Somewhere in the space-time continuum, there is a parallel Earth in which I’m excited for the upcoming Justice League movie.
The titanic turds Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were strikes one and two; time will only tell if Wonder Woman will be the third or if it will break the mold and be the first good DC movie since at least 2012 by my reckoning. At some point, I’m going to have to stop giving Warner Bros the benefit of the doubt, but I just can’t help myself. The DC films thus far have been train wrecks I just can’t look away from. I’ll be as helpless as everyone else once Nov. 17 rolls around.
Anyhow the above trailer dropped yesterday and under literally any other circumstances the sight of Batman riding a horse through the Arctic would be an immensely positive sign but alas, not in the DC Universe as envisioned by Mr. Zack Snyder and his enablers at WB. We are talking about a man whose idea of fun is having Jimmy Olsen get shot in the face because nothing says “I have immense respect for these iconic characters and their legacies” quite like Superman’s pal getting his brain stem split in half with a bullet to the dome.
Okay, back to the topic at hand.
It would take immense mental effort that would be better invested elsewhere to even pretend to think maybe Justice League will be cool. The Parademons (and make no mistake, those are Parademons) don’t look completely horrible but the prospect of Snyder visualizing the New Gods is something I don’t want to think about. The suppressed optimist in me wants to say that Darkseid and friends couldn’t possibly look worse than Cyborg and Flash, who are both over-designed atrocities. J.K. Simmons is playing Commissioner Gordon, which means that there will probably be a couple of funny lines in this mess and if we’re really lucky, Jason Momoa’s hard-drinking, hard-rocking Aquaman will be one of those things that’s so stupid it borders on brilliant.
If the worst comes to worst, I could always just dust off my Justice League/Justice League Unlimited DVD box set. I’m overdue for a re-watch.
Suicide Squad is an exploding meth lab of a movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. Therefore, I must ask: which supervillains would you want to recruit for Task Force X (the titular Suicide Squad)? Using a highly scientific, 100% objective grading system, I have assigned scores to each of Amanda Waller’s recruits. Surely you or I could have done better than this motley crew? Let’s see how they stack up (spoilers to follow).
Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Will Smith): This guy is the most obvious choice for a black ops team. Who wouldn’t want to have a super humanly accurate hitman on the government’s payroll? In spite of his aloofness, he forms a begrudging bromance with team leader Rick Flag, which is a nice bonus. Plus, he looks great in that hat. Grade: A
Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie): She’s a clown girl who’s good at hitting things with a bat. Even by DC Comics standards, that doesn’t exactly scream black ops material. Also, having her around practically guarantees that the Joker will show up to throw a couple of wrenches in the plan. That Waller (Viola Davis, somehow holding onto her dignity) wanted this grossly under-qualified person with extra crazy baggage on the squad should have raised a couple of red flags with the rest of A.R.G.U.S. That’s a huge risk to take for the sake of making sure Task Force X has some knee-slapping comic relief. Grade: D+
Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman): All-American super patriot and Special Forces veteran Flag is a solid choice to lead the squad…on paper. The fact that he is sleeping with the woman whose body is being possessed by the most powerful and unstable member of the team doesn’t seem to concern anyone. Has Waller never heard of the phrase “conflict of interest?” Grade: B-
Digger Harkness/Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney): On second thought, I may have been too harsh on Harley Quinn because all this guy can do is throw boomerangs. At one point, he throws a remote control drone boomerang with a camera on it, which feels like a desperate gamble on writer/director David Ayer’s part to make the captain useful. Coincidentally, this was the scene that broke the whole movie for me. Grade: D-
Chanto Santana/El Diablo (Jay Hernandez): This dude is pyrokinetic, so he’s a go-to guy for demolition jobs. El Diablo can also transform into a giant fire demon thing, making him ideal for fighting other giant demon things. This is the DC Universe, so that’s a contingency you need to prepare for. Chanto loses some points due to his newfound pacifistic outlook, which makes him very reluctant to do the kinds of dirty work Task Force X was created to handle. On the other hand, he grows to love the team and considers them his surrogate family after unwillingly spending fewer than 12 hours with them and he even gave his life for the mission. He was a team player until the very end. Grade: B+
Waylon Jones/Killer Croc (Adele Akinnuoye-Agbaje): Killer Croc is an enormous crocodile man whose contribution to the mission consisted solely of planting a bomb underwater. He was rewarded for this by getting a TV in his cell that seemingly only plays BET. Grade: C-
Dr June Moone/Enchantress (Cara Delevingne): Did you forget that Suicide Squad‘s big bad was actually a member of the team? Yeah, that’s what happens when you think you can control super powerful, 7,000-year-old witches, a mistake Waller makes that drives the plot of the whole movie. Enchantress gets a failing grade for being both too powerful and too easy to defeat. Flag takes her down for good by destroying her (external) heart, which he simply squeezed to death with his bare hands. Had Waller simply thought to do that at the end of the first act, we would have been spared this awful movie. On an unrelated note: isn’t it funny that both Marvel and DC have green witch characters called Enchantress? Grade: F
Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana(Karen Fukuhara): Katana wields a sword that captures the souls of those it slays. The movie tells us this twice but does not ever show any soul stealing in action. Despite lame implementation, the Rule of Cool still applies here; Katana passes. However, she does appear to only speak Japanese, which can potentially hamper communications in the field. Grade: A-
Christopher Weiss/Slipknot (Adam Beach):Slipknot’s (no, not that Slipknot) ludicrously narrow degree of situational usefulness makes Captain Boomerang look like MacGyver. “This guy can climb anything,” is how one character describes Weiss’ skill set. He’d make an excellent teammate on an Everest expedition but he’s a baffling choice for black ops. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t even make it an hour into the mission; Slipknot dies via micro-bomb implanted into his neck (to insure the squad’s loyalty) while trying to escape from the team by rappelling away at a comically slow place. Grade: F-
I was warned by Ryan, the night shift manager of Century Regency and part-time cashier at Blue Moon Comics, about Batman: The Killing Joke a mere minute before the movie started.
“It’s 90 minutes of my life I’m never getting back,” he lamented while I was in the popcorn line.
When the movie got out just a little before nine, I felt the same way.
The Killing Joke animated feature film is about as bad as you’ve heard. Of the handful of DC Universe Animated Original Movies that I’ve seen, this one is easily the worst. In addition to retaining all of the problems many people have with its source material (the 1988 graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland) – which it exacerbates tenfold with a ludicrously awful scene in its dragging first act – it is also the most boring Batman movie I’ve ever seen.
By now, you’ve probably heard of the controversial addition to the film: the rooftop sex scene between Batman and Batgirl. Writer Brian Azzarello and executive producer Bruce Timm somehow thought this was a good idea. I watched the YouTube clip (embedded above) of this scene before I saw TKJ and it doesn’t improve within the context of the film. This by itself is enough to mar the movie; Batman hooking up with any of his sidekicks or protégés is going to come across as borderline incest. There’s a reason why Batman’s team of Robins, Batgirls, Spoiler, Nightwing, etc. is referred to as the “Batman Family.” They’re the family Bruce Wayne never got to have. Hell, he even adopted at least two of the Robins, which would legally make him their father as well as figuratively. It’s so damned wrong that it will make you long for that other cringe-inducing rooftop sex scene in the Dark Knight’s history.
Other than that, the first act is utterly unremarkable. It’s dull as hell, features a disposable villain who isn’t the least bit interesting yet he gets tons of screen time and it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. The idea behind it was to give more agency to Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, all of which gets completely undermined by the Bat Hookup. Her subsequent crippling and implied sexual assault at the hands of the Joker – troubling enough in the original story – now just feels even more like a fridging than it already was.
Whatever the hell Timm and Azrello where trying to accomplish by adding a Batman-Batgirl romance angle into this story, it fails miserably. It doesn’t cause Batman to act any differently toward the Joker after he assaults her and if you were a half hour late and walked into this after the first act, you wouldn’t have the slightest inkling that Batman cares about Barbara in a romantic sense. And given the extreme victimization Babs endures in the story just for the sake of motivating Batman and upping the stakes of his conflict with Joker, the romance angle is just…yikes.
By the time the actual Killing Joke segment of The Killing Joke started, I was already feeling weary. The prospect of seeing the graphic novel’s iconic panels recreated shot-for-shot on screen was undermined by the stiff animation. Batman in particular looks like he’s made of cardboard in most of his scenes. Kevin Conroy (reprising his role from the acclaimed animated series, along with Mark Hamill as the Joker and Tara Strong as Batgirl) sounds frankly bored for the whole damn movie. This perfectly channeled my feelings about The Killing Joke but didn’t make for a compelling performance.
The first and second acts meander through the motions, checking off all of the stuff you’d expect to see in a Killing Joke movie: Barbara Gordon getting shot (which of course happens in slow motion), the flashbacks to the Joker’s past (the only decent scenes; Hamill is really good here) and Commissioner Gordon getting stripped naked and dragged around Joker’s carnival lair by his circus freak henchmen (which, like everything else in this mess, goes on for way too long). It’s almost a relief when the infamous ending, in which Batman may or may not have killed his arch nemesis, finally arrives.
This version of The Killing Joke is a dumpster fire and a waste of time. If you’re one of those people who thought the “MERTHA!” scene in Batman v Superman was the greatest thing ever, you’ll probably love this movie. Otherwise, skip it. Batman: The Killing Joke will be out on Blu-ray and DVD on Aug 2. I suggest you buy literally anything else instead.
The Flash has a serious metahuman problem. That much is a given but the one I’m referring to depends entirely on how invested you are in the show. I like The Flash a great deal and I’m still fully onboard with it even though I’ve been less than impressed with the last few episodes. It’s because I like it so much that I’d like to see the writers tackle this telepathic gorilla in the room: what is up with Barry Allen and his friends running a secret prison under S.T.A.R. Labs?
This is something that’s been an issue since season one, but now that the captured meta population has doubled in light of this week’s episode, in which Flash and the gang subdued all of the rampant Earth-Two villains, it’s laughably impossible to ignore. There are now a substantial number of super-powered people imprisoned in a high tech dungeon without due process by four STEM geeks, only one of whom has any connection to law enforcement (Barry is a forensic scientist). No one on the show appears to be aware of this moral quandary.
There is no reason to believe the imprisoned metas are getting any sunlight, which is awfully harsh. There’s no yard for these guys to shoot hoops or lift weights in. They’re just living in a glass and steel box 24/7.
Do you know what else regular inmates have that these prisoners don’t? Showers.
S.T.A.R. Labs must have some extremely powerful ventilation and air refreshers; because there’s no way that the metas aren’t pissing and shitting in the corners of their cells.
Are the metas even getting fed? What about water?
Provided they haven’t perished from a gruesome combination of malnourishment and dehydration or asphyxiated from the fumes of their own bodily waste, all of these prisoners have most certainly been driven insane.
Can we please get a whole episode devoted solely to the starving, smelly, now insane prisoners of S.T.A.R. Labs? I’d be fascinated to know more about their day-to-day existence.
Maybe The Flash actually takes place in Earth-Three (or the Anti-Matter Universe in Post-Crisis comics) and Barry and his friends are all villains except their evilness is only manifested through their brutal and callous treatment of captured badguys? Eh…I’m really reaching on that one.
Listen, Flash writers, I get it; this is another one of those things you just don’t want to deal with because it might slow down the story and maybe you guys didn’t even realize the implications of the S.TA.R. Labs prison, but at this point it can’t be glossed over anymore. I know I have zero right to give professional TV writers advice, but you guys really ought to address this in season three. And if you think that’s a boring waste of screen time, know this: one of the all-time greatest DC graphic novels has a substantial chunk of its plot devoted to the imprisonment of rogue metahumans. If Mark Waid and Alex Ross can pull a mesmerizing tale out of that, I don’t see why Flash can’t.
Season three’s finale airs this upcoming Tuesday. Here’s the preview:
I’ve already been asked the above question at least 10 times by family members and a couple of friends and I expect I’ll be asked it many more times before Batman v Superman: Dawn of the R-rated DVD Cut gets released on March 25. For the sake of preemptively answering any lingering queries you may have about the oncoming slug fest, I will spend the entirety of this article telling you everything I know about the most popular superhero-on-superhero battle in all of comicdom.
Within the context of the film itself, why Batman and Superman are fighting is pretty easy to answer. The trailers and the marketing materials have made it pretty clear that the world and Batfleck in particular feel threatened by Superman after that his fight with Zod reduced Metropolis to ruins at the end of Man of Steel. Honestly, I can’t really blame them for feeling that way; Superman was punching Zod into skyscrapers that were presumably full of people. For his part, Clark Kent/Superman doesn’t approve of Batman’s vigilante tactics and I also can’t quite fault him for feeling that way, since Batfleck is in full-on psycho-thug Batman mode and is straight up breaking bones and branding badguys with the bat symbol.
So, yeah…we’re kind of at an impasse.
Lex Luthor will be stirring up the pot to try and get them to destroy each other, because that’s what super villains do. I suspect that Wonder Woman’s role will be to try to get them to drop the macho bullshit and make friends with each other. Doomsday will be a last ditch gamble on Luthor’s part to destroy all three heroes once he realizes his initial scheme has fallen through. Doomsday will most certainly be made from Zod’s DNA. Then, once the dust has settled, the trio will recruit more super friends to make a team in case stuff like that happens again and that’s how we will end up with the Justice League.
That’s my big, not-risky-at-all BvS prediction, because having superheroes stepping on each others toes before uniting against a common enemy is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Hell, we already saw versions of that scenario in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. At this point, I’m in awe that movie goers aren’t as sick of this cliché as comics readers.
For those who don’t know, BvS did not invent the great Batman/Superman fight. These two have tussled more times than I can count in the comics and the occasional cartoon for decades. It has been the center of many spirited debates in the geek community for a long ass time and it has been fought over so much that pretty much all of the fun has been thoroughly drained from it. I think I got sick of the debate before I was legally old enough to drink. Speaking of drinking, I’m legitimately terrified that BvS will blow so much that it will turn me into an alcoholic. The stakes are high on this one.
I’m not particularly well-versed in old comics, but one of the earliest Batman/Superman fights I could find is from 1966, within the the pages of World’s Finest Comics #163, in which an evil alien forces the two heroes into gladiatorial combat against each other via hypnotic suggestion. That issue sadly isn’t available on Comixology, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Batman and Superman threw off the hypnosis and took down the villain at the end.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, the beginning of comics’ dark modern age, that the rivalry between DC’s two biggest heroes became deadly serious business. Frank Miller’s landmark 1986 miniseries The Dark Knight Returns ends with Superman (now working for the US government in DKR’s dystopian future setting) brawling with an elderly, armored-up Batman (a vigilante fugitive) in Crime Alley. Batman wins the fight in the most ridiculous and appropriately Batman-esque manner possible: by plugging his suit into Gotham’s power generator and using the power of the entire city to deliver a knockout blow followed by the most brutal head stomp in all of comics. Superman survives, and Batman fakes his death so he can train a new generation of Batmen to take his place. I first read DKR when I was 17 (for an English class, of all things) and I thought that fight was pretty badass. Looking back now, I begrudgingly acknowledge that it’s still awesome, though it’s far from my favorite comics moment for either character.
Granted, DKR was made by an all-time great writer/artist who was at the top of his game; of course it’s awesome. And like pretty much all awesome works of art, it inspired a legion of inferior imitators. Aside from the grim dark aesthetic, the Batman/Superman fight – or rather, the notion that they don’t get along and are often at odds with each other – is one of the biggest impacts DKR had on DC as a whole. It completely restructured the relationship of these two characters in a way that persists so strongly today that we’re now getting a very expensive movie about it.
There have been a bunch more Batman/Superman fights since DKR, notably in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush storyline (Superman was under the influence of Poison Ivy’s mind control pheromones for that one) and also in the “Origin” arc of Justice League when DC relaunched everything with the New 52 initiative in 2011. That particular fight also involved the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern, just in case it wasn’t boring enough. I can’t remember for the life of me how it started, though I do recall it was another one of those “let’s make the heroes fight and then kiss and make up in time to face the real villain” affairs. Miller himself even revisited the famous battle in his twice as ridiculous and half as good follow-up to DKR, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, published from 2001 to 2002. In the rematch, Batman beats the crap out of Superman using a pair of Kryptonite boxing gloves, and frankly, it wasn’t even the most bizarre scene in DKSA.
Lest I give the impression that I’m completely against any sort of Batman/Superman conflict, there is one instance where it was executed so well that I pretty much consider it the gold standard of that worn out storyline. Curiously, it didn’t happen in any comics; it was in the two part “World’s Finest” episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. Save for Batman somehow throwing Superman across the room in the video I embedded at the top of this article, the two don’t actually fight at all, but they start off not liking each other. They are forced to team-up when Lex Luthor hires the Joker to kill Superman and over the course of 42 glorious minutes, Batman and Superman are forced to put aside their differences and find out that, hey, they actually have a lot in common. Their relationship continued to develop over the course of a couple more crossovers and well into the Justice League cartoon, which functioned as a successor to their respective animated series.
To be uncharacteristically optimistic, maybe Snyder is shooting for something similar to “World’s Finest,” but just blown up to the bombastic proportions suitable for the guy who directed 300. After all, BvS, is supposed to lead into a proper Justice League film, which Snyder is also directing. But from what I’ve seen, it all just looks like a bazillion dollar version of those last few pages of DKR, to the point where Batfleck is basically Miller Batman (Brick shithouse proportions, graying hair, dark colors, short bat ears, oversized logo, the power armor, etc) come to life. It looks great and all, but I really don’t need a live action DKR. Part of what made the fight in that story so memorable was that it felt like the culmination of the relationship between those two heroes, spiraling downward into a violent end decades in the making.
By contrast, Batfleck takes it upon himself to take out Superman because he torn up a city, broke a dude’s neck and then cried about it. And while those are valid concerns, there’s no prior relationship between them; these aren’t former friends or allies turned against one another by circumstance. Pretty much the only reason for Batfleck being in this movie looking the way he does is to conjure up memories of Batman and Superman’s most well-known brawl and to bring it to life, probably in 3D. But no amount of CGI wizardry can make up for the context that made the DKR fight so great; it’s just going to be two dudes who feel threatened by each other getting into brawl, except one can break a city. I already feel bored.
And again this is just idle speculation on my part. Maybe Snyder has more than a superficial recreation of the DKR version of the Batman/Superman fight in mind. Maybe the finished product will blow my mind and be incredible and maybe I’ll like it so much that I’ll check out the R-rated DVD release; or maybe not and we’ll end up with another out of touch, alienating, too dark for its own good fiasco like Man of Steel.
Anyhow, I hope this column was helpful to the “Why are these guys fighting?!” crowd. I have a feeling that I’ll be writing a spiritual sequel of sorts when Captain America: Civil War comes around on May 6.
First off, I know damn well why this is becoming a trend: it’s a ridiculously useful plot device. How does this superhero get the costume? Who made it? Who fixes it when it gets damaged? If the hero uses gadgets then where do those come from? How does the hero gather information on villains and find their weaknesses? How does she or he know when and where something bad is going down? All of these can easily be explained away with what I’m officially calling the superhero IT team.
That sounds like a terribly reductive way of putting it, but I don’t know how else to describe this phenomena. Three of DC/Warner’s premier superhero dramas – Arrow, Flash and Supergirl – have it to some extent. Green Arrow/Oliver Queen has Felicity Smoak. The Flash/Barry Allen has Caitlin, Cisco and Dr. Wells (evil imposter or otherwise). Supergirl/Kara Danvers has a sister at a top secret government organization, photographer/Superman pal James Olsen and Winn Schott, who is an actual IT guy. All three shows milk this trend it for all its worth.
I get it, to an extent. There are a lot of superhero stories out there and people are getting less patient with origins and minutiae. We want to jump right into the action and the superhero IT team is an excellent way to brush aside small world-building stuff that not everyone cares about. While I like most of Supergirl’s not-super friends and Flash’s S.T.A.R. Labs crew have acquitted themselves admirably over the course of a season and a half, I can’t help but to feel that this trend is becoming far too convenient of a crutch and it’s giving these shows a “samey” feel.
I’m not going to call the hardworking professional TV writers behind these shows lazy (like I can talk; I barely post anything on the Starship these days), but this plot device definitely encourages laziness. It can also lead to some pretty massive unforeseen problems, such as the one Flash has. At this point, there are so many people who aware that Barry Allen is the Flash that it is downright insulting for him to not tell his love interests when half of Central City already knows. Sheesh.
If I had to put my thumb down on where this all started (at least in regards to TV/film superheroes, who are usually a decade or more behind their source material) I would pick the perennially uderappreciated Superman: The Animated Series, whose Superman would occasionally seek assistance from that show’s own version of S.T.A.R. Labs. The expanded role of Lucius Fox in TheDark Knight trilogy, in which he was basically the Q to Batman’s Bond, probably has a lot to with the IT trend, too.
The superhero IT team was a novel idea that has now become a minor annoyance. I don’t think it diminishes Flash or Supergirl, both of which are fine shows despite their occasional hiccups. The good news is that DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, the latest entry of the Arrowverse, is already breaking this mold by being a team-based show that features STEM-savy heroes who can do the technical and science stuff in the field on their own. I don’t want this trend to go away; it would just be nice if it got less trendy.