The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Is Batman the Good Lex Luthor?

lex luthor fighting batman

I was thinking about Lex Luthor and his quality as a villain. Cause you know, a superhero is only as good as their bad guy. We remember Joker, Thanos, Killmonger, Magneto, Venom, Vulture, and so on. No one thinks about Whiplash, Malekith, Yellowjacket, or Aldrich Killian.

Lex Luthor is somewhere in the middle. He’s Superman’s primary villain, but he’s never had a real firm MO or personality. Whereas that works for the Joker, because he’s the embodiment of chaos, it doesn’t work for someone who’s essentially Donald Trump if he was the smartest man alive.

Image result for donald trump lex luthor

On one side you’ve got the Lex Luthor who was a silly megalomaniacal real estate developer played by Gene Hackman (or Kevin Spacey) whose sole henchman is a moronic cousin. The guy whose hatred for Superman comes from the fact that Supes made him bald when he flew by his lab and caused an accident in an experiment. He’s closer to a Bond villain in terms of showmanship and panache.

On the other side, there’s the Lex who became President of the United States. The Lex who manipulated Supergirl into becoming his slave. Who’s purported to be the smartest man alive in the DC universe (kind of like Reed Richards in Marvel). His primary motivation seems to be fear and ego. Fear of what someone with absolute unstoppable power could do. Ego because Lex is no longer the most loved or most powerful man in the room. Lex knows he can’t win in a fight, so he has to outsmart Superman. To be one step ahead, either by making a trap that Superman can’t break out of or manipulating the chess pieces so that he can never be tied to the crime. Kind of like Batman.

And that got me thinking — Batman and Lex Luthor are both sides of the same coin. They’re both insanely rich (and by extension, insanely powerful–everything in Gotham essentially has the Wayne logo stamped on it). They’re both insanely smart. Like there’s no way a playboy who grew up in a mansion could have become smart enough to build a supercomputer, a gadget-ridden vehicle, a chemist’s lab, a business acumen, and so on. Kind of like Iron Man.

Image result for death battle iron man lex luthor

In Death Battle, they pitted Lex Luthor against Iron Man, but I think Tony Stark has more in common with Bruce Wayne. They’re both so wealthy money has no meaning to them anymore. Both have tragic backstories. Both are inventive geniuses. Both had parents who were tragically killed–but Bruce Wayne’s were nurturing whereas Tony’s were emotionally absent. (Tony Stark’s real “mentor” was Ho Yinsen, who showed him the sins of his past). One learned how to fight, the other creates machines to do the fighting for him. One is motivated by justice, the other redemption.

This is a roundabout way of saying that Lex Luthor feels like the rival to Batman, not Superman. The difference is that Batman earned his power. He had to work for it. Lex Luthor was born with it. This is a key difference in superhero stories, and how you tell the hero from the villain.

And when it comes to the Justice League, who is Superman’s biggest rival? Batman. Despite him being a mere human, he always seems to be one step ahead when Superman goes crazy and needs to be countered. Wonder Woman can’t do it. Green Lantern can’t do it. But Bruce Wayne can, because he outsmarts him. He plans for all contingencies. In Injustice, the comic/video game that poses “what if Superman did finally start using his powers and actually getting rid of criminals”, it’s Superman the benevolent dictator vs. Batman and the rebellion. And Batman holds his own. Shouldn’t Superman be able to use x-ray vision to sniff him out, then laser him to death?

And you know all those memes and gifs of Batman outdoing Supes.

Maybe this is the only way Superman can be defeated–outmaneuvering him. Which is not a great message–strength and toughness (and projectile weapons) are the antithesis to strategy and intelligence. Superman and Batman play off each other like Captain America and Iron Man, but not as much direct conflict. They don’t have any nose-to-nose arguments debating the right thing to do vs. the smart thing to do. Just subtle quips and verbal sniping.

The difference between Superman and Batman is more “I embrace everyone” vs. “repel everyone bad”. Superman saves the butterfly, Batman kills the spider (or beats the crap out of the spider, then puts it away in an easily escapable asylum).

Image result for superman fights batman

There are plenty of “alternate universe” Superman stories — Red Son, Injustice, Gods and Monsters, Kingdom Come, New Frontier. There’s even plenty of alternate Supermans within the canon (i.e. Bizarro, Superboy, Cyborg Superman, Steel). But I never hear about alternate Lex Luthor.

It makes me wonder if Lex Luthor’s parents had been killed by a thug while walking out of a theater, would he have turned more into Bruce Wayne? Using his super-intelligence to bring justice to those who need it?

My Kindertrauma: Tidbits

kindertrauma

For my second-to-last entry regarding Kindertrauma, I thought I’d go over some of the moments that didn’t warrant an entire article, but were still evoke shivers when I think of them.

“Recorded Live”
(one of HBO’s Short Takes; also known as “Flesh Eating Film Reels”)

I have no idea where or when I saw this, but I know I must have. Because when I was perusing old short horror films available on YouTube, this little gem came back, and I immediately had a Vagrant Story reaction (that’s an inside joke I don’t expect you to get).

vagrant story repressed suppressed memory

My dad must have recorded this off of HBO (he recorded everything, we had over 200 video cassettes in our house) and then taped over it, because I only remember seeing the end. But the end is the scary part anyway. Strips of film from reels and cassettes come alive (in glorious stop-motion, I might add) and wrap around this guy who I always assumed was a film editor. Then they either suffocate him or consume him. Very evocative of my previously mentioned fears of drowning and lingering deaths when you’re trapped and alive but can’t do anything about it.

I never knew if it was the end of a movie or what, but HBO would air these short films very early in its life, presumably when they needed to fill gaps in-between movies. I don’t think my dad intended to record it. He probably fell asleep in the chair and forgot to hit “stop” (he did that a lot). But thanks Dad for this unintentional snippet of childhood fear.

Cyborg-lady from Superman 3
superman 3 cyborg woman

Either Dad had this on tape for a time, I just occasionally saw it while channel flipping. And I’m not alone with this scene being a sore point for many kids. I wasn’t into Superman, so I just caught it by chance. Especially since any good stuff happens near the end.

Again, we have our good friend stop-motion being used to portray a super-computer melding into a woman. The metal sears to her face, wires in her skin, while she screams. Even the most horrific animes at this time weren’t this bad. Like, what did she do to deserve this? Comic book villains are goofy, they don’t get tortured like this. All she did was fall backwards. Looking back now, this should have been Braniac, but it’s a poor excuse for filmmakers pulling their punches.

Invaders From Mars

I often had insomnia when I was a kid. Probably from drinking too many Diet Cokes (that was what my mom bought) and not knowing what caffeine was. Not to mention an overactive imagination. So sometimes, if my parents had gone to bed, I’d sneak into the family room and watch late night TV. Not like Johnny Carson or Saturday Night Live. I mean the 1 AM “what do we fill time with” cable stuff. Honestly, the TV guide was as entertaining as the other programs.

The only TV that didn’t require much comprehension were horror movies. TNT or TBS was usually a good bet for these. I remember once I watched three in a row: some modern wolfman movie in a cave, “The Spookies” which I didn’t understand, and Invaders From Mars. That sounded like a simple movie. Maybe it was like War of the Worlds. With a goofy title like that, it had to have something in it for kids.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Well, the title came from a cheesy 1953 film. But this is a remake. It’s the difference between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Night of the Living Dead (1990) directed by Tom Savini. The first movie (which I’ve never seen) had big-headed green-skinned Martians and capitalized on the alien invasion/”Red Scare” trend. But the second is directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien), and special-effected by Stan Winston (every good movie ever).

The plot is essentially The Faculty or Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Tommyknockers. Of course, I hadn’t seen any of those (or they weren’t yet created) so this is the first time I saw the paranoia plot, and was thus terrified. And it combines well with the “no one listens to kids” trope. All the adults around little David are suddenly acting weird, and they all have scars on their necks. Of course, no one will believe him, because he’s a kid. The only person he can get on his side, after much struggling, is the school nurse.

At the end, it’s only the boy. Everyone else has been turned, even the army, so they’re no help. Your parents are your enemies. Your teachers are your enemy. He’s utterly alone and supportless, sneaking around the spaceship that buried itself in the desert (a little like the end of The X-Files movie or Predator 2), and there’s all this freaky spaceship stuff and giant aliens that are just walking mouths. And at the end he confronts the leader, whose essentially a giant brain on his throne (reminded me a bit of “A Wrinkle in Time”). I forget what he does, either the aliens are vulnerable to salt, or he busts open a power core.

invaders from mars brain
Congratulations, Mother Brain, it’s a beautiful baby… something.

But what prevents this from being its own entry is the stupid stupid “Phew, it was all a dream” ending. Not only that, but the spaceship lands again just like in the beginning, like he’s about to relive all these events, but for real. Even an nine-year-old isn’t fooled by that kind of lazy storytelling. Well, mostly.

Mathman from Square One Television

I never liked math, but I never missed an episode of Square One. Well, occasionally I’d change channels once Mathnet came on–not a fan of detective stories. But every time Mathman came on, I had to flip away for a minute or two. I don’t know why, maybe it was something about that music, or the ominous coin-slot drop, or the black screen, but it scared the crap out of me. It hit that sweet spot of uncanny dread and fascination like I had with Braingames.

It didn’t help that the bad guy almost always won and ate the good guy. Maybe that’s why I could never watch it–Mathman was doomed. He’d would solve a few correct solutions, then chomp something wrong. (And being too young to understand fractions, his demise was unpredictable but inevitable. It was never a matter of if, but when). And suddenly the bad guy (him being a tornado didn’t help) would get the go-ahead to chase him. Being a maze, there was no escape, and as decreed by fate, the bad guy would eat him. (Really, he just covered him and Mathman would expand into pixels and fade out). But seriously, fuck that tornado guy.

Fun fact I just learned: the company that produced this segment was Blue Sky Studios, which has since made Ice Age and other average CG-animated movies.

House II: The Second Story
(at least the ending)

In the same way I caught Night of the Creeps and Invaders From Mars, House II was also frequently featured on afternoon TV. But I always caught the end of it. And as one might expect from an afternoon movie, it can hardly be called horror, unless you’re a small boy with nothing to do.

I’m not sure I was so much afraid of this as I was weirded out. From what I can remember, the ending sequence starts with a kind of revolving wall gag with a beautiful woman (who’s meant to imply woman trouble for the main character, who I think was the straight guy from Perfect Strangers? Or at least looked like him) disappearing and reappearing. There’s a green dog puppet, who’s super-cute until you realize it’s probably undead. There’s another puppet too but I forget what it is. And there’s an old man who looks like the guy on the cover of Phalanx.

snes phalanx box cover

And he’s undead too. Green mottled skin, rotten teeth. Like a zombie prospector or something. Like he got lost on the way to Mad Dog McCree. My guess is this guy’s an ancient relative of Perfect Strangers who got resurrected/summoned into the house and hijinx ensue, like Down and Out in Beverly Hills or Uncle Buck.

And there’s a big climax at the end, but I forget what it is. I think it’s got to do with being sucked into the afterlife or some other dimension. But the grandpa sacrifices himself, and then Perfect Strangers is holding him as he dies (again?) saying he’s sorry, but the old man says not to be. “I got to meet my great-great-grandson.” Then there’s a gravestone. And Perfect Strangers, his two supporting cast (including the girl who I think might be a “Imprinted Love Interest“), and the puppets ride a wagon off into a field, which seems to be nowhere near the titular “house” where everything happened. Like did they fall into the bad dimension? Or get trapped in the past and now where are they going?

I’ve never seen the first House or this movie all the way through. I’m not sure it would make any more sense if I did.

The Vacuum from Mr. Mom

Jaws was absolutely verboten to watch. Not because my parents wouldn’t let me, but I wouldn’t let me. I knew it was too scary for me. Even the music was scary. And I already had that “going down the drain” thing. Add a shark to that and forget it. But in the early eighties, people were still copying all the iconic bits. You may not have seen the movie, but you knew the music, which also sent down an occasional shiver.

I also had a blankey. It was white. It was made by my grandmother. Baby pictures show that it had a scene from Bambi on it, but it was worn off by the time of my first memory. I carried that thing everywhere. It was my cape, my sword, my whip, my blindfold, my all-purpose rope, and my lovey. Technically I still have it, or what’s left of it, which is a strip of wrinkled fabric, no heavier than a washcloth. In short, Linus was my idol.

Now Mr. Mom is a movie about a stay-at-home dad, which was progressive for 198-something (see also: Baby Boom). And of course, there’s the requisite scene where everything’s gone butt-knuckle crazy. Like in that Goofy cartoon “Father’s Day Off“. The baby’s crying, the sink is flooding, the phone is ringing, and so on and on. But what’s notable is that the vacuum starts taking off of its own accord. I don’t think vacuums could do that, then or now, but it was a “thing” in old comedy. My house had a similar vacuum with the gray dust bag and headlight for scaring the cat.

But when this vacuum took off, it started playing the Jaws theme. And it goes right for the son’s blankey. Vacuum + Jaws + loss of blankey = DO NOT WANT.

I didn’t watch Mr. Mom until decades later, at my girlfriend’s (now wife) house. And obviously, it wasn’t as scary as I remember. But I steered clear of that movie for a long time. Didn’t hurt that I didn’t understand the material at the time anyway.

How to Fix Supergirl the TV Series

action comics superman supergirl

I do seem to like to talk about Supergirl. So hey, why not some more. And it gives me a reason to put up pretty pictures.

So Supergirl the TV series started on CBS, the network for senior citizens, then moved to CW, the network for fresh-faced teens. Went from Wheel of Fortune to Dawson’s Creek.

I watched the first season and the first five episodes of the second season. I wanted to get into it, I really did. But the characters stopped me. Don’t get me wrong — Melissa Benoist is a delight. She’s like Emilia Clarke — she’s charming as hell and I’d follow her, dragons and all. She’s the reason I kept watching as long as I did. It’s everyone else that sucks. They’re so milquetoast. We’ve got boring tech geek, boring heartthrob love interest, boring stiff military commander, boring sister who suddenly decided she was a lesbian at thirty years old, boring snippy Ally McBeal.

“Poor supporting” cast joke here

Actually, the best of the cast was Calista Flockhart. But even then, I couldn’t stand her bitchy character giving bitch-vice to Kara Danvers* in the form of not-mentorship. “Listen to me — I’m world-wise but everything is beneath me and everyone hates me. I’m female Donald Trump. You too could be like me if you follow my five simple steps.” In other words, none of these are people I would want to hang out with. I don’t want to let them into my home for an hour each week.

The other reason was because the life of a young woman moving from the country to the city to “make it” was just not interesting to me. For one thing, that’s Superman’s story. Like it’s the exact same thing, how to balance work (superheroing) and life. I’ve seen it. Add in uninteresting villains (Maxwell Lord is just Lex Luthor AGAIN. And Aunt Alura is just General Zod AGAIN — dress them up all you want, but at the end of the day, Lord is a rich genius CEO who thinks the hero is a threat and the other is a military commander escaped from the Phantom Zone).

Here’s my solution. Be more like Buffy.

The magic of Supergirl is not that she’s Superman in a skirt. It’s that she’s fresh off the boat. She’s a true alien. She doesn’t know what’s going on, what Earth culture is like. She’s been in a bubble for the last thirteen years, so it becomes like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, only more serious (and actually unbreakable). So you get moments like this…

It’d be a fine line to tread on the “Born Sexy Yesterday” tropes, but as long as Kara is living for herself, not some man, you can do it.

In the beginning of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy was trying to make her life normal while the abnormal kept treading in (thanks to the Hellmouth plot generator). There’s a call to heroism that she’s trying to ignore, but can’t (because as Spider-Man said, if you let bad things happen when you can do something about it, you’re no better).

Do the same thing here. Give Supergirl some equally downtrodden friends. Not a guy who’s got Superman in his cell phone. Not the army-man who can’t crack a smile and really a Martian warrior. She needs a Xander and a Willow. Her antagonists shouldn’t be her bosses, it should be a contemporary. An equal. The person she wants to be. Like Cordelia. And sure, throw in an Angel in there too. Why not? Who doesn’t like forbidden love? Sure, make him full of kryptonite. I don’t care.

Most of all, we need a mentor. Now Captain Obvious says that should be Superman. He’s the one who’s been here the longest, he knows how to handle his superpowers, and he was raised here, so he knows Earth customs. But that would be a hard sell. If Superman’s in the show… why not make the show ABOUT Superman? Plus the fact that Superman can do anything Supergirl can do, but better. And the fact that it’s actually HIM who needs something from Supergirl. She’s only one with knowledge of his planet, the only tie to his heritage. He needs her to teach him about where he came from.

Besides, does this not look like a set from Buffy? And they both were on the same network.

No, Supergirl needs a Giles. Someone who can educate her, but cannot do what she can do. I don’t know who that might be, since part of Supergirl’s character is that there’s no one else like her (save her cousin). J’onn J’onzz would be a good candidate, if you can loosen him up a bit. The problem is he’s so stiff, I want Supergirl to skip class and go to the mall. He becomes the antagonist, not the guru. Supergirl needs someone to serve a father-daughter relationship. That’s a conflict full of story and strength. And more fascinating than the mother-daughter relationship with Kat.

And it definitely SHOULD NOT be a mother-son thing, which is what I was seeing from the Mon-El thing when I left. They did it the total opposite what I wanted. No one wants to see SuperDouchebag hitting on girls or using his superpowers for selfish reasons while Young Kara Danvers tries to prevent his shenanigans. She shouldn’t be caretaking a twenty-year-old when she’s cultivating her own life.

So yeah, Supergirl. A great concept, but executed in a tired, uninspired way. Just like all the other DC superheroes became, like The Flash (which is just Spider-Man but got too hung up on the relationship, just like the movies) and Arrow (which is just Batman, but got too grimdark and too unrealistic).

Also, Streaky. Gotta put the cat in there. Who wouldn’t watch a show with a super-cat?

*I literally forgot what her secret identity name was for a moment, just like Calista Flockhart’s running gag in the show. Was it Kat? No, that was Flockhart’s character. Was it Laura? Lara? K-something. Kal-El? No, that’s Superman. Her last name was Danvers. Carol Danvers? No, that’s Ms. Marvel. I had to look it up on IMDB. Kara! I was close.

Death and Further Death of Superman

death and return of superman logo

I recently read The Death and Return of Superman story arc.  Yeah, little late to the game on that one, but I’m trying to catch up.  And as I expected, it did nothing to change my opinion of Underpants Man.  All it did was remind me why I like Batman better.  Just reinforced my image of him as a proto-Captain America (who I’m not fond of either)–the ever moral boy scout.  And it’s about the only one that focuses on Superman–and not even THAT because half the story is about the other Supermen.

Isn’t that sad?  “Death and Return” is the one story arc that ranks as most memorable solo Superman story.  And it’s awful.  Not only that, but it’s the only one any man on the street can remember.  X-Men’s got “Days of Future Past” and “Age of Apocalypse” and “Dark Phoenix” and “House of M”.  Spider-Man has the “Clone Saga” and “Blue”.  Batman’s got “Under the Red Hood”, “Long Halloween”, “Hush”.  The only time Superman’s in anything memorable is a crossover like “Crisis on Infinite Earths”.

Anyway, let’s get talking.  The first issue is our bad guy.  The prologue consists of three or four issues about non-important things, and each ends with a fist punching its way through a cage, with the caption “DOOMSDAY IS COMING”.  This is called hype you haven’t earned.  Superman has fought all kinds of nasties.  What’s there to be intimidated by a fist?

All right, so Doomsday breaks out of his box prison, buried somewhere on Earth, and starts destroying anything he sees.  He takes out the JLA (conveniently pushing them out the way so we can get the one-on-one), then heads to Metropolis because he saw it on a commercial.  Fight, fight, fight, and then they both die.

And if that doesn’t reek of publicity stunt then take a whiff of the FOUR OTHER SUPERMAN who come forward to take his place.  One is just a rip-off of Iron Man, just with steel.  They tried their best to make him different, giving him a “growing up in the ghetto” storyline, but it’s too transparent.  Superboy is pretty good — I’d read his comic book.  At least he’s got a personality: young and brash, powers that don’t always work, getting swept up in the fame.  Not like the real Superboy comic where aliens keep landing in Smallville and Lana Lang has the power to shapeshift into a bug.

The “Last Son of Krypton” has merits too.  He acts robotically, has to wear a visor (which means he has a weakness other than kryptonite), but struggles with acting like a fascist versus doing the good Superman does.  He learns that he’s making mistakes.  He has an arc.

This is the first real solo Superman that I’ve read for the modern age, and it’s bizarre.  It’s like it never emerged from the timeline of its origins.  People still talk like 1920’s newsboys.  In fact, there’s a group of kids that live in a genetic research lab that call themselves “the newsboys” and act like extras from Newsies.  No idea what was up with that.  And then there’s somebody named Bibbo Bibboski, some guy who owns a bar and claims to be Superman’s best friend/biggest fan and speaks like Joe Palooka.

That’s the other thing, Superman never fights humans.  He always fights aliens or mutants or something like that.  And that distances him from relatability (moreso), because humans pose no threat to him, like they do to us.  It makes the comic science fiction instead of superheroes.  Superheroes fight all kinds of baddies, but mostly they fight other humans.  Humans who maybe have some innate thing that makes them a match for the hero (like Joker or Green Goblin), but we’re talking peers.  Nothing peer about Invaders from Mars.  It’s more like Star Wars.

The marketing gimmick is more transparent than the Phantom Zone flippy-square thing.  And I agree with Max Landis when he said it ruined death in comic books.  It showed you can get away with killing major characters to sell books, and bring them back with no consequences.  Superman defeated death.  When death is no longer an issue, it ruins any suspense.  It’s like Landis said: “Superman is boring.  He was just the first.”

Does Superman Poop? (NSFW)

superman wonder woman sex in space

So the other day I was driving home from work and thinking about stuff. For some reason that age old problem came to mind – could Superman have sex?

The going theory is that Superman, on Earth, could only have sex with another Kryptonian. If he had sex with an Earth woman, say Lois Lane, he would ejaculate so hard that it would blow her brains out (see image). This is known as the “man of steel, woman of kleenex” problem. (And this is besides the issue of being pregnant with a super-baby that could kick its way out of your uterus).

Some people think that it’s not an issue, because Superman can control his powers. That’s why he doesn’t crush a doorknob every time he walks through a door. He can stop his heart on command (this was in an early comic book, but it’s still canon). On the other hand, the human body is full of involuntary responses. Especially in the heat of passion, can Superman control it that much? Human men can’t.

That got me thinking about his other involuntary responses, like peeing. Surely Superman doesn’t destroy every toilet he goes in. Otherwise it would be like a high-powered pressure washer. Pooping isn’t really a pressure thing, so I don’t think that would be an issue. But does Superman even need to poop?

He does eat, so it’s got to go somewhere. He can stop his heart, so maybe he can stop his metabolism? Or maybe he has super-metabolism, where he uses all parts of the food. His super-power comes from the yellow sun, so he doesn’t need it to live, I don’t think. I don’t think you can starve Superman to death. (I wonder if Lex Luthor’s tried that yet, instead of stupid green kryptonite plan #4,053).

What if it was, like, super-poop? Does poop retain properties of its digester? Maybe it becomes super-dense dark matter like Nibbler’s poop. So if he dropped a deuce, it could fall through all the floors of the Daily Planet. Could you throw the poop at someone and kill them? If you got near the poop, would you gain super powers? Like Superman gets weaker because of green kryptonite. I’m going to leave it at “being near poop” because I don’t like where this line of questioning is heading.

If it’s like normal poop, could you use it to fertilize your garden and grow super corn (a la Spaced Invaders?) Superman could be wasting a valuable natural resource. Forget saving us from tornadoes and aliens. How about a little contribution to our agricultural output? It works for guano. On the other hand, maybe that’s how Ma and Pa Kent were able to keep their tiny little farm alive. I guess it wasn’t because they had a super-son for child labor to tow the plow.

And if it’s the case for Superman, think about all the other superheroes — the Martian Manhunter’s green poop, Wonder Woman’s god-given poop, Venom’s symbiotic poop, Spider-man’s sticky poop, and the Incredible Hulk’s…

I’ve taken this too far, haven’t I?

A Superman Hater Watches “Man of Steel”

man of steel poster superman

Do I need to tell you my problems with Superman? No, I don’t. So I never planned to watch Man of Steel. Another origin story? Zack Snyder’s testosterone stink on it? Same damn villain? Same bland hero? Critical reception from poor to mixed? No thank you. I don’t need more Superman in my life than I have to.

But then Nostalgia Critic released his video for it, so I figured, “Damn, guess I need to see this if I want to appreciate the NC review.” I encountered the same issue with “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, and it turned out well. So I regretfully put it on the Netflix queue, fully anticipating “Superman Returns” again — a totally unnecessary movie that brings nothing new to the franchise.

It’s… it’s actually pretty good. I liked it.

It’s not without some flaws — and there are some big ones — but the good things overshadow them. A summer tentpole usually defies analyzing, but I think it’s important that I explain how I, already prejudiced against the movie, got turned around.

PRO: Telling the Story a Different Way

I’m not sure if this is a good or bad aspect, but at least it’s different. Different is something Superman desperately needs. I am so tired of origin stories because A) everyone already knows them and B) are so boring. And this being the third retelling? Did not have high hopes.

Instead this shows him finding his role in life. Learning his place in the world with his abilities. How far can a person with such power go before he goes over the line? Especially when he’s been charged with being humanity’s guardian. And it’s told non-linear — small flashbacks display his father’s life lessons and coping with his abilities as a child. It goes more into the philosophy of being a god among men.

Speaking of religious overtones, that’s another thing I was not expecting. And I do not like applying the Jesus metaphor to Superman — I think that diminishes both and makes no sense since he’s closer to Hercules. (Also, weren’t Superman’s creators Jewish?) Clark actually goes to a priest for confession/advice, which surprised me. International movies like this don’t usually go for that. But then I thought, “yeah, that makes sense”. Clark was raised by a farming couple in Kansas. Of course, he would have religion in his life. Of course he would question his presence in the light of God.

CON: Misogyny

This movie is all men, all the time. Manly men. Hairy chests. Big muscles. Fathers and sons. Papa Kent even says “You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be.” The title “Man of Steel” wasn’t used just because it’s an old catchphrase.

That’s par for the course for Zack Snyder, but I still groaned at the end where the woman says “I just think he’s kinda hot”. Seriously? She worked her way up military ranks to belong to one of the most important departments in the armed forces, working under the guy in charge of dealing with aliens. And she turns into a giggling school girl?

How about Lois?  Here, she’s about as vapid and bland as Superman. All her best scenes are at the beginning, and while her weaknesses are fewer, she didn’t get much stronger.  She doesn’t bring anything vibrant or different. Essentially, she’s unnecessary. There is no reason for Lois Lane to be on board Zod’s ship.  She’s not a hostage. In fact, the whole reason Zod’s plan goes under is because they took her on board. Here’s your sign.

PRO: Good Action

Superman’s punches sound real. He uses his heat vision when needed. The battles actually look like Superman battles, not just flying around a green screen or lifting heavy objects. They look like what would actually happen if two super-powered beings got in a fight — lots of collateral damage.



It made me have that feeling of wish fulfillment. He feels powerful. I found myself rooting for Superman, which is when I knew I had lost.  Even though Superman is invulnerable (which is a flaw I’ve often ranted about), it does feel like he’s getting hit. The damage isn’t to him, but to the town, the Earth.

And the superpowers don’t just come out of thin air. No traveling backwards in time. No mind control. No kryptonite. He doesn’t even have ice breath.

Granted, overcoming the gravity well of the World Engine through sheer will, just like in Superman Returns where he can lift a huge island that’s covered in kryptonite because he has to. What’s the point of being vulnerable to something if it doesn’t work? There’s this idea floating around that “Superman is as strong as we need him to be”. If that’s the expected behavior, where is the tension?

CON: Independence Day with Superman

While I was watching, I was thinking: this movie is about aliens, not Superman. There’s first contact, spaceship interiors, alien tech, the feeling of nothing ever being the same, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE”, a big army presence, buildings exploding. This is more about the absence of Krypton than presence of Superman. Superman should be about his relationship with Earth, not other Kryptonians.

Well, it is true he does fight a lot of aliens (Darkseid, Doomsday, Braniac), but it’s in the name of fitting in on Earth. Otherwise, he wouldn’t need to be Clark Kent.  And besides, I think it’s more interesting when he tries to save humanity from itself rather than an invading militant alien force.

PRO: Superman is not so perfect

One of the problems I’ve always, always, always had with Superman is the lack of character flaws. He never does anything wrong. Nothing can touch him. He’s still pretty perfect in this, but he is shown to be suffering. He questions his place in the world, his parentage, his loyalties, whether or not to act as a sacrifice.

Also, Krypton is not the utopia previous incarnations have made it out to be. You see Zod stage the military coup at the moment of vulnerability. He follows his duty to serve Krypton and only Krypton. This gives him a purpose, makes him sympathetic, better than evil for the sake of being evil. (Also, I thought it was interesting how they went from crystal-based technology to liquid metal balls)

CON: Too Many Plot Holes

This movie is meant to be watched, not analyzed. While it doesn’t fill gaps with convenient super powers, it does leave a lot on the cutting room floor. How did Zod and all get out of the Phantom Zone? Why did all the other planets die when Krypton exploded? How much can the Russell Crowe hologram do? Is it like an AI or something? What was the deal with that scoutship that was 18,000 years old? No one ever talked about what happened to it/why it went missing? And Krypton’s used the same technology for 18,000 years so his USB stick can still work? If Krypton has space travel, why didn’t everyone go to a different planet?

Why does Zod take Lois Lane? They can’t need her for anything. What is Zod doing when he goes back in the ship, and they have that big Smallville fight between Ursa Farora and Big Guy Who Might Be A Robot? Is he fixing something? Preparing something? Why does Superman start wearing the costume just because he finds it in the ship? They could be pajamas for all he knows.  What significance do they have? Russell Crowe just opens the closet and there they are. Why don’t the people just run away from the heat vision?

PRO: Fixing a Few Cliches

Speaking of that polarizing issue, I didn’t mind it much.  I know a lot of people were upset. They cried “Superman doesn’t kill! He’s a hero! He’s the inspiration for humanity, what we’re supposed to aspire to be!” But how often have you yelled at a screen or comic and said “Just kill him! He’s going to escape anyway!” 

Superman does what he does with regret. Zod’s the last tie to his Kryptonian heritage. Yes, they never mention it again, but at least the potential is there.  I wish they had done it a little closer to like Doctor Who‘s “The End of Time” with the Master, or Trigun — where the killing had some consequences to the character development. These are the kinds of burdens heroes have to bear.

Personally, I’ve always found Batman more inspiring anyway. Bruce Wayne could have taken the easy road, could have walked away with his millions/billions and lived an easy life. But he chose to train. Chose to become a protector. Superman was born with powers. He didn’t earn anything. His conflict is more about how to balance his powers — being a god versus being a human. And his corruptibility.

I said Lois Lane was vapid and bland before, but at least she’s an improvement.  I’ve never seen a portrayal of her that I’ve liked — from Margot Kidder to Teri Hatcher to the cartoon. She’s either a cold bitch, a clingy idiot, a stubborn scoop-obsessed journalist (meant to play foil to Clark’s bumbling) or Superman’s gooey-eyed love interest. Sometimes all of those.

Here, she’s still a damsel in distress, but she does take action. She has agency.  She knows Clark’s secret, but has the moral insight to respect his wishes and not do anything with it. She changes from being manipulative to learning how to step back. Also, she recognizes Clark right away with those glasses.

CON: Still Nothing New

It’s a better told story, but it’s still the same story. Superman does not appear until fifty minutes in. He doesn’t do anything Superman-y until thirty minutes after that. He’s fighting Zod again. He’s not stopping natural disasters, fighting crime, helping build things. Granted, all the Superman stories I remember, he’s being rather silly. Like fighting comic strip characters come to life or trying to stop someone revealing his secret identity.

But why this plot again when there are so many other Superman stories the world is aching for? I hunger for a movie version of “The Death and Rebirth”, arguably the most popular (if only because it’s polarizing) Superman stories. And there’s Darkseid, Mr. Mxyptlk, Bizarro, or any villain from the superhero team-ups. I’d even have Lex Luthor IF you can make him a more formidable opponent. He’s supposed to represent everything humanity could fall to, if Superman wasn’t there. Give him a robot suit.

OVERALL

It keeps you entertained. Clearly the best Superman movie made. It’s a blockbuster — heavy on special effects, light on fridge logic. But I feel richer/entertained for seeing it.

It makes me feel more confident about the next one — “Superman + Batman”. It’s clear that Hollywood has been upping stakes in superhero movies from “hero vs. villain” to “hero vs. a few villains” and now to “Total Team-Up”, thanks to the success of The Avengers. DC is going to Justice League. Spider-Man is going to “The Sinister Six”, and Avengers has its own saga.

Before I saw Man of Steel, I was ready to dismiss “S&B”, given the bad buzz around Snyder and Nolan’s interpretation.  This would ruin not just one but two franchises (three, with Wonder Woman). But now that I’ve seen it, I’ve got hope.

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…

Thoughts About Wonder Woman

wonder woman

These days I’ve been thinking about Wonder Woman. One of my daughter’s friends had a Wonder Woman cake for her birthday (four years old) so I know her fanbase isn’t dead. She represents something important to women. Someone who can hold their own with the other super-people. Someone strong enough to stand with the G.I. Joes and He-Men. Independent, strong-willed, powerful.

And unfortunately, we’ll never see her again.

Barry Lyga recently wrote an article regarding why we won’t see a Wonder Woman movie. He argued that Wonder Woman’s portrayal is too inconsistent for a proper story. I agree, but I take it to the next level — even the consistencies prevent creators from updating her in some medium. Not a movie, not a TV series, not a cartoon show, not a video game, comic book, or even a crappy, actor-injuring musical. And they’ve tried. Oh, how they’ve tried. (shudder)

Don’t get me wrong, this news does not please me. I would love to see a Wonder Woman adaptation. I would love to see more any movies with female superheroines who aren’t relegated to “token girl”. I’ve already talked about how Supergirl is a great character. Wonder Woman is not that far removed. Some of the same principles apply — god-given powers, secret identity, struggle for selfdom in a different world. But unlike Supergirl, Wonder Woman’s fundamental concepts — her “spirit” (see bullet point 4) — are intrinsic to a bygone era.

Like Superman (and we all know how I hate Superman), the only reason she’s persisted is because she was the first female superhero. And to make Wonder Woman translate to today’s audiences, you would have to alter her so radically that she wouldn’t resemble Wonder Woman anymore. Someone’s going to leave unhappy — either the fanboys or the casuals.

I don’t want to say it’s impossible to make a Wonder Woman adaptation. There’s no concept so impossible that it can’t be executed well. Just look at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Batman. They’ve had dozens of incarnations from gritty mature to comically camp to nostalgic overload to bizarrely commercial. Not all of them were good, but the best stayed true to the spirit of the material. Superman is about might for right. Batman is about fighting for justice within a corrupt world. Wonder Woman is about… uh, well.

Oh, let’s just talk about the elephant in the room. The one that’s all trussed up.

There’s no delicate way to put this. (Well, there is, but I don’t care.) Charles Moulton, the creator of Wonder Woman, was into bondage and BDSM. He was in a polyamorous relationship with two women, both of which were co-creators. He was a psychologist who proposed that dominance and submission come from combinations of passive/active personalities in an antagonistic/favorable environment. But the author isn’t the work. You cannot say one is the other.

Except that Wonder Woman is frequently shown either tying up criminals or being tied up. The golden lasso is a clear tool to that end — restraining criminals, forcing them to submit to her will and tell the truth. At one time, it even forced people to obey commands. You might say superheroes often got tied up and restrained in those days.

wonder woman bound up
Images credit to Suffering Sappho

Not like this. Whether it’s body control or mind control, Wonder Woman got popular through exploiting sexual fetishes. Moulton never denied the comparisons. “Give [men] an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves!” (“Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics.” The American Scholar 13.1, 1943-44, page 43) How are you supposed to write a story in 2012 around that?

How would you even start the story? This is one superhero movie I wouldn’t mind seeing the origin story for (I say that because it seems like every superhero movie is an origin story, and the genre is starting to suffer from it). The problem is there’s a stigma around Amazons.

futurama amazonians
“Oh! You mean Snu-Snu.”

And if you follow that to it’s logical conclusion, then you end up with an unlikeable character — an entitled, bitchy woman with more masculinity than femininity who can’t form social relationships. It’s a cliche and it’s no one I want to spend time with. If they took a page from “3rd Rock from the Sun” or “Bones” to make her transition to normal society a little comical, that would be something. But then you’re changing the character.

The first thing you’d have to do is totally revamp the costume. You can’t have this all hanging out there. For one thing, her entire lower body is unprotected. For another, her entire upper body is unprotected. This is not a costume that invokes power, it invokes a male sex fantasy. Just like Power Girl and the new Starfire. I would hate for my kids to see that and think it’s what strong women wear. But if you change the costume, you change the character.

The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that her weapons and tools just don’t make sense. Forget about the bondage for a second, let’s talk about the lasso. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with such a weapon — it’s reminiscent of Indiana Jones’s whip (or Catwoman’s whip, if you want to go there). But you need an edge if you’re going to rub shoulders with Superman’s laser eyes, Green Lantern’s ring, or Aquaman’s… aqua. So it gets the power to force anyone to tell the truth. Aaaaaaaaand you’ve effectively written yourself into a corner.

First, it’s not a very exciting power. Second, it becomes a deus ex machina. This guy knows where the bombs are, but he won’t tell us. Here you go, use this lasso. Robin’s in a slowly-filling water tank? Lasso. This guy knows where Buffalo Bill is hiding the bodies. Lasso. How short would “The Dark Knight” have been if Wonder Woman was in that interrogation cell instead?

Next, golden bracelets that can stop bullets. First, those things are, like, three by three inches. They only things they could block are tiny cocktail swords (unless you’re one of those anime samurai that can deflect bullets with your sword). Second, your wrist bones would shatter as soon as a bullet hit. Wonder Woman does not have super strength, just agility and martial arts training. Finally, four words: aim for the legs. The well-exposed legs.

Finally, we have the invisible airplane, probably one of the most WTF vehicles in superhero history. Why does it need to be invisible? How does that help you fight crime? The military can already make vehicles undetectable by radar. It’s not even really invisible, you can still see her in the sky, sitting on air, which is just visually bizarre. And it has nothing to do with the Wonder Woman character — what is so Amazonian about an airplane?

Even if it wasn’t invisible, airplanes are just cumbersome. You gotta have enough room to take off, land, and then store them when you’re not doing the first two. The only superhero planes I remember are the X-Jet (from X-Men) and the Batwing (which I haven’t seen since 1989). All the rest of them either fly naturally or stay close to home. Airplanes are a throwback to an era when you weren’t crammed in like sardines, porno-scanned, and spending eight hours on the tarmac. It’s an old concept that just wouldn’t fly today (YOU LAUGH NOW).

How about companions? Now I’m speaking as someone who’s never read the comics, but familiar with the character, i.e. the target audience. The only companions I know of are Steve Trevor and Etta Candy. Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman had the screwed-up relationship of “I Dream of Jeannie”. Wonder Woman’s got all this power and ability, yet she feels incomplete without him. She’s not happy unless he acknowledges her mousy alter-ego, making her almost sorry for her abilities. Meanwhile, he’s either disciplining her for being so brash or not paying attention. She should have just slipped him a “Do you like me? Circle yes or no” note. Not someone I’d want my girls to look up to.

Etta Candy? Who is she supposed to be? Comic relief? Is she like the Theodore of this triumvirate? Always looking for something to eat? She’s just a novelty character. Did anyone check if she has an eating disorder?

And the biggest problem with the supporting characters is that Wonder Woman has no memorable villains. That is a must. That is the thing that makes Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man continue to thrive and draw in audiences. (Superman has good villains too, and I wish movie-makers would realize that. There’s more than Lex Luthor out there.) A hero is only as good as its villain. And I’m afraid any villain of Wonder Woman would devolve into a designated girl fight.

So we’ve got weapons that don’t work, an origin story with questionable origins, and supporting characters that we don’t like. We might have to relegate ourselves to Wonder Woman as the Smurfette of the Justice League. I hate to admit it, but I don’t see how to make Wonder Woman a headliner without unmaking her.

Pants to be darkened!

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.