatest Detective when the Flash existed. Batman comics want us to believe that ordinary people can become supernaturally skilled just by training really hard. If that's the case, then super-powered people should be able to become inconceivably skilled. Research would be really easy for someone who can read and process information at super-speed and the Flash already should have the necessary reasoning and observation skills from his day job as a forensic scientist. There is no reason why other detectives wouldn't be willing to provide him with guidance and opportunities, considering he would be better equipped than anyone to act on any information they had. He could become experienced and knowledgeable very quickly. As for his physical capabilities, he could also learn martial arts the same way that Batman did - and he probably should be doing that anyway, so that he could more effectively take down Professor Zoom or any other super-fast villains. The only difference would be that he could practice at super-speed. For the Flash, the time between learning a technique and mastering it would be reduced substantially. Due to his perception of time, he could have more time to practice his fighting in a week off than most people do in their whole lives. Some people might say that this makes the Flash too reliant on his powers - which I think is like saying that Stephen Hawking is too reliant on his knowledge of astrophysics in his work - but it's really just the opposite. Even if he lost his powers, he would retain all of his knowledge and skills and would be an expert detective, master martial artist, and any other damned thing he chose to learn in his free time. The only reason I could see that he couldn't become as skillful as Batman would be if he had a severe learning disability. Are we meant to believe that in this world, police departments hire developmentally disabled scientists? Or did he develop this condition later - maybe when he was first acclimating himself to super-speed and kept running head first into walls at top speed? Wouldn't we see other signs of brain damage, then? Maybe there's a simpler explanation.

What the Justice League cartoon seems to imply is that the Flash just doesn't take crime fighting as seriously as his coworkers. That explanation is not good enough for me. Maybe I could accept that if crime fighting wasn't really what he wanted to do with his life, but it's what he spends all his time on. As it is, he is putting his own life and those of his teammates in jeopardy by failing to deal with situations that he could handle himself if he stopped fucking around. Why is Superman not constantly slapping the shit out of him? Batman has experience training others to become effective crime fighters. The Flash should be easier to train than anyone, since he should start seeing results the first day. Is Batman just too self-centered to see that the Flash could be the greatest weapon ever in his war against crime? I should probably admit now that I don't really understand Batman, either.

Batman stories just shouldn't be able to happen in a world where the Flash exists. Members of the Justice League have communicators that allow for instantaneous contact, which makes Batman ever putting himself in danger foolish and irresponsible. As soon as he had located any non-super-powered villain, he could just contact the Flash, who would take a five-minute break from his schedule of standing perfectly motionless and letting his enemies shoot at him to run down to Gotham, disarm the criminal, and turn him over to the police. I couldn't imagine it would take longer than that, because nobody in Gotham has the ability to stop, slow, or even resist the Flash. I know that, because anyone who did would have killed Batman by now (or at least would have if Batman actually didn't have super powers). Really, everyone the Joker ever killed was indirectly the Flash's fault.

Maybe I was wrong before. Maybe the Flash is just an asshole.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Secrets, Secrets Are No Fun

There is a new Superman movie out called Man of Steel. It is a fairly mediocre movie with some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. Seriously, it is hard to explain how bad the dialogue in this movie is. I don't know what to compare it to, since Ed Wood never wrote anything this bad. It's not that the lines are out of character, just incredibly lazy. It's as if the writer just wrote down the first thing he thought of for each line and then never went back and thought about any of them again, because second drafts are for suckers. However, there's only so much you can say about how painful every line of dialogue was in this movie, so I would instead like to dwell on an aspect of the plot that just seemed downright peculiar.

Superman has a secret identity. That is one of the basic things that everyone knows about Superman. Everyone knew going into the movie that Superman leads one life as a superhero and another separate life as a reporter named Clark Kent. What we didn't know was why this interpretation of Superman decided to take up a double life. There are many compelling or logical reasons for a person to keep his identity secret. None of them are presented in this movie.

To understand the rationale the movie decided to go with, you first must understand something that we have all known instinctively at least since Watergate, perhaps even since the first Kennedy assassination: The Government is evil and cannot be trusted. The Government is also omnipresent and all-powerful. By "the Government," of course, I mean the United States government. That is the only government in the world that is affected by or qualified to take action regarding any extraterrestrial life that is found, even if (come to think of it, especially if) that life is found in Canada, as it was in this movie. The Government has a protocol in place for dealing with any intelligent non-human life that may be found on Earth, and the first and only step in that protocol is vivisection. We all know these things are true. If you think that the government consists of human beings who are capable of rational thought, some of whom want what's best for the citizens they serve, then you don't live in the same world as Jonathan Kent. I should probably mention now that Jonathan Kent is completely batshit insane in this movie.

I am not exaggerating when I call Jonathan Kent insane. He is quite literally a danger to himself and others. We first see his willingness to endanger others for no reason when his adopted son Clark saves a bus full of his fellow students from drowning, and Jonathan gets angry with Clark for revealing to these students that he is an alien. When Clark asks if he should have just let them drown, Jonathan shoots back, "Maybe!" Jonathan explains that there's more at stake than the lives of the people in their small town. As you might be aware, but Jonathan doesn't seem to be, Smallville is not the Shire and the United States government is not run by Sauron. No government agency has any reason to harm anyone in the town. The only one who might be in danger (aside from the danger that everyone is in by the existence of a creature that could accidentally kill them very easily) is Clark, and then only if the Government's Automatic-Vivisection-For-Everyone protocols are in effect. Jonathan explains to Clark that when he first found him, he was afraid that the Government would come around asking questions. The fact that no Government agents ever contacted him should have tipped him off that Clark was not a huge priority for them. Also, after he saved the busload of children, the fact that the parents of those children were grateful to the Kents rather than frightened might have been some indication that the other people in Smallville were fine with having a super-powered alien among them, and the fact that the knowledge of Clark's powers never left that town indicates that these people were fine with keeping it secret. Even if someone for some reason went after Clark, you know who would be really hard to catch? The boy who can outrun a bullet. Still, in spite of all of this, Jonathan insists that the slight possibility of harm coming to yourself is not worth risking, even by saving people who otherwise would definitely have drowned. These are the values that Clark was raised with: Paranoia at all costs.

Jonathan's paranoia was not just dangerous to other people, but to himself as well. Jonathan died in a tornado while he was saving the dogs of people who had abandoned their cars to run for safety. Perhaps it was noble or just sentimental that Jonathan thought it was worth giving his life for a dog or two that may or may not have been able to run to safety in time. What was flat-out crazy was that he knew that Clark could save him AND the dogs, yet he insisted that Clark stay in the shelter (which really made Clark no safer than he would have been in the middle of the tornado), because he couldn't risk people seeing him and knowing he was an alien. This is despite the fact that all of Clark's classmates and their parents already knew that Clark was an alien and hadn't told anyone. Until this point, it was possible that Jonathan was afraid that if the Government found out about Clark, Clark would be taken out of the Kents' custody. This actually might be a reasonable thing for the Government to do, but I understand why Jonathan would fight to prevent it from happening. However, the pain of losing your son is kind of irrelevant if you're dead. By sacrificing himself to his own delusions, Jonothan demonstrated that he was not just selfish, but completely out of his mind.

Knowing the man who raised Clark may help in understanding Clark's desperate need for secrecy, but it doesn't explain everyone else. Take Lois Lane. She went to Canada to investigate an ancient Kryptonian probe that was found in the ice. After a quick robot battle, the probe flew away in full view of all of the United States military personnel present. When Lois tried to file a report, Perry White told her that she was hallucinating. He told her that the Pentagon denied the veracity of her story. Lois, incredulous, exclaimed OF COURSE they denied it! That's what they do! Oh, of course... wait, what? Why? Why in all of the hell would they deny that? I suppose we all know of science fiction stories where the existence of extraterrestrial life is kept secret. However, there's generally a reason for the secrecy. Perhaps the aliens have plans for our planet that they don't want us to find out about. Perhaps, like in the X-Files, the Government made a deal with the aliens that involved keeping their secret. In this movie, the Government had made no deal with the aliens. They knew nothing about the Kryptonians or their plans, except that it was essential to deny that they exist. They say things like, "You know what would happen if people found out we weren't alone." Actually, no, I don't know. There are plenty of real people, many of them severely mentally ill, who think that we have made contact with alien life, and most of them aren't panicking. I don't know what horrible things rational people might do if they found out the same. Apparently, neither did the Government, because later in the movie, an alien tells humans point blank in several languages that aliens exist, and everyone seems fine with it. I bet the Government felt really stupid at that point.

After her story was rejected, Lois went out to find the alien that she was sure existed for herself. Following a few leads eventually led her to Clark Kent. Clark explained to her why his father felt that he needed to be kept a secret and how he stupidly died protecting that secret. This would have been the perfect time for Lois to tell Clark that his father was a paranoid nutbag and that he has to live his own life, but she didn't. She seemed to agree that Jonathan was right, that the world wasn't ready for Clark. So Lois is probably also crazy. But if Lois was able to find out Clark's identity with normal investigative work, couldn't anyone else? And wouldn't they inform Clark of what a dangerous loony his father was? Maybe Lois was afraid that this super-strong alien would go berserk if someone insulted his father. Maybe the Kents' backyard is full of the corpses of those who spoke ill of Clark's hopelessly insane dad. This is a darker take on Superman, after all.

Still, for someone who was raised with this Cheney-like obsession with secrecy, Clark is terrible at keeping his identity secret. When he first moved out up North (where there was no Government), he took an a false identity, ostensibly so that he wouldn't be traced back to Smallville and his parents. However, at the end of the movie, he takes up his identity as Clark Kent again. Why? Why doesn't he keep his fake identity? Wouldn't using his real identity put his loved ones in just as much danger as they would have been when he was living in the North? Did his loved ones not matter to him any more? Also, when he is being tracked by a Government drone at the end of the movie, he destroys it. Yet, when asked by a military officer if his actions were against the United States government, Clark replies that he was raised in Kansas. WHY WOULD YOU TELL HIM THAT?! If he had just told them that he was raised in America, it would have made the same point, and the military officer probably wouldn't have even asked what state. Now that the fact that he was raised in Kansas is public knowledge, people might start to figure out that it might have been in the small town in Kansas that was just attacked by aliens for some reason. It might not take much prying at all for anyone to piece together why this town might have been important to the aliens. Maybe they would hear about the boy who miraculously saved a busload of children, then disappeared for a few years, and is currently working for the Daily Planet. All of this information is readily available. Seriously, Clark, you suck at secret identities.

So why does he even have a secret identity in this movie? Because we, the audience, know that Superman has a secret identity. That's the answer to why anything happens in the movie. Things happen in the movie the way the audience knows they happen. You shouldn't think too hard about it. The writers sure didn't.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Chokes

There's a scene in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises in which Commissioner Gordon explains to young idealist detective John Blake that he had agreed with Batman to lie about the circumstances of Harvey Dent's death for the greater good and Blake insists that he had become corrupt by doing so. It was a very powerful scene and I fear that it is a suiting metaphor for the fans' reaction to the movie.

I saw a midnight showing of this movie right when it came out, following showings of the previous two movies. I was really ready to be blown away by it and I wasn't alone. As soon as the DC logo appeared on the screen, someone in the front of the theater shouted, "Fuck Iron Man!" After the whole audience in unison urged him to shut up, he paused for a second and added, "Avengers what?" I actually understand this loud idiot's enthusiasm for a movie that he hadn't seen, unless he actually meant that the DC logo itself was more impressive than The Avengers, which would be pretty cold. With the hype leading up to the movie, I knew that people had convinced themselves that it was going to be great no matter what. I was ready for all of the "Best movie ever!" posts that immediately cropped up on every social networking site. What I wasn't ready for was not liking the movie, which is what happened.

It is so hard to say that I didn't like the movie, because it wasn't an unforgivably bad movie, just very disappointing. The level of disappointment is completely relative, though, because it depends on what you are comparing it to, and this movie's weight class is extremely hard to determine. For a superhero movie, it's all right. For a big budget summer action movie, it's not shabby. For a high-profile work of a cinema auteur, it's passable (certainly, Quentin Tarantino has done clunkier movies). For a Christopher Nolan movie, it's terrible. That is not as harsh as it sounds; before watching this movie, I had no idea that Nolan was capable of making a movie that I liked only about as much as Tim Burton's Batman movies. For a superhero movie released in the summer of 2012, it's far from the best. That last one is a completely unfair comparison, but an inevitable one. You would think that The Dark Knight Rises would not be on the same playing field as The Avengers, because the latter was marketed as nothing more than escapist fantasy while the former aspired to more. Despite its aspirations, though, The Dark Knight Rises really did amount to escapist fantasy, it just wasn't very good at it. Be ready to hear comparisons made over and over. Batman fans, be ready to hear that The Dark Knight Rises is not as inspiring, as enjoyable, nor as beautiful as The Avengers.

Despite the movie falling so far short of the mark set by the previous two Batman movies, I watched all of the fans asserting, "The best Batman movie yet!" or "Nolan's done it again!" and I thought back to that scene from the movie. I couldn't help but think that perhaps these fans were, like Jim Gordon did for Harvey Dent, lionizing this movie so that they could have their white knight, their shining example of perfection, the one unblemished superhero franchise. If that is the case, I must remind them that they are doing the film no service. At worst they are setting others up for disappointment, and at best they are setting a standard of an ideal of a movie that no actual movie could ever hope to attain. It's also possible that these people are unaware of the movie's faults, in which case I expect that this will go the same way that it goes every time I read a Grant Morrison comic, where I explain why I didn't like it and the Internet calls me a retard.

Spoilers follow, but if you haven't seen the movie, then I really don't care why you think I was wrong about it.

The biggest problem that the movie runs into is tedium, which was something I never would have thought to be the case. I like movies that take their time, that linger on real, human moments, that examine things in depth. Those are the sort of things that some people call boring, but make for an engaging and profound story. It also wasn't what this movie did. The Dark Knight Rises instead is boring in the way that the Transformers movies are boring. A lot of explosions and big stupid action scenes happen and I don't care that they're happening. They don't contribute much if at all to the story. I know that the previous two movies also had big stupid action sequences, but those were woven into the intelligent character work. I cared about the characters, so it wasn't a chore to sit through their fights and explosions. The movie was way longer than it needed to be anyway, and I would have preferred the extraneous time be cut or used to advance the story that the movie was setting up but never got around to actually telling.

The Dark Knight Rises is not entirely a stupid movie, but it has so many stupid little details that grate on me. The example that immediately comes to mind is toward the end, when the film flashes back to the scene in Batman Begins where Bruce is a child in a police station after his parents were shot and Gordon lends him his coat. It's a weird detail for Bruce to suddenly recall, but I understand how every detail and every little pain and every little comfort from the day his entire life changed completely would remain with him. What made it weirder was that Bruce expected Gordon to also remember that detail, and what made it ridiculous was that Gordon actually did. I didn't remember the scene, and I had just watched it a few hours ago. For Gordon, this was thirty years ago and nothing life changing happened to him on that day. In his career, how many homicide cases do you think he's had? How many times do you think he has gone out of his way to be kind to victims' families, to the inclusion of lending someone his coat? Why would he immediately make the connection to the Wayne murders? The reason is as simple as it is stupid: This is Bruce Wayne's story. What is going on in the lives of other characters is disregarded so that we can focus on Bruce Wayne and what is important to him.

The biggest casualty of the relentless, unwarranted focus on Bruce has to be Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt is a superb actor and he did an exemplary job playing Tim Drake. This was an interesting and likable character who, to me at least, came off as way more heroic than Bruce Wayne. This movie should have been his story. Bruce Wayne himself had said since Batman Begins that though Bruce was just a man, Batman was a symbol. In The Dark Knight Rises, the point was made no fewer than four times (just in case you weren't paying attention) that Batman could be anyone. Why couldn't Joseph Gordon-Levitt have been Batman? Over the course of the movie, Drake goes from fighting crime as a detective to continuing his fight outside of the police force, all the while using the Batman symbols copiously. I really thought that the "Dark Knight" rising in this movie was going to be Drake. Starting when Batman was paralyzed and then taken out of Gotham, I was sure that the rest of the story would be about Drake saving Gotham covertly, from the shadows. By trying to keep people's hope alive about the return of Batman, he would unknowingly fulfill his own prophecy because he would become Batman. Then, of course, he would save Bruce Wayne, but Bruce would be paralyzed and could only act as an Oracle-like mentor for Tim. Thus, the story of Bruce Wayne as Batman would be over, but the legend of Batman would continue.

About the time Bruce started training for his attempted escape from his imprisonment, it started sinking in that the story of legends and legacies and the resilience of the human spirit that I thought for sure Nolan was trying to tell was going to be abandoned in favour of a lame story about how awesome Bruce Wayne is. The effect was a complete refutation of the series' messages that they spent so much time hammering into us about how men can be broken, but Batman is stronger because he's a symbol and can be anybody. That's complete bullshit. Of course, Bruce Wayne is the only person with the resources to do what Batman needs to do, which is why Tim Drake's story of saving Gotham, perhaps not as cleanly or easily, without those resources would have been so much more powerful and resounding, but as the movie stands, he still needed Bruce Wayne to come back and save the day. More importantly, only Bruce Wayne can shrug off losing all the cartilage in his leg with only minor help from a magic leg brace. Only Bruce Wayne could escape the prison through his rock climbing abilities because only Bruce Wayne could recover from a broken spine and in a few days be stronger than he was before. In short, only Bruce Wayne can be Batman because everyone else has to deal with the consequences of his actions, but everything up to and including his own death just washes off of Bruce Wayne.

Before you correct me on the name of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, let me assure you that I was merely correcting a typo in the script that was never corrected. That is the only explanation for Tim Drake being called John Blake, isn't it? This was a character who had the same back story and all of the defining personality traits of Tim Drake. The only people who wouldn't know who "John Blake" was supposed to be were people who didn't know who Tim Drake was, and you would be concealing his identity just as well from them if you called him Tim Drake from the beginning. The real reason he needed an unfamiliar name was for a "twist" at the end where it turned out that "John" wasn't his first name, which was completely unnecessary because it didn't change a thing about the character. The "John Blake" fake out was pointless, but at least it came out of nowhere and quickly returned there. At least it was consistent with the established characters, which is more than I can say for the Miranda Tate twist.

To be honest, I did not see it coming that Miranda Tate would turn out to be Talia. Despite the fact that when Ra's al-Ghul's child was mentioned, I immediately thought, "Talia's going to be in this movie?" I didn't think she was going to be Miranda. I wasn't immediately deceived by the misdirection involving Ra's al-Ghul's child's protector because I knew that if they were going to bring up this character but not give us any information at all about him, then his identity would turn out to be important. That's Chekhov's gun at work. Still, I didn't think that Miranda would turn out to be Talia, because that didn't make any damn sense. First of all, why would she go by Miranda? The name Talia wouldn't have meant anything to any character in the movie. There was no need for her to use a fake name. Still, I guess it doesn't hurt to be cautious. There is a larger problem. Talia knew Bruce Wayne was Batman. She knew that Bruce Wayne killed her father. She knew that she was going to kill Bruce Wayne. Knowing all that, why, for the love of God, would she fuck him? If your strategy for revenge involves getting your target laid, then you really need to rethink your motives. I know that some women, even in real life, use sex as leverage, but that's when they don't already have more leverage than they'll ever need. She was already Bruce's friend. Bruce trusted her (at least as much as she needed him to). They were already business partners. She was already providing him with money that he badly needed. She didn't gain a damn thing by boinking him. Did she really think he would say, "I'm sorry, but we can't work together unless I can stick my dick in you"? If so, what did she think was the nature of his relationship with Lucius Fox? I am well aware that Talia and Bruce had sex in the comics. The difference was that Talia wasn't trying to kill Bruce in the comics. Sure, she worked for Ra's al-Ghul, but her ultimate goal was to settle down with Bruce and start a family, and in that context, sex makes perfect sense. In the story presented in the movie, however, this is a sad male power fantasy (Even the chicks who want to kill him want to fuck him!). Remaining superficially true to the comic book source material was a detriment not just to Talia, but to the only other female character in the movie.

I think it's a shame that everyone is talking about "Anne Hathaway's Catwoman," because Catwoman was perhaps the biggest disappointment in the movie. The fact is that Anne Hathaway does as good a job with the character as she could have. It wasn't her fault that the character was a loathsome, selfish, obnoxious, unfunny, dull, cliched femme fatale. I've written before about how overwhelmingly phallocentric Batman is as a franchise and in this movie as usual, Catwoman is the living embodiment of Bob Kane's gynophobia. This is especially sad considering that Christopher Nolan's Batman movies had mostly avoided the misogynistic pitfalls of the character. Sure, in Batman Begins, there was only one notable female character, but she was not actively trying to kill Batman nor inadvertently getting Batman killed through her own incompetence, which in a Batman story is a huge feminist achievement. In The Dark Knight, the only female character is killed, but she's also played by a good actor, so that's kind of a wash. Then comes The Dark Knight Rises, in which one of the women is trying to kill Batman and the other is motherfucking Catwoman.

I knew from the first scene between Selina and Bruce that I was going to have problems with this character, and not just because of her godawful dialogue. I know it's subjective whether you think her action movie one-liners were clever, but you're wrong; they're not. As we see in the movie, Bruce can sneak into the room, take out a bow, nock an arrow, and fire before she realizes he's there. As is confirmed later in the movie, he is perfectly capable of taking down an assailant even with a bad leg. Were he not interested in fucking around, he could have snuck up on Selina, subdued her, taken back the pearls she had stolen, and handed her over to the police, removing her from the rest of the movie. Instead, he opted to flirt with her. What the fuck? For everyone who accused me of homophobia for the entry I linked to in the previous paragraph, let me make this clear: This is why I don't like a heterosexual Batman. I'm not saying that Batman has to be gay - he could be asexual, bisexual, or only turned on by justice (I don't think there's a word for that). However, when you have to make the point that this Batman is straight, you end up with a hero whose kryptonite is estrogen. He's a ladies' man who is only good with women when there aren't any in his life, because when he has to deal with them, he completely loses his shit.

To understand how disgusted I am with Bruce's reaction to Selina, you have to go back to Bruce's origin story. If you remember from Batman Begins, Joe Chill was robbing Thomas and Martha Wayne and when the situation escalated, he killed them in front of Bruce. Bruce was so enraged that ten years later when Joe was up for parole, Bruce brought a loaded gun to his parole hearing with the intent of murdering Joe if he were released. Rachel Dawes was so upset by this that she slapped the shit out of Bruce. She explained that due to economic realities, new Joe Chills were being made all the time. In case you don't get where I'm going with this, Selina Kyle was one of those Joe Chills. She was driven to crime by economic pressures. In fact, the first time you see her, she is stealing the same string of pearls that Chill was trying to steal when he killed the Waynes. Actually, Selina is way worse than Joe Chill. She is easily more violent and destructive and unlike Joe, who resorted to using a gun once and then immediately regretted it, Selina regrets nothing. Selina is not the breed of criminal that Batman was created to combat, but the sort of person that Batman would have been terrified that criminals would become. She is also whom were supposed to be rooting for Batman to end up together with. To put this in perspective, some people watching Batman Begins were disturbed to see Bruce Wayne intending to murder someone, which is anathema to the moral code that Batman would develop. In this movie, we're asked to accept that if Joe Chill were hotter and wore a sexy black dress that Bruce, instead of wanting to kill him, would have instead made out with him. I am not okay with this.

This just goes to show how far any social, political, or economic commentary had degenerated by the third movie. That is why it's so insane that anyone is discussing how timely this movie's commentary on today's economic climate is. This movie doesn't say anything at all about the current political or economic situation. Sure, this movie is set in a situation with a vast and troublesome economic divide, but the similarities between their world and ours end there. Bane does present himself as a champion of The People, but keep in mind that in reality, his goal is to destroy Gotham City. Even if he did genuinely give a shit about the economically downtrodden, he would still come off as disingenuous, because this isn't his battle. Bane wasn't from America, let alone Gotham. You can't be a champion of The People if you aren't even one of The People. Bane is not the 99%. He didn't even consult The People before taking over Gotham. To the movie's credit, The People aren't shown to even support Bane. The only people who are unequivocally on Bane's side are the prisoners he released, who cannot be considered representative of the common man. This is nice, because it fails to show anything contrary to the thinking of real people. Believe it or not, the people in this country, even the really poor people, do not resent the rich just for being rich. If they did, then our most popular superhero wouldn't be Batman. We may want justice, but we don't want someone to take the police off the streets so that we can take what we want from rich people. In fact, that would kind of be the opposite of justice, because in such a situation, the people most victimized would be the most defenseless, not the richest. Bane's message is complete bullshit, but he is the only character that even has a message. People are quick to point out that Selina has some dialogue on the subject of social justice, but are slow to realize just how self-serving her message is. Her motivation boils down to nothing more than self-interest, and you would have to be extremely out of touch with economic realities to think that the voice of The People would be an Objectivist.

In short, The Dark Knight Returns is a deeply flawed and often poorly thought out movie. I hope that once the hype dies down, it will be okay to say that on the Internet.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fashion Victims

Anyone who has ever seen me or the way I dress can probably figure out that I don't have a very keen sense of fashion. I don't know what's "in" right now. I don't know if I'm a "winter" or a "baseball season." I am not clear on when you're supposed to stop wearing white or why. The best I can do is distinguish between "attractive" and "screamingly hideous." So when someone makes a fashion mistake and I can tell it's a mistake, then that means it is a glaringly obvious mistake.

When I stumbled upon an article on The Ten Best and Worst Dressed Comic Book Characters, I was intrigued to see who was picked because even with my myopic eye for fashion I could think of at least a dozen superheroes who look absolutely terrible. For instance, remember when they changed Superman's costume? I do. However, when I read the article, I found that it was full of errors that I, as someone familiar with these characters who can also dress himself, felt the need to correct.

Wolverine showing off his fashion sense

First off, I was a bit surprised by Wolverine making the best-dressed list. It's mostly because I'm not a huge fan of yellow spandex, but I am willing to concede that's really a judgement call. What I'm really offended by is something deeper than the fashion - the arithmetic. Check at the beginning of the blurb how old our fashion critic says Wolverine is. Now check when he says Wolverine was born. As those of you who weren't in the same math class as Grant Morrison (see below) probably already know, the late 19th century was less than 200 years ago. Honestly, if your expertise with numbers is that bad, you really should avoid using them altogether.

Quick! Count how many eyes Jamie Madrox has. Now count how many limbs he has. If the number of limbs you came up with is four times the number of eyes, then congratulations! You are as smart as one of the most popular writers in comics!

Bruce Banner in what's left of his clothes

I also object to the Incredible Hulk being on the worst dressed list. It's not that I think Hulk is a particularly snappy dresser, but considering that it's all Bruce Banner can do to wear pants with enough elasticity in the waist and seat that Hulk's genitals are covered, I don't think fashion is the real issue here. This is like putting a child on the worst dressed list and making fun of his helmet and rubber pants.

Heroes for Hire
Aside from those minor criticisms, I don't have much more to say about the men on the lists. Honestly, I'm not sure what makes a man more or less attractive. I don't know whether Luke Cage actually does look better than Iron Fist as this article claims. Frankly, if either one of them tried to pick me up in a bar, I would probably run away screaming. I also don't know through what sublety of fashion The Question (Rorschach) can be on the list and yet John Constantine, Dr. Occult, or any of the dozens of detective characters who dress exactly the same way missed out. However, as someone who is attracted to women, I can tell when women look good, so I take great umbrage to the women on this list. The fact that Zatanna is listed as one of the worst dressed and Emma Frost as one of the best is an insult to anyone who has ever worn clothes. For those of you who are blind enough not to know this, first of all, how are you reading this blog? Second of all, you should know that Zatanna wrote the book on what it means to be sexy and Emma Frost took off her pants and took a huge shit on that book. Allow me to elaborate:

Fishnets! Top Hat!
(Click for a larger image)

This is Zatanna. She wears fishnets and a top hat. For those of you whose brains just blacked out from an overload of awesome, I will reiterate: She wears fishnets and a top hat. This is the Michaelangelo's David of superhero costumes, but hot! Clearly, this is the greatest thing that any person can possibly wear. I'm not sure why the day that Zatanna was created, the entire fashion industry didn't just throw up their hands and quit, because there is obviously nothing more they can possibly do.

I'd hit that.Then there's Emma Frost on the other hand. When we first met her, she was the headmistress of the Massachusetts Academy and wore the smart and chic suit shown on the left. What's interesting about this in retrospect is that at this time in her life, having other people take her seriously was a priority for her. As you will see, this would later play a much less important role in her fashion choices. In addition to being an academic, she was also a member of the famously decadent and amoral Hellfire Club. In her capacity as a fetishistic supervillainess, she dressed like this:

This was the first superhero costume I truly understood. I couldn't honestly tell you why Superman wears a cape, but thigh-high high-heeled boots and a corset? That I get!

In the mid-nineties, after emerging from a coma, Emma gave up supervillainy and quit the Hellfire Club in order to teach at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters (home of the X-Men). No longer having that outlet for her sadomasochistic impulses, she decided to seemlessly blend her dominatrix and schoolteacher looks with this outfit:

Hot for Teacher
It's both tasteful and kinky! I assure you for every one reader who questioned why she needed a riding crop to teach high school, there were at least five who wished they had a teacher like Ms. Frost. This was the apex of Emma's fashion. Only a few years later, tragedy struck. As near as I can tell, Emma's wardrobe got caught in a thresher and rather than buy new clothes, decided to wear what remained of her mangled outfits. This is the result:

Why?  Why?!
AAAAAAAGH!!! Take it away! It's horrible! HORRIBLE! I really hope this wasn't an attempt to be "sexy," because if so, it is the saddest thing in the world. Notice the glasses?  See?  Glasses?Also, I don't know if one of the moronic new powers she was given (in addition to diamond skin - no, seriously, they gave her diamond skin) was to turn Asian, or if she's squinting to read something because she's not wearing the glasses that she apparently needed in her first appearance but everyone since seems to have forgotten about. Maybe her deteriorating vision helps to explain how she could look at this outfit and then decide to wear it. There's a reason that women in real life don't dress like this. In fact, there are at least twenty.

In summation, I have been told that Coco Chanel once said, "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory." I would like to amend that. If you look in the mirror and see this:

then you should definitely put on more - enough to cover that awful thing you're wearing - or maybe just take it all off and start over, because you have fucked up egregiously.

Friday, November 28, 2008

AIDS makes us equal

This ad is deeply disturbing, but certainly that was the point.

You know what's kind of wrong is that somewhere, there's a makeup artist whose assignment was "Hollow cheekbones, please -- but make it fabulous."

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Kim Kardashian as Wonder Woman

From PopBytes:

Monday, June 09, 2008

Another Reason Why I Love Kristen Schaal

On The Daily Show last Thursday, Kristen Schaal expressed some of my exact opinions regarding the coverage of the Democratic primaries. But, as with every great pundit, it wasn't so much what she said as the way she said it. The part at the end where she wears the Wonder Woman outfit was particularly poignant.

After Jen Dziura and Kristen Schaal, I'm going to start demanding
all comedians strip down to Wonder Woman underwear during their act. This means you, Patton Oswalt!

Friday, May 02, 2008

next up, back to the hot girls...

From astute reader Mark Seddon:

I thought you might be interested in this pic that I took. A brave chap dressed up as Wonder Woman.

It was for the annual Superhero Challenge fun run last weekend at Brighton in the UK. The run raises money for the charity Passing It On.

It was also featured over on the Forbidden Planet blog.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

where cheerleaders go when they graduate

Here is a very muscular lady performing a Wonder Woman fitness routine:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


My girlfriend is deeply into "Steampunk." For those of you who are not "in the know," Steampunk is what you get when you take regular punk and cook it in a pot of boiling water. This causes the punk in question to dress like a nineteenth century coal miner. Or something like that. I generally encourage this hobby, since, like my own Wonder Woman fandom, it is at its heart an excuse to look at pictures of very pretty people in ridiculous outfits. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the two worlds collided.

I give you: Gaslight Justice League! "Sillof's Workshop" has created these titans of the 1800's. Normally, I would make some snide comment about him having WAY too much free time on his hands, but these are kickass enough that I can't bring myself to do it. You may notice that in a display of bipartisanship between the Silver Age Justice League and cartoon Justice League, Sillof has included both Aquaman and Hawkgirl. However, as with any rendition of the Justice League, the highlight is the Wonder Woman.

Holy crap! She is totally about to kick contemporary author Friedrich Nietzsche's ass! You may wonder why certain liberties were taken with the colour scheme of her outfit. The simple explanation is that in the 1880's, Wonder Woman didn't give a shit about America.

I'm getting into this Steampunk stuff now. Of course, making Wonder Woman look good is like shooting fish in a barrel. I think I'll create a Steampunk version of someone like Starman (Left, fighting bear). Oh shit! Someone beat me to it!

Monday, January 07, 2008

I am in a literary humor journal with Wonder Woman on the cover

Monkeybicycle Issue Five, guest-edited by Eric Spitznagel

Click here to preorder

Looking for something to read after you put the kids to bed? Then Issue Five of Monkeybicycle is for you. It's bursting at the seams with humor that is not for innocent minds or faint hearts.

Our fifth issue is filled with the kind of humor that would make any good man blush, and it's delivered from some of the best in the business. Just take a look at this killer line-up:

Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, Myfanwy Collins, Johnny Ryan, Davy Rothbart, Wendy Molyneux, Aaron Burch, Bret Scott, Elizabeth Ellen, Matt Craig, Timothy Bennet, Pete Grosz, Liliana V. Blum, Katie Schwartz, Tyler Smith, Michael Frissore, Antonius Wiriadjaja, Amy Guth, J. Marcus Weekley, Matt Summers-Sparks, C. J. Kershner, Ben Tanzer, Jennifer Dziura, Peter Bognanni, Charlie Anders, David Hart, Noria Jablonski, Bob Fingerman, Vince LiCata, Jack Pendarvis, Christopher Monks, and an introduction by David Cross.

p.s. - The cover does, in fact, depict a creepy old dude smelling a Wonder Woman doll's underwear, which he appears to have removed with tweezers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Julianne Moore's kid as Wonder Woman

The leggings look very practical for October!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Amy Winehouse as Wonder Woman

PrettyOnTheOutside comments:

Call me crazy, but ever since I caught a glimpse of Amy's beehive hairdo, I've seen her as Wonder Woman. I don't know why but I've always had that association. Both are strong gals you wouldn't mess with. I hope my sweet Amy gets it together. She's a wonder Wonder Wino!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Vintage photo post: WW (and her stunt double)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

previously unreleased Wonder Woman photos

I hear some of you like damsels in distress.

Others, not so much.

By Ryan Brenizer, God of the Lens.

Monday, February 12, 2007

WW on iTunes

Reader Randy in San Francisco sent us a tip: Season 1 of Wonder Woman is now available for download on iTunes (link will open iTunes application).

I have sometimes thought that it might be cool to obtain one of these newfangled video iPods and download TV shows to it and then watch them on the subway or the Stairmaster. And then I just feel a kind of First World guilt that I could have access to that much technology and use it to watch more television more places. So I don't do those things.

I do, however, fight crime.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Running low on superheroine porn? This website and its large-breasted models are here to save the day.*

Likely due to trademark issues, the site features the "live comic book" adventures of "Stargirl" and "Superior Girl" and "Nocturnal Winged Lady Dressed in Black Whose Parents Were Tragically Killed That One Time." Okay, made the last one up.

*I haven't yet found a "coming to the rescue" pun, but I imagine it's in there.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Suffer A Jet

When I was in elementary school, a friend of mine told me the following story:

Superman was on patrol when, using his telescopic vision, he saw that Wonder Woman had left her window open and was lying naked on her bed. Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Superman flew in at super-speed, shot his wad, and flew away before Wonder Woman could even say anything.

"What was that?" gasped Wonder Woman.

"I don't know," said the invisible man, "but all of a sudden, my ass is sore."

I'm not sure I got all of the details of that story right, since I have been unable to find the comic book in which it happened, but my point remains the same: Everyone lay off Wonder Woman's invisible plane!

Yes, I know - it's invisible, but it doesn't make her invisible, meaning that when she's flying in it, you can still see her. Maybe you expect more from a magical aircraft. It's still better than anything your plane can do. What? You don't have your own plane? You don't even have a pilot's license? What a loser!

As you can see, when an aeroplane is in the sky, it can reach heights that are very far away, making it look very small and hard to see. This is caused by science. However, don't be fooled! Aeroplanes are in reality quite large.

Here we see George Bush, Jr. standing and waving outside of Air Force One (a non-invisible aeroplane). Bush is indicated in red. Reliable sources report that President Bush, Jr. is not a midget, and yet we can see very clearly in this undoctored photograph that the aeroplane is at least ten times his size!

In this photograph, I have used advanced special effects technology to digitally render Air Force One invisible. While President Bush, Jr. remains visible, you can hardly see his obnoxious, smug, self-satisfied grin. So you see, even a visible person in an invisible plane would be very difficult to see.

Many people say that she couldn't operate an aeroplane if she couldn't see the controls. You know, there are other senses you could use to tell where the controls are. Next, you'll be saying that blind people shouldn't be piloting aeroplanes. You probably think that blind people should stay on the ground and be locked in dank, smelly caves and fed the lint that sighted people find in their belly buttons. Jerk. Fascist. Jerk.

If it were up to you, I bet Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Louis Braille would never have made their historic transatlantic flight.

Wonder Woman must spend hours every day cleaning that plane so that it remains completely transparent and she doesn't need assholes like you making fun of her.

Some of you may be of the opinion that Wonder Woman doesn't need any aircraft at all, considering that she has magical sandals that allow her to fly without a plane. You may think it's silly that she ever choose to wear her non-flying go-go boots. Sure, the boots are kinky and sexy and provide superior arch support, you would think, but you have to weigh that against the gift of flight. You would think she should never go into action without her sandals.

That just goes to show how little you know. Very few people know this, but her red fuck-me boots have magical powers, too.

They make her look taller.

This blog post is brought to you by Google Image Search and by Ow! My Eye! - celebrating five years of this comic.