Tag Archives: Justice League

Why “The Boys” Is The Ultimate Superhero Satire

amazon-prime-the-boys-tv-show

In the history of superhero media, 2019 will likely go down as one of the greatest years of all time. This year included three superhero movies that grossed over a billion dollars, including the first female-led superhero movie to gross a billion dollars and one that became the highest grossing movie of all time. Whatever the future holds for the genre, there’s no doubt that 2019 will go down as a banner year.

Regardless of what the James Camerons of the world think, superheroes have made their mark on the pop culture landscape. They’ll likely keep making their mark for years to come, especially after Marvel’s latest announcements for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, in the same year that superhero media achieved some of its greatest success, something comes along to utterly deconstruct it.

Whereas a movie like “Avengers Endgame” showed us just how great superheroes can be, a TV show like “The Boys” shows us just how depraved they can be. Being a comic book fan long before this golden age of superheroes, I already knew that. I followed the original comics when they came out in the mid-2000s. Now, thanks to a new TV show, everyone can experience the story that gave superheroes the ultimate gut punch.

Literally.

I’m not going to lie. I was genuinely surprised when I heard Amazon Prime was going to make this show. This is not the kind of story that you can turn into a Disney-approved, PG-13 spectacle for mass consumption. In anything, “The Boys” goes out of its way to explore the kinds of things that would make the censors at Disney and the MPAA throw up.

This is a story that does not hide the brutal violence, intense trauma, and unchecked hedonism that often seems unavoidable in the context of the narrative. Writer and co-creator, Garth Ennis, has a long history of embracing those darker elements of the genre. He did it with “Preacher” and his run on “The Punisher.” With “The Boys,” he took it to another level and beyond.

The world of “The Boys” is not unlike the early days of the MCU. The over-arching story tries to incorporate the fanciful ideals of superheroes into a real-world context. It doesn’t use fictional cities like Metropolis or Gotham. It doesn’t ignore how superheroes would affect society, government, or the economy. The many flaws of the real world are just as relevant in this world.

As are the sentiments about reality, in general.

From here, “The Boys” doesn’t necessarily portray a worst-case scenario for superheroes, but it comes pretty damn close. The “heroes” of this world are the Seven. They include the likes of Homelander, Black Noir, Queen Maeve, A-Train, and the Deep. They’re basically derivations of the Justice League, but in terms of heroic ideals, these characters have none of that.

The Seven conduct themselves as superheroes for the masses. They’re admired, respected, and idolized by many, just like their counterparts in the MCU. However, that heroic zeal is both a lie and a scam. Their entire image is built around a marketing ploy, courtesy of Vought American Consolidated, a defense contractor who incorporates superheroes into their arsenal.

Trust me. It’s even more corrupt than it sounds.

With that corruption comes greed, treachery, violence, and depravity the likes of which Batman would find too grim. These heroes basically get to smile for the cameras, enjoy the benefits of celebrity, and still conduct themselves as self-serving narcissist behind the scene. They can do whatever they want, get away with it, and still be beloved. It’s a recipe for all sorts of disasters.

On top of that, some of these characters are outright psychopaths. Homelander is a mentally unstable sadist who commits many vile acts throughout the comics, including rape. The TV show captures only a fraction of his depravity, but it’s more than enough to highlight the underlying message of “The Boys” and why it’s such a powerful story.

In essence, “The Boys” is the ultimate satire of the superhero genre. It’s entire narrative is built around exploring, exposing, and denigrating the ideals on which all superhero media is built upon. It’s not done for humor or comedic effect, either. The theme of “The Boys” is dead serious in showing how a world with superheroes becomes so depraved.

This is where the Boys themselves come in. They include Billy Butcher, Frenchie, Mother’s Milk, the Female, and Hughie. They both witness and directly experience the breadth of the Seven’s corruption. They take it upon themselves to expose these heroes for who they are.

However, their motivations aren’t entirely heroic. These characters often come off every bit as damaged, petty, and vindictive as the heroes they actively oppose. They don’t stick to high ideals, either. The Boys are brutal, albeit in a more focused and pragmatic sense.

It gets ugly.

It gets violent.

It gets downright traumatic.

It also gets the damn point across.

If “The Boys” has a unifying message that unites both the comics and the TV shows, it’s that superheroes can only ever make things worse in the long run. That ideal of a perfectly altruistic savior in the mold of Superman just doesn’t exist and wanting it to exist can be downright dangerous.

The people behind the scenes with the Seven feed into that. The government, big corporations, and the media glorify these heroes because the people latch onto them. They want these heroes to be the idealized figures that they read about in comics and see in blockbuster movies. They buy into it and both the Seven and the organizations that manage them keep selling it.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that only amplifies the corruption. The Boys dare to battle that corruption, but with the understanding they’re fighting a losing battle. They can attack, expose, and frustrate these superpowered sociopaths all they want. They’re never going to destroy those rosy ideals on which the entire genre is build upon. At most, they can just make them pay a price for their egregious misdeeds.

It’s hardly proportional to the many atrocities the Seven commits, but that’s kind of the point. These are superpowered beings who can only be hurt so much, even by other superheroes. The Boys can never punish them in a way that feels equitable, compared to the injustices the Seven inflict. That doesn’t stop them from making an effort and making it better than most would expect.

The right tool for the right job.

How they go about this and how the Seven reacts is a long, tortured story that has many shocking moments that are not for kids or the faint of heart. The trailer for the TV show offers a hint of that, but there are scenes from the comics that even the lenient censors of Amazon Prime wouldn’t dare put on film. I won’t spoil the bloody details, but if you have the stomach, I highly recommend you check out the comics.

More than anything else, the “The Boys” is a brutal reminder that the ideals behind superheroes are probably the most fanciful part of the genre. In a real world full of corruption and collateral damage, superheroes can be far more dangerous than the threats they confront. It’s almost impossible to be a superhero without becoming a self-absorbed asshole to some extent.

Even the Boys, who actively battle the superheroes that fuel this fantasy, never come off as entirely altruistic. They’re simply more respectable and less narcissistic. In that dynamic, nobody can ever come off as truly heroic. There’s just too much room for corruption and ego.

While “The Boys” wasn’t the first comic to satirize superheroes, it’s definitely the most complete. “Watchmen” may get more praise and respect, but even in that story, the heroes still try to act like heroes in their own perverse way. What characters like Ozymandias and Rorschach do is framed as something heroic, even if it gets violent and brutal. There’s none of that with “The Boys.”

In an ideal world, even assholes will find a way to be heroic under the right circumstances. Tony Stark proved that in “Avengers Endgame.” However, in the world of “The Boys,” there’s no such thing as right circumstances. If anything, the entire superhero genre has it ass-backwards. Heroes will inevitably find a way to become assholes and if nobody stops them, then they’ll just push their assholery to new heights.

The Boys” is a unique comic in its own right, but the TV adaptation is coming along at just the right time. I would even argue that this kind of satire is necessary in the current cultural landscape. We need something like this to remind us that the ideals of superheroes are still ideals. Like most things in the real world, ideals tend to crumble when subjected to scrutiny.

At a time when people are consuming the ideals of superheroes at an unprecedented level, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective about the genre. A satire like “The Boys” may never have the same impact as anything from the MCU, but it’s still a story worth telling, if only to remind us that great power can also breed greater assholes.

Leave a comment

Filed under political correctness, psychology, superhero comics, television

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.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Detective Comics #1000

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics enters this world and makes it a little more awesome. However, it’s not every week that an iconic character achieves an incredible milestone that only one other superhero comic has achieved to date. There aren’t a lot of characters who could hope to achieve such ratified status, but if ever there were someone equipped for that journey, it’s Batman.

Today will likely go down in history as one of Batman’s greatest triumphs and he achieves it without the aid of Christopher Nolan. That’s because on this day, Detective Comics #1000 came out. Beyond just being a landmark issue that celebrates the legacy of Dark Knight, this comic helps remind superhero fans of every generation why Batman has endured.

From the triumph of “The Dark Knight” to the lasting damage done by Joel Shumacher, Batman has navigated many eras over the years. However, like Superman and Wonder Woman, he has never deviated far from his core persona. He’s a detective, a symbol, and a personification of vengeance against egregious injustice. No matter the time, place, or culture, there’s always room for that kind of crusade.

Detective Comics #1000 helps affirm that by telling a collection of short stories by some of DC Comics’ top writers. None of these stories really tie into one another and they don’t have to. It’s just not possible to capture the breadth of Batman’s legacy in just one story, no matter how many members of his iconic rogues gallery enter the picture.

Instead, each story is crafted in a way that helps capture a critical element of Batman’s never-ending crusade. A story by Scott Snyder helps highlight Batman’s unparalleled detective skills. A story by Warren Ellis highlights Batman’s ability to strike fear in criminals. A story by Christopher Priest show show Batman’s humanity is as strong as any one of his skills.

Each story carries its own weight, in terms of drama and impact. They present some of Batman’s best traits alongside his greatest weaknesses. They never give the impression that Batman is too powerful or too capable. At the end of the day, he’s still human. He has very human vulnerabilities and not just compared to the heavy hitters of the Justice League.

Beyond not being bulletproof, there are many instances that show he’s still someone who was deeply scarred as a child. The murder of his parents still haunts him. There are times in which he fails to cope with it, as nicely shown in a story by Denny O’Neil. At the same time, however, that loss and the pain it causes still drives him to be Batman.

In many respects, Batman is more true to his persona than Bruce Wayne. If anything, Bruce Wayne is the real mask. When he’s not wearing his cowl, he has to be someone else. He has to give the impression that he’s a successful, functional adult who got over the murder of his parents long ago. That has never been the case for Batman.

After 1,000 issues of Detective Comics, it’s abundantly clear that Batman does not see injustice the same way others do. People suffer tragedy and injustice all the time, both in the world of superhero comics and in the real world. Most people are content to let the authorities and the justice system deal with it. Batman isn’t most people.

In his world, the crime-ridden metaphor that is Gotham City, the authorities are corrupt and the system is flawed. Unlike people of lesser means, he’s in a position to actually do something about injustice. As Bruce Wayne, he can help improve the economy of the city. As Batman, though, he can make it so other children don’t have to watch their parents die.

It’s a powerful message full of powerful themes. They’re as relevant today as they were 80 years ago when Bob Kane and Bill Finger first created Batman. Injustice and tragedy know no single time, race, culture, or gender. They affect everyone and Batman stands on the front lines to fight it.

More than anything else, Detective Comics #1000 reminds us of why we want Batman on the front lines of that crusade. He’s capable of confronting the worst of the worst in terms of criminals. He’s also compassionate enough to understand and empathize with those who have been affected by injustice. It’s how he’s able to recruit and inspire others like Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, and Catwoman.

Over the years, he’s even managed to carve out an extended Batman family, of sorts. It’s not the same as the family he lost, but an incredibly touching story by Tom King and Tony Daniels shows just how much it means to him. It helps give balance to someone who can be a hardened crime-fighter one moment and a caring friend the next.

Not all the stories in Detective Comics #1000 are so serious and dramatic. The story by Paul Dini provides some colorful humor that shows that even the gritty world of Batman isn’t prone to a few absurdities. Batman himself doesn’t deny this. He just embraces and accepts it as part of his never-ending crusade.

It’s hard to imagine any crusade lasting 1,000 issues and spanning eight decades, complete with campy TV shows and genre-defining movies. The universal nature of Batman’s crusade against injustice helped fill those issues with so many iconic moments. This landmark issue shows why that crusade is poised to endure another 1,000 issues.

The struggle never ends, but he never gives up. He can’t and he won’t. He’s the goddamn Batman.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

The Future Of Villains And Villainy

marvel-avengers-infinity-war-thanos-sixth-scale-figure-hot-toys-feature-903429-1

What is happening to villains these days? That’s an entirely reasonable question to ask. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a remarkable shift in how we approach villainy in movies, TV, comic books, and video games. I’m not just talking about the superhero media, either. However, that happens to be the most visible manifestation of this change.

As a long-time fan of both superheroes and quality villains, I welcome this change. At the same time, I’m curious about where it’s leading and what it means for the future. Villains are as old as storytelling itself. From the Bible to “Star Wars,” these stories work best when there’s villainy to oppose the unfolding narrative. Villains have always evolved alongside the heroes that oppose them, but that evolution seems to be accelerating.

I’ve discussed the unique journey that villains undergo and how they set themselves apart from heroes. Traditionally, a villain’s primary purpose was to both oppose the hero and highlight how heroic they are. The sheer malice of characters like Lex Luthor help contrast the pure selflessness of characters like Superman. It’s easier to appreciate those heroes knowing they have to deal such malicious opponents.

Then, something remarkable happened. Audiences began demanding more of their villains. It wasn’t enough to just have a villain oppose a hero. People began wanting villains who were understandable and even relatable to some extent. Ironically, they wanted a villain they could root for.

That helped lead to characters like Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” His impact was so profound that I even called his influence the Walter White effect. However, I think there were others who paved the way for Walter White. If I had to pick one villain that helped kick-start this trend in villainy, it would be Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight.”

From this portrayal of villainy, the emerging state of villains emerged and it may very well set the tone for the future. On the surface, this version of the Joker wasn’t too different from the one who had existed in the comics for years. He’s dangerous, destructive, murderous, and callous, like many villains. Unlike most, though, he does what he does with a laugh and a smile.

What made this version of the Joker so memorable was the principles behind his madness. To him, society is corrupt and people aren’t inherently good. As such, he seeks to point out how laughable it is when others try to save it. Batman’s crusade against crime is the biggest joke of all, which helps drive their rivalry.

It’s a philosophy that few other than terrorists and extreme nihilists would buy into, but it’s one that’s understandable to some extent. We don’t have to agree with them or their methods. We just have to see their twisted logic. They can’t just be standard James Bond villains whose motives are indistinguishable from fascists, communists, or terrorists. There needs to be something more personal at work.

We saw plenty of that in 2018’s biggest movies. From “Black Panther” to “ Avengers: Infinity War” to “Incredibles 2,” the villains all had something personal at stake. Erik Killmonger saw his villainous actions as heroic. He wasn’t out to just take over Wakanda. He had a vision in mind that felt justified to some extent, especially to those familiar with real-world historical injustices.

Thanos raised the bar even more in “Avengers: Infinity War.” He never tries to come off as a hero, but he never sees his actions as villainous, either. In fact, when heroes like Dr. Strange call him out, he frames his desire to cull half the population in the universe as mercy. For him, it’s simple math. Half a population is better than no population at all.

These motivations, as devious they might be on paper, have some semblance of merit to it. Both Thanos and Killmonger think they’re doing the right thing. That significantly impacts how the heroes in their stories go about thwarting them, although I would argue that one story was more complete while the other remains unresolved.

In “Black Panther,” T’Challa doesn’t just stop at defeating Killmonger. He actually sees some of his enemy’s points and takes steps to address them. He doesn’t revert things back to the way they were. Wakanda doesn’t return to the same isolated state it had been at the start of the movie. Instead, he seeks to find a middle ground. That, I would argue, is the new template for how heroes defeat this kind of villain.

The resolution in “Avengers: Infinity War,” however, is not as clear. That’s largely due to the story not being complete. There is a sequel planned, but at no point in the three-hour spectacle did the Avengers attempt to prove Thanos wrong. They only ever tried to stop him. That oversight has not gone unnoticed by audiences.

This, in many ways, sums up the new dynamic between heroes in villains. It’s no longer enough for heroes to just defeat their adversaries. It’s not even enough for villains to be exceptionally devious. There have to be larger principles at work. It can’t just be reduced to general greed, ego, or bullying.

Thanos seeks to kill have the population because he believes that it’ll prevent the complete extinction of all life.

Erik Killmonger seeks to empower oppressed minorities to right past injustices.

Dr. Doom seeks to conquer the world because a world under his rule is the only one free of suffering and want. That’s actually canon in the comics.

It’s makes crafting compelling villains more difficult, but at the same time, it opens the door to more complexity. On top of that, it demands that audiences think beyond the good versus evil dynamic that has defined so many stories, going back to the days of fairy tales. It’s a challenge that some are certain to fail. Some already have, sadly.

It also sets the tone for future forms of villainy. How that villainy manifests is impossible to predict, but given the current trends, I think there’s room to speculate. At the heart of this emerging villainy is the idea that the current system just isn’t working. It’s so bad that the only viable option is to destroy and rebuild it. There’s no room, whatsoever, for reform.

This is where the heroes will have to evolve, as well. They can’t just play “Super Friends” and save the day. They have to actually make meaningful changes to move society forward. King T’Challa did that at the end of “Black Panther.” Other heroes need to be as willing. Otherwise, they won’t be able to call themselves heroes. They’re just defenders of a status quo may not be working as well as they think.

It’s an ideological struggle that parallels many real-world struggles. People today have less and less faith in established institutions. As a result, more people are falling sway to populist rhetoric that promises to break down the current system entirely. By and large, people today aren’t content with just preserving things as they are. They seek more meaningful change.

That presents a serious problem for heroes and a golden opportunity for villains. Historically, heroes haven’t been able to effect change beyond a certain point. Some of that is for logistical reasons. A hero can never create a functioning utopia without ending the story completely, which is something major media companies cannot have. There’s too much money to be made.

Logistics aside, the future of villainy will have plenty of raw materials to work with and plenty of societal angst to draw upon. Heroes who save the day, but do little else won’t be able to call themselves heroes in the world currently unfolding. Villains who have a real vision with understandable motivations will find themselves with more supporters than before.

It’s no longer taboo to root for the villain, especially when the heroes don’t confront the flaws in their rhetoric. In what seems prophetic now, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” may have put it best when Ultron stated:

“I’m sorry, I know you mean well. You just didn’t think it through. You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.”

That’ll be the key to the future of villainy, change in a world that resists too much of it happening at once. It’ll make for some complicated villains, but it will definitely make the struggle of heroes even harder. However it plays out, I believe it’ll be worth watching.

1 Comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature, movies, philosophy, psychology, superhero comics, superhero movies, television, X-men