X-Men: Apocalypse

So, during all of the hoopla over how the billboard of Apocalypse choking Mystique was sexist, nobody was talking about what a terrible and boring movie X-Men Apocalypse was. All of the innumerable continuity snarls could have been forgiven if Singer had given us a movie worth watching, but this fell into the trap of so many failed B and C tier superhero movies, spending far too much time ‘building the team’ instead of showing the team doing anything. In this case, it’s worse, because both sides have to build their teams on screen and there’s neither character development nor action. And frankly, I’m surprised that there was not more outrage over the decision to make Storm an Arab street urchin instead of a Sub-Saharan tribal living-goddess.

I went into this expecting some awesome fights, cuz, c’mon! It’s Apocalypse! The main things I remember about him from when I was a kid was that he was 10 feet tall, could change size & shape, and pretty much wrecked the shit of anyone who tried to fight him. Instead of cool fights, we got endless ‘building the team’, leading up to one fight that, by the time it happened, I couldn’t bring myself to care about cuz I was so damned bored. It should not have been hard to make an awesome and exciting Apocalypse movie: Apocalypse wakes up with his 4 riders – he destroys a city, and the X-Men try to stop him and get stomped. The X-Men have to devise some way they can actually hurt him. Heck, maybe they could develop a version of “the cure” that can be administered by using Quicksilver as a human railgun. Xavier could be all “Oh, I don’t think this is a good idea, what if it falls into the wrong hands!”, Magneto all “Who are we to deprive anyone of their gifts, especially a god?” and Mystique all “Screw that noise, we really need to stop this guy at all costs”.

But nope, in the end, Apocalypse gets beaten by a fairly mundane, plan-free “by our powers combined” flash that teased at what will most assuredly and lamentably be a sequel featuring po-faced Jean Grey in another Dark Phoenix saga.

I think that X-Men Apocalypse is a tacit admission that all of the best X-Men stories happened 30ish years ago and the semi-historical grounding of the X-Men they were given following their 1975 relaunch that was once an asset is now a liability.

Don’t be fooled by the jive about X-Men’s relevance to historical struggles; during Civil Rights, X-Men was just another supers comic—that didn’t get added until much later. Just like how Magneto didn’t start out as a Holocaust Survivor; he was given that backstory to give him nuance and some justification for his horrible actions in the 80s.

A lot of X-Men’s cultural relevance was that which it took upon itself during the 70s and 80s, and it coasted on that during the 90s. But now that it’s reaching the mid 10s, stories about that group of oppressed mutant individuals (who were not oppressed during their run through the 60s) struggling with Civil Rights and the moral quandary of a troubled individual who survived the Holocaust and whose strawman may have a point can’t be told in the present day. The ancient and withered husks of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart fighting at the end of the world in Days of Future Past may have truly been the Last Hurrah of the X-Men of my childhood. Either the X-Men will be all old as dirt, immortal like Wolverine, or they will have to be completely new X-men, because retreading the same three decade patch of culture over and over again with the same characters just isn’t going to work anymore. And having the most recent X-Men movie, which can no longer be considered a prequel, as Days of Future Past obliterated the old continuity, take place in the 80s concedes that.

 

X-Men Apocalypse is a good sign that it is not only time to stop making X-Men movies for a while but that the entire X-Men franchise needs to be significantly rethought if it can’t be uncoupled from the time-period of its 70s relaunch through its 80s comic and 90s cartoon heydays. X-Men will have to undergo some very serious, soul-searching changes, rebooting their continuity, abandoning the false ties to 60s Civil Rights movement, and, perhaps most shocking of all, have a Magneto who doesn’t cling to the Holocaust as a justification for his evil deeds because he can’t; it’ll reach the point where he’ll either have to be a hundred years old or he wasn’t there.  X-Men is finally being crippled by the identity politics that had been its strength over the years since its relaunch – right before our eyes, we’re watching a franchise transition from speculative fiction to period fiction.

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Is Hercules Sleeping With Dudes a Big Deal

The “bisexuality” of Hercules is now a part of Marvel’s botched pandering to the diversity monger crowd. Their mistake is that Hercules is not bisexual: he is omni-sexual.

Herc ended up with such a reputation for trying to have sex with everything that moved that by the classical Greek period, he’d become a meme. He was shorthand for drunken sex & lechery, a cheap laugh-line. A drunk Hercules could pop up from behind a rock at any moment and go “did someone say sex with animals?” and the Athenian crowds would howl. In fact, he wouldn’t even have to say it. Hercules could pop up and mug the crowd (as best as one can mug through a Greecian drama mask), and someone would probably say “Old Aeschylus better clench his cheeks, for Heracles is on the prowl!”

So, uh… Hercules sticking his dick in a wide assortment of things is not a particularly original concept. What is new is that some folks may actually be trying to make the case that this has anything to do with progressivism or diversity.

Take a look at this panel that I’ve seen going around.  See, this is silly where the characters are acting like getting boned by Hercules is something special. These ladies appear to be acting as though sleeping with the highschool quarterback who has not only screwed every girl who would put out but also the mascot (not just the guy in the costume, but probably him too) is some sort of thing to brag about. In fact, this panel is like the cheer squad wondering why guy who wears the costume isn’t proud of what happened. Plus, it looks and reads like those old wincest memes*…

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Poor Northstar, but thousands of years of western literature should’ve clued him in that Herc would kiss & tell.

*Update: See what I mean?

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Hugo Review: Ms Marvel Vol. 1

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This is very much a teenager with problems story. Not bad for what it is, but not a superhero story. She has to deal with racists and her traditional parents for a lot of slice of life stuff before we get to anything exciting and heroic. It’s VERY slow in comic terms, taking an entire issue before she becomes Miss Marvel. Then there’s a lot of introspection before anything exciting happens, and what we do get is fairly low-stakes.

Ms Marvel feels, in its art, its story and its pacing, like an indie comic dressed up mainstream Marvel title. You cannot go into Miss Marvel hoping for a superhero comic; you will be disappointed. It’s a pretty good slice of life + aww, man, I’m a teenager with superpowers, but it’s not a good superhero comic. So depending on how you’re assessing it, it’s going to be either great or terrible. Sometimes I feel like it’s trying too hard to be hip and relevant, but that’s a common crime in mainstream comics so is easily forgiven. Slightly more annoying is the very strong Dorky Sue wish-fulfillment vibe going on to the point where if I didn’t know that Kamala was actually Ms Marvel, I’d be waiting for the part where she wakes up and it’s all a dream. Then again, knowing Marvel, that’s always a possibility.

Ms Marvel is not message fiction: that terrible Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1 where the Outsiders fight the Force of July, a villain team put together by a straw-republican who read 1984 and decided that what we need is more government, was message fiction. It’s more teen-girl drama where getting superpowers that one can’t control is a metaphor for growing up while you’re trying to figure out who you are.  It’s never really ham-fisted and, unlike other recent titles, exists to explore and push new creative boundaries rather than to troll comic book fans.  So yay, for that!

I’ll admit that I’m not really familiar with a lot of the Marvel properties, and that includes previous incarnations of Miss Marvel, so I can’t really compare Kamala to any earlier versions. Her main power seems to be over the size of portions or the whole of her body with limited transformation related healing. The giant hands power is kinda creepy and weird looking. She’s kind of a glass cannon at this point, which could make for some interesting hero-villain combat dynamics in the future, but that isn’t really explored very much in volume 1.  Kamala lacks an interesting or compelling villain, which is a driving force behind so many of the best heroic origin stories; her self-doubt could be said to be the villain of volume 1.  Plenty of heroes struggle with self-doubt, but they tend to do so while fighting really interesting bad guys.  Kamala has a guy with a weird bird costume show up on the very last page of the volume promising things have only just begun.

Like I said, this one is a slow burn – a real slow burn – and there’s practically no bang at the end. Despite that, it’s something I wouldn’t mind reading more of. Still, I have a hard time being convinced that this is the best comic book story of 2014; it might be, I don’t know, since I don’t read Marvel, swore off DC’s New 52 and don’t read indie stuff as much as I used to. I don’t know where I’ll place this one in the ranks yet. It’s definitely not a lock for 1st, but if someone asked me if Miss Marvel was a good comic, I’d probably tell them “Yeah, it was alright. I liked the old Runaways better, but you could do worse.”

Misfit Super Teams: Runaways and Batman and the Outsiders

I’m mostly a DC fan, but I’ve got to admit, I have a soft spot for Runaways. It’s one of the Marvel titles I enjoy enough to consider trying to follow, or at least catch up on the various gaps in what I’ve read.

For those who don’t know, the premise of Runaways is the kids of a group of Supervillains discover that their parents are evil and (TITLE!) run away. They (I think, I missed that volume) kill their parents and take over their secret base, trying to cope with the power vacuum of villainy that the removal of their parents created.

I particularly like the older run, as it presents an ongoing relatively non-episodic story that more adheres to the narrative structure that got me into comics in the first place (graphic novels & manga).  I still have a hard time with strictly episodic superhero stories, though I’ve warmed up to mainstream comics in general a bit in the form of short arcs within a continuity. I’ll admit that one thing that kept me away from Runaways for some time despite loving the first volume was the assumption on my part that, like all other ongoing western comics, there would be no satisfying resolution and eventually the story would go off in radically divergent directions away from the establishing narrative, the characters would get replaced or Flanderized, and it would turn into a hugely disappointing unending mess. Well, I’m starting to try to just enjoy the ride, and once the road gets too bumpy, I’ll get off.

But back on topic, I think the reason why Runaways is the only Marvel title I really enjoy is that the characters perceive the rest of the Marvel Universe kind of in the way that I perceive it. Wolverine thinks he’s bad but he’s really just kind of a jerkass, Spiderman thinks he’s cool and hip and funny but actually he’s a giant tool, the X-Men are lame-os trying to be edgy, the Avengers are cool until you meet them. I actually relate to these Marvel characters because of their utter disdain for their fellow (and far more iconic) Marvel heroes, and it’s a strange feeling. They’re kind of a bizarro Teen Titans; without the guidance of A-tier heroes, they make a lot of mistakes and bad choices, but because of their interactions with the rest of the Marvel heroes, you still get the gooey angst similar to that which the Titans have for being in the shadow of their “parent” figure heroes, but since none of them are the children or side-kicks of Marvel staples, there’s not the understanding that they’ll patch things up with and eventually take up the mantle of a Jerkass Justice Leaguer Avenger or X-man. And as much as I love Raven, Nico is, if not a better character, a more interesting take on the dark magic girl insofar as how her powers work.

What I read of Volume 3 (in magazine terms, not collection terms) confirmed some of my fears about the devolution into villain of the weekisms, but the other collections I read have convinced me that I definitely need to go back and finish the stuff from Volumes 1 & 2.

And speaking of Superhero teams, in my quest to find the optimal insertion point into Batman nearly 80 year history, I grabbed a DC Showcase collection of Batman and the Outsiders from the library.

Why do I say I’m looking for an optimal insertion point? I know this probably makes me a terrible Batman fan, but my favorite Batman is early to mid-90s; I read the Dark Knight Archives that had the first 4 issues of Batman, and found it painfully dull; I read the DC Showcase Brave and the Bold Team Ups collection because I loved the Brave & the Bold cartoon show and wasn’t sure what was worse, the awful D-list villains, the overly long and boring stories, or the bad silver age 1-liners; for my money, Azbats aside, the Knightfall era is some of the best Batman I’ve read outside of some one-offs.

Why did I pick Batman and the Outsiders? Well, I liked the (wildly reimagined) Outsiders’ cameos in the Brave and the Bold cartoon and the publication dates of the Batman and the Outsiders are far closer to the era of Batman I know that like than the era of Batman I know that I don’t like.

It’s getting there. There are still some traces of bad 4th-wall breaking Silver Age cheese, though it’s generally only the occasional panel and it never goes into the full on “blah blah blah, good readers!” hyperbolic nonsense which made the Silver Age team-ups unreadable to me. The setup and introduction is a bit awkward (‘I’m quitting the JLA because you won’t invest cosmic conflict level resources into intervening in a civil war in a country smaller than Luxembourg to help me save Lucius Fox!’ ‘You guys who showed up out of nowhere and almost botched this for me: let me set you up in Bruce Wayne’s assorted safe houses. You’re my new team, because that little shit Robin is with the Teen Titans now!’), but the book finds its rhythm quickly. The interplay between the characters, particularly Halo/Katana and Halo/Geo-Force, is the strongest aspect of the title and helps to compensate for where the title lacks in good episodic stories. I’m generally not interested in whatever bottom tier villain they’re fighting, but I’m interested enough in finding out how the team members’ relationships evolve that I’m more than willing to keep reading.

I think the Outsiders hit their stride with the Teen Titans crossover; revealing Terra as Geo-Force’s missing sister suddenly makes the Outsiders relevant (in my reader’s mind, at least) to the DC Universe and its overall story. Geo-Force is a good, if troubled dude, and knowing that his sister is evil, Batman knows his sister is evil, and that his sister is going die in the not too distant continuity future… there’s gonna be some Pathos, man!  Plus, getting to see some vintage Robin Resentment and a cameo of a pre-Robin Jason Todd provides some nice fuel for my continuity-nerd furnace.

As for actual continuity, though, it’s kind of a problem since Batman and the Outsiders is, comparatively speaking, immediately before Crisis, meaning that it could’ve been wiped out partially, completely, or not at all. The Real Batman Chronology Project indicates that post-Crisis flashbacks indicate that Batman did leave the JLA, did form the Outsiders, and the lineup of Teen Titans who show up in that early crossover does hold up in post-Crisis continuity, but just how much can be ascribed to the life Batman from Year One actually lived in the second decade of his career is up in the air, and since it was so close to Crisis, there was not a wholesale post-crisis reintroduction of Batman’s formation of the Outsiders.

Regardless of its standing within Modern Age continuity, my conclusions are:
Batman and the Outsiders is worth checking out.
While the writing is still a bit dodgy, Pre-Crisis Batman is back on my Radar.
If they aren’t stupid expensive, I might someday pick up some original issues of B&tO to get a better appreciation of them; the Showcases might be a “bargain” but coloring can be the difference between an okay and a great comic.
Geo-Force fighting Superman at Christmas because Superman & Batman wouldn’t let him murder a professor who had been sexually abusing the girl he was in love with and drove her to a suicide attempt was one hell of a crazy story!

This Can’t Be Real… ( #AbsorbingManWasRight #gamergate )

This cannot possibly be real, but the internet is assuring me that it’s real.  Hell, anti-GG folks are assuring people that it’s real.

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#AbsorbingManWasRight
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And the comic industry wonders why sales of comics are dismal when they cost $5 an issue and are constantly trolling their fanbase…

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Not Exactly a Review, But…

While I may have been content to wait for Hobbit 3: The Manhattan Project to come out on DVD so I can watch characters with the same names as those from a book I read once spend 3 hours flailing about trying to kill a dragon, my Dad, bless his heart, wanted to see it in theatres, and who am I to turn down a christmas gift movie, especially one that my girlfriend is excited to see (she loves the Jackson LotRs movies even more than I love the source material)? Well, we show up to find that it has been sold out.* Our fallback plan was to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, which my dad had on bluray from Netflix.

I’ll start this off by pointing out that I’m more of a DC person, and beyond a few fairly run of the mill Marvel series and events, I don’t know jack about the Marvel Universe. But never again will I say “DC is better than Marvel at Cosmic Crisis stories”, because Guardians of the Galaxy did a fine job of it, even if it was in a very ‘by the book’ sort of way. Alien bounty hunters & pirate lord? Check. Escape from a maximum security space prison? Check. Strange Kowloon-walled-city-esque outlaw collective in space? Check. Guardians of the Galaxy was probably one of the most troperiffic movies I’ve seen in awhile, but it was still good fun. Miles above the bloated and writhing pomp and self importance of Man of Steel (again, if Chris Nolan can’t make a good Superman movie, no one can).

My girlfriend pointed out that if it weren’t for the somewhat excessive swearing, it easily could’ve made for a great family movie. Then again, these days, swearing may not be a thing? Just the other day, I saw a lady say motherfucker in front of her kid 4 times, and only one of those times was in context of “I’m gonna slap you in your motherfucking mouth if you don’t be quiet.” I know that you want people to take your movie with a pissed off raccoon man and his tree friend (time to start a tally of how many ultramax space prisons Vin Diesel breaks out of) seriously, so sure, keep them swears a comin’ I guess.

Again, it’s a part of the Marvel-verse I’m only cursorily familiar with. The nerd in me lit up like a pin-ball machine when they mentioned the infinity stone thingies. “Orite! Thanos is always looking for the Infinity Stones to destroy the universe or something! I remember now!” Indeed, my only real exposure was that a friend of mine lent me the Infinity Gauntlet back in highschool. Thanos may be a poor man’s Darkseid (blue lady and green lady even kind of strike me being knockoffs of Darkseid’s furies), but he at least got to be in a decent live action movie before Jack Kirby’s ultimate dark god villain.

On something of a tangent, I remember once that someone checking me out at walmart asked if I thought that Dark Knight Rises or the Avengers was the better movie. It was a difficult question to be asked in a checkout line, because the real answer may have been too complex and nuanced for appropriate store-checkout-line small talk. Ultimately, I said “They’re both good, but they’re very different movies.” All of the Marvel-movie-verse movies are super-hero movies, through and through. Big action, larger than life heroes, all in the name of fun and entertainment. There’s some thought-provoking to be done on the side, but for the most part, they don’t attempt to directly address some serious fundamental societal issues in ways that make people uncomfortable. The Batman movies that Nolan made were very much cerebral crime thrillers (particularly the second two) which happened to feature a costumed crime fighter. They did not feel like superhero movies, however. Maybe it’s that lack of truly triumphant moment in which the day is saved (for the day is never truly saved in Gotham, just as the day is never truly saved in real life; for every criminal, terrorist, corrupt politician, corrupt judiciary, corrupt law enforcer or man-caused disaster dealt with, there will always be more to come). They made you think, though, even if they didn’t necessarily make you smile. Batman is probably one of the only top tier superheroes that such an experience could be truly rewarding for fans.** Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I hated Man of Steel? A Superman movie NEEDS to be a Superhero movie, full of tropes that make us laugh and cheer for the heroes who will save the world.

I really wish that Superman Vs. Batman wasn’t the next major DC movie on the slate, because DC REALLY needs a movie that is as FUN as Guardians of the Galaxy, and I’m pretty certain that Supes Vs. Bats is gonna be all “Crime-fighting & responsible use of force is serious business, guys.”

*: No idea at this point just when I’ll get around to seeing it.

**: It’s worth noting that in many ways, the live action Tim Burton Batman movies felt far more cartoony than the cartoon series and features that followed in their wake. A lot of the 1st season villain debuts in TAS were DaF. I think this is why it so greatly benefited the Arkham Asylum games to have a good portion of the voice cast from the Animated Series. I very belatedly had the opportunity to crack open Arkham City, so I’ll probably have some thoughts on that before too long. Yeah, yeah, I’m WAY behind the times…

As a DC Fan, I hadn’t really paid much attention

but while DC fans are writhing in disgust and disappointment with Dan Didio’s oversexed reign of terrible, apparently Marvel fans are dealing with their own woes.  This is an interesting article on how Marvel has been actively torpedoing X-Men and X-Men fans because of the licensing debacle created by their 90s bankruptcy era dealings with Fox and Sony.  

Sometimes it’s nice to know that the grass is not really greener on the other side. (waves to Marvel fans).