Still Zack Snyder’s Wonder Woman

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Strung along for so long by Warner Bros, fans are desperate for a Wonder Woman movie. They are inclined to hope against hope that this upcoming movie will be a good one. I understand that. But we must maintain standards for such an important character to our cultural mythos. She is, after all, the quintessential female superhero, and it should take more than a couple lines of feminist speak and scenes of prowess on a man’s battlefield to convince us she’s being faithfully portrayed. True, the movie has not been released yet. I’ve not seen it and neither have you. By exerting just a little critical thinking, though, it’s clear that this movie has already failed the Wonder Woman mythos. I say this because of two reasons that play into each other.

The first reason is the DC cinematic universe has already introduced Wonder Woman as the wrong category of hero. All superheroes fit into one of two categories, the aspirational or the more ubiquitous cathartic/motivational. The cathartic/motivational, like Spider-Man or Green Arrow, fail—a lot. They make mistakes, act out in emotion, and reap the consequences of their rash actions. But they have good hearts, and they show us how to pick ourselves up after failures to try again. The cathartic/motivational characters are important to culture, but they only work if we have the aspirational heroes setting the standard for which the cathartic/motivational ones strive.

The aspirational heroes are simply good. They don’t need to fail first or overcome some emotional trauma. Heroism is simply in their nature. As psychologist Robin Rosenberg puts it, it’s the destiny in their origin. Precious few aspirational heroes remain. And their numbers dwindle with every continuity reboot. Shortsighted storytellers and fans believe that the aspirational heroes are too difficult to relate to, so they systematically try to rewrite them as cathartic/motivational ones (see the New 52 in comics or the DC films made so far). The problem with this rewriting is that once you’ve changed all the aspirational heroes in your universe into cathartic/motivational ones, you have no believable standards for your so-called heroes to strive for. They lose the audience’s investment, and the stories ultimately fail.

In the DC Universe, Superman and Wonder Woman have been the first and most important aspirational heroes. But Zack Snyder doesn’t believe in the aspirational hero. This isn’t an attack. It’s simply a fact. Look at the things he’s said about heroes in interviews, and look at the themes common to his films. He has torn Superman, and now Wonder Woman as explored below, ruthlessly from the aspirational pedestal and rebuilt them slap-shod as cathartic/motivational heroes. Though the characters are apparently just taking their time until the Justice League film, in which we’re told they’ll finally embrace a standard of heroism, how will they know what this standard of heroism is? They have no point of reference. You can’t develop into an aspirational hero. As already stated, the defining aspirational trait is in a heroes origin. Superman has allowed people to die and has, himself, killed. Batman has resorted to torture and killing, and as this second Wonder Woman trailer shows us, she decided after World War One (a pointless change from WWII, better suited to her origin story), that the darkness in the world is too great to bother making a difference in. “I used to want to save the world,” she says, presumably before she changes her mind around the events of BvS. Aspirational heroes might have moments of weakness or doubt, but those moments do not last a century.

This leads us to the second reason the Wonder Woman film, and ultimately the entire DC Cinematic universe, will not be remembered as a success: It’s lazy writing. Let’s look at Snyder’s “fresh” take on Superman. Clark wants to do good but grows discouraged by the public’s reception. He fails to save some people, kills a villain, and considers quitting. Then a grave new threat to the world causes him to reconsider his purpose and methods.

Now let’s look at Batman. He’s an established hero wanting to do good but grows discouraged by the existence of super-powered aliens in the world. He fails to protect people and instead begins torturing and killing on a crazed mission to execute Superman. Then a grave new threat enters the world and makes him decide to change his ways and put together the Justice League.

And finally, let’s examine Wonder Woman. She reveals herself to the world of man to fight for hope and try to do good. Then something happens to discourage her during WWI, causing her to give up. Then a grave new threat convinces her to reconsider her place in the world and her willingness to save it again.

Each member of the DC trinity, the characters who are supposed to represent the wide spectrum of the Justice League’s heroism, have the exact same backstories! And from the looks of it, Cyborg and Aqua Man are set to follow the same path There’s nothing more realistic or believable about this approach. You can’t write multiple characters in the same story to share the same beat-for-beat psychological growth. It impedes character and theme development. It’s bad writing! Storytelling is not Zack Snyder’s strong suit. As his fans often point out, he’s a visual director. It takes more than visuals, though, to make a good film.

It’s true that after BvS didn’t achieve the numbers they wanted, Warner Bros took back the God-like control of their cinematic universe they’d given Snyder. But they’ve elected to continue building on his foundation. I’ve heard people claim that we need not worry, since he’s not directing this one or is only nominally involved. But be realistic! It’s a film shot in his cinematic universe, no matter who it’s shot by. Though they’ve apparently struck his name from the credits, it has to follow the template he laid out for the universe since he’s still in control of the Justice League. I know Warner Bros is trying it’s best to bend away from his influence, but how far away can they bend while standing on it? Not far at all, it turns out. Wonder Woman is finally receiving her own film. I wish it was a cause for celebration, but unfortunately it’s a film that feels the need to change her character to appeal to a culture she’s been captivating since 1941.

Suddenly I understand other people’s deep grieving over the likes of Prince and David Bowie. While I enjoyed the music of both, I didn’t have a deep personal connection to either man’s work. Darwyn Cooke, however, is another matter. His art embodied everything a hero should be and always instilled me with hope. In honor of a truly great artist and storyteller, I posted a brief analysis on what made his work such a treasure and why he left us too soon.

Batman: The Killing Joke

Before the Bruce Timm production is released to DVD and Blu Ray this July, why not brush up on the major themes and storytelling techniques of the 1988 graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke? Comics and Batman fans everywhere hail this story as one of the greats. But most can say little as to why, other than to mention the pivotal moment of Barbara Gordon’s continuity. “It was just, a really great story, you know?” Don’t be that guy. Brush up on your literary verbiage and be able to articulate part of what makes this work great. Watch the first part of my Killing Joke analysis, and subscribe to the channel so you won’t miss the second part. Then blow your friends’ minds with your insight as you watch the animated film together this summer. No need to thank me. Just like and subscribe!

Misreading the Success of Deadpool

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Deadpool is currently making a killing at the box office (pun intended). And good for Ryan Reynolds! After so many horrid miscastings, he deserves the perfect role of Wade Wilson. But critics and commentators are far too eager to jump the gun on what this success means. So let me state, as a lone voice of reason, that the success of R-rated Deadpool does not herald a dramatic change in how Hollywood should think of superhero films. The success of R-rated Deadpool just means the success of R-rated Deadpool.

To read some articles, one might think the days of family friendly superhero films are dead. Get ready for Captain America to start waterboarding and for Superman to shoot that porno with Big Barda (That’s a joke Zack Snyder. Don’t get any ideas!). This epic leap to conclusions, though, is an example of how Hollywood gets superheroes wrong and ends up with so many box office flops. They see what worked with one Superhero and decide to apply it to all superheroes. A love triangle worked for X-Men? Let’s bring it over to Superman! Dark and gritty worked for Batman? By all means, dirty up that big blue boy scout and Marvel’s First Family while we’re at it!

Do you want to know why Deadpool is smashing through records at the box office? Here it is, for once and for all, the secret formula for any studio to make a wildly successful superhero film: It’s because Deadpool remains true to the character of Deadpool! Nobody would have bothered to see a PG-rated Deadpool because that’s not who he is! This is why the PG-13 Avengers was such a landmark hit and the PG-13 Man of Steel is the most divisive film in fandom history. No, superheroes aren’t just for children, but they’re not just for adults either, or families, or adolescents, or geriatrics, or whatever. Superheroes fulfill a variety of roles in our cultural mythology. Instead of trying to shoehorn them all into one formula of storytelling, take the time to consider each character. Which type of their stories resonate with the most people? These archetypes have been functioning in our culture for ages. It’s time Hollywood stopped assuming they can redefine them with an “update” and expect to us to pay them for it.

Joker Appeal

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What makes the Joker the most recognizable and popular super villain in American folklore? Technically he’s not even a “super” villain, just a human with no powers or altered abilities. He became a mainstay in the comics because of the striking visuals of his character design, but a sinister grin isn’t enough to explain the character’s longevity.

The answer is in how perfectly he compliments Batman as an antagonist. Most Nolan fans can quote Alfred’s line: “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” from The Dark Knight. And careful viewers of the film will draw out themes of chaos versus order and anarchy versus justice. The Joker’s appeal, though, runs deeper than Nolan’s focus on the foe to a conflicted Bruce Wayne.

A good villain must never think he’s a villain. Joker has no heroic delusions, but he does believe in his nihilistic philosophy to the point that he thinks it’s funny how society tries to define things like law and crime, good and bad, and so forth. Then he meets Batman who believes just as passionately but in justice, self-control, and hope. Batman isn’t funny. He’s a threat to the Joker’s worldview and needs to be broken.

Batman is a threat because there is an element of Batman in the Joker. As much as the villain would like to give himself over to nihilistic chaos, he still has the capacity to reason, and that faculty grows stronger with every elaborate plan he orchestrates against Batman. In Arkham City, a Joker thug can be overheard commenting on how Joker is insane one moment and then all plans and logistics the next. This has to be infuriating to the Joker whose struggle against his foe is strengthening faculties that make him more like his foe.

Even more twisted is that the same can be said for the Joker’s effect on Batman. Each time he goes up against the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman must embrace a small amount of chaos, the chaos of violence, the chaos of thinking like the Joker to foresee his next move and so on. The Joker is interesting because of the Batman he demands in his stories. The Dark Knight fighting the Joker walks a tightrope more than any other hero. He can’t kill, not even one who has slain and wants to still slay so many. But it doesn’t stop there. While battling the Joker, Batman must remember that the darkness he battles is first and foremost inside himself, the darkness the Joker is trying to call out.

This interplay is why the Joker, and Batman, have gained in popularity over the last decades. Modern society is nihilistic. It seeks to deconstruct values, traditions, and then deconstruct the ones it replaces them with the very next moment. Anyone who dares believe in anything can see the Joker in our culture, laughing and trying to discredit whatever we attempt to hold on to. In this sense the villainy of the Joker is more recognizable than ever, and the unique heroism of Batman against the Joker is necessary for a soul to survive.

Super Friends

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I love this Steve Rude piece that serves as a cover for the Gibbons/Rude World’s Finest. Superman, confident in the warm and safe sunlight, stands atop an eagle (justice) and sends forth doves (peace). Batman stands at night in front of the artificial rays of the Bat signal. It shines in the same manner as the sun that surrounds it on top and bottom. Batman as a hero is a subtle balance which many writers and artists fail to keep, plunging him into the darkness of an almost antihero.

With the composition of this painting, Rude shows Batman to be carrying on the same work as Superman, only at night and in nighttime forms. For Batman, the eagle of justice is a gargoyle, Gothic protector against “a superstitious lot.” His doves are bats, winged creatures able to move in the dark. Batman and Superman aren’t so different. Rude shows them to be unified by light. Superman radiates its warmth by example, and Batman shines it into the neglected corners of a dark city.

Some of us are more inclined toward Superman. We like the “sun” and feel led to share its warmth. But others, and even all of us at some time or another, have Batman moments in which we need to confront a darkness that simply won’t respond to warmth. In those moments, it’s important not to succumb to the darkness we’re battling in the absence of the sun. Remember that you’re still shining the light, even if sometimes it’s the bat signal.