After Zelda, Superheroes Were My Gateway To Fantasy.

After the news of celebrated writer and artist Darwyn Cooke’s passing, I picked my copy of Absolute DC: New Frontier and absorbed Cooke’s love letter to the Silver Age of the DC Universe.

It’s massive scale and the enormous cast of diverse characters combined with the lingering thoughts about Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World reminded me that after The Legend of Zelda it was superhero comics that opened the gateway for my love for fantasy.

The similarities between the two are surprisingly plentiful. Just to name a few:

  • Garish costumes.
  • Systems of magic.
  • Unusual names and codenames.
  • The use of symbology.
  • Enhanced or enchanted armor, weapons, and items.
  • Prophecy and legends influencing the protagonists.
  • History, mythology, and continuity that dates back before a current story but has a lingering effect.
  • Multi-faceted heroes and villains that walk the moral line.
  • Archetypal heroes and villains that serve as both characters and symbols for their cause.
  • Conflicts on the micro scale within close knits groups,
  • Macro scale conflicts that put universes in jeopardy,
  • and those in-group conflicts affecting the chance of success of resolving those universal threats.
  • War: The consequences of war, the threat of war, and the aftermath of war.
  • Death: Heroes, villains, love interests, and side characters all dying and in some cases, coming back.

Superhero comics do have the advantage of being broad enough in storytelling that it can encompass many genres including fantasy. A majority of DC’s magic users, including Etrigan, John Constantine, Dr. Fate, Swamp Thing, Alan Scott, and oh, I don’t know, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman all either dip their toes or fully submerge themselves into fantasy.

What it comes down to is world building. If you can understand the chaos that is the worlds of Marvel and DC then remembering the houses on Game of Thrones isn’t that difficult. What’s different is that for Marvel and DC the rules are always changing. What most fantasy tends to do is either established the rules early on or establish the rules and break them early on to create conflict. This is because eventually those fantasy stories are going to end. Comic book companies are in the business of keeping their stories running for as long as they sell. Thus their characters have to change overtime but not necessarily evolve.

Plus, most series of fantasy novels are written by one creator while superhero comics is a ever-spinning turnstile of different writers and artists. Their environment, purpose, supporting cast, powers, appearance, and even their history could change from one writer to another. Elements that stem from roots in fantasy could not longer be in fashion. Now, their powers, equipment, cast, or origin may not be science fiction in nature.

This can be frustrating to the reader which could not be more apparent with the recent developments in [spoilers] DC Universe Rebirth and the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers. Change is acceptable in a fantasy novel, especially a series with no previous history (real world history that is) but not so with most superhero comics considering their long history dating back to World War II. Even new superheroes have this struggle because by the time you establish a new character in an ongoing over a certain amount of issues any change you make is going to met with resistance from your readers.

That and the price is why I made the jump. I was frustrated by bad writing of characters I loved and the ever increasing price of comics versus the price of books made the switch easy. Fantasy novels have stayed relatively the same price, they have a more complete story, no other bad writer is coming in and fucking up what the good writer has done, there are no editorial mandates to fit within a big event happening in another series, and  the story is self-contained.

Still, I may never hace found fantasy without superhero comics.

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Why does Warner Bros. and DC Comics Think Their Audience Are Idiots?

It’s been happening for years ever since Christopher Nolan began working on Batman Begins, but Warner Bros. thinks its audience are not nuanced enough to get multiple iterations of their characters.

It started with the Bat-Embargo that was placed on the cartoon Justice League Unlimted. The creators of that show were no longer allowed to use any ancillary characters from Batman including Renee Montoya and Harley Quinn, two characters that were created in their animated universe. Their reasoning was that children would become confused by too many different versions of Batman characters in Justice League Unlimited, Batman Begins, and their developing cartoon The Batman.

First of all, this is highly underestimating the intelligence of children. Speaking from my own experience, I had no problem differentiating Mark Hamill’s Joker with Jack Nicholson’s Joker. It was very clear there was a difference between the animated Batman that appeared on Fox and the version that appeared on the WB network. Let’s take it outside of superheroes. It was clear there was something different about Dan Castellaneta’s Genie in Aladdin: The Series and Robin William’s version in Aladdin: The Movie. This was at an age where there was no internet and I only learned why the Genie’s voice was different by reading the back of Return of Jafar’s case. Kids now have information at their fingers. There would be no confusion.

Oh no, my head. There are way too many Batman's!

Oh no, my head. There are way too many Batman’s!

Warner Bros. still doesn’t see it that way and now they’ve spread this idea to not only children but adults as well. Deadshot, a character slated to appear in the Suicide Squad film and played by Will Smith has already appeared in on Arrow as a member of their version of Suicide Squad. Once the movie was firmly into production suddenly the character had to be removed so there was no “brand confusion.” In other words, sorry audience but you’re too dumb to tell the difference between these:

Clearly they are the same, therefore I am confused on how to take in the media. Sorry Warner Bros.

Clearly they are the same, therefore I am confused on how to take in the media. Sorry Warner Bros.

This spreads out to other obvious characters such as Batman, Superman, and Wonder down to characters like Harley Quinn. It even goes as far as to spread to characters that haven’t even be slated for a film yet. In season three of Arrow, we are introduced to Ray Palmer a.k.a. The Atom. This was originally intended to be Ted Kord a.k.a Blue Beetle but because Warner Bros. might have plans to use him in a film he was not permitted to appear on the show.

Now, with the premiere of Supergirl, Warner Bros. is sticking to their plan of avoiding all “brand confusion” by only mentioning Kara Zor-El’s cousin and vaguely showing Superman blocked by sunlight. Obviously, whoever plays  Superman on the new CBS show would be confusing to those watching Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The audience might say “Hey, wait this guy look different from this other guy,” because no one else has played Superman before. Oh wait:

I'm so confused.

I’m so confused.

The worst part is that they’re not even consistent. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold both appeared in Smallville with the latter also having a prominent role on Justice League Unlimited. Development for a Suicide Squad film began as far back as 2009 yet they allowed Deadshot not only to appear in Arrow, which wouldn’t premiere for three more years after, but also in Batman: Assault on Arkham along with Harley. Harley appears in all three of Arkham games developed by Rocksteady along with the Joker. The first game in that series came out the year after Heath Ledger appeared as the Joker in The Dark Knight. No brand confusion there.

The most prominent example of this is CW’s The Flash premiering while they’re simultaneously announcing Ezra Miller being cast as The Flash for the movies. How is this not an example of “brand confusion?” Warner Bros. makes the announcement just as their Flash TV series is beginning.  You might be asking, “what if this is DC learning their lesson?” but you have to remember that this announcement was made before Arrow was forced to kill off their version of Deadshot because of the Suicide Squad film.

Marvel, on the other hand, has no problem having multiple version of their characters in film and television. They seem to be doing just fine. For writers of fiction, one of the basic rules of storytelling that is taught is never to treat your audience like their idiots. Warner Bros. needs to learn this lesson before their audience gets tired of being talked down to.

When the Audience is Bored of A-Listers, The B-Listers Will Inherit the Superhero Movies.

For an indeterminate amount of time, comic book fans have been ranking their heroes (and villains) like celebrities with  “A” through “D” rating.

In DC Comics Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have always been A-List heroes. However, characters like Green Lantern, The Flash, and Aquaman have fluctuated, falling to B-Listers in the 90’s, then rising again to A-listers in the mid-oughts.

Marvel is a bit stranger. In the early oughts, Brian Michael Bendis disassembled the Avengers for a good reason. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America struggled as B-Listers in the late 90’s. Thor had been killed off, Iron Man was turned into an alcoholic and then a teengager  and Captain American in general seemed directionless. The rest of the Avengers just didn’t have the popularity of their other franches.  Marvel spent years building the Avengers back up to A-List characters, and thanks the  X-Men and Spider-Man being licensed to other film companies they had no choice but to build a movie universe on the back of the Avengers.

If they had owned the licenses for those two powerhouse franchises, Iron Man would not have been the first cinematic universe film under their own film company. They took a character, Iron Man, which the mainstream audience did not know and turned him into one of the biggest characters they currently have. They did it again with Guardians of the Galaxy, which people knew even less than Iron Man. Likewise, 2003’s Daredevil was an embarassment as far as movies go but Marvel took the franchise and turned it into the most watched and highest rated show on Netflix.

By regaining, rebooting, and revitalizing the Spider-Man franchise they’re also pushing back the inevitable. Marvel knows this, that’s why movies like Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel were merely pushed back rather than replaced by Spider-Man movies. Then, with the rest of the Defenders series on Netflix they’ll turn Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist into characters people know essentially raising their ranks from B and C-Listers into A-Listers. They took a character like The Vision and made him the most standout character of Avengers: Age of Ultron. They took a character like Ant-Man and made a entertaining and successful movie about him, which some people found laughable when announced.

On DC’s side it is a bit more worrisome, as far as movies go. Thanks to the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Warner Bros. believes the grim and gritty approach is the way to go as far as their own cinematic universe goes as evidenced by their dark approach to Superman in Man of Steel, the trailer for Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad. This may work at first, but the novelty of it will end quickly. What makes The Flash television series so refreshing is how far away from the Batman tone it is. It’s optimistic, funny, light hearted, and colorful. No dreary colors, no over serious faces, and 90% less angst.

The novelty of Suicide Squad, and Batman v. Superman has a problem. If it wasn’t for Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman the appeal of these movies is what they’re doing differently with Ben Affleck’s version of Batman, and Jared Leto’s version of the Joker. This’ll only last so long. They need movies with different tones with different characters. If they try to Batmanify characters like Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman (which is what it looks like they’re doing anyway) people will become fatigued. Marvel realizes an Iron Man movie should not have the same tone as a Captain America movie, but does Warner Bros. realize that?

The B-Listers will eventually inherit the Marvel movies but if Warner Bros. relies too much on the success of Batman to see what is unique about their other characters they’ll be doomed to fail before they even begin.

DC Comic’s Convergence and Marvel’s Secret Wars: Too Messy for Me.

I was reading The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett when I ran into this quote.

Then the Dean repeated the mantra that has had such a marked effect on the progress of knowledge throughout the ages.
“Why don’t we just mix up absolutely everything and see what happens?” he said.
And Ridcully responded with the traditional response.
“It’s got to be worth a try,” he said.”

That’s how I feel about these two events coming out of DC Comics and Marvel Comics. These are the premises straight from Wikipedia.

DC’s Convergence.

Set on a world outside time and space, Brainiac has used his access to Vanishing Point to roam the history of the DC Universe. Using it to abduct heroes from different lost and defunct eras (pre-Flashpoint, pre-Zero Hour and pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths) and across the multiverse, Brainiac amasses a collection of 40 cities. Taking them to this mysterious world within domes (very much like the one that he has kept the city of Kandor from Krypton in over DC publication history) he opens them to see what happens. The ensuing chaos pits various DC heroes and villains and their historic or multiverse counterparts against each other as a villain known as Telos arises to take advantage of it all.

Marvel’s Secret Wars

The basic premise involves the collision of the Marvel 616 Universe with the Ultimate Marvel Universe which destroys both. But pieces of the two universes – with other universes – are mysteriously saved and combined with other post collision universes creating the “Battleworld”.

All the DC characters you remember existing pre-New 52 are now trapped under a dome by Braniac fighting characters from other universes that you don’t give a damn about. Everything you can think of is being thrown at the wall for this event. Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain are back but so is all the characters from Flashpoint. Kyle Rayner is in his ugly original costume once again but so is Hal Jordan in his Parallax costume. I guess they figured the New 52 never really did bring in new readers so they decided to write a comic that included years and years of history in eight forty page comics and hope nobody cries.

Meanwhile over at Marvel they’ve been trying to figure out a way to get rid of their failing Ultimate line for years, the problem is they created a hugely successful character in Mile Morales. The Ultimate Universe exists to this day because of MIles Morales but having a comic book universe for one successful character doesn’t make sense in the long run.

So they came up with this idea of smacking the Ultimate universe and the 616 Universe (which is the original Marvel universe for those not in the know) to see what kind of chaos comes out of these two universes having to coexist. If the event doesn’t end with Miles Morales in the regular Marvel Universe and the Ultimate line over with I’ll be surprised. The only other result I can think of is the Marvel Universe being completely reset.

It’s not the long history of both DC Comics and Marvel’s continuity that makes me disinterested. To me, it looks like when I try to spring clean by emptying all my shelves and draws at once then organize it all in one day. Just looking at the solicitations is such a mess it gives me a headache. How can you possibly get a coherent story by throwing in every version, every universe, every character of your entire history? How? Then how can you possibly write a good story with that? I don’t think you can and I certainly don’t think you can write one good enough to be $4.99 an issue.

To me, from both publishers, it sounds like Countdown to Final Crisis, a much chagrin and poorly review weekly series, all over again.

Sometimes in interviews comic book writers complain about continuity, that it can be a shackle to creativity in comics. This however, is too much freedom from continuity. Continuity can be a structure for which you write your story and to throw that away for an event comic in no way seems like a good idea.

Plus it’s kind of insulting to let fans have this taste of characters and histories that have gone away in comics for a couple months only to take it away in their post-event comic world. No thank you.

Featured image by Charlie Layton.

A Reboot Green Lantern film arrives in 2020: This is what I’d like to see.

In case you missed it, Warner Bros. announced a whole slew of films for their DC Cinematic Universe yesterday including a reboot of Green Lantern in 2020. Now, in my blind fandom, I really wanted to like the 2011 film but sadly it is fact really poorly executed. It wasn’t the CGI that bothered me, I quite liked the costume and the look of the members of the Green Lantern Corps. but the plot and dialogue was so shoddy.

First of all, skip the origin. Hal Jordan has the ring, has already been trained and make the mentor/student relationship between Sinestro and himself already established. Hal and Carol should be either dating or broken up because of his responsibilities as a Green Lantern.

Second, keep the bits on Earth to a minimum. Let the movie begin on Earth with Hal living his civilian life only for him to get called into action just as he’s on a date or about to kiss Carol Ferris. Then, the rest of the movie completely in space until the very end, leave Hal’s happy ending with Carol rest until the very end or have him need to explain that being Green Lantern is just something he has to do. Either use that to break them off or they decide to try to make it work. Whatever the screenwriter decides, keep the romance to a minimum and downplay the playboy type with Hal.

Next, Sinestro is the main villain, no other villains. He has become the dictator type Green Lantern of his own sector and Hal Jordan is sent in by the Guardians to arrest his former mentor. Here Hal takes down his former mentor, captures him and the Guardians banish him. Sinestro vows revenge, gets banished to Qward then gains the yellow ring through mysterious means. Since they already screwed up Parallax maybe downplay his role with the yellow ring. Also, don’t combine Krona and Parallax into the same character. Perhaps keep Marc Guggenheim as far away from the script as you can.

Most importantly, choose your cast and tone wisely. The problem with the 2011 film was the parts that were funny were cringe worthy and the dramatic parts were so bad they were funny. You need to balance Hal’s sense of humor and quips with the serious tone Sinestro takes while building up the tension that comes when you have to fight someone you used to look up to.

Lastly, build towards the larger Green Lantern Corps., don’t just try to throw different members like Tomar Re and Kilowog for the sake of being in the movie. If you can’t include them naturally, don’t bother. You want to build a cinematic universe but you need to take it slow. Marvel is already ahead of you, may as well get it right before you have to do it all over again.

 

The Flash TV Series is a Breath of Fresh Air.

Two episodes in and I am all aboard the band wagon for The Flash. It is unadulterated superhero fun balanced with drama, something that has been lacking in DC Comics media for a long time. Something that Marvel has been getting the balance right in their movies since Iron Man came out.

I love DC Comics but since The Dark Knight came out they’ve been on the grim and gritty train in every aspect with no end in sight for their movies. If Man of Steel and the concept art for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a sign of things to come for their movie universe then I’m glad The Flash TV series exists.

A lot of the reviews and comments about the show complained about the corny lines but to me, the investment I have in the characters in only two episodes in strong enough to actually enjoy them. Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is hopeful, optimistic and the nerdy underdog with the incredible powers I want to cheer for.

Carlos Valdes as Cisco is easily becoming The Flash’s version of Felicity, the techy side character that keeps the show feeling light with his quips while Jesse L. Martin as Joe West steals every scene as the father figure pushing Barry in the right direction.  The emotion in his face in episode two both at the midpoint and at the end just pulls at my hearts strings, but I am the sentimental type. Plus Tom Cavanagh, formerly J.D.’s slacker older brother on Scrubs has me on the edge of my seat at the end of each episode now, wondering what he’s up to while pushing Barry to become a better hero. I never would have thought that Tom Cavanagh would be the type to have such intense scenes.

I don’t mind the corny lines, because it keeps the show light and fun. What’s the alternative? Superman kills General Zod and lets a large population of his city die? Is anyone at Warner Bros. tired of The Dark Knight Returns motif? Does Wonder Woman really need to wear mud colored armor? Isn’t Superman supposed to be a symbol of hope? According to Warner Bros., no, not anymore. So instead I’ll take the Flash and hope its high ratings will show Warner Bros. that grim and gritty doesn’t always necessary mean good. The world is grim and gritty enough.