Wonder Woman - Thoughts on how she makes the DCU and Superman Better

Last week Wonder Woman effectively put the DCU on a much better footing as it over-performed at the box office and thrilled fans and critics alike. I was one of those fans and I instantly got excited for the new path forward for this universe and how Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot have put their unique stamp within the DCU. They have also smartly built a blueprint for a successful comic book dynasty, that if followed, could indeed rival the Mouse House and Marvel. If you saw the movie you are probably giving me a bit of a blank stare and saying did we watch the same movie--other than the beginning and end there was literally no real connection to the DC Universe. And you would be correct. What it did do is create a well rounded protagonist that can and will set the tone for future installments that will hopefully tie into the rest of the Justice League going forward. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman brought her earnest sense of right and wrong without appearing hokey and a righteousness and a naivete that was understandable and relatable. In fact she is by far the closest representation of what Superman should have been since Christopher Reeve last donned the tights.  

 The first real superhero movie that encapsulated everything that makes a comic book special: an incredible origin story, an iconic costume, an iconic soundtrack and a smart but dastardly villain who you can’t help but love. The hope and optimism of an entire generation is poured into every frame. It’s what started all of this - Superman: The Motion Picture.   The film is a bit dated at times, it was after all made in 1978, but the themes and characters still remain relevant today. In fact it holds up so well that Wonder Woman cleverly made noticeable nods to Richard Donner’s original. The prime example was the fantastic alley way scene that mirrored the stick up scene from Superman in many respects. It was a great call back. Director Patty Jenkins went even further, with her love of Superman, in her pitch to Warner Brothers for the film as she aspired to make a film full of love, humor and emotion just like Donner’s. After seeing the movie I can happily say this was a masterful success.

 Despite the bleak look through most of the film, the themes Jenkins expressed in her pitch were present throughout and allowed Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman to actually grow and become the Wonder Woman that we saw in Batman v. Superman. Her chemistry with Chris Pine was probably one of the best pairings since Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in the last Spider-Man movies. It all seems so simple - write good characters, let them grow. This is unfortunately what was missing from Batman v Superman and Man of Steel. It’s not that Man of Steel was bad,  Henry Cavill is a great Superman, it’s just the massive misunderstanding of the character of Superman. For me it started with the Kent family. For both of those films Superman’s foster parents Martha and Jonathan, at every turn, would tell Clark to be fearful don’t use your powers or you might be discovered. Jonathan tells a young Clark that maybe he should have let a bus full of kids die to protect his secret. In one of the worst parts for me in that movie where Jonathan waves off Clark from saving his own life during a Tornado - and he lets him die. I guess that’s honoring your Father’s wishes but it’s pretty fucked up. In Batman v Superman Martha tells Clark that he can save people or not he doesn’t owe anybody anything. That’s kind of terrible, frankly and the fact that both of them espouse this thinking it’s no wonder he went nuclear on Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel. I understood in the beginning of Man of Steel why Clark felt the need to use his powers as little as possible for fear of doing more damage. But again by the end of the film he’s going full throttle against Zod cratering Metropolis. I know it became a plot point later in the sequel Batman v Superman. But to me it felt like the spectacle over the story by Snyder and it sacrifices the character of Superman as a result, to be honest.  Snyder was just looking for eye popping action scenes of destruction but not really thinking about character motivations. Which brings us to Wonder Woman in Themyscira where her mother, Hippolyta, embodies a bit of both Ma and Pa Kent but through a much better script and with stronger character development is shown why Diana must take the risk and use her powers to save others. This is championed by the wonderful Robin Wright who plays Diana’s bad ass warrior aunt. It worked so seamlessly and to watch Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman discover man’s world with its sexism, cruelty, deception and lies. To see her struggle through this but retain the inherent goodness she represents and embody the strength of love and empathy that encapsulates Wonder Woman makes my thoughts on this matter clear. Also she kicked ass with the lasso and the bulletproof bracelets. In conclusion not only should Patty Jenkins make the sequel to Wonder Woman but she needs to be given the reigns to Superman as well STAT.

Wonder Woman - Making HERstory

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I, like many others (many millions of others!) went to see Wonder Woman on opening weekend.  I could not wait.  I remember seeing re-runs of the tv show with Lynda Carter way back in the day when I was a kid and thinking...wow, a girl who is taking charge, running around and jumping in front of cars and kicking ass and saving the day!  Wonder Woman is such a positive role model for young girls, and girls of all ages actually. After seeing Batman v Superman in the theatre and then the introduction of Wonder Woman, I was spellbound by her.  A fierce, independent, confident, go-getter, no holds barred, feminine yet strong character?  SIGN ME UP.  There are not that many, if at all, female superheroes to really look up to, and this one takes the cake on all levels.  Gal Gadot gave, in my opinion, a perfectly honest and real portrayal.  So wonderfully cast.  She was so badass and it was amazing.

A few months ago I ran my 2nd ever 5k, and the theme was...dress as your favorite female movie character, and I chose her.  I actually felt fearless running that race, and that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to!  And that was to run the entire way and finish with a strong pace.  That I did :).

As I was watching the movie I couldn't help but feel so giddy and proud at seeing this type of character on the big screen.  You usually see the men fighting and saving the day and the females as the damsel in distress needing to be saved.  She didn't need to be saved.  She was doing the saving.  Throughout the entire film she was fighting for what she believed was right, and even when faced with a firm no, she did not waiver in her beliefs.  How refreshing.  When she was running thru that battlefield to save the town and the people under fire who were defending it....that was almost otherworldly!  I think my jaw was agape throughout that entire scene. The men were the ones waiting in the wings not wanting to initially push forward.  She led, they followed. Even when she was told by her American Pilot (soon to be love) Steve Trevor, "we can't save everyone," she believed she could, and she tried her damndest to make that happen.  And for little girls who are seeing this character on any type of screen for the first time...what an amazing role model to make them feel brave, confident, and fearless and believe anything is possible. So, as you can see, I loved it!  I mean, that came across, right? :).  As a whole I really loved the film.  Great acting, story, effects, character development, and Gal Gadot and Chris Pine had tremendous chemistry. Not to mention I loved the humor element throughout.  It was such a fun ride!

It truly was so exciting and inspiring watching this character take charge and do so without regret.  My fists were pumping and I was cheering her on the entire way....albeit quietly because I was in a movie theatre filled with people.  Ok, so I did make some audible gasps and oohhs and aahhs.  And yet, she still had that soft side to her that is also so relatable...as in the end she states..."It's about what you believe. And I believe in love."  - J. Solo

Comic Book Movies 2017

I thought I would start off the new year taking a look at some of the new comic book properties coming out in 2017. There are a lot of sequels and re-makes in the bunch I know but there is quite a lot to look forward to from animation to live action, comedy to drama. 2017 is beginning to look like a banner year in Hollywood's continual efforts to make cinema look a hell of a lot like the glossy colored books with letters that you can only get in a comic book store. I know the complaints about these movies continue to grow but I believe strongly that as long as they put the characters and stories first they will never get a complaint from me. No matter if it's Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, Sony or Disney. 

The Lego Batman Movie (Feb 20) - As a man in his late 30s I proclaim loud and proud that I still watch and enjoy animated movies and TV. Sometimes the animated medium surpasses the live action versions. Like Batman the Animated Series from the 90's which is by the far the best and most consistent interpretation of Batman on the big or little screen. Now if you've seen the Lego Batman movie trailer I would say it's akin to the 60's Adam West Batman then any current iteration. But that's its intent. Warner Brothers is cashing in on the success of Lego Movie and Batman was one of the fun supporting characters in that movie so naturally it makes sense to make a Lego Batman movie. I'm certainly taking my three kids to see this cause it looks silly and fun and like the Lego movie, probably plays to both young and old audiences simultaneously. I'm always of the mind to get the kids into superheroes and comics early and Lego Batman will help that tremendously. 

Lego Batman trailer: https://youtu.be/rGQUKzSDhrg 

Logan (March 3) It's been a long road for the X-Men franchise and for me the franchise is kind of a mixed bag. My favorites so far, not including Deadpool,  have been in this order: X-Men: First Class, X-Men 2, X-Men, Days of Future Past, The Wolverine, Age of Apocalypse, Wolverine Origins and finally one of the worst comic book movies ever X-Men: Last Stand. When I first saw the trailer for Logan with the haunting voice of Johnny Cash singing a cover of Trent Reznor's Hurt it just changed everything for me. Logan is loosely based on the comic Old Man Logan an 8 part series by writer Miles Millar and artist Steve McNiven which puts Wolverine in an alternate timeline which surmises that Earth's super villains have conquered the Earth and carved it out into territories. The Super Heroes you know like Captain America and Spider-Man are all gone, but of course Wolverine remains. Obviously given the Hulk, Red Skull and Hawkeye are very prominent in the comic version they will have to be cut out of the film due to copyright issues between Disney/Marvel and Fox. Which is for the better, I think, it would be impossible to make a coherent adaptation of Old Man Logan on the big screen which it looks like Director James Mangold did not do. Doesn't mean you shouldn't read it, but some things just aren't filmable and this is one of them. From what I've seen so far it looks amazing and it is definitely one I'm looking forward to. It's finally a worthy redemption story for Logan that feels like it has real stakes. Logan ever the reluctant hero must protect what I assume is X-23. A young girl clone of the rampaging Canuck himself. Along for the ride is a very old and seemingly infirm Professor X. What's really amazing is that this doesn't look or feel like a conventional superhero tale. If I didn't know the character I would have thought it was a dark dystopian drama in the vein of the Road or I Am Legend. I loved everything about the Wolverine except for the end with Silver Samurai and it always felt like studio meddling to me. Hopefully Mangold is able to keep them out of his cut for Logan and if it is as good as the trailers suggest this could be the best of the entire series.

Logan trailer: https://youtu.be/Div0iP65aZo   

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5) Marvel is still clicking on all thrusters with each movie they come out with. The trailer for the second installment of Guardians feels like coming home. Expectations for this one is high and I hope it excels past the first one in quality and scope. The weak link in the first one was probably the villain Ronan the Accuser. He was ably played by Lee Pace but he wasn't given enough character to give him three dimensions I hope they learn from that in the new one. But let's be honest the ensemble cast here is the best part: Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and now baby Groot. The second best thing is the music and the song they picked for the 2nd trailer was perfect in "Fox on the Run" by Sweet. In fact it's so good it hit number 1 on ITunes almost immediately. Also with the added casting of Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone I gotta believe it'll be huge. Honestly I can't wait to see how they depict Ego the Living Planet in a movie. He's a character I would never have expected them to pick given that he is, you know, a living Planet. How the hell does that work? 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 trailer: https://youtu.be/2cv2ueYnKjg

Wonder Woman (June 2) Warner Brothers has not been off to an impressive start with their DC Universe. Man of Steel was good enough but a pattern begin to form throughout that Snyder was not understanding the man in the red and blue tights. It deepened further when Snyder took on the reigns of Batman V Superman and in my opinion cocked it up. Wonder Woman's role, although short and without real purpose, still managed to make me feel excited to explore her character further. Literally Snyder just threw her in the movie with hopes that people would like her. Thankfully it was Gal Gadot and we did. Which is why I got even more excited to see the trailer for Wonder Woman, which was heavy on action and intrigue and most importantly didn't have Zach Snyder's name on it. Director Patty Jenkins is making her mark with the woman with the golden lasso and it looks pretty bad ass. Yes, the first trailer  seemed to strike a semblance to Captain America: The First Avenger given that it is a World War, just the first one this time. But the second trailer put most of that to rest. You got Chris Pine as dashing love interest Steve Trevor. It looks like it has a good sense of itself balancing the action, drama and the humor nicely, at least in the trailer. Wonder Woman looks truly fantastic and I can't wait to see what she can do. 

Wonder Woman trailer: https://youtu.be/T1j7qWUQjog

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) I will admit I have multiple biases with this character. I thought it only fair to put my cards on the table. Firstly Spider-Man is my favorite hero. As far back as I can remember Spider-Man was a part of my life. When I was four I named my first dog, a black lab, Spider. I was obsessed with the nerdy kid with coke bottle glasses that would change into red and blue spandex and climb walls. We were nerds, social outcasts, sensitive. I identified with Peter Parker immediately. I loved him when he did his guest spot on Electric Company with a young Morgan Freeman. I loved the cartoons the comics over the years and my prized Amazing Spidey collection which I threatened my mother not to destroy. She did not. I enjoyed the Raimi/McGuire Spider-Man run with an asterisk on that third one.  The Webb/Garfield duo-logy was not too shabby but I had major issues with that second one. My biggest problem with all of these franchise however was consistency. Tobey McGuire was a great Peter Parker but his Spidey was lacking grit. He was almost too sensitive. I wanted the wisecracking Spidey. Andrew Garfield was fairly decent at both, especially the smart ass part which is essential but he too was lacking except on the Peter Parker side. Tom Holland changed that. Yes, his Spider-Man is younger and a teenager again but in the short time he was on screen in Civil War he nailed both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, wise ass with enough sensitivity and damnit he feels more like a New Yorker even though the actor is British. So that brings us to the Homecoming trailer. It looks so good, I'm almost worried that it might be too good to be true. It feels, as they promised, like John Hughes wrote a Spider-Man movie which in my mind is a wonderful thing. The icing on the cake is Michael Keaton's return to comic book movies as the Vulture and of course RDJ showing up as Tony Stark mentoring Peter and getting a little Iron Man action as well. Sign me up, I admit I'm ready to drink the kool-aid.

Spider-Man: Homecoming: https://youtu.be/oNE0zRNyXuc

Thor: Ragnarok (Nov 3) We don't have a trailer for this yet although some Comic-Con footage did leak out that show Bruce Banner in the woods under attack by creatures and what looked like two of the Warrior's Three, Fandral and Hogun kicking some ass. According to reports this movie takes place on various worlds with multiple heroes and villains joining Thor. Jeff Goldblum will be playing the Grandmaster who is similar to Mongul of DC fame. Grandmaster likes Gladiatorial style combat and the rumor is he makes Thor fight Hulk in such a battle. Kevin Feige and company at Marvel pretty much admitted it's World War Hulk. Doctor Strange will be making an appearance and if you've seen his movie you'll know his involvement. He is charged by Thor to locate Odin in New York. All of the key heroes from the previous installments will be here as well; Sif, Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg, Heimdall as well as a new Asgardian, Valkyrie. Plus Loki is returning and Cate Blanchett as the ruler of the Underworld, Hela.  This is hands down shaping up to be the best in the Thor franchise, so stay tuned for that trailer. 

Justice League (Nov 17) I want to believe this is going to be awesome and make up for the terribleness that was Batman V. Superman, but honestly I just don't know. With all the rumors about Ben Affleck now not directing Batman to all the other rumors that Justice League is turning into a massive shit show with director Zach Snyder flailing wildly while attempting to right the ship. I thought the teaser from Comic-Con was solid enough and they had more humor and gravitas in just the first few minutes then in the entirety of BvS. So that is something. I'm keeping expectations low but I'm curious to see how Snyder brings together Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and a resurrected Superman without completely shitting the bed. Could happen. I'm hoping for the best.

Justice League Comic-Con teaser: https://youtu.be/HsCkjNOzalo 

Has Diversity in Comics Improved?

Over the past two years the national conversation in the U.S. about diversity and social justice has been taking place at home, the workplace, politics and entertainment, and even influencing the Comic Book industry. We as a nation are confronting those social norms head on after recent events that have challenged the status quo and forced these raw feelings to the surface to ask the hard truths of everyone living in our society today.  

That conversation is also being held in public regarding our heroes in capes and cowls. My question, is mainstream comics, like Marvel and DC,  attempting to honestly address the issue of diversity? Or is the industry just reacting to this issue from fans while only paying lip service and therefore creating a new more complex problem? It's no secret that for a long time comic books have been very slow to bring these issues to the forefront.

You have had characters like Luke Cage,  Black Panther, The Falcon, Cyborg, Wonder Woman and Black Widow for quite a long time now and they are unique with their own titles. The problem is many of them have struggled to make it to what one would say A list characters.  Why? I think Luke Cage, Falcon and Black Panther have been getting the Renaissance they deserve lately due in part to Netflix and the Marvel films and because they are also great characters and I think people want to see more of them. Luke Cage, a black man from Harlem, who was falsely accused of a crime and sent to prison, was experimented on and developed unbreakable skin. If there is anyone in comic books at the moment that embodies the Black Lives Matter movement it is Luke Cage. This is exactly where comic books succeed in telling a narrative that reflects the time and allows readers to find empathy in the struggles of others who they may not initially identify with. Over at DC Wonder Woman is also attempting to shed her sexist past by trying to find a balance between her iconic yet ridiculous  bathing suit armor to a more 21st Century battle design. It's still a work in progress but Wonder Woman is finally getting her own movie and is standing strong next to Superman and Batman in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice next month.   

Now I'm mostly focusing on Marvel comics because they have been a bit more controversial in their current slate after the past few Earth shaking events like Fear Itself, Avengers vs. X-Men and now the new Secret Wars that have rocked the Marvel U. Marvel is appearing to approach diversity as a rallying cry, as a way to address past sins. On a few occasions in the past I believe they have been successful, Iron Man and War Machine, Miles Morales and Peter Parker but I'm going to use a newer example,  Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel. Originally Captain Mar-vell an alien from the Kree empire became a champion for Earth and accidentally gave some of his powers to an Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers. Carol became Ms. Marvel in 1977, which sparked a bit of a revolution as one of Carol's primary storylines was equal pay for women, which I guess puts Ms. Marvel on the map for her Feminist history.  Recently Marvel made the wise decision to make Carol Captain Marvel and this has allowed her character to grow to a solid A list character. Where she is now pitted against Tony Stark in the upcoming Civil War 2 event. Marvel then made another important change by creating a new character, with new powers, a Pakistani American teen named Kamala Khan to be the new Ms. Marvel. This is an important point of growth for Marvel as Carol will never need to be Ms. Marvel again which allows Kamala to own the character and create a new path of her own. 

Which brings me to the mis-steps in Marvel's strategy. Let's start with Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, created in 1969 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan has been a vital member of the Avengers and a rock of loyalty for his best friend Steve Rogers, Captain America. Recently due to certain events Captain America is now aging normally which puts him in his 90s and he's forced to hang up the shield. Falcon is now given a new identity as Captain America with the addition of his flying wings. Normally this shouldn't be too much of a problem, in fact it could be similar to what happened with Carol the only problem is Captain America is a much bigger deal than Mar-vel. Which is why, earlier this year it was announced that the original Star Spangled man Steve Rogers will be returning to the mantle later this year and Falcon will remain as Captain America. Two Captain America's will now exist. So how exactly is Sam Wilson expected to hold up with the original Captain America now that they are both fighting crime with the same name at the same time? What was wrong with the Falcon and why couldn't he have remained the Falcon maybe just with Cap's Shield? Sam Wilson, like Luke Cage, has a very relevant history that takes him down various paths. After his parents are murdered at different stages of his life he becomes bitter and angry. His character has been on both sides of the law and through his hardship and adversity he learns to fight from Captain America and Black Panther and finds an expert skill in training birds. He was a member of the Defenders and later a member of the Avengers. It seems unfair to have boxed him in this corner just so Marvel could keep a brand name going until they could figure out what to do with the original character. 

Another character whom I feel has also taken an unnecessary path is Thor. Recently Thor has found himself unworthy of his hammer, Mjolnir, yet again. Meanwhile a mysterious woman picks it up and is now calling herself Thor. We discover later that this mystery woman is Jane Foster former lover of original Thor. Now original Thor has not as of yet made himself worthy of his hammer again but, like Captain America before him I'm sure it's coming soon. Does he just take the hammer back then? What happens to Jane? Thor is not a brand name, he's not the Green Lantern Corps. His name is Thor so why couldn't Jane Foster pick up the hammer and have a new super hero name?  Other heroes in the Marvel Universe have held the hammer at one time or another but they didn't think to call themselves Thor. This is not something I think that helps Jane Foster who like many others is co-opted to a signature character because the parent company doesn't want to have a break in circulation for the title but they want to show that they are diverse in making such a decision. So they do something like this rather than allow Jane Foster to make up her own super hero identity with her own name. 

In conclusion I think it wise for Marvel and DC to take a step back and examine the field. I think it's important to have characters to catch up with the times which means more African American characters, LGBT, Asian, Latino, Muslim, the list goes on. With that said it's time for a new group of Stan Lee's, Steve Ditko's and Jack Kirby's.   They should be tasked with creating a whole new batch of characters. I mean let's face it we haven't had very many since the 60s and 70s, so think outside the box. It would also help to continue to push diversity on the other side of the page. Some of these artists and writers have been in the industry already for over 20 years, people like Gail Simone, Dwayne McDuffie, Joe Quionnes, Reginald Hudlin, Frank Cho, Sara Pichelli,  Khoi Pham, Ryan Benjamin, Jim Lee and Amanda Connor and new comer Alex Yi. What I'm saying is Brian Bendis & Geoff Johns can't do it all and frankly they shouldn't. So as fans let's keep encouraging the guys at the top of the chain to create new mythologies, with new diverse creators and new adventures that project our future in order to preserve the art of comic storytelling for generations to come.