Categotry Archives: Comics

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On the Origin of Tee-Hees

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“I have a theory about the Joker,” said the most pretentious nerd ever.

Okay, now that I’ve acknowledged my extreme worthlessness, let’s get on with it. I think it’s impossible for the Joker to have a satisfying origin story. I don’t mean that there’s no writer good enough or idea captivating enough to work. I mean that any satisfying origin story cannot work for the Joker by definition.

It's not funny!
It’s not funny!

There are many, many explanations for The Joker peppering the literature. Some of the most interesting takes on his background (like The Killing Joke, which does contain some remarkable writing despite its vile and demeaning treatment of Barbara Gordon) acknowledge that they are on shaky ground at best, or even outright lies spun by the least reliable narrator. Some of the best interpretations of the character (The Dark Knight, duh) don’t bother explaining him at all, and this gets at the heart of my argument.

While he was occasionally little more than a clown- or playing-card-themed villain (see the Silver Age Batman comics for examples), he has largely been an agent of pure chaos*. When he lapses into logic, it’s invariably to show Batman how puny and unreliable reason is when confronted with reality–using logic to refute itself. The best Joker stories revolve around his provoking Batman to question or abandon his ideals, and he invariably wins by losing. He personifies the second law of thermodynamics, and that’s why he’s so compelling and terrifying: he reminds us that death is inevitable and the universe is uncaring.

He’s not a person so much as he’s an abstraction. That’s true for many comic book characters (e.g. The Hulk is rage), but in his case it limits his personhood much more sharply. Rage and other heroic/villainous qualities are human, but chaos transcends humanity–heck, it transcends what we think of as reality. If you are chaos, then you aren’t a person with a history, much less an origin story.

The Joker can either be a terrific iconic villain, or he can have an interesting backstory. But maybe what we need is more contradiction. I’m all in favor of adding more and more canonical origin stories to the mix until eventually we realize that they’re all wrong and misguided and unimportant. Tell us all the lies and one day we’ll see the truth.

And so it goes. Gotham has been nodding and winking about The Joker’s origin even as it’s been ducking and weaving in an effort to avoid the inevitable. If we’re all lucky (especially the showrunners), it’ll be cancelled before the big, unsatisfying reveal. Or maybe they know what they’re doing and can find a way to just call down the Joker without explanation. I’d watch the hell out of that.

* When I use the word “chaos,” I don’t mean random or ever-changing. I mean a state that reflects complexities our minds aren’t complex enough to understand. It’s the natural order of the universe that can’t be compressed into the artificial order we create with our minds. I swear to god I am not high.

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We need to talk about Preacher

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AMC's new fantasy softball team
AMC’s new fantasy softball team

You guys. I just watched the finale of AMC’s Preacher adaptation–the one we talked about a few weeks back–and I’ve got some thoughts. If you’ve never read the comics and don’t intend to, skip down to the heading “OK, THEN, LET’S GET ON WITH IT.”

First, I need to revise what I said about the comics. I’ve reread the series since that episode, and the icky stuff is ickier than I had remembered. The comics’ attitudes toward women, people of color, and especially LGBTQ people are conflicted at best. Writer Garth Ennis consistently calls out and makes fun of bigotry–yay! At the same time, he uses gay male sexuality as a punch line so often that it feels like self-parody. As for the theme of modern American men coming to terms with women’s equality, yeah, it’s in there–but I don’t think Ennis went deep enough to pull it off. He could have taken one more step and created a fascinating take on women’s deaths as plot devices (“fridging”), but he never quite gets there, sticking instead with a fairly standard romance. Sigh.

But it’s silly to talk about what someone else’s work could or should have been. It is what it is, and what it is is problematic. The best of the series is still fantastic, but the worst of it is puerile.

What about the AMC series? It diverges so massively, in so many ways, from the comics that it’s like hearing that Avatar was based on The Smurfs. If you’re a fan of the comics, expect major differences in plot, characters, and relationships. Many of these changes were necessary to adapt the format to multiseason drama, but some are just inexplicable:

  • Jesse and Tulip knew each other as children instead of meeting by chance in a lurv-at-first-sight moment.
  • Arseface’s father is a tough, confused, but loving dad instead of a monstrously hateful bigot.
  • The pathetic second-string angels Fiore and Deblanc are elevated to big-bad status, sort of.
  • Jesse’s congregation survives his first taste of Genesis.

If Ennis and artist Steve Dillon weren’t involved in the production, I’d blame show creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for letting their self-indulgence run wild. But it could be they’ve just decided to tell a very different story, and it seems as if they’ve shed much of the most problematic material from the books.

OK, THEN, LET’S GET ON WITH IT
The show is lovely. It alternates densely-packed action with long, dawdling moments of conversation against a backdrop of Texas wasteland. The basic narrative of the show takes its time to develop, but here’s the elevator pitch: A troubled preacher with a past accidentally becomes the host for a power that rivals God’s.

The acting is terrific across the board. Dominic Cooper works surprisingly well as the lead, despite shifting the character away from the strong silent type toward someone more comfortable using his mind-control power. Ruth Negga is brilliant as Tulip, stepping up her game from Agents of SHIELD while baiting the racists and delivering one of the best character introductions in modern memory. Joseph Gilgun (Misfits) is perfect as Cassidy the vampire, full stop. And oh god Jackie Earle Haley kills it as bad guy Odin Quincannon.

The dialogue is good fun, and the exposition is never insulting, even though there is quite a lot of it. The show looks and feels unsettling and hyperreal, as if something terrible is just about to happen. (It usually is.) My one faint critique is that the first season felt like it was all just a setup for the next. It was a fun ride, but we didn’t get very far.

So! It’s definitely worth watching, unless your tolerance for violence is low-to-middling. It’s somewhere between Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, so it’s not for everyone. If you can handle blood spatters, lovingly rendered shotgun blasts, and cries of “He shot my dick off,” you’re all set.

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Rob can’t not write about Squirrel Girl…

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…and now I’ve got a hook. During an interview with a fashion site, America’s younger sister Anna Kendrick revealed her interest in playing SG should she ever burrow her way into the MCU. Some time ago I pitched Shailene Woodley for the role, but I’m not about to rule out Kendrick, especially after seeing the work of this clever fellow:

She's here to kick butts and eat nuts.
She’s here to kick butts and eat nuts.

I’m way behind on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl thanks to Marvel Unlimited’s digital delay (and my cheapness), but it’s pretty much the funnest thing out there. Make a point to check it out–it’s not like all the other comix. Each issue starts with a recap brilliantly told through her Twitter feed, and the character’s relationship with the rest of the Marvel universe is as wonderfully weird as ever. ENDORSED.

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Episode 62 – Preacher

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Preaching to the choir?
Preaching to the choir?

With Mary on assignment, Paul and Rob discussed Preacher–both the new AMC TV series starring Dominic Cooper and the old-ish Vertigo comics series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. While the title has some legendary problems for those of us with a SJW bent, there’s some worthwhile storytelling and some complicated feminism, so we’re at least partly on board. And the series has made some interesting choices, including race-bending one of the primary characters, so we’re hopeful that it will leave the uglier stuff out entirely.

For some reason (let’s blame the booze), we didn’t get around to discussing the extremely problematic character Arseface. Here’s hoping the AMC series treats disability better than the comics did.

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Episode 61 – Daredevil

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Is there such a thing as a murder triangle? Watch Season 2 to find out.
Is there such a thing as a murder triangle? Watch Season 2 to find out.

After a festival of bizarre tech issues, it’s finally time for Daredevil 2: Elektra Boogaloo. Mary and Rob are all caught up, while Paul don’t give a fuck. We still dive into spoilers, so beware if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to learn its dark secrets prematurely.

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NOTE
While discussing the various gangs, we were wracking our brains to come up with the name of the Latino gang. Turns out they didn’t really have one–they were just “cartel gangsters.” We’re not sure if that flat, boring name reflects their own icy professionalism or the writers’ decision to anonymize nonwhite bad guys on the show. What do you think?

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Episode 60 – Civil War

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Another clear example of media bias against your favored candidate.
Another clear example of media bias against your favored candidate.

As Captain America: Civil War draws near, Rob gives a quick 101 on the huuuuge comics event that spawned its primary conflict, if not exactly its plot. Whether you’re leaning toward Team Cap or Team Stark, the writers at Marvel need you to understand that you are supporting difficult moral choices. There’s death and drama and fascism and Canada and Aunt May in peril–it’s worth a read, even if the series ends with a disappointing shrug followed by a Major Character Death*.

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* Which lasted about two years. Time flies when you’re a Dead Major Character!

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ListHole: 7 Comics Characters We Want to See on Screen

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The new Ms. Marvel is SO GOOD.
The new Ms. Marvel is SO GOOD.

We’ve been warned that we’re reaching Peak TV: the time when it becomes impossible to keep up with all the shows we want to watch–or even all the good shows we want to watch. Lord knows there’s a delicious glut of comics-inspired TV with plenty more on the way; we’ve discussed it at some length on the podcast and here on the blog.

We’ve seen characters we love come to life–hello, John Constantine–as well as characters we could do without (sorry, Amanda Waller, check back with us when you get a second dimension). But there are thousands more waiting in the wings, hoping for some bright young writer (and grizzled old casting director) to help them make the jump from page to screen. Here’s our shortlist for showrunners:

1. Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan is one of our all-time faves, though her book has only been around for a year and a half. She’s smart, she’s conflicted, she’s excited about her newfound powers, and she sidesteps stereotypes of Muslims, women, and teenagers. As an Inhuman, she’d be a great match for Agents of SHIELD, though showing her powers might blow through their special effects budget unless they cut to animation whenever she’s onscreen.
Show: Agents of SHIELD
Actor: Sarayu Blue, though she’s already been on Agents of SHIELD, so maybe…Archie Panjabi?

2. Squirrel Girl: She effortlessly defeats the biggest of the big bads; even Galactus finds another planet to eat after meeting her. Despite this, her down-to-earth charm and easy-on-the-budget powers make her a great guest-spot match for any show that needs a lighthearted change of pace. Unfortunately, Marvel has gone all-in on Serious Drama, though SG was nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ kid, so we’ll just slot her in there and hope for the best.
Show: Jessica Jones and Luke Cage
Actor: Shailene Woodley

3-4. Dream and Death: Sure, they’re faintly ridiculous, grubby, deus-ex-machina characters who are relevant only in our 90s-addled minds, but come on! How awesome would it be for the Endless to start showing up in our favorite shows? They would have been perfect for one-shots or recurring roles on Constantine, but it’s now dead beyond hope, so we’ll have to make do. Gotham’s too gritty, The Flash is too flashy, and Legends of Tomorrow is probably too sci-fi-oriented, so it’s up to Arrow to make this happen.
Show: Arrow
Actors: Adrien Brody and Emma Stone

5. Midnighter: Warren Ellis’ take on the Batman archetype added superhuman fighting instincts and a license to kill to the dark vigilante myth, and Midnighter is one of the fiercest gay superheroes we’ve ever seen. He’d be interesting on Gotham if he powered down a little, if only to give Baby Bruce something to think about. But he’d be perfect as an adversary on The Flash–his overclocked tactical mind could challenge Barry like nobody else, and his status as permanent antihero would be a nice splash of darkness in Central City.
Show: The Flash
Actor: Taye Diggs

6. The Question: Yes, he started as a ridiculous mouthpiece for ridiculous political ideas, but the dude had style. Wearing a featureless mask was perfectly creepy, and his Justice League Unlimited incarnation is the perfect launch point for live action. He’s an ecumenical conspiracy theorist who’s always right (at least when the plot needs him to be), and that makes him a perfect quirky quest-giver for a show like Supergirl–or we hope so, as all we’ve seen is the trailer. Bonus points: There will be nerds who accuse the show of ripping off Watchmen‘s Rorschach.
Show: Supergirl
Actor: Kevin Corrigan

7. Sub-Mariner: Ah, Prince Namor. Marvel’s go-to asshole always tells the truth the heroes don’t want to hear while sounding like the rich villain in a summer camp movie. He’s got a longer history than most, so he could plausibly pop up in our favorite post-war comics adaptation, Agent Carter. No doubt he’d simultaneously recognize Peggy’s ultra-competence while still giving the SSR boys a master class in casual sexism. He’s just weird enough to fit into Carter’s world without delivering an “everything you know is wrong” vibe.
Show: Agent Carter
Actor: Harry Shum, Jr.

Once we take over Hollywood, we’ll make sure these folks get the love they deserve. Which characters do you want to see on screen? And hey, since there’s not a chance that every one of these casting choices is okay with you, let us know who should really play them in the comments.

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Episode 34 – Secret Demon Face

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Secret Demon Face

We covered a pretty broad range of nerd culture this time: Mary shared her complicated feelings about Grimm, Paul gushed over Ascension, and Rob insisted that everyone drop what they’re doing and go read Saga. And we all learned about the Secret Demon Face.

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Thanks, Gar!

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Hey! We got the nicest message from a listener named Gar who offered to replace Mary’s little friend Ursula’s stolen comic from Free Comic Book Day. (Listen here if this mystifies you.) We tried contacting Gar to no avail–we think our attempts went down the SpamHole–but we wanted to give our thanks publicly. It’s heartwarming to remember that the good outweighs the bad inside nerddom.

(Oh, and Ursula had actually forgotten which comic had been taken, so she’s all good.)

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