What’s the pothole situation in Starling City? And the re-zoning hassle – that still a headache? And the business with the access lanes to the bridge – was that ever settled?
Since Oliver Queen’s been elected mayor, it’s reasonable to think that this kind of mayoral busyness is the better part of his days. At night, of course, he puts on a mask and hood and grabs his bow and arrows and kicks (or maybe punctures) miscreant ass. Oh, and his also training a bunch of wannabe vigilantes to help with the kicking/puncturing – and not always being Mr. Nice Guy while he’s doing it. (Maybe he’s got some marine drill sergeant DNA?)
The question is, who is better for Starling City, the politician or the archer? If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’d probably choose the archer because obviously anybody would be better than a politician.
But that can of worms will be left unopened. Tell you what: let’s reframe the question. Who’s more useful to a storyteller, archer or pol? I guess it depends on the kind of tale being told. A story by…oh, say, Aaron Sorkin or Robert Penn Warren or Allen Drury would perhaps fare best as political drama. The kind of fantasy/melodrama/action tale we’re considering here is better with an ass-kicker as its protagonist. Which leaves our man Ollie where?
A kind of hybrid, one who favors the arrow shooting part of his persona, is where. That’s pretty much how it has to be. Nobody with a taste for adventures – that is, nobody who’s Arrow’s natural audience – is going to tune in to watch a guy in a three-piece suit behind a desk reading policy papers. We want to see some arrows shot and some of that good martial arts action! Leave that other stuff to CNN.
Casting a superhero as a civic leader, it seems to me, strains the genre. Part of the appeal of costumed superdoers is that they can do what duly constituted authorities can’t. Where a mayor’s job ends, theirs begins. One explanation for adopting a second persona – and it’s not a bad one – is that the disguise keeps the bad guys from knowing who to wreak revenge on. The other reason for a civic leader hiding behind a costume and fighting crime is that he couldn’t do as mayor what he does as vigilante because the vigilante must break the law to do his deeds. But whoa! Don’t mayors swear to uphold the law? We got us some hypocrite mojo working here?
Another deep appeal of double-identited heroes might require some psyche excavation. The idea is, we all have more than one identity lurking within us – we behave differently in different situations – and we might feel that the real us is one of those unseen lurkers. Costumed heroes manifest this idea and also give us a hook into identifying with the good guy.
I think part pf the storyteller’s task is to make the two identities distinct and that’s often a failure. I tried and pretty much failed to convince my Batman writers that Bruce Wayne should present himself as a tough-as-nails businessman, but as a good-natured bumbler. And I never liked Clark Kent as the best reporter in town. (Didn’t he win a Pulitzer?)
Of course, as always, the secret is in the recipe, not the ingredients. If the story entertains, the creators have done their jobs and they’re free to go watch tv. Wonder what’s on the CW?
Well, the fall television season has begun, which means I’ve been watching the return of my favorite series and the premiere of new shows that have tickled my interest. Here’s a rundown.
Timeless (Mondays, 10 P.M., NBC)
Everyone who reads this column regularly knows that I’m a nut for alternate history and time-travel stories, so of course I was going to check out Timeless, which premiered last week, October 3… and, of course, I missed it. So on Saturday I logged onto Hulu and caught up.
The premise is a familiar one to science fiction geeks like me – what happens to our present if someone goes back and either deliberately or accidentally changes the history we know? This is best illustrated, at least for me, by Ray Bradbury’s classic and beautifully written “A Sound of Thunder,” in which a big game hunter travels back to the Jurassic era to stalk a Tyrannosaurus Rex, accidentally kills a butterfly, and returns to his present to find the world he knew has changed, both in subtle and overt ways. Although the term was not coined by physicists and other scientists until the 1960s by chaos theory pioneer Edward Norton Lorenz – when he noted that small changes in the initial conditions of hurricane formation would change the outcome of that hurricane, i.e., time of formation, wind speed, path – this has become known as the butterfly effect, which essentially states that even an infinitesimal alteration in primary conditions will change the outcome. (This leads me to believe that Lorenz read “A Sound of Thunder” at some time in his life; if he hadn’t – one small change – the phenomenon might be called something else.)
When a secret government-funded time travel machine is stolen by a “bad guy,” a misaligned team is assigned to follow him and stop his nefarious plans to alter the time line: a historian, a Delta Force soldier, and a computer coder. But how can they follow him? Turns out that there is an earlier, less sophisticated time machine, an alpha model, that has been kept in mothballs “just in case” [a rescue was needed]. This more primitive device can take the team to the same time period, but can’t lock on to the exact coordinates of the newer version.
Yes, it’s a big “coincidence.” But what the hell – without this, uh, contrivance, there would be no show, right?
There is a lot in Timeless that we have seen before. The facility where the time machine is kept looks like every secret government facility ever seen on The X-Files; the machine itself sits isolated in front of a bank of monitors and computers manned by technicians as in Stargate (and Stargate-SG1); and the gears of the apparatus turn and spin around the command pod as it warms up for its leap, reminding me of the “worm-hole opener” in Contact. Oh, and speaking of leaps, I kept thinking of Quantum Leap, too. But by now, if you’re any sort of fan of science fiction, it’s not so much the ingredients. To misquote another time traveler by the name of Clara Osborne, the soufflé is the soufflé.
The first jump is to May 6, 1937, the day of the Hindenburg explosion. ‘Nuff said, for those of you who haven’t seen Timeless, yet; although I will add a little spice by saying that the “bad guy” may not be so bad after all.
Also, Timeless plays with butterflies.
All in all, I enjoyed it, but like I said, I’m an easy mark for time-travel stories.
Designated Survivor (Wednesdays, 10 P.M., ABC)
From Wikipedia: “In the United States, a designated survivor (or designated successor) is an individual in the presidential line of succession, usually a member of the United States Cabinet, who is arranged to be at a physically distant, secure, and undisclosed location when the President and the country’s other top leaders (e.g., Vice President and Cabinet members) are gathered at a single location, such as during State of the Union and presidential inaugurations. This is intended to guarantee continuity of government in the event of a catastrophic occurrence that kills the President and many officials in the presidential line of succession. If such an event occurred, killing both the President and Vice President, the surviving official highest in the line, possibly the designated survivor, would become the Acting President of the United States under the Presidential Succession Act.”
Tom Kirkland, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is watching the President deliver the State of the Union on television when an explosion rips through the Capitol building, destroying it and killing everyone inside it. Tom Kirkland, the designated survivor, is now the President of the United States.
Designated Survivor star Kiefer Sutherland is no stranger to political thrillers; as Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer on the seminal 24, he always knew what to do and when to do it; “squeamish” was most definitely not a word in Bauer’s dictionary. But this show isn’t about President Jack Bauer; Tom Kirkland is a not a natural-born hero – far from it. Instead of immediately “manning up” and taking charge, Kirkland is overwhelmed; in the White House, excusing himself from a rambunctious and loud meeting where everyone is yelling over each other, Kirkland excuses himself, ducks into a bathroom, and throws his guts up.
And it works. Jack Bauer, as mesmerizing as he was, was a toy soldier, an antidote to an American public still reeling in shock from 9/11 (although the show was already on Fox’s schedule before that horrible day) and in need of a G.I. Joe who would take our collective revenge upon the bad guys. Tom Kirkland is an ordinary government bureaucrat, perhaps a bit more idealistic, earnest and dedicated than most, who doesn’t really fit into the cut-throat world of Washington politics; in fact, early in the first hour we learn that he’s been “shifted” from the office of HUD – read “fired” – and offered a job as Ambassador to the Canadian Coast Guard (or something like that – Kirkland wants to know if there really is a Canadian Coast Guard.) Kirkland reacts the way most of us really would, as in “What the fuck?” and “Stop the world, I want to get off!” Simply put, Jack Bauer is the fantasy; Tom Kirkland is the real deal.
Kai Penn, late of House and the real West Wing – quit acting for a time to work for the Obama administration as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement – plays Seth Wright, a junior speechwriter for the late President whom Kirkland hires as chief speechwriter after their embarrassing meeting in the bathroom where Kirkland was puking in one stall while Wright opined on the inadequacies of the new President in another.
But Wright isn’t the only one wary of Kirkland’s aptitude for the office. Just about everyone is questioning his ability, to the point of ad nauesum, if you ask me. (Is there no one – except his family, of course – who wants to help Kirkland step up to the job?) But the biggest fly in the ointment – im-not-so-ho – of what could be an absolutely terrific series is the “General Angryman” (as Entertainment Weekly writer Ray Rahman calls him), who, at least right now, is the caricatured hawk to Kirkland’s (supposed) dove. “General Angryman” wants to display American certitude and force by bombing the shit out of anyone and everyone who has ever name-called America – specifically Iran, whose Navy is apparently making forays into the Strait of Hormuz, threatening the world’s oil supply.
Seriously, I am really hoping that the writers are throwing us for a loop, because this guy is beyond Dr. Strangelove.
I’ve seen all three episodes of Designated Survivor, and while I’m liking it, there are problems, the most important one being – again, im-not-so-ho – that there doesn’t really seem to be anyone interested in putting country before politics (well, except for Kai Penn’s character) in helping President Kirkland establish the “continuity of government” that the role of “designated survivor” is meant to do. But considering the way we were bamboozled into Iraq by a real administration that put politics before country, and the way the two current leaders of the Republican party are refusing to disavow their current Presidential candidate, again putting politics ahead of country – well, perhaps the fictional roadblocks facing the fictional President Kirkland aren’t all that, well, fictional.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Wednesdays, 9 P.M., NBC)
SVU is now in its 18th season, and while some may say that the show has seen better days, I would argue that it has matured like fine wine. I can’t say exactly what it is about that show that makes me addicted to its current incarnation as well as all its reruns on USA network and other channels, but I am hooked on it like a patient with chronic back pain is hooked on Oycondone.
Supergirl (Mondays, 8 P.M., CW)
The Girl of Steel premieres tonight on its new network home, but who hasn’t seen the “sneak peek” on YouTube (or other web sites) featuring Kara and her cuz’?
Like so many others, I was surprised when Supergirl was announced as a CBS show; it was such an outlier for that network. Like so many others, I was, well, relieved when I heard that the CW had picked it up; not only because it wasn’t cancelled permanently from our screens, but because the CW has become a natural home for a show based on a comic book, and do I really need to specify that statement?
Here are some quotes from Entertainment Weekly’s interview with Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg on the future of Supergirl, with my opinions thrown in for good measure:
“There is going to be a change in the show that I think is a natural progression in a show that’s growing up. We were really blessed withThe Flash – The Flash came out fully formed; that show knew what it was very early on. The experience ofSupergirlis more akin to the experience we had on Arrow, where we knew there was a great show in there, and every once in a while we made a great one, but it wasn’t until the back half of that first season – and certainly the beginning of season 2 – that we really felt like we had a handle of what that show was creatively. That’s how we feel aboutSupergirl, that towards the end of last year, the characters were really coming to life and we were really starting to tell the right stories.”
Me: No PR bullshit here, Kreisberg is absolutely right about the second half of the series.
“Now with season 2, we really feel like this show has gotten, I always say, bigger and smaller; it’s gotten bigger in terms of what we’re able to accomplish in terms of the scope of the show, but it’s also gotten smaller in terms of the characters. We are able to go to deeper places, richer places, and to some places that I think are unexpected.”
Me: Oh, boy, do I really hope that this is absolutely not PR bullshit!
“Because it was the first female superhero on TV in a long time, and then the first female superhero especially in the current explosion of comic book properties, the show had expectations to it and the show had preconceived notions, and the show had I don’t want to say limitations, but everybody had an opinion on what a female superhero should do and be and say. I think all of us collectively as a studio, as a network, as showrunners [sic], as cast, we all got locked into answering that question a lot at the early stages.“
Me: See my first column about the show. Oh, the girl was just so adorably perky. Gagged me with a spoon. If I hadn’t loved the character so much my whole life I would never had stuck with it.
“Kara will be traveling from her dimension to our dimension, ‘our’ being the world that The Flash, Arrow, and Legendslives in.”
Me: The Flash episode totally rocked!!!! Probably responsible for saving the series, and also probably responsible for the realization that Supergirl belonged on the CW. But it’s Supergirl. Not Supergirl and… Please remember that. Please don’t forget that. Please, please, please let Kara stand on her own two feet.
“…we come into season 2 and she feels like she’s got a handle on being Supergirl – it’s everybody else in her life that she feels like, ‘How can I be a girlfriend? What am I supposed to do with my career? How can I be there for my sister?’ So it’s all the Kara stuff that’s really the tough stuff early on, and that’s where Clark comes in. We say it’s like becoming a parent, where when you were a kid, your parents knew everything and then you become an adult and you’re like, ‘I’m lost, I don’t know what to do.’ You realize that neither did your parents; they were making it up as they went, they just presented themselves as knowingit all even if they were dying inside. That’s one of things that Kara says, like, ‘I know how to be Supergirl, but I don’t know how to do any of this other stuff. But Clark, he makes it look easy, he’s Superman, he’s a great reporter, he’s a great boyfriend. How does he do it?’ And Clark says, ‘I’m making it up as I go, too. It’s all about balancing it and it’s all a day-to-day thing. Just because I make it look easy, doesn’t mean that it is.’ So Kara is really growing up this season, that’s really her journey.
Me: Superman is cool. The trailer was cool. But, again, just remember that this is Supergirl. Not Supergirl and Her Cousin, Superman. There really is a lot there to explore, lots of great story possibilities. Don’t fuck this up.
“Alex is struggling with Clark being in town. It sets up this interesting dynamic where she has been everything to Kara; she’s her family, and she has a little bit of a chip on her shoulder about Clark. She loves him, he’s family and she knows he loves them, but he left Kara on their doorstep. Kara is so excited to see Clark and so excited to be with him, but it’s almost a little bit like Alex feels taken for granted, because she’s the family member who’s put in the time. It sets up an interesting conflict between her and Kara in the first couple of episodes.”
Me: This is great. But it sounds like it’s going to be resolved by the end of the second episode. No, no, no! Played right (like not focusing on it constantly, spreading it out over 22 episodes), it would make a great full-season arc.
“Really this year is about coming into one’s own and becoming who you are. In a way, all of the characters are dealing with that. Kara is certainly dealing with that at work; Winn is becoming who he is by working at the DEO; J’onn is stepping out and embracing more being the Manhunter, which is something that he spent 300 years hiding, but now he doesn’t have to hide that anymore.”
Me: But where’s Cat Grant? Oh, no! She’s been reduced to a recurring character! That totally sucks! (And I still think she knows that Kara Danvers is Supergirl.)
One story I would love to see – selfishly because it’s a favorite of mine – brought to the series is “Supergirl’s Secret Enemy,” by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney, and which ran from Action Comics #279, August 1961 to Action Comics #281, October 1961.
Lesla-Lar is a low-level scientist who lives in the bottle city of Kandor (Okay, we haven’t established Kandor on the show, but that could be worked around.) Already on the emotional edge, being forced to live in Kandor while watching Kara live a life not defined by the walls of a bottle drives her over the cliff; she figures out a way to switch places with her. (I forgot to mention that she looks exactly like Kara.) The process robs Kara of her memory; she believes she is Lesla-Lar while the real Lesla-Lar lives her life on Earth, assuming the role of Supergirl so successfully that everyone, including her cousin, is unaware of the old switcheroo. How will Kara escape?
The budget would probably be way too much for the show to handle, and I would hate for it to have the bare-bottom look of the adaptation of “For the Man Who Has Everything.” But it would still be a great story to run, especially during the “sweeps” ratings months.
If you’re a fan of the television versions of superheroes, you know what I’m talking/typing about. The network that calls itself The CW has, for a while now, been advocating such daring and this is the very same the go-to corporate entity that has made itself the go-to bandwidth for costumed do-gooders. They already have, in Arrow and The Flash, a couple of established hits (provided your definition of “hit” is modest) and in Legends of Tomorrow a show that has at least enough watchers to warrant renewal for another season. And the biggie…Supergirl has, with much hype, migrated from the kind of old-folkish CBS to the youthier CW and we Maid of Might mavens are allowed a happy sigh.
But about that youthiness and that “daring to defy” business: Really? Can they possibly mean it? Since they don’t specify exactly what they want us to defy, I have to guess that what we’re asked to defy is what we children of the Sixties might refer to as “the Man.” You know – the Establishment. The necktie wearers. Wall Street. Politics. Corporate America. The military-industrial complex (a term coined by no less an Establishment icon than President Dwight D. Eisenhower.)
Well, okay, but…where to begin? A logical answer: Consumerism. A denial of, or least a vigorous questioning of, t shirt wisdom, something like Whoever Has the Most Toys When He Dies Wins. So, all you wannabe defiers, stop buying stuff you don’t need. Stop discarding clothing just because some Seventh Avenue pooh-bah has declared it unfashionable which, I think, means whatever the pooh-bahs say it means. (And rest in peace, Noah Webster.) And if this means buying clothing that’s durable instead of merely new, amen. While you’re at it, extend that policy to motor vehicles, appliances, furniture, housing, vacation sites, playthings. If you’re killing time waiting for Supergirl to come on, you can make your own list.
But whoa. Subtract the money wasted on the unnecessary and suddenly those bandwidth-borne heroes aren’t there anymore. The money we spend (waste?) on frivolities pays for the programs we enjoy. No wasted cash = no Supergirl (who, it might be said, is herself a frivolity, but we could be flirting with blasphemy here, so let’s not.)
Okay, we exempt consumerism from the list of things we defy. What else? School? Hey, I am the husband of a teacher and the father of a professor and have been known to stand at the front of classrooms myself, so you aren’t going to catch me knocking education, though some varieties of it might deserve a knock or two. Besides – big secret a’comin’ – it’s fun to know stuff.
Now, a true story. At my high school graduation the school’s principal told my mother that the good Christian Brothers never wanted to see me again. Maybe if you wore a funny collar you could spot a defier from a mile away and if they said Joe O’Neil’s offspring was a defier, well, they were the authorities. But that offspring didn’t know he was a defier.
If you are one of the confused masses who have been wondering why Supergirl was on CBS and not on the CW, stop wondering. Everybody decided the CBS thing was a mistake, and Supergirl will be joining Arrow, The Flash and probably Legends of Tomorrow on the mini-network next season. Which is this fall. Still confused? Hey, Jake, it’s Chinatown.
Aside from her DC comrades, Supergirl won’t be alone. She will be joining Archie, Veronica, Jughead, Kevin and Betty in a new series, Riverdale, which is based upon the current crop of rebooted Archie titles. Yep, the CW is the official comics network.
In addition to their four-color roots, Supergirl and Riverdale have something in common with Arrow and the rest. All are produced by Greg Berlanti, a man so successful he could get a show based upon a can of singing worms on the CW. It should be noted that CBS owns a piece of the CW, and Warner Bros. – owner of Supergirl, Green Arrow, The Flash, and the sundry Legends of Tomorrow – owns the rest, outside of a sliver owned by WGN. Unless WGN sold off to finance their own new superstation shows.
It should also be noted that Supergirl was CBS’s #1 rated new series for the last season, although its audience share has dropped off noticeably. However, it’s big on DVRs, where people zip through the commercials. The show had one of the highest license fees for a new program, so, in addition to moving to the CW, Supergirl is also moving production from Los Angeles to Vancouver, a less expensive venue and the home to the other DC teevee shows. So I guess everybody is happy.
The episode where The Flash visited Supergirl and friends did quite well, and the move (both to the CW and to Vancouver) should make future ratings-boosting crossovers more available,
I’ve been watching DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow over on the CW. Among the characters that have been appearing on the show are Firestorm and Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Well, not so much Hawkman any more, maybe. I didn’t create those three characters but I certainly played with them a lot and, for a while, left my sticky fingerprints all over them. So it’s interesting watching manifestations of them in other media.
I’ll be experiencing that big time come August when the Suicide Squad movie hits the multiplexes. I created Amanda Waller and I defined characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang and it will be exciting to see how they translate for the screen. I hope.
None of the character portrayals will translate directly from the comics to movies or TV. I’m okay with that; none of them have so far. Different media have different needs. That’s why they’re called adaptations. The material is adapted from whatever the source was. My only question about any given adaptation is – how true is it to its roots? Did they get the essence of the character or the concept right? If you’re going to do Captain XYZ Man, there should be a resemblance to what makes up Captain XYZ Man. Right?
OTOH, I haven’t always done that and Suicide Squad itself is a good example. The comic was originally created for DC by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru; my version shared the title, a character or two, and some history with the original and not much else. Of course, as buddy Mike Gold pointed out in his excellent column this week, Kanigher may have gotten the title (and not much else) from a feature in a pulp magazine called Ace G-Man. What goes around comes around?
Amanda has appeared several times, including the TV show Arrow, lots of animated series, the Green Lantern movie, video games, the TV series Smallville, and probably more. I may need to double check my royalty statements. Any number of actresses have portrayed her and voiced her. She doesn’t always look the same. In Arrow and some of the comics, she’s built like a model. However, in all the variations I’ve seen there have been certain aspects that are kept – she’s female, black, and she’s ruthless as hell.
Even with other characters, I don’t always keep to how they were conceived. My version of Firestorm changed (evolved?) throughout my run. At one point when we decided he was a Fire Elemental (the Elemental idea was popular for a while starting with Alan Moore making Swamp Thing the Earth Elemental) and Ol’ Flamehead’s look was drastically altered, not always to universal approval.
Still, I think I kept to the essentials of the characters and, when I changed things, I kept within continuity as established although sometimes I picked and chose within the continuity.
All that said, I (mostly) enjoy seeing the variations and permutations of these characters. It’s like watching your kids grow up and moving away and seeing what they become. It’s not always what you expected but, hopefully, you can still see your DNA in them.
(SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! Spoiler spoiler spoil spoil spoilery spoilers.I’m chatting this week about the events on some of the superhero TV shows last week. If you recorded them and intend to watch them later, give this a pass. Here endeth the warning.)
It was an interesting week in superhero TVland – specifically, DC superhero TVland. At least for me. I had a personal connection to some of them.
Arrow had a few events, some minor, one major. The character Felicity who is their computer geek expert recently got shot and it appears she has nerve damage to the spine and now has resumed her place with the team in a wheelchair. Sound like anyone we know? Yup – Oracle, whom my late wife and writing partner Kim Yale and I created from the remains of Barbara Gordon. Oh, they’re not calling her that but that’s who she is, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.
They also had Felicity dealing with a hallucination of her younger self, perhaps brought on by pain medication or even an aftereffect of anesthesia. What’s interesting is that younger Felciity is the spitting image of Death from the Sandman series – pale skin, raven dark hair, dressed in black, with an ankh necklace. However, they don‘t reference Death at all. They just grab her look. Guess Felicity was really into the Goth scene back then.
The major event was – they killed off their version of Amanda Waller. Bad guy just suddenly shot her in the head without warning. That was startling, I will admit, as it was no doubt intended to be. Since I get a little bit of money every time Amanda shows up on Arrow (or anywhere), her death was not a terribly pleasant surprise.
OTOH, this was a young, pretty, skinny Waller which is not how I saw the character. When I created the Wall, I saw her as a certain age and a certain heft for a variety of reasons. The bulk made her more physically intimidating. Also, I wanted a character who was unlike other comic book characters. Being black, middle aged, and plus-sized did that. I understood that this was the CW and that’s what the CW does – young and gorgeous is the rule of the day, every day. I did nott and do not object to their interpretation. And we have Viola Davis playing Amanda in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie and I’m looking forward to that. (The second trailer came out for the Squad movie as well recently and it’s looking real hot, IMO.)
There was another unexpected death in DC superhero TV-land this week and it was in the second episode of the new DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. On the team is the CW version of Hawkman and Hawkgirl (you couldn’t call her Hawkwoman, CW?) and, lo and behold, they offed Hawkman this week. Well, boy howdee, that was a stunner.
I didn’t create Hawkman but I’d written him for a while (although it was alien Katar Hol rather than Carter Hall) so I did have a personal attachment to him. I’ll continue watching for now just to see where they go with all this but I’m not sure of its longevity.
The last event happened for me on Supergirl over on CBS rather than the CW. The main character is alright but, for me, the real draw is the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz. Tom Mandrake and I did a series on JJ in which we explored more of his society and culture. For example, it had been long established that, on Mars, J’onn had a wife and daughter who died. No one, however, had ever given them names, so I did. The daughter I named K’ym as a tribute to my late wife. On last week’s Supergirl episode, J’onn went into some of his past. He mentioned two daughters, one of whom was named K’ym.
That pleased me a lot. It was just a small thing but I know Kim would have been very pleased. I can almost hear her giggling and see her bouncing up and down with glee. Most pleasant.
So that was my week in Superhero TVland. How was yours?
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 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 SupermanIII. 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 TheGalaxy 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.
…and when I’m mayor I’m gonna build a big high wall all around the city to keep the bad criminals out and what’s more I’m gonna make the bad criminals pay for it. • Excerpt from Oliver Queen’s stump speech.
Well… not really. I haven’t heard Ollie’s speech yet (and perish forbid that I’d use this as an opportunity to lampoon a real office-seeker) and as far as I know, Ollie hasn’t perpetrated any campaign oratory yet, but it’s only a matter of time, right? Because he is running for public office. Wants to be mayor of the town. Hmph!
The venue where this is happening is a television show titled Arrow and this season it’s been edging closer to its comic book progenitor. The lead character is now calling himself Green Arrow just as his comics iteration has been doing since his introduction in More Fun Comics #73 (1941). These Wednesday evenings, when the show airs, he has taken to wearing a mask, just like his comics counterpart. How this affects the concept of his having a secret identity, I don’t know – didn’t a lot of citizens get looks at his maskless self in earlier seasons? Maybe not. It’s possible – dare we say “likely?” – that I missed a plot point or two.
Finally – and this may be news even to you comics folk – the comics GA also ran for mayor. If memory serves – and won’t that be the day! – the story appeared in the 70s and was almost certainly written by Elliot S! Maggin. (He likes the “S” followed by an exclaimer, and what the heck, it’s his name). Elliot was, and probably still is, a follower of politics who twice went to far as to be a Democratic candidate.
Now, we’re not in the draconian rules business here, so you won’t catch me decreeing that superheroes should never seek public office. Because I don’t absolutely know that to be true and if I did make such a pronouncement some wretch might come along and prove me wrong.
But it seems to me that superheroes and politicians occupy different, and maybe irreconcilable, domains. Politicians are, almost by definition, men and women of the people who work within the system and deal mostly with human-scaled problems. Superheroes, again by definition, are not of the people; they are differently abled and what’s superhuman about them causes them to attack problems beyond the capabilities of our uniformed public servants. Look at the early Superman stories: as his powers grew, so did his foes. It makes no dramatic sense for a chap who, at his mightiest, wrangles planets to chase jaywalkers.
So conflating superheroics and politics seems to be cognitively dissonant – two ideas occupying the same cerebral turf and bumping into each other. And that might be compromising the superhero essence more than is desirable.
Or it might not.
Maybe Elliot Maggin could clarify this for me. I wish I hadn’t misplaced his phone number.
When big pharma hears about the Lazarus Pit it will, of course, take out a patent on it and then… oh, maybe offer it as an option at upscale spas. Oh yeah, the wife and I both took a dip in the pit. Pretty pricey – 11 million and if you’re already dead double that – but boy! Way, way better than a massage…
The Pit, as far as I know, doesn’t really exist, at least not in our world. It’s a fictional apparatus that first appeared in Batman #233, back in the dark ages – we’re talking 1971 – and, like so much comic book material, has recently migrated to television, specifically to a Wednesday night program titled Arrow.
The Pit was originally the exclusive property of a 400-year-old scamp named Ra’s Al Ghul, who used it to restore himself when he was on the threshold of the Great Beyond, or maybe a half step past it. It fixed him up, all right, but he emerged from it a raving lunatic, an affliction that gradually abated.
There were conditions: it was strongly implied that The Pit could work its therapy only on Ra’s and that it was slowly losing potency – a time would come when it did nothing for Ra’s except maybe wrinkle his skin; it was highly toxic, so if anyone other than Ra’s dived in, kaput, the end, exit screaming; and it had to be situated over a certain kind of energy vortex – you couldn’t just dig one in the back yard if you wanted to one-up the neighbors and their puny swimming pool. Later, like all that lasts, The Pit evolved: it would only work once per person, and, most recently, The Pit can do its medicinal voodoo-hoodoo on someone who was good and truly dead – none of this sissy only-at-death’s-door bushwa.
Good storytelling demands that limitations exist if you’re working in a serial form and you want to run the bring-‘em-back-alive scam. The question naturally arises: why not just revive everybody who dies and – oops! – there goes conflict, suspense, maybe some other plot elements, doggone it. It’s the storyteller’s job to answer the question.
In a recent Arrow arc, the good guys used The Pit to revive one Sarah Lance, who’d been dead quite a while – maybe months. The Pit did its stuff, but Sarah didn’t recover her sanity until somebody realized that The Pit had taken her soul. The heroes’ team did some procedure, Sarah’s soul was restored, and off they went to another adventure.
The soul business gives me pause. What kind of soul – whose definition are we using? If by “soul” we mean some immaterial thing that lives within us, we suddenly face a version of philosophy’s old mind–body problem: if the soul is immaterial, how can material things – The Pit, for instance – act on it? And if it’s not immaterial… where is it?
Maybe I should ask my guardian angel and get back to you.
For rent: Secret laboratory. Ideal for mad scientists, superheroes and their posses.
Now, about those posses: time was when superheroes operated pretty much alone, or with a sidekick, who could be anyone from the original Green Lantern’s cab driving Doiby Dickles to Batman’s intrepid though preadolescent Robin. Oh, there were other continuing characters in your basic superhero saga – think Jimmy Olsen and Commissioner Gordon – but when it came to doing the daring deeds the folk in the costumes usually flew solo.
Then things evolved and –
Almost certainly, a lot more people will see Supergirl on television this week than ever read one of the Maid of Might’s comic books. She’s plenty super – give her that – and as bonuses, attractive and charmiing, but she doesn’t fight evil by herself. No, she’s allied with a brainy group of colleagues who hang their doctorates in a secret lab. And if we scan the videoscape, we see that Supergirl has peers. The other two television title characters most like their comic book inspirations, Arrow and the Flash, also have lab-dwelling cohorts who can always be depended on to have the information the good guy/girl needs.
Structurally, the three shows – Supergirl, Arrow, and Flash – are virtually identical. And, again structurally, they’re pretty close to Archie Andrews, that teenage scamp, and the gang at Riverdale High. The biggest difference is that the Riversiders have no laboratory, but nobody’s perfect.
There’s a lot to be said for adding pals to the superheroic landscape. They give the hero someone to talk with, thus allowing readers/audience to eavesdrop on vital exposition (though sidekicks can do this, too, and if you don’t believe me, ask Dr. Watson.) Supporting players can also provide story opportunities. And they can add texture and variety to scenes. And the occasional comic relief. And, by their interactions with the chief evil-queller, they can add depth to that individual’s psyche. But mostly they can serve the same function as those stool pigeons and confidential informants served in the old private eye and cop shows, the scruffies who always knew what the word on the street was: they can quickly and efficiently supply data that enables the hero to get to the exciting part, usually a confrontation.
Finally, the pals and gals give the hero what seems to be absolutely necessary: a family. It’s usually a surrogate family, to be sure, and it may not be much like your family, but it has a familial dynamic and it allows the audience to experience, by proxy, what might be missing from their real lives: a secure knowledge that there are people who can counted on, who will always forgive you and have your back. And such nearests and dearests have to hang out somewhere, so why not a secret laboratory?
And while they’re there, they can supply the location of that master fiend, the one with the purple death ray and the really atrocious table manners.