Posts Tagged ‘nerd’

Batman, Bibi, and the Killing of Quassem

January 3, 2020

“Life only makes sense if you force it to.”

—Earth 99 Batman/Bruce Wayne in the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths

Maybe it’s just me, but this one feels different.

The US assassination of Quasem Suleimani, general and leader of the Qods Force of Iran, doesn’t feel like the usual tit-for-tat in our endless war. This would be like Iran directly assassinating our Secretary of State or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Several intelligence sources have noted that both the Bush and Obama administrations had Suleimani on their radar and had opportunities to conduct similar strikes. Both administrations decided not to move forward because of the potential for uncertain results.

However, one of those Bush Administration officials, Michael Doran, saw this move as a positive. He said in a “hot take” in the New York Times:

In Washington, the decision to kill Mr. Suleimani represents the final demise of Mr. Obama’s Middle East strategy, which sought to realign American interests with those of Iran. Mr. Obama’s search for a modus vivendi with Tehran never comported with the reality of the Islamic Republic’s fundamental character and regional ambitions. President Trump, by contrast, realized that Tehran’s goal was to replace America as the key player in the Middle East.

I personally disagree with Doran’s assessment of the Obama Administration’s efforts in the region. I see it more as a belief in multilateral pressure as the key component to moving adversarial powers in the region to policy directions more in line with stability and U.S. interests. Such a core belief had its successes (Iran nuclear deal) and failures (rise of Islamic State) much like the very similar global foreign policy successes (Oslo Accord) and failures (Rwandan Genocide) of the Clinton Administration.

So while I might see that part differently than Doran, one thing I completely agree with is that this action marks the final demise of the Obama (and Clinton) Middle East policy. And, at it’s core, I believe what that means is particularly tragic.

It means the death of hope.

And that’s where Batman comes in.

For while I don’t have Mr. Doran’s pedigree, I have a Nerd’s Eye View he lacks.

While I tried and just didn’t enjoy the soapy, millennial stylings of most of the CW’s “Arrowverse” shows, I have always come back for their crossovers, as to date they have brought back and referenced the “multiverse” of heroes beyond just the shows currently on. And this time, leaping off the seminal 1980s comic series Crisis on Infinite Earths, the writers decided to go all out, bringing in everything from Christopher Reeve’s iconic Superman to my Batman, the Batusi-dancing caped crusader of the 1960s.

But while perhaps the most satisfying part of the first three episodes has been Brandon Routh’s return as the successor to Christopher Reeve (Bryan Singer deprived us of a fantastic era of Superman with his poorly constructed film), what has been most striking was the iconic voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy, making his first live action appearance as the Broken Bat. For while we first think he will become the “Paragon of Courage” we quickly learn that, instead that what light was in this Dark Knight’s soul was snuffed out long ago.

If you’ve got a little over 4 minutes, here’s the segment in its bleak, glorious entirety:

https://youtu.be/62GpdErpjr4

In essence, this feels like what would have become of Batfleck in Batman vs. Superman had he succeeded in killing the last son of Krypton. Indeed that Batman says almost the same bleak line that I quoted to start this piece, before finding hope in Superman’s humanity as Clark seeks to save his earthling mother even at the cost of his own life.

But this Bruce instead saw his world as a bleak and endless battle; the only survival coming from forcing one’s will on reality. It is why he rejects Kate’s pleas to help save the universe. The end of everything is a release from misery:

KATE: Do you understand how many people, how many worlds, are going to die?

BRUCE: If they’re anything like this world, maybe that’s for the best.

KATE: How can you even say that?

BRUCE: Because there is no hope for this world.

For me, this is at the very core of why despite the failures of Clinton and Obama (for Clinton, I highly recommend the incredibly difficult, but entirely brilliant book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch), I will take this world view of neocons like Doran, who tried to force the Middle East to make sense by attempting to export western democracy at the edge of a sword.

Indeed, I remember seeing hope spring in the Middle East when I was studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the summer of 1992. Yitzhak Rabin and the Labor Party had just come to power on the promise of a serious effort toward peace with the Palestinians. Israeli friends of mine who had to leave school to do their tour of duty in Gaza expressed a spark of hope that it could be their last. And, almost unanimously, they told me that I should be following their lead and voting for “Kleenton.” Time to take a chance on the man from Hope.

Perhaps somewhere else in the multiverse, Rabin avoided assassination at the hands of a Jewish zealot fed in part by the political machinations of one Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. I could go into detail, but if you want the full picture, I recommend Dan Ephron’s seminal Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel. Or perhaps there’s an Earth where Rabin’s slaying inspired Yasser Arafat into seizing on Ehud Barak’s offer at the Camp David summit in 2000. But we don’t live on those worlds.

Instead, Israel’s hope was broken, and what replaced it was Netanyahu’s cynical efforts to bend the situation to his will, inclusive of the call-and-response of Hamas missile attacks on Israel and Israeli strikes aimed at high-level military operatives in Gaza. The Labor Party of Rabin has been reduced to an afterthought. In its stead are parties fighting over who can best manage dystopia.

In this fateful action the Trump Administration has taken, it smacks to me of that final surrender of hope. While it began with abandoning the nuclear agreement and the international consensus behind it, this action feels like Batman finally snapping the Joker’s neck. A decision to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven.

This morning, my wife retweeted something from Congressman Richard Dangler (D-WA) that I think should resonate with any parent:

I try to be a little less judgmental, but the worry rings true.

But despite how I feel, I still find some light. The world’s greatest superpower is still a democracy even in the midst of a growingly undemocratic world. Change is still possible.

As the multiverse collapsed, Brandon Routh’s Superman, flying from universe-to-universe trying to save what was left of humanity, returns to the heroes, slamming his fist on the floor having failed one now-destroyed reality. Lois Lane (from another universe, his Lois was murdered by The Joker) attempts to comfort him:

LOIS: Clark?

SUPERMAN: I couldn’t save them.

LOIS: Do you want to take a minute? Looks like you could use a break.

SUPERMAN: When I put this on—this crest—I made a promise, to keep fighting, no matter what.

LOIS: Hey, why’d you add black to it?

SUPERMAN: Because, Lois, even in the darkest times, hope cuts through. Hope is the light that gets us through the darkness. I must go back.

And in this moment of darkness, I will—no, I must—hope that maybe, just maybe, that we can Make America Super Again.

Why So Serious, Superman?

August 7, 2013
Speaking of Wonder Woman, I HIGHLY recommend this fascinating documentary on Super Heroes and what they have meant to girls and women through the decades.  Click the pic for the link.

Speaking of Wonder Woman, I HIGHLY recommend this fascinating documentary on Super Heroes and what they have meant to girls and women through the decades. Click the pic for the link.

As some of your know, I’m currently working to get my own take on the Super Hero story, The Adventures of MightyDove, out into the public eye.  Of course over the past decade, the likes of Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, and company (though it still frustrates me that Wonder Woman can’t get off the ground) have hit the big screen running, and have fought their way into the mainstream.  Being a guy who remembers comic conventions being nothing but white boxes in the back room of a cheap hotel, it amazes me to see nerd culture firmly established a primary driver of pop culture.

My big fella, now twelve, has discovered the series Smallville, a show full of intrigue and teen angst wrapped up in a Superman package—perfect for an imaginative pre-teen.  While Smallville became something of a wildly uneven show after about the 3rd season, especially after losing Michael Rosenbaum, who was to my mind still by far the best Lex Luthor ever depicted either animated or live action, it did a nice job jugging the very delicate balancing act needed of the genre.  You don’t go 10 seasons without doing something right…

Show never quite got its full mojo back once Lex left.

Show never quite got its full mojo back once Lex left.

With their “No Flights, No Tights” axiom, they endeavored to seat characters who felt real into the unreal world of Superman.  While sometimes redundant with the “freak of the week,” they always managed to capture the sense of almost comic bewilderment when the wild and wacky happened.  It always gave you that small edge of the tongue-in-cheek that allowed you to feel amused at the situation even as the world—or at least Clark and Lana’s relationship—were put ever in peril.

Yet as much as Gus is currently obsessed with Smallville, he didn’t really love the latest Superman iteration, Man of Steel.  Indeed, he and I both came to a similar conclusion after we took in the movie.  Great effects, thin plot, and absolutely no joy.  We both came out feeling that the failed reboot that was Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (interesting to note that it gets a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, far higher than the 56% for MoS) was actually more entertaining because, despite its many flaws, it felt more like, well…Superman.

Superman II was hokey, no doubt, but Man of Steel could have used a little more hokey

Superman II was hokey, no doubt, but Man of Steel could have used a little more hokey

Of course, Mr. Hippie Nerd here had a very difficult time with the climax to Man of Steel.  [SPOILERS] Indeed, I was actually a bit heartened to learn that producer and Dark Knight Trilogy director Christopher Nolan actually vehemently disagreed with Zack Snyder’s decision to have Kal-El snap Zod’s neck.  Not only has Superman always been about finding ways not to kill the enemy (see the animated movie Superman vs. The Elite now streaming on Netflix for a great example), but the film actually set up a perfect device (the terraforming of Earth to make it Krypton-like) to defeat Zod without resorting to death.  Snyder seemed to go out of his way to make sure that the man who stands as an example of what humanity should aspire to would be pulled down into the abyss of, “Sometimes you’ve just got to kill the bad guy.” Nolan wasn’t the only one to express dismay over Snyder’s decision.  Grant Morrison, a well-known comic book writer whose titles include the All Star Superman series, had this to say:

“It’s a credible Superman for now. But I’m not sure about the killing thing. I don’t want to sound like some fuddy-duddy Silver Age apologist but I’ve noticed a lot recently of people saying Batman should kill the Joker and, yeah, Superman should kill, he should make the tough moral decisions we all have to make every day. I don’t know about you, but the last moral decision I made didn’t have anything to do with killing people. And I don’t think many of us ever have to make the decision whether or not to kill. In fact, the more you think about it, unless you’re in one of the Armed Forces, killing is illegal and immoral. Why would we want our super­heroes to do that?”

[END SPOILERS] Indeed, this trend to pull Super Heroes down to “our level” is in no way limited to our favorite Kryptonian orphan.  Iron Man 3 took our wise-cracking Tony Stark down a dark hole of addiction and PTSD.  Captain America: The Winter Solider, is already being billed as “darker” – more of a 70’s noir feel.  And even the most comedy-laced mainstream hero there is, Spider-Man, was so angst-ridden, so humor-free in his latest incaration that even star Andrew Garfield admitted that it was a problem with the first film.

Now THIS is a Pixar sequel I want to see

Now THIS is a Pixar sequel I want to see!

Increasingly, the whole genre seems to be suffering from Dark Knight Disease.  Not that the TDK trilogy wasn’t excellent.  It was.  But so was Thor, the Avengers, and Sam Rami’s first two Spider-Man films.  Not to mention The Incredibles and Megamind, both of which were successful even venturing into the realm of pure comedy. And did I mention all those films made a load of green?  So no excuses to be found there for always taking our heroes down the dark path.

My greatest fear of this “hyper-realistic” trend is, by removing the joy from Super Heroes, they are extracting the most essential element of the genre: imagination.  Not that you can’t create a serious yet imaginative Super Hero film.  But for the audience, the genre is removed from that dreamlike, aspirational quality.  Super Heroes may have powers, but they cease to become super.

In the urge to make these heroes more like us, we lose the wonder that makes us want to be better, to be more like them.  And I think that is a genuine loss to our kids, who despite the mainstream audience and grown-ups engaging in cosplay, should still be who we make these stories for.

With the announcement that The Dark Knight Returns author Frank Miller is consulting on the new Batman vs. Superman film, my skepticism deepens that much more.  TDKR was a seminal comic book series, turning Batman into a gothic, noir struggle where each and every hero—even the sainted Superman—had feet of clay.  But it was the opposite of inspirational: a desperate slog through a dystopian future with only the faintest glimmer of hope at the conclusion.

Okay, I don't NEED the Batusi, but...

Okay, I don’t NEED the Batusi, but…

While I don’t need Batman dancing the Batusi to be satisfied, I urge the stewards of Super Heroes to remember that the entire genre is predicated on the fantastic notion of what could be.  That is what sparks the imagination of children of all ages to strive to be more than we are, to want to do something to make the world a better place, just like this amazing Mother told her young son after he discovered that Superman wasn’t real.

So when it comes to saving Super Heroes, I think the best advice is to relax and don’t take it so seriously.   Just imagine all of them in their underwear.  That always seems to do the trick.