Posts Tagged Batman

Green Arrow loses his sense of humor

More Fun Comics 91Superheroes have conquered the silver screen, something that no one who saw the first Superman movie serials or Captain America starring Matt Salinger thought would ever happen. Joss Whedon and Chris Nolan are the masters of the universe, but where can superheroes go from there? Television of course!

I was very excited for Arrow because it would finally give Green Arrow a little recognition, and because if it turned out to be good, I wouldn’t have to wait two years for another fix. However, it seems like the producers of Arrow are paying too much attention to blockbuster superhero films.

Arrow is dark, literally. Most of the action takes place at night, and the moody lighting means it’s sometimes difficult to see which bad buy “The Hood” (this T.V. Green Arrow needs an image consultant) is pummeling.

It’s not to say that the fights aren’t bad or undramatic, they are just out of character. The comic book Green Arrow (at least the one I know) is a bit more jovial. He’s a peace-loving hippie who cracks jokes, annoys Green Lantern, and has a beard. What happened to that guy?

The new Oliver Queen is scarred (mentally and physically) from his time on a (mostly) deserted island, and is obsessed with a quest for vengeance and redemption.

The television show’s darker Green Arrow is probably the result of an identity crisis. Oliver Queen’s alter ego has always been a rip-off of two characters: Robin Hood and Batman. The Robin Hood parallel goes without saying, and Green Arrow is often described as “Batman with a bow and arrow” because, like Bruce Wayne, he’s a rich guy with no superpowers and a sense of justice.

Arrow’s Ollie tries really hard to be Bruce Wayne. He’s got a secret base in an old warehouse and, like Bruce, he feigns aloofness to distance himself from his alter ego. Ollie may have gone too far, though: Bruce maintained control of his company, giving him resources that could be used in his war on crime. Ollie abdicated in a public display of fake drunkenness.

It’s not surprising that the people writing Green Arrow want him to be more like Batman than Robin Hood; only one of them wears tights. The connection was also downplayed in Green Arrow: Year One, where the costume starts out as a mossy piece of sailcloth that a marooned Ollie wears as a babushka.

So the television Green Arrow is very different from the comic book one. Is he better? I think the change is a bit drastic. Batman works as a dark character because he has always been that way; Green Arrow hasn’t.

Will no one take a more lighthearted Oliver Queen seriously? I don’t know, but not every superhero can be a brooding creature of the night, especially a guy who dresses up in bright green and hunts bad guys with a bow.

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Superheroes in the real world

Green Lantern figureMort Weisinger had a problem. The executive in charge of National Periodical Publications’ (aka DC Comics) most prized property, Superman, was being called out by Albert Einstein. An MIT class had sent Weisinger a letter from Einstein, who said that no one, not even Superman, could fly faster than the speed of light.

No problem, Weisinger though. He convinced science fiction legend Isaac Asimov to draft a reply. “Professor Einstein’s statement is based on theory,” Asimov said. “Superman’s speed is based on fact.”

Comic book fans are often accused of having a fragile understanding of reality, but the flip side is that, aside from their otherworldly powers, superheroes have always been grounded in the real world. Why else would Einstein feel the need to play cosmological traffic cop with Superman?

The superhero comic book genre is built on an important conceit. Just as people who enjoy Broadway musicals need to take for granted characters’ tendency to break out in song and dance, so readers of comic books need to assume that their favorite heroes live in the real world.

It all began with Superman. The first superhero may be from another planet, but he grew up in a typical American town and lives in a typical American city. The only difference between Superman’s world and our world is the man himself.

The existence of utterly fantastic beings in an otherwise realistic world creates many paradoxes, and comic book writers have been dealing with them since Superman first took flight in 1938.

When the United States entered World War II each hero (through his or her writers) had to decide whether to enlist. DC’s near-omnipotent pantheon could have ended the war in five minutes, which presented a problem. That’s why most of the DC heroes stayed stateside; Clark Kent feigned poor eyesight to give Superman an honorable way out, while the Justice Society of America feared the corrupting influence of the Spear of Destiny.

DC’s rival Marvel Comics, created a hero specifically for fighting the Nazis. In his debut issue, Captain America socked Hitler in the jaw, a moment of catharsis for his Jewish creators whether it ruined the illusion or not.

Since then, comic books have tried to address real-world political issues, from racism in Green Lantern-Green Arrow to privacy and national security in Marvel: Civil War. Just like World War II, the trick to getting these political comics to succeed is acknowledging the problems of the real world without having superheroes intervene in a totally unrealistic way.

What about the superheroes themselves, though? In theory, they are real people under their masks and capes, and they should do what they do in a somewhat plausible way.Thor figure

Since he has no powers, Batman is a popular candidate for an ultra-realistic treatment. In Batman: Year One, Frank Miller had Bruce Wayne go on a practice mission in street clothes, driving a stock Porsche instead of the Batmobile.

This approach helped inspire Christopher Nolan’s series of Batman films. Particularly in the first two movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, plausible explanations are given for Batman’s methods and technologies, and those of this enemies. The Batmobile is a discarded military prototype, and the Batsuit is made of Kevlar body armor.

However, even Batman has his limits. No matter how realistic he appears to be, he’s still a vengeful billionaire skulking around in a cape and cowl, and that, unfortunately, does not exist outside of comics.

“Once a depiction veers toward realism,” Miller said, “each new detail releases a torrent of questions that exposes the absurdity at the heart of the genre.”

Giving a superhero a realistic environment and realistic equipment isn’t enough, which brings us back to the person under the mask, and on to the Marvel movie universe.

Marvel’s movies are not as focused on realism as Batman Begins, but they still strike fans as authentic. That’s because the characters themselves are realistic.

Green Lantern and ThorWormholes may not be a convincing explanation for Thor’s arrival on Earth or his powers, but he reacts to everything the way a real person would. When confronted with the victorious Avengers, Thor’s brother, Loki, doesn’t shake his fist and twirl his nonexistent mustache, he just says, “I think I’ll have that drink now.”

That is the superhero conceit in action. The characters may be super soldiers, irradiated monsters, and gods, but they live in the same world as readers and viewers and thus act the same way.

That’s why the laws of physics don’t bother fans of Superman. His powers might be impossible, but he is not.

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One year later “New 52” comics don’t stand the test of time

Justice League New 52How do you update a legend? Comic book writers face this problem every day. Just as a user restarted a computer in the cartoon ReBoot to erase the destruction of a system/city, so comics creators must reboot their characters every few years to erase the effects of stagnation.

One year ago, DC Comics undertook one of the most ambitious reboots in comics history, changing everything from costumes to characterizations in a storm front of hype know as the “New 52.”

Since it’s been a year, and DC is about to undertake a second stage of revisions with its “Issue 0” releases, it’s interesting to look at what has worked, and what hasn’t.

One of the biggest changes was to characters’ costumes. DC replaced the tights with tougher-looking segmented armor and some more subtle tweaks, with mixed results.

Superman’s new costume looks pretty cool, but its backstory (it’s Kryptonian armor Superman finds on Brainiac’s ship that happens to be keyed to his genetic signature) is not.

Disconcertingly, Green Lantern only wears his new costume in Justice League; in Green Lantern, which is a continuation of the pre-New 52 series, he sticks with the old look. There is no way to keep track of all the different costumes Batman wears in his many titles.

DC may have advertised big changes in New 52, but many of them involved esoteric characters, as if DC was throwing everything it had against the wall to see what stuck. Deadman and Captain Atom will not return for a second year.

Some of the changes to the big names were less than epic, too. The Flash got a new art style, a new costume, and a new series that throws out most of Barry Allen’s resurrection-related angst for a lighter tone. Other than that, no major changes were made, although that doesn’t make the New 52 Flash series any less enjoyable.

DC did not completely forget its promise for newness, though. In fact, two of the best New 52 titles were completely unexpected. No one expected Aquaman to be good, but the character’s new attitude and streamlined origin make it one of the best comics titles out there. It got this writer to take Aquaman seriously.

Earth 2, launched in the second wave of New 52 titles last May, is a true reimagination of the DC Universe. On this alternate Earth, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman die fighting Darkseid, leaving completely new versions of Green Lantern, the Flash, and Hawkgirl to protect the planet.

So far, DC’s brave new world has been a mixed bag, and not quite as new as the company wanted us to believe. Still, a couple of solid hits like Aquaman and Earth 2 are worthwhile, even if the rest of the revisions don’t stick.

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