Thoughts on Comics

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Thinking of a blog topic for this entry was certainly a daunting task. We have covered a lot of different characters, issues, movies, and even companies that exist in the world of comic books. We have discussed sidekicks, villains, and actors portraying two different heroes on the silver screen. We have discussed costume changes and possibly sexism that exists in the comic universe. The vastness of the comic book world makes it hard to cover every topic that there is. Even Wikipedia doesn’t have a full page for every single character that exists. It is a money making machine and in some cases a fond childhood memory. But it is more than just that.

Comics have been around since the turn of the 20th century and before, but they really became popular around the 1930s. The comic book as we know it today officially started in 1934. The comic book world has thrived and also suffered, just like any other media form (newspapers, magazines, TV), in its long history, but it has certainly held its own. The popularity of comics is what keeps it afloat in these turbulent times, along with one of the most loyal fan bases in the world. If you don’t believe that just attend a Comic-Con.

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Comic books represent the triumph of good over evil in most storylines, but in the Modern Age of comics this is not necessarily the case. Comics can also offer storylines that are more realistic and more relatable. They include the gray areas that real life can be riddled with. Comic books have ceased to simply be childhood fantasies, but they now represent a legitimate faction of literature. They can be a tool to expressive artsy, poetic, deep, or thought-provoking storylines or visual effects. Not only this, but they have brought about endless amounts of television series and major motion pictures. The inception of the comic book has broken free from its pages and boomed into a billion dollar industry.

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So when deciding what to write about the thought occurred: comics are simply comics. They are an American icon like hot dogs and baseball. They are our way of putting out literature and pop culture in the form of superheroes and villains. Sometimes we spend so much time riddled with life’s choices and struggles that we forget what is important in life. No, comics are not the most important thing in the world. Not even close to the fact. But they do bring important lessons to light. Be yourself, stand up for what is right, good will prevail, and many others lessons can be gained from comics. We may be in a time of utter chaos, but there are some lessons that many people still need to learn. While comics can’t do all of that, but they can certainly put someone on the right path.

Super Heroes Need Their Villains

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Super heroes are the backbone and foundation of the comic book world. Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man are, simply put, icons. For many they represent childhood and the triumph of good over evil. To others they represent art in a published, monthly form. Still, others find them to be the archetypes of a new era. In the old days Captain Nemo, Allan Quattermain, and Van Helsing were the superheroes of classic novels. Now the super hero torch is passed to those that wear capes and have powers. But the question still begs an answer: where would the super hero stories be without the bad guys? If super heroes had no one to put behind bars or no arch nemesis to keep them in tip-top shape, how much different would their stories be? The existence of the super hero is fully dependent on what the super villain brings to the table.

courtesy: google images

courtesy: google images

Possibly the most recognizable villain in the entire comic book world is The Joker. Making  his appearance in Batman #1, the character has been Batman’s recurring arch nemesis since. The Joker’s diabolical plots normally incorporate novelty weapons such as squirting flowers with acid in them and hand buzzers that actually pack a shock. His back story has multiple different threads. Some writers have made his origin different than others, but in general the consensus is that he was horrible disfigured in a chemical accident that left his hair green and his face white. The Heath Ledger version (from the Dark Knight film) finds the Joker suffering from scars due to a Chelsea grin. The Joker’s role in Batman’s life is kind of a two sided coin. Without The Joker, Batman would not have an arch enemy. It would be a boring existence for both characters. The thrill of the battle of wits and strength between these two is what readers want. They want tragedy and in the end good to triumph over evil.

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Movie Magneto. courtesy: google images

Another popular villain is Magneto from the Marvel Universe. Magneto, aka Erik Lensherr, is essentially the arch enemy of Charles Xavier and the X-Men. Appearing, along with Xavier and the X-Men, in the very first issue of X-men, Magneto has continuously been the focus of evil in this comic series. Magneto was a child of the Holocaust; his family was killed by the Nazis. Because of this he harbors much hatred toward humans and a feeling of mutant elitism. Magneto was once the good friend and partner to Charles Xavier, until their different opinions of human-mutant relations drove them into separated sides of the battlefield. Magneto has the ability to manipulate all kinds of metal (even the adamantium in Wolverine’s bones, which he once ripped out of Wolverine.) His relationship to Charles Xavier and their former friendship makes this villain much more complex than The Joker, because Magneto does not start out simply as a homicidal maniac his reasons for villainy are more realistic by worldly standards.

Magneto and The Joker are only two examples of the massive collection of supervillains that superheroes have to face in their adventures. It is safe to say that while most people do not root for the bad guys, they can recognize their significance to the storyline. Without supervillains to carry out evil plots or try to destroy the world there would be no reason for superheroes. In the comic book world good triumphs over evil, but without the evil part of the equations there would be no comic book world.

The Backward Comic Book Movie

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We have talked a lot about comic based movies in this blog. This summer is the perfect example of how many movies are being produced that tie back to an original comic book. Green Lantern, Captain America, Thor, and Cowboys and Aliens came out just this summer. Next year is even more promising with The Avengers, Spider-Man (a reboot), and The Dark Knight Rises. It seems as if that is all the rage at the box office. One interesting question that could be asked is: Has this ever been done in reverse? Has there ever been a comic book that was based off a movie? A continuing of adventures for some of our most beloved cinematic heroes would be an awesome marketing idea, if it hadn’t already been done.

Dark Horse Comics is a leader in the movie-based comic franchise and its biggest asset would be Star Wars. But the train doesn’t stop at that and even if it did Star Wars would be enough of a money maker that the company would be set. However, Dark Horse Comics owns a lot more than just Star Wars.  Aliens, Army of Darkness (now owned by Dynamite Entertainment), Indiana Jones, Predator, RoboCop, The Terminator, Timecop, and Planet of the Apes. While some of these titles are lesser in stature than the others, the majority of titles owned by Dark Horse have pulled some weight at the box office. The types of comics can vary from one-shots (meaning a short mini-series that relates one particular adventure of the characters) or they can actually become an ongoing series.  This has also brought multiple crossover series with DC including: Superman, Batman and Green Lantern all battling it out with Predators and Aliens.  If this isn’t a cash cow I don’t know what is.

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Of course, Dark Horse isn’t the only publisher of movie based comics. Many horror movies like Friday the 13th have been given the comic treatment in some very violent adaptations. Yet in still it seems as if we are only discussing movies that have been around for years. Well the comic treatment has also been a used in recent series. Transformers (albeit this seems like a marketing strategy) has seen its own comic series. Inception will be getting the old comic book treatment soon. It seems to be a balance between creative minds and marketing strategies, but in the end the books are still there.

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It really all depends on popularity. Another thing to keep in mind is the audience. While most of what we have been discussing has related to films with a more adult audience, there are many kids’ movies that have been made into comics. The Incredibles, Wallace and Gromit, as well as many Disney produced comic book series.

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Comic books are another marketing tool. With any film that is based on a comic book it becomes an opportunity to sell comic book adaptations of the film. This is true of many of the comics based on films. They are simply a marketing tool that furthers the film franchise’s popularity. There are rare cases when the comic book adaptations actually have some substance and contribute to the character’s story (Indiana Jones for example) but they may be few and far between.

The Avengers: Genius or Insane?

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May 4, 2012 is a big day in the comic book world. Well, maybe not the comic book world, but the comic world nonetheless. This event is probably one of the most daring, interesting, crazy, seemingly impossible, yet awesome thing to hit the public since the inception of the comic based movie. Even just the concept of trying to pull something like this off is mind-blowing. It is scary, it is risky, it is quite possibly one of the most exciting parts of next year (excluding The Dark Knight Rises, for obvious reasons). Get to the point already, what are you talking about? One word: The Avengers. Ok, well maybe that is two words, but at least you get the idea.

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The Avengers film is set to be released May 4, 2012, and with principle/secondary shooting beginning in July, excitement is high. The film has been speculated about for years with multiple directors in line to try this. Of course, the task of this movie is much bigger than some would even consider taking on. Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, is one of the producers for the film, but not the director. Joss Whedon will take this daunting task and try to make comic book movie history. To speculate on how this will all turn out in the end would be just that: speculation. No one knows if this director will be able to pull off such a feat, but it will definitely be interesting to watch.

Captain America. photo courtesy: google images

Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) photo courtesy: google images

So what’s the big deal? Why call it a daunting task? Well the main reason is nothing like this has ever been done in the film industry. There have been single storylines for solo characters and even team based characters (X-Men and The Watchmen), but these have all been a part of a singular title. With The Avengers you are dealing with a team of superheroes that have their own titles. They are their own story, meaning they don’t need the team to keep an ongoing series and fan base. The Avengers will center around four key characters: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk. Of course there will be supporting characters like Hawkeye and The Black Widow, but the main four are the ones listed.

Thor. phot courtesy: google images

You may have already recognized that each of those four have already had their own movie. Iron Man has already had two movies. Thor and Captain America are out this year. The Incredible Hulk has had two movies (one with Eric Bana and the other a reboot with Edward Norton, although Mark Ruffalo will be playing the tortured doctor in The Avengers.) The thing that makes this movie so historic is the combining or crossover of multiple movie franchises into one. It would be like crossing the Batman and Superman film series into one massive movie. Where this movie will either succeed or completely flop is how this translates on screen. You are going to have Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Mark Ruffalo all fighting it out for the on screen attention. While this may be the idea (meaning in the comics these heroes may all think they don’t need a team to fight supervillains), it is certainly risky endeavor.

The Entire Cast. photo courtesy: google images

The only media out is a small logo teaser trailer that was released at the 2010 Comic Con in San Diego. Samuel L. Jackson (who plays Nick Fury in the film) voices a track over The Avengers’ logo. It is too soon to be able to say anything about the film’s look. There are no promotion trailers out yet and it will still be a while before we get a good look at what the film will be like. The only thing that we can possibly look forward to would be whatever scene Marvel Studios puts post-credits during Captain America’s movie, out July 22, 2011. It may give us a small glimpse at what the film will be like. But who knows?

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I’m Seeing Double

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Comic book movies are pretty popular and they have been since the late 1990s. They may not be the most groundbreaking films and they probably won’t win any prestigious awards but they are what they are: good/fun films. They take fans into the reality of what they have loved and for non-fans it gives them a sort of glimpse into the comic book world. The best part of seeing these come to life is seeing how the producers bring the character to live in their choice of actors. For a lot of people that is the most rewarding part of seeing a new comic film. But there is sometimes a little disappointment in the choice of who will play what character.

Deadpool and Green Lantern. courtesy: google images

I have never been totally disappointed in the choice of an actor for a comic book hero so far, but what is bothersome is when and actor crosses over films. What that means is that he or she is in multiple comic book films playing different roles. The best example right now of inter-comic book company film crossovers would be Ryan Reynolds. He is in the new Green Lantern film, which is produced by DC comics. He also plays Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool) in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He also plays a supporting character in Marvel’s third installment of the Blade seriesThis type of crossover can be kept separate, but is still a little awkward.

The other type of crossover, and this one is more confusing, would be when an actor plays two different characters in the same universe. Best example here would be Chris Evans. Evans is the star of the new Captain America film adaptation (good choice I might add). The problem here is that he is already a character in the Marvel Universe’s film roster. He plays Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch) in the Fantastic Four film series. Here is where things can get a little sticky. One might argue that in the comic universe (as of right now) Johnny Storm is dead, but the point remains that Evans is playing dual roles here, even though he seems to have been a great choice either way.

Chris Evans. courtesy: google images

Two other examples are less than noticeable. Rebecca Romijn plays Mystique in the X-Men franchise, but she also plays the love interest in the Thomas Jane version of The Punisher (Marvel comics as well). The other is the same way; Ben Foster plays Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand, but he also has a minor role in The Punisher. Not saying these are at all hindering the actor’s portrayals, but it is food for thought.

Not Even Close. courtesy: google images

Comic book movies are their own storyline. They aren’t really bound to follow the comic story to the letter. Take Constantine for example. In the comic book version the character looks a lot like the singer Sting not even remotely close to Keanu Reeves. In the end the best actor for the job should be the one cast. In the end, even if actors play multiple heroes, let’s just hope that comic book movies continue to entertain fans and the general public alike.

Comics: Bad Influence

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Comic books, like any other media have an effect on people. Well there is no such thing as direct effect on somebody. You really need to look at their environment, personality, and a whole heap of different variables before you can blame any media (that means Grand Theft Auto too). But the point stands what is in media can have some sort of power on people. Most media has tons of research and data pulling, not to mention scrutiny being cast on their content, particularly in the case of children. So what is the big deal here? Are comics too violent, sexual, or inappropriate? They’re just comics one might say, but are they just comics? It’s just for fun; superheroes are good for a kid, right?

If you were to say that direct effects was the point you would lean toward what early researchers called the hypodermic-needle model. In everyday terms this means that media just injects their messages right into people. With this model you would be assuming that viewers are passive, but that simply isn’t the case.  Assuming that an audience is passive would mean (in an extreme way) that people simply take in media without thought or power to change the message. This is obviously not the case. If a show you don’t like comes on you can change the channel. Most folks nowadays are actively involved in online communities, which are forms of social media. You get the point, direct effects isn’t the problem here.

Violent/sexual comic. photo courtesy: google images

So what is the problem? The problem is negative or unrealistic messages repeated to people overtime. Violence on television, sexual content in video games, all the above on line are examples of negative messages that are repeated time after time. So where does a comic book fit in? Comics, by nature, are violent. Yes, it is that ‘wholesome’ violence where bad guy is defeated by good guy, but it is still violence. It also teeters on the edge with sexuality, particularly with how they portray women. The women could become sex objects for young males, but no woman could ever fit that type of build. Not only is violence and sexuality a possible problem so is language. Even when the writers try to cover up the language with various symbols (@#$%) it is obvious what they are doing. The ads in comics are directed toward children. The toys produced based on comics are directed toward children. The movies based on comics are directed to young-older adults, yet the toys and promotion is aimed at children. Take the Green Hornet (not originally a comic book, but still), kids got toys from Hardees. Yet the movie includes harsh language (f-bombs), violence, and sexuality. Does that seem right?

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How will you help? photo courtesy: google images

Where do we go from here? Do we blame the parent? Well, we really can’t. Parents can’t control what a kid is taking in all the time. Do we blame the comic companies? In a way, they are trying to get at kids young to establish brand loyalty. Brand loyalty, simply put, is when a company markets itself so much to a person or group that the person or group will stick with their products. So in essence it was devised by the company, but they are also trying to make some money. It seems as if this dilemma falls to everyone. Parents need to try to control what products influence film and comic book choices; however, companies need to bring a stop to marketing violence and sexuality to young kids. Even with comics, the everyday moral choices for media are present.

Weapon X: The Wolverine

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photo courtesy: google image

It’s just one of those things in comic books, that is either legendary or mysterious. It can make or break a character and it might just be a comic world sin to tamper with it. So what might this most important piece of the comic book puzzle be? Well the origin of a character of course. Superman is from Krypton, he crashed lands on a farm, and is raised by good-valued farmers. Batman is a billionaire heir who finds himself an orphan after a mugger murders his parents. Spider-man is bitten by a radioactive spider and decides to start fighting crime after his uncle is killed by a mugger. All of these characters have set origins, and while from time to time there is a retelling of the story, it remains close to the same. In this week’s “character spotlight” let’s focus on a character that remained origin-less until 2001-2002 when his true origin was finally revealed.

Marvel Comics created what could be seen as a perfect character, not to mention a marketing gold mine. Wolverine, or Logan as he is known, is the erratic, sometimes violent, mystery man that runs for the X-Men. The thing about Logan after his inception (first appearance was in Hulk #180 issued in 1974) was his lack of memory about his past. This is a common technique used by writers of all genres. Wolverine is the character that comes off as the mysterious one because of amnesia; yes it is very much like a soap opera.

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Wolverine possesses an acute sense of smell and agility, much like a wolf. He also has an accelerated healing factor that, in essence, makes him invulnerable to all injury. He also has a fictional type of metal, known as adamantium, grafted to his bone structure. Last but not least, Wolverine has three retractable claws in each hand. What makes Wolverine’s involvement in the X-Men is not just his powers or his personality (which is just opposite of team leader Cyclops, also known as Scott Summers), but his hunt for the lost memories of his past. He wants to know how the adamantium got in his bone structure to begin with, no it wasn’t there originally. Wolverine is haunted by his past with some sort of project known as Weapon X.

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In 2001, Marvel planned a risky endeavor by publishing a mini-series on the origin of Wolverine. Wolverine’s origin was part of his enigma; it was part of the intrigue. So what did they do? They produced an origin that was fitting for this legend. The writers created a proper identity for Logan, real name: James Howlett (not to give away the entire Origin story, but you can pick up the collected edition here). It gives his rich, not to mention long history. The character comes to life for the reader, yet the modern day Wolverine still is oblivious to his own origin. It was a win-win for the Marvel staff. They told the origin of their beloved character, without losing his mystery and power. This is possibly one of the most intelligent moves in comic book history.

photo courtesy: google images

Wolverine is a superb character. He channels the rage and animalistic tendencies that we all have in us, but his search for his past is what draws the reader in. Logan’s capacity for fighting, but also compassion is what makes him one of the most notable in the X-Men roster. This is why Hugh Jackman brings the character to life in four feature films (The X-Men trilogy and his own Origin based film) and also a cameo in the new X-Men: First Class film. The telling of his origin was unconventional, but the timing and game plan on this project was just right. It is comic book story telling at its best.

The Dark Knight Rises. Yeah Yeah …. Where’s The Trailer?

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It’s coming. The Dark Knight Rises, the third and more than likely final installment of the Christopher Nolan Batman series, is underway. It has actually been underway since May when principal shooting started. This highly anticipated film will follow the record-breaking 2008 film, whose release date was preceded by the death of Heath Ledger. Ledger gave an outstanding performance as the main antagonist, not to mention comic book arch-enemy, to Batman. Even with the weight of topping that film and already receiving some controversy prior to beginning film. Anticipation is high for this final installment to a series that made Batman and the super hero movie cool again. With a release date of July 20, 2012, the Dark Knight crew has a marketing goldmine in their hands.

The film already sets forth with a controversial villain choice. The two main course villain, I say main because you just never know what Nolan has up his sleeve, are Bane and Selina Kyle (Catwoman’s alter ego it hasn’t been established that she will dawn the costume). Many fans were disappointed with the choice of villains. A lot of argument stems from the fact that these characters have already been shown in Batman films, but so was the Joker and Two-Face (both of which appear in The Dark Knight).

Bane in 1997. photo courtesy: google images

Many non-comic fans may remember the original movie version Bane from the film Batman and Robin (George Clooney plays Batman… I know). This version portrays the villain as a lumbering oaf, whose only real use as a villain is that of a basic henchman. This is an inaccurate portrayal of this villain, whose comic version’s intelligence is only rivaled by Batman himself. The Dark Knight Rises will hopefully portray a Bane that not only captures the comic book version, but will establish him as a memorable character (like Ledger’s Joker).As far as Selina Kyle is concerned there is always the assumption that Catwoman will be making her second coming to a Batman film (Tim Burton’s Batman Returns).  This will probably be held as tight to the filmmaker’s chests as possible.

Tom Hardy Bane 2012. photo courtesy: google images

The other controversy about this film is its marketing strategy (or perceived strategy). The internet has been alive with photos, videos, and fake trailers since the movie’s permanent cast was announced. The most recent was said to have been shown at the Green Lantern release in Italy, but speculation about its validity is high. What is interesting here is how quite Warner Bros. is being about the whole situation. Even if none of the viral videos (this videos depict a Gotham newscast about a break in at Arkham Asylum complete with a news anchor from the films) are legitimate, WB is certainly playing a good game here. They are really playing on the high anticipation that both fans of the character and fans of the movie series have. For the Batman Universe this is an important film and congratulations to WB for playing a smart advertising game.

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Like any other business that is media-related, the film business, particularly in the case of The Dark Knight Rises, is adjusting to the online world we live in. By using the advantages of the viral world we live in, these fake or real videos are keeping the folks at home intrigued, interested, and constantly checking for updates. Only time will tell, but this film and its marketing strategy will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

The Villains. photo courtesy: google images

The DC Fashion Show

New JLA. photo courtesy: google images

DC Comics is in a state of transition. The comic book megalith is going to re-launch the entirety of their comic book universe. Meaning they are essentially wiping the slate clean for these characters with a new volume for each one. The ones of most concern in the comic world right now are Batman, Superman, and The Justice League. All of these titles are cornerstones of the DC franchise and fans are skeptical at best about some of the changes that DC has revealed, if you can call it that. The photos that have been released are the subject of much debate about this decision to change up the entire look of DC comics.

So what’s the biggest issue? Is it the writers and artists? Are people concerned about what kind of stories this could mean for the DC crew? Are people scared about a character losing its relevance? No, no, no and maybe. However, none of these are the biggest issue with the reboot. The issue boils down to costume design, albeit some concern is going towards why DC felt the need to reboot all of the major titles.

Costume design is something that most comic fans are very adamant about. Any hint of change or tweaking to the costumes is typically met with hostility or rarely the comic fan world will accept the changes whole-heartedly. This is not the case with this reboot, but no fear it isn’t all of the characters. No, the comic fans are hardly concerned about Batman (he lost the underwear over top of pants!), The Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, or any of these characters. Superman is where the comic world draws the line on change.

Possible September Cover. photo courtesy: google images

Why is that? Well other than being the oldest running character for DC, not to mention one of the highest selling and most adapted character. For the most part the costume is well received, but of the several and varying photos of the new Superman costume there is one that is causing some controversy. What the problem here is the armored look of his costume. Many comic fans are arguing that the Man of Steel, by his vary name, does not need to wear armor. The same type of costume is used for Batman, but as he is only human it is only fitting to have lightweight body armor. So why are people getting so up in a bunch about a new costume?

Possible Costume. photo courtesy: google images

The main issue here with fans is the fact that people can‘t let go of their prototypes. A prototype is simply something that a person uses as the basis for their views on other things in the same category. Or to put this simply everybody has a vision of the perfect girl or guy, the person you think of when you think of the perfect girl or guy, is your prototype.

The issue with Superman is that he is his own prototype. This means that people already have their preconceived notion of what he is supposed to look like. Reasons for this include how long he has been around, what he means to people, and simply his own legendary status. It will be interesting to see the adoption curve (how long it takes people to gravitate towards the new Superman), whether it be positive or negative.

Other possible Costume? photo courtesy: google images