Posts Tagged ‘Superman’

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.

Of Boy Scouts and Superman

March 18, 2013
The wife?  Gorgeous.  The rest?  Meh.

The wife? Gorgeous. The rest? Meh.

I hate nature.

Not that I want to destroy it or anything; I spent the better part of two decades as a lobbyist and organizer trying to save it.  But in terms of enjoying it, let me just say this.  You see a picturesque ocean, I see an endless stretch of something that I can neither stand on nor breathe in.  Hell, I can’t even drink the stuff.  I’m still not sure what’s so beautiful about that.  With our annual trip to the Keys coming up soon, trust me, I’m going for the pie.

I was noting this particular out of my myriad peculiarities this past Friday, which happed to be “Scout Day” at our synagogue.  A number of boys, girls, men, and women including several of Gus’s classmates got up on the bimah and spoke of the connection between scouting and Judaism, most notably the emphasis on doing good deeds (mitzvot).

Whenever I see those Boy Scout uniforms, they burn like a scarlet letter on my parenting soul.

Ahoy!  I be Homerrrr!

Ahoy! I be Homerrrr!

You see, my big boy has in the past expressed some interest in joining the Boy Scouts.  And it probably would have been good for him, too, given my wife is not a huge fan of “roughing it” and my idea of communing with the land is a lovely stretch of well-manicured savannah abruptly enclosed by a semicircular fence bracketed by two garish yellow foul poles.  The pangs of guilt in not adequately preparing him to survive the zombie apocalypse are amplified by the social deprivation he’s expressed at not being part.  It’s the classic “all the cool kids are doing it” argument he expressed to me once again as we drove home.

But even with the young men proudly speaking of all the mitzvot they have done as Boy Scouts, perhaps in honor of the upcoming Passover holiday, this Pharaoh’s heart hardened and once again said, “No, no, no.  To Boy Scouts you cannot go.”

And take that cursed walking stick with you, camper!

And take that cursed walking stick with you, camper!

Indeed, I saw more than a certain sad irony in a mention of Scouting Day at a synagogue.  Jews have historically been a people on the outside looking in.  On Passover, we are instructed to remember our time as slaves thousands of years ago as if it were happening to us right now.  “For you were slaves in the land of Egypt.”  We are commanded not to ignore injustice both by deity and by tradition—something I find bonds me to Judaism despite my rather militant agnosticism (I don’t know, and neither do you).

But, of course, as we sat there hearing these young men speaking of the environmental and social ethics of Scouting, we heard nothing of the great white elephant—the national BSA’s continued singling out and exclusion of any gay or lesbian children or parents from being a part of the organization.  I understand why this was excluded from the program—I’m not quite that obtuse.  There was no reason to cast a pall on these kids who got so much out of this experience with this inconvenient truth.  But I don’t think I’m the only one in the sanctuary who could feel it ghosting the proceedings.

I tend to prefer the "warts and all" philosophy

I tend to prefer the “warts and all” philosophy, however

What surprised me a bit as Gus and I discussed this issue once again was the discovery that when he talked with his friends who were in the Boy Scouts, each and every one of them vehemently denied that the BSA had this policy.  Now, I don’t think that their parents have been lying to them.  Indeed, I just had a discussion with a couple of our good friends who have their son in the Boy Scouts.  When they decided to do it, the issue of the national policy was absolutely part of their discussion.  But knowing that in this liberal haven of Arlington that the issue would have little-to-no impact on their particular troop made them feel the on-the-ground positives outweighed the rhetorical negatives.

That seems quite reasonable to me.  And I’m sure that the fact that Gus’s friends have no idea about the BSA’s anti-LGBT policy is not a concerted effort on their parents part.  They joined the Scouts at a very early age, when this issue would have frankly been too complex to explain to them.  Given in a liberal place like Arlington this issue just simply isn’t an issue for their troops, it’s simply never come up.  And because in so many other ways the Boy Scouts is about respecting and helping others, it just seems antithetical to any child participating that it would also have such an exclusionary and discriminatory policy.

Can't hate this guy

Can’t hate this guy

As I continue to mull this decision, I always remind myself that my own moral compass is certainly far from true north.  For instance, I always loved the (should be in the) Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza, and even though I was taken aback when he called Rush Limbaugh “American Royalty” back in 2005, I decided that I would divorce the catcher from the man, and continue to be a fan of the player.  Why shouldn’t that same principle apply to the Boy Scouts?

It is actually a somewhat similar issue happening right now in the nerd world that gave me a bit more clarity. As you might remember, I rather enjoyed Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which will be coming out as a motion picture in November.  Indeed, I was quite intrigued to hear that DC comics is giving him his own Superman series to play with.  But then, I was hit with the news that Card is anti-gay marriage and has made some statements over the years that could be considered quite homophobic.  Here’s a very thorough article from Hollywood.com that traces the saga, and the publicity problem that both DC and Summit Entertainment have on their hands.

May be the closest I come to seeing the movie, unfortunately

May be the closest I come to seeing the movie, unfortunately

I’m far more iffy now as to whether I’m going to complete my Read It Then See It on Ender’s Game, as not only does Card personally believe in something I find terribly discriminatory, not only does he belong to what I believe to be a discriminatory organization (the National Organization for Marriage), but he is a member of their board of directors.  He is therefore actively using his celebrity to empower an organization that’s entire purpose—unlike the Boy Scouts—is to discriminate against the LGBT community.

There seems to be a difference in my mind between personal differences and institutionalized discrimination.  And while BSA is a private institution, it is still an institution.  So this is why I will still put Piazza’s #31 on my back, but Card’s Superman comics will remain on the shelves and I will continue to deprive my children of the unquestionable benefits of the Boy Scouts on this principle.

I admit fully that the line from disagreement over objectionable personal belief to institutionalized discrimination can sometimes be a murky one.  But it is that institutionalization of bias that, as a former slave in the land of Egypt, I simply cannot abide.

ew.

So this is the slightly wavering, yet deeply-etched line that I draw in the sand, and what I am committed to teaching my children.  If the BSA lifts its policy (something that doesn’t seem likely in the near future), however, I would be happy to allow my sons to take part.  Heck, I’ll even go on a camping trip with them.

Just don’t expect me to like it.

Ain’t that a chair in the head

February 28, 2013

It’s always hard when he cries.  It has been ever since he was a baby.  It’s because of those eyes.  So huge…so blue.  Oceans of glistening sorrow designed to drown a parent’s heart.

But this time was different.  And it was all over one little 6th Grade reading assignment called a “Blog Prompt.”  He was supposed to take any quote he liked from a book he’s been reading and write up a short statement about why he liked it and how it moved the conflict of the story forward.

Thanks for making my son cry, fellas.

Thanks for making my son cry, fellas.

He chose a quote from The Hobbit, with Gandalf giving Bilbo a hard time over a simple “Good Morning.”  It’s a funny scene that is used in the film as well.  He and I briefly discussed how that seemingly small aside speaks to the larger plot and relationship between the two characters.  I didn’t feel I needed to say much, as it was a yawningly easy assignment by his straight-A standards.  So I went upstairs and left him with pencil and paper to take care of business.

When I came back down a half-hour later to get dinner ready, I found an ocean roiling at the table.  He had been able to write down Gandalf’s pithy jibes, but that is where his assignment ended.  “I can’t do it!” he cried out in frustration.  “I try to think about it, but nothing comes out!  It’s all jumbled up in my head.”

He looked defeated.

Exhausted.

Broken.

Yes, broken.  For that’s truly what he was. Two days earlier as he quietly sat and read, a heavy school chair came tumbling down on his head as his buddy behind him lost control trying to take it down from his desk.

Welcome to the world of parenting a child with head trauma.

A hero in life and art

A hero in life and art

As I was collecting the shards of my heart off the floor, my mind turned instantly to, what else, pop-culture.  I remembered an interview with Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana.  After the accident that left Superman a quadriplegic, she soothed his misery by saying, “Yes, your body is broken, but it’s still you.”  His mind was intact, and in his remaining time, he went on to be a forceful advocate for spinal injury research, act and direct in a very interesting version of Rear Window, and even return to the world of Superman by taking on a recurring role in Smallville.

But this bright, funny, introspective kid of mine simply wasn’t him.  Parts of him were there, but both emotionally and intellectually, a significant part of who he is was veiled behind scrambled neurotransmitters and the fog of chemicals that release with the onset of a brain injury.  As the doctor at the SCORE concussion center at Children’s Hospital explained to me, Gus, like other kids with significant concussions, have what amounts to a “software problem.”  It’s not inflammation or a typical bruise.  A concussion is more akin to a computer getting caught in a bad loop, only, as my wife cleverly put it, there is no CTRL-ALT-DEL to reset the system.

Instead, it is the maddening process of waiting, worrying, and, for me, attempting to keep the ghosts of my past at bay.  Until he starts to improve, Gus is really not supposed to do anything to intellectually stressful.  This makes avoiding boredom a real challenge, especially when TV is supposed to be doled out in very limited doses.  So when Gus brought out a deck of cards, I thought that was a great way to pass a little time.

Best...poker...ever.

Best…poker…ever.

He knew Blackjack, but he had never played Poker before and was curious to learn after seeing the crew of the Enterprise-D ante up on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  So I sat there teaching him the rules, and we spilled out popcorn kernels to serve as chips.  The look of delight on his face when he successfully bluffed me for the first time was priceless—mostly because it was an expression that looked like my Gus—a glimpse of what he used to be, and, yes, I know intellectually, what he will be again.

But that intellectual awareness couldn’t stop the memory of the last time I sat at a kitchen table and taught someone Poker.  I was a few years younger than Gus is now as I sat with my Grandpa Nat, who had come to stay with us after suffering a debilitating stroke.  I slowly explained the cards, and we played most hands face-up so I could give him strategy pointers.  He seemed to enjoy it, but all I could think of was that I was teaching this game to the man—the icon—who had taught it to me.

Shut up.

Shut up.

So as my boy slowly and bravely reboots, I have been made painfully aware that in terms of the sheer power of the emotion, concern trumps pride, anger, and, yes, even love.  Or as I think about it, maybe worry is more like a “force multiplier” if you’ll forgive the military terminology; enhancing all of those baseline emotions with an almost uncontrollable ferocity.

And it is why as I take this hopefully short stroll in the shoes of those parents with special needs kids, my already sincere respect turns to wonder and admiration.  Two weeks of this has been positively exhausting.  And while I understand the enormous strength and scar tissue a parent can generate when caring to the needs of a child, the mere concept of having this level of anxiety as a constant partner is close to unfathomable to me at the moment.

Ah, as I’m writing this, Gus just finished that darned blog prompt on his second try (City of Ember quote this time—he listened to the audiobook).  Small headache afterwards, but no problems and no tears.  So as a return to school is looking more imminent, I guess I have only one other job to do; choose the brand of bubble wrap I will be encasing him in for the rest of his life.  I wonder if they have Nationals’ colors.  He’ll like that, I’m sure.