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The Dark Knight Returns’ Batman is Really Ra’s al Ghul

Nothing like Ra's al Ghul. At all

Nothing like Ra’s al Ghul. At all

Frank Miller’s Batman is bound to be an asshole. But what struck me when rereading The Dark Knight Returns is why he’s an asshole.

Batman may be dark and menacing, but he protects Gotham because he cares about the people. Miller’s Batman in Dark Knight Returns has nothing but contempt for the people of Gotham.

It’s a theme that develops subtly in the media coverage as the people turn one way and then another, the contemptible mayor who answers to the polls, the storekeeper itching to shoot the Mutant until Batman warns him off and finally the climax in which Batman allies with the former Mutants to fight… among other enemies… the people of Gotham.

It all climaxes in the showdown with Superman who let the people push him into being a weakling by comic book Reagan who is just another feeble minded projection of the petty people of Gotham and the United States.

The Batman of the Dark Knight Returns isn’t a hero because he cares about people, but because he follows some Randian imperative to be heroic. Eventually he leads an army of the ex-Mutants, the same guys who were murdering, raping and bombing Gotham, on a quest to build his own system. This Batman doesn’t fight for people. He fights because he’s a Nietzschean Superman. He’s just made to be superior.

And Superman is just a loser who takes orders from ordinary people. Like the people of Gotham and the media. He let them make him unheroic. That’s why Batman does so well against him. Superman doesn’t think he’s better than anyone. This version of Batman does.

Superman didn’t do his job of imposing the right system on humans. So he got stuck answering to Ronnie, a human leader. Batman is going to go down into the caves and emerge with some kind of new order to replace the pop psychology, push polls and political correctness.

It’s striking how different this Batman is from his usual self and from Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil. This is a Batman who belongs in Moore’s Watchmen more than he does in Gotham. He’s not just a fascist because he’s a crime-fighting vigilante. That’s a common comic critic mistake. He’s a fascist because he believes that society is corrupt and that he has the right to impose his own order on it.

The Dark Knight Returns gives us Batman as a Batman villain. This Batman has more in common with Ra’s al Ghul, right down to his own private army, a home in the caves and contempt for human society.

That contempt is what always separated Batman from Ra’s al Ghul. Batman knew that Gotham was corrupt, but he never completely gave up on it. Miller’s Batman has given up. He views Gotham with a cold eye. He treats its people with disdain. He thinks he’s better than them.

He knows what’s best for them. And he’ll punish them if they don’t obey. He is Ra’s al Ghul.

Kick Ass 2 Movie Review


Kick Ass did a good job of building a movie around seven issues of a comic book. It did it by fixing some of the holes and expanding the characters.

Kick Ass 2 tries to do the same thing, but it has one big problem. Chloe Moretz has grown up. Its solution is to stick in a Mean Girls plot that is completely out of place.

Every other second superhero movie follows the pattern of having the hero contemplate hanging up the cape. But there’s usually more at stake than date night.

The high school scenes in Kick Ass told us why someone might want to be a superhero. The high school scenes in Kick Ass 2 don’t tell us anything and belong in a completely different movie.

That’s not the only problem with Kick Ass 2. Moving the showdown from Times Square to a warehouse doesn’t do the ending any favors. Neither does cutting out the dark ending of the comic and trading it for an action movie shark finish and a neat escape.

Kick Ass 2 might have worked if it had stuck to that darker ending where the superheroes are arrested, Kick Ass is a wanted man after killing his nemesis and Hit Girl is on the way to prison. Instead there’s an uplifting moral about how everyone has a hero inside them.

The things that Kick Ass 2 does well are the same things that Kick Ass did well. It develops the villains and makes them a lot more interesting and entertaining than Millar managed to do. And Jim Carrey steals every scene he’s in as Captain Stars and Stripes, even if he’s unrecognizable and decided to take his name out of the credits.

What it fails at is developing the heroes. If Kick Ass 2 had done as much for the development of the heroes as it did in developing Chris and his relationship with his father’s bodyguard and the attention it lavished on Mother Russia, it would be a good movie.

But no such luck.

The heroes get scaled down to dumber costumes. And Insect Man is traded for a guy who is there for comic effect. Hit Girl’s big conflict is wanting to date and be a cheerleader.

Evil has a solid trajectory. Good doesn’t.

Kick Ass 2 thinks the villains are a lot more entertaining than the heroes. But a movie where the villains are solidly developed and the heroine is off doing Mean Girls doesn’t work. The movie straddles this disconnect by not going too dark. The Captain’s dog lives. Katie doesn’t get raped. Kids don’t get shot. And that takes the energy Kick Ass had off the table.

Kick Ass went places you didn’t expect. With Kick Ass 2 you know who’s going to get eaten by the shark long before it happens.

Kick Ass 2’s big mistake is that it gets too comfortable being a comedy that it doesn’t think too much about the superhero stuff. It goes for easy laughs by building up the villains and lowering the stakes. It forgets that there already was a superhero comedy and this isn’t it.

Kick Ass backed out of the some of the comic’s darker moments, but it was smarter about what it replaced them with. Kick Ass 2 has nothing to replace them with.

Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? It’s A Comic Book Stunt?

Superhero comics run on the old serial narrative. Hero faces death. Hero is threatened by death. Then Hero saves the day. And then after a few hundred issues you have to give the threat some credibility by killing the Hero. Then you replace him with something else. Then you bring him back.

Four Supermans. Three Batmans. Doc Ock as Spiderman. And then once you’ve shaken things up, cleared the ground, you use that 8f_118056_0_SupermanVol1250HaveHorseWillFlas an opportunity to give the whole thing a fresh look before going back to the way things were all along.

Nothing really changes in comic books. That’s truer than ever because the comic book audience is now 40 year old males and they want more sophisticated storytelling without changing the stuff they grew up with. Those two are irreconcilable. And this is how you reconcile them. You make big changes and then reset them. Spiderman reveals his secret identity and then makes a deal with the devil to undo it. Big stuff happens and then it doesn’t. Everything changes and then it doesn’t.

The one thing that comic publishers fear for their IPs, even big ones like Spider-Man, is that they will be shelved and ignored. Event comics are a cry for attention. Making big changes gets readers to browse it on their iPads one more time. They make it seem like the comic is going somewhere when it’s not. When it can’t.

What can you really do with an iconic character that hasn’t been done before? Nothing.

Every comic book character has died, been replaced, had to kill, been accused of murder, lost the loves of their life, been defeated, had their identity exposed etc…

There is nothing else to do. Not a thing. Oh you can make him gay. That’s about it. And then change him back. See Vampire Slayer, Buffy. And once every comic has done its gay love story, there will be even less out there.

Superhero comics stopped being relevant a while back. Even Spider Man, one of the younger of the top superhero comics, is out of it. These aren’t stories, they’re IPs. Like Mickey Mouse or the Simpsons they’re just around because people remember them and kids buy the merchandise. That’s it.

There are no more stories left to tell. Just lunchboxes to sell. Or Apps. And the kids who buy Spider Man gear aren’t reading the comics now, they’re seeing the cartoons or the movies.

The comics began it all, but now they’re just this odd relic tagging along. Disney isn’t interested in Spider Man because it wants to sell Spider Man comics, but because it wants to make Spider Man movies.

DC and Marvel are relics full of characters to be monetized by movie studios who put movies first, games second, cartoons third and comics zeroth. Their target audience is 17. The comics audience is 37.

Batman, Superman and Spiderman comics have become the ugly stepchildren of their own IPs. Their audiences are too old, their medium is dated and they have to pull off new stunts that their audience is familiar with because their audience is pushing 40 and grew up on those stunts.

Comics aren’t dead, but the big boys are irrelevant. And being irrelevant means fighting harder for oxygen. It means more stunts which get reset and alienate whatever audience remains after the initial buying frenzy for the issues that aren’t going to be worth anything in twenty years dies down.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s a dying industry trying to pull off one more comic book stunt. Peter Parker dying in Doc Ock’s body is a metaphor for the entire industry. Old fans. Old characters. No reason to go on.

Irredeemable/Incorruptible’s Irredeemable Ending

There was a brief shining period when the Irredeemable and Incorruptible series were some of the most exciting things going on in superhero comics. Forget the umpteenth death and resurrection of Batman, Batgirl, Superman or Spiderman, here was a Superman gone mad and a supervillain gone heroic.

It was a big concept and they had no idea what to do with it.

If Superman goes evil and he has no easy kryptonite solution, how do you stop him? You don’t. So the Plutonian runs wild wiping out the planet while the superheroes stupidly sabotage each other. Q-Bit saves the Plutonian from being killed once and then saves him when he’s banished to an alien insane asylum and brings him back to earth for more devastation. Finally after earth is on the brink of destruction, Q-Bit convinces the Plutonian somehow to help save the planet and he dies in the process.

The ending spoiler is just too embarrassing to be worth spoiling.

For a while Incorruptible’s Max Damage looked like the better series, but Max Damage had nowhere to really go, just like the Plutonian had nowhere to go. The Plutonian was an aimless villain with nothing to do but destroy. Max Damage was an aimless hero with no idea how to be a hero. And the writing went to all the predictable places, something about Nazi gangs, more so than not.

But it’s the end of Incorruptible that is truly ridiculous. Not only does it turn into an Oprah special with Max Damage dealing with his feelings, but Max Damage flashes back on the time he used a device that takes away powers to fight the Plutonian hand to hand. It’s a nostalgic memory, which is insane because for the entire series the world has been trying desperately to stop the Plutonian at the cost of wiping out the entire planet.

After all that Irredeemable’s ending was the really irredeemable thing.

Garth Ennis is a Hack

After muddling through most of The Boys and cross-sections of Crossed, there is just no escaping the conclusion that Garth Ennis is a hack. When Preacher came out, Ennis looked good because there was nothing quite like it. But The Boys had to run side by side with Irredeemable and Incorruptible, the series which for all its flaws did the evil superheroes things much better than Ennis. And Crossed is a poor man’s Walking Dead with gore splattered everywhere. Even its premise seems lifted from Warren Ellis’ superior Blackgas.

What The Boys and Crossed punishingly bring home is that Garth Ennis has absolutely no ideas. The only reason to read through anyone that Garth Ennis writes is to see superheroes, criminals and people in a zombie apocalypse who talk like the guys from a Guy Ritchie movie. That’s fun in a way but it doesn’t nearly justify the price of admission.

The Boys had just about wrapped up after endless delays and routes left, which were far more inexcusable than when Garth Ennis was fumbling around with Preacher. Garth Ennis doesn’t do plots well, that’s no real surprise to anyone, and he doesn’t do conclusions too well either. The big battle with Homelander wasn’t much of a battle at all. But battles are another thing that Ennis can’t really do. His characters win fights because they have the better lines, not because they really do anything.

The question for those who defended The Boys is what does the series actually do well?

The Boys just revived Garth Ennis’ own The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe concept and swapped out the Punisher for a British version who is drawn to look like a softer version of Frank Castle. Then he threw in a Captain America origin story for the entire crew and his thoughts on American politics drawn from Guardian editorials and 9/11 Truther videos.

How much of a hack is Garth Ennis? Go look back at the superheroes in The Boys. How does Garth Ennis characterize them? Ennis only has one way to do that and that’s sex. Some are evil because they’re gay. Some are evil because they’re promiscuous. Some are evil because of some more exotic fetish. Batman has sex with everything. The X-Men are pedophiles. One superhero has a gerbil up his ass. Another has sex with transvestites. It’s boring and borderline homophobic and it’s the only idea Garth Ennis has.

Hughie, like every Garth Ennis hero, is a good man because he’s in a heretosexual relationship with a sweet girl. Butcher once used to be good when he had that kind of relationship, but when the Homelander raped his wife, he turned into a ruthless vigilante. Ennis is relying on the same exact lazy characterization of a 1940’s movie spiced up with every fetish he can think of to characterize the bad guys. And this isn’t new for him. He did it in Preacher too.

Pull back the curtain a little and the superheroes in The Boys aren’t bad because they’re bad. They’re bad because they have a lot of sex. Ennis can dress that up in lots of graphic scenes, but it’s the same exact message you would get from a 1940’s movie.

Now for the rest of it.

After 65 issues, we have finally gotten to the point where Hughie, an irritating character who whined and fumbled through the 65 previous issues is finally forced to face off with Butcher. Butcher and Hughie are the only characters in The Boys that Garth Ennis cared about. That didn’t stop Ennis from drawing in three other stereotypes and spending entire issues on backstories that were a joke, just not the funny kind, and from killing them off.

Everything that has gotten us to here comes down to the same plot that the X-Men have done forty thousand times. And it’s just there so Hughie and Butcher can swap some lines for two more issues. That’s all there is here.

The Boys and Crossed forced me to reach the conclusion that Garth Ennis’ style is his cover. He doesn’t hate superheroes, he just can’t tell a story. The smug superior attitude and graphic content are defense mechanisms because they and characters drawn from British gangster movies are the only things he brings to the table. Garth Ennis is a hack. He writes the way he does because he hopes no one realizes that he can’t do any better.

Batman is not a Republican

I don’t like to talk about movies before they come out, but since The Dark Knight Rises is a sequel to a movie that I did see and that had the same political interpretations attached to it, let’s go for it.

Was The Dark Knight a commentary on the War on Terror? Obviously. But was it a commentary on the War on Terror? No.

Wait what? Exactly.

The Dark Knight was a commentary on the war of ideas, not just the obvious ones, like can I rendition a guy from another country or eavesdrop on cell phones. Like all the Nolan movies it was about the tug of war between those who are trying to destroy the city and those trying to hold it together.

The Dark Knight Rises is about the same thing.

I have seen essays pushing The Dark Knight as Bush boosterism. Bullshit. The Joker got to make his case and make a convincing case. His case, like Ra’s al Ghul’s case, like Bane’s case, is that Gotham didn’t deserve to survive. That Gotham was too rotten and didn’t have a single good thing in it. The only way to fix it was to destroy it.

Batman never denied Gotham’s problems. He denied that it was hopeless and he rejected the extremist solution of blowing it up. And he was willing to do anything to stop it. That’s what a vigilante does. He breaks the law for a greater good.

How does that line up with Democrats and Republicans? That’s subjective. Batman = Bush looks silly now that Bush is gone and we’re raiding other countries and killing terrorists with remote drones every month.

Remember Two Face? The great politician. The bridge between Batman and the Joker. Batman thought Dent would do his work, but Dent became like the Joker instead.

The twist is that Batman and the Joker are the same person. Batman has to break the rules to stop the Joker who doesn’t believe in rules. But break enough rules and there are fewer differences between Batman and the Joker except character. And the Joker kept trying to prove that character doesn’t matter. That one big decision and one bad day can break anyone.

Chaos and order.

Bane is Batman. He’s more Batman than Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker who wanted to clean up Gotham by destroying it. Bane wants to make Gotham a better place. He’s a vigilante like Batman. He’s making Gotham a better place by beating the hell out of the people he thinks make it a worse place. But like Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker he has the wrong prescription.

Bane, the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul are all one step over the line. They show what Batman can become.

Is Batman a Republican? Sure. He’s also a Democrat. And he’s none of those things. He’s the guy at the top who sees a problem and breaks the rules trying to fix it. He wants to bring back hope, but he does it by punching people in the face.

He’s a superhero.

In the Nolan movies Batman is always fighting villains who have a big picture. They have a vision of life and the world. But he doesn’t have those things. All he’s trying to do is hold on to one city.

Batman has no politics. He doesn’t care about abortion, oil drilling or gay marriage. He has no opinion on 99 out of 100 issues. When Ra’s al Ghul talks history or the Joker talks about foreign wars or Bane talks economic justice, Batman doesn’t care. Those things mean nothing to him. The Nolan Batman movies are about ideas, but Batman is a helpless player in their wars of ideas. He knows that he has to become larger than life, but unlike Ra’s al Ghul, the Joker or Bane, he doesn’t want to be more than human. He has to be more than human for the sake of his mission.

Gotham is Batman’s political agenda. It’s his only political agenda. And he’s fighting to protect it from men with big ideas who would tear it apart over those ideas.

Judge Dredd looks Dreddful Again

judge dredd trailer

At least the Stallone Judge Dredd had its merits. It didn’t look like a B Movie and it made use of some of the Judge Dredd mythology. If they were to make a Judge Dredd movie, why not use use Judge Death and the dead judges for something more blockbustery. Or they could just make a Judge Dredd movie that plays like a lamer version of Robocop. That’s what the trailer for the new Judge Dredd suggests they did. You can’t judge a movie by its trailer… but maybe you can.

Now I’m not sure that you could even film Robocop, for the same reason that you can’t film The Punisher. The bleak tone, satire and judge-dredd-comic-book-movieultraviolence that works on the comic book page can look silly and over the top on the screen. Verhoeven made that kind of thing work with Robocop, he could probably handle Judge Dredd, but it would be redundant. Berg might be able to do it. But this is just lame.

This version. Well the cast looks anywhere from okay to good. Beyond that, there’s nothing interesting. And the movie looks like a B Movie from the late 90’s, complete with generic CG.

Is there any possible reason to have high expectations for this? Karl Urban and Lena Heady are in it. The rest of the cast isn’t bad either. But director Pete Travis’ previous work doesn’t have much to recommend it. The script is from Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later, but also The Beach, Sunshine and a bunch of video games.

So file Judge Dredd under “Coulda Been Good”.

Comics Comedy

With all the outrage over a Smallville Season 11 coming out in comic book form, you would think that there was something really awful happening, like a Doctor Who- Star Trek The Next Generation crossover happening. (Yes that’s happening too.) Is there absolutely no room for a Smallville comic book in a lineup that already features Superman, Superboy, Supergirl and Justice League?

The reason for it is a no brainer. Smallville had plenty of fans, especially female fans, who aren’t picking up issues of Superman. Getting them to read a Superman comic by any name is a no brainer. With a good writer, which it has, there’s no reason that Smallville Season 11 can’t be good. Or moderately decent. Or better than Buffy Season 8.

Speaking of what I assume is Buffy Season 9, which I avoided because there’s only so much crap that even I can take, that has a storyline where Buffy gets pregnant and has an abortion, which is already being praised as groundbreaking by some of the fanboys who hate the idea of Smallville Season 11, sight unseen. I’m sure this will be just as well thought out and groundbreaking as Buffy’s lesbian tryst and not at all a publicity stunt by people who have already shown that they shouldn’t be allowed to crochet samplers.

Why not just turn over Buffy to David E. Kelley and get it over with? I don’t really see much difference in concept between his Wonder Woman TV show and Buffy anyway. All the fanboys who want to claim that Buffy was a strong female character might want to consider how much she really had in common with Ally McBeal. And how much of the differences came down to the actresses, not the writing.

Secret Six, What a Crock

The current incarnation of Secret Six was one of the more intriguing things DC was doing, emphasis on was. The entire dinosaur fantasy world trip and the trip to hell already killed it in a downfall of ugly art that made everyone look like muppets and stories that were all sound, fury and set pieces, and nothing else.

But nothing compares to the idiotic wrapup. Bane’s revival was interesting enough, but the idea that everyone would decide that their destiny lay with killing Batman didn’t fit anything that had come before. But at least it meant a final showdown. And that’s exactly what it meant in the worst way possible.

The whole thing ends with the Secret Six getting ratted out in a warehouse, taking a family hostage and then having every DC superhero, including the Krypton bunch show up to take them on. Stupid enough already. The Secret Six aren’t that impressive, and Batman alone has taken on tougher teams. But Secret Six deserves go out in the same stupid over the top style that killed it after the island escape.

No the real crock is Huntress mourning their defeat and damning the heroes for beating them. Really? Are we supposed to feel bad that Superman, Batman and Green Lantern beat three killers and a few less homicidal gray area types who were holding a family hostage, because they represented the spirit of independence, or something like that?

Are Comic Books Dead?

Sure the theaters are plastered with comic book movies. The Marvel and DC line are being thrown out into theaters all summer. But that’s just Hollywood’s desperation for IP’s to build blockbusters around. When WB bought DC and Disney bought Marvel, it was an IP sale. The studios would get properties. And what happens to DC and Marvel?

The comic book industry has been shaky for a while. And it’s only getting shakier. The average age for comic book readers is climbing. Many of the major titles are just not that accessible to younger readers. One in four comic book readers is over 65. Not exactly the image of the kid grabbing a comic from the rack and consuming it along with soda pop. Those kids are sometimes still reading comics, they just happen to be a lot older now. And the actual kids, much less so.

The industry is blaming the usual suspects. Piracy. Which might be a factor, but piracy hasn’t stopped the movie industry and games from having booming sales. But it doesn’t take much to see the real problem.

Comic books have the same problems as books and TV shows. Competition. Back when comic books emerged as a powerhouse, its competitors were black and white movies and radio shows. Now they’re competing against games and the mobile life.

Top that off with an industry that’s oriented to middle aged men. Comic books are expensive and involved. They cater more to older audiences than younger ones. Think of JMS’s bright idea to have Superman address the economic recession or the whole insane Batman Inc thing.

The levels of violence have been climbing, the dark stories and the gimmicks. Kill Superman, kill Batman, roll back Spiderman, then kill off Spiderman. It all smacks of desperation.

Comics connected with large audiences because they offered escapism and adventure. Now they offer addicts another issue to buy, read and then complain about.

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