Category Archives: Superheroes

Is Superman going to be the Antichrist? (A belated clickbaity response to Batman vs Superman)

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This blog contains spoilers, although to be honest, I’m probably doing you a favour.

I know, I know. I haven’t updated this blog in years. But tonight I feel inspired to get this down in black and white. Because, ladies and gentlemen, my ambivalence about Batman vs Superman and the forthcoming Justice League movie is eating away at me. This isn’t because B vs S only really gets good when Wonder Woman turns up to kick ass (thank goodness Diana and Lois are there, because all the male characters are dumber than a box of rocks). No, it’s because they’re going to make Superman the Antichrist.

Seriously. It’s all there. I can prove it.

Firstly, let’s start with the assumption that Batman’s nightmares are more than just bad dreams. The evidence is there – the desert sequence is full of imagery pointing towards Darkseid’s involvement, such as the Omega symbol and a bunch of Parademons. There’s nothing to suggest that Bats has encountered these previously, so why are they in his dreams?

His dreams are prophecies.

This is further backed up by his conversation with EvilSupes, who says something like “You took her from me. She was my world.” He later says something similar about Lois, which makes it suspicious that the phrase shows up in a dream before Bats hears it in reality.

To cap this off, Bruce wakes from the dream and is immediately confronted by a time travelling Barry Allen, who brings a warning from the future. “You were right about him,” Barry says, before stressing that Lois is the key. But he’s arrived too early, and so the warning is without context.

Now, this could be referring to anyone, but let’s go with the idea that the Flash is trying to prevent the future seen in Batman’s dream. As a crude guess, let’s say Lois dies and Clark blames Bruce.

Clark then becomes Darkseid’s number one butt monkey, heat visioning at least two people to death.

(This is so far from my idea of Superman that it actually makes me angry, but let’s put that aside for a moment for the sake of my aneurysm.)

This is all imminent, based on Lex’s rant at the end and the imagery of demons falling from above in the huge portrait.

But wait, Superman dies at the end! How can he take over the world?

Look at one of the memes that runs throughout the film – Superman as a false god. It’s one of the ways Snyder emphasises his ambiguity towards superheroes. That doesn’t mean it’s literal, does it?

But wait. Something weird happens at Superman’s grave right at the end. And it seems clear that Supes is alive in the future. And if you’ve read The Death of Superman in the comics, you’ll be expecting this to be thanks to Clark’s alien physiology, but what if this is actually part of the bad guy’s masterplan? For instance:

● Darkseid brings Superman back to life. Cue a messianic reaction towards him.

● Darkseid engineers Lois’s death, framing Batman in the process.

● Supes goes nuts, takes over the world, creating the dystopia seen in Batman’s dream.

● The Flash goes back in time to try to save Lois and prevent Darkseid Disneyland from ever existing.

Yes my friends. The plot of the forthcoming Justice League movie is based around  Superman becoming the antichrist servant of an evil false god. That’s my bet and I’m sticking to it. Feel free to disagree, but I reckon this theory fits the hints and themes of B vs S.

Only Grant Morrison can save us now.

Never Mind the Batfleck – Why Ben Affleck as Batman Isn’t really the issue

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Contains spoilers go Man of Steel.

So, the Internet snapped again. It doesn’t take much nowadays, not now we’ve adopted it as the designated home of nerd rage. The Net was designed to survive nuclear Armageddon, but announce that Ben Affleck is going to play Batman and you’ll immediately feel the servers start to buckle under the strain.

I have a pretty easy-going take on the news. Man of Steel may have had a few scripting issues, but its casting was spot-on; I have no reason to believe that Zack Snyder and co. have dropped the ball this time. The Batman mythos is full of left-field casting decisions – Adam West? Michael Keaton? Heath Ledger? – and yet they worked for the type of stories their producers and directors were telling. I’m going to give Affleck a break.

Besides, everyone knows that the One True Batman is Kevin Conroy.

No, my worry about the forthcoming Superman/Batman movie is that we’ve yet to have a solo Superman film set in this continuity, because Man of Steel was really about the last generation of Kryptonians and their mess; in some respects it felt like a prequel to a more dedicated Superman story.

Okay, I might be off-base here, but think about it; Superman’s deal is that he’s an old fashioned, straight-forward hero figure, the guy who’ll save your cat from a tree and your kid from a rampaging alien death robot. You can play around with that, but that’s his thing. Problem is, that’s yet to be established in DC’s movieverse. On his first day on the job, he’s involved in a war his dad’s generation started, resulting in obscene property damage and, presumably, thousands of casualties. Compare this to Chris Reeve’s first action set piece, where he catches a helicopter and saves Lois. Yes, Man of Steel showed Clark saving a school bus full of kids and the crew of an oil rig, but they were presented as moments that threatened his future, not that defined Superman’s character and heroism.

So a sequel is coming in 2015, but a character that is yet to be fully defined is going to be sharing screen time with another character that exerts substantial gravitational pull. I’d also argue that, story wise, Batman might be the wrong character for the first DC movie team-up. Bats is a darker, more tortured character than Superman under normal circumstances, but here we have a Superman who has seen Metropolis levelled, thousands murdered and who was forced to execute General Zod on his first day on the job, not long after discovering that his home world was destroyed and the only other survivors were genocidal fanatics.

Beat that, Batman.

The commercial motivation for all this is to establish a cinematic DC Universe and to catch up with Marvel’s success story. From that point of view, putting DC’s two biggest characters on screen together makes perfect sense. Story-wise, however, I’m not so sure, not least because, based on the plot points left at the end of Man of Steel, and established characterisations across continuities, Batman would presumably have to the winner in any moral argument – are superhumans a public threat? Yeah, look at the ruins of Metropolis. Is killing supervillains wrong? Considering the need to keep popular bad guys like Lex and the Joker alive for sequels then yeah, have a no-kill rule. So would this lead to Superman abdicating moral responsibility in his own movie?

Now, if you want to establish the basis for a Justice League movie in the Man of Steel sequel then that’s possible but you don’t cast Ben Affleck. Why? Because the hero you need is Wonder Woman.

This is because Wonder Woman is a character from a warrior culture who nevertheless works as an ambassador for peace. If you want to ask whether Superman is a noble warrior who can live with killing his enemies, or a largely peaceful guy who helps people (necessitating the occasional smack down), then she’s a character who can illuminate both sides of that debate. She’s a known quantity and a Justice Leaguer and a character that genuinely expands the DC movieverse.

Now, I know it’s problematic introducing a major female character as a way of furthering a male character’s arc, but seeing that DC seem incapable of getting a Wonder Woman film or TV show made, then maybe problematic is better than non-existent. I may be wrong on that though.

So there we go – give Ben a chance but don’t screw over Superman in the process. The casting here isn’t as important as the writing, so let’s hope the script gives us the chance to get the Justice League movie we’ve been waiting to see.

Man Of Steel: My sort-of review (contains spoilers!)

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This post contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers, particularly about the ending of the film. You might not want to read on until you’ve seen the movie.

I’m sitting in the Odeon cinema in Derby, about five minutes before Man of Steel is due to start. I’ve seen the trailers, I’ve read the tweets, I’ve seen geek culture offer up almost every imaginable opinion about the film. And you know what? At this point, all I really want is for Superman to hit a bad guy with a bus.

I mean, what do I want – what do I expect from a Superman movie? He’s a pop culture icon, and because of that we develop our own conception of the character. It’s not DC Comics or Warner Brothers that define Superman, not really, it’s each of us, every die-hard fan having their own image in our heads made up of bits and pieces from comics and movies and TV and all the cool ideas we have that no-one else has thought of. Man of Steel isn’t going to live up to that – I guess the question is, as I watch a trailer for The Lone Ranger, what’s the film going to add to my Superman mythos?

The thing about Man of Steel, two-and-a-half-hours later, is that while it ‘s a Superman film, it’s not a film about Superman. It’s about the generation before him, their competing visions of the future and how those visions play out in the lives of Earth’s inhabitants. Is Zod right to want to preserve his world at all costs? Is Jor-el right to see his son as the embodiment of his own rebellion? Is Jonathan right to want Clark to keep his powers a secret? These questions drive the story more than Clark’s search for a place in the world, to the extent that at times the film feels like an extended prequel for a character study of Supes.

I hope we get to see that, because Henry Cavill is great – good enough not to be trapped in Chris Reeve’s shadow. His joy at finding he can fly is lovely – the sort of reaction Superman should have. We don’t get to see a Clark/Supes distinction – deliberately so – but I think Cavill could handle it, heading up an impeccable cast. That said, Michael Shannon’s mad-eyed intensity steals the show. Look, I thought Terence Stamp insisting everyone should kneel before him was legendary, but I’m sorry, there’s a new Zod in town and he punches his enemies through skyscrapers.

That spectacle is a real strength – this is the best superhero battle since Justice League Unlimited and that was animated. Sure the visuals are over the top, but this is a comic book movie, things should be turned up to 11. And frankly, Zack Snyder is the first director who seems to realise he should give us a reason to care that Krypton blows up, serving up some pulp sci-fi wonder and a badass Jor-el.

That’s one of the issues Snyder deals with – the other is making sure Lois doesn’t look like an idiot by letting her in on the Secret almost from the start. I could go another 75 years without seeing Lois fail to notice who Clark is again, and Man of Steel sidesteps that before you even realise they’ve done it. She’s also proactive and confident and she shoots bad guys with a death ray. Awesome.

But there’s always controversy. Normally I don’t mind that – I don’t care if Perry’s black or if Jimmy Olsen now seems to be Jenny; let there be change. But there is a moment that rips through my image of Superman and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Clark kills Zod, and while it’s to save innocents and he’s clearly devastated by it, it’s still a moment I’m uncomfortable with. Superman doesn’t kill, and while I’ve justified it to myself – it’s a set-up for a more character driven sequel, it’s the sort of thing that could fuel a future confrontation with Lex, but somehow that feels like fansplaining. I hope it’s not, especially if this is going to be the foundation for DC’s cinematic universe.

A while back, this would have been the main thing I took away from Man of Steel – I’d’ve debated it and got annoyed by it and insisted that Hollywood doesn’t get Superman. But now… Well, there’s a moment in which the young Clark has just discovered he’s adopted – that he’s not even from Earth. He turns to the man who raised him and asks “Can’t I just pretend I’m still your son?” “You are my son!” comes the reply, and that still gets me, even as I’m typing this.

Maybe it’s because I’m a new-ish stepdad, maybe it’s because I’m getting old and relating to fathers rather than sons, but… There’s just so much there, love and compassion and identity and fear, and so much of the film is tied up with the things parents want for their children, whether they’re from Kansas or Krypton. And it’s that moment that sticks with me, because ultimately I don’t want a film or even a favourite superhero that resonates with my comic collection, I want one that resonates with my life. That’s what Man of Steel adds to my Superman mythos – not just a new favourite Krypton, not just deranged superhero spectacle, not just a better role for Lois, but a moment that actually makes me relate to a story I’ve been following for years, a moment that gives voice to a bunch of feelings and hopes in my own life. That’s more than most movies offer, even ones I love.

Thank you Superman.

Look, Up In The Sky… Superman and Lois Turn 75

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I’m looking at the cover of Action Comics #1 and finding it almost impossible to imagine how people saw it back in 1938. A powerfully-built ox of a man holding a car above his head while the other figures in the scene cower or flee in terror? Who is this guy? Is he the hero or the villain? Gaudy circus performer or alien invader? Man or…

Superman has always been a part of my pop culture landscape, from the Christopher Reeve movies to Lois and Clark, from running around with my coat doubling as a cape to reading the comics as I embraced my inner geek. True story: while on holiday in Toronto, I was wearing a Superman t-shirt on a visit to the CN Tower. When the time came for my tour party to stand on the glass floor and stare down at the sidewalk hundreds of feet below, I was asked to hold a middle-aged woman’s arm as she’d be too scared to walk on the glass otherwise. That was nothing to do with me being courageous or strong, but everything to do with the symbol on my shirt.

Those early readers weren’t the only ones figuring Superman out. In that first issue, Superman works for the Daily Star, not the Planet; he can leap one-eighth of a mile but can’t fly; his powers are due to Kryptonians being more evolved, not a reaction to sunlight. Perhaps more importantly he’s more rough and ready than the character’s normally portrayed, less sci-fi and more earthy. Back in 1938, Superman had yet to become the mythic hero of pop culture epics.

April 15th 2013, and social media reels in shock as explosions tear through the Boston Marathon. Among the digital chaos of the first few hours after the bombing, a friend retweets a quote from Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And I read that and I thought about the horror of that day and the heroism of those who ran to help the injured, and I also thought of Superman.

At least Lois was there. For all this is Superman’s anniversary, it’s also the birthday of Lois Lane. I’ll admit it; I’m a shipper. She’s the voice of humanity in the mythos, a tenacious journalist who fights for justice in her own right; the recent trailer for Man of Steel, amid all the questions about Superman’s role and identity, it’s Lois who sits there confidently getting to the heart of the matter. Heck, she’s one who gives Clark’s alter-ego a name. She’s not just one of the most famous female comic book characters, she’s one of the most iconic characters full stop. Look at the cover of Action #1 again – it’s Lois who’s being kidnapped in that car. It may be Superman’s 75th, but let’s also sing happy birthday to Lois Lane.

Talking of that trailer, there was another moment of humanity that just floored me. The young Clark has just discovered he’s adopted – that he’s not even from Earth. He turns to the man who raised him and asks “Can’t I just pretend I’m still your son?” “You are my son!” comes the reply, and that still gets me, even as I’m typing this. Maybe it’s because I’m a new stepdad, maybe it’s because I’m getting old and relating to fathers rather than sons, but… There’s just so much there, love and compassion and identity and fear, and so much of the Superman story is tied up with the things parents want for their children, whether you’re from Kansas or Krypton.

In a world of grimdark superheroes, it’s easy to overlook how important Superman was and is. He’s been used as a pop culture defence against Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and when Grant Morrison’s run rebooted Action Comics in 2011, Clark returned to his roots as a social crusader in a time of recession and austerity and the 1%. It’s easy to forget Superman’s relevance – after all, he’s a part of the mass media wallpaper – but while it’s easy to see him as ‘establishment’, there’s also subversion going on – he’s an immigrant, he’s working class, he’s hiding a secret and he’s an outsider.

He’s relevant, in other words. 75 years after he first picked up that car, since he first leapt into action to save Lois Lane, he’s still important, still recognised, still a symbol of heroism and justice; ask him what he wants and he’ll tell you he’s here to help.

I want to help too.

Where I Am With Comics

I had a dream last night, one of those strange, realistic dreams where everything seems normal except the condensed time frame and people being where they shouldn’t. And because this is how interesting my dreams are, it was about how I spent five hours in a comic shop.

It was the details that gave it away – books and graphic novels were all published in  elegant. minimalist covers which made it easy to navigate your way through the continuity and publishing history of things like Star Wars and DC Comics – and it’s been a long time since I’ve spent any time in a comic store, never mind five hours. As far as I can tell there isn’t one in Derby, and while I’ve made the transition to reading comics entirely on my iPhone, the industry has been slipping away from me.

I know when this started. Last year, DC Comics carried out a relaunch of its entire line, jettisoning the existing continuity and renumbering everything from scratch. It was a bold move, and seemed to pay off, at least initially. Frankly, the industry needed one of the big companies to do something radical to bring in new readers. I can’t blame DC for going what they did; they don’t make comics for my personal amusement.

But it meant that the stories and characters I was attached to disappeared. Sure, most of them are part of the ‘New 52’, but changed – Superman isn’t married to Lois any more, the Flash I followed is AWOL, they flat out cancelled titles I was following. And they were perfectly within their rights to do that, but when that connection was severed, it failed to return, and with it some of my passion for comic books.

I’m still following some, of course: Aquaman is a great take on a maligned character, and I like how the disdain he’s treated with in some corners of fandom plays in to the storylines. Action Comics I’m reading because I’m a Superman fan and Grant Morrison’s love for the character is palpable. And Paul Cornell’s Saucer Country is (partly) the alien-abduction plotl arc of The X-Files done properly, with meditations on the liminal, mythic aspects of flying saucer mythology. And I love IDW’s Transformers titles, because that particular franchise was one of my earliest geeky passions.

It’s strange how this has happened – I love comics, and I hope the industry finds a way to thrive, and I’ll go to see any and all superhero movies – but I guess that’s just the way it goes. I owe a lot to comic fandom: I’ve made good friends as a result of it, one of which is producing his own comics. I desperately want to see him succeed at this because he’s talented and passionate and the industry needs young voices like that. As for me… Well, am I leaving comics? I don’t know. If I found one title that caught my excitement I’d happily buy it, and I’m sure that title is out there. But I don’t have the time to plough through Comixology to find it, and I don’t have the disposable income to take a punt on multiple titles that I might not enjoy.

Heck, I guess I’m half asking for recommendations. I like writers like Cornell, Simone and Johns, and James Robinson’s Starman is my favourite comic book series of all time. I don’t like dark-and-edgy for the sake of dark-and-edgy – it’s boring – but hard-won optimism is fine. And it doesn’t have to be superhero stuff, because I suspect superhero mythology – the mythology that arose when comics were popular, mass-culture entertainment – is pretty much on its way to migrating fully to the big screen.

So am I alone? Has anyone else found themselves drifting away from comics? Or is this just one of those moments in life when things change and it’s not good and it’s not bad, it’s just change? I don’t know where this is going to end up.

But I know in my dream, that five hours in the comic book store, I was enjoying myself.