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Saturday with the Dark Knight(s)

You think of weird stuff when you’re home sick.

Julie and I are only just now beginning to recover from this vile bug that has been burning through the Seattle schools like a California wildfire. Been missing way too much work (not to mention blowing off this year’s Antiquarian Book Fair, which I’m still surly about.)

The one consolation is that I am catching up on all kinds of reading and DVD-watching. I have a bad habit of ordering half-a-dozen things at once, usually on impulse when they’re cheap, and then suddenly there’s a whole pile of unread books and unwatched TV shows and movies…. and I’ve been taking my enforced bed rest as an opportunity to catch up on it all. So both Julie and I have mostly been home under a quilt on the couch watching TV, getting up to speed on shows we’ve recorded or DVD sets we’ve bought and haven’t yet screened. And this weird thought struck me.

Every TV show we’re watching lately steals from Batman.

I know it sounds silly. The sort of thing that pops into your head when you’ve had too much NyQuil. But once it was there I couldn’t shake it.

Look at Arrow, for instance.

Everything about this show is a Batman riff…. Oliver Queen spends his early adult years in a faraway place training in all kinds of exotic martial arts disciplines, then returns to a corrupt city and vows to clean it up by using his vast personal fortune to become a fearsome urban vigilante, adopting the identity of a feckless, shallow playboy by day so that no one suspects him of being the masked hero striking terror into the hearts of criminals by night.

Of course, it's hardly fair to pick on Green Arrow since he STARTED as a Bat-swipe... but still.

Of course, Green Arrow started in the comics that way too, with the kid sidekick and the Arrowcave and the Arrowcar. So it’s not like there isn’t precedent. And so far Arrow is an entertaining, if not terribly original, television show. (The first couple of episodes have left us with this weird déjà vu feeling…. the story elements are all Batman things but the look and feel of it all is that same slow-paced mopey Vancouver atmosphere that hangs over all the other TV shows shot up there– Smallville, early X-Files, Once Upon A Time, and so on.)

What surprised me, though, is how many of the same Batman riffs Arrow is stealing also pop up on ABC’s Revenge.

That’s also a story of someone who spends her early adult years in a faraway place training in all kinds of exotic martial arts disciplines, then returns to a corrupt city and vows to clean it up by using her vast personal fortune to become a fearsome urban vigilante. There’s no costume, but otherwise, Emily Thorne is just a Y chromosome away from being angry young Bruce Wayne.

By day, a Kardashian sister-- by night, a martial arts badass.

She’s got a sensei who keeps warning her not to let personal feelings get in the way of the mission (the mission to vent her personal feelings of Revenge, you know, the name of the show, but just go with it) and, with this season, an ex from her training years who’s an awful lot like Henri Ducard. And her BFF Nolan is a combination of Robin and Alfred– he can serve in either role depending on the needs of the story.

Here's Emily beating up on Not-Ducard in training while her sensei watches... and hanging with her pal Nolan, who is as good at exposition as Alfred and gets clobbered as often as Robin.

Hey, it’s not just me that noticed. Over at the Tom and Lorenzo fashion blog they routinely refer to her as “Hamptons Batman.” (Incidentally, if you are watching Revenge, their morning-after reviews of the show are not to be missed. Even if you’re not a Revenge fan they’re still pretty damn funny.)

But the one we’ve been watching lately that’s been seriously working the Batman thing isn’t a new show, but rather one from a couple of decades back that I somehow missed. I spent a large part of the 1980s screwing up my personal life and thus did not watch a lot of TV. So I never got to see this particular television series until a couple of weeks ago when we picked up the first season on DVD. (This amazed my bride– Julie said, “Really? You NEVER saw this? It’s so completely your kind of show!”)

But I finally found it, and now that I have, I’m swooningly in love with The Equalizer.

Thirty years late to the party, but I finally got here.

Not only is it a great throwback to all the 1960s superspy stuff I grew up on, but I swear to God, it’s completely a riff on Batman. A very particular Batman– the aging one depicted in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

Both Dark Knight‘s Bruce Wayne and The Equalizer‘s Robert McCall are angry men in their 50s who act outside the law to take down criminals the police can’t or won’t touch. Both originally retired from crimefighting because they felt responsible for an innocent’s death, and both returned to it because they can’t stand the urban cesspool each of their respective cities has become. And most of all, both of them are still terrifying opponents despite being middle-aged men.

You BETTER get off their damn lawn.

Robert McCall has secret safehouses loaded with cool equipment– a lot like Bruce Wayne’s auxiliary Batcaves. His toll-free number with its anonymous answering machine is the equivalent of the Bat-signal. And McCall’s friend Control is essentially the same guy as the Dark Knight version of Commissioner Gordon– the aging comrade-in-arms who’s still bound by official rules and bureaucracy, but willing to bend the rules for his vigilante pal.

These guys could swap roles and you wouldn't be able to tell except for the mustache.

But what seals the deal for me is the way both Dark Knight and The Equalizer posit that living in a major American city means you are risking your life whenever you set foot on the sidewalk.

The thing that both THE EQUALIZER and DARK KNIGHT RETURNS are absolutely certain of is that in the big city.... No Place Is Safe. (That elevator shot is actually from the opening credits of THE EQUALIZER, an image hammering home the message every episode that vigilantism is the only sane response to urban crime.)

Their cities are so full of monsters that you wonder why the citizens don’t all just get the hell out and nuke the place from orbit. In an environment that horrible, with deadly menace lurking around every corner, vigilantism seems like the only sensible response.

Now, this is not actually a criticism. And I don’t for a moment mean to suggest that there was any kind of plagiarism here. Or even influence, really– I can’t imagine any of the people involved in making The Equalizer were avidly reading Batman comics back then. But the parallels tickle me.

We aren’t all the way through the episodes yet. Maybe by the time we get to the end of this particular season set the show will have turned into something completely different. So far, though, as far as I can tell Woodward’s Robert McCall is a half-step away from being Miller’s Goddamn Batman in a trenchcoat. And I love it. I’m almost at the point where if anyone asks me what my favorite film adaptation of Batman is, I’d probably say “Edward Woodward as The Equalizer.”

In fairness, though, I have to admit that could just be the cold medicine talking.

See you next week.

25 Comments

Person of Interest

Awesome show, basically, Batman without costumes

created by Johnathan Nolan, brother of Chris

I have hazy memories of watching “The Equalizer” when I was little; I remember virtually nothing about it. Sounds like I might need to track it down.
My girlfriend remarked when we watched the premiere of “Arrow” how Batman-esque Queen’s story is, and I explained to her that GA was a Batman knockoff in the comics from day one, and didn’t get his own identity until he was a few decades old. The show has been decent so far, but it needs to pick up in the next few episodes, or I’ll probably stop watching. The promise of Deadshot will ensure that I watch next week, though, no matter what. Hopefully they didn’t douche him up much.

@Trey spot on with POI. It’s a fantastic show though.

Like Julie, I’m also shocked that you had never watched the Equalizer before – in my mind it was just pretty much a given that this was a series you had already seen.

As an aside, anyone who likes the Equalizer might want to check out the short-lived Image comic book series ‘Near Death’; it’s not exactly the same thing, but some of the storytelling style is similar, even of the lead character isn’t quite as nice as Robert McCall was, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Arrow lost me about twenty minutes into the first episode when Queen coldbloodedly executes a downed bad guy to protect his secret identity. Not my kind of super-hero.

The Equalizer had great theme music too: Stewart Copeland’s “The Equalizer Busy Equalizing.”

never considered that the equalizer had some elements taken from batman. given how much i enjoyed the show when it first ran long go . plus if nothing else the main character of revenge should be considered bat woman with out a costume since like bruce she is trying to avenge the loss of her father. with the main villian one could now consider her own joker.

Arrow lost me about twenty minutes into the first episode when Queen coldbloodedly executes a downed bad guy to protect his secret identity.

That pulled me up short too. But then I realized A- everything else is so NOT ‘my’ Green Arrow anyway, and B- He’s shooting everyone else with metal arrowheads and no guarantee he’s not going to kill them THAT way and C- I never really had an issue when Mike Grell had Ollie use lethal force… and most of all D- I am so fond of so many other hard-guy heroes that use lethal force that I just would be a giant hypocrite if I balked at it. Because, when you take “DC superhero” out of the equation, those ARE my kind of guys. James Bond, Jason Bourne, Mike Hammer… the only thing that made it odd for me was that it was “Green Arrow” making the move. So I decided not to be annoyed. But I had to ACTUALLY DECIDE, it was an active thing. I totally get what you are saying– it just wasn’t insurmountable for us.

Although it seemed like a weird moment in and of itself. Why do it? I can only assume it’s some sort of signal that “we’re totally going there, DC fanboys. Get on board now or beat it.” I guess they get points for efficiently weeding out everyone who was expecting the actual Green Arrow, or even the one from SMALLVILLE.

It probably wouldn’t have been insurmountable for me either if the rest of the show hadn’t been so very cliche-ridden in both script and style and the lead actor such a smarmy douchebag in and out of costume.

What I drives me batty watching Arrow is that I’m constantly asking why they couldn’t just make it Batman: The Early Years. It’s a fine show for the channel it’s on, but does the CW or WB or whoever not want to make four times the money by upgrading from a green hood and arrows to a black mask and batarangs? The only thing I can think of is that they’re afraid of Batman fatigue, but that didn’t exactly stop them from making so many seasons of Smallville.

I guess I can think of a million small reasons. Maybe they’re trying to build up GA for a run at the silver screen, or he was so popular on Smallville the character *seemed* like the next logical choice to be featured for a show. Maybe Ollie has a stronger love interest to work in the story. Maybe it seemed more likely that he’s the one who would use lethal force over Batman. I just don’t see any of these as a reason to go the direction they did.

I’m guessing the rights for Batman are tied up in film rather than TV — why make a Batman TV show (with all the associations that phrase has, as well) when you can make so much more money with a movie? Plus, the Nolan version is still fresh in everyone’s minds.

The Equalizer star is the guy from the original Wicker Man, right?

And it makes sense that Equalizer and DKR share that vigilantism as sanest response to cesspool of the city — they’re both from the ’80s, post-Dirty Harry/Death Wish, post-’70s recession era, ’80s crack/drug wars. Blah blah blah, I’m sure you know both the pop culture antecedents and sociopolitical framework as well or better than I.

So, Revenge features a young lady essentially in the Bruce Wayne role from Batman Begins, and her friend’s name is NOLAN? I’d say you’re on the right track there, sir!

Cei-U!

Green Arrow in the comics has ALWAYS been a smarmy douchebag in and out of costume, for me.

For me, he was always one of those rich hypocrites in spandex more concerned with doing the right thing (for his political mindset) individually, while being the tpe of rich guy he railed about with the mask off.

At least Bruce has all the foundations in his parents’ names dropping a huge chunk of the Wayne corporation profits into doing good works for the needy, and those are often plot points in the comics (board members misdirecting money, others thinking the company should keep more, etc.) I don’t remember Ollie doing much of anything, other than acting like a (formerly?) rich guy slumming with “the little people”. If he lost his fortune due to his time “missing, presumed dead”, I’m sure there were plenty of his JL buddies that could have found ways for him to get it back so that he could go the “Wayne Foundation” route.

That’s also a story of someone who spends her early adult years in a faraway place training in all kinds of exotic martial arts disciplines, then returns to a corrupt city and vows to clean it up by using her vast personal fortune to become a fearsome urban vigilante. There’s no costume, but otherwise, Emily Thorne is just a Y chromosome away from being angry young Bruce Wayne.

So you though that Nolans’ Batman Begins was such a brilliant and great piece of filmmaking?? Think again………….
http://www.shadowsanctum.net/interactive/tidbits_archive/shadow_batman-movie_comparisons.html

About some more comicbook films:
http://scottalanmendelson.blogspot.nl/2012/07/who-needs-origins-8-comic-book-films.html

The Equalizer star is the guy from the original Wicker Man, right?

Yes indeed. Woodward was also in a wonderfully nasty little BBC show called Callan that I like a lot.

Ollie lost his fortune the first time because while he was out super-heroing, a business rival was able to make it look like he was mismanaging corporate funds and got him booted out of his own corporations. I heard that he later recovered some of it and lost it again, but I don’t know those details.

And wasn’t there a Brave and the Bold story where he wound up inheriting $2 million after surviving attempts by Harvey Dent to kill him? But B&B usually doesn’t count for continuity.

Wait a minute, Revenge has martial arts action? From the ads I saw, I assumed it would be a prime-time soap opera where the revenge was attained through blackmail, sex, money, and occaisonal non-martial arts violence. I had no interest in that show, but I’d give the show described in this article a chance. I’ve seen commercials for this show, but I’ve never seen fights in them. They should market the show better.

I think Nolan’s Batman has made a huge impact. We also live in uncertain times (although aren’t all times uncertain?) so that may contribute to an interest in stories about vigilantes. These 2 factors are probably why everything is ripping off Batman these days.

I’ll add that I was also shocked when Arrow broke a dude’s neck, but I understand why he kills in the show. I think it would seem strange if he was shooting regular arrows at people constantly without killing them. It would be like the A-Team which always had gun battles but no one ever died.

Wait a minute, Revenge has martial arts action? From the ads I saw, I assumed it would be a prime-time soap opera where the revenge was attained through blackmail, sex, money, and occaisonal non-martial arts violence.

Not a LOT, not every episode. But it ramped up towards the end of the last season when both Revenge Sensei and a hit man were added to the mix. And this year there is not-Ducard as well. So we’re seeing a little more of it.

But you aren’t wrong, it is mostly a soap, just with occasional kung fu interludes. We like it because it’s so completely, gleefully over the top, and Emily is so relentless in her revenge quest. She really IS Batman-like in her obsession.

The Equalizer starts to get a bit shouty after a season or two. I stopped watching when it seemed he was yelling rather than, you know, equalizing with the situation.

The Equalizer was the best when Stewart Copeland was doing the music – awesome edgy stuff (at least when I was 13).

Edward Woodward was also great in Breaker Morant (Australians in the Boer War)

Favorite Equalizer episode — the one with Telly Savalas as the chastised priest.

I agree this is a ‘darker, grittier’ Green Arrow in Arrow. I like (and hope it doesn’t lose people) that everything wasn’t spelled out in the first episode. We’re getting it in dribs and drabs. This Ollie seems like a mix of Batman, Oliver Queen, and Roy Harper. I was hoping to see him step up and be ‘Mr. CEO’ and try to steer the company in a more liberal way (reflecting comic book Oliver Queen) and be drawn more into direct conflicts with his mother.

I also like having his sister being Speedy. She has the potential of mixing Roy and Mia, but if she becomes ‘Red Arrow’ it makes a little more sense in a modern context than “Come with me little boy and fight crime!”

Does anyone know if Kelly Hu’s China White will be coming back? She could be Catwoman/Cheshire to Oliver Queen’s Batman/Arsenal.

We like it because it’s so completely, gleefully over the top, and Emily is so relentless in her revenge quest. She really IS Batman-like in her obsession.

Ditto.

And of course, Revenge is just a tweaked, contemporary, long-form take on The Count of Monte Cristo, with which Batman also shares some influences, obviously.

Teebore

October 22, 2012 at 9:20 am

We like it because it’s so completely, gleefully over the top, and Emily is so relentless in her revenge quest. She really IS Batman-like in her obsession.

Ditto.

And of course, Revenge is just a tweaked, contemporary, long-form take on The Count of Monte Cristo, with which Batman also shares some influences, obviously.

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http://boutique.ina.fr/video/fictions-et-animations/adaptations-litteraires/PACK783247888/les-mysteres-de-paris.5.fr.html#containerVideo

http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=1388

Despite its title, Mysteries of Paris is neither a mystery nor a detective story in any formal sense, it is however an early example of the crime novel and thriller and helped to establish many of the tropes of popular fiction that still linger today. Heroes from Zorro to the Shadow to Batman owe a debt to Sue’s Prince Rodolphe (in some editions Rudolph), the mysterious man in black haunting the back alleys of crime and poverty ridden Paris.

A little British pedantry for Mr. Hatcher, Callan was made by Thames Television for the ITV Network, not the BBC. “Wonderfully nasty little show” covers it beautifully, though. Unfortunately I don’t think what survives of series 1 and 2 is available on Region 1 DVD. The R1 DVDs labelled “Set 1″ and “Set 2″ are actually series 3 and 4, doubly annoying as series 3 picks up the pieces from series 2′s cliffhanger ending.

Alexandre Dumas’ publishes directed him to write The Count of Monte Cristo due to the impacet of Eugene Sue’s novel. The truth of the matter; Sue’s novel plays as more of an urban thriller. Rodolphe encounters prostitues, finds himself in a cliff hanger with the river Seine filling in a cellar, etc. By contrast, Monte Cristo has as its highlight two prospective duels that do not take place. Rodolphe also acts a self-appointed judge.

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