Tagged: Ant Man

The Law Is A Ass #426: Ant-Man Doesn’t Right The Wrongs Of His Trial

I know you think you know where you are but you’re wrong. You’re 8-years old again, sitting in your dentist’s waiting room with a copy of Highlights for Children, looking at the “What’s Wrong?” puzzle on the back cover. Only this time, instead of one large picture full of things that are wrong to find, it’s 150 pictures. The 150 pictures that made up The Astonishing Ant-Man # 13.

Scott Lang, the astonishing Ant-Man eponymoused in the comic’s title, was on trial for a crime his daughter committed in an act of rebellion. Guess she had grown past the “Bad Boy” stage. In order to protect his daughter, Scott confessed to her crime and now was on trial.

I’m assuming the prosecution’s case came in badly for Scott; it usually does when the defendant confesses. But I can only assume that, because the story didn’t actually show us any of the prosecution’s case. The story started by showing a string of defense character witnesses all called to attest to the fact that Scott was a good guy.

And here’s our first “What’s Wrong?” Scott confessed, remember? Well the thing about confessions is juries tend to believe them. A lot. When the prosecution’s case includes a confession, that’s pretty much, “The state rests.” The defendant could introduce character witnesses that he’d been canonized for driving the snakes out of Ireland and inventing Triple Stuf Oreos; he’d still be convicted. Scott’s entire defense of character witnesses was pretty much the worst defense this side of, “Yes, the defendant ate his victims; but he didn’t eat them raw.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, Scott’s first two character witnesses were Machinesmith – a super villain who said Scott was a good boss, but so were his former employers Arnim Zola and Baron Zemo – and Grizzly, a super villain who said Scott was the only guy who would give Grizzly a chance after he committed all those murders. Which brings us to “What’s Wrong?” deuce, there’s no advantage in calling Nazi employees or mass murderers as character witnesses.

During a recess, Scott was sitting in the hallway. A correction officer was sitting right next to him, like about a foot away. That’s when the prosecutor, Janice Lincoln, approached Scott and told him the reason she left a lucrative civil practice in New York in order to prosecute Scott was Pym Particles, those wondrous things Hank Pym, the first Ant-Man, used to shrink to insect size. See, Janice was a lawyer who moonlighted as a super villain. (Yes, there is so a difference!) She resented the fact that her Beetle identity was the only insect-named character who couldn’t shrink. She told Scott she was going to bring his Ant-Man costume into court for a demonstration and if he provided her with Pym Particles from it, she’d throw the case.

And we have “What’s Wrong?” the drei heaves. No, not that a prosecutor offered to throw a case for a bribe. It happens. What was wrong is that no prosecutor would offer to take a bribe while talking loud enough to be heard by a defendant who was four feet away when a corrections officer was within earshot!

“What’s Wrong?” may the fourth be with you happened when the prosecution presented its demonstration with the Ant-Man costume. No, not the fact that the prosecution called the defendant as a witness. I assume Scott agreed to waive his Fifth Amendment as part of the bribery deal. It’s the fact that the prosecution was allowed to do this after defense witnesses had testified. The prosecution would have rested its case before the defense called its witnesses. The prosecution wouldn’t be able to re-open its case to put on new substantive evidence.

Now this being a comic book that had gone twelve pages without a fight it was about time for the super villains who wanted revenge on Scott to attack the courtroom. Can you guess what happened on Page 13?

Nine pages of fight scene in the courtroom with the judge and jury present later, the villains were defeated and the trial resumed. Which is “What’s Wrong?” the fifth – a fifth being what I need about now. Ant-Man just saved the lives of the judge and jury from some super villains. There isn’t a judge who wouldn’t declared a mistrial and then disqualify both himself and the jury from the case for the reason that Ant-Man just saved their lives. And that would tend to prejudice them in Ant-Man’s favor.

So trial resumed. Janice Lincoln told the court that she and the defendant had reached “a perfectly reasonable, totally illegal [emphasis mine] deal” which the defendant just broke so the prosecutor wanted to get back at him by calling her final witness and convicting him. And we have “What’s Wrong?” six in the city, the prosecutor just admitted in open court in front of a judge, jury, and court reporter that she accepted a bribe.

The fact that Janice called a witnesses after the defense had put on its case is not our next “What’s Wrong?” Prosecutors can’t put on substantive evidence after they’ve rested their case. But they may put on rebuttal witnesses; that is witnesses called for the specific purpose of rebutting evidence offered in the defense case. These witnesses don’t offer substantive proof of the defendant’s guilt, they poke holes in the defense case.

“What’s Wrong?” seven come eleven (don’t worry, we aren’t actually going that high) happened when Janice called Scott’s ex-wife to rebut all the defense testimony of his good character. Janice proceed to lead her own witness by asking question after question which suggested its own answer. However, Janice soon learned she could lead her horse to the Kool-Aid but she couldn’t make her drink it. Because Scott’s ex testified about how wonderful Scott truly was and what a good father he was.

After that turn of my stomach – err events – the jury found Scott not guilty. No, that’s not “What’s Wrong? the eighth, man. I said the jury was probably prejudiced in Scott’s favor after he saved their lives from the super villains. I was right.

I mentioned in the last column that over thirty years ago “The Trial of the Flash”  storyline lasted two years and made lots of mistakes. “The Trial of Ant-Man” lasted only two issues but I’ll bet it made about as many errors in those two issues as “The Trial of the Flash” made in its two years. Any takers?

The Law Is A Ass # 425: Ant-Man’s Trial Has Character Flaws

The Law Is A Ass # 425: Ant-Man’s Trial Has Character Flaws

A long time ago in a multiverse far, far away…

The Flash went on trial for murdering Reverse-Flash in a multi-part story called The Trial of the Flash. As storylines went, The Trial of the Flash went on for…

Ever!

Okay, it went on for two years. But back in 1983 – before decompressed storytelling and multi-part stories designed to be binge-read in trade paperback collections – two years was forever. The second “The Law Is a Ass” I ever wrote was also my first column about The Trial of the Flash. Several more followed. How many more? Well let’s just say before The Trial of the Flash, and I, were finished, I had earned enough writing about it to pay off my mortgage, insure my kids had no student loan debt, and reduced the national debt to zero from the taxes I paid.

So you can imagine my trepidation upon reading Astonishing Ant-Man# 12. It was, you see, the first part of The Trial of Ant-Man. Still, a journey of a thousand columns begins with a single step, so let’s get started.

Ant-Man – the Scott Lang version, not Henry Pym or the one nobody remembers because even I had to look up Eric O’Grady – was on trial for a crime he didn’t commit. Of course he didn’t. When a super hero is on trial in a comic book you can be pretty certain it’s for a crime the hero didn’t commit. In comics the only thing more certain than that is death and resurrection.

The crime Scott didn’t commit? His daughter – and former super hero Stinger – Cassie Lang committed it. How did this one time Young Avenger go rogue? Long story short; like this. To protect Cassie, Scott took the blame. He said he kidnapped Cassie and forced her to participate in his crime. It was a noble gesture, but it had serious repercussions; as the whole “The Trial of the Ant-Man” title would suggest.

The trial started as most trials do with jury selection but as there is virtually no way to make the voir dire process visually or dramatically interesting, the story ignored jury selection and jumped right to opening statements. Starting with the opening statement of Janice Lincoln, the prosecuting attorney. Janice went for the jugular. Scott’s. She argued that the jury should ignore Scott’s good deeds as Ant-Man, as Scott had been convicted of several felonies, abandoned his family, burned his bridges with the respected members of the super hero community, recklessly allowed his daughter to be killed – but resurrected, see I told you – and kidnapped that same daughter to force her to be his accomplice in a heist. Probably the only reason Janice didn’t blame Scott for The Great Train Robbery is that Scott’s strong suit has never been silent.

There’s a name for that in the legal biz. We call it “putting the defendant’s character in issue.” We also call it improper. In a criminal trial, the prosecution is expressly forbidden from offering evidence, testimony, or even opening statements about a defendant’s bad character in order to prove that the defendant acted in accordance with that bad character. Or, in words that aren’t ripped from compelling prose that is the Federal Rules of Evidence, it’s improper for the prosecutor to prove or even argue that the defendant has been a bad person in the past so probably continued to be a bad person and committed the crime.

There are some exceptions to this rule. We won’t go into all of them, because only one of them applies to the story at hand. The prosecution may address the issue of the defendant’s bad character when the defendant puts his or her own character into issue first. If the defense offers evidence or argues that the defendant is a good person who would never commit the crime – in the legal biz we call that “opening the door” – the prosecution is allowed to walk through the open door and rebut evidence of good character with evidence that the defendant is a bad person who would commit the crime.

In her opening statement, defense counsel Jennifer Walters told the jury all about what a good person and upstanding hero Scott Lang was; ending with “I’ve seen it with my own eyes – this man is a hero.” It was after Jennifer Walters made this opening statement that Janice Lincoln made her opening statement and assassinated Scott’s character like it was that other Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. (What? Too soon?)

So what’s my problem with Ms. Lincoln’s opening statement? After all, if the defense put Scott’s character in issue – and it did – then the prosecution would be allowed to rebut that claim of good character with an argument of bad character. My problem is that if proper trial procedure had been followed – and the story went out of its way to establish that the trial judge, the Honorable Ronald Wilcox, was a no-nonsense, by the book judge who would follow proper procedure – the prosecution would not have been allowed to make the opening statement that it did, because the defense wold not have put Scott’s character into issue yet.

Proper trial procedure dictates that the prosecution makes its opening statement first, because it has the burdens of producing the evidence proving the defendant guilty and persuading the jury that the defendant is guilty. The prosecution makes its opening statement before the defense makes its opening statement. In a real trial, not one that played with proper procedure for dramatic purpose, Janice Lincoln wouldn’t have been able to attack Scott’s character in her opening statement, because she would have given it before the defense opening statement and before Jennifer Walters opened the door to Scott’s character.

Oh, I’m sure that Ms. Lincoln would have had her opportunity later in the trial. The defense’s sole tactic was to convince the jury that Scott Lang was a hero who wouldn’t commit the crime, so the defense was going to open that door eventually. Then all that other bad stuff about Scott’s character would have come in. In the legal biz we have a name for that, a bad idea.

Here’s a piece of advice to all you future lawyers out there: If you put your client’s character into issue, the prosecution is allowed to counter with proof of your client’s bad character. So don’t put your client’s character into issue when your client’s closet has more skeletons than The Pirates of the Caribbean.

Marc Alan Fishman: A Tale of Two Trailers

This week, the gods of the interwebs granted us a look at two dichotomous trailers for a pair of blockbuster comic book films soon to be hitting the mega-multi-plexes. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Justice League gave us somewhere around four-minutes total of titillating three-dimensional text, brief respites of prose, and the best action snippets CG could render. But beyond those stark generalities comes two massive worlds apart.

This should come as no surprise to any of us. Spider-Man is packed with wit, charm, and street-level action amidst the hints at bigger set pieces. Justice League is a dark and sordid affair – not without its own charm and wit, but punctuated with the Synder-trademarked sepia-hued gravitas and angst. At this point, would it be enough to say I was ear-to-ear smiles at one trailer… and terribly nervous about the other?

Two guesses which is which. Then again, if I give you two guesses you’d guess right no matter what.

Spider-Man presents a balanced picture that has me in giddy anticipation. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is presented as we saw him in Civil War. He is as close to the original source as we may ever get in an adapted character from comic to screen. He’s young, funny, nerdy, and oozes those immortal words of his late Uncle Ben between his not-quite-adult pores.

The story we’re presented seems rote. Following Civil War, Peter returns home to Queens to be the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man as per the direction of his would-be father-figure, Tony Stark. But, in the 616 Cinematic Universe, we already know what evil lurks in the shadows. Enter Birdman. Err, Batman. Err, Michael Keaton. Before the trailer ends we’re given what appears to be the entire plot of the movie. Destruction, loss, redemption, snark. It’s almost too easy; I anticipate several key turns before we resolve to whatever happily-ever-sequel there is to come.

Meanwhile in the DCU, Justice League leaves us with a much murkier picture – not counting the actual cinematography. From what we’ve been given, we can safely assert that Batman is assembling a team (let’s go ahead and call them a league) of super-powered individuals to fight some unseen threat. Diana of Themyscira, Barry Allen, Vic Stone, and Arthur Curry appear to be on board to fight said threat. That aside, we really get nothing else specific. Of the snippets we are given though, a few streams of light pierce the typically dark DCU movieverse. From the sneer-grin of Aquaman as he rides on the exterior of the Batmobile, to Bruce Wayne revealing his super power (“I’m rich”), Justice League seems to at least made some minor commitment to be a slightly more mirthful affair than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Sadness.

Unlike Spider-Man, Justice League’s trailer leaves me more guarded than enthusiastic. League’s teaser is simply too short to get a feeling if we’re taking a step forward or laterally. While BvS was quite profitable, the fan consensus was one of great disdain. What should have been billed as an Avengers level tour-de-force was more or less a maudlin, middling meh-fest. And far be it from me to throw a stone here, but Suicide Squad was a solid popcorn flick – but not one that moved the needle of fan-appreciation that DC desperately needs. Wonder Woman … you are our only hope.

So here we are. Four minutes of film, and we’re right back to where we started. While Marvel revels in whatever phase they’re in at present, DC seems to still be stuck at the starting block trying to impress everyone with how badass they are. And therein lies the truest sentiment of all.

While Marvel leaned into their inner nerd and gave us straight-faced superb tertiary titles like Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy, DC can’t get out of its own shadow. Spider-Man already feels like a homerun two minutes and several posters in. Justice League is somewhere between an intentional walk… and a beaned batter.

Emily S. Whitten: Civil War in the MCU

Captain America Civil War

(Warning: Some spoilers ahead)

Captain America: Civil War is complicated, and sprawling, and intense, and funny, and dark, and in the end, nobody wins. It has one of the best multi-superhero fight scenes out there, and yet the first half of the movie is held together by a series of quiet and deeply personal moments that develop numerous character arcs without feeling random or forced. Neither side of the fight along which lines are drawn – over the issue of whether to sign the Sokovia Accords, which will hold the Avengers accountable to the United Nations after their actions in saving the world have caused multiple instances of massive civilian casualties – seems entirely right.

Captain America’s stance of not wanting to abdicate personal responsibility for the Avengers’ actions to people “with agendas” is shown to be dangerous when he violently defends his childhood friend and WWII army buddy Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) against all comers, after Bucky is accused of having bombed the conference in Vienna where the Accords are to be ratified. On the other hand, Iron Man’s position of signing over accountability to the UN and his inability to ever consider that he’s “in over his head,” as the Spider-Man of the comics crossover observed, result in pretty much all of his friends ending up in prison for trying to stop the movie’s actual villain, Helmut Zemo, from activating an elite death squad that can be mind-controlled like the Winter Soldier. And with the intricacies of so many main characters with their own views on the issue, there’s a lot to unpack and consider.

So are you confused yet? If you haven’t seen the movie, a) go see it; what are you waiting for? It’s worth it! and b) I’m not surprised at the confusion. The cool thing about the modern MCU is also one of its drawbacks – these movies (thirteen and counting, with a lot more to come) have managed to stay believably within one universe and interweave references to each other in a fairly natural manner while still maintaining their individual styles.  That keeps each film fresh and interesting, while also ensuring we want to see more of the whole universe.

The downside of this is that eventually, with the ensemble movies in particular, there is a lot to pack in to make the films work, and they are in danger of collapsing under their own weight. It’s a testament to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo that they got all the moving parts built into this movie to work together like a well-oiled machine instead of dissolving into a messy disaster (did someone say Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice?)

We’ve gotten to a point in the overall MCU story where to fully comprehend the depth of events in Captain America: Civil War, it helps to be familiar with at the very least The Avengers; Captain America: Winter Soldier; and Avengers: Age of Ultron. (It’s best if you’ve seen all the others, too.) What begins in The Avengers – S.H.I.E.L.D. recruiting a bunch of heroes who start out with pretty different viewpoints and struggle to form a cohesive whole – continues in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where we see Steve Rogers/Cap’s resistance to following the government when it strays from his personal values and morality, and his belief in caring for individual people. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we see the results of Tony Stark/Iron Man’s serious accountability issues in pursuit of what he sees as a better future, when he uses something he doesn’t fully understand to complete an A.I. that is supposed to protect the entire world but then tries to kill everyone instead.

By the end of that movie, there’s a fissure within The Avengers – who were not all that stable to begin with – and Captain America’s belief in personal accountability versus Iron Man’s futurist viewpoint stand in stark (no pun intended) contrast to each other.

Captain America: Civil War builds on this and on events of the previous movies by using the immense destruction in New York City during The Avengers and the destruction of the capital city of Sokovia in Age of Ultron as the backdrop for the opening act, in which yet another Avengers’ attempt to stop criminals ends up causing civilian casualties, when Scarlet Witch, the youngest Avenger, accidentally redirects a bomb blast meant for Steve Rogers into a building and kills several Wakandans on a peace mission (a nod to the accidental hero-caused explosion that killed civilians at the beginning of the comics’ Civil War crossover event). This leads to the Sokovia Accords, which 117 countries intend to sign, and which will make the Avengers accountable to the United Nations. The decision of whether each hero will sign the document or “retire” brings out the core issue around which the plot is built.

Although the movie starts with a bang, the series of quieter moments in the first half establishes the stakes and interpersonal relationships that each hero stands to lose when choosing a side as the plot builds the foundation of the civil war itself; creating a world that is less black and white than the comics crossover. And it almost goes without saying in the MCU, but once again the acting in the Marvel movies is top-notch across the board, and the casting choices for new characters are clear winners. Each of the headliners (Chris Evans/Captain America, Robert Downey Jr./Iron Man, Sebastian Stan/Winter Soldier, Chadwick Boseman/Black Panther, Scarlet Johansson/Black Widow, Anthony Mackie/Falcon, Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye, Elizabeth Olsen/Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany/Vision, Paul Rudd/Ant-Man, Tom Holland/Spider-Man, and Don Cheadle/War Machine) truly embodies the characters we know from the comics and the previous movies; and brings the emotional heart of the movie to the forefront.

The first of the quiet emotional moments occurs soon after Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s mistake costs civilian lives. As she watches the newscasters vilify her, Steve turns the TV off, and together they accept shared blame for the tragedy, as he tells her that they have to learn to live with the collateral damage of trying to save the world because otherwise, next time they might not be able to save anybody. Their mentor/mentee relationship, and Steve’s recognition of her youth and inexperience in the face of the great power she is trying to wield, are clear. Another scene has Tony giving grant money to MIT students in an effort to assuage his guilt over his mistakes (including the creation of Ultron), when he is confronted in an empty backstage hallway by the mother of a boy who died in the Sovokian tragedy while doing aid work; she blames Tony for his death.

And then we have Steve attending the funeral of Peggy Carter, where he receives an almost beyond-the-grave message from Peggy to stand strong for what he believes in via a eulogy from her niece Sharon Carter (surprise, Steve! The pretty neighbor who was spying on you for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Winter Soldier is actually your first love’s age-appropriate relative!). And the introduction of Black Panther, occurring on either side of the bombing in Vienna, is composed of two deeply personal moments – the first of which shows T’Challa’s desire to be a politic leader who will make his peace-loving father proud, and the second of which flips to his intensity and willingness to take matters into his own hands after his father is killed by the explosion. (T’Challa also acts as an “undecided voter” in the war, in that his agenda is his own, not Cap’s or Iron Man’s; and Black Widow lends some other interesting shades of grey to the ideological debate down the line.)

The bombing sets off a chain reaction of events which results in insanely violent but elegant fights down stairways, on rooftops, and through highway tunnels as first the Bucharest police and then Black Panther try to take down Bucky, as Cap and his more recent sidekick Falcon try to protect him.

On a purely cinematic level, I absolutely adore the way that each superhero’s unique fighting style echoes the comics and looks completely natural on screen, the way Bucky and Cap fight almost as one person when they’re fighting on the same side, and the fun the movie-makers must have had choreographing these and the other hero team-up and civil war scenes. The end result of this fight, though, is everyone being captured and brought in to where Thaddeus Ross (who is now Secretary of State, what whaaaat) is haranguing Tony Stark on the phone about the whole mess. This leads to one of my favorite interactions between actors Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans as Stark tries to get Rogers to sign the Accords so he won’t be prosecuted.

Downey Jr. shows a vulnerable side of Stark that we haven’t seen very often since the first Iron Man, and Evans ability to emote with facial expressions shines as Steve comes close to signing before discovering that Tony has confined Wanda to the Avengers compound. Disappointment and disgust for Tony’s stance are written all over Cap’s face as he makes the final decision not to sign.

But tell me, have we forgotten about Helmut Zemo?

Who? One thing that’s so great about this film is that underneath all of the straightforward politics of Avenger-accountability, and the character moments, there’s also this little mystery growing. In the background of the superhero clashes, Zemo is seen tracking down old Hydra secrets and plotting to get a face-to-face meeting with the Winter Soldier. Once he does, the movie flips into high gear, with action scenes rolling into character introductions resulting in funny asides, and moving back into action.

Despite the intensity and dark elements in this film, it doesn’t lose the trademark heart and humor that runs through the MCU. Vision trying to cook for Wanda to comfort her even though he’s never tasted food; the introduction of Spider-man and his running fight-scene commentary; Ant-Man meeting Captain America (I love other heroes’ reactions to meeting Cap for the first time. I mean, he’s Captain America. I get it.); everything about Hawkeye (can I even encompass how much I love what these movies and Jeremy Renner have done with Hawkeye? Probably not); Cap’s two best friends/sidekicks grumping on each other (tell me there isn’t a little bromance jealousy up in there) – these are the bits that make the heroes seem like real people.

Even in the epic fight scene that has twelve superheroes squaring off against each other, the humor is not lost, and each hero gets to showcase his or her moves and have at least one lighter moment as the battle rages. Every. Single. Thing. About this battle is cool – but hands-down, the stars of the show are Spider-Man, doing his thing for the first time in the MCU proper; and Ant-Man, who literally takes over the scene and has a blast doing it. This is one fight scene I will inevitably rewind and watch twice during any home viewing of the movie (the Guardians of the Galaxy Xandar ship-crash scene is another one).

The aftermath of this fight leads to the final showdown, and for once, I’m not going to spoil things here. Suffice it to say that although hinted at previously, the movie took a turn you might not expect, and that the fallout from the final reveal resulted in an even more personal, we-ain’t-friends-no-more fight than the all-hands-on-deck brawl that came before. (It also brought an epic comic book cover from the crossover to the screen.) And in the end, out of the chaos of the civil war came almost no resolution (with one notable exception), actually less darkness than I expected despite the villain sort-of actually winning this round, and a question as to what the Avengers will look like when next they fill our screens.

I guess we’ll have to wait until May 2018 and 2019 to find out; but in the meantime, this movie is definitely worth the price of admission.

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #385

ANT-MAN’S PLAYED A HENCH

So are we sick of talking about Serpent Solutions yet? Yes. Then let’s talk about its older brothers, Power Broker  and Power Broker, Inc .

Later.

First, there’s one more thing about Serpent Solutions, that corporation of super villains which would hire itself out to other corporations that needed illegal things to be done. Serpent Solutions did the illegal things and the corporations paid Serpent Solutions for doing them. My recent thrashings of the reasoning – or lack there of; and I think we’ll go with the latter – behind this premise failed to address one important question; how did Serpent Solutions find its clients?

Did some masked serpent villain appear on a TV screen asking, “Do you know me?” then shill their skill on the premise that because Serpent Solutions was were a group of unknown super villain, they were the perfect people to hire to do what ever illegal stuff potential clients needed to be done? Did Serpent Solutions send out mass-market e-mails which they hoped didn’t end up a spam filter nestled between entreaties from Nigerian princes? Craigslist?

Well, the same question could be asked of Power Broker and Power Broker, Inc. Not just could be. In a little bit, will be. But first there’s another question: Who is Power Broker?

I don’t know. That is I knew once but I don’t know now.

The original Power Broker was Curtiss Jackson, a professional criminal who, along with Dr. Karlin Malus – yes him, again – founded Power Broker, Inc. Power Broker, Inc. had a fairly simple business plan; for a price, it gave its customers superhuman abilities using Dr. Malus’s experimental genetic manipulation techniques. Many became wrestlers in the super-human-only Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation. Others just became straight-out super villains.

The second Marvel villain called Power Broker is whoever took over Power Broker, Inc. after Jackson disappeared and maybe died. We don’t know this person’s real name. All we know is that Power Broker II wears a battle suit and probably used the company’s augmentation process on himself, because he can project energy bolts from his hands.

The second Power Broker kept Power Broker, Inc’s original business plan. For a price, usually a hefty percentage of whatever the clients earned with their super powers, he gave super powers to people. In the case of those who wanted to compete in the UCWF, it was what they earned as wrestlers. In the case of the customers who wanted to become super villains, “earned” was a euphemism for whatever ill-getting means got them their ill-gotten gains.

Then Power Broker II branched out. In The Astonishing Ant-Man #1, Power Broker II introduced his newest business plan; the Hench app. The Hench app is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, despite the fact that what it sounds like is silly.

Hench is a smart phone app that uses a proprietary algorithm to match up super villains with jobs. Super villains, either ones that already exist or new ones who got their powers from Power Broker, sign up with Hench to become providers. They offer their services as independent contractors available for hire and are stored in the Hench database. Then customers who need crimes committed use the Hench app. The app would algorithm and algomusic and then suggest the perfect super villain from its database for the customer’s job. Who could ask for anything more?

antmanHench is Uber for the ubermensch. An invaluable service for those who have crimes that need to be committed. However, the Hench business plan begs a question. Begs it more than a terrier taking tables scraps. That question, which I asked before, is how does Hench find its customers?

I imagine it could find its super villains by posting one of those photostated “take a number” ads on the bulletin board in either location of the Bar With No Name, the infamous bar catering only to Marvel super villains that has franchises in New York City and Medina, Ohio. But how does Power Broker, Inc. find potential customers who want crimes committed or link them up with the criminals stored in the Hench app database?

Again, as with Serpent Solutions, Power Broker, Inc. can’t exactly advertise its services or the Hench app. At least not without drawing at least a modicum of unwanted attention from the local constabulary. Then there’s the question of how does Power Broker, Inc. get the Hench app onto people’s smart phones?

Apple screens apps before it allows them access to its App Store. Google does the same before it allows Android apps into the Play Store. I can’t imagine either of these corporations would accept apps whose sole purpose was to help people break the law and get the corporations prosecuted as aiders and abettors.

Yes, Power Broker, Inc. could set up its own web site where people could go to download the Hench app. But that process is not without a significant problem. It’s a very public way for conducting business that absolutely no one would want to be public.

So I’m just stumped. I don’t know how Power Broker, Inc. could attract any sort of client base without revealing itself to the authorities.

You see, I can think up the question, how could anyone actually do these criminal things without getting caught, but I can’t think up the actual ways that anyone could do these criminal things without getting caught. Guess it’s a good thing I became a criminal defense attorney and not a criminal.

John Ostrander: Not Your Father’s Superman

Batman-2nd-Amendment

My friend Paul Guinan put an interesting post up on his Facebook page yesterday. It sparked an equally interesting discussion, and, evidently, you can have discussions on Facebook that are not all salvos of rants.

Paul wrote: “I grew up with Superman being a character of pure good. Every once in a while something like Red Kryptonite would cause him to do some bad things – nothing too bad – and he would be forgiven and once again beloved. He wasn’t a morose, frowning, reluctant hero, he enjoyed his life and mission.

Batman With Gun“Batman was a victim of gun violence. Bob Kane flirted with the idea of Batman carrying twin pistols for a very brief moment (a holdover from Batman’s inspiration, The Shadow), but seminal writers like Bill Finger solidified the code of Batman not carrying firearms. It made great thematic sense. Batman would sock a villain on the jaw, or throw his Batarang at a them – not beat them to a pulp and wind up with bloodied gloves. Batman is a scientist, detective, and martial arts expert. Such training develops character that’s in contradiction to being a rageaholic.

“Wonder Woman is the Princess of Peace, an ambassador for justice. Yes, she’s descended from Amazon warriors – but who had come to live a life of peace and tranquility on a secluded island. The Wonder Woman I grew up with wouldn’t carry a sword or shield, as that would be a sign of using men’s instruments of war to resolve conflicts. Her weapon? A Lasso of Truth! The villain would be socked on the jaw, tied up with the magic lasso, and be calmed.

“If the evolution over generations of an iconic character reflects society, then such indicators reveal we are becoming way too cynical and mean. Shouldn’t that be an opportunity to provide role models who inspire us to be greater, rather than reinforce our negative natures?

“I write this after seeing the second trailer for Batman v Superman, in which the DC trio is constantly angry –  even Clark Kent! The trailer climaxes in a shot of the DC trio. Superman is wearing a suit more dark and sinister than the outfit worn by “evil” Christopher Reeve in Superman III. Wonder Woman is dressed in a dark monochrome knockoff of the outfit worn by Xena, brandishing a sword. Batman looks as he should be is carrying a rifle. WTF? Sigh.”

I’m a founding member of the dark “grim ‘n’ gritty” hero (or anti-hero) club. GrimJack, Amanda Waller, my remaking of some established heroes – if I can find some tarnish to put on a hero’s armor, I’m known to apply it. However, I’m also not without sympathy for Paul’s point of view. The notion appears to be that if it’s darker, the story is more “realistic,” it’s more relatable to the reader/audience. That notion pervades not only comics but the movie and television adaptations of them.

And yet, what is my favorite superhero adaptation right now on TV? It’s not Gotham, it’s not Arrow – it’s The Flash. The main reason is that Barry Allen is presented as a hero, that he wants to be a hero, and that people respond to him as a hero. The show doesn‘t pretend it’s easy but that it is worthwhile. The show also really honors its roots and is often very funny. It’s well written and acted. It’s also very much in the tradition of the character as published by DC for the past few decades.

One of the issues raised is that many of the movies (Man of Steel was cited and, potentially, Suicide Squad might be another) are not meant to be for all ages. The attitude of some appears to be that superhero movies should be, at best, all ages or even kid centric, that superheroes are essentially a child’s fantasy, but this flies in the face of what movies are about commercially: studios want to put as many butts in the seats and eyes on the screens that they can. The movies that have been made so far have reaped tons of money and that tells the studios this is what the audiences want. If a little of this is good, more is better. Don’t fool yourself; plenty of kids went to see them as well and bought lots of the paraphernalia connected with it (and that’s where the real money is made).

Kids are not all that sheltered, either. Take a look at some of the video games that are popular. Kids know more than when I was a kid; take a look at the world around us. ISIL, climate change, the very real possibility the seas are dying (and with it all of life) – when I was growing up, we only had the specter of World War III to cope with. If movies are darker it’s because the world that the kids must cope with is also getting darker.

However, it’s not simply the dark and the grim that makes money. Guardians Of The Galaxy and Ant-Man were very successful at the box office and they were for a more general audience. They were brighter and more fun and more hopeful. Meaning what? That, as usual, it’s not all one thing or the other.

I believe that all characters and concepts cannot stay stuck in one time or era. To remain viable, they must be re-interpreted for the time in which they are in. They have to be part of the world that the reader/audience inhabits. That world, our world, has grown darker in the past few decades. The comics and the movies did not cause that; they reflect it.

That said, there also has to be hope. There desperately needs to be hope today. That also should be reflected in our movies and our superheroes.

If that sounds like I’m conflicted, I am. I see both sides’ views and sympathize with all of them. I’m looking forward to the Suicide Squad movie; the trailer suggests to me that they got what I was doing and it will be part of the movie. That said, I’d also like Superman to be a bit brighter than they seem to be making him, to represent the best in us. That was my Superman.

Oh, and he should wear red trunks. Definitely they should bring back the red trunks.

John Ostrander’s Summer Movie Wrap-Up

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Labor Day 2015 is upon us. Technically, the season’s change on September 23rd but for all intents and purposes, summer closes shop right after Labor Day. The summer movie season is over and the fall seasons are gearing up. Among things to look forward to is the new Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, coming out around Christmas. However, we’re going to look back at the offerings from last summer, specifically the ones I saw and most enjoyed.

I freely admit I haven’t seen all the cinematic offerings that were out. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation got missed, for example. I saw a fair amount, though, and I’m prepared to talk about those. You should be prepared for spoilers since I may reveal plot elements. That’s okay; you should have seen these films by now anyway.

There are six films on the list – Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Inside Out, Jurassic World, and Mad Max: Fury Road. All entertained me, some surprised me, and I’ll want all of them on disc for repeated home viewing, some more than others.

Remember: these are my opinions. Your mileage may vary.

Avengers; Age of Ultron moved the whole Marvel franchise forward and, together with Ant-Man, rounded out Phase 2 of the Marvel Conquers the Cineplex movement. The Avengers film had everybody and then some (played by their usual thespian counterparts), and included the Falcon in the mix and debuted Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision, always a personal favorite of mine. The Big Bad was the nasty computer program in the crisp robotic shell, Ultron, voiced by the always silkily threatening James Spader.

Did I like it? Yes. Did I like it as much as the first Avengers film? No. It seemed more disjointed to me. There were also odd additions – a possible budding romance between the Black Widow and Bruce (The Hulk) Banner (?). The suggestion that Black Widow had relationships with most of the other male members of the Avengers (because – why?). The fact that Hawkeye has a wife and kiddies out in the hinterlands. None of it seemed very central or even germane to the plot and seemed only to pad it out.

On the other hand, it also had the return of Nick Fury and, at a key moment, the original SHIELD Helicarrier, which I loved. The big fight at the end went on a bit long and didn’t always make a lot of sense. Nonetheless, I enjoyed all of it.

Ant-Man was the surprise to me. Like last year’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy, I would not have bet you money going into it that I would enjoy it so much. But I did. Paul Rudd was a hoot and I bought his heroic side when it surfaced. Michael Douglas took the Famous Older Actor In a Surprise Supporting Role that Robert Redford did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel/Disney really can afford just about anyone it wants to get.

Ant-Man may be better suited to the movies than the comics. The shrinking man and large objects around him works better on the screen than the page. I may be looking forward to this Blu-Ray even more than the Avengers one.

Tomorrowland is based, conceptually, on a portion of Disneyland but, like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, is so much more entertaining than it needs to be. Part of that can be traced back to Brad Bird, who directed it and co-wrote the screenplay. You may know Bird better as the director on Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and others.

The film stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Britt Robertson as the spunky young gal who is the center of the story. The city of the title exists in a fold between time and space and it’s where the dreams of the future become real. It’s in danger of being corrupted and made prosaic by those who think they are saving it. What it needs is dreamers.

I love this film because, ultimately, it is so hopeful. It’s about the necessity of hope and that’s a message I think we need more of these days. It’s far from a perfect film but it’s message really appeals to me.

I’ve written before about Inside Out, the latest offering from Pixar. Quick summary: very inventive and imaginative, heartfelt, psychologically true (IMO) and wonderfully realized. I loved it.

Mad Max: Fury Road. Wow. Intense. As reboots go, stunningly successful. Tom Hardy makes a great successor to Mel Gibson and looks very much like him in the early Mad Max films. Charlize Theron kicks major league ass. George Miller is astounding. He’s seventy years old, it’s been thirty years since he last directed a Mad Max movie, and this film had so much raw energy, imaginative action sequences and filmmaking derring-do that you would have thought he was a much younger man taking over a sagging franchise. There’s lots of things that call back to the earlier Mad Max films while, at the same, time, laying claim to it all for a new generation of filmgoers.

Jurassic World. It’s been more than twenty years since the first Jurassic Park movie and about fourteen since Jurassic Park III (which, for the record, I preferred to Jurassic Park II although, from reports, Steven Spielberg did not.) This is essentially another reboot of a franchise although, strictly speaking, it does follow in continuity from the first one. It was a thundering successful relaunch; it made just buckets and buckets of money. It also marked Chris Pratt’s emergence as a bonafide and believable action film star. Oh, he was the star in Guardians of the Galaxy but his Peter Quill was a bit of a goofball as well; he had a strong streak of coyote in him. In Jurassic World, there is a young Harrison Ford feel to Pratt. Charismatic, strong, and a star.

One of the problems for Jurassic World is that, when we see the dinosaurs, there isn’t that same sense of wonder we had in the first Jurassic Park. The plot in Jurassic World mirrors that – the park itself is having problems because having dinosaurs is no longer “new” – not so much of an attraction — so the Powers-That-Be manufacture, by blending DNA strains, a whole new – and very deadly – form of beast. And, of course, it escapes. Jurassic World pleases us, it entertains us, but it doesn’t –- it can’t — give us that same sense of wonder, of discovery, that the first Jurassic Park did.

So – which of these was my own personal favorite? I enjoyed them all but there’s no question that Inside Out is my pick. It’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel, it’s not another link in a cinematic chain; it’s fresh, it’s engaging, it’s funny, and it has its own truths to tell. Tomorrowland comes in second for the reasons I’ve already given. Like Inside Out, it is something new and fresh and that scores a lot of points with me.

So – how was your summer?

 

Dennis O’Neil: A Midsummer Night’s Disaster

Fantastic FourIf, as T.S. Eliot would have us believe, April is the cruelest month, what’s the other month that beings with A? Is August the ecch-est month? Here in our little baliwick – and yeah, I’m talking pop culture – there’s not a lot happening. The Baltimore comic convention isn’t until late September, and I can’t help wondering what effect, if any, the violence earlier this year will have on the show. None, I hope. I’ve always liked Baltimore.

Note: this does not mean that I wish civic unrest on towns I don’t like. Or any towns, period. It’s a cause for some uneasy notice in our house, this violence, because Marifran grew up in Ferguson when it was just another St. Louis bedroom community. This is the town, a bit west of St. Louis, where I picked up cute little Marifran McFarland for the Friday night movie ritual and returned her to her waiting father at midnight or thereabouts. Good Catholic kids – you weren’t going to catch us staying out till the wee hours. (Well, not then, and not in each other’s company.) So Marifran lived in Ferguson and it was, generally, a peaceful haven for middle class families.

Now? There was, one year ago, the shooting of an unarmed black kid by a white officer that precipitated riots and then, after an interval of apparent quiet, more unrest. The Ferguson news in the morning papers is not good.

But we were discussing ecchy August as it pertains to pop culture, weren’t we?  What else…? Movies? We’ve been dilatory theater goers of late, and I don’t exactly know why. It’s not like August – or July or June before it – has been egregiously busy. Fact is, thing’s have been kind of lazy. If its true that to get something done you should give it to a busy person, stay away from our door.

Not that we’ve been entirely remiss is our moviegoing. We did see Mr. Holmes, the story of the world’s greatest detective when he’s old and failing, and it was terrific. But the splashier entertainments, full of grandiose feats and explosions – you know: superheroes… those we’ve missed, at lest so far. We’ll probably catch Ant Man tomorrow. But chances are that The Fantastic 4 will have to find room on our television screen when it gets that far.

Bombed, didn’t it? Box office worse than The Green Hornet, which is nobody’s idea of filmic greatness. Reed and Sue and Ben and Johnny seem to be cinematically cursed. The two FF movies released in 2005 qnd 2007 did no better than okay and the FF movie before those never got to theaters. I have seen it and barely remember anything about it other than a general badness, One rumor, which I tend to believe, says that it was never intended for audiences, that it was hastily slammed together to satisfy a legal requirement. But what excuse can there be for later failures?

Let’s blame August.

The Point Radio: Judy Greer And Nat Faxon Still MARRIED

Fans and critics agree that the FX sitcom, MARRIED is one of the most relatable series on TV. Stars Judy Greer and Nat Faxon talk about where things are headed this second season and just what condition their character’s relationship is in. Plus Michael Carbonaro returns for a new season of THE CARBONARO EFFECT with a few new twists.

Get ready – the new TV season starts soon and we have the exclusive scoops..  Be sure and follow us on Twitter now here.

Ed Catto: Read ‘em on the Beach – I Dare Ya!

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Pop Culture, especially that unique Pop Culture flavor of comics and graphic novels, validates itself with massive box office wins (Avengers: Age of Ultron is the 4th best performing movie ever), television triumphs (The Walking Dead, Gotham and The Flash are amongst the most watched shows on their respective networks) and licensing successes. When even a character like Ant-Man is a licensing juggernaut you know the business community and the world at large is noticing the spending power of Pop Culture.

It wasn’t always this way. For a long time, passionate fans knew that comics opened the floodgates of the imagination with fantastic writing and artwork. But we simply couldn’t convince the rest of the world. So instead, fans learned to leverage the concept of collectibility and value as a means of validation. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, celebrating an impressive 45th anniversary this year, helped to start it all. Fans could point to the astronomical values assigned to rare comics, like Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 or Spider-Man’s debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 and say “See? This is important! Someone is willing to pay a lot of money for this!”

One downside is that an entire generation takes their comics too seriously. And I admit I’m one of these folks. It’s difficult for people like me to read a comic and then roll it up my in back pocket. I can’t seem to bend back a page, for fear of the dreaded spine roll. And while I love to read on vacation – taking a comic to the pool or the beach is risky business. What if they get splashed? Any defect might cause the potential value to plummet. Today’s “mint condition” treasure could become tomorrow’s “poor grade” loser simply because of an irresponsible reading experience.

Logically, we all know that that most of the comics we read won’t increase in value to astronomical heights. Ever shop the $1.00 comic bin? Seems like every store has one. And many fans can’t bear to sell their collections, so their collections will never attain a real market value. But still – the need to preserve a comic’s condition is baked into our collector’s DNA.

Well, it’s time to unlearn that! I’m working hard to prune my oversize collection, but that’s a whole ‘nuther column. It’s time to unlearn the tyrannical tradeoff of keeping comics in pristine shape, especially if the trade-off means enjoying them less.
So for the past few summers, I’ve made it a point to bring Silver Age comics, some of my favorites and prized classics from the sixties, to the beach. I read them in them in bright sun. They might get sand blown between the pages. Fingers greasy from suntan lotion might leave an occasion stain. Some of that wonderful Jersey Shore ocean might even inflict water damage on them.

And it’s just fantastic.

I’m still not 100% there. It takes a little while for me to get used to the idea. But I’m getting better.

Today I’m issuing my Summertime Comics Challenge. I want you to read some comics on the beach, at the campsite, by the edge of the pool or even just in the backyard by the grill. Forget about the bags and boards. Forget about the condition. Forget about the collectibility – just enjoy them. And send me a picture. I’ll publish the best ones here at the end of the summer. I’m looking forward to seeing some genuinely happy faces… if you too can unlearn collecting habits and enjoy your Pop Culture a little bit more.

One more thing: you can send your pix to me at Ed.Catto@BonfireAgency.com, and don’t be shy about sharing them with #SummertimeComics .