Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Justice League of Arcana

We superhero fans love our supergroups. Our publishers know this and so they sometimes cobble together teams to satisfy our appetite that wind up being pretty unsatisfying. You ever go to one of those events where you think there's going to be a buffet, and what's actually offered is a variety of h'ordeurvres? That's how I feel reading the likes of Infinity Inc and Outsiders.

But that's not my point. I've always like the idea of a sort of "Mystic League of America", a supergroup of mystics formed along the lines of the JLA/JSA. I thought DC had this concept locked when they created the Sentinels of Magic, but they never ran with it. Even worse, they went instead with the Outsiders of Magic, the Shadowpact; on the whole, readers didn't go with them.

Why didn't/doesn't this idea fly? Is it because, unlike the spandex crowd, magician's powers are too vague and indistinguishable from one another? Too little interest in magic characters?

I picture a group very much like the Sentinels of Magic, but narrowed down a bit. More like the classic JLA rather than a JLU of magic (because perhaps early over-expansion of the Sentinels watered down the concept and hindered its popularity; a club to which everyone belongs doesn't have a lot of perceived value!). I'd even make sure there was a bit a parallelism going on, like so.

Dr. Fate, in for Superman
Phantom Stranger, in for Batman
Zatanna, in for Wonder Woman
Tempest, in for Aquaman
Blue Devil, in for Green Lantern
Deadman, in for Flash
Dr. Occult, in for Martian Manhunter

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Dark Knight: The Joker

As we've been discussing, in Dark Knight, most of the characters face moral dilemmas and struggling with violating their own principles. Many are the ways, large and small, in which the persons of the drama betrayal themselves, others, and the principles they profess. But none of the betrayed the principles they profess more than ...

the Joker.

The Joker, as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, is very convincing liar. So much so, that I've noticed that he managed to deceive lots of people in the audience as well. "Oh," I hear people saying, "the Joker was such a force of chaos! He represents anarchy!" Um... yeah.

What part of "It's all part of the plan?" did you not get?!

Yes, the Joker does represent chaos ... in a way. But I'm astonished at how many people seem to have overlooked the fact that the Joker's brand of "chaos" requires enormous amounts of complex and detailed planning. The opening bank robbery scene ALONE is a masterpiece of clockwork scheduling. Watch the film; right after he says, "I kill the busdriver," the Joker steps a bit to one side. He's getting out of the way of the incoming bus. That presumes he knows exactly when and where it's arriving.

The list is almost endless. Planning on the reactions that send people to the ferries. The bombs and their detonations. The burning fire truck blockade. Getting captured. His one phone call. Batman is the one who's improvising in this story; everything the Joker does is coldly calculated in advance.

And that includes his carefully crafted persona. Hanging his head out the car window like a crazy dog, "I just do whatever comes into my head," playing the unpredictable lunatic. Did he convince you? That was all part of his plan, too.

He professes to be an agent of chaos, but he's actually a mastermind of order. But, in fact, he has a clear agenda, and goes to great lengths with elaborate plans to make his point. It's a great way to write him and very consistent with his original portrayal, in which advance planning was his forte and how he stayed a step ahead of the police.

The Joker's goal is make all the other characters in the Dark Knight betray and abandon their old principles. But in order to do that, he must betray and abandon his own, and much more severely than they do. To be what he says he is, he must be exactly the opposite ... and keep you from noticing it..

Somehow, however, I think he'd be okay with that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy

... in my comics this week.

  • Ah. The old "second identity-module set up in case of psychological debilitation" routine. Makes sense. Not really worth all these issues, but still it makes some sense.
  • "Money is easy. Answers are hard."
  • Alfred & His Shotgun versus Booster Gold & Co. Guess who wins?
  • Tom Tresser gets groomed. And looks really hot during it.
  • Batman's cape in Batman Confidential deserves it own miniseries.
  • The Club of Villains doesn't seem quite as threatening as they did in the first splash panel.
  • I'm pretty certain I've never seen Superman throw up before.
  • "Henchmen are for wussies."
  • Batgirl's high heel destroys reality as we know it.
  • Okay, I know the blue jay wasn't supposed to be funny. But it was HILARIOUS.
  • It's raining ocula; hallelujah! Where's the Corinthian when you need him?
  • Sarge Steel's diary has a very interesting prose-style, doesn't it?
  • The Bat-Radia made me laugh.
  • The Girl Sentries versus the Bonfire Girls.
  • I'm pretty certain I've never seen Mojo throw up before. Certain not that.
  • "Gnats and nuisance," is my new favorite phrase.
  • They weren't aiming at Connor.
  • Eddie Brock's cancer is gone. Interesting.
  • Cottus. Always good to see a classical monster, even if only in cameo.
  • "Whatever you do, don't upset Hippolyta."
  • Supergirl versus Cat Grant's boobs.
  • So, is that the first time the Narrows has been mentioned by name in comics proper?
  • Hawkman fighting an ape in a bustier. Um, the ape, not Hawkman.
  • The Moth Signal, and all that comes with it.
  • I'm really really starting to adore Donna Troy. I guess I really am gay.
  • Super-deep-throating is a rarely used power.
  • "But one guy at a time just doesn't do it for me." Really, it gives a whole new meaning to the name 'Bulls-eye'.
  • Superman versus a big monkey. I like big monkeys. Particulary ones that are correctly named.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Dark Knight: Bruce Wayne

I have to say I was very impressed by the, well, the sanity with which Bruce Wayne was written/portrayed in Dark Knight. I mean, really; if Batman's not sane, what's the point of pitting him against the Joker at all?

One of the most distressing Bat-trends in the last 20 years has been the revisionist Batman-is-crazy craze. The worst problem is that younger readers seem to be unaware that it's revisionist at all; they think it's just Batman 101: "He dresses up like a bat, of course he's crazy!" The idea that Batman is -- like the scores (hundreds?) of other costumed crime-fighters in the DCU -- not only perfectly sane but impressively so is utterly alien to many of them. I blame Marvel.

It's clear in both Dark Knight and its predecessor, Batman Begins, that Bruce Wayne is a highly rationale person, choosing his M.O. carefully and with a purpose in mind. Dark Knight also makes it clear he's ready-- anxious, even -- to abandon the Batman schtick if it appears that the regular instruments of justice can get and keep the city on an even keel. In fact, as mentioned in previous Dark Knight posts here, that seems to be what everyone in the film is hoping for. Well, everyone except the Joker.

Make no mistake; this is not the revisionist Bruce Wayne who has to be the Batman, and is merely Batman's tool. This is the original, the real Bruce Wayne, who's quite capable, even willing not to be Batman if there's no pressing need for him to be. The fact that this Bruce Wayne is quite willing to sacrifice Batman is made concretely clear at least twice in the film. First, it is not "Batman", but Bruce Wayne who winds up saving the life of Coleman Reese -- the man who could end Batman's career. Christopher Nolan doesn't do things like that by accident. Second, Bruce Wayne risks ending Batman's career by letting his alter ego take the murder rap for Two-Face, instead of favoring Batman's own ability to continue his crime-fighting with public approval.

But, as also mentioned in previous posts, Bruce Wayne's use of the Batman identity creates a moral dilemma for him. It does help get the regular crime situation under control; Dent & Co. almost have it licked and are ready to ermanently break the back of organized crime in Gotham. The dilemma is that the concept of the Batman -- the law-enforcer who colors outside the lines and breaks the rules to accomplish his goals -- also leads to the concept of the Joker -- the law-break who colors outside the lines and breaks the rules to accomplish his goals. Why, it's like something Two-Face would come up with, isn't it?

Batman does solve the ordinary problems, which starts to make him unnecessary; but he also generates extraordinary ones, which starts to make him necessary. Bruce Wayne is darned if he does and darned if he doesn't.

Batman confronts another irony in the Dark Knight: just as the Joker has confirmed for Batman his resolve not to kill, he chooses to take the rap for Two-Face, gaining a reputation as a killer. This is an even bitterer pill for the viewers than for the characters; we "know" Batman doesn't kill and the whole thing is just wrong. Gordon and Wayne's use of the Batman identity causes an escalation in the crime war (as personified by the Joker) that breaks Dent, promotes Gordon, and criminalizes Batman. It's not just an unfairness to the characters; if feels like an unfairness to us, and that's part of the emotional impact of the film.