Tag: Superman (page 1 of 2)

Break Your Heroes

Courtesy Warner Brs.

We like to think of our heroes as strong. When they fight evil or overcome obstacles or succeed in their goals, we aspire to the same heights. Deeds of daring and feats of strength or cunning drive us to be the sort of people we want to be, impeccable and flawless paragons of the virtues we espouse.

Those sorts of struggles, though, are not what people like you or me face daily.

I think that I am not alone in regularly facing reminders of the failures from the past. People we’ve let down. Goals we’ve failed to achieve. Situations we’ve failed to resolve. Relationships we’ve failed to repair. A litany of shortcomings and false starts that goes all the way back to our first bad grade or broken heart.

Why should our heroes be any different?

Part of the problem I’ve always had with Superman (before Zack Snyder introduced me to a whole slew of new problems to have with the character) is that he is virtually flawless. Being superhuman in strength, speed, endurance, and knowledge makes it difficult for him to fail in any challenges he faces physically or mentally. While he does run into some emotional obstacles, his virtuous nature and righteous motivations rarely see him on the failing end of his endeavors. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do like Superman, especially as a foil for Batman, but it’s hard for me to relate to the character, for the most part.

Not so with the likes of Max Rockatansky.

Especially as he is shown in Mad Max: Fury Road, Max is a thoroughly broken individual. He is motivated by a need to survive, fueled by anger and fear, and almost entirely selfish when he’s at his worst. But the experiences of the wasteland in which he roams and the plight of those he encounters awakens something in him. He never really escapes the trauma of his past – he is plagued by night terrors and assaulted by visions even after he embraces his righteous cause. And yet, instead of remaining in the thrall of his brokenness, he rises above it, to the point that others are looking to him for support and guidance, rather than treating him with distrust and derision. That, to me, is true heroism.

Therefore, writers, I encourage you to break your heroes.

“Kill your darlings” is a familiar phrase for many fiction authors, but when it comes to protagonists, there is a sadistic streak in me that says death is too good for them. The true power in our narratives, the thrust of the human experience that keeps readers turning pages and the thumbs of television viewers from changing channels, is in seeing broken people pull themselves together. Moreso than punching bad guys, rescuing prisoners, or saving the world, there’s an upswell of emotion that comes in a moment where you see the better nature of a character emerge from within the cracks of their outer shell.

Max: You need to take the War Rig half a click up the track.
Max begins to head towards the Bullet Farmer’s noise and madness.
Furiosa: What if you don’t come back?
Max: pauses Then you keep going.

Overcoming external obstacles is impressive to be sure. But overcoming ourselves?

That’s a bit of the supernatural in everyday life, my friends.

500 Words On People

A good soundtrack for this column:

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed anything. Or stuck to a one-post-per-weekday schedule. I give myself mental and emotional hell for that, on occasion, but you know what? It isn’t the end of the world. It’s okay. I’m okay.

My name is Josh Loomis, and I’m a person.

Provided you’re not one of Google’s non-self-aware bots, you’re a person, too.

It’s a simple fundamental fact, the establishment of personhood on behalf of the other. Yet it’s so easy to forget, to villainize, to de-personize. “Your opinion is horrible from my point of view, therefore YOU ARE HORRIBLE TOO” tends to be the norm in a lot of discussion and debates, especially online. A person may have horrid opinions, or behave in a horrible way for one reason or another, but does that make them inherently horrible?

When someone says something of a dubious nature, or that can be taken as offensive by another, it’s insidiously easy to jump to conclusions, choose sides, take up arms. I’ve been guilty of that. But in my age, I’ve taken more time to breathe, think, and consider both sides. Or try to, at least. I’m a person, after all. I err more often than not, by my very nature.

I’ve written about things like GamerGate in the past, and have found myself coming down on the side of those who have felt intimidated out of professions they love because of external pressures from such sources. However, that’s been unfair of me. There are people within GG who are legitimately trying to make gaming a better community. There are people within games journalism attempting to base their work on facts and research instead of corporate sponsorship. And there are less upstanding people on both sides as well. But it’s people, all the way down the line.

And I think we should try harder to be kind to people.

I’m certainly not saying censorship or thought policing is the answer, because freedom of speech and of choice are essential to a free-thinking society. But, to quote another AJJ song, “for God’s sake, you’ve gotta be kind.” Pointing out problems in a behavior, turn of phrase, or course of action can and should be divided from a judgement call on the person you’re addressing. Because you’re addressing a person just like you.

From discussions on the essence of GamerGate to debates on who and what Superman should be, try to remember to be kind. As of this writing, we only have the one planet on which to live, and we all have to share it. What is the point in bickering for superior intellectual positioning? Don’t we have enough problems? We should be working to be one people, not being rude and dismissive of one another. I’m not a violent person, but I will fight, and keep fighting until all are one.

I don’t think it’s too late. I believe we can turn it around. I have faith.

Don’t you?

Batman v Superman v The Audience

Courtesy DC Comics

I’ll say this right up front: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could be good.

I know there are people on both sides of the fence, be they touting Nolan’s films and Man of Steel as superior superhero stories to anything Marvel makes, or shaking their metaphorical heads in dismay at the overly verbose and shockingly dour tone DC has taken with its heroes of late. Unlike these extremists, though, I can see both sides of the argument, despite the fact I lean more one way than the other, personally.

The thing to keep in mind, at all times when discussing matters like this, is that people have individual and subjective opinions. A person has every right to think another person is mistaken in their outlook on a matter, or to stick to their position in spite of arguments or even evidence to the contrary. The key, as in most things, is simply to not be a dick about it. There’s no need to take another person’s opinion on comic book characters, or most things for that matter, as a personal attack, and it’s certainly never cool to respond in kind and add fuel to an already ill-advised fire. You would think that, in defending a world populated by larger-than-life characters espousing truth and justice, those invested in that world would adhere to the same moral standard, rather than seeking personal gratification in the way a villain would.

Anyway, this movie could be good. I can see it working. Deconstructing superheroes is a fascinating take on their vibrant and grandiose world, breaking icons down into people and sorting through their thoughts and feelings. Zack Snyder is perfectly comfortable directing this sort of thing and getting the right performances out of his actors – I mean, he gave us Watchmen, arguably his best film. There’s potential here, and I can see it clearly.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been here before.

I mentioned Watchmen, which is perhaps the best example of taking superheroes, with all of their propensity for being viewed as gods among mortals, and breaking them down into flawed, petty, and even cruel human beings. Thanks to Alan Moore’s writing, an excellent adaptation, and Snyder’s direction, this was conveyed more through visual storytelling and the actions of the characters, instead of verbose monologues and pretentious philosophizing. In that way, DC’s recent film adaptations have been unable to measure up.

The Nolan and post-Nolan films have a nasty habit of telling instead of showing. Getting into deep philosophical and psychological waters is fine, even admirable in realms of fluff entertainment like superhero comics, but stuffing those themes and thoughts into the mouths of your characters as a standard procedure is detrimental to the pace, tone, and overall effectiveness of the story. The trend of these films of late makes me a bit nervous.

As do the obvious nods to Frank Miller. As time has passed, Frank’s work has seemed more and more heavy-handed and pretentious. Sure, Sin City is a fun romp when you’re in your late teens or early twenties and the blatant blood and boobs of Miller’s noir fantasyland definitely plays to that demographic, but having characters narrate every single thought that enters their heads can get truly grating the more it happens. As much as 300 was a captivating visual showcase for what it was, I don’t think most people would praise it for its engaging characters. There’s also the unsettling fact that 300 seems to really like the dictatorial, nearly fascist Spartans a bit too much. Anyway, my point is that Frank Miller can be a bit full of himself and weighs his work down with pomposity and dreary, dismal visuals, and it looks like Batman v Superman is taking more than a few notes from his works involving these characters.

Now, I know that there are some audience members who just adore The Dark Knight Returns. Cool. Like what you like. Personally, I don’t think everybody in DC’s audience is going to be willing to jump on that bandwagon. Man of Steel strongly divided audiences, and I feel like Batman v Superman might widen that chasm, rather than repairing it. DC needs not only a smash hit at the box office, but also a fanbase as unified and confident as Marvel’s. It’s the only way they’re going to truly pull off their plans for the Justice League in any way that really competes with the Avengers.

I’d like to see them do it. I just don’t know if they can.

From the Vault: Everything Old Is New Again

A post from last year: updated to reflect the fact that my memories of both Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness have soured considerably.


Courtesy Relativity Media

I’ve been blogging for years. I’m not sure if you’d call what I’ve done or have been doing successful or not, when it comes to blogging and other areas of my life, but what I keep coming back to is the fact that old stories still have something to tell us. I have no problem, on a fundamental level, with something getting a reboot or a re-imagining, as long as the core of the story remains intact and the talented people telling the story are either plying close to that core or going in an entirely new direction with it.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is far too easy to stick to the old story points and simply apply modern thinking to them, rather than take a tale’s themes or characters or message in a new direction. What really bothers me about the practice is how lazy it seems. If you want to use an old tale or property to tell a story, go for it; all that I would ask is that you do something new with it. Another example would be the difference between Immortals and the Clash of the Titans retread: while Immortals had a little trouble staying on-point with its storytelling, its visual imagination and portrayal of ancient Greece felt unique and striking, while the new Titans felt drab and lackluster on pretty much all fronts. I mean, sure, it was still fun to see Sam Worthington fight giant scorpions, and Liam Neeson was born to play gods, but the thrust of the story felt weak because there was nothing new about it.

As scarce as new ideas tend to be, it’s no wonder that older stories often come up for a rehash now and again. As I’ve said, I’m all about old stories getting told in new ways. The emphasis here is on ‘new’ – a good storyteller should try to do something that hasn’t been done before, or mix things together that haven’t been mixed. Any idiot with a keyboard can bash out a story about a superhero or vampires or old myths – the question is, what makes your story about a superhero or vampires or old myths stand out? What will make people want to read it? Why, at the end of the day, do you have to write it?

2013: The Disappointments

Man of Steel by Rudyao
Man of Steel, by Rudyao

2013 was a year that was mostly populated with sequels, and sequels are a double-edged sword. You have an established world and characters to work with and build upon, and an audience already interested in what you’re doing. However, you also run the risk of undoing good work done in previous installments, watering down the message previously established, or alienating the audience, or at least some of it, when you move in a new direction. The two movies that disappointed me this year demonstrate these pitfalls extremely well, and I’m going to take some time to detail what I feel went wrong in both cases.

Let me clarify something, however, before we begin. I enjoyed watching both of these movies. I will admit there’s great stuff in both of them. At no point during either one did I throw up my hands and storm out of the theatre, feeling I’d been spoken down to or that the filmmakers had pulled an untoward bait-and-switch. These are high-quality films with great casts and interesting ideas. But I’ll be honest: both of them really disappointed me.

When JJ Abrams took the helm of Star Trek, I was curious. After the first movie under his command, I was intrigued. A fresh new cast inhabiting the classic characters in a new timeline with new aesthetics had me highly anticipatory of the direction they’d go in. Unfortunately, the direction they chose was back to the past. Star Trek Into Darkness did quite a few things right in executing one of the best-known storylines from the classic era, but as well as those things were done, they could have been done just as well with new characters unconnected to the previous tales. What’s disappointing to me about this is that its demonstrating a trend towards pandering and fanservice. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but when they’re the core of your creative endeavor rather than a fringe benefit, the entire work can suffer for it. I know this creative team is capable of better. I’m cautiously optimistic that they will learn from their mistakes and give us something new.

More than Into Darkness, however, I was deeply disappointed by Man of Steel. Again, we have a very talented cast working within a fascinating aesthetic that breathes new life into a world we already know. However, rather than utilizing these high-quality tools to provide a counterpoint to Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman, as Superman is almost always Batman’s counterpoint, I can’t help but feel like these characters have somehow become virtually one and the same. Where Star Trek leans towards pandering, Man of Steel was more concerned about Superman’s messianic overtones and the tendency lately of superheros being dour, grim, stoic miseryguts rather than concentrating on using their abilities to help people. The titular character in Thor: The Dark World acts more like Superman than Superman does in Man of Steel, a clear indication that something’s gone wrong with our friends Nolan and Goyer. There are moments in the film where something truly exciting in the world of Superman can be glimpsed, but it gets overshadowed by the darkness and seriousness that dominates the film. It smothers the fun we could be having, it undercuts the talents of the cast, and just leaves me feeling irritated and frustrated. This could have been so much better!

What disappointed you the most in 2013?

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