Posts tagged comics
This review is about the film, rather than the Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. comic.
Directed by Matthew “Layer Cake” Vaughn and co-written with Jane Goldman, this film elevates hyper-violence to the category of camp, in company with such films as Wanted and Shoot ‘Em Up. Roger Ebert called the film “morally reprehensible.”
Well, it is. And that’s the point. Kick-Ass is a parody by means of Reductio ad Absurdum. The violence and improbability of the premise is pushed so far that it falls into what I call the Moore Continuum, which condemns all superheroes as ultimately tending towards psychosis or fascism (or both). In this case, the superheroes fall by the side of Rorschach — sociopathic masochists guided only by their own moral code. The titular Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) is the most moderate of these figures, far outpaced in his sociopathy by Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz)and her father/trainer Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, channeling Adam West’s Batman). The super-hero cast is rounded out by Christopher Mintz-Please (aka McLovin) as Red Mist.
In particular, the 11-year old Hit Girl is shown as brainwashed/raised with a worldview that desensitizes her to violence by interpreting vigilante slaying within the context of a game. A sequence towards the climax of the film gives us the action from Hit Girl’s POV in a manner evocative of a 1st person shooter such as Doom or Halo, complete with reload animations.
Big Daddy and Hit Girl are easily seen as analogues of Batman and Robin, and Big Daddy also parallels the Punisher. Since no heroes have actual powers, they fall into the “street level” hero category, where the vigilante aspects of superheroes are drawn with a sharper focus. The bad guys in street-level superhero stories are customarily thugs and crime bosses, rather than invading aliens or armies of secret cyborg nazis.
Kick-Ass addresses the question “why hasn’t anyone become a superhero?”
In our world, the answer is “they already have. But not in the way you’d expect.” Individuals like Mr. Silent and Doktor DiscorD (both in Indianapolis) and across the world with groups such as the World Superhero Registry are stepping up and pursuing the spirit of superheroics without breaking the law. Heroes such as Mr. Silent patrol the city and act within the law while working to allay fears and help people feel protected.
Kick-Ass goes far, far beyond the level of Mr. Silent or any of the Real Life Superheroes. Comics geek David Leziwsky orders a scuba suit off of the internet and intervenes in a carjacking. Given that he’s an untrained average teenager, he gets the living daylights beaten out of him, then stabbed in the gut. Massive surgery leaves him with metal plates in his body and head and nerve damage which becomes his “super-power” — he can take a beating and keep going.
In his mis-adventures, he becomes a YouTube and Myspace phenomenon, leading to ubiquitous Kick-Ass memorabilia and increasing his popularity. He runs across Hit Girl and Big Daddy, who have the actual training to take on large numbers of armed opponents. It helps that they use lethal force without remorse, stabbing slicing and shooting at whim.
I’ll end my plot recollections here for now, as there are some notable twists.
Kick-Ass is not for anyone who isn’t a fan of hyperviolence or ridiculousness. It leaps a jet ski over the top, then trampolines over a shark and never looks back. But as campy as the action is, the emotional reality of the situation is powerful for the characters. Kick-Ass confronts the idiocy of his attempts to be a hero when he doesn’t have the training or the equipment to succeed, and the reality of loss and revenge are keenly felt by Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who reprise a Punisher/Batman-style origin story of tragedy and loss. By counter-example, David shares his own tragic past — but instead of being murdered by a criminal, his mother died from a brain aneurysm. His rage cannot be anchored to a guilty party, unlike Spider-Man, Batman, Daredevil.
An unexpected surprise was the 3-D John Romita Jr. art during the recollection of Big Daddy’s story of loss. The camera zooms across 2-D traditional comic-panels, but as it turns and moves, the panels come alive in 3-D, giving greater depth and texture to the art of Romita Jr. (standing in for Big Daddy’s paintings on his half serial-killer, half police officer target/crime board.) It was a deft artistic touch that acknowledged the film’s sequential art heritage as well as highlighting the art of Kick-Ass‘ co-creator.
I’m not a big Mark Millar friend in general. I love his Elseworlds Superman story Red Son, which tells the tale of a world where Kal-El’s escape shuttle lands in the middle of Russia instead of the American Heartland, leading him to become a gleaming example of the triumph of Socialism, positioned as national foes with American hero Lex Luthor rather than as rival claimants on the American Spirit. In Red Son, the critique of the superhero flows naturalistically and doesn’t take arrogant pleasure in itself. In other Millar works, I find the aggressive testosterone-filled action to be smug and self-important (evident in later arcs of The Ultimates and in Civil War. In the case of the Kick-Ass film, the overblown testosterone-y action draws attention to its own faults and invites critique, where I feel some of his other works lack the same self-awareness.
If you’re a superhero fan, Kick-Ass is certainly worth your time and money — more and more superhero films are being made, and it’s films like Kick-Ass that show another part of the genre conversation than films such as Iron Man or The Dark Knight. As a genre rises, parody comes with it. Parody is a way for the genre to show its self-awareness and show that it’s aware of its blind spots and its pock-marks. Parody and deconstruction doesn’t necessarily lead to re-construction or reform, but it maintains the conversation and keeps artists and fans from consuming and engaging with stories in the genre without reflecting on its motifs and assumptions.
“Let’s keep it that way.”
So ends the first issue of the comic series Planetary, script by Warren Ellis and art by John Cassaday, published by Wildstorm comics. Planetary started in 1999, and I’ve been reading it since about 2001, just in to the second trade’s materials. The 27th issue and series epilogue was released today, and now the series is officially complete.
For those who don’t know it, here’s the premise: John Elijah Snow is recruited by the Planetary Organization, a rich and influential group that acts as Mystery Archaeologists, uncovering and documenting the secret history of the 20th century. In the first six issues alone, they find 1) the sole survivor of a pulp-era superteam who just barely stopped a cross-dimensional Justice League analogue from conquering our planet 2) A Hong Kong ghost cop seeking vengeance 3) the Monster Island where the remains of Godzilla-style monsters are treated as sacred relics by a Japanese terrorist and his sychophants, 4) Radioactively mutated people and giant ants, and much more.
Part of why I love this series is the way it interfaces with genre. The series takes the popular literature/culture of the 20th century and says ‘what if this were all true, but it was secret?’ A sense of wonder and deep fascination with the past permeates the book, and in this case, the past is our cultural heritage, and most specifically the cultural heritage of the superhero genre (since the series is published in the medium associated with supers, by a publisher known for superhero comics) — even though in the world of Planetary, superheroes don’t exist in the public eye (Well they kind of do, as Kevin says, but that depends on how much one considers it to be in synch with other Wildstorm continuity). Snow and the other members of the Planetary Organization go around the world and discover the wonders that were and those that could have been. Popular literary genres are positioned as thrusts and ripostes of cultural warfare to control the earth.
Each issue tends to focus on one of those genres, with a cover stylized to match. Atomic SF here, Hong Kong action there, and then over to silver age superheroes and back to pulp mystery.
So if you haven’t read Planetary, you might give it a chance, especially if you like any of the following: 1) genre studies, 2) superheroes, 3) deeply intertextual literature.
I received no free copies of anything from this series, so don’t bother trying to fine me, ok FTC?
On March 31st, 10 years ago, a film called The Matrix hit movie theatres and took the film industry/pop culture world by storm. It lead to copy-cats in content, style, and in technology (The Matrix‘s ‘Bullet-cam’ became the ‘effect to do’ for the first several years of the 21st century in action movies)
It was lauded for its originality, but really, it was a combination of a plethora of influences and cultural properties which helped/help define a generation (Gen X, as the creators, Andy and Larry Wachowski). It was Hong Kong cinema made in the US, it was a live-action anime, it was pop-philosophy and comparative religion, it was cyberpunk and a blockbuster film all rolled up into one.
It also launched one of the more successful transmedia properties of the last decade, as indicated by its use as an example in Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture chapter “Searching for the Origami Unicorn: The Matrix and Transmedia Storytelling)” (Jenkins 2006).
The Matrix universe has grown from one cultural work to include three films, a collection of animated shorts (The Animatrix), several video games (Enter The Matrix, The Matrix: The Path of Neo), including a MMO (The Matrix Online), comic books (The Matrix Comics), and a variety of merchandising tie-ins.
As Jenkins says,
The Wachowski Bros. played the transmedia game very well, putting out the original film to stimulate interest, offering up a few Web comics to sustain the hard-core fan’s hunger for more information, launching the anime in anticipation of the second film, releasing the video game alongside it to surf the publicity, bringing the whole cycle to conclusion with The Matrix Revolutions, then turning the whole mythology over to the players of the massively multiplayer online game. Each step along the way built on what has come before, while offering new points of entry. (Jenkins, 2006).
In the hands of fans
An intrinsic part of successful transmedia storytelling is the creation of a setting that is generative of many stories. The premise of the Matrix allows for a nearly limitless number of stories to be told in a number of genres (A Detective Story is much more in line with the look and feel of Film Noir, whereas “Program” is steeped in samurai action (Chanbara). Since the Matrix itself is a programmed shared universe, it can be modified to fit different desires and perspectives. Why is it that Detective’s Ash world looked so different than Neo’s world? It’s not difficult to read in the possibility that there are/were a number of servers, with different settings (a noir world, a cyberpunk world, etc.) But even without having to fill in the gaps of the setting by making these readings, there are many different places for a number of stories. This allows for fan creativity to enter into the picture, another essential part of a vibrant transmedia property.
The Wachowskis/WB can lay out the official path of transmedia cultural flow between games and films and comics, but if transmedia storytelling universes are maps, there is space beside the roads and outside the buildings in addition to those official pathways and locations. There is always room for fan-fiction, other games, fan art, vidding, and much more.
I remember playing a home-brewed Matrix table-top roleplaying game the summer of 1999, a game designed by friends so that we could tap into the awesomeness of the Matrix setting, even drawn in as limited a fashion as it was when the only data point was the original film. The mythology/setting of the Matrix had proven compelling enough to lead us to make our own ways to interact with the Matrix universe on our own terms, when not provided with an official outlet. A smart transmedia author/creator will encourage this informal/unofficial play/interaction, as it inevitably leads fans/customers back to the official parts, the ones that convert into sales.
Benefits of the transmedia approach
Unofficial transmedia play is free advertising. It keeps fans thinking about the property and shows/develops their level of involvement and investment. The more you play in the world of the matrix, the more it can matter, and so the more you will continue to play, and the more you will reach out to others to join you.
The Matrix universe was far from the first transmedia storytelling venture. George Lucas’ Star Wars had become comics, video games, action figures, trivia games, board games, memorabilia and more decades before The Matrix. However, The Wachowskis & Co. did utilize new media technologies and digital cultural socialization to further its popularity with a strong online presence. The Matrix Comics were first shared online, and preview videos of the Animatrix were available exclusively on the web before the DVD release.
A transmedia approach also allows a cultural property to become a franchise, with film, television, comics, video games, and other media to be tied in, allowing a tv show to reach out to video gamers and to comics readers, building its fan base with every new node in the transmedia map.
Other properties since have followed the transmedia model, but we can remember The Matrix property as one of the most commercially successful examples in recent memory. While opinions on the 2nd and 3rd films vary wildly, it is hard to deny the economic success and cultural impact of the Matrix property, and much of that is due to a transmedia storytelling and marketing approach.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen was long considered an un-filmable work. It pushed the formal grammar of comics to new levels, and remains among the top superhero deconstruction narratives. This review will fully discuss the comic and film versions without pause for spoilers.
So when I heard that a film version was coming, I was suspicious. The promo shots and trailers and interviews painted a pretty picture, but the big questions remained:
Would Watchmen be able to translate to the film medium and retain its efficacy? Could it do for superhero films what it did for comics, and for the supers genre? What would have to change for it to do so?
The film version of Watchmen opens with the Comedian’s murder juxtaposed with Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.” The visual style is striking, more polished and shiny than Gibbons’ Watchmen, which was studied and deliberate in its messiness. The use of music throughout grounds the story within its historical context.
One of the most inspired innovations of film version of Watchmen is the opening credits sequence. The film shows several living photographs over the cource of the alternative history. We go from Nite Owl knocking out a crook in front of a theatre (which i09.com pinned as being a Batman easter-egg) to Silhouette kissing a nurse in a re-work of the iconic ‘soldier coming home kissing nurse’ picture:
The film takes cues from Moore and Gibbon’s intensely dense intertextual text with this and other allusions. It shows Sally Jupiter’s retirement party as a re-figuring of the Last Supper:
It also posits the Comedian as one of the gunmen in the Kennedy assassination, and so on. And the thing tying it all together is Dylan’s “The Times Are A-Changin’”. By the end of the sequence, you know what’s different in the world, you know what the stakes are for the film.
For the most part, Zach Synder’s film of Watchmen follows the graphic novel closely. The Black Freighter text-within-a-text is omitted, to be released separately as a DVD. The basic story beats are there, with more of an emphasis put on the energy crisis aspects of the cold war, such that Ozymandias and Dr. Manhatten’s efforts to fight the dwindling Doomsday Clock by creating a revolutionary energy source.
Synder’s Watchmen turns up the graphic detail of violence, drawing attention to the hyper-violence of the genre in addition to the hyper-sexuality of the fetishistic costumes and their role in the sexual lives of the heroes.
The Moore Continuum
In my earlier post about the Moore Continuum, I talked about how Moore’s critique of superheroes established two ultimate fates of the superhero: A superhero ultimately becomes a Fascist or a Psychopath. Dr. Manhatten represents the superhero being used as a totalitarian tool or weapon of mass destruction, ending the Vietnam conflict in a week of action. The Comedian presents the superhero as a sociopathic rapist turned tool of the establishment (as opposed to the outlaw hero.
Superheroes have been more commonly establishment heroes or outlaw heroes depending on the character or the times. Superman is more usually an establishment hero, Batman and Spiderman more frequently an outlaw hero). Within the history of Watchmen, heroes began as outlaws, were accepted and embraced by the establishment for their work in WWII, used by the establishment in Vietnam, then outlawed by the Keene Act.
Among the other notable changes is the fact that the female figures in the film have had their smoking habits removed, despite the chain-smoking of the comic. This while Comedian is still allowed his cigars — this ties into the new default cultural assumption now that associates smoking with moral fault. Comedian is an antagonistic/villanous character, so he gets to smoke. But the Jupiter women are figured as victim and heroine, so they aren’t directly associated with that behavior.
In general, Laurie is allowed to be more heroic and agent than in the comic, participating in most of the current-timeline fight scenes and pulling her own weight alongside Nite Owl II. However, the entire narrative of Watchmen remains a critique of the gross excesses of the figure of the superhero.
Feet of Clay
We’ve examined the ‘villains’ of the piece, but what about our protagonists?
Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II — an overweight middle-aged shut-in trust-fund kid who wanted to join in the fun, and is impotent without the fetish of his costume and ther aphrodesiac of crime-fighting. Dan is a self-insert character for any and every superhero fan, any kid who grew up loving superheroes so much that their motives are comprimised — is Dan in it because he wants to do good, of because he wants to matter, to be strong, be powerful, be desirable?
Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II — A woman who is defined entirely by her relationships to other characters. She goes into heroing to follow after her mother, falls in with Dr. Manhatten and becomes his sole link to humanity, then imprints on Dan when Dr. Manhatten slips away from her, re-creating her hero worship while acting as a hero herself because she doesn’t know anything else.
Walter Kovacs/Rorschach — A dangerous sociopath raised in a broken home and consdered worthless growing up, he found refuge in crime-fighting, found a way to channel his rage into righteous fury into (somewhat) socially-acceptable channels. For all that he is a crime fighter, he is also a racist misogynist bigot who mooches off of his fellow heroes and unquestioningly murders criminals. His fetish is the Rorschach mask, which he calls his ‘face’ — Kovacs has abdicated his identity and given himself over to his superhero identity, to escape his painful past.
Our ‘heroes’ are far from the paragons of virtue that characters like Superman or Spiderman are made out to be. Now any given hero has their weaknesses — it makes for more human, compelling figures for a hero to transcend their faults to do the right thing. But the weakness and faults in Watchmen’s heroes run so deep that every step of the way, their actions are suspect, must be judged in context with each character’s less-than-heroic motivations — Dreiburg for virility, Jupiter for validation, Kovacs for control. The film does a fine job of following suit with Moore and Gibbons’ storytelling in this regard, such that by the end of the narrative, the protagonists are less reprehensible than the villains, but are hardly role models.
In the comic version of Watchmen, Ozymandias created an alien invasion scare by teleporting a giant alien corpse into Times Square, creating a rallying point for humanity to unite against an external threat. The alien is seeded throughout the series, gestured at and shown in parts.
In the film, Ozymandias instead uses the energy sources he and Dr. Manhatten had been making, and replicates effects associated with Dr. Manhatten. He plays on established fears of the godlike figure and re-works nuclear apocalyptic anxiety to provide the unifying threat that ends the Cold War.
In both cases, Rorschach’s journal makes its way to the New Frontiersman, which would raise enough questions about Ozymandias’ involvement to bring down the whole house of cards. In the comic, the New Frontiersman is established throughout the series, but in the film, it is included at the very end without introduction. Regardless, the point is that after Dan and Laurie agree to lie to preserve the costly peace, the truth will come out anyways.
I doubt that Watchmen will revolutionize superhero film the way that it changed superhero comics. It presented an impressive visual style, but satisfied itself by re-creating and somewhat re-working the story. The credits sequence alternative history was powerful, but even with the evocative usage of music (even though Battlestar Galactica fans will forever associate “All Along The Watchtower” with Cylons).
The film’s first weekend performance ($55 million) was, when we take the recession in context, is impressive. Depending on second-week dropoff and general reception, will determine how the film will be remembered in terms of the superhero film trend. We may see other film adaptations of famous comics, though for many of the leading franchises, the adaptation process complicates the possibility of direct adaptations. Marvel Studios continue building towards their massive crossover Avengers film, following the unexpected success of Iron Man and their competition’s success with The Dark Knight. Superhero films don’t seem to be going anywhere yet, and the film was not adapted in such as to condemn or indict other superhero films or their franchises.
If you’ve read Watchmen, seeing the film will let you see iconic moments brought to life, though the adaptation is not perfect, and the changes made have provoked negative reactions from fans, but other fans have been satisfied with the adpatation and noted the increased role given to Silk Spectre II. If you haven’t read the comic but are interested in the supers genre, it’s worth a look to see a critique of the genre brought to the big screen. But then go read the comic afterwords.
Once upon a time, there was a show called Firefly. It had fan-favorite Joss Whedon at the helm and a distinct view of the future, a western-flavored future that wasn’t about the people in the shiny organized space ships. Instead, it focused on the people on the edge, misfits and outcasts.
It was plagued from nearly the beginning by interference from executives, and was canceled in less than a season.
But the fans were not done with the world of Firefly, nor were those involved in its creation.
Done the Impossible is a documentary that tells the story of the Firefly/Serenity-verse, through the lens of fans of the ‘verse. The documentary is not for the unitiated, instead, it is itself a work of fandom, a gift from a team of Firefly fans (Browncoats) to the community. With narrations from fans, cast & crew, Done the Impossible talks about the show, the time between Firefly and Serenity, and then the arrival of the film.
In years past, I’d thought that a combined ethnographic/cultural studies analysis of Browncoats would make a good book-lenth project. I still do, as Done the Impossible has not already done that work. I’m not very involved with Firefly fandom myself — I watched the series the first time around and told my friends, then sent my DVD set to make its way throughout my friends groups. But I did not partake in much if any of the intense and highly active grassroots campaigning and guerilla marketing that is discussed in the film. In this case, I would have the positionality of being one of ‘the Browncoats’ without being as much of an insider as with other groups.
Firefly fandom is intriguing in that we can look at it and confidently say that it was the fans’ efforts which led to the creation of Serenity. Creator Joss Whedon repeated a line from the series at the first of the Serenity early screenings:
“We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.”
The line is the source of the documentary’s title, and has become a rallying cry for Browncoats, a reminder of the power of guerilla marketing and grassroots fan activity.
There have been ‘Save my favorite show’ campaigns before, but while the Browncoats’ efforts didn’t bring back the show on TV, since its cancellation, Firefly has had two comic series, a tabletop role-playing game line, a major motion picture, and continues to have a strong and active fan-base. Browncoats continue to host ‘shindigs’ and other events, sharing their passion of a show that like its namesake, shone brightly, went dim, and then shone again just as briefly.
Don’t look to Done the Impossible for an introduction to Firefly, or even as an ethnographic work explicating fandom in general. It is a specialized work done from within a fan community for that fan community. If you’re already one of the flock, then pull out your Browncoat, pour some Mudder’s Milk, and join in the geek-fest.
Another, post-review note, about positionality: There are many ways to be a fan within a community, different degrees of engagement. To use Firefly as an example — there are people who watched Firefly and liked it. There are people who consider themselves fans, but don’t necessarily identify with the Browncoat movement. Then there are any number of different levels and types of involvement within the Browncoats, from fan-fiction to convention organizing to costuming to fan art to role-playing games to podcasting to guerilla marketing and more. These people are all members of the fan community to different degrees. There are a lot of ways to be a fan, within one fandom and across many fandoms. This becomes readily evident at any general convention, where fans move between groups to share their passion for shows, games, films, comics, and more.
For a fan-scholar, you’re never going to be as into everything as the people you interview/work with. I may be able to speak most of the dialects of geek (video gamer, comics geek, anime otaku, role-player), but in any given situation, I can’t assume I know more about a fandom than anyone I’m talking to. They get to exercise mastery of knowledge as a result of their involvement, and in turn, I exercise my status as a scholar and serve to represent fans to members of another community, that of the scholars (who may or may not be fans). Scholarship in fan studies has always been in an interesting state, given that there are well-established and vibrant fan scholars who may not have the same academic credentials but do similar work.
Questions of power, authority, agency and positionality are never far from any ethnographic study, even moreso in fan studies and media studies. Scholars are accountable to the public and should always be aware of their cultural power — even though we are a part of the panopticon like everyone else.
On February 13th, we will be introduced to Joss Whedon’s newest television series, Dollhouse.
I’ll be watching it, for my own interest as a general fan of his work, but also to discover if Whedon is able to get out of his rut. I’ve been a fan since the first season of Buffy, continued on with Angel, and am one of approximately 37 members of the Original Flock (also known as people who watched Firefly on FOX during its original run). The Church of Firefly now sports many thousand devotees, whose rankings might as well be determined by the number of DVD-loaning-genertions one is removed from the original TV run). I’m a Whedon fan through-and-through. But it is a natural part of subcultural fandom to critique that which we love. One could say that Indie Rock fan culture is entirely composed of such critique (or that might just be my intense reading of Questionable Content speaking).
In addition to developing a reputation as one of the poets laurate for Geek Culture, Joss Whedon, writer of witty banter, producer of an ongoing line of bad-ass skinny super-powered adolescents/young adults, has become painfully predictable in his approach to romantic relationships.
Whedon’s ouvre spans over a dozen seasons of television, dozens of issues of comics, several films, and a troublesome through-line.
In Joss Whedon’s universe, happiness in romantic relationships is inevitably followed by catastrophic death/dismemberment/disaster.
Let’s do a quick roll-call of Whedon’s Greatest Relationship Hits — I won’t be pulling any spoiler punches here, so stand ready:
Buffy/Angel — Fated Doomed Lovers. A Slayer and a Vampire, it really is poetic. And ended the first time with Buffy stabbing Angel through the heart and shoving him into a hell dimension just as his soul was restored to him. Ended the second time when Angel moped off to LA to get his own show. Failed to start again when Buffy fell in love with Spike.
Xander/Anya — A strange-but-stable relationship ended by cold feet and then kept from re-uniting by a random death in the Buffy finale because, from a dramatic standpoint, a heroic finale isn’t powerful enough unless someone dies.
Zoe/Wash — Happily married, not without their issues, but those issues proved that you can portray a happy long-term relationship realistically and still have it be interesting. Or it did, until Wash took a Reaver-spear through the middle after having his Big Damn Hero moment.
Colossus/Shadowcat — Pete comes back from the dead and Kitty comes back from being a bartender so they can have a joyous reunion, only so that Kitty can be killed off in the Only-Uncle-Ben-Stays-Dead Marvel universe.
Cordy/Angel — Cordelia Chase, who wins the award for Buffyverse character who has the greatest amount of actual character development (barely beating out Wesley), finally achieves something resembling a happy relationship with Angel before being possessed, killed, returned, then ascending, only to return to bid farewell to Angel.
Fred/Wesley — The sexy and badass nerds of Angel finally get together, only to have Fred hollowed out by a Hell Goddess and used as a vessel. Strangely, the romance continues with Illyria messing with Wesley’s head in ways that alternate between poignant and sadistic.
Dr. Horrible/Penny — Not that it was hard to see this one coming, given the whole Supervillain thing, but Penny’s death serves as a almost self-referential response to criticism of Whedon’s tendencies.
Most if not all of these dramatic twists make sense within the context of their narratives. What is troubling is not that any one of those romances ended in PAINDEATHDRAMA! instead of Happily Ever After, but that Whedon’s ouvre seems to intimate that PAINDEATHDRAMA is the inevitable fate of any and all romances.
Certainly, we have a proponderance of narratives that pat us on the head and say ‘Everything will be alright, you’ll meet the right person and it will be beautiful!’, but appreciating and recommending Whedon’s work is harder to do when you take his Love Interest in Refrigerators approach to writing romance. In discussions of his own work, Whedon is fairly clear that he prefers to show the nuance and darkness in the world, wrapping darkness in a comfy hoodie of whimsy and witty one-liners, but it’s making him into a three-trick pony — and one of those tricks involves the rider getting thrown and stomped to death.
The result of this prediliction is that any savvy viewer/reader would have to approach all of his stories knowing “No matter how much I want these people to get together, if they do, it will probably in one of them getting killed/possessed/turned evil/mauled” — which induces a level of self-aware viewing that can work at counter-purposes with immersing yourself in a show and enjoying it on its own terms.
It’s gotten to the point where the ending of any given romance in a Whedon property seems to have become predictable, which is not something that an artist devoted to developing their art wants to be. Ask M. Night Shyamalan, who has watched his star fade as he delivers “twist” endings one after another.
So I’ll be watching Dollhouse, but I might as well put my money on Dushku and Penikett’s character’s getting together and then something horrible coming along like clockwork to end the relationship and/or Penikett’s character’s life. And any relationships between secondary characters are not only just as likely to end in PAIN, but they’re also fairly likely to end in character death.
I’d love for Whedon to prove me wrong. I’d enjoy his work even more, then, which is saying a lot, because he speaks loud-and-clear to my aesthetic.
The opening sequence of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles‘ season 2 premiere “Samson and Delilah” is tightly-edited, and seems like it was structured beat-by-beat off of the soundtrack used for the scene, “Samson and Delilah,” as sung by Shirley Manson, former lead singer of the rock group “Garbage” who also happens to be playing a new recurring character in the series.
As I watched the opening, I couldn’t help but read the sequence as if it were a fan-vid, as in ‘vidding.’ My friend/colleague Alexis Lothian, author and maintainer of Queer Geek Theory (http://queergeektheory.wordpress.com/) has been working on/with vidding of late, which almost certainly helped inform my viewing. Vidding has a great deal of transformative potential, in that juxtaposing specifically-edited scenes from one or more show/film to a soundtrack can easily and affectively change the original scenes and create/unlock new or underprivilidged readings. Vidding is an argument, constructed and polished as any other, an argument using audio-visual elemets edited together in the proud tradition of a Henry Jenkins-style Textual Poaching.
More than just in that opening sequence, the whole episode seems to be a riff on the title/content of the song, casting John Connor as Samson and Cameron as Delilah. It’s not terribly surprising to have this tightly-coded opening, considering the potent use of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” at the end of last season to support the inexorable menace of the Terminators.
Most of the time, a TV/film score is a supplement, a way of re-inforcing or undercutting the tone of a scene. It’s more rare to have a scene where the music takes the foreground, and it seems as if the visual and diegetic-audio component is supplemental to the score. But sometimes the music tells the story, sets the tone. It remins me of the sequential art form, where the narrative relies at different times more on the text or more on the art. Using the song “Samson and Delilah” allowed for the show to immediately set the stakes for the second season and ride the driving emotion of the song to open the episode and the season with a great deal of momentum, which then is carried forward by the relentless pace of the chase-and-hide-and-chase episode. “Samson and Delilah” felt more like a Terminator film than most any of the other episodes thusfar, emphasizing the lack of fatigue or remorse on the part of the Terminators.
The Samson/Delilah dynamic is the latest layer of what is a growing theme in the show, a meditation on faith and the role of a messiah. John Connor is the Promised Hero who is destined to save humanity, with his own personal angel he himself sent back to ensure that he could fulfil his destiny. Agent Ellison (named for Harlan Ellison, whose story “Demon With a Glass Hand” was an inspiration for the original Terminator) is a man of faith, who comes to view the Terminators as agents of the Adversary, falling into Dr. Silberman’s paradigm, viewing the coming Judgement Day as being that of Revelation (the title of that episode “The Demon Hand” was another nod to the Ellison story. The Terminator series has always had those strands running through it, but the series has the advantage of being able to develop these themes over time, subtly and incrementally. In addition, with Cameron inquiring about the ressurection, we see another thread in the tapestry of that theme, as her character develops both along the Delilah angle, a continuing possible threat, but since she was just ressurected, her sins washed away, she is re-christened as a savior figure herself as John’s guardian angel.
The show has clearly found its stride, and if the rest of the season to follow the cues of the premiere, I think we’ll be in for a good year for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
The reviews for Hancock were far from kind, and yet, the film made $78 million in the USA and Canada in the first weekend. The 3:40 showing I went to yesterday was completely packed. A full Sunday afternoon matinee means one thing — beaucoup bucks.
In a summer when Iron Man’s success annihilated even the most ambitious projections, with The Incredible Hulk quickly following (to somewhat lesser financial and critical success), it seems only natural to put Hancock up as Yet Another Superhero Blockbuster (though the likely #1 Superhero Blockbuster of the summer is still to come, i.e. The Dark Knight)
Here’s where we move into specifics — so beware if you haven’t seen the film.
Except that Hancock is more like The Eternals meets Powers. It comes across with a much more post-modern approach to the supers genre, with Act I as a superhero deconstruction, Act II the subsequent reconstruction, and Act III escalating the crazy. Sadly, Act III needed a thorough re-write — or it had that re-write, and some level of producer/studio/whatever influence trimmed all the exposition that was needed to make the end of the film structurally sound.
The connection between Hancock and Mary is clearly (almost too clearly) established in the first part of the film, and I certainly enjoyed the super-powered throwdowns of Act III. Turns out that the concept for Hancock is far cooler than originally suspected, with beings of incredible power made in pairs fated to be drawn to one another, then become mortal and grow old together. Mary and Hancock are the only pair left (to Mary’s knowledge).
It’s an interesting approach to supers, and puts the comparison between gods and superheroes an explicit part of the film. I read Hancock as being Thunderbird (due to the Tornado and his general destructiveness), or possibly Horus. Mary would be a fire deity of some sort.
When you look at the film from the meta-level of casting and the market, it was pretty obvious that Charlize Theron wasn’t just going to be the dutiful and suspicious wife of Jason Bateman. And I’d heard a spoiler a month or two back that gave away the Act III reveal. Despite all of this, I enjoyed the film, even though Act III makes for a less-than-satisfactory conclusion. The Psychology-professor turned criminal mastermind could have been a decent villain, but he was barely small potatoes compared to the stakes of Mary and Hancock’s 3000-year long on-again-off-again divinely mandated pairing.
Hancock brings up my theory that according to Alan Moore, all superheroes and their stories ultimately slide to one of two extremes. On the one hand, we have the Superhero as Fascist — exemplified by Marvelman/Miracleman. Power and altruism eventually leads to those with power taking control for everyone else’s good. On the other hand, we have the Superhero as Pervert/Psycho — exemplified by Watchmen. Superheroes get off on fighting crime, being above the law, and the mental instability that drives them to heroism will inevitably consume them. Let’s call this the Moore Continuum.
Now of course, often times Fascists are psychotic, so it’s not a cut-and-dry setup. Hancock trends towards the superhero as Pervert/Psycho (or asshole, really), with our hero starting out as an anti-social drunk with anger management issues and a desperate need for human connection and appreciation. It does re-construct Hancock as hero in Act II (whichs is more than a lot of late 80s/early 90s superhero narratives would do), but it doesn’t surprise me to learn that this script began its search for representation and funding about 10 years ago (very late Iron Age/early Platinum Age in supers history).
The explanation for Hancock’s heroism is (according to Mary) in-born, as if Hancock was made by Them (the Demi-Urge(s), the Titans, etc.) to be a contingency plan to protect humanity — which is at least an interesting move in terms of the supers genre.
Which I think is why the film is ultimately a positive experience for me. It’s much more a Supers story than many comic book movies, as it isn’t drawing on already-established cultural knowledge of a character like Spider-Man or The Hulk. Sure, Hancock is the Drunk Superman Movie, but it’s also an examination of loneliness, validation, the relationship between a hero and the populace they protect, the perception and contextualization of heroism. Saying that Hancock has an inborn, by-design imperative to protect sets up Supers (as exemplified by Hancock himself) as humanity’s guardians, their security subroutine. This trends towards the Superhero as Fascist end of the Moore Continuum, and brings up the following question:
How far can we and should we go with our personal/collective power to bring change for the better when we know that other people dissagree, sometimes violently, about what that better means? Can we act on our personal morality/ethics to make radical changes to how society works and not become the Fascists preaching Heteropraxy and Dogma? Where’s the balance? It’s one that the supers genre is particularly good for examining, though I’d say that said potential isn’t always being used very well. Most narratives that examine that question tend to go waaaay too far to one side or the other and criticizing the results without bothering to try to find the middle. The original Squadron Supreme deals with the middle but then quickly goes off the Fascist end.
All of this from a film with a 36% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Today’s lesson — don’t necessarily trust mainstream critics when they talk about a genre you’ve spent your whole life invested in and investigating. Films can be many things to many people.
I’d still like to see if there’s a director’s cut in store that includes some of the needed exposition that I can only imagine ended up on the cutting room floor to make the film more Summer Blockbuster-y (since the film’s primary genre was actually Summer Blockbuster instead of Superhero Deconstruction/Reconstruction). But that’s another post on genre theory.