Review: Injustice

Imagine what would happen if Superman went bad. Not a mustache-twirling villain, but a frighteningly powerful fascist who demands loyalty and obedience from…. well, everyone. Sort of like a Twitter warrior with godlike powers.

Hence we get “Injustice,” an animated movie loosely based on the hit video game and the long-running comic-book series that served as its prequel. Sadly, it’s a bare-bones, rather shapeless kind of film, and it’s kind of shallow both in plot and theme – the moral issues raised by the source material are boiled down to “taking away people’s freedoms and rights is bad.” The voice acting is lackluster and the need to fulfill a three-act structure leads to a very rushed and somewhat anticlimactic ending.

The Joker decides to give Superman the “one bad day” treatment – he kidnaps the pregnant Lois, attaches the trigger of a nuclear bomb to her heart, and tricks Clark into killing her. The bomb goes off, destroying all of Metropolis. Enraged and grief-stricken, Superman murders the Joker in front of Batman. Then, with the support of Wonder Woman, decides that he is going to bring peace and order to the world…. whether the world likes it or not.

Only a few heroes, antiheroes and Harley Quinn dare to oppose Superman’s new regime, with Batman as their leader. But as their resources and numbers dwindle – including a loss that forever fractures Batman’s family – Superman makes a Faustian alliance with a villain who promises to help him achieve his dream of peace, and descends further into murder and tyranny as he kills those who offend him. The only hope that this Earth has is for Batman to free Mr. Terrific, and find someone who can stop Superman.

It was always going to be a challenge to reduce a long-running, years-spanning comic series and a full-length video game into a movie that isn’t even ninety minutes long. That’s a lot of character development, subplots, battles and important events that need to be trimmed away. So needless to say, the story is very bare-bones and loses a lot of its narrative oomph – as well as the expansive cast of characters one would expect of the Justice League. I’m still not entirely sure why Harley Quinn is involved except as comic relief.

The story also seems to not have much depth – the main message of “police states and fascism are bad” is a good one, but it isn’t presented with much complexity or nuance. The movie also suffers from having to neatly wrap up everything in a bow after a third-act battle… which it utterly fails at. Lots of plot threads are left hanging when it slams into the credits, only seconds after the whole superpowered-tyrant-controlling-the-world issue is resolved in a very, very anticlimactic way. And whenever a hero is killed – which happens frequently – there’s barely time to register it. Most of the many deaths just don’t matter, and some characters just walk right out to never be seen again (such as Aquaman and Shazam).

It also inherits some original sins from the source materials, and despite many changes, it makes no attempt to explain them. For instance, Wonder Woman is strangely hostile to Batman and all-too-eager to turn Superman into a super-tyrant, apparently being too stupid to see how all this could escalate. Why is she so different from the usual Wonder Woman we know and love? No idea. She just is.

The animation is…. okay. Not the best I’ve seen, but not offensively bad. The voice acting is resolutely mediocre, through – most of the actors range from okay-but-not-very-good (Anson Mount, Justice Hartley, Gillian Jacobs, a strangely stiff Janet Varney) to this-is-just-really-bad (Faran Tahir, Kevin Pollak’s Joker). Derek Phillips is admittedly quite good as Nightwing, and Oliver Hudson is pretty fun as Plastic Man.

The one good aspect of “Injustice” is that it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to watch “Superman Vs. The Elite,” an animated movie that delves into the morals of superheroes and what happens when they throw aside laws. Consider that a recommendation, and give it a watch instead of this halfhearted, fatally-flawed adaptation.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Part 2 (Spoilers)

I’ve finished the entire film now, seen it multiple times, and formulated quite a few thoughts about it. Among them:

Thankfully, the random Russian family is absent from this cut of the movie, being one of Whedon’s many baffling creative choices – I mean, why give Cyborg a whole character arc when you can just show random nameless people that we don’t care about? In this cut, the Russian town is completely deserted, which seems like a more likely choice for Steppenwolf’s secret headquarters… and, somehow, makes the whole event seem much more sinister. It’s a mission of death, brewing and blooming in a place that is, effectively, dead.

Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth is, by the way, a delight. The fact that he’s more prominently featured in the Snyder Cut is another point in its favor.

A pretty effective horror scene in which a hapless janitor finds a parademon lurking in the lab… very good at establishing mood and the sinisterness of the parademons. I honestly never felt that in the Josstice League cut.

The firing of the message arrow was longer and more ritualized here, giving more of a feeling that the Amazons are using magic, and very ancient means. It’s also specified that the arrow is an arrow of the goddess Artemis. Overall, it has a slight “lighting the beacons of Gondor” feeling.

It also leads into an excellent scene of Diana investigating the temple where the arrow landed, which – again – increases the feeling of atmosphere and menace considerably. In the Josstice League cut, she just saw it on TV and immediately knew what it meant. Here she knows its significance, but we see her uncovering what it means through non-verbal means and an Indiana Jones-style infiltration of an ancient secret chamber. Compared to the hamfisted dialogue of the Whedon cut, it’s refreshing to have a director assume his audience is smart enough to decipher what’s going on.

Ryan Choi is in this. If you don’t know who Ryan Choi is, he is the second person to assume the mantle of the Atom, a size-changing superhero. Basically, our dear Zack Snyder was laying groundwork for a future movie if the character went over well. But like most non-white characters, he was eliminated from the theatrical cut, which is a shame, because he has some good energy and works well opposite Silas Stone.

Something about Joe Morton apparently just says “genius scientist.” I have seen him in several roles, and the three most prominent ones – this one included – all cast him as a genius scientist.

He’s also our entry-way to Victor Stone, aka Cyborg, whom we first meet being emo in a hidden apartment. This was… about all the character development Cyborg had in the Josstice League cut – he was just emo and wooden for the whole movie, and then he just sort of decided not to be at the climax. It was truly abysmal, and I actively disliked the character of Cyborg because he was so poorly-written.

Turns out that was all Whedon’s fault. Again. Thanks, Whedon. Thanks so much.

Ah, slo-mo. It wouldn’t be a Zack Snyder movie without slo-mo.

A new scene also introduces us to Vulko, Aquaman’s mentor figure, who is rocking the Elrond hair here. He’s appeared in the Aquaman movie so his appearance is not a huge surprise, but it would have been a fun way to segue into Momoa’s own movie.

One contribution Snyder has made that I’m not really a fan of is the air bubbles that Atlanteans generate whenever they want to talk, and their apparent inability to communicate verbally without them. If they’re able to breathe water, they should be able to talk underwater. Especially since sound does travel underwater – Snyder could have had some fun with it by coming up with watery distortion.

I do, however, love the way that Steppenwolf communicates with DeSaad in this movie, in which a giant slab of stone in the middle of a nuclear power plant (no, I don’t know why it’s there) turns into a molten representation of whoever he’s talking to. It’s a very cool-looking visual representation of communication, more so than just talking through a portal or something like that.

The Snyder Cut also does something that Whedon’s never did: makes Steppenwolf a three-dimensional villain. One of the things I (and everyone else) hated about Steppenwolf was how thin and cliched he was – we’re simply informed that he conquers because… that’s what he likes to do. That’s his whole motive. Nothing deeper or more identifiable than that.

But in Snyder’s cut, you almost feel sorry for Steppenwolf. His motivation here is that he somehow betrayed Darkseid once in the distant past, and now he has to conquer worlds to be allowed to return home. It’s a simple motive – he wants to go home – but it’s one that we can understand and sympathize with, even if he’s still obviously evil.

Diana also gives a more elongated version of the “age of heroes” retelling, with some notable differences. For one thing, it’s worth noting that Whedon trimmed out the African and Asian warriors fighting for the kingdoms of men. More attention is paid to the Green Lantern who dies during the fight. We also see more of the Motherboxes and how they work, which makes them feel more like they aren’t just MacGuffins.

But the biggest difference is that it isn’t Steppenwolf who gets his butt kicked by Earth’s defenders – it’s Darkseid himself, albeit before he started wearing a shirt and calling himself Darkseid. He also is forced to retreat because Ares critically injures him, to the point where he’s bleeding all over the place. We also get an idea of how hard it is to hurt Darkseid – even in his youthful, less powerful days, it takes two or three Greek gods to take him down.

It’s interesting that despite the rather bleak depiction of Batman in Batman V. Superman, It’s Snyder’s cut that has Batman being more optimistic about humanity and the possibility of heroes coming together, whereas Whedon’s is all whiny gloom.

Lord of the Rings: The Snyder Cut?

Yes, more about the Snyder Cut.

One thing I’ve seen people say online is that the Snyder cut of Justice League is sort of like DC Comics’ Lord of the Rings. I understand perfectly well that they mean in terms of scope, epicness, and world-building, but the comparison really took me aback when I stopped and thought about it.

Why? Because Lord of the Rings‘ movie adaptations are actually sort of the opposite of how Justice League was handled. Consider the directors. Peter Jackson was a cult director when he was given the reins of a movie trilogy to rival, or even surpass, the original Star Wars trilogy – clearly talented and capable, but not a megastar. Zack Snyder, on the other hand, has given us several blockbuster movies with varying degrees of success.

Yet the movies were handled in opposite ways by the studios. Imagine if Peter Jackson had filmed the entire extended-edition Lord of the Rings movies, all three at the same time, an epic undertaking intended to give us a great and massive story. Then the movie Dungeons and Dragons flops at the box office, and New Line wets their pants.

Instead of making sure that the best possible movie is released, they take the first opportunity to replace Jackson with another director, popular but overrated, and not really capable of giving the movie the gravitas it needs. They also want the movie to be funnier, as well as only two movies instead of three.

And that new director – let’s call him Moss – takes a movie trilogy that is all but finished, rips it to shreds, and reshoots most of the scenes, making everything less epic, impressive and important, and adding in “funny” dialogue. Many side-characters are carved out completely (an awful lot of them non-white people, it’s worth noting), and main characters have their stories carved down to the bone until almost nothing is left. Oh, and a lot of that pesky world-building gets stripped as well. It’ll scare the normies. Plus, make sure the whole story fits neatly into two standard-length movies, and just keep trimming until it does.

Can you imagine the trash-fire that the Lord of the Rings would have been if New Line had treated those movies the way WB treated Justice League? It would have been a disaster financially, fans would have hated them, and non-fans probably would have been underwhelmed. We would likely have never gotten the extended editions, and seen the director’s adaptation as it was originally intended.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Part 1 (Spoilers)

Since the Snyder Cut of Justice League is a mammoth four-hour-long expanse, I’ve decided to watch it in sections. This evening, I finished watching the first part of it, with no particular expectations – I’ve been avoiding Youtube videos about it for the past few days, so I could come in with fresh eyes.

And I can definitely say: it’s much better than the Josstice League cut.

Admittedly that’s a low bar – the theatrical cut of this movie was a mess, a mismatched Frankenstein’s Monster of two clashing styles that managed to make each other look terrible. Also, it didn’t feel very epic. It’s fine to have an individual superhero movie with smaller stakes – see Ant-Man and the Wasp – but for a team-up of A-list superheroes, you need everything to feel grand and massive in scale. Nothing about the theatrical cut felt like the whole world was in danger.

That is very much remedied in the Snyder Cut, or at least the first part of it. Things feel bigger, more intense, more expansive.

Flaws? Well, it’s a bit slow. The first part of the film takes its time and unfolds in a leisurely manner… and sometimes it’s a little too leisurely, such as when the Scandinavian women sing, or when Batman is very slowly crossing a mountain range. And yes, if Zack Snyder’s staples like slow-mo bother you, gird your loins, because he does use it.

However, most of the stuff I can note are positives. Almost everything in this cut was done better than in the Whedon cut – sometimes the changes weren’t drastic, but they were notable.

For one thing, there were a lot of smaller scenes that were inserted that make it flow more effectively, such as when the Amazon mother-box first activates – we see one of the Amazons reacting to it and investigating it, before ordering that Hippolyta be told. Or Cyborg sensing the mother-box in his closet activating.

Other scenes were clearly reshot, and frankly they seem a lot better than the ones in the Josstice League version. Batman’s entire conversation with Aquaman has a lot more weight – when Aquaman says “You’re out of your mind, Bruce Wayne,” there’s a subtle hint of menace there rather than humor. And thank God, Batman isn’t spouting Whedon dialogue. Batman should never say Whedon dialogue. Ever. In any situation.

One of the most notable is the scene where Wonder Woman defeats the terrorists and saves a bunch of schoolchildren. The scene is longer, more intense, and Diana feels more like she’s actually angry and disbelieving that people could behave this way. Furthermore, instead of simply throwing the briefcase up in the air, she actually flies through the ceiling a considerable distance, and then throws it. It makes the situation seem more dire that the explosion was so massive.

Furthermore… she seems like more of a badass here, fighting more effectively, flying into the air, and using her superpowers, including that bracer-clashing move of hers. Yet at the same time, the Snyder Cut also highlights her compassion by having her immediately reassure the children and ask everyone if they are all right.

Speaking of how women are depicted, it’s also interesting to me that Zack Snyder presents the Amazons in a far less sexualized manner than onetime feminist icon Joss Whedon, including removing the implied rape threat. Something to think about.

Actually, he depicts the Amazons better in almost every way. In this movie, they’re fiercer, more effective, and the enemy they face is much more imposing, so that their losses feel more earned. Having them all roar “We have no fear!” is a pretty awesome moment, even though you know they are afraid. The fight with Steppenwolf is much more destructive and epic – including a whole temple falling into the sea – and Snyder pauses to let their losses sink in before launching us back into some pretty awesome fight scenes.

Speaking of Steppenwolf, he looks a thousand times better here. This is a CGI render that someone actually finished, and he doesn’t just look like a weird gray guy in a giant hat. He’s bigger, scarier, his voice is deeper and more distorted, and he’s covered with an armor of living needles.

The movie has also been rescored, and honestly I prefer it. The scene of Lois visiting Superman’s memorial feels poignant and heartrending in a quiet, unobtrusive way, without being too on-the-nose with people doing criminal stuff or holding up signs saying “I tried.”

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the first part of Zack Snyder’s masterwork. It’s good, better than I expected so far. I’m hoping it will continue to entertain me. To be continued!

Making fans happy – my thoughts

We’re currently in an unpleasant phase in corporate/fan relationships. The attitude of the media, some consumers and a number of people in the entertainment industry is essentially that fans should not be pandered to. Which is to say, “shut up and eat the foul sludge we’re peddling without questioning it, plebeian.”

Dare to question your corporate overlords, and you’re labelled a troll or “toxic fan,” which is a convenient way of not actually engaging with the fans who care about things like character consistency and good writing.

That’s why it’s so heartening to see Zack Snyder’s four-hour cut of Justice League has finally been released after four years of kicking and screaming from online fans. Now, I have not yet seen the Snyder Cut, though I hope to enjoy it more than the Frankenstein Monster that was the “Josstice League” cut. I don’t like Joss Whedon, in case I haven’t mentioned it. I’ve seen some side-by-side comparisons of various scenes, and the Snyder Cut… honestly feels like the superior cut. It’s more epic, less stupid, and more tonally cohesive.

I know that a lot of critics have trashed it as being a horrible movie, but also found that a number of those critics don’t like superhero movies anyway. And honestly, I’m kind of inclined to view them as biased anyway, because… as much as I hate this phrase… this movie was not made for them. It was not made to court critical acclaim. It was not made for people who actively did not want fans to get the Snyder Cut because it would be “rewarding” them, who viewed the fans as “toxic” for demanding something from their betters. It was made for the audience to enjoy.

That’s why, even if the Snyder Cut is bad, I’m glad it was finished and released, and I hope it’s wildly successful. The entertainment business needs to be reminded – forcibly, with money – that the fans and the wider audience do not owe corporations their money or their loyalty. It is not “pandering” or “rewarding” people to give them entertainment that they have expressed a desire for, or want to actually see done well.

There’s another recent example – the movie Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a completely inoffensive and mildly funny movie, a good movie to watch with children. But the impression left by its first trailer was… catastrophic. The CGI model immediately put people’s teeth on edge.

So what did the studio do? They reeled the movie back in, fixed the CGI, and everyone cheered. The only sourpuss was Jim Carrey, who complained about – what else? – entitled fans being given what they wanted, instead of what the studio shoveled out of a cesspit.

But what was the result? Not only was Sonic a success financially, it was a hit with audiences. Not just because it’s a thoroughly okay children’s movie, but because they didn’t just tell the fans they were toxic and flounce away. They actually fixed what people didn’t like.

So we can hope that studios are starting to pay attention – it does not pay to diss the fans and denounce all criticism. When you work with the fans rather than against them, they are more inclined to give you their money and praise.

Nubia – A Great Character Who Is Neglected

I am what you could call moderately informed about mainstream comics. I know about all the A-list characters, quite a few of the B-list, and a fair number of C-listers. I’m an avid viewer of Linkara’s comic-book review videos, as well as a few other channels that cover comic content, as well as research, TV adaptations… and the comics themselves, of course.

But when it comes to comics, very few things irritate me like taking a magnificent character… and doing them dirty.

For instance, I was livid when Birds of Prey came out, and I saw what they had done to Cassandra Cain. The character in the comics is a complex, well-developed character with a unique backstory, a lot of moral and personal confusion, a likable, good-hearted personality, and some representation for people with learning disabilities. She’s an elite super-assassin who couldn’t bear to kill, and who didn’t speak or read because she was able to read body language so well.

Cassandra Cain in the movie? She’s a mouthy little brat played by a kid who can’t act. It was revolting.

And I sort of feel the same way about Nubia. Now for context, until a few days ago, I had no idea that the character of Nubia even existed, because despite her superhero pedigree – she’s the kidnapped twin sister of Wonder Woman – she’s surprisingly absent from most comic books and not talked about very much. In fact, she’s so obscure that I realized that I had actually read Injustice 2, a comic with her in a small role… and I hadn’t realized that she wasn’t just made up for that comic.

And it’s really a shame, because Nubia is a character that could have a lot of power and resonance.

Unfortunately, her most visible reappearance in recent years… is Nubia: Real One.

This comic book is a perfect microcosm of everything wrong with DC Comics’ young adult stuff at present. They are desperately trying to reach out to younger readers at present, but instead of respectfully making stories about characters like the Teen Titans, Red Robin, Miss Martian, Superboy and other popular young DC characters… they make stories about the woes of being a mostly-ordinary, not-very-dynamic girl living in a crime-ridden rathole of a city, with a little bit of Wonder Woman crammed in there almost as an afterthought.

And yes, they deal with sensitive, painful, complex social issues… with all the subtlety of a wooden club to the nose.

These recent graphic novels are also made by people who are clearly not interested in writing superhero stories. Gotham High is perhaps the most obvious example of this, where it reimagines Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and… the Joker… as teenagers going to Gotham’s public schools. Melissa de la Cruz’s take on this concept was absolutely ghastly, and I hated every page of it. Reimagining the Joker as a slightly edgy but good-hearted poor boy in love with Selina absolutely made my blood boil. What they did to Alfred – having him abandon the traumatized Bruce for ten years – was unforgivable.

Just the cover makes me angry

The future releases don’t look promising either. I Am Not Starfire focuses on a dumpy, self-pitying pouty goth teen who seems to detest the popular and beloved Starfire character, her mother, and whose lack of superpowers means she won’t be doing anything heroic. We get to focus on coming-of-age woes, mother-daughter drama, and probably how awful Starfire. How enticing. And the Jessica Cruz graphic novel seems to be abandoning the galaxy-spanning space-cop stuff for Mesoamerican mythology and immigration issues. It’s not impossible to deal with such issues in a Green Lantern title, but you should keep the core of the character intact – you can have space problems and social issues!

I’m not going to go into the politics represented in Nubia: Real One, because they are so polarizing. And I hate politics. What I can tell you is this:

  1. There’s a lot of hate woven into the book. It’s the exact opposite of the Black Panther movie, which drew most people in by both acknowledging the struggles that African-Americans face and the need to help, and the fact that trying to get revenge or use violent means is ultimately self-defeating and wrong. It had a good heart that embraced everyone, and this comic… doesn’t. Whatever your political position, it should not come from a place of hatred, which is unfortunately the position of most people today.
  2. A lot of aspects of it do not make sense when you think about them for more than two seconds (why is a well-connected rich boy going to a crappy inner-city public school?).
  3. There is no zero subtlety. None. You know how the X-Men are often used as analogies for various minorities – black people, Jewish people, LGBTQ people? This allows the reader to examine the core nature and effects of prejudice without getting too tangled up in specific immediate politics, and allows them to be taught lessons in a timeless way. This comic is the exact opposite: it bludgeons you with current-day, extremely polarizing politics in almost every single page.

And really, Nubia deserves better. The Nubia of this book is almost painfully unremarkable in every way but her super-strength. I think we’re supposed to see her as becoming powerful and strong at the end, but it feels so artificial after watching her cower, cringe and cry for the entire book. Basically, someone gives her a pep talk about how great she is, and somehow this causes a complete change in personality. Not that she had much of a personality – she has the dynamic qualities of a wet sock.

Furthermore, Nubia is not a superhero in this. She does one vaguely superheroic thing early on, which only occurs in order to establish that all white people hate her because she’s black. But if you hear “Nubia is Wonder Woman’s black twin sister, and she has similar powers!” you expect her to do something… superheroic. Something epic. Something powerful. And it never happens.

Don’t you want to see this woman kick some butt?

In fact, you could probably cut Wonder Woman (who looks awful, by the way) out of the story altogether, and you would just have a rather melodramatic, poorly-written story about a not-very-interesting teenage girl dealing with over-the-top racism.

And that is not what the character of Nubia should be. I don’t know much about the character, but I would expect her to have a lot in common with Diana. And you would expect her story to involve massive threats, gods, monsters, magic, and some kind of epic journey for Nubia that spans both the world of the Amazons and the world of humankind. That is the kind of story that Nubia – the Nubia of the original comics – deserves.

She deserves to be bold, fiery, strong yet compassionate, and confident in her physical and mental power. Not saying she can’t have vulnerabilities – I love doubts and vulnerabilities in powerful characters – but the Nubia of this book is too drippy. I don’t want to see her punch a cop. I want to see her superhero-land on the ground so hard that it leaves a crater, only to rise flawless and indomitable from the dust, and punch some mythic monster in the face.

But it doesn’t happen. Because this book is made for people who don’t read superhero comics, by people who don’t read or write superhero comics.

Don’t ask me why Diana is suddenly speaking Spanish.

I can only speculate on why, because DC seems to be specifically deemphasizing everything superheroic about their superheroes… at a time when superheroes are more popular than they have ever been. I can only wonder why they are making stories that people who don’t like superhero comics won’t pick up because they ostensibly involve superheroes, and people who do like them won’t pick them up because they’re actually all about social issues and bad teen romance, not superheroing.

With a little research, I bet that I could have created a phenomenal story for Nubia. Perhaps one that marries the Grecian origins of the Amazons with some African mythology, for instance, and one that has oodles of action, fantasy and adventure. But for some reason, DC doesn’t want that kind of story to be offered to new readers.

And yet they wonder why My Hero Academia, an unabashed and unashamed superhero story full of action, drama, horror, heart and character development, resonates so strongly.

Oh, and the art in all of these books is horrific. Just the worst. I am shocked that the people who drew these are actually employed at a major comic company rather than posting on Deviantart. DC Comics has access to some of the best comic-book illustrators in the world – see the image at the top of the page – and they keep choosing people whose art is just… ugly and amateurish.

I could perhaps give this art a pass if it were being posted on social media by an enthusiastic self-published person, or someone with a small publisher. But this is DC. It’s one of the Big Two. The art in these books should be polished and sublime, and… are they under the impression that kids only like ugly blobby sloppy artwork in their cartoons and comics? Because when the art of Gotham High is as good as it gets, you have a problem!

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Nubia, Nubia: Real One, and the current slate of DC’s young-adult releases. Ciao!

The selfishness at the heart of Batwoman

I haven’t blogged about stuff for awhile, but I had to speak up on the subject of the CW’s laughably bad TV series, Batwoman. The shared universe formerly known as the Arrowverse is now several years past its sell-by date, and while it’s never been good exactly, it is pretty rancid by now. It didn’t help that they cast Ruby Rose as a character we’re presumably supposed to like, despite her inability to do anything but smirk.

Lately, I’ve been watching Youtuber ProcrastiTara’s reviews of Batwoman, and also keeping abreast of the news of the second season, which will be recasting the role with an entirely new character… more on that later. I’ve known for awhile that the people making this show don’t understand Batman, but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the reason they don’t is because they’re too selfish to appreciate a character whose core is selflessness.

At the beginning of Batwoman, we’re informed that Batman’s real reason for donning the cowl and fighting crime isn’t to save others from the heartbreak that he has suffered, and it isn’t to protect the people of Gotham from evil. No, it’s because he’s edgy and he doesn’t like rules!

You see? They cannot grasp that he chose to be Batman for unselfish reasons, because the kind of people who write this sort of character are in themselves fundamentally selfish. If you have any doubts, we’re assured, at the end of the very first episode, that Kate’s reason for becoming Batwoman is because she wants “the freedom to be myself.” Her core reason for being a superhero is purely about herself, not about wanting to help others. No wonder the character is such a despicable tool.

Honestly, there is nothing heroic about a person who only does good things because they want to “be themselves.” Batman may be more fully himself when he dons the cowl than when he is Bruce Wayne, but that is NOT his motivation for doing what he does.

This was absolutely cemented by the promotional text released to publicize Batwoman 2.0, who is an entirely new character who is somehow able to be a superhero despite being a homeless drug addict with no combat training. What is this new character’s motivation? To “no longer be a victim” and “be powerful.” Again, it’s not about being good, noble and unselfish, about saving people who cannot save themselves – it’s about feeling an artificial sense of empowerment (which, let’s face it, describes pretty much all empowerment – most of the time, it’s just feeling a fake pleasant sensation, not actually changing anything or accomplishing anything).

People who are too selfish to come up with noble reasons for superheroes to do what they do should not be allowed to write/showrun for them. Period. I have zero admiration for these characters, and zero reason for cheer for them. Hopefully they’ll shoot this series in the head at the end of the second season, which they really should have done already when you consider the ratings.

Good things about “Man of Steel”

Man of Steel is a movie that was divisive when it first came out, mainly because the infamous scenes in which Jonathan Kent tells his adopted son Clark that he “maybe” should have left a bunch of other kids to drown, and later lets himself die when Clark could have saved him because people were watching. I suspect the point of the scenes was to suggest that Jonathan loves his son so much that he wants to keep him safe at all costs, but the execution was faulty.

Oh, and the Superman killing Zod thing, which wasn’t necessarily bad (yo, fanboys, Superman HAS killed Zod before. Remember Superman II? Because Supes killed Zod in that movie, and he didn’t even seem to feel bad), but which they kind of undermined by having him joking and messing around in the very next scene.

And yes, I have my issues with the movie. For instance, it drives me insane that they call that skull fragment a “codex.” It’s not a codex. A codex is literally a bound book. Don’t call things what they aren’t, Zack!

Pictured: Not A Codex

But the opinions really started going against the film when Zack Snyder produced the follow-up, Batman V. Superman, which had a lot of weird attempts to deconstruct DC’s classic heroes by having them all either be psychopaths or really reluctant to be superheroes. Retroactively, Man of Steel became the “bad” Superman movie (even though I’d argue that artistically in direction, writing and overall acting, it’s superior to most of the other Superman films — certainly Superman 3 and 4, and Superman Returns).

But honestly? It’s actually a pretty good movie. Yes, it has Zack Snyder’s tendency to overthink things and subvert iconic figures, but the movie does treat Superman as a truly inspiring figure who makes the world better with his presence. And while it is a slow build, it does provide a lot of interesting ideas that add to Superman’s mythos.

For instance, I really like the idea that Clark Kent had to essentially grow into his powers, and develop discipline in his use of them. After all, having the superpowered senses… isn’t entirely natural. Had he lived his life on Krypton, he never would have had them. So we see him struggling to cope with senses going haywire in seemingly ordinary circumstances, such as rushing into a closet to hide from the stimuli, like an autistic child who is getting overwhelmed.

Or how about his anger? I’ve seen people complain about the scene where Clark essentially crucifies a guy’s truck, that it was stupid of him to do that. But… think about it. Clark Kent is a guy who has never been able to express his anger when people treat him badly. He’s been treated as a freak, a weirdo, a victim, and lived his life in fear of others. He has never once fought back, no matter what, because he knows his strength would kill anyone he attacked. This is the only way he can express his anger, and he’s probably bottled up a lot, especially if he blamed himself for his father’s death.

This is something that not many Superman stories address. Clark Kent/Kal-El may be an alien, but his heart is very human. He can be angry. He’s allowed to feel anger. Anyone who is mistreated will feel anger. And yet, we see him as someone whose dedication to not hurting others leads him to stand there and take the abuse rather than exerting his power.

In a sense, it’s part of his arc, because we see him freed from his anger and misery when he finally discovers who he truly is. After Jor-El gives him his pep talk, Clark/Kal-El seems newly at-peace and happy for the first time.

Which brings me to another thing I like: Supes’ first flight. It’s not so much the animation of the flying itself, which is… you know, it’s good. What I like is Clark’s reaction to flying for the first time — we see him laughing giddily with exhilaration, like a child who has just learned how to do something. It’s really very adorable.

This is more a personal like than an objective point, but I also really liked the design work for the Kryptonian clothing and ships — they gave the feeling of immense complexity and technological advancement that had fallen into decadence and decay.

I’m not going to go into a full-length pros-and-cons analysis of Man of Steel — not right now, anyway — but I wanted to note the things that were, in my opinion, good from a storytelling perspective and a character development perspective.

I feel like a lot of the reactions to Clark’s development in Man of Steel is based on this idea that Superman is perfect, and wouldn’t experience doubts or anger or whatever. And that’s not really conducive to good storytelling. I’m not saying that pure-hearted, noble characters cannot exist and should be subverted whenever possible, because that is not the case. But you can have pure-hearted, noble characters make mistakes and struggle. It doesn’t make them any less good.

A good example is Captain America in the movie Civil War. The climactic battle is sparked off when it’s revealed that Bucky killed Tony’s parents many years ago, and — more hurtful to Tony — Cap knew about it and did not tell him. This is not done out of malice, but because Cap feared what Tony’s reaction would be, especially since Bucky was brainwashed at the time the murders took place.

So do we see Cap as less of a noble, pure-hearted figure because he did that? No, for two reasons:

  1. It was essentially a mistake, and a mistake that any one of us might make, because it’s in kind of a moral grey area. Should you reveal all and risk someone doing something terrible for revenge on an innocent person, or should you keep an important secret from someone who has a right to know? I don’t think there’s a clear-cut “right” answer.
  2. He apologizes. He admits wholeheartedly that he was completely in the wrong and he does not make any excuses.

And that’s kind of how I see Superman in Man of Steel. He’s noble and pure of heart, but it doesn’t mean he’s devoid of internal struggle and personal flaws. A person can inspire hope and be a hero while still stumbling and getting back up again.

At the very least, Man of Steel should be commended for at least trying some angles that previous adaptations hadn’t, and trying to think about how it would be to grow up with superhuman powers. I do not wholly embrace Zack Snyder’s approach to superheroes, except maybe in Watchmen, but I don’t believe his depiction of Superman is a failure either.

Youtube’s Comic Tropes

On Youtube, I’m subscribed to a few comic-book related channels (Linkara, obviously), and I recently stumbled across a guy called Comic Tropes, who does retrospectives, reviews, histories and trope analyses of various comic books. Not just DC and Marvel, although obviously he focuses mostly on those.

He’s got a lot of energy, and he does some fun little self-competitions like when he counts the tropes in a given creator’s comic book, and he drinks something weird whenever an individual trope comes up. In one video, for instance, he drinks different flavors of moonshine. And he’s very fair-minded, such as when he examined whether Rob Liefeld had improved over the years.

If you enjoy Linkara or ComicsDrake or other such reviewers, then please check out this guy, and preferably subscribe.

Review: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

Some movies about Superman are excellent. Some are… rather ungood. And “Superman: Man Of Tomorrow” is intensely, spectacularly, memorably…. okay.

It’s just okay. It’s hard to really find anything to love or hate about this animated origin story for everybody’s favorite blue-and-red Boy Scout — nothing about it is too bad or good, from the serviceable but unexciting animation to the pleasant but not particularly gripping characterizations. It dabbles with some deeper stuff, like Superman’s temptation to live a quieter and safer life, but ultimately it mostly focuses on explosive spectacle and a bit of horror.

Clark Kent has just come to Metropolis to work as an intern at the Daily Planet, where he discreetly uses his superpowers to just kind of fly around in a thrift-store disguise. But after he saves the city from a runaway spacecraft, budding journalist Lois Lane becomes fascinated by “the Super-Man” and is determined to corral him into an interview, on HER terms.

But then Star Labs is attacked by a yellow-toothed space-motorcycle-wearing thug named Lobo, who reveals he is here to nab Superman in order to secure a massive bounty on the last Kryptonian. Who put forth this bounty, and therefore knows that he exists? We never find out. It’s actually just kind of forgotten. Supes doesn’t even seem interested in knowing who wants him captured and/or killed.

This battle is a turning point for Superman in several ways: his costume is destroyed, a Martian appears out of nowhere to defend him, and an innocent janitor is accidentally consumed by purple alien goo. Before long, a new enemy is stalking through Metropolis, sucking the very life-force from everyone it comes across. To stop it, Superman will need to ally himself with a man who may just become his greatest enemy… and also Lobo.

“Superman: Man of Tomorrow” aims to tell the story of Clark Kent’s formation into Superman – how he got his costume, how he got his name, and how he made the conscious decision to be Earth’s protector. None of it is too deep or dramatic; don’t expect lots of introspection and contemplation here. The choice is simple, and we know more or less what he’s going to choose, but the question is HOW Supes is going to make his official debut. And it’s kind of cute to see him do things like tie a blanket around his shoulders to see how he’d look with a cape.

The story itself is a pretty straightforward one, confronting Superman with obstacles – he keeps encountering stronger and stronger foes, both physically and mentally. But it occasionally gives us quieter interludes with the Kent family, or the janitor’s family. Perhaps the biggest problem is that during the climactic conflict, Superman decides to introduce himself to the entire crowd watching it, rather than dealing with the horrifying potential-world-ending threat behind him.

At the same time, we see him getting to know Lois Lane, who’s exactly what you’d expect – she’s kind of arrogant and convinced she’s already the best, but it’s intriguing to see her interact with Clark, growing closer to him even as he grows in confidence. Clark also contrasts wildly against the amoral, crazed Lobo, who livens up the script with his antics (such as telling Lois stories that reduce her to screaming, “Stop! What’s WRONG with you?!”).

As for the animation, it’s a mixed bag. It looks very simple and kind of cheap at times (I was reminded of “Archer” during some scenes, and that show isn’t exactly known for its beautiful animation), but I suppose they were saving the money and skill for the fight scenes, which are sometimes pretty dynamic and fluid. It’s not bad exactly, but it’s not particularly good.

If you’re hoping for greatness, “Superman: Man of Tomorrow” will surely disappoint you with its profound okayness. It’s just okay. If watched for a just-okay everything, it will probably satisfy.