It’s Good to Be Bad

As a society, we’ve been fascinated by villains in literature and drama for thousands of years. Greek playwrights gave us the concept of protagonists and antagonists, good versus evil.  Every good guy needs a bad guy to provide “moral dissonance.” But not all villains are purely true evil. Many classic villains have been molded by adversity in their lives. Great examples are Victor Frankenstein, Javert from Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Spider-Man’s Doc Ock, and even Darth Vader (okay, so maybe we can’t feel too bad for Darth Vader). What happened to turn them into villains? Chance meetings, life experiences as youngsters, personal tragedies, being misunderstood, poor life choices, and, quite possibly, poor personal hygiene molded them in their formative years.

The same is true for two of the dastardliest villains to plague Gotham City: The Penguin and the Riddler.  The Penguin entered the world as Oswald Cobblepot; The Riddler as Edward Nygma. Ed’s parents obviously had a twisted sense of humor. The name E. Nygma was too good to pass up.  With a name like that and an obsessive love for puzzles, little wonder that Edward chose Riddler as his nom de la criminalité. Twists of fate and circumstance caused these Gotham residents to turn to lives of depravity. Yes, I realize depravity may sound a little harsh, but come on! Riddler has tried every way under the sun to kill Penguin after being practically blood brothers, to which Penguin promptly responded by turning Riddler into a block of ice. Sorry, spoilers.

The early years of Oswald Cobblepot of “Gotham” fame are somewhat shrouded in mystery. What is known is that he was raised by a seriously over-protective mother. Adding to young Oswald’s difficulties, he inherited his father’s short, stocky stature, and something his mother lovingly called “a Roman nose.” Actually, it looks more like a beak. Turns out PeeWee Herman is his long-lost dad. I can’t help but think, poor Oswald. But I digress.

His physical features surely caused him no end of problems on the schoolyard. His classmates teased him and called him “a stupid puffin.” “Oh, Oswald dear,” his mother would say trying to comfort him, “if anything, you look more like a penguin.  An emperor penguin at that.”

Experiences during his adolescence honed his cunning nature and hurried his development toward acts of unbridled malfeasance. He would open his school locker and find it filled with fish. After serving at the feet of some of Gotham’s true villains, Oswald discovered that revenge soothed a lot of his ruffled feathers…no pun intended. Okay, so maybe it was a little bit intended. At any rate, the point being he decided that a life of crime brought him great joy.

Penguin’s ex-friend, Edward Nygma, followed a somewhat similar path, although his metamorphosis occurred somewhat later in life than Oswald’s. There is an old saying that goes, “There’s a thin line between genius and insanity.” Edward was living proof.

After graduating from Gotham University, Ed was no doubt recognized for his brilliant work in criminal science writing essays such as “Just the Facts Ma’am!” He worked closely with the Gotham Police Department to help solve crimes, often giving them clues in the form of riddles. Indeed, his brilliance is unparalleled. But things went off the rails for Ed when he fell for a woman who worked for the department, and, oddly enough, after his friendship with Penguin began.

I’m not too shy to say that Riddler and Penguin are my favorite characters on Gotham. They remind me a bit of Loki. Oh sure, they’re evil…but also maligned and misunderstood. Who knows what they would be like if they had only been accepted by those around them? If society had been nicer to them, would they still have gravitated to a life of crime and underhanded devilry? Would their cunning and brilliance have been contained to the side of good instead of forwarding their goals of petty revenge or feeding their delusions of grandeur and dastardly ambition?

Being a villain, however, is not all bad. They get to do bad things, which seem a lot more exciting and fun than the hero’s lot in life. Comic book villains often take great pleasure in performing their wicked villainy…often laughing as they do it. I mean, hey, at least they enjoy their jobs, right? We should all be so lucky.

Thanos, Red Skull, and their genuinely malevolent ilk aside, villains are terribly underrated and underappreciated. AND they perform a valuable service. Do you think Batman and Superman would be considered superheroes if all they did all day was to act as crossing guards and pick up dog poop in Gotham City and Metropolis? No. They need villains to fulfill their life’s work as superheroes. Their very status in the world relies on the Penguins and Riddlers of the underworld. Villains on the other hand don’t need anyone to be…well…villains. So, who’s the better character now, hmm?

Too Many Spiders

I’m not sure if you’re as big of a comic book geek as I am. If not, you might not have heard the news that Spider-Man is going to officially be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Rejoice! Sony (who own the rights to Spider-Man) and Marvel (who own the rights to the Avengers and everyone on the team) came to an agreement. For a massive hunk of money Sony’s going to stop the string of terrible decisions they’ve made over the past couple of years and let Spider-Man in on the MCU fun. At some point in the future we’ll see good ol’ Webhead flipping around with Captain America, annoying the heck out of the Hulk, and poking fun at the megalomaniac that is Tony Stark.

All good news, right? That’s what I thought. Until I realized the ripple effect this new development has sent through the MCU. There’s a lot already going on and Marvel had previously announced their movie schedule from now all the way until 2019. Plans had been laid. Wheels had started turning. And I was thrilled with upcoming events.

Then this itsy bitsy spider came and messed everything up. Several films have been bumped back just to get the “new” Spider-Man to debut in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie in 2016 which will in turn set him up for a solo movie in 2017.

Among the movies that got bumped were two movies that I believe a lot of people were getting very excited for because of what they represented. One of them, Black Panther, is going to (eventually) be the first Marvel movie headlined by an African-American. Captain Marvel, also getting pushed for more than half a year, is going to (eventually) be the first Marvel movie headlined by a female superhero. Sort of big steps and ones I think we could really use more of in the movies.  And quite frankly (and selfishly), these were two superhero movies I really wanted to see. Not to mention the others that were delayed (Thor: Ragnarok and The Inhumans, among others).

So I’m a little confused. All of these groundbreaking movies that have already been well in the works for quite a while are getting delayed so we can see Peter Parker get bit by a spider. Again. For the third time in 15 years (with 5 movies under its franchise belt). Gee, I wonder what happens.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Spider-Man and I like that he’s going to be a part of the MCU. I’m just getting tired of having the same movie/superhero redone/rebooted ad nauseam while there are all these great original themes to put out there.

Of course I’m hoping Marvel does well and produces a worthwhile Spider-Man solo outing, but as of right now I can’t get enthused knowing that fun, awesome, exciting characters I’ve never seen on-screen are getting de-prioritized for a character that’s a very well-worn road by now.

No-One Likes a Tease

As an adult I like to think that I’ve gotten a good grasp on handling expectations. I can sleep the night before Christmas just fine. I can await both my birthday and Easter (ahhh the candy!) without getting too out of breath.

But with the advent of all these new avenues in social media and the massive marketing efforts that are constantly trying to trump each other, I’m finding it harder and harder to keep a level head about waiting for the things I want when they’re a certain amount of time away.

Take the upcoming Deadpool movie as a perfect example. I use the word “upcoming” with a grain of salt and that’s exactly the point. I love Deadpool. Plain and simple. He’s a misunderstood anti-hero who’s got a very rich, complex backstory, all things that I love in a character. He’s also super snarky and routinely talks smack to the audience.

The problem is that the movie isn’t coming out until 2016 and there’s already teases being put out there on the interwebs. First there was test footage leaked which whetted all of our appetites. Then Ryan Reynolds, who is playing the titular character, posted a picture of the chair he sits in on set – the word “Deadpool” splashed across the back in flecks of gore (a really cool touch!). Of course the director had to tweet out a picture of a costume test that showed what his armor might look like.  Now there’s the below photo that’s just to die for – showing Deadpool in all his glory posing for the camera in the “official suit.”

If the movie was three months away I’d be fine. Four months even. That’s what I feel is an appropriate amount of time to get people psyched up. But a year? That’s just mean.

And that’s not even the worst of it. A few months ago Zack Snyder, the director of the next Batman v Superman movie, teased a picture of the new Batmobile and Batsuit on his Twitter account. That movie isn’t coming out until May 2016. He’s already showing us things we really want to see – a year and a half before they’re going to release it.

Imagine if you were a kid and in July your parents come into your bedroom with a big box wrapped in glossy paper adorned with Santa’s face and elves with a big green bow on top. They tell you it’s all yours…in December, then put it away. How cruel would that be?

The Ant-Man movie released an “ant-sized” trailer months ago. What exactly does that mean? Exactly what it sounds like. They released a tease of the movie that, when viewed on your computer, was the actual size of an ant so it was impossible to make out any actual details. Again, mean!

How much more ridiculous is this going to get? Hell, we already know the exact day that the Avengers storyline is going to be done. Don’t worry about getting a ticket yet, you’ve got plenty of time. It’s in 2019.

Then you have teasers of teasers. As if the teaser trailer itself wasn’t bad enough, now movie studios are releasing 30 second teasers of the teaser of the trailer of the movie. Just rocking the boat well before the storm is even close to hitting.

Not to get dramatic, but it just rips me apart. There’s something to that old saying “Ignorance is bliss.” I like knowing something I want is coming, but don’t make it torturous by dangling the carrot so early that I’m not even sure I’m going to have good eyesight anymore when it finally does come out.

 

"Eat your heart out Burt Reynolds.   Photo Credit: Deadpool Movie  (click photo to go to link)

“Eat your heart out Burt Reynolds.”
Photo Credit: Deadpool Movie
(click photo to go to link)

 

Heroes for Humanity

I love my superheroes. Batman, Superman, X-Men (past, current, and future classes), Deadpool (okay, well maybe he’s more of an anti-hero), and pretty much the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. I geek out over these characters on a regular basis and take my appreciation of them pretty seriously. Which is why when I stumbled across the article “Superheroes Don’t Exist to Solve Problems, They Exist to Punch Bad Guys” (link here…although I am slightly against sending more internet traffic to this guy’s site), I felt like it was a personal attack on what I look at in my life as positive allegories on ways in which we should all strive to make the world better (did I mention I was a geek?).

The superheroes of popular film have little in common with the heroes of the real world.” This, shockingly enough, is the very first line of the article. Already I get a sense that the author has trouble understanding the definition of fiction as well as entertainment; how both of those mediums can be combined to mirror our reality without being bound by the same rules.

He continues by writing, “The archetypal superhero is a hands-on vigilante clad in form-fitting Lycra. Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and The Flash all assert their heroism by busting small-time street criminals and delivering violent sermons on the importance of law and order.”

I really am at a loss for where to begin because I am getting a sense that this person doesn’t actually read any comics or even do as little work as to sit through any of the various two-hour movies out there before writing his article.

One viewing of the last Captain America movie The Winter Soldier would dispel his assertion. Yes, Captain America runs around with a shield and has a star on his chest, but his goal is not to put thugs in the hospital. He’s been disillusioned by his own government (one that up until now he has held in high regard) and is seeking a way to ensure that the privacy of the public is protected lest the country slip into a culture of distrust from illegal phone taps and email tampering. Sound familiar at all? On his quest to make sure millions of lives are saved from an international security agency cloaking their ascension to monarchy by weeding out the weaker links, Captain A runs into some resistance and has to take them out. Heaven forbid he has to get into a few fights. It’s more than clear he’s not some brute looking to get his jollies off by punching some noses. If there’s one thing Captain America stands for, it’s the “people” of the world.  He’s out to make a difference and to see that good wins over evil whether evil happens to be a man with a red skull for a face or his own national government.

Then there’s this: “Batman’s stated goal is to rid Gotham City of crime, but he rarely undertakes the actions that can tackle the causes rather than the effects of criminality. Bruce Wayne could use his lofty social standing to lobby for more education funding, tighter gun control, and a social safety net that would prevent young people from resorting to a life of crime. His wealth could be used to support drug clinics and foster prisoner rehabilitation programs to reduce recidivism. Instead, he puts on a black mask and a husky voice and goes to pound hapless street thugs in the night.”

First off, Bruce Wayne does use his lofty social standing to lobby for positive community initiatives (it’s a big thing in the comics actually). Sorry the comics don’t focus solely on that, but we’re looking for flights of fantasy and 22 pages about a new rec center breaking ground isn’t as thrilling as a car chase with The Penguin. It’s not that Bruce Wayne doesn’t do anything for the community; it’s just not the main focus because it’d make for quite a boring comic.

Stark Industries consistently works towards harnessing clean and renewable energy sources among other things. Superman/Clark Kent works at a damn newspaper so the public won’t be left in the dark on what their leaders are doing. Pretty much every superhero out there has a back story that is rich in these types of offerings, whether it’s a protective type of job (such as military), or a teacher helping young people, or a scientist who strives to help mankind or a philanthropist who strives to help everyone.

I could keep railing on and on trying to disprove every point the author made in his poorly researched attempt at trolling the “superhero fad” but this blog would end up being a book with how many examples exist out there.

The point is there’s more to every superhero than their power. It’s their conscience that drives them, not their ability to crush their enemy. In the end they do exactly what we do…they try to make a difference in the world around them using all of the tools at their disposal. Labeling them simply “pugilists” is a vast, vast underestimation. And it certainly does the writers of the stories a grave injustice.

I swear…

Have you seen the prices of movies these days? I mean, have you seen them?  I suppose there are some places in the country where you can get into a matinee pretty inexpensively…but where I live that is not the case.  A matinee ticket costs $10.  A matinee!

That doesn’t sound expensive to you? Well, factor in the cost of a drink and some buttered popcorn – must haves for the movie-going experience with your daughter, let’s say, and all of a sudden you’re spending more than the GDP of many small countries.

In 2015 and 2016 there are a ton of movies coming out – especially Marvel Comic movies which happen to be our personal favorites – like another Avengers, Ant Man, Doctor Strange, and another Captain America….not to mention Deadpool (YAY!!), Woman in Black 2, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jurassic World, Suicide Squad, and X-Men Apocalypse. The list just goes on and on.

I want to see them all, but I’m shuddering at the cost and 2015 isn’t even here yet!

Last night, my kids and I were sitting around talking about such things as the Marvel Universe and trying to figure out a way for us to afford to go to all of these movies.  We had what seemed like a brilliant idea – we’d start a slush fund of some sort so we’d have money saved up for when the movies came out.

But just how would we fund this slush fund?

We adjourned and went our separate ways promising to think about it… as I was leaving the room my eye caught sight of a cat in a precarious position in a spot where it knew damn well it didn’t belong. Without thinking (as so often happens), I let loose a loud verbal assault on said cat that included a few choice unprintable words (my mother reads this blog after all).

And a somewhat sarcastic, somewhat serious light bulb went off above my head.

“A ha!” I said. “How about a Swear Jar? Every time one of us swears, a dollar goes into the Swear Jar. By the time Avengers Age of Ultron is released, we’ll have a tidy sum.”

I have to admit that the language in our house is less than nice and sometimes…just sometimes…sounds like a sailor’s convention (if there ever were such things).

Of course my kids laughed but they too immediately saw the pure genius behind this plan, because, after all, they do live here and therefore know that if walls could talk…well…ours would definitely be censored.

Our celebration over this clever fundraising idea was short lived however once reality reared its ugly head.  I mean, let’s face it, when all is said and done, given the frequency with which we’d be paying, we’d just end up having to borrow money from the swear jar to pay the swear jar.

Needless to say, we’re working on a new plan.

Christmas Nerds

So this Christmas is going to be a somewhat lean one for my kids and me – and that’s okay. It’s not something we can’t work through. As we were talking about gift giving for the upcoming holiday, we decided that we’d choose presents we could sort of give to ‘each other’ to share – communal presents as it were, within a certain cost range.

Rather than purchase several gifts for each of us individually, we would choose a special gift that my son and I would give each other to share that would benefit the “whole” and, likewise, a gift that my daughter and I would give each other that would benefit the “whole.” You get the idea.

Anyway.

The choice of presents was theirs and theirs alone…I left that up to them and figured I would be content with whatever they decided. I just wanted them to be happy. They could’ve chosen anything. Here’s what they came up with. Needless to say, they did my geeky little heart proud. Our mutual love for Marvel Comics and Doctor Who runs deep. I love, love, love my Christmas nerds!

Sarah's Choice (to add to our Marvel collection)

Sarah’s Choice (to add to our Marvel collection)

Jake's Choice (we're all Whovians in this house)

Jake’s Choice (we’re all Whovians in this house)

Internet Ease

The debate will never end on the pros and cons of the convenience given to us by the Internet. The world is literally at our fingertips, able to give us answers in a microsecond to some of the most absurd questions you could ever think of. (Who was the assistant manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1974? What’s the name of that hunky news anchor in Plano, Texas I saw on Anderson Cooper 360? When were China’s terracotta soldiers discovered and which Emperor built them? What is this thing growing in between my toes? What did Ryan Reynolds look like in high school? How many buttons does it take to button a two button suit?) It never ends. It’s all right there laid out in front of you.

That makes life SO easy in so many ways. I can’t imagine what it used to be like when letters had to be put on horses and galloped across the country. Or sending a telegraph hoping it would be delivered on time. I can get a message to China in under a minute now.

Here’s one of the numerous buzz-kills I’ve been struggling with. With all of this information so ready for consumption there’s really nothing that can be hidden from the public eye for very long any more. If anything is even marginally important or an event will be attended by more than 20 people, there’ll probably be grainy pics from a spy cam on the web well in advance.

Of course this affects me directly when I think of movies (mostly Marvel Comics and the like). Back in the day when a great movie came out everyone was absolutely thrilled after its release. We’d memorize all the lines, act out the scenes, put ourselves in the shoes of the heroines and swoon over the heroes (or vice versa depending on who’s reading this). We all would hope for a sequel but we wouldn’t find out about it until pretty shortly before it was actually released. So what did we do after the movie left theaters? We moved on. We found another great movie. That was back then in the PI (Pre-Internet) Age.

Now, what do we do? We want a sequel so we read posts on comment forums about “a source” that says that the studio is definitely thinking about doing a sequel or the writer was quoted as saying at a Comic-Con in San Diego that he has ideas on where the story would go if there is a sequel. And that’s enough to fuel us for months.

Then, when a sequel is actually being filmed there’s the inevitable roll out of unauthorized pictures, authorized pictures, Tweets from the director, teaser trailers, and the list goes on. There are already pictures leaking from the set of Avengers 2 and that’s not coming out for another year.

Hell, Marvel executives have already publicly stated that they have a plan for how they want to shape the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to 2028. 2028! They’re planning movies up to 14 years in the future…and letting us know about them too so we now have years to watch the clock ticking by ever sooo slowly as we await a release date so far in the future we’ll probably have new jobs, new hairdos, new cars, and new kids by the time it actually comes out.

Is it torture to have all this knowledge? The old saying goes that patience is a virtue but I tend to just find it to be a pain in the ass. Then again, the assurance that there is something great to look forward to does make each morning just a little bit brighter. Oh, Internet, how you fool with my heart!