I Believe in Gotham City

Guest blogger and comic book aficionado, Jason Major, takes an in-depth look at the Gotham trailer and offers some predictions on the upcoming series.

Gotham is an upcoming show on FOX TV Mondays that is about Detective James Gordon trying to fight crime in Gotham City after the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Far from just a Bruce Wayne origin, the show is described as a crime opera focusing on the cops and the fall of Gotham City and the origins of the villains and world of the Dark Knight.

The first full extended trailer has been released as well as a “Villains Themed” shorter trailer can be seen here:

My review of the trailer may be different than than that of the TV series itself, but so far it is shaping up to be fantastic. The trailer itself takes on a more cinematic look, and I’m sure if someone took the time to mash it up with a Batman trailer, it would almost look like the origins of a new Batman movie.

The look is very similar to me to the Batman: Animated Series of the 90’s — a modern yet retro look with retro-looking clothing, a very Noir-ish looking Gotham. Even the producers admit their influence is from New York in the 70’s.

One of the promising aspects is that they are looking straight at the source material for the cops and supporting cast for Gordon, using the Gotham Central comic book (a comic which focused on Gotham’s cops in a world with Batman) for reference and using established characters like Renee Montoya, Harvey Bullock, Crispus Allen and Sara Essen to further populate its world.

Villain-wise, we are being promised many of the “big bads” of Batman very early on. The Penguin is a key character here, more based on the newest Batman: Earth One graphic novel (a reboot comic version of the character), where Penguin is skinnier and smaller than round and fat, but also much more vicious. Selina Kyle (Catwoman) is also part of the cast, as a young homeless girl/thief, and Edward Nygma has been given a new origin as a forensic scientist with a penchant for puzzles and riddles. A young Poison Ivy was also shown in the trailer.

The Joker has also been promised sometime, very possibly by the end of season one, although “with great care and thought”. My own hope is that they go with the classic Jack Napier/gangster Joker. I would be interested in seeing a Noir-like origin for the Joker, perhaps as a gangster with a troubled past who eventually becomes the Red Hood before becoming the Joker we know. My guess is that Joker will become a supporting character once he is introduced.

The Batman: Earth One graphic novel is set on DC’s New Earth One, where they are doing graphic novel reboots of their characters separate from their New 52 line. Its influence on Gotham is seen both in Penguin and also a new approach to Alfred as more of a Butler/ex- marine bodyguard (this version was also used in the new Beware the Batman cartoon). In many ways, this version does make some sense, as Bruce is only 10-12 years old right now.

The trailer looks fantastic, and despite what else you may read from internet fans complaining about “this will suck because it is not Batman”, early reviews from critics and word-of-mouth suggest they are looking at this series to become a breakout hit at Fox. A full-season order would not be picked up for a show at this time usually, and a full-season order shows more confidence in the final product.

Also, I find many of the complaints unfounded. For example, comparisons can’t be made to Smallville. Superman’s mythology as Superboy/young Clark Kent has a lot less in the comics in terms of classic villains and world-building. I would argue that Batman has one of the greatest rogues gallery, but also one of the best supporting casts in all of comics. There is a lot of great world-building that can be done if they do a nice mix of gangster/street-level villains and classic rogues gallery. Also, none of the creators of Smallville have anything to do with the show. Both Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon were heavily involved in CSI, which is by far a better comparison for Gotham. CSI seems to have lasted for quite some time now and had multiple spin-offs. Other shows Bruno Heller has been involved in include Rome and The Mentalist, both critically-acclaimed shows. Ben Mackenzie was a cop on the crime drama Southland, as well as the voice of Batman on the animated movie Batman: Year One, which seems like good groundwork for his role to me. Donal Logue was also acclaimed on Sons of Anarchy and Vikings, (and also has comic book cred in Ghost Rider as Johnny Blaze’s friend) and the cast is surrounded by interesting characters as well.

Gotham’s challenges, in my mind, will live or die by the writing. For me, part of the problem with 21st century television is that shows are so serialized that they hard to follow from week to week and you give up and wait for the DVD/Blu-ray release. One way Gotham seems to be avoiding the problems of serialized TV is that the producers/directors have mapped out already the entire first season. This is a stark contrast to a series like Smallville, which in my opinion seemed to be made up as they went along. Also, here’s hoping the procedural-like formula will help it be a show that will be more easy to jump into. If done right, it should be simple for new viewers: Gotham is corrupt; Gordon is trying to stop the escalation; Bruce is one day going to become Batman.

The other potential problem is if the story becomes too repetitive. Will the series still feel fresh two years in, while we are continuing to wait? Will they use too many of the big villains too soon? Batman has a large encyclopedia of villains. If they mix the gangster-type villains, the classic more well-known rogues, and revamp some of the lesser-known rogues, plus the more traditional police procedural murders/cases, Gotham could have a chance at becoming a very interesting crime epic.

The actor playing Bruce Wayne has a lot on his shoulders. I would love to see this kid grow into Batman through the more classic origin: by studying hard and learning from the world around him. The producers have promised that you won’t see teen Bruce Wayne drama. Instead, you’re going to see a kid who knows early on that his calling is to become the saviour of Gotham. My hope is that they will play first with the classic origin where he tries to do this through the law until it becomes self-evident that this is impossible. It’s important here to remember that the classic origin for Batman is more rooted in Batman wanting to make sure that his personal tragedy never happens again. It’s less about vengeance and more about justice and taking his tragedy upon his shoulders and preventing anyone else from having to go through that again. The child actor has to interestingly portray a character going through this transformation into the Batman, rather than a character in a soapy teen drama.

I believe in Gotham City. I believe that a crime opera in the shadow of Batman could work. Only time will tell if I am right, but for now the Dark Knight rises on television. (Yes, I know, I had to.)


Around the Web 2

H.R. Giger, the artist who designed the xenomorph in Alien, passed away. Den of Geek has a nice write-up.

The trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is intriguing.

A photo of Ben Affleck as Batman rocked the internet. Here’s an enhanced version that reveals more of the costume’s texture. It’s reminiscent of the costume from the Arkham games. Also, the Bat symbol itself clearly shows Frank Miller’s influence.

Two former James Bonds, Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton, speak about their tenure as 007. In my opinion, both actors are a bit hard on themselves. Dalton is one of the most underrated actors to play Bond. He was doing the darker, grittier take on the character long before Daniel Craig. Unfortunately, audiences didn’t appreciate that portrayal at the time.

A new Hercules movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is coming out soon. Donald Robertson takes this renewed public interest in the Greek myth as an opportunity to talk about the legacy of Hercules in Stoic philosophy.


Another Batman Short

Here’s another Batman short, this time from Darwyn Cooke.

A friend of mine gave me the complete Batman Beyond series on DVD for Christmas, so I’ve re-watched it recently. The show holds up remarkably well. On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. The network wanted a younger Batman, a teenager, who younger viewers could relate to. Bruce Timm, who produced the brilliant Batman: The Animated Series, was reluctant to do it, but the more he thought about it, the more he became intrigued by the concept. There are several reasons Batman Beyond worked. The highlights include:

1. It provided a plausible reason why Bruce Wayne would retire and pass on the mantle. Not even the The Dark Knight Rises managed that. The mentoring relationship between Bruce and Terry was the core of the series.

2. It was set in the future, but not too far in the future. Yes, there were flying cars, but not everybody had a flying car. The writers wisely realized that such technology would be expensive, at least at first, so only the rich, i.e. Bruce Wayne, would be able to afford it. Gotham City also looked like a plausible place. The designers borrowed pages from Blade Runner, Manga, and Judge Dredd in coming up with a believable future urban landscape. City blocks and public transportation went vertical. There was a fusion of Asian and Western designs. Also, there was a clear demarcation between rich and poor. The poor lived close to street level, while the rich lived atop skyscrapers. If our current economic situation is any indication of the future, the writers accurately forecast this aspect too.

3. The temptation when doing a show like this is to have future Batman facing ‘the son of the Joker’ or ‘the son of Two-Face.’ In other words, the writers could have taken the easy road and just recycled classic Batman villains. Instead, they created new baddies for Batman to battle. Yes, there was the Jokerz Gang, but that gets a pass. Interestingly, the new villains often contained elements of Batman’s classic rogue’s gallery; for example, the character Inque, who combines elements of Catwoman and Clayface.

One of the reasons I’m less than optimistic about DC’s attempt to build a live-action ‘universe’ is because there’s no chance it could possibly be as good as their animated universe. They should just give their film budget to Bruce Timm so he can produce great cartoons in perpetuity. Now, that’s something I’d pay to see.

The Meaning of Life According to Pop Culture

Here’s some tweet-sized wisdom from pop culture characters on the question “What’s the meaning of life?”

Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women. — Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Conan the Barbarian

Take pleasure in great beauty.  — James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) in The World is Not Enough

Live long and prosper.  — Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in Star Trek

Achieve perfection. — Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) in Star Trek: Voyager

Maximize profit.  — Quark (Armin Shimerman) in Star Trek DS9

Fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  — Superman (Christopher Reeve) in Superman: The Movie

Become more than a man, devote yourself to an ideal. Become a legend.  — Ra’s Al Ghoul (Liam Neeson) in Batman Begins

42  — Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. — Michael Palin in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

5 Anarchist Comic Book Characters

As a companion to my other blog post on anarchism, I thought it would be fun to do a lighter post highlighting five anarchist comic book characters. For some reason, anarchist characters seem to get a fairer shake in comic books than in just about any mainstream medium. Perhaps that’s because several influential creators, like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Alan Grant, are anarchists themselves. In any case, there are several anarchist comic book characters to choose from. I’m sure there are a lot more and if your favorite didn’t make the list, make a note of it in the comments section. The list is also partial to DC characters, because they’re the ones I know and love the most. These just happen to be my personal favorites and the ones that I think best fit the category. So without further ado, here’s the first of our anarchist anti-heroes …

david lloyd's V1. V from V for Vendetta. This really comes as no surprise. V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd was originally published in a UK anthology comic called Warrior in 1985, but never completed. In 1988, DC re-published the Warrior run and completed the series. Since then, it has been published as a graphic novel by DC’s Vertigo imprint and adapted into a feature film by Warner Bros. Pictures in 2006. V for Vendetta tells the story of a masked vigilante, V, and his female protege Evey Hammond, as they fight against a totalitarian regime in late 90’s Britain (changed to the 2020’s in the film). Moore, himself a self-professed anarchist, has stated that he intended the story as a contest between fascism and anarchy. There’s some interesting philosophical material here, including the question of whether violence is ever justified to achieve political ends. The book is also notable for capturing the ordinariness of fascism. The fascists are average people rather than comic book-type villains. This idea parallels Hannah Arendt’s notion of the ‘banality of evil.’ This sense is somewhat lost in the film; the villains, except for Finch, are less fleshed out, and more caricatured, than they appear in the book. The film is also less explicitly anarchist than the book, and Moore has distanced himself from any adaptation of his work, but the film is still worth watching in my opinion. It has some very memorable scenes and performances by the two leads, Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.

Frank-Millers-The-Dark-Knight-Returns-Batman-Superman-Fight12. Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. Since their inception, comic books have been about vigilantes. In taking the law into their own hands, these characters tacitly assert that their authority is on par with the ‘legitimate’ authority of the state. The state, the police, etc. are often portrayed as corrupt or incompetent. A good example is provided by another classic 80’s graphic novel, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. In that story, superheroes have been outlawed by the government because they’re essentially vigilantes. The only exception is Superman who has been co-opted by the US government and operates with its official sanction. When Batman comes out of retirement, Superman is called in to stop him. While the two duke it out, Batman accuses Superman of saying “yes to anyone with a badge — or a flag” of “selling out” and “giving them the power that should have been ours.” Batman recognizes that he’s become a “political liability” because he does what the so-called authorities can’t. Of course, this in and of itself is not an expression of anarchic philosophy, but it is consistent with several anarchic themes, especially the idea of the illegitimacy of external authority and of true power residing with the individual rather than the state.

Anarky_033. Anarky (First Appearance, Detective Comics #608, 1989). Over the years, vigilante superheroes have faced one of two fates: having their edge dulled by mainstream publishers or devolving into fascist characters who are obsessed with order at the expense of liberty. Both of these fates have befallen Batman at various points in his history. He became an establishment-friendly character in the 50’s and 60’s and then, after his revamp in the 80’s, became a paranoid, fascist control freak who would seem very much at home in a surveillance state or a post-Patriot Act world. To his credit, Christopher Nolan touched on these themes in his Dark Knight trilogy, in addition to asking questions about the legitimacy of authority. To shake things up, and introduce a counterpoint to this version of Batman, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle created the character Anarky in 1989. Clearly inspired by V, Anarky started out as a Batman ‘villain’ but later starred in his own miniseries as an ‘anti-hero.’ Grant, who is a member of the British Anarchist Society, created the character to explore his own political philosophy. The character received a lukewarm reaction in the United States, although Grant said in an interview that he “received quite a few letters (especially from philosophy students) saying the comic had changed their entire mindset.” Breyfogle also acknowledged the character’s limited appeal saying, “It has some diehard fans [in some segments of the industry]. But, DC doesn’t seem to want to do anything with him. Maybe it’s because of his anti-authoritarian philosophy, a very touchy subject in today’s world. Alan is very much anti-authoritarian.” Anarky has since appeared in Robin and as a major villain in the recent Beware the Batman animated series, however his portrayal in both outings leaves much to be desired. Still, the fact that mainstream comics has a place for this character at all is quite remarkable.

the question - steve ditko4. The Question (First appearance, Blue Beetle #67, Charlton Comics) The Question was created by Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-man and creator of Doctor Strange at Marvel and, less famously, Hawk and Dove and the Creeper, at DC. In between, Ditko worked for a company called Charlton Comics where he created The Question, a vigilante who dons a faceless mask and metes out justice. Ditko was also a devotee of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. In fact, his commitment to this philosophy may have contributed to his leaving Marvel over ‘creative differences’ with writer and editor Stan Lee. The Question embodies Ditko’s Objectivist sympathies (as did his earlier creation, Mr. A). The character, both in his civilian guise as Vic Sage and his heroic alter ego, presents man as master of his own destiny and the only legitimate authority. DC later acquired the Charlton characters, including The Question, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had originally planned to use him in Watchmen, however, editorial intervention nixed that idea. However, the character Rorschach is based on Ditko’s creation. The character has undergone several changes over the years: Dennis O’Neil took him away from his Randian roots and made him a Zen Buddhist. In the current comics continuity (although who can keep up with that nowadays?), Rene Montoya, a female (and lesbian) former Gotham City police detective has taken up the mantle of The Question (after Vic Sage’s death in 52). But my favorite version is still Ditko’s. The character was also interpreted brilliantly in the Justice League Unlimited animated series and played a major role in the first season story arch, especially the episode ‘Question Authority.’ You can’t find a better statement of anarchism than that!

conanarchives15. Conan the Barbarian. Originally created by Robert E. Howard and published in the pages of the pulp magazine, Weird Tales, Conan also enjoyed success in Marvel Comics in the 70’s. The creative team of Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith effortlessly captured the magical Hyborian world of the wandering barbarian. They also adapted several of Howard’s classic Conan tales. These stories deftly handle Howard’s conflict between barbarism and civilization. As his stories make clear, Howard himself favored the former. In one of his stories, a character says (paraphrased from memory) “Barbarism is the natural state of man. Civilization is an accident.” Howard seemed to revel in his portrayal of Conan as ‘a noble savage.’ The character forges his own destiny and respects no authority. Although painting a romantic picture, the world of Conan is harsh and violent and the only law comes at the point of a sword (or in the case of Kull, the edge of an axe). Also, Conan eventually becomes King of Aquilonia and absolute monarchy is about as far from anarchy as you can get! Although this might disqualify him as an anarchist character for some, the Conan stories often present a man without a country, who refuses to be ruled by another. It also presents us with a number of challenges that those establishing a stateless society would have to solve, and hopefully more peacefully than Conan does. This exercise in imagination — what might a stateless society look like? — is valuable when thinking about political philosophy.

Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my round-up of anarchist comic book characters. There are many more I could’ve included, especially villains, but I tried to pick characters that are treated somewhat sympathetically. Thanks for reading and be sure to include any characters I missed in the comments below!

Breaking News: Ben Affleck is Batman

ben affleckWell, not literally, of course. Batman is a fictional character, but Affleck will play The Dark Knight in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Opinion ranges from ‘worst casting ever’ to ‘inspired choice.’ I probably can’t add much to what others on the internet have already said, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it. I recently watched Argo and The Town and thought they were brilliant. The latter especially was a dark film in which Affleck demonstrated an impressive emotional and psychological range. He also did a great job as Superman actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland. I suspect he can do Batman justice, provided the material around him is strong. In my view, the writing and direction are the potentially weak links in the project. I didn’t like Man of Steel nearly as much as I wanted to, and both Goyer and Snyder are hit or miss for me.

Quite apart from casting, there’s the question of whether including Batman in a Superman sequel is the way to go. Clearly, the studio sees Batman as the more bankable character after the success of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I’m sure a movie featuring both characters would make a lot of money. The studio is also hoping to compete with Marvel by building their own universe that will culminate in a Justice League movie down the road. But one might question the wisdom of recasting Batman relatively soon after the success of Bale’s interpretation. The Nolan trilogy was so well-received, any actor or director taking on the character will have his work cut out for him. However, the Batman universe that Nolan and Bale created, which I enjoyed for the most part, never seemed like a world that could be inhabited by super-powered beings. If the goal is to build a Justice League universe on the back of Man of Steel, the way Marvel built the Avengers universe on the back of Iron Man, a new direction is required.

I also question the wisdom of a Superman VS Batman story reminiscent of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Sure, some fans want to see the characters fight, but that doesn’t work for me for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a Superman fan, so I don’t want to see him get shown up in his own movie. Because Batman has no super-powers, writers often make up for that by giving him some strategic edge in combat with super-powered opponents. Since we didn’t see kryptonite in Man of Steel, some have suggested that it will be introduced by Batman. But that brings me to my second reason for not liking the ‘versus’ idea: it turns Batman into Lex Luthor. Superman already has an archenemy who is a billionaire, uses kryptonite and, in some cases, battle armor to fight Superman. Putting Batman in that role, as Miller does, has never worked for me. I would rather see the two characters come into conflict in more subtle, ideological ways, before setting aside their differences and teaming up to fight a common foe.

My point is simply that the success or failure of the movie doesn’t rise or fall on casting alone. There is also writing and direction. My problems with Man of Steel, for example, had nothing to do with casting (which I thought was quite good) and everything to do with writing. So while I think Affleck has proven himself a competent actor and director, he doesn’t have creative control of this project like he did with Argo and The Town. However, if the Superman VS Batman movie is a success, and he establishes himself as Batman, perhaps he could take the reins directing future stand-alone Batman films, or a Justice League movie. That might be an interesting outcome.