A Media Entry – Thoughts on Villainy: Credible Threat

So I was wondering what I could rant about for my next blog entry when I was subjected to numerous viewings of the latest Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailers. This actually sparked two subjects in my mind, but since I was recently thinking about what makes a good villain, I realized I forgot (or need to expound on) one criterion – credible threat.

Actually, this criterion is broader than just the superhero genre. If the obstacle or antagonist standing between the protagonist and his/her goals is not credible, then the drama falls flat. I say “obstacle” because in some stories is no antagonist or the nature of the antagonist isn’t as clear as a villain as such but the principle still applies. A couple of those examples:

Continue reading A Media Entry – Thoughts on Villainy: Credible Threat

A Media Entry – Thoughts on Villainy: Good at Being Bad

There have been a lot of complaints about the MCU‘s lack of really interesting villains. The only one with any real depth is Loki, and that’s because Loki has had the most exposure. Due to the blockbuster convention, nearly all other villains have been summarily terminated. That’s a pity too because with comic book adaptations especially, villains should be allowed to return. There are exceptions, of course, in which the story requires the villain to be terminated (Jessica Jones is one). So, then, what makes for a compelling villain?

First, it is important to remember that a villain and antagonist are not necessarily the same, just as a hero and protagonist are not the same (at least not to me). In most comic book stories that is the case. To me, though, the difference between a protagonist and hero (and antagonist and villain) is that the stakes are between good and evil. Broadly taken, I suppose, that could apply in say, a mystery novel in which the detective is the hero and the murderer is the villain. But in general that is not how I’m using the terms.

I’ve written before on how badly written villains will sink comic book movie adaptations like the Titanic hitting an iceberg. I’ve also written about how a “cartoon villain” isn’t necessarily a badly written villain. So, then, what does make for a good villain?

Continue reading A Media Entry – Thoughts on Villainy: Good at Being Bad

A Comic Book Entry – Thoughts on Villainy: Enough is Never Enough

“Enough is never enough” is actually from “Star Trek.”  It’s number 97 of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.  As I ponder (weak and weary) villainy, I think this is another fatal flaw, one which I overlooked in my initial musing.  Supervillains just don’t know when to stop.  Either greed or ego or maybe even crippling insecurity pushes them to never accept enough as actually enough.

1) Corporate supervillains – those who have the greatest superpower of all, and I don’t understand their motivations at all.  What is it that drives these villains who already manage vast corporate empires, have amassed enough wealth to make Solomon blush, and wield enough political influence to have virtual puppets on any political forum they like, to risk all of that?  For most people, they’re already living the dream.  Sure, corporate villains don’t technically rule the world, but do they really need to?  They get everything they want, after all.  But no, there is some need for yet more power, or some misguided fear that must be allayed, that makes losing everything somehow seem worth it.  Also, perhaps they really are so egotistical as to believe they couldn’t possibly fail.

I better understand why other types of villains might go too far, so the next part of this addresses specific villainous situations rather than villain types.  I mean, if you’re called “Kang the Conqueror,” then your motivations are pretty clear.

2) Gloating – Okay, so you’ve got the hero at your mercy.  Your plan has succeeded; well, almost.  It’s just almost there and the hero can’t stop you; in fact, the hero will be dead in just a few short minutes.  Unless, you know, you give the villain time to stop you.  Gloating is either the ultimate act of ego or the ultimate act of self-sabotage.  Why risk the success of your plan for a few minutes of ranting that will cease to matter when the hero is safely dead?  This is your moment of triumph, but the hero can’t take it with him/her.  If you’re just going to rant at a hero who in theory won’t remember your rant anyway, why not kill the hero first and then rant?  Sure, it may look a little weird and macabre, but you’re a villain.  That can only add to your reputation, not detract from it.  Better to have a reputation for crazy than a reputation for losing.  You do want to win, right?

3) Vengeance – If you’re whole motivation in being a villain is to get revenge on someone, then obviously this doesn’t count.  However, if you’re a villain long enough, you’re going to make powerful enemies.  Some defeats are going to hurt you a little more than others.  But when you’ve essentially achieved victory, why screw it up for some petty vendetta (assuming, again, that wasn’t your goal in the first place)?  The most recent example of this I read was the deeply flawed “Thor: God of Thunder #21.”  The evil CEO of Roxxon has pretty much won; he’s humiliated Thor, crushed his spirit, and sicced him with a lawsuit.  But that’s just not enough for him.  Oh, no, on the last page he sends a troll hitman to kill Thor.  Why?  I get he’s ticked off at Thor; that’s why he set out to destroy Broxton in the first place.  But he’s won.  He even says that he’s won.  Thor even says that he’s won.  But that’s just not enough, so the evil CEO is going to screw up his victory because  vengeance is more important than winning.

4) Greedy – You’re a successful supervillain with the world at your fingertips.  In many ways, you’re in the same position as the corporate villain.  You have all the money and power you could want.  Why not just retire?  Why set up yet another heist for money you don’t need or another scheme to bring you power you don’t need?  Why run the risk that your luck will run out, or that the hero will have learned some way of defeating you?  Is the thrill of victory really worth the potential loss?  Do you really want to push the hero too far?  What if you’ve overestimated your worthy nemesis and find out that the line you do not cross is now behind you?  Clearly taking risks is part of what makes you a supervillain, but still, there is some wisdom in knowing when to stop.

Villainous victory is difficult to achieve, at least in the long run.  There are always going to be more heroes.  You’ve got a lot to manage just to stay in the game, not to mention how difficult it is to maintain that elusive work-life balance.  You do take risks; you are greedy.  You’re a villain and that’s to be expected.  But the thrill of victory and the lack of understanding when to stop is going to one day cause your downfall.  Perhaps good doesn’t triumph because it is stronger; perhaps good triumphs because evil just won’t let enjoy what it has.  In short, if the world is not enough, then what is?

A Comic Book Entry – Thoughts on Villainy: The Dating Game

So you’ve chosen a career in villainy.  Are you at the top yet?  Maybe, maybe not, but if not soon you will be.  And then what?  Or, if you are the Big Bad, now what?  It turns out that your dark, dark heart is just a wee bit lonely.  Who knew?  So, what are your options?  Well, be careful.  After all, love is a battlefield and love can break your heart.  But when love calls, even a villain will occasionally answer.

1) Dating Lois Lane – By which I mean dating a non-villain.  This has two different scenarios.
a) She Doesn’t Know – The love of your life has no idea about your criminal enterprises.  Sure, she knows you are wealthy/quirky/genius/keep odd hours, but she has no idea why.  This does present some difficulties.  Obviously without her knowing about your criminal empire, she can’t share in the joys and miseries of running said empire, although she, like everyone else, will benefit when you take over the world.  Still, until that day comes, she is blissfully ignorant of your true intentions.  But if you’re comfortable with hiding a part of yourself, then kudos to you.  However, the odds you can hide this secret forever are pretty slim.  Secrets, especially ones like this, tend to get out.  And love don’t come easy, after all.
b) She Knows – The love of your life does in fact know about your criminal enterprises.  Whether she found out or you told her, there are two likely scenarios.

I) Tears and Recriminations – well, it turns out Tess Trueheart is totally not cool with you being a villain.  Maybe that love potion #9 you gave her worse off.  She’s angry and betrayed because you give love a bad name.  The best case is the Tess decides to just forget she ever knew you and your love gone bad.  But she might try to reform you.  This, of course, won’t work because you’re a villain.  This puts her back at forgetting you, or, worst case, trying to turn you in.  Uh-oh.  How you deal with a potential threat to your criminal empire is up to you, but there are really no good options at this point.  You may just have to “take care of” her.  Hey, sometimes love kills.

II) Much Rejoicing – well, it turns out Bess Blackheart is totally cool with you being a villain.  Maybe she’s upset you didn’t tell her in the first place (if you didn’t), but yeah, it turns out her sense of morality is as broken as yours.  Maybe she’s damaged by love.  Maybe she’s just crazy in love.  As long as she doesn’t get any ideas about being a better Big Bad then you, or breaks up with you and tries to get revenge, well, then, here’s to your everlasting love.

2) Dating Harley Quinn – By which I mean dating a villain who works for you (you’re the manager).  This seems like a good idea.  You already know your potential sweetie has no good intentions.  She knows about your organization and some of the ins and outs.  Surely she’ll understand all that you go through.  Well, maybe.  This has all the pitfalls of an office romance, plus a few more, depending on how devoted/psychotic and crazy in love your Girl Friday is.  As an evil overlord, you do have some leeway in how you manage your minions, but there’s probably going to be some clear favoritism that may not sit well with the rest of your workers.  But maybe you can get past that.
But what if it just doesn’t work out?  What if your love is on the rocks?
In high concept rom-coms or dark thrillers, the spurned woman could try to get revenge.  Love bites, love stinks, and love hurts, and sometimes in more ways than one.  If this happens to you, well, she already knows your organization and lairs so hiding will be hard.  She could try to turn you over to the heroes.  On the less extreme end of revenge, perhaps your Dragon won’t try to kill you but may try to find another job which would be a great boon to your villainous enemies.  Obviously you could fire her or turn her over to the heroes (although it’s almost a near certainty she will betray you to them if you do that).  What you really need to consider is whether a relationship outweighs the possibility of losing a good henchperson.  After all, good help is hard to find.  Maybe it’s just easier in this case to say goodbye to love.

3) Dating the Baroness – By which I mean dating a villain who works for your organization and with you, but not for you (you are on equal footing).  This has a lot of the same problems as dating an underling, but in this case, if you break up, you can’t fire your ex.  Depending on how mad she is, and how clever, you might be one who ends up getting fired.  In fact, if she’s really clever, you may be lucky if you only end up fired (love never dies, but right now the same can’t be said of you). This relationship is probably going to be more dangerous, but hey, if that’s what you really want, go for it.  Love is indeed a many-splendored thing.

4) Dating Catwoman – I actually don’t mean this trope whereby a hero dates a villain.  I mean dating another villain outside your own evil organization.  This bypasses the complications of office romances, so to speak.  This is also probably still pretty dangerous.  After all, if Catwoman was an easy villain to win over, she’d already be working for you, or you would have already “taken care of” her.  But you just can’t help yourself.  It was love at first sight.  Maybe.  Even if you are dangerously in love, she’s not in as good a position to get bloody vengeance on you as someone who actually works for you or with you.  Sure, she could try to turn you into the heroes, but you could also try to turn her in without compromising your human resources.  All in all, this is a better option than dating someone you work with.

5) Dating Spider-man – This is actually a variant of the “dating Catwoman” trope.  In this case, I refer to dating a hero whose secret identity you do not know, nor does he know yours.  Black Cat did this for a bit in Spider-man before they eventually broke up and he got married and then it got erased and yes I am *still* bitter about that.  So anyway, you’re dating a hero.  If this is not the most dangerous game, it’s probably the second-most dangerous game.  You can’t hurry love, of course, and it’s encouraging to find out the hero has a someone flexible view of morality, especially if it turs out you can’t help falling in love.  How can this end?  Will love tear you apart?

a) You’ve said too much – If the hero finds out too much about your misdeeds, his morality may be stronger than his emotions and he’ll have to break up with you.  Or worse, he’ll have to try to turn you in.  At this point, he knows some of your secrets and thus is a much greater threat to you than before.  Now we ain’t talkin’ about love; we’re talking about surviving as a villain.  Hopefully you’re all out of love so you can “take care” of business.

b) He’s said too much – Now you know much more about the hero than you did before.  It would be so very easy to dispose of him and allow you to make greater progress with your plans.  Such an opportunity doesn’t come along every day, and may never come along again.  What’s a gal to do?  You’ll just have to “take care of” him, chalk him up as a casuality of love, and hope for better love next time.

c) You see the light – Of course you don’t believe love conquers all, but what if it does?  The power of love is a curious thing.  Love changes, and love has been good to you.  What if you fall so hard for the hero you decide to reform?  Will you do anything for love?

d) He sees the darkness – So it turns out there is a dark side to love, and he’s realized if he wants to be with you he must give up all that he is and was.  He’s not your enemy anymore, but your devoted Dragon.  Is this true?  Do you believe in love and that he will do anything because of love?  That’s not so bad, although there are potential problems.  Now your relationship falls back to “Dating Harley Quinn” and he’s a prisoner of your love.

6) Dating Batman – another variant of “dating Catwoman.”  This time you’re accidentally in love with a hero who knows your secret identity (if you have one) and you know his.  This is likely to be more difficult than the other relationships because it’s quite possible you developed feelings for him, and you him, before you knew each other’s secrets.  Love is a hurtin’ thing, after all.  Love may even be a losing game in this case.  This is a variant of the outcomes of “dating Lois Lane,” except the stakes are much higher.  A civilian can only cause you so much harm if a relationship goes bad.  But a hero that knows your secret identity could cause even more harm.  Love is pain.  Of course, you know his secrets, but there’s no way to know if that’s sufficient blackmail to prevent him from turning you in to the authorities.  While this is a dangerous, thrilling relationship, this is probably the top one to avoid (along with “dating Spider-man”).  There are few potential positive outcomes and a whole lot of negative ones, as detailed above.  In the end, love is lost and you may be too.

7) Dating your Creation – by which I mean building an android or creating a synthoid or otherwise trying to design your perfect mate.  Don’t do this.  This is all too likely to end up the same way as creating a superweapon with additional emotional entanglements.  Love is strange, true, but love lies too.  Frankly, this can only end in tears.

So what’s a villain to do?  You want somebody to love; you need somebody to love.  You’re waiting to be love struck.  But there are so many ways the love game turns into a bad romance.  Do you just say bye-bye love?  No.  You’re going to have to face it, you’re addicted to love.  Should you just stick with a one-night love affair?  Just be patient.  After all, you can wait for your evil plans to come to fruition so you can rule the world.  As they say, love will find a way, and love will get you.

A Comic Book Entry – The Chicken or the Egg

Or, which came first, the superhero or the supervillain?

This has been a philosophical point of contention in comic books since, I don’t know, close to the beginning when fans sat down and thought about it.  Namely, would supervillains be so dangerous if there were no superheroes to challenge them so?  It’s a never-ending arms race and the question of “who started it” is often brought up.  That also brings a related argument, which is whether or not a city is actually better off or not with a resident hero.  While superheroes are a great asset to a city, it’s impossible to deny the amount of collateral damage caused by any super on super fight is pretty much the same as a natural disaster, if not sometimes worse.

The Flash comic, around issues 120-130 or so, had a good deconstruction of this idea.  The mayor got it in his head that the Flash was bringing villains to Keystone City and eventually got him tossed out.  So the Flash took the job of being the resident hero for another city.  I’m not actually sure the writer made the point that the city was better with the Flash or not.  A bunch of villains attacked while Flash was away but they probably would not have done so had he never been there.

For a while, Marvel had a group called “Damage Inc.” that was a construction company, with a bit of super-powered equipment, that was paid to fix up New York City after super fights.  In the FF not so long ago, after the Baxter Building had been blown up yet again, the City sued Reed Richards for damages and he lost all of his money.  Thankfully the Thing’s money was managed in a different account, so they got enough money back to continue to be the FF.  However, Marvel never really answered the question of whether having superheroes was worth the trouble either.

Many heroes on their own do try to minimize collateral damage.  Superman (before the wretched movie) in particular is careful about this considering if he sneezes he could accidentally knock down a building.  His fights are incredibly destructive, even compared to super fights, and he does his best to get the fight out of populated areas.  On the other hand, Reed Richards uses nanobots to rebuild his headquarters and says boo about it to the rest of the bashed city.  What a guy.  In the Marvel RPG, characters gain karma (to buy powers and stuff) by doing good things and lose karma by doing bad things, or failing to stop bad things, or by doing property damage.  That means if my characters stops a villain by throwing someone’s car at him, I gain karma for defeating the villain but lose karma for wrecking someone else’s car.  I might lose less karma for wrecking my own car, but damage is damage.

So where do I weigh in on this debate?  Well, I think that the question itself is somewhat moot.  Once there are superheroes and supervillains, who came first is not as relevant as stopping the villainy.  But that’s not a fun debate at all.  So here’s where I weigh in – humanity as a whole is capable of both good and evil.  Good can exist without necessarily fighting evil; for example, someone who saves another person from a burning building is a hero and there’s no deliberate evil involved (assuming of course there’s no arson).  But, in theory, evil can’t be stopped without good fighting it.  Indeed good must actively fight evil, for as the saying goes, all it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing.  So in a perfect world with no evil, goodness and heroism could certainly still exist.  In that sense, heroes come before villains.  But I would say it is the existence of evil, and therefore villainy, that would really drive the rise of heroes.

Does this mean a city is better off with a resident hero?  I suppose it depends.  If you live in the city of Townsville, which is near Monster Island, then you are definitely better off with a resident group of superheroes.  That’s sort of like living in an earthquake zone; there will be a monster attack.  But let’s take a generic example that’s less straightforward than the above.  Assuming a city has a normal crime rate, a resident hero could be a great asset.  A resident hero would definitely tip the scales to good and the villains would be more likely to go jail.  I’ve always been surprised at the number of villains who are completely willing to go up against a hero that completely outclasses them, get their butts handed to them, and come back for more (many of the Flash’s villains fall into this category).  If the villains were content to admit they were outclassed, then the city is better off with the resident hero.  But if the villains feel they have something to prove, then they up their game and try again, and thus the damage escalates.

However, that’s a problem with the villain; clearly the villain is psychologically damaged in some way or else why would they continue to take such punishment?  Did the hero damage them?  Perhaps, but probably unintentionally.   Does this mean the hero is responsible for the villain?  No!  People are responsible for their own actions.  Sure, the hero may inspire fear and loathing in a lot of people, and odds are one or two may be powerful enough in their own right to turn to villainy, but they made that choice.  If not inspired by the superhero to be a supervillain, I assume that the supervillain still would have been at least a villain.  Again, the villain is making the choice to do wrong.

Sometimes I find the whole question of whether or not a city is better off with a hero or not to be as moot as which came first, the hero or the villain.  To me, the hero is not to blame in a general sense for the collateral damage.  Oh, sure, a careless hero shouldn’t be let off the hook, and a hero who is capable of cleaning up the damage should (that’s part of being a hero, Reed…), but the hero didn’t bring the villainy to a city.  So that’s my answer – whether or not the city becomes worse is not dependent on the hero at all, but on how the villains react.  A hero will be there to get cats out of trees and help little old ladies cross the street or whatnot, but it’s the presence of villainy that creates superheroes.

A Comic Book Entry – The Origin of the Hero

When DC rebooted/retconned/screwed up their universe a couple of years ago, Wonder Woman’s origin was changed to something distinctly different than the ’80s change.  It bothers the hell out of me, but as I’ve stated before when I criticize something, I want to make sure I know the difference between having good reasons for disliking a medium/event/whatnot and disliking a medium/event/whatnot because of matters of taste and personal preference.  I’ve already discussed the origin of heroes in the sense of the mechanism by which they get their power.  However, that got me to thinking that an origin story is the combination of two distinct events:
1) The mechanism by which the hero gets their power
2) The catalyst for becoming a hero
These two are actually not usually the same thing and to me the catalyst for becoming a hero is much more important than the mechanism itself.  So, I will explain using the origins of iconic heroes (forgive me if I get some details wrong; so many years of retcons and reboots will result in different amalgams of the origin stories and thus different interpretations).

Of course I’m starting with Spider-man.  His origin hasn’t been changed to much since Amazing Fantasy #15.  He’s a high school loser, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider, he initially uses his powers for selfish reasons, Uncle Ben is killed by a criminal Peter could have stopped, and this tragedy convinces him to use his powers for the greater good.  Here’s the breakdown:
1) A radioactive spider bite (science origin).
2) Peter’s sense of responsibility for failing to prevent Uncle Ben’s death.
These two items are clearly not the same.  I think that’s why in the Raimi movie trilogy, and even in the unnecessary Sony reboot, changing the spider from having been irradiated to being genetically engineered doesn’t actually make a big difference to the origin story.  To me, the mechanism by which Peter gets his powers is much less important than the catalyst.  That’s why in pretty much every adaptation and retcon, the death of Uncle Ben is always preserved.  Taking responsibility for himself is the core of Peter’s character.  How he got his powers (whether the spider was irradiated or genetic engineered or even magic [which I know a lot of people didn’t like]) doesn’t really matter.

Captain America:
Wimpy Steven Rogers volunteers for the U.S. Army during WWII but is rejected for service because he’s unfit.  He volunteers instead for a secret program to create super soldiers, and it works.
1) Super-soldier serum (science origin).
2) A innate sense of duty.
Perhaps the catalyst to be a hero seems somewhat lame.  Steve Rogers is really just that good of a guy.  But that’s the heart of the character.  If Steve had actually been fit for service, the way the character is portrayed leaves no doubt he would have been a great soldier.  And frankly I don’t mind that Captain America doesn’t actually have a catalyst to become a hero.  The real world has lots of people who step up and choose to put their lives in danger for the sake of others (soldiers, firefighters, cops).  I couldn’t do it and I admire those who can.

Everyone knows this.  This origin hasn’t changed since Detective Comics.  Little Bruce Wayne sees his parents murdered in front of him and vows to fight crime.
1) Technology and money (natural and tech origins).
2) A deep sense of injustice brought upon by witnessing his parents killed in front of him.
Batman is an interesting case as far as the origin of the hero.  He vowed to fight crime as a child.  The catalyst came before the powers.  He had to develop the powers after he had already made the choice.  With great responsibility came great power.  Again, this catalyst is updated with perhaps a different take on who the shooter actually was, but no matter how many times the story is told, Bruce Wayne ends up an orphan.

The last survivor of a dead world who has fantastic powers based on his alien physiology.
1) Alien physiology (natural origin).
2) Idealized Midwestern upbringing.
There was no single incident as far as I know that caused Superman to decide to be a hero.  He had powers beyond that of humans and was encouraged to use them for good.  This to me is one instance where the mechanism by which Clark got his power and the catalyst to become a hero are kind of the same thing.  Clark grew up with his powers and influenced how the Kents raised him.  In this case, the power and the catalyst are inseparable (and is part and parcel of why I really disliked Man of Steel [among other factors]).

Wonder Woman:
Originally, created from clay to grow up as a princess on the island of Amazons.  The Amazons were warriors and either of their origins (original or 1980s) left them on an island paradise (hence called Paradise Island) cut off from the main world (Man’s World).
1) Amazonian warrior and the gods (magic origin).
2) Amazonian warrior charged to bring peace to Man’s World.
Wonder Woman is another character I could argue that the mechanism by which she received her powers and catalyst to be a hero were much the same.  In her WWII origin, there was a more distinct catalyst in the form of Steve Trevor crashing on the island and needing to be returned, but Diana entered a contest to prove she was worthy of doing so despite her mother’s wishes.  That indicates she already wanted to be something great.  In the 1980s, she had more direct superpowers and it seems was always meant to be the Amazonian representative in Man’s World.

The Fantastic Four:
Reed Richards wants to test a theory and asks his best friend and pilot Ben Grimm to help him hijack a shuttle and for some reason brings along his girlfriend Sue Storm and her younger brother Johnny.  They are bombarded with “cosmic radiation” and upon returning to Earth find they have fantastic powers.
1) Cosmic radiation (science origin).
2) They have powers.
I’m serious.  I put the FF in here because there isn’t a particular catalyst that causes them to become heroes.  They’re all standing around with their new powers and discussing what to do when Ben looks at Reed and says something to the effect of, “You’re going to say we have to use our powers for good, right?”  And that’s it.  This isn’t the result of some terrible tragedy like Spider-man or Batman.  This isn’t some innate sense of duty like Captain America.  This isn’t an upbringing that encouraged them to be something great (like Superman and Wonder Woman).  They just decide they have to be heroes.

The origin of the FF demonstrates (at least to me) that the catalyst for becoming a hero is probably more important than the mechanism for gaining powers.  I like the FF and their characters have certainly been more developed since that first issue.  But characters like Spider-man and Batman and Captain America all had their reasons for deciding to be a hero much more clearly illustrated.  As a slight tangent, I think an origin story in which there is a clear catalyst for the hero becoming a hero is easier to translate to film.  This makes Spider-man and Batman’s stories pretty easy to put on the big screen, but it’s harder for Superman and Captain America (although it certainly can be done).

I also think, although this may be blasphemy, that the mechanism for gaining a power can be changed much more easily than the catalyst.  I don’t always agree with how that is done or the reasons why.  At this point, the heroes and their powers are entrenched, but in that very first published origin story, would it have mattered if Peter Parker had been bitten by any other kind of irradiated critter?  Sure, his powers would change but the catalyst to be a hero and his character aren’t dependent on his power.

So if this is the case, why does Wonder Woman’s new 52 origin bother me?  In case you don’t know, the “made from clay” origin is a lie Hippolyta told the Amazons and Diana to protect her because Diana is really (dun dun DUN) a daughter of Zeus.  I find this terribly generic and unnecessary.  However, by the criteria above does this really matter?  Well, unfortunately, Paradise Island seems much less so and Wonder Woman is coming across as more of a distaff counterpart to Hercules and less of the Spirit of Truth and compassionate warrior she was in the previous incarnations.  In fact, the Spirit of Truth has been re-imagined as the product of lies, betrayal, and adultery.  Nice.  This, to me, very much alters the catalyst for being a hero and I don’t think this is a good direction for Wonder Woman.

But for the sake of argument let’s assume the only aspect of her origin that was changed was the mechanism by which she got her powers.  She’s still a magic origin who knows her origin, but instead of being made from clay, she’s a daughter of Zeus.  From Greek mythology, it’s well-known Zeus got around, and that many of his male offspring went on to be heroes (like Hercules and Perseus).  The female offspring were highly attractive (Helen of Troy) but not heroes (her twin sister Clymnestra).  The idea of Zeus getting it on with Hippolyta isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It’s not as though the origin doesn’t have precedence.  But I still don’t like it.

a) Part of my problem with this revised origin is that it seems unnecessary and I’m not sure it creates more story possibilities than it eliminates (I’m actually working out my thoughts on when a retcon is necessary).  The story possibilities I see that this creates?  Daddy issues and Hera trying to kill her, which I’m pretty sure I’ve already seen done on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.  Possibilities this eliminates?  Oh, pretty much anything that’s been done in her 70 odd years of continuity.  I’m not saying the writers have to rehash the old stuff (although they are), but that’s a good source of inspiration.  Heck, Circe once defeated Wonder Woman by returning her to the clay from which she came.  That’s a creative way to defeat a hero I approve of.  Now?  Circe can stab her, I guess?

b) This leads me to the other part of my problem with this revised origin: it’s generic and it has been done before.  Wonder Woman’s character is now Hercules’ distaff counterpart and has the same origin as pre-new 52 Wonder Girl.  I said that I thought the popularity of Xena: Warrior Princess was a good gauge to show that a Wonder Woman movie could also be popular, but I certainly didn’t want Wonder Woman to be Xena.  Being created from clay is a unique origin in sea of generic origins.  How many heroes have been randomly irradiated?  How many were just born that way?  How many vowed to seek justice for wrongs?  It is really hard to think of a creative mechanism to give a hero powers (that’s why Marvel has mutants in the first place).  But creation and blessing by the gods is different and it helps set Wonder Woman apart from other characters.  Why get rid of that origin for something less interesting?

I guess that’s something I’ll explore another time.  For now, I think I’ve made my case that in general the mechanism by which a hero gets power is different from the catalyst that makes a hero, and in many cases, it’s the catalyst that’s more important.

A Comic Book Entry – Please Bring Back Peter Parker

I don’t follow the mainstream Spider-man right now for several reasons which started a few years ago.  But I have hope one of my favorite superheroes will finally get a creative team that gets the character and can write some good stories without the burden of stupid, misguided editorial mandates.  To that end I occasionally check up on the interwebs to find out if the story is going a direction I might be interested in following full-time and perhaps purchasing.  And currently I just want to cry.

I’ve ranted on Peter Parker before both on why he’s a hero and why he’s a loser.  The fact that he is both I think is the source of his appeal.  He’s a guy who can’t get anything right and just keeps trying over and over and over and over…  He’s also screwed over by the creative team on a regular basis who can’t let their little Peter Pan-Parker grow up (although there have been several valiant attempts).  Currently Peter Parker is dead and Doctor Octopus is inhabiting his body and is dedicated to being a “Superior Spider-man.”  I even ranted that of course Doc Ock would be a superior Spider-man because part of Peter’s appeal is that sometimes he still really screws up.

But I should clarify that statement.  Doc Ock technically makes a better superhero.  He has been more systematic about understanding and fully utilizing Peter’s powers than Pete ever did (for crying out loud, Peter never bothered to learn any kind of formal fighting training, which he was scolded for by Captain America [that was in the Civil War run but I really thought Cap had a point there; it is dangerous for someone with super-strength to have no formal training on how to control that strength]).  Doc Ock also built a lot of new gadgets to be a better Spider-man, including armor and  mechanical legs because he’s still Doc Ock.  Frankly, the Superior Spider-man is seriously overpowered from the Peter Parker model.

That said, Doc Ock still has the morals of a supervillain.  Oh, the idea is he suffered the same crisis of conscience as Peter did when he took over his body but the expression of the resolution of that crisis is still distinctly villainous.  He’s running the Raft (a villain prison) and has personally executed three prisoners and one with only the permission of the mayor.  Hey, Marvel, mayors cannot order executions.  In fact, I’m pretty sure no civilian can be summarily executed.  The death penalty has to be decided in the courts.  Even a prisoner sentenced to death can’t just be executed at any time.  The chomper logic makes my head hurt.  Do the damn research writers!  Superior Spider-man has also turned into Big Brother by flooding the city with spider-tracer nano-bots that transmit information to his brand new heads up display, which is in no way like the moral dilemma facing Batman in The Dark Knight.  This is completely different.  Totally different.  In no way a Batman rip-off…  And I won’t even get into the fact that his personality has completely changed and the only people who seem to have noticed are Carlie (why is she still here; no one likes her except her daddy Joe Quesada…wait, I answered my own question) and @#$%ing Norman Osborn!  I can only assume Aunt May has at last gone senile considering she’s 134 years old or something, but that doesn’t excuse anyone else in Peter’s life for not noticing the change.  That sound you hear is my hand smacking into my forehead.

Hey, speaking of Batman, remember that time when Bane broke his back and Bruce Wayne couldn’t be Batman any more?  And a crazy guy called Azrael decided he should step up and take over the role of Batman because Dick Grayson was not available for some reason or another?  And remember how totally dark and edgy Bat-Azrael was because he’d totally kill criminals (okay, that may not be technically true but that’s the route he was going down and he did let criminals die)?   And how Bat-Azrael built a totally sweet battle suit for himself to be a more effective crimefighter than Bruce Wayne?  And how he made more and more gadgets to prove he was a better Batman than Bruce Wayne?  So here we are, 20 years later, with another tired re-tread of the Dark Ages of Comics.  This rip-off is so blatant and unnecessary I have no words to express my dismay.  That sound you hear is my forehead smashing into my desk.

I am not amused by both DC and Marvel’s crush on Batman.  Batman sells and I get that but Marvel has basically decided to turn the flagship character of the franchise into a psycho-killer because it’s so dark and edgy and never been done before as I just explained above.  Just like Bat-Azrael was eventually defeated and Bruce Wayne was returned to the cowl, (hopefully) Superior Spider-man will be defeated by Peter Parker (yeah, I know he’s dead; so what?).  My theory as to why Bat-Azrael didn’t stay Batman is because despite the darker and edgier trend of the early ’90s, it turned out fans didn’t like the idea of Batman killing criminals and didn’t like the idea of some delusional psychopath as Batman.  Weird, right?  So eventually fan outrage was great enough and sales were poor enough that DC figured they’d better give Bruce Wayne the bat-mantle back.  Or, if I’m feeling generous, the idea was never to keep Bat-Azrael as Batman at all but to showcase how much of a hero Bruce Wayne really is.  Perhaps it was meant to be a way to silence all the annoying people who kept saying, “Batman doesn’t kill people and that’s lame,” by showing them why Batman doesn’t kill people and why that’s not lame.  (Truthfully, I think it was always meant to be a limited run since I think sales were pretty good; however, that means even in the Dark Ages, the creative team of the time understood the core of the character was NOT killing).

And so I predict the same thing will happen here.  At least I hope so (although I’m leaning more towards fan outrage and poor sales being the driver to end this rather than some long-term plan to reinstate Peter Parker but I could be wrong).  The people in charge of both companies have made such astoundingly bad decisions in the past few years I am surprised they haven’t combusted from the sheer amount of white-hot fan hatred directed at them (or at least lost their jobs).  The inmates are still running the asylum after all.  Narratively, the moral of the story is as subtle as getting hit in the face with Thor’s hammer.  Doc Ock is, technically, the Superior Spider-man, but it’s the heart of Peter Parker that truly makes him the better superhero.  Ugh.

Here’s why I want Peter Parker back – in my superhero fantasies, I want to be Superman or Captain America or Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel (pre ret-boot for the DC characters of course).  But I know that I couldn’t be any of them.  I’m just not made of that kind of stuff.  If I were a superhero, I’d be Spider-man.  I’d try my hardest and I would make mistakes and I would constantly worry if I was doing the right thing after all.  Peter Parker is most like me; he’s a regular person trying to find his way in the world.  I like having the aspirational icons I listed above as heroes, but they just aren’t me, and I can never be them.  But Peter Parker, even though he has extraordinary powers, is someone like me.

So for all the grief I give Peter Parker for being an irresponsible loser, I want him back.  I’m so tired of dark anti-heroes I could just scream.  Please, give me back the bad puns, the witty one-liners, even the constant worrying about paying the bills and the whining about always disappointing people.  Give me back the guy who tries so hard to do the right thing because he doesn’t know any other way to do things.  Give me back the guy who tries and fails and picks himself up (after a bout of self-pity) and tries again.  Give me back my Spider-man.