Now I don’t have to worry about that chance the court might strike down the individual mandate, which would mean my premiums would have gone up – in New York, if one is self-employed, one pays gigantic premiums. My worrying didn’t make the difference, however, so let’s consider something really important.
Can super-heroes get health insurance?
Barry Allen was already working for the police department when the lightning bolt caused those chemicals to drench him and made him The Flash. Usually, public employees get good insurance. He should be okay. We can only hope that Tea Party pressure hasn’t weakened his union’s negotiating power and force public workers to take a worse policy.
Bruce Wayne not only has enough money to pay any medical bills he might have out-of-pocket, but he also has Alfred on staff, who, in addition to his butler skills, also seems to be something of a battlefield surgeon.
Reed Richards is a doctor. Presumably, he can take care of many of his colleagues. Those he can’t might be cared for by Dr. Strange, or Dr. Mid-Nite.
But what about the others?
Once you’re bitten by a radioactive spider as a teenager, you have a pre-existing condition. And, as a self-employed person in New York (at least when he started freelancing at the Daily Bugle), Peter Parker probably got a policy with a high deductible, if he got a policy at all. Here’s hoping that radiation didn’t cause cancer along with a spider sense.
Can test pilots get insurance at all? Even if he wasn’t a Green Lantern, is Hal Jordan the kind of guy who could get a policy?
Among those without powers, masks or capes, there might be circumstances that make it difficult to get a coverage. It seems that just living in certain areas invites life-threatening accidents. I know that living in the New York area means I pay higher rates, so I guess most of the Marvel Universe does as well. Metropolis, Gotham, Coast City et al. are probably no bargain either.
Who pays for those over-worked emergency rooms, especially after an alien attack?
If ever there were places that could use single-payer health insurance, it’s the DC and Marvel Universes.
Am I the only one that could give a flying fish about the new Spider-Man movie?
I have no desire to see that film. You would think that a Spider-Man junkie like myself would be counting the days until it opened.
Nope. It could have opened already and it would still not be a blip on my must see radar. It would be great if the reason I have no yearning to see this film is because The Avengers was so good it made waiting to see any other superhero film unattractive.
Nope. I still can’t wait to see the next Dark Knight movie.
I simply have no desire whatsoever to see the new Spider-Man film. Is it the new actor that turns me off? Maybe, in the clips I’ve seen I have none and by none I mean no emotional attachment to him. Granted, I only get to see snippets of him in coming attractions but in those snippets I can garner no interest in this guy.
Perhaps I’ve gone extreme fanboy and by extreme fanboy I mean, perhaps Marvel Studios has done something that just does not sit right with me so I must go to a dark fan place.
I’ll admit to being a fanboy and I’m mighty proud of that distinction, but being an extreme fanboy is something I’d never thought I’d succumb to. The difference between fanboy and one who is of the extreme kind is this; an extreme fan boy will spend endless hours, debating, blogging and otherwise conversing about whatever is bugging he or she. A regular old fan boy will just enjoy the ride and revel in all that is his or hers pop culture drug of choice.
I think with regards to the Spider-Man movie I have made the move to the dark side of fan boy domain and I think I know why. The more I think about it the more I’m certain what has brought me over to the dark side of fandom.
The side in which I must make my ire known to all that want to listen and more importantly those who don’t want to listen and more importantly still is to get my message of disgust out to those who simply could give a shit about any to this stuff.
That is the essence of the true extreme fanboy; talking passionate shit about something most of the world could give a fish about!
So, what has gotten me to extreme fan boy status over the Spider-Man movie? What has sent me from can’t wait to I could give a shit?
Gwen Stacy is in this retelling of the new Spider-Man movie.
Why? Oh why is that?
There were plenty of places to take Peter Parker after the third movie but someone had the bright idea to dig up Gwen Stacy. My beloved Gwen Stacy.
Why? Just so I can watch her die again? Everyone knows that Capt. Stacy, Gwen’s police chief dad and Gwen bite the damn dust. Well every real fan of Spider-Man knows that. I guess killing Gwen all over again for the delight of the millions who don’t know is O.K.
It’s O.K. to kill the first non-real woman I ever loved?
Well, it’s not O.K. with me. No, I have not seen the movie nor do I have any insider knowledge that Gwen will be killed in the movie but whatever other reason is there to jump back in continuity? What other reason is there to bring back dear, sweet, lovable, I’m old enough now to tap that ass, Gwen?
I can’t think of any reason except Sony and Marvel studios desire to reinvent Spider-Man and bring in some Twilight or some other pussy franchise’s fan base. What better way then getting you to take your girlfriend to a superhero movie and get you to cry like a little bitch when Gwen dies?
That, my friend, is just cold blooded. Or, to put it another way, that’s Hollywood.
So, no I won’t be seeing this Spider-Man. If I’m wrong and Gwen survives I still won’t see it. If she survives this film you can be damn sure she will be toast in the next one.
I’m not going out like that-seeing her neck broke when I was a little kid was enough for me.
Sony, Marvel you killed Gwen Stacy!!!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Emily S. Whitten, real girls, and costumes!
If you’ve been following The Amazing Spider-Man and any of the viral activity surrounding #markofthespider-man, you may note that there’s been some action leading up to today. There’s been a countdown clock that indicated various things were going to happen today, with flights booked by Dr. Richard Parker leaving today.
At noon today, this image appeared on the link for New York:
That happened to be at the New York Hall Of Science, not far from the Forest Hills home of the Parkers, and where there happens to be a pretty decent exhibit on Animation running until Sept. 2 sponsored by Cartoon Network.
I rushed over there, went to the coat check window, and reclaimed this satchel:
A leather satchel with an RP monogram…
Inside we found the following:
A bit more detail:
Oscorp Industries ID for Richard Parker, glasses, and a Parker Pen.
An HP48G calculator, an Ericsson phone, and more pens.
Three New York City subway tokens, and three quarters, all at lest twelve years old.
And two spiders encased in lucite.
Surely, this couldn’t be all of it, could it? Hey, there’s a pocket on the back of the satchel…
Pocket’s empty. But wait, I can feel something in there… is there a zipper on this pocket?
Bingo. And what do we have here…?
This is the point where a good storyteller covers for getting to a scanner with the words… “To Be Continued!”
Just for funsies, I cracked open my DC Archives: Green Lantern hardcover the other day. An hour later, I’d reminded myself why I was never the biggest fan of Hal Jordan. But that’s a discussion I’ve bemoaned about here before, so I’ll spare you. What struck me, though, was the sheer density of the material presented. Oh, how have times changes. Some argue for the better. Others say nay. Concerning the amount of plot presented today in the standard off-the-rack rag we all love so much, it’s a debate I’m willing to fill a few inches of babble about.
I can’t personally put a pin at the exact moment of time when comic book writers started decompressing their material. My best guess is that it was a slow burn starting in the mid-eighties, that reached critical mass somewhere around the time Brian Michael Bendis was being knighted by Joey Quesada. Truth be told, I’m not a comic historian (like the incomparable Alan “Sizzler” Kistler) and I’m inspired by Michael Davis’ Lazy-Man, so I’m not doing the research to find out exactly when. Suffice to say, it’s no difference to me when this all happened, so much as whether it has been for the better of the medium. And that answer isn’t exactly black and white.
The thing is, when I read through those Silver Age reprints I couldn’t help but feel slighted. Huge problems for the titular hero were dispatched in a matter of a few panels. Why? Because by the turn of a page, we were already onto the next plot point / problem / story beat. In one story, Hal is called to a prehistoric world where he must save the blue skinned Neanderthals from evil yellow dino-birds. One panel? He’s punching them. Next? He’s blasting them with a big green canary. Next? He’s home. In less than a handful of pages, the entire story is wrapped up. For anyone out there that wants to defend that as being higher quality that last months’ issue of GL… come see me behind the shed. Simply put, this “gotta cram an entire story in 12 pages!” mentality may have suited people 20 years ago… But not now.
When it’s done right, modern comics have the pacing, depth, and content akin to a good movie. Take the first arc of Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. Not only do we get origins for Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant Man, the Wasp, and Captain America, but we get true moments of cinematic glory. When the Hulk rampages in the city, horny and angry, it’s a moment earned through the build up of tension across the four books it took to get there. If the same book were made in the Silver Age? Hulk would have been tearing up a building in one panel, booted out of it in the next, and laughing about the lessons learned before the page turn. In other words? Decompression gives the reader a chance to absorb characterization and depth.
When it’s done wrong, a book becomes a banal burden. How many times in the modern era have we plunked down good money to read a book that doesn’t move a story forward, for seemingly no reason? When an arc is immediately all too familiar, we can end up purchasing six or more issues of a story despite our ability to glean the entire plot beat for beat.
Case in point? Justice League International. In the very first issue, it was as clear as day: The team would assemble for the greater good, but show terrible cooperation. The big bad guy would do increasingly bad things and the team would eventually have to unite in order to win the day. And because I knew that this would be the arc they’d travel on, I simply dropped the title. The idea that all stories must “write for the trade” is a double-edged sword. When the plot comes out of the box of “been there done that,” all you’re doing is wasting ink and paper.
Let me not poo-poo the Silver Age without pulling back my anger just a bit. These older tales had something modern comics lack. Balls. Big brass ones. Do you think, even for a second, Batman of Zur-En-Arrh could have been pitched and published as an original concept in 2012? Not on your life. The older books had a mentality to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. It allowed ol’ Hal Jordan to be on a primitive planet fighting dinosaurs on one page, and then be whisked away to the anti-matter universe for a skirmish with the Qwardians on the next.
With the way modern books are published, those two concepts alone might take up the better part of a year to explore. Modern books slow time down to a visceral crawl. Case in point? For as good as Ultimate Spider-Man is… did you know it took Bendis five-plus years of bi-monthly issues to cover a single year of Peter Parker’s life? In 60 issues in the 60s, Spider-Man had fought 47 villains, went to college, teamed up with the Avengers, became a lounge singer, and still had time to forget to bring the eggs home for Aunt May.
The key here, in this carpy columnist’s opinion, is balance. Not every book needs to “write for the trade.” Some of the best comic books I own are single-issue stories that aren’t anchored to one trade or another. When done well (for example, GrimJack: The Manx Cat), a dense story across six books can feel like a novel in and of itself. When done poorly (the middle 30s and 40s of Irredeemable), a decompressed story can feel more like a worthless stall and cash-grab.
Far be it from me to spend so long pontificating about the pacing of a story as my article gets longer and longer. I guess when it comes down to it… to summarize… or in other words, wrap things up: Pacing in modern comics has never been more important. As a fan, all we can hope for is a feeling that we’ve gotten our money’s worth by the time we place the comic in its bag and board.
It’s interesting to watch different interpretations on a given character. Later this summer we’ll see Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/The Amazing Spider-Man and can compare/contrast it with Tobey Maguire’s version in the previous three Spider-Man movies.
For me, it’s even more interesting when you compare two different versions in two different media. You can do that with Spider-Man or any of a number of different superheroes recently. The upcoming Avengers movie will offer that in spades.
The one I’m focusing on here, however, is the character of U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens, created by Elmore Leonard in a number of short stories and books, the most recent being Raylan. He’s also the central character on FX’s Justified, which just wound up its third season recently.
For many, Elmore Leonard is the best crime novelist writing today and one of America’s best novelists – period. Lots of his stuff has been adapted to movies, including 3:10 to Yuma, twice, and Get Shorty, which resuscitated John Travolta’s career) He’s not always expressed pleasure with adaptations of his work but he’s pleased with Justified which is as should be seeing that he’s listed among the writers for the series and is among the executive producers.
The character of Raylan Givens is a throwback, a frontier type lawman in the modern world. He’s not above prompting the bad guy to draw on him, dispensing his own kind of justice in a way that works as justifiable homicide. Hence the title. He cuts it a little too close in Miami and gets sent back to Kentucky from whence he came and to which he’s not real keen to return.
The cowboy imagery is re-enforced by the cowboy hat that Raylan habitually wears. In the books and short story, he wears an open road Stetson hat, flat brimmed, similar (according to Leonard) to the hats worn by the Dallas Police at the time of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. In the TV series, it’s a hand-modified Stetson 4x beaver with a basket weave embossed leather hatband, with a three piece buckle set. Does it make a difference? It does to Elmore Leonard who does not care for the TV version. I’ve seen both hats and, well, Elmore Leonard is wrong. There, I said it. And it underscores what has to happen in adapting what works on the page to what works on the screen, big or little. The hat on Justified is a better visual.
Raylan Givens is laconic, iconic, and charismatic, especially as embodied by Timothy Olyphant for the TV series. Elmore Leonard has a great way with dialogue and the TV series stays true to that. It also keeps true to Leonard’s worldview and sense of character. I read somewhere that the producers of the TV series approach the writing by asking, “What Would Elmore Do?”
In watching the series and reading the prose, it’s interesting to see how plot elements in Raylan were taken and adapted to the series, some more successfully than others. There’s a plot involving illegal harvesting of human kidneys that plays better in the novel than in the series, mainly because on TV it gets squeezed in as a subplot and done in essentially one episode.
On the other hand, the TV series has made changes that were brilliant. Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins, dies at the end of the story Fire In the Hole. The TV series wisely let him survive and change and grow into a truly compelling character. Mags Bennett, played by Margo Martindale who won an Emmy for her portrayal, is new to the series, to the best of my knowledge, although her sons are in Raylan along with their father.
There’s a plot involving a coal company and the woman representing it to the community that it has poisoned and that’s about the same in both the book and the series. Elmore Leonard has used elements and characters that have appeared in the series just as the series has used characters and elements that have appeared in the stories.
It’s apples and oranges, I know, but if I had to pick, which would I prefer – the series or the novel? To be honest, I prefer the TV series. The novel, Raylan, is more like a series of linked short stories; each one has its own climax and then it’s on to the next one but there’s no overall climax. Each season of Justified has worked as an entity of its own and reaches a single climax to end a given season.
Both are worth the investment of your time and together they form a sort of alternate universe take on the main character, Raylan Givens. Same guy but slightly different incarnations. It’s a concept familiar to comic book readers or viewers of Fringe. Ah, Fringe. That’s another column at some point in the future.
What goes into making a memorable character for a story?
According to Lawrence Block, author of over one hundred novels and recipient of the Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America, they must be three things: plausible, sympathetic, and original.
I think that’s a damn good definition of what makes a character real. Except that I think Mr. Block used the wrong word. It’s not “sympathetic,” it’s “empathetic.” Now, sympathy and empathy are kissing cousins, but sympathy, I think, allows the individual to separate from the character just a bit, to feel for the character while still allowing for some separation – six degrees of separation, if you will. Empathy, on the other hand causes the individual to feel with the character– it’s the recognition of self in someone else.
Without that recognition, without that empathy, the character is in danger of falling flat, of eliciting a “who cares?” response. The great characters are empathetic – Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With The Wind, the Joad family (especially Tom and “Ma”) of The Grapes Of Wrath, Vito and Michael Coreleone of The Godfather, Caleb Trask of East Of Eden, Joe and Kirsten Clay of Days Of Wine And Roses, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, King George VI in The King’s Speech.
In comics there is Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and his sister, Death, the X-Men’s Max Eisenhardt/Erik Lensherr/Magneto and Jean Grey/Phoenix (Dark and “Light”), Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman. Of course there are more; I just chose those characters that appeared at the top of my head as I write this. You will have your own characters that engender empathy.
Originality is hard. The history of storytelling begins when our ancestors first sat down around the fire and told tales to ward off the dark night. The history of storytelling is ripe with heroes and villains, love and betrayal, valor and cowardice. Originality, I think, comprises the total picture. As Block says in his book Telling Lies For Fun And Profit, “it’s not the quirks that make an enduring character, but the essential personality which the quirks highlight.” In other words, and like I said, it’s the whole picture, the complete character or individual that makes him or her an original.
Norma Desmond’s quirk is her inability to adjust to age and talkies, to realize and accept that time, and Hollywood, has marched on. Tom Joad’s quirk is his inability to accept injustice, even if it causes him to murder, which he sees as no injustice. Vito Coreleone’s quirk is to see the world as an “us against them” scenario, to nurture the family while attacking the world. Michael Coreleone’s quirk is to talk of love and loyalty to the family while he destroys it. Swamp Thing’s quirk is that he is a plant trying to be a man. And Death loves life, even as she takes it away.
Plausibility allows the reader to suspend his or her disbelief, to accept that the actions of the character are true and real and acceptable. Now in comics, of course, plausibility is a two-edged sword. Of course we know that nobody can fly; nobody is invulnerable or runs at supersonic speed; no one can turn invisible or survive the explosion of a gamma bomb (except Bruce Banner, of course!) But as readers of superhero comics, we willingly suspend our disbelief, the implausibility of the character, before we even open the book. Why? Well, I think it has something to do with the capturing of our imagination, the “what if?” factor that I wrote about several months ago. But I also think that the other factors mentioned above play a role in our acceptance of Superman or Rogue. Empathy: “I get it. I know what it’s like to be Rogue, to be unable to really touch someone, to really get close to someone.” Or “Yeah, sometimes I feel like Kal-El, a stranger in a strange land.”
I watched Game Change on HBO. The movie is based on Game Change:Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann of New York magazine and Mark Halperin of Time. Both men are seasoned politically analysts, and their book, which was released on January 11, 2010, is an inside look at the Presidential campaign of 2008. The HBO movie focuses on Palin, played by Julianne Moore, from the moment the McCain campaign decides to ask her to be his running mate to Obama’s running mate.
The movie is riveting. Moore buries herself completely into the role, and I’m guaranteeing right now that she wins an Emmy for her performance. Sarah Palin is, without a doubt, love her or hate her, an original. She is empathetic – and sympathetic – as she works to maintain her sense of self and, love them or hate them, her own beliefs against the McCain and Republican political machinery.
But is she plausible? The movie shows that, as far as being capable of being “one heartbeat away from the Presidency,” Palin was an implausible candidate. But don’t tell that to the huge – and I mean huge – groundswell of love and support she engendered.
Yesterday afternoon I went to my local comic book store, Vector Comics, to pick up my haul. Joe and Tina, the terrific and wonderful owners of the shop, were busy with other customers, so I browsed through the stacks to see if anything not on my list that caught my interest. (Actually, almost everything piques my appetite, and if I allowed myself to buy everything I want, I couldn’t pay the rent!)
Know what I found? The Sarah Palin comic from Bluewater Comics.
In honor of Marvel’s next big event, I’ve decided to take a week off of thinking hard. Instead I’ll do what they’re doing: Wasting your time by forcing two characters to fight for your entertainment.
Of course I don’t have the resources to produce artwork. Nor do I have the time to create an actual script. Instead, I’ll just take this idea to a few different levels, and ultimately create enough sweeping declarations to get some beautifully angry comments. I love beautifully angry comments.
In this corner: Bruce “The Rich Kid” Wayne and his amazing belt of knickknacks! That’s right, it’s everyone’s favorite powerless pugilist… the billionaire with bats in his belfry, The Batman!
And in this corner wearing skin-tight underwear and a mask without a mouth hole… Marvel’s favorite orphan, Peter “I was a jerk once, and I’m paying for it every day…” Parker! That’s right, it’s the web-slinging, science-spitting, devil-befriending behemoth… The Sensational Spider-Man!
Now there are a few ways to tally the fight. Since I’ve got inches of column to waste, let’s start with the obvious: In a street fight with absolutely no planning, Spider-Man would stomp Batman into a bloody pulp. Bats may have one of the greatest minds in comics, but at the end of the day, no amount of gadgets and Kevlar will out-match a fighter like Spider-Man. Not only is Spidey more agile, he’s also got superior strength and maneuverability. Batman can use all the kung fu in his repertoire, but Spider-Man has the actual super-powers.
I will concede this though: if these two were pitted against one another and had any chance to plan the bout, Batman would knock Parker out like the Orkin Man. Batman’s tactics, gadgets, and ability to use his terrain to his advantage trumps Spider-Man’s physical prowess. And while Spidey is a super-genius… a brilliant fighter he is not. Simply put, with any amount of time to prepare, Brucey’s coming out bruised but boastful.
Fan-service aside, how about we put these two against one another by way of the TeeVee. On the silver screen, Bats takes the trophy. Spider-Man had a few live action cameos on the Electric Company, and a simply too-terrible-to-believe live action show. Batman had Adam West. And you can say what you want about those kooky cavalcades with Burt Ward… but the zeitgeist here nods towards the cape and cowl when it comes to overall quality. Somedays, you just don’t have a place to throw a bomb.
When the battle gets animated, that’s really where Spidey gets killed. Not for lack of trying. The late 60s gave us a decent Spider-Man cartoon. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was… a larf. In the 90s Fox Kids gave us a series that started strong, but became hampered by way-too-long season arcs, and an entirely forgettable last season – that saw the trope of guest stars used piss-poorly. In the mid-late-aughts the Sensational Spider-Man was fantastically done, but cut way too short. In contrast, Batman started slow (in the Super Friends, and then helping out Scooby Doo), but finished amazingly. Yeah The Batman in the early aughts was an atrocity, but Bruce Timm’s animated Batman Adventures wrote the bible on quality cartoons. And The Brave and the Bold was a campy trip that started off too-kiddie, but quickly found its footing in the hyper-kitsch fan-service delivery. By my count Bats wins by four Emmys.
OK, so Bat’s wins the battle of the silver screen. How about we take a trip to the movies? Consider my math: Spider-Man 1? A minus. Spider-Man 2? A solid A. Spider-Man 3? … D. Now over at the Batcamp, let’s take stock. The Adam West Bat-Movie? Don’t count. The Burton Bat-Films: B. The Schumaker Schlock? D… if I’m being nice. The Nolan-verse? Well, if there’s a grade above A, I’d give it. At the end of the day, there’s been more guano out there than there’s been Spider-poop. So I tip the hat to the wacky web-shooter in the battle of the big screen. And he can take that win to the sock-hop.
But how about where it really counts? On the page. I guess I’m sad to say I don’t have the proper license to weigh in on that particular bout. As I stated last week, my exposure to Spider-Man in comics-proper is poor at best. Admittedly I have a very extensive Bat-Collection, so I’m more than likely biased. Given my knowledge though of Spider-Man’s bullet-list of plot threads, I might still be inclined to tip the hat back to the Bat. He does have a few decades more history to draw on though, so it may very well be an unfair fight.
I will say this: In the time since my birth, Batman has had his back broken, his mantle stolen, his sidekick murdered, his life unraveled by several secret societies, his bastard son joining his menagerie, and has survived two or ten universal resets.
In that same amount of time, all I’ve really heard about Spider-Man that really stuck was that he nixed his marriage to Mary Jane to save Aunt May. And there was a clone saga people didn’t like. And he had an Iron-Spider suit. And a black suit. And a cosmic suit. And at some point was tied to an ancient race of animal totem warriors or something. In terms of only recognizable milestones (that haven’t been universally hated) … Batman would take the crown. Prove me wrong.
So there you have it. A few hundred words on an amazing battle. So it’s time for you weigh in. Was I too favorable to Time-Warner’s titan? Does Spider-Man have more going for him than a six-pack and a quip dictionary? Who has the better rogues gallery? Who has the better friends? Man, this could be a whole new column next week. I guess it depends on you, the gentle reader of my column.
At the end of the day, in the battle between Batman and Spider-Man? The winner is you.
I don’t own a single Spider-Man comic. Wait, scratch that. I own some painted comic released in the mid-aughts… Secret War. Didn’t care for it.
That being said, I love Spider-Man. I loved his cartoon in the 90s. I loved the Sensational Spider-Man cartoon even more. I owned Maximum Carnage for the Super Nintendo. I played about 8000 hours worth of Spider-Man 2 for the original Xbox. So, with all the love I have for the character, why don’t I subscribe to a single web-headed book? Well, consider it a barrier to entry. Never found the right jumping on point.
Until now. Dan Slott’s upcoming in-book epic “Ends of the Earth” looks to be as good a point as ever to jump on. Given my recent love affair with the Fantastic Four… I figure why not roll the dice on the House of Mouse one more time. You see, deep down my love of the character stems from the fact that he’s generally been written to think his way out of problems – and that’s something I’m finding more and more keeps me reading comics.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” This we know. When I think of other classic (and current) comic book heroes… their books always come down to the best use of a super power. It’s akin to the ‘85 Bears victory in the Super Bowl: it’s all about brute strength. In Blackest Night? It was collection of rainbow raiders and a deus ex machina in the form of “It was Black Hand all along! Now shoot him!” In Fear Itself? Solved by a ton of punching, and Odin getting off his ass. Even in the non-epic books, I see too many stories solving their problems with mindless fighting, and sheer force-of yelling. Hell, Avengers Vs. X-Men is essentially based on that entire 13-year-old wet dream of a concept. And frankly… it’s really old hat.
When I was first getting into comics, no doubt it was all about the fighting, and punching, and super powers. A grand excuse for violence and gratuitous action sequences. And the books at that time gave in to the gluttony. Spawn was belched out of the machine that demanded insane amounts of gore, and detail, and splash pages… And the reason why his stock (and its four-barreled-thigh-pouch kin) sits somewhere a thimble above “wait, that’s still a thing?” is because the book never grasped for more than a climax built on banality.
When a movie, a book, even a song reaches for the middle, our brains turn off. The reason why Karate Kid is better than Sidekicks (aside from the obvious….)? Because Danny Larusso defeats Johnny with his mind more than his body. Yes it was about perseverance, but I contest that it was that moment when he realized the crane kick could win him the match… we as an audience collectively feel like the win is earned. It’s the reason why Batman is always better than Superman. Because nine times out of ten, Batman saves the day because he figures a way out to do so. Superman, nine times out of ten, uses one of his 1,000,000 powers.
I recently reviewed Blue Beetle #6 over on MichaelDavisWorld. In said review I was elated by the book’s choice to have their azure-hued bug boy save the day not by commanding his alien armor to make a bigger-better-bug-zapper… but by out thinking his opponent. The whole reason I’m looking forward to this Sinister Six arc in Spider-Man is because my first thought is “in this modern take on Spidey, how is he going to think his way out of being pummeled by sextet of sinister sleeze-bags?” Don’t get me wrong, I want to see plenty of quips, punches, web-shooty-balls-of-justice, and kicks-to-the-mush – I just want the day to be saved by Peter Parker’s greatest power… his mind.
In comics, we build up an antagonist – an alien race, a long lost angry god, a crazy man with a gun and a diaper – and pit our titular heroes in combat with them. Whether the Avengers are fighting the Kree, the Skrulls, Ultron, Enron, or the X-Men… only those with a short attention span and a “most-posted” badge on a message board are truly salivating on just the outcome of a fight. As a reader, I genuinely feel like the best stories give us an arc that introduces us to something we didn’t think of in the first place. When the only thing that stands in the way of a happy ending is a well placed punch we end up with Michael Bay’s Transformers… pretty to look at, and not much else.
That being said, I’m going to go look at my script for the Samurnauts. My original page of notes for the climax literally says “use some mega-super move… lots of photoshoppery.” Looks like I better get thinking…
Followers of the Alternate Reality Game hinted at in the recent trailer of “The Amazing Spider-Man” have been watching the web site markofthespider-man.com to play along as people found backpacks from Peter Parker and followed clues and instructions to tag certain locations with Spider-graffiti and take pictures.
Now those efforts have born fruit as the tasks have been completed, and we’ve all been rewarded with a new clip from the film.
The film opens July 3rd and stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, and Sally Field.
So I found myself with a bit of time to kill while my wife and mother-in-law went out and about for lunch. My week-old son and I decided it was time to enjoy a bit of cable TV goodness. A quick surf left with me few options. Food Network was showing yet-another cupcake show… USA was playing that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where his wife is a shrew and his mother annoys him, and TBS was on Tyler Perry’s Black People Watch Everything I Put Out, Not That It’s Good. And FX? Callooh-Callay! They had on the Fantastic Four movie from a few years back. Given that I was still sporting half a nerd-boner for the Super Bowl Avengers spot, and the recent web-release of The Amazing Spider-Man trailer, FF seemed like the perfect way to wet my whistle for a bit of comic goodness.
Granted, I’ve seen the movie a few times. Saw it opening weekend, and didn’t hate it. Didn’t love it either, but somehow, it was one of those guilty “Hey, if it’s on, it’s really not that bad is it?” pleasures. A few hours later, my favorite ladies returned to a house with both their boys rife with a case of the cranky pants. I’m pretty sure my son Bennett had pooped himself. I didn’t have a mess in my trousers, but I had a tear in my eye. Seems I crossed that threshold where the movie stopped being “worth” the free cable viewing, and slid right into “Good lord, people paid money for this crap?” zone.
I could spend the remainder of this column dissecting how putrid the FF movie ended up being. But it’s old-hat, right? So, why not make this a turn for the positive. I’d like to outline four things Marvel can do to reboot the familial franchise into something… dare I say… more fantastic.
1. Explore the emotional origins as well as the basic plot points. We all know the bullet points by now, don’t we? On an outer space adventure… they got hit by cosmic rays. And that moment changed forever… in the most fantastic ways. No need to fear, their here… just call the four! Sorry, it was a damn catchy theme song. Suffice to say, the rocket ride with Kirby dots isn’t ALL that the origin of the FF is. You have romance between Sue and Reed. You have Ben, the stalwart pilot. Johnny, the joker, and comic relief. While these points were hit on in the last iteration, we miss the history. Use flashbacks (ala Batman Begins) to enhance our emotional ties to the characters. It’s not a race to the whiz-bang-special effects, when you have solid characterization. And each of the Four present a solid opportunity for fun beats.
2. Ditch the “We’re learning to use our powers until it matters at the end” montage. Face it. What killed Green Lantern (OK, one of the things that killed it…) was the age-old power development plot line. A solid 45 minutes of the last FF movie spent time building the revolvers it would later shoot at the movie’s climax. It’s just not needed. When you cross over into the sci-fi, plausibility takes a backseat to adventure. If we took time to dissect the fact that Luke Skywalker was able to get a shot into a teeny hole on a battle station that decimated nearly all of his backup (who were all far more experienced fighter pilots)… we’d go mad. Once you accept that “Comic Rays” can turn one man into a walking pilot light, and another into silly putty, you don’t need to spend an hour back-peddling to make us “believe” they’ll know what to do when it’s clobbering time.
3. The big villain? Mole Man. Follow me down the rabbit hole if you will. Batman Begins took a venerable B-Lister in Ra’s Al Ghul as its first antagonist. It was a smart choice. As Nolan said in countless interviews, the villain suits the arc the hero takes across the movie. In Spider-Man 2 (easily the best of Raimi’s Marvel contributions), we got a brilliant update on a pretty mort-worthy villain. And because Peter was learning to have balance in his life during the course of the movie, Doc Oc was a perfect foil. The Fantastic Four have a pretty decent rogues gallery. It’s easy to want to jump immediately to Doom or Galactus. But the first in a franchise needn’t aim so high. In both cases, those villains would outshine the stars of the film. First and foremost, it’s the FF that people should be ooohing and aaahing over. With Mole Man you have an obvious foe who will test the Four and their ability to become this odd family unit of world-savers. The villain fits the arc, as it were. Plus, it gives us a chance to recreate that iconic first issue cover on the big screen. And you know that’d be the bee’s knees.
4. Casting. Most every comic book film lands an amazing cast… even if they don’t get utilized properly. I didn’t hate anyone in the last FF iteration per say, but let’s be honest – Ioan Gruffudd looked OK but lacked the cockiness-by-way-of-supreme-intelligence. Jessica Alba was there for eye-candy only. Chris Evans stole the show, Michael Chiklis looked the part, but had no Yancy Street swagger. Ole’ Blue Eyes needs have a definitive balance between boisterous banter and tragic pathos. Some of this could easily be the scripting, but let’s say I was a casting agent? I’d cast accordingly: Jon Hamm as Mr. Fantastic. Uma Thurman as Sue Storm. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as Johnny Storm. And Brendan Fraser as Ben Grimm. Hamm can pull off “the smartest man in the room, with ease. Thurman is equally weighted when on screen (and can pull off shorter hair, and heroic). Paul can sling insults, and certainly could look the part… And Fraser, who I know most would say is a stretch, is built big, can pull off a New York accent, and has more potential than most nerds give him credit for. And as my Mole Man? Paul Giamatti. He’s damn good in everything.
So there you have it. I know a new FF movie is already in the works… here’s hoping someone over at Marvel is trolling my articles, and a few of my hopes and dreams gets swept into the pre-production fracas. What do you think? Voice your opinion below, true believers!