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Happy Birthday, Star Trek! September 8, 2011

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Fig. 1: 45 years of (mostly) awesomeness!

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Superman Isn’t Shakespeare (A Rebuttal to io9) July 18, 2011

Posted by Skippy in Comics, Observations, Science Ficton.
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As you all know (or should know by now), I am a huge Superman fan. This should seem obvious as I’ve written about Superman or mentioned him no fewer than four times on this blog—so if you’re not a Superman fan, you should probably skip this blog entry. Anyway, over on io9, there’s this hackneyed attempt at comparing Superman…to Shakespeare. Apparently, Dan Venning isn’t a fan of either, or something. I don’t really know, because I skimmed as much of this tripe as I could tolerate. Here’s the very first paragraph:

I have to confess, I’ve never really liked Superman. I find DC Comics’ flagship enterprise to be, ultimately, boring. Some of you will probably feel (and this is correct) that I just haven’t read enough of the series, or found the proper arcs. But my main problem is that Superman, himself, seems too perfect: he’s profoundly moral, a pure do-gooder, and utterly invincible.

Are you kidding me? First, Venning says that he “never really liked Superman”—fair enough; Supes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But then to say that he hasn’t read enough of the comics to even really justify his argument? That is absolute nonsense. It fairly screams, “I’m hip because I just totally shat on a fictional character that a lot of people love. Aren’t I hip?” I won’t even get into the non sequitur of comparing Superman to Shakespeare in the Park.

If that’s not douchetastic enough, he goes on to say what is chief problem is with Superman: he’s just too good and “utterly invincible.” That is usually the argument proffered by people who are familiar with the general existence of Superman and have probably only watched the 1978 movie, but then feel it their duty to denounce Superman as though they are experts on the character. I’m going to enumerate what’s wrong with Venning’s moronic assertions:

1. What the hell is wrong with a fictional character being good?
Seriously, when did we get to the point that our heroes all have to be like Batman or Wolverine? I swear, when I meet fanboys who sniff at Superman as though it’s personally offensive that a superhero would act altruistically, it makes me think these are just sociopaths who want a fictional character to justify their own anti-social stupidity.

2. Superman is a symbol of our own aspirations towards a better humanity
As many comic writers have explained—most notably in Action Comics #775, Superman repeatedly uses his powers to inspire humanity, not to rule over them. He fights for the weak and defenseless in order to inspire humanity to fight for the downtrodden. And what could be wrong with that? Oh, right; if you’re a fan of grimdark bullshit, you’ll find that “corny” or “cheesy.”

3. Superman is not invincible.
Geez. This Venning sounds like the hordes of idiots who have gotten their grubby, unimaginative mitts on Superman and have thought (or worse, said in interviews), “Gee, Superman’s too powerful. I’ll ignore his vulnerability to kryptonite, magic, or the dozen or so stronger villains in the DC Universe and have him go on a fucking year-long walk across America! Nevermind that Superman hasn’t had the power to move planets in, oh, decades; I’ll just have him cry or be mopey about something.”

Venning’s screed has another gem:

The one time I’ve been even slightly interested in Superman was near the end of Kill Bill (Part II), when Bill himself, played by the late, great (and kind of kinky, apparently) David “Caine” Carradine, expounded on the comic. What Bill –- here, clearly speaking for Quentin Tarantino -– finds interesting about Superman is the hero’s implicit critique of humanity. Superman is the real guy: it’s Clark Kent that’s the costume. And Clark Kent is foolish, fearful, indecisive, and a silly glasses-wearing intellectual. Kind of like me. And that’s how Superman sees humanity.

Personally, I’m much more interested in darker comics that portray frayed heroes who struggle to avoid being overwhelmed by the evil that they themselves fight. Until its recent bizarre space-alien arcs, I’d gotten a kick out of Mark Waid’s Irredeemable because it asks the question we all wanted to know about Superman: what the hell would we do if he went crazy, or decided to kill us all? This is the real problem with any immense power, whether it be an authoritarian government or spandex-wearing alien with a perfect jawline.

The wrong and the stupid in the above paragraphs is vast. Superman does NOT see humanity as “foolish, fearful, and indecisive.” Clearly, this fool hasn’t read a Superman comic…ever. Since 1986 and John Byrne’s awesome “Man of Steel,” Superman has been the disguise and Clark Kent has been the “real” person. If there’s a critique of humankind to be found in Superman, it’s here:

Superman sees humanity as possessing the capacity for good, the ability to solve their own problems. That is not a critique that presents humanity as foolish, or stupid. Perhaps Venning should ask himself why people wear shirts bearing the “S” shield or why Superman is easily one of the most recognized fictional characters in the world. Failing that, Venning should, I dunno, actually read more than two Superman comics in order to get a sense of just who Superman is. Also, if you’re getting your understanding of Superman fourth hand from a Quentin Tarantino movie, you really should reconsider the validity of your argument. Last I checked, Tarantino hasn’t written any Superman comics or movies (and for that, we should breathe a collective sigh of relief).

The whole point of Superman is that he is bright, optimistic, and good. Simply compare his origin story with that of, say, Batman’s.

Compare this:

to this:

Batman’s origin is clearly based in fear and trauma. Now, Superman’s origin is no less traumatic—after all, he’s the sole survivor of his entire planet and race. However, he doesn’t let that trauma define him, while Batman is completely defined by his trauma.

Venning completely misses the point. The point is that Superman has all this power, this vast, earth-shaking power. What does he do? He chooses to do the right thing. He chooses to use his powers to help humankind. He chooses to do all these things without reward. He doesn’t demand anything in return from the person he rescues from a fire or from humanity when he thwarts another of Brainiac’s schemes. Up until very recently, Superman didn’t mope or wonder why he was doing what he was doing—he simply did it. In sum, it’s the clarity of Superman’s moral vision that makes him an appealing character. Take a look at the world around us: would we be in the economic mess that we’re in if investment bankers, loan officers and everyday people had thought about the consequences of their actions. Look at News Corp and how the publishers of The News of the World ran roughshod over people’s privacy. Look at the venal politicians we have in Washington and tell me that we couldn’t use a hero who, instead of being grimdark or mopey, is bright, optimistic and good.

Skippy Goes To The Movies!: “X-Men: First Class” June 11, 2011

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Verdict: An excellent superhero movie that surpasses its predecessors.

I have to admit that when I saw the trailers for “X-Men: First Class,” I put this movie on my “wait for Netflix” mental list. After the abominations that were “X-Men 3: The Last Stand” and “Wolverine,” I was ready to write off the X-Men movie franchise. Further, this movie was sandwiched between “Thor” and “Green Lantern,” two movies for which I was/am infinitely more excited, primarily because both movies have not hesitated to play up the beefcake factor. And for that, my shallow ass is eternally grateful.

However, I am pleased to report that “X-Men: First Class” is far and away one of the best superhero “origin” movies in recent years. It deftly balances weightier, philosophical issues with action pieces. At a running length of just over two hours, it doesn’t feel like it drags. Some critics have claimed that this movie is “too talky”—to that I say, balderdash. Do not pay those reviewers any mind. While I think it would have fared better at the box office had it been a late summer/early fall release, it is not so ponderous as to leave the viewer wanting more action and less talk (e.g., 2006’s “Superman Returns”).

One reason this movie works so well is that, even though it is a movie that revolves around a team, we focus only on two characters, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender). Picking up from the first scenes in the first X-Men movie, we see young Erik Lensherr, the future “villain” Magneto, come into contact with this movie’s antagonist, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw is a sadist who is working for the Nazis; he wants to unlock Erik’s power, so he tortures young Erik. Meanwhile, in the United States, Charles Xavier meets another mutant, the future Mystique. Charles takes Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) under his wing, and they grow up together, but Charles appears rather oblivious to the fact that Raven loves him. This movie presents Charles as a brash, arrogant figure—and if you had his ability to read people’s minds and influence them to do what you wanted, wouldn’t you? We see that Xavier’s views about human-mutant coexistence emerge from his youthful naivete and arrogance; he does not take into account that he is able to “pass,” a point that both Raven and Erik point out to him. Erik especially functions as a counterpoint to Charles’s views about human-mutant coexistence. A survivor of the Holocaust, Erik has seen the worst of humanity and knows that humans would and could not tolerate this evolutionary leap. This is a nice nod to the way in which the X-Men comics have functioned as an allegory for, first, the Civil Rights movement and the tension between Martin Luther King’s arguments about integration and Malcolm X’s arguments about separation and self determination and second, the emerging gay and lesbian movement, the problem of “passing” as a heterosexual, and the question of “nature vs. nurture.”

Eventually, Charles and Erik meet (Erik has become a Nazi hunter in pursuit of Shaw, Charles is working for the government). They learn that Shaw and his band of mutants are trying to incite World War III in an effort to eradicate the world of the sub-optimal homo sapien. So Charles and Erik attempt to recruit more mutants—leading to a cameo that is hilarious and ten kinds of awesome. Again, there are some critics of this movie who say that it is short on humor. And again, I think they’re dead wrong. This movie has more of a James Bond feel than a strictly comic book movie feel—and that works in this movie’s favor. Thus, the humor in this movie has a decidedly dry wit to it. However, that humor doesn’t overwhelm the seriousness of the situation. Indeed, we see how Xavier is injured so that he is confined to a wheelchair—and it is appropriately tragic. Director Matthew Vaughn and the bevy of screenwriters (Bryan Singer being one of them) have crafted a rare gem: a superb, action-packed superhero movie that doesn’t insult its audience.

Your Obligatory “Judgment Day” Post May 20, 2011

Posted by Skippy in Religion, Science Ficton.
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Fig. 1: I daresay you can’t get a paint job like that at Maaco!


Fig. 2: These folks do realize that we now have photographic evidence of their abject foolishness, don’t they?


Fig. 3: Well, clearly, those people didn’t know the Truth!

Skippy Goes To The Movies!: “Thor” May 12, 2011

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Verdict: The best superhero movie since “Superman: The Movie”

Children, I think I’m on record for not being a big fan of movies based on Marvel Comics superheroes. While I liked “X-Men” and loved “X-Men 2,” I absolutely despised each and every one of the “Spider-Man” movies (especially that third abomination), loathed “X-Men 3,” and found the “Iron Man” movies merely tolerable. The less said about both of the “Hulk” movies, the better. This, of course, is part of my DC Comics partisan fanboyism. A Marvel superhero movie has to be awesome for me to like it (see the aforementioned “X-Men 2”).

That said, “Thor” was absolutely awesome. Director Kenneth Branaugh took a story written by J. Michael Straczynski (I was surprised when I saw his name pop up in the credits) and crafted a thoroughly delightful and visually arresting summer flick. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking, “THIS is what a superhero movie should be!”

The story is fairly simple: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a cocky son of god Odin. Because of his arrogance, he nearly starts a war with the Frost Giants; as a result of his arrogant disobedience of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), he is banished to Earth. On Earth, he meets astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her band of merry scientists; meanwhile, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is causing all sorts of trouble back in Asgard. Needless to say, Thor’s time on Earth humbles him and he learns how to be a hero just in time to save the day and set up the impending Avengers movie. Unlike other superhero films, this isn’t about a human (or alien who finds out he’s an alien) coming to terms with superpowers. This is a simple story of redemption—Thor has been cast out of a heaven and has to reclaim his rightful place as heir to Asgard’s throne. As such, the movie flows fairly smoothly. There aren’t any spots in the movie where the narrative begins to drag and feel padded, even at an hour and fifty-four minutes. Frankly, the near two-hour running time flew by.

I have to say, I love how Marvel has structured their movies so that each movie (Spider-Man and X-Men excluded) is part of a shared universe. I think a major flaw in DC’s movie-making strategy is separating each movie franchise. For example, the upcoming Green Lantern movie will have nothing to do with Batman which has nothing to do with Superman which has nothing to do with either Batman or Green Lantern. On top of all that, Warner Brothers (the company that owns DC Comics) wants to do a Justice League movie! And as far as I can tell, they want different actors to play Batman and Superman in the JL movie—how stupid is that? Anyway, even though this movie is part of a shared universe, it doesn’t at all require having seen the Iron Man or Hulk movies. Frankly, I am interested to see how the Avengers movie turns out. How will they integrate all these superheroes in one movie without it turning into an incoherent mess? I guess time will tell.

While this movie will not be submitting any Oscar reels, I think that Branaugh got serviceable performances out of the actors. Anthony Hopkins didn’t have much to do, so there were times in which he seemed rather…listless. Natalie Portman shines in this movie; when she’s got a good director, she brings it. So, basically, her performance in the Star Wars prequels? All George Lucas’s no-directing fault. Anyway, she has amazing chemistry with Chris Hemsworth—it was reminiscent of the chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in “Superman.” Portman and Hemsworth’s rather chaste romance was actually believable and not (too) corny.

And can we talk about Chris Hemsworth?

Fig. 1: Well, hellooooooo, Thor!

Ok, let’s talk. While Hemsworth might be something of a putz in interviews, onscreen he has a magnetism that is…wow. He was an inspired–nay, perfect choice to play Thor. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s GORGEOUS. Seriously.

Basically, this movie is going to be the second Blu-Ray DVD I own.

Existentialist Star Wars April 29, 2011

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Fig. 1: Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.

AWESOME. April 2, 2011

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Fig. 1: WHARGLEBLE! FAPRETICKE! NEMTRIPSITEK!

Children, the first footage from the upcoming Green Lantern movie hit Wondercon this weekend and OMGQWERTYAWESOMEPOIURE!!!111!! I cannot post a coherent thought, so powerful is this geeky AWESOMENESS.

Guess where I’m going to be on June 17th?

Geek Cake Fail March 29, 2011

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Wonder Woman? I Think Not. March 28, 2011

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Gaze upon this trainwreck and tell me that David E. Kelley’s impending abomination won’t suck ten kinds of ass:

Fig. 1: Cheap-looking, and tacky.

Children, even Adrianne Palicki looks like she can’t believe she’s in this get-up. What’s wrong with this outfit? Let’s count:

1. It’s too damned shiny.
This looks like the televisual equivalent of JJ Abrams’ overuse of lens flares in Star Trek (2009). Could you imagine Wondy running around in broad daylight in this thing? Why, the reflections off of this getup would cause blindness in a five block radius.

2. It looks cheap.
As other bloggers have noted, this looks like a generic Superhero Halloween outfit, woman version. The supposed “gold” parts of the uniform don’t look at all like actual gold. Rather, they look like cheap plastic—of course, it is cheap plastic, but it shouldn’t look like cheap plastic. Even the bracelets look like cheap plastic.

3. That tiara is awful…actually, all of it is awful.
Seriously. Now, it seems that the producers and costume designers are following the recent “redesign” of Wonder Woman’s uniform in the comic books. It certainly looks a lot like it, but that tiara is supposed to be a bit more…pronounced. The bracelets look like craptacular. The bustier is just plain tragic.

Children, it looks like this televised Wonder Woman will be nowhere near the awesome cheesiness of the 1970s show. I was already skeptical when I read about David Kelley’s take on this superhero icon. The Ally McBeal-ish quirks and this pathetic costume redesign do not bode well. Oh, and it’s going to be on NBC, the network that brought you “Heroes” and “The Event.”

This Just In: “V” Continues To Be Horrible. February 3, 2011

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Fig. 1: If only this show was half as interesting as this poster.

Children, I don’t know why I continue to watch “V.” Perhaps it’s out of a vain hope that maybe the pot monkeys writing this show will accidentally churn out something that could be in the neighborhood of “interesting,” or perhaps it’s because I love Morena Baccarin, or maybe it’s because I’m such a sci-fi geek that I’ll almost watch anything, but week after week, I sit on my couch and watch this absolutely horrible show.

“V” is so bad it’s not even in the “so-bad-it’s-good” category of bad TV. The writers have squandered whatever camp could be derived from Baccarin’s Anna, have wasted whatever pathos could be derived from Erica’s double life as an FBI agent and a member of the Fifth Column, and, worse, foisted upon the viewers a bugfuckingly ridiculous “plot” about Anna wanting to destroy the human soul.

Yeah. Anna wants to destroy the human soul. How the fuck did these lizards make it from their homeworld to ours? Next thing you know, the writers will have the lizards sitting in church talking about religion…

…oh. Wait. That was this week’s episode.

So, in a snit of stupidity, Anna decides that it’s time to meet with Cardinal Plot Contrivance in order to undermine the influence of the Catholic Church in general and the influence of Dumb Father Jack in particular. A quick shuttle ride over to a green-screened Vatican, and soon Anna is meeting with a bunch of “Catholic” bishops and ever-so-subtly threatens them. She does a little magic light show and suddenly, these bishops and cardinals are falling all over themselves to forge an alliance with her.

Wait, did Anna bother to meet with Muslim leaders? The Dalai Lama? Any Eastern Orthodox Christians? What about the Scientologists? I’m sure all of these leaders and their followers have some interesting things to say about the nature of humankind and whether or not we have a soul. But she doesn’t deign to meet with them, and that makes no sense.

Of course, nothing anybody does on this show makes any sense. And also, there are no atheists in V. No one who could look at Anna and say, “Um, a ‘soul’? Really? Y’all do realize that what we’ve traditionally called a ‘soul’ is just the processes of consciousness which originate in our brains. Kinda like yours.” But no, this show has to engage in pseudo-philosophical babble and run roughshod over anything remotely resembling common sense.

Frankly, I think this show wants to be Battlestar Galactica. It wants to be thought-provoking, but it winds up being just plain thoughtless. But silly me, I’ll be here to the bitter end, watching and wondering about the show that this show could have been.