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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1

In the world of comics, alternate universes and various “what if” scenarios tend to be hit or miss. Some stories become more than simple thought experiments that plays with the malleable timelines and multiverses surrounding certain characters. A few even go onto become beloved and acclaimed. Stories like “Superman: Red Son” or “Age of Apocalypse” are shining examples of just how great these stories can be.

However, they’re the exception rather than the norm. Most scenarios that deal in alternate universes and “what if” scenarios tend to be either entirely forgettable or too absurd to take seriously. The stories that do set themselves apart usually succeed because the concept is strong and compelling.

By that standard, “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” has a lot going for it. The original “Death of Superman” story is one of the most iconic stories in the history of superhero comics. It raised the bar for how dramatic, impactful, and heartfelt a superhero comic can be. It showed just how great these characters can be, even in the face of tragedy.

This comic dares to flip the script. It explores a very different, very bleak scenario that shows how tragedy can bring out the worst in people. It dares to contemplate how even those who once championed the ideals of characters like Superman can become corrupt. That’s exactly what happens to Lois Lane in this story.

The idea, alone, is intriguing. Lois Lane isn’t just Superman’s iconic love interest. She’s someone who actively fights for truth, justice, and the American Way without the aid of other-wordly powers. Whether she’s a reporter or Superman’s lover, she personifies these values in ways that few characters can match. She’s the last person in the DC Universe that you would expect to be corrupted by tragedy.

However, in this world when the events of “Death of Superman” play out, that’s exactly what happens. Moreover, writer Jeff Loveness makes it feel entirely believable. As the story unfolds, we see a version of Lois Lane that isn’t just consumed by grief. She’s hardened by it.

Instead of grieving the loss of her lover and hero, she’s consumed by anger. She sees a world full of heroes that Superman helped inspire. Then, when he needed them most, they failed him. They let him die. On top of that, his death didn’t inspire people to be better. Things just went back to the way they were, minus their greatest hero.

In that context, it’s easy to understand why Lois would get so angry. As a result, when she has a chance to embrace the power of the Eradicator, you almost want to cheer her on. Suddenly, she has a chance to carry on Superman’s legacy. At the same time, it’s easy to see how this kind of power will ultimately corrupt her.

Power corrupting fallible human beings is a fairly common recourse in superhero comics. It’s the basis for some of the most iconic stories of all time. However, the fact that this is Lois Lane becoming corrupt is what really gives this story its impact. It makes “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” feel like more than just another dystopian timeline.

What Lois is able to do with the power of the Eradicator is extensive, but her grief has her cross lines that Superman never would. Loveness never gives the impression that she crosses these lines because she’s a fallible human. There’s a progression that builds up inside her, driven by sorrow and anger. She never just snaps. It feels like a natural extension of her anguish.

Naturally, it puts her at odds with other heroes and major villains. I won’t spoil how it plays out, but it gets pretty dark. However, it never gets so dark that it seems gratuitous. Loveless still makes an effort to capture the drama and heart that helped make “Death of Superman” such an endearing story. While it’s impossible to match the impact of the original story, this story still strikes the right chords.

There are moments in “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” that defy the traditional conventions of the DC Universe. It’s appropriately dark. At the same time, though, it never feels like the characters completely deviate from who they are. This darker version of Lois Lane still feels like the Lois Lane we’ve known for over 80 years.

Loveness makes the case that even someone like Lois can walk a darker path in a believable way. The artistic style of Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, and Norm Rapmund give that story an appropriately dark tone. It’s dramatic, but it never feels like it’s just doing things for shock value. Granted, seeing Lois become so corrupt is shocking, but that’s not the only thing driving the story.

While “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” probably won’t garner the same acclaim as “Superman: Red Son,” it succeeds in ways that so many other “what if” comics fail. It takes an intriguing concept and develops it in a believable way. It doesn’t undermine the characters or the original themes behind them. It simply tells a darker version of a well-known story and tells it very well.

Lois Lane will always be defined by her connection with Superman. In so many stories within so many worlds, that connection is what brings out the best in her. In this one exceptionally dark world, it brings out the worst and that makes Superman’s death even more tragic.

 

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Why “Joker” Is Brilliant, But Controversial (For The Wrong Reasons)

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Every now and then, a movie comes along that’s brilliant in so many ways, but undermined by the circumstances of its release. In the same way certain movies come along at just the right time to become a cultural phenomenon, others hit theaters with unexpected forces working against them.

When “The Dark Knight” came out in 2008, its timing was perfect. It struck all the right notes from a cinematic, narrative, and cultural perspective. On top of that, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker went down as one of the greatest displays of acting prowess of all time, and not just for a superhero movie. For many, myself included, Ledger’s version of the Joker will always be the one by which all others are measured.

By contrast, “Joker” couldn’t have been timed worse. The current social, political, and cultural landscape is vulnerable and hypersensitive to every one of the themes it explores. On top of that, the movie explores those things very well, so much so that it warrants being in the same conversation as “The Dark Knight” in terms of how it portrays the Joker.

While Heath Ledger’s Joker is still superior in almost every way, what Joaquin Phoenix accomplished in this movie deserves plenty of praise. At the very least, it helps cleanse the memories of those still cringing at Jared Leto’s rather eccentric take on the character in “Suicide Squad.”

This movie, as well as Phoenix’s performance, comes at a time when taboos about mental health and disturbed lonely men are hot-button topics. On top of that, a string of mass shootings perpetrated by disturbed men, some with disturbing manifestos, has created real-life horror while stoking genuine fears. The story in “Joker” neither avoids nor downplays those issues.

This movie also dares to do something that few beyond Alan More has been able to achieve, which is to give the Joker a backstory. For many lifelong comic fans, especially Batman fans, the very concept of fleshing out this character undermines the core of his appeal. He has always functioned better as a chaotic force of nature rather than a person with a tangible history.

Ever since his creation in 1940, his life and his story have been vague. He has been defined as a perfect counter to Batman’s never-ending crusade. Whereas Batman seeks justice through clear, defined rules, the Joker seeks chaos and laughs at such rules. He can never be too defined, as a character, if he’s to personify that chaos.

Despite these challenges, “Joker” finds a way to tell his story and, like “The Dark Knight” before it, actually manages to make the Joker even more terrifying. Through the character of Arthur Fleck, we see a disturbed mind trapped within an environment that does everything to make his condition worse. Through both unavoidable circumstances and fateful choices, we see this broken mind become something far more dangerous.

It doesn’t happen all at once. There’s no single trigger, like falling into a vat of chemicals. There’s a cumulative effect to Arthur Fleck’s transformation. It’s not always logical or smooth, which comes off as intentional from the beginning. The only constant is that Fleck gets more twisted and unhinged with each escalating event.

This is where Phoenix’s performance really shines. He carries himself with a presence that feels very close to what Ledger captured in “The Dark Knight.” He starts off as simply being mentally ill and struggling with it. However, what he does with his illness and what it does to him turns him into something more than just another disturbed loner.

It’s here where the controversy behind the “Joker” takes hold. I would argue it’s a dumb controversy, but it was serious enough for Aurora, Colorado to cancel screenings of the movie. While it feels like an overreaction, it’s somewhat understandable, given what happened in Aurora in 2012.

If that were the extent of the controversy, then “Joker” would only be a passing concern for most people. Then came the idea the movie celebrates or glorifies “incel culture” through Fleck’s story. While I usually try to be balanced when scrutinizing certain ideas, even if they’re absurd, I can’t do that this time.

Simply put, this part of the controversy is just plain stupid. There’s no better way to say it.

Worrying that this movie might somehow inspire lonely, disturbed men to go on killing sprees is completely without merit. It’s akin to worrying that “Friday the 13th” will inspire anyone who wears a hockey mask to brutally murder camp counselors. Moreover, the absurdity of this controversy undercuts the more substantive messages of this movie.

There is a real message in “Joker” and it has nothing to do with incels, masculinity, or even violence. In this world, Gotham City is the perfect symbol of a grossly flawed society that tries to pretend those flaws can be fixed by staying the course. From the perspective of people like Arthur Fleck, this notion is a complete joke.

Much like our world, there’s a small segment of very rich, very powerful people who benefit the most from this society. The Wayne family is the perfect manifestation of this joke. Even when they carry themselves as responsible, upstanding pillars of the community, they still look down at those who are dissatisfied. On top of that, they think their dissatisfaction is a flaw.

Arthur Fleck is as caught up as anyone in this decaying society. Then, through details I won’t spoil, he starts something that inspires chaos that would make Heath Ledger’s Joker proud. That chaos may or may not be entirely justified, but it’s understandable. In a sense, the Joker is just an extreme manifestation of something that seemed inevitable.

If there is a real controversy with “Joker,” it’s that the wrong issues became controversial. This movie conveys a message to the rich, powerful people who benefit the most from society that things aren’t as rosy as they seem. Those same people who think they know the solutions have no idea what people at the bottom are going through and dismissing them as “clowns” only makes things worse.

We’ve already seen this happen in the real world. The powerful who seek greater power call those who lash out as unimportant or misguided. They think those who protest loudly have nothing of merit to say, which only feels like an excuse to not listen. In that sense, it’s probably not surprising that many media outlets have turned on this movie, albeit for the wrong reasons.

At its core, “Joker” highlights the craziness that compounds craziness. In a world that’s unfair, unjust, and full of lies, how can sane person not be driven insane by their circumstances? Arthur Fleck had more circumstances than most and his mental illness only compounded the situation.

There are times when it’s not entirely clear when the events unfolding are real or vivid delusions. It nicely reflects the uncertain nature of the Joker’s origins, as both the Killing Joke and “The Dark Knight” have previously established. There’s a point in the movie where it becomes unclear where Arthur Fleck truly comes from or whether that name is truly his.

In the end, his name doesn’t matter because once he becomes the Joker, he becomes something more than just a mentally ill loner. For certain people who have seen mentally ill loners commit atrocities in the real world, it sparks real fear. At the same time, “Joker” makes clear that’s the wrong target.

After seeing “Joker,” I feel like I just saw a movie that people are going to be talking about for years to come. It’s a movie that can be interpreted in many ways, which is perfectly befitting of the Joker’s chaotic nature. At the same time, I knew some of those interpretations would be used in the name of an agenda and not in a good way.

In another time, “Joker” would be hailed as a movie worthy of praise on the level of “The Dark Knight.” However, because it came out at a time when people fear the lonely, deranged men more than the society that creates them, it’s not able to have the same impact. It’s still an excellent movie and one that will have a unique place in cinematic history for years to come.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Lois Lane #1

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics enters this world in the never-ending effort to make it feel less hopeless. Fans like me take comfort and joy in reading stories about powerful superheroes using their immense abilities to pull off heroic feats. Many of these stories center around extraordinary individuals doing extraordinary things with power that few in the non-comic book world can comprehend.

Then, a comic like “Lois Lane #1” comes along and proves that heroic feats don’t need superhuman abilities. They just need a stubborn and unyielding commitment to the truth.

I admit that the idea of a Lois Lane comic didn’t seem all that intriguing. I also freely acknowledge that I’ve criticized how Lois has been utilized in recent years with respect to the larger Superman mythos. Those criticisms aside, I don’t deny the importance of her character. She is still an integral part of Superman’s world, as well as the larger DC universe.

Lois Lane #1” doesn’t change that role, nor does it attempt to radically alter who Lois is. It just takes some time to focus on what she does, why she does it, and why it’s such a critical component of truth, justice, and the American way. You could even argue that those ideals are more critical now than they ever have been, which means Lois Lane’s story carries a weight beyond being Superman’s love interest.

Writer Greg Rucka, who has considerable experience writing DC’s strongest female characters, builds an entire story around Lois Lane exercising her expert reporting skills. On the surface, it may not sound as exciting as watching Superman punch meteors out of the sky, but the underlying themes of the story go beyond just saving the day.

Those looking for another story about Lois needing to be rescued by Superman again will probably be disappointed by “Lois Lane #1.” However, those hoping to see someone pursue justice in a way that doesn’t require Kryptonian biology are in for a treat. Superman may be the personification of truth, justice, and the American way, but it’s Lois Lane who proves you don’t need powers to fight for it.

The story is a potent mix of a spy thriller and a mystery built around headlines that are all too real to anyone with a news feed. Yes, there are plenty of super-villains in the DC universe looking to destroy whole worlds and rip apart the fabric of reality. At the same time, there are smaller-scale forms of injustice and those are the battles Lois fights.

In this case, her fight takes her to Russia, a place not known for press freedom. She has a story that won’t defeat Darkseid, but it will expose the corruption, injustice, and lies that plague her world as much as ours. While Superman is still in the story, he actually plays no part in helping her navigate this battle. In this particular battle for truth, Lois is on her own and she proves she’s capable without superpowers.

In fact, for the truth she seeks, superpowers aren’t that useful. Exposing corruption and lies is never a matter of how many meteors or parademons you can punch. Lois is a reporter. She needs information, sources, and connections. These are not things you can punch or magically conjure. Rucka has Lois rely almost entirely on her reporting skills rather than her intimate relationship with Superman.

Those reporting skills might as well be superpowers. Lois isn’t just dedicated to finding the truth. She’s determined. She willingly puts herself in danger to find the information she needs. While this usually means Superman has to rescue her at least once a week, that’s not the case here.

Lois Lane #1” shows that it is possible for Lois to navigate that danger without calling on her super-powered lover. After reading this comic, you feel as though this sort of triumph doesn’t happen often enough, both in the real and fictional world.

Throughout her history, Lois Lane has been a tricky character to develop. She’s so defined by her relationship to Superman that it’s difficult for her to stand on her own. Being a side-kick or a love interest tends to define a character more than what they actually do in a story.

Lois Lane #1” doesn’t try to subvert or redefine her lengthy history. She’s still very much Superman’s love interest. She still plays a vital role in his story. However, this comic makes the case that Lois can carry her own story, as well. Rucka, along with the art of Mike Perkins, demonstrate that she can pursue truth and justice on her own. For someone who needs to be rescued so often, it’s both refreshing and overdue.

While Lois Lane will never be an iconic female hero on the same level as Wonder Woman, she embodies many of the principles that heroes of all kinds fight for. They readily protect the innocent and defend justice with their immense powers, but Lois Lane demonstrates why those principles matter.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Superman: Year One #1

Every Wednesday, comic fans like me rejoice at the prospect of enjoying a nice stack of new books to start the day. While not every stack is full of epic sagas that leave readers with lifelong memories of pure awesome, there are some that stand out more than others. When one comic in that stack is written by Frank Miller, it’s usually an event that comic fans remember for the rest of their comic-loving days.

If you don’t know who Frank Miller is, then trust me when I say that his name carries a lot of weight in the comic book community. There’s Stan Lee. There’s Jack Kirby. There’s Alan Moore. Most people know those iconic names and the place they have in pop culture. Talk to most well-read comic book fans and they’ll agree. Frank Miller deserves to be in that special class of writer.

This is someone whose work was a true paradigm shift for the medium. His work in the 1980s changed the way people approached superhero comics. It’s not unreasonable to say that Miller is one of the most influential comic writers of the past 40 years. If you want to understand the power of that influence, then “Superman: Year One #1” should get the point across.

This is not a comic that requires a working knowledge of DC Comics’ current continuity, which has been subject to some messy upheavals over the past 10 years. You don’t even have to know anything about Superman to appreciate “Superman: Year One #1.” This is one of those rare books where anyone who has never touched a superhero comic can just pick it up, follow along, and understand the breadth of the story.

This comic, which is printed under DC’s more mature Black Label banner, is not a radical re-telling of Superman’s origins. If you know the basics or have just seen a few Superman movies, then you won’t see anything too shocking. That said, “Superman: Year One #1” brings something new, compelling, and revealing to the table.

There any number of stories about Clark Kent’s formative years, from origins comics to the “Smallville” TV series. Many go to great lengths to show how and why Clark becomes Superman. However, Miller’s approach to “Superman: Year One #1” is a bit different.

The story is less about Clark becoming a hero and more about how he finds his place in the world. He’s not a hero yet. The thought hasn’t even crossed his mind. He’s just a kid for most of the story, navigating his life and trying to figure out where he fits in. His emerging powers are secondary, for the most part.

There are times when Clark is overwhelmed. There are even times when he’s uncertain. One of Superman’s most defining traits is his inclination to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. That’s what makes him the hero by which all others are measured. In “Superman: Year One #1,” he doesn’t know what the right thing is yet, but he’s eager to find out.

In addition to the emergence of Clark’s morality, Miller also explores his influences and his supporting cast. His parents, his peers, and his first love interest, Lana Lang, all get a chance to play a part in his story. They don’t just give him advice or put him in challenging situations, either. Miller gives them all a personality.

Their voices feel distinct. Their impact on Clark feels unique. They help nurture his humanity more than any aspiring superhero. Both Lana and Martha have powerful moments that reveal why they’re so critical to Clark’s journey. Some of those moments, namely the one with Lana, aren’t the kind that would make it onto kid-friendly movie or Saturday morning cartoon, either.

Miller does take advantage of DC’s Black Label, injecting some more mature themes into the story. However, he never pushes it beyond a certain point. Compared to what happened withBatman: Damned #1,” Miller keeps things relatively balanced. That doesn’t stop “Superman: Year One #1” from feeling like a more mature Superman story.

This is a story where Clark Kent gets to be a kid who just happens to develop amazing powers. It’s a story where he doesn’t fight invading aliens, mad scientists, or hulking monsters. The biggest fight he has involve a group of high school bullies who saw one too many 80s teen movies.

The stakes are small. Clark doesn’t need to save the world at this point in his life. He just has to save a few people and navigate through a few personal situations. While that doesn’t make for the kinds of epic battles that Superman tends to fight every other day, it’s because of this smaller scope that the story feels more personal.

Before Clark can learn to save the world, he has to start by saving Lana Lang from being assaulted. Before Clark can battle Braniac, Lex Luthor, and Doomsday, he has to learn how to take down a group of bullies without causing too much damage. Not everything comes easily, even for someone of his immense power. That’s exactly what makes “Superman: Year One #1” so compelling.

Miller allows Clark to struggle and learn. The artwork of the amazingly talented John Romita Jr. helps give that struggle the perfect aesthetic. Even when he slips up, things never get too dark or angst-ridden. For Miller, the same man who wrote one of the darkest Batman stories of all time, it’s a critical, yet necessary change.

While it’s too early to say whether “Superman: Year One #1” becomes as iconic and well-regarded as Miller’s other work, it succeeds in demonstrating why his approach to superheroes is so iconic. It’s not enough to simply tell the story about how the hero wins the day against impossible odds. Miller highlights the person beneath the heroic icon.

Clark Kent is Superman. Superman is Clark Kent. The identities are often interchangeable, but they’re only names and titles. At the end of the day, there’s still a person within that iconic costume and his story is worth exploring. Under the pen of Frank Miller, that story is in good hands.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Wonder Woman #71

Once a week, comic book fans rejoice as pencil, ink, and imagination come together to bring us a batch of new comics. Whether they involve superheroes, gritty crime drama, sappy romance, or talking ducks in ties, great comics take many forms.

As someone who awaits every Wednesday like Christmas, I make it a point to select one comic from this crowded field that helps make the day feel uniquely festive. It doesn’t always involve superheros gods, demigods, and talking animals. This week, however, that’s exactly what “Wonder Woman #71” contains. That’s not an exaggeration. This comic contains all of that, along with a uniquely impactful story.

The Wonder Woman comics have always been more fanciful than most, even without its former allusions to BDSM. When Wonder Woman isn’t fighting alongside the Justice League or going toe-to-toe against cosmic threats like Darkseid, she often deals with the divine mischief caused by her divine heritage. Since the arrival of writer, G. Willow Wilson, there has been plenty of mischief to go around.

For the past few issues, Diana has been investigating some decadent happenings in a small town called Summergrove. At first, it doesn’t look quite as dire as some of the other godly influences that Wonder Woman has dealt with. The people of this typical community have just become a bunch of free-wielding hippies, randomly pursuing every decadent desire that enters their mind, among other things.

It’s not quite as pornographic as it sounds. Wilson manages to keep things PG-13, for the most part. However, the free loving and utter disregard for Western propriety are just part of the issue. This major disruption in a community not used to public nudity isn’t due to some sudden realization that Puritan traditions are asinine. It’s a direct result of Atlantiades, the god of lust and desire.

Aside from being the offspring of Aphrodite, as well as the kind of deity that aspiring erotica/romance writers could worship, Atalantiades presents a unique challenge to Wonder Woman. Yes, she’s causing real harm to innocent people and their families by exercising her divine power, but she’s not doing it directly, nor is she doing it out of malice.

She is, like many gods in both the world of DC Comics and beings of mythology, unaware of how her power influences frail mortal minds. She doesn’t see ordinary humans with the same care and concern as Wonder Woman. Whereas Diana respects and protects them, gods like Atalantiades pity and manipulate them.

It puts Wonder Woman in a tricky position of convincing Atalantiades that what she’s doing to the people of Summergrove is wrong. The past couple issues have steadily revealed how bad things have gotten. Families are being torn apart and the community is collapsing around itself as people just abandon their responsibilities and ignore all consequences to their action.

It may seem fun, but even the most free spirit of individuals can’t avoid consequences. That’s what it means to be human. However, Atalantiades and the rest of her divine brethren don’t understand that the way Wonder Woman does. Their divinity means they don’t have to deal with the same consequences. They only have to worry when those consequences impact other gods.

That’s another lesson that Atalantiades has to learn the hard way. While Wonder Woman helps her deal with the damage she did to Summergrove, her activities obscure another emerging conflict centered around her mother, Aphrodite. This conflict has higher stakes and greater consequences, mainly because it involves unleashing a mythical beast.

It’s this culmination of consequences that helps “Wonder Woman #71” stand out. There are plenty of stories that involve Wonder Woman fighting mythical beasts and protecting people from unholy manipulations. However, she ends up having to do both here and she can’t resolve both solely through fighting.

Wonder Woman can do a lot of incredible feats, but she doesn’t absolve people or gods of consequences, nor would she if she could. She can’t fight Atalantiades or the people she has influenced, but she can convince her to take responsibility. That’s not as easy as a simple scorn or lecture, but it does make for some revealing exchanges.

Wilson, like many other accomplished Wonder Woman writers, explore the unique and strange perspective of divine beings like Atalantiades. That’s understandable because they’re not mortal. They don’t see mortality, desire, and consequences the same way an ordinary person in the suburb sees it. In many respects, it reveals just how unique Wonder Woman is because she goes out of her way to relate to ordinary people.

Atalantiades makes clear that she doesn’t see love and desire the same way as Diana. Throughout this story arc, even other gods like Aphrodite go out of their way to denigrate Diana’s perspective on matters of love and mortals. She sees it as something empowering and intimate. They see it as something chaotic and corrupt.

Wonder Woman #71” doesn’t entirely resolve that argument, but it does make a compelling case for each side. Atalantiades demonstrates what happens when love and desire run rampant. It’s sexy and even humorous, at times, but it’s also flawed and Wonder Woman helps belabor that.

As more consequences of Atalantiades’ actions play out, Wonder Woman has a chance to make her point in other, more direct ways. This is also where the artwork of Tom Derenick and Xermanico get more vibrant as divine debates turn into divine clashes. It helps highlight how strong Wonder Woman can be with both her words and her fists.

Wonder Woman #71” is not the endgame of this larger story surrounding Atalantiades and Aphrodite, but it is definitely the most dramatic. Wilson explores some pretty heavy topics in this story, touching on gods, love, and the frail mortal beings that get caught in the crossfire. It puts Wonder Woman in some difficult situations in which her compassion has to be as strong as muscles.

As always, she rises to the occasion and inspires more awe and wonder in the process. That’s what makes her Wonder Woman.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: DCeased #1

It’s Wednesday and for comic book fans, it’s basically a holiday that doesn’t require decorations, greeting cards, or annoying commercials. Every week brings something new and with many people still recovering from the impact of “Avengers Endgame,” myself included, the world needs something to help us move forward.

With that in mind, this week’s quick pick offers something that is the dramatic antithesis of a bittersweet ending to an 11-year movie franchise. “DCeased #1” is not the kind of story that will lift your spirits or trigger tears of joy. It’s a different kind of story that seeks a different impact and, much like “Avengers Endgame,” it succeeds.

The story does not build heavily on recent events in the world of DC Comics so if you haven’t kept up, you won’t be too lost. It’s very much a self-contained story that takes a particular concept that’s unique to the DC Universe and twists it in ways it has never been twisted. The results are brutal, terrifying, and a sight to behold, albeit a morbid one.

Writer, Tom Taylor, has a rich history of taking certain concepts within the superhero genre and re-imagining them in new, compelling ways. He did it with his criminally underrated run on “Superior Iron Man” and “DCeased #1” definitely has traces of those themes.

It starts with something familiar. The Justice League has once again defeated Darkseid. In terms of standard operating procedures in the DC Universe, that’s akin to paying your taxes or getting your driver’s license renewed. However, this typical triumph isn’t the end of the story. It’s just the beginning and it gets very dark, very fast.

At first, it has all the makings of another elaborate plot by Darkseid. He’s always had plenty of that. Being a god-like bringer of death and destruction, he always seems to have something going on and never lets defeat by the Justice League hold him back for long.

Then, his plan goes horribly and shockingly wrong. I won’t spoil the details, but what happens to Darkseid, and later everyone on Earth, strikes at the foundation the DC Universe. Like many other superhero comics, there are a special brand of physics in play, many of which would make Einstein’s head explode. However, when those physics are defied or subverted, bad things tend to happen and this might be the worst.

This isn’t the kind of impact that gives an all-powerful, obscenely-evil character like Darkseid an insane power boost. This is something that torments even the most villainous beings as much as its most virtuous heroes. Gods, demigods, aliens, Amazons, billionaire playboys, and even average people on the street are all equally vulnerable.

For once, there’s no evil figure to fight. There’s no devious villain to outwit or overpower. This is a force of nature that hits anyone and everyone. It’s akin to gravity, light, or taxes. Nobody can escape and nobody is immune.

While the concept of “DCeased #1” may seem like apocalyptic disaster porn, its dramatic structure keeps it from getting too gratuitous. Taylor demonstrates a refined understanding of how certain concepts work in the DC Universe and artwork by James Harren and Tervor Hairsine give rich details to some bleak undertones. Taken together, it creates a dark story that has just the right impact.

Whether you follow the comics or only watch big budget superhero movies, it’s easy to get caught up in the standard tropes of superheros. We expect them to fly in, save the day, or even undo the damage if things get too bad. There are any number of stories like that, especially in the DC Universe. That’s why a story like “DCeased #1” can be so refreshing, even when it deals in such dark themes.

This isn’t a case where we can expect the mightiest heroes in DC to save the day, smile for the cameras, and go back to their lives as mild-mannered reporters. This is a devastating cataclysm for which there is no going back. There’s a uniquely surreal impact to watching this world of mighty superheroes succumb. It’s not just different for the sake of being different. It shows us a different aspect of these characters and this world.

We all know what happens when superheroes save the day. Most people have seen that story in some form or another at some point in their lives. “DCeased #1” dares to ask what happens when superheroes can’t save the world. It’s not that they fail. Technically, they’re not even defeated in the mold of Darkseid beating up Superman. Things just go horribly wrong due to forces beyond their control.

In a world full of god-like super-beings from various planets and universes, this level of destruction has quite an impact. Beyond being the antithesis of the classic hero-saves-the-day narrative, “DCeased #1” presents a story that requires these heroes to reveal a different side of themselves. We know how they are when they’re at their most triumphant. Now, we get to see who they are when all hope is truly lost.

It’s a story worth telling and, if your heart and soul can handle it, “DCeased #1” takes the first step in this utter deconstruction of the DC Universe. It’s a dark, grim sight to behold, but one that brings some welcome novelty to superhero comics.

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Shazam! Review: A Simple Formula For Maximum Fun

shazam

When a particular genre becomes over-saturated and overdone, it’s tempting to try and reinvent the concept in hopes of striking a new chord. It’s especially tempting when so many others have risen the bar to such an insane extent that success can only be measured in billions instead of millions.

It would’ve been easy for a movie like “Shazam” to give into such temptation. With the recent success of “Aquaman” and “Avengers Endgame” set to break all sorts of box office records, it seems like this movie has to do something extreme, just to stand out. How else would it succeed in such a crowded market in a golden age of superhero movies?

That was my greatest concern before I saw “Shazam.” As much as I loved the trailer, I was worried that this movie would try so hard to stand out that it would overlook the part of actually being a fun cinematic experience. That sort of oversight has been plaguing the DC Extended Universe since “Man of Steel.”

This picture sums up the issues nicely.

Well, having seen the movie, I’m happy to say that none of those concerns were founded. In fact, I’m elated to report that “Shazam” is another big win for DC Comics and superhero movies, as a whole. However, it didn’t win because it reinvented the genre or did something radically different. It won because it followed the basic formula for quality superhero movies and had fun along the way.

It helps that the core appeal of Shazam, as a character and superhero, is that it approaches heroics with a childlike playfulness. Billy Batson, the alter ego of the titular hero, is not some jaded adult like Batman. He’s not even a boy scout idealist like Superman. He’s just a kid and one who got dealt a bad hand, for that matter. Being both an orphan and a troublemaker, he sees the adult world through very different eyes.

That’s a novel perspective, to some extent. Every other superhero movie, even going back to the era of Richard Donner’s “Superman,” has framed the idea through an adult lens. It always starts out as something simple. An individual gets superpowers, they start carrying out simple acts of heroism, and those acts eventually get complicated, as often happens with adult issues.

With a character like Billy, things never get that complicated. Again, he’s a kid. Even in his heroic form, he sees conflict with a childlike simplicity and “Shazam” captures that simplicity perfectly. The movie doesn’t deviate much from the details and themes of the source material. Concepts like the Rock of Eternity and the Seven Enemies of Man are present and accurately portrayed.

Such details may not matter to those unfamiliar with the comics, but such accuracy is largely a bonus. What really makes this movie work is how it follows Billy’s journey and not just the one he undergoes as a hero. His evolution when he’s not a magically-endowed superhero is arguably the most meaningful aspect of the story.

When we first meet Billy, it’s hard to discern whether he has the spirit of a hero. He’s no upstanding boy scout. In fact, he’s very much a troublemaker who’s willing to thumb his nose at police, break the rules when it benefits him, and run away from anyone who tries to help him. However, he never comes close to crossing that might send him down a darker path.

It’s that trait that sets him apart from his villainous counterpart, Dr. Sivana. While he’s no Thanos, he demonstrates that he’s a lot like Billy in a few key aspects. He’s given a chance to become a hero, but is unable to refuse the temptation that often comes with immense power. That failure haunts him and pushes him down a darker path.

For a time, it seems as though Billy could walk a similar path. When he first gets his powers, he reacts in ways that most would expect of a 14-year-old boy. He tries to buy beer. He tries to make money. He even ventures into a strip club. It’s hilarious and cute, but it also establishes the perfect tone for a movie that avoids complicating the standard superhero narrative.

Within that narrative, there’s a hero who makes choices and learns from his mistakes. There’s also a villain who makes choices and refuses to learn from them. When they eventually clash, it’s a flashy spectacle with simple, understandable stakes. It’s no Battle of Wakanda, but it doesn’t have to be.

The look of someone who DIDN’T get to work with Josh Brolin.

From the moment he first gets his powers to the final showdown with Dr. Sivana, Billy develops into his own hero, but never loses his childlike mentality. He’s not forced to grow up too fast, nor does he have to abandon the civilian life he’s trying to establish. Whereas being Bruce Wayne is often an inconvenience for Batman, being Billy Batson is necessary for Shazam.

This shows in the seamless characterization provided by Asher Angel, who plays young Billy, and Zachary Levi, who plays Shazam. At no point does either manifestation feel like a different character. They both wield the same childlike charisma as they navigate their superhero journey. The same lovability that made Levi so great in shows like “Chuck” help him and Angel bring out the best in Billy Batson.

When the movie begins, it’s not clear that Billy has what it takes to be a competent hero. Trying to determine his worth is like trying to determine if some random 14-year-old will one day play in the NFL. The odds are against them, but the potential is still there. By the time the credits roll, the message is clear. Billy has the spirit that Shazam was looking for and you can’t help but root for him.

At its core, “Shazam” checks all the right boxes for the classic hero’s journey. Billy Batson is perfectly poised to take that journey and not just because he’s one of many orphans who become superheroes. The movie doesn’t try to subvert these tried and true tropes. If anything, it embraces them and dares to have a little fun along the way.

It’s easy to share in that fun. The humor is exactly what you would expect of a movie that involves 14-year-olds getting superpowers. It’s serious when it needs to be, but never too serious. Given the grim and gritty settings of other DC Extended Universe movies, it’s a breath of fresh air that the superhero genre badly needed.

It’s not without its flaws. Some details of Billy’s life are underdeveloped and glossed over. There were also inconsistencies with Dr. Sivana as well, but none were egregious to the point where they derailed the movie. It simply stuck to a simple formula, mixed in a few twists along the way, and made the most of what it had to work with.

If I had to score “Shazam,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It didn’t reinvent superhero movies or raise the bar. It was simply a fun, entertaining movie that gave a character with little star power a chance to shine. It even managed to accomplish all this without trying too hard to make him like Batman. For a DC Comics movie, that alone is a major accomplishment.

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