Death has been everywhere lately this March of 2017. Actor Bill Paxton. Rock and Roll pioneer Chuck Berry. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Jimmy Breslin. The great artist Bernie Wrightson. Underground comics’ Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson. ComicMix’s Tweeks Maddy and Anya Ernst’s grandmother. Fellow columnist Marc Alan Fishman’s college friend. My dad.
As Martha Thomases said last week, although in an entirely different context – Too Much! Too Much!
Radiolab, which airs on NPR – check your local station – is a show that features issues both philosophical and scientific. In its 15th year, I was listening on Saturday as the hosts, Jay Abrumrad and Robert Kulwich, discussed a case brought to their attention by reporter Ike Siskandarajah. It was called “Mutant Rights.”
Two international tariff lawyers, Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, discovered that the legal classification of “doll” were taxed at a higher rate – 12% – than the legal classification of “toy,” at 6.8%. This was because dolls are considered “human,” and toys, such as figures of robots and demons and vampires and monsters, are not. A very strange idea to begin with, but what really piqued their interest was that Ms. Singer and Ms. Singh happened to include in their client list none other than Marvel Entertainment, also known – around here, at least – as Marvel Comics. And Marvel was importing its action figures as “dolls.”
This meant that Ms. Singer and Ms. Singh set out to save $$$ for their client by using the X-Men action figures to claim that these representations of the mutant superheroes were not human, and therefore should be taxed at the same lower rate as toys. To help illustrate their point, the two lawyers collected between 60 and 80 samples of action figures, and especially the mutant X-Men.
Bryan Singer, oft-time director and executive producer of the X-Men movie and television franchise, discussed the history of the X-Men with Ike and the two lawyers, reflecting on the history of the X-Men, and how, throughout their history, they have represented those who are different from or outside the society in which they live, whether by skin color or sexual preference or religion or place of birth or, well, whatever.
But the crazy thing is, the court case, which lasted over ten years, became to be about what it means to be human (as did the segment). And the final verdict? All Marvel actions figures, whether representing mutants or not, are now classified as “non-human” – therefore, toys.
But does that ruling apply to all the action figures from all the companies from all the world? I mean, not all action figures are created equal. Kal-El is Kryptonian, so that’s easy, and Diana is either made from clay or half-goddess, depending on which origin you prefer (YMMV), so that’s easy, too. Buffy’s powers come from the demon darkness, Willow and Tara are witches, Oz is a werewolf, Angel and Spike are vampires. But what about Giles? And Xander? And what about Bruce Wayne, and Dick Grayson, who may classify as superheroes, but are totally and completely human?
I’m guessing that, having set a precedent with this ruling, imported action figures, if they are connected to comics or other popular media specializing in science fiction and fantasy, are paying the lower 6.8% import tariff. But…
This is a case for ComicMix’s resident commenting attorney.
Bryan Singer was making watchable superhero movies when no one else was and because of that I want to give him a lot of slack. I’ve even mostly forgotten Superman Returns ever happened. I liked more about X-Men: Days of Future Past than I didn’t but there’s a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that if this were a movie by a less famous director I would be ripping it apart instead of trying to patch the pieces together.
The plot is so much of a continuity nightmare that I spent a fair amount of time wondering if it was a bizarre homage to mid-90s X-Men comics. I’m not sure anything in the first two movies holds up at all anymore and I’m quite curious when exactly Mystique decided she wanted to look like Rebecca Romijn instead of Jennifer Lawrence as most people are pretty much done changing physically in their late 20s. An awful lot of characters that act like they have no history at all in the first X-Men film had apparently been hanging out regularly for some 30 years before it started. I understand this is the consequence of a movie series lasting 14 years and starting before every superhero franchise had to be a well-crafted franchise but I can’t ignore that this movie now exists in a world with those well-crafted franchises in it and it just all feels so unpolished.
There are also some insane contrivances in service of the plot. Charles Xavier doesn’t have his psychic powers because he’s hooked on Hank McCoy’s mutant heroin that lets him walk. I’m not bringing external baggage with that heroin comparison as it is absolutely dripping off the screen. I could have lived and died without needing to see Professor X tying off a vein. Wolverine is also incapacitated by a traumatic flashback during a scene where he could have easily fixed everything that goes wrong and sets up the third act. The Wolverine I know and love from the comics isn’t quite so delicate and I’m really not buying that time travel makes someone so consistently portrayed as hard this emotionally vulnerable.
X-Men has the most star power of any film franchise and the cast really shines in this one. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are, again, amazing as Xavier and Magneto and watching them have more and more emotionally charged scenes as their friendship moves toward the enmity that will define their relationship going forward. Hugh Jackman has to carry a lot of plot in this one and he does it while still managing to radiate Wolverine in that way he’s done so much. While rebooting the series might clean up some of the continuity and put them on equal footing there’s something about having people like Jackman (and Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and even Shawn Ashmore) inhabiting these roles for a decade and a half that serves the belivability of a movie about people who can walk through walls and turn in to metal.
Spoiler: Like every movie that involves time travel, X-Men: Days of Future Past ends with a scene where the main character comes back to see the changes he’s made. In this movie one of the first ways Wolverine knows that he’s in the good future instead of the bad one is that Bobby Drake is dating the person he’d rather he be with. A touching moment but also a shout out to the ‘ship culture of the Internet I thought. A moment of “hey, Wolverine is just like us” thrown in to what is otherwise a bit of a soft reboot. It’s not good or bad it’s just interesting and that is, unfortunately where a little too much of this film ends up.
It’s a fairy tale, it’s a fantasy and it’s a romance. WINTER’S TALE covers a lot of territory as it makes the jump from novel to film. Director and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and star Colin Farrell talk about how the magic strings it all together. Plus Bryan Singer picks up a comic property and you can get set to binge watch STAR WARS CLONE WARS in just a few days.
The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class, in an epic battle that must change the past — to save our future.
Based on the classic story from Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin, the movie stars (deeeep breath) Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Ellen Page, Daniel Cudmore, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Booboo Stewart, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Evan Peters and Josh Helman. Written by Simon Kinberg from a story by Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman, and directed by Bryan Singer, X-Men: Days Of Future Past is due in theaters May 23, 2014.
You don’t have to be born with a comic book in your hand to be a fan. As I’ve mentioned, my early exposure to comics was mostly in the form of movies and TV. These days, I read comics too; but I know a lot of fans who’ve primarily discovered comics through the movies, and often stay mostly with that medium.
Recently, there’s been a flurry of talk about who gets to be a geek, and I agree completely with John Scalzi’s assessment that anyone who shares a love of geeky things is just as much of a geek as anyone else, and that we can all come at our love of pop culture and fandoms from very different backgrounds and tastes. Given all that, I thought it might be fun to get the perspective of an awesome female author and blogger who’s so known in pop culture and geek circles that people have actually written articles studying her blogging habits and who clearly fits into comic book fandom but doesn’t come at it from the usual angle of reading comics. Also Cleolinda is just awesome and fun to interview! So here we go!
What kind of exposure have you had to comics generally – as a reader, a viewer, etc.?
Um… there were some tiny comics that came with my She-Ra dolls? I remember walking past racks and racks of comics at the grocery store every weekend and being really intrigued, but I was a very quiet, bookish child, and didn’t even bother asking my mother if I could have one. When I was in my 20s, I started picking up graphic novels based on which movies I had become interested in, and Watchmen on its general reputation.
How did you get into comics movies, and what was the first one you watched (as a child, and/or in the modern resurgence of comics movies)?
I think it says a lot about the genre that I don’t think of them as “comics” movies – I think of them as superhero movies and thrillers and action movies and whatever genre the actual story happens to be. I mean, technically, you could say that The Dark Knight and Wanted and From Hell and 300 are all “comics movies,” but if you say “comics,” I’m generally going to think “superheroes.” And those are such a box-office staple that it’s hard to think of them as something you get into, you know? They’re just there, and everyone goes to see them, and there are so many of them that some of them are awesome and some of them aren’t.
The first superhero movie, certainly, that I remember was Tim Burton’s Batman in the summer of 1989. I was probably ten or eleven at the time, and didn’t actually see it until it was on HBO a year or so later, but I remember that it was a big damn deal at the time. That black and yellow logo was everywhere, as were the dulcet purple strains of “Batdance.” Maybe it’s the Tim Burton sensibility that really got me into Batman movies initially; Batman Returns is pretty much my favorite Christmas movie ever, shut up. I just straight-up refused to see the Schumachers at all. But I’m a Christopher Nolan fangirl, so that got me back in. Which may be the roundabout answer to the question: I get into these movies depending on who’s making them and/or who’s playing the characters. Nothing I read or saw about Green Lantern really attracted me from a filmmaking point of view (well, I love what Martin Campbell did with Casino Royale, there is that), so, in a summer crowded with movies, I didn’t go see it. And, you know, I’ve had Green Lantern fans tell me they really enjoyed it; that’s just the kind of choice you end up making with the time and money you have when you’re more interested in movies as a medium than comics.
What are your thoughts on the accessibility of comics movies, as someone who doesn’t primarily read comics? Are there any you found incomprehensible or confusing because you didn’t know the source material? Which do you think has been most successful as an adaptation for non-comics-reading viewers?
Well, despite my lack of comics-reading background, I usually hit up Wikipedia to get a vague idea of what happened in the original storyline. So the moment I heard that Bane was the TDKR villain, I went and looked it up and immediately wailed, “Noooooo I don’t want to see Bane [SPOILER SPOILER’S SPOILERRRRR]!” Because I keep up with movie news very closely, I knew when Marion Cotillard was cast that she would probably be [SPOILER]. And then, of course, they mixed it up a little anyway.
I guess The Avengers could have been confusing – which was something I lampshaded a little in the Fifteen Minutes I did for it, the umpteen previously on bits. But I felt like they explained it fairly well as they went. I had randomly seen Captain America (“It’s hot. Which movie you wanna see?” “Uh… that one? Sure”), so I knew the Tesseract back story, but I didn’t see Thor until two weeks after I saw The Avengers. But pop cultural osmosis plus the explanations in the movie meant that I understood the Loki business just fine; all seeing Thor did was give me more specific punchlines. (I do think that humor relies on knowing what you’re talking about, so I usually do a little research after I’ve seen something when I’m going to write it up.) Really, though, it’s hard to say. I’m usually aware enough of the movie’s background by the time I see it that I’m not confused. I mean, I’m already aware that Iron Man 3 is using the Extremis storyline, and there’s some kind of nanotech involved, and an Iron Patriot? Something – not enough to be spoiled, per se, but enough to have a frame of reference going in.
Just going by the numbers, it seems that The Dark Knight and The Avengers have been incredibly successful adaptations – and I don’t even mean in terms of money, but in terms of how many people flocked to those movies, saw them, enjoyed them, and were willing to see them again. You don’t make a billion dollars without repeat viewings. And that indicates to me that these movies were rewarding experiences for people, rather than frustrating or confusing (the Joker’s Xanatos gambits aside). And I think familiarity helped in both cases, though through different means. The Joker is obviously the most iconic Batman villain; in fact, The Dark Knight actually skips the slightest whiff of genuine back story there, instead showing the Joker as a sort of elemental chaos, almost a trickster god who comes out of nowhere and then, as far we viewers are concerned, vanishes. There’s no background for non-readers to catch up on; the TDK Joker is completely self-contained. Whereas Marvel’s approach with The Avengers was to get the public familiarized with the characters, very painstakingly, with this series of movies that built up Iron Man as the popular backbone, and then filled in the others around him, either in their own headlining movies or as supporting characters in someone else’s. One movie started out with very recognizable characters, and the other endeavored to make the characters recognizable by the time it came out.
Have you read a comic because you saw a movie about it? Or, have you read a comic because you were going to see a movie about it? How did that change your movie viewing and fan experience?
I got interested in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and read the trade paperback a few weeks before it came out – and then hated the movie. And you know, I think I would have actually enjoyed the silliness of it if I hadn’t “known better,” so to speak, so if it’s not already too late, I try to hold off on reading a book until after I’ve seen the movie. I did read Watchmen first – and did enjoy the movie. I think those are the only ones I’ve read beforehand, though. I did go pick up From Hell and a Sin City set, and I bought the second LXG series in single issues as well; I keep meaning to get V for Vendetta. I’ve never picked up a superhero comic. I just look at the vast history of Marvel and DC and think, where would I even start? (How could I even afford it? Do they have comics in libraries?)I’ve never even read the Sandman series, and that’s supposedly the traditional gateway drug for geek girls.
You write hilarious parodies about all sorts of movies; and the recent The Avengers in 15 Minutes is no exception. Can you talk a little about what it’s like writing the parodies (including how you started and your experience with that generally), and whether it’s any different for comics vs. other movies? Was there anything unique about writing The Avengers one?
Well, the short version is that I came home from Van Helsing (2004) and started writing a script-format bit on a whim; I thought it was just going to be one scene plunked into a Livejournal entry, but it took on a life of its own. I published a book of ten print-only parodies in 2005 with Gollancz; the original Spider-Man (2002) is in there, but there’s also fantasy, sci-fi, overly serious historical epic, etc., spread pretty evenly throughout. Looking back, I think The Avengers is the only other superhero movie I’ve done; 300, V for Vendetta, and Wanted might count generally. It helps for the movie to have some sense of silliness, or at the very least absurdity or over-seriousness. If nothing else, there’s something humorous about movies as a medium – the tropes they run on, the expectations, the necessary coincidences, the mundane things they conveniently skip, the way that this stuff just would not work in real life. And you can point this out and have fun with it without saying, “And that’s why this is a terrible movie.”
The real difference with the Avengers movie – the material it provided – was that it had all of these background movies leading up to it. So you immediately have more opportunities for cross-referencing and in-jokes, in addition to a running “previously on” setup. There were few comics-only jokes (although I did enough research to mention the Wasp and Ant-Man), because the movies themselves were plenty to deal with. Whereas the various Harry Potter in Fifteen Minutes writeups I’ve done played more on the “This Scene Was Cut for Time” idea, referencing the books and the plot holes incurred by leaving things out – what wasn’t there.
If anything, The Avengers was incredibly hard to do not because it was good, but because it was self-aware. I mean, I did Lord of the Rings, a trilogy I love, for the book, but I consider what I do to be “affectionate snark,” and… that’s kind of already built into The Avengers. So, while a gloriously absurd movie like Prometheus took four days and all I really had to do was describe exactly what happens, The Avengers took six weeks.
What’s your favorite comics storyline and/or character?
I seem to be drawn to characters who have just had enough and start wrecking shit. I think I’m so drawn to Batman not because I want to be rescued by him, but because I want to be him. I discussed last week how the Omnipotent Vigilante just can’t work in real life – but it works as a fantasy. Because every time I hear about something horrible on the news, or even just someone on the internet being a complete and utter asshole, I wish I could go be Batman and show up in the dark and scare the fear of God back into people (“Swear To Me!!!! 11!!”). Also, I didn’t really grow up with the more light-hearted TV version(s) of Catwoman; my frame of reference is Michelle Pfeiffer. And that’s a Catwoman whose story arc is almost a “vengeful ghost” story. She has been wronged, and now she’s back, and you are going to pay (maybe for great justice, maybe not). Whereas the Anne Hathaway Catwoman, while a really interesting character, is more about Selina wavering between conscience and self interest, not vengeance. And maybe that’s closer to the “cat burglar” origin of the character – which, again, speaks to how meeting these characters through movies may mean that you have a very different experience from a comics reader.
And then you have someone like Wolverine – I think my favorite scene in the entire series is in the second movie, where he ends up having to defend the school pretty much entirely by himself. You wish you could be that badass, in defense of yourself or someone (everyone) else. This also may be why I saw X-Men: First Class and kind of wanted an entire Magneto Hunts Nazis movie – and maybe why Magneto, even as an antagonist, is so compelling in the Bryan Singer movies. The X-Men universe has some genuinely interesting moral ambiguities, you know? Gandalf has a few legitimate grievances and now he is tired of your shit. *CAR FLIP*
Also, I have a little bit of grey hair at my temple that I wish would grow into a Rogue streak.
Marvel, DC, or neither?
You know, as much as I love Batman, I tend to be more interested in Marvel characters as a whole; not sure what’s up with that. Actually, it may be that Marvel has been so much more pro-active about getting movies made and characters out there; I like about three of the X-Men movies a lot, the first two Spider-Man movies are good (the reboot was good except for the feeling that half the story got chopped out, I thought), and now the Avengers-based movies are turning out really well. There’s just more to chose from on the Marvel side at this point.
Do you have more of a desire to pick up paper (or digital) comics to read after seeing a comics movie? Or do you prefer sticking with the movies?
I seem to be more interested in reading stand-alone stories, which is probably why I picked up Alan Moore books pretty quickly. Even if it’s a somewhat self-contained Marvel/DC storyline, it’s like… do I need to have read twenty years of story before this? Can I just walk in and start reading this, or am I missing volumes and volumes of context? And then, if I get really into this, are they just going to reboot the universe and wipe all of this out? And then you have to figure out what the movie was based on in the first place. I might be interested in reading the comics a particular movie is based on – but then you say, well, The Dark Knight Rises was inspired by ten different comics. If you put all that into a boxed set with a big The Dark Knight Rises Collection plastered across it, I would be more likely to buy that than if you shoved me into a comics store (complete with disdainful clerk) and said, “There Is The Batman Section, Chew Your Own Way Out.” The decades of stories and do-overs and reboots, the sheer flexibility and weight and history, are what appeal to a lot of comics readers, I guess, but they’re exactly what bewilder movie viewers, leaving them no idea where to start.
What comics movie are you most looking forward to in the near future; and is there a comic book story or character you’d like to see a movie about who doesn’t have one yet?
I’m curious to see how Man of Steel turns out, even though Superman has never done that much for me as a character. (That said, I always talk about “going into the Fortress of Solitude” when I try to seriously get some work done.) I once heard that Metropolis and Gotham are, metaphorically, the same city – one by day and the other by night – and I don’t know that there would be enough sunlight in a “gritty” Superman reboot, if that makes any sense. And I was just fascinated by the idea of Darren Aronofsky doing The Wolverine, of all things, but it looks like James Mangold is directing that now. And, you know, in checking on that, I see “based on the 1982 limited series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.” I see the words “limited series” and “trade paperback rated Must Have” and I think, okay, maybe this is something I have a chance of catching up on first.
I would really, really like to see a Black Widow movie, at this point. As much as I liked Anne Hathaway’s Selina, I wonder if a character that arch doesn’t work better in small doses. I mean, I’d still like to see them try a spinoff movie, but somehow, I think Black Widow might work out better. Everyone’s remarked on how great a year it’s been for people actually going to see movies with active heroines – Katniss, Merida, Selina, Natasha, even warrior princess Snow White – and I’m hoping that idea sticks. I know that the comics industry in general has a problem both in writing about and marketing to women. Maybe movies can lead the way on that.
Thanks for a fascinating perspective on your comics (and movie) fandom, Cleo!
In a bizarre turn of events, Henry Cavill has been pushed out of Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Superman: Man of Steel.” Mr. Cavill’s name had first come up as a likely candidate for Superman when McG was slated to direct in 2002, however as fans remember, McG cancelled out to direct Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and Bryan Singer was locked to replace him in 2004 to direct Superman Returns with Brandon Routh wearing the eminently recognizable red cape and blue tights.
When Henry Cavill was locked as Superman, he was seen as very appropriate and incredibly humble in casting as reported by MTV.com. Between his casting, Christopher Nolan producing and Zack Snyder directing, the “Superman: Man of Steel” movie was going to be what Batman Begins was for the Dark Knight. Further casting details like actors Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent shaped this revitalized Superman movie into a projected fan favorite, but all of that changed this ominous morning. Dallas Smith, Henry Cavill’s agent at United Agents, was unavailable for comment. Repeated calls and emails to producers Chris Nolan’s and Charles Roven’s offices have not been returned, however an anonymous source directly involved at Chris Nolan’s production company Syncopy said that a formal statement would be forthcoming about Mr. Cavill’s abrupt departure as well as something more odd– a new producer and who would be returning to wear the cape.
JOE MORTON, star of The SyFy’s original series EUREKA,shares his desire to sing, dance and direct Plus – Is Universal kidding? A BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot with Bryan Singer? And PeeWee opens his PLAYHOUSE gain while DOLLHOUSE hits the iTunes Store.
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Tom Cruise and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie are becoming a formidable duo with three different projects in the works.
The two met during the production of Valkyrie, opening this month, which McQuarrie wrote for his other pal, director Bryan Singer.
McQuarrie had already been developingThe Champions, based on the old BBC series with producer Guillermo del Toro and now United Artists’ co-owner may star in the project, the studio’s best chance at creating its own super-powered franchise.
The series lasted all of one season, 1968-1969, and was syndicated in America a few years later. It featured “the adventures of a team of secret government agents who are rescued from a Himalayan plane crash by an advanced civilization and given superhuman abilities.”
McQuarrie and Mason Alley are writing Flying Tigers, based on the volunteer fighter squadron formed to help the Chinese fight the Japanese before the U.S. entered World War II, for New Regency. The subject has been near and dear to Cruise who may now be interested in acting in the production.
Finally, Spyglass hired McQuarrie to rewrite The Tourist, an espionage drama, for Cruise to appear in with Charlize Theron.
Warner Premiere is known to ComicMix readers as the source for the cool direct-to-DVD movies featuring the DC heroes but they also produce original fare as well. This morning, they announced a deal with director Bryan Singer to create a “cyberpunk sci-fi thriller” H+, “which picks up after a terrorist fries the brains of a segment of the population ‘jacking’ into the net”
The series will be written by John Cabrera (Gilmore Girls) and Cosimo De Tommaso, who will also serve as executive producers. They conceived of H+ as a television series but Warner Premiere’s Head of Digital Content, Lydia Antonini, persuaded them to convert it to a web-based series.
The new series, to debut sometime in mid-2009, will be produced by Singer’s Bad Hat Harry Productions, the outfit that already gives us House.
Warner Premiere is dipping its toe into live action after working on numerous animated efforts including the recently unveiled Peanuts, a full animated comic web series. They have 20 original web series in development, some of which will go to video, some to the recently relaunched TheWB.com.
Bryan Singer is in negotiations to produce Capeshooters, an adaptation of Rob Liefeld’s upcoming graphic novel which tells the story of two slackers who become superhero paparazzi. The duo uncover evidence that a legendary superhero is actually an undercover villain. I’m very excited that movie studios are still trying to find original superhero properties, instead of digging through the bevy of bottom of the barrel established franchise heroes. The bad news is that the screenplay is being written by J.P. Lavin and Chad Damiani, both of which work on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show and American Idol.
Liefeld’s art (from Onslaught Reborn) can be seen at right.