Action Comics #41 limits the scale but keeps Superman’s heart

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For decades, one of the defining characteristics of Superman has been tying the scope of his powers to the characters’ personal philosophy. Superman would do anything for anyone so he can. Since John Byrne’s relaunch of the character post Infinite Crisis, writers have experimented with how changes to Superman’s power or his views of his abilities impact the character’s perspective and actions. Dividing Superman in the ill-considered Red/Blue era did little to add to the formula. J. Michael Straczynski’s attempt at turning Clark Kent into a self-loathing young-adult, terrified of his capabilities in the Superman: Earth One series dramatically altered the way Superman interacted with other characters and the world, pushing him away from the supporting cast of Lois and Jimmy to a heroin junky neighbor and the love-interest-turned-hooker, to, at best, mixed results. 

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It’d be easy to say that Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder are engaging in similar transgressions in Action Comics #41 but there’s more going on behind the scenes and in the book’s subtext. Following an ill-defined event (we’ll get to it later), Superman has been outed as Clark Kent and forced on the run, both from Metropolis and the Fortress of Solitude. By issue’s end, he’s returning to his familiar haunts and to residents that have a much different view of who Superman is and what his role is. Unlike the aforementioned changes to Superman’s powers, however, Pak and Kuder aren’t using the new status quo or the public’s new reaction to it to change who Clark Kent fundamentally is, just limiting what he can physically do when he’s called to action.

Since Pak and Kuder took over Action Comics, they’ve focused on how Superman’s powers can totally corrupt anyone without Superman’s moral fortitude. In the fantastic Subterrania arc, Clark and Lana’s interactions with a kingdom of powerful monsters and ghost assassins reveal the personal difficulties Superman faces every time he throws a punch. In the Doomed arc, as Clark struggles against his own internalized rage and desire to put other’s needs above his own, he sees the damage he can wreck when he punches down at those below him. So far, Superman has always been in a position of overwhelming power over those he’s come into conflict with. It’s interesting, in that context, for Pak and Kuder to now put him in a situation where Clark is consistently outmatched. In the book’s opening fight scene, a group of roughnecks attack Clark outside a gas station. He’s having to fight back in dire situation in a context that recalls the character’s earliest incarnations.

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Kuder’s deliberately aping Bronze Age Superman throughout Action Comics #41, from returning to a facsimile of the original logo, to showing Clark leaping tall buildings and coming into conflict with corrupt authority figures in the form of a sneering police officer. This is the most populist Superman has been in years and Pak does a good job showing the way Superman’s appeal to his neighbors isn’t universal. There’s still very real fear and discomfort around him but little notes like the way Clark provides a role model for kids and rushes to help those in need show a character who isn’t afraid to put his life on the line, regardless of his diminished powers.

There are some problems still and it’s hard to find where to lay the blame. The issue continuously references books that have not been released yet to explain Clark’s new status quo, with one of the books not set to for release for another month. It gives the distinct impression that we’re walking into a series in the middle of a storyline, not  the new-reader friendly jumping-on point DC seems to want it to be. It’s probably best to see Action Comics #41 not as a bold new status quo for Superman but as a natural continuation of Pak and Kuder’s ongoing fascination with the power and responsibility that’s become their calling card on this run. With Superman’s new abilities established for the time being, the team isn’t limiting the character, just his scope and the results are bound to be interesting.

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“You know what a grifter is, flame face?” – Liefeld gives a solid issue of Grifter but is it enough?

I despise Rob Liefeld. I think he actively dumbed down comics, jump started the collapse of the industry in the ’90s and has never written or drawn an issue that’s worth reading. That’s what made him taking over Grifter such a shame for me. The first 8 issues were an intriguing Bourne-meets-alien invasion action series, filled with awesome shoot outs, great escapes and memorable character interactions. It wasn’t the best new thing out there but it was fun, different and a neat new series.

Liefeld’s takeover was noticeable. Suddenly, Cole Cash was shooting aliens upside down from snowboards, his psychic powers were suddenly at damn near Jean Grey levels of power and his supporting cast was suddenly filled with meat head gun nuts and  katana wielding girls in bikinis.

I don’t think issue 12 really assuaged my negative feelings about Liefeld’s direction for the series. There are a lot of sudden twists that don’t have any impact, the action sequences just aren’t much fun, the messy panels that are intended to make the sequences more intense give the book an unprofessional look and Lord Helspont’s plan still doesn’t make a ton of sense. I mean, isn’t Synge just an elite daemonite? Why would he work for Helspont?

Frank Tieri, who doesn’t get a credit on the cover for unknown and entirely unfair reasons, still rights some really great grizzled dialogue for the narcissistic killers that populate the book and I’m a sucker for the kind of escape sequences that take up much of the back half of the book. It makes for one of the better issues of Liefeld’s run on the series but it really isn’t enough. I’m sticking with Grifter to see what he’ll do in a second arc but how many options really are there?

Its really a shame what has happened to the most wanted man in the DC universe. What started out as a series about a low key hero having to do the impossible has turned into a universe spanning super hero tale where a guy with a gun has to fight an enemy that Superman couldn’t take down. For now, it might be time to start getting excited about Grifter joining up with Team 7 for the new Third Wave series and leave this one behind.

“I won’t bury another Wayne” – a goodbye to Nolan’s Batman trilogy

I will always be fascinated by the attempts that “nerdy” subject material will make in order to be perceived as art. Memorably, video game fans attempted to rake Roger Ebert over the coals when he claimed (rightfully) that video games will never be art. I never questioned the logic of either side, as interesting points were often presented, but I was more intrigued by why these fans were obsessed with having one of their favorite mediums be recognized as something more than mindless entertainment.

There have been untold of thoughtless news stories focusing on the ways in which comic books have grown up, with many recent ones focusing on the financial success of darker comic book films such as 2008’s “Watchmen” adaptation and Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy. That being said, I have the same view about this as I did about the aforementioned video game discussion. Did we ever really need these movies to justify comics? Did Nolan’s movies accomplish anything in the culture at large that actually needed to be done?

For me the answer will always be a definitive no. Don’t get me wrong, I vastly enjoyed all of Nolan’s films, particularly “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises” but everyone seems to be focusing on how Nolan’s work somehow legitimized something that had been missing. I just don’t think that was the case. Nolan’s films did a great job giving people exactly what they didn’t realize they wanted: a darker, excessively mature comic book movie that made non-comics fans feel like they understood comic books.

Because I’m an extremely petty and narcissistic person, I was deeply upset when people started saying that they liked Batman after the release of “The Dark Knight.” They didn’t understand the intricacies of the conflict between the Joker and Batman like I did. They didn’t understand the complex moral and ethical chess match for the soul of Harvey Dent like I did. To me, if you didn’t understand what made the film work so well under the hood, you didn’t really have the right to enjoy it like I did.

Nolan succeeded by making the labyrinthine power structures of Gotham City into something that the layman could understand. He didn’t dumb anything down, rather he introduced easily digestible nuggets of world-building that enabled anyone to understand the motivations of all the characters that made “The Dark Knight” work. People didn’t leave loving the film for what it was. They left thinking they had seen a movie that let them feel like they had it all figured out. “The Dark Knight” let viewers feel like they had just passed a test they didn’t study for.

In hindsight, I’m glad that people ended up liking Batman from “The Dark Knight.” I still think it may be the least satisfying and necessary film in the trilogy but it accomplished a very necessary end. Nolan was able to make a superhero film that used neither the structure nor the formulas of other films and was able to do something unique. It was an admirable work and an innovative one and it paved the way for the ambition of “The Dark Knight Rises” (which I will not be reviewing as to avoid spoilers).

Nolan excelled at making a trilogy of films that made its nerdy viewers feel like researchers and neophytes feel like experts. All the while, he was able to craft a brooding series focused on fear that never was bogged down into misery or undo complications. Its an admirable effort, one DC needed to learn. That being said, I still have concerns for his next work “The Man of Steel” which appears as if it could be attempting the same self-serious tone that the Batman films effortlessly attained. Hopefully, Nolan will be able to help director Zach Snyder make something that dodges the problems their other films have had. And hopefully, not feature too many slow motion bone crunches.

What if Bizarro took on Etrigan: 8 characters to bet on seeing in “Injustice: Gods Among Men”

“Mortal Kombat” developers NetherRealm Studios just showed off the first gameplay footage of their new fighting game, “Injustice: Gods Among Men,” a tournament brawler starring the heroes and villains of the DC universe. The original announcement of the game was greeted by mild excitement from fans but the recent gameplay footage has me worried. The game appears to be a bit too casual for hardcore fighting game fans like myself but does feature the heroes and villains that could make for an engaging and deep fighting game.

With only six characters announced so far, I figured it might be high time to start making some educated guesses, hopeful wishes and probably terrible jokes about which rogues and and defenders might be showing up. With those, we’ll also be giving predicted odds over whether they’ll be showing up and what their abilities could be.

1. Darkseid

The near all powerful lord of Apokalypse is certainly one of the most dangerous villains of the DC Universe and he’s had a long rivalry with Superman.  The multiverse has been a little too safe since his disappearance after “Final Crisis” and NetherRealm may cash in by bringing him back.

Vegas Odds: NetherRealm did develop a model for Darkseid for their game “Mortal Kombat vs. DC” and he could make a great boss character. That being said, he’s out of comic continuity and is a little on the overpowered side. Some work would definitely need done to make him work. I’ll give it 3:2 odds.

2. Grifter

One of my favorite heroes of the New 52, Grifter is the most wanted man on Earth. An ex-special ops killer turned mercenary turned criminal has aimed his trademark pistols at the invading Daemonite army. If he’s going to survive them, he’s also going to have to unleash his latent psychic powers and duel with the other heroes of the universe that want to take him down.

Vegas Odds: DC has been pretty proud of Grifter, despite the fact that the book hasn’t sold incredibly well. They are releasing a collectible bust of the character and has put a high profile but not particularly talented  writer on the title. Putting Grifter in the game may be a marketing push but his mix of gunplay and psychic powers could mirror Deadpool’s from “Marvel vs. Capcom 3.” That being said, he’s still not that well known of a character. I’ll give him a 5:1.

3. Elongated Man

The stretchiest character to ever serve on the Justice League, Ralph Dibny has always been one of the most human characters in the universe. He’s an incredibly intelligent, very humanistic hero who has mentored many others in what it takes to be a hero. His ability to stretch his body is a bit of a relic from the Silver Age but he’s an enormously fun character.

Vegas Odds: Dibny hasn’t really had much of an impact on the universe since he was one of the many innocent victims of familial homicide in “Identity Crisis.” He briefly appeared as a zombie intent on killing Hawkman in “Blackest Night” but he’s bound for a comeback. Even with that, Capcom’s intent at a stretchy character with Super Skrull in “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” was unpopular, despite being one of my favorite characters in the game. Its unlikely we’ll be seeing the poor widower so he’s getting a 10:1.

4. Deathstroke

The greatest mercenary in the universe has never come across a hero he didn’t think he could take down. He’s been at it for years and time has only sharpened his strategical genius. Deathstroke is always ready to reload, relax and get ready to draw blood from every man, woman and child who opposes him.

Vegas Odds: Things are looking pretty good that we’ll be seeing the Terminator in “Injustice.” He appeared in NetherRealm’s “Mortal Kombat vs. DC” and he’s still a pretty popular and dreaded enemy of the Justice League and the Teen Titans. He’s a pretty solid bet at 2:1.

5. Superboy-Prime

A Superman from a world that was never meant to have superheroes, Superboy Prime is another of the most dangerous forces the universe has ever had to deal with. He’s unleashed hell on the Teen Titans, battled Superman blow for blow and taken up the armor of the Anti-Monitor to unleash havoc on a world that didn’t understand him.

Vegas Odds: As cool as it would be to see a Superboy bereft of morals and capable of defeating nearly anyone but it is pretty unlikely that we’ll be seeing the villain. Like the Elongated Man, I’m giving him a 10:1 and hoping for more.

6. Nightwing

Dick Grayson, the former Robin and current Nightwing, has never struggled with the fact that he’s always been a hero in over his head. That’s never stopped him from doing as much good for Gotham and the world at large, joining up with Batman Inc. and serving time as the Dark Knight while Bruce Wayne struggled to return to his own time.

Vegas Odds: Nightwing is a popular character and all but I can’t imagine much of a way that NetherRealm would want to differentiate Grayson from Wayne and would just leave him off the list. We’ll give him a 5:1.

7. Atrocitus

There are few creatures as capable of rage as the Red Lanterns and only Atrocitus has the will and power to lead the group. His capacity for violence is legendary and he’s rapidly becoming one of the most prominent intergalactic forces in the DC universe.

Vegas Odds: Decently likely. The Green Lanterns have prospered under the rule of DC’s head scribe Geoff Johns and its drawn attention to the other Lantern teams. Atrocitus could serve as a useful and very neat bruiser to oppose the Emerald Knights. That’s worth a decent 3:1 spread.

8. Hank Henshaw aka Cyborg Superman

The almost-victor of the War of the Supermen, Hank Henshaw was briefly able to hold the role of Kal-El. He is also awfully contrived and terrible.

Vegas Odds: Thankfully awful. 15:1.

Casting the Not-Doing-Them-Justice League

I’m really glad that people have really rallied behind “The Avengers.” Seeing it for the third time earlier this week, people were still laughing, marveling and having a good time with what was intrinsically a really nerdy, very faithful to the spirit of the comics really fun adaptation.

Naturally, DC is hoping to pull off the same feat that Marvel was able to pull off with its movie and so talk has started back up on the casting of a Justice League film. Its a movie that has been talked about for years and DC’s attention to the project has caused all sort of wild, totally incoherent speculation.

The worst of all of this has been on Flavorwire, the blogging partner of Flavorpill. Generally, the site offers a variety of topical lists and think pieces on television and writing and its all pretty inconsequential stuff. I’ve commented there several times and visit the site regularly, although I think the site has one massive problem.

Flavorwire will leap on any trend and mercilessly beat it into the ground. Now, I have no problem with a website covering what the readership wants to hear, I just think that a lot of the time, they’re not quite able to cover the subject with any manner of responsibility or respect. Just because a subject is popular, doesn’t mean that it needs to be immediately covered by whoever kind-of-sort-of knows something/anything about the subject.

That’s how we get monstrosities like this.

Seriously, go ahead. Read that little thing.

Now, I don’t want to unnecessarily berate author Jason Bailey. He’s an extremely well informed film writer, with an eye for films new, old, obscure and well known. He’s rarely written about comics, even comic book movies and by no means do I intrinsically trust him on the subject. I don’t know that there was anyone on the staff of Flavorwire that was informed enough to know their way around this sort of article but hey, lets look at what he said. We’ll critique his choices and try to offer some alternatives.

Superman

Bailey went with Tom Welling, who played Clark Kent for 10 years in “Smallville.” That’s a safe choice. I don’t know that I could agree with his assumption that Welling “did it well,” but I guess I’ll let it slide. As I’ve said before, if you’re going to do a Superman movie, make Kal-El old and get Jon Hamm to play him.

Batman

Yep, Bailey cast Daniel Radcliffe as Batman. His reasoning? Bailey’s ironclad reasoning for putting the Harry Potter star as the Dark Knight was the ironclad statement of “the later Harry Potter movies were, for lack of a better description, action films.” Sure, they were dark movies that had lots of explosions and stuff but more than anything, those movies were about a nerdy guy and his socially rejected friends running around and shouting at things. Bailey says that Radcliffe is a fine actor and I definitely agree but Batman is grizzled. He’s a man that’s seen the worst of the world and doesn’t blink. Radcliffe isn’t grizzled. He’s a friendly, welcoming and hopeful actor who works best when in over his head. He can’t handle the reigns of Batman. Personally, I would like a little unconventional of an actor, namely Karl Urban who has proven himself as someone who could handle the pessimism and world weariness that Batman deserves.

Wonder Woman

Seriously, Jason Bailey wanted Mila Kunis to play princess of the Amazonians, one of the most powerful and influential characters in comics. Yep. He even brought up that Nicholas Refn wanted Christina Hendricks to play Diana in the same paragraph. Hendricks would be perfect for the role, despite the hair color but his casting of Kunis is just a symbol of a writer more interested in page views and contemporary references than creative exercises.

Green Lantern

That’d be pretty cool, actually. I think he might be a little young to play John Stewart but I’d love to see how they’d handle it.

Flash

So perfect that I can’t believe I had never heard anyone come up with this before.

Cyborg

In all honesty, regardless of what version of the Justice League that DC decided to go with, there is no chance Cyborg would be included. He’s too obscure, not defined well enough and virtually unknown to people who haven’t read the comics or fondly remember the “Teen Titans” animated series. Regardless, Bailey went with Michael B. Jordan of “Chronicle” and “Friday Night Lights” and yeah, sure that works, I guess.

Aquaman

I’ve long said that the best way to figure out if someone is an  actual comic book fan or not is to see what they think of Aquaman. If they unleash a typical tirade about how pointless and unimportant he is, you’re talking to a pretender. Jason Bailey is a pretender. Also, I desperately want Daniel Craig as the true king of Atlantis.

“Fuck you, exorcist!” – 4 comics that deserve better movies

For those who haven’t been reading comics for years, things used not to be so awesome whenever superheroes made the jump to the big screen. Sometimes, we got shit like this. People have been spoiled by blockbusters such as “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight” but more importantly, those films have shown Hollywood that with the right mix of comics references, crowd pleasing actors, humor and heart, lots of properties could easily become crowd pleasers.

That being said, I adore failure and have made a habit of seeing every comic movie released in the past decade. There’s some good, some really bad and some huge misses in there but here, I’ve got a quick list of characters and books that could have made the transition much better and how they could have done it. Here are my picks, in no particular order.

1. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

What’s wrong with it: The whole movie took all the subtlety and originality from Alan Moore’s series and turned it into a whiz-bang action movie. It doesn’t even look like a comic, its just bad. Putting Sean Connery’s piss-pore Quartermain impression front and center instead of having Mina Harker lead the team was also a poor decision.

How do you fix it: Its not a action movie, its a mystery. Focus on Volume One, with Harker assembling the team to stop Moriarty’s plans for London. Occasionally have Hyde hulk out and fuck stuff up and have some hints about the Invisible Man’s corruption. I know we’re not going to be have the iconic rape scene from Volume Two (or that book’s considerably more interesting story) but it’d be a nice nod for the fans.

2. Superman

What’s wrong with it: I would have never guessed that Superman would be the hero that so many writers would have trouble with. When he’s not getting fucked by the studios, being destroyed by an overly heavy heavy handed Christian allegory  or getting saddled in one of the strangest buddy movies/rape sequences in cinematic history, The Man of Steel has never had a really solid movie (no, I don’t think the Richard Donner cut of “Superman 2” is that good. Its actually kind of silly).

How do you fix it: Modify the “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” arc. Louis Lane recounts the story of the last time she saw Superman to a new reporter. Through the actions of Bizarro, a series of supervillains all descend on the Man of Steel, seperated from his network of contacts and left to battle alone, Superman has to beat through dimensions to face one of his most powerful and most underestimated enemies. As the story ends, the reporter learns that Superman is an auto-repair man who is now living covertly in Metropolis. This gives room for additional films that may draw Clark Kent back into action and pays service to one of the most well loved and well remembered Superman arcs.

3. Hellblazer

What’s wrong with it: Admittedly, I sort of really like the movie “Constantine,” based on Vertigo’s iconic “Hellblazer” books. It has tons of problems but the visual effects and style are great. That being said, London’s greatest exorcist deserved so much better. John Constantine, the maybe immortal sorcerer, deserved a better actor than Keanu Reeves, didn’t need the ridiculous Shia LaBeouf sidekick and a should have had a better plot than an apocalyptic arrival of Satan. The charm of “Hellblazer” was the way that Constantine, a man without a gun and way too much charm, smooth talked his way through the best heaven and hell had to offer. Instead, we got Reeves shoving a crucifix engraved shotgun into a guy’s mouth, shouting “I’m John Constantine, asshole.”

How do you fix it: It’d be so easy to make the unbelievably fucked up, super awesome Resurrection Crusade story. Constantine observes a rise in a militiant Christian cult in England, only to find out that they intend to impregnate a girl by an angel so that she can lead the fight against hell. Meanwhile, Constantine’s long time enemy Nergal is running his own demonic cult to fight the Christians. After trying to stop both groups, John ends up in the hospital and has to take a blood transfusion from his demonic worst enemy, which gives him one chance to ruin the plans of both Heaven and Hell. I don’t want to ruin the conclusion of one of Jamie Delano’s best stories but its a morally complex, exceedingly dark story that could reach a great conclusion even before the Swamp Thing side of the story starts.

4. Jonah Hex

What’s wrong with it: Pretty much everything.

How do you fix it: Hex is a killer and bounty hunter before anything else. Play it like “Batman the Animated Series” did. Combine the rough as sand dialogue of an aging Clint Eastwood, a touch of Indiana Jones style pulp and all bad guys doing bad things to badder guys. Make it as grizzly as “Sin City” but with all of the grit of a man who’s seen too much but can’t stop looking.