Thursday, June 18, 2015

"The 21st Century Superhero: Essays On Gender, Genre and Globalization In Film", Edited by Richard J. Gray II and Betty Kaklamanidou

It is possible to publish a book of essays about superhero movies without discussing the source material. That's what this book was, as well as offering an argument that the films made in the early-2000s had allusions to 9-11, the war in Iraq and American military action, all within a narrow margin...it feels like it had a limited sell-by date, with some discussions dated by their choice of films to examine  ( it's been a long time since anyone talked much about Hancock, Aeon Flux or the Kick-Ass movies ), but there are some good tidbits:

*Bruce Banner's exile in Brazil's favelas, as depicted in The Incredible Hulk, piqued the author's interest more than the remaining 2/3 of the film ( so...somebody liked at least some of that movie ).

*Jean Grey's "..limited cinematic presence" in the original X-Men film trilogy  is a reflection on "the mythos of patriarchy" in the films - in other words, she doesn't have enough screen time to develop into an interesting character..unless it's a character development that serves the mechanics of the script, i.e., everything centers around Professor X, Magneto, and  especially Wolverine.

*In his efforts at "Understanding 'Hotness' in the superhero film genre", Richard J. Gray had quite a lot to say about Ellen Page's sex appeal as Kitty Pryde. Considering how she barely had about 15-20 minutes of screen time and the essay was focused on her debut in X-Men: The Last Stand...I say he was smitten with Page...she was appealing in Super, though nobody has ever written this much about her attractiveness since - far less was written about her coming out a while back. He also has a crush on Jessica Alba, since he seems to give her shrill, vapid Sue Storm in Fantastic Four a favorable review. Even Halle Berry's Catwoman gets a light love tap of criticism, so whether he wrote the essay to talk shop about attractive female superheroes and ponder why they were sexy or critique their sexualized image is moot.

*No surprise that several essays compared Christopher Nolan's work on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as commentaries on life post-9/11, but what caught my eye was a shout out to Batman Unmasked, a book I reffered to in my previous blog post as a possible inspiration for Grant Morrison's take on Batman, even confirming my suspicion by noting the passage I vaguely remembered..so now I don't have to hunt for that out-of-print book just to check out a hunch!

*I've never read any of Marvel's Kick-Ass or seen the movies, so I wouldn't be able to agree or disagree if the films share a correlation with the Spider-Man movies in their contrasting use of voiceover narration reflecting the masculinity of their respective effete protagonists, but I do know that nobody's rallying for more sequels to Kick-Ass.

*I'm actually bored with reading material that puts Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen on a pedestal, because I don't really think it's the greatest comic ever written and drawn - I just respect the effort that the creators made at telling this story. I do agree with the essay in this book arguing that the film adaptation succeeded in being a pastiche of film noir, but that's what the comic book did, and Snyder was simply following it. It's hampered by the fact that it features an ensemble cast of also-rans, could've-beens and never-weres, so it feels like we're watching a big-budget made-for-cable mini-series on Starz or Reelz instead of a proper superhero adventure film.

So..the book essentially covers what I would argue was the formulative stage of modern superhero movies. If Avengers is being considered the definitive maturation of this genre and Tim Burton's Batman films the embryonic, then the films covered in this book premiering between 2000 and 2011 are formulative development...but that's my hypothesis. If the authors had thought of that, they would've cranked out two sequel books of essays by now..

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The Anatomy Of Zur-En-Arrh: Understanding Grant Morrison's Batman" by Cody Walker

It's the CliffsNotes to Grant Morrison's take on Batman, everyone...and it's a very useful book. It answers a lot of questions as to what it was all about and digs around for ingenious insights into the imagery given. Morrison's Batman tenure was ground-breaking and ambitious - every story mattered - which meant stories about Batman chasing drug dealers down alleyways and through warehouses simply wouldn't do; the Dark Knight Detective became acutely self-aware - 70+ years of incarnations were now meant to represent a single decade & a 1/2 in the crazy life of a very busy tycoon, the wealthiest man on Earth, a playboy/philanthropist/detective who beats up people dressed in a costume vaguely resembling a bat...and how he achieved godhood on the whim of the most-powerful embodiment of evil in the DC Comics Universe..

Cody Walker, to his credit, doesn't shy away from the weaknesses of Morrison's storylines. In my opinion, there were many concepts and story elements throughout that read as though Morrison was in a deadline crunch and lacked time to present his ideas with better care and organization. His plot twists also required skill at writing detective stories, which turned out to not be his strong suit. His characterization of the villain Darkseid and his Earth avatar, the "Bat-God" Barbatos/Dr. Simon Hurt might be more varied and colorful than any incarnation we've seen before or after, but this was lost by woefully underdeveloped scripting. At the time, only the main points of each issue registered, not the themes or characters, which may explain why it was so easy for fans to embrace Scott Snyder's back-to-basics approach.

And yet, this book came to the rescue. I have a newfound appreciation for what Morrison was doing and would like to go back and revisit those storylines again, particularly The Return of Bruce Wayne arc, with Batman hopping through different time periods. The section covering Batman Inc. was kind of dull, though..perhaps reflecting that Morrison's run was winding up and had fewer points to make about Batman, aside from the power of the character's totem-like symbolism as a corporate brand..which reminds me of a non-fiction book of criticism about Batman from 2000 titled Batman Unmasked, which was the first I had read argue the same points that Morrison was making throughout..It may have been a source of inspiration for what he would do...I need to look for that book..

Not all questions were answered, however. I remember searching for answers about that goblin creature looming behind Bat-Mite in Batman R.I.P. and finding it in a transcript of a Q&A, where Morrison revealed his take on the imp ( that the creature was the imp's true form, a kindly-yet-grotesque-to-us being, offering what he believed to be a pleasing avatar to appear in his stead , kind of the opposite number to Darkseid appearing by proxy as Barbatos/Dr. Hurt ), so now you know, and can thank me...but we'll never know if there was any significance in Alfred the butler reading a copy of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code...

..maybe Walker has a Volume 2 planned...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"007: Solo" - A James Bond Novel by William Boyd

Solo is a good enough title for a 007 novel..Africa is a nice location for a James Bond adventure...but is busting a drug trafficking ring within Bond's bailiwick? For the most part, the book reads like Doctor No without Doctor No.

Another brickbat is that the Bond featured here doesn't seem like the 007..he reads more like Roger Moore as Simon Templar ( The Saint ) or Patrick McGoohan as John Drake ( Secret Agent / Danger Man / The Prisoner ) in an adventure fitting those characters better than 007. With Bond...even if you want to show him mellow out with age - his OCD-like fussy particularity, immortalized by his request for a dry martini - shaken, not stirred in the films, is mostly absent - he has to be in a casino, playing a round of Texas Hold 'em/Bridge/Baccarat/Candy Crush/golf/Go Fish with a meglomanic, and drive a more luxurious car than a Jensen - sorry, William, but I thought we all learned after John Gardner put Bond behind the wheel of a Saab, that any car replacing the Aston Martin has to rival the Aston Martin...Although I couldn't resist using that fanmade variant cover to headline this post..as opposed to the real covers used for Solo, which resemble a sequel to Norton Juster's The Hole Book ( the UK edition ) or the title sequence in Dynasty/The Colbys.

At least we get a scene with Q, who is clearly meant to be Ben Whishaw's Q, which is kind of confusing, because the novel is supposed to be set in 1969, which means we do get to choose between picturing the George Lazenby Bond of On Her Majesty's Secret Service or the Sean Connery of Diamonds Are Forever as Bond in Solo (I was picturing Connery), or, judging by the cozy gadgets offered, David Niven as Sir James Bond ( from the pseudo-psychedelic adaptation of Casino Royale ), but certainly not Daniel Craig, so why couldn't Q be written like Desmond Llewellyn if you're going pseudo-retro?

So the book isn't really bad..but it's more frog than prince.

And Simon Templar drove a Volvo in the TV series, so the Jensen would be an upgrade for him...better let The Saint Step In...

Bah, da-da, da-da-daaaa, daaahhh...