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”

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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?”

Please, No More Origin Stories of How Evil Villains Used to be Good Guys or Children

If you haven’t heard, the latest complete failure at the box office was the flaccid reboot Pan, an attempt to create a franchise out of the Peter Pan story by starting with Mr. Pan’s origin as a young boy on an adventure to Neverland. In which the villain is Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard and Peter’s best friend is a guy named James Hook.

Okay, Hugh Jackman. You're too good to keep playing Wolverine but you'll do THIS?
Okay, Hugh Jackman. You’re too good to keep playing Wolverine but you’ll do THIS?

That’s right: in the new version of Peter Pan that you didn’t see, Pete’s best friend is a young, two-handed, two-eyed Captain Hook in his pre-pirate days. Meaning that the narrative is an origin story that includes a tragic bromance in which we watch one of the central characters become a villain.

This is the exact reboot/origin story/cheesy narrative that we do not need. And it’s a strange trend, with examples including the Star Wars prequels, Wicked, and a variety of superhero films and television shows in which the villain first appears as a classmate, friend, or family member of the hero.

It’s redundant and unoriginal and redundant.

As stated above, there is very little original left in the idea of “let’s imagine what happened in the part of the story before what we’ve seen,” whether its Pre-Pan or Not-yet-sleeping Beauty. It would perhaps be more interesting if it wasn’t so common, but there’s no longer anything unique about the idea that “what if Poison Ivy was a little girl before she became a bad guy” or “guys, maybe the wicked witch wasn’t always wicked?”

It’s sad and disturbing, but not in a compelling way.

There’s something very sad about a narrative in which we see a kid become a villain. There’s a reason that no one has made a summer blockbuster about Adolf Hitler as a kind little boy who becomes corrupted by evil. It would be disturbing and awful and sad. Although, based on the trends, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone creates an gritty origin story in which Jesus of Nazareth and Pontius Pilate are classmates who fight a battle against Herod before Pontius becomes a villain and Jesus becomes a hero.

The only good example of this trope is Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot, because at no point is Michael Myers an innocent young boy awaiting corruption. He’s evil from the start, killing animals in his bedroom and classmates after school. This works because it’s an over-the-top absurd slasher film in which Zombie’s endgame is overwhelming the audience with a visceral, brutal experience.

Yes, I kinda liked Rob Zombie's Halloween.
Yes, I kinda liked Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

Other than that, this cheap trope of the eventual villain beginning as a child is too brutal for a children’s story and too obvious for adults. Even the Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogy was weakened by the hackneyed writing that turned James Franco from Peter Parker’s bff into Green Goblin Junior.

It paints the world in unrealistic terms.

Here is the narrative we’re given in this unneeded origin stories: “He was good, and then he became evil.” The one exception is probably that of Darth Vader, in which the narrative is “He was good, and then he became evil, but then he became good for a second right before he died and then he went to Star Wars Heaven.” Either way, it declares that the world is good guys and bad guys.

The worst part is that these narratives often pose as “darker interpretations” or act as if they’re asking poignant questions about morality and heroism, when really the only question they ask if “what’s an easy way to show a good person become a bad person?”

It eliminates suspense from the story.

“Oh, his name is James Hook? So what, he’s Captain Hook? Yep. Okay. Wait, I need to watch him become Captain Hook for the next two hours? Great. This is exciting and suspenseful.”

ivy
I wonder which Batman villain Ivy Pepper will grow up to be.

This is the trouble with prequels and origin stories. They’re often yawn-inducing, because we know exactly what’s going to happen. Even Better Call Saul, a show I kinda like that provides some good laughs, suffers from the flaw that it’s completely unnecessary and we know what the ending will be. I mean, the ending already exists. It’s called Breaking Bad.

With Pan, we have reached peek reboot. And it’s a good lesson for anyone who has plans for an upcoming reboot or origin story or prequel, whether it’s the Adventures of Young Jesus and Pontius described above or the inevitable Back to the Future reboot.

Let's hope that the Pepsi Perfect is just a fun thing that's happening, and not the first step of the Michael Bay reboot of BTTF.
Let’s hope that the appearance of Pepsi Perfect in real life (first seen in Back to the Future 2) is just a fun thing that’s happening, and not the first step of the Michael Bay reboot of BTTF.

There is only one way to make a reboot work now: you need to make anything possible. Don’t write the story into a corner in order to match the original plot points or the expectations that the audience has. Ensure suspense by making anything on the table. This is some work and some don’t. Batman Begins and its sequels gave us moments we’d never seen; Craig’s Casino Royale killed the villain and the love interest surprising, unexpected scenes; Man of Steel, on the other hand, failed because it opened with the exact same Superman origin story that we’d seen a million times, in which the baby Superman is put into a spaceship and sent from Krypton to Earth.

So, please, if you are currently hard at work on a gritty reboot in which we see a familiar villain begin life as an innocent, a hero, or a child: ask yourself if you are providing us with anything new and anything that anyone wants to see.

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”

Why Vin Diesel Should Be the Next James Bond

We are close to the end of what is, quite possibly, the greatest franchise ever: The Fast and the Furious films.  While I initially disliked these movies, (referring to the fifth installment, prior to actually seeing it, as “more-or-less the same shitty movie they made the last four times”), I had a change in opinion after seeing Fast Five.  Sure, I’m still uncomfortable being lumped into the same category as the kinds of people who choose to see films that are fast/furious, because I drive a station wagon and because I get the impression that many of the films’ fans (although, notably, not their creators) place a higher value on people driving fast cars quickly than they do on character development, realistic dialogue, or really any aspect of films other than cool shiny fancy cars.

But all of my arguments against the Fast/Furious Films are ultimately irrelevant because of one thing: they are very, very entertaining.

Furthermore, there is nothing pretentious or forced about these films.  In fact, they’ve been (rightfully) praised for their progressive approach to race and gender (you can find good articles on the genius and progressive attitude of these films here, here, and here, among many other places) .  The Fast/Furious films feature a variety of talented actors, brilliant cinematography, and clever, straight-forward, emotionally-driven plots on par with the original Die Hard.  Additionally, while most franchises lose steam after the second or third sequel, the Fast/Furious films have both maintained all the positives of their first installment (family drama, moral conflicts, cool cars) while continually diversifying and innovating (shifting emphasis from racing to heisting, adding talented actors such as Dwayne Johnson, Tony Jaa, and Jason Statham).  And yes, I have previously written about this shift in my perspective, in the post Why Bale should be in the “Fast Five” Sequel.

Unfortunately, it seems like that Fastest Seven is the end of the franchise.  Paul Walker’s death, along with the inevitable ending of all franchises, means that the Fast and the Furious cannot exist forever.

Similarly, Daniel Craig cannot be James Bond forever.

I'm not saying this guy isn't a great Bond.  He's a great Bond.  But change is inevitable.
I’m not saying this guy isn’t a great Bond. He’s a great Bond. But change is inevitable.

While, yes, Craig will portray Bond in 2015’s Spectre, it’s unlikely that he has too many good Bond films left in him.  Audiences grow bored, actors grow stale, and the dark-and-gritty-reboot seems to be on its way out.

The next step is simple: Vin Diesel as the first American James Bond.

See, he has worn a suit before.
Here he is, in a suit.  Is it that far of a stretch?

Continue reading “Why Vin Diesel Should Be the Next James Bond”

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”

Regarding The Dark Knight Rises

I may be going against the previous established theme of this blog by discussing a Christian Bale project that is actually happening, but it seems necessary to comment on the flurry of rumors regarding Joseph Gordon-Levitt potentially playing Alberto Falcone in The Dark Knight Rises.

This guy.This guy.  As a guy you haven’t heard of (pictured below)

For anyone who has either not read any Batman graphic novels penned by Jeph Loeb, or who has not paid attention to what the internet has been saying about Batman recently, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the guy from 10 Things I Hate about You, Third Rock from the Sun, 500 Days of Summer, and some other things that don’t have numbers in the name) may or may not be playing “the good son” of Carmine Falcone, the mob boss driven insane by Scarecrow’s poison gas in Batman Begins.  As “the good son” of a mob boss, that naturally means that Falcone, as penned by Loeb, went to Harvard, is a mixture of Fredo and Michael Corleone, is a Rhodes scholar, and is also a serial killer. Continue reading “Regarding The Dark Knight Rises”