Friday, March 17, 2017

Thoughts on Wonder Woman (2009 animated movie)

Property of DC and Warner Bros.
Four years ago, I wrote:
DC has made 9 Superman movies, and 5 animated movies (although the Justice League movies can certainly count since he's sort of their leader, and the Superman/Batman movies count for both Superman and Batman, obviously.) 
DC has made 10 Batman movies, and 6 animated movies (although, again, the Justice League movies could certainly count--especially Justice League: Doom, and the Superman/Batman movies count for both of them). 
DC has made one direct-to-dvd animated Wonder Woman movie in 2009. 
In 60 years of films being made, Wonder Woman has had one shot to herself.
Last week, I finally had the opportunity to watch the animated Wonder Woman movie and well...

Look, I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to be swept up in the epic majesty of a Wonder Woman movie that, let's face it, we'll never get in live action. DC's animated stuff is far and away better than anything they've done in live action in years. We'll never get a Justice League movie half as good as Justice League: Doom. Or a Superman movie as good as Superman vs. the Elite. I wanted this to be a home run. This seemed like the moment. It was even written (in part) by GAIL SIMONE! She wrote one of THE definitive Wonder Woman runs.

But if you look at the back of the DVD box, a story reveals itself:

  • Story by Gail Simone and Michael Jelenic
  • Screenplay by Michael Jelenic

Fun fact: crediting writers as "Robert Bob White & Lamar Bone" on movies means that the writers were a writing TEAM. Crediting writers as "Doug Funnie and Roger Klotz" means that they wrote separate drafts of a work. Which goes a long way in explaining why the overall story is fine, but there are moments that feel like they were written by someone who doesn't really get Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston to be someone women and girls could look up to the way boys and men could look up to Superman. I don't want to get into Marston's philosophy because it's super complicated (involving sexual bondage play and polyamory). There have been whole books written on how his ideas colored the creation and early themes of Wonder Woman. The most important aspect of Wonder Woman is that she is ALL WOMAN, from lineage to birth.

Wonder Woman comes from a race of warrior women that lived on an island (Paradise Island, no less) isolated from the rest of the world, which is referred to as Man's World. It's a veritable utopia. On top of being fearsome warriors, the Amazons are also known for showing mercy and compassion. They have their problems, but their society is almost the paradise their name claims. One unavoidable issue is that no one can have children--there are no men and it takes two to tango, as the saying goes. Queen Hippolyta builds a child out of clay and prays to the gods in a fit of loneliness. Her prayers are heard and Wonder Woman is born.

Let me emphasize: Wonder Woman comes from an island of ONLY women, and her very creation involved NO men. Depending on which run, it's one of the goddesses--Aphrodite or Athena usually--that grants Hippolyta's wish.

From The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon from DC Comics
The movie mostly follows a tweaked version of George Perez's post-Crisis Wonder Woman origin, and as far as that goes, it's pretty good. The battle sequence at the start is great with lots of great banter and women kicking ass. Ares as the main villain is good, and Hipolytta having had a relationship with Ares before the Amazons fucked off to their own island works well. The problem comes when Steve Trevor arrives on the island.

Steve Trevor is a fighter pilot whose plane is shot down by enemy jets on their way back from a mission. He's exactly what you'd imagine a fighter pilot character to be--dripping arrogant, swaggering charm, but with a heart of gold. Nathan Fillion was well cast for the role--he has the Han Solo charm thing down.

When Trevor first lands on the island, he accidentally stumbles on a watering hole where the women are bathing, playing, etc. He says, "This is too good to be true." Then a spear crashes into a tree in front of him and he adds, "Yep. It is."

This was meant to be funny, and maybe if Trevor had snuck up to the bushes and the camera had stayed on him and his reaction--with splashing sounds and girls giggling in the background or something--maybe it would've worked. Instead, the movie took pains to zoom in on misty, barely covered naked women, sexualizing them when they aren't being sexual. The camera, and by extension the audience, is forced into Trevor's viewpoint. If the camera alone weren't enough, the music makes it obvious that they are being sexualized.

This isn't the only time this happens.

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics.
Later in the movie, Diana chases Trevor down in the jungle. After a brief struggle, they square off and Trevor comments, "Wow...I think I like you." Far be it for Steve Trevor to actually grow to respect Diana because she's such a gifted fighter, though, instead the camera INTENTIONALLY PANS DOWN TO WONDER WOMAN'S ASS to make it clear he just means she's hawt.

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics.
As I said, characters don't have to be perfect, and Trevor occasionally cracking jokes about Diana and the Amazons' beauty might work if done right. But he does it CONSTANTLY, and it's clear we're supposed to agree with him. You can practically hear the frat boys elbowing each other and chuckling to themselves.

The Amazons take him back to their lair and while using the lasso of truth to interrogate him, he says, "Your daughter has a great rack." I ask you, if you were being held prisoner and interrogated by a foreign power that has already demonstrated both that magic is actually real and a willingness to kill you if necessary...would "lol bewbs" REALLY be the first thing on your mind? Really???

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics.
Later, after Diana takes Trevor back to Man's World, and after a great scene between Diana and a young girl that's being excluded from playing pirates with the boys, Trevor makes a crack that Diana needs new clothes before he gets arrested for solicitation, implying that Wonder Woman's outfit looks like something a prostitute would wear.

How? She's wearing a swimsuit, for god's sake. It's not like she's wearing Starfire's abomination of an outfit from the New 52's Red Hood and the Outlaws. And even if she were dressed like Red Does that mean Hercules, The Martian Manhunter, and Hawkman should keep an eye peeled for the police, too?

All images property of DC Comics.
Also, later in the movie, Steve Trevor tries to get Diana drunk so he can score with her--the movie leaves it vague what exactly he expects, but it's gross whether he wanted sex or a handshake. Just throwing that out there.

After all of the derogatory comments, the objectifying and condescending to her, after ALL OF THAT, he has the absolute audacity to lecture her on how men aren't actually that bad and not everything is about sexism and you just don't get it because you're new here. As if a woman raised outside of a patriarchal society wouldn't have a better barometer for noticing patriarchal oppression. And again, it's not that he says this, but the fact that the movie clearly agrees with Trevor and treats this like some death blow against feminism and a big victory for Steve Trevor.

In spite all of that, I was still trying to chalk this movie up as an imperfect but ultimately fun romp. But two things happened that pissed me off and tipped the scales toward in the negative. Both of them take place during the final battle with Ares.

1) Ares has raised an army against the Amazons and is growing more powerful the longer the battle goes on. Diana shows up to do the butt-kicky superhero thing. Ares says something "bwa ha ha, I'm unstoppable." And Diana says "How do you expect to defeat Zeus if you can't even beat a girl?"

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics.
2) After getting punched so hard she flies into the reflecting pool at the base of the Washington Monument, Diana stands up and says, "Well, I have learned one thing. It's not polite to hit a lady."

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics. one thing, the idea that Ares should feel ashamed that he can't beat a girl, that his inability to beat a girl not only reflects poorly on him, but proves he can't defeat Zeus is obviously rooted in the worst kind of sexism. For another thing, neither of these concepts make ANY sense being parroted by Diana, not even ironically. She was raised in a world of WARRIOR WOMEN. The BEST warriors she's ever known are ALL. WOMEN. ALL OF THEM. She not only wouldn't say this bullshit, she would find it offensive to her very core. It goes against everything she was ever raised to believe and everything she's ever known.

Looking at Jelenic's credits on IMDB, he's mostly written Batman and Teen Titans, Go! stuff. He was very much the wrong choice to tweak, adapt, or otherwise assist with this movie if this is what he came up with.

Ultimately, while the movie has some good moments, it left me feeling frustrated because even though the title character is Wonder Woman, it feels like Steve Trevor is our actual point of view character. And, respectfully, I don't care about Steve Trevor. I care about a kick ass feminist superhero overcoming villains with grace and compassion. I care about Wonder Woman.

I just...I just want good Wonder Woman movie. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Teen Titans! ...oh...

Property of DC Comics
Growing up, I loved superheroes, and I liked the idea of comics, but I wasn't able to read any of them. I think we might have had one comics shop in my town very briefly when I was very young, but if we did, it closed down before I was really old enough to care about comics. Most of my superhero knowledge and experience came from cartoons--Spider-Man, X-Men, Silver Surfer, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Justice League, and of course, just into the new millennium, the early 2000's series Teen Titans.

I'd always been a superhero geek, but Teen Titans was special because it mixed capes with my other favorite thing at the time--anime. Using anime conventions helped differentiate that show from the other DC animated shows that came before it. The show was frenetic, dynamic, colorful. I loved it.

When I finally started collecting comics in college, one series that I wanted to jump into was Teen Titans, but which run to jump into?

I looked at the old Wolfman/Perez comics, and I wasn't really interested in that run--I didn't really like what they did with Raven, she didn't seem like the snarky, dry, Daria-esque character I loved from the show. Plus the art style was too old school for my taste--my tastes have long since changed, but this was me just starting out.

I finally settled on what looked like a promising run--Geoff John's Teen Titans run. The art style was just what I wanted--bold colors, clean lines, slightly stylized figures, and it featured Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. This was as close as I was likely to find to the TV show.

Since I first started collecting them, my tastes have changed, broadened. I learned more about comics, and I've learned how to appreciate and love the cartoon, while understanding its place in the larger canon and history of the team.

What I can say is if you're interested in reading a Teen Titans run, the early volumes of Geoff John's run aren't a bad place to start. The first book does a decent job of setting up the book, its premise, the characters, and characterizing them. Beast Boy, sadly, is like the TV show only so much. He's goofy, he likes to clown around and joke, but he also leers at girls and makes gross lewd jokes that really don't sit well with me, but that does get toned down a lot by the second volume. Volumes 1 - 4 of that run are a great read.

Property of DC Comics
After that, however, things become pretty rocky.

Between volume 4 and volume 5, several other books happen, and those books are of mixed quality.

There's two books that cross over with the Outsiders, a superhero team that are really not my taste. I think the idea behind them is that they're meant to be an adult Titans team but grittier and more "mature." I found the book joyless, overly serious, and boring. Because of this, the volumes were a chore to read, but one volume furthered a plot about Superboy's origins that was already set up in the main Teen Titans book, and the other volume--The Death and Return of Donna Troy--can really be understood by the title.

The latter book is actually a re-released collection of two other trades--Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, and The Return of Donna Troy. Both, in my opinion, were terrible. Graduation Day is three issues of mostly pointless fighting culminating in Donna Troy's death--but not before another character is killed off for no reason. The Return of Donna Troy was just confusing. One of Donna's many origins is that she's actually a descendent of the actual Greek Titans of myth, and when she dies she goes to rejoin them. But it's actually more complicated than that, as Donna can remember both her life as a Greek Titan and her life as a Teen Titan and the Greek Titans want her to forget about her former life as a superhero for...reasons? And it ties into an intergalactic war on another planet between the hawk people of Thanagar and it's just...ugh. No.

Besides the crossover volumes with the Outsiders, volume 5 of Teen Titans is a crossover with the events of Infinite Crisis. It doesn't make any sense without having read that event since one Titan actually dies during Infinite Crisis. If you've read the event, the book is actually pretty good and effectively explores how the individuals on the team dealt with the characters death and their feelings of loss. It is, however, weakened in that it doesn't really tell a complete story, instead just providing more context to the main event.

Property of DC Comics
After Infinite Crisis, DC had all of their comics jump forward 1 year to shake up the status quo, create some interest and mystery, and to serve as a jumping on point for new readers. Volume 6, Titans Around the World, was pretty good, but that 1 year jump forward was a strength and a weakness. It was basically a new series as far as the reader is concerned, and provided a convenient jumping on point for new readers, but they tried to shove in way too many new characters. Where the first volume had a more manageable team size and plenty of time to introduce the team, this one tried to jam a bunch of new characters (and lesser known characters at that) into the narrative too quickly. It's enjoyable, but you can feel the cast size getting away from the writers a little and the plot goes a little too fast.

Things started to fall apart with the latest volume I purchased, Volume 7, Titans East. The first issue is actually good, exploring the origins of Kid Devil, a lesser known hero and new addition to the team. Everything after that is garbage.

The "Titans East" concept was set up a little in the previous volumes, barely, and it ultimately doesn't make any sense anyway. Deathstroke goes through all this trouble to set up an evil Teen Titans--including dragging Cassandra Cain's Batgirl through the mud--but when we learn why he sets up the anti-Titans, it literally makes no sense. I cannot put into words how completely divorced his reasoning for attacking the Titans and his actual plan are from each other. It would be like if I said, "I started trying to snort an entire watermelon up my nose and claimed I only did it because I needed to consume more vitamin D. Not to mention, his reasoning is so trite and forced, I literally groaned and rolled my eyes while reading it.

Property of DC Comics
On top of the stupid resolution, the book was extremely difficult to follow. It was one long, incomprehensible fight scene. Characters from other books popped up out of nowhere. Kid Flash is now suddenly older and has replaced Wally West as the Flash without any explanation. The Titans fought evil clones of Superboy and Bart Allen, and literally none of this has any set up. Plus, the Joker's Daughter and the Riddler's Daughter only show up to tie into Countdown to Final Crisis. The only way I was able to understand what in the blue hell was going on was through Googling and having previously watched some old episodes of Atop the Fourth Wall.

The next volume is Teen Titans Volume 8: Titans of Tomorrow, featuring future dark versions of the Titans. The last time they showed up, it was a pretty interesting look into a potential future and a fun little story about choices and consequences, but I'm not really thrilled with rehashing these characters so soon. They were more interesting as a potential future than specific antagonists to come back and harass the group further.

From what I've read, the book should right itself when Scott McKeever takes over writing duties for Geoff Johns, but right now it feels very phoned in. I'm holding onto hope, though, since soon Blue Beetle and Static Shock will be joining the group. If you're interested in the run, the first 4 volumes are great, but you can probably skip the rest unless you're a completionist. We'll see how the run continues, and I'll keep y'all posted.

Have you read the run? What did you think? Have you read ahead? No spoilers, but does it get better?

Friday, March 3, 2017

My Comics Project Update: February 2017

As part of my on-going comics project, I update monthly with what comics I bought and anything weird or interesting I stumbled across. Each post will have a running list, and I'll update with the new titles and where they fall chronologically.

I came up with the order of the books from this comment of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), this trade reading order list for Superman, and this one for Batman. I judged the rest for myself based on release dates and what the story depicted.

I want this list functional and readable, so I didn't focus on perfect chronological order. I tried to keep decent chunks of individual runs together where possible, then backtrack chronologically if necessary for a chunk of a different title--except in cases where something important was introduced, like a character dying, coming back to life, etc.

Below you'll see the list of canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month.

  1. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  2. Batman: Dark Victory
  3. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  4. Justice League International, Vol. 2
  5. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  6. The Death of Superman
  7. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  8. Justice League: A League of One
  9. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  10. Young Justice: A League of Their Own
  11. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  12. Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies
  13. Superman/Batman Vol. 2: Supergirl
  14. JLA: The Hypothetical Woman
  15. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid's Game
  16. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  17. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  18. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  19. Teen Titans/Outside​rs: The Insiders
  20. Teen Titans: The Death and Return of Donna Troy
  21. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  22. Infinite Crisis
  23. Teen Titans Vol. 5: Life and Death
  24. Batman: Face the Face by James Robinson
  25. Teen Titans, Vol. 6: Titans Around the World
  26. Teen Titans, Vol. 7: Titans East
  27. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  28. Superman: Back in Action
  29. Superman: Last Son of Krypton
  30. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  31. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  32. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  33. Superman: Redemption
  34. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  35. Superman: Shadows Linger
  36. Blue Beetle (Book 1): Shellshocked
  37. Blue Beetle (Book 2): Road Trip
  38. Blue Beetle (Book 3): Reach for the Stars
  39. Blue Beetle, Book 4: Endgame
  40. Batman: Batman and Son
  41. Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
  42. Teen Titans Spotlight: Raven
  43. Wonder Woman: The Circle*
  44. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  45. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
  46. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  47. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
  48. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
  49. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  50. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
  51. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  52. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
  53. Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Masters
  54. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  55. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  56. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  57. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  58. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  59. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
  60. Justice League United Vol. 1: Justice League Canada
  61. Justice League United Vol. 2: The Infinitus Saga
  62. Batgirl Vol. 4: Wanted (The New 52)
  63. Secret Six Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places
  64. Bizarro
  65. Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged

Once upon a time, DC writers told stories about whatever the hell they felt like. Sometimes, if they wanted to tell a story that didn't strictly fit into the established canon, they'd write a story set on some Other Earth--Earth Two, Earth Three, blah blah blah. This eventually became too confusing for readers--wait, which Earth did that happen on? Did that actually happen, or was that on one of the other Earths? 

In order to simplify things, DC published an event--Crisis on Infinite Earths--in which all of the other Earths and timelines were eliminated and streamlined into one easy to follow series of events.

This lasted for all of five minutes because of course it did. Since then, it's been sort of a DC tradition to periodically have big events that rewrite portions of their timeline or otherwise affect big changes:
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in the death of Silver Age Flash Barry Allen as well as the streamlining of the DC universe timeline...for a while...
  • Zero Hour resulted in the eventual death of Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan.
  • Infinite Crisis resulted in the deaths of several characters as well as rewriting Wonder Woman's and Superman's origins (again).
  • Final Crisis resulted in the death of the Martian Manhunter and the temporal displacement of Batman.
  • Flashpoint resulted in the entire DC universe rebooting back to zero (sorta, kinda, depending on how editors were feeling at the time). This new timeline is referred to as the New 52.
  • Convergence introduced the pre-New 52 Superman into the New 52 timeline through time shenanigans.
  • Rebirth has so far resulted in DC trying to reinstate some of the legacy and history that was lost when they rebooted everything in Flashpoint.

The ultimate point of me making this list, besides boredom and God's failure to install Normal Human OS 19.89 in me, is that some of the best books and arcs for characters--supposed classics--don't fully make sense unless you understand the context of the book.

Here's an example: one of the best known arcs in comics is the Death and Return of Superman. You can read The Death of Superman and mostly understand it (mostly because it's just a big dumb fight scene, but I digress), but when he comes back to life, there's a little extra reading required to fully understand.

Superman is reborn from a Space Womb that's actually leftover Kryptonian technology from when he first arrived on Earth. This is set up in John Byrne's post-Crisis on Infinite Earths origin for the character, Superman: Man of Steel. In that that re-imagining, instead of Superman arriving on Earth as a baby, he travels through space in a fancy space incubator and arrives partially grown. This is THE REASON Superman can be reborn, but it doesn't really make sense if you haven't read John Byrne's origin. It looks like the writer just pulled something out of his ass.

AND YET, although The Death of Superman was still considered canon, as I said above, Superman's origins actually got changed in Infinite Crisis. It wasn't the first time that Superman's origin had been rewritten in canon, and each of those rewrites usually altered Superman's powers slightly--does Superman need an air mask in space or is he fine? How strong he is? Can he fly or just jump really far? How fast is he? Does he have any memories of Krypton or his parents? Are his Earth parents alive or not? 

You get the idea. You can't really pick just one origin and read it without losing the meaning and context that the older comics were operating under at the time they were published.

All of that is to say that so far I only have two of these big events, and I would like to collect the rest.

My main goal is still to finish collecting the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle and continue collecting the Geoff Johns et al run of the Teen Titans. However, both of those series are bumping into one of the Big Events I don't have yet--Final Crisis.

Final Crisis is heavily tied in with the Grant Morrison run of Batman and deals heavily with the introduction of the fourth Robin, Batman's flesh and blood son Damian Wayne.** It's also the event in which Batman dies and the first Robin, Dick Grayson, takes over as Batman for a while. So this month, in addition to Blue Beetle and Teen Titans, I started working on getting the Batman books that lead into Final Crisis.

Two places where I made spur of the moment exceptions are: 

1) I bought Teen Titans Spotlight: Raven even though it takes place further ahead than I am in Teen Titans because that book is usually hella expensive, but I caught it listed in good condition and crazy cheap, so I snatched that up. Plus, it's supposed to stand on its own, so even though I don't know WHY Raven isn't with the Titans, I should be able to read it and enjoy it.

2) I bought Wonder Woman: The Circle for the same situation as the Raven book above. It's normally at least $40 because the Amazon Marketplace said so, but I found it listed for surprisingly cheap, so I jumped at the chance.

You might notice my picture looks a bit different, and that's because the line of books no longer fit on their original shelf, so I moved them over to a wider bookshelf. While moving the books, I ended up re-arranging my list a little--mostly taking the Blue Beetle run out of the middle of the Superman run and putting it at the end. I've read the whole Superman run, and it reads just fine, and nothing happens in Blue Beetle that dictates it interrupt the flow of the Superman books. I also made some changes on my to-be-bought list that will keep the future volumes of Teen Titans and Blue Beetle more closely together, too.

My plans for March are to keep collecting Teen Titans, keep collecting Batman up to Final Crisis at least, and try to finish up the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle run--especially because he joins the Teen Titans soon after his run ends.

If you have any thoughts about, drop me a line in the comments. Want to discuss books I've recently purchased or read? Any suggestions for books I missed? Just please, no spoilers.

Happy reading!