Sex vol. 1 & vol. 2 (Joe Casey)

Joe Casey’s Sex comic is a Batman comic that doesn’t use the word Batman, thereby avoiding pesky copyright infringement problems. It explores the issue of, well, sex: who is enjoying it, who is not, and who is using it to hurt other people. More importantly, it asks the question: who is Batman without Batman?

In this case, Bruce Wayne has been recast as Simon Cooke, a billionaire who has made a promise to his dying friend. The promise? To retire his crime fighting persona, The Armored Saint, protector of Saturn City. As the story begins, Simon returns to Saturn City determined to live the life he missed out on while he was patrolling the streets. He also aims to take control of his company, which was run by aides during his absence. To complicate matters, Simon realizes that he doesn’t have a concept of what a regular life is, let alone how he should live it. Without the Saint, he feels aimless and adrift.

The X-rated exploration of Simon’s issues and anxieties was a bit of a letdown for me. If Simon is modeled on Batman (and he IS), then one must note that Batman gets laid… a lot. Whatever intimacy issues harry the Caped Crusader, they are not of the bedroom variety. Batman/ Bruce Wayne has trouble keeping his loved ones happy, but he does just fine where the ladies are concerned. While Sex does explore emotional intimacy as well as sexual intimacy, its focus on Simon’s sexuality is puzzling, given Batman’s sexual exploits.

Is it fair, then, to judge the characterization and arc of Simon Cooke based on one’s knowledge of Bruce Wayne? Technically, Simon could be anyone, any comic book hero. The problem then becomes that once we excise all associations with Bruce Wayne, Simon is not a character in his own right. He’s a guy who used to put on a costume to fight crime, but we don’t know enough about him to care about where he is going. The problem of Simon’s past is compounded by his complete inertia in the first two volumes of the series. The inertia is sort of the point. Simon is trying, but failing, to move on. But then the reader is also left in a state of inertia. To be fair, volume 2 begins to provide flashbacks to Simon’s former activities that are helping to flesh out the character.

Simon’s friends and foes inhabit a world that is interesting enough to compel me to continue the series. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of Sex is how Simon’s retirement affects everyone else in town. Shadow Lynx is the Saint’s former foe (and friend-with-benefits?), now running a night club. In the Saint’s absence, there is a turf war for dominance among his former enemies. The most brutal of these is The Old Man, a truly repellant character whose sadism is genuinely shocking. Meanwhile, Simon’s old sidekick, Keenan, is desperately trying to stay in the game, despite the loss of Simon’s vast resources (and guidance).

In the end, Sex has the potential to be great. It hasn’t yet achieved that greatness, but it has built an intriguing world and posed intriguing questions. As Comics Alliance noted, it feels like an 80s comic in all the right ways. I look forward to seeing whether volume 3 builds on that world, those characters, and those questions. It could become a compelling exploration of intimacy, purpose, class, and morality… or it could become an excuse to draw a lot of people fucking.

Sex volumes 1 and 2 are out in stores now.

Happy Batman Day!

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Today is Batman Day, a celebration of 75 years of Batman (Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27, with a publication date of May 1939). To commemorate, participating comic book stores are giving away Batman masks, capes, and copies of DC #27. Some Barnes & Noble stores are hosting costume and trivia contests. Amazon also has a sale on the kindle editions of many Batman comics and collected editions.

The Internet has a lot of love for The Caped Crusader. I recommend the multiple, ongoing installments of the Super Café on How It Should Have Ended‘s Youtube Channel, in which Batman reviews his own movies, as well as other heroes’ films (spoiler alert: all other heroes fall short in Batman’s eyes). You should also check out the delightful webcomic JL8, which features the Justice League as children. If you’re curious about Batman’s earliest screen appearances, check out the 1943 serial. Also, I recommend the Legends of the Batman Podcast (now defunct) for in-depth reviews of Bat-comics released in 1939 and 1940. Most recently, the Kickstarter documentary Legends of the Knight chronicled what the beloved character means to different people today.

Since the Bat is one of my favorite characters of all time, I always welcome recommendations.

Vikings (History Channel)

The History Channel’s Vikings begins with a vision. After yet another bloody confrontation with an enemy clan, Norseman Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) sees visions of Odin and interprets them to mean that his destiny is a great one. Unlike his superior, earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), Ragnar begins to think that their raiders should sail west, a heretofore unexplored land. The group fears such a journey, but Ragnar improvises a new method for navigating their longships, and convinces a group of friends to join him. Ragnar and his crew land in the kingdom of Northumbria, where riches await them. Back home, various rivalries threaten Ragnar’s family and his future.

Most of what we know about the Vikings (historically speaking) comes down from the terrified people who suffered at their hands. Most pop culture depictions of them come from the POV of their (Christian) victims. To see the world through the Vikings’ eyes is a treat to an audience that may not be very familiar with their culture. The show is especially interesting when contrasting Christian customs and civilization with Norse customs and civilization. For example, we see a Christian woman bring forth a complaint against her abusive husband, and an observer points out that her complaint would be addressed seriously in Viking society, for all their “savage” reputation.

Ragnar Lothbrok is a famous man in Norse sagas, but not a widely-known figure to those unfamiliar with the stories. As played by Fimmel, Ragnar is a man with a twinkle of mischief in his eye, but also with an axe in his hand, one he intends to wield without mercy. His wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is a fierce warrior on her own right. For his part, Ragnar’s brother Rollo (Clive Standen) is talented, but held back by his own insecurity and jealousy.

The story is full of shifting alliances. If I have one complaint about the series, it’s that these shifts can sometimes seem capricious, but more often than not, they are in line with the characters’ motivations. For fans of historical dramas with substance and strong characterizations, Vikings is a vivid peek into one of the least explored parts of European history. The first two seasons are well worth watching before the premiere of Season 3 next year.

Side note: I am OBSESSED with their opening credits.

The Shining Girls

On the surface, The Shining Girls can be enjoyed as a thriller: a serial killer targets women and one of them fights back, gathering clues to find him and bring him to justice. If we just left at that, it would be a good, engrossing summer read.

But that’s not all there is.

On a deeper level, the book is a commentary of progressivism, feminism, and misogyny. The killer travels through time, and selects women who “shine.” The women shine because they were fighting against the tides of their respective eras. There is an African American woman who starts working as a welder during the Second World War, a lesbian Communist striving to succeed in the corporate world of the 50s, a community organizer fighting for the underprivileged, a trans woman defying society by living as a woman, a volunteer clinic escort in the pre-Roe world helping women get the abortions they need. And that’s what elevates this book above a generic thriller: these women are simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary, taking tiny steps to advance the progress of our gender. That is why they shine.

That is also why their killer is an Everyman. He does not look like a monster or a model. In fact, we don’t learn a lot about him, despite the fact that many chapters are devoted to him. That’s what polarizes people on this book. In order for him to be Everyman, he can’t have a very specific backstory. He exists only to hate and hurt women because he represents every man who has ever hurt a woman. Similarly, the women he targets are tiny vignettes because they are also supposed to represent the thousands of women like them, women who shone and died anonymously. To readers who want to learn more about THIS killer or THESE women, it will be a very frustrating book.

I thought I was overanalyzing The Shining Girls, and its treatment of gendered violence, until I read the interview with the author at the end. She feels a great deal of anger and hurt over the murder of her friend at the hands of her partner, a murder that was never prosecuted. There is a deep tragedy that she wanted to convey to her readers about this type of violence, but the book is not preachy, and can be enjoyed simply as a genre mash-up: a time travelling thriller.

Desaparecida

Beatriz Ayuso as Patricia Marcos

Beatriz Ayuso as Patricia Marcos

Recently, I’ve added HuluPlus to my tv viewing and I’ve discovered a lot of series that were not available on regular US channels.

One such series is Desaparecida, from Spain. Originally aired in 2007, Desaparecida is a mini-series that chronicles the case of Patricia Marcos, a girl who goes missing on her 18th birthday. Patricia’s family immediately begins a search for her, and file a case with local police. As both the detectives and Patricia’s family dig deeper, they discover secrets about the young woman that they never expected. In doing so, the viewer gets a complex picture of a life, and how we present different versions of ourselves to the different people we encounter.

To its credit, the series also confronts the slut-shaming that always surrounds cases of female abductions. “Why was she dressed that way? Why was she out that late?” These are questions that neighbors pose around Patricia’s family and the family makes it clear that these questions and victim blaming are unacceptable. Patricia’s father, in particular, takes us to various flashbacks of his daughter’s life. We are brought into the family dynamic, and made to understand the vibrancy of the person that is suddenly absent. Through her father’s rose-tinted lenses, the viewer is also forced the confront that people are more complex than they might appear, and slowly, Mr. Marcos begins to see a clearer picture of who his daughter is. Rather than hating her for being more complicated than he thought, Mr. Marcos loves his daughter more as he realizes that she was growing up and becoming her own person.

Carlos Hipólito and Miguel Ángel Solá

Carlos Hipólito and Miguel Ángel Solá

As Alfredo Marcos, Carlos Hipólito is heartbreaking. He desperately wants to understand what happened to his daughter, why it happened, and why he didn’t know all there was to know about the girl he raised. He desperately tries to track down the pieces of the puzzle that is Patricia in order to find her, in a race against a ticking clock. As the cops in charge of the case, Miguel Angel Solá and Esther Ortega bring an experienced perspective to the proceedings without the genre’s usual cynicism. They care about the victim and they do not write her off as just another girl gone missing. They have a dry sense of humor, but they take their jobs very seriously. As Lt. Serra, Solá develops a very deep friendship with Mr. Marcos, stemming from the fact that they’re both fathers of young girls. For her part, Ortega as Sgt. Andrún is tough, combative, and very capable.

The series boasts great performances and plot twists, and works both as an investigative puzzle and a family drama. If there’s one drawback, it’s Diego, Patricia’s brother, who exists only to rage and make mistakes that hinder the investigation. His is the only character in the series that doesn’t receive a fully thought out motivation and depth.

Desaparecida was highly popular in Spain, and was spun off into a series focusing on the detectives titled U.C.O. As of this date, U.C.O. is not available for viewing stateside, but Desaparecida is available to those with a HuluPlus subscription.

 

Silent Take: The Dark Knight circa 1926

Artemis:

From one of my favorite sites, Movies Silently.

Originally posted on Movies, Silently:

Movies Silently The Dark Knight 1926 silent movie poster

I just thought I would have some fun with Photoshop. Here is my idea of The Dark Knight if it had been made in 1926. What’s your take? Who is your silent movie cast for The Dark Knight?

Update: The overwhelmingly positive reader response has been wonderful! I decided to make Silent Take a regular series. You can view other posters here.

View original

El Secreto de sus Ojos

El Secreto de sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) is Juan José Campanella’s adaptation of Eduardo Sacheri’s 2005 novel. Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil star as Benjamin and Irene, who meet in the present to discuss a case they investigated for the judiciary 25 years before. Benjamin has recently retired and he wants Irene’s input into the novel he is writing about the 1974 rape and murder of Liliana, a schoolteacher. Back then, Cornell-educated Irene was appointed as the new head of Benjamin’s department, and he immediately fell in love with her, though he refused to voice his feelings due to the differences in their socio-economic backgrounds. When a rape-murder case lands on his desk, Benjamin wants nothing to do with it, until he sees the brutality of the crime scene in person. Two construction workers are picked up by a rival investigator and they confess to the crime, but Benjamin immediately suspects foul play, which is confirmed when he sees that the suspects have been tortured. Benjamin visits the widower’s home, and looks at pictures of Liliana, noting a pattern: there is a man in many of the pictures who can’t take his eyes off her. Who is this man? Where has he gone? How can he be found?

The film delves into the investigation of the crime, but it is also a film about the people who are affected by it: the victim’s husband Ricardo, Benjamin, Irene, their assistant Pablo, and the killer himself. In the present, Benjamin looks at pictures of Irene’s life and sees himself in them, looking at Irene the way the killer looked at Liliana. The Secret referred to in the title is the passion that animates each human being. For some, it’s love; for others, revenge or greed. Liliana’s murder is also connected to the era in which she lived, during Argentina’s Dirty War. The sins of her murderer are the sins of a nation in which laws ceased to matter. The repercussions of her murder will go beyond her immediate family.

The acting is top-notch. Darín and Villamil convey the intelligence, longing, sadness and decency of two people who were meant to be together, but whose lives took a wrong turn. But the biggest standout is Guillermo Francella as Pablo Sandoval, their alcoholic assistant, who wants so desperately to be useful to the friends who put up with his drinking. He is a hardworking investigator whose loyalty is unwavering and whose alcoholism cannot completely obliterate his brilliance. For his part, director Juan José Campanella (known in the US for his television work, though he has been nominated for numerous international awards, including two Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film- he won for The Secret in Their Eyes) juxtaposes great suspense with warm humor and great character moments. He makes you feel the 1970s come to life, right down to the countless folders stacked on heavyset desks and typewriters with a broken A key. His most notable achievement on this film is an edge-of-you-seat chase in a packed soccer stadium staged in one continuous shot.

From its nostalgic opening to its brutal ending, The Secret in Their Eyes is a mediation on humanity, love and justice, film that will stay with you.

Project Nim

Nim

On the surface, Project Nim is the story of an ape. Nim Chimpsky, born in 1973 to an ape named Carolyn at Oklahoma’s Institute of Primate Studies. At two weeks old, Bill Lemmon, who ran the Institute, took Nim from Carolyn, shooting her with a tranquilizer gun when she refused to give up yet another baby (during her lifetime, Carolyn gave birth to 14 babies, all of which were taken from her). In addition to Lemmon’s tranquilizer, Carolyn could look forward to being disciplined with a cattle prod, which Lemmon carried with him at all times.

Lemmon handed Nim over to Columbia University professor Herb Terrace, or rather to Terrace’s assistant, Stephanie LaFarge, who was to raise Nim as a human child. LaFarge, a former lover and student of Terrace’s, became Nim’s primary caretaker during the early years of the experiment. The experiment in question revolved around language. At the time, it had already been established that chimps did not have the physical machinery to learn to speak as humans do. The question then became whether they could communicate in other ways, like sign language. Chimps like Nim learned to sign hundreds of words. The research brought into question whether the chimps could learn the finer nuances of language (for example, “Dog bites man” vs. “Man bites dog”).

Nim with Bob Ingersoll

Over the years, Nim trained with several researchers, including yet another of Terrace’s students/lovers. What is notable about Nim’s caretakers during his time in New York is that none of them, not a single one, had experience in the care of apes. Nim continued to change hands as his usefulness to one party or another expired, or as the underprepared humans realized the difficulties of having an ape in their midst.

Director James Marsh (of Man on Wire fame) follows Nim’s story through the entirety of his life, making great use of the wealth of archival footage that had amassed around him. One of the most striking things is the reversal in Nim’s circumstances, as he desperately tries to communicate by signing to new humans who don’t understand and no longer care about what he’s trying to say. So, while on the surface, Project Nim is the story of an ape, it is also the story of the humans that populated Nim’s life. It is the story of the arrogance, the callousness, and the lack of empathy that each of these individuals displayed toward Nim. The one notable exception was Bob Ingersoll, a student who cared for Nim for several years in Oklahoma, and who devoted the rest of his life to advocating on Nim’s behalf. Sadly, Ingersoll never had legal ownership of Nim and was powerless to control Nim’s fate. The ethics surrounding Nim’s emotional life (and often his physical living conditions) were ignored by every other person in his life. To them, Nim was a means to an end, and from the moment he was ripped from his mother’s arms, the little guy’s needs were never a concern. Above all else, Project Nim feels like a devastating indictment of us.

Copper

The single most volatile time in our nation’s history was The Civil War. Even though New York did not see any major battles during the war, it was nevertheless a political hotbed, a raging city fueled by the corruption of Tammany Hall, the crime sprees of the gangs at the Five Points, the ambition of new immigrants (primarily Irish), the religious fervor of the Third Great Awakening, and the determination of the escaped and freed black men and their abolitionist allies. New York, then as now, was a city where people of all backgrounds, political affiliations and socio-economic statuses lived and interacted on a regular basis, whether they liked it or not. Though a couple of attempts have been made to capture this period in New York’s history (most notably in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York), none have quite portrayed with any level of vibrancy this almost lawless state in which the authorities are every bit as deviant as the criminals.

Copper, BBC America’s first original show, succeeds in this setting where others have failed. Created by Tom Fontana, most famous for St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Streets, Copper has more in common with Fontana’s most infamous and challenging creation, HBO’s Oz. Though it is slightly lighter in tone than Oz, there is no shortage of human depravity on display in Copper, but Fontana finds humanity and even humor in the monstrous.

The series stars Tom Weston-Jones as Kevin “Corky” Corcoran, an Irish cop who has returned home to NYC after serving in the Union army. Upon his return, he was shocked to discover that his daughter had been killed and his wife had disappeared. With the trail gone cold, Corky throws himself into his work, which consists of investigating the violent crimes that abound in New York City’s Five Points. Aiding Corky in his work are fellow cop Maguire (Kevin Ryan) and Matthew Freeman, a black physician of great skill whom Corky met during the war. Corky’s other friends include lover/brothel owner Eva (Franka Potente) and Robert Morehouse, a wealthy Fifth Avenue resident who was a major in the Union army. Anastasia Griffith is particularly effective as wealthy widow Mrs. Haverford, who desires Corky, and feels trapped by her high station in life. The most interesting and disturbing player is Kiara Glasco as Annie, a child prostitute who is cunning far beyond her years and who manipulates her way into Corky’s life.

The first season episodes consist of self contained cases, but each of these builds towards the season long arc of each character. Topics include child prostitution, the murder of a local abortion provider, and the poisoning of a dentist. All along, Corky searches for the answers to his own family tragedy while trying to keep New York safe from race riots, Southern spies, and political violence.

Copper‘s New York feels like 19th Century New York should: dirty, violent, and full of life. One can almost feel the dirt under the actors’ feet. The series understands that to get a full picture of New York, one cannot neglect the poor, just as one cannot neglect the elite. New York was forged by the struggles of its working immigrants just as it was forged by the power plays of its politicians and its monied aristocracy. It brings the city and its inhabitants to life, warts and all.

Copper is available on DVD. If you want to read more about 19th Century New York, I recommend Lowlife: Lures and Snare of Old New York by Luc Sante.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Pt. 1

On Thursday, I went to the Paley Center for a screening of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Pt. 1. The film is an animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 comic. The story begins with an aging Bruce Wayne, who left the Batman behind a decade earlier. These days, Bruce drinks away the rage and the memories of times past, as he watches Gotham City tear itself to shreds. The violence escalates with the rise of the Mutant Gang, who wage war on the city and on Commissioner Gordon, who is days away from his retirement. Adding to the chaos and general unrest is the fact that Harvey Dent, who has spent years in Arkham, has been released after a face reconstruction.

Peter Weller gives Batman a weathered, weary voice. Ariel Winter (Modern Family) is perfectly determined as Carrie Kelly, the girl who would be Robin. Her voice sounds young enough to correspond to the character’s age, yet serious enough to convey Carrie’s seriousness about her self-imposed mission. David Selby gets some great scenes as Commissioner Gordon, particularly in his exchanges with Weller. Michael Jackson (not that one) is very wry and downright funny as Alfred, who seems to grow more sarcastic with age, and who now finds himself dealing with a new child in the Batcave. Michael McKean seems to be having a ball as Dr. Wolper, who has been working with some of the inmates at Arkham and blames Batman for their condition, as well as the city’s deterioration.

(Spoilers abound from here on!!!)

Director Jay Oliva made a film that is very faithful to its source material. Like the earlier Year One movie, The Dark Knight Returns does not change anything in Frank Miller’s story. Unlike Year One, however, Returns is a story of talking heads, a tale of how the city perceives Batman. We get reactions from various newspeople, politicians, doctors, gangmembers, and people on the street. Because of this cacophony of voices, Returns benefits more from a film treatment than Year One. The story is, inherently, more cinematic.

The film moves cinematically as well. Oliva knows how to make beats linger where they matter. For example, the sequences that delve into Bruce’s memories and hallucinations are particularly effective, moments in which Oliva stops the action to ask the question: Is Bruce Wayne a well man? These moments recognize that Batman sustains Bruce Wayne, but that he is also destructive to Bruce (this was one of my favorite questions posed by Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, especially The Dark Knight Rises).

The film also clarifies and expands the action sequences from the comic. They are longer and obviously more fluid in a moving medium. I like that the film kept the look of Miller’s VERY distinctive Batman. My one complaint about the action is that some sequences are beyond Batman’s reach as an aging human being. They should have skipped altogether scenes in which Batman is punching through walls. The best moments (in any Batman story) are when Batman’s frailty puts the character in mortal danger. People like myself, those of us who prefer Batman to other superheroes, prefer him because he’s human, and therefore vulnerable. He is never more vulnerable than when he’s old, injured, or out of shape. There is a great moment in the film when Batman tries to climb a rope as he chases some Mutant gang members. He immediately tires and has to start again, struggling all the way up.

The aspect of the film that may prove more problematic for younger viewers, or those unfamiliar with the original comic, is the 80s stylization. The comic is set in a dystopian future, but it is very much an 80s dystopia. Even though the film (at least this first part) does away with Miller’s Reagan references, the glasses, the clothes and the slang are the 1980s with a twist. As the Comic Book website points out, the comic made fun of both conservatives and liberals, but removing the Reagan-like President leaves the hippies as the only butt of the joke. However, readers know that the President will almost certainly have to appear in the second half of the story.

David Selby, Andrea Romano, Jay Oliva, Gary Miereanu

David Selby, Andrea Romano, Jay Oliva, Gary Miereanu

The screening at the Paley Center was full. Gary Miereanu, who handles publicity for DC Comics, stated that he received over 2,500 requests for tickets to the screening. Only 200 were given out and I was lucky enough to be one of them. Also in attendance were David Selby (Gordon), Director Jay Oliva and Andrea Romano, voice director for Warner Brothers, which handles all the DC properties. Oliva spoke of how he first read The Dark Knight Returns when he was 11, and how he added little scenes into the film version, such as the moment when young Bruce Wayne attends his parents’ wake. He stated that he was always conscious of how the killing of Bruce and Martha Wayne, as drawn in the comics, always left little Bruce bathed in the light of the streetlamp, but that he felt the boy should be in darkness, for that moment represents the birth of Batman. He also explained the significance of casting Weller as Batman, since The Dark Knight Returns inspired Robocop, Peter Weller’s iconic role.

For her part, Andrea Romano revealed that she met the challenge of casting the myriad of speaking roles by calling her friends and asking them to take three roles each. By her “friends”, of course, she means the people who have populated the WB/DC animated series (which Romano cast) since the late 1980s, including Tiny Toon Adventures, Duck Tales, Animaniacs, and Batman: The Animated Series (the list goes on and on). People of a certain age, who watched cartoons in the 90s and beyond, may not realize it, but Andrea Romano crafted the soundscape of our childhoods. The crowd at the Paley Center knew it, and she was greeted like a rock star. There was loud cheering when she read each of the names on the cast list, names familiar only to fans of animation, including Rob Paulsen (Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Yakko in Animaniacs) and Maurice LaMarche (Chief Quimby in Inspector Gadget, Morbo in Futurama), or as Romano introduced them: Pinky and the Brain. When asked about the fact that Kevin Conroy, who has played Batman in the DC Animated Universe’s most celebrated titles, was not asked to play the role in Returns, Romano was quick to point out that he had played an older Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, and that there were a lot of similarities between the two titles. Though Conroy would have done a great job in Returns, Romano stated, this doesn’t detract from Weller’s distinctive take on the role. I happen to think that since Returns doesn’t fall into continuity with The Animated Series/Justice League/Batman Beyond, then there can be room for a different Batman. It will be interesting to see if Michael Emerson (Lost) can own the role of the Joker, which has been played so memorably in the Animated Universe by Mark Hamill. Judging from his very brief- great- appearance in Part 1, I can say that I am looking forward to watching Emerson in Part 2.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Pt 1 will be available on DVD on September 25th. Part 2 will be released in 2013.