There are two types of comic book characters that are nearly impossible to sustain: the omnipotent hero, and the omnipotent villain.
Whereas both feed nicely into the mythic environment, both suffer the same problem. If they can do anything, what can they do next?
Many decades ago, Michael Moorcock more-or-less tackled this question in his “Dancers at The End of Time” series of novels. Those who lived in the pocket universe of Moorcock’s creation could create, recreate, and alter any aspect of “reality” at any time. But this series was much more fantasy than heroic fantasy, even as contained within the author’s dark worldview. Characters are omnipotent, but they remain individuals with their own unique flaws and predilections.
In contemporary superhero stories, in comics and in the sundry external media, we do not have the luxury of controlling our landscape. We work in collaborative environments with a nearly infinite number of characters, and it seems damn near as many creators. So if one creator had something very specific in mind, in short order diverse hands will interpret it, reinterpret it, mold it or simply ignore it in order to fit the needs of the present story.
Let’s take Darkseid as an example. When Jack Kirby created him, he maintained complete control of the character. Nobody else in the DC universe deployed him for use in their storylines. One could argue that much of the DCU at the time could have used a massive Kirby infusion; then again, one could argue that such appropriation would have pissed Jack off the way it did when he was creating magic at Marvel.
Jack’s Darkseid was about as omnipotent as a character could be. I had the impression that when one of his well-populated schemes was near defeat, the stone-faced guy simply found it … interesting. He would note the results, evaluate the efforts of his lackeys, and move on to the next scheme. “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” or, at least, wiser. It would have been interesting to see how far Kirby could have taken that.
After he left DC, others picked up the characters and the mythology and slowly but surely incorporated it into the DCU. Some – many – of these writers and artists were among the best working in the genre at the time. But by expanding Darkseid’s story turf, they had to weaken the guy slowly but surely. He remained the most evil of the bad guys, but he was just that: the badist of a well-known and growingly tiresome bunch. The more he was around the more he was defeated, and he couldn’t continue to simply walk off-panel with his arms behind his back nonchalantly voicing philosophical folderol.
Overuse undermines the uniqueness of the character. Just ask The Joker.
So how do you stop the unstoppable, or, as Superman editor Mort Weisinger said (frequently), “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Well, what could happen is, you get one hell of a good superhero story.
The first time.
After that, such characters get weakened or get tiresome or both. There’s no suspense in repeatedly observing the adventures of a being that is both unstoppable and immovable. You can bring the character back after a significant period – something superhero comics seem incapable of doing – when and only when you have a story that is worthy of its cast.
Redundancy undermines uniqueness, and uniqueness becomes tedious.
Warning! Danger! Spoilers! I saw the movie, I’m going to talk about the movie, there may be some plot spillage. Yadda yadda yadda.
As 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.
This is not a review of Suicide Squad, the latest movie that pisses off the critics. John deserves first crack at that, and you’ll see it in his regular space here at ComicMix this Sunday. And Arthur does his weekly review thing, and I wouldn’t usurp his turf. And I’ll bet our pal Robert gets a few comments in well before the home video release. Yeah, I’ll offer a few opinions here, but after reading the inner-most thoughts of so many of those professional movie reviewers I feel a strong desire to pull the bedsheet off of the painting.
Here’s the bird’s eye lowdown: the professional movie critics are sick and tired of superhero movies. Be warned – no matter what’s up there on the screen, the critics have wandered out of the theater in search of Elvis. Capes and cowls are crap. Enough is enough. Screw you, Robert Downey Junior.
Suicide Squad is not the Gone With The Wind of superhero flicks, and after Batman v Superman and The Killing Joke, it probably seems better to me than it should. Yeah, there’s too many people in it: without them, you can’t establish a squad. There’s one completely unnecessary supervillain plotline, which seems to be the hallmark of recent DC-based adaptations. Big deal. Suicide Squad belongs to three of the most compelling characters in contemporary comics: Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller, and The Joker. And The Joker is only there to establish why Harley is Harley – and Harley is… complicated.
Here’s my big review: if you pull the stick out of your ass before it, and you, plump down into your popcorn-littered seat, you just might have fun.
Suicide Squad the movie is fun. It’s not Deadpool type fun, although the first DC/Marvel movie crossover should be Harley Quinn Meets Deadpool. Yeah, I don’t think that will happen either.
If you’re a movie critic or a professional Internet crank, “fun” doesn’t pay the rent. Critics’ vitriol should be measured the way most guys measure their penis, confusing inches with millimeters. The genre is not done. The genre has been with us since Douglas Fairbanks Senior first donned Zorro’s mask. Costumed heroes are a movie staple. If the earth didn’t open up and swallow those theaters playing Batman v Superman, the genre is safe.
Pick up a newspaper. Read about Donald Trump. The zika virus. ISIS. Killer cops. Hurricanes and tornados. Mongo crashing into Earth. After all that, trust me, Suicide Squad is a fun movie worthy of your time and your need to relax after all that heavy lifting.
Superhero movies have been with us for 100 years and, whereas the current fad will lessen eventually, they will be with us for the next 100 years.
On August 1, the Suicide Squad movie premieres in NYC and I’ll be there. I’ve watched the trailers and the hype and, I must say, I’m hyped up. From everything I can see, David Ayer (the writer/director) and the cast have read my work on the Squad comic and are using it. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller especially seems pulled from what I did and for me personally that’s very exciting.
I don’t expect the film to be a direct translation of the comic; this is a different medium and has different needs. I love my fans a lot but there’s not enough of them to fill a single theater for a week. The movie has to appeal to those who never heard of the comic. However, in its DNA, this is the Squad I created. At its core is the concept of The Dirty Dozen with supervillains. That was my concept. Amanda Waller was my creation. So – yeah, that’s my Squad up there.
The Squad as a comic and I suspect as a film will also reflect, to a certain degree, some of my sensibilities. The main one will be the moral tones of gray. For a long time, despite being in four colors, comics were very black and white. There were Heroes (white) and Bad Guys (black) and the Good Guys beat up the Bad Guys. Comics were very primal in their Good Vs. Evil.
I don’t see things like that and I don’t write that, especially with the Squad. With the Squad, the bad guys are forced to “do good,” with that “good” defined by Amanda Waller who herself is morally very gray. Even the “heroes” who went along to keep the Squad in line were themselves compromised morally, often just by being associated with the Squad. They had their own problems. No one was 100% good – or 100% bad either.
That’s how I see people so that is how I must write them if I am to write honestly. Shakespeare has Hamlet say
I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me. . .
I think that’s true of all of us. We are all only indifferent honest.
These days that may not be a popular view. There’s a lot of black and white thinking out there. People are viewed in black and white terms; issues are defined in black and white terms. Too often discussions these days start from the premise “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Politics and religion are prime culprits in this but fandom can be the same way. Example: when Wil Smith was cast as Deadshot some people were outraged – the film was going to suck because Deadshot wasn’t white. No discussion was allowed.
I can go that route as much as anyone. I really don’t like Donald Trump and I’m not prepared to reconsider it. I don’t understand people who are in his corner; I find him to be a dangerous megalomaniac. However, my job as a writer to to find a way to understand him and his supporters. Where is something like them, like Trump, in me? If I wanted to write a Trump-like character and not make him just a cartoonish buffoon (well, any more of a cartoonish buffoon than he already is), I have to find those parts of myself that resonate with him, with them.
Once, in Wasteland, I wrote a story from the perspective of a serial killer. I wanted the reader to identify with him, to find out where he lived in them so first I had to find those points in myself. That took me to some very creepy places but, I think, the story worked. From what I’ve read, Jared Leto felt he had to do something like that to play the Joker in the Squad film. It’s a weird contradiction – you have to use empathy to create a character without empathy. And then I ask the reader to go there as well.
Ultimately, with the Squad stories I wrote, I asked the readers to identify with the villains. As Will Smith’s Deadshot says in one of the trailers, “Don’t forget – we’re the bad guys.” If the film works (and I think it’s going to), it will ask the audience to identify with these “bad guys” – just as we did in the comic.
Hopefully, we will all be uncomfortably entertained.
It’s tough to read, it must have been tough to write, and knowing that makes it even tougher to read. Of course, doing so is at the reader’s discretion. The writer had no choice but to live it.
Dark Night is subtitled “a true Batman story” and, well, it is. It is true, and it is a Batman story. And it’s Paul Dini’s story.
Paul is one of those people who needs no introduction. However, if I don’t give him one I’ll be taunting the ghost of my junior-year high school journalism teacher, and after reading this book I don’t want to piss off anyone in the ecto-sphere. Mr. Dini is the well-celebrated writer of animation, television, video games and comic books. He’s perhaps best known for his work on Tiny Toon Adventures and on Batman: The Animated Series. Oh, yeah, and he co-created Harley Quinn with animator Bruce Timm. Now that I’ve made the late Mr. Koerner happy…
Some two dozen years ago, Paul was walking home in the dead of the Los Angeles night and encountered a couple of muggers who proceeded to beat the crap out of him. Surgery saved his sight and time put the rest of his pulped body together, although – of course – the psychological scars are far more enduring. Your brain scoops up all kinds of life-long memories and turns them up to 11, distorting them like two elephants mating on a wah-wah pedal. The inner-dialog never really ends, even while you try to figure out how to stuff it in its place. In this telling, Paul uses the characters of the Batman, the Joker, Two-Face, the Penguin and, yes, Harley Quinn as that inner-voice, all the while revealing the youthful neuroses common to those of us pop culture fans of baby boomer vintage.
It’s a harrowing experience made all the more horrific for the reader by knowing it’s a hell of a lot easier to read than it is to live. For those few who have never endured any degree of that experience, let me tell you this: releasing the story might be cathartic, but taking another peek into Pandora’s Box is risky to say the least.
Paul Dini is and has been one of the best comics and animation writers of the past 30 years and if all you’ve done is read and watched his stuff, you might not have known of his travails. While writing Dark Night might be his crowning achievement (after all, how you do top your own bloody, painful near-death experience?) in so doing he has taken American graphic novel writing to a whole new level, combining his life, his obsessions and his lifelong fictional posse to reveal a journey no one in his or her right mind would ever want take. People will be studying this book in writing schools forever.
I said this is Paul’s story, and that story is so overwhelming that at first reading you might miss the power and proficiency of artist Eduardo Risso’s work. Don’t worry; it’ll hit you once you wrest your nose from your belly button. Known for his work on 100 Bullets, Alien Resurrection, Wolverine and that otherDark Knight book released this year, his efforts are every bit as worthy as the story. Whomever put together that creative team – Paul, and/or editor Shelly Bond (who will be missed at DC) and/or others – hit the nail right on the head.
A non-fiction story co-starring Batman. Damn. This one was tough… and worth it.
Personal note: Really glad you made it through, Paul!
The other day at work I met a young man who is a surgical technician. Since I’m an operating room nurse, that’s an everyday occurrence. But what caught my eye was his scrub hat, which was a pattern of Batman’s insignia. So of course I immediately said, (duh) “So I’m guessing you’re into Batman.” And everything else was forgotten for a little while as he and I shared tales of our membership in Club Geek.
I bring this up because this Batman – that’s his actual nickname at work – absolutely loved Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. He has seen it three times, he told me, and wouldn’t mind going back for a fourth viewing. Being that this was the first time I was meeting him, I was polite and didn’t scoff or tell him that he’s an idiot. I did say that I hadn’t seen it yet, that I hate what Zack Snyder had done to the Man of Steel (pun intended) and that speaking I’m not a Snyder fan, that people I know with whom I work with and respect here at ComicMix have seen it pretty much hated it (see Mike Goldand Marc Alan Fishman’s columns, as well as Arthur Tebbel’s (review), and that I had decided to wait until the movie hits the streaming and cable markets.
“And I especially don’t like the idea of Batman using a gun. He’s not the Punisher,” I said. “The whole thing with Batman is that he operates, he lives, on that line between justice and vigilantism. It’s a tightrope between good and evil.”
Well, scrub tech Batman explained to me that Robin’s death (“by the Joker,” I interceded, to which he said, “Yeah, but the movie doesn’t show that,” to which I said, “Well, we know about it because of Dark Knight, but from what I understand his killing rampage comes out of nowhere, and don’t you think it should have at least mentioned the Joker for those not in the know?”) has driven Batman over the edge and that it makes perfect sense. “And it’s cool,” he said. “It’s really cool.”
Which got me to thinking later on – I didn’t ask scrub tech Batman how old he is, but he’s definitely a Millennial, and that’s the generation that’s come to adulthood in a world in which “death by bullet” is an everyday occurrence; in a world in which “guilt” and “innocence” doesn’t mean a thing; in a world in which fucked up wing-nuts use AK-47’s to settle arguments; in a world where police kill kids and beat up drivers for not signaling a lane switch; in a world where campaign rallies become Nazi Beer Hall Putsches; and in a world where Islamic fundamentalists fly passenger jets into buildings, kidnap and behead reporters, and burn enemies alive – all brought to them in living color courtesy of the news and the Internet.
So it’s not really all that surprising, if you think about it, that scrub tech Batman accepts the new paradigm of brutality, ugliness, rage, and “gangsta-ism” in their fictional heroes.
This past weekend was WonderCon out in LA. DC made many announcements about it’s upcoming Rebirth, some of which we already had some idea about. Now we were given information on creative teams, like Scott Snyder heading up All-Star Batman with rotating artists including Sean Murphy and Paul Pope, and James Tynion IV taking the reigns on the soon to be back-numbered Detective Comics. One of the other Bat family announcements was that they will soon be revealing the Joker’s name.
The short answer is that Batman found out his name when he asked that question on the Möbius chair in Justice League #42 (42, the answer to the ultimate question of life. Coincidence?). The long answer is a combination of figuring out how to handle a decades old franchise coupled with changes in audience expectations.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. Don’t we already know the Joker’s name? Many comic historians will tell you that the Joker is Jerry Robinson. Some out there may still argue his name is Bill Finger or even Bob Kane. Or maybe it was Conrad Veidt?
His name has changed many times over the years. Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino, Denny O’Neil (Hi Denny!), Neal Adams, and many others. Personally, I liked when the Joker was both Marshall Rogers and Steve Englehart. Maybe sharing two minds helped to fuel his insanity. In more recent years, he’s gone by Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Grant Morrison, Dave McKean, Tony Daniel, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and many other names.
There are some purists out there who will tell you that no, the Joker only has one name. They’ll argue with you that his one true name is Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, or Heath Ledger. Some new Joker worshippers are even claiming that his real name has been Jared Leto all along. Perhaps we’ll find out soon enough.
Now that I’ve had my fun, I’ll address the long answer to that question (kind of the sort of thing the Joker does, isn’t it?) of why we are finding out the Joker’s name. The real answer is we’ve changed a lot as a society. Part of that is entertainment is different. Oddly enough, in the disposable age where we create more garbage than ever, the one thing we won’t discard is a story.
Way back in May of 1939 when Batman debuted, back when the United States was only comprised of the continental 48, comics were not intended to be reprinted the way they are today. Audiences were not expected to stick around either. No one imagined that a nine-year old reading Batman would still follow that character for decades to come. All of that came later. Television was the same way. People used to just pump out television programs and if an episode was rushed and turned out to be pretty bad, who cares! People will forget by next week. Who would ever see it again?
Now that’s all changed. We’ve gone back and we’ve read many of those stories. We’ve tried to make continuity out of stories that were never intended to have any originally because we demand that the world makes sense. We even demand that the Joker makes sense. Part of making the Joker make sense is giving him a name.
Personally, I have less than no interest in the Joker’s name. Just tell me a good story with the character. That’s not the point of the Joker. Audiences want it though. Or we think they do. In the age of the Internet, people want to know everything about the things they like. Many people “keep up” with comics by reading wiki entries of storylines at this point. Maybe it’ll sell a few comics too.
In defense of the decision to reveal the Joker’s name, audiences do appreciate an immersive world and I do appreciate that and I even enjoy that myself. Escapism is easier in a fully fleshed out world that we can imagine. When imaginary worlds leave out pieces of information like that, it can be harder to be immersed in that world. Plus, selling a few comics isn’t and shouldn’t be a bad thing. Having issues of comics sell big in this market helps to allow the wiggle room to try more experimental comics or to keep a critically acclaimed comic that might not be selling as well afloat for a few more months.
Either way, we’re finding out his name whether we like it or not. I could have sworn Tim Burton already told us his name was Jack. I don’t see why Burton would lie to us.
So I had written this week’s column about Marvel’s next big event, Civil War II, and how they’re going to be killing off a major character. I wrote about how it’s unoriginal, uninspiring, and how I wish we could do better. I was even planning on titling it “Civil Disobedience.” Really clever stuff. Then I woke up at 5:30am on Monday, January 11th to news that I didn’t think I’d hear for many, many years to come: David Bowie has passed away. What I had written my column about no longer mattered to me, and I started writing a new one. This one. About how important David Bowie is to a great many people, including myself. I’m just one of those great many people. When I a kid, David Bowie wasn’t terribly important to me. I was aware of him. I heard the big hits on the radio. My dad liked songs like Rebel, Rebel, and my mom owned at least the vinyl of David Live when she was a teenager, if I’m remembering that correctly. None of my friends were really into his music at the time either. Once I entered into college and became more aware of myself, I became more aware of who David Bowie was. Early on in college, I picked up The Best of Bowie followed by The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I absolutely loved it. David Bowie was the queer icon I needed at the time. I would later meet a guy named Jake who was barely a month older than me, whom we shared a Bowie obsession that we were delving into roughly around the same time in our lives. We would hunt down the different Rykodisc releases of his albums that had the bonus tracks on them. Those were good times and memories I still cherish. I would go on to consume his entire discography, dozens and dozens of bootlegs of concerts, b-sides and outtakes covering everything from The Laughing Gnome, Vampires of the Human Flesh, the unused tracks from Outside and far far more, and to burn more than a few Bowie mixes for my college friends and acquaintances on CD. David Bowie also led me to watch the film adaptation of the novel The Man Who Fell To Earth, which remains one of my favorite sci-fi films. The film stars David Bowie as someone who may or may not be an alien, who admits to being attracted to both men and women, and features a gay couple as well. It was the first time I had seen a sci-fi film tackle queerness, certainly that early on. It reinvigorated my love of sci-fi at a time in which it had been my favorite genre growing, but was starting to slip away from me as I identified less and less with it. I was just beginning to come into my own, grappling with my sexual identity and the ramifications of that. David Bowie was someone who was openly queer in varying degrees throughout his life, while also being a popstar and cultural icon beloved by people in both the straight and queer communities. That was a kind of reassurance I needed, and I’m grateful that he provided that for me. And the fact that someone who clearly identified so heavily with alienation could be revered by so many through multiple generations is incredibly rare and almost entirely unique in modern music history. His vocals ranged from haunting to awe-inspiring. We would see a great many bands rise from their feelings of alienation, but David Bowie made it cool. And he paved the way for all that came after him. That’s not to say that others didn’t attempt to do what he did before him, or that others before him weren’t successful, but none have permeated through our culture into every medium of entertainment the way that David Bowie has as singular entity. From his music to his acting career, which admittedly was not as successful as he had hoped, he had inspired storytellers. Even in comics, you’ll see many references to his work scattered over the decades. Bowie had even been considered for a part in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and was even considered for the role of The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. Kate Beaton has done multiple David Bowie inspired comics like this one, as countless other artists have tackled him in comics as well, often playing up his sexuality. David Bowie’s sexuality wasn’t entirely clear. It didn’t have to be. Early in his career he had claimed he was gay, then moved into bisexuality. It should come as no surprise that as the world changed and entered into a more conservative time, championed by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan, that Bowie’s personas started to downplay his flamboyance for a time as he began to stay he was not really bisexual after all. He didn’t flat out deny his intimacy with men in the past, and did not reach beyond that to condemn those who were queer. Later on, his sexuality was simply ambiguous. How David Bowie handled his sexuality is important. He showed me, and I’m sure many others, that we don’t need to be a prisoner of our sexual preferences. Our sexualities can change, evolve, and become more complex as we age, just like everything else does in our lives. I went through my own journey of not thinking about sexuality early on in my life and defaulting as straight, then moving into bisexuality, then gay, and finally identifying most closely with the idea of being queer. People like David Bowie living in the public eye and going through his changes helped me understand myself in a way that few other people in the public eye have, and I’m thankful to have lived in a time where that was possible. I could go on about the impact he’s had on the world, but you probably all already know that, or have people who are more well versed in all of those things who have spent time with him and have the sort of insights that I’ll never have. Rather, I’d like to end this by saying thank you for entertaining me by reading my thoughts, reflections, and (mostly) coherent ramblings on a man that’s had a profound impact on my life, countless other lives, and perhaps your own life, and that I hope this may have given you some insight on me, people like me, and perhaps yourselves.
The past Monday, Gotham had its fall finale. While the episode itself was a bit meh to not-bad, the show thus far this season has been darn good to dare I say great. Since I last wrote about James Gordon and friends, the show has really settled into a fantastic groove. It’s been so good, I’ve privately sang its graces enough to ComicMix‘s EIC, Mike Gold, such that he mentioned it on his rockin’ good radio show. When Mr. Gold recognizes your opinion as valued, then you know something must be going right.
With the new season dubbed “Rise of the Villains,” Gotham has added a bit more serialization to its previously procedural format. We started with the entrance of the never-been-comic-booked nemesis Theo Galavan. Introduced as a scene chewing billionaire by day/evil criminal mastermind by night, Theo’s been mostly a high point to the proceedings. Especially when he flipped the script and murdered the Joker. OK, should I have said spoiler alert? Nah.
One of the worst parts of any prequel is knowing where everything and everyone is headed. Gotham smartly sidestepped that and showed that it has no problem playing its audience a fool when Theo sliced the throat of the proto-Clown Prince of Crime. And while the ginger-haired Jerome was an astounding would-be Joe Kerr, the powers-that-be recognized that there can be too much of a good thing. One knife slit later, and suddenly the show is a bit more unpredictable than it was the week prior. When Gotham remembers that it need not follow any known scripts to see means to the eventual communal ends we know and love, things have been never better.
Gotham from the starting gate was clawing over itself to debut as many proto-villains as it could. The need for world-building outweighed the need to build and establish emotional arches for the bloated cast. Take the curious case of Edward Nygma.
When first we met the horn-rimmed medical examiner, most of us smacked our foreheads in frustration. Nygma was easily one of the worst parts of the show when it began. The fact that the writers shoved him unnecessarily into the fold at the GCPD felt like the cold, lifeless hand of the boardroom trying to script doctor its way into good synergy. Each time Nygma popped up, the show got goofy. And while camp has proven useful to lighten Gotham’s macabre production design, with Edward it always felt like a chore.
However, in season two we get to see the fruit from those wicked seeds. Halfway into “Rise of the Villains” and Eddie is a murdering, piano-dueting, BFF with Oswald Cobblepot. Remember when I said camp is useful? I beg you to answer the riddle of how taking the character 1000% away from anything resembling even the Jim Carrey performance somehow ended up with the Riddler being one of the high spots of the series. Maybe it was the slick turn from Nygma’s actor, Cory Michael Smith, in showcasing the dormant dichotomy within Nygma. Or maybe it was the writers leaning into the shared psychopathy of seemingly everyone in the show, allowing all problems to be eventually solved with murder. Whatever the specific answer to that riddle is, I assure you, making me care about Edward Nygma has been a huge win for the season at large.
And how could I forget the last son of Gotham? At the end of the first season, Bruce Wayne found his father’s secret cave of wonders (behind the fireplace, don’t ya’ know). I half gagged over the triteness of it all. Somehow, my silent prayers were answered. Season 2 has shown young Wayne to have finally gotten a dose of needed testosterone. Somewhere between firing, re-hiring, and demanding a fight education from Alfred to staging his own abduction to glean information from Silver St. Cloud, I saw the necessary glimpses of the man who would become the Bat.
Kudos for denoting Bruce’s love of owls. Well-played, fancy pants. And double kudos to the writer who wrote Wayne’s parting words in the fall finale, which denoted the young scion’s predilection to planning the perfect escape.
Ultimately Gotham has come a long way. It’s traveled from a groan-inducing parody of noir and Mafiaso procedural to a semi-serious / semi-camp gallivant loosely playing with every known rule in the Bat-handbook. There’s no doubt we’ll never get to an actual man in a cape and cowl striking fear into the hearts of men. Instead, we’ll travel to every dark and dank corner with a murder-happy grin-scowler in James Gordon as he cleans up the streets just enough to eventually need the help from a sexy Ben Affleck and frowny Henry Cavill.
And while we’re making our way there, the writers and producers will ruin every single villain and confident we think we knew… laughing maniacally all the way to the bank.
Another week, another kerfuffle. This one, involving a variant Batgirl cover for the “Joker Month” promotion at DC comics, is actually a little bit more interesting than most.
(Please note: I actually find most of these events interesting, which is why I write about them so frequently.)
In this case, the usual knee-jerk assumptions don’t apply. Artists were assigned to create a cover that featured the title character (in this case, Batgirl) and the Joker. The assignment was made, not by each series’ editor, but the marketing department. Rafael Albuquerque, the artist, decided to create an image that paid homage to one of his favorite Joker stories, The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.
I really like that story. There are people who have issues with it, and I understand their concerns, but, to me, it is a phenomenal meditation on the nature of madness, and those who have to live with it. I wasn’t happy about how the rest of the DC editorial office reacted to the show, deciding that Barbara Gordon was the only superhero ever to suffer an injury (or death) that wasn’t curable.
(Side note: I did like the way Kim Yale and John Ostrander took what I considered to be an unfortunate editorial decision and made Barbara stronger than ever, as Oracle. I still resented that Batman’s back could be fixed, but not Barbara’s.)
Anyway, all this changed with The New 52. Barbara Gordon can walk again. Barbara Gordon can do the kind of amazing acrobatics that require usable spines and lots of training and talent. More recently, the editorial office and creative team decided to recast the character as younger, hipper, and more girl-friendly.
The creative team was not happy with the Joker cover. A lot of fans of the new series, perhaps too young to have read The Killing Joke, were not happy with the Joker cover. Rafael Albuquerque, when made aware of the reasons for the controversy, was not happy with the cover.
There was also a lot of saber-rattling about censorship, which shows how little the public understands the word. The creative intent of the people creating the comic book was not supported by the variant cover, and they didn’t want it used. The only people who thought the cover was a good idea were those in marketing.
I do a lot of marketing work. I’m not opposed to marketing. That said, no one defending free speech has ever asserted that the needs of the marketing people should determine artistic expression. If anything, those of us who appreciate artistic freedom (even of work we don’t like) tend to prefer marketing people to butt out of editorial decision.
During the run-up to withdrawal, there were a lot of tweets and Facebook postings and other internet conversations about the issue. And, as so often happens on the Internet, some people got verbally abusive and threatening and there was name-calling and unpleasantness. DC alluded to this in their press release.
If you read the comments about this on the Comic Book Resources article (and I only read the first page or so, because I have a life, but not so much of one that I could stop thinking about the comments that I read), you’ll notice something unusual. After lots and lots of discussion about censorship and artistic integrity, the commenters are horrified that someone would threaten the artist. How could a difference of opinion about a piece of artwork justify such behavior? Isn’t the terrorism of an Internet threat more violent than the image in question?
Except no one was threatening Rafael Albuquerque. The threats were directed to those people (most often women) who didn’t like the cover. How could a difference of opinion about a piece of artwork justify such behavior?
It would be lovely if those who like the variant cover, who thought that it was horrible of the “social justice warriors” to threaten an artist, would 1) apologize to those they wrongly accused of making threats and 2) perhaps direct their outrage to those who actually do make threats, even if they agree with them otherwise.