Tagged: Heath Ledger

John Ostrander Reviews the Suicide Squad!

suicide Squad world premiere

Warning! Danger! Spoilers! I saw the movie, I’m going to talk about the movie, there may be some plot spillage. Yadda yadda yadda.

John Ostrander DivaAs we start, I think you should know my biases. I think you should know any critics’ bias. Myself, I use them mostly as consumer reporters. If I find a critic whose tastes largely coincide with mine, I tend to trust them more. The late great Roger Ebert was one. Knowing who is giving you their opinion is important; what does their opinion matter if you don’t trust them?

Regarding the Suicide Squad movie, well, I’m biased. I’m prejudiced. I have a vested interest in its success. I want it to succeed. However, if I didn’t like it, I’d be more likely just to keep my trap shut.

My trap is open.

I really liked the film. Not perfect by a long shot, but a really good time in the movie theater. And for me a lot of it was just amazing. The look, the detail, the feel of the film is not something I’ve seen in superhero movies before.

Chief for me were the performances, starting with Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. All the other characters in the Squad, both the comic and the movie, were created by others. In the comic especially I would re-define and expand on them but they were established characters. Amanda Waller was my creation and Viola Davis embodied her to perfection. I was happy when she was cast, I was delighted when I saw her in the trailers, and I was ecstatic when I saw her in the film. Davis has Amanda’s voice, her look, and her attitude. I was delighted at the after-party when I got a chance to see her face-to-face and tell her how much I enjoyed her performance.

Next up is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She is sexy, innocent, funny, lethal, crazy and dangerous. And she’s a thief – she steals just about every scene she’s in.

Let’s look at Will Smith as Deadshot. Some folks have objected that he’s not my Deadshot. No, he isn’t and that’s just fine by me. My Deadshot was not the character as he had been created or portrayed prior to my appropriating him for the Squad. Gail Simone’s version was not exactly my version either. You don’t expect two actors who play the same character in different versions to be identical so why expect those versions in different stories to be identical? Smith did a great job – intense, cynical, with a weak spot for his daughter (although I thought their last scene together had a disturbing element). Smith is a fine actor and one of the world’s biggest stars; he sure as hell wasn’t slumming here and he made Deadshot his own – which is exactly what he was supposed to do.

Last paragraph, I talked about you wouldn’t expect two actors playing the same character in different stories to give identical performances. That really applies to Jared Leto as the Joker. He crafted an entirely new version of the character from the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal in The Dark Knight. That’s absolutely necessary and it’s a different look. Like Pygmalion, he creates a woman that he can love; in this case, it’s Harley Quinn. If we accept his love for her (and her love for him) as genuine, does that make him less of a sociopath? Ledger’s Joker loved no one except, perhaps, Batman. He’s no less strange or deadly but his entire plotline revolves around being re-united with Harley.

Jay Hernandez has a significant role as Diablo and I would have liked to see more of the character. He has a terrific and horrifying back-story but this is a character who is trying to do good even as (I think) he believes he is beyond redemption.

Likewise, I would have liked to see more of Jai Courtney as Boomerang. As Christopher Walken says of cowbell, you can never have too much Boomerang. He’s very much as I wrote him in the Squad – he knows what he is and he likes it. In that respect, Boomerang is very well adjusted. Which is scary.

There’s a surprising theme running through the movie; there is a lot about love. Joker and Harley’s love, yes; Deadshot’s love for his daughter; Diablo’s love (and guilt and remorse) for his family; Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman)’s love for June Moone (Cara Delevingne) while June’s alter ego, the Enchantress, appears to love her brother. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) loves her dead husband and carries his soul in her blade (OK, a lot of the relationships are not the healthiest in this film). Even with Amanda there’s a brief phone call and there’s tenderness and love for whoever she’s speaking with. Love shapes and forms a lot of the characters and they, in turn, mold the story.

Are their problems with the film? Sure. The antagonist(s) are not well defined and, to my mind, you need a good antagonist to help define the protagonist(s). It’s the antagonist who usually sets the plot in motion and it is defined by what they want. The story is a little more generic “we have to save the world” than I usually did; I always liked having one foot squarely in reality.

I also liked having a political and/or social edge in my Squad stories. That would also give a greater feel of reality and I don’t see that here.

That said, my artistic DNA is all over the place. This is The Dirty Dozen with supervillains and that’s my concept. They did that and did it well.

I know some of the critics, both in print and online, do not like the movie. That’s okay; everyone has a right to their own opinion even when it’s wrong. My problem is that, at least with some of the media reviews, is that the critic is also tired of superhero and “tentpole” films and, overtly or covertly, would like to see their end. Look, I get it – they have to see all the films out there and they must be tired of all the blockbusters.

If every superhero film is not The Dark Knight, they’ll bitch. I think that’s going on here to a certain degree. Just as I came prepared to love the movie, they came prepared to hate it.

My late wife, Kim Yale, was a movie critic for a while for a small suburban newspaper in the Chicago area and I went with her to some of the movie screenings. Don’t tell me that some of the critics didn’t come with pre-conceived attitudes to some films. I know better. I saw and heard it.

As for some of the online haters – if a film doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion, it is wrong. Female Ghostbusters, a black Deadshot, Ben Affleck as Batman (Affleck, by the way, does cameos as both Batman and Bruce Wayne in Suicide Squad and is terrific) – these are all sins and must be decried.

Give me a fucking break.

Look, you can be the most important critic on Suicide Squad. In this case, your voice is your money. You decide if you want to see the movie and then go. If you like it, tell others. I guess you could also tell them if you didn’t like it but you don’t have to. I won’t mind.

If the film is financially successful (and, from what I’ve seen as this review is being written, it’s on track for a pretty good opening weekend), then Warners will be encouraged to do a sequel. And I hope they do. They made a good film this time and I believe they’ll do it even better next time around.

It’s your call.Suicide Squad Times Square

Mindy Newell: Marvel Or DC?

Isis Joker

The other day I was talking with editor Mike Gold about the political state of our country – Mike and I have marathon conversations about politics – and I asked him if he had seen and/or heard the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit Court by President Obama for a seat on the Supreme Court. “He’s into comics,” I said. Or was.

So how do I know about the comics connection? Just in case you missed the nomination or haven’t read it somewhere, here is the relevant part – at least for readers of comics and ComicMix – of the transcript of President Obama’s introduction of Judge Garland to us, the general public:

He was born and raised in the Land of Lincoln, in my home town of Chicago, my home state of Illinois. His other volunteered in the community. His father ran a small business out of their home. Inheriting that work ethic, Merrick became valedictorian of his public high school. He earned a scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude.

“And he put himself through Harvard Law School by working as a tutor, by stocking shoes in a shoe store, and in what is always a painful moment for any young man, by selling his comic book collection. (laughter)

“It’s tough;” the President added. “Been there.” (laughter)

Which also means, in case you didn’t catch it, that President Obama also read and collected comics. And is still a fan. (According to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, our President has used Heath Ledger’s Joker as an analogy to what ISIS is doing:

 “After isis beheaded three American civilians in Syria, it became obvious to Obama that defeating the group was of more immediate urgency to the U.S. than overthrowing Bashar al-Assad.

 “Advisers recall that Obama would cite a pivotal moment in The Dark Knight, the 2008 Batman movie, to help explain not only how he understood the role of isis, but how he understood the larger ecosystem in which it grew. ‘There’s a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting,’ the president would say. ‘These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. isil is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That’s why we have to fight it.’”

By the way, Judge Garland, President Obama, and editor Mike Gold all come from Chicago. (Must be something in the water.) And there’s another little tidbit of “Six Degrees of (Comics) Separation,” which I will leave to Mike to tell you.

Do you think that Judge Garland and President Obama still read comics when they’re not (in Garland’s case – no pun intended) reading briefs, sitting on the bench, and deciding cases; or (in Obama’s case) dealing with the many and awesome responsibilities of the Presidency, like being the first President since Theodore Roosevelt led the Rough Riders over San Juan Hill to visit Cuba. But Teddy wasn’t President then, and Jimmy Carter was not a sitting President when he went to Cuba in 2011. Hmm, just checked. It’s been 88 years (January, 1928) since President Calvin Coolidge arrived on Cuban shores via the battleship U.S.S. Texas for the Pan American Conference – which, among other things, led to our perpetual lease of Guantanamo Bay, which is now home to America’s infamous terrorist detention center and naval base… ironically commanded by Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,the movie in which Nicholson told Tom Cruise “You can’t handle the truth!”

Back to the point, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if there were at least three comics or graphic novels somewhere in Garland’s house – or the White House. We already know, thanks to Goldberg’s interview with the President, that Obama has seen The Dark Knight. I would guess that Judge Garland has seen Nolan’s work, too.

With my writer’s mind concocting scenarios, I can imagine the judge and the President, after talking about the Supreme Court nomination, sitting down in the White House media room and watching both Avengers movies, or Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: Winter Soldier. Maybe they binged on Daredevil or Jessica Jones. Or maybe they caught up on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or Flash, or Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow. And I can easily see Obama inviting Malia and Sasha to join them for Supergirl. (Superman Returns and/or Man of Steel? Not so much. But that’s my own prejudice at work.)

Meanwhile the Repugnanticans are up to their usual obnoxious tricks. Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who continues the party’s bigoted refusal to accept Obama as President, the bastards are vowing not to confirm any Supreme Court nominee until after the 2016 election. “Let the people decide,” they are saying. Well, first of all, we the People do not vote for Supreme Court justices. Secondly, they seem to putting all their eggs into one basket, that basket being that a Republican will win the Presidency. Thirdly, Merrick Gardner has previously been “approved” by Republicans when he was nominated to the D.C. circuit court, for example:

Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): “Merrick B. Garland is highly qualified to sit on the D.C. circuit. His intelligence and his scholarship cannot be questioned… His legal experience is equally impressive… Accordingly, I believe Mr. Garland is a fine nominee. I know him personally, I know of his integrity, I know of his legal ability, I know of his honesty, I know of his acumen, and he belongs on the court. I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration. In fact, I would place him at the top of the list.”

I love it when the Repugnanticans get caught in “black-splatter,” a perfect term, coined by Bill Maher, for what’s really been going on in Congress since 2009.

But let’s say the Repugnanticans are unable to stop the process. Let’s say that I’m a member of the Senate Judiaciary Committee, and I am going to question Judge Merrick Garland on his legal views and leanings.

This would be my very first question:

Marvel or DC?

John Ostrander: Dumb Ways To Die, Better Ways To Live

I was shocked to learn of the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, one of the bright lights of his acting generation. I then learned he died of a heroin overdose with a needle stuck in his arm, surrounded by 50 packets of heroin, and I’m afraid my first reaction was, “What a stupid way to die.” Ungenerous, I know, but that was my honest first reaction.

I had the same reaction to the death of Paul Walker, of the Fast and Furious franchise, in a fiery crash while drag-racing. Coroner’s report says that Walker was alive, at least briefly, after the car caught fire. What a stupid way to die. I feel sorry for his friends and family who loved him but I also wonder at who Walker and the guy driving him could have killed as well.

I was more bothered by Heath Ledger’s death, also by overdose although this was more prescription medication, than I was by Hoffman’s or Walker’s deaths. A common connection in all three cases is to wonder what else they might have done, what work might they have accomplished. They all left behind family, children, friends who grieve and wonder why the ones they loved died in this fashion.

You look at Hoffman’s life– brilliant actor, lots of acclaim, lots of work, highly regarded in the industry, loving partner and kids he loved. Lots to live for and he dies with a needle stuck in his arm. A common junkie’s death. What a stupid way to die.

Then I took a step back and thought more on Hoffman’s death, on all these deaths. One of my prime rules for writing is that “Nothing that is human is alien to me.” Can I really distance myself that much from these men and their deaths and judge so harshly? I’m presuming that they could have made other choices. Maybe they could have but can I understand the choices they made? If I was writing them as characters, could I understand them?

When writing a character, I always try to find something in myself that corresponds to the character that I’m writing. If I was to write Hitler, I would need to find the parts inside me that corresponded to Hitler. If I’m writing a racist, if I’m writing a misogynist, if I’m writing a homophobe, I need to find the parts in myself that are racist, misogynistic, homophobic.

I’ve never taken heroin but what am I addicted to? What self-destructive elements are in me? What really stupid things do I do despite knowing they will eventually catch up to me? Are they choices or compulsions?

This isn’t a confessional and I’m not going into details here. Suffice it to say I found plenty of the above and I didn’t need to look that hard or that long. There’s a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet where the Prince says, “I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.” It’s a little extreme but I’ve found a truth in it for me.

My apologies, Mr. Hoffman. I’ve learned things about people and the world from the roles you played; you found yourself in them and showed us part of ourselves. In your death, in the way you died, I may have also found aspects of myself.

Thank you. Sorry you’re gone.

REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

the-dark-knight-rises-2012-movie-blu-ray-cover1-e1348811637150-300x379-9168507I will stipulate that The Dark Knight Rises is not necessarily the movie Christopher Nolan set out to make. The tragic death of Heath Ledger derailed his plans to conclude the trilogy with more between Batman and the Joker so he spent the last four years rethinking how he wanted to end his trilogy. What he crafted is a definitive conclusion to his vision of Batman and it is a mostly satisfying film experience. Now out on disc from Warner Home Video, we’re given a chance to re-evaluate it.

Gotham City is a place of corruption, we’ve been told this extensively in Batman Begins and the presence of the Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight reinforces that. As a result, the theme returns in the third installment but with every passing film, Gotham is less and less of a character and more of a stand-in for New York City. In the first part, Gotham had the Wayne-built monorail system, a city bathed in grays and blacks, and the rise of a costumed champion to help stem the corruption before Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Shadows destroyed it. Exactly why Gotham of all the cities in the world is the vilest and deserving of fiery justice has never made sense in this trilogy.

The second film showed us how the city’s corrosive nature could take down even the most noble of men, district attorney Harvey Dent/ When the acid ruined half his face, the act sent him into the darkness and Two-Face emerged. Nolan twisted events so that Batman took the blame to preserve Dent’s reputation telling Commissioner Gordon he was giving the city the Batman it needed, a bogeyman to be feared. And then he vanished.

We pick up eight years later and Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse and here’s where I started having trouble with the story. If Batman was the bogeyman, then you need to see him now and then to reinforce the message. Instead, he broods in Wayne Manor with a silly beard, mourning the death of Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes/Maggie Gyllenhaal) who rejected him pretty solidly in the first film and again the second, although Alfred (Michael Caine) kept the news from him. Wayne lost his parents and spent seven years to become a force of vengeance, returning to Gotham to rid it of the evil that turned children into orphans. His girlfriend rejects him and dies so he broods for eight years? I don’t buy that at all. And what has he done for eight years? We’re never told. One could conclude that the physical toll of the first two films have rattled him badly, eradicating his knee cartilage and causing head trauma which might explain his mood, but we’re left guessing.

Gotham, we’re told, has enjoyed nearly a decade of unprecedented peace thanks to the draconian Dent Act which apparently handed down such stiff sentences (without chance of parole) that after stuffing 1000 criminals in the poorly located Blackgate Prison, crime has dropped to little more than jaywalking. Mayor Garcia (Nestor Carbonell) has remained in office but the political tides are turning and he intends to replace Gordon, a commissioner needed during a war, less so during peaceful times.

As all of this happens, the masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) has come to Gotham. For six months, he has been overseeing a surreptitious mining of the city’s infrastructure, building an underground army that has become the stuff of rumor and legend. Why and what motivates him remains a mystery until the final act.

Apparently the city’s corrupting nature has woken up and forces are at play that brings Wayne and his alter ego back into the spotlight. That both reappear nearly simultaneously and no one makes the connection shows how somnambulant the city’s populace has grown. Initially, he dips his toe back into the game of life not because Alfred harangued him for the umpteenth time but when Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) manages to steal his mother’s pearl necklace, a physical reminder of his loss. Her carefree approach also sparks something missing in his own soul.

Apparently, the city’s acidic touch has been centered on their financial sector and there John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) has been manipulating the markets, using Wayne’s stolen fingerprints, to force Wayne to lose control of his company so Daggett can gain access to the fusion device that could mean clean energy for the city but can also be weaponized and therefore is mothballed by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Daggett, we learn, hired Bane to help him gain control of the device, but Bane took the contract in order to further his own agenda.

Batman’s return is exciting to one and all as a veteran cop tells another, “You’re in for a treat”. Nolan does an excellent job brining the action to life and the film is a visual stunner. Where he falls down repeatedly is neglecting to give the characters’ much depth. Wayne and Kyle and maybe Gordon have shades to them while everyone else is cardboard. Apparently, out of thousands of cops, the only one with a brain is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and others throughout the film show up, more the plot along and vanish so none feel real. Alfred whines in a one-note performance, the Mayor is cypher, and even Bane lacks the shades of brilliance he had in the comics. There are some storytelling gaps of logic as well that appear here and there, making you scratch your head.

Events proceed until Bane detonates his bombs, isolating Gotham from the world in a nod towards the No Man’s Land storyline and his thugs turn the city into a prison state. A city that refused to kill one another in the second film suddenly cowers beneath Bane’s bellicose tones. Sorry, don’t buy it at all. Bane gains access to the fusion device turns it into a nuclear bomb but only a handful of people seem to know it will destruct in five months one way or the other given its unstable nature. We briefly see citizen’s justice as the 99% exact vengeance against the 1% presiding over by Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), dispensing not fear but death sentences. Finally, the city’s corruptive nature, very thing Ra’s has tried to stamp out, has taken hold of its citizens. What life during this time was like should have been explored in far greater depth, similar to the two boat dilemma seen in the second film.

Bane breaks Batman’s back. Anyone who read the comics knows this is coming and we anticipate an interesting recovery sequence, one that does not rely on the magical healing touch used in the comics. That Bane left Gotham to fly Batman to the very pit that spawned him, half a world away, makes little sense. Nolan went for a far more painful and realistic solution but also it slows the film’s momentum to a crawl and we really don’t learn much about Bruce Wayne during this protracted sequence.

He finds his mojo, returns to Gotham and really does become the Batman the city needs. His presence is inspirational: to children, to Gordon, and even to Kyle. The final act is the retaking of Gotham and destruction of the bomb. It’s overly long and at times tedious as people stop to do things that make little sense given how little time they have and knowing how unstable the bomb is. Gordon, for example, takes time to go to the suburbs (or so it looks) to collect the inept Foley (Matthew Modine).

As the clock ticks inexorably to 0:00, characters stop to talk, a lot. The story slows to a crawl as characters finally reveal their true feelings and motivations and here. The worst story logic is probably showing us five seconds until a nuclear explosion but somehow Batman escapes the blast radius with any burns.

Nolan offers us the few storytelling surprises in the whole film. Among them is Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) who has had something to do with the fusion device and Wayne for years, and has hints of an interesting character, left unexplored.

The climax goes as expected and by this point you see how Nolan has set this up to be a conclusion to the trilogy. This has the feeling of beginning, middle, end, with plenty of connective tissue tying all three films together and for that Nolan, his writing partners Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer get kudos. The major players in these films have been masked, rarely revealing their true selves, offering up one face or another needed from the overt Batman/Wayne or Two-Face to players like Daggett and Crane. These conflicting natures were a lovely touch to the films but those who are exactly as they seem – Alfred, Gordon, Rachel – feel like lesser characters as a result.

Bale does a good job showing the pain and emotional emptiness he feels until forces demand he wake up. But to me, the best performance goes to Hathaway who instilled Kyle with moral conflict and enough depth to make her worthy of more. The rest do a commendable job although Hardy seems wasted as Bane since he never gets to really act, just strut and punch. Oldman’s Gordon and Levitt’s Blake are serviceable and everyone else feels more or less stock, robbing the film of its richness.

I have liked but never loved this take on the Batman, from the flimsy cape to the over-muscled tumbler. Nolan had some interesting things to say and explore in these three films but always came up short, never really exploring the themes as they deserve or making the characters feel real enough to react to these events. Gotham City remains a corrupt place in need of justice beyond that the police can offer. It needs the very champion its corruption birthed and it will be interesting to see what the next filmmaker brings to the enduring mythos.

The film comes nicely packaged under a lenticular cover and contains two Blu-ray discs – the film and the special features – with a standard DVD edition of the film as disc three. An Ultraviolet code also can be found within the case. You’ll be very pleased with the quality of the transfer as all the shadows and blacks are well-preserved without losing clarity. The sound is above-average for those who listen to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and you won’t miss a note of Hans Zimmer’s excellent score.

The filmmaking was meticulous recorded allowing them to slice and dice the footage into bite-size featurettes covering everything you might want to know about the process. Ending the Knight Production (68 minutes), Characters (28 minutes), and Reflections (15 minutes), you get some fine pieces on the production then there are the characters, and finally, two short pieces trying to put a bow on the entire trilogy but they both felt far too self-congratulatory. My favorites may have been Anne Hathaway talking about her research into playing Selina Kyle and how the aerial opening was accomplished. A lot of good information is shared with rebuilding Wayne Manor and upgrading the Batcave as a result, information that might have been better shared via the film itself. Interestingly, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are almost absent from the entire disc, which is a shame. Also missing and noticeable in its absence is more about the actual writing process, and the challenges that came from losing Heath Ledger in the second film.

There’s the nearly hour-long The Batmobile documentary and I was one of the many talking heads. A shorter version aired the week the movie debuted but this full version is richer as more people got to talk about the building of the various vehicles along with placing it historic context. Leave it to Denny O’Neill to also place the vehicle in a mythological context, tracing it back to the god’s sky chariots. Some terrific clips and some heart-tugging examples of how the Batmobile can bring joy to ill. This is a terrific piece and I’m glad to have been a part of it.

For those who bother, The Dark Knight Rises Second Screen app integration has replaced the once-standard picture-in-picture track. If you take the trouble to sync it all, you’ll get additional treasures and visuals that are worth a look.

Rounding out the package is the Trailer Archive (8:35), showing how the groundbreaking marketing was achieved, accompanied by the Print Campaign Art Gallery.

Nolan and company had a singular vision and while I may disagree with it, I was entertained by the trilogy and appreciate his refusal to repeat himself, keeping each film a separate piece of a larger story. The disc reminds me that when it’s good, it’s very, very good.

Mindy Newell: It’s All About The Image

The first thing that popped into my mind when I turned on MSNBC’s Way Too Early With Willie Geist – yes, I get up for work “way too early”– and saw, instead of Mr. Geist talking about the Presidential campaign or Jon Stewart’s latest and brilliant riff on the newest foolishness in this nation’s ongoing political foibles, a deployment of cop cars and ambulances flashing red, white, and blue – an ironic picture, actually, now that I think about it – in the parking lot of a movie theatre complex in Aurora, Colorado was, “Oh, shit, now what?”

Then, as I discovered that a mass shooting had taken place at the first showing of The Dark Knight Rises, my second thought was, “Wonder how soon it’ll be before they (the media) connect it to comics?”

Not long.

By the time I got to work, changed into scrubs, and was in the staff lounge sipping my tea and watching the television along with everyone else – which was 6:55 A.M. EDT – FOX News was already claiming that the alleged shooter, James Holmes, had stated that he had done it because “I am the Joker.”

*Note: Never saw or heard this supposed statement repeated on any other TV or radio news show. FOX News stopped running this bit of faux information, but also never retracted or apologized for it.  

“But Heath Ledger’s dead,” said a staff member.

“Oh, shit,“ I said to myself again.  Out loud I said, “The Joker’s not even in this one. Bane’s the villain.”

“Who’s Bane?” another staff member asked me.

“Stupid fucking comic book people,” said another. Then she looked at me and remembered that I had worked in comics and that I write this column. “Sorry,” she muttered.

I bring this up because of Mike’s column.

Yeah, San Diego got a lot of “mainstream” press, but how much of it was about comics? Not much. Most of it, even in Entertainment Weekly, covered movies and television. The stuff that was about comics was of the usual KA-POW! BAM! variety about the fans showing up in costumes. Except for the announcement of a new Sandman story by my friend Neil (Gaiman), which made the pages of the “old grey lady,” i.e., the New York Times.

It doesn’t surprise me that the Times got the story of the origin of comics publishers and creators’ rights wrong.  The paper also got it wrong when it did a story about Gail Simone being the first woman to write Wonder Woman.  Gail called me to apologize, saying that someone (I forget who) had told her “you’re not the first, Mindy Newell was.” She also told me that she tried to tell the reporter this, but that the reporter didn’t want to hear it.

“Of course,” I said. “Because if DC admits you weren’t the first woman to write Diana’s stories, then where’s the publicity for DC, and where’s story for the New York Times to print?”

The point is that the story about Image was a publicity thing, Mike. Their P.R. department did their work, and the New York Times picked up the story. And if – that’s a big if – the Times reporter did his due diligence, as a good reporter should, and discovered that ‘the creators’ rights movement on a publishing level started with Denis Kitchen and his fellow underground comix providers and that ‘the actual creators’ rights movement pretty much started…when folks like Will Eisner, Bob Kane, William Moulton Marston and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby negotiated their own deals with the existing publishers and retained certain rights and/or received cover billing and/or creator credit and/or royalties and that First, Eclipse, Comico, Now, Malibu, and the rest – took all that several steps further. Creators received certain ownership rights, cover billing, creator credit and royalties,’” and if that reporter took this information to his editor, and if his editor had given the go-ahead to write all this…

Well, then, where’s the story about Image?

Well, yeah, the story could have still been about Image, and about how it’s following in the steps of its predecessors, but that not what the P.R. department of Image started.

And also, imho, the Times would not have cared about Image’s twentieth anniversary except for two things: The Walking Dead being such a huge hit on AMC, and the award-winning (rightly so) Neil Gaiman’s much publicized lawsuit with Todd MacFarlane.

‘Cause it’s all about the image.

And just for the record (and this has absolutely nothing to do with Gail herself)…

That article about Gail being the first woman to write Wonder Woman?

It really pissed me off.




John Ostrander: Sherlock 2 – Revisiting The Original Revisionist

Spoiler Warning: In reviewing the second series on the BBC series Sherlock, I may discuss some plot points. If you haven’t seen it – and you should – and you want to remain unspoiled on plot twists, best skip this.

By the time I was ten I had read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I love the characters, I love the settings, and I’ve watched many of the movie and TV incarnations of the world’s most famous detective. Basil Rathbone was my initiation to the cinematic Holmes and, for a long time, he was indelible. My major gripe with the Rathbone Holmes movies was that, with only the exception of one or two, they were all set in the era in which they were made, the 30s and 40s, and had little to do with the actual stories. I wanted the gaslight and the London fog; I wanted the deerstalker cap and the horse drawn carriages and the steam locomotives. The era was as important to me as the characters.

So – as you might guess – when I heard that the BBC was doing a new Holmes series (simply called Sherlock) and setting it in contemporary times, I was not keen. I would have given it a miss except that I learned that one of the co-creators was Steven Moffat (along with Mark Gatiss). I’ve loved Moffat’s work on Doctor Who as both writer and show runner; bright, intelligent, witty writing with vivid characters and real heart. I couldn’t resist looking at the new show and I was so glad I did.

The first series was brilliant and it absolutely worked. The creators obviously know the source material and respect it. In the original Conan Doyle stories, Dr. Watson is a former Army doctor who was wounded in Afghanistan. In the update – Doctor Watson is a former Army doctor who was wounded in Afghanistan. (How times don’t change.) In the original, Watson wrote up his adventures with Holmes as stories published in magazines. In the update, he writes them up as part of his blog.

The series is aided immensely by the two leads – Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor Watson. In case you don’t know, Cumberbatch is slated to play (if rumors are correct) the villain in the next Star Trek movie and Freeman will be Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. The chemistry between them as Holmes and Watson is terrific.

Each series has consisted of three ninety-minute episodes and the first series ended in a cliffhanger. Holmes had confronted his nemesis, James “Jimmy” Moriarty; Watson has a vest full of explosives strapped on to him and Holmes has three snipers homed in on him. A complete death trap! How will they escape?

The second series updates/adapts three of the better-known stories in the Holmes canon: A Scandal in Bohemia becomes A Scandal in Belgravia, The Hound of the Baskervilles becomes The Hounds of Baskerville, and The Final Problem becomes The Reichenbach Fall.

The first introduced Irene Adler, The Woman in the Holmes canon, an actress who went up against Holmes over some compromising letters involving the royal family and she proved to be a complete match for the sleuth. In the remake, she’s a dominatrix who has compromising photos of a (female) member of the Royal Family on her cell phone. When Holmes calls on Adler, she greets him in the nude which leaves the Great Detective somewhat flummoxed and he can’t deduce anything from her because she isn’t wearing any clothes.

Oh, and Holmes himself winds up in the Royal Palace wrapped only in a bedsheet. This is not your great-great -grandfather’s Sherlock Holmes.

The Hounds of the Baskervilles deals with a possible spectral hound from hell threatening the life of Holmes’ client. The episode, The Hounds of Baskerville has that element but also brings in secret military testing and conspiracies. Changing “Hound” to “Hounds” is not just clever; it really ties to the secret at the heart of the mystery.

In the original “The Final Solution,” Doyle attempted to kill off Holmes by having him plummet down the Reichenbach Falls with his arch-enemy, Professor James Moriarty. In this new version, Moriarty is out to destroy his enemy and his enemy’s reputation. It also ends with what appears to be Holmes’ fall to his death although the very final shot of the episode reveals Holmes still alive. The question that needs to be answered is – how? Hopefully, that will be answered in the third season of Sherlock whenever they get around to making it.

Performances throughout are first rate, as are the production values. It doesn’t make the series perfect. They get out of the first season’s cliffhanger by having Moriarty getting a phone call and walking away. Not satisfying. I also found the conceptualization and performance of Moriarty (by Andrew Scott) too over the top. It was Moriarty as Heath Ledger’s Joker. I don’t mind a different interpretation that works, such as Lara Pulver’s Irene Adler, but Moriarty as giggling sociopath didn’t work for me.

And I have a concern. As I’ve said, the writing on this series is very clever and, for me, enjoyably so. There’s such a thing, however, as being too clever and that’s the trap into which Sherlock could easily fall – and that would be a more deadly trap than anything Moriarty could devise. The series so far has skirted the edge of it but it could easily step over and, sometimes, you don’t know how far is too far until you’ve gone too far.

All that said, I think this incarnation of Sherlock Holmes to be one of the best ever, constantly and consistently entertaining. It has intelligence and it has passion and it captures the essence of what made the Holmes stories work. The changes make us see the stories in a fresh way. I’m looking forward to the next season – which will be whenever our two main actors come back from Middle Earth, where no one has gone before.




This week marked fifteen years since the death of my sometime writing partner and lovely wife, Kimberly Ann Yale. Since here we talk about pop culture in so many different forms, I thought I would pose myself a question – WWKL? What Would Kim Like? What has come out since her death that she would really have gotten into?

Let’s start right here – on the Internet. First of all, she would have loved ComicMix and probably would have had her own column here. Kim was a terrific essayist – much better at it than me, I think. She was thoughtful, she picked words with care and grammar and punctuation really mattered to her. Me? If it gets past spellchek, I’m good.

In fact, I think Kim would have been all over the Internet. She would have had a blog or two or three, she would have been answering other peoples’ blogs, she would have been Queen of Facebook. Facebook was invented for someone like Kim. She would have had a bazillion friends on FB. I would have had to pry the computer from her.

Kim was also big into monsters and horror, vampires being her especial faves. I think she would have favored True Blood over the others because of the sex and the melodrama and the Southern-fried aspects of it all. (Kim’s mom was Southern and Kim fancied herself as a Southern belle. Kind of hard to do when you’re born up North but her mind worked it around.) The Dark Shadows movie starring Johnny Depp? Eeeeeeeeee! She would be camped out for it right now.

I think both The Walking Dead comic and TV series would have sucked her in but she would have been tickled by Shaun Of The Dead. Kim had a terrific sense of humor and the world’s most infectious laugh. Trust me – if you were a stand-up comic or doing a comedy in the theater, you wanted Kim in the audience.

I wonder what she would have made of Cowboys And Aliens? She was the one who got me started watching westerns and they were among her favorite genre films and, of course, adding sci/fi to it would have really intrigued her but I’m not sure what she would have made of the execution. I only give it two stars and I think she would have agreed (Kim also worked as a movie critic back in Chicago for a small suburban newspaper, so she could really knew how to dissect a movie.)

On the cowboys and spaceships mode, I think she would have been into both Firefly and the movie tie-up, Serenity. And Nathan Fillion would have led her to the Castle TV series (she also loved fun mysteries and strong female characters).

Then there’s Doctor Who. Kim and I met at a Doctor Who con (actually, a combined Doctor Who / Chicago Comic Con) and she would have rejoiced at the Doctor’s return. I think she would have liked David Tennant’s Doctor the best; she would have described him as a “creamie” – as in cream your jeans. However, she would have liked all three incarnations that have come out since the series’ return and, as a writer, would really enjoyed Stephen Moffat’s writing and now running of the franchise. She would have also liked his take on Sherlock Holmes and on Jekyll and Hyde. I stopped watching the latter during its first season; not because it wasn’t good but because it really creeped me out too much.

On movies, she would have been amazed and ecstatic with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and would, as Mary and I are doing, been waiting impatiently for The Hobbit movies coming out. Viggo Mortensen would also have been counted as a creamie.

She would have been fascinated by how CGI made superhero movies possible and what happened as a result. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, especially The Dark Knight, would have sucked her in and, come Hallowe’en, she would have dressed up as Ledger’s Joker, no question in my mind about it.  I think, however, she would have been even more taken with Inception – Kim had an active dreamscape and tried to spend as much time in it as possible so the movie’s setting would have fascinated her.

She would have liked Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man (less so the sequel) not only because he was so good (and he was) but because she was also a sucker for redemption stories and Downey’s reclamation of his career would have stirred her. She would also have really liked Chris Hemsworth as Thor (creamie) and the whole Captain America film and she would really be anticipating The Avengers, not the least because Joss Whedon is helming it.

I could go on much longer but I think I’ve tried everyone’s patience enough. I may be just projecting onto Kim what some of my own likes and dislikes are but it refreshes her memory in my own mind and heart, keeping the flame alive. She was full of life and she would have brought that with her into the future. Like all those we treasure, she lives on in me and in all those she loved and loved her.

Memory doesn’t die with the body, and neither does love.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


MARC ALAN FISHMAN: Mark Hamill, The Clown Prince of Voice Actors

Imagine the Joker has you tied up. You’re in a dimly lit warehouse right off the river. The air is thick, stale, and musky. The tide raps against the nearby docks punishingly. The rope that binds your hands behind your back is chokingly tight. Every twitch in your wrist scrapes twine against raw flesh. Footsteps on concrete floors echo louder and louder as they draw near.

That laugh. It starts out low and menacing. It crescendos a bit. A few “hee-hees” and “ho-hos” tossed in jovially. It crescendos. Cackling, lung emptying chortles screech on your ears. You wince and tense up. Your wrists chafe as skin breaks. You can feel blood reaching the surface of the rope.

“So fanboy, it wasn’t hard to lure you here. The promise of a preview copy of Catwoman 2 was all it took. Well. that and the promise of more side boob. And now? I bet you’re hoping… praying… that the Bat shows up and saves you. Well, pookie? The joke’s on you… he’s too busy reading Voodoo to show up here! HAAAAA HAAA HAA HAA HAAA!”

Question: The voice in your mind just there? The voice of the Joker? Well, if you’re anything like me… the man reading back my poorly written dialogue in your head was Mark Hamill.

Since 1992, Hamill has portrayed perhaps one of the single hardest roles for any actor, be it voice or otherwise, to play. The nemesis of the Dark Knight has been written many ways; from straight-up sadistic murderer to psychotic sycophant. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini created perhaps the single greatest interpretation of the seminal superhero and tasked Andrea Romano with the worst possible task. The interpretations of role had been truly original to say the least. Both Cesar Romaro and Jack Nicholson had portrayed the Clown Prince of Crime and took liberty to imbue the character with their own charm. Romero painted over his mustache and played the campy cackler with scene chewing glee. Jack Nicholson exuded his … Jack Nichosoness. But here, with Batman: The Animated Series, we were getting a truer-to-comic presentation. The Joker in this case could not be so closely tied to the actor portraying him. And the less we say about Larry Storch’s voice acting during the Superfriends/Scooby Doo era the better.

Enter Luke Skywalker.

Mark Hamill had done a handful of voice acting roles prior his turn as the Joker (so says IMDB), but none with as much clout. Certainly any kids as crazy-obsessed as me hit the pause button while watching their tapes of recorded episodes to see the voice cast… and would be baffled to see their beloved Jedi master lending his baritone to The Joker.

Astonishment aside though, Hamill sunk into the role such that I strongly believe no one else will ever top it. His nuanced delivery, that carries everything from the silly to the psychotic, is pitch-perfect. Over the course of the series, the animated Joker was pulled in several directions. One episode he’s dressed as a sea captain, driving a barge of joker-gassed garbage down the Gotham River; the next, he’s holding Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya hostage on live TV. And whether he was back handing Harley Quinn, or flying away on a rocket powered Christmas tree, Hamill captured the character like no other.

In watching a little featurette about the characterization, Hamill put it best. The iconic laughter of The Joker had to be right. It’s a tool in and of itself. With every laugh he delivered behind closed doors, Hamill captured the essence. For all his nuance and outright amazing portrayal of the character in The Dark Knight, even Heath Ledger wasn’t able to really use it. Credit to Hamill’s fearless acting. As you’d learn in the clip, he performed it standing up. You can feel the manic energy in every line he spoke. And when the animated series ended, Hamill (and fan favorite Bat-voice Kevin Conroy) brought the role out one last time for the now-causing-mass-sleep-deprivation video game Batman: Arkham City videogame. Sadly, Hamill told the world it’d be his last foray into the fracas… and thus his reign as the ringmaster of insanity came to a close.

Other people have taken on the role, to less effect. The fantastic John DiMagio (of Futurama fame and much, much more), Kevin Michael Richardson, and even now Brent “Data” Spiner have all tried to take the mantle. But none capture that balance of the character. Some of it may come from the writing itself… but as we all know, the best actors can make lemonade from just a packet of Sweet-N-Low and a wedge of lemon. Mark Hamill’s been blessed with fantastic writers, but took the role to such heights that now I fear no one will ever replace him.

And just then, the window above shatters. Shards of glass rain down on the floor around you, reflecting the pale moonlight and streetlamp glow as they ping-ping-ping into pieces. A leathery flap darkens the area where you sit. You can’t see anything, but you hear a desperate plea.

“Wait, Batsy, no! We were just about to read O.M.A.C. #1 together! HAAA HAAA HAAA HEEE HEE HOO HOO HEEEE!”