Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Darkening of DC

Dan DiDio is committed to darkening the DC Universe. To many, that is good news. I know a lot of people who like Marvel’s approach to super heroing – that they still need to deal with day-to-day problems and the pressures of normal life and moral conundrums. Hell, I like to read them sometimes. I like both Sin City and Powers, both of which are pretty dark.

It’s just not the way I like my Superman. I had issues with Identity Crisis. There were a few issues – not the least of which is that Barry Allen, the Flash, voted for “the wrong thing” (and continued from there) and he is dead, looks to be staying that way, and therefore won’t get a chance to redeem himself. Here’s a character that was almost always portrayed as being a truly good guy. Then we find out that he spent time screwing with all sorts or people’s minds. It alters all of his stories retroactively, and unlike the other participants, who are still around, Barry cannot atone for what he did.

It also seems now that Superman and Batman have known about it for a while, and it is just coming to a head at this time, years later. Again. Superman carrying the knowledge that his allies changed a man’s personality without doing anything about it? That’s not the Supes I know.

Not that all of the darkening is bad. Deadshot is coming off of a limited series in which he is an anti-hero, but it was still an effective and enjoyable series. My concern is that this desire to make things darker is going to make us change the characters we know and love, and have for many years. I would love to see a take on the Justice League including Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Captain Atom, Geo-Force, and some other characters who, while not looking to go around on murderous rampages accept killing as an occasional necessity. I think DC already has some dark characters, and if you want to tell dark stories, use them.

It even seems that the current Superman cross over, “Sacrifice” might lead to Superman making a decision to kill. There are steps being taken to alienate Batman from the Justice League in the wake of Identity Crisis as well as, it seems, Superman in this current story line. DC seems to want to break up the Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman). While I am all for a new and interesting look at a character, and I am not the type to threaten to stop collecting comics over the choices being made, I do have to question them. One of the things that have always set DC apart from Marvel is the iconic nature of their characters. Superman once said that in this world, “There is right and wrong, and it isn’t hard to tell the difference.” I’ve always liked that he lived in a world where, unlike the real world, that was true. I think it hurts these characters to place them in a world where that is no longer true, and where they are in the “feared and hated” zone that Marvel’s characters are designed to fit into so well.

It’s reported that the late, great (and great isn’t quite a strong enough word for the man) Julius Schwartz told Dan DiDio that “every ten years you have to give the comics an enema.” It’s hard, if not impossible to argue with wisdom from Schwartz, who in many ways is single-handedly responsible for the Silver Age of comics starting. The only thing I would caution Mr. DiDio about is to remember that in an enema, you are supposed to discard, rather than use, what comes out.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fantastic Four, from movie to comic to theories thereon.

The Fantastic Four

First, let me start off by saying that I am fairly forgiving of changes made to comic book stories to help them work better as movies. You want Spider-Man to shoot webs from his body rather than from devices he created? Okay. You want Superman’s fortress of solitude to pop up from a crystal? Sure. You want the Joker to have been the guy who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents? Okay, I guess.

So, I was prepared for Victor Von Doom going on the flight with the Storms, Richards and Grimm. This meant, I was okay with him having powers. Or at least I thought I would be.

The fact is, Doctor Doom may be the greatest villain in the history of comicdom. Ever. And every super hero movie relies heavily on its villain. This interpretation of Doom just didn’t come close for me to the Doom I have loved for years in the comics. I don’t necessarily blame Julian McMahon – the guy has done some really good work elsewhere – but there is no question that the imperialness of Von Doom was not sufficiently showcased in this film.

So, the movie had a strike against it right there. But I enjoyed it anyway. Let me go over some of the reasons why:

Casting – some of the characters were perfect. Chris Evans played a Human Torch so convincing that I would love to see him show up in Spider-Man 3 to strike up that legendary friendship. (The fact that they are made by different production companies means this will not happen, sadly.) Chicklis made me believe him as Ben Grimm, and Ioan Gruffud was okay as Reed. Jessica Alba didn’t have much to work with here, which I am not surprised by, for reasons that I will get in to later, but she did well with what she had. Julian McMahon was appropriately sinister as Doctor Victor Von Doom, if not grandiose enough.

There are a few things that make the Fantastic Four so interesting. One of them is the family dynamic. Ben and Reed might as well be brothers, while Sue and Johnny are brother and sister. With the eventual marriage of Sue and Reed, this makes for some complex dynamics – no one can irritate you like family can. To this end, the movie featured some of the de rigeur back-and-forth between the Thing and the Human Torch. Including a disagreement in which emotions run so high they unleash their powers on each other in public. That was some spot-on characterization.

The other thing that I have always thought was so well-done about the FF is their archetypal elemental natures. They represent the four classic elements, not only in powers, but also in character.

Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic is water – his form is pliable, and much like erosion, you give him time to work on any problem, and eventually, he will overcome it. He might encounter setbacks, but in the fullness of time, he will succeed in working his way past, over, through or around whatever obstacles are in front of him, and in a very real way, has the potential to be the most destructive of the group. There was less tech talk from him in this movie than I would have expected, but that might have been for the benefit of the audience.

Ben Grimm, The Thing is obviously earth. He is the most down to earth member of the team, which is funny since he is also their pilot. He is often the voice of common sense, and he is the man you know you can rely on. Need someone to hold back an entire planet’s army while Reed works on the solution? Call on Ben. He doesn’t know how to give up, and while he is normally so like bedrock in disposition, when he loses his temper, it comes with all the fury of an earthquake. In this movie this remains true. Throughout, Doom baits him. He remains stoic. Only Johnny can really get a reaction out him (there’s that family dynamic again) until those he loves are threatened.

Johnny Storm, The Human Torch is a stereotype among stereotypes – he is a “hothead.” Impulsive, he will take any risk for a greater thrill. But he was well portrayed in the film. His faster, higher, more extreme personality came out very well, and again, he was a strong player in the well-executed family dynamic in the film, in scenes with both sister Sue and Ben. Johnny has also typically not had a lot of luck with long-term girlfriends. He tends to use them up, consumed as fuel for his high lifestyle.

Sue Storm, The Invisible Girl (Woman for several years now in the comics) – how does one write “air?” Flighty? That would seem to be another stereotype, and hard to see Reed falling for, no matter how attractive she is, both in the comic world and as portrayed by the undeniably lovely Jessica Alba. So instead, she comes off as mercurial – her powers are tied to her emotions and those emotions are very changeable. Like a breeze, she can be calm and restrained one minute, full of anger the next, and immediately back to calm. This is a little harder to write well. But I think in this movie, Miss Alba pulls if off with what she is given. As a side note, it is interesting that the only man besides Reed to really hold Sue’s interest in the comics is Namor, the prince of Atlantis, and a representation of the tidal wave/crashing wave/whirlpool side of water. Obviously, there is something in this woman that is drawn to the water types.

Then there is Doom. In the comics, he is a combination of all of the above – implacable, fiery in temper, bound by his honour to be dependable, and quickly moved to emotion. However this is one case where the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts – he keeps losing to the FF. But one of the interesting things about Doom in the comics is same thing that is interesting about Lex Luthor on the DC side of things – he is “merely” human, yet struggles against those who are so much more. And Doom has had success over the years. But the outsider aspect of Doom compared to the Four was compromised by having him go up into space with them. Having them close enough that Ben calls him “Vic” through most of the movie was an interesting dynamic, but for this viewer, didn’t work as well as the “4 against 1” dynamic that has been maintained in the comics. He also wasn’t as arrogant as I would have liked him to be, at least pre-powers. When a bank tried to tell him he had a week to do something, I would have liked to have seen him say something more along the lines of, “You dare to dictate terms to me?”

Overall, it was a fun movie. It’s certainly not the worst of the Super Hero pictures that are out there. It’s not 100% true to the comic, but that’s okay. A little more work on the villain, and they might really have something here.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

DC These Days

DC is finally unveiling their answer to Marvel's Ultimates line (a line which in my opinion has been pretty good overall, or at least was - some of the titles are starting to lose their blush for me) with All Stars. The first book to come out is Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder this Wednesday, the 13th.

The book is a Robin book, with Bats as a huge supporting character. It is starting from when Dick Grayson is 12 and has been taken in by Batman after Dick's parents have been killed. It is written by Frank Miller, and there is an excellent interview about it here at newsarama.

Given that the createive team (Jim Lee is the artist behind it) are given pretty free reign, this could make for a particularly interesting read. Miller wrote what some consider to be the seminal Batman work, The Dark Knight Returns. He has had great runs on several other books as well, including his own unique creation, Sin City. Of course, he also wrote the sequal to The Dark Knight Returns which was, at least in my opinion, not a great series. Nonetheless, I think this is definitely worth looking in to.

Also, DC is currently building up to a huge even (or so they promise) called Infinite Crisis. There are four limited series building to it, Villains United, which for my money is one of the best books on the stands right now, The Omac Project which is a fairly solid book, although between the Tower of Babel storyline in JLA, the War Games story line that spanned all the Bat titles and this story, I'm getting a little tired of people using Bats' own plans against him, Day of Vengeance, which looks to be DC doing a little house cleaning on the mystical side of things, with the now-hostless (thanks to the return of Hal Jordon to being Green Lantern) Spectre being influenced by Eclipso to destroy all magic, and lastly, though not leastly, The Rann-Thanagar War, which features those two planets splitting the DC Universe down the middle to ally themselves with one of the two sides. This spawned directly from the excellent Adam Strange series, and unfortunately, in my opinion does not hit as strong a note as its predecessor did.

Nonetheless, they are all at least enjoyable, and some have moments of sheer brilliance. The story most talked about now is that after Infinite Crisis, a story so big that there will be a fair amount of time just dealing with the emotional consequences, they are going to jump the DC universe 1 year ahead to show us the long-range impact of the story, rather than have all of their books telling stories about the characters picking up the pieces. If this story is as significant as it promises to be, this should be a pretty exciting time to be reading funnybooks.

If any of this has caught your interest, I encourage you to go down to your local comic shop and look in to it. They even have a kind of "primer" book out now called Prelude to Infinite Crisis. Also, recognizing how huge this event is, DC has created a section of their site called Crisis Counseling which is a weekly roadmap to the events leading up to the Infinite Crisis. They obviously know how big and hard to keep track of this whole thing is, and so are trying to help the reader enjoy the ride.

I know I will.


Welcome to Infinite Opinions, my place to post my thoughts on all things Comic Book related - Super Hero movies, RPGs, Video Games, and Comic Books themselves. This will be updated as I have a chance. Although, this tends to be a topic I am pretty fond of, so hopefully it will be happening with some regularity.

These days, I seem to be reading more DC than anything - that seems to be where the best stories are. I have been a pretty much lifelong fan of the Justice Society of America, and am an avid collector of theirs still. Don't be surprised if many of these entries go off on strange Golden-Age related tangents.

Also, as a warning, I don't play a ton of super hero video games - I have found many of them to be disappointing years ago, and have never really recovered from taht enough to try many of the newer ones.

Anyhow, as I said, welcome. I hope you find this site at least somewhat entertaining, and look forward to your comments.