Making it Real Project [Part One]

6screenshot-78Previous experiences with 3D modelling software was largely restricted to Maya, despite Sketch Up’s straight forward and user friendly design, this actually made the software fairly difficult to get to grips with, as commands were note completely mapped to keyboard controls, and an increased difficulty in regards to making a curved surface. Previous methods had largely involved sculpting in a similar fashion to physical sculpting, taking a flat surface and manipulating the shape with curves to create the desired effect. I found working with curves in Sketch Up to me quite the hassle, as manipulating them to the desired length and curvature became increasingly frustrating.screenshot-80

Originally, I had planned to recreate something small and simple, thinking that by going off an existing object, it would be easier to plot out where lines and curves would need to be, and how best to build it up. I chose to recreate Superman’s emblem as a flat shield, using the design featured in Tomasi and Gleason’s current Superman run. With the continuing evolution of the emblem in the last 78 years plus else-world variations, it was better to screenshot-82pick a specific reference image as a basis, luckily, the first issue of the new run contained a full page spread of the symbol.

With the design in hand and an understanding of the tools, I set to work to create a replica. The problems I was facing in regards to crafting curves, became overly apparent when attempting to recreate the iconic ‘S’. After multiple attempts, and a stubborn attitude inscreenshot-83 regards to what I wanted to build, I experimented with attempting to create it with straight lines. The end result was heavily reminiscent of pixel art, the early limitations of computer graphics, and the resurgence of the style to invoke the retro aesthetics and ‘digital nostalgia’.

screenshot-84

  • Tomasi, P. & Gleason, P. (2016). Superman #1: Son of Superman – Part One. DC Comics: Burbank.
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Revisiting Batman Begins (2005)

Breaking through the fear, and becoming a legend. A symbol.

Batman_Begins_poster6

 

With the release of the abysmal ‘Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ earlier in the year, it seemed only fitting to revisit Batman’s previous outing, beginning with Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’. Nolan’s trilogy has been held by many as quintessential viewing when it comes to superhero films, as it delves deep into Batman’s long history and presents it in a grounded fashion, making it more accessible to a non-comic reading audience, leading to its success at the box office, as well as pleasing to the long time Bat fans.

Batman Begins brings Batman’s already well known origin to the big screen, but places a much larger emphasis on Bruce Wayne, rather than Batman. Allowing us to emphasis with Bruce and attempt to understand why a character like Batman would exist. The film’s opening and subsequent flash backs to childhood build up the ongoing presence of Bats throughout Bruce’s life, as well as his happy and fulfilling childhood and his relationship with his parents, especially his father. This gives a far greater weight to his parents death, as we have a greater understanding of how pivirol a role they played in shaping him. He reminds Bruce that when we fall, we must pick ourselves back up. While 2016s ‘Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’ places a large, and somewhat convoluted, emphasis on mothers, Batman Begins develops Bruce’s relationship with his father and the respect he has for him. His father is the one to initially pull him back out of the cave, surrounded by his fear, and tells him that it’s ok. The inciting incident that causes his parents death, comes from his father wanting to keep Bruce feeling safe. The change from ‘The Mark of Zorro’ to a play featuring Bats, allows Bruce’s fear to get the better of him and leads directly to the meeting with Joe Chill in crime alley. This adds a level of guilt to Bruce’s fear, and already tainted perception of Bats. Bruce even confides in Ducard that his “anger out ways [his] guilt”. The image of Bruce sat, almost centre screen, in the alley, perfectly mirrors the depictions in Frank Millar and David Mazzucchelli ‘Batman: Year One’, which the film takes heavy inspiration from.screen-shot-2013-01-18-at-1-55-05-pm

At its heart, Batman Begins is a film about fear. How our fears can rule us, the importance of overcoming it and using it to grow stronger. Several characters throughout the film remind Bruce of the power of fear, Ducard reminds Bruce of what fear can do to us, “What you really fear, is inside yourself. You fear your own power, you fear your anger. The drive to do great and terrible things”. Bruce’s meeting with Falcone provides him with the proof that being feared gives you a power that “money just can’t buy. The power of fear”. With Scarecrow being the culmination of fear as power in the hands of a villain, “I respect the minds power over the body. It’s why I do what I do”.

batmanbegins2Bruce’s devotion to his father is further emphasised in two later scenes. During his training, Ducard tells Bruce that his parents death was not his fault, it was his father, enraging Bruce. “Your anger gives you great power, but if you let it, it will destroy you.” Later, during a flashback to the day of Joe Chill’s trial, Bruce reveals to Rachael that he planned to kill Joe Chill himself and presents the gun that he had been hiding. Rachael slaps him and reminds him that his father would be ashamed of his decision. The earlier devotion shown towards his father, and his father’s profession as a doctor (a healer), instils in Bruce the idea that killing is not the answer, that it makes you no better than the criminals that took his parents away from him. Cemented when he throws the gun away into the ocean.

These early interactions and conversation shape the idea in Bruce’s mind of what he needs to be to insight any change in the city, and bring the criminals of Gotham to their knees. Bruce’s trek to the League’s hideout and his immediate fight with Ducard hit hard as reminders that he must be ready at all times. The villains will not wait for him, they will come at any time. He must be prepared to be the Batman at all times. The lessons he learns from Ducard allow him to not only understand his fears but understand the power it has over others, “to manipulate the fears in others, you must first conquer your own”.

“As a man, as flesh and blood, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol. As a symbol, I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” “Something terrifying.”

Crane02The use of the Scarecrow and Dr. Jonathan Crane is a bold choice as a lead villain in Nolan’s first outing with Batman. The character is little used outside of the comics, making him far less known than some of the other members of Batman’s rouge gallery, such as The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin or even the Riddler. This allows actor Cillian Murphy to leave an impressive mark on the character and define him in the public consciousness. The implementation of Scarecrow in to Batman’s origin story, plays largely into the films theme of fear as Bruce must overcome his own fear, become fear in the hearts of criminals, and defeat fear in the form of Scarecrow.

The Films portrayal of Jim Gordon borrows heavily from ‘Batman: Year One’, with Gordon acting as a moral centre for a corrupt Police Department. Oldman plays Gordon incredibly well, as a man who emphasises with the Batman, hating the corruption that runs through the Gotham PD and the city, but wants to change things from the inside. Becoming a lawful counterpart to Batman. Michael Caine brings a great depth of emotion to his portrayal of Alfred, giving Alfred a far more apparent position as a surrogate father figure to Bruce. One that emphasises the importance of that relationship more for Alfred then to Bruce, as appose to previous incarnations.

batmanbegins_1600The city of Gotham is grounded much more in reality compared to previous incarnations, feeling much more like a living breathing city, helped by its influences from the real life cities of New York and Chicago, as appose to the sound stage hell created for the Burton and Schumacher films.

Batman Begins takes heavy influence from several key Batman stories throughout his almost 80 year history. With ‘Batman: Year One’ by Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli, being the largest contributer to both Bruce’s origins, Gordon’s characterisation, as well as heavily influencing visual aspects of the film. Details of Bruce’s training in the mountains take its lead from the 1989 one-shot ‘The Man Who Falls’, and the films depiction of Scarecrow borrows heavily from the works of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale in ‘Batman: The Long Halloween’ and ‘Batman: Haunted Knight’. Other titles the film could possibly take influence from are ‘Batman #232’, ‘Batman: War on Crime’, ‘Batman Annual #8’, ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘Batman #400’.

Batman Begins is a strong opening to The Dark Knight Trilogy, and a fine example of an origin story done right, though origin story films have become somewhat over saturated since the film’s release. The depth to which the film borrows from Batman’s long history and the extraordinary casting, gives us a faithful and interesting look and the Caped Crusader on the big screen, excisable for both long time fans and the general public. While Batman Begins works largely as an origin story, and does it well, it would have been interesting to see the evolution of Batman’s detective abilities as he is the Dark Knight Detective, something I feel few films have explored about the character and could be an interesting premise for future outings.

 

– Barr, M. Eeden, T. (1982) Batman Annual Vol. 1 #8. DC Comics, New York.
-Dini, P. Ross, A. (1999) Batman: War on Crime. DC Comics, New York.
-Loeb, J. & Sale, T. (1996) Batman: The Long Halloween. DC Comics, New York.
– Loeb, J & Sale, T. (1996) Batman: Haunted Knight. DC Comics, New York.
– Miller, F. (1986) The Dark Knight Returns. DC Comics, New York.
– Miller, F & Mazzucchelli, D. (1986) Batman: Year One. DC Comics, New York.
– Monench, D. (1986) Batman Vol. 1 #400. DC Comics. New York.
– Nolan, C. (2005). Batman Begins. Syncopy. Warner Bros.
– O’Neil, D. Adams, N. (1971) Batman Vol. 1 #232. DC Comics, New York.
– O’Neil, D. Giordano, D. (1989) Batman: The Man Who Falls. DC Comics, New York.

Revisiting Man of Steel

man_of_steel_ver2_boxartWith the upcoming release of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I decided that it may finally be time to revisit Man of Steel. A film that I had avoided heavily re-watching since its first release. Let’s just say that like a large portion of the general public, the film did not sit well with me. However, now that some time has passed and my initial rage has subsided (mostly), it’s time to answer the question. Was Man of Steel any good?

In short, no. The critics and general public alike have made no secret of the films flaws. Given the length of time between viewings and the changing of your perceptions over time though, I had to wonder. Had my hatred of the film been sharpened by the constant criticism the film was receiving? If only the flaws are being discussed, are they the only memories I will retain and revisit? Causing a deeper hatred than the film may have disserved.

screenshot_1244With a character such as Superman, or even Clark Kent, there is a certain weight and expectation that exists in the mind of the viewer, even before the film is experienced. This makes the film incredibly hard to separate from the character’s history. Cavill will always be compared to Reeve. Reeve is the definitive Superman to a lot of people, even to those that do not read the comics, this already stacks the deck against Cavill before we even saw him in action. One can’t help but feel sorry for the actor, for the fact that he is not being judged on his own ability, but by his predecessor. The darker tone of the film only hinders this fact, as the films blatant attempts to cash in The Dark Knight‘s success, forces the character into an atmosphere and tone that, while can and has been explored throughout Superman’s history, is not his natural state. The tone and format, retelling Superman’s history in a miss matched order, are elements taken directly from that of Batman Begins in the hopes that the familiar storytelling devices and now bankable formula, would win the film some good graces. One would hope that this was done to allow the creators to use the format to complement the differences between the two films, but sadly all it does is create a Batman clone in Kryptonian garb.

9053_4Superman is not Batman. While both characters can be equally enjoyed by the audience, their motivations and raison d’être’s are separate. Leading to a difference in personality and appeal. While the brooding superhero has undoubtedly become popular in recent years, what Hollywood must remember, is that it is not a necessity. Something that I fear Batman Vs. Superman will unfortunately reinforce.

Throughout Man of Steel, the man we watch grow and supposedly root for, stands as neither the classic Clark Kent nor the traditional Superman. The films decidedly dark tone 106056_zpsac36da8b.png~originalplays a key role in this matter, depicting a man that attempts to embody the icon but fails to comprehend it. Though glimpses of childhood embrace Clark’s frustration and attempts to appear normal to the world, providing some of the films greatest (and briefest) moments, remain promising as they play off the mood well. Clark as an adult, shows a man far more self centred and arrogant than previous incarnations. While it’s only natural for children, particularly those that are adopted, to have moments of friction or argue over their future, Clark’s interactions with his parents, particularly Jonathan, are cold hearted and do little to ground him to his life in Kansas. Rather than a being of two worlds, equal in his loyalties, Clark stands as simply a Kryptonian living on Earth. At multiple times, reminding Jonathan and Martha that they are not in fact his real parents and simply found him. Compounded by the fact that his first words to Martha after being gone for a considerable time, based on her reaction, is to state that he “found his real parents”. In order to sell an actor as Superman, you must also convince the world that he is Clark Kent, Something Cavill fails to do. It is in fact more tempting to refer to him as Kal than Clark, for the mere fact that his preoccupation with Krypton outweighs his bonds to the Earth.

Man_of_Steel_teaser_trailer_screenshot_10_460x259The controversial “neck snap” scene, while originally anger inducing for its general existence, brings about more controversy in hindsight. The taking of a life is seen in Superman’s eyes as crossing the ultimate moral line, in the few previous crossings, the weight bears so heavily on his mind that he exiles himself from society. In the case provided, the situation does become dire enough that crossing that line becomes morally expectable, even if it feels wrong. However, taking into account the previous destruction of the city and the countless lives most likely lost in the incident, the fact that a single family becomes his deciding factor creates a hypocritical flaw in his own judgement.

While Cavill bears the brunt of the backlash, it is clear that he has the ability to portray a true Superman, as well as an honest Clark. If only the darker tones enforced upon the project could be loosened. Allowing him to break free of the Kryptonite shackles that is studio mandate, could provide us with the next definitive Superman actor.

man-steel-sequel-superman-lois-laneIn contrast, Amy Adams’ portrayal of Lois Lane provides not only a strong willed centre, but a faithful embodiment of everything Lois has stood for overtime. She’s not afraid to put herself in harm’s way for a story, charging in when she knows it’s the only way she will get her answers. In contrast to the hollow shell of a Superman story the film becomes at times, Adams plays an honest character, a stand in for those as curious enough to investigate Cavill’s Superman rather than a scared onlooker, too frightened to comprehend a world beyond the familiar Reeve.

Screen-Shot-2013-04-17-at-4.11-600x369The film is most definitely a flawed production, confusing a stand in of Superman with embodying his principles and life. It’s stigma in the media proves that its missteps have not gone unnoticed, and with Batman Vs. Superman on the horizon, it is hopeful that the criticism from Man of Steel has been taken on board. However, with Snyder’s continued defence of the film, it seems that the ‘Batman-afying’ of Superman sees no clear end. The fact that Superman has been sidelined in his own sequel unfortunately, leads us to conclude that the dark and gloomy times are yet to see an end. May Dawn of Justice, shed some much needed light onto the character and franchise, so that once again Superman can bask in the sun.

 

Superman: Evolution of Power – Relating to a God

SM-AMALIEN_final_600Created at the hands of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Superman is the quintessential superhero. The one that started the entire genre, inspired by circus strongmen and the fantasies of outsiders. Heroes that came afterward would leave a mark in their own way, but only one was Superman. Many would not only carry the idea of Superman, but would take on a name of and attributes from a second source, in the case of Batman, he would take the form of a Bat and strike fear in the hearts of his enemies, “for Superman, the name and costume both contribute to the impression of him as “super” – a mighty Other.” [Brownie, Graydon. 2015:12] But the Superman introduced in Action Comics #1 1938, differs greatly from the Superman we have come to know and love now.

When Superman was created, he was envisioned to be the fantasy of many. While Clark Kent is viewed as mild mannered and weak, Superman is a hero to the world, a source of hope and strength. They are one and the same, providing hope for even those that are looked down upon, that they can be strong. Clark Kent, is shown as an outsider, a being from another world living among us and using his gifts to help the people of the world he has called his home. Superman’s powers when created, are an extension of those displayed by circus strongmen. At the time of his first appearance, Superman’s only abilities were to “Leap 1/8th of a mile; hurdle a twenty story building, raise tremendous weights, run faster than an express train, and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!” [Siegel. Shuster.1938:2]. Compared to Superman’s modern skill set, ” It’s surprisingly grounded.” [Whitbrook.2015]

Action_Comics_1Over time, more powers and abilities were added depending on the writer or situation. Including traits that we now naturally associate with Superman, including Flight, Heat Vision, Super Breath and X-Ray Vision. By the 80’s, so many one off powers, such as Super-ventriloquism, Super-Mathematics and the ability to shoot tiny versions of himself out of his hands, were introduced. The problem this created was that Superman had ” Too many powers, and not enough flaws” leaving Superman a shell of his former self and ” one that was difficult to write challenging, engaging stories for ” [Whitbrook.2015]. With the ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ event, many of Superman’s more outrageous abilities were dismissed to form a more definitive power set. Even after his death and return in 1993, no major abilities were introduced until 2015’s Superman #38, with the addition of the ‘Super-Flare’ ability. What we now consider Superman’s definitive power set, all have a basis on his Kryptonian physiology and its reaction to Earths yellow Sun. Once his abilities were grounded in this foundation, the ability to humanise the character became a lot more forthright.

Despite his origin story being retold multiple times, a larger focus in the last few years has been on a young Clark having to learn to not only control his abilities, but to deal with the alienation that this would cause with the general public. The exploration of a young Clark and the alienation that he feels, somewhat mirrors how the public felt about the multitude of outrageous and ridiculous powers forced upon the character in the 50’s through 80’s. One of the most interesting explorations of this, is in 2016’s ‘Superman: American Alien’.

Untitled-1-b53a5During the first issue, Clark is frequently woken due to his inability to control his power of flight. While this drives the story, the crux takes place while watching a Sci-Fi movie with his friends and becoming uncomfortable by the depiction of government soldiers capturing an alien. For a brief moment, Clark loses control and momentarily flies and crashes to the ground. Angry with himself, he hides in the bathroom and sees in the mirror, the alien from the film in his reflection, leading to the destruction of both the mirror and the wall. Clark displays his fear and disgust at what he is, “Dad.. I’m so unhappy. I wanted to be myself, I don’t want to worry that I’m some-thing else. I’m scared – I just want to be normal. I’m not normal.” [Landis, 2016:15]. By the end of the issue, Clark begins to grasp his abilities and is reminded by his father that “Who needs normal? Maybe weird is better.” [Landis, 2016:15]. In later issues, a teenage Clark would even begins to use his powers to help those around him in ways the police can’t hope to achieve. Post action, Clark is confronted by his mother about the dangers of his actions to only break down in a genuinely tender moment. ” I had a whole speech planned out. I was really gonna get into it with you. But I already put my foot in my mouth, Didn’t I? Because Now.. Now … I Can’t … I Can’t stop thinking about what would have happened to that family if you hadn’t been there..” [Landis, 2016:29]

When Superman was created, he was imagined as the ultimate strongman, An other in the eyes of man and a hero beyond human limits. The explorations of this concept for the young Clark, provide more humanity to a character that, by all rights should be hard to emphasis with. Showing both Superman and Clark in these more human moments, prove just how relatable he can be. Despite having powers comparable to a god, Superman embodies the best of humanity.


Sources:

  • Brownie, B. Graydon, D. (2015) The Superhero Costume. Identity and Disguise in Fact and Fiction. Bloomsbury Academic. London.
  • Johns, G. Romita Jr., J. (2015) Superman #38: The Men of Tomorrow, Chapter Seven: Friends and Enemies. DC Comics. New York.
  • Johns, G. Frank, G. (2010) Superman: Secret Origin. DC Comics. New York.
  • Jurgens, D. Breeding, B. (1993) Superman #75: The Death of Superman. DC Comics. New York.
  • Kakalios, J. (2009) The Physics of Super Heroes. Duckworth Overlook. London.
  • Landis, M. Dragotta, N. (2016) Superman: American Alien #1: Dove. DC Comics: New York.
  • Landis, M. Edwards, T. (2016) Superman: American Alien #2: Hawk. DC Comics. New York.
  • Romita Jr., J. (2015) Superman #40: Powerless. DC Comics. Burbank.
  • Siegel, J. Shuster, J. (1938) Action Comics #1. National Comics. New York.
  • Straczynski, J. Davis, S. (2010) Superman: Earth One, Book One. DC Comics. New York.
  • Taschen. (2015) The Little Book of Superman. Koln. Taschen.
  • Waid, M. Yu, L. (2004) Superman: Birthright. DC Comics. New York.
  • Whitbrook, J. (2015) The History Behind Superman’s Ever-Changing Superpowers. [Online] i09. 2nd September. Available from: http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-history-behind-supermans-ever-changing-superpowers-1684736603 [Last Accessed: 16/01/2016]

Batman ’66 – A Quick look back at 50 years of the cultural phenomenon

1406650404099Holy Golden Anniversary Batman!

The 1966 Batman television series has become a touch stone in pop culture history. Running from 1966 to 1968, the show became a phenomenon, boosting comic book sales and ” resonated with the ironically detached ‘camp’ movement of the era” [Rossen.2014]. 50 years later you can see its impact everywhere. It’s been referenced in countless other series, become a quintessential idea to the general public as to what a comic book is, and has provided hours of enjoyment for the young and the old, the comic fanatic and the novice.

Despite the popular consensus of laughing at it compared to the ‘dark’, ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’ Nolan films of recent years (actually, you should be laughing at it, it’s a damn funny series), the 66 series not only helped to save the Batman comic books, “but it turned him into a global superstar” [Diaz. 2012].  When you consider just how comics were viewed in the post war 50’s and 60’s, the fact that a show like Batman could be made, let alone last for 3 seasons and 120 episodes, is astonishing. Unlike our modern interpretations, “it walked the line between sincerity and parody” [Rossen. 2014], creating a culture all its own and infecting the general consciousness. For many, it was their introduction to the world of Batman or even comic books in general. Bringing not only Batman and Robin into countless homes, but 32 villains! From the hugely iconic Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwomen, to the laughable Clock King, Minstrel and False Face. As well as bringing phrases such as Biff, Bam and Pow into the public lexicon. The series was so successful at launch that despite the series having only begun in January, by the Summer a feature film was pushed into theatres, using many of the same sets and props. Though it’s worth noting that the Film was in fact originally intended to be produced before the series to introduce the Batman series to the general public. This allowed some of the props and vehicles to be reused in the series due to the films slightly higher budget.

batman-tv-dvd-coverDespite the series long lasting impact, it’s hard to believe just how long it took for the series to come to DVD and Blu-ray, much to the joy of many long time fans and collectors. The first ‘official’ collection wasn’t even released to the public. In fact the first and only tapes of all 120 episodes, were created by Fox for a post-Star Wars Mark Hamill. Coincidentally enough, Hamill would go on to become what is considered the quintessential Joker voice actor, almost 30 years later. ” Home-video distribution didn’t exist when the series was produced” [Rossen.2014] and even when attempts were made in the 90’s, Fox and Warner Bros. were “at odds” [Rossen.2014] when it came to home distribution rights and the legal problems that would come from handing it over to a third party. In the case of the 90’s, Columbia were the ones most interested in distributing the series. Thankfully by 2014, the series is now widely available and easy to access.

In recent years, the series has most noticeably been revisited by the ‘Batman 66’ Comic Book, revisiting the plot, style and characters of the original series with their own 60’s art inspired flare.  The just announced Lego 66 Batman Batcave, and the soon to be released Batman 66 Animated movie are adding more and more to the pop culture phenomenon. The legacy of the series is destined to continue in the hearts, minds and media of all those that have been touched by it, weather directly or in directly.

Here’s to another 50 years!


Sources:

Humanising Gods, Deconstructing Superheroes – Fixing the Clock.

14348_comics_watchmenThe common trope of Superheroes, particularly those brought to film, now a days, is to make them grim, gritty and above all else ‘realistic’. In 2013 Superman was famously remade in the form of Man of Steel, leaving behind the vision Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve brought to the screen for a dark and brooding hero, compared numerous times to Christ through visual cues. Previously, realism was supposedly brought to the screen with the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (2005 – 2012), and even before that, we had Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). While the non comic book reader would point to these as the true visions of realistic superheroes, and the comics as purely kids stuff, these dark tones and realistic notions all came directly from the comics. The deconstruction of superheroes, to show how they would fair as real people, has existed in comic form long before the first shot was taken on the set of Batman (1989). While many have tried their hand at deconstructing heroes, including Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, none have been more successful and more celebrated then Alan Moore.

Moore has described the act of deconstructing something as being and extension of the alchemist principle referred to as ‘Solve et Coagula’. “‘Solve’ is to take something apart and examine it – it’s analysis. ‘Coagula’ is to put it back together again – synthesis. 250px-ForthemanAnalysis and synthesis.” [Graydon. 2009] To deconstruct the superhero genre is to take it apart, look at what you have, then find a way for it to come back together logically. While this sounds like a task that would be simple to comprehend, there were very few attempts to display it in a cohesive, and tangible state that would actually sell. Moore’s famous run on Miracleman/Marvelman, acts as a precursor to the “absolute deconstructionist last word on the superhero” [Graydon. 2009], with the original story structure and notion coming from a childhood curiosity of Moore’s in regards to Mickey Moran (Miracleman/Marvelman) growing up and became a real world adult. “I thought it would be funny to have Mickey Moran grown up and become an adult, who’d forgotten his magic word.” [Mealoid.2013] The idea of a comic book character growing up, even giving the hint of growth, was something that was rarely shown. Comics would usually develop a status quo, allowing a new reader access to the title at any issue and be able to enjoy it as a standalone work. As Moore has stated, “this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seem to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence.” [Flood. 2014]

By not allowing these characters to grow and act as real people would, you are essentiality creating a reality that does not exist. The general status quo attitude of life depicted, shows a world where superheroes need not even exist, everyone is depicted as some form of stereotype, with no true human nature to them. Making it easy to pick out from any line up just what made everyone tick, you could tell a bad guy from a good guy at a simple glance. “They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hand of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine to thirteen year old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently.” [Kelly. 2013] To bring humanity and to ground and deconstruct these gods, you need to display their flaws. Everyone, regardless of their capabilities, has some flaws. “There is no way that they work in terms of the conventional idea of the hero.” [Graydon. 2009]. In the prospect of bringing something new to the superhero genre, you introduce the most human of concept, flaws. “Obviously, if you are going to be doing something new, then to a degree you’re destroying whatever preceded it”. [Kavanagh. 2000]

tumblr_my4eo60gpl1srbmxlo1_1280In the earlier piece, Miracleman/Marvelman, Moore gave the previous treatment of superheroes, the light hearted child like fantasies, a realistic view as the delusions they truely are. Giving the 50’s comics a purpose in story as Miracleman/Marvelman’s brainwashed reality. In Watchmen, the notion of children’s comics is not addressed as their background, and impact such beings would have, are treated as true and realistic to this world. Beings such as Miracleman and Dr. Manhattan would inspire a deep routed sense of fear in the general public, just as a real life Superman would send panic through our very society.

The Act of deconstruction, as described by Moore, is similar to the childish whim to take apart a wrist watch to see how it would work. “, you could perhaps get an old screwdriver and start to take them apart, take all the little cogs out, which is why that perhaps turns up as a motif in the Dr Manhattan.” “. It’s very easy to take things apart, even if you do it in an elaborate way”. ” Taking apart the conceptual apparatus of the superhero… it’s not rocket science… but putting it all back together in a more benign and more transcendent form that works – a more flexible form, a better, improved form – that is something which is a bit more tricky.” [Graydon.2009]


Sources:

The Enigma of Miracleman

Alex_Ross_Miracleman_5_VariantThe name Alan Moore holds a lot of weight in the comic book community, even those with only a passing interest in the subject, have come across some of his work, most likely the highly rated and critically acclaimed Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Some may have even immersed themselves in the likes of From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the fact of the matter being that Alan Moore is celebrated for a reason. During a conversation several weeks ago, I had a number of comic recommendations given to me. This one conversation included titles such as Grant Morrison’s Zenith, Jess Nevins’ League companion Heroes & Monsters, and an Alan Moore title I had never come across before. Miracleman.

As any research junkie would do, I asked around in my local store and hit the internet in an attempt to discover just why I had never heard of it before. Upon finally getting my hands on the first two books, I noticed a quote from Time magazine printed on the cover to ‘Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying’. “A must-read for scholars of the genre, and of the comic book medium as a whole.” [McMillan. 2013]. The only conclusion I could discern from both the original recommendation and the internet wide praise, This book is a big deal.

comics-alan-moore-fashion-beastHaving finally sank my teeth into the first book, I can concur that the praise is in no way misleading. Miracleman is an intense exploration of the superhero genre in itself, pre-dating what many consider Moore’s ultimate deconstruction of the superhero, Watchmen. Dream of Flying takes the original camp notion that superheroes had been known for since the 60’s and ultimately treats it for what it is, even acknowledging the absurdity of magical origins in its own pages, while simultaneously taking discussing the corruption that can come from possessing god-like abilities, personal sense of place and life, and even the validity of your own memories. Taking what was essentially a mythology and origin based on magic, redefining it through science fiction and finally ripping it inside out. While a full review is at some point necessary, granted when all three books have been thoroughly poured over and absorbed, I came out of ‘Dream of Flying’ with a lot of questions. Most of which concerning the mysterious lack of reprints and the history of the character its self.

When discussing Miracleman, the conversation usually starts with the aforementioned 1982 Alan Moore run in the pages of British independent anthology, Warrior. However the character dates back even further, to 1954 and the British publication L. Miller & Sons, Ltd. A company intended primarily to reprint American comic strips for the British market, primarily reprinting comics from Fawcett Publications. Fawcett Publications is now mostly remembered for the creation of Captain Marvel, now more famously known as the DC character, Shazam. While Fawcett comics would eventually come under fire from National (DC comics) and eventually have to discontinue all lines of Captain Marvel comics, L. Miller & Sons would need to replace these in Britain with their own creations.

Miracleman_2_Davis_VariantMiracleman, originally named Marvelman, was created by artist and writer Mick Anglo, as a knock of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, with similarities to the two including the utterance of a magic word as well as an extended Marvel family. With Captain Marvel being considered a rip off himself, this just adds more fuel to the notion that all modern Heroes can trace their origins back to Superman. Introduced to the public just as Captain Marvel books disappeared, it managed to survive until 1963 with the bankruptcy of L. Miller & Sons. Marvel man did not appear again until 1982 in the now highly regarded Moore run.

During the Moore run, the character however was still referred to as Marvelman rather than his current title. It was only due to Marvel Comics need to snap up and copyright uses of the word Marvel (for obvious reasons I’m sure you’ll see) that Eclipse Comics, the then publisher, pushed to have the name changed to Miracleman and avoid any more controversy over such matters.

Copyright and ownership is a problem that has long plagued the character ever since those early days,  including the ‘Marvels and Miracles, LLC’ Vs. ‘Todd McFarlane Productions’ case of 2002. But by 2013, all rights were finally settled and held squarely with Marvel Comics (the same company who, ironically enough, had caused Miracleman’s original name change).

Miracleman_1_Preview_3This only leaves one looming question. Why is Moore credited as ‘The Original Writer’? Surely having a name like Alan Moore on a book that few new readers would know, was a no brainer. This decision at the end of the day, came from Moore himself. In an interview in The Hollywood Reporter, Moore stated that at the time of his original work on Miracleman, he was unaware that Mike Anglo had no rights to the character and was making nothing from it. “if I’d known that, I would have never taken the job.” [McMillan. 2013]. Due to the belief that he had been part of cheating the original creator out of what was rightfully his, Moore decided to leave his name off the reprints. “by the time that Marvel Comics were involved I just thought, No, let it go, give all the money to Mick Anglo” [McMillan. 2013]

Miracleman, in both story and history, is incredibly rich. With so much to take away from it and with two books still ahead of me. I am so glad I took up the recommendation and I hope that anyone who has read this, thinks about checking it out.


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Superman/Shazam! First Thunder – Review

Superman_-_Shazam_1“We are born from darkness into the light.. And thus, Humanity, by its very nature, fears the unknown. The Shadows. It fears the dark. Humanity is not driven by rage. It is driven by desire. So, we are easily led astray. But, in that, we can also be led home.”

When the Man of Steel and Earth’s Mightiest Mortal join forces, big things are expected. When both heroes come across a threat that neither can take on alone, it provides a fascinating comparison between the original superhero, Superman, and what was once considered a simple rip-off, Captain Marvel. The Story, while titled for both heroes, seems to take a greater emphasis on exploring the character of Billy Batson and the reality of a ten year old actually inheriting the abilities of the gods, chosen by fate to bear that mantle. Previous explorations of Billy Batson, Pre – New 52, have cared more for the heroic exploits of  Captain Marvel and only displayed Billy as a simple carefree ten year old who happens to be an orphan. While short scenes, his interactions with what appears to be his only friend become quite touching as you realise that these interactions are the closest thing he has to a normal life. Comparing this to Superman, you have a hero that not only had a loving family, a good childhood and the choice to use his power and become his superhero identity, as well as have his entire life to discover his own abilities. By the stories end, both the reader and Clark can see and feel just how much was really thrown at the young boy and the responsibility on his shoulders, with little else for him to fall back on for support.

“My name’s Billy Batson. But maybe it’s too dangerous to be Billy Batson anymore.”

spshft00The quiet conversations between both Superman and Captain Marvel essentially make this story. While physically resembling a full grown adult, Captain Marvel is reduced to a fan boy, taking joy in the private talks, referring to these opportunities as an honour. While Superman is initially confused by the admiration, he finds some form of solidarity with him and leads to some brilliantly played out moments where the two work off of each other beautifully. Bringing a large amount of depth to them both in a short amount of time.

The art by Middleton is wonderfully fluid, displaying not only the heroic nature of the two but introduces many subtle character quirks, such as Billy’s pension for half sticking his tongue out when pondering, or the intense rain of emotion Middleton is able to emote just from gestures. The combination of Winick’s writing and Middleton’s art, brings about a compelling mix of action, tragedy and comradery in a classic Superman Shazam tale.

“I suppose I feel a lot better about this realm of magic, or mysticism.. Well .. Knowing that you’re guarding the gate.”

Silk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon – Review

ResourceLoaderPortletServletWith the recent events of Spider-verse, the need for more spider based characters has been frequently questioned. In regards to female counterparts to the webslinger, there have been a few before, both in continuity and what if including Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) and Spider-Girl (May-day Parker). Even with the recently released Spider Gwen (an alternate universe Gwen Stacy, bitten by the radioactive spider in place of Peter Parker), most are simply re-skinnings of the original Spider-Man with a few details changed and the obvious gender switch. What makes Silk stand out from the rest, and why should you care?

While the antics of Spider-man, and his numerous clones, focus heavily on the rouges gallery, jumping from monster of the week ordeals to long multi issue showdowns.  Silk uses the crime fighting aspects as more of a backdrop and a way to establish her existence in the Marvel universe, with the major struggle of the series being her own mindset and the situation forced upon her. The driving force behind her heroism is her determination to find what she left behind. Creating a unique look at a female counterpart to the web-head.

Cindy Moon, brought to life in the pages of The Amazing Spider-man, provides a stark contrast to Peter, as one embraced their powers, while the other hide away from the world in order to protect the ones she loved from her seemingly uncontrollable powers. Having been set free 10 years later, Cindy has to face the world alone, unsure of how to proceed other than the example set forth by Peter and her memories of better times.

Silk-2015-002-013The use of pop culture references are usually a means of dating a work, however Thompson uses this to his advantage in showing just how behind the times Cindy really is. Making references to the Pokemon franchise, in its first few pages to only question if that’s still a thing, and highlighting her preference for paper and pen to the modern day tablet or phone. The inclusion of Cindy’s natural eidetic memory is a breath of fresh air, feeling that she has been “adjusting to powers” her whole life, bringing up just how painful this kind of ability can be especially when you lose something, or in this case people, you love. Combining her natural abilities with her spider powers, creates a new look at the spider based heroes. While Peter puts more focus into being Spider-Man out of a sense of responsibility, frequently forgetting his obligations as Peter Parker. Cindy is unable to forget her driving force, with finding her family being the top priority for both identities. The notion of Cindy working as an intern at a news site may appear as attempts to simply mimic the early career of Peter Parker, however, it makes a lot of sense for her character. Cindy’s need to readjust herself with the modern world as well as find leads to the overarching detective work of the series, plays out beautifully and even leads to some fascinating scenes between both Cindy and Jameson.

Good-TalkThe artwork by Lee is delightfully stylised, with the elegant ability to show both the fast sweeping action of battle scenes , and to slow down seamlessly for the sombre and isolated moments down in the bunker. The use of colour throughout , while not especially focus on delicate shading, is vibrant with a somewhat minimalistic approach. Knowing when to burst with colour and when to fade through the memories. Characters are easily distinguishable and visually striking.

Silk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon, contains all 7 issues and while some prior knowledge of the events in Amazing Spider-Man (especially the Spider-Island and Spider-Verse events) may prove helpful, they are completely non compulsory to enjoy this largely self contained tale.

Zenith: Phase One – The ‘What if’ side of WWII

511Q8QDrO2L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_When the subject of World War II and Comic books are mentioned,  the popular images usually display racial caricatures of the Japanese and Germans, heroes delivering a right hook square in the jaw of Adolf Hitler or modern interpretations, such as retelling the holocaust with cats and mice. Comics during the second world war were in what we now consider the Golden Age. Multiple companies came into existence or grew in providence, including Timely, National and MLJ (Marvel, DC and Archie respectfully), waving multiple superhero comics, all ready to boost morality and join the fight by cheering on the tropes and encouraging those at home to help out were ever they could [Howe. 2012]. Chanting catchy slogans across their pages, stating that “each bond you buy, is a bullet in the barrel of your best mans gun” [Johnston. 2011]. The likes of Captain America, sporting the bold red white and blue of the American flag, leaped in to battle. The captain himself became a superhero in a laboratory, using the Super Soldier serum created by German scientist, Abraham Erskine, to transform the frail Steve Rodgers (a stand in for anyone who was unfit to enlist), into an Icon of hope and strength during the horrors of World War II. [Simon, Kirby. 1941][Stern, Byrne. 1981]

Zenith-Phase-One-8-64888The dark times the war brought became the fuel for the young medium to grow, In essence the Nazi threat created many of the heroes that shine across our screens and print today. Morrison has used this notion as literal, creating a reality in which the four colour comics of war time are a near reality. Through the prelude of Zenith, the idea is explored that the experiments run by Nazi scientists created the first superhero, the German Super-Soldier, MasterMan. Providing what Hitler would consider Arian perfection with the power to single handedly bring the world to its knees. Given this reality, the Allies must counter with their own breed of hero, created in partnership with defected German scientist, much in the same vain that defected Soviet and Nazi scientist assisted in the creation of weapons such as the atomic bomb.

The glorification and admiration of veterans in the days following the war playing a parallel to the celebrity status the superheroes (here dubbed the members of Cloud 9) are awarded. With the surviving heroes having seemingly lost their abilities in the passing years, fading away into the rest of the world, somewhat parallels the stagnation of comics in the days following the war. With the war over, heroes were seen as an overly patriotic reminder of what we had overcome and the depths that humanity could sink to. New Artwork-from-emZenith-Pha-001genres were developed, characters given new focus to eventually rise again in the 60s and 80’s. [PBS. 2013] With heroes both old and new regaining the spotlight in various forms, Zenith himself being in this vain. Not only displaying his ability as a super powered being but as an egotistical pop artist, caring little for the plights of the outside world, more interested in promoting his music than the war that helped to create him.

Through his brush with the ‘What if’ side of history, Morrison has created not only an intriguing story but a stark parallel to the mediums history in its own pages. Providing an example of using superheroes to explore not only our own post war culture but the history of the medium itself. With Phase One at its end and the threat having been seemingly defeated or at least biding its time, the anticipation to explore the continued possibilities is just over the horizon, as Phase Two begins.


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