Justice League, or, Has Anyone Made a “League of Their Own” Joke Yet? There’s No Crime in Bat’s Hall? Something Like That? I Don’t Know.

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Batman v. All Kinds of Folks: Noon of Justice

“You’re not brave. Men are brave,” Batfleck told the Man of Steel in director Zack Snyder’s cumbersome Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I hated that line. To me it had seemed the epitome of the over-the-top, macho bullshit Batman is always in danger of succumbing to in the wrong hands.

“You’re not brave. You’re a little boy. I’m a big strong man, because I’m tough and grim and that’s what a man is, and by the way I just discovered the work of Frank Miller.”
I walked out of Batman v. Superman angry. Not disappointed. Angry. But it stuck with me. It stuck with me and despite myself my mind would return time and time again to various moments throughout the film. I found myself considering it. Digesting it.

“You’re not brave. Men are brave.”

Macho bullshit, or theological outrage?

“You’re not brave. You’re a god. You don’t know fear and you don’t know bravery because you don’t know what it is to be human. You don’t know what it is to be fragile living in a world that can kill you by accident. You cannot save us from ourselves because you will never know what it is to be us. You’re doomed to frustration and failure. And what then?”

Zack Snyder’s superhero films have no interest in being the Marvelous “world outside your window.” They’re more attempts at reflecting Joseph Campbell’s monomyth against a battle of minds and souls and ideologies. Hefty stuff. A reach that neither Man of Steel or Dawn of Justice were able to close fingers around. But they were each a helluva reach.
Justice League doesn’t feel that way. Very much an empty bath tub, Justice League feels like a panicked response to the backlash against Dawn of Justice in which all of the tropes of a Snyder film were numbed, rather than just the problematic ones.

I often found myself frustrated with Snyder’s previous films because of the contrast between their best and worst moments, between their potential and their actuality, between the leap taken and the distance traveled. But Justice League feels like less of a leap than a hop, like Zack Snyder’s ambitions have finally started to bear the weight of critical reception.

A lot has been made of the possibility that Justice League would feel like a battle between two voices, Snyder’s and Joss Whedon’s, who was brought in to complete the film when Snyder dropped out for personal reasons. But the only tug of war I felt in the film was between the lofty, operatic vision of Snyder and a very corporate, frugal sense of uncertainty holding that vision back.

There’s the slimmest thread of Snyder’s ambitious storytelling here, a messianic thread that casts the five marketed Justice Leaguers as sort of apostles, with Ben Affleck’s Batman playing the role of a repentant betrayer trying to make good. At times the film very much feels like Man of Steel 3, a third act following that familiar but fascinating template of life, death and rebirth. But the scope of that narrative, which reigned unshackled in the two previous acts, is downplayed in Justice League.

There are also hints of Snyder’s more problematic tendencies. The film opens with a laughably bleak montage of a world without Superman, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that Snyder’s camera has less respect for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman than Patty Jenkins’ did. But even these more irritating quirks are toned down. Peaks and valleys alike are buffered and filled in so that unchecked ambition is replaced by a sense of noncommittal, corporate safety.

Writing about Justice League I feel myself warming up to it, coming to terms with what it is rather than mourning what is isn’t. But I can’t shake the feeling (and it is just that, a feeling) that Snyder was reined in on this film because of the lackluster response to Dawn of Justice, and because of that it’s follow-up is, if not outright worse, at least exponentially less interesting.

A Superhero Movie, or, Wonder Woman

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\m/  [INSERT HEAVY METAL CELLO HERE]  \m/

Wonder Woman is undiluted superhero cinema the likes of which audiences have been without for, at least, the better part of a decade.

The latest film in DC Comics’ shared cinematic universe, the DCEU, blends the brand’s own penchant for powerful imagery and mythological scope with the Marvel films’ revolutionary approach of having protagonists that are actually charming rather than being miserable bastards.

But unlike most any entry in the filmography of either brand, director Patty Jenkins ‘ Wonder Woman tosses aside any substantial reliance on being a sequel or a prequel or a tie in. Similarly it doesn’t feel like a “take” on a superhero movie. Ant-Man is something of a superhero heist film. Iron Man 3 is a superhero buddy cop flick. The Dark Knight trilogy is a series of superhero films set in “the real world.”

Wonder Woman, more than any superhero movie since perhaps the first Iron Man (before the credits) feels like uncut superheroism. It’s primary concern is conveying the story of someone with extraordinary abilities using said abilities to better the world around them and the film serves as a testament to just how power that idea can be even without the bells and whistles of sub-genre tropes and crossovers and tie-ins. Bells and whistles I absolutely adore by the way, but bells and whistles that, as the likes of Age of Ultron can attest, can prove prohibitive.

Wonder Woman is a reminder of why popular culture went bonkers for superheroes in the first place, a reminder of the resonance these figures have in modern mythology, a reminder that at their best these logos and costumes can be mirrors of our morals and aspirations.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the film’s much-lauded no man’s land sequence, in which Wonder Woman makes her way out of Allied trenches to take on attacking Central forces. It’s a set piece that’s, for me, proved more affecting and overwhelming than any other superhero action sequence in recent memory, not simply because of the deftly handled action, but because of its context.

The scene is preceded by Wonder Woman first encountering a man beating a horse that has gotten stuck in the mud along with the carriage it is towing. She is told to do nothing, to look at the bigger picture. Then she encounters the wounded. She encounters the sick. The hungry. Always she is told it cannot be helped. Finally, she hears of the occupied village across no man’s land, which she is also told to ignore in favor of a larger objective. And finally she puts her foot down.

Faced with the evils of the world, close to being overwhelmed by the profound horrors of it all, Wonder Woman stops, identifies a problem she can solve, and solves it.

Queue no man’s land and electric cello shredding.

Wonder Woman is a great film as a whole, but the no man’s land sequence in particular proved to be straight up transcendent. It will resonate deeply with anyone who has ever felt paralyzed by the wickedness of the world. When she rises out of the trenches, Wonder Woman rises above the fears that one person cannot block the tides of villainy, above the idea that there are too many problems in the world and therefore dealing with any of them is a waste of time.

It’s that idea, and it’s unencumbered communication to the audience that will undoubtedly mark Wonder Woman as a staple of superhero storytelling. It’s not a movie that’s exciting because it serves as a springboard for bigger, louder films in the future, or because it ties into another film and weaves into a larger whole. It’s not thrilling because it puts superheroes into some other genre, or because it subverts the superhero genre. Wonder Woman is fantastic because it digs down past franchises and cinematic universes and intellectual properties to offer something seemingly all too common and yet all too rare: a straight-up superhero movie.

Wonder Woman: Earth One, or, You’re Not My Dad!

Wonder Woman earth one

I don’t know, an Alice in Chains pun or something?

One of the myriad side effects of the decidedly masculine bent of superheroics is the prevalence of father/son narratives.

It’s the Dark Knight’s deceased father who consistently urges his son to get back up. It’s Spider-Man’s deceased father figure that keeps him responsible. It’s Daredevil’s boxing dad that gives him the heart of a fighter. It’s Iron Man’s late, withholding father that helps him make his circle chest plate into a triangle chest plate. Hell, the Man of Steel has two dads because one just isn’t enough.

Even beyond superheroics, a pillar of Star Wars is a father’s relationship to his son. Game of Thrones is filled to the brim with the political and emotional intricacies of dads and their boys. The emotional backbone of The Walking Dead is a father’s drive to protect his son.

“I just want to make you proud!”

“I’m disappointed in you because I’m disappointed in myself!”

There are a myriad of praises to heap upon Wonder Woman: Earth One, the new graphic novel by writer Grant Morrison and artist Yanick Paquette that reimagines the origins of DC Comics’ alpha heroine. It boasts lavish, sprawling art and intelligent, ambitious writing. But beyond being a thoughtful piece of fiction, Wonder Woman: Earth One is noteworthy because it gives exorbitant amounts of thought to telling a mother/daughter story in a genre steeped in fathers and sons. And wouldn’t you know it, mother/daughter relationships pack the same emotionally nuanced punch as their masculine counterparts – without having been driven into the dirt by thousands of years of consistent retellings across every medium available.

Where the traditional paternal narrative seems to be a tug and pull between affection and toughness the maternal narrative presented in Wonder Woman: Earth One is one between protection and independence. What better setting for such a conflict than the feminist utopia Themiscyra, the island of the Amazons, isolated from the world of man?

Wonder Woman: Earth One is decorated with the alternative sexuality that secretly defined the character. There are chains and straps and ropes and lots of talk of submission, but those are just bells and whistles. At its core it presents a compelling story about a mother who wants to protect her daughter from the dangers she herself experienced and a daughter who wants to be free to experience the world, however dangerous it might be, on her own terms.

It’s telling that even in a decidedly feminine narrative masculinity remains a constant presence as a consistent force of potential danger for mothers to shield their daughters from and for daughters to brave in spite of their mothers. But rather than be beaten down by patriarchy, here Wonder Woman is a symbol of hope, a beacon to a new, different way of doing things. Wonder Woman has justification to be bitter, angry or even militant, but this isn’t a protagonist who dwells on the problem, this is a protagonist who offers a solution. An alternative.

Where Batman brings meaning to struggles in an often cruel world and Superman offers us a paragon to aspire to, perhaps Wonder Woman, more than anything else, is representative of alternatives.

Her very conception was as an alternative to the masculinity of superhero comics. Her origins are steeped in alternative sexuality. Her methods, defensive bracelets and a compelling lasso, are a distinct alternative to the offensive capabilities of Batarangs and super-strength.

She doesn’t soar through the skies for truth, justice and the American way. She doesn’t prowl the shadows as vengeance in the night. She stands resolute in a problematic world and insists that there is another way, there is an alternative, if only we submit to it.

In that same tradition the Diana Prince of Wonder Woman: Earth One offers an alternative, both to the isolationist feminist utopia of her mother and the endlessly problematic patriarchy of Man’s World.

When I first started reading comics I’d scroll through Top 10 lists to find the definitive stories behind characters of which I’d had only a cinematic, if any, awareness. Batman has Year One, Dark Knight Returns and The Long Halloween. Superman has For All Seasons, Red Son and Birthright. But Wonder Woman doesn’t really have the same catalogue of titles in her bibliography, those go-to essentials for a new Wonder Woman fan aren’t nearly as readily apparent. Luckily, between Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s recent work with the character and now Morrison and Paquette’s excellent contribution with Earth One, that’s beginning to change.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 49, or, Peeves

I may only have three books to talk about this week but trust me when I say that I more than make up for it with an in depth discussion of a whole slew of specific, personal peeves. Its practically peeve central up in here. You’re totally going to love it.

This week: Saga, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 46, or, Episode 50 if You Count the Bonus Episodes

I’m still on my exercise ball, which is just the new normal, so get used to it. Also this is the 50th thing I’ve recorded, so that is a thing. Two new Image #1s and two books I’m pretty sure I’m dropping and plenty of veiled political criticism of Columbus Day await you in this triumphant milestone.

This week: Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers + X-Men: Axis, Batgirl, Batman, Birthright, Justice League United, Superman/Wonder Woman and Wytches

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 45, or, Exercise Balls Are the New Cuban Cigars

If my lecture on sitting, and its being the new smoking, blew your mind back in Episode 31 then boy do I have a revelation for you! Also, there were a lot of comic books out this week. So there’s that.

This week: Action Comics, American Vampire, Detective Comics, Black Widow, Death of Wolverine, Edge of Spider-Verse, Justice League, Silver Surfer, Swamp Thing, Thor, The Walking Dead, Wonder Woman

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 43, or, A History of AMCs The Walking Dead as it Pertains Specifically to Myself

Join me this week as I spend more time talking about my turbulent relationship with the Walking Dead television show and less time talking about last week’s comic books than ever before. Seriously, there’s only one way to find out just how successful my attempted speed-run through nine books is, because I haven’t posted the results on the Wikipedia yet.

This week: Batman and Robin: Futures End, Daredevil, Edge of Spider-Verse, Justice League: Futures End, Multiversity, Superior Spider-Man, Superman/Wonder Woman: Future’s End, Thor: God of Thunder and Wonder Woman: Futures End