Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Thoughts on Fantastic Four Eras

June 16, 2020

So, I’ve been reading some of the TPBs that I own (and I’ve actually stopped now because it was taking a lot of time and other works were calling me) and that gave me a rare opportunity: the ability to read across a few different eras of a team in a short amount of time. As you could probably tell from the title, that team is the Fantastic Four.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I got into reading comics from a collection that my mother had bought from one of her friends, as her son was giving them up. One of the series that I got — and, as I’ve kept those comics, still have — was the Fantastic Four, which I quite liked. But that was limited to a specific era, with a few other works — mostly the Fantastic Four vs the X-Men limited series — coming in a bit later, as when I was buying my own I focused my limited money on Transformers and X-Men. And one of the eras that I read was, indeed, one from that era.

Basically, the three TPBs I have covered from issue 19 – 32 (1963 – 1964), 151 – 163 (1974ish) and 579-588 (1998) plus a bit from 2011. The era that I was reading was closer to the 151 time frame, and I suspect that mine were in the 200 – 300 range (although I haven’t checked). That also makes sense, because it’s only in the 1974 time frame that I feel that the Fantastic Four had those elements that made me really enjoy the comics and like the team.

In the 1963 works, the Fantastic Four are just coming together. They have long been noted as being the “First Family” of Marvel, but these comics pretty much would make them a completely dysfunctional family. Reed is attempting to lead the team, but comes across as a jerk most of the time. There’s even a mini-revolt but since the others couldn’t agree on a replacement leader (they all voted for themselves) Reed had to take over again and he’s not exactly modest about it. Sue is frivolous and plays a lot on female stereotypes of the time, which make her uninteresting. Johnny and the Thing are complete hotheads, fighting with each other and everyone else, and doing so in a way that makes it seem like they absolutely hate each other, or at least have no respect for each other. The team spends more time sniping at each other than actually fighting their enemies, which made for rather uninteresting reading.

By the 1974 era, they’ve developed into the team that I knew and loved. Reed, while still often detached, is indeed a proper leader, and we can see that he leads because of his leadership skills and not just because he, I don’t know, was cast in the patriarch role? It’s not really clear why Reed leads in the first issues other than that he’s the smartest and was the leader in the rocket experiment. Here, he is the smartest and is spending lots of time figuring out how things should work. While in the first issues Sue was just getting her force fields she’s had the time to experiment with them and to realize just how powerful they are, but for the most part their power is still tied to how creative she is, and the others are also shown to be able to be powerful if they use their powers creatively as well. And even though she’s sidelined for a bit of these issues — and replaced with Medusa — she shows that she fits into the “Team Mother” role by being stern at times, but also by caring for them, which was rarely shown in the 1963 issues I read. Ben and Johnny also clearly care about each other and are friends, and their clashes come from either extreme stress or, more usually, one of them — usually Johnny — being bored and deciding to try to rile the other up to relieve the boredom. It’s at this point that the “First Family” really is a family.

Fast forward to 1998, and one of the things that often annoys me about comics. Reed is altered to being far more obsessive and even incompetent at most things — including family issues — than he was in the beginning. Not only does Sue have her uber-powerful force fields, she’s even negotiating complex diplomatic functions and forcing major factions to follow her dictates. They also have made Franklin a mostly “normal” boy — despite earlier being someone with immense power that he needs to control — and instead have made Veleria, their daughter, a super-genius who can even negotiate with Dr. Doom and be in the right. And she’s all of 10. It’s the rather common mistake of trying to make female characters that aren’t simply stereotypes or weak but instead making them so unbelievably powerful and competent that they become boring, while at the same time reducing the male characters so that they don’t overshadow them. But in the 1974 books, and the later books that I’ve read, they didn’t need to undercut Reed to raise up Sue or any other character. He had his strengths and flaws, and he worked when he could play to his strengths and relied on the others when he couldn’t. In the aforementioned Fantastic Four vs X-Men, Sue has a strong presence and even gets to put one over on Doom while still leaving Reed a strong character arc where he has to overcome his own doubts. A team relies on each other to do what the others can’t do, but in the 1998 version they aren’t a team anymore, and are barely a family.

Johnny has matured, though, which is good for him, and he’s done that without losing his sense of fun, which makes him someone who can play well off of Franklin and Leech, who are more normal kids. Ben was always good with kids, so the two of them together with the kids is fun and heartwarming.

What this has done is make me quite aware of what parts of Fantastic Four I like and dislike, which is good because it will let me seek them out when I look for TPBs again. I still consider the 1974 era to be the FF’s Golden Era, and so will look for things in that range. Others, of course, may disagree.

Thoughts on “Infinity”

June 2, 2020

So let me finish off my very brief “Infinity” theme in comics with a look at a TPB simply titled “Infinity”. While many collections go issue-by-issue — including the covers of the various books — this one seems to ignore all of the issue specific stuff and instead tries to weave it into a narrative, more jumping from scene-to-scene than issue-to-issue. I appreciate this.

Unfortunately, it also reveals that the work doesn’t really have a narrative, which is a disappointment.

For the most part, it seems to be more an attempt to close off a number of existing plot threads and complications than to actually build a full-on narrative like Infinity Gauntlet and “Infinity War”. We have issues with the Inhumans, between Wakanda and Atlantis, the Illuminati and a host of other issues that all come up and get somewhat addressed — or advanced — in this collection. This makes it a bit like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More With Feeling”, except without the musical numbers. Except that as I commented there the advantage of what they did was that it allowed them to get those things resolve or out-in-the-open or advanced without boring the audience, as the coolness factor of the musical episode gave us something to follow while the potentially boring resolutions played out. Here, the main narrative would have to provide the same entertainment to avoid boring the audience, especially ones like me that weren’t as up-to-date on what was happening in the universe at that point.

And that’s where the lack of a narrative really hurts it.

Basically, the main narrative seems to be a galaxy-wide invasion by an overpowering alien presence, requiring numerous alien races to combine together to try to stop them (in some sense, similar to WWII except that the “Allies” are badly, badly outnumbered and don’t have reinforcements coming). They also face serious defeats early and often, making things worse. But then Captain America steps in and provides tactics that, with a gamble that pays off, turns the tide and so the very, very small contingent of Avengers ends up taking the fore and proving that Earth is a planet to be reckoned with. I guess.

At the same time, Thanos has come to Earth to try to find and kill his last remaining offspring, who is sheltering with the Inhumans. For some reason (to both parts, actually). His son ends up being triggered in his Inhuman powers by the Terrigen Mists and has strong death powers. Anyway, the allies rush to try to save the Earth, Thanos confronts his son, stuff happens, Earth is okay, the end. There’s really not enough plot there to carry a work like this, especially when compared to the others that had very focused and detailed plots that you could follow even if you didn’t know all the backstory (as I didn’t when I started reading them). So this work focuses a bit too much on plots that I would have needed to know to really enjoy it and doesn’t give an internal plot for me to follow regardless. As such, it’s a bit muddled and somewhat dull.

If it had had a stronger narrative and weaved its story better through the other events, it would have worked. There’s stuff there that’s cool and, if better developed, could have been very interesting. But at the end of the day, there’s just not enough there for someone to follow unless you really wanted to see some of the subplots resolved … at which point the presence of the purported main plots is going to annoy you for all the things you had to work through to get to those resolutions.

Thoughts on the “Infinity War” Comic …

May 26, 2020

Due to various events, I ended up digging up a whole bunch of my TPBs and have started re-reading them. Some of them I don’t actually remember reading, and some of them I end up getting bored of (I had a tendency to grab ones that sounded interesting, and sometimes struck out with that method). One of the ones that I did remember was “Infinity War”. I read it right after “Infinity Gauntlet” around the time the movie came out (or, rather, that I watched the movie) and … was disappointed in it. On re-reading it, though, I like it better than I did then.

I think the initial problem for me was with the beginning. I had remembered the initial battle with the dopplegangers, and have to admit that it’s an interesting introduction to the series. However, from a plot perspective it’s at a minimum underused. We don’t get to see this as an overall long-term strategy — although there is a sequence in the TPB that shows the combats in more detail — and it isn’t all that big a part of the villain’s master plan, other than generating an army for him to use. So that part ends up being a bit disappointing, and so if that was what you were interested in it will colour your impression of the book.

It didn’t help, at least originally, that for me I had no idea who the main villain as. I had never heard if Magus and didn’t even know much about Adam Warlock. That the main plot, then, focuses on the clash between the two of them, and the reintroduction of Thanos (whom I didn’t know much about either) just left me watching characters that I didn’t like all that much. Surely there had to be something more interesting to follow.

On the re-read, I knew more about Thanos, at least, so some of his sequences were more interesting. But the key was that I was able to focus more on the Magus this time, and the idea of him as a Chessmaster who had prepared for and predicted everyone move the heroes would make was actually interesting, if a bit overpowered. I found following along with the plan much more interesting this time around, and so enjoyed it more.

This did lead to a letdown at the end of the TPB, however. Magus is not outfoxed, nor is his plan overturned by something that he couldn’t really have foreseen. So at the end, his nature as a planner is ignored, and it’s mostly due to a failure of will and a purportedly stupid mistake that causes him to lose. That’s a bit disappointing, and undermines the one thing that I was really enjoying this time around.

I still like “Infinity Gauntlet” better, but this one is now more tolerable, enough so that I can see myself re-reading the two of them together now, instead of reading “Infinity Gauntlet” mainly on its own.

Thoughts on “Secret Wars”

May 13, 2020

Some of the comics that were in the boxes that my mother had gotten me that started me getting heavily into comics were sections of the original Secret Wars and Secret Wars II series. I also more recently picked up the TPB of the new Secret Wars event (I’m actually pretty sure that I picked up the original series so that I had all of it at one point, but couldn’t find it when I went to look for it while re-reading the recent one). One thing that I noted on re-reading this one is the difference in how comics were back then versus how they are now. The original Secret Wars miniseries set up a conflict between heroes and villains, with a promise that if they defeated their opponents they’d get their greatest desires. Despite the simple premise, it managed to have a number of interesting developments and subplots, including ones that carried on past the event (the most famous being that this is where Spider-Man got his alien symbiote suit, which spawned Venom and the other suits, and that the movies have never really been able to capture properly). It even includes Doom getting god-level power and explores a bit about how his personality — and humanity — interact with that. But the overall premise was simple: super-powerful being kidnaps heroes and villains and pits them against each other. The rest follows from the characters and what you can do with them in those circumstances (such as the distrust of the other heroes towards the X-Men, especially with Magneto being placed on the side of the heroes).

In contrast, the new Secret Wars has a much, much more complicated premise, involving clashes between dimensions and a plan by some sort of council of Beyonders that they need to foil, which results in Doom gaining god-level powers and saving the various dimensions them by joining them together in a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a Battleworld. Things are also far more driven by the premise and less by the characters, especially since many of the characters are not the same characters that we know (for obvious reasons). Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I’m not sure that I like this trend (it also happens in a number of other modern TPBs that I’ve been reading). It tends to clutter things and might well be one of the reasons that events get dragged out so much. Even the really big X-Men ones of X-tinction Agenda and X-Cutioner’s Song (which I collected at the time) had simple premises that allowed for a lot of character interaction (Age of Apocalypse was more complicated but was entirely an alternate world story, and Inferno was also weirder but was aimed to be a culimination of a number of plot threads). From what I’ve heard, Civil War II is also much more premise driven than Civil War was, but I could be wrong (I have read the original Civil War, as I was collecting when it came out, but had stopped by the time Civil War II arrived). Is this indeed the trend in comics? If it is, then I’m not sure I like that trend. It seems to me that it risks losing the character driven ideas that really make comics worth reading. The plots don’t tend to be anything special — and are usually done better in other works — but seeing the impact of these things on long-standing and developed characters, with the introduction of new ones is one of the things that comics can do that nothing outside of soap operas can do. We just don’t have the time with characters in other things to have these pay off that well, but we do have it in comics.

Because that’s really where this series fails. The idea of Doctor Doom having to save various universes by grabbing power and rebuilding it is a good one. That his creation is imperfect is a good idea and even follows on from the original Secret Wars miniseries. That the reason that it is imperfect is due to him follows on from that and is interesting. The problem is that the miniseries only hints at that and never pays it off. Instead of Doom coming to understand that the reason that there is so much strife in his world is because of the strife inside him, the big pay-off is instead Doom accepting that Reed Richards could have done a better job, with the ending suggesting that that was in fact true. This is more Reed Richards worship than anything else, along with tying briefly into Doom’s inferiority complex towards Reed Richards, but which might not have been true. There were lots of ways to establish in more detail that the issues with the worlds were issues with Doom and to flesh those out a bit, but the work doesn’t take the opportunity to do any of that, which makes it disappointing. And since in the collected TPB I have it also didn’t go into much detail on the newly created world, that’s missing as well (I’m sure there’s a collection of stories and thus TPBs covering it, but that’s not in mine and gathering them could get … expensive). So none of the cool things really pay off.

Still, it’s actually fairly interesting and enjoyable. It’s biggest flaw is that despite having a more complicated and potentially interesting premise than the original Secret Wars, it doesn’t do more with its premise and the premise overshadows a lot of the character beats that could have come out of it. Still, it at least isn’t, in my mind, a disaster and is entertaining enough to read and re-read a bit.

Thoughts on Battlestar Galactica 1880

November 26, 2019

So, at the same time that I picked up “BSG vs BSG” I also picked up “Battlestar Galactica 1880”, a steampunk reinvention of Battlestar Galactica. While it was significantly shorter than “BSG vs BSG”, it was also significantly better.

The story in general works, describing the aftermath of an attack by Baltar’s Clockworks and stitching in various plots around that, from Apollo being captured, the return of Starbuck to the war, and the final fight to defeat them. It even uses Bel Iblis in a better fashion to both facilitate the rescue and to provide a final threat. The pacing is good — as the work is so short, it has to be — but still has lots to time to build in character interactions that are interesting, especially given this radically different background.

And, most importantly, the work is very good at informing us of the differences without dragging it out in needless exposition, leaving some things as mysteries until the end — why Starbuck left — while explaining things before they become important. I never felt lost in the work, but also felt that the new characterizations made sense and where the characters appeared never came across as superfluous, aside from Sheba and Cassiopeia as rival pirate queens both chasing Starbuck, and even those scenes were short and more often used to advance Starbuck’s character than as cameos from those characters.

Overall, it was a good work, much better than “BSG vs BSG” and a good example of how to do an alternate universe well.

Thoughts on “BSG vs BSG”

November 19, 2019

So, while again browsing in the local comic/board game store, I came across “BSG vs BSG” written by Peter David, which crosses over the original Battlestar Galactica with the revamped Battlestar Galactica. Seeing that premise, I really had to buy it. I’ve always far preferred the original to the reboot, but seeing the two of them contrasted with each other was irresistible.

However, storywise it’s a bit of a disappointment. The reason is that the work seems to be far more interested in packing in as many references as it possibly can instead of telling a story that allows for those references. For example, the two Baltars meet each other in a scene that’s pretty much completely irrelevant to anything that was actually going on in the plot. Pretty much every combination of character that you’d want to see is mentioned — they even have a small subplot built out of Apollo from the original series and Tom Zarek from the reboot being played by the same actor — but in doing so we end up with a plot that’s haphazard and uninteresting without a really satisfying conclusion.

Still, the references are interesting, capture the ones we’d want to see, and often really capture the difference in the series. An example is the meeting of the two Starbucks. Of course they play cards together and of course they have sex, which leads to a great line from the original Starbuck of “Well, if anyone tells me to go frak myself, I can tell them I did and it was great”. And then leads to a line that really does capture the difference between the two characters — and why I didn’t care for the reboot’s Starbuck — where she comments “Yes I was”, which captures her far more self-centered attitude. Of course, this is also during a time when she was married to Anders, and he discovers them together, and the original Starbuck is outraged that she didn’t tell him because he doesn’t have sex with married women, which she replies to with a flippant “Well, you can cross that one off your list”. The original Starbuck is the rogue with the heart of gold, while the reboot Starbuck is just an amoral, self-centered person. The original Starbuck breaks the rules mostly because he thinks they don’t matter, but the reboot Starbuck breaks them just because it benefits her to do so (with a hint of self-loathing at the end of the scene that could just be a lie). This whole sequence, with the original Starbuck apologizing to and commiserating with Anders at the end, neatly encapsulates the differences in the characters and the shows.

The book is nice for the references, but as stated the plot left me a little cold. As such, it’s an okay crossover but not as good as it could be.

Batman’s Promise

October 14, 2019

The next essay in “Batman and Philosophy” is “Batman’s Promise” by Randall M. Jensen. This essay examines the details of Batman’s main motivation for fighting crime and particularly fighting crime in Gotham: the promise he, as a child, made to his parents after their death from “some punk with a gun”.

One issue with the essay is that Jensen focuses on two of the three main categories of morality in consequentialism and deontology and then has a hard time fitting Batman’s promise into those moral systems. The promise is to make Gotham a better place, but it doesn’t seem like that’s Batman’s main purpose for doing that. However, his promise doesn’t seem to be him just following a set rule that breaking promises is a bad thing to do and he made a promise. Against both interpretations is the idea that his promise seems to be more to him than a moral calculation or reasoning, but has instead become part of him, and in fact in a lot of ways has come to define who he is, which is generally not the case for one element in a consequentialist or deontological moral system.

The way out of this, of course, is to look at the third moral system or category and use that one: Virtue Theory. Batman tries to make Gotham better and tries to keep that defining promise simply because that’s what he has concluded a virtuous person in his circumstances would do. There doesn’t have to be a set rule defining this demand. He doesn’t have to evaluate every circumstance to see if that is making things, overall, better or worse. He doesn’t have to demand that everyone else do so as well, because they are differently situated. He can even, at least initially, tell people whose circumstances are closer to his that it’s not their responsibility to do that. Batman made that promise, and virtuous people keep their promises.

This would also resolve the long discussion in the essay over whether you can or need to keep promises to the dead. Consequentialists require keeping promises to provide utility, and it’s difficult to see what utility there can be in keeping a promise to someone who is dead and so can no longer be helped by doing so or harmed by not doing so. Deontologists would require there be a set rule, but it’s hard to imagine a deontological moral system that can properly justify a rule that promises must be kept to people when the promise is utterly irrelevant to them. Both, of course, can justify promises made to someone who is now dead but where, at least, the promise can be kept to their relatives or friends, but that’s not really the case with Bruce Wayne’s parents. This is, again, far easier to explain with Virtue Theory: Batman made that promise, and as long as the promise is in any way relevant and as long as he is able to fulfill it he is obligated to do so. He is obligated to live up to his commitments even if no one — other than himself — can hold him accountable for them.

This is also seen with the idea that Batman doesn’t do this out of revenge or, I’d argue, even out of retribution. Batman can easily be seen to be trying to make Gotham into the city that his parents wanted it to become, and tried to make it through their charitable works and other, more normal means. And despite that, street crime ended their lives and the lives of other people, which is why Batman focuses on that sort of crime and improvement. It can easily be argued that Batman fights not merely for the Gotham that his parents wanted, but ultimately for the Gotham his parents should have had, but couldn’t because of “some punk with a gun”.

While Jensen focuses on the comics and recent movies, the DCAU is the better source for these statements. In the Justice League two-parter “A Better World”, Batman faces off with an alternate universe Batman who has joined an authoritarian Justice League in controlling the world. As they fight in the Batcave, the alternate universe Batman convinces the DCAU Batman to join him by saying that through seizing power they’ve created the world Batman wants: one where no child ever has to lose their parents because of some punk with a gun. But as they drive through Gotham, DCAU Batman notes the horrific cost of that authoritarianism, and then fires back at his counterpart by sarcastically saying that his parents would have loved this world, which convinces the alternate universe Batman to change sides and realize how bad this was. This was not the world his parents wanted. This is not the world his parents deserved. This was not Batman keeping his promise to them. Batman doesn’t want to avenge his parents, or get retribution against the criminal underworld for their deaths. He wants to make a world that they would be proud of and want to live in. That, and only that, will keep his promise.

Retconning the Emperor …

October 4, 2019

So, I came across this article on Screen Rant (I originally came across it here). It describes a plot in the “Doctor Aphra” comic — and the comics are supposed to be canon — where Palpatine is revealed to be nothing more than a brute and the real power behind the throne is a completely new character Pitina Mar-Mas Voor who was trying to build a proper Empire and was foiled by Palpatine’s incompetence. Since Palpatine is supposed to return in the also-canon Rise of the Skywalker and since more people will watch that movie than read the comic, this is either going to cause a split in the canon or else they’ll have to have Palpatine be incompetent in that one, which would go against his inclusion.

But, as usual, what’s interesting is how they get so many things so very, very wrong:

Whether or not Emperor Palpatine ever returns, there’s no denying that his empire’s greatest weakness was having HIM as a leader. Cruel, vindictive, hateful, and detested across the galaxy, it’s a miracle Emperor Palpatine took as long as he did to lose all power.

Okay, so let’s limit our discussion to the movies to avoid any new retcons. Other than how he treated Luke — which clearly was done in part to make Luke angry enough to turn to the Dark Side — where is the evidence for any of this? He doesn’t take any directly vindictive or hateful actions in any of the movies. He always has Vader or Maul do that, other than angrily dismissing the one Trade Federation crony, and even that was under his Darth Sidious guise. There is no reason to think that, in general, he acted that way, or even that he was detested across the galaxy. The Rebels hated him, but even then in the movies he was always hated and targeted more for his position of power and the policies of the Empire that he was seen as being responsible for than anything else. Vader was always seen as the greater evil. There’s no indication that Palpatine couldn’t be diplomatic when necessary, and in fact in Return of the Jedi he’s handling negotiations at one point when he dismisses Vader, and he’s not even using any threats to do so. So this claim has no evidence for it in the movies whatsoever.

Every fan is going to want to know the woman born Pitina Mar-Mas Voor, twenty-five years before Sheev Palpatine began his rise to power. Married to a lame duck bureaucrat in the Empire’s ruling class of competing officers and governors, Pitina saw history repeating itself. That below all the bravado, intimidation, and posturing… the expansion of the Empire through brute force was killing it even as it spread (running out of both soldiers and money). And Pitina just might have led the Galactic Empire to total success, if not for once crucial weakness: Emperor Palpatine had absolutely no idea how to lead.

First, how could she see history repeating itself when the actual history was that the democracies themselves constantly fell? What previous Empire could she have been referencing? About the only one that’s even close to canon is The Old Republic’s Sith Empire, but she’d probably have to be a Sith then to make that work and, well, she almost certainly isn’t without eliminating the whole “Rule of Two” canon from the prequels. Second, in order for this to work and for Palpatine to be an utterly incompetent leader she would have had to have started this before the prequels, because that’s when Palpatine made his biggest and most brilliant moves. But the backstory here denies that, since the Empire didn’t exist until the very end of Revenge of the Sith, and surely it would have taken her a few years to marry that bureaucrat, see the issues, and then start to work around them. And third, there’s no evidence that the Empire relied solely on that. The Death Star was, canonically, a facet of Imperial dominance in line with the Tarkin doctrine. While he says that fear will keep the systems in line, there’s no indication that nothing else will be used. In fact, there’s no indication that the Emperor didn’t share Vader’s opinion of the Death Star in relation to the Force, and some Legends sources posited that he did so mostly to keep his Admirals and Tarkin busy.

And finally, no, not every fan is going to want to know this, because I’m a fan and I care not one whit about the character, and this inclusion makes me even less likely to want to follow any of this. I’m only even replying because the article annoyed me and I need a post to end the week, so ranting about it seems a good use of my time.

Encouraging her husband’s suicide to spare himself a traitor’s death at Vader’s hand (which was not actually coming), Pitina claimed his position for herself. Acknowledging that Emperor Palpatine may have known the truth of her deception, he granted her influence and position anyway. Which is when she began to enact her true vision for the Empire’s successful expansion.

This leads to the one way they can save this mess, as Palpatine in various source materials is known for giving people positions of power and influence while being aware of their actual intentions, and using that to get what he wants. Shadows of the Empire has him do exactly that with Xizor. So the arch could end on a high note if it is revealed that Palpatine was using her to get what he wanted while letting her believe that she was herself the power behind the throne. Given the rest of the comic, though — which I used to read and like before giving up on comic subscriptions entirely and at the end only liking Deadpool anyway (and so not Doctor Aphra anymore) — I don’t that will happen.

But let’s look at her three pillars:

Within a year I had established The Coalition for Progress and coined the Three Guiding Tenets of Imperial Outreach. First we show the people the face of chaos. The pirates, the raiders, the mobsters and the monsters. Some are real–most we invent. Anything to make the dumb natives beg for a garrison to save them. Next we show them how perfect their worlds could be in the Emperor’s embrace. Such order, such calm! (I don’t mind telling you: we’ve become extremely gifted at making false smiles look natural.)

And lastly? Oh–just a casual afterthought!–we conspicuously wipe a tear for the worlds that said ‘No.’ These days, two our of three conflicts resolve without a single shot fired. You understand? I have saved this regime. I have built a culture that transcends the clenched first. I have nursed this Empire with a lie, in the expectation that eventually it will become a truth: harmony and prosperity are the rewards of those who submit. And he. Is ruining. Everything.

Sigh. Okay, point 1, the pirates, raiders, mobsters and monsters existed long before the Empire and so long before she could have tried to invent any of them. Tatooine was completely controlled by the Hutts, remember? Han Solo’s entire backstory is about working in the very common underworld of the Star Wars universe. Second, there’s no indication in the movies that Palpatine wasn’t doing any of this himself. Most material explains the Empire as using the carrot and the stick approach: if you co-operate, you’ll do well, and if you don’t, we’ll destroy you. The Death Star was indeed the ultimate expression of that doctrine. Her tenets make it look like she’s left out the stick part, which wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as she thinks it would (and could be the only parts that he’s screwing up).

The plan outlined by Pitina can be seen throughout the Star Wars saga, being enacted at different stages on numerous worlds. On the one hand, it explains why the Empire made so many backroom deals with warlords, crime bosses, and pirate gangs–since they created the very threats the Empire promised to eliminate through total submission. But all that work is for nothing if you have a leader who looks every bit the villain he truly is, and who torments, kills, and crushes as he desires. That’s the kind of tyrant who inspires rebellion with every people and world he dominates–meaning he has nobody to blame but himself for his own destruction.

First, what backroom deals? There aren’t any of these in the movies. The closest is turning Han Solo over the Jabba, but that was Vader making a deal with the bounty hunter Boba Fett, with the Imperial High Command scoffing at such dealing. In Legends, you had Prince Xizor and thus Black Sun, but that was really, really shady and Palpatine was directly manipulating that for his own ends. Second, there’s no evidence that Palpatine was actually tormenting, killing and crushing people as he wanted to. Vader did that, but there is no scene in the movies where Palpatine kills underlings for their failures. While you can argue that that’s where Vader learned to do that, it’s more consistent with, at least, prequel Palpatine that he places himself above such petty concerns and keeps Vader around precisely for that purpose: to be threatening and to be the dog that Palpatine keeps on a leash, occasionally letting him indulge himself when it will benefit the Empire. Again, throughout the movies there is no indication that Palpatine is a brute at all, and her influence could have only started after Palpatine took power through manipulation.

A case could be made that after getting power, Palpatine became corrupt and more indulgent of his evil desires. Still, Palpatine is stronger as a character if his desires were for manipulation and control, not brute force. As pointed out, this really ends up being a retcon because it doesn’t fit with the movies as we’ve seen them and doesn’t add anything interesting. If they had wanted to do something like this, lifting Isard from Legends would have worked better because she was a character that already existed but whom had a strong relationship with the Emperor. Her commenting that he’s corrupted himself from what she at least saw as his main vision would have some weight. This … doesn’t seem to have that.

So, it looks like it’s a mess, especially if the Emperor is supposed to be the canon villain in the last movie.

Blood and Tyranny

August 23, 2019

So, last week I talked about Chuck Sonnenberg’s discussion of “The Elite” and how the calls for a superhero to kill the supervillains to prevent future horrific crimes was an abdication of the responsibility of society and an attempt to have their cake and eat it too: to have the villains disposed of while keeping their hands and consciences clean. And then I was rewatching/listening to his Justice League reviews and came across “A Better World Part 2” where in discussing that issue he makes the exact same argument that I did, including the comment on the blood being on the hands of society. I made the link to Raiden’s “why didn’t you?” comment which he didn’t, so I still going to assume that I did come up with that myself and wasn’t just remembering what he had said.

The interesting thing, however, is that the argument fits better in response to “The Elite” than it does to “A Better World”. While he does comment that we can either give the responsibility to the heroes or simply let them take it, the key difference is that “A Better World” is explicit that they do this pretty much regardless of what society in general think of it. Whether society sees them as heroes or villains is irrelevant because they are going to produce a better world, whether society sees it or not. This is explicit in Luthor’s taunt of Superman at the beginning: Superman doesn’t break his code because he wants to be seen and see himself as the hero. To take those actions means that Superman can’t be the beacon of hope and virtue that he wants to be and sees himself as. And he ultimately decides that producing the better world is more important than that, and is more important than anyone’s opinion of it … including Lois’ and other people that he most trusts.

“The Elite” is different, as is in general the calls for Batman to kill the Joker. In those, society calls out for the hero to do this. In “A Better World”, again Luthor’s taunt implies that if he does that society will not cheer him for it, and will at a minimum be wary of his doing that. No matter what Superman says, forcing his way into the White House to ultimately kill the sitting President that he’s long had an adversarial relationship with is going to seem suspiciously convenient. But society did cheer “The Elite”, and continued to do so and would continue to do so right up until the point that the hero did something that they felt, rightly or wrongly, crossed the line. A careful hero could remain a hero as long as they only did what society agreed with, while in “A Better World” the first step was always going to be that step too far.

A similar theme exists in Persona 5. The Phantom Thieves start out simply doing what needed to be done, but then as they grew in popularity started listening to society and taking on the targets that they asked for. And they were cheered for it. But as soon as it was believed that they killed rather than converted their latest victim — which they were framed for — society turned on them. They went from heroes to villains overnight, surprised at the sudden about-face when they were only trying to give society what it wanted.

That’s the ultimate end of the “The Elite” and the calls from society for heroes to kill the villains who need to be killed or deserve it: society turning on them when the necessary measures are too extreme or when they decide that there’s too much blood on the hero’s hands to remain a hero. By contrast, tyranny is the ultimate end when the hero decides that they don’t care anymore about what society says it wants. The best heroes are always willing to do some things for society that society can’t or won’t do for itself, but always keep in the back of their minds that, ultimately, it’s society that they’re trying to preserve and, ultimately, that they serve.

On Whose Hands Should the Blood Be Spilled?

August 15, 2019

This week, I watched Chuck Sonnenberg’s review of “Superman vs The Elite”. The movie examines if Superman is still relevant by asking the age-old comics question, as examined in “Why Doesn’t Batman Kill the Joker?”, as in the movie The Elite are perfectly willing to kill the supervillains that they stop while Superman is not, and the question is whether Superman’s ideals on that matter are wrong or are the Elite right that at least some villains really should be killed instead of captured and turned into the authorities.

It’s educational to look at the details of this argument. The general idea is that there are many villains who, if free in society, will always directly cause lots of destruction and death. Atom Smasher is the one in the movie while for Batman the ur-example of this is the Joker. The hero always stops them — usually after they have caused massive destruction and death — and invariably they escape again to cause more destruction and death. At some point, society and/or its representatives asks the question: instead of turning them back over to the authorities to escape again at a later date, why doesn’t the superhero simply kill them and prevent them from escaping to kill again?

As I was pondering the movie, I came up with the answer, as Raiden gave to Liu Kang in the “Mortal Kombat” movie: Why don’t you?

The idea is that these heroes turn their villains over to society to let the society decide what is the appropriate response. Society decides that the appropriate response is to lock them up in a prison or an insane asylum, which they eventually escape from to cause problems again, which the superhero then has to stop. If the society and its members really thought that the villains needed to be killed, they could easily do so. This is particularly true for Batman’s villains, as it wouldn’t take much for them to kill the Joker (in fact, Shamus Young once, reasonably, opined that the only reason that Joker isn’t shot multiple times “trying to escape” is because of the meta reason that Batman needs to keep his main villains alive for the concept to work) if they decided that was best. A lot of Superman’s villains aren’t ones that they could execute as easily, but in general they could find a way. So if society really thought that they were too insane or evil to be rehabilitated but were powerful or intelligent enough that they were going to escape and cause death and destruction at a later date, they could institute laws and mechanisms to actually execute them and prevent that instead of relying on their heroes to do that.

So why don’t they? Well, the answer likely cycles back to the post title: they don’t want the villain’s blood on their hands. They want to be able to pretend that they wouldn’t ever actually countenance such a barbaric practice as capital punishment and stand on the idea that criminals should be rehabilitated. But the hero is outside of society. The hero is not them. The hero can do it and leave their hands remarkably blood-free, even if they call out for the hero to do so and deride the hero when the villain is instead turned over to them. When the villain escapes from them to kill again, they can blame the hero for not ensuring that the villain’s reign of terror was not ended permanently, conveniently ignoring that it was they who failed to do that.

And this adds to the tragedy, as while the villains do terrible things to society at large they also tend to do as bad if not worse things to the heroes themselves. Taunting and targeting them to ensure that if they don’t stop them the hero will feel a failure. Killing, torturing and maiming loved ones. And let us not forget all that the heroes have to sacrifice, their bodies, a normal life, and at times even their souls. It shouldn’t be society that blames the heroes for what the villains do when they escape, but the heroes that blame society for what the villains do when society fails to keep them contained, and by extension forces the heroes to put their lives, bodies and souls on the line to rectify their failure.

Society calling for the hero to kill the villain and take the law into their own hands should not trigger them to search their souls to see if not doing so is indeed a failure on their part. No, at most it should trigger them to search their souls to see if they should take the law into their own hands because such a call is proof positive that society has relinquished their responsibility to do so themselves. They want the hero to be judge, jury and executioner because they don’t want the responsibility for doing it themselves, and so want to pass that on to someone that they can hold responsible for doing that and all the consequences and decisions they don’t want to face up to themselves … whether the hero is willing to accept that responsibility or not.

And, at the end of the day, that in and of itself is precisely the reason why the hero shouldn’t do that, and instead insist that society take up the responsibilities that are, in fact, its responsibilities.