web stats

CSBG Archive

Cross-Hatchings for August 2013

No one subject struck me as column-worthy on its own this week, so here are a few little things. Column-ettes.

*

The Batfleck Thing Dep’t: Ever since the news was announced that Ben Affleck was signed to play Batman in the Man of Steel follow-up, the internet has been having… well, I guess you’d call it an ‘episode,’ or maybe a ‘seizure.’ I’m not exactly sure what kind, because sometimes it looks like panic and other times it looks like schaedenfreude and once in a while it looks like dangerously crazy road rage. All day, every ten minutes or so, all my various social media feeds exploded with stuff like this….

It’s not just fans, either. I’ve seen comics pros and other Hollywood actors weighing in on this particular piece of casting, and some of them are just as outraged as the most deranged message-board guys. Even our own Dread Lord and Master put up a post about it.

So it’s reached the point where I am almost starting to feel foolish for not caring.

You’d think I would care. Batman has been my favorite costumed hero for over forty-five years now. And I own almost all the Batman films here on DVD, from the first couple of 1940s serials on up through the animated Dark Knight Returns. It’s not like I’m not invested in the character.

But then I realized why I just don’t think it’s worth all this hysteria. Somewhere in my brain, my inner Bat-fan had already shrugged the whole project off once Man of Steel turned out to be a hit and Zack Snyder had teased this sequel as being “in the spirit of” Frank Miller’s Dark Knight.

Because I don’t want to see that movie, no matter who it stars. I didn’t care for The Dark Knight Rises or Man of Steel, and now that it’s clearly the new direction and not a one-off or a fluke, I’m out. For me, it’s kind of like what happened to X-Men comics back in the late 1980s… something I really liked a lot got taken in a different direction and that direction was hugely popular even though it wasn’t my thing. So I shrugged it off and found other super-team stories to enjoy.

This new Superman-Batman movie project strikes me as being the same kind of thing. So I’m moving on. It’s not as though I don’t have a couple of longboxes full of other Superman-Batman stories here. A lot of people are fans of this new Nolan-Snyder approach but I’m not one of them.

Second– and for me this probably was the deciding factor– my first thought was, “Hell, that means they’re doing the first meeting again.”

Well, I already have at least four different versions of that right here in the home library. Probably more. I can’t even remember all of them, to be honest.


I’ve already crabbed at length in this space about movie adaptations wasting time with the whole origin-first thing, so there’s no need to take up more space here reiterating that. But it is a major reason I’m just not that interested in seeing the first Batman-Superman meeting again, especially from a creative team that doesn’t do it for me.

But none of the hysterical internet rage is about any of those things. It’s all Affleck. Almost as though the entire, free-floating cloud of internet snark and anger and cynicism that exists at any given moment has all lasered in on this one guy.

All of which leads me to wonder… why does everyone have it in for Ben Affleck? Is it just his turn, or something? Because if that’s how it works, that’s really kind of creepy.

Think about it. He’s a guy that said yes to a job offer. He’s not a criminal getting off scot-free for something because he’s a celebrity, he hasn’t been going around making nasty remarks about how he’s really too good for the material, he’s just an actor that took a gig. If somebody offered me a million-dollar payday to put on a Batsuit, I would do it. I bet you would too.

I really want to ask all the people circulating their petitions and whatnot, most of whom are in a spit-spraying rage, What the hell did the guy ever do to you? (I know that’s asking for it– I can already see the furious comments replying “Daredevil. ‘Nuff said.”)

But so what if Ben Affleck’s been in shitty movies? What actor hasn’t? Actors, for all that they like to brag to James Lipton about craft and so on, have very little to do with whether or not the story works. Sure, The Bodyguard would have been an infinitely better movie if it had been made with Steve McQueen like it was originally supposed to be, but Kevin Costner didn’t ruin it. Daredevil wasn’t the fault of Ben Affleck either. I thought he did okay. The problem was the story. (The first courtroom scene with Murdock is so laughably wrong in its details that it instantly pulls the audience out of the movie, and once that happens you don’t ever get them all the way back.) Ben Affleck didn’t write Daredevil, but somehow he gets all the blame.

The actors just say the words. The writer makes them up. When I wonder if a particular project is going to turn out well, I want to know who’s writing it. Especially considering that superhero acting today mostly consists of matching closeups to a CGI double, the idea of obsessing over the casting of a particular actor seems… well, silly.

But then again, we always do this. I don’t know why movie adaptations bring out the worst in fans, but it inevitably goes like this…rage, disbelief, snark, and acceptance. I used to be the admin for CBR’s Movies and Television board and whenever any casting news for anything was announced, the wave of anger that followed was as predictable as the sunrise. Every time. When Daniel Craig was picked for James Bond. When the first pictures of Brandon Routh in the Superman outfit showed up, there were people throwing fits about the damn belt buckle. Even Jack Nicholson as the Joker got people pissed off. (“Too old! Too fat!”) I think the only recent superhero movie decision that didn’t get fans screaming all over the internet in a seething fury was casting Patrick Stewart as Professor X. For some reason nobody felt like they had to litigate that one on message boards for weeks.

As I was writing this– (Literally! Right in that moment!) Patton Oswalt suddenly showed up in my newsfeed with his take on it all, and his comments are well worth sharing. So here you go.

Anyway, all of you having a tantrum over this should relax. We almost had Sylvester Stallone as Superman, back in the day…. that would have been a decision worth a vast internet seizure. Ben Affleck as Batman doesn’t even rise to the Please, no level that comes with the perennial “Nicolas Cage is interested” rumors that accompany most superhero movies. People should let him up off the mat now.

*

From Out Of The Past! Dep’t: For research purposes, I have been reading a lot about stage magic and magicians and spiritualist scams the last few weeks, and it reminded me how much I used to really love all that stuff. There were a couple of times– usually after I was done with the latest book I’d found– that me and the neighbor kids would put on our own magic shows.

I’ve been tracking down books I used to check out of the library all the time when I was in the third grade and it turned out my favorites were all written by the King of the Pulps, Walter Gibson. If I’d just done my online searches under his name instead of trying to remember various titles and dust jackets from forty years ago, I’d have saved myself all kinds of grief.

Apart from my delighted re-discovery of these books, though, it also reminded me of a great genre that we just don’t see any more… the magician-detective. It used to be very popular in comics.

Today, of course, the landscape has changed. The magicians in comics are all real sorcerers now. Even with that tweak of the basic concept, no publisher seems to be able to make a new magician-hero series work, even with the characters that seem to be popular.

I wonder what the problem is, and I don’t really even have a guess. It’s another one of those genres that just kind of went away. Shame, really. But then, I think that about westerns and war comics and crime comics, too.

Anyway, in the meantime I’ve got this pile of Walter Gibson books to wallow in. That will keep me happy for quite a while. If you have any interest in the subject, his The Master Magicians and Secrets of Magic are especially awesome. They’re both out of print but if you follow the links above, those will take you to Amazon dealers offering them for ridiculously low prices. Mine came to about six bucks for both and that was with shipping.

*

Outdoor Theater Dep’t: Just a reminder, for any of you around the Portland, Oregon area– this weekend is the last ever performance of Trek in The Park, and they are doing a production of “The Trouble With Tribbles” that’s been getting terrific reviews.

Five PM, free admission, Cathedral Park in St. Johns, under the bridge. Tonight the Doubleclicks are playing a set as well, apparently. Julie and I will miss that, but we’re driving down for tomorrow’s show. Well worth it. But you have to show up early, because by showtime the place looks like the Nerdstock Nation. Bring a blanket and sunscreen.

For those that can’t go, here is something cool– the writer of “Tribbles,” David Gerrold himself, showed up for last weekend’s show. Here’s the video. A little wobbly but worth it, just for Gerrold’s anecdote about Robert Englund.

*

And that’s it. Back next week, probably with tales of our travels. (We built in some time for bookscouting, too.) See you then.

24 Comments

think the reasons movie adaptions like an icon like batman seem to get some of the fan base enraged over a certain actor like this time ben affleck is because some fans feel like protectors of the charcter and that only a certain person in their mind is worthy of said icon on screen. when all ben is doing is what the actors who have gone before him is doing adding his take on batman. just like those who play dr. who or james bond. plus if nothing else maybe ben will sneak in his wife jen as a cameo as wonder woman.

Daredevil. ‘Nuff said.

Just to take care of that.

I don’t care either. Does anyone really see a comic book movie for the acting? I mean, it’s nice to get decent actors, but even though RDJ has done a nice job with Tony Stark, people are still going to see Iron Man because shit blows up. It’s ridiculous to think that more people will go see Bats/Supes if they cast Karl Urban or Josh Duhamel than Affleck. It just doesn’t matter.

I like your column-ettes – and am looking forward to your next travel column. On the Ben Affleck/Batman thing I’m “eh” myself. I’m sure he’ll do fine, but like yourself I’m tired of origin/first meeting stories, and I really didn’t care for Nolan’s Batman trilogy or the Superman movie. Except for the Krypton stuff. That was interesting. I would have liked watching a movie about Krypton before its destruction. I always did like the stories where they threw some Krypton backstory in. Pre-Crisis, I mean. I like the organic Krypton more than the crystal version.

On the magician’s as comic book heroes thing – is it because a guy who can pull a rabbit out of his hat doesn’t measure up when compared to all the meta-humans and mutants out there? The character works fine with street level criminals, but doesn’t fit in when every story is EPIC and WORLD-SHAKING. I wonder what Mark Waid could do with a Mandrake like character? Or has he already done that somewhere and I missed it?

In re: Batman and Ben Affleck.
The whole situation reminds me of when the Michael Keaton casting decision was first announced. Don’t know how well Affleck will do in the role, but I do agree that the first meeting situation does not need to be retold again. Just let Superman and Batman have an adventure together.
And in regards to magician-detectives:
The Zatanna title was doing well until DC canceled it and a lot of other good series to make room for Flashpoint and the “New 52″.
But Pro Se Press is working on a volume featuring new stories of Diamondstone the Magician, to be released via their Pulp Obscura imprint in cooperation with Altus Press.

Doctor Strange can definitely work. The problem has been that Joe Quesada and Brian Bendis inveterate idiots. Bendis Bendis isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the room. Hell, he doesn’t even have a bulb. Doctor Strange requires a writer with a brain. So what does Quesada do, he hands Doctor Strange to Bendis. Bendis, horrible writer that he is, then tries to give the title of Sorcerer Supreme to Doctor Voodoo and no one gave a s***.

The ONLY way to revive Doctor Strange is to look at the huge psychedelic vibe Ditko imbued his creation with and run with it. Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Matt Fraction, Walter Simonson, Frazer Irving, Mike Allred, Mike Carey, Guy Davis, Peter David, Frank Barbiere (Five Ghosts), ARE ALL GREAT CREATORS capable of reviving DOCTOR STRANGE. Also, Bendis must NEVER be allowed to touch the character EVER AGAIN.

Another condition is that any series involving Doctor Strange has to be left alone in his own corner of the Marvel Universe. It’s worked for Wonder Woman. Magic and Science Fiction have difficulty mixing together (Jack Kirby’s Thor notwithstanding).

It all makes me glad the internet was barely around when Michael Keaton playing Batman was announced. There still was a lot of crap flung at the time.
I agree in being tired of origin stories, but it’s gonna be half of the movie anyway.

I agree with Greg on Affleck. It just doesn’t matter because I think that this (or something very close) will be the film:

Act 1: Superman being Superman (saves a kitten in a tree or something after stopping some bad guys). Batman being Batman (stops a street mugging or something; ignores kitten in the tree). Goes back to Batcave. Alfred complains about Bruce needing friends because he’s a loner type and there may be some threats he can’t handle. Bruce brushes him off and broods some more. Y’know, because we need to establish who these guys are. Background Superman villain needs to eliminate Superman; has partner in Gotham (Batman villain) that suggests pitting Supes against Bats. Both chuckle and scream “Advantageous!”

Act 2: Batman and Superman fall for it. Fighty-fight with Baysplosions occurs. Both are half-dead and lying in a Metropolis street when our villains launch their robot army of unending destructiveness on the city. Both realize they’ve been played.

Act 3: Bats insists on team-up because he suddenly thinks “I need help for this”. Supes says he’s got this because he’s like Superman and takes off. Supes flies right into the hoard and looks like he’ll take out both head villains when “SURPRISE!” out comes the Kryptonite. Supes lies half-dead again. Both villains scream “Advantageous!” and walk away before he’s really dead. Batman kicks the Kryptonite away and carries Superman off to lick wounds and bond.

“See?” Batman says. “You do need me…to kick away the Kryptonite. Oh, and I’m not bad with computers. It looks like I do need help sometimes. I have learned something.”

“You’re right,” Supes replies. “I was a fool to think that I could do this by myself. And I’m only good at smashing computers. So I have learned something too. I’m sorry. Let’s team-up.”

Man hug ensues. It’s on.

Act 4: Our heroes figure out how to shut down the robot army at the source. Supes smashy-smash robot army. Bats sneaky-sneak into place where robots are controlled. Takes down his foe one on one because he’s the G-damned Batman. Shuts down the robot army. Destroys console for the hell of it and a big Baysplosion. Heads to help Supes.

Supes confronts his villain foe one on one in the BATTLE TO END ALL BATTLES! And buildings fall. And people scream. And things like random mailboxes blow up for no reason. Then, lo, a piece of Kryptonite rears up and Supes is down again. Villain holds it out towards him when out of nowhere a batarang knocks it away! Like five feet, but whatevs. It allows Supes to get back in the game, and he finishes his deadliest foe with a gut punch to the moon.

Afterwards, both meet in their civilian identity and discuss how much fun it was to make friends and save a city while having a cronut together. One of them ponders if there is more like them out there and how cool it would be to know them. They go their separate ways, leaving the audience with a wink towards the future.

The End. Credits role. Stinger scene with a woman charging an unseen female with having to go to man’s world to fix it because it’s all screwed up. She opens a chest and removes a golden lasso.

The end again.

(Or they write something utterly mindless where both just beat on each other like apes; either way, I’m not expecting much from this).

Magic characters are (generally) less physical than non-magic characters. Spells are less visceral than a good right hook. Also, magic’s lack of rules in comics can lead to easy deus ex machina climaxes.

Being a huge fan of the work Ditko, Lee, Colan, Brunner, Englehart, Stern, Golden, Rogers, Smith, and sporadic others on Dr. Strange, I don’t feel that way. I can see why other people would, though.

I read Anderson’s Last Days of Krypton and absolutely love it. Best interpretation of Krypton I’ve ever read, and holds a special place on my bookshelf. Too bad DC doesn’t go in that direction.

Is the Batman/Superman follow-up just as good?

I thought Daredevil the movie had plenty of decent things going for it:
*I liked the visuals of his extra sense (making it sonar instead of radar is fine). I appreciated every time they showed it. And the scene where he sees Elektra through the raindrops was beautifully done
*I like the details like the organizing of bills and the sensory deprivation chamber
*I thought Colin Farrell was fun to watch as Bullseye
*I thought Michael Clarke Duncan was a great choice for Kingpin, or could have been with better material to work with
*I appreciate that they looked to the comics for a lot the material

My main objections:
*They tried to cram way to much into one movie (DD’s origin, falling in love with Elektra, Elektra’s becoming evil, Elektra’s death, meeting the Kingpin, the fall of the Kingpin) in too short a time and ended up doing it badly
*Daredevil’s transition from brutal vigilante to moral character was poorly conceived and executed
*The added touch that Kingpin killed Murdock’s father was lazy writing
*Ben Affleck was a terrible choice and played the role poorly

I think, for me, Ben Affleck has turned into a very good director and in the right role he’s also a good actor, but that role is generally not the lead (think Shakespeare in Love – where he was utterly fantastic in a small snarky devastatingly fun role). And certainly not a superhero role, I think the whole world should have learned their lesson from Daredevil, but apparently not.

But I may be the odd man out here, because I thought Bale was a near perfect Batman (no, the voice doesn’t bother me, and I think it’s actually pretty accurate to what Bruce would/should have to do to not have his voice recognized). Though I was too young to be “up in arms” about the Michael Keaton casting, to be honest, I don’t think he was a great Bruce Wayne. An okay Batman, but not a great Bruce Wayne, and while I look back on Batman fondly (and Batman Returns fondly thanks solely to Catwoman) Keaton is not any part of the reason those movies worked for me (then or now). As for the other Batmans – both Kilmer and Clooney got screwed as far as I’m concerned. They weren’t bad by any stretch and perhaps they could have been great but they were in horrible shitty ridiculous films, so I don’t know that we’ll ever know for sure what they might have been.

Unfortunately for Affleck (for this viewer at least, since I thought MoS was a trainwreck) the same is probably true for him. MAYBE there would be some way for him to be good…it’s doubtful to me, but possible, but in a Snyder Superman/Batman…man, are the odds stacked against that working out.

Though part of me wished/wishes that Bale had stayed on for Superman/Batman (the part of me that wants a better movie than I suspect I’m going to get, even though I’m not a fan of the direction etc.) the other part of me thinks it was the best decision Bale ever made, no matter how much cash they would have air dropped onto his lawn.

” But I may be the odd man out here, because I thought Bale was a near perfect Batman (no, the voice doesn’t bother me, and I think it’s actually pretty accurate to what Bruce would/should have to do to not have his voice recognized). Though I was too young to be “up in arms” about the Michael Keaton casting, to be honest, I don’t think he was a great Bruce Wayne. An okay Batman, but not a great Bruce Wayne, and while I look back on Batman fondly (and Batman Returns fondly thanks solely to Catwoman) Keaton is not any part of the reason those movies worked for me (then or now). As for the other Batmans – both Kilmer and Clooney got screwed as far as I’m concerned. They weren’t bad by any stretch and perhaps they could have been great but they were in horrible shitty ridiculous films, so I don’t know that we’ll ever know for sure what they might have been. ”

It may be accurate within the story’s universe, but once it gets through the fourth wall to the audience, it still sounds like Batman is a seventy-year-old chain-smoker. If Bale did something similar to Kevin Conroy, where he dropped his voice with the mask/raised it in his civilian identity, it wouldn’t have been as accurate, but it would’ve been easier to listen to, and thus made for a better overall experience.

Of course, this is emblematic of the Nolanverse’s ultimately flawed compulsion for realism, which given the inherent ludicrousness of the source material, ends up making things even more absurd.

I was pretty upset about the Man of Steel stuff but I’ve come to the conclusion that I have better things to do than gripe about things that weren’t made for me. I got to the same place with Star Wars once the prequels came out. I’ve mostly been interested in this Affleck thing because it’s just plain funny. I like a good comedy.

(I know this post is sort of long, forgive me)

I’m like you, in that I have been a long-time BatFan (not nearly 45 years, though), but did not like The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan’s trilogy got some aspects right about the characters, and got even more aspects wrong. Too many to list here, but about TDKR, Batman would never abandon Gotham. EVER. Out of character much ? And giving the mantle to some cop who has no other training in any of the vast areas Batman would have/need expertise in. Most of it was a clusterfuck.

I remember not that long ago, there was another Internet fan uproar over Zack Snyder meeting Frank Miller to consult about the film, after the Batman/Superman movie was announced. Everyone jumped the gun thinking it would be a panel-for-panel reproduction of Miller’s story…and those that hated it talked endless amounts of shit. And now they have moved on to talking shit about this Batman casting. It’s cyclical for the Internet fandom, as you pointed out.

(They failed to realize Miller consulting does not mean it’s a straight-forward adaptation of “The Dark Knight Returns”. Snyder most likely will make their battle against each other (most likely the comics trope of misunderstanding each other at first) resemble the TDKR fight in some ways, and that will probably be it.

I feel that those that do not like Miller’s TDKR are either Superman fans who dislike his portrayal as a government stooge, or those that prefer ‘their’ Batman to not be grim ‘n’ gritty and brooding. Even though they do not understand that Batman has had multitudes of depictions over the years : many styles and takes can be done with him, and have been done with him. There is something for everyone there.

Personally I loved it, think it was one of Miller’s finest works and one of the most iconic Bat-Stories. It was also big for the public perception of comics at the time it was released (who viewed all of it as campy kids-stuff) and somewhat paved the way for more mature takes on superheroes. The 80s were when Frank Miller could no wrong. He was at the peak of his talent : Batman: Year One, Batman : TDKR, Wolverine, Daredevil, Ronin. After early Sin City is where he lost it.)

Affleck is far from who I or many would have cast, but I was not planning on watching this anyway, because of Superman being in it. Man of Steel I cannot comment on, as I’ve always HATED Superman…so I am never going to watch it. Even though Zack Snyder is a great director : to me, his best films are the “Dawn of the Dead” remake/re-imagining and “300″. Even though the “Watchmen” movie is almost unanimously hated, it was a visual feast.

“Greg Hatcher : For me, it’s kind of like what happened to X-Men comics back in the late 1980s… something I really liked a lot got taken in a different direction and that direction was hugely popular even though it wasn’t my thing. ”

You must be referring to after the X-Men (Outback Era Team with Marc Silvestri/Jim Lee on art) were forced to disband to escape into the Siege Perilous from the Reavers. The whole thing was sort of Claremont’s “Destruction Of and Rebuilding The X-Men” experiment. I remember it took dozens upon dozens upon dozens of issues for the X-Men to reunite and regroup into the X-Men again. And then there was more focus on B-List X-Men characters for awhile.

It’s pretty divisive among X-Fans. Some loathed it, many loved it. I enjoyed many of the stories, but some were uninspired, meandered too much, and were not Chris Claremont’s best (Lil’ ‘Ro Storm was godawful), and the reuniting took longer than it should have. But hey, Claremont X-Men is better than most other X-Men stories since. (Not all, just most)

“Greg Burgas : Does anyone really see a comic book movie for the acting?”

If they do not, they damn well should. If it’s just for mindless, CGI-laced action and nothing else…then that is sad as all hell. I love action as well, but I cannot be the only one who appreciates story and character depth and development, and the performances. If you take that away from a comic book film or any other sci-fi/fantasy movie, then you are watching the equivalent of an old, pre-home console video game. (just with better graphics)

“Greg Hatcher : I don’t know why movie adaptations bring out the worst in fans, but it inevitably goes like this…rage, disbelief, snark, and acceptance. I used to be the admin for CBR’s Movies and Television board and whenever any casting news for anything was announced, the wave of anger that followed was as predictable as the sunrise. Every time. When Daniel Craig was picked for James Bond. I think the only recent superhero movie decision that didn’t get fans screaming all over the internet in a seething fury was casting Patrick Stewart as Professor X. For some reason nobody felt like they had to litigate that one on message boards for weeks.”

Fans were not in a berserker rage about the Patrick Stewart/Professor X casting because it was brilliant and inspired… because he is an extremely talented actor, and he looked the part. Plus he had the faith of some of geekdom from being Jean-Luc Picard. It made actual sense.

The irony of James Bond fans being upset over Daniel Craig is that he is how Bond’s creator Ian Fleming described him in the original novels. He was never a Pierce Brosnan. I hate James Bond (but read the novels a long time ago), so the news of it never bothered me.

Yep, my whole stance on the Affleck as Batman thing is “Yeah, so what?” Followed by: “Petitions? Really?”

On to more important things: no more Trek in the Park?! Man, I just assumed that would become a permanent thing, sort of an institution, in the hopes that one day I’d be able to catch a show when visiting Portland in August (which is unlikely any time in the near future). Darn.
But thanks for the link to the Gerrold video. What a classy guy he is.

As for magician crime-solvers, you’d think that would be a popular concept for a television series as well, but Bill Bixby’s Magician (apparently quite highly regarded in some circles) only lasted one season.

Part of the fall of the classic magician-detective is in the fall of the “gentleman sleuth” archetype in general, and part of it is the fall of the “regular” stage magician as a popular figure. Today, audiences prefer that the detective be a neurotic mess or an antisocial trickster or a vaguely, offensively and stereotypically “on the spectrum” in a way that conveniently Similarly, the “hardboiled” detective now has to be a criminal or a dupe the whole time. The deconstruction of the detective has overtaken the detective. Alternatively, audiences want a wacky ensemble of scientist-detectives in the CSI/NCIS/SUV procedural thriller mold.

Magicians, in turn, have become mostly comical figures. The cynical humor of Penn and Teller, or even the genuinely fascinating ironic patter of Ricky Jay have become the primary mode. Really, this is how and why a character like Zatanna should work…except that Penn and Teller or Ricky Jay impress by having rarefied real skills, while Zatanna can do anything provided she says it backwards. There’s still a niche somewhere for her as a children’s character — and that’s not an insult — but the comics audience of today seems to be mostly middle-aged men desperately torn between pretending they’re still kids and angrily demanding that everyone acknowledge their hobby should never be “kids’ stuff.” (Basically, not man-children, but man-teenagers; really, that’s what most of us mean when we talk about the adult child: a protracted wallowing in adolescent fantasy and immaturity.)

The comic book sorcerer, on the other hand, is a victim of the 1970s Doctor Strange, in particular, had some great stories that reimagined him as a kind of Zen cosmic figure of total enlightenment, overcoming the illusion of his own death or zipping through time to hold salons with Ben Franklin and so forth. The problem is that these are the *last* stories of the character; Bendis’s idea to replace Strange with a less-experienced successor is a response of sorts to the idea that the character had gained effective omnipotence, but so too were earlier efforts like Strange’s power losses and switchups in the 1990s.

The Ditko-model Strange, however, was a much more specialized and vulnerable figure. In his adventures, we see very clearly that magic is mostly good for fighting magical enemies or psychic and psychological monstrosities on the magical or mental planes. But three times in Ditko’s version, we see that a man with a gun or a bomb can still kill Doc.* More importantly, Doc was rarely if ever the most powerful mage in his stories; the most celebrated Ditko tales are the ones where Mordo and Dormammu vastly outpower Doc, and he has to use his wits.

In Ditko’s Strange stories, knowledge is the real power of the mystic. That’s even spelled out by Eternity in that cosmic deity’s first appearance, when he refuses to do what Dormammu does for Mordo and simply boost Doc up with magical energy. The first Mordo story is about establishing two rules: the one about astral forms being out of the body for 24 hours and the explanation of what Mordo’s magical candle can do. Everything else proceeds from these limits, not from brand-new powers or a magic that instantly breaks all the rules. Even the very first Strange story is about finding out the guilty secret of Strange’s client, which is what really allows Nightmare to gain power over the man.

There are no sudden-, last-minute do-anything spells in the best Ditko stories. Instead, his version of Doc gets through nearly all of his scrapes by selectively applying a few standard, very rule-bound powers: his ability to fly around in astral form, his mental control of is cloak of levitation, his ability to cast illusions, and his power to break the spells or minds of others by channeling his will through his eye-shaped amulet. This isn’t the Strange who casually tosses people into other dimensions, binds them forever in the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, or even the one who tosses around world-smashing energy bolts. (Bolts of power get thrown around in Ditko stories, but at best they knock someone over or smash their mystical shields or something.) Ditko’s Strange is a man with some unusual talents and artifacts who mostly outwits the gods and demons and other sorcerers he encounters, many of whom are his equals or superiors in raw power.

Going back to the Lovecreaftian-inflected tales of Gardner Fox’s early, great Doctor Fate, we see a similar notion of magic in cruder form. Fate has one real power: his ability to generate “energy” in his body. Everything else is played less as “Fate can do anything” and more as ” Nabu the Wise knows everything.” Again, the failure of the later Doctor Fate comes in as magic stops being a system of rules and instead becomes a kind of limitless visual expression of the writers’ spiritual ideas.

Beloved as the DeMatteis stuff is, it doesn’t leave the character in a very usable place for ensemble stories or even conventional adventure stories. And that means that without DeMatteis’s personal vision, that version of the character doesn’t work at all. Thus Fate, like Strange, undergoes periodic and usually embarrassing radical 90s changes and gets replaced with a novice version who doens’t now how to use his unlimited powers in the James Robinson/David Goyer/Geoff Johns JSA.** Tellingly, the one writer who managed to make the nigh-limitless versions of both characters work — Steve Gerber — is, like DeMatteis, a writer with a distinctive and even overpowering sense of personal creative vision.

The sorcerer hero needs limits if he or she is going to work in a shared universe, and magic needs implied, but not fully codified rules of conduct and combat. J.K. Rowling generally gets this; establish the rules, and then play them out. A good magic story might work a lot like a good “Three Laws” story by Asimov, where the real fun is in seeing how the protagonists navigate strange, sometimes seemingly dysfunctional, but ultimately rigid features of the philosophical or metaphysical realms into which they must venture.

* These would be his first appearance in Strange Tales v.1 #110, the Mister Rasputin story in Strange Tales v.1 #145, and the coda to the Mordo/Dormammu epic in Strange Tales v.1 #141-3.

** See also: every post-Ostrander take on the Spectre, which inevitably has to find ways to depower or render naive the new version, rather like what Doug Moench ended up doing with the character in the 1980s. Eventually, he just stopped appearing much at all, as he had for a while before Ostrander.

Part of the fall of the classic magician-detective is in the fall of the “gentleman sleuth” archetype in general, and part of it is the fall of the “regular” stage magician as a popular figure.

I know. I have a whole thesis somewhere in the back of my head about how the Shadow/Spider/Phantom Detective gentleman-adventurer figure actually got split up and bits of him were appropriated by the James Bond/Matt Helm superspy, others by the Mack Bolan/Jack Reacher lone adventurer guys, and what was left went to the masked street vigilantes like Daredevil and the Question. But it’s a little too esoteric of a fanboy rant to make a good column.

As for magician crime-solvers, you’d think that would be a popular concept for a television series as well, but Bill Bixby’s Magician (apparently quite highly regarded in some circles) only lasted one season.

Bixby’s MAGICIAN is VERY highly regarded in this household. I was watching it again as part of the same research preparation and it’s really just a great show. Universal really had it going on in the 1970s with their detective shows. A lot of the old Magicians are up in pieces on YouTube.

You must be referring to after the X-Men (Outback Era Team with Marc Silvestri/Jim Lee on art) were forced to disband to escape into the Siege Perilous from the Reavers. The whole thing was sort of Claremont’s “Destruction Of and Rebuilding The X-Men” experiment. I remember it took dozens upon dozens upon dozens of issues for the X-Men to reunite and regroup into the X-Men again. And then there was more focus on B-List X-Men characters for awhile.

Actually, no. It’s earlier than that. It was when Jean Grey was resurrected so Marvel could publish the original X-Factor. That’s when they lost me. I had really liked the original arc with Cyclops and Madeline Pryor that ended with them marrying and going off into the sunset. It felt very organic and RIGHT. To screw that up and make Cyclops into such an incredible asshole just irritated me, and it was also around that time that suddenly X-books started to proliferate like mushrooms. So clearly it was popular. But it wasn’t for me, so I voted with my wallet. No screaming internet tantrum required.

I read Anderson’s Last Days of Krypton and absolutely love it. Best interpretation of Krypton I’ve ever read, and holds a special place on my bookshelf. Too bad DC doesn’t go in that direction.

Is the Batman/Superman follow-up just as good?

I completely agree about LAST DAYS OF KRYPTON and every Superman fan should check it out. ENEMIES AND ALLIES is not as good, but it’s okay. Really in my mind, though, no one has topped the Bruce Timm animated “World’s Finest” three-parter for the best version of the first Superman-Batman meeting. That’s the one to beat and frankly I don’t think Nolan-Snyder have a prayer of doing anything that engaging and fun with the approach they’ve taken. I could be wrong– and I should add that none of us can judge it till it’s finished, I’m trying not to be THAT GUY about it– but the record doesn’t fill me with optimism. Magic 8 Ball suggests it won’t be for me.

But the larger point is, SO WHAT? because I don’t have to like everything. The thing that baffles me isn’t the idea that I probably won’t like it, it’s all the other people that are so enraged they don’t want it to be made at all. How did Ben Affleck get to be so hated? He’s just a working actor. I can’t think of anything he’s said or done to generate this level of rage. Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr. have actually made disparaging comments about genre films being beneath them and they get a pass. Affleck seems to have genuine affection for the material and strikes me as a guy who’ll work hard to do his best. Why not see how he works out before setting the internet on fire?

The thing that’s especially odd about it is that these enraged this-is-blasphemy fans that try to get the anger petitions circulating are often the same people that scream bloody murder whenever someone around here suggests DC is verging on torture porn in some of their books and start bellowing at us about Wertham! and Censorship! I honestly don’t get it.

I have a whole thesis somewhere in the back of my head about how the Shadow/Spider/Phantom Detective gentleman-adventurer figure actually got split up and bits of him were appropriated by the James Bond/Matt Helm superspy, others by the Mack Bolan/Jack Reacher lone adventurer guys, and what was left went to the masked street vigilantes like Daredevil and the Question. But it’s a little too esoteric of a fanboy rant to make a good column.

You’ve made me think of two superficially different superhero attempts from the Big Two that both comment on this, largely inadvertently in at least one case. The first is Daredevil V.1 #124-5, where DD tangles with a lunatic who’s decided to become a pulp-style killer vigilante, Copperhead. Published around the time Marvel was doing things like pairing Doc Savage with the Thing or Spider-Man, and DC was having Batman meet up with the Shadow every so often, the two-parter sort of reads as an explanation of how incommensurable the shared-universe superhero and the pulp adventurer really are, precisely because the pulp heroes had a lot of tonally disparate elements or bits and pieces that got broken down into more specialized genre figures. (I’m thinking more of how Copperhead the novel character is described as a clear amalgam of Doc Savage, the Shadow, and the Avenger than about Copperhead the unimpressive supervillain.)

The second, which I think you’ve covered from other angles, is the failed “First Wave” project at DC, which tried to use the alternate Earths model to mash together the Spirit, Batman, and Doc Savage as a little shared universe of their own. But all three represent stages of the transformation of the pulp adventurer into the more fragmentary genre types of later eras. Savage is a pulp adventurer with some gentlemanly qualities, Batman is a distillation of some of those elements, and the Spirit a distillation of others. But as Azzarello developed it, Batman was basically a two-gun-wielding stand-in for the Shadow without a lot of what made the Shadow work, and the Spirit lacked the whimsy of the Eisner and Cooke material, a sense of whimsy and even class that can be traced back to some of the more genteel elements of the gentleman-adventurer figure. Basically, First Wave didn’t reunify the genre elements so much as it remixed and rematched them in their splintered, divergently developed later forms. that may be part of why the whole thing didn’t work.

It occurs to me that fragmentation and specialization is sort of the origin story of what used to be considered “low genres” or “genre fiction” in general. When Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “Rappacini’s Daughter,” it wasn’t immediately considered a science fiction story; when Herman Melville used quasi-supernatural figures in novels like Typee and Moby Dick, he was writing before the development of the genre categories we take for granted. Even the modernists, who did a lot of work to separate and distinguish “high” and “low” genres and reinforce their boundaries, wrote what has to be called science fiction: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Wyndham Lewis’s The Human Age Trilogy, and Elizabeth Bowen’s The Demon Lover and Other Stories all fit into this category of literature that has fantastic elements, but does not work as or get marketed as “genre literature” in its most reductive sense. (And then there’s “magical realism”….)

Now it even happens within genres: steampunk, cyberpunk, dystopian narrative, and some high fantasy like the work of China Mieville are all forms of what was once the unitary genre of science fiction, something that could include writers with approaches as divergent as Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison. Academically, and increasingly in popular discussions, these subgenres actually get lumped back together again as Speculative Fiction, so maybe we’ll start to see an overall trend towards re-merging or recouping generic unities.

Greg, the last X-men issues I truly enjoyed were the two in which Scott got married and then he and Madeline were flying off on their honeymoon (even though I had some misgivings about him marrying someone who apparently looked exactly like Jean). I should have stopped reading right then, but like a good fanboy…

Anyway, thanks for the tip on Magician episodes.

@Greg and Omar– Well, you guys said it all. I especially appreciated Omar’s analysis of the Ditko-era Dr. Strange and Greg’s “SO WHAT” paragraph. It’s rare I find myself agreeing with the comments here, but I was nodding my way down this whole page.

As for a shared world of Pulp VS Superhero: It may be difficult to pull off, but there were two interesting experiments that showed how it might be done. One was the Helfer-Baker version of The Shadow and another was Sandman Mystery Theater, each one a joy to read, combing the best of both worlds. Of course, the earliest Batman stories were yet another example, but I agree that it would take a writer of extraordinary talent to pull off a shared tale featuring modern superheroes/ pulp heroes. I bet they could have pulled it off in the DCAU if they were given the time!

Awe man, that David Gerrold video, and all those people.
That is so great. Viva La Trek!

Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms, yo!

Westerns are doing fine in comics, just not in the US.

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives