Batkid is The Best Thing Ever

Wow, it’s dusty around here.

So, all of my writing time has been for work these days (please click the donate button on the main page if you want to see me focus more here), but I had to come out and write here because I apparently missed the best story of the month, possibly the year, and need to comment on it.

My favorite charity, the Make-a-Wish Foundation (I toured Europe with a jazz band doing work for them twice) granted a wish for a leukemia survivor by going to my favorite medium, comic books. Not only did they turn him into “Batkid,” they had him running around the city in a Lamborghini Batmobile with Batman and his kid brother dressed a Robin. He disarmed a bomb and rescued a woman tied to cable car tracks, mere seconds before the cable car came by. Then he stopped the Riddler from robbing a bank. Then he saved the SF Giants’ mascot, Lou Seal, from being kidnapped by the Penguin who was also hauled off the prison. Both villains were in their delightful Adam West-era costumes.

But that’s not the best part. The best part is that thousands of people got involved in this. San Francisco was turned into Gotham City for this event. There were people cheering him wherever he went. The actual Chief of Police made a public call for his help, and thousands begged his assistance. Graham Nolan, co-creator of Bane and artist for several excellent Batman stories, drew a picture of Bane being frightened of Miles Scott, the 5-year-old secret identity of the mini Caped Crusader.

batkid baneAbout 12,000 volunteers from the city got involved in this. The president of the United States sent him a Vine to congratulate him on his work. He was given the key to the city. The San Francisco Chronicle turned its front page into the Gotham City Chronicle to run stories about his exploits. Former and future Batmen Ben Affleck, Adam West, and Michael Keaton all had great things to say to him.

gotham city chronicleThere is nothing bad about this story, except for a few assholes who think that it was wrong to do because he is in remission. Make-a-Wish’s response: “We would never penalize a child for getting better.”

This is so incredible. This is what comic books are supposed to be about: giving hope to people who don’t have it, making ordinary people feel extraordinary, and uniting people in goodness. It’s what a lot of comic book fans were saying was missing from Man of Steel.

But the sheer outpouring reaction from people is a perfect example of the greatness of human beings. When we come together for goodness, we do amazing things. Thousands of people gave up part of their days just to make a sick five year old feel good about himself.

This story made my year. This is why I read comic books, and why I support Make-a-Wish, and why I love human beings despite all of our flaws.

Pull List of Justice: September 2013

pulllistofjusticeRegular readers of my stuff will know that I am a comic book fanatic and have argued many times that comics have historically been at the forefront of social progress, often addressing issues that television and other mediums have been unable or unwilling to. Yes, they can also be problematic, but I contend that finding the right book with the right author can lead to a wealth of fantastic characters representing all sorts of diverse types of people and ideas.

So welcome to the beginning of what will hopefully be a monthly feature in which I describe the wonderful things that are happening in the comics I read that send a positive message in the social justice arena. I should point out that I can only really write about the comics I actually read, so if you have a book that you think would be great that I don’t cover, mention it in the comments. Otherwise, all comics and characters are the property of their respective companies and are being reproduced in part here under Fair Use guidelines.

Now, let’s jump right in.

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Thus begins my latest piece for Queereka. I hope that this will become a regular thing and get more people reading some of the amazing and socially progressive comics out there.

Come See Me at FtBConscience!

FtBCon starts today and, while I am sad I will be missing Dave Silverman’s opening because I’ll running my bisexual support group tonight, I will be around for other sessions. You can see the full schedule at FtBCon.org or on Lanyrd.

More to the point, I will be speaking at a session!

Improving the Image of Atheists

by Kaoru Negisa, Stephanie Zvan, Chris Ho-Stuart, James Croft and Sarah Moglia

Atheists have an image problem. We didn’t create it, but we’re the ones with an interest in fixing it. Let’s talk about the range of strategies for doing that while still fighting our fights.

At 10:00am to 11:00am, Sunday 21st July (Central Standard Time)

That’s right, kids: I am waking up early on a Sunday, which I’m pretty sure nullifies part of the point of being an atheist, just so I can talk to you about how we can show the world that we only eat babies when Evolution tells us to. Seriously, I’ll be talking a lot about the appearance of atheists in pop culture, but hopefully also be listening to the rest of the panelists who, I assure you, are pretty much all smarter and better at this than me.

Other than me, there are a ton of fantastic panels that people will be on, including one on Atheists in Pop Culture (that I couldn’t get on because they already were over their awesome quotient on speakers), a fascinating looking panel on the harm of pseudoscience featuring the inestimable Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner and several other great speakers, a panel on myths and facts about trans* people, one about female protagonists in video games, and those are all just on Sunday after I speak.

So go to their website, follow the con on Twitter, follow along on Google +, look at the schedule on Lanyrd, and go listen to all of the very smart, very insightful people (and me), talk about things, interact with you in chatrooms and via Q&A segments, and generally hang out online with some of the owners of the internet.

Some Thoughts on Man of Steel

Well, I went to see Man of Steel last night with one of my best friends, Ryn Anhara (all nicknames subject to change based on the desire of the nicknamee), and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. And since I want to talk about it but need both the space and the option for people to not see if they’re afraid of spoilers, I am going to write about it here. Back to important things tomorrow.

 

**OBVIOUS SPOILER WARNING FROM THIS POINT ON*

First spoiler: Clark Kent is Superman. No, seriously, even though we all know this, the movie actually does a really good job of showing Clark dealing with his identity, whether he is Clark Kent or Kal-El or something entirely different plays a major role in the story.

What I will say is that I really, really enjoyed this film, but the things that it does well are also the things that it does terribly, and it goes by turns. I’m going to be jumping around and not fisking the whole thing, but it’s the best way I know to talk about this. Let’s begin.

The movie opens on Krypton and we get Jor and Kara-El standing around being so much smarter and more noble than every other Kryptonian in existence. These scenes are actually really fantastic, despite the El family being really, really Mary Sue-ish. The design of the world is believable and interesting, the technology we see is clearly advanced, but hasn’t changed in a long time, and the clothing is alien, but reasonably so.

Jor-El goes to the Council of Krypton and tries to shame them for hollowing out the middle of their planet to fuel all of their…stuff, I guess. It’s never really clear. They whine about how they had no choice, running out of natural resources, etc. There’s a moment of “Are you suggesting we evacuate everyone from Krypton?” to which Jor-El says “no.”

Now, this really perplexes me throughout the film. I don’t know why the Kryptonians don’t try to evacuate. We’ll get more into this later, but basically Jor-El says he has a plan and is interrupted by General Zod who is leading a coup.

This is the first point where I we see the good-and-bad-by-turns nature of this film. Zod (played by Michael Shannon who has done some great villain parts and this could really give him the stardom he deserves) is a fantastic and three-dimensional villain when we see him. He’s leading a coup because the Council clearly has no idea what they’re doing. They have scooped out the middle of their planet and now seem surprised that this may have caused a problem. If I were Zod and I loved my planet, I would also lead a coup against the morons who didn’t see this coming. Obviously, they are unfit to lead. The problem comes in when Zod is captured and we’re supposed to side with the Council against him at his trial. While the good general had just killed Jor-El and tried to destroy the ship carrying Kal-El, the first natural born Kryptonian in centuries (Krypton grows their babies based on genetic information from a child’s skull called the Codex at Jor-El stole and did something with before sending his son off), I can’t actually side against him completely since these people are arguably responsible for the genocide of their entire race except for the prisoners they just sent to the safety of the Phantom Zone for some reason.

Which reminds me, why did they send the prisoners to the one place where the imploding planet wouldn’t be a problem instead of leaving them on the surface and putting as many Kryptonians into the Phantom Zone as possible until the cataclysm was over?

Anyway, Clark gets to Earth and is raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent. This is mostly told in flashback and I have to give Kevin Costner real credit for playing Jonathan Kent as so…midwestern. He’s clearly a nice guy, but reserved and a little gruff. I had a hard time connecting with him because of this, but I can’t say it didn’t work for the movie. I believed in his performance and his obsession with keeping Clark’s power’s secret, even coming to clashes with Clark over the boy wanting to help people and Jonathan willing to sacrifice literally everybody else to protect his son.

We also see Clark basically living a nomadic lifestyle, taking jobs and keeping a low profile until somebody inevitably needs to have their life saved, which he does and then has to disappear again. Eventually, he finds his way to a government archeological site where he meets Lois Lane, saves her life for the first time…and has no chemistry whatsoever with her. Seriously, both Henry Cavill and Amy Adams do a good job in their roles, but they really have no presence together.

In fact, this is a good time to point out that if you’re heavily invested in a Clark/Lois relationship, this isn’t the film for you. For the vast majority of the film they have what I would classify as a friendship built on mutual respect, and that actually plays really well. In fact, I was hoping that they would just do that throughout the film, especially since they don’t even bother with having Lois not knowing Superman’s secret identity. It would have been a lot better if the feelings they had for one another wasn’t romantic, since we really don’t see that develop until they very suddenly kiss and I wonder where it came from. It felt like Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan thought that those two are supposed to get together, so they threw it in as an afterthought. I would have preferred they left it out entirely.

The first act ends with Kal-El finding that his biological father had uploaded his brain into the small key-thing he put in the capsule with baby Kal, so now Clark can talk to him. And he asks the questions the audience wants for the most part, but the answers aren’t really satisfying. For example, we are told that Krypton had started to colonize and spread out to the stars, but then they instituted population control and their colonies died, eventually leaving the whole race on Krypton with no resources and no planetary core.

But after hearing this, I can’t help but wonder, why they would institute population control while they were expanding to new colonies? Isn’t that the exact worst time to do that? Also, why were the colonies dependent on Krypton for resources? Isn’t the point of a colony that it is self-sufficient? Maybe not at first, but with “a hundred thousand years” of doing this, you have to be pretty damn bad at this colonization thing to have not created at least one other surviving planet.

Kal-El also asks his father why he and Kara didn’t come, too. Now, I happen to think this is a great question. In fact, why were the Kryptonians so reluctant to leave in general? It seems like this movie wants us to think there is something tying them to Krypton (its atmosphere and its gravity are both contenders), but we never really know what it is. Trying to answer these questions in the film is just frustrating.

Suffice it to say, he’s given his costume which is supposed to be Kryptonian armor with the insignia of the House of El on it, we get some awesome jumping and flying scenes, and I really have to give Cavill credit for playing this in a really believable way. He expresses such joy, such excitement, such absolute wonder at learning what we can do. I loved watching this scene.

The second act of the film has Zod arriving, since Clark activated a distress beacon in the ancient Kryptonian ship that also had his family’s special armor in it, and demanding that Kal-El surrender himself or Zod will destroy the Earth. At first, I didn’t get this behavior, but then Ryn Anhara pointed out the Zod is literally born and bred to fight, and a more diplomatic approach would have been out of character for him. However, this is where we also start to see Zod making decisions that make no sense, which is especially jarring since his initial motivations made so much sense. Instead, Zod wants to find the Codex to rebuild Krypton with the genetic information inside, which is fine. But he wants to do that by terraforming Earth, making it suitable to Kryptonians and killing all the humans in the process because…he’s evil? There’s no good reason given why he couldn’t just use one of the old colony planets or Mars or someplace that isn’t populated if he’s just going to terraform it anyway.

Up until this point, Zod hasn’t shown himself to be mindlessly evil, but again I feel like poor Zod is the victim of Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder realizing that the bad guy has to provide some sort of stakes for the hero, so he decided to have the guy occasionally just be uncharacteristically evil to give Superman a reason to fight. Zod is both my favorite and least favorite performance in the film because when he’s good, he’s really awesome, but when he runs into these “Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder are making me force the plot along!” moments, then he becomes as thin as the infamous cellophane S, and I no longer buy into him.

Let’s also talk about symbolism. One set of symbols was fantastic, and subtle, and made for an interesting pun. The other was blatant, ham-fisted, and nonsensical. The latter first.

Oh my Spaghetti Monster, the Christ symbolism. Seriously, I thought that Matrix Revolutions bashed you over the head with a cross, but this movie makes that look subdued. From the scene where Clark is deciding whether to sacrifice himself to save the world and you see the stained glass window of Gethsemane side-by-side with his face, to the fact that they mention he’s 33, to the Jesus Pose he does for no particular reason, they are really bludgeoning the audience with this.

And it’s not that I have a problem with Christ symbolism. It can be really well done and make a great statement about a character, but symbolism only works in a text when it’s subtle. That’s one of the reasons why directors like Tarsem are generally considered pretentious: they want us to know that they are very, very deep, and have no problem telling us.

Also, making Superman into Jesus is just inappropriate since he was created by two observant Jews who drew from a number of sources, but largely from stories of Moses. The insistence of primarily Christian filmmakers and audiences to appropriate other people’s myths doesn’t end at ones that are centuries old, and this is just another example of how clunky it is when you try to jam Jesus into the Torah.

That being said, there is symbolism they did really well, and that was the allusions to the Myth of the Metals. We hear about how on Krypton, the genetically created children are bred for specific tasks, and the ones that Jor-El mentions are roughly equivalent to Plato’s concept of people who are raised to work, to fight, and to lead (men of bronze, silver, and gold respectively). In the middle of the movie, you see Clark reading Plato at one point, which furthers the reference. It also makes the phrase “Man of Steel” a pun, since Kal-El, being a naturally born Kryptonian, has no genetic destiny and is instead an alloy, stronger because he is a mix of other metals (i.e. abilities). This works, and it works well.

My last little gripe is that I feel like we lost something in editing. Lawrence Fishburn does a good job as Perry White, but there’s a scene at one point where Metropolis is under attack and we get some of the other reporters at the Daily Planet being cool and saving themselves. However, at one point “Jenny” (who I assume is a gender-flipped Jimmy Olsen, though we didn’t hear her name until minutes before she is in danger) gets trapped under debris and Perry White is trying to save her. I get that Perry is supposed to be the father-figure of the Daily Planet, but we don’t see that in the movie. We see him be a tough-but-fair boss to Lois twice, but never see him interact with anybody else in the newsroom, so when this scene comes around, I don’t feel the danger. I think there was another scene where we actually saw Perry talk to this character that ended up on the editing room floor, because this is clearly supposed to be an emotional payoff, but with no setup, it just falls flat.

Otherwise, I really liked most of the stuff in the film. Cavill plays Supes with enough of an emotional range that it’s believable, but not overwhelming, and I like that you can tell how much this guy loves being a super hero. It’s fun for him, and even when people are jerks, he still is just a nice person. I love the fight sequences, especially since you can see how the Kryptonians and Kal-El fight much differently from one another, with the former being much more efficient in their movement and Supes just bashing people into shit over and over again while punching them. The second act fight in Smallville was pretty damn sweet.

I also liked that they didn’t do a whole lot of callouts to fans. There’s no Lex Luthor (though a brief scene of some LexCorp trucks in the background), no Kryptonite, they don’t bother making Lois too dumb to realize that Clark and Superman are the same person. And it all works really well for the movie. They strip it down to its basics and make the whole movie an origin story rather than trying to cram one into the first act while establishing another plot. But it’s an exciting origin story, and I would love to see them continue to make the decision to only use what actually helps tell the story.

I sincerely hope this movie does well so we can see a Flash, Green Arrow, or Wonder Woman movie. Also, the JLA film this can be part of the kickoff to. It’s not the greatest film ever, but it’s my favorite Superman film thus far and really worth a watch, despite its flaws.

Free Comic Book Day!

First, May the Fourth be with you. Always.

Now that that’s done, today is not only Star Wars Day, but Free Comic Book Day. As you can imagine, this makes today a very exciting day for me. I have a lot of work to do, but my excitement is palpable and I can’t wait until noon when the comic shop opens. I’m at the Sewing Goddess’s place, so it’ll be an unfamiliar comic shop, but the culture is the same and I’m ready to talk about how awesome the new Aquaman is, or how much I love everything Kieron Gillen writes (and he’s doing great with Young Avengers), how much I miss Avenger’s Academy and how torn I am about Avenger’s Arena (if you haven’t guessed, Marvel has realized that slapping “Avengers” on anything basically allows them to print their own money). And, best of all, I will get to see what sort of promotional comics they will give out so I can see if there’s anything worth reading that I might not have looked at before.

Anyway, I leave you with my favorite Avenger’s parody. The Sewing Goddess played it for me last night (she wanted to make sure she could see my face when I watched), and I adore it. Gritty Reboots is my new favorite YouTube channel.

I agree with this article that it could use a little more diversity, but it was still incredibly awesome and I would seriously watch the hell out of that film. It would be like Scary Movie, but entertaining.

Various and Whateverthehell

Since I’ve been so busy, it’s time to just have a quick link roundup to cover everything I’ve wanted to talk about.

Miss America Chavez (designed by Jamie McKelvie, personal work 2013)

Absolutely beautiful comic about somebody who’s girlfriend is transitioning. For only a few panels with a bunny and a frog and a bear, this is really touching.

– More from the annals of “Feminism is already working on men’s rights issues.”

– A young man in Toronto is sexually assaulted by four women, and Rosie DiManno of The Star insults him. This lowlife seems to think that most men would love to be non-consensually ganged up on by four women. Look also for the fat shaming, slut shaming, and homophobia embedded in her assumptions about the perpetrators.

– A Christian school has decided that a married lesbian couple needs to get a divorce in order for their child to keep going to that school. Why they would want to send their kid to such a backward place, I have no idea, but since this is in Mpumalanga, South Africa, I’m sure there are other factors involved.

– Speaking of schools being the absolute worst, a Polk County high school (which is less than an hour from me) has expelled a student for a science experiment that created a small bang and some smoke but didn’t hurt anyone. JT writes about it and suggests how you can write a polite and well considered email to the school administrator explaining why this is an overreaction. Also read the comments in which they ask whether the school’s football players are expelled for breaking the school’s policy against hitting other students every time they tackle somebody.

“Angering the pope” should be an euphemism for masturbation now. Like “choking the bishop”, really.

– Researchers at IBM have made a movie by manipulating atoms on a copper surface and filming it. This is really, really awesome.

Ok, enough procrastinating. Back to work.