The words you don’t want to hear from someone with superpowers: Because I can.
The Boys series by Garth Ennis shows us a world where superheroes are a marketing gimmick for a military-industrial company – Vought America – and these all-powerful beings – such as The Homelander – have to be kept from overindulging in hedonism, vice, and collateral damage. But there is more at stake, as Vought scheme and The Homelander plots.
It was interesting to revisit this series 7 years later as the TV series is set to commence. I remember enjoying the series for its interesting take on superheroes. Much like Irredeemable and Incorruptible, The Boys tries to imagine a more realistic scenario for how people with superpowers would behave. This gives Ennis a chance to pour in his trademark nudity, sex, violence, and toilet humour.
But underneath that facade is a much more interesting story. The Boys team are comprised of trauma victims who (mostly) have interesting story arcs. The superheroes are portrayed in a way that feels much truer to life; especially if you take them as a stand-in for actors, models, rich socialites or the like and the shady stuff we know they get up to. The political and business machinations throughout stands as a cautionary tale. And the series is pretty much one big swipe at the military-industrial complex.
I think I appreciated the depth of this series more on the second read. The Boys is worth reading, especially if you’ve seen other Ennis comics and ever wondered what he really thinks of superheroes.
A quick comment on the TV show: I’m hoping the series is good. From the trailer, it appears they’ll be doing some things a bit differently to the comics, notably The Homelander’s personality and the more prominent corporate criticism. Karl Urban, Antony Starr*, and Elizabeth Shue are great actors, so just their presence should make it worthwhile.
* Antony was the lead in the criminally underappreciated Banshee. If you haven’t watched that series, do so.
Smart people take on the government. Because they should.
Back in 2012, I stumbled upon the first instalment of Think Tank from indie comic publisher Top Cow. This was back when online stores selling e-comics were still not completely up with technology. I bought Issue #1 and then tried to read it. It wouldn’t download to my comic reading app. I tried to send it to my iPad. It didn’t like the strange format. I tried reading it in the store’s very own comic app. It suggested my iPad and computer were too new.
I won’t go into the details of exactly how I read that first issue (hint: comic files are just a bunch of pictures if you can slice them open), but even with all of the frustration of this first purchase I still enjoyed the story.
Dr. David Loren is many things: child prodigy, inventor, genius, slacker… mass murderer. When a military think tank’s smartest scientist decides he can no longer stomach creating weapons of destruction, will he be able to think his way out of his dilemma or find himself subject to the machinations of smaller men?
So started a five-year avid following of one of the more interesting techno-thriller series I’ve come across. Unfortunately, I switched from buying individual issues to the collected volumes, which were entirely more reliable in those early years of e-comics. I say unfortunately because as a result, I didn’t realise that Think Tank was part of an expanded universe – something the last few pages of regular issues highlights with previews.
Now I’m caught up. In particular, The Tithe and Samaritan are excellent additions to the Think Tank universe (Edenverse, named after the town in the Postal series). Matt Hawkins and illustrator Rahsan Ekedal have pulled together a collection of political machinations, high-tech possibilities, real-world issues, and social commentary for a brilliant collection of comics. Seriously, they have references for the topics, tech, and background at the end of each book, something that tickles my inner scientist with delight.
I highly recommend these series to comic fans, especially those who like techno-thrillers or crime-thrillers.
Welcome to Superheroes Annonymous. Barbara, would you like to tell us why you’re here?
I really enjoyed this comic. Barabara isn’t a nice character, she is a loner, outsider, and she is battling personal problems, so she takes this out on everyone around her. Layered over this is the ambiguous threat of Giants who are coming to destroy everything she holds dear.
[Spoiler] I liked the ambiguity of whether the Giants are just a fantasy world and an analogue for the troubles Barbara is battling. We see her face those troubles and grow, and (hopefully) become a better person, if one still dealing with loss. [/spoiler]
This isn’t a story for everyone, but it will pull at the heartstrings if you give it a chance.
Do you like comics? I’m not talking about movies based on comics. I’m not talking about comic fandom that can only be solved Utopia style. I’m talking about the art of storytelling that only the mix of art and narrative can manage.
How Utopia deals with comic fans:
I have previously discussed how some fail to give due respect to comics and graphic novels. The TL/DR is that literary snobs don’t like non-worthy genres to be discussed. I mean, how dare someone dilute words with pictures! Yet the comic format allows for a form of storytelling that other mediums would love to have. Literally showing can condense a novel to a few dozen pages whilst retaining all of the important details, as I discussed in my review of the Parker comics. Text can be used in a way that neither movies nor novels can utilise. An example is the way authors construct their ideas into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters to transition between ideas and moments. When you add the visual artwork you can add effect and impact to those transitions, ideas, and moments. You can’t do that in other mediums. Well, unless you’re Edgar Wright merging movies and comics.
The way the art is used to tell a story is an often overlooked aspect of comics and graphic novels. This is despite the fact that the art is their most distinguishing feature. That and the impossible physiques covered in spandex.
As an example, I’d like to share a page from a comic I bought when I was 10.* On this page is a panel that has stuck with me as an example of the combination of art and narrative. Comics can do this so easily. It would make movies jealous – unless they have the CGI budget. No big illustrated fight scene. No words like ZAP or KAPOW as a blow is struck. And within the context of this larger story, the minimalism is an important narrative device.
Obviously, this is just one example that lead to my formative appreciation of the comic book medium.* As much as many formative appreciations of comic books are based around the erotic artwork… sorry, lost my train of thought.
For another example of the combination of art and story, Nerdwriter made a particularly good video discussing Maus and how it is constructed as a story and piece of art. Every frame, every image, the whole page, has meaning.
When it comes to discussing the literary and artistic merit of comics the discussion often never moves past the capes, spandex, and insecurity inducing bulges. Some articles have argued that if we let graphic novels into literature we have to let in everything. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. But comics are far more than the superficial observations of those dismissing them.
Well, at least I think they are cool.
*Please appreciate this post. It took me ages to figure out which comic I had owned. During high school, we were asked to bring in a comic book to be part of a creative writing project in English class. The class never eventuated and the comics were never returned to us. As a result, I couldn’t remember the details of this comic, and since there are a lot of Batman comics, it took a lot of effort to track down.
This also opened an old wound created by that high school English class. The wound of crushed creativity. The promise of being taught creative writing that went unfulfilled for decades. But thank goodness we got to learn how to write essays about ee cummings in Lit class instead.
Nothing like a comic book movie to analyse for differences. Much less reading. This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix looks at Logan and Wolverine: Old Man Logan.
Logan was a rare treat for me this year. I’m not saying it was a fantastic film that blew me away, more that I actually got to see the movie in the cinema for once. The film itself was okay. Probably one of the better X-Men films, if not the best. The strengths of the film are in it taking on the aesthetics of the Western genre. It’s weaknesses are the not unobtrusive plot holes.
The comic that inspired the movie is vastly different. While also enjoyable, the source material was never going to be adapted to the big screen. Just the number of superhero name rights they’d have to license would have made it an expensive two-hour name dropping session. But it would have been cool to see Wolverine get eaten by The Hulk and then suffer a few digestive problems.
So rather than this being an adaptation, it is more akin to thematic borrowing. Or to put it another way, they looked at the cover and thought that grey and scarred look would be a good idea for Hugh’s final outing as Wolverine. The film has more in common with Shane and Unforgiven than it does with the comic, in a good way. And I suppose if that is the sort of adaptation the movie goes for, it is a better idea than some of the others covered in this series.
Is there anyone Deadpool hasn’t killed? Not after Deadpool Kills Deadpool.
In the previous instalments of Deadpool Kills our titular merc with a mouth killed everyone in the Marvel Universe and then moved on to killing everyone in the Ideaverse (Killustrated). Odd that he didn’t kill the DC Universe whilst he was at it. Regardless, this time Deadpool is killing himself across the multiverse. And yes, that is just as awesome as it sounds.
Most recently I read Killustrated, also written by Cullen Bunn, which was a fantastic story but felt abridged or not fully realised. This instalment felt the most fully realised in the series. The irreverent humour, quips and quirkiness are on fully display, right next to the full tilt action. But the fun stuff is also backed up with the story being fully realised this time, instead of being glossed over as it was in the other Deadpool Kills. As if to illustrate just how quickly the previous plots were glossed over, we actually have the synopsis delivered multiple times without upsetting the pacing here (although it might feel a tad trite to some readers).
Next stop will have to be Deadpool Classic.
Also it is worth noting that in my review for Killustrated I mentioned the leaked test footage for a potential Deadpool movie. Well, that movie is now being made!! I guess someone saw how well Guardians of the Galaxy did at the box office and decided humorous comic book movies could be made after all.
With the run-away box office success of some of the comic book movie adaptations, you could be excused for thinking that comic book movies don’t suck. Sure, stick Robert Downey Jnr. in a movie and you are bound to bask the movie in his reflected awesome. Put Joss Whedon in the director’s chair and he could make paint drying fun to watch. But when all said and done, comic book movies are fatally flawed for the following reasons.
Did John McClane need an origin story? Did we need to see him join the police academy, walk the beat in montage form and get his detective shield before taking on Hans Gruber? NO! So why do we need to go back and see how every superhero became a superhero? If Charlies Angels can get away with having us believe that three rake thin girls can successfully beat the crap out of a group of guys twice their size whilst wearing stilettos without an origin story, I think we can just take it on faith that The Punisher has issues with criminals.
Superhero beating up normal people
He can leap tall buildings in a single bound, he can change the course of rivers with his bare hands, but he still needs to punch a normal person like he’s Ali squaring off against Foreman. Let’s face it, if a superhero actually wound up and threw a punch like we see in the movies (or comics for that matter) to hit a normal person, their fist would go clear through the person’s body, which would be kinda cool to see on the big screen.
The most egregious use of this strength imbalance, in my opinion, is in Spiderman 2. Remember how Spiderman stops a speeding train using just upper body strength? Remember how he then has an extended fight with Doc Oc where he repeatedly punches the mad scientist in the face? Now I know that the Doc did have some cool new appendages attached to his body, but the rest of his body is still pretty normal. Yet we are meant to believe that Spiderman can’t throw a punch to save his life or that Doc Oc’s head can withstand a blow that is stronger than a speeding train.
I’m almost certain that superhero costume designers and comic artists are BSDM fans, nothing else can explain Catwoman’s costume. Now being a heterosexual male I find nothing wrong with the casting of attractive women to be wearing spandex or lycra bodysuits. Sure, it must be hard for the women to stay in shape, kick ass and say their lines, but we sure do appreciate it! I’m sure the flip side is also true, that the female audience members love to see the chiselled muscle of the male actors displayed either shirtless or clad in the most figure enhancing costumes possible. I’m sure that the LGBT crowd have their respective tastes sated as well.
But here is my problem with spandex and lycra: no-one actually looks good in it and it is not very practical. If Batman were really deciding on what to wear when fighting crime, he wouldn’t be deciding on a cape and cod piece, he’d be looking for body-armour and a backpack for lugging around all of his Bat-gadgets. What about pockets? Where do you keep your phone and spare cash? And what happens if the superhero hasn’t had a chance to fight crime recently or has had a lot of charity dinners of late? Spandex and lycra are just going to display those meals and extra flab straight away. They’d become too self conscious to leave the house to fight any crimes. Norman Osbourne has taken hostages down-town Sorry, I have a muffin top and can’t be seen in public.
Gratuitous PG rated violence
After an epic fight that levels half the city the bad guy goes to prison and we have ambulances treating all the poor people who sustained a few cuts and bruises. After beating the living crap out of each other for 20 minutes, the good guy and bad guy have a sum total of a bloodied lip and a bad case of out-of-breathness. Then, of course, the bad guy dies in some elaborate death scene that cuts-away just before the gory bit.
On the plus side, there is plenty of shooting, explosions, car chases, fight scenes and general mayhem to keep anyone amused. But no tits. Definitely no tits. Because we wouldn’t want kids to see anything that could harm their little minds.
The laws of physics don’t apply
You know how when fat people sit down on something you hear it complain? What about the bowing that occurs? What about those permanent dents that your poor couch has from your fat uncle at Xmas time, not to mention the smell? Well, in the movies that doesn’t happen. Iron Man sits on a couch and doesn’t look a gram over 80kg, yet all that armour should be making it bow like your fat uncle after a plate of turkey. But it isn’t just that. Where are the crumple zones in that suit? What about air-bags? What about how squidgy Tony Stark would become being rattled around inside that suit?
Superheroes defy all sorts of laws of physics, whether it be jumping off a building and landing on the ground in high heels as though they just needed to tie their shoes, or casually picking up a car to throw at someone without their fingers tearing straight through the light aluminium panels. Also, why is it that the superhero always has super-clothes? Whether it be Wolverine’s amazing self healing singlets or the general indestructible nature of most costumes. Whoever designs those things could make a fortune!
Secret identity that isn’t really
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s quite clearly Clark Kent without the glasses.
How stupid are the people of Gotham? A Dark Knight rocks up wearing expensive high-tech gadgets, driving a really cool car at the same time a troubled billionaire returns home: how much of a leap do people have to take here? Even Hal Jordan was unmasked by his girlfriend, how long would it take other people to catch on? At least Tony Stark just came out and admitted it.
Big ass explosions
This is related to the physics point. Explosions in real life are never as spectacular as movie explosions. Car falls off a cliff: instant fireball. Helicopter stops helicopting: instant fireball. Gas from the stove left on for a few seconds: house explodes into a million pieces. Captain America ducks his head behind his shield as grenade explodes: doesn’t have exposed legs blown off.
In comic book movies everything explodes at the lightest touch. Somehow The Hulk crushing a car causes it to explode, rather than just leak. But not just explode, EXPLODE!!! I don’t know how much high-octane petrol and C4 the average person keeps in their car, but it must be a lot more than I do.