Somewhere around the mid-point of one of the chaotic action sequences in Justice League, a thought echoed in my head. “Avengers was better. I know it was. But why?” Put a pin in that.
And while we’re at it, consider this the blanket SPOILER ALERT. I’m not going to be holding back on plot points and such.
Justice League was a solid effort to continue DC’s course correction. Full stop. The flick tries hard to shake itself of its sullen feeder-films – save for Wonder Woman, which wasn’t downtrodden at all – and ultimately sticks the landing by final credit roll. Over the course of two hours (and change), Zach Snyder, Joss Whedon, and Chris Terrio assemble their (kinda) Lanternless league efficiently. The threat is worthy of the big bangers of the DC(E)U. The quips and sardonic looks feel well-worn and dare I say earned.
So why did the entire movie leave me feeling an uneasy mélange of contentedness balanced equally with ennui? I mean, Rao-be-damned, the movie just made me use the word ennui!
When I noted the efficient assemblage of the titular superteam, it comes couched with a cacophony of caveats. Our introduction to Barry Allen / The Flash seems to speed through his origin in a manner sans-irony given his power set. While he’d been on the fringes of Batman v Superman, we’ve been granted no real anchor to his character by the time he’s donning his car-wreck of a costume. It’s all flashes of awkward Big Bang Theory Sheldonisms smashed on top of tearful angst over the incarceration of Henry Allen. Late in the film, he shares a moment (one of the better exchanges, I should add) with Victor Stone / Cyborg, declaring they are the accidents. But because it comes so late – during the predictable recuperation of the nearly-defeated team scene (that all superhero team movies need, I guess) – it just feels like a tacked-on bon mot, instead of a necessary moment of respite.
And what of the aforementioned Mr. Stone? He’s Deus Ex Machina – ironically, figuratively, and literally. He’s given what might best be described as the affirmative action gift of the longest origin of the group, but never are we invited in the mind of the part-man-part-machine. Stone is stone-faced essentially for the length of Justice League, removing every ounce of characterization Khary Payton has been investing into Cyborg since 2003. When Cyborg of Justice League mutters a soft-spoken Booyah, it comes with the tenacity of a wet fart – meant only as lip-service, not fan-service.
And then we have Aquaman by way of the Abercrombie shirtless collection. WWE’s Roman Reigns, err, Jason Momoa exists as multiverse variant of Arthur Curry so devoid of the traits I’d long associated with the character, I all but abandoned any known factoids of the comic book original minutes into his first scene opposite Bruce Wayne – who himself was enjoying his take on the Fall Hugo Boss collection. Their shared scene, the one you no doubt saw in the trailers and commercials, sets us up for the League’s water-based warrior. He’s a hard-drinking, hard-fighting, surfer-lone-wolf with a pitchfork and a chip on his shoulder. His origin isn’t really told so much as it is scribbled, child-like, on a bar wall, and then half-dialogue-vomited in an appropriately confusing underwater scene. Verily.
Reading through my last few paragraphs may make you believe I utterly loathed Justice League. But you’d be wrong. For every dour note I left the theater with, came an equal smirk of joy overseeing the goodness that Snyder actually captured. Superman, after two incredibly dark films finally is presented the way we want him to be. Full of hope, love, and swagger. Wonder Woman continues to be the best female protagonist in comic book films by several levels of magnitude. And Batman? He’s rich. He’s funny when he wants to be. Believably human. And hilariously voice-modulated. All that, and we didn’t get any meaningless self-sacrifices, or fighting a giant blue sky-beam. Heck, the stinger at the end of the film even got me to clap.
So, why then, did I inevitably wind up in an Avengers conundrum? It stands to note that there’s no way to ignore that Marvel assembled their uber-team successfully a full five-years ago. And by the time it made its way to the movieplex, had given the general teeming masses of newly minted fanboys (and girls) time to live with the main members of their cast (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor primarily). Because the feeder films (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor) had all been well-received, there was a feeling of earned glee when the Avengers coalesced to punch mindless CGI aliens for forty minutes. In contrast, Justice League carries with it the weight of mismanaged and darkly derided prequels (minus Wonder Woman), and oozes desperation from its pores. It’s cut-to-shreds-by-committee, and feels as such. Avengers was lived in. Justice League came across like a wrongly-coined #MeToo.
But perhaps, there exists a silver lining amidst my kvetching. Justice League did leave me excited for what was to come. And it’s that feeling above any others that leaves my eyes on the horizon for the pantheon of DC superheroes… rather than the floor in collective shame.
As I write this, the Annual Nerd Prom is underway. This year the San Diego Comic-Con seems to be a little more relaxed and a little more joyous. There’s an upbeat mood and every attendee I’ve spoken with is just thrilled to be here. Exhibitors and the professionals tend to be a little more world-weary.
A part of the exuberance might be the novelty of it all. I was surprised to learn that one big domestic comic convention has an incredible churn; over 50% of their attendees are first timers each year. I’m not sure how that shakes out at SDCC, but it bears further investigation.
Everyone Grabs Their Chance
I don’t think the Romans used the phrase “shameless promotion,” but the Latin equivalent to that should be emblazoned on every San Diego Comic-Con badge. There are so many ideas, brands, companies, retailers, and creators all elbowing one another to get in front of consumers. And there’s a lot of money behind many of these efforts.
On the other hand, not everyone has the big budgets. And that means that many creatives get by with just a little grit and cleverness. Here are three determined and impressive entrepreneurs I met:
Alan Truong is a young cartoonist working hard to break in. His strip is called The Missing Digit. Alan attended First Comics News annual “How to Get Press Panel,” where I was a panelist, and made it a point to chat me up afterward. I was impressed with his clever self-promotion. Along with his business card, he offered a comic bag & board (I can never find ‘em when I need ‘em at a comic-con) with his strip printed on the board.
Jay Latimer from TomCat comics is excited about his new graphic novel Burrito Apocalypse. He’s meeting as many folks as possible and offers a firm handshake and a great smile. His book is a humorous look at what might happen in the world of politics and society if Aliens came to visit Earth. Chapter One is up on his website, along with other free comics.
The Oblong Box is an online retailer, but during the week of the convention, owner Denialle Von Fitch tried something different. It’s obvious that she likes to sew and has a creative vision. Booths on the exhibition floor at San Diego Comic-Con are hard to get. In fact, there’s a waiting list. So Denialle opened up a pop-up apparel store right in the Gaslamp district.
One more thought: I didn’t know Car Cosplay was a thing. I probably should have known when I saw that Captain America on his motorcycle at Cosplay Invades Auburn earlier this summer.
But Car Cosplay is alive and well on the left coast. The first morning of SDCC I was treated to the Bluesmobile blaring the Blues Brothers soundtrack from their trademark oversize speaker. (I wish I caught them playing She Caught The Katy; that’s my favorite song on from that movie). Later I saw a Superman car and a Batmobile.
DC released the image that precedes this week’s via a puff piece in USA Today. In it, we see the Aveng-err-Justice League being scowly amidst steam and metal and stuff. It’s really striking, ain’t it?
As the image made its way across the social media networks I frequent, a common theme rose to the surface: Vomit. While I typically love to play devil’s advocate in situations like this, offering a nice counterpoint to typical rantings in lieu of some of my own delicious snark, I honest to Rao can only pile on. Let’s carve this screencap into a thousand angry pieces, shall we?
First off, I’m fine with Batfleck. He’s grumpy and gray. Which is exactly what I expect Batman to be. I think the one fine thing to come out of Batman v Superman was the portrayal of Bruce Wayne and his emo counterpart. He’s weary. He’s underpowered. He’s overcompensating for a lot. The actual look of the armor is good. Flat, simple, thick. The added Oakley shades over his eye holes make me think he’s got some gadgets on this suit. I like the look, as it’s basically Frank-Miller-Meets-the-Arkham-City-Games. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: A-
And then we come to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Diana here is actually pretty comic accurate, no? While someone forgot to saturate her suit with any actual color, the basic forms here are as we’d hope. Her corset-like top over a weird armor-skirt, bifurcated by an ab-piecing belt reads wholly to her pulpy counterpart. In the shot we also see her shield, sword, and lasso. She’s even got her tiara and gauntlets in place. While she doesn’t feel Amazonian to me — she’s clearly not smaller than all save for Flash — everything else is checked off the list. If someone could add 33% more saturation, I’d be in love. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: A-
Cyborg is depicted as a Michael Bay Transformer nightmare. As someone denoted to me on Facebook, his crotch literally looks like Megatron’s maw from Bay’s atrocities. Vic Stone here is a mangled mess of wires and tubes. It’s as if the CGI department just couldn’t help but scream “look what we done did!”
Look, I get it. The tragic accident that left Stone a small meat pile being grafted onto a T-1000 frame is a nice idea. But the look here is severely unfetch. From a practical standpoint, one would think maybe Batman would tell Cyborg to add layers of protective plating over the exposed machinery? Or perhaps not declare boldly “look at my lights. They show you where to start shooting and punching”? For Rao’s sake… the AI Bots in I, Robot had better armor. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: F
Flash. Oh, Flash. This picture clearly is of a team that prepared a bit before battle. See Batman’s shades, Wonder Woman’s armament, and that trident. Flash clearly found some leftover maroon gym mats and Bungie cords and decided to try his best at a Pinterest costume tab. I pray that Mr. Allen figures he’ll move so fast people won’t notice the mélange of oddly shaped armor bits held together by string and sheer force of will. The only smart move he made: his helmet covers a good part of his face. It’s a shame when the CW’s Flash is better appointed to fight crime than a Flash with several hundred million dollars more in the coffers. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: Whatever constitutes something worse than an F
Last in our assemblage of angst is Artie “Aquaman” Curry. This shark of a man is a big ole’ brute, ain’t he? The Snyderverse version of the once orange-adorned aquatic superman is clearly kin of WWE’s Roman Reigns. It’s a bold take. And we get it by now, don’t we? No one will make fun of him now! We can hear DC’s movie investors chortle. While Aquaman is shrouded in plumes of hate-smoke, there’s enough to go on here: He’s scale-armored. He’s got a bitchin trident. He’s got a massive beard. And he stole some shoulder pads from the set of Spartacus. Good on him. The look is different. But it’s intriguing. It looks stiff. But I’ll hold out hope it looks good in motion. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: C+
So, what say you of this new League of Justice? Or perhaps the better question to answer… Who wore it better?
Welcome to LinkBait 2016, kiddos! After last week, I was left wandering the streets thinking “How can Warner Brothers make Justice League not just good but completely balls-out awesomesauce?” Well, here I am stuck in New York City (day job, baybae!) with nothing better to do than listicle my way towards freedom. Let’s break it down:
Be Funny. If the teaser trailer thing they tossed at us via SDCC was any indication, this one may be in the bag. Between Batfleck’s quips to the angry Aquaman and the Flash’s quips to Bats… I laughed more in two minutes of footage than I did after watching all of the DC films combined.
Stop Brooding. Can we just state the obvious? Batman v. Superman and Man of Steel were chores to survive through. With rain and darkness and death and crying and smoke and ashes and pain and lasers, we’ve now sat through about five hours of tragedy shaded by angst. Simply put, we don’t need any more of it.
Open up After Effects and turn off all filters. Forgive my insincerity to any of the directors of photography, art directors, and cinematographers who worked on the previous films. They were ugly brown-blue nightmare-scapes. For the love of Rao, please just up that saturation. Want a guide? Open up a comic book. I realize the brands need some consistency. But when your competition can level a city in broad daylight, and still have bright blue skies, it proves you don’t need to muck up the screen just because there’s a fight going on.
Remember: Nothing is truly ever solved by punching. Listen, I don’t want to keep beating the “Marvel’s doing it better” tree too often, but I need to call a spade a spade. The Avengers? The day was saved by sacrifice. Civil War? A stalemate and respect for common sense. Heck! Guardians of the Galaxy? Friggen friendship, love, and having Kurt Russel alien-DNA. Consider it your blueprint: the Justice League needs to beat whatever villainy that arises with their wit, their courage, and their unwavering compassion for humanity. Simply put, only martial arts movies get away with winning by using better punching.
In Media Res… Love It. We don’t need anyone’s secret origin. Not anymore. The movie-going public has been well-versed now by a decade’s worth of them. Start us ready to assemble… err… gather the League and save the day.
Aquaman will be cool if you play it cool. We all know Aquaman is a pop-culture icon for morty hero-dom. But what makes him awesome isn’t the tattoos, Samoan looks, angry grit, or massive pecs. It’s his confidence. It’s his heroism. It’s his humanity. It’s clear that Momoa’s Arthur Curry is an intense individual. That’s fine. But he need not be a snarling snarky shark-man to garner favor with the lowest common denominator.
No one believes Superman is dead. Well, you sorta’ let that cat outta the bag quickly, didn’t you? So be clear, and to the point. Bring him back. Spare us the mullet and/or black costume and give us the big blue boy scout America has been begging for.
Wonder Woman must be the force to be reckoned with. Up until now, Black Widow has been the super hero little girls are looking up to. But she’s a complicated character who’s been buried behind the bigger toys in the toybox over at Club Mickey. DC has the opportunity to steal the title of best female hero and bury Marvel in that respect. Wonder Woman stole every scene she was in back in Sadman v. Badman. While we know she’ll soon get her own solo flick to flood the cinemas with aspiration. But in the team setting, she’s set to break out and be the biggest, baddest bitch of the bunch.
The villain needs to matter. To date, Marvel’s malevolent mad men have been shallow at best, save only – perhaps – for the lukewarm Loki. DC’s rogues frankly spank Marvel’s ne’er-do-wells on paper. It’s about time they proved it. It looks like Darkseid may be the big baddie. And all it takes is boning up on how he was portrayed in Justice League: Unlimited and Superman: The Animated Series. Simply put? Darkseid is the better Thanos. DC has the opportunity to spare us seventeen ten-second teasers to get to a true villain. Roll out the parademons and a few Apokolyptian lieutenants for larger fight scenes, and you’re golden as a Kirby panel.
Go ahead and tell us this is a multi-verse. There’s no better way to make all the fanboys lose their minds then to say Arrow, Flash, Supergirl and (to a much lesser degree) Gotham could exist and travel into the movies, and vice versa. With all the goodwill being built on the CW thus far… those whoops, hollers, and rounds of applause will come if people got the notion Grant Gustin and Ezra Miller would ever run across one another.
So, ComicMixers… what would you tell DC and WB to do to make Justice League a movie you’ll crave seeing?
Geek Culture doesn’t provide all the answers to all of life’s tough questions. Or, at least, I try to tell myself that … and then, without thinking, I’ll draw a parallel to a real world issue from an old Batman story or a Star Trek episode.
Like so many Americans, I’m horrified by the divisiveness of the upcoming elections. As a country we’re more than 200 years old, but still so many of our political conversations start with drawing lines and contentious finger pointing.
It’s the same on the local level. For over 25 years, I’ve lived in the great little town of Ridgewood. It’s a mix of Smallville, Camelot and Twin Peaks (on a good day). In Ridgewood, our Village Council eschews the standard Democratic/Republic affiliations. You’d think that would help sand off the rough edges of politics, but lately our village has been facing a perfect storm of municipal issues – and there’s a lot of ugly divisiveness popping up everywhere.
So with all this division, I was thrilled to get an email from my pal Larry.
Readers of this column probably know Columbia University Prof. Laurence Maslon, best for the brilliant PBS Documentary/Random House Book – Superheroes: Capes Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture. He’s also a great dad, and explained to me in the email that he was sharing this Walt Kelly image with his son. Although this illustration was created years ago, it’s an insight the nation, and Ridgewood, could benefit from now.
I should know better. I’m been taught this lesson many times over the years. Despite growing up in tumultuous times, one of my earliest political lessons came from a 1960s’ Filmation Aquaman cartoon.
In 1967’s War of the Quatix and the Bimphabs, writer Dennis Marks chronicled one of Aquaman’s rare interplanetary adventures. The government’s satellite discovered an all-water planet, so they recruit Aquaman, Aqualad and their pet walrus, Tusky. (Hey! No eye-rolling: it was the Sixties!) for a space trip and a three hour on-site exploration. http://www.toontube.com/video/9232/Aquaman-32-The-War-of-the-Quatix-and-the-Bimphabs
I recall their journey to this distant planet, Q344, was shorter than a car ride with my mom to the local Woolworth’s.
Upon arriving, Aquaman offers some great advice to his young protégé. Having been attacked by alien invaders in just about every other episode of their cartoon show, he thoughtfully tells Aqualad to “Remember, here we are the aliens.”
As a dad, when I took the kids somewhere different, like a vacation spot or a college campus, I’d remind them that we were the outsiders there. They just thought I was nuts.
On this planet, the heroes find that two extremist groups, the Bimphabs and the Quatix are arguing over very important things that seem trivial to the viewer. Likewise their differences, though clearly delineated, seem small and entirely surmountable to the viewer. Even to a young viewer who was slurping his Saturday morning cereal and fighting with this brother (but the brother always started it), these lessons were pretty clear.
Fast forward to today. I haven’t grown up as much as I should have. To use the Aqua-vernacular, I’m clearly a Bimphab. I always vote Bimphab. And I find the positions of the Quatix (the other political party) to be preposterous and perplexing. But maybe reading more Walt Kelly or Aquaman stories will help me grow up a little before it’s time to vote.
PS – Oh, and yes, I know I had written last time that this time I’d run the second part of my look at entrepreneurs at Valiant Entertainment. We’ll push that back and prepare that for next week. It’ll be good one and I think you’ll like it!
PPS – I’m really looking forward to the new WB JLA cartoon this fall too.
The cool part about that first Ant-Man movie trailer is when Scott Lang asks Hank Pym if it is too late to change his code name.
The costume was nice and the scenes with Paul Rudd riding an ant were fun, and I’ll go see it and all that – but for me, the big “sell” is that Haley Atwell (Agent Carter) and John Slattery, the “older” Howard Stark, are in it. No knock on the character and certainly none on Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, and both seem like great casting choices.
The fact is, Ant-Man is Marvel’s Aquaman. No, I don’t mean Ant-Man is another really lame rip-off of the Sub-Mariner, I mean… well, about a thousand years ago Saturday Night Live did a superhero party skit and all the other heroes mocked the poor bastard because all he could do was get real small. At the Superhero Cafeteria, Ant-Man and Aquaman sit together but have nothing to say to each other.
I read “The Man In The Ant-Hill” as a kid. Tales To Astonish #27, January 1962. I was 11 years old and I loved it. I was thrilled to see Marvel bring Pym back as a superhero after the success of Fantastic Four. And within a few months… I was bored. They introduced The Wasp and I liked her, but I guess that didn’t help sales. They made Ant-Man into Giant-Man and that didn’t help. He later became Yellowjacket. Then other people became Ant-Man. Then Pym turned into a real asshole. When you think about it, the little critter’s been a D-Lister for 53 years.
But I think the movie is a good idea. They’ve got their own continuity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and maybe they can put this one over the plate. The li’l guy’s been trying so long he deserves it.
The current comic book incarnation, launched to take advantage of the movie publicity, focuses on the fact that Scott Lang is a well-meaning loser and that Ant-Man… well, he is one as well. Not bad, but these days comic book series come and go with alarming frequency. Confounding frequency, in fact, but I thank the publishers for giving us so many convenient jumping-off points. I wouldn’t be surprised if this latest Ant-Man series lasts no longer than the others.
That SNL sketch had Garrett Morris playing Ant-Man. He’s quite an accomplished actor, one who had been in movies before SNL and hasn’t lived off of his teevee rep for the past 35 years. I really wish he had a small part in the movie.
Small part. Get it?
(As noted yesterday, Denny O’Neil will be back in this space next week, thereby returning Mike Gold to Wednesday mornings where he belongs.)
Comic books and science fiction shaped my hopes for the future. I want to be able to live under the ocean, like Aquaman and I want to have a flying car, like George Jetson.
It never ends, the things I want. Just this week, I started to want a personal jetpack with missile launchers, like I saw over the weekend in this.
The future, to me, was about technology. Technology that would make cool things for me.
In some ways, that’s working. I mean, I carry around more computing power in my pocket than they had on the Starship Enterprise. Television sets turn on and off, change channels and more with voice commands.
And now, technology is making life ever so much cooler for kids with certain disabilities.
This story describes how it is now possible to make inexpensive prosthetic hands for kids with missing fingers. These are not state-of-the-art instruments, in the sense that they don’t completely mimic human hands. Those cost tens of thousands of dollars, and a growing child would need a new one every year or so. Instead, these cost under $50, and can be made on a 3-D printer.
That is so cool I can barely stand it.
Instead of being teased for being physically different, these kids are now awesome, like superheroes they see in the movies — Iron Man, say, or Cyborg. They can get new hands in whatever colors they like, whenever they need them.
I got to see an enormous 3-D printer at the Youngstown Business Incubator a few months ago. They weren’t, at the time, making cyborg hands, but it was cool to see how a big model worked, and how much more the machine did than I imagined when I heard the term. One pass through the printer, and multiple pieces could be made and connected, which I would not have believed if I hadn’t seen it.
Perhaps it’s a limit of our imaginative fiction, whether in comics or in prose, that the first thing we think about when we imagine future tech is weapons or personal pleasure. I understand that these make entertaining story elements, with conflict and maybe explosions. I’m an adrenaline junkie. I like conflict and explosions in my fiction.
But we don’t, as a society, think about future tech and kids in need.
At least, not in the books I’ve been reading. If you know some that do, please suggest them in the comments. It’s winter and I could use a reading experience that feels good.
Traditionally, the last two weeks of August are the time when everyone goes on vacation. The chi-chi restaurants, the ones that don’t rely on tourists, are closed, which is fine because most tourists seem to prefer chains like Red Lobster, which I don’t understand at all. The kids are home from camp and taking two weeks to go to the beach, or the lake, or the mountains (whichever is closest to grandparents), and that seems like a fine idea.
When I was a kid, that was just fine. No schedules, plenty of new places to explore, or just plop down with a book.
As I got older and more pretentious, I wanted to explore the world on my vacations. I wanted to see the great nations of Europe and more. I wanted to see sites I’d never seen, eat food I couldn’t pronounce, and, maybe, fall for with someone who spoke a language I didn’t understand.
I still want to do that. But I also want flop. Is there anyplace to go on vacation that lets me explore and relax at the same time?
Of course there is! Comic books!
As a DC girl, I tend to think of escapes in the DC Universe. And, for the purposes of this column, I’m assuming I do not have a Time Bubble, so I can’t vacation with dinosaurs or Legionnaires. Even so, I’ve found three places that seem, to me, to be ideal.
3. Atlantis! No, not the resort. Not even the sunken continent of myth. The undersea home of Aquaman, king of the seas. It would have all the grandeur of a royal court on dry land, such as castles to explore, and probably cathedrals (or whatever Atlanteans call their communal spiritual structures) and museums as well. I imagine the food is like nothing I’ve had before, maybe sushi, maybe seaweed, but much, much more salty, since it is grown and prepared in saltwater.
Best of all, I bet that tourists would be able to play with the fish. I’ve fed stingrays, and I’ve swum with dolphins, and both have been so much fun. Sure, it’s for rubes, but it’s fun. I would entirely enjoy being exploited by tourist wranglers in Atlantis, and I’d tip as well as I could afford for the privilege.
2. Themyscira! Again, not the place of myth, but the home of Wonder Woman. Coincidentally, it’s also known as Paradise Island, which is also another name for the Atlantis resort. And I imagine it as a paradise, at least for women. Like the Canyon Ranch, but with optional hunting and sword-fighting, it would be all organic food and rejuvenating spa treatments. I have done neither archery nor horseback riding since I went away to camp forty years ago, but I bet the Amazons would tolerate my ineptness as long as I wasn’t an asshole and I tipped well. I can’t think of a better place to go for a Bachelorette party or a class reunion.
1. Kandor! I’ve saved the best for last. I would like to tell you that I want to go to Kandor, the Kryptonian city that Brainiac shrank and put in a bottle, because it would be educational to learn about a culture that is, literally, out of this world in origin. I’m sure that learning how Kandorians interact, their customs and habits and beliefs, would be fascinating.
But that’s not why I want to go.
Kandor retains Krypton’s environment, which includes red sunlight and massive gravity. Unless I took extra precautions, I wouldn’t be able to get up off the ground.
Slide a mattress under me first, and let my lie there in a lump for my two weeks. Now that’s a vacation.