On the latest episode of our podcast, The Red Menace and special guest Max Papas are discussing the Clown Princess of Crime, Harley Quinn! They talk about her various incarnations, from the original henchwoman in Batman: The Animated Series to her more modern look and attitude in Suicide Squad.
Hopefully, you already saw Wonder Woman if you are reading this. If not, you may want to bookmark this for later because – spoilers.
Before I even get into the movie itself, it’s almost impossible not to talk about the discussion leading up to Wonder Woman. For women in Hollywood and women characters, there was a lot riding on this one film. That’s largely because the reality is that women don’t get the chance to fail like men do. One dude does a bad thing and it’s #notallmen, but women don’t get that luxury. If WW is considered a failure by the industry it’s “women heroes can’t carry a movie”, or “women can’t direct superhero movies.” Never mind the sub-par records of some other male-centric superhero movies (Batman v Superman, Daredevil, Punisher), these directors and characters all got second chances. I know I don’t feel confident that women are afforded the same luxury, so Diana and Patty Jenkins carried a lot of their shoulders. Thankfully I don’t think we have to test this theory with Wonder Woman. While I didn’t feel it was the best movie (I’m not sure anything can dethrone Fury Road for me), it was a good movie – you know, for a movie about a woman hero written entirely by men.
I haven’t been shy about the fact that largely the DC movies haven’t been for me. It’s a stylistic opinion, but I have generally felt these movies lack joy and color. Wonder Woman tries to buck that trend…at least at the beginning. Themyscira is beautiful, full of cool blues, crisp green, and shining gold. It’s the world of man that is drab, and drags us back into that standard DC color palette. The movie is essentially an origin story. As WW’s origin is less known than her male counterparts this makes sense. And as a character more steeped in traditional myth, this gives an opportunity to explore another part of the DC Universe, especially for those WW fans who don’t read comics.
There was a lot that was good with this movie. First, the Amazons. My main disappointment with them was that they were only in a small part of the movie! While there could have been some more diversity, as someone who will soon be part of the over 40 set, it was nice to see that Themyscira was not filled with young waifs. Nor were the older women covered in overflowing gowns or caftans that hid their bodies. The Amazons were shown as strong, with scars, or marks out in the open.
Diana herself is very much a fish out of water for the majority of the film but remains self-assured and formidable. I’m not gonna lie, the No Man’s Land scene was powerful, and that’s because Diana looks powerful. I believed she was unmovable, and then able to move forward despite what was being hurled at her. It’s maybe a little heavy-handed in terms of metaphor, but I don’t care. For me, it worked. There were some other interesting takes on common tropes. As The Red Menace overheard two women in the bathroom discussing, the typical make-over scene was flipped on its head as Etta Candy (MORE ETTA!) is tasked with making a beautiful woman more dowdy, less distracting to men. You know, so they can continue planning the war and whatever. Thank God she wasn’t wearing yoga pants or leggings, society would have come to a standstill.
My biggest disappointment is the reveal that Diana’s strength is based in the power of love – here’s a trope I would like to see a lot less of! While I get what they are trying to say, having this reveal of her ultimate strength comes right on the heels of Steve Trevor’s death (yeah, he was totally fridged) made it feel more like romantic love, and an utter cliché. I felt the initial scene where Diana first reveals herself as an Amazon and crosses No Man’s Land (I see what you did there), is a much better characterization of her values. Diana’s strength lies in compassion and despite being a god, in her humanity. Compassion, of course, is a type of love, yes, and we see this play out in how Diana rescues a village no one else thinks is worth the time. But the moment where she “seizes the sword” of her own power was too wrapped up in her feelings for Steve, and given the romance angle, that he could be seen as an avatar for the human race gets overshadowed. Diana’s story and origin shouldn’t be based on her love for Steve, but rather in the fact that her compassion is what drives her decisions.
All that said, I think this movie is doing what it needs to do. It is proving that women heroes and directors (let’s get some women writers in there too) can carry a big budget movie. And more importantly how exciting is it for kids of all genders to have Diana be one of their first exposures to heroes? It’s pretty dang great.
In my last update, I outlined the many reasons I think you should be watching the CW’s iZombie series. Since he knows how much I like the show, for Christmas Mr. Menace decided to give me the iZombie omnibus – all 28 issues of Chris Roberson and Mike Allred’s series packed into one (admittedly pretty hefty) volume. He’d read the entire series as it came out, and was curious to hear my take on it as a fan of the show. So after the holidays, I dove on in.
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
By this time both Arbor Day and Earth Day have come and gone. But just because it wasn’t my week to post, it doesn’t mean that I don’t intend to milk these holidays for another one of my blog posts where I read holiday themed comics. Move over Valentine’s Day, it’s about to get very green up in here.
Batman: Harley and Ivy, Paul Dini and Others
I will admit that I had a hard time finding a good Poison Ivy story that wasn’t her origin and didn’t paint her as a rather flat character whose personality is just being sexy and loving plants. Gotham City Sirens does at times show her as a brilliant scientist, but I ended up going with this comic because based on the other Paul Dini collections, I made the assumption that this was going to be great. Well, no one is perfect. Not me, not the authors or artists, and certainly not this book. In fact, I would argue that this book highlights everything I tried and failed to avoid in my search for a good Poison Ivy story.
The problem with blatant fan service is that it has a way of pulling me right out of a story. Suddenly something that seemed kinda fun feels lazy, cheap, and in some cases alienating to the female audience. I’m not saying that everything about this book is trash, but when the writers go out of the way to provide story lines that are based on a bet over who can kiss the most men, having conversations while posing in their underwear, and having cat fights while naked in the shower, it can be hard for me not to wonder what the real purpose of this book was. I am not against sexy characters or fun, but it is disheartening when those are the only stories you can find.
That being said, this is at times a pretty cute book with a few warm friendship moments between Harley and Ivy. And as always, I was thrilled to see a lot of Bruce Timm’s animated style. I don’t think this book is anything I want to keep in my collection or read again, but I will probably still be drawn to other collections involving Dini and Timm in the future. I just might be a bit more choosey in the future.
The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore
I realize that Swamp Thing might be an obvious choice for this article, but I picked this book because I love it so much. There are certain books out there that are game changers – books that are important and iconic because they’ve done something new and breathed new life into the medium. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is one of those books. In this volume, not only has Moore created a way of storytelling that would influence generations of writers, but the stories themselves are creepy and engaging.
While Moore’s writing can at times be everything from poetic and grand to overwrought and grandiose, it is hard to deny that this volume (and the rest of Moore’s run) provides riveting commentary on the world around us. Swamp Thing’s story tackles not just the environment (though that is Swamp Thing’s specialty), but also manages to hold a mirror to the human condition and the reflection isn’t always the most flattering.
The only real negative to this book is that the older art style might not be everyone’s cup of tea. This is especially true if you are used to the more grounded or whimsical looks that can be found in a lot of comics now. I could make the argument that the style is pitch perfect for the tone of the book, but perhaps it is time that I stop gushing and just move on to the last book in this article.
Groot, Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger
When a character suddenly becomes very popular as a result of a recent movie or TV show, it’s pretty common that the company is going to pump out a lot of junk to capitalize on the character before people move on to the next thing. I’m happy to say that this book is an exception to that practice. Sure, it might not be something that we are going to be talking about years from now, but this story about an intergalactic road trip gone wrong is pretty fun.
What I loved best about this book is how cartoon-y and animated the art style is. The drawings show a lot of movement and faces that are both expressive and almost gummy. Ok, I realize that isn’t the best description here, but you can tell that Kesinger has an animation and Disney background. I could spend days just looking at his drawings of Rocket’s annoyed mugging.
The story itself, while thin and filled with a lot of happy coincidences, is fun enough to not really care. Rocket and Groot’s friendship is highlighted without laying it on too thick and we are given more opportunities to see what a lovable goof Groot can be. So yeah, you aren’t going to get much complaining from me.
Any great titles I missed out? Got a good Poison Ivy book you can recommend for me? Just annoyed that I missed the obvious chance to write about Star Wars comics on May the 4th? Chime in below and be heard!
Part one of my incredibly belated review of Season One of CW’s The Flash can be found here. If you haven’t read it, go, and catch up with my thoughts, as I have not with the show. If you are even further behind than I am, read no further because I think the moratorium on spoilers is well over at this point.
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.
Long-time readers of this blog may remember that a little while back I wrote a little essay on my favorite superhero, The Flash. Specifically, Wally West, the third Flash. (I have not yet watched the new tv show, which is about the second Flash, Barry Allen. I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually, I just don’t watch much tv in general.) My love of Wally, as I explain in more detail in the earlier piece, was formed from how he’s portrayed in the Justice League cartoons and continued based on reading Geoff Johns’ run on the comic, circa 2000. So it’s a pretty modern, recent version of his character.
Is everyone ready for Halloween? Costumes chosen, wigs purchased, ready to begin the revelry? We here at the Ladies have already participated in the best annual celebration around – the Comicazi Halloweeniversary! Since once again it falls to me to write the Halloweek post, I thought I’d share the group costume I was part of this year in case you’re in need of some last-minute comics related ideas. But rather than go into elaborate detail on how the costumes were created, I’m going to give you a quick rundown of who the characters are, since they’re a bit less well-known. I’ll give a scale of 1-10 on costume-making ease though, 1 being that you could make it with all things you have lying around the house, 10 being that it requires special equipment and a license to operate heavy machinery.
We decided to go the spooky route this Halloween, so our theme was DC comics characters who are either dead or have death-related powers. I’m calling it Dead DC, but really only half the team counts as officially having shuffled off this mortal coil.