theferrett: (Meazel)

Saladin Ahmed said on Twitter that Superman was more interesting than Batman: “He’s a ‘transracial’ adoptee immigrant kid, has an actual job, etc.”  And you hear that defense a lot from Superman fans – no, seriously, he’s really interestingHe’s got all that backstory!

The problem is, Superman’s only interesting choice was made long before he steps on-screen.  He decided not to use his powers for personal gain, but to selflessly use them to help the common man.

That’s awesome.  That’s why people like Superman – as an ideal, he’s perfect.  But unfortunately, having made that decision, he then never makes another interesting one again.  Because the whole point of Supes is that he’s not tormented about that choice – if you have a Superman who really wants to have a billion dollars, or really needs to shed his Clark Kent identity to show the world how awesome he is, or to just tell that old lady with the cat in the tree to fuck the hell off because he’s tired from saving Peking, well, an angsty Superman is not really Superman as we understand him.  Superman is comfortable with who he is, because he’s that awesome.

Which means there’s nothing significant that Superman can learn, emotionally.  The only things he can learn are things that make us look bad: stories in which humans just aren’t as good as Superman, and Superman is sad about that.  (But still filled with hope.  Superman is always hopeful.)  So the most significant Superman stories are the ones where it turns out you, you petty humans, are pretty shit-tacular.  And then maybe you have a story where Superman justifies not taking over the planet to rule it as a benevolent dictator, which isn’t a terribly comforting thought either.

So most of the thousands of stories told about Superman are pure status quo: Superman saves other people from a big bad guy.  What’s at stake for Superman?  Well, he’d feel bad if those people died.  Not a really gripping moment, and of course Superman isn’t going to lose anyway.

Oh, writers have tried to get around this limitation.  Some writers do it by switching to other parties, showing how Superman transforms everyone around him… but of course, that’s not really a Superman story, but “Touched by an Angel.”  Morrison did it by having Superman be the face of futurized wonder like he was in the 1960s, where Superman wasn’t really a hero but the gateway to an endless Narnia-like wonderland of alternative universes and weird shit.

But again, what’s Superman learning?  Not much.  He’s got a lot of tension between his Clark Kent and Superman world, which is interesting in theory, but you can’t make it interesting in practice without unravelling who Supes is.

Every great superhero has a couple of iconic arcs that define who he is, and usually one of them is the origin story.  For Spider-Man, it’s abandoning Uncle Ben, having Gwen Stacey die, and throwing aside his costume to walk away, only to discover that he really can’t.  For Iron Man, it’s his battle with the bottle.  For Batman, it’s having his back broken and still coming back for more.

For Superman?  His iconic moments are first of all his origin story, which makes sense.  All the stuff leading up to that decision are fascinating, a look inside pure American idealism, saying a lot about what we think of our country.  But after he makes that decision?  His most iconic moments in comics are his death stories, one by Alan Moore and one by DC Marketing… both of which are fascinating because once Supes has made his choice, the only other interesting thing that can happen to him is that we see how he ends.

There’s one other iconic story, which the movies had to bring out: he gives up his powers, and has three Kryptonians come to town.  Which, in the end, is the only story Superman can learn: giving this power up won’t make him happy, not because he wouldn’t be content with Lois Lane, but because the world will suck without him.

Superman is a great character in theory, and people like him because of what he represents.  But that representation means he’s a static character, one who cannot learn because he made the proper decision before he put on the damn suit.  Abandoning that means, well, he’s not actually Superman.  Contrast to Batman, who can learn all sorts of lessons about how he should fight crime and his own mortality and the limits of extremism and the toll his relentless battle takes on his loved ones and how best to inspire people, all without compromising the fragile core of his concept: he fights crime because he is driven.

Superman?  Great on a poster. Not so good in an ongoing saga.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So they rebooted Spider-Man.  Some people think this is stupid, having a new Spider-Man this soon after the last movie.  To which I say, “Did you see the last movie?”  No offense, man, but better to leave that in the wreckage and start over than trying to venture into IV territory.

There has never been a really good fourth movie in a series.  Ever.  Burn it to the ground.

Anyway, so this new Spider-Man is pretty much the same as the old Spider-Man – young boy learns about responsibility through a gunshot wound, fights crime, does not get the girl.  And it’s satisfying.  It’s not quite as good as Spider-Man 2 – what could be? – but it’s better than the first first Spider-Man.  Should you go see it?  Do you like people swinging from rooftops, beating up muggers?

Well then.  Your answer’s clear.

The difference is really all about nuances, and the nuance here is that Toby Macguire was a nerdy-looking kid who became smooth when the time came.  His upside-down kiss with Mary Jane?  Smokin’.  When he put on the suit, he became someone who was actually kinda cool.

Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is never cool.  He moves like a spastic bug – no, seriously, he’s trying to move like a spider, all gawky.  When he kisses Gwen Stacey, it’s almost wince-inducing, because he’s not quite sure where his mouth goes, and neither is she, and though he later proclaims her a good kisser, one senses a bit of rightful hesitation before she returns the favor.  He has the haircut of a modern emo star, but if there’s an opposite to “Moves like Jagger,” well, Andrew nails it.

However, Garfield’s Spider-Man makes up for it by being clever.  Toby’s Spidey lucked into things, evincing no particular brightness, whereas this new Spider-Man knows science!  He reads books!  He uses tricks in combat, bouncing all sorts of things with his webbing to dazzle his enemy!  Which, in a way, makes him more of a hero.  You had problems buying Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man as being someone hated by the crowd, but Garfield’s Spider-Man?  He moves like an untrained kid with super-speed flailing about.  You believe he could hurt someone by accident.  He looks a little out-of-control.

Which is kind of nice.  Both Gwen Stacey (Spidey’s TRUE love, he says sneeringly) and Peter are incoherent, trailing off in Seinfeld-ish riffs as they’re both a little too flustered to finish their thoughts.  Neither of them are cool.  You wind up rooting for them because, hell, who else would they date?

Obvious plot is obvious, but this is a comic book movie and we know that President Josiah Bartlett must die.  Unfortunately, the stunt casting of Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May is distracting, because I kept going, “Why is Forrest Gump’s Mom raising Peter Parker?”  And Martin Sheen is trying a little too hard to give big speeches, and not quite hard enough to connect with Peter on a human level.  Ben’s death, however, is exceptionally painful because it’s not the usual comics death where he gets to gasp out the classic speech about “With great power comes great responsibility” before he dies – no, he just gets shot.  And his legacy is a voicemail Peter can’t quite bear to listen to.

The weakest part of this Spider-Man is, sadly, the villain.  The Green Goblin was possessed of all of Willem Dafoe’s inherent looniness, and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock was the warm, supportive uncle you’d always wanted to have.  Curt Connors, however, is pretty much a vacant space on screen.  He stares longingly at his missing arm, as though it’s where his screen presence used to be.  When he becomes the Lizard, the initial scene is very compelling as he’s trying to be the hero, but then he degenerates into monologuing as he starts wanting to CHANGE TEH WORLD in a way that’s not really driven by his character all that much.

And Denis Leary does a fine job playing Denis Leary.  If you’ve always wanted to see Denis Leary in a Spider-Man film, well, here he is.  If you expect to see him act as Captain Stacey, well, let us just say that his last major scene in the film is perhaps the most laid-back approach to tragedy one will ever witness.  In a moment of what must be personal anguish, he looks as though he’s about to eat a sandwich.

Still, hey, it’s Spider-Man.  It’s a good riff on an old favorite.  Well worth seeing, if not nearly as exciting as the first time you saw Spidey bouncing around.  They do a good job with the 3-D, but there’s only so many ways you can make a web-slinger crawl.  Still, it made my birthday celebrations grand.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There’s a little misogyny in the hatred of Twilight and Justin Bieber and all the other things that teenaged girls love, and I wanted to unpack that.

Because one of the things I said yesterday that Twilight was a teenaged girl’s power fantasy, which it clearly is – the drab girl goes to a new school, finds that every boy there wants her, but she can ignore all that because the most special boy in the world who’s waited his whole life for someone like her comes along to change himself in every way for her.

This may seem dumb.  But consider the teenaged boy’s power fantasy, wherein your parents are shot dead, leaving you free with your wealth to buy all the cool gadgets and go beat up clowns in alleyways, and you’ll see that almost all power fantasies are, at heart, silly.

Now, admittedly, the phrase “teenaged girl’s power fantasy” is going to get some hackles up because, yes, not all teenage girls are the same and there are many who would rather go running with Katniss than Bella.  Fair cop.  But there are millions of girls reading and re-reading Twilight because for them, it’s the dream of what they want to be.

And it is scorned.

Twilight is the butt of everyone’s jokes, the automatic punchline.  Even people who’ve never read Twilight hate Twilight.  And there are very legitimate reasons to dislike Twilight, but I think a large part of the reason Twilight slips so easily into that “Need a flavor of the month to kick?  Why not Twilight?” is because girls like it.

Because stereotypical teenaged girls also like Justin Bieber… And as I’ve noted before, he too is the automatic kicking boy of jokes.  It’s not like the metal and rap bands that boys like, with their over-the-top posturing and hyper-masculine shouts, aren’t equally as stupid, but somehow Insane Clown Posse (or even more popular bands) never quite reaches the level of “auto-joke” that Justin Bieber does.

Stereotypical teenaged girls also like romantic comedies.  And rom-coms, another female power fantasy, are widely agreed to be awful, acquiring both critical denigration and a “Eeyew, who’d watch that?”  But action films, the teenaged boy’s powerful fantasy, may not get the critic’s thumbs-up, but mostly society thinks that well-done action films are kinda cool.

Compare, say, The Transporter to 27 Dresses.  Which one’s the more joke-worthy?  Even though they’re both by-the-numbers, competently-done versions of their genre?

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the more embarrassing versions of power fantasies are invariably the girly ones.  The quiet message here is that what you want now is not just foolish, but actively embarrassing, something to be shucked aside.  You women with your silly dreams, go discard them the moment you grow up, because what you want now is to be gotten rid of.

There’s some very deeply-rooted misogyny in there, I think.  It’s like we’re almost afraid of young females agreeing on something, as though it scares the shit out of us as a society.  And if it was just one instance, I might write it off… But the fact is that every time I see something that teenaged girls think is cool, everyone immediately jumps on the bandwagon and agrees it is only not awful, but cringeworthy.  Which sends a bulletin to teenaged girls that whatever you like, you should change that shit right away.  Because you’re kind of silly and stupid, and maybe you should alter yourself to like better things.

Meanwhile, comic books and videogames, the secret male nerd pasttimes of my childhood, have gone mainstream to the point where pretty much everyone agrees Batman’s a badass and hey, can’t we play some Madden or Assassin’s Creed?  Aw, man, wasn’t Pokemon great?

(Which is why I think YA is causing some discomfort in the nerd communities, because mostly girls read YA, but reading is cool… isn’t it!  Should we take it seriously now that girls own it?)

Which is why I don’t make them the butt of my jokes.  Yes, Twilight’s problematic.  So’s DC’s nearly female-free comics reboot, along with the inflated breasts and suddenly submissive, dully-sexual women.  And it’s perfectly okay to analyze why they’re difficult from a sexual perspective, and to discuss the bad lessons they may be causing people to internalize.

But as far as making “Edward and Bella” the butt of my auto-humor when I’m searching for “the worst book in the world”?  I’ll pass.  Because hey, those teenaged girls may be silly, but they’re no sillier than I was when I was rooting for Batman to be the most bad-ass, smartest guy in the world.  Hopefully, like me, they’ll take the best parts and leave the silly behind.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Okay. So apparently, Gotham City has a big ol’ spotlight with a bat in it that they turn on when they need Batman.  Cool.  I get that.

What do they do if there’s trouble during the day?

I mean, clearly they don’t have some other means to contact Batman, like a drop-off cell phone or something, because if they did then clearly they’d just use that and not tell everyone in Gotham where Batman was going to be in twenty minutes.  Because if I was a criminal, I’d just line that rooftop with explosives and then burn it when Batman showed up.  So clearly, this is their best bet for getting Batman to come to them, and they accept the risks of, say, Deadshot the Sniper showing up every time they activate this big glowing “BATS IS HERE” bulb.

So that means that for twelve hours of the day, and on cloudless nights, the cops have zero way of contacting Batman.  This seems like a pretty obvious workaround for criminals.  Just plan your crime at noon, and you have a nice solid eight-hour window to escape.  Assuming you have to commit your crime in Gotham at all, of course, it’s the one town with Batman, you couldn’t go to Pittsburgh or Cleveland or some other Batman-free zone to do your dirty work?  But hey, just work your dastardry while the sun’s out and Batman – who, apparently, is so disdainful of police radios that he requires a huge fucking night-light before he deigns to show up – will stay in hibernation.

You know what I’d do if I was commissioner, and had to have a big ol Bat-signal?  I’d double up.  Bat-Signal at night, Bat-Blimp during the day.  A big ol’ transparent blimp with a bat painted on it that casts a huge shadow across Gotham City.  Of course, there’s a good chance I’d do this because I’d want to say, “What?  The bank depository has been broken into?  RELEASE THE BAT-BLIMP!”  But that’s me.



Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

A seven-year-old girl speaks out on the new Starfire.

“I want her to be a hero, fighting things and be strong and helping people.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because she’s what inspires me to be good.”

David Willis’ Shortpacked! strip on the same topic is also very good.  Dude, one can enjoy sex without being a joy-dead robot.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

As all good fans know, Archie and Veronica got married earlier this year.  Or Archie and Betty did.

I find this deeply unsatisfying.

The marriages took place in an Archie Comics Elseworlds – two parallel storylines that posit “What if?” and show what happens after Archie graduates high school and gets hooked up.  (The concept that Archie might, like most of us, disposed of most of his high school friends to find newer ones in college remains unexplored.  Once a cartoon friend, so always must it be; ask the Muppet Babies, who’ve been trapped in an incestuous circle since birth.)  Since the marriages – one for each set of fans – we’ve gotten to see what happens afterwards.

It’s not pretty.

It’s not terrible, mind you – they couldn’t place them in the Archie-vacuum of recycled storylines, with its terrible terrible secret.  (Since at least three new Archie stories have been published monthly since 1941, I calculate that Archie and friends have stopped by the Chok’lit shop at least two thousand times.  Assuming that they stop by once a day without fail, they have been going to the Chok’lit Shop for six years.  That’s right; Archie has been running for so long that the space-time continuum must be warped to contain the number of malteds drunk at the Chok’lit Shop – and given Riverdale’s continually sunny weather, most of those visits come in the spring and summer, at that.  If I had the time, I’d try to create a Unifying Timeline of Archiness.)

Anyway, this mean that after being married, they have to do something new – and that that something is soap opera.  So in the Veronica-world, Archie is miserable because he’s working for Lodge industries and has no sense of self – and in the Betty-world, Archie is a novice teacher and cannot control his class of students.  In neither marriage does he appear to be particularly happy.

It’s said that a happy ending only comes from where you choose to stop filming… And this is true.  What’s happening in Riverdale is doubtlessly a little overwrought (really? There’s a huge mining conspiracy against Lodge Industries, that roving reporter Reggie must ferret out?), but it’s not unreasonable.  But that’s not what I want.  I want Archie to marry Betty (for as we all know, Betty is the only OTP for Archie), and settle down, and have boring kids, and live together in a gloriously uneventful yet happy life.

But no.  If the camera is rolling, we must have conflict, so Archie has to deal with the specter of cheating on Betty thanks to a ridiculously overzealous lunch lady.  (Mercifully, not Mrs. Beazley.)  And so it is discovered, as we always must, that life is not happily ever after.

Fuck that.  Stop at the wedding, or maybe the reception.  After that, to misquote a famous quote, it’s happiness all the way down.  They don’t have adventures.  They don’t have conflict, or at least any significant ones.  Archie and Betty live a beautiful life untouched by psychodrama, perhaps not wealthy, but rich in love.

It’s all I want, man.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“They’re doing a reboot of my favorite comic?  That’s awesome.  I love seeing new creative takes on things!

“They’re making it grim and gritty? Super.  The old comics were too childish, with all those happy endings and nice people.  That’s not the way the real world works. Make it with a lot of scowling people, filled with angst and alcoholism and real-world issues.  Turn old friends into rivals?  Make everyone a little more self-centered?  That is awesome.

“And they’re making it extra-violent, too? Holy fuck, that’s great!  The old comic books were from a simpler time – you never saw the hero sweat.  Let’s throw some fountains of blood in there, a couple of women stuffed in refrigerators to show the bad guy is really bad, and when the hero fights he should have, like, I dunno, guts oozing out his ribs.  And people should die in buckets around them as they collapse buildings.  That’s making things match today’s modern society!

“Whoa!  Of course they’re putting in sex.  This isn’t the namby-pamby days of old where the hero and heroine kissed chastely! Naw, they gotta get down and dirty!  Show some tits!  Have them clawing at each other on a bed!  And when the girl comes out, she should be dressed real slutty – all leather and sado-masochistic, desperate to fuck the men she hates, wanting to hurt herself!  Yeah, that’s the way women work!

“What?  Making the lead character black?  What bullshit is this? Nobody’s black.  Or gay.  Or female.  It’s horrible that they’re making these pandering changes just to get sales!  Why do they have to mess with the status quo?”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The new Spider-Man is going to be black. Well, half-black and half-Hispanic.

The comics blogosphere is in an uproar about this, because apparently some people are all like SPIDER-MAN IS NOT A BLACK GUY and everyone else is like HELLO, RACIST? (Although, I should note, the opinion of anyone blogging about “Spiderman” and not “Spider-Man” can be summarily discounted.  True fans know.)

So there’s a lot of fury being thrown around right now.  But I must be old, because I’m pre-furious about a situation that hasn’t even come to pass.

Here’s the deal: the quote-unquote “real” Spider-Man is going to remain caucasian. (And there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)  This is the Ultimate Spider-Man, the Spider-Man of a parallel Marvel universe, who died last month in what turned out to be a pretty heartbreaking comic.  (The actual final face-off against the Green Goblin was underwhelming, but Brian Michael Bendis nailed Peter Parker’s last words so perfectly that it still brings tears to my eyes.)  So the “official” Spider-Man remains as minty fresh as ever – alas, the only Spider-Man that’s getting the makeout is the out-of-standard-continuity one, the one designed for bold and crazy experiments such as this.

The good news is that this is the only Spider-Man that’s consistently written well these days, so it has a good shot at succeeding.  And I absolutely adore that Brian Michael Bendis wanted to do a Spider-Man comic starring a non-white lead character after seeing Troy in Community dressed up in a Spider-Man outfit.  (The actor, Donald Glover, is a huge Spider-Man fan and actively campaigned to get the role.)  If Peter Parker must be dead, and the Ultimates universe must continue, then this isn’t a bad choice.

But I’m upset about what’s going to happen ten years down the line.

Here’s the deal: all this shit over the black Spider-Man?  It’ll pass.  Comic nerds are notoriously angry about changes to anything – remember the vast letter-writing campaign that erupted when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman?  Remember the comics furor over the fact that the new movie Spider-Man had organic web-shooters instead of designing them?  Remember Bootgate, the eruption of anger that spilled over when it turned out the new movie Superman had different boots?

I’m not saying there’s not racism in comics-land – there is – but you have to also account for the fact that comics fans are cranky old guys who get furious about any change.  Some of that fury is because comics fans grew up on comics, and the primary urge is EVERYTHING SHOULD STAY EXACTLY THE WAY IT WAS WHEN I WAS THIRTEEN YEARS OLD AND JUST DISCOVERED COMICS AND EVERYTHING WAS COOL.

No, what’s going to happen is that the actual comic will come out, and because it’s written by one of the most consistently good writers in the industry it will probably be much better than the accusations of “stunt casting” would merit, and you know what will happen?  We will fall, slowly, in love with this new Spider-Man.  We’ll find that he has his own charms, and he’ll have adventures where we root for him – and in the beginning, yes, he’ll be heavily under the shadow of old Peter Parker, but over the course of years he’ll crawl out and make his own pathway. We’ll look back at this criticism and be amazed we made such a mountain out of a molehill.

This, if the comics field doesn’t collapse in the meantime, will last for about five to eight years.

Then someone at Marvel will get a great idea: What if Peter Parker comes back?  That’s a stunning plot twist!  And then they’ll arrange it so that Peter WHOOOO RISES FROM THE DEAD and then suddenly the character they’ve spent so much effort to get us to fall in love with will be a second banana for life.

Don’t believe me?  Hey, ask James Rhodes. Ask Kyle Rayner. Ask Wally West.

And I’m outraged, because hey, years from now, a black Spider-Man can’t catch a break – he’ll be the hero as long as the white guy ain’t around, but the minute the white dude comes swinging back in, we’ll be all like, “HEY, PETER, HOW YOU DOING?  OH, DON’T MIND HIM THERE, HE’S JUST NOT AS COOL AS YOU.”  And the black guy will be forgotten, and what started out as an attempt to be hearteningly progressive will actually wind up a sort of unconsciously racist sort of thing as the minority character gets shoved aside.  It’s not entirely racist, since both Kyle and Wally were white as well and the primogeniture of comics means that the “real” character eventually returns to center stage – but it’s gonna have some real uncomfortable overtones when it happens.

So yeah.  Here I am, Old Bitter Comics Fan, not worried at all about the current scandal, looking forward to seeing this new take on Spider-Man, but actually angry now about what’s going to happen a decade down the line, assuming the comic is successful and comics don’t tumble into a black hole.

I need to get a life.

(Also, I find myself wandering around the house, singing an altered version of the Spider-Man theme song: “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, now he’s half black and mex-i-can…”  I’m more excited about this casting change than I’d like to let on.  [And yes, I know, Hispanic doesn't equal Mexican, but "Hispanic" just doesn't swing in the song, baby.])

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.


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