24 May 2016

Top Five Batman-On-Film Moments

5. "... I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there's no one there to save it." "Then make the climb."
The Dark Knight Rises is Christopher Nolan's flawed followup to arguably the best Batman film. But one of the better parts of it involves seeing a broken Batman for the first time on screen. In The Dark Knight, the Joker had all but succeeded in breaking his spirit and led the way to living a terrible lie for years. And then Bane broke his body. Left in some third world hell of a hole in the ground, Bruce rots and stews over what's been done to his city and to himself. After facing his failures, he finally moves to make it all right and begins the long climb back to the light and to Gotham City. Hans Zimmer's score blares as we circle back to answer the question that began Nolan's trilogy of films: "Why do we fall? "

4. "Bruce Wayne? Why are you dressed like Batman?"
A common thread running through the cinematic Batman is that he admits he doesn't want to do this forever. He's willing to quit mere months into his crusade for Andre Beaumont in Mask of the Phantasm, he names a successor in The Dark Knight Rises, and he's willing to walk away from all of this craziness in Batman Returns if Selina Kyle will join him. But his pleas with her to leave it all behind is interrupted by an incredulous Christopher Walken dropping an amazing line: "Bruce Wayne, why are you dressed like Batman?"

3. "What about escalation?"
It is bonkers to think that it took five films to get a proper Batman/Gordon rooftop scene. But this more than makes up for it with the ending exchange of Batman Begins. From the introduction to the bat signal, to Gordon laying out a core argument of the Batman mythos that the Dark Knight's presence alone leads to an escalation to the Year One nod to the Joker. But Gordon trying to thank Batman only for Batman to insist that he'll never have to seals the moment.

2. "My God!"
The Warner Bros. animation team nail an important factor in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm that hasn't been a factor in any other film with the Caped Crusader: Intimidation. Flashing back to the early days of crimefighting before the cowl, Bruce has all the means to bring war to criminals but realizes that they aren't afraid of a mere man. Down in the cave, he dons his gloves and his cape. But when he puts on the cowl, even the man who raised him and knows him best is taken aback. As Batman's eyes narrow, Alfred can only let out a "My God!" 

1. "You have nothing to threaten me. Nothing to do with all your strength."
The Dark Knight serves as a showcase for Heath Ledger's Joker. But when he has a sit down with Batman and proceeds to spout off his philosophy, the stakes are raised. Batman is able to keep his rage in check until the Joker succeeds at getting under his skin and we see abject brutality coming from Batman while Gordon and his crew look on in impotent horror. And the Joker's response is to merely laugh as he's seemingly cracked what makes The Dark Knight tick.

20 May 2016

Werner Herzog Has Thoughts On Wrestling: Undertaker and Kane

What could be more fearsome than the man who has assumed the mantle of death, vanquished giants and threatens any who yet dare enter his yard? Perhaps only the emotionless masked creature, who has had every emotion but hatred burned away, that claims to be his brother. His fury is more than enough to rip down any barrier the capitalist promoter can dream in order to unleash the most fearsome of blows upon the only other person to know the comfort of their mother's womb.

The masses are captivated by two godless colossal forces paying homage to the world's first murder while a corpulent false prophet screeches from ringside encouraging the battle as a voice for the lecherous wave of humanity assembled in the arena.

Pitched in seemingly unceasing combat, the kinsmen both drive to best the other, but little do they realize that their efforts to supplant their brethren and force them into an eternal slumber only serves to strengthen the resolve of the other, securing the notion that this prolonged sibling rivalry will not cease until the end of reality as we know it to be. The mind of the ticket buyer is an easily manipulated object, it would seem.

Werner Herzog Has Thoughts On Wrestling

Our sense of the real world today is massively challenged; I include here reality television, breast enhancement and the carefully choreographed, fake drama of WrestleMania, populated by larger-than-life characters with muscles that nature doesn't normally provide us with and who take pleasure in telling everyone how unbelievably evil they are. Wrestling matches are continually interrupted by commercials, but never those moments when the owner of the franchise comes out into the ring with two buxom, bikini-clad blondes on his arms, or when his long-suffering wife - allegedly paraplegic and blind - is wheeled out into the ring. His son then steps out into the ring and confronts his father, but not because of how his mother is being treated; he vents because his percentage of the franchise revenue isn't big enough.
...This is all a new form of spectacle, of mythology and storytelling, like the crude beginnings of ancient Greek drama, work that preceded Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, eventually flowering into something extraordinary. It's fascinating to see how these archetypes function in modern-day culture.
You have the hero Stone Cold Steve Austin who has already embraced the cold harshness that humanity is nothing but decaying bags of flesh marching towards the cold dark that comes with the heat death of the universe by proudly sporting a head long devoid of any follicle. The dead hairs have been shed leaving nothing but the flesh that too shall die. This man represents the strife of the commoner, emulating their lives by finding solace in the expression of physical violence and inexpensive alcohol. And he asks for nothing but the contradiction of a right to do as he wishes and the vocal approval of his fellow man.

17 May 2016

Batman and The Gun

The following was previously published in Leo Johnson's pay-what-you-want Stuck In The Gutters:

I was eight years old when my grandfather was murdered. It was a week before Christmas 1994. My morning began with my aunt, uncle, cousin and grandmother gathered at my house because of a supposed power outage. Thinking it was weird but also being eight years old, I shrugged my shoulders and went off to school for the last time that year before Christmas break. Things continued to be odd when my grandmother took my younger brother and me to her house after school. Then our parents picked us up late that night and broke the news to us. In short, my grandfather was killed by a shotgun blast to the head. My dad’s half-brother pulled the trigger.

 A decade later, my mother told me about having to scrub my grandfather’s brains from the wall of his living room. “It looked like bad hamburger.”

I’ve always tended to internalize my emotions. Before that event, I never handled “real life” well. This was no different. I did what I tend to do still to this day: I hurled myself into comics. I was already a Batman nut. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s animated series was appointment viewing. I watched the Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson movie so many times that I had broken the tape. I read a 350 page novelization of the massive Knightfall run my dad bought me because the book was cheaper than the fifty or so comics tied to the crossover. But a death in the family due to gun violence would go on to imprint the character on me for the rest of my life.

Nearly twenty years later, I woke up only to be blindsided by news from Colorado. Twelve people were slaughtered while sitting in a theater watching a Batman film thanks to a man with a gun. In the ensuing days, the media ran ad nauseam covering the killer they labeled ‘Joker’. Costumes were banned from midnight showings. Think pieces about violent entertainment and its impact flooded the blogosphere. An issue of Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s “Batman Incorporated” was delayed in order to avoid appearing insensitive. And when it came to the ability to gain seemingly unlimited access to weapons and ammunition, the politicians shrugged their shoulders and did nothing.

Eighteen months later, over two dozen people including twenty first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School.. "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” President Obama responded. The NRA, led by a literally foaming at the mouth Wayne LaPierre, launched a “School Shield” task force whose ultimate conclusion was to arm teachers in schools. The man who led the task force, Asa Hutchinson, would go on to become my home state’s governor less than two years later. The House of Representatives didn’t attempt to broach the subject. The Senate’s watered down attempt to pass an expansion of background checks for guns failed to pass a 60 vote threshold with the result of 54-46. Both of my senators, one a Democrat facing a tough reelection bid, were among those who voted against the measure. (The senator went on to lose his seat).

The dichotomy of America is astounding. One man can fail in an attempt to blow up an airplane with a shoe bomb and every person flying has to take off their shoes for a TSA screening. Over seven hundred people can die in mass shootings during the last two years and people shrug their shoulders. There have been over 250 mass shootings in 2015 alone. 

One inspired a successful movement to finally put away the Confederate flag where it belonged: a museum. Several have inspired some powerful speeches that, when all is settled, seem to only amount to a brief moment of good feelings and hot air. But for the most part, liberals stare incredulously and rumble about doing something while the right wing yell that anyone calling for the lightest of gun control measures could not wait to politicize a tragedy. Then we all just wait for the latest inevitable mass shooting and repeat.

And when that happens, I’ll pull some TPBs out of my bookcase and dive into a different world. A world in which a man goes against a world of insane violence where men can shoot up a theater, blow up a woman on the subway and rain down violence on a city that’s given up. A world in which a man cannot take it anymore. A world in which a man preps his army by snapping a rifle in half and telling them that guns are a coward’s weapon. A world in which a man has had enough and forces the world to make sense.

16 May 2016

What I'm Into: Nick Fury

Nick Fury has been an essential part of my adult life reading comic books. From his occasional appearances in Garth Ennis' years long PUNISHER run, THE ULTIMATES, the appearances in the Marvel Studios films, and across Jonathan Hickman's Marvel works, Nick Fury reigns as one of my favorite Marvel characters. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. A world where you cannot trust anyone. He is a character whose failures lead to disastrous consequences. Even when he wins, it tends to be at a great cost. But no matter the high stakes, Fury always rises to the occasion.

The Essentials
  • Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (Jim Steranko)
    • Classic. Jim Steranko took James Bond and mixed it with sixties surrealism to produce the core canon of Nick Fury and SHIELD over a couple of years. His artwork throughout the run serves as a shining example of what comics can be.
  • Secret War (Brian Bendis and Gabriele Dell'Otto)
    • Failure. The first book I remember reading that served as a showcase for Nick Fury's methods. Fury recruiting a secret team to illegally invade Latveria leads to disastrous consequences that force him into hiding. Secret War also serves as an introduction to two important members of SHIELD: Daisy "Quake" Johnson and Maria Hill.
  • Secret Warriors (Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli)
    • Redemption. How much further can you fall after your actions have caused terrible damage to those who hold you in high regard? How about finding out your entire life has been a lie thanks to Strucker's HYDRA. Secret Warriors is Fury gathering teams to take back what's his and make it all right. In the end (which came much too soon), Nick Fury is back and riding high in the saddle.
  • Fury MAX: My War Gone By (Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov)
    • Regret. The one constant in Nick Fury's life is war. MY WAR GONE BY looks at Fury throughout the years in French Indo-China, Cuba, Vietnam and Nicaragua. Through it all, he fights losing battles with the bureaucracy weighing over his head and unsavory characters as allies. When it's all said and done he has nothing but a bottle, a cigar and a head full of regret.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and Anthony & Joe Russo)
    • Lies. Nick Fury shines in my favorite of the Marvel Studios films. Fury is forced to confront the fact that most of his life has been a lie in service of a bunch of fascist crypto Nazis. The attack on his Chevy Suburban serves as a showcase for both his gallows humor and resourcefulness. As the world he's engineered literally falls down around him, Nick is left with nothing but a determination to build himself a new life out of the ruins of a HYDRA infected SHIELD.