gridlore: Photo: penguin chick with its wings outstretched, captioned "Yay!" (Penguin - Yay!)
Ah, the Fantastic Four. Along with Spider-Man, Marvel's iconic characters. For over fifty years, they've fought cosmic threats to our world, confronted Dr. Doom over and over, bickered endlessly, broken up and reformed . . . and made terrible movies.

I'm serious. There has never been a good FF movie. Which is a shame, because they deserve it. Because great movies are about great characters, and the Fantastic Four are filled with them. To that end, allow me to present my concept for a great Fantastic Four film.

First off, no origin story. I'm not wasting twenty minutes retelling the same story over. It doesn't matter how they got their powers, they have them. Secondly, we see them as an established team already. Forget the fumbling starts and transformative moments. They've been around probably as long as the Avengers. Which brings me to my third change: I'm moving them out of New York. NYC is filled with heroes already.

My first choice is Boston since it is close to both Harvard and MIT, both of which would appeal to Reed Richards. But let's go farther afield and send them to Los Angeles. CalTech and Harvey Mudd would be happy to have Reed around as an occasional guest lecturer, and God knows Angelinos love seeing LA destroyed in the movies.

Now, out characters. Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. A brilliant scientist and engineer, with a body that is elastic and extremely durable. He can stretch his body out like rubber, and take blows that would kill a normal man dead. He's also autistic. It's so bloody clear to me. Reed is somewhere on the spectrum. He has trouble with interpersonal relationships, is more comfortable with his theories than practical life, and doesn't get most normal references. It's why he decided to fly an unauthorized flight in an experimental spaceship with his friends! I see Reed as being in his late thirties. Reed is married to . . .

Susan Storm-Richards, the Invisible Woman. Strong, independent, and deeply in love with Reed but growing frustrated with his habits. She sees herself as the designated adult of the group. Along with turning herself invisible, Sue can protect invisible force fields in almost any shape. She can use these to protect people, hold things up or down, or restrain a combatant. Sue is younger than Reed by about eight years in my vision. Sue's brother is . . .

Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Still in his mid-twenties, Johnny has been a thrill seeker all his life. Before becoming the Torch, he raced dirt bikes, surfed, and had gotten into BASE jumping. As the Human Torch, he can transform into a humanoid creature made of fire. In this form, he can fly, project blasts of concentrated flame from his hands, and is highly resistant to injury. As a last resort, Johnny can "nova burst", creating a massive high-temperature explosion centered on himself. He is usually shocked back to human form and left drained by this act. Johnny is the one member of the team who revels in what he's become; accepting endorsement deals and dating starlets.

Lastly, Benjamin Grimm, the Thing. Left feeling deeply isolated by his transformation into a rock-skinned monster, Ben is often angry and sarcastic, lashing out at both friends and foes. He still blames Reed for the trip that led to this state for him. One thing I'd like to show in the film is Ben's faith, as he is supposedly an observant Jew. As the Thing, Ben is immensely strong, able to life items weigh many tons easily. His rocky skin makes him nigh impossible to hurt, although he can still feel things the way most people do.

There's the main cast. We start the movie by zooming into the Baxter Building (wherever it ends up) and coming into a room where the team has for. . . a merchandising meeting. PowerPoint, bullet charts, the whole deal. One by one the team makes excuses to leave. Reed left an experiment running, Johnny has to make a date for a movie premier (just for fun, I want him to say he's meeting Alison Blaire for the film. Just a nod to the Dazzler fans.) Ben just announces he's bored and leaves. Sue looks at the executives and says that once again, she's left to make the decisions.

So we've set the dynamic. What follows is a set of attacks on each of the characters when they are away from each other. Reed gets attacked at Harvey Mudd (Cathy can tell me what building she wants to be trashed), Johnny gets ambushed at an after party, Ben while walking through a park. All these attacks are tough, but each member is able to fight them off. Except for Sue. She gets jumped and captured.

At which point the remaining team members receive a message. From Victor von Doom.

Doctor Doom is the classic megavillain. Arrogant, overwhelmingly powerful, yet honorable in his own way, he's been the FF's main antagonist for years. Always clad in his trademark armor, face always masked to hide his scars, he speaks of himself in the third person and is playing four-dimensional chess at all times. Doom has two goals. Bring the world to order under his rule, and the utter destruction of Reed Richards, who he blames for his injuries in their college days.

Again, I'm amused by the idea of Dr. Doom being a Mudder. West is Best, Crush the Others Like Vermin!

Anyway, the team comes together, tracks down where Doom is holding Sue, release her, and have the big battle against Doom. Just Doom. No waves of troops, no big hole in the sky, Just Dr, Doom in all his glory. The fight will be epic. But in the end, the heroes prevail. Doom falls, and the team pulls off his mask to reveal. . . a robot. It speaks.

"Were you so foolish as to think that Doom would bother with you personally so early in the game. This has been a test, and you all performed as I expected. Fear not, Richards, for the seeds of your destruction have been planted, and soon Doom will reap his just rewards."

Then the robot blows up. Credits

The after credits scene is six weeks later at an OB/GYN office where Sue is being told she's pregnant. The doctor says that everything looks normal, but because of the parents, they want to monitor it closely. Reed and Sue walk out, obviously back in love again. The receptionist watches them go as lines of green text scroll down her eyes.

This sets up the next film and the birth of Franklin Richards. The third movie can be the coming of Galactus, not just to eat the Earth, but to destroy the threat of Franklin Richards to the Universe itself!
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
I was ranting a few days ago about how comics never change. Nothing affects the status quo. Death, dismemberment, crippling injuries, nothing is permanent. Even in cases where we see the damn body, where it is absolutely clear that the character has died, inevitably he comes back, good as new in a matter of months.

Take Green Lantern, for example. Simple enough concept.. Hal Jordan is brought to the side of a dying Abin Sur who tell Jordan that he is heir to Sur's position as a Green Lantern. Jordan gets a ring that gives him power limited only by his imagination and strength of will. The ring needs to be recharged on a regular basis. Series goes on for a few decades, with Jordan stepping aside as the Lantern once or twice. Then he goes crazy, becomes a being called Parallax, tries to destroy the sun, is defeated, becomes uncrazy, and dies. Dies. Dead. We have the body. Open casket funeral. Jordan's spirit becomes The Spectre, a major magical being on the DC universe. Pretty cool, huh? We had a new Green Lantern, An established hero had gone on to become one of the most powerful beings in existence, and other characters had to deal with the aftermath of all this happening.

Until DC changed everything back.

Now I understand why the comics companies do this, they are heavily invested in the established mythologies they've created, and changing things brings up the threat of losing fans. But just think what it would be like if the threat of death and the ravages of time were very real in these settings. Take Batman, as an example.

Batman first appeared in May, 1939. Let's say that he was 27 at this time. That would have made him around eight when his parents were killed. Plenty of time to train obsessively and build an arsenal of weaponry. Robin first appears a year later as a boy of 10 or 11 years. Being completely insane, we'll give Bruce a 25 year career as the Batman before he realizes that time is catching up to him. Bruce Wayne is still a very spry 52, and Dick Grayson would be in his mid-thirties and ready to take over as Bats. But after that?

Well, since Bruce Wayne had suffered seeing his parents die at his feet, he was well-known for his philanthropy when it came to the needs of orphans and other children in need. The Wayne Orphanage (est. 1943) was hailed as one of the best facilities of its type. Later becoming the Wayne Fund for Children, Bruce was a vocal advocate for extending a helping hand to the kiddies. That, and he was looking to train his eventual successor. By the time that Bruce hangs up his cowl in the mid-60s, his team (and he'd need one) has become very good at selecting and training promising candidates and instilling in them the vigilante mindset. Even the ones not selected to be Robin would be more likely to wander off and set up shop as a street level hero. In my universe, Oliver Queen was an angry kid who found a home at the Wayne program and an outlet for his anger in archery... At the worst, Wayne has an corps of trained reconnaissance agents on the streets. At the best, the kids stop minor crimes in the way they were taught.. quickly, quietly, and without being seen. Most of these actions are attributed to Batman, only increasing his legend. The kids who are recruited tend to earn scholarships to prestigious universities and fund jobs waiting for them at Wayne Enterprises.

Today we're on our fifth Batman. The people of Gotham are aware that ever so often there's a new person filling the role, but they don't care. The various parts of the Wayne legacy are run by Dick Grayson, although he's turning over more and more of the day-to-day operations over to younger executives. Industry watchers have noted how insular Wayne Enterprises (and the Wayne Family Trust) is, with very few executives coming from outside the corporation. Wayne Manor is the headquarters for the Trust and the charitable activities, and is also where Bruce Wayne is buried. A good number of people suspect that the Wayne empire and the Batman are closely linked, only only a select few ever learn the whole truth. Even the recruited kids are led to believe that the Wayne family worked with the original Batman. When a new Robin is selected, he gets told the whole truth. Retired Batmen serve as advisers to the new guy.

Then we have the Joker, one of the most enduring villains in comics, having plagued the DC universe since 1940. One thing about the Joker is that he is not buff. Indeed, most portrayals have him being thin unto being cadaverous; yet he has survived multiple bouts of hand to hand combat with the Batman with no long term injuries, and has even fought actual metahumans (including Superman) and not only survived but shown no long term effects. He's also insane. The Joker's schemes run from the pathetically silly to the horrifically deadly, and he himself is shown as not knowing much about his past.

Could it be that he vat of chemicals that bleached the Joker's skin also gave him a healing factor that makes Wolverine look like a piker? The Joker's body is constantly rebuilding itself.. including his brain. Normal people have fairly stable brain structures, with new connections being made only when necessary. The Joker is constantly rebuilding, which results in muddled memories and a short-circuited decision making process. The one thing that does stick in his head is that he wasn't always this way and Batman is to blame.

The Joker may well be immortal. Short of actually blowing him up or burning the body in a crematoria, he'll heal and come back to Gotham time after time (indeed, at times he may not remember there is anything outside of Gotham.)

So, what happens when a Batman retires or dies? The Joker needs a focus, he needs someone to blame. He'd probably not care about the changing chins underneath the cowl, all he knows that this is the Batman, the one who made him the Joker. In time, the Joker would even come to truly believe that the new hero was the original one who pitched him into that vat.

I can even see where one of the reasons for keeping the Bat motif is to keep the Joker focused on the Batman, so he doesn't go off on innocents.

Just my two cents.

(large portions of this were previously published in my journal.)
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Some spoilers for Iron Fist lie ahead. Be warned.

So I've just binged the first few episodes of Iron Fist on Netflix. Despite the professional reviews dissing it, I'm having fun with the realization of one of my favorite characters from the strange pool of ideas that was Marvel in the 1970s. But that's not to say I don't have some issues.

For those not familiar with the character, Iron Fist is Danny Rand, a young man raised in the mystical city of K'un-L'un. The comics and the TV show differ on how young Danny gets there, but the end result is the same: dead parents and years of training in the martial arts. As Iron Fist, Danny is able to channel his chi into one fist, making it "unto a thing like iron."

Danny returns to New York, where he eventually teams up with Luke Cage in Heroes for Hire, Inc., and later the Defenders. He is very much a street-level hero, better suited for fighting more mundane threats as opposed to the Avengers, who can take on huge threats.

My issues with the series start with them keeping the "scion of a billionaire family who returns from the Mysterious East with amazing abilities" trope. Seriously, this is the biggest cliche in comics. It's the regular attempt to recreate Batman in a different suit. Even on television, we currently have Green Arrow having the exact same background. Chang it up!

Then we have the fact that some of the Netflix shows have a terrible sense of story pacing. Danny arrives in New York shoeless and shaggy. He sleeps in a park while trying to prove that he is in fact this kid who was reported dead 15 years ago. Regaining who he is could have been the first season. It would have given us a longer arc of him becoming a hero for the homeless and ignored. It would have established who Daniel Rand is in our minds, this man who has the values of a mystic warrior monk.

Instead, by the 4th episode, he's already in the corner office with 51% control of his family business. Too quick! I hate that nobody wants to do a striptease with the plot reveals anymore. It took Babylon 5 two full seasons to fully reveal the threat!

I do like that the writers did play a bit with the idea that maybe this "Danny Rand" was crazy, but let's be honest. This is New York City a few years after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Harlem has been devastated by the Hulk and Abomination, A major tech fair was attacked by flying drones and defeated by Iron Man and War Machine, and an entire alien army led by a Norse God beat the shit out of lower Manhattan! It is publicly accepted that a WWII hero was frozen in ice for 70 years and that one of mankind's greatest defenders is another Norse God!

You would think that mental health professionals at this point would be slightly more accepting of the possibility that the young man in front of them did in fact spend 15 years in a mystic monastery.

But the one thing that has a lot of people talking is the fact that Danny Rand is a white guy. A white guy who uses Chinese martial arts and speaks fluent Mandarin. There have been cries of whitewashing and cultural appropriation leveled at the series. Some have questioned who do this series at all?

First of all, you can't whitewash a character who was originally conceived, written and drawn as a blond white dude. The characters' who point is the place he was trained only opens to the outside world every fifteen years, and was brought in to save his life. Is the idea that this master of the arts and the power of Iron Fist a white guy racist? Possibly. But remember that at the same time Marvel was also riding the martial arts craze with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, a Chinese character. This was also the birth of Luke Cage, Power Man among other more diverse characters. Marvel was trying to be better about race and gender representation in their books.

Cultural appropriation? Where? Again, from the age of about 9 or 10 to 25 Daniel Rand lived in this mystical place. It was his culture! He had no choice, he didn't decide to watch his parents die and become a monk. Ridiculous charge.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, Marvel is planning a Defenders series for Netflix in the future. As many of the comic-book Defenders (and there have been many line-ups and versions of the team) are either tied up in legal problems or wouldn't fit with the lower-budget Netflix projects, it was decided to reunite Iron Fist with Luke Cage for the series. Perfectly reasonable. It took us half a dozen feature films to get to the Avengers, after all.

I'm liking Iron Fist. I just hope the rest of the season is paced better, but I was spoiled by how well Luke Cage was produced.
gridlore: A pile of a dozen hardback books (Books)
I was just on the phone with my mom, and asked her what I should write about. As I had just been encouraging her to watch the special musical episode of The Flash next week, she suggested comic books. Good topic.

I can still remember what was probably one of the first comics I really read, That was Avengers #160, featuring the Grim Reaper invading Avenger Mansion. There was another comic, probably bought for me on a long car trip or flight to Milwaukee, that was a Spider-Man comic where he was battling in the Museum of Natural History and all the dinosaur skeletons came to life. (It was an illusion.)

Comics were an occasional thing for me as a kid. I never really got into following them mainly because I played role-playing games, and that swallowed my weekly allowance whole. Every week I'd do my chores, walk down to the bus stop to grab Line 27 and a day pass, ride into Los Gatos where I'd pick up either Line 60 or Line 62 and head for Campbell and the legendary Game Table. Where I'd buy something for Traveller or the latest issue of Dragon magazine.

All of this for $10, including a stop at a taco place.

No, for me comics would wait until I was stationed in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks. The on-base recreation sucked, and Honolulu was too expensive, so I was left with Wahiawa - the town just outside Schofield and Wheeler Air Force Base - for my amusement. That's where I found the most amazing comic store ever. Central Oahu is made up of knife-edge ridges and deep ravines. Wahiawa has several ravines running through it. To get to this store, you had to walk down three flights of wooden stairs to a lanai that looked out on lush rainforest with the sound of a stream rushing nearby. There was the store. I went in that first time looking for gaming stuff.

I came out with issue one of The Dark Knight Returns. I was hooked. I began reading more and more, storing what I could and selling back what I couldn't. I gravitated to the best artists; Alex Ross, George Perez, and the like, and loved the so-called Iron Age of grittier heroes. At one point, my weekly order was about 25 books, plus Comic Relief magazine. Boy, we could use that one back these days.

But slowly I began to grow troubled with the comic universes I was reading. There was no consequences to any actions. Death, a fairly serious life event, was temporary even when we had the body. DC cleaned up their messy multiverse with an epic event with their Crisis on Infinite Earths, then immediate started messing it up again. Change was forbidden.

The RPG GURPS even poked fun at this in their Infinite Worlds campaign. There's a timeline where superheroes exist, but every thirty years their stories reset and change slightly. That really accurate.

The straw that broke the camel's back for me was the bullet that broke Tony Stark's back. Stark, the Incredible Iron Man, had been dating a Hollywood starlet who turned out to be a bit deranged. She shot Tony, leaving him paralyzed from the sternum down. I will note that no time did they mention the actual effects of this sort of paralysis, like needing a colostomy bag and assistance breathing. Being dead from the chest down has severe life consequences. Strike one.

"But great," I thought, "Tony is a known alcoholic. This might drive him back into the bottle. Or he might become addicted to the Iron Man suit since it allows him to walk normally! There are all sorts of great story lines we can get from this!" But know, within a year - 12 issues - Tony had magically repaired his own nervous system using an alien nanovirus. Good as new, story never mentioned again. Strike two.

Oh no! The alien nanos are killing Tony! In a moving deathbed scene he leaves everything to longtime pilot and sidekick, James Rhodes. The he dies. The Iron Man is dead, long live Iron Man! "This is really going to be great this time!" I once again thought, "A new Iron Man, a very different character, and the stories about him adjusting to being rich and the owner of Stark's empire will be fascinating!"

Not so fast. Rhodey was Iron Man for the Secret Wars miniseries, and a limited run of the main book, but then it was revealed that Stark had faked his death while he fixed himself again. He's back, and wants all his stuff again. I was waiting for Rhodes to say "No, you lying SOB, it's mine. Get out." But no, he just passes everything back and goes back to being the bloody sidekick! Strike three, and I was out.

I still read selected comics. We both loved Transmetropolitan, and Mike Grell's "Green Arrow: The Long Bow Hunters" remains a classic. But for the most part I ignore comics these days. Expect for in movies and on TV, which will be another post.

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gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
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