Thursday, January 28, 2010

Two Words:

PLANET HULK!!!!
(Two more words: February 2nd!)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Checking in on HEROES...

As I mentioned at the start of the season, just because this site is called Superhero Babylon, and there's a show with the title Heroes, doesn't mean I automatically care; henceforth, I feel no obligation to blog on it. But I have been following it this season, anyway, as a chore, a duty, for the sake of the blog, just in case...


So far, I stand by my previous declaration. But last night's episode does make me want to make a few comments, at least. It's sad, because there are good ideas there, but getting to them is such a chore anymore. (And those good ideas are ones that are already explored in the comic book sources that Heroes mines for inspiration.) But the "Carnival" idea is a good one; a carnival is a perfect environment to play out the idea of superpowered "freaks" versus "normals;" the opportunity for lots of special-effects eye candy, for one...and the character of Samuel Sullivan is complex, in the mold of Magneto from the X-Men (sympathetic in his desire for love, rightly defiant against conformity and persecution for being different, but perfectly portrayed as a villain in his Machiavellian manipulations.)

The idea of unique people forced or compelled to be "normal" is a classic tale, with many manifestations, not just in comics, from TV comedies like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie, to Pixar movies like A Bug's Life and The Incredibles, to philosophic novels like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. (Indeed, the latter raises the bar for a show like Heroes; the carnival idea does provide an interesting twist on a Edenic "Galt's Gulch" corrupted from within by the serpentine Samuel.) And even though the character of Sylar is so mishandled more and more, the subplot involving his attempt to be normal by having Parkman remove his powers, in order to regain his humanity, is a fitting parallel to the main storyline. Though the problem is we've gone down this road already, and Sylar is/was just too good a villain to turn normal. And the unexpected turn from Parkman is a nice touch, as he goes Edgar Allen Poe on Sylar, and walls him in a la "The Cask of Amantillado."

A story doesn't have to be totally original, but it does have to be done well. There is still some potential here, if it's not too late; the story is only getting good now, after one slow-start too many. Of course, the selflessness of Hiro's trial doesn't win any points with me, I've had it it with self-sacrificial heroes. But I have the same problem with Smallville, yet the stories still draw me in each week, so Heroes has no excuse there. It's the storytelling, stupid...I'll finish out this season, but if this one's finale doesn't make up for last's, it's over. (No, seriously, it's come to this: an "open letter to cancel Heroes...not save, CANCEL. I have seen this much antipathy since the "Kill Wesley Crusher" campaign..."Snerkles!")

Or hell, let me take a stab at writing it. There's so much potential there, I hate to see it go out like this. I couldn't do any worse...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quote of the Day: Conan the Brave...or Conan the Naive?

“All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” -Conan O'Brien


It's my personal quote of the day because I was thinking yesterday about this; if one can be rational without being a rationalist, can one be justifiably cynical without being a cynic, if the object of the cynicism is deserving? And there is a part of me that wants to say that it's easy for Conan to say that; he is, after all, walking away with 30 million (well, before taxes, cough-cough.) Is it cynical for me to say that? If I believed that people are inherently dishonest, then yes. But I don't have a lantern, so don't call me Diogenes just yet...

Conan's a comedian, not a philosopher (and given that comedians are given to cynicism, good for him for breaking the mold.) He's right, in the sense of not just "giving up" or making excuses to not even try. But I think there needs to be an elaboration here, lest Conan come off as simply naive. I'm not a cynic; nor am I a Pollyanna optimist. I'm a romantic realist. That means accepting that people have free will, and can opt to do good or bad. What it requires is good faith and benevolence, but street sense as well. The Great Seal of the United States (check your dollar bill, y'all) sums it up best: olive branch and sword. What it requires is not an open mind, or a closed mind, but an active mind...and, as Conan certainly realizes, contract laws...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hero of the Day: Geert Wilders

I've been pretty focused on "the war at home," but today, I'd like to focus attention "across the pond" and lend my support to an international "hero in exile," Geert Wilders.

(Image by Bosch Fawstin.)

From The Trial of Geert Wilders: A Symposium:
"Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders goes on trial in Amsterdam on Wednesday, January 20, on charges related to his political campaign to stop and reverse the Islamization of the Netherlands. The International Free Press Society has asked an array of legal experts, authors and journalists to reflect on this momentous event, and we present their comments below."

Who is Geert Wilders? You can get the full story at Wiki and elsewhere, but briefly stated, Wilders is a Dutch politician (and an atheist Libertarian) who has come under intense scrutiny and persecution for his opposition to Islam. Not "moderate Islam." Not "Islamic Terrorism." No, simply Islam, for what it is at its core.

So why is Wilders a hero? For having the courage to call Islam for what it is, at its core. And he's not been shy about it; Wilders has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf, stating: "The book incites hatred and killing and therefore has no place in our legal order." If only more people had stated the same about Hitler before the Holocaust. It's easy to denounce after the crime, it takes real courage to speak up against a popular atrocity.

Wilders is a hero who has put himself on the front lines, which has gotten him not only banned from entering the U.K. for a time, he is also on trial for "hate speech," referring to his movie Fitna (Arabic for "disagreement and division among people.) Wilders describes the short film as "a call to shake off the creeping tyranny of Islamization". Reactions ranged from boycotts to YouTube bans, as well as the aforementioned U.K. ban and current trial. (And let us not forget the violence, both threatened and real, over the "Mohammad cartoon" controversy.)

Wilders is a hero for putting his own life on the line to protect not just Dutch values, but American values, which are universal values. This is not just a free speech issue, it is a fight for individual rights against not just religious tyranny, but tyranny in general. This trial is an important one, and the outcome will set the tone of that fight for years to come. (For a more personal account, I invite you to visit someone with first-hand experience: Bosch Fawstin's The Infidel, not only for his comic book work, but for his essays like "Calling Islam 'Islam'")

Geert Wilders is the "hero of the day" in support of him at his trial tomorrow. If you ever wanted proof of a "hero in exile," this is it. If you support Geert Wilders and our fight (and if you value freedom, then this is your fight, too), you can make a donation to the Geert Wilders defense fund. Give what you can, if you can. But money is not the only option; you, like Wilders, can speak up and make a stand.

Fitna by Geert Wilders

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Some Things Are Just Too Awesome To Require Justification.

I just finished watching Crank 2: High Voltage. The science (or lack thereof) is appalling. There's really no moral center of the movie, though if you really wanted to stretch, it you could say something about finding the value of one's own life. You can't really call Chev Chelios a hero since he does some fairly amoral things to accomplish his goals. There are tons of nudity in this film and it is all 100% gratuitous, a fact which the film revels in.

It has no significant intellectual value, another fact which the film also revels in. But, having said that, by Rand's criteria of "would I want to be James Bond?", I find it hard to fault this film. Raining chaos, mayhem, and destruction all across L.A., including some major shootouts, very wild and very public sex with my beautiful girlfriend and a few straight-up destroyed buildings is something I'd love to experience before I die.

I'm always the first to say that I hate escapism, but there is something to be found in what I like to call "turn-your-brain-off-fun" action movies like this series, Shoot 'Em Up, and the original XXX. I was really looking forward to this movie and wasn't disappointed. I still have yet to see Avatar, and have no immediate plans to do so. These are not separate facts.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"I Am a Real American": Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling

In my last post, about Cartoon Network's "American Hero Weekend," I addressed a misguided comment from a message board elsewhere, which read:

"Next weekends schedule for American Heroes weekend looks good and the promo 'Toon is airing looks great, my only complaint is they managed to slither in Johnny Test which makes me mad because he does not fit the mold of a standard hero and the show is Canadian, not American."
While addressing what it means to be an "American Hero," my memory was rebound to the time of cassettes and Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, and the video "I Am A Real American" by Rick Derringer. (Trivia of the day: Brad Garret did the voice of Hulk Hogan.) On the one hand, you have the bigoted attitude that only red-blooded cowboys can be American Heroes, and on the other, you have those who dismiss red-blooded cowboys altogether as "Fascist." The 90's were the turning point in that debate, with fall of the Soviet Union and the rise and fall of Ronald Reagan that gave us Barack Obama, but this song gets to the essence of it all; it's everything those who resent America hate, and but with one line, sums up the ideal American attitude "Fight for the right of every man." And it should be noted that on the cartoon, both the "heroes" and "villian" teams were multicultural. But then, there are those who would object that the Soviet and Iranian were on the "villains" side, making it a battle of ideology, which it was, and is.

Those people are offended by the American idea of the individual, the smallest minority of all. But bigotry can come from within as well as from without. So, for both those who think that heroes can only come from Texas, as well as those who are offended by pictures of dictators (and popes!) being torn up, I bring you...



When it comes crashing down, and it hurts inside,
ya' gotta take a stand, it don't help to hide,
Well, you hurt my friends, and you hurt my pride,
I gotta be a man; I can't let it slide,
I am a real American, Fight for the rights of every man,
I am a real American, fight for what's right, fight for your life!

I feel strong about right and wrong,
And I don't take trouble for very long,
I got something deep inside of me, and courage is the thing that keeps us free,
I am a real American, Fight for the rights of every man,
I am a real American, fight for what's right, fight for your life!

Well you hurt my friends, and you hurt my pride,
I gotta be a man; I can't let it slide,
I am a real American, Fight for the rights of every man,
I am a real American, fight for what's right, fight for your life!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"American Hero Weekend" (Canadians Need Not Apply?)

Cartoon Network is advertising an "American Heroes Weekend," which promises "pain and suffering for the bad guys." Should be fun, especially if they show the Justice League Unlimited. But while googling for the scheduled lineup, I came across this comment on a message board that calls for a serious moment. Here's the comment, from toonzone.com:

"Next weekends schedule for American Heroes weekend looks good and the promo 'Toon is airing looks great, my only complaint is they managed to slither in Johnny Test which makes me mad because he does not fit the mold of a standard hero and the show is Canadian, not American."
This isn't some grade schooler, mind you; according to the poster's profile, he's a college student. (Yes, that was written by a college med student...shudder.) I know the colleges are hotbeds for anti-American propaganda nowadays, but this is one of those comments that gives credence to the stereotype of the "ugly American" or the redneck stereotypes (hmmm...the poster's location is stated as Texas...). Yeah, and Jesus was an American, too.. Well, then...let's set ol' Tex straight with a little anecdote about a real American hero:

Ayn Rand, a Russian immigrant (read "escapee from the Soviets) was a pro-American. One day, while giving a political speech, a heckler asked her, "Why should we care what a foreigner thinks?", Rand replied "I chose to be an American. What did you ever do, except for having been born?"

Right on. And I'll add that America, a nation of immigrants, is not a tribe, or race, but an idea that transcends borders. I haven't watched the show myself, but I'm not aware of any political aspect to it (it's really a show for kids, not college students, but hey, knock yourself out.) But, barring any specific anti-American sentiment on the show, if there's a Canadian fighting for truth and justice, then he is fighting for the "American way" (what's left of it, anyway...) Considering that Obama was elected president, I'd say that many too many native-born Americans don't deserve the title...

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Spiderman No More!" Sam Raimi Walks Away...

Sam Raimi Walks Away from Spider-Man 4, Sony to Reboot Franchise Instead


I loved the second film, but Spider-Man 3 was a major disappointment. And considering the rumor that the Black Cat was to appear not as the Black Cat, but as...the Vultress...well, I'm hoping that this will be a step for the better.

Details from FilmJunk.com:

"Apparently when push came to shove, Sam Raimi has decided to walk away, and Sony has decided not to replace him. Instead, they will now turn their attention to a reboot of the franchise from a script that was written by James Vanderbilt a while back. Everyone will be recast, which means that Tobey Maguire has donned the red and blue tights for the last time. Sony has confirmed this news with a short, non-committal update from their Twitter account:"

Spider-Man: Summer 2012: Peter Parker is going back to high school when the next Spider-Man hits theaters in the summer of 2012.”

Saturday, January 2, 2010

An Oasis in the Desert, or, The Decade in Films That Didn't Make Me Groan

As I'm a person who likes to see portrayals of heroism and an Objectivist; unfortunately, the two are often placed at odds with each other in the current culture. So, on the start of a new decade, I thought some retrospective on the films of the past ten years might be beneficial. There was a lot to jeer at in the past ten years; getting to the "good stuff" is like wandering through the desert to reach an oasis. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...just be wary of mirages...

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The Desert of the Real:


•The "New" Heroism of Movie Soundtracks
G.I. Joe's end theme music was a rap song about "hooking up." The first Transformers ended with a depressing Linkin Park song about feeling guilty and worthless. The themes of the Spider-Man films are specifically about how we cannot wait on a hero, or being "selfish and wrong."

When I pressed myself to think of a good heroic piece of music from a soundtrack I thought of the "hero theme" from Dexter. It's the strains of music that usually don't get used until it's close to the season finale and he's getting ready to go save someone that (in his own warped way) he loves.
Anyway, I'm not going to focus this whole thing on music, but it struck me more as a symptom than a cause.

•"Heroism in a Bottle"
Another thing that comes to mind is the "heroism in a bottle" aspect of sports. Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Vince Young have all had what you could call a good year, winning lots of games and each with an interesting story behind them. But then, every single time, you hear one of them start in with this: "Aww shucks, we're paid to do a job so we went out and did our job, and hopefully we can keep doing our job. But seriously all praise goes to God for the job we've been doing."

•The Reality of Real-Life Heroes
And there have been a lot of legitimate real-life heroes. Without discounting that heroism, the problem with this is that there have been no heroes who've come along and really shown the world at large why some pretty major things are important. People still praise socialized health care, without looking more than a few weeks past what would happen once it's passed. We have national security standards that are so lax that recently in Detroit we've had a response to a terrorist attack fall apart at every level (fortunately all the way down to the terrorist himself).

We've entered a world where people who say "Death to America!" "Death to the West" "The Holocaust was a lie!" Terrorists are our misunderstood friends, and people who read Ayn Rand and oppose Obama on a level of policy are the real enemy. Fortunately, there were a few fresh drinks of water...

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The Oasis
I live in a world where I see very little of my values reflected anywhere, and when I do, it's more often than not a mirage, an optical illusion of seeing things that aren't really there. But with reason and perseverance, there was some fresh water at the oasis of the last decade...




•300 (2006)
At this point it seems most people don't remember much about this movie besides the buff men in loincloths and the "THIS IS SPARTA!" catchphrase. But the book is probably the best single piece of work Frank Miller ever did, and the movie is on par with it. It's a pitch-perfect adaptation; perhaps a scenes weren't translated as best as they could've been from the source material, but, on the whole, the adaptation improved upon the original. Zack Snyder built an entire character out of two panels of art and one line of dialogue. The visuals were beautiful (though I hope that if Miller gets to direct again he doesn't continue to use the style from this and Sin City). All in all, it's a very inspiring story of reason and freedom vs. mysticism and tyranny.

•The Incredibles (2004)
Joe had a lot to say about this one. To be honest, I agree with most of it. It's not perfect, but it's the closest thing to a story from an Objectivist mindset I expect to see for a long time. Though, on that note, I'd also agree that Ratatouille was just as good if not maybe a little better. I guess I focused on this one because it came first, as well as it fits the title of this blog slightly better.

•The Dark Knight (2008)
Joe and I both had a lot to say about this one. But to sum up why I put it on this list: yeah, most of the moral dilemmas are lifeboat situations (including the literal one near the end). I probably wouldn't agree with many of the moral stances taken by different characters in the film. But at the end of the day, it's a film that doesn't insult your intelligence. I can say that, but I don't think most people will get how profound that actually is in American film in this day and age, so I'll explain.

A few months ago, my research for a planned article required watching some Japanese horror films. The comparison between the Japanese versions next to the American versions is like night and day. They spell so much out for you in the American version and don't treat you like you're smart enough to figure any of it out on your own. But having your intelligence respected in an American film, adapting a comic book superhero, while being faithful (but not slavish) to the source material, that's something very special.

•Rocky Balboa (2006)
This movie was just better than anyone expected it to be. It juggles a few too many supporting characters at times, but it still works. It does a good job of creating a situation that in many ways mirrors the first film, while still keeping it fresh and new. It's just a great film about what happens when you really fight for what matters to you.

Rambo (2008)
I think I've written more about this character here than just about anything else. And why not? He's very compelling, whether it's "the kid" from the book or the Stallone version. But in general, this film is just one of the greatest depictions of war I've ever seen. It's ugly, horrifyingly unglamorous; sometimes it's the only hope for justice and civilization, but if it fails in that respect it just leaves a path of wreckage in its wake. But, much like Rocky Balboa, what makes this film so great is the fact that Rambo actually grows as a person. He's spent years facing his demons, and, by the end of this film, you feel that he's truly ready to really move on with his life.

•Million Dollar Baby (2004)
This film is a beautifully shot, beautifully acted story of overcoming adversity and the strong friendships formed through a shared passion. If the Atlas Shrugged movie is ever actually made, this film is the reason I think Eastwood is the only person qualified to direct it.

There's a scene in the hospital where toward the end of the film. Maggie's family has come to get her to sign over power of attorney, and all of her new found money, over to them after she's left paralyzed. All of that and her forgiveness for every time they've ever wronged her is put on the line with a simple question "Did you see the fight?" Hard to deny the shades of Hank Reardon. But it's an amazing film that just draws you in and doesn't let go.

•Team America: World Police (2004) What I love most about this movie is that it spends the first 10 or so minutes playing into the liberal stereotypes of warmongering Republicans and the rest of the movie demolishing the liberal views. All around it's just a great piece of satire that takes on not only politics but the horrible films of Michael Bay. And, to be honest, I think the day when more people truly understand the "Dicks, Pussies and Assholes" speech will be a day when a lot of things change for the better.

•Saw IV (2007)
I've had a fair amount to say about this series. There are a few reasons this entry in particular stands out. In all the entries of the Saw franchise, all of the victims have committed crimes. There are problems, though. In the first two, many of the crimes seem to be small enough not to warrant Jigsaw's rehabilitation. In the third one, the whole set up is entirely subjective. In part five, all the crimes warrant their respective punishment but there is a bit too much lip service to altruism thrown in. But Saw IV found the perfect blend. All of the victims deserve what they're going to get, and, in all honesty, if they make it through their respective trap it seems that they will have truly earned their redemption. But what makes this entry so special is that the lead character's greatest weakness and character flaw is his altruism. It's what ultimately gets both himself and the people he cares about killed.

I know this entry is controversial, but you can't always choose where you're going to find inspiration. Again, what might seem a more "benevolent" choice" may turn out to be nothing but a mirage...

•Justice League: New Frontier (2008) This is probably the best of the DC animated films. By that I mean to differentiate the new "DC Animated" film line from the "Timmverse" of Batman TAS, Superman TAS, Justice Leage Unlimited, the Zeta Project and Batman Beyond. The other entries I've seen have each been good in their own right but something just seemed "off."

But New Frontier was a pitch perfect adaptation of the mini-series/graphic novel of the same name. It kept the original published timeline for these characters intact. This is in contradiction to the current post-Crisis/Zero Hour/Super Duper Ultimate Infinite Crisis DCU. In that set up, Batman and Superman have been operating for 10 years (at least that's what it said in 1994; I'm pretty sure they've been operating for 11 maybe even 13 years by the current time line.) But as such, it ties in all the characters to major events of the time. Space exploration, cold war tensions, atrocities in minor dictatorships are all seen through the filter of "what would happen if these major superheroes were all around when this happened?"

It's all very well done, with the exception of a bit of an obsession with McCarthyism. The other major flaw is the ending implies "JFK is in office now and that'll make everything better." I once saw an adaptation of Animal Farm that had a similar ending, suggesting that the Clintons would save the day, but neither really rang true either time.

•X-Men 2 (2003)
Out of this decade's batch of great Marvel movies, X-Men 2 seemed to be the only one that fit what I had in mind. Spider-man had the Ditko connection, but goes so far out of its way to play up the greatness of altruism I couldn't in good conscience put it on a list like this. Iron Man featured a brilliant business man and inventor as its hero, but a case could be made equally well for either side that he's heroic because of this or in spite of this. It loses points with me for trying to be all things to all people. Largely, the rest were all hit or miss. I enjoyed almost all of them on first viewing but later lost much of that appreciation (especially in the case of Daredevil). I did love Johnny Storm's character in Fantastic Four 2, but it really rubbed me the wrong way that he was supposed to be the bad one while the "good" Reed almost lead the group into homelessness. (There's a reason when I was doing a story with Joe I turned Reed into a villain, and to be honest a lot of other people do as well.)

But X-Men 2 it has several things going for it. The character relationships are complex and mature. The special effects are beautiful and believable. It handles a complex plot rather well, juggling lots of characters and their storylines and making it look easy. In general there's just nothing bad I can say about this film.

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And that is my tour through the "desert of the real" that was the past ten years in cinema heroism. Let's hope that the next decade has a better oasis to mirage ratio...