From Short Films to the Big Screen: The Parallel Journey of Batman and Christopher Nolan

The following was written by WWBD columnist Intern-iana Jones. Enjoy!

The inexplicable fascination behind the Batman film franchise reflects the mystery of its main character, as well as the brilliance of one Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight, as you all know, is the alter ego of Bruce Wayne, while Nolan is a talented filmmaker who brought this famous comic book superhero to lifelike proportions. This partnership has somewhat bridged generations of fans – from casuals to diehards – and has evolved throughout the years.

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Batman’s Pop Culture Influence

The Dark Knight’s versatility mirrors some facets in real life that influence a lot of people. Just like in online games, DC has created a protagonist that fans can easily relate to and see development as each story progresses. From what started as a simple 60s TV character, Batman transformed into this intriguing vigilante that’s the subject of even the most trivial of things in video games and in real life. For one, Macau is building a Gotham City-inspired casino worth $3.2 billion. Even console and online gaming companies have got in on the act. The Batman Arkham Knight game on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One incorporated a casino storyline involving one of his many arch-nemesis, The Riddler. On the other hand, UK-based online gaming platform, Spin Genie, dedicated a slot machine variant for the film The Dark Knight Rises. In a way, the Batman character wouldn’t have been this huge worldwide if it weren’t for the man behind his resurgence on-screen, Christopher Nolan.

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Christopher Nolan’s Eye for Excellence

Way before he hit the multi-million dollar box office with masterpieces such as The Dark Knight and Interstellar, Christopher Nolan has been altering the norms of convention with his psychological thriller project called Doodlebug. The 1997 short film featured Following (Nolan’s feature debut) main star, Jeremy Theobald. Here, Theobald’s character tries to kill a bug inside a dingy apartment while holding his shoe by its toe. Doodlebug captures Christopher Nolan’s inborn talent in storytelling and how he sets the overall mood of a film. Aside from this, he’s also the man behind short films such as Larceny and Tarantella. Like Doodlebug, the former starred Jeremy Theobald in his very first acting role, while the latter is Nolan’s 1989 collaboration with friend, Roko Belic, while he was attending UCL’s film society. These short films paved the way for Christopher Nolan to hone his craft and come up with future blockbusters that touch into the human psyche – similar to Batman’s journey from a naïve orphan kid to a crime-fighting superhero.

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No More Gritty Reboots: Why Lego Batman and Legion Are the Future of Superheroes

Yes, this blog is dedicated to “an ongoing exploration of the dark and gritty reboot.” But, as written about in the previous post on this blog, The World Needs Bad Men, it’s time to admit that the dark-n-gritty reboot has run its course. The anti-heroes have ascended to the White House. It’s time for a new superhero narrative.

The last week has given us two new incarnations of the superhero show: Legion, a television show on FX, and The Lego Batman Movie, a family-friendly animated feature.

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Perhaps the first Batman promotional image to show a smiling Caped Crusadser.

The Lego Batman Movie is as meta as any superhero film has been, and that includes 2016’s Deadpool and 2015’s Ant-Man. The jokes are more family-friendly than those of Deadpool, but TLBM is arguably the more mature of the two films. TLBM, coming on the heels of The Lego Movie and followed soon by The Ninjago Movie, is the sign of much more to come.

Legion, meanwhile, is a serious and frightening television series about a man in a mental hospital who is either mentally ill, a mutant with superpowers, or both. It’s from Noah Hawley, the creator of the Fargo television series, and unravels in a non-linear manner.

But I’ve come here not to review these two works. Enough people are already reviewing these two works. The reviews are both positive and, in my opinion, accurate. What I’m here to say is that these works are two complementing examples of what we should start demanding from our screen adaptations of superhero tales.

The superhero is tired; these narratives give him hope. Let’s look at why they work, and how other narratives can learn from them.  Continue reading “No More Gritty Reboots: Why Lego Batman and Legion Are the Future of Superheroes”

The True Theme of 2016: Never Meet Your Heroes

Hating 2016 and wishing for it to end has perhaps been the meme of 2016. It has been called a dumpster fire and was declared to “even sucked for Kim Kardashian.” Beginning in July and continuing non-stop, this year was deemed to “suck” and we saw a flood of hot takes either labeling it the worst year in living memory or at least asking the question of how bad it really was.

How bad was 2016?

I’ve only lived for thirty years, but am confident this wasn’t even the worst year I’ve seen of my lifetime. 2001 was awful. 2004 wasn’t great either. 2008 had the financial crisis, the rise of Sarah Palin, the death of Heath Ledger, and apparently Elon Musk’s personal rock bottom. Armed with the right confirmation bias and armory of evidence, one could make an argument that really any year is the worst.

It’s also worth noting that not every take on the outgoing year is as reductive and hyperbolic as “the worst!” Jia Tolentino called it “The Year We Played Ourselves” in The New Yorker. Stephen Pinker pointed out that, if you ignored headlines and value facts, 2016 is better than its previous years in almost every way. It was arguably the best year ever for black filmmakers and apparently the year that solar panels finally became commercially viable. The Economist, meanwhile, awarded “The Economist‘s country of the year award” to “plucky Estonia.” Congrats Estonia!

But there is one theme I see everywhere I look, from the Nobel Prize to the election of Donald Trump to the author of Harry Potter. One piece of wisdom, one particular theme, one pervasive lesson: the classic advice that you should “never meet your hero.”

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Yes, this article is about heroes and 2016, and Bowie sang about “Heroes” and died in 2016, but it has little to do with Bowie.

To recap exactly how this theme presented itself throughout the last year, I’ve catalogued a list of disappointing heroes and their disappointed fans from the last twelve months.

Why shouldn’t we meet our heroes?

Before we jump in, it’s worth reminding ourselves of why exactly we should never meet our heroes. Ultimately, it always comes down to disappointment. They aren’t who you thought they would be. They’re not doing what you wanted them to do. The things they said that made you admire them? Either your hero never meant those things or they don’t mean them anymore or they never meant what you thought they did.

And now, let’s take a look at all the disappointment heroes unleashed on their admirers. Continue reading “The True Theme of 2016: Never Meet Your Heroes”

In Honor of Moby-Dick’s 165th Birthday, the 10 Best Moby-Dick Homages, Adaptations, and Celebrations

Happy Birthday, Moby-Dick!

Not the whale, but the book. 165 years ago today, Herman Melville’s epic novel was published in America for the first time. (A different version of it had come out in England one month earlier, but today is accepted as the anniversary of the version the world knows).

In honor of this anniversary, I think it’s worth taking a moment to look at the books, movies, music, and more that we have as a result of Moby-Dick‘s legacy.

Leviathan ’99 by Ray Bradbury

“The doomed crew of a starship follows their blind, mad captain on a quest into deepest space to joust with destiny, eternity, and God Himself . . .”

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Sound familiar? This novella—collected alongside “Somewhere a Band is Playing” in Bradbury’s Now and Forever—is an unapologetic retelling of Moby-Dick. It’s also sci-fi, set in space, like one or two other works on this list.

Note that this isn’t only a book, but has also been a radio production and a playContinue reading “In Honor of Moby-Dick’s 165th Birthday, the 10 Best Moby-Dick Homages, Adaptations, and Celebrations”

The Beginner’s Guide to Kurt Vonnegut: How to Finally Start Reading Vonnegut’s Novels

There has never been a better time to start reading Kurt Vonnegut. To begin with, today is his 94th birthday. Second, we appear to be living inside one of his novels, with an egocentric billionaire slouching toward the White House, the National Anthem at the center of controversy, and our entire existence increasingly descending into a parody of itself (for more on all of this, see my article What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?)

But where to begin? The first Vonnegut novel was published over six decades ago. In the next fifty years of his life, he wrote another thirteen novels, hundreds of short stories and essays, one play, and created a series of paintings and drawings.

I’m here to tell you where to start, and how. You should read Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, if you haven’t already. Should you read all of them? That depends. But you should at least read one of them. (Note: this blog post originally began as something I wrote for the /r/truebooks subreddit, for people looking to read more Vonnegut and not sure where to start.)

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One of many.

In order to give you some guidance in determining a reading order for his lists, I’ve divided his novels into three tiers:

  • Tier One: The novels to start with. His masterpieces. Or, if you’re only going to read one or two of his novels, choose one from this list.
  • Tier Two: The ones to read after you’ve burned through the first tier. Not that these are worse, but they are perhaps less accessible, or won’t make as much sense unless you’ve read the others first.
  • Tier Three: The novels that are either very bizarre, very meta-fictional, less novels than thought experiments, or the ones that expect you to have a greater understanding of who Vonnegut is before tackling.

Make sense? Let’s begin:

Which Vonnegut Novel to Read First?

So you want to read a Vonnegut novel, but not sure which one? I recommend beginning with one of these four:

Cat’s Cradle (1963)

I consider this to be the first (chronologically) of his best novels. It’s also a great introduction to Vonnegut, and it’s easy-to-read, through his use of short chapters and fast pacing. Opens with a Moby-Dick reference, explores religion, science, war, and the apocalypse, and includes some very fun characters. Continue reading “The Beginner’s Guide to Kurt Vonnegut: How to Finally Start Reading Vonnegut’s Novels”

What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?

The critically-acclaimed, award-winning cable series Mr. Robot is notable for a number of reasons, with a big twist: in the final two episodes, you realize you’ve been watching a ten hour unlicensed Fight Club reboot. One could say that the twist is “Elliot was Mr. Robot all along!” just like the twist in Fight Club is “Edward Norton was Brad Pitt all along!” but to me the twist was simply that Mr. Robot was Fight Club all along.

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Where is Mr. Robot’s mind?

Some people saw the “twist” coming, but I didn’t know I was watching a Fight Club reboot until the final few episodes, when a character is revealed to be imagined, the protagonist fights himself,  and a piano cover of “Where is My Mind” plays in the background. (Probably worth noting it was the same song used in The Leftovers, which I saw first and still think used it better.) Continue reading “What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?”

Is There a Connection Between Bran Stark and “Uncle John’s Band”?

In a previous blog post, I investigated the possibility that George R.R. Martin took inspiration for Arya Stark’s storyline from the song “Dire Wolf,” by the Grateful Dead. I’m far from the first person to make connections between Martin’s words and the Dead’s lyrics, as this has been a topic of speculation and deduction for years.

But there is one song that I have never seen discussed, despite it having some very Westerosi imagery: “Uncle John’s Band,” the first track on the 1970 album Workingman’s Dead. 

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Now, unlike my theory that Arya’s story is directly lifted from the song “Dire Wolf,” this theory is slightly more half-baked, but not for lack of trying. “Uncle John’s Band” is a beautiful, lyrical song, simple in sound but complex with metaphor and references. As described by David Dodd in the “Greatest Stories Ever Told” series on dead.net, the song “carries within it enough room to consider the universe and our lives in the universe — it seems to be a universe itself.” Continue reading “Is There a Connection Between Bran Stark and “Uncle John’s Band”?”

How the Republican Establishment Has Become South Park’s Stan Marsh

Jeb(!) Bush recently made headlines by declaring he would not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, proclaiming “I cannot support his candidacy.” With this announcement, he has fallen into rank with Lindsay Graham, Mitt Romney, and the other two Presidential Bushes, in saying that he will not support either the Democrat or the Republican candidate for president in the 2016 election.

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Please clap, but don’t vote for Trump or Clinton.

And then there are the other Republicans, who have not necessarily said they won’t vote for either Trump or Clinton, but are not ready to accept that this is their option. Paul Ryan falls into this camp, as do many others throughout his party. Continue reading “How the Republican Establishment Has Become South Park’s Stan Marsh”

How the Republicans Have Become the Political Equivalent of Batman’s Villains

“This has never been about who the nominee is,” Paul Ryan said yesterday, explaining why his party will fight any Supreme Court justice nomination made by Barack Obama in 2016, and why they are specifically going to fight the nomination of Merrick Garland.

This, from a party ostensibly dedicated to the Constitution. This response to the President’s nomination has proved something: the Republicans have lost all sense of identity, becoming the contemporary political equivalent to the villains that Batman fights daily in the fictional Gotham City.

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From Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader by Neil Gaiman and and Andy Kubert.

How so? In Batman media – whether comic books, films, or television – there is a running theme that the Batman’s “rogues gallery” is defined only by being the yin to Batman’s yang.

Their ideals, their missions, their goals and visions are all ethereal, shifting, defined not by what they are but by what Batman is not: Continue reading “How the Republicans Have Become the Political Equivalent of Batman’s Villains”

Is the Scarecrow the Batman Villain Who Trump Resembles Most?

This is the second installment in an ongoing series of articles exploring which Batman character Donald Trump resembles most. You can read the first installment here, in which I explain the impetus for this series and compare Donald Trump to Oswald “the Penguin” Cobblepot.  Or if you’re interested in reading D. F. Lovett’s fiction, you can buy his books here.

Like many of Batman’s villains, The Scarecrow first appeared in the 1940s. His backstory has gone through some variations, but there are a few universal elements: his weapon is fear, he wears a Scarecrow mask, and he is a disgraced psychiatrist who worked at both Arkahm Asylum and Gotham University before his downfall into crime.

“I am fear incarnate.” – The Scarecrow in Batman: The Animated Series

Unlike most of Batman’s famous villains, Scarecrow had not been seen on film until the Christopher Nolan trilogy. Cillian Murphy portrays Jonathan “the Scarecrow” Crane in all three films, beginning with Batman Begins, in which Scarecrow works with Liam Neeson’s R’as al Ghul to poison Gotham with a weaponized hallucinogen.

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Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow in Batman Begins.

One’s first instinct is to think that Trump and Scarecrow are an odd comparison. Trump is a brutish bully with cash, while Scarecrow is a delicate intellectual with a mask. But they have one thing in common: fear.

Both men use fear as their key instrument.

The Scarecrow finds out what you fear, and uses it against you. He does this is many ways. One is to plunge the city into darkness. Another is to use various fear toxins, frightening people to death or leading them to believe that their worst fears are becoming reality.

“He preys on the innocent and instills them with fear. When I chose to wear my costume, it was to prey upon the criminals and instill them with fear.

The irony is not lost on me…”

-Batman, describing the Scarecrow, in Jeph Loeb’s “Fears” (1993).

Trump’s entire campaign is based around fear. He tells people to fear immigrants. Fear refugees. Fear Mexicans. Fear Muslims. Fear ISIS. Fear “The Establishment.” Fear liberals. Fear women.

You either cede power to him because you are afraid, or he is what you fear. Both men have legions working for them, ready to rabidly attacked the next enemy. Scarecrow scares his opponents into not even engaging in a fight, just like Trump’s ability to scare away opponents from taking him on.

Fear is a tool for manipulation in the hands of Scarecrow, just as it is for Trump. Their power grows as they use fear to turn people against one another. Continue reading “Is the Scarecrow the Batman Villain Who Trump Resembles Most?”