Author’s note: A version of this post originally appeared on my old site, The Ink and Pixel Club.
Comparing two works based on the same source material can lead to interesting discoveries. Seeing how the same story is handled can reveal the differences in the filmmakers and their approaches to their craft. If can highlight the strengths and weaknesses of different media. Or, as with the two works we’re going to look at today, it can reveal a much broader concept, like the positive side of limitations.
Batman is an ideal subject for this kind of comparison. DC’s dark knight has been repeatedly reinterpreted for different media, different audiences, and different times. Yet in nearly every new version, a few key elements remain the same, keeping the result recognizably Batman. The part of the Batman mythos that we’ll be examining today is the death of the Graysons, a key moment in the origin of Batman’s sidekick, Robin.
Unless you’ve been away from all media for the past week or two, you know that Adam West passed away. West was well-known and well-loved for his performance as Batman in the 60s TV series of the same name, the movie spun off from the series, and numerous animated appearances of the Caped Crusader. Plenty of writers have already covered what made West’s Batman so iconic, but I want to focus on another one of his contributions to the Bat mythos – the first time West was on a Batman series and didn’t play Batman. Continue reading
This is part 2 of my review of the new DC animated film of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. If you are looking for part one, you can find it here.
Part 2: Mark Hamill is a National Treasure
If you read the first half of my Killing Joke review, you will have learned that I am not a huge fan of the original comic. I am, however, an INSANE fan of Mark Hamill’s performance as the Joker. No seriously, if I had the means, I would hire him to sit at my desk and read selected emails from my work clients aloud. I just know that those automatic system reminders and employment verification requests could be so much more nuanced with the right delivery and some maniacal laughter thrown in. But I digress. Back to the film.
We last left off with Barbara hanging up her cowl and the movie has now switched its focus to the actual source material for which it is named. Or at least it will once it pushes through a rather clunky transition where Batman is brought in to investigate some bodies that turned out to be victims of the Joker a couple years earlier. For some strange reason, these few bodies drives Batman to ask Gordon for access to visit Arkham and confront Joker face to face. Now this might sound nit-picky, but I always believed that the comic took place later in Batman’s career. And that he is tired, worn, and that this was a long time coming. However, in the film it doesn’t feel that way at all. We were so focused on Barbara that this sudden need for Batman to have a heart to heart with the Joker kinda comes out of left field. Why now? I mean sure, we get a lot of “this can only end in us killing each other” and all that stuff, but without a prior knowledge of Batman in general, it feels forced and almost jarring. For a guy who had little to say to Barbara after sleeping with her, he sure is chatty now.
From this point forward, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to hash through the plot. Most of us are pretty familiar with it anyway. The screenplay doesn’t add much additional filler from this point on. In fact, it is one of the most faithful adaptations of a graphic novel I have seen perhaps since the original Sin City film. I do have to give credit where credit is due because this is where the film truly delivers.
Take a look for yourself:
It is also in the second half of the film that we finally hit some emotional notes. Aside from the fact that no one (and I mean no one) can Joker monologue like he does, Hamill’s portrayal of the Joker’s life before he hit that tank of acid is compelling to watch. The characterization Hamill gives us is a complicated one. While we feel for this unnamed struggling comedian, you can’t help but see moments that make us a little uneasy. His voice is softer and almost meek at times but builds and becomes more familiar as he struggles with his own feelings of failure. Is this guy all there? Does he really have his family’s best interest at heart? Or is there something darker lurking under the surface? And just what needs to happen to finally push a person over the edge of reason and humanity? Here in the film is where we really start to see the examination of what madness is. And that is what The Killing Joke is famous for. This is worth a watch, if nothing else.
As I try to sum up this review, I really find myself torn. The easy answer for me would be to suggest that everyone skip the first half and just watch the second, but that feels unfair and frustrating. I wanted Barbara to have her chance to be more than a object to drive the story line, more than a woman whose fate it determined by the men around her. I didn’t get that at all. But the second half of the film still managed to pull me in. The animation and the performances are just that solid. And you can’t deny that no matter how you feel about this story, it is iconic and will continue to be included in conversations about Batman’s mythos for years to come.
So I guess this is when I turn things over to you guys. Did you see it? If so, what did you think? Not going to see it, why not?
Due to the length of this review and how the film is so clearly broken into two parts, I will be posting part 1 today, with part 2 to follow up in a few days.
Part 1: Batgirl and her Insufferable Feelings!
I was never a huge fan of The Killing Joke. It was sold to me as “the ultimate Joker story” back when I was only just starting to read mainstream comics. I found it disturbing, and confusing. Fans of the book might argue that I wasn’t ready to read it, that I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about the DC universe to “get” it. Well, I simply decided that I liked my Joker animated and went back in search of other stories that I would find were more to my taste.
Fast forward several years. I discovered that not only would DC Animation be releasing a film version of The Killing Joke, but they would also casting Mark Hamill as the Joker. This is my Achilles heel. I made it a point to watch it and see how I would feel about it so many years after reading the original story.
I’ve read that there are people out there who have found the film to be a complete failure. And while I will agree that there are some very serious problems with the narrative, characterizations, and even style choices, I am reluctant to throw it out the window. I think that there is a lesson to be learned here and if we take the time to talk (rather than yell) about what those issues are, perhaps this can be seen as more of a teaching moment about what happens when intentions are good, but understanding of the real issues is flawed.
Before I go any further, I am going to put a spoiler alert right here. Not only am I going to talk about the part of the film that is directly lifted from the comic book, but I am also going to talk about the prologue featuring Batgirl. Strap yourselves in my friends, this is going to take a while.
When producer Bruce Timm had his often quoted interview with Empire , he stated that expanding Barbara Gordon’s story in this film adaptation would add to the emotional hit of her arc. We would like her, and then when she is shot, we would feel more deeply for her because they were going to flesh her out as a character. Here is my main gripe about this idea: when we are talking about a story that is so clearly focused on Batman and Joker, how does making us like Barbara add more to the story? How can or would this prevent her from simply being a tool or catalyst to drive Batman to his confrontation with Joker?
Simple answer: it doesn’t. Oh, and to make matters worse, it makes for poor narrative.
Barbara’s story feels like we have seen it before. She is working with Batman and in his typical MO, Batman/Bruce is overprotective, tells her what her own limits are, and is about emotionally available as a cheese sandwich. This feels familiar because Batman has this dynamic with pretty much everyone. The story hits on new territory when bad guy Paris Franz takes a particular interest in Batgirl. This interest quickly reveals itself to be a dark obsession as we see Paris hire a red-haired prostitute he asks to dress as Batgirl. He then leads Batgirl on a potentially life threatening scavenger hunt when he tells her that he has a special “gift” for her. Not only does Barbara mention that this is flattering, she knowingly walks right into Paris’s trap…thus proving Bruce’s earlier man-splaining about how Paris is objectifying Barbara to be woefully accurate. *audible sigh*
Barbara’s frustration with Bruce continues. Using an odd yoga teacher and student analogy, she complains to her friends that she is the best student Batman/Yoga teacher has ever had and yet he still pushes her away. When she finally confronts Bruce about his behavior and her feelings about her role as Batgirl, rather than reaching any resolution, the two of them have sex on a rooftop. That ends about as well as we can expect. So rather than taking this as an opportunity to explore both Barbara’s and Bruces’s feelings about what happened, and I dunno…develop them both as characters, they continue to focus on Paris instead.
Finally in a scene that could have redeemed Barbara and shown her as a woman driven by something other than her emotions, Batgirl helps Batman confront Paris. Sadly, she is too overpowered by Feelings. Rather than proving to the men around her that female empowerment is more than yelling and making demands, she instead pounds Paris’s face into ground hamburg before walking away from her role as Batgirl.
A few days later, Joker shows up at her place and shoots her in the abdomen. Fade to black on Barbara’s story and the film abruptly switches over to the main action in the Killing Joke. Batgirl is back on the sidelines and we have nothing to show for her having been around at all. Except now (maybe?) Batman is extra angry at Joker for shooting the woman that he turned away.
Before I talk about how the Joker/Batman dynamic was handled in the second half of the film, there is a lot that I want to talk about with Barbara still. Barbara’s story-line is not new, and while I honestly think that the writer might have thought that he was writing a strong woman character, I am flummoxed over how we are going to get people to understand that creating a well-rounded and strong female character is not simply checking off boxes for things like – enjoys sex, talks about what she wants, punches guys in the face, and has awesome fighting skills. None of these things work without proper context. And they certainly won’t work if the character is inconsistent. It would have been possible for Barbara to show her worth through her actions. For her to outsmart Paris and use his obsession against him. For her to match or even surpass Batman in certain skill sets. Heck, they could have just made her try to pull Bruce out of his shell more gradually, because you don’t get much of a sense that they had any relationship to begin with anyway. So where does her attraction to him come from? I mean, remember that cheese sandwich I mentioned earlier? Is it because he opened her eyes to the thrills and the action of crime fighting? Seriously writers, pick one. I could keep throwing out ideas. All I ask is for the follow through.
Whenever I write these pieces, I worry that my arguments come off as too fragmented and too ranty. I think that might be a sign that while I insist on writing about these things and talking about how women are written, I’m also tired of having to do so. This is especially true when the solution is such a simple one. Companies need to hire better writers and those who are doing the hiring need to be able to identify the good portrayals from the bad ones. I am not demanding that every female character be perfect, nor am I saying that only females can write well-rounded female characters. What I am asking is that companies, publishers, and writers need to start a dialogue. Read what the fans are writing about your work, listen to what they are saying, and maybe start a discussion rather than a confrontation (see Comicon panel). Believe me, I get it. You want my money, and I would be happy to give it to you. All I ask is that you provide me with a quality product…and maybe something a bit more substance than a stale cheese sandwich.
Next Time: Part 2, the Actual Killing Joke
We’re now less than a month away from the much anticipated release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC and Warner Brothers’ latest foray into the superhero movie genre. Pre-release chatter remains divided and the recent announcement of an R-rated cut of the film to be released when the film comes to the home market has some fans wondering if the studio is scrambling to piggyback on the recent success of Deadpool. With a superpowered advertising blitz behind it and an audience of the DC faithful eager to see the publisher’s titans tussle, the film will likely do well. The question is, will it do well enough? DC’s movie track record as of late has been less than perfect. Even the title makes it clear that this film is intended to launch a DC cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s, which means both strong box office and positive audience reactions are even more crucial than usual. So what do DC’s biggest stars have riding on the success or failure of Batman v. Superman?
Batman: Virtually Nothing
The main thing that the film’s performance will determine for the Dark Knight is who will be playing him come the next Batman film: whether Ben Affleck is the next Christian Bale or the next George Clooney. Whether there will be another Batman movie is not in question. Batman has proven himself as a media mainstay. Yes, he was out of theaters for a while after the cinematic apocalypse that was Batman and Robin, but he came back and it wasn’t a huge surprise when he did, either. While the aforementioned garbage movie shows that Batman is not totally idiot proof, he is unusually flexible. He can be a kid friendly, incorruptible do-gooder, a deeply flawed and tormented vigilante, or anything in between, and still be accepted as Batman. And he’s had enough success that when there is a flop, studio execs and media press alike conclude that there is something wrong with the individual production rather than something wrong with Batman. If you don’t like a current film or TV portrayal of the Caped Crusader, you just have to wait until the next one comes along. Because there’s always going to be a next one.
Superman: Quite A Lot
Bruce Wayne may be set for life as far as a movie career, but his sometimes ally, sometimes rival Clark Kent is in a very different boat. While both DC and Warner Brothers seem confident that there’s nothing wrong with Batman, quite a few fans have started to suspect that the media giant feels there is something fundamentally wrong with Superman. Much has already been written about how various modern versions of Superman treat the character and his ideals as idealistic, naive throwbacks that aren’t up to facing the real world problems of today. (This isn’t the case with every current version of Superman, but is shows up often enough to start looking like a pattern.) So I won’t go into it. From a movie standpoint alone, neither Superman Return nor Man of Steel became the DC cinematic universe tentpole that WB was hoping for. Superman has brand recognition out the wazoo, but he doesn’t wear his issues on his sleeve the way Batman does and that makes him tougher to get right. The two co-headlining this flick isn’t coming from a place of strength for Supes. He needs Batman to help him put butts in seats. If he’s going to stand on his own again, he needs to prove himself here.
Wonder Woman: Pretty Much Everything
Wonder Woman is not the only other big DC character in Batman v. Superman. In fact, one of my main concerns about the film is that it might be too crowded. But while characters like Aquaman – who gets treated like a joke in pop culture – and Doomsday – who is all but unknown to the average moviegoer – have everything to gain and almost nothing to lose from this film, Wonder Woman’s entire film and TV future may depend on it. Batman is firmly established as an evergreen character with multiple successful films to his name. Superman almost exists outside of any particular movie or story, more of a symbol than a character. Wonder Woman? Well, Wonder Woman is in nearly the same position that Batman was before the first Burton film came out. Ask the average person who doesn’t follow comics and related animated TV shows about Wonder Woman and they’re probably thinking of this:
All due love and respect to Lynda Carter, but this is still a roughly 40 year old TV series. Multiple attempts to produce a new show or movie starring the Amazon princess have been shelved. WB finally seems ready to commit to making Wonder Woman the third major player in its movie DCU, with a film of her own slated for release next year. But for now, she’s still a guest star in Batman and Superman’s movie and a lot still depends on whether moviegoers come out of the theater wanting to see more of her. On top of that, the 2017 movie will be the first of the current era of superhero films with a lady in the lead. How well it does could potentially determine whether both WB and Disney decide to greenlight more movies starring super ladies or not. Either way, the pride of Themyscira has a lot on her shoulders in her modern movie debut.
Are you looking forward to seeing DC’s big three on the big screen? Do you think DC can get their move universe going? Share your thoughts on all things DC movies in the comments.
Regardless of how you might feel about Valentine’s Day, it can be hard to ignore. Especially since all the candy and Valentine’s Day “goodies” have been on the shelves since New Year’s. And since I’ve posted a couple times now about holiday themed comics, I figured it might be time for Saint Valentine’s Day to get its due.
Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories- Paul Dini, Bruce Timm
A classic is a classic for a reason, and if you’re hoping to avoid the kind of storybook-sweet love that can be so prevalent around Valentine’s Day, then this might be just what you need. A collection of stories from the creators of the beloved Batman: The Animated Series, there really isn’t anything bad to say about this book. The main star of the collection is “Mad Love,” the Eisner Award-winning origin story of the extremely popular Harley Quinn. This is pure, classic Harley, before the New 52 and her two-tone hair. This Harley is both victim and villain, lovable and dangerous. You can’t go wrong here, and unlike many other comics collections, the additional stories are also solid – ranging from funny to heartbreaking. I particularly enjoyed the reprint of “Batman Adventures Annual” #1, which tells the stories of how several of the villains made an attempt to truly reform, but ultimately failed. These stories, while at times both funny and a little heartbreaking, are framed in a way that still manages to end the story with a bit of hope.
As for the artwork, most of it is very closely styled to the 90s Batman cartoons, and frankly, I love it. The colors are dramatic and filled with contrast. The lines are clean, resulting in easy to follow action sequences. Reading this was extremely enjoyable and contained enough variety to make it a really solid collection.
Harley Quinn Valentine’s Day Special – Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor
Remember how I just mentioned the New 52 Harley and her two-tone hair? Well, it turns out that this Harley had a Valentine’s Day one-off. Full Disclosure: My take and review of this book is greatly influenced by my love of “original Harley” and the fact that I have not read any of her previous New 52 storylines. I dropped in from nowhere, and this is pretty much how it went.
I found it very hard to make heads or tails of this book for one simple reason: I don’t think even it knows what it wants to be. This Harley has has left Gotham, is living in NY, and is planning a heist with her friends so that she can buy a date with Bruce Wayne at a charity auction. While this is going on, there is also a side plot about some fish-themed villain who wants to kidnap Wayne, use him for ransom money, and then use that money to start a fish preserve. And in the middle of this Harley cares about innocent people and then stops caring about innocent people, and has at least two clunky set-ups just so that the book can feature dream sequences with guest artists.
While I understand completely that Harley herself is unpredictable and can go from caring to ruthless pretty fast, this Harley just felt undeveloped. For a Harley that was out there and finally established outside of her relationship with the Joker, I wanted her to feel lighter and have a bit more direction. On the other hand, I am perfectly willing to blame a lot of this on the actual writing which could at times feel both repetitive and clunky. This book never quite hit me right with the humor either. It was at times not to my taste, and other times it felt like gags were ones that I have seen a million times (oddly-themed inept villain and sidekick has been done before and done much better). While it is possible that my experience is missing something from not reading the previous issues, I won’t begrudge anyone this Harley, but she isn’t the Harley for me.
Ms. Marvel #12 – Valentine’s Day – G. Willow Wilson
I always find it hardest to write about things I really like. I feel like I just go through a checklist of things I want to see in a good book and then get stuck with nothing new or interesting to say. I’m going to try my best to do it justice because this issue checked off all my boxes and left me really excited to keep reading more of the Ms. Marvel trade paperbacks. Ms. Marvel Issue #12 is a really cute and fun one-shot between story arcs. Kamala has just saved a bunch of kids from becoming living batteries to power the evil plans of the Inventor, and Loki has been sent down from Asgard to make sure that all the loose ends are tied up. Problem is that Loki can’t stop himself from also getting involved in the school’s Valentine’s Day dance. I don’t want to ruin anything here, but I was really happy to see how they handled unrequited teenage love. Few things about the new Ms. Marvel are typical and obvious, but they are always fun. And so is this issue.
Young Romance: A New 52 Valentine’s Day Special #1 – Various
Out of all the books I read, this one contains more typical romantic love stories. Wonder Woman and Superman go out on a date, Catwoman dreams about her first encounter with Batman, blah blah blah. As someone who enjoys a good romance. I was surprised how many of these short stories hit me totally flat. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some good stuff in here, but I think lack of familiarity with some of the characters had a lot to do with it. It is hard to write a romance of a few pages, so already understanding the history between two characters can go a long way. Oddly enough, I think the best story was actually the “meet cute” between Nightwing and Ursa Major. The tone was fun and zippy, and didn’t depend on a detailed understanding of the backgrounds of either character. Overall, I would say that this book might be best enjoyed by someone who is a huge fan of everything DC more than someone who is a fan of romance.
Any great books that I left out? Wanna rant about Valentine’s Day in general? Feel free to comment below. Oh, and stayed tuned for another Love/Romance themed post coming up soon!
This weekend I had the opportunity to watch the new Justice League: Gods and Monsters. I actually wasn’t all that interested in seeing it for several reasons, the top two being that DC hasn’t really been hitting it out of the park with their animated releases lately and frankly, I have a list of pet peeves that always seem to pop up whenever something is rebooted as “darker and more gritty.”
Well, thank you DC for only proving me a little right.
SPOILER WARNING: From this point on, there are going to be A LOT of spoilers, so consider yourself warned because here we go.
Overall, Gods and Monsters is not a bad movie. In fact, in a lot of ways, it is really quite good and an improvement on some of DC’s more recent stuff. There was a lot of talk about the return of Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett (writers on the original Batman: The Animated Series) and a familiar art-style from DC’s animation’s glory days, and I will admit that the result was pretty darn interesting. The story did manage to pull me in, regardless of some raised eyebrows in the beginning. But here is the problem, once you take a moment to step back and think about the film more broadly, you start to realize that DC still has some ground to cover when it comes to women.
A few weeks ago, a local restaurant held a ComicCon-themed industry night, closing dinner service down early to serve comics-themed drinks and snacks. The staff were in full costume (but I neglected to get a photo of the guy with the Bat-symbol goatee), and there were entertainments that included a Batman ice luge and vintage video games (yes, we’re at a point in time at which video games can be vintage). The restaurant in question, Alden and Harlow, is a current area hotspot with an innovative menu and cocktail list, so Tiny Doom and I, together with The Goog, decided to check it out.
The evening was fun, and very crowded, and it got me thinking about other comic-book themed cocktails. Too often, the ones you’ll find online are sticky sweet, lazy, or both, putting garish color before mixology. Alden and Harlow’s did not fall into this trap, but they did make use of some Hawaiian Punch and Mountain Dew. Is it possible to make a tasty, well-crafted cocktail that evokes your favorite heroes but avoids sticky-sweet additives? I decided to give it a whirl, and I press-ganged Tiny Doom and The Goog into helping! So here for your imbibing pleasure are three superhero cocktails that do not involve fruit punch, Pucker, or anything else with atomic food coloring. They do include somewhat obscure cocktail-nerd ingredients, so you might need to make a trip to the store before you make them.
In keeping with most of my posts, I stuck to a DC theme for this first attempt. If people like this concept though, we can do it again with Marvel and other properties. To be fair, I also picked heroes I felt I could do justice to with the ingredients I did have to hand.
First up is Superman!
For him, I wanted something strong, all-American, and with a bit of something unexpected, something alien, if you will. I started with a rye whiskey base, rye being the quintessential American liquor (yes, even more so than its cousin bourbon!). In my travels, I’d picked up some boiled cider syrup, so I thought that would be a good addition – what’s more American than apples? For the “alien” note I toyed with the idea of throwing in Cardamaro, a digestif from Italy that’s made with cardoons and blessed thistle, but at the last minute I spied my tiki gear and thought that might be a more suitable direction, so in went some cinnamon syrup and the ‘Elemakule Tiki bitters from Bittermens.
The result was tasty and would actually make a great Thanksgiving cocktail – it tasted like apple pie in a glass, but without the cloying sweetness and with a bit of heat from the rye. If it didn’t go against my “strong” mandate, I’d say it would be good with some seltzer, as well.
I couldn’t do Superman, of course, without Batman. The cocktail would need to be both dark and bitter. Tiny Doom pointed out that something that evoked childhood innocence lost would not be remiss, and suggested that I add some Root, a lovely concoction from Art in the Age that tastes like the very best root beer. I heeded her advice and added that to some cold brew coffee concentrate and Gosling’s rum. The first sip was okay, but weirdly flat. We decided to add a touch of Kahlua for sweetness, and it was vastly improved. This ended up being dark and complex, like its namesake, and it looks fantastic in the glass.
Finally, how could I not do an homage to my beloved Flash? This one I did base on its looks to a significant degree, but it’s also basically a highball and thus, pretty fast. (And yes, I know a shot is faster, but not to prepare if it’s a mixed shot, and since I just don’t shoot things on principle, you get this.)
My version may also be a bit redder than what you would get a home, because the base I used, Cherry Heering, is usually a bit darker – this is a homemade version using sour cherries, which are more vibrant. I threw in a bit of Snap, another Art in the Age gem that tastes of ginger, since Wally West is my favorite Flash, and Tiny Doom came to the rescue once again by pointing out that a lemon twist would be just the right garnish to evoke the lightning bolt symbol. The result was light and refreshing, with a bit of zing from the Snap, and how gorgeous is that red?
If you try any of these cocktails at home, let me know what you think! If you want to suggest other heroes or villains to get this treatment, tell me in the comments! Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Early in the days of this blog, I wrote a post about the DC Super Heroes Super Healthy Cookbook (DSHSHC), a slightly strange 1981 off-shoot of the DC marketing juggernaut. The post, about Batman’s dubious attempt at french toast, was popular enough that I wanted to do a sequel, but there needed to be a twist, something to draw you all back in. See, Marvel also has a cookbook, one that slightly predates the DC one, in fact – Stan Lee Presents: The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook (MMSC). This book doesn’t have a spin on health, like the DCE one. Instead it seems more geared toward recipes kids would make with parental supervision. This means easy recipes with a lot of pre-prepared ingredients (read: canned stuff). I thought it would be fun to put these recipes head to head. Tiny Doom graciously offered to represent Marvel in this contest – we couldn’t afford a copy of the book, (which goes for an average of $100!) but the good folks at ScansDaily provided us with enough material to make it work.
So join us, won’t you, for a two-part battle royale to determine whether DC or Marvel reigns supreme – in the kitchen.
Last week, Cartoon Sara was kind enough to share her comprehensive and well-researched list of favorite Christmas Specials. This got me thinking about some of my favorite holiday themed comic books and stories. Limited a bit by availability (as in online and in my house), here is a quick sample of just some of the comics out there for those of us in search of a bit more holiday (and in some cases I use this term loosely) cheer.