The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for Justice League #1. Enjoy!
Take a moment and think about how many artifacts of popular culture have endured for 80 years. Even if you’ve got an extensive knowledge of culture or just spend a lot of time browsing Wikipedia, it shouldn’t take long to realize how short that list is. That makes the icons on that list all the more endearing.
Near the top of that list is Superman. Even if you’re not a comic book nerd and can’t stand to watch more than five minutes of a superhero movie, it’s impossible to deny the special place Superman has in our culture. He’s not just a comic book character. He’s not just a superhero either. He’s in a league of his own that transcends any one genre.
That became abundantly clear this past week when Superman celebrated his historic 80th anniversary with the release of Action Comics #1000. As an admitted comic book fan who goes out of his way to explore the deeper messages and implications of comics, this was a pretty big deal for me.
Now, I don’t consider myself as big a Superman fan as I am an X-men fan. I like to think I’ve made my love of X-men quite apparent on this site. However, I still enjoy my share of Superman content. Beyond the comics, I grew to love Superman through his animated series and the Justice League cartoon that was produced by Bruce Timm. To date, those and the Richard Donner “Superman” movie are the definitive Superman for me.
As much as I love those incarnations, though, I understand that Superman’s history is much broader than that. A character doesn’t endure for 80 years without having a rich history and Superman certainly has plenty of that. In that history, he’s evolved a lot in terms of style and portrayal. From battling Nazis in the early 1940s to ditching his iconic red trunks for a while, Superman has had his share of reinvention over the years.
Through all these changes, though, Superman has always embodied a specific set of ideals that helps cement his status as an icon. From his earliest days to his most recent movie version, Superman at his core is an inspiration. He’s epitomizes just how good a hero can be and how profoundly he can influence others.
Some call him the ultimate Boy Scout. Some call him the perfect goody-two-shoes. Some even go so far as to claim that his nauseatingly good nature that Christopher Reeves captured so perfectly in the movies makes him a boring character. Given the sheer breadth of his power, which include some truly insane feats, I can understand that to some degree.
At the same time, though, I would also argue that same annoyingly wholesome nature is part of what makes Superman something much greater than an overpowered superhero. I would even go so far as to say that’s part of what has helped him endure for 80 years and made him an icon that transcends comic books, movies, and heroics in general.
There’s a long, if not bloated, list of superheroes of varying degrees of power. Some are even more powerful than Superman. However, just having power isn’t enough, as any Batman fan will tell you. It’s how a hero uses that power and why they do what they do that helps define them.
By that standard, Superman is the gold standard. His heroism is very much the standard by which all others are measured. He has the power to do things that aren’t just incredible. They’re outright impossible. He still does them, though, because he’s Superman. However, it’s why he does them that’s more important.
Compared to why other heroes do what they do, Superman’s reasons for using all that power for good is as simple as it is profound. It’s the right thing to do. He doesn’t need someone to kill his parents. He doesn’t need to be bound by duty or driven by guilt. He just does the right thing because it’s the right thing. That’s all there is to it.
It’s so simple that it’s almost inane, but it’s profound in its implications. I even explored some of those implications when I explored the nihilistic implications of Superman’s morality, drawing comparisons to Rick Sanchez from “Rick and Morty” of all characters. Regardless of how strong those comparisons are, it doesn’t undercut the impact of that idea.
It’s a big part of what helps Superman inspire others. It’s very much a part of why he still matters today, especially in an era where every heroic character needs some sort of catalyst to become a hero, whether it’s a princess getting kidnapped or someone shooting their dog. Superman doesn’t need any of that. He just does the right thing with his powers because it’s the right thing. That’s all there is to it.
That might not seem like a big deal, especially compared to the more elaborate journeys that other characters go on the path of heroism. Why would someone even want to follow a journey of someone who just does the right thing from the start and doesn’t need to team up with any talking raccoons along the way?
The answer to such a cynical question comes back to inspiration. It’s something that has only become more valuable as we get bombarded by countless bleak headlines. Superman is capable of so much, both in terms of his immense power and altruistic persona. He has such an immense impact when he saves the world, whether by outsmarting Lex Luthor or snapping General Zod’s neck.
However, it’s how those actions inspire others that elevates Superman’s heroics. He doesn’t wear a mask. He doesn’t hide in the shadows. He lets people see his face. He smiles and talks towards civilians, fellow heroes, and even other villains, as Action Comics #1000 so fittingly explored. It’s not just enough to do heroic things. Superman seeks to inspire the heroism in others.
Live as one of them, Kal–El. Discover where you strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal–El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.
These are the words of Superman’s biological father, Jor-El. They don’t just lay the foundation for a hero. They reflect the spirit that eventually becomes Superman. They don’t just encourage Superman to use his immense power to help people. They encourage him to inspire.
That inspiration, the idea that a being of such immense power can do the right thing just because it’s the right thing, is why Superman endures. It’s also why he matters now more than ever. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing other iconic heroes and people in the real world get corrupted by power. Superman sets himself apart, showing that it is possible to have great power and still do the right thing.
In a world full of cynical people who may be getting more nihilistic with each frustrating headline, that’s an important concept to preserve. Having power doesn’t have to corrupt someone in the same way that doing the right thing doesn’t require some elaborate motivation, be they dead parents or some failed prophecy. It’s possible to just do the right thing because it’s the right thing.
It’s not enough to just save the day. Superman gives others the hope, strength, and drive to make a better tomorrow. Say what you will about the ending of “Dawn of Justice,” but the breadth of the impact that Superman had on the world through his sacrifice was powerful. It shows why his greatest power is, and always has been, doing the right thing.
That spirit of incorruptible goodness was critical in 1938 and it’s just as critical now in 2018. I would argue it’ll still be critical in 2118, even if we’ve all evolved into cyborgs at that point. Doing the right thing for others in the spirit of pure, untainted altruism is a powerful message and one that Superman embodies to the utmost. That’s what makes him an icon now. That’s why he’ll be an icon for years to come.
It’s been a while since I talked about Wonder Woman, DC Comics, or developments surrounding the planned sequel to her first movie, which I praised to no end last year. Even though a sequel was announced shortly after the movie’s historically successful debut, not much news has come from it.
There’s a reason for that, albeit a distressing one. The news surrounding anything related to DC’s movie universe has been pretty grim since “Justice League” under-performed at the box office. While I enjoyed the movie and gave it a glowing review, I can’t deny that it’s perceived shortcomings have caused all sorts of problems for the DC movie universe.
Those problems aside, Wonder Woman is still seen as the lone bright spot in a bleak outlook, especially as Marvel keeps raising the bar with their movies. To date, “Wonder Woman” remains the highest rated, highest grossing DC Comics movie. That makes the success of the sequel, still only known as “Wonder Woman 2,” of paramount importance to the future of superhero movies.
To date, there hasn’t been much news surrounding “Wonder Woman 2.” The only official details we have thus far are that Gal Gadot will continue to play Wonder Woman as only she can and Patty Jenkins is once again set to direct it. According to Jenkins herself, it will to be a very different movie compared to the first one. These are her words:
“We’re actually making a totally different film with a lot of the same, similar like things that we love, but it is its own movie completely, so it’s not ‘two’ to us. It’s an entirely new adventure together that we couldn’t be luckier [to do].”
I’m certainly excited about it, as I am with all things related to Wonder Woman. However, there’s one element that I believe will determine whether “Wonder Woman 2” is a “Dark Knight” level success or a “Batman and Robin” sized disaster. By just referencing “Dark Knight,” I think most superhero movie fans know where I’m going with this.
It’s all about the villains. Regardless of the studio making the movie, the heroes involved, or the sex appeal of said heroes, the movie often succeeds or fails by how compelling or forgettable the villain is. Nobody will ever forget Health Ledger’s Joker in “Dark Knight.” Conversely, I’m pretty sure everyone has already forgotten Steppenwolf in “Justice League.”
“Wonder Woman” may not have had an iconic villain on the same level as Heath Ledger’s Joker, but the combined narratives of both Ares and Dr. Poison worked because they supplemented Diana’s journey towards becoming Wonder Woman. Since the core of “Wonder Woman” was built around that journey, she didn’t really need a villain of Joker caliber.
However, she’ll need one for “Wonder Woman 2” and that’s where Cheetah comes in. She has already been rumored to be the villain of the movie. She’s no Joker, but she is probably Wonder Woman’s most well-known villain. The fact that she isn’t an embittered child of Zeus, a story so old that it pre-dates movies, comics, and the printing press, makes that status all the more remarkable.
From a pure comic book stand point, Cheetah makes the most sense as the main villain for “Wonder Woman 2” because she’s also one of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes. Her origins go all the way back to the earliest, and also kinkiest, era forged by Wonder Woman’s creator, William Marston.
Like many other classic villains, Cheetah’s persona mirrors Wonder Woman’s in many respects. In her earliest incarnation, Priscilla Rich, she’s an aristocrat woman born to a powerful family. Her mother isn’t a queen, like Diana, but just being in that privileged position from birth puts a great many expectations and temptations on her. It brought out the best in Diana, but it brought out the worst in Cheetah.
From a purely thematic standpoint, that’s an important component for Wonder Woman’s journey. In the same way characters like General Zod embody the kind of person Superman might have become, Cheetah shows Wonder Woman the much darker path she could’ve walked.
That path already has a very lengthy gap for Patty Jenkins to work with. The conclusion of “Wonder Woman” and the events of “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice” reveal that Diana had been secretly living in the modern world since the end of World War I. That’s a lot of time for her journey to take many turns, some of them darker than others.
That significant breadth of time actually plays to Cheetah’s advantage because her title is not tied to one person. In some instances, it’s a legacy that others take on. In others, it’s a curse that gets transferred from one person to the other. In every case, though, Cheetah embodies a persona that directly clashes with everything Wonder Woman’s stands for.
Wonder Woman fights for compassion. Cheetah fights for herself.
Wonder Woman believes in blessings. Cheetah believes in curses.
Wonder Woman is deeply empathic. Cheetah is exceedingly callous.
Wonder Woman is loyal to her friends. Cheetah betrays them.
Wonder Woman believes in love. Cheetah is driven by hate.
Like other Cheetah’s before her, Barbara is a privileged woman from a powerful family in which she has all these expectations thrust upon her. As a result, she shares many of the selfish, arrogant, neurotic traits of Priscilla Rich and every spoiled rich brat that ever lived. However, what makes Barbara’s story more compelling is that in her most recent incarnation, she started off as a close friend of Diana.
It’s an element to the villain’s journey that makes their story more entwined with that of the hero. By starting off as a friend, it makes the inevitable clash that much more dramatic. Given the high drama we got in Diana’s final battle against Ares in “Wonder Woman,” it makes sense to take a similar approach with “Wonder Woman 2.” Diana, as we’ve seen, is at her best when drama and passions run high.
The Barbara Ann Minerva that Diana knows in the most recent comics can come off as a spoiled brat at times, but she has a genuine fascination with gods, mythology, and the divine. In that context, it’s only natural that Diana would start out as an ally and a friend.
For Diana, especially after how her first movie ended, she would need a friend. After losing Steve Trevor, she would need someone to connect with in a world that is still very new to her. Conversely, Diana can give Barbara the connection she seeks to the world of gods, demigods, and magical lassos that make for hilariously awkward moments.
These two women have everything they need to forge a powerful friendship. At the same time, though, they have everything necessary to create a bitter rivalry as well. In the comics, Barbara’s ambitions and bad choices are what turns her into the feral, villainous Cheetah. It’s those differences in choices doesn’t just make their clash dramatic. It makes it genuinely heartbreaking for Diana.
To some extent, making a new friend and seeing them become an enemy would be even worse than losing Steve Trevor. It would also provide a legitimate explanation as to why Wonder Woman remained hidden from the world for so long, up until the events of “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.”
Cheetah can do for Diana what Killmonger has recently done for Black Panther. She can give Wonder Woman an enemy that forces her to confront the harsher parts of a world that is still new to her. Back home on her paradise island of warrior women, she was sheltered from all these hardships. Now, she’s all alone in having to face them. That struggle is what will forge her into the iconic female hero that we know and love.
This is, of course, my own personal sentiment and I understand that doesn’t account for much. I’ve already made a wish list of all the things I want to see in “Wonder Woman 2” with the understanding I’ll probably only get a fraction of it, at most. After the first movie, both Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins have done plenty to earn my trust.
It’s simply my hope that a sequel to such a wonderful, ground-breaking movie will find new ways to raise the bar for superhero movies and female superheroes, in general. That bar is still rising and I believe a character like Cheetah can help raise it for Wonder Woman.
I know it’s been a while since I talked about Wonder Woman. In my defense, there have been a lot of distractions between the holidays, the response to the “Justice League” movie, and recent news stories to which I just couldn’t resist responding. Make no mistake, though. I haven’t forgotten about Wonder Woman or the fact that she had a breakout year in 2017.
In many respects, Wonder Woman was one of the best parts of 2017. She didn’t just amaze audiences by proving that there is a market for female superheroes, even after “Catwoman.” She raised the bar for the entire genre, both in terms of critical and commercial success. That bodes well for other female-led superhero movies.
While other female superheroes play catch-up, though, Wonder Woman is set to continue rising the bar. She’s Wonder Woman. That’s what she does through Gal Gadot’s charisma and she does it with uncanny grace. Shortly after her movie came out, a sequel was announced to the surprise of no one. At the moment, “Wonder Woman 2” is slated for release on November 1, 2019.
While that date seems so far away, some details are already starting to trickle in. Director, Patty Jenkins, has already started teasing details. At the recent Palm Springs Film Festival, she indicated that the sequel would be a very different film compared to its predecessor. Naturally, she didn’t give too many details, but it’s enough to get Wonder Woman fans excited.
Since I consider myself among those fans, I already find myself contemplating what a “Wonder Woman” sequel will entail. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve contemplated such things, either. While it’s too early to know or even speculate what “Wonder Woman 2” will bring, we can still hope and imagine the wondrous possibilities.
In that spirit, here is a brief, but basic wish list for what I hope to see in “Wonder Woman 2.” Granted, if Ms. Jenkins is serious about this being a very different movie, chances are not much on this list will apply. I understand and accept that. This is just the giddy Wonder Woman fan in me daring to imagine how wonderful this movie can be.
Wish #1: Establish More Villains (And Make It Personal)
If Wonder Woman has any flaws, beyond those that assholes and trolls point out, it’s that her list of villains isn’t quite as iconic as that of Batman or Superman. For much of her history, Wonder Woman’s greatest battles have been tied to those of the Justice League or those of her fellow Amazons. She’ll be a major force in those battles, but they rarely have major personal stakes.
“Wonder Woman 2” presents a golden opportunity to change that because there are a few villains with strong personal ties to Diana. While Ares was more built up boss battle in the first movie, villains like Cheetah can test Diana’s heart, as well as her skill.
The recent Wonder Woman comics have done an excellent job establishing the deep personal struggle between Wonder Woman and Cheetah. While there are multiple women who have gone by Cheetah, the overall theme is the same. She is Diana’s rival, but there was a time when she was also her friend.
Having to fight her friends is an agonizing challenge for Wonder Woman, which we saw play out in the “Justice League” movie. It brings out her heart and her passions for all the right reasons. A more personal villain can only help expand that appeal in “Wonder Woman 2.”
Wish #2: Maintain A (Very) Distant Connection From The Other DCEU Films
While I stand by my statement that “Justice League” did not deserve the negative reviews it got, I don’t deny that the “Justice League” movie has become somewhat of a toxic brand. It’s not quite on the same levels as “Batman and Robin,” but at this point there’s just no way to salvage the backlash.
It’s for that reason, among many others, that I hope “Wonder Woman 2” maintains an extremely distant connection from the larger DC Extended Universe. I’m not saying it should cut itself off entirely. Even the first movie made it a point to establish that this movie was part of a larger world. The sequel should reflect that.
However, the events of “Justice League,” however big they might have been, shouldn’t be a major driving force in the narrative. Whether it takes place in the modern day or in the past, like the first movie, it can’t be too beholden to the events of other major DC movies.
A big part of the success of “Wonder Woman” was its ability to stand on it its own, apart from the rest of DC’s main superheroes. “Wonder Woman 2” should build on that and I imagine Patty Jenkins isn’t going to want to be too constrained by the burdens of other movies. For Wonder Woman, despite her kinky past, there can be no such restraints.
Wish #3: Build On The Amazons’ Mythology (And Diana’s Family Ties)
There were a lot of positives in “Wonder Woman” and I went out of my way to acknowledge them in my review of the movie. However, if there was one flaw in the overall narrative, it had to do with the limited exposure of the Amazons. That’s because in nearly every medium, Wonder Woman’s story is inherently enriched by her Amazon heritage.
The first movie did enough to establish who the Amazons were, why they are so important, and how important they are to Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much more than that. After Diana left Paradise Island, we didn’t hear from them again. That’s why I hope “Wonder Woman 2” takes the time to expand on the story of the Amazons.
They already showed how badass they can be in “Justice League.” I sincerely hope they get more opportunities in “Wonder Woman 2.” Between Diana’s mother and her more notable siblings, there’s a wealth of material for Wonder Woman to build on. It further raises those personal stakes I mentioned earlier, which can only help expand the appeal of Wonder Woman’s world.
Wish #4: Let Wonder Woman Address Social Issues (In Her Own Unique Way)
Given Wonder Woman’s iconic status as a female icon, it’s unavoidable that she’s going to provoke discussions about social issues. These days, that leads to many heated, hateful, and downright counterproductive conversations. However, that’s exactly why I still want Wonder Woman to address those issues in “Wonder Woman 2.”
Gal Gadot has already shown that she gets the unique spirit of love and compassion that Wonder Woman espouses. Sure, she is prone to making a few controversial remarks, but overall she gets what Wonder Woman is about. She even showed this in the first movie, having Diana navigate the very patriarchal world of the early 20th century, but without using that as an excuse to hate it.
Like it or not, there are a lot of social issues going on in the world. For the most part, we do a poor job debating those issues, as a society. Wonder Woman, with her emphasis on compassion and love for all, is the perfect antidote to that.
I don’t know how she’d go about it in “Wonder Woman 2.” A lot of that depends on the setting, the time period, and the conflicts involved. Whatever form it takes, though, I think it’ll be good for the audience and for the superhero genre to see Wonder Woman confront these social issues as only she can.
Wish #5: Expand The Emotional Stakes (And Let Gal Gadot Channel Her Passions)
This is more of a broader hope for “Wonder Woman 2.” While there are quite a few specific things I’d love to see in this movie, I think it’s more important that it embody the necessary theme that makes Wonder Woman so endearing. Like with some of my other wishes, those themes revolve heavily around the emotional stakes of Wonder Woman’s journey.
We didn’t see too much of that in “Justice League,” but we saw plenty of that in the first movie. Every battle she fought was an emotional struggle. That struggle gave Gal Gadot the opportunity to emote in a way that would make any Amazon warrior proud. Wonder Woman has never just been about fighting injustice or kicking ass. That is always secondary to her heart.
Some of the best moments in “Wonder Woman” just involved her taking a moment to smile, explore, and share herself with others. Whether it was making Steve Trevor feel awkward or making friends with Etta Candy, we got to see Wonder Woman share her passions with others outside the battlefield. That helped make her endearing on so many levels.
Wonder Woman is already a very likable, very passionate character. She’s the kind of person that men and women, alike, can rally behind. Any successful sequel will take those themes and run with them. There’s so much to love about Wonder Woman and how Gal Gadot brought her to life. If “Wonder Woman 2” can build on those themes, then it already has the most important ingredient for more wonderful success.