Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite

The Superman trades on the shelf continue to perplex me.  There’s plenty of them, and I’m constantly seeing character development and changes within the story, yet I still seem to be missing so much.

From this trade alone I’ve learned that not only has Jerry White died, but that he was also really Lex Luthor’s son.  Um…what?!  The actual storyline where this is all revealed isn’t included here; rather, it’s mentioned in those brief little recaps comics are so fond of (and I’m starting to be too, because otherwise I’d be completely lost).

On top of that, I learned that the radiation poisoning that cost Luthor his hand (from his exposure to kryptonite) is also slowly taking his life.

Hold up now.  Luthor can’t die.  He’s LEX LUTHOR.  I know he’s evil and all, but he’s THE main Superman bad guy.  He and Supes are doomed to be locked in an epic battle for all time.

Or so I thought.

A lot goes on in this trade so far as the overall Superman story is concerned.  As the trade opens, we witness Luthor receiving a visit from Mr. Mxyzptlk (henceforth to be known as Mxy, because I am NOT typing out that obnoxious combination of letters again) who provides him with the answer to the question, “How do I defeat Superman?”

With red kryptonite of course, silly.

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This version of kryptonite won’t kill Superman, but it does drain all of his “super” powers away, leaving him nothing more than an average human.

I found the story of Superman having to adjust to life as a regular man entertaining, and this premise carried the comic for a handful of issues.  Since Mxy was responsible, the solution to restorying Superman’s powers was of course ridiculous: his powers would only return if Luthor told Superman himself who gave him the red kryptonite.  Luthor confesses to Clark Kent, unwittingly telling Superman and restorying his powers.

(On a side note: Seriously, how does Luthor NOT know that Clark Kent is Superman?  The man’s a super-genius, but he can’t put two and two together??  I know we’re expected to suspend disbelief for certain aspects of these stories, but this is just getting silly.)

So Mxy’s fun is spoiled, he returns to another dimension, and Superman is super again.

While all of this is going on, we get another bit of a surprise: Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s engagement.

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First of all, I wasn’t even aware Clark and Lois were dating.  I certainly had no idea that they were so serious as to consider marriage.  When did this happen??

Perhaps this is one of the faults in solely reading trade publications.  If a story isn’t collected in trade (or Mistah J just simply hasn’t come across a copy yet) I won’t be reading it.  I know he likely has many of these issues in single format, so maybe someday I’ll go back through and fill in the gaps to the story.  As it stands, I guess I’ll just have to get used to not being able to read every story.

With Clark and Lois celebrating their engagement (and Clark lamenting over the fact that he still hasn’t told Lois about his secret identity), I figured the comic would end on a high note. Instead, it ends with a rather unexpected twist.

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Knowing he’s terminal, Lex Luthor takes a final joyride in one of his planes before (supposedly) purposely crashing into the Andes Mountains.

Yep. According to this comic, Lex Luthor is dead.

I absolutely refuse to believe that this is permanent.  For one, all Superman found was his robotic hand, so it’s entirely possible that the man is still alive.  Second, even if for some strange reason he is dead, I’m sure the next “Crisis” to appear on the shelf will somehow reverse that.  It has to.  You can’t have Superman without Lex Luthor.  Sure, there are plenty of other villains for him to face, but Luthor is his arch-nemesis. This comic simply wouldn’t be the same without that epic struggle.  I’m going to wait patiently until Luthor makes his inevitable return, because I’m fully convinced that it will happen eventually.

In the meantime I’m going to go ponder what happens when Clark tells Lois that he’s Superman. I really hope I get to read that issue…

-Jess

 

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Make Mine Music (a non-post, of sorts)

For the first time, I have to write a post about a Disney movie I didn’t watch.

Yes, in my quest to watch every Disney full-length animated film, I have been unable to watch Make Mine Music.  It’s not for lack of trying, though.

This collection, a 1946 release of ten animated shorts set to music (in the style of Fantastia), has suffered from numerous edits over the years, due to content that has been deemed objectionable by Disney.  The only edition available that I can find has numerous negative reviews due to these massive edits, including the removal of the entire first segment deemed too violent for children, titled “The Martins and The Coys”.

I searched in vain for a way of viewing this film in its original format, even going so far as to search YouTube for the segments individually (the only version of “The Martins and The Coys” available is dubbed in Italian).  Unfortunately, there are simply no other means of watching this film as it was originally released, a fact I find rather disheartening.

This is not the first time I’ve addressed Disney’s desire to edit its own films.  A similar situation was faced with Fantasia, in which a racist depiction of a character was removed.  Certainly, I can understand Disney’s desire to edit their films to make them more appropriate for a modern audience.  Just because they’re the original versions doesn’t make these depictions acceptable viewing material for kids (or for anyone, for that matter).  However, from an historical standpoint, erasing their existence entirely is wrong.  Sure, Disney wants to distance itself from any of its film segments which might support prejudices of a past time, but by removing any and all trace of these events, Disney is obscuring the truth.  Yes, Make Mine Music had gun-slinging cowboys in its original edit.  Subsequent versions had this segment removed after it was decided that it promoted gun violence.  That doesn’t change the fact that at one point in time, Disney thought it perfectly acceptable to include this story in one of their movies.  Should guns be thrown about haphazardly in a kids movie? No.  But neither should they be completely erased from history because Disney is worried about a sullied reputation.

To support their kid-friendly initiative without jeopardizing their own history, the Disney company should have released their edited version of the film, but either released a separate unabridged edition, or included options on the DVD to view the film in its original format as well.  The fact that this has not been done yet is upsetting, seeming as though Disney is choosing to rewrite its own history and edit out anything it deems objectionable.

I respect the truth, and I respect a company that can admit its own failings.  These segments, although perhaps less than ideal, are a part of Disney’s past, and therefore an important part of their story.  No company can last for generations without a misstep or two, but Disney’s insistence on erasing their errors creates an incomplete and false history, both of the company and world views of the time.  I would much rather have a complete view of Disney’s past, flaws and all, than an edited version meant to make them look infallible.

As it stands, its sad that I’m unable to watch this film in its original format, and I refuse to watch such a heavily edited version.  Hopefully one day Disney will realize the importance of keeping their history intact and will re-release these films without these extensive edits.  Until then, I’m forced to skip over this production, unable to experience Disney’s 8th animated feature film due to the company’s own insistence on preserving their pristine image.

-Jess

The Flash: Born to Run

I have a confession to make: I never really liked Wally West.

Maybe it’s because I took the death of Barry Allen pretty hard, or maybe it’s because Wally was always such a whiny little jerk.  I just wasn’t much of a fan.

Truth be told, I hadn’t read a Wally West Flash story before this trade.  He appeared in The New Teen Titans, but this is the first post-Crisis Flash trade to appear on the shelf.

I never thought I’d say it, but I’m actually starting to warm to Wally.

The tone of this comic plays a big part in that.  The stories collected here focus on the earliest days of Kid Flash’s appearances, telling the story of how he traveled to Central City to visit his aunt, Iris West.  While there he met his hero The Flash, met the same untimely accident that gave Barry Allen his powers, and developed his own super-speed abilities.  These stories chronicle his adjustment to his new powers, along with his new role as Kid Flash.

The action scenes in these issues are entertaining, though not ground-breaking.  The portion of the story that truly stands out is the emotional connection.  Told as a series of flashbacks, with Wally West already ingrained in the Flash role after Barry’s death, we get to see just how deeply Wally cared for his Aunt Iris, as well as how he idolized Barry.

I admit to being more than a little happy to see Barry and Iris making reappearances in the comics.  I was reminded why I liked Barry so much in the first place: he’s just so damn nice.  What’s more, Iris is portrayed as perhaps the best role model a young kid could hope for, a confidante and friend whom Wally trusts and respects.  Iris offers sound advice to her nephew, advice that carries over into his superhero life:

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Iris isn’t aware of Wally’s secret identity at this point, but she nonetheless provides Wally with much-needed words of wisdom at a time when he’s unsure of how to handle these new responsibilities.  I enjoyed seeing Iris in the protective mother/friend role, but it was even more refreshing to see Wally being so receptive to this advice.  He truly respects his aunt and values her opinion.  That’s a side of Wally I haven’t really seen before.

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I often forget that when Barry and Iris died, Wally lost two very important people in his life.  This tragic loss may help to explain Wally’s angry, isolated behavior.  While I still think he’s often far rougher around the edges than he needs to be, this comic helped to soften my view of him.  Seeing him express an emotion other than anger or frustration made his character infinitely more likable.  Barry was a hero and a mentor to Kid Flash, but Iris was a mentor to Wally.  The fact that he acknowledges this shows a caring side to his personality, a side that had been hidden up until this point.

I have a feeling there will always be aspects of Wally’s personality that I don’t like.  He’s often portrayed as arrogant and having a major chip on his shoulder.  Having read this story though, perhaps I’ll be a little less quick to judge him so harshly.

I may not love Wally, but at least I don’t actively dislike him as much anymore.

-Jess

 

Batman: Birth of the Demon

It’s rare that a comic completely subverts my expectations, and yet Birth of a Demon did just that.

Glancing at the front of this trade, I assumed it would be a direct sequel to Bride of a Demon, focusing on the birth of Ra’s Al Ghul’s child.  As it turns out, this story is actually the origin of Ra’s, going back many millenium to before he called himself “the demon’s head.”

That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover.

The story within these pages is a detailed account of the pain and suffering Ra’s went through in his early life, events that helped mold him into the man he is today.  Originally a physician to an obnoxious ruler, Ra’s discovered the secrets of the Lazarus Pit and used those powers to save the king’s dying son.  Plagued with the sudden madness all who emerge from the pit experience, the king’s son kills Ra’s wife in front of him.

The king, truly a despicable character, refuse to acknowledge what his own son has done, and so condemns Ra’s for the murder and sentences him to be placed in a small cage with his dead wife’s body, which will then be lowered into a pit:

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It’s a pretty dark story, to say the least.

I won’t spoil the details, but needless to say Ra’s escapes and has his revenge.  From this anger is born a new type of leader, The Demon’s Head, or Ra’s Al Ghul as he’s more commonly known.

The reader learns all of this after Batman tracks down an ailing Ra’s and his daughter Talia as they seek out another Lazarus Pit to restore him.  Talia reveals her father’s history, providing a background on which to place his brutal nature.

As would be expected, Batman wants to prevent Ra’s from entering the Lazarus Pit, and the two end up in a heated battle.  At one point, Ra’s gains the upper hand, seemingly spelling the end for Batman:

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It was a little predictable, because of course this would happen right next to a Lazarus Pit, the one thing that could save Batman’s life.  Still, the artwork saved the day, making the story far more emotional and horrifying than had another artist worked on it.  Breyfogle’s artwork throughout the entire trade created a much more compelling story, and definitely impacts my overall view of this trade.

Batman and Ra’s fall into the pit together, and the comic closes with Batman emerging.  Ra’s and Talia are nowhere to be found, but I’m sure they won’t be gone for long.  They and Batman are in a seemingly constant struggle, and one that won’t doesn’t likely have an end in sight.

My initial assumption about the nature of this comic leads me to wonder about its location within the continuity.  Truth be told, there were one or two plot points that didn’t match up with previous stories (most notable, in Bride of the Demon Ra’s talks about loving Talia’s mother deeply, while in this trade it is noted that her mother was a drug addict whose life Ra’s didn’t bother saving).  There was no reference to Al Ghul’s wife, how he escaped the Antarctic fortress, or Batman and Talia’s lost child.  This story seemed far more self-contained, and while I enjoyed it, I would have liked to see it connect to these past events.  Given that those were done by a different writer, I suppose it’s not surprising that they’re not as big a plot point in this story.  Had they been more fully connected though, it would have made an already good story even better.

I’m enjoying learning more and more about Ra’s Al Ghul from these stories, as well as the complicated relationship Batman seems to have with him.  Ra’s is a truly crazed villain, but his arguments come from a sense of reason and rationale, making him that much more terrifying.

-Jess

Robin: A Hero Reborn

As mentioned in my last post, I really like Tim Drake as Robin.  His uncertainty in his newfound role as Robin is refreshing.  So many comic book characters seem to fall into the role of superhero without ever really seeming to second-guess themselves.  Sure, they question if it’s the right life for them, or if it’s truly benefiting society, but they never really question their own abilities.  They never stop to ask if they’re good enough.

Tim Drake breaks from this self-confident standard by simply being what he is: an unsure thirteen-year old teenager.  We all might like to believe we could prowl through the streets of Gotham with Batman and be able to hold our own, but Drake represents a very real and ever-present fact about this comic: there are no super powers involved.  This is just good old-fashioned crime-fighting, and only the strongest, bravest, and most cunning are cut out for it.

Surely just about everyone would question whether they can live up to that.

To highlight this point, we see Drake question repeatedly if he’s right for the role of Robin.

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This costume, this symbol, represent so much history and strength, that it’s no wonder that this thirteen-year old kid would be frightened of the responsibility he’s undertaken.  What’s more, Drake is dealing with the recent death of his mother and paralysis of his father.  This would be a traumatic situation for any young kid, but since Tim has chosen to become Robin as well it’s especially emotional.

Surprisingly, Drake doesn’t show the characteristic “revenge” syndrome so many other Batman characters suffer from after the inevitable loss of a loved one.  He’s upset and a bit angry, but he doesn’t go off recklessly seeking a fight simply because he wants to beat up some bad guys, bad guys who, to him, would symbolize the villains who destroyed his family.  Tim is a bit moody at times, to be sure, but can we really blame him?  His family is all but gone, and he’s been thrust into this brand new world of crimefighting.  The fear, the insecurity, the uncertainty of how his life will progress from here; these are all elements that could easily lead Tim down the wrong path (similar to the path Jason Todd took).

No, Tim rises above that temptation, training hard to become a good sidekick to Batman, and listening to his mentor’s advice.  That is perhaps his most endearing quality: Tim knows that Bruce Wayne can teach him a lot, and doesn’t shy away from learning.  Too many other superheroes and sidekicks act as though once they don that mask, they’re instantly brilliant at fighting crime and stopping bad guys.  That’s just simply not so.  Especially for a character with no enhanced powers to speak of, Tim is a novice through and through, and he recognizes this.  When Batman gives him orders, he follows them.  He aids Bruce without becoming a liability, allowing Batman to complete his job without having to worry that Tim is going off on his own and acting recklessly.

Tim Drake is a great Robin.  It’s really that simple.  His story is fraught with the tragedy that has become so stereotypical of superhero stories, and yet he handles it with a maturity often missing from these stories, and virtually unheard of in a thirteen-year old.  Robin has always been a high-flying acrobat; that can be taught, to a certain degree, as can the detective skills.  What sets Tim apart from other heroes is who he is as a person: Tim Drake, a genuinely good kid who’s been given the chance to make the world a better place.

-Jess

Robin: Tragedy and Triumph

I’m really liking Tim Drake.  Not just as Robin, but as a Batman character in general.  In the few appearances I’ve seen him in so far, he’s been given so much more depth and emotion that the past Batman sidekicks.  He feels entirely real; flawed, yet still the type of person I want to root for.

This collection features two storylines.  As the title would suggest, one is of a tragedy, the other a triumph.

The “Rite of Passage” story was one I feared was coming, though I hoped I was wrong.  It is such a common thread throughout comics, and especially Batman comics, that a character must lose one or both of his parents as a means to explain his behavior.  Tim Drake was the exception to this rule.  While he had rather absentee parents who were too busy traveling for work to pay much attention to him, they were still alive.  Tim would need a new, completely unique motive for wanting to fight in the name of justice.

Or so I thought.

I felt it long before it actually happened.  Hell, the comic practically spelled it out for the reader.

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I had hoped against hope that Tim’s musings with Alfred were merely a means of pointing out the differences in this storyline from its predecessors.  Whereas the past Robins had very clear histories which helped mold their characters, Drake was the exception.  His musing over whether the loss of one or both parents was necessary to create Robin was touching, and unfortunately all too fitting.

Caught in the middle of a fight on the island of Haiti, Tim’s parents are poisoned.  His mother dies, while his father is completely paralyzed for life.  Tim had already agreed to become the next Robin before these events transpired, and yet this was the catalyst which threw him into his new role full force.

It’s such a pity that this had to be Tim’s rite of passage into the Robin role, primarily because he is such a kind, likable kid.

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He’s sweet and caring and doesn’t bear the angry chip on his shoulder that Jason Todd did.  Tim is a truly good kid that the reader can easily root for, and to see him have to suffer the loss of his parents is quite heartbreaking.

He deals with this pain in a surprisingly mature manner (to be addressed in a later post on Robin: A Hero Reborn.  The stories were divided between two separate trades, hence the break in the narrative.)  When he reemerges, Tim has fully embraced the Robin identity, though he is still trying to adjust to life as a superhero.

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His uniform pays homage to the Robins of old, while still being unique enough to remind readers that this is the new Robin.  Those of the past are dead (be it literally or figuratively) and a new Robin has taken up the mantle in the name of justice.

The “The Joker’s Wild” storyline puts Tim to the ultimate test.  With Batman away on assignment in South America, Tim is left to watch over Gotham just as Joker escapes Arkham.  Understandably, Tim is more than a little hesitant about facing the crowned price of crime:

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This is a big part of why Tim Drake is so likable.  He’s not some arrogant, cocky teenager who’s going to charge into a fight, figurative guns blazing.  Tim is wise enough to recognize that he’s new to the superhero game, and that facing off against a villain as tough as the Joker might be a bit out of his league.  Luckily, he has Alfred there to offer words of encouragement.

Truth be told, Tim doesn’t really have much of a choice.  With Batman out of town, defending Gotham falls on his young shoulders.  He steps up though, despite his fears, and ultimately overpowers Joker, returning him to his rightful place in Arkham.

It is Tim’s kind nature, along with his recognition of how much he still has to learn, that makes him such an endearing hero.  He doesn’t believe himself to be untouchable, nor does he think he knows best.  Tim Drake is a hero who knows his own limits but is willing to push them when called upon.  He’s a faithful student, a loyal friend, and a skilled crimefighter.

He’s the partner Batman has always deserved.

-Jess

 

The Three Caballeros (1945)

What exactly was Walt Disney’s fascination with South America that he chose to make two animated features focused on that locale?  More importantly, why did he choose to make these films a collection of short, unconnected stories, rather than a single unified plotline?

These were the questions going through my head as I sat through this seventy-two minute film.  Believe me, it felt much longer than seventy-two minutes.

The movie opens up simply enough: It’s Donald Duck’s birthday, and he’s opening presents his friends have sent him.  Somehow this leads into a few shorts, entirely unrelated to anything or each other.  I didn’t mind the beginning, especially when I heard the familiar voice of Sterling Holloway (who would later go on to voice Winnie the Pooh) narrating the first piece.  I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m probably not going to love this, but I’m sure the shorts will be cute enough and easy to watch.”

Well, they were, at least as long as they went on.  After two pieces we are then re-introduced to Jose Carioca, the cigar-smoking bird from Saludos Amigos, and at this point any semblence of a plotline seems to disappear as the movie dissolves into one song and dance number after another.  The two birds jump into a book, are encountered by live-action people, sing and dance with them for a bit, and repeat this whole process a few more times for good measure.  By the time it’s all over, so is the movie.

I admit to getting fidgety during the latter half of this film.  It’s not as though there was a very loosely tied-together plot; the plot simply doesn’t exist.  The birds (the duo becomes a threesome after Panchito Pistoles is introduced into the mix) sing and dance alongside real-life actors… and that’s about it.

I suppose perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the film.  To be fair, it’s a good representation of what Disney was capable of doing with animation at the time, and the combination of live-action with animation was well done.  Still, I couldn’t shake that feeling that this felt like a final project for an animation student, something unique and different to show a professor what they’re capable of doing.  It just never really felt like a Disney movie to me, and certainly not one that would be released in theaters.    Then again, this was made in the middle of World War II, so perhaps the banality appealed to people who had far more pressing matters on their minds.

It’s not a bad movie, per se.  It’s simply just not my kind of movie.  If Walt Disney wanted to create a love story to South America, he could have done so while still creating a full-length narrative to engage the viewer.  Instead, we’re left with some clever animation and baffling live-action representations of a few dances, but not much else.  Here was the perfect opportunity to dedicate an entire animated film to South America or one of its countries (something Disney has still yet to do, unless you count the somewhat ambiguous locale of The Emperor’s New Groove) and the chance was simply passed over.

I suppose I’m simply not a fan of these “short” collections.  With the exception of Fantasia, I find them tedious and not truly fitting for a big-screen.  Maybe this would be more entertaining as a child, or perhaps its simply one of those films that you must have seen as a child to enjoy as an adult.  Either way, I doubt I’ll be watching this film again.  I prefer Donald Duck on the small screen, taking pratfalls and quacking angrily, but at least following some sort of logical storyline.

-Jess