In which I re-write the Justice League movie

Last November, I was busy creating a tiny human and so did not have time to go to the theater for Justice League.  I finally got around to seeing it a few weeks ago, and in general I felt the same about it as I did about the other DC movies: there was a good movie in there somewhere.  It just wasn’t the final cut.

There wasn’t anything really horrible about the movie; it was just kind of blah.  Characters, plot, effects, everything.  The more I thought about it, the more ideas came to me of how to improve it (none of which involve more Whedon-esque quips).

Start with Intergang

It’s pretty clear that BvS set the stage for a villain from the fiery dystopian planet Apokolips to appear in Justice League by teasing parademons and possibly Darkseid himself (“He’s coming!”)  Justice League picks that thread up by starting the movie with an invasion of parademons, then goes on to a history lesson about the Mother boxes and Steppenwolf, the movie’s big bad (and one of Darkseid’s lieutenants).  Although I got a laugh with the scene comparing the sketch of a parademon to Batman, in general this was not a terribly compelling plot and definitely involved some info dumps.

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Parademons

But I have seen a better way to introduce the Apokoliptians in Superman: The Animated Series, which uses a criminal organization called Intergang to bring in concepts like Mother boxes and boom tubes (which are shown but never explained in JL).

Intergang is a group of humans based in Metropolis, generally led by a guy named Bruno Mannheim, that use advanced technology from Apokolips to commit thefts and other crimes.  The DCU movies do like to pretend from time to time that they care about how all this superhero stuff affects the average citizen, so perhaps seeing an “arms race” of super-tech in response to the beginnings of the Justice League would be an interesting direction to take (a bit like Vulture in Spiderman: Homecoming).

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Darkseid and Bruno Mannheim in the DCAU: One of them is nicknamed “Ugly,” and it’s not Darkseid.

Just as with the parademons, we could see Batman investigating Intergang early in the movie.  This would be a good excuse to show Batman acting like a detective instead of a thug who just likes to dangle people off buildings when it’s helpful to him.  As his investigations lead him further, he and Wonder Woman could come across the information about the Mother boxes and Darkseid’s underling who brought them to Earth.  This seems a little more organic than an oddly specific flare signal from the Amazons and an info dump from Diana (though, again, I enjoyed seeing more of the Amazons).

Intergang also provides a vehicle for character development for Lois Lane.  Instead of grieving by writing fluff pieces, Lois could grieve by throwing herself recklessly into a dangerous investigation of the group.  As much as I liked the “mother-in-law” scene with her and Ma Kent, this reaction seems more like the Lois Lane I am familiar with. It also gives her a reason to cross paths with Batman early in the movie so they can be like, “Man, doesn’t it suck that Superman’s dead?  Yeah, we could really use him around.” And thereby lay the groundwork for his eventual resurrection and Lois’s role in it.

Ditch Steppenwolf

So if we have Intergang, do we need Steppenwolf in his role?  Well, we need some Apokoliptian to be calling the shots for Intergang, but it should definitely not be Steppenwolf, who is one of the absolute worst villains in all modern superhero movies.  His defining characteristics are that he has a cool axe and some vague mommy issues. It is an absolute waste of a great actor like Ciaran Hinds.

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Steppenwolf: The Worst

If I have one problem with the DCU movies in general, it’s that the third act tends to devolve into an everything-is-dark-and-on-fire CGI mess.  So maybe we could have a villain that’s not a giant CGI monster for once?

There are several flunkies of Darkseid’s that would work for this role.  Kalibak and DeSaad specifically were well done in S:TAS, giving some insight to the political machinations going on back on Apokolips.  But my first crazy choice would have to be Granny Goodness.

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Come to Granny, darling. She’ll make it all better.

We haven’t seen anything like Granny yet, not even in a Marvel movie.  Done well, she can be intimidating while at the same time providing comic relief.  Remember, for example, that she is voiced wonderfully by Ed Asner in the DCAU–what if we had someone similar to play her here?  It doesn’t have to be too campy.

Plus, if we get Granny, we can also get her Furies, which would make for a pretty cool climax battle for the Justice League, with several different types of action.  And it would be nice to see some female supervillains for once (they are a rarity even in Marvel movies).

Complete Cyborg’s Story Arc

Image result for cyborg justice leagueGoing in to Justice League, I was afraid that Cyborg’s character was going to be very bland, but I was pleasantly surprised with him and his backstory.  (Though his character design could have been better…)  But after finishing the movie, I really feel like he got the shaft in terms of character development.  Batman and Wonder Woman both see grow over the movie, Aquaman gets some set up for his upcoming movie, Flash gets some nice resolution and a cute end credit scene with Superman.  What does Cyborg get?  A story arc that’s left hanging.

At the beginning of the movie, we see that Cyborg is conflicted, to say the least, about his father’s decision to save his life and make him into a cyborg with the technology from the Mother box.  He feels more like an experiment than a son and is frustrated that he can’t understand his changing powers.  Later, he must save his father from the parademons, and this would have been a great time for his feelings to come to a head.

But instead, the team saves his father and just kinda leaves, and I don’t think we see Dr. Stone again at the end of the movie (someone correct me if I’m wrong).  Cyborg never works out his feelings about what was done to him, and how he’ll live going forward.  For a character that is essential to the plot, being the only one who understands how to shut down the Mother boxes, this seems like a significant oversight.  Especially when Barry gets such a nice scene with his father at the end showing his character growth.

I’m sure the powers that be had planned to flesh this out more in a solo Cyborg movie, but I wouldn’t bet on that being a certainty now.

Speaking of which, after seeing the end credit scene, I think it’s pretty cute that they think they’ll be doing not only another possible movie with Darkseid that they’ve been leading up to, but also an Injustice League (or Secret Society/Legion of Doom/etc) movie.  Beyond Aquaman and WW2, I’m not convinced of how many more movies we’ll get in the DCU period.  My younger self would cry to hear me say this, but I’m not sure I really even care.

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The Spirit of Wonder Woman

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Honestly, I haven’t historically been a big fan of Wonder Woman.  My first exposure to her was really the DCAU Justice League cartoons (which is the reason I can ship her with Batman hehe).  While I liked her character there, she never really stood out to me.

This began to change last year, when I read The Secret History of Wonder Woman for our GeekyNerdy Book Club, and then attended a symposium for the 75th anniversary of her creation.  I still haven’t read any of her comics, but I feel like I have some understanding of her character.  And from that perspective, I was really pleased with the Wonder Woman movie, and I’m sure her many fans around the world are, too.  The movie definitely stayed true to the spirit of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman did a great job mixing in her famous symbols while at the same time creating a new story for Diana.  I liked the nod to both her “traditional” origin (a clay statue made by Hippolyta) as well as her New 52 origin (daughter of Zeus/demigod).  Her outfit has been nicely modernized, and her headband even has a special meaning within the story.

We get to see plenty of action with both her traditional, defensive weapons (bracers and Lasso of Truth) as well as her newer, offensive weapons (sword and shield).  I think both of these aspects are important to Diana’s character.  For once, we get to see a superhero fighting to defend regular people, in the form of a Belgian village caught between the two sides of WWI.  Wonder Woman always seeks to defend the innocent, and sometimes that requires going on the attack with confidence.

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Diana also has many talents that are not combat-related.  We got to see the Lasso of Truth used not just as weapon but also a tool (WW’s creator was the real-life inventor of a blood pressure lie detector test).  She presents herself ably as a diplomat who speaks many languages, seeking to increase communication across nations.

One frequent symbol over Wonder Woman’s history is bondage…not in the kinky way.  Early feminist propaganda used images of breaking chains to symbolize the struggle of women for equal rights, and Wonder Woman comics often co-opted this imagery by having Diana be bound or chained and have to break free.  There was a nice nod to this during the climax of her fight with Ares where her body is completely wrapped in sheet metal as she’s struggling to overcome her doubts about humanity as well as deal with the loss of Steve.

One thing I kept going back to constantly when thinking about this movie was how it correctly presented Diana as a “superheroine” instead of a “female superhero.”  (Check out this post for more on this distinction.)  These two narratives are quite different.  Instead of trying to defeat and expel the villain, Wonder Woman always seeks to turn her antagonists back into the fold of society.  In movie, she says something like, “If I kill Ares, the Germans will be good people again.”  In her mind, she is not fighting against the Germans and their allies; she is fighting against war and conflict itself (personified as Ares).

Wonder Woman also does not keep herself separate from humanity; she doesn’t go back to isolation on Themyscira at the end of the story.  Though we don’t yet know exactly what happens to her after the events of the movie, she appears among Western society in the present day.

Overall I was thrilled with the treatment of Diana’s character, and I really enjoyed the movie as a whole as well.  Do any big Wonder Woman fans have more thoughts on her characterization in the movie??  Feel free to share in the comments!

 

GeekyNerdy Book Club: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Welcome back to GNBC, a bimonthly virtual book club hosted by Geeky Musings from a Nerdy Girl.

VintageWe’re back to nonfiction this month with Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman.  There is a lot of information in this book, not just about Wonder Woman but also about her creator William Moulton Marston and the women in his life that influenced the superheroine.

I came to this book not knowing a lot about Wonder Woman.  I’ve never read her comics, and I wasn’t alive for the 70s TV show, so my primary experience with her was the DCAU’s Justice League and JLU cartoons.  To me, she’s always been the weak point of DC’s Big Three: too powerful to be interesting, and too…fashion-challenged to represent comic women as a whole.

But with this year being the 75th anniversary of her creation, I was eager to learn more about Wonder Woman, and I’m happy to report that I am now definitely on Team Wondy.

I got off to a bit of a rocky start with this book, because I was turned off by the tone; the author’s intro has things like “Stop the presses. I’ve got the history of Wonder Woman.” that I found hyperbolic, bordering on smug. (For context, those sentences echo lines from a WW comic, but the reference felt more patronizing than something that would come from a fellow geek.)

My irritation continued into the details of Marston’s psychological experiments (which included developing a lie detector test).  This was not the fault of the author, but rather Marston himself, who was apparently a terrible scientist.  His “experiments” often barely warrant the name, with small sample sizes, questionable methodology, and dubious conclusions; yet he was constantly trying to “sell” his science to the media and the public.  Reading these descriptions, it’s hardly surprising that experimental psychology is currently undergoing a reproducibility crisis.

Also irritating is the fact that it was Marston’s name on all these papers, professorships, etc. when his wife Sadie Elizabeth Holloway had nearly identical credentials and worked on many of these projects with him.  For me, she was the most interesting “character” in the story.  My respect for her was cemented by her reaction to Marston’s ultimatum regarding his affair with Olive Byrne; she agreed to let Olive live with them, but Holloway would keep her career and let Olive raise the children.  Also, after Marston’s death she lobbied heavily to take over writing WW, but naturally was denied, which lead to a decline in quality of the comic.

Part way through, the book shifts into the history of early 20th century feminism, which I knew shockingly little about and found fascinating.  This leads up to the introduction of Olive Byrne, who was Margaret Sanger’s niece.  Olive was also very interesting to me, because while she seemed perfectly happy living the kind of “nontraditional” lifestyle that she did, she also lied and lied and lied about it until her death, even to her children regarding who their real father was (Marston).  Her bracelets were the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s.

By the time we got to the actual creation of Wonder Woman I was quite enjoying the book.  I had never even seen a strip from WW’s original run, so I was thrilled that the book makes liberal use of the images from it.  After reading this, I feel like I can really understand and appreciate Marston’s vision for Wonder Woman, who was strong both physically and emotionally and whose ultimate goal was “community.”

This vision has unfortunately been deviated from over the years, resulting in a Woman Woman wields a swords and shield and kills people while spilling out of her bustier.  It will be interesting to see which version we get in her feature film debut next year.

Lastly, for another perspective on this book, I was able to hear the granddaughter of William Moulton Marston and Holloway, Christie Marston, answer some questions at a Wonder Woman symposium last month.  Her opinion of the book was that it was “fiction;” she particularly disagreed with how the Moulton family was portrayed.

Fiction or not, it was a very enlightening and thought-provoking book.  It may be a bit dense in places for casual readers, but I would definitely recommend it to comics fans or feminists.

Wonder Woman Symposium recap

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of Wonder Woman, and to celebrate the Cleveland Public Library hosted a symposium last weekend featuring speakers on a variety of topics.  Guests included current comic book authors and artists, academics, and a few people with an even more personal connection to golden age DC comics.

Although I’m not a big Wonder Woman fan or anything, I was interested in this symposium because I’ve been reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore for our next GeekyNerdy Book Club (stay tuned for that next week).

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At the Cleveland Public Library

I live about 45 min from Cleveland, but I heard about the event because it was co-sponsored by Kent State University (to which I live much nearer).  The symposium ran over three days, but I was only able to make it up on Saturday afternoon.  I dragged my husband along, too, and we both enjoyed it.  Here are the sessions we attended.

Laura Siegel

Daughter of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel

Clevelanders are very proud of our Superman connection; Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were attending high school in the Cleveland area when they met and later teamed up to create the most iconic superhero of our times.

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Laura Siegel speaks in front of a picture of her father, Jerry Siegel

What I did not know was that Laura’s mother (known alternately as Jolan, Helen, and Joanne) was actually originally the model for Lois Lane, both physically and in spirit.

Laura Siegel was a very engaging speaker, taking about how her mom met Jerry and Joe when she advertised for a modeling job and they were looking for a model for their independent “girl reporter.”  (Interestingly, Jerry, Joe, and Joanne were all the children of immigrants.)  Joanne went on to have a variety of jobs all over the country, embodying the go-getter spirit of Lois Lane; she wasn’t one to let being a woman stop her from doing anything.

Peter Coogan

Director of the Institute for Comic Studies

Now the discussion turned a little more academic; Peter Coogan is one of the pioneers of the field of study of comic books, and his talk sparked a lot of discussion between my husband and me.  His talk was centered around the idea that Wonder Woman is a “superheroine” and not a “female superhero.”  This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but he gave support for the idea that Wonder Woman’s original storylines have a completely different narrative than a typical superhero like Batman or Superman.

The superhero narrative is American mythology, and can be traced back to Daniel Boone.  Typically, the hero goes away to develop his powers, returns and then steps up to fight an external evil (when it can’t be repelled by normal societal means), and then having expelled the evil, steps back into solitude.

Wonder Woman, as her creator William Moulton Marston intended, is instead based on early feminist propaganda narratives.  There is no “going away;” she already has her powers.  Her weapons, bracelets and lasso, are defensive and restraining, not really offensive.  Instead of repelling the antagonists, she seeks to help them solve their problems and blend back into society.  And instead of retreating to a Batcave or Fortress of Solitude, the story ends with her taking part in society with her friends.

This talk was really fascinating to me, and I may do a whole post about it later if anyone else finds it interesting.

Christie Marston

Granddaughter of William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman

Christie Marston, wearing an awesome Wonder Woman robe, took questions from the audience.  I was particularly interested to hear her, since I’ve just finished reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which talks a lot about her family.  She was dismissive of the book, calling it “fiction,” especially the parts about the Moulton family.

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Christie Marston answers questions

She spoke about how her grandmother, Elizabeth Holloway, was the real-life Wonder Woman.  They both had the same attitude: do what needs to get done, and be kind.  She spoke enthusiastically about Peter Coogan’s descriptions of Wonder Woman’s “superheroine” themes from his talk, and said she hoped the upcoming WW movie would show those themes.

We weren’t able to stay for the round table discussion, but we enjoyed what we did get to see, and the rest of the audience seemed to as well.  There were plenty of people wearing comic shirts, and even some dressed as Wonder Woman (I think there was a cosplay event during lunch?)

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Symposium swag

I’ve really come around to Wonder Woman since my first introduction to her in the Justice League cartoons, and I think this event was a great way to celebrate her and her important role in comics and American culture.  You’ll definitely be hearing more about her here soon!

Want more (better) Suicide Squad?

So I finally went to see Suicide Squad on Monday, and while I liked the characters a lot, the movie had some problems (as you may have heard haha).  Though I haven’t read a lot of their comics, I’ve been a fan of DC since I started watching the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) cartoons like The New Batman/Superman Adventures back in the 90s.

So whether you loved the movie and want more, or just want something to wash the taste out of your mouth, here are some recommendations for further viewing of the Suicide Squad and its members.

Harley Quinn

You may have heard that Harley was originally created for Batman: The Animated Series by Dini and Timm; I’ve been a fan ever since.  Margot Robbie absolutely nailed the role in the current movie!  However, the relationship between Harley and the Joker was not portrayed as well.  If you want to see how it should be done, check out my all-time favorite episode of The New Batman Adventures, based on the award-winning comic of the same name.

Watch: “Mad Love”

Batman: The Animated Series, season 4, episode 21

Available on Amazon Prime

Killer Croc

Croc was rather wasted in this film (plus he looked like he had smallpox ewww), but he also gets time to shine in Batman: The Animated Series.  He’s got several good episodes including one explaining his origins, but my favorite is where a group of villains tell tales of how they almost defeated Batman.  “I threw a rock at ‘im!”  But maybe that’s not a fair representation…stick around for the twist at the end.

Watch: “Almost Got ‘Im”

Batman: The Animated Series, season 2, episode 18

Available on Amazon Prime

Captain Boomerang

Another wasted character in the film–I didn’t find him particularly funny, endearing, useful, or really anything except meh.  But this Flash villain can be so much more entertaining when teamed up with others from that Rogues Gallery, as in this fun episode.  Plus, who doesn’t enjoy Mark Hamill as the Trickster?

Watch: “Flash and Substance”

Justice League Unlimited, season 2, episode 5

Available on Netflix

Katana

I was probably most disappointed with Katana’s character development in Suicide Squad, because there really wasn’t any.  I loved the inclusion of her character on Arrow, and they had to ditch her character on that show for this??  She’s introduced early in the 3rd season as Tatsu Yamashiro, but because I didn’t know the character’s “real” name, I didn’t realize it was her until she dons her trademark attire at the end of the season.

Watch: “This Is Your Sword”

Arrow, season 3, episode 22

Available on Netflix

Amanda Waller

The Wall, as she’s known, was another highlight of the movie; I hope to see more of her in the future DC movies.  I really enjoyed the mid-credits scene, because I loved seeing her face off with Batman, just like in Justice League Unlimited.  In that show, the first time she meets Batman, she snidely refers to him only as “rich boy.”  He retaliates by breaking into her house to hand her a towel as she’s getting out of the shower.  Viola Davis did a wonderful job in the movie, but to me Waller will always be C.C.H. Pounder.

Watch: “The Doomsday Sanction”

Justice League Unlimited, season 1, episode 16

Available on Netflix

El Diablo

Honestly, this character was new to me, but he completely stole the show.  After the movie I said to my husband, “Well, that was a great El Diablo movie, but it was about 80 min too long and for some reason called Suicide Squad.”  He even got some great lines, like “Ya te chingaste, güey” haha.

Anyone have any recommendations for more of him?

Belle Reve prison

We meet our convicts of the squad at the New Orleans prison called Belle Reve (“sweet dreams” in French) under pretty crappy conditions.  No wonder our team wants out.  Belle Reve is typically shown as a prison for metahuman criminals.  It features in a great episode of Young Justice, where Miss Martian and Superboy go undercover to help stop a prison break–Amanda Waller shows up as the warden with Hugo Strange as the prison psychologist.

Watch: “Terrors”

Young Justice, season 1, episode 11

Available on Netflix

The Suicide Squad, aka Task Force X

Nearly every DC franchise gets around to doing a Suicide Squad at one point or another.  Arrow did it in season 2.  Justice League Unlimited did a particularly good version in the first season episode “Task Force X.”

But if you want to see another possibility of what the Suicide Squad movie could have been, try Batman: Assault on Arkham.  It takes place in the same world as the recent video games, and is done in the currently popular Korean animation style (that I personally like).  It has a killer cast of voice actors, develops the characters pretty well, and has some good twists.

Watch: Batman: Assault on Arkham

Available for rent/purchase on Amazon Video (I borrowed it from the library)