Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Dark Knight: Lucius Fox

Ah, Morgan Freeman. How he's managed to parlay playing the exact same role -- Easy Reader -- into a mutlizillionaire Hollywood career and a deal with the Devil that he must appear in one out of every three films the industry produces, I have no idea. But if Michael Caine is Bruce's personal confidant then who better to play his business confidant, since Freeman and Caine have nearly identical career strategies: do any movie that's offered to you, as long as all you have to do is play yourself.

They make fair bookends within the story, too. Alfred is Mom, treating skinned knees, cleaning up the cave, fussing about Brucie's social life, and giving Sunday school homilies. Lucius, on the other hand, is clearly Dad.

"As long as I don't find out about it, it's okay."
"Hey, son; want a pocketknife?"
"Here's the keys to the Tumbler, son; knock yourself out."

But the Dark Knight being, as mentioned yesterday, not so much a movie as it is a film, Lucius has more on his plate than simply playing "Q" to Bruce's "Bond". Like the other characters, he's faced with uncomfortable moral dilemmas.

His basic mode is one of "plausible deniability"; whereas Alfred says "the Batman" in every other sentence, Lucius never speaks the word. If Alfred decides, "the less Bruce knows about what Rachel was going to do, the better", Lucius decides, "the less I know about what Bruce does, the better." Ah, but when Lucius discovers that Bruce has his own secret plans going on -- the adaptation of cell phone technology into the bat-sensor-web -- he's a bit disappointed and worried. "Wait, you're keeping this even from me? The cool dad?"

Suddenly, Lucius has found his (oddly place) lines of conscience. "Hey, it's fine by me, if you run around breaking people's limbs and tearing up the city in rumbles with one of your old pals who taught you how to knife-fight. But when you start using society's telecommunication infrastructure to locate mass-murdering psychotic clowns, well, that's a line I'm not willing to cross."

Lucius becomes Tony Stark; suddenly, he decides to find himself accountable for the applications of the technique he helps create, and wants to make sure its use is consistent with his own principles.

Lucius "bravely" lays down the law: either this thing goes, or I do. But not really. His position is actually, "Well, son, it's okay this one time, as long as you don't make a habit of it." Seems to me that what's really at stake here isn't Lucius's principles -- he's willing to sacrifice those for the Dire Situation at Hand (and there's one of those in Gotham on a weekly basis). What seems really to be at issue for Lucius is, "Am I part of your moral compass or aren't I? If I'm not, then count me out, and I won't be facing down any bullies who want to blackmail you about your secret life any more."

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Dark Knight: Alfred

Let's talk about the Dark Knight.

Naturally, I was moved and impressed. Almost everyone who sees it is. It is, as a friend put it, not a Batman movie, but a Batman film. When discussing the film's power, many people focus on the strength of the performances. But that shouldn't be allowed to mask the strength of the material the actors are working with. Thanks to the script, most of the major characters face a strong moral dilemma or two, and unpleasant compromises of their ideals.

Today, let's talk about Alfred.


Michael Caine's horridly lower-class accent, by the way, is still like an icepick in my ear, but it seemed a little less harsh this time, as if the icepick were wrapped in velvet while being shoved in my ear.

His character is the voice of tough love -- sort of an icepick wrapped in velvet -- and forces Bruce to realize when he has to make the tough choices in his own dilemmas, and what the right thing to do is. While he succeeds in helping Bruce make his moral choices, I think Alfred's tragedy in this film is that he badly errs when making his own moral choice.

Alfred faces one of the film's quietest and most intimate dilemmas, and his decision to destroy Rachel's note rather than share it with Bruce is also one of the most questionable. Clearly, he thinks Bruce has suffered enough, and a post-mortem rejection isn't really what he needs on his plate.

But, if your life has been anything like mine, you've been hurt far more often and more deeply by people ostensibly trying to spare your feelings than by people actively trying to hurt them.

Who knows? Perhaps Rachel's note might have helped Bruce move on and lessened his burden. In any case, it shouldn't really be Alfred's decision to make; Rachel left to Alfred the decision of when to tell Bruce, not whether to tell him. And make no mistake; Alfred doesn't hide the note away, he burns it.

In keeping the note from Bruce, Alfred is still treating him as a child, not an adult. He deceives Bruce by omission, and proves himself unworthy of the trust Rachel placed in him (and that's to say nothing of the trust that Bruce has placed in him).

Which is worse? Finding out that the person you loved, but weren't realistically ever going to get with anyway (who, I might add, has been very seriously dating someone else), and who's now dead, wasn't planning on waiting for you, or..

finding out that the person who raised you and who continues to be the person you trust more than anyone in the world deceived you about that fact?

Alfred's dilemma and decision don't engender any explosions, societal issues, or life-threatening situations. Yet, I find Alfred's quiet betrayal once the bitterest moments of the film, and perhaps the deepest cut of all.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ching for a Day

As you may remember from Widowmaker Week, Mike Sekowsky wasn't merely a bad artist; he was a bad writer as well. Such a confluence of non-talent is rare, particularly among those who actually get to create comics for a living.

Now, thanks to
Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 2, I can fail to appreciate even more of Sekowsky's work! Thanks, DC, for reprinting this stuff; I can think of nothing I'd rather not enjoy more! Besides, now everyone can own his own copy of the Widowmaker story. Every comic-book lover's home should have one, as Exhibit A for the inevitable party debate on "Why They Shouldn't Keep Allowing Artists to Write". Okay, Exhibit B, really; the Kirby Omnibus has to be Exhibit A.

In one Sekowsky story, we begin with a classic conflict between two of DC's bitterest nemeses, Diana Prince and the "I Ching", Master of Oriental Inscrutability (tm). As you'll remember (I hope) from the Widowmaker, these two make Batman and the Joker look like BFFs.

The story begins in medias res. Diana, furious that Ching used the last of her "Purple Healing" Hair Conditioner, thus leaving her with unmanageable split ends, has broken Ching's Braille-reading finger, forcing him to call his doctor, who recommends a visits to the emergency room:

After they return, Ching uses the incident to gain the upperhand in their little war, and, in exchange for not pressing charges, demands that Diana be his woman-servant/beyotch.

"Yes, an old and valued friend; unlike you, the new, worthless 'Wonder Woman' with no powers."

"Of course, Ching. Oh, by the way, do you like that huge bouquet of flowers I bought you? Aren't they incredibly beautiful? Oh, that's right; I'm sorry, Ching, I forgot... ."

"Why don't you go on-line, Ching, and use Travelocity? Oh, that's right; you're blind! Then, I guess you won't see me packing these hideous clothes I bought that will make you the laughing stock of the Hong Kong fashion scene. Ha! Ha ha! And I know hideous clothes; have you seen my dress shop? Oh, that's right, Ching; I'm sorry, I forgot... ."
Editor's Note: Special guest artist on this panel is Lynn Johnston!

"At first I thought we might take your invisible plane but, then I remembered... why, you lost that along with your powers, didn't you, Diana dear?"

Ching really just wanted a ride to the airport, but Diana, who has no intention of letting him get away that easy, announces that she's coming with.

"Oh, I'm still coming with you. I owe you a lot, Ching. Like maybe a fall from 30,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean when you're not looking. Oh, but I forgot... you're always 'not looking', aren't you?"

Clearly, Ching needs some help with Diana; besides...
a writer like Mike Sekowsky could
certainly use help from someone like Patrick McGuire.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

25 Things That Made Me Happy in San Diego this Week

Okay, today I was planning a Bronze-age comic reinterp in my usual style, but gosh darn, all this interesting news from San Diego and elsewhere just has me brimming over with happiness and excitement that I must share (unoriginal though that might be)!

1. Wonder Woman Animated Feature
Oh, my Zeus; she actually LOOKS kind of Greek. Excellent. Not only it is an original story rather than an adaptation (yay!) but it's got decapitation (YAY!!). Remember, when making an animated feature... adaptation bad, decapitation good.

2. Secret Invasion Heroclix Set
Wizkids is really working the theme on this set, with figures that may or may not be Skrulls, depending on which dial they happen to have. Besides, it has a number of Aquatic figures, most of which I've already acquired multiple instances of, to adapt for my Aquaman games!

3. Gaiman on Batman
Sure, it's only two issues. But it's some kind of retrospective on the various eras of Batman, which is timely, and it's Gaiman back on comics. And mainstream comics to boot (because it doesn't get more mainstream than Batman). If Morrison on Batman is one of the Signs of the Apocalypse, than Gaiman on Batman is a Sign of the Rapture.

4. Johns on Superman
From the encompassing revamp of Brainiac to the Silver Age insanity of a city of Kryptonians, John's is breathing life back into the Superman story. When things like this used to happen, I used to fret, "I wonder how long before I can forget this misstep happened!" Currently, I have enough faith in Johns et al., that my feeling is more like, "Ah, an interesting new element to expand the Superman mythos!"

5. Decisions
No matter what they do with this, it will say more about real-world politics and how politics might play in a superhero universe than all of Marvel's Civil War put together, which was, in the final analysis, just another excuse to have Marvel heroes fight one another, instead of villains. Besides, it will no doubt have Ollie Queen making an ass of himself, and Superman being more noble than everyone else. That's what they do.

6. Submit
No, I'm not big on Grant Morrison, and I'm even smaller on Kirby's Fourth World, but the absurdity of the Black Lightning/Tatooed Man combo is not something I can resist.

7. XS
I am really enjoying the Legion right now under Jim Shooter's pen, but there are elements of the previous version of the Legion that I still miss. XS, Impulse's cousin, is one I miss a lot, and no one who read her guest-star appearance in his book can ever forget it. She's going to play in part in Whatever Is Being Done With The Lightning Rod From The Lightning Saga, and I hope she's still around in the Legion after that.

8. Batwoman's crotch shoots fire!
It just works on so many levels. I really don't think she should have a superpower, but if she does, that's definitely the one.

9. El Diablo
I'll say it; the original El Diablo wasn't good, and isn't fondly remembered (or remembered at all). But that doesn't stop DC, which just looks at that sort of thing as a challenge to its creativity! In fact, taking something that was never very good to begin with, and turning it into the Next Hot Thing (JSA; Blue Beetle; Booster Gold) is one of things DC does best. Diablo had a very memorable guest-appearance in the new Jonah Hex series, and he brings to the table a unique combination of mysticism and cowboyism, the kind of odd mash-up that DC excels at.

10. Batman versus Catman
I really didn't think I'd live to see this. Growing up, Catman was just this legendary character from the Batman Encyclopedia. He's been back in style for some time, and his face-off with his original foe is long overdue. Batman deserves an anti-Batman and no-one is currently filling that role (adequately).

11. Ragman
In the Robin solicit, a conflict with Ragman is mentioned. Ah, you forgot he's from Gotham, didn't you? He is. And now that he's free from his previous engagement (Shadowpact), I think he'll be a welcome addition to the Gotham cityscape. A low-rent mash-up of Batman and Spectre adds to the mix in The City That Never Shines.

12. Dr. Polaris
Dr. Polaris coming up in Blue Beetle is great on several levels. First and foremost, it's Dr. Freaking Polaris, people. His versatility is amazing; he can be a serious serious threat, a scenery-chewing Republic villain, a wild-eyed crazy person, a scientific genius, even comic relief. Or any combination. He's a utility player. Second, pitting him against Blue Beetle is smart. Jaime needs villains, and Blue Beetle is sort of connected to the Green Lantern dynasty as kind of a "Kid Lantern", so putting him with a long-standing and currently underused GL villain works well for all involved. Third, it sounds like someone's going to be using Doc P to full potential, not just as a boxing opponent, but a behind the scene chess-type foe as well. Because that's where the real money is (as we learned in The Dark Knight film).

13. Supergirl/ Silver Banshee
Face it, we all know Supergirl's needed an intervention for some time now, and it looks like she's finally getting one. Even her brief appearances in Geoff Johns' Superman has made her more likable by a hundredfold. Making Cat Grant her bane, tying her in more closely to Superman's story (she's going to have a Supertriangle; see below), and giving her foes to fight (like Silver Banshee) are all big steps in the right direction. Besides ... I have always loved Silver Banshee's look. Particularly the earrings.

14. Starro
Starro is guest-starring in Booster Gold (THE place to be seen nowadays; what the Batman TV series was to Hollywood stars, Booster Gold is to the DCU characters). Starro takes over Rip Hunter, I believe, and hijinx ensue. I love Starro. Every night as I go to be a say a loving "good-night" to my giant Starro heroclix figure on the pillow next to mine. Oh, and, you know what I really really really want? A starro eye-pillow/nightmask. Really.

15. Earth-2
Without proper access to the multiverse (I mean, as resource, not just as a plot point), DC's been squirming around for years like a one-legged centipede. This upcoming Earth-Two/Power Girl storyline in JSA sounds like it will really bring back the Earth-2 we remember to represent the Golden and Silver Ages, and maybe even another Earth to represent the Bronze Age. Long overdue (especially since we get told at least once a year that the Multiverse is coming back).

16. Wonder Woman the Movie
No, they aren't making a Wonder Woman film, but they are telling the story of what happens in the DCU when someone does decide to make a WW movie. This is kind of innovative, yet commonsensical storytelling I've come to expect and eagerly anticipate from Gail Simone. Like most people, I've been underwhelmed by this Claw the Uncared For detour and I'm anxious to learn more about the impact of a person like Wonder Woman on our world (that means the DCU), not the mystical travismorganverse (which is also where Phil Jimenze wandered off-track).

17. Billy Batson
I love all-ages books, both conceptual and (usually) in practice. I'm delighted that DC didn't just let the Jeff Smith Captain Marvel experiment drop, but is putting out a Cap book based on it. Captain Marvel really does do better in his own special world, and I hope that adults readers don't spurn the book because of its more abstract artistic style (which many readers nowadays associate with juvenility but which I associate with universality).

18. Unknown Soldier
I'm not a fan of DC's war stories per se, but I'm a big supporting of (re-)expanding its line beyond standard cape-action. They began with their old Western line, and are trying their darnedest with their War line. The War That Time Forgot, for example (or, as we call it at my store, The Book That Everyone Forgot). Updating the Unknown Soldier by placing him in Uganda is inspired. Ours is a world of many theaters of war, rather than One Big War in Europe, and DC seems to be taking advantage of that storytelling opportunity.

19. Archie Heroes
Okay, I knew that DC had acquired the Archieverse heroes, but to actually ... use them? In the DCU proper?? In the Brave & the Bold title??? Genius. Like the Borg, DC continues to find and assimilate new species, adding their individual strengths to the collective.

Some of these guys are just so perfect. The Black Hood, a cursed superhero identity that kills its wearers in an on-going legacy of heroic doom? Hey, it's like the Flash! The Comet, the first superhero killed in the line of duty, and his brother, Hangman? This kind of Golden Age doomed legacy stuff is like dessert to Geoff Johns! Besides, admit it; you want a hero named Flygirl.

19. Milestone
The Great Experiment for Black comics creators in the 1990s, Milestone, was an imprint of DC Comics, but now its characters are coming back as part of the DCU proper. This is fabulous in several ways. One, it adds some solid characters who are black and who aren't just a legacy of some other hero. And one of them is Static (Shock); I loved that show. Two, it brings their fictional city, Dakota, with them. As the head of the DCU's tourist bureau, I believe strongly the DC should have almost NOTHING but fictional cities. After all, every time you use a "real city" in a comic, it's a fictionalize version of it anyway, so why constrain yourself when you don't gain realism from it anyway? Three, it adds to whole expansive Borginess of the DCU; resistance is cute, but it's ultimately futile. If you want your characters to survive, the best chance is to have them be part of the Biggest Comic Book Sandbox of them all.

For those kids too young to remember, all the Superman titles used to be united in one loose storyline, and on each issue a small triangle appeared containing a number that guided you as to the proper order for reading them. This era was perhaps the height of my interest in the Superman titles, because the coordinated titles really gave the creators a chance to fill out Metropolis and its characters. It was the kind of myth-building that hadn't been done since the Silver Age. The return of the Supertriangles and other evidence make it clear that the central Superstory is going to be broader and wackier than it has been in some.

22. The Haunted Tank in Iraq
Really. I mean, just say it, out loud: "The Haunted Tank, in Iraq". What more do you need to know? DC's making some bold attempts to update its war titles with new relevancy, and I think it's great. I hope the readers reward the efforts.

23. B&B Animated
Judging from the trailer, this show will rock, and anyone who insists on bitching that "*sigh* it's just not Batman the Animated Series, though, is it?" can suck it up and shut it up. Move on; that was 16 years ago. We're not in the dark Iron Age any longer, we're in the bright Platinum Age, and I, for one, consider that a very high quality problem.

24. New GA/BC writer.
It's not because I don't like the current writer. I don't, of course, but that's not the point. The new writers are going to put Connor Hawke back on the table and return the action squarely to the desperately-in-need-of-fleshing out Star City. That's mythbuilding stuff there, on top of the new focus on what makes the title unique: it has two big stars, and they're married to each other.

25. The Flash
Barry Allen's coming back. Big time. And he's going to kick your butt. It's clear that the new creative team for this project "gets" Barry, and why this is his time. They also seems intent on making all the Flash stuff cohere as part of a bigger "Flashiverse", with Barry as the pivot point. I'm beginning to think the all stripes of Flash-fans are going to be able to have their cake and eat it, too. We're not going to be asked to choose which Flash we want; they're simply going to expand the world to make it big enough for all of them, exactly as was done when Jay Garrick became part of New Earth.