Wonder Woman’s Theme: A Pretty Good Song?

***Warning: this post contains hot takes.***

I know I’m not the first person to notice that the music of superhero films has been less than stellar since the Marvel renaissance began with Iron Man back in 2008. Heck, the last iconic superhero soundtrack was probably the score from Tim Burton’s run on the Batman franchise. Ask me to hum the John Williams Superman theme, and I can do so pretty easily. Ask the same for the X-Men films, though? Every time I try to hum the theme from The Avengers, I invariably slip into The Fellowship of the Ring. With only a few exceptions, most superhero soundtracks all sound like the same old summer blockbuster fare: excellent at setting a tone, but not exactly something you’ll be whistling on quiet afternoons.

The only exception for a while there, if you ask me, was Hans Zimmer’s score to The Dark Knight – specifically, the Joker’s theme. Unfortunately, that song, while a brilliant piece of soundtracking, doesn’t make for a terribly listenable track on its own. Its most memorable feature is a single note played on the cello with such excruciating deliberation that my fists ball up just thinking about it. The Joker’s theme sets a mood, but it’s not a “theme song” in the traditional sense.

As far as I can tell, we’ve only had four movies with soundtracks that can possibly come close to reaching the same level as the classic John Williams/Danny Elfman scores for Superman and Batman. The first two of those movies – Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel – are full of wonderfully iconic tunes, but both are disqualified on account of plagiarism.

The most recent of the four, Black Panther, has some of the only songs I can actually remember at all after leaving the theater. The theme songs for the two maincharacters (I stand by my claim that Wakanda, not T’Challa, is the actual protagonist of BP) are powerful pieces built around some absolutely ridiculous* rhythms. That said, I think my favorite track plays over the closing credits. The film ends with throngs of people chanting the name of their king, returned to power: “T’Challa! T’Challa!” It’s moving and operatic and over the top and I love every bit of it.

Despite my effusion, though, Black Panther‘s score is so new, and the buzz so high, that it remains to be seen whether the songs will actually endure beyond the current craze.

And then there’s Wonder Woman, the last one, the song I expect to have the most staying power, but also the one I’m most ambivalent about.

On the one hand, the Wonder Woman theme originated with the movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which has only and exactly two good things in it: Jeremy Irons and the savage electric cello theme that accompanied Wonder Woman’s first big screen appearance. When you get down to it, the song itself is all slashing rhythm and wails. It’s an excellent piece to accompany a thrilling action sequence, but it doesn’t really say that much meaningful about Wonder Woman herself.

I mean, John Williams’s Superman theme is dramatic and triumphant, befitting a man who has all the power in the world and chooses to do the right thing. You can almost hear the word “Superman” shouted during the song. Meanwhile, Danny Elfman’s Batman theme is dark and brooding, but it still has those victorious brass notes in there, indicating a man who uses the darkness to fight for justice. These songs are really about their subjects in a way that most soundtrack pieces aren’t.

Not being the biggest Wonder Woman fan, there are three things I know about her from general nerd osmosis:

  • She is a powerful warrior from a tribe of warrior women.
  • She has a magic lasso that makes people tell the truth.
  • She came to the “world of man” as an ambassador of love and peace.

The Wonder Woman theme really captures that first bullet, but, if you ask me, there’s nothing in those notes that really says “truth” or “love and peace.”

All that said, though, the song itself has grown on me, thanks in large part to the inspired work of Rupert Greyson-Williams, who managed to build a pretty workable soundtrack for Wonder Woman around what is arguably just the hook to some arena rock piece. I’ve also gotta give props to one of the major inspirations for the song: cellist Tina Guo, whose performance legitimately rocks my socks off. Add to that some great think pieces that analyze the Wonder Woman theme much better than I can (here and here), and I think I finally get exactly why the song works so well and remains so memorable when other superhero scores fall flat. I’m not convinced we’ve managed to create anything nearly as simple and fundamental as the Superman or Batman themes from the 80s and 90s, but we’re certainly close.

The Wonder Woman soundtrack reminds me, strangely, of the history of superhero costumes. When superhero comics were born, they got costumes that were all simple shapes and primary colors. As comics consumers developed more sophistication, they demanded a bit more verisimilitude in the pictures on the page. Costumes developed seams, laces, buttons and snaps, but they kept pretty true to the original flashy designs, for a time. Eventually, though, all those colorful costumes gave way to armor with shoulder blades, leather jackets, and a notable lack of red briefs worn overtop blue tights. Comic book designs seemed to want to be seen as anything but the the colorful daydreams of children.

Similarly, the scores for superhero films draw little inspiration from the earnest adventures of Christopher Reeve or Michael Keaton (or, for that matter, Adam West). The goal doesn’t appear to be “fun” as much as “action.” That’s not necessarily a strike against the superhero score, but it isn’t exactly a distinction, either.

The truly great thing about the Wonder Woman soundtrack is that it takes the grimdark Batman v. Superman track – which is powerful but seems embarrassed to own its source material – and manages to build something somehow optimistic and inspirational. I don’t think the Wonder Woman theme is on quite the same level as the Williams or Burton theme songs. At the end of the day, it’s really just a song that’ll get you hyped up to deadlift a truck at the gym.

…actually, that sounds pretty cool. Good enough!

* – “Ridiculous” here being a word that means “intricate and powerful.”

Sins of the Nation: Wakanda and Asgard

Spoilers for Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, if you care about that sort of thing.

It’s been about a week now since I watched Black Panther. The movie was great, possibly my favorite MCU film second only to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (which, as you might recall, I liked quite a bit). In the time since I watched it, I’ve been keeping an eye out for interesting articles and tweets. I’ve read up on the costuming, the cast… I’ve even researched some apparent plot holes, all of which confirm to me that Black Panther really is that good.

I also found this:

Now, it turns out that the original Amazon review was some sort of gag, but the tweet did get me thinking again about Thor: Ragnarok. The more I thought about the two films together, the more I saw a pretty strong connection between them. I mean, most superhero movies have quite a bit in common, but let me describe the plot of one of these films. You guess which one I mean:

“After the death of his father, a young prince must defend his home (an isolated technological wonderland) from an invading usurper to the throne, a mysterious and terrifying individual with an uncanny knack for warfare, a blood-relationship with our protagonist, and a serious grudge against the dead king stemming from the king’s dark and secret past.”

Yeah. More than a couple similarities.

Truthfully, though, I’m less interested in the similarities between the films than I am in the differences. To begin, I’ll attempt to summarize the twists of the two movies as best I can. Bear in mind that I’ve only seen these films once apiece, so there may be some minor details I get wrong.

In Thor: Ragnarok, we learn that, before he became the benevolent ruler of the Nine Realms, Odin employed the violent skills of his oldest child, Hela, to ruthlessly wage war and accumulate wealth and power. Because he feared her (and possibly because he was ashamed?), Odin had Hela sealed away. She returns and seeks to conquer Asgard almost immediately after Odin’s death.

In Black Panther, T’Challa’s father T’Chaka visited the United States on a mission to find his own brother. Upon learning that his brother planned to violate Wakanda’s isolationist policy by selling their futuristic weaponry, T’Chaka killed his brother and left a child (T’Chaka’s nephew and T’Challa’s cousin) to be raised an orphan. This child grew up to become the villainous Killmonger, who attacks Wakanda in order to secure weapons for a worldwide race war.

One of the first things that struck me about these stories is how they manage to explain, to some extent, the racial makeup of both our fantastical settings. The Asgard of the Thor movies was a colonizing empire, a fact that would almost certainly create more genetic diversity. Conversely, Wakanda adopted a strict isolationist policy early in its existence, likely well before European nations came in contact with Africa.

Thus, it is entirely plausible and, in fact, expected that Asgard in the MCU would have black people, while Wakanda wouldn’t have any white people. Racists can now shut up forever.

As fun as it is to find handwavy continuity excuses, I wanna go deeper. I think there’s something a lot more interesting going on with the histories of these two fictional countries. In addition to being wild, colorful technological pseudo-paradises, both countries have some pretty awful secrets lurking in their histories. Both movies use their respective villains (Hela and Killmonger) to embody these dark histories, but, beyond that, these movies explore how a country copes with its troubled past in very different ways.

By the end of Thor: Ragnarok – the same movie in which we learn about Asgard’s history of horrifying warfare – the entire nation is destroyed, and its citizens are cast to the stars in search of a new place to call home. The message here appears to be that a country with a history as violent as Asgard’s does not deserve to exist. While there’s a part of me that appreciates the idea that karma functions on such a global scale, I consider the somewhat shameful past of my own country and find myself hoping that there’s a better way than utter annihilation.

Ultimately, I don’t think Ragnarok is interested in dealing with the repercussions of Asgard’s history. It is, after all, a Thor movie, and it’s therefore more concerned with getting Thor from point A to point B along his hero’s journey. But this is the first major difference between Ragnarok and Black Panther. The main character of Thor: Ragnarok is, unsurprisingly, Thor. The protagonist of Black Panther, on the other hand, is the nation of Wakanda itself.

True, the Black Panther performs most of the significant actions, but while Thor is very much the comedic action hero, T’Challa is, in all things, the king of Wakanda. Although T’Challa grows and changes, as most good film characters do, his journey is nothing next to the seismic paradigm shift that the country of Wakanda goes through. Wakanda starts as a reclusive (dare I say selfish?) utopia, but it ends a neighbor and citizen-state of the world.

Early on in the film, T’Challa visits some sort of ghost world to commune with his father and the other past kings of Wakanda. During this meeting, T’Chaka tells T’Challa that “it’s hard for a good man to be a king.” Indeed, by the end of the film, we learn that King T’Chaka likely no longer considered himself a “good man” by the end of his reign. He sacrificed much – his integrity, his honesty, even his own brother – in the name of preserving Wakanda’s much-treasured secrecy. T’Chaka represents the nation’s history, and his violent crime represents the very real pain inflicted by an individual (or, indeed, a nation) that can help but chooses not to. As the new king, T’Challa commits himself to protecting Wakanda by continuing the isolationist tradition, although he does not yet recognize how destructive this tradition has been.

When set against a young king committed to keeping the secrets of his country safe from outsiders, Killmonger becomes a far more interesting villain. His main goal is to use Wakanda’s advanced technology to arm struggling communities so that they can conquer in the name of Wakanda. It’s tempting to dismiss Killmonger as just another megalomaniacal cartoon-book supervillain. The trouble is, though, the narrative refuses to portray Killmonger as entirely villainous. In fact, the narrative appears to side with Killmonger, allowing him to repeatedly chastise the leaders of Wakanda for keeping to itself while so many fellow Africans suffered.

Killmonger’s radical philosophy of “helping those less fortunate” has another ally: Nakia, a Wakandan spy and T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend. Rather than adhere to Wakanda’s non-interventionist policies, Nakia chose to work covertly, rendering aid and comfort in war-torn, struggling areas. This decision drives a wedge between her and T’Challa – as long as he chooses to follow in his father’s footsteps, they cannot be together. The audience sympathizes with Nakia… which means, to some extent, we sympathize with Killmonger, too.

At the end of the movie, T’Challa abandons his father’s path, and it is implied that Killmonger is part of what persuaded him. Wakanda ends its isolationism and opens a series of outreach centers throughout the world, including one in the same neighborhood where Killmonger was born and raised. The new Wakandan way resembles Killmonger’s scheme, except with fewer laser guns. Although the villain dies… he also kinda wins? And it’s a happy ending?

Moral ambiguity is delicious to us former English majors.

Wakanda is still a beautiful, vibrant country, but it is far from perfect. In fact, it has some flaws that run deep and go back, possibly centuries. Wakanda’s past does not invalidate the culture’s right to exist, as did Asgard’s; rather, Wakanda recognizes its obligation to atone for the past. Wakanda atones by doing what all of us with means should do, and what it should have been doing all along. Wakanda chooses to help its neighbors.

The story of Ragnarok seems to be one of national comeuppance – cathartic, maybe, but ultimately a bit limited. Black Panther, on the other hand, is about national repentance. And that’s something that every country could stand to consider more seriously.

Dance With Me

Black on black is always difficult for me to represent, working as I do in black and white. I think I managed it okay here.

I also chose to work with a smaller canvas than usual, which really required me to simplify the character expressions.

BONUS DRAWING: Stargazers.

Braddy Reads The Girl from the Other Side (Siúil a Rún)

The Girl from the Other Side tells the story of a strangely bitter recluse who has to care for a precocious young girl OKAY SERIOUSLY IS THERE LIKE A NAME FOR THIS GENRE OR SOMETHING I SWEAR TO KIRSTIE ALLEY.

*ahem*

Yes, it’s another entry in the “Braddy Really Wishes He Was a Single Dad” series, last exemplified by Sweetness and Lightning. I’m genuinely not sure why manga seems to like this trope so much, but I’m super grateful that they do. These books are consistently some of my favorite comics, and The Girl from the Other Side is no exception.

Of course, The Girl from the Other Side differs from those other books, which tend to be saccharine slice-of-life adventures about embracing the wonderful mysteries of life, by being a tight, tense horror story.

Our (whom I’ll call Teacher, as I genuinely don’t remember if it has another name) is some sort of demon/monster thing called an Outsider. By contrast, his ward – Shiva – is an Insider, who is stuck in the forests of the Outside until her aunt comes to claim her. Insiders cannot touch Outsiders, lest they be cursed to become Outsiders themselves. Teacher helps Shiva navigate the forest and tries to keep her safe… all while knowing, somehow, that Shiva’s aunt isn’t coming for her.

The first two volumes carry an “all ages” recommendation on their covers, which genuinely surprises me. The first volume ends with one of the tensest moments I can remember in comics: Shiva, convinced her aunt is nearby, wanders deeper into the forest to bring her an umbrella. Meanwhile, soldiers from Inside have come into the forest seeking a demon in the shape of a little girl and have strict orders to kill her on sight.

Then this happens:

I legit lost my mind when I turned to this page. The Girl from the Other Side is already one of the most beautiful manga I’ve ever read, with a distinct style that reminds me more of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind comic than, say, this nonsense. I already adored the scratchy backgrounds, the almost impressionistic rendering of all the major characters… but the picture of a small girl innocently carrying a damaged umbrella past the armed soldiers searching for her to kill her scared me more than just about anything in fiction.

Oh, and the second volume shows Teacher gruesomely hacking another Outsider to pieces with an axes. It takes until volume 3 for the age rating to get corrected to “teen.”

Truthfully, I’m not sure the story in The Girl from the Other Side is all that novel. As I’ve said, there are a million “cute young girl” stories out there for The Girl from the Other Side to draw on. In addition, it’s pretty explicitly riding the coattails of another highly successful manga about a supernatural being serving as mentor to a human girl. In the end, though, I’m not sure how much all that matters. The craft on display in The Girl from the Other Side is enough to have me hooked: masterfully executed tension, beautiful art, and a chilling atmosphere.

Also, I’m still waiting to figure out what the significance of the Irish part of the title is. So I’m at least hooked until that becomes more apparent.

Cooking with Braddy: Banana Pancakes (with a Side of Scrambled Eggs)

Typically, I don’t share the recipes I make, choosing instead to link to the recipe or to the cookbook on Amazon. I like people to rewarded for their creative endeavors, even if those endeavors are simply compiling a collection of recipes. That said, the source of the pancake recipe is a book I got through work for healthy meals and is not commercially available, so here we go:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 medium ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 cup low or nonfat milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Typical assembly instructions apply: combine the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in another (bananas are wet, in this case). Mix the wet into the dry, cook on a griddle or in a hot skillet. These don’t make the sweetest, fluffiest pancakes, but a serving of 2 cakes contains about 20% of your daily recommended allowance of fiber, so your guts will likely thank you!

The eggs are even easier to make:

  • 2 large eggs
  • Too much butter
  • Some cheese
  • Veggies, maybe. Like, I dunno, peppers?
  • Are mushrooms veggies? Probably?
  • Shoot, I’m out of ham

Try to make an omelet. Fail. Have scrambled eggs instead.

The Fallen Temple

So my little dinosaur creature was designed (somehow) with Evan Dahm’s Rice Boy in mind. The creepy goo monster with the mask was designed around the creatures from a particular Japanese video game I have an embarrassing amount of affection for. Apparently, I do some of my favorite work when I’m blatantly trying to rip off other creators.

Braddy’s Movie Shelf: Bee and Puppycat

(Bit of an art project: I’m trying to fill up a bookshelf with a bunch of shows I own on Blu-Ray/DVD, but I recycled most of the cases. I’m drawing my own DVD covers, but I figured I’d take a minute and write about why I like these shows so much as I put them on the shelf.)

A couple of years ago, I hit probably the most stressful point of my life to that point. I had just been promoted to office manager at a small psychiatric clinic with three clerical workers. With the raise I got from my promotion, I basically impulse-bought a house.. During the whole closing process, though, all three of my employees accepted other job offers. It took several weeks to get new employees hired; in the meantime, I had to run the clinic basically by myself. I also had paperwork to deliver, walkthroughs and inspections to arrange, and everything else that goes along with buying a house. I was getting so stressed that I couldn’t help but fantasize about the worst case scenario: that I would lose my job.

There were only three things that got me through that time: my parents, the help of an exceptional realtor, and a little YouTube cartoon called Bee and Puppycat.

Bee and Puppycat was a ten-minute cartoon short created by Natasha Allegri and the animators at Frederator Studios. The formula behind Bee and Puppycat was made up of equal parts Garfield, magical girl anime shows like Sailor Moon, and millennial angst. And it wound up being exactly what I needed at that time.

See, between all the pretty dresses, crazy fish monsters, talking ladybugs, and eggplants, Bee and Puppycat is, at its heart, the story of a young woman who loses her job, only to go on and learn that things can still work out.

Later, after the job and house situation settled down, I learned that the creators behind Bee and Puppycat were fundraising on Kickstarter to try to get more episodes made. They even promised to put the whole series on Blu-Ray. So I naturally threw a few bucks behind the project and waited happily for my reward.

And waited.

And waited.

And…

*sigh*

The new Bee and Puppycat cartoons that came out as a result of the Kickstarter campaign were less magical than I expected. There remained a bit of that hopeful melancholy that so attracted me to the original pilot, but that tone was coupled with simpler animations, less compelling plots, and production delays that really tested everyone’s patience. Eventually, I lost track of the series, and I basically forgot it existed.

Cut to late 2017, nearly six years after the Kickstarter campaign. I come home to find a package from Frederator Studios with the long-awaited Blu-Ray. Curious, I popped the disc in and settled down to watch the final episodes.

And I was, once again, blown away.

The pilot of Bee and Puppycat raised a lot of questions about the world these characters inhabited. The finale didn’t answer any of those questions. It actually raised nearly as many questions over again. But it did something far more important: it presented the angst and frustration that comes with change, and went on to reassure the viewer that everything will be okay.

The finale to Bee and Puppycat is perhaps unsatisfying from a narrative perspective, but it’s simple and beautiful and life-affirming. I’m happy to have a copy of the show on my bookshelf. I even made my own (very obviously amateur) DVD case to go along with it:

Intruders

In case anyone was curious, these little dino critters of mine were pretty directly inspired by the organic and unusual characters of one Evan Dahm, whose Rice Boy remains one of the most uniquely-designed comics I’ve ever read.

If, on the other hand, you weren’t curious, you should try to forget I said anything. Or go read Rice Boy anyway. You can do whatever you like.

Based on a True Story

There’s a reason we call him “Meow-Meows”… and it’s not just to be cutesy. We call him by his name, and his name is his voice, and he is all and he is everywhere and he demands that we love him.

Send help.