Tag Archives: The Joker

The Road to Gotham is Paved With Good Intentions

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. If someone’s not remaking or rebooting something, they’ve gotta make a prequel or an origin story. Granted, it’s more satisfying to watch the latter two (except for the Star Wars prequels). In most cases it can be quite interesting to see how your favorite character(s) came to be.

I'm just wondering how Ben McKenzie is going to look with that sweet Jim Gordon mustache.

I’m just wondering how Ben McKenzie is going to look with that sweet Jim Gordon mustache.

This is definitely the case for Fox’s upcoming series, Gotham. Based in Batman’s hometown, the series follows everyone’s favorite Batman ally, Jim Gordon, as he begins his career with Gotham P.D. Long before he was Commissioner Gordon, he was just a rookie cop trying to keep Gotham City safe. Not the easiest thing to do in such a broken city, where the city officials and police officers are just as corrupt as the criminals, if not more.

Hopefully they'll focus less on Bruce going through puberty and more on him going through training.

Hopefully they’ll focus less on Bruce going through puberty and more on him going through training.

The show will also be focusing on an adolescent Bruce Wayne after the tragic death of his parents, following him throughout his youth and teenage years, as he gains all the worldly knowledge that he’ll need to become the Caped Crusader. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how entertaining all of that is going to be. The later years should be more interesting than the earlier but the writers are bound to find a way to make it all exciting. Something about Bruce Wayne attending private school and sitting through classes just makes me yawn. Might have to fast-forward through those scenes. Once he gets into his training and preparation, that’s where the fun will start.

A plus side to the show is that you’ll get to see how some of Batman’s greatest foes came to be. The Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, and many others will have their origins told but instead of fighting the Dark Knight, they’ll have to contend with the tough-as-nails Jim Gordon. It’ll be interesting to see if they use the “Red Hood” origin story to introduce the Joker or if they’ll find a brand new way. If they keep with the proper timeline of things, we probably won’t get to see Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, the Riddler, or Scarecrow, but you never know. We may get to see their pre-villainous forms, which could still be intriguing.

Can he be the tough, honest cop that Gotham needs?

Can he be the tough, honest cop that Gotham needs?

So far, there is a basic cast list for the show, just some of the main characters so far. Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon, which I’m all for because he’s actually a really good actor and can totally make it work. If you want proof, watch Southland. Donal Logue as Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock, is another solid casting choice. He’s one of my favorite actors and will pull off the rough-around-the-edges cop role nicely. Sean Pertwee, son of the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, will play the role of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s caregiver and protector. He’s got the “middle-aged, ex-marine Alfred” look to him. So far, only two villains have been cast: Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin) and Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, a sadistic crime gangster and nightclub owner, as well as Oswald’s boss. Both very interesting choices and I’m excited to see what they do with the roles.

From the first announcement of it, I’ve gone back and forth with this show. I was okay with it when they said it was going to focus on Gordon and the Gotham P.D. Then there was a rumor that the show was going to be more like Smallville, with Bruce and the villains being in high school together, which I was completely against because it’s a ridiculous idea. But now with the confirmation of the way the show is actually going to be, I’m more excited than ever about Gotham. I shall remain skeptical however, as I have been let down before by comic-book-to-television adaptations (Birds of Prey). As I grow older, I learn with every new adaptation to reserve judgement until the final product is revealed. So until it premieres, I’ll will remain excited, yet reserved.

What are your thoughts on Gotham? Post your comments in the comments section.

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Man of Steel 2: Batman, Superman, & the Who and What I Want to See

Over the past few weeks, after DC/WB’s announcement of the MOS sequel, I’ve been thinking about who I would like to see in the film (characters and cast) and what should happen.

I’ve been wondering a lot about how this story is going to go. Are Bats and Supes going to be friends or enemies or enemies then friends once they realize they have a common goal? Who will the villain or villains be? Where will it take place? Metropolis or Gotham City or both? And this film is supposed to be a lead-in to the Justice League film, so will there be any guest appearances or clever references to other DC characters or places in the DC Universe?  There has also been talks of crossing the DC television universe into the cinematic universe, so is there a chance of “The Hood” making an appearance?

The World's Finest playing nice? (image source: WB & DC)

The World’s Finest playing nice? (image source: WB & DC)

First, for the story, I think they should do a combination of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and the animated feature The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest. The Joker (or The Riddler) shows up in Metropolis wreaking havoc, teams up with Lex Luthor for some sinister plot, and Superman has to ask Batman for help since he’s dealt with The Joker before and somewhat knows how he works. When Supes shows up in Gotham, Batman isn’t pleased after seeing the destruction he caused in Metropolis some time back, so at first they’re at odds. There’s a big epic fight but then they realize that they should be working together to thwart a greater threat, so they team up. Which means the film will spend a small amount of time in Gotham but will mostly take place in Metropolis.

Obviously, that means the villains of the film will be Lex Luthor and The Joker, the heroes of course being Batman and Superman. Recasting the Joker after Heath Ledger’s phenomenal performance in The Dark Knight will be difficult and Lex Luthor is never an easy task. There’s also the highly-likely chance that Batman/Bruce Wayne will be recast. However, I thought I’d take a crack at it.

1 – All recurring characters from Man of Steel should be played by the same actors because that was perfect casting.

A perfect choice, I think. (image created by Javier de Mairena)

A perfect choice, I think. (image created by Javier de Mairena)

2 – Batman/Bruce Wayne: Josh Brolin. He’s an incredible actor with great range, he can handle the physicality of the role, and he has the look. Strong jawline, gruff-looking, older, that’s what WB is looking for with this recast. Now I would love to have Christian Bale back, but on the chance that he doesn’t come back, Brolin is my top choice to put on the cowl.

3 – Lex Luthor: Billy Zane. I know many people don’t think much of Mr. Zane, but I find him to be an exceptional actor. He can play smart and sophisticated, as well as cold, calculated, and maniacal. Not to mention, he can pull off the bald look nicely.

4.1 – The Joker: Adrian Brody, Crispin Glover, Damian Lewis, or Robert Carlyle. One of these four actors would make a superb Joker. It’d be difficult for them to top Ledger’s performance but I’m positive they would give it their best, knowing that they have big shoes to fill. Honestly, Crispin Glover has always been a top choice for me but I believe Damian Lewis might actually be a better choice.

Tennant's Riddler.

Tennant’s Riddler.

4.2 – The Riddler: David Tennant or Matthew Gray Gubler. I’m partial to Tennant because he’s my favorite Doctor, a brilliant actor, and can play the conniving genius quite well. Gubler is also an incredible actor and would do well in the part but Tennant is my first choice.

5 – Commissioner Jim Gordon: Gary Oldman. If they bring Gordon into the film, there is no other actor that should play him than Oldman.

As for crossovers and references, I don’t think any crossovers should take place other than Bats and Supes, of course. It would be nice to see Stephen Amell make an appearance as Oliver Queen at least, but not “The Hood” (of course by the time this film is being made, they may actually be referring to him as “Arrow” or “Green Arrow” though). But WB could get by with just making references to other heroes and their respective cities without actually including them in the film. They don’t wanna blunder and pull a Spiderman 3 move and have too many characters in one film. Just stick with the two heavy-hitters and their main arches and don’t overdo it. I’d also like to make a point that Robin should not be involved in this film at all, neither the comic book character or Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character from The Dark Knight Rises.

The way I see it, this film could be the perfect stepping stone for DC/WB to lead them into the Justice League film and helping them to making the DC Cinematic Universe as successful as Marvel’s has become. On the other hand, this film could be a complete disaster and be a huge setback for DC/WB. Either way, I’m willing to give it a chance and see what happens.

Are you? What are your thoughts and predictions for Man of Steel 2?

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Our Villainous Love Affair

Annually, we get to live in a post-San Diego Comic Con world where questions about who won the convention,whether Kaiju movies can work as a modern film and OMG HOLLYWOOD IS IMPLODING are speculated to such a minute degree and with so little information that it will all be hilariously wrong by SDCC 2014. Plus all the cosplay in the world.

One tidbit of information gleaned from this year is that Tom Hiddleston (as Loki) will not be in The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, but may find himself in other projects during phase 3. The new Thor trailer came out yesterday, and it’s becoming clear that he is still a central character to the universe.

That is a testament to the love we collectively have for the character. People enjoy Loki so much that he was featured as THE major villain in two of six phase one films with a supporting role in at least one phase 2 film and rumors of phase 3 involvement. Not a bad run.

It’s curious to me that the character is so popular because of what it says about the way we consume entertainment. We love this villain. We find him so engaging/charismatic/handsome/sexy that he’s worthy of being the reason The Avengers assemble.

Why is that?

Loki attempts genocide. If you’ve seen the new Thor: The Dark World trailer, you know Natalie Portman gives him the big slap for what he did to New York. And suddenly you realize that she is the only person acting appropriately under the circumstances, and just barely. He tried to do the same thing that made Hitler the go-to villain of the 20th century (with honorable mentions to Stalin and the cast of Batman & Robin). He kills indiscriminately for, seemingly, no reason. He wants to rule the world because his dad didn’t love him or something.

The character is a counter to everything we hold precious. In choosing a career as a loner sociopath, he implicitly says that having a job, falling in love, being part of a community and deciding that a life without violence is not good enough. His purpose is the destruction of all human society. He is, at the least, a terrorist.

And Loki is not alone. He comes from a growing stock of similarly apocalyptic villains that we glorify them for being the coolest of the cool.

So I have to ask. Why don’t we see this when we look at these characters?

rolling_stone_jahar_tsarnaev_boston_bomber_cover

The big freak out was that people thought this glorified the persona of a terrorist, and yet we find ourselves glorifying the personas of would-be terrorists. Granted, there is an obvious difference between the two kinds of villains I’m talking about here. One is a fictional character and the other is a probable bomber. One ruined actual lives while the other helped earn $1.5 billion worldwide.

But is that all there is to it? Killing real people is a good reason to condemn Tsarnaev (or anyone), but doesn’t explain our endorsement of his fictional counterparts. And I, like most people, experience Tsarnaev and others like him indirectly. Abstractly even. We can all agree that what happened at the Boston Marathon was horrible and should never happen again, but for many of us it’s a news story, not a personal tragedy.

The victims exist in a space not too far from the mass-murdered of Darfur or the collateral damage in Afghanistan. We agree that these things are terrible, but they are distant and, to many of us, totally unreal in our everyday lives. When you don’t know the names and faces, real becomes relative.

My point here is to illustrate that the two characters aren’t so different, both being abstracted forms of evil for those of us not personally touched. Both kinds move beyond being people and represent a threat to what we hold valuable. Even accepting the difference between the two (and I do believe there are differences) why is it so easy to idolize fictional would-be murderers?

A part of it is we understand that even the most realistic movie is still farce. It’s not just an awareness that no people were harmed, but that none of what is happening in anyway matters. But is that enough to explain why fictional killers are such popular costumes?

At the end of the day, this guy is dressed like a person who’s cool for killing.

I think something else altogether is happening here. Loki and his proxies don’t register as evil in a sense we can relate to. For all his malice, Loki doesn’t actually kill many people. Coulson dies in The Avengers, but not really; we’ve been hearing rumors of his return for months. The Joker killed some people, but they were mostly other criminals and corrupt police. Rachel Dawes died, but for some reason no one cares.

Compare that to Kevin Spacey in Seven. The bright colors and choreographed fights are absent. Instead we see, in graphic detail, what the life of a murderer looks like. The gritty realism makes Spacey a little too similar to things we actually fear–to crimes we actually have to read about. We will never have to worry about an alien/Norse god trying to conquer the planet, but we have to worry about walking alone at night.

Villains that aren’t strictly evil can become sympathetic. Many of our nasty terrorist-style ne’er-do-wells have tragic back stories and secret pains that explain why they do what they do. Loki does.

Sympathetic villains are easy to turn into fantasy. As an audience, we have the luxury of putting ourselves in the shoes of both the hero and the antagonist. Loki and his like represent a life free of being told what to wear, where to go, how much money electricity costs, what we ought to look like, who we should love and a million other things that mark the boundaries of a social world. These larger-than-life villains can make us feel free without having to feel evil.

A friend of mine says it’s a power fantasy. Taking a human life is the ultimate power. That rings true, but also gets at the core of my question: why is that a fantasy worth having? We could cosplay as doctors that cure diseases or solve water scarcity, but we don’t. We don’t because the fantasy is about the cool we derive from violently achieving ends. That’s why, for every random guy dressed like Thanos you see at a convention, there will be twenty dudes dressed like Loki.

We love the flirtation with being out of control without actually being evil.

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Coming To Terms With Change: Arkham Origins

MeBat

Me celebrating THE BAT.

I am hella excited for the next installment of the Batman: Arkham Whatever series. I love these games because you actually get to be the g#* d$@~ Batman, and it’s amazing. While they are not always perfect games, they’re certainly close, and I enjoy them more than Far Cry 3 style adventures or a Bioshock Infinite mindf*&%s.

Man, I sure am profaning a lot. Is that excitement?

Part of it has to do with my love of Batman. A love that, when you consider the character, shouldn’t make a lot of sense. I mean, do you ever think about how ridiculous it is that Batman seems normal? Aside from the dressed-as-a-giant-version-of-an-animal angle, there’s also the totem itself. Bats aren’t actually that scary; though, something about those ears do make his costume pop. Snakes are scary. Tigers, though a bit obvious, are scary. Spiders are scary. That last one is kind of weird because Spider-Man is not scary.

My point is the character is kind of goofy. He refuses to use guns even though, realistically, he would probably get shot to death on his first outing. I’ve already said quite a bit about Batman and more than a fare share of words on Superman, but within the continuity of the DC Universe, Superman actually makes more sense. The cannon clearly states he’s a bulletproof alien god. So when he doesn’t die it’s pretty believable. Batman is just a rich, crazy guy.

But I’m lost in the weeds. Getting back on track, I like Batman not because of his inherent awesomeness (in spite of the poor choice of animal totem) but because he’s so connected to my childhood. Batman: The Animated Series was on when I was seven years old, and barring Might Morphin’ Power Rangers, was probably my first love. And the same guy who voiced him then still voiced him up to the previous game, Batman: Arkham City.

I love Batman and the Arkham franchise, and this is why I’m wary of the upcoming changes. Abrams changed Star Trek from remake to sequel, and I didn’t like it. Community changed show-runners, and it wasn’t as good. Chris Nolan changed from someone who meets my expectations to someone who doesn’t. I changed into business attire, and it made me uncomfortable. Change is not always bad, but it opens up the risk of disappointment or even horror.

And changes there be. The studio that made the first two games in the series has been replaced by an in-house WB setup from Canada and the voice cast no longer includes any Batman: The Animated Series alums. And, I assume to bring the games in line with the current comic incarnation of the character, Batman isn’t wearing underwear on the outside anymore and now prefers body armor that actually looks like body armor.

Arkham City (Left) and Arkham Origins (Right) side by side. Both look grittier and more realistic in their respective games.

Arkham City (Left) and Arkham Origins (Right) side by side. Both look grittier and more realistic in their respective games.

Not to mention this is a prequel, which means all of the crazy shit that happened in the previous game, where like every character died, hasn’t happened yet, while at the same time locking all those same characters into a status quo to maintain the franchises continuity.

My first instinct is to express my trepidation in the form of complaint or frustrage. And then I start to think about what change actually means.

And this is the thing about change.

The Joker was right about “plans.” Not that they should be turned on their heads and we should just be crazy, but that we’re comforted by a sense of tradition or normalcy, even when the those things are kind of messed up. Case in point, consider Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s cover on Rolling Stone this week. Going way outside the original point of this article, the cover photo was a interesting decision. And without trying to solicit whether that was right or wrong, it’s sparked a conversation that I keep hearing.

First Person: I’m so offended that Rolling Stone is making this bomber look like a rock star.

Second Person: Well, there’s some historical precedent. Charles Manson and OJ Simpson have both graced the cover.

First Person: Really? *Googles controversial magazine covers* I guess it’s been done before. Huh.

There are some provisos: This is not every conversation that’s happening, but it’s one I’ve witnessed multiple times this week. I should also mention that I have not read the actual article the cover photo is featured as part of. Finally, and this one is important, none of the people in these conversations have been bombed. Apply salt as needed.

Once again in the weeds, I want to point out that the First Person is no longer deeply offended (slightly offended?) because there’s precedent. That strikes me as a strange reason not to be offended. Ubiquity doesn’t make something moral, but because we’ve experienced it before it’s less scary. And it really is about fear.

Aside from the literary faux pas of using an ultra serious, crazy-controversial example to explain why I hate the way a video game is changing, I think dealing with the future requires a little faith. Maybe not faith that everything will be all right, because sometimes it’s not, but faith in ourselves. Bad things happen and we have to work through them.

Some perspective wouldn’t hurt either. Sometimes just looking at what other people have to deal with makes us realize whatever we’re flame warring about isn’t that bad.

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Censorship and the Nature Of Batman’s Madness

Today we are going to talk about madness.

In our entertainment, heroism tends to come with a certain amount of notoriety. Heroes are, if not famous, then certainly recognized and generally loved for their deeds. And many of those heroes, like Batman, refuse to kill – the idea being that human institutions enforcing human laws need to determine right and wrong. It’s very democratic.

Are you dense or something? He doesn't give a f***.

Are you dense or something? He doesn’t give a f***.

But, as TJ pointed out, heroes like Batman uphold that principle at the cost of thousands of human lives because the same villains keep escaping. He absolutely refuses to kill.

If not effective, is that moral high ground good? Is it right?

As I mentioned before, sending criminals to courts and prisons is part of a democratically constructed process. The second Batman acts as the state he’s basically saying that he, not the people, knows what’s best for society.

But isn’t that what he does all the time? It’s illegal for private citizens to detain, intimidate and torture people they suspect of crimes: all things Batman does. Not to mention the trespassing, destruction of property, vigilantism, disorderly conduct, assault and illegal weapons. This establishes that Batman is not afraid to break the law. Batman doesn’t give a f***.

And Batman is crazy. He obsessively tortures himself to fight crime all the time without actually seeing a difference in super villain activity. If repeating the same act while expecting different results is the definition of insanity, Batman has been insane for more than 70 years.

Imagine that you’ve lost someone in your life. It could be an especially harsh breakup or a death in the family. It’s the kind of loss that takes you months or years to move on from. Not get over, but move on from. And the duration of that suffering causes you to do crazy things to yourself and other people. Spontaneous crying. Destructive drinking. High-risk drag racing. Whatever. At the core of it, there is a compulsive need to do those things. Everyone goes through it at some point in their life.

Now imagine living in that state for your entire life. You don’t eat, sleep, or breath without remembering what you lost and the only time you don’t feel it is when you’re beating someone bloody. That is what I imagine Batman’s life is like. All the time. Every day.

Batman is a certain kind of insane, but for some reason he’s the kind of insane that we find comfort in. The kind of compulsive that hurts so badly for so long that he never finds any measure of relief. Anyone that’s experienced prolonged emotional suffering may see a little of themselves in the Batman.

But make no mistake that it is a form of mental impairment, if not an outright disorder. Personal trauma isn’t supposed to dominate all parts of your life. And it’s not supposed to hurt that much for the rest of your life. Sooner or later that anguish is supposed to cool.

It’s a purely selfish state of existence. Batman doesn’t do it because it’s right so much as because he needs to. He just happens to save peoples lives while obeying his compulsive urges. If his trauma was a little different, he could be like The Joker, who hurts people in the pursuit of compulsive desires. It is the opposite of heroism in that heroes put what’s best for others over themselves.

A true hero is someone that can do what needs to be done at the expense of their own values. It’s one thing to risk life and limb and another thing to risk life, limb and your very soul. A true hero would hate themselves for what they’ve done while bearing that weight. In short, Batman should kill every repeat murderer he comes across. Probably the rapists too.

And Batman used to agree. At the beginning of his career he used guns and, occasionally, killed.batman-gun

It’s not fair to put all the blame on Batman though. A lot of this is a result of the Comics Code Authority of the 1950s. While killing criminals isn’t explicitly prohibited, it’s clear what kind of moral standard was in place. Here are some of the highlights:

Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.

In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.

All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.

Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.

 You can read the entire thing here

It’s a real eye-opener if you’re unfamiliar with the comic industry’s history of censorship. And the Comics Code Authority had a profound influence on comic books well into the 80s and beyond. And if you go back even farther you can see Batman’s disarmament was part of a much larger argument about the propriety of guns in popular entertainment and the limits of the second amendment. It’s oddly poignant to discover there was a very similar conversation about gun control and the exposure of impressionable minds to gun violence not unlike the one we’re seeing today. Jill Lepore for the New Yorker had a fascinating article on the disarmament of Batman right after Aurora, Colorado, shooting.

So did Batman, who started out with a gun—until he got rid of it. The nineteen-thirties, the golden age of comic-book superheroes, was a time of landmark gun legislation. In 1934, the National Rifle Association supported the National Firearms Act—the first federal gun-control legislation—and, four years later, the 1938 Federal Firearms Act. A great many gun-safety measures on the books today date to those two pieces of legislation, which together mandated licensing for handgun dealers, introduced waiting periods for handgun buyers, required permits for anyone wishing to carry a concealed weapon, and effectively prohibited the sale of the only gun banned in the United States today: the automatic weapon (or “machine gun”).

In 1939, the constitutionality of the National Firearms Act was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Miller. A ruling issued on May 15, 1939, upheld the law, unanimously, and uncontroversially.

In a story published in October of 1939, Batman used a handgun to shoot a vampire—silver bullets to the heart. He used a gun again in the next episode, to fire some shots at two evil henchmen. At the time, Detective Comics had just hired a new editorial director, a guy from Brooklyn named Whitney Ellsworth. (Not long after hiring Ellsworth, Detective Comics established an editorial advisory board, consisting of people like psychologists and English professors.) When Kane [Creator of Batman] submitted his next story, Batman was shooting again. “Ellsworth said to take the gun out,” Kane remembered. 

Read more here

What I’m getting at is that Batman’s world has been defined by 50 years of censorship which is the real reason he doesn’t kill his villains. He wasn’t allowed to kill in the comics, so he didn’t kill in his cartoons or television shows either (excluding the 1989 Batman). That history of censorship has become a cultural component of our understand of the character.

So why doesn’t Batman kill them now? DC did a massive relaunch of all their Batman properties, of which he is featured in more than four titles, and he still turns criminals over to the police. That legacy of censorship has stunted Batman’s evolution as a hero; stretching the general notion of what’s reasonable. Instead of a man that enacts long-lasting change we have a man that serves his own fetish.

Case in point, during the last big event before the New 52, an alternate universe Batman killed Reverse Flash and pretty much ended the big problem of the event. After that it was easy for everyone to save the world and launch the new line of comics. And that’s how it should go. In most alternate timelines Batman will kill criminals. DC just needs to give up the ghost.

Batman getting it done.

Batman getting it done.

I submit that this is the hero we need and the hero we deserve.

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