The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Why Can’t Superheroes Kill?

jessica jones

After watching Jessica Jones (friggin’ excellent by the way, but full of horror), this question has finally coagulated enough to bubble up to the surface of my brain. One of the basic tenets of the superhero, one that decisively divides them from the villain, is this: thou shalt not kill.

At least not intentionally and not mortal humans. Yes, there are exceptions: Superman killed Doomsday, Wolverine killed Jean Grey in X-Men 3, Silver Surfer allowed entire planets to be wiped out until he ‘converted’. There are characters who don’t follow the rules, like Deadpool and The Punisher, but they make it clear they are anti-heroes. They are bad guys fighting other bad guys.

And what are the rules? I can only assume they’re the unwritten laws of morality. Because as far as I know, no one gave Green Lantern an employee manual when he started. Spider-Man doesn’t make the little old lady sign a contract for services rendered when he returns her purse.

This all came up because one of the principal points of the show is that Jessica does not want to kill Kilgrave. Why? Because “that’s not what heroes do”. It’s not because she’s afraid of prison — at one point, she’s ready to reveal her powers and get sent to a supermax prison. She has a history as a costumed vigilante (although that’s never shown), so I can only presume this comes from those lingering morals.

But the thing is, Kilgrave is not a person who can be shackled by a normal human prison or justice system. He can make people do whatever they want just by talking to them. There is no limit to what he could do – assassinate the president, launch nuclear weapons, enslave a population. He cannot be made to do anything against his will. The only way to stop him would be to kill him.

At one point, Kilgrave has Hope Schlottman, the person Jessica’s been trying to save since Episode 1, with him in an abandoned bar. Plus, there are three innocent people poised to step off a bar and hang themselves if Jessica tries anything funny. Hope chooses to stab herself in the throat, removing herself from the equation, so that Jessica stops holding back. That’s the point Jessica decides to throw away her code of honor. And I’m wondering why she didn’t do that in the first place? Why did it take such a high body count to change her mind?

Before this, Jessica’s made failed attempts at subduing Kilgrave. Ultimately, she manages to knock him out and take him to a glass-walled single-cell vault constructed just for him. She’s going to make him confess to his crimes, therefore verifying the existence of mind control (which she cannot otherwise prove), so he can be tried in court. Of course, this fails, and in the end, she does away with him with a neck snap.

So all that brings me to this point – what took her so long? Was it worth all the death and destruction while trying to capture him. From the first moment she had him, she could have injected him with cyanide. Five episodes and done.

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought of this – the number of times Joker has escaped stagger me. Batman has some idea that if he kills the Joker, that means the villain wins. Does that make sense? Especially given all the deaths and damage caused when Joker escapes AND his subsequent scheme. Can’t he see the pattern repeating?*.

*This is all presuming Batman’s the only force capable of arresting the Joker and that the Gotham police force is incapable of taking him down, which it is. It’s more expensive to create an underground prison made of plastic than to simply destroy Magneto.

So I guess the big issue is using human justice for superhumans. I know it’s a convention of the medium that old villains keep coming back, but come on. Maybe the Negative Zone and the Phantom Zone had the right idea — they’re the only way to contain divine powers like that.

Yes, I know there are writing reasons for this. But when Arkham Asylum becomes a revolving door, that decreases plausibility. And it makes you realize your noble heroes are acting stupidly, staunchly adhering to beliefs like a religious zealot. Superman knows Lex Luthor is capable of defeating prison systems. Isn’t it worth fudging a little bit of your moral code to permanently deal with a persistent problem? Why can you not be a hero if you kill someone? Doesn’t it make you just as guilty if you don’t?

Let’s Laugh at the Guy Who Doesn’t Know Marvel Comics (Part 1)

marvel logo

I’m not that really that old, but I am out of touch. I only just recently read Batman: Hush and Transmetropolitan. I’m trying to catch up on my comic stuff, but there’s a long way to go.

I saw Lego Marvel Super Heroes played on Co-Optitude and thought, goddamn I’d love to play that game. I’d finished Lego Lord of the Rings with 100% completion and it was a blast. So when I found it on the Summer Steam Sale, I bought it right away. Like in LOTR, there are a ton of unlockable characters. Unlike LOTR, they are a lot more varied. More than just orcs and “weary Frodo”. The Marvel Universe has a huge cast of characters. Here’s as much as I know about them.

A.I.M. Agent

This is when Marty McFly dresses up as “Darth Vader, the extra-terrestrial from Planet Vulcan”. I think he’s some sort of bad guy, given that he keeps shooting at me. But I’m not sure what department he works for or who’s his arch-nemesis. I cannot remember what A.I.M. stands for. He’s yellow… oh, I know. Duh.

He’s the old AIM logo guy.

Abomination

Hulk’s arch-nemesis. Made of more sewage-y green stuff, but seems to have better control of his senses. I have no idea what his ultimate goal is or where he came from, but I bet it involves world domination. I think he used to be a mercenary, but he drank some brown gunk and became this. I really hope is wasn’t Hulk’s poop.

austin powers mustache nutty
“It’s a bit nutty.”

And I have no idea what’s up with that teddy bear. Maybe he borrowed it from Shadowman.

Absorbing Man

I don’t know what he’s supposed to absorb, because I pushed all the buttons around everything, including all the superheroes, and he didn’t change. He’s a half naked man who swings a ball and chain around. Maybe he’s a metaphor for something. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s either an X-Men enemy or Deadpool enemy. Seems goofy looking enough for the early era.

Agent Coulson

This is Nick Fury’s number one guy. He’s the baseball scout for new superheroes and keeping things under control. Works with the B-siders, but loves Captain America, even though he must have been born twenty years after his heyday. Has his own TV show, but I don’t watch it, although it involves a named car. Possibly like Knight Rider. Likes smoothies, big guns, and giving you hints you already know. Yes, Phil, I know I need Hulk for those giant green glowing handles. I’ve only done it a hundred times already.

Aldrich Killian

Val Kilmer with AIDS (as far as I can tell with Iron Man 3). I think he had some disease, but was then cured by his own drug, which will either give you super-regenerating lava/fire powers or turn you into extra crispy ribs. And I think he’s angry at Iron Man because he wouldn’t go into business with him. Should know better — Tony works in tech, not prescription drugs.

Ant-Man

Uh, a very, very tiny man. He can grow and shrink at will, and this helps him get into lab rat mazes that someone has left throughout New York City. When he concentrates, he can summon really really gross bugs to attack his enemies and explode them. Avoid at all costs.

Archangel

He’s the flying guy from X-Men 3, but, somehow turned into a cyborg. Or at least with metal feathers. He can shoot those metal feathers at people, and can fly, ignoring basic principles of physics. I mean, we’re supposed to believe that his flight is entirely powered by his wings, ignoring the fact of birds’ hollow bones or wing shape. Ostriches and penguins can’t fly because they’re just too heavy, how is a person going to do it? Superman is more plausible. I do like that move where he flies the guy up and slams them down.

Armin Zola

I have no idea. In the Captain America movies, he’s the guy who looks like Major Toht’s little brother. But in the game, he looks like bootleg Krang. Or a robot with a TV in his stomach. Or Ring Man.

Whatever he is, he needs a color scheme change, because he couldn’t look more like a fifties robot if he tried.

Aunt May

Whoo! Go, old lady! Aunt May is Spider-Man’s mother figure who’s played by either a Jessica Tandy stand-in or my mom Sally Field. This appears to be the Jessica Tandy version. She can hit people with her bag, and if you team her up with Stan Lee, you can make it look like Bonnie and Clyde going on a rampage in NYC.

Beast

The X-men’s super-smart scientist who was used to be a talk-show psychologist living in Seattle. He was originally mostly human except for big feet and long limbs. But then he wanted to get with Katniss/Mystique so he tried drinking an experimental serum and his mutation got worse. As far as playability, he’s decent enough. I wish he played a bigger role in the game. But you’ll never use him, because Wolverine is closer/more noticeable. Even though he’s got everything Wolverine has plus Smarts.

The Books I Read: May – June 2014

bookshelf books

vN by Madeline Ashby

In the first chapter, a five-year-old child robot eats her estranged grandmother, python-style, and goes from kindergartner to adult in an instant from the additional biomass.

Good opening, and there are some interesting WTF circumstances (like robots were created to fill out the Earth after the rapture) but the rest stagnates. Once again, it’s a book where the robots don’t act like robots. They act like people. The only difference is they know they were artificially created. But other than that, they eat, they fall in love, they procreate. You can’t tell the difference. The interesting things are just background — they don’t come into play with the plot and don’t even make plausible sense in the scheme of the world.

The story is about programming as parenting. The problem is it felt more like a summer blockbuster action piece with chase sequences and romances that don’t blossom until the end, and for me, those just don’t work in a book format. It was a sludge to get through. It’s a promising idea, and it does use some tropes like the existence of smart “gray goo” and robots in/as families in new ways. I can see this appealing to those few who liked A.I. and Brazil.

Finding Laura Buggs by Stanley Gordon West

This is a YA historical fiction novel, a rare breed. It takes place in 1950’s Minnesota, the time when all those MST3K shorts and movies take place. The main plot is about a high school senior who just found out she’s adopted (really a black market baby) and wants to find her birth parents. I don’t know why any adopted kid would want to do that because there’s no way it won’t be a disappointment (there’s a reason they were given up), but I’m not adopted so I can’t say. Maybe I’m just made it’s a common plot catalyst. In between sleuthings, she visits an old folks home, goes out with her friends doing things you saw in American Graffiti, laments about the effects of war, and generally putzes around.

I feel like the story did a lot of pandering to Minnesota native. It makes sure to mention that it’s the Snelling streetcar, not just the streetcar that everyone knows and no one needs to mention by name. Also, it takes a long time to get events moving. The first third of the novel, Laura Buggs is trying to get info out of the ninety-year-old lawyer that served as the intermediary. After this she learns that old people are actually kind of cool, like in Recess episode 112 (57a).

On the other hand, it also made me wish I was there, eating chocolate malts and riding streetcars without parents to helicopter. It’s an enjoyable read, but I don’t feel particularly satisfied after it. There’s a real disconnect between the happy optimism of the first 75% and the whip-turn ending. I think it’s audience is more for Minnesota senior citizens who will appreciate the old times and a good mystery.

Kendra by Coe Booth

In the ghetto, if a boy does anal sex on you, it means he’s ready for a relationship.

This feels like Pride and Prejudice in the PJ’s. This was another of John Green’s recommendations of great books that aren’t bestsellers, but I’m not sure what he found in this one. It reads like a generic YA romance but with the trappings of so many early 90’s “gangsta” movies. Kind of. The main conflict is that Kendra’s mother is back after her post-graduate degree, and Kendra’s hoping she’ll finally take her away from the neighborhood and the strict-ass grandmother who’s been raising her for sixteen years.

But the bigger crux of the book is her boy crushes and her sexually acting out as a result of this negligence. Kendra’s better than that, but the past is repeating herself as she waffles between the nice guy and the bad boy player, as cliche dictates. Of course, as far as generic YA romance goes, it ends there. Kendra pulls away from sex with the bad boy at the last second, cautious of losing her virginity (for disciplinary and moral reasons). He doesn’t force himself or respect her wishes or grow resentful — he’s “going to need something”. That devolves into booty calls in the closet after school leading to the butt sex so she can remain “chaste”.

And after all that, the fudge packer confesses affectionate feelings for her. And they start going out together. Is this a realistic scenario? Yes. Maturity rides up fast in risky situations. Does it send a good message to American youth? No, it does not. I’m not going to say that a writer can’t write what he/she wants, but I’m a believer that books “teach you that dragons can be killed”. This moral seems to be, if you give up the rough enough, love is just around the corner.

The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff

The most John Greeny of the John Green recommendations that I’ve gone through so far. It seems like the subject manner is mild-mannered, but in fact, it’s awfully intense. To the point where I wanted to reach through the book and strangle some characters.

It takes place in the 70’s-80’s, following a young Jewish boy, the middle child in a very Jewish family, growing from kid to adult. His father is some kind of theater-director/entertainer and his mother is/was a SAHM until she wants to go to college. And there’s an older brother who’s his best buddy, but grows more rebellious and treats him like an older brother does. Kinda like The Wonder Years without the Vietnam backdrop.

But the big character is the father — the overbearing, Woody Allen-loving, temper-tantrum-having, overall-horrible human being father. Example: the very first scene is a moving-in party, where he drags every member of his family out in front of everyone for huge embarrassing introductions, like singing and dancing monkeys, showing them off like part of an act. Example: his son has a learning disability, but the father won’t accept that his son just isn’t trying hard enough. He sings praises of him to other people, but when the doors are closed, he rants and raves like a sarcastic, insulting baby. His father goes ballistic as the son keeps screwing up the Bar Mitzvah thank you cards with each try, because of the pressure. This causes an intense blow-up in the middle of the book where the father finally gets some people standing up to him.

The back of the book makes it seems like a dramedy, like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. It’s not. It’s about a dysfunctional family, and a mentally abusive father, combined with some coming-of-age and Jewish themes. It’s better than just “drunk dad beats his kid” a la Radio Flyer.

The End Games by T. Michael Martin

This is the book with the “Everything not saved will be lost — Nintendo message” epigraph. It sounded promising, but did not deliver. The beginning was better than anything after it. Then it just becomes typical zombie story with typical “humans are the real enemy” plot. The characters are stock zombie tropes.

It’s about a teenager and his little brother trying to survive the apocalypse. But the teenager has to frame the experience as a game, because the little brother is only five and will freak out if he thinks his life is in danger. Their goal to find their mother fades away after you get through the first act. On one hand, it’s nice to have the caretaker relationship between brothers. On the other hand, the book is mostly about survival, not plot points, like The Boy at the End of the World.

I was hoping the video game metaphor extended through the book, but it doesn’t. It acts more as a hook, and becomes weedy partway through. The book is really just a horror novel.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan

I don’t usually include comic books/graphic novels in these reviews, but I’m trying to catch up in this scene, and there’s a lot of good stuff I missed. This is one of them.

It’s an apocalypse scenario, not superheroes or science fiction. Simply put, all the men on Earth suddenly die, except for one. What happens next is so intriguing as he travels the world and sees how it copes. Simply put, it’s not all nurturing and caring. If men disappeared, the world would not become a haven. You still deal with Mad Max biker gangs, religious zealots, and desperate civilians.

I love this story. It’s heart-wrenching and realistic. It has characters, it has plot points. It doesn’t answer all the questions. It’s not about finding the goal, it’s about the journey to it, and what’s learned along the way. It’s about gender dynamics and group politics and what people do when their backs are against the wall, and the best thing of all — people solve things through cleverness and determination, not brute force.

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome by John Scalzi

Scalzi released this as a companion novella to his upcoming book. You can buy it for a few dollars from Amazon or Nook or get it from Tor.com for free, which I did.

It’s not so much a piece of fiction as a simple timeline of the backstory up to when I presume Lock In starts. It’s kinda dry. It feels more interested in imparting information than creating a story or memorable characters. Like Scalzi took his story bible and turned it into a novella. Which I don’t blame him for — I’d do the same thing. Good promotional material.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how necessary it is to read this if you plan to read Lock In. Scalzi says it isn’t, but it feels like there’s a lot of key details in this that lead up to something. But that something (people being able to enter others’ bodies and control them) may or may not be relevant. On its own though, it feels skippable.

Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody

Hmph, another book with a Minnesota setting. A vastly different subject matter, but still…

Diablo Cody (the person who wrote Juno and fine-tuned The Evil Dead remake) displays her humble beginnings with a memoir of her experience as an outsider in the live-action sex industry. I’ve read books from people inside, but they’ve grown bitter and resentful of the field. I read those as research for Black Hole Son, but I should have read this one first. I was afraid it would be too perky and positive, and I wanted gritty.

But this book is neither, it’s somewhere in-between. She writes with the same style in Juno, meaning quirky, creative metaphors that take sixty words to illustrate. I’ve never had to use my eReader’s dictionary function so much. Half the content is similes about her situation. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them, but at a certain point, it’s ridiculous. But damned if it doesn’t get the point across in an entertaining way.

Some people criticized her for being too filthy or see the book as validation for her career choice. I don’t. I found it page-turning, and more informative than the other stripper books I’ve read (there seems to be an astonishing lack of good books about the sex industry). I know she didn’t become a stripper so she could write a book, but her motivations seem a little ambiguous. Still, she proves that she’s more together than lots of the other working girls.

I liked how she was able to examine differences at each kind of strip club, from high end to low end to sex store peep shows. And she talks about the girls she met, the boredom and thrills, and how her personal life affected her stripper life. It’s not strictly anthropological. It’s a little more like a LiveJournal made into a book. It’s sharp and witty, and even without the Minnesota ties I recognized, I would have enjoyed it. It reminds me of pre-Lena Dunham.

Vegan Vampire Vaginas by Wol-vriey
(unfinished)

The biggest problem with this book is that it’s more about the sex than the story. It has bizarro elements, but really it’s just sex. Sex, sex, sex. Mostly bizarre sex — transsexual sex, vagina in a hand, living dildos. The plot stops as it takes multiple chapters to describe everyone’s sex life between days. If you’re into that, fine. It’s not the sex that bothers me — I’m a hard man to offend — but it has nothing to do with the story. Nothing moves forward.

Besides that, the characters don’t have distinguishable personalities. I can’t tell one name from the other. They play roles, not personalities. It’s like character soup, so it’s hard to figure out who wants what and where the story is going.

It’s like a portal fantasy, but I’m never quite sure of what the goal is supposed to be. For example, the main character is brought to the king because he (or his other personality, I dunno) knows where some stolen gold is. But the first thing they ask the truth-telling vagina-in-the-hand has nothing to do with this. It’s not lazily written, but it seems the plot is missing fundamentals of story-telling – characterization of the lead, character wants something, goes through obstacles to get it.

The Hot Girls You Don’t Know About: Starfire

starfire logo

It’s official, I’m in love with Starfire. Not the one from the comics. Not the adult one who got wrenched into a sex object, revamped into a tiny costume and huge tracts of land.

Yeah, not that one. The one from the Teen Titans cartoon.

That’s right. The cute redhead with bangs and a more (although not that much more) modest outfit. She reminds me a little of Gadget. She’s adorkable, but where Gadget is a scatterbrained mechanic, Starfire is an alien. She mixes words up, she drinks mustard, she has a native language that sounds like Dr. Seuss wrote it. She’s just so darn cute. Out of all of them, she resembles the scatterbrained anime girl the most. I can see why Robin is in love with her.

Robin Starfire teen titans go
Strange… her uniform in the XD Teen Titans Go! is more conservative.

I think it’s just me, but one of the archetypes I often fall for is the naïve newcomer. But don’t mistake being naive for stupid. She’s remarkably perceptive. And as faithful and loyal as a puppy. And this works both ways. Mess with her friends and she goes BSOD, but it also means she’s unwilling to fight Robin when he goes to the dark side.

Where most science fiction shows use “the other” as a medium to analyze the human condition (Star Trek, for example), Starfire embraces both her old and new world. She often tries to encourage her teammates to celebrate her Tamaranian holidays or foods (often for comical effect), but she’s always willing to learn about Earth customs.

She wants to be friends with everyone. In fact, there’s an episode where she goes forward in time twenty years and sees that the other Teen Titans have separated and gone dark. I never expected her to be the tie that bound them all together. It seems like it’s either “The Beast Boy & Cyborg Show” or “Robin is a Dick”.

My biggest problem with her is the ambiguity of her powers. She doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses. She can fire starbolts all day long. Even from her eyes, which makes most restraints useless. She can fly, like Raven, so ground-based enemies are matchless. She has superior strength to Cyborg. It makes me wonder why she needs her teammates, except companionship or guidance. It’s not like her alien origin makes much of a difference during battles. Remind me why Slade was such a problem again? He was just an army dude with a sword and one eye. I may have to watch that one again to see what the problem was.

But Starfire’s a good character. One of the female superheroes that deserves more attention, thanks to the animated show.

Sexy Batman Villains

poison ivy harley quinn catwoman

I’ve been looking for porn about thinking about Poison Ivy, the Batman villain. She’s a good character, but for being a plant-woman, she sure exudes sexuality. In fact, that got me thinking about all the Batman villains, especially the difference between the guys and the girls.

I love Batman’s villains because they all represent fractured psyches of the hero. Unlike just about any other comic book villain who are just about power, revenge, or greed. Enemies like the Joker represent chaos opposed to Batman’s order. Bane is what happens when you have too much power. Two-Face is the double identity getting away from you. Scarecrow is fear (which Batman uses for good, but it’s a double-edged sword). Riddler represents obsession. The Penguin represents… uh, deformity? Indulgence? Umbrellas? I’ll get back to you on that one. Anyway, my point is the men are pretty diverse, all shapes and sizes.

The girls all represent some fractured psyche as well. Poison Ivy is the repressed schoolgirl becoming liberated. Catwoman is Batman’s intellectual equal in the criminal world (bat rhymes with cat, you know). Harley Quinn is the female side of Joker’s dementia, forever victim to his whims. Problem is, they’re also all sex objects.

batman arkham city catwoman
This is Catwoman’s slide in Batman: Arkham City, where Batman has a practical feet-first soccer sweep.

They didn’t start that way, but they’ve gotten way worse, and I don’t like it. I can’t find one picture Poison Ivy without her titties bouncing out as big as pumpkins. I don’t know, maybe it’s part of her character, something about flowers and vaginas. But all the others are the same way too. Harley Quinn is a Lolita — pigtails and a gymnast’s body with a skin-tight suit. Plus it’s implied that she has a sexual relationship with Joker. Catwoman is the Lois Lane — regular-sized, regular hair, regular boobs. The problem is she always wears skin-tight leather, carries a whip, and is constantly making innuendos.

batman arkham city catwoman
You know it’s always snowing in Arkham City, right?

The sad part (not the saddest part, I’ll get to that) is that they didn’t always used to be that way. Poison Ivy used to be just a seductress. Then she became an eco-terrorist, then a mad scientist. Then her storyline changed to her having the ability to create and resist poisons, then she could control plants a la Swamp Thing. The only thing she wears is a few conveniently placed leaves. Harley Quinn started on a children’s cartoon show. And Catwoman didn’t even wear a costume.

catwoman first appearance comic
Catwoman’s first appearance

But somehow, over the years, each of these characters went from being respectable to downright whorish. Catwoman went from Jean Harlow wearing a long purple dress to Michelle Pfeiffer’s S & M fantasy. Harley Quinn went from comic relief to pedophile fodder. And Poison Ivy’s just a porn actress now.

batman harley quinn arkham city
Harley’s outfit in Arkham City.  Somewhat different from her original incarnation.

The saddest part is that these three are about it. There are no other female villains in the Batman universe. And actually there aren’t that many females period in the Batman universe. Oracle/Batgirl and Vicki Vale and that’s it.

batman poison ivy comic
Poison Ivy’s first look

Make no mistake. Batman is a male power fantasy so this is not unexpected. Ridiculous, but not unexpected. You don’t need to make women into strippers to retain interest. In fact, it becomes implausible to have a cat burglar with her jacket halfway unzipped, or someone whose breasts are too big for her prison shirt to be closed.

poison ivy arkham city
Seriously, they let her get away with this outfit in Arkham Asylum?  Or maybe she needs skin exposed for photosynthesis.

In fact, I think of all the superheroes, he might be the most “Republican-like”. And I don’t enjoy saying that. But he’s a multi-billionaire philanthropist who inherited his money. For all intents and purposes, there’s no way he could maintain his lifestyle and business and should have had his identity uncovered a long time ago (but again, fantasy). He has power and women, but a chip on his shoulder from mom and dad, and he’s always trying to redeem himself for them.

batman dark knight rises costume
The Dark Knight Returns had a significant poor vs. rich arc.

Most of his adventures don’t focus so much on saving the victim as catching the criminal. His enemies are extremist in character and represent chaos, power, and liberation. Not often greed or revenge. Batman is always trying to put things back the way they were. Victims tend to be faceless (and there’s a few storylines where this is one of the messages) and the criminal is never ambiguous. It’s always quite clear that they’re doing bad.

Personally, I’d want to see a superhero who deals with those less ambiguous guys (people who interfere with legal abortion clinics, people on Ashley-Madison, obviously corrupt politicians who game the system, sexual predators who slip through the cracks). That’s what I wanted the Supergirl movie to have. That’s what superheroes are meant for — saving people when the system fails.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my torrent is done.

UPDATE: I totally forgot about Talia al Ghul for some reason. Idiot. She’s kind of a clone of Catwoman anyway: antiheroine/villain, off-again, on-again romance with Batman, and always wearing skin-tight leather.

Talia Al Ghul Batman comics
Ninja boobies!

How I Would Write a Supergirl Movie

supergirls

A few nights ago I foolishly kept myself up late in bed, thinking of how I would write a Supergirl movie.  I’ve already talked about how Supergirl is an interesting character, and I believe, unlike Wonder Woman, she’s got a lot of story potential.  Certainly more than Superman, who’s a bland, God-like, force of nature with no personality, no weaknesses, and nothing to lose.

The unfortunate part is that most Supergirl’s vulnerabilities extend from being a “kept” woman.  In the comic books, most of her storyline conflicts are about keeping her identity secret.  At least in the silver age.  Superman’s got the same problem but her’s are a little more crucial because she’s “forbidden” from doing any active superheroing.  By Superman (fuck that guy).

Then Supergirl’s origins changed dramatically, but to the point where she wasn’t really Supergirl anymore.  She was Matrix or Power Girl or something.  Supergirl’s best place is as Superman’s female counterpart, so how do you do that without writing Superman with boobs?

Step the First: The Themes

Maybe I’m wrong for starting with this, as good writers say that themes develop from story, not the other way around.  But it’s so easy to fall into trappings of bygone days that you need some ground rules before you start forming a story, because it is so easy to make a terrible female superhero.  Movies need to be about something.  The trick is to stay conservative with the themes, not go heavy-handed, and know what to avoid.

What you need to avoid is making Supergirl a strong, independent warrior woman.  Supergirl is not Red Sonja or Lara Croft or She-Ra.  She’s not too aloof or “masculine” to form social relationships (see my evaluation of Emma in “Once Upon a Time”).  It’s an overused stereotype and it’s boring.

Nor is she a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, because she’s a naive alien (more on the alien thing in a bit).  The movie made her this effervescent Madonna, wide-eyed and flowery, like Alice in Wonderland.  Problem: Alice is a wimp.  She’s not proactive, she’s reactive.  And what we really care about is the setting — the funny things happening around her.  I don’t give a shit if she gets out of Wonderland (in fact, I’d prefer if she didn’t, so more wackiness can ensue).  Alice in Wonderland does not fit with a noble warrior persona.  You can’t force one story into something so totally different in genre and spirit.  That’s like forcing A Tale of Two Cities into Batman.  Wait a minute…

Buffy might be a good place to start.  But Buffy has it’s flaws too — she may be the valley girl suddenly granted the power to beat the nasty back, but she’s still a valley girl.  Arya Stark might be a good model too.  The key here is that I want Supergirl to be a role model that girls can look up to, not some sex fantasy like Starfire.  She’s the one that inspires women to stand up to the bullies, fight the system.  Women need all the role models they can get.  We’re living in a world where our national leaders forbid you from saying the word “vagina” and believe the female body can detect rape and “shut down”.

I swear, I’m going somewhere with this.  I want to make sure that Supergirl is not portrayed as “female Superman”.  Nor as a Superman substitute.  Nor as a sex object and nor as an idiot.  I want to be sure she’s her own person, with personality traits and character.  Distinct like Iron Man or Wolverine or Robin.  She has friends, she has likes and dislikes, she has problems, she has opinions.  She should be a protagonist.  Protagonists start from one point and change by the end.  And from what point do we start?

Step the Second: The Origin Story

Every good hero has a good origin story that involves crisis of character.  Most superhero movies are origin stories, because that vehicle has the most character development and struggle.  This one should be no different.  You could start Supergirl totally different — it is a reboot after all.  But I’d keep her traditional take-off — living on a chunk of Krypton floating in space after the planet was destroyed.  It’s a little bizarre, but so is heat vision and freeze breath if you think about it.

Now obviously, we should use this opportunity to show Kryptonian lifestyle.  Ask any joe on the street, he can’t tell you a thing about Krypton, besides they used a lot of crystals and wobbly hula hoops instead of handcuffs.  It’s also important because without context or foundation for Supergirl’s former life, everything else falls flat.  It certainly falls flat for Superman.

How do we get the plot moving?  In the movie, the bubble city suddenly explodes because of… reasons.  I say this is an excellent opportunity to bring in our villain.  A good villain is intrinsically tied to the hero.  Joker and Batman, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, Sarah Connor and the Terminator, Cloud and Sephiroth.  Seems a no-brainer to make the villain the person who A) starts the plot B) is attached in some way to Supergirl.

Now we come to a problem.  When Superman plops to Earth, he’s a baby.  His parents have some difficulty raising a toddler that can raise them (pun!), but they manage with good, wholesome American values.  Supergirl won’t have that.

Supergirl is going to be a teenager ripped away from her home, ending up on a strange planet where no one can communicate with her (come on, you think they speak English on Krypton?).  She’s going to be really confused, really scared, and really not in control of her powers.  She’s going to scramble and run away from the scary people who speak in pops and clicks.  She might end up hurting people in the process.  She doesn’t know she can fly or how to fly.  She might run away, then start floating and panic.

Somehow, she’s got to get stopped, probably by accident (a la Cars) since no one’s going to have kryptonite handy.  I imagine that she’s eventually brought inside, maybe by a woman who appeals to her with chocolate chip cookies (they don’t have those on Krypton).  Smash cut to her in the kitchen table, intensely studying an abridged dictionary (and eating a plateful of chocolate chip cookies).  That’s how she learns the language.  I figure she can do that in a night — she’s part of advanced alien race.

After that, I’m not sure.  Who takes care of her?  In the comics, I think she’s in an orphanage.  Maybe she gets adopted?  Maybe the head of the orphanage is one of the villains, who sees her as a potential opportunity to seize power (kinda like Hugo Strange).  He coerces her to keep her power secret.  That’s a bit cliche, but I’m brainstorming here.  And through all this, when and what happens when she sees Superman and says “hey, that guy’s like me!”

Step the Third: The Villain

Two key items here.  One, Supergirl and the villain have to know each other.  They have to have a personal relationship on some level (or they get to over the course of the story).  I hate Lex Luthor as a villain — he’s such a clown.  And if you have an “out-there” villain like in Green Lantern, it falls flat.  There’s nothing personally at stake for the hero.  It should be someone Supergirl knows and knows well.  Someone she has to stop to save both the planet and herself.

Second key item, the villain has to tie into the themes of the movie.  All stories are about overcoming something, and most superhero stories fit a mold of overcoming an intelligent force representing that thing.  Joker represents Batman’s possible craziness or the element of chaos while Batman is order.  Darth Vader is about the guy who took the wrong path, and the hero’s possible fate the same way.

I don’t care who it is.  It could be her former fiancee.  Could be her extremist sister who blew up the city to get Kryptonians moving towards progress again (you tend to stagnate when you’re just a city).  Maybe it’s the Hugo Strange pastiche who got too much power and became dictatorial over everyone (good for a “war on women” expy).  Could be someone from Earth who’s working to exploit Supergirl (a la The Powerpuff Girls Movie).  There’s lots of good possibilities.

It’s not a fucking witch.  It’s not a manly-man who wants her for his bride.  It’s not some generic sicko who licks her cheek and tells her she smells like strawberries.

Step the Fourth: Supergirl’s Character Development

This will be a big section, because when you’re talking about character development, you’re pretty much talking about the whole rest of the movie.  So I’ll condense to bullet points.  Large ones, albeit.

· Supergirl is an alien.  There’s a fundamental difference between Superman and Supergirl that never gets exploited — Superman was raised on Earth, so he’s basically a human with super powers.  Kara Zor-El spent her primary developmental years on Krypton.  And if you change that up while she’s still growing as a person, you can have a lot of conflict.  But you don’t want her too young, or you just fall into cloning the Superman story again.  Thirteen or so is a good age, I think.  That way, when she grows up she’s not completely clueless about Earth, but she’s still an outsider.

This gives us a great opportunity for some humor, something sorely lacking from most female-audience movies, and certainly female superhero movies.  You could have lines like:

SUPERGIRL opens a closet and sees a enough shoes to make Carrie Bradshaw jealous.
SUPERGIRL
Why do you need so many shoes?  You only have one pair of feet.
ROOMMATE
You really ARE an alien, aren’t you?

· That brings up supporting characters.  I’m thinking about some kind of roommate or casual friend, like Batman has Alfred, but in an equal position.  A foil, someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, a shoulder to cry on.  Most studios are going to want to give her some kind of boyfriend/romantic interest, but I’m REALLY hesitant about that.  Cause then you’re in Wonder Woman territory, where she can lift a plane, but still depends on some man to validate her existence.  That’s the OPPOSITE of what I want Supergirl, or any girl hero, to be.  But I guess Superman has his Lois Lane.  Iron Man has his Pepper Potts.

· No fucking kryptonite.  It was a cop-out then, it’s a cop-out now.

· No rape scene.  I bet anything the studios would want to add some kind of scene where she’s sexually assaulted to add edginess or tension.  I want to take sexuality out of this.  There’s too many female superheroes who are just sex fantasies in the first place.  And there’s no more cliche or overused way to show that a strong woman is vulnerable than raping her.  No.  No.  No.  That’s lazy, that’s not creative, it’s been done to death.  Find another way. (See Seanan McGuire’s statement about it).

· Superman has a fortress of solitude, way up in the frozen north, containing nothing but trophies and robot butlers.  Do you think that’s the kind of place a girl would want to be?  It’s the ultimate man cave.  Supergirl would want to be around people.  Moreso because she’s a stranger in a strange land.  Supergirl is an allegory for going to college — she has to adapt, she has to make new friends, she has to fit in.  And there’ll be stumbling blocks along the way.

· Speaking of Superman, have her interact with him.  In Supergirl stories, you rarely see them together and they’re the last two people of their kind!  And they’re cousins!  Yet she’s always Superman’s back-up, or his “secret weapon”.  I say fuck that: let her get down and dirty with the bad guys.  There’s no reason to let her tinker around with college when she can blast an aircraft carrier in two.  The problem is that “cousins” have such an ambiguously defined relationship.  Do they have a father-daughter thing?  Is he a brother figure?  Are they fucking? (They are only two of their species, after all.)  Superman should act as her mentor — advising her on her secret identity, how to blend in, the code of conduct.

· Costuming: It’s quite possible to be sexy without being all thrusting boobs and rubbery butt.  Look at this cover for Jim C. Hines’s Codex Reborn.

She’s not twisted in some geometric shape.  Her clothes aren’t stretched, tattered, or contain less than .05 square inches of fabric.  In fact, I’d say go further than this — don’t show any midriff at all.  No need to make women feel terrible about their bodies.  I might keep the skirt — it’s pretty iconic.  Or, you could just scrap the whole thing and give her something completely new.

· How does it end?  Well, that depends on what kind of villain we end up with.  Personally, I’m not concerned about that.  I’m sure it’ll be a big special effects hoopla with broken buildings, flying debris, and lots of CG.  That’s fine.  I’m more concerned about the denouement which brings up the question: where does Supergirl go from here?  She’s pigeonholed into the supposedly weaker half of the population, the one that makes a fraction of the income, has little governmental representation, and has less rights and choices.  And you have the powers of a God?  What do you do?

It’s pretty easy to give Supergirl the choice — do I use this power to shape this society so it’s more fair?  That road is dangerous — absolute power corrupts.  Superman turned away from that road.  But I say, let Supergirl try and tread that line.

Here’s what I envision: There’s some minor bad guy who’s against some women’s issue, like Senator Robert Kelly in X-Men.  Someone old and pompous.  Maybe it could even be the orphanage director (I’m just throwing shit out there).  And Supergirl, in her secret identity as Linda Lee with brunette pigtails, has to set up his podium (because she’s in the college A/V club or something), and listen to his speech.  Maybe he’s a Rush Limbaugh character who just says idiotic things for shock value or to drum up money.

She’s spent the entire movie being a human woman, the good and the bad, and she’s been dealing with trying not to use her powers or her identity to go apeshit on everyone.  She knows there’s good men and bad men.  But she also knows that it’s still a really unfair world, where just being female ups the difficulty at life (“You suck at math” vs. “Girls suck at math”).

Then she gets fed up with it.  Maybe her roommate pleads with her to take this guy out.  And she almost wants to, but she remembers what Superman said.  Humans have freedom of speech.  They have the right to say whatever they want.

Then when he’s done talking, amidst the boos and hisses, she lifts off her wig, comes up behind him, and lifts him up, saying “You may have freedom of speech.  But you don’t have freedom from the consequences of that speech.”  And then she flies him to an island or flings him in the ocean or something.  Then she takes the mic (she comes back at super speed) takes her wig off and gives her spiel.

“I am Kara Zor-El.  I came to this planet from Krypton, etc. etc. My cousin is Superman, etc. etc.  I have seen such and such.  I can lift a two-ton car, and I like to bake.  I can fly faster than the speed of light, but I can’t get birth control.  I like wearing pink and I like wearing blue.  I don’t understand make-up, but I like pretty dresses.  I can set people on fire with my eyes.  I can throw three people gang-raping a girl into jail, but I’ll cry in my shower later that night.  There are even certain commercials that make me tear up.  But it doesn’t stop me from going out the next night.  And I believe that the chocolate chip cookie is the greatest invention in the universe.  My cousin fights for truth, justice, and the American Way.  I pledge to you I will fight for that too.  But I will fight for everyone.  Just because something’s legal doesn’t make it right.  I will do everything in my power to defend the defenseless, to right wrongs, and make people feel safe.  My name is Supergirl.”

And hell, I might even name her “Superwoman” — why is Superman a man, but Supergirl is a girl?

I guess my philosophy behind this is this is what I would want my daughters to see.  Not Electra or Catwoman.  Not Rainbow Brite or Sailor Moon.  I’d rather they learn about being a woman outside the context of being validated by a man.

Clearly, I’m no screenwriter.  I’m barely an amateur writer.  On the other hand, if any Hollywood producers see this and want to shoot me an e-mail, my address, the comment box is right there…

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Will Become Superman (1978)

spider-man tobey maguire hands

Time will not be kind to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. I have come to this realization. Its the Marvel equivalent of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. It lit the fuse for superhero movies, but hasn’t nearly the explosive power its successors will (X-Men, Iron Man, etc.). The movies were a well-loved phenomenom now, but the trilogy is finished. And a reboot is months away, only ten years after the first. Why?

I hardly need to say much that hasn’t already been said. Sure, they’re good movies. Sometimes great. Good casting. Well imagined. Fun special effects. And far be it from me to disrespect anything with Bruce Campbell in it. But Sam Raimi is the guy who made The Evil Dead, Darkman, and dozens of cheesy syndicated TV shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. He is not used to big-budget productions.

But everything in it is comical. Sometimes comically good, like the upside-down kiss, to the comically bad, like Green Goblin’s outfit. There are so many moments that are just stupid, awful, or stupidly awful. Characters toss the idiot ball back to each other, doing things no one with a lick of sense would do, for the sake of the plot. That’s plausibility, my friends. That must be there, or everything falls.

I’ve never seen superheroes cry so much until SM3. Yeah, Sam Raimi’s trying to appeal to the humanity of these characters, but the first movie was the time for that. Maybe some of the second. But not the third. The thing that cannot be forgiven is that Raimi stopped being true to the spirit of the material. And the spirit of the material is chop-socky comic book action. It’s not Sandman lamenting over his daughter or Norman Osborn arguing with himself or Mary Jane being a bipolar pill. It should be called “Peter Parker, the Spider-Man”.

You know what people wanted to see through all three movies? Venom! You know what we didn’t see? Venom! I’m all for a writer staying true to his/her vision, but part of a successful work is giving the audience what they want. And the audience wants Venom. So what’d you do? You stuck him on that kid from That 70’s Show for a few bullshit scenes at the end. Fuck you, Raimi, for not delivering.

The Nostalgia Critic’s already cited the Top 11 Dumbest Spider-Man Moments. Here’s the quick rundown: too many American flags, irrelevant characters, hokey extras, bad CG, lack of Venom, terrible romance, bizarre AI on Doc Ock’s arms, the first movie’s comic book dialogue, emo Peter Parker, Willem DaFoe hamming it up, and the dance scene.

To me, it sounds a lot like the 1978 Superman. Good casting, fun special effects (for its time), but comical in all the wrong places. Lex Luthor, with his moll and single bumbling henchman, seemed more like The Three Stooges. Marlon Brando has fifteen minutes of screen time and as many lines, while eating half the budget. The bad romance with Buster Keaton Clark Kent. Plus all the things I find wrong with Superman in the first place.

So that’s why it seems to me that the Spider-Man movies will go down as a first try. A reflection of what it could have been, and what it will be.