Batman: The Telltale Series is the Last Original Batman Story

In Christopher Booker’s book (nice) The Seven Basic Plots he lays out that across all stories we tell as the collective humanity, there are really only seven fundamental plots.

Overcoming the Monster, in which the protagonist sets out to defeat a force of evil threatening their homeland. See; The Dark Knight.

Rags to Riches, in which the poor protagonist acquires wealth, power, and/or a mate, loses it all, then regains it as a more grown person. See; The Dark Knight Rises.

The Quest, in which the protagonist and their companions seek an important object or location, facing obstacles and temptations along the way. See; Batman: Arkham City.

Voyage and Return, in which the protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming its threats, returns a changed person. See: Batman Begins.

Comedy, in which the light and humorous character is faced with more and more confusing conflicts but has a cheerful ending. See; Batman ’66.

Tragedy, in which the protagonist has one major character flaw that proves to be their undoing. A fundamentally “good” hero falls. See; Justice League: Tower of Babel or Justice League: Doom.

Rebirth, in which an important event forces the protagonist to change their ways and become a better person. See; (technically) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, you’ll notice Batman has a story that fits into each of these plots. Hell, considering just how many Batman stories there are he has multitudes for each of those. Batman has had at least four modern animated series, three different film franchises, and has been consistently been in comics for decades. Batman fatigue is a real thing, and for people like myself it has already set in. It’s not that he’s a bad character, it’s just that every Batman story there is to tell has been told already. There are no new stories left,  only variations on what we’ve all seen before.

Enter Telltale Games.

Telltale has been one of the most consistently good video game companies out there for a couple years now. They specialize in episodic licensed brand adventure games that almost always turn out far better than expected. Their The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series is still the best thing called The Walking Dead, their Tales From the Borderlands is a masterpiece, and even their weakest series, Game of Thrones: The Telltale Series, is still an excellent send up of Game of Thrones proper. When they announced a Batman game I was skeptical, especially since Batman fatigue has already long since set in me. Still, I play for the story, and I was willing to try anything Telltale took a crack at so I gave their series a shot.

Plus it’s, like, $5 per episode of the game. That’s a good deal.

The Telltale Series starts in the early days of Batman’s career, still more of a myth than a hero, so that you as a player can craft whatever version of Batman you want the public to see. Heroic or fearsome, the choice is yours. More than that, for once in a video game you get to play as Bruce Wayne, carefully guarding your secret and choosing your actions around familiar characters like Harvey Dent, Carmine Falcone, Ozwald Cobblepot, and Selena Kyle. But it’s at the end of that first episode when Batman: The Telltale Series reveals its hand and cements itself in the Batman canon.

Spoiler alert. Even though spoilers are scientifically proven not to diminish you enjoyment of a story. Spoiler alert.

It turns out that Thomas Wayne was a criminal. He drugged people, drove them insane, and then committed them to Arkham Asylum. He made his fortune working with Carmine Falcone. He was one of the worst Gotham had ever seen. His and Martha’s death was a coordinated hit by a rival crime lord.

I cannot overstate how good of a twist this is and one that, to my knowledge, has never been done before. It fundamentally changes the narrative of Batman. In this, the protagonist learns their call to action was a lie all along, and they must choose if and how they continue from there. That’s something wholly new.

The twists don’t stop there, but that is the main one I want to talk about. See, in my mission to make Batman the hero I’ve always seen him as I have allowed Bruce Wayne to fall from grace. In theory, I could have a violent Batman and a criminal Bruce Wayne, or altruistic sides of both of them, but for me the symbol of Batman as a force for good is so much greater than Bruce’s standing with the public.

The first episode of season 2 of this series just dropped and, along with a vastly improved Bat Suit, this follows the same trajectory the first season started. The Riddler is loose in the city and to find him I had to choose between questioning a criminal as Batman or visiting a crime lord as Bruce. I chose the crime lord and, to get what I needed, O facilitated his escape from the city.

Then the Riddler forced me into the best trap I’ve seen in a Batman story. He locks Batman and a goverment agent in a cell with sonic emitters around them, meanwhile two other agents are caught in “death chambers”. The Riddler asks a question and, if Batman gets it wrong, one of the agents in a death chamber dies, but if he gets it right he and his agent are blasted with deadly sonic waves. You have to choose to take on the pain for yourself and an innocent or give up the lives of two other innocents. A no win scenario.

Basically, they made The Riddler scary for the first time.

That’s what makes this story so original. They take elements from the mythology and fit them into a different puzzle. The Penguin was a childhood friend of Bruce’s, Bruce is helping Harvey Dent with a mayoral campaign, Batman must choose between the police and Gordon or the press and Vicky Vale. It uses your knowledge of where things should be affect how you interact with them.

For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about a Batman story.

-JP

PS, by the same token Telltale has a Guardians of the Galaxy series that is so closely riffing on the movies, but doesn’t quite capture the same spirit, that I don’t like it so far.

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Who Is YOUR Spider-Man?

For any character existing in pop-culture long enough, there will be plenty of different interpretations of them. Superman has existed for over 75 years and we’ve seen a multitude of live-action movies, cartoons, and of course comics. Every audience member has a certain interpretation that imprints upon them. There own definitive version of the character. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Mark Hammil’s animated Joker, Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and Matt Fraction & David Aja’s Hawkeye.

Thanks to the excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming hitting theaters, I’d like to share the version of Peter Parker that imprinted on me. J. Michael Straczynski & John Romita Jr.’s Amazing Spider-Man (2001-2007).

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This was slightly before every change in creative staff led to an aggressive renumbering of a comic book series, which is why Straczynski’s run began with issue 30 in June, 2001. It found adult Peter Parker checking in on his old high school in Queens. He takes up an offer to teach at the school part time, providing its own kind of homecoming for the title character.

But it’s later when things get weird. Peter meets a guy named Ezekiel.

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Ezekiel has the same powers as Peter, knows who Peter is, and has his own personal beliefs on where their powers come from.

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He brings up this idea that Peter’s spider powers might actually be mystical in origin, making Peter a kind of spider totem warrior. The text never answers this one way or the other; it’s up to the reader to decide how much they buy in. But one character certainly does, a new baddie named Morlun who nearly kills Peter. Morlun consumes the spirit of totem warriors and wants to chow down on Peter. Morlun is especially notable for two reasons. One of which is that he would be retconned into a member of a multiversal Spider-Man hunting family to be the big bad of Spider-Verse.

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Morlun is the one on the right with the cane

The other reason is Peter walks away from Morlun so beaten and exhausted he passes out on his bed. And then Aunt May comes in.

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But the story took a break after that issue because by then it was December, 2001, and a certain event had changed the world irrevocably in the months prior.

***Trigger Warning***

 

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Issue 36 is set in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. In it, Spider-Man and many other heroes arrive on the scene too late to stop the tragedy, but nevertheless join in the clean-up efforts. Now, I was 8 years old at this time and did not have the mental fortitude to comprehend what had truly occurred. But I can tell you, seeing images like these helped:

Earth’s mightiest heroes stood side-by-side with the firemen, first-aid workers, and military members who existed in the real world to protect us, and it made them stand out as one and the same in my mind. I’ll never forget this comic. Not even that time Doctor Doom cries due to the senselessness of it all.

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It’s not perfect

Spider-Man is THE quintessential New York superhero. To have him ignore such a substantial and transformative event in his city would be like the friends from Friends never once bringing it up in their series.

What’s that? They don’t? Huh.

Either way, Straczynski chose to confront these dark times, but also knew not to dwell on them. Which is why the series comes back to Aunt May in the following arc.

 

***End Trigger Warning***

May accepts and learns to support Peter as Spider-Man. Peter makes up with Mary Jane (who he had been estranged with) and takes on an upstart new Doc Ock with the help of the original. Peter takes on more and more totem warrior themed bad guys. Peter hangs out with Doctor Strange a bit. And then…

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In comic books they like to renumber because a fresh reader is more likely to jump into issue 1 than issue 324. But they always know what the real score is. Which is why they bring the real numbering in when an important milestone is reached, and this particular run hit issue 500 of the Amazing Spider-Man.

Here’s the skinny. Peter breaks time. He sees both an older version of himself and his own origin story. He can interfere with either one. Save himself from his future death or prevent himself from ever becoming a hero. Ultimately he lets both events play out. From there he has to fight all the way from his origin to the present to save the world. Reality? The stakes are high.

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He winds up beneath piles of rubble. An underwater base falling apart around him. In front of him the cure to an illness Aunt May had at the time. This event was in Amazing Spider-Man 33. The first Amazing Spider-Man 33. In that moment it’s real. If Peter fails again, then Aunt May dies this time. Only Peter’s even more tired than before, and he’s lifting an underwater base plus the water pressure atop it. And god dammit he does it.

ICONIC.

Peter saves the day, the world, everything. And nobody knows what it took. Except Doctor Strange, who gives Peter the gift of one more conversation with Uncle Ben. As drawn by John Romita Sr!

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Peter fights Loki, has one final closing chapter with Ezekiel, there’s a not-so-great arc that implies Gwen Stacy actually slept with Norman Osborn before he killed her. Seriously.

The series continues on until Civil War, where Peter reveals his secret identity to the world.

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Civil War itself doesn’t explore the ramifications of this, but Amazing Spider-Man does. It shows how the world en masse reacts, it shows how J. Jonah Jameson reacts, and it shows how people like the Kingpin react. Which, unfortunately, leads to the end of my Spider-Man.

Kingpin has Aunt May shot. Peter makes a deal with Mephisto, who’s essentially the devil, to trade his marriage with Mary Jane for Aunt May’s life. Time is rewritten so he and MJ never got married, Aunt May is saved, Peter’s secret identity is hidden again, and I stopped reading Spider-Man. That is until Miles Morales came along.

What makes this series great isn’t necessarily all the bad guys Peter fights, or even the widening mythology Ezekiel attempts to bring in, it’s a laser focused understanding of Peter and his surrounding supporting cast. Also, he gets that Spider-Man is just a guy in a suit who messes up all the time.

Plus it’s funny!

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It does my favorite Spider-Man bit which is when he rolls his mask up part way to eat.

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It does my other favorite Spider-Man bit, which is when he just hangs out and talks to new yorkers.

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For all its ups and downs and an ending that forever disconnected me from the character, this particular run on Spider-Man imprinted itself on me. For some it might have been the Ultimate Spider-Man comic by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley. For others it was probably Toby Maguire on screen in 2002. For me it started right here, and that’s why this was MY Spider-Man.

-JP

PS, read this post after watching Spider-Man: Homecoming. You’ll understand exactly why that particular movie is resonating with me so well.

 

 

Star Trek is 50 Years Old

There’s this father and son thing in pop culture, where a dad will watch baseball with his newborn baby boy on his lap. My life was like that, except me and my dad were watching Star Trek.

Captain Kirk has been with me for as long as I can remember. He’s my captain. Every trekker has a captain they latch on to, usually between Picard and Kirk, and I was easily swayed to the gold shirted captain of The Original Series. He defined masculinity for me very early on. I don’t mean Chris Pine’s rebellious bad boy version of Kirk either. William Shatner’s Kirk was a military man who followed orders and expected his to be followed. He was a man who believed in his friends and stood by them in the darkest of times. He was a man who didn’t believe in no win scenarios and always found a way to persevere.

It’s actually kind of maddening that Star Trek has made it to 50 years old. When the original series aired it only got to three seasons, and even that was just barely. Yet it stayed in the public consciousness. That bright future, where humanity comes together to become explorers once more, has never stopped being worth striving for. In fact, I would say it’s become even more of an ideal future for us. The Original Series captured that best I think. In The Next Generation the captain and crew were cerebral people, too smart and too good to relate to. But in The Original Series the crew was made up of very flawed people just trying their best.

The time period that sticks out to me strongest when I think of Star Trek is high school. Because school started so early in the morning, I would wind up eating breakfast with my dad each day around 6 AM. There were only two things on TV at that time. The weather channel, a favorite of his, and classic Star Trek, a favorite of both of us.

We went with Star Trek.

I became capable of naming any episode within the first couple of minutes. I got to see some of all of them, from the stone cold classic;  Balance of TerrorArena, The City on the Edge of Forever,  Mirror, Mirror , and The Trouble with Tribbles to the less fondly remembered; Spock’s Brain.

There are the outlandish _____ Planet episodes. The Gangster Planet, the Nazi Planet, the Cold War Planet.

Many people see Star Trek as the overly intelligent sci-fi series to Star Wars so I’ll say it again. GANGSTER. PLANET. Star Trek is dumb fun and I love it.

My favorite episode, if I have to pick one, is Where No Man Has Gone Before. It’s the second pilot, where the first one starred a different captain and crew save for Spock, and probably carries more personal stakes for Captain Kirk than any other. The Enterprise comes across a strange energy that gifts Kirk’s friend Gary Mitchell with god-like powers. Gary quickly lets his powers consume him and Kirk has to personally take on the duty of putting his friend down, when he’s at his most dangerous. It’s thrilling and epic and would’ve been a great choice to adapt into a Kelvin Timeline movie.

While the movies look back to the Original Series to rebuild the franchise, on TV Star Trek will push forward once more with Star Trek: Discovery. Abbreviated that’s DSC, which along with TOS, TNG, DS9, VGR, and ENT makes this the sixth incarnation of Star Trek, boldly going into the realm of streaming television on CBS All Access. Welcome to the future.

There have been so many think pieces on Star Trek today all over the internet, but I wanted to make my voice known among the masses. Star Trek, from the beginning, is one of the most inventive and fascinating series to ever air. No other sci-fi show can come close to it. Star Trek didn’t just bring in TV writers to write its episodes, it brought in big name science fiction authors. Every episode was a new discovery for the characters and audience. Star Trek dared to dream of a future where a crew of people as diverse as Earth itself could explore space, the final frontier, just for the joy of discovery. Who wouldn’t be into that?

Star Trek has played a big hand in making me the person I am today, and this is the best way I know to give back.

The human adventure is only just beginning…

-JP

PS, Star Trek is all on Netflix by the way so get on your butt and watch some.

Your DC Universe Already in Progress

We are three movies into the DC Extended Universe. In the first, Man of Steel, Superman was presented as the first and only metahuman on Earth. In the second, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman has been operating for at least ten years and Lex Luthor presents the “metahuman theory” that posits there may be more than Superman out there. In the third, Suicide Squad, the US government has several metahumans already in custody, one of whom is a six thousand year old demon.

What I’m saying is;

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For a studio who initially looked to produce “grounded” superhero epics, Warner Bros has gone weird. That’s not a complaint, at all, but I would like to examine how we got here. To be fair, the DCEU is already that weirdest franchise out there. All of the movies in this interconnected universe have massive problems, each one is made as a reaction to the previous film, but they are all certainly pretty to look at. I’m still having trouble working through my feelings about Suicide Squad and its tonal whiplash.

So how did we get here? Of course it begins with Christopher Nolan.

The Dark Knight premiered on July 18th, 2008. This was two months after Iron Man left an Easter egg scene after their credits that many people missed. Both of these movies lived in our world. One with normal rules and science. The Dark Knight, with its complicated morality and captivating villain, rocked that summer. It’s the kind of one of a kind success that studios can’t help but try to achieve again.

However when The Dark Knight Rises came out in July of 2012, it arrived in a post-Avengers world. Marvel had slowly taken us from a robot suit in Malibu to an otherworldly Hemsworth carrying a magic homing hammer. They created a new kind of franchise, one that nobody else has successfully replicated, and unequivocally won that summer.

In comparison The Dark Knight Rises felt a little bit like a throwback. It’s grounding even hurts it when plot holes open up upon inspection. But for WB, the film was still a financial success and drove their approach to Man of Steel and their introduction to the DCEU.

Meanwhile, the televised DC Universe was slowly preparing us for the much stranger sides of comic books. When Arrow premiered in October of 2012, it was still pre-Avengers. This shows in the first season of the show, one that attempts to capture the energy of the Batman films. Aggressively turning super villains into “realistic” versions of themselves, Arrow season one never quite hit it out of the park.

But season two changes everything.

In Arrow season two, the series introduced its own super soldiers, introduced Barry Allen, and saw him get struck by lightning created in a particle accelerator explosion. After that, The Flash premiered and explained the concept of a metahuman to audiences. The Flash could travel through time and Arrow sucessfully brought a character back from the dead. Suddenly Arrow was fighting magic, The Flash explored the multiverse and met Supergirl, and the Legends of Tomorrow were gathered to protect time itself.

Now we’ve seen a full fledged DC Universe, nobody wants to wait for the movies to get there. So the movies have retroactively decided to start there.

WB has created a DC Universe already in progress. It’s been around for a while. There’s been magic and super science. There’s already a Joker and a whole rogues gallery for Batman. The Flash is out there apprehending people like Captain Boomerang before he even gets his own movie. Wonder Woman fought in World War One.

It’s exciting, and a fascinating experiment overall to see if it will work. Now if they can just make good movies this could all come together.

-JP

PS, if you had told me years ago that part three of a DC movieverse would be Suicide Squad, before Justice League, I would have learned to scoff like never before.

“I can do this all day.”

Before we move any further:

This trailer for Captain America: Civil War is top notch. I have spoken about how the Distinguished Competition (what the old Marvel editors would call DC) have had a bit of trouble figuring out their marketing campaign for Batman v Superman. It is difficult to sell the conflict when we don’t really know either party in the fight. Ben Affleck’s Batman is a new iteration and while I thought I knew Superman, this version can be very violent and erratic. Captain America and Iron Man, on the other hand, have been with us for about eight years. We’ve seen them meet, bond, and fight before. And that’s why Civil War is going to hurt so damn much.

There are a lot of epic moments in the trailer. The underwater super prison, the Black Panther/Bucky chase, Tony Stark’s Iron Glove… thing, Black Panther totally unfazed by a barrage of bullets (because his suit is 100% Vibranium and absorbs all the impact force), Scarlet Witch vs The Vision, Ant-Man leaping off of Hawkeye’s arrow, the group shot of everyone running at each other and, of course, Spider-Man.

But what really stands out in this trailer, far more than the whiz bang explosions, is Steve Rogers.

It’s the quieter moments, like when all of the collateral damage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is thrown in The Avengers’ faces. Steve tells General Ross to stop, not because he’s had enough, but because he sees the look on Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s face at looking at Sokovia again.

Greater still, it’s when Iron Man has Cap dead to rights and says, “Stay down.” and Cap just replies, “I can do this all day.”

Because it’s this:

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Because he’s still the scrawny kid from Brooklyn who can’t stand a bully. Even after World War II. Even after being frozen for nearly 7o years. Even after fighting aliens and gods and killer robots. Even after the enemy he thought he’d destroyed came back as strong as ever. He’s still that kid.

There’s a fairly iconic panel of Captain America from, ironically, a Spider-Man comic back in the comic series Civil War. It wasn’t the best event series in comic form, and I’m very happy the movie is only using the bare bones concept for its story. Still, I think this panel perfectly distills who Steve Rogers is, as he explains to Spider-Man what America means to him.

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This is also why this character works so well in these movies. He’s too righteous and good to find internal conflict. His powers are too mundane for the epic stories of Thor but his enemies are too great for something smaller like Ant-Man. No, you test Steve Rogers by throwing everything against him, and watch him refuse to bend from his beliefs. You put him in a traditional conspiracy movie and watch him become the moral compass for everyone involved.

And then you put him into a no win scenario. You put his best friend from childhood on one side and his best friend from the present on the other. You see what happens when there no longer is a right answer. You watch him try to save everyone even when he knows that isn’t possible. You watch in horror as the friendships and life he’s built over the past few years comes crumbling down.

This is why the Marvel movies work as well as they do. They know their characters, and they know exactly how to test them. Tony Stark’s arc has been all about learning from his mistakes and learning to accept help from his friends. After Ultron, he knows they need oversight. He knows he needs oversight. Black Widow has always been with one organization or another. This is all she knows. Hawkeye will do whatever is best for his family. Each and every one of them are willing to fight for their beliefs, because that’s what made them heroes in the first place.

Whether we knew it or not, this story was always going to happen. Now I’m just scared of what the fallout of it will be. Just like in The Winter Soldier the entire MCU is going to change following this one, and it doesn’t matter which team comes out on top. Because they will all have lost a piece of themselves.

Except for Spider-Man. He’s just happy to be here.

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Yay! Look how colorful he is!

-JP

PS – My recommended marathon before watching Civil War is: Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. You come in with Cap, meet Iron Man, find out what makes him tick in one of his solo adventures, return for Bucky’s big debut, and then see how the Avengers roster changed so drastically.

Happy Birthday Clark Kent

On February 29th, about 30 years ago (plus or minus 10), a rocket crash landed in Smallville, Kansas. That rocket was found by a kindly couple. Farmers Jonathon and Martha Kent, two of the kindest and most loving people on Earth, and very likely the only people capable of raising the most powerful being on the planet into a beacon of hope for all to see.

Now that I am working on the Warner Bros Studio Lot, a great deal of conversations are coming back around to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I have written about the film before. I will write about it again. Hell, I’ve written about Superman before, but the conversation that I keep having is that Batman is fundamentally better than Superman, and that simply is not true.

From start to finish, Superman is a better character than Batman. He is a better character not because of his strength or his enemies. No man is defined by his enemies, bat fans. Superman is great because underneath the curled hair, red cape, and underwear on the outside, Superman is Clark Kent.

Imagine finding out in your toddler years that you are strong enough to lift a car over your head. That you can jump incredible distances and melt things with your eyes when you get angry.

 

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If you wanted, you could throw a tantrum that levels your home. You could do whatever you wanted, whatever it is that toddlers want to do. But instead of being scared of you, your parents embrace you and decide to help you learn to control your capabilities.

Your father ties a line to you to teach you how to fly. Your mother knits the indestructible blankets from your spaceship into protective clothing in case anything goes wrong. They teach you how to use your powers for right instead of wrong and instill in you all the best morals of America without any of the hatred so often seen in our country.

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The world around you is made of cardboard and it is your responsibility not to break any of it. This is your planet too, and you must be grateful every day that it was here to save your life.

And yet you’re a teenager. High School is hard and you know how easy everything would be if you took off your glasses and showed the world, and the cute red headed girl, how incredible you really are. But that wouldn’t be right, because you about the darker side of humanity by now. You know how lucky you are to have the life you live, and you would much rather use your strength to spread that love and compassion wherever you go.

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All your parents ever wanted for you was to give back to the world. And you do. You save the world, but more importantly you save people. You’ve seen all sides of humanity and you still believe each and every one of us is worth saving, and each person you save is so much more important that defeating Lex Luthor, General Zod, or Brainiac.

All of your great super heroic deeds. The other god like people you spend your time with. At the end of the day you still choose to be Clark Kent. Clark Kent who wears glasses. Clark Kent with severely stooped posture. Clark Kent who can’t catch the eye of the woman he loves because she’s too busy looking at you.

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But it’s all worth it to be among us. Because what’s the point of it all if you can’t live among us. Yes, you’ve seen the darkest we are capable of, but you have also seen the light. Once more you have the burden of showing us the way. Showing us how power does not have to corrupt, because if you can be capable of so much and still use your great strength to save people, then how can all the evil on Earth justify itself?

That’s Superman. The original and still the greatest. Sometimes, if we’re all really lucky, a writer really understands him. When that happens we get some of the best comics ever written. For example:

The Curse of Superman – Action Comics (2011) #9

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This single issue story by Grant Morrison (an excellent comic book writer who knows Superman)and Gene Ha is essentially a throw down between the Supermen of two different alternate realities. One one side there’s President Superman, who is essentially Obama, who fights against another Superman that is literally a brand come to life. President Superman shows how the ideal of Superman transcends race and class, while Brand Superman shows how warped that ideal can become in the face of franchise expansion.

Superman for All Seasons

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If you know of Batman: The Long Halloween then you are familiar with the team behind this book. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale craft here an excellent story set in Superman’s first year in Metropolis. Here are two panels that prove this one understands Supes:

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Secret Identity

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Yet another Superman story that’s more about the idea of Superman than the real thing. Secret Identity, by Kurt Busiek with straight up amazing art by Stuart Immonen, is about a kid growing up in our world with the unfortunate name of Clark Kent. He is compared to Superman his whole life, hates it, and then one day starts displaying the same abilities as the comic book character. He steps up and takes on his namesake’s responsibilities, displaying how important the ideal of Superman is, even in the real world.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

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Fun fact: Alan Moore is a genius. Yes he wrote one of the darkest Superhero stories ever with Watchmen, but he has also written some of the brightest. He has written both an incredible run on Supreme, a Superman knock-off initially created by Rob Liefeld, and what could be considered the final word on Superman with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? A Superhero Conclusion story (so, the opposite of an origin story), This tale perfectly uses the entire Silver Age of Superman to tell a story that could expertly send the character off into the sunset, if such a thing were ever necessary.

For the Man Who Has Everything

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Hey it’s Alan Moore again! And this time he brought along Dave Gibbons, who did the art in Watchmen. For the Man Who Has Everything is the story of a fateful birthday for Superman, when the evil alien warlord Mongul drops by and plants a, uh, evil plant onto Superman. This evil plant, a Black Mercy, causes Superman to live out his perfect fantasy life, on a Krypton that never exploded. The only way to free himself is to let this world around him die, and when he comes for Mongul after that you get to see one of the scariest things in the universe. Angry Superman.

Oh! And they adapted this into episode 2 of Justice League Unlimited, which is currently streaming on Netflix!

 

All Star Superman

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This is easily the best Superman story I have ever read, and it’s another conclusion story! Hmm, maybe we should lay off origins and do some more conclusions. In  this tale, Superman flies to close to the sun, high fives Icarus, and becomes stronger than ever before. The downside is that all of his cells are exploding from too much energy and he is going to die. In his final days, Superman completes the greatest feats in his entire lifetime. If you think Superman’s strength makes telling stories about him hard, this one will prove you wrong.

Also they made an animated movie about it if you don’t like reading!

 

Superman’s longevity exists because he is an icon that will never die. He is a beacon of goodness that we should all aspire to be. It can be hard to see sometimes, but he is incredible. So here’s a Happy Birthday to you Clark Kent! I’ll see you again for the next one in four years.

-JP

PS – honorable mentions go out to the first Superman Movie and Superman II, as well as all of Bruce Timm’s Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited.

Let’s Not Learn the Wrong Lesson from Deadpool

This weekend Deadpool made giant chimichanga money.

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In fact, Deadpool is now not only the highest opening weekend grossing X-Men film in the franchise, but the highest of any Fox superhero film, and it even performed better this past weekend than Man of Steel did when it debuted.

I really need to stop talking about Man of Steel for a while.

This success can be attributed to many things but I want to lay special praise out for the marketing department. This movie has been sold better than any superhero movie I have seen. Los Angeles in particular is plastered with Mr. Pool but none of it has felt particularly grating.

For those of you who stayed through the credits, which should be everyone by now ( I actually refuse to associate with people who don’t wait for the credits tags now), you know a sequel is on the way. Now that Deadpool as proved itself profitable, Fox executives are going to be looking for ways to use it as a lesson to improve their other superhero movies. I just hope they learn the right ones.

First, to get a quick review out of the way, Deadpool is simply fine. It wasn’t any kind of genre breaker and the plot was very by the numbers. In fact, I probably would have thought much higher of the film if it were made back when the script was written six years ago. Since then, Marvel Phase Two arrived and made the best superhero movies the genre has ever seen. I have read that older script and it is largely identical to what we got. I did truly enjoy the movie though. The action was well choregraphed, I laughed at enough of the jokes, and anything I didn’t love was candy for the thirteen year olds behind me. R-rating be damned they found their way in, right behind me, and kicked my seat throughout.

And that’s the first lesson I want to argue against. No, we do not need more R-rated superhero movies. I will say it, Deadpool did not have to be R. Yes, it allowed it to stand out more in our superhero saturated media landscape, but the basic story could have been told just as well in PG-13. I have been hearing rumblings online from fanboys hoping all of the different superhero movies start going darker. My response is simple and I will only say it once:

FANBOYS ARE IDIOTS

Superheroes and their movies are still ostensibly for a younger audience. Hell, even Deadpool was for that younger audience as evident by the noisy kids sitting behind me at my screening. The R-rating is not what made Deadpool a better movie, it was what the creators got from having the R-rating.

A real lesson here is that cheaper can be better. A friend recently told me that Batman v Superman needs to make a billion dollars to be profitable.

What is wrong with me? It all keeps coming back to Superman!

Meanwhile Deadpool made back its production cost and then some over the weekend, mainly because it costs so much less than those movies. Instead of going for bombast, the movie found humor in its low stakes and made for a more emotional final confrontation than what we get most of the time when the planet is in danger. On top of that, Fox remained fairly hands off for this one. Because it was R-rated and an obscure character in a movie they only really greenlighted because some test footage was leaked, they didn’t really mess around with it. Director Tim Miller got to make the exact movie he wanted and audiences loved it.

Here’s a question. If you’re a producer in Fox and you see how well Deadpool did, would you want to be involved in Deadpool 2? The answer is yes, and I worry all of this new attention will have a detrimental effect on this burgeoning series. The lesson they should take away is to be more hands off. If Fox had been more hands off with last year’s Fant4stic, maybe it could have really been something special. Fox meddled the least with X-Men: First Class and it is probably the best of the entire franchise. Just, let the creators do their thing. Let the series live and die on them.

That’s not even the most important lesson here! The thing that makes Deadpool better is how much it embraces being a comic book property. It’s not grounded or gritty in any way, it bounces off the walls with joy. The movie feels more in line with the products of Marvel Studios, and it is better for it. Take those feelings all the way. Let the X-Men got to space and pick up Lockheed and fight the Brood or whatever. You know what Wolverine can stab in a PG-13 movie? ALIENS.

The X-Men have gone on some next level crazy adventures. Colossus has a sister who is indentured to the devil. They time travel all the damn time (and props to Days of Future Past for leading the way here). The island of genosis was founded as a haven for X-Men and then wiped off the planet in a mass genocide.

GO ALL THE WAY.

And then, when you are really good at putting these lessons into action, come back to Fantastic Four and do it right. I’m talking big man Galactus in a purple suit with a G on his belt. I’m talking the Super Skrull. I’m talking Ben Grimm dies and the team goes to heaven to get him back only to discover that God is Jack Kirby. The Fantastic Four could still be amazing, but they can’t be grounded. They need to be the opposite of grounded. What’s the word? Oh yeah, liberated.

-JP

PS, the new Wolverine will apparently be rated R. That’s fine, just don’t get lost in it.