Captain America, Anti-Hero?

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Now that CAPTAIN AMERICA 2: THE WINTER SOLDIER has had a gigantic opening weekend, people are starting to talk about how it ought to have been done.

Take this post on Vulture, which says that Cap would be interesting if he was a prick. As supporting evidence, the author trots out Millar’s repugnant characterization of Steve Rogers in the first few Ultimates comics, adding this panel to his post:

Captain Freeper

Do we really think a guy who actually fought the Nazis would have the same opinion of France as some random member of the freeper cheetotariat? Yes, the Nazis attacked and occupied France in WW2. You know what we call people who mock victims of the Nazi war machine? Assholes.

So try to guess how impressed I am by the idea that Steve Rogers isn’t actually interesting unless he’s being some kind of jerk. (Not very.) There’s a weird mentality in comics that treats cynicism, misanthropy, and nihilism are somehow more mature than idealism; it’s a teenage boy’s idea of agency. It’s all about contempt: for people without power, for social rules and bonds, and for compassion. It’s a hero who “Does what has to be done,” which the narrative conveniently frames as acting like a ruthless thug.

But none of these stories are being created by teenage boys: it’s middle-aged adults, whether we’re talking about The Boys, or Wanted, or one of the New 52 storylines (like the much-discussed new Harley Quinn or Starfire, or the bit about the Joker’s face) that rub their hands together gleefully and sell ever-shrinking numbers of copies to their aging audiences. Clearly, the author of the Vulture article is deep into this mindset; why else discuss (and post a panel from) part of a story where Bucky is made out to be the killer that Captain America could never be, as though the American people couldn’t accept a WW2 soldier who kills Nazis? [1]

Nevermind that, based on where Cap was born and raised, he’s unlikely to be the France-mocking conservative reactionary the Vulture writer seems to expect. Nevermind that the big wave of anti-heroes seems to have passed and left us with very few lasting characters. [2]

More interesting is that Captain America has been around, and been successful, for decades. Comic book characters come and go and they always have. Some are superpopular and fade away. Some keep getting reinvented without really breaking out. Some fade into obscurity. How many times has Marvel tried to launch a Dr. Strange comic to middling sales and eventual cancellation? [3]

Most of these characters stick around. They’re ongoing IP, turning up in other characters’ stories, but they can’t sustain their own ongoing series.

Cap is one of those who can. Forget about the ridiculous costume (which they had fun mocking in THE FIRST AVENGER), he’s been popular for a long time, even with readers like me, who are not exactly overflowing with reflexive patriotism. He works in the comics (and has for decades). He works in the movies (as you can see by the box office and rave reviews). Where so many others have failed, he continues.

Instead of saying he needs to be roughed up to make him interesting, it would be worthwhile to figure out why he’s already successful. [4] I suspect it’s because the conflict is not inside him, it’s between his ideals and the distinctly non-ideal world around him. No anti-heroes necessary.

My spoiler-filled review of CA2: THE WINTER SOLDIER here.

[1] Yes, there were years when comics were ridiculous about the death toll that would come from superpowered combat in Manhattan. “Thank goodness the buildings the Hulk just collapsed were all condemned! Someone might have gotten hurt!” When comics became more realistic about the damage their fights could do, that was a welcome development. I just wish it hadn’t gone so far.

[2] Wither art thou, Darkhawk? What about you, Maggot? Shatterstar?

[3] Not that I have anything against Dr. Strange, who ought to be a wildly successful character, with the right writer.

[4] A trade collecting part of Mark Waid’s run is pretty much the only superhero comic my son has ever enjoyed.

Randomness for 4/3

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1) Quicksilver “comes out” to his father, Magneto.

2) Clips of Mike Tyson boxing, looped with sound effects from STREET FIGHTER. Video. Funny but longer than it needs to be.

3) The Velveteen Rabbit, a horror story.

4) The world’s deepest known cave has been mapped.

5) A home made pendulum marble clock.

6) Three ways to escape zip tie handcuffs, illustrated.

7) Dirtbag Anne of Green Gables.

Randomness for 2/11

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1) An alternate history of “Flappy Bird” a successful game that was pulled from sale because of the gamers abused its creator.

2) Marvel opens its image archive and api to the public. I’m pretty sure this is cool, and if I were ten years younger I might understand why.

3) Calvin and Muad’Dib. Calvin & Hobbes cartoons with quotes from Dune to replace the dialog.

4) Teddy Roosevelt’s 10 Rules for Reading. Sensible guy.

5) Male artist creates art show with woman’s art, doesn’t feel he needs to name her.

6) An Infinity of Alternate Batmen.

7) Deleted.

Randomness for 1/6

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1) A 1600-Year-Old Viking Board Game.

2) Thor is the New Superman. Yet another screw-up by DC.

3) 160-Year-Old historical documents deliberately destroyed in North Carolina. Covering up old crimes? There are followup posts.

4) 4 Things I Learned from the Worst Online Dating Profile Ever.

5) The top 20 most annoying book reviewer cliches and how to use them all in one meaningless review.

6) Here’s Exactly How Much the Government Would Have to Spend to Make Public College Tuition-Free.

7) “There’s a book inside of you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Randomness for 11/25

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1) Parents convince kids their toys come alive at night and take pictures. Actually, there’s no proof these toys are owned by kids or their parents. They might belong to a lonely middle-aged guy who figured out a way to get page views. Still: fun.

2) English has a new preposition, because internet.

3) Male novelist jokes.

4) Shit Roleplayers Say. Video. Why does “I attack the darkness” sound so familiar?

5) An extremely funny and very short video: Carpark. Video. h/t +Jonathan King

6) Marvel, DC, and The Problem, a really great longread by Chris Sims about the history and evolution of superhero comics. Even if you’re not a comics fan, you might be interested in the history of two behemoth competitors in a creative field.

7) Six ways to beat reader’s block. I needed this.

Randomness for 11/11

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1) Surgeons make fewer mistakes when they warm up by playing Super Monkey Ball first.

2) Steve Rogers: Premature Anti-Facist. h/t James Nicoll

3) 5 Reasons Packages Get Destroyed (Learned Working at UPS).

4) Unfortunate Publishing Layouts of Our Time.

5) A History of Los Angeles as Told Through 232 Objects.

6) Pacific Rim in the Power Rangers style! Video.

7) Want to deter pests without using chemicals or traps? Try an automatic lawn sprinkler with a motion-sensor attached.

Randomness for 10/19

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1) Brides Throwing Cats

2) Your request to play Devil’s Advocate has been denied.

3) A Captain America motorcycle suit. No turned-down pirate boots, though.

4) Honest Slogans.

5) “Blonde Bombshell” model finds herself out of work at 31, so she cuts off her hair to be a male model.

6) We’re more creative when we’re tired: ten surprising facts about how brains work.

7) Tips For Improving Street Harassment, in comic form. So. Good.

Agents of SHIELD, you disappoint me

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The first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD was passable but the followup was downright boring. For one thing, the rebels coming out of the jungle with their machine guns? Dull. If you want me to give a shit about the rebels, they need to be capturing one of the team, hopefully someone that matters. Even better, one of the bad guy soldiers so there’s actual conflict regarding the Mysterious Device. Making it about a coup in a country we don’t know anything about is boring.

But I’m sure the jungle set was limited and the plane set was already there, so they moved the action into the bottle.

Anyway, Coulson continues to be fun and interesting (Note: when punched in the face he bled red blood, so I’m losing hope that he’ll become the Vision).

Here’s a list of things I’m already over:

    Ward insisting he’s a solo operative who blah blah blah.
    May’s secret past and her unwillingness to kung fu a bunch of people even though she totally does.
    Science geeks enthusing about science.
    Anything regarding team dynamics.
    Skye and her secret group.
    The make-believe that Coulson is fooled by Skye’s willingness to work with him. Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize that he’s using her to expose and ruin Rising Tide?
    Destroying powerful resources that would be useful in the next alien invasion, like, say, launching a death ray into the sun.

Things I want more of:

    Conflicts that direct outward. When the stakes of a show are high I don’t want to see squabbling. Fire the squabblers and bring in new people.
    People with superpowers. Pilot ep, yay. Weird device in the second ep, boo.
    A sense of actual changes to the world in the wake of an alien invasion. Politics. Culture. Show me what’s changed.
    Characters from the Marvel Comics setting.

About that last thing: I realize that Whedon has said he’s not going to turn the show into an Easter Egg hunt for fans of the comics. And he’s right not to do that. You don’t build a successful TV show by driving fan discussion into obscure trivia. If your Twitter hashtags are full of people talking about how some minor character in the second act is Jonathon Hart who would later become Jack of Hearts, you’re not getting a second season.

However, that doesn’t mean the show should use generic death rays and villains cribbed from the Marvel U movies. The comics are full of wacky, interesting ideas from five decades. Many of them aren’t appropriate for this setting and many can’t be done in a TV budget, but for god’s sake rummage around in that treasure chest and pull out something good because death rays and South American coups are not making full use of the property and it’s not going to cut it.

Thoughts on GOTHAM, and why it might be better than a Batman TV show

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So the word is out that the Fox Network won the bidding for a Warner Bros. TV series about Gotham City before The Batman shows up. It’ll focus on newly-arrived honest cop Jim Gordon and the Gotham PD, and Fox is so high on it they went straight to the series without ordering a pilot first.

Hey, cool. It’s a good idea for a show, and if the run of Gotham Central is any indication, there are great stories to be mined from a police procedural set in a city full of strange and deadly criminals.

There will be gangsters, yeah. A great many of them. As long as they’re genuinely odd characters, I’m for it. There will also be street gangs; the mutants have apparently been adopted into the continuity, and Gotham City has a long-standing history of street gangs of one kind or another.

But what everyone wants to see are the super-villains and the master criminals. (As a totally fake distinction between them, lets say that the villains are the ones with superpowers or monstrous forms, like Poison Ivy, Man-Bat, Killer Croc, and Mr. Freeze, while the master criminals are the ones who plan elaborate crimes according to their odd quirks, like The Penguin, Riddler, and Joker).

The Joker: This may seem counter-intuitive, but I think they should leave the Joker out of the first season. I really like a Joker who is accidentally created by Batman himself, and there has simply been too much of him. However, I think the show could get a lot of mileage out of Jack Napier.

The Penguin: If there was going to be a villain for a season-long arc, this is the one I’d go with. He’s brilliant, he’s really weird and off-putting, and he kills people. Give the part to Patton Oswalt; he showed he could pull off a creepy, scary Penguin in that one parody film. As long as the writers could create brilliant crimes for him to pull off, he would be fantastic.

Riddler: Riddler would seem to be a perfect enemy for a modern procedural, wouldn’t he? He’s like one of the endless taunting serial killers who litter crime scenes with obscure clues, except he’s not a serial killer. He’s a thief. What’s more, the character hasn’t always gotten the respect he deserves. As a kid, Frank Gorshin scared the heck out of me. Is there someone who can bring back that out-of-control delight? I want that creepy thrill again. This character also needs to be brilliant if he’s really going to work. You can’t let the audience get ahead of him or the cops look like dullards.

Catwoman: Yes, please. The casting on this might be tricky, but a great Catwoman would be out solely for herself… except when she helps someone who needs it.

Mr. Freeze: Too outre for the tone of a procedural, and frankly I think his ice effects would be a budget-buster. Maybe if the show is a hit, he can come in next season when they’re ready to spend some money.

Clayface: There have been a number of criminals who went by this name. Some were shapeshifters with bodies made of living clay. At least one was an actor with an uncanny ability to change his appearance. The latter would fit but the former would not.

Solomon Grundy: This may seem like a counter-intuitive choice, but if the show is going to introduce villains with powers and establish a setting where the impossible isn’t, it’s going to need a transition episode to set an X-Files-ish tone and bring out the freakier occult history of Gotham. Grundy can do that: he’s a zombie who is different every time he awakens. Sometimes he’s strong but dumb. Sometimes he’s weak but intelligent. Sometimes he’s gentle, sometimes violent. If you’re going to bring on some of the freakier villains, a zombie is a good place to start.

Mr. Zsasz: They’re going to need to do a serial killer episode eventually. Victor Zsasz fits the bill.

Killer Croc: Is there an alligator living in the Gotham sewers, or is there a man down there, murdering people and robbing them? Frankly, Croc has usually been treated pretty shabbily in the DC continuity. If the show wanted to do something interesting with him, they could make the show about his lost humanity, turn him into a tragic figure the way B:tas did with Mr. Freeze.

Kite Man: Like Stilt Man in my Agents of SHIELD writeup, Kite Man is absurd on his face. Basically, he’s a hang gliding villain. The reason I’d introduce him is because he would make a welcome change of pace, playing a criminal who frustrates Gordon and the other cops and makes them the object of ridicule when they can’t catch him.

Hugo Strange: We can all agree that evil psychiatrists are super creepy, right? Strange ought to be introduced early when Arkham is established but at some point one of the villains or criminals should dose Gordon with some sort of drug that gets him committed for observation, and forced to undergo Strange’s unique form of therapy.

A short list of bad guys the show should avoid: KGBeast, Hush, Man-Bat, Killer Moth, Bane (as the wrestler, not the terrorist), Catman, and Cluemaster, mainly because they are redundant, refer too closely to Batman, or because they suck. Also: Batman’s numerous martial arts villains like Lady Shiva, Silver Monkey, and King Snake.

A short list of bad guys the show could pull a cool storyline out of: Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Ventriloquist, Red Hood (not the Jason Todd version, the thing where the hood is passed from guy to guy), Mad Hatter, The Terrible Trio (with their YOU’RE NEXT-style masks), Ra’s al Ghul (but not the silly city-destroying League of Assassins stuff).

I’d also like to see Bullock, Montoya, and a whole host of corrupt Gotham cops. What I’ll be happy not to see is a guy in a rubber bat suit. Batman in the comics is fun. An actor in a Batman suit trying to throw a punch, not so much. I think it’s interesting that Warner Bros is going old-Batman in the Man of Steel sequel but going pre-Batman in this series. I’m guessing they’re worried about over-exposing the character, maybe?

Anyway, as long as they cast a strong Jim Gordon and surround him with strong personalities, and as long as they hit the right tone for the show, this might become my favorite show of the last few years.


As I mentioned last night, the Lego book trailer for The Great Way made by my son (with only a little help from me) has been posted in update 3 on my Kickstarter. The music is all him, and I think he’s getting pretty good.

10 Marvel characters who should guest on AGENTS OF SHIELD

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Since everyone else is doing it, why not me? So, going by the simple criteria of: are they fun/are they doable for TV/would they fit, Here are the characters that I think appear on AGENTS OF SHIELD:

1) Morbius, the Living Vampire: 

Hey, he’s not a real vampire, he’s a science vampire. He’s also a tragic figure, a good man with a terrible thirst for blood. He’s also a brilliant scientist. Cast Matthew Gray Gubler, let him be all tortured, brilliant, and dangerous, and you’ll have viewers swooning. Plus, you can bring him back a few times a year to be a scary consultant scientist to milk the concept.

Besides, viewers get the concept of the vampire, and he’s not quite a real one. So it’s easy to translate to TV.

 

 


 

2) Stilt Man:

Yeah, the concept is ridiculous, but that’s part of its charm. He’s a thief in bulletproof armor, and the stilts can do tremendous damage when they kick something. So you have the confrontation with the ridiculous armor that runs super-fast because of those long legs, and you have the protagonists of the show taking a ribbing because they couldn’t catch a guy in stilts in rush hour traffic in New York.

But the fun thing is that it’s just a suit of armor that can be passed from one person to the next–or stolen–just as it is in the comics. Stilt Man doesn’t even have to be a man after all.

 


 

3) Tigra:

So, everyone knows that comics do a terrible job with women’s costumes, and Tigra’s is especially bad. Basically, she saves the world in a bikini that shows off her tiger stripes. Worse, her official origin in the comics is an unholy mess.

However, her enhanced senses and other powers would be excellent for TV and the storyline where she hunts for her husband’s killer is a fine traditional TV plot. Add to that the fact that, for the longest time, she’s had trouble controlling the animal urges that come with her cat powers, and you have a great counterpoint to Morbius. There might even be a scene between them, in which they talk about difficult it can be to control the dangerous parts of themselves, and you have a winner.

As long as you leave out the bikini.

 


 

4) The Scarlet Witch:

Wanda Maximov hasn’t been well treated by the comics lately. She’s gone crazy and altered the world. She’s had magic powers and then she didn’t. For the show, I’d take her back to the lost young woman who had the ability to manipulate probabilities. Have her be on the run, robbing ATMs and casinos while also helping people who need it with what are essentially luck powers.

 

 

 


 

5) Jessica Jones:

She’s a private investigator with superpowers she barely knows how to use. Enough said.

 


 

6) Bushwacker:

How nineties is that picture?

Bushwacker is a trained government assassin who has two cybernetic arms. Most of the time, they look perfectly normal, but he can transform them into guns. Basically, his hand becomes shaped like a pistol or machine gun, with his skin stretched over it.

In the world of comics, this is scarcely better than being a guy with a gun in his duffel bag, but on TV that makes him an assassin who can sneak in anywhere, shoot someone, and be led out with all the other witnesses. No one is ever going to find the weapon, after all.

So, instead of being a mutant-hating spree killer (which is so boring) he should be a former Hydra agent gone freelance, and make him at least as capable as the SHIELD agents tracking him.

 


 

7) Power Pack:

Hey, everyone knows pre-teen kids can be a handful, but kids with superpowers? I’d suggest they show up trying to mimic the Avengers, but being kids they screw up in a big way and reveal their identities. When SHIELD goes to the house to talk with them (and bring them in) the kids have already vanished. Who took them and what will they do with their abilites?

 


 

8. The Blank:

This guy is pretty obscure, but bear with me: his only “power” is a gadget, a belt that projects a force field around him that also obscures his face. You can’t hurt him, you can’t grab him (force field) and if he gets into a crowd and shuts the belt off, you won’t recognize him either. Plus, it would be easy to do on TV.

Besides, the truth is that a guy with powers like Cyclops’s–energy blasters–are like gunmen who can’t have their guns taken away from them. And what happens to gunmen when they’ve been in enough fights? They get shot.

Defense is where it’s at.

 


 

9) Devil-slayer:

Oh, god, that freaking picture.

Okay. Ahem. Forget the portentous way this character is always treated, and the goofy telekinesis and translation powers: Devil-slayer is cool because of his shadow cloak. It acts as a dimensional doorway to other places and times: he can step into it and teleport, or he can reach into it and pull out all sorts of things, like futuristic ray guns and battleaxes.

Drop the monster-hunting angle and he can be a deadly thief the team can never catch.

 


 

10) Typhoid Mary:

Okay. Um. All right. Oh Christ.

So, one thing the show is going to have to deal with, if it’s a show about superpowers spreading through the population, is what happens when those powers end up in someone violently mentally unstable. Mentally ill gunmen keep popping up every few months, and the show just can’t ignore it.

Now, you can’t count on Marvel itself to handle the issue with dignity. I mean, look at that fucking picture. Can the TV show handle this well? Can the folks behind AoS show a person who is superpowered but not neurotypical without turning her into a fishnet former prostitute karate ninja?

Christ, I hope so.

 


 

There’s still time to donate to the Kickstarter (unless you’re reading this a month after I wrote it.)