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.

lego-batman
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”

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Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most? Part 6: The Conclusion

For the past several weeks, this blog has investigated which Batman character has the most in common with presidential candidate Donald Trump. We have considered five Batman villains thus far: Oswald “the Penguin” Cobblepot, Dr. Jonathan “the Scarecrow” Crane, Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, legendary villain the Joker, and the most recent of prominent Batman villains, Bane.

At this point, it is worth asking an important question: what should we do with this information? Why does it matter which character from Batman has the most in common with Trump?

But first: are there important Batman characters left to consider?

batman-villains
From “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader” by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert

How much does Donald Trump resemble Lex Luthor?

Lex Luthor, while predominantly a Superman character rather than one of Batman’s friends or foes, resembles Trump in two significant ways: a) he’s a billionaire who b) runs for president (and, frighteningly, is elected) in the DC universe.

lex-luthor-election
From Superman: Lex 2000

The two do share one other key characteristic: a hunger for power. However, Luthor is known for being two-faced, passing himself off as a thoughtful philanthropist (while secretly plotting and inventing.) As previously discussed in the Harvey Dent article, one of Trump’s traits, and potentially his only virtue, is that he is not duplicitous: he has repeatedly revealed his ugliness on the world stage. Continue reading “Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most? Part 6: The Conclusion”

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.

whatever-happened
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.

scarecrow
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?”

Is the Penguin the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?

There is perhaps no narrative referenced more in today’s pop culture than that of Batman. It makes sense: Batman is omnipresent. He first appeared in 1939, and has subsequently been in eight live action films, two live action television shows, countless animated films and television series, and thousands of comic books. The ninth and tenth live action films to feature Batman (and, of course, Bruce Wayne) are both to be released in 2016.

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The upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Metaphors are how we talk about things in America. We seek something we already know from history or literature or film and we apply it to what we see today. At the moment, we have a political candidate whose ego and campaign results in comparisons ranging from homegrown Americans like Andrew Jackson and George Wallace to contemporary European buffoons like Silvio Berlusconi. And, of course, Adolf Hitler.

When a narrative has become as firmly cemented in American experience as Batman, it’s no surprise that it’s a common and convenient place to turn when seeking metaphors for our current political atmosphere. Parallels have been drawn repeatedly between candidate Donald Trump and the cast of rogues and anti-heroes in Batman’s Gotham City. In August of 2015, Trump proclaimed himself Batman. A month earlier, The Economist had described Trump as resembling Heath Ledger’s the Joker in The Dark Knight, a metaphor found in various places and explored further on this blog. Recently, comparisons have bubbled up across the internet comparing Trump to The Penguin, often accompanied by the hashtag #MakeGothamGreatAgain.

Interested in reading fiction by D. F. Lovett, the author of this blog post? Check out his debut sci-fi novel here.

But who is Donald Trump? Does he resemble his fellow billionaire Bruce Wayne, or one of Batman’s malevolent foes? Is he one of the few heroes or the many villains that populate the fictional Gotham City? Is he the hero we deserve? The one we need?

Or is he our reckoning?

Let’s investigate, beginning with one of the most common comparisons I’ve seen since the beginning of Trump’s campaign: The Penguin.

“The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin in Batman Returns (1992)

Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot first appeared in issue #58 of Detective Comics, in which he hid a shotgun in his umbrella and pulled off a number of heists, initially unsuspected because of his bizarre appearance. Since then, he’s been portrayed by the cackling Burgess Meredith in the campy television series and film of the 1960s, by Danny DeVito in Tim Burton’s bizarre Batman Returns, and by Robin Lord Taylor in today’s Gotham television show.

The_Penguin_2
Oswald “the Penguin” Cobblepot, as portrayed by Burgess Meredith.

Each interpretation of the Penguin is slightly different, but some key elements are universal throughout his depictions.

The Penguin and Trump are both conventionally unattractive, with their appearance being a source for easy jokes.

The unpleasant appearances of Oswald Cobblepot and Donald Trump simultaneously inspire disgust and sympathy. They are vain men with repulsive physical appearances. The Penguin has deformed hands in many depictions, a small incapable body, and a twisted, ugly face. Continue reading “Is the Penguin the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?”

Why Ben Affleck could be the best Batman ever

People like to predict that Ben Affleck will fail as the Batfleck. But what this blog post presupposes is, maybe he won’t?

The fact is, Ben Affleck is a good actor who is actually positioned better than any of his predecessors in terms of his ability to play Batman. Here are some of the reasons why.

Chasing Amy

It’s easy to forget that Ben Affleck was in comic book movies when no one cared about comic books. He starred in several Kevin Smith films during the ’90s and ’00s in which the characters were either readers or writers of comics.

One of the moments from Affleck's early work in which he is literally surrounded by comic books.
One of the moments from Affleck’s early work in which he is literally surrounded by comic books.
This includes Affleck as Holden McNeil, a New Jersey comic book writer in Chasing Amy. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good reference point if you want to see that Affleck knows a thing or two about the comic book world. He also plays the villain in Mallrats, another comic-centric movie by Kevin Smith.

Continue reading “Why Ben Affleck could be the best Batman ever”

Why Tim Burton’s Batman is the Worst Batman Movie Ever

People are still complaining about the idea of Ben Affleck as Batman. But, based on the trailers alone, and a few released still images, it’s already obvious that, even at its worst, the new Batman and Superman movie can’t be worse than what has come before it. Batman has bottomed out plenty of times before, but nothing is worse than the 1989 feature film adaptation, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. It does not matter what Ben Affleck does or does not do. Nothing is worse than what has already happened.

Infinite hope.
Infinite hope.

Let’s look at why. Continue reading “Why Tim Burton’s Batman is the Worst Batman Movie Ever”

Reserving Judgments is a Matter of Infinite Hope: Regarding Batman, The Joker, and Their Fans

On the first page of The Great Gatsby, narrator Nick Carraway tells us about a piece of advice his father gave him: “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”  Carraway goes on to tell us that he attempts to reserve all judgments but that, unfortunately, “reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.”

It seems that infinite hope is what the world needs now, at least the world of fans who worry about their sacred heroes.  In a previous post, I complained about the legions of fans who cry out in either joy or dismay every time they hear a piece of news about a favorite franchise.  These days, much of the focus in on two upcoming projects: Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman, both films that take place in the new DC Cinematic Universe.  Suicide Squad features Jared Leto as the Joker, while BVS has Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne, who, as we all know, is Batman (and is now known as Batfleck).

Naturally, some people are very excited about these things, and others are upset.  You can see the reddit comments in the /r/batman subreddit, where apparently people can’t handle the idea of The Joker having tattoos.

This is the photo that got everyone all worked up.
This is the photo that got everyone all worked up.

Now, I’ll be honest: I don’t really think The Joker looks super cool.  Definitely not the way I would choose to portray him.  But you know what?  Every time I think that’s not what I would do, I remember that a) I thought Heath Ledger was a bad choice for The Joker, and b) when I saw the first teaser trailer for The Dark Knight, I thought it looked cheesy and that Ledger’s disembodied voice laughing didn’t really work. Continue reading “Reserving Judgments is a Matter of Infinite Hope: Regarding Batman, The Joker, and Their Fans”

What Ever Happened to Bruce Wayne?

Warning: Spoilers for all the Batman films, as well as a few Batman comics, abound in the following:

The most troubling element of the Dark Knight Trilogy (as it is now known) is that the entirety of Gotham City does not realize that Batman is Bruce Wayne.  Interestingly enough, a variety of characters figure it out throughout the film not because he tells them, but through deduction alone.

Consider that, by the end of the series, the following characters (approximately chronologically) know that Bruce Wayne and Batman are indeed the same person:

  • Ra’s Al Ghul
  • Alfred Pennyworth
  • Lucius Fox
  • Rachel Dawes
  • Coleman Reese (the accountant guy who tries to blackmail them)
  • John Blake
  • Selina Kyle
  • Bane
  • The entire League of Shadows
  • Commissioner James Gordon

These people fall into three categories: those who naturally know that Bruce is Batman because they watched him become Batman (i.e. Alfred, R’as, and Lucius), those who know he is Batman because he disclosed his identity (Rachel, Selina, and Gordon), and those who deduced it (Blake and Reese.)  Bane and the League of Shadows fall into the first category, as they know Bruce is Batman because he used to be one of them.

Continue reading “What Ever Happened to Bruce Wayne?”

Bruce Wayne’s Privilege, and the Realities of Batman Incorporated

A 26 year old impoverished Slovakian man named Zoltan Kohari lives in an abandoned building, wearing a Batman costume he made himself.  He hopes to help the police and recently was the subject of series of photos published by Reuters.

Police in Brazil have officially hired a 50 year old Batman impersonator to fight crime  and to serve as a figure of hope and justice, particularly for children in poor neighborhoods.

A street performer in Toronto walks around in a full Batman costume, shouting “WHERE ARE THEY?” at startled passersby.

Perhaps this is most reminiscent of the moment when Bruce Wayne told Alfred, “That’s not exactly what I had in mind when I said I wanted to inspire people” about the gun-carrying Batman copycats roaming Gotham in The Dark Knight.  Or maybe it closer parallels the efforts made by Bruce Wayne to franchise the Batman name and logo in the Batman Incorporated comics series.

Batman doesn’t use guns.

The question is, who can be Batman?  Is it only the wealthiest, the strongest, the smartest?  If those were the qualities required, surely it would not be any of the three men currently dressing as Batman.  Zoltan Kohari does not have the money, resources, or skills of the Wayne heir.  Andre Luiz Pinheiro does not have the youth (bringing up the obvious comparison to Frank Miller’s depiction of an aging Wayne) and, unlike Batman, he has the cooperation of the police. The Toronto Batman does not have any real drive beyond a sense of humor. Continue reading “Bruce Wayne’s Privilege, and the Realities of Batman Incorporated”