Cheating at Inktober ‘18: Lois and Clark

“Are you going to draw them like Lewis and Clark? You know, like the explorers?”

No, because I don’t want to draw buckskin.

Seriously, though, Lois Lane is, like, the best character in comics. Well, maybe not the absolute best, but she’s pretty darn great.

Cheating at Inktober ‘18: Poison Ivy

I’ve gotten kinda sick of “serious Batman.” Like, don’t get me wrong, there are some great serious Batman stories out there, but, you know, Batman can be used in other stories, too. Like funny Batman, or high adventure Batman…

…or that most underutilized of all Batmen: cute Batman.

New Gods, Old Fears

News broke today that Ava DuVernay, director of the divisive (but visually-stunning) A Wrinkle in Time will now also direct New Gods, an upcoming entry in the DC Comics cinematic universe. As this is news involving a superhero movie, you might expect that I have some opinions on the matter. And you would be right.

I am 100%, absolutely, totally excited for this jazz!

See, New Gods is based on the “Fourth World” saga, which is easily one of my favorite comics, one of the best things DC ever published. The story begins as something of a Superman spin-off, but it quickly turns into its own thing, combining The Lord of the Rings with the soft sci-fi of superhero comics and a liberal dose of hippy-dippy social allegory. And, with art and writing by Jack Kirby, it’s a truly beautiful thing to behold.

Kirby is one of the most influential artists in comics for good reason. The artistic mind behind some of the most popular superheroes in the world (Iron Man, The Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the X-Men…), Kirby had a flair for wild, imaginative visuals. The Fourth World is one of Kirby’s most important creations, and he filled those pages with some of the weirdest and most wonderful drawings he ever did. This is material that is perfect for a visual-oriented director like Ava DuVernay.

But it’s not just about the visuals. The Fourth World is full of some of the richest, most colorful characters to ever grace the comics page:

  • Mister Miracle – a high-tech escape artist and conscientious objector in the war between light and darkness
  • Orion – the son of an evil god, whose dark nature makes him the perfect soldier for the forces of good
  • Granny Goodness – a motherly figure who “nurtures” all the free will out of her charges
  • Glorious Godfrey – basically just Alex Jones, but somehow even worse
  • Steppenwolfe – a warrior who… Wait, we’ve seen this guy recently, haven’t we?

Oh… Oh crap.

Um… so, yeah, before I get too excited about this project, I need to remind myself that New Gods is slated to be part of the DC Extended Universe, a cinematic monstrosity that now includes five films, of which only one and a half are any dang good at all (and those are Wonder Woman and maybe a quarter part each of Man of Steel and Justice League). I know, I just know, that there’s going to be a real temptation to follow in Zach Snyder’s deconstructionist grimdark footsteps. That’s a huge problem for the material, which is so straightforward and earnest that it literally named its chief antagonist Darkseid.

He wears a minidress, so he is clearly the best and most evillest.

Darkseid is probably the best known of all of the New Gods. He’s popped up in a few major Superman adaptations over the years, including that one time someone decided that the best way to make Superman relatable was to have him date Kristin Kreuk. He is also (and I know I’m using this word a lot recently) my favorite super villain of all time.

There’s a lot of great stuff about Darkseid. He’s every bit the physical match of the heroes he faces off against. He can easily beat the tar out of Superman or Wonder Woman, and he actually killed Batman once (and by “killed” I mean “turned into a caveman”… long story). But the best stories about Darkseid don’t involve him throwing a single punch. Darkseid wins the same way evil wins in the real world: by slow, imperceptible, inevitable corruption.

See, Darkseid preys on the “dark side” of human nature. He seeks, like so many do, to “take over the world,” but he’s a theological villain more than a standard super villain. He doesn’t control people using mind beams or hypnosis. Rather, he controls them by appealing to their weakest, most shameful elements – their fear, their selfishness, their anger and pettiness. In the world of the New Gods, he is the devil.

If you ask me, the last great Darkseid story was Final Crisis, a 2008 comics series by writer Grant Morrison. In this story, Darkseid succeeds in placing the world under his control. The heroes of the DC Universe have to unite to fight a war that, frankly, they’ve already lost. Their great strength, their ability to punch evil into submission, is of no practical use here. The big fist fight between Superman and Darkseid never happens in this story. In fact, Darkseid is probably at his physical low point here, having possessed a weak mortal body. He even wears leg braces the whole time, apparently unable to stand on his own.

And yet… he’s never been more terrifying than he is in this story.

I remember that the end of Final Crisis drew a fair bit of criticism, as Darkseid was ultimately defeated by Superman singing a song at him. It’s slightly less ridiculous than it sounds, but only slightly. But I think that ending illustrates an important point: the darkness in humanity cannot be overcome through violence.

That’s a difficult message to portray in superhero stories, where violence is almost as much a part of the medium as ink and paper. However, the fact that Darkseid is an antagonist in a superhero comic means one thing for certain: he will always lose, in the end. That makes for a pretty inspiring message, if you think about it. The literal “dark side” of human nature can be beaten, and goodness and virtue can win, no matter how bad things get.

As much as I love the New Gods and the character of Darkseid in particular, I’m very nervous about how these characters will appear on the big screen. See, I can now, very easily, picture Henry Cavill trying on his best Christopher Reeve smile and saying, “Well, Darkseid, time to send you to the ‘dark side’ of the moon!” before punching him in the face and sending him shooting into the stratosphere, while Darkseid (played by yet another wildly inappropriate actor… I’mma say Colin Firth) screams “Noooooooooo!” before finally disappearing with a distant twinkle, Team Rocket style.

…actually, now that I’ve typed that out, it really doesn’t sound that bad.

My point is this: the New Gods don’t really function the same way other superhero characters do. They aren’t about over the top action sequences and quippy comedy. They’re a Book-of-Genesis style myth about the nature of good and evil within humanity. In other words, they’re the one place the whole “Superman is disaffected Jesus” thing might actually work (but seriously please don’t try that again).

The New Gods are going to be really, really difficult to film. I think DuVernay is up to the task. At the very least, the film should be pretty. But if what we get is just another “pretty and competent” superhero beat-’em-up, then we’ll have wasted a lot of potential, and that would be too bad.

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.”

“Inktober” 2016: Shazam!

You know, I really ought to learn to draw musculature some day…

A few months back, I picked up DC’s Showcase Presents Shazam! v. 1, featuring “the original Captain Marvel.” The book is full of these goofy Silver Age comics, wherein young Billy Batson fights crime by shouting his magic word and transforming into The World’s Mightiest Mortal (TM). Joining him in his fight are his sister, Mary Marvel, and some random kid on the street, all of whom happen to have the same powers. Also, they’re allied with Talky Tawny, the talking tiger. These stories are goofy as all get out, and I absolutely love them.

The best part, though, is the villains. I think my personal favorite is Mister Mind, a maniacal super genius who forms the Monster Society of Evil in order to conquer the world and wreak horrible vengeance upon the Marvel family. He’s also a tiny worm from another dimension. He wears a little radio around his neck so that he can broadcast his words loudly enough for larger creatures to hear. Also? He’s adorable.

SLCC Comic Con: Day Three

I had planned to attend about a half-dozen panels on the last day of Salt Lake City Comic Con. Instead, I spent about seven hours getting my picture taken. Hold on to your butts: we’ve got a lot of pics to get through.

Easily the highlight of the con:  getting my face melted off by an eleven-year-old with a fistful of Eggo’s (Stranger Things).

Are you ready to duel? (Yu-Gi-Oh)

Can’t expect me not to fangirl out when surrounded by some of my favorite Disney ladies, can you?

Yeah, this is probably okay to drink (The Emperor’s New Groove).

Pretty awesome Winter Soldier arm.

“Nice Wiccan cosplay!”  “Thanks for recognizing me!”

Save me, Prince Phillip!

LADY. LOKI. IS. THE. BEST. AT. COSTUME.

Y’all know Dum-Dum Dugan, right?

Hey, Rapunzel, if you’re not impressed with Mr. Rider there, I know a slightly-balding guy who might be more interesting…

I CAN WRECK IT!

I lost my jaw to Lady Hellboy.

That is one surprising bird-monster (Warhammer).

Must… resist… urge… to… inuendo!

COBRA!

Sometimes, you just have to sit down and cry and very purposefully not look behind you.

This photo is practically perfect in every way.

Who’s the cutest little gonk droid?  That’s right, you are!

I don’t think Tumnus knows where to go any more than I do.

Doo doo da doo dooooo…  Doo doo da doo dooooooo.

Ain’t got no strings on me!

No lie… Those claws actually choked me a bit (Dark Crystal).

I can’t wait until “By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth” becomes a meme.

W.A.S.P.s of a feather…

All bow down before the Deku Princess (Majora’s Mask).

Buttercup, Blossom, Braddy, and Bubbles.

And here I’ll add a happy little Comic-Con…

SPOOOOOOOOOON!!! (I actually didn’t notice the spoon until I looked at the picture afterwards…)

GET ME PICTURES OF SPIDER-MAN!!!

                   

You can’t see it, but I totes gots that dance magic! (Labyrinth)

Best obscure meme of 2016 reference at the con!

Dugtrio is evolving!  Dugtrio has evolved into… Dugquattro! (Pokemon)

Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure Sheik here was holding real nails… (Ocarina of Time)

This girl was such a good sport… Pretty sure she had no desire to take a picture with a dude twice her age, but she indulged me anyway (Sailor Moon).

Wish I’d noticed the cuddly Wookie buddy waving me down first…

This cute little Hawkgirl with wings made out of music sheets had one of the best costumes in the con!

“Do a Tracer pose, and I’ll imitate you,” I said.  I’ll admit I was expecting a different pose (Overwatch).

Little magical girl soldiers in perfectly fighting-appropriate skirts… because Japan (Puella Magi Madoka Magicka).

More Mass Effecty goodness… The game’s actually pretty cool, provided you never have to get on an elevator.

I’ve seen worse presidential candidates…


Now that Comic Con is over, I’m feeling a bit sad. I absolutely love all the people watching, not to mention the panels and shopping. At the same time, I’ve got a severe cramp in my foot, and I think I got a cold from that Spider-Man kissing booth, so I’m pretty excited to have some recovery time. You might say I’ve got… MIXED EMOTIONS.

Thank you and good night!

SLCC 2016 Cosplay Pics: Day One

Easily my favorite activity from Salt Lake Comic Con last year: getting my shapely buttocks handed to me by the fightingest costumed crime fighters of the cosplay scene. Heck, I enjoyed it so much that… that’s basically all I did today. Here are the best pics I got from day 1:

A trio of ruffians from some nerd game for nerds (Overwatch).

Captain Marvel, complete with mohawk.

Thor (yes, Thor’s a woman now).

Dr. Fate, complete with swanky jacket.

My buddies and I and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Captain America, Peggy Carter, and a dislocated jaw.

Tippi Hedren (The Birds).

Wirt and a very meaningful cassette tape (Over the Garden Wall).

Four incredibly sexy people (DC Bombshells).

Red Queen, White Rabbit, Yellow Braddy.

Some bloke in very impressive and (dare I say) handsome armor.

More broke, more armor.

The second worst prom I ever attended.

The worst prom… ever (Mulan).

The world’s deadliest geometry (Silent Hill).

Lady Scarecrow and a glove of syringes.

Ms. Marvel – the best kid.

Me picking a fight with Lady Star Wars…

…and here we see how well that turned out.


And, finally, Steampunk Santa. The best thing any child could have hoped for.