Batman, Superman and the Future at DC

One of the bigger stories coming out of Comic Con, though as per usual dwarfed by Marvel Studios’ slew of announcements, were the announcements by DC about the trajectory of their film universe as it pertains to their superhero properties.

There is the biggest being the Batman/Superman team-up in 2015. For a film that Warner/DC is calling Batman vs. Superman. Then there will be The Flash in 2016 and The Justice League likely following in 2017.

Now, recently just before the Con Diane Nelson, DC Entertainment Chief, sat down to talk to the Hollywood Reporter about DC’s blueprint, as much as possible, and what other characters they have could be likely headed for the big screen.

Man of Steel (2013, Warner Bros.)

What’s interesting, at least at the outset, is that DC is kind of thinking what I’m thinking at times, and in others not so much.

To start on the more optimistic side, two areas where they echo what I’m thinking are: a kind of building-block approach that occurred to me as I watched Man of Steel. Which means, and this hearkens back to how I got back into comics, and more specifically more into superheroes than I had ever been; was that I would get to know a character, or group of characters, then in finding who he/she/they associate with branch out to those other characters. Essentially, as DC builds its cinematic universe it’s doing this. It’s re-established Superman, granted not without some controversy, but certainly in a more palatable way than they tried to a few years back, and will now try to add pieces from there.

In the next film there will be both Batman and Superman. Now, to be honest I was thinking more of a cameo/dovetail approach, having Batman appear in a Superman film as quietly as possible. Then when a third character is introduced, the Flash in this case, have Superman and Batman play ancillary roles.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Warner Bros.)

The second way in which DC echoed my sentiments is by putting off the Justice League film. It was like they were trying to put the cart before the horse. The Avengers was gradually built-up to establishing several heroes before they all joined forces. It seemed for a time DC was going to try and shortcut that when the new Batman wasn’t yet decided.

To get to some of the not-so-great aspects of the plan you have a few in the Batman/Superman film potentially. First, Christian Bale has re-confirmed that he will no longer be the caper crusader, which is fine. However, now you’ve hitched yourself to Henry Cavill and whomever happens to be Batman next time out. Hopefully he’s a good choice as past Batman selections are a mixed bag.

The next is the title. And, yes, I’ve discussed titles not meaning much in the past, even as recently as a few days ago, but versus more likely than not means something. I hope it’s just a gimmick to get people to show up should they not like both, but I have a feeling they will be adversarial throughout most of the film. Therefore, they’re setting themselves up for a vacuous experience not unlike those in the horror genre (e.g. Freddy vs. Jason). Batman and Superman have had joint series and stories in comics for years on end, if you’re introducing them to one another on screen, OK, have them not understand each other to start. However, there is a lot of common ground and it would likely be better if they found that quick.

The Green Lantern (2011, Warner Bros.)

God forbid I wander too far in fanboy rantings but even just looking at the most basic facts about these two you can see where these character share a common bond despite their different abilities. They are both orphans who are seeking to right the wrongs of the world and help the helpless, to spare others the suffering they’ve been through. If people got up in arms about Superman smashing buildings and breaking Zod’s neck, having him and Batman duking it out for two hours prior to discovering that “We’re not so different, you and I” isn’t going to engender a lot of good will.

The other mixed bag is that having hopefully successfully launched a third character cinematically (The Flash) The Justice League is up. Now, granted The Justice League could very well re-introduce a newly-recast (or not) Green Lantern, or another character altogether, but I still feel that perhaps one more hero being launched before that film would not be a bad thing: be it Aquaman, Shazam (a.k.a. Captain Marvel) or Wonder Woman. The first and last being the most likely.

Even with some of these reservations it does look like DC is on a far more disarable course than it was. Whereas prior they seemed to say “Well, we still have Batman don’t we?” Now they’re getting their feet firmly planted underneath some stronger properties and developing ones that have a great chance to bolster their standing in the race. For if there’s one thing that Man of Steel unquestionably did is convey the speed of Superman’s flight better than renditions past and maybe, just maybe, putting the Flash on the big screen prior to this current era wouldn’t have felt right. Now it does. There is still some leeriness abut the future but DC seems to have a much firmer plan than it had for its films, and it’s about time.

Able to Crush Tall Buildings In a Single Bound

Note: Please do not proceed if you have yet to see Man of Steel.

In a very similar vain to how I responded to the Rex Reed fiasco earlier, I wanted to wait until the Man of Steel banter ran its course before chiming in. I will, more often than not, forgo a bit of traffic for clarity. In a certain regard my discussion is more about the discussion than my reaction to the debatable points in the film, but I will touch upon those too.

However, before I get to that very specifically allow me to couch my commentary by telling you where I’m coming from. As I chronicled painstakingly in parts one and two of Hero Whipped (and to a lesser extent in further additions), I was a comics reader as a kid, left and returned but was never a superhero guy until my return. Having said that, even since my return there are only a few individuals or teams, usually obscure, that I consider myself to be well-versed in. Therefore, I am not coming at this talking point from a perspective of extreme Superman fandom.

I believe when I was younger I likely saw pieces, if not all of, the Christopher Reeve versions but that’s about all I can claim. The last attempt to revitalize the franchise was one I skipped. The parts of Man of Steel that I enjoyed were good enough that I liked it in spite of my major reservations regarding many sections of the film.

Character vs. Film: The Fan Argument

Man of Steel (2013, Warner Bros.)

The main tenet that I will state here is that a lot of the comments that I saw in my twitter feed seemed to be arguing mixed points. Namely the film was getting slammed for what the character was doing. The climactic battle with Zod is problematic due to its length, repetitiveness and the fact that there are cutaways to pieces of less consequence where better story edits existed.

However, I cannot knock the mere fact that there is collateral damage in the battle. That has happened in myriad action, sci-fi and superhero films depending on how you want to pigeonhole Man of Steel. However, the fact that it exists is not what I’m reacting to. It’s how the destruction is portrayed that’s problematic.

The first aspect of a detrimental nature is the amount and the incessant nature of the destruction. However, I have no issue with this film deciding that Clark’s inexperience and Johnny Come-Lately status to this battle will impact how it occurs. I also fully understand and appreciate that the destruction of Metropolis, in part, is a small price in dramatic context when compared to what Zod intends to do with the world.

Man of Steel (2013, Warner Bros.)

However, while Goyer and Snyder have since broken the silence and discussed the controversy, future plans of a series don’t absolve the sins of an installment much in the same way knowledge of a book doesn’t forgive the shortcomings of a film version thereof. What I was missing from all this was either the film caring about the impact of all these buildings and cars being crushed with people in them. And based on the way he was drawn I believe that Clark does care, and we’ll see that along with his guilt in the sequel, it was not evident in this film until the moment where he just can’t take it anymore and ends Zod rather than seeing someone else victimized.

I’m fine with his attitude in the one exchange with the military. This is not discordant to the posture many superheroes take. They act based on principal, not political agenda. They will assist the common good, but will not be pawns. The police in Gotham have a signal to summon Batman, but Batman does not seek permission from the Gotham PD to act. Superman doesn’t want to be a pawn of the military; I love that scene.

Similarly, the epilogue wherein Clark joins the Daily Planet is a great set-up and capper for the film. To me the film’s highlights are Clark’s humanity and progression. His doubts about how to deal with his gifts, to understand where he came from, who he is and how the world will deal with that are what hold the film together. His regrets about how this battle happened and the decisions made will play into the next one surely, but there was none of that here. In a number of ways Man of Steel is combining certain coming-of-age tropes in the flashbacks and also chosen one tropes from many sci-fi tales, and it mixes them beautifully. What the climactic sequence lacks are what the film gave us throughout: thought, understanding of consequence and introspection.

Man of Steel (2013, Warner Bros.)

Suddenly, we were thrust into random destruction anew that was not elevated either by the stakes or how either character responded to it.


Man of Steel (2013, Warner Bros.)

Is there something specific about this post-9/11 world that made these images seem so jarring that caused so many to jump on this point in unison as the glaring issue in the film, or is it just a combination of Superman, the original superhero and American icon, with these images that is so jarring?

I personally will admit that apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films wherein there’s some extraterrestrial source of destruction, or some outlandish cause, has less impact for me and holds less interest than ever before. New York, and or its comic book clones in the DC Universe Metropolis and Gotham, have not been exempt from cinematic disaster since then.

So I think the character has something to do with it, but there’s also a lack of examination of impact that’s my biggest pet peeve. Mind you that Spielberg‘s War of the Worlds deals with a lot of these old hat items, places its ground zero in New York and was released post-9/11 and is very effective part of the reason is the survival aspect. Aside from the workers at the Daily Planet there’s not much in the way of attempted escapes, and due to ratings concerns, none of the buildings being damaged are shown to have visible victims. Their literary ghost status makes it a more haunting tale, but a colder one.

Man of Steel (2013, Warner Bros.)

Does one sacrificial lamb that we can see change this perception? Maybe, that is if we got to see Clark get distracted by it before ending the fight. I get the adrenaline and focus arguments that can be made, but that’s exactly the issue with protracting the fight so long. The longer it goes on the more the audience gets to wonder about things that aren’t happening or being shown because what is being shown is fairly redundant.


Man of Steel (2013, Warner Bros.)

Part of why Man of Steel has gotten pounced on is because films featuring superheroes have had the bar raised in the past several years. In fact, part of that raising of the bar was done by gentlemen involved in this film, writer David S. Goyer and Producer Christopher Nolan first and foremost. One of those films is Iron Man 3 as it does have a strength where Man of Steel has a weakness. Tony Stark starts to show signs of PTSD in light of the events in The Avengers where he had to escort a nuke through a wormhole and save New York.

It was actually a plot element I was surprised by because its precisely the kind of thing you’ve come to expect superheroes to shake off. The fact that Tony doesn’t makes the film that much more interesting and it makes sense when you realize that Tony is closer to a guy in a suit compared to some heroes endowed with certain gifts as birthright.

So coming off a hero that shaken by an experience he had, and just having come through the most recent Batman trilogy, and there’s hardly a more haunted hero than Batman; it’s not a wonder we expected some kind of response from Superman, especially when the film showed his sensitivity and caring prior. I do believe that not unlike Batman Begins, Man of Steel could be a stepping stone, and if Warner Brothers and DC play their cards right, and don’t rush; they could build differently and eventually to a Justice League film, however, that doesn’t mean there weren’t missteps here.

Properties That Could Use The Avengers Treatment

Now speaking for myself (for who else would I speak for) I was most definitely delighted with The Avengers. Now, whether you loved it, hated it or felt indifferently towards it one cannot deny the box office records it shattered. Which gets me to thinking that imitation is the sincerest form of trying to make money in Hollywood; so what entities could benefit from a ‘team up’ mentality, aesthetically at least (as the box office is always a crap shoot)?

1. Turma da Mônica

OK, yes, this is absolutely my list and some of these ideas may not be feasible financially or even of broad appeal to a US audience. However, I am merely selecting properties where there can be a convergence of factions within a fictitious universe. This is a Brazilian comics universe I’ve discussed on occasion and the fact of the matter is there are many separate “Gangs” (as they’re referred to meaning more like Kool and the Gang, rather than biker gangs) that could each have their own films or a mash-up. There’s certainly enough characters and plots it’s about 11 sections and 100+ characters. Which does not include the new adolescent versions of many of the same characters.

2. Looney Tunes

This has been touched upon to an extent both in Roger Rabbit, Space Jam and Back in Action, which I did not see. However, the Looney Tunes ensemble is still right for a feature length film that doesn’t stitch together shorts but rather creates new material and introduces a new audience to these wonderful characters.

3. Disney

This was honestly the first idea that came to mind. Between the parks and the Epic Mickey video games (a new version to come next year) this idea is just sitting there. Disney fans are nothing if not loyal. We, for I speak as one of them, would gladly go to see a new story with old familiar faces in familiar contexts. This is much more in keeping with what will please us rather than uninspired straight-to-video sequels.

4. Walter Lantz

Universal Studios owns all these characters and only recently announced the development of a Woody Woodpecker feature. It’s a great property that should be exploited and while they’re doing that they may as well bring many back to us. Come on, Chilly Willy.

This group makes it on the list over something like Dick Tracy because at least here it seems like the current rights holder is seeking to do something with it.

5. Justice League

The status of this project is in the balance and rumored, however, that’s not to say it’s not a possibility. Chris Nolan’s Batman series is a benchmark. Superman is being re-started. Despite its box office and critical struggles (I liked it) Green Lantern has happened. Getting a few more ducks in a row (Meaning films and attaching cast/director) this could work. Seriously.

6. Animaniacs

I can’t be the only one who misses these guys and would absolutely love to see all the great characters this show created converge in one huge overriding plot. The common thread: everyone is, whether they know it or not, obstructing The Brain’s plot to take over the world.

7. Tiny Toons

This one is going a few years before that but, hey, Elmira is the crossover character! The Tiny Toons I felt were more unceremoniously dumped for The Animaniacs. They are far more legitimate heir to the Looney Tunes than the new Baby version which I can hardly bear to look at in a commercial.

8. Roger Rabbit

I mentioned this in a short film Saturday post but Roger Rabbit has unjustly vanished from the world after being poised to be a huge real life star (better than Goofy?) but it never happened. If it all goes well I’d like Robert Zemeckis to get to do this. In spite of his motion capture struggles this is his project if its a hybrid, I would not object to an all toon version though.

9. Fradim

This could work better as a TV show but it is a Brazilian choice. Essentially, Henfil was one of Brazil’s great cartoonists and his strip was extra-ordinarily political. Creating a feature-length pastiche of his works would be something quite special, not that his universe is as massive as some of these others.

10. Calvin & Hobbes

I could include this in another list soon but clearly your argument against it, aside from the purist’s one, would be: “Calvin and Hobbes isn’t a heavily populated universe, is it?” No, not with people but were there to ever be a film I’d want to to be every bit as varied as Calvin’s imagination meaning Spaceman Spiff, Dinosaurs, Old Fashioned Soap Opera-Looking adults, Aliens and other imagined realities and alter egos of Calvin would be included in the story.

11. The Peanuts

Perhaps no other comic strip was ever as simply philosophical and also got down to the brass tacks of childhood and life better than The Peanuts. Specials like at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween are great but they only truly skim the surface of the series. With the Peanuts gaining new life in a series from Boom Studios and dailies being reprinted by Fantagraphics one would think someone would be able to edit and cull major story-lines that relate, and incorporate as many characters as possible into a tremendous feature.

12. Harvey Comics

Now, there were a few adaptations of Harvey creations both Richie Rich and Casper (the latter being better and sequels not withstanding), however, Harvey comics no longer exist but the characters still exist in the collective consciousness and are getting either re-imagined or re-issued all the time. There are many characters to leverage and crossing over was frequent so it wouldn’t be hard to do if someone thought there was an audience for it.

13. The Fantastic Four

I’ll admit that I have not seen The Fantastic Four films that were attempted and based on what I’ve heard they’re not high on my list. Since my return to comics the First Family has become one of my great loves. Jonathan Hickman’s run, which I am fully up to date on, is truly epic and the kind of story that is conducive to an elevated sensibility that has been applied to superhero films as of late. The characters within the Marvel universe have always been sort of a crossroads so creating an Avengers-like project with them would not be difficult.

14. Asterix & Obelix

Here’s another one where the population isn’t huge but the amount of texts related to the characters is. Essentially this would be a narrative bomb, likely involving time travel or some other fantastical means to travel to a plethora of locations in the ancient world.

15. Histeria!

OK, imagine if you will a world wherein The Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were hits. Got it? OK, that’s where Histeria! will logically come into play. Now, it didn’t have nearly the run as those other Warner projects but I liked this one just as much. Similar, to Asterix in as much as this tales is mostly about history there’d be some way for the characters to go through the ages and also be a bit more dramatized than they were on the show.

16. Archie Comics

Anyone who has been reading the Life with Archie series knows that the Archie Comics are into breaking the mold now (Shameless self-promotion: I’ll discuss that further in an upcoming post). The same incarnations of the characters you grew up with still exist and can be exploited cinematically also, but the more mature mind-bending interpretation is the one with the most potential.

17. Star Comics

OK, here’s another personal pick and one that’s far more likely if Marvel were to ever do shorts. The mash-up angle is that Star was an imprint dedicated mostly to licensed material but it also did include some newly created original characters namely Planet Terry, Wally the Wizard, Top Dog and Royal Roy. Crossing over could easily happen here. To further convince the cynic here’s the Marvel “bridge,” meaning how can we possibly get to Star characters: Reboot The Fantastic Four (Make tons of money), incorporate the Power Pack in a sequel (as they’ve always been connected through Franklin Richards [See, crossroads]) and then get around to Star via Fantastic Four and Power Pack.

18. Hanna-Barbera

We all know that this is a huge universe and also that they had crossovers, many of these are animated simply because the possibility of combining a large number of characters is very exciting

19. Stephen King

Here’s one I saw suggest by John Gholson on his twitter feed. I forget who he suggested but essentially with all of King‘s canon this could work any number of ways. It could be an assemblage of his greatest heroes, or it could also be new heroes and a few villains who survived (names avoided to not spoil). The third possibility is a poor, unfortunate schmuck goes through a horrific tour through King’s Maine, without any need to justify it. Because you don’t need one sometimes as King himself stated in Storm of the Century ‘When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why God? Why me?” and the thundering voice of God answered, “There’s just something about you that pisses me off”.’

20. The Kids in the Hall

I preface this choice by saying I adore Brain Candy, I know I’m in a minority when I say that but I do. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see a Kids in the Hall film where they play say 995 out of 1000 characters and bring in many of their famous characters. One needs to only see the rendition of a film not unlike Kiss of the Spider Woman that Bruno Puntz Jones (David Foley) and Francesca Fiore (Scott Thompson) do to know how cinematic they can be and how easily they can pull it off.

61 Days of Halloween- The Amityille Horror (1979)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Amityille Horror

James Brolin and Margot Kidder in The Amityille Horror (American International Pictures)

What is interesting to note, for what it’s worth is that both the 1979 and 2005 versions of this film have the same score on the IMDb. This score seemingly ignores the biggest difference between the two which is that the original runs 120 minutes and the remake runs 90 and that running time is put to very good use. Not only do the incidents mount and come with greater frequency it allows for more narrative threads to be developed to support what we all know to be true.

What people are likely to hold against it might be that not enough happens but mind you that there are many incidents and there certainly seems to be more of a crescendo than last year’s (at the time of this writing) runaway hit Paranormal Activity which may be the slowest moving horror film ever crafted.

Another rarity that makes this film one worth seeing is that it has always been difficult to attract names to tales of horror or the supernatural but this film boasts James Brolin, who at the time was already an Emmy-winner, Margot Kidder who was just coming off Superman and Rod Steiger who had already won an Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night. This is in the same decade as The Exorcist which boasted Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow. These are the kinds of casts you can’t find anymore and the kind you need to convey a tale in which terror lives in the characters’ minds even more than it does in reality.
The score which opens the film and recurs a few times is reminiscent of certain Giallo films. The score combined with the quick flashbacks at the beginning to illustrate the house’s past are the perfect way to set the table.

I am not going to say this is the quintessential haunted house movie because that would be a disservice to films like The Haunting and The Legend of Hell House which deserve recognition, however, it does take a different approach than those and ushers in the age of suburban terror and perils of home ownership into the genre.

While occasionally you do get some bad looking blood, which is such a pet peeve of mine. There is the compelling case of the priest trying to convince people of what he experienced. The nun who was violently ill on the premises, then subplots that run longer like the obsession with woodcutting due to the cold; Jodie, the “imaginary” friend, The dog digging at the wall in the basement and the police sergeant sensing something is amiss and tailing the family and the priest. All this offers many more layers than you usually get in this type of tale.

Lastly, the film also employs titles very effectively as not many do. It can be an extremely effective when used well and this film does on more than one occasion.The Amityville Horror definitely has a lot to offer the horror connoisseur.


In Memoriam: Jackie Cooper

Jackie Cooper

As is my usual policy when deciding to write an in memoriam piece I don’t like to rush it to strike while the news cycle is hot. Part of the reason why is that I like to give the people I choose to write about their due rather than being short and sweet to the point of being curt.

Jackie Cooper’s was a long and extensive career that can not be summed up in a few short and sweet sentences. I’ll try and give it better perspective here.

From 1929-1931 Cooper made about 13 shorts as part of Hal Roach’s legendary Little Rascals troupe. Hal Roach being one of the legendary producers of Hollywood and the Rascals being one of his longest lasting legacies.

Below in two parts you’ll find one of their shorts where Cooper features prominently.

1931 turned out to be a watershed year for the young actor who in that year went most of the way to establishing his Hollywood immortality. First, there is his participation in the film Skippy, which earned him a nomination as Best Actor. A film which is mysteriously unavailable on DVD in the US.

However, in that year he also delivered what is likely his most memorable performance in The Champ, a film for which Wallace Beery captured Best Actor.

Another fine and more mature performance from Cooper can be found in the film Peck’s Bad Boy, which is a wonderful example of classic filmmaking because the story is so simple but so emotive. It also features two outstanding antagonistic performances by Dorothy Peterson and Jackie Searl. The film can be seen in its entirety here:

Mickey Rooney, Freddie Batholomew and Jackie Cooper in The Devil is a Sissy (MGM)

Surprisingly Cooper never did capture the Juvenile Award, a special Academy Award that was awarded to a deserving young actor from 1934 to 1960. However, he did have another memorable performance with two of the other finest actors of his generation Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney in The Devil is a Sissy in 1936. His character being the most hardened of the lot.

While like many child actors Cooper found the work to be not as good or as consistent as he transitioned to adulthood he did keep working and with the advent of television he transitioned mediums and started building a long and impressive resume of guest appearances on the small screen.

Jackie Cooper with Emmy

Eventually he made his way behind the scenes as a director and producer. Some of his directorial credits include episodes of M*A*S*H for which he won an Emmy for the episode “Carry on, Hawkeye,” Mary Tyler Moore, The Rockford Files, The White Shadow for which he won an Emmy for the Pilot episode, Magnum, P.I., Cagney & Lacey, The Adventures of Superboy and Jake & the Fatman.

Between 1948 and 1971 there was but television work, he also garnered consecutive Emmy nominations as an actor in 1961 and 1962 for his work on Hennesey, but then there was the occasional blip of a film until he was cast as Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, in the Superman films, the initial wave. It is in this capacity that he is known and remembered by many today as I have mentioned before many are lucky to be known by all for one film or project, even more fortunate are those who are known by many.

Jackie Cooper had many incarnations as an entertainer but in all of them he entertained audiences and endeared himself to them. He will be dearly remembered and sorely missed. He left an indelible mark on film and left innumerous memories behind. Let us take a moment and reflect on them.

Jackie Cooper in Superman (Warner Bros.)