Friday, November 27, 2009

Smallville 2010 Trailer: "Absolute Justice"

After a kickass midseason finale featuring the nightmare of General Zod and a powerless Superman, the season will return with a movie featuring the Justice Society on February 5. How cool is it going to be? YOU TELL ME! See for yourself:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Plays and Players Theater Presents: "Super Heroes Who Are Super!"

Now THIS is interesting: From The Plays and Players Theater Facebook page (Philadelphia):


Part of P&P's Super Heroes Who Are Super!
Saturday, December 12, 2009
10:30pm - 11:30pm
Plays and Players
1714 Delancey Place
Philadelphia, PA


Super heroes brought to life before your very eyes! Word-for-word staged readings of classic comic books featuring some of Philadelphia’s finest actors. Will Spiderman save the day? Will the Hulk smash? Will this description get you to come to our performances? Find out! With a relaxed atmosphere that includes drinks being served from the neighboring Quig’s Pub, audiences get an opportunity to interact with the artists and embrace their inner (or outer) comic book geek.

Last month, Super Heroes Who Are Super's reading of Green Lantern #13 performed to a Standing Room Only crowd! Don't miss out on the next one, the last in 2009!

December's SHWAS presents the greatest Superhero of all time, he who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound: SUPERMAN!

The reading will be directed by Ray Roberts. Issue and Cast TBA. $10 with free drink coupon at Plays & Players Quig’s Pub

Quote of the Day: "The Bravery of Cowardice"

"I'm not brave enough to be a coward -- I see the consequences too clearly." -Ayn Rand

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I have to say, I am impressed with Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Forget Christian Bale, forget Alan Moore...hell, forget Frank Miller, at this point. If maturity means self-loathing, neurosis, and moral equivalency between hero and villain, then call me immature. THIS is Batman! THIS is Heroism! This...IS...FUN!!!

It's got a mix of the 90's cartoon combined with the 50's aesthetic, it's serious, but it's still a comic book...or, it's a comic book, but still serious. The fun is important, because it says that life can be more than suffering, that humor is not the sole domain of The Joker. And the humor is not directed at the heroic, but at the forces that would knock down the heroic (precisely the kind of humor that cynics and hipsters don't like, because it DOESN'T laugh at heroes.) Either way, the heroes ARE heroes. The latest episode, "Death Race to Oblivion," finds a "Secret Wars"-type scenario mixed with Death Race 2000, as Mongul forces a selection of heroes and villains to race in wacky-racer style vehicles for the fate of Earth.

But as wacky as it is, there's still a point to it all. "It's a crooked bargain wherein even if Batman wins, he dooms his fellow heroes-if the villains don't doom them first! There's a moral quandry involved, as Batman knows that Mongul will most likely cheat. Instead of following a Kantian-inspired commitment to "truth" and "duty," Batman takes the lead in the race by making his own rules, setting up in advance his own plan to disable the power enabling Mongul's threat. Morals and principles are contextual, that one is not obligated to follow the "rules" when said rules are anti-life. Batman refused to be held responsible for the fate of the world at the point of a gun; he placed the blame where it belonged: on the villain. And yet, Batman's commitment to those he protects comes through in his "do whatever it takes" attitude. He didn't fall into angst or guilt, he didn't "forgive" the enemy, he didn't go to his therapist. He said "I have a right to exist, and so does the world."

The "Death Race" is a perfect metaphor for what is expected from religion and many philosophies; you're expected to run for your life, under threat of punishment and death, and hope that those holding the reins will honor their part with the promise of an eternal afterlife of joy, virgins, whatever. We're told that we have to suffer "now" in order to get there, or that "virtue" is its own reward, or even that life is suffering, and that the only way to escape is to have no desires, attachments, or love. Death race indeed! This is eloquently summed up in song by Pink Floyd's "Time":

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking/
Racing around you to come up behind you again/
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older/
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death/

LIfe is hard enough, but livable if one respects reality; "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." It is a benevolent universe, in the sense that one can work with the physical world. So the last thing we need is to be told that the world is unknowable...even worse to be told to run that race at the point of a gun, with the fate of the world on your back. A religion or philosophy that stacks the deck against you in that manner is far more villainous than any alien warlord; doomed is the hero who chooses to race in that manner. You can keep your psychotic Dark Knights; I'll take The Brave and the Bold.

Quote of the Day: "The Exploration That Awaits You"

"For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence."

- Q, "All Good Things", ST:NG

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Wonder Twin Powers, ACTIVATE!"

"Form of...Smallville!"

In an appearance I don't think any of expected (some haters will add "or asked for..."), everyone's favorite shapeshifting Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna, made an appearance on the latest Smallville episode. It was kind of cool (and they didn't jump the shark with Gleek; instead, they consigned him to a bejewled cell phone, the ringtone being the sound he made in the cartoon.)

Anyway, DESPITE (and I can't stress this enough) the overkill on the Facebook/Myspace/Twitter references (ENOUGH!!!), I thought it was fun,and a much-needed reminder that superheroes CAN be more than wrist-slitting angst. Plus, we all learned something about being responsible heroes. And that's one to grow on. Because knowledge is power. So, now you know. And knowing is half the battle. And if that's too corny for you, well...just be glad it wasn't Wendy and Marvin...

Me, I'm still waiting for the Alex Ross one-shot, Form of Water...April Fools joke my ass...Bring it!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"It's a Trap!"

(Sorry, couldn't resist...:) )

Saturday, November 7, 2009

SUPERVILLAINS AND PHILOSOPHY: "The Supervillains Have Won..."

"I'm going to tell you the most important secret in modern comic books: the supervillains have won."
-Ben Dyer

In the comments of his review of the Saw movie franchise, Landon writes of the film's villain/anti-hero Jigsaw: "Unlike many people, I can never bring myself to truly think of Jigsaw as a villain, but he is, at the very least, most certainly an anti-hero."

Landon and I disagree on the status of Jigsaw as a "villain" (he can't come to see Jigsaw as a "straight-on villain," and I make my arguments in the comment section of that post.) But I had to laugh ironically at this: "He's the ultimate scene stealing villain without an 'anemic' hero in sight. And at the end of the day he's the supervillain who won the culture wars." Ironically, because I was planning a review at the same time of the recently published Supervillains and Philosophy: Sometimes Evil Is Its Own Reward, a sequel to the Superheroes and Philosophy book in the Popular Culture and Philosophy series. In the intro, I had planned to quote editor Ben Dyer's opening salvo:

"I'm going to tell you the most important secret in modern comic books: the supervillains have won."

Synchronicity? That would suggest something acausal. But as Dyer will explain for me, there is most certainly a cause:
It did not happen in a massive battle that no one remembers, and it's not the result of hidden schemes concocted by secret puppet masters. It happened in comic ship conversations and writer's rooms in the 1970's and 1980's as the kids who'd started reading Silver Age comics in the Sixties began to grow up. As those kids' innocence gave way to adult maturity, they brought their funny books with them from childhood, and they forced their heroes to grow up too.

"Since then, the cri de coeur of the comics literati is that our superheroes have feet of clay, and a sidelong glance at the heroes of the Silver Age reveals battle scars of an entirely different kind."
After listing a litany of sins, Dyer adds that "(n)o supervillain ever accomplished so much. It had to be us."

In contrast, "It's obvious that supervillains haven't fared as poorly. On those infrequent occasions where they take center stage, supervillains are humanized and sympathetic, and they might have been us but for an untimely accident or mischance." Or, as Ayn Rand said of her tragic character Gail Wynand, "a man who could have been."

Even though I disagree with Landon's portrayal of Jigsaw's status as a villain, I do see the logic behind it: Jigsaw is not simply a villain, but a dark, twisted funhouse-mirror reflection of the idea of justice. (Again, that argument is fleshed out in the comments of that post.) But Landon, whose judgment, he admits, is one made on a sliding scale, also laments the fact that, "As such, this villain is more of a hero than many heroes... which isn't necessarily a good thing." Again, this sentiment is paralleled by Dyer, who says "that supervillains are now barely distinct from their superheroic counterparts is a criminal lapse in judgement..."

Dyer goes on to say that "the source of that important mistake is quite subtle. Stan Lee once said that the most important character in any comic is the supervillain." In Lee's words, "Sure, you always need the hero, but ask yourself this: how eager would you be to read about a superhero who fought litterbugs, jaywalkers, or income-tax evaders?"

Dyer quickly counters this:
"Stan's exactly right that each and every villain...should be as formidable as the hero's powers are extraordinary. But it's not the powers that make someone a hero, it's the character beneath the cowl. The same is true of supervillains. Today's supervillains wield powers and abilities that make them every bit the superhero's equal in physical power, but where is the moral or existential challenge to match the modern superhero's new psychology? Tragically, there is very little contrast left between the moral cynicism of modern narratives and the sympathetic lens through which we encounter the modern supervillain."

Here, I disagree (as usual) with Stan Lee, and agree with Dyer. Indeed, WHERE is the moral or existential challenge to the superhero's anemic new psychology? Well, in the aforementioned comments section, I play devil's advocate for Landon's view, arguing that Jigsaw can possibly be viewed as a metaphorical force of nature, or a "trickster," an amoral figure who appears at life's crossroads when traditional morality prevents a traveler from making a choice, and "gets things going again." Nietzsche, in The Antichrist, called this the "transvaluation of values." I don't know that Jigsaw fits this that well; he's more a dark reflection, rather than a true challenger, of conventional morality. But, at the very least, it does parallel the idea that when traditional morality prevents life from going forward, the solution may come from the unlikeliest sources, and explains why we may come to see villains as heroes. (Even an author like Ayn Rand, who disagrees with Nietzsche fundamentally, came to invert traditionally villainous characters into heroes in her challenging of "two-thousand years of Christianity.")

At any rate, Dyer's query and comment about "the moral cynicism of modern narratives" answers why Landon's examination of Jigsaw's status through a "sympathetic lens" is even possible. It is because, as both have stated, the supervillain has, at this point, won the culture wars; it is why this blog is subtitled "For Heroes in Exile." But, to answer Dyer's query on the location of "the moral or existential challenge to match the modern superhero's new psychology," I contend that the answer is in Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, which improves upon Nietzsche's "transvaluation of values" without the need to become the "twisted mirror of justice" of Jigsaw or succumb to the amoralism of the classical Trickster figure.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Heroism in Horror: "I Want to Play a Game"

One of the most successful horror franchises of the new millennium has been Saw. Along with Hostel, it more or less singlehandedly founded the horror sub-genre affectionately known as "gorn," or "torture porn." As such, you'd probably think this would be the last place on earth you'd find good examples of heroism by any standard, Objectivist or otherwise. However when you have a villain with such mottoes as "Cherish your life" and "people have to save themselves" I beg to differ.

The series has gone through six entries, and I can honestly say that each one has dealt with complex themes while sporting amazing plots. Don't let the gore fool you; some of the series' most emotional moments come from scenes like a man being forced to burn the cherished toys that belonged to his dead son, so that he can save the life of the judge who sentenced the son's killer lightly.

John "Jigsaw" Kramer isn't your typical Hollywood monster. He was a skilled architect and engineer who had a wife he loved dearly and, from most appearances, fairly liberal politics. In short, he had a little something for everyone. But this all changed when he experienced what would have to be the worst year of his life. His wife ran a clinic in a poor part of town, and had a miscarriage after being robbed after-hours by one of her drug addicted patients. A divorce came shortly after, since the stress of losing a child was too much for John. Then John was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, which lead to him making an attempt at suicide.

It was only when the suicide attempt failed and John had to put himself through a tremendous amount of pain to save his own life that his mission became clear. His goal became seeking out people who were wasting their lives and putting them in situations where they would have to realize how much their own lives actually meant to them.

He states regularly that not only is he
not a killer, but he despises killers. He creates tests which are designed to make people rethink their entire lives, and, when they make it through them, inspire change that will last a lifetime. But the problem is that for the test to truly work there has to be a chance of dying, a large one. Most people never make it through his tests, even though every time he gives the person a tool which will inflict pain, but save their life.

The idea of finding people who didn't truly appreciate their lives often lead to victim choices which were questionable throughout the series. Notably, his targets included private investigators who lived parasitically, drug addicts coasting through life from fix to fix, and people having extra-marital affairs wrecking their families.

However, when he found a target who REALLY deserved it, that was something special. A man who made numerous suicide attempts for attention's sake was placed in the middle of a maze of razor wire, given instructions that if he wanted to die, he merely had to sit at the center of the maze until he starved to death, but if he wanted to survive he'd have to cut himself more than he ever had before. "How much blood will you shed to save your life?"

Another great example was the aforementioned grieving father. He spent all day obsessing over his child's toys, and making Travis Bickle poses, dreaming about a confrontation where he'd deal out vengeance to the driver who ran over his son. Within a few short hours he's placed on a path where he will witness everyone who had anything to do with his son's death face a fate more gruesome than anything he could imagine unless he realizes that vengeance isn't what he actually wants and he puts himself through physical torment to save them.

In one of the most recent entries, Jigsaw's introduction made pleas against "selfishness" and for "collectivism"; and yet, it was still inspiring. A group of five people were sent through a course of four tests. The group thinks each one was designed for one person to die at every phase but in the end realize that they were all supposed to survive every test. The five collectively committed a crime which ended in the death of eight innocents, and it's simply inspiring in the final test when the last two realize "We've never faced justice for what we did...We
deserve to be here." When they go to shed their blood and save their lives it's an unparallelled act of heroism, a total dedication to facing reality and justice.

And that's where the strength of
Saw lies. Unlike many people, I can never bring myself to truly think of Jigsaw as a villain, but he is, at the very least, most-certainly an anti-hero. The fact that he treats the lives of others as his property to dispose of is wrong and evil, but you cannot doubt the man's devotion to reality, justice and pride. Plus there is a surprising lack of malevolence in what he does. He puts his emotions aside in choosing a target and starting a game, but that being said his congratulations to survivors is always genuine.
While the choice of methods can never be seen as heroic, they are specifically designed to bring out moments of unprecedented heroism in his victims. There are few things as inspiring as seeing a battered wife who turned a blind eye to her husband turning his violence on their child as well as her, finding the courage to save her own life at the expense of her tormentor.

The series is often criticized as being the act of watching a long, drawn-out murder, but I don't think that applies here. That may be true of a film like
The Grudge, where once you've encountered the evil ghosts they will continue to torment you for the rest of your (likely very short) life and there is no hope of escape, and no hope of survival. But in Saw, people have choices to make, difficult ones, and things are never treated as completely hopeless. At every moment of the story there is something any character can do in order to save their life, they merely have to discover what it is, and do so.

The series could also be criticized for the fact it is too easy to sympathize with the villain. That may be true in a far more "accepted" example, such as Hanibal Lecter, who is so witty and charming we laugh
with him as he recounts his reasons for killing. But there is something more profound in Jigsaw's case; the sympathy comes from the fact that his morals are largely sound and strong. Even in the cases where he is flatly wrong, one still must at least respect his absolute integrity.

I fear many may still not be convinced. For those people I offer as evidence the idea behind the main protagonist's journey in part four. A man who is always putting himself in harm's way to save every person with a problem he encounters is placed on a path where he is taught the lesson that he cannot just go around saving people because, not only will it wreck his own life (as depicted by the fact that his marriage is falling apart), but when it really comes down to it, people have to save themselves.

The protagonist suffers because he doesn't learn the lessons of "cherishing
his life" and "people have to save themselves." For a villain in a series that is often viewed as too nihilisticly evil to be worth making note of, I sure wish some of the things he says would show up in the mouths of someone like Clark Kent on Smallville or Peter Petrelli on Heroes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Quote of the day: Jigsaw

"People have to save themselves."

---John "Jigsaw" Kramer: Saw IV