Cold Justice: A tv show that actually is doing something

Cold JusticeAs I do every once in a while, I’m detouring from my usual writing about costumed heroes. Heroism is important to me, and I like to try and both acknowledge and encourage it when I can. Some might think this one is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.

Dick Wolf certainly doesn’t need more money at this point. The man behind the various “Law and Order” shows is doing quite well for himself. He’s also got a novel out, the first of a series we’re told, and it’s doing reasonably well (The Intercept, it’s called). When he was toying with ideas for another show, he could certainly have just done “Law and Order” fill in the blank for a new city, word, or theme.

But he didn’t do that. His newest show is called “Cold Justice,” and it’s a different kind of thing. While it’s occasionally dramatic, it’s not a drama. It’s not fiction. The show actually travels around the country, digging into cold cases, and trying to resolve them. Really think about that a sec: a very powerful tv presence is putting his money behind a show that actually works on real crimes.

Because it’s not crime fiction, you don’t always get the “Hollywood ending.” They’ve had cases they were unable to solve, others they are fairly certain what happened, but they can’t take it to court. And I salute them for that. This is the real world, even if it’s televised. You don’t always find everything out.

I’m not naive or blindly idealistic. Yes, it’s a tv show, and, like all the others, it’s to make money. From what I hear, it’s actually doing quite well, ratings wise, and I’m sure is pouring more money into Dick Wolf’s coffers. But it’s also not the cheapest show to make when you think about it. The cast and crew travel around to various places, so there’s not reusable sets. From what I can tell, they are paying for additional lab tests, like DNA results, and further paying for the tests to be expedited. Money issue to one side, they are actually working towards justice in the real world.

I love that the power of tv is being used for something positive, instead of just mindless entertainment and selling whatever the commercials are pitching. I like that they aren’t just showing cases where they can say, “Oh, look, we solved it!” And I really like the cast.

The people working the cases are real people. They aren’t Hollywood models trying to sound like they know what they’re talking about. They are skilled professionals who manage to come across as likeable. The team consists of Kelly Singer, a prosecutor, and Yolanda McClary, a forensics specialist. Never seen in the commercials, but an important part of the show, is investigator Johnny Bonds.

It’s a show, I get it. And some might think I’m just going on about a show I happen to enjoy. I do enjoy it, I’m not denying that. But I think the concept is fantastic. Put the machinery of experts backed by a very rich man behind solving cases that are dead in the water. It’s an all too rare beneficial use of a hugely powerful medium.

Before someone starts wondering, I have NO connection to Cold Justice, Dick Wolf (aside from enjoying his shows and book), or TNT Network. I just think they are doing something new and different that should be recognized as such.

Why “Man of Steel” didn’t work for me

mos
There’s been a lot written about the Man of Steel movie.  With the recent (as I write this) announcement of the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman in the Superman/Batman movie, I thought I would look back and try to better define why I really didn’t care for Man of Steel.  If you’re a big fan, you may want to skip this.  And yes, there will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it, you may also want to skip this.

As a general rule, with a few exceptions, Superman and Batman have been polar opposites on most fronts at DC.  Superman is the light, wholesome, upbeat, morally right character.  Batman is the shadowy, fearsome, ruthless creature of the night.  So how messed up is it that their parents are now reversed in the movies?  Thomas Wayne comforts young Bruce with this: “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”  Jonathan Kent scolds Clark for saving a bus full of kids, putting his secret at risk.  Right, because no one would have questioned Clark being the sole survivor, as opposed to the whole bus miraculously being saved.  Thomas Wayne dies, trying to comfort and encourage his son as he draws his last breath.  Jonathan Kent tells Clark not to save him, dying before his son’s horrified eyes.  Seem to anyone else like Jonathan should have been in Gotham and Thomas in Smallville?

Aside from questionable lessons from Pa Kent, I don’t have too many issues with the first two thirds or so of Man of Steel.  Clark roams the world, trying to work out what he wants to do.  Of course, he does destroy a man’s livelihood out of petty vengeance over an incident where no one got hurt, up there in Alaska.  Veeerrrryyyy heroic.

It’s ironic, to me, that for so much of the movie, Clark roams anonymously, doing (mostly) heroic deeds.  Towards the end, he puts on the costume, and seems to lose interest in saving innocents unless it’s a plot point or Lois.  Zod menaces Ma Kent on the farm, and Clark drives him away… straight into downtown Smallville.  Yeah, that was a good choice.  With so much farmland around, let’s take this fight to where the most innocent civilians are.

Then comes the massive fight near the end of the movie.  The battle rages through Metropolis, destroying buildings, causing massive property damage, and there is just no way people aren’t dying/being maimed.  There’s not one scene of Superman helping the people of the city, except Lois, of course.  Contrast this with Avengers, with many scenes of the heroes doing just that.  Even just one, short scene would have gone a long way towards making this feel more like Superman.  In Superman Returns, which many slammed, he flies down the street at one point, vaporizing falling debris with his heat vision.  How hard would that have been?

When Superman believes he’s won, he’s in a crater of destruction, trashed buildings all around him.  He has super-speed and senses that are better than any equipment any “normal” rescue unit would have.  So of course, he leaps into action to help the citizens, right?  No, no, THIS is the time for his first kiss with Lois, which sort of seems to come from nowhere.  And really, would you want your memory of your first kiss to be standing in and around wreckage, bodies, and bleeding?

Then we have the final confrontation with Zod.  Zod threatens the citizens, both one family immediately, and the world at large.  So Superman kills him.  I’m sorry, that is NOT Superman.  Not to me.  Superman is not just a hero, he’s THE hero.  There’s a reason he gets called “the Boy Scout” in the comics.  Superman finds another way.

Let me address two or three things I’ve heard about this death.  Some say, “Yeah, but he’s killed in the comics.”  The incident of that I can recall was a very special, unique circumstance.  Superman was on a different Earth in another dimension.  Zod and his two partners in crime had LITERALLY killed everyone on the planet.  So yes, Superman ended up killing them.  If you don’t see the difference between meting out punishment for something someone has already done, when there’s no one left to turn the criminals over to for trial, and a pre-emptive killing, I can’t really help you.  Superman was also, for that matter, the sole representative of law and order on that world at that point, as opposed to the intact legal system on MOS Earth.

I’ve heard “Hey, he didn’t have a choice.  Zod was about to fry that family, and he said he’d kill everyone and never stop.”  As to the family, well before I’d left the theater I’d come up with several other ways to save them.  Fly, taking Zod with him.  Fall back, pulling Zod’s head up.  Stomp the floor and drag them both down through the hole.  You get the idea, and I don’t have super-speed to think faster.  For the threat to kill everyone, they had a Phantom Zone option which managed to get everyone else on Zod’s team.  There was all the advanced tech on various ships to explore for options.  And let’s not forget, part of how Zod got so dangerous is that Superman, stupidly, told Zod how to use his powers when he was being overwhelmed by the enhanced senses, so Superman created some of his own problem there.

Others praise this as a modernization of the character, making him more “believable” or “realistic.”  First off, we’re dealing with a guy in cape who can fly and melt things just by looking at them.  “Realistic” is right out the door from the start.  Superman is a superHERO.  He’s the inspiration for all the others.  My two reactions here are 1) if you feel the need to do something dark and modern, you’re using the wrong character and 2) if you feel that your hero needs to kill, Superman probably isn’t for you.  I also kinda think if you can’t get behind a hero who is just plain good and non-lethal, it says more about you than the character in question.

Then, in about the last scene, Superman trashes millions of dollars of military equipment to make a point as he smirkingly confronts an Army general.  This isn’t the moral center of the Justice League, the man who makes everyone believe in him.  This is someone trying to be a bad-ass.  Superman is NOT a bad-ass.  And, again, if you need your hero to be a bad-ass, you’re probably not interested in Superman.  There are plenty of tough-guys and anti-heroes out there.  Superman isn’t one of them, and doesn’t need to be.

If you make every hero a tough-guy, smirking, killer, what sets them apart from each other?  For that matter, what sets them apart from the bad guys?  I like heroic heroes.  I like having variety in the characters I read about and watch.  Call me old fashioned, but I like having some straight-up, good guy, heroes.  When I want a change, I’ll go read Punisher or watch Wolverine.  There’s nothing wrong with an anti-hero.  But there’s everything wrong with Superman being one.

Superman/Batman could make history.  It will, far as I know, be the first live action meeting of the two characters.  Maybe it will be amazing.  But if it’s in the same vein as Man of Steel, which seems likely with the same director and same lead, I don’t know that I’m interested enough to find out.

42- an inspiring movie

42-PosterI tend to write about heroes. When I do, it’s usually about fictional characters who swing from rooftops, leap tall buildings in a single bound, have high tech armor, or a magic hammer. You get the idea. But there are other types of heroes, and I got to see a story about some real world ones tonight.

They were real people, if dramatized. They didn’t wear costumes, although one wore a uniform. I saw 42 tonight, and I’m talking about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. And they were, indeed, heroes. They didn’t save lives, but they improved them. And they at least as much courage as the comic book characters I enjoy so much.

I thought this move was fantastically done. It would have been easy to go over the top with the situations, or characters, and I don’t think they did. I think they kept it fairly realistic, and very, very inspiring.

Yes, the writers based their story on real events. But they did it very well. It’s easy to do with this kind of story, but they made you root for the heroes, and showed the villains as mean, small, and fearful.

Branch Rickey gets asked several times why he’s pushing so hard to put Jackie Robinson into white baseball. He answers different ways at different times, at one point getting off a great line about (and I’m paraphrasing, forgive me, I should have taken notes) “There are a lot of Negro baseball fans in Brooklyn. And they buy a lot of tickets. Dollars aren’t black or white. They’re all green.” Later, Robinson pins him down, and Rickey finally tells the real motivation. Years ago, he played baseball, I believe at the college level, and there was a great player who happened to be black. He wasn’t allowed to develop his talents because of that. Rickey felt he didn’t do enough to help him.

This entire movie had a great cast, and it’s too easy to get lost talking about some of the supporting cast. But make no mistake, Chadwick Boseman, the man playing Jackie Robinson, is the star, and he’s amazing. Quiet strength, determination, barely suppressed rage, he shows them all, and does a fantastic job of showing a man who wasn’t perfect, but was damned impressive.

As good as the movie was, it missed on a few places. The Dodgers, when first learning Robinson was coming, ended up circulating a petition among the players, who refused to share the field with a black man. We never see Robinson’s reaction to that, and I wanted to. The team was eventually won over by Robinson’s spirit and skill, but how did he feel about them turning their backs on him before they met him?

Similarly, there seemed to be a lot of build up around the character of replacement coach Burt Shotton. Burt was brought out of retirement, almost against his will, when Leo Durocher, the team manager, was suspended for a season. There was an odd scene or two where they seemed to be building to something with him, and then it never happened. I suspect some scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

But the movie certainly hit more than it missed. Legend Pee Wee Reese apparently considered backing out of some games after he received a threatening letter, and went to talk to Rickey, the owner. In response, Rickey showed him the folders full of hate mail addressed to Robinson, and Reese had his eyes opened, showing later what great character he had.

I’m going to spend a moment also on Rickey’s religion, and why I think it worked so well here. I have a fairly healthy mistrust of most, if not all, organized religion. It’s been my experience it gets perverted into something it was never meant to be far too often. Rickey, as seen here, uses religion in what I consider to be the perfect way. He derives a moral code from it, uses it to hold himself to a high standard, and makes himself do something difficult in pursuit of that standard. He doesn’t really get preachy, or run down anyone else on religious grounds. He just drives himself to be better, and drags along a few other people on the way.

This was a fantastic movie. And, if you consider yourself a fan of heroes, like I do, it gives you a bit to think about. I like my superheroes and their kind just fine. But it’s nice to see some real life heroes from time to time, too. And that’s what you see at the core of this movie. Robinson, a hero for his physical courage, his amazing skill, and his restraint in not falling to the level of his many, many, detractors. And Rickey, pushing for what he thought was right, even if it meant causing him all manner of problems along the way.

I hugely recommend this movie, to anyone that likes baseball, roots for the underdog, likes to see the good guys come out on top, or even is just a fan of a really good story. Chadwick Boseman was amazing as Jackie Robinson, and Harrison Ford, a personal favorite, gave a fantastic performance as Branch Rikey. In a year that has hero fare from Man Of Steel, Lone Ranger, Iron Man 3, and Thor 2, among others, coming out, this might end up being my favorite movie of the year. From a guy who spends so much time reading and writing about costumed adventurers, that means a lot.

The War on Wally West

wallyThe War on Wally West

No, I don’t really believe there’s a conspiracy of any sort against Wally (Steph Brown is another matter). I just liked the alliteration for the title here. But it’s hard to deny that there have been a series of somewhat questionable decisions that are having bad effects on Wally’s appearances, and his fans’ happiness. And, no, before someone jumps in with this, I am not a “Barry-hater.”

A brief history first (If you’re familiar with Wally, you might want to skip this next bit, or you can always read along and see if I screw up). When DC started what became known as the Silver Age of comics, Flash was one of the heroes they included. The new one had similar powers, but a different costume and a new man wearing it. Struck by lightning that bathed him in an array of chemicals, police scientist (long before the current CSI craze) Barry Allen gained super-speed and became a costumed hero. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Barry wasn’t an orphan; in fact his parents played a part in his life as long as Barry was the Flash. As most Silver Age heroes did, he gained a side-kick: Wally West had a freak duplication of the accident that gave Barry his powers, and became known as Kid Flash. Wally teamed with other sidekicks and was a founding member of the Teen Titans, and joined many later versions of this group.

Wally joined the New Teen Titans, a remarkable book that many argue was some of DC’s best work. He left the group after he started having problems with his powers. It was at this point the Crisis on Infinite Earths swept through DC Comics, and changed most of their history. In the aftermath, Barry Allen died a heroic death, and Wally became the first sidekick to step up and take on his mentor’s mantle. Wally was the Flash from 1988 till the DC Reboot in 2012. He changed the costume, grew up, figured out ways to use his powers Barry never had, married, and had kids who inherited powers from him. Things looked great for Wally…until Final Crisis.

This pretty much finishes the character bio, for those who skipped it. Now on with other things.

Although many important people at DC had said it would never happen, Barry Allen came back from the dead. And that was close to the last we saw of Wally. He was unceremoniously bumped to the sidelines for reasons that didn’t really work. The Flash book was given back to Barry, Wally left both the Titans and the Justice League with no explanation. Wally fans were told to relax, that he’d be back, in either a back up to the Flash book, or headlining a new title, rumored to be titled Speed Force. Neither of these things happened. Wally was eerily not only absent, but wasn’t mentioned anywhere, even by people who were supposed to be among his best friends. DC Editorial claimed (lamely, in my opinion) they didn’t want to confuse people with multiple versions of the same character. We’ll get back to that.

Then came yet another history altering miniseries: Flashpoint. Flashpoint marked the end of the DC Universe as it had been for many years, and also the relaunch of about all the characters therein. Wally had a minor part in Flashpoint. He was a non-powered support character to his aunt, Iris, and then casually killed off. Was this the end of Wally?

Maybe.

The DC Reboot happened, as they launched the “NEW 52!” Changes were wrought on most characters, many were de-aged, had their histories re-written, or, in some cases, apparently erased. Wally is among the missing. Barry was given the role of Flash, and Barry’s grandson from the future, Bart, was given the part of Kid Flash. Most of the “between” generation either suffered horribly or vanished. The only hero left standing of that group was Dick Grayson as Nightwing, and even he lost much of his history.

DC Editorial claimed they were aiming for the “most iconic” versions of their characters, and that their target audience was males aged 18-35. Let’s take a look at this argument.

Barry was the Flash from 1956 to 1986, thirty years. Wally wore the costume from ‘86 to 2012, twenty six. Barry had the title longer, but Wally was around longer, covering Barry’s decades long absence.

Aside from the comics, where has Flash been seen?

On the Superfriends, a Flash showed up occasionally. He was never identified by civilian name, but given the time frame, we’ll say it was Barry. One for him, unnamed, as a minor character.

There was a sadly short-lived live action TV show in1990 on CBS, lasting only one season of twenty two episodes. This featured an odd hybrid character. He was called Barry, and had Barry’s job. But by this point in the comics, Barry was dead, and the Flash on the show had Wally’s metabolism problems, limitations, and was dating Wally’s girlfriend. Call it a draw? 60/40 Barry?

Flash’s next big outing was Justice League Unlimited. This was a fantastic cartoon that ran for three seasons (July, 2004 to May, 2006). Flash was one of the founding members and main characters, and was quite clearly identified as Wally West.

Despite DC Editorial’s concerns that the Flash situation was confusing, the cartoon show “The Brave and the Bold” managed to include Barry, Wally, and even Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick, all three of them in one episode once. I guess people who watch cartoons are less easily confused than people who read comic books?

The next major DC cartoon was Young Justice, about (at first) six young heroes. One of them was Wally West, Kid Flash. During the run of Young Justice is when the DC Reboot happened, so the show became the only place fans could see Wally. He was a major player in season one, and much less so in season two. Then, in the series finale, Wally dies, and Bart, who’d been in as Impulse, takes Wally’s costume. Seems a running theme.

So, as far as who’s gotten more attention beyond the realm of comics, I’d say it’s Wally.

Ok, if you’re talking “iconic” (defined as either pertaining to or characteristic of an icon, or, in art, executed according to convention or tradition), maybe they meant in appearance? Funny thing, that. The major change Wally made to Barry’s costume when he inherited the identity was to the belt. On Barry’s costume, the belt is a band of lightning circling the waist. On Wally’s costume, it’s two lightning bolts meeting in the center. The ICONIC Barry of the New 52… is wearing Wally’s costume.

A few other things of interest that didn’t fit neatly anywhere else:

I mentioned earlier that some people had talked about how major an event the death of Barry Allen had been. One of them said it was “too important to ever undo.” That was Dan Didio, now one of the head honchos at DC Comics. Guess “ever” came early.

One of DC’s weak justifications of dumping Wally for Barry was they didn’t want to confuse people with multiple versions of the same character. Let’s see… there’s an entire police force of Green Lanterns in space, and five of them are from Earth. There are even several different titles about the various Lanterns, plus another character of that name in the Earth 2 book. Oh, and there’s another FLASH there, too. In the new continuity, there have been at least two Batmans, four Robins since they cut Steph out (three if Scott Lobdell’s retcon holds), and now two teams calling themselves the Justice League, not counting a third that had its book cancelled a while back. Nope, nothing confusing there.

Oh, and the “target audience” mentioned earlier? If any of them know a Flash at all, it’s quite probably WALLY, if you do the math on the years.

So, let me sum up:

Wally was in action longer than Barry, and has had more media exposure. Wally’s costume is being featured in the new reality. There are multiple versions of characters out there, even speedsters called Flash. Fans are still calling for Wally’s return, and, in the face of this, he’s been killed. Twice. And, aside from that, ignored. Fans who ask about him at cons are put off with jokes, lame excuses, and mocked by DC staff.

If you’ve not figured it out yet, in the NEW 52, “iconic” means “the people in charge like it better” (see also Damian Wayne as Robin, the revamped Amanda Waller, Kid Flash, Wonder Woman, etc).

Wally was the first sidekick to step into his idol’s boots. He expanded the Flash powers, and made a great name for himself. He fought Barry’s Rogues, and his own. He was a member of the Teen Titans and Justice League, on various versions of both teams. He matured from wise-cracking womanizer to respected hero and family man. He, and his fans, really deserve better.

Are Comics and Cartoons Being Dumbed Down?

I’m both a writer and a reader, and one of my preferred genres has always been superheroes.  That’s an area of interest for me, and considering the box office records set by the Avengers movie last summer, maybe it’s of interest to one or two other people out there.  With the perspective of decades of comic book reading, I’ve been noticing a trend in the writing overall.

As, I said, I’ve been a hero fan all my life, I’ve never pretended otherwise.  And, overall, I’ve been very lucky in that much of my lifetime has been a good period for that.  I’ve gotten to see some amazing work done in bringing comic book heroes to both the large and small screen.  I can remember being thrilled when I saw the Superman movie in the theater.  Yeah, with Christopher Reeve as the lead, I did just about believe a man can fly.  I had serious doubts about Michael Keaton as Batman when I heard the casting, and he did a damn fine job.  And while there have been some clunkers along the way (Catwoman, Elektra, the Spirit, Green Hornet), there have been some amazing movies (just about all the lead up to, and most definitely including, Avengers!).

On the small screen, again, some not so good ones, but some amazing ones as well.  I’d more or less argue the dawn of the modern, quality, hero cartoon started with Batman: The Animated Series.  This was an amazing show, with serious stories, character depth and development.  Dick Grayson quit being Robin and moved on to Nightwing.  Mr. Freeze got a tragic but amazingly well done origin.  There were many guest stars from around the DC Universe.

This was followed by Superman, Static Shock, and then the astounding Justice League Unlimited.  I can’t say enough good things about JLU.  The immense cast, juggled deftly, the plots and subplots, love interests, everything was handled with respect for the characters and the VIEWERS.  JLU was a show easily watchable by adults.  The Teen Titans cartoon was a bit of a let down, being a lot sillier, but was enjoyable and had some good moments.

Marvel had various shows of different quality, almost always built around either the X-Men or Spider-Man, with an occasional foray into adventures for the Hulk.  Some were great, some were erratic, and some just fizzled out.  I particularly recall enjoying the X-Men one in the 90′s, with both Gambit and Jubilee among the regular characters, and the Spider-Man that aired, oddly, on MTV of all places.

Then, in the recent past, we had hour long blocks from both Marvel and DC that seemed to be compromises between the two extremes.  DC began the “DC Nation” block of programming.  The two shows that made this up were Green Lantern and Young Justice.  Green Lantern was computer animated and more simplistic overall, one could argue largely “kid friendly.”  Young Justice was a very well executed, realistically drawn cartoon featuring many young heroes at the dawn of their careers, from the well known (Robin) to the obscure (Rocket, Aqualad II).  Many fans were relieved that characters banished from the DC Comic line after their reboot managed to make the line up of the show, like Wally West as Kid Flash, and even a cameo by persona MUY non grata Stephanie Brown.  The DC Nation shorts even featured an array of ideas and characters, including Amythest, Plastic Man, and Animal Man voiced by Weird Al Yankovic.

Over in the Marvel Universe block, they rolled out Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  Spider-Man was back to being a teenager, working for Nick Fury (the version from Marvel’s hit movies, not the main comic line) and teamed with similarly age-regressed heroes Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger, and Nova.  This was definitely kid fare, with Spidey frequently stopping the show to narrate, make wise comments, and have odd, chibi-style images in his day dreams, a bit like one of the hallmarks of the sitcom Scrubs.  Avengers: EMH featured adult heroes in big adventures, with plots stretching over many episodes, great character development, and the gradual appearance of many Avengers’ favorites from the books, like Vision, Ms. Marvel, and Black Panther.

As an adult comic fan, I was ecstatic.  Two well written hero cartoons with some good plotting, and character development, and, a bonus for me, they were about teams I like with a lot of lesser known characters I was fond of.  Remember that old saying about “Only the good die young”?

Young Justice was plagued by mystifying, random, unannounced hiatuses, lasting months.  Even the people at DC Comics often said they had no idea what was going on, as the did the writers on the show.  Well, oddly enough, if you make a show vanish for many weeks at once, it suffers.  Thanks to the combination of the airing practices that seemed designed to kill it, as well as a toy line that didn’t exactly set sales records (the only point of cartoons is to sell toys, it seems), the show was cancelled.  Season two would finish, but then that was it.  It would be replaced by an anime style Teen Titans, partially based off the show that ran a few years ago, but written even more for kids.  Green Lantern, too, was axed.

Avengers: EMH also came to a sadly premature end, slated to be replaced by Avengers Assembled, with a line up and look set to reflect the recent hit movie, not the comics.  While the fate of Ultimate Spider-Man is unclear, they have announced a new show for Marvel: Hulk, Agents of SMASH.  Based both on the title and the stills I’ve seen so far, I’m betting this, too, will be aimed at kids.

All of which leaves me wondering: is the era of the smart hero cartoon over?  Hopefully, I’m overreacting and people will be able to mock me about this in the future.  But USM, Agents of Smash, and a Teen Titans based on a series of shorts that featured a burping contest just don’t sound like they lend themselves to complex story telling.

I’d love to be saying something to rival Batman: The Animated Series, or JLU, or Avengers EMH is coming soon.  But it doesn’t look like it.  Young Justice ends on Saturday the 16th after just two seasons, and I don’t see anything to match it on the horizon.

Pair all this with DC’s recent reboot, and I see a troubling trend.  Decades of history were thrown out, certain characters ignored, relationships overall were gotten rid of.  Female characters in particular fared badly, either vanishing or radically changed to be both simpler and sexier.  Overall, the stories feel to me, as an avid reader and long-term fan, dumbed down.  As is happening to the shows I was discussing.

A lot of people look down on popular entertainment like comics and cartoons, dismissing it as immature or silly.  Read anything by Gail Simone, Bryan Q Miller, John Ostrander, Peter David, Paul Dini, most of John Byrne or Chris Claremont, and you can see it’s not true.  These things don’t have to be dumb to work, or aimed solely at kids.  But that seems to be where they are heading.  I don’t know if they are succeeding at getting younger readers; my personal observations so far indicate no.  But I know that they’re driving away older readers, female readers, long term fans.

I don’t think I’m being unrealistic in hoping that at least some of this fare be suitable for adults who aren’t just there to stare at barely clad women, or characters punching/shooting each other.  Is that really where the market needs to go?  Is that where we WANT it to go?

Think about this the next time you’re deciding what to read or watch.

Remember When Heroes Used to Be Heroic?

This idea started in a thread on the unofficial DC Message Boards, and the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I think the idea has a lot of merit. Essentially, the “superheroes” appearing in comics are increasingly less heroic as time passes. There are all manner of possible contributing things to this, but at the end of the day, I’m coming to think it’s true.

Here’s a challenge for you: take all the superhero comics you got last week, and lay them out on the floor in front of you. Now take away all of them that feature solely heroes fighting villains, or villains plotting to/actively attacking heroes. Do you have any left? Are there any that show the hero having, well, a life? Or a scene where they help someone who’s not under attack by a villain as part of some revenge scheme?

Heroes used to be about more than fighting. They used to help people. They’d patrol their cities, looking for crimes to halt or people who needed them. I can’t remember the last time I saw that. It’s one, long, ongoing fight now. Heroes fight villains. Villains come up with elaborate plots to hurt heroes. That’s about it. Villains used to have their own motivations that didn’t involve simply attacking folks in costumes.

Another thing I find disturbing is the reaction of people to this idea. When I mentioned that heroes seem to be getting darker and more about fighting villains, and even each other, than about improving the world in any way, a lot of posters basically said “So what?” One in particular said something about how boring it would be to see “Boy Scouts on patrol.”

My two reactions to that are, first and foremost, if you find the idea of someone helping someone else boring, why are you reading hero comics? Has it really become “old fashioned” to want to read about characters that actually care about the world around them, and try to use their powers for something besides an ongoing grudge match? Second, aside from their stance on gays, why is “Boy Scouts” supposed to be negative? They educate young men, give them skills, help give them positive things to do. This is a bad thing?

It really does seem now that comics are almost all fighting, all the time. Villains exist solely to attack heroes, heroes are there just to fight the villains. Isn’t this the “dark” future they worried about in Kingdom Come? Is this really what everyone but me wants to read?

People who put on a certain outfit just to identify themselves and attack others based on what they are wearing aren’t heroes. That sounds like a gang to me. Think about it, if they aren’t there to protect the citizenry, and they spend their time assaulting each other because of the costumes, why is that different than gang colors?

I’ll take a few recent things I’ve read or seen recently as examples of the general trend I’m talking about:

Arrow is a tv show based on DC’s Green Arrow. In the show, the lead character fairly routinely kills henchmen as he goes. Often he shoots them in the chest with arrows, occasionally he snaps their necks in hand to hand combat, sometimes after pausing first. This, to me, is not a hero. Arrow, as he is shown, is a vigilante, and a criminal one at that. When your standard method of operating involves death, it really weakens that person being a hero in my book.

New Avengers 3 recently showed several powerful Marvel characters dealing with a major crisis, a threat to the entire planet. When Captain America spoke up against what they were doing, they attacked him and erased his memory. Not only is this scene very reminiscent of one that occurred during Identity Crisis several years ago, but it’s far from heroic. Captain America is the one most Marvel characters look up to, he’s been referred to as the moral center of the Marvel Universe. What does it say about the heroes when they not only attack the “moral center,” but they erase his memory of the event? Doing something and then hiding it afterwards usually indicates that what you did was wrong, and you know it. Lifting the scene to one side, attacking a long time friend and ally for disagreeing with you is wrong.

In the rebooted DC Universe, almost every character has been changed in some way. One of the most striking, and, to me, disappointing, is the character of Captain Marvel. He’s not even called that any longer, now he’s known as “Shazam.” One of the things I always really liked about this character is that he was a hero of pure heart. Years ago, when the demon Neron orchestrated a huge plot to ensnare the “purest hero” of them all, he was going after Captain Marvel. In a world that includes people like Superman, that really says something. Now, courtesy of the reboot, we have seen the newly-empowered Billy Batson trash a man’s car because he didn’t like him, ask for rewards for breaking up a mugging, use his power to steal money from an ATM, and then, when confronted with an actual challenge at his own level, he runs away and hides. I’m told I don’t “get it,” and that this is more realistic.

Well, maybe I don’t get most of this. But comics are getting darker and darker as time passes, and few of the people in there I’d still consider “heroic.” Black Canary went from a second generation hero with steadfast convictions to saying things like “Leave one alive for questioning.” This is a hero? Superman, when meeting Batman in Justice League, grabbed him by the throat and said “Talk before I won’t let you.” Every hero has changed in DC, and most in Marvel. None, in my view, for the better.

I wonder, what does it say about our world when these things are the actions of “heroes”? Not every character needs to be a goofy, Dudley Do-Right caricature, of course. But unremittingly dark doesn’t work either. Batman is dark and tragic, absolutely. Nightwing isn’t supposed to be. If all you have is one note, the music isn’t interesting. There’s no contrast. I’ve seen several reports of directives from DC editorial that indicate this line-wide trend isn’t a coincidence. There are reports of mandates that every single issue has to have a certain page count dedicated to fighting, that all the good guys must show “the burden of being a hero.” But not every hero should be burdened by their choices.

Aside from actual good deeds and heroism, one of the things I’m missing in my comics is actual fun. I am presuming most hero fans have seen Iron Man I by now. One of the best scenes in the movie, for me, is when he gets his second version of the armor working, and flies around the city. He’s whooping and yelling in delight at the ride and the rush. Remember when heroes used to have fun? Seems like most of the writers don’t. And I think that’s just really sad.

In Praise of the Avengers Movie

Being rarely caught up on many of my usual projects, I took a few hours out the other day, and dropped in my Avengers DVD. Yes, I saw it several times in the theater, and then went and bought the DVD the day it came out. I know these days it’s pretty much not cool to say you like things (probably not to say “cool.” either, but whatever), but I’ll say it again: I love that movie.

Now, while I’m a huge fan, I’m not blindly devoted. Even as much I enjoy the movie, I admit there are a few mistakes along the way. Here are a few that jump out at me. When Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America have their throw-down in the woods, Loki is unattended on the rock outcropping where Thor left him, and apparently stays to watch the fight. Now, we know that Loki wanted, even needed, to get to the Helicarrier, but within the context of the movie, it’s just really weird that a master tactician like Cap, as well as brilliant mind like Stark, both don’t notice this weird behavior on Loki’s part.

Similarly, at the end of the battle for New York, Hawkeye runs out of arrows, grabs one off a fallen alien, and uses a grapple line to get away. Yet, in the big scene of the team standing over Loki at the end of the fight, Hawkeye’s got an arrow nocked and pointed at Loki’s face. I also don’t quite get what happened to Stark near the end. He goes through the rift, releases the missile, and then he and the armor both pass out? I’m not sure I get why that happened.

So those are the flaws I’ve found. And I think they are hugely outweighed by the rest of the movie, which is magnificent. The action and humor are great, the characters all have their moments to shine, but none are perfect. This is not only the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen, it was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, if ever.

Here are some of the specifics of things I thought were so very well done.

The scene where Black Widow tricks Loki into revealing his plan was something I loved. It was not only a well written bit that played to her strengths, but it called back to her opening scene very well.

Just about everything with Iron Man/Stark was great. Downey’s delivery of Stark’s snark was fantastic, and Stark is a brilliant man and great hero. He’s been a great character in all the movies to date, and I’m eagerly awaiting Iron Man 3 next year. I can’t nail down any one moment for him, but I can’t think of any bad ones, either. I do think it’s rather amusing that, as a sort of running gag, Stark does seem to spend a LOT of this movie falling. Next time you watch it, keep an eye out, you’ll see.

What impressed me about Thor’s scenes were two, rather small things. The scene on the mountain where Thor and Loki are arguing was good in and of itself, but in one bit there’s a wide shot where you see two ravens circling the peak. In myth, Odin had two ravens, Hugin and Mugin, that served as his messengers. That made me think both that Joss Weadon did his homework and that Odin was watching his sons. Also, if you look closely, Thor’s two fights that last longer than one or two blows make it so very clear that, while he’s very powerful, he’s also a skilled warrior. His fight with Iron Man shows some slick moves, but his clash with the Hulk on the Helicarrier really illustrated it. Hulk is flailing away, but Thor is using actual skill.

Speaking of, my favorite bit with the Hulk was a quick, subtle, thing. Well, ok, second favorite. Let’s face it, “PUNY GOD!” might have been the best moment of the movie. But on the Helicarrier, as Banner is staggering around in the throes of his transformation, he steps on a deck plate with writing on it. If you notice fast enough, or if you obsessively freeze-frame, you can clearly make out “Contents Under Pressure.” Truer words were never written about the good doctor.

All in all, Avengers was a fantastic movie. I’ve seen it several times. I’ve enjoyed it every time, and I bet I’ll be watching it again. In the meanwhile, before Avengers 2 comes out, there’s Iron Man 3, Captain America 2, and Thor 2 to look forward to, as well as possible outings for Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a good point in movie history for comic geeks.

Person of Interest/Birds of Prey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, I’m not pushing for some kind of crossover or meet up between the two (although I think it would be fantastic), but I’ve been struck over and over by the similarities between these two things that I really enjoy, so I thought I would see if anyone else has noticed them.

For those who know only one or the other (or, I suppose, don’t know either, but I’m not sure why you’d be reading this in that case), some simple background on both.

As originally conceived, the Birds of Prey comic book was about two characters. Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, had her spine damaged in a savage assault by the Joker. Rising to the challenge, even confined to a wheelchair, Barbara put her formidable mind to work and became Oracle, the world’s best hacker, tapping into information systems, manipulating records, finding out about all manner of trouble in the world.

But there’s only so much you can do from behind a keyboard, and Barbara was smart enough to know that. After looking into several candidates, she approached former Justice League member and second generation hero Black Canary. Canary was at a low point in her life. Her long time lover Green Arrow was dead, she was working by herself and being careless, barely making it through some cases. Oracle recruited her, and they became an incredible team, combining Canary’s phenomenal fighting skill and experience with Oracle’s knowledge and research, later expanding to more members. Canary didn’t know who Oracle was for a long time in their partnership, communicating by emails and voice over computers.

Sadly, all this has been retconned away, but it was a great idea for a very long time, created by Chuck Dixon, and later continued by Gail Simone.

Person of Interest is a show on CBS. On it, a computer genius who goes by Finch (played quite well by Michael Emerson) has designed a machine for the US government to predict terrorism plots. But, it can also predict smaller crimes, which the government wasn’t interested in. Finch was, and realized he needed to do something with the information. Himself partially physically disabled under still not explained circumstances, Finch recruits John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former CIA hitman living on the streets after losing the love his life. Reese’s combat skills and Finch’s computer genius let them get to people in trouble and help them. The show is brilliantly written and acted, with some great additions to the cast over time. Oh, and one of Reese’s hobbies is trying to figure out who Finch really is.

See any similarities? I strongly recommend fans of the comic (pre-reboot only) to check out the show. Likewise, if you’re a fan of Person of Interest, find a comic shop, or go to Amazon, and order some of the early Birds of Prey, just not anything from 2011 or later. I really think if you like one, you’ll really enjoy both.

Gail Simone fired by DC Comcs from Batgirl… via e-mail

On November 30th, there was a rumor flying around about Gail Simone leaving Batgirl, her sole remaining title at DC Comics. Mrs. Simone is usually very good about responding to and interacting with her fans. Her entire response to the rumor seemed to be a single post on her own forum “I have not left Batgirl.” This was a relief to some fans, but the phrasing was cause for concern to others. Apparently, those of us who tend towards the pessimistic were right in this case.

It has been reported, and confirmed by Gail Simone herself, that she was not only fired from the book, but that it was done over e-mail. Apparently new editor Brian Cunningham didn’t feel that she rated so much as a phone call. Personally, I find this horrifically rude and disrespectful at best, and would not wish that kind of treatment on someone I didn’t like, let alone Gail, who has been a favorite of mine for years. From Gail herself:

“Okay, well, if you read the news on Bleeding Cool, I unfortunately have the sad duty to confirm that it’s true. As of Wednesday of last week, I was informed by an email from my new editor that I am no longer the writer of Batgirl.

I cannot express my disappointment at this. I think everyone is aware how important Barbara Gordon is to me, and how important it is to me that her stories be told with respect and care, both for the character and the readers.”

So, what happened with all this? Well, let’s see. Gail Simone is a critically acclaimed, award winning writer. I don’t love everything she did with the rebooted Batgirl, but I don’t think any of it was badly written. I think there’s plenty of that in the DC reboot, but Gail isn’t part of that problem. So I’d say quality wasn’t the problem. Sales? Nope, Batgirl under Gail was selling solidly, over 50,000 copies a month, which is a very respectable amount these days. So why would you fire a popular writer with a devoted following? Possibly another hint, this time from Twitter:

@gailsimone did you not put enough women in refrigerators or something?

— Mike Nelson (@themikecnelson) December 9, 2012

@themikecnelson Funny you should say that.

— GailSimone (@GailSimone) December 9, 2012

For those who don’t know, “women in refrigerators” is a comic fan phrase referring to the deaths of female characters, for no apparent other reason than shock value. The phrase, coined by Gail herself, refers to a story early in the career of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, who comes home to find his girlfriend brutally murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator by the villain Major Force. Kyle lost at least two other girlfriends, both superheroes, along the way, in needless death scenes.  Gail’s response there seems to hint that she was either told she wasn’t killing enough people, or was instructed to kill a female character and refused, or at least didn’t want to do it.

There are a lot of other theories popping up in the aftermath of all this. Some accuse DC Comics of becoming some kind of “old boys” club, with fewer and fewer female staff there. The news about Gail Simone comes uncomfortably close on the heels of the news that Karen Berger, who worked so many years for DC’s Vertigo imprint, had also left. Some have noted that female characters over-all don’t seem to be doing as well in the DCNU. One of the examples cited most often is that they found a way to shoehorn in all four male Robins in their revised timeline, but not only was Steph Brown the only female, left out of that group, she has not appeared in any DC title at all and has been apparently blacklisted by one of the higher ups at the company. Others mention the formerly overweight, tough as nails Amanda Waller becoming yet another pin-up model type in the reboot.

Personally, I noticed a trend in the DCNU that I hoped I was wrong about. Gail Simone was particularly noted for certain titles before the re-launch. She did a great job on Secret Six, a book about a band of third string villains who operated as mercenaries. They followed their own somewhat twisted ideals, and developed some real bonds with each other. The book sold reasonably well, reprint trade paperbacks hit the New York Times bestsellers list, and the title won awards for its portrayal of lesbian characters. Not only did the title not make the jump to the new universe, but it has been retconned away, retroactively erased from the DCNU.

Gail also had a very long run on Birds of Prey, a team founded by Oracle, the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, and was identified strongly with that team. So much so that many mistakenly believe she created it, although that was actually Jordan K. Gorfinkle Chuck Dixon (another great writer now persona non grata at DC, but that’s another story). Gail was writing the Birds when the reboot was announced, and had the book taken from her, then given to someone who didn’t write comics. As that book and Batgirl unfolded, it became clear both that the previous Birds had never existed, and that Barbara was never Oracle. So, the two books Gail was best known for never happened. And now, she’s been fired from Batgirl, a character she loves, that fans associate with her, for reasons other than quality or sales.

Well, Gail isn’t male. She doesn’t write random violence and death with sex-pot females who serve as window dressing. She writes good stories with depth of character, respecting the history of the characters, and giving them complex motivations and personalities. In short, to many (no, not all) long term readers, she writes the opposite of what the new DC seems to be about. Is this why they took her off the last DC title she was writing?

It’s interesting: DC made the decisions along the way to erase the things Gail was best known for. And now, Gail herself is gone, for reasons so far not released. Of course, DC is a company, they are not accountable to the fans, and they don’t have to tell us anything. But in the absence of information, people make up theories and discuss rumors. I can’t say that anything I’ve mentioned here is why DC did anything and I wouldn’t presume to make myself an authority on their thinking, reasoning, or methods. What they’ve done fits what I’ve noted here. And you add in the oddness about Stephanie Brown, for example, and the general portrayal of female characters, and a pattern emerges. Gail writes real women. Look at the covers for any DC book, or several of their first issues in the reboot. The women wear as little as possible, take THAT off at random, and have sex because they are “bored.” That’s not a real woman, that’s the fantasy of a very immature man. Which is the stereotype of so many comic book fans. Some of whom are now writing and editing these very books. Hmmmm…….

10 Things I won’t miss from City of Heroes

With the game sadly leaving so soon, I put together this list to make myself feel better.  Given the option, I’d gladly deal with all of these for the chance to keep playing.

1. Clockworks. Metal cockroaches for lower level players.

2. Having to fight things that don’t give XP: auto turrets, Death Shaman’s zombies, Communications Officer’s Conscripts etc.

3. Getting herded into certain missions at certain points, no matter what. “Go talk to Lt. Wincott in the Hollows,” etc.

4. The unfindable mission objective. Sometimes that last hostage, glowie, whatever, just can’t freakin’ be found. That, to me, is not fun.

5. “That map.” Everyone has one. For me, it’s the cave mission map with the big room with multipile levels. I can never find my way through those. Some have a problem with the big Council base room with the water tanks, but about everyone has one type of map they can’t stand.

6. The number requirement on Task Forces. It’s irritating to be told you can’t do a mission because you can’t find enough people to go along with it. If you have two or three people you do well with, why not let the smaller group do the TF?

7. The second floor of the hospital. I don’t know why they feel the need to put you on the top floor and make you come down in elevators, THEN go back to the missions when you get killed, but it’s really annoying.

8. Heroes can beat the invading hordes of aliens, fight gangs at a time, defeat powerful arch villains, but get caught on cardboard boxes.

9. Targeting something you can’t find. Tab lets you autotarget, but that doesn’t mean you can always find said enemy.

10. Having to “earn” the cell phone information from your contacts. They send you out on life threatening missions, the least they could do is give you their phone number!