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!

Surviving Bullies

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Almost a year ago, I created the Iconic Superman Facebook page. I designed it to be a place where fans like myself, who preferred a traditional Superman, could celebrate our hero and call for his return in comics and film. On social media at the time, voicing any displeasure over Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and to a lesser extent the New 52 in comics, was to invite a barrage of personal insults. So Iconic Superman drew a solid following of like-minded fans looking for a safe place to celebrate their superhero preference. Growth was slow as Facebook limits a page’s visibility in newsfeeds unless one pays for promotional tools. But I didn’t mind the small numbers. I was content to post and converse about my confident, capable, and inspirational Superman.

When the page was around 600 followers, it came to the attention of some fans of a DC Movie group. I had posted a meme, on my own page and for my own followers, stating that in the current films Captain America did a far greater job fulfilling the inspirational role of Superman. The notion enraged the DC Movie fans. They posted a call to arms in their group and spent the better part of a day attacking my page with insults directed at both myself and many of the page’s followers.

I’m not a confrontational person, so I attempted to diffuse the attack by turning it into a discussion over the artistic merit of different film adaptations. The cinema fans wouldn’t have it. Each one I answered called in three more to post over my response with mockery and jeers. I hadn’t seen such tactics since the four square court in middle school gym class. Then I realized why it as so familiar. They weren’t trying to debate the subject of Superman films. They were trying to silence me. They were trying to bully me and others on the page and bullying doesn’t refine itself with age.

I’ve written and spoken before on how various iconic Superman stories teach us to deal with bullies. You don’t engage them on their terms lest their terms start to define you. In fact, the truly strong try instead to help them—yes help the very person trying to bully you. Think about it. The act of bullying comes from an insecure place. It is the desperate need for confirmation about oneself or one’s views from the world around them, even at the threat of assault (physical or emotional). Why would DC cinema fans need to concern themselves with a page that sees Superman differently? Warner Bros moved ahead with Batman v Superman in spite of the enormous controversy and backlash regarding Man of Steel. Do they see my page as a threat to the future of DC’s cinematic universe? Or does the insecurity come from a deeper place that has little to do with me or the films? (In one post a DC cinema fan called for the death of another critical page’s administrator. Hyperbole or not, clearly serious issues reside behind such a post.)

But we’re not Superman, and there are times when we lack the power to save bullies from themselves. Superman himself faces this dilemma now and then. Such stories serve as metaphors for when we must cut those who would attack us out of our lives before the poison takes us down with them. My attempts to speak with the DC cinema fans in a civil manner obviously had no effect, so I had to ban the attackers and delete their comments. No damage was done save a few hours of frustration, but I had one more lesson to learn about the bully experience. Like Superman smiling for the camera before the credits roll, those who endure a bully’s attacks with integrity eventually come out the better for it.

The organic, unpaid growth of the Iconic Superman page recently blasted past 2,000 likes (in less than a year!). Periodically, I’ll look back over what topics or images earned the most attention and when, and in the week following the DC cinema attack, the page soared in views and likes. Facebook increases the visibility of a post when it receives more comments. The algorithm translates this as popularity and makes the post and page accessible to more would-be fans. So in their attempt to silence me, the bullies might as well have paid to advertise my page. Iconic Superman has led to Iconic Wonder Woman and Batman pages, and we’ve recently begun a successful podcast. I’ve now met authors, artists, and filmmakers who appreciate my promotion of traditional Superman values, some who want to work with me in one way or another, and in part I have common internet trolling to thank for it.

We can’t always control the stories of our lives, but we can control how we react to each new plot twist and lay the ground work for positive resolution in the end. Some may be content to fight their enemies to the death and ponder moral ambiguity in the destruction they’ve caused around them. But I and many on my page choose to live like the Iconic Superman–to do the right thing and find a way (and there’s always a way)–then soar off into a happy ending. Don’t forget to smile for the camera!