Dennis O’Neil: Movies, Comics, and Heroes
Okay, first another bow toward my friend and colleague, John Ostrander. No sense in reviewing Skyfall, the new James Bond flick, since, in his November 18th column, John already wrote virtually everything I might have written about the entertainment. Let us agree: best Bond ever, for the reasons John cited.
It’s been a banner year for this kind of show, hasn’t it? We had two of the best superheroes – no, let’s not be mealy mouthed, Marvel’s Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises were, though quite different, the best superhero movies yet. (You want to disagree? Fine. This is only my opinion and, doggone it, I’ve misplaced my cloak of infallibility. Wonder if I could borrow the pope’s…) I think there’s been, among media types, a discernible learning curve. They have learned how to do this kind of material really well. Not that all such material is really good, but now there is the possibility of it being as good as anything out there. And, maybe more important, there has arisen the consensus that it ought to be good; no need to phone it in just because it’s that comic book stuff.
Reasons? Hey, do I look like a savant? Let’s just make one guess and hurry on. The guess: for the past couple of decades, many (if not most?) of the bright, creative kids have been comics readers. The form is familiar to them and they’re friendly to it. “Of course the movies can be good,” they might say. “Why wouldn’t they be good?”
The first Hollywood guys who tried adapting comics to the screen were on unfamiliar turf; to the current guys it’s home territory.
That was the guess, plus addenda. Now, the moving on, in the form of a confession: When I was a drifting, quasi-beatnik/peacenik, still on the south side of the dreaded 30, Bond was a Guilty Pleasure. A peacenik buddy (who was not as quasi as I was) and I saw the movies, first run, and enjoyed the action and adventure and romance and pretty females – all the Bondian delights – but! There was what I thought was an unhealthy glorification of consumerism – no, whoever has the most toys when he dies doesn’t always wins – and this aspect is, blessedly, almost absent from Skyfall. The other guilt-inducer was a bit thornier: wasn’t James Bond a fascist?
Sure, the word “fascist” has been tossed around and in the process lost some precision, but it usually involves unquestioning obedience to some authority figure, presumably for the common good. (Has any leader ever claimed to act for the common bad?) Strongly implicit in this conduct is that the authority figure gets to decide what the good is. So enter Bond: His friendly neighborhood authority figure, M, tells him to go commit bloody mayhem and he does. No questioning of right or wrong–just do the mayhem, often merrily. Recent history has demonstrated the inadvisability of blind obedience to the boss.
Again, we can pretty much find Skyfall innocent. The authoritarianism is muted, and neither Bond nor M seem to be happy about the mayhem. And they both seem fallible.
Maybe this kind of analysis is bringing too much baggage to what is, after all, just show-biz. But I’m glad I did it 50 years ago, and I don’t think it’s unhealthy to do it now.
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases