Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Comic I just got (8/25/10)

Batman #702

Pretty good. I'm enjoying Grant Morrison's writing in "R.I.P. -- The Missing Chapter" a lot more than in "R.I.P." itself. "Return of Bruce Wayne" is frustrating me a bit, but these last couple issues of the monthly "Batman" have been enjoyable. I'm actually getting more and more interested in Bruce's inevitable return.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Comics I just got (8/21/10)

Batman Beyond #3 = I'm pretty much enjoying this mini-series so far. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing where it may be going.

Green Lantern #29 Secret Origin Part 1 = This one was just given to me by my friend at the comic shop. It's decent.

Deadpool #26 = Also just given to me. It's pretty good; a nice little look at Deadpool's past. Also, certain nerds should be pleased at Ghost Rider and Deadpool fighting.

Wolverine: Weapon X #16 = A pretty good issue. It features Logan mourning for Nightcrawler. Jason Aaron takes a nice little look at their relationship.

New Avengers #3 = Also just given to me. It's okay. I think that the best aspect of Bendis' current Avengers comics is the text "History of Avengers" feature in the back.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #13 = A good issue. This series has become hit-or-miss, but this time Bendis hits. The Ultimate Chameleon(s) is/are interesting. Seeing Peter and JJJ taken hostage together is interesting.

Invincible #1= Also given to me. This is great. I definitely want to check out the series now. If you haven't read it, just shell out the $1.00 for it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8: Riley = Another freebie for me. Meh. The dialogue is well-written, but since I don't read the series, I have no idea what the fuck is going on.

Aliens vs. Predator #1= Another gimme. This is a fun comic from 1990. It's effective in that it makes me want to read more. Once again, drop a buck to check it out next time you're in a comic shop.

Simpsons Comics #169= A good issue written by Chuck Dixon. It's quite funny, with a funny "Single White Female" reference, a couple of lines that could be on the TV show, and a last-minute appearance by Silent Bob.

Comic Book Guy: The Comic Book #2= This mini-series is great so far. This issue is very funny and very referential. Stan "The Man" Lee makes an appearance. The issue also briefly takes a nice little jab at film directors, particularly Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

a quick post about "The Dark Knight"

Recently, a friend of mine asked me whether or not I thought the ideas presented in "The Dark Knight" could be separated from the source material. In response, I quickly drafted this messy little essay of sorts.

Can the ideas presented in a Batman film be divorced from the source material?

Short answer: Yes.
However, the question should be asked and seriously discussed. Batman is a cultural icon that has persisted in the public conscious for seventy years now. Just as any film that depicts Jesus Christ is not interpreted solely in terms of what the film itself presents but also what is written in the Bible and what many centuries’ worth of theologians, any film that depicts Batman is typically interpreted not only in terms of what such a film presents but also what has been depicted in other media.
While the typical filmgoer is not all that knowledgeable about comic books, Batman is one of those characters that have permeated the overall modern popular culture. Because of radio and movie serials, the 1960s TV show, wildly popular movies, countless animated series, action figures, and video games, even someone who has never read a comic book likely knows who Bruce Wayne is and why he is Batman. Because of his popularity and 70-year existence, the premise behind Batman and (at least) some minor details are known by just about every man, woman, and child in the “civilized” world.
Because Batman is such a well-known character, it might be unlikely that a viewer would initially watch a particular Batman movie (for the purposes of this piece, I’ll focus on “The Dark Knight”) without making associations with prior interpretations of Batman. However, it is not necessary that a viewer discuss “The Dark Knight” while associating with previous incarnations of the characters presented therein. It is simply a lot easier to do so, and such associations allow for more discussion.
One can divorce the ideas presented in “The Dark Knight” from the source material/character by simply “emptying his teacup”. However, if that answer is too vague/eastern for you, then it may take some extra effort on your part to watch the film with eyes only for the film itself. I admit that I am unable to logically explain exactly by what method one might go about doing such a thing, but I do think that if I am able to do it, then most anyone else should be able to as well. As a lifelong Batman fanatic, perhaps I will naturally be subconsciously biased and never truly able to interpret “The Dark Knight” freely, but I can do my damndest to at least discuss the film without making reference to other Batman-related media (except for “Batman Begins”, which is excluded from such efforts because it is the progenitor of the filmic masterpiece that is the focus of this writing).

Let us look at how the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman is portrayed in the film:
He is a self-proclaimed man with no limits. He keeps moving. He gets bitten, beaten, stabbed, and even shot, yet he continues to fight and run and do all of those things that physically distinguish Batman from lesser mortal men.
He is supposedly incorruptible. Even the Joker believes as much. He cannot be bought, bullied, or even negotiated with. It is interesting that he should be considered incorruptible when he is, in fact, a corruption – of law, societal ethics, and the sense of goodness as “light”. He works outside the law to enforce a sense of justice that is more in keeping with the law than breaking it. He uses methods that many people would not approve of, especially when used by authority figures (i.e., torture, invasion of privacy, blowing up parked cars, etc.). Most people would associate light with a concept of “good”, but here we have a “good guy” who is garbed in black, works at night, and stays mostly in the shadows. Or is he more like the Bat-Signal? A symbol, a beacon, a “light” in the sky or at the end of the tunnel?
In the film, Bruce Wayne/Batman is perhaps driven by more than a sense of simple revenge. The loss of his parents certainly inspire his actions, but he is not as haunted by their deaths as he is in “Begins”. He may be driven by something broader, deeper, more important, and more inherent. However, it is possible that his love of Gotham and his need to protect and clean the city may simply be the manifestation of his psychological need to please his father.
Whatever the reason for his mission, he certainly demonstrates a sense of “tunnel vision”. Like a horse with blinders on, he knows only to move ahead. He sees little besides the mission at hand. He may be somewhat distracted by Rachel Dawes or the Wayne Enterprises’ goings-on, but he is ultimately moving forward as Batman. For this reason, he may be considered something of a narcissist. The world revolves around Batman. Alfred has no life of his own (even beyond the duties of a normal butler, though this is also his choice). Bruce seems to only ever think of Rachel in terms of her relationship with him. Batman’s ego may very well be out of control. He wants to be a symbol, an embodiment of ideals. He cannot simply be a mere mortal.
Is it Bruce Wayne or Batman that displays this narcissism? Are they the same man? They could be two halves of a whole, or the protagonist’s personalities could be representative of an uneven dichotomy. Is Bruce/Batman representative of the duality of man? Is he more representative of a Freudian construct? Perhaps there is a vengeful, idealistic monster that is the superego; there is a misguided, hedonistic playboy that is the id; and the character we see on screen is the ego, balancing the two sides to live in the real world. There may also be the concept presented by Hermann Hesse in “Steppenwolf”-- that there are thousands, if not infinite, different personalities within one person. We may just see a few different amalgams in the different actions of Batman and Bruce Wayne.
In the film, Batman is supposed to represent the victory of good over bad, order over chaos, and Good over Evil. He does not kill the Joker. Instead, he captures him, choosing to let the authorities (the physical manifestation of order) contain him (the physical manifestation of chaos).

I have done my best to look at the subject strictly in terms of the film and the story presented therein. Were I to mention comics, Batman would actually be much more complex and difficult to figure out because of the many different writers who have handled the character over the last 71 years. Sometimes, Batman would be much kinder, or much worse. So, hopefully this can serve as a sufficient enough demonstration that a Batman film can be discussed without bringing up the comic books.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Expendables

When I started reading about this movie (seemingly forever ago), I was super fucking excited about it. Stallone writing and directing a mercenary flick to star a bunch of action stars/lesser action actors? Fuck yeah!
Then, the first trailer hit. Still excited!
Then, all of the TV spots and other such promos. Not as excited.
Then, last night, I saw the flick at midnight. Excitement confirmed!

While the film may not live up to the expectations I had when I first heard about this movie being made, it is better than the promos make it out to be. It's exciting and action-packed and often funny. But you really go to see this movie for the actors.

Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham are great as competitive best friends who look out for each other, bicker, and crack many a joke. Jet Li is great in what is, for him, a rather small role. Dolph Lundgren isn't as good as expected, but still pretty good as the loose cannon of the group. Terry Crews and Randy Couture are sadly underused, but great when they're on screen. Mickey Rourke is his usual amazing self as an ex-Expendable friend.
David Zayas, Eric Roberts, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin are all good as the bad guys.
And, of course, the cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger....... pure greatness.
It is somewhat odd to see some headliners taking a backseat. Stallone and Statham have the biggest roles, but it's kind of strange to see Jet Li as a sidekick and Mickey Rourke as a buddy who's only in a couple of scenes.

The action is pretty good, but Stallone's camera work is often too shaky and tight, and the CGI blood/fire/smoke often looks obviously fake. But the fight scenes and some of the more creative deaths are great. Seeing Stallone getting beaten up by Stone Cold, Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren going mano a mano, and Jet Li and Jason Statham double-teaming a bad guy -- these are all wonderful things to behold.

Of course, the real treats are the references. Stallone and Lundgren together again (Rocky IV), Statham and Li reunited (War), Randy Couture talking about his cauliflower ear. The best scene is probably the interaction between Willis, Schwarzenegger, and Stallone. Schwarzenegger and Stallone just go at it with the insulting jokes, and the audience just erupts. I love that a lot of lines are written specifically because of the actors playing the characters.

In case you can't tell, I definitely recommend seeing this movie.

(As an aside note, in a real fight, Dolph Lundgren would probably kick Jet Li's ass. Jet Li could probably kick a lot of guys' asses, but mostly he does flowery, gymnastic wushu, whereas Dolph Lundgren is a giant man who was in the Swedish army and is an experienced practitioner of kyokushin karate.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Comic books I just got (8/7/10)

Irredeemable #16 = Pretty good. Lately I think the series has been lacking, but this issue gives me renewed hope.

Shadowland #2 = The series is kinda decent, I guess. I have to say, I don't really believe the direction everything's going. I don't think Daredevil would kill Bullseye, or set up a ninja castle in the middle of Hell's Kitchen. Then again, I have the same problem with comics in general, nowadays (whether it's DC or Marvel, I just feel like the shit going on shouldn't be going on).

Joker's Asylum II: Harley Quinn = It's a pretty fun little one-shot about Harley Quinn on Valentine's Day. She goes crazy and shoots a lot of people and blows a lot of stuff up in order to spend Valentine's Day with her puddin'. My girlfriend described it as "cute".

Jack of Fables vol. 1 = This trade is pretty good. I actually like it even though I'm not so much a fan of "Fables".

Ex Machina vol. 7 = This trade is pretty excellent, of course. It may not be as good as earlier volumes in the series, but it's still quite good.

Religion and Morality

For many people – perhaps most people – religion and morality are inseparable. There are a great number of people who think of religion as the most important source of ethics and morals. There are even plenty of people who think that religion is, or should be, the only source of ethics and morals. This is a myopic, and rather unfortunate, line of thinking.

The great deal of importance that people have historically attributed to religions has led many, for millennia, to equate morality with adherence to dogmatic dicta. If not killing or stealing prevents some deity from taking a personal, negative interest in one’s life, then it would make sense to simply avoid such transgressions as much as possible. Seemingly for this reason, societies adopted religious codes such as the Ten Commandments as the basis for secular law. A fear of divine punishment can be a powerful motivating factor.

However, moral and ethical laws arguably do not even have their origins in religion. In terms of logic rather than faith, ancient man could see the harm that needless murder and theft could do to the group as a whole. Seeing that certain actions do more harm than good to the village/tribe/clan/what-have-you does not require divine inspiration, but simply rational thinking. Perhaps rational thinkers sought to tell others of the dangers of what we call criminal actions, but their arguments did not jell with the general populace. Instead of trying to spend much time explaining the sociological impact of certain actions, perhaps it was simply easier to say, “If you do this, God will spank you.”

Religion is not a necessary source of morals, certainly. In an organized society with a legal system, it is unnecessary to derive morality from religion. If it is a matter of punishment, parents and other authority figures can simply use the threat of legal recourse for criminal actions. While divine punishment is on a much grander scale, secular punishment is much more tangible, and therefore relevant.

World Religions -- Islam

See the other World Religions papers for explanation/"disclaimer".

What I find most interesting about the reading regarding Islam is the treatment of women. As far as the religious ideals go, women and men are supposed to be equally respected and fairly treated. However, the actual treatment of women in predominantly Muslim societies has been far from what most people would define as respect or equality.

Women in Muslim societies have historically been treated as anything but equal. Harems, veiled faces, polygamy, institutionalized wife-beating, denial of suffrage, and the execution of adulterers are practices that have been common to Muslim societies. While it can be argued that these are practices that were present before the adoption of Islam by Arabic and Persian societies, and that the legal treatment of women actually improved. While the ideals and dicta of Islam allow women the right to divorce, inheritance, and employment, these sadly remain as little more than ideals in modern Islamic societies.

By modern, western thought, Islam is an inherently sexist religion because it is stated that men are in charge of women. The Koran states that Allah made men to excel over women and bear financial burdens, while women are meant to perform motherly and wifely duties. Any religion that dictates specific roles for men and women is, by our modern, more “enlightened” definitions, sexist. Even if it is the word of some almighty god, it is still sexist.

As with many religions, the more abominable practices in Islam are often claimed by more modern practitioners to be aberrant to the fundamental ideals of the religion. While it can be argued that certain things are up to interpretation, and that extremists interpret the religion incorrectly, I think that it says something about the religion itself when so many Muslims can so easily “misinterpret” the fundamentals so as to institutionalize inequality and mistreatment.

World Religions -- Confucianism

Another little thing I wrote for my brother for his World Religions class. I apologize for the poor writing in these things, as well as any inaccuracies that result from my lack of research.

The thing I find most interesting about Confucianism, especially as it is regarded in the reading, is the fact that its classification as a religion is somewhat debatable. Confucianism may be regarded as a religion because of the importance placed on ritual and ancestor worship. However, ethics, loyalty, and education could be considered more important, thus making Confucianism less a religion and more a philosophy.

It is true that ritual and ancestor worship are staples of Confucianism. While these are common amongst religions, and though they would support the argument that Confucianism is in fact a religion, their inclusion alone is not enough to define Confucianism as a religion. Ancestor worship was not a novel concept when Confucius gained popularity. Chinese folk religion included ancestor worship long before the birth of the famed philosopher. Also, while ritual is often a defining aspect of religion, it is not solely a religious concept. Ritual is important to secular culture. It has often been especially important to education, which is another aspect stressed in Confucianism.

Confucius put great stress on concepts such as ethics, loyalty, education, and respect. One of the most important aspects of Confucianism is the idea that everyone should strive to be a perfect person. These core concepts of Confucianism, taken together, are similar to --if not the same as-- the Greek concept of Virtue. In this sense, Confucianism is in fact not a religion, but a philosophy. It is a school of thought, or an ethical system.

The root of this problem lies in how one defines “religion”. While Confucianism fails as a religion according to a definition held by many western thinkers, teachers, and students, it may not fail according to eastern definitions. This is because eastern thought rarely makes a distinction between philosophy and religion. There is no reason that Confucianism should be any different.

World Religions -- Christianity

Both my younger brother and I are college students. We go to different universities, though. A while back, my brother was taking a class on World Religions. Knowing that I typically get high marks on essays/papers, he decided to pay me a nominal fee to write some of his World Religions and Literature papers.
Normally, I would be ethically against this practice. However, my brother is a Finance major. He'll never have a real use for writing skills, so I see no reason why he should be forced to pay for classes that make him write such papers. In fact, it shows how right Finance is for him that he used money to delegate labor.
So, I wrote some papers for him. This one (and some to follow) were simple little one-page reactions to readings from the textbook. I hope no one feels insulted by these little writings, but if you do, oh well.

The thing that I find most interesting about the reading regarding Christianity is the question of the divinity of Jesus. This is arguably the most important central concept of Christianity. The divinity of Jesus is perhaps the aspect of Christianity that, at least in western terms, defines Christianity as its own independent religion. However, as with most religious concepts posited as fact, the divinity of Jesus is quite debatable.

The status of Christianity as its own religion and not simply a sect of Judaism hinges on the idea that Jesus is in fact a deity, and not simply a prophet. Most sects, or “denominations”, of Christianity exhort the worship of Jesus as a god. To most Christians, Jesus is not simply a prophet, but also the son of the Judaic god Jehovah; not simply the son of God, but also God Himself. While this son-of-self status may not sit well with anyone looking for logic in their god, it is typically explained away with an argument for blind faith. While all “facts” presented by any religion are debatable, perhaps none in Christianity is more debatable than the assertion that Jesus was in fact divine -- whether simply the son of God or also God Himself.

Muslims believe that Jesus was a very important prophet, and many Jews can accept Jesus as a man who once existed and happened to be pretty wise. There are even some people who are typically described as Christians who do not in fact worship Jesus, but simply venerate him as a prophet or the son of God. Even some Hindus recognize Jesus as one of many, many gods. While the divinity of Jesus is dubious at best, what is more recognizable as fact is Jesus’ existence. It is generally accepted (even if there is a lack of HARD evidence) as historical fact that a man known as Jesus traveled and preached a particular philosophy and added seemingly novel insights to his interpretation of Judaism. While there is no logical explanation or genuine evidence for his alleged immaculate conception, various miracles, or rise from the dead, it is reasonable to view his execution as the result of political upheaval in a tumultuous land.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Comic books I just got (8/1/10)

Return of Bruce Wayne #4 = Meh. It saddens me to think that Grant Morrison CAN write exceptionally well, but lately he's been lousy, nonsensical, and just about impossible to follow.

Widening Gyre #6 = Great. Not sure if I like the "twist" ending (actually, "To be continued..."), but still a good read. I'm a fan of Kevin Smith, but his comics have typically been a little lacking. This mini-series shows that he's improving, though.

Batman Beyond #2 = Good. I'm looking forward to seeing where this is going.

Jack of Fables #1 = Intriguing. I'm not a huge "Fables" fan, but this is worth the buck it costs, and it makes me want to buy the trade.

Wolverine: Weapon X #15= A pretty decent ending to a decent storyline.

Wolverine Origins #50 = Pretty good. End of the series. Now I feel like an ass for dropping the regular "Wolverine" monthly title when it became all about Daken (now they're starting over at #1... if I'd kept up, I would have had every issue of the series).

Futurama #50 = Pretty good. Typical, but cool blacklight poster inside!

Simpsons #168 = Pretty good. Funny little takes on mythology (Norse gods, Greek gods, and Superman).

Batman: Under the Red Hood

The latest movie from DC Animation/Warner Premiere is one of their best. “Under the Red Hood” really elevates the level of quality that we can expect from these little stand-alone flicks. The story is about as compelling as the comic book saga (“Under the Hood”). And it should be, since Judd Winnick wrote both.

Overall, the animation quality and character design are pretty good. The only complaints I have are that Bruce Wayne and Nightwing have terrible haircuts, the animation goes from good cel animation to crappy CG when there are vehicles involved, and the Joker doesn’t really emote when he laughs.

The voice acting is good stuff. Bruce Greenwood does well as Batman, though I think I still would have preferred Kevin Conroy. Neil Patrick Harris is pretty good with Nightwing, though, once again, the original voice actor probably would have been better. John DiMaggio makes for a good Joker, I think. While I love Mark Hamill, I like to occasionally hear a different take on the Clown Prince of Crime. Jensen Ackles shines as Jason Todd/Red Hood. Unfortunately, a lot of the actors in this movie who mostly do live action stuff are in the flick unnecessarily, I think. Many of them are underused.

The fight scenes are fun to watch; especially a particularly rough-and-tumble bout between Batman and Jason Todd towards the end.

I personally think that most comic book characters who “die” should stay dead (otherwise, their deaths are always meaningless), so I would prefer it if Jason Todd was never resurrected. Still, the “Under the Hood” comics make for good reading, and “Under the Red Hood” makes for good watching.

(The DVD is lacking a commentary, which saddens me, but disc 2 has a pretty good “documentary” about Dick Grayson [I’m not sure why they didn’t go with Jason Todd, or all the Robins]. There’s one of the customary “sneak peeks” at the next movie, and I am looking forward to “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse”, which will feature Supergirl and Darkseid.)

(Also, the “Jonah Hex” short on this DVD is excellent. The caliber of actors doing voices for this ten-minute cartoon is perhaps unnecessary, but it’s good stuff and Thomas Jane is great as the eponymous anti-hero. I never bothered to see the recent live-action movie with Josh Brolin and Megan Fox, but I know it can’t have been as good as this short because then it would have been successful.)